Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Roaring Brook Press: Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer

From My Shelf

Food, Family and Fraught Relationships

To kick off Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, I've been seeking out books that highlight different AAPI cultures. Several novels I've read recently have piqued my curiosity about the Philippines: the country's lush vegetation, delicious food and rich culture, and the experiences of Filipino-American immigrants.  

Veteran army nurse and novelist Tif Marcelo writes smart, warm-hearted fiction featuring strong, driven women, many of whom are of Filipina descent. Her first standalone novel, The Key to Happily Ever After (Gallery, $16), follows three sisters who struggle to balance job responsibilities with sibling dynamics after taking over their parents' wedding planning business. Marcelo's second novel, Once Upon a Sunset (Gallery, $16), traces a family's long-hidden history from the Philippines to Washington, D.C., as successful surgeon Diana Gallagher-Cary deals with personal and professional challenges.

Marisa de los Santos often sets her novels in the mid-Atlantic corridor, where she has lived for many years. But in her vivid novel Falling Together (Morrow, $15.99), three semi-estranged college friends end up in the Philippines in an attempt to heal old wounds for themselves and each other. The setting plays a vital role as Pen, Cat and Will work through some unfinished business.

After a bad breakup in Chicago that also knocked her career off balance, Lila Macapagal is back working at her Tita Rosie's Filipino restaurant in small-town Illinois. Mia P. Manansala's witty cozy mystery debut, Arsenic and Adobo (Berkeley, $16, reviewed below), follows Lila as she tries to save the restaurant after a mean-spirited food critic (who happens to be Lila's ex) dies in their dining room.

Each of these novels left me hankering to try Filipino dishes such as adobo and pancit--and dreaming of visiting the country itself one day. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

BINC: Read Love Support Campaign

Book Candy

10 Famous Authors and Their Moms

Mental Floss showcased "10 famous authors and their moms."


Lit Hub explored the "brief, joyous life of the Sunwise Turn Bookshop," a space created by two women "for modernism to thrive."


"Behold the 1940s typewriter that could type in English, Chinese & Japanese," Open Culture invited.


Author David Barnett shared his picks for "top 10 books about museums" with the Guardian.


Arthur Conan Doyle's The Sign of the Four and Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray were commissioned at the same dinner party," CrimeReads reported.

The Nature of Witches

by Rachel Griffin

When climate change wreaks havoc, a super-witch is tasked with saving the world at the expense of her loved ones. Rachel Griffin's effective use of flawed, realistic characters and nature magic that warns against the ever-evolving climate crisis is bolstered by an enthralling magic system and a swoony love interest in her YA debut, The Nature of Witches.

Witches are born on either the solstice or the equinox, and their powers, which come from the sun, reach full strength during their birth season. They have used their powers to control the atmosphere for centuries, keeping the weather in their respective seasons running smoothly. But over the years, the "shaders--those without magic"--have taken advantage of the witches' powers, pushing their limits and ignoring the warnings that magic isn't infinite. Now, witches are trying to use their magic to combat extreme atypical weather but are being depleted of their powers--they are forced to regularly use magic out of season (when they're at their weakest), such as winter witches fighting a substantial blizzard in spring. Only a witch tied to all four seasons whose magic never fades, just changes--an "Everwitch"--can wield enough magic to help balance the shifting atmosphere. Evers are rare, though, and 17-year-old Clara, described as having pale skin and red hair, is the first one in more than a hundred years. With the atmosphere collapsing and weather intensifying, the administration at her school, the Eastern School of Solar Magic, is looking to Clara "to make the difference."

What the administration doesn't know is that Clara has no intention of making any kind of difference. In fact, in 11 months, when the rest of the witches flee from the forthcoming total solar eclipse, she plans to stand in the shadow of the moon and cut off her connection to the sun, which will strip her of her magic. While Clara's teachers believe her magic might be able to "single-handedly restore stability in the atmosphere," Clara knows it comes with "a death sentence." Her magic is too big for her to control--"it builds and builds and builds, and when the pressure is too great, it searches for another means of escape," targeting those with whom she has an emotional connection. More than once, her magic has killed people she loves--first her parents, then her best friend, Nikki. Clara despises and fears her magic.

Then it happens again: her mentor, Mr. Hart, meets an untimely end because Clara's magic goes awry. The administration replaces Mr. Hart with Sang Park, an 18-year-old student in botany who's doing an advanced independent study at the school. Because there's no history between him and Clara, Sang, described as tall and lean with golden-bronze skin and thick black hair, is not at risk of being a target of Clara's magic. It's the perfect solution. Except, as each season passes, Clara and Sang grow closer, and as much as Clara tries to keep Sang at a distance, she finds herself falling for him. As Clara's power grows and the atmosphere fractures, Clara will have to choose between her duty to humanity and to herself.  

The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin is a contemporary fantasy rooted in the power of change, both within people and in forces of nature. Griffin uses seasons to mark the passage of time and to parallel Clara's transformation. Each season's magic is personified and also vividly exemplifies Clara's journey to acceptance. For example, when readers first meet Clara, it's summer. Griffin defines summer magic as "big and bold"; Clara feels it's like a flood that she constantly fears drowning in. This emotion applies not only to the season but also sets up the obstacle Clara must overcome: her own magic's overwhelming strength, which she must learn to rein in. Griffin uses Sang, Clara's trainer and eventual love interest, to counterbalance Clara's instability. Sang is a spring witch and "spring magic is calm"; Sang also has the ability to "isolate that characteristic and project it outward," putting Clara more at ease. This pairing is not just functional--it's the catalyst for change Clara needs.

What Clara also needs is "to be seen by another person," and that person is Sang. Over the course of Clara's training, Clara and Sang's relationship develops into a beautiful and imperfect amalgam of gentle intimacy, raw emotion and love. The relationship develops organically and doesn't feel rushed, and the way Griffin describes their moments together is poetic and tangible. Clara is Sang's "magnificently disruptive force," while he is her sun.

Clara's transformation is what propels the story, but climate change lies at its epicenter. Griffin doesn't come across as preachy but, rather, matter of fact about the effects humans have had on the ongoing climate crisis: "No one wants to hear they're part of the problem--that they are the problem now." And while the real world doesn't have an Everwitch to help stop atypical weather, like the aurora borealis lighting up a Pennsylvania school's campus or a heat wave of 100-degree days in the middle of winter, Griffin wants it to be duly noted "that things are shifting, that we don't have as much control as we used to."

The Nature of Witches, a refreshing take on witches, is imaginative, romantic and inspiring. --Lana Barnes

Sourcebooks Fire, $17.99, hardcover, 384p., ages 12-up, 9781728229423

Rachel Griffin: Seeing Beauty in Change

Rachel Griffin writes young adult novels inspired by the magic of the world around her. When she isn't writing, you can find her wandering the Pacific Northwest, reading by the fire or drinking copious amounts of coffee and tea. She lives in the Seattle area with her husband, dog and growing collection of houseplants. Here, Griffin discusses The Nature of Witches (Sourcebooks Fire, June 1), her deep love of nature and one of her favorite parts of writing her debut novel.

Was a career as an author something you always saw in your future?

It was certainly something I always dreamed of! When I was 10 years old, I made a list of everything I wanted to accomplish in my life, and "write a book and have it published" was at the top. But when I went to college, it honestly didn't occur to me that I could pursue writing as a career. I got my degree in an entirely unrelated field instead, and after six years of being unfulfilled in my chosen profession, I finally found my way back to writing.  

What sparked the idea for this story?

I was driving down the road in winter when I saw a completely bare tree with a crow sitting on the top branch. I thought, "Seasons are cool," and that's when I was hit with the idea.

It came from two places. The first is that I'm someone who changes a lot. When I was younger, I was told I change too much, and it was always said as a bad thing. I wanted to write about change and what a truly beautiful thing it can be.

The second is that I love nature. I have a deep connection to it, and when I saw that tree and thought about the seasons, it instantly came to me: What if there was a girl who changed with the seasons?

The ultimate obstacle for the witches in your story is climate change. Has climate change always been an important issue to you?

I've always been fascinated by the natural world. As I got older, that fascination turned into a deep love of the earth, but I didn't learn about climate change until I was an adult.

Humans without magic are called "shaders." Can you explain how you came up with this term and what it means?

In The Nature of Witches, the sun is the source of the witches' power. Not only does their magic come from the sun, but the Earth's position [in relation] to the sun when they're born determines the kind of magic they have. Since those without magic don't have a connection to the sun, the witches think of them as being blocked from it--as if they're living in the shade. The term "shaders" is an extension of that belief.

So, a witch's birth date determines which season a witch is tied to. Do you identify with your birth season?

I do! I was born on the vernal equinox, so I would be a spring witch. Spring is a hopeful season, and it's comfortable sitting with the hardships of the past while looking forward to all the wonderful things that are on the horizon. This juxtaposition of being able to sit with all my feelings while remaining hopeful and optimistic is very true to me as a person.

How did you come up with the qualities for each season?

Every season has its own qualities and feelings that we generally associate with that time of year. I tried to personify those. In my experience, spring is the season we've typically waited a long time for. But when it arrives, spring is still associated with colder days and lots of rain (assuming you’re in a part of the world that experiences the four seasons!), even though you're starting to see signs of growth. It felt natural to make spring the season that was heavily rooted in patience and hope.

Alternatively, winter generally takes us by surprise and shows up quickly. We get big storms and harsh conditions, so it felt like a natural extension that winters would be straightforward and assertive.

Coming up with the qualities of each season was one of my favorite parts of writing this book.

Who are some of your favorite authors of witchy stories, and how have they influenced your writing?

I completely fell in love with Shea Ernshaw's The Wicked Deep. Shea's writing is so lush and beautiful, and her love of nature is apparent in her stories. And of course, I have to mention Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic--I have a twin sister, so I absolutely love sister stories, and I was captivated by the way this book uses magic in everyday life to emphasize matters of the heart. And while it isn't about witches, Uprooted by Naomi Novik had a profound impact on my writing because of the quiet, organic nature of magic in that world.

Clara's teacher, Mr. Hart, is a big influence in Clara's life. Who has made an impact on your life?

Some of the most impactful people in my life have been other authors. In 2016, I was fortunate enough to get into a mentorship program called Pitch Wars, where an established author (the incredible Heather Ezell) chose me and my manuscript to mentor through a revision for three months. That book didn't end up getting published, but the experience changed my life. Pitch Wars made me believe--it suddenly surrounded me with people who took me and my writing seriously--and it was that shift that led to my dreams coming true.

At one point, Clara says, "I wish I could go back in time and hug my younger self." What would you say/do to your younger self?

I'd tell my younger self this: "Your sensitivity is a gift. It's a strength, not a weakness. You're strong because of it, not in spite of it. And it's your sensitivity that will lead you to your dreams."

What about future you? Do you have any works in progress?

Yes! I just finished the first draft of my next young adult novel. I can't say too much yet, but it's another witchy story that's deeply rooted in nature, and I really love it. --Lana Barnes

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Great Reads

Rediscover: The Favorite Son

Favorite Son, a movie based on the novel by Tiffany L. Warren, premieres this Thursday, May 6, on BET+. The film follows brothers Camden and Blaine Drake, sons of a bishop and founders of a gospel group. At first their father disapproves of the group, until Blaine, his favorite child, delivers a rousing performance to the congregation. The bishop wants them back every Sunday, but the brothers' rising popularity instead sends them on gigs across the country, meeting music executives and being plied with the temptations of fame. Outgoing Blaine is more eager to partake in these distractions than quiet Camden, and soon the brothers' success threatens their familial bonds.

Directed by Robin Givens, the movie stars Rotimi (Power), Jonathan McReynolds, Serayah (Empire), Loren Lott (Cherish the Day), E. Roger Mitchell (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), Keke Wyatt, Anthony Evans Jr., Anton Peeples (Insecure, Mr. Mom), Lisa Arrindell (Madea's Family Reunion) and Walnette Santiago (Atlanta). It was adapted by Patricia Cuffie-Jones. Tiffany L. Warren's other books include The Replacement Wife, The Pastor's Husband, Her Secret Life, The Outside Child and All the Things I Should Have Known. Warren's most recent novel is All the Things I Meant to Tell You, published last month. The Favorite Son is available from Kensington ($7.99).

Book Review


Arsenic and Adobo

by Mia P. Manansala

Strong, take-charge, wise-cracking women are the backbone of Arsenic and Adobo, Mia Manansala's fun firecracker of a first cozy mystery.

Lila Macapagal is a whip-smart, willful, 25-year-old Asian American. She retreats from Chicago to her hometown of Shady Palms, Ill., intent on recovering from the sting of a cheating beau, while tasked to save her Tita (Aunt) Rosie's failing Filipino restaurant. But when Derek Winter--Lila's first love, a self-important, self-proclaimed restaurant reviewer with a vindictive ax to grind--sets out to pan the eating establishment, all hell breaks loose. During one of Derek's reconnaissance meals, he has a confrontation with Lila, then face-plants right into one of her signature treats and drops dead. When poisoning is ruled the culprit, Lila becomes the prime suspect and matters escalate, forcing Lila to figure a way to exonerate herself and root out the real killer.

Family and Filipino culture--especially the sumptuous fusion food--are front and center in a madcap mystery populated with a strong supporting cast. This includes Lila's commanding grandmother Lola Flor, and the "Calendar Crew," Lila's meddling godmothers, April, Mae and June. This trio of outspoken women, all in their 50s, were friends of Lila's late mother. There's also Lila's best friend, Pakistani Muslim barista Adeena Awan, and her swoon-worthy, older brother, Amir, a lawyer.

Cozy mystery lovers--and foodies--will be licking their literary chops, eagerly awaiting the next installment in this winning, multicultural series that also offers a delectable blend of romcom and whodunnit elements. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: Dark themes are whipped up frothy in a smartly plotted, multicultural cozy mystery that food lovers will devour.

Berkley, $16, paperback, 336p., 9780593201671

The Parted Earth

by Anjali Enjeti

Anjali Enjeti (Southbound) tells the story of Partition through the lives of two families in her deeply emotional first novel, The Parted Earth. Deepa is happy with her life in New Delhi, going to school and helping out at her Hindu parents' medical clinic. But riots and hate fill the streets as mid-August 1947--the planned time for the formal division of British India into two countries--approaches. Amid the chaos, Deepa's Muslim boyfriend, Amir, flees to Lahore with his family, leaving behind only an origami note with a promise to return for Deepa.

Decades later, in Atlanta, Deepa's mixed-race granddaughter Shan is reeling from a miscarriage and a shattered marriage. Trying to piece together her family's story, she uncovers new information about the grandmother she's met only once. Enjeti moves between these two eras, deftly portraying Shan's inner conflict about her identity and the father who never told her why he moved back to India, as well as Deepa's suffering when her world is upended. With the help of a neighbor, Chandani, Shan makes discoveries about her roots that may lead to her own healing.

Enjeti does not spare her readers the bloody details of Partition: families torn apart, as well as vandalism, arson and other forms of violence. Her narrative urges readers to bear witness to this difficult episode of history. But, like her characters, Enjeti ultimately reaches for hope. The Parted Earth is a testament to the tremendous strength of the people of India and Pakistan who found the courage to begin again. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Anjali Enjeti's affecting first novel tells the story of a young couple split apart by the Partition of India.

Hub City Press, $26, hardcover, 272p., 9781938235771

Mystery & Thriller

The Whispering Dead

by Darcy Coates

Night. A thunderstorm rages. An injured woman awakens to the sound of gunshots and footsteps racing toward her. She doesn't know where she is or how she got there, but gets up and starts to run. She blindly flees into a cemetery where voices begin to speak to her in the gripping supernatural mystery thriller The Whispering Dead.

Strange voices guide the woman to the door of Pastor Adage. She tells him her first name is Kiera and she's being chased, but can't remember anything else. The kindly pastor gets rid of her pursuers and hides Kiera in a cottage on church property until she can figure out her identity. Later that night Kiera is visited by the ghost of Emma Carthage. Instead of being fearful, Kiera discovers she can communicate with Emma's spirit. Mason, a medical student, and a quirky local named Zoe befriend Kiera. They explain the circumstances behind Emma's death at the hands of the wealthiest man in town. Helping Emma's ghost get revenge exposes Kiera to her pursuers, but the spirit will not rest. Kiera soon discovers Emma is just one of many ghosts seeking justice--and they all want help from Kiera.

Darcy Coates (The Haunting of Ashburn House; Craven Manor) adeptly sets up a quick-paced plot by sending an amnesia-suffering heroine crashing through the forest dodging bullets and branches. The immediately dangerous scenario creates a relentless, gnawing anxiety about what will befall Kiera next in the creepy, Dickensian-looking town of Blighty. There's nothing like a good ghost story to curl up with on a dark and stormy night. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer

Discover: An amnesia victim awakes in the forest with armed men chasing her and the ability to speak to the dead in this gripping, supernatural thriller.

Poisoned Pen Press, $14.99, paperback, 272p., 9781728239217

People of Abandoned Character

by Clare Whitfield

A gothic tale of a mistreated wife intersects with the story of Jack the Ripper in the gripping debut People of Abandoned Character.

After spending her youth caring for her grandmother and then establishing herself as a nurse in London, Susannah marries a rich, handsome younger surgeon. It's more than the spinster had ever hoped for, but not long after they return from their honeymoon, he begins to become distant. With no support from her husband and with the domineering housekeeper uninterested in letting her take any role in the running of their home, Susannah distracts herself with the newspapers, especially once the first lurid account of a woman murdered in Whitechapel is published. Then she realizes that her husband has been out late or failed to come home every time a new victim was found, sometimes even coming home bloodied. Is her husband the murderer? And is there anyone to whom Susannah can turn with her suspicions?

Whitfield masterfully weaves the story of Jack the Ripper, as it enthralls the citizens of London, with classic gothic suspense elements about a new wife facing more than she expected in a household she cannot quite call her own. Although Rebecca will always come to mind whenever one encounters a secretive husband and a sinister housekeeper, Susannah is a more worldly narrator in spite of floundering in her changed circumstances. She has secrets, and readers will be eager to discover if they will break her or give her the strength to survive. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library

Discover: A woman fears her husband may be Jack the Ripper in this suspenseful gothic debut.

Head of Zeus, $24.95, hardcover, 432p., 9781838932732

The Girl Who Died

by Ragnar Jónasson, trans. by Victoria Cribb

With his thrillers centered on cop Ari Thór Arason (Snowblind; Rupture) and detective Hulda Hermannsdóttir (The Darkness; The Island; The Mist), Ragnar Jónasson has proved himself to be a go-to author for Nordic noir. The Girl Who Died delivers Jónasson's usual sublime atmospheric puzzle but with bonus chills, courtesy of an apparently haunted house.

It's 1985, and 30-year-old substitute teacher Una is languishing in Reykjavík when she reads a seductive ad: "Teacher wanted at the edge of the world." She lands the winter-term-only job, which brings her to the remote village of Skálar, population 10 per the last census. The job includes accommodations in the home of Salka, a single woman on the local council, and Salka's seven-year-old daughter, one of the two kids Una will teach. The job is a cakewalk, although Una wishes the villagers weren't quite so obvious with their opinion of her as an interloper, and she could do without the intermittent confrontations with a ghostly presence at Salka's house. When tragedy strikes at the village Christmas concert, Una must deal with the obfuscating darkness of both Skálar in winter and its citizens.

The Girl Who Died is interwoven with passages recounting a notorious murder in Iceland that bears on the happenings in tucked-away Skálar. Not for the first time, Jónasson demonstrates a gift for capturing the particular loneliness that attends physical isolation. Of course, Una's alienation is exacerbated by the personal demons she's fighting, not all of which come from the bottle she keeps handy. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: This sturdy stand-alone thriller by a preeminent Icelandic crime writer harbors a ghost story that ratchets up the chill factor.

Minotaur, $27.99, hardcover, 320p., 9781250793737

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Project Hail Mary

by Andy Weir

Andy Weir (The Martian; Artemis) has created a propulsive space adventure in Project Hail Mary. The story centers on Dr. Ryland Grace, a middle-school biology teacher, whose obscure paper about alien races comes to the attention of some important individuals when the sun starts rapidly fading. More than half of humanity is predicted to die, and the earth's ecology will be in shambles if scientists can't figure out why the sun has suddenly started losing heat.

The problem is: Ryland doesn't know this at first. He awakens from a coma, finds his shipmates dead and realizes to his horror that he's millions of miles away from Earth. He's struggling with amnesia, attempting to piece together what was happening on Earth before the Hail Mary launched, and why he is alone in this faraway galaxy. Luckily for the fate of humanity, Ryland is a quick study, good at piecing together bits of information and able to make some fairly wacky calculations to keep himself alive.

Fans of The Martian or John Scalzi's Interdependency trilogy are sure to love Project Hail Mary, as it mixes the pathos of the fate of humanity with the humor of Ryland's bumbling around his spaceship, and his frequent use of "gosh darn" and "oh fudge" (middle-school teacher habits are apparently very hard to break). Funny, poignant and full of interesting science, Project Hail Mary is a wild ride that is chock full of interstellar secrets. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this fast-paced science fiction thriller from the author of The Martian, the fate of humanity hinges on the decisions of a middle-school science teacher.

Ballantine Books, $28.99, hardcover, 496p., 9780593135204

Biography & Memoir

The Secret to Superhuman Strength

by Alison Bechdel

Comics artist Alison Bechdel approaches the subject of exercise in The Secret to Superhuman Strength with the same insatiable curiosity, interdisciplinary rumination and candid humor as she did with the earlier subjects of her parents in Fun Home and Are You My Mother? "My bookish exterior perhaps belies it, but I'm a bit of an exercise freak," Bechdel reveals, before carefully unfurling her extensive history with fitness fads and physical vigor, quick to stipulate that coordinated sports fall roughly outside her interests.

This is both a study of Bechdel's individual history with maintaining her body, as well as an expansive, ambitious consideration of what it means to be embodied. At an early age, her interest was piqued by Jack LaLanne's televised exercise routines for women, although she was far more fascinated by his body than his instructions. "Housewives in the '60s did not want bulging biceps. But from Jack I learned that the body was something you could shape." As she grows into adulthood, tackling martial arts, cycling, skiing and so on, she also considers her place within generational shifts regarding gender, as well as philosophical movements flowing from the transcendentalists to the present day, in her search for an ever-elusive sense of balance between body and mind.

Grounding this incredible journey is Bechdel's distinctive artwork colored extensively by her partner, Holly Rae Taylor. The Secret to Superhuman Strength is far greater than the diverting lark it seems; it is a potent testament to the human condition. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: The acclaimed comics artist ruminates on physical fitness and human struggle in a memoir that is both hilarious and thought-provoking.

Houghton Mifflin, $24, hardcover, 240p., 9780544387652

Sunshine Girl: An Unexpected Life

by Julianna Margulies

Julianna Margulies, a three-time Emmy-winning actress, proves herself equally skilled as a writer with this heartfelt, ingratiating and captivating memoir. A natural-born storyteller, Margulies spends the first half of Sunshine Girl spinning tales of growing up with her sisters as their divorced mother constantly uproots them with moves from New York to Paris, England and various states. Her eccentric and self-absorbed mother was constantly searching for herself. "My stability, I learned quickly, depended on my mother's happiness," she writes, "and her state of mind fluctuated with every boyfriend."

Margulies's people-pleasing skills kept everyone around her happy but she seldom nurtured herself. This trait continued with a neglectful and undermining boyfriend she stayed with for a decade. Until, she writes, "At thirty-five, I woke up. Finally admitting to myself that I could not keep living in this state of joylessness." Finally, putting herself first, she left her boyfriend and turned down a $27 million offer to stay with ER for two more years. Two years after moving to New York, she met her husband, had a son and started starring in The Good Wife. Balancing motherhood and a 60-hour-a-week work schedule is grueling and guilt-inducing. Her son's first two sentences were "Mama work" and "Mama tired."

Sunshine Girl is an ideal book club pick. Margulies's upbeat and humorous globetrotting tales of growing up in a quirky family mix well with her encouraging stories of pursuing an acting career and succeeding. This is the kind of introspective feel-good book that readers will want to share with friends. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: The next big book club hit is Julianna Margulies's upbeat, introspective and captivating memoir of growing up amid chaos but finding her way toward a happy ending.

Ballantine, $28, hardcover, 256p., 9780525480259


The Nine: The True Story of a Band of Women Who Survived the Worst of Nazi Germany

by Gwen Strauss

Gwen Strauss's narrative nonfiction debut, The Nine: The True Story of a Band of Women Who Survived the Worst of Nazi Germany, reconstructs the daring escape of nine female resistance fighters in the grim final days of World War II. One of those resistance fighters was Hélène Podliasky, the author's great-aunt, who was considered the leader of the band of women. Chapters center on each woman in turn, using Strauss's research not only to trace their paths to resistance, capture and imprisonment in Germany's nightmarish labor camps, but to resurrect their characters and personalities. What results is an improbable story of escape and survival thanks in large part to the bonds forged among these courageous fighters.

The Nine begins with the women's escape from a death march overseen by the SS and the start of their long, dangerous journey across Germany toward the American lines. The women were in desperate condition after months of back-breaking labor in an offshoot of the infamous Ravensbrück concentration camp. Hungry and weak, they used their wits and language skills to cross the German countryside and procure food and shelter for themselves. In many cases, the nine were able to use the Germans' fondness for bureaucracy and official documents against them, though they had some harrowing close calls. Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, the women's journey sometimes has the air of an incredible adventure story, with them sardonically comparing their journey with a camping trip. The Nine is not only a gripping narrative, but a powerful tribute to women who should be remembered as heroes. --Hank Stephenson, the Sun magazine, manuscript reader

Discover: The Nine thrillingly reconstructs the incredible journey of a band of captured female resistance fighters across Germany near the end of World War II.

St. Martin's Press, $28.99, hardcover, 336p., 9781250239297

Social Science

Mergers and Acquisitions: Or, Everything I Know About Love I Learned on the Wedding Pages

by Cate Doty

In Mergers and Acquisitions, Cate Doty's first book, she gives readers a compelling, often irreverent insider's tour of her years writing wedding announcements for the New York Times. Along the way, she muses on the social and political implications of the weddings she covered, shares a few juicy anecdotes (without naming names), and reflects on her journey from hapless girlfriend to contented singleton to (eventually) a woman who suspects she might have found lifelong love.

Doty begins her story with her early days on the Times wedding desk, fielding the ramped-up emotions of politicians and actors, consultants and celebrities, as she fact-checked the myriad details of high-profile relationships. Though she changes names and identifying details, the archetypes are recognizable: the self-important senator, the powerhouse event planner, the heiress, the lawyers. She turns a critical eye on the WASP-dominated, glitzy content of the Times wedding section, acknowledging its limits and self-importance while admitting that, for a wedding obsessive, this job was the most fun she could get paid to have. 

As Doty earns her stripes as a wedding reporter, she also embarks on a relationship with Michael, a colleague at the Times. Still cautious after a previous failed romance, Doty nevertheless begins to believe this guy might be "the one." With self-deprecating wit, wry humor and a keen eye for details both ridiculous and heartwarming, Mergers and Acquisitions is a snapshot of a particular era in both journalism and the wedding industry, as well as a thoughtful meditation on love itself. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Former New York Times weddings reporter Cate Doty wryly weaves together the rarefied world of high-society nuptials with her own love story.

Putnam, $27, hardcover, 368p., 9780593190449

Children's & Young Adult

We Are Still Here!: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know

by Traci Sorell, illus. by Frané Lessac

Students celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day explore 12 challenges currently facing Native nations in Traci Sorell and Frané Lessac's impassioned and informative follow-up to We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga.

We Are Still Here!, for ages 7-10, is framed as a dozen first-person school reports written by fictional children who highlight ways in which Native communities have responded to devastation wrought by federal treaty-making. Each concept, spanning regions and with tribal specificity, fills a double-page spread. Historical scenes, such as "Assimilation" and "Allotment," evolve into modern themes including "Religious Freedom" and "Language Revival." Collectively, the reports showcase self-determination and the continuous agency of Native Nations despite efforts by the federal government to curtail sovereignty: "Despite the continued occupation of our homelands... and being mostly forgotten in US culture, Native Nations all say, 'We are still here!' "

Sorell (At the Mountain's Base), an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation, honors the vibrant contributions of many Native Nations with her careful research. Lessac (Under the Milky Way), in her signature gouache folk-art style, depicts culture and communities rooted in historical events and real locations, and features citizens with a wide range of skin tones and relationships. The presentation format of the text allows Sorell to introduce sophisticated concepts while leaving more complicated topics to her thorough backmatter. A timeline begins with the end of treaty-making in 1871, and additional material invites readers to delve more deeply. Native Nations have struggled and survived, and the successful reunion of this creative pair delivers an empowering affirmation of resilient communities. --Kit Ballenger, youth librarian, Help Your Shelf

Discover: The award-winning duo behind We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga reunites with an affirming celebration of contemporary Indigenous citizens.

Charlesbridge, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 7-10, 9781623541927


by Erin Bowman

Erin Bowman's enthralling post-apocalyptic thriller Dustborn is the story of Delta, a 17-year-old struggling to survive in the decaying wastelands of a desert planet.

After Delta's sister, Indie, dies while giving birth, Delta and her niece leave the far-away healer to return to the home settlement, Dead River. She finds "every hut... smoking" and all the members of her "pack" either murdered or captured. The raiders then reunite Delta with her family at Bedrock, an oasis settlement under the tyrannical rule of the General, where drugged workers toil in blissful ignorance. There, the General discovers Delta is a "map-bearer," a chosen member of her pack branded with a map that reveals the location of the Verdant, a "green paradise." He commands Delta to direct him to the Verdant but she can't read the map; the General orders her mother be killed and swears to kill another member of her group every three days. In order to escape Bedrock, overthrow the General and save the surviving members of her pack, Delta enlists the help of some unlikely allies.

Dustborn is a story told in first-person that emphasizes the enduring importance of community. Throughout the novel, Bowman (Vengeance Road; Taken) prompts readers to contemplate the most painful aspects of life, but Dustborn doesn't depress readers or inspire existential angst; instead, it continually reiterates the human need for friendship, love and connection. Ultimately, Bowman concludes that the secret to life is not hidden in some unreachable utopia--it is in the hearts and minds of those we love. The goal, Bowman writes, is "not just to survive a new dawn together, but to live. Truly live." --Cade Williams, freelance reviewer

Discover: Delta of Dead River must team up with an unlikely group of allies to save herself and her loved ones from tyranny in this captivating post-apocalyptic YA thriller.

HMH Books for Young Readers, $17.99, hardcover, 432p., ages 12-up, 9780358244431

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