New Release Spotlight: January 28, 2020

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Well, this has been an interesting week. I’m currently in Playa del Carmen, Mexico with my family. Playa is beautiful and we love it, but it’s bittersweet with all the coronavirus news coming out of our home in China. We left China just before the Wuhan situation really heated up, and I remember sitting at breakfast not even a week ago, saying that this was being blown out of proportion by sensational news media. I’m eating those words now. I worry about my friends in Shanghai and Suzhou, not to mention all the people suffering in Wuhan. Despite super-slow internet in our AirBNB, we have been consumed by the news. We still have more than two weeks before we return to Shanghai, and we are anxious and nervous to see how this story develops in that time.

As for this week’s new releases, I’ve managed to get it all into one long list. Two titles–Almost American Girl and When You Trap a Tiger–received four or more starred reviews. I’m especially excited about Almost American Girl because it features a Korean narrator who moves to the USA and struggles to adapt and fit in with her peers. This is perfect for any middle or high school, but as an international librarian, I know so many students who can identify with this situation. My own two children included.

As always, titles with a * by them received two or more starred professional reviews. All these titles have been added to The Ginormous book list. It’s up to 379 titles now, so be sure to bookmark it as a collection development tool or to help with themed book displays!

*Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir by Robin Ha

For as long as she can remember, it’s been Robin and her mom against the world. Growing up as the only child of a single mother in Seoul, Korea, wasn’t always easy, but it has bonded them fiercely together.

So when a vacation to visit friends in Huntsville, Alabama, unexpectedly becomes a permanent relocation–following her mother’s announcement that she’s getting married–Robin is devastated.

Overnight, her life changes. She is dropped into a new school where she doesn’t understand the language and struggles to keep up. She is completely cut off from her friends in Seoul and has no access to her beloved comics. At home, she doesn’t fit in with her new stepfamily, and worst of all, she is furious with the one person she is closest to–her mother.

Four starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): memoir, graphic novel
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: South Korea, Alabama, mothers and daughters, single parents, immigration, moving to a new school, bullying, culture shock

Wildfire by Carrie Mac

Annie and Pete have been best friends since they were little. They know each other better than anyone, and they’ve been on more adventures than they can count–they even have a notebook filled with all the times they’ve almost died. But they always survive, because together, they’re invincible.

And they’ve always been just friends. But lately, Annie has been thinking that maybe friendship is just the beginning, and she’s been mentally replaying all the times they were almost something more.

Now they’re heading out on their next great quest: a ten-day backpacking trip through the mountains of Washington State, ending at Fire Camp, where they’ll learn to fight the area’s growing wildfire problem. The woods spark with the promise of adventure, but a freak climbing accident interrupts their progress, and as the wildfires close in and smoke envelops them, Annie and Pete wander farther from the trail.

  • Genre(s): adventure, survival
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: best friends, wildfires, camping, tear-jerkers, unrequited love

Seven Deadly Shadows by Courtney Alameda (Author) and Valynne E. Maetani (Author)

Reviews are mixed for this retelling of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Two reviewers (SLJ and Publishers Weekly call out relationships that develop too quickly.

Seventeen-year-old Kira Fujikawa has never had it easy. She’s bullied by the popular girls in school. Her parents ignore her. And she’s also plagued with a secret: She can see yokai, the ghosts and demons that haunt the streets of Kyoto.

But things accelerate from bad to worse when she learns that Shuten-doji, the demon king, will rise at the next blood moon to hunt down an ancient relic and bring the world to a catastrophic end.

Not exactly skilled at fighting anything, much less the dead, Kira enlists the aid of seven powerful death gods to help her slay Shuten-doji. They include Shiro, a kitsune with boy-band looks who is more flirtatious than helpful, and O-bei, a regal demon courtier with reasons of her own for getting involved.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, horror, retelling
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: Japanese mythology, bullying, ghosts, demons

How to Build a Heart by Maria Padian

All sixteen-year-old Izzy Crawford wants is to feel like she really belongs somewhere. Her father, a marine, died in Iraq six years ago, and Izzy’s moved to a new town nearly every year since, far from the help of her extended family in North Carolina and Puerto Rico. When Izzy’s hardworking mom moves their small family to Virginia, all her dreams start clicking into place. She likes her new school–even if Izzy is careful to keep her scholarship-student status hidden from her well-to-do classmates and her new athletic and popular boyfriend. And best of all: Izzy’s family has been selected by Habitat for Humanity to build and move into a brand-new house. Izzy is this close to the community and permanence she’s been searching for, until all the secret pieces of her life begin to collide.

No starred reviews, but all professional reviews I read are positive, especially when praising Izzy’s strong character.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: death, Habitat for Humanity, home, poverty, Hispanic-Americans, strong female characters

Blood Countess by Lana Popovic

In 16th century Hungary, Anna Darvulia has just begun working as a scullery maid for the young and glamorous Countess Elizabeth Báthory. When Elizabeth takes a liking to Anna, she’s vaulted to the dream role of chambermaid, a far cry from the filthy servants’ quarters below. She receives wages generous enough to provide for her family, and the Countess begins to groom Anna as her friend and confidante. It’s not long before Anna falls completely under the Countess’s spell–and the Countess takes full advantage. Isolated from her former friends, family, and fiance, Anna realizes she’s not a friend but a prisoner of the increasingly cruel Elizabeth. Then come the murders, and Anna knows it’s only a matter of time before the Blood Countess turns on her, too.

Once again, no starred reviews for this one, but the professional reviews I read are all positive. One reviewer mentioned that this book is “bloody.” I love true crime thrillers, so this book is right up my alley. Just added to my TBR!

  • Genre(s): horror, historical fiction, thriller
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: Hungary, maids, murder, dating abuse, power, social class

A Castle in the Clouds by Kiersten Gier

Hmm…it seems this should have been released in November or early-December instead of late-January. It’s set during the holiday season, with a New Year’s Eve ball taking center-stage.

Way up in the Swiss mountains, there’s an old grand hotel steeped in tradition and faded splendor. Once a year, when the famous New Year’s Eve Ball takes place and guests from all over the world arrive, excitement returns to the vast hallways. Sophie, who works at the hotel as an intern, is busy making sure that everything goes according to plan. But unexpected problems keep arising, and some of the guests are not who they pretend to be. Very soon, Sophie finds herself right in the middle of a perilous adventure–and at risk of losing not only her job, but also her heart.

  • Genre(s): mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: hotels, winter, New Year’s Eve, Switzerland, Alps, internships, teens with jobs

Diamond City: A Novel by Francesca Flores

Good things don’t happen to girls who come from nothing…unless they risk everything. Meet Aina Solis. Pulled off the streets when she was twelve years old, Aina was trained to become one of the most powerful and dangerous assassins in Sumerand, a kingdom founded by immigrants, built by magic, and still reeling from an industrial revolution that’s led to all-out civil war.

Fearless and willing to risk everything–and with nothing left to lose–Aina is ready to leave her wretched past behind and accept a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to kill a wealthy industrialist named Kouta. But this career-defining move won’t come easy. She will have to act against her boss Kohl, who doesn’t tolerate his assassins working against him.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: assassins, magic, war, social justice, poverty, violence, religious persecution

Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith

Divya Sharma is a queen. Or she is when she’s playing Reclaim the Sun, the year’s hottest online game. Divya–better known as popular streaming gamer D1V–regularly leads her #AngstArmada on quests through the game’s vast and gorgeous virtual universe. But for Divya, this is more than just a game. Out in the real world, she’s trading her rising-star status for sponsorships to help her struggling single mom pay the rent.

Gaming is basically Aaron Jericho’s entire life. Much to his mother’s frustration, Aaron has zero interest in becoming a doctor like her, and spends his free time writing games for a local developer. At least he can escape into Reclaim the Sun–and with a trillion worlds to explore, disappearing should be easy. But to his surprise, he somehow ends up on the same remote planet as celebrity gamer D1V.

At home, Divya and Aaron grapple with their problems alone, but in the game, they have each other to face infinite new worlds…and the growing legion of trolls populating them. Soon the virtual harassment seeps into reality when a group called the Vox Populi begin launching real-world doxxing campaigns, threatening Aaron’s dreams and Divya’s actual life. The online trolls think they can drive her out of the game, but everything and everyone Divya cares about is on the line…

And she isn’t going down without a fight.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: gaming, virtual reality, online relationships, privacy, doxxing

Hostile Territory by Paul Greci

Josh and three other campers at Simon Lake are high up on a mountain when an earthquake hits. The rest of the camp is wiped out in a moment–leaving Josh, Derrick, Brooke, and Shannon alone, hundreds of miles from the nearest town, with meager supplies, surrounded by dangerous Alaskan wildlife. After a few days, it’s clear no rescue is coming. Distant military activity in the skies suggests this natural disaster has triggered a political one–and America is under siege.

  • Genre(s): adventure, survival, thriller
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: camping, natural disasters, earthquakes, Alaska

That’s What Friends Do by Cathleen Barnhart

Debut author! Samantha Goldstein and David Fisher have been friends ever since they met on their town’s Little League baseball team. But when a new kid named Luke starts hanging out with them, what was a comfortable pair becomes an awkward trio.

Luke’s comments make Sammie feel uncomfortable–but all David sees is how easily Luke flirts with Sammie, and so David decides to finally make a move on the friend he’s always had a crush on. Soon things go all wrong and too far, and Sammie and David are both left feeling hurt, confused, and unsure of themselves, without anyone to talk to about what happened.

As rumors start flying around the school, David must try to make things right (if he can) and Sammie must learn to speak up about what’s been done to her.

BCCB starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: friendship, sexual harassment, consent, New York City, Jewish characters, inappropriate touching

Willow Moss & the Lost Day by Dominique Valente

Give this one to fans of Nevermoor and The Land of Stories.

Willow Moss’s small magic has always seemed unremarkable. But when the most feared witch in the land of Starfell appears on the Moss family’s doorstep looking for help, it’s not Willow’s talented sisters she seeks, it’s Willow. Because Willow is a finder of lost things–and Moreg Vaine says that last Tuesday has gone missing.

Willow and Moreg set out on a perilous journey across the wilds of Starfell, looking for what they’ve lost. If they don’t discover what happened to the missing day, the repercussions could be devastating for the entire kingdom.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: magic, witches, dragons

*When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

When Lily and her family move in with her sick grandmother, a magical tiger straight out of her halmoni’s Korean folktales arrives, prompting Lily to unravel a secret family history. Long, long ago, Halmoni stole something from the tigers. Now they want it back. And when one of the tigers approaches Lily with a deal–return what her grandmother stole in exchange for Halmoni’s health–Lily is tempted to agree. But deals with tigers are never what they seem! With the help of her sister and her new friend Ricky, Lily must find her voice…and the courage to face a tiger.

Five starred reviews!!!

  • Genre(s): magical realism, fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: magic, tigers, Korean folklore, immigration, storytelling, grandmothers, sisters

*The Heart of a Whale by Anna Pignataro

Whale’s beautiful song winds its way through the ocean, reaching the farthest of faraways. His song is one of happiness and hope, magic and wonder–and Whale’s fellow sea creatures are calmed, cheered, and lulled by it. But though Whale sings his tender song day after day, night after night, Whale wonders why he has no song to fill his empty heart. So when he lets out a mournful sigh, the ocean carries it like a wish through its fathoms, bringing it to just the right place.

Kirkus and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 1
  • Themes: music, songs, whales, hope, happiness, sadness, loneliness, companionship

Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe by Vivian Kirkfield (Author) and Alleanna Harris (Illustrator)

Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. On the outside, you couldn’t find two girls who looked more different. But on the inside, they were alike–full of hopes and dreams and plans of what might be.

Ella Fitzgerald’s velvety tones and shube-doobie-doos captivated audiences. Jazz greats like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington couldn’t wait to share the stage with her, but still, Ella could not book a performance at one of the biggest clubs in town–one she knew would give her career its biggest break yet.

Marilyn Monroe dazzled on the silver screen with her baby blue eyes and breathy boo-boo-be-doos. But when she asked for better scripts, a choice in who she worked with, and a higher salary, studio bosses refused.

Two women whose voices weren’t being heard. Two women chasing after their dreams and each helping the other to achieve them. This is the true story of two incredibly talented women who came together to help each other shine like the stars that they are.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: jazz musicians, actresses, Marilyn Monroe, Ella Fitzgerald, discrimination, prejudice, friendship, strong women, women’s history

*Packs: Strength in Numbers by Hannah Salyer

Groups, packs, herds of millions, and more–our world teems with animals on land, air, and sea.

Packsis an inspiring celebration of how togetherness helps many creatures thrive, in both nonhuman and human communities.

Packs reminds us that teamwork is universal, there is brilliance in biodiversity, and there is strength in numbers. Includes an author’s note encouraging community engagement and activism, as well as a fun visual index of the animals featured.

Kirkus and SLJ Express starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: animals, community, biodiversity, herds

Sootypaws: A Cinderella Story by Maggie Rudy

In this Cinderella retelling, Sootypaws the mouse lives with her stepmother and sisters, who are rats in all senses of the word. But with a little help from her woodland friends, Sootypaws finds her way to the ball to meet her prince–and the two decide to ditch the castle. In the end, Sootypaws and the prince kick off their shoes and run barefoot into the meadow, where all the animals welcome them and they live mousily ever after.

  • Genre(s): picture book, fairytale retelling
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: Cinderella, mice, princes, stepfamilies, seek-and-find

Grama’s Hug by Amy Nielander

May and Grama are a team. They do everything together, from inventing creative projects to going birdwatching to preparing for the annual space fair. And they never, ever say goodbye without a hug. May’s love of science takes her far as her inventions win year after year, helped by Grama’s support, effort, and love. She travels to space camp and eventually beyond, earning her spot as the first kid astronaut to journey into space. As May prepares for her mission to explore the cosmos, she seems ready to go without looking back, making Grama worried that she will leave without a hug.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: hugs, grandparents, space travel, grandmothers, supportive family, determination






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