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Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
Expected Publication Date: February 24th, 2015
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Genre: Historical Fiction/Magical Realism
Ages: 8-12

Music, magic, and a real-life miracle meld in this genre-defying masterpiece from storytelling maestro Pam Munoz Ryan.
Lost and alone a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.
Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo.
Richly imagined and masterfully crafted, ECHO pushes the boundaries of genre and form, and shows us what is possible in how we tell stories. The result is an impassioned, uplifting, and virtuosic tour de force that will resound in your heart long after the last note has been struck.

I found this book to be beautifully executed by Ryan who begins with a fairy tale involving a mystical harmonica to set the stage for her three characters whose stories become interconnected. Three children, Friedrich, Mike and Ivy, growing up before and during WWII, are brought together through this harmonica and along the way we learn about their lives and the struggles they endure. Set before and during WWII, we get a fictional glimpse of  life in Nazi Germany, hardscrabble American society, and social injustice and segregation in California. The story is immensely satisfying and inspiring and I was impressed with the historical research. A must read for 2015!
Reviewed by Christine at Books Inc. in the Castro

James Marshall’s George and Martha books have a permanent spot on my bedside table. I read them when I’m trying to get to sleep, or for a laugh in the morning, or when I’m wanting inspiration, or feeling low. They’re everything I think children’s books should be, from the hilarious illustrations to the pitch-perfect dialogue to the comic timing to the heart.  
 
Everything is wonderfully deadpan in these hippos’ respective worlds, and their problems — from Martha’s diminishing confidence as she walks a tightrope, to George’s hatred of the endless split-pea soup he’s served — are treated with the upmost importance and sincerity. The action begins from the very first sentence and, two or three pages later, everything is resolved. Well, sort of.  
 
Much like a comedian, Marshall generally opens with an absurd premise, and then simply commits to it until it makes a certain skewed amount of sense. But these aren’t just absurdist stories — they have plenty of warmth and emotion, as the hippos demonstrate genuine feelings and what it takes to maintain a real friendship.  
 
Marshall writes and draws with a seemingly effortless touch, making humor look easy. But according to his friend, Maurice Sendak, in his foreword to the posthumous Marshall collection, George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends, Marshall labored over his work, endlessly redrawing his hippos, to achieve just the right expressions, the right looks, the right moments.  
 
George and Martha books never disappoint me. No pressure, but please immediately add them all to your collection if they’re not already on your bedside table.


Jory John is the author of Goodnight Already!

and co-author of The Terrible Two series and

the national bestseller All My Friends Are Dead,

among many other books.
   

Villain Keeper (Last Dragon Charmer #1) by Laurie McKay
Expected Publication Date: February 3rd, 2015
Publisher: HarperCollins
Page Count: 352 pages
Ages: 8-12
Genre: Fantasy

The first book in an epic new series for fans of The School for Good and Evil and The Land of Stories.

All his life, Prince Caden has dreamed of slaying a dragon. But before he has the chance, he is ripped from his home in the Great Winterlands of Razzon and finds himself in Asheville, North Carolina--a land with no magic and no dragons.

Or so he thinks. The longer Caden spends in Asheville, the more he comes to realize that there is unexpected and dangerous magic in this strange land. There just may be dragons here, too. But what if Caden's destiny isn't to slay a dragon, after all?

Why we can't wait: I love the concept of fantasy entering reality, and I think this is going to be an awesome read for those who love Harry Potter, School for Good and Evil, and Thrones and Bones. Also, that cover is just really cool. Kind of medieval, kind of modern, a dragon!

Joelle has performed in opera and musical theater productions across Chicagoland. She now teaches private voice lessons and is the author of the New York Times best selling THE TESTING trilogy (THE TESTING, INDEPENDENT STUDY and GRADUATION DAY) as well as two mystery series: The Rebecca Robbins mysteries (Minotaur Books) and the Glee Club mysteries (Berkley). Her YA books have appeared on the Indie Next List, on the YALSA Top 10 books for 2014 as well as the YALSA Quick Picks for reluctant readers. Paramount optioned THE TESTING as the project is currently in development.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s graduation day for sixteen-year-old Malencia Vale, and the entire Five Lakes Colony (the former Great Lakes) is celebrating. All Cia can think about—hope for—is whether she’ll be chosen for The Testing, a United Commonwealth program that selects the best and brightest new graduates to become possible leaders of the slowly revitalizing post-war civilization. When Cia is chosen, her father finally tells her about his own nightmarish half-memories of The Testing. Armed with his dire warnings (“Cia, trust no one”), she bravely heads off to Tosu City, far away from friends and family, perhaps forever. Danger, romance—and sheer terror—await.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. The United Commonwealth, the setting of THE TESTING, children are chosen as candidates to take tests which ultimately allow them to attend university and grant them brighter futures. What was your inspiration for this situation?
    THE TESTING concept came out of my work with my voice students.  For years, I’ve worked closely with my private voice students as they navigate the testing, application and audition process required to be accepted into college.  The pressure on our high school students is greater than ever before. The need to be better and brighter than the other applicants has never been more keenly felt.  Students are hyper aware that every answer they give could impact the quality of their future. Some of my students handle the pressure better than others and it is never easy to see a student falter.  The teacher and parent in me can’t help but be worried that the benchmark of success has risen too high and that soon it will be more than our youth can handle.  The writer couldn’t help but wonder how much worse the process could become and what tests a future world might want to institute in order to select the next generation of leaders.  And thus The Testing was born.
  2. How much research did you do while writing THE TESTING?
    A lot!  The seven stages of war that is the backstory for the fall of the world required a lot of research into WWI and WWII.  I wanted to use a real model for a global conflict to create my own.  I also had to do a ton of reading on the biological and chemical weapons that are in service now as well as those that are currently being developed and the effects those things might have alone and if they were somehow mixed together.  Oh - and there was also the matter of figuring out how many miles a person could bicycle on any given day on rough terrain and on smooth pavement.  It's amazing how much research you need to do when you create a main character that is smarter than you.
  3. THE TESTING is set in a dystopian society; what kind of social and political themes were you trying to get across the most?
    First and foremost, I was trying to tell a really fun story.  But as the story developed, I enjoyed exploring themes that delved into our current education system and the stress we have put on Testing at every level to determine a student's potential.  I truly believe that potential cannot be measured, but that kids start limiting their belief in themselves based on the outcome of tests early in their lives.  It was also interesting to play with the political side.  Our current political landscape seems to discourage any leader from admitting that something went wrong.  Admitting to a mistake is basically political suicide, and yet everyone makes mistakes.  Scientists will tell you that you often have to use trial and error to find the result you are looking for.  We don't allow that in our leaders.  We expect them to be perfect, which means they often put systems in place that they think are good ideas and when they realize they aren't they don't replace them with something else.  They just keep trying to make the bad idea better.  No Child Left Behind, which really pushed the current testing agenda in our schools, is a good example of that current political trend.  No one actually thinks it works, but the laws that govern the testing are still on the books because no one will admit they failed and repeal them.  Maybe someday the media and the rest of us will applaud someone that says they made a mistake instead of verbally flaying them.  If that happens, the system might have a chance to change for the better.
  4. Cia is a strong, independent female protagonist. Did you base her off of anyone you know?
    You know, I didn't base her off of any one person, but I do think she reflects some of the best traits I see in my female high school voice students.  Most of them are strong and smart and optimistic about the future.  They all have a strong desire to go out in the world and make a difference.  They are awesome and I couldn't be prouder of them, so I hope they see a piece of themselves in Cia.
  5. While you’re writing, are there any books you try to avoid? Do you read within the same genre you’re writing, or do you try to read the complete opposite?
    I read a wide range of genres, but I love mysteries and thrillers.  I often will read a mystery or a thriller that is completely in a different part of the genre than I'm writing in.  Also, I tend to do a lot of re-reading when I write.  A great book sucks you in and makes you want to stop everything in order to finish the story.  That is great for the reader in me, but really bad for my productivity as a writer.  Re-reading allows me to get my story fix, but because I know where the story is going I don't have that desperate need to keep turning the pages and I can put the book down and get to work.
  6. The film rights for THE TESTING have been acquired, who would you like to see cast?
    This is such a hard question because I think it really depends on the script and the vision the director has.  (This is the actress in me talking.)  However, I do think that Sigourney Weaver would make an excellent President Collindar.  I also would love to see Dennis Quaid as Dr. Barnes. (Maybe because I think he has the best smile ever and I'd love to get the opportunity to meet him.)  Emma Watson is my dream Stacia.  I automatically think smart girl when I see her.  Freddie Highmore strikes me as the Tomas type.  As for Cia - there have been lots of names thrown out there, but I'd love to see her as an unknown actress or someone who isn't as well known, yet.  I'd love for the audience to see her and not think of all the other roles she played but think of her as Cia.
  7. If you weren’t an author, what would your ideal career be?
    A superhero?  Um…I love teaching voice and acting, so I feel like I should say one of those.  But I think I'd love to go back to school for a law degree and then run for Congress.  Which seems insane, but I'd do it if I had more time!
  8. Are you a pantser or a plotter?
    I am a pantser who is jealous of all plotters.
  9. Coffee or tea?
    Tea.  (Unless the coffee has whipped cream on it.)
  10. Favorite show? Movie? Band?
    Orphan Black, The Fugitive (or Die Hard), and oh - this is hard!  Can I go with favorite singer?  Because I'm a total Billy Joel buff! 

Joelle will be at Books Inc. Opera Plaza on January 28th at 7pm where she'll sign books and answer any of your other questions!


And don't forget to enter our celebratory giveaway for a box of ARCs HERE!
 

 

Picture Books (Ages 3-6)

Middle Grade (Ages 8-12)

So many goodies out this week!! I can't wait to check out The Prey by Tom Isbell!



Yes! Rachel Hartman, author of the beautiful, fantastical SERAPHINA is coming to Books Inc. Palo Alto and we're celebrating with a giveaway!

The Deets:
* One lucky winner will receive a package of ARCs!
* Entries must be submitted through the Rafflecopter form.
* Must be 13 or older to enter.
US ONLY
* Prize will be shipped via UPS, PO Box addresses not accepted.
* We are not responsible for any lost, stolen, or damaged packages.

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Bad Magic by Pseudonymous Bosch
Publication Date: September 16th, 2014
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Genre: Action/Adventure, Fantasy

A "magical" new series from Pseudonymous Bosh, the bestselling author of the Secret Series. Magic is BAD. As in fake. Cheesy. Unreal. At least, that's what Clay, who has seen one magic show too many, thinks. When words from his journal appear mysteriously on his school wall as graffiti, he never imagines that magic might be to blame. And when the same graffiti lands him at Earth Ranch, a camp for "troubled" kids on a remote volcanic island, magic is the last thing he expects to find there. But at Earth Ranch, there is one strange surprise after another, until Clay no longer knows what to expect. Is he really talking to a llama? Did he really see a ghost? What is the scary secret hidden in the abandoned library? The only thing he knows for sure is that behind the clouds of vog (volcanic smog), nothing is as it seems. Can he solve the riddle of Earth Ranch before trouble erupts? Elusive author Pseudonymous Bosch introduces an extraordinary new series that will have you believing in the unbelievable.

People may be wondering if Pseudonymous Bosch's new book, Bad Magic, can live up to the high expectations garnered from his popular Secret Series, and the answer is absolutely it can. Bad Magic has the same cheeky wit Bosch is known for combined with a fast paced story of intrigue, self discovery, and wonderfully bad magic. His footnotes are hilarious (and educational with allusions to such famous pieces of art as Gilligan's Island, The Loveboat, and William Shakespeare's The Tempest), and the story is never dull as the main character, Clay, is put in exceedingly more ridiculous situations where he is forced to uncover the truth on a mysterious island. Even though it has elements any fantasy or mystery lover would enjoy, ultimately Bad Magic is about standing up for yourself and believing in your own abilities. Clay begins his journey shy and troubled, and ends with courage, a sense of adventure, and friends he never thought he'd have. A perfect read for those who loved the Secret Series, but also anyone who loves a good old rollicking adventure.
Reviewed by Irene from Books Inc. Palo Alto

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Publication Date: January 6th, 2015
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Genre: Contemporary fiction/Romance

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister's recent death.
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it's unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the "natural wonders" of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It's only with Violet that Finch can be himself--a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who's not such a freak after all. And it's only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet's world grows, Finch's begins to shrink.

For a book about suicide, All the Bright Places begins with one of the most lighthearted interactions you can imagine. As Theodore Finch stands on the top of the bell tower, contemplating whether or not today will be the day he jumps, he looks over and notices a girl standing just a few feet away, presumably contemplating the same thing. “Come here often? Because this is kind of my spot and I don’t remember seeing you here before” he says to her. And with that I was hooked.

All the Bright Places is a love story, but not just any love story. It’s an unconventional, whirlwind of a romance about a boy who’s spent his entire life consumed with the idea of death and a girl whose life stopped the day her sister died. Ironically, Theodore – an expert on death and the many ways a person can achieve it – teaches Violet how important it is to truly live. Jennifer Niven has crafted a love story that’s less about the good days and more about the bad days. She paints an exceptional picture of what it’s like to love someone whose entire existence has been dulled by irrational anger, dark mood swings, and a pure disgust for oneself. She shows readers how important it is to let yourself be heard, and to stop hiding the pain that so many of us carry, covered up by a smile.

Theodore Finch and Violet Markey are two remarkable characters, haunted by their individual traumas and simply moving through life one foot at a time. I am in awe by the sheer beauty of this story and everything it stands for. The emotional rollercoaster that is All the Bright Places is not to be missed and will easily hold its place as one of the best books of 2015.
Anna from Books Inc. Palo Alto

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