New Release Spotlight: May 12, 2020

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This week’s Spotlight is once again unusually small for May. My theory is that some authors and publishers have chosen to delay their book releases until the authors are able to go out and promote them at bookstores, libraries, and conferences.

I think I’m most excited about By the Book this week! I always love books that have lots of “Easter egg” references to classic literature. Lots of single-starred professional reviews this week, but only one title received more than one star from a professional review source: A Ceiling Made of Eggshells by Gail Carson Levine.

As always, titles with a * by them received two or more starred professional reviews. Be sure to bookmark The Ginormous book list! It’s a huge Google Sheets project that I started in October 2019. All New Release Spotlight titles since October are listed, and you can search by theme, author, number of starred reviews, genre, and recommended grade levels. We’re closing in on 700 titles already!

The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar

Nishat doesn’t want to lose her family, but she also doesn’t want to hide who she is, and it only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life. Flavia is beautiful and charismatic, and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flavia and Nishat decide to showcase their talent as henna artists. In a fight to prove who is the best, their lives become more tangled–but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush, especially since Flavia seems to like her back.

As the competition heats up, Nishat has a decision to make: stay in the closet for her family, or put aside her differences with Flavia and give their relationship a chance.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: LGBT+, identity, artists, competition, coming out, lesbians, diverse characters

House of Dragons by Jessica Cluess

House of Dragons, book 1. When the Emperor dies, the five royal houses of Etrusia attend the Call, where one of their own will be selected to compete for the throne. It is always the oldest child, the one who has been preparing for years to compete in the Trial. But this year is different. This year these five outcasts will answer the call…

THE LIAR: Emilia must hide her dark magic or be put to death.

THE SOLDIER: Lucian is a warrior who has sworn to never lift a sword again.

THE SERVANT: Vespir is a dragon trainer whose skills alone will keep her in the game.

THE THIEF: Ajax knows that nothing is free–he must take what he wants.

THE MURDERER: Hyperia was born to rule and will stop at nothing to take her throne.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades7-12
  • Themes: dragons, kings and queens, contests, good versus evil

Private Lessons by Cynthia Salaysay

Debut author! After seventeen-year-old Claire Alalay’s father’s death, only music has helped her channel her grief. Claire likes herself best when she plays his old piano, a welcome escape from the sadness — and her traditional Filipino mother’s prayer groups.

In the hopes of earning a college scholarship, Claire auditions for Paul Avon, a prominent piano teacher, who agrees to take Claire as a pupil. Soon Claire loses herself in Paul’s world and his way of digging into a composition’s emotional core. She practices constantly, foregoing a social life, but no matter how hard she works or how well she plays, it seems impossible to gain Paul’s approval, let alone his affection.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: death of a parent, mental health, depression (parent), piano, musicians, Filipino-Americans, college, coming of age, bildungsroman, #metoo, teacher-student relationships, San Francisco, California, Asian-Americans

The Summer of Impossibilities by Rachael Allen

Skyler, Ellie, Scarlett, and Amelia Grace are forced to spend the summer at the lake house where their moms became best friends.

One can’t wait.

One would rather gnaw off her own arm than hang out with a bunch of strangers just so their moms can drink too much wine and sing Journey at two o’clock in the morning.

Two are sisters.

Three are currently feuding with their mothers.

One is hiding how bad her joint pain has gotten.

All of them are hiding something.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: summer, friendship, South Carolina, twins, Jewish characters, secrets, self-mutilation, cutting, lesbians, softball, Muslim characters

The Boy in the Red Dress by Kristin Lambert

New Year’s Eve, 1929. Millie is running the show at the Cloak & Dagger, a swinging speakeasy in the French Quarter, while her aunt is out of town. The new year is just around the corner, and all of New Orleans is out to celebrate, but even wealthy partiers’ diamond earrings can’t outshine the real star of the night: the boy in the red dress. Marion is the club’s star performer and his fans are legion–if mostly underground.

When a young socialite wielding a photograph of Marion starts asking questions, Millie wonders if she’s just another fan. But then her body is found crumpled in the courtyard, dead from an apparent fall off the club’s balcony, and all signs point to Marion as the murderer. Millie knows he’s innocent, but local detectives aren’t so easily convinced.

As she chases clues that lead to cemeteries and dead ends, Millie’s attention is divided between the wry and beautiful Olive, a waitress at the Cloak & Dagger, and Bennie, the charming bootlegger who’s offered to help her solve the case. The clock is ticking for the fugitive Marion, but the truth of who the killer is might be closer than Millie thinks.

  • Genre(s): mystery, historical fiction, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: murder, secrets, 1920s, New Year’s Eve, New Orleans, Louisiana, speakeasies, LGBT+, love triangles

By the Book by Amanda Sellet

Mary Porter-Malcolm has prepared for high school in the one way she knows how: an extensive review of classic literature to help navigate the friendships, romantic liaisons, and overall drama she has come to expect from such an “esteemed” institution.

When some new friends seem in danger of falling for the same tricks employed since the days of Austen and Tolstoy, Mary swoops in to create the Scoundrel Survival Guide, using archetypes of literature’s debonair bad boys to signal red flags. But despite her best efforts, she soon finds herself unable to listen to her own good advice and falling for a supposed cad—the same one she warned her friends away from.

Without a convenient rain-swept moor to flee to, Mary is forced to admit that real life doesn’t follow the same rules as fiction and that if she wants a happy ending, she’s going to have to write it herself.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: bookish, classic literature, high school, dating, relationships, drama, archetypes, stereotypes

Dear Universe by Florence Gonsalves

Debut author! It’s senior year, and Chamomile Myles has whiplash from traveling between her two universes: school (the relentless countdown to prom, torturous college applications, and the mindless march toward an uncertain future) and home, where she wrestles a slow, bitter battle with her father’s terminal illness.

Enter Brendan, a man-bun-and tutu-wearing hospital volunteer with a penchant for absurdity, who strides boldly between her worlds–and helps her open up a new road between them.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: high school, senior year, terminally-ill parent, mental health, fathers and daughters, grief, diverse characters

The Fascinators by Andrew Eliopulos

Living in a small town where magic is frowned upon, Sam needs his friends James and Delia—and their time together in their school’s magic club—to see him through to graduation.

But as soon as senior year starts, little cracks in their group begin to show. Sam may or may not be in love with James. Delia is growing more frustrated with their amateur magic club. And James reveals that he got mixed up with some sketchy magickers over the summer, putting a target on all their backs.

With so many fault lines threatening to derail his hopes for the year, Sam is forced to face the fact that the very love of magic that brought his group together is now tearing them apart—and there are some problems that no amount of magic can fix.

  • Genre(s): magical realism
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: magic, school clubs, LGBT+, friendship, #ownvoices, Georgia

*A Ceiling Made of Eggshells by Gail Carson Levine

Set in 1483 Spain. Surrounded by her large family, Loma is happy living in the judería of Alcalá de Henares, Spain, and wants nothing more than to someday have a family of her own.

Still, when her intimidating grandfather, her Belo, decides to bring her along on his travels, she’s excited to join him. Belo has the ear of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, and Loma relishes her adventures with him, adventures that are beyond the scope of most girls of the time. She soon learns just how dangerous the world is for the Jews of Spain, and how her grandfather’s influence keeps their people safe.

But the older Loma gets, the more she longs to realize her own dreams—if Belo will ever allow her to leave his side.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: Spain, grandparents, Jewish characters, grandfathers, gender roles, travel, caring for aging grandparents, wealth, privilege, 15th Century, anti-Semitism,

Which Way Is Home? by Maria Kiely

Czechoslovakia, 1948. Anna’s father disappeared months ago. He had to flee the country because the cruel new Communist government wanted to arrest him. The Communists may have arrived like heroes at the end of World War II, saving Czechoslovakia from the Nazis–but since then, things have changed.

Now Anna’s whole family feels threatened and doesn’t know whom to trust, so she and her mother and sister set out to escape, hoping to reunite with Papa. During their dangerous journey, they have to hide from the authorities and navigate through the wilderness, constantly relying on people they’ve never met for help. They have no way to contact Papa and they’re running out of options, so putting their lives in the hands of strangers might be their only hope of seeing him again.

This is based on the author’s mother’s own escape from Communist Czechoslovakia. Pair this with Sara Holbrook’s The Enemy: Detroit, 1954.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: Communism, refugees, Czechoslovakia, WWII, missing parents, survival, kindness, post-WWII, escape

The Truth According to Blue by Eve Yohalem

Thirteen-year-old Blue Broen is on the hunt for a legendary ship of gold, lost centuries ago when her ancestors sailed to New York. Blue knows her overprotective parents won’t approve of her mission to find their family’s long-lost fortune, so she keeps it a secret from everyone except her constant companion, Otis, an 80-pound diabetic alert dog. But it’s hard to keep things quiet with rival treasure hunters on the loose, and with Blue’s reputation as the local poster child for a type 1 diabetes fundraiser.

Blue’s quest gets even harder when she’s forced to befriend Jules, the brainy but bratty daughter of a vacationing movie star who arrives on the scene and won’t leave Blue alone. While Blue initially resents getting stuck with this spoiled seventh grade stranger, Jules soon proves Blue’s not the only one who knows about secrets — and adventure.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: treasure hunt, service dogs, diabetes, friendship, secrets, overprotective parents

The Eagle Huntress: The True Story of the Girl Who Soared Beyond Expectations by Aisholpan Nurgaiv

Aisholpan Nurgaiv is the subject of the award-winning documentary, The Eagle Huntress. In this memoir, teenaged eagle hunter Aisholpan Nurgaiv tells her own story for the first time. With the support of her father, Nurgaiv captured and trained her own golden eagle and won the Ölgii eagle festival. She was the only girl to compete in the festival.

Filled with photographs, The Eagle Huntress is a striking tale of determination–of a girl who defied expectations and achieved what others declared impossible.

  • Genre(s): memoir, nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: Mongolia, eagles, gender expectations, animal training, strong females, nomads

Desert Girl, Monsoon Boy by Tara Dairman (Author) and Archana Sreenivasan (Illustrator)

One girl. One boy. Their lives couldn’t be more different. While she turns her shoulder to sandstorms and blistering winds, he cuffs his pants when heavy rains begin to fall.

As the weather becomes more severe, their families and animals must flee to safety–and their destination shows that they might be more alike than they seem. The journeys of these two children experiencing weather extremes in India highlight the power of nature and the resilience of the the human spirit.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: weather, safety, India, rain, wind, sandstorms, monsoons, resilience, climate change

Hello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story by Zeena Pliska (Author) and Fiona Halliday (Illustrator)

Caterpillar crawls from leaf to leaf, eating and waiting, all alone in a big, green world. Then Orange appears―Orange floats, and flits, and flies, graceful and beautiful. In this sweet, moving story of inter-generational friendship, a small caterpillar is befriended by a glorious monarch butterfly, and together they learn to see the world through each other’s eyes.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: inter-generational friendship, insects, monarch butterflies, caterpillars, spring, metamorphosis

The Little Blue Cottage by Kelly Jordan (Author) and Jessica Courtney-Tickle (Illustrator)

The little blue cottage waits each year for summer to arrive―and with it, the girl. Through sunny days and stormy weather, the cottage and the girl keep each other company and while away the long days and nights together. Until one year, and then another, the cottage is left waiting and empty season after season.

Doesn’t that front cover remind you of Virginia Lee Burton’s The Little House? This would make a great pairing since both depict changes in one place over time.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: cottages, summer, seasons, summer homes, change, unique perspectives, passage of time, tradition

Memoirs of a Tortoise by Devin Scillian (Author) and Tim Bowers (Illustrator)

Oliver the tortoise has had his human, Ike, for a very, very long time now. In fact, they’re the same age–80 years old–and practically twins. They both enjoy the slowness of the garden, cool water from the hose on a hot day, and a nice slice of honeydew melon. But when Ike stops visiting the garden, Oliver wonders why his pet has left him so soon. So he makes the long journey to see his mother ten gardens away–she will certainly have the answer. This tender story from the author and illustrator that brought us Memoirs of a Goldfish reminds us to cherish all the days we have with our pets and loved ones.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: pets, tortoises, friendship, aging, grief, loss

Uncle Bobby’s Wedding by Sarah S. Brannen (Author) and Lucia Soto (Illustrator)

When Chloe’s favorite uncle announces that he’s getting married, everyone is excited. Everyone except Chloe, that is. What if Uncle Bobby no longer has time for picnics, swimming, or flying kites? Chloe just wants to keep having fun with her favorite uncle, but she’s afraid everything is going to change. Can Uncle Bobby and his boyfriend Jamie show Chloe that, when it comes to family, the more the merrier?

This was originally released in 2008, with guinea pigs as the characters. The text is exactly the same; only the illustrations are different.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: weddings, same-sex marriage, uncles, extended family, LGBT+






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