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The Stars Never Rise

Rachel Vincent. Delacorte, $17.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-385-74417-1

A century ago, demons declared war on humanity and devoured so many souls that the human population could no longer sustain itself. Now Nina, at 17, has only a year left before she dedicates her life to the tyrannical Unified Church that came to power after the war. In New Temperance, joining their holy order is Nina’s only option to feed herself and her sin-prone sister, Melanie, while their mother wastes away in a drugged stupor. When a demon attack brings Nina’s life crashing down, help comes not from the church’s exorcists but from a fugitive named Finn, who has the power to cast demons back to Hell. Nina’s confusing feelings for Finn take a back burner as she joins him and his friends on the run, fighting both the church and demons to keep her family safe. First in a series, this book sometimes runs heavy on exposition, but Vincent (the Soul Screamers series) carves out an intriguing niche in the post-apocalyptic landscape. Unresolved plotlines leave plenty of reasons for readers to look forward to the next installment. Ages 12–up. Agent: Merrilee Heifetz, Writers House. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Spelled

Betsy Schow. Sourcebooks Fire, $9.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-4926-0871-4

Princess Dorthea (aka Dot) has grown up confined to the Emerald Palace under the threat of a family curse. Desperate to explore the outside world, Dot makes a naïve wish that upends the storybook kingdoms, allowing the evil Gray Witch to seize power and forcing the princess to flee her home—in her magical Hans Christian Louboutin silver and ruby slippers—with help from chimera Prince Kato and servant girl Rexi. Schow’s (Finished Being Fat) mishmash of fairy-tale settings, characters, and plot devices centers around her odd royal reworking of Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; entitled Dot and her pun-laden narration (“Mother of Grimm!”) wear thin quickly. While the chapter titles (“Princess Bridezilla”) and epigraphs (“ ‘If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.’—Gretel from Candy Kills: A True Story”) are creative and relevant to each chapter’s plot, the story itself—which includes Dot dealing with a spell to undo, missing parents, multiple witches and wizards, budding romance, and her transformation into a fire-wielding priestess—is overly convoluted. Ages 12–up. Agent: Michelle Witte, Mansion Street Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Raising Rufus

David Fulk. Delacorte, $16.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-385-74464-5

Eleven-year-old Martin Tinker prefers hunting for “stones, dried leaves, and dead bugs” in the Wisconsin woods and experimenting in his “lab” (the barn on his property) to spending time with real-life friends. After he discovers a large egg frozen deep in a quarry, it hatches into an unusual lizard that immediately imprints on Martin, who names the creature Rufus. It doesn’t take Martin long to realize his lizard is actually a fast-growing tyrannosaur, a fact he keeps hidden from his parents. New girl Audrey befriends Martin, and when she discovers Rufus, he becomes a secret the two share. But Rufus’s growth (and growing appetite) are problems, and when Martin’s father’s boss, who owns a theme park, learns of the existence of a real, live dinosaur, Rufus’s future is in jeopardy. The premise of Fulk’s first children’s book has immediate appeal, and Martin’s difficulties with his father (who wishes his son was more into sports than science) and school bullies are handled well. While the pace can be slow, readers will stick around to see what becomes of Rufus. Ages 9–12. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones

Will Mabbitt, illus. by Ross Collins. Viking, $16.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-451-47196-3

Mabbitt’s bustling debut combines a humorously intrusive narrator with lively illustrations by Collins (Dear Vampa). After Mabel Jones picks her nose and eats the “bogey” she extracts from it, she promptly finds herself an indentured pirate aboard an otherworldly ship filled with wolves, pigs, crocodiles, and a vindictive loris named Omynus Hussh. In the servitude of Idyrss Ebeneezer Split, the captain of the Feroshus Maggot, Mabel learns that the only way to get home is to help the captain collect the pieces of a key scattered among treacherous thieves and pirates before a comet disappears, sealing the porthole between realms for another hundred years. With time running out and suspicious Jarvis the Psychopomp to contend with, Mabel battles ghosts, counts, and a whale to return to the “hooman” world. Playful font variations and word placement amplify the already funny narrative, as do Collins’s numerous illustrations (not all seen by PW), which emphasize Mabel’s daredevil leanings and the budding relationship between Mabel and Omynus. First in a series, this comical novel should become a readaloud favorite. Ages 8–12. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Nooks & Crannies

Jessica Lawson, illus. by Natalie Andrewson. Simon & Schuster, $16.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4814-1921-5

Packed with the delicious elements—hidden passages, unexplained noises, suspicious servants—of a traditional British mystery, Lawson’s (The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher) story, set in 1907 England, will keep readers engagingly puzzled throughout its multilayered twists and tangles. Six children on the cusp of turning 12 are summoned to the country estate of Countess Camilla DeMoss, who soon reveals the competition she has planned. Among them is Tabitha Crum, whose parents plan to abandon her to an orphanage, and whose only friend is her pet mouse. Tabitha is obsessed with mystery books and dreams of working for Scotland Yard; as unnerving events unfold, she is in her element. The Dahl-esque story, humorously peopled by distinctive children and adults, poignantly captures the loneliness and longing of an unwanted child: when Tabitha finds a disguised keyhole that perfectly accepts her key, she has “the odd wish that she could be key-shaped and could find a space where she fit so perfectly.” Well thought-out and deftly executed, Lawson’s novel will appeal to a wide audience. Ages 8–12. Author’s agent: Tina Wexler, ICM. Illustrator’s agent: Jen Linnan, Linnan Literary Management. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Mothman’s Curse

Christine Hayes, illus. by James K. Hindle. Roaring Brook, $15.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-62672-027-5

Twelve-year-old Josie and her younger brother Fox love the auction house their family has run for generations, but when Fox takes a picture with an old Polaroid camera and a photo with a ghostly image develops, they are pulled into a life-and-death mystery. The ghost turns out to be that of John Goodrich, a reclusive local resident. Josie and Fox’s father will be handling the Goodrich estate sale, and the siblings discover a moth pin at the mansion that is linked to a centuries-old curse and the folkloric figure Mothman, who begins to terrorize their Ohio town. Through out-of-body visions and John’s ghostly guidance, Josie learns that a disaster is impending and that she must stop it. Debut author Hayes deftly balances the thriller elements of her story with resonant coming-of-age moments, and Hindle’s eerie b&w cartoons tweak the suspense further. Filled with spooky events and featuring a truly devious villain, the book will have readers racing to solve the mystery, though some may need to sleep with the lights on afterward. Ages 8–12. Author’s agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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And Nick

Emily Gore, illus. by Leonid Gore. S&S/Atheneum, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4169-5506-1

Leonid Gore (Worms for Lunch?) collaborates with his daughter on a story about a late-blooming mouse, the smallest and most self-effacing of four brothers. While Vick, Rick, and Mick have no trouble articulating their preferences and dreams (“I will be an astronaut,” Mick says, “I can hang upside down all day”), Nick keeps quiet (“he wasn’t sure yet who he wanted to be”). When the brothers zoom away on their bikes, Nick brings up the rear on his tricycle. The mice’s mother makes it clear that her love is evenly distributed, but it takes a nudge from nature to prove to Nick that he has plenty of potential. Emily Gore’s literal narration doesn’t offer many surprises, and while Nick is sweet, he’s not much else. However, Leonid Gore’s cheery palette, delicately textured rendering, and expert pacing show how a skilled illustrator can mitigate a somewhat heavy-handed message. He makes it seem like there’s a lot more going on than initially meets the eye—kind of like Nick himself. Ages 4–8. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Rufus the Writer

Elizabeth Bram, illus. by Chuck Groenink. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-385-37853-6

Instead of selling lemonade, Rufus decides to open a “story stand.” He barters his stories for offerings from his friends, a diverse group of colors and sizes. Millie and her brother Walter are going swimming. “I’ll take one story, please. How much?” asks Walter. “Just bring me a special shell from the beach,” Rufus replies, and starts writing. “Red and Yellow got married and had a baby named Orange,” he begins, as the characters are shown as fish swimming among seaweed. Rufus trades a story about a cat for a newborn kitten, then remembers that his sister Annie’s birthday is approaching and writes a tale for her: “Annie could not pour the tea because the teapot and the cups would not stop dancing.” Groenink (Under a Pig Tree) gives the children simple forms and features, and the neighborhood’s trees pleasing, Matisse-like shapes. Bram, in her first children’s book since 1980’s Woodruff and the Clocks, questions the conviction that things only have value if they cost money, holding Rufus up as an unconventional hero whose creations draw his friends into community. Ages 4–8. Illustrator’s agent: Stephen Barr, Writers House. (July)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Bob and Flo

Rebecca Ashdown. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-544-44430-0

Flo the penguin is starting preschool with a pink bow and a pink lunch bucket. Then, without permission, her new friend Bob walks off with the bucket and plays it with all day, using it as a hat, footstool, and drum. None of this registers with Flo at first (she goes off looking for her bucket while Bob is standing right in front of her, wearing it on his head), but when it finally does, Flo is not even a little miffed. Instead, she fills the bucket with water, which she uses to free Bob, who has gotten himself stuck on a playground slide. At day’s end, Bob shows no signs of returning the bucket. “See you tomorrow, Bob!” Flo says cheerfully. “And don’t forget our bucket!” British illustrator Ashdown (How the Library [Not the Prince] Saved Rapunzel) has loads of visual talent: her minimalist graphic style is sunny and fun, and her poker-faced characterizations have a naïf charm. But most readers will likely be taken aback by Bob’s brazenness and wish that Flo would stand up for herself a little. Ages 4–8. Agency: Bright Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Ask Me

Bernard Waber, illus. by Suzy Lee. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-547-73394-4

In this posthumously published tale by Waber, best known for his Lyle the Crocodile books, a girl directs a conversation with her father. “Ask me what I like,” she says. “What do you like?” he asks. Lee (Open This Little Book) pictures the duo on a park outing, and the girl delights in falling leaves as she admires the natural surroundings (“I like geese in the sky. No, in the water. I like both”). After naming many favorite things, she gets more specific: “How come birds build nests?” Her father warmly responds, “All right, how come birds build nests?” sustaining the give-and-take. The girl’s words appear in black type and the father’s in dark blue, so readers know who is speaking despite the untagged dialogue and lack of quotation marks. Taking advantage of negative space to emphasize a bright sky, people’s faces, and the girl’s swingy dress, Lee lines the characters in charcoal-gray pencil and frames the pages in scribbles of maple-leaf red, autumnal gold, and denim blue. The easygoing verbal exchange and affectionate visuals celebrate a close father-daughter relationship while recognizing beauty in everyday simplicity. Ages 4–8. (July)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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