Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, August 13, 2021

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster: A Short Walk Through a Wide World by Douglas Westerbeke

From My Shelf

Reading for a Living

I read for a living, more or less, so Labor Day's approach seems like a good excuse to share some recent titles I loved that are, in addition to many other things, about work. Each does its job well, in very different ways.

In Tahmima Anam's novel The Startup Wife (Scribner, $26), Asha, the designer of an algorithm to unlock the empathetic brain for AI, gets enmeshed in a tech startup with her husband, eventually "wondering how I've managed to set up a situation where I'm doing all the work and he's having all the fun. Never mind, I tell myself, I'm having fun too. I must have been a Spartan in my previous life, because nothing pleases me more than work."

Where You Are Is Not Who You Are: A Memoir (Amistad, $27.99) is an incisive and inspiring book by former Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, who writes: "I worked extremely hard, and that was a big positive in my career.... Being wildly overprepared answered the question that people had but didn't ask when they first met me. How the hell did she get here?"

Violette Toussaint, the French cemetery caretaker--by every definition--in Valérie Perrin's novel Fresh Water for Flowers, translated by Hildegarde Serle (Europa Editions, $16.95), observes: "My job consists of being discreet, liking human contact, not feeling compassion. For a woman like me, not feeling compassion would be like being an astronaut, a surgeon, a volcanologist, or a geneticist. Not part of my planet, or my skill set. But I never cry in front of a visitor."

The narrator of Kikuko Tsumura's There's No Such Thing as an Easy Job, translated by Polly Barton (Bloomsbury, $18), is a young woman who wants a job near her house and, "ideally, something along the lines of sitting all day in a chair." Complications ensue, beginning when she's hired to spy on a writer: "I'd come to the conclusion that there were very few jobs in the world that ate up as much time and as little brainpower as watching over the life of a novelist who lived alone and worked from home." --Robert Gray, editor

Sleeping Bear Press: When You Go Into Nature by Sheri M Bestor, Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

Book Candy

Keeping the Papyrus Tradition Alive

Egypt's papyrus makers "keep tradition alive despite tourism slump," France24 reported.


"Vaxication--a combination of vaccine and vacation--has increased in use as the Covid-19 vaccine has become more available to the public," Merriam-Webster noted.


Dolly Parton is teaming with James Patterson to write her first novel, Run, Rose, Run, according to People magazine.


"A book of poetry by E.E. Cummings was returned to the library 50 years overdue," Mental Floss wrote.


ArchDaily featured a "Book Strolling House," designed by Todot Architects and Partners.

Dear Highlights: What Adults Can Learn from 75 Years of Letters and Conversations with Kids

by Christine French Cully

For the past 75 years, Highlights magazine has provided kids with entertaining and informative stories, puzzles, games and other activities to foster learning and spark children's creativity. One of the magazine's most popular features is its "Dear Highlights" column, where editors respond to letters, poems, drawings and (more recently) emails from young readers. But the responses aren't limited to the published ones: the Highlights editorial team answers every single piece of mail they receive. In Dear Highlights, editor-in-chief Christine French Cully collects dozens of pieces of correspondence from children, with accompanying essays reflecting on what she and her colleagues have learned from the kids who write to them. The result is a joyous, nuanced celebration of childhood, and a clarion call to adult readers to really listen to the children in their lives.

Dear Highlights is divided into broad categories, with letters addressing kids' concerns about family and friends, school challenges and dynamics, and how to figure out what (and whom) to be when they grow up. But the letters and replies also tackle difficult questions that many children face. "How can I be a supportive big sister and help my new sibling in a multiracial family?" Ashley wrote in 2011. K.D., whose parents had been separated for about a month in 1991, admitted, "Now my dad wants to come back. I'm not sure I want him back." Other letters deal with troubling historical events, such as the Challenger explosion or the attacks of September 11, 2001, the loss of pets or loved ones, and "Really Hard Things" like bullying, abuse and mental health struggles.

While their contents frequently address heavy subjects, the letters and the editors' responses are often infused with lightness. Readers' personalities shine through in the notes they send, such as a poem called "Hope" written by 13-year-old Kenneth in 1985. "I've seen hope in newspapers. I've listened to hope," he wrote. "HOPE IS EVERYWHERE." The editors seek to validate children's feelings and concerns, but always strive for a positive tone in their replies. They remind readers that they themselves, their families and friends, and other caring adults like teachers and school counselors have many resources at hand to solve their problems. They also call to mind the words of another adult who befriended many children: Fred Rogers, who famously advised his young TV viewers to "look for the helpers" when things seemed scary or sad. The Highlights editors, like Mr. Rogers, also encourage children to be the helpers.

The book includes a section about the Covid-19 pandemic, a unique event in the lives of Highlights readers as well as the magazine's editorial staff. As Cully notes, "For the first time, we were confronting many of the same emotions as our readers, at the same place in time. Our adult circumstances--working from home, being unable to socialize with friends, missing milestone events, and feeling bored--were very similar to their experiences." The staff empathized with readers like Sylvie, whose sixth birthday party was canceled because of the pandemic, or Makayla, who wrote, simply: "I miss my friends." They also assured readers that their parents, teachers and other adults (like scientists working to develop vaccines) were doing their best to keep everyone safe, and that production of the magazine would continue--no doubt a bright spot for bored kids in quarantine.

Written correspondence has its limits, Cully admits; letters and drawings rarely provide enough context to give a full picture of a child's concerns. Partly for this reason, in almost every response, the staff urges kids to seek out adults they can trust, whether they need help coming up with ideas to fill boring weekends or are troubled by deeper concerns. Notes and drawings about historical events, such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, are often a way for children to process their part in collective trauma and grief. In every case, the Highlights staff seeks to answer with respect, compassion and (where appropriate) sound advice. Sometimes, Cully notes, readers write back to share the results of following that advice, or to ask for help with additional problems.

Taken together, the letters and responses in Dear Highlights are a fascinating look at childhood over the past seven decades, and a testament to how kids' fundamental concerns--being loved, feeling safe and learning how to navigate the world--remain the same. Full of humor, sadness, frustration, joy and all the other emotions of childhood, the book stands as an important reminder that listening to children with empathy and respect can be the most powerful way to help them grow into confident, caring adults. --Katie Noah Gibson

Highlights Press, $24.99, hardcover, 336p., 9781644723258, August 10, 2021
Highlights Press, $24.99, hardcover, 336p., 9781644723258

Christine French Cully: Responding to Children with Curiosity and Compassion

(photo: Heidi Ross)

Christine French Cully is the editor-in-chief of Highlights for Children. She is also the company's chief purpose officer, which entails growing awareness and implementation of Highlights' purpose, core beliefs and values. Cully spent 15 years in children's publishing before joining Highlights in 1994. Dear Highlights, a compilation of children's letters, editors' responses and commentary, was just published by Highlights Press.

What was the inspiration behind creating and compiling Dear Highlights

This is a book we've long dreamed of publishing. We respond to every child who takes the time to send us a letter, e-mail, drawing, poem or story. Over our 75-year history, we've received more than two million pieces of correspondence from kids.

All this mail beautifully informs our work by deepening our understanding of childhood. Over the decades, kids have written to us as if we are a dear, trusted friend. When we encourage kids to share their thoughts and feelings, and when we listen with empathy, kids feel heard and seen. We hope this book will elevate kids' voices and remind grown-ups of the importance of leaning in to listen and learn.

How did you decide which letters/topics to include in the book?

Because the book is both a look at childhood today and a kind of time capsule looking back over 75 years, we looked for a sampling of letters from every decade of our history. We aimed for a selection of letters that represented the wide variety of subjects kids write about--universal concerns related to friends, family, and school, as well as serious concerns that are less frequently discussed but nevertheless very real in the lives of some children. We also selected letters that give us clues about how kids are thinking about the larger world--the societal changes that affect them and significant historical events. And, of course, we wanted to represent the letters of both boys and girls.

What have you learned from all these years of reading and responding to children's letters?

Our main conclusion is that most young children yearn for more moments when the grown-ups they love are fully present and listening with empathy and curiosity. They crave connection.

We've also learned that no matter how loving and attentive their family is, a child can find it difficult to confide in a parent. Sometimes kids withhold because they don't wish to hurt the parent's feelings or give a parent cause to worry. Some kids simply feel safer writing down their thoughts and big feelings--or drawing a picture to convey those thoughts. We've come to appreciate how willingly and bravely kids will share their concerns if they feel safe. And that safety comes from warm, responsive, trusting relationships.

We hope this book reminds parents that we must behave intentionally to create that kind of safety. When we do, we say to kids, "You matter. And what you think and feel matters." When kids feel they matter, they grow in confidence and develop a sense of self and a feeling of belonging. And that puts them on the path to becoming people who will make a more empathetic and optimistic world for us all.

What has shifted over the years as children have written to Highlights? What has stayed the same?

Although the world has changed tremendously in the last 75 years, kids haven't really changed that much. They want to know how to get along with family members, friends and teachers. They ask for tips on doing well in school and breaking bad habits. They ask for advice on how to achieve their goals and how to think about current events. The details in their letters vary, of course. But the fundamental questions are very much the same. Kids still want to feel they belong. They still want to be the best version of themselves. And they still look for guidance and support from their grown-ups.

One chapter, however, contains letters about a subject we had never before seen addressed: the chapter on Covid-19. When physical schools closed abruptly and kids found themselves staying at home--doing school on Zoom at the kitchen table alongside parents who were now working remotely--we heard from kids. They wrote to us about the challenges of digital learning, about missing friends and extended family, about canceled birthday parties and about their fear that they or someone they love might get sick. For the first time in our history, we were confronting many of the same emotions as our readers, in the same moment of time. We were able to empathize in a way we never could before.

Do you have any favorite or particularly memorable letters?

This is a hard question because many letters linger in my mind and heart. One of these letters was from a tween who described the "code" she was trying to live by with a bulleted list of behaviors. They mostly involved how she was engaging (or more aptly, not engaging) with her mother, crying herself to sleep at night, trying not to "burden" her mom with all her sad thoughts.

Was she describing typical behavior seen in kids on the cusp of puberty, or was this something more serious? We rarely have enough context in a letter to know for sure. But we were grateful we could write her back, validate her feelings and assure her that her mother or another grown-up she trusts would absolutely want to know how she feels. Sometimes kids are really asking us the most fundamental question: Am I loved? Does anyone really care about me? It's an honor and a privilege to be able to reassure them that they are, indeed, loved and cared about.

Of course, I have some favorite letters that are less weighty. I love the letter from the child who wrote to say that her school put on a play and they sang "Baby Beluga." Several months later, she said she still couldn't get the song out of her head and pleaded for us to help. I could relate to that problem!

We take every letter seriously, even the ones that make us chuckle a little. Any concern that troubles a child enough to motivate them to write to us deserves respect and attention.

What might readers learn from the letters and drawings in this book?

We adults often think we remember childhood clearly. But for most of us, our memories are spotty or blurred. Sometimes we can be a little dismissive of kids' concerns. After all, because we have hindsight, we know that most of the time, things work out fine.

But this collection paints a clearer picture of childhood--reminding us of the ups and downs of the growing-up years. It shows us kids' rich, complex inner lives--and can teach us not to underestimate their interest in understanding the world and finding their place in it.

The book also includes a selection of kids' drawings and original poems sent to us over the years. For some kids, self-expression with words is challenging. But their artwork can reveal a great deal about their inner thoughts. We look at kids' creative work carefully, and we often respond to a poem or drawing as if it were a letter asking for guidance. This was particularly true after 9/11, when we received many drawings and poems about the fall of the Twin Towers. Sharing their drawings and poems related to that horrific event was the best way for some kids to let us know they were working to process the trauma--and we reached out to offer support. --Katie Noah Gibson

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Ted Lewin

Ted Lewin, who illustrated and wrote more than 200 children's and YA books, died on July 28 at age 86. Among his many awards were a Caldecott Honor for Peppe the Lamplighter in 1994. In 2015, he was inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame, and in 1998, he won the Society of Illustrators' Stevan Dohanos Award. He was raised in Buffalo, N.Y. in a house full of exotic animals, including an iguana, a rhesus monkey, a chimpanzee and a lion, all of which Lewin liked to sketch. His two older brothers, Donn and Mark, were professional wrestlers. Lewin financed his Pratt Institute education by working as a part-time wrestler, which he pursued for 26 years and documented in I Was a Teenaged Professional Wrestler.

Lewin began his non-wrestling career doing illustrations for adventure magazines, but eventually he began working on books. He was also an avid traveler, and many of his books were inspired by trips around the world, including his ALA notable book, Market!, published in 1996 and showcasing markets in Uganda, Ireland, Ecuador and other countries. He collaborated on some books with his wife, Betsy, including How to Babysit a Leopard: And Other True Stories from Our Travels Across Six Continents. Look!, part of the I Like to Read series, pairs simple text with realistic watercolors of many African animals. It is available from Holiday House.

Book Review


Last Summer in the City

by Gianfranco Calligarich, trans. by Howard Curtis

Appearing in English for the first time since its original Italian publication in 1973, Gianfranco Calligarich's Last Summer in the City is both a notable literary rediscovery and an arresting study of bohemian ennui.

Leo Gazzara--whose name, his lover pointedly remarks, "sounds like a lost battle"--is adrift, languishing in the economic hangover following Italy's postwar boom. While his peers take to the pursuit of degrees, spouses and careers, Leo relocates from Milan to Rome, where his tenuous job prospects soon dry up. For Leo, to be in the city is to float through a fog of malaise, as "Rome by her very nature has a particular intoxication that wipes out memory." Regarding Rome, Calligarich renders his protagonist's ambivalence brilliantly: "There can be no half measures with her, either she's the love of your life or you have to leave her." Awash in a sea of unmeaning, Leo keeps his mooring though a few authentic connections: an abiding love of the ocean, a passion for secondhand books, his mercurial lover Arianna and a friendship with kindred spirit Graziano.

A gorgeous introduction by André Aciman (Call Me by Your Name; Find Me) provides valuable cultural and biographical context for the novel and its author, as well as the careful work performed by translator Howard Curtis. Leo's repeated remarks that he is "at the end of [his] tether," for example, subtly hint at the existential despair threatening to overtake him.

With even the original Italian only sporadically in print since publication, this translation of Calligarich's novel is a literary jewel to be treasured. --Theo Henderson, bookseller at Ravenna Third Place Books in Seattle, Wash.

Discover: Translated into English for the first time, Italian author Gianfranco Calligarich's 1973 novel is an arresting study of bohemian ennui and existential despair.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26, hardcover, 192p., 9780374600150

In the Field

by Rachel Pastan

"What if Cinderella had asked her mother's tree to give her a microscope instead of a ballgown?" With In the Field, Rachel Pastan (Alena) offers a compassionate, clear-eyed story of self-determination, love and science. The novel begins in 1982, when Dr. Kate Croft receives a phone call from the Nobel committee, then rewinds to 1923, when Kate is a first-year student at Cornell University, to the disapproval of her family, male professors and classmates.

Kate is entranced by biology, if not obsessed: "The cell was an uncharted country, and she was an explorer newly landed on shore... that was part of the joy of it." Socially challenged and estranged from her family, she grows up with a single-minded devotion to her work, despite the struggles of being a woman in a male-dominated field and her difficulties in love.

An author's note acknowledges that Kate Croft is based on Barbara McClintock, but Pastan makes clear that this is a heavily fictionalized account of the geneticist's personal life, while remaining accurate to the science. Kate is a "corn man," in the parlance of the day, studying maize genes at Cornell's College of Agriculture. Kate's greatest joy is in carefully tending her corn, her slides and her data. Other scientists profit off her discoveries (she is a gifted researcher) and deny her credit; she has difficulty accepting help.

In the Field excels in its multifaceted view of a complex woman. Readers will be better for time spent with this patient, tender, loving examination of a life devoted to examination of life. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A Nobel-winning scientist holds the focus of this lovely, contemplative, completely absorbing novel.

Delphinium, $26.95, hardcover, 352p., 9781953002037

Edge Case

by YZ Chin

In her debut novel, Edge Case, YZ Chin uses the familiar trope of a marriage falling apart in unexpected ways to explore big questions of love, belonging, immigration and identity.

When Edwina returns home to her New York apartment to find her husband, Marlin, has disappeared, she's left to wonder: Is he missing, or has he simply left her? Should she proceed as though nothing has changed, or stop everything to save her marriage? Will she and Marlin be able to continue their applications for green cards without each other? These questions haunt her as she recounts to an unnamed therapist she met on a dating app the story of the days surrounding Marlin's disappearance.

The uncertainty of her marriage is paralyzing for Edwina, who wanders the city in search of signs of her missing husband between long missives to this Internet stranger. This paralysis never carries through to the pages of Edge Case, however, which is perfectly paced. The domestic suspense of Edwina's relationship status ultimately reaches well beyond the walls of her small, lonely apartment: to the small, unwelcoming room of U.S. Customs and Border patrol, who once held Marlin aside when re-entering the United States; to the equally unwelcoming home of Edwina's mother in Malaysia, who insists her daughter lose more weight; to the male-dominated start-up office where Edwina works, hoping her boss will someday sponsor her green card application. The result is a riveting and poignant tale, offering sharp insights into--and criticisms of--American culture and immigration policy, neatly packed in the story of one woman's transformational journey through solitude. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A debut novelist explores questions of love, belonging, immigration and identity in this poignant tale of a failing marriage.

Ecco, $26.99, hardcover, 320p., 9780063030688

In All Good Faith

by Liza Nash Taylor

Liza Nash Taylor's second novel, In All Good Faith, tells a compelling, insightful story of two women whose lives intertwine unexpectedly during the Great Depression. May Marshall Craig, the protagonist of Taylor's debut novel, Etiquette for Runaways, has returned from Paris to her Virginia hometown, where she's running her family's market and caring for her two young children. When a family tragedy forces her lawyer husband to accept a job in Washington, May takes on even more responsibility at home. But financial worries and a long-distance partnership put a growing strain on her marriage.

In Boston's West End, shy Dorrit Sykes is grieving her mother's death, pinching pennies from her seamstress work and wrestling with doubts about her family's Christian Science faith. Eventually, Dorrit travels with her father to Washington, D.C., for a veterans' march, encountering people and situations wildly different from any in her previous experience. The two women cross paths some months after the march, and their encounter will change both their lives.

Told in both women's voices, Taylor's narrative touches on faith in the religious sense, but far more important is the faith that both women learn to place in themselves and each other, plus a small circle of loved ones. In All Good Faith is both a quiet, unflinching account of daily privations during the Depression and a story of women fighting to have their ideas taken seriously. Ultimately, though, despite tragedy and sorrow, it is an uplifting story of friendship and hope. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Liza Nash Taylor's compelling second novel features two women whose lives intertwine in unexpected ways during the Great Depression.

Blackstone Publishing, $27.99, hardcover, 9781982603977

The Perfume Thief

by Timothy Schaffert

For many queer men and women--such as narrator Clementine--Paris "had been invented for us, inspired by imaginations," but that was before the Nazi occupation. This is illustrated in the intoxicatingly vivid The Perfume Thief, Timothy Schaffert's sixth novel.

A perfumer, former thief and an American expatriate in her 70s, Clementine easily moves among Paris's bordellos and cabarets, concocting fragrances based on personal experiences, the memory of an old lover, the ticking of a pocket watch, a field of bluebells. It's dangerous business, as Nazi soldiers often lounge at the bordellos, giving prostitutes luxuries taken from Jewish shopkeepers who have now disappeared; the Nazis' largess could--and will--vanish at any moment.

Clementine returns to crime when she's asked to steal the diary of a well-known perfumer that contains formulas that may date back to Cleopatra. The mission is to keep the book from the Nazis, especially bureaucrat Oskar Voss, whose ruthlessness Clementine uses for her own purposes. For Clementine, perfumes reveal personalities, are useful as codes to military secrets and essential as escapism, allowing one "to slip away into tranquility, into that part of your brain where all the awful things get hushed."

The Perfume Thief lyrically savors the myths and lore of fragrance "made of whispers, of secrets written in the cream of your coffee," wrapped in a gripping historical mystery. Schaffert (Devils in the Sugar Shop), a professor at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, delivers an unusual, clever tale that captures the nuances of Paris under occupation, featuring resilient characters fighting for the city's soul. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer 

Discover: In this thrilling story that lyrically delves into the lore of perfume, an aging American expatriate in Nazi-occupied Paris tries to protect a well-known perfumer's diary.

Doubleday, $27, hardcover, 368p., 9780385545747

Mystery & Thriller

Mrs. March

by Virginia Feito

If Virginia Feito's Mrs. March were a film, it would be called highly stylized, so deliciously drenched is it with the signifiers of an upscale Manhattan of decades past. The novel's cinematic aspect has also been noted by Elisabeth Moss, who is slated to produce and star in a film adaptation. 

Mrs. March, a housewife and mother--referred to by her married name throughout the novel--resides on Manhattan's Upper East Side. She's married to George, a college professor turned novelist whose latest book is the talk of the town. The manager of a shop that Mrs. March frequents asks her, "Isn't this the first time he's based a character on you?... I could be wrong, of course, but... you're both so alike...." Mrs. March hasn't yet read George's new novel but knows that its protagonist is a long-in-the-tooth prostitute.

While poking around in George's study, Mrs. March spies a news clipping peeking out from one of his notebooks, its headline "Sylvia Gibbler still missing, presumed dead." Mrs. March has heard about this young woman from Maine: her disappearance from her hometown has been in the news. Mrs. March concludes that George is using the article for research, but when she gets an update on the Gibbler story, a seed of doubt takes root.

The earliest pages of Mrs. March suggest that Feito has committed to a straight-ahead retro thriller of old New York, but gradually, Mrs. March becomes something more than an amateur sleuth: she doubles as the novel's subject. Mrs. March is window-dressed to perfection as a psychological thriller-cum-cosmopolitan grotesque. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: This haunting debut, about a Manhattan housewife whose novelist husband may be covering up a crime he committed, is part thriller, part cosmopolitan grotesque.

Liveright, $26, hardcover, 304p., 9781631498619

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Paper and Blood

by Kevin Hearne

Kevin Hearne (Ink and Sigil) sends aging sigil agent Al MacBharrais and Buck Foi, his gleefully crude hobgoblin sidekick, Down Under in the Iron Druid spinoff series' merrily offbeat, strangely heartwarming second installment.

When two fellow magic sigil agents disappear, Al and Buck back-burner their investigation into their own deadly curse and travel to Australia to rescue them. The apprentice of one missing agent accompanies them, as the pair face off against bizarre chimeric monsters, causing Buck to wonder aloud, "What came first, the turtle dragon spider or the egg?" While trying to identify the source of the monsters and reach the missing agents, the heroes encounter an ancient death goddess in the body of an emergency services worker, team up with the legendary Iron Druid, and find out that Al's Canadian receptionist, Gladys Who Has Seen Some Shite, has powers far greater than talking hockey.

Readers who haven't read the previous book should have no trouble jumping into the story, and Iron Druid fans will appreciate the amount of time devoted to the druid and his hounds. Although the distraction of the missing agents keeps Al from making much progress toward lifting his curse, this urban fantasy road trip builds new depth in the relationships among its characters. Hearne's comfort in this established world shows as he smoothly alternates between fast-moving, wise-cracking action scenes and embedded short stories told by the characters, which illustrate the novel's central theme: "Ye always have tae fight the monsters, no matter where they are." --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Magical sigil agent Al MacBharrais goes Down Under on a rescue mission in this wise-cracking, adventure-filled urban fantasy.

Del Rey, $27, hardcover, 304p., 9781984821287


Wait for It

by Jenn McKinlay

Jenn McKinlay (Paris Is Always a Good Idea; For Better or Worse) has written another lively romance with Wait for It. Set in Phoenix, Ariz., the book's warm vibes echo the vivid desert that surrounds Annabelle Martin, who needed a fresh start. She's not even 30, and she's been divorced twice. When her first ex-husband proposes to her again, and she accidentally destroys the moment, ruining what she thought was their friendship, Annabelle decides she needs to leave Boston, immediately.

She's thrilled to flee a New England winter to join her best friend in the Arizona sunshine, working at Sophie's graphic design agency. But there are a few snags in the way: a bitter, manipulative coworker who's trying to undermine her work decisions and make her look bad to Sophie, and a strangely reclusive landlord. Annabelle does love the guest house she's renting, but when her landlord starts leaving persnickety letters taped to her door, she decides that it's time to meet him. Little does she know that her landlord is about to change her life forever.

Annabelle's capers will leave readers laughing as she deals with a complicated relationship with Nick, the landlord, and deals with work drama in her own fabulous way. A decidedly imperfect main character, Annabelle discovers a lot about herself, just as she's learning to navigate the Phoenix area and her new job. Funny and lighthearted, Wait for It will be appreciated by fans of Christina Lauren or Tessa Bailey. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Flagstaff, Ariz.

Discover: In this lighthearted romance, a free-spirited woman seeks a fresh start in the Arizona desert.

Berkley, $16, paperback, 352p., 9780593101377

Biography & Memoir

The Big Hurt

by Erika Schickel

When she was barely 18, Erika Schickel made a horrendous romantic decision. Nearly three decades later, she made another one. In the pain-drenched but clear-sighted The Big Hurt, Schickel takes a microscope to both choices and to the social forces that facilitated them. "What if every decision I had made since 1982 was built on the faulty premise that I was a 'bad girl'?" she wonders. "What if all along I had just been a very hurt girl trying to survive in a predatory world?"

The first romantic debacle occurs in 1982, when Schickel is a senior at a Massachusetts boarding school. After her affair with married teacher Henry Baker goes public, he's fired and she's asked to leave the school. The second misbegotten romance, which begins in 2009, is with a famous crime novelist whom Schickel refers to as Sam Spade. (His true identity will be obvious to fans of noir fiction.) Schickel leaves her husband of 20 years, with whom she has two daughters, for Spade, who, like Baker, ultimately kicks her to the curb.

The Big Hurt bounces around in time, interweaving Schickel's bittersweet memories of her parents, novelist Julia Whedon and film critic Richard Schickel, who gave her a privileged Manhattan childhood but not much guidance. Schickel (You're Not the Boss of Me: Adventures of a Modern Mom) is a resourceful writer who can find humor in even the self-sabotaging habits that drove her romantic misadventures. The result is a dirty-laundry-airing memoir of the highest order. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: Erika Schickel relives two calamitous affairs that occurred nearly three decades apart in her clear-eyed, frank and funny book.

Hachette Books, $28, hardcover, 352p., 9780306925054

Social Science

Every Minute Is a Day: A Doctor, an Emergency Room, and a City under Siege

by Robert Meyer, Dan Koeppel

The Bronx's Montefiore Medical Center serves an ethnically diverse community of the working poor in New York City. Between March and September 2020, 6,000 Covid-19 patients crossed its threshold. Nearly 1,000 of them died. Unfolding in terrifying real time, Every Minute Is a Day is emergency room doctor Robert Meyer's riveting diary of an unprecedented crisis.

Compared to AIDS and 9/11, the previous medical disasters of Meyer's 25-year career, Covid felt bewildering for how quickly the situation changed. High fever and dangerously low blood oxygen were the initial hallmarks of the illness, but new symptoms and potential therapies emerged all the time. Medical staff learned by doing. For instance, "proning" (turning people onto their stomachs) was found to forestall intubation in many cases.

As the morgue filled up, Meyer was distressed not just by patients dying apart from loved ones, but at the thought of seriously ill people avoiding hospital treatment for fear of infection. Relating bereavements from his past--his mother was killed by a drunk driver; his son's friend died of cancer--helps him set the pandemic in context. He also weaves in Montefiore's history and his colleagues' struggles. Covid turned personal when his mentor and the ER director's father both tested positive.

Compiled into a firsthand account by journalist Dan Koeppel (Banana), Meyer's cousin, and based on interviews as well as e-mails and texts they exchanged, this is hard-hitting nonfiction in the vein of Five Days at Memorial. Its re-creation of an atmosphere of daily panic and uncertainty makes it as absorbing as any thriller. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck

Discover: A riveting firsthand account of the first six months of the Covid-19 pandemic, as experienced by an ER doctor at a busy Bronx, N.Y., hospital.

Crown, $28, hardcover, 256p., 9780593238592

Children's & Young Adult

Cheer Up!: Love and Pom Poms

by Crystal Frasier, illus. by Val Wise

Debut YA creators Crystal Frasier and Val Wise subvert stereotypical portrayals of high school cheerleaders as cliquish mean girls in Cheer Up!, a charming graphic novel about a close-knit cheer squad of misfits.

Annie is a brilliant yet antisocial student in her senior year of high school. Her "transcript is lopsided. No sports. No clubs. No extracurriculars of any kind." At her (once-a-cheerleader) mother's suggestion, Annie joins the cheerleading squad to make friends and bolster her college applications. This means spending time with her ex-friend and team captain, Bebe, the only out trans girl at school. Bebe is a shy people-pleaser who is being forced by her parents to keep her grades up if she wants them to continue supporting her transition. Annie encourages Bebe to stand up for herself, while Bebe teaches Annie how to be a team player. The two girls rekindle their friendship--and more--as they bond over cheerleading and negotiate queerness in high school.

Wise's expressive art conveys personality through body language while imbuing action sequences with energy and movement. Panels of lingering glances and shy smiles show Annie and Bebe falling for one another as Frasier's text develops a sweet, slow-burn interracial queer romance (Annie is white and a lesbian; Bebe is Latinx and questioning). Frasier maintains a lighthearted tone while depicting the microaggressions Bebe experiences: "If I screw up or freak out, it's because I'm a trans girl," Bebe says, "Never because I'm just not perfect." Cheer Up! is joyful and insistent in its portrayal of queer teens like Annie and Bebe as worthy of love and respect, imperfections and all. --Alanna Felton, freelance reviewer

Discover: A lesbian teen reluctantly joins the cheer squad and falls for the trans team captain in this upbeat and romantic YA graphic novel.

Oni Press, $14.99, paperback, 128p., ages 13-up, 9781620109557

In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers

by Don Brown

Award-winning author/illustrator Don Brown (The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees) brings his resonant storytelling to the pivotal tragic attacks of September 11, 2001, in this powerfully emotional graphic novel.

Most adults remember exactly where they were when two airliners struck the World Trade Center's Twin Towers in New York City. But for those who weren't born yet or were too young to realize the impact of that day, Don Brown contextualizes in In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers the moments immediately after the attacks and in the months and years that followed.

He begins at 10:28 a.m., when the South Tower collapsed, and follows a group of firefighters into what will eventually be called "the Pile." From there Brown captures the voices of the victims in their own words: "At that point I realized I was going to die...." Provocative pen, ink and digital paint illustrations are chilling and emotive, and frank narration bears witness to unexpected perspectives, like "pets in kennels waiting for their owners." Brown's broken panels and loose drawing style colored in muddled blues, grays and browns--the only bright colors shining from fires that "continue for months" and the red and blue of the American flag--mimic the confusion and pervasive sadness. An afterword discusses the cost of war, rise of hate crimes against Muslims and health problems incurred by first responders. Eye-opening statistics and an extensive bibliography are also included. This hard-hitting graphic novel is reverential and revelatory. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader

Discover: With moving individual stories and emotive, provocative illustrations, this graphic novel commemorates the victims of 9/11 and sheds light on the aftermath.

Etch/HMH Books for Young Readers, $19.99, hardcover, 128p., ages 12-up, 9780358223573

I Can Help

by Reem Faruqi, illus. by Mikela Prevost

Pakistani American author Reem Faruqi (Lailah's Lunchbox) based her realistic picture book about peer pressure and kindness, I Can Help, on a personal childhood experience. Mikela Prevost's naturally hued illustrations match Faruqi's gentle text and clearsighted plot.

In this first-person narrative, Zahra is a sweet, introspective girl who evocatively describes the changing autumn leaves as "the colors of red pepper, cumin, and turmeric, the spices Nana uses." She introduces her classmate Kyle by focusing first on wonderful things about him: he is "generous... funny... kind." But, she says, "Kyle is not great at reading. He has trouble sounding out words." Zahra's teacher encourages other children to help Kyle, and Zahra happily volunteers. She does such a good job that the teacher recognizes her with "not just one, but two thumbs up" and Zahra sits tall with pride. Though Kyle is a good friend and Zahra enjoys helping him, she's still vulnerable to negative opinions. Other students insult Kyle and ask Zahra why she helps him; Zahra shamefully doesn't defend herself or Kyle and begins to act differently toward him. It's not until Zahra enters a new school the next fall that she realizes she feels better when she does the right thing. 

Prevost's soft, mixed-media illustrations in a subtle palette show diverse classmates and characters' emotionally expressive faces and body language. Notes from the author and illustrator reinforce the message, with Faruqi saying she once acted like Zahra and regrets her "actions to this day," and Prevost discussing her experience of being labeled "different" because of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. I Can Help teaches empathy and caring, and is an excellent title to read aloud with one child or a group. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer

Discover: Zahra enjoys helping Kyle, a boy with learning difficulties, until other classmates challenge her choices in this realistic and kind picture book.

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, $17.99, hardcover, 44p., ages 5-7, 9780802855046


Author Buzz

Dragon Kiss
(A Dragon Kings Novella)

by Donna Grant

Dear Reader,

Welcome back to the Dragon Kings! I'm thrilled to bring you DRAGON KISS. The world of the Dragon Kings keeps expanding, and this story brings us Alasdair and Lotti, a powerful couple who have overcome all odds to find love. But a deadly enemy intends to rip them apart.

I can't wait for you to fall in love with Alasdair and Lotti as I have.


Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Dragon Kiss (A Dragon Kings Novella) by Donna Grant

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 9, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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