Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, September 28, 2021

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

From My Shelf

Mix-ups, Murder, Meddling Mothers--and Love

No matter the season or the setting, weddings are fertile ground to explore family drama, relationship dynamics and cultural expectations. But in the hands of some authors, they turn into much more than that.

Annette Christie's lighthearted yet insightful debut, The Rehearsals (Little, Brown, $28), gives a Groundhog Day twist to longtime couple Tom and Megan's wedding weekend (with their complicated families) on a beautiful island. Something goes wrong when both the bride and groom keep waking up stuck in the same day. Christie uses the time-loop plot device to dig into big questions about Megan and Tom's relationship: long-simmering resentments, the choices they've each made, and whether they really want to get married after all.

Singaporean-Indonesian author Jesse Q. Sutanto draws on her own family for inspiration in her hilarious adult fiction debut, Dial A for Aunties (Berkley, $16). Photographer Meddy Chan, her mother and three highly capable but argumentative aunties have scored a lucrative wedding weekend--a boon for their family's events company. But when Meddy (accidentally!) offs her blind date the night before, all five women get caught up in a hilarious game of trying to hide the body while keeping the wedding party happy and oblivious. Sutanto's narrative mixes slapstick humor, a sweet second-chance love story and family dynamics even stickier than wedding-cake icing.

Cate Doty spent several years on the wedding desk at the New York Times, interviewing the big players in society weddings. Doty's wry, warmhearted memoir Mergers and Acquisitions (Putnam, $27) weaves together her time reporting on high-end nuptials with her own lifelong wedding obsession, a few romances that didn't work out--and one that just might. Doty's keen eye for detail and the probing questions she asks about love and its trappings make her memoir a thought-provoking delight. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

The Writer's Life

Ryka Aoki: A Violin Playing All Along

Ryka Aoki is a poet, composer, teacher and novelist whose books include He Mele a Hilo and two Lambda Award finalists, Seasonal Velocities and Why Dust Shall Never Settle Upon this Soul. Aoki's work has appeared or been recognized in publications including Vogue, Elle, Bustle, Autostraddle, PopSugar, and Buzzfeed. Her poetry was featured at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and she was honored by the California State Senate for "extraordinary commitment to the visibility and well-being of Transgender people." Her novel Light from Uncommon Stars (Tor Books, $25.99, reviewed below) is out now.

This novel includes a runaway teen violinist, donut-making refugee extraterrestrials, demons, classical music and great food. How did you balance it all?

This book does travel, doesn't it? In my life, maybe I inhabit a lot of different identities. I wanted to create a story that recognized so many of my dreams and aspirations.

To be honest, all of us are mashups, aren't we? Even our most straightforward stories can be idiosyncratic when we break them down. Think about the original Star Wars. There you have mind control, children growing up without parents, imprisonment, abuse, green milk, desert nomads.

When the story is familiar, we may not notice all the little contradictions. In the unfamiliar, we start noticing things. We notice the rattle of the dinner plates, the shape of the door hinges. We take an extra-long time to smell our breakfast, to look at the potato chips at the supermarket. 

We notice there's a violin, even though it may have been playing to us all along.

Your protagonist Katrina struggles with feeling she can't be loved or accepted.

Self-compassion is difficult, especially when alone. I feel that self-compassion means accepting your true self. When you are alone, your true self can be a terrifying thing to contemplate, let alone accept. When you find a community, your friends and found family can see things in you that perhaps you're unable to see in yourself. By holding their images inside of you, even when you are facing yourself alone, you're never alone. 

Katrina's teacher, "Queen of Hell" Shizuka, can't imagine a bloodless way to save her own soul. How do you think souls are saved?

I have spent so much time learning how to accept myself, so for me, saving a soul in peril means reflecting its beauty back onto itself. They say familiarity breeds contempt. What we're most familiar with is ourselves. Perhaps souls in peril are those that have grown too contemptuous of themselves. Friends, family, chosen family--if they let these souls see through that contempt and perceive their value and their radiance, then these souls might be on the way to being saved.

Why was it important to you to include sex work as an aspect of Katrina's story? 

I included sex work because it is very important to Katrina. She survived with it. She financed her violin with it. Also, Katrina uses her experience to nourish her music. Be it sex work or any other performance work, you are being paid to deliver a pleasurable aesthetic experience. 

Despite preconceptions, sex work has been validating to Katrina. In a world that has made her feel freakish and ugly, to be wanted and paid for is affirming. People can call you an abomination all they want by day, but if they're giving you good hard cash to see you naked at night, that says something, doesn't it? 

When one has difficulty taking compliments, transactional space can be the best way to process praise. With sex work, you know what the client wants, what they will say. Yes, they'll call you beautiful and all of that, but if it makes you uncomfortable, you can just call it business and unpack it later.

Your narrative pays plentiful homage to that unrivaled human invention, the hole-in-the-wall restaurant. What do local restaurants represent to you?

Home. Wherever you are, when you know the local restaurants and holes-in-the-wall, you know you're home. Somebody from New York City returns and grabs a slice of pizza, and they know they are home.

In queer communities, and especially queer communities of color, there's even more significance to these places. Often your favorite childhood memories are steeped in that bowl of noodles that's been served in that neighborhood in that restaurant where your auntie's mother-in-law has worked forever. Which means, if you're disowned by your family, and word gets around, eating in that place as your queer and/or trans self can become, well, difficult. 

I've seen Asian-American queers, especially the older ones, leave their homes and hometowns to be themselves. There's this sadness, because they often can recall the last time they were ever with their families and those noodles in that hole-in-the-wall. Sure, they might have wonderful chosen family, but often that chosen family comes from different cultures and different backgrounds. So, for the tastes of home, that hunger remains.

You gave your characters a dilemma involving an AI. Why do some people resist the idea that an AI can be a lifeform? 

Being transgender, I understand being dehumanized and invalidated. Some would call my gender artificial, a product of science gone haywire. Some might want to erase my entire transgender identity and reset me to remove the "error." With artificial life forms, I can guess how polarizing the discussion would be. Perhaps there's a difference between those who feel humanity is limitless versus those who think that humanity is more of a zero-sum game. If you think that accepting an artificial life form as human or self-aware somehow diminishes your own status, then of course you're going to resist that. 

If you believe there's plenty of humanity to go around, that recognizing someone's identity poses no threat to your own, it's far easier to be generous and even supportive and welcoming. Self-awareness is a big thing, and the more souls exploring its expanse, regardless of how those souls were made, the better we all are for it.

What should we expect from your next project?

It takes place in the same world as Light from Uncommon Stars but further explores how our interconnected world hybridizes traditions and cultures, art and songs and even worship.

People in the Midwest watch a blockbuster anime. Suddenly, gamers and cosplayers thousands of miles from Kyoto are invoking Buddhist and Shinto deities. At what point does it stop becoming play? In a world of Crunchyroll and Google Translate and global (mis)communication and (criss)crossed cultures, what happens to our theologies? And by extrapolation, what happens to our gods? And when aliens get involved, there are bound to be repercussions.... 

What is the best donut in the universe? 

The best donut, in my universe anyway, will be the one I eat years and years from now, when I am spending an afternoon with my friends, my chosen family. Maybe it's a picnic at the beach and someone's grilling teriyaki skewers, and there's macaroni potato salad and someone has brought me an iced coffee and I grab that best donut, take a bite, look up at the swirling clouds and recall the adventures that I've been on, and say yeah, this is a greatest donut ever.

But until then? A crème-filled malasada from Tex Drive-In in Honoka'a, on the Big Island of Hawai'i. --Jaclyn Fulwood

Book Candy

The First Banned Book in History?

"What was the first banned book in history?" Mental Floss asked.


Gothamist featured the original first page of Lorraine Hansberry's To Be Young, Gifted and Black script.


Gastro Obscura explored "Virginia Woolf and the complexities of cottage loaf."


"When the Nobel Prize committee rejected the Lord of the Rings: Tolkien 'has not measured up to storytelling of the highest quality' (1961)." (via Open Culture)


For paper fans, an "origami knight equipped with a sword and shield materializes from a single sheet of paper." (via Colossal)

Great Reads

Rediscover: Leila Meacham

Leila Meacham, a writer and former teacher who "didn't find success as a novelist until late in life, but her writing uplifted many in her final days as she detailed her fight with pancreatic cancer on social media," died September 19 at age 83, the San Antonio Express-News reported. Meacham's "passion for writing and reading initially took the form of a career in education," the Express-News wrote, adding that between the 1960s and the 1990s, she taught English at schools in multiple states, including Judson High School and Kitty Hawk Middle School in Texas. Meacham then wrote a series of historical romances "that captivated audiences nationwide." Roses, a New York Times bestseller, was published in 2010, when she was 70.

She felt her second novel represented her best work, according to her husband, Dick Meacham: "If you asked her, I think her favorite was Tumbleweeds." Her other books include Somerset, a prequel to RosesTitansRyan's HandCrowning Design, Aly's House and her most recent work, Dragonfly. She was working on a ninth book, tentatively titled April Storm, when she was diagnosed with her disease in August 2019. Her husband said she had nearly finished the novel when she passed away. Meacham's books are available from Grand Central Publishing.

Book Review


A Calling for Charlie Barnes

by Joshua Ferris

Joshua Ferris (The UnnamedTo Rise Again at a Decent Hour) specializes in comic but soulful novels about everymen up against dehumanizing forces: the workplace, illness, technology. In the ceaselessly funny-wistful A Calling for Charlie Barnes, the eponymous protagonist's formidable adversary turns out to be none other than himself.

Charlie Barnes, age 68, is a Chicago-area financial planner whose big ideas have always fizzled. He's not a bad guy, but he's a lifelong cutter of corners with a checkered employment history, a trail of ex-wives and a complicated relationship with the truth. Case in point: as the novel begins, Charlie has just told his family and friends that he has pancreatic cancer--he's so sure!--but when the test results come back negative, he feels sheepish about sharing the good news and wonders if maybe he doesn't have to.

As Charlie sets out to try to realize one last great idea, Ferris, a faultless crafter of sentences, imbues him with archetypically American never-say-uncle ambition in the face of grim odds: "Charlie's solution to this was to tinker, with headlamp and toolbox, in the workshop of the American dream, and to emerge sometime later with a diamond-cut hope that might make him a killing and redeem his lost time."

This is a riotous bildungsroman, its delivery system a hilariously unreliable narrator who has a vested interest in Charlie's fights, for success and for life. By the time the narrator says, "This book is about Charlie.... It's a testament to Charlie and my love for him," readers will long have had an eyebrow raised. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: In Joshua Ferris's plangently funny fourth novel, a man in pursuit of the American dream keeps running into the same roadblock: himself.

Little, Brown, $28, hardcover, 352p., 9780316333535

When We Cease to Understand the World

by Benjamin Labatut, trans. by Adrian Nathan West

Benjamin Labatut's When We Cease to Understand the World is an astonishing historical novel of war, human weakness and quantum physics. In a lovely translation from the Spanish by Adrian Nathan West, the fictionalized histories of Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger and more come alive to disquiet and intrigue readers.

The book opens with Hermann Göring's addiction to dihydrocodeine and the suicides of many Nazi leaders by cyanide at the end of World War II. It gets only a little less grim from there. But even with such bleak subject matter, Labatut's imaginative evocations of disturbed minds from the rarified ranks of mathematics and physics are thoroughly captivating and strangely lovely, joining science with mysticism in surprising ways. "In the deepest substrate of all things, physics had not found the solid, unassailable reality Schrödinger and Einstein had dreamt of, ruled over by a rational God pulling the threads of the world, but a domain of wonders and rarities, borne of the whims of a many-armed goddess toying with chance."

Labatut's narrative travels in time and space, covering the development of pesticides, chemical weapons and Prussian blue pigment. This astonishing novel blends forms: lyrical, inventive and also rooted in history, concerned with the overlaps of genius and madness, innovation and destruction. "The physicist--like the poet--should not describe the facts of the world, but rather generate metaphors and mental connections," writes Labatut. The vision of reality painted by When We Cease to Understand the World is terrifying but finely wrought, and will live long in readers' minds. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: Wide-ranging, mystical, crazed and inspired, this singular novel explores theoretical physics through a series of weird, engrossing human stories.

New York Review Books, $17.95, paperback, 192p., 9781681375663

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Light from Uncommon Stars

by Ryka Aoki

Intergalactic travel, Faustian bargains and the misunderstood music of Béla Bartók commingle in a delightfully offbeat celebration of life, the universe and the quest for the perfect donut from Ryka Aoki (He Mele a Hilo).

Renowned violin teacher Shizuka Satomi, known as the "Queen of Hell" for her seemingly supernatural star-making power, searches the world for a last and seventh student, ending up back in her hometown of Los Angeles. There she stumbles across teen violinist Katrina Nguyen in a park. The trans girl, alone in the world after fleeing her abusive father, has tremendous musical talent, and Shizuka takes her under her wing. To traumatized, desperate Katrina, becoming the famous woman's student and finding safe haven under her roof feels too good to be true. It is. Shizuka's deal with the devil is no mere figure of speech. She owes hell seven souls and needs to pay only once more. "Souls are cheap. The trick is finding the right soul," and brilliant, guileless Katrina fits the bill perfectly. As she comes to know better Katrina's careworn but gentle heart, Shizuka finds herself having second thoughts. Her budding romance with Lan Tran, an indie donut shop entrepreneur who's secretly an extraterrestrial refugee, further leads her to wonder, what does it take for a soul to be saved?

This fresh, exuberant tribute to found family and the joy of self-love moves with surety and grace through depictions of trauma and anxiety, and elegant contemplation of performance as profession. The Light from Uncommon Stars will leave readers with the breathless feeling of watching a virtuoso perform. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Ryka Aoki blends realism, fantasy and sci-fi beautifully in this unrestrained, LGBTQ+-positive fairy tale of classical music, Faustian bargains and interstellar donuts.

Tor, $25.99, hardcover, 384p., 9781250789068

Biography & Memoir

Bessie Smith: A Poet's Biography of a Blues Legend

by Jackie Kay

Jackie Kay (Trumpet), a former National Poet for Scotland, traces her lifelong enchantment with the blues to a gift she received from her father at age 12. To Kay, an adopted Black girl in a drab, white suburb of Glasgow, the double album, Bessie Smith's Any Woman's Blues, was a revelation of recognition: "I knew then of no black Scottish heroes I could claim for my own. I reached out and claimed Bessie."

First published in 1997, Kay's Bessie Smith is an achingly poignant tribute to the influential singer heralded as the Empress of Blues. Imbuing her portrait of Smith with the same haunting resonances that have made the singer's music so indelible, Kay uses poetry and memoir to escape the confines of conventional biography. One passage, a mournful prose poem in which Kay catalogues the imagined contents of a lost trunk of Smith's belongings, is particularly moving.

By no means does Kay's unconventional approach signal a dearth of scholarship. With a nimble command of primary and secondary sources, she places Smith in a larger tradition of American blueswomen that includes Smith's mentor, Ma Rainey. Kay offers a powerful corrective to popular contemporary narratives about the blues, which routinely belittle the contributions of these "Blues Queens" in favor of a "stereotyped romanticisation of the old bluesmen."

That these questions of authenticity are still unresolved points to the complexity at the heart of Kay's fascination with the blues: "A blues song, like a poem, opens itself to multiple interpretations." --Theo Henderson, bookseller at Ravenna Third Place Books in Seattle, Wash.

Discover: Befitting the legacy of seminal blues singer Bessie Smith, this unconventional biography by a former National Poet of Scotland is complex and spellbinding.

Vintage, $16.95, paperback, 224p., 9780593314272

Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography

by Laurie Woolever

When celebrity chef, author and world traveler Anthony Bourdain died by suicide in 2018, fans were shocked. But many of the 91 friends, coworkers and colleagues interviewed in the compelling Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography share riveting tales of how his life always gravitated toward extreme highs and lows. "He became this great cultural anthropologist whom everyone so loved," said Lydia Tenaglia, Bourdain's TV producer for more than two decades. "But fundamentally he was like a teenage boy with his emotional development."

Laurie Woolever, who was Bourdain's assistant for nearly a decade and co-authored Appetites: A Cookbook and World Travel: An Irreverent Guide with him, admirably pieces together Bourdain's private and professional life with input from his mother, two ex-wives, daughter, brother, publishers, and the producers, writers and technicians on his TV shows. The main person missing from this tapestry is Asia Argento, the Italian actress Bourdain fell in love with, and for whom he left his wife and began alienating friends. His suicide followed a tabloid frenzy suggesting she was cheating on him. She's not interviewed, but numerous friends and colleagues feel his obsession with her was his downfall.

One of the book's most fascinating chapters details the writing and publication of Kitchen Confidential, his frank and profane memoir, which changed his life, brought him fame and magnified his best and worst traits. Although those interviewed are mainly friends and family, this oral biography doesn't shy away from examining Bourdain's loneliness, addictions, abrasive nature and bouts of depression. This is an outstanding and illuminating biography of a complex man plagued with many demons. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Anthony Bourdain wrote and lived with an intoxicating brashness that hid his depression and addictions, and this fascinating oral history delves deep to create a true portrait worthy of the man.

Ecco, $29.99, hardcover, 464p., 9780062909107

No Cure for Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear)

by Kate Bowler

When Kate Bowler, an associate professor at Duke Divinity School, was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer at age 35, her chances of surviving two years were just 14%. No Cure for Being Human is the wry, touching follow-up to Bowler's 2018 memoir, Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I've Loved), and its associated podcast. Here, Bowler continues to combat unhelpful religious/self-help mantras as she ponders what to do with the extra time medical breakthroughs have given her.

After multiple surgeries, a promising immunotherapy drug trial gave Bowler hope that she would live to see her 40th birthday and her young son start kindergarten. Working on her bucket list, she found that small moments outshined large events: on a trip to the Grand Canyon, what stood out was a chapel in the ponderosa pinewoods where she added a prayer to those plastering the walls. In the Church calendar, "Ordinary Time" is where most of life plays out, so she encourages readers to live in an "eternal present."

The chapters function like stand-alone essays, some titled after particular truisms (like "You Only Live Once"). The book's bittersweet tone finds the humor as well as the tragedy in a cancer diagnosis. Witty re-created dialogue and poignant scenes show the type-A author learning to let go: "I am probably replaceable," she acknowledges, but here in the shadow of death "the mundane has begun to sparkle." These dispatches from the "lumpy middle" of life and faith are especially recommended to fans of Anne Lamott. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck

Discover: In her bittersweet second memoir, a religion professor finds the joys and ironies in a life overshadowed by advanced cancer.

Random House, $27, hardcover, 224p., 9780593230770

Dance or Die

by Ahmad Joudeh

In the poetic memoir Dance or Die, Ahmad Joudeh recounts his journey from stateless refugee to Middle Eastern reality TV dancing star to international ballet dancer. With candor, he showcases how difficult his life was even before ISIS bombed out the homes of everyone he knew. Joudeh had always been a refugee; born in the Al-Yarmouk camp just outside of Damascus, Syria, he was the descendent of Palestinian refugees (and by Syrian law, unable to become a citizen).

His passion for dancing isolated him from friends and family--particularly his father--who wanted him to give it up. Then ISIS arrived, completely obliterating Al-Yarmouk. Joudeh danced on rubble-strewn streets after his dance academy was destroyed. He began receiving death threats because of his refusal to give up his dancing, so he tattooed "Dance or Die" on the back of his neck, right where an executioner's axe would land.

But although videos of his dancing earned him derision locally, they gained him accolades internationally. He was able to leave for Lebanon for a few months to appear on So You Think You Can Dance? and eventually he escaped Syria for the Netherlands, joining the Dutch National Ballet.

Ahmad's passion for dancing shines through the scary parts of his story, making him an encouraging example of how to persevere. In spite of unlikely beginnings and countless obstacles, he achieved his dream of becoming a world-renowned dancer, and he is an inspiration for many. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Flagstaff, Ariz.

Discover: This lyrical memoir tells the story of one man's advancement from stateless refugee to international ballet star.

Imagine, $24.99, hardcover, 240p., 9781623545130

Nature & Environment

Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid: The Fraught and Fascinating Biology of Climate Change

by Thor Hanson

If scientist Thor Hanson's fascinating Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid could be summed up in a brief thesis, it might read something like this: biology is uncompromisingly brilliant, and that genius persists even in the throes of climate change. There's no getting around the fact that a warming planet is bad for the environment. But watching the mastermind of biology at work, shifting and adapting in the midst of a rapidly changing habitat, is not far from a holy experience, or so Hanson posits. In a tone that can only be described as upbeat, he leaps from study to study, expert interview to expert interview, describing what scientists are witnessing as temperatures tick up. He pauses only to update readers on his personal, riveting excursions into the natural world--including those that take place in his own backyard.

Even faced with the sobering reality of climate change, and its many dangerous effects on flora and fauna, Hanson is never exactly morose. He breaks down complex scientific data with the wit of an intrepid park ranger on a guided nature walk. Tackling complex, sometimes alarming phenomena--such as the speedy mass-migration north of entire oak forests in North America, or the redistribution of aquatic life in a warming ocean--Hanson is always eager for the next adventure. He is not willfully optimistic, and yet he's not without hope, either. Hurricane Lizards is a spyglass peering into the perhaps overlooked side effects of climate change: how creatures are already adapting, and--for better or worse--what the world might look like once they do. --Lauren Puckett, freelance writer

Discover: A Guggenheim Fellow, author and biologist takes a microscope to the more unusual and enduring impacts of climate change in this eye-opening--but surprisingly buoyant--book.

Basic Books, $28, hardcover, 304p., 9781541672420

Now in Paperback


by Susanna Clarke

British author Susanna Clarke won legions of fans with her debut, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. With Piranesi, a Shelf Awareness Best Book of 2020, Clarke introduces a dreamlike new world and the charming, curious soul who lives in it and loves it. A bold blend of mystery-thriller and speculative fiction, this literary fantasia was inspired by the etchings of 18th-century Italian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi.

In a vast, austere labyrinth of halls and stairs and filled with ocean tides, a lone occupant catalogues its nooks and crannies. He believes that "since the World began it is certain that there have existed fifteen people," but 13 are skeletons he watches over as a reverent caretaker. Currently he can confirm only that the world, which he calls the House, has two occupants: himself and an older man he calls the Other. Together they search for "a Great and Secret Knowledge" hidden somewhere in the House. The Other calls the narrator Piranesi. Their peculiar talks culminate in the astounding revelation that he and Piranesi are not the only living human beings in existence. As the nature of the House and his presence there slowly come to light, Piranesi must decide whom to trust if he wants to survive long enough to learn the whole truth.

Clarke's wry, masterful use of dramatic irony fuels both humor and suspense as the story builds to its climax with disciplined pacing. Though brief in length, it holds its secrets tightly until the right moments and leaves one with the sense of having glimpsed a boundless cosmos through a keyhole. --Jaclyn Fulwood

Discover: Susannah Clarke's meditative mystery, her first novel in nearly 16 years, marks a sophisticated and triumphant return for one of the finest novelists of this era.

Bloomsbury, $17, paperback, 272p., 9781635577808

The Awkward Black Man

by Walter Mosley

In Walter Mosley's short story "Haunted," a publisher has sent a rejection letter to a dead man, about whom he complains, "He wrote all that genre stuff and tried to pretend it was literary." It's impossible to read this line as anything other than Mosley's wink at readers: being seen as less than true artists is the bane of good writers known primarily for their genre fiction. If Mosley, best known for his beloved Easy Rawlins crime novels, feels undervalued, The Awkward Black Man, the charged, fleet and often funny 17-story collection in which "Haunted" appears, may redress the misunderstanding.

The Awkward Black Man features men who are, as Rufus Coombs, the naive and sweet-natured narrator of "Pet Fly," would put it, "one shade or other of brown." In "Pet Fly," Rufus, who is stuck working in a mail room at an insurance company despite having a political science degree, is accused of sexual harassment after he leaves gifts for a female colleague. In "Between Storms," a man's paranoia following Hurricane Laura compels him to skip work and hole up in his Manhattan apartment; his self-isolation becomes a news story, which leads to his misbegotten valorization as "a people's hero who was refusing to take one more step before the other side made changes."

Fifty-plus books into his career, Mosley hasn't run out of inspired plots, and his interest in social issues remains acute, although he editorializes with the lightest of touches. Leave it to a master of the crime novel like Mosley to give several stories a shocking final twist: a happy ending. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: This primo story collection by an author best known for his crime fiction reaffirms his place in the literary pantheon.

Grove Press, $17, paperback, 336p., 9780802156853

Children's & Young Adult


by Brian Selznick

Kaleidoscope, a transcendent offering by Caldecott Medal winner Brian Selznick (The Invention of Hugo Cabret; Wonderstruck; The Marvels), is infused with different kinds of seemingly ordinary magics: time and space, friendship and love, science and fairy tale. Selznick's eighth work as an author and illustrator is formatted as a collection of 24 interconnected, nonlinear stories in which the whole vision is far greater than the sum of each of its gorgeous parts.

In the opening story, the first-person narrator turns 13 years old and makes off with a ship. They and their friend James sail "past the pillars of Hercules into the West Ocean." A fierce storm carries the pair to the moon, where they're enlisted to help the king in his battle against the sun. After "fighting among the stars for centuries," the narrator returns to Earth alone to find that only a few days have passed and they are being blamed for James's death. In the second story, the narrator is a giant who forms a friendship with the human boy James; though they don't speak the same language, the pair bond over books. And in the third, the narrator is a winged creature exiled to an island 300 years ago.

Certain themes and images reappear throughout: "gardens and butterflies, apples, angels, fires, trees, friendships, islands, keys, shipwrecks, grief, and love." The relationship between the narrator and James is at the heart of all, and the deeply connected pair love--and are in love--in various ways throughout. Selznick's signature meticulous and heavily cross-hatched pencil illustrations, both abstract and realistic, grace the beginning and end of each brief story. This lovely, ethereal work hopefully makes a case for what the King of the Moon wisely proclaims: "without dreams, everything dies." --Lynn Becker, reviewer, blogger, and children's book author

Discover: These 24 interconnected, nonlinear stories offer a spellbinding portrait of intense friendship and love that transcends time and space.

Scholastic, $19.99, hardcover, 208p., ages 10-up, 9781338777246


by John Rocco

John Rocco's Hurricane shares a preoccupation with two of his earlier picture books, Blackout and Blizzard: all reinforce the importance of neighborliness when a community is faced with the unexpected. And both Hurricane and Blizzard expertly nail a child's giddy anxiety--or is it anxious giddiness?--when confronted with extreme weather.

"This is my dock," begins Hurricane's young narrator. "Really, it's the neighborhood's dock, but nobody ever comes here except me." From his dock the boy passes the time fishing or studying the minnows below. One day he notes that "today feels different. The air is still, and the sound of hammering echoes down the street." At home, his father tells him that a hurricane is brewing. The next morning, the boy wakes to find a decimated neighborhood and an all-but-obliterated dock; he asks his neighbors for help fixing it, but they say they're too busy mending their damaged properties. After he gives them a hand, the boy sets out to rebuild his dock alone... until his neighbors' consciences get the better of them.

Caldecott Honoree Rocco captures the earth-battering elements at full roar, but Hurricane's showstopper is a shimmery two-page spread featuring an illustration touched by fantasy: on the night of the storm, the sleeping boy dreams of the sea creatures that might swim beneath his dock, dolphins and turtles where in true life minnows would be. Otherwise, Rocco keeps it real, from the front endpapers showing how hurricanes form to the back endpapers diagramming the parts of a dock. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: In a heart-stopping picture book suitable for thrill seekers and tender souls alike, a boy must repair his fishing dock after a hurricane reduces it to splinters.

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $17.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 4-8, 9780759554931


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

Powered by: Xtenit