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Sweet Unrest

Lisa Maxwell. Llewellyn/Flux, $9.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-7387-4081-2

When Lucy Aimes’s parents drag her from Chicago to Louisiana, where her father is curating the historic plantation of Le Ciel Doux, she can’t wait for summer to end so she can return home for senior year at her arts high school. After Lucy’s new friend Chloe takes her to visit Mama Legba, the local Voodoo practitioner, it becomes clear that the plantation’s past and Lucy’s present are linked, and that her recurring dreams about drowning recall the ominous fates of Armantine Lyon, a mixed-race photographer in antebellum New Orleans, and Alexandre Jourdain, the French brother-in-law of Le Ciel Doux’s owner. More than a ghost, Alexandre now haunts the grounds, and it may take more than Lucy’s past life to free him. The too-common theme of a white “chosen one” superseding a non-white friend within her own tradition strikes a sour note, which is not sweetened by the villainy of a spiteful, ex-slave, Voodoo-practicing “witch.” But Maxwell’s debut proves her to be a talented wordsmith, and the sweet ache of lost-and-found love will appeal to many readers. Ages 12–up. Agent: Kathleen Rushall, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Cure for Dreaming

Cat Winters. Abrams/Amulet, $17.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-4197-1216-6

During a stage show on Halloween night in the year 1900, 17-year-old Olivia Mead is hypnotized by Henri Reverie, a dashing young mesmerist visiting Portland, Ore., from Montreal. The hypnosis is such a success that Olivia’s controlling father hires Henri to render Olivia proper and docile, eliminating her free spirit, passion for a career, and growing support of the women’s suffrage movement. However, Henri deceives Olivia’s father with slippery language, commanding Olivia to “see the world the way it truly is,” and only be able to say the words “all is well” in response. Suddenly, Olivia’s father and other misogynistic citizens appear to her as terrifying vampiric creatures, women are seen in cages or vanishing into thin air, and those who support women’s rights glow “with breathtaking luminescence.” A subtle setup this is not, but Winters (In the Shadow of Blackbirds) creates a rich, gothic backdrop (further brought to life through period photographs and illustrations) for a story that will open many readers’ eyes to historical injustices inflicted on women—injustices with plenty of present-day parallels. Ages 12–up. Agent: Barbara Poelle, Irene Goodman Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Pennyroyal Academy

M.A. Larson. Putnam, $16.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-399-16324-1

Pennyroyal Academy is no place for a damsel in distress. Inside the boot camp–style training ground, Princesses of the Shield learn to harness the power of “courage, compassion, kindness, and discipline” to battle witches and other foes. Their greatest weapon is in knowing themselves, a difficult task for Evie, who stumbles into her first day without a name, a royal bloodline, or even a proper dress. First-time author Larson, a film and TV writer, uses strikingly crisp imagery to tell a coming-of-age story rounded out with a gaggle of fast-won friends who provide support and comic relief—like Basil, a boy whose mother so badly wanted a girl he was sent to become a princess instead of a knight. The author playfully nods to classic fairy tales, incorporating a Frog Prince, a witchy stepmother, and a jealous stepsister tearing a ball gown to tatters, but he also imbues the fantasy with an important, affirming message for readers: “You get to decide what you want to be. No one else.” Ages 10–up. Agent: Alexandra Machinist, ICM. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Junkyard Bot

C.J. Richards, illus. by Goro Fujita. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-544-33936-1

In this kickoff to the Robots Rule! series, Richards introduces George Gearing, an 11-year-old with a genius-level knack for tinkering with and improving the omnipresent robots of Terabyte Heights. Though George lives with his uncle, who owns a junkyard, and has an out-of-date robot named Jackbot as a best friend, he dreams of earning an apprenticeship with TinkerTech, which all but controls the city. When Jackbot is hit by a car containing Anne, daughter of TinkerTech head Professor Droid, she lets George repair Jackbot with TinkerTech materials, resulting in an unprecedented breakthrough in artificial intelligence. Now a sinister force wants Jackbot as part of a plan to take over the town, and it’s up to George and Anne to save the day. Clever, whimsical, and fast-paced, this adventure never loses its sense of fun as it pits the heroes against unusual mechanical menaces and technological threats. Fujita, a visual development artist at DreamWorks Animation, fleshes out the setting and action with crisp, clean cartoons that invoke a stylized realism and an appropriately cinematic feel. A Working Partners property. Ages 9–12. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Blue Mountain

Martine Leavitt. FSG/Ferguson, $15.99 (176p) ISBN 978-0-374-37864-6

Tuk is a bighorn sheep, born to lead his herd at a time when they are threatened by predators and a decreased food supply. He is one of the few sheep to have glimpsed the fabled Blue Mountain—“The stories say that there the meadows are knee-deep in grass, the streams are never dry, and that man never goes there”—and he believes that moving there is the key to saving the bighorn. Others in the herd disagree, but Tuk is guided by the stories of his ancestors, legends Leavitt (My Book of Life by Angel) intersperses throughout the text, and he sets off with a band of followers to find Blue Mountain. Challenges and obstacles arise, but Tuk meets them all, growing into a true leader. The lyrical prose and gravity of Tuk’s quest lend a mythic feel to this memorable and graceful story, which also examines violence and environmental concerns. Readers will see parts of themselves in Tuk as he struggles to form his identity and accept his limitations. Ages 8–12. Agent: Brenda Bowen, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Ben Fox: Squirrel Zombie Specialist at Your Service

Daisy Whitney. Spencer Hill Middle Grade, $7.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-939392-19-0

Investigating a strange noise in the yard one night, 10-year-old Ben discovers that his cat, Percy, possesses some unusual powers. Ben, whose mild cerebral palsy is peripheral to the plot, sees Percy stand on his hind legs, tap the tag on his mysterious new collar, and summon 13 squirrels from underground—“roadkill zombies” that have come back to life after being run over by passing cars. YA author Whitney’s (When You Were Here) story plunges deeper into oddball territory when Ben visits the proprietor of a Halloween-themed store, who gives him a pamphlet on animal zombies and tells him that the squirrels “want nothing more than to feed off the energy of living animals, and then transform their behavior” so that they act like squirrels. Instead, the squirrels (and Ben’s dog, Captain Sparkles) begin acting like cats, and Ben has to find a way to banish these “cross-species zombies” before the Zombie Animal Apocalypse. Ben is a relatable protagonist with an entertaining narrative voice, but his muddled story is difficult to navigate. Ages 8–12. Agent: Michelle Wolfson, Wolfson Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Isabel’s War

Lila Perl. Ig/Skurnick (Consortium, dist.), $12.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-9396-0127-8

Published posthumously, Perl’s moving WWII novel set in the Bronx traces a Jewish girl’s growing awareness of the atrocities occurring overseas. At first, 12-year-old Isabel views the war as an inconvenience, bemoaning new rationing rules and the growing shortages of luxury items. Similarly, she resents the arrival of Helga, a beautiful German refugee with “a swanlike neck, and luminous gray-green eyes,” who ends up living with Isabel’s family when Helga’s American guardian turns ill. But as Isabel gleans bits of information about Helga’s horrific experiences in Germany and in England, where she was delivered as part of the Kindertransport, Isabel’s heart gradually softens. Now her problem is getting others to believe Helga’s tales and persuading Helga that she is not to blame for what her family suffered. This coming-of-age story offers an authentic glimpse of the 1940s American war effort and corresponding sentiments while introducing a realistically flawed heroine whose well-meaning efforts sometimes backfire. A revelation about Helga’s past and the mystery of what happened to her immediate family members will whet appetites for the novel’s completed sequel. Ages 8–12. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Wall

Tom Clohosy Cole. Candlewick/Templar, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7636-7560-8

The son of a family separated by the Berlin Wall narrates Cole’s (Space Race) story. His father is in the West, while the boy, his mother, and his younger sister are trapped in the East: “I worried he was lonely, but Mom said life was better over there.” The wall dominates the lives of the East German inhabitants. Escape attempts are common; ordinary citizens cheer them on. Cole’s silk screen–like digital artwork conveys this reality with unusual thoughtfulness and complexity. The images focus on the cheerless Iron Curtain landscape, gloomy expanses punctuated by intrusive beams of light, and each contains a moment of contrast or surprise. The boy succeeds in digging a tunnel to the West, bringing his mother and sister to safety, their lives spared at one point by a kindly guard (“He said nothing should come between a father and his family”). Doll-like figures temper the story’s more difficult episodes, yet Cole never hides the terror and injustice of life under totalitarian government. A brief note discusses the building of the Berlin Wall, but not Cold War politics; additional context-setting will help. Ages 4–8. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Night Sky Dragons

Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, illus. by Patrick Benson. Candlewick, $15.99 (64p) ISBN 978-0-7636-6144-1

Peet and Graham, who most recently collaborated on Mysterious Traveler, add to their library of tales about children from other times and places with this story about Yazul, a boy who lives along the Silk Road. Yazul’s father is lord of a han, of one of the great communal shelters along the trade route, and Yazul earns his displeasure by breaking a precious plate, a family heirloom. When bandits lay siege to the han, Yazul redeems himself with a surprising scheme. “Is this how you imagined them?” asks Yazul’s kindly grandfather, helping the boy construct giant black kites with which he plans to terrify the bandits. “Are they scary enough?” Using one of the new inventions that the Silk Road brought to the West, Grandfather loads gunpowder into kites’ bamboo tails so they’ll explode like firecrackers. Benson’s (North) pen-and-watercolor portraits concentrate on details of costume and culture, lingering on Yazul’s peaked boots and upturned cap. The result is an adventure that, despite its distant setting, makes it clear that Yazul is not very different from the readers of his story. Ages 4–8. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Go, Shapes, Go!

Denise Fleming. S&S/Beach Lane, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4424-8240-1

Tiny paper-collage Mouse gives various cut-paper shapes their marching—and rolling, bouncing, and slithering—orders in Fleming’s (Underground) celebration of concepts and perception. With oval wheels that give the impression of a windup mouse, the speedy rodent zooms across Fleming’s bold handmade paper backgrounds, directing the shapes on how to assemble themselves: “Slide, SQUARE, and start the show! Bounce, OVAL, up and down.... Flip, thin RECTANGLES. Don’t break!”). When each shape has played its part to form a new whole, the resulting monkey looks ready to play. However, in his exuberance, Mouse crashes into the monkey, sending the shapes scattering. And when the rallying cry “SHAPES, find your places!” comes, the paper pieces take on a spirit of their own, reassembling into, not a monkey, but another animal that has Mouse on the run. Though the story reads as a bit scattered, readers will enjoy joining in the puzzlelike fun, guessing what the shapes are forming and imagining how they might reconfigure. The shapes themselves, snipped from decorative handmade paper, are labeled, helping to introduce or reinforce readers’ familiarity with them. Ages 4–8. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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