New Release Spotlight: January 21, 2020

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Quite a mix of books this week! It’s a long list (18 titles!), but I didn’t need to divide it into three separate lists this week.

What looks best to me? Well, Layoverland looks unique with its post-mortem narrator. Rogue Princess is a shoo-in on my TBR since it’s a space opera and a retelling. And What I Carry reminds me of the Katie McGarry and Simone Elkeles books I’ve enjoyed in the past. All of these are YA titles, but middle grades look pretty strong this week with The Good Hawk and Catherine’s War both added to my TBR.

As always, titles with a * by them received two or more starred professional reviews. If you want a searchable list of new releases, themes, and recommended grade levels on one spreadsheet, don’t forget to bookmark The Ginormous book list. As of this writing, it’s up to 362 titles!

Layoverland by Gabby Noone

Beatrice Fox deserves to go straight to hell. At least, that’s what she believes. Her last day on Earth, she ruined the life of the person she loves most–her little sister, Emmy. So when Bea awakens from a fatal car accident to find herself on an airplane headed who knows where, she’s confused, to say the least.

Once on the ground, Bea receives some truly harrowing news- she’s in purgatory. If she ever wants to catch a flight to heaven, she’ll have to help 5,000 souls figure out what’s keeping them from moving on.

But one of Bea’s first assignments is Caleb, the boy who caused her accident, and the last person Bea would ever want to send to the pearly gates. And as much as Bea would love to see Caleb suffer for dooming her to a seemingly endless future of eating bad airport food and listening to other people’s problems, she can’t help but notice that he’s kind of cute, and sort of sweet, and that maybe, despite her best efforts, she’s totally falling for him. Now, determined to make the most of her time in purgatory, Bea must decide what is truly worth dying for–romance or revenge.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): romance, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: death, afterlife, redemption, purgatory, black comedy

Rogue Princess by B.R. Myers

I saw this one a few weeks ago as an upcoming release–I’ve been waiting for it! My affinity for space operas is well-documented within this blog, so I am sure to read Rogue Princess soon enough. The cover and summary alone will make this one easy to booktalk in middle and high school libraries.

Princess Delia knows her duty: She must choose a prince to marry in order to secure an alliance and save her failing planet. Yet she secretly dreams of true love, and feels there must be a better way. Determined to chart her own course, she steals a spaceship to avoid the marriage, only to discover a handsome stowaway.

All Aidan wanted was to “borrow” a few palace trinkets to help him get off the planet. Okay, so maybe escaping on a royal ship wasn’t the smartest plan, but he never expected to be kidnapped by a runaway princess! Sparks fly as this headstrong princess and clever thief battle wits, but everything changes when they inadvertently uncover a rebel conspiracy that could destroy their planet forever.

No starred reviews, but that matters little to this space opera junkie. Starflight didn’t have any starred reviews, either.

  • Genre(s): science fiction, retelling, space opera
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: Cinderella, princesses, royalty, marriage, thieves

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming–mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.

Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time. All’s fair in love and cheese–that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life–on an anonymous chat app.

  • Genre(s): romance, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: social media, Twitter, family problems, overachievers, twins, family restaurants, New York City

*What I Carry by Jennifer Longo

Growing up in foster care, Muir has lived in many houses. And if she’s learned one thing, it is to Pack. Light. Carry only what fits in a suitcase.
Toothbrush? Yes.
Socks? Yes.
Emotional attachment to friends? foster families? a boyfriend? Nope!
There’s no room for any additional baggage.
Muir has just one year left before she ages out of the system. One year before she’s free. One year to avoid anything–or anyone–that could get in her way.

Then she meets Francine. And Kira. And Sean.
And everything changes.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: foster care, friendship, coming of age

Ashlords by Scott Reintgen

Book 1 in a planned duology. Every year since the Ashlords were gifted phoenix horses by their gods, they’ve raced them. First into battle, then on great hunts, and finally for the pure sport of seeing who rode the fastest. Centuries of blood and fire carved their competition into a more modern spectacle: The Races.

Over the course of a multi-day event, elite riders from clashing cultures vie to be crowned champion. But the modern version of the sport requires more than good riding. Competitors must be skilled at creating and controlling phoenix horses made of ash and alchemy, which are summoned back to life each sunrise with uniquely crafted powers to cover impossible distances and challenges before bursting into flames at sunset. But good alchemy only matters if a rider knows how to defend their phoenix horse at night. Murder is outlawed, but breaking bones and poisoning ashes? That’s all legal and encouraged.

In this year’s Races, eleven riders will compete, but three of them have more to lose than the rest–a champion’s daughter, a scholarship entrant, and a revolutionary’s son. Who will attain their own dream of glory? Or will they all flame out in defeat?

This title has some mixed professional reviews, mainly concerning world-building and character development. I’ve included it in the Spotlight because early Goodreads ratings are really high, plus I think this would be an easy booktalk for fans of The Scorpio Races or Red Rising.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, action-adventure, dystopia
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: competition, social class, freedom, justice, horses

Given by Nandi Taylor

Yenni has never been this far from home. With only her wits, her strength, and her sacred runelore, the fierce Yirba warrior princess is alone in the Empire of Cresh. It’s a land filled with strange magics and even stranger people–all of whom mistrust anyone who’s different. But Yenni will prove herself, and find the cure for her father’s wasting illness. She will not fail.

No one warned her about the dragons. Especially not about him. Yet there is something powerful and compelling about the violet-black dragon known as Weysh. In human form he’s muscular, beautiful–and completely infuriating. What kind of arrogant creature claims a stranger as his Given; as his destined mate? Yenni is no man’s–or dragon’s–plaything. But other magics must be at work here, because Weysh might just be her best hope at finding the answers she seeks. Only now Yenni can’t tell if she’s fighting an attraction to a dragon…or fighting fate itself.

This sounds unique, and I love the inclusion of West African mythology. The only professional review I found–Kirkus–is positive but not starred. Goodreads reviews, however, are not great; several readers say the plot moves slowly. The plot is heavy on the romance. Give it to fans of Talon and Firelight.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-AD
  • Themes: mythology, Africa, dragons

*Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles

Del has had a crush on Kiera Westing since kindergarten. And now, during their junior year, she’s finally available. So when Kiera volunteers for an opportunity at their church, Del’s right behind her. Though he quickly realizes he’s inadvertently signed up for a Purity Pledge.

His dad thinks his wires are crossed, and his best friend, Qwan, doesn’t believe any girl is worth the long game. But Del’s not about to lose his dream girl, and that’s where fellow pledger Jameer comes in. He can put in the good word. In exchange, Del just has to get answers to the Pledgers’ questions…about sex ed.

With other boys circling Kiera like sharks, Del needs to make his move fast. But as he plots and plans, he neglects to ask the most important question: What does Kiera want? He can’t think about that too much, though, because once he gets the girl, it’ll all sort itself out. Right?

SLJ, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: African-Americans, LGBT, Virginia, virginity, double standards, church, toxic masculinity

Spellhacker by M. K. England

In Kyrkarta, magic–known as maz–was once a freely available natural resource. Then an earthquake released a magical plague, killing thousands and opening the door for a greedy corporation to make maz a commodity that’s tightly controlled–and, of course, outrageously expensive.

Which is why Diz and her three best friends run a highly lucrative, highly illegal maz siphoning gig on the side. Their next job is supposed to be their last heist ever.

But when their plan turns up a powerful new strain of maz that (literally) blows up in their faces, they’re driven to unravel a conspiracy at the very center of the spellplague–and possibly save the world.

Give to fans of Six of Crows.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, dystopia
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: magic, heists, thieves, corruption

The Best of Iggy by Annie Barrows (Author) and Sam Ricks (Illustrator)

Meet Iggy Frangi. He’s not a bad kid, he’s really not. Okay, so he’s done a few (a few is anything up to 100) bad things. And okay, he’s not very sorry about most of them. People make a big deal about nothing. What’s a little pancake here and there? Is that something to get mad about? Iggy doesn’t think so. No one got hurt, so there’s no problem. No one got hurt except for that one time, that one time when the Best Idea Ever turned into the Worst Idea of All Time.

Iggy is sorry he did it. He is really, really, really sorry.

Contains black and white illustrations and very short chapters. Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): humor, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-7
  • Themes: impulsive behavior, regret, getting into trouble, asides

The Good Hawk by Joseph Elliott

Shadow Skye, book 1. Debut author! Agatha is a Hawk, brave and fierce, who protects her people by patrolling the high walls of their island home. She is proud of her job, though some in her clan whisper that it is meant to keep her out of the way because of the condition she was born with.

Jaime, thoughtful and anxious, is an Angler, but he hates the sea. Worse, he’s been chosen for a duty that the clan hasn’t required for generations: to marry. The elders won’t say why they have promised him to a girl in a neighboring clan, but there are rumors of approaching danger.

When disaster strikes and the clan is kidnapped, it is up to Agatha and Jaime to travel across the haunted mainland of Scotia to Norveg, with help along the way from a clan of nomadic Highland bull riders and the many animals who are drawn to Agatha’s extraordinary gift of communication.

Reviewers of The Good Hawk are all over the place with grade level recommendations. The two main characters are 14-15 years old, but the age range of the book is Grades 5-11. I’m a bit surprised that there aren’t any starred reviews, but all professional reviews I read praised it highly. Early Goodreads ratings are also high.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, mythology
  • Recommended for: a wide range here–Grades 5-11
  • Themes: special needs, learning disabilities, animals, communication with animals, Scottish mythology

The Mystwick School of Musicraft by Jessica Khoury

Amelia Jones always dreamed of attending the Mystwick School of Musicraft, where the world’s most promising musicians learn to create magic. So when Amelia botches her audition, she thinks her dream has met an abrupt and humiliating end–until the school agrees to give her a trial period. Amelia is determined to prove herself, vowing to do whatever it takes to become the perfect musician. Even if it means pretending to be someone she isn’t.

Meanwhile, a mysterious storm is brewing that no one, not even the maestros at Mystwick, is prepared to contain. Can Amelia find the courage to be true to herself in time to save her beloved school from certain destruction?

Looking for something similar to Harry Potter? You’ve found it! No starred reviews, but as with The Good Hawk above, professional and Goodreads reviews are both largely positive.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: music, magic, boarding school, orphans

*Catherine’s War by Julia Billet (Author), Claire Fauvel (Illustrator), and Ivanka Hahnenberger (Translator)

At the Sevres Children’s Home outside Paris, Rachel Cohen has discovered her passion–photography. Although she hasn’t heard from her parents in months, she loves the people at her school, adores capturing what she sees in pictures, and tries not to worry too much about Hitler’s war. But as France buckles under the Nazi regime, danger closes in, and Rachel must change her name and go into hiding.

As Catherine Colin, Rachel Cohen is faced with leaving the Sevres Home–and the friends she made there–behind. But with her beautiful camera, Catherine possesses an object with the power to remember. For the rest of the war, Catherine bears witness to her own journey, and to the countless heroes whose courage and generosity saved the lives of many, including her own.

Huge age range recommendations on this one, and the reviews are absolutely fabulous. Pair it with Palacio’s White Bird. Three starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, graphic novel
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-AD
  • Themes: photography, Paris, France, WWII, Holocaust, Jewish characters

The Runaway Princess by Johan Troïanowski

Robin? Robin? Robin?! Where are you?

She couldn’t have gone far…

Princesses don’t run away to have their own adventures. Right?

Princesses stay quietly and obediently at home. They would never want mermaids and swamps and pirates and getting kidnapped to be a part of their lives.

Not this princess!

Adventures await when Robin (bored of princess-ing all the time) embarks on the best adventure of her life–meeting friends along the way as she travels through the magical landscape of her country. But her parents aren’t so pleased–and they’re coming to find her and bring her back to the castle, no matter how she feels about it!

Includes mazes, connect-the-dots, and other interactive games. Be sure to watch for occasional cameos from other literature characters!

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-7
  • Themes: interactive stories, princesses, magic

Althea Gibson: The Story of Tennis’ Fleet-of-Foot Girl by Megan Reid (Author) and Laura Freeman (Illustrator)

Debut author! Althea Gibson was the quickest, tallest, most fearless athlete in 1940s Harlem. She couldn’t sit still! When she put her mind to it, the fleet-of-foot girl reigned supreme at every sport–stickball with the boys, basketball with the girls, paddle tennis with anyone who would hit with her.

But being the quickest, tallest, most fearless player in Harlem wasn’t enough for Althea. She knew she could be a tennis champion.

Because of segregation, black people weren’t allowed to compete against white people in sports. Althea didn’t care. She just wanted to play tennis against the best athletes in the world. And with skill and determination, she did just that, eventually becoming the first black person–man or woman–to win a trophy at Wimbledon.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: segregation, civil rights, discrimination, tennis, Harlem, New York, Wimbledon

Boxitects by Kim Smith

Meg is a brilliant and creative boxitect. She loves impressing her teacher and classmates with what she makes out of boxes. But there’s a new kid at Maker School: Simone. Simone is good at everything, and worst of all, she’s a boxitect too. When the annual Maker Match is held, Meg and Simone are paired as a team but can’t seem to stop arguing. When their extraordinary project turns into a huge disaster, they must find a way to join creative forces, lift each other up, and work together.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: STEAM, boxes, creativity, makerspaces, problem solving, team work

*Big Papa and the Time Machine by Daniel Bernstrom (Author) and Shane W. Evans (Illustrator)

A little boy who lives with his grandpa isn’t reprimanded for being afraid to go to school one day. Instead, Big Papa takes him away in his time machine–a 1952 Ford–back to all of the times when he, himself, was scared of something life was handing him.

Big Papa and the Time Machine speaks to the African American experience in a touching dialogue between two family members from different generations, and emerges as a voice that shares history and asks questions about one family’s experience in 20th-century black America.

Publishers Weekly Annex and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: anxiety, school, time machines, African Americans, grandparents, starting school, courage

Where Lily Isn’t by Julie Paschkis (Author) and Margaret Chodos-Irvine (Illustrator)

Lily ran and jumped and barked and whimpered and growled and wiggled and wagged and licked and snuggled.

But not now. It is hard to lose a pet. There is sadness, but also hope–for a beloved pet lives on in your heart, your memory, and your imagination.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: death of a pet, grief, dogs, pets

Swim Swim Sink by Jenn Harney

Three tiny ducks. One straight line.
New happy flock. All feeling fine.

Until, that is, the last ducking sinks when she should swim. Let’s try that again…and again and again. All this sinking is ruining the rhyme!

  • Genre(s): picture book, humor
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 1
  • Themes: rhyming books, onomatopoeia, problem solving, creativity






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  • Thank you SO much for creating these every week. They make my life so much easier. I appreciate it!

  • I agree with your perspective on The Grace Year. I thought it was horrifying but I loved it!!!! I did purchase the title for our 6th-12th grade library and will advise younger students, as best as I can, regarding the more mature themes if they want to check the book out. I thought of one 11th grade student who I knew would enjoy the book and she totally loved it and agreed the themes are too much for a 6th grade reader. Thanks for the reviews, as always too many good books too little time!!!!


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