Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, February 22, 2022

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

From My Shelf

Seeking Out Midwinter Joys

Winter can be a tough season. It's cold, dark and frequently snowy where I live. This winter, I'm leaning hard into small, everyday delights and reaching for books that help me name or discover them.

Hannah Jane Parkinson's witty, charming essay collection The Joy of Small Things (Faber & Faber, $15.95) is exactly what it sounds like: a compilation of Parkinson's columns for the Guardian celebrating quotidian, idiosyncratic joys. Techno music, red lipstick, night bus trips and cheating a hangover are among her delights, and her unabashed elation inspired me to notice my own pleasures.

I like cooking year round, but am especially keen on baking in the winter. This season, I've reached for dessert inspiration in the form of Flour by Joanne Chang (Chronicle, $35) and Nadiya Bakes (Clarkson Potter, $29.99) by Nadiya Hussain, the 2015 winner of The Great British Baking Show. Chang, the founder-owner of Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe, delivers detailed recipes for her goodies, including raspberry crumb bars, lemon-ginger scones (with three kinds of ginger!) and the chunkiest chocolate-chip cookies. Hussain showcases clever new recipes and bold twists on traditional desserts (blueberry scone pizza?!). Both books remind me that you don't need an industrial kitchen to whip up tasty treats--though I do covet Hussain's bright pink hand mixer.

Finally, Joyful by designer Ingrid Fetell Lee (Little, Brown Spark, $18.99) provides a tour of what she calls "the aesthetics of joy": patterns, objects and modes of design that can enhance or inspire delight in our daily lives. Exploring harmony, magic, transcendence and other concepts, she shows how the physical environment (built or natural) can have a profound effect on our moods. As I wait for spring, I'll be searching out every kind of joy--culinary, aesthetic or simply everyday--that I can find. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

The Writer's Life

Reading with... Bernardine Evaristo

photo: Jennie Scott

Bernardine Evaristo won the 2019 Booker Prize for Girl, Woman, Other, which also was a winner and finalist for other awards, including the Women's Prize for Fiction and the Dublin Literary Award. Evaristo is the author of seven other books that explore aspects of the African diaspora. Her writing spans verse fiction, short fiction, poetry, essays, literary criticism and drama. Evaristo is president of the Royal Society of Literature, professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University London and an Honorary Fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford. She received an OBE in 2020, and lives in London with her husband. Her most recent book is Manifesto: On Never Giving Up (Grove), a memoir that focuses on creativity and offers inspirational guidance to emerging writers

On your nightstand now:

I probably have a hundred books waiting to be read, sometimes they sit on my shelves for years, but top of my list is a proof copy of Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart, because I was bowled over by Shuggie Bain. Sterling Karat Gold by Isabel Waidner has just won the Goldsmiths Prize for experimental fiction in the U.K. Dipping into the book, it's clear that her prose style is so energetic and dazzling, I need to wait until my hectic life quietens down to read it. Also, The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice by Shon Faye. I'm reading it to learn more about the issues from someone who is trans herself. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett; I've never read her and want to.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I've been asked this a lot recently and to be honest, I devoured books as a child but as they were borrowed from the library, I don't remember what they were. The Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild is the only book I remember because I was given a copy for Christmas. I really need to re-read it in order to understand how it captured my imagination.

Your top five authors:

I think the authors who inspired me when I was younger are the ones I hold closest to my heart. At first I was overwhelmed by their genius, as I saw it, but eventually I understood that I would never write like them, which was how it should be. They inspired me to find my own voice/s. Toni Morrison and Derek Walcott are the ones who have stayed favourites since my 20s.

Book you've faked reading:

I probably have, but nothing springs to mind. It's strange that we live in a society where we feel that as writers we should have read certain books, usually from the traditional canon, which I rejected at a young age. I somehow think that if I had been immersed in the canon in my formative years, I'm unlikely to have become an experimental writer. I had to find my own way through literature--as reader and writer.

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta, who arrived in the U.K. from Nigeria in the '60s. She was Britain's most prolific black writer for a very long time but she was terribly overlooked. When I read The Joys of Motherhood, I felt as if I was learning something about my father's Nigerian mother, whom I never met. Set in Nigeria in the first half of the 20th century, it follows the life of Nnu Ego, a woman whose pre-ordained role in life is to be married off by her father and give birth to sons. Her choices are limited, her education non-existent, but she makes the best of the fate handed to her in her little community. Like my grandmother, Nnu Ego is an illiterate petty trader living in Lagos and, like my grandmother, she loses her children, some of whom go to live overseas. This is a brilliant, fascinating, thought-provoking read.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I think I must have done but I can't remember which ones.

Book you hid from your parents:

None that I remember.

Book that changed your life:

Self-help and motivational books that I read in my 30s such as Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers and Mindstore by Jack Black.

They were truly life-changing in that they helped me examine myself in ways that were new to me, such as how to be a better version of myself or how to dream big and work towards achieving it, and how to develop a positive outlook.

Favorite line from a book:

"The jet bores like a silverfish through volumes of cloud -/ clouds that will keep no record of where we have passed,/ not the sea's mirror, nor the coral busy with its own/ culture; they aren't doors of dissolving stone,/ but pages in a damp culture that come apart." --from Midsummer by Derek Walcott

Five books you'll never part with:

All my Morrison and Walcott books--Beloved and Midsummer chief among them. for coloured girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange, another seminal influence on my early writing for theatre--my first career. Independent People by Halldór Laxness, which I read the first time I visited Iceland about 20 years ago and wanted some insight into the country and its history. Published in the '30s, it's about a struggling sheep farmer, Guðbjartur Jónsson, and I found it utterly engrossing and fascinating. My original copy of The Bone People by Keri Hulme. Many of the black women's anthologies that I read in the '80s such as Gap Tooth Girlfriends, a collection of black women's poetry edited by Alexis de Veaux, and Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology edited by Barbara Smith. Also the books of Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Michelle Cliff, Gloria Naylor. These writers were lifesavers for my younger self and were the only ones who centered black women in their pages.

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

The Road by Cormac McCarthy--for its bleak, haunting, poetic, devastating beauty.

Book Candy

3,200-Year-Old Excuses for Missing Work

Open Culture examined a 3,200-year-old Egyptian tablet that records excuses for why people missed work: 'The scorpion bit him,' 'brewing beer' & more."


"When to capitalize after a colon," according to CMOS Shop Talk.


Author Annabel Abbs picked her top 10 cooks in fiction for the Guardian.


Messy Nessy Chic investigated "a case for collecting Agatha Christie cover art."


Guitarist turns Fellowship of the Ring into a three-hour metal song, Mental Floss noted.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Pieces of Her

On March 4, Netflix will release Pieces of Her, based on the 2018 thriller by Karin Slaughter. Bella Heathcote stars as Andrea Oliver, who is celebrating her 31st birthday at a local diner with her mother, Laura (Toni Collette), when a mass shooting happens. Laura surprises her daughter by violently and seemingly effortlessly stopping the shooter. When footage of Laura goes viral, old enemies come looking for her, revealing a hidden past the mother/daughter duo must flee. The series also stars David Wenham (Lord of the Rings, 300), Joe Dempsie (Game of Thrones), Omari Hardwick (Power), Terry O'Quinn (Lost), Nicholas Burton (Damaged) and Aaron Jeffery (X-Men Origins: Wolverine). The show was created by Bruna Papandrea, Lesli Linka Glatter and Charlotte Stoudt, who serves as writer and showrunner. All eight episodes of the first season were directed by Minkie Spiro.

Crime writer Karin Slaughter's 21 novels have sold more than 40 million copies in 120 countries. She won the 2015 CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award for her novel Cop Town. Her next book, Girl, Forgotten, comes out in August. Pieces of Her is available in paperback from Morrow ($16.99). --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


Spontaneous Human Combustion

by Richard Thomas

Fantasy, science fiction and horror mingle in Spontaneous Human Combustion, another collection of dark fiction from Richard Thomas (Tribulations).

The horrors in these 14 stories come in forms as diverse as aliens, demons and even mundanities such as disease. In "Nodus Tollens," a deal made to settle a poker debt comes back to haunt a man in more ways than he could imagine. A man feels that he has done something horrible but does not know what it could be in "Battle Not with Monsters." In "Open Waters," the protagonist becomes lost in a virtual reality. Repetition is often a feature of these stories, giving the sense of a simulation or a recurring nightmare. It also plays a role in "In His House," in which the narrator invites readers into a Lovecraftian ritual heralding an imminent apocalypse. Many of the main characters are in some way repulsive, such as the brutal, abusive cop at the center of "Repent." But through the twists and turns of these stories, they begin to pale in comparison, turning vulnerable as presented alongside more otherworldly horrors.

This chilling collection of short stories, with plenty of twists and turns, as well as echoes of Lovecraft and Bradbury, probes the dark corners between the horrors humans inflict on each other and those that haunt our nightmares. This volume will please Thomas's existing fans and will surely create new ones. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library

Discover: Horrors both human and inhuman lurk in this provocative collection of 14 dark stories.

Keylight/Turner Publishing, $19.99, paperback, 248p., 9781684427543

Mystery & Thriller

Abandoned in Death

by J.D. Robb

Prolific author J.D. Robb (Connections in Death) returns readers to the futuristic world of New York City and homicide detective Lieutenant Eve Dallas. A body has been dumped in Eve's best friend's neighborhood, the victim carefully prepared before being deposited. A killer with a very twisted mind is hunting hostages, and Eve vows to stop them before another woman is kidnapped. Finding the murderer, however, will require the assistance of her brilliant husband, Roarke, the full abilities of the metro police department and an investigation of events more than half a century old. Dark family secrets will be exposed while a deeply disturbed killer may be concealed much too close to Eve and her investigators. No stone goes unturned as the lieutenant and her team conduct a meticulous unraveling of what sometimes seems to be an impossibly complicated chain of dead ends. When a shocking clue leads them to identify the murderer, they can only hope they will find the latest victim still alive.

The world of 2061 New York City is a vivid backdrop to this excellent police procedural. Robb places the always fascinating Eve Dallas firmly center stage, yet the secondary cast is also compelling and features both favorite earlier characters plus a few intriguing newer faces. The well-conceived plot, both complex and surprising, will delight mystery fans. While this is the 54th entry in the long-running series, the novel can be thoroughly enjoyed by first time readers as well as longtime fans. --Lois Faye Dyer, writer and reviewer

Discover: In this well-conceived mystery set in a futuristic New York City, a fiercely committed police detective and her team follow a mindboggling trail of clues to bring a killer to justice.

St. Martin's Press, $28.99, hardcover, 368p., 9781250278210

The Verifiers

by Jane Pek

Jane Pek's The Verifiers imagines a not-too-distant future in which romance is housed entirely within the world of online matchmaking sites, promising perfect matches in exchange for the inexpensive price of telling big tech companies every little detail about oneself. It's not a system Claudia Lin subscribes to--but her disinterest in matchmaking makes her a perfect verifier, working for a kind of "dating detective agency" that helps clients figure out whether their matches have been completely truthful--which, usually, is not the case. "People lie.... This means dating algorithms are predicting compatibility on the basis of faulty data and exposing users to potential deception by their matches. Enter the verifiers."

Claudia fancies herself something of a modern-day spy or 21st-century sleuth, "being paid to investigate romantic mysteries like some latter-day love child of Jane Austen and Sherlock Holmes." But when a client comes to her team with a stranger-than-fiction case, she gets caught up in an increasingly complicated--and potentially dangerous--whodunit of her own.

The Verifiers is as delightful as it is insightful, clipping along at a pace reminiscent of the mystery novels Claudia loves so much. As Claudia starts to make sense of the smudges of clues and details in her brain, readers are treated to the same process of figuring it all out. Pek poses deep and thoughtful questions about romance, privacy, family, data, corporate greed and big tech--to name just a few. It's a lot for a debut novelist, but Pek delivers, and The Verifiers is sure to leave readers looking for more from this new voice in the genre. --Kerry McHugh, freelance writer

Discover: This literary mystery asks big questions about tech and privacy, couched in a perfectly paced whodunit, imbued with hints of great mystery novels from the past.

Vintage, $17, paperback, 368p., 9780593313794

This Might Hurt

by Stephanie Wrobel

Two estranged sisters, whose fragile bonds broke after their mother died, are reunited when one joins a cult-like self-improvement retreat in This Might Hurt, the second superb psychological thriller from Stephanie Wrobel (Darling Rose Gold).  

Natalie and Kit Collins each have unresolved grief, guilt and anger over their mother's death, not to mention lingering grudges from childhood. An ambitious executive, Natalie takes a break from her job at a Boston branding agency after receiving a cryptic and threatening e-mail from the Wisewood Wellness & Therapy Center. The center, where Kit has been living for the past six months, is located on a remote island off the coast of Maine. Little is known about Wisewood, where people go to "maximize" themselves under the tutelage of the mysterious Teacher, who runs the center with ironclad rules. The chilling atmosphere on the island applies to more than just the weather (the wind "shrieks like a woman being stabbed over and over"). Dense, dark woods, an abandoned schoolhouse and each personal relationship adds to the frights. Natalie feels she is being watched, as she learns her relationship with Kit is even more frayed than she previously thought. This Might Hurt seamlessly switches points of view from current-day Natalie and Kit to the two girls enduring an emotionally abusive childhood in the hands of a cruel father.

Wrobel ramps up the terror by making the isolation of the island, accessible only by a 75-minute ferry ride, serve as a substitute for a haunted house, allowing This Might Hurt to be an unusual locked-room mystery. A clever denouement packs a blood-curdling punch. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer 

Discover: In this intense psychological thriller, two estranged sisters reunite at a cult-like self-improvement retreat located on a remote island.

Berkley, $26, hardcover, 336p., 9780593100080

Beneath the Stairs

by Jennifer Fawcett

Beneath the Stairs, the first novel from playwright Jennifer Fawcett, is hard to categorize: Is it horror, a mystery or a literary thriller? It's all of those, with a psychological exploration of adolescent trauma.

Years after a teenage dare drew them to "the Octagon House," a crumbling dwelling in the woods, two women struggle with what happened in its dank dirt basement and the recurring terror it conjures. In this first-person narrative, Clare recalls, "I had no idea back then what had been started that night. None of us did." She's returning to the upstate village of Sumner's Mills, N.Y., where she and her friend Abby grew up. Abby's mother has requested the visit, telling Clare, "[Abby] said your name." Fawcett skillfully alternates Clare's haunting memories of 1998 with scenes from Abby's hospital room, where she lies in a coma after a suicide attempt in that very basement, and the chilling story of the ominous, mysterious house. Determined to "finally disentangle ourselves for good," Clare digs into the history of Sumner's Mills and the house, and a spooky ghost story twists into a very credible and terrifying mystery.

The years have not lessened the allure of the house, and Clare desperately hopes to help another adolescent girl struggling to resist its pull. Before returning to the sinister house, Abby had written to Clare: "Go back to the beginning to find the end." In a nail-biting climax, childhood secrets and forensic facts collide as hope emerges that the Octagon House will finally and forever free those it has controlled. --Cheryl McKeon, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.

Discover: In this nail-biter of a novel, a woman hopes to rescue her friend from lingering trauma by investigating the mysterious house that terrified them as teenagers.

Atria, $27, hardcover, 352p., 9781982177157

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Call of Cthulhu

by H.P. Lovecraft, Leslie S. Klinger, editor

The Call of Cthulhu collects 10 of early 20th-century horror master H.P. Lovecraft's most indelible short stories, including the still-terrifying title story, along with annotations provided by editor Leslie S. Klinger. The book is essentially a slimmed-down, more accessible version of the gargantuan The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft: Beyond Arkham, also edited by Klinger, and serves as a better introduction for readers new to the author. The collection takes a diverse sampling of Lovecraft's works, including pieces that hew to science fiction ("The Colour Out of Space") and gothic horror ("The Rats in the Walls"), while some build upon his famous Cthulhu mythos ("Dagon," among others). Lovecraft's stories remain as harrowing and strange as they ever were, and their enduring influence makes them essential reads for horror fans.

Klinger's annotations provide valuable context about Lovecraft's influences and the time in which he wrote, but they are perhaps most fascinating in their focus on the recurring themes found in his work. Despite creating bizarre new mythologies, Lovecraft's writing was in many ways deeply personal. His obsession with and fear of madness is easily traceable to the fates of his parents--both were admitted to mental hospitals--and his fear of otherness is undeniably tied to his racist convictions. Klinger's annotations help to identify and track these thoughts, sometimes referencing Lovecraft's own notes and letters in helping readers unravel the author's complicated web of preoccupations. What emerges, alongside 10 excellent short stories, is a fuller understanding of Lovecraft's disturbing belief that humanity is an insignificant species when measured against the ancient, malign universe. --Hank Stephenson, the Sun magazine, manuscript reader

Discover: The Call of Cthulhu is an accessible introduction to H.P. Lovecraft's terrifying short stories, complete with thought-provoking annotations.

Liveright, $18, paperback, 432p., 9781631498398


A Perfect Equation

by Elizabeth Everett

One fiercely independent mathematician plus one disciplined nobleman equals a perfect pair in the rollicking, feminist Victorian-era romance A Perfect Equation by Elizabeth Everett (the Secret Scientists of London series).

Preparing to compete for a prestigious mathematics prize, Letitia Fenley is appalled to find herself named acting president of Athena's Retreat, a secret club for London ladies who enjoy scientific experiments and research. Not only will Letty be responsible for containing "explosions... and general mayhem," but her assigned assistant is the gorgeous Viscount Greycliff, aka Grey. The straight-laced aristocrat's presence is a constant reminder of a past she'd rather forget, but she can't quite sustain her animosity for the man when he turns out to be kind, honorable and tremendous at kissing.

Grey has no desire to "fend off tarantulas and madwomen." Anti-women's rights protesters have taken to the streets of London, and supporting a women's science club could end his prospects for promotion within the Department, a quasi-governmental shadow organization. Worse, he's been thrown together with the most unsuitable woman imaginable, the scheming minx who tried to take advantage of his family. The more he comes to know Letty, though, the more Grey wonders if the brilliant, strong-willed mathematician is vixen or victim.

Humor, hedgehogs and an appropriate number of explosions make this sultry romance an ideal escapist experience. Everett's narrative also takes time to engage with misogyny and champion women's empowerment. Romance fans should consider these two likable leads and their powder keg's worth of chemistry the solution to what to read next. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: In this sultry, hilarious Victorian romance, a brilliant female mathematician and a nobleman who knows her darkest secrets are thrown together to protect a ladies' scientific society.

Berkley, $16, paperback, 336p., 9780593200643

Biography & Memoir

The First Kennedys: The Humble Roots of an American Dynasty

by Neal Thompson

The rags-to-riches story of the first Kennedys to set foot in the U.S. is depicted in sweeping style by author Neal Thompson in The First Kennedys: The Humble Roots of an American Dynasty. Thompson (Kickflip Boys) introduces readers to Bridget Murphy, a young woman who escaped the blighted fields of Ireland during the Great Irish Potato Famine to establish a new life in the U.S. in 1849. Finding work in Boston as a maid (a common lot for Irish immigrant women), she soon met and married another immigrant, the longshoreman Patrick Kennedy. Widowed after almost 10 years of marriage, Bridget pluckily worked her way up, from maid to hairdresser to owning her own grocery business. Her industrious son, P.J. Kennedy, followed in her footsteps. He established several lucrative liquor businesses and made enough contacts to become a prominent Democratic boss, active in Boston politics for many decades.

Thompson powerfully re-creates the experiences of Irish immigrants in the mid-to-late 19th century. Endemic to the "shanty Irish" were racism and discrimination, brutal working conditions and crushing poverty. With access to previously unpublished papers of P.J. Kennedy, Thompson ushers these lesser-known Kennedys into the stage lights: Bridget, the widowed self-made business owner, and P.J., civic leader and future grandfather of the first Irish-Catholic American president. They laid the foundations for the brilliant American Kennedy dynasty, a Camelot of glamour cursed with Shakespearean tragedy. This study of the earliest Kennedys, both thoroughly researched and vividly imagined, is an inspired addition to a mostly talked-out topic. --Peggy Kurkowski, book reviewer and copywriter in Denver, Colo.

Discover: This thoroughly researched volume traces the trials and triumphs of the progenitors of the Kennedy family in 19th-century America.

Mariner Books, $28, hardcover, 352p., 9780358437697

Health & Medicine

52 Ways to Walk: The Surprising Science of Walking for Wellness and Joy, One Week at a Time

by Annabel Streets

52 Ways to Walk: The Surprising Science of Walking for Wellness and Joy, One Week at a Time by Annabel Streets is a delightfully original love letter to an activity humans were designed to do throughout the course of each day. Modern life has rendered walking an optional pursuit, but Streets makes a compelling, evidence-based case for the benefits of a daily stroll.

Streets (The Age-Well Project), a nonfiction author in London, also writes fiction under the name Annabel Abbs (Miss Eliza's English Kitchen). Growing up without a car or reliable public transportation in England, Streets became accustomed to walking everywhere. She refers to her passion for walking as "the great adventure of my life," and offers charming descriptions of her strolls in the British countryside while exploring ancient pilgrim routes.

Each chapter of 52 Ways to Walk presents readers with an opportunity, arranged in a calendar year, to try a different mode of walking--with purpose, as once regularly demonstrated in Paris by the acclaimed music composer Erik Satie; in the rain (described as having "mind-boggling benefits"); and with the surprisingly pleasing additions of jumps and skips. Streets describes postural and foot-strike techniques to improve one's gait and shares entertaining anecdotes, including the astonishing story of a Texan who, in 1931, walked backward across multiple countries.

A gift for walking enthusiasts as well as those who need a little nudge to put on their walking shoes, 52 Ways to Walk will render redundant all of the usual excuses by presenting creative, weather-conscious options for every type of walker. --Shahina Piyarali, reviewer

Discover: A British walking enthusiast presents an entertaining and informative guide to experimenting with different modes of walking and the surprising benefits of a rain-soaked stroll.

Putnam, $24, hardcover, 288p., 9780593419953

Now in Paperback


by Tara Westover

Raised by deeply religious and survivalist parents on an Idaho mountain, Tara Westover's life was vastly different from most other children's. At age seven, she was laboring in her father's junkyard, salvaging scrap metal and operating dangerous machinery. Nobody in the Westover family visited a doctor, relying instead on prayer and herbal concoctions to remedy even the most horrific and life-threatening injuries. Instead of attending elementary school, Westover was "educated in the rhythms of the mountain," with lessons consisting of her father's doomsday lectures about the evils of the "Illuminati" and the impending "Days of Abomination."

Using old textbooks, Westover taught herself trigonometry and science, relating complicated theories to the equations of her life. "What I knew of physics I had learned in the junkyard, where the physical world often seemed unstable, capricious. But here was a principle through which the dimensions of life could be defined, captured. Perhaps reality was not wholly volatile. Perhaps it could be explained, predicted. Perhaps it could be made to make sense." Her determined quest would lead her to enter a classroom for the first time at age 17 and, eventually, earn a doctorate from Cambridge University.

An astonishingly raw and explosive memoir, the bestselling Educated is Westover's gritty account of how she exchanged an extreme world of faith, fear, abuse and obstacles for one defined by power, strength and resilience: "My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs." In Educated, Westover more than proves that theory. --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at

Discover: Knowledge and self-education becomes one woman's catalyst for overcoming personal adversity and familial pain.

Random House, $18.99, paperback, 368p., 9780399590528

Children's & Young Adult


by Matthew Forsythe

A young mouse has every right to be worried when her father brings home a "squirrel" in this pitch-perfect picture book by the author of the equally charming Pokko and the Drum.

Mina is a dreamy but slightly anxious mouse who spends her days reading and drawing while her adventurous but imprudent father brings home "surprises from the outside world." She doesn't mind... until one day when he calls her outside to see his latest treasure, quite obviously a large, black-and-white cat. "It's a squirrel!" Mina's dad says with arm-flinging delight. "I don't think that's a squirrel," says Mina. The impassive-faced cat joins the mouse family's household, and an uneasy (for Mina) calm settles in. The addition of two more "surprises" to keep the first one company is the tipping point, however, especially when all three "squirrels" seem not to have any appetite for acorns. What follows may be the best line ever uttered by a literary mouse doctor: "Oh, I see the problem," says the doctor Mina's father has called in. "The problem is that these squirrels are definitely cats."

As with Pokko and the Drum, Matthew Forsythe brings to Mina a dry, droll humor and exquisite watercolor, gouache and colored-pencil illustrations. Patterns abound in the earth-toned pages: flower parasols, pack baskets, stylized butterflies, "antique art" (postage stamps). Mina's "obsessive reader" poses--on her belly on the floor, in a homemade tent, in bed, on her back, even on the back of the cat--will feel exactly right to every bookworm lucky enough to find this treasure. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A mouse named Mina must contend with the "surprise" her father brings home in this funny (for all ages!) picture book, beautifully illustrated and full of unexpected details.

Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster, $17.99, hardcover, 68p., ages 4-8, 9781481480413

Reclaim the Stars: 17 Tales Across Realms & Space

by Zoraida Córdova

Sweeping tales of heroism, sacrifice, familial love and queer romance fill this YA speculative fiction anthology featuring 17 extraordinary voices from the Latin American diaspora. Lyrical, captivating and powerful, Reclaim the Stars, edited by Zoraida Córdova (Incendiary; the Brooklyn Brujas series), will enthrall teens.

This collection is set across dystopian, post-apocalyptic and interstellar backdrops, as well as reimagined global locales, to depict various needs--for love, inclusivity, acceptance, a voice--as universal. Princesas who wield fire and ice fall in love, but tradition dictates they battle to the death. Prisoners exiled to a moon fight a racist justice system. The son of Death plots against his half-human heir sister, who feels out of place on Earth. A bruja rejects her lobizón-dominated world, challenging sexist expectations for her to "grow the pack."

The characters--queer, nonbinary, transgender, polyamorous--grapple with difficult advice, painful truths and overwhelming change in accessible ways. Magical beings--a captured sirena, an eavesdropping duende, family ghosts, a tree that walks, a talking river, a trapped goddess--enchant in unexpected roles. The authors also deliver fantastical settings (a marketplace for encantos) and lush prose ("I was born fully grown from the dreams of an invisible moon"). These teens aren't simply reclaiming the stars and their space, they are reclaiming themselves. Nearly every story ends with a new beginning, evidence that believing the impossible can create a beautiful future. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

Discover: The Latin American diaspora is awe-inspiring in this SF/fantasy anthology depicting strong-willed teens seeking love, justice, acknowledgment and selfhood across spectacular settings.

Wednesday Books, $19.99, hardcover, 432p., ages 12-up, 9781250790637

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