The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora / by Pablo Cartaya. 9.25.2018

Penguin ISBN 9781101997253

YA Grades 5-8 Rating: 5

Pablo Cartaya writes a delightful book about a seventh-grade boy, his grandmother, and his Cuban-American family in Miami. Sprinkled with Spanish words, the reader is able to understand the words in the context of the story, and is introduced to the Cuban-American culture.

In The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, 13-year-old Arturo Zamora loves playing basketball and working as a junior dishwasher in his grandmother’s restaurant. He also wants to win the heart of Carmen, a girl he likes and his mother’s goddaughter. Arturo wants to make his abuela proud, especially when his grandmother gets sick. Her family rallies around her to keep the restaurant running and to fight Wilfrido Pipo, the greedy developer who wants to take over the neighborhood where her restaurant is located. Wilfrido makes a lot of promises to the community but are his designs just empty words? As his abuela get sicker, Arturo discovers family stories and the poetry of José Marti, Cuban writer. At his abuela’s funeral, the entire community turns out to honor her. Will the Zamora family and their neighbors win the fight against Pipo?

Cartaya writes a touching narrative where characters naturally use Spanish but the reader doesn’t need all the words translated in order to follow the story. Family bonds and community ties are central to this story. In fact, at a protest, one of the signs read: “Community is Family, Family is Community.” Cartaya includes family recipes and an author’s note.

Recommended for school and public libraries, especially fans of Rita Williams-Garcia. The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora was a 2018 Pura Belpre Honor book, and an E. B. White Read-Aloud Middle Reader Award finalist, among other honors.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

All Around Us / by Xelena Gonzalez; illustrated by Adriana M. Garcia. 9.24.2018

Cinco Puntos Press ISBN 9781941026762

PRI Grades 2-5 Rating: 5

Grandpa’s daily chores and routines seem mundane and dreary, yet through them his granddaughter learns about the wonders of nature that encompass everything about them, including her.

When she sees a rainbow arc in the sky, Grandpa explains that the other half of the circle, the part we cannot see, is hidden in the earth. Patting the garden soil where Grandpa planted seeds, he reminds his grandchild that the seeds, though now unseen, will become the visible fruits and vegetables that will feed them. Throughout the day, Grandpa introduces her to many other unseen secrets and she begins to see and to understand her own place in the circle of life.

All Around Us by Xelena Gonzalez is a reflective celebration of life–a warm and tender story of the relationship between a grandfather and his granddaughter and the lessons he teaches her about our connection to the earth and the world around us. The illustrations by Adriana M. Garcia support the theme of circles all around with deep rich earth tones and with bright greens and vibrant yellows that swirl around each page. Intermingling with the text, they enfold the reader into the story to help them feel the warmth of the earth and the love between adult and child.

All Around Us is a 2018 Pura Belpre Illustrator Honor Book, an ALSC Notable Children’s Book, and a 2018 American Indian Youth Literature Award: Picture Book Honor recipient.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked & Found / by Martin W. Sandler. 9.21.2018

Candlewick Press ISBN 9780763680336

INT Grades 5-6 Rating: 5

Written for a young adult reader, this true story of the captaincy, wreck, and discovery of the only pirate ship ever found, The Whydah, makes for an enticing story. A 2018 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults finalist, this title is by Martin W. Sandler, a prolific author of books for adults and children, who weaves history and archaeology to offer insights on pirate captain Black Sam Bellamy, his flagship Whyday, and the culture of early 18th-century piracy. Adding to this story, Sandler includes the recovery of the wreck and interpretation of the artifacts.

The factual information presented highlights the golden age of piracy, from the 1650s to the 1730s, when pirates ruled the waves. The Whydah sank in 1717 but was not found until 1984 by marine archaeologists with the artifacts being priceless, both in their value and in the picture they offer of life in this much-mythologized pirate era. The narrative includes detailed maps and period illustrations that enable youth to be involved in the search for the only shipwreck authenticated to be an actual ship used by pirates.

Closing pages offer details about coin artifacts and what they teach us. Five pages of source notes and a bibliography give testimony to the careful research and scholarship achieved. An index is also included. The care with which this story is conveyed makes it easy to understand why The Whydah was chosen as A Junior Library Guild Selection.

Leroy Hommerding, CLJ

How to Live a Life of Prayer: Classic Christian Writers on the Divine Privilege of Prayer / compiled and edited by Donna K. Maltese. 9.20.2018

Barbour Books ISBN 9781683224638

Adult Rating: 4

In this work, Donna K. Maltese provides a compilation of excerpts from four Christian writers: John Wesley, E. M. Bounds, Andrew Murray, and S. D. Gordon. Through the words of these men, this collection of writings expounds on the topic of prayer using a “Who”, “What”, “When”, “Where”, “Why”, and “How” framework. Each author has a few contributing pieces within each section and subsection, providing a range of insight and varying perspectives on each topic. Many of the excerpts also include a Scripture passage to which the writer was referring, providing direct biblical connections alongside the interpretations or implications drawn out by the writer.

Though this combination of authors and pieces of their larger works does provide the reader with distinct perspectives and a broad understanding of the topic of prayer, the nature of the compilation makes for a disjointed reading experience. With excerpts ranging from a few words to a few pages in length, the subsections or topics within each section often change rather abruptly. Nevertheless, for those interested in growing in their understanding of and engagement in prayer, Maltese’s compilation provides excellent and diverse insight into the multifaceted practice of prayer in a neatly organized fashion.

Elisabeth A. Orr, CLJ

Reclaiming Shilo Snow / by Mary Weber. 9.19.2018

Thomas Nelson ISBN 9780718080945

YA     Grades 9-12     Rating: 4

Mary Weber continues the pulse-pounding story begun in The Evaporation of Sofi Snow, incorporating futuristic fantasy, political intrigue, and aliens.In Reclaiming Shilo Snow, 17-year-old Sofi Snow and her 19-year-old friend Miguel (Earth’s youngest ambassador to Delon) are trying to rescue her brother Shilo. She is convinced he is being held captive on Delon. Sofi and Miguel discover Earth is in danger from allies who are actually enemies and uncover secret dealings that involve the highest officials, maybe even Sofi’s mother, Inola! Meanwhile, Sofi and Shilo experience flashbacks that help reveal secrets from their past–they both survived an abduction and experimentation by the Delonese. Can Sofi, Shilo, and Miguel escape from Delon in time to save the Earth and the other children now held as captives?

Filled with tense suspense and drama, Reclaiming Shilo Snow draws the reader into a believable future world where details of one’s life are documented and available to those in authority. Told in alternating first-person points of view (Sofi, Miguel, and Inola), Reclaiming Shilo Snow picks up where The Evaporation of Sofi Snow ended but with a darker tone as Weber continues the themes of alien invasions, interplanetary politics, and human trafficking in this sequel.

Weber’s central point is the minute I elevate my life above another’s – the moment I choose mine as more valuable for the survival of humanity – is the moment I begin to give away my humanity. And that is the moment we all begin to lose.” When we value ourselves more than others, we close our eyes to injustice around us. The main story lines are wrapped up in this final book – there’s sacrifice, romance, and more.

Recommended for public libraries for adults and older teens.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess / by Shari Green. 9.18.2018

Pajama Press ISBN 9781772780338

INT Grades 4-7 Rating: 5

Macy admits it: change is not her specialty. Yet soon she’ll have another dad and twin step-sisters, move into a new home, and attend a different school. Why, she complains, can’t things remain the same?

Macy refuses to pack; that way they won’t be able to move. So she thinks. But her mother plans otherwise. Macy has to box her things plus help Iris, the extravagant neighbor next door, to get ready for a move of her own–Iris who insists that she was named after the goddess, not the flower, and who always wears something orange. To top it off, Macy is hearing-impaired and Iris doesn’t know how to sign. Macy stresses over how they will understand each other.

While Macy grumbles and secretly plots to derail the approaching wedding, and Iris prepares herself to transition into an assisted living facility, an unexpected friendship blossoms between them. Communicating via notes, finger writing and Iris’ magic cookies, together they share their love of books, lessons learned, and marvel at the power of words.

Macy starts to consider that maybe change might lead to a wonderful new beginning.

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess is a delightful, humorous, and tender story about a young girl’s challenge to cope with and accept change. Told in first-person verse, Shari Green allows Macy’s voice to come through via her internal dialogue and emotions. Green also uniquely uses bold lettering to indicate when conversations take place in sign language. A Schneider Family Book Award recipient, Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess is a great read with inspiring lessons for all ages.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

The Golden Vial / by Thomas Locke. (Legends of the Realm, 3) 9.17.2018

Revell     ISBN 9780800723873

Adult (YA)     Rating: 4

Award-winning author Thomas Locke continues his fantasy series for adults featuring elves, wizards, magic, and an orphan with special abilities.

In The Golden Vial, Hyam suffers from a strange wasting illness. Lady Shona leads her band of loyal followers to Hyam’s hometown to find answers, even if it means they must build new alliances and face deadly enemies.

Meanwhile, an orphaned servant girl named Dally, who lives in Hyam’s hometown, has kept her unique abilities a secret. But she may be the key to winning the final battle against an ancient evil threatening them. Will Dally step forward and embrace her role, and at what cost?

Locke builds a credible world (the Realm), a world in which no one is an innocent bystander in the eternal fight between good and evil. People can choose to ignore the evil around them and hope it goes away, or choose to fight it, using all their resources in trying to push back the darkness. Like most epic fantasies, this book includes sorcerers, elves, unusual creatures, dragons, and magic. Some would argue a Christian book shouldn’t have these elements, but they are essential to the overall plot. The Golden Vial is more engaging than the previous two books, Emissary and Merchant of Alyss. Surprisingly, Hyam plays a very minor role in this book after playing a major role in the earlier books. Readers are encouraged to read the other two books first to better understand the Realm and its story.

Recommended for adult collections in public libraries, and for fans of epic fantasy books by Patrick Carr and Jill Williamson.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

Earlier Series Titles Reviewed by CLJEmissary (Nov/Dec 2015); Merchant of Alyss (Jan/Feb/Mar 2018).

The Thing with Feathers / by McCall Hoyle. 9.14.2018

Blink     ISBN 9780310758518

YA Grades 9-12     Rating: 4

The only impression Emilie Day had of high school came from movies. And as a teenager with epilepsy, she never imagined she could do something as normal as attend school.

After her father dies, she gets the chance she never wanted. Her therapist, convinced that socializing would lift her spirits, advises Emilie’s mother to send her daughter to high school. Emilie is mortified by the idea of having seizures and blackouts in public, and she begs her mother not to make her go. They settle with a compromise: a three-month trial.

Mom’s biggest condition? Emilie has to tell all of her teachers and classmates about her epilepsy.

Vowing to make her “prison” sentence as short as possible, Emilie’s determined to keep her condition a secret and not to get attached…until the basketball star looks her way. But would even sweet Chatham York look down upon her for having epilepsy?

The Thing with Feathers challenges teen fiction readers to be authentic. While Emilie is both a humorous and thoughtful character, she creates most of the conflict within herself by trying to be someone else. The story opens the eyes of readers to see that people living with physical afflictions desire the same things as those without—acceptance.

Emilie faces depression and crippling fear because of her epilepsy, which feels realistic, but all of the other characters also have someone close to them who deals with a similar condition or other issue (mental illness, physical abuse, etc.). Despite Emilie’s hiding her ailment, no one judges her or has a negative reaction to hearing about her condition. Because of the other characters’ situations, Emilie is accepted by everyone and gets more friends—which feels unrealistic.

Overall, The Thing with Feathers gives a sassy first-person perspective of what it feels like to seek acceptance in spite of a physical struggle, like epilepsy. Readers of A Walk to Remember and The Fault in Our Stars who are looking for a story of hope and saccharine teen romance will love award-winning author McCall Hoyle’s heart-warming story.

Rebecca Schriner, CLJ

Egypt’s Sister: A Novel of Cleopatra / by Angela Hunt. (The Silent Years) 8.24.2018

Bethany House ISBN 9780764219320

Adult (YA) Rating: 4

As the daughter of the royal tutor, Chava is as close as a sister to the Princess Urbi of Egypt. A word from HaShem makes Chava believe that she and Urbi will be friends for a lifetime, even after Urbi unexpectedly ascends the throne as Queen Cleopatra. In order to fulfill Hashem’s words Chava rejects her own desires for a loving marriage, certain that she will be the Queen’s handmaiden soon enough. But a gift from Cleopatra forces Chava to choose either her friendship or her God. Tossed aside, forgotten, and eventually sold by the Queen, Chava is forced to leave her home and enter Rome on the bottom rung of society. She will have to keep her eyes on HaShem if she ever hopes to rise again.

In Egypt’s Sister, author Angela Hunt depicts women in ancient Egypt as having a great deal of freedom. This helps to make Chava more relatable to young girls and women just starting their life, and the story presents valuable life lessons. Chava will take readers on a journey of growth, both spiritually and as a person. Young women will relate to Chava’s struggle to remain pure in a world with skewed morals and to chase after God’s will for their life.

Tatiana Bickler, CLJ

How Sweet the Sound / by Amy K. Sorrells. 8.23.2018

Tyndale ISBN 9781496426130

Adult Rating: 5

A storm is brewing over Bay Spring, Alabama and 13-year-old Anniston Harlan finds her family and herself at the very center. She thought she had already survived the worst storm of her life when Hurricane Frederic touched down, destroying a large portion of her family’s pecan orchard a few months ago. Nothing, however, could have prepared her for the tragedy that was soon to strike, changing her life forever. How will she find her way through the darkness and hidden secrets surrounding her family?

Comfort Harlan, Anniston’s aunt, seems to have everything a woman living a life of privilege could want–the looks of a pageant beauty queen and the love of her childhood sweetheart. However, she has always lacked one thing: her mother’s love and approval. Just after the announcement of her upcoming marriage, a violent act steals Comfort’s very will to live, tearing down the protective walls her mind constructed long ago to hide memories too dark to face.

The Harlan family may be at the top of the social ladder, the leading pillars in their southern town, but the glitter of wealth and prestige can only conceal the darkness so long.

Amy K. Sorrells’ novel How Sweet the Sound is not for the faint of heart, addressing incest, rape, and suicide. It is a journey through a dark valley that brings with it a range of emotions from rage to forgiveness, defeat to hope, and sorrow to joy. The story is told through Anniston’s and Comfort’s alternating perspectives. Anniston’s character and point of view help balance the darkness of this tale with her young perspective on life and big heart that reaches to the outcasts and hurting. Comfort’s thoughts and inward battle provide a heartrending glimpse into the life of one who’s innocence has been lost in the most atrocious ways. The reaction of the town to her tragedy mirrors a reality that all too often places the blame and shame on the victim. Overall, as its name rightly attests, this story is truly a picture of amazing grace and its work of sweet healing, redemption, and restoration.

Justina McBride, CLJ