Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, September 18, 2015

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

From My Shelf

Literature & Libations

If there are two things that keep me busy in my free time, they're books and amateur bartending. It's not uncommon for me to put them together.

To pair a cocktail with La JohnJoseph's Polari First Book Prize-nominated Everything Must Go (Itna Press, $16), I'd reach for one heavy on the absinthe. Part road trip comedy, part phantasmagoric fever dream, this delicious novel introduces pregnant, teenaged La Diana, who is running away from abuse at home into the open arms of the apocalypse. Kept company by her talkative unborn child and a phalanx of celebrities alive and dead, La Diana frenetically narrates bizarre events leading to a gratifying climax, all the while glittering with wit and splendor. Mix absinthe with lemon juice, simple syrup and seltzer for what's called a Sea Fizz, and settle in for one fantastic ride!

For the short stories in A Safe Girl to Love (Topside Press, $16.95), though, I suggest whiskey. The characters in Canadian Casey Plett's Lambda Award-winning collection often reach for a bottle of this or that, but they're always coming back to rye. So stir it together with Cointreau and Bénédictine, and garnish with rosemary, for the Hotel D'Alsace--an herbal concoction to keep you warm while reading about winters in Winnipeg, the upper Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Plett's potent stories about trans women facing heartache and betrayal to make a home in this world will do the rest.

Ada Limón writes audacious and ferocious poetry in Bright Dead Things (Milkweed, $16), longlisted for the National Book Award. Caught between the Kentucky land and familial loss, these pieces deliver "flower mouth,/ pollen burn,/ wing sweat." I've been reading Limón while nipping a Jasmine cocktail, with its floral mixture of gin, lemon juice, Campari and Cointreau. A drink with complex flavors helps me ruminate on delectable poems.

There's never a wrong drink to sip while reading, though. A new book always deserves a full glass. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

The Writer's Life

Camilla Läckberg: Crime and Quotidian

Camilla Läckberg worked as an economist in Stockholm until a course in creative writing triggered a drastic career change. Her novels have all been #1 bestsellers in Sweden. Set in Fjällbacka--where Läckberg lives--her recent novels include The Stranger, The Hidden Child and The Drowning, which is just out from Pegasus Books. These novels are all part of a series that blend dark crime and everyday personal life, as police detective Patrik Hedström and his wife, Erica Falck, a writer, work together to raise their daughter. Erica usually can't resist staying out of Patrik's investigations and often ends up helping him solve the case.

There seems to be a connection between your books and your own life (you live in Fjällbacka, you're a mother and you're a writer). Does that make it easier or harder to write the about Fjällbacka and Patrik and Erica's relationship? Is it tempting to sneak people you know into your books?

I got some very valuable advice when I started to write crime fiction, which was to write about something I was very familiar with. So I decided to base my stories in my hometown, Fjällbacka. Nine books later, I'm very happy about this decision. It has helped me to stay authentic in many ways, for example in describing characters and environments. 

At the same time, I get an equal amount of inspiration from binge-watching crime fiction on Netflix and HBO. I'm a true-crime fiction nerd at heart, and I watch everything in the genre that comes my way. 

Sometimes locals from Fjällbacka ask if I could perhaps place a dead body in their backyard in my next book. It can be hard to resist their proposals! 

Fans of your books have watched Patrik and Erica's relationship progress through dating and marriage and parenthood. Is it challenging to keep up?

After 12 years of writing about Patrik and Erica, I feel like I know them inside and out. I know what triggers them, their fears, their passions and even their favorite evening snack. Over the years, it's like they've become my best friends. 

One of the best things about writing the Fjällbacka series is exploring the complexity of my characters. For each manuscript, I learn something new about each and every one of them, and it's been amazing to see how they've evolved since my first novel, The Ice Princess. It's been a fantastic journey in which I've learned immense amounts. 

The Drowning ends with a pretty big cliffhanger. As a reader, that is so frustratingly tantalizing! As an author, is it fun to leave your readers hanging?

I think it's very important to meet your audience with the unexpected. It's equally important to leave some room for the imagination of how certain situations unfold. Hence, I sometimes leave some situations somewhat unresolved. A bit cruel maybe, but I like the idea of my readers creating their own continuations of stories in my books. 

It must be a little weird to have English readers talking to you about The Drowning (book six), and Swedish readers talking about book nine. How do you keep them all straight? 

It's really amazing to see how all my titles can be alive internationally all at once. When The Ice Princess might become available in one part of the world, The Lion Tamer becomes available in the other. 

The more books I add to the series, the more challenging it becomes to remember all the details I add to my stories. Especially when it comes to the relationships between my characters. A lot may happen to them from one book to the other, and I can't forget any previous dramas or character descriptions.

There is a television show based on your books, and your fifth book, The Hidden Child, was made into a movie. What is it like to see your characters come to life in different formats?

Seeing my characters come to life on the big screen was one of the greatest moments of my career. It felt so surreal, and it was truly a dream come true. I could never have imagined this when I started my first manuscript 12 years ago!

I'm very involved in all my projects, and these productions were no exception. For me, it's very important that the production captures the essence of the story and the characters in it. I'm very happy about the results. 

In addition to your Patrik Hedström series, you also write children's books (which have been made into an app!), about a baby named Super-Charlie. Is it a nice change of pace to write something more light-hearted?

The Super-Charlie series is actually based on my youngest son, Charlie, and all of the characters in the novels are based on real family members. I'm quite curious how Charlie will feel about this it when he becomes a teenager. 

Writing children's books has been very fulfilling and it's very refreshing to write for a completely different audience. In many ways, children can be a tougher crowd to write for--they will let you know instantly if they don't like when they hear! I learn a lot when I can vary my audience. 

Is it difficult to switch from one type of writing to another? Or do you like writing for multiple audiences at the same time?

I always juggle many projects at the same time and I really love this variation for my writing. Now I'm writing a lot of song lyrics together with Swedish artists, and I love it! This variation has been very critical for me, and I love to challenge and grow in my writing, no matter the form. 

Finally, any sneak peeks about what's coming in the future? Do you think you will ever write crime novels with different protagonists, or can we be sure of more Patrik and Erica?

There is still more to come about Erica and Patrik. I'll continue writing about them as long as I find it joyful and there is definitely more to explore. Nothing is impossible, and I keep a very open mind when it comes to my writing. The most important thing is that I feel that I'm constantly learning.

This autumn, my fifth children's novel about Super-Charlie is coming out. I'm really excited about the warm reviews from both parents and children. I'll also continue writing song lyrics and perhaps you'll hear my songs one day in the U.S. That would be a dream! --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Book Candy

Yoga Poses for Writers; Reading Poses

Electric Lit's invitation: "Stretch out your plot twists with our 'Yoga for Writers' poster."


Reading for art's sake: The Huffington Post exhibited "13 people who are definitely reading books, not just posing for a painting."


Bustle featured "26 adorable photos of dogs and books, just because."


Advice from Brightly: "Gather 'round: How to recreate library storytime at home."


Mental Floss revealed "15 fun facts about 'Dick and Jane,' " the ubiquitous books series that was "once a staple of childhood learning and then later denounced as dull, counterproductive, and even misogynistic."

Great Reads

Rediscover: Indian Summer by Alex von Tunzelmann

On August 15, 1947, the British Empire withdrew from India, granting independence to some 400 million former subjects. But rather than turn over self-rule to a single, united democracy, the British left behind two new nations already on the brink of war. In her first book, originally published in 2007, historian Alex von Tunzelmann examines the British withdrawal from India and the partition of the colony into India and East and West Pakistan. Her brisk, compelling narrative follows the lives of the partition's key players: Dickie Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India; his wife, Edwina, a tireless relief worker who began a decades-long affair with Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister and the father of Indira Gandhi; Mohandas Gandhi, Nehru's mentor and the spiritual leader of the Indian independence movement; and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Nehru's arch-rival and the "father of Pakistan." Readers unfamiliar with British or Indian history may need to occasionally consult Google, but that shouldn't deter anyone from this fascinating book. Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire is available in paperback from Picador. --Alex Mutter, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Book Review


Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights

by Salman Rushdie

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights has a lot in common with Salman Rushdie's best-known work, The Satanic Verses. Both begin with a miraculous event that turns the major characters into something more than human, and leads to a series of escalating circumstances that only those characters can stop. But while The Satanic Verses was a sprawling, blasphemous (to some), hulk of a book, Two Years Eight Months takes an entirely different tack, treating a battle for the fate of humanity with the lightest of touches.

After a superstorm hits New York, a group of individuals finds they have been granted special powers due to their lineage. Unbeknownst to them, they are the descendants of Jinn, fanciful spirits that once visited the earth on a regular basis but now keep to their own world. But with the storm comes a cabal of dark Jinn, happy to wreak destruction, and it is up to the rag-tag demigods and their Jinn ancestor to fend off the supernatural invasion.

As tense as that description sounds, Rushdie isn't much interested in Sturm und Drang. Instead, he uses Jinni and their descendants to plumb questions of what exactly makes us human. By creating a raucous, capricious species that represents a hyperbolic version of humanity in the Jinn, Rushdie argues for some of our smaller qualities (a dedication to work well done, to simple connections between people), and the most important human concept of all: love. In the hands of another writer, Two Years Eight Months would be a Michael Bay-esque battle across the world. Instead, Rushdie uses the apocalypse as a place for meditation. --Noah Cruickshank, marketing manager, Open Books, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: A magical story of supernatural disaster from one of the world's greatest contemporary writers.

Random House, $28, hardcover, 9780812998917

Cries for Help, Various: Stories

by Padgett Powell

Fiction writer Padgett Powell is tough to categorize. His first novel, Edisto (1984), an American Book Award nominee, was a reasonably straightforward coming-of-age story often categorized as a "southern Catcher in the Rye." After that he shot off in several directions with short novels and stories of Dixie weirdness (Mrs. Hollingsworth's MenYou & Me), culminating in The Interrogative Mood--a novel (of sorts) consisting entirely of questions. Powell's story collection Cries for Help, Various contains a taste of his previous interests, characters, humor and existential ponderings.

In the opening story, "Horses," the narrator has somehow corralled 50 stolen horses in a 7-Eleven parking lot while cowboy poets drink coffee inside and plan to "reverse history" by giving the horses to Indians. One story imagines Janis Joplin in grade school with a discordantly eloquent Charles Dickens, "his cute boy knees and his difficult man mouth." Powell also riffs on South American anacondas and parrots, salamanders cooking pancakes, Boris Yeltsin and a martial arts-trained Asian piano student.

Holding Nicholson Baker-like minutiae and wackiness together is the world-weary, Beckett-like existential angst of each protagonist. These aging guys (and the characters are mostly men) seem genuinely bewildered by their lives--but not despondent. In "Hoping Weakly," one seems to sum up Powell's take on our absurd world: "I hope for something. It is not a strong hope.... I hope weakly for that which I see weakly. I'll be okay no matter what." When entering Powell's world, set aside algorithms and let his words take you away. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Cries for Help, Various is a rich stew of language and humor exposing an absurd world of Southern crackpots, satire and existentialism.

Catapult, $16.95, paperback, 9781936787319

Beauty Is a Wound

by Eka Kurniawan, trans. by Annie Tucker

Acclaimed Indonesian writer Eka Kurniawan's English-language debut, Beauty Is a Wound, is a profound, strange and often shocking tragicomedy--a multi-generational epic spanning decades of Indonesian history. Moreover, it is a beautifully written melodrama that, through fantastical and fictional characters, tells of the actual harm done by everyone who has ever invaded or colonized Indonesia.

The narrative style is direct and shares many qualities of an oral story. Moments of great distress or sweeping consequence are delivered in a simplified, fairy tale-like manner as Kurniawan draws parallels between what the country experiences and the narrative arc of his characters.

Based on classic archetypes, but never falling into cliché, these are people who lead fabled, and largely unfortunate, lives, like Dewi Ayu, a highly desired prostitute, and Maman Gendeng, an angry but sentimental thug. Kurniawan's characters' casual approach to life will leave readers equally entertained and appalled; they act on lust as easily as murder, and commit rape, incest and bestiality as though they are commonplace acts. Such hyperbole puts them at risk of becoming flat, dimensionless caricatures, but the direct manner Kurniawan employs to relate horrors, such as when Dewi Ayu rises from her own grave after being dead for 21 years, renders them footnotes in the greater story of Indonesian perseverance. In the act of their telling, these stories feel as though they become the sole means of survival.

Beauty Is a Wound is a marvelous postmodern parody--a fairy tale with no happy ending--that offers a critique of Indonesia's colonialist and violent history. --Justus Joseph, bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company

Discover: This strange but compelling novel spanning decades of Indonesian history will hook readers from beginning to end.

New Directions, $19.95, paperback, 9780811223638

Mystery & Thriller

The Drowning

by Camilla Lackberg

Camilla Läckberg (The Ice Princess, The Hidden Child) may be unfamiliar to some Americans, but her books are wildly popular in Sweden, and readers who enjoy works by Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell are sure to like her novels.

Set in western Sweden, in the small fishing village of Fjällbacka, The Drowning is the sixth in the Patrik Hedström series. Patrik, a police detective, and his wife, writer Erica Falck, have an active toddler, and are expecting twins, so they are already tired even before strange occurrences start happening in Fjällbacka. First, a man named Magnus Kjellner goes missing. After several months of searching, the Fjällbacka detectives have to assume foul play, although there's been no sign of Magnus's body. Then Christian Thydell, a young novelist whom Erica has been mentoring, reveals that he's been receiving threatening letters.

Magnus and Christian have been friends for several years, and Patrik and Erica can't help but suspect a connection--especially after two more of their friends disclose that they also have received threatening letters. Erica is determined to discover the secrets in Christian's past, while Patrik focuses on the official investigation into Magnus's fate.

Told partially in chilling flashbacks of an anonymous child's terrible life, and alternating between the desperation of Magnus's wife and the terror that Christian can't conceal, The Drowning is a pleasurably creepy read. Patrik and Erica's happy, albeit exhausting, home life provides a nice contrast to the darker elements of the book. A cliffhanger ending will keep readers clamoring for more of Läckberg's books to be translated into English. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A man's disappearance and a series of threatening letters mystify the police force in Fjällbacka, Sweden.

Pegasus, $25.95, hardcover, 9781605988566

Make Me

by Lee Child

Jack Reacher, in his 20th adventure, gets off a train in the middle of the night in a little town called Mother's Rest, curious only about the origin of its name. But he's drawn into a much deeper mystery after he meets Michelle Chang, a private investigator looking for a missing colleague whose last known location was Mother's Rest. The investigation leads Reacher and Chang to Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix and San Francisco, ending up back in Mother's Rest in an explosive confrontation.

Lee Child's Make Me delivers on the elements Reacher fans have come to love--fight scenes in which Reacher is outmanned but somehow manages to whomp his opponents, his teaming up with an attractive female partner, his witty observations: "Pharmacy windows were a marketing challenge, in Reacher's opinion. It was hard to think of a display liable to make people rush inside with enthusiasm." Mother's Rest denizens aren't given names but identifiers such as the guy "who had gotten kicked in the balls" and "the man with the jeans and the hair."

But Make Me also delves into the series' darkest subject matter in recent memory. Just when the story seems to have taken a grim turn, it twists again into pitch-black territory. There are moments when Reacher and Chang make inexplicable mistakes, and she comes across more like a rookie than a former FBI special agent when she repeatedly asks him, "How do we do this?" before they take action, but that doesn't take away from the novel's haunting aftereffect. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: Jack Reacher stumbles onto disturbing business in a little town called Mother's Rest.

Delacorte Press, $28.99, hardcover, 9780804178778

Food & Wine

The New Sugar and Spice: A Recipe for Bolder Baking

by Samantha Seneviratne

Raised in the suburban U.S., but going back to Sri Lanka to spend summers with her grandparents, Samantha Seneviratne experienced unusual combinations of foods and flavors. Convinced that most modern American desserts rely too heavily on sugar and are overwhelmingly sweet without having enough flavor, she wrote The New Sugar and Spice: A Recipe for Bolder Baking to provide a resource of recipes that are balanced in sweetness and spice.

The recipes are grouped by their primary spice: the "Cinnamon" chapter includes a summer berry focaccia and cinnamon toast bread pudding; "Ginger," a sticky apple date cake and chocolate-dipped ginger macaroons; "Nutmeg" features banana fritters and frozen eggnog bars; and so on, to cover peppercorns, chiles, vanilla, cloves and cardamom, too.

With beautiful, understated photos, a history of each spice's production and use over the centuries, and lovely stories about Sri Lanka and Seneviratne's grandparents, The New Sugar and Spice is a baker's dream come true. Including a handful of recipes that may be unfamiliar to Western cooks (jaggery flan, Sri Lankan true love cake), The New Sugar and Spice provides some Eastern flair along with its spicy deliciousness. And exceptional variations on popular desserts--like brownies that include black pepper and caramel, and an apple Danish with caraway cream--make it perfectly appropriate for bakers who are tired of making the same old things. Sure to please sweet tooths everywhere, this slim volume will be a welcome addition to any cookbook library. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: This cookbook features delectable desserts with a perfect balance of sugar and spice.

Ten Speed Press, $27.50, hardcover, 9781607747468

Biography & Memoir

Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor's Reflections on Race and Medicine

by Damon Tweedy

As a medical student, a resident and a physician, Damon Tweedy learned time and again that "being black can be bad for your health." Tweedy shares his experiences as a black man on both sides of the doctor-patient relationships in an eye-opening memoir.

During Tweedy's first month as a medical student at Duke University, in the late 1990s, one of his professors mistook him for a maintenance worker. The incident did little to help Tweedy feel at home, especially when he knew Duke admitted him partially because of attempts to diversify the student body. As his education progressed, he encountered overt and subtle racism from patients and fellow medical practitioners of all races, sometimes directed at him, often directed at black patients. Beyond prejudice, he would also find that many catastrophic health issues disproportionately affect black people, including heart disease, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, hypertension and kidney failure--he discovered he already had the latter two in his 20s. As he walks readers through his med student days and his early years as a practicing psychiatrist, Tweedy unravels the issues at the heart of the African American medical dilemma: an unsupportive health care system, racial prejudice from medical providers and a socioeconomic and cultural history of unhealthy lifestyles.

Frank, often bleak and occasionally hopeful, Tweedy's anecdotes and conclusions are a wake-up call. Americans of every color should pick up his timely and important reflections. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: A black doctor's on how race affects health care quality in the United States.

Picador, $26, hardcover, 9781250044631

Can I Go Now? The Life of Sue Mengers, Hollywood's First Superagent

by Brian Kellow

Some of the biggest celebrities in Hollywood are among the more than 200 people Brian Kellow interviewed for Can I Go Now?, his brash, smart and compelling biography of Hollywood superagent Sue Mengers, who died in 2011. Barbra Streisand, Jack Nicholson, Ali MacGraw, David Geffen, Cher, Woody Allen and Robert Evans lead the pack of those closest to Mengers who share their fresh and uncensored anecdotes.

Alternately caustic, kind, vindictive and loyal, Sue Mengers was as oversized a personality as any of the top-caliber stars she represented during her nearly three-decade career. Most agents kept low profiles as they pitched clients for Hollywood projects, but Mengers--usually wearing a voluminous caftan and pink-tinted glasses while chain smoking--attracted celebrity clients through her outrageous behavior and uncensored opinions. (She bolted early from an advance screening of Schindler's List, later telling her host, "If I have to see any more Jews in pajamas, I'm going to kill myself.")

Unlike most agents, Mengers wasn't interested in finding and nurturing new talent; she wanted to represent established artists. "Sue didn't find people off the streets," remembers Ryan O'Neal. "She stole them from other agents." Possessing a fierce work ethic, Mengers built a strong web of professional and social connections. But her abrasive personality eventually eroded those relationships.

Kellow (Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark) offers fascinating behind-the-scenes details on how egos, turmoil and contract negotiations created some classic films and ruined others. Movie buffs will be dazzled by the impressive number of Hollywood greats offering first-hand accounts of interactions with Mengers. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: A bio of superagent Sue Mengers, and a perspective on filmmaking from both powerbrokers and the talent.

Viking, $27.95, hardcover, 9780670015405

Political Science

Fracture: Barack Obama, the Clintons, and the Racial Divide

by Joy-Ann Reid

For those following the 2016 national elections, MSNBC correspondent Joy-Ann Reid (former host of The Reid Report) has provided a fascinating primer. Fracture: Barack Obama, the Clintons, and the Racial Divide outlines the role of race in national politics from the 1960s to the present, weaving together popular culture, policy and a wealth of research.

One chapter--titled "Kanye"--picks apart the profound and surprising cultural impact of Kanye West's infamous outburst against George W. Bush during a fundraising segment for Hurricane Katrina (an incident that Bush later described as "the worst moment of his presidency"). It's a compelling examination of the incident, but Reid then goes on to show that West's words fit within the ever-evolving narrative of race relations in national politics. By looking at how then-Senator Barack Obama responded to both West's statement and to Hurricane Katrina in general, she illuminates the strange role that race has always played in the president's career. When Obama initially ran for office, Reid points out, critics rushed to compare him to Hillary Clinton, who despite being Caucasian, began the 2004 elections more established among (and in many cases more trusted by) older civil rights leaders.

Reid appears regularly on Hardball with Chris Matthews and The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, and was involved with both the 2004 and 2008 national political campaigns. Having worked in media for nearly 20 years, she is well positioned to speak on political issues. --Annie Atherton

Discover: A compelling examination of racial issues in national politics, from the 1960s to the present.

Morrow, $27.99, hardcover, 9780062305251

Essays & Criticism

South Toward Home: Travels in Southern Literature

by Margaret Eby

In her introduction to South Toward Home: Travels in Southern Literature, Margaret Eby points out that "there is no popular category known as Northern literature." The South and its literary products have been admired and maligned; it is a region and a body of work that are considered sometimes inspired and sometimes devoid of culture and intelligence. But for a Southerner, it is simply (or complexly) home. Raised in Alabama, Eby undertakes a tour of the literary sites that speak to her, acknowledging that the authors whose legacies she ponders make a less than comprehensive list.

Eby visits the well-preserved homes of Eudora Welty, William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor, along with the sadly less appreciated (or appreciative) areas in which Richard Wright and Harry Crews grew up. She contemplates the complicated relationship of Harper Lee with her birthplace; John Kennedy Toole's mysterious life story; and the recent marks left by Barry Hannah and Larry Brown in Faulkner's hometown. In making a physical journey, Eby breathes the air of these literary greats, and takes the time to share their histories in coming to tentative conclusions about what their work contributes. She also includes a list of recommended reading. As its title (a reference to Willie Morris's North Toward Home) suggests, this study pursues a sense of Southern identity through its literature, and along the way helps to elucidate what makes Faulkner's challenging writing so rewarding and why Toole's New Orleans lives and breathes. South Toward Home is a thoughtful, well-informed evocation of both South and home. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A selective survey of Southern literature and its value to the South and the world.

W.W. Norton, $25.95, hardcover, 9780393241112

Children's & Young Adult

Honor Girl

by Maggie Thrash

It doesn't get much more old-fashioned than a remote all-girls sleep-away camp in rural Kentucky. But in this graphic memoir, 15-year-old Maggie Thrash and her fellow campers are a curious combination of old traditions and new: reenacting the Civil War in the morning, fixating on the Backstreet Boys in the evening. Maggie's days at Camp Bellflower are filled with rifle-shooting, reading and endless rounds of camp songs. The painful tumult begins when a few awkward exchanges with Erin, an intriguing, guitar-playing, 19-year-old female counselor, leave Maggie questioning her sexuality. With only a few friends in on her secret, this is confusing for everybody: "I think we need a code for when we need to talk about g-a-y stuff. Like, 'The banana flies at midnight,' " suggests Bethany. Feeling isolated at a camp where coming out could mean getting kicked out, Maggie grapples with who she is and what to do.

The nostalgia of summer camp is reflected in lively watercolors and an engagingly minimalist, manga-influenced style. As is common with angst-ridden teenage love, much is conveyed in a single glance across the page. Thrash's unvarnished retelling of her adolescent experience is neither glamourizing nor self-deprecating--and the salty realism makes the story engrossing and quite funny. Though lesbian and questioning teens may be especially responsive to the narrative, any young reader will see in Maggie and her friends a relatable sort of confident confusion. Honor Girl trails off indistinctly, as many love stories do, but that's a fitting end to this dreamy, thoughtful debut memoir. --Stephanie Anderson, assistant director for public services, Darien Library, Conn.

Discover: This funny and touching graphic memoir offers a bittersweet mix of summer camp, unrequited love and self-discovery.

Candlewick, $19.99, hardcover, 272p., ages 14-up, 9780763673826

The Bamboo Sword

by Margi Preus

Thirteen-year-old Yoshi, member of the serving class in 1853 Japan, dreams of becoming a samurai warrior, but his dreams are destined to remain just that, until an American navy commodore arrives with four steamships in Edo Bay (present-day Tokyo). A rapid chain of events involving a Prince and the Pauper-style identity swap, a new job as hawker of illustrations of the American "barbarians," and a chance encounter with a cabin boy from one of the ships sets Yoshi--and Jack, the ship's boy--on an adventure that will change the course of their lives. A mysterious samurai named Manjiro, who first appeared in Margi Preus's Newbery Honor book, Heart of a Samurai, shows up in The Bamboo Sword as an adviser to the shogun and, eventually, as Yoshi's master.

Many of the events and characters in Preus's riveting novel, represented by magnificent archival illustrations and original art by cover artist Yuko Shimizu, are based on a real and turbulent time in Japanese and U.S. history, when President Millard Fillmore was pushing to open ports in Japan for trade. The spirited, often comical story of Yoshi and Jack brings this historic culture clash to life for today's readers. In their first exchange of smiles, Yoshi realizes Jack is a boy like him, in spite of his strange looks (pale skin, sharp nose, red hair, freckles), and thinks, "They might even have been friends if only the boy wasn't a barbarian." Perceived barbarians abound, but in this heartening tale, the boys navigate, and ultimately overcome, their mutual mistrust. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: As cultures clash in 19th-century Japan, two boys, from Japan and the U.S., form a surprising bond in this companion to the Newbery Honor-winning Heart of a Samurai.

Amulet/Abrams, $16.95, hardcover, 352p., ages 10-14, 9781419708077

The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB

by Adam Shaughnessy

Eleven-year-old Prudence "Pru" Potts of the small New England town of Middleton fancies herself as a detective, just like her late father was. One day, an envelope is slipped under her bedroom door by unseen hands, and the card inside reads: "WHAT IS THE UNBELIEVABLE FIB?" For Pru, "Questions were like mysteries. Both demanded answers."

More mysteries materialize: thunderous dark clouds; a suspicious, raggedy squirrel; a tall man in a gray coat; and a new sixth grader at school named ABE--who Pru's roped into working with on a report on Norse myths Fortunately, ABE likes puzzles, too, and before they know it, they are in the Middleton cemetery where Pru's dad is buried ("She hated the place"), trying to solve the riddle written on the cryptic card. "I am the nigh omniscient Ratatosk," announces a shabby squirrel in the cemetery. "You're in extreme peril." Ratatosk is right, because Norse giants are on the loose in Middleton, in search of the Eye of Odin, and the thunder god Thor is out to whack them. If the Eye falls into the wrong hands, whole worlds could be destroyed, and it may be only Pru and ABE (in cahoots with the tall, gray-coated man from the Fantasy Investigation Bureau) who can save the day. Pru, rather snappish and standoffish since her father died, is not the usual spunky heroine, and her grief is a somber undercurrent in the entertainingly over-the-top story.

Shaughnessy blends an exploration of the nature of truth, myth and magic with sixth-grade shenanigans to create a grand adventure for Pru and ABE... and a promising series debut. --Cathy Berner, Blue Willow Bookshop

Discover: Norse mythology and mystery mix in this appealing debut novel set in small-town New England.

Algonquin Young Readers, $16.95, hardcover, 272p., ages 8-12, 9781616204983


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

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