Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Poisoned Pen Press: That Night in the Library by Eva Jurczyk

From My Shelf

Board Books and Baby Bumps

Though U.S. birthrates have dropped to a 40-year low, there's plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting Covid-19 babies are totally A Thing. Below are some excellent board books that delve into pregnancy, adding a new baby to a family and the busy life of babies.

Maryann Cocca-Leffler uses die-cuts and page turns to excellent effect in her brightly colored book How Big Is Baby Now? (Sourcebooks Explore, $10.99) The cover displays seven stages of a pregnant belly (three months to nine months), the die-cut taking up the negative space in front of the belly. That space gets smaller as the baby gets bigger, growing from the size of an egg to the size of a football to, eventually, the size of a pumpkin (or toaster). Children ages 4-6 will surely be drawn into the tactile experience of this book that appears to have more open space than paper.

In the wordless Baby Belly by Patricia Martin, illustrated by Rocio Bonilla (Magination Press, $7.99), a toddler wonders about their parent's growing belly. What could be in there? When the toaster-sized belly begins moving, the child begins to understand. Martin uses a soft natural palette, bringing a sense of realism to this sweet story. This gentle board book is excellent to share with pre-readers and as preparation for a new sibling.

And then the baby arrives! City Baby by Laurie Elmquist (Orca, $10.95) gives the very young a dazzlingly illustrated view of the life of a baby. While the title suggests it's only for urban kids, the book includes activities in which every baby can take part: blowing bubbles, playing trains and zooming planes. Simple text and gorgeous mixed-media paper collage art by Ashley Barron make this an utterly entertaining read-aloud.

--Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Book Candy

Murakami's Writing Routine

"Haruki Murakami's daily routine: up at 4 a.m., 5-6 hours of writing, then a 10k run." (via Open Culture)


"Disability visibility: 15 books to celebrate disability pride," recommended by the New York Public Library.


Cambridge University is hiring an archivist to catalogue 160 boxes of Stephen Hawking's workMental Floss noted.


"Parks and re-creations: the best books about Russian landscapes" were chosen by Tom Jeffreys for the Guardian.


Bookshelf featured nC2 Architecture's alternate tread stair bookcase, designed to be "comfortable, safe to climb and spatially efficient."


by T.J. Newman

In the propulsive thriller Falling, former flight attendant T.J. Newman imagines her crew's worst nightmare. The result is a Mission Impossible-worthy roller coaster, a quick read begging for screen adaptation.

The debut novelist, who only quit flying as of 2019, opens with quintessential family man Bill Hoffman, a Coastal Airways pilot who's missing his son's Little League game to steer a transcontinental flight as a favor for his boss. As he prepares to leave town, his wife, Carrie, isn't happy with him, but, alas, he's too focused on the task at hand to give her more than a guilty excuse. In a rather dramatic karmic response, as Bill launches his plane into the sky, he quickly learns his family has been taken hostage by the Internet repairman he passed without a thought earlier that morning.

The repairman-turned-terrorist sends Bill a picture of his family, bound and strapped with explosive devices. Through a live video stream, he presents the pilot with a choice: crash your plane when and where I instruct or watch your family die before your eyes. Bill refuses to make such a choice and hatches a plot to rescue both his loved ones and the souls on board his vessel. For that, he'll need to rely on his flight attendants: enigmatic Big Daddy, hapless but eager Kellie and dependable veteran Jo. Turns out, Bill's in luck--Jo has a nephew in the FBI, and all it takes is one quick text to him for the FBI to launch into full emergency-response mode. Soon enough, the White House is evacuated, the president's in his bunker, and a full-on search for the terrorist leaves Bill with hope that his family would be safe. As for the plane itself, he's got Jo and her team to ensure whatever attacks might come from within the cabin are anticipated and blocked.

The terrorist is apparently desperate for revenge, gunning to wreak havoc on a country that devastated his own. He reveals he's Kurdish, and he lost his family when American allies turned their backs on his people in the war against ISIS. Furious at the cushy American lifestyle, as well as how little its citizens seem to care about the plight of his people, he aims to demand their attention--and their respect--through a plane crash. He also has an ally on the plane, but who?

It's difficult to ignore the haze of 9/11 that hangs over this novel. Newman, to her credit, makes the terrorist an empathetic character, a man who's furious at how the U.S. has repeatedly made promises and then reneged, resulting in thousands of innocent Kurds killed. By the end of Falling, Bill finally seems to grasp the heedless violence from American apathy, and his conflict with the terrorist feels more nuanced than many we've seen depicted since the attack on the World Trade Center.

Falling works well within an insulated setting, mimicking the cramped, gasping feel of an airplane bumping through turbulence. Readers will have a hard time not clenching the pages as FBI agent Theo rushes through traffic to locate Bill's family. Every scene feels like it moves faster and faster; every choice Bill makes feels on the precipice of death. And Newman draws on her airline know-how to build a realistic portrayal of an in-flight emergency response. The members of the flight crew move through protocols, call on their training and protect the cockpit at all costs. No deus ex machina appears to save them; they're on their own in the air.

The book is flush with Newman's own pride for American flight crews, describing their duty and commitment with heartfelt sincerity. Despite their fears or their sardonic swipes at one another, Big Daddy, Kellie, Jo and Bill are heroes, devoted to ensuring zero casualties, and from the beginning readers know they will be--must be--victorious. Newman never gives readers any doubt that these characters have their passengers' best interests at heart, a comfort for those who might experience a Falling-induced fear of flying.

Plane thrillers are not a new genre--in fact, they're an established and successful one, especially in film, which is why it's no surprise the adaptation rights for Falling were snapped up in a heated bidding war earlier this year. Directors and casting agents will find plenty to expand upon with Bill and Carrie's tender love story, as well as Jo's deeply trusting relationship with Theo. As in many thrillers, there are a few logical leaps (why have the terrorists targeted Bill specifically?) but the action itself is satisfying, the plot builds at a steady enough clip to keep the pages flipping. The prose is tight--sparse enough not to lose the reader's focus, but still immersive. Through her many nights spent writing this book on red-eye flights, Newman has devised a visceral action-adventure that will leave those reading with bated breath. --Lauren Puckett

Avid Reader Press, $28, hardcover, 304p., 9781982177881

T.J. Newman: From Flight Attendant to Falling

(photo: Melissa Young)

T.J. Newman was a flight attendant for Virgin America and Alaska Airline for a decade before turning to fiction. Now a full-time author, she made headlines when she garnered a significant deal for her first two books and the first novel, the in-air thriller Falling (Avid Reader Press), landed a $1.5 million film deal. Looking back on a whirlwind few months, Newman recalls the many red-eyes that led her to this moment.

You were a flight attendant for a decade. What took you down that career path, and how did it lead to your writing career now?

My mom and my sister were both flight attendants, so joining the "family business," as we call it, just made sense for me. But it was definitely a winding road to get there--and here. I studied musical theater in college and then moved to New York to pursue it as a career. Which was... well, I'll just put it frankly: failure. Nothing but rejection and failure. So I eventually left, moved back home to Arizona, moved back in with my parents and started trying to figure out what to do next with my life. That's when I got a job as a bookseller at Changing Hands Bookstore, which, as a life-long reader and writer, I loved. But when the opportunity to fly presented itself, I knew I couldn't pass it up so I left the store to go to training.

Throughout all of that I was writing stories. I didn't tell anyone I was. I didn't think I was smart enough or good enough to be a real writer. Plus, I was fresh off my mortifying bout of failure in New York, so I figured I'd already used up my personal quota for public creative risks.

But when I eventually had the idea for Falling, it was the first time my need to know what happened to the characters was stronger than my embarrassment and fear of failure. So I started working and I just didn't stop. I refused to let myself stop. I told myself I was going to finish it, and then I would make it better, and then I was going to get it published.

I'm curious where the first flash of an idea for Falling came from.

I was working a red-eye to New York and I was standing at the front of the cabin looking out at the passengers. It was dark. They were asleep. And for the first time a thought occurred to me--their lives, our lives, were in the pilot's hands. So with that much power and responsibility, how vulnerable does that make a commercial pilot? And I just couldn't shake the thought. So a few days later, I was on a different trip, with a different set of pilots, and one day I threw out to the captain: "What would you do if your family was kidnapped and you were told that if you didn't crash the plane, they would be killed? What would you do?" And the look on his face terrified me. He didn't have an answer. And I knew I had the makings of my first book.

You wrote much of this book while you were actually in the air. Did it make the terror feel more visceral, actually imagining the plane you were currently on crashing?

Pilots and flight attendants spend a lot of time analyzing aviation accidents and incidents. We study what went wrong, why it went wrong, what the crew did right and what the crew did wrong. We're constantly mentally putting ourselves in emergency scenarios and asking ourselves what we would do, how would we handle it. It's how we learn. It's how we're trained to think. So imagining this particular scenario on the plane didn't feel all that odd, to be honest. It just felt like a heightened and more intense scenario than what I would normally be thinking about.

What was your writing and editing process while you were working full-time? Did you write most of the story in a jump seat?

I usually worked as a "Lead" or "A" flight attendant, meaning I worked in first class--which meant I had the forward galley to myself. And because I worked a lot of red-eyes (flights with a light workload since everyone is asleep), I'd have a lot of time to do my own thing. So I'd stand in my galley and write by hand--calmly turning over the paper or slipping it into the drawer beneath the coffee pot in a very "nothing to see here, folks" kind of way whenever a passenger or another flight attendant appeared. Then, on my layovers in my hotel room or at a coffee shop, I'd transfer my work to my iPad.

This has been a wild experience for you, with the seven-figure book deal quickly followed by the seven-figure film rights. How have you been keeping your head straight during this time period?

I'm so grateful and so humbled about everything that's happened. It truly has been a whirlwind experience and I don't know what I'd do without my incredible family who have kept me grounded through all of it. Plus, I've got another book due so I'm working on getting my pages in.

Other than a scary good ride, what do you hope readers will get from this story?

I'd love for readers to walk away with a broader understanding and deeper respect for what flight crews do. Especially flight attendants. I think there's a common misconception that FAs are on board for service. And that's just not true. I assure you, if it was, the airlines would have stopped paying us and replaced us with vending machines a long time ago. Flight attendants are there for your safety and security. Service is just something we gladly provide. So I'd be thrilled if a reader remembers that the next time they feel the impulse to roll their eyes at the flight attendant who asks them to bring their seat back up or to stow their bag. They're not trying to inconvenience you. They're trying to protect you. --Lauren Puckett

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Push

The novel Push by Sapphire, published in 1996, follows Claireece Precious Jones, an obese, illiterate teenager living with her abusive mother in Harlem. Precious is pregnant a second time after being raped by her father--her first child, conceived the same way, has Down syndrome and lives with her grandmother. When her pregnancy is discovered, Precious is transferred to an alternative school for young women who cannot read or write well enough to complete high school. Her new teacher, Ms. Rain, in addition to instruction on basic vocabulary and grammar, ignites a passion for literature and poetry through the work of Black writers like Audre Lorde, Alice Walker and Langston Hughes. After giving birth to her son, Abdul, Precious becomes homeless, ends up in a halfway house and discovers she has contracted HIV from her father. Push, told from Precious's perspective, begins with many phonetically spelled words and simple sentences. As her education advances, so too does the prose, eventually including similes and images inspired by her love of poetry.

In 2009, Push was adapted into the film Precious, directed by Lee Daniels and starring Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton and Mariah Carey. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Supporting Actress, which Mo'Nique won. In 2011, Sapphire released a sequel, The Kid, which follows Abdul between the ages of nine and 19. On June 22, Vintage published a 25th-anniversary edition of Push featuring a new preface by Tayari Jones and an afterword by Sapphire. --Tobias Mutter

Book Review



by Dana Spiotta

The surprise electoral win of Donald Trump in 2016 and its effect on the mental health of liberals has been explored in amusingly anguished novels like Bill McKibben's Radio Free Vermont and Ali Benjamin's The Smash-Up, and now in Dana Spiotta's Wayward. Spiotta (Stone Arabia) offers a spoofy but wrenching tale about a personal crisis befalling a woman who is resisting Trumpism from central New York.

Set in 2017, Wayward centers on 53-year-old Samantha Raymond, who has always been impetuous, but the one-two punch of Trump's election and perimenopause have made her only more so: as the novel opens, she has decided to leave her lawyer husband and suburban home for a dilapidated arts and crafts-style house in Syracuse. While Sam doesn't fully comprehend her motive to end her marriage, it was "a force in motion that couldn't stop once it started."

Meanwhile, Sam is committed to finding the right post-election protest group ("The suggested Caning, Fermentation, and Preserving seemed to exist at the Venn diagram crossover of far right and far left") as Wayward's dramas stack up around her. Just two examples: Sam witnesses an act of violence against a person of color on the streets of Syracuse, and her 16-year-old daughter takes up with a man who is almost 30. With finesse, side-eye and (applied sparingly) heart, Spiotta plays with the question of how a person who is determined to make the world a better place can also be utterly self-absorbed. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: This amusingly tempestuous novel set in central New York revolves around a woman who, in the aftermath of the 2016 election, feels compelled to leave her husband for a house in Syracuse.

Knopf, $27, hardcover, 288p., 9780593318737

Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead

by Emily Austin

Emily Austin's unforgettable first novel, Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead, stars an unusual hero: Gilda is profoundly socially awkward, anxious, depressed and perhaps too kind for her own good.

The story begins with a car wreck, when Gilda, who narrates, is struck from behind by a beige van. When she arrives at the emergency room (having driven herself, with a broken arm, because "I do not like to be a spectacle"), she is told, "You are a lot calmer than you usually are when you come in here." Readers begin to understand that Gilda is a little odd.

From this misfortune, she follows an ad for free counseling and is dismayed to find that it is being offered at a Catholic church (Gilda is an atheist). She is too polite to disappoint the priest who thinks she's there for a job interview, and finds herself working as the church's new receptionist--therefore living a double life, posing as a Catholic and sort-of-dating a parishioner's abhorrent brother-in-law (Gilda is a lesbian). While keeping up this increasingly complicated act, she also finds time to worry about her brother (drinking too much) and a missing neighborhood cat, among countless other stressors; topping that list may be the fate of the church's previous receptionist, Grace, who died under suspicious circumstances. Almost without meaning to, Gilda begins investigating Grace's death, and because she doesn't have the heart to break bad news, posing as Grace in e-mails to the woman's old friend. What could go wrong?

Austin's debut is disarmingly sweet even in its grimness. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This strangely delightful debut novel, with its charming, anxious, bumbling hero, crackles with warmth.

Atria, $26, hardcover, 256p., 9781982167356

Mona at Sea

by Elizabeth Gonzalez James

Mona at Sea is a very funny, darkly comic first novel about a high achiever, on the brink of starting her adult life, who has her hopes and aspirations dashed amid the Great Recession.

In 2008, in suburban Tucson, Ariz., bicultural, 23-year-old Mona Mireles graduates from college--top of her class and with an equally high opinion of herself--and is eager to start a promising new finance career on Wall Street in New York City. When the job suddenly dissolves amid the economic downturn, Mona becomes a "sad millennial" in more ways than one. Down on her luck, she sinks into anxiety and depression. Broke, lovelorn and not happy living at home--her parents' marriage is in a shambles--she is forced by her mother to attend a support group for others also in search of work. There, she meets other defeated, unemployed souls who make Mona's woes pale in comparison as she gets a fuller experience of all that awaits in the real world.

The story of Mona's efforts to reboot her life and find meaning in its pitfalls is filled with unexpected, bittersweet twists and turns. However, it's her intimately rich first-person narration--how her scorching wit and wisdom mask her own vulnerability and foibles--that makes her story come fully alive. Mona Mireles, ever a perfectionist--and unabashed in sharing her cleverly rendered observations, criticisms and insights--will keep readers laughing as she rises above her sad, zany lot in life. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A darkly comic story about a bright, clever college grad who struggles to come of age during the tumultuous Great Recession.

Santa Fe Writer's Project, $15.95, paperback, 270p., 9781951631017

Mystery & Thriller

Razorblade Tears

by S.A. Cosby

Ike Randolph, who is at the center of S.A. Cosby's brutal and beautiful Razorblade Tears, has no illusions about his mission to avenge the death of his son: "Folks like to talk about revenge like it's a righteous thing but it's just hate in a nicer suit." Ike has been out of prison for 15 years and is making good money running Randolph Lawn Care and Landscaping when his only child, Isiah, is fatally shot, as is Isiah's husband, Derek, in Richmond, Va. At the funeral, Ike meets Derek's father, trailer-dwelling ex-con Buddy Lee: neither man could say that his behavior toward his gay son was supportive, which ratchets up the grief.

The murder case stalls out, in no small part because people who knew Isiah, a reporter, and Derek, a chef, won't talk to the cops, so in a private moment Buddy Lee proposes to Ike that they take charge: "Folks are liable to tell a couple of grieving fathers shit they wouldn't tell the police." Ike is reluctant at first, but not for the reason Buddy Lee suspects: "He wasn't afraid to spill blood. He was afraid he wouldn't be able to stop."

Buckets of blood are spilled, but in a volume that's proportional to the amount of soul-searching going on and the number of jokes being cracked. If Cosby's previous novel, Blacktop Wasteland, confronted fans of noir with a setting that's miles outside the white urban stronghold typically home to the genre, Razorblade Tears ups the ante by introducing characters forced to grapple with their thoughts on homosexuality and interracial love while Confederate flags fly around them. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: S.A. Cosby's terrific follow-up to Blacktop Wasteland is another rustic noir centered on a man with a checkered past who feels forced to jeopardize his straight-arrow status.

Flatiron, $26.99, hardcover, 336p., 9781250252708


Out of Character

by Annabeth Albert

Out of Character, Annabeth Albert's fun and nerdy second book in the True Colors series, focuses on healing from the past and looking toward the future.

Jasper never expected his old friend Milo to walk into his gaming store. The two were inseparable as children, but Milo shunned Jasper for the popular soccer kids when they got to high school. Milo was never into gaming, let alone the card game Odyssey. But he's in trouble--he lost his brother's rare Odyssey cards worth a fortune, and he needs a new set. Milo feels like this is just one in a series of disappointments he's put upon his family, so he's desperate to make a deal with Jasper. Jasper decides to help Milo find replacements for the four cards, and in return, Milo will cosplay Prince Neptune (a popular Odyssey character) for Jasper's children's hospital outreach group. As the two work together and get out of their comfort zones, their friendship rekindles and old feelings come back that are too hard to ignore.

Though Jasper has been out since high school, Milo's sexuality is closeted. Milo struggles to come out and be open with his family and new friends, but as he heals his relationship with Jasper, he finds ways to be more himself. Jasper fights his impulse to jump right into a relationship with Milo because of his past hurt. Their slightly angsty courtship is fun to watch blossom, but the sexiest part is watching Jasper and Milo communicate about their feelings and resolve their pasts together. --Amy Dittmeier, librarian, Blue Island Public Library

Discover: Tabletop card games and cosplay take center stage in this friends-to-enemies-to-lovers romance perfect for all types of nerds.

Sourcebooks Casablanca, $14.99, paperback, 400p., 9781728226033

What if You & Me

by Roni Loren

This second, standalone installment to Roni Loren's Say Everything series is a tantalizing contemporary romance about love's fragility. Andi Lockley is a podcaster sharing true-crime stories about predation on women. It's one way she copes with PTSD after dating a serial killer. But flashbacks hit whenever she considers romance. Her doors are always locked: To intruders. To men. To love.

Hill Dawson never wanted a fresh start. He loved firefighting, his culinary duties for the crew and his ex-fiancée. But a fire stole his leg, his friend took his girl and his future is now takeout for one and sleepless nights plagued by flashbacks.

When someone breaks into Andi's house, she runs into Hill's arms--literally. "Bearded, broad, [and] probably prone to growling in bed," her neighbor Hill is the first man Andi has trusted. And, even as "a cheap imitation" of his heroic self "with missing parts," Hill can at least still offer safety.

What ensues is a provocative friends-with-benefits practice in healing and navigating consent beyond one all-encompassing yes or no. Loren (Yes & I Love You) presents characters who talk through their anxiety, trauma triggers and desires. Andi's horror movie obsession ("The women save themselves") and insistence that society must stop gaslighting women out of being wary of men add a refreshing feminist slant. Loren nails romantic description (Hill's "melted butter and molasses" voice) and every suggestive moment hits ("Listen to your gut. Or you know, parts lower than that"), making What if You & Me an endearingly sexy story about comfort in intimacy. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

Discover: In this tenderly sexy romance, a true-crime podcaster experiencing PTSD after she dated a serial killer tries to rediscover safety with a retired firefighter traumatized after losing his leg.

Sourcebooks Casablanca, $14.99, paperback, 320p., 9781492693253

Biography & Memoir

Antiman: A Hybrid Memoir

by Rajiv Mohabir

In his gorgeous and experimental memoir, Antiman, Indo-Caribbean poet Rajiv Mohabir (The Taxidermist's Cut) delves into his family's history and its tangle of stigmas to locate a powerful literary heritage and the origins of his own artistic life.

From a young age, Mohabir is transfixed by his grandmother's songs, both for the mythological stories they tell and the language in which she sings them: Guyanese Bhojpuri, which he dutifully records and translates. Though his father views their heritage as something shameful, Rajiv is compelled to follow this river of language to its source--to "learn the deep ocean of stories of where we came from and breathe into them new life." Flouting his father's assimilationist attitude ("a kind of postcolonial Stockholm syndrome"), Mohabir travels to India to pursue this project. In his studies, his family's diasporic past becomes a prism through which he comes to understand many facets of his own identity, and his queerness in particular. Ultimately, driven away by his family's virulent homophobia, he lands in New York City. Here, his linguistic fascination blossoms into poetry: "This was the poetry that I descended from and I could hear its music inside of me as I read my own words."

Interspersing experiments in multilingual poetry among sections of conventional memoir, Antiman serves as both a touching account of the author's life and a bold statement of his poetics. Like its title--taken from the homophobic slur Mohabir's own family uses against him--the book itself is an act of reclamation. --Theo Henderson, bookseller at Ravenna Third Place Books in Seattle, Wash.

Discover: In this affecting memoir, Rajiv Mohabir recounts his exploration into his Indo-Guyanese heritage and his development of a queer, postcolonial poetics.

Restless Books, $27, hardcover, 352p., 9781632062802

London's Number One Dog-Walking Agency: A Memoir

by Kate MacDougall

Kate MacDougall, "tall, gangly, butterfingered," may have had the right background, education and qualifications to work for four years at the prestigious Sotheby's auction house in London. However, a comedy of errors propels her out of her less-than-fulfilling back-office job, inspiring her, on a lark, to start a dog-walking business. Enjoyable, easy to read and thoroughly entertaining, London's Number One Dog-Walking Agency shares humorous, conversational stories of MacDougall serving as a pseudo-matchmaker between the dogs, dog owners and dog-walking employees who shaped her life and her growing business over nine years, starting in 2006.

Met by opposition and belittlement from her mother and some of her peers, who feel her new career is beneath her, MacDougall sets off on an exciting adventure that snowballs through her 20s--through dating, engagement, marriage and motherhood. Her supportive husband is, ironically, scared of and "doesn't like dogs. At all." MacDougall details pivotal experiences, dilemmas and interactions with clients. Some of the dogs are as quirky and neurotic as their owners--and dog-walkers--who, at times, are far more exasperating and difficult to deal with than their canine charges. There's also the tender transformation of a mysterious rescue who is not at all interested in dogs or people, but who is interested in food. And the author's own Jack Russell terrier, who undergoes a battle of the bulge.

MacDougall's fun, brisk storytelling and cleverly rendered details largely focus on growing, improving upon and sustaining her business. However, philosophical undercurrents profoundly define how work--and canine companionship--can enrich the soul and spirit, ultimately giving shape and form to living a more meaningful existence. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A thoroughly entertaining memoir details the unforeseen challenges and rewards of operating an active dog-walking business.

Morrow, $27.99, hardcover, 368p., 9780063059788


Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium

by Lucy Jane Santos

In Half Lives, science and popular culture combine in an engaging survey of the radium craze. Lucy Jane Santos makes her debut with an account of the uses and abuses of radioactivity, primarily in Britain, from its rising popularity as an alleged cure-all until it became an object of fear in the wake of the first nuclear bombs. Some of this history will be familiar to readers of The Radium Girls by Kate Moore; however Santos takes a broader, lighter approach. The realization that radium could have medicinal uses and the assumption that it was an unqualified positive brought more than just the frequently told story of the radium watch painters pointing their brushes with their lips. Spa towns such as Bath in Somerset, England, discovered and advertised the radium content in their waters. There was also a surge of sham patent cures implying they contained radium when they did not, alongside dance performances that incorporated radium-based products into the costumes or merely traded on the name.

Santos studies the effect of radioactivity on the popular imagination while striving not to impose hindsight on those who were inspired by its possibilities and ignorant of its dangers, reminding readers that if we and our contemporaries are more likely to be radiophobes, we still have to come to terms with the fact that radioactivity is everywhere. Fans of Mary Roach will find much to enjoy in this intriguing niche history. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library

Discover: A fascinating work of popular science and history looks back on a time when radium represented everything bright and promising about the future.

Pegasus Books, $28.95, hardcover, 336p., 9781643137483

Now in Paperback

Transcendent Kingdom

by Yaa Gyasi

In her bestselling Transcendent Kingdom--a Today Show #ReadWithJenna Book Club Pick and finalist for the Women's Prize for Fiction--Yaa Gyasi (Homegoing) crafts a superbly nuanced portrait of a Ghanaian American woman trying to make sense of her present through her past--a past tragically rocked by her brother's fatal opioid addiction.

A Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience at Stanford, Gifty spends her waking hours using mice to study the neural factors in reward-seeking behavior and addiction, and returns home only to sleep, eat and, newly, care for her bedridden and depressed mother. Gifty is undoubtedly brilliant and driven, but she is also detached, save for two friendships with gently determined colleagues. Unbeknown to most, Gifty's research and fervor are born of devastating events during her childhood in conservative and often racist Huntsville, Ala., where she grew up in a religious Ghanaian immigrant family. And thus, Gifty strives to know, "could this science work on the people who need it the most? Could it get a brother to set down a needle? Could it get a mother out of bed?" With her mother a corporeal reminder of shared losses, Gifty scrutinizes her own grief, shame and trauma, turning to memory and revisiting childhood journal entries addressed to God ("Dear God, Please hurry up and make Buzz better. I want the whole church to see").

In this remarkable narrative that is at once beautifully lucid and brimming with emotional complexity, Gyasi examines and challenges the stigmas and stereotypes surrounding addiction and mental health while asking philosophical questions about the power and limits of faith, science and redemption. --Sylvia Al-Mateen, freelance reviewer and editor

Discover: In this superbly nuanced novel, a young neuroscientist reflects on her upbringing--her parents' immigration, her brother's addiction and her early religiosity.

Vintage, $16, paperback, 304p., 9781984899767

Children's & Young Adult

Not Little

by Maya Myers, illus. by Hyewon Yum

Small and little do not mean the same thing. Ask the spunky protagonist of debut author Maya Myers's Not Little. Sure, she'll admit, "I am the smallest person in my family." And add, "Even my name is small: Dot." But whether at rest or play, in the kitchen or outside, Dot is mighty capable. Author/illustrator Hyewon Yum (Saturday Is Swimming Day) makes delightfully, whimsically certain that Dot takes up plenty of energetic space with her vibrant personality and independent tenacity.

Dot is "the smallest person in [her] class." Wherever she goes she finds she must prove again and again, "I may be small, but I'm not little." And then a new boy appears at school. What Dot instantly notices is that Sam "might even be smaller" than she is. She attempts to sidle up to him to compare heights but doesn't want to frighten him. In the lunchroom, however, she proves plenty scary when a lunchroom bully tries "mean boy" tactics on innocent Sam. Suddenly, she might be "the biggest kid [Sam's] ever met," especially when it comes to standing tall against adversity.

Myers clearly channels her elementary school teaching experience in creating Dot and Sam's recognizable exchanges about unfamiliar classrooms and playgrounds, tiptoeing through social dynamics and navigating new relationships. Yum's enchanting color-pencil illustrations elevate Myers's text with ingenious visual enhancements. On every page, Yum includes diverse faces: the opening spread shows Dot's family with parents and grandparents of ethnically different backgrounds. She also imbues characters with energy and motion and her ample use of white space allows them to take center stage. By book's end, Dot proves her whole small body has a mighty big voice that will be heard. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Dot, the delightful protagonist, might be small, but certainly not little as she takes on doubters and even a bully in this charming picture book.

Neal Porter/Holiday House, $18.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-7, 9780823446193

Little Bat in Night School

by Brian Lies

Well, it's about time one of Brian Lies's famous bats buckled down. Until now, they've spent their time playing ball (Bats at the Ballgame), cavorting in the sand (Bats at the Beach), reading for pleasure (Bats at the Library) and making music (Bats in the Band). Little Bat in Night School, like its picture-book predecessors, isn't a story so much as an introduction to an experience. But this time around, Lies departs from precedent: he skips the rhymes and supplies readers with a first-rate young mammalian tour guide.

It's Little Bat's first night of school, and he's prepared for anything--he even has a nifty new batpack--except being snubbed by two bat classmates: "We're already playing... with each other." Fortunately, he meets someone who likes to cower upside down in cubbies as much as he does: an opossum named Ophelia. Together they go about their school night, which includes the occasional setback, such as a mortifying juice-spilling incident (Little Bat: "I didn't mean for that to happen!"). By the time dawn breaks and Little Bat is flying home with his mom and recounting the goings-on ("Somebody almost got in trouble for spilling juice"), he's eagerly awaiting the next school night, knowing that he can bend with any unforeseen curves.

Little Bat in Night School is fueled by disarming humor rooted in the universal queasiness about facing the unknown. As ever, Lies (Got to Get to Bear's) spikes his darkly glossy, neat-as-a-whisker illustrations with visual jokes, perhaps most winningly when Little Bat literally throws himself into his art. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: In this amusing and reassuring picture book, one of Brian Lies's fun-loving bats buckles down and goes to school.

HMH Books for Young Readers, $14.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-7, 9780358269847


Author Buzz

The Rom-Commers

by Katherine Center

Dear Reader,

Famous screenwriter Charlie Yates wrote a romantic comedy screenplay--and it’s terrible. Aspiring writer Emma Wheeler just got hired to fix it. But Charlie doesn't want anyone rewriting his work--least of all a "failed nobody," and Emma can't support a guy who doesn't even like rom-coms, adding another bad one to the pantheon. So what choice does Emma have but to stand up for herself, and rom-coms, and love in general--and, in the process, to show her nemesis-slash-writing-hero exactly how to fall stupidly, crazily, perfectly in love?

Email with the subject line "The Rom-Commers sweepstakes" for a chance to win one of five copies.

Katherine Center

Buy now and support your local indie bookstore>

AuthorBuzz: St. Martin's Press: The Rom-Commers by Katherine Center

St. Martin's Press

Pub Date: 
June 11, 2024


List Price: 
$29.00 Hardcover

Blue Moon
(A Smoke and Mirrors Novella)

by Skye Warren

Dear Reader,

When I started writing Ringmaster Emerson Durand in the Smoke and Mirrors series, I knew he would get his own story. Insouciant. Charming. And he's actually the villain of that book. So can he be redeemed? It's the question I'm always working to answer in my books.

If he's going to deserve his own happily ever after, it's going to be a journey. A scorching hot journey!

That's what BLUE MOON illuminates. A dangerous ringmaster claims his rebellious acrobat for a sensual show you cannot miss.

Skye Warren

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Blue Moon (A Smoke and Mirrors Novella) by Skye Warren

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
March 12, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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