January 5, 2016 Debuts: Young Adult

When Grey’s father is arrested for a crime she committed, Grey escapes into an enchanted world within a curio cabinet. Among the living curios—beautiful, cruel porcelains and clever tick-tocks—Grey searches for the one person who can help her get home and save her father.

She finds the only other human in Curio, a boy named Blaise. But he’s in disguise, embroiled in a revolution, and reluctant to remember his past in Grey’s world. To get home, Grey must join a band of freedom fighters, escape the grasp of the obsessed porcie ruler, and uncover the incredible secret of her own identity. A secret as connected to Blaise as the mark on his skin— a mark Grey also possesses.

Curio’s characters whir to life as the worlds they inhabit spin toward violent revolution. Vivid and subversive, Evangeline Denmark’s debut novel sets coming of age and first love against a backdrop of steam-propelled greed and societal repression.

A wonderfully appealing writing voice and engaging characters immediately draw readers into this dystopian story. The imaginative worldbuilding (not one but two!) and swoon-worthy romances complete the attraction, making this novel difficult to put down until the very last word has been savored.
-- RT Book Reviews

My review: HOLY WORLD-BUILDING BATMAN. I really enjoyed a lot of things about CURIO, but the one aspect that kept blowing my mind over and over again is the world-building of not one but TWO completely weird and unique worlds, both so bizarre I am jealous of Evangeline Denmark's imagination. 

There's the weird west steampunk Colorado mining town controlled by sinister magical overseers, and then there's the world-within-a-world of clockwork people and sentient porcelain dolls (nightmare fuel, thanks), and with complicated story lines about politics and revolution and action and betrayal happening in both. 

Add in a handful of characters who have decided they can't live in their oppressive world anymore without fighting to change it, and it's an inventive steampunk adventure all around.

Seventeen-year-old Mercedes Ayres has an open-door policy when it comes to her bedroom, but only if the guy fulfills a specific criteria: he has to be a virgin. Mercedes lets the boys get their awkward fumbling first times over with, and all she asks in return is that they give their girlfriends the perfect first time-the kind Mercedes never had herself.

Keeping what goes on in her bedroom a secret has been easy - so far. Her mother isn't home nearly enough to know about Mercedes' extracurricular activities, and her uber-religious best friend, Angela, won't even say the word "sex" until she gets married. But Mercedes doesn't bank on Angela's boyfriend finding out about her services and wanting a turn - or on Zach, who likes her for who she is instead of what she can do in bed.

When Mercedes' perfect system falls apart, she has to find a way to salvage her own reputation -and figure out where her heart really belongs in the process. Funny, smart, and true-to-life, Laurie Elizabeth Flynn's Firsts is a one-of-a-kind young adult novel about growing up.

Mercedes manages to be both tough and sympathetic, and this look at human connection, female sexuality, and stigma is welcome and well managed.
-- Booklist

10:00 a.m.
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama’s high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

The auditorium doors won’t open.

Someone starts shooting.

Told from four perspectives over the span of 54 harrowing minutes, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

Nijkamp masterfully brings to life the terror and disbelief that a school shooting elicits and makes the reader go through that same turmoil. A thought-provoking must-read!

-- a Winter 2015–2016 Kids’ Indie Next Great Reads pick

Love, loyalty, bravery, and loss meld into a chaotic, heart-wrenching mélange of issues that unite some and divide others. A highly diverse cast of characters, paired with vivid imagery and close attention to detail, set the stage for an engrossing, unrelenting tale... The story unquestionably leaves an indelible mark.

-- Publishers Weekly

Strong characterizations capture diversity in gender, race, ability, and sexuality. Even reluctant readers will anxiously pursue the ending, unable to turn away from the tragedy and in desperate hope for a resolution, knowing there cannot be a happy ending.

– Booklist