February 2020, Fiction, Graphic Novel

The Avant-Guards, Vol. 1 by Carly Usdin

The Avant-Guards, Vol. 1 by Carly Usdin. September 3, 2019. BOOM! Box, 112 p. ISBN: 9781684153671.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

When Charlie transfers to the Georgia O’Keeffe College of Arts and Subtle Dramatics, she struggles to find her feet, but winds up exactly where she belongs…in the school’s (terrible) basketball team.

As a transfer student to the Georgia O’Keeffe College for Arts and Subtle Dramatics, former sports star Charlie is struggling to find her classes, her dorm, and her place amongst a student body full of artists who seem to know exactly where they’re going. When the school’s barely-a-basketball-team unexpectedly attempts to recruit her, Charlie’s adamant that she’s left that life behind…until she’s won over by the charming team captain, Liv, and the ragtag crew she’s managed to assemble. And while Charlie may have left cut-throat competition in the dust, sinking these hoops may be exactly what she needs to see the person she truly wants to be.

From Carly Usdin (Heavy Vinyl) and artist Noah Hayes (Wet Hot American Summer, Goldie Vance) comes an ensemble comedy series that understands that it’s the person you are off the court that matters most.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (July 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 21))
Grades 9-12. Transfer student Charlie is content to not get too involved at her new college, but determined, aspiring actor Liv will stop at nothing to get her to join her start-up basketball team, the Avant-Guards, even if it means she has to recruit the rest of the team members to subtly—or not so subtly—persuade her. Despite her reservations, Charlie finally agrees, and the team is surprised to learn at their first game that, hey, they’re not that bad! Amid all the basketball action, Usdin drops in plenty of backstory for the other team members and cultivates warm personalities through their comical interactions. Hayes and Nalty’s dynamic artwork in bright colors matches the cheerful tone and does a fantastic job of depicting the teammates, who are refreshingly diverse in skin tone and body shape. The figure designs nicely play up the personalities of the characters as well, and the basketball scenes are drawn with clear-cut action. This lighthearted ensemble story with a glimmer of romance is ideal for fans of John Allison’s Giant Days comics or Ngozi Ukazu’s Check, Please! (2018).

Kirkus Reviews (October 15, 2019)
What happens when a basketball team is determined to recruit a bona fide loner? Charlie Bravo (she’s heard all the jokes) is a recent transfer to the Georgia O’Keeffe College of Arts and Subtle Dramatics. She’s determined to keep to herself and focus on her film studies—until Liv sets her sights on getting Charlie to join her newly minted basketball team. Liv is a determined walking motivational poster who loves leading teams. She recruits the rest of her ragtag basketball crew to convince Charlie—each in their own unique fashion—just before the first game. Ashley, Nicole, Jay, and Tiffany eventually wear her down with their numerous attempts, not only welcoming her to their team, but also into their circle of friendship. Plagued by memories of her last university, Charlie finds that her new team might just be what she needs to love basketball again—and to find love. The author has crafted a cast of endearing individuals who together form an unlikely friendship group that is an unstoppable combination on and off the court. Humor coupled with the fast pace makes for an energetic story. The bright colors, pop-out panels, expressive facial expressions, and dynamic lines express joyful excitement. The highly diverse cast is multiracial with varying gender expression and sexual orientation. Readers who love humorous friendship stories and adorably awkward lesbian flirting will enjoy every moment. (Graphic novel. 15-adult)

About the Author

Carly Usdin is an award-winning filmmaker based in Los Angeles. Her first feature, Suicide Kale, won the Audience Award for Best First Feature at Outfest 2016. After playing over 30 festivals worldwide the film is now available on iTunes and Amazon Prime. In 2017 Carly served as showrunner and director for the scripted series Threads, produced by New Form for Verizon’s go90 platform. The 20-episode horror and comedy anthology series brought to life outrageous stories from internet forums like Reddit. Carly is also the creator and writer of two comic book series for BOOM! Studios: Heavy Vinyl and The Avant-Guards. Heavy Vinyl was nominated for a 2018 Prism award, honoring the best in LGBTQAI+ comics.

Her website is carlyusdin.com.

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February 2020, Fiction, Graphic Novel

The House by Paco Roca

The House by Paco Roca. November 5, 2019. Fantagraphics Books, 127 p. ISBN: 9781683962632.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

In this graphic novel by the internationally acclaimed, award-winning Wrinkles cartoonist, three adult siblings relive old conflicts as they clear out the family vacation home after their father’s death.

The graphic novel The House is at once deeply personal (dedicated to Roca’s own deceased father) and entirely universal. Three adult siblings return to their family’s vacation home a year after their father’s death. They each bring their respective wives, husbands, and children with the intention to clean up the residence and put it on the market. But, as garbage is hauled off and dust is wiped away, decades-old resentments quickly fill the vacant home. Roca asks what happens to brothers and sisters when the only person holding the family together is now gone. Full-color illustrations throughout

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language

 

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2020 (Online))
Award-winning Spanish comic book creator Roca draws the story of three adult siblings reuniting following their father’s death. Coming together at their childhood country home, they find much of the house unkempt and in need of repair as they reminisce about their father’s DIY-style. The upkeep of the premises has always been demanding, and now the distractions of work and new families regularly keep them away. However, the idea of selling the home threatens to erase part of their father’s legacy and they struggle with the decision. The full-color drawings are professional and conscientious, but the storyline fails to achieve any major climactic action. Between flashbacks and visits from a elderly neighbor, the reader gets a sense of authenticity from the narrative, yet few lessons are learned aside from the fact that death is difficult in the best of circumstances. Though the audience for this title will likely be small, the work’s sincerity and artful drawings should have special appeal for adult readers mourning their parents. A simultaneously released Spanish-language version is also available.

Library Journal (December 1, 2019)
Following the death of their father, a trio of siblings converges upon their family’s decaying vacation house in order to prepare it for sale. As they clear the yard, restore crumbling walls, and repair leaky pipes, José ponders whether their father was proud of his professional accomplishments, Carla laments that he died before getting to spend much time with her daughter, and oldest son Vicente struggles with whether he made the right choice when he decided not to have him resuscitated on his deathbed. A mildewed swimming pool, a hastily assembled pergola, and orange and almond trees all serve as triggers for memories of the energetic, inventive man their father was in his youth and the depressive loner he became in his declining years, leading the siblings to wonder if selling the property will sever their connection to their father, and one another, forever. VERDICT Celebrated Spanish creator Roca’s (Twist of Fate) cartoonishly drawn characters are juxtaposed against highly detailed backgrounds, showcasing the strange dislocation they feel inhabiting a space that ought to feel much more like home in this melancholy and deeply sympathetic meditation on sibling dynamics and the role memory plays in the grieving process

About the Author

Paco Roca (Francisco Martínez Roca) is a graphic artist and a cartoonist from Valencia, Spain, who has won several art/writing awards. His graphic novel Wrinkles has been adapted into an animated movie.

His website is www.pacoroca.com.

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February 2020, Fiction

The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah

The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah. October 29, 2019. Hyperion, 311 p. ISBN: 9781368036887.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

In the last days of the twenty-first century, sea creatures swim through the ruins of London. Trapped in the abyss, humankind wavers between fear and hope–fear of what lurks in the depths around them, and hope that they might one day find a way back to the surface.

When sixteen-year-old submersible racer Leyla McQueen is chosen to participate in the prestigious annual marathon, she sees an opportunity to save her father, who has been arrested on false charges. The Prime Minister promises the champion whatever their heart desires. But the race takes an unexpected turn, forcing Leyla to make an impossible choice.

Now she must brave unfathomable waters and defy a corrupt government determined to keep its secrets, all the while dealing with a guarded, hotheaded companion she never asked for in the first place. If Leyla fails to discover the truths at the heart of her world, or falls prey to her own fears, she risks capture–or worse. And her father will be lost to her forever.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 2))
Grades 7-11. Sixty-five years ago, Leyla’s world was above the waterline. But in 2099, the earth has drowned and the people with it. Leyla lives alone with her father, an astronomer, and she makes ends meet by competing in sub races around famous London landmarks. Or she did until her papa was arrested for terrible crimes she’s certain he didn’t commit. Running out of time, running out of money, and coming up empty on answers, Leyla determines to find and rescue him herself. When she discovers a whole underwater world, her life gets much more interesting—and dangerous—than she ever imagined it could be. While the book seems to end on a firm note, there could easily be more stories in this undersea dystopian world. Shah’s prose sometimes turns melodramatic (“Hope had abandoned them to the wrath of all the waters”), but this is a fine postapocalyptic novel that hits a timely note with its climate-change narrative. A solid purchase for large collections.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2019)
In 2099, London is underwater. Sixteen-year-old Leyla McQueen, a Muslim submersible racer, will stop at nothing to find her father, Hashem, who has been arrested and charged with encouraging “seasickness sufferers to take their lives.” When she is picked as an entrant in the London Submersible Marathon, Leyla is determined to win and ask the prime minister for her father’s freedom. But things do not go as planned, and when Leyla learns that her father is not really being detained in London as she’d been told, she leaves, evading the Blackwatch security forces who are kept busy overseeing New Year’s celebrations. Leyla, along with unwanted partner Ari, the son of a family friend, must drive her submersible through waters she has never before navigated. Along the way, she learns that she must question the statements of a corrupt government, as themes in the story echo issues in the present day. Debut novelist Shah vividly describes a world below the ocean’s surface, evoking people’s nostalgia for the Old World, when Great Britain lay aboveground. Leyla’s character grows and changes over the course of her journey, her love and loyalty toward her family only growing stronger. Leyla is Pashtun and of Afghan heritage; diversity in the book reflects that of contemporary London. This thrilling journey packed with unexpected discoveries will leave readers eager for plot resolutions in the next installment. (Science fiction. 12-17)

About the Author

Author London Shah is a British-born Muslim of Pashtun ethnicity. She has lived in Britain’s capital city for most of her life via England’s beautiful North. When she’s not busy re-imagining the past, plotting an alternate present or dreaming up a surreal future, then she’s most likely drinking copious amounts of tea, eating all the sweets and cakes, strolling through Richmond Park or along the Thames, getting lost on an evening in the city’s older, darker alleyways—preferably just after it’s rained—listening to punk rock, or losing herself in a fab SFF book or film. If she could have only one super power, it would be to breathe underwater.

Her website is www.londonshah.com.

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February 2020, Fiction

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo. October 8, 2019. Flatiron Books, 458 p. ISBN: 9781250313072.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

The mesmerizing adult debut from Leigh Bardugo, a tale of power, privilege, dark magic, and murder set among the Ivy League elite

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug-dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. In fact, by age twenty, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most prestigious universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. Their eight windowless “tombs” are the well-known haunts of the rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street’s biggest players. But their occult activities are more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive. They tamper with forbidden magic. They raise the dead. And, sometimes, they prey on the living.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Drugs, Mild sexual themes, Sexual assault, Strong language, Violence

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (August 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 22))
Bestselling YA author (and Yale alum) Bardugo’s first adult novel follows Galaxy “Alex” Stern, a survivor who has won a place at Yale because of her ability to see ghosts. She’s the newest initiate of Lethe, the ninth of the university’s notorious secret societies, responsible for oversight whenever magical rituals are conducted by the other eight. As Lethe’s new Dante, Alex is supposed to learn how all the societies operate, make sure they’re not breaking the rules, keep ghosts from interrupting arcane rites, and take a full load of courses and keep up the appearance of being a normal first year student. Then Alex’s mentor disappears and a townie with connections to several societies is murdered. Alex’s violent past hasn’t necessarily prepared her for the academic and arcane rigors of Yale, but she finds she is admirably suited to the role of tenacious detective as she works to understand how all the puzzle pieces fit together. This atmospheric contemporary novel steeped in the spirit of a mystical New Haven is part mystery, part story of a young woman finding purpose in a dark world, and is the first in a potential series.

Kirkus Reviews starred (July 15, 2019)
Yale’s secret societies hide a supernatural secret in this fantasy/murder mystery/school story. Most Yale students get admitted through some combination of impressive academics, athletics, extracurriculars, family connections, and donations, or perhaps bribing the right coach. Not Galaxy “Alex” Stern. The protagonist of Bardugo’s (King of Scars, 2019, etc.) first novel for adults, a high school dropout and low-level drug dealer, Alex got in because she can see dead people. A Yale dean who’s a member of Lethe, one of the college’s famously mysterious secret societies, offers Alex a free ride if she will use her spook-spotting abilities to help Lethe with its mission: overseeing the other secret societies’ occult rituals. In Bardugo’s universe, the “Ancient Eight” secret societies (Lethe is the eponymous Ninth House) are not just old boys’ breeding grounds for the CIA, CEOs, Supreme Court justices, and so on, as they are in ours; they’re wielders of actual magic. Skull and Bones performs prognostications by borrowing patients from the local hospital, cutting them open, and examining their entrails. St. Elmo’s specializes in weather magic, useful for commodities traders; Aurelian, in unbreakable contracts; Manuscript goes in for glamours, or “illusions and lies,” helpful to politicians and movie stars alike. And all these rituals attract ghosts. It’s Alex’s job to keep the supernatural forces from embarrassing the magical elite by releasing chaos into the community (all while trying desperately to keep her grades up). “Dealing with ghosts was like riding the subway: Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not engage. Otherwise, you never know what might follow you home.” A townie’s murder sets in motion a taut plot full of drug deals, drunken assaults, corruption, and cover-ups. Loyalties stretch and snap. Under it all runs the deep, dark river of ambition and anxiety that at once powers and undermines the Yale experience. Alex may have more reason than most to feel like an imposter, but anyone who’s spent time around the golden children of the Ivy League will likely recognize her self-doubt. With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally dazzling sequels.

About the Author

Leigh Bardugo is a #1 New York Times bestselling author of fantasy novels and the creator of the Grishaverse (coming soon to Netflix) which spans the Shadow and Bone Trilogy, the Six of Crows Duology, The Language of Thorns, and King of Scars—with more to come. Her short stories can be found in multiple anthologies, including the Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy. Her other works include Wonder Woman: Warbringer and Ninth House(Goodreads Choice Winner for Best Fantasy 2019) which is being developed for television by Amazon Studios.

Leigh was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Southern California, and graduated from Yale University. These days she lives and writes in Los Angeles.

Her website is leighbardugo.com.

Teacher Resources

Ninth House on Common Sense Media

Ninth House Reading Group Guide

Around the Web

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February 2020, Fiction

Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer

Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer. November 19, 2019. Tor Teen, 304 p. ISBN: 9781250165084.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 820.

How much does the internet know about YOU? A thought-provoking near future YA thriller that could not be more timely as it explores issues of online privacy, artificial intelligence, and the power and perils of social networks.

Because her mom is always on the move, Steph hasn’t lived anyplace longer than six months. Her only constant is an online community called CatNet―a social media site where users upload cat pictures―a place she knows she is welcome. What Steph doesn’t know is that the admin of the site, CheshireCat, is a sentient A.I.

When a threat from Steph’s past catches up to her and ChesireCat’s existence is discovered by outsiders, it’s up to Steph and her friends, both online and IRL, to save her.

Catfishing on CatNet is a surprising, heartfelt near-future YA thriller by award-winning author Naomi Kritzer, whose short story “Cat Pictures Please” won the Hugo Award and Locus Award and was a finalist for the Nebula.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racism, Strong sexual themes, Misgendering, Stalking, Domestic violence, Kidnapping

 

Reviews

Booklist (October 15, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 4))
Grades 9-12. Steph’s life isn’t easy. Her mother keeps moving her from town to town every few months to evade her father, who may or may not be a dangerous kidnapper. Meanwhile, Steph finds friendship in an online forum for cat-lovers, known as CatNet. But after she moves to New Coburg and manages to find some real-life friends, she gets involved in a hacking prank that goes awry. In the aftermath, Steph begins to find out more and more disturbing information about her past, and her father just might have enough information to track down her online friends—and maybe even her. Although the narrative style seems to struggle with understanding what it wants to be (the AI’s introspection is a bit too on the nose), Kritzer manages to keep the plot from going entirely over the top. In her first foray into YA literature, she explores social anxieties around technology and automation, artificial intelligence, and gender and sexuality, all while also providing readers with a captivating and mysterious near-future thriller.

Kirkus Reviews starred (September 15, 2019)
Dual narrators—a cat picture–loving AI and a teen with a dangerous past—develop a friendship. Steph’s spent her whole life constantly on the move, never in one town or school long enough to make friends, as her mother keeps them carefully hidden from Steph’s abusive father. Her realest connections are her online friends from an internet community called CatNet. CatNet is secretly run by one of those friends—username CheshireCat—a powerful AI that uses the community for cat pictures and to counter loneliness. When Steph and her friends hack her new school’s sex ed–instructing robot (to give actual, correct answers to questions instead of “You’ll have to discuss that with your parents!”), the resulting hilarity and scandal attract unintended media attention, leading to worries that Steph’s father will be able to use the story to find them. Preemptive digging into her father reveals worrying inconsistencies in what Steph thinks she knows, kicking off a tense, fast-paced thriller storyline. The believably applied near-future technology grounds the wilder plot elements. The personhood elements of the AI narrator’s story complement identity themes among the cast at large—though the new town is nearly all white (with one biracial black/white character), the characters offer positive, realistic LGBTQIA+ representation—especially nonbinary identities and characters still exploring their identities. Refreshingly, the characters also feel like generally-woke-but-still-imperfect humans. Wickedly funny and thrilling in turns; perfect for readers coming-of-age online. (Thriller. 13-adult)

About the Author

Naomi Kritzer has been making friends online since her teens, when she had to use a modem to dial up at 2400 baud. She is a writer and blogger who has published a number of short stories and novels for adults, including the Eliana’s Song duology and the Dead Rivers Trilogy. Her 2015 short story “Cat Pictures Please” won the Hugo Award and Locus Award and was a finalist for the Nebula. Naomi lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her family and four cats. The number of cats is subject to change without notice.

Her website is www.naomikritzer.com.

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February 2020, Fiction

A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy

A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy. October 29, 2019. G.P. Putnam’s Son, 351 p. ISBN: 9780525518587.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 800.

Sixteen-year-old Eva is a princess, born with the magick of blood and marrow–a dark and terrible magick that hasn’t been seen for generations in the vibrant but fractured country of Myre. Its last known practitioner was Queen Raina, who toppled the native khimaer royalty and massacred thousands, including her own sister, eight generations ago, thus beginning the Rival Heir tradition. Living in Raina’s long and dark shadow, Eva must now face her older sister, Isa, in a battle to the death if she hopes to ascend to the Ivory Throne–because in the Queendom of Myre only the strongest, most ruthless rulers survive.

When Eva is attacked by an assassin just weeks before the battle with her sister, she discovers there is more to the attempt on her life than meets the eye–and it isn’t just her sister who wants to see her dead. As tensions escalate, Eva is forced to turn to a fey instructor of mythic proportions and a mysterious and handsome khimaer prince for help in growing her magick into something to fear. Because despite the love she still has for her sister, Eva will have to choose- Isa’s death or her own.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Violence

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2019)
Princess Evalina Killeen attempts to tap into her magical abilities in preparation for a magical showdown. Eva has always known she was born with the feared magick of marrow and blood which she is supposed to use in a fight to the death with her sister, Isa, for the queendom once they both come of age. But Eva’s only accessed her magic twice, and both times its violence frightened her. Mere months before her nameday, Eva is desperately searching for a magick teacher when she stumbles across Baccha, a fey of immense power who shares her magical abilities. Though Eva is often empathetic, she’s sometimes whiny, and her lack of awareness and acknowledgement of her own privilege—and complete obliviousness toward other people’s needs—may irritate readers. However, as she learns to access her magic and begins uncovering family secrets, she also continues to grapple with the current and historical bias (species, not color, based) of Myre, whose diverse population is made up of humans, fey, bloodkin, and khimaer. Her willingness to question the status quo may help readers forgive her for being otherwise self-centered and sometimes rash. A surprising twist and multiple unsolved mysteries will leave readers looking forward to the next book. Black-haired Eva is biracial (her father is brown-skinned while her mother has light pink skin) while Isa has golden hair and lighter brown skin. Supporting characters are racially diverse. A compelling debut. (Fantasy. 14-18)

Publishers Weekly (August 26, 2019)
Evalina Grace Killeen is the younger princess of the Queendom of Myre, a land populated by humans, fey, bloodkin, and the subjugated khimaer, formerly Myre’s ruling class. Since her magick was declared “marrow and blood,” like that of the most powerful, ruthless human queen in Myre’s history, Eva has been the subject of fear and isolation by courtiers, citizens, and her queen mother, who has long favored the persuasive magick of the elder princess, Isadore. When Eva reaches her 17th year, the magick-wielding sisters will fight for the sitting monarch’s throne, battling to the death for the right to rule. Biracial Eva, who can seem reactive, regards her own magick as a curse and loathes the thought of fratricide, but after she is attacked repeatedly before the battle, she must unlock the secrets of magic and heritage that have haunted her family and her Queendom for years. Debut author Joy’s engrossing, North African-inspired series opener draws effectively on real-world prejudices to inform her richly created universe’s complex history of species-based oppression and imperialism.

About the Author

Amanda Joy has an MFA from The New School, and lives in Chicago with her dog Luna.

Her website is www.amandajoywrites.com

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February 2020, Fiction

Dangerous Alliance by Jennieke Cohen

Dangerous Alliance: An Austentacious Romance by Jennieke Cohen. December 3, 2019. HarperTeen, 429 p. ISBN: 9780062857309.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Lady Victoria Aston has everything she could want: an older sister happily wed, the future of her family estate secure, and ample opportunity to while her time away in the fields around her home.

But now Vicky must marry—or find herself and her family destitute. Armed only with the wisdom she has gained from her beloved novels by Jane Austen, she enters society’s treacherous season.

Sadly, Miss Austen has little to say about Vicky’s exact circumstances: whether the roguish Mr. Carmichael is indeed a scoundrel, if her former best friend, Tom Sherborne, is out for her dowry or for her heart, or even how to fend off the attentions of the foppish Mr. Silby, he of the unfortunate fashion sensibility.

Most unfortunately of all, Vicky’s books are silent on the topic of the mysterious accidents cropping up around her…ones that could prevent her from surviving until her wedding day.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Mild sexual themes, Sexual assault, Alcohol, Domestic abuse, Mention of rape

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 2))
Grades 8-12. When Vicky, more properly known as Lady Victoria Aston, receives the unwelcome news that she must find a husband soon to secure her family’s ancestral home estate—and, thus, safety—she takes on the burden and participates in the London social season with determination. But no spirited young woman would willingly marry a milksop, a mountebank, or a cad. And sadly, Tom, the childhood friend she secretly loves, seems strangely distant since his return from the Continent. Meanwhile, who’s behind the accidents and attacks targeting Vicky? Can she unmask the villain before it’s too late? Vicky’s frequent references to Jane Austen’s novels will charm readers who love them as much as she does. The story brims with Austen-like characters, dilemmas, and turns of phrase. Vicky’s emotional turmoil will ring true for today’s readers, though her feisty responses to physical attacks are less believable in an era when young ladies lacked training in the art of self-defense. Putting such quibbles aside, contemporary fans of the Austen novels and their screen adaptations will relish this rousing, late Georgian romance.

Kirkus Reviews (September 15, 2019)
A Regency-era teen needs to find a husband to save the family estate—provided someone doesn’t murder her first. When 17-year-old Lady Victoria Aston’s older sister, Althea, flees her abusive husband, Viscount Dain, Victoria’s parents tell her she must marry soon: Without Vicky’s erstwhile husband as a possible heir, should her father die before Althea’s separation can be legally recognized, his estate and title would default to Dain. But someone seems intent on harming Vicky: She’s attacked by a stranger and later survives a mysterious carriage accident. Tom Sherborne, her old friend and neighbor returned from years in exile after succeeding to his father’s title, saves her both times. But Vicky’s still angry that Tom dropped their friendship when he left five years earlier. As various suitors vie for her hand, Vicky has one question: What would Jane Austen’s heroines do? Cohen’s debut is lighthearted and well researched, but a lack of focus—is it mystery? Romance?—keeps it from being a page-turner. The central conceit—that Vicky draws inspiration from Fanny Price, Elizabeth Bennet, Marianne Dashwood, etc.—only muddles the story, as it’s likely going to be lost on many YA readers who may not know who these characters are. There are mentions of India, the West Indies, and abolition, but all characters seem to be white. Not scary, not sexy, not quite enough. (historical note) (Historical fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Jennieke Cohen (JEN-ih-kah CO-en) is used to people mispronouncing her name and tries to spare her fictional characters the same problem. Jennieke writes historical fiction for young adults inspired by real people and events because life is often stranger than fiction. She studied English history at Cambridge University and has a master’s degree in professional writing from the University of Southern California. Jennieke loves exploring new locales but always returns home to Northern California where the summers are hot, the winters are mild, and life is casual. Her website is www.JenniekeCohen.com.

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Fiction, January 2020

Rogue Heart by Axie Oh

Rogue Heart by Axie Oh. October 8, 2019. Tu Books, 357 p. ISBN: 9781643790374.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 790.

NEO BEIJING, 2201. Two years after the Battle of Neo Seoul, eighteen-year-old telepath Ama works by day in a cafe and moonlights as a lounge singer in a smoky bar at night. She’s anonymous, she’s safe from the seemingly never-ending war, and that’s how she’d like to stay. But then PHNX, a resistance group specializing in espionage and covert missions, approaches her with an offer to expose a government experiment exactly like the one she fled. Soon, Ama is traveling with PHNX on a series of dangerous assignments, using her telepathic powers to aid the rebellion against the authoritarian Alliance.

As the war ramps up, PHNX is given its most dangerous mission yet: to infiltrate the base of the Alliance’s new war commander, a young man rumored to have no fear of death. But when Ama sees the commander for the first time, she discovers his identity: Alex Kim, the boy she once loved and who betrayed her.

Now, Ama must use her telepathic abilities to pose as an officer in Alex’s elite guard, manipulating Alex’s mind so that he doesn’t recognize her. As the final battle approaches, Ama struggles with her mission and her feelings for Alex. Will she be able to carry out her task? Or will she give up everything for Alex again–only to be betrayed once more?

Part heist novel, part love story, Rogue Heart is perfect for fans of Marie Lu’s Warcross and Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series.

Part of Series: Rebel Seoul (Book 2)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes, Strong language, Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2019 (Online))
Grades 8-12. In 2201, genetically engineered supersoldier Ama is in hiding, believed killed in a transport carrier crash during the battle of Neo Seoul two years ago. She’s tried to put her painful past behind her, but when a resistance group seeks her help exposing a government experiment like the one she was subjected to, she agrees to become a covert operative. With her telepathic (and light telekinetic) powers, she’s an important asset on dangerous assignments, but Ama’s biggest mission comes when she’s sent to spy on the boy, now a respected army commander, who broke her heart and still believes her dead. This companion novel to Oh’s debut Rebel Seoul (2017), pitched as Pacific Rim meets K-drama, follows a new set of characters, with some overlap. The plot is fast (sometimes too fast), and there’s a lot going on (sometimes too much), but Oh delivers in spades on rich East Asian representation and high-stakes forbidden romance in a story brimming with futuristic Asian metropolises, teens piloting mecha robots, and all the espionage your heart can handle.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2019)
A telepathic 18-year-old in Neo Beijing in 2201 is haunted by troubling memories and assaulted by her exquisite sensitivity to others’ thoughts. All Ama has wanted since escaping the Alliance government lab that turned her and two other teen orphans into experimental supersoldiers is to lie low, enjoy her newly found freedom, and forget the boy who betrayed her. All of that changes, though, when, two years after her escape, the Alliance tries to assassinate her while its opposing faction, PHNX, attempts to convince her to join their rebellion. How will Ama sort out her complex feelings for those close to her who remain loyal to the Alliance, those loyal to PHNX, and those loyal only to themselves? The novel is narrated in the first person by Ama, allowing readers to become acquainted with her personal history through her inner monologue. Oh deftly and seamlessly weaves fast-paced action, futuristic technology, the East Asian cultures and languages of the Neo Council, inclusive relationships, and a new spin on K-drama romance into the Blade Runner–esque universe she first shared in her previous, companion novel Rebel Seoul (2017). However, Asian people, as well as their families, lovers, partners, friends, and cultural practices, are the main characters here instead of simply an exotic backdrop. A fantastic, fun, and fast read for fans of Stranger Things, The Hunger Games, Pacific Rim, and romantic Korean dramas. (Science fiction. 12-18)

About the Author

Axie Oh is a first-generation Korean American, born in New York City and raised in New Jersey. She studied Korean history and creative writing as an undergrad at the University of California San Diego and holds an MFA in Writing for Young People from Lesley University. Her passions include K-pop, anime, stationery supplies, and milk tea, and she currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada, with her puppy, Toro (named after Totoro).

Her website is www.axieoh.com

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Fiction, January 2020

Slay by Brittney Morris

Slay by Brittney Morris. September 24, 2019. Simon Pulse, 321 p. ISBN: 9781534445420.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 930.

Ready Player One meets The Hate U Give in this dynamite debut novel that follows a fierce teen game developer as she battles a real-life troll intent on ruining the Black Panther–inspired video game she created and the safe community it represents for Black gamers.

By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are partially responsible for the “downfall of the Black man.”

But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for “anti-white discrimination.”

Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes, Racism, Strong language, Underage drinking, Racist slur, Domestic abuse

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (July 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 21))
Grades 9-12. So often, Black gamer girls and Black girls in STEAM are overlooked. However, Morris unapologetically brings both identities front and center with her explosive debut. Seventeen-­year-old gamer Kiera Johnson finds that being Black leaves her largely ostracized from the larger gaming community. As a result, she ingeniously creates SLAY, her own online virtual reality game that becomes more than a hobby—it becomes a community for thousands of Black gamers to embody Nubian personae in a role-playing game. The game functions as Kiera’s refuge from the racism and traumas of the outside world. But her precious, necessary safe space is threatened when a player is killed due to an in-game dispute. It creates a stir in the media and paints SLAY in a negative light. The game is stereotyped much like many Black people are; it’s being called violent and criminal; and it’s charged with being racist and exclusionary. Suddenly, Kiera is faced with the need to both protect her game and keep her identity as the developer secret. This excels at depicting everyday life for Black teens and the very specific struggles Black teens face. More than a novel, this is a conversation about safe spaces, why they’re necessary for minorities, and why we should champion their right to exist without being branded exclusionary or racist.

Kirkus Reviews (July 15, 2019)
A high school senior secretly creates a massively multiplayer online role-playing game dedicated to black culture but is attacked in mainstream media after a player is murdered. Frustrated by the rampant racism in the online multiplayer game universe and exhausted by having to be the “voice of Blackness” at her majority white high school, honors student Kiera creates SLAY—a MMORPG for black gamers. SLAY promotes black excellence from across the African diaspora as players go head-to-head in matches grounded in black culture. Although Kiera is proud of the game and the safe space it has become for hundreds of thousands of participants, she keeps her identity as lead developer a secret from everyone, including her black boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are a tactic on the part of white people to undermine black men and hold them back from success. When a dispute in SLAY spills into the real world and a teen is murdered, the media discovers the underground game and cries racism. Kiera has to fight to protect not only her identity, but the online community she has developed. Despite some one-dimensional characters, especially Kiera’s parents, debut author Morris does a fantastic job of showing diversity within the black community. Nongamers might get bogged down in the minutiae of the game play, but the effort is well worth it. Gamers and black activists alike will be ready to SLAY all day. (Fiction. 13-18)

About the Author

Brittney Morris holds a BA in Economics from Boston University because back then, she wanted to be a financial analyst. (She’s now thankful that didn’t happen). She spends her spare time reading, playing indie video games, and enjoying the Seattle rain from her apartment. She lives with her husband Steven who would rather enjoy the rain from a campsite in the woods because he hasn’t played enough horror games. Brittney is the founder and former president of the Boston University Creative Writing Club, a four-time NaNoWriMo winner and a 2018 Pitch Wars mentor.

Her website is www.authorbrittneymorris.com

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Fiction, January 2020

The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher

The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher. October 1, 2019. Saga Press, 399 p. ISBN: 9781534429574.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

When a young woman clears out her deceased grandmother’s home in rural North Carolina, she finds long-hidden secrets about a strange colony of beings in the woods in this chilling novel that reads like The Blair Witch Project meets The Andy Griffith Show.

When Mouse’s dad asks her to clean out her dead grandmother’s house, she says yes. After all, how bad could it be?

Answer: pretty bad. Grandma was a hoarder, and her house is stuffed with useless rubbish. That would be horrific enough, but there’s more—Mouse stumbles across her step-grandfather’s journal, which at first seems to be filled with nonsensical rants…until Mouse encounters some of the terrifying things he described for herself.

Alone in the woods with her dog, Mouse finds herself face to face with a series of impossible terrors—because sometimes the things that go bump in the night are real, and they’re looking for you. And if she doesn’t face them head on, she might not survive to tell the tale.

From Hugo Award–winning author Ursula Vernon, writing as T. Kingfisher, The Twisted Ones is a gripping, terrifying tale bound to keep you up all night—from both fear and anticipation of what happens next.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Cruelty to animals, Strong language, Violence

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 2))
Mouse goes to rural North Carolina to clean out her dead grandmother’s house, finding an unsettling, hoarder mess. Amidst the garbage, she finds her step-grandfather’s journal, which describes horrors in terrifying detail, and which Mouse and her dog also begin to experience. Told with a “found book” frame and an intense first person narration, this folk horror novel begins with the unease of Mouse telling readers how her life was forever tainted by the experience she is about to recount. The tale is as tightly twisted and menacing as the carvings she finds in the woods. Readers will stand back in awe as it all unravels, slowly at first, and then with great and terrifying speed. This is a modern retelling of Arthur Machen’s seminal weird fiction tale, “The White People,” a story that greatly influenced H.P. Lovecraft, but readers won’t need that context to enjoy The Twisted Ones. Kingfisher brings this brand of horror to a new generation, and the book will appeal to readers of Lovecraftian adaptations by Caitlin Keirnan, Matt Ruff, and Paul La Farge.

Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2019)
A woman realizes she’s not alone while cleaning out her late grandmother’s remote North Carolina home. Freelance book editor Melissa, aka “Mouse,” can’t say no to her father when he asks her to clear out her grandmother’s house. Unfortunately, the house, which has been locked up for two years, is a hoarder’s paradise, but Mouse digs in with her beloved coonhound, Bongo, at her side. One day bleeds into another as she hauls junk to the nearby dump and makes friends with her kind and quirky neighbors, Foxy, Tomas, and Skip. When she finds a journal belonging to her stepgrandfather Frederick Cotgrave, things get creepy. The prose sounds like the ravings of a man unhappy in his marriage to a woman who wasn’t a very nice person, but the mention of something called the Green Book is intriguing, and the line “I twisted myself about like the twisted ones” gives Mouse the chills. While walking Bongo in the woods, Mouse stumbles on a strange gathering of stones on top of a hill that shouldn’t exist. After discovering a gruesome deer effigy hanging in the woods, Mouse confides in Foxy, who tells a few strange tales of her own. Something is lurking just outside Mouse’s house, and that effigy isn’t of this world, but just when she’s ready to leave, Bongo disappears. And Mouse isn’t going anywhere without Bongo. Kingfisher effortlessly entwines an atmospheric and spooky “deep dark woods” tale with ancient folklore and pulls off more than a few very effective scares. Mouse is a highly relatable and frequently funny narrator who is also refreshingly willing to believe her own eyes. The charming supporting cast is a bonus, especially the glamorous, 60-something Foxy, who goes above and beyond the call of duty to help Mouse when she needs it most. Read this one with the lights on.

About the Author

T. Kingfisher, also known as Ursula Vernon, is the author and illustrator of many projects, including the webcomic “Digger,” which won the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story and the Mythopoeic Award. Her novelette “The Tomato Thief” won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette, and her short story “Jackalope Wives” won the Nebula Award for Best Story. She is also the author of the bestselling Dragonbreath, and the Hamster Princess series of books for children.

Her website is ursulavernon.com

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