Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, November 14, 2014

William Morrow & Company: End of Story by A.J. Finn

From My Shelf

Literary Pilgrimages

I am not often moved to visit the site of a book, but some years ago, after reading Michael Malone's hilarious and sweet Handling Sin, and in New Orleans with two friends who had also loved the book, the first thing we wanted--no, not beignets at Café du Monde, nor the streetcar named Desire, nor Anne Rice's house--was to go to Jackson Square, where the novel ends. We laughed and sighed with satisfaction as we looked around, talking about the book again.

Before going to Malta, a friend and I both read The Religion by Tim Willocks, his epic novel of the Siege of Malta in 1565. So vivid, so precise is his imagery that we knew exactly where the events took place, and walked around Valletta almost hearing the story. After the trip, I read The Information Officer by Mark Mills, a thriller set in Malta during World War II, and the descriptions were spot on, enhanced by my visit, and so evocative that I wanted to return, with 1940s eyes this time.

all the light we cannot see book coverA month ago, still on an islands kick, we went to Jersey and Guernsey, and realized that we were only a ferry ride away from Saint-Malo, the setting for possibly the best book of the year, All the Light We Cannot See. What luck! Almost as if we had planned it (we are never that organized). Arriving after dark, we had to walk from the dock to the walled town; once there, we immediately got lost in the winding, narrow streets. It was a perfect immersion into the magic of the book and the town. The next morning, walking the ramparts in the heavy wind, with ocean waves crashing, we were pretty darned happy. (And beautiful Guernsey--I must reread The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.) --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

Jewish Book Council: 73rd National Jewish Book Award Winners

The Writer's Life

Peter Turchi: Puzzling Out Writing

peter turchi
photo: Dana Kroos

The editors of the New York Times Magazine called Peter Turchi's Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer (Trinity University Press) one of the best nonfiction books of all time. In it, he explored the intersections of the world of maps with the world of writing--how geography, physicality, and maps themselves can influence the work of a writer. In his new book, A Muse and a Maze: Writing as Puzzle, Mystery, and Magic (also from Trinity), Turchi exchanges maps for puzzles, comparing writing to puzzle solving and puzzle creating, and discusses what the differences between puzzles can show a writer facing the labyrinth of an unwritten work.

My high school librarian made photocopies for students of the daily newspaper's cryptoquip puzzle. I did them religiously, and I'm certain my reading informed the puzzling and vice versa. Where did the ideas in your book get their start?

​The ideas must have gotten started at least as early as the day I read my first Encyclopedia Brown book as a boy (and then the Sherlock Holmes stories and Agatha Christie mysteries), which would have been around the same time I was introduced to jigsaw puzzles, word searches and the jumbled words in the daily paper (I didn't discover cryptoquips until much later--kudos to your high school librarian). I also did magic tricks and played a little chess. And I started writing at an early age. I didn't think about how those things--puzzles, games, magic, writing--were related until five or 10 years ago. Until then, I felt guilty about doing puzzles, as plenty of people consider them a waste of time. I decided to devote some thought to how and why different kinds of puzzles are intriguing. The actual writing got its start in the form of lectures I gave during residencies of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, N.C. It's the kind of graduate program where you can tell people that sudoku are relevant to fiction writing and they'll let you explain yourself. The ideas kept percolating, and as I translated the original lectures into essays I added and revised.​

a muse and a maze  book coverIn addition to puzzles, you touch on magic and magicians. "Magician" can refer to a fantasy-world wizard or to the David Copperfield type of magic, where the practitioner uses slight-of-hand and deception to fool the audience. Which "magic" has more potency for writers?

Just as some people have no time for puzzles, others reserve their scorn for magicians. But I'd suggest there isn't such an enormous difference in the sense of wonder we feel seeing a rabbit produced from an empty (we thought) hat; Citizen Kane (mere light and shadows on a screen); Van Gogh's Church at Auvers (thick paint on canvas)​; or the sense of wonder we feel reading, say, Bleak House (ink on paper) and believing not only that we've gotten a glimpse at an earlier London, but that we've spent time with a remarkably entertaining man named Charles Dickens. "Deception" has negative connotations, but writing poetry and fiction, like doing magic, is all about the strategic presentation of information, about enchantment and transcendence.

What sorts of things were the most formative for you as a writer? Did you come to maps/puzzles later in life?

As is true for a lot of writers, books and stories were important to me early. The books our mother read to my sister and me and the first books I checked out of the Baltimore County Public Library might not have qualified as literature in anyone's eyes, but they gave me an early sense of the power of narrative, the delights and surprises fiction and poetry can provide. Our father was not a reader--not that he was illiterate, but I don't remember him ever reading a book for pleasure--but he was a storyteller. He was the sort of storyteller who liked to revisit his greatest hits, like the time he and his friends got caught stealing watermelons and their fathers forced them to eat them all, and the initiation ritual in his neighborhood that involved sending a new boy running through the sewage pipes, and the time, early in their marriage, when our nearsighted mother--who, like a lot of women of the time, tried not to wear her glasses unless she absolutely had to, out of a kind of vanity--was responsible for their driving onto the runway at Friendship International Airport. In retrospect, I see those were all cautionary tales, but the important thing at the time was the great pleasure my father took in telling them. He had a darker side that we got to see fairly often; stories could make him and us laugh, so they were valuable currency, something to cherish.

Give readers an example of a story or book that you really love, one that has a puzzle, mystery or magic in its core.

Puzzles: Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. Mystery: Graham Greene's The Quiet American. ​Magic: William Goldman's The Princess Bride.

​But here's the point: Every story, novel and poem I love has mystery and magic at its core.​

--Matthew Tiffany, LCPC, writer for Condalmo and psychotherapist

Sleeping Bear Press: Junia, the Book Mule of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson, illustrated by David C. Gardner

Book Candy

'Jane Austen's Day Out'; Temporary Literary Tats

"Jane Austen's day out," a video "bringing a statue of Jane Austen to life," has become a Facebook sensation since Bath's Jane Austen Centre launched it Monday, the Guardian wrote.


Love tattoos but not the long-term commitment? Litographs offers a selection of temporary literary tattoos.

Buzzfeed recently asked its community "about the books that have helped them through hard times," which generated recommendations for "51 books that prove reading can change your life."


Flavorwire revealed "50 novels featuring famous authors as characters."


Reading the Big Apple. Fodor's recommended "10 books to read before you go to New York City."


"The original Grimm tales paid homage to wicked women who dish (and receive) the creepy, uncanny and grotesque," Bustle noted while introducing "8 wicked women from Grimms' Fairy Tales you probably don't know."

Great Reads

Rediscover: Anna Karenina

Many people consider Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy the greatest novel of all time; others say it's the greatest soap opera of all time. Perhaps it's both--such is the storytelling power of the book and the range of fascinating characters, from the doomed Anna to earnest, down-to-earth Levin to the swaggering Vronsky. With perhaps the best known first line in literature--"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way"--the novel first appeared in book form in Russia in 1878. It's a testament to its popularity that it has been translated into English multiple times. Constance Garnett's 1901 translation, updated in 1965, although criticized by some, is excellent for those who want a suitably archaic feel to the text. Among more recent translations are the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky version of 2000, published here by Viking and Penguin and beloved by many. And this month, Yale University Press is publishing yet another translation, by Marian Schwartz, in its Margellos series. In whatever version, this sweeping tale is highly recommended--by Oprah, too, who chose it for her book club in 2004!

Book Review


The Laughing Monsters

by Denis Johnson

It's a long way from the life of a railroad worker in the western United States of the early 20th century to the world of double-crossing double agents in contemporary Africa. That Denis Johnson was able to make an imaginative leap of that magnitude from his Pulitzer Prize-nominated novella, Train Dreams, to The Laughing Monsters, is further evidence of his versatility and talent.

"Since nine-eleven, chasing fairy tales has turned into a serious business. An industry. A lucrative one." That comment--addressed to Roland Nair, the half-Danish, half-American NATO operative who's traveled from Amsterdam to Sierra Leone to reconnect with Michael Adriko, an African-born, American-trained mercenary and former ally--aptly sums up the flavor of this novel. It's a story that enmeshes the two men in schemes involving the sale of valuable government secrets and enriched uranium, their attempted execution alternating between the comical and the deadly.

As Nair and Adriko traverse the continent, their roles shift from pursuers to pursued. Johnson keeps readers guessing about who is playing whom, and wondering whether this uneasy friendship can survive the plots, counterplots and the pressures of the hostile environment. There are no good guys or bad ones in the shadow land inhabited by these often-desperate men, and Johnson resists rendering moral judgments on their audacious intrigues. Instead, he's content to create a world few of us would want to inhabit permanently but will be more than happy to live in for the few hours it takes to read this clever, diverting novel. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: Two men scheming for riches in the complex and dangerous world of modern-day Africa.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25, hardcover, 9780374280598

Just Call Me Superhero

by Alina Bronsky, trans. by Tim Mohr

Teenager Marek's face was horribly disfigured in a much-publicized Rottweiler attack. He has joined a support group for young people with physical and mental impairments that meets in the meditation room of the Family Services Center in Berlin. There, he encounters the stunning and wheelchair-bound Janne, along with an 18-year-old drag queen, a handsome blind boy, a kid with progressive organ failure and another with a prosthetic leg, all under the guidance of the nervous counselor they call the guru, who intends to capture what happens among them in a documentary film.

This brave entourage of disabled misfits and their guru/filmmaker set off into the forest on a weeklong field trip to make their documentary at a three-story, state-of-the-art, handicapped-accessible villa. But their project is interrupted by reality: Marek's father, who ran off with the family's pregnant au pair, has fallen to his death in the Swiss mountains. The second half of the novel centers on his spectacular vodka-laced Ukrainian funeral, a complicated family collision with Marek's six-year-old half-brother and widowed young stepmother that completes Marek's return to life.

Russian-born writer Alina Bronsky (Broken Glass Park) has a gift for transforming an awkward moment into a jewel of revelation that makes her story rich in genuine character comedy. Marek is Bronsky's centerpiece and an expertly manipulated narrator for both halves of the story. He leaves out just one little detail, and Bronsky cleverly waits until nearly the end before casually dropping her big surprise, which quietly changes everything. In this, her third novel, Bronsky is at her best. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.

Discover: A disfigured teenager in Berlin joins a support group that's making a documentary and finds his place in the world.

Europa Editions, $16, paperback, 9781609452292

Let Me Be Frank with You

by Richard Ford

Richard Ford captured the hopes and sorrows of everyman Frank Bascombe in The Sportswriter, Pulitzer Prize-winning Independence Day and The Lay of the Land. These novels secured Ford's reputation as a master of American fiction; by making Frank's hopes, disappointments and resentments urgent and familiar, Ford articulated the preoccupations of a generation of men.

In the four trenchant and very funny novellas that comprise Let Me Be Frank with You, Frank Bascombe has retired from his career as a real-estate agent, has sold his oceanfront house and now lives in an inland New Jersey town. He eats All-Bran for breakfast, brushes his teeth regularly to avoid "monkey's closet" breath and is facing his twilight years in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, victims of which his wife, Sally, now counsels.

The triggering event for each story thrusts the past into Frank's present. Throughout these novellas, Ford emphasizes the passage of time and the devastation it wreaks, altering even the most familiar people and places. Hurricane Sandy, central in every story, serves as a metaphor for the unavoidable ravages of age. Frank is preoccupied by senescence: an acquaintance's efforts to stay it through plastic surgery, his own guilt and unease that his life has been left untouched while others' lives have suffered, his awareness of his own mortality.

Despite the sober subject matter, Frank is as bitingly funny as ever. His choice observations and the stories he tells reveal a man whose limitations and failings coexist with soaring attempts to make sense of a world undone by fate. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: Frank Bascombe, an everyman hero, in four satisfying and darkly funny stories full of late-life observations about the arbitrary victims of time.

Ecco, $27.99, hardcover, 9780061692062

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Lowball: A Wild Cards Mosaic Novel

by George R.R. Martin, Melinda M. Snodgrass, editors

The long-running Wild Cards series began in 1987 with a comic-book-style premise: in 1946, an alien race releases a terrible virus onto the surface of the Earth. This Wild Card virus kills 90% of the people it infects. Nine percent of its victims mutate into horribly deformed creatures called Jokers. The other 1% gain superpowers; they're known as Aces.

Lowball, the 22nd book in the series (edited by Melinda M. Snodgrass and George R.R. Martin), is an entertaining novel made up of eight linked short stories that keep the action coming. The separate tales, all set in the same universe as earlier books, weave together to form the overarching plot of the novel: Jokers are going missing from New York and ending up on the other end of the globe, forced to fight one another in gladiatorial combat, a deranged spectacle put on for a wealthy elite of uninfected individuals (known as Nats). Newly promoted Detective Franny Black's story (written by Snodgrass) dovetails with that of his troubled new partner, Detective Michael Stevens, in Mary Anne Mohanraj's chapter. David Anthony Durham's snake-bodied gladiator Marcus tries to maintain his humanity, and government agent and former stuntman Jamal Norwood must find a way to rescue the missing Jokers in Michael Cassutt's contribution.

New readers and fans of the long-running series will both love the fast-paced plotting and the ever-expanding history of the Wild Card virus on this alternate Earth, where even the superheroes are human. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: If you can forgive George R.R. Martin for working on something other than his next Song of Ice and Fire book, this novel in stories (written by eight authors) is a perfect time to jump into the extensive Wild Cards series.

Tor, $25.99, hardcover, 9780765331953

The Dreamer's Pool

by Juliet Marillier

After a three-book stint in the young-adult genre with her Shadowfell trilogy, Juliet Marillier (Sevenwaters series) makes a triumphant return to adult literature with an appealing new series that straddles two genres.

When a fairy lord offers to help Blackthorn the healer escape from a brutal prison on the condition that she delay her vengeance against the corrupt chieftain who put her there, she barely brings herself to accept the seven-year postponement. Joining her in the magically assisted prison break is fellow inmate Grim--quiet, enormous and earnestly devoted to her safety. Journeying north, the unlikely pair settles for a time in Dalriada, a fiefdom currently awaiting the union of its crown prince Oran to beautiful heiress Lady Flidais. Oran fell in love with Flidais's gentle, thoughtful spirit through an exchange of letters, but when his bride arrives, he finds her coarse, cruel and evasive. Even if Flidais hired a scribe to compose her correspondence, Oran wonders why her beloved dog has turned against her mistress. When Oran hears that Blackthorn and Grim have unexpectedly solved the mystery of a missing girl, he begs them to discover the truth behind Flidais's behavior before he makes a disastrous marriage.

Alternating between lush Celtic-inspired fantasy and gritty mystery, Marillier retells a fairy tale--to say more would spoil the ending--to create a crossover story that will please fans of both genres. Move over, Holmes and Watson; Blackthorn and Grim have arrived. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Blackthorn the healer and her hulking protector, Grim, in their first adventure, a rich and engrossing fantasy-mystery crossover.

Roc, $26.95, hardcover, 9780451466990

Food & Wine

Umami: The Fifth Taste

by Michael Anthony, Heston Blumenthal et al.

Most people are familiar with the four tastes--sweet, sour, bitter and salty--but some may not know there's a fifth: umami. Identified more than 100 years ago by Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda, umami is described here by 10 top chefs (all have Michelin-starred restaurants) as "an extremely pleasant fullness of taste," "earthy" (but not in a musty or mushroom-like way) and "subtle and refined." In Umami: The Fifth Taste, the scientific behavior of the flavor is analyzed by each chef, who then provides a variety of recipes that combine this "savory deliciousness" with other ingredients to make a synergistic explosion in the mouth.

Found in high concentrations in certain meats, vegetables, seafood and seaweed, the compound that creates umami is naturally occurring glutamate, an amino acid that has been synthesized into the artificial glutamate known as MSG. None of these recipes include MSG, as the chefs rely on a range of natural ingredients to create umami-rich dishes such as summer clams in a mushroom broth, duck dumpling soup and fire-roasted eggplant with squid caramel. Many of them call for esoteric ingredients such as paiche (an Amazonian freshwater fish), cancha (a Peruvian snack akin to Corn Nuts), tamarillo (a fruit) or birch syrup. Most recipes are for expert chefs, though the descriptions of some simple food combinations that create the same burst of umami are simple to follow and easy to reproduce, such as sardines in tomato sauce or hard cheese, sourdough rye bread and wheat beer. The glossary helps identify many unfamiliar ingredients, and the recipes on creating umami broth from seaweed are beneficial for adventurous home cooks. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: What Michelin-star chefs want you to know about this extraordinary savory taste that was first identified in 1908.

Japan Publications, $39.95, hardcover, 9784889963915

Ikaria: Lessons on Food Life, and Longevity from the Greek Island Where People Forget to Die

by Diane Kochilas

Made famous in recent years by its abundance of healthy, very old people (a staggering 13% of the population is over 80 and almost no one has dementia), the small Greek island of Ikaria has been touted as a sort of Shangri-La, a place where people age with grace. Diane Kochilas grew up in an Ikarian enclave in Queens, N.Y., and spent many summers back in Ikaria with her grandparents and extended cousins. Ikaria: Lessons on Food, Life, and Longevity from the Greek Island Where People Forget to Die is a paean to the simple Ikarian lifestyle, which includes a blatant disregard of clocks, little stress and endless hours eating fresh, organic food in the company of friends and family.

Eating what Kochilas calls "the Mediterranean Diet of half a century ago," Ikarians consume lots of wild greens, vegetables, nuts, olives, goat milk, bread and potatoes, with little meat, other dairy or processed food. The recipes in Ikaria, which reflect these dietary habits, include skordalia (a dip made out of mashed bread and garlic, often enjoyed with fried pumpkin wedges), an amaranth-and-zucchini cooked salad, a leek-and-lupine bean salad and a few varieties of goat stew.

Bursting with vegetarian-friendly recipes and some grain-free and dairy-free ones, Ikaria makes it clear that people following many kinds of specialized diets can eat like these long-lived Greeks. The fascinating historical tidbits and personal stories of life on the island add to the allure of the beautiful food photographs and uncomplicated, fresh dishes. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A cookbook based on traditional foods from a remarkable Greek island.

Rodale, $35, hardcover, 9781623362959

Biography & Memoir

I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend

by Martin Short

In I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend, comedian Martin Short recounts how he and his friends (Steve Martin and Tom Hanks) herald in their yearly colonoscopies by playing poker the night before as they all lay waste (literally) to Short's downstairs bathroom. He drops countless other bombs (of laughter) in this humorous, self-effacing autobiography.

Short traces his journey from singing to himself in his parents' attic in Canada to performing as dweeby Ed Grimley and over-the-top Jackie Rogers Jr. on SCTV and Saturday Night Live and as Jiminy Glick on his own shows. He also gave unforgettable performances in such films as ¡Three Amigos! and Father of the Bride. As he describes it, though, his career hasn't been as prolific as he could have been because he and his beloved wife of many years, Nancy, always put family first. When he addresses her death in 2012, the laughter comes to a halt and Short manages to convey her passing with heartbreaking poignancy.

The loss provides depth to Short's mostly charmed life. Famous people (ex-girlfriend Gilda Radner, party guest Nathan Lane) slip in and out of the narrative with little fanfare. It's not just name-dropping to say that Short is besties with Paul Shaffer or that Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn bought the vacation house next door to him; he's paying homage to the driven, creative people who are dear to him (they just happen to be famous). Short clearly adores the business and his memoir proves that he still has many jokes left to tell. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: Actor Martin Short's autobiography a cast of famous faces and hilarious high jinks.

Harper, $26.99, hardcover, 9780062309525

Ambition and Desire: The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte

by Kate Williams

In the enthralling Ambition and Desire: The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte, Kate Williams (Becoming Queen Victoria), CNN's official royal historian, brings the life of Josephine Bonaparte out from the shadow of her husband, Napoleon.

Born Marie-Josèphe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie, Josephine grew up on her family's sugar plantation in Martinique, carefree and isolated from the world. She had little formal instruction typical of young women who aspired to participate in the courts of Paris. Yet even in her youth, she wanted to go to Paris, and when the opportunity arose for an arranged marriage, she took it.

Her early life did not prepare her for the pressures of Parisian society, and her marriage with Alexandre de Beauharnais was not happy. After having two children, they separated in 1783. She spent the next decade largely on her own, in poverty. At the convent to which Alexandre had exiled her, she learned how to conduct herself and adopt manners that would later come to define her character. Against the backdrop of the Reign of Terror, Josephine learned how to be resourceful. And then she met Napoleon.

Drawing on a remarkable number of sources, including many original manuscripts, Williams's thoroughly research account is compulsively readable. Visceral details leave readers feeling as though they are walking the streets of Paris, witnessing the revolution and overseeing Josephine Bonaparte's carefully constructed ascent to the throne. What on the surface seems to be one of history's greatest rags-to-riches stories is, in Williams's hands, a story of ambition, intention, opportunity and unmatched desire. --Justus Joseph, bookseller, Elliott Bay Book Company

Discover: A novelistic biography of one of history's most interesting and ambitious women.

Ballantine Books, $30, hardcover, 9780345522832


Love Poems

by Bertolt Brecht, trans. by David Constantine, Tom Kuhn

To many, Bertolt Brecht is famous as a playwright. But as the translators of this new collection of Brecht's Love Poems, David Constantine (a poet himself) and Tom Kuhn (editor of Brecht's writings), point out in their introduction, he's a great poet--"one of the three or four best in the whole of German literature." In all, Brecht wrote approximately 2,000 poems and songs. Two of his best known are "Alabama Song" (made popular by the Doors' version on their debut album) and "Mack the Knife" (which he wrote for The Threepenny Opera and was later sung by Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald, etc. etc.)

Constantine and Kuhn note Brecht's output, the various topics he covered and his technical virtuosity in every form. Like Goethe, Brecht was a poet driven by Eros--he was always more or less in love, and these poems capture that. His early poems could be extremely sexual, mixing beauty and sin. "Baal's Song" references "a well-stacked woman" while the brief "O You Can't Know What I Suffer..." says much about the youthful poet's sex life: "O you can't know what I suffer/ When I see a woman who/ Sways her yellow silk-clad bottom/ Under skies of evening blue."

Brecht often uses his poetry to persuade, seduce; it's never sexist, just earthy and alive. Even in his final years, he was writing love poems. As Brecht's daughter Barbara Brecht-Schall writes in the foreword, "Papa always went back to his poetry." The translators are to be thanked for bringing attention to these otherwise forgotten gems, both naughty and nice. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: The tender, passionate, less-political side of the great German playwright Bertolt Brecht.

Liveright, $23.95, hardcover, 9780871408563

Children's & Young Adult

Mortal Heart: His Fair Assassins, Book III

by Robin LaFevers

Robin LaFevers delivers a triumphant conclusion to her original, suspenseful His Fair Assassins trilogy starring deadly 15th-century nuns from the Convent of Saint Mortain in Brittany.

While Ismae (narrator of Grave Mercy) and Sybella (who narrates Dark Triumph) were both sent out on assignment as handmaidens to Death, Annith was stuck in the convent. She at last breaks free for this nail-biting finale. Annith had always felt a debt to the present abbess for protecting her as a child from the previous leader, who placed Annith in solitary confinement at age five--although that trying time also prompted Annith's first visit from Mortain. Now she finds herself questioning the abbess's decisions and flees the convent at the first opportunity. She soon finds herself in the midst of the Hellequins' Hunt. Readers will be fascinated to learn of these "tortured souls of the damned who have pledged themselves to serve Mortain in order to earn their redemption." The one who rescues Annith from the Hellequins turns out to be their leader.

LaFevers creates a tension that sizzles between them, and lays the groundwork for Annith to question the constructs of faith--such as the convent meant to serve Mortain but corrupted by power--in order to evaluate what it means to be guided by love and faith in all of one's choices. LaFevers blends history, intrigue and the forces of influence, while also putting a human face on the events. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In this triumphant conclusion to the His Fair Assassins trilogy, Annith joins Ismae and Sybella on a mission to aid Brittany--and learns her parentage and falls in love.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99, hardcover, 464p., ages 14-up, 9780547628400

Isabel's War

by Lila Perl

Lila Perl travels territory rarely seen in children's books: the American homefront during World War II, in a Jewish-American family.

Through 12-year-old Isabel Brandt's first-person narrative, readers learn how the war affects her family and friends' daily lives in the summer of 1942. Inconveniences, such as a lack of supplies, soon evolve into growing anxiety on behalf of loved ones: Isabel's brother, Arnold, enlists in the Army Air Force, and silence from her best friend Sibby's father could mean damage--or worse--to his ship. Isabel also becomes aware of Hitler's horrors through her growing friendship with Helga, the niece of dear family friends, who had fled Germany via the Kindertransport to England. Readers witness Isabel's transformation from a normal, self-concerned pre-adolescent to an increasingly compassionate and thoughtful friend. Perl (Four Perfect Pebbles) does not shy away from the hard-hitting facts of Helga's experiences, which she gradually confides to Isabel. But the author also balances these sobering situations with the rewards of blossoming romance for Helga, and the humor and timeless questions behind Isabel's first exposure to boy-girl exchanges.

Isabel is a narrator with whom every reader can sympathize. And Perl connects her character flaws with Isabel's ultimate heroism in tracking down Helga, who has an ongoing desire to run away. Readers will look forward to learning more about Isabel, Sibby and their new German friend, and hope for a safe homecoming for their beloved soldiers in the forthcoming sequel, Lilli's Quest. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An engrossing view of the 1942 homefront from the perspective of a 12-year-old Jewish-American girl living in the Bronx.

Lizzie Skurnick/Ig Publishing, $18.95, hardcover, 228p., ages 12-up, 9781939601360; $12.95 paperback, 9781939601278

Flora and the Penguin

by Molly Idle

In this charming wintertime adventure, Flora exchanges the pink leotard that provided a visual symmetry with the long-legged bird in the Caldecott Honor book Flora and the Flamingo for a cool blue skating outfit to take to the ice with a penguin.

Once again, the images on the pages and the compositions that expand when a child lifts the flaps provide visual echoes and humor between penguin and human. Flora first spies a beak surfacing through a hole in the ice, and readers see webbed feet paddling below. Yellow pom-poms on Flora's hat and skates pick up on the penguin's golden beak and webbed feet. The girl bows by way of introduction as the bird uses its flippers to emerge fully onto the ice. Author-artist Molly Idle clearly knows the classic moves, as the skating pair heads in perfect symmetry in one direction, viewed in profile; then, with a lift of the flap, retraces their steps with backs to the audience. They skate and leap in unison--until the penguin senses a submerged school of fish and dives down in pursuit. When the penguin brings back a prize for Flora, the girl (angry at being abandoned) tosses it back. Flora, realizing she's offended her friend, finds a way to make up in a grand finale of a foldout spread (involving a figure eight).

Idle's use of white space and a limited palette keeps the focus on the duo's expressions, body language and creative play. This deceptively simple story of interspecies friendship attests to the importance of each honoring the other, and the compromises required of them both. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A charming companion to the Caldecott Honor book Flora and the Flamingo--this time with a wintry backdrop.

Chronicle, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-5, 9781452128917


Author Buzz

Visions of Flesh and Blood:
A Blood and Ash/Flesh and Fire Compendium

by Jennifer L. Armentrout with Rayvn Salvador

Dear Reader,

Today is the release of VISIONS OF FLESH AND BLOOD, the Blood and Ash/Flesh and Fire Compendium, and I am so excited that you finally get to see and read it!

I saw the love you had for Miss Willa, watched how following along with all the series twists and turns brought you joy, and thought... wouldn't it be nice to have a book to help with that, yet give even more new stuff?

So, my publisher and I came up with a plan. It included loads of stunning art commissions, strategic disclosures, and brand-new material. When it all came together, it was even better than I imagined.

VISIONS OF FLESH AND BLOOD is so much more than a series bible. It's a journey and a work of art. A collector's item for sure!


Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: Visions of Flesh and Blood: A Blood and Ash/Flesh and Fire Compendium by Jennifer L. Armentrout with Rayvn Salvador

Blue Box Press

Pub Date: 
February 20, 2024


List Price: 
$7.99 e-book

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