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Nimona

Noelle Stevenson. HarperTeen, $17.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-227823-4

In Stevenson’s funny, smart, and provocative graphic novel (which originated as a webcomic), a gentlemanly clash between rivals is disrupted when an energetic shapeshifter raises the stakes with her predilection for violence. Set in a medieval-meets-modern fantasy kingdom, the story begins when Nimona offers her services to Lord Ballister Blackheart, banished evil genius and friend-turned-nemesis of Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, champion of the powerful Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics. Through Nimona’s influence, Ballister’s tepid schemes graduate into deadly and destructive plots, forcing the Institution to respond with drastic measures that reveal its own nefarious leanings. Initially poking fun at hero and villain stereotypes (“You can’t just go around murdering people. There are rules, Nimona,” Ballister tells the pierced, pink-haired shapeshifter after she suggests a bloody public execution of the king), Stevenson’s tale presents a nuanced view of morality while offering thoughtful comment on friendship and individuality. Sharp visuals, a nifty amalgam of fantasy and science fiction elements, and relationships drawn with complexity, wit, and depth create a world worth returning to again and again. Ages 13–up. Agent: Charlie Olsen, Inkwell Management. (May)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Dime

E.R. Frank. S&S/Atheneum, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4814-3160-6

“To be touched gently. To be seen clearly. To be part of a family. To be fed regularly. To be protected. To be loved for free.” These are the things that eighth-grader Dime wants but doesn’t receive from her foster mother. That’s why she moves in with a group of girls and a man they call “Daddy.” Before she knows it, Dime is part of a prostitution ring, still seeking comfort and love. Frank (America) delves deeply into the psychology of a lost girl who realizes she is trapped in a life she doesn’t want. Dime seeks escape in books but rarely has the time or means to obtain them. When Daddy brings home 11-year-old Lollipop to work for him, Dime begins to separate truth from lies and right from wrong. Written from the perspective of Dime, who is anxious to compose a “note” that could save at least one innocent victim, the novel frankly depicts the physical abuse and emotional manipulation that tie young girls to their keepers. Images of violence, greed, and emotional longing will linger with readers. Ages 14–up. Agent: Heather Schroder, Compass Talent. (May)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Court of Thorns and Roses

Sarah J. Maas. Bloomsbury, $18.99 (432p) ISBN 978-1-61963-444-2

When 19-year-old Feyre kills a wolf in the borderland forest between the human world and the faerie kingdom of Prythian, she unknowingly breaks a wary truce and must repay the murder with her life. Tamlin, the shapeshifting Fae who comes to collect, offers Feyre a way out: spend the rest of her days on his lands in Prythian. She reluctantly agrees, leaving her starving family behind for the deceptive luxury of the faerie world. As Feyre begins to accept and even enjoy her new surroundings, not to mention the attentions of her host, she learns that the faerie world is crumbling under a blight that robs people like Tamlin of their magic and lets monsters roam free. Maas (the Throne of Glass series) draws themes and plot points from several fairy tales, fueling a well-developed world and complex relationships. The gruesome politics and magical might of the Fae may seem to leave Feyre hopelessly outmatched, but her grit and boundless loyalty demand that her foes—and readers—sit up and pay attention. Ages 14–up. Agent: Tamar Rydzinski, Laura Dail Literary Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Illusionarium

Heather Dixon. Greenwillow, $17.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-200105-4

Dixon (Entwined) returns with a steampunk take on a holodeck—or possibly on LSD, depending on how one views the experience of fantillium, a mysterious compound that allows illusionists to imagine a reality that others can share. Jonathan Gouden, son and apprentice to the second-best medical scientist in the empire, discovers that he is just such an illusionist when the king himself demands Dr. Gouden’s services in researching a cure for the Venen plague, which the queen has contracted. The catch? Fantillium causes acedia, the withering of conscience, a process already far advanced in the only other researcher working on the Venen cure. When the amoral researcher, Lady Florel, flees into the alternate reality, it falls to Jonathan to follow in her footsteps as those he loves become ill. Dixon casts Jonathan not as a pinup daredevil but as an ordinary, decent person who does some extraordinary (and morally questionable) things along the way. Her steampunk world is vibrantly imagined, and the page-turning quality of Jonathan’s wry narration (complete with footnotes and sub-footnotes) will have readers fully invested in his story. Ages 13–up. Agent: Edward Necarsulmer IV, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. (May)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Tracked

Jenny Martin. Dial, $17.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-8037-4012-9

As a street racer on the planet Castra, 17-year-old Phoebe “Phee” Van Zant has built a reputation that has reached the stratosphere of corrupt corporate sponsors on the licensed racing circuit. Though capable of meticulous race-time strategy, Phee doesn’t see even one step ahead in her life, going down in a spectacle of futile last-minute bravado when the corporate overlords decide to draft her. Cashoman “Cash” Dradha is the renegade prince of an allied planet, who hides from his rage at the card table. Beautiful, brash, and heedless of consequences, Phee and Cash pair up to dominate the track and take it down. Martin’s debut novel is a touch heavy on the anticorporate sermons and a touch geeky about cars—unchanged in curious ways some 350 years into the future, like the six-point safety harnesses on Phee’s beloved Talon. But it’s a wholehearted adrenaline rush when it comes to the thrill of the run, making it easy to get drawn into a fast-paced, high-stakes story. Ages 12–up. Agent: Sara Crowe, Harvey Klinger. (May)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Novice

Taran Matharu. Feiwel and Friends, $18.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-06712-8

In this first installment of the Summoner trilogy (originally posted on Wattpad), a young man discovers he has the ability to summon and control demons. Fletcher, a blacksmith’s apprentice, finds himself in possession of a book that allows him to conjure a rare Salamander demon. Shortly thereafter, he is forced to flee his village, but a lucky chain of events takes him to Vocans Academy, where he is to train as an imperial battlemage. Fletcher is tested to his limits, bullied by the noble students, and subjected to constant scrutiny by the teachers, but he also makes new allies among the less-privileged students, including representatives from the dwarves and elves. Matharu’s fiction debut is a solid offering, albeit one that features an odd mishmash of cultural influences—twin dwarven brothers are named Atilla and Othello, Fletcher’s blacksmith mentor presents him with a khopesh, and law enforcement agents are called Pinkertons. The story itself is strong, but it suffers from uneven pacing and an abrupt ending. Ages 12–up. Agent: Sasha Raskin, Agency Group. (May)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Elizabeth’s Landing

Katy Pye. Pyewacky Press, $13.99 paper (354p) ISBN 978-0-9890973-1-4

Debut novelist Pye presents a quiet, touching story of fighting for what one believes in, set in the spring of 2010 on the Gulf Coast. Fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Barker’s move from Missouri to Port Winston, Tex., has left her with no friends and little peace of mind. Her mother is constantly away on magazine assignments, her father is too busy to spend time with her, and her grandfather (whose heart attack was the reason they moved in the first place) constantly gives “I know best” lectures that tend to revolve around her. After saving a sea turtle and her clutch of eggs from a group of older kids on ATVs, Elizabeth begins to volunteer at the local marine science center and gains new friends in the process. When the turtle’s nesting ground is threatened, Elizabeth has to find the strength and confidence to stand up to corruption. Elizabeth sometimes acts young for her age, but Pye is in tune with the novel’s Gulf setting, highlighting the diverse perspectives of those who call the Gulf home while capably juggling the events that shape Elizabeth’s world. Ages 10–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Runaway’s Gold

Emilie Christie Burack. Abrams/Amulet, $16.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4197-1369-9

Two dissimilar locales—the Shetland Islands and New York City—are the settings for debut author Burack’s ambitious story of 14-year-old Shetlander Christopher Robertson, on the run from the law in his village, where his family barely makes a living as tenant farmers and fishermen. Forced by his father to kill a neighbor’s ewe and framed by his older brother for the theft of his father’s pouch of coins, Christopher—after a stay in prison, among other dangerous escapades—ends up in New York, beholden to one Billy Tweed, on his way to becoming the infamous Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall. Set in 1842 and overflowing with historical detail, the novel makes generous use of dialect, which—along with a plot roving in time and packed with characters—requires concentration, but leads to a rewarding conclusion that intertwines a piece of early American history with Christopher and his Shetland home. Extensive back material explains the background of the Shetland Islands while separating the book’s fictional aspects from those rooted in history. Ages 8–14. Agent: Charlotte Sheedy, Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer

Kelly Jones, illus. by Katie Kath. Knopf, $16.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-385-75552-8

Jones debuts with a comically poignant story composed of the letters that 12-year-old Sophie Brown writes to a pair of deceased relatives: her much-missed Abuelita and her great-uncle Jim, whose California farm Sophie has just moved to with her parents. Also in the mix are Sophie’s letters to the owner of Redwood Farm Supply, whose advice Sophie seeks as she discovers some of her great-uncle’s far-from-normal chickens on the property (one appears to have telekinetic powers, for starters). Kath’s wiry and playful b&w illustrations carry hints of George Booth’s work and add substantial humor to the story (dyspeptic chicken Henrietta is especially memorable). Amid Sophie’s entertaining attempts to secure the chickens (and keep them safe from a dodgy neighbor), Jones sensitively captures the preteen’s feelings of isolation, her growing awareness of racial issues that affect her (“Mom... says you have to be twice as honest and neighborly when everyone assumes you’re an undocumented immigrant”), and her family’s simmering economic stresses. Better yet, there’s still plenty of room for Sophie’s story (and her flock) to grow. Ages 8–12. Author’s agent: Mandy Hubbard, D4EO Literary Agency. Illustrator’s agency: Shannon Associates. (May)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Ratscalibur

Josh Lieb, illus. by Tom Linter. Razorbill, $16.99 (192p) ISBN 978-1-59514-242-9

In this playful retelling of the legend of Excalibur, a kingdom of city-dwelling rats is in crisis until a stranger frees the legendary Spork in the Scone to reveal himself as their foretold hero. But Joey is actually a human boy, transformed into a rodent by a Gondorff the Gray, a talking pet rat who happens to be a powerful Ragician. Joey’s quest to find Squirrelin the Squagician is his only hope to save Ravalon and return himself to human form. Pulling in references to The Lord of the Rings, The Three Musketeers, and more, Lieb (I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President) gleefully spoofs Arthurian legend, paying close attention to the keen sense of smell leading Joey on his rodent journey. Lintern’s elegantly drafted pen-and-ink drawings bring additional humor and suspense to the furry underbelly of the cityscape. First in the Chronicles of the Low Realm, it’s a charming take on an old favorite about overcoming life’s twists and finding strength inside oneself. Ages 8–12. Agent: Richard Abate, 3 Arts Entertainment. (May)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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