Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, July 17, 2015

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

From My Shelf

Misty Copeland: Trailblazer

Two weeks ago, Misty Copeland became the first female African American dancer to reach principal status in the American Ballet Theatre. To reach principal status is an amazing achievement. For a dancer who only began dancing at age 13, it is an extraordinary achievement. To reach principal status as the first female African American ballet dancer is to blaze the trail of a Firebird.

In her book for young people, The Firebird, Copeland explores the relationship between an accomplished dancer and an aspiring young dancer. The fledgling sees only "the space between you and me," as she watches a woman in a white tutu leap New York's East River in Caldecott Honor artist Christopher Myers's collage. Even while stationary, the adult dancer suggests grace and movement. "Darling child," the woman tells the young narrator, "don't you know you're just where I started before the fireworks of costume."

The Firebird received the 2015 Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration for Christopher Myers's artwork, and a 2015 Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor for Copeland's narrative. The dancer-author told the Los Angeles Times that The Firebird was inspired by one of her mentors, Raven Wilkinson, a former ballerina in the Ballet Russe, also an African American trailblazer.

Copeland came late to ballet compared to other dancers: she was 13. The narrator of her Firebird also looks more mature than most children who are beginning ballet school. Is Copeland speaking to her younger self, or to a child who, like her, is just starting her journey in ballet? Copeland told the Los Angeles Times that the two dancers in her book have "a similar relationship to the one that I have with Raven, that mentor-mentee relationship, except that I would be the mentor and it would be a young brown girl who's looking up to me." The adult and child end The Firebird with a lovely pas de deux in matching white tutus. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Jewish Book Council: 73rd National Jewish Book Award Winners

The Writer's Life

Shane Kuhn: Word Warrior

photo: Ted Frericks

Shane Kuhn has 20 years of experience in entertainment and advertising as a writer and filmmaker, and has paid his dues as an intern. His debut thriller, The Intern's Handbook, was published in 2014, and a movie adaptation is in the works with Dave Franco attached to star as assassin John Lago.

Here, Kuhn discusses the sequel, Hostile Takeover (reviewed below); the childhood incident that led him to writing; and his encounter with a victim of gun violence.

John Lago was eight when he made his first kill. You were eight when you were grounded and started to keep a journal to vent your anger--which set you on the path to writing. Why were you grounded?

I was grounded for two weeks for (a) starting a fire in the ditch behind our house and (b) lying about it. I used to build World War II models of aircraft carriers, battleships, bombers, fighter planes, etc. And since I had an active imagination, I staged fierce and deadly battles.

On that day, I believe I was reenacting the kamikaze attack that sank an American escort carrier at the Battle of Iwo Jima. The aircraft carrier was badly damaged but I needed more dramatic effect for the grand finale.

So, I "played with matches" and set the aircraft carrier on fire. It was spectacular and really completed the scene. The only problem was the model glue in those days was highly flammable, so a small fire on the aft deck became a raging inferno and the plastic started melting in the water--still burning!

I panicked and threw water and mud all over it, but eventually fled the scene. Our neighbor had seen it and put out the fire with his extinguisher. He also called my dad to dime on me. I lied right to my dad's face, telling him I hadn't been in the ditch for weeks while I attempted to hide my muddy Chuck Taylors under the kitchen table.

He was furious about the fire but despised lying more than any childhood transgression, so I got two weeks in solitary. I was allowed to read, do yard work and chores around the house, and that's it. So, I started journaling to keep from going insane and found it to be incredibly fun and immersive. I guess I have my father's strict German discipline to thank for helping me become a writer.

You've said you become your characters when writing. Considering they're assassins, have you ever scared family and friends?

When I say I become my characters, I mean I like to immerse myself into their world. It's kind of like doing shamanic journeying. I spend a lot of time with my eyes closed, allowing their imaginary world to unfold and allowing them to speak to me. And they often do. I know a good character by the fact he or she won't shut the hell up.

I think what is scary to people is that I want to go to those places in my mind. In person, I'm wicked laid back, like a surfer (which I used to be) or rocker (which I am). Often times, people will tell me how shocked they were when they read my work. They say if they didn't know me, they would think I was the prince of darkness.

You're lead singer in a U2 cover band. If the powers that be allowed you to sing a song for the movie's soundtrack, which song would you choose?

I love this question so much because what I really want to be when I grow up is a rock star! If I could sing a cover song for the film--which I may have to try to negotiate with the studio (he says, rubbing his hands together fiendishly)--I would probably sing the U2 song "Until the End of the World" for a couple of reasons.

First, that's where John is willing to go with Alice, and second, that song is actually about Judas betraying Jesus (U2 is a very religious band), and betrayal is a major theme in both The Intern's Handbook and Hostile Takeover.

Your books' cover designs are really clever. You tattooed the Intern's Handbook design on your arm. Will you be doing the same with the Hostile Takeover cover?

I LOVE LOVE LOVE my book cover art. Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich is an incredibly talented and clever designer, and I feel incredibly lucky to have had him produce those images. Obviously, or I wouldn't have gotten a tattoo of the Intern's Handbook art! That was done by Megan Massacre of New York Ink fame, by the way. She's rad, too.

Both covers really nail the spirit of the work and they make you think. I am strongly considering getting a tattoo of the office supply handgun on the cover of Hostile Takeover, but there's the small matter of deciding where to get it. It's one thing to have a visible skull and bones on your body, but it's quite another to have a visible gun.

Especially nowadays.

I'm very sensitive to the horrific gun violence that's plaguing our country and would never want to make light of that in any way. I actually sat on an airplane next to one of the young women killed in the [Aurora, Colo.] movie theater shooting. She had survived another shooting incident in Canada and we talked about how terrified she was to go out in public. When I saw her picture on the cover of USA Today as a victim, it broke my heart.

I remember. Her name was Jessica Ghawi.

I don't mean to get too political here, but the point is, this is part of what I'm considering when thinking about getting that tattoo. Megan Massacre told me that once you get a tattoo, you can't stop at one, like Pringles or hash brownies. I said I was definitely going to stop at one, but it turns out she was right. I would like more, and I like that they will have real meaning for me. Being a novelist is a dream come true and part of my story as a warrior on this earth, so I'm proud to wear my ink!

One of the characters in Hostile Takeover, Kiana Nguyen, is based on a real person. Tell us about that.

This came about because of a contest Simon & Schuster ran, asking fans of The Intern's Handbook to enter to win a chance at being named a character in the sequel. Kiana won, and her namesake in the book is a Wall Street suit by day, drug lord by night, a Jekyll-and-Hyde type of person featured in one of John's more violent and fun flashbacks.

Kiana is not a drug lord or a Wall Street suit. She just graduated college and is an aspiring author! Wunderkind, my independent PR firm, ended up liking her so much they gave her--wait for it--AN INTERNSHIP! She's working there this summer, learning the PR ropes, and evidently working on her first novel, which, based on her interesting and funny personality, will probably be great! --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

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

Book Candy

Beach Reads, Non-Beach Reads

Hot reads in the summer: The Huffington Post recommended "15 beach reads to bask in this summer." "From classic bonkbusters to erotic newbies," The National Post offered a "haters' guide to summer: Stay home, read these books." Leading authors shared their "best holiday reads 2015" with the Guardian. Brightly shared "6 reasons to visit the library this summer."


Test your knowledge of all things interstellar with the Guardian's Aliens in fiction quiz.


The Literacy Site gathered "14 quotes about reading that make all the sense in the world."

Great Reads

Rediscover: The Johnstown Flood

On May 31, 1889, an earthen dam holding back a reservoir known as Lake Conemaugh in South Fork, Pa., gave way after two days of extraordinarily heavy rains. The resulting flood--some 20 million tons of water--rushed down the Little Conemaugh river valley, laying waste to nearly everything in its path. Johnstown, an industrial town of some 30,000 people 15 miles from Lake Conemaugh, was utterly devastated. Upwards of 2,000 people died, and the flood caused more than $17 million in damage. Most of the flood victims in Johnstown were Welsh and German immigrants, drawn to the city to work in its booming steel industry. Lake Conemaugh, meanwhile, belonged to the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, an elite group of Pittsburgh businessmen that included among its members Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Mellon. For years, residents of Johnstown had lived in fear of the dam breaking, and for years, the member of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club did nothing.

In The Johnstown Flood, his first book, published in 1968, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough paints a spellbinding picture of the United States during the Gilded Age, the daily lives of the people of Johnstown and the "natural" disaster that nearly wiped out an entire town. The Johnstown Flood is available from Simon & Schuster in paperback. --Alex Mutter

Book Review


Bradstreet Gate

by Robin Kirman

Three ambitious freshmen enter Harvard in the fall of 1993. By the time they graduate four years later, their lives have been forever changed by a classmate's murder and their involvement in a web that connects them to the man suspected of murdering her. Robin Kirman's first novel is a complex and sophisticated character study of three young people who must deal with a troubled past while navigating the perilous path into adulthood.

Georgia Calvin, Charlie Flournoy and Alice Kovac aren't the typical super-achievers who emerge from the tiny funnel that allows the anointed a place in Harvard. Each has had to overcome some form of serious family dysfunction to make it to Cambridge. Their futures, however, are altered irrevocably by their relationship with housemaster Rufus Storrow, a man two decades older who becomes a role model for Charlie and the focus of sexual intrigue that entangles Georgia and Alice.

Bradstreet Gate follows the three graduates over the decade after they leave school, a span that finds them confronting mental and physical illness, career success and setbacks, the first blossoming of family life and the search for love. Though readers learn of Julie Patel's murder, and of Rufus Storrow's suspect status, in the novel's prologue, Kirman is less interested in the whodunit element of her plot than she is in portraying how the crime alters the three students' view of themselves, of Storrow and of each other.

Robin Kirman's Bradstreet Gate is an assured first novel, one that showcases a promising talent with a command of all the tools necessary for delivering compelling stories in the future. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: Three Harvard students become involved in the shadowy aftermath of a classmate's murder.

Crown, $26, hardcover, 9780804139311

Pretty Is

by Maggie Mitchell

Two women in their 30s: Chloe is an almost-famous actor barely hanging on to her Hollywood career; Lois is a precocious junior professor with two book contracts. They share a past neither wants known. When they were 12, Lois and Chloe--then known as Carly May--were abducted and held in a hunting lodge in the Adirondacks for a summer before being rescued. This secret, the victimization they just want to forget, comes back to haunt them in Maggie Mitchell's first novel, Pretty Is.

The action alternates between the present lives of Lois and the reinvented Chloe/Carly May, and flashbacks to the summer they spent with a man they called Zed. They've stuck by their story that he never touched or hurt them, not that anyone seems to believe that. Now, Lois's latest project and a peculiarly disturbed student seem poised to intersect with Chloe's struggling acting career. The question becomes not what Zed did nearly 20 years ago, but what agency do the adult women have in their own lives?

Suspenseful, quick-paced and action-driven, Pretty Is also wisely invests in character development. Carly May may have been a beauty queen, but she was an intelligent child, too; Lois was a spelling-bee champion and confirmed bookworm as well as pretty, and those lists of spelling words still serve as a mental aid. Mitchell's greatest strength, however, is in the riveting, magnetic pull of her plot, as the stakes grow higher and Pretty Is rushes toward its finale. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: Trauma is reborn for the victims of a double abduction, nearly 20 years after their rescue.

Holt, $26, hardcover, 9781627791489

Mirages of the Mind

by Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi, trans. by Aftab Ahmad, Matt Reeck

Witty, highly educated Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi is, at age 92, Pakistan's most revered living writer. His fourth novel, Mirages of the Mind, originally published in 1990 and the first to be translated into English, is more than 500 pages long, occasionally baffling, frequently culturally opaque and certainly not about plot. And yet it is profoundly good-humored, genuinely wise and often laugh-out-loud funny.

Mirages of the Mind is composed of five novellas, creating one long mosaic of hundreds of tiny stories, anecdotes and domestic comedies spanning some 70 years, centered on Mushtaq's dear friend Basharat and his many disasters. Basharat is a schoolteacher obsessed with horses and is constantly repairing his worthless car. One vignette leads to another in an associative spiral of digressions and narrators until it's hard to know exactly who's talking or where or why. What continues to draw the reader onward through this dense and frequently hilarious confusion is Yousufi's voice, loving and ironic at the same time, delighted with the process of storytelling itself. He alternates wisdom with humor, pathos and pratfalls.

Yousufi has opinions on the value of college education, the moral conduct of dogs, the joys of ailing and why Jewish prophets all rode donkeys. He brings to life a world where machine guns are taken to weddings and where poor women dye their dung-covered floors to look like carpets. His comical storytelling is deftly captured in this translation, providing a lighthearted (if unguided) plunge into one of the treasures of contemporary Pakistani culture. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.

Discover: The comic misadventures of a schoolteacher with a weakness for horses and cars.

New Directions, $19.95, paperback, 9780811224130

Love and Other Wounds: Stories

by Jordan Harper

There are more wounds than love in TV screenwriter (The Mentalist) Jordan Harper's first collection of stories. Love and Other Wounds packs a lot of violence, crime and broken dreams into its 15 short depictions of life on the ragged edges. Although some take place in Detroit, New York and Los Angeles, most are set in the bars and strip malls around Harper's hometown of Springfield, Mo.--"Queen City of the Ozarks." If this sort of "country noir" has become its own genre thanks to Daniel Woodrell, Larry Brown and Donald Ray Pollock, Harper brings his own skewed eye and ear to what he calls "that country-grit subculture." His stories are filled with biker and prison gangs, tweakers, drug deal "watchdogs," "cleaners" of Hollywood star indiscretions and teen gas station bandits. They live in "a faraway corner of the world, one of those places marked Here Be There Dragons on old maps," and to the "watchdog" known only as Geat, they are "just a bunch of trembling suckmouthed peckerwoods each scared of their own shadow."

Harper's stories are relentlessly violent, but he seasons the violence with compassion for his characters' fates. What love finds its way into Love and Other Wounds is just for a moment and often betrayed. Wounds, however, last forever. As one drug dealer notes, "Everybody's got their share of pain, even though it always feels like more than their share. Pain is part of the deal." And Harper won't let us forget it. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: These tightly drawn short stories are about the brutal lives of people on the "country-grit subculture" fringes.

Ecco, $15.99, paperback, 9780062394385

Mystery & Thriller

Green Hell

by Ken Bruen

One sign of a winning detective series is how much fun the author has with the creation. In the 11th Jack Taylor novel, Green Hell, Ken Bruen is having a shameless good time. The irascible, alcoholic, violent Taylor was booted from the Garda of Galway, Ireland, and has been taking the odd private investigation case ever since--and tossing back Jameson whiskey and Guinness Black wherever and whenever he can. A vigilante keen on vengeance, Taylor has no qualms about taking on crooked cops, malicious priests, ruthless tycoons or corrupt politicians. This time he's after a serial rapist professor of English literature and a spoiled rich kid dog-beater. Tagging along on these vendettas are a mysterious tatted and pierced local girl, Emerald McKee, and Brian Boru Kennedy, an American grad student who came to Galway to do a dissertation on Beckett but instead got sidetracked into writing a biography of Taylor--even though his disapproving girlfriend asks him why he thinks "a book about a broken-down Kojak in the west of Ireland is going to fly."

Bruen's novels are short on plot and long on character, but they give him a rousing platform to share his own eclectic taste in contemporary fiction, music, TV and movies. Green Hell hardly reaches 10 pages before he name-drops Tom Waits, Jim Crumley, James Gandolfini, Massive Attack and House of Cards. This is part of the allure of the Jack Taylor novels. As Kennedy writes in the notes for his biography: "I liked to quote Beckett. Jack quoted Joan Rivers." Go ahead--crack open Green Hell and have some fun. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A Jack Taylor novel in which the violent, often-soused protagonist takes on a sadistic English lit professor and dog-beating rich kid.

Mysterious Press, $25, hardcover, 9780802123565

Hostile Takeover

by Shane Kuhn

Shane Kuhn shot onto the crime fiction scene last year with The Intern's Handbook (movie rights were snapped up), and now his assassin John Lago is back in Hostile Takeover with more explosive action.

At the end of Handbook, Lago had lost track of Alice, the person assigned to "exterminate" him. He not only finds her at the start of Takeover but, after a wee bit of gunfire, proposes to her. The two then stage a coup to take over HR, Inc., the company that places fake interns who are really assassins into the corporate world to kill their targets. As with many relationships, their partnership is heady at first, until they start fighting and turn on each other. As Lago says, "With normal couples, someone might get thrown out of the house after a fight. With us, someone is liable to get thrown out a window." Or worse.

The violence in Takeover is even more over the top than in Handbook, but done in the same satirical way. A boy named Sue is a fun new character who gives Lago tech support--make that hack support. The identity of the big baddie is predictable, and some of the scenes seem more like set pieces rather than action that helps move the story forward, but Kuhn's sharp-as-a-blade humor keeps readers, like the bullets, flying through pages. And despite the deadly doings, Hostile is quite romantic, for Lago is hopelessly smitten with Alice, just a boy standing in front of a girl, asking her not to kill him. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: John Lago, the assassin from The Intern's Handbook, goes after a new prey--and this time, it's personal.

Simon & Schuster, $25, hardcover, 9781476796185

Sleeping Dogs

by Thomas Mogford

Gibraltarian lawyer Spike Sanguinetti, plagued by nightmares after the death of his lover, decides to visit his friend and law partner Peter Galliano, who is recuperating from a hit-and-run at his family's vacation home on Corfu. To Spike's surprise and initial discomfort, Peter has also invited Spike's former flame Jessica Navarro, who was recently promoted to detective sergeant in the Gibraltarian police.

For Spike and Jessica, Corfu loses its idyllic aura when the body of an Albanian man is found on the Hoffman estate, next door to Peter's house. When one of Peter's employees is arrested for the murder, he begs Spike to represent Latsis pro bono. Spike, unable to resist the plea of his injured friend, takes on Latsis's case, in spite of pressure from the wealthy Hoffman family to hurry matters along.

As Spike and Jessica dig into the events surrounding the murder of the Albanian, they discover that beneath the cheerful, quotidian Greek culture are family vendettas and political corruption. As the clues lead them across Corfu and into Albania, Spike and Jessica end up putting their own lives on the line in their quest for truth.

Dividing its time among several unusual mystery settings--Gibraltar, Corfu and Albania--Sleeping Dogs makes for a captivating Mediterranean read. In exploring the dark legacy of Albanian Communism, Corfu's turbulent history and Spike's own tortured memories, Thomas Mogford (Hollow Mountain) has created a deliciously atmospheric novel that belies its bright and sunny settings. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: Gibraltarian lawyer Spike Sanguinetti is on vacation in Corfu, but murder seems to follow him wherever he goes.

Bloomsbury, $26, hardcover, 9781632860880


Fear and the Muse Kept Watch: The Russian Masters--from Akhmatova and Pasternak to Shostakovich and Eisenstein--Under Stalin

by Andy McSmith

Can the arts survive under a totalitarian regime? That's the basic question addressed in Andy McSmith's revelatory Fear and the Muse Kept Watch, and his answer is yes--but they can also cost you your life. McSmith (No Such Thing as Society), senior reporter for the Independent, has done a masterful job of researching and describing what it was like for writers, musicians and filmmakers to create under one of the most oppressive regimes in history, the Soviet Union during the Stalinist era.

Joseph Stalin and his henchmen kept a watchful eye over what was being written and performed, and a careful artist could work to become a favorite of the dictator (Boris Pasternak, Maxim Gorky). But if the artist stepped out of line, it likely meant imprisonment or, in the cases of Isaac Babel and Osip Mandelstam, death. As McSmith notes, "it beggars belief that anything of any lasting value could be created." But art was created, and many of those works are masterpieces.

McSmith focuses on about a dozen intellectuals and shows how they lived and worked under the regime's persistent surveillance. Composer Dmitri Shostakovich had to reach an "accommodation with the regime or abandon his vocation" before going on to write his Fourth, Fifth and Seventh Symphonies. The poet Anna Akhmatova survived the regime's ire, even as her family suffered greatly, because she was so popular. McSmith feels that one of the reasons some artists were able to produce such great works under such trying conditions was that the Russian people, their audience, adored them so much--they had "an intense love for great art and accurate taste." --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: How resilient artists and their masterpieces survived one of the most oppressive regimes in history.

New Press, $27.95, hardcover, 9781595580566


Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA and More Tell Us About Crime

by Val McDermid

Scottish crime writer Val McDermid (The Skeleton Road) expands on her considerable experience with Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA and More Tell Us About Crime. In it, she studies the fields encompassed by forensic science and the large role that such detailed evidence plays in the modern judicial system.

In writing fiction, McDermid routinely consults professionals in law enforcement and scientific experts; here, she delves into their worlds to examine the history and challenges of their work. Chapters focus on crime and fire scenes, entomology, pathology, toxicology, forensic psychology and anthropology, the courtrooms and legal systems of various countries and more. McDermid visits with experts in each of these fields, exploring their personal and professional experiences, which can include trauma as well as deeply stimulating and important work. She also covers specific criminal cases, ranging from serial killings and rape to common burglary, that illustrate the science in question, and offers impressions of her own.

McDermid is not a perfectly impartial judge of the professions she considers; the tone of Forensics is more admiring than journalistic. She provides a great service in reducing complex science to a narrative easily understood by laypersons, and thereby allows fans of television crime drama and detective novels a heightened appreciation of the genre. Details are often predictably graphic, but never gratuitously so, and should be well within the tolerances of murder-mystery buffs. Forensics is an easy-reading introduction to the science behind criminal detection and a fine companion to fiction like McDermid's. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: The science of criminal detection from a writer with expertise and connections in the field.

Grove Press, $26, hardcover, 9780802123916

Art & Photography

The Hirschfeld Century: Portrait of an Artist and His Age

by Al Hirschfeld; edited and with text by David Leopold

The Hirschfeld Century is a beautifully designed combination art book and biography of Al Hirschfeld (1903-2003) that not only showcases his innovative art but also illuminates his life with thoughtfully researched, fascinating text by curator and Hirschfeld authority David Leopold.

In a career that spanned nine decades (and nearly 10,000 drawings), Hirschfeld created art for movie posters, book jackets, album covers and U.S. postage stamps. But he was best known for the seven decades he created black-and-white caricatures in the New York Times, depicting Broadway shows and performers. The Hirschfeld Century reproduces more than 360 pieces, including some of his atypical paintings and experimental mixed-medium works in full color.

Leopold calls him "a man who remained enthusiastic about the theater his entire life, who genuinely looked forward to each opening," which is why the book's reproduced artwork still looks vital, emotional and alive on the page. It's fascinating to discover that Hirschfeld trained himself to draw initial sketches in the dark theater without looking, which he called "a collaboration of sight and hand, with no conscious thought at the controls."

Aside from the vibrant illustrations (fully annotated with comments by the artist), this book is also a treasure trove of juicy theater lore. When Hirschfeld's daughter, Nina, was born in 1945, he started hiding her name in all his drawings. Beginning in 1960, he added a number after his signature to let fans know how many times "Nina" was hidden in each picture. This book is like looking over nearly a century's worth of artwork with the endearing artist kibitzing in the reader's ear. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: A fascinating, affectionate and lovingly illustrated overview of Al Hirschfeld's amazingly prolific art and life.

Knopf, $40, hardcover, 9781101874974

Children's & Young Adult

Beastly Babies

by Ellen Jackson, illus. by Brendan Wenzel

Artist Brendan Wenzel (Some Bugs) goes to town with Ellen Jackson's (Cinder Edna) rhyming couplets about all kinds of babies.

"Babies can be smooth or hairy," writes Jackson, as Wenzel depicts a human baby alongside a kitten and wolf pup. A turn of the page continues the rhyme: "quail or whale or dromedary." The illustrations retain the animals' most prominent characteristics while also emphasizing their eyes. The book includes some scientifically accurate observations, such as natural instincts ("Beaver mamas/ chomp and gnaw,/ using teeth/ just like a saw"), and defense mechanisms ("Baby octopi squirt ink/ Baby skunks cause quite a stink"). But most pages are pure whimsy, such as a charming image of elephant calves tumbling against an adult elephant. Mayhem reigns on a double-page spread where "Puppies slobber,/ kittens spill./ Young gorillas can't sit still./ Mamas gobble, mamas cluck./ Barnyard babies run amok!" Readers can practically hear the open-mouthed hens, geese, roosters and turkeys as chicks scatter across both pages (one stares at the puppy; another seems to squawk at the gorilla).

Author and artist save the best for last: a stop-action series of images of a sloth demonstrates how "Babies muss and fuss and cry--/ but they grow up, by and by." Each iteration of the sloth depicts its slight maturation. "And what awaits them/ when they're grown?" With a turn of the page, the ending brings the life cycle full circle ("Beastly babies of their own"). --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A joyous rhyming celebration of babies--smooth, prickly, furry and feathered.

Beach Lane/S&S, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9781442408340

School for Brides

by Patrice Kindl

In School for Brides, Patrice Kindl returns to Lesser Hoo on the coast of Yorkshire, the setting for her Keeping the Castle, where finding a husband of suitable title and wealth remains a preoccupation for young women of a marriageable age.

The events here shift away from the narrator of the previous book, Althea, to the eight students (ages 12-19) of Winthrop Hopkins Female Academy. The pickings in this remote part of the world are slim (though Miss Asquith seems willing to settle for the school's "very handsome" footman) until an accident causes the esteemed Mr. Arbuthnot to break his leg on the grounds and remain at the school to recuperate. Luckily, his misfortune metamorphoses into the ladies' good fortune, as their recuperating guest attracts other eligible bachelors as visitors to the patient. The female members of this rather large cast begin to differentiate themselves from the get-go, as they reveal their ages and rank. The youngest, Miss Victor, is prone to crying. Miss Evans is the oldest, but Miss Crump is of the highest rank (the daughter of a viscount). Miss Asquith's father owns a distillery and must overcome the fact that her family is "intimately associated with gin," and Miss Franklin exhibits a propensity for science.

Readers catch onto the motives of the male visitors before the young women do; some have noble intentions, others do not. Working within the parameters of Jane Austen's era, Kindl exposes the frustrations of smart, curious women stuck in society's rigid structure while also playing up their wit. Another feather in the cap for Kindl. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A Regency romance companion to Patrice Kindl's Keeping the Castle, starring another cast of smart, witty young women.

Viking/Penguin, $17.99, hardcover, 272p., ages 12-up, 9780670786084


by Leslie Patricelli

Leslie Patricelli's (Tickle) adorable toddler returns in a pitch-perfect introduction for first-time trick-or-treaters.

"Halloween is here!" says the diapered narrator, who may be a boy or a girl, with arms raised in celebration near a cornfield with pumpkins in evidence. The child teaches sizes while examining a pumpkin that's "too small," another that's "too big" and a third that's "just right." Next, Daddy cuts off the pumpkin's top, and "I clean the insides" (Patricelli shows the narrator emulating a jack-o'-lantern's grin, wearing the pumpkin top like a hat and scooping out the seeds by hand). Readers help the toddler choose an expression for the pumpkin ("How should we carve our jack-o'-lantern?") and then help select a costume ("What should I be?") from among a series of choices that speak to gender non-conformity: princess, pirate, cowboy and ballerina number among the eight possibilities. The cover foreshadows the narrator's final selection ("Boo! I'm a ghost!"), and Daddy dresses just like his toddler. At first, the small ghost is frightened of the other costumed children, but the treats in store soon help the narrator overcome any fears.

Patricelli varies the moods with backdrops that go from bright colors to muted blues and purples on Halloween night. She depicts the toddler's growing courage by showing the little ghost gradually working up to ringing the doorbell solo. The final spread shows all the things the narrator loves about Halloween. A treat. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A pitch-perfect introduction to Halloween for first-time trick-or-treaters.

Candlewick, $6.99, board books, 26p., ages 0-3, 9780763663209


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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