A Wagonload of Books

wagon

Rejoice! Our October book order has arrived, and we have some awesome new titles for you to read!

 

 

 

Click through the tabs below to read reviews and find your next favorite book 😉

Fantasy

Iolanthe Seabourne’s quiet life as an elemental mage of middling power explodes when she summons lightning from the sky. Suddenly the 16-year-old is on the run from villainous Inquisitors. That same lightning bolt galvanizes the carefully nurtured schemes of Titus, the teenage figurehead prince, to free his realm from domination by Atlantis. The only problem is that the great mage whom seers foretold Titus will sacrifice his life to protect was supposed to be a boy….Multiple tropes—of heroic quest, gaslamp fantasy, fractured fairy tale, school story and doomed romance—are gracefully braided into a hefty but ravishing narrative. In its two alternating viewpoints, three worlds and four distinct magical systems are all masterfully delineated through delicate prose and subtle characterization. Iolanthe may be excessively perfect—beautiful and powerful and brilliant—but her prickly independence and wry self-awareness give her depth; Titus’ status, talent and stunning magnificence is less compelling than his boyish vulnerability and tortured determination. Too often in fantasy, when prophecies are both accurate and specific, characters can seem mere puppets of fate. Here, the conflagrant climax is true to their choices, with a satisfying happy-for-now resolution that whets delicious anticipation for inevitable sequels.

The second installment of Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle is as mind-blowingly spectacular as the first. Now that the ley line near Henrietta, Va., has been woken, strange currents race through the town. There’s too much electricity—or none at all. The four Raven Boys—Gansey, Adam, long-dead Noah and Ronan—continue to search for the grave of the Welsh king Glendower, but now Ronan is starting to pull objects out of his dreams. Small ones, like the keys to Gansey’s Camaro, and larger, lethal nightmare creatures. But his greatest nightmare can’t be grasped—how do you hold onto home? Not-quite-psychic Blue Sargent realizes that Gansey might really be her true love—and if she kisses him, he’ll die—and meanwhile, her wholly psychic mother is dating the hit man come to steal Ronan. Stiefvater’s careful exploration of class and wealth and their limitations and opportunities astounds with its sensitivity and sophistication. The pace is electric, the prose marvelously sure-footed and strong, but it’s the complicated characters—particularly Ronan, violent, drunk, tender and tough—that meld magic and reality into an engrossing, believable whole. Remember this: Ronan never lies. How long until Book 3?

Fiction

Months after his brother’s death, an anguished teen finds his prayers for help answered in a surprising way. In this tender free-verse narrative, Koertge explores quite literally the notion of faith as a balm in the wake of devastating loss. Walker and his mother live upstairs in the small-town nursing home she owns and are still racked with grief two months after troubled 17-year-old Noah’s sudden passing. Despondent over his mother’s sadness, 14-year-old Walker prays for help, and soon after, Jesus shows up, looking—in Walker’s estimation—“just like / your pictures” yet acting slightly less godlike than imagined. Koertge’s Jesus cracks lame jokes, takes to Wheaties and Almond Joys, and appears to have slightly limited powers. Visible only to Walker and select individuals, Jesus nonetheless exhibits rather classically cryptic omniscience and can’t quite answer Walker’s central existential question: “Why now?” he demands. “I prayed / to God like a thousand times. And what / happened? Noah died. Didn’t God look / downstairs? It’s a nursing home. Half / my mom’s clients are ready to check / out. But he picks a kid.” Koertge’s tight, spare verse captures the ineffable qualities of fraught relations and emotions. The generosity of spirit Walker exhibits makes this protagonist one easy for teen readers to not only empathize with, but emulate.

Intricate, lusciously creepy paranormal mystery. It’s 1977, and 15-year-old Kenny Maxwell has just moved into the weird old Hollerith place. While helping his dad renovate the carriage house, Kenny finds a dead, mummified baby in the wall. And right there with the baby, he finds something even creepier: a list of years, names and birthdates starting in 1917 and going through 2017. Right there, labeled “1977,” it lists Kenny’s own name and birthdate. It’s not long before Kenny starts meeting the other names on the list, as the carriage house (now an inexpertly blocked-off crime scene) also hosts a magic mirror that empowers one kid in every generation with the ability to go backward or forward a decade. Luka is only 7 in Kenny’s time, but she is 16 when he meets her through the mirror, and when she brings him forward to her own time and shows him Nintendo, it’s a revelation. As Kenny starts to figure out the time-travel rules (aided both by his fellow travelers and by notes he leaves himself from the future), he becomes convinced he can save that mummified baby. Readers sadly accustomed to slapdash plotting may well be forgiven for their shock that all the plot threads come together, brilliantly. Following the complex threads of adventure as they come together through the multitude of intertwined journeys is a joy.

Chloe calls herself “the last slacker standing” but figures she’ll have all senior year to repair her tattered GPA. Instead, she wakes up to find six months have passed in which her world has changed beyond recognition—including herself. She’s ratcheted up her GPA and achieved stratospheric SAT scores, thanks to the study group she can’t remember participating in. She’s shaken by the charged attraction she feels toward bad boy Adam, who shows up moments after she awakens in response to a call she doesn’t remember making. Meanwhile, her feelings for Blake Tanner—gorgeous, sought-after and evidently now her boyfriend—have morphed from infatuation to fear. For the first time ever, Chloe’s popular—but her best friend, Maggie, won’t speak to her. Like Chloe’s parents, the therapist she’s been seeing for her panic attacks seems confused by Chloe’s lack of enthusiasm for Blake and indifference to her stellar grades. The flashes of memory Chloe experiences with Adam are more troubling than confusing, but his warm presence is all she’s got. Richards’ use of the present tense is enormously effective here, one of the few novels in which suspense actively relies on readers’ immersion in the now. As tension rises among these sharply observed characters, this smart, edgy thriller taps into the college-angst zeitgeist, where the price of high achievement might just be your soul.

Elise Dembowski is a chronic overachiever. Her project for sophomore year is to finally fit in. When this fails and Elise discovers that she is still the same as she’s always been, she makes a desperate decision—a suicide attempt—that ostracizes her even further. After this incident, Elise takes to walking alone at night, which is how she stumbles across Start, an underground dance party. There, she meets a cast of characters who help her begin to see the light at the end of the crushingly dark and seemingly endless tunnel that is high school. Elise begins living a double life, returning each week to Start and learning to DJ. The alluring but elusive DJ Char takes her under his wing and helps her develop her talent. When a cyberbully dredges up Elise’s past and begins attacking her via a fraudulent online journal, Elise’s passion for DJ’ing becomes her refuge. Her secrets eventually become impossible to maintain, forcing her to come clean about who she is and who she wants to be. Elise is a remarkably self-aware character. Her journey toward acceptance—of others and of herself—is compelling. The supporting characters are equally well-developed, with the strengths and flaws of real people. Sales’ narrative, rich with diverse music references, reverberates with resilience.

High school junior Toni isn’t looking forward to the first day of school. Popular Chloe is furious at Toni for making out with her boyfriend while they were split up and is sending her threatening texts. In addition, Toni’s parents are struggling to recover from her father’s affair with his graduate assistant. Worried and alone, Toni reaches out to Cassie, her best friend Ella’s cousin, who is also suffering due to the recent death of her younger brother. Cassie tells Toni she’s a witch and can help her punish Chloe. Toni plays along, but when tragedy strikes the same night they hex Chloe, Toni is terrified the magic actually worked. She avoids Cassie until Cassie threatens to cast a spell on Ella for insinuating to their family that she had something to do with her brother’s death. Toni must broker a peace between the cousins while also learning how to be a better friend to both through nonmagical means. What seems at first to be a supernatural thriller is actually a realistic and frank treatise on karma and the redeeming power of female friendship. Fredericks displays an insider’s knowledge of dramatic adolescent interactions through unaffected prose and dialogue-heavy chapters that make the pages fly.

A literary mystery with a Down Under flair. Like Foxlee’s debut (The Anatomy of Wings, 2009), this is set in the Australian countryside in the 1980s and is peppered with Australian terms that may be unfamiliar to American readers (caravan, petrol) and references to historical moments that may not register (Chernobyl). But the assured and powerful writing will carry readers beyond any momentary stumbling blocks. Rose Lovell and her father are drifters. When they alight in Leonora, Rose finds herself drawn into friendship with the ebullient, sparkling Pearl and preparations for the annual Harvest Parade, which leads her to odd, old Edie Baker, a seamstress and storyteller who provides angry Rose with unconditional support. Each chapter begins with the end of the story: A girl has disappeared after the parade, a girl who might be Rose or might be Pearl, undercutting the poignant but hopeful story with the anticipation of something terrible. This is, in the end, a story about the tensions of love and anger, between parents and children, between boys and girls and men and women, and about the tension between being alone and being accepted. Fans of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie mysteries will be delighted to find similarly smart, intricate storytelling loaded with genuinely teen concerns. Atmospheric, lyric and unexpected.

Fully attuned to the adrenaline-fueled appeal of dares, Devine deftly conveys the dire consequences that can ensue once the first step is taken. Ben, a perfectly normal high school senior, and his buddies Ricky and John pull an amazing stunt, which they post anonymously on YouTube, hoping for “weblebrity.” What comes their way is a contract promising them money if they continue to do ever-more-dangerous dares. When not filming dares, narrator Ben works as a pizza-delivery guy and longs for popular co-worker Alexia, who’s attached to a bad boy. His reflections on physics, English class and math become more penetrating as the ante ups with each completed dare. Adding in cameraman Trevor changes the equation only a little. Trev is a nerd and a target for bullies, but he’s also exceptionally smart and a quick thinker. As the stunts continue, Ben begins to have his doubts. Further complicating matters, Ben’s dad is out of work, and Ben’s sister wants to do a paper on their macho antics for her college psychology class. Devine’s examination of the teenage boy’s need for adrenaline is admirably complex, and he frames it within an engaging and realistically foulmouthed narrative. Ben reflects, “This is larger than us, and we’re already in motion and gaining speed. The natural course is to let this run take us where it’s going. There are no brakes in freefall.” Astute and riveting.

With a deft hand, de Gramont easily convinces the most skeptical of readers that the depth of Tressa’s and her boyfriend Luke’s emotions can enable a few fleeting, and frustratingly incomplete, moments of connection for them during the year following his tragic death. One of this riveting novel’s most astonishing qualities is that it features a spectral character but avoids the clichés of many modern paranormal romances; it is instead a largely realistic tale of grief and healing. Rather than offering impossible hopes for a continued post-death romance, the imperfections of Tressa and Luke’s phantom connection—they can neither speak about the present nor feel each other’s touches—is a continual painful reminder of all that they have lost. And while Luke’s visits are a testament to their profound love, they are also an agonizingly slow goodbye and a hesitant step toward moving through their shared grief. De Gramont torments readers with flashbacks similar to Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road (2008), in which the knowledge that a character’s death is inevitable heightens, rather than assuages, readers’ dread as Luke’s final doomed moments are slowly revealed. The novel should come with a disclaimer that readers who are shy about public sobbing should avoid cracking this one open on public transportation, in waiting rooms or during classroom silent sustained reading times.

Historical Fiction

An unlikely championship is within the grasp of a ragtag group of students just as the mine that supports their town prepares to close. Felix “Red” O’Sullivan is the best hope to lead his team to a statewide football championship. Unlike other teams in 1950 in Arizona, whites and Latinos play together on the Hartley Muckers. Nevertheless, both groups are aware of the dividing lines: separate Masses, different swimming times at the pool and limits on relationships across the racial divide. Red is also plagued by family difficulties: His father is an alcoholic, and his mother was hospitalized, broken with grief for her older son, who was killed in World War II. For Red, this season will be his last chance to return glory to “Bobby’s school.” It will be a struggle for a school with barely enough players, and whose field is littered with slag and rocks, to defeat bigger and better-equipped teams even as the town continues its inevitable demise. Based on a true story, this is a richly textured portrayal of a small town coping with the economic, political and racial realities of post–World War II America. The storytelling is enhanced by fictional excerpts from local papers that provide additional insight, including the “Social News & Arrests” column as well as want ads in addition to substantive articles. Distinctive characters and finely drawn specifics of locale and landscape set this football story apart.

The sights, sounds and smells of the Warsaw ghetto assail readers’ senses in a raw, brutal telling of the unimaginable horror of that time and that place.

When the Nazis took Warsaw in 1939, they immediately initiated their separate war against the Jews in an ever-worsening web of destruction. Jews were prevented from using public transportation, doing business or attending schools. Then thousands were moved to the overcrowded ghetto, where they died of epidemics and starvation. Finally, relocations to the concentration camps emptied the ghetto. Sax gives voice to the fear and anger, hopelessness and terror through Misha, a fictional young teen who represents those who really lived and died there. In short staccato sentences, he bears witness to the madness, telling it all, from the struggle to stay alive to the corpses in the streets to the beatings and executions. Misha takes part in the doomed Warsaw Uprising and survives to tell the world of this last act of defiance. Strzelecki’s pen, ink and black-and-white pencil illustrations graphically depict pain and despair as they accompany text printed on stark white or black backgrounds. With the events of the Holocaust growing ever more remote with the passage of time, Sax gives modern readers an unrelenting, heart-rending insight into the hell that the Nazis created.

Gripping, powerful, shattering. 

NonFiction

Art, factoids and personal reflections introduce 27 carefully selected and thoughtfully presented musicians, whose radical experimentation with sound and verse helped to shape the music of today. Each profile opens with a two-page spread of stunning original artwork and a recollection from lead author Robbie Robertson, who is himself an accomplished musician best known for his role with The Band. Brief snippets of biographical information follow, along with details about the artist’s influence not only on music, but also on the culture of the time. This diverse selection of artists spans many decades (1925-1968) and musical genres. Though the included CDs provide only one song per artist, recommended songs for further listening are listed. Who has been chosen and who has been excluded may spark debate among music buffs, but this work is designed to pique the curiosity of young people who have not yet been exposed to these boundary-pushing innovators. Unfortunately, the lack of contemporary musicians may limit this book’s initial appeal to the already music-obsessed. However, the conversational tone of the writing and visually alluring layout will quickly capture the attention of most young readers who give it a chance. A compelling introduction to the ancestors of modern popular music.

Graphic Novels

A graphic-novel account of the science and history that first created and then, theoretically, destroyed the terrifying Dust Bowl storms that raged in the United States during the “dirty thirties.” “A speck of dust is a tiny thing. Five of them could fit on the period at the end of this sentence.” This white-lettered opening is set against a roiling mass of dark clouds that spills from verso to recto as a cartoon farmer and scores of wildlife flee for their lives. The dialogue balloon for the farmer—“Oh my God! Here it comes!”—is the first of many quotations (most of them more informative) from transcripts of eyewitnesses. These factual accounts are interspersed with eloquently simple explanations of the geology of the Great Plains, the mistake of replacing bison with cattle and other lead-ups to the devastations of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. The comic-book–style characters create relief from the relentlessly grim stories of hardship and loss, set in frames appropriately backgrounded in grays and browns. Although readers learn of how the U.S. government finally intervened to help out, the text does not spare them from accounts of crippling droughts even in the current decade. From its enticing, dramatic cover to its brown endpapers to a comical Grant Wood–esque final image, this is a worthy contribution to the nonfiction shelves

PS. We also received Allegiant, the last book in the Divergent series. But it can’t be checked out until next Monday…!

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