Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, June 15, 2018

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster: A Short Walk Through a Wide World by Douglas Westerbeke

From My Shelf

From Russia, with Bookish Love

I've been "reading Russia" since first encountering the classics (Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin) and then the contemporaries (Solzhenitsyn, Akhmatova) in the mid-20th century, during my ancient college years. The adventure continues. I'm always ready for something new.

One of my favorite books this year is The Long Hangover: Putin's New Russia and the Ghosts of the Past by Shaun Walker (Oxford University Press), the Guardian's central and eastern Europe correspondent. A "large cast of Russian characters" populate Walker's book, from ordinary citizens to the man at the top ("Putin was, to some extent, the director of the post-Soviet story for modern Russia, but he was also very much a character in it.").

A speculative novel that's had a profound impact on me is the The Aviator by Eugene Vodolazkin,‎ translated by Lisa Hayden (Oneworld). When Innokenty Petrovich Platanov wakes up in 1999, he is a 100-year-old man in a 30-year-old body. Under a doctor's care, he gradually recovers memories from before he was cryogenically preserved as part of a Gulag experiment. What has he missed? Among other things, the rise and fall of the Soviet empire... and much of his life.

Other reads of note recently are Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea by Teffi (Nadezhda Lokhvitskaya), translated by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler, Anne Marie Jackson and Irina Steinberg (New York Review Books); and the amazing memoir Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich, translated by Bela Shayevich (Random House).

I also recommend 2017: A Novel by Olga Slavnikova, a Russian Booker Prize-winning work translated by‎ Marian Schwartz (Overlook Press). I began reading Slavnikova in 2012 after seeing her on a book conference panel, where she stressed the importance of translators while serving up a sharp little jab: "The only way to reach the American reader is to have the books translated so well they read like they were written in English." Well played, I thought at the time. --Robert Gray, contributing editor

Sleeping Bear Press: When You Go Into Nature by Sheri M Bestor, Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

The Writer's Life

Helen Hoang: The Case for Neurodiverse Romance Heroines

photo: Eric Kieu

Helen Hoang's love of romance novels began in childhood. In her own debut romance novel, she created a cast of characters beginning with the unusually talented but also unusually challenged autistic heroine Stella Lane. The Kiss Quotient (Berkley, June 5, 2018, reviewed below) is the first in a series, with Bride Test scheduled for release in 2019 and a third after that. Hoang lives in San Diego, Calif., with her husband, two kids and pet fish.

The question that is surely on every reader's mind: to what extent is The Kiss Quotient based on a true story?

While The Kiss Quotient is a work of fiction (I've never hired a male escort to be my practice boyfriend, or anything else), significant parts of it are based upon my own experiences.

I wrote this book while I was personally undergoing diagnosis for autism spectrum disorder (I wasn't diagnosed until age 34) and, through Stella, I explored parts of myself I'd never understood and always tried to hide: difficulty with relationships and intimacy, all-consuming interests, social awkwardness, routines, repetitive motions, etc. Stella's struggle to accept her differences and share her label mirrors mine.

To Michael I gave my tight-knit family, complete with the passel of sisters, the trouble-causing dad, the health issues and the relating drama. Family has always been my greatest treasure, but at the same time, love like that brings the kind of responsibility and obligation you can't escape from, not without losing everything that matters.

Do you see yourself in Stella?

I'm far more cynical than Stella, and she's way smarter--but her thought processes and many of her quirks are mine. She's the me I wish I was.

As a reader, it's easy to fall in love with Michael--he is one of the closest embodiments to a perfect man. What do you see as his faults?

It makes me extremely happy to hear Michael referred to this way, since as we know, he's Asian, has unconventional occupations, and is therefore fighting those associated stereotypes. His faults all boil down to insecurity, mostly from things beyond his control. In order to earn a happy future with Stella, he has to overcome these insecurities.

It's exciting to see a heroine with autism. We read plenty about men with autism disorders but not nearly as much about women with that diagnosis. What are you most hoping The Kiss Quotient will accomplish?

I had two goals when I wrote Stella: (1) I wanted to offer a peek into the mind of an autistic woman and show that while her thought processes may be slightly different, she still has the same fundamental needs and desires as anyone else, and (2) I hoped to bring extra awareness to the existence and under-diagnosis of autism in women. Maybe this romance novel can strike a chord with other women like me and help them find their way toward diagnoses of their own and potentially that of their daughters, as well.

For all those autistic people out there trying to figure out romantic relationships, as well as for neurotypical people who are bewildered by the dating world, how did you meet your husband? Any interesting anecdotes about your courtship?

Traditional courtship is like this: men do the pursuing. Women respond by playing hard to get. Mind games ensue until both parties admit their interest.

I didn't do any of that. Senior year of college, when a certain someone caught my eye (he was a physics grad student who taught martial arts in his down time--so sexy, right?!), I joined his class with the sole purpose of getting to know him. It didn't take long for me to discover this person had real potential. Not only did we have common interests, but the way he looked at me, the way he listened to me, even the way he said my name like he enjoyed the sound of it, felt just right.

After the first class, I asked him to lunch. And he said no, he wasn't hungry. After the second class, I asked him to dinner. And he said no, he'd already eaten. After the third class, I asked him to dessert. And he said no, it was too late for sweets. After the fourth class, I invited him to a party at my house. He said he'd show up. But then he had food poisoning. After the last class of the semester, I invited him to see Return of the King with me. Ding ding ding! I should have known Lord of the Rings would do it. He didn't realize it was a date until after the movie, but by then he was bewitched by my charms and bulldog tenacity.

In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have asked him out so many times. After the first couple rejections (or maybe the first one), a people-savvy person would have assumed he wasn't interested, but that idea never occurred to me. I just thought he wasn't hungry. And good thing, because it turns out he's just as clueless as I am and likely neurodiverse himself. He was my first and only boyfriend and quite perfect for me.

What is it that draws you to romance novels?

I read (and write) romance novels for the emotions--to understand them and to experience them.

I'm lucky enough to have the ability to read faces, but that isn't always enough to tell me what people are feeling. It definitely isn't enough to tell me why. In a romance novel, however, emotions are all written down clearly on the page, and they make sense. The author literally tells you the whole story. It's a fascinating window into people's minds.

Also, I am an emotionally reserved person in real life. There are several reasons for that, but one of them is self-preservation. I can't be devastated if I'm never invested, but on the flip side, I miss out on a lot that way, too. The special thing about romance is that it always has a happy ending. It's a defining rule of the genre. Because of this, romance novels allow me to let my guard down and experience a full range of emotion, from first kiss, to heartbreak, to, as promised, happily ever after.

For budding writers out there, can you share anything about your writing process that might serve as inspiration?

The best writing advice I can give is the same life advice that got me a husband: Never give up. Natural writing talent probably exists, but I don't have it. When I started writing, I was fabulously horrible at it. Luckily, it's a learnable skill. If you don't give up, you can and will improve. If you love what you're doing, that is success right there. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Book Candy

Phenomenal Fictional Fathers

For Father's Day, Quirk Books considered some "fictional dads we secretly want to be."


"Only true book lovers will score 100% on this quiz," Buzzfeed challenged.


"The surprising practice of binding old books with scraps of even older books" was explored by Atlas Obscura.


CBC Books gathered "90 facts about the wild world of Maurice Sendak."


Author Marc Mulholland picked his "top 10 working-class heroes in books" for the Guardian.

Great Reads

Rediscover: The Road from Coorain

Jill Ker Conway, an Australian-American author who was also the first woman president of Smith College, died on June 1 at age 83. She was born on a 32,000-acre sheep ranch deep in the Australian outback, with little company growing up except her parents, brothers and a teacher. The ranch, called Coorain (an Aboriginal word for windy place), prospered until a seven-year drought. When Conway was 11, her father drowned while attempting to expand Coorain's irrigation system. After a further three years of drought, Conway's mother moved the family to Sydney, where Jill struggled to integrate with her new peers. She went on to graduate from the University of Sydney and moved to the United States in 1960. She received a Ph.D. from Harvard, met a Canadian professor who later became her husband, and taught at the University of Toronto from 1964 to 1975. Conway was the president of Smith College from 1975 to 1985, and thereafter a visiting professor at MIT.

Conway's writing career began with the publication of her first memoir, The Road from Coorain, in 1989. It tracks her early life in the outback and her moves to Sydney and the U.S. Her second memoir, True North (1994), follows Conway's time teaching in Toronto. She also wrote A Woman's Education (2001) and When Memory Speaks: Reflections on Autobiography (1998), and was the editor of several books, including Written by Herself: Autobiographies of American Women (1992) and In Her Own Words: Women's Memoirs from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States (1999). She received a National Humanities Medal in 2013. The Road from Coorain was last published in 1990 by Vintage Departures ($15.95, 9780679724360). --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


Us Against You

by Fredrik Backman

With each new book, Fredrik Backman, author of A Man Called OveBritt-Marie Was Here and Beartown, manages to raise the stakes of exceptionalism. Through Backman's astute examination of humanity, Us Against You will elicit snickers and full-blown belly laughs. It will rip out hearts, then replace them stronger than before. Most of all, it is sure to prompt readers to examine their lives in order to be better people, if only in microscopic ways.
Peter, the local hockey club's general manager, was forced to make an unimaginable decision at the conclusion of Beartown. The fallout from that decision opens Us Against You: the town's hockey program is dangerously close to bankruptcy; its demise appears inevitable. That is, until an anonymous new sponsor offers to save the team--with certain stipulations.
Ana, a teenager who lives with her father in Beartown, feels more comfortable in the forest than anywhere else. She regularly gives of herself, but in a moment of weakness triggered by hurt and embarrassment, Ana makes a choice that throws the town into violent turmoil. Meanwhile, Richard Theo is a politician who presents himself as an advocate for his constituents but is ultimately and deceitfully advancing his own agenda.
Backman juggles these characters and more as people battle to bring together the Beartown hockey A-team. His balancing act is masterfully executed with empathy, humor and ingenuity, emphasized by the pitch-perfect portrait of a tired, crumbling small town. Fans of Backman will not be disappointed. His work continues to amaze and captivate, enlighten and thrill. Those unfamiliar with his novels need to pick them up posthaste; Us Against You is a perfect one to grab. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: In the sequel to Beartown, the residents of a small, embattled town struggle to maintain their beloved hockey team amid violence, deceit and hate.

Atria, $28, hardcover, 448p., 9781501160790

The Storm

by Arif Anwar

The Storm by Arif Anwar is a welcome addition to the fledgling collection of post-colonial literature by Bangladeshi authors writing about their country's war for independence, displacement of their fellow citizens by natural disasters and the immigrant experience. Anwar takes it further, much further, by creating an impressive cast of characters with lives and fortunes that intersect in unexpected ways with Bangladesh's history. From Washington, D.C., to Calcutta to Chittagong and Burma, Anwar journeys through time to unfurl the full breath and strength of the storm that is the literal and figurative center of his ambitious debut novel.
Honufa is a peasant woman; Jamir is her fisherman husband. Shahyrar is a young father desperate to find a way to stay in the U.S. His parents, Rahim and Zahira, flee from Calcutta to Chittagong after partition. Claire is a doctor stationed with the British army in Burma, and Ichiro is her patient, a young Japanese pilot captured after his plane is shot down. Through these seemingly disparate individuals, Anwar brings to life the brutal partition of India, Bangladesh's emergence as an independent nation and the historic storm of 1970 that wiped out more than half a million people.
Anwar's work for the renowned NGOs Unicef and BRAC is the foundation for his keen understanding of war's destructive effect on humanity and the ways in which the experience of war stays with people, affecting subsequent generations, long after it is officially over. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: A panoramic, multigenerational saga set against the backdrop of Bangladesh's violent birth as an independent nation.

Atria, $26, hardcover, 320p., 9781501174506

Little Big Love

by Katy Regan

One night in June 2005 changes the lives of a family in Little Big Love by British author Katy Regan. Set in Grimsby, a small fishing village in England, the story is told from three distinct perspectives of the Hutchinson family. Zac is a precocious, inquisitive 11-year-old, who has blue eyes just like his father's. He is obsessed with food, the memory of his deceased Uncle Jamie, a chef who died a tragic death, and finding his father, Liam, who left before Zac was born.
Zac's mother, Juliet, is a single mom who has a tendency to overeat and to shoplift food from grocery stores. She still carries a torch for her old flame, Liam Jones. Her inability to get over his departure makes dating a challenge--often quite comical. Finally, there is Mick, her dad, ensnarled in the devastating situation that tore his family apart--a situation that has kept his daughter and his wife in a state of inertia for 10 years, and has burdened him with secrets.
The inability of the three narrators to move beyond the impact and implications of the night that changed everything--a night that, in its aftermath, has perpetuated lies and mystery--forms the impetus for this moving, bittersweet story that seeks to unravel the truth of what really happened and why.
Little Big Love is Katy Regan's U.S. debut; as in her U.K. releases (How We MetThe One Before the One), she delivers an affirming, buoyant novel populated by authentic, empathetic characters, young and old, who infuse her adventurous story with great poignancy, humor and heart. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A lovable, determined, 11-year-old boy seeks to unravel a decade-long mystery in his family and finally find his birth father.

Berkley, $26, hardcover, 368p., 9780451490346

The Crossing

by Jason Mott

In Jason Mott's dystopian novel The Crossing, a mysterious disease is claiming the lives of the elderly, while a world war sends the young to almost certain death. People wear gas masks, quarantine themselves from loved ones, and throw end-of-the-world parties in a different town every night. Seventeen-year-old Virginia remembers everything she's ever seen, read or heard, including the death of her parents. When her twin brother, Tommy, is drafted, the siblings embark on a disastrous journey to Cape Canaveral to watch a shuttle launch, in hopes of escaping Tommy's fate, connecting them once more to their space-obsessed father, and witnessing perhaps the last beautiful thing in a dying world.
Mott's vision of the U.S.--protested by draft dodgers, divided by fear, on the brink of economic and social collapse--feels at once vintage, current and futuristic. The disease, in which sufferers simply fall asleep and never wake, is gentler and more accessible than the plagues of other post-apocalyptic stories, though no less debilitating. Some plot points seem implausible, but the themes Mott (The Returned) brings up are worth considering. The past lives on in memory, though for Virginia, it's more curse than blessing. Around her, people stay hopeful by singing opera, having children and keeping their families close, despite illness. And her parents' advice remains true: it's not just possible, but necessary, to find beauty in an ugly world. --Katy Hershberger, freelance writer and bookseller

Discover: An enjoyable novel about two teens at the end of the world--one who's forgotten the past and one who's doomed to remember it.

Park Row, $26.99, hardcover, 336p., 9780778330738


The Kiss Quotient

by Helen Hoang

Helen Hoang's straight-laced heroine in The Kiss Quotient is Stella Lane, a successful Bay Area econometrician in her 30s reluctantly searching for love. Stella is clueless about men and the idea of dating is terrifying, but her traditional mother has already made it clear that she wants grandchildren and Stella is a most obedient daughter.
The Kiss Quotient is not a typical romance novel because Stella is not your run-of-the-mill romance heroine. She has a high functioning form of autism, also known as Asperger syndrome, which is a serious social handicap for her. Being autistic is great for her job--work is comforting and she spends her weekends hunched over her office computer--but it's a disaster for her personal life. As in, she doesn't have one. Stella has a hard time reading social cues, she doesn't like to touch or be touched, she gets easily overstimulated and can't deviate too much from her daily routines and obsessions.
Stella's quest for a romantic relationship leads her to hire Michael, a professional escort, to teach her the skills she lacks in attracting a mate. Happily for the reader, Michael breaks through what one might expect of a male escort; his relationship with Stella is a series of engaging twists and turns that offer seismic shocks in the most delightful and entertaining of ways.
Autistic heroines are rare, especially in romance fiction. Stella's story contributes to a newly enlightened era where autistic girls and women can see themselves represented in a variety of literary genres. The Kiss Quotient is a gratifying read for anyone perplexed by complex, unspoken rules governing affairs of the heart. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: This romance novel features a highly functioning autistic woman and the unlikely hero who captures her heart.

Berkley, $15, paperback, 336p., 9780451490803


Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo"

by Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston's Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo," written in 1931 but unpublished until now, blends autobiography, history and folklore to tell the story of the life of Cudjo Lewis. Born Kossola in what is now Benin and sold into slavery at age 19, he was the oldest known survivor of the last ship to bring enslaved people to the United States. In 1927, Hurston recorded his story.
Hurston's original text merges with a substantial introduction by Deborah G. Plant to shore up, clarify or complicate Kossola's narrative and related events. Still, Kossola takes center stage. His recollection of life as a "tree of two woods... grown together" moves with heft and certainty. While his vernacular may be a challenge for some, using his spoken word is an act of respect. Barracoon's strength is its emphasis on the power of witnesses and testimonies; converting his words into standard English would have lessened the storyteller and the historical moment.
Although Hurston and Kossola's relationship is a small part of Barracoon, it's arguably its heart. Communing with Hurston over shared peaches and steamed crab, Kossola slips in and out of reverie. At times he's overcome with emotion, and Hurston regrets having come to "worry this captive in a strange land." She listens to him speak of the dead and of needing to tend his garden, of matters both spiritual and mundane. When not sending her away, he enjoys her company.
The name Kossola means "my children do not die anymore." Barracoon promises his permanence. --Shannon Hanks-Mackey, freelance editor and managing editor at the Black Scholar

Discover: This is the account of an 86-year-old survivor of the last slave ship to arrive in the United States.

Amistad, $24.99, hardcover, 208p., 9780062748201

Rome: A History in Seven Sackings

by Matthew Kneale

Rome isn't just a millennia-old city. It's been the seat of multiple empires, moments that changed world history and, of course, a battle ground. In Rome: A History in Seven Sackings, British author (and resident of Rome) Matthew Kneale looks at the history of the city through some of its darkest hours, using its near-destructions and resurrections as a novel way to deconstruct how the city became one of the most important in the world.
Starting with a Gallic invasion when Rome was barely a city, Kneale skips across the centuries, following Roman, then Catholic, then Italian disputes with neighbors, other empires and each other. He keenly provides background on each conflict while also painting a lively portrait of what the city was like during those periods. Even as he describes war and death, Kneale keeps things rather upbeat, making sure that the book is not one gigantic slog (though his final chapter on the Nazi invasion does leave a bitter aftertaste).
Throughout Rome are wily popes, vicious warriors from Central Europe, desperate Holy Roman Emperors and the people of the city themselves. More than anything, Kneale is best when describing the circumstances a common Roman would experience during the seven sieges described. It's rarely good news, but that underscores the author's larger point about the city: Romans truly have seen it all. This is a perfect book for those interested in a quick, fun introduction to the city's past. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: Matthew Kneale's Rome: A History in Seven Sackings deftly brings out Roman history in a concise, fun way.

Simon & Schuster, $30, hardcover, 432p., 9781501191091

Nature & Environment

Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore

by Elizabeth Rush

Journalist Elizabeth Rush's Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore is science, poetry and personal witness, concerned with human and more-than-human communities. It is a reckoning with the ugly reality of climate change, with numbers and predictions becoming grimmer each year. It is a poetic meditation on the nature of change, on how people can make peace with a changing world and our affect on it. And it is an impassioned consideration of the injustices humans perpetrate on one another and on the non-human world.
Rush saw firsthand the reality of rising sea levels in inland Bangladesh. It took her years to follow that story to the U.S. communities she visited in researching and writing this book. In Rhode Island, Louisiana, Maine, Florida, New York, Oregon and California, Rush interviews local residents, observes local flora and fauna and questions scientists. She studies climate change and the rise of sea levels globally, but particularly in wetland ecosystems.
Rush's concerns begin with plants and animals: salt marsh harvest mouse, roseate spoonbill, Caspian tern, rufous hummingbird, red knot, black tupelo. But she quickly extrapolates them to tell a human story, too, about the people threatened alongside greater egret and cypress, and about her own struggle to navigate hope and action within despair.
Rising is in some ways a difficult read; its subjects are sobering and saddening. They are important to consider, regardless of the pain they may cause, but Rising has more to offer: pulsing, gleaming prose and a stubborn search for, if not hope, then peace in the face of disaster. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This study of rising sea levels puts both science and poetry to work in honoring human and non-human coastal communities across the United States.

Milkweed Editions, $26, hardcover, 320p., 9781571313676


Men in Blazers Present Encyclopedia Blazertannica: A Suboptimal Guide to Soccer, America's "Sport of the Future" Since 1972

by Michael Davies, Roger Bennett

Roger Bennett (Rog) and Michael Davies (Davo)--together known as Men in Blazers--post a weekly podcast, host regular television shows on NBCSN and produce soccer-themed short films. Their output is a mix of hard soccer analysis and inside humor, the latter of which is most evident in this, their first book.
Both British transplants, they are highly entertaining and extremely funny. Rog is the post-Dennis Miller King of References--some literary, some pop-culture. He wanted to relocate to the U.S. for multiple reasons, including a mild obsession with Molly Ringwald. Davo often ends up playing the straight man with drier and subtler humor.
Men in Blazers Present Encyclopedia Blazertannica covers the cultures of international and U.S. football (soccer) clubs, but also such important subjects as players' neck tattoos, facial hair and mullets. They share Portuguese phrases they picked up when they covered the 2014 World Cup in Rio: Estou sem dinheiro. Sequestra ele ao inves de mim. ("I have no money. Kidnap him instead.") They imagine a Game of Thrones Ultimate Starting XI: Daenerys Stormborn is, of course, a striker, and Hodor, the keeper. And they give good advice on celebratory knee slides: when to abort (on AstroTurf) and when to add a flourish (in the rain).
Their claim that this is the "first book jacketed in tweed" appears valid. The book will be appreciated most by their GFOPs (Great Friends of the Pod), an intensely loyal fan base, familiar with MIB's lexicon. However, given the wide range of entries in Blazertannica, it will prove enormous fun for all soccer fans. --George Carroll, editor,

Discover: The U.S.'s most popular soccer pundits provide an offbeat take on the game.

Knopf, $27.95, hardcover, 224p., 9781101875988

Art & Photography

Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous

by Christopher Bonanos

Before there was even a word for photojournalism and the front page of the New York Times was still mostly a text-only eye test, Ukrainian immigrant Usher Fellig staked claim to the handle "Weegee the Famous" and nightly prowled the streets of New York City shooting crime scenes and disasters. Across from what was the back door of the Centre Street Police Headquarters building, he kept his 4x5 Speed Graphic camera and flashgun beside his iron cot, ready to go whenever the sirens sounded. In his Weegee biography, Flash, journalist and New York magazine editor Christopher Bonanos (Instant: The Story of Polaroid) uncovers the man and hard work behind the camera.
If he made his mark with graphic crime scenes (what Weegee described as "one good murder a night, with a fire and a holdup thrown in"), it was his shifting attention to the onlookers and backgrounds of the scenes that lifted his work from the pages of the Daily News or Mirror to his first showing at the Museum of Modern Art. As Bonanos notes, Weegee became "a messenger from the indecorous parts of the city to its nicer ones."
In Flash, Bonanos conversationally chronicles the wild life and weird ways of this early practitioner of photojournalism and street life photography. Well-illustrated with many examples of his iconic shots, it is an assured, authoritative picture of the man who called himself Weegee the Famous. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Christopher Bonanos's solid and sympathetic biography of Weegee describes a complex man who lived to shoot good pictures--and make a name for himself.

Holt, $32, hardcover, 400p., 9781627793063

Children's & Young Adult

Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe

by Preston Norton

Sixteen-year-old Clifford Hubbard is 6'6" and 250 pounds: a "Grand Canyon-assed, Twinkie-and small-children-eating," "solemn warning of Darwinism gone wrong," according to his classmates at Happy Valley High School (HVHS). But most simply call him Neanderthal. To get through, Cliff abides by the "three rules to high school" that his idolized older brother, Shane, established. Rule number one: "It's all bullsh*t." Rule two: "People suck." And rule three: "Fists speak louder than words." Ever since Shane's suicide a year ago, Cliff has become more bitter, sardonic and violent. "If it was possible for me to give negative sh*ts," he thinks, "I'd distribute those like a six-year-old flower girl at a wedding."
When popular quarterback Aaron Zimmerman falls into a coma after a boating accident, then experiences a miraculous recovery and returns to school saying he saw God, Cliff's "Weird Sh*t-O-Meter" goes "off the scale." Aaron claims God gave him a list of things to do to make HVHS a better place and says that God "put a lot of emphasis" on Clifford Hubbard being his assistant. Thus begins an outrageous attempt by the oddest pairing in HVHS's history to right the wrongs of their Montana high school. Cliff and Aaron tackle (not always literally) drug dealers, a vicious bully, a good teacher gone bad, a clique of extremely unchristian "Jesus Teens" and a mysterious computer hacker called HAL. By the end of their strange mission, Cliff and Aaron have righted plenty of their own wrongs as well.
Preston Norton's (Blüd and Magick; Marrow) characters speak with a whip-smart, profanity-laced snark that belies the fragility lurking in even the biggest brutes. Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe is a book for any teen, teeming with despair, hope and transcendence. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: In this biting, hilarious, gut-wrenching novel, a huge disgruntled teen is recruited on a crazy mission by the most popular kid in school to rehabilitate bullies, uncaring teachers and drug dealers.

Disney-Hyperion, $17.99, hardcover, 416p., ages 14-up, 9781484790625

Saturday Is Swimming Day

by Hyewon Yum

The stomachache ploy can't get a little girl out of her Saturday morning swim lesson. Armed with her "strawberry bathing suit" and "too-small swim cap," she arrives at the pool, where swim teacher Mary offers little comfort. On the "slippery and cold" pool deck overrun by children loud with happy anticipation, the girl remains virtually paralyzed, her head squeezed by her ill-fitting cap, her belly in turmoil. The other students eagerly jump in, but teacher Mary doesn't insist the child participate--she instead sits "on the edge of the pool the whole time."
The next week, despite another "very bad stomachache," she returns to the pool. This time, Mary entices the girl to practice "ice-cream scoops and kicks," always remaining at her side. By the third Saturday, the stomachache improves, while a new, looser swim cap gives her thinking space. Although she faces the water "carefully," she's eager to show Mary the kicks she's practiced at home in the bathtub. Floating comes next, then a few bobs... until she's actually looking forward to next week's aquatic challenges.
Author/illustrator Hyewon Yum, who earned the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award with Mom, It's My First Day of Kindergarten!, moves from school to the pool in Saturday Is Swimming Day. Yum uses phrases like "my stomach hurt," "[m]y head felt tight inside my swim cap," "[t]he pool was loud," to signal the girl's anxiety and fear. Her vibrant watercolor and colored pencil pictures amplify the little girl's concerns, depicting her stooped over in defeat, hiding in a locker or hugging the walls, all while surrounded by rambunctious, water-loving children. As the little girl cautiously moves--very much at her own pace--toward comfort and confidence, Yum captures the power of empathic patience to turn apprehension into accomplishment. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Swimming lessons give a little girl stomachaches--until her patient teacher gently draws her into the water for floating, bobbing, splashing fun.

Candlewick Press, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-6, 9780763691172

Lions & Liars

by Kate Beasley, illus. by Dan Santat

Ten-year-old Frederick Frederickson is not the guy who wins games and walks around school like he owns the place. He's the guy "who missed the shot and lost the game for everyone else, the one who got laughed at." Frederick's friend Joel has a philosophy about people: some are lions, some are gazelles and some are fleas on meerkat butts. And, although Frederick's always been okay being a "loser," believing that he would one day transform, like Harry Potter becoming a wizard, he's beginning to worry. He suspects--and his so-called friends corroborate--that he's the flea.
The one bright spot in Frederick's life is the annual Labor Day cruise his family takes. But this year, warnings of an impending hurricane put the kibosh on the trip. Frustrated, Frederick bumbles through a series of poor choices that, combined with some bad luck, leave him--literally--up a creek without a paddle. He awakens on a sandy bank on the grounds of Camp Omigoshee, where delinquent "boys are transformed," according to the camp propaganda. Mistaken for a notorious bad boy named Dashiell Blackwood, Frederick suddenly, magically, becomes the popular ringleader for his cabin group. Not surprisingly, the deception eventually goes terribly wrong, and Frederick/Dashiell once again is in a terrible predicament, with the aforementioned hurricane now headed straight for Camp Omigoshee!
Like Holes for a slightly younger age group, Lions & Liars is a funny, slightly dark story about the assumptions we make about others and the self-fulfilling prophesies with which we curse ourselves. Kate Beasley (Gertie's Leap to Greatness) and Caldecott Award-winning artist Dan Santat (The Adventures of Beekle) team up in this funny, accessible and thought-provoking novel, which will have readers rooting for the flea on the butt of the meerkat every time. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A string of unlucky events leads 10-year-old Frederick to a disciplinary camp for boys, where he finds himself uncharacteristically the leader of the pack... until the hurricane comes.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 8-12, 9780374302634


Author Buzz

Dragon Kiss
(A Dragon Kings Novella)

by Donna Grant

Dear Reader,

Welcome back to the Dragon Kings! I'm thrilled to bring you DRAGON KISS. The world of the Dragon Kings keeps expanding, and this story brings us Alasdair and Lotti, a powerful couple who have overcome all odds to find love. But a deadly enemy intends to rip them apart.

I can't wait for you to fall in love with Alasdair and Lotti as I have.


Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Dragon Kiss (A Dragon Kings Novella) by Donna Grant

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 9, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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