Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, May 27, 2016

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

From My Shelf

Zane: Beyond Shades of Gray

Zane is the New York Times bestselling author of 32 titles and, as the publisher of Strebor Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster), is considered one of the most powerful African-American females in the publishing industry. Zane's platform is the overall empowerment of the female in every aspect of life. She serves on the boards of many nonprofit organizations and has delivered numerous speeches about domestic abuse. Her latest book is Vengeance, a novel of pain, revenge and mental illness. We talked with Zane about writing, racism and her trademark steamy sex scenes.

Zane's core audience is African-American, but, she says, "As the years have passed, my book-signing crowds have become more and more diverse. I have a very large white and Latino audience and a large Asian one as well." She once did a reading at a monthly erotica reading night in New York: "All of the other authors were white and the crowd was receptive to their stories. However, once I read my story 'The Trisexual,' the crowd went nuts. They laughed, smiled, squirmed in their seats and rushed to purchase the book afterwards. The stories that I write are 'evergreen'--passion and sensuality are universal. I wish more people would recognize that. It is disheartening to see white authors come out with their first book and get more attention and a review when I have written dozens of books. The racism is obvious. Maybe one day it will go away. 

"I will say that a lot of reviewers who profess to love and read erotica refuse to even accept black erotica titles for consideration. To me that is totally racist and an implication that black women are not sensual and 'normal' like they are. Hot is hot. It is sad that such racial profiling takes place in this day and age."

Move on from shades of gray and read one of Zane's novels; after all, "hot is hot."

--Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

Jewish Book Council: 73rd National Jewish Book Award Winners

The Writer's Life

Justin Cronin: The Passion and The Passage

photo: Julie Soefer

The final volume in Justin Cronin's acclaimed Passage trilogy has just been released. The City of Mirrors (Ballantine) finishes the dystopian, near-future "vampire virus" story that began with the The Passage and continued through The Twelve. Cronin's trilogy stands as a major work of American imaginative fiction that in addition to hitting the sweet spots of vampire and end-of-the-world novels, also has quite profound things to say about the human race's capacity for self-destruction, redemption and sacrificial love. Our review is below.

You've just completed an acclaimed trilogy that spans 2,400 pages and took almost a decade to write. What were your feelings when you completed the trilogy? What has the journey been like for you?

Mostly I feel stunned. Has it really been 10 years? Did I just write 900,000 words? To be honest, it's all a little disorienting. A story that has occupied at least half my brain, waking and sleeping, for a decade is suddenly gone from my thoughts, at least creatively, because it's fixed in place. A lot of people tell me I should be celebrating, but the feeling is not at all like, say, finishing your final exams and jetting off to Cabo. It's more solemn than that, like standing on the pier and watching friends sail away.

What was your writing routine during that decade?

I tend to separate my creative time from my actual writing time. Most of the creative work for the trilogy was accomplished while I was running or, in the last few years, swimming. Under the auto-hypnotic effect of some rhythmic, physical activity, my mind does its best work. Generally I try to be at my desk for five or six hours in the middle of the day; then I get some exercise, preparing for the next day's work. When I'm close to the end of a draft, my workdays expand, sometimes to as much as 12 hours, but as I've gotten older (I'm 53), I've mellowed a bit. If I'm tired, I'm tired; no use forcing it. There's always tomorrow.

Even though The Passage is a work of fantastic literature, there is a very specific and grounded nature to the geographical and technical aspects of the novels. How much research did you do and what is your approach to research?

I do a great deal of research, some of it via the Internet, some of it by consulting people who know things I don't, some of it through less formal, more ambient means--by, say, visiting a place I intend to use in the novel and drinking in its textures. Research was an exceptionally fun part of writing the trilogy, dipping into fields of study that, at the outset, I knew nothing about at all.

You completed the first volume before dystopias were such a hot genre. Why do you think dystopias are so popular these days? What needs do these books satisfy?

Many people say it has something to do with global warming, or terrorism, or political dysfunction--all pressing matters of the day--but I disagree. The world is in trouble, but it's actually been in substantially worse trouble before, and by this I mean during the Cold War, when it seemed entirely possible that humanity was going to incinerate itself in the next 40 minutes. Our interest in dystopias and end-of-the-world stories is as old as human civilization; we just shape these works to fit the anxieties of the moment. The apocalyptic novels I read as a kid in the '70s all pretty much focused on nuclear annihilation. The danger posed by 10,000 nuclear weapons pointed at 10,000 other nuclear weapons pretty much trumped every other danger in the history of the civilized world. Since the Cold War ended, though, and especially since 9/11, the threats have been less clearly defined, leading to a literature of apocalypse that employs a broad range of scenarios. In the end, our interest in these kinds of stories comes down to a fundamental human impulse--to explore our worst fears in order to make them more tolerable. When you read such a novel, you, as the reader, are cast in the role of a survivor, just by reading. And when you finish the book and look up, the world is still there.

In past interviews you've mentioned that one of your goals was to write a "work without magic." Though all of the fantastical elements originate from science gone wrong, one could argue that characters like Amy, Alicia and Zero end up generating a mythical quality, and that a sense of magic accrues to them despite their worldly origins. Did you set out to build a new mythology or was this just an aspect of the novels that grew in the telling?

One of my intentions for the trilogy was that it would tell a very human story that, many years down the road--a millennium, in fact--would become the basis for something rather like a religion. The trilogy begins this way (Jonas Lear goes looking for the virus that is the basis of the vampire legend), and ends this way, in the figure of Amy, who has become a central figure in the mythology of a future civilization. This pet interest of mine came about as a consequence of a course I took in college in Medieval European history. As a requirement for the course, I had to pick a book off a list and give a presentation to the class. The book I chose was more archeology than history, tracing the origins of the King Arthur tale. As it turns out, the "real" King Arthur was a Celtic chieftain, a kind of local warlord, who probably ate with his hands, wore animal skins and lived on a dirt hill--hardly the shining lord of Camelot. But he did succeed in marshalling some of his fellow warlords to forestall a complete Anglo-Saxon takeover in his region of the British Isles, and over the years, this story morphed into something that now sits at the heart of the British cultural pedigree. I was completely taken by this notion that every legend has an origin, and that this origin is probably very, very human.

With The City of Mirrors, you were able to revisit events of the first novel through other eyes. Was this your original plan, or were these scenes that you planned for the first novel and then moved?

I planned this from the start. Each of the novels goes back to the beginning, to show you something from the early days of the apocalypse that you didn't get to see the first time around, or only glimpsed from the corner of your eye. I enjoyed doing this for its own sake, but it was also part of my working thesis--that the past is always present.

Did anything play out differently in The City of Mirrors than how you originally conceived it? Were there any characters that took over and moved the work in a different direction?

The biggest shift was that I had to push the story forward more years than I had planned. This occurred for technical reasons (one of my characters needed 20 years to accomplish a particular task, more time than I'd originally intended), but it played into my hands, because the characters' ages caught up to my own. Peter, Alicia, Sara, Michael et al. are now in their 50s and in a position to run things. They're also wrestling with the issues of midlife--being empty nesters, looking beyond the roles they've occupied and wondering what comes next. It worked very well for the story and allowed me to tap into many of the concerns of my own life.

Much has been written about your move from being a writer of "literary" fiction to a writer of "genre." Do you feel these labels do a disservice to the reader and the writer?

I think they can be useful in terms of directing readers to works they might enjoy. But these are broad categories with a great deal of overlap. What does it mean for a work to be "literary?" I wrote two novels that were described and marketed that way, but when I sat down to write The Passage, I didn't really go about things differently. I write how I write, and the human questions that concern me as a writer and a person don't really change. The only real difference was that I had to manage more characters, and all of these characters were constantly running for their lives--a very crystallizing thing for characters to do. As for genre: I'd argue every book belongs to one genre or another, which is to say it shows some obedience to the kind of story that it is and acknowledges other, similar stories. Moby Dick is an adventure novel. The Odyssey, though a poem, could be described as the greatest road-novel ever sung. And there's nothing that prevents a novel that overtly embraces a popular genre from also being a work of true greatness. The example I always return to is Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove. It's an absolutely by-the-numbers western, ticking off every trope on the list. But it's also a masterpiece of literature. --Donald Powell, freelance writer

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

Book Candy

How Reading Makes You a Better Person

Mental Floss showcased writer and graphic designer Rapheal Lysander's effort "to catalogue the many ways in which books are important for human development."


"I think I'll just stay in tonight, I'm tired...." Bustle shared "12 things every book-lover has said to their friends."


Artist Shantell Martin's "quirky, creepy, wild adult coloring book unfolds into a nine-foot work of art," the Huffington Post reported.


Infographic of the day: To celebrate the recent birthday of everyone's favorite sleuth, Quirk Books created "Sherlock's Guide to Deduction."


"The truth is at the bottom of a bottomless well." Signature found "14 author quotes on mankind's search for truth."


Bookshelf highlighted Thinking Design's "bookshelf with catwalk for family pet."

Great Reads

Rediscover: Max Perkins

After a stint as a reporter at the New York Times, Maxwell Perkins (1884-1947) became a book editor with Charles Scribner's Sons in 1910, and though he respected the publisher's venerable older authors like Henry James and Edith Wharton, Perkins sought out new, younger voices. In 1919, he discovered F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose first novel, This Side of Paradise (1920), was the beginning of a new literary era dominated by Perkins's authors. He went on to discover, edit and publish Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe and James Jones, among other major figures in 20th-century literature.

A. Scott Berg, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Lindbergh (1998), a biography of the famous aviator, wrote about Maxwell Perkins for his senior thesis at Princeton University. Upon graduation, Berg expanded his work into Max Perkins: Editor of Genius (1978), winner of the National Book Award and inspiration for an upcoming biopic, Genius, in theaters June 10. The film stars Colin Firth as Max Perkins; Laura Linney as his wife, Louise; Guy Pearce as F. Scott Fitzgerald; Dominic West as Ernest Hemingway; Jude Law as Thomas Wolfe; and Nicole Kidman as Wolfe's romantic partner, costume designer Aline Bernstein. Genius is the first film by theater director Michael Grandage. To mark its release, NAL is republishing a tie-in edition of Berg's biography on June 7 ($18, 9780399584831). --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


Modern Lovers

by Emma Straub

Emma Straub (The Vacationers, Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures) has created a funny, charming world, squarely located in Ditmas Park, an up-and-coming Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood. The main characters, former college bandmates, are approaching middle age: real estate agent Elizabeth, her husband, Andrew, and their teen son, Harry, live just down the street from Zoe, her wife, Jane, a chef, and their daughter, Ruby.

It's all quite domestic and serene, until the summer when Zoe and Jane's marriage hits a rocky patch, Andrew gets drawn into some sketchy situations, and the two couples find out that Ruby and Harry are sleeping together.

Matters are further complicated by the fact that a film company has begun production on a biopic about Lydia, the fourth band member, who rocketed to fame after ditching Zoe, Elizabeth and Andrew. Lydia died in her 20s, and her legacy has lingered, while the other three have left music behind for their Brooklyn obscurity. Can the two couples navigate the secrets that the film is bound to uncover? Will they survive the relationship of their children? Or will a marriage and friendships that seemed rock-solid crumble?

Entertaining and evocative, Modern Lovers asks thoughtful questions about what makes a marriage great, the nature of fame and legacy, and when to step back and let your children make their own mistakes. Straub's characters are warm, believable and generally amusing, and beach-reading devotees will want to linger in her sweltering Brooklyn summer. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: This novel is about middle age and music--and what happens when your children suddenly grow up.

Riverhead Books, $26, hardcover, 9781594634673

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The City of Mirrors

by Justin Cronin

It's a beautiful thing when worthwhile authors achieve every ambition they tackle; when writers leap every one of the hurdles they set. With the completion of the Passage Trilogy in the vast, intricate and compelling The City of Mirrors, Justin Cronin has done all that.

The City of Mirrors continues the story of a vampiric virus that has ravaged the United States, and probably the rest of civilization, leaving only isolated pockets of survivors, a new society sprouting up delicately, like a daisy under the concrete. The Twelve, a particularly menacing mutation of those infected, have been defeated but a greater threat awaits--Zero, who created them, lurks in a haunted metropolis, ready to battle Amy, "the girl from nowhere," and her intrepid followers. The way the story plays out is both surprising and apt, full of heartbreaking loss and subtle grace notes of joy that will echo in the readers mind.

Cronin has rewarded readers of the Passage Trilogy with an action-packed thriller that stretches the length of the country and beyond, and follows the main characters through decades of shifting alliances and intricate plans as novel moves toward its grand conclusion. The propulsive narrative never flags, and for every intricate action setpiece, Cronin gives astutely wrought moments of well-delivered intimacy. He perfectly balances the addictive rush of a page-turner with the precise prose of a literary magician of the first order. The City of Mirrors and the Passage Trilogy as a whole are an epic entry in the canon of American fantasy literature. --Donald Powell, freelance writer

Discover: The completion of the Passage Trilogy features epic battles, intimate moments and a thought-provoking ending.

Ballantine, $28, hardcover, 9780345505002


The Rules of Love and Grammar

by Mary Simses

Grace Hammond has already lost her job and her boyfriend when her apartment ceiling caves in. With nothing left for her in Manhattan, she flees for her Connecticut hometown, where she reluctantly agrees to stay with her parents for a few weeks.

Ever since her sister Renny died 17 years earlier, Grace has avoided spending too much time in Dorset, but this time she enjoys her visit. In addition to the small-town charms, her entertaining and educated parents and her always supportive best friend, there's Mitch, the handsome bike store employee who agrees to attempt a refurbishment of Renny's vintage bicycle. And also Peter, Grace's high school sweetheart, who is back in town directing a movie shoot.

Grace's relationships with Mitch and Peter inevitably become complicated, in large part because Grace, a natural critic, can't help pointing out grammar flaws and changes that need to be made wherever she goes. Can Grace learn to forgive the past, step out of Renny's shadow, live less by the rules and have more fun?

Mary Simses (The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Café), has written a predictable yet charming romance. Grace's quirks make her an empathetic heroine, and readers will chuckle at the predicaments she gets herself into. Anyone who enjoys Kristan Higgins or Kristin Harmel is sure to enjoy Mary Simses, and the descriptions of Dorset's coastal beauties and the New England countryside will make armchair travelers consider a trip to Connecticut. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: In this charming romance, a grammar snob must decide between two men.

Little, Brown, $26, hardcover, 9780316382069

Food & Wine

Champagne, Uncorked: The House of Krug and the Timeless Allure of the World's Most Celebrated Drink

by Alan Tardi

Legend has it that on first tasting the bubbles of champagne, a monk named Dom Pérignon exclaimed, "Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!" Though there are doubts to the validity of this story, there is no doubt that since Pérignon's time, champagne has become a celebrated--and celebratory--drink around the world. In Champagne, Uncorked, Alan Tardi (Romancing the Vine) invites readers into the mysterious and complex world of this sparkling drink through the history of the house of Krug, one of the smallest and most respected of the Grandes Marques (a group of well-established champagne brands).

While the history of the Krug brand forms the center of Champagne, Uncorked, that story is wrapped up in Tardi's story of his time in Champagne, learning how champagne is made--from vines to grapes to picking to pressing to aging to bottling to effervescence. He also expounds on the even larger story of champagne itself: its accidental discovery; its rise to popularity, and how that rise was shaped in France and abroad by royal competitions and wars; the roots of modern-day marketing and brand recognition in the strictly regulated champagne industry; and how the pop of a champagne bottle ultimately came to be one of the greatest symbols of celebration in today's drinking culture.

Champagne, Uncorked packs an enormous amount of detail and complexity (historical, chemical, biological, emotional) into a rather small package--a fitting tribute to the nuance and complexity found in every glass of champagne Krug has produced. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: Tardi's time in the Champagne region of France shapes this fascinating and detailed history of champagne and the history of the house of Krug.

PublicAffairs, $26.99, hardcover, 9781610396882


The First Signs: Unlocking the Mysteries of the World's Oldest Symbols

by Genevieve von Petzinger

Homo sapiens first appeared in Africa about 200,000 years ago, and there is evidence of symbolic thinking in hominid artifacts from 400,000 years ago. The First Signs is the first book by Genevieve von Petzinger, a groundbreaking researcher of geometric signs in Ice Age rock art, those famous paintings of wild animals, human hands and abstract patterns. Von Petzinger noticed these abstract geometric signs as a student, but her professors told her they had never been seriously studied. So she set out to do it herself.

For two years, she traveled across Europe, struggling through narrow muddy underground tunnels to document signs, sometimes finding as little as a pair of red dots, sometimes finding rooms full of them, apparently made by Ice Age peoples. She discovered that in 367 European rock art sites dating between 10,000 and 40,800 years ago, "there are 32 main sign types, each with its own distinct pattern of use." The earliest sites had such a well-established vocabulary to them, she argues, that they must have originated in Africa, well before human settlement of Europe. She sets her discoveries in the context of everything known about Ice Age peoples and earlier human development, competing interpretations of the mysterious evidence and the overlap of these signs with ones common to modern humans known as "entoptics--a series of geometric shapes generated from within the eye itself." Like any good scientist, von Petzinger is cautious not to speculate too much on the potential for interpreting their meanings. But she clearly plans to continue her work. "I have a feeling that the coming years are going to be particularly exciting ones in my field--prepare to be amazed and astonished!" --Sara Catterall

Discover: New research on early geometric signs in Ice Age cave art will excite anyone interested in the origins of human abstract thought and communication.

Atria, $27, hardcover, 9781476785493

Biography & Memoir

Porcelain: A Memoir

by Moby

Whether they love, hate or have never heard of musician Moby's technopop musical stylings, readers will fall hard for his memoir of growing up, chasing elusive dreams and marching to a different drummer.

Although his family tree includes Herman Melville, Moby began life humbly with an impoverished childhood in Connecticut as the only child of a widow. From an early age, he worshipped all music and yearned to live in New York City, where the cultural scene flourished despite epidemics of AIDS and crack use. Moby narrates his struggle, from the late '80s through the '90s, to find and keep an audience, from his first gig DJing at Mars to touring Europe, where he played for thousands of ecstatic ravers, only to return to the U.S. and find the club scene drastically changed and no longer receptive to his music. More than a story about a musician's art, though, Porcelain also brings to life the debauched NYC of the '90s and Moby's vacillations between virtue and vice, particularly in regards to sobriety and the staunch Christian beliefs of his youth.

Perhaps the music industry's gain was the literary world's loss. Moby recounts serious and hilarious stories with equal ease, provoking giggles with memories of DJing an orgy and encounters with city rats and roaches, then switching gears to give a raw and heartrending account of losing a parent. The journey ends abruptly in 1999; let's hope a second volume from this multitalented artist is planned. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Technopop artist Moby writes the inspirational and candid story of his struggle to navigate life and the music scene in 1990s New York City.

Penguin Press, $28, hardcover, 9781594206429

Sober Stick Figure: A Memoir

by Amber Tozer

For nearly three decades, stand-up comedian Amber Tozer (Cartoon Network's MAD, Adult Swim's Moral Orel) maintained a troubled relationship with alcohol, one that began innocently enough at seven, when an uncle proffered that first drink. Sober Stick Figure tells of Tozer's descent into alcoholism and her slow, painful journey to sobriety.

Tozer's fate seemed predetermined. She was descended from a long line of alcoholics and her parents were owners of the local watering hole. An overachiever athletically and academically, she indulged in recreational binge drinking to silence negative voices in her head. When she was 13, Jim Beam was "a voice I felt like I had been waiting for all my life," a seductive drug she would crave like crack cocaine during school holidays, despite her baby sister's close brush with death at the hands of a drunk driver. In her 20s, alcohol became a self-medicating salve in times of social and emotional distress. A move to New York City after college brought easy access to bars, alcohol as barter for an aspiring stand-up comedian. "Partying in a big city and experimenting with new jobs and challenges and being overexposed to everything" fueled her mounting self-destructiveness, until she finally hit rock bottom at the height of professional success in Los Angeles.

Tozer writes with unguarded honesty about addiction and what it means to be an alcoholic. The moments of hilarity are rare, such as Tozer's obsession with self-help guru Tony Robbins, yet for all the pain and self-destruction Tozer has endured, Sober Stick Figure ends on a promising, if tentative, silver lining that the best is yet to come. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: Stand-up comedian Amber Tozer has written a candid and inspiring account of her experiences with alcoholism and sobriety.

Running Press, $24, hardcover, 9780762459728


The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin

by David Satter

In September 1999, four apartment buildings in three Russian cities exploded, killing 300 people and injuring another thousand. The attacks were blamed on Islamist terrorists and used to justify the Second Chechen War. The war smoothed the transition of power from Boris Yeltsin to former KGB officer Vladimir Putin, whose rise reassured the oligarchs who had looted the wealth of the Soviet Union that their riches would remain untouched.

In 2002, dozens of armed Chechens held 850 theater-goers hostage in Moscow. Russian special forces killed all the militants and 130 hostages during a raid by using a secret formulation of knockout gas. The siege renewed domestic support for the war in Chechnya at a time when Putin was under intense pressure to negotiate peace. In 2004, a similar siege at a school in Beslan ended with the deaths of 330 hostages, including 186 children, after Russian forces stormed the school with heavy weapons. In the aftermath of that tragedy, Putin abolished the popular election of governors in order to "strengthen national unity."

In The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep, journalist David Satter (Darkness at Dawn), who has written about Russia for nearly 40 years, makes a compelling case that these terror attacks, along with a string of assassinations, are the responsibility of the FSB (once known as the KGB) and a wider criminal enterprise now in control of the Russian state, all of whom are answerable to one man: Vladimir Putin. As the first American journalist expelled from Russia since the Cold War, Satter's evidence is chilling, often damning. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: The first American journalist expelled from Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union claims Putin was involved in deadly attacks on Russian citizens.

Yale University Press, $30, hardcover, 9780300211429

Social Science

The Geek Feminist Revolution

by Kameron Hurley

The online and print ecologies of science fiction and fantasy fandom are evolving, becoming more progressive, more accepting of diversity and less problematic in their narratives (e.g., not using rape as a shorthand for character development). This is the impression that Kameron Hurley (God's War) creates in The Geek Feminist Revolution, a collection of blog posts, with a few essays written specially for this edition. But social progress is not without reactionaries: men often threaten women and minority authors and gamers with rape and death for participating in these areas. Several essays question the concept of privilege. Hurley writes, "I am tired of being asked, again and again, what women can do to save these men.... I want a new conversation around what men can do to be better." Creators and consumers, she believes, all have social and political responsibilities when approaching art.

Hurley rounds out the collection with pieces on what it takes to be a writer--persistence, specifically--and astute media criticism of movies such as Mad Max: Fury Road. Her writing is as deft and provoking as Roxane Gay's in Bad Feminist, and remains true to the theme of the struggle that individuals with fewer social advantages experience in cultural arenas.

There are some structural weaknesses: because these were blog posts, each is very brief, disjointing the whole; and more than a handful refer rather obliquely to issues that those outside the SFF community might find somewhat opaque. Better introductions or annotations would have ameliorated this flaw. Yet, even for outsiders, there is much here to enjoy and consider. --Evan M. Anderson, collection development librarian, Kirkendall Public Library, Ankeny, Iowa.

Discover: This penetrating collection of essays analyzes responsibility and equality in science fiction/fantasy media as well as in society.

Tor, $26.99, hardcover, 9780765386236

Travel Literature

Walking the Himalayas

by Levison Wood

After walking 4,000 miles down the Nile, Levison Wood (Walking the Nile) was enjoying life in London and not thinking about another lengthy trek. But the wilderness called: when the chance came to walk 1,700 miles through the Himalayas, Wood took off on another six-month adventure. Beginning in Afghanistan and ending in Bhutan, Wood and his guides faced scorching heat, monsoon rains, treacherous mountain roads, landslides, tigers, crocodiles, armed military men and political disputes that made crossing borders as dangerous as the natural world. Despite the hazards, Wood bonded with his guides and the various peoples of Kashmir, India and Nepal as they shared roasted meats and milky tea in huts, yurts and hovels on the mountain slopes and valleys of the Himalayas.

Wood skillfully intersperses cultural, political, religious and historical information about the region he trekked through with beautiful, detailed descriptions of the people and countryside. He writes, "Rice paddies gave the valley floor a bright and verdant shimmer and spiraling plumes of smoke curled out from wood-fires in the villages below.... Beyond this rose something wild and untamed. Something so sublime in its proportions, and gargantuan in its raw, unwieldy beauty as to give the impression that it was floating in mid-air, somehow unattached from the green and brown hills and valleys below." Despite private audiences with the Dalai Lama, a swami, and a cannibal, all of whom gave him important advice, the most significant revelations come as Wood stands at the end of his quest. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: Travel writer and adventurer Levison Wood recounts his walk 1,700 miles through the Himalayas, facing hardships and gaining friends in the process.

Little, Brown, $27, hardcover, 9780316352420

Children's & Young Adult

Devil and the Bluebird

by Jennifer Mason-Black

Infused with bluegrass and blues, Jennifer Mason-Black's first novel takes readers on a melodious road trip through a dark but magical American landscape.

One night, 17-year-old Blue Riley waits at the crossroads to make a deal with the Devil: her soul in exchange for finding her big sister, Cass, who left after their mother, a talented alt-country musician, died of cancer two years ago. However, the woman who appears that fateful night in "a red dress that dripped off her hips" wants a game, not a trade--she grants Blue six months to find Cass, but takes her voice in exchange. If Blue fails, she forfeits her soul and Cass's. Blue hits the road in rural Maine with no one and nothing on her side but the guitar she loves to play, her mother's. Now mute, she hitches her way west cross country, encountering kind strangers, dangerous criminals and the occasional ghost as her path twists in and out of reality. In true devilish fashion, "the woman in red" persists in changing the rules, keeping Blue constantly on the move.

In Devil and the Bluebird, the universal question of a soul's worth feels uniquely American, drawing on the folk legend of the devil and Robert Johnson. Mason-Black's story lives on society's fringes, tangling around small-time musicians, lost souls and street kids, highlighting the beauty and brutality of wandering the world alone. Older teens will especially appreciate this allegory for finding one's voice, finding one's own kind of family, and the danger of playing "a tune that's not your own." --Jaclyn Fulwood, lead librarian at Del City Public Library, Okla.

Discover: A teenager on a cross-country odyssey must find her sister before the devil takes her soul.

Amulet/Abrams, $17.95, hardcover, 336p., ages 14-up, 9781419720000

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions

by Chris Barton, illus. by Don Tate

This appealing, inspiring picture-book biography by Chris Barton (Shark vs. Train; The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch), illustrated by Don Tate (Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton), explores the life of Lonnie Johnson, the African American rocket scientist who invented the Super Soaker water gun... by accident.

Lonnie grew up in the 1950s with five siblings "squeezed into their parents' small house in Mobile, Alabama." Forever tinkering with spare parts and junkyard scraps, he made rockets from scratch, and even built his own robot named Linex with jukebox switches and his little sister's walkie-talkie: "Lonnie used a tape recorder to program Linex, and as a bonus the reels looked like eyes." (Linex won first place for Lonnie's team at a 1968 University of Alabama science fair.) Lonnie, "a self-confident, insightful, creative thinker," went to college at Tuskegee Institute, then, as an engineer, worked for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. At NASA, he created a lightweight backup system for the Galileo space probe that photographed Jupiter and its moons.

At home one day, Lonnie was working on a new refrigerator and air-conditioning cooling system, using the faucet in his bathroom sink with a hose, pump and nozzle, when "WHOOSH!"--water sprayed out with such force he decided his contraption "would make a great water gun." He approached toy company after toy company with his invention until finally, he struck gold. Barton's clean, lively prose and Tate's boldly composed, often comical illustrations--including a dramatic gatefold capturing the Super Soaker's mighty trajectory--make Lonnie Johnson's story of passion and persistence whoosh to life. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Chris Barton and Don Tate's entertaining picture-book biography tells the story of Lonnie Johnson, inventor of the Super Soaker.

Charlesbridge, $16.95, hardcover, 32p., ages 5-9, 9781580892971

Daytime Visions: An Alphabet

by Isol, trans. by Isol, Elisa Amado, illus. by Isol

Daytime Visions is not like any other alphabet book.

The endpapers show a woman doing the backstroke, eyes closed, swimming under the sun, afloat in a blue sea of letters. The title-page spread features that same lettered sea, but here an undersea squid squirts just enough ink to make the perfect black backdrop for the book's title. The book is gorgeously, meticulously designed from start to finish, with a charmingly rough simplicity achieved through crayon-like hand-lettering, blocky collages, intriguing textures and inky, kinetic brushstrokes. Every page or spread looks like it belongs in a modern art museum.

From A to Z (shown in upper and lowercase, and in cursive), each letter is represented by a scene, a mini-story, a "daytime vision," with a word or an entire phrase. The letter A spread shows a little bird flying away from a barking dog. "That's not an answer," it says. Does that mean escape isn't an answer? The beauty of it is that readers will bring to each scenario what they will. The letter C is "Come on!" and shows a girl impatiently watching a potted plant grow. The letter K is "The kiwi again!" and, amusingly, shows a large kiwi bird standing atop a child in bed who is clearly trying to sleep. Daytime Visions is in turns funny, touching, thought-provoking and deliciously odd.

Argentina-born Isol (The Menino; Nocturne; It's Useful to Have a Duck) specializes in "the narration through the dialogue between image and word," says her brief biography. B for brava. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Argentina-born Isol's exquisite and unusual alphabet book will be as irresistible to adults as it is to children.

Enchanted Lion, $17.95, hardcover, 56p., ages 4-adult, 9781592701957


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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