Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, February 13, 2018

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

From My Shelf

Presidential Histories

What better way to spend a three-day weekend than with a book (or three or four or more)? In keeping with the theme of Presidents' Day, chunksters like Ron Chernow's Grant (clocking in at 1,100 pages) might be a bit much to tackle in a short time, but not all presidential histories are so daunting.

Starting with the first president of the United States (because who doesn't like a good chronological order to things?), consider Valiant Ambition (Penguin, paperback). In this engaging history, Nathaniel Philbrick (In the Heart of the Sea) explores the relationship between George Washington, the United States' most revered president, and its most reviled traitor, Benedict Arnold. Philbrick approaches both subjects--whose stories have been retold often enough to become near-mythological--with a nuanced, respectful consideration that highlights the complexities of both their personalities and the roles they played in the American Revolution.

Candice Millard's Destiny of the Republic (Anchor, paperback) is equally engaging, though Millard focuses on an entirely different period in U.S. history. The history opens with James Garfield's unfortunate run-in with Charles Giteau, a disgraced lawyer who believed he had been told by God to murder the 20th president. Millard uses this pivotal moment to explore trends in science and medicine in the 1880s, as well as political traditions surrounding Garfield's unexpected win.

Garfield's, of course, was not the first--or last--presidential assassination, as Sarah Vowell explores in her part-memoir, part-history, Assassination Vacation (Simon & Schuster, paperback). Here, she documents her delightfully strange habit of planning vacations to visit the sites of presidential assassinations and other moments of political violence, which she then uses as a lens to explore the role of political violence in shaping U.S. history. Vowell approaches all of this with her characteristic dark sense of humor, which adds moments of lightness to an otherwise bleak subject. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

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

The Writer's Life

Tom Sweterlitsch: Many Possible Futures

photo: Michael Ray

Tom Sweterlitsch's second science fiction novel is The Gone World (Putnam, $27, reviewed below). Like his debut, Tomorrow and Tomorrow, this novel throws into question the very foundation of reality. Shannon Moss is an agent working for a top-secret government agency that has discovered how to send humans through time and into deep space. When Moss is sent to the future to find clues to a difficult murder case taking place in her present, she uncovers details that link not only to the murder--but to the very end of humanity as we know it. It's a thrilling novel that blends the mind-bending storytelling of science fiction with the pace of a thriller.

Your protagonist, Shannon Moss, lives in a world where humans have discovered how to travel through time and space. But unlike other novels that take up similar concepts, Shannon can't travel to the past--only the future, or "futures" (since every future is only one possibility of many). What kinds of scientific theories underlie your take on time travel?

There's a fun paper from the September 1988 Physical Review of Letters you can find online called "Wormholes, Time Machines, and the Weak Energy Condition" by Michael S. Morris, Kip S. Thorne and Ulvi Yurtsever. It's about how super-advanced civilizations might be able to time travel. I read a lot of speculative science like this to keep my time traveling at least in the general realm of plausibility.

But the image of time travel came before trying to figure it out. That idea of traveling to futures that cease to exist once the traveler returns home to the present had been in my mind for a number of years, and when I started researching for The Gone World I had to ask myself: What does "cease to exist" even mean? There were two theories in quantum mechanics that captured my imagination because both seem to be about how 'nothingness' might not be nothingness at all. One was the "Casimir Effect" of Hendrik Casimir, the other was John Wheeler's idea of "Quantum Foam." Quantum Foam is a driving image in The Gone World--the idea that at the absolute smallest of levels, the "void of space," or "smooth spacetime" is actually a seething, turbulent foam of particles or wormholes.

What's surprised you the most about what humans have already learned and accomplished in terms of time and space travel?

I'm constantly in awe of what's discovered. And I'm inspired by my father-in-law, Dr. Howard Brandt, who was a brilliant theoretical physicist in the fields of quantum cryptology and quantum computing for the Department of Defense, but also--and this is somewhat unusual in the sciences--he was a man of great religious faith. He was demanding and rigorous in his science, but his faith gave him humility that what we know about the universe is only a fraction of the truth.

Shannon is physically and mentally strong (despite a disabling injury). Where did she come from?

Shannon Moss is the best thing about this book. One of my favorite parts of writing is discovering characters while I'm writing--how they suddenly "appear" in your mind from out of nowhere and then the more you write about them the more you discover. But there are definitely influences. I'm writing about my own childhood friends, for sure, and also some of my wife's memories. And during an early draft I was watching The Ultimate Fighter 23, with Rose Namajunas--her serious-minded, determined way of speaking really helped focus how I thought of Shannon.

While I wouldn't exactly categorize The Gone World as an apocalyptic novel, it brushes up against the genre. Why do you think apocalyptic and dystopic stories are so popular right now?

We're undoubtedly living in a dystopian and apocalyptic time. For many years, racial minorities and the poor have already been living in dystopian America, and now, with every news cycle, it's easier to imagine apocalyptic nuclear devastation. Both subgenres address a fear that the pleasures of life and the institutions that protect our safety and happiness are false or fragile and can easily disappear.

One of the more unsettling ideas in your book is that humans from future timelines don't actually exist. Yet, they feel and think like real humans. What was it like to spend time with characters who would eventually discover such a thing about themselves?

The first voice Shannon hears when she time travels to the future is an air traffic controller, a young woman. For Shannon, hearing that voice is like hearing the voice of a ghost, because the controller might not ever exist as a "real person," but only as a possibility. And as the book progresses, every character is forced to question their own existence. Does everything exist? Does nothing exist? The Gone World is all about existence and nonexistence, each character forming and holding onto beliefs about the nature of reality that aren't necessarily true. I think the "nature of the universe" in the book is much more compassionate than the characters think it is.

Your book has already been compared to Inception and True Detective. Did they influence your writing? Who or what else influenced your book?

I certainly like Inception and True Detective, Season One, and the comparisons would give a reader an idea of The Gone World, but my actual influences are different. The Divine Comedy, The Glass Menagerie, Strindberg and Albee--those are the major influences. But I was also strongly influenced by Anna Kavan's brilliant novel Ice, Ballard's The Crystal World and the strange fiction of William Hope Hodgson, such as The House on the Borderland and The Night Land.

What’s next for you?

Thanks for asking! I'm hoping to finish a draft of my next novel this year, and I'd also like to write more short stories--I have this huge file of ideas that I've stockpiled and I'd love to finish up some of those. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Book Candy

Valentine's Day for Single Bookworms

Bookstr recommended "6 Valentine's Day activities for you single bookworms out there."


To celebrate the legendary YA author's 80th birthday, Mental Floss showcased "15 wonderfully wise quotes from Judy Blume."


Headline of the day (via CNN): "A lack of an Oxford comma cost dairy $5 million."


"It's finally happened: a Harry Potter-themed cruise is coming," VIVA Lifestyle & Travel reported.


Noting that Tom Hiddleston has "taken on an impressive number of literary adaptations," Quirk Books explored the actor's "literary roles over the years."


Bookshelf featured an ambitious attic conversion with creative bookshelves and a library ladder.

Great Reads

Rediscover: The Boys of Winter

The U.S. Olympic hockey team is going for gold in Pyeongchang. Thirty-eight years ago, a very different type of team, mostly blue-collar amateurs, took on the juggernaut Soviet squad in Lake Placid, N.Y. They faced off in the first game of the medal round, both undefeated, with the U.S. team having already upset second-place favorite Czechoslovakia in the group stage. The first period ended in a 2-2 tie. The Soviets went ahead by one in the second. The Americans tied 3-3 in the third, then with 10 minutes left to play, team captain Mike Eruzione put the U.S. ahead 4-3. With 10 seconds left and an exuberant crowd counting down to the end of the game--and a U.S. victory--ABC announcer Al Michaels delivered one of the most famous lines in sportscasting: "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!"

Thus the Miracle on Ice became the stuff of sports legends. The U.S. team took the gold with a win over Finland while the Soviets beat Sweden for the silver. Cold War politics turned the hockey game into a political coup. A made-for-TV movie called Miracle on Ice aired in 1981, and a Disney film starring Kurt Russell as head coach Herb Brooks came out in 2004. The Boys of Winter: The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team by Wayne Coffey (Crown, $15, 9781400047666) gives an in-depth account of the Miracle on Ice and the later careers of all involved. It was published in paperback in 2005. --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


The Boat People

by Sharon Bala

Canadian authorities are prepared when a boat carrying 500 Sri Lankan refugees reaches Vancouver. Their intelligence indicates terrorists are among the immigrants, and the government isn't going to take any chances: the men, women and children are immediately imprisoned.

Among the refugees is Mahindan, a young, widowed father seeking a better life for himself and his son, Sellian. As their imprisonment continues, Mahindan's life in Sri Lanka, and the dangerous route father and son traveled to find safety, is unveiled.

Priya is one of Mahindan's Canadian attorneys. Still a law student, she's assigned to the senior counsel for the refugees' defense because of her Sri Lankan heritage--her parents are immigrants, but she doesn't even speak the language. While she starts out reluctantly, her interactions with Mahindan and the other clients open her eyes to their struggles as well as to a world intimately connected to her family.

Grace cuts her teeth as an adjudicator with the Immigration and Refugee Board in the Sri Lankan investigations. Her former boss, a conservative Cabinet minister, encourages Grace to be tough in her rulings. Her Japanese Canadian mother who endured internment camps presses her to recall those injustices, not repeat them.

In her emotional debut, Sharon Bala composes empathetic characters and encourages her audience to endure their struggles. She grips her readers and dives into the humanity of the world she's created; when they resurface, they'll be gasping for air. Breathlessly beautiful, The Boat People reminds everyone of the value of compassion in a world claiming no shortage of hatred and violence. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: A refugee vessel from Sri Lanka is rumored to have terrorists aboard, so when it lands in Vancouver, Canadian authorities aren't taking any chances.

Doubleday, $26.95, hardcover, 352p., 9780385542296

Our Lady of the Prairie

by Thisbe Nissen

Phillipa Maakestad plunges into her affair with Lucius Bocelli like the tornado that will send her daughter Ginny's entire wedding party into the church basement. She wasn't looking for a distraction. But after 25 years of marital stability, a theater professor at an Iowa university and dedication to a volatile daughter, Phillipa is vulnerable. After one look at Lucius there's no turning back.

Thisbe Nissen's hilarious third novel is also a commentary on the United States in a contentious election year: Bush versus Kerry in 2004, with chilling parallels to 2016. With an acerbic and enigmatic mother-in-law (who stars in a lengthy surrealistic fantasy exploring the possibility of a Nazi on the Maakestad family tree), Ginny's sweet, lapsed-Amish husband Silas, his unwed sister and her baby, Phillipa and her affair seem tame. She vacillates between self-absorbed and self-deprecating, and her soul-searching--often to the soundtrack of show tunes--is endearing.

The wholesome Midwestern setting provides rich humor. The affair begins on a wintry Ohio campus, and the lovers' major obstacle is Chicago traffic on the Ohio/Iowa route. Church signboards offer "faith lifts" and "prophet sharing," and Silas and Ginny's pastoral farm serves as a Kerry campaign center. While adultery is at the heart of this delightful novel, Phillipa and the extensive cast of supporting characters exhibit kindness and forgiveness at every plot twist. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: During the 2004 presidential election, a love affair complicates the pastoral life of a Midwestern college teacher.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25, hardcover, 368p., 9781328662071

Mystery & Thriller

The Other Side of Everything

by Lauren Doyle Owens

Set in sleepy Seven Springs just south of Fort Lauderdale during the Great Recession, Lauren Doyle Owens's first novel, The Other Side of Everything, is a small-town domestic drama masquerading as a murder mystery. It's told through the eyes of its three principal characters. Lonely old Bernard is a widower haunted by the ghosts of his wife who died of cancer and a lover dead from suicide. Fifteen-year-old Maddie waits tables after school trying to hold together her family after her mother abandoned them. An art school dropout and cancer survivor, Amy is separated from a husband who can't deal with her surgical disfigurement and depression. When someone starts brutally to kill neighborhood elderly women, the checkered histories and secrets of the town's migrant retirees and local townies surface in spades.

A resident Floridian from Maryland, Owens captures the false bonhomie of the state's many codgers ("These are the best years, aren't they? This is what we did all that other stuff for... whiskey sours for breakfast...! Internet porn!") as well as the teen angst of a girl compulsively slicing her thigh with a Swiss Army knife ("caught in the undertow of unbearable grief... [but] her leg throbbed so badly that none of it mattered"). As Amy tries to overcome the trauma of her post-cancer marital dissolution, she recalls that "one moment, they were at the beginning of everything... the next, they were at the edge of a cliff." As its title suggests, The Other Side of Everything is a penetrating look behind the faces we present to the world. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Cunningly wrapped in a murder mystery, Lauren Doyle Owens's first novel is a depiction of a small Florida town's troubled residents.

Touchstone, $25, hardcover, 272p., 9781501167799

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Gone World

by Tom Sweterlitsch

The possibility of time travel has long captured the imaginations of writers, but Tom Sweterlitsch, author of The Gone World, takes the concept in an exciting new direction. In this mind-bending new thriller, humans can travel only to the future, not the past, and only to possible futures at that.

Shannon Moss is a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, a top-secret government agency. It sends humans into deep space to discover new worlds and to the future to gain insight into their own time period's criminal investigations. Moss's latest mission at first seems straight-forward: she's to uncover information that could lead to the whereabouts of a missing teenager. But what she discovers instead is far more terrifying: a possible answer to how the world is going to end.

With The Gone World, Sweterlitsch offers a highly engaging--and deeply human--story informed by hard science and a refreshing sensitivity to trauma and disability. Moss, we learn, lost her leg in an early mission, and that loss, combined with the psychological strain of her job, makes her strong and cautious in equal measure. Her character isn't afraid of much, but she understands all too well just how risky her missions can be: "Moss had long ago learned the dissociative technique of viewing bodies through different lenses, divorcing the mutilation as much as possible from the personalities they once were." The Gone World is as unsettling as it is unforgettable. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A time-traveling special agent discovers how the world will end in this terrifying but deeply moving work of science fiction and apocalyptic horror.

Putnam, $27, hardcover, 400p., 9780399167508

Biography & Memoir

Stalking God: My Unorthodox Search for Something to Believe In

by Anjali Kumar

In 2010, Anjali Kumar, corporate lawyer and new mom, started looking for God, a search she documents with candor and humor in her memoir, Stalking God. Self-described as a "first-generation Indian girl raised outside Chicago, part Indian, part American, part Catholic, part Hindu, part Jain, and wholly confused," Kumar began seeking answers to the fundamental mysteries of life (and death) when she realized that one day her daughter would ask her questions she wouldn't be able to answer: "Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? What happens when we die? Is there a God?"

Kumar's quest took several years. She traveled to California and Brazil, Tokyo and upstate New York. She Skyped with a medium, spent five days in silent meditation, sweated out toxins in a hut in Mexico, texted a healer in India, watched the fires at Burning Man and even participated in online laughter yoga. Along the way, she grappled with an innate contradiction within herself: a yearning to believe in something and an inherent skepticism surrounding religious promises.

In the end, Kumar doesn't find a practice or religion that works for her, or even answers to her original questions. But Stalking God, it turns out, isn't about answers. At the risk of sounding like a cliché, it is much more about the journey--one that offers insight into "our collective spiritual nature." And in Kumar's probing, capable, irreverent hands, that journey is a delight to share in, from start to answer-less finish. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: Corporate lawyer and new mom Anjali Kumar searches for answers to the meaning of life and the existence of God in unexpected places.

Seal Press, $26, hardcover, 256p., 9781580056618

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir

by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, asha bandele

"If we know nothing else, we know that in the wake of the acquittal of Trayvon Martin's killer, we have to change the conversation." At the forefront of this devastatingly urgent conversation about systemic racism and unpunished violence against people of color is Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement and author of When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir. Along with coauthor asha bandele, memoirist and former senior editor at Essence magazine, Cullors constructs a meditative, meaningful work.

Now a Fulbright scholar, community organizer and performance artist, Cullors grew up poor. Her mother always worked multiple jobs; her father struggled with a cycle of addiction and imprisonment. All the while, Cullors strove tirelessly to advocate for her brother, whose schizophrenic episodes led to prison sentences more often than medical treatment, and even once led to a charge of terrorism.

Cullors's story is fascinating and important. In recounting her life so far, she stitches together a quilt of perspectives, weaving her experiences as a queer black activist with reflections shaped by deep and nuanced understandings of the social forces that continue to shape race relations. Writing in present tense, Cullors asserts her topic's immediacy. At times the narrative repeats itself or offers retroactive interpretations of events that unsettle the narrative flow, yet this too feels apt given how racism and subjugation continually rear and disrupt lives. And despite tragedies she has endured, Cullors beautifully expresses empathy, honesty and hope. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: The co-founder of Black Lives Matter shares the experiences and motivations that led her to become a driving force behind the movement for justice and equality.

St. Martin's Press, $24.99, hardcover, 272p., 9781250171085

The Gambler: How Penniless Dropout Kirk Kerkorian Became the Greatest Deal Maker in Capitalist History

by William C. Rempel

Unlike many of today's billionaires, Las Vegas mogul Kerkor "Kirk" Kerkorian didn't inherit a financial launch pad. He got rich the bootstrap way. The son of an often broke opportunist immigrant from Armenia, he picked up English in the streets of Los Angeles. He learned to be comfortable with risk as a teenaged amateur boxer and as a young pilot with the Canadian Royal Air Force Ferry Company (CRAFFC) during World War II.

After Kerkorian's death in 2015 at age 98, Los Angeles Times investigative reporter William C. Rempel (At the Devil's Table) took on the challenge of uncovering the story of this notoriously private man. The Gambler is the first in-depth Kerkorian biography in almost 50 years. With a reporter's tenacity, Rempel digs through archival CRAFFC records, business contracts and divorce proceedings. He talks reluctant friends and business associates into substantive recollections of the man who three times built the world's largest hotel casino and tried single-handedly to rescue "the big three" United States automakers in their darkest hours.

As Rempel's title suggests, Kerkorian was at heart a gambler who "believed there was no point in placing small bets." With financial leverage and guts, he parlayed a small charter airline company into an empire with hotels, casinos, film studios and real estate. Along the way, he rubbed shoulders with mobsters and celebrities. On the famous Strip, he even went toe-to-toe with that other Las Vegas kingpin Howard Hughes--and won. Somewhat lean regarding Kerkorian's three wives and two children, The Gambler is nevertheless rich in the details of his business transactions, philanthropy and infamous negotiating style. It is tycoon biography at its best. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A fascinating picture of the late billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, The Gambler captures the nuances of a very private man who made a fortune on his "nerves of steel."

Dey Street Books, $28.99, hardcover, 432p., 9780062456779


Anatomy of a Genocide: The Life and Death of a Town Called Buczacz

by Omer Bartov

Buczacz (or Buchach), a town in Western Ukraine, was once a melting pot of Poles, Ukrainians and Jews. Under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, this simmering mix sometimes boiled over, but remained a relatively peaceful place. Today, this stagnant community of Soviet-era infrastructure is completely Ukrainian--made so through a century of horrific violence--whose history represents a microcosm of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe. Buczacz is a case study in how the Nazis used preexisting animosities for their genocidal ends, and why ethno-nationalism is a grave danger in any society.

Anatomy of a Genocide by Omer Bartov, a history professor at Brown University and author of multiple works on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, began as a genealogical inquiry. Bartov's mother was raised in Buczacz, and though his research sprouted few new roots on his family tree, Bartov collected an enormous amount of information on the town's history. He outlines the region's centuries as a borderland battleground before turning to its terminal catastrophe, World War I, which sparked a long tamped powder keg of ethnic and religious hatred. As Galicia passed between Austria-Hungary, Poland, the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and the Soviets again, lifelong neighbors in Buczacz turned against each other. When the Holocaust came, local Ukrainians and Poles had as much blood on their hands as the Nazis.

Anatomy of a Genocide is a grim but important examination of ethno-nationalism and anti-Semitism at their most destructive, and how these dark forces can be unleashed by political instability. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: Anatomy of a Genocide is the history of a border town in Eastern Europe where neighbors turned against each other during the Holocaust.

Simon & Schuster, $30, hardcover, 416p., 9781451684537

Nature & Environment

Saving Tarboo Creek: One Family's Quest to Heal the Land

by Scott Freeman, illus. by Susan Leopold Freeman

Written by Scott Freeman and illustrated by his wife, Susan Leopold Freeman--granddaughter of the land conservationist Aldo Leopold--Saving Tarboo Creek is the eloquent story of one family's desire to restore a section of waterway on Washington's Olympic Peninsula. Working with the Northwest Watershed Institute and many others, the Freemans first had to rebuild the waterway itself, restoring it to a more natural meander, before replanting trees to shade the stream as it returned to being a perfect habitat for spawning salmon.

Freeman sketches the struggles and triumphs of a female salmon as she builds her redd (or nest), as well as the complexities of having beaver move into the area. He also describes the mating croaks of tree frogs and the pleasures of watching the gradual evolution of the 18-acre parcel the Freemans call home. Rich in ecological data, finely tuned observations and a love of the environment, Freeman's thinking extends far beyond the perimeters of this little salmon stream. He addresses climate change, world population levels and the five previous mass extinctions. Then he ponders the possibility of a sixth, in no small part due to humans. 

Throughout, Freeman references Aldo Leopold's land ethics as discussed in A Sand County Almanac. This lends a historical continuity to the powerful ecological discussion here. Saving Tarboo Creek is a call to action that deserves shelf space beside environmental writing from the likes of of Bernd Heinrich, Bill McKibben and Edward Abbey. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: The expressive, lyrical observations here about a Washington State waterway carry implications for the rest of the world.

Timber Press, $25.95, hardcover, 224p., 9781604697940

Art & Photography

How New York Breaks Your Heart

by Bill Hayes

Bill Hayes is a canny observer. With lyrical insight and magnetic enthusiasm, his books analyze the wonders of the commonplace: sleep (Sleep Demons), blood (Five Quarts) and bodies (The Anatomist). Love and resilience lie at the root of his recent memoir, Insomniac City, in which he leaves San Francisco for New York while grieving his partner's death. There he perfects a new craft in street photography, yielding the utterly remarkable selection of portraits and snapshots in How New York Breaks Your Heart.

Hayes wields the camera with the same curiosity and elegance as the pen. He transforms a simple sidewalk moment into fine art. Here is a fashionable woman in dark round sunglasses. There is a man reading a weathered paperback near a payphone. All display a candor that resonates within the frame. The simplicity of each shot belies Hayes's keen eye for character and setting. He captures his subjects in their distinct contexts within a city that boasts millions--a harmony of person and place. "Every time, it's astonishing."

Entwined with these photos is a poignant meditation on a new grief--the death of another love and the aching absence left. Yet: "there is New York--right there, right outside your window." An inspired companion to Insomniac City, this collection echoes its themes of love and resilience. In a vibrant city, Hayes focuses on a magnificent assortment of beautiful people, and observes the dynamic splendor of life itself. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Bill Hayes showcases a marvelous array of New Yorkers in his first collection of street photography.

Bloomsbury, $25, hardcover, 160p., 9781635570854

Children's & Young Adult

Bird Builds a Nest: A First Science Storybook

by Martin Jenkins, illus. by Richard Jones

"It's a beautiful day! Bird is up early--she's got a lot to do." Readers expecting anthropomorphic behavior from this book's titular character might be surprised. After Bird breakfasts on a worm, she gets busy: "Carefully, she pushes a twig into the side of the nest and pulls its end back out. Pushing and pulling, she gets all the twigs in place. She works for hours, fetching and carrying, flying back and forth, pushing and pulling."

Bird Builds a Nest: A First Science Storybook works well as a straightforward narrative that concludes with the toddler-pleasing sight of a nest full of ready-to-hatch eggs. But in his front-of-book note, Martin Jenkins, a conservation biologist when he's not writing fine children's books, nudges adults to give kids a deeper reading experience. "This is a book about a bird, and it is also a book about forces," he explains, and proceeds to equip grown-ups with simple definitions ("Gravity is a force that pulls objects toward one another"). Jenkins's back-of-book "Thinking About Pushing and Pulling" page gives young readers their own intellectual prod. For one: "Heavy things are hard for Bird to move. Can you name three things that are too heavy for you to move?"

It's become de rigueur to introduce little kids to science concepts, and Bird Builds a Nest is among those with standout illustrations. In fact, Richard Jones's nimble mixed-media compositions, which have the look of cut-paper tableaux, are downright suitable for framing. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: Bird Builds a Nest introduces young readers to the science and beauty of nest building.

Candlewick, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-6, 9780763693466

#Prettyboy Must Die

by Kim Reid

When teenage CIA agent Jake Morrow fouls up a mission in Ukraine, he convinces his boss to change his termination to an "indefinite" suspension. Jake tells her that it has always been a dream of his to attend Carlisle Academy and that, while there, he can "amass quality intel on some of the nation's top science research laboratories." Since the "Company is never supposed to spy on the homeland" and Jake is technically "off the job," his boss agrees and enrolls him as Peter Smith at the school. His real plan? Capture the hacker-for-hire he tracked to Carlisle--the one he nearly blew his cover trying to find in Ukraine. The problem? He's responsible for the death of Marchuk, head of the criminal network that hired the hacker, and Marchuk Jr. wants revenge.

Former foster kid Jake was chosen as the first agent in the CIA's high school recruitment program because he'd "always kept a low profile" as a criminal hacker. He's not fooling his new best friend, Bunker, however, a "freak thanks to fifteen years underground with... [his] dad's pre-millennium comic book and DVD collection." But Jake's not too worried about his cover until a photo of him tagged "#Prettyboy" goes viral. Hours later, masked gunmen--Marchuk Jr. among them--infiltrate his school.

With cell service and the Internet cut, Jake tries to figure out how to "stop the bad guys" with just "what's in [his] backpack." But Bunker and Katie, Jake's crush who has a mission herself, won't let him work alone. Readers will enjoy watching the crew neutralize hostile after hostile as they slowly unravel the real reason Marchuk's at Carlisle. With #Prettyboy Must Die, Kimberly Reid (Perfect Liars) gives adventure-seekers a fast-paced and suspenseful thriller. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

Discover: When his high school comes under siege, a teenage CIA operative must rely on his training, wit and two close friends to save the day.

Tor Teen, $17.99, hardcover, 288p., ages 13-up, 9780765390875


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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