Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, June 22, 2021

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

From My Shelf

Beach Reads

Emily Henry's Beach Read (Berkley, $8.99) is a clever rom-com, featuring an enemies-to-lovers tale alongside a dose of commentary on the stereotypical "beach read" book. Think: bright illustrated cover, lighthearted romance with a touch of drama to keep the story moving, all of which describes Beach Read--as well as the rest of the books discussed here.

I've lined up two summer-themed romances for myself: Jasmine Guillory's The Wedding Date (Berkley, $7.99), a much-loved novel that starts with a fake date at a wedding and turns into a long-distance summer romance, and The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding (Sky Pony, $8.99), a young adult romance that steps out of the school year and into a summer internship as two teens compete for a job at the end of the season.

After a year (or more) of staying home, the travel themes in Emily Henry's sophomore novel, The People We Meet on Vacation (Berkley, $16), also carry extra appeal; the story centers on two long-time, world-traveling best friends who've been harboring secret crushes on each other. Emma Straub's The Vacationers (Riverhead, $17) follows a family vacation from Manhattan to Majorca, featuring what Shelf Awareness called "endearingly quirky protagonists and a plot with more twists than a European mountain road." Taylor Jenkins Reid brings the "heavenly vistas" of Malibu, Calif., to life in her third novel, Malibu Rising (Ballantine, $28), set over the course of just one day leading up to a local legend's annual end-of-summer party. And I'll be traveling back in time with some of Chanel Cleeton's historical fiction this summer, perhaps to 1950s Cuba in Next Year in Havana (Berkley, $7.99), or to the 1930s Florida Keys in The Last Train to Key West (Berkley, $16). --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

The Writer's Life

Marjorie Liu: Embracing the Monster Within

photo: Nina Subin

Marjorie Liu is an attorney, novelist and comic book writer. She is co-creator of the fantasy series Monstress (Image Comics), which has won multiple Hugo Awards, British Fantasy Awards, Harvey Awards and five Eisner Awards; Liu is the first woman (and woman of color) to win an Eisner in the Best Writer category. Her work at Marvel includes X-23, Black Widow, Han Solo, Dark Wolverine and Astonishing X-Men, for which she was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award. She teaches comic book writing at MIT. Liu has also written works of short speculative fiction, collected in The Tangleroot Palace: Stories (published by Tachyon and reviewed below).

One of your most popular series is called Monstress, but you've always written about monsters. People perceived to be monsters, people who are monsters on the inside or the outside, monstrous deeds. It's immensely rewarding to read about outcasts finding home with each other and women freeing themselves, but your work doesn't always have a tidy ending and often features antiheroes. What draws you to these stories?

Life isn't tidy, life is messy, people are imperfect, and there's a difference between being "nice" and being "good." Being good, I'd argue, is something that's not always on the surface. I love antiheroes because there's no pretense of niceness--but there is goodness. And that goodness, even if it's different from what we're used to, or rough around the edges, is the foundation of what leads an antihero to their heroic destiny.

Put another way: life is filled with contradictions, and we have to live with those contradictions and be comfortable with all the complexities of the human condition. Writing about monsters and antiheroes is a great way of connecting to all the many parts of ourselves that aren't perfect, that are complex and dark and hidden, especially the parts that we don't even want to admit exist.

Though many of your readers know you from comics, you wrote two series of novels--one paranormal romance and one urban fantasy--even as you began working extensively with Marvel Comics. What was it like returning to prose as you worked on The Tangleroot Palace?

Revising all of these stories was a much-needed reminder that I actually love writing prose. You'd think that wouldn't be something I'd have forgotten, but I've been writing comics for 13 years, and that's a radically different medium, with very unique demands. There was a period when I was doing both at the same time--writing novels and comics--but I burned out pretty quickly from that pace. It got to the point where writing a novel was more than some insurmountable burden--it triggered a full-out depression. I was exhausted, physically ill, and the only space where I still felt creative was in comics.

That was around eight years ago, and I haven't written a novel since. That said, reviewing and rewriting the short story collection woke something in me--some part of my creative self that has been in a long hibernation--and suddenly the allure of prose has returned with a fury. I'm ready to start writing novels again.

As you went through years of your short fiction, did you notice a change in the way you've approached your themes or characters?

That's a great question. I began my career as a paranormal romance novelist and an urban fantasist, which merged my two favorite elements: love and the otherworldly.

That hasn't changed. I still love writing about love--and nowadays there's certainly more freedom to tell different kinds of love stories, which never felt like an option when I was first starting out (or maybe I'm just older and more inclined to do what I want). Nor do I simply enjoy writing about the supernatural--instead, I've long needed the estrangement of the fantastic to tell stories about race and identity, and becoming free, using magic as a blueprint for telling stories that celebrate an expanded awareness of the self as unconstrained, unlimited.

What also hasn't changed, thematically, is that love and friendship, compassion and hope, are at the heart of what I write. Whether it's Monstress or the X-Men, or a shapeshifter detective or a woman covered in demonic tattoos, I find myself compelled to tell stories about people for whom love and friendship are transformative. And by transformative, I don't mean that problems magically disappear, or there's a happily ever after, or that characters become a new person with a new personality. Just that, simply put, not all wounds can be healed in a lifetime, but love and friendship can remind people that not only are they deserving of healing--it's okay to want it, too. It's okay to hope, to be inspired to hope, and to have compassion for the self who stumbles bravely along the path of becoming someone new. That's what I write about, ultimately.

In the introduction to The Tangleroot Palace, you write that "Hope in the possibility of something good--even the tiniest, most wee little good--is sometimes all we've got." What role do you think (or hope) fantasy fiction has in times of turmoil?

Some of my greatest teachers in this school of life, this school of becoming human, have been books. Fantasy fiction isn't just a frivolous escape--it's a useful estrangement that allows readers the space to stand outside their lives, even if it's for a short time. We return from novels a little different, when we've been away inside our minds. How many times have I read a good novel, finished the story, and had to reflect on my own life? On the way I feel about what I do, who I am, how I feel? How many times have I reflected on how there's suddenly a new infusion of hope inside my heart, simply because I'm inspired by a character or a world in a book I love?

I've learned about hope from characters who have nothing but hope to go on, and who accomplish the impossible because of that hope. Is fighting a dragon or defeating a demonic army all that different from the indignities and difficulties of our daily lives? Well, yes, very much so--but sometimes the same lessons apply: the need for courage, determination and resilience.

What are you currently working on?

I'm writing a YA novel (prose!), and I've written two new graphic novels that won't come out until 2022, and that I can't talk about yet. But one of them is for middle-grade readers and the other is for teens/adults.

What are you reading these days?

Most recently: Becoming Wild by Carl Safina, The Witch's Heart by Genevieve Gornichec, When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller and The Cost of Knowing by Brittney Morris. There's also a new monthly comic by Pornsak Pichetshote called The Good Asian, which is great. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels

Book Candy

Pride Story Collections

"Celebrate Pride with short story collections by LGBTQ authors," the New York Public Library invited.


Gastro Obscura featured "the poetry-loving cook who fed Detroit's soul."


Open Culture showcased "Umberto Eco's 36 rules for writing well (in English or Italian)."


"Where did the term up to snuff originate?" Mental Floss wondered.


James Clammer picked his "top 10 novels told in a single day" for the Guardian.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Janet Malcolm

Janet Malcolm, "a longtime writer for the New Yorker who was known for her piercing judgments, her novel-like nonfiction and a provocative moral certainty that cast a cold eye on journalism and its practitioners," died June 16 at age 86, the New York Times reported. Malcolm "produced an avalanche of deeply reported, exquisitely crafted articles, essays and books, most devoted to her special interests in literature, biography, photography, psychoanalysis and true crime. Her writing was precise and analytical; her unflinching gaze missed nothing." One of her best known works was The Journalist and the Murderer, a forensic examination of the relationship between author Joe McGinniss and convicted murderer Jeffrey MacDonald, which was published as a two-part essay in the New Yorker in 1989 and as a book the following year.

Malcolm's other books include Diana & Nikon: Essays on the Aesthetic of Photography; The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes; Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey; Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial; and The Purloined Clinic: Selected Writings. Among her honors are the 2008 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography for Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice; and the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award (Criticism) shortlist for Forty-One False Starts. Her most recent book, Nobody's Looking at You: Essays (2011), is available from Picador ($17).

Book Review


Daughters of Sparta

by Claire Heywood

Ancient myths take on new life and humanity in Daughters of Sparta, Claire Heywood's moving debut.

As a young princess, Klytemnestra expected to be her father's heir, that the man she would marry would rule her home kingdom of Sparta after him, and that her beautiful younger sister, Helen, would be sent away to cement an alliance with a foreign king. However, their father's strategy plays out differently, and Klytemnestra is given to King Agamemnon to be the queen of Mycenae, while Helen's husband, Agamemnon's younger brother Menelaus, will have Sparta. Both sisters, even as queens, are meant to be confined to the private lives of their families, but both will reach for more: Helen in her famous abandonment of her home for Troy, and Klytemnestra in her husband's absence during the ensuing war.

Heywood presents a version of these sisters' lives that could have been authentic for Bronze Age Greece. If there are gods, mortals do not knowingly see or interact with them. The focus is tightly on the experiences of these two women. Other familiar faces from the Iliad and classical Greek drama appear, but only as they are relevant to the sisters. The result will feel fresh even to those most familiar with the traditional stories, since events that take center stage in other versions, such as the death of Patroclus, take place outside of these characters' knowledge. Fans of Circe by Madeline Miller and the Avalon series by Marion Zimmer Bradley will be enthralled. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library

Discover: Two women more frequently seen through the eyes of others take center stage in this intimate, vivid reimagining of Greek mythology.

Dutton, $17, paperback, 384p., 9780593184370

The Secret Keeper of Jaipur

by Alka Joshi

Readers of Alka Joshi's debut novel, The Henna Artist, fell in love with Malik, the savvy, street-child protégé of Lakshmi, the titular artist who made her living serving the upper-crust women of Jaipur. Joshi's second novel, The Secret Keeper of Jaipur, picks up Malik's and Lakshmi's stories 12 years later, as Malik (now a young man) uncovers some shady dealings at a prestigious construction firm.

Now living in Shimla, Lakshmi is happy tending to an extensive healing garden and helping her husband run his medical clinic. But she has ambitions for Malik, who owes a great deal to his "Auntie-Boss." He travels to Jaipur to apprentice at Singh-Sharma Construction (whose owners have a complicated history with Lakshmi), just as the firm unveils a state-of-the-art cinema. When the theater suffers a collapse on opening night, Malik begins to investigate. Meanwhile, Lakshmi and a new acquaintance of hers in Shimla have stumbled onto a smuggling operation that may have links to the cinema incident.

Joshi's storytelling pulls readers into the colorful, rapidly changing world of 1960s India, where the maharanis still wield their traditional power but the newer forces of money and technology are also at play. Familiar characters and old secrets from The Henna Artist reappear, as Malik and Lakshmi wonder what to do with their new information and how to protect those they love. Joshi's second novel is an engaging story of secrets, betrayal and complicated power dynamics across class, gender and generational lines. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Alka Joshi's engaging second novel features familiar and new characters investigating the secrets surrounding a mysterious collapse at a brand-new cinema.

Mira, $27.99, hardcover, 384p., 9780778331858

God Spare the Girls

by Kelsey McKinney

Texas transplant Kelsey McKinney takes on church politics and complicated family dynamics in her powerful first novel, God Spare the Girls. Pastor's daughter Caroline Nolan has mostly been content growing up in the shadow of her adored big sister, Abigail, and their charismatic father, Luke. But as Caroline's high school graduation approaches, she feels a tug toward a different life than the ones mapped out for women in her conservative North Texas town. When the news breaks that Luke has been having an affair--weeks before Abigail's wedding--the girls retreat to their grandmother's ranch to process their father's betrayal and figure out what to do next.

McKinney sensitively portrays the complex bond between the sisters: shiny, perfect Abigail, engaged to a man Caroline secretly suspects is the wrong one, and Caroline, always a little more awkward and less polished, but desperate truly to connect with her sister. As the days tick toward Abigail's wedding, Caroline begins to question many things she has always taken for granted: her father's integrity, the importance of remaining a virgin until marriage, even the notion that type-A Abigail truly has all the answers. The sisters grapple with a number of family secrets (and blazing summer heat) as the church debates whether to reinstate Luke as pastor. Not all of the questions McKinney raises are resolved neatly; rather, the novel's strength lies in its note-perfect depiction of conservative white Bible Belt church culture, and what happens when that culture's image of perfection clashes with reality. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Kelsey McKinney's powerful first novel takes on Texas summer heat, church politics and complicated family dynamics.

Morrow, $27.99, hardcover, 320p., 9780063020252

The Year of Our Love

by Caterina Bonvicini, trans. by Antony Shugaar

Acclaimed Italian author Caterina Bonvicini delivers a big, bold, all-encompassing novel in The Year of Our Love, a deeply engrossing 40-year love story.

In 1975, two sensitive five-year-olds share a kiss in Bologna, Italy. Olivia is the granddaughter and heir of the Morganti family, who have made their fortune as industrialists. Valerio is the son of the gardener and housekeeper of the estate. They all live on the Morganti property. The kiss between Olivia and Valerio is innocent, yet it seals their fate. Though they don't know it at the time, their lives are forever changed, their hearts entwined, inseparable, though their class and socio-economic backgrounds set them drastically apart.

Through short, perfectly selected and astutely crafted scenes, Bonvicini depicts episodes from the lives of Olivia and Valerio over the next four decades in an Italy where corruption--in both personal lives and the society at large--is endemic. As the years progress through 2013, Olivia and Valerio grow up and go their separate ways. Yet their paths, somehow, keep crossing. Each reunion affirms and deepens their connection as friends, confidantes and passionate lovers. The short-term oasis of each rendezvous forges them into kindred spirits and soul mates.

High drama and moments of great wisdom flesh out themes centered on the perils of upward mobility, appearances for appearance's sake and allegiance to marriage and family. In stunning prose, translated by Antony Shugaar, Bonvicini renders an intricately plotted contemporary Italian epic where the fate of her star-crossed lovers is magnified by the crushing influence of familial and societal forces. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: This exquisitely written epic love story traverses 40 years of dark Italian history, depicting the effects of socio-economic class division.

Other Press, $17.99, paperback, 400p., 9781635420623

What a Happy Family

by Saumya Dave

What a Happy Family by Saumya Dave is a tender contemporary drama examining the impact of mental health challenges on a well-to-do Indian American family in Atlanta, Ga.

Twenty-something Natasha is the middle child and black sheep of the Joshi family. While everyone around her is powering forward in their lives, Natasha feels stuck and unhappy. Her brilliant sister is a psychiatrist, as is their father. Her brother occupies the family sweet spot: he's a male child attending a prestigious university. Joshi matriarch Bina harbors high hopes that flighty Natasha will settle down in her job and marry her childhood sweetheart, Karan, the son of Bina's closest friend. Instead, Natasha launches her dream career as a stand-up comic, shocking her parents and the local community of watchful aunties.

As with her debut novel, Well-Behaved Indian Women, Dave is fascinated by the generational dynamics in South Asian diaspora families, where the pressure to succeed can take a toll on members who dare to imagine for themselves a different vision of the future. In sharing the intriguing stories of Natasha's siblings and parents in all their complexity, Dave builds suspenseful subplots that simmer alongside Natasha's slow and devastating unraveling as her fledgling comedy efforts backfire and she feels increasingly isolated from those closest to her.

What a Happy Family is a masterful study of immigrant parents and their American children navigating conflicts within their cultural bubble and outside it. Faced with the ultimate test, the Joshis must confront uncomfortable realities if their fragile family unit is to endure and thrive. --Shahina Piyarali, reviewer

Discover: A young woman struggles with mental health problems in this absorbing drama featuring ambitious Indian American parents and their high-achieving offspring.

Berkley, $16, paperback, 400p., 9781984806178

Mystery & Thriller

Suburban Dicks

by Fabian Nicieza

Sure, modern crime fiction has an abundance of idiosyncratic female detectives, but how many of them show up at the murder site in a minivan transporting four children, one of whom urinates all over the crime scene? So begins Fabian Nicieza's ceaselessly funny debut novel, Suburban Dicks, in which characters' wisecracks cushion a painful reckoning with the prejudices running amok in a New Jersey town.

Queens girl-turned-suburbanite Andrea Stern, who is ostentatiously pregnant with her fifth child, isn't looking for drama the morning she rushes into a West Windsor, N.J., gas station; she's looking for a bathroom for her youngest child. Unlike the incompetent cops on the scene, Andrea determines that the killer tried to make the murder of gas station attendant Satkunananthan Sasmal look like a random shooting. Andrea is no stranger to crime solving: she was planning to attend a graduate program with the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit when she got pregnant with her first child. The fatal shooting of Sasmal, an immigrant from India, is West Windsor's first murder in more than 30 years, but the town's Asian community has been feeling victimized for ages. Andrea teams up with disgraced local journalist Kenneth Lee in the hunt for the killer.

Suburban Dicks is a well-oiled mystery, throughout which stereotypes fly from the mouths and pollute the minds of even well-meaning characters trying to get to the bottom of Sasmal's murder and the decades-old crime it points to. Nicieza, co-creator of Marvel's Deadpool, has set out to expose prejudice in all its hairy, shattering guises, and in so doing, he never fails to find a laugh where it hurts. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: This incessantly funny debut crime novel centers on an odd-couple pair who are investigating the murder of an Indian immigrant in their New Jersey town.

Putnam, $27, hardcover, 400p., 9780593191262

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Tangleroot Palace: Stories

by Marjorie Liu

Marjorie Liu gathers six previously published short stories and an original novella in The Tangleroot Palace, a powerful collection of speculative fiction that showcases the talent that's won her several Eisner and Hugo awards. With a range of themes and settings, the stories in The Tangleroot Palace exhibit immersive worldbuilding and emotionally evocative prose, the same style that has made her so successful in her paranormal romance novels and in powerhouse comics like Monstress (with Sana Takeda).

The collection opens with "Sympathy for the Bones," a story best described as creepy, in which a woman just crossing into adulthood murderously breaks free from the woman who has been her savior and captor for most of her life. The book ends with the titular novella, which reads like a fairytale, complete with a dangerous enchanted forest, an unwanted betrothal and an alluring stranger. In between are five stories varying widely in subject, but united by themes and archetypes readers will recognize from Liu's other work. She focuses on people, mostly women, who are morally gray: monsters with good motivations; humans who do monstrous things; women doing whatever they must for freedom and revenge.

Introducing the collection, Liu remarks that her stories are connected by a few common threads, but one lingers long after reading. Writing in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, she notes that "hope in the possibility of something good--even the tiniest, most wee little good--is sometimes all we've got." While The Tangleroot Palace is certainly not lighthearted, that thread of hope guides everyone through even the darkest of times. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels

Discover: These seven darkly fantastic stories showcase Liu's immersive world building and emotionally evocative prose.

Tachyon Publications, $16.95, paperback, 256p., 9781616963521


The Summer of No Attachments

by Lori Foster

As in The Somerset Girls, animal rescue is central to The Summer of No Attachments, Lori Foster's tender-hearted romance set again in Sunset, a small community in rural Kentucky. This installment focuses on Ivey Anders, a veterinarian who recently called it quits with her beau. Ivey is assisted at the vet clinic by Hope Mage, a good friend and dedicated worker who has sworn off men because of a disturbing incident that occurred several years before.

Ivey and Hope tend to an abandoned dog with a broken leg and soon discover the dog is pregnant. After the birth of the pups, Hope looks into renting a new apartment in town, roping in Ivey to offer her opinion of the place. There, Ivey meets the landlord, Corbin Meyer, a single businessman. Corbin has just learned he's father to a troubled 10-year-old boy, Justin. The child was dumped into Corbin's life by Justin's drug- and alcohol-addicted mother.

When the boy meets Ivey, the two instantly hit it off, discovering they share a love of animals and horror movies. Their connection bonds them--and Ivey and Corbin. As father and son get to know and fall in love with romantically reluctant Ivey, Hope meets Corbin's brother, Lang, who is smitten with Hope, but finds he must walk on eggshells in order to woo her wounded heart.

Foster's feel-good, small-town romance weaves in well-plotted story threads and complications that expose how scars from the past, if healed, can unlock more hopeful, brighter futures. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: In this gentle, feel-good romance, a small-town veterinarian and her dedicated assistant fall in love with two brothers.

Harlequin, $16.99, paperback, 336p., 9781335459893

Biography & Memoir

Upper Bohemia

by Hayden Herrera

"Our mother was a terrible mother, wasn't she?" is a question that art historian and biographer Hayden Herrera (Arshile Gorky: His Life and Work) poses at the beginning of her frank and fearless memoir, Upper Bohemia.

Herrera and her sister, Blair, were born to Elizabeth and John Phillips, beautiful patricians with impeccable bloodlines and family wealth--although after the onset of the Great Depression there was never enough money. Still, there was the house in Cape Cod built on 800 inherited acres, with Edmund Wilson and Mary McCarthy as neighbors. There was the Manhattan apartment tended by a housemaid. But money was irrelevant. What mattered was art, freedom, love and the company of writers and artists whom Hayden's mother called "upper bohemians."

With their stunning good looks and good family backgrounds, Hayden's parents had "the gift of confidence." They saw themselves as artists, unconfined by convention or their children. After their parents divorced, Hayden and Blair became small nomads, bouncing between caregivers and their parents' impermanent households. The sisters learned to live in a state of unanticipated change, rocketing between the East Coast and Mexico.

"But our terrible mother gave Blair and me a wonderful life," Herrera insists. It's true that this life has led to a wonderful book. Herrera tells the story of her childhood through the voice of a child, never deviating from that point of view. She presents a social history of midcentury privilege and the history of two feckless parents who "believed in the importance of pleasure," in a narrative that is both detailed and riveting. --Janet Brown, author and former bookseller

Discover: Hayden Herrera describes a childhood of adventure and neglect in a memoir that can take its place beside Tobias Wolff's classic This Boy's Life.

Simon & Schuster, $26, hardcover, 272p., 9781982105280

Now in Paperback

The New Wilderness

by Diane Cook

In this shattering work of dystopian fiction, love and survival intertwine until neither is recognizable from the other. The New Wilderness, the Booker Prize-longlisted novel by author and former This American Life producer Diane Cook, takes a refreshingly raw spin on an age-old climate disaster story: the earth has all but been destroyed by industrialization.

Most of the population live in the polluted City, where the air is so poisonous to children that childbirth is discouraged. But a lucky few have been selected for an experimental foray into the Wilderness State, the last enormous parcel of protected land, where the flora and fauna are wild and real. Bea is an interior designer in the City, where her daughter, Agnes, is dying; she keeps coughing up blood. Desperate, Bea and her husband, Glen, are first in line to take Agnes into the Wilderness State with a group of other Community members, where they hope the clean air will save Agnes's life. In return, they'll survive--and check in regularly at Posts for data collection. But, of course, simply living in the Wilderness State is a brutal, beautiful journey, and it challenges everything Bea and Agnes know about their love for each other.

Cook's writing is both a melodic ode to nature and a devastating eulogy to what has been lost, both in the real world and her fictional one. As Agnes becomes wilder, so does her mother, and their diverging natures soon bring them to a crossroads. This is a gorgeous tale of motherhood and the will to live. --Lauren Puckett, freelance writer

Discover: In a world where climate change has destroyed all but one parcel of land, Diane Cook builds a place so rich it feels like home, even as it frightens in its ferocity.

Harper Perennial, $17, paperback, 416p., 9780062333148

Children's & Young Adult

The Stars of Whistling Ridge

by Cindy Baldwin

Twelve-year old Ivy Mae Bloom wants a real home and, since her Mama can give wishes, she doesn't think it should be such a tough request. The Stars of Whistling Ridge is the inventive, magical tale of three sisters--and three more sisters--whose lives are run by the power of wishes.

Ivy's Mama is a "fallen star-woman," duty-bound to "tend to the magic that wove underneath the world." Mama and her sisters, Agatha and Ruth, keep the magic going in the U.S., while other star-women protect elsewhere. Ivy and Mama, together with Ivy's father and her two younger sisters, Elena and Sophie, travel the country in an old Winnebago (named Martha) while Mama barters wishes and heals places where magic is weak. When the family finds themselves stranded with Mama's star-sisters in Whistling Ridge, N.C. (the place they had "first fallen to earth"), Ivy hopes her wish for an actual home is coming true. But something is seeping the magic out of Whistling Ridge, endangering the town and all the world around it.

The Stars of Whistling Ridge, the third middle-grade novel by Cindy Baldwin (Where the Watermelons Grow), is a refreshing breath of familiar magic. Baldwin has created a fantastic mythology around fallen stars, fireflies and the stardust of which we are all made, all of it growing from the idea that wishing on stars may have been happening "for as long as anybody could remember." By weaving together magic and science, Baldwin dares to ask how certain we are that magic isn't real. Complex issues of family, impending puberty and what home really means are handled deftly in thought-provoking ways. The Stars of Whistling Ridge inspires readers to see the extraordinary in everyday life. --Kyla Paterno, freelance reviewer

Discover: Twelve-year old Ivy wishes for a home while her mother and aunts try to figure out what's stealing the magic from the town of Whistling Ridge in this impressive middle-grade novel.

Quill Tree/HarperCollins, $16.99, hardcover, 400p., ages 8-12, 9780063006416

Instructions for Dancing

by Nicola Yoon

In her deeply bittersweet third YA novel, Nicola Yoon (The Sun Is Also a Star) sweeps readers into a heady world of romance, magic and ballroom dance set against the chill, beachy backdrop of Los Angeles.

Black high school senior Yvette "Evie" Thomas lost her faith in love six months ago when her father left her mother for another woman. When she donates her once-cherished romance novel collection to a Little Free Library with a mysterious keeper, Evie gains a strange power: any time she sees a couple kiss, she has a vision of the beginning and end of their relationship. The keeper also gives her a book, Instructions for Dancing, that leads her to La Brea Dance, where she meets X, the gorgeous 18-year-old Black grandson of the studio owners. The teens enter a ballroom dance competition at the behest of their instructor, Fifi, an "exploding firecracker in human form." The two fall for each other but Evie, who knows "heartbreak = love + time," must decide whether the rewards of love outweigh the risk.

Fantasy and romance meet realism as Yoon combines whimsical elements with a thoughtful excavation of how relationships evolve and inevitably end, plus a nuanced, sensitive look at parental infidelity. Ballroom dance scenes, Evie's visions and X's blue-dipped dreads all create a vibrant, cinematic feel, with beach bonfires and L.A. landmarks grounding the setting. Simmering dance numbers, maturity and a high swoon factor make this showstopper anything but routine. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library

Discover: This bittersweet YA romance weighs the joy and whimsy of love against the inevitability of heartache.

Delacorte, $19.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 12-up, 9781524718961

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