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Brightly Burning

Alexa Donne. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-328-94893-9

Jane Eyre gets a futuristic reimagining in this appealing YA drama. Seventeen-year-old orphan Stella Ainsley, an engineer aboard one of the many colony ships orbiting an Earth during a new ice age, accepts a role as a teacher aboard a private ship owned by the brooding Hugo Fairfax. After a lifetime of austerity and deprivation, life aboard the luxurious Rochester is like a dream, save for odd accidents, mysterious laughter at night, and the ship’s reputation for being haunted. But as Stella bonds with Hugo, they find an unexpected emotional connection, which blossoms into love despite complications. Stella also stumbles across a conspiracy that threatens the disadvantaged in an increasingly resource-starved fleet, and she risks everything to save those she loves. Newcomer Donne hits all the predictable plot points of her romantic storyline, but she leaves other aspects, such as the heroine’s childhood and the story’s social criticism, undeveloped. Still, this entertaining, loose adaptation of Brontë’s classic novel features solid sci-fi worldbuilding, creative details, and a diverse cast. Ages 12–up. Agent: Elana Roth Parker, Laura Dail Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 06/01/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Bound to You

Alyssa Brandon. Swoon Reads, $17.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-10172-3

Too many unanswered questions lead to an uneven debut in Brandon’s story of fated love. Eighteen-year-old alpha werewolf Megan Ross is eager to find her mate. To help, her father throws a party and invites numerous packs along the East Coast. When Megan meets James Sandleholm, a warrior alpha from Canada, it is clear that the two of them are destined to form a life bond as mates. Though James immediately brings her home to his pack, he has no intention of fulfilling the bond. His reluctance stems from painful past associations of the toll that his mother’s death took on his father (if a warrior alpha loses his mate, he begins to lose his grip on reality). As Megan tries to break through James’s armor, she discovers that warrior wolves are dealing with a dangerous threat long thought to be extinct. Brandon presents a promising story of how past pain and future expectations can cloud the present, but inconsistent worldbuilding and development of characters’ motivations lessens the story’s authenticity and impact. Ages 13–18. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 06/01/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Bobby Sky: Boy Band or Die

Joe Shine. Soho Teen, $18.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-61695-841-1

In Shine’s thrilling follow-up to 2014’s I Become Shadow, 14-year-old Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson is kidnapped by FATE (Future Affairs Training and Education), a super-secret government program aimed at making him a top-secret guardian called a Shadow. After two years of grueling training, he’s assigned to his Future Important Person, Ryo Enomoto, a Japanese national tasked with heading up a boy band. First, though, Hutch, now called Bobby Sky, must learn how to sing and dance like a professional. This was not the assignment he was hoping for, but after being chemically “linked” to Ryo, he doesn’t have a choice. The future of this mega-famous band, International—made up of Bobby (American), Ryo (Japanese), Kareem (Moroccan), and Seamus (Irish)—is hilariously planned to the hilt, complete with fake breakups and fights, and it’s all fun and mega stardom until Bobby is attacked by his own team, and someone takes down the band’s plane. Can Bobby save the day? Snarky narrator Bobby is genuinely funny, offering the perfect balance of self-deprecating and cocky. With plenty of derring-do, complete with a surprise cameo appearance, this adventure will please fans of the first book and win plenty of new ones. Ages 14–up. Agent: Faye Bender, the Book Group. (May)

Reviewed on 06/01/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Bird and the Blade

Megan Bannen. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, $17.99 (432p) ISBN 978-0-06-267415-9

In this epic historical fantasy set against the backdrop of the 13th-century Mongol Empire, Jinghua, a Chinese slave girl, finds her fate irrevocably tied to that of a fallen khan and his son as they seek refuge and a way to restore their fortunes. With her home destroyed and family slaughtered, Jinghua chooses to follow Prince Khalaf, slowly falling in love with him during their long, arduous journey. However, Khalaf intends to marry the powerful Turandokht, daughter of the Great Khan and heir to the empire. First, he must solve her three riddles, and failure means certain execution. Jinghua must find a way to aid Khalaf, even if success means that their relationship is doomed. Drawing inspiration from multiple sources, particularly the opera Turandot, debut author Bannen weaves a magical and tragic romantic adventure. As she admits in the endnotes, the author takes liberties with historical accuracy in the name of storytelling; that, combined with a contemporary feel for language and dialogue, creates an anachronistic yet immersive reading experience. Memorable characters share a natural chemistry, and lush descriptions bring the world to life. Ages 13–up. (June)

Reviewed on 06/01/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Beyond a Darkened Shore

Jessica Leake. HarperTeen, $17.99 (432p) ISBN 978-0-06-266626-0

Ciara, a princess with the ability to control the minds and actions of others, aligns herself with her enemy, a Northman named Leif, to save their world from fantastical creatures bent on its destruction. Throughout their journey, Pagan beliefs and Norse gods clash. Ciara becomes an outcast banished from her kingdom, and the initially glaring differences between her and Leif soften as they find more rare similarities to bind them. Elements of the “star-crossed lovers” trope renders their bond unsurprising, and moments of lust paired with carnage—such as a first kiss shared while they’re burning corpses on a funeral pyre—can be off-putting. Faerie magic and an army of the dead help to enliven the story, and Ciara proves to be a formidable warrior in her own right, with or without her love by her side. In her YA debut, Leake creates a strong backdrop of fantasy and myth, and she draws on her background as a psychotherapist to instill her characters with a rich vitality. Ages 14–up. Agent: Brianne Johnson, Writers House. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 06/01/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Pop!

Jason Carter Eaton, illus. by Matt Rockefeller. First Second, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-62672-503-4

Bespectacled, bubble-blowing Dewey tries to catch and pop all the bubbles he’s blown, and when one gets away from him, his quest progresses from balloon to helicopter to F-16. Eaton doesn’t waste space establishing the situation. “But in almost no time at all it was out of reach again. He’d need to jump higher.” Jumping doesn’t cut it, though, and Dewey comes up with new schemes as fast as the bubble rises—getting his telescope on it, resorting to a nearby elevator, then convincing a (female) pilot to allow him to commandeer her helicopter: “And after some explaining and thanking, it was all his.” Polished artwork by Rockefeller (an illustrator of 5 Worlds 2: The Cobalt Prince) follows the high-altitude pursuit with sunlit clouds, aerial views of the landscape, and sweeping views of the gleaming aircraft themselves. Though Eaton’s (The Catawampus Cat) narration perks right along, with bonus factoids along the way (“He knew F-16s could only go up to 50,000 feet…”), Rockefeller’s images carry the story’s action forward with such force and clarity that nonreaders who admire skyborne transportation can narrate the story themselves—and may want to do it more than once. Ages 4–8. (July)

Reviewed on 05/25/2018 | Details & Permalink

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If Wendell Had a Walrus

Lori Mortensen, illus. by Matt Phelan. Holt, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-62779-602-6

A number of the most beloved tales feature enchantingly oversized animal companions. In Mortensen’s (Chicken Lily) latest, protagonist Wendell has a walrus friend who meets these qualifications yet exists in Wendell’s imagination. Wendell imagines exchanging silly riddles with his walrus (“What do walruses like to chew?” “Blubber gum”), drawing pictures together, and making forts with cardboard; they’d have “the most stupendiferous, cosmically colossal best time of their lives.” Light, soft lines and gently tinted artwork by Phelan (Snow White) suggest otherwise as the walrus’s big tusks skewer Wendell’s drawings and his sheer bulk makes kite-flying difficult. When Wendell throws a friendly invitation in a bottle into the sea and discovers another boy standing on the next rock over, his curiosity is piqued. “Walrus?” asks Wendell. “Whale,” says the boy, named Morrell. In the end, it turns out that Morrell is exactly the friend Wendell has been looking for all along—and he doesn’t have any pesky tusks. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Liza Voges, Eden Street. Illustrator’s agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 05/25/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Help Find Frank

Anne Bollman. Sterling, $16.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4549-2678-8

Bollman’s debut introduces a bow-tie-wearing French bulldog through a sequence of “exhibits” elucidating his personality: “Exhibit E: Frank loves to play fetch, but he skips the part where he brings the ball back.” When Frank dashes after a truck, readers are tasked with finding him, following a map of the neighborhood and clues that kids provide. Stops at a park and baseball field reveal Frank’s paw prints, but the dog is nowhere to be seen. The author supplies a checklist of items to locate in these bustling scenarios, as well as on the spread that finally reveals Frank’s whereabouts (a pool, where he contentedly floats in a swan-shaped tube). Like its protagonist, the text wanders at times: there’s an extraneous visit to a store to buy Frank a toy, for example. Featuring an animated cartoon vibe, Bollman’s crisp, crayon-colored pictures show the objects to spot in plain sight, keeping the challenge to a minimum. A good choice for children on the younger end of the targeted age group. Ages 3–7. (May)

Reviewed on 05/25/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Grumpy Monkey

Suzanne Lang, illus. by Max Lang. Random House, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-553-53786-4

A monkey learns to ride out a wave of emotion in this reassuring picture book about feelings from the creators of Families, Families, Families! After Jim Panzee wakes up on the wrong side of the tree, nothing seems right: “The sun was too bright, the sky was too blue, and the bananas were too sweet.” His neighbor Norman suggests that he may just be grumpy, though Jim insists that’s not the problem. On a walk through the jungle, everyone he meets offers advice for changing his mood: “‘You should sing with us!’/... ‘You should lie in the grass!’/... ‘You should take a bath!’” When he’s had his fill of cheery recommendations, he storms off. It’s not until he re-encounters Norman, who’s now nursing an injury, that Jim realizes they will both “probably feel better soon enough,” and that he just needs to be grumpy for a while. Lang nimbly creates an animal cast with expressive cartoonish eyes and exaggerated facial expressions, which make their antics in the playful text all the more humorous. Ages 4–8. (May)

Reviewed on 05/25/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Brave Enough for Two

Jonathan D. Voss. Holt, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-250-12748-8

Olive is a little girl who, when it comes to adventure, prefers “the kind found in books.” But her best friend, a stuffed owl named Hoot, promises her that he is “brave enough for both of us” and convinces her to come along on an escapade that starts with hot-air ballooning (powered by a multitude of birthday balloons) and ends on the high seas, with the balloon’s basket as the boat. In his author-illustrator debut, Voss (illustrator of Sally Walker’s Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh) tells a supportive story of friendship and taking chances, illustrated in burnished-toned compositions that take on a cinematic expansiveness. Hoot’s initial gallantry and protectiveness is sweet (“We can never be lost,” he says, “As long as I’m here and you’re there, and here and there aren’t very far apart”), but in the end, it’s Olive who proves to be the steadfastly brave one: “I was afraid today …But you were brave. And you kept me safe,” says Hoot. “Don’t ever be afraid,” Olive replies, “I’ll always keep you safe.” Ages 4–8. Agent: Catherine Drayton, InkWell Management. (June)

Reviewed on 05/25/2018 | Details & Permalink

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