Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, April 12, 2016

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

From My Shelf

Amanda Quick: Gothic Vibe

On April 19, Berkley will release 'Til Death Do Us Part, to the delight of perennial bestseller Amanda Quick's legion of fans. In Quick's latest Victorian romance, Calista Langley operates an introduction agency, helping eligible ladies and gentlemen meet respectably in a chaperoned environment, for a fee. Of her heroine's profession, Quick says, "I loved the idea of creating a 19th-century version of an online matchmaking service. It would be a tricky business to navigate because maintaining an aura of respectability would be the key to success.... The smallest misstep could destroy her."

Amanda Quick, aka Jayne Ann Krentz (photo: Mark von Borstel)

However, a deranged secret admirer keeps sending Calista grotesque gifts meant for mourners. "[N]obody did mourning better than the Victorians," says Quick, adding that she took her inspiration from "the whole gothic vibe--madness, obsession and the Victorian fascination with the rituals associated with death and funerals." Luckily, Calista meets Trent Hastings, an irascible detective novelist, who offers to help track down the sender before threats turn to violence. When asked about Trent's cynicism about his career, Quick says, "Writers are absolutely brilliant when it comes to whining about the business and, judging by the letters and notes left behind by many 19th-century authors, nothing has changed."

Certainly Quick knows a thing or two about the writing business. As many readers are aware, Amanda Quick is one of Jayne Ann Krentz's two active pseudonyms; she also writes sci-fi romance under the name Jayne Castle. She confesses, "I never set out to have three careers, trust me. For the record, I do not recommend multiple pen names to aspiring writers." What's next for her other personas? "Illusion Town (written as Jayne Castle) will be out this summer. It's one of my futuristic/paranormal books set on the planet Harmony. And I just turned in the manuscript for my next Jayne Ann Krentz title, When All the Girls Have Gone. It's a contemporary, twisty thriller." --Jacki Fulwood

The Writer's Life

James McBride: All Music Comes from the Same Place

photo: Chia Messina

James McBride has written memoir (the acclaimed The Color of Water), fiction (most recently, The Good Lord Bird, a National Book Award winner), screenplays (Red Hook Summer, with Spike Lee), and documentaries (The Process), along with journalism. He's a musician, a father and a biographer. His latest book, Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for the Real James Brown (Spiegel & Grau), is less a biography than a meditation on the intersection of his own life, the cultural and racial significance of superstar James Brown, and the American character as shaped by popular music and culture. See our review below.

You grew up next to James Brown, right?

My family moved to Queens when I was about eight, maybe. So I used to see his house all the time. He was a long way from my house, but I had a friend who lived right down the street. Sometimes groups of us would cross the railroad tracks, which was a dangerous piece of business, but you'd go to see James Brown's house and maybe he would come out.

You've got that story in there about your sister.

Yeah, my sister. My sister, Dotty, yeah. That was a great story.

Her stock went up after [she saw James Brown] quite a bit. I mean he was really admired when I was a boy. He was almost a civil rights figure. He epitomized so much about our community that seemed so special because he was always about pride and hard work. He just represented so much that was positive. He was someone that you wanted to emulate because he just had this great talent, but he also had this great philosophy, which was even one of his songs--"I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door, I'll Get It Myself)." So that whole business of work and work ethic, and moral soundness, and all those things--they really represented that for a lot of people in my era.

What did James Brown represent?

He represented the pride and pain of the African American community at a time when it was voiceless. But it resonated with a lot of people because they understand what that's like to be arrested, or to be accused of something, or to fall short. Forgiveness is a big part of the Christian experience in the black community; in any community, really. In New York--I'm speaking to you from the basement of the church because I run this program--there are lots of people coming to this church (and other churches) that have all kinds of really complicated, horrible problems. But the church is a place for forgiveness and so is the community that [Brown] represented. It was, and to some degree still is, a community that understands that no one's perfect and there is some pain in life for everyone, including the stars among us, meaning James Brown.

His life was really a metaphor for African American life in general, I think.

That's how this book reads to me. It's not a James Brown thing. It's a race thing.

It's sad that it's a race thing because ultimately the people who are suffering now as a result of this race problem are the poor children in South Carolina and Georgia because of his estate and the way his estate is being manhandled. [Editor's note: factions of Brown's family have contested his desire to give away most of his estate to underprivileged youth; the money has now dwindled to a fraction of its former amount, with most of it going to lawyers and none of it to poor kids.] But more than that, he really did have a sensitivity for African American life and for poor people. That's unusual. I mean he had a real feeling for them as opposed to just some of this cursory What are we going to do about the poor? And he'd do a concert to raise money for someone or something like that. He was really committed to the idea of equality for all people.

I agree. Why do you think that is?

I think in part because of his background. And in part because of his understanding that the community he came from produced a tremendous amount from which he got very little remuneration. As an artist, he experienced the change that happened in the music business, as his music was used to power other careers. It's an old story, and it's a sad story. There seems to be no end to it. I'm used to seeing and hearing about jazz musicians who died in relative obscurity and poverty and so forth, but I never thought that the beast of the American intellectual show business machine would swallow someone like James Brown whole. I never thought that could happen. But, indeed, it has.

I think our culture just eats up whatever it can. Whatever it can digest, and it can digest an awful lot.

What do we do with the innovators in our society who create these great cultural movements? It seems we absorb them and then we just spit out the shell and we go onto the next one, a new artist, with industrial strength efficiency. Churning it out into a sort of a cheap spread for your toast and on we go. That's dangerous because a lot of what you leave behind when you leave your music through a legacy, when you leave the lines of it in the gutter, you leave a lot of stuff behind. That's part of the reason I wrote the book--because James Brown was bigger than music. He was about American culture and what American culture represented, inclusive of African American life.

I'm so tired of talking about race. I really would like to change the subject.

How do you change the conversation? What's the conversation you would have if you ran the world? 

I'm talking to you from the basement of my church in Brooklyn. Every Thursday and every Saturday, I'm here teaching kids music. Music teaches you how to think. It teaches you how to process thoughts. It teaches you how to fail. It teaches you cumulative learning. It teaches you team work. So, I only want to talk solution. I no longer burn up a whole lot of ink talking about the problems because we all know what the problems are. I think individually, each of us needs to do something to collectively move America forward in a positive way. To his credit, despite the horrible things that he did in his life and some of the horrible things that happened to him in his life, one of the things that I really found most impressive about James Brown was at the end of his life, he knew he had done wrong, and he really tried to correct in a big way. How many of us can say that?

James Brown is one of the great cultural innovators of our time. He really, really created entire categories of music that we divvy up now and call it this and we call it that. We label it funk. We label it easy listening. We label it smooth jazz. James Brown had an enormous effect, he cut trails for a lot of that stuff (and his band as well). They got very little credit for that.

You talk a little bit about solutions. What are your solutions?

Well, look. Musicians understand what James Brown was. You don't have to explain to a musician who James Brown was and what the importance of African American music and its development--you just don't. My 14-year-old son takes organ from a Jewish guy who plays the hell out of the organ, man. He's a great player.

He's just a bad cat, and he understands the history, so he's telling my son the history of the instrument. And I don't care--if my house is on fire, my children are in it, and I don't care who brings me water. I'm going to say that. That's really what we have to do with our children. We have to teach them that this music is about our collective history. If they don't know their music, if they don't understand the collective history of American music, then they're missing out on being whole. There's no difference in my opinion from a gutter in Vienna in 1790 and a gutter in West Virginia and a gutter in Harlem. There's no difference. The music comes from the same place. It's about showing respect for the history of the music because the history of the music is what binds us. I think that's really James Brown's greatest legacy if you have to put it in a nutshell. He tries to bind us together in his own awkward, horribly crippled fashion. He tried to bind us together, and our collective response has not been good. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Book Candy

Start Enjoying Summer Reading Now

It's not too early to dream: Bustle gathered "20 quotes about summer from books to help you count down until beach days."


Nice tatt, Antoine. Quirk Books featured "gorgeous tattoos" inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince to celebrate the U.S. theatrical release of a new 3D stop-motion animated version of the classic novel.


Iva-Marie Palmer explained "how visiting my local library makes me a better parent" at Brightly.


Election year reading: Signature suggested "6 books for everyone threatening to move to Canada."


A George Orwell statue "will soon take up position among the fellow smokers lurking outside the new main entrance of the BBC headquarters in London," according to the Guardian.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Beverly Cleary

Beverly Cleary

Beloved children's and YA author Beverly Cleary turns 100 today. The milestones of her long life are striking. Her characters Henry Huggins, his dog Ribsy, Henry's friend Beatrice "Beezus" Quimby and Beatrice's little sister, Ramona, have appeared in dozens of titles since 1950. The Ramona Quimby series, the Henry Huggins series and the adventures of Ralph S. Mouse in the Mouse and the Motorcycle series have sold more than 91 million copies worldwide. Cleary won the 1981 National Book Award for Ramona and Her Mother, the 1984 Newbery Medal for Dear Mr. Henshaw, a National Medal of Arts in 2003 and recognition as a Library of Congress Living Legend.

As a first grader, Cleary struggled with reading, but by third grade she had caught up to her classmates, thanks in part to a helpful school librarian. She became a children's librarian after college, but had a difficult time recommending books to students who, like herself at that age, found many children's books unappealing. So she followed her sixth grade teacher's advice and wrote her own books for children, with characters and situations young people could relate to, often incorporating elements of Cleary's own childhood experiences. She has been writing fiction since the 1950 publication of Henry Huggins, and has written two autobiographies: A Girl from Yamhill (1998) and My Own Two Feet (1995). Happy birthday! --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


Everything I Found on the Beach

by Cynan Jones

Cynan Jones's (The DigEverything I Found on the Beach is a remarkable novel, quiet but powerful. Three unacquainted men on the west coast of Wales aspire to better their respective circumstances, and to that end make a series of decisions that have dire consequences. Patient pacing accompanies a relentless momentum, moving toward an ending that inspires dread.

Hold is a Welsh fisherman, consumed by his sense of responsibility. He is devoted to the wife and son of his recently deceased best friend; Hold made a promise to this friend that worries him constantly. Grzegorz is a Polish immigrant who brought his family to Wales for a better life but found disappointment. He works shifts at a slaughterhouse whose practices offend him. Finally, there is Stringer, Irish and a middleman in a criminal hierarchy that he feels has taken advantage of him for too long. These men find potential solutions to their problems in a scene on the beach: a boat, a dead man and a package.

Jones's writing is deceptively simple, belying his poetic mastery of language: "The first time he ever shot rabbits he was alone and it was with a shotgun and he had been looking for a long time...." His tone is deliberate, resolutely unexcitable despite the extraordinarily high stakes of his story.

Such a bleak story and austere style may sound gloomy, and it is true that this is a serious book that rewards careful reading. But Everything I Found on the Beach is also thought-provoking and somehow uplifting, in its beautiful, artistic consideration of life itself. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This profound, simply and poetically told story tells of three men longing to catch a break, against a desolate backdrop.

Coffee House Press, $15.95, paperback, 9781566894364

Jane Two

by Sean Patrick Flanery

Actor Sean Patrick Flanery captures the essence and angst of a teenaged boy's life in his first novel, Jane Two. This authentic coming-of-age story is told through the wholly masculine, first-person perspective of Mickey, who looks back at his formative years in Houston, Tex., when he was tucked inside the cocoon of small-town family life, tumultuous schoolyard bullies and friends, and also captivated by first love.

Flanery opens the novel with Mickey on his first day of sixth grade in the 1970s. Mickey is determined to retrieve a pair of sneakers--an "unpatriotic eyesore"--thrown and looped over the flagpole on school grounds. The shoes belong to an enigmatic girl, Jane, who lives in a house behind Mickey's family. A transplant to town, Jane becomes the object of Mickey's affection--and also a muse and catalyst for his ideas, secrets and dreams. The only way for Mickey to express his true feelings is to write and mail letters to Jane, which are regularly returned to him--unopened. Mickey continues to send the notes anyway--they become a way a life, a means of therapy--until he eventually sets off for college and later, to work in California.

When Mickey returns home in the mid-1990s to attend a friend's wedding, he is confronted with Jane--and his insecurities and emotions--all over again. Flanery brings the 1970s to robust life, with Pontiac Firebirds, Converse sneakers and eight-track players blasting Lynyrd Skynyrd, in this tearjerker. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: An unrequited love--and a series of returned love letters--shapes one man's life.

Center Street, $26, hardcover, 9781455539437


by Jean Giono, trans. by Paul Eprile

Hill, Jean Giono's first novel, won the Prix Brentano in 1929 and has been newly translated into English by Paul Eprile. Focused on the conflict between humans and nature in a tiny French village, the story's imagery and atmosphere offer a thrilling, disturbing, visceral experience in an unassuming package.

A small Provençal hamlet known as the Bastides Blanches (the White Houses), or simply the Bastides, has been for some time slouching back toward a state of nature. In these crumbling houses now live four families comprising a dozen residents--plus one, a mute vagabond they call Gagou, "who throws off the reckoning." The eldest resident, an old man named Janet, falls ill, takes to his bed, and here the troubles begin: an ill omen is noted, the town's water supply runs dry, and the surrounding landscape takes on a sinister cast. Janet begins to speak in tongues, and "in the old man's talk there are chasms where untold powers rumble." The men of the village meet to strategize as the natural world encircling the Bastides advances.

Hill runs just over 100 pages, but its impact is powerful. Giono sketches his characters sparingly. The character of Gagou presents ominous questions that are left unanswered: Are his differences malevolent, or merely another force of nature? The individualities of human characters are not the point; instead, this story is about the shape of the world, the breadth and agency of nature independent of humankind. Eprile's translation emphasizes language and a brooding tone. The result is a curious, intriguing novel of wind, earth, water and fire, both threatening and luminous. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This slim French novel in a new translation pits humankind against the natural world in moody, lyrical prose.

New York Review Books, $14, paperback, 9781590179185

Miller's Valley

by Anna Quindlen

Few authors portray the emotional landscape of the American family as sympathetically as Anna Quindlen. Her eighth novel, Miller's Valley, is Mary Margaret Miller's story, as a daughter, wife and mother in the rural Pennsylvania town that shares her name.

The novel opens with the adult Mary and her mother joining their neighbors at a town meeting, where an official pressures the people to accept a government plan to flood their region. After the brief prologue, the novel follows "Mimi," beginning in childhood and into years beyond the first scene, with the specter of the dam looming. The Miller's Valley townspeople carry on, resisting and eventually dealing with the impending obliteration of their land. But like a "drowned town," many truths about the families in Miller's Valley lie hidden.

Mary's parents don't have much time to ponder the town's fate. "My mother was a nurse and my father was a fix-it man. But if they'd ever applied for passports, which they never did, where it asked for profession they probably would have written 'farmer.' " Obedient and studious, Mary earns college scholarships, but postpones her plans when her reckless, charismatic brother returns from Vietnam with a self-destructive volatility, and her beloved dad suffers a stroke. Confused by first love and family loyalty, Mary nevertheless pursues her dream of studying science, and comes back to Miller's Valley as a respected professional.

Quindlen captures an era with spot-on detail--roadside sweet corn stands, white patent shoes, local beer from cans--as well as the timeless themes of family love and controversial government edicts. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: Anna Quindlen's novel of a doomed rural Pennsylvania community is told following the life of a sympathetic local woman.

Random House, $28, hardcover, 9780812996081

Keep Me Posted

by Lisa Beazley

Lisa Beazley draws a keen-eyed, entertaining portrait of sisterhood in the age of social media in her debut novel, Keep Me Posted. Cassie and Sid Sunday have always adored one another, but they've grown apart in recent years. Sid is living the glamorous expat life in Singapore, while Cassie struggles to find a moment of peace as a New York City-dwelling mom of twins. Over Christmas at their parents' house, they make a pact to reconnect by exchanging snail-mail letters for a year.

Narrated by Cassie, the book intersperses letters written by both sisters with scenes from Cassie's increasingly harried life in Manhattan. Thrilled by her sense of renewed closeness to Sid and pleased to have a project, Cassie scans the letters onto her computer to save them for posterity. But when a technical glitch causes the letters to end up on the Internet, the sisters' relationship, and other aspects of their lives, may be in serious jeopardy.

Beazley's breezy, welcoming writing style draws readers right in, and her evocation of the bond between Sid and Cassie--occasionally competitive, but never catty--rings true. As the fault lines in Sid's marriage begin to show, and Cassie admits her frustrations with the life she has fought so hard to build, the sisters must put aside their embarrassment at being publicly exposed and figure out how to help each other move forward.

Warmhearted, insightful and often funny, Keep Me Posted is a tribute to sisterhood, forgiveness and the power of a handwritten letter. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Lisa Beazley's warmhearted first novel explores what happens when snail-mail letters between two sisters end up on the Internet.

NAL, $26, hardcover, 9781101989869

Alice & Oliver

by Charles Bock

In Alice & Oliver, Charles Bock (Beautiful Children) draws on the experience of his late wife's battle with leukemia to create an intensely realistic and harrowing portrayal of a young woman's desperate fight for life against a relentless disease.

On the way from her New York City home to an idyllic family Thanksgiving in Vermont in 1993, with her husband, Oliver, and infant daughter, Doe, fashion designer Alice Culvert nearly succumbs to a pneumonia-like illness. After serious but less dire conditions are ruled out, a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia follows and the family embarks on what one of Alice's doctors calls the "marathon of sprints" that will be their reality for the next year.

But Bock's novel is more than a chronicle of cancer's ravages and the battle against it. Oliver is a software developer who is racing to finish a word-processing program he hopes will save his fledgling company. A rationalist who's skeptical of Alice's exploration of Eastern religion and her resort to alternative therapies as an adjunct to conventional treatment, he makes a foolhardy choice that threatens to undermine his marriage. This depiction of a relationship in crisis is every bit as taut and unpredictable as the medical drama in the novel's foreground.

In this vivid novel, Charles Bock takes readers on a journey that never moves far beyond the confines of an Upper East Side hospital and a loft in the Meatpacking District, and yet it encompasses a world. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: Charles Bock's second novel is a devastating portrait of a young wife and mother's fight against cancer.

Random House, $28, hardcover, 9781400068388

Biography & Memoir

Lab Girl

by Hope Jahren

With good humor, plenty of science, scattered literary allusions and the occasional sarcastic zinger, Hope Jahren's Lab Girl is the sublime memoir of a plant research scientist and her struggles to find professional success, love and family.

After earning her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, she grabbed a rare assistant professor opportunity at Georgia Tech and, with her lab tech sidekick, Bill, moved to the fertile ecology of the South. With only a start-up financial commitment from the university, she and Bill cobbled together a science lab out of flea market odds and ends. Bill lived in his van as Jahren feverishly applied for federal research grants. The rest, as they say, is history: three Fulbright awards, numerous publications, several outstanding scientist and teacher awards, a world-class lab and tenured professorship at the University of Hawaii, and a devoted mathematician husband and baseball-crazed son--with the eccentric, foul-mouthed, patient, chain-smoking and ingenious Bill at her side all the way.

Jahren and Bill banter about broken cordless drills, experiments gone bad and poorly written grad student theses (one of which she compares with "the famous 'Lucky's Think' monologue in Waiting for Godot"). Jahren emerges as a smart, practical, good-hearted woman who loves her work and also finds joy in her husband, young son and best friend, Bill. She eventually realizes that after years of "trying to make my life into something... all the truly valuable pieces fall from the sky undeserved. I used to pray to be made stronger; now I pray to be made grateful." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Renowned scientist Hope Jahren's entertaining memoir illuminates both the science of the plant world and the ebb and flow of her personal life.

Knopf, $26.95, hardcover, 9781101874936

Orson Welles, Volume 3: One-Man Band

by Simon Callow

Simon Callow's Orson Welles, Volume 3: One-Man Band is the penultimate volume in his magnificent epic biography of the Academy Award-winning international filmmaker, covering his prolific years of 1947-1964. During this period, Welles directed five films (Touch of Evil, Othello, Mr. Arkadin, The Trial and Chimes at Midnight), wrote, helmed or starred in seven stage productions (which included directing Laurence Olivier in the acrimonious production of Eugene Ionesco's Rhinoceros) and acted in more than three dozen films (including The Third Man, Moby Dick, King Lear, The Long, Hot Summer, Compulsion and The V.I.P.s). He also married his third wife, fathered his third daughter and burned a lot of bridges in Hollywood.

Actor, director and biographer Callow (Charles Laughton: A Difficult Actor) writes with energy, fluidity and the astute knowledge of an industry insider and historian. While Callow has great admiration for the filmmaker, he is not blind to Welles's excesses, ego, volcanic rages and his constant need for new stimulation that often left projects abandoned in the hands of others--whom he would later rail against for destroying his work. As Eartha Kitt observed, "If one was not quick enough, Orson lost patience."

Three volumes in, Welles (1915-1985) continues to be a ceaselessly fascinating subject--an artist with unbridled enthusiasm and creativity for his projects, who could not abide any form of constraint or interference. Callow's insightful, analytical and entertaining biography captures the magic and mania of Orson Welles and his work. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Simon Callow's third volume in his epic Orson Welles biography is epic, fascinating and entertaining.

Viking, $40, hardcover, 9780670024919

Love That Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About a Parent's Expectation

by Ron Fournier

Love That Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About a Parent's Expectations offers many things: memoir, parenting advice, meditations on Asperger's Syndrome and even short discursions into the lives and personalities of various presidents. In other words, Love That Boy is not the straightforward narrative one might expect from Ron Fournier, an experienced journalist who's covered multiple presidents for the Associated Press. Instead, Fournier has written a searching, introspective book that examines his relationship with his son Tyler, diagnosed at an early age with Asperger's.

Fournier presents himself in a surprisingly unforgiving light when he regretfully recalls how his workaholic tendencies combined with the requirements of his profession led him to leave his family for lengthy periods. These bouts of self-criticism, as well as the exhortations of his wife, Lori, lead Fournier to the conceit of the book: so-called "guilt trips" where he would use his professional connections to take Tyler to various historical sites dedicated to deceased presidents as well as meetings with Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama.

Love That Boy starts in a very personal place, expanding its scope as it goes along. By the time it reaches the point of broad policy proposals and sweeping parenting advice, Fournier's insights feel earned and evidence-based. Love That Boy presents a particular story about Tyler and a universal story about parenthood--its conclusions are born out of this moving interaction between personal experience and time-honored truths. Love That Boy is a must-read for parents and the parented. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: Love That Boy provides invaluable advice for parents of children with Asperger's and important lessons about parenting--and life in general.

Harmony, $26, hardcover, 9780804140485

Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul

by James McBride

Less a biography than an analysis of James Brown's cultural legacy, Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul is reflective and fascinating. As a child, James McBride's family lived across the tracks from Brown's home in Queens, N.Y. McBride's youngest sister braved the singer's front steps to knock on the door, something no other kid ever had the courage to do. Brown stepped onto the porch to greet her and said, "Stay in school, Dotty. Don't be no fool!"

Brown's message never changed: stay in school, work hard, be proud of who you are. McBride (The Good Lord Bird; The Color of Water) details how the Godfather of Soul's significance as a successful African American entertainer and singer has no analogue. In addition to a profound influence on American music and culture, Brown left his considerable wealth to poor children in Georgia and South Carolina (although in the 10 years since his death, none of it has gone anywhere but into the pockets of lawyers hired by Brown's family to contest his largesse).

Kill 'Em and Leave also looks at what's left of James Brown's non-financial legacy via a sort of travelogue, with author, musician and educator McBride's informed commentary about environments that shaped Brown's life. It's impossible to separate McBride's own experience from the story he tells, and the book is all the better for it. This is an insider's look at the racial, musical and cultural effects of the supreme force of will that James Brown brought to every endeavor he was involved in, from the deep South to New York City. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A personal and wide-ranging examination of the tremendous impact James Brown had on American culture.

Spiegel & Grau, $28, hardcover, 9780812993509

Children's & Young Adult

Raymie Nightingale

by Kate DiCamillo

In all of Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo's middle-grade fiction (Flora & Ulysses; The Tale of Despereaux), the emotional undercurrent carries the story. In Raymie Nightingale--the author's most autobiographical novel to date--it's 10-year-old Raymie Clarke's determination to bring her errant dad back home.

Her plan is to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire contest, because if she does, her father will see a photograph of her newly crowned self in the newspaper and come running. In baton-twirling class, Raymie meets two future contest competitors: the gruff Beverly Tapinski, who is not to be messed with, and the dreamy Louisiana Elefante, who is sick with "swampy lungs" but sings like an angel, especially the song "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head." (This is the summer of 1975.) By the time the Little Miss contest takes place, Raymie Nightingale has become the buoyant, poignant story of how these three heavy-hearted girls band together to help each other with their respective, ever-evolving missions. DiCamillo's fabulous cast of eccentric characters--including Mrs. Sylvester, who talks like a cartoon bird and believes in the power of candy corn, feeding swans and happy endings--makes for a hugely entertaining parade.

From start to finish, Raymie feels her soul alternately shrinking and expanding like an indecisive balloon as she and her new entourage navigate the waters of friendship and heartbreak, love and loss, life and death. Most of the characters in this fine, funny, meticulously crafted novel live life "wishing for things that are gone," but there's certainly no chance that Raymie's lovely and large soul will ever shrink for long. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo's seventh novel stars 10-year-old Raymie, whose plot to get her father back yields surprising results.

Candlewick, $16.99, hardcover, 272p., ages 10-up, 9780763681173

Tell Me a Tattoo Story

by Alison McGhee, illus. by Eliza Wheeler

The age-old tattoo tradition is loud and proud in modern American culture, and in Alison McGhee's (Firefly Hollow; Bink and Gollie: Two for One) picture book Tell Me a Tattoo Story, a young boy asks his father, once again, to share the stories behind his ink.

Dad's intricate, delicately wrought tattoos embody major touchstones in his life: his loving parents, meeting his wife, his military service, the birth of his son. He tells the inquisitive boy the stories, tattoo by tattoo, through bath time and all the way to bedtime. The mountain dragon inked on his father's shoulder is from a favorite childhood book. Eliza Wheeler (Miss Maple's Seeds) illustrates the story behind the dragon tattoo with a cozy, golden-hued scene of the father's mother reading out loud from The Ho----. (The title is cut off, but bets are on The Hobbit.) The upper-arm tattoo of fireworks and a Ferris wheel reminds his dad of a pretty girl: "Have you ever met her? You sure have." (It's the boy's mother, whom his father met when she was waiting tables at the Café de l'amour.) Wheeler uses India ink with dip pens and watercolors to make the tattoos spring to life, just as the affection and memories behind the tattoos live and breathe for the boy. Tattoos of ships, dragons, skulls, hearts, waves, fish, fields, keys and numbers combine in a magical jumble on the endpapers.

Tell Me a Tattoo Story is a tale of love and ink and the staying power that both promise. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A boy asks his father to explain the stories behind his many tattoos in Alison McGhee and Eliza Wheeler's winning picture book for the inked generations.

Chronicle, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-5, 9781452119373


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: 
$2.99 e-book

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