Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Mariner Books: Briefly Perfectly Human: Making an Authentic Life by Getting Real about the End by Alua Arthur

From My Shelf

Memories and Memorials

In Northern Light: Power, Land, and the Memory of Water, Kazim Ali meditates on the power of place and land, what it means to belong and what it means to remember. Part of that remembering is tied up in his shock on learning that the small town in northern Canada in which he spent formative years of his childhood no longer exists. Despite the lack of physical structures to memorialize the place, however, Ali finds himself "awash in remembrance" on visiting, which left me ruminating on the connection between place and memory long after I turned the last pages of Ali's powerful memoir.

That connection between place and memory lies at the heart of Marked, Unmarked, Remembered, in which brothers Andrew and Alex Lichtenstein memorialize the physical locations of traumas throughout U.S. history. Essays and photographs reveal the ways in which these physical locations have been preserved (or not) and how that preservation (or lack thereof) has shifted our present-day understanding of past events.

This understanding, it seems, is the crux of the argument for the removal of statues of Confederate Army generals across the U.S., a theme central to Connor Towne O'Neill's Down Along with that Devil's Bones: A Reckoning with Monuments, Memory, and the Legacy of White Supremacy. O'Neill unpacks the many-layered history of physical memorials to Nathan Bedford Forrest, Confederate Army general, avowed white supremacist and first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

On the website for the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the Equal Justice Initiative (founded by Just Mercy author Bryan Stevenson) states that "markers and monuments can help transform our national landscape into a more honest reflection of the history of America"--a sentiment reflected back on the pages of each of these incredible books on memory and memorialization. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Sleeping Bear Press: A Kurta to Remember by Gauri Dalvi Pandya, Illustrated by Avani Dwivedi

The Writer's Life

Megan Wagner Lloyd & Michelle Mee Nutter: Allergic

Megan Wagner Lloyd
Michelle Mee Nutter

Megan Wagner Lloyd is the author of several picture books, including Paper Mice, Building Books, Finding Wild and A Fort-Building Time. She lives in the Washington, D.C., area.

Michelle Mee Nutter graduated with a BFA in Illustration from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Her work has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators, 3x3 Illustration, Creative Quarterly and more. Nutter lives in Boston, Mass.

Together, Lloyd and Nutter have collaborated on Allergic, a graphic novel for ages 8-12, out now from Scholastic.

Megan, what inspired you to write this story? And why did you want to make it a graphic novel for a middle-grade audience?

Megan Wagner Lloyd: I wrote the script and Michelle created the art, and we actually teamed up before submitting the project to publishers. Like Maggie, I'm allergic to all animals with fur or feathers. Through visiting schools as I shared my picture books, I discovered that kids were often quite fascinated by the whole idea of being allergic to animals. I'd been wanting to try writing a graphic novel for several years at that point, and a MG graphic novel about allergies jumped out at me as an idea that was both very personal and highly relatable.

That's somewhat uncommon--to have both author and illustrator already working on a project together before bringing it to a publisher.

Lloyd: Coming from the picture book world, I'm used to illustrators being chosen by the publisher after the text has been acquired. But, in this case, my agent Ammi-Joan Paquette thought it was worth trying to team up with an illustrator beforehand, to submit a pitch together. I was intrigued by this idea and began looking through lots of portfolios. When I looked up Michelle's work, her talent and voice just sang from the screen and at that point I started crossing my fingers she would be interested in working together. Luckily for me, she was!

Michelle Mee Nutter: It's kind of a funny story and almost felt like fate stepped in. I was lucky enough to meet Megan's agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, at a SCBWI [Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators] conference in Los Angeles. She introduced me to the project, but I had never worked on a graphic novel before, so I was a bit hesitant. Comics require so much work and I wasn't sure if I was ready. After the conference, I went home with the first few chapters of the manuscript and fell head over heels for this book; the story was so captivating. Any hesitation I had flew out the window.

Michelle, how did you approach taking Megan's text and turning it into a visual story?

Nutter: I started with character sketches and created the look and feel of Maggie in her world. As we progressed, it was my job to piece together what was between the lines. I wanted these characters to feel as real as possible. Megan did a wonderful job outlining stage directions; all the character's personalities really sparked so much inspiration for me.

Maggie's family is multi-cultural, correct?

Lloyd: Correct! That was part of Michelle's vision for Maggie and her family from the start and we worked together to bring Maggie and her family (and her friends!) to life.

Nutter: I wanted representation to be a huge part of my book. I'm a Korean adoptee and part of a mixed-race family, similar to Maggie's. When I was a kid, it was hard to find books with families that looked like mine and now as an artist I'm fortunate to have this opportunity. I've always wanted to create art that I wished I had growing up, and I hope more kids will feel seen.

For Maggie's 10th birthday, her parents allow her to rescue a puppy. But when she finds "the right one right away," she has a massive allergic reaction. Megan, why choose this as the moment Maggie finds out she has an allergy?

Lloyd: One of my strongest memories from when I first discovered my animal allergies was looking up at my mom and barely being able to see her through my swollen eyes. I really wanted to capture the shock of that moment, and how disorienting it felt. And I wanted to set up the scene in such a way that readers could immediately be drawn into how it can feel to be a kid with animal allergies. I think there's something inherently strange about being allergic to something that's so lovable, and I wanted to transport readers as fully as possible into that experience. 

Michelle, was this a difficult scene to illustrate?

Nutter: For this page, I knew I wanted to capture the urgency of the moment from the start. Maggie can't see what's happening, but she can see the terrified faces of her family, so changing perspective allowed us to experience it the way she does. I can only imagine how terrifying that must be and I really wanted the reader to be placed in Maggie's shoes and empathize with her. 

Megan, would you tell us a little bit about how you incorporated so much in Maggie's everyday life?

Lloyd: When I'm brainstorming plot threads for a book, my goal is for them to feel very thematically interwoven. For Allergic, I thought a lot about connection vs. disconnection. In the main conflict, Maggie feels this incredible connection with animals... but then is forcibly disconnected from them by her allergies, which even makes her feel disconnected from her own body and personality. So, for subplots I wanted situations where Maggie was experiencing connection/disconnection in different ways. 

I also loved the visual of Maggie's first day of school: from panel to panel, she gets smaller and smaller until she's barely the size of a puppy herself.

Nutter: This was a really fun page to draw. I remember going through a few iterations of this because we wanted to really get that feeling right. We kept pushing her smaller to drive home that anxious feeling every kid knows. I have to hand it to our wonderful editor, Cassandra, for all the help in moments like this. There were a few pages where I pushed deeper because of our notes and I'm so grateful for that.

Megan, how did it feel to see Michelle's art bring your characters to life?

Lloyd: It felt incredible seeing Michelle bring her imagination and visual storytelling to the script. The interesting thing is that when we put our pitch together, I thought her art was so great... and then in creating the book it just got better and better! I'm still so thrilled and appreciative that she took on the project, as illustrating a graphic novel is a truly herculean task.

Who do you hope will read this book?

Lloyd: I hope that kids with allergies will read this book and feel seen, and kids without allergies will read it and feel more empathetic. And, overall, that all readers will be inspired by Maggie's resiliency in the face of unexpected challenges.

Nutter: I hope that kids with allergies will have a book that mirrors the real struggles that they face. All kids struggle with friendships and finding yourself, and I would love for Maggie to inspire them. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Book Candy

Books About the Internet

"Books about the Internet as we know it" were recommended by the New York Public Library.


Mental Floss considered the "10 most confusing books of all time."


Russia Beyond recalled "how Soviet poets performed in football stadiums in front of thousands."


"Rare Andy Warhol cookbook Wild Raspberries goes to auction," the Guardian reported.


Atlas Obscura explored the printer's devil on a York building, a "Reformation-era fiery figurehead [that] once denoted this location as a print shop."

Great Reads

Rediscover: I Was Amelia Earhart

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Jane Mendelsohn's debut novel, I Was Amelia Earhart, which gives a fictionalized account of what happened to Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan after their 1937 disappearance near New Guinea during their attempt to fly around the world. Mendelsohn imagines the pair crash-landing on a desert island, where they struggle to survive the elements and each others' company. Meanwhile Mendelsohn explores Earhart's life through flashbacks, from her lofty childhood ambitions to her marriage with publisher and author G.P. Putnam. I Was Amelia Earhart spent 14 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and was shortlisted for the 1997 Orange Prize for Fiction, with Mendelsohn receiving praise for her poetic prose and the book's mythic, fable-like qualities.

Mendelsohn is also author of the novels Innocence (2000), a gothic horror coming-of-age story about a teenage girl whose mother dies; American Music (2010), about an Iraq War vet with PTSD who connects with a therapist via strange visions; and Burning Down the House (2016), which follows a rich New York real estate family. I Was Amelia Earhart is available from Vintage ($14). --Tobias Mutter

Book Review



by Carol Edgarian

"For fifteen years I'd been waiting for a catastrophe greater than my birth. The quake gave it to me." In Carol Edgarian's riveting third novel (following Three Stages of Amazement), Vera narrates the story of the life she carves from the rubble of San Francisco's historic 1906 earthquake.

The San Andreas fault shifted just days after Vera's 15th birthday, but her life had never been stable. Her mother, Rose, the city's most notorious madam, paid a foster mother for Vera's care and scheduled only perfunctory visits. It seemed logical, in the pre-dawn hours after the quake hit, for Vera to flee her crumbled foster home and the approaching fires, and to lead her foster sister to Rose's Pacific Heights home, "five stories and a riot of gables and fancywork." Rose isn't there, but tenacious Vera becomes vital in a network of "fellow scrappers" living in and around "the gold house."

Among a strong-willed cast of real and fictional characters--including the legendary socialite Alma Spreckels and Mayor Eugene Schmitz--Vera forges an alliance with Tan, Rose's housekeeper and formerly Vera's nemesis, who must evade soldiers corralling Chinatown residents. Vera finds Rose in a makeshift hospital and brings her home; women who'd worked in the brothel move in, too, and Vera is soon managing a disparate community of 11. Poverty stalks the homeless camps; crime and graft--sometimes key to survival--are rampant. Edgarian's gritty yet hopeful historical novel doesn't gloss over the countless tragedies rising like the smoke and dust in the 500 devastated city blocks, but Vera personifies the pluck that revived San Francisco, her "temblor-riven paradise." --Cheryl McKeon, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.

Discover: As narrated by a plucky 15-year-old survivor, this riveting historical novel recounts the aftermath of the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake in vivid detail.

Scribner, $27, hardcover, 336p., 9781501157523

The Twilight Zone

by Nona Fernández, trans. by Natasha Wimmer

In The Twilight Zone, Nona Fernández (Space Invaders) uses her considerable empathetic power as a novelist to penetrate the darkest corners of Chile under Pinochet's dictatorship. Fernández blends historical facts and seemingly autobiographical details with what can only be imagined, reconstructing not only the inner lives of people tortured and "disappeared" by the regime's security apparatus, but that of one of the torturers. The chief figure in Fernández's book is the very real Andrés Antonio Valenzuela Morales, who in 1984 confessed shocking secrets that were eventually published under the headline "I TORTURED PEOPLE." Fernández uses Morales as a starting point to explore "the machinery of evil," a "parallel and invisible universe" of medieval torture and arbitrary executions.

The Twilight Zone sets out to answer questions that are unanswerable, questions separate from the thuggish reasoning behind Pinochet's reign of terror. Instead, many of the questions Fernández seeks to answer are about memory, collective trauma and denial. She refers to the world of interrogation cells and electric shocks as "the dark side," a "secret dimension" or "the Twilight Zone." Just as the television show depicted a secret world, "a universe unfolding outside the ordinary," so did Chileans occasionally catch glimpses of the grim secret world just under the surface of ordinary life.

Fernández musters her courage and empathetic imagination to stare into the Twilight Zone, to look deep into a secret world that many would prefer to ignore or forget. The Twilight Zone is a frank look into a nation's subconscious and the dark dreams that haunt victims and perpetrators alike. --Hank Stephenson, the Sun magazine, manuscript reader

Discover: The Twilight Zone is a wide-ranging, empathetic novel that doubles as a heartrending inquiry into the scars left in the Chilean psyche by Pinochet's dictatorship.

Graywolf Press, $16, paperback, 192p., 9781644450475

The Lowering Days

by Gregory Brown

In 1980s rural Maine, Indigenous 14-year-old Molly and her father live off the land along the Penobscot Bay that was stolen from their ancestors. An overseas conglomerate tries to open a factory that would bring jobs to the area but pollute the environment. Molly burns down the building, sends a statement to the press and escapes into the woods. Molly's statement gets published in the Lowering Days newspaper, sowing division within the community and a violent clash between families in this achingly beautiful and bittersweet family saga.

The first op-ed Falon Ames publishes, defending Molly's reasons for burning down the factory, brings death threats to the tiny newspaper's office. Falon is unapologetic about the uproar, causing financial troubles for her husband Arnaud's struggling boat-building business. Locals vilify Falon, until Lyman Creel, local fisherman and next-door neighbor to the Ames family, shoots at a starving Molly when he catches her tampering with his lobster traps, causing community anger to shift toward Lyman and his family. Lyman demands that Falon publish his version of events. When Falon refuses, Lyman's actions escalate tensions that lead to devastating results for stubborn, good people who can't help hurting each other over misperceptions of a shared and deeply wounding past.

Gregory Brown's protagonist-narrator, David "Almy" Ames, claims his mother, Falon, named her newspaper the Lowering Days after her great-grandfather's term for lowering a body into the earth at funerals. He also recalls her saying the name refers to boats being birthed into the sea. The author poetically blends the opposing concepts into an absorbing, elemental story of human existence. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer

Discover: In a bittersweet saga set in rural Maine, two respected families clash over old hurts when an Indigenous girl burns down the polluting factory that sustains their struggling community.

Harper, $26.99, hardcover, 288p., 9780062994134

Mystery & Thriller

An Unexpected Peril

by Deanna Raybourn

All future explorers should look to stubborn, intelligent Veronica Speedwell for inspiration. In An Unexpected Peril, Deanna Raybourn's sixth adventure starring the Victorian lepidopterist, Veronica is at her old tricks again: unable to overlook a potential crime. Veronica is a newly minted member of the Curiosity Club, a London club for female thinkers. She and Revelstoke "Stoker" Templeton-Vane (her partner in both natural historical research and more personal matters) have been asked to combine their talents to create a memorial display to honor Alice Baker-Greene, a pioneering Alpinist, who recently died while hiking in Alpenwald. Veronica is convinced that Alice was actually murdered, but Stoker pleads with Veronica not to get involved.

When Princess Gisela of Alpenwald pays a visit to the Curiosity Club to see the display and declares firmly that Alice's death was an accident, Veronica is put on her mettle. Especially when Princess Gisela mysteriously vanishes, and the Alpenwald dignitaries ask for Veronica and Stoker's aid. Alpenwald has been caught up in the rising tension between France and Germany, and an important treaty is on the line.

Funny and insightful, An Unexpected Peril shows off Veronica at her majestic, slightly self-centered best. Unwilling to bow to the mores of the day, Veronica leads Stoker along on her many adventures, which will keep readers guessing until the very last page. Alpenwald may be a fictional kingdom, but Raybourn (A Murderous Relation; A Treacherous Curse) expertly weaves real-life European politics and mountain climbing strategies of the era into her work, creating a delectably entertaining mystery. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this charming historical mystery, an intrepid Victorian natural historian turns her substantial intellect to solving a murder.

Berkley, $26, hardcover, 352p., 9780593197264

The Stills

by Jess Montgomery

The economics and emotional effects of Prohibition on a rural area make for a rousing plot in The Stills, Jess Montgomery's third novel set in the stark Appalachian coal-mining Bronwyn County, Ohio. In cities, Prohibition breeds organized crime, but, in hardscrabble rural areas, the needs are more basic: earn money to feed a family, pay for a child's expensive medicines, escape soul-crushing poverty.

Sheriff Lily Ross is expected to enforce the Volstead Act, which, in 1927, is in its seventh year, yet "so filled with loopholes that it was flimsier than worn-out washrags." She sometimes ignores the stills in the county's "hills and hollers" unless "a moonshiner raises too much of a ruckus, or someone--usually a frustrated wife--complains." But things change when a 12-year-old boy, hired to protect a still, nearly dies from tainted moonshine. Meanwhile, Fiona Vogel returns to her hometown with her powerful husband, George, and his several violent henchmen. George plans to start a bootlegging operation selling toxic wood alcohol to force out competitors.

The Stills richly delves into class differences, religious obsession, greed and Prohibition's failures. Montgomery (The Hollows) forcefully shows Lily's struggles in an occupation unheard of for a woman during the 1920s while caring for her family on a modest salary. Lily, based on Maude Collins, Ohio's first female sheriff, inherited the job from her late husband, but has earned the community's respect. While Fiona seems, at first, to be superficially concerned with money and finery, she shows an inner strength and a savvy business acumen. Montgomery's strong storytelling shines in The Stills. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer

Discover: A meticulous historical mystery set during 1927 examines the effects of Prohibition in a harshly stark southern Ohio coal-mining county.

Minotaur, $27.99, hardcover, 352p., 9781250623409


Act Your Age, Eve Brown

by Talia Hibbert

In Act Your Age, Eve Brown, the sparkling conclusion to the Brown Sisters series (Get a Life, Chloe Brown; Take a Hint, Dani Brown), Talia Hibbert introduces the third Brown sister. Eve is the youngest, and feels the least accomplished. While both of her older sisters have successful careers, Eve has given up on every job she's ever tried. When her latest career endeavor, wedding planning, ruins the bride's day, her parents draw the line--it's time to pay rent and find a stable job. An impromptu drive takes her to the quaint British town of Skybriar, and one awkward interview and a car accident later, Eve has a job as the new chef at a bed and breakfast. The b&b's owner, Jacob Wayne, is unimpressed by Eve's constant singing and seemingly unorganized lifestyle but can't deny the friendliness and skill she brings to the job. As snarky Eve and grumpy Jacob work and bicker together at the b&b, their attraction grows.

Hibbert brings her signature humor and warmth to Eve's and Jacob's stories. Eve recognizes the privilege she has within her wealthy Black family, but still feels hurt because her parents seemingly don't believe in her. Jacob believes in Eve and allows her to find her way personally and professionally while working at his b&b. Jacob is also open about his autism and the ableism he has encountered in his career and home life, and Hibbert writes his darkest moments with hope and healing. --Amy Dittmeier, librarian

Discover: Eve discovers that growing up doesn't mean you have to act like an adult in this cozy romantic comedy that can be read as a standalone to the series.

Avon, $15.99, paperback, 400p., 9780062941275

Biography & Memoir

Festival Days

by Jo Ann Beard

It's been more than 20 years since the publication of Jo Ann Beard's collection of personal essays, The Boys of My Youth, one that included the classic "The Fourth State of Matter," the terrifying account of a mass shooting at her University of Iowa workplace. In Festival Days, Beard returns with a set of nine diverse pieces that sometimes challenge the boundary between fiction and nonfiction but that are consistent in the intensity of their perception and their vivid prose.

Most prominent in this genre-bending category is "Cheri," the story of the title character's two-and-a-half-year battle with metastatic breast cancer. Beginning as a deeply reported piece of personal journalism, it shifts almost imperceptibly into the territory of the imagination, without sacrificing any of its integrity purely for emotional effect. "Werner," which describes the artist Werner Hoeflich's escape from a deadly fire at his Upper East Side apartment building in 1991, relies heavily on its subject's recollections of his near-death experience, but Beard's keen eye for novelistic detail subtly transforms pure fact into art.

"The Tomb of Wrestling," a short story that displays Beard's talent as a fiction writer, is no less intense. In it, an artist named Joan engages in a life and death struggle with a man who invades her upstate New York home.

On whichever side of the fact/fiction line, which for her is sometimes "permeable," Jo Ann Beard's stories fall, they undeniably resonate with the feeling of truth. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: Vital and diverse, Jo Ann Beard's nine pieces in this second collection are an intriguing blend of fact and fiction.

Little, Brown, $27, hardcover, 272p., 9780316497237

My Inner Sky: On Embracing Day, Night, and All the Times in Between

by Mari Andrew

Mari Andrew (Am I There Yet?) doesn't care for "emotional binaries: the idea that you're either happy or sad, positive or negative." Through encouraging essays and vibrant watercolor-and-handwriting illustrations, she posits that our cultural obsession with staying positive and choosing happiness is failing us, preventing humanity at large to recognize the beauty in trials, challenges, frustrations and even failures. "I want the full menu," Andrew writes in the introduction to My Inner Sky, "everything available to me in this life: dark, bright, purply-pink weird twilight color, and golden."

A list of things that make New York magical; paralysis in a Spanish hospital; what French winemaking can teach us about creativity; a dance party on the streets of Rio; a flight full of paper hearts on the way to her father's funeral. These moments make up not just Andrew's book, but her life, moments in which she finds lessons on beauty and awareness, hope and reflection, healing and humanity. She recalls her disappointment in those who failed "to engage in the world as sensuously as I hope" as she urges readers not to fail in the same spectacular way. The world, she writes, is full of "people with whom I have very little in common, except my entire humanity." How could one read such a sentiment and not see their own connection to humanity? This is the gift that My Inner Sky offers readers, a much-needed balm against the disconnection we hear so often lamented, a reminder that magic is all around us, if only we remember to notice it. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: Hand-drawn and watercolor illustrations accompany each essay in this collection that encourages readers to find--and notice--healing magic in everyday life.

Penguin Books, $22, hardcover, 272p., 9780143135241

Social Science

The World in a Selfie: An Inquiry into the Tourist Age

by Marco D'Eramo, trans. by Bethan Bowett-Jones, David Broder

Marco D'Eramo's thought-provoking The World in a Selfie: An Inquiry into the Tourist Age, translated from Italian by Bethan Bowett-Jones and David Broder, is a thorough and often critical look at modern tourism through a variety of sociological lenses. Rather than being a "postmodern frill... the truth is that tourism is the most important industry of the century," explains D'Eramo, an Italian journalist and social theorist. He creates a salon-like atmosphere of noted thinkers and writers, synthesizing hundreds of years of thought about interpreting the world through travel.

The economic impact of tourism is the crucial consideration for D'Eramo, weaving through topics and across chapters. "It would be difficult to overestimate tourism's impact on individual national economies," he explains. The global pandemic of 2020 brought this into stark relief as, when cities shut down, it "proved the centrality of tourism through tourism's omission."

D'Eramo expresses dismay at the current state of "hit and run" tourism and doesn't hide his consternation about the increasing "theatricality" of cities across the world, like Rome, that rely on tourism to balance budgets. He concludes that tourism in the future will most likely be different. "We live in a world where the three spatial dimensions have shrunk, but at the same time we have developed other dimensions in which to move," he says, nodding to a "multidimensionalism" made possible by digital media. This is an intriguing book for sociologists and economists, as well as for serious travelers wishing to understand their impact as they once again move about the globe. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: The impact of modern tourism on global economic, political and social interests is examined in this challenging and thought-provoking work.

Verso, $29.95, hardcover, 288p., 9781788731072

The Babysitter: My Summers with a Serial Killer

by Liza Rodman, Jennifer Jordan

It was 2005 when Liza Rodman finally recognized the unidentifiable man from her recurring nightmares: Tony Costa, a local who often watched Liza and her sister during their summers in Provincetown, Mass. Liza's mother, a young divorcée, spent "most of her free time closing down the various bars and dance clubs with her own revolving door of suitors." She was cruel to Liza, who found solace hanging out with Tony, handyman at their motel and "one of the few kind and gentle adults in [her] life during those turbulent years." Rodman was 10 in 1969, when Tony disappeared. She never knew why, but was about to find out.

When asked what she remembered about Tony, Rodman's mother calmly replied, "I remember he turned out to be a serial killer." A shocked Rodman attempted to confirm they were speaking about the same man and her mother clarified: "Oh, for Christ's sake... don't be so dramatic. He wasn't your babysitter.... He was the handyman." Particularly telling of Rodman's sorrowful childhood: "Yeah, so what.... He didn't kill you, did he?"

A half century after Costa brutally killed several young women (when 1960s free love and ubiquitous runaways made "disappearing" someone seemingly easy), Rodman teams up with author friend Jennifer Jordan for The Babysitter. A haunting account--part memoir, part investigative journalism--of Rodman's childhood and its chilling connection with the Cape Cod Killer, The Babysitter is the astounding story of a vulnerable young girl and the consolation she found with a man who preyed on women. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: This enthralling memoir deftly intertwines the stormy childhood of one of the authors and the life and brutal acts of the serial killer who often watched over her.

Atria Books, $28, hardcover, 352p., 9781982129477

Children's & Young Adult

Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

by Jeff Gottesfeld, illus. by Matt Tavares

An elite army team of "men and women of every race, religion, and creed" take pride in guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in northern Virginia. Their actions, dress and dedication pay tribute to those who were lost in war and couldn't be identified. In this stunning, solemn and reverent picture book, Jeff Gottesfeld (No Steps Behind) and Matt Tavares (A Ben of All Trades) collaborate both to educate readers and honor those sentinels who proudly walk the mat day and night, good weather or foul, ensuring the Unknown Soldier is never alone.

Gottesfeld's words take on the pace of his subjects--slow, steady, consistent: "Twenty-one footsteps./ Click./ Twenty-one seconds of silence./ Click." Reinforcing this measured pace is a somber tone that explains the history of the Tomb and reflects the weight of the matter and the dignity of the soldiers. Tavares's strikingly lifelike mixed-media art reflects the mood through dark colors, changing perspectives and a point of view that never flinches; his use of light and shadow reminds readers of both the dark and the light in art and in life. It's Gottesfeld's choice of narrators, though, that gives Twenty-One Steps its potency: "I am an Unknown. I am one of many.... we gave all we had for our country and freedom. The Tomb Guards give all they have for us." Gottesfeld's text is a heartfelt thank-you letter delivered from one soldier to another.

A perfect introduction for young readers to a significant part of United States history, Twenty-One Steps is a serene education about and commendation of the exceptional men and women who proudly protect this symbol of U.S. freedom--and the high cost the nation pays for that freedom. A beautiful reminder and a fitting tribute. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: Those who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are honored in this monumental picture book.

Candlewick, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 7-10, 9781536201482

Mole in a Black & White Hole

by Tereza Sediva

Among books dedicated to encouraging children to explore the wonders of the world, Tereza Sediva's Mole in a Black & White Hole distinguishes itself with its bravura art. Also setting the title apart: there's probably no other picture book with the same theme in which the case for adventure is made by a turnip.

Mole lives under the ground, and he likes it that way: "It was dark and it was damp but it was his home." He has built-in company in the form of "a bright pink chandelier"--actually, a turnip that grows through Mole's ceiling. The turnip/chandelier's color--a rarity in Mole's black-and-white world--is enough to make him wonder "if there might be more out there if he looked." But Mole is scared to leave his home, so it's up to the turnip to convince him to peek outside. Mole is a hard sell, though. It's only when his pink friend goes missing, which creates a hole in Mole's ceiling, that he is forced literally to see the light.

Mole in a Black & White Hole succeeds as both a parable and an art object. The pictures in Czech author/illustrator Sediva's debut abound with mottled surfaces and clearly defined edges, calling to mind natty woodcuts. Nearly every page is a stunner, whether it shows Mole's color-deficient home or the color-decked glory of outdoor sights. Aqua, lime, mustard and reddish pink dominate the palette, and their interplay and overlap can transform even a garment hanging on a clothesline into something worthy of being framed. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: In this radiant picture book, a mole who lives underground in a black-and-white home has to be convinced that there's a world out there in living color.

Thames & Hudson, $16.95, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-5, 9780500652053


Author Buzz

The Wild Card
(A Rivers Wilde Novella)

by Dylan Allen

Dear Reader,

"What if…?" is my favorite question to ask myself when I start writing a book. The answers that Cassie and Leo's story delivered were unexpected and heartwarming. Adding a heist and serendipitous reunion into the mix took my tried and true favorite trope, second chance, to a whole new level. Theirs is a classic case of right person/wrong time. Whether you're a Rivers Wilde newbie or expert, watching them overcome some pretty steep hurdles is a wild, thrilling, feel good ride.

I hope you love every word. xo,

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: The Wild Card (A Rivers Wilde Novella) by Dylan Allen

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 16, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book


Kids Buzz

Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night

by Steven J. Simmons and Clifford R. Simmons
illus. by Ruth E. Harper

Dear Reader,

My newest and latest in a three-book series, Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night?, came from seeing the fascination so many kids have with the ocean and ocean creatures. How do a whale, octopus, dolphin, clownfish, great white shark and so many other undersea animals get their rest?

After all, they need to get their rest and sleep, just like all of us. So dive into this rhyming STEM picture book to encourage a love of nature and the environment--and under the covers for a great bedtime story.

"What do animals do when children are sleeping? Featuring creatures young children are likely to know, this book has the answers....[and] unusual nighttime facts are a plus." --Kirkus

Steve Simmons

KidsBuzz: Charlesbridge: Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night? by Steven J. Simmons and Clifford R. Simmons, illus. by Ruth E. Harper


Pub Date: 
April 16, 2024


Type of Book:
Picture Book

Age Range: 

List Price: 
$17.99 Hardcover

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