Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, December 22, 2017

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

From My Shelf

Revisiting Madleine L'Engle's A Wind in the Door

Marika McCoola
(photo: Carter Hasegawa)

In the months leading up to the release of the A Wrinkle in Time movie, we're asking authors of middle grade and young adult to revisit a title in Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quintet. For December, Marika McCoola (Baba Yaga's Assistant) revisits A Wind in the Door:

Growing up, I felt I was Meg: I was awkward with braces-and-glasses, would do anything to protect my little brother and suffered under a principal who disliked smart kids. Also like Meg, the battle that most shaped my childhood was that of surviving public school society. As an adolescent reader, I identified wholly with the eldest and youngest children of the Murry family and their struggles.

Rereading A Wind in the Door as an adult transported me, and I laughed or swooned at the same moments I had as a kid. But what I ultimately saw in the pages was a reflection of my core values, of my views about the balance between emotion and reason.

Emotion and reason--or spirituality and science--are the heart of L'Engle's novels. For L'Engle and her characters, observable reality is balanced by love and joy. As Mr. Murry says, "With my intellect, I see cause for nothing but pessimism and even despair. But I can't settle for what my intellect tells me.... There are still people in this world who keep their promises."

As I read, I wondered how much credit I should give L'Engle for helping me to articulate my world view.

Revisiting the lines and scenes I loved as a child was a joy, but what I'm most struck by is the impact L'Engle had on my formation as a person, a person who can "keep my heart optimistic no matter how pessimistic my mind."

The more I think about it, the more credit I think L'Engle deserves. --Marika McCoola

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

The Writer's Life

Reading with... Samantha Silva

photo: Glenn Landberg

Samantha Silva is an author and screenwriter living in Idaho. Mr. Dickens and His Carol (Flatiron Books) is her debut novel. During her career, she's sold projects to Paramount, Universal, New Line Cinema and TNT. A film adaptation of her short story "The Big Burn" won the 1 Potato Short Screenplay Award at the 2017 Sun Valley Film Festival. Silva will direct the film, her first time at the helm.

On your nightstand now:

The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes; Virginia Woolf's Moments of Being; Harold Pinter's Betrayal (because I desperately want to write a play); Emily Ruskovich's Idaho; The Collected Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft; and Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, just because I can't bear to take it off my nightstand.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Marjorie Flack's Walter the Lazy Mouse, about a mouse whose family moves away and leaves him behind. Being one of five kids, daughter of a peripatetic journalist and a notorious lie-about myself, the book played to my utter terror of being inadvertently forgotten, but maybe also foreshadowed my fascination with the Jungian idea of individuation. Walter takes control of his own journey in the end, and it all turns out okay.

Your top five authors:

I think more in terms of favorite experiences of authors--who I was when I found them--how those books live in my DNA: the way Milan Kundera's The Book of Laughter and Forgetting took my breath away when I read it on an Idaho lake while falling in love with my future husband; the delights of Italo Calvino's Difficult Loves discovered on a train in Italy; struggling through Robert Pinsky's bilingual translation of The Inferno of Dante when I was living in Rome, in my own dark forest (the right way obscured); reading Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird aloud to my kids (in a barely passable Southern accent); and most recently, having my partner read Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose aloud to me, night after wonderful night.

Book you've faked reading:

Well, Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit, for starters. I haven't straight out lied about it, but it would be fair for people to assume I'd read it, given that my novel pivots on what an utter flop it was.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Robert Richardson's Emerson: A Mind on Fire--also a book that changed my life. Being raised by agnostics who were skeptical of organized religion, this page-turner of a biography felt like finding my spiritual home. If the answers to all the great mysteries of the universe--including the mystery of God--are contained in a single leaf, then all those same things exist in each of us. Story, for me, is a way of puzzling that out.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Every book. Sometimes I'll buy a book twice if I see a cover I like better than the first. Money well spent!

Book you hid from your parents:

The Joy of Sex, which I didn't so much hide, as hide that I was sneaking into my parents' room and pulling it out from under their bed to read it, with a mixture of horror and fascination. I was riveted.

Book that changed your life:

The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus, because as a kid I used to lie in the grass and stare into the night sky, trying to grasp infinity, until I had to stop or throw up. Everyone, I imagine, gets that flash that their existence might be meaningless, that we are small in the face of endless time and space. And if so (though I doubt it), the question remains: Can we still be happy?

Favorite line from a book:

"It is not down on any map; true places never are." From Moby-Dick.

Five books you'll never part with:

A signed copy of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, which will go some day to my son, Atticus; a first edition of Edna St. Vincent Millay's A Few Figs from Thistles; The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke (1915) because it feels good in my hand, and I make someone read "The Lover" aloud most Thanksgivings; any of my Dickens books (they have to count as one); and my mother's copy of Irma Rombauer's Joy of Cooking, because it's the most lived-in, dog-eared, food-stained book I own.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

John Irving's The World According to Garp. When I finished it years ago, I immediately devoured everything he'd ever written. I think I was trying to understand how a writer can do that magic, ineffable, profoundly affecting thing. When I finished Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, I just wanted to start again at page one. I am bereft when I finish a book I love. It's why I start many more than I finish. I hate finishing.

Piece of writing you reference more than any other, in all aspects of your life:

"Out of Kansas," a 1992 Salman Rushdie essay in the New Yorker about The Wizard of Oz being his very first literary influence. I use The Wizard of Oz a lot to talk about story structure and character arcs, but the revelation that "there's no place like home" was a Hollywood-ization, and that its real theme was a young person discovering that the adults around her are inadequate to the task of saving her--that rang true all the way down. (See above: Walter the Lazy Mouse.)

Book Candy

J.R.R. Tolkien: Father Christmas

The Bodleian Library in Oxford, England, will exhibit illustrated Christmas letters from J.R.R. Tolkien, masquerading as Father Christmas, to his children, the Guardian reported.


"Hot chocolate recipes based on fictional characters" were served up by Quirk Books.


"Youthquake" was named 2017 word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries and "Feminism" trumped "complicit" to be Merriam-Webster's word of the year.


Headline of the day (via the Telegraph): "Better late than never: Rome revokes the exile of the poet Ovid, 2,000 years after his death."


Russia Beyond the Headlines noted "10 literary masterpieces on which every Russian was raised."

Great Reads

Rediscover: William H. Gass

American novelist, short story writer, essayist, literary critic and philosopher William H. Gass died earlier this month at age 93. Gass is credited with coining the term "metafiction," which he frequently used in his work. His three novels, Omensetter's Luck (1966), The Tunnel (1995) and Middle C (2013) all employ the complex, playful, often self-referential prose that made Gass, as described by the New York Times, "one of the most respected authors never to write a bestseller." Omensetter's Luck uses multiple unreliable narrators and stream of consciousness segments to tell the story of a jealous, mentally disturbed priest in an 1890s Ohio town. The Tunnel begins as a history professor's introduction to his completed study of Nazi Germany, and swerves into a merciless, lengthy critique of his own life. Middle C follows an Austrian family who escape the Nazis by pretending to be Jewish, focusing on an amateur pianist son who semi-fraudulently takes a professorship in Ohio.

Gass's novella and short story collections are In the Heart of the Heart of the Country (1968), Willie Master's Lonesome Wife (1971), and Cartesian Sonata and Other Novellas (1998); his essay collections include Fiction and the Figures of Life (1970), The World Within the Word (1979), Reading Rilke (2000) and On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry (1976). On June 8, 2018, Knopf will publish a 944-page collection of Gass's work titled The William H. Gass Reader ($40, 9781101874745), which samples large swathes of his fiction and nonfiction writing. --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


A Hundred Small Lessons

by Ashley Hay

A Hundred Small Lessons is a reflective, mystical meditation on interconnectedness and shared experiences. With parallel narratives and quietly evocative prose, Ashley Hay (The Railwayman's Wife) unfolds the similarities between two women of different generations, alongside their shifts in identities and expectations, as they grow as mothers amid familiar questions, decisions and insecurities.

At age 89, Elsie Gormley prides herself on living independently in her Brisbane, Australia, home. After Elsie suffers a fall and reluctantly moves into an assisted living community, her beloved home is sold to Lucy Kiss and Ben Carter, a young married couple with a toddler. With the house serving as the connection between their families, Lucy begins to feel a bond with Elsie, whose emotional presence becomes stronger even as she declines physically and mentally. Upon discovering a hidden box of old, mysterious photographs, Lucy's curiosity intensifies, as does her sense that Elsie represents her vardøger, a spiritual predecessor "who traveled ahead of you in time."

A Hundred Small Lessons is a novel of small mysteries and coincidences that will prompt readers to reflect on how one life can be commingled with the past as well as be a first draft of the future. "Maybe these days most of us are vardøger, living versions of a finite set of lives.... Did you have just one vardøger, scurrying ahead, or did new iterations of yourself peel off whenever you made a decision?" Just as our stories and nuances have a way of becoming invisibly etched into the walls, floorboards and foundation of a beloved home, the same is true of our shared experiences alongside others traveling a familiar path. --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at

Discover: Two women residing in the same house at different times take comfort in their shared experiences.

Atria, $26, hardcover, 304p., 9781501165139

The Last Man in Europe

by Dennis Glover

1984 is George Orwell's masterpiece and is considered one of the great novels of the 20th century. Dennis Glover's The Last Man in Europe fictionalizes the creation of Orwell's seminal work, depicting the small moments throughout the writer's life that eventually culminated in the book's genesis and completion. Orwell in many ways worked himself to death writing 1984, and Glover's fabulous book shows why.

Beginning with Orwell's time as a poor clerk in a bookstore, The Last Man in Europe tracks him as he becomes radicalized, eventually going to fight in the Spanish Civil War. He then loses his faith in political structures during the Battle of Britain and Stalinist purges in Russia. Never entirely a cynic, Orwell instead develops a healthy skepticism for utopian thinking, using his pen to ravage those worthy of criticism. Glover is at his best when he's depicting the moments of Orwell's political epiphany, giving the man's positions and concerns due time so that the reader understands just how complex his writing was. Toward the end of the book, as 1984 is becoming a bestseller, Orwell, nearly destroyed by a decades-long battle with tuberculosis, uses what little strength he has left to pen a clarification to critics, arguing that he's not picking any particular political side in the novel. Because Glover has brilliantly laid the groundwork for Orwell's choices by taking the reader through his earlier decisions, moments like these feel all the more pregnant with importance. The Last Man in Europe demonstrates that Orwell the man was just as worthy of praise as the works he created. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: The Last Man in Europe chronicles in fiction the writing of 1984, from George Orwell's first days as a writer to the novel's launch and success.

Overlook Press, $26.95, hardcover, 256p., 9781468315912

The Austen Escape

by Katherine Reay

Engineer Mary Davies has long loved her work at an Austin, Tex., tech startup, coming up with innovative ideas and figuring out the math to make them run smoothly and efficiently. But she's in a slump and afraid she might lose her job if the new fast-talking consultants in the office have their way. When Isabel, Mary's prickly childhood best friend, invites her to a two-week immersive Jane Austen experience at an English manor house, Mary reluctantly agrees to take a break. Once they arrive, Mary thinks she might actually enjoy herself, until Isabel's memory takes a strange turn and she starts to believe the costume party is real. Katherine Reay explores the gap between illusions and realities--both Mary's and Isabel's--in her fifth novel, The Austen Escape.

Reay (The Brontë Plot, Lizzy & Jane) tells her story in Mary's voice, noting wryly that "Austen really had a thing against Marys." As Isabel slips farther into her own mental world, Mary calls on her fellow guests for help, finding connection and aid in unexpected places. The eventual resolution of Isabel's problem feels abrupt, but Mary's messier efforts to grow and change (unlike Austen's Marys, she gets the chance for both) feel much more authentic. Like Austen, Reay weaves love stories into her plotlines, but her main focus is the personal discoveries her characters make about themselves. Dripping with period detail but fundamentally a modern story, The Austen Escape is a clever, warmhearted homage to Austen and her fans. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Katherine Reay's fifth novel follows two childhood best friends who join an immersive Jane Austen experience at an English manor house.

Thomas Nelson, $15.99, paperback, 320p., 9780718078096

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance

by Ruth Emmie Lang

Lydia Kramer says, "I once asked my dad if he believed in magic, and he said he believed in possibilities.... Call it a miracle, call it magic, call it whatever you want, but I was looking right at it." Her foster brother, Weylyn Grey, is the focus of Lydia's sight during this statement. Orphaned as a small boy, raised by wolves and the center of myriad unexplained events in nature, Weylyn is a marvelous mystery. Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance pieces together his curious existence through tales from those who experience this unexplained phenomenon.

The various narrators of Ruth Emmie Lang's debut tell Weylyn's life story through their interactions with him. Friends, family and colleagues each relate an amazing anecdote about a man who appears unremarkable on the outside, but in reality is anything but common. Living with wolves, stopping a hurricane, growing trees overnight, even producing energy from fireflies, Weylyn's existence defies logic, even to himself. But Weylyn doesn't want fame or attention; he simply wants the love of his life. As his character comes to light through the astonishing encounters with nature, his mystery intensifies and the magic entangles readers in his narrative.

Ruth Emmie Lang's debut glitters with the glow of fireflies, explodes with the force of fantastically strange events and warms with the love of a man who has so much possibility contained within him it overflows in miraculous ways. Skeptics who shun magic on page one of Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance will be converts by the end. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: A man raised by wolves and possessing mysterious powers alters the lives of those whose paths he crosses in his journey to reunite with his true love.

St. Martin's Press, $26.99, hardcover, 352p., 9781250112040


The Little Pieces of You and Me

by Vanessa Greene

When best friends Isla and Sophie were in college, they made bucket lists of things they wanted to do someday--from the ordinary, like learning Italian and making pasta from scratch, to the extraordinary, like learning to fly on a trapeze or taking tango lessons in Buenos Aires. But, a decade on, neither woman has fulfilled many of the things on her list. Isla is living in Amsterdam, working as an actress and dating a handsome Mexican man. Sophie still lives in Bristol, England, but is married to Liam, the love of her life. Although the moodiness of Liam's teenage daughter puts a bit of a damper on things for Sophie, both women are very happy.

That is, however, until they both receive shocking revelations that turn their lives upside down. In the midst of all the chaos, Sophie and Isla cling to each other, and to their lists of dreams.

Vanessa Greene (The Vintage Teacup Club) has created two likable, believable women in Isla and Sophie. As one of them faces a romantic dilemma and the other is beset by terrible personal news, their friendship and companionship ring true. Readers will enjoy the journey of each woman, and the way their friendship grows as they face their challenges and help turn each other's dreams into reality. The beautiful and evocative Amsterdam and Bristol settings add to the charm of The Little Pieces of You and Me, making it an irresistible read. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson

Discover: Best friends go through life-altering changes and confront an uncertain future together in this gentle novel.

Sphere, $13.99, paperback, 384p., 9780751563764

Food & Wine


by Nobu Matsuhisa, trans. by Cathy Hirano

Acclaimed celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa earned his reputation with a fusion cuisine he developed called Nobu Style, "Japanese cuisine that belongs anywhere in the world." In this memoir, he distills the personal influences and philosophy that inspired this benevolent yet uncompromising sushi master to reach the greatest heights of haute cuisine.

Left fatherless at seven and having been expelled from high school for driving without a license, Nobu started working at his family's lumber business until a sushi bar owner in Shinjuku, Tokyo, took on the 17-year-old as an apprentice. There, Nobu worked his way up to sushi chef from dishwasher and delivery boy. Six years later, he headed off to Peru to run a friend's sushi restaurant and then to Alaska to open his first restaurant with his wife. After tragedy all but destroyed his dream of restaurant ownership, he found redemption at a 38-seat Beverly Hills sushi bar that he named Matsuhisa. There he honed his personal philosophies on food and service, drawing the attention of Robert De Niro, who partnered with Nobu to open an international conglomerate of restaurants and hotels espousing the same style that made Nobu a star.

This memoir reads not so much as a personal tell-all as it does an inspirational how-to on hospitality. He eagerly imparts the pearls of wisdom he has acquired over the years to encourage innovation, so long as that innovation remains firmly rooted in Japanese cuisine. Nobu's strict adherence to empathic service created a management style that appears simple on the surface, but has proven revelatory and inspiring in its single-minded focus. Many fans of Matsuhisa will no doubt recognize, "No matter where you go, food and heaven will follow." --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: The man behind Nobu Style describes the inspirations and philosophy that infuse his acclaimed chain of restaurants.

Emily Bestler/Atria, $25, hardcover, 224p., 9781501122798

Bollywood Kitchen: Home-Cooked Indian Meals Paired with Unforgettable Bollywood Films

by Sri Rao

Bollywood Kitchen is a one-of-a-kind cookbook by Indian American filmmaker and lifestyle expert Sri Rao.

According to Rao, Indian cuisine and Indian cinema have much in common: both feature bold colors, flavors and drama. Mingling gorgeous photography with colorful storytelling, he guides the reader on an exploratory journey of both healthy Indian American home cooking and well-loved Bollywood films, each one packed with dazzling songs and dances. Rao inherited a treasure trove of recipes from his mother and clearly these are some of his most precious links to the past. He has painstakingly updated these recipes for the modern American kitchen, combining easy-to-follow recipes with interesting cooking anecdotes and a variety of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. Light and healthy eating and uncompromising flavor are Rao's focus, a refreshing change from the heavier fare available in most Indian restaurants.

Rao's menus are tailored to the geographical and historical focus of each movie that he recommends. For example, the Oscar-nominated colonial drama Lagaan is paired with British-influenced masala-encrusted salmon, grilled asparagus and creamy mint chutney. Meanwhile, for the thriller NH10, set in the capital city of New Delhi, Rao recommends a quintessential North Indian spinach chicken curry and a popular vegetarian dish of chickpeas and masala.

By pairing full menus (starters, entrees and desserts) with thematically matched Bollywood films, Rao has created a distinctive guide for "dinner and a movie" experiences at home. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: This beautifully photographed Indian American cookbook is filled with recipes, menu suggestions and recommendations for Bollywood films.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25, hardcover, 320p., 9780544971257

Biography & Memoir

The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World

by Maya Jasanoff

In The Dawn Watch, Maya Jasanoff (Liberty's Exile) highlights the position of early 20th-century fiction modernist Joseph Conrad at the height of Britain's leadership in commercial globalization. She focuses on four of Conrad's novels: The Secret Agent, Lord Jim, Heart of Darkness and Nostromo. All four grew out of his own experiences and touch on the great issues of his time: imperialism, moral conflict, immigration and global trade. Born in the Russian Ukraine, Conrad grew up with Polish nationalist parents shuttling in and out of prison. Largely raised by a taskmaster uncle, he went to Marseilles, France, at age 16 to become a sailor. Discouraged, Conrad left for London four years later to join Britain's merchant marine--an experience that made him fluent in English, provided a raft of stories and helped him understand many races and cultures of the world. As Jasanoff summarizes, "Conrad's novels are ethical injunctions. They meditate on how to behave in a globalizing world."

A history of the British shipping industry, colonialism, the commodity trade, slavery and indentured employment, The Dawn Watch is also a fine piece of biographical literary criticism. Illustrated with photographs, maps and facsimiles, it paints a picture of a solitary but attentive man comfortable with a world grown smaller by his travels. Perhaps Conrad was spurred by his uncle writing him after an attempted suicide in Marseilles: "You're a lazy-bones and a spendthrift... you fell into debt, you deliberately shot yourself... you have exceeded the limits of stupidity permitted at your age!" After that, "lazy-bones" Conrad became, and still stands, a towering master of modern English literature. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Jasanoff's biography of Joseph Conrad sparkles with originality as it blends European imperial history with the personal travels of this great English novelist.

Penguin Press, $30, hardcover, 400p., 9781594205811


Buzz: A Stimulating History of the Sex Toy

by Hallie Lieberman

The sexual revolution of the 1960s openly challenged traditional perceptions of gender roles, particularly the notion that women were reliant on men for sexual pleasure. In Buzz, Hallie Lieberman reveals the fascinating role that sex toys played in the burgeoning feminist movement of mid-century America.

Sold as non-threatening "marital aids" in the early 20th century, these devices quickly turned political by the 1950s when they became symbols of female self-reliance. By the 1960s, sex educator and provocateur Betty Dodson taught women to explore their sexuality with vibrators and to let go of the shame associated with masturbation. Even within the feminist movement, there was reluctance to accept sex toys. While some women were unable to shake the stigma of using inanimate objects to achieve orgasm, radical feminists believed sex toys were symbols of male dominance. Meanwhile, dildos--unyielding symbols of aggressive male sexuality and distributed by sleazy male-run monopolies--slowly changed thanks in part to Gosnell Duncan, a paraplegic whose desire for sexual feeling led to the development of the modern silicone dildo.

Sex toys were instrumental in the emergence of the first feminist and LBGT bookstores and sex shops, which survived despite rejection by mainstream advertisers and a paternal government that equated them with deviance and obscenity. Today, sex toys have gone mainstream, with appearances in Sex and the City and Fifty Shades of Grey. Lieberman's history is an informative journey that goes from taboo to transcendence. --Frank Brasile, librarian

Discover: An immersive history reveals the role sex toys played in the changing sexual landscape of 20th-century America.

Pegasus Books, $26.95, hardcover, 384p., 9781681775432

Social Science

Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City

by Tanya Talaga

Seven Fallen Feathers tells the story of seven students, all of whom died in Thunder Bay, Ontario, between 2000 and 2011. All were Indigenous students forced to leave their family homes to seek an education; their deaths were glossed over by officials. But as Toronto Star journalist Tanya Talaga looked into the stories of these students' deaths, she was struck by the similarities the modern system bore to the one-time residential school system in Canada--a system that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has, in 2015, deemed a tool of cultural genocide against Canada's Aboriginal peoples.

Talaga draws the parallels between the historical school system and the deaths of these students in her detailed account. In doing so, she gives readers a history of residential schools--with their many horrors and abuses. Her research unveils a legacy of racism and colonialism that has resulted in poor educational prospects, abuse and mistreatment, high suicide rates and broken family structures, among other injustices.

Much of Seven Fallen Feathers feels imbued with a strange sense of déjà vu, in part because Talaga repeats facts multiple times across as many pages. But that impression also comes from the eerie similarity between the lives and deaths of these seven students--and, indeed, the similarities between these seven and the many who died or disappeared from residential schools as far back as the late 19th century. The repetition is what Talaga works hard to warn against: look at what's been done. Remember what has happened. Do not let it happen again. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: Journalist Tanya Talaga reveals a legacy of racism and colonialism that has lead to the deaths of multiple Indigenous students in Northern Canada.

House of Anansi Press, $18.95, paperback, 304p., 9781487002268

Children's & Young Adult

Chirri and Chirra: The Snowy Day

by Kaya Doi, trans. by Yuki Kaneko

As Chirri and Chirra: The Snowy Day begins, the indistinguishable, ever-bicycling girls featured in two previous picture books consider the season's first snowfall a fine time for a ride. While pedaling through the woods, they spot a door made of ice. It opens into a café, where animals serve them hot punch. Chirri and Chirra proceed on their bikes through the icy structure, arriving at a great hall, where animals are enjoying activities like knitting, reading and napping. The girls join a game of marbles, which are "the frozen buds of many kinds of flowers," after which everyone heads to an indoor hot spring, where Chirri and Chirra submerge themselves and their marbles--"The water, now scented with flowers, is just the right temperature." Next up: sugar-sprinkled, rainbow-colored steamed buns. Although they're tired from their arduous afternoon of eating, marble play and aromatherapy, the girls follow everyone outdoors and end up snuggling with some bears in their igloo and watching shooting stars through a skylight.
Kaya Doi is on to something with her fantastical-nonsensical Chirri and Chirra books. While spa treatments and allaying stress may seem like grown-up interests, modern-day kids are living in an adult-made world of media supersaturation and technological pyrotechnics; the Chirri and Chirra books allow young readers to escape into an adult- and complication-free dreamscape of animals, sweets and unimpeded fun. Each of Doi's prettily delicate, pointillism-precise illustrations seems to be topped with a gauzy scrim, as if in effort not to overtax beleaguered young readers. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: Chirri and Chirra bicycle their way to an Oz-like land of ice in their latest calming, conflict-free adventure.

Enchanted Lion, $15.95, hardcover, 36p., 9781592702039

Love, Santa

by Martha Brockenbrough, illus. by Lee White

Note: Love, Santa is for children who are definitely, absolutely, positively ready to hear the truth--or already know it--about Santa Claus.

Sooner or later, families that celebrate Christmas arrive at a crossroads when the children begin to question just who this jolly fellow with a beard and a red suit really is. How exactly does he get down those chimneys? How does he know what all the little children wish for? And why does his handwriting on gift cards look strangely familiar?

In Martha Brockenbrough and Lee White's tender picture book, a girl named Lucy approaches that intersection between childhood and whatever-comes-next with trepidation. After years of sending Santa letters, doubt is beginning to curb her epistolary enthusiasm. Finally, when she is eight, Lucy writes one more letter, this time addressing it to her mother: "Dear Mom, Are you Santa?" Her mother's wise, loving response should win her the Mom of the Year award. "Santa is bigger than any one person," she writes to her daughter. "Santa is love and magic and hope and happiness...." It's the gentlest possible letdown to a childhood fantasy, just right for children who are ready to hear the truth about Santa.

Brockenbrough (The Game of Love and Death) manages to merge honesty and magic to help families in one of the most poignant of growing-up moments. Children will love opening the real envelopes attached to the pages of the book to pull out the letters between Lucy and Santa. Watercolor and mixed media illustrations by Lee White (What Are You Glad About? What Are You Mad About?; Emma and the Whale) capture a young girl's slow, natural dawning of understanding. Love, Santa is a coming-of-age story that will have readers of all ages wiping away a sentimental tear or two. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: When a little girl begins to wonder just who Santa really is and why his handwriting looks like her mom's, her mother has the perfect response in this lovely picture book.

Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 9-12, 9780545700306

Here We Are Now

by Jasmine Warga

Although she has been writing letters to famous indie rock star Julian Oliver for three years, 16-year-old Taliah Sahar Abdallat is stunned when he shows up on her doorstep one day. This is not a case of a superfan worshiping at the altar of her celebrity hero, though. Ever since she found an old letter from Oliver to her Jordan-born mother, Taliah has suspected he is her father. All the clues add up, from the "glacier-like blue" eye color they share ("I mean exact same eyes, dude") to the fact that Oliver is from the same small town in Indiana where Taliah's mother, Lena, got her undergraduate degree. And then there's that letter: "Lena. Please give me one more chance. This time it will be different. I promise. Always, Julian."

Now Taliah is face to face with her rock-star father at her Ohio door, her unwitting mother is in Paris for work, and Taliah is presented with an invitation to go on a road trip--literally and figuratively--through her secret family history.

Teen readers of Here We Are Now, even those who don't have long-lost celebrity fathers, will relate perfectly to Taliah. She is confused, feeling simultaneously angry at her mother for keeping her father a secret and disloyal to her mother for going with Oliver to Indiana: "My heart pulling me in one direction, my head pulling me in the other. There was a tectonic shift happening inside of me." Jasmine Warga (My Heart and Other Black Holes) writes with fluid authenticity about seeking (and finding) one's identity in the most unlikely places. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: When a rock star shows up on her doorstep and admits he's her father, 16-year-old Taliah struggles to find and make sense of her new place in the world.

Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, $17.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 14-up, 9780062324702


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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