Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, February 10, 2017

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

From My Shelf

Say It with Animals

Here are three of our favorite Valentine's Day picture books.

Before you, says the narrator, "I was a flower with no pot./ I was a polka with no dot." "I was a tail without a wag./ Just a bean without a bag." Rebecca Doughty's Before You (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) captures the forlorn nature of each "before you" scenario with just the right amount of sadsack droopiness. "I was a bowl without a fish" is illustrated, suspiciously, with an empty fish bowl and a cat pawing the side of the glass. When the much-anticipated "you" does arrive, the tune changes: "You put the fizz into the pop./ You put the flip into the flop." A fizzy adult-to-adult valentine.

In Adam Rex and illustrator Scott Campbell's XO, OX: A Love Story (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press), Ox is utterly enamored with the starlet Gazelle and finally writes to tell her so: "Even when you are running from tigers you are like a ballerina who is running from tigers. I think that what I am trying to say is that I love you." Gazelle responds with a form letter. Ox persists, finally getting under her skin by lovingly implying that she might have a fault or two. Is her main fault that she "could never, ever love an ox?" Or could she be persuaded? (She can.)

Mick Inkpen (the Kipper series) packs a surprising emotional punch with I Will Love You Anyway (Aladdin), a rhyming British import about unconditional love, expressively illustrated by his daughter Chloë Inkpen. A bulging-eyed pug is trouble, silently telling his beloved redheaded boy: "I steal your glove./ I steal your shoe./ I steal your socks./ They smell of you." He runs away, but the family retrieves him: "I don't do 'Sit!'/ I don't do 'Stay!'/ But I will love you anyway." Drop everything and find this wonderful book right now. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

The Writer's Life

Elliot Ackerman: The Same Emotional Collective

photo: Peter van Agtmael

Elliot Ackerman is the author of Green on Blue, a former White House Fellow and a former Marine who served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for Valor and the Purple Heart. His new novel, Dark at the Crossing (reviewed below), is set on the border between Turkey and Syria during the ongoing Syrian Civil War and follows an Iraqi American trying to cross the border and fight for the Free Syrian Army. Ackerman lives in Istanbul, where he has covered the Syrian conflict since 2013.

Most of Dark at the Crossing takes place in Turkey or in the protagonist's memories of Iraq and the U.S. Why take such an indirect approach to the conflict in Syria? Is the novel even about Syria?

The Syrian Civil War (or revolution, depending on your perspective) is the backdrop of the novel, but I don't believe it is what the novel is about. My ambition for the book was to tell the story of a failed revolution through the prism of a failed marriage. Why this choice? Because while spending significant time covering the war in Syria, what became evident was how so many of the democratic activists who had taken to the streets to protest the regime of Bashar al-Assad were suffering from a kind of heartbreak in the wake of their failed revolution. They had given themselves completely to the cause of bringing democratic reforms to Syria and had seen their efforts end disastrously. They had upended their lives to support the revolution at great personal expense and so many of them had fallen in love with its ideals. The notion of upending one's life for an ideal is also experienced when two people come together and marry. A marriage is, in its way, a revolution of sorts. And just as with actual revolutions, when a marriage fails, it leaves behind significant wreckage. The novel explores how the principal characters not only deal with the wreckage left behind by their revolution, but also the wreckage left by their failed marriage. Parity exists between these two emotional arcs.

Your previous novel, Green on Blue, followed a young Afghan who fights with a U.S.-sponsored militia. In Dark at the Crossing, Haris Abadi is haunted by the time he spent as a translator for U.S. forces in Iraq. Are you particularly interested in the moral cost of collaborating with an occupying foreign power?

I think it's important to keep in mind that Haris Abadi is an American and an Iraqi. In the opening pages of the novel, the reader learns how he earned his American citizenship. His name was a very intentional choice. Haris with one "r" is an Arabic name, but with two, it is a Western one. I have an interest in characters who are torn between two separate identities, who perhaps lead double lives. The result is incompleteness, an emptiness within. This also results in the human heart coming into conflict with itself, which is the only thing worth writing about.

Haris Abadi wants to join the Free Syrian Army and fight Assad, but he encounters characters aligned with the Daesh, also known as ISIS. Was it difficult to empathize with or, at the very least, understand these men?

As a novelist my job is to empathize with my characters, particularly the ones who at face value feel most distant from me. When I envision them, I am trying to make their case as though they were standing before God explaining themselves. But this obviously takes some work. With regards to the characters who were members of the Islamic State, I became friendly with one former member of Al-Qaeda in Iraq who actually fought in al-Anbar province the same time I was there fighting as a Marine. The two of us met in a refugee camp along the Syrian border and, oddly enough, became friends. We were soon getting together every few months to talk and have tea, sort of an impromptu VFW meeting in south Turkey. We would usually discuss the old days fighting in Iraq on opposite sides, and recent events in the region. Although he was no longer fighting, he still believed in the fundamental strains of Islam that fuel radical groups like the Islamic State. This led to many debates between us. Did I agree with him on most issues? No. Could I understand how as a Sunni Arab who had spent time in prison in Bashar al-Assad's Syria and who had been disenfranchised within his country, why he would turn to religion and radicalization? Of course, I could.

Dark at the Crossing is not only about war but about the kinds of love that develop in its shadow. What characterizes relationships that develop in these seemingly impossible conditions? I'm thinking not only of romantic relationships, but of the strange bond between Haris and an American Special Forces soldier named Jim.

War by definition is a manifestation of extreme emotion. It is one group of people believing enough in some cause that they are willing to kill for it and perhaps to die for it. (It is also the story of innocents trying to survive those groups of believers.) The relationships that develop in this heightened emotional space are of an extreme intensity. This is an environment that strains relationships--even the most basic: mother to child, husband to wife, etc.--pushing them to their breaking points, or else soldering them into bonds of incredible durability.

You write: "When the last of the Free Army dissolved, the revolution would finally be over. Then the war could begin." At this point, the Free Army seems to exist mostly in a nominal sense. Is the revolution over? Do the hopeful vestiges of the Arab Spring still exist in any meaningful way?

It depends on who you speak to. And this is obviously a loaded question when discussing the revolution with Syrians. I had one Syrian friend in particular, Abed, to whom the book is dedicated. He was a democratic activist in the revolution's early days who was forced to flee the country by the regime. Stranded in Gaziantep, or Antep as most locals refer to it, he and I would often eat dinner together. On any given night, we could be sitting down and ordering our meal while he insisted in our discussions that the revolution was not over, that the Free Army could still defeat Assad if properly supported by the West. However, by the time our meal was over and we were having our tea, he would be lamenting that the entire revolution was a mistake, that he wished he could take it all back, that he and the other activists had never gone into the streets in protest, that he had destroyed his own home. Whether the revolution is over is not just a political question. I came to learn that it is also a deeply personal question, one so many Syrians have wrestled with and continue to wrestle with as they decide whether or not to abandon their country and craft a new life in the diaspora or to stay engaged with political developments at home.

As an American writing about Iraqi and Syrian expatriates, how did you make sure that you portrayed your characters realistically and respectfully?

When writing any character in a novel, I am by definition writing about someone who is outside of my experience. It is my job to become as close to that character as I possibly can, to do my best to understand who they are. If a character shares my nationality, that doesn't necessarily mean that I know them better than one who does not. The unknown variables for every character are different. When I read, the authors that I admire most open up through their imaginations the interior lives of people that would otherwise remain inaccessible to me.

I happen to be a veteran and a novelist. Some years back there was a great deal of controversy among Iraq and Afghan war vets when certain novels came out that were written by authors who had never served in the military, particularly when those novels received a great deal of acclaim and when literary critics commented on their realism. Some in my community viewed this as an act of cultural appropriation by those non-vet authors, as if our stories were ours alone to tell and were somehow being robbed from us. I reject this view entirely. What fiction does, and what it does extremely well, is assert that all of us are part of an emotional collective. When I am reading a really excellent book, I feel something as I turn the pages. That is what good art does: it transfers emotion. Whatever the writer felt as they crafted their story is passed onto the reader. But if we begin to make rules that only certain topics can be breached by certain artists based on some experiential authority, then we are negating what the best art asserts: that we are, all of us, part of that very same emotional collective. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Book Candy

A Bookish Valentine's Day!

Be our bookish valentine: Buzzfeed shared "21 of the most romantic quotes in literature"; The Guardian listed the "top 10 authentic romances": Chronicle Books blog showcased "15 love-filled illustrations from children's literature"; and, as an alternative, "10 anti-love poems for Valentine's Day."


Voting has opened for the Chronicle/Little Free Library design competition.


Author Michelle Tea chose her "top 10 books about the apocalypse" for the Guardian.


Quirk Books considered titles "we'd like to see get the LEGO movie treatment."

Great Reads

Rediscover: Knots and Crosses

It's been 30 years since Scottish author Ian Rankin introduced the world to Detective Inspector John Rebus, an Edinburgh police officer and former SAS member with a curmudgeonly, sometimes misanthropic disposition. Knots and Crosses, the first of 21 Inspector Rebus mysteries, was written while Rankin was still a postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh. It takes place in an Edinburgh terrorized by a serial killer strangling young girls. Inspector Rebus, between overindulging on drinks, cigarettes and women, investigates the murders, only to discover that his own family and military past are keys to stopping the killings.

Rebus's hardboiled exploits have made Rankin an international bestseller. He has been praised for his elaborate plots that span a wide variety of Scottish locations and weave throughout the series. The novels take place in real time, so Rebus ages as the books progress. 2007's Exit Music, the 17th in the series, retired Rebus from the police force, but not from solving crimes. His latest mystery, Rather Be the Devil, was published by Little, Brown on January 31 ($27, 9780316342575). Knots and Crosses was last published by Minotaur Books in 2008 ($16.99, 9780312536923). --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


I Liked My Life

by Abby Fabiaschi

After she steps off the roof of the Wellesley College library and dies, Maddy Starling refuses to move on to the next phase awaiting her until she knows her husband, Brady, and teenage daughter, Eve, have the right person looking after them. To that end, she chooses Rory, a local teacher with a terminally ill mother, as Brady's next wife. Able to plant suggestions in the minds of the living, Maddy maneuvers Rory into her family's orbit.

While the premise may sound like the setup for an oddball rom-com, the execution is far more profound. Brady and Eve can't function without Maddy, the hardworking, self-sacrificing homemaker who held the family together. Grief numbs Eve to her former life and relationships, while workaholic Brady has no idea how to step into the role of single parent. Both feel frustration over the lack of explanation for Maddy's suicide, as well as an oppressive guilt--perhaps if they had loved her better, appreciated her more, she would still be alive. Well-intentioned people, including Maddy's best friend, Paige, and sister Meg, often intrude when they mean to help. Through subconscious nudges and old journal entries, Maddy tries to help the people she loved most begin to live again without her.

Filled with deaths and myriad ways that human beings fight or surrender to pain, I Liked My Life nonetheless is an affirmation of love and the ability to survive grief and find joy again. Book clubs in particular will take delight in the wealth of emotion to ponder from this talented new voice. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: This graceful drama from newcomer Abby Fabiaschi follows a woman's family after her suicide, watched over by her matchmaking ghost.

St. Martin's Press, $25.99, hardcover, 272p., 9781250084873

Dark at the Crossing

by Elliot Ackerman

Dark at the Crossing, decorated veteran Elliot Ackerman's second novel, after the acclaimed Green on Blue, follows Haris Abadi, an Iraqi American trying to cross the border from Turkey into Syria to fight with the Free Syrian Army. Haris is haunted by his time as a translator for an American Special Forces unit in Iraq, where he was "Iraqi in a war against Iraqis, and American in a war against Americans." Haris's ambitions are frustrated almost immediately upon arriving in Turkey, when he's robbed and forced to rely on the well-positioned Syrian refugee Amir and his wife, Daphne, a troubled, grieving couple who might be able to help him get across the border. Amir and Daphne are struggling with the slow disintegration of their marriage as they find drastically different ways to reconcile their experiences in Syria. Haris's search for a morally and spiritually redemptive "good war" is constantly frustrated by the region's messy reality.

Despite the despairing tone of the novel, Ackerman extends an impressive amount of empathy toward each of the characters. Everyone, he seems to argue, has a reason for doing what they do, even if it's an obscure, almost atavistic reason: "For Jim, maybe there wasn't a shred of meaning in any of this. Maybe for Jim, the whole war was just an impulse fulfilled." Instead of trying to make a grand statement about what war means, Dark at the Crossing illustrates how war can mean different things to different people. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: Iraqi American Haris Abadi makes a morally fraught journey to fight for the Free Syrian Army.

Knopf, $25.95, hardcover, 256p., 9781101947371

No Man's Land

by Simon Tolkien

Adam Raine is born into the lowest social strata of a British Empire on the verge of irrevocable change. His impoverished childhood in early 20th-century London is marked by one misfortune after another: first the death of his mother, then his father's inability to find work. Adam's father gets a second chance when a relative offers him a job in coal-mining country, in the town of Scarsdale, helping the miners negotiate with the mine's owner, Sir John Scarsdale.

Adam comes of age in this new countryside home amid miners and their sons toiling in horrifying conditions deep beneath the earth. He is sent to a nearby school, in hopes that his intellect will earn him a scholarship to Cambridge or Oxford. He makes a few friends and enemies, develops a romantic interest in the local parson's daughter, and seems to be on a path that will send him above his father's social station. But then, like the rest of his generation, Adam's life is utterly upended by World War I.

Simon Tolkien (The Inheritance; Orders from Berlin), grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien, crafts an epic coming-of-age story in No Man's Land. He draws on some of his grandfather's experiences fighting in the Battle of the Somme to depict Adam's tribulations in the trenches. Tolkien hits all the resonant notes--class conflict, romance, family drama, war--that turn No Man's Land into a thoroughly enjoyable, if sometimes a little melodramatic, piece of historical fiction. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: In an epic coming-of-age tale, a poor English boy is caught up in class conflict, coal mining and World War I.

Nan A. Talese, $27.95, hardcover, 592p., 9780385541978

Days Without End

by Sebastian Barry

In Days Without End, Irish immigrant Thomas McNulty and his love, beautiful John Cole, meet as homeless boys and share a lifetime of violence and deprivation, adventure and affection. In spite of their suffering, Thomas's first-person narration sings with wonder at the beauty of the world and their place in it.

"We were two wood-shavings of humanity in a rough world," Thomas reflects on their striking out together "in the enterprise of continuing survival." He and New England-born John find work in costume as saloon dancers for miners delighted to pay for a waltz or a foxtrot. They outgrow that job and join the army on the Oregon Trail, desperately seeking a secure future.

Sebastian Barry (Booker-nominated author of A Long Long Way and The Secret Scripture) balances gruesome depictions of massacres, near-starvation and Civil War battles with poetic phrasing and exclamations of joy at the wonders of nature and the gift of life. The duo crisscross the United States, from peace to strife and back, motivated by their commitment to Winona. Rescued during a Sioux massacre and sheltered at the army fort, she is put in their care as a servant but the men love and care for her as a daughter. Thomas's matter-of-fact tenacity turns humorous in Barry's narration; he describes the traditional family they make: Winona, John Cole ("the best-looking man in Christendom") and Thomas (who prefers a "simple hued housedress" to "dragging on the trews"). Happiness is tenuous, and Barry feeds the tension through to the end of this painful and beautiful novel. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: Thomas McNulty, orphan immigrant, makes his way through the States by fighting in the Indian and Civil Wars, and finding love with a fellow soldier.

Viking, $26, hardcover, 272p., 9780525427360

The Signal Flame

by Andrew Krivák

Andrew Krivák (The Sojourn) paints indelibly rich scenes and relationships with The Signal Flame, an astonishing novel set in a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania's Endless Mountains. A strong tie to that setting is one of the elements that binds together a community and a family struggling with loss and continued life.

The people in Dardan mourn patriarch Jozef Vinich. He is survived by his daughter, Hannah, and her son Bo; these three generations have been touched by war. Jozef lost fingers in World War I; Hannah's husband survived World War II but returned in ignominy, a deserter later killed in a hunting accident; and Bo's younger brother, Sam, has been missing in action in Vietnam for some months. As they grieve for Jozef and Sam, Hannah and Bo must also navigate a lingering feud with another local family, the management of a business and a farm, a natural disaster and a legacy Sam has left behind.

The town of Dardan and its inhabitants are eloquently portrayed, both in the everyday and exceptional. Krivák's writing is beautiful, luscious but never overwrought; he recalls Norman Maclean in the understated loveliness and clarity of both language and meaning. He imbues his story with methodical pacing, a strong sense of place and a perfectly expressed sense of the quotidian: The Signal Flame takes place between Easter and Christmas of 1972, but encompasses a world of human experience. This is an extraordinary novel to be savored. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This novel of love, grief and the cycles of life veils its profundity in deceptively simple everyday events.

Scribner, $26, hardcover, 272p., 9781501126376

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Weight of the World

by Thomas Toner

The sprawling epic The Weight of the World, sequel to 2015's The Promise of the Child, is a tour de force of universe building and characterization. In a plausible far-future posthuman society, 14-foot-tall Lycaste the Melius tags along with Hugo Maneker, of an immortal race called the Amaranthine (after the mythical flower that never fades), and the tiny Huerepo, a clever little being with a flair for finding (and hoarding) treasure. Lycaste is invested in Maneker's quest to save the Solar Satrapy from hordes of the Prism, a loose alliance of hominids intent on overthrowing the rule of the Amaranthine. The immense war spans the galaxy, something Lycaste seems buffeted by without any real motivational compass.

The sequel also resumes the story of the immortal Jatropha, who must ensure that an infant heir assumes the Amaranthine throne. Meanwhile, Sotiris, another Amaranthine, continues his quest to find his long-lost, presumed-dead sister in a dimension that only he seems able to see.

The Weight of the World requires careful attention and frequent use of the glossary at the end of the volume to track its splendid, outrageous and brilliant speculations about the galaxy-spanning society of the 147th century. The characters may be highly evolved physically, but they retain the desire for wealth, fame, meaning and love that current humans do. The novel does not handhold, affording careful readers a complex tale of a possible far future. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This extensive story of the 147th century is filled with spectacular ideas and adventure across the solar system and beyond.

Night Shade, $26.99, hardcover, 432p., 9781597808750

Biography & Memoir

Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty

by Kate Hennessy

Kate Hennessy examines the complicated and poignant relationship between Dorothy Day and her daughter--Kate's mother, Tamar Hennessy. Day's journey of conversion and religiosity began with Tamar Hennessy's birth, yet the same experiences that pulled Day toward Catholicism--the beauty of the sacraments and the discipline of the faith--turned Tamar Hennessy away from it. She instead endured a bad marriage and a tightly regimented life that allowed little room for self-discovery.

Kate Hennessy follows in her grandmother's footsteps and peels away the layers to reveal the vulnerable Dorothy Day, a woman who possessed great love for her daughter. But it was complicated by Day's demanding role as social activist and leader of the Catholic Worker, the organization she cofounded with Peter Maurin to offer hospitality, dignity and hope to the poor and disenfranchised of New York City. And Tamar Hennessy competed with it for Day's attention: "That is the danger of holiness on your own doorstep, in your own family. Either you cannot see it for the view is too close, or if you do, you feel you haven't a chance of being the person she was. You feel it is a sad mistake you are related." Nevertheless, both daughter and granddaughter understood the project's enduring legacy, and both shared a love for it, no matter where their faith stood. In the end, Kate Hennessy finds peace with the two halves of her heritage, finding the beauty and spiritual sustenance so beloved by her grandmother. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: Kate Hennessy provides a considerate and intimate analysis of the mother-daughter relationship between her grandmother Dorothy Day and her mother, Tamar Hennessy.

Scribner, $27.99, hardcover, 384p., 9781501133961


The Book That Changed America: How Darwin's Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation

by Randall Fuller

In The Book That Changed America: How Darwin's Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation, Randall Fuller examines the explosive impact that Charles Darwin's 1859 On the Origin of Species had on the political and ideological landscape of the United States. The work of scientific theory triggered controversy in an evolving country already rife with divisions.

Fuller sketches scenes with buoyant prose. He breathes life into familiar names, humanizing historical figures with delightful descriptions of their personalities and quirks. Boston, Concord and Manhattan also come alive, abuzz with shockwaves from Darwin's ideas. Fuller cites leading scientists of the day and cultural icons such as Bronson Alcott and his daughter Louisa May, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Frederick Douglass. Not all accepted Darwin to the same extent--some esteemed thinkers found his ideas preposterous--but their engagement with the theory and whether it could be reconciled with Creationism helped shape the era's literature, attitudes and politics. Especially compelling is how Fuller explores the influence that Darwin's ideas had on arguments about race and slavery.

Darwin's ideas feel fresh in Fuller's recounting as the author quotes liberally from diaries and articles of the day, as well as from On the Origin of Species itself. Considering the scientist's findings on understanding interactions between organisms and their environments, Fuller delivers one of his best lines: "Such tiny relationships, such insignificant causes and effects, could be decoded; they were in fact the very warp and woof of nature, diverse threads woven together to create a beautifully complex tapestry of life." --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: Darwin's theory of natural selection and its effects on politics and culture leading up to the Civil War come to life in this fascinating history.

Viking, $27, hardcover, 304p., 9780525428336


Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity

by Carlo Rovelli

Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli takes readers on a fascinating adventure into the outer limits of space and into the smallest atom in Reality Is Not What It Seems. Expanding on the concepts described in Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Rovelli explores the evolution of the world of physics. He considers early Greeks like Democritus, who pondered what the heavens consisted of; Einstein and his brilliant deductions of general relativity and special relativity; and the most modern concepts of loop quantum gravity, the Big Bounce, spinfoam and other mind-benders.

Rovelli manages to break down complex, proven ideas into smaller, easily assimilated concepts so those with little to no scientific background can understand the fundamental ideas being used today to understand and create our technological world. About quantum gravity, which is at the crux of the book, he writes, "An elementary structure of the world is emerging, generated by a swarm of quantum events, where time and space do not exist. Quantum fields draw together space, time, matter, and light, exchanging information between one event and another. Reality is a network of granular events; the dynamic that connects them is probabilistic; between one event and another, space, time, matter and energy melt into a cloud of probability." Drawings and tables help readers visualize the complicated, multi-part mathematics and concepts presented, and Rovelli's infectious enthusiasm and excitement for his subject help carry readers over the more difficult aspects, allowing one to let the imagination soar. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: An exciting description of the evolution of physics takes readers to the edge of human knowledge of the universe.

Riverhead Books, $26, hardcover, 288p., 9780735213920

Health & Medicine

The Cancer Whisperer: Finding Courage, Direction, and the Unlikely Gifts of Cancer

by Sophie Sabbage

In 2014, Sophie Sabbage learned she had incurable lung cancer. Doctors consigned her to a likely death and said that her remaining time must revolve around treatments to extend her life and reduce her suffering. But when Sabbage learned more about treatments for terminal cancer--how all-consuming and painful they would be, and how they would rule her remaining time--she decided to make living meaningfully her priority over treatment. This involved creating resources for herself that would support her physical, spiritual and mental wellbeing. At the core was how she could retain her personhood, something she felt that medical treatments had stripped from her--the difference between being a patient and being a person. In writing The Cancer Whisperer, Sabbage aims to reach people diagnosed with cancer who want to be treated as "dignified, empowered human being[s]."

Sabbage divides her book into nine sections, with topics that include dealing with the shock that accompanies a diagnosis; how to ask self-reflective questions for living with cancer; how to deal with the numerous suggested diets; and figuring out ways to stabilize one's body following aggressive treatments. Sabbage approaches the topic with a firm resolve to empower readers in establishing their own purpose and autonomy. She combats the idea that surviving cancer is the cornerstone of success, and argues that preserving personhood throughout one's life is more important. In this way, her goal is not to outrun her prognosis but rather continue to live consciously. The Cancer Whisperer does not purport to offer magical cures or miraculous recoveries; instead, it delivers to readers a greater gift, one of transformation. --Justus Joseph, bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company

Discover: Sophie Sabbage offers alternative ways of thinking and approaches that aim to improve one's experience with cancer.

Plume, $26, hardcover, 224p., 9780735212367

Children's & Young Adult

The House of Months and Years

by Emma Trevayne

Sometimes a house is more than just a house, as 10-year-old Amelia Howling learns in The House of Months and Years by Emma Trevayne (Coda; Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times).

Much to Amelia's chagrin, the sudden passing of her aunt and uncle forces her and her parents to relocate to a strange new house to care for her orphaned cousins. But something is awry: "Since the moment she'd arrived, the house had given her the feeling it could think for itself." Determined to flush out the mystery, Amelia investigates, discovering Horatio, the house's builder, in her attic. Horatio is not a ghost lurking in the shadows but rather an immortal capable of transforming into shadow. The house, he says, "is a time machine" and Amelia his chosen apprentice: "I can teach you all I know. I can make you into what I am." With Horatio, Amelia can--and does--travel through time and space to Victorian England and pirate ships of old. All the while, Horatio promises grander adventures just beyond the horizon, yet Amelia can't help but be suspicious. How can she leave her own world behind if Horatio won't reveal the potential danger in being part of his?

Cousins aside, Amelia's loneliness and feeling of unease are striking, thanks to Trevayne's atmospheric prose. The "calendar house," with spaces representing the 12 months and four seasons, is a fascinating, inventive twist. Horatio, aloof and alternately enchanting and frightening, is a puzzle, much like the house he has built. Readers will agonize with Amelia as she weighs the cost of immortality. --Kyla Paterno, former children's & YA book buyer

Discover: In Emma Trevayne's spooky, thought-provoking novel, a young girl discovers her new house may be harboring the secret to time travel.

Simon & Schuster, $16.99, hardcover, 288p., ages 9-12, 9781481462556

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful

by Eric Lindstrom

Teens have ups and downs. But what 16-year-old Mel Hannigan has are no typical hormone-fueled mood swings. ("Trying to learn Portuguese overnight isn't a mood. It's someone else jumping into my head and grabbing the controls.") She suffers from a serious form of bipolar disorder that cycles rapidly through highs and lows. Heavily medicated after a brutal few years during which her brother died, her parents divorced, she and her mom moved south of San Francisco and she lost her two new best friends, Mel believes that her superpower is "the ability to not think about anything I don't want to think about." But when the grandson of a new resident at the nursing home where she works enters her life with an unflinching interest in her, Mel begins to question the sustainability of her denial-based approach to friendships. And when her former best friends reappear in her life, reminding her of raw memories, it becomes clear Mel needs to find a new superpower: "I've always thought I had the strength to avoid thinking about painful things. What if I actually can't think about them because I lack the strength?"

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom (Not If I See You First) is the funny and heartbreaking portrait of a hugely likable teen struggling to find her authentic self in a muddle of medication and mental illness. This beautiful, nuanced novel will speak to those who suffer from bipolar disorder, as well as to anyone who doubts they are worthy of love just the way they are. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Mel, a 16-year-old girl with bipolar disorder, grapples with identity in Eric Lindstrom's moving young adult novel.

Poppy/Little Brown, $17.99, hardcover, 288p., ages 15-up, 9780316260060

Harry and Clare's Amazing Staycation

by Ted Staunton, illus. by Mika Song

A rainy vacation at home doesn't have to be a disaster if one has imagination. Harry and his big sister Clare have imagination to spare. On Monday they stay in and go to Mars (which "looked a lot like the family room, except for the volcanoes."). Tuesday they ride a fancy "Pasta Linguini" race car around the supermarket while Dad shops. The week goes on, and all would be well if only Clare would stop hogging the snacks and the rule-making rights. Clever Harry finally stops trying to share his ideas, and starts lining his pockets with pilfered treats. Thursday, when the two are avoiding "umpire bats" on their "Kimono dragons," Clare realizes they forgot food. Harry saves the day by quietly producing asteroid burgers (cookies) and volcano sticks (baby carrots), but lets his sister have some only when she agrees to let him lead some of the explorations.

Younger siblings are often at a disadvantage when it comes to calling the playtime shots. Resourceful Harry manages to work the big-sister system without ever resorting to tears or tantrums. Clare, to her credit, seems to recognize that sharing a little power doubles the creative possibilities. Ted Staunton (Morgan on Ice) is a masterful storyteller, capturing the magic of childhood play and sibling relationships with sly humor and understanding. Mika Song's sweet pen-and-watercolor illustrations blend the everyday (a plain staircase with pale blue wallpaper) with the fantastical (an "Abdominal Snowman" in fuzzy slippers chasing a golf-club-wielding Harry up a snowy mountain). Every rainy "staycation" should be this much fun! --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Harry and Clare peacefully resolve sibling conflict in a lighthearted picture book about an adventure-packed "staycation."

Tundra Books, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9781770498273


Author Buzz

The Rom-Commers

by Katherine Center

Dear Reader,

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

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

Katherine Center

Buy now and support your local indie bookstore>

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

St. Martin's Press

Pub Date: 
June 11, 2024


List Price: 
$29.00 Hardcover

Blue Moon
(A Smoke and Mirrors Novella)

by Skye Warren

Dear Reader,

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

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

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

Skye Warren

Available on Kobo

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

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
March 12, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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