Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, May 17, 2016

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

From My Shelf

Oh, the Graduation Book Gifts You'll Buy!

Pop quiz: Who has given Oh, the Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss as a graduation gift at least once? I see everyone raised their hands, but this perennial bestseller and reliable sign of spring is not the only option for scholars on your commencement shopping list.

Personally, I'd have liked to receive a gift box containing Emerson's journals and Jack Kerouac's novel Dharma Bums, since those were the books I read most during my first decade after graduation. There are, however, so many great choices, including a few recently published titles worth considering for your graduate this year:

Advice from My 80-Year-Old Self: Real Words of Wisdom from People Ages 7 to 88 by the late artist Susan O'Malley, who asked more than 100 people what counsel they would offer their younger selves, then transformed the responses into text-based images.

Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work by StoryCorps founder Dave Isay, which features tales of passion, courage and commitment, chronicling individuals as they pursue the work they were born to do.

Stuff Every Graduate Should Know: A Handbook for the Real World by Alyssa Favreau, who offers advice for post-college life, including how to find your first apartment, build a grown-up wardrobe and take care of yourself when you're sick.

100 Years: Wisdom from Famous Writers on Every Year of Your Life by Joshua Prager and Milton Glaser, featuring inspirational passages from Arthur Rimbaud, Sylvia Plath, David Foster Wallace, William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Maya Angelou and more.

Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed, a collection of quotations--"mini instruction manuals for the soul"--drawn from her writing that seek to capture the author's wisdom, courage and outspoken humor.

Now Go Out There: (and Get Curious) by Mary Karr, based on the bestselling author's 2015 commencement address at Syracuse University, in which she advised: "Being curious and compassionate can take you out of your ego and edge your soul towards wonder." Apt advice for graduating readers. --Robert Gray, contributing editor

Jewish Book Council: 73rd National Jewish Book Award Winners

The Writer's Life

Geoff Dyer: The Shape of the Landscape

photo: Matt Stuart

A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Geoff Dyer has received the Somerset Maugham Award, the E.M. Forster Award, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism and, in 2015, the Windham Campbell Prize for nonfiction. The author of four novels and nine works of nonfiction, Dyer is writer-in-residence at the University of Southern California and lives in Los Angeles. His books have been translated into 24 languages. White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World (Pantheon, May 2016) is his newest collection.

With his trademark wit, Dyer examines a host of seemingly unrelated landscapes across the globe: Tahiti, where he is in search of himself searching for Gaugin; the Forbidden City in the impersonal sprawl of Beijing; an obscure land art project in remote New Mexico; from Oslo north into Svalbard's endless dark; points across the great American West and, finally, Los Angeles.

Was there any rhyme or reason in choosing the locations you ended up traveling to?

It was pretty random, but they were all places I'd been wanting to go to for one reason or another. And then I thought there might be something about the Adorno house and Watts Towers that would fit in thematically with other stuff in the book--and after I'd been to these places I saw that they also knitted up or provided some kind of resolution of those themes.

So much of this book seems to be about traveling, focusing on interludes of waiting, wondering, on long thoughts that depart from a place and, rather than return back to where you started, lead us somewhere new. Did you feel at times that you were writing about a writer traveling?

I just felt like a writer writing--which is a form of travel, I suppose. But maybe I should qualify that further: most of the time I felt like a writer having trouble writing--which is a writer not getting anywhere.

At one point, you acknowledge that you are essentially a British intellectual author in Tahiti complaining about Gauguin complaining about Tahiti, an irony you seem fully aware of and embrace. Are these the facets you set out to discover?

It just ended up that way. I was really excited about going to Tahiti and I loved Gauguin--and then the experience of being there started sucking so I had to make some kind of accommodation with the suck. Humor is the natural aid to and result of that accommodation. Naturally these sentences could be re-written to be about (or read as an allegory of) England--minus the initial excitement. Which is a way of saying it started that way, too.

Were there any destinations on the agenda that went unexplored--trips that you originally thought were going to be part of White Sands but didn't make the cut?

I went to a number of places hoping there might be something there writing-wise--either a vibe the landscape was giving off or some kind of adventure that might befall me--but in many cases it didn't happen. Strangely, I'm now having trouble remembering where they were, but I promise I regularly came back empty-handed.

Regarding Gauguin in French Polynesia, you say "our (historically constructed) idea of paradise is, precisely, a place untouched by history." Later, you trace the German philosopher Theodor Adorno's emigration to Los Angeles during World War II. In his book Minima Moralia, one of the things Adorno found most striking about the American southwest was the "absence of historical memories" in the landscape. This was an interesting parallel, between where you begin and end in White Sands--the notion of the pre- and post-historical landscape, and how neither were what those giants of their time expected. Nothing is ever what we suspect, which is a thought that appears time and again in White Sands.

That's an interesting connection you've spotted--and one that had escaped me. One of the interesting things about L.A., though--the exemplary city without a past--is how much past, how much history, there is here. The Adorno house is proof of that. It's really nice that L.A. is not semi-pickled in and by history the way that England is. On the other hand, when events are unfolding somewhere on the world stage, one often feels removed from them by virtue of being on the west coast of America--partly because of the time difference. In London, you feel much closer to the heart of what's going on in the world--unless it's something happening in California, of course. L.A. is very well placed for that.

You intersperse chapters set across the globe from each other with vignettes about small, folkloric places from your childhood in Cheltenham, England. What did traveling to exotic, storied locations reveal to you about your own "island no bigger than a back garden?"

I guess the purpose of those chapters--and this is an answer to your question--is to try to show how the seeds of the exotic elsewhere (or at least of my attraction to and appreciation of them) were actually planted back in England in the deeply un-exotic soil of childhood. Let's say they are buried there, in the unconscious. Those little chapters unearth them.

Your writing tends to deconstruct moments from different points of view (Li's photographs in "Forbidden City"). Whether something is beautiful, awkward, thought-provoking, meaningless or sad, you spend large amounts of time trying to get to the various forms of resonant, abstract truths. Rarely in whole, usually in part. What is to be learned there?

The only word I would quibble with in this is "abstract." I think the truths I am drawn to and try to articulate are often physical or embodied--or embedded. They tend also to be incidental in the sense that they grow out of incidents. To that extent I am--and I think this is the only time I've ever said this--a storyteller, albeit one like the hitchhiker in White Sands who, as the narrator of that story says, is not a very good storyteller because he's always bringing in all sorts of irrelevant detail, slowing things down, etc.--exactly as you say.

"You realize that this is not a piece of art to be seen but--the point bears repeating--an experience of space that unfolds over time." It often feels that you are casually going after the bigger fish, even if you insist that certain inquiries prove useless.

Strangely, the idea of "story" comes up again here. There's a certain amount of cataloguing, but it tends to be sequential, as in any story. It's somewhat frustrating to me that the book is always being described as a book of essays; it's as much a book of stories. Even if the fish is big you need a net with a fine mesh. Or something to hook the reader's attention.

I came away from White Sands thinking about what we use landscapes to discover. If there was ever any one notion uniting your various episodes in this book, I think it's your ruminating on this idea, returning again to ask the same questions and ending up with new answers each time.

Yes, I think that's a good summing up. It's why I was tempted to use that painting by Vedder, of the pilgrim at the Sphinx, on the cover of the book, sort of listening to it, hoping to have its mysteries revealed. This observation of yours also brings me back to that amazing passage in the book--don't worry, I'm not about to lay some major ego trip on you!--quoted from Raymond Williams's The Country and the City, where he takes something that we are very used to seeing (the English stately home) and by asking us to think about it in a different way--"think it through as labour"--causes us to view it in a fundamentally different, more complex way. It's also a reminder of how much of the landscape is man-made, historied, a result of social forces that are still actively engaged in shaping it. --Jarret Middleton, author/freelance editor

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

Book Candy

Book Titles, with a Twist

Thanks to the #RemoveALetterSpoilABook hashtag, Buzzfeed was able to showcase "21 book titles that are so funny when you remove one letter."


Bustle found the "12 hottest male bookworms in movies and TV, because nothing is sexier than a fellow reader."


"This is what a real life Quidditch game looks like," the Independent noted in featuring a daring group of skydiving muggles.


Inspired by Simon Sebag Montefiore’s new book, Nathan Gelgud illustrated "the 5 most sordid scandals in 300 years of Romanov rule" for Signature.


"Goosebumps: 10 things you didn't know about R.L. Stine--in pictures" was featured by the Guardian.


"The future is probably going to be something like Las Vegas." Flavorwire shared "20 eerie J.G. Ballard predictions about the future."

Great Reads

Rediscover: Katherine Dunn and Geek Love

Katherine Dunn, best known for her novel Geek Love, a National Book Award finalist, died last Thursday. She was 70 years old and besides two other novels, also published School of Hard Knocks: The Struggle for Survival in America's Toughest Boxing Gyms, a work of nonfiction that won the 2004 Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Award.

Published in 1989, Geek Love (available in paperback from Vintage) is the story of the Binewskis, a family of itinerant carnival owners. Al and Lil Binewski, the heads of the family, get the idea to integrate their business vertically and, through a regime of illegal drugs, poisons and radiation, breed their own sideshow. There is Arturo, the ruthless, megalomaniacal "Aqua Boy"; the beautiful, talented conjoined twins Elly and Iphy; Oly, the hunchback, albino dwarf and the book's narrator; and Chick, the kindhearted, outwardly normal boy who possesses the most powerful gift of them all. The novel jumps between two time periods: in the first, Oly recalls her childhood and the rise and fall of the Binewski clan; in the second, a much older Oly works to protect what little family she has left.

Readers who can stomach the darkness of Geek Love will find a cast of unique characters, splashes of dark humor and surprising moments of tenderness and warmth, all told through Dunn's incredible prose. --Alex Mutter

Book Review


Albina and the Dog-Men

by Alejandro Jodorowsky, trans. by Alfred MacAdam

Albina and the Dog-Men might be described as a story Gabriel García Márquez would have written if he'd dropped acid. With a constant flurry of strange, sexual, colorful and surreal activity, the fifth novel by filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky (best known for avant-garde works such as The Holy Mountain) is a perfect picaresque novel for lovers of the absurd.

When an albino giant appears on her street, Crabby, a hunchback, takes her in, unaware of this strange woman's effect on men. The giant, whom Crabby names Albina, begins a career as a stripper, aided and abetted by the hunchback. Before long, they're threatened by a local corrupt government official and go on the run, leading to one of the strangest road trips ever put to print, including were-dogs, ancient gods, aliens and mystical trees. What begins as a story about two women becomes an odd fairy tale readers might elect to keep out of their children's hands.

While the novel is utterly bizarre, the reader never gets lost, which is a testament to Jodorowsky's storytelling. In lesser hands, it could have been a chaotic hodgepodge of shaggy dog stories and meditations on human existence. Instead, Albina reads like a force of nature, never slowing down even as it follows detours and asides. For those new to Jodorowsky's work, and for fans alike, Albina and the Dog-Men will be a fantastic--even pleasant--trip, guided by one of the more memorable artists of the 20th century. --Noah Cruickshank, marketing manager, Open Books, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: Acclaimed filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky brings his surreal style to a rousing fairy tale.

Restless Books, $15.99, paperback, 9781632060549

The Fox Was Ever the Hunter

by Herta Müller, trans. by Philip Boehm

The world of The Fox Was Ever the Hunter is a bewildering and disorienting one, where people turn to superstition to make sense of their lives, where even the poplar trees are menacing--because life is a menace. Here the sunlight is inescapable and beats down on one, mimicking the constant surveillance of the police state and the omnipresent image of the dictator, watching everything and everyone.

Character and narrative are secondary to setting and atmosphere in Herta Müller's novel, translated from the German by Philip Boehm. That setting is Romania, following the agricultural and austerity reforms of the communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. Müller was persecuted there by the secret police and immigrated to West Germany in the 1980s. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2009.

The strong writing contributes to the disjointed and disturbing impressions of both place and character. Use of poetic techniques abound, augmenting the surrealism: "[h]unger sharpens elbows for shoving and teeth for screaming. The shop has fresh bread. The elbows inside the shop are countless, but the bread is counted," and "[e]ven without their leaves the branches overhead are listening in." While the Romania of The Fox Was Ever the Hunter feels surreal, it is very real to the characters, who initially seem like mere paper cutouts. In the last third, however, they begin driving the narrative forward and develop compelling depth. Friends are informers, lovers are traitors, and every day the threat of the state makes both its presence and absolute authority known in increasingly spirit-crushing ways. -- Evan M. Anderson, collection development librarian, Kirkendall Public Library, Ankeny, Iowa.

Discover: A harrowing literary exploration of the price of paranoia in Romania under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu, written by one of his victims.

Metropolitan Books, $28, hardcover, 9780805093025

Mystery & Thriller

A Front Page Affair

by Radha Vatsal

After a peripatetic childhood, Capability "Kitty" Weeks is thrilled to settle in New York City with her widowed father, Julian. A well-bred young lady who doesn't quite fit in with New York's society set, Kitty has journalistic ambitions, but she's stuck writing fluff for the Ladies' Page of the New York Sentinel. When a man is murdered at a picnic on her beat, though, Kitty is drawn into the murder investigation. Her interviews and research lead her to a twisty conspiracy--and to the growing suspicion that her father may be involved.

Radha Vatsal introduces readers to a likable heroine in her debut mystery, A Front Page Affair. The story is set in 1915, when the United States was trying to maintain neutrality in World War I, a task made difficult by the sinking of the Lusitania and various competing economic interests. As Kitty follows the trail of the murder victim's life, she uncovers a much more interesting story: one involving a mysterious German chemist, the sale of volatile chemical compounds, and a web of behind-the-scenes connections that draws the attention of the Secret Service. Vatsal has clearly done her research on the geography and fashions of the period, but the novel's strength lies in its exploration of complicated wartime politics, and the difference between neutrality and innocence.

Rich with period detail and cameos from a few historical figures, A Front Page Affair is an appealing beginning to Kitty Weeks and her world. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A young society woman with journalistic ambitions stumbles onto a murder case in 1915 New York City.

Sourcebooks Landmark, $15.99, paperback, 9781492632665

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Map of Bones

by Francesca Haig

The Fire Sermon (2015), the first volume in Australian poet Francesca Haig's post-apocalyptic trilogy, received rave reviews. Critics compared it with The Hunger Games and The Road. Her sequel, The Map of Bones, a slow-simmering, character-driven and poetically ambitious nail-biter, promises no less.

Four hundred years in the future, Earth is reeling from the devastation of a nuclear blast and humans are born as sets of twins: one twin is an Alpha (mutation-free) while the other is an Omega (carrying deformities from the nuclear fallout). When one twin dies, the other does, too. Fresh from their ordeal in New Hobart, which concluded the first book, psychic Cass and twins Piper and Zoe are running from the Alpha Council, which has imposed a drastic division between Alphas and Omegas. Zach, Cass's Alpha twin and leader of the Council, has hatched a plot to imprison Omegas in a liquid purgatory, and the three fugitives are desperate to warn others. Resistance forces, however, have begun to shun the trio after tragic deaths and destruction for which the Council publicly blames them. Cass begins to have increasingly intense visions of nuclear devastation and fire, and they threaten to devour her psyche just as the Omegas plan an all-out assault on the Alpha-dominated New Hobart, in an attempt to ensure the survival of the remaining Omegas.

Haig takes the popular ingénue-in-dystopia trope to a new level with nuanced social commentary written with a poetic and literary flow, and a satisfying emotional cliffhanger sets the stage for the final battle. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: The second volume in Francesca Haig's Fire Sermon trilogy is a nail-biter that continues the saga of Cass, Piper and Zoe in a nuclear-devastated wasteland.

Gallery Books, $24.99, hardcover, 9781476767192

Graphic Books

James Joyce: Portrait of a Dubliner--A Graphic Biography

by Alfonso Zapico

James Joyce: Portrait of a Dubliner by Spanish graphic novelist Alfonso Zapico (Café Budapest), is a charming addition to the growing body of graphic biographies that explore the lives of cultural icons such as Charles Darwin, the Carter Family and Steve Jobs. Joyce's peripatetic life is particularly well suited to the episodic nature of the form.

Zapico makes no attempt to provide a Classic Comics interpretation of Joyce's famously impenetrable writing. Instead he gives a clear-eyed depiction of the life that created the work. James Joyce is surprisingly comic given its subject's struggles with poverty, censorship, literary rejection, major health problems, near blindness and his beloved daughter's mental illness. Zapico treats Joyce with both humor and respect, but does not sugarcoat the writer's drunkenness, infidelities, financial irresponsibility and cheerful willingness to bite any helping hand that came his way. Some of the most powerful portions of the work deal with Joyce's relationships with those closest to him, including his literary frenemy Ezra Pound, his brother Stanislaus, and his lifelong love and muse, Nora Barnacle, who is the most fully developed character in the work after Joyce.

The visual language of the work is sophisticated. The grey-wash backgrounds are drawn with meticulously realized historical detail while Joyce and his contemporaries are rendered with a jaunty, comic book-style line. Taken together, the contrasting styles allow Zapico to move smoothly between the comic and the tragic, ending with a bittersweet homage to Joyce's influence on Dublin in the years since his death. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: A beautifully drawn and playful portrait of the artist as a difficult man.

Arcade Publishing, $22.99, hardcover, 9781628726558

Biography & Memoir

Boy Erased: A Memoir

by Garrard Conley

Garrard Conley's haunting and introspective memoir, Boy Erased, recounts his 2004 freshman year in college--the year his deeply religious Arkansan parents discovered he was gay and sent him to be evaluated at Love in Action (LIA), a fundamentalist Christian ministry that adapted Alcoholics Anonymous's 12-step program for gay conversion therapy.

The only son of evangelical Missionary Baptist parents, Conley was often required to help his father (who ran a car dealership before becoming an ordained pastor of his own church) in his ministering duties. While college opens his mind to new and challenging ideas, Conley's entire life had been shaped by Bible verses and End Times philosophy. So, when he's outed, he readily agrees to undergo the therapy.

Boy Erased offers an unusual firsthand perspective of gay conversion therapy: Conley is so steeped in his religious upbringing that he doesn't initially rebel against LIA's program. During his evaluation period (where he has to keep a Moral Inventory of sinful transgressions), he eventually realizes, "In the process of purification, you risked erasing every minor detail you'd ever cared about."

Conley is a vivid, compassionate and compelling writer who uses arresting imagery (his high school girlfriend's "predilection for French kissing ran a cold blade through the bottom of my stomach"). The portraits of his parents show them as sheltered and scared, but also loving and supportive. Boy Erased is a vulnerable coming-of-age tale that will educate and move readers. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Garrard Conley's emotionally raw memoir of being outed and forced into ex-gay conversion therapy is a tale of survival and faith.

Riverhead, $27, hardcover, 9781594633010

The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father

by Kao Kalia Yang

In The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, Kao Kalia Yang related her family's immigrant experience. With The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father, she focuses on the life and art of Bee Yang: "my father raps, jazzes, and sings the blues when he dwells in the landscape of tradition Hmong song poetry." The storytelling and emotional communication of that art form was a defining element of Bee's contribution to his family and his culture, from their home in Laos to a refugee camp in Thailand and, finally, in the United States. When his mother died, Bee stopped singing, and Yang considers the significance of that silence as well.

As its title suggests, The Song Poet is lyrical and beautifully composed, with themes of loss and love, realistic and raw, but enriched by gentle metaphor. It is divided into "Side A" and "Side B," the first told in Bee's first-person perspective and the second in Yang's. These points of view offer immersion in a Hmong culture that values family, and shares a complex system of spiritual celebrations and a way of life centered on the day-to-day necessity of growing and harvesting food. War and violence drive the family to Minnesota, where Bee and his wife do hard, dangerous labor, and are poorly equipped culturally to battle racism and exploitation. But they retain their reverence of family and tradition. The Song Poet is a message of love and thanks to a father who sacrificed for his children's future, and a memorial to his art. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: In celebrating a father's traditional Hmong song poetry, this memoir records the painful history of a loving family and a people.

Metropolitan Books, $27, hardcover, 9781627794947


Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon

by Bronwen Dickey

Seven years ago, North Carolina essayist and journalist Bronwen Dickey rescued a pit bull mix for a family dog. Friends and neighbors rolled their eyes and advised caution, believing the hype that pit bulls have "a long legacy of human bloodlust and betrayal, hard-line genetic determinism, and unprovoked animal rage." Dickey, however, was won over by Nola's eyes--"It was a look with layers." Curious, she set out to study the history, genetics and mythology of this much-maligned bulldog derivative. Judiciously filled with data, anecdotes, illustrations and a self-deprecating, canny sense of humor, Pit Bull is a constantly surprising compendium of dog lore, human foible and social prejudice.

Today pit bulls are banned in 850 U.S. communities and the entire United Kingdom. As Dickey paraphrases them, stereotypes abound: "pit bulls are not for people like 'us'--the respectable and morally upstanding members of society; pit bulls belong to them." Exploring the history and politics behind the pit bull's current bad rep, Dickey interviews trainers (like breed-loyal Diane Jessup who scowls: "I refuse to face an uncertain future with a f*cking Labradoodle") and taps "news stories" about drug dealers, violent dog attacks on children, unscrupulous puppy mills, the infamous pro football star Michael Vick's fighting dog abuse arrest, and even the symbolism of some Ferguson protestors leading pit bulls in the Michael Brown demonstrations. Of the 77 million domestic dogs in the United States, pit bulls are a fraction. As Dickey clearly and absorbingly illustrates, pit bulls are not evil incarnate--they "are not dangerous or safe... aren't saints or sinners.... Pit bulls are just... dogs." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: The much-maligned pit bull finds redemption in Bronwen Dickey's entertaining, thoughtful and well-researched study of this noble canine.

Knopf, $26.95, hardcover, 9780307961761


Thank You, Teacher: Grateful Students Tell the Stories of the Teachers Who Changed Their Lives

by Holly Holbert and Bruce Holbert, editors

When writer Bruce Holbert (Lonesome Animals; The Hour of Lead) questioned, after 30 years, his worth as a teacher in Washington State, his wife, Holly, decided they needed to write a book that celebrated teachers. The Holberts have compiled a trove of stories written by successful people who recall teachers of lasting impact who appreciated and nurtured their individual strengths and talents and exposed their students to worlds of possibility.

More than 80 essays are included from notable figures in literature, sports, politics, science, business, law--and beyond--who write affectionately about teachers from elementary school through college. George Saunders credits the intervention of two young teachers--who were dating--for putting him on a path to writing. A 30-year friendship with a former college professor continues to impart wisdom to filmmaker Ken Burns. Songwriter Rosanne Cash acknowledges that a no-nonsense college writing instructor taught her "liberation in the same breath that he taught structure." A public-speaking teacher who favored respect over scholastic performance affected actor Beau Bridges. Terrible student Alan Dershowitz is indebted to an eighth-grade teacher who reminded the future lawyer of his own self-worth. And swimmer Janet Evans credits a beloved elementary school teacher for believing her boast that one day she'd win the Olympics.

In an essay by Stewart Lewis about a hippie teacher who inspired the writer-singer, he says, "The power of teachers is overlooked and underestimated in so many ways." This vast collection successfully affirms the influence of unsung educators and gives them their due. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: Inspiring essays pay homage to teachers who have made a difference in the lives of their now successful students.

New World Library, $21.95, hardcover, 9781608684182


So Much Synth

by Brenda Shaughnessy

Music underlies many of the poems in Brenda Shaughnessy's So Much Synth. "Synth" refers to both the '80s music of groups like Duran Duran, Eurythmics and Simple Minds, which figure into several poems, and the neurological condition synesthesia, in which the stimulation of one sense triggers a reaction in another. Though many poets play with the senses of sight and sound, Shaughnessy (Human Dark with Sugar; Our Andromeda) particularly relishes made-up words, internal and near rhymes, or visually broken lines to reveal her thoughts. In "Last Sleep, Best Sleep," for example, she describes "The great fruits of my failure:/ silk milk pills with little bitter pits" and then tosses in the knowing aside: "Who talks like that?" 

Inherent to So Much Synth is Shaughnessy's passionate, funny, hipster, feminist take on growing up. The young narrator living in a "lesbian loft" in "But I'm the Only One" strings together the tenants' comings and goings. The protagonist of the skillful poem about female adolescence "Is There Something I Should Know?" runs through every girl's angst about sex, menstruation, pop music, popularity ("The middle was always for losers. The middle seat,/ the middle-aged, the middle child, the middle finger,/ middle school, middling."). She describes the anxious anticipation of adulthood: "what it was really like to become a woman/ made me rather expect a kind of slow, gorgeous/ liquefaction after which I'd emerge a cross/ between Jessica Rabbit and Denise Huxtable." In So Much Synth, Shaughnessy writes with a mature sense of herself--both as she was and as she is. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Brenda Shaughnessy's collection highlights often playful, sound-driven verse about the mysteries of adolescence and the foundations of feminism.

Copper Canyon Press, $22, hardcover, 9781556594878

Children's & Young Adult

As Brave As You

by Jason Reynolds

In his terrific middle-grade debut, Jason Reynolds (When I Was the Greatest; Boy in the Black Suit; All American Boys with Brendan Kiely) tells the engaging story of two African American brothers who spend a month with their grandparents while their parents work on their struggling marriage. This worries 11-year-old Genie Harris. Most things do.

It doesn't take long for Genie to see how different "the little house all alone on the top of a hill" is from Brooklyn: "No brownstones with the cement stoops where you could watch the buses, ice cream trucks, and taxis ride by. Nope. North Hill, Virginia, was country. Like country country." There's new food, too, like grits, or, as Genie thinks, "movie prison food." And when Genie tells Grandpop wearing sunglasses inside "makes you look crazy," he learns that his grandfather is blind. This discovery worries him, too, especially when he sees a gun in his Grandpop's back pocket. Genie has hundreds of questions, all of which he writes down in a numbered list for future Google searches.

Unfolding family secrets and upsetting mishaps, major and minor, keep the pages flying, and how obsessive Genie and his "cool, confident," muscled and girl-crazy older brother, Ernie, settle in with their grandparents makes for a poignant, profound, often very funny story, told in an easy style as smooth as Grandma's banana pudding. New revelations abound: their uncle's death in Desert Storm, masked fears, pea-picking, loud thunder, people who eat squirrels, the ins and outs of Grandpop's mysterious six-shooter, sweet tea and more. As Brave As You spills over with humor and heart. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Past and present collide in Jason Reynolds's middle-grade debut about two African American brothers from Brooklyn visiting their grandparents in the country.

Caitlyn Dlouhy Books/Atheneum, $16.99, hardcover, 432p., ages 10-up, 9781481415903

The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head

by Daisy Hirst

It's a sad day for Isabel (who almost always has a parrot on her head) when her best friend Simon moves away: "For a while Isabel hated everything." To the visible agitation of the parrot, she angrily knocks over a vase, draws a T. rex on the wall and dumps out boxes.

In time she adapts, "and decided to like being on her own." Who needs friends when you can read or stomp in puddles or climb trees solo? Isabel also takes comfort in her "system," in which she sorts her belongings into cardboard boxes labeled Castles, Hats, Monster (the only box with a lid and an escaping claw), Broken Umbrellas, "Ducks, Hula-Hoop" and... Wolves. "Sometimes, at night, the parrot felt worried about the boxes, especially the box of wolves." "Don't be such a scaredy-parrot," she chides her bird friend, but secretly she worries, too, particularly about the biggest wolf. As she scoots down the city street, they spot a huge box "perfect for the wolf." But a friendly boy named Chester is inside. He explains that wolves are supposed to live in faraway forests, not in boxes. Chester, who "had a way with umbrellas and tape," is obviously a keeper, and when the two new friends tell the boxed wolf about the faraway forests, "The wolf left at once" on a red motorcycle.

British debut author-illustrator Daisy Hirst's simple, extra-charming artwork almost looks Sharpie-drawn (perfect for box labeling!), and her screenprinting technique adds rich color and texture to her bold compositions. A splendidly odd tribute to wild imaginations and friendships lost and found. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In this winningly quirky British picture-book debut, a girl (with a parrot on her head) loses one friend and makes a new one.

Candlewick, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-6, 9780763678296


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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