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The Islands at the End of the World

Austin Aslan. Random/Lamb, $17.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-385-74402-7

After 16-year-old, half-Hawaiian Leilani and her father travel from the Big Island to Oahu so she can take part in a trial for a new epilepsy drug, tsunamis sweep across the eastern shores of the Hawaiian islands; additional chaos descends as people realize that other disasters have struck all across the world. Technology fails, the military tries to gain control, food and resources dwindle, and ethnic factions take up arms to wrest Oahu from the tourists. Lei and her father only want to get home to the Big Island, and thus begins their dangerous journey across jungle, sea, and the islands, even as a strange cloud appears in the heavens that people start calling the Emerald Orchid. Debut author Aslan shows off his promise as a writer, delivering a fresh, of-the-moment take on apocalyptic fiction. The ecology of Hawaii and its mythology glow vividly as Lei awakens to her special connection to the Emerald Orchid and its purpose. First in a planned two-book series, it's an exceptional adventure and survival story that's intimately tied to its setting. Ages 12–up. Agency: Pippin Properties. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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If You're Reading This

Trent Reedy. Scholastic/Levine, $16.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-545-43342-6

Former Iowa National Guardsman Reedy (Divided We Fall) returns to Riverside, Iowa (last seen in his Stealing Air) to tell the coming-of-age story of 15-year-old Mike Wilson, who's still dealing with his father's death in Afghanistan, seven years earlier. Raised by his overprotective mother, Mike yearns to play football, but is pushed to focus on school and his part-time job. When letters written by his father before his death start showing up in the mail from an unknown sender, they give Mike a connection he thought lost forever. With each letter giving him a mission—go to a party, ask a girl out, forgive someone—he finds the courage and motivation to live fully. But in the process, he must confront bullies, get around his mother's disapproval, and find out the truth behind his father's death. Powerful and emotionally raw, with sympathetic characters and a thought-provoking premise, this tale reflects Reedy's strengths: evoking the small-town American spirit, capturing the feel of the military, and getting into the heart of his teenage protagonist. Ages 12–up. Agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Finding Ruby Starling

Karen Rivers. Scholastic/Levine, $17.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-545-53479-6

Rivers's (The Encyclopedia of Me) epistolary novel conveys both the unique intimacy created by writing letters (or, in this case, emails) and the thrill of discovering an unknown family member. When 12-year-old adopted New Yorker Ruth Quayle plugs a photo of herself into a search engine, she's shocked to find images of what appears to be an identical twin living in England. She sends an enthusiastic missive to the girl, Ruby Starling, who is initially skeptical but soon becomes convinced that Ruth is her sister. Both girls get migraines and find small spaces comforting, but otherwise their lives are very different. Ruth writes poems and is working on an animated documentary with her best friend; Ruby is into fashion, crushing on a pop star, and prone to panic attacks since her grandmother died. The two make plans to meet, but are nervous to discover why they were separated. Amid a flood of escalating emotions, the emails exchanged among the girls and their friends and parents blend to create a lively chorus of voices. Ages 10–14. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle

George Hagen, illus. by Scott Bakal. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $16.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-385-37104-9

Adult author Hagen (The Laments) makes his children's debut with a fantasy adventure touched with whimsy, satire, and the quirky love of urban fauna that characterizes New Yorkers. Gabriel Finley's parents are absent, having disappeared in separate mysterious incidents that his guardian, Aunt Jaz, refuses to discuss. But she does pass along his father's diary, which outlines how Adam Finley became the amicus, or human interlocutor, of a raven named Baldasarre. There's also the matter of Adam's creepy brother, Gabriel's uncle Corax, who likewise disappeared, leaving behind a portrait to loom over Gabriel as he seeks to solve the riddles, literal and figurative, set by ravens, uncle, and missing parents. With an unlikely crew of mismatched Brooklyn schoolmates, Gabriel takes up the mantle of the ancient, bittersweet relationship between humans and ravens in order to untangle the even more twisted relationships between human and human. Though familiar tropes abound, Hagen's sensibility is unique—the desk-wrangling scene is not to be missed. There's a hint of sequels to come, but this quest is more than satisfying on its own. Ages 9–12. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Zero Degree Zombie Zone

Patrik Henry Bass, illus. by Jerry Craft. Scholastic Press, $16.99 (144p) ISBN 978-0-545-13210-7

Fourth-grader Bakari Johnson thinks the greatest challenge of his day happens when his best friend Wardell nominates him to be hall monitor, running against his perfect classmate Tariq, who is backed by Bakari's outspoken nemesis, Keisha. But the day turns surreal when Bakari is whisked through a portal into the "Zero Degree Zombie Zone" and ordered to return a missing ring belonging to its ruler, Zenon, who Craft pictures as a spiky ice demon of sorts in his b&w cartoon spot illustrations. Back at school, Bakari discovers that the person with the ring is the last one willing to give it up: Keisha. When ice zombies raid the cafeteria and Bakari, Wardell, Keisha, and Tariq are transported to the Zone once more, Keisha sees the threat that exists, and all four kids must figure out how to collaborate to save the world. Bakari's self-deprecating yet amusing voice carries this action-packed, fast-moving story, Bass's first book for children, which finds its resolution before the last bell. Ages 8–12. Author's agent: Marie Brown, Marie Brown Associates. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau

Andrea Beaty, illus. by David Roberts. Abrams, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4197-1219-7

An inspired milliner named Madame Chapeau stars in this eminently stylish tale from the duo behind Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer. While Madame Chapeau can match people to hats with effortless aplomb, she is lonely and dines alone—even on her birthday. When a crow steals her birthday bonnet ("Someone quite special once made that for me," she declares, giving chase), Parisians of all stripes offer her the hats off their heads, yet none is quite right. Finally, a girl gives her a colorful knit cap with yellow earflaps and green pom-poms—just the spunky accessory to lift Madame Chapeau out of her funk: "They feasted on gateau and sorbet with fruit/ and danced through the night at Chez Snooty-Patoot./ Then Madame Chapeau wore her birthday hat home./ And never again did she dine all alone." Entirely in step with the buoyancy of Beaty's rhymes, Roberts revels in filling the streets of Paris with multiculturally modish figures wearing couture ensembles, topped off (quite literally) by gloriously elaborate headpieces. Ages 4–8. Author's agent: Edward Necarsulmer IV, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. Illustrator's agent: Artist Partners of London. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Vanilla Ice Cream

Bob Graham. Candlewick, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7636-7377-2

Letting his airy, bird's-eye view watercolor images do most of the telling, Graham (The Silver Button) melds the globe-spanning journey of a scavenging sparrow and a toddler's outing with her grandparents in a tale that subtly celebrates the world's interconnectedness, as well as one of the great "firsts" in the life of a child. After the sparrow ("He is young. He is curious... and bold") pecks his way into a bag of rice aboard a truck in India, he's soon an accidental stowaway on a ship that heads across the sea, arriving in a big-city port. Before long, the sparrow's hunger leads it to a cafe, where young Edie Irvine sits in her stroller, beside her grandparents and family dog. When the bird catches the dog's attention, "in just one fleeting moment" Edie is part of a minor mishap that sends an ice-cream cone sailing into her lap and gives the girl her first taste of vanilla ice cream. Graham's sequential panels convey a true sense of travel in a story that calls to mind the "butterfly effect," even as it follows a bird. Ages 4–6. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Nuts: Bedtime at the Nuthouse

Eric Litwin, illus. by Scott Magoon. Little, Brown, $18 (32p) ISBN 978-0-316-32244-7

Hazel and Wally Nut, anthropomorphic nuts who live in an impressive tree house with their parents, have no interest in bedtime. They prefer to stay up playing, dancing, howling at the moon, and singing "We're nuts! We're nuts! We're nuts," ignoring Mama Nut's increasingly stern request: "All little Nuts need to go to bed." Magoon's (Spoon) digital illustrations create a boisterous world for the Nut family to inhabit (their home features a ball pit and an observatory), and Mama's "coif" lends her a particularly authoritative presence as she gives her little nuts "the look." Pete the Cat author Litwin leans heavily on nut-related puns (while Wally and Hazel pretend to be astronauts, an off-stage voice announces, "Houston, we have a praline!" as Hazel plants a flag for the "Unutted States"), which give the book a fairly one-note brand of humor as it makes its way to a reassuring bedtime conclusion. Readers can listen to and/or download Litwin's bluesy spoken-sung performance of the book and two additional songs at www.TheNutFamily.com. Ages 3–6. Author's agent: Amy Rennert, Amy Rennert Agency. Illustrator's agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (July)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Hack Attack: The Inside Story of How the Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch

Nick Davies. Faber and Faber, $27 (450p) ISBN 978-0-86547-881-7

The reporter who broke Britain's phone-hacking scandal probes the media industry's corrupt nexus of power and propaganda in this searing exposé. Guardian journalist Davies (Flat Earth News) recounts his investigation of the Rupert Murdoch tabloid News of the World and the illegal "dark arts"—including hacking into the voice mail of celebrities, politicians, and ordinary crime victims and bribing police officers for information—that it used to unearth salacious scandal stories. His narrative, studded with new revelations about Fleet Street's spying techniques, flows like a breathless thriller. Helped by secret sources with codenames like "Lola" and "Jingle," he struggles to tease out information, and is obstructed by the stonewalling News, by Scotland Yard officials with chummy relationships with the News who withheld explosive evidence of its misconduct, and by other media organizations that dismissed and attacked his reporting. Daviese paints a lurid, gossipy picture of Fleet Street, especially Murdoch's newspapers, whose rabid pursuit of sex and dirt, he argues, serves not just to sell papers but also to smear opponents and sway politics in favor of Murdoch's business interests. Davies's vision of an Orwellian media tyranny goes over the top—he likens the Murdoch regime to Animal Farm's pigs-turned-oppressors—but this is investigative journalism at its most riveting and provocative. Photos. (Aug. 12)

Reviewed on 08/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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