Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, November 2, 2018

W. W. Norton & Company: The Iliad by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson

From My Shelf

Hot Books for Cold Nights

The weather outside may be frightful, but curling up with a good book by the fire is perfectly delightful. And since it's nearly the season for mistletoe, here are a few new romance novels sure to get you into the holiday spirit.

Jill Shalvis's Hot Winter Nights (Avon, $7.99) begins when two elderly Christmas elves show up a detective agency in San Francisco, complaining that they work for a bad Santa. Then things get even weirder, when investigator Lucas Knight realizes he's spent the night with office manager Molly Malone. He was too drunk to remember what happened, so Molly gleefully teases him about their amazing night (even though nothing really happened) as they work the bad Santa case together. Soon, however, Lucas discovers that Molly might not care if she ends up on the naughty list....

In Katie Ruggle's Rocky Mountain Cowboy Christmas (Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99), single dad and firefighter Steve Springfield has moved his four kids to a Christmas tree ranch in his hometown in Colorado, in hopes of a happy new beginning. There he becomes reacquainted with artist Camille Brandt, whom he vaguely knew in high school. Camille is awkward and shy, but she begins to fall for Steve, until a series of mysterious fires in the area threatens their holidays and their happiness.

Sarah Morgan's The Christmas Sisters (HQN, $15.99) begins with Suzanne, the adoptive mother of three women whom she loves dearly. Suzanne runs a cafe in the Scottish Highlands with her youngest daughter, Posy, and always struggles at Christmastime with her terrible memories of the accident that killed the girls' biological parents 20 years earlier. But she is thrilled that Hannah, the workaholic, and Beth, the stay-at-home mom, are coming home for the holidays this year. Things are looking good, till Hannah has a shocking surprise, Beth's marriage hits a rough spot, and Posy begins to chafe at small-town life. Can the sisters find happiness before Christmas?

Light and enjoyable, all three of these books are sure to boost the Christmas spirit, even for the most Grinchy of readers. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Tommy Nelson: Buster Gets Back on Track (Buster the Race Car) by Dale Earnhardt Jr., illustrated by Ela Smietanka

The Writer's Life

Reading with... Chris Womersley

photo: Roslyn Oades
Chris Womersley is the author of four novels and numerous short stories. His work has been translated, broadcast on BBC and ABC radio and won or been shortlisted for many prizes, including the Miles Franklin Award, the Ned Kelly Award, the BBC International Short Story Prize and the Golden Dagger Award. His most recent novel is City of Crows (Europa), which has been described as Hieronymus Bosch in literary form. He lives in Melbourne, Australia, with his wife and son.
On your nightstand now:
I'm a chronic re-reader of things, so some of these titles are yet to be read, while others I'm taking a look at again for some reason. There's almost too many to list, but there's an old edition of the Paris Review, Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, Philip Roth's Zuckerman Unbound, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, the collected stories of Joy Williams and the collected stories of Clarice Lispector.
Favorite book when you were a child:
I remember really loving a book called The Great Ghost Rescue, which was about a community of ghosts and ghouls who are threatened with being turned out of their ruined Scottish castle home because it is going to be developed into a resort. I was also a fan of the Enid Blyton Magic Faraway Tree series. Later, I loved My Side of the Mountain, about a teenage boy who runs away from his family to live self-sufficiently in the mountains.
Your top five authors:
This one actually depends on which week you ask me, but I'll give you my current list: Charles Dickens, T.S. Eliot, Donna Tartt, Zadie Smith and Anthony Powell.
Book you've faked reading:
I honestly don't think I have pretended to read a book--unless it was something for high school. I don't really care too much what people might think of the books I've read or not read.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Most recently, it would have to be Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. Hardly an original choice, I know, but what an amazing novel. I tried reading it when I was younger and didn't get very far, but tried again late last year and was amazed by it. So deeply strange, so involving, so wild in genre and spirit and containing so many profound, beautiful images and lines. The chapter "The Grand Armada," in which the Pequod encounters a group of whale calves nursing at their mothers with their eyes gazing upwards, "as if leading two different lives at the time; and while yet drawing mortal nourishment, be still spiritually feasting upon some unearthly reminiscence" haunts me almost daily.
Book you've bought for the cover:
I recently bought an early edition of the prolific French writer George Simenon's Maigret and the Young Girl that features a wonderful noirish cover of our eponymous hero in a trench coat lurking in the shadows.
Book you hid from your parents:
Book that changed your life:
I think Charles Dickens's Great Expectations changed my life in some ways. My mother read it to me when I was around 11 or 12 years old and although I didn't understand it at the time, it is easy for me to see now the ways in which it has influenced and become embedded in my own imagination. The ruined lives, the gothic overtones, the vivid characters both major and minor and the accumulation of detail are all things I still look for and find immensely satisfying in the novels I read now.
Favorite line from a book:
I always loved the opening line of Marguerite Duras's The Lover: "One day I was already old."
Also this, from On Beauty by Zadie Smith: "Aaah vay-ay, aah vay, sang the young men; the faint, hopeful leap of the first three notes, the declining dolour of the following three; the coffin passing so close to Howard's elbow he sensed its weight in his arms; the woman inside it, only seven years older than Howard himself; the prospect of her infinite residence in there; the prospect of his own; the Kipps children weeping behind it; a man in front of Howard checking his watch as if the end of the world (for so it was for Carlene Kipps) was a mere inconvenience in his busy day, even though this fellow too would live to see the end of his world, as would Howard, as do tens of thousands of people every day, few of whom, in their lifetimes, are ever able to truly believe in the oblivion to which they are dispatched."
Five books you'll never part with:
I have a few books that have become sort of talismanic for me. My signed copy of Nick Cave's And the Ass Saw the Angel, Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson, my copy of Jack Kerouac's On the Road (which I am ashamed to say I stole from a bookstore when I was 15), The Secret History by Donna Tartt and my battered, high school copy of Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Argh. So many. Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time is a sequence of 12 novels set from around 1920 through to the late 1960s and is concerned with the lives of a group of English toffs across those years. Not really about anything--and consequently about everything--it is funny, moving, profound and wise and it remains one of the deepest and most pleasurable reading experiences of my life.

Parallax Press: Unshakeable: Trauma-Informed Mindfulness and Collective Awakening by Jo-ann Rosen

Book Candy

Book Cover Quiz

"Only a true bookworm can beat this book cover quiz," according to Buzzfeed.


Ian Black recommended "five books to understand Saudi Arabia" for the Guardian.


"Stephen King sells short story film rights to students for $1," Mashable reported.


Check it out: Mental Floss showcased "12 things you might not know about dictionaries" and "26 of Noah Webster's spelling changes that didn't catch on." It also looked up "25 words you didn't know were in the dictionary."


"Anyone obsessed with British authors should add these four literary destinations to your travel list," Buzzfeed advised.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Ntozake Shange

Author, poet and playwright Ntozake Shange, who died on October 27 at age 70, was best known for her 1975 Tony Award-nominated play for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf, which uses poetry, music and movement to explore the many struggles of black women in America. Shange was the first to call this multimedia mix a "choreopoem." It features seven women, nameless save for the colors they wear, addressing topics like abortion, rape and domestic violence. Shange's work was first staged off Broadway, but eventually became the second play by a black woman to reach Broadway (after Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun in 1959). In 2010, Shange updated for colored girls... with the poem "positive," about the Iraq War and PTSD.

In addition to 15 plays, Shange published 19 poetry collections, six novels, five children's books and three essay collections. Her work includes Wild Beauty: New and Selected Poems (2017); lost in language & sound: or how i found my way to the arts: essays (2011); Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo (1982); Some Sing, Some Cry; I Live in Music (1994); and The Sweet Breath of Life: A Poetic Narrative of the African-American Family (2004).

Shange's sister, playwright Ifa Bayeza, described Shange's death as "a huge loss for the world. I don't think there's a day on the planet when there's not a young woman who discovers herself through the words of my sister." --Tobias Mutter

Book Review



by Joe Ide

Despite being East Long Beach's most famous private investigator, Isaiah Quintabe (IQ for short) is still solving low-level crimes and getting paid in "casseroles, cookies, needlepoint homilies, leftover Christmas presents, home repairs, and knitted woolen scarves so perfect for the California weather." His buddy Juanell Dodson, a former hustler and occasional partner in solving crimes, has gone legit with a food truck business. But Dodson is being blackmailed and needs to make some real money. He convinces a reluctant IQ officially to join forces as investigators, but will they survive their first case?

Their client is Grace, an artist looking for Sarah, her mother who disappeared 10 years earlier. Despite Dodson's objections to the case, the investigators begin their pursuit. It's not long before the trio discover they're up against members of a Blackwater-type paramilitary force who engaged in unspeakable atrocities at Abu Ghraib, led by the merciless Stan Walczak. Sarah has damning photos of Walczak and his crew torturing Iraqis, and the villainous mercenaries will kill anyone who threatens to publish them--or even knows they exist.

Joe Ide has given mystery readers a truly distinctive protagonist in his 26-year-old, socially challenged African American sleuth. With Wrecked, the third installment in the series (IQ, Righteous), Ide adds new dimensions to IQ, with Grace as a love interest and his awkwardness around her in stark contrast to his proficiency as an investigator. Ide's commitment to character and ear for dialogue are a treat; even supporting characters like Dodson's girlfriend, Cherise, and business partner Deronda are well-rounded. Ide's ability to find comedy and vulnerability amid the violence make the IQ series a refreshing addition to the genre. --Frank Brasile, librarian

Discover: IQ's third case takes him face to face with a ruthless private security force, and his pursuit of a love interest proves just as challenging for him.

Mulholland Books, $27, hardcover, 352p., 9780316509510

Horsemen of the Sands

by Leonid Yuzefovich, trans. by Marian Schwartz

Horsemen of the Sands collects two novellas by Russian historian and novelist Leonid Yuzefovich. The novellas address vastly different subjects, tied together by the author's hallucinatory style. "The Storm" follows students and teachers at an elementary school during what begins as an average day but eventually takes unlikely turns. Yuzefovich is skilled at concise characterization, getting across complex psychological profiles in a few paragraphs. He also possesses a welcome sense of humor--a dry, compassionate wit that notes one character's "mature married man's natural, nonbinding interest in a mature married woman."

In the titular "Horsemen of the Sands," Yuzefovich has crafted a mini-epic. It covers a strange historical episode in the early 20th century wherein a Russian monarchist officer, R.F. Ungern-Shternberg, makes a quixotic attempt to revive the Mongol empire and oppose Bolshevik forces. The novella begins in 1971, with a Russian soldier involved in preparations for a possible Chinese invasion on the Mongolian steppe. His conversations with a local named Boliji lead to protracted flashbacks depicting Ungern's increasingly messianic aims, prompted in part by his fanatical devotion to Buddhism. Traveling from village to village, Ungern stages demonstrations where bullets are fired at him point-blank. The "Mad Baron" repeatedly survives, claiming divine protection. Ungern's story ends in tragedy and failure, but his legend persists a half century later, when Boliji and Russian soldiers argue over his legacy. "Horsemen of the Sands" and "The Storm" are both thoughtful reflections on anxieties buried just beneath the surface of Russian society. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Discover: Horsemen of the Sands collects two unconventional novellas that explore a bizarre episode in Russian history and existential crisis in an elementary school.

Archipelago Books, $16, paperback, 234p., 9781939810090

Samuel Johnson's Eternal Return

by Martin Riker

When Samuel Johnson is 12, the town of Unityville, Pa., (pop. 30 religious zealots) is rocked by the arrival of a television set ("less likely than a stigmata"). A loner and a mope, Samuel brightens as television transports him outside his tiny town. His viewing sessions with fellow preteen Emily blossom into romance. They eventually marry, but tragedy strikes when Emily dies in childbirth.

Four years into parenting by himself, Samuel dies protecting his son from a crazed stranger. Struck by the "odd turns" of his afterlife, Samuel realizes his soul now resides in the body of the lunatic who killed him. That horrible fate is altered when his murderer then dies, propelling Samuel into an occupant of a passing airplane. Hurtling ever farther from his boy, Samuel feels punished by God for his shortcomings as a father (and for watching too much television).  

Samuel Johnson's Eternal Return is a quirky, multi-bodied story of the peculiar road trips Samuel's soul takes as he desperately tries to maneuver back to his son. Martin Riker, English lecturer at Washington University in St. Louis and co-founder of the feminist press Dorothy, evidences an engaging narrative voice in his enjoyable debut.

Samuel's perceptions change as he observes through what are, in essence, human televisions. The television theme is mined to useful and comic effect, and fans may enjoy revisiting programming lineups and their reflection of society from the 1960s forward. Riker dips into the existential, but the navel-gazing feels natural to Samuel's predicament and lends itself to a heartwarming and rewarding conclusion. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: The soul of a young murdered father transforms while inhabiting a variety of bodies that both aid and impede his efforts to reunite with his son.

Coffee House Press, $16.95, paperback, 256p., 9781566895286

Mystery & Thriller

Alice Isn't Dead

by Joseph Fink

Welcome to Nightvale podcast creator and writer Joseph Fink expands on the hit serial podcast Alice Isn't Dead in this flesh-crawling horror thriller with a heart.

"This isn't a story," Fink begins. "It's a road trip." When her wife, Alice, disappeared, Keisha searched for months, eventually held a funeral and then tried to overcome her grief in a world that no longer made sense. Things turned upside-down again when she began noticing Alice on the news, always in the crowd at the scene of tragedies across the United States. A year and a half later, Keisha works as a long-haul trucker so she can search the country for Alice.

On the road, she attracts the attention of an unkempt creature in a dirty polo bearing the word "thistle," who eats a living victim in front of her. Though human in appearance, the Thistle Man is "like a boogeyman from a vaguely recalled nightmare," and police officers turn a blind eye to his activities. Stalked by the predator, Keisha picks up a teen girl, Sylvia, who lost her mother to the Thistle Man. Their ensuing investigation puts Keisha on the path to uncovering a dark world hidden within the shadows of our own.

In his third novel, Fink (author, with Jeffrey Cranor, of It Devours) achieves an eerie, off-kilter atmosphere that induces a constant sense of paranoia. Fans of the podcast will no doubt enjoy this expansion of Keisha's quest, but readers who have no familiarity with the story will likely appreciate its surprises and chills even more. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: This expansion of a hit podcast, Alice Isn't Dead follows truckdriver Keisha as she battles an ancient evil while searching for her missing wife.

Harper Perennial, $19.99, hardcover, 336p., 9780062844132


Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses

by Jenny Hale

At the center of Jenny Hale's feel-good romance Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses are handsome, wealthy workaholic Nick Sinclair and single mother and overworked nurse Abbey Fuller. In Richmond, Va., Nick has settled his elderly grandmother Caroline into a small cottage adjacent to his Georgian Revival-style mansion on the banks of the James River. He never wanted the sprawling estate--the oversized house was his wife's idea. Since the couple's acrimonious divorce, the mansion has been stripped bare.

Having been lured by Nick from her job at an upscale retirement home, Abbey assists and cares for Caroline, and the two women become friends. Abbey shares her passion for interior design and explains that she was forced to put her design dreams on hold in order to raise her son, Max. Caroline offers Abbey the chance to decorate her cottage, and the result is so pleasing that Caroline convinces Nick to hire Abbey to redesign his mansion in time for Christmas, when Nick's sister and her family will arrive to spend the holidays. The salary Nick offers for the job is beyond Abbey's wildest dreams, but can she meet the decorating deadline while accommodating Caroline's and Max's needs?

An opposites-attract romance riddled with complications ensues between private, standoffish Nick and bubbly, inquisitive Abbey. Hale (The Summer House) playfully captures the light, fluffy spirit of true love and the meaning of family at the most wonderful time of the year. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: An interior design overhaul of a mansion spurs a light, feel-good romance between a wealthy divorced businessman and a hardworking single mother.

Forever, $6.99, mass market paperbound, 368p., 9781538731390

Biography & Memoir

Sound: A Memoir of Hearing Lost and Found

by Bella Bathurst

In her late 20s, British journalist Bella Bathurst (The Lighthouse Stevensons) noticed something disturbing: her hearing was getting worse, gradually but undeniably. By age 28, she had almost entirely lost the ability to hear. Floundering in a world that grew more and more silent, Bathurst dove into research about noise, sound frequencies, hearing loss, deaf culture and possible cures. Her memoir, Sound, takes readers on a tour through the not-quite-silent land of deafness and the ways hearing connects people to the world. 

Initially, Bathurst couldn't believe her own (failing) ears: Wasn't hearing loss for older people? But, as she learned, people lose their hearing for all kinds of reasons. Some, like rock musicians and factory workers, pursue careers that put them at greater risk for deafness. Many of these people hide or minimize their hearing loss, as Bathurst sought to do. Embarrassed by her own deafness yet fascinated by all things aural, she toured a shipbuilding hangar, delved into the life of Beethoven and cajoled several musicians and sound engineers into discussing hearing loss and its difficulties. She writes movingly of her struggle to accept her deafness as well as the eventual transformative experience of regaining her hearing through surgery--when she found herself drunk on the poetry of accents and "sound's unsayable loveliness."

Packed with detail about the physiology of hearing, the intricacies of acoustics and Bathurst's particular experience, Sound is a powerful argument for true listening--which, as she says, is "when all the interesting things start to happen." --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger atCakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: British journalist Bella Bathurst writes in moving, fascinating detail about losing her hearing almost completely and then regaining it.

Greystone, $16.95, paperback, 224p., 9781771643825

Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home

by Nora Krug

Finding one's roots is a pastime for curious genealogists. But for Nora Krug, it meant laying to rest fears that her family was complicit in World War II atrocities. In Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home, she shares her trip back in time, to the very streets her grandparents shared with Nazis.

"Heimat" means homeland, the place with which one identifies. Krug's is elusive, and she determines "the only way to find the Heimat I've lost is to look back." In this scrapbook-style memoir of drawings, photos and ephemera linked with short passages chronicling her quest, Krug imparts a sense of immediacy that reflects her trepidation. Was her grandfather Willi a Nazi? Why didn't anyone speak of the war as she was growing up in the German region where her family had lived for generations? Krug avoided questioning, and her aunt advised when she traveled, "Just say you're from the Netherlands." Twelve years after she came to the U.S. for college, Krug confronted the guilt of her heritage: "Not even marrying a Jewish man has lessened my German shame."

Krug returned to Germany to excavate her family's past, piecing together sometimes contradictory information through interviews and archives, including a military file untouched for two generations. As she turns pages, readers may hold their breath in empathy: What will she learn, and will it ease her guilt and secure her Heimat? --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: A poignant memoir encompassing drawings, photos and memorabilia chronicles a German woman's anxious search for the truth about her family's World War II history.

Scribner, $30, hardcover, 288p., 9781476796628

Social Science

The World of Lore: Dreadful Places

by Aaron Mahnke

Aaron Mahnke, author of the creepy and engaging The World of Lore: Dreadful Places, launched his immensely popular Lore podcast in 2015. Today he draws an audience of millions with spine-tingling stories culled from actual folklore and couched in his own historical research. Amazon Video adapted the podcast for television in 2017, and now there are three Lore books. Dreadful Places is the third and somehow even scarier than the first two.

Featuring expanded retellings of stories he's told on the podcast as well as new material, Dreadful Places hit shelves in time for Halloween, but it makes for a fascinating read throughout the year. That's because Mahnke is as much a historian as storyteller. Each chapter delves into the history of the city where the story is set, revealing odd facts and terrifying personalities. Most of the stories contain supernatural elements, but some focus on the monstrosity of ordinary human beings. In "Echoes," for example, Mahnke tells the tale of Dr. Walter Freeman, who in 1936 directed the first prefrontal lobotomy in the U.S. The doctor performed the brain procedure using an ice pick and no anesthetic on children as young as four years old. Many of those patients, we learn, died on the operating people. "Ironically," writes Mahnke, "some people still don't believe in monsters."

Mahnke's writing style balances breezy humor with rigorous research, making these stories a scary pleasure to read. Dreadful Places continues to haunt long after the last page is turned. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Based on the popular podcast Lore, this smart collection of scary stories draws its monsters and haunted houses from folklore.

Del Rey, $28.99, hardcover, 352p., 9781524798024

Essays & Criticism

We Can't Breathe: On Black Lives, White Lies, and the Art of Survival

by Jabari Asim

For nearly two decades, Jabari Asim has chronicled the African American experience--past and present--in books for adults (The N Word) and kids (Fifty Cents and a Dream). In the eight essays in We Can't Breathe: On Black Lives, White Lies, and the Art of Survival, he merges a memoirist's personal narrative with a historian's authority, producing a work of panoptic scope and clarity.

In "The Seer and the Seen: On Reading and Being," Asim reflects on the sporadic presence of black characters in the picture books available to him as a child. In "The Elements of Strut," about the way that white people read the black body in motion, Asim describes a morning walk during which he picks up a subtext of distrust from a white police officer's idle-seeming chatter. "Color Him Father" begins with a look at President Obama's 2009 Father's Day speech, during which the president addressed the deleterious effect of absent dads on the black community, and proceeds with Asim's assiduous consideration of his reliably present schoolteacher father.

While each of We Can't Breathe's essays is a powerhouse, the book's tour de force is "The Thing Itself," a five-part look at white appropriation of black identity, notably through artistic interpretations of Emmett Till's and Michael Brown's dead bodies and in William Styron's novel The Confessions of Nat Turner. For this essay, Asim reserves his harshest judgment and sharpest wit. Perhaps most winningly: "As for Styron's renderings of black women, calling them cartoons would be uncharitable--to cartoons." Without its plentiful moments of levity, We Can't Breathe would break your heart. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: Jabari Asim's essays about the African American experience are jewel-like set pieces with autobiographical facets.

Picador, $17, paperback, 208p., 9781250174536


18 Miles: The Epic Drama of Our Atmosphere and Its Weather

by Christopher Dewdney

The weather affects everyone on a daily basis; we check the forecast to see if it'll be rainy or sunny, or to track the latest storm, yet how many of us completely understand how and why there are clouds, storms and seasons? In 18 Miles, essayist and poet Christopher Dewdney (Acquainted with the Night) explores the complex and multi-layered atmosphere that lies like a thin film over the earth. At its deepest, it is only 18 miles thick, yet without this skim layer, none of us would exist.

Using humor, personal stories, details of meteorological history and an incredible amount of scientific data, Dewdney describes each level of our atmosphere, explaining how clouds are formed and the evolution of the atmosphere on the planet. He shares the way hurricanes and tornadoes are born, the scales used to classify them and his experience of living through Hurricane Katrina. Thunderstorms and the various types of lightning--sprites, blue jets, elves, pixies, gnomes and trolls--are described in lush detail. He includes fascinating tidbits about the early rainmakers and the way the U.S. and other countries "seed" clouds in order to create rain. Covering the driest places on the planet and the wettest, the mildest clouds and the most destructive, Dewdney has written a complex, entertaining and highly informative book that rivals the information one might find in a college classroom. For anyone interested in the air we breathe, 18 Miles is a great addition to any library. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: An essayist and poet crafts an all-encompassing look at the whys and hows of weather here on Earth.

ECW Press, $17.95, paperback, 272p., 9781770413467

Children's & Young Adult

The Sun Is Kind of a Big Deal

by Nick Seluk

Heart and Brain creator Nick Seluk navigates young readers through an entertaining tour of the Milky Way to explain why the Sun is kind of a big deal. Using accessible analogies, fun facts and whimsical illustrations, Seluk expertly engages his audience in the wonderment of the solar system. When explaining the concept of orbits, the text states, "The planets move around the Sun like a big racetrack in space.... Some planets are faster than others, but each one stays in its lane." Seluk's accompanying illustration depicts anthropomorphized planets circling a trainer-like Sun, stopwatch in hand, tweeting a whistle.

The dialogue bubbles hovering over the planets add to the book's charm, and keep the reader turning pages to see what comical quips come next. Some may float over the heads of the youngest readers, such as Mars's "Did someone lose a rover?" question, but adults joining their kids in this galactic adventure will certainly appreciate them. Other special discoveries in Seluk's homage to the Sun include "Oh Hey, Guess What?" callout boxes sprinkled throughout. These graphics beckon toward related factoids on topics such as galaxies, the equator and sunrises. He also incorporates a glossary of terms and historical information in appendixes to the book.

Covering heat, light, precipitation and photosynthesis, The Sun Is Kind of a Big Deal explains how "[t]he Sun works really hard to help us out" in terms (and pictures) budding astrologists, biologists and regular Earthly citizens can understand. Readers are sure to find this picture book thoroughly enjoyable and cosmically intriguing. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: The lone star of the solar system takes center stage as a comics writer and illustrator explains why the Sun is so vital to our existence.

Orchard/Scholastic, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781338166972

The Boneless Mercies

by April Genevieve Tucholke

The Boneless Mercies's 17-year-old narrator, Frey, is an adult in her own right. Her parents died when she was 12, and her uncle sold her to a Bliss House; when she was considered old enough to make the move from the "kitchen to the bedroom," she fled. She was found by an older woman named Siggy who took her in and introduced her to the death trade. "They called us... the Boneless Mercies," Frey tells the reader. "They said we were shadows, ghosts, and if you touched our skin, we dissolved into smoke. We made people uneasy, for we were women with weapons. And yet the Mercies were needed. Men would not do our sad, dark work."

Though Siggy has passed on to Holhalla, Frey is not alone: she is accompanied by the Sea Witch Juniper; Runa and Ovie, two young women who "under[stand] darkness and carr[y] it with them"; and Trigve, a young man the Mercies saved from freezing to death. Frey, Runa, Ovie and Juniper barely make a living as purveyors of merciful death and have grown weary of killing. "I was a Mercy-girl with no family, no home, no fortune," Frey says to the reader, "and yet my blood sang of glory." Frey and the Mercies decide to seek fame and fortune by traveling across Vorseland to defeat a beast that has been terrorizing the northern jarldom.

April Genevieve Tucholke's (Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea) genderbent Beowulf is as dark and quietly mysterious as the fantastical winter in which it takes place. Her alternate Scandinavia is a land of powerful magics and eerie landscapes, bloodlust and genuine, deep friendships that is full of foreboding, menace and eventual (though not unfettered) glory. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A band of brave young women seeking fame travels across Norseland to kill the Blue Vee Beast in April Genevieve Tucholke's all-female take on Beowulf.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $18.99, hardcover, 352p., ages 12-up, 9780374307066


by Jihyeon Lee

A magical journey broadens a young child's horizons in this mostly wordless import by South Korean illustrator JiHyeon Lee (Pool).

In a world of dour, gray-penciled humans trudging through life against a blank cream background, a blue-and-red insect leads a child to a mysterious key and then on to a forgotten, cobwebbed door. Curiosity trumps apprehension, and the child steps through the doorway to a brightly colored land inhabited by cheerful red creatures whose beaked heads gently evoke Tim Burton's Beetlejuice. The strangers' speech bubbles contain incomprehensible squiggles to indicate the protagonist's inability to understand their words. However, the language of kindness proves universal when a child from a family of the creatures issues an invitation to join them for a picnic and walk in the country. As they walk, the child begins slowly to take on the colored pencil hues of the pastoral landscape. Eventually, they reach a field with doors of all shapes and sizes that release various whimsical creatures into the world; everyone is gathering to celebrate the wedding of a short, hamster-like groom to a pink, antelope-horned bride. After a joyful party, the now-rosy child returns to the black-and-white world, purposely leaving the wooden door wide open.

Lee's charming use of the magic portal and the transition from a black-and-white mundane world to a colorful fantasyland recalls such favorites as The Wizard of Oz, Lewis Carroll's works and Aaron Becker's Journeyseries. The densely colored pencil drawings look fresh enough to smudge, as though a friend drew them for the reader mere moments ago. Preschoolers may find reassurance here that different can mean fun, while older readers can use Door to start discussions on diversity, inclusion and acceptance. This quiet fable feels both relevant and timeless. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services division manager at Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library

Discover: A child from a black-and-white world steps through a door into a vibrant new land where anthropomorphic beasts provide a hearty welcome.

Chronicle, $17.99, hardcover, 56p., ages 4-8, 9781452171425

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