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Lisa Martin & Valerie Martin, illustrated by Kelly Murphy

Algonquin Young Readers, 2013, $16.95

Millbrook novelist Valerie Martin (The Ghost of the Mary Celeste) joined with niece Lisa Martin to pen this gorgeous tale of two brother cats, Anton and Cecil, and their odyssey at sea. When Anton gets catnapped to be a ratter on a ship, the bolder brother, Cecil, sets off to find him. There are giant ships and monster storms, bustling ports and scurvy sailors, and a terrific supporting cast of seafaring critters, including a loyal mouse. The epic tale shifts from brother to brother and ship to ship, until we too feel adrift in suspense. Will they find each other? —JM


Jennifer Donnelly

Disney-Hyperion, 2014, $17.99 

Teenage mermaid princess Serafina is forced into reluctant leadership when her underwater realm is attacked and her parents killed on the eve of her betrothal. Forced to flee, Sera discovers she's one of six magical mermaids prophesied to save the mer-world, but faces an ocean of self-doubt about her ability to sing song-spells, secure her fiancé's love, and vanquish an ancient unleashed evil. Dutchess resident Donnelly is a New York Times best-selling author. Though her mer-teen world-building occasionally feels strained (a jerk's called a "bad-wrasse," an angry girl a "Sue Nami"), middle-grade girls will find this epic tale and its every-girl mermaid heroines engaging. —SK


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Andrea Pyros

Sourcebooks, 2014, $7.99

When we first meet Nina, the seventh-grade protagonist of Andrea Pyros's excellent debut My Year of Epic Rock, she's in bad shape: dumped by her BFF for the pretty, mean, new girl, and exiled to the table where her fellow allergy sufferers eat lunch. Once Nina is an outsider, however, she blooms. Her fringe-dwelling pals not only broaden her perspectives, they invite her to join their band The EpiPens (truly a great band name). Pyros captures both timeless teen angst and rock liberation with real verve. When the band gels, and cute boy Ethan notices Nina, this tale sings, loud and proud. Appearing 9/7 at 4pm, Oblong Books & Music, Rhinebeck. —RBW


Nancy F. Castaldo

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, $16.99

Hudson Valley author and dog owner Castaldo explores the world of working dogs, centered on their astounding ability to use their noses. Her colorful book profiles real working dogs, their trainers, and their handlers. Filled with neat factoids and action photos, written in a you-are-there style, it covers a huge range of fields: search dogs, medical alert dogs, arson detection dogs, and more—on water, land, and in the air, from cities to wilderness. Did you know there are dogs trained to find moose poop? Like dogs themselves, this book is filled with surprises. —JM

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Stefan Bolz

CreateSpace, 2014, $15.99

In a corporate-ruled dystopian future, teens are isolated from their families to become serf labor. Aries, a fearless climber trained to repair the electrical guts of a climate-controlled mega-building, seizes her freedom an hour at a time, eluding surveillance loops to roam the vast air ducts. When she frees a trapped red-tailed hawk and sees things she shouldn't, security forces stalk her like prey. But there are other out-of-the-box kids victimized by the all-powerful system, and a girl-powered spark of rebellion might just save the world. New Paltz independent author Bolz (The Three Feathers) writes lean, taut prose that keeps his freedom tale churning forward. —NS

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