Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, November 20, 2015

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

From My Shelf

History Reimagined

Sloane Crosley

During Sloane Crosley's very funny event at Elliott Bay Book Co. in Seattle to promote The Clasp (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26), she remarked on what's next for her. "Back to essays," she said, as she's already started writing them. And because she's under contract for them, she added with a laugh. The author of  I Was Told There'd Be Cake went on to say that she really enjoys writing essays since she can rely on, you know, real life instead of making everything up, as she did for the novel.

It got me thinking about fiction that doesn't necessarily make everything up, but rather reimagines reality. For instance, William Boyd's latest novel, Sweet Caress (Bloomsbury, $28). Inspired by an anonymous, unattributed photograph of a young woman bathing in a pond, Boyd crafts the life story of Amory Clay, a woman of androgynous identity who embraces photography as a form of artistic expression. The novel, then, is illustrated with numerous photos with similarly inscrutable origins. Boyd happens to be a collector, and applies his finely tuned fiction to the canvas of a real-life, yet unidentified, woman.

Amber Tamblyn does something similar in her poetry collection Dark Sparkler (HarperPerennial, $17.99). We can argue about whether poetry is fiction another time, but I wanted to mention her mesmerizing take on Hollywood starlets whose lives ended from unnatural causes. Sharon Tate, Marilyn Monroe, Brittany Murphy and many others receive Tamblyn's imaginative empathy, and the poet, after thorough research, tells different, fuller versions of their stories.

Conversely, Catherynne M. Valente twists Hollywood history altogether in Radiance (Tor, $24.99). In it, Severin Unckdocumentary, a filmmaker, and daughter of a famous director, disappears from a shoot on Venus in 1944. I like to think that alternate histories like Valente's occur amid the same literary family tree as Karl Ove Knausgaard's autobiographical fiction, which I'd consider to be cousin to memoir and personal essays. Which brings us back to Sloane. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Jewish Book Council: 73rd National Jewish Book Award Winners

The Writer's Life

The Collective Novels of Svetlana Alexievich

Svetlana Alexievich, who has spent 30 years exploring human conflict and its aftermath, is the first journalist to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Through interviews with thousands of people, from Chernobyl to Kabul, she presents harrowing facts by letting her sources speak for themselves in dramatic monologues. The Swedish Academy cited her work as a "monument to suffering and courage in our time."

Each of her six books has taken three to four years to complete, with 500 to 700 people interviewed per book. Alexievich has perfected a genre that is neither fiction nor nonfiction; she calls it the "collective novel" (she also calls it the novel-oratorio, the novel-evidence, and the epic chorus), created out of interviewing people who have survived some national trauma, asking the right questions, removing the unnecessary repetitions of real dialogue, boiling down their answers to the essence, and arranging these stark reductions in a mosaic-like composition that conveys the full emotional gamut of the historical experience.

Her first book immediately brought her to prominence--an investigation into the role of women in World War 11 translated as War's Unwomanly Face. Her second, The Last Witnesses, probed the childhood memories of war survivors who were ages 7-12. But her third book, about the Afghanistan War, provoked such violent responses that they became incorporated into the book itself: Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War, translated by Julia and Robin Whitby (Norton, $18.95 paperback).

Zinky boys were the dead teenagers sent home from Afghanistan in sealed zinc coffins. Alexievich interviewed survivors of all kinds, amputees and those who lost more than limbs in the war that broke the faith of Russians in their country. Her book about the military disaster that consumed a generation records the testimonies of infantrymen and paratroopers, sergeants and civilians, medics and mothers, nurses and interpreters, widows and engineers, and lets them tell their truths--betrayed by the government, deceived by the press, tricked into volunteering to "go to the aid of the Afghan people."

Beginning with snatches from her own diary, Alexievich arranges her monologues in three groups she calls "Days," each beginning with an Author receiving a phone call from a furious, anonymous war vet she calls her Leading Character, who condemns what she is trying to do. "What's the point of this book of yours?" he objects. "What good will it do?.... You'll never be able to tell it like it really was over there."

Alexievich then takes the reader through a selection of accounts so full of grief and horror and pain that only the most restrained, even-handed reporting makes them endurable. Vets recount both sides of the Afghan horror, from kicking villagers to death to soldiers being killed with village pitchforks. The book's postscript concludes with a sampling from the storm of hate letters and phone calls provoked by the publication of excerpts from the book.

In the same manner, her fourth book--Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, translated by Keith Gessen (Picador, $16 paperback)--covers the 1986 fire at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the largest technological disaster of the century, 10 times as radioactive as the explosion at Hiroshima. Alexievich doesn't hesitate to show that the nightmare was compounded by incompetence, indifference and out-and-out lies, with 4,000 deaths directly attributable to the accident, while "the number of people with cancer, mental retardation, neurological disorders and genetic mutations increases with each year."

The heartbreaking opening monologue by a fireman's wife is like a tragic short story. Three movements of voices follow. A woman who refuses to leave her home in the evacuation, a man who defies the police to go back for a door that's a family heirloom, a soldier who unwittingly gives his contaminated cap to his son--each contribute their gram of horror to the mix, barely leavened by the alcoholic cab driver braving the radioactive zone to rescue kindergarteners. The book reads like science fiction, survival tales from a poisoned planet where the milk will no longer make cheese and chickens grow black coxcombs and the gardens have turned white with radiation, where families of contaminated farmers are forced to abandon their unharvested fields. With the resulting suicides and abortions, it's a contamination not just of their land and their bodies, but also of their faith in the government.

Alexievich does far more than simply interview. She selects and arranges, she juxtaposes opposites, she records all sides, creating a series of no-nonsense prose poems out of the darkest, saddest realities. From patriotic self-sacrifice to disillusioned questioning, her voices are the products of a culture trained to honor blind faith in the homeland. Zinky Boys and Voices from Chernobyl are her two most readily available--and devastating--books in translation, and others are coming: Random House will publish Second-Hand Time, about the collapse of the U.S.S.R., in summer 2016; in 2017, RH will bring out War's Unwomanly Face, Alexievich's first book, composed of the words of women who took part in World War II, and Last Witnesses, describing that war from the perspective of children. To offset her preoccupation with the tragic nature of life, Alexievich is currently completing a book about love and the pursuit of happiness called The Wonderful Deer of the Eternal Hunt.

Her most unbearable sequences--the descriptions of teenage soldiers in Afghanistan having their limbs blown off or the heartbreaking slaughter of Chernobyl household pets--are minimal and mercifully brief. But they're like bullets. They hurt. These collective novels are not for everyone. Their urgent clarity and unflinching reportage on the far, dark frontiers of the human soul are thoroughly upsetting but never lurid or sensational, always with a humanitarian awareness of the value of life behind her objective portraits of 20th-century horror. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.

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

Book Candy

Angry Face over Oxford Dictionary's Word of the Year

"People are mad that Oxford Dictionary's word of the year is an emoji," Buzzfeed noted in sharing a range of lexicographic overreactions on social media.


Lit Reactor tuned up "10 albums based on books and literature."


Pop quiz: "Do you know these literary addresses?" asked the Reading Room.


On the street: Bustle featured "11 of Sesame Street's best literary moments."


Author John O'Farrell chose his "top 10 celebrity appearances in fiction" for the Guardian.


Distinguished book designer Irma Boom, who "makes miniature versions of her books in an almost architectural manner," demonstrates and discusses unusual miniature books.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Stoner

When John Williams's novel Stoner was published in 1965, it sold fewer than 2,000 copies and went out of print a year later. Williams died in 1994 at age 71, having published three other novels to mixed critical and commercial reception. His highest accolades were for Augustus, historical fiction about the Roman emperor, which shared the 1973 National Book Award for Fiction with John Barth's Chimera.

Stoner languished in obscurity until John Doyle, of Crawford Doyle Booksellers in New York City, recommended the novel to a New York Review of Books editor. NYRB Classics republished Stoner in 2006. Since then, Williams's once-forgotten novel has achieved astounding success. Critics have hailed it as a rediscovered treasure and lost masterpiece. Bret Easton Ellis said Stoner is "one of the great unheralded 20th-century American novels." Ian McEwan called it "a beautiful, sad, utterly convincing account of an entire life."

That life is of William Stoner, born in the late 1800s to a poor farming family in Missouri. His parents send him to study agriculture at the University of Missouri, but Stoner instead falls in love with literature. He pursues a doctorate, becomes an assistant professor of English and starts a family. The novel follows Stoner through his undistinguished academic career and familial estrangement. He turns at last to love outside his marriage and finds a stoic strength within himself.

This month NYRB Classics published a 50th anniversary edition of Stoner, which includes letters written between Williams and his agent Marie Rodell about the novel and difficulties finding a publisher, and an introduction by Irish author John McGahern. NYRB Classics has also republished Williams's 1960 novel Butcher's Crossing, a western about a buffalo hunting expedition, and Augustus. --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


The Girl from the Train

by Irma Joubert

Opening in the last days of World War II, when the Polish resistance was fighting the Nazis and the Red Army, The Girl from the Train by Irma Joubert mingles historical details with a delightful story of love, patriotism, religion and politics.

The story focuses on Jakób, a Pole who hates the Communists and fights with the Resistance, and Gretl, a six-year-old German Jew being transported to Auschwitz along with her sister, mother and grandmother. Determined to stop a German troop train, Jakób sets a bomb along the train tracks, but Gretl's train reaches the spot first. She is the only survivor of this unintended disaster, and Jakób is filled with guilt and the desire to look after Gretl. With the help of his family, he manages to care for her, but eventually realizes he must find her a new home. Shipping Gretl off to South Africa with other German orphans hoping to be adopted, Jakób believes he will never see her again, but fate has a way of twisting their experiences.

Joubert creates a believable world filled with the passion of disparate religions and clashing political beliefs, as seen through the eyes of two highly likable characters, both of whom grow in age and maturity as the story progresses. Interesting supporting characters and great visual details of the Polish and South African countryside embroider an exciting historical romance. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A young Polish man blows up the wrong train and finds himself responsible for a six-year-old German Jewish girl, and both their lives are changed forever.

Thomas Nelson, $15.99, paperback, 9780529102379

The Marriage Pact

by M.J. Pullen

Originally self-published a few years ago, M.J. Pullen is making the jump to the traditional publishing world. Her first book, The Marriage Pact, is a romance/popular fiction crossover.

Marci Thompson has just turned 30. She's working as a temp, living in a tiny apartment, and having an affair with her married boss. She's not sure how she let circumstances get to this point. She hates being "the other woman," but can't seem to break up with Doug. Her job is boring, and her apartment is terrible, but she feels stuck in Austin.

Until, that is, the day her old friend Jake sends her an e-mail reminding her that 10 years earlier, when they were in college, they made a drunken pact to marry each other if they were both single when they turned 30. When her relationship with Doug ends abruptly, Marci flees back home to Atlanta and the comfort of Jake's familiarity. But will she regret it?

While Marci initially comes across as rather whiny, Pullen does a great job of drawing the reader into Marci's world and empathizing with her dilemmas. The two men in her life are complicated for different reasons, and watching Marci work through her difficulties is entertaining. With a few laugh-out-loud moments, and several silly side characters, M.J. Pullen's novel is a very enjoyable read. Fans of Jane Green or Emily Giffin are sure to enjoy The Marriage Pact. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A 30-year-old single woman must decide if she should keep the drunken marriage pact she made with an old friend 10 years earlier.

Thomas Dunne Books, $24.99, hardcover, 9781250070937

Tom & Lucky (and George & Cokey Flo)

by C. Joseph Greaves

Following-up his first historical novel, Hard Twisted, C. Joseph Greaves gives readers a front row seat to one of the greatest courtroom dramas in U.S. history: the 1936 battle between gangster Charles "Lucky" Luciano and the special prosecutor determined to bring him down, Thomas Dewey.

Greaves has meticulously blurred the lines of fact and fiction in Tom & Lucky (and George & Cokey Flo), which reads with the momentum of a legal thriller and throws back the curtain on a range of political shenanigans. Braiding the plot together with the perspectives of Tom and Lucky, as well as the talented defense attorney George Levy and the prosecution's star witness, Cokey Flo Brown, Greaves delves into the "compulsory prostitution" trial of the notorious mob boss. While building the background of each character takes time, the result is a robust view of a highly flawed case.

In an especially effective approach, Greaves opts to tell only Cokey Flo's story from the first-person perspective, lending the drug-addled con woman credibility and empathy while casting greater suspicion on both defendant and prosecutor. Still, Greaves doesn't let the reader forget Flo's motivations or her checkered history. There are no white hats in this New York courtroom.

The trial transcript and character dialogue work to re-create the unsavory atmosphere of New York's mob network as well as the Depression-era privations. And the fastidious research enables Greaves to meld seamlessly the four lives into one engrossing story.

Whether readers have an interest in the time period, gangster fiction or historical novels, they will find plenty to captivate them in Tom & Lucky (and George & Cokey Flo). --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: The 1936 vice trial of one of the U.S.'s most notorious mob bosses is told through the stories of its four key players.

Bloomsbury USA, $27, hardcover, 9781620407851

Mystery & Thriller

The Mulberry Bush

by Charles McCarry

Charles McCarry has been writing international spy thrillers since the early 1970s, including The Shanghai Factor. A former CIA operative and now in his 80s, McCarry permeates his fiction with hands-on knowledge. The Mulberry Bush takes us inside the recruiting process, with its security-scrubbed data thumb drives and its field operatives with their burner phones, "assets" and nondescript hotel rooms, from which they send secrets back to Headquarters and arrange to take out high-level objectives.

The unnamed recruit of The Mulberry Bush has a knack for languages and a Ph.D. in Islamic history. His father was a renowned agent until the CIA tossed him for one too many renegade pranks, his career tanked, and he died homeless on the streets of D.C. The protagonist is determined to avenge his father and punish the Headquarters staff who destroyed him. After years in the Middle East proving his mettle ("where there are suicide bombers and boredom"), he is sent by Headquarters to Buenos Aires to infiltrate a disbanded former Communist terrorist cell and turn its local players. He does the job but also falls upside-down in love with Luz, the voluptuous daughter of the charismatic revolutionary leader who was killed by the agency. She readily joins his mission to bring down Headquarters.

McCarry's complicated plot, with lots of shadowy side players, drunks and mercenary thugs grinds slowly in the novel's middle, but the narrator's driven pursuit of revenge carries the day--that, and his near-priapic lust for Luz. A little Ian Fleming, a little Charles Cumming, a little Barry Eisler--McCarry is in fine company. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Veteran spy thriller novelist and former CIA covert operative Charles McCarry follows the body-strewn, undercover trail of a hot-shot agent determined to avenge his father.

Mysterious Press, $26, hardcover, 9780802124104

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Made to Kill

by Adam Christopher

Made to Kill, the first in the planned L.A. Trilogy from Adam Christopher (Empire State; The Burning Dark), is set in 1960s Los Angeles. The city of Christopher's imagination is the L.A. of history, with one noticeable difference: Raymond Electromatic, the world's only robot detective and last functioning robot to survive the collapse of the robot boom 10 years prior. Ray was programmed to solve crimes, while the computer system that he was paired with (named Ada) was instructed to make money doing so. But as Made to Kill opens, Ada has turned her programming--and Raymond's--to new operations, making Raymond the world's only robot detective and the world's only robot assassin.

When a girl wanders into the office looking for someone both to find a missing person and summarily kill that person, it seems like the perfect job for Ray and Ada. But the more Ray discovers about the assignment--the actor he's been assigned to find and kill, the ways Ada manipulates his programming, the political forces at play in the city--the more the job feels like a set-up. And perhaps it is.

Christopher notes that he was inspired to write this novel when considering what it might be like to read an unknown science-fiction epic from Raymond Chandler, and that inspiration shows. Made to Kill evolves over the course of the story from science fiction to a noir-style mystery and back again, never missing a beat in the process. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: Adam Christopher's novel mixes science fiction and noir mystery, as the world's only robot assassin searches for a missing person in 1960s Los Angeles.

Tor, $24.99, hardcover, 9780765379184

Tower of Thorns

by Juliet Marillier

Blackthorn the healer and her travelling companion (and former cellmate) Grim return to solve another fairy-tale mystery in this second installment of the Blackthorn and Grim series from Juliet Marillier (The Dreamer's Pool).

Irascible Blackthorn continues to fulfill her seven-years geas (a magically imposed obligation) and serves the people of Dalraida while not seeking vengeance against Mathuin, the chieftain who killed her husband and baby before wrongfully imprisoning her. Stoic Grim remains her devoted helpmeet. When beautiful, mysterious Lady Geiléis from the northern border begs their prince for help banishing a plague on her land, Blackthorn and Grim travel to her holding to perform a cleansing ritual.

Joining them is Flannan, a friend Blackthorn had thought dead. Although Geiléis honestly reported the source of her land's distress--a wailing monster trapped in an island tower encircled by poisonous thorn bushes--Blackthorn and Grim sense more to the story when they meet small fairy people who warn them to go home. Blackthorn soon comes to wonder how Geiléis knows so much about the ritual to banish the monster when she claims to know nothing about its origins or why it is haunting her people. However, Flannan's efforts to convince Blackthorn to come home with him and call Mathuin to justice distract her, especially since following the impulse would mean leaving Grim.

The spotlight shifts to Grim's tragic past in this volume, and fans will find his story worth the wait. Marillier again successfully layers the mystery and fantasy genres, this time contemplating the sacrifices inherent in true love. An exquisite story about loyalty and resilience. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Fantasy sleuths Blackthorn and Grim are in a quest to stop a monster from draining the life from the land.

Roc, $26.95, hardcover, 9780451467010


by Steven Savile

Former special forces operative Jake Carter works as an electrician in the New York City subway. When his ex-girlfriend Sophie Keane contacts him about a conspiracy involving The Hidden, a mysterious group out to control the world, he's understandably wary, since he hasn't heard from her in 10 years. As he delves deeper into the strange goings-on around New York--dogs howling in the streets, hieroglyphic graffiti painted on city walls, birds dropping dead from the sky, massive power outages--he realizes that Sophie may not be as crazy as she sounds.

She does know what's going on--and attempts to escape the clutches of this secret organization she's been a willing agent for until a recent change of heart. When she contacts Jake, her handlers come calling with deadly force.

Finn Walsh, an archeologist who specializes in lost languages and civilizations, is researching a mystery of her own, a submerged yet perfectly intact lost city with Mayan and Egyptian symbologies, featuring some of the same characters Jake has seen deep in the tunnels below New York.

The Hidden are taking out military targets and hacking into financial centers around the world. Are they causing the weird behavior worldwide, or just taking advantage of it? Who is ultimately in charge? How can a handful of people like Jake, Finn and Sophie stop such a well-funded and expert organization? Their search for the answers to these questions fill Sunfail with excitement and tension, leading to a thrilling conclusion ripe for a sequel. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This fast-paced speculative thriller delves into the machinations of a sinister secret organization.

Akashic Books, $15.95, paperback, 9781617754067

Graphic Books


by Derf Backderf

Author and cartoonist Derf Backderf has never shied away from quirky stories. In his dark, autobiographical memoir, My Friend Dahmer, he illustrated a psychologically astute narrative about Jeffrey Dahmer, Backderf's high school classmate who became one of the world's most notorious serial killers. In Trashed, Backderf fictionalizes his own experiences as a garbage man and channels them through three 20-something friends--J.B., Mike and Magee--who take jobs as trash collectors in their small Ohio town. Over the course of one year--through stifling summer heat to the deep freeze of winter--readers experience episodes with the trio as they cart away everything from dirty diapers, dog poop, condoms, stacks of porn magazines, maggots and dead animals to appliances, furniture and even a piano. Along the route of their comic, often putrid, adventures, they come up against bratty kids, mean dogs, an imposing garbage truck named "Betty" and crowded landfills. There are also problems with public workers and politicians, demanding townsfolk, a tyrannical boss and the eccentricities of coworkers and other friends.

Backderf's illustrations are lively and carefully composed to enhance the highly charged, briskly paced narrative. Occasionally, Backderf gives readers tidbits of history and facts about garbage and garbage collecting from 3000 B.C. to the present. By integrating this information in a playful, entertaining way, the microcosm of Backderf's humor-rich, coming-of-age story expands toward larger social and cultural themes, including the idea that "we all contribute to the staggering, never-ending accumulation of waste on this planet." --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: This richly drawn graphic novel follows the humorous, messy adventures of three 20-something garbage men.

Abrams ComicArts, $24.95, hardcover, 9781419714535

Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir

by Stan Lee, Peter David, Colleen Doran

If ever there was a human capable of superhero feats, that would be Stan Lee, the co-creator of The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man and S.H.I.E.L.D. Lee's ideas redefined comics for the modern era, and his autobiography, Amazing Fantastic Incredible, published as a full-color graphic memoir with the help of writer Peter David and illustrator Colleen Doran, provides insight into Marvel Comics and its remarkable cast of artists.

Lee recounts his origin story--how he got into the business--of first serving as assistant to Joe Simon and Jack Kirby at Timely Comics, and then his promotion when Simon and Kirby quit. Drafted during World War II, Lee served his time creating venereal disease warning posters. When the war ended, Lee returned to Timely Comics (which became Marvel Comics) and evolved into the ideas man; artists such as Steve Ditko and many others turned these ideas into art, and elevated these characters to pop culture legends. Lee railed against strict comics regulations and dared to tell stories that involved serious issues, single-handedly changing the face and voice of comics by infusing his characters with an element of humanity. Lee also covers the rise and fall of the comics industry--its descent a result of mass production, and its second coming in the early 2000s with the revival of Iron Man and The Avengers film franchises.

Lee's boisterous, charismatic and hammy personality adds to his already mythical stature, while Doran's reproduction of classic Marvel covers is breathtaking--almost a good enough substitute for owning the actual books. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: This fun graphic memoir is by Stan Lee, the man who made Marvel Comics and cemented its status as legend in pop culture history.

Touchstone, $30, hardcover, 9781501107726

Biography & Memoir

I Blame Dennis Hopper: And Other Stories from a Life Lived In and Out of the Movies

by Illeana Douglas

Actress, writer and director Illeana Douglas possesses an unbridled love and enthusiasm for motion pictures, and her chatty, endearing and upbeat memoir, I Blame Dennis Hopper, collects decades' worth of anecdotes from in front of and behind the camera. When she was a teenager, her grandfather Melvyn Douglas invited her to the set of the movie that would win him his second Academy Award. "Being There permanently shifted my view of movies from outsider to insider," she writes. "Now I was going behind the curtain, inside the movie looking out. I would never be the same."

"I have always loved film history, and I thought it was important to try to get stories from all of the greats of Hollywood so that those stories remain alive," Douglas continues. There is no bitterness or cynicism in the tales she spins. While working as a secretary, she slips her résumé to Martin Scorsese, who's editing The Last Temptation of Christ in the same building and is intrigued that she lists "Special skills: Great legs, blood-curdling screams." Soon, she's recording background voices for the film and beginning a decade-long romance with the director.

Among Douglas's best recollections: being seduced (on camera) by Robert DeNiro in Cape Fear; starving and freezing while filming Alive in the Canadian Rockies; and her 12-hour lunch with Marlon Brando. Hopefully, this is the first of many volumes from Douglas, who promises in her next book she'll tell how Elizabeth Taylor's nose got broken while visiting her. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Illeana Douglas's I Blame Dennis Hopper is a delightful, endearing and star-studded memoir no film buff will want to miss.

Flatiron Books, $25.99, hardcover, 9781250052919

Children's & Young Adult

My Diary from the Edge of the World

by Jodi Lynn Anderson

The world is a dangerous, messy place for humans in My Diary from the Edge of the World by Jodi Lynn Anderson (Tiger Lily; the May Bird trilogy).

Dragons, sasquatches, mermaids and other monsters are as real as the nearby Taco Bell in this parallel universe, but they rarely come to Cliffden, Maine. Twelve-year-old Gracie Lockwood begins her new diary lamenting that "nothing terrible or exciting" ever happens in her town, although "last week one [a dragon] burned down the T.J. Maxx in Valley Forge." Far more troubling than monsters are the unstoppable Dark Clouds that come to take people when they die. When one appears in Gracie's neighborhood, she knows it must be after her sickly little brother, Sam. Determined to escape the Cloud, Gracie's physics-minded father pins his hopes on the Extraordinary World, a legendary land beyond "the edge of the world," where Sam will be safe. Packing into an old Winnebago, Gracie, Sam, her perplexing 16-year-old sister, Millie, her parents, and her strange new classmate Oliver Wigley (recently orphaned by a sasquatch attack) set out into the unknown. It will take courage, trust and the love of family to survive this wild world.

Spanning from Maine to the Smoky Mountains to San Cristobal, Anderson's charming novel is part road-trip adventure, part maritime quest and part coming-of-age story. Gracie starts out loud, "kind of fiery" and unforgiving, but wises up considerably as she realizes even sasquatches deserve a second chance. Gracie starts to see that the extraordinary is everywhere, and "sometimes, the way everything looks--who's the beast and who isn't--depends on where you're standing." --Kyla Paterno, reviewer

Discover: In a parallel universe of sasquatches and dragons, a Maine family embarks on a dangerous journey to the edge of the world to save a little boy's life.

Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, $16.99, hardcover, 432p., ages 8-12, 9781442483873

Red Spider Hero

by John Miller, illus. by Giuliano Cucco

"On a small patch of sidewalk, there once lived many teeny, tiny red spiders." All the spiders are happy except for Harry. (A magnifying glass on a page speckled with red dots reveals a goofy-looking spider with a jester-like hat and an orange sword.)

Harry is so unhappy, in fact, that he has a foot-stomping fit, during which he loudly announces his intentions to see the world and "become the most famous spider to have ever lived." All the other spiders look alarmed. Harry's green-hatted grandfather says "go right ahead," but warns Harry that it'll take him a year just to cross the park. Harry is undaunted, boasting that he'll sail on a boat in a river of raindrops to the ocean, then go deep into the jungle and be a famous hunter and explorer. Harry's imagined exploits become more and more ambitious, even taking him to outer space. The late Italian artist Giuliano Cucco's playful, color-soaked illustrations make the outlandish scenarios leap to life, whether Harry is circled by ferocious jungle animals or performing as a flea rider in a circus. Throughout Harry's tirade, his grandfather calmly warns the wee mite of the dangers that may face him--"fleas like to eat little red spiders," for instance--but heroic Harry has his escapes planned out, too.

John Miller's Red Spider Hero was written more than 50 years ago, but its appeal is timeless. Harry's desire to be something bigger, something grander than his very small self won't be lost on young readers. --Karin Snelson, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A tiny red spider mite named Harry decides he's had enough of living on the sidewalk and wants to see the world.

Enchanted Lion, $16.95, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781592701766


by Blythe Woolston

With two Zs in her name, 16-year-old Zoë Zindleman is used to being last, but being the very last soul living in her neighborhood is not something she wants to get used to. Readers have no idea where the residents of Zoë's street have fled, or why, after being forced to graduate early, Zoë is now obligated to work at either Q-MART or AllMART as an entry-level MARTian. Even more baffling is why Zoë's mother felt she had to leave her daughter stranded.

Blythe Woolston (The Freak Observer; Catch & Release) creates a dystopian, near-future world with an atmosphere of absolute uncertainty laced with menace, desensitized cruelty, asinine media interruptions from Channel 42 and a dose of Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. Timmer, an AllMART employee (and self-appointed protector of stray people in need) bulldozes his way into Zoë's life, but she's so alone she can't see how to protest much: "Given the choice, I don't stir up a Dumpster of raccoons. I feel the same way about Timmer." In a numb daze, she moves with him and a few other abandoned children into a grim, deserted mall. Woolston's wry sense of humor and mesmerizingly spare style distinguish this story of how Zoë adapts to her strange new life at AllMart and her budding friendship with Timmer, whose kindnesses prove him to be an unlikely hero.

The parody of media manipulation, commercialism and retail psychology (as parroted by the savvy, order-seeking Zoë) is often laugh-out-loud funny, but underneath the satire of MARTians is the story of girl in search of love and family wherever she can find it. --Karin Snelson, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In Blythe Woolston's spare, witty novel, compassion and caring triumph in a crassly commercial near-future society.

Candlewick, $16.99, hardcover, 224p., ages 14-up, 9780763677565


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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