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  • Citrus

    by Tabitha Kumwembe

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: Citrus, the debut novel of young Malawian author Tabitha Kumwembe, is a futuristic scifi romance that has 29-year-old Captain Alexis Creed, a warrior for truth and justice in the Dipleon Galaxy, coping with the trauma of her past and forging the path to her future as she finds the son of the oppressor who killed her parents and destroyed her country under her command. A series of flashbacks to the near and distant past make this a thorough exploration of why people behave the way they do and the action-packed plot serves to make the characters and the changes they undergo as they mature believable. The complex plot gets more of Kumwembe’s attention than the romance, though there is enough of that to make the story interesting, as the author states she intends.

    Prose/Style: The text is written at a junior high school level, but the lack of paragraph indents makes it a more difficult read than the vocabulary and syntax would suggest. The dialogue is somewhat stilted and the action overdescribed in some places. But these devices are in keeping with Kumwembe’s interest in action comics and gaming where detailed visuals serve the same function as her minutely-detailed descriptions.

    Originality: A strong female lead, along with a diverse cast of interesting characters and an action-packed story, make this a worthy inheritor of the movie Black Panther.

    Character Development/Execution: At the beginning of the novel, Alexis feels she can never be Bronté’s friend because she cannot trust him, but she learns to see beyond her own traumatic past to the person who is actually in front of her. Bronté also finds himself reevaluating his prior beliefs and upbringing to become a discerning adult who makes his own choices.

  • Prairie Sonata

    by Sandy Shefrin Rabin

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: Rabin has crafted a moving, delicate novel about grief, community, and coming to terms with the horrors of history while finding solace within family, music, art, and food. Her lyrical words and excellent command of the language paint a masterpiece that not only exemplifies Jewish culture, but also the weariness and recovery of the human spirit.

    Prose: Rabin's prose is beautiful, and the book reads like a painting. She especially expertly presents the feelings and sensations of producing music, as well as those of loss, grief, and love. It is a delight to read.

    Originality: Although post-WWII books are plentiful, one that encompasses the unique culture and social etiquette of Jewish life in a rural Canadian prairie is not as common. The authentic relationship between an emotionally worn teacher and an enthusiastic, curious student makes for a new experience for the reader.

    Character/Execution: Rabin's characters brilliantly come to life. The reader will feel their pain, their sorrow, their joy, and their excitement.

  • Sir_Scrap Metal

    by Joan Dee Wilson

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: Written and illustrated by picture book author Joan Dee Wilson, Sir_Scrap Metal is the author’s first foray into the chapter book genre, and she has succeeded in creating a fast-paced sci-fi action adventure story with family at its core that elementary school-aged children will appreciate. Dree rescues a robot earmarked for recycling while on vacation at Grandma’s with her older brothers, Mike and Brady. Sir_12.80, who is more an intelligent C3PO-type android than a robot, quickly becomes a valued member of the family that has adopted it, even as Agent Rouso, who wants Sir’s black box, is hunting for it. Sir Scrap Metal turns out to be helpful in all kinds of unexpected ways, including rescuing lost kittens and finding lost boys.

    Prose/Style: This is a book that should be read aloud by an adult or an older child who can interpret the text through intonation and expression for young listeners. A beginning reader might be confused by the sentence structure, which is more sophisticated than the written text they would be accustomed to reading.

    Originality: The story is full of wonderful characters, lots of technology and a fair amount of wildlife, some of it definitely dangerous. Everything seems to be in motion at once, making for a very engaging story. And the evil Mr. Fitch, who discarded the robot in the first place, is a constant worry right up to the end.

    Character Development/Execution: The most interesting character is the robot itself, and readers keep learning more about its history, capabilities and deficits as the plot moves forward. But more important is the warm, supportive family that is at the core of this story. They are invariably caring in their actions toward each other, so it’s no wonder that in the end Sir chooses them over returning to his old life.

  • Summer of Two Worlds, 3rd edition - B&W

    by J. Arthur Moore

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: The author weaves an interesting tale that engages and transports the reader to a long-ago era where a young boy straddles two worlds. The author does a great job recounting Native American practices which are easily understood by the reader. At times, the plot moves along a little too slowly, but then the action picks up again.

    Prose/Style: The author is a talented writer who is able to palpably convey Prairie Cub's anguish through prose and also recreate a long-lost era in a seemingly accurate and believable manner.

    Originality: The author keeps his story true to historical days and events, yet the work feels unique and original. The main characters may be representative of the era depicted, but they are products of the author's imagination and creativity.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters here are well-developed, particularly Prairie Cub, who struggles throughout the story due to his complicated parentage.

  • Twelfth Winter - B&W

    by J. Arthur Moore

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: This is an intriguing work set in the late nineteenth century, and the author does an excellent job not only depicting the period but detailing the struggle of a Native American boy who is caught between the white man's world he lives in and his cultural history. His struggle is palpable, but the author sacrifices action for inner turmoil. The storyline would benefit from more action to balance the elements out.

    Prose/Style: The author is a capable writer who is able to convey the inner angst of Prairie Cub. Some events, however, seem implausible or unlikely, and the book would benefit from a developmental edit to clear up such scenes.

    Originality: This is a clever, highly original work that revisits a lost era. Young readers will learn much about the past while reading about Prairie Cub’s life and experiences.

    Character Development/Execution: The author does an excellent job depicting Prairie Cub and the challenges he faces. His "torn between two worlds" life is vividly detailed, and the reader cannot help but root for this character.

  • Peach and Plum

    by M. Johnson

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: Johnson has created a very detailed world with colorful characters. There is a nice mixture of cultures and family structures in this story. The plot is subdued and feels as though one is reading a daily journal about this school year. There are some heavy elements that seem out of place for a YA book, such as the description of the principal’s death and Kade’s parents’ marital problems, that might be minimized.

    Prose/Style: Johnson has a very descriptive storytelling style. The characters are all very relatable and detailed, their relationships complex.

    Originality: Johnson has crafted an original world and highlights the combination of different cultures with everyday narration resulting in a unique story.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters are all very detailed. The students exhibit growth throughout the book and the reader can see how they’ve developed over the school year. Johnson also gives the reader a glimpse into the future of some characters by using a specific event in that character’s storyline to impact the rest of their life.

  • Plot: This book presents a very interesting and original plot with fun and unique characters. Rabbit is excellent at worldbuilding and bringing to life an intricate society with rules, wars, and mystery.

    Prose/Style: The settings are vivid and the characters feel real. The dialogue is well-crafted, with the young characters present as children and the older characters present as adults. Rabbit is expert at developing a world that the reader can fall into and not want to leave.

    Originality: Rabbit has developed a warring world where three sapient races exist (but not peacefully). The anthropomorphic characters exist in greatly varied settings, from beautiful landscapes to dense urban cities. The book itself is high fantasy with a mix of sci-fi, and it works well.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters come to life in Rabbit's book, especially the younger characters, who are the protagonists. Rabbit is adept at portraying tweens, who are the intended audience of Edge Anomaly.

  • Mr. Barsin's Toy Emporium

    by Lois Wickstrom

    Rating: 9.25


    Plot: In addition to the usual contingent of toys, Mr. Barsin’s Toy Emporium features sylphs, gnomes, dragons and mermaids, but these beings are visible only to humans with imaginations. Mr. Barsin himself is an enigma—he doesn’t smell quite right, a red flaming aura suggests he may be part dragon, and does he really want to help Lily, Jack, Audrey, and Nick find imaginary playmates, or is he up to something darker? Lois Wickstrom, with a couple dozen children’s books to her credit, creates a story full of wonders that nonetheless manages to present some mysteries for those who visit the emporium and find the magic door that leads to a garden that simultaneously exists in spring, summer, fall and winter. As the story continues, however, it becomes fairly convoluted, and the chapter titles are cursory and unhelpful.

    Prose/Style: This is a story for upper elementary school students. Some of the vocabulary will be challenging, but the somewhat complex syntax offers wonderful opportunities for an adult reader to animate the story while reading it aloud to kids.

    Originality: This story has elements of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the four different children who are its main characters, and the concept of a beloved toy store to house imaginaries until their child can claim them is quite wonderful. However, the story also gets pretty dark as it develops, though it is not entirely clear to what end. The conflicts between the children and their parents are somewhat extreme in a book for pre-teens.

    Character Development/Execution: Wickstrom offers the reader an interesting, unusual, and carefully delineated range of characters. Lily has been in a wheelchair since the accident that took her mother’s life; Jack has somewhat indulgent and overprotective parents and a grumpy grandma; Audrey is a bold and outspoken child of divorce who is determined to slay a dragon; and Nick is angry at his mother and just plain naughty. Mr. Barsin is a mysterious character with magical powers, and the sylphs and other imaginaries turn out to have unique personalities as well.

  • Ylmi's Saga

    by Evan Oliver

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: Ylmi Bodvarsdottir and her family – or what’s left of it – have been banished by Unhost from the village (where settlers have made a disadvantageous bargain with a dragon) to the mountains and now food is ever more scarce and life is hard. Ylmi learns to hunt and makes friends with many of the other mountain dwellers of Vrania, but her hope is to find a way for her family to return to the village where they would have the help of neighbors as they struggle to survive in a harsh land and to best the man who has exiled them all in the name of placating the dragon. It is Ylmi’s task to vanquish the dragon before her family can return to any semblance of safety, but even after she has done so, Unhost steals the dragon’s gold and leaves Ylmi to find another way to save her family. The plot is a free-flowing recitation of Ylmi’s adventures and challenges as she becomes a fearless hunter and warrior for her people.

    Prose/Style: The story of Ylmi is ornamented with many other stories, folktales really, told her by her parents, and her own story is told as if it too were a folktale, with somewhat archaic language and syntax.

    Originality: Ylmi’s Saga, the second book in The Legends of Kara series, is concerned with elaborating on the fantasy land of Vrania and the people and creatures who live there. New places and characters are introduced with dizzying frequency as the plot unfolds.

    Character Development/Execution: The are dozens upon dozens of characters in this YA novel, many of them with names difficult to pronounce or spell, which makes the story hard to follow at times. But as is appropriate for a folktale, Ylmi is a consistent character whose qualities do not change but become more pronounced as she meets challenge after challenge. There is no psychological subtlety here, just a fast-paced will-imagined adventure story in a very foreign land.

  • Life and Death

    by Selenia Paz

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: This page-turner of a mystery follows the disappearance of a young boy in Mexico and his sister and friend's quest to find him. Their path is mired with monsters, some friends, and some foes. Readers will enjoy the developing suspicions and surprises.

    Prose: Paz's prose is evenly paced and ideally written for young readers. Spanish words and phrases are both educational and well-placed.

    Originality: Though Life and Death is unique in its subversion of the traditional tale of La Llorona, it shines as a story on coping with loss. The death of Miguel's grandfather, the disappearance of Natalia's brother, and the loss of La Llorona’s children show unique perspectives on grief.

    Character/Execution: Miguel and Natalia, the novel's principal characters, are well-fleshed out, though they do come across as somewhat younger than their years. The wealth of supporting characters, particularly La Llorona, El Charro, and Death, are both fascinating and memorable.

    Blurb: Paz has created a wonderful young adult book. While Life and Death is itself an enthralling fantastical mystery, it also explores the complexities of grief and loss, while simultaneously educating readers on Latin American folklore.

  • Rocking Chair Moon

    by David Patneaude

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: A novel-in-verse in the tradition of Out of the Dust and Brown Girl Dreaming, David Patneaude's Rocking Chair Moon is a dual first-person narrative that chronicles the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual maturation of siblings Carly and Ben. As the family shares its everyday joys and is broken by catastrophic loss, only to rebuild and become even more close-knit, Carly and Ben grow in stature and strength as they navigate the perils and complexities of a millennial childhood.

    Prose/Style: Beautifully and thoughtfully written, with nods to the poetic canon that gently acknowledge but never belabor Patneaude's influences, the form of each vignette mirrors the content, with Ben, the terse brother, being the more apt to express himself in epigrammatic haiku, and sister Carly, who loves language in general and is more likely to flow into stream of consciousness description and reflection. While the early poems seem a trifle too sophisticated in style and vocabulary to be entirely convincing as being voiced by two young children, as the siblings age into their eloquence, the book becomes ever more compelling.

    Originality: A work of fiction written in verse is far from a novelty, but this is an excellent example of what can be done with a narrative arc, sustained thematic content and genuinely engaging character development within the poetic from in a skillful pair of hands. As the family grows, breaks, heals, is broken again, and rises anew, Carly and Ben become stronger and mature into survivors who display consistent grace of heart and integrity of spirit before the reader's eyes

    Character Development/Execution: The deep bond Carly and Ben share is compelling, authentic, and utterly convincing. Beauty and quiet truth reside in these pages.

  • Plot: Tally and the Angel go forth to battle evil forces that are kidnapping the children of Agra and threatening the land of India with mass extermination. A paranormal fantasy for readers age 8-12, this book is sure to appeal to older readers who relish a well-spun tale of fantasy and adventure.

    Prose/Style: Dixon writes with verve, humor and considerable charm. Her pacing is impeccable, and her powers of invention and description are immense.

    Originality: A magic amulet is no great surprise in a chidren's book; a magic amulet containing an angel is something else again, but Dixon pulls it off. One of the story's many strengths is that the Angel Jophiel, seemingly of the Judeo-Christian tradition, coexists in harmony with the gods and goddesses of Hindu lore.

    Character Development/Execution: Tally is an appealing heroine, and not the least of her appeal is that she struggles with the small temptations and character defects with which many young readers will identify. The love between Tally and her mother and father is tenderly and beautifully portrayed.

  • Boy Between Worlds Book Two: The Novice Collector

    by Cynthia Huijgens

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: On his thirteenth birthday, Max Mead wakes up battered and bruised in the villa of grandfather, an antiquities expert, in Cairo. Grandpa, owner of the magical Cabinet of Curiosities, makes Max a novice collector under his tutelage and is eager to give Max the information he needs before it is too late in this adventurous tale.

    Prose/Style: The vocabulary and syntax are appropriate to a YA audience and the story flows effortlessly, cleverly integrating the pedestrian and the supernatural, making the magic seem like a normal part of Max’s experience.

    Originality: This is a sequel to Boy Between Worlds: The Cabinet of Curiosities, but a synopsis of that book at the beginning of this one means the reader can dive right in. Huijgens gives great importance to this particular birthday, implicitly acknowledging the tradition in many cultures that children have achieved a significant level of maturity and responsibility when they turn thirteen.

    Character Development/Execution: In this coming-of-age story, Max is able to determine and articulate how he wants his life to be different from the way it has been in the past. Nonetheless, he is still a child and subject to childish behavior. He learns to take responsibility for his choices and their consequences so that he can play the part he has been destined for in the restitution of Egyptian patrimony, which, his grandfather tells him, cannot continue without his participation.

    Blurb: Max Mead is a splendid boy to go adventuring with--smart, articulate, independent. He is armed with his grandfather's tutelage and a magical Cabinet of Curiosities. How with the thieves of Egypt's historical artifacts stand a chance?

  • The Book of Uriel: A Novel of WWII

    by Elyse Hoffman

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: Hoffman’s novel is well-plotted and obviously well-researched. She also introduces a number of surprises in regards to plot, genre, and characters.  While the story progresses a bit slowly and has some occasional lulls, the narrative flows smoothly and logically. Fantastical elements are finely balanced with more realistic details.

    Prose: Hoffman’s prose is full of beautiful imagery and excels at “showing, not telling.” The author doesn't shy from sometimes graphic and gut-punching moments. Told from the third-person omniscient POV, Hoffman does an excellent job of portraying the characters’ emotions through imagery and their gestures, mannerism, and actions, especially in the case of Uriel, a mute boy.

    Originality: Readers will find all the elements of a classic historical fiction novel but with a twist of fantasy and the supernatural, as well as a focus on a divine, heaven endowed quest. Another element that readers will appreciate is the rich history of the Jewish people and religion woven seamlessly throughout the story.

    Character/Execution: The two protagonists, Uwe, translator for the Ordnungspolizei, and Uriel, a mute Jewish boy, are extremely convincing in their roles as individuals from vastly different worlds who become allies. Uwe has the greatest character development, as he moves from a shy, quiet man to a courageous, outspoken ally of the Jewish people. Uwe and Uriel prove themselves to be truly righteous, brave, and intelligent and will steal the hearts of readers. Though antagonist Major Brandt, leader of the Ordnungspolizei, is somewhat unconvincing, secondary characters generally serve the story well and are essential to the narrative as a whole.

    Blurb: A truly unique work of fantastical, historical fiction set in Nazi Germany that will keep readers engaged and invested in the characters and their fates. 

  • The Treasure of Peril Island

    by C.W. James

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: The author has crafted a fun and engaging story line that will hold readers' interest from beginning to end. The story unfolds at a quick and steady pace, sustaining intrigue throughout.

    Prose: The author is clearly a gifted writer who is able to craft an engrossing narrative using age-appropriate language. Here is a perfect balance of action, description, and dialogue that captures the timeless spirit of swashbuckling adventure.

    Originality: Pirate stories are hardly novel, but James puts a fresh spin on a familiar genre. This is a fun and unique work that allows readers to return to the perilous days when pirates ruled the seas.

    Character/Execution: The author excels at creating lively, substantive, and memorable characters. Particularly noteworthy is Jack, a sympathetic and smart protagonist that the reader roots for from the start. 

  • The Way of the River: Kellandale Wood (Book One)

    by Shan L. Spyker

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: The Wolton family manor, Kellendale, is 400 years old and surrounded by a malevolent (according to their parents) magical forest that 15-year-old Elinor and her impetuous, intrepid younger sister Tillie are forbidden to enter. What could be more alluring, especially after the girls see a strange man drop a parcel off a bridge into the river? There’s just enough intrigue to send the sisters into to the forbidden wood, full of wild animals, in search of the mysterious parcel. Elinor and Tillie discover a sentient forest and a community of unlikely empathic wildlife with abilities far beyond what they could ever imagine.

    Prose/Style: A middle-school reading level and fast-paced action make this an easily accessible story for the 8+ contingent.

    Originality: In this first book of the Kellendale Wood series, Spyker has carefully set the stage for an adventure in the spirit of C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, with an added emphasis on animal well-being and the interconnectedness of all living beings.

    Character Development/Execution: Spyker draws her extensive cast of human and non-human characters sympathetically and adds detail and depth as readers go along, making them feel as if they are becoming close friends with the protagonists and their many relatives.

    Blurb: Written for middle schoolers, The Way of the River is an adventure in the spirit of The Chronicles of Narnia, with an added emphasis on animal well-being and the interconnectedness of all living beings.