Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, May 19, 2017

Mariner Books: Briefly Perfectly Human: Making an Authentic Life by Getting Real about the End by Alua Arthur

From My Shelf

Get Out and Play!

May is the cusp of summer in many parts of the world. It's also a marvelous time to get outside and bring that cabin fever down! These three picture books celebrate the joys of being outdoors, whether through kite flying, rediscovering a dog's life or enjoying--sort of--a slumber party.

The thrill a girl named Daisy feels as a borrowed kite "swishes and swirls, dives and zooms" overcomes her with covetousness, and she runs home to hide the kite in her bedroom. When conscience gets the best of her, she finds forgiveness, a new friend... and her very own kite. Janet A. Holmes's spare text tells an all-too-familiar story of impulse and compunction, and illustrator Jonathan Bentley's lovely pencil and watercolor artwork captures the blustery, sunny days in Blue Sky Yellow Kite (Peter Pauper Press).

Raymond, a well-loved chocolate-colored pooch, wonders one day if maybe there's more to life than having his ears scratched in just the right place. In no time, he's on two feet, enjoying "cappuccino-and-cupcake Saturdays" and working as a "rover-ing reporter" at Dogue magazine. But oh, the stress! With their cartoon illustration style and straight-faced humor, French brothers Yann and Gwendal Le Bec poke gentle fun at Type A humans in Raymond (Candlewick). The tongue-lolling, tail-wagging joy of his return to four-footed outdoor fun is palpable.

Chester Raccoon (the Kissing Hand series) returns in Chester Raccoon and the Almost Perfect Sleepover (Tanglewood Books), this time for an "overday" with Pepper Opossum and other nocturnal buddies. They hang from their tails, play Follow the Leader and eat "delicious" snacks of grubs and rotten fruit. But when bedtime comes, Chester is hit with a case of homesickness. Luckily, Mrs. Opossum knows just what to do. Audrey Penn's reassuring story and Barbara L. Gibson's playful illustrations hit the mark for any reader who is almost ready for sleepovers. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Sleeping Bear Press: A Kurta to Remember by Gauri Dalvi Pandya, Illustrated by Avani Dwivedi

The Writer's Life

John Kessel: Sex (and Pianos) on the Moon

photo: John Pagliuca

John Kessel is the author of the novels Good News from Outer Space and Corrupting Dr. Nice and the story collections Meeting in Infinity, The Pure Product and The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories. His fiction has received the Nebula Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award and the James Tiptree Jr. Award for fiction dealing with gender issues. He teaches American literature and fiction writing at North Carolina State University. He lives in Raleigh with his wife, the novelist Therese Anne Fowler. Kessel's new novel, The Moon and the Other (reviewed below), recently published by Saga Press, is set on the moon in the 22nd century and tells two love stories, in two politically opposed lunar colonies--the patriarchal Persepolis and the matriarchal Society of Cousins.

What was the genesis of The Moon and the Other?

When my daughter was little, I'd take her to daycare and watch her on the playground with other kids. There was a difference in the way that the girls and the boys played. The boys would run around, often doing solitary things. The girls would sit in a sandbox doing things together. So I began to wonder: To what degree is gendered behavior innate, and to what degree is it learned?

I read up about primate behavior, including chimpanzees and bonobos, both related to human beings, but with different cultures. That started me wondering whether there are other ways society could be organized. I didn't see myself as advocating anything, but I did consider how the world might be organized differently.

There's a great scene where the protagonists meet with lawyers for a custody hearing, and they're serving tea and greeting each other with hugs.

Bonobos have a female-dominated culture where they defuse conflict by hugging and kissing and snuggling. And having a lot of sex.

Sex is very open and free and unrestricted in the Society of Cousins. Heterosexual sex, homosexual sex, every variety of sexuality. There are personal choices involved, but the culture doesn't repress sexuality.

And you nod to other genders...

That's right. I'm very aware of the rapid changes in our sense of what makes gender. I don't think gender is a strict binary, and it is somewhat fluid.

In creating the Society of Cousins, did you intend to write about femaleness?

I'd say it's more about masculinity. I feel our culture offers impoverished options for people to be men.

Men are asked to behave in limited ways. I'm not saying men aren't privileged--men are very much privileged in our society--but I also think that the roles offered to them, the ways you're supposed to be male, require cutting parts of your heart out in order to fit in.

How do you define science fiction?

The writer Frederick Pohl said that science fiction is a way of thinking about things. It's similar to thinking in terms of sociology, or politics, or any number of other disciplines. You suggest alternatives, project consequences, and see how it looks.

The main thing is, you have to put abstract ideas into the lives of individual people. It's not an essay you're writing. We talk about the ideas I was putting into the book, but in the end, I wanted to write a story about some people. I want you to get caught up in the characters' problems, with risk, adventure, even action scenes.

And explosions! You can't have a science fiction book without explosions!

Kim Stanley Robinson blurbed this book, and one of his lesser-known novels, Pacific Edge, has an Ecotopia-like plot that revolves around a zoning battle. So was that an inspiration for the custody battle at the center of this novel?

I am one of Kim Stanley Robinson's biggest fans. I've read pretty much everything he's ever written. In each book, he looks at different aspects of society and makes them into personal stories. Pacific Edge might've been at the back of my mind. I know that I've learned things from reading his work.

There's a lot of science in what's otherwise a character-driven story. Why?

I like science fiction that takes science seriously and tries to be as accurate as possible. It annoys me a great deal when a story just abandons scientific reality for the sake of a plot. I have a degree in physics, so I try very hard to make it as plausible as I can, given the kind of story I'm telling.

I read a lot about the lunar environment and how to create a colony that would be self-sustaining in an incredibly inhospitable place. I mean, you don't have air, you don't have water. You have immense troubles with radiation. Living on the moon, you'd have to solve all these things long-term in order to sustain millions of people.

My most prosperous colony, Persepolis, is located at the lunar south pole. Why? It's one of the coldest spots in the solar system, down to 40 degrees Kelvin, but that's where probes have discovered deposits of ice. Water is a precious commodity, and extremely massive. It would be very expensive to bring water from the earth to the moon. So if there's a place where you can actually mine ice on the moon, that would be a tremendous economic advantage.

How would you mine a place like that, what would be the risk involved, and what would be the economics? That real science gave my colony a tangibility.

There's an optimism to this book. It feels a bit like a golden age science fiction novel. But those came out of an era that was very optimistic.

It's easy for people of my generation, at my age, to get down on the world. The human race does a lot of stupid things, but I feel that we have to try to do better. We're capable of it. I think it's incumbent on writers to imagine things that might be better.

It has a sense of wonder, too.

Science fiction should be fun. I want to show you things you've never seen before. I'm going to show you what it's like to live inside a huge domed crater, and how it works. I'm going to show you an underground forest on the moon, and I'm going to take you to the ice mine where the temperature is near absolute zero, and I'm going to show you an intelligent dog.

I put an ocean and an artificial beach underground on the moon. Could you do it? How? I wanted to create a place where people on the moon who've never seen water beyond what you could put in a cup can go to a beach and actually swim in water.

And I know I'm the only science fiction writer ever to put a lot of thought into how you would manufacture pianos on the moon.

What authors are you a proselytizer for?

I have my favorites, writers of my generation who I'm fond of, like Karen Joy Fowler, James Patrick Kelly, Bruce Sterling and Kij Johnson. There is a generation of new science fiction and fantasy writers that I am not as familiar with as I should be. People like Usman Malik, Lavie Tidhar, Nora Jemisin, Saladin Ahmed, E. Lily Yu, Alyssa Wong, Eugene Fischer, a dozen others.

What are you working on now?

I just turned in a draft of a new novel called Pride and Prometheus. It was originally a story I wrote in 2008 that merges characters from Pride and Prejudice and Frankenstein.

It’s about Mary Bennet, the moralistic, foolish middle sister in Pride and Prejudice. She's 32, a spinster, and no one's ever wanted to marry her. As she's coming to grips with that reality, she falls in love with Victor Frankenstein, who's in England to create a bride for his monster. And who's probably not a good choice for a partner. --Zak Nelson, writer and bookseller

Book Candy

The Sad End of Bedtime Reading

"I'm nearing the end of bedtime reading with my daughter and it's breaking my heart," Tom Burns wrote in Brightly.


"Incredibly rare" pages made by England's first printer, William Caxton, more than 500 years ago have been discovered, BBC News reported.


Mental Floss showcased "11 English words that make more sense when you know their Arabic roots."


Author Xan Brooks selected his "top 10 terrible houses in fiction" for the Guardian.


Mauro del Santo's modular and flexible BooKaos bookshelves are "composed of vertical rails and horizontal elements that can be arranged to form shelves, containers, bookholders," Bookshelf reported.

Great Reads

Rediscover: The Secret Man

On the night of June 17, 1972, five men were arrested for breaking and entering into the Democratic National Committee's headquarters at the Watergate complex. Two years later, Richard Nixon resigned rather than face certain impeachment. The story of how a bungled burglary overthrew a president began with a trail of money that connected Nixon's Committee to Reelect the President and the Watergate break-in. Reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post helped bring the scandal to public light. Their anonymous source, whom Woodward met in a parking garage several times between June 1972 and January 1973, revealed that Watergate's roots lay in the highest branches of the Federal government.

The identity of this leaker, nicknamed Deep Throat, remained a mystery for 33 years. In 2005, former FBI associate director Mark Felt was finally confirmed as Woodward's source. Woodward said Felt was compelled to release publicly FBI findings after the Nixon administration's attempts to interfere with the Bureau's investigation. Mark Felt's 2006 memoir, A G-Man's Life: The FBI, Being 'Deep Throat,' And the Struggle for Honor in Washington (PublicAffairs), co-authored with John O'Connor, is currently out of print. In 2005, Woodward wrote The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat (Simon & Schuster, $16.99, 9780743287166), which chronicles Woodward's long relationship with Felt, one that preceded Watergate and became tumultuous when Felt later went on trial for authorizing unconstitutional searches of Weather Underground members' homes. --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


The Witchfinder's Sister

by Beth Underdown

The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown opens in 1645, as Alice Hopkins, pregnant and newly widowed, returns in disgrace to her brother's house near London. The two siblings were close as children--after Matthew was disfigured as an infant, Alice was his constant companion--but as adults they have been estranged since Alice, raised Protestant, married a Catholic. Now, dependent upon her brother's favor, she is appalled to realize that Matthew has begun a campaign to ferret out witches by exploiting the pettiness often found in small villages. "Once you have said a name, there is no unsaying," Alice realizes. This debut novel illuminates the malevolence of a flawed and self-righteous man obsessed with women who flout society's expectations.

Matthew's indiscriminate hunt to eradicate witches gains power with every woman he convicts. "The number of women my brother Matthew has killed, as far as I can reckon it, is one hundred and six," Alice writes in her daily book. She is determined to stop him, and in doing so puts her own life in peril, for Matthew's monstrosity means that even his sister can be silenced.

Matthew Hopkins was a real man who instigated numerous witch trials in England between 1645 and 1647. While the trials in Salem, Mass., may be better known, an estimated 40,000-60,000 people, mostly women, were killed as witches in England. Fans of Geraldine Brooks and Sarah Dunant will welcome this well-researched and emotionally charged historical novel, told from the often invisible woman's perspective. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: A young woman with no influence but a strong conscience subverts her powerful brother's witch-hunting crusade in 1645 England.

Ballantine Books, $28, hardcover, 336p., 9780399179143

The Teeth of the Comb & Other Stories

by Osama Alomar, trans. by Osama Alomar with C.J. Collins

The stories in Osama Alomar's collection The Teeth of the Comb and Other Stories skirt the line between poetry and prose. They are exceptionally brief, even for the realm of short stories, varying in length from one sentence to a few pages. They read like fables, whimsical and sometimes dark reflections on life, death, struggles, happiness and the human condition, packed into tales of talking animals, anthropomorphized objects and metaphorical searches.

In the title story, the teeth of a comb are envious of the class differences of humans and so strive to increase their length, only to be discarded as useless upon success. "I turned into a swamp of inactivity, and because of this no one was able to see the gems in my depths," forms the entirety of "Swamp." Two monetary bills discuss agency and dignity in "The Sold Nations," and a feather questions the wind's cruelty in "The Feather and the Wind." A person searches the globe for humanity in "Journey of Life," and lion cubs learn the limits of their mother's power in "The Strongest."

The stories, translated from Arabic by Alomar and translator C.J. Powell, leap from subject to subject. Each is unexpected, new and distinct, but carries within it a lesson in morality. It is impossible to read the collection and not take Alomar's meanings to heart. Be kind, the stories seem to say. Be wise. Be human. Be present. Stand up. Take risks. Try and fail and try again. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A delightful, powerful collection of very short prose offers lessons in morality through a fable-like approach to storytelling.

New Directions, $13.95, paperback, 96p., 9780811226073

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Moon and the Other

by John Kessel

In the 22nd century, humanity has colonized the solar system, including the moon. The Society of Cousins is the most misunderstood lunar colony, a matriarchy where men are given enormous social and sexual liberties, but not the right to vote. The leaders of other colonies--particularly the patriarchal Persepolis--are suspicious of tyranny, and send a delegation to investigate the condition of men.

When the Society of Cousin's biggest male celebrity tries to gain custody of his son, he unwittingly fuels a rebellion led by his volatile lover. In Persepolis, an expat from the Society has married into a wealthy ice-mining family. When he's sent back on a dangerous mission, he must choose between conflicting loyalties.

If the literary zeitgeist has been dominated by dystopias, The Moon and the Other evokes Dickens and H.G. Wells. It's science fiction with heart, romance with ideas. It's utopian and it's savvy. Kessel's droll, sideways humor surfaces periodically, as in "uplifted" dogs and casual allusions to punitive "debtors freezers." He explores gender identity and politics, portraying the complexity of social customs and relationships with neither jaundice nor bullishness. Focused on the lives of his characters, Kessel keeps pace yet makes room for his meticulously thought-out future world.

It's a grownup vision: not because it's serious, but because it's wondrous. It extrapolates not just society and technology, but real-world emotions and human behavior as well. This moon is a place we've never seen before in fiction. --Zak Nelson, writer and bookseller

Discover: This fun, smart science fiction novel contends with gender and matters of the heart, with a message of clear-eyed hope.

Saga/Simon & Schuster, $27.99, hardcover, 608p., 9781481481441

Food & Wine

Savory Sweet: Simple Preserves from a Northern Kitchen

by Mette Nielsen, Beth Dooley

In the cold northern countries of Scandinavia, short growing seasons and fertile soil mean a few months of ripe, abundant fruits and vegetables. Then, as Beth Dooley notes in her introduction to Savory Sweet, cooks and gardeners must try to "keep all that's ripe from racing to rot." In this lavishly illustrated cookbook, Dooley and Mette Nielsen share dozens of flavorful, Nordic-inspired recipes to preserve the best of the season: relishes, pickles, jams, chutneys and more.

Divided into three main sections (vegetables, fruits and seasonings), Savory Sweet takes readers through the garden alphabetically, starting with pickled asparagus and applesauce, and ending with squash, strawberries and zucchini. The authors emphasize bold flavors and unfussy cooking techniques (explained in the first few chapters) over long-term storage. These jams and chutneys might not last in the pantry all winter, but they'll be perfectly fine in the fridge. Fresh herbs and surprising spices, such as anise, cardamom and juniper, make frequent appearances, giving new life to pantry standbys like ketchup, fruit compote and barbecue sauce.

While Dooley and Nielsen's recipes will likely appeal to canning aficionados, their simple, practical guidelines and helpful definitions of terms--the differences between jam, marmalade and preserves, for instance--will appeal to novices. The instructions invite experimentation, but provide a clear road map for first-time canners. Meanwhile, the range of flavors--spicy, smoky, sour, savory and sweet--will send cooks of all stripes straight to their local farmers market for fresh, colorful ingredients. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Beth Dooley and Mette Nielsen showcase bold Nordic flavors and simple recipes in their colorfully illustrated cookbook.

University of Minnesota Press, $24.95, hardcover, 200p., 9780816699582

Biography & Memoir

So High a Blood: The Story of Margaret Douglas, the Tudor that Time Forgot

by Morgan Ring

Morgan Ring's So High a Blood: The Story of Margaret Douglas, the Tudor that Time Forgot is a deft, rollicking history full of drama of the highest order. It is addicting in the same way as Game of Thrones, providing political intrigue, forbidden love, royal scandal, shocking reversals and murder. But as the book's hefty notes and bibliography reveal, Ring has carefully grounded her dramatic narrative in historical fact. After all, no one could make up the erratic machinations of 16th-century English monarch Henry VIII, as infamous for splitting with the Roman Catholic Church as he was for executing his wives.

Ring uncovers a lesser known story of the Tudor period, that of Henry VIII's niece Margaret Douglas. From the beginning, Ring characterizes Douglas as a mixed child of torn allegiances, half-Scottish, half-English, whom power players in both countries try to use to their own advantage. What emerges, though, through Ring's skilled storytelling, is the portrait of a woman who is smart, shrewd and independent, who follows her own heart in matters of love but also protects her children and dynastic legacy through political maneuvering. Ring gloriously describes the atmosphere of the Tudor royal court, the festivities and weddings that take place, as well as its many scandals. But more importantly, Ring creates a well-rounded, painfully human portrait of her leading lady, incorporating Douglas's own words into the portraiture.

So High a Blood excites and entertains with grand historical drama and produces some potent pathos in the process. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author

Discover: A fresh look at the Tudor period reveals the bold and volatile life of a forgotten heroine.

Bloomsbury, $35, hardcover, 368p., 9781632866059


Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe and the Brotherhood That Helped Turn the Tide of War

by Lynne Olson

In Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe and the Brotherhood that Helped Turn the Tide of War, historian Lynne Olson looks at the seldom-told stories of how European refugees--both governments-in-exile and individual patriots--continued to fight Nazi Germany from a (relatively) safe base of operations in London.

Taken individually, their stories are dramatic, and occasionally tragic. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands was outraged when the captain of the British destroyer on which she escaped Amsterdam refused to put her ashore at Zeeland: she had been determined to "be the last man to fall in the last ditch" in defense of her country. Jacques Allier, a young French banker traveling on a fake passport, smuggled the world's supply of heavy water from German-occupied Norway to Scotland under the nose of Abwehr operatives--hamstringing Germany's efforts to develop a nuclear bomb.

Told in combination, these stories challenge traditional accounts of the war. Olson reminds readers that French forces guarded British troops during the heroic evacuation at Dunkirk. Polish pilots played a critical role in the Battle of Britain and in defending London during the Blitz. And Britain's successes in breaking the Enigma codes rested on the work of the Polish underground, who were able to decipher a high percentage of Enigma intercepts by early 1938.

In the English-speaking world, Britain and the United States are often portrayed as standing alone against the Nazis in World War II. Last Hope Island demonstrates how that was never true. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: In London, refugees from occupied Europe fought the Nazis--and sometimes their British hosts.

Random House, $30, hardcover, 576p., 9780812997354

Political Science

Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government's Secret Plan to Save Itself--While the Rest of Us Die

by Garrett M. Graff

In Raven Rock, Garrett Graff (The Threat Matrix) has written a thorough analysis and history of disaster contingency plans, from the end of World War II into the Obama administration. He describes how the world entered a new era of warfare when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Japan in 1945, which unleashed fear for the safety of government personnel. Suddenly the threat of a nuclear war became all too real, and President Truman set into motion contingency plans for the continuation of American democracy in the event of such a disaster. These plans have morphed and changed over the past seven decades, but the core idea behind them remains the same: if under attack, have safe places well stocked with provisions and up-to-date communications systems, so the highest people in government can be protected and continue to work--while the masses of citizens fend for themselves.

Graff discusses the complexity of the presidential order of succession, the logistics of finding caves large enough to house personnel, the costs involved in building and stocking these massive underground bunkers with sufficient supplies, and the difficulty of maintaining them as deterioration sets in. Throughout, he consistently points out that the average citizen is not allowed into these protected zones, as well as the numerous executive orders (some written during the Cold War) that would go into effect, giving the administration extreme power. Graff's words leave a chill as he depicts just how insignificant most of the population is in the eyes of the government. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: In the event of nuclear war, the U.S. government has tactics to preserve itself--and only itself.

Simon & Schuster, $28, hardcover, 560p., 9781476735405

Essays & Criticism

Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves: Bookmarked

by Michael Seidlinger

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is a postmodern typographical puzzle about a suburban home that's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Danielewski combines haunted house horror, domestic drama and paranoid obsession into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. He layers narrative upon narrative: Johnny Truant, an unstable first-person narrator, curates and comments on the disorganized works of Zampanò, a recently deceased blind man who was studying The Navidson Record, a documentary filmed in the titular house by photographer Will Navidson. Much of House of Leaves alternates between Zampanò's satirical in-depth academic study of the Record and Johnny's devolving mental state, his psychosis deepening alongside the inexplicably expanding labyrinth in Navidson's house.

Since its publication in 2000 by Pantheon, House of Leaves has entertained, perplexed and unsettled legions of readers. Michael Seidlinger was so inspired by Danielewski's work that he became an author (The Laughter of Strangers, The Face of Any Other, Falter Kingdom). In this addition to Ig Publishing's Bookmarked series, in which authors reflect on books that have shaped their lives and careers, Seidlinger hurls himself through a personal maze of self-reflection, literary influences and a writing process as winding and wondrous as Danielewski's house. As Seidlinger processes the novel chapter by chapter, each new element sends him on long, frequently footnoted discourses about his journey as a writer that are as heartfelt as they are illuminating. Fans of House of Leaves and those interested in behind-the-scenes glimpses of the creative process will enjoy this volume of Bookmarked. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: A novelist inspired by House of Leaves takes a labyrinthine journey of introspection.

Ig Publishing, $14.95, paperback, 184p., 9781632460516


Eclipse: Journeys to the Dark Side of the Moon

by Frank Close

Theoretical physicist Frank Close (The Particle Odyssey) chases a natural phenomenon that has haunted humankind since time immemorial in his enlightening science memoir Eclipse: Journeys to the Dark Side of the Moon.

Close is a professor of physics at Oxford University and former head of the theoretical physics division at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. Despite his hefty credentials, he eschews overly technical scientific jargon for a down-to-earth, lyrical account of solar eclipses, centering on his trips to Africa, the South Pacific and other locales where he pursues, with a mix of intrepid zest and mathematical precision, total solar eclipses. Eclipse beautifully blends these travel narratives with the history of eclipses, not only in science and math but also in art and literature, specifically how they've been represented as supernatural portents. At the same time, Close offers practical advice, such as when to look away from an eclipse, giving his book the feel of an intimate field guide.

But the best thing about Eclipse is neither its practical advice nor its scientific erudition. What stands out is Close's lean lyricism that elevates the material into a work of love. "A circle of profound blackness, a veritable hole in the sky," he writes with genuine awe, "was surrounded by shimmering white light." Adding a nice human touch to the material, Close reminisces about a childhood teacher who first inspired in him the wonder of scientific curiosity. Tracing this early love of stars and planets to his present-day cadre of eclipse chasers--"an international cult whose members worship the death and rebirth of the sun"--Close reveals the abiding passion that makes scientific discovery possible in the first place. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author.

Discover: In this alluring work of nonfiction, a physicist travels to the ends of the earth to understand solar eclipses better.

Oxford University Press, $21.95, hardcover, 208p., 9780198795490



by Alan Felsenthal

For several years, Alan Felsenthal, together with Ben Estes, has run the superlative small press the Song Cave, publishing some of the strongest new voices in contemporary poetry. Now comes Felsenthal's debut, Lowly, from Ugly Duckling Presse, and it is well worth the wait.

Not uncommon to first collections assembled over a long period, Lowly is a smorgasbord of styles and forms. Gnomic utterances yield to poker-faced double entendres, while hints of humor leaven delicate self-consciousness. Possessing a sly wit ("I regard all men/ I knew as boys, as boys") and a nuanced faith ("In myself I will call my soul a she, and to her be singular"), the poet flirts with riddles but ultimately draws back from the chasm of meaninglessness.

This is refreshingly subtle poetry, quiet even, yet remaining alert to the sheer physicality of language, resulting in a musically sophisticated mouthfeel. Witness the hard consonants in a line like "True power gilds the moth, most/ haled then forgot like a loathed toad."

The poems in Lowly repeatedly invoke legends and myths both familiar and obscure (Atlantis, the Sphinx, astrology). In a time obsessed with facts and their obvious dissemblance, Felsenthal values alterity, writing toward a less binary sense of truth. "I'm not expecting to become the gate-/ keeper of these mysteries. I only want time to read,/ to feel a story well, stare at my beloved/ and make of all my discomfort a household/ shrine." Hear, hear. --John Duvernoy, bookseller, Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Wash.

Discover: A respected poetry publisher's debut is an elegant, multi-dimensional collection.

Ugly Duckling Presse, $15, paperback, 80p., 9781937027872

Children's & Young Adult

The Doorman's Repose

by Chris Raschka

Two stories about Mr. Bunchley, the new doorman at 777 Garden Street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, frame this endearing, imaginative collection by Caldecott Award winner Chris Raschka.

Mr. Bunchley, who goes against the grain himself by preferring to talk flowers over baseball, opens the door to reveal the quirky inhabitants of this grand old (and equally quirky) apartment building, a "neo-proto-Aztec-Egyptian-Gothic"-style affair. Fred is the mysterious veteran of "some kind of war" who regulates gravity with pigeons. Myrna Murray-Burdett is the building's requisite resident opera singer ("lyric soprano"). And Victoria is a second grader whose fascination with plumbing helps save a depressed boiler named Liesl. Each inhabitant has a story, and each story is told with the utmost care and respect. Even some of the building's less human residents get their turn. Stories of the mouse families Brownback and Whitefoot are likewise captivating to readers, and Otis the elevator also gets to have his say.

In The Doorman's Repose, readers are reminded that everyone (indeed, every thing!) has a history, but kindness is prequel to understanding. Raschka's (Yo! Yes?; Home at Last; A Ball for Daisy) black-and-white art is beautifully offbeat and expressive. His intertwining tales wind through time, from apartment to apartment, and emphasize the bonds among various residents who have more in common than the "unseen world" of pipes that snake through their building. As Mr. Bunchley so nicely puts it, "This city is more interconnected than the loops of yarn in your grandmother's sweater." A wonderful story for all ages. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: Intertwining tales about the residents and doorman of 777 Garden Street on Manhattan's Upper East Side make up this charmingly sophisticated collection.

New York Review Children's Collection, $17.95, hardcover, 175p., ages 10-14, 9781681371009

Quicksand Pond

by Janet Taylor Lisle

"No one needed a hidden, half-forgotten pond more than Jessie that summer, and right from the beginning--their first day on the raft--Terri Carr seemed the perfect person to show it to her."

Jessie Kettel "was in a separatist mood that year, her twelfth, and in a state of irritation with everyone around her." When her family rents a rustic seaside cottage with a pond in Rhode Island for the summer, she sees the pond as her place, especially since her "pathetically nice" beautiful older sister gravitates toward the ocean beach and the teens she finds there, her little brother is absorbed with a new friend, her writer father is distracted and her mother is notably absent, back home in Pittsburgh, working day and night.

Jessie discovers an old raft, and a local girl, Terri, discovers her. Terri regales Jessie with stories about long-ago quicksand drownings and murders and wrongful arrests. Jessie is intrigued but also wary--Terri lives in a broken-down house with a violent, alcoholic father, and Jessie's never sure how much to trust her. As the summer and their friendship progresses, Jessie grapples with ethical questions: Is it all right to use the tools from a senile old woman's shed without her knowing? Is it fair to accuse Terri of stealing Jessie's father's laptop just because she's needy and has a shifty look about her? Mysteries from the past begin to overlap with present-day puzzles and, in spite of herself, Jessie begins to distance herself from Terri.

Quicksand Pond by Janet Taylor Lisle (Newbery Honor Book Afternoon of the Elves; The Art of Keeping Cool) is a beautiful, realistic story about trust, self-doubt and judgment. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Two 12-year-old girls fix up an old raft and explore a pond, friendship and the dark mysteries of the past.

Atheneum, $16.99, hardcover, 256p., ages 10-up, 9781481472227


Author Buzz

The Wild Card
(A Rivers Wilde Novella)

by Dylan Allen

Dear Reader,

"What if…?" is my favorite question to ask myself when I start writing a book. The answers that Cassie and Leo's story delivered were unexpected and heartwarming. Adding a heist and serendipitous reunion into the mix took my tried and true favorite trope, second chance, to a whole new level. Theirs is a classic case of right person/wrong time. Whether you're a Rivers Wilde newbie or expert, watching them overcome some pretty steep hurdles is a wild, thrilling, feel good ride.

I hope you love every word. xo,

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: The Wild Card (A Rivers Wilde Novella) by Dylan Allen

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 16, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book


Kids Buzz

Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night

by Steven J. Simmons and Clifford R. Simmons
illus. by Ruth E. Harper

Dear Reader,

My newest and latest in a three-book series, Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night?, came from seeing the fascination so many kids have with the ocean and ocean creatures. How do a whale, octopus, dolphin, clownfish, great white shark and so many other undersea animals get their rest?

After all, they need to get their rest and sleep, just like all of us. So dive into this rhyming STEM picture book to encourage a love of nature and the environment--and under the covers for a great bedtime story.

"What do animals do when children are sleeping? Featuring creatures young children are likely to know, this book has the answers....[and] unusual nighttime facts are a plus." --Kirkus

Steve Simmons

KidsBuzz: Charlesbridge: Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night? by Steven J. Simmons and Clifford R. Simmons, illus. by Ruth E. Harper


Pub Date: 
April 16, 2024


Type of Book:
Picture Book

Age Range: 

List Price: 
$17.99 Hardcover

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