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Chasing King’s Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassin

James L. Swanson. Scholastic Press, $19.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-545-72333-6

As he did in Chasing Lincoln’s Killer and “The President Has Been Shot!”, Swanson offers an absorbing chronicle of the lead-up to and aftermath of the assassination of an American leader. After a concise account of King’s upbringing in a close-knit, religious Atlanta family and a childhood lived under Jim Crow, Swanson tracks his speedy ascent to becoming the “beloved living, breathing symbol” of the civil rights movement. Photographs, extensive quotations from a variety of sources (press reports, King’s writings and speeches, court records), and other documentation (including a previously unpublished letter from J. Edgar Hoover that underscores the FBI’s harassment of King) provide an immediate look at his pivotal role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, lunch-counter sit-ins, and the 1963 March on Washington. Just as compelling is Swanson’s insight into the background of King’s enigmatic killer, escaped convict James Earl Ray. The details of Ray’s efforts to transform and disguise his appearance, the planning of the assassination, and his flight from authorities are riveting and disturbing. Ages 12–up. Agent: Richard Abate, 3 Arts Entertainment. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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From the Heart of Africa: A Book of Wisdom

Eric Walters. Tundra, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-77049-719-1

More than a dozen artists offer strikingly varied interpretations of 15 aphorisms sourced from across the African continent. “Africa is where we all started our journey on this planet,” writes Walters in an introduction. “It’s from this home that we began and then fanned out across the world.” Each saying appears in large bold type, labeled with its region or people of origin and a brief explanation. Many images hew to the language of the phrases—South African artist Toby Newsome pictures a woman in a headscarf carefully dipping her toe into a river (“No one tests the depth of the water with both feet”)—while others take bigger stylistic leaps. Working in a brash comic-book style, Sindiso “R!OT” Nyoni, based in Johannesburg, shows a black female astronaut beaming at readers from outer space (“Traveling is learning”). It’s easy to imagine this book being used in classrooms, with students suggesting their own interpretations of these aphorisms and inventing their own. A portion of Walters’s royalties will be donated to Creation of Hope, a Kenyan organization he cofounded that offers a variety of aid to orphans in that country. Ages 6–9. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Unearthed

Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. Hyperion, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4847-5805-2

In this fast-paced SF adventure from the coauthors of the Starbound trilogy, a scholar and a scavenger reluctantly join forces to unravel the secrets of an alien temple. For 16-year-old Mia Radcliffe, discovering the long-lost technology of an extinct race known as the Undying could allow her to free her sister from indentured servitude. Jules Addison wants to redeem the reputation of his father, who decoded the Undying’s transmission and then repudiated his own work. Together, they must solve the Undying’s riddles and traps, all while being pursued by a ruthless mercenary team bent on exploiting the temple’s supposed riches. As Mia and Jules learn to trust—even care for—each other amid constant tension and brushes with death, they come closer to uncovering the Undying’s greatest secret. Mia and Jules have chemistry and work well together, their partnership is entertaining and believable, and the villains and dangers are similarly plausible. A nerve-racking cliffhanger will leave readers eager for the second half of this planned duology. Ages 14–up. Agency: Adams Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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A Taxonomy of Love

Rachael Allen. Amulet, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4197-2541-8

Over the span of six years, Spencer and his neighbor Hope oscillate between being best friends and virtual strangers. When they first meet, he’s a gawky 13-year-old with Tourette’s syndrome, and she’s a fearless wannabe adventurer. Spencer provides the lion’s share of the narration, accompanied by flowchart-like taxonomies that he uses to try to chart and define their intense bond. Intermittent passages from Hope—usually conversations with her older sister, Janie—flesh out her side of the story. Spencer’s anxiety seeps from the page as his everyday interactions comingle with his intrusive thoughts. But Hope’s life is far from perfect: she falls for Spencer’s older brother, grapples with a death in the family, and enters a self-destructive phase of grief just as Spencer is gaining social traction among his classmates as a wrestler. Allen (The Revenge Playbook) presents an honest look at adolescent attraction and life with a neurological disorder in a story populated by fully believable characters who are trying to figure out who they are and how they fit in the world. Ages 13–up. Agent: Susan Hawk, Upstart Crow. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Don’t Cosplay with My Heart

Cecil Castellucci. Scholastic Press, $17.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-338-12549-8

In this introspective drama, a young woman seeks refuge from her dysfunctional life by cosplaying as her favorite comic book character. As hero and occasional villain Gargantua, Edan Kupferman feels confident enough to handle anything, including her father’s legal troubles. But as she immerses herself in costuming and conventions, she has to put up with toxic fandom and accusations of being a fake geek girl. Edan’s boyfriend turns out to be a jerk, but her new friend Kirk seems to really get her—and she’ll need all the help she can get as her father seems poised to go to jail. Castellucci (Stone in the Sky) infuses this story with a deep and abiding love of comics culture, while simultaneously addressing real sexism within the community. Interspersed passages detail the history of Gargantua’s series, Team Tomorrow (Castellucci takes some minor liberties, giving her team an African-American hero years before Marvel’s Black Panther showed up, for example), and the underlying themes of confidence, self-reliance, and feminism come through with a strength worthy of Gargantua herself. Ages 12–up. Agent: Kirby Kim, Janklow & Nesbit. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Between the Blade and the Heart

Amanda Hocking. Wednesday, $10.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-08479-8

Hocking (the Kanin Chronicles) sets this entertaining fantasy in a near-future alternate world where humans and immortals occupy crowded megacities. Eighteen-year-old Malin can’t wait to become an official Valkyrie like her mother, responsible for slaying certain immortal creatures at the behest of the gods, until she learns that one of her mother’s mistakes has upset the balance between good and evil. With the help of Quinn, her Valkyrie ex-girlfriend, and Asher, the vengeance-driven son of a Valkyrie, Malin journeys to the gates of the underworld to confront a long-forgotten evil. There’s quite a bit for readers to enjoy in this series opener, including an openly bisexual protagonist, the diversity of characters and mythological source material Hocking draws on, and the intriguing blend of fantasy and science fiction elements. It’s fast-paced and stocked with action, though aspects of the worldbuilding can be somewhat vague. Still, Hocking nicely sets up subsequent books in the Valkyrie series, which may flesh out the setting and history more than this initial installment does. Ages 12–up. Agent: Steven Axelrod, Axelrod Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Winterhouse

Ben Guterson, illus. by Chloe Bristol. Holt/Ottaviano, $16.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-12388-6

Eleven-year-old Elizabeth Somers has lived with her chilly aunt and uncle ever since her parents died in an accident that Elizabeth can’t quite remember. After her relatives accept an offer for an all-expenses-paid vacation, they ship Elizabeth off to the Winterhouse Hotel “in the middle of nowhere during Christmas with no money and hardly any clothes,” as she puts it. Though wary, Elizabeth is intrigued by the hotel and its guests, making a new friend in 11-year-old Freddy, who loves puzzles and anagrams as much as she does. But she’s troubled by recurring feelings of uneasiness that precede a variety of incidents, as well as a sinister couple that seems to be keeping tabs on her. Then there’s the mysterious book she can’t bring herself to return to the hotel’s vast library. Filled with puzzles and magic, Guterson’s debut keeps suspense high as the secrets of Elizabeth’s past unwind. This satisfying mystery leaves just enough unanswered questions to have readers eager for the next book in this planned trilogy. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 9–12. Author’s agent: Rena Rossner, Deborah Harris Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Little Pioneer

Adam Hancher. Doubleday, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-5247-1792-6

“In the fall of 1849, Papa passed on.” Right from the start, Hancher’s account of a fictional family’s westward trek acknowledges the difficulties of life on the frontier. Narration comes from a redheaded girl who describes her journey across the plains to California with her mother and brothers, one of four families making the trip together. Along the way, the girl’s attitude toward Mr. Reed, the “gruff old mountain man” who is captaining the wagon train, softens; he rescues her when she gets washed into a surging river and teaches her skills that come in handy when she is separated from the group. Despite these hazards, the book generally strikes a romantic tone, due in large part to Hancher’s illustrations—his dusty, windswept landscapes emphasize the enormity of the journey and the vastness of the terrain the pioneers cross. Native Americans are never seen or mentioned, an omission that further leaves this tale feeling overly romanticized and divorced from historical realities. The artwork is charming and the narrator’s growth rewarding, but it’s not enough to offset the story’s drawbacks. Ages 4–8. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Big Mushy Happy Lump: A Sarah’s Scribbles Collection

Sarah Andersen. Andrews McMeel, $14.99 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-4494-7961-9

In this second collection of her popular Sarah’s Scribbles strips, Andersen treads familiar ground: the ravages of the menstrual cycle, the glee and comfort of love, the sting of social anxiety. But beneath the humor, there is heartfelt honesty about making one’s unsteady way through life. Succinct, easily disseminated odes to the quotidian struggles of millennial life are common in cartooning, but Andersen has perfected—and, in fact, elevated—this form. Andersen tempers her observations with silliness, but they are never less than astute; she is particularly sharp when skewering the absurd beauty standards modern women must navigate. Here is work that has been sharpened to a fine point: smart, warm, cutting, and clever. This volume is a witty comfort from beginning to end. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Surgeon X: The Path of Most Resistance

Sara Kenney and John Watkiss. Image, $14.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-5343-0154-2

Costumed crime-fighting goes medical in this thriller based on anxiety over epidemics. What’s really needed in 2036 London, where pandemics run wild and medical assistance has been abolished, is a masked maverick doctor. Choosing the Hippocratic Oath over the new anti-medicine laws, Rosa Scott operates an illegal surgery in her basement, using a vigilante identity to save those who have been abandoned by the government. It’s an innovative concept, but the initial setup and worldbuilding are clunky. The story raises valid, if exaggerated, questions about the future of healthcare and antibiotic resistance, and the science appears to be solid. (Kenney thanks a large number of surgeons and scientists for fact-checking her work.) The art by Watkiss (Sandman Mystery Theater), in his final work before his death, is a highlight; the story’s quick shifts from scenes of vibrant upper-class elite to shadowed, subdued grimy streets benefit from strong anatomy and understated expression and movement. Though this tries hard to be V for Vendetta for the national healthcare debate, it’s a fairly pedestrian origin story that just substitutes a medical kit for a utility belt. (May)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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