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The Infinite Sea

Rick Yancey. Putnam, $18.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-399-16242-8

From an explosive start that reveals the boundless malevolence of Yancey's conquering alien Others, this gut-wrenching sequel to The 5th Wave careens on a violent course of nonstop action. Heroine Cassie, renegade soldier Ringer, and fellow survivor Ben have led a band of military camp escapees to a decaying hotel somewhere in Ohio. With winter approaching, they squabble over how to attempt survival, with Ringer questioning whether Cassie's refusal to budge until they know what happened to Evan, who helped them escape but who may be an Other, means she's fallen in love with the enemy. Reversals and double-reversals abound. At one point, Ringer admits to dizziness, a sensation readers may share. "Bluffs inside bluffs, feints within counterfeints. I'm in a game," she says, "in which I don't know the rules or even the object." Despite the gore, inhumanity, and senseless losses, Yancey manages an ending that both shatters and uplifts. While readers may not yet fully understand what the Others are up to, the title, an allusion to a speech made by Shakespeare's Juliet, is a clue to what's driving the survivors: love. Ages 14–up. Agent: Brian DeFiore, DeFiore and Co. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Kid Presidents: True Tales of Childhood from America’s Presidents

David Stabler, illus. by Doogie Horner. Quirk, $13.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-59474-731-1

“Every president in United States history started out like you and me,” writes Stabler (a pseudonym for author Robert Schnakenberg), before going on to prove it. The stories he’s assembled show how the young lives of the men who became president encompassed nearly everything that kids go through today, including blended families (Lincoln), helicopter parenting (F.D.R.), crushes (Nixon), bullies (Eisenhower, Kennedy), being the new kid (Obama), and odd obsessions that drive parents crazy (“Herbert Hoover once ate nothing but pears for two whole days”). The text is straightforward, upbeat, and resolutely apolitical, organized into easy-to-digest sections that alternate between stories of individual presidents and roundups on themes like chores, jobs, and what teachers thought of the presidents as students. “When you grow up, you’re either going to be governor or get in a lot of trouble,” said Bill Clinton’s sixth-grade teacher (though no citation for this or any other quotation is provided). Horner’s spot cartoons ensure readers won’t mistake this for a history textbook and contribute some funny metafictional moments: “We need strawberries!” says Theodore Roosevelt’s mother in one drawing. “Stop waving to the readers and go!” Ages 8–12. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Perfectionists

Sara Shepard. HarperTeen, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-207469-0

After several dissimilar girls discover they have suffered at the hands of rich, popular bully Nolan, they drug him at his own party and scrawl mean messages on his face, which they share online. When Nolan is discovered dead the next day, the girls become the central suspects and must work together to figure out what really happened. This scintillating series kickoff from Pretty Little Liars author Shepard employs a similar formula, mixing archetypical girls—the popular one, the musician, etc.—with an array of scandals. A slimy teacher suggestively offers beautiful, brilliant Ava “extra credit,” while soccer star Caitlin becomes attracted to her boyfriend’s younger brother. Meanwhile, police are uncovering clues that further implicate the girls, especially after a second murder occurs in their tony town. There’s a lot going on, and some of it—like a suspicious therapist who seems to have only two teen girls as patients—defies believability, even for an outrageous story. But Shepard expertly crafts characters that are morally complicated, yet sympathetic. An Alloy Entertainment property, in development for a CW television series. Ages 14–up. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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H2O

Virginia Bergin. Sourcebooks Fire, $16.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4926-0654-3

There’s a space bacterium raining down on England, infesting the water supply and fatally infecting everyone it touches. Through a mix of careful planning and sheer luck, 15-year-old Ruby Morris is one of the lone survivors, teaming up with a nerdy classmate and a traumatized mute girl to find her father in London. Writing from Ruby’s perspective, debut novelist Bergin treats the story as the girl’s recollection of the history of the epidemic and a handbook of sorts for other survivors. But Ruby’s character development remains stunted even through life-altering trauma and devastation. Despite the deaths of Ruby’s baby “brother-brat beloved,” her mother, and all her friends, as well as becoming the caretaker for several dogs and a young girl, Ruby shows little growth. She is so preoccupied with her appearance that she stops for a makeover amid the chaos, lugs around cosmetics, and loots designer duds instead of focusing on potable water and protective gear. Although the most accessible characters are often flawed, Ruby becomes increasingly unsympathetic as the story progresses. Ages 14–up. Agent: Louise Lamont, LBA Books. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Blue Lily, Lily Blue

Maggie Stiefvater. Scholastic Press, $18.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-545-42496-7

Tension escalates in Henrietta, Va. (as does the body count), in the third of four titles in Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle, following The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves. Gansey’s elderly British mentor, Malory, is just one of the new arrivals in town (he’s certainly among the more benevolent) as Gansey, Blue, Adam, Ronan, and Noah continue to seek out the tomb of the ancient Welsh king Glendower. Adam and Blue are growing into their respective supernatural abilities, and while important discoveries are unearthed (literally) as the group’s search takes them into treacherous caves, the teenagers’ complicated relationships with their parents and family—whether living, dead, or mysteriously vanished—play a large role in pushing this story forward. As in the previous books, Stiefvater’s razor-sharp characterizations, drily witty dialogue, and knack for unexpected metaphors and turns of phrase make for sumptuous, thrilling reading. Curses, grisly secret plots, and romantic uncertainties leave Blue and company’s future feeling more fragile than ever. A brutal cliffhanger ensures that readers will snap up the final installment the second it’s available. Ages 14–up. Agent: Laura Rennert, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Arcady’s Goal

Eugene Yelchin. Holt, $15.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8050-9844-0

Inspired by a photograph of the Red Army Soccer Club of 1945, of which his father was captain, Yelchin (Breaking Stalin’s Nose) tells the story of 12-year-old orphaned Arcady, whose soccer talent brings him to the attention of Ivan Ivanych, who identifies himself as a soccer coach and adopts the boy. Set in Stalinist Russia, the compact novel follows the spurts and crashes of the relationship between the two, who have both lost family—Arcady, his parents; Ivan, his wife—to the Communist party’s arrest of those deemed enemies of the state. Ivan’s efforts to tame Arcady’s roughness and help him achieve his goal of playing for the Red Army Soccer Club are hampered by his own past. Yelchin’s b&w drawings, interspersed throughout the text as both spots and spreads, add emotional depth and amplify the plot; ample soccer detail makes this a winner for fans of the sport. Readers unfamiliar with the period will benefit from reading the ending author’s note—which provides historical background without giving away any of the plot—before they embark on the book. Ages 9–12. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Little Wicked

Janet R. Macreery. Outskirts (www.outskirtspress.com), $9.95 paper (188p) ISBN 978-1-4787-3346-1

“If my heart had not already been broken and scattered in the wind, I would have bawled like a newborn,” laments 12-year-old Dory MacDonald, whose Scottish clan is chased out of their peaceful glen by Redcoats, under orders from the King of England to kill the Highlanders. After Dory’s best friend and his family are murdered, her mother dies, and her father heads north, she is directed by the clan leader to travel to the New World to live with her aunt and uncle. Set in 1692, Macreery’s debut is roughly divided into three parts: Dory’s treacherous journey through Scotland to the ship, her rough ocean voyage to Massachusetts as a member of the ship’s crew (disguised as a boy), and her troubled new life in Salem during the witch trials. Dory’s mother’s cairngorm necklace and a faithful buzzard named Merlin are her only protectors. Macreery details Dory’s daily chores and abuse by many enemies, making for a grim account of historical hardships, but readers will learn a lot about resilience and Scottish identity. Ages 8–12. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Troubles of Johnny Cannon

Isaiah Campbell. Simon & Schuster, $16.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4814-0003-9

Set primarily in the small Alabama town of Cullman during the turbulent early months of 1961, Campbell’s strong debut novel mixes action and drama as 12-year-old Johnny Cannon wrangles with his family’s poverty, his brother joining the military, and race relations in the South. While Johnny is trying to keep the bank from repossessing the house, his father is playing with radio equipment and dealing with shady characters, which soon bring the CIA to town, further complicating matters. As Johnny befriends an African-American boy named Willie, he’s forced to reevaluate his own views and experiences. When it turns out that people close to him were involved in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, it throws his world into turmoil. While the story takes some implausible, larger-than-life turns, Campbell balances them with a sensitive, authentic look at racial conflict and attitudes in 1960s Alabama, filtered through Johnny’s distinctive attitude and voice. “I wasn’t paying no attention the day I was out hunting turkey,” he claims as the book opens, and his story spirals out wildly from there. Ages 8–12. Agent: Marietta Zacker, Nancy Gallt Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Dory Fantasmagory

Abby Hanlon. Dial, $14.99 (160p) ISBN 978-0-8037-4088-4

Dory’s nickname, “Rascal,” is an immediate tip-off to the six-year-old’s personality, but there’s more to Dory than just being a spitfire. To combat her older siblings’ refusal to play with her because she’s a “baby,” Dory conjures up Mary, a monster friend who appreciates her incessant questions, like “Why do we have armpits?” and “What is the opposite of sandwich?” Dory’s pestering leads Luke and Violet to tell her that 507-year-old Mrs. Gobble Gracker, “who robs baby girls,” is looking for her. This sets Dory’s imagination spinning, leading to the appearance of the vampiric Mrs. Gobble Gracker and the gnomelike Mr. Nuggy, who introduces himself as her fairy godmother. Reality and fantasy combine hilariously in a story that, at heart, is about a girl who wants little more than to spend time with her brother and sister. Hanlon’s (Ralph Tells a Story) loosely scrawled illustrations, speech balloons, and hand-lettering are an enormous part of the story’s humor, channeling Dory’s energy and emotions as emphatically as the narration. Time spent with Dory is time well spent. Ages 6–8. Agent: Ann Tobias, A Literary Agency for Children’s Books. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Star Sisters and the Royal Wedding

Jennifer Blecher, illus. by Anne Zimanski. Westgate Publishing (www.star-sisters.com), $7.99 paper (112p) ISBN 978-0-615-99966-1

Introducing two girls who are whisked off to London to serve as flower girls at the “wedding of the century,” this first title in a chapter-book series has ready-made appeal to kids who like their fiction frilly. Blecher’s contrived references (the girls land at Luckingham Palace, the wedding is at Eastminster Abbey, and the engaged are Prince Wells and his commoner bride, Caroline) will either prompt eye rolls or giggles, depending on readers’ temperaments. It all begins when Coco and Lucy, both new to town and friendless, wander into a forest. There a tiny woman who has been trapped in a tree trunk identifies their identical star-shaped necklaces as ones that once transported long-ago sister princesses to mysterious locales to fulfill a mission of “spreading kindness.” Coco and Lucy now have inherited that responsibility, and they set out to mend the rift between Caroline and her maid-of-honor sister, Poppy. Zimanski’s sweet-natured half-tone illustrations help bolster the earnest goodwill of the protagonists. Two subsequent titles, Star Sisters and the Big Show and Star Sisters and the Great Skate, are also available. Ages 5–8. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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