Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, May 30, 2014

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

From My Shelf

In Praise of Moby Dick

In our Pro issues, we run a regular feature called Book Brahmin where we ask people about their reading tastes. One of the books that creates a polarized response is Moby Dick--people love it or hate it, but Philip Hoare's (The Sea Inside) paean reaches a new level of passion (and unexpectedness).

He once faked reading Moby Dick: "Tried to read it three times. Only when I discovered how wickedly subversive, pornographically funny and deeply demented it is, did I realise it was my book for life. Until then, I just lied about it.... The power of reading it in New England and seeing whales in the wild for the first time turned me into a whalehead--or 'whale stalker,' as John Waters accused me. He also took one look at my whale photos and said, 'That's just whale porn.' "

His favorite line from the book: "those three short words which are an entire narrative in themselves: 'Call me Ishmael.' So, is that his name? That uncertainly pervades the rest of the book. You have this suicidal misanthrope who finds himself caught up in the madness of a ship of fools, observing nature in the most metaphysical manner, and who--spoiler alert--survives as an orphan of the sea. (It's amazing how many people think Ahab kills Moby Dick; in fact, the whale wins.)"

He's also passionate about Wuthering Heights: "It's a book to curl up on a sofa with, with a mug of tea and at least six ginger biscuits. [Haworth and the Brontës' vicarage on the moors] seems to me a deeply haunted place with its soot-blackened buildings and cobbled streets. Emily Brontë's imagination is beyond extreme, as her book is sui generis. It's the English equivalent of Moby Dick, full of madness and passion. And if the whale was a phallic symbolic to Melville, then to Brontë the moor was a sexual organ."

Check out Hoare's full Book Brahmin here. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

The Writer's Life

Smith Henderson: Grit Lit

photo: Rebecca Calavan

Smith Henderson received the 2011 PEN Emerging Writers Award and was a Flannery O'Connor Award finalist for his story collection Treasure State. He currently works at the advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy, where he contributed to the Emmy-nominated Super Bowl XLVI commercial "Halftime in America." His story "Number Stations" won a Pushcart Prize, and his work has appeared in American Short Fiction, One Story and the New Orleans Review. Born and raised in Montana, Henderson now lives in Portland, Ore. Fourth of July Creek (just published by Ecco; see our review below) is his first novel.

Considering that it is your first novel, I was surprised by the vastness and epic quality of Fourth of July Creek. Much of this "vastness" has to do with the landscape you chose--the remote wilderness of Montana, its pristine pureness contrasting against the flaws of your characters. Did you intend for the landscape to play such a prominent a role in the action?

The landscape in Montana is indeed epic and beautiful, except in the places spoiled by pine beetle or cyanidation (a gold-mining technique). I feel obliged to mention that it can be ruined by poor stewardship like any other place on Earth--but yes, much of it is still quite wild. When I decided to set the story there, it was simply a necessity that the landscape be a crucial component of the story.

But it wasn't an overt intention to contrast the wilderness with the characters in some ethical way. As a writer, I never feel like it's my job to judge my characters or place them in front of a pristine backdrop so one might more easily see their flaws. I love those characters. I root for them. Sometimes against those beautiful elements, even.

The events in the book have an immediacy and stark realism. Much is centered on outcasts alienated from society. How much of what you write about--the alcoholic but well-meaning social worker Pete Snow, the sexually abused delinquent Cecil and Pete's runaway daughter, Rachel--are direct experiences you've had?

Over the years, I've worked in social services and prisons and shelters, so I've had a lot of exposure to people in pretty dire circumstances. And then there's always one's own socio-economic background and geography and upbringing and spiritual life... but I never drew on specific individuals for my work. The best part of being a novelist is you're drawing a picture based on your instincts for a strong narrative, not reporting on direct experiences.

Honestly, I think memoir is a more fraught endeavor--facts are a pain in the a**. Just ask James Frey.

Your primary antagonist, Benjamin Pearl, is ostracized from society because of his controversial Christian beliefs. What role did religion play in your own life, and how did it affect how you decided to portray Pearl and his family?

I was partially raised (my parents were divorced) in a fairly religious household, and I had experience with the born-again religious revival of the 1980s. It was a strange time. The Soviet Union and the U.S. seemed bent on mutual annihilation. There seemed to be signs and portents of the End Times everywhere. People wondered which famous or powerful person the Antichrist was. It was the Reagan Revolution, when the country really moved to the right.

I was powerfully affected by this worldview, but I also lived in Missoula, which is so liberal that most people say it's "fifteen minutes from Montana"--as though it were some other country.

So growing up, I straddled some serious divisions. Most of my friends were the children of dentists and lawyers and professors who moved west in the '70s, and my family were all cowboys and ranchers and rural sheriffs and such. Religion was just a little piece of the overall weirdness that was my experience growing up.

I probably became a writer because of this. I certainly see this book as working through those perspectives, those differences, heightening them, looking for a greater enlightenment.

Was there any specific person that inspired the character of Benjamin Pearl?

There were lots of inspirations. I drew on Eric Rudolph's story for an idea of how a fugitive would survive in the wilderness despite a federal manhunt. I felt a terrific pang of empathy for the Weaver family and what they went through at Ruby Ridge. I didn't dig too much into Ted Kaczynski or Timothy McVeigh, mostly because they're evil bastards and I felt instinctively, perhaps irrationally, that their biographies would be poisonous in some way. Instead I turned to the character of Jesus from The Last Temptation of Christ and Emerson and Nietzsche to find Pearl's voice and tortured sense of himself as somehow being this Figure of Historical Importance. I needed to believe in his struggle, the profound chosenness he felt, the burden of being elect.

Although the events take place in the 1970s and 1980s, there is timelessness to them--alcoholism, drug abuse, prostitution, abuse--and much of the story can fit into today's headlines.

It's hard not to look at the totality of human behavior and feel like we are broken, fallen, born in sin. We are so cruel to one another. The fact that you say the story would be in the headlines today doesn't lead me to believe we are, on balance, getting better.

But that's what we see through the media, through anecdote. It's our nature to talk about all the things that are wrong to the exclusion of what is good in us... and I think that's because we are constantly taking care of one another, without realizing it. I really believe much more in our inherent goodness. We're biologically engineered to cooperate and empathize as much as we are to compete. Given how depraved the headlines make us seem, it would seem we should be in complete anarchy. But we aren't. Somehow our humanity holds the line.

Fourth of July Creek could be considered a pretty bleak novel of flawed characters trying to deal with what life has thrown at them. I see a recurring motif in your stories and film works, including the "Halftime in America" ad narrated by Clint Eastwood, with the list of problems Americans have struggled to overcome. Why are you so attracted to these struggles of the "working man?"

Well, I think that the "bleakness" is just frankness. Most working-class people can tell when they're being fed a line of bull. People would rather get the truth than the fairy tale.

Do you envision a happily-ever-after for Pete, Luke, Rachel and Benjamin?

Happy endings and fairy tales are like Fruit Stripe gum to me--they're delicious for about 15 seconds.

Here's what "happily ever after" means to me--it means I'm worried. It means I've invested in a story and I want to know that the people I've come to care about are going to be okay. I understand that feeling as a reader. I still worry about Molly and Leopold Bloom. Or the Stamper clan. God, I wonder how Suttree is doing.

Which novelists have inspired your writing the most? And whose books do you currently have on your reading bookshelf?

The q&a sections were inspired by the penultimate chapter of Joyce's Ulysses of course, but they function a bit more like a Greek chorus, so I think I must've been influenced by the tragedies I read as undergrad. Ken Kesey and Raymond Carver gave me the idea that the Northwest had an identity and that I could write about it, but it wasn't until I read Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty and then finally Faulkner that I understood that the Southern gothic was kind of my thing. Northern gothic. "Grit lit" is what people call it now, maybe. I read Tolstoy and Flaubert for grandness of scale. I read Cormac McCarthy for landscape. I read James Dickey and Toni Morrison and just scores of others for inspiration of various kinds.

Right now I'm re-reading James Dickey's Deliverance and Matthew Dickman's poetry.

What's next on your list of projects?

I'm collaborating on a couple of things--working with Philipp Meyer and others to adapt The Son for television, significantly--I usually have several projects going at once.

I want to write about vigilantes in the early days of the Montana Territory. I have a lot of research to do on that.

I also had an epiphany this week that two or three of my short stories are probably threads in the same novel, which is funny, as this is years after I wrote them. But I guess I shouldn't be surprised--it took me two years to realize that the book I was writing about a social worker and the other book about the crazy guy living in the woods were Fourth of July Creek. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Book Candy

More Beach Reads; Dazzling Old French Book Ads

Flavorwire suggested "10 highbrow books to read on the beach (and what each says about you)." Condé Nast Traveler "asked some of our favorite writers, including Jennifer Weiner, Laura Lippman, and David Sedaris, to share their favorite beach reads, along with the titles they're stoked to read this summer." NPR Books featured author Kate DiCamillo's "picks for summer treehouse reading." "Summer is for R&R--reading and more reading," the New York Post noted in suggesting "the 29 best books of the summer."


"Dazzling 19th-century French book advertisements" were showcased by Flavorwire.  


"They can write books, but can they tweet?" asked the Guardian as it showcased "10 authors who are brilliant at Twitter."


Buzzfeed revealed "31 confessions any book lover will understand."


"Bring back the bookmark!" the Huffington Post demanded, and then offered "23 creative bookmarks to make sure you pick up where you left off."


Silent bookshelves are "made from a sheet of metal to mount on the wall to create a skyline effect with just a dash of color that all but disappears under your books."

Book Review


Fourth of July Creek

by Smith Henderson

Firmly rooted in remote northwest Montana during the Reagan administration, Smith Henderson's robust first novel centers on Pete Snow, a dedicated Department of Family Services officer and his caseload of broken families and displaced children. Among the "twitchy and dysarthric" kids, "newly suicided fathers" and mothers with "shifting partners and adversaries and errant unattached freaks" stands Jeremiah Pearl, a survivalist and paranoid fanatic. Although Jeremiah and his family have taken to the land and holed up in scattered wilderness camps with their guns and Bibles, his 11-year-old son, Ben, is referred to Pete when he wanders down from the mountains and is discovered sick and lost on the local school playground.

With an epic sweep, Fourth of July Creek is the story of Pete's dogged attempts to "save" Ben, and Jeremiah's equally stubborn refusal to surrender his family to a society of "poisons and toxicants... entrapment, fiat currency, lawyers." It is also the story of Pete's scattered but sincere attempts to save himself from his own broken marriage and deal with his runaway teenage daughter, his alcoholism, his unpredictable brother wanted for assaulting his parole officer. As Jeremiah's paranoia increases and Pete's personal life unravels, violence escalates and Henderson's tale branches into a full-blown saga of modern American disconnection and extremism.

A 2011 Pushcart Prize winner and Pen Emerging Writers Award nominee, Henderson homes in on the U.S.'s dark side. This modern America might not be the country we want to see, he convincingly shows us it's what we have: a hard place that only kindness and empathy can make easier. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A sweeping debut novel of one Montana man's personal struggles and another's political paranoia, uncovering the dark side of modern life.

Ecco, $26.99, hardcover, 9780062286444

The Untold

by Courtney Collins

In the bush of 1920s New South Wales in Australia, readers observe a young woman digging by a river and then running for the hills. Her story unfolds slowly, in fractured time and brief views, in The Untold, a dreamy debut novel by Courtney Collins based on the life of legendary Australian wild woman Jessie Hickman.

Jessie left home at 12 to join the circus, then had a mostly successful career rustling horses. At age 21, she was convicted for stealing two chickens. Upon her release from prison, she fell in with a rancher who forced her back into a life of crime and a profoundly miserable, violent marriage. Her latest traumas have now sent her, and her beloved horse, Houdini, crashing up a mountain in the driving rain.

Among the gangs of men pursuing her are a former lover--an Aboriginal tracker--and a police sergeant, purportedly working together but each unclear which side he's really on. As the reader is increasingly drawn into the story, The Untold rushes precipitously toward a heady convergence among Jessie, Houdini, the gangs and the two men with more personal business to conduct.

The Untold is startling, lyrical and untamed, with a firm emphasis on survival and redemption and a full array of improbably charming characters (the biggest surprise of all is the narrator's role in Jessie's story)--none with an unstoried past but few as feral as Jessie herself. The reader will be as exhilarated as the protagonist by her struggles, and quite possibly come up gasping for air. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: An astonishingly fresh and surprising novel of adventure, heartbreak, grit and love, set in the Australian bush.

Amy Einhorn/Putnam, $26.95, hardcover, 9780399167096

The Vacationers

by Emma Straub

The Vacationers by Emma Straub (Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures) is peopled by charming, funny, expertly portrayed characters who feel very real and yet slightly fantastical.

The Post family is headed from Manhattan to Mallorca for a two-week vacation, ostensibly to celebrate: Franny and Jim are approaching their 35th anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia, has just graduated from high school. Joining them will be their son, Bobby, with his girlfriend, Carmen, and Franny's BFF Charles and his husband, Lawrence. However, Jim has recently left his decades-long career at Gallant magazine amidst shame and scandal, and his transgressions at work have followed him home. Sylvia's big goal of the summer is to lose her virginity before starting college in the fall. Charles and Lawrence's is to adopt a baby--a plan they haven't yet shared with the Posts. Bobby and Carmen are on uneven ground; they have a secret to break to his parents, and it doesn't help that the Posts have never liked Carmen. More secrets and scandals, new and old, will come to light under the Spanish sun.

Straub's greatest strengths are her endearingly quirky protagonists and a plot with more twists than a European mountain road, but her secondary characters are also cleverly wrought. The Posts' absent hostess, Gemma, is Charles's second-best friend; Franny tries not to let that annoy her. Sylvia's local Spanish tutor, Joan ("pronounced Joe-ahhhn"), is a delectable temptation for both Sylvia and Franny, but it's a retired tennis pro who really turns Franny's head. Luckily, a motorcycle-riding pediatrician becomes Jim's ally in trying to re-win his wife's heart. Despite the considerable dysfunction of this family, this tale about them has a surprisingly happy ending. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: An eccentrically fun family vacation, with far more style and spunk than your average beach read.

Riverhead Books, $26.95, hardcover, 9781594631573

Above the East China Sea

by Sarah Bird

Framed in sections that mirror the days of Obon, a three-day Japanese celebration of the dead, Sarah Bird's Above the East China Sea asks its audience to suspend disbelief from the very beginning, when the ghosts of an unborn infant and its mother, Tamiko, begin to converse beneath the sea. Underpinned by Bird's authoritative knowledge of Okinawan history and military life (seen also in her novel The Yokota Officers Club), the novel jells the seemingly disparate stories of Tamiko, a World War II-era schoolgirl who took her life by plunging into the East China Sea as Okinawa burned behind her, and Luz, a present-day American whose mother is stationed in Japan.

Slowly, through both straightforward remembrances and dispatches from the spirit world, Bird reveals the full extent of her protagonists' losses: Luz's sister died as a newly enlisted recruit in Afghanistan, and Tamiko lost her entire world after the island was brutalized in the Battle of Okinawa. Luz's hallucinatory encounter with Tamiko's ghost sets her off on a quest to help send this aimless soul to the afterlife. On her travels, clutching Tamiko's lily pin--the emblem of a prestigious finishing school that became a wartime nursing program--Luz begins to unravel her own tormented psyche.

Every plot thread is carefully tied up, which makes conclusion feel a bit too tidy, but the saga itself proves worthwhile. This is a novel that asks a lot of its reader, but its rewards are equivalent, and as beautiful as the lily pin that catalyzes the whole adventure. --Linnie Greene, freelance writer and bookseller at Flyleaf Books

Discover: A fantastical story of two generations of Okinawan women, bound by loss, resilience and a loyalty to their shared history.

Knopf, $25.95, hardcover, 9780385350112

Goodnight June

by Sarah Jio

June Andersen has built a successful career as a New York banker, specializing in foreclosing small businesses that fail to pay their bills. But when her great-aunt Ruby dies and leaves June the children's bookstore she owned in Seattle, June must return home and face her grief and her painful past.

Sifting through Ruby's papers as she prepares to sell the store, June unearths a stack of correspondence between her aunt and children's book author Margaret Wise Brown. Could Ruby and her bookstore have inspired "Brownie" to write her best-known work, Goodnight Moon? With the help of the handsome restaurant owner next door, June dives into a literary scavenger hunt that forces her to confront her troubled family history. As she explores Ruby's past, June finds herself unwilling to let the store go, but she will need to raise a hefty sum--and quickly--to pay its debts.

Jio (Morning Glory; The Violets of March) imagines a close-knit Seattle neighborhood of small businesses, perfectly suited for Ruby's charming bookstore. The theme of sisterhood runs strongly through the novel, as Ruby, Margaret and June each struggle to make peace with their sisters, despite deep-seated differences. Readers may predict both the main plot twist and the ending, but the journey toward both is satisfyingly complex and wonderfully literary.

Evoking You've Got Mail with its bookish setting and sprinkled with references to Brown's "great green room," Goodnight June is a treat for lovers of enthralling stories, classic children's books and second chances. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: An enthralling story of sisterhood, second chances and a Seattle bookstore that may have inspired the bedtime classic Goodnight Moon.

Plume, $16, paperback, 9780142180211

Mystery & Thriller

The Detective & the Pipe Girl

by Michael Craven

In classic private-eye-fiction style, Michael Craven (Body Copy) introduces John Darvelle, a no-nonsense detective determined to right the wrongs he encounters in his Southern California practice. John is hired by mega-star filmmaker Arthur Vonz to find Suzanne Neal, a former flame. It seems at first like an open-and-shut case, and he has no difficulty locating her. But a few details of the investigation strike John as "off," so when Suzanne soon winds up murdered, he vows to uncover the truth.

Working out of a warehouse office, complete with a ping-pong table and visiting cat named Toast, John taps into his network of sources and contacts. Before long, he finds himself in the dark depths of Hollywood's elite, staring down the business end of a gun. What started out as a simple case just became complicated.

With a fun blend of humor and suspense, Craven follows some of the genre's traditions while putting his own twist on others, offering mystery fans a fresh approach to the PI novel. And while John is a fascinating character with endearing quirks, the supporting cast is equally engaging, prompting the hope that they will recur in subsequent novels.

John has a tendency to veer off track in his narration, which may pull some readers out of the story, and detailed explanations of his travels sometimes sound like GPS directions, but the excellent characterization and well-constructed plot make these points inconsequential to the overall reading experience. PI fans can rejoice about this new kid in town. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: When the subject of his missing-person case winds up dead, private investigator John Darvelle won't rest until he finds her murderer.

Bourbon Street Books/Harper, $14.99, paperback, 9780062305596

The Stranger on the Train

by Abbie Taylor

In Irish author Abbie Taylor's debut novel, The Stranger on the Train, single and somewhat reluctant mom Emma experiences a parent's worst nightmare. While she is struggling to load her stroller and bags onto a train in the London Underground one day, her one-year-old son, Ritchie, climbs into the car without her and the door closes. As the train pulls away, a woman on board indicates Emma should take the next train and get off at the next stop, where the woman will wait with Ritchie.

But both the woman and Ritchie disappear. The police doubt certain aspects of Emma's story, so she embarks on her own desperate search for Ritchie with the help of Rafe, a retired cop who wants to help unearth the truth.

Taylor's prose is engrossing, even though Emma is not an entirely sympathetic figure and her parenting skills are questionable. Here, the darker side of parenting is revealed through a single mother who occasionally does and says things (both to and about her son) that she later regrets. Some suspension of disbelief is required to accept a major turn in the plot, but there's subtle commentary on how authorities seem to doubt and dismiss Emma because she's a single mom on government assistance.

As Emma fights to get her son back, she realizes just how fiercely she loves him. Her terrifying ordeal becomes a journey not only toward reunion and the truth, but also toward embracing motherhood. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A single mom's fraught attempts to recover her abducted toddler.

Atria, $15, paperback, 9781476754970


The Secret Life of Violet Grant

by Beatriz Williams

Like her previous historical novels (Overseas; A Hundred Summers), Beatriz Williams's The Secret Life of Violet Grant alternates between two time periods. This book also features two heroines: the titular character and her great-niece, Vivian.

In 1964, Vivian leaves behind her privileged Fifth Avenue childhood to make her own way in New York City after graduating from Bryn Mawr. She secures a job as a fact checker at Metropolitan magazine with hopes of becoming a writer. She gets a notice to pick up a package at the post office, and it turns out to be a suitcase that's more than 50 years old. It belonged to her great-aunt Violet, a scientist who purportedly murdered her husband in Berlin in 1914 before fleeing with her lover. This is the story Vivian has been waiting for; she's determined to track down what really happened to Violet and publish her story in Metropolitan to settle decades-old rumors.

Readers will be swept away to Europe on the brink of the First World War and 1960s New York City, and Vivian is the kind of sassy heroine Williams's fans have come to love. She throws snappy banter around the way Carole Lombard would in a classic movie. Violet is more innocent, but exhibits a strong will by crossing the Atlantic to study physics in London in 1911, blossoming when she meets her true love. The late plot twist provides a satisfying (if not entirely convincing) ending. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A young New York City writer seeks the truth about a relative who reportedly killed her husband 50 years earlier.

Putnam, $26.95, hardcover, 9780399162176

Food & Wine

The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue

by David Sax

Have you ever wondered why grocery stores, restaurants and food magazines seemingly all start to promote the same foods at once? Examples are endless: chia seeds, kale chips, cupcakes and the current trend of all things bacon. David Sax (Save the Deli), known for his food articles in the New York Times and other publications, takes readers on a journey deep into the heart of the specialty food industry and examines how different foods can go from little-known and hardly used to desirable fads that bring in millions of dollars.

Starting in the late 1990s with the cupcake craze, Sax's data and research--collected from interviews with farmers, manufacturers, chefs and trend forecasters--breaks down why one obscure food may make it into mainstream markets while another won't. He visits the annual Fancy Food Show, "a veritable orgy of food trends on the market and in the making... inside a thirty-foot radius... duck prosciutto, Haribo gummy bears, a shot of espresso, aged bleu cheese, a shot of raspberry kombucha..."--the list goes on and on. He attends the fifth annual Baconfest in Chicago, where bacon is the ingredient in everything from cookies to Bloody Marys; talks to food truck drivers in Washington, D.C., who are fighting for the right to sell food on the streets; and spends time with Glenn Roberts, who is cultivating heirloom rice and grain varieties in South Carolina.

Sax's conversational tone expertly informs and entertains as he breaks down why some foods become market staples and others are destined for the "specialty" aisle. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: An enriching look at how food products have become big business.

PublicAffairs, $25.99, hardcover, 9781610393157

Biography & Memoir

The World According to Bob: The Further Adventures of One Man and His Street-Wise Cat

by James Bowen

Readers devoured A Street Cat Named Bob, the story of how James Bowen, a struggling street musician and 10-year heroin and methadone addict, rescued Bob, a stray cat that ultimately served as the impetus for James to give up his drug habit and turn his life around. With this second installment, The World According to Bob, Bowen details the life he and Bob lived en route to landing their book deal and having their partnership explode into an inspiring, worldwide sensation.

James needed courage to live a clean life. Bob's loyalty and empowering friendship gave him that courage. After Bob followed James onto a bus bound for Islington--where James played his guitar and sold the homeless magazine the Big Issue--cat and man became inseparable, "a pair of lost souls eking out an existence on the streets of London." Poignancy and humor bind these stories of shared survival, tricks learned, endearing mishaps and challenges to be overcome. Some of the most moving, tender scenes come when James faces a serious illness and Bob goes to live with a friend. When confronted with his own infirmity, James witnesses Bob's independence and fears that his much-beloved marmalade-colored cat might not need him anymore.

Transformation anchors this thoughtfully drawn portrait of a man trying to find his place in an often cruel, insensitive world. Lovable, quirky Bob becomes James's teacher and soul mate as fortuitous events help the duo finally escape the uncertain desperation of life on the streets. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A man and a cat, both at rock bottom, mend each other's lives in profound ways.

Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's, $24.99, hardcover, 9781250046321

Children's & Young Adult

The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

by Peter Sís

Like the creator of The Little Prince, Peter Sís fled the occupation of his native land (chronicled in The Wall) and brings an emotional as well as historical context to his subject.

Sís melds the realistic and the fantastical, beginning with an image of a golden-haired baby floating above a map of his birthplace: "Long ago in France, at the turn of the last century, a little boy was born to be an adventurer." He populates the pages with seemingly far-out inventions of science fiction ("including flying machines"), then connects the fantastical with reality. A 12-year-old Antoine flew in a plane as a passenger, and knew he wanted to be a pilot; the book doubles as a subtle history of aviation, from inset images of the steam-powered Éole (1890, France), through to the Lockheed P-38 Lightning Antoine flew on a World War II reconnaissance mission. Sís shows us how many of Antoine's experiences--flying over vast stretches of unpopulated land, a crash landing in the Libyan desert where he meets a fox--make their way into The Little Prince. A wordless image of the ocean packs an emotional wallop after the loss of a friend and a country.

Sís achieves greatness in the way he sticks to the facts yet, for Little Prince fans, connects Saint-Exupéry's personal grief with both his hero's loss of his rose, and also the pilot narrator's loss of the little prince. This astonishing picture book gives young readers a firm foundation for entering The Little Prince and will lead older readers back to it with augmented appreciation. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An astonishing picture-book biography of the creator of The Little Prince that leads to a new appreciation of the classic.

Frances Foster/FSG, $18.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 7-10, 9780374380694


by Alex London

Alex London settles scores in this stirring sequel to Proxy. In the first book, orphan Syd served as a proxy to Knox, a rich patron, accepting all the punishments for Knox's crimes since childhood. But after Knox met Syd, he aided him in a revolution and paid the price of his life for the greater good.

Knox's sacrifice has marked 17-year-old Syd as a symbol for hope--he's now Yovel, the people's hero in this post-Jubilee world. However, the pressure to be a pawn for the unsympathetic Reconciliation is crushing for Syd, especially as the people lose faith in him. Syd's bodyguard, Liam, is also feeling the strain after several failings to protect Syd from offenders. Sinister foes populate the novel, such as Finch, an old crush of Syd who's running wild with power. But the main opponent is an epidemic that bleeds out its victims. The Reconciliation claims "a cure is not politically viable," but when Syd and Liam visit Knox's father in prison, they learn that the only way to fight the disease is to undo everything for which Knox died.

London puts his protagonists through the ringer in this exciting conclusion, especially in the final chapters. Liam's enduring devotion and growing affection for Syd create a potential for romance amidst all the battles, without dominating the story. New spins on the classic plot of the rich and omnipotent drained of power, smart insights on debt and dogma, and nonstop action starring everyday heroes will keep the pages turning. --Adam Silvera, children's bookseller

Discover: Two teens must restore the system that brought about their much-needed revolution, in order to stop a deadly epidemic.

Philomel/Penguin, $17.99, hardcover, 352p., ages 12-up, 9780399165764

We Are the Goldens

by Dana Reinhardt

Dana Reinhardt's (The Summer I Learned to Fly) gripping, realistic novel tells of two extremely close sisters, Nell and Layla Golden, whose relationship unravels because of a secret.

Nell's first-person narrative addresses Layla directly. A sense of foreboding and a pulsing urgency permeates the book as Nell recalls the signs that pointed to trouble: Layla's charcoal self-portrait with "sorrowful, faraway eyes" and a sculpture that makes Nell wonder "if that was who you wished you were and how you could ever want to be anything other than who you are." As Nell starts her freshman year at City Day, Layla is a junior, a star soccer player and is known for having "a good head on her shoulders." Nell makes the team, too, despite the teasing of her best friend, Felix De La Cruz ("Didn't you get the memo that this is a hipster-urban high school?"). Layla is not acting like herself, and tension simmers between the sisters. But then rumors begin to fly around the school, as they do every year, that cool Mr. Barr, the Intro to Visual Arts teacher, is involved with a student. Only this time, the rumors point to Layla.

Reinhart beautifully captures the messy passage from adolescence to adulthood. Part of Nell wants to stay the child, while the other part knows she must follow her own moral compass. Is it her responsibility to keep her sister's secret? Or to protect her, perhaps against her wishes? Reinhardt gets this delicate balance just right, and leaves readers thinking long after the last page. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An intimate relationship between two sisters is threatened when one believes her older sister is in a situation that could harm her.

Wendy Lamb/Random House, $16.99, hardcover, 208p., ages 14-up, 9780385742573


Author Buzz

The Rom-Commers

by Katherine Center

Dear Reader,

Famous screenwriter Charlie Yates wrote a romantic comedy screenplay--and it’s terrible. Aspiring writer Emma Wheeler just got hired to fix it. But Charlie doesn't want anyone rewriting his work--least of all a "failed nobody," and Emma can't support a guy who doesn't even like rom-coms, adding another bad one to the pantheon. So what choice does Emma have but to stand up for herself, and rom-coms, and love in general--and, in the process, to show her nemesis-slash-writing-hero exactly how to fall stupidly, crazily, perfectly in love?

Email with the subject line "The Rom-Commers sweepstakes" for a chance to win one of five copies.

Katherine Center

Buy now and support your local indie bookstore>

AuthorBuzz: St. Martin's Press: The Rom-Commers by Katherine Center

St. Martin's Press

Pub Date: 
June 11, 2024


List Price: 
$29.00 Hardcover

Blue Moon
(A Smoke and Mirrors Novella)

by Skye Warren

Dear Reader,

When I started writing Ringmaster Emerson Durand in the Smoke and Mirrors series, I knew he would get his own story. Insouciant. Charming. And he's actually the villain of that book. So can he be redeemed? It's the question I'm always working to answer in my books.

If he's going to deserve his own happily ever after, it's going to be a journey. A scorching hot journey!

That's what BLUE MOON illuminates. A dangerous ringmaster claims his rebellious acrobat for a sensual show you cannot miss.

Skye Warren

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Blue Moon (A Smoke and Mirrors Novella) by Skye Warren

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
March 12, 2024


List Price: 
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