Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, July 6, 2018

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

From My Shelf

World Cup 2018: 'Everything Is Possible'

Why write about the World Cup until it gets serious? This weekend's quarterfinal matches mark the beginning of the final ascent. England, my "home side" by heritage, is through to the final eight. Life is good.

As a loyal Men in Blazers fan since World Cup 2014, I've been poring over Men in Blazers Present Encyclopedia Blazertannica: A Suboptimal Guide to Soccer, America's Sport of the Future Since 1972 by Roger Bennett and Michael Davies (Knopf). It's great fun and, yes, informative.

On a more serious note, The Away Game: The Epic Search for Soccer's Next Superstars by Sebastian Abbot (Norton) chronicles the experiences of a handful of 13-year-old boys from Africa who are selected by Football Dreams, a program that trains highly promising young players to be potential superstars. Abbott quotes the Spanish writer Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, who described soccer as "a religion in search of a God."

Any respectable soccer books roundup must include the incomparable Soccer in Sun and Shadow by Eduardo Galeano (Nation Books) and Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby (Riverhead).

Perhaps the most unlikely inclusion here is I Believe That We Will Win: The Path to a U.S. Men's World Cup Victory by Phil West (Overlook Press), since the U.S. team failed to make this year's Cup. But I agree with West, who told the New York Times that his book "isn't about the 2018 World Cup. If the Americans had qualified, he did not expect the team to advance beyond the round of 16. Instead, his book looks to 2026 and beyond, when young players... should be in their primes."

For now, however, I'll go with MiB's Roger Bennett, who posted on Facebook July 4: "Today, I raise a glass to you all, to conjuring a sense of hope, optimism and never taking anything for granted. And remember, if England can win a World Cup penalty shoot-out, EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE #Courage." --Robert Gray, contributing editor

The Writer's Life

Reading with... Adrian Todd Zuniga

photo: Michael Young

Adrian Todd Zuniga's debut novel is Collision Theory (Rare Bird Books, April 17, 2018). He's the host/creator/CCO of Literary Death Match (now featured in more than 60 cities worldwide) and host of LDM Book Report on YouTube. A WGA Award-nominated screenwriter, he co-wrote Madden NFL 18's interactive movie Longshot (EA Sports). His short fiction has been featured in Gopher Illustrated and Stymie, and online at Lost Magazine and McSweeney's. He splits his time between London and Los Angeles.

On your nightstand now:

I'm 3/5ths through the draft of my new novel that focuses on racism, feminism and altruism, so my nightstand is strained under the weight of these books I'm desperate to get to, in this order, and have to get through as I inch towards a finished first draft: Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching by Mychal Denzel Smith; Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates; At the Dark End of the Street by Danielle L. McGuire; Beloved by Toni Morrison; The Sellout by Paul Beatty; The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood.

Favorite book when you were a child:

When I was a kid, I used to read The Fox & The Hound comic book/graphic novel over and over again and just bawl my eyes out. It's so personal and precious to me and I am so glad for this question, because I've just discovered the movie (and thus the comic) was based on a novel by Daniel P. Mannix! How did I not know this?! So, yeah, that's now on my nightstand, too. I am literally giddy with nostalgia and excitement over this discovery.

Your top five authors:

This list can go so many different ways--I adore so many writers. But today, at 11:24 a.m., these are my five favorite authors. So, in 10-12 minutes, feel free to ask me again, and watch these answers change:

George Saunders, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Etgar Keret, Margaret Atwood, Marilynne Robinson.

(My brain is screaming: add Tobias Wolff! Add Carol Anderson! Add Ben Fountain! Add Vendela Vida! Don't stop at five! But I'm stopping at five. I definitely haven't listed nine authors. Just five.)

Book you've faked reading:

1984 by George Orwell. Don't look at me like that. I've seen the play, people! I'VE SEEN THE PLAY. And I've quoted him on the Literary Death Match stage ("In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.") Okay, I'll put it on the stack--I feel sufficiently shamed.

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Power by Naomi Alderman. Every single person I've met has heard me talk about this book and about the hole in their life that will continue to exist until they read it. I feel the same about The Handmaid's Tale, but I know they'll just watch the TV show, so I'm all about The Power. It's also been a great influence on my new novel in that it taught me to haul ass in my writing. I'm a big fan of narrative speed, but this encourages me to bring it to another level.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Citizen by Claudia Rankine. What's inside is a masterwork, but the cover plain breaks my heart. I knew I'd read it, I knew I'd get to it, and then one day I was like, I cannot wait any longer. The cover wouldn't let me.

Book you hid from your parents:

I'm the last of eight kids, so my parents had seen it all. There wasn't a need to hide. The only thing I remember hiding was my listening to NWA's Straight Outta Compton. I'd play it on my brother's "boom box" (my mother's term for it, and her saying those two words makes me laugh to this day), turn the volume down to 1 out of 10, press my ear to the speaker and memorize every word. Books-wise, I might have hid the Punisher comic books, which I read because I thought they made me cool. Truth is, I didn't like them that much. But that desire to be cool, mixed with him feeling risky made me.

Book that changed your life:

It by Stephen King. I remember reading that book after school, and the dedication of Collision Theory is based on that memory. The dedication:

To my mother,
who loved when I was at home reading
because it meant I was near her,
which meant I was safe.

I'd come home, lay on the couch and read. And I know it made my mother happy to have me home. My brothers and sisters were hellions, but there I was, home and safe, reading.

Favorite line from a book:

This felt like an impossible question, but there's one thing that I cannot get away from, that makes me lose it every time, from Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses. It's more than one line, but it's too beautiful to break up:

"The water was black and warm and he turned in the lake and spread his arms in the water and the water was so dark and so silky and he watched across the still black surface to where she stood on the shore with the horse and he watched where she stepped from her pooled clothing so pale, so pale, like a chrysalis emerging, and walked into the water. She paused midway to look back. Standing there trembling in the water and not from the cold for there was none. Do not speak to her. Do not call. When she reached him he held out his hand and she took it. She was so pale in the lake she seemed to be burning. Like foxfire in a darkened wood. That burned cold. Like the moon that burned cold. Her black hair floating on the water about her, falling and floating on the water. She put her other arm about his shoulder and looked toward the moon in the west do not speak to her do not call and then she turned her face up to him. Sweeter for the larceny of time and flesh, sweeter for the betrayal. Nesting cranes that stood singlefooted among the cane on the south shore had pulled their slender beaks from their wingpits to watch. Me quieres? she said. Yes, he said. He said her name. God yes, he said."

Five books you'll never part with:

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
Pastoralia by George Saunders
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

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

This one's a total wrestling match between The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping and George Saunders's Pastoralia and Saunders' CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. The Road because I remember thinking it's not getting better for these people, it's not getting better. It will, it will. It never does, and in the end, when there is the faintest light of hope after such a horrifically dark time, it felt like everything good in the world. That still amazes me. As for Housekeeping, I remember finishing that and being astonished by how much it moved me, and wowed by the fact that there's not one male character in the book. I never noticed. To me, it's the best book I've ever read. It's perfect. And reading anything by Saunders for the first time--just the thought of that fills me with a sensation of profound glee. And now thinking of that glee, I'm reminded of how devastating and sad his stories are. "Sea Oak!" "Jon!" "CommComm!" To read those again for the first time would be marvelous.

Book Candy

Summer Reading

George R.R. Martin suggested 9 books to read this summer for Entertainment Weekly.


Quirk Books suggested "6 beach reading alternatives for those who stay out of the sun."


To mark the author's recent death, Bustle gathered "15 Harlan Ellison quotes to commemorate the legendary sci-fi writer."


Mental Floss explored "the curious origins of 16 common phrases."


In the U.K., "anonymous graffiti star Banksy has volunteered to lend a hand in keeping Bristol's 27 libraries open," BristolLive reported.


Noting that "the best country music is crime fiction," CrimeReads featured "12 country classics that capture the spirit of noir."

Great Reads

Rediscover: Italian Neighbors

Tim Parks is an English writer and translator whose 14 novels include Europa, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. He has translated from Italian works by Alberto Moravia, Giacomo Leopardi and Niccolò Machiavelli, among others, and has written nonfiction work that includes Medici Money and Teach Us to Sit Still. He's also a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books.

Parks's most amusing and insightful work has to do with Italy, the country he's lived in since 1981, where he settled with his Italian wife. Italian Neighbors or a Lapsed Anglo-Saxon in Verona, published in 1992, chronicles his first decade in his adopted country, focusing on the denizens of his apartment building and others in his small town near Verona. Unlike some dewy-eyed books about Italy, Italian Neighbors offers sometimes jarring portraits of passionate, eccentric, strange, ultimately lovable Italians--and comes highly recommended by Italians themselves. A bestseller, it was followed by An Italian Education, a look at how children are schooled in Italy; A Season in Verona, Italian life seen through the prism of soccer; Italian Ways, On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo, accounts of travel in Italy; and A Literary Tour of Italy, an essay collection. Italian Neighbors was last published by Grove Press in 2003 ($16, 9780802140340).

Book Review


Mirror, Shoulder, Signal

by Dorthe Nors, trans. by Misha Hoekstra

Sonya--unmarried, childless and in her 40s--is in a rut. Her learning to drive forms the basis of Mirror, Shoulder, Signal, a richly drawn novel by Danish author Dorthe Nors (Karate Chop) and translated by Misha Hoekstra. Sonya has never felt at home in metropolitan Copenhagen. She longs to return to the Jutland countryside, where she grew up--even more so now that her beau, Paul, has dumped her for a 20-something. Sonya is burned out in her job translating violent crime novels from Swedish into Danish. She suffers spells of vertigo exacerbated by stress. And she can't seem to connect with her sister, Kate, who is a happily married wife and mother with a "golden retriever and a membership in a gymnastics and fitness club. She bakes kringles and knits woolen stockings." Sonya is determined to conquer her fear of driving. However, her inability to shift gears becomes a metaphor for change in her life. And change is never easy--especially for someone as complicated and lost as Sonya.
The loose plot of Nors's compact, minimalistic story--her first novel to be released in English--is enlivened by flares of deadpan wit and a well-developed cast of secondary characters: two male driving instructors--abrupt Jytte and Folke, with whom Sonya flirts--and Ellen, an outspoken massage therapist, who prods Sonya for being a "tight-ass" with her feelings. Nors's exceptional writing and her insightful grasp on the human condition bolster the heartbreak of Sonya's isolated, solitary existence. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: When a middle-aged Danish woman learns how to drive, she gains greater insight into who she is and her place in the world.

Graywolf Press, $16, paperback, 192p., 9781555978082


by Rachel Cusk

Rachel Cusk's trailblazing novel Kudos begins with a deep conversation among strangers on a plane and sustains the same searching, sometimes surreal spirit of travel until its last indelible passage.
Kudos is the last in a trilogy of novels, after Outline and Transit. The first-person narrator, an English writer named Faye, is headed to a writers conference in Berlin and along the way meets a host of characters: strangers, other writers, journalists, old acquaintances. In between these encounters, Faye ponders her divorce, her second marriage and her relationship with her son. These personal concerns are interwoven with questions of art, literature, representation and womanhood in modern Europe. The elusive nature of success is also a major theme.
Kudos works like a panoply of postmodern parables. Each character gives their own story as Faye nears her destination. A male colleague is praised by peers for his writing that focuses on domesticity rather than archaic male subjects. A female journalist discusses the fraught realities of sex appeal and power politics in her field. Faye muses on her own brand of feminism, which allows her "to get the better of those laws... by living within them."
It's clear Faye is on a journey, in more ways than one, but Kudos's oblique, manifold narrative precludes drawing any easy conclusions about its characters or their destinations. It's the mysterious nature of storytelling--the narrator's self-conscious interplay between internal and external voice--that makes Kudos such a fascinating and memorable read. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: Personal pain and questions of art permeate this strangely affecting novel.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26, hardcover, 240p., 9780374279868

Mystery & Thriller

The Word Is Murder

by Anthony Horowitz

Author and screenwriter Anthony Horowitz has just completed the manuscript for A House Called Silk, the first Sherlock Homes novel officially commissioned by the Arthur Conan Doyle estate, and he's looking at rewrites for his script of Tintin 2, to be directed by Peter Jackson. But before he can commit to his next project, he's approached by Daniel Hawthorne, a detective inspector who advised Horowitz on a TV drama, to collaborate on a true crime book about the case Hawthorne is investigating.
A woman named Diana Cowper walked into a mortuary to make arrangements for her own funeral, and six hours later she was murdered inside her home. How did she know her death was imminent? Or did she?
Despite Hawthorne's prickly nature, the case intrigues Horowitz. He agrees to shadow the detective and write up an account of the investigation, whatever its outcome.
While everything in the first sentence of this review is true of Horowitz, in real life and in The Word Is Murder, Hawthorne and Cowper are fictional, though they interact with Horowitz in the book. Confused? No worries. Horowitz makes it all clear while weaving fact with fiction in a novel way and poking fun at himself, relegating his alter ego to playing Watson to Hawthorne's Holmesian detective. Fans of Horowitz's screen work will get a kick from the multiple references to the films and TV shows he's written (Injustice; Foyle's War). None of this meta story would work, however, if the central mystery isn't satisfying, and it is. The word is clever. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: The game's afoot when real-life author Anthony Horowitz plays Watson with a fictional Sherlock Holmes-like detective to solve a murder mystery.

Harper, $27.99, hardcover, 400p., 9780062676788

Death Notice

by Haohui Zhou, trans. by Zac Haluza

In 2002, Sergeant Zheng Haoming of China's Chengdu police department closes in on a man soliciting the names of people online. He's looking for people who have committed grievous crimes but have escaped the law. This digital vigilante calls himself "Eumenides," after the Greek goddesses of vengeance. Eumenides took credit for a warehouse bombing that killed two innocent victims in 1984 by issuing "death notices"--a bombing Zheng and Longzhou police captain Pei Tao know of all too well. Before Zheng can make the connection, he is found dead in his apartment by Pei, who now holds the key to taking down Eumenides.
Chengdu police chief Han Hao assembles a task force with Pei as a member. Quickly, more death notices appear, listing the name of the accused, the crimes committed, the time of punishment and the executioner: Eumenides. As promised, these punishments are meted out; the gruesome murders of vengeance are committed right on schedule. The task force is not short on talent, but they're outmaneuvered. And as Pei's tangled connection to the 1984 bombing is revealed, the question becomes: Is Pei really part of the investigation, or being investigated himself?
Death Notice, the first of three bestselling volumes in China, is the first to be translated, by Zac Haluza, into English. Zhou Haohui delivers the goods for fans of crime fiction with a tightly plotted, rapidly paced story with plenty of twists and turns. While the novel doesn't reinvent the genre and the dialogue is occasionally clichéd, it boasts an intricate plot, builds suspense and never loses its focus. --Frank Brasile, librarian

Discover: An elusive figure with a twisted sense of justice takes matters into his own hands in this gritty and agile thriller from China.

Doubleday, $26.95, hardcover, 320p., 9780385543323

The Captives

by Debra Jo Immergut

Thirty-two-year-old Frank Lundquist, who's in the midst of a divorce, is working as a psychologist at Milford Basin Correctional Facility, a women's prison in New York State. Imagine his surprise when his crush from Lincoln High walks into his office. Miranda Greene, who has until recently been employed at a marketing firm, is now an inmate serving 52 years with no parole for second-degree murder following a botched armed robbery.
It's not only Miranda who has fallen from grace: a year ago, a lapse in Frank's professional judgment had tragic consequences, precipitating the end of his private practice. He's well aware that not telling Miranda that he knows her--knows about her extracurricular activities when they were classmates, about the rise and fall of her father's political career--qualifies as another lapse. Frank's lapses don't end there.
The Captives's curious dynamics and collected plot points, which include the decades-ago death of Miranda's older sister, amount to a powder keg, but Debra Jo Immergut (Private Property) holds off on throwing the lit match. The book takes its time, letting Frank and Miranda tell their stories in alternating chapters that gradually disclose how it is that Frank ended up at Milford Basin, and how "once again, [Miranda] was contemplating placing her fate in the hands of an extremely flawed man." Immergut's absorbing first novel employs unostentatious but occasionally glimmering prose to ask what makes a person truly dangerous, and her gasp-worthy reveals are up to the standard of the best thriller writers. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: In Debra Jo Immergut's consuming first novel, an inmate and her prison psychologist have both fallen from grace.

Ecco, $26.99, hardcover, 288p., 9780062747549

Biography & Memoir

Take You Wherever You Go

by Kenny Leon

Tony Award-winning director Kenny Leon's uplifting and inspirational memoir traces his success back to his Grandma Mamie (who raised 13 children) and his single mother (who gave birth to him when she was 15 years old). "I was raised by two amazing women," he writes, "and I live in the aftermath of their love, care, and wisdom." But his childhood was not idyllic. By 19, his mother had three children, so she left four-year-old Kenny with his grandmother and moved 300 miles away to start a new life with his sister and baby brother. He was reunited with them four years later. 
After college, Leon dropped out of law school to follow his interest in theater--first as an actor, then a director. During his 11 years with Atlanta's Alliance Theatre, he directed the premieres of Disney's Aida, Pearl Cleage's Blues for an Alabama Sky and Alfred Uhry's The Last Night of Ballyhoo--which all moved to Broadway. He forged a 20-year friendship with playwright August Wilson ("the most important professional influence of my career") and eloquently explains his love of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun--which he directed twice on Broadway and once for TV. His directorial advice is equally applicable for life situations ("You must work to really understand people that are different from you. You don't learn a lot in your comfort zone.").
This motivational memoir will inspire readers to follow their dreams. And theater buffs will appreciate his astute takes on acting and directing. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Tony Award-winning director Kenny Leon's inspiring and upbeat memoir offers sage advice for life and a career in the arts.

Grand Central, $26, hardcover, 240p., 9781538744970

A Little Piece of Light: A Memoir of Hope, Prison, and a Life Unbound

by Donna Hylton, Kristine Gasbarre

In her emotionally startling memoir, criminal justice reform activist Donna Hylton takes readers from humanity's dark evils to its shining inspirations. And the two exist opposite where most people expect them to thrive.
The first half of Hylton's story is heartbreaking and difficult to consume. There is a complete lack of love and safety in her life: an unstable mother who sells Hylton as a young girl; adoptive parents who abuse her; people who violate her trust, raping her body and soul. The realization that such horrors can and do happen in the United States is alarming and unsettling. But A Little Piece of Light shines a brilliant beam directly on them.
As a result of her tumultuous youth, a 19-year-old Hylton winds up in the middle of a kidnapping that ends in murder. A jury convicts her for her part in the crimes, and she's sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. But behind the barbed-wire fences and cinderblock walls of the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York, she finds the family she's so desperately desired. Caring for a fellow inmate with HIV, creating a program to counsel and educate prisoners about AIDS and participating in a domestic violence group, Hylton finds meaning in her life. The compassion and kindness of those around her allow Hylton to blossom and realize her potential.
A Little Piece of Light is a big reminder of how people share much more in common than not. Even more importantly, it's a beacon capable of leading others out of the darkness that Hylton endured. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: An activist for women's rights and criminal justice reform shares her turbulent journey to expose the devastating epidemic of domestic violence in the United States.

Hachette, $28, hardcover, 272p., 9780316559256

Little Panic: Dispatches from an Anxious Life

by Amanda Stern

"I am always happy when my body remembers to feel things other than scared."
Growing up, novelist Amanda Stern (The Long Haul) felt safe inside her house and in the shared garden behind it, but the "street side of life" seemed packed with potential dangers. Any time she was separated from her mother, something terrible happened to one of them. Any moment she forgot about the terrors of the world could be when they'd come for her. Her fears seemed proven when Etan Patz, a boy close to her age, disappeared a few blocks away. Stern's anxiety was constant but ignored by the adults in her life, who meant well but never fully grasped the depth of her feelings. Instead, she was tagged with learning disabilities and believed that she was stupid, and it wasn't until after college that she was properly diagnosed with a panic disorder.
Against the backdrop of 1970s and '80s New York, Little Panic is a vivid, candid and often funny chronicle of living with anxiety. Most of the narrative follows Stern's childhood, though select chapters show her as an adult--particularly her relationship with a man who she thought would give her a family of her own. Her panic is instense throughout, and it's heartbreaking to see her as a child immobilized by dread. She takes on the voice of a young girl without being cloying, and her retelling of her childhood memories is thoughtful and complete. It's an eye-opening and beautifully written memoir of struggling to understand the world despite a fear of it. --Katy Hershberger, freelance writer and bookseller

Discover: Novelist Amanda Stern recounts her life with a panic disorder that went undiagnosed for 20 years.

Grand Central, $27, hardcover, 400p., 9781538711927

Social Science

Fighting for Space: How a Group of Drug Users Transformed One City's Struggle with Addiction

by Travis Lupick

The recent North American surge in opioid addiction and fatal drug overdoses has been devastating. In 2017, opioid overdoses became the leading cause of death for U.S. citizens under the age of 50. Cities across the continent have begun to search for new approaches that turn the focus from criminal punishment to saving lives. The successful and radical "harm reduction" model developed in Vancouver has attracted much attention from health officials and legislators, as well as opposition from those who believe it will promote drug use. "It's a simple yet revolutionary idea: that everybody deserves a home regardless of their drug abuse or destructive behaviour, and that an addict is a human being who should be treated with dignity."
In Fighting for Space, Canadian journalist Travis Lupick tells how a group of activists in the poorest neighborhood in Canada demanded and won a new approach to drug addiction as an illness rather than as a moral failure or a crime. He incorporates the individual stories of addicts, nurses, counselors and activists into case studies of Vancouver and six U.S. cities, some more successful than others.
Lupick has reported on drug addiction, mental illness and harm reduction for years. He documents how previous approaches such as one-for-one needle exchanges have failed, and how programs have worked to keep users alive, housed and relatively healthy, and make treatment available without coercion. This is a vivid portrait of the people on the front lines of the North American overdose crisis, and a vital resource for activists and policy makers seeking the best way to save lives. --Sara Catterall

Discover: A Canadian journalist tells the story of Vancouver's radical "harm reduction" approach to drug addiction, along with case studies of six U.S. cities.

Arsenal Pulp Press, $21.95, paperback, 432p., 9781551527123

Travel Literature

The Traveling Feast: On the Road and at the Table with My Heroes

by Rick Bass

When Rick Bass arrived at the home of Denis Johnson and his wife, the Johnsons were naked. At least, that's how Johnson suggested Bass depict their evening together--one of more than a dozen visits Bass undertook following a heart-wrenching divorce, to find intellectual and emotional sustenance through cooking meals for writers whose words had sustained him.
In The Traveling Feast: On the Road and at the Table with My Heroes, Bass (For a Little While; Wild to the Heart) invites himself, and his grad student mentees and daughter, into the presence and pantries of the greats. He likens their literary quests to birds flocking to feeders. Those feeders included Peter Matthiessen, Lorrie Moore, Gary Snyder, Joyce Carol Oates, Terry Tempest Williams and more. He explains, "To stand in the presence of living greatness has inexplicable and inexhaustible value." In his Subaru and at the table, Bass and his crew explore life's hungers, delights and disappointments great and small. A failed pine nut tart. A failed opportunity to ask a question of a dying man. A failed marriage. A failed trip to the Corn Palace.
Some moments reverberate with shy courage. Others whoosh by, eliciting bursts of laughter. Some do both: see the essay on Bass's attempt to cook a dozen quail, "the haiku of poultry," for David Sedaris. Others acknowledge time and its cruelties, the steamroller of change, the weight of grief. Above all, Bass's prose, powerful and poignant, is a reminder of mortality and the feast that comes first. Dig in. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: This stirring meditation on time, loss and change--and gratin--tastefully blends road-trip-meets-grocery trip tales from an author's quest to cook for his literary heroes.

Little, Brown, $28, hardcover, 288p., 9780316381239

Children's & Young Adult

Where the Watermelons Grow

by Cindy Baldwin

Della Kelly is burdened by a secret she can't share with anyone, not even best friend Arden: her mother's mental illness, under control for the past four years, is starting to recur. Della's father, already stressed by drought conditions on their North Carolina farm, is not ready to face what's happening. "It's important for your mama to have dignity," he tells Della. "[L]ots of people, they don't understand an illness like... schizophrenia.... They... start to use hurtful words, like 'crazy' and 'psychotic,' and start seeing a person as just a disease, not a human being." Since the original illness was triggered by Della's birth 12 years earlier, she feels responsible for finding a solution. She thinks working harder around the house and farm, caring for her toddler sister and taking on more chores will help. When this doesn't work, she runs away, believing her mama will be forced to rise to the occasion of behaving like a mother again. Most of all, though, she hangs her hopes on the legendary miraculous qualities of the honey from the local Bee Lady. It's only when her mother goes from bad to worse that Della and her father must come to terms with what will likely be a lifelong condition and find the strength to ask for help.
Cindy Baldwin's graceful debut novel is an ode to family and community. Although Della longs for her own mother, she's surrounded by "other mamas" who look out for her, who "sing a song to that little fluttering thing [hope] in [her] soul." Hints of sweet magical realism touch Where the Watermelon Grows, balancing this exquisite novel's bittersweet authenticity. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: When her mother's latent schizophrenia recurs, 12-year-old Della is desperate to find a way to cure her all on her own, not realizing that understanding may be the best healing force.

HarperCollins, $16.99, hardcover, 256p., ages 8-12, 9780062665867

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings

by Ellen Oh, Elsie Chapman, editors

With A Thousand Beginnings and Endings, editors Ellen Oh (Spirit Hunters) and Elsie Chapman (Along the Indigo) deliver a captivating collection of East and South Asian myths and legends written by 15 renowned #ownvoices middle-grade and young adult authors, including Roshani Chokshi, Melissa de la Cruz and Cindy Pon.
The short stories in A Thousand Beginnings and Endings come from the Filipino, Chinese, Hmong, Punjabi, Vietnamese, Gujarati, Korean, Japanese and South Asian traditions. In Cindy Pon's "The Crimson Cloak," a feminist update to a Chinese legend gives a formerly silenced goddess a voice; Preeti Chhibber's "Girls Who Twirl and Other Dangers" is an interpretation of a Gujarati epic in which the divine battle between good and evil is played out on the dance floor during a Hindu festival. Each selection is followed by a short exposition by the author about the origin of the story and their connection to the work.
The countries and social identities from within the Asian diaspora represented in this collection act as mirrors for readers who rarely get to see themselves in Eurocentric myths, legends and stories. Many of the stories in this compilation were passed down through oral tradition, and their reinventions here, specifically by Asian artists, mark a step forward in nuanced representation. With native languages, pop-culture references and an abundance of food imagery throughout, the stories have universal themes that also highlight important cultural distinctions.
Intentional and brilliantly curated, this collection should be given its rightful place on shelves alongside other celebrated explorations of humanity, unrequited love, warring deities and undying hope. --Breanna J. McDaniel, author, freelance reviewer

Discover: A triumphant anthology of East and South Asian myths and legends reimagined by middle-grade and YA authors.

Greenwillow Books, $17.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 12-up, 9780062671158

Are You Scared, Darth Vader?

by Adam Rex

It's Adam Rex's (Nothing Rhymes with Orange) turn to take on a pop-culture figure from the Star Wars franchise in Are You Scared, Darth Vader? Darth Vader finds himself faced with a wolf man, a vampire, a "spooky ghost" and a witch, as an omnipresent narrator repeatedly asks if he's scared. With his trademark stoicism, Darth Vader is not scared, and is confused as to why he should be. "It's a wolfman. Are you scared, Darth Vader?" the narrator taunts. "I am not afraid of a wolf, and I am not afraid of a man," Vader responds. "It could bite you," the narrator counters. "It could not," Vader says. "I am wearing armor." Vader fears nothing, including spiders, black cats, public speaking and the dark.
The narrator invites the creatures to remove their costumes, revealing children who climb all over Darth Vader and steal his light saber, making him "most displeased." The children eventually exit but the narrator points out one child still present: the reader of the book. This child has the power to end the story, trapping Darth Vader in the pages, "[a]lmost like [he's] frozen in carbonite or whatever." Now a certain someone is scared.

Rex keeps the voice of the narrator light as he plays up the somber quality of Darth Vader, balancing his trademark humor with Vader's weighty history. Readers familiar with Star Wars will see the nods to other items in the canon, adding another layer of delight. With its similarities to titles like The Monster at the End of This Book and We Are in a Book!, Rex's Are You Scared, Darth Vader? is wry, charming and great for newbies and seasoned Star Wars fans alike.  --Clarissa Hadge, assistant bookstore manager, Trident Booksellers & Cafe, Boston, Mass.

Discover: Darth Vader is seemingly unafraid of anything, but when the reader helps reveal an unexpected surprise, Vader discovers he may be scared of something after all.

Disney-Lucasfilm Press, $17.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 5-8, 9781484704974


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

Powered by: Xtenit