Gripping and fresh, with memorable characters—a winner.

RAVEN

From the Cinzento Academy series , Vol. 1

A team of teenage computer security experts tackles a mysterious hacker.

In the near future, the Cinzento Secure corporation, which focuses on cybersecurity, also houses the Cinzento Academy. Though all the students are gifted, Team Raven is especially elite, composed of computer-skill prodigies more qualified than most adults. As “Mom,” the kids’ lunch lady/counselor/substitute parent says, “They’re a pretty special bunch—when they don’t let it go to their heads.” The team lead is Ginger “Fireball” Finney, 16, named for her “flame-colored” hair. Other team members, each with their own nicknames, work on specialties like system integration, networking, security, and hacking. Newly recruited to Team Raven is Angel Cambeiro, 17, perhaps inevitably nicknamed Noob; his field of expertise is troubleshooting. The team’s latest assignment is to solve a security breach that’s caused multiple problems at a major bank. The crew is confident they’ve got the chops but soon discover “an epidemic of weird,” as Fireball puts it. For example, the glitches seem to disappear on their own. But why would a hacker go to the trouble of breaking a system only to fix it? Who is the mysterious helper sending the team coded messages? And what’s happened to Zander Grayson, Cinzento Secure’s CEO? As Team Raven works to unravel the mysteries, which begin affecting the country’s entire infrastructure, they encounter big revelations.

Loh uses her background as a Microsoft software engineer to give her debut the ring of authenticity in plot, action, and dialogue. Though the concepts may be unfamiliar for nontechies, Loh makes them as understandable as possible, engaging readers through her teenage characters’ slangy energy: “Within minutes, memory maxed out, ​all ​the drives filled up, and the machine controlling them crashed and rebooted. ‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?’ murmured Scrappy.” The book is also well plotted and paced so that tensions and complexities develop intriguingly. Readers may guess some of the mysteries ahead of time, but it’s still enjoyable to see the team puzzle them out. Despite the novel’s tech focus, another strength is that it’s character-driven. The diverse young protagonists may be geniuses, but they’re still maturing. For example, when Fireball and fellow team member Scrappy deliver a martial arts beat down to bullies threatening a city bus driver, she numbers it among “instinctive acts of kindness.” Later that day, Fireball lets information slip to a reporter who’d questioned her abilities. As a result, she’s temporarily removed as team lead and reflects on the bus incident. It’s true they genuinely hate bullies, “But hadn’t some of it been about pride? About needing to establish worth?” This reflectiveness helps balance what could be a smug undertone to the team’s superiority of skill. The arrival of a new member, too, provides conflict through team friction plus a graceful excuse for necessary exposition.

Gripping and fresh, with memorable characters—a winner.

Pub Date: May 20, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 353

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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An immersive tale of brave, vulnerable teens facing threats both real and fantastic.

ALL OUR HIDDEN GIFTS

An Irish teen grapples with past misdeeds and newfound ties to magic.

When 16-year-old Maeve discovers a deck of tarot cards stashed with a mixtape of moody indie music from 1990, she starts giving readings for her classmates at her all-girls private school. Though her shame over dumping her strange friend Lily during an attempt to climb the social ladder at St. Bernadette’s is still palpable, it doesn’t stop her from trying to use the tarot in her favor to further this goal. However, after speaking harsh words to Lily during a reading, Maeve is horrified when her former friend later disappears. As she struggles to understand the forces at play within her, classmate Fiona proves to be just the friend Maeve needs. Detailed, interesting characters carry this contemporary story of competing energy and curses. Woven delicately throughout are chillingly eerie depictions of the Housekeeper, a figure who shows up on an extra card in the deck, echoing the White Lady legend from Irish folklore. Even more disturbing is an organization of young people led by a homophobic but charismatic figurehead intent on provoking backlash against Ireland’s recent civil rights victories. Most characters are White; Fiona is biracial, with a Filipina mother and White Irish father. Roe, Maeve’s love interest and Lily’s sibling, is a bisexual, genderqueer person who is a target for intolerance in their small city of Kilbeg.

An immersive tale of brave, vulnerable teens facing threats both real and fantastic. (Paranormal. 14-18)

Pub Date: June 8, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5362-1394-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Walker US/Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Dec. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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A different kind of fairy tale, for older and wiser readers.

BRAVELY

Disney adaptations are familiar, but this title marks a new gambit: a novel sequel that accepts the source movie, Brave, as canon.

Merida, now nearly 20, has negotiated a truce with her mother (they never talk about betrothals or marriage) and traveled the kingdom learning new things. But little has changed otherwise: The triplets are still a force of chaos, Merida prefers archery to embroidery, the kingdom is at peace, and magic is at rest. That is, until Feradach, the god who brings ruin in order to make room for growth, threatens to destroy everything Merida loves unless she can change her family enough to end their stagnation. This is still clearly a fairy-tale world, but Stiefvater’s understanding of medieval history (briefly detailed in the author’s note) grounds it, as does the very believable nature of Merida’s conflict: Saving what she loves means transforming it beyond what she knows. The episodic structure as Merida takes on three journeys, each with different family members, moves more slowly than the movie, but the depth of characterization—as shown in Feradach and Queen Elinor in particular—is nuanced and noteworthy. Readers who spent their childhoods watching Merida engage with magic will readily fall under her spell again as she negotiates the hardest challenge of all: growing up. All characters are assumed White.

A different kind of fairy tale, for older and wiser readers. (Historical fantasy. 12-18)

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-368-07134-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Disney Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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