Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Poisoned Pen Press: That Night in the Library by Eva Jurczyk

From My Shelf

Lifting as They Climbed

When the 19th amendment granted women the vote--100 years ago today--the battle didn't end. Historians Kate Clarke Lemay and Martha S. Jones each trace the ripples of the suffrage movement through equality campaigns in the civil rights era, and the current expansion of women in elected offices and calls for voting reform.

Portraits of Sojourner Truth, Lucretia Mott, Mary Church Terrell and others in Votes for Women! (Princeton Univ. Press, $39.95) illustrate Lemay's essays on suffragist tactics and conflicts. These photographs are part of the meager 18% of the National Portrait Gallery's collection that depict women, Lemay points out in her catalogue of historic images and artifacts.

Lemay doesn't avoid messy suffragist politics. Her essay on the momentous 1913 Women's Suffrage Parade in Washington, D.C., recounts how Terrell, one of the first African American women to graduate from college, and founder of the National Association of Colored Women, had to fight to be included. Jones's upcoming Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote and Insisted on Equality for All (Basic Books, $30, September 8) chronicles how Black writers, lecturers and clubwomen defied the sidelining by white suffragists in order to participate in their common cause.

Young readers, too, are able to experience a broader cast of suffragists. Women Win the Vote! by Nancy B. Kennedy (Norton Young Readers, $19.95) tells the story of 19 heroes of the 19th Amendment, including pioneering journalist Ida B. Wells, who, like Terrell, defied exclusion from the 1913 parade. Kennedy tells how Wells, born into slavery, used her voice to expose the dangers of systemic racism across the country.

Equal rights didn't instantly materialize for women upon passage of the 19th amendment, but it was an important step on the journey and worthy of celebrating on this centennial of ratification.

--Kristianne Huntsberger, writer, storyteller and partnership programs manager at Shelf Awareness

The Writer's Life

Reading with... Stephen Graham Jones

photo: Gary Isaacs

Stephen Graham Jones is the recipient of an NEA fellowship, the Texas Institute of Letters Award for Fiction, the Independent Publishers Award for Multicultural Fiction, a Bram Stoker Award, four This Is Horror Awards, and he's been a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award and the World Fantasy Award. By day, he is the Ivena Baldwin Professor of English at the University of Colorado Boulder. His novel The Only Good Indians was just published by Saga Press/Gallery.

On your nightstand now:

Alma Katsu's The Deep, Rachel Harrison's The Return, Andy Davidson's The Boatman's Daughter, a stack of Justified scripts, Jay Faerber and Scott Godlewski's first volume of Copperhead, and a blurb book I'm really excited about.

Favorite book when you were a child:

To Tame a Land by Louis L'Amour. Which is pretty embarrassing. Worse? Knowing what I know now, I still like this book. It's this cowboy in the Old West who's an impossibly fast draw, but he's always ducking behind a rock to read some Plutarch. And in the final showdown, he uses reading Plutarch to win. I really liked, and like, I guess, the idea of someone who can read also being good with the actiony parts of life. Which is to say, I used to think there were going to be a lot more High Noons when I grew up. And, there are, of course, but they're over the phone, they're across a conference table, they're at a podium.

Your top five authors:

Louise Erdrich, Stephen King, Philip K. Dick, Joe R. Lansdale, Octavia Butler.

Book you've faked reading:

Does everybody say here that they've never done that? Oh, oh, wait, maybe I have. Alan Moore's From Hell. I mean, I'm crazy for Moore, I've read way into all the Whitechapel stuff, have read all of his other comics, I read comic books all the time, but I've still somehow never cracked this one open. I've been in discussions where people are talking about it, too--this is where the "faked" comes into play--and instead of volunteering that it's not in my head yet, I just drink my Dr. Pepper especially slowly, and try not to draw any attention.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Luigi Meneghello's The Outlaws. It's these kids in Italy during World War II, they're trying to be part of the resistance, but they're also kind of not into being mean, so they come down out of the hills to do raids and stuff, but they wrap their clubs in cloth so they won't actually hurt anybody. I'll forever proselytize for this book. Which is useless, as it's impossible to find. But it's worth the looking, too.

Book you've bought for the cover:

The Buzzing. I think that's what it was called. Can't seem to search it up now, though, and my copy's long gone. The cover was all jagged and colorful, but what really drew me--correct me if I'm wrong, anyone--was that it had a Thomas Pynchon blurb. This made this purchase compulsory. I used to drive six hours to pawn shops to pay too much for a magazine that might have a piece purported to have been written by or about Pynchon. So, reading text that he'd also read? That would practically be communion.

Book you hid from your parents:

Strange Stories, Amazing Facts. Not because it was illicit, but because, first, it was my bible growing up, it told me everything I needed to know, everything I would ever need to know, but, second--and this is why I had to hide it until after lights out--once I started reading it, no way was I ever going to sleep. I'd just read the entries over and over all night, scaring myself more and more.

Book that changed your life:

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. Took me four checkout periods to get through it in fourth grade. I picked it up because the librarian told me it was about hunting. I so clearly remember sitting in my classroom during free time and reading that last paragraph, then closing the book and holding it shut with my hand, and knowing that I could do that. I could stick an axe in a tree, hang a lantern on it long enough that the axe handle rots away, long enough that everything goes all rusty. That's when I knew I could write--I had a sense for how to end things. But I was always only going to be a farmer, an oil field worker or, if I was lucky, on the rodeo circuit, so I never had any actual plans to write. My life did change at the end of that book, though.

Favorite line from a book:

"I don't steal horses and anyhow you have a crummy horse." It's from Philip K. Dick's VALIS. I hope to someday write a line maybe a quarter as good.

Five books you'll never part with:

My school annual from eighth grade, because that's the only proof I have that that year ever happened. I've lost everybody I knew from then, I mean. The New Oxford Book of American Verse, because when I was 19, I wrote a letter in the back of it to the girl who would be my wife. Isaac Asimov's Neanderthals anthology, which I've actually given away once already, to Joe Lansdale. But I got another--a little mass-market sized hardback that might be a library binding. The Cemetery Dance big special hardback version of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's Relic. I read and listen to and watch that one all the time, still. Have never gotten over it. Hope never to. And, fifth, Loeb and Sale's Batman: The Long Halloween. The big Absolute edition. That book brings it every single time I page through it.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear. For the wonder.

Book you still buy off any used shelf, even though you already have way too many:

The mass market paperbacks of The Crying of Lot 49. Because sometimes I can hold one of them and imagine what it must have been like to find this on a spinning rack, and walk away with it, crack it open in the parking lot, completely unaware of what's about to happen, and keep happening.

Book Candy

Novels Combining Mystery and Time Travel

CrimeReads recommended "six novels that bring together mystery and time travel."


Clever images made out of perfectly arranged pencils" were showcased by Laughing Squid.


"Where better to go to observe rabbits than the location that inspired Richard Adams's groundbreaking 1972 novel, Watership Down?" Atlas Obscura asked.


Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor's house in Greece "has now opened as a hotel," Tatler reported.


Biographer A.N. Wilson chose his top 10 books by Charles Dickens for the Guardian.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Animal Farm

Yesterday marked 75 years since the publication of George Orwell's Animal Farm, an allegorical denouncement of Stalin's takeover of the Soviet Union. Orwell, a democratic socialist, became hostile to Stalinism while fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Orwell's nonfiction account of his experience, Homage to Catalonia (1938), sold poorly. When Arthur Koestler's novel Darkness at Noon (1940), about the Moscow show trials, became a bestseller, Orwell decided fiction was a better medium for his message. Animal Farm was difficult to publish thanks to the U.K.'s wartime alliance with the Soviet Union, which multiple publishers wished not to upset. Jonathan Cape initially accepted Orwell's book, but declined after warnings from a Ministry of Information official who was later revealed to be a Soviet agent.

Reactions to and interpretations of Animal Farm have varied greatly since its publication. Between 1952 and 1957, the CIA ballooned millions of copies into Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, which attempted to shoot them down. It has been challenged in U.S. public schools many times and is banned from schools in the United Arab Emirates. In 2018, China decided to censor all online discussion of Animal Farm, though the book is still widely available for purchase. Orwell's novella has become a broader indictment of totalitarianism in general, as applicable today as it was in 1945. A 75th-anniversary edition, featuring new cover art and an introduction by Téa Obreht, is available from Penguin Random House. --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


The Beggar's Pawn

by John L'Heureux

A good, solid marriage is surely among the subjects that sound least promising for a novel. Yet in The Beggar's Pawn, John L'Heureux (The Medici Boy) manages to forge a gripping story around David and Maggie Holliss's happiness, which destabilizes the people in their lives.

David, a Stanford literature professor coming up on retirement, and Maggie, a scholar turned faculty spouse, meet Reginald Parker while out walking their dog, Dickens. Reginald, an aspiring novelist, is renting a guest cottage from another Stanford professor. For years the Hollisses and Reginald stick with exchanging pleasantries whenever they meet, but that changes the day Reginald dives to save Dickens from a UPS truck. Maggie, who was out with the dog at the time, brings Reginald into her house to tend to his wounds; "You have everything," he observes while looking out the window at the Hollisses' swimming pool. When Maggie tells him to let her know "if there is ever anything we can do to thank you," Reginald has a ready answer: he wants to borrow some money.

As The Beggar's Pawn, the final novel by L'Heureux, who died in 2019, proceeds, Reginald becomes an increasingly intrusive presence in the Hollisses' life. The novel's closing-in quality is compounded when the Hollisses weather a health scare and their entitled children descend on their Palo Alto home. The Beggar's Pawn has a thriller's delicious foreboding, but at heart its concerns are philosophical. Among them: the obligations of the privileged and whether having money can coexist with godliness. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: In this superb final work by the much-admired novelist, the lives of a well-to-do older couple become complicated when a neighbor turns to them for money.

Penguin Books, $16, paperback, 272p., 9780143135234

Brontë's Mistress

by Finola Austin

Set amidst the pastoral beauty of Yorkshire, England, in the mid-1800s, Brontë's Mistress by Finola Austin offers readers a thrilling new perspective on the scandalous love affair that consumed Branwell Brontë, brother to Charlotte, Emily and Anne. This narrative reimagines the story of his often overlooked paramour Lydia Robinson and the long-term reverberations of their illicit union.

Lydia is the profoundly self-absorbed narrator, a calculating yet also tragically vulnerable figure. We meet her as she grieves the loss of both her mother and baby daughter, in a marriage crushed under the weight of losing a child. She struggles to mother her surviving daughters, leaving their care to the governess, Anne. The arrival of Anne's brother, an aspiring poet, as tutor to Lydia's son, brings her back to life. His attentions restore her faith in herself.

In his 20s, handsome Branwell looks every part the poet, with dark cherubic curls and a "deep blue stare." The euphoria of their romance and its stormy end are captured in suspenseful, sexually charged scenes. Once it's over, Branwell's destruction is swift and irrevocable. Lydia, though, is a survivor whose story offers many fascinating twists and turns, propelled by a desire to flee the suffocating binds of intrusive in-laws, financial concerns and rebellious daughters.

Austin's passion for all things 19th-century England glows in this marvelous debut. She skillfully resurrects a slice of buried history, grounding Brontë's Mistress in actual characters and events. The irresistible details of the scandal and its dramatic aftermath, however, are wholly her own impressive creation. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: This intriguing early Victorian drama unveils the enigmatic temptress who allegedly seduced the infamous Branwell Brontë and caused much grievance to his exceedingly protective sisters.

Atria, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9781982137236

True Story

by Kate Reed Petty

Kate Reed Petty's True Story is a startling, eloquent and wildly original novel that works on several levels. It tackles serious issues but also reads like a top-notch psychological thriller--complete with a final-chapter twist that rivals the best of Agatha Christie. Petty keeps readers on edge through her inventive switching among narrative forms, from various first-person accounts to screenplays, college admission essays, e-mails and interview transcripts.

True Story begins in 1999 with a drunken party and possible sexual assault of a high school girl at the hands of two members of the school's lacrosse team. At first the two boast to their friends about taking advantage of the girl passed out in their car, but when rumors spread and legal threats are made, the teammates deny anything happened. True Story follows how the assault and its rumors affect the lives of those involved over the next two decades. Alice can't remember what happened and is so debilitated by the aftereffects of that night that she falls into an abusive relationship with a sociopath. Her best friend, Haley, devotes decades to getting Alice to deal with her past. The night's hazy events are also told from the perspective of Nick, a friend of the two boys, whose guilt leads him to alcoholism. A clearer picture of what happened finally emerges when the lives of those involved finally intersect, resulting in blackmail, violence and murder.

True Story is a dazzling and haunting debut thriller, cleverly structured and ambitiously plotted. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: This wildly inventive and haunting debut novel plays with structure as it uncovers the mystery behind conflicting memories.

Viking, $26, hardcover, 336p., 9781984877680


by Alex Landragin

Crossings is a debut novel of epic proportions, combining three manuscripts--"The Education of a Monster," "City of Ghosts" and "Tales of the Albatross"--into a single narrative. The inventive book may be read traditionally from cover to cover and also as a mock choose-your-own-adventure where pages and chapters and scenes flip back and forth.

Two souls travel throughout seven lifetimes over the course of 150 years, from the early 1800s to World War II. These souls are able to bring past memories and knowledge into their present iteration and, by crossing into new hosts, could potentially live forever. Only one of the souls, however, is operating at full capacity, while the other is troubled and often needs guidance to complete the transfer. These two lovers cross genders, ages and abilities from host to host, their fates entwining at some point during each of their life stories.

When read from cover to cover, one narrative arc appears; when read by following the suggested page numbers, jumping from section to section, a different narrative arc appears. It is wholly up to readers to decide which journey they will undertake first.

Combining elements of Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife with David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, Alex Landragin has created something entirely original. Each new host body crossed into by the original soul provides its own compelling narrative, requiring an investment of time and attention to the tale, as the mysterious journey of these two souls unravels across time and space. --BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co.,

Discover: This stunning debut novel imagines the love, lives and adventures of two souls throughout multiple lifetimes across 150 years.

St. Martin's Press, $27.99, hardcover, 384p., 9781250259042

The Bitch

by Pilar Quintana, trans. by Lisa Dillman

The Bitch by Colombian writer Pilar Quintana is a devastating portrayal of the aching, unbearable weight that can be felt from guilt, violence, the drive to nurture and the need for human connection.

Damaris lives on a bluff overlooking Colombia's Pacific coast. Her inability to become pregnant, which has rocked her marriage to an emotionally unavailable fisherman, continues to gut her. She spends most days alone, cleaning for the rich Reyes family, whose son she saw carried away by the sea when they were seven. Her uncle whipped her until the body surfaced, and still she feels the blame, just as she still cries for the mother she lost at 14. Damaris adopts a puppy that seems to remedy the "stabbing pain... in her soul," until it disappears for a month. Damaris rejoices at the dog's return, nursing her back to health, only for her pet to run away again. When the pattern continues, Damaris pushes cold and hard against her pain, turning violent.

Quintana presents Damaris's traumatic past, faltering marriage and broken heart via cutting third-person prose that zeroes in on Damaris's nosediving thoughts. An atmosphere darkened by storms and her husband's absences remarkably parallels Damaris's troubled, unchallenged self-image--that she is "a disgrace as a woman, a freak of nature." Damaris, perhaps because of her self-perceived destructiveness, at times can't distinguish herself from the nearby jungle, "as if the cacophony of frogs and crickets" comes "from inside her head." The Bitch is a tragically honest portrait of how heartache can break a person. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

Discover: Against the backdrop of Colombia's Pacific coast and its unforgiving jungle, a woman afflicted by loneliness, hurt by tragedies and weighted with shame struggles to find peace.

World Editions, $14.99, paperback, 128p., 9781642860597

Mystery & Thriller

The Eighth Detective

by Alex Pavesi

Alex Pavesi's exceptional debut The Eighth Detective is at once a novel, a collection of stories and a how-to guide on writing mysteries.

Pavesi introduces professor of mathematics Grant McAllister, who published a research paper in 1937 called "The Permutations of Detective Fiction," which lays out mathematical formulas for mystery stories. There must be a victim, a detective, a killer, at least two suspects, etc. McAllister then wrote seven stories applying variations on those rules and published them in a collection titled The White Murders.

Nearly 30 years later, young editor Julia Hart tracks him down on a remote Mediterranean island with an offer to republish the collection. Since McAllister's eyesight is failing and he wrote the stories so long ago, Julia spends days reading them aloud to him, followed by discussions of each, to refresh his memory. Right away she notices discrepancies in some descriptions, and details too similar to a real-life murder to be coincidences. Why is McAllister evasive every time she asks about them?

The short stories within the novel pay homage to classics penned by the likes of Agatha Christie--one mystery closely resembles And Then There Were None--and some are more surprising than others. Some readers might find Julia and McAllister's postmortem of each story a bit too technical, but wordsmiths will glean nerdy delight from the conversations between author and editor about structure and plotting. It's ironic that McAllister insists every mystery story follows a basic formula, when Pavesi keeps readers guessing with a novel that defies the rules. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: In this crafty debut, an editor examines a collection of mystery stories written three decades earlier and finds similarities to a real-life murder.

Holt, $26.99, hardcover, 304p., 9781250755933


No Offense

by Meg Cabot

Meg Cabot (The Princess Diaries; No Judgment) has created a delightfully cozy mélange of mystery and romance in No Offense, the second entry in her Little Bridge Island series. Easily read as a standalone, it is the lighthearted story of a children's librarian and small-town sheriff finding love under the sunny Florida skies.

Molly Montgomery is new to Little Bridge Island, and she hasn't met handsome Sheriff John Hartwell, until she has to call the police after finding an abandoned newborn in the library's bathroom. John already has a lot on his plate: raising a teenage daughter by himself, fitting into his new role as sheriff after leaving his homicide job up in Miami, and investigating a series of robberies by the "High School Thief," who has been plaguing the island and making his department look inept.

Baby Aphrodite, as the island's residents quickly begin calling the abandoned baby, forces John and Molly to work together to try to find the child's mother. And Molly, a lifelong mystery reader, can't resist trying to help John solve the case of the High School Thief, much to his dismay. John thinks the new librarian is just as pretty as she is interfering, and now his life is even more complicated.

Cheerful and sweet, No Offense is a charming story, full of quirky island busybodies and misfit tourists. Readers of small-town romances or cozy mysteries are sure to love John and Molly's investigatory antics, and to laugh at their dating mishaps. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this lighthearted novel, a small-town sheriff and a children's librarian fall in love as they investigate a series of robberies.

Morrow, $27.99, hardcover, 352p., 9780063007123

Graphic Books

Sweet Time

by Weng Pixin

In Singaporean artist Weng Pixin's striking debut graphic collection, Sweet Time, the connecting theme throughout is clarified in the fourth story, "Ballad," using the commonly repeated "he loves me, he loves me not" refrain. As anonymous fingers peel a bloom's petals, the panels flip between connection--"He loves me. He taps my hand, scoops it, reassures it"--and dis-/misconnect--"He loves me not. He never asks. He preaches." Such joys and pains of love and loss filter through the majority of Weng's vibrantly saturated shorts.

In "Birds," a couple strolling to a nearby house with an extensive aviary overhears an expletive-laden lovers' quarrel en route; their hand-in-hand exploration quickly devolves into a devastating realization that "We are not a good idea." "Infatuation" recalls an unrequited childhood crush. "Roses" confronts the meaningless beauty of Garden of Eden-esque surroundings that induces separation between two nude lovers. In the eponymous "Sweet Time," a woman gets drunk with a stranger at a bar, takes him home and wakes up unsure what the new day might bring. Interwoven with affairs gone awry are quotidian travel diaries to diverse destinations, presented almost as interstitial reminders that between loving and losing, life continues while visiting friends, meeting locals, appreciating and recording other various meaningful experiences.

Explosive colors, unexpected landscapes and graphic erotica define Weng's uncommon style; her characterizations are often child-like and unpredictable. Her hand-lettering--in size and content--is visually sporadic, leaving many pages and panels potently wordless. Three times she maneuvers the orientation from horizontal to vertical, cleverly eliciting physical shifts in perspective. Beyond the intriguing stories, Weng's art proves to be her majestic accomplishment. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Singaporean graphic artist Weng Pixin's vibrant debut collection explores falling in and out of like, lust and, most desperately, love.

Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95, paperback, 160p., 9781770463851

Biography & Memoir

Inferno: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness

by Catherine Cho

Ultimately, Inferno is a love story: raw, unfiltered, wrenching, lifesaving. Catherine Cho, a Korean American literary agent living in London, makes her debut with a scorching memoir about the postpartum psychosis that nearly destroyed her--but didn't.

On November 4, 2017, Cho and husband, James, welcomed their son, Cato, into the world. Just before the year ended, the trio flew to the U.S. from London, with plans to introduce Cato to extended family and friends across the country. Their visit would culminate in New Jersey in February with James's parents for Cato's 100-Day celebration, a traditional Korean milestone to mark a baby's survival. Eight days before, Cho breaks: Cato's "eyes turned to devils' eyes," and Cho spirals into psychosis. Involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward, Cho spent 12 days locked away. She manages to hold on to her family with a "a folded piece of paper where [she's] written her truths in purple marker"--including "I am alive. Real... My husband and son are waiting for me. Real." She remains tenuously tethered to that reality with a notebook--"I recognized it as one of my husband's treasured ones"--in which she manages to record her ordeal.

"It's difficult to know where the story of psychosis begins," Cho writes. She challenges her past: her dysfunctional upbringing with immigrant parents, her "foxhole buddies"--connection with her younger brother, her horrific abuse by an ex-partner. She investigates her present: her complicated relationship with her in-laws and her love-at-first-conversation bond with her husband. She doubts, pretends, hopes for the future: a reunion with her son. Her recovery will prove to be an electrifying return from hell. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Literary agent Catherine Cho's spectacular memoir reveals her postpartum psychosis that almost destroyed her--but didn't.

Holt, $26.99, hardcover, 256p., 9781250623713

The Mystery of Charles Dickens

by A.N. Wilson

Charles Dickens died before he finished writing The Mystery of Edwin Drood, but A.N. Wilson points out that the great English novelist left behind other mysteries as well: Why, when Dickens died, did he have not the full £22 from a cashed check in his pockets but only six-odd pounds? Why was Dickens, whose name is entwined with kindness, such a jerk to his wife? The Mystery of Charles Dickens presents six puzzles, and Wilson endeavors to solve them with a fruitful multipronged approach: textual analysis, biographical inquiry and armchair psychoanalysis.

Wilson (Victoria: A Life) is keen on both extolling Dickens's virtues and exploding the misperceptions about him. For one: in the chapter "The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Dickens," Wilson writes that although Dickens was regarded as a voice for the downtrodden, "it is hard to think of any writer who would have been less sympathetic to twenty-first-century ideas of human rights, or of welfare handed out by the state." Wilson supports his provocations with commentary from Dickens scholars and passages from the novelist's work, which, in Wilson's interpretation, is a minefield of autobiography.

While those who have never read Dickens will find no barrier to entry into The Mystery of Charles Dickens, the book will be manna for advanced beginners. Wilson, a biographer and historian who writes in a style unsullied by the modern idiom, gives Dickens fans a sublime opportunity to, in a phrase that Wilson would never use, get their Dickens geek on. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: The biographer and historian A.N. Wilson turns detective as he investigates several curious aspects of Charles Dickens's life and psychology.

Harper, $32.50, hardcover, 368p., 9780062954947

Children's & Young Adult

A Place at the Table

by Saadia Faruqi, Laura Shovan

Sixth-grade girls reluctantly partnered in an after-school cooking club find the recipe for new friendship in Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan's empathetic middle-grade collaboration, A Place at the Table.

Desperate to improve family meals, British American Elizabeth Shainmark enrolls in a South Asian cooking club taught by caterer Mrs. Hameed. Sara Hameed, a Pakistani American classmate who recently transferred from a small Islamic school, also attends the class, but only because her mom is the teacher. Shifting friend dynamics leave Elizabeth without a cooking partner and Sara, who would rather sketch than stir spices, begrudgingly steps in. The girls find common ground in their quests for their mothers' United States citizenship and a cooking competition prize, developing a genuine camaraderie while broaching conversations around religion, xenophobia and mental illness.

Through alternating chapters, Faruqi (the Yasmin series) and Shovan (Takedown) lend personal experience to this story of nuanced identities and nascent friendship. Sara and Elizabeth's rocky relationship rings true to tween dynamics, and the writing maintains a hopeful tone as it confronts bigotry with modeled behavior. Small moments prove instructive, such as an offhand conversation on cultural versus religious perspectives on ear-piercing. Short chapters, heavy dialogue and descriptive writing--particularly about food--should appeal to both younger and reluctant readers. Authors' notes and a recipe for the girls' fusion ice cream round out the novel.

This authentic cross-cultural novel offers tastes of identity, assimilation and allyship for fans of middle school friendship stories--and food shows. --Kit Ballenger, youth librarian, Help Your Shelf

Discover: A dual-perspective story celebrating new friendships and cultural identity sure to satisfy empathetic early middle-grade readers.

Clarion Books, $16.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 9-12, 9780358116684

All Eyes on Her

by L.E. Flynn

In her sophomore YA novel, L.E. Flynn (Last Girl Lied To) combines a series of accounts from unreliable narrators with news reports and transcripts of police questioning to build a riveting story of jealousy, hidden motives and possible murder.

"Girls get wronged every day of their lives, but sometimes pretty girls get to make it right." Seventeen-year-old Tabby is a Regina George-style character: white with dark hair, bright blue eyes, a mysterious past and a general "give no f*cks" attitude. Her sister, Bridget, and best friend, Elle, are the only people close to her. Neighbors and classmates eye the "impulsive, vain, moody, proud, sarcastic, fun" girl from afar. When Tabby gets involved with Mark, a 20-year-old Princeton swimming champion, those eyes begin to narrow; when Mark dies while hiking with Tabby, looks become whispers. Her town, her school and eventually the world at large revel in Tabby's takedown as she becomes the number one suspect in the death of a white "golden boy." But is the beautiful girl guilty? Or is she being wronged by the court of public opinion?

Though Flynn gets repetitive with her messaging, there is nothing to suggest readers looking for a feminist "bad-girl" story will find the narrative anything but true and empowering. And that's the point anyway--is Tabby a "bad girl"? Or is she a complex human suffering under the weight of a misogynistic society? Multidimensional characters and ever-shifting truths make All Eyes on Her a captivating murder mystery. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A series of unreliable narrators offer their speculations on how 17-year-old Tabby's college boyfriend ended up dead.

Imprint/Macmillan, $18.99, hardcover, 384p., ages 12-up, 9781250158178

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