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The Library of Fates

Aditi Khorana. Razorbill, $17.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-59514-858-2

Princess Amrita of Shalingar, 16, lives a sheltered life within the palace walls. Her father, Chandradev, devastated by the death of his wife, has kept his only child far from the eyes of his people. But Amrita is forced to flee after Sikander, the emperor of Macedon and one of Chandradev’s former schoolmates, visits their home under the guise of solidifying a union between the two nations through marriage—and instead attacks her father and overthrows his regime. With an oracle named Thala as her guide and companion, Amrita endeavors to save her people from Sikander, as well as figure out who she truly is. Khorana (Mirror in the Sky) creates a beautiful and fantastical version of our world where gods and spirits walk among mortals. The fables repeated throughout foretell Amrita’s journey, seamlessly interweaving her past and future and mirroring a thought-provoking narrative that touches on weighty philosophical questions. This well-crafted novel leaves no questions unanswered, and although the path that Amrita eventually takes is unexpected, it’s very satisfying. Ages 12–up. Agent: Jenny Bent, Bent Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Pretty

Justin Sayre. Grosset & Dunlap, $16.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-448-48417-4

Sayre’s engrossing second novel takes place in the same Brooklyn neighborhood as his debut, with Davis, Husky’s protagonist, playing a supporting role, along with their eclectic friends. Sophie, an African-American eighth grader, doesn’t mind being called pretty. “I guess I know I’m cute,” she reflects. “Especially when the look is right and the hair is on point.” She takes pains, however, to hide the ugly realities of her home life: the accumulated liquor bottles she recycles and her mother’s terrifying drunken rages. After one particularly awful night, her mother leaves for a monthlong work trip in Paris, and Sophie’s Auntie Amara moves in. Having an adult around who pays attention initially baffles Sophie, but she begins to let down her guard. As she spends more and more with Auntie Amara, including visits to her aunt’s hair salon and Harlem church, Sophie gains greater self-awareness and the courage to face the difficult choices that await upon her mother’s return. It’s a powerful story of growth and change, brimming with honesty and hope. Ages 10–up. (July)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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One for Sorrow

Mary Downing Hahn. Clarion, $16.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-544-81809-5

A 12-year-old grapples with friendships, vengeful spirits, and the Spanish Flu epidemic in Hahn’s (Took) chilling ghost story. In 1918, WWI rages but Annie Browne is most concerned about fitting into her new school outside Baltimore, the Pearce Academy for Girls. She meets Elsie Schneider on her first day, who proclaims the pair will be best friends, but no one at Pearce likes Elsie, labeling her a tattletale and liar. Annie, whose struggles with peer pressure throughout the novel are admirably complex, soon abandons Elsie for another group of friends, even joining in the teasing and name calling (Elsie’s father is German, which doesn’t help). When Elsie dies suddenly of the Spanish Flu that’s sweeping the city, Annie is both guilty and relieved—until Elsie returns as a ghost. If Elsie was a pest when she was alive, it’s nothing compared to her ghostly antics, which take a toll on Annie, who is sent to a convalescent home. Hahn’s story is characteristically steeped in eerie atmosphere, and the novel’s blend of historical drama, the supernatural, and the intricacies of adolescent friendship is a gripping combination. Ages 10–12. (July)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Refugee

Alan Gratz. Scholastic Press, $16.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-545-88083-1

In this hard-hitting novel, Gratz (Projekt 1065) skillfully intertwines the stories of three protagonists seeking asylum with their respective families. Twelve-year-old Josef is fleeing Nazi Germany on a ship headed for Cuba in 1939; in 1994, 11-year-old Isabel leaves Cuba for the United States aboard a boat; and 12-year-old Mahmoud leaves Syria in 2015 after a bomb destroys his family’s apartment building. Though set in different political landscapes, the harrowing narratives share a sense of urgency, danger, and sacrifice, and the brief chapters keep each story fresh in readers’ minds. Each character confronts exceptional challenges: Josef must behave as the adult when his father returns shattered from a concentration camp, and Mahmoud realizes that the invisibility he cultivated in Aleppo is less of an asset in Greece (“They only see us when we do something they don’t want us to do”). Filled with both tragic loss and ample evidence of resilience, these memorable and tightly plotted stories contextualize and give voice to current refugee crises, underscoring that these journeys are born out of a desperate need for security and safety. Ages 9–12. Agent: Holly Root, Root Literary. (July)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Apprentice Witch

James Nicol. Chicken House, $16.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-338-11858-2

In Nicol’s charming debut novel, failed witch Arianwyn Gribble learns of the power that comes with knowing one’s self-worth and conquering the darkness within. After Arianwyn botches her evaluation, she thinks her dreams of becoming a full-fledged witch and member of the Civil Witchcraft Authority are over, but she’s given a second chance: she will continue to be an apprentice witch in the small town of Lull until the time of her reevaluation. After arriving in Lull, Arianwyn realizes more is afoot: evil spirits from the Great Wood (a “dangerous and remote” forest filled with ancient spirits) are causing mayhem, a hex infection has taken root in the Great Wood, and a shadowy creature begins terrorizing the town, too. Nicol presents a world filled with magic and strange creatures, but unexplored plotlines—such as the ongoing but vaguely described war that has caused a shortage of witches, allowing Arianwyn the opportunity to be reevaluated—and underdeveloped characters don’t let the book to live up to its full potential. Still, Nicol lays enough groundwork to support future stories. Ages 8–12. (July)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Wordplay

Adam Lehrhaupt, illus. by Jared Chapman. Scholastic/Levine, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-545-93428-2

Lehrhaupt (I Will Not Eat You) and Chapman (Fruits in Suits) personify parts of speech, turning them into playground pals. Noun is a boy with shape-shifting capabilities, as befits words that can be persons, places, or things. Verb is a pigtailed girl with endless energy (“She climbs. She slides. She twirls”). And Interjection, Adjective, and Adverb serve as a grammatical Greek chorus: “ ‘Wow!’ says Interjection. ‘An impressive display,’ says Adjective. ‘Very graceful,’ says Adverb”). The story is slight, but sufficient: Verb becomes envious of the attention being showered on Noun, but when Noun is threatened by an angry bee, the two realize they need each other—after all, without Verb, Noun literally can’t move. Chapman keeps the look simple: the background is an uncluttered, grassy green, and each character is rendered as a single-color line drawing (with corresponding color-coded dialogue) to help readers keep track of who’s who. The sunny mood readily conveys the idea that grammar is easy-peasy, which is just what some readers need to hear. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Alexandra Penfold, Upstart Crow Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (July)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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King Louie’s Shoes

D.J. Steinberg, illus. by Robert Neubecker. Beach Lane, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-1-4814-2657-2

Louis XIV of France commands the largest army in Europe, lives in the biggest palace, and gives the biggest parties. But there’s a hiccup, and Steinberg (First Grade, Here I Come!) doesn’t mince words: “King Louie (which is how you say ‘Louis’ in French) was a shrimp.” Neubecker (Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing), clearly having fun drawing his characters’ Baroque get-ups, portrays the monarch at a humbling height disadvantage compared to the rest of his court, which should win the Sun King instant sympathy with the book’s target audience. With every resource at his disposal, the king tries to add inches by constructing skyscraper thrones, donning gigantic wigs, and wearing towering platform shoes that launch a fashion craze, but he learns the hard way that it’s better to be respected as a sovereign than to intimidate by way of stature. Readers will pick up some valuable lessons, too: history is fun, size doesn’t matter, and grownups do the darnedest things. A closing list of facts (14, naturally) adds a bit of historical heft. Ages 4–8. Illustrator’s agent: Linda Pratt, Wernick & Pratt. (July)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Billy Bloo Is Stuck in Goo

Jennifer Hamburg, illus. by Ross Burach. Scholastic Press, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-545-88015-2

Never mind how that giant heap of green goo got there, or why little Billy Bloo ignored the sign (on the title page) that reads “Whatever you do... do not go in the goo!” Now he’s stuck and so is everyone who comes along to extract him, an oddball assemblage that ends up including “Four acrobats, the cowgirl too/ the octopus, the wizard (who/ just conjured up a talking ewe)/ the pirate, and the noble crew.” (The crew consists of a queen and 17 loyal knights.) Everyone is unwilling to give up the struggle, but even the queen can’t help wondering, “What happens if I need the loo?” Suddenly, a startled octopus inadvertently frees everyone—briefly. Burach’s (I Am Not a Chair!) loosey-goosey illustrations contrast the glistening, almost three-dimensional goo with a flattened, high-energy cartoon cast that looks as though it sprang directly from a child’s imagination. And Hamburg’s (Monkey and Duck Quack Up!) freewheeling verse—which includes lots of “goo” rhymes and direct addresses to readers—gives readers plenty to linger (and laugh) over. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Jennifer De Chiara, Jennifer De Chiara Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Lara Perkins, Andrea Brown Literary. (July)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Whobert Whover, Owl Detective

Jason Gallaher, illus. by Jess Pauwels. S&S/McElderry, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4814-6271-6

Why should adults get all the good unsolved mysteries? Debut author Gallaher’s pun-laden whodunit starts with a classic scene: Perry the Possum, “lying awfully still” on the forest floor. Whobert, a self-appointed and self-important detective (“He always tried to keep his neck of the woods safe”), doesn’t waste time with details like gathering evidence. He prefers to fling accusations around the forest with a piercing gaze and an accusingly pointed wing. “It was you! You whacked Perry with your wicked wings!” he tells a shocked duck, before moving on to a new suspect. Readers will note, however, that all of the animals seem to be trying to tell Whobert something, and that Perry is both very alive and very annoyed. Belgian artist Pauwel’s exaggerated drawings, the assured comic rhythms of the storytelling, and a facepalm-worthy ending (which turns on Whobert’s cluelessness and Perry’s characteristic possum behavior ) make this a satisfying and rousingly silly read-aloud. Ages 4–6. Author’s agent: Tricia Lawrence, Erin Murphy Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Alli Brydon, Bright Group. (July)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Marigold Bakes a Cake

Mike Malbrough. Philomel, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-5247-3738-2

It’s Monday, and that means a no-interruptions baking day for Marigold, a persnickety marmalade cat. He sets his sights on making a cake “that was absolutely fur-shreddingly fabulous,” but his plans are thwarted by the arrival of several birds—first a finch and, eventually, a gang of loons. The birds wear tiny chef’s toques, and though they don’t speak a word, their beady eyes and eager beaks make it clear that they want in on the action. Will it be The Great British Baking Show or Tweety vs. Sylvester? Debut talent Malbrough celebrates the act of culinary creation and the joy of being absorbed in a personal passion—and, like the best desserts, he doesn’t let his story get too sweet. In one of many lovely watercolor spreads, Marigold blends glossy curls of shaved chocolate and a ribbon of molasses into the batter; in another, he studies the instructions for fondant, one paw perched on his chin, the other absentmindedly scratching his head. Doing what one loves, Malbrough shows, makes it possible to transcend even the basest instincts—such as eating one’s visitors. Ages 3–7. Agent: Lori Kilkelly, Rodeen Literary Management. (July)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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