Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, February 26, 2016

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

From My Shelf

Literary Hollywood

Bruce Wagner

With the Oscars near, we asked Bruce Wagner, author of the upcoming novel I Met Someone (Blue Rider Press, March 1, 2016) and the screenplay for Maps to the Stars (directed by David Cronenberg), about his favorite Hollywood book.

"Jean Stein's West of Eden [Random House, February 2016] is the best, most elegiac so-called Hollywood book I've read in a long, long while--like Weegee's warped, transcendent Tinseltown photographs, it delivers, though it's suffused by a wack Santa Ana lyricism that, while quaintly exotic to an outsider, is tender, melancholy and heartbreaking for those of us who grew up within its borders. The resulting mosaic is high-lit Dreamtown for real. And yet: a reviewer in the Guardian wrote, "What this bizarre material needs is the transforming touch of a real writer... you can only imagine what James Salter or Richard Yates would have done with the set-up. It could have been so much more." This, of an oral history! Madness. But critics have always lost it when it comes to assessing so-called literary Hollywood. They go goo-goo-ga-ga for Robert Stone's Children of Light and Zeroville but take a righteous p*** on the real thing.

"There's an extraordinary section about a schizophrenic gal whose Bel-Air shrink, Judd Marmor (who I tried to scam when I was in my 20s--another story), hired a roundelay of young men, including artist Ed Moses, to chaperone her at the family hovel on the Pacific Coast Highway. Like any native, I've worshipped at the sacred, scary Church of PCH all my life; if you're from this city, odds are you've had childhood friends who died on that highway (my middle school crush, Lewis Snyder) or known folks who've been crippled while crossing it (Ben Vereen). If you're of a certain age, you bring as much to this book as it brings to you. You can be younger too, and adopt a virtual, collective unconscious mythos-nostalgia--to wit, Lana Del Rey's mystic, soft Santa Ana obsession with Bel-Air, Malibu, Wilshire Boulevard.

"As a reader, you can be the more of 'so much more.' What a concept."

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

The Writer's Life

Theresa Rebeck: Passionate About Storytelling

photo: Monique Carboni

Theresa Rebeck came New York City to be a writer--and she's succeeded: she's won numerous awards, including a Peabody and an Edgar, and been nominated for a Pulitzer. Rebeck works in several media--she writes plays, screenplays (she created the NBC musical series Smash) and novels. Putnam released her novel I'm Glad About You on February 23. Like Rebeck, the novel's protagonist is a Cincinnati native who heads to New York for a career in show business, but as an actress. Alison leaves behind her high school sweetheart, Kyle, who has lofty goals of being a Doctor Without Borders and finds Alison's choice of profession beneath her.

A Midwestern girl, Alison receives rude awakenings in her pursuit of an acting career in New York City. What were you surprised by when you first came to New York and were starting out in the entertainment industry?

Show business has its own set of rules, and so does New York City. There's a kind of culture shock that sets in. The rules are idiosyncratic and a little rough in both environments, and you're constantly being told you have to "suck it up," because "if you can't stand the heat, you need to get out of the kitchen"--all sorts of idioms about having a thick skin. Of course, artists don't have thick skins at all. So I think Alison's early anxiety and depression is fairly common in her world.

Now that you're a veteran in the industry, how have your feelings changed toward those elements that used to surprise you?

I guess my feelings are a little more jaded. When things that used to shock me show up again and again--and they do--of course you develop a sense of "seen that, been there." I can still get disappointed by people behaving poorly. The psychological journey is definitely complicated over time. You have to learn how to dust your heart off.

How have you learned to do that?

Wow. It is not easy to do. You have to acknowledge the depth of your disappointment and then somehow absorb that into your whole self, and then stand up again and acknowledge you're a slightly different person now. I think you really have to constantly remind yourself to have compassion--toward others, certainly, but also toward yourself. Because the important thing, over time, is that you keep your curiosity and your love intact. Show business can be really hard on your heart and you don't want to get bitter. That's the end of everything.

I do things like read books or go to art museums. I read the Tao Te Ching. This is one of my favorite lines: "Do you honestly think you can improve the universe? I do not think it can be done." That doesn't mean, to me, that we shouldn't be passionate about justice and beauty and storytelling. I think the universe contains all that. But it does speak to an acceptance that helps me dust off my heart. 

Alison and Kyle begin with big dreams but have to compromise a lot along the way. Have you had to make compromises in your career?

One of the things you really have to learn is how to keep your mouth shut, which is hard for a storyteller. But there are a lot of hierarchies in show business. There's a complex and nuanced and kind of stupid power structure in place and a lot of people are more interested in that than anything. Sometimes you get stuck in a place where your choice seems to be getting noted to death or getting fired.

In the real world, a career in the arts is often considered frivolous, and arts programs are disappearing from schools. Having forged a successful career in the industry, what can you tell those interested in a similar path?

I think people should take the arts much more seriously. We all come out of the womb telling stories and drawing pictures and making music. Even playing dress-up is a form of art. I have no idea how the American culture convinced itself that the arts are dismissible in any way. There are so many studies that prove if war destroys the human spirit, it's the arts that renew it.

I think the idea that we are just here on this planet to make money is a ridiculous misunderstanding. So I don't know why people find the arts something to discourage. I think you may as well discourage people to breathe. Having said that, I do think we are in a very confused time, and people should celebrate arts education and stop acting like the arts are something we can do without. They are absolutely essential.

How does writing a novel differ from writing a play or script? Which medium is most challenging for you?

Writing a novel takes much more time; it is just more complex in every way. I think the simple reason for that is that [in theater] you're in community with a lot of people who are sharing in the task of telling the story. You have your actors and your designers and the producer and the director. Everyone carries a piece of the storytelling task. The playwright more or less provides the spark of inspiration and the sound of the words, but there are so many other people who provide the dimensionality of the thing itself.

In fiction, the writer is creating absolutely everything. Of course, you hopefully have a good editor to stand by your side and talk you off the ledge when you feel your nerve failing. But largely when writing a novel you are everything--every word, every place, every character, every move. It is an art form that fulfills itself.

The late Alan Rickman's last Broadway role was in your play Seminar. What was it like to work with him?

Alan was a consummate artist and a brilliant man and a truly kind and generous friend. He held himself to high standards and he held us all there with him. It is a terrible loss. I'm glad to have him in my head, expecting things from me. It was certainly an unparalleled privilege to know him and work with him.

What are you working on now?

I'm directing a play in a hotel room of all places. I'm also prepping a movie that shoots in April and May. I do have another novel in my head, which I'm anxious to start writing, but for the next few months it will have to wait. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Book Candy

The Bookish Oscars

"As you settle in to watch the 2016 Academy Awards [on Sunday], remember: if it wasn't for books, there wouldn't be nearly as many movies!" Quirk Books wrote in exploring "which authors dominate movies and TV." And Bustle considered "13 thoughts you have when seeing your favorite book on the big screen."


"Welcome to the world of library bars," Paste wrote. "Booze and books just go together."


For many of us, winter is still here: Author Ian McGuire recommended his "top 10 Arctic novels" for the Guardian, noting that the "stark extremes of this forbidding territory have provided a brilliant setting for writers from Mary Shelley to Alistair MacLean."


"Please. If you need something fixed send me a text, not a bird." The Setup Wizard is a Tumblr that offers "daily accounts of a Muggle I.T. guy working at Hogwarts."


Cottage Life's selection of "awesome reading nooks will make you want to curl up with a good book."

Great Reads

Rediscover: War and Peace

Despite its place in the pantheon of world literature, shockingly few people have actually read Leo Tolstoy's epic War and Peace. That is, until the BBC's new miniseries adaptation, in which Paul Dano, James Norton and Lily James play Russian aristocrats grappling with Napoleon's invasion, made the book a bestseller for the first time ever, at least in the U.K. The series aired in the U.S. on A&E, Lifetime and the History Channel in January. It is available on Blu-ray and digital download from the BBC.

War and Peace has been translated into English many times since its 1869 publication. Constance Garnett (1904) was the longtime standard, as was Aylmer and Louise Maude (1922–23), recently supplanted by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (2007). On April 1, Trafalgar Square Publishing will distribute a miniseries tie-in edition ($14.95, 9781849908467) of the Maude translation in the U.S., where, perhaps, Tolstoy's masterpiece might also grace bestseller lists. --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


Why They Run the Way They Do: Stories

by Susan Perabo

The stories in Why They Run the Way They Do vary in length and style and subject, but each one illuminates (in ways both large and small) the many unexpected challenges life can throw into one's way. In the opening story, "The Payoff," two young girls blackmail their school president after learning he is sleeping with their art teacher, never understanding the implications of their actions. "Life Off My E," the story of two divorced sisters living together as adults, explores the ways in which love and family can shape a person. A woman considers the last days spent with her dying mother, chain-smoking cigarettes and reminiscing, in "Indulgence"; "A Proper Burial" portrays one man's outsized grief at the loss of his dog.

"As it turned out, you could never really tell what the next day of your life would bring. Most of the time even the weathermen were wrong about tomorrow." This thread weaves through every page of Susan Perabo's stories: If tomorrow is in question, what must we make of today? How does the present fit into the context of the past and of the future? In the midst of these large and soul-searching questions, Perabo (The Broken Places) probes the nature of storytelling itself, with small moments that play at breaking the fourth wall to acknowledge the positions of author and reader along the way. With sharp prose and a knack for presenting the poignant in the midst of the banal, Perabo has proved herself a writer of utmost talent. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: Perabo's collection of short stories reflects on the challenges--large and small--that life can throw at us.

Simon & Schuster, $24, hardcover, 9781476761435

A Doubter's Almanac

by Ethan Canin

In his mesmerizing A Doubter's Almanac, Ethan Canin (America America) uses the gifts of mathematical genius, passed down from one generation to the next, as a window into a father-son story.

As a boy growing up in a remote part of Northern Michigan, Milo Andret gave little thought to his mathematical gifts. It is the 1960s, and the pleasures around him--drugs, drinking, love--exert their appeal. He loses the love of his life to a rival who uses his own mathematical skills to land a lucrative job on Wall Street. Milo takes a position at Princeton, but he is an uncompromising and occasionally injudicious man, whose worsening alcoholism results in his eventual dismissal. He returns to the Midwest to teach at a small, third-tier college, with his wife, Helena, and children Paulette and Hans in tow.

Then the novel shifts perspective and becomes Hans's. He and Paulette have inherited their father's genius, but unlike Milo, Hans uses his talents on Wall Street and becomes impossibly wealthy. Like his father, he has struggled with addiction. After a leave of absence to care for his ailing father, he is forced out of his job and becomes a teacher in a small upstate town. Hans's preoccupation now is to know his father, to understand their love for each other, despite their inability to express it.

Canin's writing is lucid and beautiful, with moments of high lyricism punctuating the storytelling. Mathematical logic becomes as intriguing as academic politics. Rich with thought-provoking themes, A Doubter's Almanac realizes its considerable ambitions. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: This intriguing multi-generational novel takes on mathematical logic, the mixed blessings of genius and the love between fathers and sons.

Random House, $28, hardcover, 9781400068265

The Opposite of Everyone

by Joshilyn Jackson

In The Opposite of Everyone, Joshilyn Jackson (Gods in Alabama, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty) revives a familiar place and character. Paula Vauss, a minor player in Someone Else's Love Story, is now front and center when she receives a cryptic message from her estranged and itinerant mother. Kai has always marched to her own tune, mixing Southern folklore and Indian mysticism. But now she is dying, and Paula, a fiercely independent divorce lawyer in Atlanta, must come to terms with the shocking surprise Kai has revealed in her final letter.

Exploring the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters and the sad reality of so many abandoned girls in the foster care system, The Opposite of Everyone is completely gripping. Paula's rigid beliefs about justice and loyalty (which don't always conform to society's rules), and her brusque manner of standing up for herself, make her an extremely enjoyable character. As Paula struggles to untangle her mother's legends from the facts and is forced to confront many memories from her childhood in a new light, readers will eagerly root for her to solve the mystery Kai has left behind.

Jackson's writing is elaborate, pointed and poetic, and it's easy to imagine the dialogue being drawled over a glass of sweet tea. Her ability to weave such disparate themes as Indian gods, ugly divorces, small-time pot growers and racial injustice in the South into a comprehensive and beautiful narrative is truly impressive. The Opposite of Everyone is a book to be devoured quickly, and then reread and savored. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A tough divorce lawyer must face shocking secrets from her childhood when she receives a cryptic message from her dying mother.

William Morrow, $26.99, hardcover, 9780062105684

The Witches of Cambridge

by Menna van Praag

Hiding in plain sight among the spires of Cambridge University--or occasionally floating above them--is a group of women (and one man) with unusual gifts. Heloise and her daughter, Amandine; sisters Kat and Cosima; and their friend George often use their magical gifts to smooth out sticky situations. Menna van Praag's sixth novel, The Witches of Cambridge, touches on love, grief, the dark power of secrets and the healing properties of friendship and trust.

Amandine is able to sense people's feelings, but not the reasons behind their emotions. When she meets art student Noa, whose gift is seeing people's secrets (but whose curse is blurting them out), Amandine hopes Noa can help her discover why her husband is so distant lately. Meanwhile, Cosima, desperate for a baby, mixes up some magical pastries to attract a potential father. When George falls under Cosima's spell, and Noa is seduced by a handsome artist with a hidden agenda, the other witches must use all their powers, magical and otherwise, to help their friends find their way again.

Van Praag (The House at the End of Hope Street) tells her story with a light touch, tossing in spells and the names of deities the way Cosima sprinkles magical herbs into her desserts. While the magic is inconsistent, the setting is charming, and the witches themselves (especially wise, thoughtful Heloise) are appealing characters. Readers who enjoy lighthearted novels with a gentle dash of magical realism will find The Witches of Cambridge a treat. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Menna van Praag explores love, grief, friendship and magic in her whimsical sixth novel, The Witches of Cambridge.

Ballantine, $16, paperback, 9780804179003

And After Many Days

by Jowhor Ile

As Jowhor Ile's debut novel, And After Many Days, opens, 17-year-old Paul Utu leaves his home in the city of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, to visit a neighborhood friend. When night falls and he still hasn't returned, his mother and father mask their unease with optimism, assuring themselves he'll be back any minute, or at least by morning.

Paul fails to appear the next day or the day after that, leaving his parents and his younger siblings--brother Ajie and sister Bibi--in a state of disbelief and confusion. "They sensed something had gone wrong, but it was new, whatever it was, so no one knew how to hold it properly." The exemplary firstborn, Paul had never given his parents a reason to worry.

Rather than unfolding And After Many Days as a traditional narrative, the chapters are vignette-like. Together they create a portrait of a loving family. The day of Paul's disappearance dawns like any other, with no hint of the disastrous turn it will take.

Outside the Utus' happy home is a country with a tumultuous legacy of political and social strife--corrupt officials pocketing bribes, flare-ups between ethnic communities, riots, student demonstrations and false arrests. A native of Nigeria, Ile draws on real-life history and events to create a searing tale that juxtaposes the greater landscape of a nation in turmoil with one family's personal loss, rendered through characters that are distinct yet familiar. At the novel's heart is a universality that transcends time and place: the loss of a child and the wrenching toll it takes on the loved ones left with the unfillable void. --Shannon McKenna Schmidt

Discover: Set in Nigeria, this impressive debut novel is beautifully written and infused with an element of mystery that keeps pace throughout the story.

Tim Duggan Books, $25, hardcover, 9781101903148

Cities I've Never Lived in: Stories

by Sara Majka

In an arresting first collection, Sara Majka assembles a host of familiar strangers, outsiders drifting around society's edges who suggest that all people have the same basic needs and desires.

Many of the stories here share a common narrator, a young woman rebuilding her life after a recent divorce. While some selections focus on her life, more frequently she relates the anecdotes of acquaintances and past friends rather than her own direct experiences. In "Reverón's Dolls," she reminisces about the immediate aftermath of her divorce, recalling several moves and observing, "It's hard to talk about love. It's as if it closes when we're not experiencing it and becomes impossible to recall."

Looking for love, home, purpose or escape, Majka's protagonists speak to the heart through her wise yet unadorned voice. Her economy with words can lull the reader and make it seem her stories are uncomplicated. Moments later, though, she drops an observation that lands like a stone on the soul, such as this one from a soup kitchen: "I thought that those few people passing out food--with their hands in little plastic gloves, and their cross behind them--should not be our major defense against this kind of poverty; as a defense it felt hopeful, frail, and largely hidden." Abruptly, one realizes Majka has the rare ability to be simultaneously straightforward and complicated, simple and subtle. Finishing the collection produces a feeling akin to leaving a dream state; half-remembered impressions will make you long to slip back into its fragile beauty. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Precision, beauty and reality meld in Sara Majka's captivating stories, which feature characters who live on society's fringes.

Graywolf Press, $16, paperback, 9781555977313

The Beautiful Possible

by Amy Gottlieb

In postwar New York City, Sol Kerem is a serious rabbinical student, poring over Talmudic texts and preparing to marry the beautiful, whip-smart Rosalie Wachs. A rabbi's daughter, Rosalie longs to take her place as Sol's domestic and intellectual equal. Both Sol's and Rosalie's lives are irrevocably changed when Walter Westhaus arrives at the seminary. In her debut novel, The Beautiful Possible, Amy Gottlieb traces the intricate braiding together of three lives.

A German Jew whose fiancée and father were murdered by the Nazis, Walter spent the war years in India, until an American mystic convinced him to emigrate to the U.S. A misfit among the rabbinical students, Walter nevertheless becomes Sol's chavrusa (study partner) and, eventually, Rosalie's lover. Over the next several decades, Walter builds an academic career in California, and Sol and Rosalie lead a suburban synagogue and raise their children. But the three of them remain connected, with powerful and far-reaching consequences.

Gottlieb tells her story in evocative prose, juxtaposing vivid physical details (like Walter's green Indian kurta) with unsolvable riddles of faith. Her three protagonists toss mystical phrases back and forth, less interested in answers than in the process of intellectual wrestling. Walter gives the book's clearest definition of belief, calling it a "messy brew of imposed grace." Gottlieb's story is also messy, but it glimmers with moments of hope. Like the characters, The Beautiful Possible is "a little bit broken and a little bit radiant--often both at the same time." --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: The lives of a young rabbi, his wife and a German Jew turned mystic become irrevocably intertwined in postwar New York City.

Harper Perennial, $15.99, paperback, 9780062383365

Mystery & Thriller

The Widow

by Fiona Barton

The Widow, Fiona Barton's debut, is a complex psychological thriller that probes the depths of a terrible crime and the lasting impact it has had on all of them.

The novel opens on the recently widowed Jean Taylor, who has just lost her husband to a terrible bus accident. Reporters want to hear her story and her thoughts on losing her husband, but Jean knows she cannot tell them the truth. To Jean's surprise, the police claim that Glen has not only been downloading child pornography in their home, they believe he's responsible for the disappearance of two-year-old Bella Elliott--though they can't quite prove it. Yet.

The majority of The Widow is told through Jean's first-person narration, but Barton has expertly woven other perspectives into the novel. There is the story of Bob Sparkes, the detective assigned to the Bella Elliott case from the outset, and his determination to find the missing child. There is the story of Dawn Elliott, Bella's mother, whose voice lends an added layer of desperation and sadness to the novel. And there is the perspective of Kate Waters, a journalist determined to score an exclusive interview with Jean Taylor.

While each of the secondary characters in Barton's novel feels real and fully imagined, it is Kate's thread that proves most nuanced and interesting--not surprising, given Barton's decades-long career in journalism. All of this makes The Widow successful psychological suspense that combines probing questions about the human psyche with masterful plotting and sharply drawn characters whose dark secrets waver in the public eye. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: The Widow is a thriller that explores how secrets can tear people apart--and bring them together.

New American Library, $26, hardcover, 9781101990261

Travel Literature

Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka

by John Gimlette

Sri Lanka, off the coast of India, is an island of "consistently lovely landscapes: the gorgeous sprawl of lagoons and 'gobbs,' the fantasy rivers and the hills so green they seem to glow with their own internal light," writes John Gimlette. After spending three months criss-crossing the country, from its sandy beaches to its dense interior where he was warned of the numerous ways he might die (including "scorpions, landmines, rabies, marauding elephants and--of course--serpents"), Gimlette has collected his thoughts into a kaleidoscope of personal, cultural and historical perspectives.

Readers learn about Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war and its devastating effects on the people and land; about its elephants, crocodiles and other dangerous fauna; and about more than 500 years of the island's history, as the Portuguese, British and other rulers injected their religions and cultures into the lives of Sri Lanka's indigenous people. From ancient temples tucked away on the tops of mountains to the splendor of hillsides covered in tea or cinnamon trees, Gimlette describes the beauty of this island paradise, but he also shares its unfortunate side. He discusses the hundreds of thousands of landmines that pock the landscape, maiming and killing many long after the end of the war; the terrible traffic in Colombo, where pedestrian deaths are a daily norm; and the sexual slave trade prevalent in parts of the country, where young boys are the preferred commodity. Thoroughly researched, Elephant Complex gives insight into Sri Lanka like no other book. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: The varied cultures and landscapes of Sri Lanka are revealed in this detailed memoir of one man's travels on the island.

Knopf, $28.95, hardcover, 9780385351270


Time Will Clean the Carcass Bones: Selected and New Poems

by Lucia Perillo

Time Will Clean the Carcass Bones gathers a cross-section of old and new poems by Lucia Perillo (On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths). Drawn from her six previous collections written over 30 years, it underscores the eclectic range, wit and sensibility of this fine poet who, surprisingly, came to poetry after an early career in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A current of darkness and decay flows within several poems, such as "White Bird/Black Drop," where she juxtaposes a botulism epidemic among California snowy egrets with the opium-addicted life of Samuel Coleridge "wandering/ the upland stoned out of his head" and a leather-jacketed bus rider "dozing, hunched into his collar... hunched into his wrecked good looks." But Perillo also joyfully embraces the chaos of life--like her father's advice for snow driving: "when everything goes to hell the worst you can do/ is hit the brakes," or the instinct-driven salmon swimming upstream to spawn: "They get their discipline from the current/ and go crazy in the calm." In "Twenty-Five Thousand Volts per Inch," she even takes a poke at herself in wilder days: "And we could not bear to miss the jam band from our youth,/ which we feared discovering lacked talent and looked foolish/ in their caveman belt buckles and leather hats."

It's good to see Perillo's sweeping talent displayed in one diverse and rewarding collection. As she notices in a poem with the book's eponymous title, "the bones may have the beauty but the meat/ the better story." Her work has plenty of bones--but even more meat. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: This selection of poems illustrates Lucia Perillo's wit, range and down-to-earth sensibility.

Copper Canyon Press, $23, hardcover, 9781556594731

Children's & Young Adult

Ida Always

by Caron Levis, illus. by Charles Santoso

Gus, a polar bear who lives in "a big park in the middle of an even bigger city," always spends his days with his polar-bear friend Ida. Always. The two friends toss the ball, splash each other, chase and race. But one day Ida isn't there to play with Gus: "He heard her breathing, coughing, snoring" over by her cave. He waits patiently for her in their sunniest spot: "Snow monkeys and taxicabs screeched. Ice-cream trucks jingled. Still Ida didn't come." When Sonya the zookeeper tells Gus that Ida is sick and will die, Gus rushes to his friend. " 'Don't go,' he growled. 'Don't go, don't go... DON'T!' " Ida and Gus spend her last days wondering where she'll be after she dies, and whether she'll still be able to smell Gus's fishy breath: "There were growling days/ and laughing days/ and days that mixed them up."

Caron Levis (Stuck with the Blooz) was inspired to write Ida Always by a real pair of polar bears in New York City's Central Park Zoo, and in an honest and upfront manner, she gracefully reflects the complicated emotions of not only dealing with loss afterward, but living with the dying. In Levis's soothing narrative, Ida will always be with Gus, because, as Ida told him, "You don't have to see it to feel it." The polar bears are sweetly and expressively drawn, and the sky, clouds, shadows, sunshine and rain in Australian illustrator Charles Santoso's (I Don't Like Koala) softly luminous digital paintings all beautifully mirror the story's joy and sadness. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Based on two real Central Park Zoo polar bears, Ida Always is the moving story of Gus who loves, and mourns, his dear friend Ida.

Atheneum, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781481426404

Kill the Boy Band

by Goldy Moldavsky

Beware, celebrities: thanks to social media, "the fangirls of today are a way more sophisticated bunch." The U.K. boy band the Ruperts, a reality-TV generated group that plays "catchy, mindless pop," is worshipped by Strepurs (Ruperts backwards), fangirls who "go the extra mile": they write fics (fanfiction), tweet death threats at each other and always wear their favorite Rupert's perfume. When four 15-year-old Strepurs accidentally kidnap one of the Ruperts while stalking the band at a hotel in Manhattan, they can't agree on what to do with him. Chillingly, they soon find that the decision has been made for them in the worst possible way, testing their fandom as well as their friendships.

In debut author Goldy Moldavsky's Kill the Boy Band, the unnamed narrator focuses less on consequences and more on why boy bands and the girls who love them are so important--and how the obsession itself is "an escape from the suckiness of everyday life." The satirical, shockingly grisly story of extreme fandom gone bad is laden with lingo (cray, fic, YOLO), peppered with profanity and fresh as a Tumblr post while lurching between best-friend teasing and mean-girl cruelty. The girls are cold, crass and cruel, but the Ruperts aren't much better. Not all teens will be ready for the intensity of the Strepurs or the story, but older teens and adults who love Heathers will be delighted. --Stephanie Anderson, assistant director for public services, Darien Library (Conn.)

Discover: Killing the Boy Band is a deliciously dark take on celebrity and the power of teenage girls.

Point/Scholastic, $17.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 15-up, 9780545867474

Pink Is for Blobfish: Discovering the World's Perfectly Pink Animals

by Jess Keating, illus. by David DeGrand

Zoologist Jess Keating (How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied) teams up with cartoonist David DeGrand and a slew of top-notch photographers to break the color pink out of its princess-y, poodle-y prison.

Pink is for bubble gum and ballet slippers, sure, but it's also for blobfish, pinktoe tarantulas, pygmy seahorses, Amazon river dolphins, pink fairy armadillos, southern blind snakes, naked mole rats, dragon millipedes and nine more unusual creatures in Pink Is for Blobfish. A crisp photograph of each pink animal is accompanied by a brief, lively description and fun facts. The blobfish page, for instance, states that the blobfish is made of gelatinous goo that "allows them to lazily drift through the ocean like bloated pink balloons." A cartoon blobfish donning a tiara and a "World's Ugliest Animal" sash sits atop the "Pretty in Pink?" caption that helpfully points out that blobfish don't have mirrors, so aren't bothered by their "less-than-cute faces." A column of facts--name, species name, size, diet, habitat, predators and threats--rounds out each animal profile.

Trivia buffs will be asking their friends, "Did you know that hippos ooze a thick pink oil to protect themselves from sunburn?" "Did you know that naked mole rat colonies are led by a single queen, the only one who has babies?" "Did you know that roseate spoonbills are pink because they eat pink shrimp?" (Here, DeGrand's goofy cartoon shows a pink spoonbill with her beak buried in a Chinese take-out container.) A map and glossary are the pink icing on the pink cake. It's clearly time to rethink pink, people. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Pink is not just for princesses, it's for blobfish, pink fairy armadillos and naked mole rats.

Knopf, $16.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 5-8, 9780553512274


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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