Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, December 26, 2017

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

From My Shelf

Good Cheer, Tasty Beer & Fine Reads

It all began last spring with Frances Stroh's intriguing Beer Money: A Memoir of Privilege and Loss. Since then, for some reason, good beer books have found their way to me, round after round.

Following a week in silent retreat at St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Mass., I learned about Trappist Beer Travels: Inside the Breweries of the Monasteries by Caroline Wallace,‎ Sarah Wood and Jessica Deahl. A combination journal, history and travelogue, the book offers an in-depth and entertaining look at legendary Trappist breweries worldwide, including St. Joseph's Abbey. (For the record, I consumed no ales while on the premises.)

In September, I heard Bill McKibben, author of the funny and timely novel Radio Free Vermont, tell an audience: "A Pollyanna I'm not, but two things that consistently cheer me up are 1) you can now get delicious bottled beer from almost every town in New England; and 2) somehow a lot of independent booksellers survived, in spite of everything that came at them." Locally-brewed beer not only drives the tale (Vermont is described as "beer-independent"), it's almost a character.

Then I read Beeronomics: How Beer Explains the World by Johan Swinnen and Devin Briski, which nicely complements McKibben's independent streak ("Lagunitas' primary strategy is to donate its beer to local nonprofit organizations to sell as fundraisers") as well as Trappist legacy ("Prior to the twelfth century, monasteries were the only places that beer was brewed on anything close to a commercial scale"). This book teaches you more than you ever thought you needed to know about beer. It's, well, a refreshing read.

With 2018 just around the corner, I'm thinking Graham Swift's pint-fueled novel Last Orders might have some words of wisdom to share: "And we all feel it, what with the sunshine and the beer inside us and the journey ahead.... Like we're off on a jaunt, a spree, and the world looks good, it looks like it's there just for us." Or maybe that's just the beer talking. --Robert Gray, contributing editor 

The Writer's Life

Tracy Anderson Talks to Teens

Tracy Anderson is a fitness and wellness expert and the author of Tracy Anderson's 30-Day Method. Her newest fitness title is Total Teen: Tracy Anderson's Guide to Health, Happiness, and Ruling Your World (Rodale Kids, paperback, $19.95). It offers a body-positive approach and includes meal plans, recipes and more than 100 pages of exercises and activities aimed at teens.

Total Teen is clearly much more than a workout book. Did you always want to create a book this comprehensive? Did you always want it to be for teens?

It feels natural to support teens so that they have opportunities to connect with themselves physically in a world that has multiple definitions of beauty and accomplishments. When teens become their own athletes, they find liberation. I've spent 20 years with thousands of women in my office who I wish had been taught to take care of the little girls inside them. I'd like to empower teens with the tools they need to prevent that sort of loss and disconnection from themselves later on.

What was the process of writing this book like? How much of a role did you have in the design of the work?

I had to fight to find the time to write because I'm so busy with my classes and family. I love how the book showcases my home life--I am a mom and I have a teenage son and a five-year-old daughter. Having them in the book makes it more authentic to me, and more relatable for readers.

The team at Rodale made the process amazing--I had the freedom to express myself and pose the moves the way I wanted to. When it came to the photos and styling, I had fun with all the different looks--I wanted it to be clear that it's okay to suit up and be yourself. Teen girls are often bombarded with photos that are very mature for their age, and it can feel entrapping, to the point where girls start to misidentify themselves. Ultimately, the book had to be something that felt authentic to me and my brand.

Why do you focus on women?

When my journey began, the goal wasn't to become an entrepreneur or to be in the fitness industry. My path was, and still is, to help people like myself who have struggled with their weight, and feel like they're expected to look a certain way. I always stay true to that journey.

At a young age, all the dancers I knew who were dealing with these issues were women--I just didn't know any male dancers. And once I began with them, I wanted to help every woman this same way: I wanted to be an advocate for all women. I felt compassion and empathy for women who had several kids, but who also felt badly about their bodies. I knew that there was beauty in these women, even if they felt physically disconnected and couldn't see it in themselves.

You say "in a world where you're bombarded daily with filtered social media images and magazine covers of photo-shopped celebrities, it's essential now, more than ever, to create a rock-solid relationship with what's real and what's beautiful." How can people avoid getting caught up in the superficiality of social media?

Social media is something we need to talk about. A lot of people create incredible posts, and it's easy for their whole lives to look incredible through social media. But sometimes, you appreciate yourself in filters only. It's a slippery slope--filters and heavy editing can seem like they are medicating--but it's instant gratification, and a temporary fix for what might be bothering you on a deeper level. To include social media in your life, you need to learn how you like to be heard, and then find a balance and a way to express that in a way that is authentic to you.

What does it look and feel like when women "click into what makes them special?"

I hope for teens to be able to use their voice in a graceful and respectful way. Teens are going through so much--exercising in a balanced method, as I show them how to do in the book, is better than trying to become someone else.

My personal goals have shifted through the years. Every woman is their own shape and size. I created my Metamorphosis program to help overcome genetic imbalances--for example, my metabolism is naturally very slow, and I've always had to work with that. This book should inspire teens to look at themselves to be as special as they can be.

What has been the best part of creating this book? What do you most hope readers will get out of it?

The best part of creating this book has been being able to have the opportunity and platform to be a service to teen girls. I think that if you haven't come into your body, you can start designing it now in a way that is healthy, balanced and connected. Then, it's almost like you can skip a chapter--the "out-of-control-with-your-body" phase, let's call it--and you can prevent yourself from ever being disconnected. Working out is so important and the book should inspire teens to form a healthy lifestyle filled with activity they enjoy. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor

Book Candy

Literary Character New Year's Resolutions

Bustle suggested "10 New Year's resolutions you should make in 2018, based on your favorite literary character."


Notable Literary Deaths in 2017: Lit Hub offered "a last goodbye to the authors and editors we lost this year."


"Build a bestselling novel and we'll reveal the name of your autobiography," Buzzfeed promised.


"He began to eat Hermione's family." A bot tries to write a Harry Potter book "and fails in magic ways."


From B.F. Skinner's behaviorism to Milan Kundera's existential comedy, author John Bargh picked his "top 10 books about the unconscious" for the Guardian.


Flavorwire showcased photographer Kerry Mansfield's "stunning photographs of well-worn library books."

Great Reads

Rediscover: All the Money in the World

On July 10, 1973, 16-year-old John Paul Getty III, grandson of billionaire oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, was kidnapped in Rome. His abductors, the 'Ndrangheta organized crime group, demanded a $17 million ransom. John Paul Getty Jr. asked his father for the money, to which the infamously frugal patriarch replied that paying this ransom would endanger his 13 other grandchildren. In November, the kidnappers sent Getty III's severed ear to a local newspaper, threatening more mutilation if no money was forthcoming. J. Paul Getty finally conceded, to an extent: he negotiated a $2.9 million total ransom, paying $2.2 million himself--the largest tax-deductible amount--and lending the rest to John Paul Getty Jr. at a 4% interest rate. Getty III was released, several of the kidnappers arrested, but most of the money never recovered. The trauma of his captivity sent Getty III on a downward spiral of drug and alcohol abuse. In 1981, an overdose of Valium, methadone and alcohol caused a stroke that left him quadriplegic and partially blind. He died in 2011 at age 54.

English author John Pearson's 1995 book, Painfully Rich: the Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty, is the basis for Ridley Scott's new film about the Getty kidnapping. All the Money in the World stars Mark Wahlberg as Fletcher Chase, a former CIA agent turned adviser; Charlie Plummer as John Paul Getty III; Michelle Williams as his mother, Gail Harris; and Andrew Buchan as John Paul Getty Jr. The role of J. Paul Getty had been filmed with Kevin Spacey, but his recent sex scandals led to last minute re-shoots with Christopher Plummer. The film opened yesterday. A tie-in edition of Pearson's book, renamed after the movie, is available from HarperCollins ($15.99, 9780008292041). --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


The Ice House

by Laura Lee Smith

In The Ice House, her second novel, Laura Lee Smith (Heart of Palm) weaves another intricate, heartfelt tale of a family pushed to its extremities by tragedy and drawn close by newfound resilience.

Johnny and Pauline MacKinnon are in a tough spot. They've spent the last few years avoiding the topic of Johnny's estranged son, Corran, whom Johnny disavowed after years of heroin relapses. They are also facing the closure of their Florida ice factory due to a gas leak. To make matters worse, Johnny may have a brain tumor and must undergo surgery in a few weeks. He decides to return to Scotland to end the silence between him and his son and to meet his newborn granddaughter, but his plan is soon derailed by another tragedy. Meanwhile, Pauline faces her own moral and emotional struggles on the home front.

Like most of Smith's characters, Johnny, Pauline and their supporting cast are delicately constructed, a testament to Smith's rich perception. While the bulk of this novel, like her first, focuses on the steamy, hidden complexities of Florida life, Smith has now widened her canvas to include Scotland and the transatlantic complications of generational identity. She crafts each setting with specificity and care, balancing these outwardly opposite atmospheres with ease and grace. Despite its seemingly simple prose style, The Ice House's complex characters, settings and subplots pack an emotional punch that is sure to impress readers with its insight and heft. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Laura Lee Smith delivers a witty story of family drama, perfect for fans of Richard Russo and Anne Tyler.

Grove Press, $25, hardcover, 448p., 9780802127082


by Merle Kröger, trans. by Rachel Hildebrandt, Alexandra Roesch

On the Mediterranean Sea, four boats come into contact. One is an old commercial vessel, another a luxury ocean liner with thousands of passengers, the third a water rescue and patrol boat for the Spanish government, and the last a lonely raft of Algerian migrants trying to make their way to a better life. Collision, by acclaimed German author Merle Kröger, shows the reverberations of small decisions across our modern, globally connected world, where the difference between life and death for one person is the product of a thousand offhand choices by others.

Based on the current European migrant crisis, Collision focuses on the hours before and after a small encounter between the raft, piloted by a human trafficker, and the cruise ship, strikingly named The Spirit of Europe. Pivoting among characters on those boats (plus people on a trade ship that happens to be in the area and on the ship sent out to rescue the migrants), the novel has a massive cast for its small page count. But it's a testament to Kröger's verve that she is able to widen the scope of her narrative without ever losing her sense of direction. The book is about what happens when people and projects unexpectedly collide, and by having such a large cast, she can frame her plot from a healthy plethora of perspectives. Collision brilliantly weaves many disparate threads together, showing how everyone is far more connected than they think. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: In Collision, a crash at sea involving migrants from the Middle East highlights the complexities of human interconnection.

Unnamed Press, $15.99, paperback, 240p., 9781944700195

Daughters of the Air

by Anca L. Szilágyi

Anca Szilágyi is one of Seattle's emerging stars, having written impeccable pieces for the Stranger, the Los Angeles Review of Books and Electric Literature. Her debut novel, Daughters of the Air, takes Szilágyi's sharp sense of detail and fabulist sensibilities to new heights in the story of young Tatiana "Pluta" Spektor.

Alternating between Buenos Aires in 1978 and New York City in 1980, reverberations from the absence of Pluta's father haunt her coming of age. An unwavering academic, he is one of the disappeared during Argentina's Dirty War. Pluta's mother and aunt devise a plan to save the girl from further trauma by sending her to boarding school in Connecticut. Left to her own devices, however, Pluta flees to the city to escape her exile. There, she discovers a guileful metropolis, rife with the machinations of men, as she wrestles private demons and the unnerving new flesh protruding from her back.

Szilágyi writes sinewy, visceral prose. She evokes the noise, smells and grime of late 20th-century Brooklyn streets, the lush serenity in an Argentinian home prior to tragedy and a family shattered by a faceless political force. All the while, the specter of magical realism lurks just behind Pluta, enhancing the anxious nature of solitary adolescent fumbling, and complicating the hubris of her first independent steps. A striking debut from a writer to watch, Daughters of the Air is gritty yet gorgeous, severe yet convivial, as it navigates uncertain times in a treacherous world. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A girl flees to New York City as she grapples with her father's disturbing disappearance in Argentina's Dirty War.

Lanternfish Press, $16, paperback, 260p., 9781941360118

The Years, Months, Days: Two Novellas

by Yan Lianke, trans. by Carlos Rojas

The Years, Months, Days contains two novellas by Yan Lianke, translated from the Chinese by Carlos Rojas. The title story, featuring just two characters, opens: "In the year of the great drought, time was baked to ash; and if you tried to grab the sun, it would stick to your palm like charcoal." All the other residents of a tiny mountain village have fled, but an old man known only as the Elder does not think he'd survive the trip. He stays behind, with a blind dog for companionship, to tend a single stalk of corn, in the hopes that when the villagers return, the kernels he nurtures will restart their community.

The second novella, "Marrow," is also about a grim struggle for existence. The father of four disabled children, out of guilt for his heredity, kills himself, leaving his wife to raise them alone. His ghost remains to accompany her and converse with her, in a twist that could be magical or merely her fantasy.

The common themes of these bleak stories are clear: hunger, solitude, the searing strain of existence. In a brief, insightful translator's note, Rojas observes that Lianke's work often transforms such abstract needs into literal ones. Indeed, the author's descriptions are synesthetic: smells "roll noisily"; gazes produce a "crackling sound"; and a wolf's roar is purplish-red. In a spare but artful style, Lianke presents the sun's rays as physical realities, which have measurable mass and can be cut or shattered. His characters inhabit a bleak, harsh world. The Years, Months, Days is for readers who appreciate grim lessons, magical realism and lovely, lyric prose. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: Two novellas translated from the Chinese offer plucky characters in terrible situations, simply but poetically portrayed.

Black Cat/Grove, $16, paperback, 155p., 9780802126658

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Into the Drowning Deep

by Mira Grant

Nary a seashell bustier nor a golden singing voice makes an appearance in this aquatic horror thriller from Mira Grant (Feedback), a pseudonym of urban fantasy author Seanan McGuire (Every Heart a Doorway).

In 2015, the Imagine Entertainment corporation sent the Atargatis into deep waters to film a cryptozoological documentary about mermaid sightings. The crew vanished, the only clue to their fate a shadowy, violent video showing an attack by voracious creatures evocative of mermaids. Now, seven years later, Imagine readies its new ship, the Melusine, to answer once and for all the question of what lurks in the deep. The crew includes Olivia, a media personality popular with the nerdy set; Tory, a marine biologist whose sister disappeared on the Atargatis; and Dr. Jillian Toth, the world's foremost scientific expert on mermaids. At their disposal is a facility with sign language that may allow for communication with the creatures, and three dolphins that volunteered to help in exchange for release at sea. The voyage steers hard toward disaster when the ship's presence awakens the terrors that dwell in the Challenger Deep, bringing clawed fins and hungry mouths of needle-sharp teeth to the Melusine for an easy meal.

Grant draws inspiration from clearly thorough research into marine biology, using it to create legitimately terrifying monsters that could have inspired folktales around the globe. Engrossing and adrenaline-fueled, Into the Drowning Deep succeeds Grant's novella Rolling in the Deep with blood-soaked scares that balance thought-provoking philosophical dilemmas. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: When a sci-fi entertainment company launches a voyage to discover what happened to its lost vessel, the scientists and crew aboard awaken mermaid-like creatures hungry for flesh.

Orbit, $26, hardcover, 448p., 9780316379403

Biography & Memoir

Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life

by Robert Dallek

When Herbert Hoover characterized Franklin D. Roosevelt as "a chameleon on plaid," he intended his remark to be derogatory. Historian Robert Dallek does the opposite in this expansive biography, choosing to portray the insult as testimony to Roosevelt's political acumen and reflective of his status as one of the three greatest American presidents.

In this in-depth, engaging narrative, Dallek (An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963; Nixon and Kissinger) explores Roosevelt's focus on the importance of considering public opinion while governing. ("It's a terrible thing to look over your shoulder when you are trying to lead--and to find no one there," Roosevelt once remarked to his speechwriter.) Dallek successfully argues that while reliance and emphasis on polling data may appear to be a product of contemporary campaigns, Roosevelt's keen understanding of trends, views, patterns and demographics--knowledge he acquired early in his presidency--helped to establish the foundation for today's practices.

Roosevelt knew "never to get too far ahead of public opinion in reaching for a policy goal. To him, politics was an art, and he was an exceptional practitioner of the craft that underlay it." As Roosevelt demonstrated, Dallek notes that knowing where your followers are at any given time and being able to move them slowly in your intended direction without losing sight of them is among the qualities of successful political leaders in any era.

Historians often regard Roosevelt's extensive life and legacy as befitting multi-volume biographies. While his focus is on Roosevelt's political prowess, Dallek doesn't distill any aspects of his subject's wide-reaching legacy as he offers scholars and casual students of history alike a thorough and comprehensive overview of the United States' 32nd president. --William H. Firman Jr., historian and writer

Discover: Historian Robert Dallek examines Franklin D. Roosevelt's political vision and his emphasis on considering public opinion while trying to achieve his goals.

Viking, $40, hardcover, 704p., 9780525427902

The Bughouse: The Poetry, Politics, and Madness of Ezra Pound

by Daniel Swift

Ezra Pound is one of the most enigmatic of American poets. As early as 1916, Carl Sandburg suggested that Pound was both a "wanton and mocker, poseur, trifler and vagrant," and as important as "Keats [was] in a preceding epoch." In 1943, after hundreds of rambling anti-Semitic, pro-Mussolini, anti-war radio broadcasts in Italy, Pound was indicted for treason. A jury quickly concurred with his plea of insanity. Told in the first person by Daniel Swift (Shakespeare's Common Prayers), The Bughouse is the history of Pound's 12 years in Washington, D.C.'s Saint Elizabeths Hospital for the criminally insane. It is the story of a world-renowned poet gone off the rails--a poet known less for his rarely read 800 pages of "Cantos" than for his encouragement of fledgling poets, his advice to established stars like Hemingway and Cummings, and most famously, his line editing of Eliot's "The Waste Land."

While incarcerated in Saint Elizabeths' almost 300-acre campus with more than 7,000 other "patients," Pound skirted institutional restrictions to enjoy a steady stream of visiting poets like William Carlos Williams, Robert Lowell and T.S. Eliot. Immersed in the story, Swift walks the grounds of the long-closed hospital, combs archival letters and case files, and interviews as many surviving members of Pound's entourage as he can find. With an English professor's eye, he explicates many of the poet's pieces, and those of his visitors, to better understand the man and the milieu. Less interested in his polemics and "madness," Swift instead focuses on Pound's impact on emerging poets. He sees that time after time "a young man goes out to the bughouse and returns a poet." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: With a hefty load of research and poetry explication, The Bughouse tells the unusual story of the enigmatic Ezra Pound's 12 years in a mental hospital.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9780374284046

Social Science

Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials

by Malcolm Harris

"American kids now find themselves... overworked, underplayed, gold-starred, and tired, wondering where all their time went." This observation forms the foundation of Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials, Malcolm Harris's compelling examination of not just what characterizes millennials (at minimum, a birth year between 1980 and 2000) but the forces that have shaped the generation and the hyper-competitive state it finds itself in.

Harris (who was born in 1988) argues that millennial experiences are broad and complicated, but at their core are labor and competition. He cites research from a variety of echelons and specialties, probing how and why millennials have emerged to be super-educated yet underemployed, calling out both conservatives and progressives for exacerbating or misrepresenting the situation.

Harris culls from studies, journals, novels, sports writing, economists, sociologists and psychologists, exploring what it means to be a millennial. His research is creative and well-curated, quoting Hanna Rosin (NPR, Slate) one minute, and comedian Chris Rock the next: "Do you know what it means when someone pays you minimum wage? I would pay you less, but it's against the law."

Humor keeps Harris's project from being altogether frightening. He considers possible responses to contemporary problems with delightfully deemed "Bop It Solutions," in reference to a popular 1990s toy. Among these are Buy It, Vote It, Give It and Protest It, but Harris acknowledges that none of the options are as simple as they sound. They exist alongside each other, each with distinct possibilities and problems--just like generations. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: An exploration of the tangle of forces that shape what it means to be a millennial.

Little, Brown, $25, hardcover, 272p., 9780316510868

Essays & Criticism

Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy

by Michael Perry

Fans of Michael Perry (The Jesus Cow)--author, musician, pig farmer, EMT volunteer and radio host--know that his book on Montaigne will be a look at the 16th-century French philosopher through a 21st-century Midwestern lens. Readers new to Perry will soon feel he's an old friend, as his conversational style makes Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy thoroughly accessible and entertaining.

"The journey began on a gurney," Perry writes, explaining how the Wisconsin storyteller became fascinated with the French nobleman. They shared an affliction, and once Perry discovered Montaigne's kidney stone essay, he was hooked, "all thanks to a crippling pain in my flank." He pairs his study of Montaigne with personal experiences and reflections, and thinks the nobleman would approve. "He shares up-culture and down-culture with equivalent alacrity," but also notes, "the desire to write about Montaigne puts me in heavy traffic on a tricycle." His reflections circle back to what he knows. Of aristocracy, Montaigne writes it is "inhuman and unjust to make much of this accidental privilege of fortune." Perry applies this to America's "blithe riche." Ambling from Montaigne tales to anecdotes about Perry's days on the farm, the parallels always surface. A hilarious, self-deprecating bit on Perry's absentmindedness in the chapter "Confound the Fool" quotes the Frenchman, "I change subject violently and chaotically. My pen and my mind both go a-roaming."

Perry's down-to-earth take on centuries-old writings invites slow reading, perhaps not straight through, with equal time for reflection and laughter. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: A homespun Wisconsin humorist studies a Renaissance-era philosopher and reflects on their similarities.

Harper, $25.99, hardcover, 240p., 9780062230560

Psychology & Self-Help

Supernormal: The Untold Story of Adversity and Resilience

by Meg Jay

According to clinical psychologist and popular TED speaker Meg Jay (The Defining Decade), before age 20, some 60%-75% of children and teens encounter at least one significant adverse event or circumstance--such as the death of a parent; verbal, physical or sexual abuse; life in a household with a drug addict or alcoholic. Jay's Supernormal is a wide-ranging study of young people who overcome more than the average amount of such adversity and don't merely endure, but go on to "soar to unexpected heights." Both disturbing and inspiring, it offers an unretouched picture of the profound challenges facing millions of American youth and a map of the path some may be able to follow out of their despair.

Rejecting a simplistic definition of resilience as merely the ability to "bounce back" from adversity, Jay argues that it represents a "much more complicated and courageous" form of adaptation, what she calls a "heroic, painful, wondrous and often perilous journey." The many remarkable accounts she offers provide dramatic support for that thesis and justify the "supernormal" tag she attaches to her subjects.

Jay draws extensively on her clinical practice. With empathy and the observational talent of a good storyteller, she reveals the painful memories her patients have shared with her. She blends these accounts seamlessly with the stories of well-known people--politicians, businesspeople, entertainers and athletes--who overcame profound childhood trauma and went on to lead lives of surpassing achievement. For all its darkness, Supernormal's inspiring message and Jay's portraits of how to act on it make this a valuable and important book. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: Clinical psychologist Meg Jay takes a fascinating look at how young people can triumph over profound adversity to lead fulfilling lives.

Twelve, $28, hardcover, 400p., 9781455559152

Children's & Young Adult

Older Than Dirt: A Wild but True History of Earth

by Don Brown, Michael Perfit

From "a Big Bang" to the existence of humans, Sibert Honor medalist Don Brown (Drowned City; America Is Under Attack) and geologist Mike Perfit boil down more than 14 billion years of planetary evolution in Older Than Dirt, a delightful, informative and engrossing work of graphic nonfiction. Using a brainy groundhog to narrate, Brown and Perfit educate their readers--and the groundhog's worm friend--about the incredible stages of Earth's history.

In an effort to make billion- and million-year time spans accessible to young readers, the work uses a metaphorical 24-hour day, plotting the course of Earth's explosive beginning, through numerous transformations, to the age when humans came into existence. That the arrival of humans occurred at the very final minute of this "day" highlights our relatively new presence on Earth more forcefully than the concept of thousands of years. With a combination of humor and analogies ("Earth's crust cracked like the shell of a hard-boiled egg") that middle graders can relate to, the pair turn highly complex scientific evidence into fun, engaging and memorable content.

Brown's powerful illustrations emphasize the extraordinary interactions of nature and the results of those interactions: an image of thriving ocean life next to a sea of fish skeletons, a lush landscape juxtaposed with a scorched earth, a plate collision resulting in extensive mountain ranges. He conveys elaborate movement, temperature and energy through basic color, stroke and texture. The small details added to his storytellers, like earmuffs, sunglasses and swimming flippers, inject ticklish humor that adds to their small, witty side comments.

Older Than Dirt is aimed at middle-grade readers, but the entertaining illustrations and fascinating information will enthrall audiences of any age. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: In this fascinating work of graphic nonfiction, a groundhog, with the help of a worm, relates the entire scientific history of planet Earth, scaled to a 24-hour day.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $18.99, hardcover, 112p., ages 10-12, 9780544805033

Fierce: How Competing for Myself Changed Everything

by Aly Raisman

From the moment eight-year-old Aly Raisman saw a tape of the 1996 U.S. Olympic women's gymnastics team winning the gold medal, she was "absolutely convinced that [she] would one day go to the Olympics, too." She understood these were "strong, confident young women--and [she] wanted to be just like them."

Even though young Aly assumed her future was all planned out, she had no idea how tough it would be to accomplish her goals. Aly had already begun taking gymnastics classes, which she loved, and she was prepared to work hard for her dream. She marveled at the "power and coordination" of the more advanced girls and vowed, over and over, to be "as good as they are." Aly enjoyed the challenges and kept moving up to more elite tiers of competition. There were plenty of times that she knew people doubted her--she says "the story of my life in gymnastics is an underdog one." But her love for the sport never wavered and her fierce work ethic meant "she always tried her best... always gave what she had."

Aly's ability to stay the course in the face of negativity is inspiring. Criticism of all kinds, and even sexual abuse at the hands of a team doctor, did not deter her. She has emerged, post-Olympics, as a strong advocate for empowering young women to feel good about themselves, and to speak up, no matter what. Her story is heartfelt and funny, exciting and inspiring. Aly concludes this must-read with "The Fierce Guide to Life," 20-plus encouraging points for her readers to consider. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: Olympian Aly Raisman shows that her love of gymnastics and ferocious work ethic allowed her to become the strong, successful woman and advocate she is today.

Little, Brown, $18.99, hardcover, 368p., ages 12-up, 9780316472708


Author Buzz

The Rom-Commers

by Katherine Center

Dear Reader,

Famous screenwriter Charlie Yates wrote a romantic comedy screenplay--and it’s terrible. Aspiring writer Emma Wheeler just got hired to fix it. But Charlie doesn't want anyone rewriting his work--least of all a "failed nobody," and Emma can't support a guy who doesn't even like rom-coms, adding another bad one to the pantheon. So what choice does Emma have but to stand up for herself, and rom-coms, and love in general--and, in the process, to show her nemesis-slash-writing-hero exactly how to fall stupidly, crazily, perfectly in love?

Email with the subject line "The Rom-Commers sweepstakes" for a chance to win one of five copies.

Katherine Center

Buy now and support your local indie bookstore>

AuthorBuzz: St. Martin's Press: The Rom-Commers by Katherine Center

St. Martin's Press

Pub Date: 
June 11, 2024


List Price: 
$29.00 Hardcover

Blue Moon
(A Smoke and Mirrors Novella)

by Skye Warren

Dear Reader,

When I started writing Ringmaster Emerson Durand in the Smoke and Mirrors series, I knew he would get his own story. Insouciant. Charming. And he's actually the villain of that book. So can he be redeemed? It's the question I'm always working to answer in my books.

If he's going to deserve his own happily ever after, it's going to be a journey. A scorching hot journey!

That's what BLUE MOON illuminates. A dangerous ringmaster claims his rebellious acrobat for a sensual show you cannot miss.

Skye Warren

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Blue Moon (A Smoke and Mirrors Novella) by Skye Warren

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
March 12, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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