Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, January 26, 2018

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

From My Shelf

Novels Epistolary and Beyond

The epistolary novel is nothing new; even before Bram Stoker's Dracula, widely recognized as the foremost in the genre, authors played with ways to use letters, newspaper articles and other written documentation to advance their narratives. Here are some contemporary novelists who continue to push the boundaries of the epistolary novel, all to great effect:

Mark Dunn's Ella Minnow Pea ($15, Anchor) starts out like any epistolary novel, collecting a series correspondence sent between its characters. There's a catch, though--as the laws on the small fictional island of Nollop change, residents there are prohibited from using certain letters in either written or spoken language. As these letters drop from the residents' use, they drop from the novel itself, resulting in a surprisingly coherent story about language and totalitarianism.

The letters in Matthew Quick's The Good Luck of Right Now ($14.99, Harper) are entirely one-sided, written by a grieving Bartholomew Neil to Richard Gere. The one-sided letters reflect Neil's one-sided friendship with the actor, whom he has never met and who never responds to his inquiries. The result is correspondence that reads something like a diary, something like dialogue, giving Neil's search for answers to his pressing questions an added sense of urgency.

David Levithan draws inspiration not from written correspondence but from the dictionary in The Lover's Dictionary ($13, Picador), which tells the story of a relationship as a series of definitions. Each new entry sheds light not only on the relationship in question, but the everyday moments of relationships in general.

Rick Moody's Hotels of North America ($15.99, Back Bay) uses material from a fictional website called to build a story, as one of the top reviewers on the site follows the thread of another man's life through his reviews of hotels across North America. Unexpected? Yes. Surprisingly humorous and oddly captivating? Also yes. Descriptions, in fact, that would fit each of these novels in turn. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Jewish Book Council: 73rd National Jewish Book Award Winners

The Writer's Life

Mira T. Lee: The Many Perspectives of Mental Illness

photo: Liz Linder Photography

Mira T. Lee's debut novel, Everything Here Is Beautiful (reviewed below), was selected by ABA booksellers as one of Winter/Spring 2018's Top 10 Debuts. Her short fiction has appeared in literary journals, including the Gettysburg Review and Triquarterly, and has twice received special mention for the Pushcart Prize. Lee has also been a graphic designer, a pop-country drummer, a salsa dancing fanatic and a biology grad school dropout. She is an alum of Stanford University, and currently lives in Cambridge, Mass.

Your novel explores the family dynamic between two sisters, Lucia and Miranda, and how mental illness impacts their relationship throughout their lives. What inspired you to focus on mental health in families?

Mental illness is very close to my heart because of having family members who have struggled with it.  However, that wasn't my initial focus in the first drafts of the novel because I think I was afraid to go there. One of my early readers felt there was a layer I wasn't exploring, and he was right. People talk about having unfair advantages and, in this case, my unfair advantage was that I had firsthand experience dealing with mental illness. I knew I needed Everything Here Is Beautiful to delve into that more deeply.

With mental illness, there are so many fraught issues that cause a lot of conflict. I've always been drawn to conflict, particularly ones without right or wrong answers. Adding the layer of mental illness made the existing relational conflicts in this novel even more complex. The result was a story that I don't think many people could tell.

You also spotlight mental illness within the immigrant community, which makes Everything Here Is Beautiful a different kind of novel, with its message of mental illness impacting all people. Was that a conscious decision on your part? 
I'm Chinese-American, and throughout my adult life I've known people from every background--people of color, international students, documented and undocumented immigrants, everyone. Writing about people from everywhere in the world feels natural to me. It's organic. Many novels and memoirs about mental illness tend to have a very white middle-class narrative. While it's great to see all these stories getting attention, mental illness does affect every community--regardless of race, culture or socio-economic status--in the most random-seeming of ways.

Another community that you portray is people with disabilities: Manny, who has one arm, and his brother Freddy, who was written off by a shaman as someone destined to remain "a dunce." You break new ground while shattering stereotypes.

That's another part that felt very organic. I didn't set out to include someone who had a particular disability. They were just people first, as they should be. 

How long did it take you to write this novel?

It started as a short story published in 2010, so that means some of my characters first appeared almost a decade ago! In 2013, I began writing this story in earnest as a novel.

The descriptions of Ecuador are especially vivid. Do you have a connection to that country? Have you lived there or visited for a long period of time?

Yes, I have visited Ecuador. Some of those descriptions were from memory, but my research included reading everything I could--travel and backpacking blogs, English news sites, blogs by expats living in the region--to get a better sense of daily life in Ecuador.

You mention NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) in the acknowledgements. Did you consult or work with them to write this book?

Because of my personal experiences, I'm a NAMI member and have heard so many stories of families going through similar things. I've gone to a lot of support group meetings. The people who show up are from all walks of life. I also researched the more medical aspects of these illnesses, consulted with several psychologist friends about certain details and read blogs and memoirs by people who have various mental illnesses.

The phrase "everything here is beautiful" is echoed several times in the novel by Lucia. Aside from that, does the title have any special significance or origin?

That's a long story. It was not my original title, and it wasn't even the one that the book was sold with, either. My editor and I came up with it after many others were rejected. I wanted to have Lucia's name in the title, thinking that would be a good way to orient the reader with so many other characters. We went through hundreds of ideas and when I went through the book page by page to see if there was something I could pull out, "everything here is beautiful" made the list. Mostly, I wanted it to be memorable.

What do you hope that people who have a family member with a mental illness or disability take away from Lucia and Miranda's story? 

I hope readers--regardless of their family situation or personal experience--aren't put off by the descriptions of the book that involve mental illness. At its heart, my goal was to write about people's lives and the conflicts in relationships and families. This just happens to be one.

That said, I hope readers see Everything Here Is Beautiful as a story with many sides. My dedication is "for the families" because I haven't seen any other novels that take a 360-degree view and include all family members--spouses, children, siblings, parents. The general public doesn't know what these families are going through. I just hope that people know that they're not alone. --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at

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

Book Candy

The Handmaid's Tale, Season 2

Mental Floss shared "10 things we know about The Handmaid's Tale season 2."


"Build your dream library and we'll recommend you a book to read," Buzzfeed promised.


From St. Augustine's philosophy to H.G. Wells's science fiction, author Alan Burdick picked his "top 10 books about time" for the Guardian.


"You have a terrifying Internet search history." Bustle shared "11 weird habits that all writers will find deeply relatable."


The Étagère de coin, a cross between furniture and microarchitecture, "emphasizes the corner, a significant space in the house (a meeting between two planes, a boundary)," Bookshelf noted.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin, a master of modern science fiction and fantasy, died last Monday at age 88. Her many novels, short stories, children's books and poetry collections are beacons of humanity, feminist perspectives and incisive socioeconomic criticism. Le Guin was the daughter of an anthropologist, which perhaps helps explain her ability to concoct stunningly imaginative alien cultures in intimate detail. Her first novel, Rocannon's World (1966), was also the start of the Hainish Cycle, an interstellar setting in which scattered human colonies are slowly reestablishing contact after the inventions of faster-than-light travel and communication (Le Guin coined the term "ansible," a device that can communicate over any distance, which became a staple in later sci-fi work). The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) and The Dispossessed (1974), her two most famous Hainish Cycle novels, both won Hugo and Nebula awards.

The five novels and several short stories of Le Guin's Earthsea fantasy series are set in a vast archipelago surrounded by uncharted oceans. A Wizard of Earthsea (1968) is considered a pioneering work of fantasy, and the Earthsea setting as a whole deliberately uses nonwhite characters to offset a genre assumption of white protagonists. Earthsea, like many of Le Guin's other stories, explores a Taoist sense of spiritual balance and a more literal importance of ecological balance. Le Guin's notable nonfiction includes the writing guide Steering the Craft (1998, updated and re-released in 2015) and her final book, No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters (2017). --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


Everything Here Is Beautiful

by Mira T. Lee

An expansion of a short story published in the Missouri Review, Mira T. Lee's debut novel, Everything Here Is Beautiful, explores the relationship between two sisters, the eldest committed to protecting her spontaneous, joyful but mentally unstable sibling.

Miranda Bok remembers coming to the United States from China with her pregnant mother, starting over in a new country without Miranda's father, who died before he could join them. Her mother always expected Miranda to look after Lucia, her seven-years-younger sister. Now grown women, their mother's death a fresh wound, the sisters try to cope with adulthood, but Lucia struggles. First, she surprises Miranda by marrying Yonah, a one-armed, functionally illiterate Russian-Israeli Jew who seems too coarse and ignorant for her sister. Nevertheless, Miranda comes to appreciate Yonah's kindness and sense of family when they become partners in caring for Lucia after the resurgence of a mental illness that plagued her in college.

Following a failed hospitalization, Lucia leaves Yonah, who does not want children, to have a baby with Manny, a young Ecuadorian immigrant. In the years that follow, Miranda tries to maintain her own carefully orchestrated life with her husband in Switzerland, while keeping a watchful eye over Lucia through Manny. Spread across the world, the family struggles to find beauty amid the chaos wrought by Lucia's episodes of mental illness and impulsiveness, sometimes related, always difficult to separate.

Like Miriam Toews's All My Puny SorrowsEverything Here Is Beautiful is filled with unexpected, fragile moments of beauty. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: A free-spirited Chinese American journalist struggles with mental illness while her sister, lover and ex-husband try to support her.

Pamela Dorman/Viking, $26, hardcover, 368p., 9780735221963

Dangerous Crossing

by Rachel Rhys

"Sandwiched between two policemen, the woman descends the gangplank of the ship." It's September 4, 1939--war has just been declared--and the boat is the Orontes. The British ship has docked in Sydney after five weeks at sea, which produced two corpses. From here, Dangerous Crossing rewinds to the day when Lily Shepherd, a young working-class Englishwoman from whose point of view the novel is told, boards the ship in Essex. Lily's intent, like that of other young British women on board, is to work as a maid in Australia, although she dares to dream of more than a life in service.

On the boat, the glittery Eliza and Max Campbell seek out her company. Why, Lily wonders, is this first-class couple fraternizing with her and the others in tourist class, including Edward Fletcher, whose hot-and-cold attitude toward her is puzzling? Also perplexing: when her new friend Maria Katz, an Austrian Jew, says that she's been assaulted on board, the ship's personnel don't believe her.

Dangerous Crossing has the trappings of an Agatha Christie mystery--somewhat heightened characterizations, preoccupation with social class, scrupulous attention to wardrobe--but Rachel Rhys (the pen name of the English suspense novelist Tammy Cohen) is especially beholden to Death on the Nile, with which this book shares its era, shipboard setting and breathtaking scenery. Christie would have steered clear of Dangerous Crossing's sexual content, but she would nonetheless have found this sumptuous, rewarding (and hopefully Masterpiece-bound) historical crime novel deadly. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and author

Discover: In Rachel Rhys's historical crime novel, a British ship bound for Australia on the brink of World War II harbors a boatload of secrets.

Atria, $26, hardcover, 368p., 9781501162725

Mystery & Thriller


by James Lee Burke

There is no clever title needed for multiple Edgar Award-winner and Mystery Writers of America Grand Master James Lee Burke's 21st crime novel featuring the brooding, recovering alcoholic Dave Robicheaux--his surname is title enough. A sheriff's detective in the Iberia Parish outside New Orleans, Robicheaux is getting long in the tooth, living spouseless with his personal devils and untangling brutal crimes in search of justice for the victims. 

Robicheaux is a beauty. It consummately reinforces Burke's Grand Master status. Rife with his usual cauldron of lowlifes, crooked pols, sleazy mobsters, hookers and dirty cops, it illustrates Burke's particular brand of bayou noir where sorting fact from fiction requires nearly everything in Robicheaux's tackle box. An investigation into a reported rape draws him down a murky crime trail. Although jammed up by a local banker calling in a loan, the detective's loyal friend Clete Purcel taps a few snitch markers and backs up his former drinking buddy where needed. Enforcers like mafia goons Tony Nine Ball, Nig Rosewater and Wee Willie Bimstine do the dirty work for the old-money political wannabe and alleged rapist Jimmy Nightingale. And Robicheaux's got his own troubles trying to stay off the hooch while nursing his grief over the death of his third wife, Molly, in a reckless high-speed pickup truck crash. He wants revenge--the hard way, if not the legal way. If one hasn't tasted Burke yet, Robicheaux is a good place to take the first bite. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: In his 21st Robicheaux novel of bayou noir, Burke spins the kind of old-school tale that made this series a multiple Edgar Award winner.

Simon & Schuster, $27.99, hardcover, 464p., 9781501176845

Scones and Scoundrels

by Molly MacRae

Janet Marsh and her business partners--daughter Tallie, plus their friends Christine and Summer--take on their second case as amateur sleuths in Molly MacRae's Scones and Scoundrels. After six months of running a bookshop-cum-tearoom in Inversgail, Scotland, Janet (an American transplant) and the others are settling into their new life. Yon Bonnie Books and its adjacent cafe, Cakes and Tales, are thriving, and the women are becoming part of a community. When Daphne Wood, an eccentric author and environmentalist, returns to her hometown as a visiting writer, Janet and Tallie plan a book signing. But despite the village's warm welcome, Daphne puts off nearly everyone with her rude and abrupt manner. And then the murders start happening.

MacRae brings back many of the characters she introduced in Plaid and Plagiarism, including odd-jobs man Rab; Danny, the barman/owner at Nev's, the neighborhood pub where one murder happens; Nepali grocer Basant; and two local policemen, who can't decide whether to be grateful or annoyed with Janet and her friends. A number of eccentric side plots (all, thankfully, much more charming than Daphne) provide depth and entertainment: Daphne's fondness for sword work, the mysterious whereabouts of local librarian Sharon, the unreliable memory of Christine's aging mother and a hint of romance for several characters. While there's never any doubt that Janet and her cohorts will solve the case, the process is highly enjoyable, helped along by copious amounts of tea (occasionally spiked with something stronger) and plenty of scones. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Molly MacRae's second Highland Bookshop mystery finds her characters investigating the murder of an eccentric visiting writer.

Pegasus Crime, $25.95, hardcover, 288p., 9781681776200

Angel of the Underground

by David Andreas

David Andreas's debut novella, Angel of the Underground, will remind many horror fans of Stephen King's first published novel, Carrie. Although there are no supernatural elements like telekinesis in this new tale, there is a formidable and beleaguered teenage heroine in danger and a spectacularly gruesome bloodbath finale.

After three orphaned children are murdered in a New York Catholic group home, the remaining three children are sent off to separate foster homes for safety. Fifteen-year-old Robin Hills is sent to a Long Island residence owned by a lecherous obese man named Barry and his sullen wife, Lori. Also in the home are Barry's elderly father, invalid mother and two foster teen boys. Sullen and antagonistic Nathan is openly hostile toward Robin, but she befriends Dustin, who finds solace in watching horror movies ("They're therapeutic," he says. "They kill people so I don't have to."). When the sadistic murders continue, Robin realizes that there is no safe place, and she will have to rely on her wits to survive.

Andreas's tight and tense horror tale is a spellbinding and clever debut. He also has more on his mind than merely a straightforward thriller. His smart, sympathetic and engaging teen heroine grapples with the Catholic faith that has sustained her for so many years but now seems to have abandoned her. Proving good things come in small packages (the novel is just 165 pages), Angel of the Underground is a tight and thoughtful thriller, and a stellar introduction to a fresh new voice. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: David Andreas's debut horror novella is a well-written thriller with a smart and sympathetic teen heroine being pursued by an unknown killer.

Kaylie Jones/Akashic, $17.95, paperback, 160p., 9781617756351

Biography & Memoir

The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam

by Max Boot

The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam by Max Boot (Invisible Armies) focuses on Edward Lansdale, the Air Force officer and legendary CIA operative said to be the inspiration for the protagonist in Graham Greene's The Quiet American. Boot dispels this belief, along with many others, rescuing Lansdale's image from those who would cast him as a clueless, bumbling power broker. Instead, Boot argues that Lansdale's diplomatic and counterterrorism ideas were simply ahead of his time, forming the basis for an enormously influential "hearts and minds" strategy that offered both a more ethical and more effective vision for achieving U.S. aims abroad than prevalent approaches.

As the subtitle suggests, Boot's book centers on Vietnam, where "Lansdalism" met with varying degrees of acceptance and success, and argues it could have gone differently if only the right people had listened to this personable former adman-turned-CIA-operative. For a real-life example of "the road not taken," Boot first takes us to the Philippines in the late '40s and early '50s, where Lansdale found a second homeland and his first tastes of success. Charged with helping to combat a Communist insurgency that threatened the Filipino postwar government, Lansdale started by befriending everyone in sight. He was also an immensely capable propagandist, promoting his favored candidate with catchy slogans and even a popular song. Lansdale was no peacenik, but his focus on community relations and minimizing civilian casualties were a far sight from the policies eventually adopted in Vietnam.

The Road Not Taken offers a portrait of Lansdale as well as a foreign policy alternative to the U.S.'s often heavy-handed, militarized approach. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Discover: Edward Lansdale was one of the most controversial figures in U.S. foreign policy, and The Road Not Taken rehabilitates his somewhat tarnished reputation.

Liveright, $35, hardcover, 768p., 9780871409416


Craeft: An Inquiry into the Origins and True Meaning of Traditional Crafts

by Alexander Langlands

The Old English word "craeft" meant much more than the modern word "craft" usually does. Mental skill and virtue could be implied by it, and a sense of "power or skill in the context of knowledge, ability and a kind of learning." In Craeft, British archeologist and medieval historian Alexander Langlands (Henry Stephen's Book of the Farm) offers an entertaining and inspirational look at traditional skills that were part of ordinary English life for thousands of years, but were broadly abandoned with the advent of fossil fuels, mass production, plastics, pesticides and even cement. In the process, he says, we have literally lost touch with the world around us, and with the power and complex abilities of our own bodies.

Langlands performs many practical experiments on his rural English property, trying to replicate the results that field archeology and research pose in theory. His idealism and his love of the natural world and what we can learn to make of it are contagious. He deftly combines his hands-on experiences with historical knowledge in chapters on the skills of haymaking, pond making, pottery, dry stone wall building, spinning and weaving, tanning and leather work and more.

Most of these old skills produce less than modern methods, but they do so more reliably and cheaply, says Langlands, and often more beautifully as well. They were developed in circular (instead of growth) economies, grounded in the cultivation of finite local natural resources, and their resilience and sustainability deserves new attention. This is an illuminating book on the pleasures of traditional work, and how we can rediscover that tactile world of skillful creation. --Sara Catterall

Discover: Anecdotes of practical experiments are combined with historical expertise in these essays on ancient skills of human life.

W.W. Norton, $26.95, hardcover, 352p., 9780393635904

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD

by Bill Minutaglio, Steven L. Davis

"Turn on. Tune in. Drop out." That seductive invitation from former Harvard psychology researcher and psychedelic drug evangelist Timothy Leary struck terror into the hearts of parents of American teenagers and young adults in the 1960s and 1970s. And it enraged President Richard M. Nixon, who saw Leary as a subversive force, capable of galvanizing opposition to his administration's controversial policies, chief among them its refusal to bring about a promised end to the Vietnam War. Based on extensive archival research and personal interviews, Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis's The Most Dangerous Man in America is the entertaining story of the madcap 28-month globetrotting pursuit of Leary after his escape from a California minimum-security prison in September 1970.

Sentenced to a 10-year term for possession of two joints, Leary broke out with relative ease, aided by the revolutionaries known as the Weathermen. Relying on funds provided by another shadowy group, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, Leary and his wife, Rosemary, eventually made their way to Algiers. There they entered the disturbing and often terrifying orbit of Eldridge Cleaver and the Black Panthers, recognized by Algerian authorities as the official representatives of the United States, actively plotting to overthrow the country they called "Babylon."

Minutaglio and Davis (Dallas 1963) vividly recount the manic goings-on in Algiers, as Leary's desire to spread the gospel of LSD clashed with Cleaver's plans for violent revolution. The Most Dangerous Man in America is a vivid evocation of a raucous time in recent American history. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis offer a vivid account of psychologist and LSD guru Timothy Leary's bizarre international odyssey after his 1970 prison escape.

Twelve, $30, hardcover, 400p., 9781455563586

Essays & Criticism

The Art of Mystery: The Search for Questions

by Maud Casey

Graywolf's Art of series examines elements of literature through perceptive and meditative essays that shed light on the craft of writing. In the 14th volume in the series, The Art of Mystery, novelist Maud Casey (The Man Who Walked Away) reflects on mystery in fiction--sometimes wondrous, often disconcerting, always slippery.

Casey wisely observes that while the concern of mystery as a genre is about finding answers, "mystery, that elusive yet essential element of fiction, is about finding the questions." The search for questions takes us to what Casey calls the "Land of Un--uncertainty, unfathomability, unknowing," where the reader is kept off-kilter while exploring unfamiliar terrain. With striking insight, Casey looks at aspects of mystery in well-known works of literature: the mystery of looking vs. seeing in Sonny's Blues by James Baldwin; the mystery of imagery in Flannery O'Connor's Good Country People and in Alison Bechdel's Fun Home; and the mystery of the "antifactual" in the classic Henry James novella Turn of the Screw. Casey studies lesser-known works to explore mystery in character, including the "simultaneously beautiful and terrifying" novel The Vet's Daughter by Barbara Comyns, and considers the mystery of innocence in Skylark by Dezso Kosztolányi.

To deeply understand the art of mystery, Casey considers its role in other art forms, including the work of the photographer Vivian Maier, who has proved to be as elusive as her subjects. What these all have in common is their concern with searching, rather than finding--a fine distinction that Casey clearly articulates as the essence of the art of mystery. --Frank Brasile, selection librarian, writer, editor

Discover: This installment in Graywolf's Art Of series is a slim but substantial exploration of the concept of mystery in literature.

Graywolf Press, $14, paperback, 160p., 9781555977948

Psychology & Self-Help

The Group: Seven Widowed Fathers Reimagine Life

by Donald L. Rosenstein, Justin M. Yopp

Launching a bereavement support group for widowed fathers was a significant departure from the clinical work Drs. Rosenstein and Yopp normally conducted at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of North Carolina. Their focus had been on offering psychological and psychiatric care and counseling to patients undergoing active cancer treatments. But after caring for several terminally ill women with young children, and hearing the women's concerns about their husbands, the doctors turned their focus toward the needs of often neglected, widowed fathers.

Their outreach, the Single Fathers Due to Cancer Program, initially brought together young widowed fathers for six sessions. The seven widowers openly shared their struggles through loss and grief, their challenges and setbacks, and the dynamic support offered by the group became remarkably beneficial. As a result, the program later expanded and continued to meet for four years.
The Group documents the personalities and experiences of the original seven widowers and illustrates how weekly meetings forged a bond among them, providing a positive channel as they adapted to catastrophic losses. Dilemmas particular to each father are highlighted through topics including survivor coping strategies, issues with children and child rearing, managing the home minus a maternal presence, post-traumatic growth and resilience, and the challenges of dating again. Rosenstein and Yopp demonstrate how the camaraderie of their innovative group bolstered and healed the men, encouraging them to find meaning and create new lives beyond unthinkable loss. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: Widowed fathers grapple with shattering grief and loss in an innovative support group.

Oxford University Press, $24.95, hardcover, 192p., 9780190649562

Children's & Young Adult

The Hazel Wood

by Melissa Albert

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother, Ella, have always "lived like vagrants, staying with friends till [their] welcome wore through at the elbows, perching in precarious places, then moving on." As they move, bad luck follows. But when a mysterious message arrives at their temporary home in New York City, telling them that Alice's grandmother Althea Proserpine has died, Ella and Alice think their luck may have changed. Althea, hidden away for years at her estate, the Hazel Wood, was the reclusive author of a book of dark fairy tales. This book, Tales from the Hinterland, has a cult following of "deep fan[s]"--readers so involved that they make desperate efforts to find their way into the Hinterland, the supernatural world where the stories are set. Alas, Alice and Ella's bad luck is not destined to evaporate. Ella disappears, leaving Alice a message: "stay the hell away from the Hazel Wood." In spite of this message, Alice determines to track her mother down: "My situation hit me hard. Homeless. Unable to reach my mom. Being stalked by something I couldn't see the breadth of or understand." Reluctantly pairing up with a deep fan classmate named Finch who is obsessed with the theories surrounding Hinterland, Alice begins her long, tortuous journey to the truth about her own past.

Melissa Albert's debut novel is a contemporary fantasy that dwells in an atmospheric, intertwining world of terrifying circumstances; a breathtaking dive into the magic and importance of story in one's identity. "Story is the fabric of the Hinterland," one of the residents tells Alice. Another says, stories "create the energy that makes this world go. They keep our stars in place." If this is so, Albert's exquisite wordsmithing and story weaving have certainly kept the stars aloft for a new generation of readers. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: In this contemporary fantasy, 17-year-old Alice is forced to enter the dark fairy-tale world of her grandmother's creation to find her mother--and her own story.

Flatiron, $16.99, hardcover, 368p., ages 13-up, 9781250147905

My Family Four Floors Up

by Caroline Stutson, illus. by Celia Krampien

In Caroline Stutson's lighthearted urban story, a father and daughter spend the day together, eating breakfast, visiting the park and finally snuggling down to sleep. Cheerful verses capture the rhythms of a young child's routine: "Hello,/ morning,/ yellow sun,/ yummy/ breakfast./ Day's begun." A small brown pooch accompanies the two on their outing, leaving a green-eyed cat to watch them from the fourth-floor apartment window: "Hello,/ sidewalk,/ many feet!/ Goodbye,/ black cat,/ city street."

Celia Krampien (Here to There and Me to You, written by Cheryl Keely; Shadow Warrior, written by Tanya Lloyd Kyi) uses a child's-eye perspective in many of her boldly colored pictures. The dad serves his daughter breakfast, but the reader sees only his outstretched arm, a bit of plaid shirt and jeans, and sock feet. The city street is full of legs, legs and more legs, along with wheelchair riders and hands in various shades of peach and brown gripping grocery bags, books and phones. The park is a peaceful green place, with ducklings "wobbling by" and swings for "swinging/ way up/ high!" Even when ominous clouds start rolling in and rain falls, it's all part of the fun of the day.

Stutson, who passed away in 2015, wrote many picture books, including Blue Corn Soup, Pirate Pup and Cowpokes. My Family Four Floors Up is a celebration of everyday wonders that expresses some of the same bright, simple joy found in Margaret Wise Brown's iconic Goodnight Moon. This posthumously published picture book will surely become a read-aloud favorite for city dwellers and country kids alike. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A dad and his young daughter spend a day exploring the wonders of everyday urban life in this rhyming picture book, perfect for reading aloud.

Sleeping Bear Press, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 2-6, 9781585369911

Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You!

by Marley Dias

In 2015, sixth-grader Marley Dias's frustration with her school's all-white reading list went viral, catalyzing the #1000blackgirlbooks campaign. She's been an activist ever since, and in Marley Dias Gets It Done, she shares her personal story of "wokeness" in addition to guidance and inspiration for other budding activists. In 11 engaging and wide-ranging chapters, Dias gives practical advice on topics like attending protest marches and contacting elected officials, as well as describing her top five favorite hairstyles. "You may think we're too young to have any influence on or make a real difference in this so often messed-up world, but I'm proof we're not," Dias writes in the first chapter. By the final pages, readers will be convinced that they, too, can make a difference.

Dias's voice is buoyant and authentic; any reader who knows what it means to react to a question "hand-cupping-chin-contemplative-smiley-emoji style" will be instantly won over. Her enthusiasm makes her forthright discussion of topics like the 1965 Selma marches, protecting yourself online and the difference between charity and activism even more accessible. The book's clean layout, incorporating lots of pictures, pull quotes and sidebars, allows readers at any level to appreciate even a glance through the pages. Adults will also benefit from a few sidebars addressed to them, advising how they can empower the kids and teens in their lives. Fittingly, the final pages contain about 500 titles from Dias's original #1000blackgirlbooks campaign, giving readers who are inspired by Dias's contagious enthusiasm dozens of stories to explore next. --Stephanie Anderson, assistant director of selection, BookOps

Discover: A 21st-century guide to activism from Marley Dias, founder of #1000blackgirlbooks, that will ignite a spark in teen and pre-teen readers everywhere.

Scholastic Press, $14.99, paperback, 208p., ages 10-up, 9781338136890


Author Buzz

Visions of Flesh and Blood:
A Blood and Ash/Flesh and Fire Compendium

by Jennifer L. Armentrout with Rayvn Salvador

Dear Reader,

Today is the release of VISIONS OF FLESH AND BLOOD, the Blood and Ash/Flesh and Fire Compendium, and I am so excited that you finally get to see and read it!

I saw the love you had for Miss Willa, watched how following along with all the series twists and turns brought you joy, and thought... wouldn't it be nice to have a book to help with that, yet give even more new stuff?

So, my publisher and I came up with a plan. It included loads of stunning art commissions, strategic disclosures, and brand-new material. When it all came together, it was even better than I imagined.

VISIONS OF FLESH AND BLOOD is so much more than a series bible. It's a journey and a work of art. A collector's item for sure!


Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: Visions of Flesh and Blood: A Blood and Ash/Flesh and Fire Compendium by Jennifer L. Armentrout with Rayvn Salvador

Blue Box Press

Pub Date: 
February 20, 2024


List Price: 
$7.99 e-book

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