New Releases

Another year comes to a close and we reflect on the journey we’ve gone while also looking forward towards the journey to come. As for the publishing world, just one more diverse new release to wrap up the year, and one exciting new release in January to start off what will be a very exciting year for diverse reads.

Shadow Girl by Liana Liu

Liana Liu’s sophomore YA novel is a mysterious, modern-day Upstairs, Downstairs set in a wealthy seaside resort town.

The house on Arrow Island is full of mystery.

Yet when Mei arrives, she can’t help feeling relieved. She’s happy to spend the summer in an actual mansion tutoring a rich man’s daughter if it means a break from her normal life—her needy mother, her delinquent brother, their tiny apartment in the city. And Ella Morison seems like an easy charge, sweet and well behaved.

What Mei doesn’t know is that something is very wrong in the Morison household.

Though she tries to focus on her duties, Mei becomes increasingly distracted by the family’s problems and her own complicated feelings for Ella’s brother, Henry. But most disturbing of all are the unexplained noises she hears at night—the howling and thumping and cries.

Mei is a sensible girl. She isn’t superstitious; she doesn’t believe in ghosts. Yet she can’t shake her fear that there is danger lurking in the shadows of this beautiful house, a darkness that could destroy the family inside and out…and Mei along with them.

The Memory Key author Liana Liu delivers a thrilling story of one girl struggling to claim her own identity while becoming an unwitting participant in the strange fate of a wealthy dynasty.


Coming January 2nd.

Batman Nightwalker (DC Icons #2) by Marie Lu
Random House Books for Young Readers

Before he was Batman, he was Bruce Wayne. A reckless boy willing to break the rules for a girl who may be his worst enemy.

The Nightwalkers are terrorizing Gotham City, and Bruce Wayne is next on their list.

One by one, the city’s elites are being executed as their mansions’ security systems turn against them, trapping them like prey. Meanwhile, Bruce is turning eighteen and about to inherit his family’s fortune, not to mention the keys to Wayne Enterprises and all the tech gadgetry his heart could ever desire. But after a run-in with the police, he’s forced to do community service at Arkham Asylum, the infamous prison that holds the city’s most brutal criminals.

Madeleine Wallace is a brilliant killer . . . and Bruce’s only hope.

In Arkham, Bruce meets Madeleine, a brilliant girl with ties to the Nightwalkers. What is she hiding? And why will she speak only to Bruce? Madeleine is the mystery Bruce must unravel. But is he getting her to divulge her secrets, or is he feeding her the information she needs to bring Gotham City to its knees? Bruce will walk the dark line between trust and betrayal as the Nightwalkers circle closer.

Winter Reading List

The weather outside is frightful (or in my case, just annoying chilly), and that means it’s time to curl up with a mug of hot chocolate and a good book or three! Here are my top three books that I plan to read this winter. Are any of these on your to-read list? And what else is on YOUR reading list?

Akata WarriorAkata Warrior (Akata Witch #2) by Nnedi Okorafor
A year ago, Sunny Nwazue, an American-born girl Nigerian girl, was inducted into the secret Leopard Society. As she began to develop her magical powers, Sunny learned that she had been chosen to lead a dangerous mission to avert an apocalypse, brought about by the terrifying masquerade, Ekwensu. Now, stronger, feistier, and a bit older, Sunny is studying with her mentor Sugar Cream and struggling to unlock the secrets in her strange Nsibidi book.

Eventually, Sunny knows she must confront her destiny. With the support of her Leopard Society friends, Orlu, Chichi, and Sasha, and of her spirit face, Anyanwu, she will travel through worlds both visible and invisible to the mysteries town of Osisi, where she will fight a climactic battle to save humanity. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Calling My Name by Liara Tamani
Taja Brown lives with her parents and older brother and younger sister, in Houston, Texas. Taja has always known what the expectations of her conservative and tightly-knit African American family are—do well in school, go to church every Sunday, no intimacy before marriage. But Taja is trying to keep up with friends as they get their first kisses, first boyfriends, first everythings. And she’s tired of cheering for her athletic younger sister and an older brother who has more freedom just because he’s a boy. Taja dreams of going to college and forging her own relationship with the world and with God, but when she falls in love for the first time, those dreams are suddenly in danger of evaporating. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Shadow Girl by Liana Liu
The house on Arrow Island is full of mystery. Yet when Mei arrives, she can’t help feeling relieved. She’s happy to spend the summer in an actual mansion tutoring a rich man’s daughter if it means a break from her normal life—her needy mother, her delinquent brother, their tiny apartment in the city. And Ella Morison seems like an easy charge, sweet and well behaved.

What Mei doesn’t know is that something is very wrong in the Morison household. Though she tries to focus on her duties, Mei becomes increasingly distracted by the family’s problems and her own complicated feelings for Ella’s brother, Henry. But most disturbing of all are the unexplained noises she hears at night—the howling and thumping and cries.

Mei is a sensible girl. She isn’t superstitious; she doesn’t believe in ghosts. Yet she can’t shake her fear that there is danger lurking in the shadows of this beautiful house, a darkness that could destroy the family inside and out…and Mei along with them. [Image and summary via Goodreads]



This week we did not find any new releases. Instead we have two mini-reviews.

Title: Evangelina Takes Flight
Author: Diana J. Noble
Publisher: Arte Publico Press
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 195
Availability: On shelves now
Review Copy: Final copy provided by publisher

Summary: “If they do come here, they’ll show us no mercy,” thirteen-year-old Evangelina overhears her father say as she gathers eggs in the chicken pen. Back at the house, Mamá brushes away her fears of revolutionaries. There are even more chores than usual to be done at Rancho Encantado because her sister’s quinceañera celebration is rapidly approaching!

It’s the summer of 1911 in northern Mexico, and soon the de León family learns that the rumors of soldiers in the region are true. Evangelina’s father decides they must leave their home to avoid the violence. The trip north to a small town on the U.S. side of the border is filled with fear and anxiety as they worry about loved ones left behind and the uncertain future ahead.

Life in Texas is confusing, though the signs in shop windows that say “No Mexicans” and some people’s reactions to them are all-too clear. At school, she encounters the same puzzling resentment. The teacher wants to give the Mexican children lessons on basic hygiene! And one girl in particular delights in taunting the foreign-born students. Why can’t people understand that—even though she’s only starting to learn English—she’s just like them?

With the help and encouragement of the town’s doctor and the attentions of a handsome boy, Evangelina begins to imagine a new future for herself. This moving historical novel introduces teens to the tumultuous times of the Mexican Revolution and the experiences of immigrants, especially Mexican Americans, as they adjust to a new way of life.

Review: Evangelina is part of a loving family and she enjoys the quiet predictability of their days. Her older sister thinks where they live is boring and wishes to go to someplace like Paris, France, but Evangelina sees the beauty there and never wants to leave. With the revolution coming closer and closer to their home though, her family leaves for safety.

Evangelina has a tender heart and is often helping those around her be they family or strangers. That makes it even more puzzling to her that the people in Texas glare at them, insult them, and have signs in store windows saying, “No Mexicans.” Evangelina cannot understand how people treat her and her family so poorly without even knowing them. They face a lot of hostility as they try to make their way in this new place.

Evangelina has a close relationship with her grandfather. He is a storyteller, but he also encourages her. He tells her to dream and to reach for those dreams. When her family is struggling, she looks for ways to help. She impresses a local doctor and when he offers her a job, she is eager to take it so she can give her earnings to her family. The doctor ends up being a white savior figure, though Evangelina does some of the work to solve problems too.

Recommendation: Those looking for historical fiction will find this a way to get a glimpse into Texas/Mexican relations in the early 1900s. It would be a nice one to pair with Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s Shame the Stars which also takes place during the Mexican Revolution

Title: The Cholo Tree
Author: Daniel Chacon
Publisher: Arte Publico Press
Genre: Contemporary
Pages: 248
Availability: On shelves now
Review Copy: Final copy provided by publisher

Summary: This novel follows a young Chicano artist who develops his craft while dealing with the daily struggles of his family, community and his own addictions.

Review: Victor keeps explaining that he is not a cholo. He’s not the thug everyone seems to see when they look at him. His mother, teachers, and many people in his life keep labeling him a cholo based on his appearance since he’s brown skinned and wears clothes people associate with gangs. That’s not how he sees himself though. He sees himself as an artist before anything else.He just wants to be himself and be seen for who he is and not who people expect him to be.

Victor has a few people in his life who see potential in him and they encourage his art and help him to dream and see past the present. He loves to draw and create. He even creates in the kitchen. He enjoys making food and feeding people his creations. His art and cooking are things he can hold onto when things around him are taking a turn for the worse.

The Cholo Tree takes a good hard look at perceptions and assumptions and how those can be at work in someone’s life. This book is harsh and raw at times as Victor struggles to get a vision of who he is and who he wants to be. There are deep moments of introspection and philosophy, but there are also some playful times. Victor has imaginary friends. Yes, this fourteen year old boy has an imaginary chef helping him with his cooking. Sometimes the imaginary bits seemed a little out of place in the midst of things like gang shootings, but it mostly worked.

Recommendation: Get this one someday if you like contemporary books with an interesting character. Victor has a lot of layers. The writing isn’t always smooth, but Victor’s story is compelling.

Review: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

Title: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
Author: Erika L. Sánchez
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 352
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available for purchase now

Summary: Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family.

But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s role.

Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed.

But it’s not long before Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. With the help of her best friend Lorena, and her first kiss, first love, first everything boyfriend Connor, Julia is determined to find out. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?

Review: (Note: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter includes sexual harassment, sexual assault, mentions of rape, brief descriptions of attempted suicide, homomisia, sex-shaming, fat-shaming, murder, and a semi-graphic description of an animal being slaughtered.)

This review is going to be a difficult one to write. On the one hand, there are a lot of excellent parts in Erika L. Sánchez’s debut—a prickly, angry heroine who deals with anxiety and depression, struggling to survive in the aftermath of her older sister’s death and trying to forge an identity and future for herself in spite of her parents’ demands and expectations. Mexican culture and the Spanish language permeate every corner of the book, and Julia’s opinion of and experience in Chicago are colored by all of that.

There’s also a lot of discussion about immigration, from the very real dangers and fear that compel some to risk everything to cross the border to the alienation and loneliness of being kept apart from family. At one point, Julia’s English teacher urges her to write about her parents’ undocumented status for a college entrance essay, and Julia’s immediate reaction is fear for her parents and disbelief that he would ask her to do that. Her family and community have seen lives torn apart by immigration enforcement; how can he be so cavalier about suggesting she expose her parents when there have been raids at the plant her father works in?

Julia’s anxiety and depression are also important to see on the page, both how mental illness is generally not talked about in Latinx communities and also in positive depictions of therapy and medication. This is the third YA book I’ve read in the last few years that stars a Latinx character who deals with mental illness (When Reason Breaks by Cindy L. Rodriguez and The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork being the other two), and it is reassuring to know that there is yet another novel out there to help Latinx teens.

Unfortunately, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter’s helpfulness will be limited by its unrepentant fat-shaming. While the sex-shaming generally gets a not-insignificant amount of pushback, either from Julia’s commentary on double standards or from a conversation with her therapist, the fat-shaming largely goes unchallenged. And it is pretty awful and omnipresent: “Amá says Paloma has a thyroid problem, and I feel bad for her, but I’ve seen her eat three tortas in one sitting. Thyroid, my ass,” or “She is always sucking her teeth at what I’m wearing or making some comment about my weight, even though she’s more floppy and misshapen than a sack of laundry,” or “Even if they’re fat, they move as if they think they’re fabulous.” That last one is a clear moment where Julia’s own internalized fat-shaming has popped up, but aside from a brief passage where Julia points out that she’s fat on the U.S. side and too skinny on the Mexican side, all of this cruelty and snark and disgust about other people’s bodies is a slap to the reader’s face. It has been a while since I’ve read a book that made me feel this awful about my own fat Latina self, so take that under advisement before you dive in.

Otherwise, IANYPMD felt unbalanced plot-wise. Based on the summary, I expected this to focus mostly on Julia, her best friend, and her boyfriend uncovering the mysteries of Olga, but Olga gets shoved aside for a good chunk of the book to grapple with Julia’s problems, and the best friend and boyfriend do almost nothing to help uncover those mysteries. This had the unfortunate consequence of giving these supporting characters too little depth to be adequate supports for Julia’s story, and Olga’s story turns more into a distraction or an afterthought than anything else. I think I would have preferred there was no mystery to Olga because of how inadequately her story was handled.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday. While I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter tackles important and timely issues related to mental health, immigration, and the Mexican-American community, the novel is kept from greatness by its pervasive fat-shaming and unbalanced plot.

Mini-Review: Code Name: Butterfly

Title: Code Name: Butterfly
Author: Ahlam Bharat, Translation by Nancy Roberts
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 90 pages
Publisher: Neem Tree Press
Review Copy: Copy from publisher
Availability: In Bookstores

Summary: Should you feel bad if your dad works for the Israeli occupiers? What if he loses his job? And how are you supposed to cope when someone close to you dies?

Butterfly is smart. Some people even say she’s shrewd, but that doesn’t make life any less confusing. Every day throws up new questions and some are too big for her to handle alone. Squirrelling away the difficult ones in her treasure chest, Butterfly creates a place of strength in her imagination. While her classmates turn to protest and violence, Butterfly finds her own form of resilience, her own secret way to find peace in a world of conflict and uncertainty.

Written with ironic humour and touching idealism, Butterfly looks back at a turbulent summer in her early teens, drawing us into her world of adult hypocrisy, sibling rivalries, power struggles with her school friends, unrequited love… and the daily tensions of Palestinian life under military occupation. A teenage perspective on one of the most protracted conflicts of our times, Code Name: Butterfly is a story for all teens grappling with friendship, family and the emotional storms ahead.

Review: Unfortunately American publishers export more novels than we import, therefore we miss out on numerous stories from around the world, specifically books in translation. That is why when I was offered the opportunity to read a book in translation, I jumped at the chance. Code Name: Butterfly allowed me a window in the world of a Palestinian teen who is trying to make sense and find her place in her world.

While no specific age is given, the main character, who never gives the reader her name and refers to herself as a butterfly, reminded me of my 7th grade students. At that age, they become goofy because puberty is hitting hard and they are trying to make sense of what their body is doing, as well as their brain moves into a different developmental stage and all of a sudden they are filled with all these questions and thoughts. Many times young teens tend to keep these questions to themselves, which is what our butterfly does – she keeps her questions in a mental treasure chest. I loved this aspect of her character because it was real to her and they way the author describes the chest and how she “writes” down the questions to put the chest, really brought to life the mind of a young teen.

In addition to her teenage struggles is the backdrop of living under oppression. Living in a village near an Israeli settlement, we learn what life is like for her family, friends, and the other people in her village. The tenuous relationship between the Palestinian and the Israeli people is shown through her father’s work at an Israeli farm in the settlement, as well as through the other systematic ways the Israeli’s control the Palestinian people. In one chapter, during summer vacation, due to the restrictions placed on her village the main character is not allowed to play outside. This completely broke my heart. And while these injustices to her people did not fully bring her down, a number of the questions that the main character asks is in relation to the treatment of her people and the question of when will they ever be free.

I really enjoyed this novella, specifically being with a character who is sweet, thoughtful, and mostly inquisitive. I enjoyed getting a glimpse into her life and the opportunity to set into the shoes of someone whose life is completely different from mine. My only wish is that this book was more readily available. It is on some book sites, but you’ll have to do some searching. I highly recommend librarians and teachers find a way to get this book and share it with your students, as books like Code Name: Butterfly will open up the world to them.


New Releases

Happy early book birthday to Not Now, Not Ever and Siege of Shadows, which come out 11/21! What books are on your to-read list this week?

Not Now, Not Ever by Lily Not Now, Not EverAnderson
Elliot Gabaroche is very clear on what she isn’t going to do this summer.

1. She isn’t going to stay home in Sacramento, where she’d have to sit through her stepmother’s sixth community theater production of The Importance of Being Earnest.
2. She isn’t going to mock trial camp at UCLA.
3. And she certainly isn’t going to the Air Force summer program on her mother’s base in Colorado Springs. As cool as it would be to live-action-role-play Ender’s Game, Ellie’s seen three generations of her family go through USAF boot camp up close, and she knows that it’s much less Luke/Yoda/”feel the force,” and much more one hundred push-ups on three days of no sleep. And that just isn’t appealing, no matter how many Xenomorphs from Alien she’d be able to defeat afterwards.

What she is going to do is pack up her attitude, her favorite Octavia Butler novels, and her Jordans, and go to summer camp. Specifically, a cutthroat academic-decathlon-like competition for a full scholarship to Rayevich College, the only college with a Science Fiction Literature program. And she’s going to start over as Ever Lawrence, on her own terms, without the shadow of all her family’s expectations. Because why do what’s expected of you when you can fight other genius nerds to the death for a shot at the dream you’re sure your family will consider a complete waste of time? This summer’s going to be great. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Siege of Shadows (Effigies #2) by Sarah Raughley

There’s nowhere to hide. Not when you’re an Effigy. No matter where they go, Maia and the other Effigies can’t escape the eyes of the press—especially not after failing to capture Saul, whose power to control the monstrous Phantoms has left the world in a state of panic. It’s been two months since Saul’s disappearance, and there’s still no sign of him, leaving the public to wonder whether the Sect—and the Effigies—are capable of protecting anyone.

When Saul suddenly surfaces in the middle of the Sahara desert, the Sect sends Maia and her friends out after him. But instead of Saul, they discover a dying soldier engineered with Effigy-like abilities. Even worse, there may be more soldiers like him out there, and it looks like the Effigies are their prime targets. Yet the looming danger of Saul and this mysterious new army doesn’t overshadow Maia’s fear of the Sect, who ordered the death of the previous Fire Effigy, Natalya. With enemies on all sides and the world turning against them, the Effigies have to put their trust in each other—easier said than done when secrets threaten to tear them apart. [Image and summary via Goodreads]