Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, October 26, 2021

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

From My Shelf

Now Is the New December

You've probably seen photos of the hundreds of container ships waiting off the Port of Los Angeles, emblematic of the supply-chain difficulties facing the country. And even if the books you want are on shelves now, they may not be if you wait much longer. It's taking longer for publishers to reprint titles; paper is limited and printers are backlogged. What that means for you is that now is the time to do your gift shopping--stop into the bookstore to pick up that perfect thriller you know your brother or aunt or the neighbor who walks your dog would just love.

May we suggest the new Jack Reacher novel, Better Off Dead, out today? Check out our interview with brothers Lee Child and Andrew Child (below), in which they discuss their collaborative process and the military facts they uncovered in their research. Over the next few weeks, we'll be featuring gift books for cooks, biography and history buffs, romance fans and more, as well as children's and young adult books for the budding readers in your life.

But why not get a head start? In today's issue, there's a book on David Hockney by James Cahill; a debut story collection set in Pakistan by Farah Ali, People Want to Live; and "a playful and innovative work of historical fiction," Paul Griffith's Mr. Beethoven, shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize.

And don't you deserve a little something for being so thoughtful, gathering gifts for your loved ones? We Run with the Tides by Vendela Vida, set in mid-1980s San Francisco--"a dreamy, tricky tale of girlhood, secrets and the shifting sands of truth" and a 2020 New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice--is just out in paperback. Stay calm and read on! --Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor, Shelf Awareness

The Writer's Life

Lee Child and Andrew Child: Keeping Jack Reacher Alive

Brothers and co-authors: Andrew Child (l.) and Lee Child. (photo: Tasha Alexander)

Lee Child is the author of the bestselling Jack Reacher series. A series based on the first Reacher novel, The Killing Floor, will stream on Amazon Video in early 2022. Lee Child announced his retirement last year, handing over the reins to his younger brother, Andrew (who's written nine thrillers under the name Andrew Grant). The two are cowriting a handful of the Reacher books during the transition; Better Off Dead (Delacorte; reviewed below) is their second collaboration.

How do you divvy up the writing duties? Who handles what?

Lee: The best part of writing is lying on the sofa, daydreaming about what-if this, or what-if that. We both do that part. Then comes the hard work--typing, spelling, organizing--and Andrew does that part. Nowadays there's a third part, which is promoting the book, and we're doing that together, but sadly only virtually. We were looking forward to being on stage together.

Andrew: My spelling's not the greatest, but I am a fast typist and I love the experience of seeing the ideas we've kicked around taking shape on the page. That's extremely satisfying, but I do wish it was possible to do some live events together. That would be fun.

What was the inspiration behind the trafficking of chemical weapons plot in Better Off Dead?

Andrew: It was an article I read about the use of chemical weapons during the two recent wars in Iraq. It was a wide-ranging piece, but the thing that really stuck out was the fact--which is mentioned in the book--that soldiers who were injured while dealing with a cache of shells containing illegal chemicals after an engagement with the enemy was over, or while transporting suspicious munitions for analysis, etc., were denied Purple Hearts. This struck me as tremendously unfair, and the kind of thing that could easily breed sufficient resentment to push an already desperate person onto a very bad track.

Did either of you get to interview a member of an Army Technical Escort Unit as part of your research?

Lee: We could tell you, but then we'd have to kill you. Seriously, probably yes, but neither of us is that kind of real-time researcher. We feel that approach makes exposition too shiny and new. Better to let things percolate a while. So we rely on what we learned over the last few years, and the people we've met. In my case, I've been lucky enough through Reacher to get invited to all kinds of army places, and I've met hundreds of serving men and women, and the way they move around, I bet a few of them have passed through that unit.

The villain in Better Off Dead is named Dendoncker. There's a Belgian footballer named Leander Dendoncker. Is there a story here?

Lee: There's been a story since my first book--if I get stuck for a name for a person or a place, then, yes, I turn to soccer players. Usually Villa if it's a good guy, and not if it's not.

Andrew: Better Off Dead continues that tradition. We have a character called Houllier, for example. And of course Fenton....

What's the easiest thing about writing with a partner, and the most challenging?

Andrew: A big part of the daydreaming stage that Lee mentioned earlier is asking the question what happens next? It's much easier to answer that when you have someone you trust to bounce ideas off. The biggest challenge is when you fear that yours might be crazy or ridiculous but [you] have to suggest them anyway.

Lee: Really, it's two sides of the same coin for me. The bad part is, I have to say bad ideas and dumb words and confusing sentences out loud in front of someone else, which is deeply wounding, obviously. The good part is, consequently I have no chance of fooling myself about them, which makes for a lot of saved time in the end.

How do you meld your different writing styles into one seamless narrative?

Lee: Deep down they're not very different. The delicious irony in all this is, for nine books Andrew took great care not to sound like me, and now he's supposed to.

Andrew: Lee is absolutely right. I feel like the shackles have been removed and I can finally write how I always wanted to.

When creating a fight scene, did you ever try out the fight choreography on each other?

Lee: Much better in the mind's eye. I wouldn't want to hurt him.

Andrew: You mean you wouldn't want to go back to doing all the typing.

Lee, what has Andrew brought to Reacher that wasn't there previously?

Lee: The plan was to somehow, magically, invisibly, give Reacher a more plausible relationship with modern technology, which Andrew did last year with The Sentinel plot, and Reacher's reaction to it, which really worked, because it's there in Better Off Dead, too, but so unobtrusive it's no big deal. The unexpected thing Andrew did was rebalance Reacher in terms of his dialogue. I had been making Reacher so taciturn that three words would make a long speech, and a haiku would sound like a filibuster. Andrew remembered the earlier books, where Reacher spoke in whole paragraphs, often lethal and effective, sometimes rambling and funny. I'm glad we're moving back in that direction.

Andrew, what traits of Reacher's do you hope to magnify or explore in future novels?

Andrew: Reacher is so well established and so well loved that I'd be crazy to make any wholesale changes. As Lee mentioned in the previous question, we made a conscious decision to nudge the world Reacher inhabits forward a tiny bit in terms of technology, and I don't see myself wanting to reverse that course. I also would like to continue our reconnection to the wit and humor of Lee's earlier books, because I see that as an integral part of both Reacher's character and his arsenal.

Will Reacher's travel ever be affected by travel restrictions and lockdowns?

Lee: That's a great question, seriously, about the nature of fiction. Surely people read to escape, not to wallow in what they're currently hating. So I doubt we--or anyone--will get very far into the reality of the pandemic. The 1918 flu was a gigantic global disaster, and it hardly shows up in fiction at all.

Andrew: I think the only way Reacher would be affected would be in response to some kind of widespread logistical change, such as we saw with airlines after 9/11. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis

Book Candy

Ghost Hunter Terms

Mental Floss shared "15 terms every ghost hunter should know."


Atlas Obscura explored "how gruesome penny dreadfuls got Victorian children reading.


"My favorite overlooked Black writer--by Bernardine Evaristo, Margaret Atwood and more." (via the Guardian)


Gothamist invited readers "inside the Robert Caro archive at the New-York Historical Society."


CrimeReads examined "why body horror is such an evocative tool in storytelling."


"Oi! Reading recommendations for Ted Lasso & the AFC Richmond crew," courtesy of the New York Public Library.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Maid

On October 1, Netflix released the miniseries Maid, based on the book Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive by Stephanie Land. Land's 2019 memoir, which expands on a popular Vox article she wrote in 2015, chronicles her struggle as a single mother earning poverty wages cleaning rich people's houses in the Pacific Northwest. Relying on a tattered social safety net to help survive soul-crushing scarcity, Land was eventually able to earn a writing degree and escape the kind of misery that millions of Americans slog through every day. A Washington Post review said Maid "isn't about how hard work can save you but about how false that idea is. It's one woman's story of inching out of the dirt and how the middle class turns a blind eye to the poverty lurking just a few rungs below."

The 10-episode Netflix miniseries, created by Molly Smith Metzler, stars Margaret Qualley as a fictionalized version of Land named Alex. The show also features Nick Robinson as the abusive father of Alex's daughter and Andie MacDowell as Alex's mother. Maid is available in paperback from Legacy Lit/Hachette ($17.99) with a foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich. --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


People Want to Live: Stories

by Farah Ali

The 14 stories in Farah Ali's debut collection, People Want to Live, proceed with a measured assurance, even if their characters often tremble under anxious uncertainties. In the aching opener, "Heroes," a mother sifts through grief after her son is killed, for a year, trying to make sense of her loss and searching for an accurate portrait of his memory. In "Bulletproof Bus," the narrator aspires to become a driver on a special new transit line in Karachi, in spite of personal and bureaucratic obstacles. And in "Believers," a car accident forces another type of driver to choose between letting a man die or destroying everything his only father figure worked for. The dilemmas might seem insurmountable, but Ali's lean prose and keen characterizations make sharp, riveting work of them.

Hailing from Pakistan, Ali writes purposefully about the urban, the rural and the winding, sometimes treacherous, roads that connect the two. In one of the collection's many standouts, "Tourism," her sense of humor eviscerates the visitor's desire for easy epiphanies to be found in the rugged landscape of a foreign region. "Someone younger than fifty--perhaps a waiter at your hotel--will understand you better in a language in which you are already fluent (Urdu or English), so do not strain your own learning abilities. You are, after all, here to get healed."

There are no easy epiphanies to be found in People Want to Live. Instead, these immaculate works of short fiction highlight a shared sense of resilience that is both crisp and well-earned. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: With an impeccable and assured sense of craft, this outstanding debut collection of 14 stories follows characters in Pakistan through monumental dilemmas.

McSweeney's, $24, hardcover, 9781952119293

Mr. Beethoven

by Paul Griffiths

Mr. Beethoven, shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize and the fourth novel by Welsh author and librettist and music critic Paul Griffiths (Let Me Tell You), is a playful and innovative work of historical fiction. The virtuosic performance befits the titular composer.

In 1833, an elderly and august Ludwig van Beethoven sails to the United States, having accepted the invitation of a Boston classical music society to compose and debut an oratorio in the young republic. Along the way, the author takes every opportunity to remind readers of his story's artifice ("Suppose the year was 1833, as well could have been the case"; in fact, Beethoven died in 1827). This move--the novel's insistence on plausibility while drawing attention to its own contrivances--distinguishes Griffith's approach to historical fiction, as he invites readers to revel in, as his narrator puts it, "the allure of alterity."

Once in Boston, Beethoven sets to work completing his oratorio, vexing his beleaguered librettist and, as the debut draws steadily nearer, his increasingly anxious patrons. The world Griffiths constructs is vivid and eminently convincing, conveyed by a narrator who frequently interrupts the narrative to fuss over primary sources or even revise whole scenes. Particularly brilliant is the character of Thankful, a musically gifted girl from Martha's Vineyard who is appointed as Beethoven's interpreter and teaches the composer, who is now entirely deaf, a form of sign language. Lest Griffith's more experimental flourishes come off as overly cerebral, the friendship between Beethoven and Thankful is both thought-provoking and disarmingly tender. With unyielding inventiveness and verve, Mr. Beethoven is a delightful exploration of historical contingency and artistic process. --Theo Henderson, bookseller at Ravenna Third Place Books in Seattle, Wash.

Discover: Playfully experimental and meticulously researched, this historical novel imagines a trip to the U.S. that the great composer never took.

New York Review Books, $17.95, paperback, 312p., 9781681375809

The Secret of Snow

by Viola Shipman

Well-researched stories about Michiganders and the sensitive complexities of family legacies have built Viola Shipman's (pen name of Wade Rouse) successful, comforting brand.

Shipman (The Charm Bracelet; The Recipe Box) begins The Secret of Snow in Palm Springs, Calif., around Christmastime, where Sonny Dunes, a single, 50-year-old national TV meteorologist, has a meltdown on air after she learns that her job is being threatened by a robot. Destroying her career in a terminal way, unemployed and downtrodden Sonny returns to her hometown of Traverse City, Mich., where she moves in with her widowed, 75-year-old mother and is offered a job at the local TV station by a former college rival. Sonny develops weather-centric feature stories in a segment billed as "Sonny in Winter," where she presents the history, legends and fun deep-freeze traditions of the Lake Michigan area. As Sonny comes to appreciate the hometown she fled 30 years before, complications ensue when the current weather gal at the station fears that Sonny is after her job. Along the way, Sonny is befriended by the underappreciated "Guy Friday" at the station and by a widowed local politician, both of whom carry heavy burdens in their hearts. While the weather outside grows frightful, Sonny battles interior personal storms as painful memories come to light. Can she part the emotional dark clouds of her past and look toward a sunny future?

Smart comedic plotting and gentle romance kindle Shipman's beautifully descriptive, fluid prose in an absorbing, moving story that will warm the hearts of readers. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A tender story about a Southern California meteorologist whose forced retreat to the winter deep-freeze of Michigan melts her hardened heart.

Graydon House, $28.99, hardcover, 320p., 9781525899812

Mystery & Thriller

Better Off Dead

by Lee Child, Andrew Child

In the magnificently written Better Off Dead, the second Jack Reacher collaboration between Lee Child and Andrew Child, Reacher lands in the morgue after helping a roadside crash victim. Say what?

Reacher sees an old Jeep crashed into a tree and a woman slumped over the wheel. It's a trap, but not one for Reacher. The woman's name is Michaela and she's waiting to ambush some thugs working for a chemical weapons terrorist called Dendoncker, who is keeping her brother, Michael, as a hostage. Instead of walking away and letting Michaela take care of the bad guys herself, Reacher sticks around as backup. When the thugs try to rape Michaela, she's forced to kill them both and loses what she thinks is the last chance to find her brother. Reacher convinces Michaela to let him help locate Dendoncker and rescue Michael. Whenever Dendoncker hears an enemy has been killed, he insists on visiting the morgue in person to see the body. Reacher and Michaela's plan is simple: Reacher will cause enough trouble for Dendoncker to provoke a confrontation, during which he gets himself "killed" to draw Dendoncker out into the open for a look at Reacher's body. It's a crazy, dangerous idea. And it just might work.

Lee Child continues his handoff of the series to his brother, Andrew, in a seamless manner. Rest assured, the epic fight scenes remain prominent and plentiful, as does the quick-wittedness of the larger-than-life Reacher. The brothers show no inclination of letting this beloved series run out of steam. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer

Discover: In this astounding thriller, Reacher plays dead to stop a chemical weapons terrorist.

Delacorte, $28.99, hardcover, 336p., 9781984818508

These Silent Woods

by Kimi Cunningham Grant

These Silent Woods by Kimi Cunningham Grant (Fallen Mountains) skillfully depicts a man struggling with fatherhood and PTSD in an evocative, suspenseful story that gains its strength from powerfully drawn characters.

A remote cabin in an isolated area of the Appalachian Mountains has offered an idyllic way of life but also been fraught with complications for army veteran Cooper and his bright eight-year-old daughter, Finch, in Grant's enthralling third novel. The move was both a spontaneous and well-planned decision for Cooper, whose violent episodes brought on by PTSD had become frequent. After Cooper's girlfriend--Finch's mother--was killed in an accident, her wealthy parents took custody of the then months-old baby. Cooper forcibly took the girl and settled off the grid on land owned by his former army buddy Jake.

Here, no one goes by a last name. Father and daughter hunt, grow some food and raise chickens; each winter, Jake brings a year's worth of supplies, clothes and books that Finch devours. But Jake disappears, forcing Cooper to reevaluate his decisions. He ventures into the outside world, tormented that he will be arrested for kidnapping Finch.

Grant's lyrical writing and a deep understanding of her characters propel These Silent Woods. Isolation has calmed Cooper, though the occasional panic attack still rears; he's unable to rid himself completely of his "wounds on the mind." More importantly, fatherhood has grounded him. He is an excellent parent, though he worries that eventually this life will become "too small" for the inquisitive Finch--fears that are realized when a stranger appears.

Unconditional love and redemption elevate the thoughtful These Silent Woods. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer

Discover: A veteran finds peace in a remote cabin with his eight-year-old daughter in this emotional story that gains heart-pounding suspense when the outside world intrudes.

Minotaur, $27.99, hardcover, 288p., 9781250793393

Fan Club

by Erin Mayer

A young woman walks the fine line between devotion and entitlement in Fan Club, the riveting debut novel by Erin Mayer.

The narrator is a junior member of the editorial staff at a lifestyle website, dissatisfied with her job and growing more distant from her roommate. One evening she goes out with some coworkers and is struck unexpectedly by the latest single by Adriana Argento, a pop icon whom she previously mostly ignored. She dives into the online fandom and is invited by Meghan, a new staff member, to join her in-person Adriana Argento fan club. The women hold listening parties that end with candlelit, cultish rituals, but they are upset with the direction of Argento's new music. The narrator comes to realize that the lengths to which they will go are greater than she imagined.

Fan Club is a dark, compelling thriller about the need to belong and the dark aspects of fandom. The narrator is teetering on the brink of developing friendships with some of the other editorial staff, but she remains drawn to Meghan and her friends, with whom she shares a profound experience of music. However, the devotion that the other members of the club have for Argento leads to feelings of betrayal and rage when the artist writes music that isn't what they want to hear or dates somebody of whom they don't approve. They are already hiding one dark secret, and they may drag the narrator under with the next. This deliciously dark thriller will leave readers wanting more from Mayer. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library

Discover: This edge-of-your-seat psychological thriller highlights the fine line between love and hate in the world of pop culture stardom.

Mira, $16.99, paperback, 320p., 9780778311591

The Nameless Ones

by John Connolly

John Connolly's 19th Charlie Parker novel finds Louis, an associate of Parker, and Louis's partner, Angel, racing across Europe to exact revenge on Serbian war criminals who have just massacred a contact. But a formidable stranger helping the Serbs can cross between the worlds of the living and the dead in the tense, bloody thriller The Nameless Ones.

War criminals Radovan and Spiridon Vuksan are responsible for the ethnic cleansing of thousands during the Balkan conflict of 1991. Aided by a powerful lawyer, they escaped prosecution and amassed wealth elsewhere in Europe. Now filthy rich, the Vuksan brothers want to return to Serbia with their war criminal friends, but first, a little murdering to settle debts. De Jaager, a fixer and business contact of Louis, is tortured and killed by the Vuksans, along with De Jaager's friends and family. Louis pursues the killers and Angel comes along to help. What isn't clear is the identity of the vicious, killing entity advising the Vuksans. This being will kill anyone threatening the Vuksans, and even becomes a danger to Parker's daughter, Jennifer, who's dead but can still communicate with Parker from beyond. The final confrontation between these different factions crackles with intensity.  

Building on events from The Book of Bones, number 17 in the Parker series, Connolly demonstrates the strong viability of Louis, Angel and Jennifer independent of Parker himself. The Nameless Ones takes a visceral, transcontinental fight and turns it into an awesome battle between good and evil fought on two planes of existence. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer

Discover: The murder of a trusted contact sets two of Charlie Parker's associates on a collision course with Serbian war criminals in this nail-biting 19th installment of the series.

Emily Bestler/Atria, $28, hardcover, 432p., 9781982176976

Performing Arts

Noel Coward On (and In) Theatre

by Barry Day, editor

It's hard to think of a better guide to discussing all aspects of the theater than Noel Coward (1899-1973). During his 50-year career, Coward wrote nearly 70 plays, musicals, operettas and revues. He worked with or knew virtually everyone connected to the London stage and saw every production. And he had supremely witty and astute observations and opinions on everything. Editor Barry Day (The Letters of Noel Coward) culls Coward's sage observations from his diaries, essays, interviews, stories, plays, lyrics and the reminiscences of his contemporaries.

Coward weighs in on Method acting, on plays with squalor and explicit language, writing for the theater versus novels or the cinema, directing plays and movies, troubled productions, fellow playwrights, other actors, critics and reviews. This 480-page volume is jam-packed with hilarious comments. On star quality: "I don't know what it is--but I've got it." Critics: "I think it is so frightfully clever of them to go night after night to the theatre and know so little about it." Eugene O'Neill: "Long Day's Journey into Night turned into Day's short journey to the Exit at the first intermission."

But this is not just a collection of witty comments. There are also his extensive profiles of contemporaries like Beatrice Lillie, John Gielgud and Gertrude Lawrence and thoughtful, behind-the-scenes tales of the mechanics of writing and launching theater productions. Coward promised to write a book on the theater but didn't. Day's Noel Coward On (and In) Theatre fulfills Coward's promise with a magnificent, expansive and extravagantly entertaining guide to all aspects of the theater. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Noel Coward's majestic, impressive and supremely droll take on all aspects of theater perfectly balances hilarious witticisms with astute observations no theater buff will want to miss.

Knopf, $40, hardcover, 480p., 9780525657958

Art & Photography

David Hockney

by James Cahill

Multivolume works devoted to the lives of titans in their fields have their value, but sometimes a reader is after a quick fix. James Cahill's David Hockney is an exemplary book of this sort--less of a "What makes him tick?" than a highly informative "What did he make when and where, and with what?"

London arts writer Cahill hits and expands on the major plot points in painter David Hockney's life story: born in 1937, the artist was raised in working-class Yorkshire, attended London's Royal College of Art, fell in love with California and achieved international success by his mid-30s. Personal stuff, like Hockney's boyfriends and hearing loss, gets some ink, as do matters like how Hockney's status as a maker of unfashionable figurative art played out in Swinging London and beyond. Cahill reports on Hockney's visual experiments and innovations (reverse perspective, photo-collage, iPhone drawings) and distills his artistic methods. Of California Art Collector (1964), the author says, "The work was painted in acrylics--a new discovery which allowed [Hockney] to create a smooth, uniform and thin surface that perfectly suits the picture's ambience of suburban calm."

While the book contains no reproductions of the artist's work, Cahill's precise and spruce descriptions of what Hockney captured on canvas are the next best thing to seeing it. Part of Laurence King's valuable Lives of the Artists series, the brisk and basic David Hockney would also be suitable for a YA readership despite its sometimes salty content, or perhaps because of it. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: This short biography of the great painter is an excellent jumping-off point for the curious and a refresher for the already besotted.

Laurence King, $17.99, hardcover, 160p., 9781913947422

Now in Paperback

We Run the Tides

by Vendela Vida

We Run the Tides by Vendela Vida (The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty) is a dreamy, tricky tale of girlhood, secrets and the shifting sands of truth set in mid-1980s San Francisco. This captivating coming-of-age novel--a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice--asks readers to consider friendship, cruelty, deception and consequences.

Narrator Eulabee begins her story with the first-person plural point of view. "When I say 'we,' I sometimes mean the four of us Sea Cliff girls who are in the eighth grade at the Spragg School for Girls. But when I say 'we,' I always mean Maria Fabiola and me." The foursome is close, but it is beautiful Maria Fabiola who enraptures Eulabee and, apparently, everyone else--children as well as adults--in their rarified world of au pairs, chauffeurs and views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Earnest, awkward, devoted Eulabee is less polished than her friends, or perhaps it only seems so because readers are privy to her insecurities. The trouble begins when she and Maria Fabiola fail to see a minor event in the same way, literally. Did Eulabee miss a small, important detail? Or did Maria Fabiola make it up? The truth almost doesn't matter; what matters is that the girls are equally firm in their divergent truths.

We Run the Tides is an enchanting, literary novel, realistic but a little unreal. Vida gives a tender, incisive portrayal of adolescence. The girls' cruelties are visceral and impermanent, the stressors of Sea Cliff somehow both superficial and profound, in this cleverly woven story about honesty, betrayal, charm and illusion, about what matters in youth and what matters always. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: An uncertain adolescent girl narrates a heart-aching tale of coming of age in a city in transition.

Ecco, $16.99, paperback, 288p., 9780062936240

Children's & Young Adult

Dust & Grim

by Chuck Wendig, illus. by Jensine Eckwall

In the side-splitting middle-grade spook-fest Dust and Grim, 13-year-old Molly, who recently learned she has an older brother, is in for an even bigger surprise: the family business is a funeral home for monsters. Actually, don't call them monsters--it's impolite. They prefer "nonstandard citizens."

When Molly's "turdbutt" of a dad dies, she meets his estranged brother, Gordo, who reveals that Molly has an 18-year-old brother, Dustin. The strange and standoffish Dustin runs Ashe and Grim Solemnities, a family funeral home. Gordo, acting as Molly's lawyer, explains that half of the business is Molly's, which means, she hopes, she might be able to fund her dreams of attending costuming school. But Ashe and Grim doesn't serve humans--its customers are all "mythical, folkloric beings." When Molly accidentally lets Gordo into a very private section of the property, she learns the truth and puts Dustin, herself and the nonstandard citizens of the Northeast Celestial Protectorate at risk. Molly and Dustin will have to work with a ragtag group of Watchers, a council chosen to represent supernatural citizens, to correct Molly's dangerous mistake.

Dust and Grim, the middle-grade debut from Chuck Wendig (The Hunt), is a spooky, heartfelt, darkly funny adventure. Wendig's renderings of various fantastical beings are vivid and unexpected, as are Jensine Eckwall's spot illustrations. The monsters Molly assumes will be terrifying--such as Dave the Vampire--turn out to be harmless and very funny. Instead, the danger often comes from creatures of which Molly has never heard. The importance of relationships, regardless of blood relation, runs deep and gives an endearing core to this perfect Halloween read. --Kyla Paterno, freelance reviewer

Discover: Thirteen-year-old Molly finds out her newly discovered brother has taken over the family business, a funeral home for monsters, in this spooky, fun-filled middle-grade adventure.

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $16.99, hardcover, 384p., ages 8-12, 9780316706230

Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World

by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle and Dante's story picks up where it left off in this sentimental and affirming sequel to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, the Printz Honor and Stonewall, Pura Belpré and Lambda Literary Award-winning novel by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (The Inexplicable Logic of My Life). This long-awaited second entry brilliantly shepherds Ari and Dante into adulthood.

Being gay and loving Dante Quintana in the late 1980s seems impossible for 17-year-old Aristotle Mendoza. The AIDS epidemic has made society fear people like him and Dante. They could never get married. Never kiss in public. "We're screwed," Dante tells Ari. "We'll never be Mexican enough. We'll never be American enough. And we'll never be straight enough." During their last year of high school, Ari narrates his and Dante's rocky paths toward their uncertain futures, suffering racism, homophobia and loss.

Sáenz's poetic language reflects the deep love Ari and Dante share; still, the boys fight and can be slow to reconcile, never exuding unrealistic happily-ever-after vibes. Sáenz is cognizant, too, of the discrete paths partners must take. Ari addresses private journal entries to Dante but acknowledges the innate need to find purpose: "You're the center of my world--and that scares me because I don't want to lose myself in you." While he starts mapping a new world--cultivating relationships with his dad and previously ignored friends--Ari voices the confusion common in the transitional period before adulthood: "Happiness. What the hell did that mean?" An overarching theme of diving into waters reminds readers that while some seas are stormy, loved ones also teach each other how to swim. Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World is a joyous and heartrending exploration of grief, love and queer belonging. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

Discover: Aristotle and Dante grapple with belonging in a world that doesn't want them in a long-awaited sequel that poetically examines loss, love, intolerance and acceptance.

Simon & Schuster, $19.99, hardcover, 528p., ages 12-up, 9781534496194

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