Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, May 6, 2016

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

From My Shelf

International No Diet Day

Bathing suit season looms. But for those who've been watching waistlines and counting calories, there's good news. Today is International No Diet Day, which celebrates body acceptance, including fat acceptance and body shape diversity. The day also seeks to raise awareness that diets don't always work. Very often, pounds lost return--and in earnest. INDD seeks to promote healthier lifestyle choices via mindful eating. But before you break out the pasta, martinis or ice cream, why not supplement your day with some mentally aware, eating-inspired reads?

In her funny, enlightened memoir, Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting and Got a Life, Kelsey Miller comes to terms with--and works through--food challenges via "Intuitive Eating," a body-image strategy.

Mark Mincolla, a "holistic problem solver," transforms the energy of negative thoughts and feelings in order to re-align a person's metabolism in The Whole Health Diet: A Transformational Approach to Weight Loss.

For readers longing to graze beyond the psychology of eating, treat yourself to these delicious books:

Carnivores will rejoice in the anecdotes and wit of Marta Zaraska in Meathooked: The History and Science of our 2.5-Million-Year Obsession with Meat, which explores all aspects of the growing global appetite for animal protein.

Cheese and pepperoni lovers will be eager to journey along with Colin Atrophy Hagendorf as he traverses Manhattan on a quest to eat a slice of pizza at every city pizzeria in Slice Harvester: A Memoir in Pizza.

And for the passionate sweet tooth, there's no way to resist Theo Chocolate: Recipes & Sweet Secrets from Seattle's Favorite Chocolate Maker by Debra Music and Joe Whinney, a mouth-watering cookbook of inventive chocolate-inspired recipes--not just desserts, surprises like salads and pastas.

So, go on--give in to temptation. Pick up a good book and indulge in the spirit of "no diet" day... guilt-free!

Book Candy

Noms de Plume of Famous Authors

Infographic of the day: Jonkers Rare Books explored "pseudonyms used by famous authors, as well as the reasons behind the choice of their nom de plume and works they published under it."


"Books offer valuable life advice." Bustle examined "10 life problems that can be solved with books, because books are the best therapists."


Signature featured "14 quotes on World Press Freedom Day" this week, noting that "this occasion is as easy as getting out of the way and letting writers and journalists pipe up about their own role in society, in ways both salutatory and extremely critical."


Who has the best hair in comic books? Quirk Books investigated a world in which superpowers "must surely extend to their hair, or how else do they manage to maintain their impeccable locks while fighting crime?"


Gregory Woods, author of Homintern: How Gay Culture Liberated the Modern World, chose his "top 10 landmarks in gay and lesbian literature" for the Guardian.


"Meet newlyweds and massive Harry Potter geeks, Cassie and Lewis Byrom," Buzzfeed wrote. They were recently married in the U.K. at Manchester Town Hall "in an incredible Potter-themed wedding, after Lewis proposed at Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter last year."

If I Was Your Girl

by Meredith Russo

In Lambertville, Tenn., where the social highlight of the week is the high school football game, new girl Amanda Hardy immediately turns heads. She's barely figured out her class schedule before Grant, acting as a mouthpiece for his buddy Parker, is asking for her phone number on his friend's behalf. Grant recognizes that Amanda is different. She's an intriguing stranger who makes her own sushi in a town where "[m]ost families... think a fancy meal is getting Italian instead of Tex-Mex," and who reads Neil Gaiman's Sandman graphic novels alone during lunch.

As friendly as this first conversation seems, Amanda doesn't divulge her digits, telling Grant how "really strict" her father is, and elaborating with the time-worn "It's complicated."

Grant has no idea just how complicated. One day earlier, Amanda left the Atlanta suburbs to come live with her father, whom she hadn't seen in six years. Her stalwart mother--her parents are divorced--remains back home, although Amanda "could feel her worry through the phone" on the bus ride out of town.

Amanda has arrived for her first day at Lambertville High having barely slept, wearing concealer to cover up the remnants of her former life--a fading black eye she received for using the "wrong" bathroom at the local mall. Her thoughts are painfully dark: "If I'd had the strength to be normal, I thought, or at least the strength to die, then everyone would have been happy."

At almost 19, Amanda--born Andrew--finally has a chance to be the girl she knows she was meant to be. She's survived relentless bullying, senseless violence and a suicide attempt to finally, bravely transition to be her true self. Hundreds of miles away from that other existence, she still can't shake the fear: "...even now that I'd had my surgery, even now that nothing but some legal papers could reveal my past, I was never really safe." Small-town Tennessee--with bumper stickers that casually announce "I CAN'T HELP THAT I'M HOMOPHOBIC... I WAS BORN THAT WAY!"--isn't known for its tolerance. It's little wonder that a classmate says, "queer people in the South are addicted to the closet." Amanda is hoping to keep her secret and stay alive long enough to head north to college.

And yet, life goes on. Her father's reticent "least I could do" response to Amanda's "Thank you for letting me stay with you" is initially enough for them to cautiously begin to relearn how to be parent and child. Her first friend, Bee, an intense social outcast and photographer-in-training, introduces Amanda to new-to-her aspects of typical teen life, including skipping class and trying pot. Bee is also the first friend with whom Amanda shares a raw, mutual vulnerability. One friend grows to many, as Anna, Chloe and Layla easily accept Amanda as a fresh, beautiful addition to their fun-loving posse. And then there's Grant--not his buddy Parker--who, with his nervous flushed cheeks, causes Amanda's heart to race.

For the first time ever, Amanda enjoys being "a normal teenage girl." She laughs through football games and parties. She learns she needs a sports bra for gym. She drives around with girlfriends in a family minivan. "This felt like something else," she muses, "like friendship or acceptance or maybe fitting in. This felt like fun." Most importantly, no matter how much she fights it, she realizes she can't turn away from sweet, persistent Grant... but at what cost?

Amanda and Grant's story could be just like any other high school romance. Except it isn't. The challenges facing transgender youth--to their mental health, family bonds and friendships, their very safety--translates to a greater struggle to reach adulthood. Statistically, Amanda's backstory--so achingly disclosed in flashbacks--is wholly consistent with the staggeringly higher rates of violence and suicide that endanger transgender teens.

Debut novelist Meredith Russo knows--she is a transgender woman herself. While her real-life experiences undoubtedly inspired certain details of her fiction, she voices in her author's note the hope that readers will see Amanda as a teenage girl, just one "with a different medical history from most other girls." Russo's narrative is fresh and unique because it is the story of a transgender teen, but proves universally engaging as a coming-of-age novel of self-discovery and acceptance: "There is no wrong way to express and embody your most authentic self!" Russo writes.

On the slowly expanding bookshelves of transgender young adult titles, Russo's affecting novel is poised to join previous pioneers including Julie Anne Peters's Luna and Ellen Wittlinger's Parrotfish. But you heard it here first: If I Was Your Girl could turn out to be the most starry-eyed, satisfyingly sigh-inducing story of them all. --Terry Hong

Flatiron Books, $17.99, hardcover, 272p., ages 13-up, 9781250078407

Meredith Russo: Sharing Secrets

 photo: Anthony Travis

Not until Meredith Russo was in her mid-20s did she finally begin "living as her true self." Russo--a transgender woman born and raised in Tennessee, and now the mother of two children--has an unforgettable, timely story to tell. Russo's protagonist in her debut teen novel, If I Was Your Girl (Flatiron, May 3, 2016) knows all too well the challenges of being transgender. High school senior Amanda Hardy has just moved to small-town Lambertville, Tenn., to make a fresh start and leave her painful former life behind. Falling in love was the last thing she ever expected. Russo talks to Shelf Awareness about anxiety, proud geekhood and a few inspiring books.

What was your original motivation to write If I Was Your Girl?  

I was just beginning my transition when I started the book, and I wanted to write something about a trans girl as a way of processing my own feelings and anxieties. I also--and this is something I didn't realize until later--wanted to write the book I needed when I was a teen.

In your dedication you write, "For the boys and girls and those in between who feel alone and afraid, who feel like there's no way out, who feel like things can never be better than they are now." That is both sobering and inspiring... and also establishes a sense of universality to the story. Being alone and afraid seems to be a rite of passage for everyone and anyone on his/her/their way to maturity. Was establishing an immediate sense of "being normal" important for you?

Yes and no. I wanted Amanda to read to cis [those who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth] audiences as a "normal" girl, in the sense that she is a girl like any other, but I also thought it was important to keep her rough edges, her tics, her mental illness, her occasionally mean thoughts about other trans people--all of that. Then again, what's more "normal" than a truckload of anxieties and neuroses for a teenager?

What was the most difficult part of the writing process?

Filling in the blanks. I don't write in order, I write all the pieces in the story I find the most interesting, jumping around the timeline as my attention span warrants. The hardest part was definitely stringing my favorite scenes together.

What inspired your small-town Tennessee setting?

I spent a lot of my childhood in Rhea County, Tennessee, home of the Scopes Monkey Trial, and that's where most of the inspiration comes from. Lambertville isn't exactly a realistic take on the place, sadly, at least not in the way people react to Amanda at the end of the book.

How would you describe Amanda to someone who hasn't read If I Was Your Girl?

A lonely, neurotic, traumatized, yet also whip-smart, insightful and powerful trans girl who thinks all she wants from high school is survival.

What were some of the challenges you faced writing a teen romance?

I felt really anxious about writing the make-out scenes. I think the other major challenge is that I'm almost 30! I've been out of school for a decade. I went to a nontraditional high school, so I worried I was getting the high-school experience right.

Amanda's relationships with her mother and with her father are extremely different--at least initially. What inspired such divergent relationships?

I think, honestly, my own experience of living out masculinity and femininity. Amanda's mom is, at least emotionally, who I strive to be as a woman and a mother, while her dad is who I was afraid I would become as a father.   

The novel is peppered with Star Wars/video games/anime references throughout--are you a secret geek, too?

Not secret! My favorite anime is Puella Magi Madoka Magica, I play Dungeons & Dragons every week, and I was at the premiere of The Force Awakens with a Star Wars shirt on. I'm a GIANT geek.

While you write in your author's note that Amanda "isn't real," you've also revealed how personal this story is for you. Now that the novel is about to be released, how do you feel about opening yourself up to such public scrutiny?

Terrified, really, both that cis people will laugh at me and that other trans people will reject me or not approve of what I've written.  

I was especially intrigued by how you address your cisgender readers and trans readers separately in your author's note. By novel's end, do you think cisgender readers and trans readers will react differently?

Absolutely! Cis people tend to tell me, "This book was so eye-opening. This book made me think. This book opened my heart." Trans people tend to tell me that the book helped them feel less alone, or more hopeful, or just generally better understood.

In many ways, If I Was Your Girl is quite a groundbreaking novel. Books with trans protagonists are still a rarity. What advice might you offer a trans author struggling to get his/her/their story out in the world?

Sadly, I think, the most important thing right now is willingness to compromise. I didn't have to [compromise] very much because the people at Flatiron are all angels, and they let me include the author's note so I could address the few ways I did have to tweak things to make the novel work. But we're still in a place where cis people are coming to terms with the idea of trans people full stop. I mean, people find us fascinating, but the story du jour is still, like, The Danish Girl level of, "I am a boy who wants to be a girl, here is me transitioning, there's good odds I'll be dead or heartbroken at the end." Be brave, be you, tell your story, but also do your best to understand that there might be some stories the mainstream world won't be ready for until years down the line, which is sad, but at least things are improving.

How do you feel about the idea of being a role model/hero/inspiration for the trans community?

My feelings about it are pretty complicated. On the one hand I'm glad a trans woman can be in this position because I needed visible trans adults who weren't treated like jokes when I was young, but at the same time, it's me! I have never, ever considered myself a role model. I make a lot of bad decisions! But, still, I'm happy to be of service.

Are there any other books for young people that you would recommend for teens struggling with their gender identity?  

Luna by Julie Anne Peters, Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills, Wandering Son by Takako Shimura and George by Alex Gino.

Are there any books you've read--for kids or adults--that have influenced or shaped you, as a person, as a writer or both?

Nevada by Imogen Binnie and A Safe Girl to Love by Casey Plett are two of my favorite books of all time, anywhere, ever. Both writers are amazing, both are trans, and both books are about trans women. If I can ever be half the writer these two women are, I'll die happy.

And of course, the inevitable: What are you working on next?

I'm working on two books. One is another YA romance with a trans girl in it, and the other is a darker, adult investigation of being an early-20s trans burnout. I think that, after these two, I'll be done writing about trans characters for a little while.

Is there anything else you'd like to share with Shelf Awareness readers?

Just that I'm so, so honored to be included here! If anybody ever wants to reach out to me, I check my Twitter and e-mail religiously, and I'm not shy at all. --Terry Hong

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Review


The Bricks That Built the Houses

by Kate Tempest

Kate Tempest--rapper, acclaimed playwright and winner of the Ted Hughes poetry award--is a manic whirlwind who lives up to her chosen surname. She's got chops. Her first novel, The Bricks That Built the Houses, is an engrossing story of young Londoners from the wrong side of the river struggling to make it in a world where options are limited, family ties are frayed, and a frothy pint and line of coke help make the days go by--yet they still have their dreams and yearn for love while "forcing a good time out of their tired, broken hearts."

Becky is a 26-year-old music video dancer, barista and on-call "happy ending" masseuse who aspires to join a professional dance company. Her father's a lefty writer and politician in jail for sex crimes with his underage staff. Her mother is a born-again Jew who ran off to the American Midwest. Her boyfriend, Pete, is habitually unemployed, unmotivated and jealous. Despite lofty ambitions, Becky lives in fear of "Twenty years of nothing changing but the rent." Then she meets Pete's sister, Harry, an androgynous lesbian and high-end drug dealer. Becky and Harry connect, and The Bricks That Built the Houses becomes a modern urban love story--albeit one with a world of complications, where the reliable "bricks" of family and meaningful work are not there to support their fragile lives.

Tempest's captivating novel is rich in detail, clever in plot and filled with characters who live on the edge but never quite give up. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: In an accomplished first novel, poet, playwright and rapper Kate Tempest portrays the lives and loves of some of London's youth from the wrong side of the river.

Bloomsbury, $26, hardcover, 9781620409015

The Chimes

by Anna Smaill

Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Anna Smaill's first novel, The Chimes, infuses the well-used dystopian trope with a twist: the ruling class delivers oppression through music.

In a London torn apart by civil war, a monastic society called the Order lives in seclusion, writing music to be played on the Carillon, a giant organ crafted from pure palladium. The population outside the Order's walls hears two melodies: Onestory, in the morning, which tells of the war, and Chimes, in the evening, which erases all memories of the day. Citizens are left with only "bodymemory," the muscle memory and second-nature actions required to fulfill their occupations, and "objectmemories," possessions connected with important experiences now forgotten that inspire traces of emotion. Attempts to recover the past are considered crimes of "blasphony"; the Order claims that its status quo prevents another war.

Before she dies of "chimesickness," a condition the Order says is an urban legend, Simon's mother urges him to go to London. Once there, he takes up with a band of youths who aim to collect bits of the legendary palladium weapon to sell. Lucien, their golden-haired, blind leader, thinks Simon may hold the key to stopping the Carillon forever, but the Order threatens both their mission and their budding romance.

Smaill's clever use of musical terms in her characters' speech adds to the immersive quality of the work, and her melodious prose lures the reader like a pied piper. With literary trappings but a solidly speculative heart, The Chimes is a cantata of pure delight. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: After a disastrous civil war, the people of Great Britain are oppressed by the Order, a monastic society that uses music to suppress memory.

Quercus, $26.99, hardcover, 9781681445342

Zero K

by Don DeLillo

In novels like Underworld and White Noise, Don DeLillo has served as a literary sentinel, on the lookout for intelligence to carry back from the borderlands of our civilization. Zero K, his 17th novel--a serious reflection on the subject of cryonics--is an unsettling dispatch from that shadowy zone.

The prospect of immortality plays out at the Convergence, in a remote area of Kyrgyzstan, where billionaire Ross Lockhart has helped underwrite a scientific complex devoted to preserving the dying and someday resurrecting them. His second wife, Artis, soon will die of complications of multiple sclerosis and is scheduled to undergo cryopreservation.

Ross invites his son, Jeffrey, to witness what the latter believes is "science awash in irrepressible fantasy." In conversations with prophet-like characters known as the Monk and Ben-Ezra, Jeffrey comes to understand the philosophical underpinnings of the Convergence, reinforced by apocalyptic scenes of war, fires and floods projected on screens throughout the facility. Ross may be planning his own departure, too; for Jeffrey, this discovery dredges up painful memories of his father's abandonment and his mother's death.

The notion of supercooling ailing bodies, intending to bring them back when cures may exist for their terminal illnesses, exudes an aura of presumption tinged with absurdity, but DeLillo makes it feel plausible. "The defining element of life is that it ends," observes one of the principals of the Convergence. In this intriguing novel, Don DeLillo trains his intense and singular vision on a future where people with the imagination and resources to achieve it may succeed in rewriting that definition. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: Don DeLillo explores the world of cryonics.

Scribner, $27, hardcover, 9781501135392

Eleven Hours

by Pamela Erens

With rigorous detail and moment-by-moment exposition, Pamela Erens drops readers into one of the most personal and specific experiences a woman can go through: labor. In shifting points of view, Eleven Hours documents the story of two women who forge a relationship based on the experience of childbirth. Lore arrives at the hospital with no partner and no friends to support her, but she has a carefully laid-out plan for what she will not allow during her labor: no fetal monitor, no IV and no epidural. Franckline, also pregnant, is the nurse assigned to monitor Lore throughout her labor. Since she was six years old, Franckline has watched and helped the women of her village in Haiti deliver their babies; she was called the Ti Matrone, the little midwife. Together, these two strangers form an intimate bond as Lore's labor progresses during a snowy day in New York City.

Erens rapidly weaves their lives together, one story pulsing into the other, timed with the contractions Lore experiences. Lore was immersed in a love triangle and she is still struggling to recover. Franckline has lost one child and is fearful she'll lose the one she's carrying.

The tension builds and recedes, moving from a fast pace to an almost dreamlike one, as Lore's contractions increase in frequency and intensity. Erens's prose pushes readers to a finish that is raw, vivid and vicious, the last pages a race toward birth, fear, wonder and reverence as both women accept their respective futures. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: Eleven Hours is an intimate and dramatic portrayal of two women brought together through the act of childbirth.

Tin House, $15.95, paperback, 9781941040294

City of Secrets

by Stewart O'Nan

Post-World War II Jerusalem--with thousands of Jewish immigrants and diverse factions fighting against the British for Israeli independence--is the setting for Stewart O'Nan's 16th novel, showcasing his talent for crafting an intimate story. From Middle America (Last Night at the Lobster; Emily Alone) to F. Scott Fitzgerald's Hollywood (West of Sunset), O'Nan's characters bring to life a place and time, and City of Secrets is sure to both thrill and enlighten.

Brand, a Latvian Jew, has reinvented himself in Jerusalem after escaping Soviet and Nazi internment by chance, while his entire family perished. Driving a taxi provided by the underground resistance, he stealthily executes missions, undermining the British authorities, while ferrying tourists as a cover. At night, he goes to Eva, "the Widow," who, like him, "would always be another's, that dead love private, untouchable." Comrades in the movement, Eva and Brand share a reserved love, "a brittle consolation"; they do not speak of their past, and dare not reveal their roles. O'Nan's history is accurate, and the plot builds to the bombing of the King David Hotel in July 1946.

In a spare, noir style, City of Secrets puts a face on political violence, offering an unspoken parallel to current headlines. Eva and Brand spar: "So killing was no longer a sin?" he asked. "Not in the cause of freedom." Brand escaped unthinkable horror but places himself again in deadly conflict, dedicated to the movement until eventually forced to reinvent himself once more. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: In a noir thriller set in post-World War II, British-ruled Jerusalem, Jewish refugees fight for Israeli independence.

Viking, $22, hardcover, 9780670785964


by Antonia Hayes

Antonia Hayes's first novel, Relativity, blends quirk with compelling family dynamics for an often funny and occasionally heartbreaking look at ties that bind as well as divides that cannot be overcome.

Ethan Forsythe can't remember a time when Mark, his father, was a part of their lives in Sydney, Australia. His mother, Claire, devotes the love she once gave to Mark and to her former career in ballet to her brilliant, science-obsessed son, who has a form of synesthesia that allows him to see phenomena usually invisible to the naked eye, such as sound waves or the Doppler effect. Ethan also has a lack of social skills and is bullied at school. Meanwhile, Mark returns to Sydney to see his ailing father, who insists upon meeting Ethan before dying. Although Mark and Ethan's shared love of physics forges an almost immediate connection, Claire fears learning the reason their family splintered will hurt Ethan far worse than life without a father.

Hayes tackles difficult themes and situations: Claire's perception that her failure to protect her son left him irrevocably changed; her vow to keep Mark out of their lives; how families can determine its members' futures despite contrary intentions. However, the story gets considerable lift from Ethan's awed devotion to the beauty of science and Hayes's knack for turning matters of physics into graceful prose. While readers may expect the exact opposite of the ending they get, Hayes makes brave choices throughout for a story that feels authentic and characters who stick in the mind and heart. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: A funny and heartbreaking story of a tween science prodigy reuniting with his estranged father, while his mother remains conflicted about the relationship.

Gallery Books, $26, hardcover, 9781501105074

Biography & Memoir

Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier's Story

by Matti Friedman

During the 1990s, the Israeli army maintained a string of hilltop forts in southern Lebanon to protect towns in northern Israel. At one such outpost, called the Pumpkin, boys beginning their mandatory military service spent time on guard duty, washing dishes and watching grainy VHS tapes, a tedium punctuated by deadly clashes with Hezbollah fighters. The Pumpkin shared its shielding mission with other benignly named outposts like Red Pepper, Basil and Citrus. When the soldiers in the Pumpkin were not under fire, setting up ambushes or searching for hidden bombs, they heard the euphemistic radio codes from their comrades who were under attack elsewhere: a wounded soldier was called a flower, a dead one a cyclamen.

"If you listened to the language of the Lebanon troops, you might have thought they occupied a kind of garden," says journalist Matti Friedman (The Aleppo Codex) in Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier's Story. Friedman, a veteran of several tours at the Pumpkin, weaves a poetic account of his own experience with that of another soldier who served at the outpost before him and Friedman's own harrowing trip back to Lebanon as a civilian after the Israeli army pulled out in 2000. Friedman captures a time and place where the new millennium seemed to promise peace instead of geopolitical conflagrations scorching the Middle East, when the Israeli experience in southern Lebanon felt like the trailing edge of a conflict instead of the beginning of a new type of war. Pumpkinflowers is a beautifully written, gut-wrenching book. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: Pumpkinflowers is a poetic account of an Israeli army veteran's time in southern Lebanon.

Algonquin, $25.95, hardcover, 9781616204587

Detroit Hustle: A Memoir of Love, Life & Home

by Amy Haimerl

Journalist Amy Haimerl and her husband, Karl, loved their Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., but were facing rising costs and considering relocating. Friends and family were surprised by their choice of famously struggling Detroit, Mich., but they fell in love with a 1914 Georgian Revival (lacking heat, electricity, plumbing, windows and much more), and took the plunge. The house they named Matilda cost them $35,000 to purchase--and exponentially more in renovations.

Detroit Hustle is Haimerl's memoir of rebuilding Matilda and building her marriage to Karl in parallel. But it is also a musing on what it means for a girl from a working-class family in rural Colorado to move through Mississippi and New York to arrive in the gritty and disparaged city of Detroit. Five weeks after they buy, Detroit declares bankruptcy. Amy covers the court proceedings for Crain's Detroit Business while researching her new city and its history. Her study of the city yields complexities and contradictions, a portrait of proud residents and the difficulties of gentrification.

Haimerl is thoughtful and reflective about her relationship to place and to the intricacies of Detroit's past and future; quirky, funny and loving about her marriage; and by turns vexed and inspired by the process of home renovation. Her vivid personality pairs well with the rich, colorful, troubled city she loves. Detroit Hustle is a remarkable memoir spanning home repair, political and culture geographies, and the choices we make for the people, places and things we love. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This memoir of home renovation in Detroit delves into much more, including the importance of place, the meaning of urban revival and the building of lives and loves.

Running Press, $24, hardcover, 9780762457359


Packed for the Wrong Trip: A New Look Inside Abu Ghraib and the Citizen-Soldiers Who Redeemed America's Honor

by W. Zach Griffith

U.S. forces commandeered Saddam Hussein's notorious prison at Abu Ghraib in order to house thousands of detainees after the March 2003 invasion. Later that year, reports of prisoner torture and abuse by American soldiers with accompanying pictures and videos became world news. At this nadir of American pride, the 152nd Maine Army National Guard Field Artillery Battalion was finishing mountain conflict training at Fort Dix with orders for deployment to Afghanistan. Among them was William "Dizl" Thorndike, middle-aged father of four with a background in clam digging, teaching, EMT dispatching and prison guarding. A week before deployment, the 152nd was abruptly redirected to Abu Ghraib with no relevant training and little basic desert battle gear. Their job: bring order out of chaos, and unofficially, "do not make us look bad."

Veteran Marine combat correspondent W. Zach Griffith's Packed for the Wrong Trip is the story of how Dizl and his comrades overcame their lack of training with raw guts and a Maine talent for fixing anything with "duct tape and string" in order to tame the monster hellhole Abu Ghraib--"a garbage-strewn complex of grayish-brown buildings... surrounded by a twenty-five-foot-high grayish-brown concrete perimeter wall." Bedeviled by regular mortar and rocket attacks, prisoner uprisings, sniper fire and explosives along the supply road to Baghdad, Dizl and the 152nd managed in one year to upgrade conditions for prisoners, expedite release of the innocent, and partially redeem the U.S.'s tarnished reputation. Griffith has a storyteller's knack for action and successfully weaves anecdotes, interviews, history and the frightening ambience of men at war into a chronicle of heroism and redemption. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: This participant's look at how National Guardsmen from Maine cleaned up the Abu Ghraib prison is both harsh history and an inspiring story.

Arcade Publishing, $24.99, hardcover, 9781628726459

The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria

by Janine Di Giovanni

In The Morning They Came for Us, Janine di Giovanni presents the ethnic, religious and political history of Syria, a complicated country carved from Middle East border negotiations between British and French diplomats, with its widespread Sunni majority, the Shia minority, the northern Kurds, the Armenian/Greek Christians, the Yazidi mountain nomads and, above all, the iron-fisted Assad family's 50-year dictatorship. Di Giovanni (Ghosts by Daylight; Madness Visible) is a seasoned foreign correspondent with experience in warzones including Sarajevo, Kosovo, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. She knows first-hand that war is not so much about history and religion, but about the people caught in the middle of it.

The Morning They Came for Us is about Syrians such as Nada, Hussein and Maryam--people from places like Damascus, Homs and Aleppo who suffered under the Assad government and lost family and friends to the incessant bombings and assaults from the many sides pulling their country apart. In informal interviews, di Giovanni elicits their stories of rape, beatings and repeated torture. Some were student opposition activists, some were highly educated, multilingual elite who were "bi-national," having "a second passport, a way out," and some were apolitical working people caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Morning They Came for Us tells the story of Syrians who have discovered that "war starts with a jolt: one day you are busy with dentist appointments or arranging ballet lessons.... ATMs work and mobile phones function. Then, suddenly, everything stops"--except for the brutal and seemingly endless war that di Giovanni chronicles so effectively. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Foreign correspondent Janine di Giovanni chronicles her visits to war-torn Syria and the experiences of Syrians caught in the nightmare.

Liveright, $25.95, hardcover, 9780871407139

Children's & Young Adult

There Is a Tribe of Kids

by Lane Smith

Two-time Caldecott Honor artist Lane Smith (The Stinky Cheese Man; Grandpa Green) has created a playful, profoundly beautiful universe in his glorious picture book There Is a Tribe of Kids. Smith's appealing and kid-friendly--yet artfully stylized and elegantly hip--artwork blossoms with each reading.

The story--a boy's solo odyssey through the natural world--begins with his happy discovery of some baby goats: "There was a TRIBE of KIDS." Much of the narrative unfurls in wordless comic strip-style panels, often expressing the joy of interaction between the boy and his new animal friends, followed by a quiet sense of loneliness when they part ways. The only words in the book highlight collective nouns, from "There was a SMACK of JELLYFISH" to "There was a "BAND of GORILLAS."

When the boy arrives at the ocean shore, there's a "sprinkle" of lightning bugs and a "family" of stars, a "bed" of clams and a "night" of dreams. A "trail" of shells leads to... a "tribe" of kids, this time a tree full of leaf-clad human ones, much like Peter Pan's lost boys, except with girls, too. Is this a homecoming for the boy... or a discovery?

Perhaps There Is a Tribe of Kids is about the deep need for connection, and the exuberance, and often humor, that arises from it. It's a celebration of the wondrous natural world where whales spout and caterpillars morph into butterflies--and how sometimes the line between animals and humans isn't as well defined as one might think. A "sparkle" of gems. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In Lane Smith's extraordinary picture book, a solitary boy goes on an odyssey through the natural world, encountering "a smack of jellyfish," "a crash of rhinos" and even "a tribe of kids."

Roaring Brook/Macmillan, $18.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 5-9, 9781626720565

Trouble the Water

by Frances O'Roark Dowell

Frances O'Roark Dowell (Dovey Coe; Chicken Boy) has written an eerie, slow-burning novel set in 1950s Kentucky, with lively, pitch-perfect dialogue reminiscent of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.

Eleven-year-old Callie, Wendell, Jim and Thomas are four children who are linked by an old golden retriever, and not much else. Their stories wend their way toward each other like the poison ivy-strewn paths through the woods surrounding a dilapidated Civil War-era cabin. Callie is sure it must be haunted: "That place felt funny. Felt cold and, well, occupied." Callie, who is black, and her new companion Wendell, who is white, work together to get to the root of the ever-expanding mystery about the cabin, the dog and Jim, a boy who drowned a long time ago. But the town of Celeste is not ready for a black girl and a white boy to walk down the street together, let alone join forces, nor are they ready for an action the black newspaper is advocating--to integrate the local swimming pool. The feeling of injustice is old news to Callie in this "mean old world," but Wendell is just starting to wake up to the sting of it.

The unsettled ghosts of the drowned Jim and of Thomas, a once-enslaved boy, overlap in the cabin, neither one ready to cross the proverbial--and literal--river to allow their spirits finally to rest. Callie and Wendell--troubled spirits in their own right--form a near-friendship based on what they can share, with a cautious hope for a future without boundaries between black and white. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: In Frances O'Roark Dowell's novel, a feisty black girl and a wary white boy come together in a racially tense 1950s Kentucky town.

Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum, $16.99, hardcover, 288p., ages 10-13, 9781481424639

Grandad's Island

by Benji Davies

Grandad's Island by British author-illustrator Benji Davies (The Storm Whale; Bizzy Bear series) celebrates a close grandfather-grandson relationship with warmth and style. Whether it's read as a picture book about love, loss or just missing someone who isn't around anymore, it's a charmer. Cheerful cinematic spreads invite young readers into all sorts of intriguing places, from a cozy attic full of curiosities like a turtle teapot, to a vast ship's deck, to the deep jungle of an island paradise.

The book opens as Syd pays a visit to his Grandad's house, just out the back gate from his own house. He hears his grandfather call him from an upstairs attic he's never seen before, and the two of them (three, counting the gray kitten) enter a big metal door--surprise!--and emerge onto the deck of a tall ship. The ship takes them across rolling waves to a lush tropical island teeming with wild animals, including an orangutan that looks curiously like a stuffed toy in Grandad's attic. They fix up an old jungle shack, with help from a toucan and some parrots, and Grandad, an artist, paints the wonders around them. It's perfect. When Grandad tells Syd he's thinking of staying put, the boy asks, "But won't you be lonely?" With all those smiling jungle animals? Maybe not. They hug "one last time."

Back at Grandad's house, it's quiet, and the big metal door is gone. But what's this? A jungle toucan taps on the attic window, bearing a little painting from Grandad, "For Syd." No matter the interpretation, Grandad lives on. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In this whimsical picture book, a grandfather takes his grandson on a tall ship to a tropical island, and sends the boy back home without him.

Candlewick, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9780763690052


Author Buzz

The Rom-Commers

by Katherine Center

Dear Reader,

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

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

Katherine Center

Buy now and support your local indie bookstore>

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

St. Martin's Press

Pub Date: 
June 11, 2024


List Price: 
$29.00 Hardcover

Blue Moon
(A Smoke and Mirrors Novella)

by Skye Warren

Dear Reader,

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

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

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

Skye Warren

Available on Kobo

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

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
March 12, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

Powered by: Xtenit