Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, August 21, 2015

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster: A Short Walk Through a Wide World by Douglas Westerbeke

From My Shelf

Second Life

I remember when the game Second Life came out, and wondering why anyone would want to live an entire life virtually--create an avatar and interact with other users around the globe in an artificial setting? It didn't seem like the future in 2003, and yet it seems rather quaint in 2015, a time when everything, if not everyone, is online. Trolls are unmasked, poachers are hounded, sex tapes are leaked, accounts are hacked--nowadays the idea of maintaining an Internet persona discrete from one offline requires secret agent-like ability to mask one's identity. It seems no matter who you are or what you're doing, the Internet knows. It will find you.

Many writers have shown us dark futures of digital surveillance--George Orwell (1984) and Dave Eggers (The Circle), for starters--all seemingly mapped from Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish, with its Panoptical observation methods of chastisement. Recently, Jon Ronson researched the social tendency of Internet mobs to penalize those who misbehave, and wrote So You've Been Publicly Shamed (Riverhead, $27.95), a reasoned resource for understanding, avoiding or coping with the pitchforks and torches. And in July, Joshua Mohr published All This Life (Soft Skull, $25), a comic novel of modern ennui that features social media more closely resembling the Internet we live with today than that of dour dystopian speculations.

All This Life follows several Bay Area characters whose lives intersect online as their paths offline also veer toward one another. Through YouTube, Twitter, smart phones and the leak of an intimate video, real life butts against the digital world as witnesses to a traumatic event attempt to make sense of it. Mohr isn't interested in the potentially catastrophic extreme of future Internet machinations. Instead, All This Life is a compassionate, thoughtful characterization of how our first and second lives are inextricably linked, right now. The result is no less thrilling, but so much more hopeful. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Sleeping Bear Press: When You Go Into Nature by Sheri M Bestor, Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

The Writer's Life

Susan Barker: What the Writer Wants to Know

photo: Derek Anson

Novelist Susan Barker has an English father and a Chinese-Malaysian mother and grew up in East London. She is the author of Sayonara Bar and The Orientalist and the Ghost, both longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize. While writing her new novel, The Incarnations, she spent several years living in Beijing, researching modern and imperial China. Barker recently chatted with us about cultural differences, reincarnation and the development of The Incarnations. Our review is below.

The Incarnations is an ambitious work. Did you always intend to create such a complex novel?

When I started writing The Incarnations back in 2007, I knew I wanted to write about a taxi driver in contemporary Beijing and to weave into this narrative stories from other historical eras, from the Tang dynasty to Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution. So I knew then The Incarnations needed to be structurally complex in order to link together these multiple narratives, spanning over a thousand years.

Last year I read a short essay by Mohsin Hamid in which he described the DNA of fiction as being a double helix--one strand comprised of what the writer knows, the other strand comprised of what the writer wants to know. I wrote The Incarnations because I wanted to learn more about China--its people, history and politics. I think my favourite way to go about writing novels is to research and write about what I find fascinating, then figure out how to structure this into a novel afterwards--an approach that leads to complexity, I guess.

Do you believe in reincarnation?

According to a medium my sister met in London in the mid-'90s, we--my sister and I--are soulmates who have lived our lives in tandem for many centuries. Though I am sceptical about this, and reincarnation in general, I'm too superstitious to rule it out completely.

The Incarnations has a recurring theme of thwarted homosexual relationships. Why did you make this topic prominent?

I wasn't aware that homosexuality was a recurring theme in The Incarnations until the book was published in the U.K. last summer and interviewers started to bring it up. When I wrote each historical story, I usually invented the characters first, and then plotted out how their paths would cross afterwards. It seemed very natural for the characters to be sexually attracted to each other, even when they were the same gender. The love stories are not meant to be political, or part of a homosexual theme. The only time one of the homosexual love stories (and it even feels odd to use the term "homosexual love stories," because to me they are just love stories) intersects with politics is in the late '90s, when homosexuality was still classified as a mental illness in China; because of the stigma surrounding it, one character is deeply tormented by his feelings.

The central idea of The Incarnations is that the two main characters are soulmates, and in every past life they are drawn to each other, regardless of gender. In The Incarnations, sexuality is very fluid and (perhaps this sounds politically naïve) not of great significance. The relationships are thwarted, not necessarily because the characters are gay, but for other complicated reasons.

How did your time in Beijing affect the development of the novel?

I spent over two and half years in Beijing, and while I was there, as well as working on The Incarnations, I studied Mandarin, did homestays with local families, taught English to civil servants at the Ministry of Health and spent a lot of time at the National Library of China, reading up about the historical eras in The Incarnations.

When I first arrived in Beijing in the summer of 2007, I planned to stay and research for three months. However, by the end of the summer, I realized that I needed a more immersive experience of living in China in order to write the book. As Yu Hua says in his book of essays China in Ten Words, "Daily life may seem trivial and routine, but in fact it contains a multitude of incidents, at once rich, expansive and touching. Politics, history, society and cultures, one's memories and emotions, desires and secrets--all reverberate there." My time in Beijing (and subsequent two years in Shenzhen) was invaluable when it came to writing The Incarnations. The neighbourhoods I lived in, the people I met and the insights I gained into their lives, all inspired and shaped the book.

Did you find it difficult to write a book from the perspective of someone with a different nationality than your own?

Writing from the perspective of Chinese characters who were shaped by a very different historical and sociological landscape to me was definitely challenging. The main reason I spent several years living in China was in order to understand what it must be like to grow up in mainland China, and how this would influence a person's worldview and beliefs, as well as everyday habits and routines.

Another challenge was convincing people that writing Chinese characters was something I could do. "How can a British person understand what it's like to be Chinese?" was a common reaction when I told people what my novel-in-progress was about. Over the last 15 years, I've lived in Japan, Korea, China and the U.S., and I've come to think people are fundamentally the same everywhere. We generally want the same things in life: love, happiness, status, recognition, material rewards and so on. There are cultural differences between nationalities--such as how love is expressed, what confers status, etc.--but none of these differences are innate and ungraspable by outsiders. With enough research and time spent in the PRC, differences between the U.K. and China can be understood.

What were the challenges of writing the sections about past incarnations and of writing Wang Jun's modern-day story? Did you find some parts easier than others?

All of The Incarnations, both present and past, necessitated lots of research, so perhaps the biggest challenge was learning about what I didn't know in order to write about it. But I embarked on The Incarnations to deepen my knowledge about China, so the auto-didactic part of the process was as rewarding as it was challenging.

The sections that were easiest and most fun to write were the Night Coming (Tang dynasty) story and the Sixteen Concubines (Ming dynasty) story. After researching each time period, I sat down at my laptop and the stories emerged in a rush of inspiration, like automatic writing almost--something that rarely happens when I write.

What's next?

I have recently started a new novel about a painter and his muses, set in London, Berlin and New Mexico. I'm immensely excited about traveling to Berlin and New Mexico, both places I have never been, to research the book. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Book Candy

An Orwellian Birthday; 'Juicy' Fall Memoirs

Buzzfeed's headline says it all: "Dutch artists celebrate George Orwell's birthday by putting party hats on surveillance cameras."


"As the summer heat gives way to fall chill, what's better than curling up indoors with a book?" asked Entertainment Weekly in offering "9 juicy memoirs to pick up this fall."


Bustle suggested "9 books to read if you are someone who 'hates' reading, because there is a book out there even for you."


The "drinkable book," which has pages "that can be torn out to filter drinking water has proved effective in its first field trials," BBC News reported.


In "All Dressed Up & Ready to Read," offered 12 indie titles with amazing covers.


Infographic of the Day: Made to Measure Blinds U.K. "scoured the Internet for the 15 most inspirational work spaces," including several with a literary bent.

Book Review


Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories

by China Miéville

China Miéville's (Perdido Street Station, Embassytown) reputation for writing New Weird fiction--macabre postmodern pieces imbued with urban grittiness and a deep-seated social conscience--precedes him, and the 28 stories in Three Moments of an Explosion do not disappoint. They are fantastical tales that often end with cliffhangers, inviting readers to formulate their own conclusions amid a sea of fear, doubt and the unknown.

A woman succumbs to metamorphic limbo in "The 9th Technique," when a coveted black-market purchase--a cocooned caterpillar once used as a torture device on a Guantanamo prisoner with a fear of insects--fails to metamorphose and consumes everything in its path. Two lovers embarking on a German country getaway earn the ire of a vengeful ghost punished gruesomely in life for infanticide in "Säcken." Miéville imagines a condition termed "New Death" in which corpses horizontally orient themselves, with feet always pointed toward the viewer, and in "The Dusty Hat"--the darkest story and also most philosophical piece in this collection--he explores the hazy aftermath of death on history and memory. His left-leaning protagonist has fought to protect her political views only to find that such arguments become moot the moment one ceases to exist. Brief interludes that play like abbreviated scenes in an apocalyptic thriller bridge each story.

Miéville's images are visceral and unexpected, the language complex and cleverly molded to the personalities of its speakers. His stories, which offer glimpses into the genius of an exceptionally original writer, extend bewildering questions that will linger and haunt readers long after the cliffhangers are resolved. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: A collection of apocalyptic and speculative short fiction by the author of Perdido Street Station and Embassytown.

Del Rey, $27, hardcover, 9781101884720

The Incarnations

by Susan Barker

Fantasy and thriller collide in this novel from Susan Barker (The Orientalist and the Ghost), a thousand-year epic of reincarnation wrapped in a paranoid game of cat and mouse.

Wang Jun thinks he has an ordinary life. When he finds the first letter in his taxicab, he assumes he received it by mistake or as a prank. A driver in Beijing, he shares an unremarkable existence with his wife, Yida, and their school-age daughter, Echo, yet the letter's writer insists Wang is a reincarnated soul destined to walk the path of life with him (or her) throughout the ages. They have already shared many lives as family members, lovers, enemies. Bound by fate, Wang and the writer will reunite again in this life, their shared history of love and betrayal more powerful than the ties of marriage or parenthood.

Barker seamlessly integrates the letters and chapters about Wang's more immediate past, including his difficult childhood, a stay in a mental hospital and a love affair he had before meeting Yida, which still haunts him. She writes on an enormous scope, rolling ancient Chinese history and legends in with the Communist Revolution and then juxtaposing them with a narrative set in the modern-day country they created. Despite the multiple jumps through time, Barker never loses her grip on the pacing, ratcheting up the tension. Brutal yet seductive, this journey through the darkest parts of the human spirit will leave readers with chills running down their spines. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: A taxi driver in Beijing receives anonymous letters about his alleged past lives from someone claiming to be his soulmate.

Touchstone, $26, hardcover, 9781501106781

Wind/Pinball: Two Novels

by Haruki Murakami, trans. by Ted Goossen

While Japanese author Haruki Murakami's status has grown exponentially since the publication of his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, in 1979, parts of his catalogue have been frustratingly out of reach to the English-speaking world. Wind and its sequel of sorts, Pinball, 1973, were never widely available in the United States, although they serve as the first two parts of the Trilogy of the Rat, which culminates in the novel A Wild Sheep Chase.

Knopf offers both together now in one slim volume, Wind/Pinball, translated by Ted Goossen, giving fans the chance to discover the literary giant when he was finding his voice. Both books are narrated by an unnamed male in his 20s (it may be same narrator both times, but that's never clear), and populated by recurring characters J, a bartender, and the Rat, a rich, washed-out young man with unbearable ennui.

Neither book has much in the way of plot. Instead, both novels move from image to image, revealing the narrator's proclivities and the Rat's descent into depression. Murakami's famous spare style is already fully formed, though it's not clear that he understands yet how to tell a story over more than a few pages, since his focus jumps almost at random. Readers hoping for an experience similar to Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki or his masterpiece, A Wind Up Bird Chronicle, may or may not be disappointed, depending on what they're after when they read Murakami. As disjointed as these two short novels are, they capture the same strange, forceful mood of his later works. --Noah Cruickshank, marketing manager, Open Books, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: The first two novels by Haruki Murakami, Japan's most celebrated contemporary author.

Knopf, $25.95, hardcover, 9780385352123

The Best of Enemies

by Jen Lancaster

In The Best of Enemies, Jen Lancaster (Here I Go Again) proves that novelist Edward Dahlberg was right when he said, "A strong foe is better than a weak friend." The book pits two strong, very unreliable adversaries against one another with supremely entertaining results. On the surface, Kitty Carricoe, a vivacious blonde trendsetter and suburban mother of three, has nothing in common with the jet-setting tomboy Jacqueline "Jack" Jordan, a fearless war journalist with a penchant for quoting Top Gun. The two women can't stand the sight of each other and yet they share the same best friend, Sarabeth. In fact, the last time they saw each other, at Sarabeth's wedding, Kitty upended a chocolate fountain on Jack's head.

Though, blessedly, the two women don't come into contact too often, the tragic death of Sarabeth's husband forces them to team up for their friend. Told from alternating points of view by these two distinctive voices, the fascinating story of why the women hate each other so much unfolds in delicious detail, revealing that years ago they were the best of friends. And when a bevy of deceptions surrounding Sarabeth's late husband are revealed, the frenemies must dodge everything from head lice to cheating spouses as they confront old issues to save their shared best friend from disaster.

Lancaster has crafted a story that's sure to be beloved by anyone who has ever fallen out with a friend. Her gorgeously vivid descriptions, trademark laugh-out-loud dialogue and whimsical plot twists will keep readers guessing and engrossed until the last page of this fabulous tale of revenge. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: Former best friends turned enemies must join forces for the common good.

New American Library, $25.95, hardcover, 9780451471093

Mystery & Thriller

Fool Me Once

by Steve Hockensmith with Lisa Falco

"I'd been so sure I could take over the White Magic Five & Dime and just flip its karma like a pancake. Turn wrongs into rights, help instead of hurt, make amends for all my mother's crimes." Alanis McLachlan, introduced by Steve Hockensmith and Lisa Falco in The White Magic Five & Dime, is discovering that atoning for her deceased con artist mother is harder than she first imagined.

In the second book of the Tarot Mystery series, Alanis tries to help Marsha, one of her mother's most gullible targets, leave an abusive marriage. But the amateur tarot reader's efforts result in Marsha looking like the prime suspect when her husband winds up murdered. As Alanis endeavors to clear Marsha, she inadvertently steps into the crosshairs of a deadly conspiracy.

Lisa Falco's tarot savvy, combined with Steve Hockensmith's cunning wit, make this series a delightful escape from life's austere demands. Each chapter begins with a comical interpretation of a single tarot card (accompanied by an illustration), reflecting insight into the card's spiritual meaning as well as cynicism for the occult.

The novel's mystery itself is an enjoyable diversion, but readers wanting to delve further into the plot's layers will find symbolism in the tarot's minor arcana suit--wands--featured in this installment of the series. And the complexities of the characters and their relationships help to make this story more than a simple whodunit.

Smart, humorous and refreshingly offbeat, Fool Me Once is an absorbing mystery for believers and non-believers alike. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: How the secrets of the tarot help converted con artist Alanis McLachlan try to uncover a killer.

Midnight Ink, $14.99, paperback, 9780738742236

Malice at the Palace

by Rhys Bowen

Lady Georgiana Rannoch knows the perks and perils of being 35th in line to the English throne. While her royal blood does give Georgie a certain social cachet, her lack of a steady income and employable skills often leave her struggling to make ends meet.

When Georgie is summoned to tea at Buckingham Palace, she is relieved to find that Queen Mary has a simple task for her: serve as welcoming committee and companion to Princess Marina, a Greek royal newly engaged to Prince George. The job comes with free lodgings at Kensington Palace, and Georgie eagerly moves in. But when she discovers the body of a young woman--rumored to be one of Prince George's mistresses--in the courtyard, Georgie finds herself mixed up in yet another mystery that could turn into a royal scandal.

In her ninth Royal Spyness mystery, Rhys Bowen (Queen of Hearts; Heirs and Graces) populates 1930s London society with an entertaining mix of royalty (both historical and fictional) and familiar series characters. As she investigates the murder of Bobo Carrington and her connection to the prince, Georgie must also escort Princess Marina about town, practice her diplomatic skills on various members of the aristocracy, and make sure her hapless maid doesn't ruin her one good evening dress. Meanwhile, Georgie's dashing young man, Darcy O'Mara, may be involved in the case for reasons of his own.

Lighthearted, witty and sparkling with period charm, Malice at the Palace is a satisfying entry in Bowen's enjoyable Royal Spyness series. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Lady Georgiana Rannoch prepares for a royal wedding and investigates a murder in Rhys Bowen's ninth Royal Spyness mystery.

Berkley, $25.95, hardcover, 9780425260388

A Chorus of Innocents

by P.F. Chisholm

Lady Elizabeth Widdrington is appalled when the very pregnant wife of a minister arrives at her estate in Northern England bedraggled and in a state of shock. The situation becomes even more horrifying when Poppy Burns tells her story: two strangers arrived at the manse, killed her husband, Jamie, raped her and fled.

Lady Elizabeth cannot rest until she finds justice for the Burns family, so although her abusive husband, Lord Henry, has forbidden her to get involved in another mystery, she travels the 40 miles through contested Scottish borderlands to Poppy's village.

As Lady Elizabeth is drawn further into the case, and into the rivalries and deceits of the extended Burns family, a well-known clan of reivers (thieves), she comes back into contact with the man she truly loves: Sir Robert Carey. A pious woman, Lady Elizabeth tries to avoid Carey, as Lord Henry has commanded her to do, but the implications of Jamie Burns's death will have far-reaching consequences for Lady Elizabeth and Sir Robert.

In this, the seventh Sir Robert Carey mystery, P.F. Chisholm (An Air of Treason) ably portrays the hazards of life in the Scottish borderlands (and the unfortunately unhygienic customs of the 16th century). Lady Elizabeth is a redoubtable woman and finds ways to use her wits in an age when women were rarely allowed to do so. Perfect for those who love a fast-paced adventure, and those who are intrigued by Scottish history, A Chorus of Innocents is a quick, enjoyable read. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A fast-paced mystery set in 16th-century Scotland.

Poisoned Pen Press, $26.95, hardcover, 9781464204609

Biography & Memoir

Slice Harvester: A Memoir in Pizza

by Colin Atrophy Hagendorf

In 2009, Colin Atrophy Hagendorf hit a low point. He hated his burrito delivery job, he was looking for a girlfriend and he was getting wasted pretty much every night. In his late 20s, with more than a decade of punk-rock life behind him, he was all too familiar with creative plans that didn't really pan out.

But the idea of eating a plain slice at every pizzeria in Manhattan nagged at him, so that August he began his quest at the northern end of Manhattan Island. For the next two years he methodically ate his way down the borough, blogging about each slice he ate. Along the way, he made new friends, fell in love and began his journey to sobriety.

Slice Harvester is a paean of praise for the simple slice--an ode to the brilliance that the crust-sauce-cheese trifecta can create when done right. Hagendorf has funny stories about the people he met, about pizzas that were inedible and about the slices so good that they could make a bad day better. Slice Harvester is also a peek into countercultural quirks, with stories of concerts, parties, zines and a host of entertaining characters who make up Hagendorf's adopted family.

Sure to appeal to lovers of pizza, punk rock and the Big Apple, Slice Harvester is a book to savor. It should come with a warning label though: Will Cause Intense Pizza Cravings. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: An entertaining memoir from a punk rocker who ate a slice of pizza at every pizzeria in Manhattan.

Simon & Schuster, $23, hardcover, 9781476705880


To Hell and Back: The Last Train from Hiroshima

by Charles Pellegrino

Just before 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945, war-weary residents of Hiroshima observed a single B-29 bomber overhead. Random decisions in the next few moments, like stepping indoors or walking behind a wall, made the difference between life and death. The Little Boy uranium bomb exploded 1,900 feet over the city, unleashing a blinding flash (pika) then a thunderous explosion (don). The flash incinerated flammable objects and scorched human skin, while the blast wave obliterated nearly everything near the hypocenter.

As the Enola Gay took photographs of the mushroom cloud rising over Hiroshima, the airmen had little idea of the hell their mission had created below. Severe burns gave human skin a reptilian texture, turning men and women into blackened "alligator people." Radioactive black rain fell on desperately thirsty survivors who were already cooked on the inside by gamma rays. The disfigured and doomed formed mindless "ant lines" trudging single-file away from fiery cyclones and choking ash. Some survivors took a working suburban train line to nearby Nagasaki, where a second, more powerful plutonium bomb was dropped on August 9.

To Hell and Back: The Last Train from Hiroshima by Charles Pellegrino (Farewell, Titanic) was originally published in 2010 as The Last Train from Hiroshima before Holt recalled the book when testimony from a supposed American airman turned out to be fiction. To Hell and Back omits this false eyewitness account and, barring any other unforeseen fabrications, is an astounding portrait of the horror inflicted by the first and last atomic bombs used on human targets, with a focus on those truly unlucky souls who experienced both attacks. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: Nightmarish accounts from the atom bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Rowman & Littlefield, $29.95, hardcover, 9781442250581

Performing Arts

Kanye West: God and Monster

by Mark Beaumont

Opinions about musician Kanye West could fill libraries. From smooth samples crooning over The College Dropout to ominous beats growling throughout Yeezus, West's remarkable musical legacy seems matched only by the divisive nature of his celebrity. Music journalist Mark Beaumont (Jay-Z: The King of America) peels back the demonized veneer and eschews mythos to present an in-depth, if sometimes chaotic, profile of Kanye West's career. Kanye West: God and Monster situates the man, his music, his relationships and his outbursts within context. Would he have co-opted Taylor Swift's Video Music Awards speech had he not been so emotionally exhausted since his mother's death? Would he appear so paranoid were his persona not continually twisted by corrosive tabloid media?

Beaumont traces the hard-won trajectory of a passionate music maker determined to prove his worth despite pervasive skepticism. When West finally released his debut, The College Dropout, audiences rejoiced, but no matter how many records he sold, his next efforts were met with industry pessimism that lightning doesn't strike twice.

His fans and hip-hop aficionados may find Kanye West most intriguing, but Beaumont's omniscient narrative renders the man and his work accessible to the uninitiated, too. Though occasionally straying into questionable phrasing--describing West, after Kim Kardashian's divorce from basketball player Kris Humphries, as animalistically "coiled... to pounce"--Beaumont's profile demonstrates the artist's vast stores of energy, ingenuity, resilience, ambition and confidence. In the engine of West's driven creativity, ego is mere exhaust from the afterburner; his resolve has always been to make incredible music. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An eye-opening chronicle of the praised and notorious Kanye West, who grew from hip-hop underdog to pop icon.

Overlook, $18.95, paperback, 9781468311372

Children's & Young Adult

Chasing Secrets: A Deadly Surprise in a City of Lies

by Gennifer Choldenko

Gennifer Choldenko (Al Capone Does My Shirts) dives back into San Francisco history in Chasing Secrets, an exciting novel set during the city's 1900 bubonic plague outbreak, told in the lively voice of a 13-year-old girl named Lizzie Kennedy.

Lizzie is a doctor's daughter, and loves it when Papa takes her along as his assistant... and not just because it's a nice break from Miss Barstow's School for Young Women where girls are prepped more for pleasing husbands than setting bones. Her protective Aunt Hortense frowns upon Lizzie's doctoring, her coarse talk of warts, even her sense of humor: "Aunt Hortense says I try hard to be peculiar. But she's wrong; I come by it quite naturally," quips Lizzie. The discovery of 87 dead rats in a restaurant wall is the plague's clarion call, and despite the epidemic's naysayers, Lizzie knows something is seriously wrong when her dear friend, the family's Chinese cook Jing, goes missing, possibly quarantined in Chinatown. Choldenko masterfully builds the suspense of Lizzie's attempts to rescue Jing, and the story intensifies when Lizzie discovers Jing's charming 12-year-old son, Noah, hiding in their own house. In wonderfully frank closed-door conversations, Noah opens Lizzie's eyes to racial injustice... and a side of her longtime friend Jing she never even considered.

Not only will this novel hold a proud spot on the deadly disease shelf with Jim Murphy's An American Plague and Laurie Halse Anderson's Fever 1793, it's a vivid picture of 20th-century San Francisco and a stirring story of a lonely, funny girl trying to be her "best true self." --Karin Snelson, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Newbery Honor author Gennifer Choldenko's (Al Capone Does My Shirts) spirited novel is set during San Francisco's 1900 outbreak of bubonic plague.

Wendy Lamb/Random House, $16.99, hardcover, 288p., ages 9-12, 9780385742535

Firefly Hollow

by Alison McGhee, illus. by Christopher Denise

Evoking the enchanting atmosphere of E.B. White--and just right for reading aloud--Alison McGhee's (the Bink and Gollie series) illustrated middle-grade novel Firefly Hollow is an intimate story of dreams, loss and moving forward.

All Firefly wants to do is fly to the moon. "Imagine walking around on the moon... the way the giants did," she says to her friends in their firefly-only community. "We're never, ever supposed to fly beyond Firefly Hollow," they remind her, since they know full well that giants (humans) must be avoided at all cost. Quite nearby, in the cricket-only community, Cricket dreams of giants, too. He yearns to become a baseball great like his hero, Yogi Berra, and sings "Take me out to the ball game..." Firefly and Cricket form an unlikely alliance when Firefly is drawn to Cricket's song, and Cricket admires Firefly's "aerial maneuvers." When the two tiny dreamers decide to escape their exclusive, hope-squashing communities, they find themselves in the riverside home of the lovely, lonely old Vole, "the last of his kind." The story deepens further when Firefly and Cricket get up-close-and-personal with a "miniature giant" named Peter, a boy who is grieving the loss of his best friend and who welcomes the curious insects with open arms.

McGhee explores emotions in a way that speaks sincerely to young readers. Grief is real. Dreams are a worthy endeavor. And it's okay to worry. Scenes of Firefly Hollow seem to be lit from within, thanks to Denise's old-fashioned, jewel-toned paintings, so intriguing that they inspired this novel. --Cathy Berner, Blue Willow Bookshop

Discover: A charming middle-grade novel about a firefly, cricket, vole and boy who all dare to dream.

Atheneum/S&S, $16.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 8-12, 9781442423367

Bug in a Vacuum

by Mélanie Watt

In this gorgeous 96-page picture book for children and adults alike, Mélanie Watt (Scaredy Squirrel) follows a googly-eyed housefly on its looping path, straight into the maw of a vacuum cleaner. As the imprisoned bug contemplates its fate, it churns through the five stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, despair and acceptance.

"It was on top of the world when it happened. Its entire life changed with the switch of a button." Stage One is denial, and an aerosol can labeled "FINE AND DANDY DENIAL: WIPES OUT THE UGLY TRUTH" marks the first of the book's five chapters. "This is amazing!" says the fly-in-denial, surrounded by lint and the random Cheerio. A parallel plot tracks the family dachshund, Napoleon, who thinks the trapped fly's loud cries are those of his lost toy, also sucked up. As the fly confronts the next four stages of grief, so does Napoleon, in amusingly obvious thought-bubble hieroglyphics. In the fifth and final stage, "Acceptance," the fly vows to make the best of things and appreciate what it has. "Thanks for lending an ear, pal," it sighs, snuggling sleepily with the dog's toy. Is there light at the end of the vacuum-bag tunnel for both fly and toy?

The softly textured, earth-toned illustrations are both comical and visually arresting, capturing not only the wild, wooly world of a vacuum bag, but the hula-girl lamps and fuzzy toilet-seat covers of a midcentury-modern household. The abundant hilarious details throughout offer young eyes plenty to discover in repeat reads... if they can pry the book from the hands of nearby adults. --Jessica Bushore, former public librarian and freelance writer

Discover: Mélanie Watt's clever picture-book explores the five stages of grief, as experienced by a housefly that's sucked up in a vacuum cleaner.

Tundra Books/Random House Canada, $21.99, hardcover, 96p., ages 5-9, 9781770496453


Author Buzz

Dragon Kiss
(A Dragon Kings Novella)

by Donna Grant

Dear Reader,

Welcome back to the Dragon Kings! I'm thrilled to bring you DRAGON KISS. The world of the Dragon Kings keeps expanding, and this story brings us Alasdair and Lotti, a powerful couple who have overcome all odds to find love. But a deadly enemy intends to rip them apart.

I can't wait for you to fall in love with Alasdair and Lotti as I have.


Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Dragon Kiss (A Dragon Kings Novella) by Donna Grant

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 9, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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