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Dream a Little Dream

Kerstin Gier, trans. from the German by Anthea Bell. Holt, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-62779-027-7

Liv Silver’s dreams take on a life of their own in this first book in this Silver Trilogy. Shortly after moving to London and meeting her soon-to-be stepbrother Grayson, both Grayson and his friends begin to appear in Liv’s dreams, performing an occult ritual. Before long they have asked virginal Liv to join in the dangerous game of black magic, including a blood offering that opens a portal into each other’s nocturnal musings through a series of doors. In Liv, Gier (the Ruby Red trilogy) has created a smart heroine who loves a good mystery and has her wits about her. But her precociousness and the fact that most of the action takes place in dreams robs the story of its sense of peril; Olivia remains flippant even in the face of real danger and human sacrifice. The romantic pairings of the main characters and a subplot involving a student with an anonymous Gossip Girl–style blog will likely be explored in more detail in later books, but the main plotline resolves without generating a driving force toward the sequel. Ages 12–up. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Killing Time in Crystal City

Chris Lynch. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-4424-4011-1

Seventeen-year-old runaway Kevin arrives in Crystal City with little more than a cast on his arm, the nickname Kiki Vandeweghe (after the former NBA star), and the address for his estranged uncle Sydney, the family’s black sheep. Asked how he got the cast by fellow bus passenger Stacey (who has a cast of her own), Kevin explains, “My Dad did it,” though the truth is less cut and dry, readers gradually learn. After Kevin arrives in the beach town, he moves in with his uncle (who describes his work fencing stolen luxury goods as a “perfectly reasonable redistribution of wealth... and a victimless crime. Like necrophilia”) and spends time with Stacey and another transient Molly, who has turned to prostitution to get by. Lynch (Little Blue Lies) parcels out details about Kevin father, his best friend, and why he left home through conversations, emails, and flashbacks, maintaining suspense. But it’s Kevin’s unshakable awkwardness (including a humiliating tendency to blush at Stacey’s every minor provocation), some dark twists, and Lynch’s proficiency for zingy banter that make this story about feeling like an outsider among outsiders leave a lasting impression. Ages 12–up. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Waiting for Unicorns

Beth Hautala. Philomel, $16.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-525-42631-8

Ever since her mother died of cancer, 12-year-old Talia has been lost in grief. Her father’s whale research takes the two of them to the small coastal town in Manitoba, where they will live with his old friend, an Inuit woman named Sura. Talia hopes to find a unicorn whale (a narwhal), which she believes can make her most important wish come true: the chance to say one last goodbye to her mother. With help from Sura, new friends, and her own father Talia discovers that while some wishes go unanswered, others come true in their own ways. Debut author Hautala weaves Inuit stories and tradition, as well as the fairy tales Talia’s mother told, into this affecting exploration of grief and the hope that can come through the love of good friends. With spellbinding descriptions of Talia’s icy new surroundings (“the new snow looked like it was lit from beneath. It was almost as if the sun had somehow broken itself apart and burrowed under the arctic landscape”), this story will stay with readers. Ages 10–up. Agent: Danielle Chiotti, Upstart Crow Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Truth About Twinkie Pie

Kat Yeh. Little, Brown, $17 (352p) ISBN 978-0-316-23662-1

Twelve-year-old Galileo Galilei Barnes (shortened to GiGi, for obvious reasons) has been raised by her older sister, DiDi, ever since their mother died. After DiDi wins a million dollars in a cooking contest, the two girls move from a South Carolina trailer park to a wealthy town in Long Island to get GiGi the best education possible. Hoping to make the most of her new school, GiGi has put together a “Recipe for Success,” with items that include making real friends for the first time and being “the girl Mama would be if she were here. Friendly. Funny. Confident.” A cute boy at school and a mean girl who is jealous of her initially appear to be familiar types, but they, along with DiDi, have major surprises in store for GiGi and readers; in her first novel, picture book author Yeh (The Magic Brush) skillfully builds toward a breathless, emotional conclusion. Recipes are scattered throughout, emphasizing the way food connects GiGi to her family—even when she learns her family isn’t quite what she thought it was. Ages 8–12. Agent: Sarah Davies, Greenhouse Literary Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Spider Ring

Andrew Harwell. Scholastic Press, $16.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-545-68290-9

Seventh-grader Maria Lopez loves her Grandma Esme, but she doesn’t understand her fascination with spiders, not to mention the enormous spider ring Esme is never without. After her grandmother dies under suspicious circumstances, Maria not only inherits the ring, but she also gains the ability to control one of the Order of the Anansi—eight of the most feared spiders on the planet. As Maria learns the hard lesson Grandma Esme left her—“The spiders are your friends. Do not abuse their friendship”—she becomes involved in a sticky plot that has a driven villainess seeking to collect all the rings and thus control the entire Order. Amid the mystery of Grandma Esme’s death, Maria meets the Amazing Arturo, her grandmother’s partner from her traveling circus days, whose story, while providing important clues, is written in an abrupt flashback. This aside, the inventive concept and fluid descriptions in children’s book editor Harwell’s first novel combine to create a suspenseful and sometimes unsettling glimpse into the intricate behaviors of spiders, with a dash of magic for good measure. Ages 8–12. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Case of the Missing Moonstone

Jordan Stratford, illus. by Kelly Murphy. Knopf, $16.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-385-75440-8

This smart and witty first book in the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency mystery series features celebrated figures Ada Lovelace, considered the world’s first computer programmer, and Mary Shelley, credited with creating the science fiction genre, as young detectives-in-training. Although Stratford (who raised more than $90,000 on Kickstarter to publish the series, prior to its acquisition) admits he’s taken liberties with some facts and dates, he vividly recreates the social and economic milieu of 1826 England through the girls’ eyes. Lady Ada, 11, is an awkward but brilliant mathematician, while Mary, 14, is socially adept and loves the romantic, adventurous side of life. When the girls come across newspaper pieces about crime, they resolve form a “secret constabulary” to catch criminals. As they use quick thinking, book smarts, and social know-how to find a stolen gemstone with the help (willing and unwilling) of their tutor, Peebs (Percy Bysshe Shelley), and travelmate (a young Charles Dickens), they also navigate the difficult terrain of despair and injustice. Skilled b&w illustrations and comical narration and dialogue will charm readers thoroughly. Ages 8–12. Author’s agent: Heather Schroder, Compass Talent Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Glitterbelle: The Sparkliest Princess Ever!

Rachael Duckett, illus. by Harriet Muncaster. Parragon, $7.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4723-4925-5

Launching a line of books aimed at the Fancy Nancy or Very Fairy Princess crowd, Duckett and Muncaster introduce Glitterbelle, a “glittery and sparkle-tastic princess,” who questions whether she’s a true princess. Her lineage isn’t in doubt—her great-great-great-great grandmother was the heroine of the Princess and the Pea—but Glitterbelle doesn’t like peas, enjoys climbing trees, and hopes to become the town vet. (Never mind that a page after she confesses this secret career goal to her friends, Angel and Dazzlina, Glitterbelle is shuddering about how slimy frogs are.) Glitterbelle’s insecurities are put to rest, though in unsatisfying ways—Queen Lizzie simply slides a pea under Glitterbelle’s mattress to prove that her daughter is a “proper princess,” which works like a charm. Muncaster’s detailed dioramas—which mix damask wallpapers and shelves of glittery crowns with equally bejeweled cordless phones and iPod docks—will entice readers who share Glitterbelle’s love of “everything sparkly, shimmery, and purple.” But despite some well-done moments of humor (Glitterbelle’s family has kept the “shriveled, old pea” as a “family treasure”), Glitterbelle comes across more as a prop than a fully formed character. Ages 6–up. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Ella

Mallory Kasdan, illus. by Marcos Chin. Viking, $17.99 (56p) ISBN 978-0-670-01675-4

What if Eloise was a hipster-in-training and lived in a chicly gritty boutique hotel, instead of the venerable Plaza? While some of Ella’s unrepentant mischief directly descends from her forebear (“I have to go through the halls and collect ‘Privacy Please!’ signs from the doorknobs”), she’s a full-fledged child of this century, with her Wi-Fi demands and endearing male nanny, who has “tattoos for sleeves” and “might go in with some guys to buy a grilled cheese truck.” Debut author Kasdan name checks urban standbys from edamame to Zumba, while fellow first-timer Chin’s funny full-color vignettes of a multicultural downtown scene and a heedlessly energetic child are loving tributes to Hilary Knight’s originals. But does it work as a children’s book? Eloise did because the line between adults and children couldn’t have been clearer, and WASP-y social mores were ripe for pint-size insurrection. Ella, however, is surrounded by grownups who are running as fast as they can from staid maturity. When everyone is in touch with his or her inner child, the one real kid becomes just another face in the crowd. Ages 5–up. Author’s agent: Rebecca Gradinger, Fletcher & Company. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Juna’s Jar

Jane Bahk, illus. by Felicia Hoshino. Lee & Low, $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-60060-853-7

A girl named Juna gets significant mileage—in more ways than one—out of an empty jar of kimchi in Bahk’s debut, which won the publisher’s New Voices Award. Juna is distraught after her friend Hector moves away suddenly; to cheer her up, her brother gets her a small fish, which she keeps in her jar. At night, “when everyone else was asleep,” Juna joins the fish on an imaginary underwater journey, and in the morning, “Juna’s fish had grown so big its mouth nearly touched its tail.” This surprising development sets the state for subsequent “was it really just a dream?” adventures, which eventually let Juna make peace with Hector’s absence. Hoshino (Sora and the Cloud) contributes warm watercolors, dominated by pale yellows and greens, that bring Juna’s nighttime sojourns to full life—in the final one, she dons aviator goggles and flies over a bustling city on the back of a cricket. Despite the elements of magical realism interwoven with the plot, Bahk never loses sight of the very real emotions that drive her pensive, curious, and openhearted heroine. Ages 5–9. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Who Wants a Hug?

Jeff Mack. Harper, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-06-222026-4

Not only does grouchy Skunk definitely not want a hug, he’s out to get the No. 1 purveyor of cuddles in the forest, the loving and popular Bear. Skunk has a bottomless briefcase of “Super Stinky Tricks” designed to make Bear smelly and therefore unhuggable, but each dastardly ploy backfires spectacularly. Bear’s inability to forego giving hugs unwittingly saves him in the nick of time, making Skunk fall victim to his own smelly schemes, which involve a dead fish, an enormous bag of garbage, and a noxious stink bomb. Skunk’s eventual capitulation, however, poses a new challenge for Bear: does he have the courage to hug a reformed reprobate who reeks? Even readers who know exactly where this story is headed will have fun following the comic tango of Mack’s (Duck in the Fridge) hapless villain (who wears a top hat worthy of Snidely Whiplash) and oblivious, goody-four-paws hero. Told almost entirely through eminently performable dialogue, the story has the goofy verve and physics-defying slapstick of a Merrie Melodies cartoon. Ages 4–8. Agent: Rubin Pfeffer, Rubin Pfeffer Content. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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