Fiction, March 2020

Shadowscent by P.M. Freestone

Shadowscent by P.M. Freestone. November 5, 2019. Scholastic Press, 362 p. ISBN: 9781338335446.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 730.

An Ember in the Ashes meets Indiana Jones in an electrifying, steal-your-breath away, supercharge-your-senses YA fantasy adventure.

Across the Aramtesh Empire, scent is everything. Prayers only reach heaven on sacred incense, and perfumes are prized status symbols. 17-year-old Rakel has an uncanny ability with fragrances, but her skills aren’t enough to buy her dying father more time.

Ash bears the tattoos of an imperial bodyguard. When his prince, Nisai, insists on a diplomatic mission to an outer province, Ash is duty-bound to join the caravan. It’s a nightmare protecting Nisai on the road. But it’s even harder for Ash to conceal a secret that could see him exiled or executed.

Rakel and Ash have nothing in common until smoke draws them to a field of the Empire’s rarest flower. Nisai’s been poisoned, flames devour the priceless blooms, and the pair have “suspect” clinging to them like a bad stench. Their futures depend on them working together to decipher clues, defy dangers and defeat their own demons in a race to source an antidote . . . before the imperial army hunts them down.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Mild sexual themes; Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (November 1, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 5))
Grades 8-11. In a society dependent on perfumes, oils, and elixirs, all Rakel wants is to use her gift for fragrances to make enough money to care for her dying father—easier said than done if you aren’t born into the right family. Ash’s only desire is to serve his best friend Nisai, the prince and heir to the empire, as his faithful Shield guard—and to protect a secret that could cost him his life. Yet somehow, when the prince is poisoned and left comatose, Rakel and Ash end up on the run to save their lives as well as Nisai’s. Journeying through the five provinces in search of a way to save him, Rakel must use her skills and Ash his swords to overcome the endless challenges before them. In her debut, Freestone crafts rich, fantastical imagery through mythical creatures, magical lands, and mysterious abilities, all tied up in an engrossing plot that will have readers begging for the sequel. Hand this book to fantasy-lovers and mystery aficionados alike.

Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2019)
A girl who gets mixed up in politics and the crown prince’s bodyguard must work together to save the prince—and themselves. Rakel has an affinity for scents: She can understand what’s in them and how to re-create them. In a world that runs on fragrances and magic, she should be able to care for herself and her ailing father. But when she goes to the city of Aphorai to find work as a perfumer, she learns that things are not so simple. Despite her best intentions, she is accused of a plot to assassinate the First Prince. Her only hope of survival lies in unraveling the components of the poison and concocting an antidote. Joined by the prince’s Shield, Ash, Rakel sets out on a quest through each of the kingdom’s regions, uncovering secrets about each of their pasts along the way. Following standard plot beats, Rakel and Ash confront corruption and conspiracy within their kingdom while exploring relationships, with each other and with others in their lives, both present and absent. While overdramatic at times, with characters painted in broad strokes, the romance and tension will appeal to readers hungry for adventures set against an intriguing, if underexplored magical world. Few physical descriptions make ethnicity difficult to determine in this desert kingdom; homosexuality is briefly mentioned and not stigmatized. A standard fantasy romp built on lush descriptions of fragrances. (Fantasy. 12-16)

About the Author

P. M. Freestone hails from Melbourne, Australia, and now resides in Edinburgh, Scotland with her partner, their Romanian rescue dog, and a collection of NASA-approved house plants. She is a Clarion Writers‘ Workshop (University of California) graduate and a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award winner, and holds degrees in archaeology, religious history and a PhD in the sociology of infectious diseases. She’s only ever met one cheese she didn’t like.

Her website is pmfreestone.com

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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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Fiction, January 2020

All the Things We Do in the Dark by Saundra Mitchell

All the Things We Do in the Dark by Saundra Mitchell. October 29, 2019. HarperTeen, 293 p. ISBN: 9780062852595.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Sadie meets Girl in Pieces in this dark, emotional thriller by acclaimed author Saundra Mitchell.

Something happened to Ava. The curving scar on her face is proof. Ava would rather keep that something hidden—buried deep in her heart and her soul.

But in the woods on the outskirts of town, the traces of someone else’s secrets lie frozen, awaiting Ava’s discovery—and what Ava finds threatens to topple the carefully constructed wall of normalcy that she’s spent years building around her.

Secrets leave scars. But when the secret in question is not your own—do you ignore the truth and walk away? Or do you uncover it from its shallow grave and let it reopen old wounds—wounds that have finally begun to heal?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Rape, Strong sexual themes, Description of a corpse

 

Reviews

Booklist (October 1, 2019 (Online))
Grades 9-12. Seventeen-year-old Ava wants you to know that the rape she endured at age nine doesn’t define her actions: “I have damage, you have damage. Nobody knows what they’re doing while they’re doing it.” Yet as she tells the story of the winter night she finds a body in the woods, it’s clear that Ava’s carefully structured life has helped her hide her PTSD, rather than confront it. Instead of calling the police, Ava decides to protect the body, a young woman, from further humiliation, eventually investigating the murder with the victim’s online friend Nick. These thriller elements play out the backdrop of Ava’s enclosed, predictable life—shuttling between school and home, between her overprotective mother and her sole friend, Syd—as it starts to change and expand, especially as Ava falls for Hailey, the daughter of the policeman who handled her assault case. Mitchell mixes contemporary drama—the joy of first love, the pain of breaking friendships—with psychological thriller in this insightful, cathartic read. A moving author’s note and contact information for sexual assault helplines are included.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2019)
A teen loner grapples with buried demons as she stumbles on someone else’s secret in the woods. In her latest novel, Mitchell again explores the sexual awakening of adolescent identities—this time against the backdrop of childhood sexual assault. Though hesitant to open up to anyone apart from her best friend, Syd, 17-year-old Ava Parkhurst reveals early on that she was raped at age 9 and visibly scarred for life when her attacker traced “a razor blade finger” down her cheek. As if Ava, a good student who strives to live in the present and not fixate on past trauma, doesn’t have enough challenges—Syd is keeping secrets from her; her father has moved out, leaving her and her mother on their own; and, for the first time, she’s finding herself physically attracted to the daughter of the policeman who, years before, handled her assault case—a walk in the woods one snowy Maine night leads to a harrowing discovery that dangerously tests the confines of Ava’s carefully guarded world. Mitchell’s roller-coaster confessional narrative runs the gamut from teen melodrama between friends and the throes of first love to reckoning with guarded secrets and the psychological fallout from astoundingly brutal acts. Most characters default to white; her love interest is biracial (white Jewish and Korean). A searing, fast-paced whodunit that addresses sexual assault head-on. (author’s note, resources) (Thriller. 14-18)

About the Author

Saundra Mitchell has been a phone psychic, a car salesperson, a denture-deliverer and a layout waxer. She’s dodged trains, endured basic training, and hitchhiked from Montana to California. The author of nearly twenty books for tweens and teens, Mitchell’s work includes SHADOWED SUMMER, THE VESPERTINE series, ALL THE THINGS WE DO IN THE DARK, a novel forthcoming from HarperTEEN and the forthcoming CAMP MURDERFACE series with Josh Berk. She is the editor of three anthologies for teens, DEFY THE DARK, ALL OUT and OUT NOW. She always picks truth; dares are too easy.

Her website is www.saundramitchell.com

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