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Trick or Treat

Andrea Lorini, illus. by Roberta Pagnoni and Laura Rigo. Barron’s, $6.99 (8p) ISBN 978-0-7641-6783-6

Two brothers, dressed as a vampire bat and a red devil, go trick-or-treating with their mother in this mild Halloween board book, which is die-cut to resemble a pumpkin-shaped candy basket. Along the way they run into a friend dressed up as a witch, get candy, and are briefly scared by their costumed grandfather. The writing and dialogue can be wooden in places (“We will surely scare everyone,” says younger brother Jacob), but the suburban details of Pagnoni and Rigo’s simple, handsome illustrations are worth poring over. Ages 2–5. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Pumpkin Party!

Maudie Powell-Tuck, illus. by Gill Guile. Tiger Tales, $8.99 (22p) ISBN 978-1-58925-206-6

Powell-Tuck and Guile offer a “no scares here” Halloween celebration featuring ultra-cute animals that include a ladybug, owl, fox, and squirrel. Dressed in wizard and jack-o’-lantern costumes, they frolic across the pages and take part in traditional activities like bobbing for apples and trick-or-treating. Cozy details, like the tiny star-tipped magic wand the ladybug waves, and upbeat rhymes (“Pumpkins laugh, pumpkins giggle,/ Pumpkins dance and pumpkins jiggle”) make for a sugary-sweet holiday read. Ages 2–5. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Boo! A Book of Spooky Surprises

Jonathan Litton, illus. by Fhiona Galloway. Tiger Tales, $7.99 (16p) ISBN 978-1-68010-501-8

Overlapping die-cut ovals outlined in vivid shades of lime, purple, orange, and yellow form the eyes of cats, owls, witches, and other holiday standbys as an unseen narrator tries to figure out who is shouting “boo!” Repeating questions (“Spider, spider, was that you? Were you the one who shouted boo?”) draw readers forward, while each of the six interviewees denies the charge with an “It wasn’t me!” Galloway’s cheerful graphics keep the mood light, and the culprit—a smiley ghost—is more likely to trigger giggles than gasps. Ages 2–5. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Spooky Pookie

Sandra Boynton. Random/Corey, $5.99 (18p) ISBN 978-0-553-51233-5

Boynton’s Little Pookie is celebrating Halloween, and picking a costume is proving difficult. Lively rhymes list off the options Mom offers (“A clown would be funny./ A pumpkin is cute./ You would make a fine bunny/ in the white bunny suit”) as Little Pookie raids the costume chest. The final selection—a classic white-sheet ghost outfit—proves frightening enough to scare Mom, so it’s the clear winner. It’s a fun Halloween diversion that should easily please Little Pookie’s (and Boynton’s) many devotees. Up to age 3. (July)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Boo!

Leslie Patricelli. Candlewick, $6.99 (26p) ISBN 978-0-7636-6320-9

The diaper-wearing baby from Patricelli’s Toot, Tickle, and other board books gets its first taste of Halloween, from pumpkin carving to costume choosing. In the book’s funniest moment, Baby dismisses “too small” and “too big” pumpkins for one that’s “just right”—it’s the exact size and shape of Baby’s head, down to a squiggly stem that mirrors Baby’s single curly hair. (Admittedly, this makes the subsequent pumpkin-carving scenes just a tad creepy.) Patricelli honestly explores the frights and excitements that Halloween first-timers often feel, but she keeps the dial firmly set to fun. Up to age 3. Agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (July)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Willful Machines

Tim Floreen. Simon Pulse, $17.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-4814-3277-1

Floreen’s thoughtful debut calls into question the definition of humanity and the nature of love. In a near-future America, artificial intelligences have been developed and promptly outlawed, with a rogue entity named Charlotte launching terrorist attacks, ostensibly to free her imprisoned brethren. Lee Fisher, the son of the president of the United States, worries about being one of Charlotte’s targets, but he’s more afraid that he’ll be outed as gay in an increasingly hostile sociopolitical environment. When he falls for Nico, who has just transferred to his prep school, Lee has to overcome years of repression and fear, gaining confidence he will need as Charlotte’s plans escalate. Floreen’s story combines elements of romance and action, set against a believable futuristic backdrop, and he wisely keeps the core cast insular for better character development. Genuine twists should catch readers off-guard, but the ultimate set of revelations requires some significant leaps of logic. Nevertheless, the developing chemistry between Nico and Lee is satisfying, and the story raises intriguing ideas about free will, morality, and growing up. Ages 14–up. Agent: Quinlan Lee, Adams Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Weird Girl and What’s His Name

Meagan Brothers. Three Rooms (PGW, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-941110-27-0

As the title suggests, Rory, who narrates the first half of this book, is overlooked by his classmates, while his best friend and fellow X-Files obsessive Lula, who narrates the second half, can’t stay under the radar. Rory may be overweight, nerdy, and gay—something only Lula and the older lover Rory hasn’t told her about know—but the whole junior class knows Lula, her all-black outfits, and her out-of-date slang learned from the grandparents who raised her. Lula’s grandparents won’t talk about their daughter, and when Lula finds out that Rory has been keeping things from her, too, she runs away. Lula’s story begins after she returns home, and Brothers (Supergirl Mixtapes) effectively mixes past and present as Lula copes with the fallout of her actions and describes her journey, which included minor humiliations, efforts to figure out her sexuality, and a mother who doesn’t measure up to fantasy. Happily, by book’s end, the title no longer applies: both Lula and Rory have people in their lives—friends and romantic interests—who know not just their names but their real, evolving selves. Ages 14–up. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Step Toward Falling

Cammie McGovern. HarperTeen, $17.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-227113-6

Emily knows that she isn’t good at everything (boys, for instance), but she generally thinks she’s a good person—until the night she does nothing when Belinda, a classmate with special needs, is being assaulted at a football game. Now Emily and Lucas, a star football player who also failed to act, must volunteer at a social skills class for adults with developmental disabilities. Interacting with Lucas and the class members is initially awkward for Emily, but she comes to see past her preconceptions about all of them. But this isn’t just Emily’s story: it’s also Belinda’s. Alternating passages follow Belinda as she recovers from the attack—which she successfully fended off—and returns to school, eventually befriending Emily and Lucas. No mere empathy builder for Emily and Lucas, Belinda is a fully developed character—good at some things (better than Emily and Lucas, in fact), bad at others. Without evading or sugarcoating difficult topics, McGovern (Say What You Will) shows that disabled and able aren’t binary states but part of a continuum—a human one. Ages 14–up. Agent: Margaret Riley King, William Morris Endeavor. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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First & Then

Emma Mills. Holt, $17.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-62779-235-6

Devon is an only child—until her cousin Foster unexpectedly moves in with her family. Now Devon has a misfit younger “brother” to keep an eye on as he navigates his first year of high school, even as she struggles with an unrequited crush on her best friend Cas and not quite knowing what she wants to do with her life. In her first novel, Mills takes inspiration from Jane Austen for both romantic and family dynamics; Devon’s developing rapport with geeky and awkward Foster, as well as his role in bringing Darcy-esque football captain Ezra into Devon’s life, is not only fun, but a rewarding portrait of a nontraditional sibling relationship. The unlikely catalyst of football in Foster’s and Devon’s worlds—and the popularity and crowd that go with the sport—add a fresh backdrop to typical Austen themes of social standing and self-awareness. Readers will root both for Foster (as his school’s new varsity kicker) and for Devon and Ezra to discover their worthiness for the other in this satisfying romance. Ages 14–up. Agent: Bridget Smith, Dunham Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Dangerous Summer of Jesse Turner

D.C. Reep and E.A. Allen. CreateSpace, $10.99 paper (204p) ISBN 978-1-5077-8905-6

It’s 1898, and 16-year-old Jesse Turner is eager to escape his reputation as the son of an outlaw who ran with the likes of Jesse James. In hopes of proving he is nobler than his father, Jesse leaves Missouri to join the Rough Riders, led by Theodore Roosevelt, who are en route to Cuba to fight in the Spanish-American War. Jesse quickly befriends two teenagers from New York and a Comanche, but he also makes a dangerous enemy who holds him accountable for his father’s actions. Reep and Allen introduce an earnest underdog in Jesse and carry the story briskly forward through detailed descriptions of the daily travails and bloodshed of war. Jesse’s easygoing first-person narrative keeps the tone light, yet the authors don’t avoid gritty details of the Rough Riders’ experiences, including lice infestations, spoiled meat, and crabs swarming over fallen soldiers in the jungles of Cuba. Readers drawn toward war stories will find characters worth investing in this vivid historical outing; an endnote touches on the real-life figures that appear in the novel, as well as the authors’ sources. Ages 12–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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