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Picturebook Roundup!

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Apologies for the disappearance over the last little bit. I've been in the midst of a number of deadlines and have fallen behind on my reviewing. In any case, I'm back now, at least for today, with some really great picture books!

Oliver has always dreamed about where he will fit. Will he be in the mane of a unicorn? The tentacle of a pirate squid? The helmet of an astronaut? When he finally goes in search of his perfect place, he finds that trying to fit in is a lot harder than he thought. But like any puzzle, a little trial and error leads to a solution, and Oliver figures out exactly where he belongs.


This book is adorable, heartfelt, gorgeously colorful, and speaks to the real-life anxieties around feeling inadequate or being unable to fit in. Oliver is a delightful little fellow, trying to find a place and a purpose.



Frank loves being a spider, especially the part that involves having eight glorious legs. But one morning Frank wakes up missing a leg. One of his friends excl…

One of the Boys - Daniel Magariel

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The three of them—a twelve-year-old boy, his older brother, their father—have won the war: the father’s term for his bitter divorce and custody battle. They leave their Kansas home and drive through the night to Albuquerque, eager to begin again, united by the thrilling possibility of carving out a new life together. The boys go to school, join basketball teams, make friends. Meanwhile their father works from home, smoking cheap cigars to hide another smell. But soon the little missteps—the dead-eyed absentmindedness, the late night noises, the comings and goings of increasingly odd characters—become sinister, and the boys find themselves watching their father change, grow erratic, then violent.
This is a tough book to read. I need to make that clear straight away. This is where I put a trigger warning and note: child abuse, drug use, psychological trauma, death threats. If these are issues that will trigger you, then it is a good idea to let this one past.
THAT BEING SAID, the book is …

Pretty - Justin Sayre

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Set three months after Husky's conclusion and narrated by Sophie, Davis's best friend, Sayre details the private and public life of someone saddled with the adjective of pretty. Confident, stylish, and easygoing at school, Sophie is struggling in her home life. Stepping in to help as her mother's addiction spirals out of control, Sophie's aunt teaches the biracial Sophie new lessons about her heritage. While helping to heal the wounds inflicted by alcoholism, Sophie's renewed sense of self challenges her perception of place in the affluent, "liberal" neighborhood of Park Slope where she lives. Set against the backgrounds of Brooklyn and Harlem, Sayre challenges readers to confront superficial assumptions about race and beauty and breathes new life into the canon of middle-grade realistic fiction.

This book is pretty. I mean, the cover is beautiful, and the writing is solid, and the topics explored are timely and necessary. But the things that happen to So…

There's Someone Inside Your House - Stephanie Perkins

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It's been almost a year since Makani Young came to live with her grandmother in landlocked Nebraska, and she's still adjusting to her new life. And still haunter by her past in Hawaii. Then, one by one, the students of her small town high school begin to die in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasing and grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and the hunt intensifies for the killer, Makani will be forced to confront her own dark secrets.
I've become a pretty big fan of thrillers and horror movies these last few years, at least where movies are concerned, so I when saw that this was a slasher for teens, I figured I'd give it a shot, and I wasn't disappointed!
Though the book itself is focused perhaps a bit more on a central romance than I would have liked, the killings and the swift pacing of the novel will keep young readers hooked. The revelation of the killer happened a bit earlier than I would have preferred, but the slow revelation of motivations …

Night of Cake & Puppets - Laini Taylor & Jim DiBartolo (Illus.)

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Petite though she may be, Zuzana is not known for timidity. Her best friend, Karou, calls her “rabid fairy,” her “voodoo eyes” are said to freeze blood, and even her older brother fears her wrath. But when it comes to the simple matter of talking to Mik, or “Violin Boy,” her courage deserts her. Now, enough is enough. Zuzana is determined to meet him, and she has a fistful of magic and a plan.

It’s a wonderfully elaborate treasure hunt of a plan that will take Mik all over Prague on a cold winter’s night before finally leading him to the treasure: herself! Violin Boy’s not going to know what hit him.

This book is super cute, full of delightful romance and inventive magic. DiBartolo's illustrations beautifully complement the narrative. I will note that it's a companion novella to go along with Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, so on its own, the book does lack a little bit of depth. However, when read in addition to the other novels, the story works remarkabl…

Dear Martin - Nic Stone

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Justyce McAllister is top of his class, captain of the debate team, and set for the Ivy League next year—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. He is eventually released without charges (or an apology), but the incident has Justyce spooked. Despite leaving his rough neighborhood, he can’t seem to escape the scorn of his former peers or the attitude of his prep school classmates. The only exception: Sarah Jane, Justyce’s gorgeous—and white—debate partner he wishes he didn’t have a thing for.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up. Much to the fury of the white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. And Justyce and Manny get caught in the crosshairs. In that media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack. The truth of what happened that night—some would kill to know. Justyce is dying to forget.


If you've read The Hate U Give or All American Boys, then you'll de…

Bull, A Novel - David Elliott

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Minos thought he could Pull a fast one On me, Poseidon! God of the Sea! But I’m the last one On whom you Should try such a thing. The nerve of that guy. The balls. The audacity. I AM THE OCEAN! I got capacity! Depths! Darkness! Delphic power! So his sweet little plan Went big-time sour And his wife had a son Born with horns and a muzzle Who ended up In an underground puzzle. What is it with you mortals? You just can’t seem to learn: If you play with fire, babies, You’re gonna get burned.


I love my Greek mythology, and I love a good novel in verse, and I really appreciate it when an author plays with narrative and perspective! In the case of BULL, David Elliott manages to turn the story of the Minotaur onto its head by giving readers the opportunity to understand what went down, through the eyes of deliciously twisted Poseidon. Elliott employs humour, sexual references, double entendre, and many other delightful turns of phrase in this fast-paced retelling of a disturbing and tragic tale. Poseidon's nar…

Vanilla - Billy Merrell

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Vanilla is the story of two boys breaking up, and the reasons that bring their relationship to a head. Told in verse, Merrell's narrative explores asexuality and gender fluidity in the lives of teens against the backdrop of a world obsessed with sex. Being brought up in a society that sees sex as the ultimate expression of love in a relationship, asexuality is currently misunderstood by many and is ultimately the reason that Vanilla and Hunter feel unable to continue dating.

The writing and language are powerful, and the range of poetic forms ensures that Vanilla never feels monotonous even as it defies any type of simplistic chronological storytelling. Merrell's background as a poet is evident and I feel that the style elevates an already complex and messy story.

Vanilla and Hunter's relationship is the core of the story, and the failing of it due to differences in expectations around sex. But there is more to it than that. A third character eventually emerges as an importa…

Feral Youth - Edited by Shaun David Hutchinson

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At Zeppelin Bend, an outdoor education program designed to teach troubled youth the value of hard work, cooperation, and compassion, ten teens are left alone in the wild. The teens are a diverse group who come from all walks of life, and they were all sent to Zeppelin Bend as a last chance to get them to turn their lives around. They’ve just spent nearly two weeks learning to survive in the wilderness, and now their instructors have dropped them off eighteen miles from camp with no food, no water, and only their packs, and they’ll have to struggle to overcome their vast differences if they hope to survive. Inspired by The Canterbury Tales, Feral Youth features characters, each complex and damaged in their own ways, who are enticed to tell a story (or two) with the promise of a cash prize. 

Contributors: Shaun David Hutchinson - The main narrative Suzanne Young - A Violation of Rule 16 Marieke Nijkamp - The Butterfly EffectThe Chaos Effect Robin Talley - Look Down Stephanie Kuehn - A Caut…

Long Way Down - Jason Reynolds

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After his brother dies, fifteen-year old Will finds himself wanting to get revenge on his brother's murderer. He's sure he knows who did it. Well, he's pretty sure. At least, he thinks he's sure. He goes home and finds his brother's hidden gun. As he's descending in the elevator, which is going soooooo slow, the lift keeps stopping on ever floor, letting on an odd assortment of individuals, each of which leads Will to question his resolve and wonder what actually went down to lead to his brother getting shot in the chest.

The novel takes place over the course of a a few short minutes, though the reader, just like Will, is given the impression that time has slowed to a crawl. Long Way Down is a psychological and emotional journey through Will's subconscious. Reynolds' poetry is both beautiful and frightening in its brevity and impact. Young readers will hopefully find themselves invested in Will's internal journey as past figures and current ones help…

It Gets Worse: A Collection of Essays - Shane Dawson

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Hi, my name is Shane Dawson, and I'm here to tell you that it gets worse. It really does. The problems you have as a kid will seem ridiculous when you get older because bigger and worse problems will come along. But you will learn to deal with them easier as you grow up, or like me, you'll just stop giving a shit. So yes, it gets worse, but you know what gets better? Your tolerance for bullshit.I can't say I hate the It Gets Better project, but I definitely find it to be more problematic than helpful. Yes, it's true, things can change, but the project often leads to a sense of expectation that things will change on their own, while also giving young people the idea that being young is inevitably horrible and they should simply expect to be bombarded by homophobia, transphobia, physical violence, and feelings of inferiority. Now, this book isn't specifically a response to It Gets Better, but it certainly speaks to the need for a change in how we think about being yo…

That Inevitable Victorian Thing - E. K. Johnston

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Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendent of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history two centuries earlier. The imperial practice of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage like her mother before her, but before she does her duty, she'll have one summer incognito in a far corner of empire. In Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire's greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir apparent to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an unusual bond and maybe a one in a million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process —just like the first Queen Victoria.

I adore E. K. Johnston. She can write, too, dammit! If you haven't read E…

The Wicker King - K. Ancrum

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The Wicker King is a psychological young adult thriller that follows two friends struggling as one spirals into madness.

When August learns that his best friend, Jack, shows signs of degenerative hallucinatory disorder, he is determined to help Jack cope. Jack’s vivid and long-term visions take the form of an elaborate fantasy world layered over our own—a world ruled by the Wicker King. As Jack leads them on a quest to fulfill a dark prophecy in this alternate world, even August begins to question what is real or not.

August and Jack struggle to keep afloat as they teeter between fantasy and their own emotions. In the end, each must choose his own truth.

This book is another fantastic addition to the sub-genre of mindfuck fiction for young adults. While this is not an official marketing term (I don't know that it would go over well with schools or libraries) it is one that nevertheless perfectly encapsulates this style in the best possible way. Other similar titles I've reviewed…

Jame, Unlimited - Kristin Cashore

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Jane has lived an ordinary life, raised by her aunt Magnolia—an adjunct professor and deep sea photographer. Jane counted on Magnolia to make the world feel expansive and to turn life into an adventure. But Aunt Magnolia was lost a few months ago in Antarctica on one of her expeditions.

Now, with no direction, a year out of high school, and obsessed with making umbrellas that look like her own dreams (but mostly just mourning her aunt), she is easily swept away by Kiran Thrash—a glamorous, capricious acquaintance who shows up and asks Jane to accompany her to a gala at her family's island mansion called Tu Reviens.

Jane remembers her aunt telling her: "If anyone ever invites to you to Tu Reviens, promise me that you'll go." With nothing but a trunkful of umbrella parts to her name, Jane ventures out to the Thrash estate. Then her story takes a turn, or rather, five turns. What Jane doesn't know is that Tu Reviens will offer her choices that can ultimately determine…

The Empress - S. J. Kincaid

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It’s a new day in the Empire. Tyrus has ascended to the throne with Nemesis by his side and now they can find a new way forward—one where they don’t have to hide or scheme or kill. One where creatures like Nemesis will be given worth and recognition, where science and information can be shared with everyone and not just the elite.

But having power isn’t the same thing as keeping it, and change isn’t always welcome. The ruling class, the Grandiloquy, has held control over planets and systems for centuries—and they are plotting to stop this teenage Emperor and Nemesis, who is considered nothing more than a creature and certainly not worthy of being Empress.

Nemesis will protect Tyrus at any cost. He is the love of her life, and they are partners in this new beginning. But she cannot protect him by being the killing machine she once was. She will have to prove the humanity that she’s found inside herself to the whole Empire—or she and Tyrus may lose more than just the throne. But if provin…