Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, October 22, 2021

Dutton: Sunderworld, Vol. I: The Extraordinary Disappointments of Leopold Berry by Ransom Riggs

From My Shelf

Music Memoirs that Turn It Up to 11

Live music is back! Sort of. But even in its incremental return, musicians and fans alike have much to celebrate. Whether you're back in the crowd or streaming from your couch, amplify the joy of live music with books digging into the intimate relationships between musicians and their songs, listeners and culture.

Fans of Carrie Brownstein can learn about her musical life and band Sleater-Kinney in Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl (Riverhead, $16). She writes, "My story starts with me as a fan.... My favorite kind of musical experience is to feel afterward that your heart is filled up and transformed, like it is pumping a whole new kind of blood into your veins. This is what it is to be a fan: curious, open, desiring for connection, to feel like art has chosen you, claimed you as its witness."

In their co-written memoir High School (Picador, $18), Canadian rockers Sara Quin and Tegan Quin mine turbulent teen years, discovering the power of hearing others' music and making their own. For an outside lens on an artist, see Janelle Monáe's the Archandroid by Alyssa Favreau (Bloomsbury Academic, $14.95), written for the terrific 33⅓ series celebrating albums that matter. For an even broader focus on a genre itself, in Rednecks, Queers, and Country Music (University of California Press, $34.95), musician and scholar Nadine Hubbs tackles critical questions about class, race, gender and sexuality in how people engage with country. 

In her unforgettable Broken Horses (Crown, $28), Brandi Carlile closes: "We want the music and the people back. We know it will happen, but we don't know when. One thing I do know is that WHEN we get back onstage again... we will know exactly who we really are for the first time and you will know who you are as well."

Even on the page, it's music to the ear. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

The Writer's Life

Reading with... Amanda Jayatissa

photo: Sandun Seneviratne

Amanda Jayatissa loves to read disturbing books with shocking plot twists, so it seemed logical to her that she should attempt to write disturbing books with shocking plot twists. She runs corporate trainings on communication skills development and works as the chief taste tester at the cookie shop she co-owns. She grew up in Sri Lanka and has lived in California's Bay Area and the British countryside before relocating back to her sunny island. Her debut thriller is My Sweet Girl (Berkley), about a Sri Lankan-American woman who tries to uncover who murdered her roommate after all evidence of his death has been erased.

On your nightstand now:

Her Perfect Life by Hank Phillippi Ryan and Good Rich People by Eliza Jane Brazier. Both are advance reader copies, and one of the best parts about writing is having access to these awesome titles before they come out!

Favorite book when you were a child:

This is a difficult one to answer because I was a voracious reader for as long as I could remember. I was even caught reading in a locked bathroom during my own birthday party, so yes, I was that kid. Three of the books I adored are: The Witches by Roald Dahl; Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery; The Ghost Next Door by R.L. Stine (my first exposure to an unreliable narrator and it swept the rug out from under me).

Your top five authors:

Shirley Jackson (she had me at The Haunting of Hill House and cemented her position in my heart with We Have Always Lived in the Castle)

Gillian Flynn (the queen!)

Jessica Knoll (the way she writes mean-girl protagonists that you root for really inspired much of my own writing)

Riley Sager (the master of plot twists!)

Stephen King (who's had my heart and many sleepless nights since I read It when I was 14)

Book you've faked reading:

My first attempt at reading It by Stephen King had me so afraid that I had to put the book away, but I'd already told my best friend that I was reading it. When she asked me how it was, I totally lied and said I had finished it and wasn't afraid at all! I did end up reading it a few days later, though, because I absolutely had to know what happened next, and it's been a favorite ever since.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough. As a reader, I've always been a huge lover of plot twists, and the twist in Behind Her Eyes lives rent-free in my head. I always recommend this book to anyone who wants a "never saw that coming" moment.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and I'm so glad I did because it ended up being one of my favorite reads of 2020.

Book you hid from your parents:

I was allowed to read anything I wanted, at any age, with one notable exception--Archie comics. Because, to quote my mother, "Who's got time to read about two girls fighting over a boy?"

It was a fair point, I suppose, but it didn't stop me from sneaking the books from my older cousins.

Book that changed your life:

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. This was the first thriller that I read which was set completely outside the U.S. It opened up my eyes and meant so much to me, because I was toying around with my own thriller (that would go on to be My Sweet Girl) that was set partially in Sri Lanka, where I'm from.

Favorite line from a book:

I didn't stop giving hand jobs because I wasn't good at it. I stopped giving hand jobs because I was the best at it.

There have been so many great, introspective, lyrical lines from books, which I've kept highlighted and revisit often, but this first line from Gillian Flynn's short story "The Grownup" made me snort-laugh while intriguing me to purchase and read it immediately. She's written so many bombshell lines (who can forget the "cool girl" monologue from Gone Girl?) but this is the one that's my favorite.

Five books you'll never part with:

Living in Sri Lanka, it's tough to get access to hard copies of many of the books I love or want to read, so the few I have are guarded closely. One of the greatest tragedies I've had to face was the Termite Incident of 2006 where my books at home were destroyed while I was away at university.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, which is my number-one comfort read.

Sharp Objects, which is my favorite from Gillian Flynn.

On Writing by Stephen King, which I read every time I feel like I'm struggling with a WIP.

My copies of Anne of Green Gables and The Witches that I've had since I was a child. The Ghost Next Door, sadly, was destroyed by those barbaric termites.

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

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I don't think I've ever been as shaken as when I sat straight up in bed at 3 a.m., scaring my poor husband half to death, shouting "NO WAY!" as when I read that twist.

Book Candy

Realistic Fictional PIs

CrimeReads investigated the "the five most realistic PIs in fiction."


" 'My Poor Ass': Michelangelo wrote a poem about how much he hated painting the Sistine Chapel," Mental Floss noted.


The New Yorker's Daily Shouts humor column offered authors tips on "highly effective book swag for your guaranteed best-seller."


Jimbōchō book town in Japan "is one of the world's oldest surviving and largest-scale book towns," Atlas Obscura reported.


Cultura Colectiva featured "10 poems by Jim Morrison that will turn your world upside down."


The New York Public Library recommended "decadent cookbooks for true chocolate lovers."

Great Reads

Rediscover: Jerry Pinkney

Jerry Pinkney, the beloved children's book illustrator whose honors included a Caldecott Medal, five Coretta Scott King Awards and a lifetime achievement award from the Society of Illustrators, died Wednesday at age 81. Pinkney's first book, The Adventures of Spider: West African Folk Tales, was published in 1964. He went on to illustrate or create covers for more than 100 books over the course of his career. In the 1970s he illustrated The Planet of Junior Brown by Virginia Hamilton, which was a Newbery Honor Book, and he was the cover artist for Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor, which won the 1977 Newbery Medal.

His 2010 picture book, The Lion and the Mouse, was a Caldecott Medal winner, and his Coretta Scott King Awards came in 1981, for Count on Your Fingers African Style (Claudia Zaslavsky); in 1990 for The Talking Eggs: A Folktale From the American South (Robert D. San Souci); in 2005 for God Bless the Child (Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr.); in 2009 for The Moon over Star (Dianna Hutts Aston); and in 2017 for In Plain Sight (Richard Jackson). One of his final books, The Little Mermaid, is available from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers ($18.99).

Book Review


Oh William!

by Elizabeth Strout

Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout (My Name Is Lucy Barton; Anything Is Possible) has the remarkable ability to engage audiences immediately with just a few opening sentences. Her marvelous eighth novel, Oh William!, is no different, made even more inviting by continuing her Amgash series. Reading all three in chronological order promises gratifying insights, but, as with all of Strout's work, each title is satisfying on its own.

"I would like to say a few things about my first husband, William," Lucy Barton begins. He's 71 now, and "been through some very sad events." Lucy herself is 63, a lauded novelist still living in New York City, recently widowed following the death of her second husband. Here, though, she spotlights William, to whom she was married for almost 20 years. In the decades since their divorce, they've remained remarkably close.

William is battling night terrors that involve his late mother, Catherine. In life, Catherine was especially close to both William and Lucy; her premature death happened during their marriage, making Lucy the only partner of William who Catherine knew. He can't share that past with his third wife, Estelle, 22 years younger. So when Estelle abandons William, taking their 10-year-old daughter, William again turns to Lucy for support. He also takes advantage of Estelle's last Christmas gift--a subscription to an ancestry website that he initially disdained--and what he discovers is so shocking that, once more, he must rely on Lucy to make sense of what he's learned.

It's Lucy's razor-sharp observations about identity and relationships that propel Strout's narrative toward deeply empathic self-awareness. Her vast audiences will (again) be enthralled. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Strout's glorious eighth title is the third in a series starring novelist Lucy Barton who, at 63, remains a remarkably empathic observer of human relationships.

Random House, $27, hardcover, 256p., 9780812989434

The Ballad of Laurel Springs

by Janet Beard

For generations of women in a Tennessee family, the tune of an Appalachian "murder ballad" resonate as a warning. Enriched with more than a century of Southern Appalachian history, The Ballad of Laurel Springs by Janet Beard (The Atomic City Girls) opens in 2019 as 10-year-old Grace, researching a genealogy assignment, learns that her four-times great-grandfather "flipped out and stabbed" a girl. Beard then follows eight of Grace's foremothers, including Polly, immortalized in the ballad "Pretty Polly." According to legend, in 1891 she joined her fiancé on a horse ("before we get married some pleasure to see") and was led to a grisly death. In the ensuing first-person narratives, trouble finds Grace's ancestors, directly or tangentially, as their region sees timber companies lay bare the hillsides, followed by farms sacrificed to the creation of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the adjacent "garish amusement parks."

Isolated mountain culture nurtures old-time legends. But, over the decades, racism and homophobia, and eventually suspicious "hippies" and drug use taint the small town of Grace's family. Beard pairs a respect for the Tennessee women and their preservation of the haunting music with a poignant sorrow for their struggles. Fans of The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek and Serena will feel sympathy for the woman in this heartfelt story with deep roots in American folklore. --Cheryl McKeon, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.

Discover: Appalachian folk music foreshadows the fate of multiple generations of a Tennessee family in this haunting historic novel.

Gallery Books, $27, hardcover, 288p., 9781982151560

Mystery & Thriller

A Line to Kill

by Anthony Horowitz

Anthony Horowitz the character returns in Anthony Horowitz the author's captivating third mystery (after The Word Is Murder and The Sentence Is Death), featuring himself as the Watson-like sidekick to Holmesian detective Daniel Hawthorne. As A Line to Kill begins, the writer is tired of being second banana to Hawthorne on murder cases, so Horowitz agrees to attend a literary festival on Alderney, one of the Channel Islands. In the publishing world, Horowitz believes he'd have the upper hand over Hawthorne.

This turns out to be untrue. During Horowitz and Hawthorne's joint interview at the festival, the audience and moderator mostly ignore the author, as they're more fascinated by the detective and his methodology and motivations. When a murder occurs and the local police are hopelessly out of their depths--since murders never happen on Alderney--Horowitz once again finds himself playing second fiddle to Hawthorne as the detective takes charge of the investigation.

One of the joys in this series comes from Horowitz subjecting his fictional self to repeated indignities. He's told by festival organizers that he was only invited after A-list authors like Val McDermid and Philip Pullman had declined invitations to appear. When he's finally asked a question during his interview with Hawthorne, Horowitz is rudely cut off. But in real life, the author, whose oeuvre includes Sherlock Holmes and James Bond novels and scripts for TV shows such as Midsomer Murders and Foyle's War, is a master at holding his audience with his entertaining mysteries combining comedy and crime. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: Anthony Horowitz takes his fictional self through another delightful mystery as sidekick to and documentarian of private detective Daniel Hawthorne's brilliant exploits.

Harper, $27.99, hardcover, 384p., 9780062938169


Well Matched

by Jen DeLuca

Jen DeLuca (Well Met; Well Played) continues her series of romances set at a charming small-town Renaissance Faire in her third book. Well Matched easily reads as a standalone, although characters from DeLuca's first two books appear as side characters in this refreshing romance.

April, a slightly curmudgeonly single mother, has been looking forward to the day she'll become an empty nester. Her daughter is about to graduate from high school, and finally April can leave sleepy Willow Creek, Md. April has known Mitch, the handsome, flirty PE teacher from the local high school, for years. Mitch is hot, cheerful and young--everything April isn't. So when Mitch asks April to be his pretend girlfriend at a family function in the hopes that his family will take him seriously, April is shocked. But she agrees, on the condition that Mitch helps her do some home repairs to get her house ready to sell.

What April doesn't expect is for Mitch to draw her into his world--suddenly she's meeting people from the high school, getting involved in the local Renaissance Faire, and finding it harder to think about leaving Willow Creek--and Mitch.

With well-drawn characters and laugh-out-loud scenes, Well Matched is a perfect opposites-attract romance. Mitch and April's relationship is sweet and the world of the Faire makes a lovely backdrop for their growing attraction. Well Matched is sure to appeal to fans of Christina Lauren or Abby Jimenez. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this funny romance, a slightly crabby single mother finds herself falling for the handsome, younger PE teacher.

Berkley, $16, paperback, 336p., 9780593200445

Biography & Memoir

Orwell's Roses

by Rebecca Solnit

It is no surprise that a writer as talented as Rebecca Solnit (Recollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir) considers George Orwell, who once wrote that "good prose is like a windowpane," to be "a foundational influence on my own meander toward becoming an essayist." In Orwell's Roses, she repays some of her debt by viewing her subject's work through the prism of his connection to the natural world.

Solnit's touchstone is the roses Orwell planted, in 1936, at the cottage he rented in the Hertfordshire village of Wallington and that he occupied intermittently until he moved to an island off Scotland's west coast, where he spent the last four years of his life. For Solnit, the flowers were "invitations to dig deeper" into "who [Orwell] was and who we were and where pleasure and beauty and hours with no quantifiable practical result fit into the life of someone, perhaps of anyone, who also cared about justice and truth and human rights and how to change the world."

Unlike a conventional biography, Orwell's Roses is an impressionistic journey through highlights of what Solnit calls Orwell's "notably episodic" life. She devotes close attention to the months Orwell spent in the depressed areas of northern England, and especially the "lurid misery" of its coal mines, that produced The Road to Wigan Pier. She also offers an incisive analysis of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

There's no way to predict whether history someday will accord Rebecca Solnit's work the same respect George Orwell's has earned. Regardless, readers of the early 21st century should be grateful for her clear-eyed, articulate presence in our midst. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: Rebecca Solnit pays homage to one of her literary models in an account of Orwell's career that emphasizes his attachment to the natural world.

Viking, $28, hardcover, 320p., 9780593083369

Starstruck: My Unlikely Road to Hollywood

by Leonard Maltin

Film critic Leonard Maltin's Starstruck is an amiable and anecdotal combination of memoir and starry-eyed tales of celebrities, gathered from Maltin's decades of working on Entertainment Tonight and attending film-related parties, fund-raisers and premieres. Maltin has loved movies since childhood. "I remain an unabashed fan," he writes. "This seems to hold me in good stead with the people I encounter." He's as thrilled to interview cinematographers, music editors and veteran character actors as he is superstars. With the possible exceptions of Burt Reynolds and Celeste Holm, his boyish enthusiasm and deep knowledge of the film industry usually won over even the most cynical performers. Readers will be equally beguiled.

Movie buffs who used his annually updated Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide for more than four decades may be surprised to learn Maltin was only 18 when his first edition came out in 1969. One of the most fascinating stories in Starstruck is the origin tale of his film guide and the laborious task of updating it. "I'm a lucky film buff who stumbled into careers in publishing, television, and academia, all of them unplanned," he writes. But he's being modest. He was well-prepared for every opportunity that fell in his path.

There are full chapters devoted to Katharine Hepburn, Jerry Lewis, Bette Davis, Mel Brooks, Lena Horne, Robert Mitchum, Shirley Temple and others. Another star-studded chapter chronicles how Maltin and his wife found themselves on a permanent guest list to Hugh Hefner's Playboy mansion for weekend Old Movie Nights. Starstruck is a delightful and convivial pleasure cruise through Old Hollywood. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Film buff and critic Leonard Maltin's beguiling memoir is jam-packed with starry-eyed tales of celebrity encounters, and is bound to leave readers smiling.

GoodKnight Books, $26.95, hardcover, 400p., 9781735273815

Now in Paperback

The Zealot and the Emancipator: John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, and the Struggle for American Freedom

by H.W. Brands

Brisk and vivid, The Zealot and the Emancipator traces the confluence of outrages, convictions and political calculations it took for the United States to at last strike down the institution of slavery. Quoting at engaging length from letters, speeches and news reports, H.W. Brands (Heirs of the Founders; Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times) places special emphasis on the minds and actions of John Brown, the murdering abolitionist, and Abraham Lincoln, the murdered president. Much of Brands's account comes from the words of those who knew his subjects.

Brands's chatty retelling follows Brown and Lincoln through the buildup to the Civil War, recounting events like the collapse of Lincoln's Whig party and the maneuvering behind the Kansas-Nebraska Act in clear, exciting prose. The book's title suggests a simple dichotomy, a radical's and a moderate's approach to enacting change, but Brands is attentive throughout to the thoughts of other Americans. Frederick Douglass, for example, was routinely disappointed in Lincoln's moderation, and George Kimball, an early volunteer for the Union army, called his compatriots in the Second Massachusetts Infantry Battalion "a light-hearted, whole-souled set of fellows."

One of the book's chief pleasures, besides the illumination of Lincoln's year-to-year thinking about slavery and Black Americans, comes from the observations offered by both men's contemporaries' descriptions: the reporter James Redpath, on assignment for the anti-slavery New York Tribune, wrote of a meeting with Brown, "I had seen the predestined leader of the second, and holier American revolution." And that endorsement came well after Brown's band had dragged five pro-slavery men from their bed and murdered them in Pottawatomie, Kan. --Alan Scherstuhl, freelance writer and editor

Discover: To show what it took to end slavery, a historian showcases John Brown and Abraham Lincoln in the words of those who knew them.

Anchor, $17.95, paperback, 480p., 9780525563457

Plain Bad Heroines

by Emily M. Danforth, illus. by Sara Lautman

In her adult horror debut, Emily M. Danforth (The Miseducation of Cameron Post) offers an indulgent greenhouse of grotesqueries shadowed by gothic elements and pepped up with metafiction and mystery, illustrated with deliciously unsettling black-and-white line drawings by cartoonist Sara Lautman.

In 1902, at Brookhants School for Girls in Rhode Island, student Clara Broward falls into a vast subterranean nest of eastern yellow jackets while fleeing from her cousin and toward her sweetheart Flo Hartshorn. The insects sting both girls to death. Their deaths mark the beginning of a disastrous time for Brookhants, as a malignant force, tied to a red-bound book, targets students and tears at the already strained bond between principal Libbie Brookhants and her life partner, Alexandra "Alex" Trills.

In the present day, Brookhants is known as one of the U.S.'s most haunted sites. High-profile horror film The Happenings at Brookhants is set to begin production at the old school, starring current it-girl Harper Harper and the normcore Audrey Wells. The film's writer, Merritt Emmons, is invited to join the preproduction team. Sparks of romance and conflict fly among the three 20-somethings right away, their chemistry intense and volatile. Each woman has her own dreams and own agenda. Strange occurrences befall each of them, and the buzzing of yellow jackets follows them to Brookhants, where a labyrinth of suspicion, betrayal and malevolence awaits.

Danforth delivers her narrative in an urbane, droll voice akin to a Victorian novelist writing for BuzzFeed. And the brooding atmosphere and careful characterization make Plain Bad Heroines an easily cultivated obsession. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: In Emily Danforth's chilling adult debut, a curse that destroyed a boarding school over a century earlier returns to bedevil three women involved in a movie about the school's haunted history.

William Morrow Paperbacks, $17.99, paperback, 656p., 9780062942869

The Constant Rabbit

by Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde (Early Riser; The Eyre Affair) has created a darkly funny satire of modern politics in The Constant Rabbit. It is 2022 and, due to the Spontaneous Anthropomorphizing Event of 1965, there are now more than a million human-sized, talking rabbits living in the United Kingdom.

The rabbits are polite, and mostly take the lower-class jobs that humans don't want. But right-wing politicians, concerned at how quickly rabbits could procreate if they wanted to, warn about the danger to English culture if the rabbits are allowed to leave their government mandated warrens: "Let one family in and pretty soon they'll all be here." Middle-aged Peter Knox is a tiny cog in the large machine of a government agency that surveils rabbits--until a rabbit family moves into his village, and he's informed that he has to start spying on Doc and Constance Rabbit. But the thing is, Peter knows Connie--they went to college together--and Peter doesn't want anything bad to happen to the Rabbits. But he also doesn't want to lose his job.

With his trademark quirky flair, Fforde uses Knox to show what can happen when well-meaning people do nothing in the face of fascism. Rabbit causes clearly parallel political stakes in today's world, but with a layer of absurdity created by rabbit cultural oddities like dueling and gamboling ("sort of like mixing jazz dancing and yoga"). Funny and bitingly incisive, The Constant Rabbit is a standalone novel that showcases Fforde's unconventional writing at its very best. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: This satirical fantasy parallels right-wing attitudes toward immigrants in an alternate England, where more than a million human-sized, talking rabbits are being oppressed by the government.

Penguin Books, $17, paperback, 320p., 9780593296547

Children's & Young Adult

Black Birds in the Sky: The Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre

by Brandy Colbert

For decades, one of the most distressing acts of racial violence in the United States, the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, had been largely suppressed. But the events that led up to the horrendous attack against a prominent African American community in Tulsa, Okla., are illuminated for teen readers in the year of its centennial anniversary, with a riveting and fearlessly written narrative by author Brandy Colbert (The Voting Booth; Little & Lion).

In the early hours of June 1, 1921, a mob of white people crossed over the tracks that separated the white and Black communities of Tulsa to enter an affluent Black neighborhood called the Greenwood District (known as America's Black Wall Street). The district was founded in 1906 by Black businessmen O.W. Gurley and J.B. Stradford, and by 1921 was home to "reportedly six hundred businesses within its thirty-five city blocks." The mob, armed with guns, fire, explosives, jealousy and resentment, destroyed the homes, businesses and lives of hundreds of Greenwood residents in a few short hours.

Black Birds in the Sky is thoroughly researched and includes firsthand accounts from survivors, photos and extensive backmatter. Colbert paints a clear picture of how and why this racial massacre occurred and encourages all readers, regardless of age or race, to confront the difficult and often obscured history of racial violence in the United States. After all, Colbert reminds readers in her excellent afterword, the U.S.'s brutal past is connected to Black Americans' present-day fight for justice: "None of this [is] new." --Natasha Harris, freelance reviewer

Discover: An engrossing YA account of the events that led to one of the most violent racial attacks in the United States, the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

Balzer + Bray, $19.99, hardcover, 224p., ages 13-up, 9780063056664


by Sharon Cameron

Two girls, two gripping perspectives of wartime and postwar Germany: Bluebird explores less familiar literary territory through the eyes of those who have been oblivious to the atrocities surrounding their sheltered, privileged world.

In February of 1945, 16-year-old Inge is the vivacious daughter of a prominent doctor active in the Nazi regime. She spends her days taking joyrides in her father's car and attending League of German Girls meetings, where the League leader tells the girls that "a baby for Hitler... a good German baby, is the greatest gift a girl can give to her Führer." But Inge's mother whisks the family away to a remote family lodge and Inge's world of pretty clothes and flirtations ends abruptly.

In August 1946, a German girl named Eva arrives at a New York Quaker home serving as a program center for refugees. Eva is laser focused on delivering justice to an infamous Nazi whose monstrous wartime experiments are still in demand. Almost the moment she steps off the boat, Eva realizes that she is being followed, but is it by American secret agents? Soviets? Or Nazis?

The young women's points of view alternate by chapter, their narratives coming ever closer until they are one in this heart-rending novel by Sharon Cameron (The Light in Hidden Places; The Dark Unwinding). Featuring more hairpin turns in plot than the route the borrowed convertible takes to escape Nazis (or Soviets, or Americans), Bluebird is enthralling from page one all the way through to the author's note. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: The life of postwar Nazis is a relatively underexamined theme in YA literature, but this riveting work of historical fiction reveals even more evil than expected.

Scholastic Press, $18.99, hardcover, 464p., ages 12-up, 9781338355963

Audrey L and Audrey W: Best Friends-ish

by Carter Higgins, illus. by Jennifer K. Mann

The arrival of a classmate with the same name brings potential friendship and frustrations to a deflated second grader in Carter Higgins and Jennifer K. Mann's sensitive and gently humorous illustrated chapter book Audrey L and Audrey W: Best Friends-ish.

Second grade is "way, way worse" than first. Audrey Locke's former best friend, Diego, has picked Henley over her, and, unlike their talented classmates, Audrey isn't the best at anything. Once Ms. Fincastle assigns Audrey as Welcome Ambassador to a new student, Audrey isn't even the best Audrey anymore. Audrey Waters and Audrey L share an interest in alicorns (unicorns with wings) and purple nail polish, and Audrey L is optimistic the two might become real friends. "Having somebody see your baby pictures and your bare feet and your annoying little brother means they are an actual, real friend." After a baking playdate ends poorly and jeopardizes the relationship, Audrey L wishes she could be "just plain Audrey" again.

Higgins (Bikes for Sale; This Is Not a Valentine) captures the complicated dynamics of nascent friendships and perceived hierarchies through small moments that ring with authenticity and humor. Mann (The Camping Trip) drops thematic hints through chapter headers, while spot illustrations featuring moon-faced characters appear in shaded line drawings throughout the story. Well-paced chapters conclude satisfactorily while planting seeds for future installments to feature the classmates and Audrey L's "funny... and weird" family. A natural fit for fans of odd-couple friendship stories like Ivy & Bean and funny school stories like Jo Jo Makoons, this series starter promises double the fun. --Kit Ballenger, youth librarian, Help Your Shelf

Discover: Unsettled second grader Audrey welcomes a potential new friend with the same name in an accessible and gently humorous illustrated chapter book.

Chronicle Books, $14.99, hardcover, 184p., ages 6-9, 9781452183947

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