Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, February 4, 2022

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

From My Shelf

Jerry Pinkney: 'No Act of Kindness Goes Unrewarded'

Jerry Pinkney

Earlier this week we celebrated the lives of Eloise Greenfield and Floyd Cooper and the stirring legacies they left behind. In October, we lost author and artist Jerry Pinkney at age 81. His career spanned the Golden Age of books for youth, when library budgets expanded, and he played a large part in bringing creators of color to the forefront. He published his first picture book in 1964, The Adventures of Spider: West African Folk Tales (Little, Brown BFYR, $9.99). His dedication to reexamining the history and literature so formative to African American culture resulted in a trailblazing body of work.

Pinkney's retellings of Little Red Riding Hood (Little, Brown, $19.99) and The Little Mermaid (Little, Brown, $18.99) placed Black children in the starring roles. He reinterpreted The Lion and the Mouse (Little, Brown, $18.99)--for which he won the 2010 Caldecott Medal--as a wordless story of compassion, in which a mouse frees the mighty lion in return for his act of mercy. "No act of kindness goes unrewarded," Pinkney explained in his Caldecott acceptance speech. "The story represents a world of neighbors helping neighbors."

His artwork provides the connective tissue for many of the field's giants--in the 1970s he illustrated Virginia Hamilton's The Planet of Junior Brown (Aladdin, $8.99), a Newbery Honor Book, and the cover of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (Puffin, $8.99), the 1977 Newbery Medal winner.

He once said that "the journey each reader traverses parallels my creative process--that of discovery." Thank you, Jerry Pinkney, for giving your readers so much to discover. You will always be with us on our journey. --Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor, Shelf Awareness

Book Candy

10 Words for Deep Thoughts

"Galaxy brain: 10 words for deep thoughts," courtesy of Merriam-Webster.


"An 8-year-old made a comic book, hid it in a library. Now there's a waitlist to read it," USA Today reported.


"Hear Benedict Cumberbatch reading letters by Kurt Vonnegut, Alan Turing, Sol LeWitt and others," Open Culture invited.


Illustrator Tom Gauld's latest cartoon for the Guardian: "Down at the evil bookshop it was work assessment day."


CrimeReads investigation: "Who killed Christopher Marlowe?"

No Filter and Other Lies

by Crystal Maldonado

A fat, half-Puerto Rican teenager secretly uses her friend's face to create a fake Instagram account in Crystal Maldonado's nuanced YA novel about balancing control and boundaries. No Filter and Other Lies is a compelling and heartening read with a remarkable protagonist, authentic characters, an addictive plot and vital messages about healthy relationships.

Seventeen-year-old Kat Sanchez wishes her Instagram account had more followers. For that, she needs to compete with "perfect influencers" who look nothing like her: "So few are brown. None are fat." But Kat feels this shouldn't make a difference--her Instagram page showcases her photography, not her image. "Doesn't my art matter?" she wonders.

Her dismal following is only one aspect of her life over which Kat feels she has no control. Her apparent powerlessness is one of the reasons she tells lies, like the ones she uses to avoid admitting that her feelings for Hari, her best friend and sometimes hookup, are platonic. Her all-male friend group is constantly "on"--always "vying for the funniest joke or wittiest retort... but with Hari [she] can just... breathe." She doesn't want him as a boyfriend but also doesn't want to lose him, especially since he's the only one who knows her biggest secret: that she doesn't have a good relationship with her parents. When they were 18 and pregnant with Kat's younger brother, they moved to their own house and left Kat to live with her grandparents: "I don't know why. And maybe I won't ever find out."

One Fur All, the animal shelter where Kat works, brings her solace. A few of the photos she has taken of the big dogs for social media have even gone "semiviral" and the adoption rate has increased since she was hired; "I count it among my greatest victories when I help get one of them adopted." Working alongside her is Becca, who quit social media after her success as a YouTuber pulled her into a dark place of obsession over views, creepy commenters and online cliques. "I'm almost a little annoyed that she gave it up so easily," Kat thinks. "What I wouldn't give for that kind of visibility."

After one awful day of feeling rejected, Kat uses a photo of Becca to start a new Instagram account. "Max Monroe" soon has more followers than Kat's real account. She even attracts the attention of Elena, a popular Instagrammer with a "sugary" aesthetic and confident vibe. Kat-as-Max starts to confide in Elena, relieved to finally have a connection with someone. Though the fake persona becomes too complex to maintain and by lying she could lose everything she's earned, Kat would rather risk it than return to the lie she's carried all her life: "the lie that I'm wanted."

Maldonado (Fat Chance, Charlie Vega) allows her characters to act like real teens: emotional, messy. They bicker with each other, stop talking and resume talking, tease and encourage. Though Kat comes into her queerness during the story's events ("So, bisexuality confirmed"), the plot doesn't shift focus to a coming-out story. Her newfound attraction to girls is portrayed as a natural path in her wider journey, not as a hardship. Maldonado seamlessly incorporates Kat's first date with a girl--the stomach butterflies, the casual-but-not-too-casual outfit decisions, the conversation that warms like a carefully tended fire.

A touchingly rendered relationship between Kat and her grandparents adds wholesome interactions that, besides being much needed and thoroughly enjoyable, serve as acknowledgment of how familial support and love ("my grandparents are always reminding me that I'm enough") can be a huge help in tempering the tailspins characteristic of young adulthood. Her grandparents further model a kind of unity and working partnership that Kat doesn't see between her own parents.

The validation Kat seeks from Instagram seems to relate to her abandonment by her parents; being "unwanted" by them intensifies her need to be seen and admired. The fact that her brother--"the chosen one"--lives at home worsens the blow for Kat, an example of the way even perceived preferential treatment is demoralizing. Moreover, Kat's weekly dinner with her parents feels to her like dining with strangers; through Kat's efforts to maintain ties with them, Maldonado acknowledges the exhausting nature of one-sided relationships. Kat's yearning for positive attention becomes most apparent in her resolute determination to find a home for Cash, a three-legged pit bull no one wants to "deal with." Securing a family for Cash is a constant guidepost for Kat, one that she never ignores. Together these scenarios reflect a universal desire to be wanted--to be recognized for one's strengths, to be accepted as oneself, to be loved without conditions.

Remarkably, through it all, Kat never seeks to change herself. Not her body, "the wrong kind of fat." Not being half Puerto Rican and mediocre at speaking Spanish. Not her job at the dog shelter or her home with her grandparents in Bakersfield, Calif., a city "two hours from anything that matters." Kat's certainty about who she is, what she likes and what she wants to be known for adds an important element: Maldonado's protagonist is a self-confident teen who simply wants a say in how people see her. It's believable, then, that a desperation builds so strongly in her that she won't shut down the fake Instagram account. Readers will know her lie is bound to backfire, which makes the novel all the more captivating. --Samantha Zaboski

Holiday House, $18.99, hardcover, 336p., 9780823447183

Crystal Maldonado: 'We All Want to Feel Loved'

Crystal Maldonado writes inclusive YA stories about fat brown girls. Her debut novel, Fat Chance, Charlie Vega, is a 2021 New England Book Award winner, a Cosmopolitan Best New Book and a PopSugar Best New YA Novel. Her work has been published in Latina, BuzzFeed and the Hartford Courant. Maldonado lives in western Massachusetts with her husband, daughter and dog. No Filter and Other Lies (Holiday House, February 8, 2022), her second YA novel, explores teenage life in the social media age--and the lies we tell ourselves and others.

Kat scrolls through Instagram and obsesses over strangers' "perfect" accounts. How did you make this feel so real, and how does it affect Kat?

Kat's obsession with her seemingly perfect Instagram feed is something that feels very real to me. I know I've been guilty of falling down the rabbit hole on my own social media feeds. I've looked up from my phone feeling worse than ever before because I've been bombarded by beautiful people living seemingly flawless lives. It can be difficult to keep things in perspective when we are seeing the highlight reels of the lives of everyone we follow. We compare ourselves to that, even though sometimes the images aren't even real! I think it's even more difficult when you're a teenager, and it might feel like everyone is hanging out without you or that everyone has everything figured out.

Though she suspects her lack of Instagram followers is partially due to her being fat, Kat never once wishes she could change her body. Why was it so important for you to portray a teen girl who wasn't trying to change her body?

I wanted Kat to be a fat girl who was okay with her body because I think there's great power in that. There is strength in saying, "I know I don't fit in with society's expectations, and that's okay." For many fat readers, they've rarely had a chance to see a main character who wasn't wholly consumed by thoughts about their body. I wanted to make this story about a person who happens to be fat rather than a person who is learning to love their body. Both stories are valid and important, but it was nice to focus on this messy, complicated girl and have her fatness be one trait of many.

Why does Kat start a fake Instagram when her worst fear is people thinking she's fake?

Although Kat wants to seem authentic, her desire for acceptance drives her. She's both disappointed by her hypothesis (essentially, if she were a thin, attractive white girl, she would get more attention and appreciation) being true and enamored by it. Finally, as this fake person, she gets the dizzying affection she's wanted.

The solution to Kat's problem might seem easy: delete the fake Instagram account. Why can't she bring herself to do that?

From that first day, Kat is totally addicted to the high that comes with this fake life she's created. I think we all know the thrill of getting a new like or comment on our social media posts, and this new account seems to open a whole new world of possibility for her. Even though the likes aren't really for her, she is able to rationalize in her head that she's deserving of them because they're her photos and because she writes the captions. We're often reluctant to admit that we like attention and connection, but it's such a natural need. For the first time, this girl who has felt unloved and powerless has both of those things. It's hard for her to say goodbye to that.

Another struggle Kat battles is being "too brown" for Instagram but seemingly not Puerto Rican enough for her friend. Why was this important to you to include?

I wanted to show this duality of being Latina. Like Kat, I am Puerto Rican and have often felt like I was "too brown" for many white spaces while simultaneously being "too white" for Puerto Rican spaces. Some of that was certainly self-imposed, as I've been concerned that my inability to speak Spanish or my interests in artists like Harry Styles makes me seem out of place. It took me a long time to realize that these experiences don't take away from my Latina identity and instead are part of what makes the Latinx experience so rich, diverse and beautiful.

Cash, the three-legged pit bull that no one will adopt, has such a touching subplot, one that seems to parallel Kat's own struggles. What drove you to include Cash?

When I initially started writing Cash into the story, I had just wanted to write about how dogs are the best and they deserve all the belly rubs. Then, I started to see similarities between Cash and Kat--two beings who feel a little rejected from the world--and they develop this very sweet connection and mutual understanding. Pets have such a magical way of coming into our lives exactly when we need them, and I like to think of Cash and Kat's relationship in that way.

What would you like teens who relate to Kat to take away from her story?

Social media should be fun, and if it's making you feel negative about yourself in any way, it's time to do something about it: uninstall the apps, curate your feed by unfollowing or muting accounts that bring out those bad feelings, take a break, go for a walk, whatever.

I also wanted to share that there's some normalcy to feeling uncomfortable in your skin, like Kat does, at certain parts of your life. The best thing you can do is to try to find things that make you feel good about yourself. Find people who really get and appreciate you, do things that make you feel happy and whole and try to become your own friend. If you can learn to give yourself the empathy and grace that you extend to the people you care about most, you'll realize you're pretty wonderful.

What was writing your sophomore novel like compared to writing your debut?

My terror of writing this book was on another level. With Fat Chance, Charlie Vega, it was pretty much all sunshine and rainbows because I had no idea what to expect, and then people embraced Charlie and her story with such kindness and warmth that it felt like a dream. I was (and am!) so nervous to share this book with the world because it's so different from my debut. I worry people might be disappointed in Kat and her decisions. But I think hers is such a human and important story to tell, and I hope there is room in everyone's heart for Charlie and for Kat, too. I think they would even be friends. --Samantha Zaboski

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Review


Thank You, Mr. Nixon

by Gish Jen

In Thank You, Mr. Nixon, her second irresistible collection of short fiction, Gish Jen (The Resisters) showcases 11 intricately linked stories spanning the East and West over a half-century. The titular opening story is a letter recalling the U.S. president's 1972 visit to China that brilliantly illuminates and skewers Chinese-U.S. relations. Written by a Chinese woman in heaven, the letter's address alone ("Ninth Ring Road," referencing Dante's Inferno) hints at Nixon's banishment. The chilling final story, "Detective Dog," chronicles a Chinese American family's trajectory from Hong Kong to Vancouver to New Jersey against the backdrop of spreading anti-Asian hate and swelling political unrest during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Throughout the exquisite stories in between, Jen ushers readers through peripatetic, overlapping generations. "It's the Great Wall!" centers on Opal, who returns to China with her daughter and son-in-law after 40 years and becomes the tour group's de facto translator. Amaryllis, Opal's granddaughter, reappears as a 40-year-old in a story named after her, in which she forms a poignant bond with the neglected grandfather of her friend Tara. Tara's father is "Duncan in China," whose search for his heritage lands him in a coal-mining institute as an English instructor. His overachieving brother becomes briefly involved with "Lulu in Exile," the youngest Koo daughter, and Lulu's oldest sister disappears in "Gratitude." Their wealthy parents consider counterfeit canvases in "Rothko, Rothko," enabled by literature instructor Rich Lee, who, ironically, will lose a student to plagiarism.

Jen showcases her enviable storytelling prowess by masterfully intertwining the Chen/de Castro, Hsu, Koo, Lee/Li clans and blending subtlety with slap-in-the-face honesty. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Gish Jen presents 11 brilliantly interlinked stories spanning countries, cultures and generations over five decades, from China's 1972 opening to the West to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Knopf, $28, hardcover, 272p., 9780593319895

Mercy Street

by Jennifer Haigh

A novel revolving around a women's clinic that performs abortions would seem to promise a powder keg's worth of drama, but Jennifer Haigh's Mercy Street offers something more nuanced than merely a fiery clash between politically polarized camps. Haigh's efforts to understand people who are part of the abortion fight, on the front lines and on the fringes, yield quieter--but no less searing--results.

Mercy Street opens on a snow-blighted Ash Wednesday as anti-abortion protesters are gathered, as always, in front of Mercy Street, a women's clinic in Boston. Meanwhile, Vietnam veteran Victor Prine has his own determined way of protesting the abortions the clinic performs. The novel's roving point of view also introduces Anthony, who is on disability and works as Victor's "lieutenant"; Claudia, a social worker at Mercy Street, who grew up in a single-wide trailer; and Timmy, the weed dealer Claudia patronizes to find relief for her anxiety, not all of it brought on by her high-stress job.

Expertly tailoring her narrative to capture each principal character's sensibility, Haigh (News from Heaven) stirs the political pot slowly but steadily: her novel is aswarm with opinions on not only the right to choose but also the First and Second Amendments. The poverty that storms its way through Mercy Street is one of the novel's tragedies. Claudia, for instance, is well aware that "social work was therapy for people without money, for people like her." Another of the story's tragedies is the loneliness that engulfs Haigh's characters, no matter their political stripes. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: In a fine-grained novel set at a Boston women's clinic that performs abortions, Jennifer Haigh burrows into the minds of characters with strong opinions.

Ecco, $27.99, hardcover, 352p., 9780061763304

Getting Clean with Stevie Green

by Swan Huntley

Professionally, Stevie Green helps calm other people when their lives are in chaos. Personally, her own life is a mess. Getting Clean with Stevie Green, the witty and fast-paced third novel from Swan Huntley (We Could Be Beautiful), looks at addiction, self-sufficiency and sexuality from the point of view of 37-year-old Stevie, who is struggling to build a life for herself in the wake of the high school scandal that derailed her promising future 20 years ago. After waking up in yet another stranger's bed and finally swearing off drinking for good, Stevie moves back in with her mother in her hometown of La Jolla, Calif., and starts a professional decluttering business with the help of her free-spirited sister, Bonnie.

As Stevie works with her formerly estranged sibling, she starts to uncover some hard truths about herself, especially since she is back home and regularly confronted with drama from her past. For one, Stevie is still not sure who is responsible for the very public humiliation that caused her to spiral out of control, although among the culprits is Chris, her ex-best friend and possible romantic partner. The stakes for Stevie never feel high; she comes from a wealthy family and has a solid safety net, but these things have likely contributed to her immaturity and lack of direction. Watching Stevie deal with her challenges and take control of her destiny is rewarding, particularly as she accepts that, despite her best attempts, her own future will never be as orderly as her clients' closets. --Angela Lutz, freelance reviewer

Discover: Swan Huntley's witty and fast-paced third novel follows an organizational guru as she works through addiction, self-acceptance and sexuality, and attempts to take control of her life.

Gallery Books, $17.99, paperback, 304p., 9781982159627

Mystery & Thriller

The Other Family

by Wendy Corsi Staub

A 19th-century row house, vacant for more than 25 years, on a picturesque Brooklyn street becomes the fulcrum of The Other Family, a chilling domestic thriller by Wendy Corsi Staub, the author of more than 90 novels.

The lovely brownstone at 104 Glover Street seems the perfect place for the Howell family--Nora and Keith and their teen daughters, Piper and Stacey--to spend a year after Keith's job necessitates a move from Los Angeles to New York. But they are unaware of the house's violent past: the previous family, also composed of parents and two teenage daughters, were murdered in their sleep a quarter of a century earlier. Piper is appalled, but true-crime aficionado Stacey is intrigued.

Staub skillfully illustrates the ways in which emerging secrets about the murders begin to unravel the family. Fearful her marriage is disintegrating, Nora's anxiety erupts as she becomes distrustful of everyone, including the overly friendly married couple--Heather and her wife, Jules--who live down the street with their children, the same age as the Howells' daughters. Staub's storytelling deftly mines a claustrophobic atmosphere, even on a sunny Brooklyn street. Heather and Jules seem like friendly women, but their controlling nature occasionally registers as sinister, which causes arguments between Nora and Keith. Nora also worries that Heather and Jules are coercing their manipulative son, Lennon, and Stacey into a relationship. Meanwhile, Stacey is convinced a man is watching their house through binoculars.

Staub keeps the suspense churning as this highly entertaining novel reaches its intriguing finale. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer 

Discover: A Brooklyn brownstone with a violent history is the frightening background for an unsuspecting family in this chilling domestic thriller.

Morrow, $16.99, paperback, 384p., 9780063084605

The Fields

by Erin Young

The Fields is a mystery that explores the community of a small Iowa town and offers a perceptive look at how agricultural conglomerates can obliterate family farms, destroying jobs and communities in the process. Erin Young, who has also written historical fiction as Robyn Young (the New World Rising series), tightly weaves themes of family, politics and greed into this series launch.

The first female sergeant of the Black Hawk County Sheriff's Office, newly promoted Riley Fisher, handles her first major case when the mutilated body of a woman is found in a cornfield near Cedar Falls. The victim is Chloe Miller, one of Riley's closest high school friends, whom she hasn't seen in years. John Brown finds Chloe's body; he's the owner of Zephyr Farms, one of the several cooperatives formed "to survive the relentless advances of Big Ag," described by one farmer as "too powerful to challenge. Too big to fail." The investigation expands when another woman is murdered, with wounds similar to Chloe's, and a teenage girl goes missing.

Young packs The Fields with a contentious gubernatorial race, politics within the sheriff's office and grain research, while keeping every subplot on point. Readers meet nuanced characters, particularly the appealing Riley, who faces sexism at work while attempting to live up to the legacy of her grandfather, the much-respected former sheriff.

In prose that vividly captures the scenery of this distinct location, The Fields depicts a wide range of issues specific to the Midwest, such as big agriculture and the corporate avarice that drives it, while illustrating the more universal problems that small towns face. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer

Discover: A scintillating crime thriller about the fragility of small towns and the vanishing notion of family farms.

Flatiron, $27.99, hardcover, 352p., 9781250799395


Must Love Books

by Shauna Robinson

Must Love Books, Shauna Robinson's debut novel, explores themes of career, identity and fulfillment. Nora is an editorial assistant, a "mere publishing peasant," who makes some spectacular career mistakes and, as a result, must put her life back together. She has no real authority, no work friends remaining in the wake of mass layoffs and departures, and, as a half-Black woman in an all-too-white field, no future in sight. With meager pay, she's barely scraping by as it is. When a freelance gig with a rival publishing house opens up, she decides to work both jobs in order to make ends meet and give her résumé a boost.

As with any set-up that requires lying to every person one may encounter in the course of a day, the situation works for a brief time--until it eventually blows up in Nora's face. Though the novel includes elements of romantic comedy--Nora starts to fall for an author she works with--it ultimately proves much heavier than that, as Robinson explores how career and identity can be linked, how money locks Nora into a life she hates and how depression can escalate into something much larger, whispering "what if?" in the darkest moments of the night. "It was internalized now," Nora reflects, "this idea of fulfillment." While Must Love Books moves toward a happy ending in some ways, it is in this murky questioning that it shines: How does one define fulfillment? Is it okay to settle for a good-enough life? Nora learns that these are not questions with easy answers--but that maybe the questioning is the most important part. --Kerry McHugh, freelance writer

Discover: In this insightful debut, an editorial assistant learns that a love of books is not enough to keep her happy in a dead-end job and struggles to find fulfillment.

Sourcebooks Landmark, $16.99, paperback, 336p., 9781728240732

Food & Wine

Fridge Love: Organize Your Refrigerator for a Healthier, Happier Life--with 100 Recipes

by Kristen Hong

Kristen Hong, author of the blog Hello Nutritarian, brings readers her first stunningly beautiful cookbook and guide to refrigerator organization. Unlike a typical cookbook, Fridge Love begins with multiple chapters devoted to the history of refrigeration, the proper care and maintenance of a refrigerator, and where in the fridge to store various types of foods to make them last longer.

Given that Hong eats a strict vegan/nutritarian diet, seeking out highly nutritious and unprocessed foods, the eye-catching pictures of Hong's fridge burst with fruits and vegetables. The second half of Fridge Love offers more than 100 mouthwatering plant-based recipes, such as Pumpkin Hummus and Carrot Cake Bites. Each recipe notes tips for proper preparation and storage, as well as details on how long the ingredients will last in the fridge, considering ethylene production, humidity and many more variables.

Hong's tips apply to various styles of refrigerators, from those with fancy French doors to basic freezer-tops, which makes Fridge Love appealing to cooks everywhere. As a champion of a no-waste style of eating, Hong includes the typical shelf lives of foods based on where they are stored in the refrigerator. She also offers practical tips on how to fill fridges properly to accommodate maximum airflow, which can prolong the life of produce and other perishables. Sure to leave readers hungry, Fridge Love is an excellent, approachable cookbook and reference guide to food storage. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Flagstaff, Ariz.

Discover: This gorgeous cookbook teaches readers how best to care for their fridges in order to maximize food storage and prolong the shelf lives of food.

Harvest Publications, $19.99, paperback, 352p., 9780358434726

Biography & Memoir

Miss Me with That: Hot Takes, Helpful Tidbits, and a Few Hard Truths

by Rachel Lindsay

Miss Me with That is the funny and compelling memoir from Rachel Lindsay, the star of the 13th season of The Bachelorette and, more famously, the first Black Bachelorette. In "Growing Up Lindsay," one of the opening chapters, the author recalls that, as the daughter of Dallas's first Black city attorney, she faced pressure to perform well from an early age. This was partly due to parents who had big dreams for her but also because she was usually the only Black girl in many situations.

Lindsay took a detour with some toxic (albeit anecdote-worthy!) relationships in her 20s, before becoming a successful lawyer and then taking roles on both The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. Although Lindsay met her husband on the show, she has since parted ways with the franchise because of its "systemic racism... perpetuated by its creators' refusal to learn." Never pulling punches, Lindsay opens up about the microaggressions and racism she consistently faced--and still faces on social media--as well as ABC's lack of response or support.

This approachable and intimate memoir in essays showcases Lindsay's wit and humor. Fans of The Bachelor will especially enjoy the behind-the-scenes peeks at production, but Miss Me with That is entertaining reading for anyone. Seamlessly, Lindsay blends her grief at her treatment by what she calls the "Bachelor Klan" with more lighthearted and entertaining stories. It all adds up to a memoir that is hard to put down. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Flagstaff, Ariz.

Discover: The first Black Bachelorette shares her life story and experiences as a television celebrity in this candid, compelling and humorous memoir in essays.

Ballantine Books, $26, hardcover, 320p., 9780593357071

Psychology & Self-Help

Welcome to the Grief Club: Because You Don't Have to Go Through It Alone

by Janine Kwoh

Janine Kwoh walked away from a career in finance to launch Kwohtations, a stationery company, after the loss of her significant other when they were both in their 20s. Not formally trained as an artist, Kwoh began making cards simply as a creative outlet. Her success led her to the creation of her first book, Welcome to the Grief Club. Through graphics and short, compact passages, this meticulously presented guide blends wit, charm and empathy to explore the diverse aspects of loss and grief in an immensely accessible way.

Grief is a lonely, isolating experience, and loss is universal. But Kwoh understands the ways in which the grieving process is wholly individual. Those who suffer life-shattering losses--including death, divorce and breakups; moving; changing jobs; or sustaining illness and injury--grieve differently and face a host of conflicting emotions as well as physical and psychological challenges. Kwoh's insightful book, which can be read linearly but also accommodates browsing, fosters a tender sense of belonging by providing comfort for readers enduring grief--and those who love them. Readers are shown how to grieve and experience the wide range of feelings necessary for healing.

Kwoh's perceptions and her gentle, playfully presented wisdoms are augmented by artwork that uplifts while simultaneously capturing the heartbreak, disorientation and emotional upheaval left in the wake of traumatic losses. Kwoh's narrative offers camaraderie and inspires hope. It is this hope that readers can draw from as they, like Kwoh, grapple with the ebbs and flows of grief while rebuilding new lives of their own. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: This charming, thoughtful and wise instruction manual illustrates the grieving process and how to deal with disorienting loss.

Workman, $15.95, hardcover, 128p., 9781523511716

Performing Arts

The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act

by Isaac Butler

Isaac Butler has packed The Method, his essential history of the U.S.'s hallmark acting style, with tales of political intrigue, stories of stratospheric triumphs and epic failures, and scenes of backstabbing and petulance played out by--and this should go without saying--a first-rate cast.

Before the Method, an acting performance wasn't evaluated in terms of how "true" it felt. As Butler tells it, the seeds of change were planted in Russia in 1897 during a meeting between playwright and acting teacher Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko and theater director and actor Konstantin Stanislavski, the visionary of the two and namesake of the future acting technique. The pair spent what turned into an 18-hour lunch "plotting a theatrical revolution": disappointed with the performances they were seeing onstage, they decided to start a theater company devoted to teaching actors to work toward a more naturalistic style.

When New Yorker and theater devotee Harold Clurman was visiting Paris in 1922, he was bowled over by a touring production of The Cherry Orchard put on by Nemirovich and Stanislavski's Moscow Art Theatre. Without realizing it, Clurman "had found his purpose," Butler writes. "In a few years, he would study the Moscow Art Theatre's techniques, and help dream a new era of American theater into being."

Butler (The World Only Spins Forward) doesn't skimp on the backstage dramas of the technique's best-known practitioners. Brando, for one, "responded to [James] Dean's entreaties for advice with a recommendation that the younger man see an analyst." Too bad Dean couldn't have sought advice from Butler: his book amounts to a print-form master class in the Method. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: This comprehensive history of the great acting style is the present and likely future standard-bearer for books on the subject.

Bloomsbury, $30, hardcover, 512p., 9781635574777

Children's & Young Adult

The Swallowtail Legacy: Wreck at Ada's Reef

by Michael D. Beil

Early on in The Swallowtail Legacy: Wreck at Ada's Reef, 12-year-old narrator Lark thinks, "I still haven't wrapped my head around the idea that the Roost actually belongs to Pip and me.... It sounds like something from an old novel." Michael D. Beil's delightful middle-grade mystery is itself like an old novel: unhurriedly paced, impeccably written and including many orphaned children.

Lark and her sister, Pip, are spending the summer on Lake Erie's Swallowtail Island with their family, or what's left of it: their father is long dead, and their mother, from whom they inherited a house on the island, died three months earlier in Connecticut, where the sisters live with their stepfather and his three motherless sons. On the island the family connects with Lark's mother's oldest friend, journalist Nadine Pritchard, who is writing a book about the mysterious speedboat crash at Swallowtail that killed her grandfather 75 years earlier. Lark becomes Nadine's assistant--a welcome diversion for a hotheaded tween who's working through "my 'issues.' "

Beil (Red Blazer Girls series) has crafted a race-against-the-clock mystery with the signposts of a classic crime caper (a missing will, a curious old painting), but the book isn't a total throwback: homophobia influences a key plot point, and Lark emerges as something of a junior action hero. While The Swallowtail Legacy abounds with references to literary classics, it favorably evokes a modern counterpart: Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks, with its likewise widowed eggheaded father, sprawl of siblings and pets and salvific summer getaway. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: This middle-grade mystery centers on 12-year-old Lark, who spends the summer on an island in Lake Erie helping a local journalist investigate a deadly long-ago speedboat crash.

Pixel+Ink, $17.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 8-12, 9781645950486

Ten Blocks to the Big Wok: A Chinatown Counting Book

by Ying-Hwa Hu

In her first title as both author and illustrator, Ying-Hwa Hu (Jingle Dancer illustrator) tells the joyful bilingual story (in English and Chinese) of a girl's Chinatown walk to brunch with her uncle.

"Uncle Eddie is taking Mia to the Big Wok for dim sum." It's 10 blocks to the restaurant and Mia is excited because "there's so much to see on the way": one giant panda (a coin-powered animal to ride), "three ageless turtles" (toys swimming in a kiddie pool), 10 red lanterns swaying at the entrance of the Big Wok. Once Uncle Eddie and Mia's food arrives, it's a delicious countdown from 10 soup dumplings to two egg tarts--and one bowl of steamed anchovies (to go) for the ginger cat that joined them on their 10-block walk.

Hu's watercolor, pastel and digital illustrations are detailed and painterly, showcasing the delights that can be found in the everyday. Mia and Uncle Eddie's faces are expressive, showing their interest in the two stone lions, their focus as they practice tai chi chuan with five neighbors or their glee watching seven silk fans "dance in the morning breeze." The dual-language text makes this picture book an excellent choice for a read-aloud with English or Mandarin speakers; for young solo readers, a fan on the bottom corner of the right page counts in English and Chinese characters, making the content easily understandable for children who read either language. Every brightly colored and elaborately illustrated page in Ten Blocks to the Big Wok is a celebration of community and culture. --Siân Gaetano, children's/YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: This picture book presents a joyful bilingual jaunt through Chinatown.

Lee & Low Books, $19.95, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-5, 9781643790688

The Red Palace

by June Hur

June Hur's self-described "obsessing over books about Joseon Korea" has made her a critically acclaimed author of historical Korean fiction. She follows The Silence of Bones and The Forest of Stolen Girls with another riveting thriller, The Red Palace, which transports readers to 1758 Hanyang (now Seoul), when murder and mayhem ruled the inner courts.

Eighteen-year-old Baek-hyeon is a palace nurse, a rare ascent for a young woman who is the "bastard daughter" of powerful Lord Shin and one of his lowly concubines. Her name, "usually reserved for boys," is a constant reminder that her "mother's disappointment was so great that she nevertheless gave [her] a son's name." Her mother attempted to sell Hyeon as a child-trainee to become a "female entertainer," but she was saved by Nurse Jeongsu, who became a beloved mentor.

Now Nurse Jeongsu sits imprisoned--with torture and eventual execution likely--as the prime suspect for the brutal massacre of four women. Hyeon reluctantly joins forces with newly arrived Police Inspector Seo to solve the heinous crime, even as the body count multiplies. Hyeon's tenacity and intelligence help deal with the extravagantly complicated rules of court life, although inappropriately falling in love was never a part of the plan.

Once upon a time in real life, King Yeongjo's only surviving son, the Crown Prince Jangheon, was a volatile liability. His wife kept a secret diary that was eventually published worldwide, translated into English as The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyŏng. Inspired by that and other well-documented imperial records, Hur, who was born in South Korea and raised in Canada, deftly celebrates subversive female ingenuity. With captivating cinematic flair, she transforms true royal drama into a closeup-ready mesmerizing mystery. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: June Hur seamlessly combines court intrigue, multiple murders and forbidden love to create a riveting YA historical thriller set in mid-18th-century Joseon Korea.

Feiwel & Friends, $18.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 13-up, 9781250800558


Author Buzz

The Rom-Commers

by Katherine Center

Dear Reader,

Famous screenwriter Charlie Yates wrote a romantic comedy screenplay--and it’s terrible. Aspiring writer Emma Wheeler just got hired to fix it. But Charlie doesn't want anyone rewriting his work--least of all a "failed nobody," and Emma can't support a guy who doesn't even like rom-coms, adding another bad one to the pantheon. So what choice does Emma have but to stand up for herself, and rom-coms, and love in general--and, in the process, to show her nemesis-slash-writing-hero exactly how to fall stupidly, crazily, perfectly in love?

Email with the subject line "The Rom-Commers sweepstakes" for a chance to win one of five copies.

Katherine Center

Buy now and support your local indie bookstore>

AuthorBuzz: St. Martin's Press: The Rom-Commers by Katherine Center

St. Martin's Press

Pub Date: 
June 11, 2024


List Price: 
$29.00 Hardcover

Blue Moon
(A Smoke and Mirrors Novella)

by Skye Warren

Dear Reader,

When I started writing Ringmaster Emerson Durand in the Smoke and Mirrors series, I knew he would get his own story. Insouciant. Charming. And he's actually the villain of that book. So can he be redeemed? It's the question I'm always working to answer in my books.

If he's going to deserve his own happily ever after, it's going to be a journey. A scorching hot journey!

That's what BLUE MOON illuminates. A dangerous ringmaster claims his rebellious acrobat for a sensual show you cannot miss.

Skye Warren

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Blue Moon (A Smoke and Mirrors Novella) by Skye Warren

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
March 12, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

Powered by: Xtenit