A refreshing new take that pays homage to a legendary character.

THE MAGNOLIA SWORD

A BALLAD OF MULAN

New life is breathed into the ballad of Mulan.

The Hua and Yuan families share a legacy: As caretakers of the deftly made swords Sky Blade and Heart Sea, each generation must fight to determine the next guardians of the swords. Hua Mulan has only known a life of being disguised as a boy, trained in weaponry by her father. What her father does not know is that Mulan already spars with her future duel partner. On the eve of the showdown, the Hua family receives a letter citing political unrest threatening the Yuans as a reason to withdraw from this year’s duel. When the Hua family receives a conscription notice requiring one male per household to report for duty, Mulan enlists, quickly being recruited into the princeling’s elite team for her skills. Mulan finds herself caught in a web of sabotage, battles, and strained loyalties, trying to maintain her own cover and handling the growing affection between the princeling and herself. While the resolution may seem too neat for some, Thomas (The Hollow of Fear, 2018, etc.) brings new dimensions to the iconic character, weaving emotional depth and ethnic political issues into the plot. She immerses readers in bustling city streets and freezing swaths of wilderness. Scaffolded by detailed research, the story is based on actual historic conflicts and artifacts.

A refreshing new take that pays homage to a legendary character.   (author's note, linguistic and historical notes) (Historical fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-62014-804-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Tu Books

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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Not quite the wild ride of Skyward (2018) but still great fun.

STARSIGHT

From the Skyward series , Vol. 2

As if the threat of huge, raging monsters from hyperspace isn’t scary enough, hotshot fighter pilot Spensa Nightshade becomes embroiled in an alien empire’s politics.

On a desperate mission to steal hyperdrive technology from the crablike invading Krell who are threatening to destroy her beleaguered home colony on Detritus, Spensa, who is white, holographically disguises herself as a violet-skinned UrDail and slips into a Krell pilot training program for “lesser species.” The discovery that she’s being secretly trained not to fight planet-destroying delvers but to exterminate humans, who are (with some justification, having kindled three interstellar wars in past centuries) regarded in certain quarters as an irrationally aggressive species, is just one in a string of revelations as, in between numerous near-death experiences on practice flights, she struggles to understand both her own eerie abilities and the strange multispecies society in which she finds herself. There are so many characters besides Spensa searching for self-identity—notably her comic-relief sidekick AI M-Bot, troubled human friend Jorgen back on Detritus, and Morriumur, member of a species whose color-marked sexes create trial offspring—that even with a plot that defaults to hot action and escalating intrigue the pacing has a stop and start quality. Still, Spensa’s habitual over-the-top recklessness adds a rousing spark, and the author folds in plenty of banter as well as a colorful supporting cast.

Not quite the wild ride of Skyward (2018) but still great fun. (Science fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-55581-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Characters to love, quips to snort at, insights to ponder: typical Spinelli.

DEAD WEDNESDAY

For two teenagers, a small town’s annual cautionary ritual becomes both a life- and a death-changing experience.

On the second Wednesday in June, every eighth grader in Amber Springs, Pennsylvania, gets a black shirt, the name and picture of a teen killed the previous year through reckless behavior—and the silent treatment from everyone in town. Like many of his classmates, shy, self-conscious Robbie “Worm” Tarnauer has been looking forward to Dead Wed as a day for cutting loose rather than sober reflection…until he finds himself talking to a strange girl or, as she would have it, “spectral maiden,” only he can see or touch. Becca Finch is as surprised and confused as Worm, only remembering losing control of her car on an icy slope that past Christmas Eve. But being (or having been, anyway) a more outgoing sort, she sees their encounter as a sign that she’s got a mission. What follows, in a long conversational ramble through town and beyond, is a day at once ordinary yet rich in discovery and self-discovery—not just for Worm, but for Becca too, with a climactic twist that leaves both ready, or readier, for whatever may come next. Spinelli shines at setting a tongue-in-cheek tone for a tale with serious underpinnings, and as in Stargirl (2000), readers will be swept into the relationship that develops between this adolescent odd couple. Characters follow a White default.

Characters to love, quips to snort at, insights to ponder: typical Spinelli. (Fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-30667-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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