Prepublication Reviews and Expertly Selected Title Lists

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The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

The Passion of Dolssa“The Passion of Dolssa” is set in medieval times. It’s 1241, and the Crusade is trying to rid the world of heretics.  Dolssa and her mother are deemed heretics and sentenced to be executed.  Her mother is executed, but Dolssa manages to escape her sentence and run away.  She flees to the countryside. There, Botille finds her half dead in the woods and takes her in.

Botille and her sisters run a tavern in the seaside town of Bajas.  While running their tavern and trying just to survive alongside their neighbors, they nurse Dolssa back to health.  But they can’t hide Dolssa forever, and the truth of the miracles she has performed starts to spread.  The townsfolk stand behind her, but once the Inquisition comes to town, their good intentions are put to the test.

When I read historical fiction, I usually read books from different time periods, but I was pleasantly surprised by this book.  The story was well-written, and I was drawn into the characters’ lives.  While this is categorized as a YA book, and the writing was age-appropriate, I felt the subject was something that would probably not appeal to most young adults.

– Denise

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Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

Tell Me Three ThingsJulie Buxbaum’s YA debut, Tell Me Three Things, may be one of the most popular young adult contemporary reads this year.  We all know what it’s like to have our world turned upside down; that’s exactly what happens to Jessie, our heroine, whose mother dies. Jessie’s father elopes with a woman he met online, leaving her with a step-monster (oh, I meant stepmother). And now Jessie has to attend a super-intimidating Los Angeles prep school, Wood Valley High School, on the other side of the country. Jessie’s new step-monster has a teenage son to top it off, who is not interested in helping her adjust to her new life in the least.

When Jessie is just about ready to give up and head back to Chicago, she gets help from an anonymous source who calls themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN). SN emails her and offers to be her lifeline at Wood Valley High School.  Is someone out to get Jessie, or can she truly rely on what seems to be her only ally in life?  Will Jessie ever be able to call Los Angeles home?

This is such a funny, relatable book, and a quick read.  Plenty of characters and a great storyline will keep you hooked to the end.  Tell Me Three Things is a definite addition to your shelf this spring.

– Becky

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The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

The Serpent KingIt’s hard to find your way when your dad is a Pentecostal minister who insists you handle poisonous rattlesnakes. Dill Early struggles to survive his senior year in the Bible Belt, while grappling with his secret feelings for a fellow outcast. He and his two misfit friends have their own methods for surviving senior year.

But a sudden tragedy soon leaves Dill wondering if his love for music, as well as his secret feelings for Lydia, are enough to see him through these dark days. Dill soon find his own faith, leading to a final confrontation with his devout mother about his shifting beliefs on God and the future that is pulling him away from the home that has long stifled him.

This coming-of-age story shows how the pain of the past need not dictate the long path forward. Dill’s struggle to make it through the school year grows more difficult as his parents pressure him to live by the faith with which they face each day. Dill’s own brand of faith finally gives him the courage to move on.

The Serpent King will resonate with fans of Me, Earl, & the Dying Girl, as well as readers seeking a heartfelt story of overcoming life’s challenges to forge one’s own path.

– Travis

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The Eye of Midnight by Andrew Brumbach

The Eye of Midnight.jpgSet in 1929, this fast-paced historical adventure is filled with mystery, intrigue and danger. The main characters are Maxine and William, who are cousins, though they barely remember each other. The young pair, both in their early teens, have just arrived on the doorstep of Battersea Manor, somewhere along the Jersey Shore. They’ve been sent to stay with their grandfather, Colonel Horatius Battersea, at his estate for the summer.

Soon after the cousins’ arrival, their grandfather receives a mysterious telegram. He must quickly get to New York City to retrieve an important package. Not willing to leave Maxine and William behind, he brings them along as he prepares to meet with an unknown courier in possession of the parcel. Before he gets to meet with the courier, the Colonel mysteriously vanishes without a trace.

The cousins make a surprise friend in Nura, a bold and daring girl from Turkey, who just so happens to be the courier their grandfather came to meet. The package she was to deliver was a powerful magical artifact, but the item has been stolen by an unknown thief. The three join forces on a daring adventure to find the missing Colonel Battersea and the magical package. They soon find out they aren’t the only ones who are searching.

There are plenty of cliffhangers and twists of fate as the cousins and their friend tangle with gangsters, bootleggers, and a secret order of assassins, some of whom are intent on taking over the world. This book is a great piece of historical fiction with lots of suspense and adventure.

– Mark

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Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the SeaHistory jumps off the page and into life with Ruta Sepetys’ latest novel Salt to the Sea.  While there are many stories told of WWII, this is a lesser known tale brought to life at Sepetys’ skillful hand.

As part of thousands of refugees, we are drawn into the stories of Joana, Emilia, and Florian as they meet on their way to freedom aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff ship.  We are swept along in this action-packed adventure as the unthinkable happens: the Wilhelm Gustloff is attacked by a Russian submarine and sinks.  Joana, Emilia, and Florian each carry their own secrets. They must band together and rely on each other’s strength for sheer survival.

This is a great book to add to your YA collection. It not only sheds light on the worst maritime disaster in ever, it also reveals a generation whose strength and courage is now told primarily through the pages of history as we lose those who fought insurmountable odds to strengthen generations to come.

– Becky

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Burning Midnight by Will McIntosh

Burning MidnightNo one knows where the colored spheres came from or how they got here. Apparently they arrived years ago, scattered and hidden all over the planet. One thing that we do know is that holding two matching spheres to one’s temple causes an increase in one’s abilities, skills, or appearance. Depending on the color, “burning” a pair of spheres can give the user whiter teeth, increased height, better memory, and other improvements. Some spheres are rare and give greater results, but these are hard to find — and very valuable.

This story takes place on present day Earth, with the main character being seventeen-year-old David “Sully” Sullivan. Sully once found a rare sphere, but was cheated out of his big payday by unscrupulous millionaire businessman, Alex Holliday. Now Sully struggles just to help his mom pay their rent by selling spheres at the flea market.

One day, Sully meets a girl named Hunter, who has a natural ability for finding spheres. The two pair up and start searching for orbs together. After some mishaps, Sully is ready to give up. The two push on and somehow find a color that has never been seen before — a Gold sphere. This could be worth millions, but no one knows what special abilities it may grant…or where a matching sphere may be.

With the aid of two close friends, Sully and Hunter set off on an adventure to find another Gold sphere to complete the set. But Alex Holliday wants the Gold spheres for himself, and is willing to do whatever it takes to get them. Thus begins a race to see who finds the treasured gems first and eventually we discover what the spheres are really for and the dangers involved with using them. This story was action-packed and imaginative with a lot of relatable context.


– Mark

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The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs by Cylin Busby

The Nine Lives of Jacob TibbsI love when an author transports a reader to another time and place—which is exactly the case with this tale, told from the perspective of a ship’s cat on the high seas in the 1800s.

Jacob Tibbs, the runt of the litter, is passed over as all of his brothers and sisters find new ship homes.  But luckily he’s inherited hunting skills and weather-sensing abilities from his mother. This makes him an important part of his ship’s crew. We see his sometimes wobbly existence as he navigates the path of growing up — all within the world of a life at sea complete with storms, a shipwreck, and even a mutiny.

The story is well-balanced and while there is no true villain, there is quite a range of characters and emotions. Kids of all ages will love the story of The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs. This will be a great addition to your library for anyone ready to go on an adventure to the high seas.

– Becky

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Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

Anna and the SwallowThis book has elements of historical fiction, fairytales, and folklore — all set against a backdrop of war and anguish. It’s 1939 Poland where we find seven-year-old Anna, whose father (a university linguistics professor) has just been taken away by the Gestapo. Alone, hungry, and afraid, Anna is taken in by a mysterious, nameless stranger that she comes to call the Swallow Man.

The pair quickly connect through a shared gift — an affinity for speaking and understanding multiple languages. Thanks to her father, precocious Anna is conversant in German, Russian, French, and English as well as some Yiddish and a few other dialects. The Swallow Man is even more skilled than Anna, as he can speak all of these languages and also has an apparent supernatural connection with birds.

As they travel together, the Swallow Man teaches Anna the language of “Road” which involves adapting to whatever identity is necessary to survive in a war ravaged and evil world. It’s clear that the Shallow Man cares deeply for Anna as he serves as protector, guide, teacher, and father, but there is always a shroud of mystery that surrounds this man.

Without an actual destination, the companions wander together for years just trying to survive. The Swallow Man tells his young charge that they are on a journey to save an extremely rare and endangered bird — the last of its kind that the Germans and Russians want to kill so they can become more powerful. It’s never made clear who the “bird” is and this is one of many themes in the book that aren’t fully explored or resolved. Overall, the writing was quite good for this debut novelist but the ending was fairly abrupt and leaves many unanswered questions.

— Mark

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Thomas Murphy by Roger Rosenblatt

Thomas MurphyMost of us are well acquainted with Roger Rosenblatt’s non-fiction charmers such as The Boy Detective and Making Toast. His latest fiction offering, Thomas Murphy, is another cause for celebration. In this delightful story, we are fortunate to read the philosophical and random musings of the titular poet.

Rosenblatt’s familiar and comfortable writing style makes Murph (as he’s known by his friends) feel like an old friend, father, or beloved uncle. Now getting on in age and facing his sunset years, Murph ponders his recent widowhood and his relationship with his daughter, grandson, and other beloved lifelong friends.

Just when he seems happily resigned to the fact that his best days may already be behind him, a chance meeting at a bar with a stranger suddenly turns his life around. The stranger, Jack, finds out that Murph is a poet and asks him if he would do an extraordinary favor. At first Murph is reluctant to get involved in Jack’s business but is soon charmed by Jack’s wife Sarah and agrees to help out.

As the story progresses with Murph and Sarah discovering a mutual attraction, you’ll be tempted to hurry to the end to find out what happens. But to do so would mean missing out on each heartbreaking nuance that Rosenblatt brings to the table. As his fans already know, what this wordsmith puts on paper is meant to be slowly savored and pondered…much the same way Murph approaches his own life in the final days.

– Susan

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Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a FistMany of us may recall watching television coverage of the 1999 WTO riots in Seattle.  Perhaps we watched with confusion about how peaceful protests could have escalated so quickly.  Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist is a story that takes place in the thick of the riots, featuring protestors, police, and a boy whose story will bridge the gap between these groups at odds with one another.

Victor ran away from home at the age of 16 and has been traveling the world for the past three years before returning to Seattle.  His father, the chief of police, has been distraught over his son’s disappearance, wishing he could undo the events leading up to Victor’s decision to leave.

King and her boyfriend, John Henry, are protestors seeking change from world leaders who use their power and influence without thought of the third-world countries or people that are negatively impacted by their decisions.

Park and Ju, two beat cops with their own marked histories, are just trying to do their jobs.  Whether or not they agree with the protestors is beside the point, but making the right decisions in the heat of the moment will put them to the ultimate test.

Dr. Charles Wickramsinghe is a diplomat intent on seeing his home country of Sri Lanka join the WTO.  Everything changes when he gets caught up in the riots and sent to jail, where he encounters protestors who make him question all he’s worked for over the past five years.

These storylines converge as the events of the day build into an explosive, heart-pounding, must-read tale.  Yapa’s debut novel will be one that everyone is talking about and for good reason.  It’s not just a story; it’s who we are as a human race.

– Amy

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