Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, May 30, 2017

IDW Publishing: Earthdivers, Vol. 1: Kill Columbus (Earthdivers) by Stephen Graham Jones, illustrated by Davide Gianfelice, colored by Joana Lafuente

From My Shelf

It Wasn't Hamilton, She Swears!

A graduate of Harvard and Radcliffe colleges, Julia Quinn is one of only 16 members of the Romance Writers of America's Hall of Fame. She lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest. The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband (just out in paperback from HarperCollins) is the second book in the Rokesby series.

photo: Roberto Filho

It wasn't Hamilton, I swear. When I tell someone that my new book, The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband, is set in Revolutionary War-era New York City, I get a knowing nod and a comment about "not throwing away my shot."

But I haven't seen Hamilton. I tried to get tickets once and discovered I'm more likely to compete in the luge at the Winter Olympics than I am to watch America's favorite musical. The truth is, I (and my characters) ended up in New York the way authors and characters often do--with the author writing herself into a corner. When I ended Because of Miss Bridgerton, the hero's brother was missing in action in "the Colonies." So, if I was going to open a book with him being found, I was going to have start in those very same Colonies.

Since I almost exclusively set my stories in the British Isles, writing a book set in New York presented all sorts of challenges--not the least of which was writing a story set during the American Revolution with the Brits being the good guys! But even with the change of scene, The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband is still a classic Julia Quinn novel, with a little bit of humor, a little bit of tears, a heroine determined to find her way in the world and a hero who will make you swoon.

So no, it wasn't Hamilton. But if you know someone who can get me tickets....

Tommy Nelson: Buster Gets Back on Track (Buster the Race Car) by Dale Earnhardt Jr., illustrated by Ela Smietanka

Book Candy

15 Things Book-Lovers Do Better

"Apply literature to life," for example. Bustle shared "15 things book-lovers do better than anyone else."


"Do you know the original language of these famous novels?" Buzzfeed asked.


"The 200-year evolution of the word 'gross' " was explored by Mental Floss.


"Ten things Anne of Green Gables taught me" were shared by author Samantha Ellis with the Guardian.


Signature explored "why the key to researching political thrillers is beer and cigars."


The idea behind the Corian cat & dog bookcase "was to see how well the understanding of graphic design can be utilized beyond two dimensions."

Orphan Island

by Laurel Snyder

Every year or so--though it's hard to tell when there are no calendars--a small green boat comes to a mist-encircled island that's inhabited by nine children. The boat brings one new child from parts unknown, and takes away the oldest child, the Elder. It always follows the same path through the water "[a]s if pulled by an invisible string."

There's "a silly little song" all the kids know by heart:  "Nine on an island, orphans all/ Any more--the sky might fall." The children don't know exactly how to decipher that warning, but they trust the very worst will happen if the oldest child refuses to leave when the small green boat beckons. That's why no Elder risks staying on shore, as heart-wrenching and terrifying as it is to abruptly leave one's only known family for uncharted territory, perhaps even "over the edge of the earth" or "into the jaws of some ravening sea creature."

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder (The Longest Night; Bigger than a Bread Box; Seven Stories Up) begins with the ringing of the bell that signals the "Changing" ceremony: "At the cove, they lined up, breathless and staring out to sea, to watch the boat come in against the sunset. They stood waiting like uneven fence posts." It's tall, brooding Deen's turn to leave the island, and Jinny, the main character, isn't fully cognizant of how heartbroken she is to see her best friend go. His departure officially makes her the Elder, meaning she is now charged with taking care of  "Ess," the damp little girl with black curls and stunned, huge brown eyes who has just arrived in the boat. Jinny hopes Ess will quickly learn to forget the "mama" she asks for--on the island, mothers, like "dragons or birthdays," exist only in books.

Jinny the Elder poignantly, or comically, but rarely successfully attempts to teach Ess three basic survival requirements: cooking, swimming and reading. Any caregiver, young or old, will relate to Jinny's love, exasperation, fierce protective instincts and dismaying feelings of inadequacy. Still, as Jinny and Ess spend their days together accidentally making chicken eggs explode, screaming and shrieking in the water ("Ess no, no, no, no like swimming") and writing the letter A (for abalone) in the sand, it's heartwarming to witness the growing closeness between the two.

Children may also revel in the particulars of how the orphan family manages their little village, how they forage for snails in tide pools ("Snail get sad, when I eat him up?" asks Ess), harvest honey from beehives, pick and dry fruit, dig for clams, fish with nets and cook in their outdoor kitchen. The orphans wash themselves and their laundry by putting on all their clothes at once and wading into the water, then letting the sun bake them dry. Life is civil and orderly, but with enough natural crankiness and conflict between the children to be realistic. Though there are no adults present, this is no Lord of the Flies.

What is this utopian island, whose beauty and bounty are so vividly, invitingly described by Snyder? The mystery of how the island "works" supplies a great deal of suspense, along with an underlying sense of foreboding. None of the children know why the island is the way it is, or why they dutifully follow rules, such as abandoning their shoes in a sacred heap upon arrival, or why they don't eat "scuttles," their word for crabs. Who was the critical bookworm from long ago named Abigail Ellis who left a whole library of snarkily annotated books about "wars, unicorns and something called chocolate," now disintegrating from the salt air and voracious reading?

What the orphans do know is that the island protects them. It is safe. They can even playfully throw themselves off the cliffs and the breezes will catch them. The snakes don't bite like "in storybooks." Jinny discovers a hidden letter from Abigail to her mother, but wasn't Abigail an orphan, too? Why on earth would living parents ship their children off to a remote island? Jinny keeps this startling new information to herself, as she does most of her innermost thoughts. Jinny is likable, but prickly, and struggles with her peers' general perception that she always gets her way. Indeed, Jinny's rocky emotional landscape will hook readers as much as the magical setting.

The creeping feeling that something bad is going to happen intensifies when Jinny takes her first lone, terrifying swim in the vast, dangerous sea no one ever claimed was safe. As the orphans' deep sense of security starts to fray around the edges, readers might wonder... will the sky fall? Will the snakes start biting and the breezes no longer usher cliff-jumpers back to safety? What will Jinny do when it's her turn to get on the small green boat? Will she be able to leave her now-beloved Ess? Snyder, with her engaging and lucid prose, gets to the core of what makes the human heart beat faster, be it terror or love. Orphan Island is full of adventure, delight, tenderness, questioning, loss, fear of the unknown and the lure of it. This enormously appealing island paradise and its unexplained mysteries will leave readers begging for more. --Karin Snelson

Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins, $16.99, hardcover, 288p., ages 9-12, 9780062443410

Laurel Snyder: Fantasy Island

photo: Sonya Naumann

Laurel Snyder is a poet, essayist, teacher and author of picture books and novels for children, including The Longest Night, Bigger than a Bread Box, Seven Stories Up and her new middle-grade novel, Orphan Island (Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins, May 30, 2017). She is also a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Here, Snyder talks with Shelf Awareness about Orphan Island, the nature of childhood and the advantages of staring at the ceiling.

In Orphan Island, nine children live by themselves on an island, and every year or so a small green boat brings a new child and takes the oldest one, the Elder, away. No one knows how or why. How did this idea pop into your head?

It came from a couple of different places. My grandfather was a doctor at Okinawa and many of his patients were children, orphans whose parents were civilian casualties of the war. So my initial idea was that Orphan Island could be a historical novel set on Okinawa.

Years later, I was reading The Little Prince to my sons, and I found myself thinking about allegory. It was something I wanted to try, creating a world representing something other than just that world. The next book we read was My Side of the Mountain, and what I was struck by was both the lack of adults in the book and also the ability of kids to do for themselves--the physical doing. We also had that response to the Little House books. Kids who know how to cook and clean and fish and build and use tools. That was very exotic and exciting for my children. So all that got swirled together in my head, and Orphan Island is what happened.

That makes sense. So, in what way is Orphan Island an allegory?

When I started it, I was thinking about parenting... which is sort of deadly for a children's book, since that's about adults and not about children. But I was thinking about our unwillingness to let kids loose. Our unwillingness to stop protecting them. And the things that they don't learn because we don't stop protecting them.

As I moved along, the book became more about childhood--the idea that children should feel safe and protected, but need to at some point step out into the world as an adult. There's the moment where a kid is leaving the safe space, and really wants to, but at the same time, is terrified. I think it's pretty obvious. The island is the safety of childhood, and Jinny is navigating that awareness of safety and what is beyond safety.

That parenting theme still feels pretty strong... in particular, Jinny's feelings about having to take care of Ess when she arrives in the boat: frustration, exhaustion, joy, love, the desire to protect.

Yes, right. Jinny becomes the parent.

The emotions felt so true I wondered if some of Jinny's internal dialogue came straight from your experience.

I have my own children, but in fact Ess is my sister Emma. My parents divorced when I was eight and Emma was two. Years later, when I was 15, my father had a son from a second marriage, so I suddenly had a baby brother. That was wrapped up in it, too. I'm definitely an oldest child.

It's an important thing about siblinghood that you love these people, and that you own these people. They are your people until the day you die and you're jealous of them and you resent them and you snoop in their drawers--all that is true and they can be the most important people in your life. My sister--the book is dedicated to her--is the most important person in my life. But that doesn't mean she doesn't drive me absolutely crazy.

Back to the allegory question, if Orphan Island represents the safety of childhood, would you call it a utopia?

When I would describe the book to people they would say, so it's like James Dashner's Maze Runner. And I'd say no, it's really not like Maze Runner. It seems we're so primed right now for dystopia that people could only understand the island as a response to something terrible. And it was very important to me that it would not be a dystopian book. This is actually, genuinely, a perfect place.

Did you model your island after any island in particular?

In my head it was off the mid-Atlantic coast, somewhere between Delaware and North Carolina, just because that was the beach I grew up with. But I gave myself license. Once you're in a place where magic boats arrive unmanned, you can also say, "And you have peaches year-round!" You're allowed to create a ridiculous growing season.

Your island is magical. The green boat comes and goes "as if pulled by an invisible string." The snakes don't bite. Breezes keep children from plummeting off cliffs. Tell us about the process of writing and world-building.

It was a slow process, three years from start to finish. I had just finished a multi-book contract. I wasn't trying to create a book. I literally spent time staring at the ceiling and thinking. Once I got started I wrote it longhand on a legal pad with a mechanical pencil. I mean, I was trying to slow myself down. I got to take all the time I wanted, just doing the layering. And then there were many, many passes, adding detail or strengthening the world-building and characters.

Laurel Snyder at ALA earlier this year.

Every Elder must teach the newly arrived child swimming, reading and cooking. How did you come up with these three essential skills?

That is actually from the Talmud. Jews are supposed to teach their children to read the Torah, to support themselves and to swim. And I always thought that was fascinating, that there was a Jewish requirement to teach your children to swim.

Are you Jewish?

Yes. There were other references in there, too, such as the idea of a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah, a moment when life changes for you and you are no longer a child.

This is Jinny's coming-of-age story. You said in your blog that "kindness and niceness are not the same thing" and that seems true of Jinny. She's kind, but not necessarily nice.

Middle-school readers, ages 11 and 12, really need books that allow them to explore all aspects of themselves, including the ones they're reprimanded for having. Being 12 was awful for me personally. It's just a hard age. Your body is changing and your brain is changing, and you want independence and you're scared of independence. You want to be taken care of and you resent it. It all gets mixed up and what it produces is not always a nice person. I feel like you can still love Jinny and empathize with her and identify with her, and realize that we all make mistakes.

Your child-only society is much more orderly than, say, William Golding's Lord of the Flies. How would you say the self-governing on Orphan Island is different?

This is a basic political theory question, right? In general, societies can run as long as everyone feels they have enough. We see this with animals, too. The minute there's not enough scraps for the dogs they start fighting with each other. On Orphan Island, the children's basic needs are met. They have community. They feel loved. The tension comes in when people, for whatever reason, feel they aren't getting what they need. And in that sense, this whole story gets kicked off because Jinny loses Deen. She doesn't have what she needs anymore.

Much of the suspense in your novel comes from the fact that we don't know how the island works. Will we ever find out?

I felt like I wanted this to be an imitative experience for the reader. Jinny is full of confusion. She doesn't know things. And that's not just Jinny, that's 12, that's 13, that's what this age feels like. You have no power, you want power. You have no information, people won't answer your questions. Even if they do answer your questions honestly, it may or may not make sense to you.

The challenge to writing a sequel to a coming-of-age story demands that you're then on the other side of coming of age. I feel like following the story to where Jinny does or doesn't find and reconnect with Deen wouldn't be a middle-grade book. But just recently I think I figured out a key that unlocks how I could write a prequel, so I'm outlining that right now.

That is great news. I definitely want to know, if Orphan Island represents the safety of childhood, what lies beyond that wall of mist.

Well, anything can happen, right? I mean, we keep our children safe in our houses and then one day we open the door. And everything that's in the world is out there. We do what we have to do to keep ourselves sane, and imagine that some of those things won't happen, and most of them won't happen, but the potential is all there, and that's the issue. --Karin Snelson

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Review



by Daisy Johnson

With a bold mixture of magical realism and unflinching frankness, Daisy Johnson guides readers into the brooding fenlands of England. Fen: Stories uses the wetlands fed by underground springs to tie together her remarkable stories.

The setting is central to her work; as Johnson has said in an interview, the fen "is not the coast. It is land that dreams of being coast." Similarly, her characters are not quite one thing, instead they dream of being something else. She adds, "The women in these stories feel the way the land does. As if they're missing something." In "Starver," a seemingly typical teenager stops eating. Instead of the expected tale of anorexia, the girl transforms into an eel and is reverently deposited in canal.

A theme of language weaves throughout the collection. In "Heavy Devotion," a messiah-like child learns to speak by taking words and memories from his mother. "The stealings," as she calls them, begins with the words she needs most, and ends with the inability to remember her name or "the sense of things." Johnson observes that "language spoken [in the fen] isn't the same as in other places; it's taken over, changed or destroyed entirely."

The women in these stories drink and smoke and swear and have sex and make bad choices. "A story seemed to find its place here when it did not look away from what was coming. I'm not sure our literary words should be for soothing." Johnson's next offering will be eagerly awaited after this strong and fearless debut. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: This exceptional debut offers original and haunting stories about women's desire, transformations and regret.

Graywolf Press, $16, paperback, 208p., 9781555977740

Parallax Press: Unshakeable: Trauma-Informed Mindfulness and Collective Awakening by Jo-ann Rosen

There Your Heart Lies

by Mary Gordon

Mary Gordon's latest, There Your Heart Lies, is a novel of history across generations in which a woman seeks a meaningful life that reconciles her desire for universal justice with the need for personal compassion.

Marian is the ninth child of a wealthy Irish-Catholic family. At 19, she abruptly abandons her rigid upbringing in the wake of her brother Johnny's suicide, after his homosexuality was "discovered" and radically "treated"; the Church and her father knew best. In 1937, Marian boards an ocean liner for Europe to support the Republican anti-Franco forces in the Spanish Civil War. Helping out in a Valencia hospital, she confronts the tangible horrors of ideological war--the torture and the rubble of homes, families and friends torn apart. She also evolves into a woman with passions and disappointments as she falls for a local doctor and bears his son. For 10 years she is stuck in an autocratic Spain searching for a life with some window of hope.

Layered between the chapters of Marian's life in Spain, Gordon tells the "today" story of Marian's settled life in Rhode Island, now 92 years old and cared for by her 22-year-old granddaughter, Amelia, from Los Angeles. When Marian is diagnosed with cancer, she realizes that her fraught and complicated past needs to be passed on to Amelia, to give her granddaughter a context for her own emerging life.

In There Your Heart Lies, Gordon weaves past and present, personal and public, into a rewarding exploration of recognition and acceptance. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: There Your Heart Lies balances the spiritual and personal in a tale that spans time and generations.

Pantheon, $26.95, hardcover, 336p., 9780307907943

One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter

by Scaachi Koul

A senior writer at BuzzFeed Canada and contributor to the Hairpin and the New Yorker, Scaachi Koul stuns with her witty and affecting debut essay collection, One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter. Each piece combines self-deprecating humor, personal observation and keen cultural insight to examine the roots of modern fears and desires.

In the brilliantly layered opener, "Inheritance Tax," Koul excavates the origins of her own menagerie of phobias, including flying, swimming and traveling to exotic locales. Her parents immigrated to Canada from India, and after the deaths of their parents, became increasingly protective of their young daughter. Koul, in turn, adopted their worrisome ways and to this day frets over the "unknown forces" that might take the life of a loved one. Impressively, Koul writes with a humor that elevates her worries into something more universal.

Koul's parents reappear throughout the collection. In "Fair and Lovely," Koul and her family--including a young niece who is "always passing for white"--visit relatives in India. There, Koul experiences privileges as a light-skinned Indian woman that weren't available to her back in Calgary, and she watches with complicated feelings of pride and concern as strangers praise her niece's fair skin. By parsing these interactions, the essay transcends personal travelogue to create a biting yet hilarious commentary on racism. Taken together, the pieces offer a frank perspective of what it's like to live as a woman of color in both Western and Indian cultures. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: One woman deals with the racial and gender complexities of Western and Indian life in this funny yet poignant collection of essays.

Picador, $16, paperback, 256p., 9781250121028

Mystery & Thriller

What My Body Remembers

by Agnete Friis, trans. by Lindy Falk van Rooyen

Single parenting is hard enough, but Ella's situation is further complicated: she's on welfare and has PTSD from witnessing her father murder her mother at age seven. She has no memory of what happened that night, but her body remembers, causing debilitating panic attacks that temporarily put her in the psych ward, which prompts child services to take away her young son, Alex.

After Ella springs him from the foster home, they flee to the seaside town in Denmark where she grew up and take refuge in her grandmother's rundown home. Ella soon realizes the only way to stop the panic attacks is finally to confront what happened the night her mother died. But can she handle the truth?

What My Body Remembers is Agnete Friis's first solo outing after cowriting the Nina Borg series (The Boy in the Suitcase) with Lene Kaaberbøl. Friis is more than up to the task of sole authorship. She doesn't sugarcoat Ella's life; mental illness and poverty, plus notoriety in her hometown for being a murderer's daughter, add up to a bleak existence.

But Ella is stronger than she realizes and isn't without humor. When a Justin Bieber song comes on, "I pounced on the radio and shut him up," because Ella has "an acute allergic reaction to anything that sounded like crying." The plot twists aren't too surprising, but Friis's compassion for damaged people and Ella's reclamation of her life and sanity make this a memorable read. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A single mom with severe PTSD confronts her childhood trauma.

Soho Crime, $25.95, hardcover, 304p., 9781616956028

Biography & Memoir

Mockingbird Songs: My Friendship with Harper Lee

by Wayne Flynt

Professor and historian Wayne Flynt (Keeping the Faith) first met Nelle Harper Lee in 1983 when the press-shy author of To Kill a Mockingbird spoke at an Alabama heritage festival. A friendly correspondence (with occasional visits) began in 1992 and continued until Lee's death in 2016.

Mockingbird Songs collects both sides of their correspondence, and Flynt begins each chapter with succinct background information on the letters to follow. Lee may have avoided the spotlight, but her letters reveal a devilishly funny, well-informed and gracious participant in life. Far from being a recluse, Lee lived half of every year in the Manhattan apartment she bought in the 1960s. "She was not one to excuse misstatements of fact, suffer fools gladly, silently dismiss literary misquotations, or allow anyone to invade her space without invitation," Flynt writes. But, she was also "empathetic, warm, nonjudgmental and a wonderful conversationalist."

A stroke in 2007 slowed her down but didn't affect her faculties. Her letters have precision and punch. She recalls her complicated friendship with Truman Capote, stating, "I was his oldest friend and I did something Truman could not forgive: I wrote a novel that sold." She also delighted in the success of the 2015 publication of Go Set a Watchman, her first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, knowing that it presents a less romanticized version of Atticus Finch (and her father).

Mockingbird Songs is a sliver of an epistolary biography, but it towers over dry and unauthorized bios of Harper Lee thanks to her strong, compelling and entertaining voice situated center stage. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Wayne Flynt's correspondence with Harper Lee from 1992 until her death in 2016 offers readers a tantalizing glimpse at the celebrated author's devilish wit and informed opinions.

Harper, $25.99, hardcover, 240p., 9780062660084

Between Them: Remembering My Parents

by Richard Ford

In this brief remembrance of his parents, before and after his arrival late in their marriage, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Ford (Independence Day, Canada) offers a slice of America in the last century, showing a hard-working middle-class couple whose dreams he speculates upon, but whose love he never doubted.

Because he sees his parents as individuals rather than a "parental unit," he shapes the book into two sections: the first about his father, Parker, born in 1904, then about his mother, Edna, born in 1910, both in Arkansas, although Edna grew up more rural circumstances. They wed in 1928 and lived on the road, driving among five states as Parker called on accounts he served as a salesman for the Faultless Starch Company. When Richard arrived in 1943, they settled in Jackson, Miss. Parker continued to travel, and the family reunited each weekend.

Some of Ford's memories are richly detailed--descriptions of 1950s cars Parker test drove, the new housing developments they visited--while others remain vague: "Maybe I was nine or seven or five." But Ford clearly recalls his father's fatal heart attack when he was 13. Of his mother, Ford writes, "Nothing for her would be quite good again."

Other authors, including Richard Russo and Ruth Reichl, have written memoirs of their ordinary parents, and Ford's homage is similarly respectful and appreciative. "They loved each other. They loved me. Nothing else much mattered." --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist writes a warm remembrance of his parents and his mid-century childhood in the South.

Ecco, $25.99, hardcover, 192p., 9780062661883


The Storied City: The Quest for Timbuktu and the Fantastic Mission to Save Its Past

by Charlie English

In 2013, Charlie English (The Snow Tourist), then international news editor of the Guardian, became obsessed with the news coming out of Timbuktu. Jihadists were destroying the city's religious monuments because they were not properly Islamic, and librarians were smuggling medieval books out of the city in order to preserve them. English was not the first Westerner to be fascinated by the city and its treasures: throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries European explorers had tried to find their way to the legendary golden city of Africa.

In The Storied City: The Quest for Timbuktu and the Fantastic Mission to Save Its Past, English intertwines the history of Europe's relationship with--and quest to "discover"--a city that few Europeans had ever seen and first-hand reporting on the threat to Timbuktu's historical heritage. The result is a parallel set of adventures, both of which are shaped by personal danger, the search for funding, the difficulties of traveling across the desert, the threat of armed bandits, the frustrations of dealing with international cultural organizations, and a passion for medieval documents.

The contemporary story may be familiar to readers of The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu. English, however, adds a layer of complexity by placing it in the context of Europe's historical attempts to reach the city. He captivatingly considers the mythic quality Timbuktu attained in the collective imagination, and the failure to understand the city's continued importance as a treasure trove of knowledge. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: Charlie English's obsession with Timbuktu leads him to commonalities between the race to "discover" it and the race to save its ancient manuscripts.

Riverhead, $28, hardcover, 416p., 9781594634284


Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Astrophysicist and director of New York City's Hayden Planetarium, Neil deGrasse Tyson (StarTalk) stands out as an engaging, charismatic and supremely knowledgeable science popularizer who knows how to explain the fundamentals of physics and astrophysics. Tyson promises Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is "a brief but meaningful introduction to the field" where readers "will earn a foundational fluency in all major ideas and discoveries that drive our modern understanding of the universe."

In about 200 pages, Tyson introduces big ideas, questions and concepts, and explains essential background information in breezy, humorous and concise language for laypeople to digest easily. "A mere sixty-five million years ago (less than two percent of Earth's past), a ten-trillion-ton asteroid hit what is now the Yucatan Peninsula and obliterated more than seventy percent of Earth's flora and fauna--including all the famous outsized dinosaurs," writes Tyson, explaining how mammals that were previously T. rex hors d'oeuvres evolved into Homo sapiens.

"The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you," reminds Tyson. But thankfully, Tyson does feel this compulsion, and succeeds in giving non-scientists an excellent introduction to quasars, dwarf galaxies, dark energy, black holes, the formation of Earth (nine billion years after the Big Bang), exoplanets and quarks. He even explains why no one saw the last two exploding planets, and ties it into a reference to Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Tyson's fun introduction to science, physics and astrophysics is a book that will create future scientists. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is Neil deGrasse Tyson's engaging, humorous and concise introduction to understanding the universe.

Norton, $18.95, hardcover, 224p., 9780393609394


The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6'4", African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama's Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian

by W. Kamau Bell

"Some families have hardware stores. My family--especially me and my mother--has thinking about racism." W. Kamau Bell, host of CNN's United Shades of America, has experienced a lifetime of being on the outside. A blerd (black nerd) in school, Bell took little interest in sports or popular music, opting instead for comic books, martial arts and John Coltrane. When he started his career in comedy, he didn't fit in with the typical stand-up artists so he chose to make his own space with a multimedia solo stage show called The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour. And as a 6'4" African American male, he deals daily with being under-represented in all walks of life. The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell is a series of heartfelt, humorous essays about all of these aspects of Bell, as well as his roles as father, husband, friend, celebrity, even podcast host. Throughout, racism is intimately tied to it all.

At turns sarcastic, poetic and enraged, Bell's language is potent. His own realization of how racism intersects with other forms of discrimination, like sexism, broadens his platform and embraces a wide audience. Awkward Thoughts is definitely entertaining, but it also invites readers to look through different eyes. And those who aren't inspired to take action will at least have considered a new view. As Bell says, "that's progress." --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: With humor and heart, an African American comedian not-so-awkwardly tells his life story through the lens of racism.

Dutton, $28, hardcover, 352p., 9781101985878


how to get over

by t'ai freedom ford

To read t'ai freedom ford's how to get over is to wish to see it performed live. Laden with internal rhymes and cascading images, it could chart on the radio if a drum track were added. This debut, however, is anything but disposable pop. Half of the poems are a fierce reckoning with the systemic injustices of the past, while the other half are a sweaty insistence on embracing the potential of the present.

Braided throughout the book are "past life portraits"--poems that channel the voices of historical objects and characters with method-actor intensity. Considering a machete used in the slave revolt in Saint-Domingue or Richard Pryor's grandmother raising him while running a brothel in Illinois, ford trains a sharp eye on domestic details. She writes that her small hands are good "for rescuing earrings wedged between car seats," and maintains a keen sense of her forebears, nodding to Ntozake Shange in the line "blue like colored girls who done tried dope when hope wasn't enough."

The pulse of these poems quickens most when ford writes of the pleasures of the body. The poem entitled "honeysuckle, pussy, and random acts of nature" concludes, "both taste of wet grass and dew/ watery honey and warm clay/ and on a hot summer day/ i can smell it for miles and miles." Tuned in and turned on, how to get over is a summons not to be missed. --John Duvernoy, bookseller, Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Wash.

Discover: This visceral first collection honors the poet's ancestry while vigorously engaging with the present.

Red Hen Press, $17.95, paperback, 110p., 9781597090384

Children's & Young Adult

Crossing Ebenezer Creek

by Tonya Bolden

In her first novel in four years, Tonya Bolden (Searching for Sarah Rector) translates her passion for the past into a beautiful and harrowing vision of freedom and tragedy.

Mariah remembers that "a hungry hush sent a shiver down her spine" on the day in 1864 when the Yankees arrived on her owner's land in Georgia, bringing her freedom. Born into slavery, the young woman gladly joins hundreds of other freed slaves following Union forces north. On the march, she meets Caleb, a kind young man who "brought to mind sightings of the moon in the middle of the day" for Mariah, who had previously never met a freeborn black person. Caleb lets Mariah and her developmentally delayed little brother Zeke ride in his wagon; through their conversations, Mariah learns about the war and freedom while the reader discovers the horrors she and her loved ones faced while enslaved. The couple fall in love as easily as breathing, but catastrophe looms over their future.

Teens may be surprised to see that "[c]olored lives don't matter" to many Union officers in this reimagining of a dark moment in American history. Poetic in tone and savage in its depictions of the tortures slaves endured, Crossing Ebenezer Creek grants dignity and depth to its characters and considers the difficult and vulnerable position of African Americans as they adapted to freedom among whites who did not always view them as human beings. Readers will fall in love with Bolden's gentle lyricism as she unflinchingly unfolds a difficult story. --Jaclyn Fulwood, Youth Services Manager at Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library (Ohio)

Discover: A young woman newly freed from slavery in 1864 Georgia falls in love with a freedman on the march north but gets caught up in a historic tragedy.

Bloomsbury, $17.99, hardcover, 240p., ages 13-18, 9781599903194

Eliza and Her Monsters

by Francesca Zappia

Eliza Mirk is a high school senior who lives in Indiana, but only in the technical sense--she's a pariah at school and feels no connection with her cheerfully athletic family. Eliza really lives online, in chats with friends she's never met in person and on the forums for Monstrous Sea, the massively popular webcomic she's created under a pseudonym. "It's so much easier to deal with people when you feel like they can't touch you," she explains. When the silent Wallace transfers into her school, Eliza is prepared to ignore and be ignored by him, too--until she realizes he's a Monstrous Sea fan. Eliza cautiously starts to open up to Wallace even as she hides the fact that she's the creator of his favorite comic.

Author Francesca Zappia (Made You Up) punctuates prose sections with Monstrous Sea artwork and online chats, mimicking the way one dips between real life and cyberspace. Zappia aims the book squarely at teenagers who have emotional walls up, fully taking Eliza's side when she explains why she prefers to stay absorbed in her sketchbook, but also hinting that Eliza's family might not be so bad if she lets them in. Another interesting thrust of the story is Eliza's relationship with her readers. Zappia is a popular author on tumblr and Wattpad, and she pointedly delves into the way fandoms can smother the creators they love. Eliza and Her Monsters is a compelling read on the labyrinths of imagination and the simple pleasures of ordinary life. --Ali Davis, freelance writer and playwright

Discover: This absorbing story is about creating imaginary worlds while slowly learning to deal with this one, with just enough romance thrown in.

Greenwillow, $17.99, hardcover, 400p., ages 14-up, 9780062290137


Author Buzz

(A Masters and Mercenaries Novella)

by Lexi Blake

Dear Reader,

Tempted is all about opposites attracting. Ally Pearson is an up and coming Hollywood actress from a celebrity family. West Rycroft left his family's ranch to become a bodyguard in the big city. Sparks fly when these two meet but there's someone out there who wants to ruin this happily ever after. I hope you'll join me for this new Masters and Mercenaries story--and you might find a little bit of Butterfly Bayou!

Lexi Blake

Available on Kobo


AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights: Tempted: A Masters and Mercenaries Novella by Lexi Blake

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
September 25, 2023


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

These Things Happen

by Michael Eon

Dear Reader,

Daniel Zimmer will do almost anything to end his pain, except for the one thing that might work. Flashing through Daniel's life, past and present, this nostalgic ode to Brooklyn is an unflinchingly honest account of coming-of-age and the inevitable ups and down of recovery. With a vivid, atmospheric backdrop of 1970's Brooklyn, These Things Happen fearlessly examines generational abuse, the transformative power of confronting addiction, and the profound life-changing potential of redemption.

Write me at for a chance to win 1 of 5 copies!

Michael Eon

Buy now and support your local indie bookstore>

Girl Friday Books: These Things Happen by Michael Eon

Girl Friday Books

Pub Date: 
September 19, 2023


List Price: 
$17.95 Paperback

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