It’s the summer of 1977 in Queens, New York and situations both inside and outside seventeen-year-old Nora Lopez’s life are threatening to explode. Outside the tiny apartment Nora’s single mom works day and night to hold onto, it is the hottest summer on record. Arsonists are setting random fires around the city that are keeping the firemen like Nora’s best friend Kathleen’s dad busy day and night. There is a serial killer on the loose calling himself “The Son of Sam” who murders young couples in their cars and sends terrifying letters to the newspapers that give Nora nightmares. A city-wide blackout encourages a wave of crime that causes tempers to flare and feelings of fear and racism to flourish. Meanwhile, closer to home, Nora’s younger brother Hector, always a troublemaker, seems to be getting worse. A violent drop-out with a drug addiction, Hector rages at Nora, physically strikes their mother and rarely comes home at night. Nora is worried that he is possibly one of the city’s destructive arsonists. But she stuffs her misgivings deep inside, afraid of what telling the truth will do to her already fractured family. “How can you make people understand about brothers who hit and spit? How do you explain why you listen at your own door before going in? How do you explain that it’s not only parents who beat kids, but sometimes the other way around, too?” Nora longs to ask her father for help, but he has a new family in Manhattan and only calls on holidays to hear good news, not problems. The only bright spot in Nora’ life is her blossoming romance with her deli co-worker Pablo. His dreamy good looks and positive attitude give Nora hope. But when Hector takes his brutality to a new level and her mother loses her factory job, Nora pulls away from Pablo, afraid to draw him into her family drama. She’s never felt so alone, and wishes her mother didn’t always expect her hold everything together. “Shouldn’t she be able to take better care of us? Isn’t that what adults are supposed to do? Take care of their kids? Shield them from stuff? Pay bills? Why is everything the other way around for us?” Can Nora learn to ask for the help she needs before her entire world combusts? The novel takes it’s title from a well known disco song, but while Nora escapes to the club to forget her problems, the music can’t save her. I have deep love for Meg Medina’s books because they are set in my beloved Queens (my neighborhood of Forest Hills gets a shout out for it’s historical Tudor houses and because it was sadly a notorious site of one of the Son of Sam murders) and her teen characterizations are spot on. The feelings she conveys are honest and authentic, and her descriptions of NYC back in the day will make the 70’s come alive for you. Nora is a complex, original character who will bring your summer to its knees when you get your hands on this hotter than hot novel in March 2016.
What do a brother and sister in 1935 Nazi Germany, two homeless boys in 1935 Philadelphia and a young Latino girl in 1942 California have in common? A magical harmonica and the hope that lives within it. In Pam Munoz Ryan’s epic, all-ages novel, the power of music unites these young people across time and space as they each awaken the sleeping enchantment that is embedded in the deceptively simple instrument.
Twelve-year-old music prodigy Frederick and eighteen-year-old nursing student Elisabeth were once the closest of siblings, but they have grown apart due to Elisabeth’s new found fascination with the German chancellor Adolf Hitler. Elisabeth believes in Hitler’s propaganda about about a “pure” race with no physical or mental flaws and Frederich, who was born with a large purple birthmark on his face, wonders how his sister can accept an idea that essentially brands him as an outsider in his own country. When their father is picked up by Nazi soldiers while Elisabeth is away, Frederich must embark on dangerous journey to save him, his only comfort the strange and beautiful harmonica he found in an abandoned warehouse.
Mike and Frankie have been living at The Bishop’s Home for Friendless and Destitute Children since their Granny couldn’t take care of them anymore. Their only solace is each other and the old piano that Mile knows how to play from Granny’s many lessons. When a rich stranger arrives and offers to adopt them both because of Mike’s musical talent, the boys think their ship has come in. But when the situation turns out to be more complicated than Mike thought, he decides to sacrifice his own happiness in order to save his brother by auditioning for Hoxie’s Harmonica Wizards, a traveling harmonica band that takes in young musicians and pays for their keep. Maybe the family will love Frankie more if Mike leaves. But before his final audition, Mike learns a secret that threatens to destroy the plan riding on his skill with the beautiful harmonica he found in an old music shop.
Ivy is devastated when she learns that her family is leaving Fresno for a new home outside of Los Angeles. She was supposed to play her beloved harmonica in a radio show with her class, but now she must leave all her friends and start over at a farm that her father is taking care of for a family that has been sent to a Japanese internment camp. When she is pulled into a frightening situation where she must come to the aid of the Japanese family who provided her family with their new home, the only thing that soothes her fear is the music she plays on her harmonica.
The three stories converge on one night in 1951. How do Frederick, Mike and Ivy find each other and what brings them together? I wouldn’t dream of denying you the incredible satisfaction of finding that answer out for yourself. A hopeful, lyrically written story about the magic of the everyday and how one person, no matter how young, can make a difference. Whether you are six, sixteen or sixty, everyone should read Echo.
Ruth would do anything to get out of Gran’s “old person smelling” house, but the results are disastrous when cute Ray Stevens offers a sleepover with benefits. Dora wishes she had a place she could call home because no matter how kind Dumping’s parents are, she can never forget that she is a guest in their house due to her father’s inability to stay away from the bottle. Dumpling always wears a red ribbon on the end of her braid for luck, but it doesn’t save her from what fate has in store. Alyce is torn between the two worlds of professional ballet and commercial fishing, and making a choice means disappointing one of her divorced parents. Hank is forced to take his two younger brothers on the run in order to find out where he truly belongs. This group of disenfranchised Alaskan teens living on the edges of their white, Athabaskan and Inupiat communities in the 1970’s end up coming together in complicated and unexpected ways that will delight and surprise readers. Based on the debut author’s own experiences growing up in Alaska, this character-rich, poetically-written, all-ages read will be available at a library, bookstore or e-reader near you February 2016.
It’s not easy being a sixteen year old orphan in 1964 Ontario. But it’s even harder when you’re a brown-skinned girl who’s just lost the only home you’ve ever known. When the Benevolent Home for Necessitous Girls goes up in smoke one terrifying night, Malou is thrust out into the wide world with just $138, a shopping bag full of used clothing and a hospital bracelet with the words, “Baby Fox.” With her only clue being the hospital address, Malou boards a bus to the tiny town of Parry Sound, where she hopes to solve the mystery of her birth. She quickly finds a room to rent and a cleaning job to pay for it, but it’s rough being on her own for the first time in her life. “Alone is a hard thing to be. There is not enough inside my own head to fill all the hours it would take to live alone. Especially without books.” As she starts investigating her background, Malou begins noticing and meeting other teenagers in town who look an awfully lot like her. Soon Malou finds herself entangled in an local secret that is far more complicated than she ever could have imagined. I tore through this fast paced and plotty novel in about twenty four hours, completely engaged by Malou’s singular voice and the riddle she is trying to solve. If you find yourself in a reading slump, this captivating historical identity mystery is the perfect antidote!
SPOILER ALERT: Before launching into this luscious sequel of epic proportions, please do yourself a BIG favor and read the utterly delicious first book in this planned four volume series. And if you’re already a fan of the fabulous paranormal Roaring Twenties tome, then by all means, READ ON! Picking up right where The Diviners left off, Evie is now enjoying superstardom as the “Sweetheart Seer” of WGI radio, streetwise Sam is working alongside steadfast Jericho and Evie’s Uncle Will at the Museum of the American Folklore, Superstition and the Occult, BFF entertainers Theta and Henry are playing the nights away at the Ziegfeld Follies and secret poet Memphis runs numbers during the day while working on love poetry for Theta after hours. Though they seem happy and busy on the surface, each continues to come to uncomfortable terms with the hidden abilities they have discovered within themselves. While exercising his dream walking talent to try and connect with his lost love Louis, Henry runs into Ling Chan, a Chinese/Irish teen who uses dreams to confer with the dead. Together they discover a seductive netherworld where a vengeful ghost is tapping into the dreams of innocent New Yorkers, causing them to fall into a deadly sleep from which they never wake. The ghost’s presence is tied to an old, bricked over subway station that was recently excavated. Once her bones are stirred, the veiled woman covered in blood and her army of soul sucking phosphorescent zombies haunt the train tunnels and only Ling and Henry have the clues to solve the mystery of her death and lay her spirit to rest. Meanwhile, on the romantic front, Sam and Evie embark on a news worthy romance that may or may not be the real deal, Theta and Memphis encounter the difficulties of interracial dating in the era of KKK parades and the Eugenics movement, while Jericho struggles with who to give his heart to PERIOD. As the story climbs inexorably to a tension-filled conclusion, the rag tag band of friends begin to realize that a greater evil than the previous Pentacle Killer and present Hungry Ghost is afoot and that they will need to reveal their clandestine supernatural skills to each other if they ever hope to win against it.
SO. MUCH. HERE. TO. LOVE, so I will spare you too many gushy particulars and just say that as a librarian I was delighted that Ling did research on the abandoned subway station at the Seward Park library with the help of fictional librarian Mrs. Belpre, and as a New Yorker I appreciated what seemed like a heartbreaking reference to 9/11 when the 1920’s train entrances were papered with handmade signs of people who have gone missing since the subway ghost started haunting. Finally, I laughed aloud with nerdy glee when the historically real Carl Jung made an appearance to talk dreams with Evie and Theta. Author Libba Bray’s ability to infuse a paranormal thriller with such nuanced and layered themes of bias, identity, and culture and how they are all integrated messily into the fabric of our collected American history is completely amazeballs. This rich, detail-packed second book does not disappoint with its deepening of the characters and relationships we came to know and love from the first book, and tantalizing hints of the horror to come, including additional references to the mysterious Project Buffalo and the enigmatic crow-coated man in the stovepipe hat. While it was definitely worth the wait, it’s going to be hard drumming our nail bitten fingers as we anxiously anticipate the next chapters in the newly formed Diviner crew’s supernatural adventures. Coming to a library, bookstore, e-reader or pillow near you August 25 2015.
In 1911 rural Pennsylvania, fourteen year old bookworm Joan Skraggs is done with letting her domineering farmer father dictate the direction of her life. After he refuses to give her the egg money she’s earned, shames her in front of her beloved teacher and burns her only books, Joan takes the money her dead mother sewed into the skirts of her childhood doll and takes the train to Philadelphia. There she has the good fortune of finding a job as a hired girl with the wealthy Rosenbach family and tastes real freedom for the very first time. Of course, she still works her fingers to the bone, but now there are afternoons off, new hats to be bought with her hard earned salary, and an entire home library to explore. But with these little luxuries come a whole new batch of problems. There are bewildering new rules to follow in the Rosenbach’s formal Jewish household. Malka, the elderly servant she works under is difficult and easily offended. And finally, what about school? Joan longs to return to her education, but now that she’s passed herself off as eighteen to gain employment, how can she ever go back? Because Joan has big dreams of being a teacher like her mother wanted. And cleaning houses isn’t going to cut it. “The truth is, most of the time I don’t think of myself as the hired girl…After all, I’m not going to be a servant all my life.” Can Joan escape the tight constraints of her narrowly defined station? Or will she find a way to break free of her hired girl status and make her mother’s dream come true? This delightful homespun tale, comprised entirely of Joan’s earnest, unintentionally funny journal entries, is powerfully reminiscent of old and new classics like Little Women and A Northern Light. This ode to the power of the written word and the strength and ingenuity of women past and present is as warm, witty and wise as all of award winning Laura Amy Schlitz‘s other works, and I predict that lovely sepia cover will be sporting a bright medal or two come January ’16. Coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you September 2015.
After fleeing a murderous sneak attack from a rival tribe, a prehistoric girl stumbles upon a spiral marked on the wall of a forgotten cave. A grieving psychiatrist is deeply moved by a mentally ill poet who fears nothing except the tall spiral staircase that rises in the middle of the sanatorium. After being accused of witchcraft, a medieval cunning woman is thrown into a river where she glimpses a spiral carved into the rocky underwater bank. A lonely astronaut alters his course when his ship discovers signs of intelligent life in the form of a broadcast signal of the number phi, which is also the ratio of the Fibonacci Spiral. Each lyrically wrought quarter of this multi-layered novel, which author Marcus Sedgwick claims can be read in any order, revolves around this mysterious shape that appears over and over in human history, folklore and nature. Figuring out how each story relates to the others is a puzzling treat and I can’t imagine any reader not giving a gasp of delight and satisfaction when reading the very last paragraphs, which cunningly come around full spiral. As cleverly constructed and delightfully complex as Sedgewick’s award-winning Midwinter Blood, I predict Ghosts of Heaven will score just as much critical love in 2015!
It is 1899 in New York City, a thriving metropolis teeming with the hopes and dreams of thousands of newly arrived immigrants. Among them is Chava, a chaste Jewish widow who keeps to herself and works tirelessly in a lower East Side bakery, and Ahmad, an aloof Syrian tinsmith who wears an iron band on his wrist and makes beautiful figurines out of precious metal. Each of them is hiding a terrible secret that if discovered, could lead to their destruction. Chava can plunge pins into her own skin and not feel pain while Ahmad can raise them temperature of an entire room by just entering it. Because beneath their ordinary exteriors, Chava is a golem formed from clay, while Ahmad is a jinni made of fire. Neither of them requires sleep, so they each roam the young city’s streets alone at night, Chava yearning to fit in with her human peers, Ahmad longing to escape from them. When they finally meet, they recognize the strangeness in each other and form a mystical bond that is tested when a mysterious figure from Ahmad’s ancient past appears with a plan to enslave them both forever. This impeccably researched, lushly written novel of identity, faith, free will and unlikely friendship will appeal to readers of all ages and any card-carrying member of the history or folklore fandom. It’s also a stunningly good New York story. I spent a very happy week immersed in the smoky, sooty atmosphere of the turn of the century Bowery and Lower East Side learning how to braid challah bread in a Jewish bakery and mend kettles in a Syrian tin shop. If you are seeking a book that will transport you far from the stinky bunks of your summer camp or overly-air conditioned office of your summer job, LOOK NO FURTHER. Summer reading satisfaction guaranteed!
Annith is tired of waiting. It seems like her whole life has been an exercise in patience as she has watched the head Abbess of the Convent of St. Mortain, god of Death, send out her sisters on dangerous assignments while she tends the home fires and trains endlessly. Her fellow assassin nuns Ismae and Sybella have already been sent out on dangerous missions and Annith is dying to join them. But then the Abbess informs her that she is destined to take over the role of convent Seeress, a role that demands she remain confined forever in a tiny room where she will use tools of prophecy to foretell the exciting lives of others while never experiencing any of it for herself. Furious, Annith rejects the Abbess’s command and sets out to find her sisters and avenge the death of a young novice who the Abbess sent out too soon. Along the way she becomes entangled with the terrifying Hellequins, “tasked with collecting the souls of the wicked” and delivering them to the underworld; befriends the Arduinnites, a group of warrior women sworn to protect the young and the weak; and finally even meets and attends the young duchess of Brittany herself, who is readying for a war with the French that looks utterly un-winnable. But now that Annith has tasted freedom, she is determined to do whatever she can to serve her sisters, her country and her god–except a troubling love affair with an unexpected suitor has her questioning her every move. Can Annith set aside her confusing feelings in order to join her sister nuns and their allies in one last desperate plot to save Brittany? While this third volume of His Fair Assassins trilogy follows a pattern that has become familiar to fans of the series, it is still an immensely satisfying read that concludes in a deeply gratifying manner. Though the publication date isn’t until November 2014, this is one title that will make you thankful winter is coming!
Since she was a little girl, Laura has been captivated by the colorful and bloody history and literature of Russia. But when she finally gets her chance to spend a college semester abroad in Soviet Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in 1982, she is disappointed by the dreary weather, bad food and suspicious locals. Then she meets Alyosha, a handsome young artist who adores all things American, including Laura. Soon they are caught up in a passionate love affair that is made all the more romantic by the fact that they must keep it secret because American students are discouraged from fraternizing with anyone outside the university. Alyosha gives Laura the keys to his apartment and she finds herself skipping class and lying to her chaperones in order to spend more time with him. She willfully ignores all the warnings from her friends that native Russians “fall in love” with Americans all the time in order to secure a visa to the United States. But as the semester comes to a close, and Alyosha talks more and more about how much he longs to visit San Francisco, Laura can’t help but wonder if the all the warnings are true. Is Alyosha really in love with her? Or is he just using her as a way to escape the close-minded culture of Soviet Russia? While not as offbeat and funny as the author’s smashing debut, this solidly written and deeply felt love story set in a time and place that will seem totally bizarre to those of you born in the 1990s is made even more fascinating by the fact that it is most likely based on this. This bittersweet romance is the perfect way to end your summer.
There are two sides to every story, and stupendously talented author/artist Gene Luen Yang elevates that saying to a whole new level with Boxers & Saints. In this double volume, graphic novel masterpiece, two teenagers become caught up in the Chinese Boxer Rebellion of 1898 on opposite sides, fighting to retain their identity and hold on to their hard won religious values.
Boxers tells the story of Little Bao, the youngest son in a motherless family of farmers from a poor village. When a Catholic missionary priest smashes the statue of one of his village’s gods in front of him, he is devastated, especially since the opera stories he sees during the spring fairs make him feel as though the ancient gods are his close friends and allies. As he grows into adulthood, he begins training with a kung fu master in order to join the rebellion against these foreigners who have their own army and refuse to respect the native Chinese ways. Soon he is heading up his own small army, each member fueled by the angry spirits of the old gods. But as the “Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fist” marches closer and closer to the capital of Peking to “eradicate the foreign devils” once and for all, Little Bao begins to question his rock solid faith as the number of bodies of innocent people build in his violent wake.
Saints tells the story of Four-Girl, a lonely child who is considered a bad luck devil by her family no matter how much she tries to win their approval. The only person who shows her kindness is the village acupuncturist, who is also a Christian. He tells her Bible stories that fire up her imagination, and she begins having recurring visions of Joan of Arc. Soon she decides to become baptized and join the church. She gets a new name, Vibiana, and leaves home to work at a Catholic orphanage, followed by her visions of Joan. When Little Bao’s army comes to her village’s doorstep, Vibiana decides that God is calling on her to be His warrior maiden like Joan of Arc. The tragic, unpredictable result of Little Bao and Vibiana’s final meeting will haunt you long after you close the covers on Saints.
The earthy/monotone palate of both volumes perfectly conveys the rural landscape and hardscrabble life of the peasants, only exploding into vibrant color when Little Bao’s pantheon of Chinese gods arrive on the scene, with their rainbow robes and elaborate masks, or Four-Girl’s golden vision of Joan of Arc shimmers between the trees outside her home. While this exceptional work will no doubt help gazillions of readers understand the complexity behind religious wars and personal freedoms, it can also be appreciated as a swiftly paced adventure peopled with men, women and gods who bring this fascinating period of Chinese history to bloody life. I was blown away by both the richly illustrated package and the timeless message. Read them in the order the title suggests, (first Boxers, then Saints) and then pass them along to everyone you know.
Liz and Bean are used to being on their own. When their aspiring singer mom takes off for a few days every now and then to follow her dreams, the two girls just hunker down, make chicken pot pies in the toaster oven and tell anyone who asks that she’s just visiting a friend in L.A. and will be back soon. But this time, Mom’s been gone for almost two weeks. The chicken potpies are running low and the neighbors are starting to sniff around. Liz makes the call that the sisters need to hightail it to their Uncle Tinsley’s house in Virginia before they get trundled off to foster care. Once they get to 1970’s small town Byler, they find a safe haven with Uncle Tinsley, an eccentric but kind old man who used to own the cotton mill. Mom visits, but then heads out to New York to scout singing opportunities and apartments, leaving the girls to start school in Byler. Liz and Bean love Byler, but the small town isn’t as idyllic as they first thought. The high school is being integrated for the first time, and racial tensions are high. The girls also find themselves stuck in the middle of a nasty feud between Uncle Tinsely and Mr. Maddox, the mill foreman. When Liz publically accuses Maddox of some downright dirty behavior, the incident sets off a firestorm of rumors, gossip and backstabbing in the small town that changes both girls’ lives forever. How will the sisters turn the tide of negativity that has risen up against them because of Maddox’s lies? And where is their mom when they need her the most? By turns witty, warm and provocative, this all ages read by the author of The Glass Castle is a perfect choice for your high school mother-daughter book club or to throw in your beach bag this summer.
Blessed Island is a truly stress-free place. There are no cars to pollute the air with smoke and noise, no cell phones to distract people from real connections. It’s so peaceful that reporter Eric Seven just can’t seem to motivate himself to collect the research he needs to write an article about the remote island community and it’s rumored fountain of youth. The villagers are friendly and generous, and there’s always another cup of tea to sip, another delicious meal to eat, another nap to take. Soon he’s been there for several days and it’s getting harder and harder to remember why he came. All he knows is that it had something to do with flowers, and the young woman named Merle. Eric feels certain they’ve met before, although he doesn’t know how since Merle’s never left Blessed Island and he’s never been. Or has he? In seven cleverly intertwined short stories, author Marcus Sedgwick weaves a classic yet wholly original tale of blessings and curses, love and loyalty, bitterness and revenge. Each story is like an interlocking puzzle piece that forms a fascinating picture by the immensely satisfying end. As a reader, I was completely captivated by the storytelling and as a writer, utterly blown away with the razor sharp execution of plot, clues and character. It’s an absolute stunner of a mystery and romance and I will be madly recommending it to everyone I know.
Lady Sybella’s life is a living nightmare. Trained as an assassin by the killer nuns of the convent of St. Mortain (God of Death) she has been assigned to spy on the house of Count d’Albret, a noble who is staging a deadly coup against the young duchess of Brittany. The count is notoriously brutal, simply murdering any and all who oppose him. Sybella’s life is constantly on the line as she gathers information to send back to her Mother Superior, who is on the side of the duchess. She knows that if she is found out, a fate worse than death awaits her. Because Sybella is not just an ordinary spy. She is also d’Albret’s abused daughter. When an order comes from the convent that she must free a highly valued prisoner from d’Albret’s dungeon, she uses the command as an excuse to escape with her wounded charge and join her assassin sister Ismae. This one decision sets her destiny spinning in a direction she could have never anticipated, a future where love and death are intertwined and at any moment she could be utterly destroyed by one or the other. Because war is coming. And d’Albret is used to winning. This smashing second volume in His Fair Assassins series (volume 1= Grave Mercy) is way more bloody and fast paced than the first but just as deliciously juicy. Sybella is a terrific heroine—damaged, self-doubting, angry as hell and ready to take her rage out on the world at large—until love comes along and turns her wrath into righteousness. Though you could read this one as a stand alone, why would you want to? I’d advise digging into Grave Mercy before taking a stab at Dark Triumph. An awfully good sequel to what is shaping up to be a spectacular series.
“My mother’s a prostitute. Not the filthy, street walking kind. She’s actually quite pretty, fairly well spoken, and has lovely clothes. But she sleeps with men for money or gifts, and according to the dictionary, that makes her a prostitute.” In 1950’s New Orleans, Josie couldn’t be more different from her mother, a woman who cares about herself first and her daughter only when she manages to remember she has one. Luckily for Josie, her mother’s madam Willie, a smart, sassy businesswoman, has always looked out for Josie and kept her separate from her mother’s sordid life. But now Josie has graduated from high school and wants to be more than just a bookstore clerk and Willie’s sometimes housekeeper. She dreams of attending Smith College in Massachusetts and escaping the sleaziness of the Big Easy forever. But when a wealthy tourist is murdered in the French Quarter and Josie’s mother and mobster boyfriend are fingered for it, Josie becomes caught up in a dangerous game of cat and mouse that could bring a messy end to her college dreams. And there is also the little matter of deciding between the two boys she’s grown up with and loves for different reasons: Patrick because he shares her passion for books and reading, Jesse because shares her feeling of being an outsider always looking in. Can Josie flee her painful past in order to forge a bright new future? Or will her illicit origins dog her footsteps for the rest of her life? Ruta Sepetys, author of the achingly sad Between Shades of Gray, has penned another unusual and provocative historical fiction that goes straight to the heart. But don’t expect heart-pounding action, this is a smart, slow-boiling thriller that focuses more on identity and relationships than strip teases and gun play. If you like the character-driven mysteries of Judy Blundell and Kathryn Miller Haines, then you’ll want to snatch this one up from your nearest library, bookstore or e-reader ASAP.