Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, March 31, 2017

Dutton: Sunderworld, Vol. I: The Extraordinary Disappointments of Leopold Berry by Ransom Riggs

From My Shelf

Christine Lennon's Favorite Books and Lines

Before leaving New York City for the West Coast, Christine Lennon was an editor at W, Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. Her first novel, The Drifter (Morrow), is about a group of friends whose lives are changed forever by a violent event they experience in college. It's a love letter to the '90s, and a story about the complexities of friendships and the secrets that can ultimately destroy us. 

Book you're an evangelist for:
Dish by Jeannette Walls is so entirely compelling. I was telling everyone about her writing years before The Glass Castle. In this book, Walls explains how and why the thin line between "news" and "gossip" has vanished over the years. I'm a journalist who interviews celebrities and I live in Los Angeles so it's riveting stuff for me. But I think anyone who is interested in Old Hollywood would love what she writes about people like Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe.

Book that changed your life:
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. A friend gave this counterculture bible to me when I was in college, at a time when I was slogging through books written by a bunch of 19th-century writers who made reading feel like hard work. I tore through it, and it helped me realize that no matter how much reading I had to finish for school or, later on, for work, I had to make time for the really fun stuff, too.

Favorite line from a book:
I wish I could commit every line of Jenny Offill's poetic Dept. of Speculation to memory, but this is the only one that sticks:
"Some women make it look so easy, the way they cast ambition off like an expensive coat that no longer fits."

Read more with Christine Lennon here.

The Writer's Life

Meg Howrey: Exploring the Boundaries of Inner Space

photo: Mark Hanauer

Meg Howrey is the author of the novels The Cranes Dance and Blind Sight. She is also coauthor, under the pen name Magnus Flyte, of City of Dark Magic and City of Lost Dreams. In her new novel, The Wanderers (just published by Putnam), Howrey sets up a simple premise: three astronauts are chosen to participate in a simulation of the first-ever mission to Mars. What unfolds, however, is anything but simple. As the plot progresses, each of the three embarks upon an internal voyage, learning what it means to be real in an age where the very definition begs reexamination.

What inspired you to write a story about astronauts? Are you interested in space exploration?

The idea came from a newspaper article I read several years ago, about a collaborative project between European and Russian space agencies. They put six volunteers into a capsule for 520 days, to simulate the length of a mission to Mars. It was, of course, meant to test the physical and psychological effects of a voyage like that.

I read that article and thought, "That would make a great novel!" Because space is other people, right? But I thought I couldn't write it because I didn't know anything about space exploration. In fact, I wanted to not write this novel. For about a year and a half, all I was doing was reading about space exploration. I did a ton of research, learning as much as I could. So this project was about four years in the making.

After all that research, how did you decide what information to include and leave out?

Well, you want to put everything in--because it's all so fascinating. The work that's being done in space exploration is amazing. I would write these long technical paragraphs and then delete them, or move them into another file. I had a lot of "nerd moments" where I just wanted to write about all these things I'd learned, but I was really trying to avoid that kind of info dump in the novel. So I'd write it all out and then move it. I also figured that this information is out there in the hands of gifted science writers, for people to discover if they want to. I cite a few really helpful books in the acknowledgments at the end of my book, if readers are interested in learning more.

The Wanderers is told from multiple perspectives: those of the three astronauts and several other characters, including their family members. How did you decide to write from multiple points of view?

I originally intended to tell the story from only my three main characters' perspectives. That seemed like a neat and tidy way to do it. But in an effort to better understand Helen, who was the first character I was developing, I decided to write a chapter from her daughter's perspective. I knew it would make the book messier to have those different points of view--it's always a risk. But I had to try it. And I decided to leave it in. Ultimately, it made sense, because this is a book about those who are left behind, as well as those who go. The astronauts are in the simulation of the journey to Mars, but all the characters are struggling with simulations--some of them of their own devising.

Can you talk about that idea of simulations? How did that allow you to explore the boundaries of what is real and not real, for the astronauts and their families?

I was so interested in exploring that idea. The characters are all being asked to pretend something they've already experienced: the astronauts have all already been to space, and their family members have had to deal with that. And now this experience is not "real," but the feelings they're having about it are real.

The idea of simulations was always the spine of the book--much more so than space travel. It's about isolation and confinement and identity, and this idea of what is real. Of course, that got more complicated the farther I got into the book!

In a sense, of course, the novel itself is a simulation. You ask the reader to enter the novel and accept that what they're being told is real--which is one of the reasons we love to read, to enter into a story like that. So in this case, form and content were closely aligned.

We live in a world with a lot of simulations right now: smartphones, computers, virtual reality--in addition to these older forms of storytelling and simulation.

Yes, absolutely. So the idea of reality, and what is real and not real, felt very close to me as I was writing. It seems important that we try to figure this thing out: What are we looking at? What is real? And currently, in the news, we're seeing that, too, with the debates over what is true. So my characters are experiencing a reality, but they've also been given a set of circumstances and been asked to pretend they're real. I was interested in exploring that.

Your characters are also being observed constantly, which might have an effect on their reactions to their circumstances.

Yes. The more I read about space travel, the more I realized that most of an astronaut's work is not going to space--it's training: being observed and evaluated. And the people who really succeed there are people who value their performance over personal comfort. I was interested in how these three characters would grapple with that. They're able to put up good facades for their observers, but some things eventually start to unravel.

We all admire the heroism of people like astronauts, but they are, first, human beings. I think it's more interesting and satisfying to land a person on Mars, or another planet, rather than a robot. We're such a complicated, strange and fragile little species. There's a cosmic longing not to be alone in the universe, and to know why we're here, but there's also a longing to be better than we are. There's something more beautiful about a complicated, messy person landing on Mars than a perfect astronaut hero. I want a person to land on Mars and be moved and excited and fascinated and afraid. And I like to think that people such as my characters--people who are fully human--are the best people to send. This is a book about inner space, more than outer space.

That's true for your supporting characters as well.

Yes. I was interested in what it takes to be an astronaut, but also in what it takes to love one. It's a big ask! We all have ideas of what a mother or father or sibling or lover should be, and those are also simulations: they don't always match up with the reality. How useful are those simulations if those relationships are flawed or complicated? And what happens when we let go of our ideas about those categories? Helen might not be a good mother by some standards, but if she and her daughter--and by extension, we, the readers--let go of certain ideas about what it means to be a good mother, then she might be an amazing one.

Anything else you’d like readers to know about the book?

I'd like readers to come to the novel with an open mind. It straddles the worlds of fiction and science fiction, and I think there are often certain expectations about what a space story will look like: lots of adventure and excitement, or a "hard" sci-fi story with lots of technical information. This is a different take. I hope both fans of the sci-fi genre and those of fiction in general will find it interesting because it’s a human story. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Book Candy

Exciting Second Sentences

The key to writing an exciting book opening? Author Marc Laidlaw suggested using "And then the murders began" as your second sentence, Bustle noted.


Bookish age test from Buzzfeed: "Pretend to write a book and we'll guess how old you are."


"A look inside fictional characters' fanny packs" was shared by Quirk Books.


"The retreats where famous authors found inspiration" were featured in a Guardian slide show.


Mental Floss invited On the Road fans to "see young Jack Kerouac's reading list."


Studio North's library shaft climbable bookcase is located in a converted warehouse, where "the client's loft had an unused space that was once part of the building's industrial elevator shaft," Bookshelf reported.

Great Reads

Rediscover: The Son

Philipp Meyer's second novel, The Son (2013), is an intergenerational family saga chronicling the rise of Texas and ascent of the United States as a world power. It begins in the 1800s, when 12-year-old Eli McCullough is abducted during a Comanche raid on his Texas homestead. After witnessing his family's brutal murder, Eli adapts to life among the Comanche, becoming an adopted son of a chief and warring against other Indians and white men. The decline of the Comanche--from starvation, disease, and the unstoppable westward white tide--brings Eli back to a "civilized" world in which he struggles to find a place for himself. Meyer continues the McCullough family story through Eli's son, Peter, and his granddaughter Jeannie, as their fortunes rise and fall through the booms and busts of the cattle and oil industries.

The Son, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, earned rave reviews for its epic and authentic storytelling. Meyer immersed himself in Texas history and historical accuracy--he learned how to tan deer hides, to hunt with a bow, shoot guns, and even drank blood from a freshly slain buffalo as research for a Comanche ritual. The novel took five years to write, and four more years to develop into an upcoming television adaptation that makes its debut April 8 on AMC. This 10-episode season stars Pierce Brosnan as Eli McCullough, Henry Garrett at Pete and Sydney Lucas as Jeannie. On March 7, Ecco published a paperback tie-in edition ($16.99, 9780062669810). --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


Exit West

by Mohsin Hamid

In an unnamed city "swollen by refugees," militants begin a violent encroachment, then secure the city, with "bodies hanging from streetlamps and billboards like a form of festive seasonal decoration." In the midst of the chaos are two young adults who meet in a corporate identity class: Saeed, a religious man with a "studiously maintained stubble," and Nadia, who wears a burqa in public only to ward off advances from men. The protagonists of Exit West, Mohsin Hamid's (How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia) heartrending fourth novel, they're spurred to an unusual form of escape.

Their relationship deepens, and they're eager to leave the city after Saeed's mother is killed in her parked car while searching for a lost earring. That's when they hear rumors of "doors that could take you elsewhere." The first leads to a sandy beach on Mykonos. Subsequent trips take them to a palatial home in London and then to Marin, Calif. Each trip is as jarring as one might expect, with some residents welcoming them into the community and others treating them as unwanted foreigners. The writing throughout this novel about dislocation is gorgeous. Hamid writes that the land around San Francisco Bay stretches down "like a bent thumb, ever poised to meet the curved finger of Marin in a slightly squashed gesture that all would be okay"--a sentiment all emigrants in search of a better life would no doubt like to believe. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer

Discover: Two young lovers escape their war-torn city by stepping through doors that mysteriously take them to other lands.

Riverhead, $26, hardcover, 240p., 9780735212176

The Lucky Ones

by Julianne Pachico

Roaming Colombia's rebellious decades at the turn of the 21st century, Julianne Pachico's first novel echoes the surrealistic ambience of that country's most famous modern writer, Gabriel García Márquez. The Lucky Ones navigates from the city of Cali's wealthy youth to paramilitary revolutionaries in mountain jungles, idealistic visiting teachers and even a Colombian expat working the fringes of New York City's cocaine parties. With a mix of first-, third- and second-person narrative, Pachico crafts a fictional world in which, before going to the mall, rich teen girls "yank their jeans down as far as they can go, tug at their tank tops to reveal bra straps underneath, peach and pink and black," and FARC rebels kidnap, incarcerate and murder in "their fatigues. Their berets. With their long, slow jungle marches, slipping and sliding through the mud."

A British citizen pursuing a Ph.D. in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of East Anglia, Pachico grew up in Cali, experiencing firsthand the political and social turmoil that she captures so well. It's a world of displacement and inexplicable disappearance in which "it is normal for children to attend school regularly... then abruptly never be seen again. Gangs move in... families move out." A worn-out dissident soldier in the jungle perhaps says it best: "When this--all of this--is over (whatever this means, whatever over means).... I'll come strolling down the mountainside." The dreamlike drama that was Colombia back then ends, in T.S. Eliot's words, "Not with a bang, but a whimper." Pachico's fiction demonstrates how that makes perfect sense. She is one to watch. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: With a fragmented yet cohesive narrative, Julianne Pachico's memorable first novel captures the surreal turmoil of turn-of-the-21st-century Colombia.

Spiegel & Grau, $26, hardcover, 272p., 9780399588655

The Hearts of Men

by Nickolas Butler

Nickolas Butler struck gold by mining small-town Wisconsin life in his much-lauded first novel, Shotgun Lovesongs. Wisely panning the same motherlode, The Hearts of Men takes place largely at Boy Scout Camp Chippewa in the state's heavily forested rural northwest--a setting that molds three generations of boys trying to become men.

Told in four parts set in 1962, 1996, 2019 and 2022, The Hearts of Men tracks the evolution of the camp as the ways of men are transformed by war, technology and sexual mores. In 1962, the camp bugler Nelson is a nerdy, glasses-wearing reader, an easy target for bullying by his callous fellow scouts. It takes an in-country stint as a tunnel rat in the Vietnam War to turn him into the Eagle Scout he longs to be. In 1996, one of Nelson's only scout "friends" brings his 16-year-old son, Trevor, to camp despite the boy's disdain. In 2019, after Trevor's death, his fragile widow, Rachel, insists their son Thomas go to camp, as his father did, to earn merit badges like orienteering. The only woman chaperone in camp, she endures the bigoted harassment of scout fathers, leading to abrupt violence, bravely subdued by Nelson, who is now camp director.

They leave camp shaken, and in 2022, Rachel buys an isolated cabin on her own, but adopts a pair of protective German shepherds, just in case. If there is an overriding lesson in The Hearts of Men, it might be found in the Boy Scout admonition, "Be prepared." There's no telling what life will throw your way. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Nickolas Butler tackles complex male relationships as generations of boys find their paths to maturity at a Boy Scout camp.

Ecco, $26.99, hardcover, 400p., 9780062469687

The Confessions of Young Nero

by Margaret George

Margaret George's specialty is biographical novels (like Helen of Troy), in which she takes legendary historical figures and unearths the human being buried beneath centuries of myth and propaganda. The Confessions of Young Nero represents one of her most ambitious rehabilitations to date: the first of two novels dedicated to the brief but eventful life of the titular Roman emperor Nero.

The novel opens with Caligula throwing a very young Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, later Nero, in the water to drown, an early introduction to the dangers of absolute power. Growing up in exile, Lucius might never have become Nero were it not for the murder of Caligula and his family, along with the ruthless machinations of his mother, Agrippina. Seen through young Nero's eyes, Agrippina's brutal ways inspire mixed emotions from her son, as well as harsh lessons: "Let them call me cruel. Better that than dead."

However much Nero might wish to live a simple life as a poet or a musician, his hopes are frustrated by Agrippina's ambitions. His priorities are forced to shift drastically as he's simultaneously imbued with enormous power and increasingly threatened by Agrippina's attempts to usurp his authority.

The Confessions of Young Nero asks what responsibilities a leader has to his people, especially if the demands of leadership interfere with personal happiness. In retrospect, Nero's major folly seems to be in thinking of himself as a person, rather than the living embodiment of the state.

George's novel may not prove to be the definitive historical interpretation of Nero, but her thoughtful, humane treatment of the man will inspire readers to question his status in the popular imagination as a depraved pleasure-seeker. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Discover: The Confessions of Young Nero offers a portrait of a sensitive, creative young man forced to navigate Rome's brutal power games.

Berkley, $28, hardcover, 528p., 9780451473387

Mystery & Thriller

The Whole Art of Detection

by Lyndsay Faye

The 15 stories in Lyndsay Faye's The Whole Art of Detection will prove purely delightful for fans of the original adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. With two entirely new stories, and 13 others culled from previous anthologies and magazine contributions, the collection stands as a tribute to Faye's way with words and witticisms, both of which combine to reinvigorate Holmes and Watson (as well as their surrounding casts of miscreants, assistants and unassuming bystanders).

Like Doyle, Faye brings mystery and adventure to Holmes and Watson in various settings. At times that is 221B Baker Street, and at others it is a hospital, a wine shop and even (most entertainingly, for those who know Holmes's unsocial ways) an elite garden party. These variations allow Faye to explore myriad aspects of Victorian London, with its seedy underbelly, political intrigues and aristocratic traditions. No less diversity is found in the timing of Faye's stories, which span Holmes's pre-Baker years through his time with Watson, past his return from the dead and to the pair's later capers.

What stands out most completely in The Whole Art of Detection is Faye's ability to capture the style, tone and approach that made original Doyle stories so enduringly captivating, and maintain that style throughout clever new adventures. These capers are as entertaining as the originals, but even more wonderful is the new depth Faye brings to the characters--and their complicated and exceptional friendship. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: Lyndsay Faye returns to Victorian London with 15 stories featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Mysterious Press, $25, hardcover, 388p., 9780802125927

Mister Memory

by Marcus Sedgwick

Michael L. Printz Award-winning novelist Marcus Sedgwick (She Is Not Invisible) moves away from his young adult roots for a psychologically complex mystery that explores the nature of memory in shaping identity and personal history.

Marcel Després is a cabaret performer who murdered his wife and has been imprisoned at Salpêtrière Asylum under the care of Dr. Morel. Marcel's case, while open and shut with his confession, piques the curiosity of police Inspector Laurent Petit, who seeks to investigate Marcel's crime against the wishes of his superiors. Flashbacks reveal how naiveté has put Marcel in his current predicament: the man born with a perfect memory fails to hold down an adult job due to his constant "daydreaming"--until he scores a cabaret act as Mister Memory in the seedy underbelly of Paris. There, Marcel meets and marries the beautiful dancer Ondine, whose sordid past unravels their marriage and leads to further intrigue and destruction.

Sedgwick's story develops as a cinematic fairy tale that plays "forward and backward, left to right and back again and each and every time feeling everything he felt at that time, as if it were happening to him over again, for real." Marcel's memory becomes the focal point of the story, the centerpiece from which to explore the pliability of recall and its role in influencing the interpretation of truth for the characters.

"It is only the story we make by linking such moments together, and the narrative that creates, that gives us any meaning, that gives us personality." --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: Marcus Sedgwick's new psychological thriller examines how memory influences truth.

Pegasus Books, $25.95, hardcover, 336p., 9781681773407

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Lovecraft Squad: All Hallows Horror

by John Llewellyn Probert, Stephen Jones

Bromley, London, 1994: teenagers trespassing in a construction site uncover human bones and a clay urn hundreds of years old. Robert Chambers, an American forensic pathologist, travels to the British Museum to examine these remains, replacing the museum's previous pathologist, who stabbed out his own eyes after touching the bones. Chambers could be forgiven for refusing such an ominous assignment, but he is no stranger to weird and dangerous artifacts. As part of the Human Protection League, sometimes called the Lovecraft Squad, Chambers is familiar with the otherworldly terrors lurking behind everyday reality, cosmic horrors once published as fiction by H.P. Lovecraft.

The mysterious bones lead to All Hallows Church, an ancient site with a long history of unexplained deaths. Thanks to a meddlesome journalist, Chambers's research turns into a tabloid publicity stunt. He and six others are locked inside the church for four days to conduct a paranormal investigation. Almost as soon as the doors of All Hallows are sealed, that investigation becomes a horrifying descent into madness, death and supernatural abominations beyond the scope of human understanding.

The Lovecraft Squad: All Hallows Horror is the first of a promised trilogy written by John Llewellyn Probert and created by Stephen Jones. It sometimes feels like two concepts inorganically fused into one book: partly a story about a secret agency combating cosmic horrors, partly a story about a paranormal investigation that goes hellishly wrong. This jarring duality is, however, overshadowed by what turns into a grisly, gripping tale of terror with roots in medieval English history and Lovecraftian horror. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: This story of a paranormal investigation gone wrong is the first in a horror trilogy about Lovecraftian monsters and the agency that combats them.

Pegasus Books, $25.95, hardcover, 336p., 9781681773339

Biography & Memoir

Isabella of Castile: Europe's First Great Queen

by Giles Tremlett

Giles Tremlett (Catherine of Aragon) sums up the theme of his accomplished biography of Isabella of Castile in the subtitle: Europe's First Great Queen. Isabella of Castile opens with a vivid set piece: 23-year-old Isabella marching through the streets of Segovia preceded by a knight carrying the royal sword. It was a symbol of power and of the will to use it. Isabella would prove to have both.

The odds were against her. When Isabella seized the throne after the death of her brother in December 1474, she inherited a weak monarchy and nobles accustomed to ruling their territories without deference to their feudal overlord. The powerful men who supported her questionable claim to the throne assumed her husband, Ferdinand of Aragon, would rule in her stead. Thanks to a prenuptial agreement, which she negotiated, Isabella governed Castile in her own right, with Ferdinand as a trusted partner. Together they transformed Castile and Aragon from a congeries of medieval feudatories into a modern state led by a powerful monarch. They also ended Spain's long history of relative religious tolerance, with the creation of the Spanish Inquisition and attacks on Muslims, Jews and Christians of Muslim and Jewish descent.

Tremlett paints a sympathetic picture of Isabella without whitewashing the fact that she was often ruthless and intolerant, with a sense of Realpolitik that rivaled that of Machiavelli. Isabella of Castile will appeal to readers who enjoyed Helen Castor's She-Wolves and Sarah Gristwood's Game of Queens. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: The story of the queen who laid the foundations for the powerful Spanish Empire.

Bloomsbury, $35, hardcover, 624p., 9781632865205

Social Science

The Perils of "Privilege": Why Injustice Can't Be Solved by Accusing Others of Advantage

by Phoebe Maltz Bovy

Forward magazine Sisterhood editor Phoebe Maltz Bovy delves into the virtue of a single word from the English language for her first book, The Perils of "Privilege." The cultural phenomenon concerning the idea of unearned advantages has taken on considerable power in business, political, educational and even social situations. Individuals are told to "check your privilege" at the slightest possible offense, or are informed that "your privilege is showing" (YPIS) when exhibiting any ignorance toward the plights of those in some way less fortunate than themselves. But Bovy argues that the function of privilege, originally intended to promote empathy and encourage change, has instead become a detriment to those ideals.

By looking at the rise of the concept of privilege since the turn of the century--in areas like journalism, social media and casual conversation--Bovy identifies how privilege call-outs impede the conversations that should be taking place and supplant them with meaningless debate or navel-gazing: "Privilege once had that nuanced, reasoned use, but once checking started to enter into it--certainly once the 'your' got involved--the problems with it began."

Bovy also examines possible alternatives, which would be more than just a change in terms. "If you're wondering what to hurl instead of a YPIS, my advice would be to simply refrain from hurling, period." The rich complexity of the subject matter makes for a slower read, demanding reflection and analysis for a complete and comprehensive understanding of Bovy's argument. But the result of such an investment can have profound results. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: Phoebe Maltz Bovy shows that the trend of encouraging hyperawareness of privilege is intensifying divisions.

St. Martin's Press, $26.99, hardcover, 336p., 9781250091208

Children's & Young Adult

A Perfect Day

by Lane Smith, illus. by Lane Smith

It's a perfect day for Cat, who loves to feel the warmth of the sun while lying in a flower bed, and for Dog, who sits in the wading pool his friend Bert filled for him, and for Chickadee and Squirrel, too, who enjoy birdseed from the feeder and a corncob on the grass. Perfect for everyone... until Bear comes along and decides to make it a perfect day for himself. He chomps on the corncob, gobbles the birdseed, gives himself a wading pool shower and rolls in the garden, scattering the other critters in his wake. "The warmth of the sun./ The cool of the water./ A belly full of corn and seed./ A flower bed for a nap." This confirms it: "It was a perfect day for Bear." The others? Not so much anymore.

In A Perfect Day, Lane Smith--Carle Honor Artist, Society of Illustrators' Lifetime Achievement award recipient and two-time Caldecott Honor winner (The Stinky Cheese Man by Jon Scieszka; Grandpa Green)--gives young readers a sweet little taste of perspective. It's natural to find oneself at the center of the world when one is a child. Bear's oblivious upheaval of everyone else's perfect day in the pursuit of his own is a gentle nudge toward recognizing others' points of view. The image of a massive and utterly serene Bear snoozing among the flowers so recently abandoned by the panicked cat juxtaposes tellingly with the final picture of boy, dog, cat, bird and squirrel huddled wide-eyed around the window. Smith's trademark textured, scratchy, mixed-media artwork is, as always, captivating; his comic storytelling: perfect. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A perfect day for a cat, dog, chickadee and squirrel is turned upside down when a heedless bear horns in on the action.

Roaring Brook, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9781626725362

Maid of the King's Court

by Lucy Worsley

Historian Lucy Worsley transports readers back to 16th-century Tudor England in her debut novel, Maid of the King's Court. Twelve-year-old Elizabeth Camperdowne expects her fate to be the same as any girl: to wed and bear children. As the sole heir to Stoneton, her ancient but impoverished family estate, Elizabeth assumes she'll marry "into a family at least equal to ours in dignity and antiquity." An unforeseen turn of events instead brings her to the court of Henry VIII. Accompanied by her beautiful and vivacious cousin Katherine Howard, Elizabeth is named a "maid of honour," or attendant, to the king's new German bride, Anne of Cleves. As Katherine's charm captivates the courtiers, Elizabeth struggles to control her outspoken nature and catches the attention of Master Ned Barsby, the bastard son of a nobleman. In a land where even a queen may be executed, Elizabeth knows she must quickly learn the rules of the dangerous game of courtly life.

Long stretches between glamorous feasts and festivities lead to boredom in the royal household, and dullness can be shattered by the king's whims. Fictional and historical figures and events are woven together seamlessly in Worsley's tale, which challenges readers to reimagine the lives of courtiers and two of Henry's wives, Anne and Katherine, through the eyes of the fictional Elizabeth. While Elizabeth's fate is always in focus, the fates of those around her often feel just as significant. Every bit as captivating as Katherine herself, Maid of the King's Court is not to be missed. --Kyla Paterno, former children's & YA book buyer

Discover: Teenage Elizabeth Camperdowne must navigate the treacherous court of Henry VIII in this vivid reimagining of a turbulent royal era.

Candlewick, $16.99, hardcover, 368p., ages 12-up, 9780763688066

The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex

by Gabrielle Williams

The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex opens with a real-life unsolved mystery: "On August 2, 1986, a group calling itself the Australian Cultural Terrorists stole one of the world's most iconic paintings--Picasso's Weeping Woman--off the walls of the National Gallery of Victoria." The thieves were never apprehended--which provides Melbourne author Gabrielle Williams (Beatle Meets Destiny) the ideal premise for this rollicking what-could-have-been escapade.

The guy--his name really is Guy--has been deceiving his parents about his plummeting grades. Convinced failure is imminent, he hardly protests when friends pressure him into hosting a party while his parents are away. The girl--Rafi, originally from Mexico--leaves the toddler she's supposed to be babysitting with her mother and goes to the party where she runs into Guy... literally. The toddler's father--artist Luke--is impossibly talented, but also arrogant and irresponsible, which only makes him more irresistible to his ex, Penny, his son's mother. Thrown into this salmagundi of titular characters is a motley supporting cast that includes a mourning mother, a drowned brother, an international con artist, an unsalable artist-turned-security-guard and an equine apparition called La Llorona. One fateful night, the Weeping Woman will threaten life, limb and liberty of these unsuspecting many.

As Williams imagines the artful machinations of one of history's greatest heists, she manages shrewdly to balance extremes--love and dismissal, nurturing and abuse, loyalty and betrayal--making her characters multi-dimensional, her fiction immediately convincing and her novel one to remember. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: A real-life art theft inspires Australian novelist Gabrielle Williams's heart-thumping thriller about what might have happened between The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex.

Groundwood Books, $14.95, paperback, 240p., ages 14-up, 9781554989416

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