Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Zibby Books: The Last Love Note by Emma Grey

From My Shelf

Escape into Contemporary Romance

Novels increasingly have been for me both escape from and heartbalm for the difficult realities that surround us right now. With Valentine's Day around the corner, these contemporary romance novels offer an escape into stories with guaranteed happy endings, even if the path to get there might be fraught.

Rachel Lynn Solomon managed to pack a full list of romance tropes into her hit novel, The Ex Talk; in her newest, Weather Girl (both Berkley, $16), she plays with the second-chances trope, as a meteorologist and a sports reporter at a local broadcast station hatch an unlikely plan to get their divorced bosses back together. Jasmine Guillory (The Wedding Party; Party of Two) plays with the "fake dating" trope in While We Were Dating (all Berkley, $16); movie star Anna Gardiner and colleague Ben Stephens really are sleeping together, after all, even though the relationship they agree to put on for the paparazzi is just for show--at least, until their feelings become all too real.

In Love and Other Disasters (Forever, $15.99), the first openly nonbinary contestant on a competitive cooking show develops unexpected (and inconvenient) feelings for another contestant. Exploring topics of identity and sexuality with heart, Anita Kelly's debut is a must for any romance reader with an interest in Top Chef-style shows (or vice versa).

Donut Fall in Love by Jackie Lau (Berkley, $16) boasts a movie-star romance and a competitive cooking show, as hot-shot Ryan Kwok preps for his upcoming participation in a charity baking challenge by taking lessons in baking--and romance--from a local donut shop owner. The two hit it off as each navigates their respective grief over losing a parent, offering a heartwarming read for anyone who's ever thought about taking new chances in the wake of loss. --Kerry McHugh, freelance writer

BINC: Read Love Support Campaign

The Writer's Life

Kim Fu: Monsters You Can Look in the Eye

photo: L. D'Alessandro

Kim Fuis a writer of fiction and poetry from Vancouver, B.C., now living in Seattle, Wash. Her novel For Today I Am a Boy won the Edmund White award for Debut Fiction. Her second novel, The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore, was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century, her first collection of short stories (reviewed below), is available now from Tin House.

Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century follows your two novels and a book of poems. What challenges, or opportunities, does short fiction present compared to novels and poetry?

As a reader, I love a novel's slow accumulation of meaning: scenes layering on top of each other, tangents that obliquely connect in the end, long journeys with varied pleasures along the way. But when I read a short story, I tend to want something more tightly structured, turning upon one key moment or idea. I want stories to be irreducible and sharply satisfying, like the punchline of a joke. You want to construct a universe that's just as complete and immersive as that of a novel, to make your characters' lives feel just as full and rich, while using only a fraction of the textual space. So much has to exist off the page. 

It's an entirely different challenge to try to find the handful of details that will imply a whole world to the reader. Writing a novel feels like building a house while living on site; writing a short story feels like building a tiny, intricate machine, like the inner workings of a watch: minuscule gears and springs and gemstones that have to fit just so. (Writing a poem is something else entirely--like gathering flowers from a field, arranging a bouquet, setting the bouquet on fire, and then asking other people to admire the ashes. Incredibly, sometimes they do.)

In several of these stories--especially "Liddy, First to Fly" and "The Doll"--you write evocatively from the perspective of young characters in the transition between childhood and adolescence. What is it about that stage of life that makes for such fertile ground for fiction?

I think most of us remember those years as almost unbearably intense. Everything is new, everything is changing. Children that age plaster over gaps in their understanding with speculation and imagination, inventing the world around them as they try to make sense of it. They form complex, capricious social hierarchies just outside the awareness of adults; they make plans and play games that hover between the pretend play of their younger selves and the real dangers of the material world. It's an endlessly fascinating age. And puberty already unfolds like a horror movie: your body and the bodies of your peers transforming suddenly, grotesquely, in ways you don't necessarily understand, that some of you long for and some of you fear. 

Many of these stories feature eerie, unshakable images--the hooded figure in "Sandman," for example, or the swarm of beetles in "June Bugs." Do your stories spring from an image, or do you find the image in the course of your process?

I can't start writing until I have an image. If an idea comes to me in another form--a scenario, a character, a what-if, a voice in dialogue--I can't put any words down on the page until I connect it to some sensory detail. In writing "Scissors," for example, I couldn't find my way into the story until I landed on the smell of dust burning on the stage lights. "Sandman" is a story about insomnia, and I've had trouble sleeping since I was a small child, with no shortage of experiences to draw on, but there was no story until I saw the figure in the hooded cloak, sand pouring from the darkness where his face should be. Even "Pre-Simulation Consultation XF007867," a story told entirely in dialogue, needed the image of the simulated experience one of the characters is seeking: a woman and her dead mother walking through a botanical garden. In early drafts, I often build from images and never really know where I'm going. I only ever outline retroactively, between later drafts, where the real work happens. I can't make an outline first and follow it, even though that seems like a much more efficient and enviable way to write (and one I know works well for lots of other, better writers).

Two of my favorite stories in the book, "Twenty Hours" and "Bridezilla," involve relationships marked by very grounded, recognizable anxieties. They also involve 3D-printed human bodies and a symbiotic Lovecraftian sea monster, respectively. What do you enjoy about infusing mundane human affairs with the fantastical like this?

I like how a fantastical element can sharpen a muddier, more nebulous emotion--literalize it, manifest it as something you can see, a monster you can look in the eye. In "Twenty Hours," the body printer changes indistinct, low-level ennui and boredom between a married couple, what they gain and what they give up by being together, into a black-and-white question of life and death. In "Bridezilla," I hope the main character's cocktail of modern anxieties--around femininity, white womanhood, performativity, climate change--are given new perspective by the lurching sea monster on the horizon.

I also think it's an opportunity to make emotions as big as they feel, in a way that realistically describing the situation might not. That's also something I love about poetry. Maybe love and grief are best described as a magical machine or a haunting or a bug infestation.

These stories frequently veer into the territories of science fiction and horror, which made me curious about what influences found their way into the book. Were they different from your previous influences?

I try to read broadly, and science fiction and horror have always been a part of that, and speculative and fantastical elements have been a part of the "literary fiction" landscape for as long as I've been reading. In the years I was writing and editing this book, I did particularly like Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah and Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich. I discovered Ellen Klages because of the Levar Burton Reads podcast, which focuses on science fiction and fantasy. Ted Chiang, Karen Russell and George Saunders are masters, of course. 

Before the pandemic, one of my favorite things in the world was going to the downtown branch of the Seattle Public Library for their Thrilling Tales "story time for grown-ups," where librarian David Wright would do dramatic readings of short stories old enough to be in the public domain, mostly early science fiction, ghost stories and pulpy fun. It lives on as a podcast, but I miss the in-person version dearly. 

When assembling a book of stories, how do you know when you're done?

There came a point where I felt like these stories were cumulatively saying something, that they were thematically threaded together in a way I could no longer expand or tease apart, and I wanted to move on, maybe to new ideas that required new forms. I lean on my agent, editors and friends to guide me, but I do always hit a point where I feel finished with a book, where it feels as complete and untouchable--and as imperfect and personal--as a dream. You wake up and can't go back. --Theo Henderson, bookseller at Ravenna Third Place Books in Seattle, Wash.

Zest Books (Tm): Nearer My Freedom: The Interesting Life of Olaudah Equiano by Himself by Monica Edinger and Lesley Younge

Book Candy

Beyond Wordle

"Forget Wordle! Can you crack the Dickens Code? An IT worker from California just did," the Guardian reported.


"It may be 50 years old, but this dazzling D.C. library was 2021's Building of the Year," Fast Company noted.


"17th-Century Buddhist texts for the illiterate: How 'Buddhist emoji' made the Sūtra legible for those who couldn't read." (via Open Culture)


Wait, what? No Worries. Lake Superior State University "banishes those and other familiar but problematic words and terms for 2022."


"Remembering Joseph Hansen's groundbreaking Dave Brandstetter series" with CrimeReads.


Jason Epstein: Legendary Publisher, Editor, Innovator

Jason Epstein

Jason Epstein, the innovative publisher and entrepreneur, died on February 4. He was 93.

While some readers may not be familiar with Jason Epstein, every reader is familiar with at least some of the accomplishments of his long, busy career. He was responsible for some of the most striking innovations in publishing, many of which have had lasting effect.

For several decades he was editorial director at Random House, where he acquired books by and edited some of the most important writers in the second half of the 20th century. In 1963, he co-founded the New York Review of Books. While an editor at Doubleday, he created Anchor Books, the first major trade paperback imprint in the U.S. In the 1980s, he founded the Library of America, which has published many hundreds of American works in beautiful, lasting, well-edited editions. Later he founded the Reader's Catalog, a printed, mail-order precursor to online retailing. In more recent years, he founded On Demand Books, whose Espresso Book Machine was adopted by many bookstores and libraries.

He was also an author: his books included The Great Conspiracy Trial (1970), a defense of the Chicago Seven, East Hampton: A History and Guide (1975), written with Elizabeth Barlow, Book Business: Publishing Past, Present, and Future (2001) and Eating: A Memoir (2009).

Book Review


Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century

by Kim Fu

Kim Fu (The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore) sheds an uncanny light on the emotional dissonance of modern life in Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century, her strange and fantastic first collection of short stories.

In "Pre-Simulation Consultation XF007867," the operator of a service that renders lifelike simulations based on a customer's input warns a prospective client that indulging in certain fantasies could lead to dangerous consequences. This concise opening story serves handily as a thematic overture for what follows: the unsettled (and often unsettling) boundary between reality and fantasy is a perpetual fascination of Fu across these 12 stories, as are the dark and strange expressions that desire finds through technology and art. Fu embraces the sorts of high-concept premises native to the weird fringes of science fiction and horror, deftly magnifying the strangeness of everyday anxieties.

"Twenty Hours" features a high-end consumer device that protects the wealthy from certain types of death; when a striving middle-class couple discovers that this allows them to murder each other without consequence, it casts their marital malaise into high relief. Meanwhile, "Sandman" showcases the author's knack for sketching a genuinely unnerving image. Riffing on a familiar folk tale, Fu presents the titular creature as a hooded, wraithlike figure, the stuff of nightmares. Yet to the story's insomniac protagonist, he brings a perverse sense of comfort with "his occasional, ecstatic visits between long seasons of wakefulness." By examining complex emotional dynamics like these through the prism of speculative fiction, Fu's stories expose the cracks in our sense of reality. --Theo Henderson, bookseller at Ravenna Third Place Books in Seattle, Wash.

Discover: The 12 speculative tales in Kim Fu's debut collection cast the familiar in an uncanny light.

Tin House, $16.95, paperback, 220p., 9781951142995

Red Thread of Fate

by Lyn Liao Butler

Lyn Liao Butler (The Tiger Mom's Tale) offers secrets, tragedy, hope and redemption in a novel centered on family and forgiveness. When Red Thread of Fate opens, Tam is on the phone with Tony, her husband. They are a bit short with each other; the marriage has been a little off, but they're generally headed back on track and preparing to adopt a little boy from China, which both look forward to. Then there is cursing, a roaring sound--and just like that, Tam is a widow. The shocks come quickly, one after another: Tony was not in Manhattan, where he should have been, but in Flushing, Queens, and accompanied by a cousin Tam thought he'd been estranged from for years, killed by the same truck that struck Tony. Then Tam is surprised to be named guardian of the estranged cousin's five-year-old daughter, even as her son-to-be still awaits adoption in China.

By nature a shy and private woman, Tam is prompted by her new life--widowed, a single parent, grieving--to accept help, against her instincts. Slowly, she builds a family and a community: taking in her niece, moving toward adoption (which must be renegotiated now that she does not have a husband), deepening friendships and finding new ones. Red Thread of Fate is a novel about what ties people to one another, and the nature of those bonds, the unintended consequences of choices and the possibility of a fresh start. With contemplative characters, surprising humor and a twisting plot, Butler's thought-provoking story of nontraditional family models will appeal to readers interested in fate and identity. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: Amid grief, betrayal and exposed secrets, a new widow learns to forge unexpected bonds.

Berkley, $17, paperback, 352p., 9780593198742

I'd Like to Say Sorry, but There's No One to Say Sorry to: Stories

by Mikołaj Grynberg, trans. by Sean Gasper Bye

Photographer/psychologist/author Mikołaj Grynberg is known in his native Poland for his documentary nonfiction featuring his generation of Polish Jews, born after the Holocaust and raised by survivors. Grynberg turns to fiction for the first time with I'd Like to Say Sorry, but There's No One to Say Sorry To, a sparse but dense collection of 31 precisely distilled short stories in which he "seeks to tell these personal stories in literary form." The result--wrenching, astonishing, surprisingly humorous--is a stupendous success: gorgeously crafted, deeply affecting narratives, empathically translated by Sean Gasper Bye, who also appends an illuminatingly personal endnote.

Most of Gynberg's stories are presented interview-style, their narrators sharing memories, experiences and often secrets. Revealing Jewish identities is one of Grynberg's most penetrating themes: "It wasn't a message she passed on to us, it was fear," a granddaughter says in reaction to her late Grandma's deathbed revelations of "ghettos... Auschwitzes... gas" in the opening "Unnecessary Trouble." In "An Elegant Purse," a mother fuels a contentious relationship with her daughter for decades in order to protect her child from her Jewish history. An estranged father confesses to multiple generations of suicide in twisted attempts to expunge the family's Jewish roots in "Bitter Chocolate." A boy with a limp learns of his Jewish parentage after his mother's death in "An Empty Jewish Soul."

In this collection--originally called Rejwach, which translates as hullabaloo, uproar--Grynberg efficiently renders desperate choices, unspeakable endurance and unexpected laughter into compact literary mementos. His work stands stalwart as a "testimony of a Jewish present--a Jewish presence." --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Polish photographer/psychologist Mikołaj Grynberg transforms his documentary nonfiction into a superb collection of 31 stories poignantly revealing the Polish Jewish experience.

The New Press, $19.99, hardcover, 160p., 9781620976838


by Kiare Ladner

Walking the fine line between fascination and obsession can be thrilling and electrifying, even if also terrifying and destructive. In Nightshift, Kiare Ladner's absorbing and surprising debut novel, Meggie Groenewald goes on a booze- and drug-fueled journey of sexual exploration when she becomes entranced by her seductive and enigmatic coworker Sabine Dubreil. Meggie and Sabine, both 23 years old, cover the night shift at a media monitoring company and work with an assorted collection of burnouts and eccentrics, who prowl seedy bars and clubs in the early morning hours. As Meggie struggles to adapt to a nocturnal schedule, she begins drinking too much and sleeping too little. Her infatuation with Sabine grows, though she can't decide whether what she feels is physical longing or a more complex desire to actually become Sabine.

Soon Meggie's life revolves around the push-and-pull dynamic that defines her "fairytale friendship" with her uninhibited coworker, prompting her to break up with her mild-mannered boyfriend, drop out of university and distance herself from her friends. Set in London in the late 1990s, the hectic urban scenery feels viscerally gritty and disorienting, dragging readers along down the rabbit hole of Meggie's decline. Her exploits also reveal hints about her true nature. Before their breakup, Meggie's boyfriend tells her he feels sorry for Sabine, adding, "It's terrible to be used like that." Within the tangled mess of Meggie's traumatic past and unhealthy fixation with Sabine, it becomes unclear who is the truly toxic one in the pair--and who is careening toward a more tragic outcome. --Angela Lutz, freelance reviewer

Discover: In Kiare Ladner's absorbing debut novel, a 23-year-old takes a booze- and drug-fueled journey of sexual exploration when she becomes entranced by her enigmatic coworker.

Mariner Books, $27.99, hardcover, 256p., 9780063138247

Mystery & Thriller

The Devil's Chew Toy

by Rob Osler

The Devil's Chew Toy, Rob Osler's debut novel, is an inviting and gay cozy mystery, written with a clipped pace and a strong and assured voice. This droll and beguiling story reads like a sparkling combination of Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest and Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City. Diminutive eighth-grade social studies teacher and part-time blogger Hayden McCall--"Being five foot four (rounding up) and weighing 125 (again, rounding up)"--has been criticized by his former boyfriend, who said his "tolerance for thrill-seeking maxed out on the teacup ride at Disneyland." But that was before Venezuelan go-go boy Camilo Rodriguez accidentally kicked him in the face during a pole dance and took him home for an erotically charged, but chaste, night of conversation and cuddling. In the morning, Hayden wakes up to find only Camilo's bull terrier, Commander, in the apartment. He learns through two police officers that Camilo's truck was found in an empty parking lot, doors open and engine running.

Realizing that finding a missing gay go-go boy is a low priority for the police, Hayden sets off to find the mislaid man. He partners with Camilo's friend Hollister, a lesbian furniture maker (Hayden describes her as Serena Williams with a mohawk); Mysti, Hollister's prickly Korean American girlfriend; and Burley ("a six-and-a-half-foot-tall, three-hundred-pound giant of a woman") to form a ragtag team of amateur sleuths.

Osler has a knack for pacing this rollicking mystery at a fun gallop, but he truly excels at creating quirky and original characters. Cozy fans will be clamoring for sequels. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Rob Osler's debut, The Devil's Chew Toy, is a remarkably assured, funny cozy mystery filled with memorable, quirky characters.

Crooked Lane Books, $26.99, hardcover, 320p., 9781643859439


The Arc

by Tory Henwood Hoen

In a world rife with shiny new dating apps, how far is too far to go to find the one without having to suffer through dozens, if not hundreds, of bad dates? That's the question Tony Henwood Hoen poses in her debut novel, The Arc, in which the eponymous Arc promises clients just one perfect romantic match--in exchange for a week of time spent plumbing their physical and emotional depths and a $50,000 fee.

Ursula Byrne is crushing it at her job as v-p of strategic audacity at a branding agency in Manhattan that fills her bank account but not her soul. Woefully single, she's tired of her dating options and about ready to embrace life as a single lady with a cat when she is introduced to the Arc, whose website reads: "Lasting love is in the details. It's time to be more particular." Somewhere between skeptical and optimistic, Ursula signs up. When she's matched with Rafael Banks a few weeks later, it feels too good to be true.

Their magical first date doesn't happen until more than 100 pages into The Arc, during which readers have learned much about Ursula and nothing about Rafael. While this pacing feels uneven at first, it starts to feel more deliberate as the new couple's relationship takes off. The Arc is a romance novel, but even more so a story of self-discovery and womanhood, of Ursula coming into her own both as an individual and as one half of a perfectly happy couple. --Kerry McHugh, freelance writer

Discover: A contemporary romance novel unpacks modern-day womanhood, corporate culture and the optimization of everything (including love).

St. Martin's Press, $27.99, hardcover, 352p., 9781250276773

Biography & Memoir

Home/Land: A Memoir of Departure and Return

by Rebecca Mead

Increasingly worried by hardline conservative politics in the U.S., New Yorker staff writer Rebecca Mead (My Life in Middlemarch) and her American husband decided to pull up stakes and move back to London with their teenage son. In Home/Land, her third book, Mead writes thoughtfully about her travels back and forth across the Atlantic, and her choice to uproot herself and her family. "We choose to rock our own foundations," she writes. "We chose movement, because movement is a kind of freedom, too."

Mead delves into her youth on England's south coast, her family's working-class London roots, the two decades she spent in New York and the life she eventually built there. Along the way, she shares details about her family's history and the homes they occupied, detailing her own attempts to make a home first in Brooklyn and then in London.

An expert at living between two worlds, a professional observer, Mead wonders how this move will affect her son. She wants him to know "what it is to yearn for elsewhere," even while admitting her own ambivalence about both of her countries and her decision to return to England. She wants to give her son a sense of spaciousness, the freedom to move between two worlds, but also "this questionable gift: a lost place to long for." Meditative and moving, Mead's account will inspire readers to muse on their own lost places, and to think about what truly makes a home. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Journalist Rebecca Mead writes a thoughtful, moving account of her decision to uproot her family and return to London from New York.

Knopf, $27, hardcover, 240p., 9780525658719

Essays & Criticism

Cost of Living

by Emily Maloney

Emily Maloney has been both a hospital patient and an emergency medical technician. In the 16 probing essays of Cost of Living, she draws on both experiences to delve into mental illness, chronic pain and addiction--and their treatment. Though she has autoimmune disorders as well as depression, Maloney passes as a well person, and her familiarity with medical settings makes her an informed observer. "Some Therapy" lists 12 psychiatrists she saw during her childhood and teenage years for developmental differences or anxiety. At 19 she attempted suicide by overdose (she marks a second annual "birthday" to celebrate still being alive); it took years to pay off the care she received.

As an emergency room technician at Midwest hospitals, she later saw how medical procedures and supplies add up to astronomical patient debt. "This, somehow, totaled the cost of living," she writes. For some, that price is just too high. The book subtly questions such financial inequality: the author briefly earned six figures at a pharmaceutical company, working there just long enough to repay her student loans.  

In other essays, Maloney notes an epidemic of pain pill addiction among patients and colleagues ("For Pain"), worries a nonfunctioning EKG machine might have produced false results ("Heartbroke") and muses on hospital mortality ("Three Deaths"). Most pieces are centered on medical themes, but "Clipped," about her parents' poverty and her high school job grooming dogs at PetSmart, is a stand-out. Perfect for readers of Anne Boyer and Emilie Pine, this essay collection features thought-provoking musings on the value of life. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck

Discover: Probing mental illness and pain from the medical professional's perspective as well as the patient's, these 16 autobiographical essays ponder the value of life.

Holt, $27.99, hardcover, 240p., 9781250213297

Parenting & Family

Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage

by Heather Havrilesky

Heather Havrilesky is the first to admit that she's a handful. "I'm bossy and moody and very demanding" cautioned the then-34-year-old Los Angeles TV critic and advice columnist ("Ask Polly") in one of the first e-mails she exchanged with Bill, a tenured professor with his own shortcomings (constant throat clearings, abysmal long-term memory). Havrilesky and Bill got hitched anyway. Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage is Havrilesky's crotchety, squalling and frequently hilarious 15-years-in effort to understand "why I signed myself up for the world's most impossible endurance challenge."

Foreverland chugs along entertainingly enough until the book's final stretch, when the tedium that readers know to expect from the subtitle is shaken by darker developments. Actually, a more accurate subtitle for Foreverland might be On the Divine Tedium of Family Life. Havrilesky (deliberately) gets pregnant as soon as she and Bill are engaged, and she writes with bluntness and brio about the tribulations of parenthood: "The baby lands like a bomb in the middle of your life and lays waste to everything." Though the domestic juggling act isn't new ground in a memoir, Havrilesky (What If This Were Enough?) is a writer punchy and resourceful enough to make ordinary family trials (a bad road trip, recalcitrant dogs and kids, a buttinsky grandmother) seem as though they've only ever happened to her. In one blistering comic set piece, Havrilesky choreographs her daughter's talent show dance to Rachel Platten's "Fight Song," which she describes as "the sonic version of a one-thousand-year-long noogie." --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: The "Ask Polly" columnist's tetchy and funny portrait of her marriage and family life amplifies moments of joy and depravity, often of the author's own making.

Ecco, $27.99, hardcover, 304p., 9780062984463


Rise and Float: Poems

by Brian Tierney

Brian Tierney's debut poetry collection, Rise and Float, was awarded the Jake Adam York Prize, selected by Randall Mann. Although it tackles heavy subjects like grief and mental health, the collection's candor and stunning images transform the melancholy into the sublime.
Much of the verse is in the first person, building an intimate portrait of the poet and his relationships. A family history of mental illness and electroshock treatment occasions a visit to a derelict psychiatric hospital. His father's death from cancer creeps into "Time and Tide," which describes "Carrara pears/ as hard as the tumor/ in my father's neck." "The Fly in the Bottle" and "Tailpipe" remember friends lost to suicide, while "bulimia" faces up to an eating disorder.
Recurring metaphors of holes dramatize a struggle against the void: "Inside, the hole waits." Holes mark absences, but perhaps also point to passageways. That faint hope infuses the poems, and Tierney's close attention lends beauty to bleak scenes. For instance, in "Migraine," a headache turns the headlights of the Pennsylvania Turnpike into "asterisks extravagant and huge" and roadkill into "a hammered pomegranate"--"in my eye all things look scintillant."
Finding such sparks of brightness in the shadows of life is what Tierney does best. Colors, flora and fauna supply the imagery; forms vary from prose paragraphs to the haiku-like fragments of "Anthropocene." The collection closes on an entirely unclichéd love poem, "You're the One I Wanna Watch the Last Ships Go Down With." Hard-hitting yet soft-hearted, this collection of 30 poems is a winner. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck

Discover: A hard-hitting debut collection of 30 poems addresses bereavement and mental illness but finds the beauty in everyday sadness.

Milkweed Editions, $16, paperback, 80p., 9781571315199

Children's & Young Adult

Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler

by Ibi Zoboi

Ibi Zoboi (The People Remember; American Street) pays radiant homage in Star Child to the woman who inspired her, taught her and shared her birthday. She deftly combines poetry, prose, quotes and photos to create what she calls the "constellation" of science fiction writer Octavia Estelle Butler: "I decided to call this biography a constellation because Octavia's mind and her imagination were truly complex wonders--bright and far-reaching." Through this visionary approach, Zoboi ensures that Butler's light will reach young readers.

Butler's life spanned the Space Race, the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement. Zoboi weaves these events, using astronomy-laden imagery, into Butler's experience as the only daughter of a widowed domestic worker. She was a shy, dyslexic child who loved stories but struggled learning to read, the letters appearing "messy on the page/ Like rotating planets without axes/ Sideways like Uranus." Zoboi's appreciation for Butler's willingness to be different--to blaze her own path--shows on each page, through every poem and choice of quote. "At the time all the [pulp] authors were white men, but Octavia was so enthralled by science fiction, she imagined herself, a little black girl, as the hero in all the stories." This imagination enabled Butler to help other readers see themselves as the heroes, too.

Star Child immortalizes Butler as the innovative thinker and writer that she was. It illustrates each star that makes up the constellation of her life: her experiences, her creativity, her intelligence, the world she lived in. Readers shouldn't be surprised to find their own worlds feeling a little brighter from this exposure to her brilliance. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: A radiant biography spotlights the life of science fiction great Octavia Butler through a compilation of poetry, prose, quotes and photos.

Dutton Books for Young Readers, $16.99, hardcover, 128p., ages 10-up, 9780399187384


by E.B. Goodale

E.B. Goodale's Also is a gentle meditation on time and memory that deftly describes a series of small but meaningful moments in the lives of three generations of a family.

A girl sits "high on the hill, amongst the blueberry bushes" near Gramma's house. "And also..." she's remembering the "rustling in the trees" she heard when camping in the woods with Mama. Her gramma looks out the kitchen window, simultaneously remembering being "surprised by a bunny in a bush" in her mother's garden. The girl's mama walks down the hill to find her, remembering that time when she sorted blueberries with her sister, tucked in a nook of her mama's kitchen. Finally, when "many years have passed," the narrator sits at her desk writing this story. "And also..." she is "a little girl at [her] gramma's house, high on the hill, amongst the blueberry bushes."

Goodale (Windows) fashions a contemplative text that ably conveys the dreamlike quality of remembrance. The language is lyrical, but there is a delightful playfulness in the tone as well. Her fine monoprint, gouache and blueberry ink illustrations make great use of color to differentiate clearly the present and the past, thought and memory. A bright red bird appears in each spread and provides a solid touchpoint throughout her circular and ever-shifting timeline. The whole of this picture book is a wonderful sum of its delicate parts but, most importantly, Also lovingly demonstrates for readers that "we are all here... and also there./ Always." --Lynn Becker, reviewer, blogger, and children's book author

Discover: The narrator of this gentle picture-book meditation on time and memory describes the magic of a series of moments in the lives of three generations of her family.

Clarion Books, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-7, 9780358153948


Author Buzz

The Grave Robber
(A Charley Davidson Novella)

by Darynda Jones

Dear Reader,

Have you ever seen a ghost? I think we all have stories the defy explanation. Some are creepy and some are downright traumatizing. That's what I wanted to explore in THE GRAVE ROBBER.

What would happen to a woman who'd been haunted her whole life? Who'd been at the mercy of an enraged poltergeist hellbent on revenge? And how will she respond when her father stumbles across a man who says he can help?

I hope you enjoy her story!

Darynda Jones

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: The Grave Robber (A Charley Davidson Novella) by Darynda Jones

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
September 5, 2023


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

The Heirloom

by Beverly Lewis

Dear Reader,

In 1997, I released my first Amish novel, The Shunning, and now I am delighted to present this long-awaited prequel about Ella Mae Zook, a beloved character from that book and others, who readers have asked for more of. I've been planning this novel for years, as my stories must simmer in my heart until they are ready. I'm delighted to now be able to share this story with readers, and to celebrate, I’m giving away 5 copies. 

Click here to enter the giveaway!

Beverly Lewis

Buy now and support your local indie bookstore>

AuthorBuzz: Bethany House: The Heirloom by Beverly Lewis

Bethany House Publishers

Pub Date: 
September 12, 2023


List Price: 
$17.99 Paperback

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