Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, January 10, 2017

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

From My Shelf

Cary Tennis and Danelle Morton: How to Finish

Danielle Morton
Cary Tennis

A January resolution universally made by writers: "I will buckle down and finish my novel/memoir/story." We asked Danelle Morton, author with Cary Tennis of Finishing School: The Happy Ending to That Writing Project You Can't Seem to Get Done (TarcherPerigee, $16), what guidance they would give; she answered with advice not just for authors, but for anyone with a stalled project.

Cary and I have been writers most of our lives, so when we teamed up, we started in the usual way. I wrote one chapter, Cary wrote another. We met face to face frequently to talk, and then wrote more. It went smoothly--until Cary and his wife suddenly decided to sell their San Francisco house and move to Italy!

Collaborating on a book from nine time zones away was not easy. At such a distance it became more difficult to support each other and maintain a schedule. The method was right in front of us, of course; we were writing about it. We used Finishing School. Doing so showed us that it's useful not only under "normal" circumstances but also as a sort of crisis management tool.

Briefly, Finishing School helps writers jump-start new projects and reinvigorate ongoing ones by breaking down big projects into manageable pieces, scheduling time slots to work, getting group support and partnering with a creative buddy to keep on track. Having seen how it works in our small Bay Area workshops, we wrote this book to bring this solution to a wider audience. Little did we realize we'd need it to finish our own book. But it worked! We're finished! And we're proud of what we've produced.

So if you know someone with a novel sitting in a drawer, or if you yourself are working on a project and feel stalled, contact us to learn more about this method. And pick up a copy of our book. You can start using the method right away. You don't need a group, or a license, or anything. You can just do it!

Book Candy

2017, 'An Incredible Year for Book-Lovers'

Bustle came up with "7 reasons 2017 is going to be an incredible year for book-lovers."


The U.S. Postal Service will feature two bookish subjects on its Forever stamps this year: Henry David Thoreau and Ezra Jack Keats's beloved picture book The Snowy Day.


Headline of the day (via the Orlando Sentinel): "To save books, librarians create fake 'reader' to check out titles."


"Meryl Streep's 10 best book-based movie roles," according to Signature.


"Someone is strategically placing poems around a British supermarket," Mental Floss reported.

Two Days Gone

by Randall Silvis

By all accounts, novelist Thomas Huston has a perfect life. He's a bestselling author with a beautiful wife and three adorable children, looks like a movie star--which doesn't hurt when he's "chatting with Katie on Good Morning America"--and is a popular professor of English at Shenango College in Pennsylvania.

People in the small college town feel "both pride and envy in [Huston's] sudden acclaim.... Maybe you claimed, last spring, that you played high school football with Tom Huston. Maybe you dated him half a lifetime ago... were quick to claim an old intimacy with him, so eager to catch some of his sudden, shimmering light."

Until they wake up one morning to the unbearable news that Huston's entire family was slaughtered in the night, and Huston is nowhere to be found.

One of the locals who knew the author is Sergeant Ryan DeMarco of the Pennsylvania State Police. DeMarco is assigned to the case, and though the evidence doesn't look good for Huston--a kitchen knife is also missing from the house--DeMarco hesitates to jump to conclusions. Having spent time with Huston and his family, DeMarco can't fathom the man being capable of such violence. But then again, Huston's bestseller The Desperate Summer is about unspeakable violence, based on a tragedy involving Huston's parents. Could that personal trauma have changed a good man in ways no one could have imagined?

In the course of his investigation, DeMarco finds Huston's notes and a rough drafts of the beginning of his next novel. The protagonist, an alluring stripper named Annabelle--a modern interpretation of Nabokov's Lolita--is based on a real person; DeMarco tracks her down. According to the girl, who turns out to be a nice college student, Huston met her at the strip club every Thursday for research, but he missed their appointment before the weekend his family was murdered. When DeMarco discovers the reason, he begins to see how it might be related to the mass killings, but not in a way anyone anticipated.

To tell the story of what happened to Huston's family that awful night, Randall Silvis uses dual points of view: Huston's and DeMarco's. The chapters spent inside Huston's psyche are full of unbearable pain. At times, Huston has to dissociate himself from reality in order to survive, telling himself he's a "character pretending to be a corpse pretending to be normal when in fact the world had ended, the bomb had gone off, all was devastation." When reality does seep in, Huston wants only to lie down and wait for death, but survive he must, at least until he can reach Annabelle, for reasons not immediately known.

DeMarco may at first seem like the opposite of Huston--he's a loner, and more analytical than creative. But as the cop delves further into the author's life, it seems the two men have several striking similarities. For one, DeMarco knows what it's like to lose a son. He's well acquainted with grief, listening to "Ry Cooder's agonized guitar weeping all the way from Texas.... Then he turned the radio off because he did not need a soundtrack for what he was feeling."

Two Days Gone isn't all pain and suffering, though. DeMarco's scenes with his commander are welcome comic relief, with the two engaging in wiseass banter. When the commander asks DeMarco before a press conference to brief him on the case because "I'd like to not come off as a complete moron," DeMarco replies, "It's a little late in life to be making that decision, isn't it?" Some of the descriptions also offer unexpected levity in the midst of a grim scene: "[DeMarco] knelt beside the bed to look underneath. Three balled-up socks and what appeared to be the twentieth-year-reunion of a large class of dust bunnies."

Aspiring writers, even those who don't usually read crime fiction, might be interested in all the details about Huston's writing process, which author Silvis modeled on his own. Silvis, who teaches writing, provides an informative look at all the research and effort that goes into creating a novel.

A book can't be judged, however, on how it came about, but on whether or not readers care about its characters and what happens to them. The big revelation about the murders of Huston's family is gut-shredding, and will likely make readers ponder what they would do if caught between a rock and a hard place--nay, between two pits in hell. That central question alone might be enough to make this novel linger in readers' minds well after Two Days Gone. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis

Sourcebooks Landmark, $15.99, paperback, 400p., 9781492639732

Randall Silvis: Life Is Research

photo: Maddison Hodge

Randall Silvis has published 10 novels, one nonfiction book and one story collection, as well as numerous essays, articles, short stories and poems published in online and print magazines. He's also a writing teacher. His crime novel Two Days Gone will be published by Sourcebooks Landmark in January 2017.

How much of Thomas Huston's (bestselling author and murder suspect) writing process is similar to your own? Do you do extensive research and write first drafts in longhand?

It's probably fair to say that I patterned all of Huston's writing process after my own. It's the only way I know how to write. And, yes, when necessary, I do extensive research, but just enough at first to feel confident I can start writing with some authority. Inevitably I run into issues along the way for which I have to gather more information.

I like to get my research from people in the know rather than from a disembodied source on the Internet. For police procedural matters, I checked with two friends who are special agents for the FBI, plus another friend whose father was a municipal policeman and whose brother-in-law is a state policeman. Once I even walked up to two sheriff's department deputies at a gas station and asked them a few questions. (I first had to suppress my teenage tendency to run from the police.)

I used to write all of my first drafts longhand. But as my handwriting has deteriorated to scribbles that even I sometimes can't decipher, now I usually write longhand only for my preliminary notes. During the several months it takes to write a draft, I also carry a notebook in my motorcycle saddlebag and in the car, so that I can write down ideas whenever they come to me.

What's the most extraordinary thing you've done in the name of research?

Everything is research. No matter what activity I am engaged in, another part of me is standing off to the side, watching, listening, analyzing the situation for its story potential.

But you asked for the most extraordinary thing. If I interpret "extraordinary" to mean "stupid," then [it] was to put a small airplane into a spiraling nosedive. I was taking flying lessons in a Piper Tomahawk trainer, an aircraft reputed to be unspinnable. While my instructor busied himself with jotting notes into the logbook, I spotted a massive black thunderhead moving in from the west.

As a fan of summer thunderstorms, I wondered what a thunderhead looked like from the inside, and made a slow turn toward it. Soon all the lights went out, and the small plane began to rattle and whine. Within seconds it was seized by some invisible force, given a twist, and hurled at the ground. We went corkscrewing down toward the earth. I lifted my hands off the controls and shouted to my astonished instructor, "It's all yours!" Eventually he brought us down safely, but was too angry to say another word to me.

Life provides most of the research a writer needs. The rest are just details.

Edgar Allan Poe figures prominently in your work. Why does his writing captivate you?

As a boy, lonely and sensitive and feeling like an alien even within my own family, I loved the darkness and sense of isolation in Poe's poems and stories. Eventually I outgrew that love of darkness.

But after my sixth book, my agent suggested I write a historical mystery featuring a prominent writer. I thought, I would love to probe Poe's psyche! I spent three or four months familiarizing myself with Poe, his family, his contemporaries, and New York City in 1840, and developed a strong sense of who Poe was. To me he was a sensitive, ambitious man who adored his family, but often found himself the subject of criticism for indulging his "imp of perversity," which caused him to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. The socially awkward boy in me felt, and still feels, a real kinship with that man.

Poe was also a man who struggled his entire life to find respect and success as a writer, and to understand human nature, nature's nature, science, and all of what we call reality. That, too, has always resonated with me.

In Two Days Gone, whose voice--Huston's or DeMarco's--did you prefer writing?

I didn't discover my writing ambition until I was 21. Before that I was a business major. So I have both an analytical side and a creative side. Huston's creativity was in some ways more interesting to me, since the creative side now prevails in my life. But I also enjoyed working through DeMarco's analytical thought processes.

In the second DeMarco mystery, I'm bringing in a lot of his backstory and rediscovering him. Turns out DeMarco had a lonely, isolated childhood, too, and that the persona he presents to the public, especially in the course of police work, hides a whole different person underneath.

That sense of discovery is important to me. I've resisted writing a series character in the past because character development has always been more important to me than plot. DeMarco, though, has plenty of room for growth, and I'm looking forward to walking through it with him in a second and maybe even third novel.

When a case gets really complicated, DeMarco likes to stare at his notes, hoping some clues would jump out at him and give him clarity. Ever do the same when you get stuck and don't know how to resolve a plot point?

Staring doesn't work for me. And I never encourage that tactic for my students. I think through the difficulties by writing, laying out all the possible options for action. If that doesn't work, I jog. I ride my motorcycle. I mow the yard. I make love.

I've found that any meditative activity that takes me out of myself temporarily opens up a window to the subconscious and lets solutions rise into the conscious mind.

Only after a personal tragedy does Huston write his breakthrough book, which becomes a bestseller. Where do you stand on the notion that creative people must be miserable in order to create great art?

First of all, I think being miserable is commonplace for almost everyone. Even those who on the surface appear blessed by good fortune and a perfect life have some dark currents and shadows beneath the surface of their lives.

The degree of one's sensitivity to life seems to be more of a determining factor. There are individuals who plod along contentedly without being too damaged by the blows life deals out. They have no real highs but no real lows, either. Writers and creative types, on the other hand, tend to rise and fall in their emotions with greater degrees of oscillation.

I remember being five or so years old and breaking into tears while watching Disney's The Ugly Duckling. My father, a steelworker and former Marine, asked why I was crying. I told him I had a stomachache, and he told me to take an Alka-Seltzer.

The truth was that I saw myself in the Ugly Duckling, and I saw also all the other ugly ducklings in the world, and all the cruelty and pain. But I had no words to tell him that, and understood on a primitive level that he probably wouldn't understand anyway.

That kind of reaction isn't created by circumstance. We are born with that degree of sensitivity, or the degree that allows us to float along on the emotional surface of life. Circumstances then activate those propensities.

A heightened sensitivity will also turn many of us into introverts. Our self-isolation and the resulting social unease only further exacerbate our inherent tendencies. If we're lucky, we discover a creative expression for the weltschmerz and saudade that run through our veins. As one [unknown] writer once wrote, "I'll kill myself tomorrow. Today I write." --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Review


The Boy Who Escaped Paradise

by J.M. Lee, trans. by Chi-Young Kim

The Boy Who Escaped Paradise is the extraordinary story of a math savant, told from a prison hospital where he's being held by U.S. officials on suspicion of murder and 11 international crimes. The son of an esteemed physician in North Korea, Ahn Gil-mo attends an excellent school catering to his mathematical gift until officials arrive at their home and drag Gil-mo's parents away.

His father returns long enough to collect him, and the two are banished to a prison camp because, as the boy learns, his father was discovered practicing Christianity. He never sees his mother again, and his father, like many others, dies from the hard labor and lack of food, leaving the son at the mercy of those who want to take advantage of his innocence and valuable skills. Gil-mo's affinity for numbers lands him an easier job with Mr. Kang, working with foreign currency. It is here that Gil-mo makes the promise he spends his life fulfilling, no matter the cost: looking after Kang's daughter, Yeong-ae.

With regular allusions to Homer, J.M. Lee (The Investigation) takes his modern-day Odysseus on a journey of epic proportions after he escapes the camp in order to keep his promise to Kang. The characters Gil-mo encounters as he follows Yeong-ae's trail from Asia to North America rival the complexity of Homer's. The novel is a reminder of the power of numbers, but one doesn't need to be a math fan to appreciate the brilliance of this work. To say any more would spoil the plot. An exciting adventure added to rich characters, all multiplied by stunning language, equals an unforgettable novel. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: A North Korean boy with a penchant for numbers leaves a trail of crimes across the world in order to fulfill his promise.

Pegasus Books, $24.95, hardcover, 288p., 9781681772523

The Magdalen Girls

by V.S. Alexander

Set in 1962 in Dublin, Ireland, The Magdalen Girls by V.S. Alexander revolves around three girls from different families committed by their parents to life at the Sisters of the Holy Redemption convent. Teagan Tiernan is accused of seducing a priest, Nora Craven is believed to have thrown herself at the boys, and Lea is a bit odd and had no place to live with her stepfather once her mother died. Denied contact with the outside world, forced to work in the hot and humid laundry with the other Magdalens or repair torn lace, the girls form an alliance and plot to escape their holy prison, but their keepers are diligent in their endeavors to flush the sins from these new charges.

Filled with authentic details, Alexander's story evolves through multiple voices, including that of the Mother Superior, Sister Anne, who has her own past sins to atone for and who believes punishment is the best way to show love. As the girls' friendship progresses and their desperation to escape grows, the story quickens, racing toward an ending that is both incredibly sad and hopeful. Because the novel is historically accurate (the last Magdalen laundry closed in 1996), the events depicted are particularly distressing, and readers will be engrossed and horrified by what the Catholic Church and other entities did to rehabilitate "fallen" women, who needed the grace of God to be saved from their sinful lives, no matter how true or untrue. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: This fictional account of life in the Magdalen laundries of the Catholic Church highlights the inhumane treatment young women endured in the name of God.

Kensington, $15, paperback, 304p., 9781496706126

Mystery & Thriller

Ill Met by Murder

by Elizabeth J. Duncan

The Catskills Shakespeare Theater Company is holding a fundraiser featuring a production of A Midsummer's Night Dream. Wealthy widow Paula Van Dusen is hosting the event in conjunction with a pre-wedding party for her daughter Belinda and fiancé Adrian. The performance is perfect--until a body is discovered nearby, murdered with a prop from the play. Ill Met by Murder is a delightful whodunit weaving together theater, shady dealings, love triangles and family secrets.

Elizabeth J. Duncan (Untimely Death) brings back Charlotte Fairfax for her second appearance as the costumer and amateur sleuth with boundless curiosity. Hugh Hedley, the dead man, was involved in the vicious Manhattan real estate market, and Charlotte soon discovers that two of his business rivals might profit from his death: the groom-to-be and Joseph Lamb, both of whom had unorthodox business arrangements with Hedley. Meanwhile, the search for a missing dog leads Charlotte to a shocking Van Dusen family secret that turns out to be an important clue in the murder investigation. 

The large cast of characters and numerous red herrings make the ending truly a surprise. Charlotte's obliging sidekick, Aaron, is more than willing to accompany her while figuring out what he really wants to do with his life. Her boyfriend, a local police officer, provides her with professional and personal support, and their deepening relationship offers a heartwarming subplot to the murder investigation. Duncan, author of the Penny Brannigan mystery series, seamlessly connects her plot lines for a satisfying conclusion. This is perfect for fans of Joanne Fluke and Lorna Barrett, as well as anyone looking for a cozy mystery. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore

Discover: The bizarre murder of a real estate developer upsets the comfortable summer season of the Catskills Shakespeare Theater Company.

Crooked Lane Books, $25.99, hardcover, 288p., 9781629537696

Bryant & May: Strange Tide

by Christopher Fowler

A woman is found dead on the shore of the Thames in central London, chained to a pillar, with one set of footprints leading to the spot where she drowned in the tide. It's another case for detectives Arthur Bryant and John May of the Peculiar Crimes Unit. The irascible Bryant, with his encyclopedic knowledge of London history, is full of theories. Lately, though, he's been wandering the city, confused as to which decade he's in. May, always the straight man, wonders if senility hasn't finally caught up with his old partner. Yet his mental lapses might be the very thing that helps them solve the mystery.

English author Christopher Fowler (Bryant & May and the Burning Man) has been heaped with awards and plaudits, and his popularity in North America is growing. Strange Tide, the 13th novel in his Bryant & May series, is written to stand alone, as are most of the others.

The plotting is tight, the pacing fast and the story conventional enough to feel like a comfortable new pair of slippers. The dialogue is snappy, with occasional metafictional nods ("This isn't an Agatha Christie. Criminals don't leave annoying little puzzles for you to unravel"), and Fowler's prose is both literary and unpretentious. Bryant's mental deterioration may pack more of an emotional punch for longtime readers, and several of the secondary characters may seem more rounded to those familiar with the other books, but on its own, Strange Tide feels complete and satisfying. --Zak Nelson, writer and bookseller

Discover: Strange Tide offers a witty, fast-paced mystery for fans of BBC's Sherlock and The Odd Couple.

Bantam, $27, hardcover, 448p., 9781101887035

Time of Death: A Stillwater General Mystery

by Lucy Kerr

Twelve years after leaving Stillwater, Ill., where gossip grows alongside the corn and beans, emergency room nurse Frankie Stapleton reluctantly returns home to help her sister through a dangerous pregnancy. When Frankie arrives, the hospital is overloaded with accident victims and she finds a man suffering alone outside the ER. Unable to ignore her instincts, Frankie saves his life before proceeding to her sister's bedside.

When the man dies unexpectedly, Frankie has a lot more trouble heaped on a plate already overflowing with everything she abandoned when she fled town: her scared, angry sister; her cool, critical mother; her childhood flame (the first of three fiancés for the serially engaged Frankie); and a troubled family business. When a surprising plaintiff files suit, the hospital administration targets Frankie, jeopardizing her all-important career. 

In Time of Death, Lucy Kerr creates a trio of strong and irresistible characters in the Stapleton women. Although this super debut mystery is focused on Frankie's fight to prove her innocence, there is no lack of small-town family drama fortified by a supporting cast intriguing in their own rights.

The investigation is imbued with just the right amount of medical details--challenging and written with authority while still engaging. Frankie's specialized knowledge allows Kerr's plotting to avoid the pitfalls that often come with amateur sleuth protagonists. But nurses don't often deal with murder, and Frankie may have more to save than her license, and must face her lifelong demons to get the job done. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: An emergency room nurse is blamed for the death of a man she tried to save.

Crooked Lane Books, $25.99, hardcover, 336p., 9781629539904

Food & Wine

Brewing Revolution: Pioneering the Craft Beer Movement

by Frank Appleton

Books on craft beer and the craft beer movement abound, and readers may feel underwhelmed at the prospect of another. But Frank Appleton's memoir, Brewing Revolution: Pioneering the Craft Beer Movement, is different. For one, his focus is on British Columbia, rather than the much-discussed scene in the United States. And Appleton's unapologetic, lively personality communicates a story both personal and national, even global, in scope. Brewing Revolution also expands into an impassioned indictment of mass-market adjunct lagers, as well as a manual for the next generation of brewers.

Appleton, a native of Manchester, England, applied his studies in microbiology to food science and later, after immigrating to Vancouver, B.C., to brewing. He began in one of Canada's "Big Three" brewing conglomerates, where he developed a scorn for adjunct ingredients (or "added junk") like corn, rice and corn syrup, where traditional, quality brews use only malted grains like barley. When an article he wrote comparing adjunct lagers with "tasteless white bread and the universal cardboard hamburger," and calling for a do-it-yourself response, drew the attention of an ambitious pub owner, Appleton's career as a consultant began.

He tells the story of a country's craft beer movement and of his life work, but it doesn't stop there. In his enthusiasm, Appleton can't help but offer troubleshooting advice for ambitious brewers and a healthy review of brewing techniques, including the niceties of equipment, yeast cultivation and malting. As a history of a movement and a personal memoir brimming with zeal, Brewing Revolution is educational, entertaining and, perhaps most of all, thirst-inducing. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This personal history of Canada's craft beer movement, from a distinctive and accomplished participant, amuses as well as instructs.

Harbour Publishing, $24.95, paperback, 224p., 9781550177824

Biography & Memoir

Take Me to Paris, Johnny

by John Foster

Originally published in Australia in 1993, John Foster's Take Me to Paris, Johnny recounts the life of his lover Juan Céspedes, who died of AIDS in 1987. This Text Classics edition--the first in the United States--includes an introduction by critic Peter Craven and an afterword by Foster's close friend John Rickard. While these supplementary materials provide context and develop Foster's character, the original work gleams abundantly without their help.

Juan was a Cuban refugee studying dance in New York City when he met Foster, an Australian history professor, in 1981. A one-night stand became a summer-long affair and then a long-term, long-distance relationship, to Foster's surprise. As the couple wrangled with the Australian immigration authorities to gain Juan's permanent residence there, his illness became undeniably serious. He died in a hospital in Melbourne with Foster by his side.

This sensitive, perceptive memoir keeps Juan at its center, outlining his boyhood and escape to the United States before focusing on the love affair and Juan's death; the final event receives due gravity without defining his life or the book. In a mere 200 pages, Take Me to Paris, Johnny achieves a full emotional range, sketches Juan's rare and changeable personality and imbues a tragedy with poetry. Foster's writing is exquisite: thoughtful, lyrical and with an eye for detail. While this is undeniably a sad story, Foster resists wallowing, choosing instead to celebrate Juan and even to laugh at their troubles. Take Me to Paris, Johnny is incisive, wry, loving and deeply lovable. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This beautifully written memoir of a lover's life and death will impress readers with its lyricism and emotion.

Text Publishing, $14.95, paperback, 256p., 9781925355345

Social Science

Never Enough: Capitalism and the Progressive Spirit

by Neil Gilbert

Public policy wonk Neil Gilbert calls into question almost every comfortable assumption of modern progressivism in his well-structured and well-argued treatise, Never Enough: Capitalism and the Progressive Spirit.

Gilbert, author of numerous books, including A Mother's Work: How Feminism, the Market and Policy Shape Family Life, is a professor at the Berkeley School of Social Welfare and a senior research fellow at the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development. His expertise becomes apparent as he navigates thorny issues of poverty, inequality, capitalism, public spending and income redistribution, specifically in the United States.

Whether addressing broad political concepts or nuances of complex data, Gilbert writes deftly, with clear analysis and factual authority. At the crux of his argument is what he deems "institutionalized discontent"--the ingrained presumptions in progressive circles that capitalism is the root of all social ill, even in modern welfare states. With careful comparative analysis of public spending and changing demographics over the years, Gilbert shows the incredible gains in living standards in first-world countries. He addresses methods of measuring poverty, inequality and social mobility, and argues that prevailing approaches focus on incomes and consumerism relative to richer peer groups, rather than on actual material deprivations associated with chronic poverty. Furthermore, he exposes a disconcerting trend of welfare spending going to middle-class families rather than to society's most needy.

Besides making progressives question their own data, Gilbert offers a new approach that he calls "progressive conservatism." He proposes graduated public assistance at the family level, including home-visiting services that assist struggling single parents. Likely to produce plenty of critical discussion, Never Enough is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in public policy. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist and fiction author

Discover: A social welfare theorist delivers a thorough critique of modern progressive thought.

Oxford University Press, $27.95, hardcover, 232p., 9780199361335


The Wisdom of the Middle Ages

by Michael K. Kellogg

In his introduction to The Wisdom of the Middle Ages, lawyer and writer Michael K. Kellogg (The Roman Search for Wisdom) notes that "the Middle Ages were a time very much like the present, and we have a great deal to learn from the efforts of medieval thinkers and writers to give shape and meaning to their experience." Europeans were struggling with the disintegration of the Roman Empire, the rise of the Catholic Church and the founding of nation-states. Kellogg offers a clear, competent summary of the origins of Christianity, the history of the European Middle Ages and the period's great literary, theological and philosophical works. He organizes this around his reading of the New Testament and a selection of significant authors: Saint Augustine, Boethius, the Beowulf poet, Abelard and Héloïse, Chrétien de Troyes, Saint Francis, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Boccaccio and Chaucer.

Kellogg chose these examples, as in his previous books, because they are "works that enrich our lives through their intellectual distinction, beauty of expression, and implicit or explicit wisdom." This is a lot of material to cover in one short volume. Kellogg does not go into great depth and his quotes from the works are brief. For readers who are inspired to read more about the Middle Ages or these works, he provides substantial notes, a chronology and suggestions for further reading organized by author. Anyone looking for an overview of the period or concise summaries of the major works that Kellogg considers will find this useful. --Sara Catterall

Discover: This is a clear, competent summary of the history of the European Middle Ages, and the era's great works of literature, theology and philosophy.

Prometheus Books, $26, hardcover, 390p., 9781633882133

Parenting & Family

At Mama's Knee: Mothers and Race in Black and White

by April Ryan

As a single mother of two young girls, native of Baltimore and veteran White House correspondent, April Ryan (The Presidency in Black and White) has spent much of her adulthood juggling the complex issues of race and race relations in both her personal and professional lives. In her second book, At Mama's Knee: Mothers and Race in Black and White, she draws on that experience--as well as those of other mothers and children--to present a new and multifaceted interpretation of the important role that mothers play in both understanding and defining race relations in the United States today.

Ryan uses her journalistic background to great effect in At Mama's Knee, most notably through extensive conversations with others. Interviews with prominent politicians, such as Hillary Clinton and Valerie Jarrett, combine with the stories of mothers who have been thrust into the news cycle, such as Gwen Carr (mother of Eric Garner) and Sybrina Fulton (mother of Trayvon Martin), to fully flesh out Ryan's ideas of race and motherhood. The sheer number of interviews can be overwhelming at times, and there are points throughout At Mama's Knee when the argument can be lost in cumbersome language. But at its heart, Ryan's work is an important reminder of the place of mothers in the ongoing conversation about race and racial tensions in U.S. "We must teach our children," she urges, "whether with words or actions, about race in America." The words in At Mama's Knee are an important part of that teaching. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: White House correspondent April Ryan reflects on race and motherhood--and the intersection of the two--in the United States today.

Rowman & Littlefield, $24.95, hardcover, 160p., 9781442265639

Children's & Young Adult

One Proud Penny

by Randy Siegel, illus. by Serge Bloch

If the luster of a newfound penny has dulled for today's kids, One Proud Penny is sure to polish it right up again.

The starring penny in Randy Siegel's (Grandma's Smile; My Snake Blake) bright shiny picture book was minted in 1983 in Philadelphia ("the home of the Liberty Bell, Patti LaBelle, cream cheese, cheese steaks, soft pretzels, and the United States Mint." The affable penny narrator is actually a photo of a real penny, often with a face, arms and legs inked in by French illustrator and cartoonist Serge Bloch (The Big Adventure of a Little Line; My Snake Blake; Saturday).

This penny gets around, and a whimsical U.S. map shows how far he's traveled. (The flat little guy describes freezing his tail off on a garage floor in Green Bay, Wis., "until I got picked up, and used to pay for stuff several times.") The penny's enthusiasm is contagious as he shares his story. There are 250 billion pennies in circulation, for instance. Also, pennies are now 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper, but in 1943, his "great-uncle" was steel. The penny is happy about the president emblazoned upon him, too: "As my man Lincoln once said: 'Whatever you are, be a good one.' " (He tries to be the best penny he can.)

Readers may truly be inspired by this stalwart coin who endures bouncing around dryers and spending a year in a sewer drain, and still manages to be cheerfully philosophical about it. A brief history of U.S. coins and "Interesting Facts About Pennies" add to the sheen. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: This fun, fascinating picture book, narrated by a goodnatured, rather stoic penny, will have children looking at coins with new respect.

Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781626722354


by Elly Blake

Seventeen-year-old Ruby Otrera is a Fireblood from a remote mountain village, born with the ability to conjure "a river of heat"--and even fire. Her skin is unusually hot, and she has to be careful not to ignite things when her temper gets the best of her. The ruling class of Frostbloods, under the reign of the tyrannical Frost King, has all but killed off the Firebloods they despise. Sure enough, the king's soldiers do find Ruby, murder her mother, destroy her village and lock her up in Blackcreek Prison.

Two Frostbloods from an abbey dedicated to the north wind Fors want the Frost King dead, and they want the imprisoned Ruby, perhaps "the most powerful Fireblood left in the kingdom," to kill him. For sanctuary, eventual freedom and the chance to avenge her mother's death, she warily accepts the challenge. Arcus and Brother Thistle begin training Ruby to master her gift so she can complete her task. In the process, Ruby and Arcus's teasing banter heats up. The sparks that fly between them may not be unexpected, but they are fun to witness, especially as Ruby keeps glimpsing the handsome features of the "conceited icicle" beneath his monk's hood, and his nicknames for her ("Lady Firebrand, "my raging inferno") begin to escalate.

At its core, Elly Blake's exciting fantasy series debut is the story of a young woman's struggle to understand herself, her power and her role in a world that loathes her. Ruby's first-person voice is powerful and passionate, and readers will want to know what's next for her in the Frostblood Saga. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: In this riveting YA fantasy series debut, a teenage Fireblood confronts the cruel Frost King responsible for her mother's death.

Little, Brown, $17.99, hardcover, 384p., ages 12-up, 9780316273251


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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