Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, July 28, 2017

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

From My Shelf

Dark Nights of the Soul

Leadership is always a tough position to take. All eyes on you and your every move. Being a religious leader raises those stakes, especially if you're a Muslim one prodded in front of cameras after 9/11. Haroon Moghul was 20-something and leading New York University's Islamic Center when his religion became a lightning rod for social and political ire.

While that's an undesirable spotlight for anyone to occupy, it caught Moghul in the midst of an ongoing crisis of faith, one that began when he was a teen and frequently left him wondering if he was a fraud. Originally triggered by adolescent feelings of love and lust, his dark night of the soul grew over time to swallow his marriage, mind and nearly his life. Fortunately, a Pakistani Muslim psychiatrist was able to clue him into what else was weighing him down: bipolar disorder.

What endears me to memoirs about belief is when they're written with profound candor--ditching any sense of "holier than thou." You can see it in Kathleen Norris's classic The Cloister Walk and Shalom Auslander's caustic Foreskin's Lament. Somewhere between Norris's devotion and Auslander's desertion lies How to Be a Muslim (Beacon Press, $17). Moghul takes many an opportunity to delve into Islamic history as he strives to sort himself out. Even when he's in a flat-out run from his Muslim upbringing, he catches whiffs of the Prophet and the caliphs in his own experiences. They are echoes that ultimately draw him back, but not without significant changes in his relationship to the religion.

In time, Moghul learns to manage his mental health and even begins to see where it dovetails with his faith. He aims for a life "in awe at the privilege of existence" as he learns and relearns the love and gratitude that inhere in Islam. "Because we exist. But we did not ask to." --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

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

Book Candy

How Reading Helps Your Career

Buzzfeed noted "11 ways being a reader is super useful for your career."


"Test your book brain with this famous literary quotes quiz," DK challenged.


Headline of the day (via the Daily Beast): "Neil deGrasse Tyson talks joining forces with George R.R. Martin on a space video game."


"She smelled the way the Taj Mahal looks by moonlight." Flavorwire collected 25 Raymond Chandlerisms "to celebrate the crime fiction icon."


Brightly collected "the best Jane Austen-inspired baby names."


The Wizarding World of Harry Potter's new ride "promises to be scarier than the Dark Arts," Bustle warned.

Great Reads

Rediscover: The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

In the mid-1960s, Ken Kesey and his communal band of Merry Pranksters toured the United States on a psychedelic school bus named Further, consuming copious quantities of psychoactive drugs and hosting Acid Test parties, from which they dispensed LSD-laced Kool-Aid in a semi-spiritual quest for "intersubjectivity." Kesey (1935-2001), poet, essayist and author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, considered himself a bridge between the '50s Beats and '60s hippies. He and the Pranksters helped sow the seeds of flower power counterculture on their cross-country travels, and were also friends with the Warlocks, later known as the Grateful Dead.

Journalist and author Tom Wolfe was along for the ride. In The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968), Wolfe uses the subjective, immersed style of New Journalism to chronicle his experiences--first at Kesey's house in La Honda, Calif., then road-tripping with the Pranksters, culminating in legal troubles that sent Kesey to jail. He meets Beats, Hells Angels and a whole lot of hippies, all immersed in the developing eye of a growing countercultural hurricane. The 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love is a fine time to retake Wolfe's wild ride. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test was last published by Picador in 2008 (Picador, $18, 9780312427597). --Tobias Mutter


Excerpt: The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83¼ Years Old

Very little is known about 61-year-old Dutch librarian Peter de Smet, the author of The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83¼ Years Old, out now from Grand Central Publishing. But there is plenty to be learned about Hendrik, an endearing, curmudgeonly character with plenty to say. Here's an excerpt:

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Another year, and I still don't like old people. Their walker shuffle, their unreasonable impatience, their endless complaints, their tea and cookies, their bellyaching.

Me? I am eighty-three years old.

Wednesday, January 2

Great clouds of icing sugar were spilled a moment ago. Mrs. Smit had put the plate of apple tartlets on a chair because she wanted to wipe down the table with a cloth.

Along comes Mrs. Voorthuizen, who inadvertently parks her enormous bottom right on top of the pastries.

It wasn't until Mrs. Smit began looking for the dish, to put it back, that someone came up with the idea of checking underneath Mrs. Voorthuizen. When she stood up she had three tartlets stuck to her flowery behind.

"The apples match the pattern on your dress perfectly," Evert remarked. I almost choked to death laughing.

This brilliant start to the new year should have given rise to all-around hilarity, but instead led to forty-five minutes of carping about whose fault it was. I was glared at darkly from all sides, on account of having found it funny, apparently. And what did I do? I mumbled I was sorry.

Instead of laughing even harder, I found myself groveling for forgiveness.

For I, Hendrikus Gerardus Groen, am ever the civil, ingratiating, courteous, polite, and helpful guy. Not because I really am all those things, but because I don't have the balls to act differently. I rarely say what I want to say. I tend to choose the path of least confrontation. My specialty: wanting to please everybody. My parents showed foresight in naming me Hendrik: you can't get any blander than that.

I'll wind up spiraling into depression, I thought. That's when I made the decision to give the world a little taste of the real Hendrik Groen. I hereby declare that in this diary I am going to give the world an uncensored expose: a year in the life of the inmates of a care home in North Amsterdam.

I may die before the year's out, true; that's beyond my control. In that circumstance I will ask my friend Evert Duiker to read a few pages from this diary at my funeral. I'll be laid out, neatly laundered and pressed, in the small chapel of the Horizon Crematorium, waiting for Evert's croaky voice to break the uncomfortable silence and read some choice passages to the bewildered mourners.

I do worry about one thing: what if Evert should die before me?

It wouldn't be fair, considering that I have even more infirmities and funny lumps and bumps that he does. You ought to be able to count on your best friend. I'll have to have a word with him about it.

Thursday, January 3

Evert was keen but wouldn't guarantee he'd live longer than me. He also had a few reservations. The first was that after reading publicly from my diary he'd probably have to look for another place to live. The second consideration was the state of his dentures, caused by a careless jab of the pool cue by Mr. Vermeteren. Since he has a cataract in his right eye, Vermeteren needs some assistance with his aim. Evert, ever prepared to help, was standing behind him giving directions, his nose lined up with the cue. "A little to the left and a bit deeper..." and before he could finish Vermeteren had rammed the back of his cue right through Evert's snappers. Score!

Now Evert looks like a little kid waiting for a visit from the tooth fairy. People have a hard time understanding him because of the lisp. He'll have to have those teeth fixed before reading at my funeral. But that's not going to happen any time soon; the denture repairman, it seems, is out of action. Two hundred thousand a year, an assistant who's a real looker, three trips to Hawaii every year, and still his nerves are shot; how is it possible? Maybe years of having to deal with ancient dentures so food-encrusted that they're crawling with maggots have sent him over the edge. So to speak.

The New Year's doughnuts they're serving in the Conversation Lounge downstairs can only have come from the thrift shop. Yesterday morning I took one to be polite and spent a good twenty minutes trying to get it down; as a final resort I had to pretend my shoelace had come undone so that I could duck under the table and stuff the last piece down my sock.

No wonder they had hardly been touched. Normally anything that's free around here is gone in the blink of an eye.

In the Conversation Lounge, coffee is usually served at 10:30. If the coffee hasn't arrived by 10:32, the first residents start glancing pointedly at their watches. As if they had something better to do. The same goes for tea, which is supposed to be brought in at 3:15 in the afternoon.

One of the most exciting moments of the day: what kind of cookies will we have with our tea and coffee today? Both yesterday and the day before it was the elderly doughnuts. Because of course "we" wouldn't dream of throwing food away. We'd rather choke to death on it.

Friday, January 4

Yesterday I took a walk to the flower shop to buy some potted bulbs. So that I can tell myself a week from now, when the hyacinths start to bloom, that I've made it to another spring.

Most of the rooms in this retirement home keep their Christmas decorations on display until April. Next to an ancient sansevieria and a primula whose days are numbered. "Be a shame to throw it out."

If Nature's role is to bring cheer to a person's life, it certainly doesn't do the job in the room of a Dutch old-age pensioner. There the condition of the houseplant is usually an accurate reflection of the state of mind of the human entrusted with its care: both just waiting for the sad end. Since they have nothing else to do, or are a bit forgetful, the old biddies water their plants at least three times a day. In the long run not even a sansevieria can survive that.

Mrs. Visser has invited me in for a cup of tea tomorrow afternoon. I should have declined, if only because of how she smells, but I said I would love to stop by for a minute. There goes my afternoon. What a stupid wimp I am. On the spure of the moment I couldn't think of a good excuse, so I'll have to endure the mindless jabbering and the dry sponge cake. How she manages to turn the moistest of cakes into dusty cardboard is beyond me. You need three cups of tea per slice to wash it down. Tomorrow I will take a bold stand and turn down the second helping. Start a new life.

A new life in scrupulously polished shoes. I spent half the morning on them. The shoes themselves were done relatively quickly. Trying to scrub the shoe polish out of my shirtsleeves took much longer. But they're nice and shiny now. The shoes, I mean. The sleeves I just rolled up in the end. I couldn't get them clean.

It's bound to raise some eyebrows. "How do you always manage to get your sleeves so grubby, Mr. Groen?"

Life in here consists of either never or always. One day the food is "never served on time and always too hot," and the next, "always too early and never hot enough."

On occasion I have ventured to remind people of their previous, rather contradictory statements, but they don't have much use for logic here. "Ah, Mr. Groen, you do have a lot to say for yourself, don't you!"

Excerpted from the book THE SECRET DIARY OF HENDRIK GROEN. Copyright © 2014 by Hendrik Groen en Meulenhoff Boekerij b.v., Amsterdam. Translation copyright © 2016 by Hester Velmans. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing, New York, NY. All rights reserved

Book Review


The Confusion of Languages

by Siobhan Fallon

In The Confusion of Languages, the suspenseful first novel from Siobhan Fallon (You Know When the Men Are Gone), the friendship of two soldiers' wives in post-Arab Spring Jordan strains under the weight of their diverging outlooks, with devastating consequences. In other circumstances, Cassie and Margaret might not have become friends; their differences seem extreme. But when the two Americans meet at the Jordanian embassy, where both their husbands are stationed, they forge a connection.

Cassie's marriage to Dan has soured over their inability to conceive. Her bitterness and suspicion has destroyed friendships with other embassy wives, but as Margaret's sponsor, she is determined to befriend and protect the younger woman. So when Margaret vanishes, Cassie stumbles upon her friend's diary and begins to piece together the truth of the disappearance and her own part in it.

Fallon, who recently lived in Jordan and now resides in Abu Dhabi, vividly portrays life as an American expat in the Middle East. Cultural traditions of hospitality clash with religious expectations of modesty and male-female interactions. While Margaret runs unnecessary risks in her haste to embrace a foreign land, Cassie cheats herself out of authentic relationships through her obsession with safety. With a studied look at the thin line outsiders must walk, whether in someone else's country or someone else's living room, Fallon digs into the complications of friendship. The Confusion of Languages examines the barriers that differing expectations place between individuals and cultures. Cerebral but still taut with suspense as Cassie unravels her friend's fate, this novel's sophisticated pacing and emotional core set it apart from the pack. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Two American military wives bond in Jordan, but their disagreements on interacting with the country and its natives lead to confusion and disaster.

Putnam, $26, hardcover, 336p., 9780399158926

Flesh and Bone and Water

by Luiza Sauma

Luiza Sauma's first novel features an upper-class family using indulgence and dishonesty to deal with loss. Flesh and Bone and Water opens with a letter addressed to the narrator, André Cabral, a doctor in his late 40s living in London, separated from his wife and long estranged from his home country of Brazil. The novel then shifts to tell much of André's story through flashbacks, from his childhood in Rio de Janeiro through his now-failing marriage in "o primeiro mundo, the mythic first world" of Europe.

André was a member of Rio's privileged class, his family served by empregadas (maids) and guarded from "undesirables" in a fortress-like apartment building with spiked walls, CCTV and porteiros (caretakers). But unlike his friends, he wonders about the differences between his life and that of his family's empregadas, Rita and her daughter, Luana. Though he's dating an appropriately upper-class schoolmate, André becomes obsessed with his maid. And now, all these years later, middle-aged André is feeling adrift in a country not his own, when he gets a letter from Luana.

Flesh and Bone and Water is André's story. But it is also about race and class in 1980s Brazil, the struggles of a family torn by grief and the uprootedness of expatriates. Sauma's prose is lush with sensory detail, emphasizing the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of a Brazil that is far from André's daily reality, yet close to his heart: trickling sweat, comforting coconut milk, hot beach sand underfoot. Deeply atmospheric, Flesh and Bone and Water is an impressive debut. Strong characters, a twisting plot and compelling settings make this a pleasurable and memorable read. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: Heady memories return to a middle-aged man in this atmospheric novel set in 1980s Brazil.

Scribner, $26, hardcover, 272p., 9781501158025

Girl on the Leeside

by Kathleen Anne Kenney

Playwright Kathleen Anne Kenney unfolds Siobhan Doyle's coming-of-age story in Girl on the Leeside. Since her mother's death in an IRA bombing when Siobhan was a toddler, she has lived a quiet life in rural western Ireland with her uncle Keenan. Steeped in the traditions of village life and ancient Irish poetry, both Siobhan and Kee are content with their nearly solitary existence, serving customers in their family's pub, the Leeside, and discussing literature. But when American professor Tim Ferris comes to visit the Leeside and talk about poetry, Siobhan is drawn to him in a way she can't explain. As she wrestles with her unfamiliar feelings for Tim, she also learns that her father, who she thought had also died in the bombing, is still alive.

Though this is mainly Siobhan's story, Kenney draws other characters and their struggles with deft, vivid strokes: Uncle Kee, who was devoted to his rebellious younger sister (Siobhan's mother); Katie O'Farrell, a brash horse breeder whose feelings for Kee run deeper than she cares to admit; Siobhan's father, John, a former British soldier, who has been chasing his own demons but is a fundamentally decent man. And Galway Gwen, the enigmatic traveler who comes through with her family once a year, provides both a connection to Ireland's history and a source of wisdom and comfort for Siobhan.

Quiet, lyrical and sprinkled with verses of the Irish poetry Siobhan loves, Girl on the Leeside is a slim, beautiful debut about one woman taking her place in the world. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Playwright Kathleen Anne Kenney's debut novel is a lyrical coming-of-age story set in rural western Ireland.

Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $26.95, hardcover, 304p., 9780385542395

Small Hours

by Jennifer Kitses

The hours are anything but small or quiet in Jennifer Kitses's first novel; they unspool during a single day in the lives of her protagonists Helen and Tom. In their early 40s, the couple moved with their toddler twin daughters to a small town up the Hudson from their cramped apartment in Queens, N.Y. Everything looked rosy when they could finally afford the roomy suburban house, but the Great Recession put their mortgage underwater and took their secure jobs with it. Told alternatively from both Tom's and Helen's points of view, Small Hours is the story of a seemingly stable marriage unraveling in one day, through a minefield of secrets and a series of bad choices. A former reporter at Bloomberg News, Kitses cranks up the tension hour by hour as Tom and Helen fall apart mistake by mistake.

Helen works all hours from home "designing visuals for marketing campaigns to sell products with names like Iron Fuel, Molten Rage, and Jacked 'n Loaded." Tom takes the 90-minute train ride up and back to Midtown to edit science stories for a wire service with a draconian boss and an attractive intern. His day begins with a surprise excursion with his daughters to a waterfall outside town, which turns into a crying jag after the girls' awkward potty stop in the woods. Behind on a big deadline, Helen's on edge during a morning walk with the girls when she is confronted by two teen girls smoking and taunting her at the playground. And their day gets worse as they juggle poorly paid jobs, exhausting parenting, extramarital temptations and ever-present financial stress. Dissecting 24 hours, Kitses artfully blows the covers off a couple's would-be blissful marital bed and bucolic suburban life. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: In her first novel, Jennifer Kitses winds up the tension in a suburban couple's seemingly bucolic family as she depicts one day in their lives.

Grand Central, $26, hardcover, 288p., 9781455598526

Mystery & Thriller

Fateful Mornings

by Tom Bouman

Tom Bouman won the 2015 Edgar Award for Best First Novel with Dry Bones in the Valley, a country noir set in rural Pennsylvania. Henry Farrell and Wild Thyme Township return in Bouman's comparably compelling yet vastly different Fateful Mornings. Henry is the lone cop in town, a good man who is fallible and sometimes lazy. Wild Thyme remains punctuated by drugs, alcohol, petty crime, fracking and the oddball miscreants who partake in them.

Told over the span of more than a year, this slice of Henry's life begins with one of many fateful mornings. Henry is called to a job site where Kevin O'Keeffe is rambling about his partner, Penny Pellings, going missing. While Kev is less clear on whether there might also have been a shooting, it's not long before a body turns up. As the multi-fronted investigation moves forward at a slow burn, so does Henry. He plays music in a band, helps his friend Ed on a construction project, engages in romantic predicaments and doggedly pursues the ripples from Penny's disappearance.

Like Henry, Bouman works with quiet confidence, his narrative strong and compelling without unnecessary flash. A smart writer who respects his reader, Bouman evidences some nifty narrative tricks and writes about the crafts of music, carpentry and policing with detail that adds authenticity to Henry's world. The pace amplifies at the midpoint, but Fateful Mornings is less about the investigation and more about how life's flow can be dammed (and damned) and redirected by circumstance. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A one-man-department cop deals with the vagaries of his rural mountain township, including the disappearance of a young woman that has implications beyond his small town.

W.W. Norton, $25.95, hardcover, 368p., 9780393249644

Science Fiction & Fantasy


by Karin Tidbeck

In the opening pages of Amatka, Karin Tidbeck (Jagannath) introduces readers to Brilars' Vanja Essre Two, traveling by train to conduct research in the colony of Amatka. Vanja notes the slippery, scratchy fabric of the train's benches, the washbasin and the table in the car, and recognizes each item's careful labeling. "Suitcase," she whispers to her luggage, to maintain its shape.

As Vanja begins her research in Amatka, this strange, slightly eerie colony comes to life. With sparse language, Tidbeck describes objects that dissolve into a potent paste when not well labeled, a lake that spontaneously freezes and unfreezes with a thundering each night, and the tight controls that the Committee keeps over Amatka's colonists. This language hints at a slowly building sense of dread within the colony. In a world in which words have the power to shape (and therefore destroy) anything that takes a physical shape, be it pencil or building, "a citizen who doesn't guard their words could destroy their commune."

Amatka asks many questions of its readers, chief among them: What does it mean to exist? What do we value most when we know nothing may be permanent? What sacrifices do we make for the greater good, and what individual freedoms must we refuse to yield? Tidbeck's slim but brilliant novel brings to life a world at once familiar and entirely foreign, packed with existential questions that linger long beyond the last page--and written without a single word out of place. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: Tidbeck's surreal novel imagines a colony in which physical objects are shaped by the words used to describe them.

Vintage, $15.95, paperback, 224p., 9781101973950

Graphic Books


by Christophe Chabouté

In 2008, when Christophe Chabouté's Tout Seul (Alone) was released in France, it was hailed as a masterpiece in storytelling and declared an official selection for the prestigious Angoulême International Comics Festival. This black-and-white graphic novel is a visually poetic, thought-provoking tale of how isolation contrasts with the rich realm of the imagination.

Two men on a barge deliver supplies to an isolated lighthouse in the middle of the sea. Its lone occupant is a disfigured man who has never ventured beyond the lighthouse's watery boundaries. The boatman, a recently released convict, takes an interest in the hermit and begins to ask his skipper questions about the man's life. The scene pans from the boat to the sea and back to the lighthouse, where it exposes the hermit's daily routines, which include fishing by day, keeping the detritus he catches on a windowsill, and performing routine maintenance around the lighthouse. Before bedtime, the hermit drops a dictionary onto his desk and selects a random word on a random page. This is his only mode of entertainment apart from watchful contemplation.

Chabouté's (Park Bench) drawings show the wonderment and quiet delight of the hermit's imagination as he conjures up his visual definitions. Photos the boatman has left behind with a shipment prompt him to question his place in the world, the panels widening against a canvas of sea and sky, heightening the sense of aloneness and growing despair. The result is a wistful and evocative story that explores the power of the imagination and a yearning for connection. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: A French cartoonist explores solitude through a visually stunning tale of a man living in a lighthouse with only a dictionary and his imagination.

Gallery, $25, paperback, 384p., 9781501153327

Biography & Memoir

Defiance: The Extraordinary Life of Lady Anne Barnard

by Stephen Taylor

Vivacious, witty, sensitive and insecure, Anne Lindsey (later Lady Anne Barnard) lived a bohemian life in Georgian Scotland and England, packed with friendships, literature, adventures, lovers and travel to France and the Cape of Good Hope colony in South Africa. Her friends included the dissolute Prince of Wales. She didn't marry until she was 40. To her respectable family's dismay, she wrote six volumes of memoir, plus diaries, literary works and a vast collection of letters. For Defiance, Stephen Taylor gained access to the family archives and produced this carefully researched, well illustrated and hugely entertaining biography.

"A literary education combined with an austere upbringing gave her a perspective unusual for a young woman of her class.... When she said, as she did, that simple pleasures brought the greatest delight, it was without affectation. When she said that marriage must go with love, it was with conviction." The oldest child of an elderly Scottish earl and his embittered young wife, Anne Lindsey grew up abused and neglected in a country house with a remarkable library. In her teens, she and her favorite sister moved to Edinburgh where they met David Hume, Samuel Johnson and other stars of the Enlightenment. A few years later they plunged into London's fashionable society. Taylor keeps the action moving. He intelligently mediates the social norms of then and now, and shows both the costs and the rewards of Lady Anne's idiosyncratic choices. This is a brilliant biography of a woman with unusual freedom for her time and the courage to enjoy it. --Sara Catterall

Discover: This biography based on a large family archive tells the dramatic bohemian adventures of a clever, charming and independent Georgian lady who lived from 1750 to 1825.

W.W. Norton, $28.95, hardcover, 400p., 9780393248173

Saving Charlotte: A Mother and the Power of Intuition

by Pia de Jong

When Pia de Jong gave birth to her third child, a girl, it was apparent from the start that something was wrong with her. When de Jong pressed on her daughter's back, a blue spot appeared, "the color of a lake in a remote forest around noon." Soon, there were more spots and the child was diagnosed with a rare, dangerous, most often fatal form of leukemia.

Saving Charlotte is de Jong's tender memoir of the first anxiety-filled year of Charlotte's life, when de Jong and her husband, Robbert, made the decision to wait and see rather than start an aggressive form of chemotherapy, which easily could have killed their newborn. Suddenly de Jong's life compressed into a tiny world: weekly doctor's visits; tending to Charlotte as well as two healthy sons; their house on a canal in Amsterdam and the park she frequented where her boys could play. In lyrical prose, de Jong details the thoughts and emotions that swallowed her that first year, memories of her own childhood and the antics of her sons. With finesse, she blends these with the stories of her quirky neighbors: the prostitute across the alley whose bedroom is visible from the house; the park attendant; the man who protects the alley; and the older gentleman across the canal with whom she had tea and wine. The tension and anxiety that threaten de Jong and her family are happily overshadowed by the extreme love this mother feels for her child. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: When their daughter is diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia, rather than start an aggressive round of chemotherapy, the parents put faith in nature.

W.W. Norton, $25.95, hardcover, 256p., 9780393609158

Art & Photography

The Sagrada Família: The Astonishing Story of Gaudí's Unfinished Masterpiece

by Gijs van Hensbergen

In the historical context of church construction--in which France's Strasbourg Cathedral took almost 500 years to finish--Antoni Gaudí's Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family in Barcelona, still being built after 135 years, is just a piker. As Gijs van Hensbergen paraphrases Gaudí, "With a client as patient as God, what was a mere 150 years?" Van Hensbergen (Guernica), an art historian and television commentator, has already written a biography of Gaudí, so his illustrated The Sagrada Família is more of a study of the building itself. With more than four million visitors a year, the Sagrada Família is one of Europe's most popular attractions.

With an ecumenical scholar's background, van Hensbergen positions Gaudí among the architects and artists of his time, like the modernism of Manet and the Catalan art nouveau movement, with its emphasis on craft, material and decoration. The son of a small forge shop smithy, Gaudí grew up watching chunks of steel be hammered into useful and beautiful shapes. Trained in fundamental architectural and engineering skills, Gaudí, however, preferred to design and build conceptually by touch--more of a field architect than one bound by drawings and specifications. He was killed in a horse tram accident on his way to church for his daily confession. Bystanders thought he was a homeless bum and left him in the street without medical help. His masterpiece still had 100 years of construction ahead until its expected completion in 2026. In the larger scheme of things, what's another nine years--or more? --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: With the sharp eye of both an art historian and Gaudí scholar, Gijs van Hensbergen takes readers on a tour of the Sagrada Família.

Bloomsbury, $27, hardcover, 224p., 9781632867810

Children's & Young Adult

A Dash of Dragon

by Heidi Lang, Kati Bartkowski

As the youngest master chef in her prestigious academy's 300 years of producing heroes, artists, scholars and chefs, 13-year-old Lailu Loganberry has a dream: to run a restaurant that sells monster cuisine, food made from "mystical" beasts like kraken and batyrdactyl that she herself has hunted and cooked. To achieve full Master Chef status, she needs to complete an apprenticeship, but the only person who agrees to mentor her is a has-been chef named Slipshod. Lailu's initial faith in Master Slipshod begins to weaken when she learns that, to pay for the restaurant's opening, he has made a dangerous contract with a loan shark named Mr. Boss. And once they've entered Mr. Boss's shady world, the doors open wide to a gaggle of other disreputable and deadly characters, including counterspies, nasty elves and Lord Elister the Bloody, king's executioner. Add to the pot Lailu's nemesis, wealthy classmate Gregorian LaSilvian, who is garnering all the media attention with his restaurant; Vahn, a handsome, cocky hero-in-training who consistently calls the star-struck Lailu by the wrong name; and best friend Hannah, who is having a little trouble with her habit of "re-homing" valuable items from elves and other wealthy families, and you have a stew that rivals Lailu's batyrdactyl soup with mountain dragon flavoring.

A Dash of Dragon, by sisters Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski, is fast-paced, funny and chock-full of action. Lailu is a brilliant chef, a brave and skilled hunter and a savvy business owner--but she is still very much a 13-year-old, whose curses include "What the spatula?" and, when she's really upset, "Butter knives!" Absolutely charming. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A 13-year-old master chef specializing in monster cuisine battles loan sharks, elf mafia and irritatingly meddlesome boys in this thoroughly enjoyable middle-grade fantasy.

Aladdin/S&S, $17.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 8-12, 9781481477932

Daughter of the Burning City

by Amanda Foody

Sorina is the adopted daughter of Villiam, the proprietor of the Gomorrah Festival. More than a show, Gomorrah is home to tens of thousands of people who would be considered fringe members of society: jynx-workers, male and female prostitutes and assassins. Most members of the smoldering city--the smoke supposedly trapped souls on the festival borders--are either Gomorrah-born or from the Down-Mountains, a place of warm weather and diverse ethnicities.

Sorina, now 16, is the next in line to run the festival. Unlike her father, she is a powerful jynx-worker, capable of creating illusions that not only look, feel, sound and smell real, but can, in some cases, even become their own beings. In this way, she has created a family that includes (among others) a tree-man, a two-headed boy, a woman with inhuman strength and a young girl with the talons and wings of a hawk. She feels at home among these self-created "freaks" because she--born without eyes yet capable of sight--feels like a "freak" herself. Now traveling in the Up-Mountains, Sorina finds herself and her family in danger; someone (somehow) kills one of her illusions... and then another. Desperate to stop the destruction of her family, Sorina begins working with a young, disagreeable "gossip-worker" who knows all of the ins and outs of Gomorrah while also possessing powerful magic of his own: he can be killed but can never die.

The world of Daughter of the Burning City is astoundingly vivid and complex, the smells, sounds and sights of the smoldering city/traveling carnival near tangible. Amanda Foody's deliciously dark and magical whodunit has world-building so rich, the reader (like visitors to Gomorrah) is likely to leave with a hangover. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Sorina, the daughter of the proprietor of the Gomorrah Festival, a traveling circus of magic, freaks and debauchery, must find the person killing her family members before they can attack again.

Harlequin Teen, $19.99, hardcover, 384p., ages 12-up, 9780373212439

The Apprentice Witch

by James Nicol

Arianwyn Gribble is mortified when her magical assessment by the Civil Witchcraft Authority goes horribly wrong. Instead of focusing on the four cardinal glyphs, her mind is taken over by a larger, bolder symbol, an impossible one that "didn't really exist except in her imagination." The evaluation gauge undergoes a power surge and fails to detect the required level of magical energy. Arianwyn's humiliating result is officially classified as "ungraded." Instead of the bright silver star of a fully trained witch, a "dull bronze disc" is pinned to her coat, identifying her as an apprentice who "has not yet reached the maturity of her powers."

Nevertheless, Arianwyn's service is needed and she takes a position in the small town of Lull, near the Great Wood. Rich in natural magic, "a quiet and pleasant town to live in," Lull has been without a witch for many years and is willing to welcome an apprentice. Settling into her new home, Arianwyn manages to make charms and deal with the less dangerous beasts that plague the neighborhood. Gradually, she grows more confident and the townsfolk come to accept her. But something huge, dark and twisted is haunting the Great Wood, and dangerous patches of hex mold are spreading about the area. And why does Arianwyn keep seeing visions of that strange, "tempting and terrifying" glyph?

James Nicol's world of The Apprentice Witch is comfortable, funny and well-imagined. Underneath all the magic, fey creatures and monsters, Arianwyn's struggles with self-doubt will ring true with readers. A few loose plot points hint at a sequel, but this one stands strongly on its own. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: Distracted by a mysterious magical glyph, a witch-in-training fails her evaluation and is sent off to a remote town, in disgrace, as an ungraded apprentice.

Chicken House/Scholastic, $16.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 8-12, 9781338118582


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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