Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, July 26, 2016

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

From My Shelf

How J.R. Ward Stays on Track

We spoke with bestselling author J.R. Ward (the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, the Bourbon King series), whose novels have more than 15 million copies in print in 25 countries. (Our review of The Angels' Share, the second Bourbon Kings novel, is below.)

Since Ward's two series are so different, we wondered how she keeps on track, and she ran with the metaphor:

photo: Andrew Hyslop

"I love writing multiple series and find it easy because each one has a different train track in my head. When I'm drafting a manuscript or copyediting, I'm solidly in one world, with those people, those events. When it's time to switch, I simply hop over to the other one. There is no confusion because each world is unique. For example, no one in the Bourbon Kings series believes vampires exist, knows what lessers are, or has fallen in love with someone of a different species. The "vibe" of the two series is completely different. The Black Dagger Brotherhood and Black Dagger Legacy books are dark and gritty, with slang, pop culture references and violence, danger, sex and cursing. With the Bourbon Kings, the world is refined, genteel, elegant and rooted in Southern traditions, settings and mores. The people in it are more "real" and the situations that affect them and stir their emotions are closer to things that might actually happen in readers' lives.

"When it comes to the BDB books vs. the BDB Legacy books, the train tracks are certainly closer, and there is overlap in terms of settings, people (the Brothers function as trainers in that series, so you see a lot of them and their mates), and problems (lessers, Lassiter and biological limitations). Still, it's like a completely different stage set in my head. I will say, I don't like jumping back and forth too much. That bends my brain. I like to immerse myself in a certain world, do my job, and then go to the other one and come back. In fact, it's a cleansing of my author's palate!"

--Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

Jewish Book Council: 73rd National Jewish Book Award Winners

Book Candy


Pottermania grows again as the release this Saturday night at midnight of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts I and II comes ever closer:

"This 'Harry Potter' nursery is everything we have ever wanted," Yahoo News reported.


Several authors considered the implications of "Harry Potter and the curse of middle age: Should fictional children ever grow up?"


Headline of the day: "Quidditch leaves Harry Potter behind as (real) World Cup fever grows."


"These Wizarding World of Harry Potter engagement photos are simply magical," Buzzfeed noted.

Dark Matter

by Blake Crouch

Regret is an emotion that is infinite in its variety, from deciding one would have been better off choosing a different meal at a restaurant to endlessly questioning whether one should have embarked on a certain career or a relationship. While at times regret can simply be a precipitant of nostalgia, a cousin of wistfulness, it can also lead to obsession and terror. Dark Matter dives right into that terror, using a standard trope in science fiction to explore regret's most potent form--the kind that scars, and makes men do brutal things.

After he is kidnapped and drugged, scientist Jason Dessen wakes up in a world that is similar to, but not quite his own. A family man who once gave up a skyrocketing career in quantum physics to get married and raise his son, Jason now finds himself the head of a giant laboratory, in a world where he is living out the dreams he once abandoned. The laboratory has been hard at work for years on a simple-looking metal box, which seems to hold the keys to Jason's new set of circumstances. Unsure whether he is dreaming, or whether something more nefarious has happened, Jason works to uncover just how he ended up where he is, and if he can ever return to his reality.

Blake Crouch, best known as the author of the Wayward Pines trilogy, is no stranger to blending sci-fi and horror, and Dark Matter skillfully takes the concept of "the path not yet chosen" and plumbs it for all its terrifying possibilities. And, much like Wayward Pines, Dark Matter is filled with twists, each one building to something that is both a complete head trip and a perfectly logical progression from the moment Jason is kidnapped. Crouch's previous works in the crime genre also pay off here. The first third of this book feels ripped right from the denouement of a different novel, as if Jason is the damsel in distress for some other book's hero. Luckily for the reader, Dark Matter is rarely that simple.

Although he has a background in physics, Jason is essentially an everyman. A mild-mannered professor at a small college, he is not remotely prepared to deal with what has happened to him. Crouch is smart to have his main character fail early and often, making decisions not out of any sort of tactical advantage or game plan, but simply out of his urge to see his family again. That kind of thinking leads to some terrible mistakes, ones that even at the end of the book remain on his conscience.

That moral thread is an important one, because as inept as he is, Jason is decent. The tragedy embedded in Dark Matter is how Crouch slowly but surely undercuts that decency, as Jason becomes more desperate and clever in order to achieve his goals. Jason never truly breaks bad, but it's clear early on that returning to how things were might never be possible. His intelligence also serves as a double-edged sword, providing him keen insight into his predicament while at the same time complicating matters when he tries too hard to concoct solutions. And as his troubles grow ever more complex, his ability to think a few steps ahead becomes the difference between life or death.

Fans of his work know that Crouch is fond of completely nutso twists that turn his characters' worlds upside down, and won't be entirely shocked by where Jason ends up at the end of Dark Matter. New readers will be drawn irresistibly into the madness. This is intentional, of course. Crouch wants to escalate Jason's situation as much as he can, pushing him into as strange a territory as the narrative will fit. It's a testament to his skill as an author that he can go as far as he does without shattering the book's credibility.

Through it all runs that feeling of regret. Each moment comes with a new decision, a new failure, a new realization that Jason could have done something differently, perhaps better. It nearly destroys him, but also serves as a motivator. He's well aware that he has to make things right, even if he's not entirely sure, in this new world, what right is. The pain of the past mixed with the uncertainty of the future is heady enough stuff for a thriller, and Crouch is right to keep it slightly buried, appearing in glimmers as Jason propels himself forward, looking to find his way back to what he thinks of as reality.

Ultimately, Dark Matter is a rip-roaring novel, providing the reader with ideas and terrifying situations to mull over. At its best, it does what we want science fiction to do: push us into uncomfortable spaces and force us to re-examine our assumptions about our lives. --Noah Cruickshank

Crown, $26.99, hardcover, 352p., 9781101904220

Blake Crouch: Paths Not Taken

photo: Jesse Giddings

Blake Crouch is known for high-concept fiction with breakneck pacing and groundbreaking genre cross-breeding. His novels (including Abandon and the Wayward Pines trilogy, adapted into the FOX TV series) have sold more than a million copies and have been translated into more than 20 languages. His short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Alfred Hitchcock, Ellery Queen, Cemetery Dance and Thriller 2, edited by Clive Cussler. Crouch lives in Colorado.

What was your inspiration for Dark Matter?

Dark Matter has been 10 years in the making, and the inspiration was the idea of quantum mechanics itself. This field of physics is brimming with mystery and fundamental questions about existence and choices and the idea of the path not taken. It's so much more than the study of sub-atomic particle behavior. But quantum mechanics is confusing and dense. It took me a long, long time to figure out a way in that wouldn't bog down in the science or become off-putting to readers who don't consider themselves sci-fi fans. No matter what, I wanted Dark Matter to be a book for everyone.

Why set the story in Chicago? Does it have personal significance?

Well, I broke the story for Dark Matter while I was in Chicago, during a mini-writers' retreat with my friend Marcus Sakey (author of the Brilliance trilogy). Something about the vibe of those northern Chicago neighborhoods and Lake Michigan and that familiar skyline really carried the spirit of this novel. So it was never a question of where this story was going to be set.

What role did the retreat have on your writing process? For example, did parts of Dark Matter come out of discussions with Marcus? Or did you two push each other to go further in your writing as a result of being in close proximity?

At this particular retreat, I came to the table with three ideas, one of which involved the box, although in a much different context. When I mentioned the box (which obviously plays a huge part in Dark Matter) Marcus's eyes lit up, and I realized I actually had something very special. I pretty much brain-stormed the first 40 pages of the book during this trip. When I got home, there was still much work to be done, but I felt like I at least had a path through the woods.

What's your favorite aspect of Jason?

He has a sexy mind. I love his approach to problem solving, which, as a physicist, is the scientific method. He's incredibly rational, and even in the face of believing he might be losing his mind, he goes about the process of confirming what's happening to him in a calm, methodical way.

Do you think Jason is happy with his life, as his abductor asks?

Generally speaking, yes. But like all of us, I believe he has moments of doubt and regret. Moments of wondering if the choices and compromises he's made had a negative impact in the final analysis of his life. So I would say he's happy-ish.

Since you have to explain some complicated physics in Dark Matter, was Jason's occupation a conscious choice to help get the concepts across?

Not really. My choice to make Jason an atomic physicist came from wanting to write a protagonist/hero whose abilities were cerebral instead of mainly physical. It goes back to the sexy mind thing.

You definitely turn a number of tropes on their head in this book, and that seems like another one. Being methodical isn't usually considered sexy, though maybe it should be! Jason is absolutely called on to be deliberative. Did this give you a little more room to throw whatever you want at him (which you do) in terms of plot?

For sure! Considering the substantial hurdles he has to overcome (that would frankly break a lesser person), I felt like Jason needed not only to be a genius, but something of a scientist-philosopher.

In terms of the sexiness of methodical thinking, I don't know... I feel like I've seen (and written, to be fair) plenty of strong, physically determined heroes who push through unimaginable physical demands. But having someone face what Jason faces (trying not to be spoiler-y here) required a different sort of hero, whose mind and raw intelligence I find very attractive.

Jason is also a family man, and there seems to be a value judgment, at least by a number of characters, that being so is the best option he's ever had. Do you feel as strongly about the concept of family?

Yes, but not from the standpoint of there being a right answer in terms of family v. career. I wrote Dark Matter (I realize this only in hindsight) because of this internal dilemma I've been grappling with over the last few years. I have a dream career. I'm literally doing the thing I wanted to do when I was a kid, and over the past few years I've been so fortunate and had many doors open to me to pursue storytelling across books, film and TV. But I am a father of three and as my time is more and more in demand, I feel the tension between me the writer/creator and me the father. So with Dark Matter, I wrote a story about a man who is faced with a similar dilemma, and it let me explore the polar extremes of each choice (the career track, the family track) and what effect those choices have on my character Jason Dessen. I've realized recently that all my writing lately is basically some form of therapy.

There are a lot of writers, even in other disciplines, who feel the same way about their work. There's a kind of quietism, where you can ask the questions of your life through narrative or philosophy that you probably should ask aloud to your spouse. But I'd argue that your work goes pretty full-throttle into the darkest corner of those questions. What makes you want to go to those polar extremes? Does it bring your own life into a finer focus?

I think by exploring the polar extremes, it puts the question of dualities and the road not taken in stark relief, even if most people's self-searching (mine included) plays out in less drastic scenarios.

There are a number of points where Jason questions his own sanity, though there's never the feeling that he's an unreliable narrator. Did you ever consider casting doubt on his narrative voice?

Only briefly. But because the plot of Dark Matter is so serpentine and mind-bending, I felt that the audience (and the author, to be honest) needed to be grounded in a man fully in control of his faculties.

The book doesn't fall into one particular genre, bouncing from thriller, to sci-fi, to horror. What made you interested in blending different tropes in your story?

I'm not sure it was a conscious decision. I just happen to love storytelling that crosses genre and hides genre and turns tropes inside out. Those are the stories that really pull me in. So I guess, ultimately, I'm writing the kinds of books that I would want to read.

While it appears Jason's story has ended with the closing pages, the world you've created seems ripe for further exploration. Would you consider turning it into a series, like many of your previous novels?

There was a moment as I was writing the book and moving into the third act that I realized, if I wanted to, I could very easily break Dark Matter into two or even three novels. The idea is big enough to sustain it. But I had just come off of writing a trilogy (Wayward Pines), and I felt compelled to present the ideas in Dark Matter in a single, standalone story. Distilled, honed, nothing held back, no vamping, no exploring subplots in the name of padding-out story.

So I have no intention of turning Dark Matter into a series. I feel like with this book, this idea, this subject matter, I left it all on the field. --Noah Cruickshank

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Review


The Promise of Jesse Woods

by Chris Fabry

In The Promise of Jesse Woods, a soul-searching novel of faith, friendship and promises, Chris Fabry (War Room) invigorates the small-town lives of three teens in 1970s West Virginia with his exquisite, lyrical writing. Matt Plumley turns 14 shortly after moving to Dogwood, where his father is taking over the parsonage of the local Baptist church. The overweight boy finds acceptance in two of the town's outcasts--Dickie, a mixed-race boy, and Jesse, a dirt-poor tomboy. Despite his parents' objections, Matt spends all his time with his new friends, cementing their bonds.

During their adolescent escapades in the summer of 1972, Matt falls in love with Jesse. He confides in her and she in him, pledging to keep each other's secrets always. But when Jesse's secrets build to a crescendo, the trio's friendship comes crashing down, leaving Matt devastated and alone.

A decade later, living in Chicago, he learns Jesse is engaged to be married. He heads back to Dogwood in search of closure, especially for why Jesse broke her most important promise to him. But this encore may be more than Matt bargained for.

The Promise of Jesse Woods is a literary delight. Fabry's young characters are dynamically depicted in their language and attitudes; their richness drips into every other element of the novel. Fabry's gift with suspense is on display, even in his recounting of a Reds-Pirates baseball game. This novel is worthy of a standing ovation. Bravo! --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: A young man returns to his childhood home in West Virginia to confront lingering questions from the pivotal summer of 1972.

Tyndale House, $14.99, paperback, 432p., 9781414387772

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

The Angels' Share

by J.R. Ward

J.R. Ward (Dark Lover, Blood Kiss) continues the lavish Kentucky saga she began in The Bourbon Kings with The Angels' Share. The multimillionaire family behind the Bradford Bourbon Company has always lived in luxury at Easterly, their enormous estate. But suddenly the police are questioning the apparent suicide of William, the family patriarch and CEO of the company. His wife, Virginia Bradford Baldwine, is barely lucid after years of prescription drug abuse, and his eldest son is physically broken after being kidnapped and held for ransom, leaving his younger brother to pick up the pieces.

As Lane struggles to save the company and deal with the police, he discovers that his father had embezzled more than a hundred million dollars, and that the family is at risk of losing both the company and Easterly. With the help of his new fiancée, Lizzie, Lane will do everything in his power to save the Bradford legacy, even if it means creating new enemies.

The sprawling cast of characters--including two more siblings and many love interests and friends--keep the plot of The Angels' Share moving quickly. With a mix of sexy scenes, slimy bad guys, humorous one-liners and family drama, it is sure to appeal to both a wide audience and J.R. Ward's large fan base alike. Although it is the second novel in the Bourbon Kings saga, The Angels' Share can easily be read as a standalone. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: In this sweeping saga, the heir to a bourbon dynasty struggles to save the family's fortune following the patriarch's demise.

New American Library, $28, hardcover, 432p., 9780451475282

The Summer That Melted Everything

by Tiffany McDaniel

In a philosophical debut, Tiffany McDaniel holds up a fable for the modern day about the nature of sin and the costs of intolerance.

In 1984, the first Apple computers hit the market and the AIDS crisis looms large over the United States when a scruffy black 13-year-old arrives at the Breathed, Ohio, home of Autopsy Bliss, a prosecuting attorney. The boy in tattered overalls claims to be Satan and asks for ice cream, and a heat wave of outlandish proportions follows. Fielding Bliss doesn't believe a boy his own age like Sal--the Satan/Lucifer conflation he uses as a given name--could really be the devil, yet Sal's world-weary advice does belie his youth. Although the Bliss family--Fielding, his homophobic teen brother Grand, his agoraphobic mother and his gentle father--takes Sal into their home and hearts, they cannot protect him from the trouble that follows wherever he innocently goes, from broken windows to a lost pregnancy. When the heat-maddened townspeople become suspicious of the strange boy, the Blisses attempt to survive the most turbulent summer of their lives.

McDaniel paints rural Breathed as a timeless, Rockwellian small town before demonstrating how quickly the prejudices bubbling below its surface lead its citizens to tear their home to pieces. While often charming, full of summertime nostalgia and folksy imagery, The Summer That Melted Everything swells with the darkness that lurks in the human heart. A promising newcomer, McDaniel will leave readers pondering the nature of good and evil. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: A small Ohio town loses its collective cool when a teenager claiming to be the devil arrives in the summer of 1984.

St. Martin's Press, $25.99, hardcover, 320p., 9781250078063

Multiple Choice

by Alejandro Zambra, trans. by Megan McDowell

The worst thing that could happen to Multiple Choice, a novel by Chilean author Alejandro Zambra (My Documents), is that:

(a) it's called "original," and the faint praise damns a great book to obscurity.
(b) it's called "genius," and the effusive praise damns a good book to obscurity.
(c) it becomes a bestseller, mostly due to the fact that it is thin and looks easy; readers take it home to find its contents challenging and melancholy; and they end up returning it, purchasing a thriller instead.
(d) readers love it, but no one can agree whether it is a story of a father wrestling with his father's legacy in the Pinochet regime, a story of lost love, a critique of bureaucratic homogenization, or a memoir.
(e) readers, unwilling to be challenged, call its form a schtick and tire of it by page four, never discovering what the author might say about how stories are created, where authority lies, the rhetoric of officialdom or what happens to the twins.
(f)  it is administered as an actual college entrance exam.
(g) all of the above
(h) c and f

Readers expecting easy answers beware: Multiple Choice offers none. It is a story of a man struggling with intractable problems in love, in family, in politics and in failing to learn from mistakes. As in life, there are only the choices presented, and they don't always make sense; some are patently absurd. That's the joy and zeal of it. This is a book for fans of Kafka and those who delight in mental yoga. --Zak Nelson, writer and editorial consultant

Discover: A Chilean novelist infuses the format of a standardized test with: (a) playfulness, (b) sadness, (c) frustration, (d) political commentary and (e) a great story.

Penguin, $15, paperback, 128p., 9780143109198

My Name Is Leon

by Kit De Waal

The brotherly bonds of love do not abide by society's biases in Kit de Waal's inspiring debut novel, My Name Is Leon. Nine-year-old Leon delights in the birth of his little brother, Jake. But his emotionally unstable mother, Carol, finds caring for another child daunting, especially after Jake's father makes it painfully clear to her that he has no intention of being a part of their family. As his mother falls apart, Leon assumes the role of primary caregiver for his beloved infant sibling.

The lack of food in their apartment forces him to turn to their neighbor for help. Instead of lending him money, she calls children's services and the two boys are whisked away, placed in the care of Maureen, a long-time foster mother. Life is good with Maureen, until a family adopts the fair-haired Jake without his dark-skinned big brother.

Leon's journey through this new existence is rife with emotional struggles no child should have to endure. His young brain--and heart--grapples with understanding a world that thinks it's perfectly acceptable to rob him of Jake. De Waal, with the help of a racially diverse group of gardeners Leon secretly befriends, cultivates the boy's story, allowing it to bloom brilliantly under these harsh conditions.

My Name Is Leon grows an entire garden of vibrant characters who, through shared experiences with societal racism, become the nurturing family Leon needs. Their arrangements may not be traditional, but the exquisite results prove that families can sprout in the most unlikely places. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: A nine-year-old boy navigates life without his infant brother when a callous system allows one to be adopted without the other.

Simon & Schuster, $25, hardcover, 304p., 9781501117459

The Hidden Letters of Velta B.

by Gina Ochsner

A modern-day Latvian village comes to life, complete with the characters, closeness and ancient grudges endemic to small towns the world over, in this second novel from Gina Ochsner (The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight).

Born with a pair of fur-trimmed ears that grew to the size of soup bowls, Maris has always had the ability to hear the grass growing, the gossip moving through telephone wires and the murmurs of the dead in their plots, dug by his family, the local gravediggers. Now his mother, Inara, lies on her deathbed, telling him the stories of his family and neighbors, the secrets even his large ears have not heard. The stories underscore the tension between ethnic Latvians like their family and the Russians who moved to Latvia during Soviet times, or between the handful of Jewish households and the Protestant majority--although the feud Inara's father has with a Russian Jewish neighbor originates less in cultural disparity than competition for prime fishing spots. As new wounds open and old ones heal, the words of Maris's great-grandmother Velta weave in and out of the narrative, taken from old letters she wrote to his great-grandfather during his imprisonment in the Soviet gulag.

For readers who love historical fiction and magical realism, The Hidden Letters of Velta B. is a gift on par with Joanne Harris's Chocolat. Quirky, ethereal, hilarious and sorrowful, Ochsner's intimate portrait of a group of people who must survive with each other's help, whether they like it or not, perfectly highlights the connections between the everyday and the transcendental elements of being human. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Citizens of a Latvian village coexist despite their eccentricities, with results both hilarious and devastating.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26, hardcover, 320p., 9780544253216

Mystery & Thriller

The Muse

by Jessie Burton

Jessie Burton spins a 20th-century art mystery, set against 1960s London and the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, in The Muse. Young aspiring writer Odelle Bastien, working as a London salesgirl, sees her fortunes change when the mysterious Marjorie Quick offers her a job at the prestigious Skelton Institute of Art, where she comes to discover a potentially valuable painting. The director of the Skelton, Edmund Reede, believes it to be the work of Spanish artist Isaac Robles, who painted a handful of memorable pieces before disappearing during the Civil War. Quick, who has taken Odelle under her wing, does not share Reede's enthusiasm for presenting the canvas to the public, and Odelle becomes increasingly curious about Quick's secrets.

In alternating sections, the story of 19-year-old Olive Schloss unfolds. She keeps her acceptance to the Slade School of Art a secret from her tempestuous mother and art dealer father, for fear he will remind her that only men can be true artists. She soon meets Isaac and Teresa, the illegitimate offspring of a Spanish landowner. While teenaged Teresa develops a consuming devotion to Olive, older Isaac's commitment is to the revolutionary cause. As Olive's feelings for Isaac grow, Teresa makes a bold move that entangles all three in a web of deceit, with Olive's art at its center.

Burton proves, with a pair of superbly executed stories that echo each other, that The Miniaturist was no flash in the pan. Gorgeous and wistful, The Muse reminds us that art comes not from a vacuum, but from the passions of the human heart. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Burton's fans will eagerly devour this romantic yet dark mystery set in pre- and post-World War II Europe.

Ecco, $27.99, hardcover, 416p., 9780062409928

You Will Know Me

by Megan Abbott

In You Will Know Me, Katie and Eric Knox are just settling into parenthood when their rambunctious three-year-old, Devon, loses two toes to a lawn mower Eric carelessly leaves running. Determined to help Devon overcome this childhood trauma, they enroll her in a local gymnastics group. It quickly becomes clear that their ordinary family has an extraordinary athlete on its hands. They bring her to the famous Coach T and his BelStars gym. Teddy Belfour is a "silver-maned lion, the gymnast whisperer, the salto Svengali," and Devon joins his "fearsome BelStars girls whippeting around with faces grim as Soviets." Nothing in the Knox family will ever be the same.

Megan Abbott (The Fever) captures the devotion, sacrifice and obsession that comes to a family with a prodigy athlete. Devon gets better and better--and less social. Other girls envy and disparage her. While their bodies age into teen curves and their gossip turns to boys, Devon remains a focused gymnastics machine--until a handsome young construction worker comes to build an Olympic-rated foam pit under the gym's vault.

Ryan Beck has a rumored delinquent past, but the girls--and their moms--are smitten. When he is mysteriously killed by a hit-and-run driver, the curtains part and Abbott reveals the secrets, jealousies and outright malevolence under the surface of the Knox family and the BelStars boosters.

Abbott is working at the top of her craft, and You Will Know Me is a crime novel where the crime is only a catalyst for an accomplished exploration of ordinary people's unraveling when they become obsessed with the extraordinary among them. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Envy, resentment and fragility surface in an ordinary family and small community obsessed with an extraordinary young athlete.

Little, Brown, $26, hardcover, 352p., 9780316231077

The Woman in Cabin 10

by Ruth Ware

Lo Blacklock, a travel journalist, gets a plum assignment covering the maiden voyage of a luxury cruise ship with only 10 cabins. She's put in cabin number nine and has a brief encounter on her first day with the guest in the one next door.

Late that night, Lo hears a scream and a huge splash, as if a body went overboard. She runs outside but sees nothing on the adjacent balcony--except a "smear of something dark and oily. A smear that looked a lot like blood." When the head of security arrives and goes next door with her, they find nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, they find nothing at all; the cabin is empty. The security officer informs Lo that the intended guest had backed out of the cruise at the last minute.

Lo takes it upon herself to investigate, but no one on the ship recognizes her description of the mystery woman, nor do they fully believe her account. Then she starts receiving threatening messages telling her to stop looking for the woman. Is she now in danger of being disappeared?

Following In a Dark, Dark Wood, Ruth Ware's The Woman in Cabin 10 is another psychological thriller with shades of Agatha Christie, featuring a confined location where one of the people gathered must be the murderer, however impossible that may seem. Suspension of disbelief is required for some plot revelations, and Lo is a maddening character who makes unwise choices, but Ware's propulsive prose keeps readers on the hook and refuses to let anyone off until all has been revealed. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A travel journalist searches for a woman who goes missing on a luxury cruise ship, someone the others on board say never existed.

Gallery/Scout Press, $26, hardcover, 352p., 9781501132933


by Duane Swierczynski

On May 7, 1965, shots ring out in a Philadelphia bar, killing officer Stan Walczak and his partner, George Wildey (whose grandson Ben was introduced in Canary). Stan leaves behind a 12-year-old son named Jimmy.

In May 1995, Jimmy, now going by Jim, is a homicide detective. His father's alleged killer is released from prison, where the man was sent for another crime. In Jim's mind, the convict has never paid for what he did to Stan. Perhaps Jim will mete out his own form of justice.

Now in May 2015, the Walczak clan gathers for a ceremony on the 50th anniversary of the cop killings to honor the fallen officers with memorial plaques. Jim's daughter, Audrey, a forensics grad student, decides that for her school project she'll try to solve the murders of Grandpop Stan and his partner. She may not survive the attempt.

Duane Swierczynski's Revolver is the story of how tragedy tears the Walczak family apart and continues haunting it for half a century. Though the multigenerational saga encompasses many decades, reaching all the way back to 1933, Swierczynski's snappy dialogue, athletic pacing and cliffhanger chapter endings make this a tight read. It contains the author's characteristic sense of humor but is also affecting with precise prose--in a military cemetery, "you see a row of perfectly symmetrical white tablets, lined up in formation like they're still fighting a war even after death." To end the family's sad legacy, the surviving Walczaks realize they must focus not on what a revolver has done but on what redemption can do. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: The family of a gunned-down police officer still grapples with the repercussions of his death 50 years later.

Mulholland Books, $26, hardcover, 336p., 9780316403238

Children's & Young Adult


by Martin Stewart

A Riverkeep's job is to clear debris from the river and light oil lanterns to heat the water and prevent it from icing over. He rescues the living who fall into its depths, and retrieves the dead. All his life, Wulliam Fobisher has reluctantly trained to become the new Riverkeep of Scotland's Danék River on his 16th birthday. Mere days before he comes of age, Wull helps his strong, capable Pappa retrieve a dead body that, when Pappa gripped it, "hugged back." After this bizarre attack, Wull's father becomes host to a dangerous parasite, leaving him with cloudy eyes, a gurgling voice and an insatiable appetite for fish heads.

When Wull hears a mormorach, an immense eel-like sea monster has surfaced in nearby Canna Bay, he sees a longshot chance to slay it and, as folklore suggests, use its fluids as a cure for Pappa. He sets out in their small rowboat, and is soon joined in his mission by Mix, a young thief; Tillinghast, a smart-mouthed homunculus; and Remedie, a prim witch. Ahead of the motley crew waits a vicious whaling captain bent on taking the mormorach for himself at any cost. On the surface, one might call Riverkeep "Huck Finn fights Captain Ahab with help from Frankenstein's monster."

The chemistry between the characters makes for plenty of snappy banter, and the plot swiftly flows with constant fights, flights and some slapstick hilarity. Glaswegian author Martin Stewart's atmospheric riverboat ride is a dark delight, a rollicking adventure of fathers and sons, monsters and magic, and the choices that make us human. --Jaclyn Fulwood, lead librarian at Del City Public Library, Okla.

Discover: A son sets out to save his father from a deadly parasite by slaying a magical sea monster in this chilling YA debut by Scottish author Martin Stewart.

Viking, $17.99, hardcover, 416p., ages 13-up, 9781101998298

Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion

by Alex T. Smith

In this gleeful version of Little Red Riding Hood, set in Africa, "Little Red" is savanna-savvy, the grandmother is replaced by hip Auntie Rosie, and the traditional big bad wolf is a very hungry lion.

Auntie Rosie asks Little Red if she will bring her some "spot medicine" from the general store. Little Red and her goofy little goat happily oblige, though "It was a long way to Auntie Rosie's house./ Little Red walked under the giraffes,/ over the sleepy crocodiles,/ and past the chattering monkeys." When Little Red pauses to rest under a shade tree, the Very Hungry Lion appears on the scene and cooks up his "very naughty plan." Lion rushes off to dress up as Auntie Rosie, but he doesn't fool Little Red for a minute. Much to Lion's dismay, she goes off script: " 'Oh, Auntie!' cried Little Red. 'What tangled hair you have!' " She braids Lion's mane and decorates it with bows. She makes him brush his "gigantic, grimy teeth" and sport a pretty dress. When Lion finally yells "STOP!" Little Red tells the frustrated beast that all he had to do is ask, if he was hungry. He apologizes and they all share some doughnuts... but that doesn't mean he won't try to eat Little Red's father later.

English author-illustrator Alex T. Smith's (the Claude series) washes his over-the-top, kinetic spreads in warm, sunset hues. Preschoolers will giggle at the animals with coffee cups or sunglasses cavorting on the savannah, but the very hungry lion with his Groucho Marx eyebrows and ferocious appetite steals the show. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In this fractured fairy tale set in the African savannah, Little Red takes spot medicine to her Auntie Rosie and fends off a very hungry lion.

Scholastic Press, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-5, 9780545914383


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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