Staff Picks by Maureen
Maureen (shown here with her two daughters, Amelia, and store manager, Jessica) is the proud owner of Once Upon A Time and is always trying to find the time to read more books after working 7 days a week at America's Oldest Children's Bookstore. She loves mysteries (she started the Adult Mystery Book Club), action-packed adventures, and the perfect picture books for story time.
Tracy Holczer’s Brave in the Woods is written for a young reader who enjoys fairy tales, discoveries and strong family ties. This well- crafted, intergenerational story is heartfelt and carries the reader’s heart thoughtfully along with Juni’s quest. A gift of storytelling filled with curses –both good and bad - this emotional tale will leave you with the truths of joy, grief and grace. Don’t miss Holczer’s breakout novel. For readers ages 9+ - Reviewed by Maureen
Matt Wallace’s middle grade debut is a fast-paced dynamic story of 12-year old MJ who dreams of becoming a lucha libre – or wrestler. This unconventional sport has been shared & loved with MJ’s dad, Papi, who is now no longer in MJ and her mom’s life. Hiding the truth from herself (& readers), MJ goes to great lengths to avoid seeing her dad. MJ’s poor treatment by her former gymnastic teammates has alienated her as well as the struggling to make sense of middle school dynamics. Finding an outlet for her joy, friendship and a chance of being in the ring wrestling to “storytell”, her next door neighbor, Mr. Arellano, has offered her a chance to train at his wrestling academy. I was totally enthralled by the deep character development and uber-realistic scenes Wallace has painted with respect to MJ’s relationship with her now-single parent Mom as well as the wrestling basics & behind-the-scene techniques. The secondary plot of a cruel and vengeful athletic commissioner who wants to shut down Mr. Arellano’s academy leads to a hair-raising climax where MJ needs to save the day. Girls who enjoy sports that may not be typically portrayed in MG literature will shout for joy with MJ’s perseverance, her can-do attitude, as well as her vulnerabilities. This novel rings as true as the bell at the end of a match – A WINNER! - Reviewed by Maureen
Fans of historical fiction will delight in this supremely researched and articulated account of the 1913 copper mine strike in Upper Michigan town of Calumet. Vividly told, you'll bond with "Big Annie" who led the Women's Auxillary of the union and persevered under extremely harsh conditions -- brutal weather, brutal food shortages, brutal work requirements and cultural norms. The character of the unforgiving, and unyielding James MacNaughton is so similar to "It's A Wonderful Life"'s Mr. Potter, you pray for him to get his comeuppance. Ah, good reader, be prepared for the sad truths in this historic action which ultimately pushed social mores of the time to give workers better wages and working conditions. Read the afterwords from the author to learn more about this fascinating glimpse of labor relations history. Highly recommended. - reviewed by Maureen
OMG - this is a fantastic book that will make you hum along with all the musical legends depicted here in stunning photos shot by pioneering music photographer Sherry Rayn Barnett. In my younger years, I was a paid musician with dreams of becoming the next Carole King and/or Linda Ronstadt. Sherry's photos of these women, along with Carly Simon, Nina Simone, Bonnie Raitt and so so many others bring alive the music scene of both NYC and LA during 1969 - 1989. A who's who of early images of greatness -- mostly at live concerts -- of Janice Joplan, Prince, and Ronstadt (to name a few). I LOVE this book and it would make a terrific gift to someone who enjoyed the music, who wanted to be a famous rock'n'roll star, or anyone interested in early pop / folk/country music history, especially women artists. Sherry's pictures capture the essence of many of these artists. We have signed copies, while supplies last.
Fantasy fans rejoice! Here's an emotional, earthy fantasy world where 2 orphan sibling shapeshifters are consigned to help royalty discover a cure to a deadly disease. Instead, finding eminent war, diminished magical beings, giants, stardust and perhaps, love. What more could you ask for in this high action, strong series opener for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Marie Lu.
- Reviewed by Maureen
Helen Rutter’s sparkling debut – The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh – is a heartwarming and yes, laugh out loud contemporary middle grade about 6th grader Billy Plimpton who dreams of being a comedian. He has a few roadblocks in his way – mainly his stutter and inability to get past his own anxieties. Working through these blockades with him, he has a great support group – his lunchtime friend Skyla, Mr. Osho his homeroom teacher and musical mentor, his grandmother Granny Bread, among others. However, his relationship with friends and a bully named Blackmore give this resilient, and ultimately self-aware young man the courage to be himself. Readers will be rooting for Billy through the last page of this uplifting tale. Terrific!
- Reviewed by Maureen
Greg van Eekhout’s Weird Kid is the kind of book you could put in the hands of almost any young reader and soon you’d hear the soft chuckles of delight in seeing a fully-formed kid (12-year old Jake) with a bit of a shape-shifting problem trying to navigate middle school while not growing extra thumbs or feathers in front of his unsuspecting classmates. Unexplained sinkholes, butt jokes, blob-shifting goo and maybe-nefarious government agents ratchet up the action & humor. One of the many strengths of this book is the strong, non-romantic, bond between the comic-book loving duo of protagonist Jake and his friend, Agnes, who both relate to crime solving/investigative superheroes Night Kite and Star Hammer. There is so much to love packed in this book – family, music, guitars, comics, & of course, van Eekhout’s signature canine companion.
- Reviewed by Maureen
So much to love about this twisty, complex spy novel about two American sisters caught up in intrigue, love and war during the end of WWII and the beginning of the Cold War. Williams' strong grasp of character among Foreign Service employees, brings palpable ethos & possible understanding to drinking excesses among those deemed with knowing and carrying out sometimes intractable diplomatic missions, all-the-while having family members having to pick up the pieces of broken hopes and dreams. A page-turning wonder, this is historical spy fiction at its best. - Reviewed by Maureen
An utterly delightful rom-com that has thoughtful Janna, soon to be starting college in the fall, coordinating her brother's almost-wedding ceremony with friends, family and a trio of possible love interests. A hysterically funny first chapter -- literally laugh-out-loud - will pull readers in immediately to stand by Janna as she navigates her faith, family struggles and heart in this strong follow-up sequel to her debut Saints and Misfits. - Reviewed by Maureen
An incredible debut, Connor Sullivan’s geo-political thriller, Sleeping Bear, is so propulsive, you’ll forget that you need to go to work the next day, and just read on with each, more gripping page! My favorite combination – wilderness, survival and political intrigue collide with star turns by tech gadgets, Russian scientists & Putin himself, but with strong character development of the flawed, but resourceful American Gale family. We first meet grieving youngest sister, Cassie Gale, as she ventures out solo in the Yukon wilderness trying to run from past demons. But since this is a first rate thriller, those demons and plenty more within her complicated family, propel this action-packed, spy-laced adventure into glorious view. Pick this up and call in to work! - Reviewed by Maureen
Great new chapter book series about sisters and their family downsizing to live more simply in a tiny house. What about their Great Dane pet, who must now live with their Grandma? And how does having only 5 toys impact them -- which ones to choose and which ones to give away? A terrific book about what's important in life. - reviewed by Maureen
A read-aloud masterpiece, with stunning watercolor visuals, rhyme and rhythm, so perfect for young readers, this is an instant Halloween classic that will be shared for years to come. With a lightness in spirit, step and color, Grimly’s young girl carries us with her on her magical odyssey filled with a plethora of friendly bumps in the night. With a SWOOSH and a WHOOO, this is one shivery delight! - Reviewed by Maureen
Stunning, heartbreakingly real and at once a strong, unflinching story of poverty and socioeconomic inequities that haunt us in our imperfect country. Violence against children, homelessness and food insecurity will weigh on your heart as Rex tells his story. His story is more powerful because he is not alone, as this is an all-too-common theme in some households. A truly superb memoir and one that will never be forgotten. - Reviewed by Maureen
This fantastic series opener about Indigenous foster kids set in Canada - - will creep into your soul, thump thump thump, like a beating drum or eagle wings taking flight or your pounding heartbeat – in this Narnia-inspired fantasy . 13 year old Morgan has seen it all as she has bounced around after a succession of failed foster homes since very early childhood. She reluctantly has agreed to her foster parents to help watch 12-year old new foster child – Eli – as he navigates middle school, where she comes to discover his amazing drawing talent. As kids tend to do when bored, they enter the attic at home that has an unexplained painted-over doorway, and whoosh…….in comes the cold, frost and snow from beyond. Joseph’s drawing of a winter forest has come alive including talking and walking squirrels, fishers and bears, among other animal elders. - review by Maureen
Sharing a bunk bed, kit fox siblings, Fritz and Franny, think their side of the bunk is best and squabble about who is right in this delightfully fun romp of a series by talented author/illustrator Tina Kügler. Young readers will chuckle, chortle and see themselves in the imaginative antics of Fritz and Franny, with a continuing cameo by expressive Fred the dog. - Reviewed by Maureen
This utterly charming debut by Julie Abe will win the hearts of young readers and parents alike with its tale of a semi-magical witch sent on a quest to earn her Novice Witch rank. With a “wink” to angel Clarence of It’s A Wonderful Life, who was sent to earth to get his wings, Abe’s young Eva Evergreen has her mission “to always do good”, for her adopted village of Auteri and to guard and protect the village from the all-dreaded Culling. With only a minimal amount of magic in her arsenal, she uses her strong mechanical and repair abilities to make up for what she lacks in powerful magic. Eva calls on her new found friends of Auteri in this race-to-the-finish adventure that has more story left to tell. This will be one terrific real aloud as well as an accessible tale to delight newly independent readers. Julie Abe is an author to watch!
Raybearer -- the strongest fantasy book AND debut of the fall season -- is the book that Leigh Bardugo and Tomi Adeyemi fans have been waiting for. Adventure, fantasy, magic, love and loyalty are at the heart of Tarasai’s unthinkable quest in this Nigerian-inspired tale. Epic and cinematic, this is world-building par excellence. Jordan Ifueko has herself a series opener that will knock off your socks and steal your heart. Thrilling! - review by Maureen
This heartfelt, authentically moving memoir of Somali refugees will grab your heart and not let go! Readers will be on the journey with Omar and his brother through hardship, heartbreak, multiple setbacks, but ultimately triumphing in their quest for a permanent home. This graphic novel packs an emotional wallop so be ready to take these boys into your heart! - reviewed by Maureen
First in a series by renowned animator Armand Baltazar, this 600 page tome is filled with over 150 full color illustrations that lend a deeper meaning to this terrific fast paced action-fantasy time mash-up with dinosaurs, robots, steam engines, pirates, WWII planes and gravity boards all coexisting along with teenager Diego and his 3 friends who fight the villians wanting to undo time. This epic novel for ages 9+ is a worthy heir to the Harry Potter series. I absolutely LOVE this book and am predicting great things for Diego's continuing story. -- Highly recommended by Maureen
A beautiful retelling of the legend of Snow and Rose, this gentle fairy tales brims with all the requisite traditions: dwarfs, missing person, enchanted forest and strange creatures. As in her highly imaginative picture books, first time middle grade novelist Emily Winfield Martin paints the sisters, Snow and Rose, as not exact opposites, but more like complimentary gears, who thrive on different aspects of the same thing. Recommended as a read-aloud, this beautifully illustrated tale will delight the young and young-at-heart! - Maureen
Readers will enjoy terrific descriptions, action-packed adventure and a superb sense of the brutality, harshness but beauty of the wintery existence that surrounds these characters. It's no wonder dogs are descended from misunderstood wolves, as the bravery and ultimate loyalty of these canines can not be refuted. As with Rooftoppers, Rundell lets readers truly inhabit her world and are fully invested in this satisfying tale. Highly reommended! - Maureen
Following 12-year old recently orphaned Joseph on his quest to get his only family back -his beloved horse Sarah- author Gemeinhart brings together race relations in the late 1800's, western lore and a clear-eyed pragmatism that, coupled with his signature action/adventure plot twists and a kindheartedness thread permeating the story, this wonderful, evocative and first rate middle grade title builds on his exceptional debut (The Honest Truth). This is an author that has clearly established himself as a must read for warm hearted, realistic adventures. - Maureen
Swashbuckling for a new generation, Eelyn from the Aska clan lives for her fighting season with the dreaded Riki clan. This is a story when raw, physical power and ancient beliefs dictate warriors come from either sex. Family, fighting and feuding are keys to this strong debut Young has crafted of a Viking culture that may need to compromise its deeply held beliefs in order to survive. Harrowing, and bloodthirsty with a high body count, this kickass heroine surely has crossover appeal to fans of Wonder Woman. Could not put this down, your heart will be racing to the end. - Maureen
Chilling, propulsive narrative and unforgettable characters bring this wholly original take on Nazi-obsessed Germany into light as our former gymnast - turned "actress" Jewish Sarah plays strong, Aryan Ursula to rave reviews. She infiltrates a German school for party loyalist's children, where cruelty, cunning and spycraft are employed by everyone - good & evil. Relentlessly paced, this high-octane thriller will keep the pages turning and you thinking long after the book is over. Superb debut by newcomer Matt Killeen. - Maureen
This delightful family read aloud skillfully weaves empathy, compassion and family into a beautifully realized story – universal and timeless – I dare say a new classic, in the mold of Charlotte’s Web (without the talking animals). Ten-year old Louie is trying his best to save a mini-donkey, he named Winston, who was born prematurely and whose mother died giving birth. Louie’s track record is not so good at keeping animals in his care alive, but he has faith in Winslow and gives him everything he has – most especially his love. Louie is sure Winslow will survive, and uses his plight as connection to his older brother Gus’ absence serving in the army. Strong, fully developed characters come to life in Creech’s vividly, and deceptively short novel which will stay with you long after the satisfying last page. - Maureen
In this exquisite picture book, there need be only a few words - boy, boat, journey equals ........magic! In the hands of master storytellers, the brothers Fan have simply created a masterpiece where we will be transported to the mesmerizing magical wonders in this book. A true stunner! - Maureen
Readers will love meeting Natsumi, the little spirited girl who sometimes is MORE than a bit spirited! This effective marriage of Lendroth's well-plotted story and Illustrator Buriss's brightly designed drawings will surely have readers asking for multiple tellings. A true delight! - Maureen
Terrific book for a family to read aloud. This is the Palacios family's most favorite picture book! Silly indeed! - Maureen
Strong character development with a plot etched in mystery elements, thrillers and family relationships, this one will keep you up at night frantically turning pages. Period details from the 1940's and set in the unforgiving Alaskan wilderness prior to the discovery of oil, this creepy tale is about sisters, family, love and sacrifice and through it all, the harsh realities of nature. Be warned -- you will be "talking" with one of the characters trying to steer her one way. - Maureen
Mr. Snore is tired and just wants a comfortable bed at the Sharemore Hotel. Encountering sleeping companions from a mouse, a pig, spiders, giraffes and even burrowing hamsters, poor Mr. Snore finally tries the 13th floor where a twist of gigantic proportions awaits! Hawkes’s playful illustrations match perfectly with the absurdity of Bradford’s delightful romp. Instant storytime classic! - Maureen
With an unforgettable lead character, an epic story line and Western details that ring true to life it rightfully will take its place next to other classics such as Lonesome Dove and True Grit. A fantastic debut from a gifted author. - Maureen
Raw, gritty and acutely tuned to his community, Matt Mendez' debut blends authenticity with poignancy, heartbreak with heartfelt, this emotionally true contemporary story about 2 El Paso teens and a mom of one of the boys, will keep you riveted and engaged. Comparisons to Jason Reynolds, Matt de la Pena and Angie Thomas are accurate but Mendez is a break out star to be watched. This wallop of a tale should be handed to high school kids en masse. - Maureen
Could there be a better young adult historical fiction storyteller than Stacey Lee? The Downstairs Girl rings with honesty about the plight of Jo Kwan, living in Atlanta in 1890 in an abandoned basement below an unsuspecting family that runs one of the town's newspapers. Jo becomes the unseen advice columnist "Dear Miss Sweetie" as she uses her considerable wit to answer letters - all the while working as a maid to a privileged and cruel teen. Romance, racial inequities and family squabbles all result in Lee's outstanding development into a glimpse of Atlanta's storied genteelness. This is a sure winner! - Maureen
Once upon a time there was a storyteller, whose stories existed in the land of many lakes – that boundless region called Minnesota, where hardy souls have made their living on the water, fertile land and in cities. This storyteller, William Kent Krueger, weaves his stories with characters so rich, so real and so human, the tale leaps off the page and buries deep into your soul. “This Tender Land” is simply a magnificent example of Krueger’s extraordinary gift as a writer. You will find it hard to put down, or even after finishing, hard to stop thinking of Odie, Albert, Mose and Emmy – your guides down the winding rivers in this book. Truly, a masterpiece. - review by Maureen
DO NOT MISS THIS ONE -- On many "best of...." lists. A rich, deeply memorable debut from Aussie Charlotte McConaghy, Migrations tells multiple stories of a young woman, the Arctic Tern species and the slowly changed world without birds, fish and most other animals. Weaving in and out of Franny’s life is her complicated past life, her unorthodox marriage to ornithologist Niall and her constant self-doubt possibly bordering on madness. Set in Ireland, the Arctic and in the grand oceans of the world, the soothing calm, the violent storms and the vastness of the earth’s water ways also act as characters in this unforgettable, lyrical and beautifully crafted story. Be ready to stay with the book’s characters well beyond the final sentence. Stunning!
Be ready to stay up all night and finish this imaginative and well-crafted thriller by newcomer Alex Finlay. For fans of Ruth Ware & Mindy Mejia. An absolute knock-out. - review by Maureen
Stork’s On the Hook is a superbly crafted contemporary drama with intense situations, violent confrontations and believable reticence to act that spin Hector, our HS sophomore chess wiz protagonist, into an almost debilitating lust for revenge after tragedy strikes , then throws the story into an unexpected plot twist. A simple, but weighty question - “Do you have anyone you don’t want to disappoint?” stirs the dynamic “balance” and upends the tension as the heart-pounding climax races to a satisfying end. Give this stunner to fans of Angie Thomas, Jason Reynolds and Matt Mendez. - Reviewed by Maureen
A sometimes harrowing look at a culture disappearing rapidly, Salh's heartfelt Somali memoir brims with vitality, hard truths and resilience. Her perspective on womanhood in the nomadic Somali culture amidst unthinkable situations is cringe worthy but brave. Not to be missed!
- Reviewed by Maureen
As stunning as her finest series, Young excites with a unstoppable story about making one's fate even though tied by blood to the "family business". Don't let this be the last of Bryn, Ezra and the Unnamed Sea!
- Reviewed by Maureen