Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Del Rey Books: Black Shield Maiden by Willow Smith and Jess Hendel

St. Martin's Press: Lenny Marks Gets Away with Murder by Kerryn Mayne

Hell's Hundred: Blood Like Mine by Stuart Neville

Spiegel & Grau: Tiananmen Square by Lai Wen

Tor Books: The Daughters' War (Blacktongue) by Christopher Buehlman

Tommy Nelson: Just in Case You Ever Feel Alone (Just in Case) by Max Lucado, Illustrated by Eve Tharlet

Bramble: The Spellshop by Sarah Beth Durst


Northeast Flooding Update: 'Forecast: Not Good for Books'

The Northeast has been hit hard by record-breaking rain this week, triggering catastrophic flooding in many areas, especially parts of Vermont where several indie booksellers have been checking in on social media with updates, including: 

At Next Chapter Bookstore

Next Chapter Bookstore, Barre: "This is how our building looked when I left on Monday. We will be closed Tuesday, and until we can assess and clean up the damage..... First Fema counselor assigned. Stay tuned...."

Bear Pond Books, Montpelier: "Forecast: not good for books. We're now closed until further notice. Take good care y'all. And thanks for the offers of help. Check on your neighbors. See you soon.... Our back door at 12:30 pm Tuesday. The water is receding (you can see the high water line!) but we can't get inside yet to assess the damage. Thank you for the outpouring of love and offers of assistance we've been getting! We'll keep you posted on clean up efforts and when we'll be able to open again. It's a tough day for MontP but we know our community is behind us!.... [This morning] "Irony, the photo. We got inside and... it’s not great."

At Bear Pond Books

Bridgeside Books, Waterbury: "Event postponed and short hours today, mostly just to get some businessy stuff done. Our Selectboard is holding an emergency meeting at noon to discuss how to mobilize and address the flooding and devastation, so we are awaiting info on an organized effort. Much of the village is underwater, lots of businesses and homes are damaged. Please be careful, help your neighbors, let emergency crews do what they need to do. We hope all our fellow Vermont bookstores were able to save their books and stay safe."

The Galaxy Bookshop, Hardwick: "Hi folks--we will be closed today due to road closures. We hope you are all safe. Hazen Union is open as a shelter for those who need it."

Norwich Bookstore, Norwich: "Norwich Bookstore is open Tues. 7/11 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. We have free wi-fi and power; if you need to charge your devices or just a place to hang out, we're here for you. Stay safe, folks!"

The Book Nook, Ludlow: "Stay safe out there.  Book store is NOT open due to the flooding in Ludlow and Vermont."

Blair Books & More, Chester: "We will be closed today [Tuesday] with all the road closures and cleanups. We will reopen tomorrow at 11 unless otherwise posted."

The Yankee Bookshop, Woodstock: "Route 4 has finally been made *mostly* passable, and we were able to come in to check out the bookstore today. The books are all okay, but our town continues to be without running water. We have some solid catching up to to (and we all need a bit of a rest) so we're going to be closed for one more day--tomorrow, Wednesday 7/12. All our fingers are crossed that water is restored soon and we can be back to business as (mostly) usual by Thursday. Stay tuned here for updates. Thanks for all of your concern--We can't wait to see our community again!"

Phoenix Books Essex, Essex Junction: "Several of our staff live in or near washed out places, so we're playing it safe today. Phoenix Books Essex is closed today, July 11. Thank you and stay safe!"

Bartleby's Books, Wilmington: "We were lucky at Bartleby's yesterday, but it was a close one. The river reached the bottom of the bridge and we thought it was coming our way. Our hearts are with so many Vermonters today. We dismantled a lot of the store to bring books to higher ground, so today we'll put it back together. Depending on how long it takes, we will either open sometime this afternoon or tomorrow morning. Many thanks to the amazing crew that helped us yesterday! We are so touched by our friends in this community."

Harper: Sandwich by Catherine Newman

Saltwater Bookstore Opens in Marblehead, Mass.

Laura Cooper at Saltwater Bookstore

Saltwater Bookstore, a boutique bookstore with an inventory for all ages, opened in Marblehead, Mass., on May 25. Located at 134 Washington St. in Marblehead's historic district, Saltwater Bookstore spans just under 600 square feet

Owner Laura Cooper described her store as "small, but mighty," noting that she carries a little over 4,000 titles, all of them new. There are separate rooms for adult and children's books, and the general-interest inventory prominently features New England authors as well as subjects relevant to Marblehead's location on the coast, such as sailing and ocean studies. The store's children's books, Cooper added, also highlight ocean life and nautical themes.

In designing Saltwater Bookstore, Cooper said she focused on creating a "cozy, coastal vibe," complete with "floating wood shelves, rattan lighting, cushioned reading nooks," and other special details.

Along with books, Saltwater Bookstore carries a line of greeting cards from a New England card company, book-inspired art prints by artist Kate Lewis, and a variety of store-branded merchandise.

Cooper has yet to host events at Saltwater Bookstore, but she plans to introduce them soon. There will be a monthly book club run by the store, along with author signings and storytime sessions, and local book clubs will be able to host their meetings at Saltwater.

A "life-long, avid reader," Cooper has always wanted to open a bookstore of her own. She's lived in Marblehead for more than 20 years and visiting independent bookstores has always brought her great joy. The resurgence of indie bookstores, especially in New England, inspired her to "create a boutique bookstore that was unique to Marblehead."

The store's first six weeks of operation, she continued, "have been filled with wonderful positive energy from old friends and new." Saltwater Bookstore is already becoming a community meeting place, where customers browse the shelves, talk to the staff and each other, and "usually leave with something they weren't expecting to find." --Alex Mutter

Spiegel & Grau: Tiananmen Square by Lai Wen

Five Booksellers Win Books Across Borders Scholarships

Five U.S. booksellers are receiving Books Across Borders scholarships to visit either the Frankfurt Book Fair or the Guadalajara International Book Fair this fall. The scholarships will enable booksellers to take part in a program of specially designed tours, panel discussions, and meetings with international authors, publishers, and booksellers. With these scholarships, Books Across Borders aims to connect booksellers to the global literary conversation and through them to widen Americans' perspectives of diverse and international literature. The program had taken a hiatus during the pandemic and began again last November with the Guadalajara fair and is resuming with Frankfurt this year.

The recipients, chosen by supporting publishing partners and Books Across Borders alumni, are:

Frankfurt Book Fair (October 18-22):
Kate Layte, Papercuts Bookshop, Boston, Mass. (Europa Editions-Other Press-North South fellow)
Cheryl Lee, 44th & 3rd Bookseller, Atlanta, Ga. (SIBA-Histria fellow)

Guadalajara International Book Fair (November 25-December 3):
Beatriz Quiroz García, Skylight Books, Los Angeles, Calif. (Catapult/Counterpoint/Soft Skull-Scribe Publishing fellow)
Noëlle Santos, The Lit. Bar, Bronx, N.Y. (NAIBA fellow)
Syrena Arevalo, Barrio Books, Tucson, Ariz. (Publishers Weekly fellow)

GLOW: Tundra Books: We Are Definitely Human by X. Fang

Small Press Distribution Exceeds Reorganization Fundraising Goal

Small Press Distribution, Berkeley, Calif., has exceeded its $100,000 reorganization fundraising goal that will pay for operational changes for new publisher services, including POD, e-books, and audiobooks. Publishers also will see, SPD said, a wider offering of their titles to, libraries, and independent bookstores

SPD has partnered with Ingram Content Group and Publishers Storage and Shipping to warehouse its inventory and provide pick, pack, and ship functions. SPD will continue to take orders, bill, collect, provide customer service on order fulfillment, and promote sales for its nearly 400 small press clients and provide training and assistance for the new services. SPD's Berkeley warehouse will close after the transition, likely late this summer, but its front office will remain in Berkeley.

A nonprofit organization, SPD raised a total of $111,421 via a GoFundMe campaign. "We're extremely grateful for the outpouring of SPD Next support from more than 150 donors," said Kent Watson, SPD's executive director. "Our new model will help us speed more books to readers around the globe, giving underrepresented literary voices even more access to the marketplace."

William Morrow & Company: Lula Dean's Little Library of Banned Books by Kirsten Miller

International Update: 2022 Book Sales in Germany; Bookseller on Australia's BookPeople Conference 

Book sales in Germany were down 1.9%, to €9.44 billion (about $10.4 billion) last year, according to economic data published by the trade association Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels. Managing director Peter Kraus vom Cleff described 2022 as a difficult year, "marked by procurement bottlenecks, an immense increase in manufacturing and energy costs as well as high inflation."

The number of people buying books continued to decline--25.8 million bought books, around 1.4 million fewer than in the previous year, the Bookseller reported, noting that this statistic "closely relates to what Kraus vom Cleff calls one of the biggest problems the industry is currently facing: the 'growing inner-city desolation' accelerated by the pandemic with noticeably less footfall in the high street and shopping centers."

Despite the challenges, bricks-and-mortar booksellers who were hard hit during the pandemic "fared much better last year than many observers expected, slowly clawing back the losses they incurred in 2020 and 2021," the Bookseller wrote. Börsenverein data showed that sales in physical bookshops increased by 5%, to €3.95 billion (about $4.3 billion). While this figure is 7.9% behind the pre-Covid year 2019, it still made them the largest channel for books in Germany with a market share of 41.9% (2021: 39.1%). Internet sales--including the online business of physical bookshops--fell 12.6% to €2.28 billion (about $2.5 billion), with a market share of 24.1% (2021: 27.1%).


Megan Koch of Imprints Booksellers, Adelaide, wrote about her experiences attending the 2023 BookPeople Conference last month. BookPeople, the association for Australian bookshops, held the 99th edition of its annual gathering--though the first under the organization's rebrand--at the Adelaide Convention Centre.

"As well as an opportunity to discuss sales strategies and new developments, it was to prove a welcome reminder--in a tough season for retail business--of the urgent, tangible value of books," Koch wrote. "It was also a chance to address the necessity of achieving a collective, consistent voice in our efforts to advocate for changes in our industry and communities."

Koch concluded that the BookPeople conference was "a heartening reminder that what we do is possible thanks to the support of our industry, peers, colleagues, and communities. It was a joy to gather again in the same space to trade insights and ideas. Sharing knowledge, after all, is what book people do best."


The European & International Booksellers Federation has released Global Bookselling Markets 2022, a report that explores current trends in the sector, analyzes the impact of inflation on bookshops, and highlights the different development paths they could take in the future. 

Noting that 2022 was "a year of transformation and transition for the bookselling industry, following two unprecedented years of disruption," EIBF reported that "when looking at the overall book sales numbers from all the analyzed markets, we can observe two distinct trends across the globe. Half of the analyzed markets experienced a clear decrease in book sales last year, while the other half reported stability and, in some cases, a positive development in turnover. 

"Broadly speaking, this decline can be explained by two main factors. On the one hand, the exceptional circumstances in 2021: after months of closure, bookshops reopened, boosting sales to a 10-year high, especially at Christmas. Thus, if 2022 sales data still display some positive and encouraging results, they appear very modest when compared to the preceding year. On the other hand, the inflation rising throughout 2022 and the energy crisis, partly caused by the outbreak of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, has limited readers' purchasing power, as well as pushed up production costs within the sector." Global Bookselling Markets 2022 is available here.


The Mexican book sector has concerns about the future of bookshops, EIBF's Newsflash reported. Caludia Bautista, president of the Mexican Independent Bookshops Network, addressed these concerns recently in an online session, "The crisis of independent bookshops in Mexico," organized by the National Chamber of Mexican Publishers. 

"During this session, in which around 40 members of the publishing sector in Mexico also took part, Bautista shared her concerns about the future of the bookselling sector in the country, which is facing challenges like the inefficiencies in book distribution, and call for the active support of other stakeholders in the book trade for the development of the industry," Newsflash noted. --Robert Gray

Harper Celebrate: Why Do We Stay?: How My Toxic Relationship Can Help You Find Freedom by Stephanie Quayle, with Keith W. Campbell

Obituary Note: Milan Kundera

Milan Kundera
(photo: Catherine Hélie)

Milan Kundera, "a Communist Party outcast who became a global literary star with mordant, sexually charged novels that captured the suffocating absurdity of life in the workers' paradise of his native Czechoslovakia," died July 11, the New York Times reported. He was 94. Kundera's "run of popular books began with The Joke, which was published to acclaim in 1967, around the time of the Prague Spring, then banned with a vengeance after Soviet-led troops crushed that experiment in 'Socialism with a human face' a few months later." He completed his final novel, The Festival of Insignificance, in 2015, when he was in his mid-80s and living in Paris.

His most enduringly popular novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), was an instant success, reprinted over the years in at least two dozen languages. It was also adapted into a 1988 film starring Daniel Day Lewis. 

The Times noted that Kundera "could be especially pitiless in his use of female characters; so much so that the British feminist Joan Smith, in her 1989 book Misogynies, observed that 'hostility is the common factor in all Kundera's writing about women.' Other critics reckoned that exposing men's horrible behavior was at least part of his intent. Still, even the stronger women in Kundera's books tended to be objectified, and the less fortunate were sometimes victimized in disturbing detail."

Kundera's fear that Czech culture could be erased by Stalinism was at the heart of The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, which became available in English in 1979. He "had a deep affinity for Central European thinkers and artists--Nietzsche, Kafka, the Viennese novelists Robert Musil and Hermann Broch, the Czech composer Jaroslav Janacek. Like Broch, he said, he strove to discover 'that which the novel alone can discover, including what he called 'the truth of uncertainty,' " the Times wrote.

Kundera told The Paris Review in 1983: "My lifetime ambition has been to unite the utmost seriousness of question with the utmost lightness of form. The combination of a frivolous form and a serious subject immediately unmasks the truth about our dramas (those that occur in our beds as well as those that we play out on the great stage of History) and their awful insignificance. We experience the unbearable lightness of being."

After playwright Vaclav Havel helped lead the successful Velvet Revolution in 1989, and then served as president, first of Czechoslovakia and then of the Czech Republic, Kundera's books became legal in his homeland for the first time in 20 years, but "many Czechs saw him as someone who had abandoned his compatriots and taken the easy way out," the Times noted, adding that there was scant demand for them or sympathy for him there. By one estimate only 10,000 copies of The Unbearable Lightness of Being sold.

When Communism ended in 1989, Kundera had been living in France for 14 years with his wife, Vera Hrabankova, first as a university teacher in Rennes and then in Paris. Czechoslovakia revoked his citizenship in 1979, and he became a French citizen two years later.

The last book he wrote in Czech before switching to French was Immortality (1990). His next works were Slowness (1995), Identity (1998), and Ignorance (2000). Kundera was often nominated, but never selected, for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

"Enigmatic and private, and more than a little grumpy about the clatter and clutter of modern Western society," Kundera was largely out of the public eye from 2000 until the announcement in 2014 that he had created yet another novel, The Festival of Insignificance, the Times noted. In the book, he wrote: "We've known for a long time that it was no longer possible to overturn this world, nor reshape it, nor head off its dangerous headlong rush. There's been only one possible resistance: to not take it seriously."


Image of the Day: Celebrating Cake Mix

Village Well Book & Cafe in Culver City, Calif., hosted a sold-out event for the launch of actress, voice actor, and author Mikki Hernandez's debut picture book, Cake Mix, about a mixed-race girl who learns to love all her "ingredients" through baking with her mother. Paw Prints Publishing (the new children's book imprint from Baker & Taylor) partnered with L.A. bakery Flouring for a promo campaign giving fans from around the country the chance to win a cake of their choice with proof of preorder. The bakery also created a book cover-themed cake for the event.

Brett Gregory Joins GLIBA as Executive Coordinator

Brett Gregory

Brett Gregory has joined the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association as executive coordinator. He has worked with independent publisher Two Dollar Radio since 2016, GLIBA said, "doing everything from mailing ARCs, to reading submissions, to managing social media, to running publicity campaigns." He is also a co-founder and co-owner of bookstore/café Two Dollar Radio Headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, where he operated the business until 2021. In 2017, he helped launch a music/literature festival called Flyover Fest in Columbus, and worked recently at the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library.

GLIBA said of Gregory: "With his extensive background in indie bookselling and indie publishing, he brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to GLIBA. Brett's love and enthusiasm for our region, our bookstores and the Midwest literary landscape is truly remarkable. We couldn't be more excited for you to get to know him. Together, we look forward to forging stronger connections with our community and many new ventures."

Personnel Changes at HarperCollins

In the children's sales and special markets departments at HarperCollins:

Kathy Faber, v-p of children's sales, will continue to lead the efforts for children's traditional wholesalers and the indies and will now take on the role of divisional sales lead.

Director Cheryl Dickemper will have all educational accounts consolidated with her team, within the special markets department.

Kim Sorrell has been promoted to associate director, special markets.

Jen Wygand has been promoted to associate director of national accounts for the children's division.

Jess Abel has been promoted to associate director, online sales, and will lead efforts for the children's team.

Hannah Neff has been promoted to national account manager, selling to Barnes & Noble.

Patricia Day has been promoted to associate sales rep.

Emma Tomko has been promoted to associate sales rep.

Michelle Ramos has been promoted to senior sales associate.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Jeff Goodell on Fresh Air

Fresh Air: Jeff Goodell, author of The Heat Will Kill You First: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet (Little, Brown, $29, 9780316497572).

Live with Kelly and Mark: Michelle Buteau, author of Survival of the Thickest: Essays (Gallery, $17.99, 9781982122591).

Movies: Wonka

Warner Bros. has released the official trailer for Wonka, based on the eccentric chocolatier created by Roald Dahl in his classic children's novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The "musical fantasy film follows the adventures of a young Willy Wonka, including how he met the Oompa-Loompas," Variety reported.

Along with Timothy Chalamet as Willy Wonka, the film stars Olivia Colman, Sally Hawkins, Keegan-Michael Key, Matthew Baynton, Matt Lucas, Rowan Atkinson, Jim Carter, Natasha Rothwell, Simon Farnaby, Paterson Joseph, Tom Davis, Rakhee Thakrar, Justin Edwards, Colin O'Brien, Ellie White, Freya Parker, and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith.

The project is directed by Paul King, from a script he co-wrote with Simon Farnaby. Michael Siegel and Alexandra Derbyshire executive produce, while Luke Kelly and David Heyman via Heyman Films serve as producers on the film.

Other film adaptations of Dahl's story include 1971's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, starring Gene Wilder, and Tim Burton's 2005 movie with Johnny Depp in the title role. Wonka will hit theaters December 15. 

Books & Authors

Awards: Ursula K. Le Guin Fiction Shortlist

A shortlist has been released for the $25,000 Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction, which is "intended to recognize those writers Ursula spoke of in her 2014 National Book Awards speech--realists of a larger reality, who can imagine real grounds for hope and see alternatives to how we live now." The winner will be chosen by a panel of authors. This year's shortlisted titles are:

Wolfish by Christiane Andrews (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Arboreality by Rebecca Campbell (Stelliform Press)
Spear by Nicola Griffith (Tordotcom Publishing)
Ten Planets by Yuri Herrera, translated by Lisa Dillman (Graywolf)
The Spear Cuts Through Water by Simon Jimenez (Del Rey)
Brother Alive by Zain Khalid (Grove Atlantic)
Meet Us by the Roaring Sea by Akil Kumarasamy (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux)
Geometries of Belonging by R.B. Lemberg (Fairwood Press)
Drinking from Graveyard Wells by Yvette Lisa Ndlovu (University Press of Kentucky)

Reading with... Ruth Madievsky

photo: Adam F. Phillips

Originally from Moldova, Ruth Madievsky is a novelist, poet, and essayist living in Los Angeles. Her debut poetry collection, Emergency Brake, was the winner of the Wrolstad Contemporary Poetry Series. Madievsky's work has appeared in the Atlantic, the Los Angeles Times, Harper's Bazaar, Tin Housemagazine, Guernica, and elsewhere. She is a founding member of the Cheburashka Collective, a community of women and nonbinary writers whose identity has been shaped by immigration from the Soviet Union to the United States. When she is not writing, she works as an HIV and primary care clinical pharmacist. Her debut novel, All-Night Pharmacy (Catapult), follows one woman after a drunken night leads to the disappearance of her co-dependent toxic sister.

Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:

Queer women behaving badly. Bitchy iguana. Lots of sex. Chaotic Russian idioms. Opioid epidemic. Seedy Los Angeles bars. Intergenerational trauma. Globetrotting. Medicare fraud, but funny.

On your nightstand now:

I love preordering books and counting down the days until they arrive. And when I'm considering a new book for media coverage, nothing gives me more dopamine than begging a publicist for a galley and seeing a book-shaped envelope in the mail. An abridged version of my teetering nightstand TBR:

Standing in the Forest of Being Alive by Katie Farris. I love Farris's poetry, and I've been slowly savoring her new collection about the body in ecstasy and in crisis, as she began navigating a breast cancer diagnosis in her 30s.

Witness by Jamel Brinkley. Brinkley is one of our most skilled short story writers and someone I was lucky enough to meet at the Tin House Summer Workshop nearly a decade ago. Reading him always makes me want to drop everything and write.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt. The BookTok girlies will not rest until we're all Tartt stans, and I think I'm nearly ready to crack open this doorstopper.

It Was Vulgar & It Was Beautiful by Jack Lowery. I'm always on the lookout for intimate literature about HIV/AIDS, and Lowery's exploration of art collective and activist group Gran Fury checks all my boxes.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I looooved the Wayside School series by Louis Sachar. That's probably when I discovered how fun it is to read about tender weirdos, foreshadowing my entire writing career.

Your top five authors:

Impossible question! I'll deflect by naming five authors/books that were lodestars for All-Night Pharmacy: Melissa Broder's Milk Fed; Ottessa Moshfegh's Homesick for Another World; Rufi Thorpe's The Knockout Queen; Jean Kyoung Frazier's Pizza Girl; Kimberly King Parsons's Black Light.

All of these books capture with dark humor, piercing insight, and empathy the ecstasy and terror of being a young woman. And they're super voice-y, which I adore. My copies of these books are underlined within an inch of their lives.

Book you've faked reading:

Ovid's Metamorphoses in college. I'll never forget the dread of having to take a pop quiz on a section I hadn't even skimmed. The prompt couldn't have been easier--"write about any of the stories"--and, not knowing what we'd even been assigned, I wrote about Leda and the Swan, which I'd read in high school. It absolutely was not part of our assigned reading. I got a B+.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Some of My Best Friends by Tajja Isen. A brilliant and incisive essay collection about cringey corporate allyship, fraught representation politics, and how it feels to "be living the first line of your obituary" and to realize that maybe you want a different first line. Isen deftly blends cultural criticism with legit laugh-out-loud humor. Phrases like "minor gynecological snafus" and "justice à la carte" are going to live rent-free in my brain for years to come.

Book you've bought for the cover:

We Ride upon Sticks by Quan Barry. The vibrant colors, the sticker-like images, and the perfect font (not to mention how insanely catchy the title is) totally hooked me. The vibe is so joyous and so evocative of being a teenager.

Book you hid from your parents:

Every puberty and sex book I obsessively read inside the cover of a larger book about, like, world religions or some shit.

Book that changed your life:

Edinburgh by Alexander Chee. I wrote at Guernica about the impact it had on me and my writing. I'm so grateful to have read it when I did.

Favorite line from a book:

Two lines immediately come to mind:

"She requested that I put my hair back in a gross ponytail that made me look like I bred iguanas. But it made me look less gay." --from Rufi Thorpe's The Knockout Queen

"I smoke on my way to the bus stop, past the spoiled Arby's and Mr. Beezer's dry cleaner, past Pegasus Plaza and a gross motel Tim calls the Sexual Asphyxiation Inn, where people are always throwing bottles of piss out the windows and setting each other on fire." --from Kimberly King Parsons's Black Light

Voice is everything to me. There's nothing better than a confident, hyper-specific image that captures the specificity of being alive.

Five books you'll never part with:

Crush by Richard Siken; Wind in a Box by Terrance Hayes; Vladimir by Julia May Jonas; The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner; Lot by Bryan Washington.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson. It still gives me the chills every time I reread it, but I remember reading it for the first time and realizing that I wanted--no, I needed--to write fiction that makes people feel the way that book made me feel.  

Book Review

Children's Review: Alex Wise vs. the End of the World

Alex Wise vs. the End of the World by Terry J. Benton-Walker (Labyrinth Road, $18.99 hardcover, 416p., ages 10-up, 9780593564295, September 26, 2023)

Terry J. Benton-Walker's first middle-grade novel, Alex Wise vs. the End of the World, is a heartfelt and action-packed urban fantasy that follows a gay Black boy as he strives to save the world from evil gods seeking to usher in the apocalypse.

Twelve-year-old Alex Wise's hopes for a relaxing summer are quashed when he learns that he and his younger sister, Mags, will be going on a cruise with their estranged father and his "upgraded" family. But the situation isn't all bad. While waiting in line to get on the ship, Alex discovers that Mr. Dexter, his favorite teacher, is taking the same cruise. Soon after the ship sets sail, a mysterious figure snatches Mags overboard, and Alex dives off the boat to save her. Mags, Alex, and Mr. Dexter--who followed the siblings into the ocean--awaken on an island and meet Liam, a boy from Paradisum, a magical realm. Before the group can take in their situation, the figure, whom Alex names the Shadow Man, steals Mags again. Liam, Alex, and Mr. Dexter follow the Shadow Man to a cave where Mags gets possessed by Death, one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, then "melts into her shadow and disappears."

Mags, though, is not the only one to gain divine powers. The deity Orin gives Alex a new Sense, a type of "empathetic magic," which allows him to feel and influence people's emotions through skin contact. Liam tells Alex and Mr. Dexter that the Horsemen launched a coup against his mother, the High Goddess of Paradisum, and destroyed their world. The Horsemen, he says, are determined "to conquer Earth and as many realms as they [can] get their hands on." It is up to Alex, with the help of best friend Loren, Liam, and Mr. Dexter, to defeat the Horsemen, stave off the apocalypse, and wrest his sister from Death's control.

Alex Wise vs. the End of the World is an exciting and genre-bending narrative that melds comic-book style adventure, urban fantasy, and teen romance into a fresh and exhilarating coming-of-age story. Thrills and snarky humor balance heartfelt, emotional moments. Benton-Walker (Blood Debts) features several LGBTQ+ characters, all of whom are portrayed with great depth and complexity, and he invites all readers, especially those who identify as queer, to love themselves first and the world after. --Cade Williams, freelance book reviewer

Shelf Talker: A heartfelt and action-packed middle-grade urban fantasy follows a gay Black boy as he strives to save the world from evil gods seeking to usher in the apocalypse.

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