Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, December 18, 2020

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

From My Shelf

Swimming, Scones and (Reliably) Sweet Endings

During this turbulent year, I've been tempted to revive a reading habit I dropped long ago: flipping to the end of a book before I start it, to make sure everything will turn out all right. (My mother used to scold me about this practice, but I've caught her doing it, too.) Fortunately, some of my favorite feel-good authors provide stories where I know the characters will get their happy ending, without me having to sneak-read the last page.

Beth O'Leary's two novels, The Switch (Flatiron, $16.99) and The Flatshare (Flatiron, $26.99), center on young women who find themselves in a rough patch. In The Switch, Leena trades living situations with her grandmother Eileen, in the hopes that a change of scenery will pep them both up. The Flatshare finds Tiffy reeling from a breakup and agreeing to share a one-bedroom flat with Leon, whose work schedule is opposite hers, so they never have to meet. (Or do they?) O'Leary's narratives are filled with charming characters whose pluck and compassion sustain them through trying times.

Mornings with Rosemary (Simon & Schuster, $16.99), Libby Page's debut, follows a community in Brixton, South London, and its fight to save the local pool. The charge is led by Kate, an anxious young journalist, and Rosemary, age 86, who has been swimming at the pool all her life. Page's warm-hearted novel helped restore my faith in humanity during a bruising election season.

Finally, Jenny Colgan's amusing novels of life in Kirrinfief, Scotland--which began with The Bookshop on the Corner (Morrow, $14.99)--featuring a mobile bookshop and wryly humorous locals, make me want to bake a batch of scones immediately. Many of Colgan's characters end up in Kirrinfief nursing old wounds, but the fresh air and kindness bring healing, and the Scottish shortbread doesn't hurt.

The Writer's Life

Reading with... Paola Ramos

photo: Samantha Bloom

Paola Ramos is a host and correspondent for VICE and VICE News, as well as a contributor to Telemundo News and MSNBC. Ramos was the deputy director of Hispanic media for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, a political appointee during the Obama administration and served in Obama's 2012 re-election campaign. Finding Latin-X: In Search of the Voices Redefining Latino Identity (Vintage) is her first book.

On your nightstand now:

I've been on the road nonstop these days. I miss my nightstand! These days, I'm traveling with Malcolm Gladwell's Talking to Strangers. Amidst the craziest of news cycles and the division our nation is facing, the book is giving me a really useful frame of reference for which to disarm my own biases.

Favorite book when you were a child:

As a kid, I spent a lot of my childhood in Spain and grew up reading The Adventures of Tintin. In high school, I also remember being struck by Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones--it opened a whole new dimension of storytelling--and by Laura Esquivel's magic realism through Como agua para chocolate.

Your top five authors:

The past couple of years, Elena Ferrante. At the moment, Isabel Wilkerson. Always, Junot Díaz and Richard Blanco--I've always felt seen by their words. For inspiration, Barack Obama.

Book you've faked reading:

I know I've had to read Don Quixote by Cervantes 100 times in school. I also know there are definitely passages that I skipped in school.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Junot Díaz's This Is How You Lose Her. I read it during a breakup, and it's stayed in my heart like one.

Favorite line from a book:

"And that's when I know it's over. As soon as you start thinking about the beginning, it's the end." --This Is How You Lose Her

Book that changed your life:

Of Love & War by photojournalist Lynsey Addario. I'm a very visual storyteller, and Addario's book made me realize you don't need to separate the visual from the literal, the images from the written. You can do both. She has an incredible ability to find hidden beauty in every dark space she walks in--and that's impacted the way I approach storytelling today.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A. In one cover and image, they were able to break all sorts of stereotypes and taboos about Latinos. That's all I needed to buy the book.

Book you hid from your parents:

Honestly, I don't remember ever hiding books from my parents! They're both journalists and, even if I tried, they'd probably find it!

Five books you'll never part with:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series--devoured all of them, would do it all over again (if I had more time these days). The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates keep me grounded in America's reality. Barack Obama's Change We Can Believe In will forever remind me of that initial hope that drove me into politics in the first place--it's important to never let go of that spark, especially now. And Ed Morales's Latinx gives me an instrumental historic lens from which to talk about and understand the ever changing Latinx community.

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

Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman. It's one of my favorite books and movies of all time. Reading and watching Elio innocently falling in love with Oliver and navigating his sexuality in such a brave way--I could read it over and over again.

Book Candy

Literary Escapes

Novel Destinations highlighted "literary escapes: 3 novels with classic writers as characters."


Former President Barack Obama shared his favorite books of the year, "deliberately omitting what I think is a pretty good book--A Promised Land--by a certain 44th president."


"New York City's first directory from 1786 featured Alexander Hamilton & Aaron Burr," Gothamist reported.


A collection of unpublished, burnt notes by Isaac Newton sold at auction for £378,000 (about $500,444), the Guardian reported.


"This Little Free Library at the South Pole is the first in Antarctica."

Great Reads

Rediscover: Terry Kay

Terry Kay, "a masterful storyteller and author of the internationally acclaimed novel To Dance with the White Dog," died December 12 at age 82, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Kay wrote his first book after Pat Conroy, "unbeknownst to Kay, convinced a high-powered literary agent in New York City that Kay had written a brilliant manuscript." Kay "had not written a word. I yelled at (Conroy). I cursed him. I had no interest in writing a novel." Nevertheless, he spent two months writing 150 pages. "To my shock and horror and great surprise, they offered me a small contract and a small advance to write a novel based on one vignette in that book. And that's how I came to be a writer." Houghton Mifflin released The Year the Lights Came On in 1976. Kay would go on to publish 18 books, including a collection of essays and two children's titles. "Limited to no one genre, his novels tend toward stories of love and loss set in the rural South told with compassion and a touch of nostalgia."

His fourth novel, To Dance with the White Dog (1990), sold millions of copies and was adapted into a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie starring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy in 1993. Two other books were also adapted for the screen: The Valley of Light (2007), which won the Townsend Prize for Fiction, and The Runaway (1997). His last book, The Forever Wish of Middy Sweet, was published by Mercer University Press this past August.

Book Review


The Last Days of Ellis Island

by Gaëlle Josse, trans. by Natasha Lehrer

Hushed and haunted, French poet Gaëlle Josse's slim novel The Last Days of Ellis Island finds an American immigration official looking back on half a century at the New York Harbor outpost where millions of residents of the Old World endured inspection and questioning as they entered the new one. In 1954, after the facilities have mostly shuttered, Josse's narrator looks back through diary entries at Ellis Island's peak years, when doctors allowed themselves about six seconds per individual when apprising the health of the throngs streaming off steamers. The diarist's tone is awed but melancholic, touched by having helped facilitate the huddled masses' final steps toward new lives but regretful at the institutional cruelty of the process, and gutted by a pair of personal romantic tragedies. He's a ghost-like figure, wandering an island he never leaves, reliving a long-gone past of heartbreak that for him never recedes. Natasha Lehrer's translation, from the French, captures both a tragic poetry and the bureaucrat diarist's commitment to formality.

The novel's key scene involves this official, who has always strived to stamp out corruption or abuse on Ellis Island, seizing an opportunity to take advantage of a beautiful refugee. Josse's portrait is pained and unsparing but always empathetic, both to the immigrants who suffered such horrors and to the merely human officials given power over them. Her diarist is shocked by what he has done, and readers will be, too--and nudged toward a greater understanding of why, in overwhelmed systems with little apparatus for accountability, such crimes remain inevitable. --Alan Scherstuhl, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This slender, powerful French novel haunts the history of Ellis Island.

World Editions, $15.99, paperback, 208p., 9781642860719

Here Is the Beehive

by Sarah Crossan

Here Is the Beehive, Irish writer Sarah Crossan's first adult novel (after YA titles including One and Toffee), introduces an estate lawyer, Ana, as she receives a call from the wife of her just-deceased lover. To execute his will, she must set off on a messy journey through her private grief. Ana's passionate affair with Connor lasted three years, and she's destroyed most of her life to sustain this relationship--and he's gone. So who is she now?

This is a novel in verse with lines that break across the page, representative of Ana's unbalanced perceptions and reality. Told in second-person point of view, Ana examines herself as she addresses Connor, recounting their past and telling him about her present: how she's been trying to befriend his wife, how she's thinking of him always, how deeply she resents him. A woman of many contradictions, Ana seems to love and hate Connor--and possibly herself as well. She paints herself as the victim in nearly every memory, but in the details, readers will see through her self-deceptions. For while she complains about Connor's unwillingness to leave his family, it's only after many pages that she mentions the other people in her own life, as though they are the background to a much more important scene--her affair. She repeats to herself, to Connor, to readers how good she is, even when her own words tell a wildly different story.

At its heart, Here Is the Beehive is a complicated character study, with a messy, damaged protagonist who might not be a heroine at all. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels

Discover: This character study in verse follows a complicated and unreliable narrator as she grieves the passing of her lover and sets fire to almost everything but his memory.

Little, Brown, $26, hardcover, 288p., 9780316428583

Mystery & Thriller

The Lady Upstairs

by Halley Sutton

The con game, coupled with blackmail, receives an intriguing update in The Lady Upstairs, as Halley Sutton skillfully melds a feminist noir approach with a contemporary femme fatale in her debut.

Deception is the default for each character beginning with Jo, who works for the Lady Upstairs' Staffing Agency, a Los Angeles front for a blackmail scheme that targets wealthy, contemptible men with reputations for sexual harassment, adultery, "men who never heard a no."

Jo recruits and trains the young women who entrap these men in compromising situations--with Jo's coworker and sometimes lover Robert Jackal photographing them. The blackmail plan of a nasty Hollywood mogul backfires when Jackal fails to show up. Jo was counting on that blackmail money to pay off her debt to the mysterious Lady. Jo learns that Lady "wants to retire" her, a euphemism for eliminating her completely, as this retirement doesn't come with a pension plan. Needing more money to disappear, Jo tries to devise a couple of side projects of her own while working on Lady's next assignment, to trap a mayoral candidate, all of which quickly backfire.

The suspenseful Lady Upstairs grows darker--and richer--by the page as betrayals mount, taking a cue from Jim Thompson's 1963 novel, The Grifters. No one can be trusted--certainly not Jackal, nor Lou (Jo's female co-worker with whom she also is sexually involved), nor the corrupt cops with fluid loyalties. Sutton boosts the con game by giving the men a last name but referencing the women only by first names, which may be aliases. No one knows who the Lady is, or if she is a woman, though Jo couldn't imagine a male "sharing that vendetta" for bad men.

Sutton's sharp prose and keen eye for noir situations elevate The Lady Upstairs. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer 

Discover: In this intriguing noir, a blackmail scheme that targets rich men backfires for a woman trying to disappear from the business.

Putnam, $16, paperback, 320p., 9780593187739

Heather and Homicide

by Molly MacRae

In the Scottish village of Inversgail, retired librarian Janet Marsh and her colleagues keep busy running Yon Bonnie Books and solving mysteries. They're still catching their breath from their last murder investigation (Thistles and Thieves) when Heather Kilbride, an eccentric true-crime writer, shows up, claiming she's researching the case for a book. Janet's curiosity and frustration are piqued, especially when Heather leaves a dummy dressed in her own clothes near the scene of the previous murder for any passersby to find, claiming it's "research." But when Heather herself is found dead at a nearby circle of standing stones, Janet and her daughter Tallie, plus their colleagues Christine and Summer, begin to investigate.

Heather and Homicide, MacRae's fourth Highland Bookshop mystery, mixes a sometimes confusing murder case with plenty of scones, local gossip and an interesting subplot involving miniature books. Familiar village characters, including Christine's elderly parents and kindhearted shop owner Basant, make appearances. An attack on the local priest and the presence of several "mystery men," including Heather's fiancé, provide further confusion and complications. Janet and her compatriots do their best to pursue clues in between selling books and brewing tea, though their sleuthing sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. Meanwhile, the bookshop plays host to a new writers' group, and the women do a bit of digging into local history for an upcoming bookshop event. Full of atmosphere, wry humor and red herrings, Heather and Homicide is a cozy companion for a dreich evening. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Molly MacRae's cozy fourth Highland Bookshop mystery follows the murder of an eccentric true-crime writer.

Pegasus Crime, $24.95, hardcover, 288p., 9781643135847

Do Not Disturb

by Claire Douglas

Working chronologically through an evening marked by middle-of-the-night screams and a woman kneeling over a bloodied body, Claire Douglas's Do Not Disturb is a twisting tale of secrets that threaten to implode a family's fresh start. Kirsty and Adrian Whitehouse leave London with their young daughters for her native Wales to escape a rough 18 months. Adrian's problems are hinted at, but Kirsty is also fulfilling a dream by purchasing a guesthouse with the help of her emotionally distant mother.

Beginning two months before the night of violence, Douglas (Local Girl Missing) deftly introduces family members and history that has affected their lives. As the inn opens, Kirsty is furious that her cousin Selena is coming to stay. The two were once like sisters, but Kirsty cut off Selena years ago because of her lying ways. Selena is escaping what she claims is a bad marriage, hiding out with her medically incapacitated daughter, but soon her hoodlum childhood boyfriend shows up. Then Kirsty's brother Nathan and his wife arrive, increasing the tension with their apparent personal troubles and Nathan's long-held torch for Selena.

When a body ends up at the foot of the stairs, everyone is wound so tightly the suspects are hard to narrow down. Spooky goings-on and rumors of past violence at the inn add to the unease. The subplots are numerous, and some are left hanging. Douglas's ambitious narrative makes those fairly easy to forgive as hidden truths come to light, leading to partial resolution and a stunning furtherance of deceit. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A woman's attempts to save her marriage are thwarted when her dream guesthouse is overrun by her family, and their secrets turn to tragedy.

Harper, $26.99, hardcover, 400p., 9780063037410


How to Fail at Flirting

by Denise Williams

Professor Naya Turner's friends challenge her to break out of a rut in How to Fail at Flirting, Denise Williams's comedic, sexy debut romance. Naya has spent the past three years avoiding romantic entanglements, instead focusing on her career and trying to heal from an abusive relationship. One night, fueled by alcohol and the right amount of peer pressure, Naya takes a chance with Jake, a stranger in town for a wedding. Except it turns out that Jake isn't in town only for a wedding and what was supposed to be a one-night stand turns into two nights, just a few days--and maybe forever?

How to Fail at Flirting is full of cheesy puns, situational humor, chemistry and sweetness, but it also tackles the lasting, often invisible scars of abuse. Williams delivers on the comedy readers will expect from the take-a-risk checklist premise, but deftly balances it with heavier subjects. Told from Naya's point of view, the story digs deep into her insecurities and challenges as a woman of color in academia, and the difficulties of balancing career and personal goals. Though the story focuses mostly on the central romantic relationship, Naya's best friends provide levity and support, giving readers an outside look at how Naya's self-image is limited by her past experiences. Williams gives readers characters and a relationship to root for, even if they're not perfect, and an antagonist whose downfall they'll eagerly anticipate. Sweet but not saccharine, How to Fail at Flirting is escapism grounded in reality. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels

Discover: Denise Williams teaches readers how to fail at flirting in her debut romance, a story that contrasts a steamy, fun new relationship with the trauma of an abusive one.

Berkley, $16, paperback, 352p., 9780593101902

Graphic Books

Barely Functional Adult: It'll All Make Sense Eventually

by Meichi Ng

Artist-illustrator Meichi Ng muses on life, work and relationships in Barely Functional Adult, an adorably offbeat essay-memoir illustrated in the style of her Instagram webcomic of the same name.

In the opening chapter, "My Pet Fish," Ng uses her experience as a pet owner to illustrate her observation that life is "fickle, it's messy, and sometimes there are frog rectal explosions. You just gotta roll with it." Each chapter deals with a part of adulthood many readers will respond to, written as eloquent, thoughtful text passages interspersed with four-color comic panels starring Ng's ovular, swaddled alter ego. In "The Long Con," she faces the common problem of imposter syndrome. "The Glory of Quitting" deals with the fear and euphoria of walking away after choosing the wrong path in life. Ng's struggle to let go of an idealized relationship plays out in "Gum," in which her unforgettable ex is portrayed as a wad of gum stuck to her illustrated self. 

Ng strikes the right balance between pointing out life's injustices, finding the humor in them and offering the hope of resolution. Her comic strip interludes provide the perfect counterpoint to the more serious tone of her prose. She has a natural sense of metaphor, whether she's explaining therapy as an exercise in deciding which jars of feelings to open or comparing silent job dissatisfaction with enduring a mouthful of wasps. Fans of Hyperbole and a Half and Strange Planet will appreciate Ng's mix of introspection, humor and cute comic characters facing uncomfortable situations. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Meichi Ng expands on her quirky Instagram webcomic series in this collection of personal essays illustrated with comic panels.

Harper Perennial, $17.99, hardcover, 416p., 9780062945594

Food & Wine

The Mediterranean Diet Made Easy: Fresh, Vibrant Recipes for Better Health

by Brynn McDowell

After Brynn McDowell, a registered dietician, traveled to France, Italy and Greece, she came home inspired. She launched The Domestic Dietician, a blog that shares her expertise, recipes and a realistic approach to the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, a plan that's been proven to benefit heart health and the management of diabetes and weight control.

McDowell's cookbook, her first, offers clearly presented principles and benefits of the Mediterranean diet. It contains more than 70 easy, customizable recipes that rely on whole ingredients found in grocery stores and home pantries. McDowell's Make-Ahead Spinach and Goat Cheese Frittata is filling without being heavy. A lunch of Crispy, Baked Falafel--a flavorful blend of fried chickpeas--and Broccoli Crunch Salad--which marries broccoli, carrots, onions and raisins, dressed with lemon juice and tangy yogurt--are perfect for on-the-go eating. Dishes like Mango and Black Bean Tacos with Avocado Yogurt and Juicy Lamb and Mushroom Burgers put a creative new spin on traditional favorites. Sides, such as Quick and Simple Tortellini Bites--skewered tomatoes, olives and tortellini, dressed in balsamic glaze--transform a few modest ingredients into a nutritious snack. The collection is capped off with delicious desserts such as Peanut Butter and Chocolate Walnut Bites and a Lemony Olive Oil Cake, inspired by McDowell's "Oma," that skillfully replaces butter and sugar with olive oil and unsweetened applesauce.

McDowell's passion and enthusiasm for healthy, wholesome eating infuse each recipe. The addition of fresh, seasonal ingredients shows how any versatile, ordinary dish can be successfully elevated by adding a distinctly Mediterranean spin. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: Versatile, easy recipes highlight the healthy benefits and deliciousness of the Mediterranean diet.

Page Street Publishing, $22.99, paperback, 192p., 9781645670742

Biography & Memoir

The Freezer Door

by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

Editor and author extraordinaire Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?) returns to memoir after her acclaimed 2018 novel Sketchtasy, but The Freezer Door acts less as documentation and more as rumination.

After moving from San Francisco to Seattle, Sycamore continues to grapple with themes of desire and belonging. These have become more elusive with the onslaught of gentrification. "One problem with gentrification is that it always gets worse," she begins, leaving that single statement to its own page. Having taken up residence in Seattle's contemporary gay neighborhood, Capitol Hill, she seeks out activist spaces, pops into bars (even though she's sober), cruises for sex and exchanges phone numbers, in hopes of establishing intimate connections in a modern era of superficial connectivity.

"I used to live in a neighborhood where no one belonged and so we all belonged," she writes, remembering a time when oppression fostered solidarity, and tracing an arc of queer identity that becomes popular at the same rate it becomes commodified. The entwined forces of nostalgia and gentrification reverberate, then, in feeble social interactions that leave her exhausted--for asking her to tone down her politics, intellect, gender or sexuality in favor of more desired elements of her self. "People say it's the Seattle freeze... but really it's just the gentrified gaze."

Expanding on her dazzling stream-of-consciousness style, Sycamore has crafted a true marvel in The Freezer Door. Every page teems with aphoristic gems, and the result is an invaluable meditation on holistic belonging. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: The acclaimed queer writer connects the social and economic forces that threaten to freeze out the possibility of deep human connection.

Semiotext(e), $17.95, paperback, 264p., 9781635901283

Nature & Environment

Dog's Best Friend: The Story of an Unbreakable Bond

by Simon Garfield

Simon Garfield (Just My Type) takes readers on a charming cultural and scientific journey that examines how the interdependent bond between humans and canines has evolved, and how it has transformed millions of lives--two-legged and four-legged--over centuries.

Garfield's beloved black Labrador retriever, Ludo, serves as the main inspiration for his study of how dogs progressed from scavenging wild wolves into domesticated companions, sharing homes with humans who provide them with posh creature comforts.

The dog as an extension of human life drives the narrative as Garfield, the quintessential journalist, dips briefly into science on topics such as dog DNA, genomes and shared human-dog diseases. The bulk of the research presented, however, focuses on accessible, more entertaining tidbits: ways dogs are acquired and named; anthropomorphism; the roles of dogs in art, film, literature and sports; and dogs as notable companions to the likes of Einstein, Houdini, Queen Elizabeth II and a host of others. He also examines the symbolic power of dogs in propaganda for leaders like Hitler, with his purebred German shepherds, and Churchill, with his stout British bulldog. Dogs have served as a "global repository of love" and that is evidenced in sections devoted to Snoopy, "stupid pet tricks" on The Late Show with David Letterman, William Wegman's clever portraits of his Weimaraners and the modern-day dog stars of Instagram.

Garfield's affection for his dog, coupled with his appreciation and admiration for the long, fascinating, shared history of loyal, devoted human-canine companionship, is evident on every page. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: Popular journalist Simon Garfield delivers a delightfully entertaining examination of the magical, multi-faceted, centuries-old bond between dogs and humans.

Morrow, $26.99, hardcover, 320p., 9780063052246

Children's & Young Adult

These Violent Delights

by Chloe Gong

Chloe Gong's debut novel, a vibrant, bloodcurdling retelling of Romeo and Juliet, is set in an alternate 1920s Shanghai divided for generations by the rival White Flowers and Scarlet gangs. Juliette Cai and Roma Montagov are ex-lovers, bitter enemies and heirs to the crime syndicates. When a madness causes members of both gangs to begin dying en masse, the pair find themselves secretly keeping company once again.

Juliette, recently returned from a four-year exile in New York, is eager to take her place as next in line to lead the Scarlet Gang. She needs to be a nefarious, "callous killer" at all times, but her cousin finds "every opportunity to upstage her." At the same time, her first love, Roma, is also trying to establish his right to be his father's successor. But when Scarlets, White Flowers and the innocent people of Shanghai all begin to "gouge their own throats out," Juliette and Roma grudgingly join forces and defy deeply entrenched gang tradition to unearth what's behind the madness. Tensions between political factions escalate and the two must reckon with each other, their families and new forces--perhaps even "the devil himself"--encroaching on their traditional territories and power.

Gong's lushly worded, thrilling historical fantasy (terrific for fans of Libba Bray's Diviners series) is a fresh take on one of Shakespeare's most famous plays. Her dynamic city throbs with life and lascivious behavior as downtrodden workers share space with decadent overlords. The gripping stakes, diverse and compelling characters and all-consuming mystery make this a particularly rich and rewarding debut. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: A mysterious madness--and a monster--cause the people of Shanghai to rip out their own throats in this YA Romeo and Juliet retelling set in the 1920s.

Margaret K. McElderry Books, $19.99, hardcover, 464p., ages 13-up, 9781534457690

Super Fake Love Song

by David Yoon

This real-life role-playing-game YA novel addresses being true to oneself in a funny, heartfelt way.

Right before 17-year-old Korean American Sunny Dae is about to show his uber-cool crush, Cirrus Soh, his bedroom filled with "swords and shields and nerdy stuff," he thinks, "You only get one chance to make a first impression." With this in mind, when Cirrus mistakenly thinks his older brother's room--with its guitars and rock concert flyers--is his, Sunny doesn't correct her. To save face, Sunny convinces his two just-as-nerdy best friends to form a band. But with Gray, his former rock star brother, nursing a failed music career at home and a lurking bully collecting "nerd tax," it can't be long before Cirrus discovers Sunny's real identity.

In Super Fake Love Song, David Yoon (Frankly in Love) examines identity and shame through a self-proclaimed nerd faking his way through being cool, a bully jock hiding his real interests, and a failed musician coming to terms with his personal truth. Yoon shows that whether it's to impress a girl or appease one's parents, this "melodramatic playacting" is no different than Sunny's beloved role-playing games--and is proof that "all human life seemed driven by... the fear of being an incorrect self." These harsh revelations about humanity are softened by Sunny's loving, healthy relationships with male friends and delightful "fifteen going on fifty" disposition (including "high-density memory foam slippers" and cautionary asides). Yoon's colorful language and careful plotting enhance an effective, meaningful story about self-acceptance. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader

Discover: A self-defined loser tries to impress a girl by pretending to be in a rock band, only to lose himself in the process.

Putnam Books for Young Readers, $18.99, hardcover, 368p., ages 12-up, 9781984812230

Once Upon a Winter Day

by Liza Woodruff

When Milo's mom is too busy to read him a book, he reluctantly heads outside to create his own story in Liza Woodruff's sublime picture book Once Upon a Winter Day.

Milo creates his narrative by deciphering the clues left in the woods surrounding his home: the footsteps and traces left by animals through the snowy landscape. Alongside Milo's investigation, a sweet parallel narrative takes place with the mouse whose footprints begin Milo's story: "A mouse was here," Milo says. "Did the mouse have a story to tell?" From this question come dual tales featured on alternating double-page spreads. While Milo imagines what must have happened based on the "smooth rut" he finds sliding down a bank or the tiny tracks he finds brushed away, the page turn reveals the animal behavior that left the traces: playful river otters and the wing beats of a red-tailed hawk. Using watercolor, pen and ink and colored pencil, Woodruff's soft, detailed illustrations move between Milo's sunlit morning and the snowy evening when the mouse makes its trip. Only readers are privy to both stories--and their delightfully satisfying endings.

Woodruff (A Quieter Story) invites readers to play an important role in their own experience of the story, as each animal's illustrated behavior requires interpretation to connect the dots between Milo's wondering and the outcome. Observant readers will appreciate the endpapers, which highlight the animals referenced throughout the book, and subsequent readings are sure to reveal even more clever connections. --Kieran Slattery, freelance reviewer, teacher, and co-creator, Gender Inclusive Classrooms

Discover: After a snowfall, a child pieces together clues left by woodland animals in this charming picture book.

Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House, $18.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780823440993


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