Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, July 27, 2018

William Morrow & Company: Southern Man (Penn Cage #7) by Greg Iles

From My Shelf

Notes from Shanghai

Our first stop was for spicy noodles after a long day on a train from Beijing to Shanghai. Our second was a little shop in the French Concession serving English-language literature and gelato. By now my boyfriend knows that when we travel, I'll find us at least one bookstore--per city. Dessert was just a bonus.
It was a sleepy Thursday evening on Shaanxi Road, and we were the only customers, so I took the opportunity to ask the bored staff for recommendations. Fiction about contemporary China, ideally. One bookseller handed me The Seventh Day by Yu Hua (Anchor, $16), like he'd known me for years. I had missed its initial U.S. release in 2015, but an ethereally wistful yet morbidly funny sojourn through the afterlife? Count me in! I basically swallowed it whole.
Savoring our gelato, my boyfriend and I continued through the French Concession, not realizing just how long we would wander there. Even when we thought we might explore another neighborhood, our plans kept bringing us back.
In retrospect, it was like Ma Bo'le's circuitous perambulations in Xiao Hong's tragicomic novel Ma Bo'le's Second Life (Open Letter, $15.95). Of course, Ma was puttering around the French Concession in the 1930s, apprehensive about the Japanese siege. Through this episodic, Dickensian story, Xiao nimbly observes the pull of Westernization and tension of impending war. I couldn't help but fly through it just this week, with a growing longing for a second chance at Shanghai.
It's true I've fallen in love a bit. And though I may not return for quite some time, I feel fortunate that Lucy Tan's debut, What We Were Promised (Little, Brown, $26), was waiting for me when I got home. It's set in contemporary Shanghai, and our review (below) calls it "an astute portrait of a staid family thrown into disarray." Looks like I have my weekend reading cut out for me. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

The Writer's Life

Rosie Walsh: A Reason for Ghosting

photo: Anna Pumer Photography
The exuberant Rosie Walsh, a former contributor to Marie Claire magazine and a documentary film producer (and author of four romance mysteries under the pseudonym Lucy Robinson), is making her U.S. debut with Ghosted (reviewed below). Many of us can relate to the phenomenon of being "ghosted" and what it feels like to never hear from someone again. Having experienced it herself too many times, Walsh decided to write a novel about that rare time when there might be a good reason behind the ghosting.
Why did you to write under a pseudonym for your four prior novels and switch to your real name for Ghosted?
I started out under a pseudonym because I was writing a dating blog for Marie Claire. Clearly, I couldn't use my real name, because who would go on a date with a woman who was going to write about it the next day? For everyone's sake, I took on a nom de plume. I just picked the name of the girl who lived next door to me--I gave it very little thought. It certainly didn't cross my mind that this name would end up appearing on the front of four book jackets! But I liked that those books came out under a pseudonym. I think, deep down, I wanted to keep my own name for a book that came straight from my soul, and Ghosted was that book. As soon as my agent started reading it, she proposed that we send it out on submission under my own name. 
Ghosted is your first novel to be published in the U.S. and there is global buzz surrounding the book. What would you say is the winning formula of Ghosted?
Firstly, Eddie's disappearance provides readers with a major mystery to solve--a mystery that most of us, at some point, will have had to solve in our own lives. And no sooner is it solved, another one pops up. These mysteries, studded with twists, keep the pace thundering along.
Yet in amongst all these twists and turns, there runs not only an epic love story, but a tale of grief, forgiveness, family and mental health. In this respect, I think Ghosted draws on many genres, so probably appeals to a wide readership.
What influence did your career as a documentary film producer have on your fiction writing?
It taught me the fundamentals of storytelling. You can't just pitch a documentary about an interesting subject these days--you need to go in with a fully rounded narrative arc. I find it very difficult to start a book unless I have the full arc planned out, and this means plotting a great deal of detail before writing a single word. It can be paralyzing, but it works for me.
You make clever use of texts and Facebook posts to build suspense. What role does technology play in making it easier or harder to ghost someone?
It's as easy to ghost someone now as it was 50 years ago. It's what happens next that's different. Before mobile phones and social media, you could tell yourself any number of lies about why your phone hasn't rung--you could convince yourself that they'd lost your phone number or that they had dropped dead in the street. Nowadays, with digital connectivity as it is, it takes a great leap of faith to convince yourself of the above. (And yet we all still do it. Myself included.)
An underlying theme in your novels is the protagonist who is not what he or she seems.  What attracts you to characters with mystery and enigma?
Are any of us who we seem? There have been two recent and widely reported suicides in the U.S.--Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Both seemed successful, happy, confident--they have inspired fashion designers and chefs around the world. And yet both carried an inner pain that became too great to bear. Our outer lives are curated and edited all day long, whereas our inner worlds remain a mystery. I think it's hard for any writer not to be curious about that contrast.
Your website is filled with inspiration and advice for fledgling writers. Who or what encouraged, influenced or inspired you to write fiction?
A woman named Kate Burke who used to work for Penguin Random House in the U.K. e-mailed me, having read the blog I was writing for Marie Claire in 2009 about Internet dating. She encouraged me to write a book. I said, "No thanks, I'm not a fiction writer." She answered, "Are you sure?" I was pretty sure, but I thought there was no harm trying it. I sat down one night in October '09 to "start my novel." I spent four hours staring at my computer screen. The next day I e-mailed her and asked, "How do you actually write a novel?" Her response--which still makes me laugh today--was uncompromising. She told me to "just write a novel!" It took many years to bring together the approach to writing that I outline on my website! --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Book Candy


Author Liese O'Halloran Schwarz chose her "top 10 books about self-reinvention" for the Guardian.


Pop lit quiz: "Guess the book titles using only emoji," Electric Lit challenged.


"Jane Austen loathed the Prince Regent, who later became George IV, but he might have been one of her first readers," the New York Times reported.


"After nine tries, the husband of celebrity chef Paula Deen has won the Ernest Hemingway Look-Alike Contest," the Guardian reported.


Author Lauren Groff recently tweeted a list of "40 of the books that make up my brain."


A 2,000-year-old mystery papyrus reveals its secrets," Atlas Obscura reported, adding: "For centuries, no one could read it."


"Which Great American Read are you?" Penguin Random House wondered.


From Peter Carey to Cormac McCarthy, author Paul Howarth shared his "top 10 tales from the frontier" with the Guardian.


From Catullus to Dylan Thomas, author Ruth Padel picked her "top 10 elegies" for the Guardian.


Bustle revealed "7 surprising things librarians do other than check out books."


"A literary themed hotel in Portugal is a bookworm's dream complete with its own library and even a gin bar," the Times Mirror.


Great Reads

Rediscover: Harry Potter

On September 1, 1998, readers in the United States got their first magical taste of what would become a global phenomenon. In the 20 years since Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone cast its spell on children and adults alike, J.K. Rowling's world of wizardry has summoned seven books, plus spinoffs, eight movies, plus spinoffs, whole amusement parks and a Diagon Alley's worth of other odds and ends. No fan of fantasy or young reader growing up in the late '90s/early aughts will ever forget the Boy Who Lived, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named or any of the dozens of other unforgettable characters and places sprung from Rowling's fertile imagination.

The celebrations surrounding such a major anniversary for such a storied franchise are as widespread and bewitching as their source material. Besides all kinds of parties and events, publishers are planning special editions of the Harry Potter books. Scholastic has released the seven Potter titles with new cover illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Brian Selznick. (They still include the original interior decorations by Mary GrandPré.) For those who can wait, the titles will appear next month as a boxed set, adorned with crests of each Hogwarts house and a closeup of Harry. --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


What We Were Promised

by Lucy Tan

After growing up in a silk-farming village, Lina Zhen left China as a new bride to pursue the American dream with Wei, the husband her father chose for her. Years later, the couple returns to Shanghai, though their 12-year-old daughter still spends the school term in the United States. Financially successful thanks to Wei's career in marketing, the Zhens move into the luxurious Lanson Suites, where former teacher Lina settles into life as a taitai--a housewife with no housekeeping responsibilities.
Both struggle to adjust: Lina striving to put on a polished appearance to fit in with the other wives in the apartment complex, Wei feeling that his work has no greater purpose. When Wei's brother, Qiang, calls after decades of no communication, his plan to visit throws Lina and Wei into private tailspins. Wei has spent years wondering if Qiang, who fell in with a gang as a teenager, is dead or alive. Lina, whose girlhood love for Qiang has lain dormant but not dead, wonders if he is finally coming back for her. Set against the backdrop of the 2010 World Expo, the Zhens' reunion will reopen old wounds and uncover the truths that divided them in the first place.
Winner of Ploughshares' Emerging Writer award, Lucy Tan draws an astute portrait of a staid family thrown into disarray in this assured first novel. She does not explore the Tolstoyan adage of unhappy families, but rather throws a stone into the still pool of carefully balanced domesticity. With its measuring of expectation against reality, What We Were Promised showcases Tan's sharp eye for the intricacies of human relationships. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Set in Shanghai, Lucy Tan's debut novel follows Wei and Lina Zhen's family crisis over the return of Wei's prodigal brother, who was also Lina's first love.

Little, Brown, $26, hardcover, 336p., 9780316437189

The Family Tabor

by Cherise Wolas

Adored by his family and admired by his community for a life of good works, Harry Tabor is a man who seems to have it all and to appreciate the good fortune that has brought him to this place at age 70. But as Cherise Wolas (The Resurrection of Joan Ashby) shows in her introspective second novel, "luck is a rescindable gift."
Wolas takes her time getting to the heart of her story, delivering ample servings of the history of Harry, his child psychologist wife, Roma, and their children, Phoebe, Camille and Simon. Everyone arrives in Palm Springs for a gala celebrating Harry's selection as Man of the Decade, for his 30 years of work resettling Jewish refugees from around the world in his California community. But as Wolas deliberately scrapes away the surface sheen of the Tabors' lives, she reveals how the secrets they've been keeping from each other have affected them. Chief among these is a massive transgression in Harry's previous life as a stockbroker that impelled him to uproot his family from their Connecticut home and move west in the classic paradigm of American reinvention.
Despite its roots in family drama and the mystery that propels its final third, The Family Tabor is, at its heart, a philosophical novel. Wolas poses big questions: What does it mean to live a good life? How can we atone for a serious misdeed?
"The past is not dead. It's not even past," wrote William Faulkner. The Family Tabor provides compelling evidence of that truth. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: A loving family is thrown into crisis when a secret from the patriarch's past emerges.

Flatiron Books, $27.99, hardcover, 400p., 9781250081452

Mary B: A Novel: An Untold Story of Pride and Prejudice

by Katherine J. Chen

Mary Bennet, as everyone knows, is the plain middle sister: not beautiful like Jane, witty like Lizzy or even high-spirited like her younger sisters, Kitty and Lydia. But though she may be awkward, Mary is far from dull, and in Katherine J. Chen's debut novel, Mary B, she finally gets a chance to tell her own story. Beginning with the events of Pride and Prejudice, but going far beyond them both in time and scope, Chen imagines a woman ill-suited for the family and the world into which she was born. Mary struggles to make her own way in life without giving in to either convention or despair.
The well-worn incidents comprising Lizzy's and Jane's love stories do make the narrative drag a bit. But the action picks up after Lizzy and Darcy are married, and Mary goes to stay with them at Pemberley. There, she discovers a surprising friendship with Darcy, an unexpected connection with his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam, and a latent passion for writing. The latter provides not only amusement and intellectual stimulation, but may change the course of her life. Gradually, Mary Bennet the minor character becomes Mary B the authoress, making bold choices for her fictional creations and herself.
Austen purists may be scandalized at Chen's reimagining of these familiar characters and her handling of the Darcys' relationship, but the book's plot twists are thought-provoking. Mary has long stopped believing in happy endings, but through sheer force of will and a series of unorthodox choices, she creates a surprising future for herself that might even include a bit of joy. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Mary Bennet, the awkward middle sister, finally gets to tell her own story in this acerbic, surprising debut novel.

Random House, $27, hardcover, 336p., 9780399592218

The Last Cruise

by Kate Christensen

It may come as no surprise that Kate Christensen, food blogger and author of the gastronomy memoir Blue Plate Special, sets her seventh novel, The Last Cruise, in a galley aboard the 1950s cruise ship Queen Isabella. The pampered guests on a roundtrip voyage to Hawaii gather to embark in Long Beach, Calif. Among them is a geriatric Israeli string quartet of Six-Day War veterans, including violinist Miriam. In her 70s, Miriam is still feisty enough to have a crush on the group's recent widower cellist--and is prepared to act on it during their carefree cruise.
On a work/play junket, 34-year-old Maine farmer Christine agrees to accompany her New York City friend Valerie, a webzine editor doing a story on the world's working class. Valerie plans to drink and schmooze her way through the rank and file while Christine enjoys a break from farm drudgery to dress for dinner and read from the shipboard library's collection of classic Waugh, Wharton and Wodehouse.
The ship's Hungarian sous-chef, Mick, oversees the fresh produce and luxury meat cuts stowed to satisfy a vintage menu heralding '50s decadence. He and the largely immigrant coterie of workers berthed on the lower decks are charged with providing the upper deck hoity-toity a retro experience. After the cruise, however, they are all being sacked, as the global corporate owner of the Isabella plans to send it to the scrapyard.
Like many novels of isolated microcosmic societies, The Last Cruise slips from a romantic storybook idyll to a struggle between haves and have nots. In the process, Christensen delivers an engrossing tale that reveals the fragile veneer of civilization. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Gathered for a carefree vintage voyage to Hawaii, a cultured mix of guests and crew find that sailing into the past doesn't leave the troubled present behind.

Doubleday, $26.95, hardcover, 304p., 9780385536288


by Rosie Walsh

Ghosted by British author Rosie Walsh is a modern story of love, both filial and romantic, thickly coated in mystery. Sarah, an L.A. transplant, meets Eddie while visiting her hometown of Gloucestershire. The two of them are swept up in an all-consuming romance and, despite the fact that they barely know each other, both are convinced that they have found their true-life partner. After seven blissful days they reluctantly part and Eddie promises to call. But then he doesn't.
Sarah's friends tell her to accept the fact that she's been "ghosted," but she refuses to give up on him. As the mystery of Eddie's silence deepens, the devastating past that Sarah spent her whole life trying to escape catches up with her. Walsh employs clever descriptive contrasts to reflect the very different worlds Sarah and Eddie inhabit: the cozy dampness of Gloucestershire against the stark brightness of L.A.; restless Sarah who fled to America versus stable, constant Eddie who stayed close to home; her high-visibility career and his quiet work as a traditional British cabinetmaker.
Ghosted heralds a new subgenre of romance mystery, one that builds relationship suspense through unreturned texts, deleted messages, mysterious Facebook posts and, of course, good old-fashioned phone calls. Walsh includes letter writing, too, to round out the communication struggles Sarah and Eddie face as they attempt to balance their need for each other with the consequences of being together. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: Radio silence, and all the mystery it brings, clouds a modern romance set in Gloucestershire, England.

Pamela Dorman/Viking, $26, hardcover, 352p., 9780525522775

Mystery & Thriller

On the Java Ridge

by Jock Serong

Devastatingly brilliant, Jock Serong's On the Java Ridge is an emotionally grueling mix of high-octane action, life-and-death political maneuvering and, at its heart, an anguishing portrayal of worldwide refugee crises. On the eve of federal elections, Minister for Border Integrity Cassius Calvert discloses a new policy regarding unannounced boats in Australian waters--no unidentified vessels will be offered maritime assistance.
Meanwhile, two phinisi (Indonesian-built sailboats) head toward Australia. The Takalar is packed with asylum seekers--men, women and children of varied ethnic backgrounds trying to escape the terror of their homelands. The Java Ridge, owned by a charter surfing company, is full of white Australians headed for legendary remote island waves.
The boats' trajectories result in an ill-fated meeting, and the Australian government becomes aware of a phinisi in potentially dire straits. Willing to sacrifice foreign lives to keep the favor of the electorate, officials stand behind the new policy. Even when Calvert suspects Australian lives may be at stake, he's ordered to stand down and maintain plausible deniability.
Serong (author of the 2015 Ned Kelly Award-winning Quota) writes masterfully from varied perspectives, crafting haunting characters struggling to survive in a raging sea of human horror and callous partisanship. Life aboard each boat is depicted in detail that highlights the dichotomy like a red-hot poker to the gut--cavalier tourists relieve themselves over deck rails as refugees struggle to maintain their dignity while living in their own waste. Beautiful, mournful, infuriating and brimming with tension, On the Java Ridge is utterly incomparable. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: As the passengers of two boats struggle for survival after a disastrous meeting at sea, Australian politicians refuse to respond.

Text Publishing, $15.95, paperback, 320p., 9781925498394

Science Fiction & Fantasy

One of Us

by Craig DiLouie

In 1968, a sexually transmitted disease called teratogenesis swept the globe. Infected mothers gave birth to monstrous infants. Many died, at first, but by the time scientists developed a test for the disease, a million malformed babies were born in the United States. Congress created a system of state-funded Homes for these cast-off miscreations. Strict reproductive laws stopped the spread of teratogensis, but it was too late to save the plague generation.
In 1984, in rural Georgia, Enoch Bryant, also known as Dog, lives in a ramshackle Home with hundreds of other unwanted plague kids. His generation seems destined to serve as a distrusted underclass, kept separate and subservient to normals. But the plague kids are also entering adolescence, and some are discovering they have abilities far beyond mere deformities. To Dog's dismay--and that of a federal agent looking for new test subjects--all Dog can do is run fast and snarl with his canine head. Dog's days doing farm work might be numbered if his ultra-genius friend Brain's revolution ever comes to pass. Meanwhile, he envies the normal kids who go to a regular school in the nearby town, one of whom is a monster passing for human.
One of Us is part AIDS-parable, slavery story (the Home is in an old plantation house), coming-of-age tale, period piece and so much more. Craig DiLouie has crafted something special, with sympathetic characters, tragedy, hope and humor all expertly woven together. One of Us is a stunning achievement in speculative fiction. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: In 1984 Georgia, a lost generation of mutated children forced apart from normal society reaches adolescence.

Orbit, $26, hardcover, 400p., 9780316411318


Cottage by the Sea

by Debbie Macomber

In Debbie Macomber's (If Not for You) latest, Cottage by the Sea, Annie Marlow, a physician assistant in her 20s, deals with the aftermath of a catastrophic mudslide that wiped out an entire Seattle community--including her family--one Thanksgiving weekend.
Annie, inundated by grief and red tape, takes a leave of absence from her job. In search of solace and a sense of home, she retreats to Oceanside, "a small, out of the way town" in the Pacific Northwest, where she and her family happily vacationed during the summer when she was a teenager. Annie accepts a temporary job at the town medical clinic. When she tries to rent the same cottage from her past, she finds the place overgrown and in disrepair. She convinces the landlord, Mellie Munson--a reclusive hermit just a few years older than Annie and emotionally paralyzed by a shattered romance--to rent her the place anyway. As Annie tries to spruce up the cottage, she is helped by Seth Keaton--a shy, reserved local painter, a towering figure in town with a sensitive heart--trying to hide his own life battle scars, as well as his feelings for Annie.
Her presence in the small seaside community becomes a rallying force for good until Annie is faced with a choice that could affect not only her life, but the lives of others, too. Macomber's tender story demonstrates how kindness, support and love can heal wounded hearts and souls, making them profoundly stronger in all the broken places. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A young woman mired by grief relocates to a small, seaside town where her presence fosters healing in herself--and others.

Ballantine Books, $27, hardcover, 352p., 9780399181252

Biography & Memoir

I Can't Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I've Put My Faith in Beyoncé

by Michael Arceneaux

Michael Arceneaux's inspiring and delightful debut collection of autobiographical essays about growing up black and gay in Texas is alternately hilarious and touching. "This book is about unlearning every damaging thing I've seen and heard about my identity and allowing myself the space to figure out who I am and what that means on my terms," writes Arceneaux. Growing up in a home with a rage-prone father and religious mother, he kept his sexuality under wraps. Calling himself a recovering Catholic, he still contends, "Catholic guilt never leaves you, and follows you everywhere; it's the herpes of your conscience."
Arceneaux details his fumbling sexual encounters, bad dates and his painful coming out to his mother: "As a gay man, you already have so many people against you," he writes. "Your family--especially your mother--is supposed to be in your corner as you battle these people, not throwing sucker punches with them." He finds solace and a source of strength in favorite musical divas Madonna, Janet Jackson and his goddess Beyoncé. One fascinating chapter covers his mixed feelings about gay people marrying. He's happy for the progress but doesn't see it in his future, writing, "The failure to learn how to love someone properly is a trait that has since been passed down to me."
While I Can't Date Jesus is filled with razor-sharp observations and sly and snarky one-liners, the book's most impressive attribute is Arceneaux's bravery and skill at tackling complex issues with humanity, eloquence and compassion. This book is a winner. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: This is a winning collection of funny and touching essays about growing up black and gay in the South.

Atria, $17, paperback, 256p., 9781501178856

Political Science

We're Doomed. Now What?: Essays on War and Climate Change

by Roy Scranton

"We've known that climate change was a threat since at least 1988, and the United States has done almost nothing to stop it. Today it might be too late," writes Roy Scranton. We're Doomed. Now What? is his latest book of essays focused first on climate change and then on war, whether as seen through the lens of his own experiences in Baghdad or upon his return to the city 10 years later as a journalist covering the elections. Scranton's thoughts are sobering and provocative as he ponders the next 20 to 30 years, with the potential for sea levels rising, food and potable water becoming scarce and the rich continuing to prosper while millions, possibly billions, are left in deprivation. Imaginary storm scenarios, "speculative realism," ecology and the loss of Arctic ice are some features in the shorter section on climate change.
Equally as challenging and confrontational are Scranton's musings on war: why he joined the army, why the United States ever sent troops to Iraq in the first place--what did the U.S. hope to gain by this?--and the effects war has on the people who serve on the front lines. Scranton skillfully integrates literature and philosophy into his own thoughts, creating multilayered writings that beg to be read slowly and carefully by a reader willing to pay attention for a steady length of time. Eye-opening and honest, these essays are like receiving a terminal diagnosis from a specialist while still leaving a margin of hope on the sides. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: War and its effects and climate change are the focus of these confrontational essays.

Soho Press, $16.95, paperback, 360p., 9781616959364

Children's & Young Adult

Mightier Than the Sword

by Alana Harrison, Drew Callander, illus. by Ryan Andrews

You're not a hero. At least, you don't think you're a hero... you can't quite remember. In fact, you can't remember anything since waking up on the beach with nothing but "an ordinary pencil" in your pocket and a note beside you. The note is alarming: "HELP! I'VE BEEN CAPTURED! DEAR HEAVENS, I BEG OF YOU, RESCUE ME! Prince S." It's confusing, not remembering anything, and "[d]espair smothers you like a heavy blanket woven by an evil grandma." The only thing to do is try to find this prince. As you wander through the strange land of Astorya, where stories written on Earth come to life, strange friends and foes cross your path. You learn that, in order to get home, you will have to save Prince S.--and your pencil may be the greatest weapon in the land.
In Drew Callander and Alana Harrison's first middle-grade novel, Mightier Than the Sword, "you" is the main character. Told in a hilarious, second-person voice, this thrilling interactive adventure invites readers to draw, write and create their own elements of the story through word puzzles, Mad Libs-like fill-in-the-blanks and illustrations. Along the way, Callander and Harrison offer wonderful word plays and quips while fleshing out the story with a varied and fantastical cast of Couriers, a group tasked with protecting stories from erasing, the one thing that can destroy them. Ryan Andrews's black-and-white illustrations generously scattered throughout are full of energy and humor and make the work all the more delightful. Daringly original and quick-witted, Mightier Than the Sword deftly pairs lighthearted humor with themes of bravery, friendship and the power of imagination, putting this story in a category all its own. --Kyla Paterno, former YA and children's book buyer

Discover: In this interactive adventure, you're trapped in a land of stories, where your only chance of escape is to rescue a missing prince with a pencil as your only weapon.

Penguin Workshop, $13.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 8-12, 9781524785093

The Princess and the Pit Stop

by Tom Angleberger, illus. by Dan Santat

Author Tom Angleberger (Origami Yoda series; Inspector Flytrap series) teams up with artist Dan Santat (Lions & Liars; Drawn Together) in The Princess and the Pit Stop, a picture book that brings NASCAR-style racing to the land of fairytales.
"Once upon a time, there was a Princess who made a pit stop. While the Birds and the Beasts changed her tires, her Fairy Godmother told her she was in last place! With just one lap left! SHE MIGHT AS WELL GIVE UP!" The comic-book style panels show the Princess's pit crew members--a gnome, a pig, a bowtie-wearing bunny and the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland--racing to replace her tires. Fairy Godmother (wearing a noise-cancelling headset) points out the number of laps left; a close-up on the Princess's red face shows her determination to win. Give up? "Instead, the Princess hit the gas!"
A frog in a sparkling gold suit jacket screams into a microphone with the Princess's progress: "SHE PASSED HUMPTY DUMPTY! SHE PASSED ALL THE KING'S HORSES! SHE PASSED ALL THE KING'S MEN!" Watch out Wicked Witches, Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty and the Wizard of Oz! The Princess is coming for you, Three Bears, Flopsy, Mopsy and Peter Rabbit! Thick black lines dissect the pages into large panels, making it easy for young readers to interpret the action, even as Santat's vividly colored illustrations swerve, flip and rocket across the black lines and off the page. Angleberger's text is simple and silly, switching between direct storytelling (white text on colored backgrounds) and exuberant announcements from the frog (black text in speech bubbles). With its breakneck speed and massive number of storybook references, The Princess and the Pit Stop is sure to be a story time favorite. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: With only one lap left, can the Princess beat the other fairytale characters in Tom Angleberger and Dan Santat's NASCAR-style storybook race?

Abrams, $16.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 5-7, 9781419728488

Denis Ever After

by Tony Abbott

"I'm Denis, Matt's twin brother. Matt is alive and twelve now. I'm one of those, but not both." Being dead isn't the worst thing in the world. Denis Egan has been dead for five years now, and is shedding his memories in reverse order, on track to progressing to the final stage of death. "Being clean is the total point when you die," he says. "You clear your life out of your system like, well, your food when you have stomach poisoning. You shake off the heaviness, you become air." But just recently, Denis has been experiencing "noises clawing the inside of [his] head" which, according to his great-grandmother GeeGee, mean someone has unfinished business with him. To stop the noises and finish whatever business it is, Denis must return to the land of the living. And, just like that, his peaceful trajectory toward the "ever after" is interrupted.
When Denis starts making the excruciatingly painful journeys to "the before place," he makes contact with Matt, who is agonizing anew over the horrific circumstances of Denis's death. Their family is falling apart, with secrets "whirling around... like a simmering industrial fire." Matt begs Denis to stay in his world and "haunt" him until they find out why Denis was "ripped away." As they piece together the complex series of events from five years ago, it becomes clear that their lives--and deaths--will be forever altered.
Tony Abbott has written more than 100 books for children, including the Secrets of Droon series, the Copernicus Legacy series and The Summer of Owen Todd. Witty, suspenseful and full of hope, Denis Ever After fearlessly travels into the dark mysteries of life, the afterlife and the spaces in between. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Five years after his death, Denis reconnects with his still-living 12-year-old twin brother to solve the mystery of his own death in this dark and twisty middle-grade novel.

HarperCollins, $16.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 10-up, 9780062491220


Kids Buzz

The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow

by Elaine Dimopoulos, illus. by Doug Salati

Dear Reader,

Butternut, the brave storytelling rabbit, is back--and this time her home is on fire!

In my family read-aloud THE PERILOUS PERFORMANCE AT MILKWEED MEADOW, a merry troupe of turkeys organizes a summer show in the meadow, but a fire burns their playhouse to the ground. Who started the fire and why? Called "witty, whimsical, wise" in a Kirkus starred review, this middle-grade animal adventure sequel about trust and forgiveness features show-stopping illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Doug Salati.

Enjoy the show!

Elaine Dimopoulos

KidsBuzz: Charlesbridge: The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow by Elaine Dimopoulos, illus. by Doug Salati

Charlesbridge Publishing

Pub Date: 
May 21, 2024


Type of Book:
Middle Grade Fiction

Age Range: 

List Price: 
$17.99 Hardcover

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