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Week of Friday, April 12, 2024

This week, we review an outstanding collection of titles, including The Titanic Survivor's Book Club by Timothy Schaffert, a historical novel with "heartfelt passages on the allure of books and the emotional challenges of trying to hold on to the past"; and Rough Trade by Katrina Carrasco, a "riveting queer adventure" written with "a brisk pace and cheeky playfulness." Plus, Sanae Ishida pairs her writing with the craft of sewing in the "exquisitely empowering picture book" Sashiko's Stitches, about calming and mending "a young girl's overwhelming emotions."

In The Writer's Life, Victoria Aveyard, author of Fate Breaker, reveals her go-to recommendation for anyone looking to read a fantasy series, and which book she says "shifted my entire being and opened my eyes not just to what I loved, but to what I had to do with my life."

--Dave Wheeler, senior editor, Shelf Awareness

The Best Books This Week

Fiction

The Titanic Survivors Book Club

by Timothy Schaffert

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Serendipity can yield unpredictable alliances, as is the case with the people who didn't board the Titanic--the central figures of The Titanic Survivors Book Club, Timothy Schaffert's opulent work of historical fiction. A year after the ocean liner sank, 26-year-old Yorick--his father was a vaudevillian who "fancied himself a Shakespearean actor"--is the owner of a Paris bookshop purchased with an inheritance. One morning, he finds outside the shop a bottle that contains an invitation to a saloon, where he meets a dozen others who also had tickets to the voyage. Among the attendees is a toymaker who has brought them together to share their tales. The two participants besides Yorick who figure most prominently are Zinnia, Japanese American daughter of a wealthy confectioner, and Haze, a young man whom Yorick finds attractive. Zinnia suggests they form a book club, an idea the toymaker says will give them an "unsentimental purpose."

Yorick chooses the books for the club, but one he doesn't select is Cyrano de Bergerac. That would have been apt: much to Yorick's frustration, Haze is sweet on Zinnia and asks Yorick to write love letters for him. Schaffert (The Perfume Thief) has fun exploring the contours of the trio's secrets and longings. Some of the writing is over-the-top, but readers who enjoy swoon-worthy fiction won't be disappointed. And the novel has heartfelt passages on the allure of books and the emotional challenges of trying to hold on to the past. In the market for unabashedly romantic literature? Schaffert delivers. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer

Doubleday, $29, hardcover, 320p., 9780385549158

Rough Trade

by Katrina Carrasco

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Katrina Carrasco (The Best Bad Things) blends deeply researched historical fiction with riveting queer adventure in Rough Trade, the spectacular second installment of her episodic crime series about the undeniably charming antihero Alma Rosales.

It's the summer of 1888, and Alma's crew is working the Tacoma docks of Washington Territory. Their cover story is that they're stevedores, but smuggling opium is their real trade.

In the months that follow a drug bust on their ship, several new players wander onto Alma's docks and threaten the tidy little business she runs under the protective care of seductive socialite Delphine Beaumond. Among those is Bess Spencer, Alma's former partner at the Pinkerton Women's Bureau of investigators, from a lifetime ago. But the real fuse lights when dead bodies start turning up under suspicious circumstances, and with signs of injection. Alma risks a swarming police presence that could irreversibly upset the life she's only recently built for herself in Washington, after escaping tragedy elsewhere.

Carrasco writes with a brisk pace and cheeky playfulness that offset the rugged terrain and dicey stakes. Alma carries a queer and irresistible swagger as she shapeshifts into her public persona, Jack Camp, the roughest man in town. And her sexual tension with both Bess and Delphine gin up a satisfying heat. So much of the fun in this novel pivots on the divide between public and private presentations, highlighting how simple it becomes to defy the law when one's gender and sexuality are already at odds with it.

Rough Trade is an addictive treat sure to please fans of Sarah Waters and HBO's Our Flag Means Death. --Dave Wheeler, senior editor, Shelf Awareness

MCD, $28, hardcover, 384p., 9780374272685

The Day Tripper

by James Goodhand

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It takes tremendous skill to transform a sci-fi trope into an emotional tear-jerker, which James Goodhand (Last Lesson) does in The Day Tripper. In 1995, 20-year-old Londoner Alex Dean spends his days with his wonderful new girlfriend, drinking and smoking and getting ready to take his place at Cambridge. But when Blake Benfield, a bully from his childhood, confronts him, Alex decides for once to choose fight over flight. Blake completely batters Alex and throws him into the Thames. When Alex wakes up next, it's in unfamiliar surroundings and 15 years in the future. He's jaundiced from alcoholism and living a life at odds with his 1995 plans for the future. Each day from then on, he wakes up in another random day of his future, desperately trying to piece together what happened and whether he can somehow rectify his terrible mistakes. Helped by Dr. Paul Defrates, the only other person who seems to know what he's experiencing, Alex discovers how to deal with the demons of his past and what it really means to be a man worthy of respect and admiration.

Goodhand's stellar development of Alex takes readers deeper and deeper into his psyche as he transforms from a brazen young man whose only vague goal is "to be looked up to." Fully believable supporting characters buoy the narrative. The atemporal plot, posing questions about causality, adds nuance to portrayals of PTSD, alcoholism, grief, and recovery in this reluctant-time-traveler story filled with heart and hope. --Dainy Bernstein, freelance reviewer

Mira, $28.99, hardcover, 368p., 9780778369646

The Sweet Blue Distance

by Sara Donati

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The Sweet Blue Distance, another immersive historical novel from Sara Donati, explores midwifery, mental illness, racial dynamics, and romance in 1857 New Mexico. Connecting her six-book Wilderness series and her Waverly Place series, Donati's narrative follows nurse-midwife Carrie Ballentyne as she travels across the country from Manhattan to Santa Fe and navigates unfamiliar languages, relationships, and challenges in her new home.  

Donati (Where the Light Enters) begins with correspondence and Carrie's travel diary. Carrie, accompanied by her brother, Nathan, sets out to work as nurse-assistant to Dr. Sam Markham and midwife to his wife, Indira. On the train west, they encounter the Ibarra brothers, of mixed Pueblo and Basque descent. Eli, the eldest, will play a pivotal role in Carrie's life. The journey continues via stagecoach and (eventually) on horseback. Carrie's skill, endurance, and doeskin leggings raise eyebrows in equal measure.

Through Carrie's keen, intelligent eyes, Donati draws a richly detailed portrait of the American frontier in the years before the Civil War. Santa Fe is a young, bustling town of diverse (sometimes clashing) racial and religious groups. Carrie must confront tricky social dynamics while learning new languages and habits. Her employers, the Markhams, prove difficult in unexpected ways and, though she makes friends in the community, Carrie must use all her medical skill and emotional resilience to meet the challenges of her new life.

Layered, absorbing, and peopled with complex, fascinating characters, The Sweet Blue Distance is a captivating portrayal of one woman's inner journey set against the vast backdrop of the rapidly changing American West. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Berkley, $29, hardcover, 800p., 9781984805058

Rainbow Black

by Maggie Thrash

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Part murder mystery, part queer romance, and part examination of the three-ring circus of the court system during the Satanic Panic of the 1990s, Rainbow Black is Maggie Thrash's first novel for adults--and it doesn't disappoint. In 1990, 13-year-old Lacey Bond is living with her hippie parents at their day-care center in rural New Hampshire when the police arrest her parents and charge them with "more than thirty counts of child molestation and sexual abuse," many involving aspects of the occult. Lacey and her sister stand up against the allegations and bristle against a world that wants vengeance at any price. When an unspeakable murder occurs, Lacey goes to the edge of her humanity and, years later, discovers the cost of justice.

Darkness permeates Rainbow Black, and Lacey must do whatever it takes to break through the shadows that engulf her. Despite dealing with graphic and intense themes of violence, sexual assault, homophobia, and more, Thrash (Honor Girl) has an astounding ability to carve nuance and depth from her characters. Thrash's prose has a conversational style that keeps the pages flying. Readers will cheer for Lacey despite (or potentially because of) her faults, and her sarcasm prevents the tone from veering into total shadow. The novel's secondary characters provide brilliant insight into its more complex themes of loss and belonging, as when Lacey's mother says, "People should do whatever they can to get love. It's a consuming, horrible need." Those who consider themselves fans of Kevin Wilson or Donna Tartt should put Rainbow Black on their TBR lists. --Dominic Charles Howarth, book manager, Book + Bottle

Harper Perennial, $18.99, paperback, 416p., 9780063286870

The Limits

by Nell Freudenberger

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Nell Freudenberger's fourth novel, The Limits, is a clear-eyed exploration of loss, love, and the difficulty (and hope) inherent in human connection, set during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic. Freudenberg (Lost and Wanted) centers her narrative on former spouses Nathalie and Stephen, still bound by their teenage daughter, Pia, and their history together. Marine biologist Nathalie is stationed on Mo'orea, studying the delicate ecosystems of coral reefs. Her cardiologist ex-husband, Stephen, in locked-down Manhattan, must balance his increasingly demanding work with his worry for his newly pregnant wife, Kate. Meanwhile, Pia has returned, under duress, from Mo'orea to New York to live with Stephen. Pia's parents hope that interaction with other young people will help her cope, and Nathalie wants to distance her daughter from a crush on an older man. Freudenberger tells her story from their perspectives, plus those of Kate, a teacher struggling with remote education and the realities of a pandemic pregnancy, and Athyna, one of Kate's brightest students, whose anxiety and familial challenges threaten to derail her hopes for college.

Freudenberger's characters love and fight and despair and act out, dealing with daily frustrations while trying to weather a circumstance none of them ever imagined. She touches on case numbers, racial protests, and political furor, but the novel's heart lies in its characters' sharply drawn inner lives and their relationships with one another, as fragile and finely attuned to their environment as the corals Nathalie studies. 

Sensitive, luminous, and sometimes wryly funny, The Limits is a nuanced portrait of the difficult, worthwhile work of connecting with others--even during a global disaster. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Knopf, $29, hardcover, 368p., 9780593448885

The Audacity

by Ryan Chapman

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If one can't rein in the ultrarich, one can at least satirize them. That's the catharsis Ryan Chapman (Riots I Have Known) offers in The Audacity, his merciless, aptly named sophomore novel. Guy Sarvananthan, an American of Sri Lankan ancestry who lives in New York, spent "decades as a struggling composer" before marrying Victoria Stevens, founder of PrevYou, a firm that claims to be this close to a cancer cure. There's just one problem: the company's a fraud, the claim is fake. Victoria disappears, her kayak ending up in the San Francisco Bay, with no one sure whether she died by suicide or just took off. Guy, sensing ruin, stalls for time by taking Victoria's place at a three-day conclave on a Caribbean island, where yacht-owning types have gathered "to pool our fortunes," as the host says, "and decide which global ill to eradicate once and for all!"

That they eradicate nothing isn't a spoiler alert. The fun of The Audacity is in finding out what happens to these delusional types. Some plot developments aren't exactly subtle, but neither are people like these characters. Chapman's approach befits this can-do crowd, and therein lies the appeal for readers critical of free-market absolutism and its ruthless adherents. Late in the book, Guy realizes that "a functioning American life kept you too busy to register its liabilities" and that Victoria, like other power brokers, "was a pure product of America." That those two statements are absolutely true and related to one another is part of the strength of this ferocious takedown. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer

Soho Press, $27, hardcover, 288p., 9781641295628

Headshot

by Rita Bullwinkel

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Rita Bullwinkel's debut novel, Headshot, submerges readers in the minds of eight women fighting in the 12th annual 18-and-under Daughters of America Cup. As each bout of the boxing tournament ensues, Bullwinkel's stunningly intimate look at the physical and mental tug-of-war explores the haunting memories, desperate motivations, and life-altering realizations of each fighter. Pushed and pulled about the ring, under the harsh fluorescent lights, they all hope to be named the best in the country.

The narration's detailed observation gives each participant's thoughts a fast-paced, in-the-moment intensity equal to that of the stakes of their boxing matches: "Eight two-minute rounds, with time-outs and pauses between rounds, is barely enough time for anything at all to happen. And yet, it seems like, within each two-minute round, anything could happen." Bullwinkel (Belly Up) moves seamlessly between visceral physicality and vulnerable interiority--"Every time the referees look in [Andi's] gloves it is like they are saying, You are capable of killing.... Most people in her life don't seem to believe she is capable of anything." The women are forced to muster up long-practiced techniques, willpower, and memories to make it through their match and the pivotal moment in their self-discovery.

Tough exteriors are coupled with strikingly tender inner monologues about growing up and finding one's place in the world. Adrenaline-rich moments reveal why these young women are drawn to the sport, whom they want to impress, or who they want to become. While enticingly earnest, Headshot finds moments of humor in the time-outs between deeply introspective moments. An innovative take on women's boxing and coming-of-age, Headshot is a knockout debut. --Clara Newton, freelance reviewer

Viking, $28, hardcover, 224p., 9780593654101

Mystery & Thriller

Nosy Neighbors

by Freya Sampson

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Freya Sampson's charming third novel, Nosy Neighbors, focuses on a dilapidated historic building in an English village and its tenants, who band together to stop the building's demolition. Dorothy Darling, age 77, has lived at Shelley House for decades. She spends most of her time observing her neighbors' behavior and reporting them for small infractions. Pink-haired Kat is running from her past and has just moved into the flat of Joseph, a kind tenant at Shelley House. Kat, who's illegally subletting Joseph's second bedroom, tries steering clear of Dorothy, until Joseph is attacked and ends up in the hospital. Kat enlists Dorothy's help in caring for Joseph's dog, Reggie, and before long the two women (and their neighbors) find themselves staging protests, combing newspaper archives for evidence against their sleazy landlord, and trying to figure out who attacked Joseph.

Sampson (The Last Chance Library) alternates between Kat's and Dorothy's perspectives, gradually peeling back the layers of the secrets both women hide. The two, though decades apart in age, are similarly plagued by guilt from past incidents, convinced they don't deserve the support of a community. Gradually, their kind neighbors--including teenage Ayesha, gruff Tomasz, and even Reggie the dog--crack open Kat's and Dorothy's protective shells. Although Sampson's narrative includes some dramatic moments (even a car chase!) and a final confrontation, the novel's heart lies in the quiet acts of everyday compassion and wry, honest exchanges between neighbors.

Touching, entertaining, and deeply compassionate, Nosy Neighbors is a tribute to the power of unexpected community and a portrait of two women who take the risk of healing. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Berkley, $18, paperback, 384p., 9780593550526

Diavola

by Jennifer Thorne

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Although novels about terrible rich families have a certain gauche appeal, it can be difficult to emotionally connect with the characters they portray. In Diavola, Jennifer Thorne (The Antiquity Affair; Lute) tackles this challenge by sending one such family to a haunted villa in the Tuscan countryside for their annual vacation, skillfully building an oppressive atmosphere until readers find themselves sympathetic to the plight of the protagonist, Anna, despite her shortcomings. Anna has put off joining the annual Pace family trip, reluctant to subject herself to their particular brand of snide remarks and passive-aggressive criticism that stems from years of family tension and drama. Eventually she gives in to familial obligations, and once she arrives, things begin to go overtly and subtly awry: movement out of the corner of her eye, incessant scratching on the other side of a locked door to a tower in the villa, fresh food spoiling within minutes, and increasingly strange (and frightening) dreams.

The novel's gothic claustrophobia isn't contained to the villa, as Thorne slowly reveals that this isn't just a house haunting: it's a "[n]ameless, formless, paralytic" spirit, malevolent and fixated on Anna. And fleeing back to normal life won't bring her freedom. Thorne plays with time without jumps or signals; the narrative moves linearly until readers suddenly realize that a conversation was happening within another conversation--or maybe not even happening at all, but merely imagined. Days go missing. Memories contradict each other. Thorne pairs the idea of escaping family toxicity with the urgent need to also escape actual danger. Readers with a penchant for both horror and rich people behaving badly will enjoy this quick, sinister novel. --Kristen Coates, editor and freelance reviewer

Tor Nightfire, $27.99, hardcover, 304p., 9781250826121

Off the Air

by Christina Estes

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A journalist's thrill of breaking a high-profile news story and the relentless rivalry among media outlets make a formidable backdrop for Off the Air, Christina Estes's spirited debut and the winner of the Tony Hillerman Prize.

Jolene Garcia, a reporter for Phoenix's Channel 4 Eyewitness News, desperately wants to move from general assignments, where she might cover the zoo's baby giraffe or a dust storm, to special projects, such as her well-received segment on the working conditions of park rangers. These projects require more research but garner extra airtime. But her insistence on getting it right, rather than quickly, means she often gets scooped by other reporters while simultaneously running afoul of her station's demand for instantaneous news coverage. Jolene gets the chance to prove her mettle in covering the story of popular, controversial radio host Larry Lemmon's murder. Jolene finds no lack of suspects as she digs into Larry's life, but she also has to handle the increased competition with other media outlets.

Estes affords Jolene and her co-workers an authentic camaraderie, showing that true friendships can grow in times of extreme stress. She shapes Jolene as a dedicated journalist, determined to rise above her humble background, one that includes foster care. As an award-winning journalist herself, Estes also offers an insightful view of the challenges of multimedia journalism. The mystery sometimes gets lost amid the machinations of news gathering in her novel, but Jolene proves an investigative reporter can be a valuable sleuth as she uses her expert knowledge of Phoenix's landscape to her benefit. Off the Air's strong outing is deserving of a sequel. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer 

Minotaur, $28, hardcover, 320p., 9781250863850

Romance

Just for the Summer

by Abby Jimenez

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Just for the Summer by Abby Jimenez (Yours Truly; Part of Your World; The Happy Ever After Playlist) is a brilliantly bittersweet rom-com. Perfect for fans of Jasmine Guillory or Christina Lauren, Jimenez's novel blends lighthearted summer romance vibes with some deep emotional themes.

Thanks to a Reddit thread, Justin and Emma realize they each have the same curse: they're the person that someone dates right before they meet their forever person. Emma and Justin decide to try to break the curse for at least one of them by starting a relationship with each other, and they plan to have some breezy (and sexy!) Minnesotan summer fun.

But when Justin has to take over guardianship of his three younger siblings and Emma's incredibly toxic mother, Amber, shows up, they both have more to deal with than they expected. Emma thought she was past her childhood in and out of foster care and felt ready to help Justin with his siblings, but Amber's unwelcome appearance forces her to face truths she's suppressed. Justin tries to support Emma while juggling three heartbroken kids and his own loss, which makes it hard to be available for a new love. Is it a case of the right person at the wrong time, or can Emma and Justin finally break their curse for real?

Just for the Summer, both truly sad and exceptionally funny, is an irresistible romance. Fans of Jimenez's previous books are sure to appreciate cameos from other characters, while new readers will vicariously enjoy the lovely Minnesotan summer setting and root for Justin and Emma to find true love at last. --Jessica Howard, freelance book reviewer

Forever, $17.99, paperback, 432p., 9781538704431

How to End a Love Story

by Yulin Kuang

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Screenwriter Yulin Kuang (I Ship ItDollface) makes her novel debut with How to End a Love Story, a poignant but funny romance about the power of forgiveness.

Bestselling author Helen Zhang heads to Los Angeles to work on the television adaptation of her soapy young adult series, and hopefully conquer her writer's block. When she arrives, she's stunned to find her high-school classmate Grant Shepard is second chair in the writing room--the same Grant who fatally struck her younger sister with his car at the end of their senior year. Grant was the unwilling tool Michelle used to die by suicide, but that hasn't stopped Grant from hating himself. And Helen has held onto anger at her sister and herself.

After overcoming the initial shock, Helen is determined to ignore Grant and to do well in her new role on the writing and production team. They can keep everything strictly professional, right? Thousands of miles from their former homes in New Jersey, Helen and Grant gradually open up and, with the help of a hilarious, motley crew of writers turned friends, are able to create something new and beautiful. The push-pull angst of their romance is skillfully complemented by humor, steam, and glimpses behind-the-scenes of show business.

It will come as no surprise that as the adapting writer of People We Meet on Vacation and writer/director of Beach Read, Kuang offers a heart-wrenching, funny, sexy novel will appeal to fans of Emily Henry and Abby Jimenez. How to End a Love Story is entirely Kuang's own, however, and establishes her as an author--and screenwriter--to watch. --Suzanne Krohn, librarian and freelance reviewer

Avon, $18.99, paperback, 384p., 9780063310681

Biography & Memoir

My Black Country: A Journey Through Country Music's Black Past, Present, and Future

by Alice Randall

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Songwriter, author, professor, and Black music historian Alice Randall spotlights the Black history of country music in her urgent, engaging memoir, My Black Country. Randall (Black Bottom Saints) celebrates the often-erased Black musicians who shaped the genre, including the "First Family of Black Country": Lil Hardin Armstrong, DeFord Bailey, Charley Pride, Herb Jeffries, and Ray Charles. Randall traces their collective influence and weaves together country music's Black history with her own story. Born in Detroit and later spirited away to D.C. by her unstable mother, she reflects on her journey of love, loss, motherhood, hard work, and the music (much of it country) that has helped her make sense of her life as a Black woman. Moving from Motown to Music City, from Quincy Jones's Bel Air mansion to nights at the Bluebird Café, Randall charts her career as a songwriter in Nashville, trumpets the accomplishments of Black musicians often overlooked or completely ignored by the genre's white stars, and calls on fans and institutions to give Black country the respect it deserves.

Randall's memoir contains multitudes. She explores the historical roots of Black country; the influence of (among other things) singing cowboys, Pullman porters, and Los Angeles Black gospel; the women who served as mothers and midwives to the genre; and the Black musicians (Rhiannon Giddens, Lil Nas X, and more) shaping country music's present and future. Bold and unapologetic, Randall's book is a trailblazing tribute to the unsung heroes of Black country and a powerful story of a woman finding her way. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Atria/Black Privilege Publishing, $28.99, hardcover, 288p., 9781668018408

Dancing on the Edge: A Journey of Living, Loving, and Tumbling Through Hollywood

by Russ Tamblyn and Sarah Tomlinson

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Before he was actor and writer Amber Tamblyn's dad, Russ Tamblyn was just like her: a child actor turned in-demand movie star. His endearing memoir, the joyful-rueful Dancing on the Edge: A Journey of Living, Loving, and Tumbling Through Hollywood, tells of how he went from Oscar nominee to actor who couldn't get a guest spot on The Love Boat. The most interesting part: it wasn't Hollywood that turned its back on him.

Born in 1934 and raised in Inglewood, Calif., by former vaudevillian parents, Tamblyn got a contract with MGM at 16. His career as a dancing, acrobatic actor culminated in his defining film role: Riff in 1961's West Side Story. But by the time his MGM contract ended in 1963, Tamblyn had lost his enthusiasm for acting. He stopped chasing movie roles, ditched his Pacific Palisades pile, and moved to free-spirited Topanga Canyon to make visual art. "[T]hat emptiness I had experienced for so many years had been filled up with a profound creative urge," he explains. Unfortunately, before long there was a new emptiness in Tamblyn's life: empty pockets. Readers should find themselves invested equally in Tamblyn's quests for meaning and financial solvency.

Dancing on the Edge is a valuable account of both Old Hollywood and the West Coast beat scene. Tamblyn doesn't come right out and say that he wishes he hadn't "dropped out of Hollywood," but the latter half of his book is infused with a low-grade melancholy suggesting something rare in a Tinseltown memoir: ingenuousness. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Blackstone, $28.99, hardcover, 364p., 9798212273312

History

Takeover: Hitler's Final Rise to Power

by Timothy W. Ryback

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In the riveting Takeover: Hitler's Final Rise to Power, historian Timothy W. Ryback (Hitler's Private Library: The Books That Shaped His Life) examines the fraught, six-month roller-coaster of political haggling and backroom deals that brought Adolf Hitler to power. Germany's Weimar Republic was on its last legs in the summer of 1932 as Paul von Hindenburg, the 84-year-old Reich president and World War I general, struggled to prevent a "fracturing of the polity" between the violent extremes of Communists on the left and National Socialists on the right. The latter were led by the man whom Hindenburg dismissively called "the Bohemian corporal."

Supported by a wealth of archival material, Ryback chronicles how Hitler's vow "to destroy democracy through democratic process" came to fruition by January 1933--but not before he endured months of dizzying changes in fortune that nearly destroyed the Nazi movement. At times, Hitler's handling of political setbacks revealed him "to be more waffler than Führer," Ryback argues. Hindenburg, the lone sympathetic figure in Ryback's narrative, faced "a full-blown case of 'constitutional paralysis' " and required a chancellor "with the personality and capacity to break" it.

That history is not as inevitable as most might believe forms an unsettling undertone throughout the book. Ryback's brief chapter on the day of Hitler's accession to the chancellorship reads as a near comedy of errors when a last-minute disagreement breaks out between Hitler and his compatriots on their way to the reception hall. Takeover is startlingly relevant history, well-wrought and splendidly researched, that reveals how democracies can die democratically. --Peggy Kurkowski, book reviewer and copywriter in Denver, Colo.

Knopf, $32, hardcover, 400p., 9780593537428

Philosophy

Wonderstruck: How Wonder and Awe Shape the Way We Think

by Helen De Cruz

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Helen De Cruz, a philosophy professor who holds the Danforth Chair in the Humanities at Saint Louis University, expands Plato's famous statement in Theaetetus that "philosophy starts nowhere else but with wonder" in Wonderstruck: How Wonder and Awe Shape the Way We Think. She locates the experiences of wonder and awe at the crux of the vast array of human endeavors, including science, art, religion, magic, and more, which she terms "cognitive technologies." These activities stem from a sense of curiosity and a desire to question, explore, and make sense of the world. The author refers to these as "self-transcendent" emotions: they take people out of themselves, underscoring their participation in and deepening their connection with the world.

De Cruz's intellectually ambitious work also delves into the psychological underpinnings of this transcendence, offering insight into humanity's openness to new ideas, its sense of hope during times of uncertainty, and its resilience during hardship. She traces the ways that humans have understood the experience of wonder through history. In her marvelous, multifaceted discussion, Wonderstruck assures readers that the world is teeming with possibilities and mystery, if only they're able to take the time to look. "Wonder requires attention, and a lot of that is captured by others, such as social media companies, for their own ends," De Cruz writes. By reclaiming access to wonder and awe, readers will not only enrich their own lives but also tap into resources for confronting both personal and global challenges. --Elizabeth DeNoma, executive editor, DeNoma Literary Services, Seattle, Wash.

Princeton University Press, $27.95, hardcover, 232p., 9780691232126

Science

Slouch: Posture Panic in Modern America

by Beth Linker

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With an entertaining narrative focus on the individuals responsible for a decades-long "poor posture epidemic" that began in the early 20th century, Slouch: Posture Panic in Modern America by Beth Linker revisits a largely forgotten period in U.S. history when the "social contagion" of poor posture was treated with the same seriousness as deadly communicable diseases.

A cultural historian as well as a historian of medicine and disability, Linker charts the complex arc of the epidemic, and how it attracted a wide array of professionals in medicine and education, and "health culturists" such as Joseph Pilates, who advised clients to improve their deportment by placing a book on their heads, and by sitting cross-legged like "those people of the East." The "Harvard slouch" report and studies by military and public health agencies showed that slouching was rampant in America, prompting panic that the country's future leaders would end up chronically ill or permanently disabled. Orthopedist Joel E. Goldthwait contended that slouching predisposed a person "to tuberculosis, nervous disease, acute mental disorder... and many intestinal disorders."

Scattered throughout Slouch are the fruits of Linker's deep archival research, including reproduced public health advertisements intimating that standing straight not only reduced the likelihood of disease, it also signified health, youthful vitality, upright character, and sexual chasteness. Looking ahead, Linker (War's Waste: Rehabilitation in World War I America) connects the poor posture panic to present-day "noninfectious epidemics" such as the 21st-century preoccupation with obesity, ADHD, and diabetes.

Slouch is a skillfully researched, engrossing account of a socially engineered epidemic that captured the public imagination for the better part of a century. --Shahina Piyarali

Princeton University Press, $29.95, hardcover, 392p., 9780691235493

Parenting & Family

You're Not Done Yet: Parenting Young Adults in an Age of Uncertainty

by B. Janet Hibbs and Anthony Rostain

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It's more common than ever for emerging adults to struggle with finding their feet in the unprecedented challenges of the 2020s--and for their parents to feel a mixture of anxiety and frustration.

You're Not Done Yet: Parenting Young Adults in an Age of Uncertainty is an indispensable guide for parents navigating the complexities of supporting their children who have just entered adulthood as they cope with an array of mental-health issues and a demanding set of economic pressures and social factors that earlier generations didn't have to contend with. The first step requires a reset that parents embrace young adults' "developmental progression... that is not mired in the past."

Getting to a place where parents and children listen to each other necessitates a change in both mindset and communication that authors B. Janet Hibbs and Anthony Rostain, experts in psychiatry and family therapy and co-authors of The Stressed Years of Their Lives, lay out in terms that are specific and compassionate. Their book provides practical strategies and insightful scripts for parents seeking to strike a balance between offering support and fostering their children's autonomy without falling into communication pitfalls caused by their own anxieties. The authors draw on real-life examples from their practices, offering hard-won wisdom and reassurance to families in the midst of similar journeys.

Hibbs and Rostain present a road map for those parenting young adults in today's ever-changing world. This book provides a beacon of hope for families facing the challenges of this transformative stage of life. --Elizabeth DeNoma, executive editor, DeNoma Literary Services, Seattle, Wash.

St. Martin's Press, $29, hardcover, 304p., 9781250283238

Children's & Young Adult

Sashiko's Stitches

by Sanae Ishida

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Author, artist, and designer Sanae Ishida melds her literary talents (Little Kunoichi) with her sewing prowess (Sewing Love) to create the exquisitely empowering picture book Sashiko's Stitches.

Sashiko is overwhelmed by "so many feelings" that sometimes all she can do is cry. Her mother embraces the girl, then reminds her about the origins of her name. Sashiko goes back "many, many hundreds of years" to when families of hardworking Japanese fishermen mended their damaged clothing using "tiny little stitches." Repeated repairs resembled beautiful patterns, so the menders began purposefully creating distinct designs, calling the stitches "sashiko," meaning "little pierces." Sashiko's mother teaches her "One stitch. Two stitches. Three stitches," until Sashiko is sewing every day: "She stitches her small and big fears, and they start to feel less scary."

Ishida is a masterful storyteller, symbiotically pairing words and images. She writes of Sashiko's feelings as "big heavy clouds, weighing her down into the ground"; Ishida's inviting, saturated watercolor illustrations ingeniously underscore Sashiko's emotional overload by engulfing her in darkened swirls, her sunken legs trapped by burrowing animals and tangled roots. Ishida adroitly presents Sashiko's gradual, determined emotional mending through her first cautious stitches on small pieces of cloth, to eventually creating a protective, comforting quilt enabled by "the love and care of sashiko." The story is appended with further information about sashiko, including common patterns. "One stitch at a time," Ishida skillfully ushers Sashiko's journey toward calming recovery. --Terry Hong

WorthyKids/Hachette, $18.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-7, 9781546005339

The Juneteenth Cookbook: Recipes and Activities for Kids and Families to Celebrate

by Alliah L. Agostini, illus. by Sawyer Cloud

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Black U.S. history is dynamically showcased through food, drink, crafts, games, and music playlists in The Juneteenth Cookbook, author Alliah L. Agostini and illustrator Sawyer Cloud's thematic sequel to their picture book The Juneteenth Story. Co-author and recipe developer chef Taffy Elrod brings 20 years of experience in the food industry to this celebratory and accessible cookbook for children.

Each section--Drinks, Appetizers, Mains, Sides, and Desserts--features three or four recipes based on "historically relevant foods" as well as an activity that encourages kids to find ways to celebrate. Agostini and Elrod include recipes that "are linked to Juneteenth and broader African American and Black culinary and cultural traditions" and provide "some often overlooked but fascinating context" for many of the items. Children are encouraged to honor (and taste!) the significance of emancipation through traditional flavors found in their recipes for items like Freedom Fizz, Mac 'N' Please, and Sweet Potato Pie Bars (many of which can be made with allergen-friendly ingredients). Each recipe is intended to be budget-friendly and easy for home chefs of all ages--a big positive for any kid itching to try cooking solo.

Illustrator Sawyer Cloud uses an abundance of hues to focus young readers' attention on her vivacious art which features soft lines that portray an array of inclusive skin tones, hairstyles, and facial features. Her illustrations of the food are painterly, reminiscent of Maira Kalman's work. Agostini and Elrod's text mixed with Cloud's illustrations make for a cookbook that encourages intergenerational celebration, storytelling, and fellowship. --Rachel Werner, author and teaching artist at Hugo House, Lighthouse Writers Workshop and The Loft Literary Center.

becker&mayer! kids, $19.99, hardcover, 72p., ages 8-12, 9780760385791

Emma Full of Wonders

by Elisha Cooper

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How is Emma, a dog, full of "wonders"? By literally being full of puppies! In the blindsidingly moving Emma Full of Wonders, Elisha Cooper (Train; 8: An Animal Alphabet) offers a picture-book tour through a dog's experience of pregnancy and puppy birth, although the fact that Emma is expecting may come as a big, beautiful surprise to readers.

An omniscient narrator introduces Emma, "a large dog/ with many small dreams." These "dreams" take the form of a clutch of fantasy puppies who float above Emma's head in apparitional gray tones. The narrator goes on to describe Emma's dreams for these doggies: "singing, dancing, rolling in the grass," and more. The narrator proceeds to chronicle Emma's everyday activities--naps, stretches, walks--until "the day" arrives. The story concludes with her newborn pups gamboling about--sure enough, there's "singing, dancing, rolling in the grass"--and the assurance that Emma's "dreams came true."

While Emma Full of Wonders doesn't mention its protagonist's pregnancy, Cooper speckles the story with hints. "Some days Emma woke from her naps and still felt tired," the narrator says at one point. Why is she so tired? And why is it, exactly, that Emma "looked forward to tomorrow"? And wait: Is her belly getting bigger? Toward the end of the book, which features understated ink-and-watercolor art throughout, the narrator relays that Emma's "whole body felt strange," after which all becomes clear in a series of wordless spreads that show her delivering and tending to her newborns. Cooper captures the miracle in illustrations so tastefully straightforward that, as he recognizes, words are unnecessary. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Roaring Brook Press, $18.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-6, 9781250884763

The Quickest Bedtime Story Ever!

by Louise Fitzgerald, illus. by Kate Hindley

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Blame Louise Fitzgerald and Kate Hindley when your kiddos can't go to sleep, because their giggle-inducing, highly interactive picture book, The Quickest Bedtime Story Ever!, is so funny that one read-through as part of a bedtime routine may not suffice.

Five animals dry off after a bubble bath and don pajamas. Readers are quickly reassured, with an abundance of exclamation marks, that "an amazing story you'll love, share, and never forget" follows and--even better!--"it's only ten words!" Of course it isn't that simple, but with the anticipation comes joy. The animals, after earnest promises, "a very serious voice warm-up" (that's not at all serious), warnings to readers to supervise their grown-up, and various ridiculous bedtime preparations, are finally treated to their 10-word tale. While it doesn't prove the expedient story readers were initially promised, sleep still comes... for most of the animals, at least.

Debut author Fitzgerald's theatrical training shows in this fourth wall-breaking text that feels like the warm-up for an improvisational performance. Page turns bring constant delights, and absurdities include physical movement, affirmations, and verbal antics. Illustrator Hindley (The Littlest Yak) depicts the adorable, wide-eyed menagerie vigorously accomplishing typical bedtime preparations with comically varying degrees of readiness. Subtle illustrative details, including a theft of bedding and one critter who sleeps through most of the action, invite quieter and repeat engagement. For daunted caregivers, a QR code provides a free audio recording of the book.

This satirical and delightfully interactive story will likely bring joy to the bedtime routine, even if it makes bedtime a bit later. --Kit Ballenger, youth librarian, Help Your Shelf

Nosy Crow, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9798887770512

Otherworldly

by F.T. Lukens

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Otherworldly by F.T. Lukens (Spell Bound) is a paranormal romance bursting with coziness, featuring a heartwarming found family and a charming love story.

An inexplicable perpetual winter has plagued Solis City for five years, prompting 17-year-old Ellery to find a job to help support their family's struggling farm. Despite their parents' faith in the goddess of the harvest, Ellery thinks the "supernatural bullshit" is a waste of time. Meanwhile, Knox, a magic "familiar" from the "Other World," helps humans who have made bargains with his queen, the very same goddess of the harvest. However, Knox hasn't heard from her in years and decides to escape the lonely Other World by not returning after his latest assignment. The problem? Knox is unable to stay in the earthly realm without a human tether. Ellery, desperate to end winter to help their family, strikes a deal with the familiar--a deal that leads to love.

This cuddly paranormal romance has strong worldbuilding and well-explored real-world themes, such as religious trauma and strained parental relationships. But the novel's most captivating aspects are its humorous banter and the theme of found family, as depicted through the endearing romance that develops between Knox and Ellery, and the family Ellery builds separate from their parents. These slice-of-life events, told from both Ellery's and Knox's perspectives, are well-balanced with more tense fantastical moments, and it's during these low-stakes scenes that Lukens creates some of the comfiest moments. A heartwarming and enchanting read. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader

Margaret K. McElderry Books, $19.99, hardcover, 352p., ages 13-up, 9781665916257

Coming Soon

The Writer's Life

Reading with... Victoria Aveyard

photo: Lucas Passmore

Victoria Aveyard was born and raised in East Longmeadow, Mass., a small town known only for the worst traffic rotary in the continental United States. She currently splits her time between the East and West coasts. As an author and screenwriter, she uses her career as an excuse to read too many books and watch too many movies. She is the author of the Red Queen and Realm Breaker series, the final installment of which, Fate Breaker, was recently published by HarperTeen.

Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:

When the typical heroes fail, the ragtag B team steps up to save the world. It's Lord of the Rings meets Guardians of the Galaxy.

On your nightstand now:

My nightstand pile is a mix of currently reading (for pleasure or research) and to be read.

I'm working my way through Fairy Tale by Stephen King, and I find myself extremely anxious over the fate of an old German shepherd. I can handle pretty much anything in text, but dogs in danger really test me.

I also have a pair of books I'm reading for research right now: Black Flags, Blue Waters by Eric Jay Dolin and Sea of Faith by Stephen O'Shea.

As for the TBR: What the River Knows by Isabel Ibañez, Legendborn by Tracy Deonn, and Divine Rivals by Rebecca Ross are all waiting in the wings!

Favorite book when you were a child:

The first book to really grip me was Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. I must have read it a dozen times when I was seven or eight, and it never got old. I was enamored with the world and the characters, as well as the concept of falling into a book. I was also deeply obsessed with the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Obviously, I started with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (I had a beautiful, illustrated edition), but my favorite novel in the series is The Horse and His Boy. It's the only installment entirely grounded within the magical world, so to speak, and gave us, I think, the biggest view of the realm. Not to mention one my favorite female characters, Aravis Tarkheena, who I idolized when I was little.

Your top five authors:

Obviously, this is not set in stone, but these came to mind quickly. I am forever indebted to J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin for the inspiration I've leeched out of their work, as well as Stephen King, who continues to boggle my mind. I'm also endlessly jealous of Megan Whalen Turner, who can somehow balance being both exceedingly intelligent and impossibly entertaining. I am also eagerly awaiting the next Katherine Arden novel!

Book you've faked reading:

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. It was a summer reading assignment in school, and something about being forced to read a book always made me angry. It wasn't the book's fault my teacher assigned it, but I hated it all the same. And now my own books are on some summer reading lists, so I don't blame anyone if they hate my books on sight, either.

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, as well as her entire Winternight series. I was late to join the craze, and it was absolutely one of the best reading experiences of the last decade. This is always my recommendation when someone is looking for a fantasy series. More recently, I've also been passing around my copy of Bright Young Women by Jessica Knoll. It isn't often you find a book that is both important and engaging, but Jessica Knoll knocked it out of the park.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Circe by Madeline Miller as well as A Thousand Ships and Stone Blind by Natalie Haynes. I've been a sucker for Greek mythology since D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths sucked me in as a child, and I love the evocative symbolism and artful simplicity currently trending in mythology retellings.

Book you hid from your parents:

Technically every book I read before going to college. I was absolutely scolded for reading at the dinner table or when caught reading under the covers well after bedtime. But neither of my parents were very curious about the content of what I was reading. I did hide quite a lot of fan fiction, both what I was reading and writing myself, largely because, at least when I was growing up, I was very embarrassed about it and had no idea how to explain what fan fiction was without sounding like an absolute loser. I'm very glad fan fiction is now a point of pride in the reading community.

Book that changed your life:

I would be lying if I didn't say The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. It shifted my entire being and opened my eyes not just to what I loved, but to what I had to do with my life. Unfortunately, my first copy fell apart, but I lugged that brick around for all of seventh grade. She earned a good death.

Favorite line from a book:

"I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again." --The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien

This quote has stuck with me through the years, both for its poignancy and tragedy. So much of my favorite works circle around the concept of a fading world or disappearing age, the idea that something you hold is already slipping through your fingers. I feel like that a lot, so I take comfort in Frodo's words--the good thing still exists, even if it no longer exists for you.

Five books you'll never part with:

I'm getting repetitive, but I have an illustrated edition of The Lord of the Rings that I bought with all my birthday money when I was 13. It has lovely illustrations by Alan Lee, and I've taken it with me for over 20 years now. I also have a George R.R. Martin signed edition of A Dance with Dragons that I waited several hours in line for. It was the first book signing I ever attended. I also have my lovely collection of Tolkien universe reference books that I've had since middle school, including my very battered Atlas of Middle-Earth. My mom also has my old copies of the Maisie books by Aileen Paterson, a Scottish children's book series I read growing up. My granny used to send them over to us from Scotland, along with annuals of The Broons and Oor Wullie, both by R.D. Low and Dudley D. Watkins. I'm very sentimental about those as well--they're Scottish comics from the newspapers, going back to before World War II, and written in Scots! I used to read them all the time as a kid and didn't even realize I was technically reading another language. 

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

I can't say I would enjoy having my heart ripped out by George R.R. Martin's A Storm of Swords, but that would certainly be an experience. Probably Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series. Or I wish I had read Tamora Pierce's Alanna books when I was in middle school, instead of as an adult. They were fantastic, but I can't imagine my obsession if I got them when I was 12.

Book Candy

Book Candy

Mental Floss offered "11 Fascinating Facts About Louisa May Alcott's Little Women."

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The Histomap of Religion, created in 1943 by chemist John B. Sparks, charts 180,000 years of religion, Open Culture noted.

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"Sister-in-law's letters provide insights into Charles Dickens's life and legacy," the Guardian reported.

Rediscover

Rediscover: Daniel Kahneman

Daniel Kahneman, "who never took an economics course but who pioneered a psychologically based branch of that field that led to a Nobel in economic science in 2002," died March 27 at age 90, the New York Times reported. Kahneman, who was long associated with Princeton University, "employed his training as a psychologist to advance what came to be called behavioral economics. The work, done largely in the 1970s, led to a rethinking of issues as far-flung as medical malpractice, international political negotiations and the evaluation of baseball talent, all of which he analyzed, mostly in collaboration with Amos Tversky, a Stanford cognitive psychologist who did groundbreaking work on human judgment and decision-making."

Kahneman's public reputation was bolstered by his 2011 book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, which appeared on bestseller lists in science and business. He "propagated his findings with an appealing writing style, using illustrative vignettes with which even lay readers could engage," the Times noted. His most recent book was Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment (2021), written with Cass Sunstein and Olivier Sibony.

Harvard psychologist and author Steven Pinker told the Guardian in 2014: "His central message could not be more important, namely, that human reason left to its own devices is apt to engage in a number of fallacies and systematic errors, so if we want to make better decisions in our personal lives and as a society, we ought to be aware of these biases and seek workarounds. That's a powerful and important discovery."

Kahneman shared his 2002 Nobel Prize in economic science with Vernon L. Smith of George Mason University in Virginia. President Barack Obama presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to him at the White House in 2013.

"Before Kahneman and Tversky, people who thought about social problems and human behavior tended to assume that we are mostly rational agents," columnist and author David Brooks wrote in 2011. "They assumed that people have control over the most important parts of their own thinking. They assumed that people are basically sensible utility-maximizers, and that when they depart from reason it's because some passion like fear or love has distorted their judgment." But Kahneman and Tversky "yielded a different vision of human nature," Brooks continued. "We are players in a game we don't understand. Most of our own thinking is below awareness."

In an interview with Kara Swisher on her Times podcast Sway in 2021, Kahneman said, "If I were starting my career now, I would be choosing between artificial intelligence and neuroscience, because those are now particularly exciting ways of looking at human nature."

professional development for all

Queen Mab Media aims to be the one-stop shop for education about the publishing industry. Founded in response to the huge gap in training and professional development in the book world, QMM teaches people not only how the publishing industry works but also why it works that way.

Publishing 101, for instance, teaches students the nuts and bolts of how books get from .doc to a shelf as well as what each member of the publishing team—agent, in-house staff, and creator—should (and should not) be doing at each phase along the way to collaborate for the success of the project. It’s learning not only what a distributor is, but also how distributors affect, say, your client’s hitting the bestseller list (and how to decide if the bestseller list is even a good goal for this project). Publishing 101 is the difference between agonizing over a hard call with a client, agent, or editor and knowing exactly what you’re going to say, because you are ready for anything.

QMM is focused on practical education, concrete goal setting, and pragmatic tactical roadmaps that the members of a publishing team can use to get on the same page, foster common goals, and achieve the most for every project. No jargon or vagueness here, and worksheets, checklists, and toolkits are available to take away to remind yourself of what we’ve learned together.

QMM dreams of a world where everyone on a publishing team has a strong foundation of what comprises a “typical” book campaign so that they can work on a common footing to strategize for the health of each project and support long creator careers. And Queen Mab is the fairy that makes dreams come true–so perhaps we won’t have to wait long.

Workshops, seminars, and group trainings available. Email meredith@queenmabmedia.com.

Queen Mab Media: Professional Development for All

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Read what writers are saying about their upcoming titles

The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow

by Elaine Dimopoulos, illus. by Doug Salati

Dear Reader,

Butternut, the brave storytelling rabbit, is back--and this time her home is on fire!

In my family read-aloud THE PERILOUS PERFORMANCE AT MILKWEED MEADOW, a merry troupe of turkeys organizes a summer show in the meadow, but a fire burns their playhouse to the ground. Who started the fire and why? Called "witty, whimsical, wise" in a Kirkus starred review, this middle-grade animal adventure sequel about trust and forgiveness features show-stopping illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Doug Salati.

Enjoy the show!

Elaine Dimopoulos
www.elainedimopoulos.com



KidsBuzz: Charlesbridge: The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow by Elaine Dimopoulos, illus. by Doug Salati

Publisher: 
Charlesbridge Publishing

Pub Date: 
May 21, 2024

ISBN:
9791623544270

Type of Book:
Middle Grade Fiction

Age Range: 
8-11

List Price: 
$17.99 Hardcover

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