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Under the Ocean

Anouck Boisrobert, illus. by Louis Rigaud. Tate (Abrams, dist.), $19.95 (10p) ISBN 978-1-84976-159-8

The creators of Wake Up, Sloth! return with another ecologically themed pop-up book that shares the tall, slim format and spare, stylized illustrations of its predecessor. Oceano, a red sailing vessel, departs a polluted port, traveling past icebergs and through storms before eventually anchoring at a pristine lagoon, where its crew scuba dives. Gracefully engineered pop-ups lift vertically to reveal the majesty and depth (in more ways than one) of the undersea world—a pop-up demonstrating just how much of an iceberg exists underwater is downright revelatory. All the while, a running narrative hints at the ocean’s biodiversity, as well as human-created hazards. A thought-provoking and gorgeously executed nautical journey. Ages 4–up. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Princess Spy

Melanie Dickerson. Zondervan, $12.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-310-73098-9

Dickerson (The Healer’s Apprentice) is off her game in this medieval historical romance set in early 15th-century Germany. Margaretha, the eponymous princess, is being wooed by the English noble Rowland Fortescue, Earl of Claybrook, whose foppish hats she rather dislikes. Into Margaretha’s German stronghold arrives an injured Englishman, Colin le Wyse, whose situation is tied to Claybrook. Colin’s startling disclosures force Margaretha to spy on her potential betrothed and act to save her family, as Colin and the princess slowly develop a relationship of warmth and trust. Title notwithstanding, the princess doesn’t do a lot of spying, and the potential for adventure in the story is underdeveloped. The Snidely Whiplash of a villain is portrayed with a painful lack of subtlety, and Margaretha is similarly characterized by stereotype (she is repeatedly referred to as a talkative flibbertigibbet, though more evidence is provided of her resourcefulness than of her flightiness). Sparks between Margaretha and Colin are well-rendered, but not enough to redeem a by-the-numbers story. Ages 15–up. Agency: Books & Such Literary Agency. (Nov.)■

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Boss on Redemption Road

Lane Walker. Evergreen, $9.99 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-58169-563-2

Walker, an outdoor writer and hunter, tells the story of an aptly named sixth-grader named Hunter in the didactic fourth book in the Hometown Hunters series. When Hunter’s father loses his job in Denver, the family moves to a farm on Redemption Road in the town of Pine Bluff, offered to them by a relative. Addicted to video games, Hunter can imagine no good for himself in his family’s move. Although he was bullied at his Denver school, he would rather stay in the city. Bullying follows Hunter to tiny Pine Bluff, but it’s there that he makes his first real friends. “City Boy,” as he is quickly dubbed by classmates and others, works after school for his cranky neighbor, a woman others derisively call “Crazy Kate.” As Hunter comes to know her and her sad history, he becomes her champion and insists others call her “Miss Kate.” In the end, a prize is won in a surprising way in an elk-hunting contest, and the locals learn to look beyond appearances and to live in harmony. Walker’s writing is competent, but nothing in the tale is very fresh. Ages 7–12. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Lullaby

Debbie Friedman, illus. by Lorraine Bubar. Jewish Lights, $18.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-58023-807-6

When children’s singer-songwriter Friedman died in 2011, her heartfelt, folk-style music had already become a mainstay of Reform and Conservative Judaism. This book, the first in a series based on her songs, opens with a brother and sister trying to prolong the time before lights out just a little longer. Friedman’s lyrics gently nudge the siblings (and readers) to sleep, reassuring all that “you’ll be safe throughout the night,” and reminding them, as the illustrations briefly return to the playground and other scenes of daytime life featuring pets, friends, and tears caused by a scraped knee, “You did so many things today and you’ll do so many more tomorrow.” Populated by lots of teddy bears and other comfort objects, the realistic, softly colored tableaus by Bubar, an artist who has studied animation and made films, are nicely observed, but they may strike some readers as a little too staid, even for a soporific title. The book is probably best enjoyed with the accompanying CD, which has Friedman singing in the lightly lilting melody. Ages 3–6. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Noah

Mark Ludy. Plough (IPS, dist.), $19.95 (64p) ISBN 978-0-87486-639-1

Ludy (The Farmer) takes on a simple but big and familiar story in this wordless picture book. Noah is living an ordinary life until he gets an extraordinary message from God. He sits down to his drawing board and slowly, over the years that it takes to raise three sons, builds an ark. The rest is history of a sort. Ludy’s choices of what to depict and what to leave out fascinate as his story offers a graphic midrash on the biblical tale. Noah’s eyes and their changing expressions are one thread to follow. The animals are visually arresting, but their role is understated relative to the unfolding epic drama, which Ludy keeps focused on the title character. The emotional heart of the story is challenge and triumph, not catastrophe and punishment. The flood is sometimes cited as an example of the wrath of God, but Ludy emphasizes the scale of the drama and God’s power, not destructive anger. Adults may argue the theology, even while younger readers study the many playful details, including Squeakers, Ludy’s signature mouse, hidden in the illustrations. All ages. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Walled City

Ryan Graudin. Little, Brown, $18 (448p) ISBN 978-0-316-40505-8

The walled city of Hak Nam is “a place so ruthless even the sunlight won’t enter,” a festering cesspool in which children and teenagers are forced to murder, steal, and become prostitutes to survive. Dai Shing, trying to escape the city for reasons of his own, is ticking off the 18 days until the New Year when he partners up with Jin Ling, who is posing as a street boy in an effort to find her sister, Mei Yee. Now Jin must rescue Mei from a brothel under the control of the nefarious Brotherhood of the Red Dragon, with Dai’s unwitting assistance. Graudin (All That Glows) is gifted at employing simile and other literary devices to describe the gritty surroundings and Hak Nam’s criminal inhabitants, including one man with a voice “like a junkyard dog.” The result is three stories deftly entwined into a fast-paced, striking tale—partly inspired by the now-destroyed Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong—as Dai and Jin learn to trust one another with their lives. Ages 15–up. Agent: Tracey Adams, Adams Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Night Sky

Suzanne Brockmann and Melanie Brockmann. Sourcebooks Fire, $16.99 (496p) ISBN 978-1-4926-0144-9

Best known for her romantic thrillers, Suzanne Brockmann teams up with her daughter Melanie for a YA adventure set in her Fighting Destiny world (as seen in 2012’s Born to Darkness). Sixteen-year-old Skylar Reid is shocked to discover that she’s a Greater-Than, born with superhuman powers—in her case telekinesis, super-speed, prophetic dreams, and more. Also shocking to her: that there are those who kidnap G-Ts and use their blood to synthesize a dangerous drug. Skylar joins her wheelchair-bound friend Calvin, motorcycle-riding bad girl Dana, and mysterious hottie Milo to rescue a missing child and bring down those who would exploit people like her. But first she has to master her newfound gifts while hiding her activities from her overprotective mother. The Brockmanns deliver a complex, entertaining tale that blends action, suspense, and romance in a near-future setting. The story does drag at times, with the characters roaming in every direction as they play detective, but it’s a strong start to the series, and a great lead-in to Brockmann’s adult work. Ages 14–up. Agent: Steven Axelrod, Axelrod Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Like Water on Stone

Dana Walrath. Delacorte, $16.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-385-74397-6

Divided into four devastating sections spanning five years, Walrath’s debut vividly renders the atrocities of the Armenian genocide in the early 20th century, using multiple first-person narratives in delicate verse. After years of living peacefully as Christians with neighboring Muslims, Papa refuses to accept the worsening political realities his son, Shahen, recognizes until it’s too late: “Papa so thick,/ so certain,/ so simple./ He lost three sons/ in one day:/ my brothers/ to soldiers,/ and me/ to a scarf and dress.” Shahen, dressed as a girl, escapes into the mountains with his sisters Sosi and Mariam, guiding them through scenes of carnage as they leave behind their parents, family, and friends: “ ‘I’ve got you./ Hold on./ Keep them closed.’.... Up the bank/ past the bodies,/ heaps of them,/ bloated,/ cut open./ ‘Just hold on./ Keep them closed.’ ” Ardziv, a compassionate eagle watching over the family and following the children, adds a touch of magical realism that softens the devastating images. A shocking tale of a bleak moment in history, told with stunning beauty. Ages 14–up. Agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Good Sister

Jamie Kain. St. Martin’s Griffin, $18.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-04773-1

Asha and Rachel Kinsey are in mourning after their older sister, Sarah, died in a fall from a cliff into the ocean—an unexpected twist of fate, since Sarah had fought cancer for years. Both Asha and Rachel are broken and reeling, acting reckless with boys, and hurting each other and their parents. Then Asha begins to wonder if Sarah’s death was really an accident, even as Rachel works to hide the truth of what really happened. Meanwhile, Sarah watches her sisters from the afterlife, full of intense regret. Through the distinct voices of all three girls, Kain (who has written for adults as Jamie Sobrato) gives life to the complicated relationship between sisters. While having Sarah speak from beyond the grave gives this novel a touch of the supernatural, Kain keeps her story and everyone in it grounded in reality. The author offers profound reflections on life, death, and the bonds of family, and as the suspense surrounding Sarah’s death intensifies, readers will find it hard to put this novel down. Ages 14–up. Agent: Annelise Robey, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Terminals

Royce Scott Buckingham. St. Martin’s/Dunne, $18.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-01155-8

Buckingham makes his U.S. YA debut with this ambitious yet uneven thriller, in which a group of teens diagnosed with a terminal condition get the chance to be globe-trotting secret agents. Their newest recruit, 19-year-old Cam Cody, is an athlete with one year to live, due to a brain tumor. Hoping to make the last year of his life count, Cam eagerly joins the mysterious organization that promises to train and utilize him. Soon he and nine others are fighting pirates, saving lives, and taking down foreign dictators. As Cam’s companions gradually die in the line of duty, he grows uneasy, and when a survivor of the previous “class” of spies shows up, he realizes that nothing is what it seems. Buckingham sets up the premise well and offers surprises at every turn, but this story is weakened by distasteful gender undertones, including Cam’s tendency to see every girl he encounters in terms of physicality and hookup potential, and the way female characters are killed off. An intriguing but problematic story. Ages 12–up. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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