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Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life

Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush. Grand Central, $28 (256p) ISBN 978-1-5387-1141-5

In this funny and heartfelt memoir, the twin daughters of President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush offer their perspective on growing up in the public eye. Hager (a correspondent for NBC’s Today Show) and Bush (CEO and founder of Global Health Corps) describe their early childhood in Midland, Tex.; attending public high school while living in Austin’s governor’s mansion; and coming of age in the White House under the close scrutiny of the public, the press, and the Secret Service. Some of the anecdotes are hilarious, as when then–Vice President George H.W. Bush (known here as “Gampy”) set out on a nighttime search for his young granddaughter’s misplaced stuffed animal, with a band of Secret Service agents trailing with flashlights, or when prankster Jenna’s water broke at her baby shower (even her husband didn’t believe it because the sisters had fibbed in the past). There are many loving reminiscences of the sisters’ close relationship and of the bond they share with their parents, advice and guidance from their grandparents (with some witty one-liners from grandmother Barbara “The Enforcer” Bush, who said to her son, “I don’t care if you are the president of the United States, take your feet off my coffee table”), as well as sober reflections on the war in Iraq, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the tough and sometimes unpopular decisions the authors’ father made while in office. Readers will be entertained by this charming, wild, and wonderful pair of life stories. Agent: Cait Hoyt, Creative Artists Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Her Right Foot

Dave Eggers, illus. by Shawn Harris. Chronicle, $19.99 (104p) ISBN 978-1-4521-6281-2

The history of the Statue of Liberty is well-known: Frenchman Édouard de Laboulaye conceived of the idea of a monument for the United States’s centennial and persuaded artist Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi to design it. Eggers starts his own story of the statue slowly, playfully (“Did you know that the Statue of Liberty comes from France? This is true. This is a factual book”). Newcomer Harris’s friendly cut-paper spreads show the colossal statue looming over the men who build it. After detailing Liberty’s installation in New York, where it welcomed waves of immigrants, Eggers makes a startling observation: the statue’s right foot is raised: “She is on the move!” And why is this? “Liberty and freedom from oppression are not things you get or grant by standing around,” Eggers asserts. “These are things that require action. Courage. An unwillingness to rest.” Harris represents Americans of all colors—veiled, in hardhats, in yarmulkes, in hoodies—talking together, admiring the statue, becoming citizens. Eggers’s crucial and timely re-examination makes Liberty an active participant in a debate that is more contentious than ever. Ages 5–8. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Lost Causes

Alyssa Embree Schwartz and Jessica Koosed Etting. KCP Loft, $17.99 (344p) ISBN 978-1-77138-844-3

In this underwhelming paranormal thriller, set in Colorado, five troubled high school students—Zelda “Z” Chapman, Andrew Foreman, Gabby Dahl, Justin Diaz, and Sabrina Ross—come together during a supposed group therapy meeting, where they are told that their files indicate that they’ve been “deemed lost causes by everyone around [them].” That’s harsh, but it’s soon revealed that the FBI has recruited the teens to find the killer of former agent Lily Carpenter. They’ve also been given a serum that has unlocked powers within them, including psychokinesis and the ability to talk to ghosts. Third-person narration moves smoothly among the characters, but although first-time authors Schwartz and Etting attempt to touch on serious topics such as depression, OCD, and loss through the teenagers’ struggles, the characterizations tend to lack depth and can fall into cliché: the jock ends up with the smart girl, the nerd becomes cool, etc. A twist in the third act and an open-ended conclusion point to a potential sequel, but the intriguing premise isn’t really explored to its fullest. Ages 14–up. Agent: Holly Root, Root Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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On the Spectrum

Jennifer Gold. Second Story (Orca, dist.), $13.95 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-77260-042-1

Sixteen-year-old Clara Singerman’s mother is a famous New York City ballerina, and Clara has long suffered from feelings of inadequacy trying to emulate her, resulting in an obsession with healthy eating and exercise. Following a meeting with a social worker concerned about Clara’s well being and a Twitter war with a guy she met at a party, Clara accepts an invitation to join her remarried father in Paris for the summer. But Paris presents new challenges: Clara is in charge of caring for Alastair, her six-year-old autistic half-brother, while living in a small apartment with a father she barely knows and a stepmother who has questionable ideas about how to raise a child with a developmental disorder. Then Clara meets 20-year-old Michel, an apprentice in his father’s bakery below the apartment. Michel’s passion for good food and Alastair’s blunt honesty force Clara to take a hard look at her orthorexia. A brisk pace and pervasive sense of hope and optimism propel Gold’s dreamy novel. The contrast between Clara’s sharp wit and Alastair’s matter-of-factness adds levity to a well-told and timely tale about love, patience, and acceptance. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Jaya and Rasa: A Love Story

Sonia Patel. Cinco Puntos (Consortium, dist.), $11.95 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-941026-87-8

Jaya Mehta and Rasa Santos are an unlikely pair, but when they meet in the mountains of Hawaii, an “honest love” flourishes between them. Jaya, a transgender teen from a wealthy Gujarati Indian family, finds solace in the heavy guitar riffs of Nirvana, which provide an escape from bullying, his parents’ dysfunctional marriage, and his loneliness. Rasa, raised in a shack by a mother who works as a prostitute, has had to scramble to provide for her younger siblings, resorting to prostitution herself at age 13. Both Jaya and Rasa find understanding and acceptance in their whirlwind romance, even as the expectations and maneuverings of the adults in their lives loom large. Patel’s third-person narration shifts between the two teenagers, though the brutal details of Rasa’s story—including that her mother groomed Rasa to follow in her footsteps—sometimes overshadow Jaya’s perspective. Readers may be surprised that half the book goes by before Rasa and Jaya even meet, but Patel (Rani Patel in Full Effect) writes with fierce simplicity throughout, allowing the gritty beauty of her story to shine. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Black Bird of the Gallows

Meg Kassel. Entangled Teen, $17.99 (300p) ISBN 978-1-63375-814-8

When Angie Dovage falls for her sexy and enigmatic new neighbor, Reece Fernandez, she’s startled to discover several things about him: he’s a semi-immortal were-crow whose kind is cursed to feed from death and destruction, his flock has come to her small town as harbingers of a great disaster, and they are engaged in a long-running conflict with terrifying creatures called Beekeepers, who live to spread mayhem and chaos. Angie and Reece attempt to carve out happiness, but their fledgling romance is threatened by the catastrophes that await them. Kassel debuts with an engaging paranormal romance that features some unusual twists, though the more recognizable genre elements are overfamiliar (starting with the central romance between a teenage girl and an ancient supernatural being), and the story feels cramped, with a bit too much packed in. Assorted subplots involving high school mean girls and Angie’s secret life as a deejay are eclipsed by the near-apocalyptic events, and the supernatural worldbuilding begs for further exploration in future books (a sequel is planned). Ages 12–up. Agent: Beth Miller, Writers House. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Elizabeth and Zenobia

Jessica Miller, illus. by Yelena Bryksenkova. Amulet, $16.99 (208p) ISBN 978-1-4197-2724-5

After Elizabeth Murmur’s mother abandons Elizabeth and her father, they move into his childhood home, Witheringe House. Accompanying Elizabeth is her constant companion Zenobia, who her father dismisses as an imaginary friend but who Elizabeth knows is something... else (“There’s a faintness about her that makes it hard to tell where she ends and the rest of the world begins”). Unlike timid, scared-of-everything Elizabeth, Zenobia adores the gloomy, fog-shrouded mansion and is obsessed with conjuring a “Spirit Presence.” Elizabeth reluctantly follows Zenobia to the forbidden East Wing of the estate to perform séances, where they unravel a mystery surrounding Elizabeth’s father’s sister, who disappeared at age seven. Rounding out the gothic atmosphere of Australian author Miller’s first children’s book is a lurking housekeeper, a magical storybook, a cemetery, and a garden tended by a gardener who the adults claim doesn’t exist; Bryksenkova’s stark b&w spot illustrations add to the overall creepiness. Readers will be absorbed by Elizabeth and Zenobia’s conversations, the complex and chilling plot, Elizabeth’s transformation from meek to brave—and the mystery of what, exactly, Zenobia is. Ages 9–13. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Adriana’s Angels

Ruth Goring, illus. by Erika Meza. Sparkhouse Family, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-5064-1832-2

Two guardian angels, Alegría and Milagros, watch over a Colombian girl named Adriana, protecting her and accompanying her to Chicago, where the family moves after facing unspecified “danger.” An opening note explains that the story is inspired by a real-life family who sought asylum in the U.S., but Goring, a poet making her children’s book debut, doesn’t address the concept directly. Instead, she focuses on Adriana’s transition to an unfamiliar city that’s cold in more ways than one. At the playground, Meza (Pumpkin Day!) shows Adriana playing by herself while her classmates glare at her. The angels buoy her spirits with a message from God (“God loves you. God wants to be your very best friend”) but her situation still comes across as rather stark. Adriana’s family, God, and the angels are the only support she seems to have; no one else reaches out. Meza’s vivid cartoon illustrations, particularly the statuesque angels and their resplendent wings, provide welcome brightness in a story that doesn’t sugarcoat the difficulties of adjusting to a new country and culture. A Spanish-language edition, Los ángeles de Adriana, is available simultaneously. Ages 5–8. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Fool Me Once

Catherine Bybee. Montlake Romance, $12.95 trade paper (373p) ISBN 978-1-61218-507-1

Bybee (Making It Right) hampers suspense and sensuality with a meandering plot in this clumsy contemporary. Lori Cumberland, a cynical divorced divorce attorney living in Los Angeles, benefits financially from Alliance, a company formed by her friend Sam that is devoted to facilitating sham marriages. Lori’s on a European cruise for divorcés with several clients when she meets Reed Barlow, a former cop turned dashing and driven private investigator. Reed is on the cruise because he’s been hired to spy on a former Alliance match. He soon realizes he’s not the only spy on board, and wonders who else is hunting and why. The plot is uneven, jumping from a drunken divorce party in Los Angeles to a suicide in the Hamptons to a cruise to Italy. The story gets really convoluted around cruise time and remains so until the end of the tale. Improbable red herrings distract, as does the villain’s behavior. Characters include an almost cartoonishly villainous Russian whose daughter-in-law is a client of Lori’s, overblown shipboard lotharios, and believable besties who have Lori’s back. Despite the confusion, Bybee still delivers a story that her die-hard readers will enjoy. Agent: Jane Dystel, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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That Thing You Do

Kayti McGee. St. Martin’s, $7.99 mass market (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-08650-1

McGee (Screwmates) packs this San Francisco contemporary romance full of delightful fun and hot sexual tension. Greta Steinburg, a nanny and artist, just watched her last single sister get married. As she and her two best friends, Amy and Summer, sit in their umpteenth bridesmaid dresses, Greta regrets not being in a relationship, but is also reluctant to risk potential heartache. Past relationships and the breakdown of her parents’ marriage have made her wary of love. A tipsy promise tempts Greta into letting her friends pick out her next date, and they choose the hot deejay spinning wedding tunes. Jon Hargrave, aka DJ Force, is grateful his friend (the groom) talked him into playing a wedding when he spots Greta flailing on the dance floor. He’s willing to go along with her suggestion that they “fake date” to get her friends off her back, provided he gets real, more private dates in exchange for every dramatized appearance. Jon and Greta spark against each other during fake and real dates, which often include spunky Mina, Greta’s nine-year-old charge. Readers will enjoy this ebullient story and hope that Greta and John’s friends get their happy endings next. Agent: Natalie Lakosil, Bradford Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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