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New Release Spotlight: July 20, 2021

Hot hot hot in my part of Mexico this week! I live in Puerto Morelos, where the summertime daytime temps hover around 89-90 and the humidity is in the 80% range. The temperatures are actually not so bad–it’s the humidity and that BRIGHT sun that make it feel so incredibly HOT. You’d think I’d be used to it after living in Texas for 18 years and Shanghai for 6 years. But nope! Still hot, still sticky. I hope it’s cooler wherever you are!

On to the Spotlight and another short week! This week’s list is heavy on YA and picture books, with almost nothing for middle grades. August and September are big months for new releases, so hang in there! I will be very busy writing up new releases soon enough.

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1791-#1802 on The Ginormous book list.

In the Same Boat by Holly Green

Debut author! It’s the eve of the Texas River Odyssey, and Sadie Scofield is finally ready for the 265-mile canoe race. It’s three days of grueling, nonstop paddling, where every turn of the river reveals new challenges — downed trees, poisonous snakes, alligators — but the dangers are all worth it. Reaching the finish line is the only way for Sadie to redeem herself for last year, when one small mistake spiraled into disaster.

Sadie has spent a year training, and she’s ready for anything…except for her brother ditching her at the last minute for a better team.

She has no choice but to team up with Cully, her former best friend turned worst enemy. Everything about him irritates her, from his stupid handsome face to the way he holds his paddle. But as the miles pass, the pain builds, and family secrets come to light, Sadie realizes she’ll have to work with Cully instead of against him. Last year’s race was a catastrophe, but this year’s race just might change her life in ways she never imagined.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: races, canoeing, brothers and sisters, nature, survival, Texas, emotional abuse
  • Protagonist description: American girl, age 17; all characters are white

These Hollow Vows by Lexi Ryan

Brie hates the Fae and refuses to have anything to do with them, even if that means starving on the street. But when her sister is sold to the sadistic king of the Unseelie court to pay a debt, she’ll do whatever it takes to get her back–including making a deal with the king himself to steal three magical relics from the Seelie court.

Gaining unfettered access to the Seelie court is easier said than done. Brie’s only choice is to pose as a potential bride for Prince Ronan, and she soon finds herself falling for him. Unwilling to let her heart distract her, she accepts help from a band of Unseelie misfits with their own secret agenda. As Brie spends time with their mysterious leader, Finn, she struggles to resist his seductive charm.

Caught between two dangerous courts, Brie must decide who to trust with her loyalty. And with her heart.

No starred reviews on this one, but sign me up! I’m a huge fan of Holly Black, and this sounds like just what I need to get through to whenever she releases her next fae saga.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: fae, sisters, royalty, magic
  • Protagonist description: “ivory skinned” girl, age 17

You & Me at the End of the World by Brianna Bourne

This is no ordinary apocalypse…

Hannah Ashton wakes up to silence. The entire city around her is empty, except for one other person: Leo Sterling. Leo might be the hottest boy ever (and not just because he’s the only one left), but he’s also too charming, too selfish, and too much of a disaster for his own good, let alone Hannah’s.

Stuck with only each other, they explore a world with no parents, no friends, and no school and realize that they can be themselves instead of playing the parts everyone expects of them. Hannah doesn’t have to be just an overachieving, music-box-perfect ballerina, and Leo can be more than a slacker, 80s-glam-metal-obsessed guitarist. Leo is a burst of honesty and fun that draws Hannah out, and Hannah’s got Leo thinking about someone other than himself for the first time.

Together, they search for answers amid crushing isolation. But while their empty world may appear harmless…it’s not. Because nothing is quite as it seems, and if Hannah and Leo don’t figure out what’s going on, they might just be torn apart forever.

  • Genre(s): post-apocalypse, science fiction, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: last people in the world, isolation, loneliness, Houston, Texas, opposites attract
  • Protagonist description: American girl and boy, both high school seniors, both are white

After the Ink Dries by Cassie Gustafson

Debut author! Sixteen-year-old Erica Walker is a webcomic artist who wants to fit in at her affluent new high school. Seventeen-year-old Thomas VanBrackel is an aspiring songwriter and reluctant lacrosse goalie who wants out from under his father’s thumb. After their electric first kiss at Saturday’s lacrosse match, Erica and Thomas are both elated to see where their new relationship could take them.

The next morning, however, following a drunken house party, Erica wakes up half-clothed, and discovers words and names drawn in Sharpie in intimate places on her body–names belonging to Thomas’s lacrosse friends, including the boyfriend of Erica’s best friend. Devastated, Erica convinces herself Thomas wasn’t involved in this horrific so-called “prank”…until she discovers Thomas’s name on her skin, too.

Told in alternating viewpoints, Erica seeks to uncover what happened while battling to keep evidence of her humiliation from leaking out, as Thomas grapples with his actions and who he thought he was. Woven throughout, illustrated graphic novel interstitials depict Erica’s alter ego superhero, Erica Strange, whose courage just might help Erica come through to the other side.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: sexual assault, trust, toxic masculinity, teen drinking, bullying, suicidal ideation, artists, alternating perspectives, #metoo
  • Protagonist description: girl and boy, both age 16-17, both white

The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor by Shaenon K. Garrity (Author) and Christopher Baldwin (Illustrator)

One dark and stormy night, Haley sees a stranger drowning in the river. Since her greatest passion is Gothic romance novels, she knows her moment has come. But when Haley leaps into the water to rescue the stranger, she awakens in Willowweep. It certainly looks like the setting of one of her favorite books: A stately manor. A sinister housekeeper. Three brooding brothers. There’s even a ghost.

Except Willowweep is not what it seems. Its romantic exterior hides the workings of a pocket universe–the only protection our world has against a great force of penultimate evil, and its defenses are crumbling. Could cruel fate make Haley the heroine that Willowweep needs?

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: heroic acts, gothic literature, alternate universes, bookish
  • Protagonist description: teen girl, Black; all other major characters are white

Rhinos in Nebraska: The Amazing Discovery of the Ashfall Fossil Beds by Alison Pearce Stevens (Author) and Matt Huynh (Illustrator)

Twelve million years ago, rhinos, elephants, and camels roamed North America. They would gather at nearby watering holes–eating, drinking, and trying not to become someone else’s lunch. But one day, in what we now know as Nebraska, everything changed. The explosion of a supervolcano a thousand miles away sent a blanket of ash that buried these animals for millennia.

Until 1953, when a seventeen-year-old farm worker made an unbelievable discovery.

Rhinos in Nebraska tells the story of the Ashfall Fossil Beds, where more than two hundred perfectly preserved fossils have been found. Step into the past with author Alison Pearce Stevens and uncover the mysteries of Ashfall.

  • Genre(s): narrative nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-9
  • Themes: fossils, rhinos, elephants, camels, volcanoes, Nebraska, paleontology, science, STEAM
  • Protagonist description: scientists of various disciplines

*Sing with Me: The Story of Selena Quintanilla by Diana López (Author) and Teresa Martinez (Illustrator)

From a very early age, young Selena knew how to connect with people and bring them together with music.

Sing with Me follows Selena’s rise to stardom, from front-lining her family’s band at rodeos and quinceañeras to performing in front of tens of thousands at the Houston Astrodome. Young readers will be empowered by Selena’s dedication–learning Spanish as a teenager, designing her own clothes, and traveling around the country with her family–sharing her pride in her Mexican-American roots and her love of music and fashion with the world.

Kirkus and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: Grades K-4
  • Themes: Selena Quintanilla Perez, music, singers, performance arts, tragedy, fame, fashion design, Spanish language, Texas, rags-to-riches
  • Protagonist description: Mexican American female

Amara and the Bats by Emma Reynolds

Amara loves bats! Her favorite thing to do is to collect bat facts and watch the amazing mammals fly at night by her house. But when Amara moves to a new town, she learns that her beloved bats no longer roost nearby because so many trees are being cut down.

Amara is upset. What can she do to help? She’s just one person, and the problem feels so much bigger than her. But after doing some research, she discovers that there are many young people making big changes all around the world. Inspired to take action, Amara gathers her new friends to help save the bats. Together, she knows they can make a difference!

Emma Reynolds crafts an inspiring story about community action, perseverance, and what to do in the face of climate anxiety. At its heart, this is a story about hope and finding a place to call home.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: bats, science, cutting down trees, activism, environment, conservation, community, perseverance, habitat loss, new kid in town
  • Protagonist description: diverse community includes a person wearing a headscarf and a child in a wheelchair

Bird Boy by Matthew Burgess (Author) and Shahrzad Maydani (Illustrator)

Nico was new, and nervous about going to school. Everyone knew what to do and where to go, but Nico felt a little lost.

So, he did what he loved to do:
Watched the insects
Sat in the grass
And most importantly…befriended the birds.

Before he knew it, Nico was known as BIRD BOY. But Nico didn’t mind. Soon, he made one friend, then two, as the other kids learned to appreciate Nico for who he was. Before long, Nico learned he could be completely, delightfully, himself. This dreamy story will encourage all readers to express who they are unapologetically.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: new kid at school, observation, nature, animals, birds, insects, being oneself, feeling left out
  • Protagonist description: boy, elementary age, Black–his classmates are mostly kids of color; one classmate uses a wheelchair

The Mysterious Sea Bunny by Peter Raymundo

Shh, we are about to observe the one-inch-long sea bunny as it journeys sloooooowly across the ocean floor!

Along the way, we’ll learn some interesting facts: how it crawls upside-down using slime, how it breathes through its…um…fluffy-looking backside, and why predators would be in for an unsavory surprise if they ever got ahold of it. Young readers will float away with loads of new knowledge about this fascinating sea slug species, and they’ll be reminded to never judge a book by its cover–or a sea slug by its slime.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, humor
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: sea slugs, ocean animals, predators and prey, rabbits, cute animals
  • Protagonist description: sea slugs are the protagonists

Ride the Wind by Nicola Davies (Author) and Salvatore Rubbino (Illustrator)

Javier has a secret. On one of his father’s fishing trips, still hurting from the loss of his mother, he finds an albatross caught on the hooks–alive, if only barely. Against the orders of his father, who has been distant and disparaging, Javier smuggles the bird to safety and begins nursing it back to health.

Every day the albatross accepts a little more food, but she shows no sign of wanting to use her wings. And if Javier’s new friend refuses to fly, how will she ever find her way home?

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades K-4
  • Themes: birds, albatross, South America, helping animals, empathy, healing, grief, fathers and sons, fishing, secrets
  • Protagonist description: brown-skinned humans addressed by “Señor, Señora, Señorita”–this is likely set in South America, most likely off the coast of Chile

Sounds Like School Spirit by Meg Fleming (Author) and Lucy Ruth Cummins (Illustrator)

They have spirit, yes they do! Follow kids from circle time to the lunch line in this lively, rhyming picture book that perfectly matches the high energy of a new classroom. With a call and response like “We say ALPHA, you say BET,” built into the text, kids will love reading and cheering along.

This looks like loads of fun for a first-day of school read-aloud! Don’t miss the details in the illustrations.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: back to school, read-alouds for storytime, school spirit, first day of school
  • Protagonist description: children in the school are diverse




The New Release Spotlight began in May 2016 as a way to help librarians keep up with the many new children’s and YA books that are released each week. Every Tuesday, school librarian Leigh Collazo compiles the New Release Spotlight using a combination of Follett’s Titlewave, Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes and Noble. As always, titles with a * by them received two or more starred professional reviews. Recommended grade levels represent the range of grade levels recommended by professional book reviewers.