Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, August 11, 2017

Mariner Books: Briefly Perfectly Human: Making an Authentic Life by Getting Real about the End by Alua Arthur

From My Shelf

Read an Award-Winning Romance

If you've been thinking about dipping your toe into the romance genre pool, now is a particularly good time to do so. The Romance Writers of America recently handed out the annual Rita Awards, recognizing the best in romance fiction for 2016. With 13 categories, there's something for everyone. Take Sarah Morgan's Miracle on 5th Avenue, winner in the Best Contemporary Romance: Long category. It's Christmastime in New York City, and hopeless romantic Eva Jordan finds herself housesitting in the perfect penthouse. There's one small problem: the penthouse owner isn't going anywhere. Oh, and he's handsome, mysterious and a bit of a Grinch. A classic opposites attract story, Morgan's holiday tale is as delicious as it is endearing.

Winner in the Historical Romance: Short category, A Duke to Remember by Kelly Bowen is set in the Regency period, a tumultuous time in British history when the Prince Regent ruled as proxy for his father, the infamous Mad King George. Elise deVries is an actress by night and an undercover agent for a company that handles indiscreet matters by day. Tasked with finding Noah Ellery, the missing and feared dead Duke of Ashland, Elise locates the aristocrat, who is very much alive and unwilling to return to London--until he realizes he's fallen for the woman who threatens to destroy his hardwon peace of mind. A swift mystery fills out this satisfying romance perfect for fans who like their love stories infused with history.

Finally, Weina Dai Randel's The Moon in the Palace, winner of the Mainstream Fiction with a Central Romance category, is based on the life of Empress Wu (624-705), China's only ruling female emperor. It's an impressive blend of romance, political intrigue, court machinations and self-discovery; our reviewer noted, "As Mei learns her way, she will capture readers' imaginations with the iron will that made a woman an emperor." --Stefanie Hargreaves, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

Sleeping Bear Press: A Kurta to Remember by Gauri Dalvi Pandya, Illustrated by Avani Dwivedi

The Writer's Life

Christopher Swann: There's No Running from the Past

photo: Kathy Ferrell Swann

Christopher Swann chairs the English Department at Holy Innocents' Episcopal School in Atlanta, Ga., and attended a prep school while growing up. Both experiences influenced his debut novel, Shadow of the Lions (reviewed below), a mystery set in a fictional all-male boarding school called Blackburne. Matthias Glass is a student there. During senior year, he gets into an argument with his best friend, Fritz, who then disappears without a trace. Ten years later, Matthias returns to the school as an English teacher and vows to find out what happened to Fritz.

You attended a boarding school, and now you're the chair of an English department at a private high school. How did these experiences influence your novel?

I attended Woodberry Forest School in Virginia, which was a profoundly formative experience. Basically I took some of the best parts of Woodberry and incorporated them into Blackburne, the fictional school in my novel. As for the less-than-good parts of Blackburne, I pretty much invented them. There are a lot of Easter eggs in the book for anyone who went to Woodberry, especially members of my graduating class.

As a department chair, I've had the privilege of witnessing outstanding teachers, and I've also seen teachers make mistakes. I certainly have. In my novel, Matthias Glass, the protagonist, is essentially a novice teacher returning to his alma mater to teach in an effort to pull himself together, and I worked hard to remember what it was like to be a new teacher. You walk into a classroom and are faced with all these teenagers. You're in the spotlight. I thought it would be a good place to put Matthias, dramatically speaking.

As someone who works with high school students every day, please tell us: To what degree do the events of high school continue to affect our grownup selves? Do we ever really leave high school behind?

Everything that happens to us as teenagers is so freighted with meaning and importance. First love, first heartbreak, first failure, first success--they all feel invented just for us, as if each of us is the first person to experience them. We know that's not true, but they feel that way. And even as we get older and perhaps wiser, and we gain a little more perspective on those events, they still have a hold on us. They may not ultimately define us, but they definitely shape us to some degree.

I was a total geek when I arrived at Woodberry, and I felt it was painfully obvious to everyone, and I was afraid I would have no friends and would feel terribly lonely. But I was curious-minded and liked learning, so I did well in school. And I made friends. But I remember that shy, dorky, 14-year-old kid that I used to be, and as someone who works with teenagers, I always try to treat them the way I wanted to be treated, and usually was, when I was their age.

Your plot is engaging throughout, but I was struck mostly by the moments of unspoken understanding between characters. Which is more important when writing a mystery--plot or character?

Most of the mysteries I like are enjoyable not just--or even primarily--because of their plots; they are enjoyable because of the characters and the writing. I've always liked stories that weren't tightly bound in the confines of genre--Chaucer's Canterbury Tales being an early example, or Shakespeare's plays, which operate in recognizable genres but also often subvert them. A more contemporary example would be someone like Martin Cruz Smith, whose Arkady Renko novels have a special shelf in my library at home. He is an excellent writer--the New York Times called him one of our best writers, period--who happens to write stories that involve mysteries. I deliberately set out to write a book like that, something that is well written and has authentic characters and also has an interesting plot. I realized that while there are only so many plots in the world, there are billions of unique human beings, and so I focused on the characters most of the time.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must also confess that I have a wonderful wife who reads my work and gives me very honest and valuable feedback. The fact that she is a psychologist may be relevant!

Your book is clearly fiction, but it includes critiques of such general problems as police corruption and the ability of powerful people to warp the lives of others to meet their own needs. What do you hope readers take away from these critiques?

Those issues were convenient for the story I was trying to tell, and I'm certainly no expert in them. But power can corrupt, and the more power a person has, the more potential exists that this powerful person can misuse it. If you look hard enough, dig down deep enough through the more superficial layers we put on every day, you find out that everyone is human, everyone is experiencing some sort of a struggle. No one has a premium on suffering. Matthias is pretty self-centered and flawed, which I find interesting, both psychologically and dramatically. But he knows he is self-centered, and he doesn't like it. He generally wants to be a good guy, to do the right thing, but he isn't always sure how to do it.

People tend to be healthier and happier when they have genuine relationships with other people, relationships that they cultivate and nurture. When you don't have that, when you twist or abuse relationships as a means to an end, that's a kind of corruption, a warping, a fallen state of being, not to get too metaphysical. We are all capable of doing that, of failing, of making bad decisions. But it's what we do next that becomes important. I wanted to see how Matthias would react when given a second chance, so to speak, especially in the face of some pretty daunting problems.

What's next for you?

I'm going to try to enjoy the ride of this first book tour as long as I can. I'm going to wring every bit of joy I can from the experience. I'll be the guy who checks into a hotel in Raleigh and says, "Oh, wow, they put an iron in my hotel room!" Then the school year will start and I'll be brought crashing down to earth. In the meantime, I'm well into my second novel and thinking about my third. If only summer were a little longer.... --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Book Candy

Top 10 Parties in Fiction

"From Bridget Jones's curry calamity to Vanity Fair's historic ball," author Elizabeth Day shared her picks for the "top 10 parties in fiction."


Bibliophagist, for example. Bustle featured "23 words that every book lover should integrate into their daily vocabulary."


Headline of the day (via the Guardian): "Shocking figures: U.S. academics find 'dramatic' growth of swearing in books."


Thought Catalog gathered "21 harsh but eye-opening writing tips from great authors."


Pop quiz: Buzzfeed invited readers to "find out which Baby-Sitters Club member you are."


"Bookshelves are making a comeback in living rooms as a 'shelfie' interior design craze is sweeping the U.K.," the Telegraph reported.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Then & Now

Barbara Cook, the actress and singer who achieved fame on Broadway in the 1950s and later as a cabaret singer, died on August 8 at age 89. She performed lead roles in Plain and Fancy (1955), Candide (1956) and The Music Man (1957), which won Cook a Tony Award for her portrayal of Marian the Librarian. By the early 1970s, Cook's struggles with depression, alcoholism and obesity made it difficult for her to find acting work. The lyric soprano voice that had served Cook so well as a Broadway ingénue became darker as she grew older. In 1975, she began a collaboration with pianist and composer Wally Harper that lasted until his death in 2004. He convinced Cook to stage a solo concert at Carnegie Hall, which marked the beginning of her successful second act. Cook's vocal performance and song interpretations, especially of works by Stephen Sondheim, continued to earn accolades well into her 80s.

On June 21, 2016, Harper published Cook's memoir, Then & Now, co-authored by Tom Santopietro. The memoir explores Cook's tumultuous early life as the daughter of divorced parents whose only sister died of whooping cough. Cook also reveals the issues with alcohol and mental health that she overcome to launch her lauded second career. In 2016, Cook appeared on NPR's Fresh Air to discuss her book, an episode that re-airs today. The paperback of Then & Now was released on June 27, 2017 ($16.99, 9780062090478). --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


The Reason You're Alive

by Matthew Quick

In The Reason You're Alive by Matthew Quick (Love May Fail), 68-year-old David Granger is a politically incorrect, profane, gun-toting, right-wing widower with a very dark past. He is haunted by murky memories of the atrocities he committed while serving in the Vietnam War and blames himself for his wife's suicide. When he crashes his BMW at the beginning of the novel, he discovers he has a brain tumor that resulted from his exposure to Agent Orange. This brush with mortality sets him on a crusade to improve his relationships with best friend Sue, a Vietnamese American; his son, Hank; and adoring granddaughter Ella. David also seeks to make amends with Clayton Fire Bear, a fellow Vietnam vet who used to scalp the enemy soldiers he killed--and whose hunting knife he stole.

David's attempt to maneuver these pieces of his life with a fragile heart and fragile psyche resonate genuinely and suspensefully. The novel builds toward his confrontation with Fire Bear, tugging at readers' heartstrings and offering food for thought about current political rhetoric. David is a memorable protagonist who mixes prejudiced rants with true wisdom and noble behavior. Quick insightfully presents a person who is more than the sum of his personal politics, showing how selfish instincts battle nobler ones--a valuable lesson in increasingly politically stratified times. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: Matthew Quick's seemingly simple tale about an angry, dying vet who tries to make amends provides a deeper discussion about divisive politics.

Harper, $25.99, hardcover, 240p., 9780062424303

The Little Old Lady Who Struck Lucky Again!

by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg, trans. by Rod Bradbury

The League of Pensioners, led by Martha Andersson and four feisty, resourceful retirees in their late 70s and 80s--escapees from a Stockholm senior residence--are back. The stolen millions from their previous Robin Hood-style art robbery, the caper featured in The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules, benefited the conniving quintet and funded retirement homes, cultural institutions and supported other "less-fortunate members of society."

This second installment of their adventures is set six months later. The group has been keeping a low profile in Las Vegas while coordinating a casino heist. During their planning, they accidently cross paths with dangerous jewelry store thieves and, through a series of laugh-out-loud mix-ups and mishaps, the pensioners come into possession of a cache of stolen diamonds and other gemstones worth millions. When the "Outlaw Oldies" ultimately decide to return to Stockholm, a significant portion of their windfall--stuffed inside walking sticks that are crammed into a golf bag--goes missing at the airport. This launches Sweden's geriatric most-wanted on a suspenseful, bumbling mission to steal back what was already stolen, while trying to sidestep customs officials, the Swedish police and a host of quirky characters--including a biker gang and a fortune teller.

The well-drawn strengths and weaknesses of Ingelman-Sundberg's devious yet charming criminal masterminds work together to benefit mankind. They also deliver a hilarious story. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: Five senior residence escapees from Sweden set off on a zany criminal adventure involving stolen gems.

Harper Paperbacks, $15.99, paperback, 368p., 9780062663702

Bed-Stuy Is Burning

by Brian Platzer

In Brian Platzer's first novel, one of Brooklyn's last gentrifying neighborhoods is having a bad day. Racially charged Bedford-Stuyvesant's history of shoot-first policing has the locals on edge. Their anger builds when a cop opens fire on an unarmed 12-year-old. The fuse is finally lit when police begin rounding up teens joy-jumping the turnstiles at the Utica Avenue A train station and then cuffing those who swarm the area to protest. Shouting gives way to baseball bats, guns, looting--until all hell breaks loose.

This is especially bad news for Aaron, who, with his journalist girlfriend, Amelia, and their newborn son, Simon, are the only whites on a block already pricing out long-time black owners. Aaron has a gambling problem and was kicked out of the rabbinate for stealing from his synagogue to cover his bookie debts. He and Amelia are on center stage of Bed-Stuy Is Burning, but Platzer's novel also includes an ensemble of engaging support characters. Simon's nanny is a devout Jamaican immigrant in the process of converting to Islam. The block's unofficial maintenance super, Jupiter, is a migrant from Georgia with an angry teenage son caught up in the melee.

Platzer paints with a broad brush, but his characters are robust. His story is about more than big social issues. It is about the masks people wear to hide insecurities--masks that are stripped off in the face of violent confrontation. A bad day in Bed-Stuy is a vivid microcosm of the United States, but the hope Platzer suggests with his characters' healthy unmasking offers optimism for the whole country's days ahead. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Brian Platzer's first novel captures a violent day in the uneasy life of a gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood where the fragility of love, parenthood, class and race is put to the test.

Atria, $26, hardcover, 336p., 9781501146954

Knots: Stories

by Gunnhild Øyehaug, trans. by Kari Dickson

Knots is an inventive short story collection from one of Norway's most acclaimed writers, Gunnhild Øyehaug. Originally published in 2004 in Norway, Knots is a collection of surreal stories that range from traditional short story length to less-than-a-page-long microfictions.

Øyehaug often introduces a comic touch to stories about despair and uncertainty, shedding a satirical light on the intellectual agitation common to brainy short fiction. Her characters frequently take self-consciousness to an extreme, such as in "Nice and Mild," where a trip to IKEA pushes the protagonist to a crisis of circular reasoning: "I'm thinking such simple, positive things, I try not to see myself from the outside, I try not to think idiot, idiot, get away from here, can't you see that being here and thinking positive thoughts is just building to an enormous anticlimax." In a much shorter story, "The Deer at the Edge of the Forest," a hart despairs that "no one sees me" even though "the whole point is that I am supposed to be difficult to see, I know that.... But it's the very premise of my life that is now making me miserable."

The rest of the stories are as bizarre, told sometimes in odd script-like formats ("An Entire Family Disappears") or with incredibly lengthy footnotes ("Compulsion"). One of the most memorable stories, "Small Knot," follows a mother and her son tethered by an unbreakable umbilical cord, but none of these stories are straightforward or easy to forget. Knots is the work of an idiosyncratic master. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Discover: Knots is a collection of surreal short stories from the celebrated Norwegian author Gunnhild Øyehaug that range wildly in length, style and bizarrely compelling subject matter.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $22, hardcover, 176p., 9780374181673

The Atlas of Forgotten Places

by Jenny D. Williams

Jenny D. Williams's first novel, The Atlas of Forgotten Places, is a gripping story of two women whose lives become entwined in war-torn Uganda in 2008.

Sabine is living a quiet life in Germany when she finds out that her 22-year-old American niece, Lily, went missing in Uganda after completing her volunteer work there. Sabine spent 20 years as an aid worker in Africa, including a stint in Uganda, so she sets off for the region, determined to track down her beloved niece.

Rose is a native of Uganda in her early 20s who was abducted by rebels at 13 and only recently returned to her family and her home village. She lost her right arm during her years in the bush and now works as an assistant to Christophe, an aid worker from Switzerland. Rose's boyfriend, Ocen, is also missing--she hasn't heard from him in a month.

The novel alternates between Sabine and Rose, two separate stories at first that gradually intertwine as they search for their loved ones in the lush jungle of East Africa, dodging dangerous rebels, gunfire and smugglers. Christophe accompanies the two women, each with secrets from their pasts, in their tense and treacherous quest. The narrative moves between Sabine and Rose in this suspenseful, compelling story set in a perilous region that many readers may have only heard about on the news. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and author of Book by Book blog

Discover: Two women come together to find missing loved ones in war-torn Uganda.

Thomas Dunne Books, $26.99, hardcover, 368p., 9781250122933

Mystery & Thriller

The Lake

by Lotte and Søren Hammer, trans. by Charlotte Barslund

The Danish sister-and-brother duo Lotte and Søren Hammer (The Vanished) has created characters and smart plots that lend themselves beautifully to the police procedural. The Lake, fourth in the series featuring Detective Superintendent Konrad Simonsen, focuses on the unsolved murder of an unidentified young woman.

No great police effort or public concern was initially expended on the case, as the victim was a Nigerian immigrant. But all hell breaks loose after a chief constable publicly uses a racial slur to describe the woman. Mounting pressure for justice results in the assignment of the case to Simonsen's crew.

Clues are scarce, leaving the unit with their contacts, powers of observation, dogged determination and experience to dig up a suspect. On the other side of the case is an ambitious crime family with their own fermenting issues coming to a head. The Lake opens with the woman's death almost a year prior, offering full view of the case from both sides of the law from start to finish.

Scandinavian thrillers are often described as cold, harsh and violent, terms that are not unfair or even unwelcome in crime fiction. Along with the unforgiving landscape and local sensibilities, stories melding these elements have created their own fingerprint on the genre. The Hammers bring their distinctive spin to the formula, ratcheting the camaraderie and humor, and lending some compelling warmth to the mix. Their well-rounded characters are as much a draw to this fine series as their plots. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: Danish detective Konrad Simonsen and his team take on the cold case of a murdered immigrant, pitting them against a crime family with plenty to lose.

Bloomsbury, $28, hardcover, 384p., 9781632867490

Shadow of the Lions

by Christopher Swann

The night after Matthias Glass arrives at Blackburne, a prestigious prep school in the mountains of Virginia, he sobs with homesickness into his pillow. Soon, however, a schedule of rigorous classes and a tight circle of friends appease his loneliness. His closest friend is Fritz Davenport, a Blackburne golden boy and the son of rich parents. He seems destined for greatness, but after a fight with Matthias their senior year, Fritz takes off into the woods and is never seen again. Ten years later, Matthias returns to Blackburne as a teacher and failed novelist. When another student goes missing, Matthias is overcome by memories of Fritz and decides to investigate his disappearance. What follows is a riveting literary mystery about power, privilege and the need to find the truth no matter how devastating it might be.

Shadow of the Lions is Christopher Swann's debut, but it unfolds with a maturity characteristic of works by more seasoned novelists. A product of boarding school himself, Swann is now the chair of an English department at a private school in Georgia. It perhaps comes as little surprise, then, that this mystery is so well observed: its richly drawn characters are motivated by circumstances that feel true to life, and they speak with a rare authenticity. Swann also demonstrates a talent for setting--his Virginia woods feel either menacing or soothing depending on who enters them. Unsettling and beautifully written, Shadow of the Lions challenges the idea that we ever truly leave high school behind. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A man continues to be haunted by a decade-old missing-person case in this literary mystery set in a boarding school.

Algonquin, $26.95, hardcover, 368p., 9781616205003

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Clockwork Dynasty

by Daniel H. Wilson

Daniel H. Wilson (Robopocalypse) looks to the past in a novel about a race of robots more ancient and yet more advanced than humans can comprehend, hiding in plain sight among us.

Years ago, June Stefanov's grandfather opened a locked box in his shed and showed her a "crescent-shaped slice of metal the size of a seashell" with "a labyrinthine pattern of grooves--a language of bizarre angles." Before he immigrated to the United States, he told June, he fought in World War II and witnessed a man of supernatural strength withstand a hail of bullets and turn back a German tank singlehandedly, speaking to no one and leaving behind the metal artifact. He called the man an angel of justice, something old and alien and able to appear human, and entrusted June with the relic upon his death. June, now a grown woman, spends her life in pursuit of the mystery behind the story and the relic. An anthropologist specializing in ancient technology, she hunts worldwide for examples of antique automatons. However, her investigations have been noticed by the very beings she seeks out.

The Clockwork Dynasty is a hybrid: engrossing historical fiction starring ancient androids and mile-a-minute present-day action thriller. Wilson's novel sweeps readers from imperial courts to blood-soaked battlefields and tinkerer's workshops both futuristic and arcane. June's mad dash to flee a secret society bent on taking her knowledge and her life evokes the best moments of Dan Brown. Although the ending gives some closure, Wilson allows gears of mystery to tick away, leaving the reader hopeful for a sequel exploring the workings of the clockwork angels. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: An anthropologist digs too close to the truth of an ancient race of alien robots still walking among humans, and must solve their mystery to save her life.

Doubleday, $26.95, hardcover, 320p., 9780385541787

Biography & Memoir

The Book of Emma Reyes: A Memoir

by Emma Reyes, trans. by Daniel Alarcón

Emma Reyes was a Colombian painter who worked with Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and spent most of her adult life in Paris. The Book of Emma Reyes is her childhood memoir, written between 1969 and 1997, in the form of 23 letters to a friend who suggested this method for finally putting down her horrifying and enthralling stories.

Nothing about this memoir is sentimental. Reyes's earliest memories are of extreme poverty in a slum of Bogotá, living with her older sister and a brother who was taken away without explanation. The head of this household was an abusive erratic young woman who Reyes barely realized was her mother, "a woman I remember only as an enormous tangle of black hair." She would lock the children into their windowless room for days at a time while she went away, and eventually she abandoned the sisters to a convent when they were five and six years old.

There the girls joined 150 others in working 10-hour days to earn their keep. Reyes had no schooling until she was 10, and not much thereafter. These horrors and deprivations are told with the same open innocent perception as the many wonders she remembers as well: a spectacular neighborhood fire, a general made by her friends out of clay, a pet pig, an adored baby, a player piano. Each time Reyes found someone or something to love, she lost them through some catastrophe. This is a memoir of extreme hardships told in a clear, restrained style, with an ending that leaves the reader wishing for more. --Sara Catterall

Discover: This memoir in 23 letters is a perceptive, straightforward account of an impoverished girl's intense sufferings and joys in 1920s and '30s Colombia.

Penguin Books, $24, hardcover, 192p., 9780143108689


Surfing with Sartre: An Aquatic Journey into a Life of Meaning

by Aaron James

Philosopher and avid surfer Aaron James (Assholes: A Theory) draws deep meaning from the ocean's waves in his thoughtful and life-affirming treatise Surfing with Sartre: An Aquatic Journey into a Life of Meaning.

In the tradition of Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, James analyzes his personal pastime from a philosophical standpoint, uniting the habitual and quotidian with the profound and metaphysical. Surfing with Sartre is divided into three sections: epistemology, metaphysics and political philosophy. James explores these topics through his own surfing anecdotes blended with explication of philosophical concepts. He presents the ideas of many philosophers but homes in on the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre, questioning how Sartre's conceptions of freedom and moral responsibility pertain to surfing.

To answer these questions, James examines the psychological reality and philosophic assumptions underlying the popular, surfer-like dictum, "Go with the flow." "To surf, in general," he writes, "is to be adaptively attuned to a changing phenomenon beyond oneself, for its own sake." This is the nature of existential freedom, James argues, the ability to flow within one's circumstances and to find transcendence and sublimity in the activity itself. He urges individuals to extend grace to others and connects this surfer mentality to globalization and a new conception of capitalism in which people work less, love more and live in harmony with their environment rather than dominate it.

Funny, enthralling and above all wise, Surfing with Sartre offers fresh insights into the human condition that will interest the academic theorist, the casual surfer and everyone in between. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: Philosopher Aaron James explores how surfing is an expression of human freedom in this thought-provoking work of nonfiction.

Doubleday, $27.95, hardcover, 352p., 9780385540735

Children's & Young Adult

Wicked Bugs (Young Readers Edition): The Meanest, Deadliest, Grossest Bugs on Earth

by Amy Stewart, illus. by Briony Morrow-Cribbs

Wicked Bugs is not for the faint of heart. Author/bookseller Amy Stewart's (Lady Cop Makes Trouble) young readers edition of her adult nonfiction title featuring insects, spiders, worms and other creepy-crawlies is sure to thrill budding entomologists, but may leave others feeling mysterious prickles on their skin. Briony Morrow-Cribbs's illustrations throughout enhance the sinister nature of these creatures, giving the book a powerful gross factor--perfect for the middle grade target audience.

Wicked Bugs is divided into six categories of vicious vermin: Deadly Creatures, Everyday Dangers, Unwelcome Invaders, Destructive Pests, Serious Pains and Terrible Threats. Within each category readers will discover species discussed with spine-tingling details and amazing facts. Marching across the pages of each chapter are Morrow-Cribbs's realistic illustrations, complete with texture and depth. The lifelike appearances evoke double takes to ensure they're drawings and not unexpected guests settling in to read along. Wicked Bugs is the entomophobe's version of a car wreck: Stewart has compiled such interesting information on otherwise repellent critters that readers can't help but keep turning the pages in anticipation of what will come next.

This accessible, middle-grade version of Wicked Bugs combines science, anthropology and history with a powerful yuck-factor. It's sure to be a hit with even the most reluctant readers--just be prepared for some serious goose bumps and skin tingles along the way. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: In a young readers' edition of the bestselling adult book, creepy crawlies from around the world show off their meanest, deadliest, grossest characteristics and behaviors.

Algonquin Young Readers, $19.95, hardcover, 192p., ages 8-12, 9781616207557

The Spellbook of the Lost and Found

by Moïra Fowley-Doyle

After a night of drinking and poor decision-making at their small Irish town's annual bonfire, Olive, Rose, Ivy and twins Hazel and Rowan all lose something. Coincidentally, a spellbook that fetches lost items appears, and the teens take the chance to right their situations, quickly discovering the spell may have drummed up some possessions--and people--they would rather stay hidden.

Moïra Fowley-Doyle (The Accident Season) uses three protagonists--Olive, Hazel and (through diary entries) Laurel--to tell this dreamy, bewitching story that walks the line of real and surreal. Before the characters even meet, they're connected to one another through small coincidences: Hazel finds Olive's lost shoe in her bike spoke and Olive picks up Hazel's jacket at the bonfire. Fowley-Doyle effortlessly (almost sneakily) places these acts of fate into the narrative, begging readers to read her book in one sitting without missing the smallest of plot points that may tie everything together. Her eerie, atmospheric storytelling--parents in trancelike states doling out strange warnings, blustery summer storms and crossword clues predicting the immediate future--is the perfect backdrop to the real-life problems the teenagers face, including alcoholism, sexual assault and abandonment. When the stories finally collide, the twists and turns come fast and furiously, making shocked readers wonder how they missed what was right in front of them the whole time.

Spellbook of the Lost and Found is an enchanting sophomore novel about friendships, family and everyday magic. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader

Discover: A group of Irish teens uses an ancient spellbook to find things they've lost, including diaries and hair clips and parents and innocence, in this arresting novel tinged with magical realism.

Kathy Dawson Books/Penguin, $17.99, hardcover, 368p., ages 14-up, 9780525429494

Little & Lion

by Brandy Colbert

Returning to Los Angeles from boarding school, Suzette is excited to see her old friends, especially her crush Emil and her stepbrother Lionel, whom she calls "Lion." She is disappointed to find that Lionel, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, has disconnected from their group of friends (he thinks "people ask too many questions"), especially because her parents' desire to focus on his treatment was the reason Suzette was sent to boarding school in the first place. Suzette (whom Lionel calls "Little") thinks her mother "really thought she did what was best for all of us by sending me away," but she knows "how easy it is to believe you're doing the right thing if you say it to yourself often enough."

At a welcome-home party, Suzette meets Rafaela, who starts dating Lionel. Things seem to be perking up between Suzette and Emil until she discovers she also has feelings for Rafaela. Suzette is overwhelmed by guilt: she has a crush on someone even though she's dating someone else; she wasn't there for her brother; and she left things unsaid with her roommate, with whom her secret relationship ended when homophobic classmates outed them.

Little & Lion unfolds in alternating "then" and present-day chapters, allowing Suzette to understand what happened while she was away and what happened to send her away. Brandy Colbert (Pointe) paints a realistic, nuanced portrait of bipolar disorder, showing Lionel's high energy and irrational anger while also depicting the long process that begins with identifying symptoms and leads to diagnosis and management. Suzette's coming to terms with her bisexuality and Lionel's bipolar disorder are given the gravity and time they deserve without pat outcomes. Sexy moments and raucous but realistic teen parties round out this passionate, contemporary bildungsroman. --Sarah Hannah Gómez, freelance writer and doctoral student in children's literature

Discover: A teen girl battles familial and romantic guilt while coming to terms with her own sexuality.

Little, Brown, $17.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 15-up, 9780316349000


Author Buzz

The Wild Card
(A Rivers Wilde Novella)

by Dylan Allen

Dear Reader,

"What if…?" is my favorite question to ask myself when I start writing a book. The answers that Cassie and Leo's story delivered were unexpected and heartwarming. Adding a heist and serendipitous reunion into the mix took my tried and true favorite trope, second chance, to a whole new level. Theirs is a classic case of right person/wrong time. Whether you're a Rivers Wilde newbie or expert, watching them overcome some pretty steep hurdles is a wild, thrilling, feel good ride.

I hope you love every word. xo,

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: The Wild Card (A Rivers Wilde Novella) by Dylan Allen

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 16, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book


Kids Buzz

Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night

by Steven J. Simmons and Clifford R. Simmons
illus. by Ruth E. Harper

Dear Reader,

My newest and latest in a three-book series, Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night?, came from seeing the fascination so many kids have with the ocean and ocean creatures. How do a whale, octopus, dolphin, clownfish, great white shark and so many other undersea animals get their rest?

After all, they need to get their rest and sleep, just like all of us. So dive into this rhyming STEM picture book to encourage a love of nature and the environment--and under the covers for a great bedtime story.

"What do animals do when children are sleeping? Featuring creatures young children are likely to know, this book has the answers....[and] unusual nighttime facts are a plus." --Kirkus

Steve Simmons

KidsBuzz: Charlesbridge: Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night? by Steven J. Simmons and Clifford R. Simmons, illus. by Ruth E. Harper


Pub Date: 
April 16, 2024


Type of Book:
Picture Book

Age Range: 

List Price: 
$17.99 Hardcover

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