Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, March 22, 2016


From My Shelf

W. W. Norton & Company: Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition by Paul Watson

Algonquin Books: Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein

The Bard Lives on for Today's Teens

Shadows of Shakespeare flicker through this provocative new crop of books for teens.

Cat Winters (In the Shadow of Blackbirds) mines Shakespeare's Hamlet for the plot and characters in her excellent, spellbinding novel set in 1923 Oregon, The Steep and Thorny Way (Amulet). Hanalee Denney is the daughter of a white woman and an African American man. He may have been murdered, and is definitely now a ghost, sticking around to warn Hanalee about those who wish to harm her. As hate and intolerance boil over in the Klan-influenced town, Hanalee suspects foul play in her father's death, even on the part of her stepfather. Her search for answers makes for a powerful, painful story of love and courage.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear (Dutton) by Canadian author E.K. Johnston (The Story of Owen; A Thousand Nights) reflects aspects of The Winter's Tale. This gripping novel is about a popular high school senior and cheerleader named Hermione Winters "who went to camp and came back different." Summer cheerleading camp in Ontario is "a blur of acrobatics, jumps into the lake and napping"--until it turns into a nightmare, as Hermione is drugged, raped and left half-submerged in the lake. She refuses to define herself as a victim. Crisp engaging writing, strong characterization and a steady hand distinguish this thought-provoking novel about coping and community.

Is brevity really the soul of wit? The OMG Shakespeare series (Random House), including Macbeth #killingit by Courtney Carbone, takes classic Shakespearean plays and retells them with emoji-riddled texts. Example: "Macbeth: UGH! MALCOLM is Prince of Cumberland now? Well, that sux. It's gonna be a lot harder to become [crown emoji]. #AlwaysTheThane [sad-face emoticon]." There's "The 411" in the back, defining YOLO (you only live once), NBD (No Big Deal) and the like. A fun comparison exercise for cultural anthropologists.

--Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

HarperCollins: Chester and Gus by Cammie McGovern


Book Candy

The Power of Print

The Huffington Post offered "16 reasons why print books will always be the best."

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Bustle showcased 10 "couples in literature that give us major relationship goals."

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Author Janine di Giovanni chose the "top 10 books of war reportage" for the Guardian.

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Quirk Books collected some "cures for hangovers from some of literature's best drinkers."

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PopSugar suggested "21 uses for old books."

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The Pi Workstation "functions as a desk, bookshelf and occasional chair," Bookshelf noted.


Indiana University Press: What My Last Man Did by Andrea Lewis


Great Reads

Rediscover: The Gilda Stories

After a runaway slave girl in 1850s Louisiana kills a bounty hunter in self defense, she takes shelter with two women who run a brothel. These women happen to be vampires, and induct the girl, Gilda, into an eternal life of one who "shares the blood." The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez follows the next 200 years of Gilda's life, from California in 1890, Missouri in 1921, Massachusetts in 1955, New York in 1981, New Hampshire in 2020, all the way up to 2050. Gilda's many lives are defined by the quest to understand her sexual and racial identities, and to find a place for her as the ultimate outsider in a constantly changing world.

The Gilda Stories, first published by Firebrand Books in 1991 and winner of two Lambda Literary Awards in 1992, preceded Buffy, Twilight and Octavia Butler's Fledgling, but it is far more than a "sexy vampire" book. Jewelle Gomez's novel channels her longtime LGBT and feminist activism into a thematic depth rarely achieved in the genre's modern iterations. Gomez is a founding member of GLAAD, a poet, playwright and the author of several essay and short story collections. This month City Lights Publishers is releasing a 25th-anniversary edition of The Gilda Stories with an afterword by black feminist scholar Alexis Pauline Gumbs. --Tobias Mutter


Titan Books: Relics by Tim Lebbon


The Writer's Life

G. Neri: Walking in Harper Lee's Shoes

G. Neri was so eager to learn about the real-life childhood friendship between Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, and Truman Capote, author of In Cold Blood, he couldn't wait to write the story. Here, Neri answers some questions for Shelf Awareness about his new middle-grade novel Tru & Nelle (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), set in 1930s Monroeville, Ala. Neri has written many children's books, including Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty, a Coretta Scott King Author Honor winner; Knockout Games; Hello, I'm Johnny Cash and Ghetto Cowboy. He lives in Florida with his wife and daughter.

How did you decide to write about the historic childhood friendship between Truman Capote (Tru) and Harper Lee (known as Nelle)?

When actor Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away in February 2014, I began to revisit his movies. The first film I watched was his Oscar-winning portrayal of Truman in Capote. There was Truman with Harper Lee (!), trying to get to the bottom of a small-town crime in Kansas. From there, I vaguely remembered that they had grown up as next-door neighbors when they were children in Alabama, and as soon as the film was over, I started digging into that because I was curious. What I found were a series of outrageously funny and poignant stories of their childhood adventures that I had never heard of before. They read like fiction to me, but nobody had really written for kids about these two misfits. I wanted to see that book so bad, I started writing it in April and I had a draft by June. The rest was just tightening and reworking it, but the basics were all there.

This notion of two of our most beloved authors growing up together as kids in the middle of nowhere is what first grabbed my imagination. What kept me there for the long haul was Nelle's quiet humanity and stubborn refusal to accept things as they were. She was the heart and soul behind To Kill a Mockingbird and expressed what many suspected was wrong about Jim Crow but were too afraid to acknowledge publicly. She wrote about these things when few dared, perhaps a consequence of her young age and stubborn disposition. She had gumption and gall and a healthy dose of honesty that soon turned into the most important and beloved American novel, arguably ever.

What sort of research did you do?

I read everything I could about their friendship. The key books were Marianne M. Moates's retelling of the life of Truman's cousin Jennings Faulk Carter, who was the third wheel in this friendship. His recollections of their childhood adventures were wonderful--full of life and mischief. Truman's aunt Tiny wrote a rather scandalous version of Truman's life, which, in the great storytelling tradition of the South, was highly embellished (but very entertaining). Then it was collecting as many first-hand accounts of those years as I could and piecing it all together into a single narrative.

Did you ever meet Harper Lee?

Regrettably, I never had the opportunity to meet Harper Lee in person. She was too deaf and blind, in her words, to talk to anyone. But I did manage to spend many, many months with her younger self, Nelle, while writing this novel.

Do you think you captured the spirit of the young Harper Lee?

I got to know her quite well. I walked in her shoes, witnessed the events of her childhood in the early years of the Great Depression in the Jim Crow-era Deep South. Felt her words tumbling around my head and back out onto the page. True, it was a slightly fictional version of her. But I was after the poetic truth. I think I found it, or as much as one can find out from a person living in your head.

What was she like as a child?

The two qualities that drew me to young Nelle, the Nelle of Scout's age, was that she was an outsider and a misfit. As such, she seemed to have an innate sense of justice. She was an observer, even at that age, and could see the difference between how black folks were treated, even if she couldn't quite understand why. Through her father, who was the model for Atticus Finch, she saw how segregation formed the spoken and unspoken laws around her.

She had her own way about her and wasn't afraid to be a tomboy, even if it rubbed others the wrong way. As a kid, she was rough and tumble, and could beat the steam out of any boy who didn't care for her "unladylike" manner. She never wore dresses, only overalls with (mostly) no shoes. Girls didn't know how to deal with her, so they often kept her at arm's length. She called her father by his first name, not "daddy" or "sir" like most girls would. She also loved to read.

How did Harper Lee meet Truman Capote?

Truman Capote was an odd, undersized boy in a prissy suit who moved in next door to her. He, too, was an outsider and a misfit. He looked like little Lord Fauntleroy, refined and well spoken, in a time when most of the poor rural kids went to school barefoot and in homemade clothes. He was bullied mercilessly by the other boys. Nelle hated bullies, even though she was often accused of that herself. She stood up for the underdog Truman and didn't care who knew it.

Why do you think they were such good friends?

These two outsiders bonded over a mutual love of detective mysteries. Both had active imaginations but Truman had the gift of gab, mostly as a survival mechanism. He loved to take the day's events and turn them into outlandish stories. Nelle loved to listen to these exaggerated versions of their humdrum lives in which they were often the heroes. Together in their vivid imaginations, they pretended to be Sherlock Holmes and Watson, solving small-town mysteries in boring old Monroeville, Ala.

Tell us about your own experience with To Kill a Mockingbird.

As an author of middle grade and young adult fiction, I have visited a lot of urban schools around the country with diverse populations and wildly different reading habits. There are very few books that truly cross over to all students in the U.S. For many, To Kill a Mockingbird is their first exposure to exploring race and racism in this country. For me, it was the first "serious" book I read. It has become common ground, meaning, no matter where you are, from Alabama to Alaska, or what the color of your skin may be, you will have this shared experience, by the time you are in high school. In this day and age, that is an increasingly rare thing to find.

How are kids today reacting to To Kill a Mockingbird?

In the age of Trayvon and Ferguson, many will interpret the ideas of this book differently. To some, Mockingbird might seem tame in comparison to today's events. But as a vehicle for fostering dialogue and sharing different points of view on race through the eyes of eighth and ninth graders, it has managed the unimaginable feat of staying relevant for 55 years.

Any thoughts on Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman?

When Ms. Lee failed to produce a second novel, many felt she was the voice of a generation that refused to speak anymore. When Go Set a Watchman did appear, many complained about what that voice had to say. One thing is for certain: her place in the civil rights movement cannot be denied. The injustice that we hoped would be befitting of a historical novel is not some quaint notion from the past. Mockingbird is, unfortunately, as timely now as it was then.

What are you working on now?

I have two books that are finished and being illustrated right now. One is a graphic novel about my cousin, the horse thief, who is kind of a modern-day outlaw and horse advocate hero, called Grand Theft Horse. The other is a picture book about the childhood friendship between Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. It's really a story about the birth of rock 'n' roll and the surprising connection these two legends had to that cultural shift. On top of that, I am collaborating on something I've never attempted before, a kind of urban dystopian-horror novel.

--Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Farrar, Straus and Giroux: Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat


Book Review

Fiction

The Throwback Special

by Chris Bachelder


The Throwback Special stars a group of middle-aged men gathering for the 16th annual reenactment of a memorable moment in professional football: the 1985 sack, by Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants, that resulted in a career-ending comminuted compound fracture of the leg for Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann. In the hands of Chris Bachelder (Bear v. Shark), this is rich material, by turns poignant and droll.

The 22 men are expertly evoked as individuals, often pathetic but also sympathetic. "It could be said of each man, that he was the plant manager of a sophisticated psychological refinery, capable of converting vast quantities of crude ridicule into tiny, glittering nuggets of sentiment. And vice versa, as necessary." This is Bachelder's specialty: the intersection of the absurd with earnest emotion, neuroses lovingly portrayed. The Throwback Special is endlessly hilarious, ranging from the serious, even the existential--it is true of the play, like everything else, that "while it was happening it was ending"--to the shrewdly wise: a seven-page interior monologue about race relations by the group's one person of color is surprisingly entertaining.

The book takes place over a single weekend, involving a certain amount of action but mostly focused on the men's thoughts and reflections. In this brief window, Bachelder reveals the magic of professional sport spectating, the silliness and profundity of traditions, and the tender illogic of friendship. Obviously, this novel will attract football fans, but there is absolutely something for everyone (even the sports-averse) in this rollicking, irreverent but sweet human drama. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: Set during a weekend of pro football reenactment, this sidesplitting novel displays all the baggage of male middle age.

W.W. Norton, $25.95, hardcover, 9780393249460

Yearling Books: Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar


What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours: Stories

by Helen Oyeyemi


The stories in What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours are strange and wonderful in weird and convoluted ways. In "Books and Roses," two women wear keys around their necks; the keys open unexpected doors for both of them, providing answers to questions about the fates of two lovers. In "Drownings," an evil dictator locks away a traitor and loses the key to the cell. "Is Your Blood as Red as This?" takes readers to a puppetry school, and " 'Sorry' Doesn't Sweeten Her Tea" features a house full of doors that won't stay closed.

Helen Oyeyemi (Boy, Snow, Bird; Mr. Fox) toys with common motifs (keys and locks, both metaphorical and physical, make frequent appearances) throughout the collection. Characters are reintroduced from one story to the next: a puppetry student features as a medium in " 'Sorry' Doesn't Sweeten Her Tea"; the daughter of one narrator's boyfriend becomes the central character in "A Brief History of the Homely Wench Society." Though each piece ultimately stands on its own, what is most fascinating about the collection is the ways in which the stories are woven together. Characters appear and reappear in stories that seem entirely distinct--set in a different time, place, even a different world--allowing Oyeyemi to stretch readers' definitions of time and space and imagination. Individually, and then again as a whole, the stories in What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours invite readers to reconsider what is real and what is imagined--not just in Oyeyemi's skilled prose, but also in the world in which we live. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: The author of Boy, Snow, Bird offers a collection of strange and wonderfully convoluted stories.

Riverhead, $27, hardcover, 9781594634635

HarperCollins: Curiosity House: The Fearsome Firebird (Curiosity House #3) by Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester


Know the Mother

by Desiree Cooper


In Know the Mother, her first collection of flash fiction, Desiree Cooper (two-time Pulitzer nominee at the Detroit Free Press, NPR contributor and 2015 Kresge Artist Fellow) focuses on the daily triumphs and troubles of being a black woman, mother and urban middle-class professional. Like carefully crafted prose poems or the succinct stories of Raymond Carver, Cooper's snapshots capture the currents beneath the calm, the memories behind the "crackling bread, a bowl of boiled turnips, fried fatback." In "Postbellum Love Story," for example, Toya is married to "a shoo-in to become the state's first black US senator... [but] long past the day when she had stopped loving Clarence, she'd found other loves to bind her... their happy children... their sprawling home... her heirloom tomatoes and bright holiday parties... being a revered black family in this sea of white incredulity."

Set in racially charged Detroit, Atlanta and even a military base in Okinawa, Cooper's stories rarely stray into politics, even though they often highlight a racist moment of the black experience. Rather, they primarily focus on motherhood--like the new mother in "Origins of Sacrifice" who can't wait for a "date" with her husband: "just a few hours away from the mewling child, the toe-curling pain of breast-feeding, the smell of sour milk and dirty diapers." And the mother in "The Disappearing Girl," waiting in her minivan at her daughter's private school where "she's the only one with brown eyes and skin to match... a refugee on a hostile shore waiting for an airlift." Each exquisite miniature in Know the Mother provides a mural's worth of life. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Cooper's very short stories capture moments that cumulatively explore the many pleasures and trials of motherhood and African American life.

Wayne State Univ. Press, $15.99, paperback, 9780814341490

Shelf Awareness Sign-up Giveaway: The Greatest Story Ever Told--So Far: Why Are We Here? by Lawrence M. Krauss 03.21.17


In the Café of Lost Youth

by Patrick Modiano, trans. by Chris Clarke


Patrick Modiano's novels trade on nostalgia: for lost love, time or ephemeral sensation. Characters like the ones in In the Café of Lost Youth are constantly thinking about their pasts, ignoring their present selves as they search for some doorway (if only through a memory) to a time that was. If there's anything that marks the Nobel Prize-winner's work, it's that yearning for what has been.

In the Café of Lost Youth revolves around Louki, a young woman in 1950s Paris, and examines her from four perspectives as she moves through the lives of the men around her. The narrators are an acquaintance, an investigator hired by her husband to find her, an old flame and Louki herself. A sort of walking ellipsis, Louki has motives that are never really clear, even to herself, and the novel doesn't move along a plot line so much as explore the various ways she is seen. Modiano may want to give a full account of this woman, or instead give the reader the same impression the various narrators have of her: that of a ghost passing through a room.

As is typical with Modiano, even with Louki's interior monologue, the reader feels removed. And although Louki is an unknowable presence in the story, In the Café of Lost Youth expertly re-creates its Paris milieu. From small descriptions of the bars and bookstores the characters frequent to the casual mention of neighborhoods now radically different after gentrification, the novel elicits nostalgia from the reader, even if he or she never visited Paris in the mid-20th century. --Noah Cruickshank, marketing manager, Open Books, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: In the Café of Lost Youth brings the reader into the bohemian world of 1950s Paris, following a mysterious woman at the center of many lives.

New York Review Books, $14, paperback, 9781590179536

Mystery & Thriller

The Waters of Eternal Youth

by Donna Leon


Commissario Guido Brunetti (By Its Cover) is back, but this time in a case that may not actually be a case. As The Waters of Eternal Youth opens, Brunetti agrees to do an informal investigation on behalf of the elderly Contessa Lando-Continui, an old friend of his wife's family. Fifteen years earlier, the Contessa's teenaged granddaughter, Manuela, fell into a canal and was pulled out brain damaged, left with the mental acuity of a seven-year-old. The Contessa wants to know how Manuela came to be in the canal in the first place.

As Brunetti begins looking into Manuela's life at the time of the incident, with the help of fellow commissario Claudia Griffoni, he finds some surprising connections and learns heartbreaking details about the Lando-Continui family. Long conversations with his passionate wife, Paola, help him to deal with the difficult truths he and Griffoni uncover, especially when one of those secrets leads to someone's death.

Donna Leon's mysteries are never fast-paced, but rather quiet paeans to the city of Venice. Filled with musings on immigration, tourism, the rising pollution in the bay and canals, and the crippling corruption of the Italian government (which Griffoni and Brunetti encounter at nearly every turn as they attempt to investigate), The Waters of Eternal Youth reflects Venice's ability to endure, in spite of centuries of threats. Readers who enjoy Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache series or Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs books are sure to enjoy spending an afternoon in Venice with Brunetti. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: Commissario Guido Brunetti begins a haunting investigation, as he looks into an incident that has trapped a beautiful woman in unending childhood.

Atlantic Monthly Press, $26, hardcover, 9780802124807

All Things Cease to Appear

by Elizabeth Brundage


Evoking the bleak territory of Russell Banks's fiction and the spirit of a Patricia Highsmith psychological thriller, Elizabeth Brundage's All Things Cease to Appear blends murder mystery, ghost story and domestic drama to create an engrossing and deeply unsettling novel.

Sharing a marriage that's infected by a "virus of the soul," George and Catherine Clare, with their three-year-old daughter, move to the tiny Hudson River Valley town of Chosen. They purchase the Hale farm, abandoned by the owners' three sons--who remain in town after their parents' double suicide--and are thrust into a world that's haunted by the spirit of Ella Hale, whose life and death prefigure the several tragedies that mark the story, including the murder of Catherine Clare in the novel's opening chapter.

Over the course of the lengthy flashback that composes most of the novel, the depth of George's depravity becomes clear. As she struggles to escape his stranglehold, Catherine finds herself drawing closer to the Hale brothers, even as they seem powerless to escape their fates. For all the inevitability of the tragedy at the novel's climax, Brundage demonstrates a mastery of pacing to arrive there.

Whether she's describing the starkly beautiful rural landscape or exposing the fault lines in the Clares' disintegrating marriage, Brundage's (A Stranger Like You) eye is equally observant. Her skillful use of multiple points of view heightens the tension as the day of Catherine's murder draws closer. Though it ends with a hint of redemption, All Things Cease to Appear remains a trip to the darkest territory of the human heart. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: A chilling story of marital discord that ends in murder.

Knopf, $26.95, hardcover, 9781101875599

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Winged Histories

by Sofia Samatar


Like an alchemist, Sofia Samatar spins golden landscapes and dazzling sentences. The Winged Histories, a sequel to the World Fantasy Award-winning A Stranger in Olondria, is set amid an empire-spanning civil war, with vampires and mythical beasts adding a layer of luster. But the real sheen of this novel is its author's skill as a builder--of worlds, of characters as rounded as they are flawed, and of sentences with the elaborate construction of cathedrals.

As in the best fantasy novels, Samatar's inventive details ultimately serve to further her characters. The Winged Histories is set in Olondria, and populated by fantastical phenomena, like the winged bird that adorns the cover: it reeks of death, but can carry passengers through the sky. This world contains more familiar elements, too: neglectful and abusive parents; stigma against same-sex relationships; power struggles fueled by religious divisions. The story is divided into sections narrated by four women: a female army captain, Tav; her lover, a tribal girl from the plains; Tav's socialite sister; and the imprisoned daughter of a cult priest. Nearly every detail in this narrative exists in service of asking how is history written and by whom?

The Winged Histories is a fantasy novel for those who take their sentences with the same slow, unfolding beauty as a cup of jasmine tea, and for adventurers like Tav, who are willing to charge ahead into the unknown. --Linnie Greene, freelance writer

Discover: In a civil war portrayed in Sofia Samatar's rich, fantastical prose, the citizens of Olondria find their lives called into question.

Small Beer Press, $24, hardcover, 9781618731142

Food & Wine

Sara Moulton's Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better

by Sara Moulton


Sara Moulton is the founder of the New York Women's Culinary Alliance, food editor of Good Morning America, executive chef of Gourmet, author of numerous cookbooks and the host of various TV shows, so how she found time to create the bible Home Cooking 101 is a mystery. What is not mysterious is cooking with Moulton's expert help. Moulton declares, "If you selected 10 people and handed them the same recipe... you'd end up with 10 different dishes... because good cooking is all about the details."

She begins with the 10 basics of great home cooking (for example, "get organized" and "buy a good knife"), lists 31 of her favorite tools, and makes ingredient recommendations (avocados are Hass, black pepper is freshly ground, etc.). Moulton covers soups, stocks and salads; then Quick and Quicker Entrees (Greek Diner Souffléed Omelet and Quick Tomato, Goat Cheese, and Fresh Herb Penne), Meal in a Pan (like Mushroom and Leek Shepherd's Pie and Stuffed Egg Roulade), and Cooking When You Have More Time (Baked Arctic Char with Chermoula; Roast Turkey). A section on vegetarian and vegan dishes includes Portobello Cheesesteaks, Saag Paneer and Roasted Pumpkin Farrotto. Each recipe focuses on a specific tip or method to "sharpen your sense of taste." Tips proliferate--like why never to buy pre-chopped tomatoes in a can, how to toss a salad properly and suggestions for tastier beans. Home Cooking 101 lives up to its title--a wonderful resource for novice cooks who wish to become experts. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: Sara Moulton believes "cooking and dining together with your loved ones is the recipe for a good life."

Oxmoor House, $35, hardcover, 9780848744410

Biography & Memoir

Vessels: A Love Story

by Daniel Raeburn


Often, the loss of a child is inexplicable: words aren't able to properly portray the devastation, the mourning and the attempts to recover from tragedy. Expanding from a story originally published in the New Yorker, Vessels tries to navigate this inexplicable heartbreak, knowing that the tragedies at its center can never truly be depicted. Daniel Raeburn's memoir is one long elegy, a reminiscence whose central theme is grief.

Vessels begins, as the subtitle says, as a love story. Daniel meets Bekah, a former potter, with whom he instantly feels a connection. They grow closer, finally moving in together, getting pregnant and becoming engaged. But Bekah miscarries, and so begins their years of pain as they continue trying to become parents. As a major event in their story, the stillbirth of their second child comes relatively early, and Vessels plumbs the aftermath. Daniel and Bekah try again, succeeding with the birth of their first daughter before yet another loss. There's little levity in his memoir, but Raeburn manages to keep it from becoming burdensome with a quick pace and dream-like tone.

For all its tragedy, Vessels never feels overly dramatic. In fact, that may be its biggest weakness. Many scenes are vaguely rendered, and most characters go unnamed. Raeburn appears to prefer outlining events instead of exploring their depths, and this reticence can harm the narrative (the loss of a dear friend, for instance, feels paper thin when it should be devastating). Mostly, though, Vessels manages to convey its author's heartbreak as best as words can. That's a quite a feat. --Noah Cruickshank, marketing manager, Open Books, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: Vessels is a heartbreaking memoir about how two people make their love survive in the face of loss.

W.W. Norton, $23.95, hardcover, 9780393285383

If at Birth You Don't Succeed: My Adventures with Disaster and Destiny

by Zach Anner


YouTuber, comedian and reality TV show host Zach Anner has written a laugh-out-loud, self-deprecating, uninhibited, yet poignant memoir, If at Birth You Don't Succeed. Anner, a preemie born with cerebral palsy (which he considers "the sexiest of palsies"), dishes on how he has made the most of his less-than-perfect but utterly charmed life and managed to rise above an identity tied to his disability. He recounts childhood fantasies of Cindy Crawford as humorously as lessons in independent living while interning (unsuccessfully) at Disney World, and the attempts by his devoted cadre of wingmen to find him a girlfriend, using a woman's tolerance for dinners at the Olive Garden as a litmus test for dateability. While studying at the University of Texas in Austin, Anner stumbles upon his talent as an off-the-cuff comedian while interviewing celebrities for the sketch comedy That's Awesome. That earns him a spot as a contestant on Oprah Winfrey's Search for the Next TV Star, which he eventually wins.

As Anner explains, "My life has taught me that sometimes the things that seem like mistakes are really just setups for the punch lines of jokes we don't understand yet." Though the language in his coming-of-age story is sometimes coarse, Anner's infectious enthusiasm and can-do attitude make the off-color commentary easy to enjoy. His memoir is a testament to the healing powers of performance, the ability to laugh at oneself and the humility to appreciate each person's innate talent, no matter their physical limitations. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: Comedian Zach Anner has written an infectious comedic memoir about the first three decades of his mistake-ridden but charmed life.

Holt, $27, hardcover, 9781627793643

Children's & Young Adult

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook

by Leslie Connor


Eleven-year-old Perry Cook is a kind, openhearted boy who is growing up in the Blue River Co-ed Correctional Facility in Surprise, Neb., a minimum-security facility where his mother is incarcerated for reasons that aren't entirely clear to him.

Perry loves the staff and "rezzies" like they are family, and his Blue River family loves him back, their very own "mouse in the house." Still, he and his mother dream of the day she will get out on parole, and the two can start over "on the outside." When the local district attorney, Thomas VanLeer, decides to play the hero and pull the boy out of the prison, "for his own good," Perry's world falls apart. Sure, VanLeer's home is super-fancy, and Perry will be living with his best friend, Zoey Samuels, who is the DA's stepdaughter... but all Perry wants is to be home at Blue River with his mother. When he undertakes a school project that entails interviewing Blue River inmates--asking "What are you in for?"--he realizes that the specifics of his mother's case don't quite add up. As Perry begins his own investigation, this engaging novel turns into a genuine, suspenseful mystery.

Leslie Connor (Waiting for Normal; Crunch) restores faith in humanity with All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook. Its earnest, compassionate boy hero gives everyone a fair shake, judging others only when wronged, bullied or misled--perhaps the upside to growing up in a prison full of nuanced, heartbreaking stories. The world needs Perry right now, and readers will hold him in their hearts. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A boy raised by his mother, an inmate in a correctional facility, is heartbroken when he's forced to leave his prison family.

Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins, $16.99, hardcover, 400p., ages 9-12, 9780062333469

Withering-by-Sea

by Judith Rossell


Eleven-year-old orphan Stella Montgomery and her three aunts live a circumscribed Victorian life at the Hotel Majestic: the aunts take the mineral waters in the bathhouse or are "wrapped up and propped in cane chairs in the long sunroom," while Stella studies deportment, pianoforte and "French phrases to say to the wife of a bishop whilst drinking tea." She also--secretly, because, as her aunts tell her, "Curiosity is a sign of a vulgar mind"--loses herself in illustrations of jungles and serpent-infested seas in a pilfered atlas. The adventure that unfolds after Stella witnesses a hotel guest burying something in a Chinese urn provides her with more danger and thrills than her beloved atlas could ever offer.

Middle-grade fans of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events will eat up Withering-by-Sea. Australian author-illustrator Judith Rossell packs every page with details such as Aunt Condolence's "Particular Patent Corset of springs and whalebone, which creaked and twanged as she moved," and pencil, ink and watercolor illustrations of curiosities like an evil professor's creepy "hand o' glory." Stella's ill-used but intrepid new friends burble over with a kind of low-brow Aussie-Victorian slang--such as "Nobble me granny" or "Stinking gumbleguts"--that would do Roald Dahl proud.

Stella harbors her own mysteries: Is she fey? Does she have a lost, unknown sibling? But her steadfast commitment to keeping a terrible enchanted object safe, and to saving Ben, a boy who's held in the professor's faded magical thrall, is what drives her, be it to a performance hall or to castle ruins on a desolate island. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A Victorian mystery-adventure complete with dark magic, whalebone corsets, a vertical omnibus and a brave and noble 11-year-old heroine.

Atheneum, $16.99, hardcover, 272p., ages 8-12, 9781481443678

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Buy this book

KidsBuzz: Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee

PUBLISHER: Aladdin

PUB DATE: March 14, 2017

AGE RANGE: 9 to 13

TYPE OF BOOK: Middle Grade Fiction

ISBN: 9781481478489

PRICE: $16.99

 

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