Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, August 24, 2018

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

From My Shelf

The Hottest Books of Summer

There's a natural crescendo to a high summer day: a tolerable morning, with the promise of inescapable heat to come; a midday sun that leaves us sweating, searching for a breeze; a relative cooling off period overnight, only to repeat again the following day. The intensity of this hot, unforgiving weather sets the stage for many great summer novels.
"The next day was broiling, almost the last, certainly the warmest day of summer," writes F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby, a novel whose plot meanders through summer days rife with sun and sudden downpours--weather that seems to reflect the intensity of Gatsby, Daisy and the cast of characters drawn around them.
That same intense heat provides the backdrop to Emma Donoghue's Frog Music, a work of historical fiction inspired by events during San Francisco's record-breaking heatwave of 1876.
Another off the charts heatwave sets the tone for Maggie O'Farrell's Instructions for a Heatwave, as a series of family secrets are laid bare during the sweltering summer of 1976 in London. And the heat that builds throughout Jesmyn Ward's devastating, excellent novel Salvage the Bones feels like a precursor of the disaster to come; Ward perfectly captures the melting Louisiana weather in the months, weeks and days before Hurricane Katrina landed.
Finally, in Tangerine, Christine Mangan moves between past and present to recreate the story of Lucy and Alice, two college roommates who have reunited in the heat of a Moroccan summer. (Even the cover evokes the summer heat, with a woman shielding her eyes from the glare of a high sun.)
Whatever your summer plans may be, be sure to keep sunscreen and an iced drink on hand as you tackle the coming heatwaves--be they real or fictional. –Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

The Writer's Life

Nico Walker: Vet's Homecoming Rivals the Horror of War

Nico Walker is a former U.S. Army medic and Iraq War combat veteran. He's currently incarcerated in a minimum security federal prison, serving an 11-year sentence for multiple bank robberies. His debut novel, Cherry (Knopf, $26.95), is reviewed below.
How does it feel to have this story, with all its pain and difficulty, out in the world?
I'm not in the world these days, so it doesn't feel like it has much to do with me. It isn't that I don't care what people think about the book; I put a lot into making it, and I'd rather find out that readers thought it was worth the trouble than find out that it wasn't well-received. But at the same time, the truth is I can't even remember what it's like to not be in jail, and the wider world is just an abstract concept in my head, so I don't feel vulnerable, and I don't feel like there's any danger in writing the way I do.
When I was working on Cherry, there came a point where I had to accept that the book would be what it would be, and there were no other considerations to be made as far that went. Maybe it was easy for me because it wasn't like I had any sort of reputation at stake. The only thing I cared about was writing a book that would stand up and being true to that. Once you're in it, there's no going back, so you have to follow it to the end.
It's a daunting project to tackle the writing of a novel, especially one this intensely personal, as your first published work. What prepared you to write Cherry?
I read a lot for the first years I was locked up. There wasn't much else to do. I remember I was in the hole once for a few days, and I was lucky because I had a copy of Dostoyevsky's The Idiot in the cell with me. I read it three times. But I was already in the habit of rereading books by then. When I was in pre-sentence custody, there weren't tons of good books around. So if you got a good one, you held on to it and read it a few times. I think this habit helped me later on, when I was working on Cherry. You reread books and start to get an understanding of how they're made. The technique. You pay attention to what's going on with the tense, the transitions, etc., in a way that you maybe didn't in your first pass. I'm not especially widely read, but I've reread more than people generally do.
The drug addiction and intense PTSD you suffered after you returned from Iraq is a big part of your personal story and of your novel's protagonist's. Have you realized any therapeutic benefit from writing this novel?
I don't know. It took so long writing it, four years, that I can't tell if it was writing a novel or just time passing that has made the war experience seem far off, like it happened to someone else. It's in the past. I've learned what I learned from it, and now I'm here.
What do you hope readers will take away from such a frank account of what it's like to serve in combat in a place like Iraq?
I didn't want to romanticize this sort of thing. I just wanted to give an honest account of it, based on what I know. I definitely wasn't going to lie about what it's like to make it more interesting for people who go in for hero books. I wasn't a hero. I was about as average as it gets. I was in an average unit, and I didn't do anything worth mentioning. Still it was rough sometimes. And I wanted the reader close enough to get an idea of what that's about.
Do you have any writing role models and, if so, who are they and why?
Henry Miller comes to mind. Maybe this isn't the best year to go around telling people you like Henry Miller, but I respect what he did because he gave you what he believed was the truth regardless of whether he thought you'd hate him for it. I think he'd have been alright with getting shot over a book.
Also, I'm thinking of Thomas McGuane. I've got a lot of respect for his style. I studied him a lot when I was working on Cherry. He reminds me of the Russians, how comedy and tragedy is all the same. His writing is elegant as fuck and his timing is perfect. And he writes with conviction, but he doesn't make a big deal out of it. He's not begging for attention. He's cool about it.
Given your current circumstances, you won't be able to promote this book in any conventional way. If you were able to go on a book tour, what are some important things you would like readers to know?
I'd like them to know that I'm grateful to them for reading the book.
Do you have any current writing projects?
I'm always working on something nowadays. I've got some short stories I've been writing. And then I've got some stuff that I'm working on that'll be a novel one day, if I live long enough. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Book Candy

Spelling Quiz

Pop quiz: "Can you spell these 15 tricky spelling words?" Merriam-Webster challenged.


Author Kevin Kwan "has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo." Buzzfeed shared "Crazy Rich Asians fun facts that'll make you want to watch it 100 more times."


"Borrowed seasons: 9 quotes from modern African poets" were featured by Bustle.


"What do astronauts read on the International Space Station?" The Independent has answers.


"Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights--in charts."


Bruno Suraski's Mosquito table bookshelf's design "came from the pursuit of stability and balance without the need of any physical or chemical unions," the Bookshelf noted.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Little Man Little Man

Little Man Little Man: A Story of Childhood was James Baldwin's first and only children's book. Originally published in 1976, Little Man shows, via illustrations by French artist Yoran Cazac, the daily life of Baldwin's nephew, Tejan Karefa-Smart, aka TJ. Four-year-old TJ lives in Harlem with his sister and two parents, an unusual counterpoint to the broken families of TJ's friends and neighbors. His childhood world of playing ball in the street is never far removed from adult concerns such as police brutality, drug abuse, poverty and domestic violence. TJ's playfulness and resilience, despite his shattered innocence, shows why Baldwin described Little Man as a "celebration of the self-esteem of black children."

Baldwin began Little Man after his young niece and nephew discovered he was a famous author. Unfortunately, contemporary critics were less enthusiastic than Baldwin's extended family. Thus Little Man has been out of print for more than 40 years--until today. Duke University Press is releasing a new edition of Little Man Little Man with a foreword by Baldwin's nephew Tejan, an afterword by his niece Aisha Karefa-Smart, and an introduction by Baldwin scholars Nicholas Boggs and Jennifer DeVere Brody ($22.95, 9781478000044). --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


The Mere Wife

by Maria Dahvana Headley

Maria Dahvana Headley combines the myths and monsters of Beowulf with the horrors of modern suburbia in The Mere Wife, a stunning and complex novel of love, motherhood, greed, ambition and isolation.
Dana Mills, veteran of an unnamed war, is believed dead after a video of her beheading was released to the media. In reality, she is alive and raising her son, Gren, in an abandoned railroad tunnel carved into a mountain near her hometown. At the base of that mountain, Willa Herot lives in a glass house with her perfect husband and their perfect son, Dylan. When Gren and Dylan become friends, The Mere Wife sets off on a path of calamity: men die, women close ranks, monsters are hunted.
Those familiar with Beowulf will appreciate the cleverness of Headley's ambitious retelling, but The Mere Wife is impressive even when considered apart from the epic. Headley moves expertly between perspectives, with first-person narratives intersected by a chorus of voices from the suburban women who will do anything to protect their own.
"Maybe this has always been a job that women do.... Raising them and protecting them, trying to get them out into the future still living, still loving, trying to defend them from all the... broken world wants." Headley brings that broken world to life with dazzling prose, writing with urgency about love and protection and all of the terrible things people do to one another in the name of both--an urgency as timeless as the classic upon which the novel is based. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: The myths and monsters of Beowulf combine with the horrors of suburbia in a stunning and complex novel of love, motherhood, greed, ambition and isolation.

MCD/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9780374208431

Tacky Goblin

by T. Sean Steele

Delaying adulthood has never been so fun, or so anarchic, as it is in Tacky Goblin by T. Sean Steele. This novella in diary form is as pointed as a knife and as surreal as an Escher print.
The narrator, a fictional T. Sean, lived at his parent's house until recently. When a mold stain in his bedroom ceiling starts giving him mixed messages, he moves to Los Angeles to stay with his sister Kim. She gives him a human skull as a welcome gift ("Look, it's a gift! Take it or don't.") and sets about to counter his almost pathological resistance to activity. He's sure that his legs are atrophying, though, even though they look normal, so how can he look for a job? He knows that he should explore his new city, too, but the pills that his kind-of girlfriend, Laurie, gives him make his "brain feel carbonated." He winds up staying inside for days, fishing teeth out of the drains and training their new dog that looks and acts suspiciously like a human baby. 

T. Sean's journal jumps and loops within time and space, and life doesn't so much happen to him as it happens around him. "The facts existed, or they didn't, whether or not I paid attention to them." His observations on life, and the rules of adulthood, are morbidly funny and ring with an oddball truth that fans of Welcome to Night Vale and Alice Isn't Dead will relish. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: Tacky Goblin is a very funny and deeply strange story of one man's resistance to the trappings of adulthood.

Unnamed Press, $14.99, paperback, 9781944700607

OK, Mr. Field

by Katharine Kilalea

Like Eliot's Prufrock or Beckett's Molloy, the narrator of Katharine Kilalea's first novel, OK, Mr. Field, is an introspective middle-aged man bewildered and saddened by what his life has become. The eponymous Mr. Field lives on a hillside above a seasonal beach retreat for the Cape Town wealthy. His house is a knock-off of the famous Le Corbusier work, Villa Savoye, where he wanders glassed halls and rugged grounds musing on his career as a pianist--cut short by a disabling train accident--and pondering why his wife has left him. He skims newspapers, half-heartedly works crossword puzzles, obsesses over the widow who sold him the house and occasionally walks to town, comparing the busy tics and tacs of "normal" people to his own ennui. A contemporary existentialist, Mr. Field has lost his way--and maybe lost his mind.
South African-born and now living in London, Kilalea is a poet (One Eye'd Leigh) and former publicist for an architectural firm. With a flair for language and metaphor, the concise, wry and contemplative OK, Mr. Field is also rich in the arcana of architecture. Le Corbusier's stark minimalism appropriately mirrors the malaise of Mr. Field's life. Alone as he is, however, Mr. Field still longs to connect--if only with the stray dog he takes in. If a sadness permeates this book, it is the restless melancholy of one who sees his torpor and strives to overcome it. With subdued resolution, he notes: "The important thing, I decided, was to stay vertical." Beckett would approve. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: In a spare and inventive first novel, poet Katharine Kilalea breathes life into a lonely, flummoxed man in search of a metaphysical place to hang his hat.

Tim Duggan Books, $25, hardcover, 224p., 9780525573630

Mystery & Thriller


by Nico Walker

Even without Nico Walker's unusual biography, his debut novel, Cherry, would be impressive. But the fact that it was produced by an Iraq War combat veteran and drug addict while serving time for bank robbery in federal prison unquestionably adds to its power. Walker is a talented writer whose depiction of how it feels for a soldier to return from a war his country would like to forget, only to join a growing army of addicts in a crisis that country can't solve, is as timely as it is terrifying.
There's nothing heroic or noble about the unnamed narrator's military service in Iraq in 2005-2006. A medic, he's sent on endless patrols that mostly involve kicking down doors on the chance he'll find bad actors behind them, all the while hoping to avoid random, instantaneous death at the hands of an improvised explosive device.
But as much as Cherry is a story about war and its consequences, it's also a love story, if a sadly perverted one. The narrator and his wife (and ex-wife), Emily, can't live together or apart. The scenes of their mutual self-destruction and the desperate search for money to buy more drugs (that eventually leads to bank robbery in order to avoid the agony of withdrawal) are nightmarish. To the obvious question why anyone would want to live this way, Walker helps us understand that, for these two characters, there's no choice.
Laced with dark, ironic humor, Cherry remains a bleak and uncompromising book. Considering its subject matter, any other stance would represent a failure of imagination, if not artistic dishonesty. When Nico Walker leaves prison, he'll face a world changed in countless ways from the one he left. The fact that it hasn't in others is part of the tragedy of this deeply disquieting novel. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: Nico Walker's debut novel is a grim portrait of a soldier's experience of the Iraq War and of the drug addiction that haunts his homecoming.

Knopf, $26.95, hardcover, 336p., 9780525520139

Graphic Books

The Arab of the Future 3: The Circumcision Years: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1985-1987

by Riad Sattouf

The first two books by French cartoonist and former Charlie Hebdo contributor Riad Sattouf introduced readers to family life in a repressive authoritarian regime through the wide-eyed innocence of a child. The third Arab of the Future volume opens with the continuing indoctrination of a now seven-year-old Riad.
In learning to conform and survive, Riad has emerged as meaner and increasingly desensitized to the everyday trials of his village existence. A manipulative streak has replaced his naïveté, and he begins to emulate the behaviors of the boys and men around him. Meanwhile, Clementine, Riad's disillusioned French mother, withdraws into a world of jigsaw puzzles. She is angry about their inferior living conditions and demands that Abdel, Riad's father, move to the city for its modern comforts. Abdel stalls as he wrestles with the conflicting divide between family traditions and his Western education, professing dedication to his conservative Islamic roots while simultaneously mocking its old-fashioned ways. And young Riad is caught between his father's stubborn dogmatism and his mother's growing intolerance of those views.
Sattouf draws with an appealing, simple style that heightens the conflicts between Eastern and Western influences, and magnifies the cruelties and violence that Sattouf witnesses. The maturing Riad begins to see cracks in his parent's marriage and observes the corrupting influence that Syrian politics has on his doting but morally challenged father. Abdel fails to bully his wife into the submissive obedience expected in his cultural circle, and he resorts to groveling and lying instead to earn that elusive respect. Riad will learn what it means to be a man in turbulent 1980s Syria, even if achieving that manhood threatens to betray his own beliefs and values. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: A young child becomes desensitized to the growing violence surrounding his Middle Eastern upbringing as he adapts to Syrian traditions and culture.

Metropolitan, $27, paperback, 160p., 9781627793537

Biography & Memoir

Tragedy Plus Time: A Tragi-Comic Memoir

by Adam Cayton-Holland

Comedian Adam Cayton-Holland's wry, candid and heartrending memoir, Tragedy Plus Time, chronicles his younger sister's suicide and the shattering effects on him and his family. Raised in a loving home by a lawyer father and investigative journalist mother, Cayton-Holland and his two sisters learned early about injustices in the world. In an attempt to keep their own Colorado world safe, all three children started exhibiting secret obsessive compulsive tendencies with rituals they had to perform to prevent the world from falling apart. As they grew up, Adam funneled his anxieties into stand-up comedy and his older sister, Anna, became a lawyer. His younger sister, Lydia, worked in the family's law office and for Adam.
As Adam's career began to take off as both a stand-up comic and member of the comedy troupe The Grawlix, Lydia began spiraling into mental breakdowns, drug overdoses and psych ward evaluations. Her mental illness became an exhausting routine of rescues and relapses for her family. And then she abruptly killed herself. Her death happened just 10 days before Adam's TV pilot won financing. In his haze of grief, he had to start working on the project, which turned into the sitcom Those Who Can't on TruTV.
Like Tig Notaro (I'm Just a Person) and Patricia Williams (Rabbit), Cayton-Holland is a comedian who has written a harrowing memoir with virtually no laughs. This brave and uncompromising exploration of mental illness and a family working their way out of grief is a helpful and inspiring story. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Comedian Cayton-Holland's harrowing memoir of his sister's mental illness and suicide is a painfully candid and therapeutic journey through grief.

Touchstone, $26, hardcover, 256p., 9781501170164


Walls: A History of Civilization in Blood and Brick

by David Frye

In 1987, Ronald Reagan stood before the Berlin Wall, a symbol of the Cold War, and told Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall." Two years later, Berliners took to the streets and began disassembling the wall, paving the way for the reunification of Germany and the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. Fast forward 30 years, Donald Trump speaks of the "big, beautiful wall" he wants built to separate the United States from Mexico ostensibly to curb illegal immigration, as similar structures also begin to emerge in Europe and elsewhere to turn away migrants.
In Walls, historian David Frye tells the story of civilization through man-made barriers. Spanning thousands of years of history, Frye considers the ancient world of "wallers and warriors." Defensive walls were built along the vast expanse of the Eurasian Steppe to keep Mongols and other barbarians at bay. In ancient Greece, Athenians built a wall around their city while Spartans eschewed them; the fortifications allowed mathematics, philosophy and the hallmarks of civilization to emerge in Athens, but also created a false sense of security, for the walls were penetrable. Frye travels through the "Great Age of Walls" when the Great Wall of China and Hadrian's Wall were built. The names of the barbarians changed, the building materials became stronger, but the story is often the same--walls were constructed to keep invaders out, while those behind them grew complacent and were unprepared when they were breached.
Tyrannical leaders and fearless aggressors have tussled throughout history, and countless men and women died building structures that were designed to protect them. Frye's history of the construction and subsequent destruction of walls is a colorful crash course in world history. --Frank Brasile, librarian

Discover: This history of walls, both insightful and entertaining, offers a perspective for understanding the reemergence of these barriers today.

Scribner, $28, hardcover, 304p., 9781501172700

Travel Literature

Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road

by Kate Harris

Since childhood, Kate Harris has wanted to be an explorer. Reading Marco Polo's account of his journey on the fabled Silk Road, Harris was determined to make her own way there. But, like the Venetian explorer, her travels took a winding course. In Lands of Lost Borders, her luminous, incisive memoir, Harris chronicles her permanent wanderlust, her twisting career path and the months she spent cycling the Silk Road with her best friend.
Harris's journey took her first to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, then to the laboratories of MIT, where she began work on a Ph.D. But hours in the lab or the library never proved as fulfilling as exploring the byways and back streets of wherever she happened to be. Disillusioned and hungry for adventure, Harris and her friend Mel decided to go for it: to fly to Istanbul and bike as far as they could. The goal, in a sense, was the remote Tibetan Plateau, inaccessible to many of the world's citizens. But the greater aim, as for any explorer, was simply to go, to see: to "learn enough landmarks by which to love the whole world."
Harris doesn't spare the gritty details of the trip: stern checkpoint guards, exhausting traffic, much sweat and countless flat tires. But she is also awed repeatedly by the world as seen from a bicycle: a far-off river glittering "like an artery of light," the vast icy sweep of the Siachen glacier.
Lyrical, brilliant and sharply observed, Lands of Lost Borders is a paean to wanderlust and a call for readers to launch their own explorations. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Kate Harris's gritty, luminous memoir of cycling the Silk Road explores wanderlust and boundaries.

Dey Street, $24.99, hardcover, 320p., 9780062839343


Gross Anatomy: Dispatches from the Front (and Back)

by Mara Altman

Gross Anatomy: Dispatches from the Front (and Back) by Mara Altman is an uproariously entertaining collection of essays packed with thoroughly original musings on the female body. Chin hair, bosoms, bellybuttons, hemorrhoids: she leaves no stone unturned in her quest to demystify the workings of the female anatomy.
Altman (Thanks for Coming) has amassed an impressive volume of medical research and anecdotal asides on bodily functions by interviewing a veritable army of experts, including a neuroscientist, an evolutionary biologist, an anatomy professor, a chemist, a gynecologist and a "pelvic practitioner." Friends, relatives and her endlessly patient husband, Dave, are also consulted. She breaks down the medical research into easily digestible bites and has an uncanny way of reaching one's deepest fears of physical and functional imperfections and dragging them out into the open to share. By exposing universal anatomical insecurities, Altman reduces their power, proving that we are meant to be exactly as we are, warts and all.
This body-positive manifesto is a perfect read for any woman who has ever wondered if she was the only one with copious sweat glands, hair in all the wrong places and female odors that are oddly attractive to dogs. With absolutely no inhibitions, Altman is leading the way for more honest conversations about the glorious imperfections of the female anatomy, a truly welcome change from the insecurity-breeding images of perfect bodies that surround us on social media. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: A bold and entertaining investigative dive into the strange and wondrous (and often embarrassing) workings of the female body.

Putnam, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9780399574832


A Miscellany

by E.E. Cummings

E.E. Cummings, one of the brainiest poets of the 20th century, runs wild across genres in A Miscellany, a collection of essays, sketches, epigrams, speeches from unfinished plays and other fun endeavors.
Originally published in 1958, the collection was later updated by Cummings's long-time editor, George J. Firmage, and is presented here in a handsome new edition. The collection presents a side of Cummings not widely known, including several over-the-top, laugh-out-loud-funny articles the poet wrote for Vanity Fair in the 1920s, which satirize New York high society and intellectual circles. There's also his translation of Louis Aragon's political poem "The Red Front." Further adding to the pleasant melange are chapters from an untitled experimental novel, which Cummings jests about as unmarketable in his own introduction.
He is at his zany best in his articles of art criticism in which he espouses, and wittily demonstrates, his modernist aesthetic. In his essay on sculptor Gaston Lachaise, Cummings strangely yet effectively describes the elusive life-force of good art as "the actual crisp organic squirm--the IS." In his essay "The Agony of the Artist (with a Capital A)," he steers readers away from notions of artistic success and toward art as a way of living: "to become alive, or one's self, means everything." His line drawings scattered throughout the collection are surprisingly vivid, including one of Abraham Lincoln on his deathbed with surreally elongated arms and fingers. A defender of cubism and modernist art in general, Cummings's own style reinforces his polemics.
A Miscellany is a treat for fans of Cummings's poetry and also a fascinating contribution to literary history. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: This oddball collection of work from E.E. Cummings showcases different talents of the modernist poet.

Liveright, $26.95, hardcover, 384p., 9780871406538

Children's & Young Adult

A Big Mooncake for Little Star

by Grace Lin

Little Star and her Mama are such good bakers that Mama must remind Little Star once more to curb her appetite: "Can you remember not to touch this Big Mooncake until I tell you to?" Little Star's immediate agreement lasts through teeth brushing, face washing and snuggling in bed with book and bunny. She even manages to fall asleep--but she can't stay asleep and soon enough, she "Pat pat pat"s her way to her first tiny nibble. Once begun, resistance is futile, and Little Star returns night after night for one more little nibble. The mooncake wanes--what will Mama say when she discovers nothing left but "a trail of twinkling crumbs"?
A Big Mooncake for Little Star is Newbery Honor and National Book Award finalist Grace Lin's first picture book since Thanking the Moon (2010). Since then, she's become the mother of a little girl who, like Little Star, loves mooncakes and moon tales, as revealed in Lin's back-flap author's note. With each gorgeous spread set against the night sky, mother and daughter, garbed in matching golden-starred pajamas, cook, negotiate and enjoy each other. Lin adds touches of her Chinese heritage and her literary legacy to her celestial kitchen: a bamboo steamer, Chinese ingredients, Little Star's moon rabbit; a mommy/baby bear scene on a blueberry-colored shelf in a nod to Robert McCloskey's classic Blueberries for Sal and to the cover of The Seven Chinese Sisters, which Lin illustrated. While noting her original story "doesn't have any roots in Chinese mythology," Lin nevertheless "imbues it with all the traits [she] associate[s] with the Moon Festival--quiet joy, love, and beauty," and creates a perfectly irresistible treat for parents and children of all ages.  --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Grace Lin's picture book introduces adorably mischievous Little Star, who can't resist nibbling on the Big Mooncake she baked with her Mama.

Little, Brown, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780316404488

Mama Dug a Little Den

by Jennifer Ward, illus. by Steve Jenkins

Platypuses, Gila monsters, bobcats and polar bears are some of the 14 families of animals featured in author-illustrator team Jennifer Ward and Steve Jenkins's Mama Dug a Little Den (Mama Built a Little Nest). Using stunning collage, lively four-line poems and paragraphs that provide greater depth, Ward and Jenkins describe how animal parents (most often the mothers, as explained in the author's note) dig or find "holes, dens, and burrows" to ensure survival.
All of the poems are in large print, most beginning with the same words as the title, and all using the same easy-to-read-aloud meter and rhyme scheme, reminiscent of "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Further information is included in smaller text on the same spread. For example, the large-type poem on the Gila monster double page spread reads: "Mama dug a little den/ to hide out from the sun--/ since baking in the desert/ isn't fun for anyone!" The mottled red-and-blue reptile with a big forked tongue is pictured popping out of its sandy burrow, shaded by a cactus with sharp thorns. The smaller print explains that, while many of the animals spend short periods of time in their dens, the Gila monster always stays in a burrow, coming out only when the Sonoran Desert temperature cools a bit. Jenkins's visually exciting collages use painted and textured papers, and each spread features different perspectives, some depicting just the parent animal, others including several animals, such as the polar bear mama and her two cubs, cozily inhabiting their den, "a cave of sparkling snow."
Mama Dug a Little Den has exactly the right amount of text for the read-aloud audience as well as interesting details and an author's note that will encourage older kids to do more research and direct observation. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer

Discover: Mama Dug a Little Den uses rhyming words and stimulating images to stir children's curiosity about the natural world.

Beach Lane/S&S, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-8, 9781481480376


by Ethan M. Aldridge

"Isn't it a bit young to be a knight?" a fairy party-goer asks of the fay king. "Nonsense!" the king replies, all bravado. "It's a human childe, they're made of stern stuff, and ours is a particularly good one."
The fay king and queen took Childe from his human family when he was only a baby, leaving their own child in his place. Never even given a proper name, Childe is sick of his royal "parents" treating him like a pet, cooing over his every "precious" sneeze and exclaiming about how "squishy" he is. Also, with only the court staff and a boy-sized candle gollum as company, Childe is lonely and feels out of place. Edmund, the fay baby who was swapped for Childe, feels equally alone--he knows he's a changeling but tries to hide his magic (not always successfully) for fear of upsetting his adopted human family. When the fay king and queen are turned into rats by a usurper named Hawthorne, Childe is forced to flee. He escapes to the home of the only person he believes can save both him and the fay kingdom: Edmund, "the rightful" (and only) "blood heir to the World Below."
In debut author Aldridge's graphic novel fantasy, Childe and his gollum, Whick, travel with Edmund and his human sister, Alexis, to the Below to take back the kingdom from the evil Hawthorne. Aldridge makes striking use of his medium, varying panel size and full-page spreads to match and heighten the action and suspense. Estranged's swiftly moving text and detailed, energetic illustrations contain any and every fantasy motif or creature a reader could want. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Ethan M. Aldridge's graphic novel Estranged is a quintessential fantasy adventure featuring a human boy and the changeling who took his place.

HarperCollins, $12.99, paperback, 224p., ages 8-12, 9780062653864


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

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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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