New Release Spotlight : January 24, 2023

A big Spotlight list this week! There are seven titles with two or more starred professional reviews, and one YA graphic novel received FOUR starred reviews! All three groupings (YA, MG, and PB) look fab this week, but YA and picture books have more new titles than middle grades.

Authors on this week’s Spotlight include: Steve Sheinkin, Kekla Magoon, Tess Sharpe, Emma Lord, Torrey Maldonado, and Jennifer Thermes.

This week’s top picks:

  • Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim (YA)
  • Hands by Torrey Maldonado (middle grades)
  • The Indestructible Tom Crean by Jennifer Thermes (picture book)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #3012-#3029 on The Ginormous book list.

Click here to make a copy of this presentation in your Google Drive. You can then edit as needed to suit your school.

*Bomb (Graphic Novel): The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (Author) and Nick Bertozzi (Illustrator)

In December of 1938, a chemist in a German laboratory made a shocking discovery: When placed next to radioactive material, a Uranium atom split in two. That simple discovery launched a scientific race that spanned three continents.

In Great Britain and the United States, Soviet spies worked their way into the scientific community; in Norway, a commando force slipped behind enemy lines to attack German heavy-water manufacturing; and deep in the desert, one brilliant group of scientists was hidden away at a remote site at Los Alamos. This is the story of the plotting, the risk-taking, the deceit, and genius that created the world’s most formidable weapon. This is the story of the atomic bomb.

New York Times bestselling author Steve Sheinkin’s award-winning nonfiction book is now available reimagined in the graphic novel format. Full color illustrations from Nick Bertozzi are detailed and enriched with the nonfiction expertise Nick brings to the story as a beloved artist, comic book writer, and commercial illustrator who has written a couple of his own historical graphic novels, including Shackleton and Lewis & Clark.

FOUR starred reviews! This is the graphic novel version of Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon (Sheinkin, 2012).

  • Genre(s): nonfiction, graphic novel
  • Setting: 1938-1945
  • Recommended for: Grades 5+
  • Themes: world history, splitting the atom, science, chemistry, war, weapons, atomic bomb, WWII, the Manhattan Project
  • Protagonist description: various world leaders, scientists, and spies from various European countries, USA, and the Soviet Union

*Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim

Spice Road, book 1. In the hidden desert city of Qalia, there is secret spice magic that awakens the affinities of those who drink the misra tea.

Sixteen-year-old Imani has the affinity for iron and is able to wield a dagger like no other warrior. She has garnered the reputation as being the next great Shield for battling djinn, ghouls, and other monsters spreading across the sands.

Her reputation has been overshadowed, however, by her brother, who tarnished the family name after it was revealed that he was stealing his nation’s coveted spice–a telltale sign of magical obsession. Soon after that, he disappeared, believed to have died beyond the Forbidden Wastes. Despite her brother’s betrayal, there isn’t a day that goes by when Imani doesn’t grieve him.

But when Imani discovers signs that her brother may be alive and spreading the nation’s magic to outsiders, she makes a deal with the Council that she will find him and bring him back to Qalia, where he will face punishment. Accompanied by other Shields, including Taha, a powerful beastseer who can control the minds of falcons, she sets out on her mission.

Imani will soon find that many secrets lie beyond the Forbidden Wastes–and in her own heart–but will she find her brother?

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure
  • Setting: hidden desert city of Qalia (reads as Arabic country)
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: magic, djinn, mythical beings, monsters, siblings, betrayal, classism, privilege, Arab cultures
  • Protagonist description: female, age 17; all main characters cue Arab

The Buried and the Bound by Rochelle Hassan

As the only hedgewitch in Blackthorn, Massachusetts–an uncommonly magical place–Aziza El-Amin has bargained with wood nymphs, rescued palm-sized fairies from house cats, banished flesh-eating shadows from the local park. But when a dark entity awakens in the forest outside of town, eroding the invisible boundary between the human world and fairyland, run-of-the-mill fae mischief turns into outright aggression, and the danger–to herself and others–becomes too great for her to handle alone.

Leo Merritt is no stranger to magical catastrophes. On his sixteenth birthday, a dormant curse kicked in and ripped away all his memories of his true love. A miserable year has passed since then. He’s road-tripped up and down the East Coast looking for a way to get his memories back and hit one dead end after another. He doesn’t even know his true love’s name, but he feels the absence in his life, and it’s haunting.

Desperate for answers, he makes a pact with Aziza: he’ll provide much-needed backup on her nightly patrols, and in exchange, she’ll help him break the curse.

When the creature in the woods sets its sights on them, their survival depends on the aid of a mysterious young necromancer they’re not certain they can trust. But they’ll have to work together to eradicate the new threat and take back their hometown…even if it forces them to uncover deeply buried secrets and make devastating sacrifices.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, supernatural, adventure
  • Setting: Blackthorn, Massachusetts
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: witches, supernatural beings, nymphs, fairies, curses, necromancers
  • Protagonist description: a Lebanese American witch, female, age 17; necromancer, male, age 17; cursed male, age 17, white, queer

The Minus-One Club by Kekla Magoon

Fifteen-year-old Kermit Sanders knows grief and its all-encompassing shadows. After losing his beloved older sister in a tragic car accident, nothing quite punctures through the feelings of loss. Everywhere Kermit goes, he is reminded of her.

But then Kermit finds a mysterious invitation in his locker, signed anonymously with “-1.” He has no idea what he’s in for, but he shows up to find out. Dubbed the “Minus-One Club,” a group of his schoolmates has banded together as a form of moral support. The members have just one thing in common–they have all suffered the tragic loss of someone they loved.

The usual dividing lines between high school classes and cliques don’t apply inside the Minus-One Club, and Kermit’s secret crush, the handsome and happy-go-lucky Matt (and only out gay student at school), is also a part of the group. Slowly, Matt’s positive headstrong approach to life helps relieve Kermit of his constant despair.

But as Kermit grows closer to Matt, the light of his new life begins to show the cracks beneath the surface. When Matt puts himself in danger by avoiding his feelings, Kermit must find the strength to not only lift himself back up but to help the rest of the group from falling apart.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: grief, siblings, support groups, coming of age, LGBT+, coming out, Christianity, alcoholism, sexual identity, drunk driving, homophobia, gay in an evangelical Christian family
  • Protagonist description: male, age 15, Black, biracial, closeted gay

6 Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Did) by Tess Sharpe

After years of bickering, Penny and Tate have called a truce: they’ll play nice. They have to. Their mothers (life-long best friends) need them to be perfect, drama-free daughters when Penny’s mother becomes a living liver donor to Tate’s mom. Forced to live together as the Moms recover, the girls’ truce is essential in keeping everything–their jobs, the house, the finances, the Moms’ healing–running smoothly. They’ve got to let this thing between them go.

There’s one little hitch: Penny and Tate keep almost kissing.

It’s just this confusing thing that keeps happening. You know, from time to time. For basically their entire teenaged existence.

They’ve never talked about it. They’ve always ignored it in the aftermath. But now they’re living across the hall from each other.

And some things–like their kisses–can’t be almosts forever.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Setting: small town
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: frenemies, friendship, liver donors, secret romances, LGBT+, mothers and daughters, alternating perspectives
  • Protagonist description: 2 females, both age 17, both lesbian, both white

Begin Again by Emma Lord

As usual, Andie Rose has a plan: Transfer from community college to the hyper competitive Blue Ridge State, major in psychology, and maintain her lifelong goal of becoming an iconic self-help figure despite the nerves that have recently thrown her for a loop. All it will take is ruthless organization, hard work, and her trademark unrelenting enthusiasm to pull it all together.

But the moment Andie arrives, the rest of her plans go off the rails. Her rocky relationship with her boyfriend Connor only gets more complicated when she discovers he transferred out of Blue Ridge to her community college. Her roommate Shay needs a major, and despite Andie’s impressive track record of being The Fixer, she’s stumped on how to help. And Milo, her coffee-guzzling grump of an R.A. with seafoam green eyes, is somehow disrupting all her ideas about love and relationships one sleep-deprived wisecrack at a time.

But sometimes, when all your plans are in rubble at your feet, you find out what you’re made of. And when Andie starts to find the power of her voice as the anonymous Squire on the school’s legendary pirate radio station–the same one her mom founded, years before she passed away–Andie learns that not all the best laid plans are necessarily the right ones.

The Kirkus review is somewhat mixed, but there are still two positive reviews from SLJ and Publishers Weekly I know from doing these Spotlights for so many years that Kirkus reviews can be a bit sourface where others are not. Still, librarians might want to have a look at the reviews on Titlewave before purchasing.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: fictional college called Blue Ridge State; implies western Virginia, West Virginia, western North Carolina areas
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: pirate radio stations, finding one’s voice, roommates, hyper-organization, anxiety, overachievers, sleep deprivation
  • Protagonist description: female, age 18, white, college freshman

Doomed: Sacco, Vanzetti, and the End of the American Dream by John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro

In the early 1920s, a Red Scare gripped America. Many of those targeted were Italians, Eastern Europeans, and other immigrants.

When an armed robbery resulting in the death of two people broke headlines in Massachusetts, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti–both Italian immigrants–were quick to be accused.

A heated trial ensued, but through it all, the two men maintained their innocence. The controversial case quickly rippled past borders as it became increasingly clear that Sacco and Vanzetti were fated for a death sentence. Protests sprang up around the world to fight for their lives.

Includes source notes, a bibliography, photographs, real letters from the accused, map, and index.

  • Genre(s): narrative nonfiction, true crime
  • Setting: South Braintree, Massachusetts; 1920s
  • Recommended for: Grade 7+
  • Themes: US history, Red Scare, communism, murder, robberies, false accusations, court trials, death penalty, protests, controversy, immigrants, prejudice, discrimination, xenophobia, political movements, anti-capitalism, anarchism
  • Protagonist description: two males, both Italiam immigrants to the US

Live Your Best Lie by Jessie Weaver

Debut author! Social media influencer Summer Cartwright leads a very charmed life: millions of followers, the hottest designer and vintage clothes at her fingertips, a newly minted book deal, the coolest friends, and, until recently, the hottest boyfriend at her über-elite prep school. Every moment of her life has been carefully planned and cultivated to complement her “imperfectly perfect” social media persona. She is truly #LivingHerBestLife.

But when Summer goes missing during her annual Halloween party and then an unscheduled post appears on her feed stating that she’ll be dead within the next five minutes, those closest to Summer know something isn’t quite right–or on–brand. Grace, Summer’s camera-shy best friend; Adam, Summer’s gamer ex-boyfriend; Laney, Summer’s moody camp roommate; and Cora, an influencer wannabe, all decide to investigate. And when they come upon Summer’s lifeless body, they soon realize that no filter is strong enough to mask the lies we tell ourselves.

Alternating perspectives include social media posts, text messages, police reports, and flashbacks.

  • Genre(s): thriller, mystery
  • Setting: Los Angeles, California, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: elite prep schools, social media, internet celebrities, murder, lies, Halloween, secrets, crime, alternating perspectives
  • Protagonist description: cast is racially diverse

Sun Keep Rising by Kristen R. Lee

B’onca always knew how to get by. And then her daughter is born. She wouldn’t trade Mia for anything, but there is never enough cash to go around.

When their gentrifying Memphis neighborhood results in higher prices and then an eviction notice, B’onca’s already fragile world spirals.

Desperate to make things right, B’onca forges a risky plan to help pay the bills. But one wrong move could cost B’onca–and her family–everything.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: Memphis, Tennessee, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: teen pregnancy, single mothers, poverty, eviction, family, racial inequality, social services, access to day care, drugs, gangs
  • Protagonist description: female, age 17, African American, single teen mother

Hands by Torrey Maldonado

Trev would do anything to protect his mom and sisters, especially from his stepdad. But his stepdad’s return stresses Trev because when he left, he threatened Trev’s mom.

Rather than live scared, Trev takes matters into his own hands, literally. He starts learning to box to handle his stepdad. But everyone isn’t a fan of his plan, because Trev’s a talented artist, and his hands could actually help him build a better future. And they’re letting him know. But their advice for some distant future feels useless in his reality right now. Ultimately, Trev knows his future is in his hands, and his hands are his own, and he has to choose how to use them.

SLJ starred. At only 144 pages, this short book is a great choice for reluctant readers.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: stepfamilies, physical abuse, domestic violence, boxing, protecting others, artists, siblings, Muhammad Ali, reluctant readers
  • Protagonist description: male, age 12, African American; all characters cue as Black

*Princess of the Wild Sea by Megan Frazer Blakemore

Princess Harbor Rose is cursed. She’s lived her whole life hidden away on a remote island with her magical aunts, following all the rules for being a princess. Now it is only one more year until thirteenth birthday, when a hero will finally arrive to save her from her curse.

But as with any story, there are two sides…and the curse told of much more than a single princess’s uncertain fate. It told of a dangerous foe rooted in powerful magic. It told of a terrible war that could destroy everything if a young hero didn’t arrive in time. It told of a magic imbued with hope that could save everyone, but only if they believe.

With her beloved kingdom and island at grave risk, Harbor Rose has a choice: Should she wait for the hero, or take matters into her own hands?

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): fantasy, fairytale, adventure
  • Setting: Lapistyr, an island kingdom
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: princesses, royalty, curses, magic, prophecies, war, heroes, “Sleeping Beauty”
  • Protagonist description: female, princess, age 12, white

*The Many Fortunes of Maya by Nicole D. Collier

Maya J. Jenkins is bursting with questions:

–Will she get the MVP award at this year’s soccer banquet?
–Who will win the big grill off between Daddy and Uncle J?
–When will she pass the swim test and get a green bracelet?

For answers and a dose of good luck, 12-year-old Maya turns to her Wheel of Fortunes, a cardboard circle covered with the small slips of wisdom she’s collected from fortune cookies.

But can the fortunes answer her deep-down questions? The ones she’s too scared to ask out loud? Like, where did Mama’s smile go, the real one that lit up everything around her? When will Daddy move back home? And most of all, does she have enough courage to truly listen to the voice in her heart?

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: Georgia, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: family problems, parental separation, flute, soccer
  • Protagonist description: female, age 12, Black, middle schooler

*The Indestructible Tom Crean by Jennifer Thermes

At the turn of the twentieth century, Antarctica is the last unexplored continent. The ice is unforgiving. It can break the human spirit. It takes many men willing to face hardship, danger, and years away from home to journey to this uncharted end of the earth. This is the story of one. His name is Tom Crean.

The Indestructible Tom Crean reveals the incredible true stories of Crean’s adventures on the Discovery, Terra Nova, and Endurance expeditions. He hauls eight-hundred-pound sleds full of supplies, escapes from drifting ice floes, and trudges miles alone across a treacherous ice shelf.

When the Endurance becomes trapped in the frozen sea and sinks, it is up to Crean and several others to go for help. They sail a tiny lifeboat through the most violent seas in the world and cross a daunting glacial mountain range by foot in order to save their fellow explorers. Tom Crean’s heroic acts of courage, perseverance, and teamwork inspire the men to keep going.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Setting: Antarctica, 1914-1917
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-5
  • Themes: Antarctica, explorers, survival, winter, ice, snow, courage, South Pole expeditions, world history
  • Protagonist description: adult male, Irish

*Just Like Grandma by Kim Rogers (Author) and Julie Flett (Illustrator)

Debut author! Becca loves spending time with Grandma. Every time Becca says, “Let me try,” Grandma shows her how to make something beautiful.

Whether they are beading moccasins, dancing like the most beautiful butterflies, or practicing basketball together, Becca knows that, more than anything, she wants to be just like Grandma.

And as the two share their favorite activities, Becca discovers something surprising about Grandma.

Booklist and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: Oklahoma?
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: grandmothers, indigenous Americans, #ownvoices, family, culture, traditions, Wichita and Affiliated Tribes
  • Protagonist description: young indigenous girl and her grandmother

*This Is Not My Home by Vivienne Chang and Eugenia Yoh

When Lily’s mom announces their family must move back to Taiwan to take care of her elderly Ah Ma, Lily is devastated to leave behind her whole life for a place that is most definitely not her home. But Lily soon realizes, through the help of her family and friends, what home means to them. And perhaps someday–maybe not today, but someday–it might become her home too.

Booklist and BCCB starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: Taiwan
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: grandmothers, moving, moving to a new country, Taiwanese food, learning a new language, Mandarin Chinese language, single mothers
  • Protagonist description: female, 4th grader, Asian American

Stanley’s Secret by John Sullivan (Author) and Zach Manbeck (Illustrator)

The only audience shy, quiet Stanley dances in front of is his pet mice, Squeaker and Nibbles. He also practices when he’s alone in empty classrooms or the gym when he helps the janitor after school, tap dancing shuffle, tippy-tap, tippy-tap.

“Talent should be shared,” encourages Principal Reynolds. Can Stanley find the courage to perform in the school talent show?

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: inside an elementary school
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: dancing, school talent show, courage, introverts, school principals, supportive adults, school janitors, confidence
  • Protagonist description: school-aged boy, Black

Gray Fox in the Moonlight by Isaac Peterson

Gray Fox wanders alone in the forest at night. The woods are illuminated in the silvery light of the full moon and stars. She gazes around in wonder at the light in the birch grove and stops to look at her reflection in the river.

But something calls to her in her reverie. She must return to her den by dawn to care for her kits when they wake. With simple poetry young children will love, Gray Fox in the Moonlight is a journey through a nighttime wonderland that celebrates the love between parents and children.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: woods at night
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: gray, silver, moon, stars, nighttime, foxes, wonder, mothers and babies, baby animals
  • Protagonist description: a female fox

Cut! How Lotte Reiniger and a Pair of Scissors Revolutionized Animation by C. E. Winters (Author) and Matt Schu (Illustrator)

In the 1920s, when young women had limited opportunities, Lotte Reiniger used her curiosity and ingenuity to change the landscape of animation forever. Inspired by the films of her youth, and encouraged by teachers and mentors working in film at the time, Lotte Reiniger honed her skills in cutting out paper silhouettes to use in stop-motion animation.

Eventually, her talent and her drive led her to invent the multiplane camera, which allowed her to give her animation depth of field. With her small team, Lotte designed and directed the oldest full-length animated film in existence.

Horn Book starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Setting: Berlin, Germany; early 1900s
  • Recommended for: Grades K-5
  • Themes: animated films, history of cinema, inventors, cameras, photography, stop-motion animation, traditional gender roles, feminism, Women’s History Month, shadow puppetry, Chinese paper-cutting arts
  • Protagonist description: female, German




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. 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.

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