From the Shelf
Children's Books for Exploring
It's the peak of summer and, for young readers who may need a freeze pop and a break from the heat, here are some books to keep the mind engaged and the imagination active.
Yvan Pommaux and Christophe Ylla-Somers's All of Us: A Young People's History of the World (NYR Children's Collection, $29.95, ages 8-11) is packed with information for young inquisitive minds. Beginning with "vapor" turning into rain and the rain filling "the hollows of the earth," All of Us provides a highly illustrated account of the "history of the world." Told as a linear narrative, with events, actions and individuals highlighted throughout, children can read from front to back or dip in and out depending on their mood.
Super Mazes in Space! by Loïc Méhée (Twirl/Chronicle, $18.99) includes "10 a-maze-ing mazes" for ages 6-9. "Oh no! The Space News Network reports that the revolting villain Reducto is up to no good once again. He has invented the Galaxy Vacuum, a giant machine that shrinks galaxies, then sucks them up." It's up to Celeste and her alien partner--and readers--to "find and destroy that machine." Young puzzlers navigate their way through a series of mazes to get to the end of the book, traversing die-cut craters, lift-the-flap circuit boards and unfolding-universe mazes.
Sandra Lawrence and Stuart Hill's The Atlas of Monsters: Mythical Creatures from Around the World (Running Press, $19.99, ages 7-12) introduces an "extraordinary discovery": a 400-year-old atlas of monsters with a secret, coded message in its pages. Including letters from the monster-finder himself, tons of monster illustrations and abundant "annotations," the journal can be enjoyed from beginning to end, or readers can start and finish wherever they please. With so much to explore--and a puzzle to solve, too!--readers are likely to feel like monster-finders themselves. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
In this Issue...
Civil liberties lawyer Burt Neuborne probes the state of American democracy and suggests citizen actions to "put the brakes on a runaway train."
by Jia Tolentino
Jia Tolentino chronicles an era where Instagram influencers peddle laxative teas, Amazon tracks users' every move and feminism is the market's hottest commodity.
by Kelley Armstrong
Twelve-year old Princess Rowan must prove herself worthy of becoming the next royal monster hunter in this first installation of a new middle-grade series.
Review by Subjects:
Finding a Literary BFF
Quirk Books offered tips on "how to find your literary BFF."
Merriam-Webster launched "a journey to the moon in 12 words."
Artist Yiota Demetriou's new book of love letters "can only be read when warmed by human touch," B24/7 reported.
London's Charles Dickens Museum bought a Margaret Gillies portrait of the young author 133 years after it went missing, the Guardian wrote.
Good Morning America explored Kauser Razvi's Literary Lots, "temporary, real-life constructions of popular children's book scenes" in Cleveland.
Rediscover: Toni MorrisonToni Morrison, the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, died on August 5 at age 88. Her many other honors include the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Beloved, the National Book Foundation's Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 1996 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. From 1967 to 1983, Morrison worked as an editor at Random House--the first female African American editor in company history--where she published Gayl Jones, Toni Cade Bambara, Henry Dumas, Huey P. Newton, Muhammad Ali and Angela Davis. She was also a longtime Princeton professor. In the citation for her Nobel Prize, the Swedish Academy called Morrison an author "who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality."
Morrison's first novel, The Bluest Eye, was released by Holt, Rinehart & Winston in 1970. Knopf published her other novels, including Sula (1973), Song of Solomon (1977), Tar Baby (1981), Jazz (1992), A Mercy (2008) and God Help the Child (2015). She also co-wrote the children's books Please, Louise (2014), Peeny Butter Fudge (2009) and The Book of Mean People (2002) with her son Slade. Morrison's nonfiction works include Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992) and What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction (2008). In October, the University of Virginia Press will release Morrison's Goodness and the Literary Imagination, featuring her 2012 Ingersoll Lecture at Harvard University ($27.95, 9780813943626).
The Writer's Life
Reading with... Miciah Bay Gault
|photo: Daryl Burtnett|
Miciah Bay Gault's debut novel, Goodnight Stranger (just out from Park Row), was described by Cosmopolitan as "one of the best literary thrillers you'll read this year." Her fiction and essays have been published in Tin House, the Southern Review and Agni. Gault was the editor of Hunger Mountain for nine years, and now teaches in the MFA in Writing & Publishing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts and coordinates the Vermont Book Award.
On your nightstand now:
The stack of books on my nightstand literally towers over me while I sleep. And I add books faster than I read them, for sure. My mom was visiting recently, and she told me she was worried about me. "There's just no way you're going to get through all these books," she said. "It must make you feel so stressed out." But she's wrong about that. It makes me feel rich.
I'm flying through Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett, and I love how dark and funny it is. I've also started Berlin by Jason Lutes, a graphic novel so stunning I literally exclaim out loud as I'm reading it. Other books on my nightstand that I can't wait to read are Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips, The Changeling by Victor LaValle, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, Leading Men by Chris Castellani, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia by Christina Thompson and Boomer1 by Dan Torday (which I'm reading for the third time).
Favorite book when you were a child:
Emily of New Moon by Lucy Maud Montgomery was hands down the favorite, most beloved book of my childhood. Everyone was reading Anne of Green Gables, but no one knew about Emily. There are actually three books in the Emily series, and I've reread them almost every year since I was 11. These books shaped the way I think about love, friendship, beauty and ambition.
Your top five authors:
I'm a Shirley Jackson devotee--her novels, short stories and memoir. The Haunting of Hill House is devastating and beautiful and hilarious, with sentences so precise and gleaming they hurt. I love Wilkie Collins, who also is funny, strange and just a great storyteller. George Saunders's stories changed the way I thought about fiction, flung open all the doors to make more room for humor, empathy, generosity. I love Kelly Link, especially Get in Trouble. And Kathryn Davis's writing shocks me over and over again, its beauty and strangeness, every line a challenge, a revelation.
Book you've faked reading:
I kind of made it through Moby-Dick. I know it's everyone's favorite, but I definitely skipped a few (hundred) pages there in the middle.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt. Surprising, deeply strange with gorgeous sentences. It's both a love story and a ghost story, and I'm pretty sure it's the most romantic book I've ever read.
Book you've bought for the cover:
I just saw the cover for Clare Beams's new book The Illness Lesson, which is out in February 2020, and it's SO beautiful. I'll buy that one for the writing, but I'll swoon over the cover, too. I loved the lush, sensual cover of If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim. I have to mention, too, that I always, always love Two Dollar Radio book covers, like Melanie Finn's The Underneath.
Book you hid from your parents:
Delta of Venus by Anaïs Nin. I didn't exactly hide it--I grew up in a pretty sex-positive family--I mean I found the book on my mom's bookshelf. But I certainly didn't read it on family vacation! When I was 11, I read Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and although there was no reason to hide it, I remember thinking: this book is too much for me, too old for me. The intensity of longing and heartache felt like it would crush me.
Book that changed your life:
Years ago, a handsome fisherman gave me a copy of his favorite book, The River Why by David James Duncan. I thought it would be all about fishing, but it was also about love. The book turned out to be delightful, and so did the fisherman. Reader, I married him.
Favorite line from a book:
The line that's running through my head is from a poem in Jody Gladding's the spiders my arms: "questions to ask the river before you dive." It's funny because the poem is arranged on the page so that it can be read in multiple ways--vertically, horizontally, etc. So the line itself is only one of many lines you might see. The poem is engraved on a mirror at the Vermont Studio Center, and it's been echoing in my mind ever since I saw it there.
I've also always loved the ending of Tobias Wolff's short story "Bullet in the Brain." "They is, they is, they is." And a line from John Cheever's "The Country Husband" replays in my mind all the time: "She's my blue sky. After sixteen years, I still bite her shoulders."
Five books you'll never part with:
First, Carmen Maria Machado's Her Body and Other Parties, which is such a joy and a fierce pleasure to read, every sentence. Second, The Stories of John Cheever. Cheever has fallen out of fashion, and I get why, but when I first read his short stories in college, I fell in love with them: the wild obsessions, the bizarre treatment of time, the veering away from sanity. Third, Jane Austen's Emma. Actually, all of Jane Austen. Fourth, The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher by Molly Bang, our favorite children's books, and a work of true genius: dark and strange and beautiful. Fifth, Dreyer's English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style, Benjamin Dreyer's book, which is a delightful celebration of the beauty and order of the sentence.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Chris Adrian's novel The Great Night. I love to be surprised by fiction, and this otherworldly retelling of A Midsummer Night's Dream delighted me.
Recent reads you recommend:
A few books I've read recently have left me stunned and grateful because of their mastery or innovation or exquisite storytelling: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee; What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah; In the House upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell; This House Is Not for Sale by E.C. Osondu; the YA horror novel Five Midnights by Ann Dávila Cardinal; and a series of chapter books called Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon, which is brilliantly funny for kids and parents.
Life and Other Inconveniences
by Kristan Higgins
Kristan Higgins (If You Only Knew; On Second Thought) has created an engaging world in Life and Other Inconveniences. Emma London was raised by her patrician grandmother, the internationally famous designer Genevieve London. Emma's future seemed assured: an Ivy League education, followed by a position within Genevieve's company. But then, just after high school graduation, Emma got pregnant and Genevieve kicked her out.
For the last 17 years, Emma has scraped by, putting herself through school, becoming a therapist and raising her daughter, Riley. Suddenly, however, her simple life is upended when Genevieve calls Emma to tell her that she has a brain tumor.
Emma, still hurt, at first refuses to go to Connecticut, but Riley is facing a tough situation at school, and Emma decides a change of scenery would be good for them. So they return to the mansion where she grew up, and there all three women discover things they never knew about each other.
Touching, a little romantic and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, Life and Other Inconveniences is a wonderful novel about the nature of grief and affection in a complicated family. Genevieve is mourning many things, which Emma never realized. Meanwhile, Emma comes to discover that Genevieve's influence wasn't always terrible and that having a great-grandmother is good for Riley. With alternating perspectives from across generations, Kristan Higgins portrays the bewilderment of those bereft by the loss of a loved one. Thoughtful, sweet and with a gentle undercurrent of humor, this is summer reading at its finest. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this charming generational novel, a woman must come to grips with her wealthy grandmother's legacy and her own daughter's future.
We Are All Good People Here
by Susan Rebecca White
When Daniella and Eve become college roommates in Roanoke, Va., in 1962, their futures are unimaginable--two naïve, proper young ladies, molded by their culture yet carried along in the upheaval of the tumultuous '60s and '70s. In her fourth novel, Susan Rebecca White (A Place at the Table) reflects the angst of the times through characters acting with the conviction that "we are all good people here" as their friendship carries through 1992: "Part Two--Their Daughters."
The first year at Belmont College is marred by Daniella's not receiving a sorority bid, because she is half Jewish. In spite of her sterling silver tea set announcing her traditional roots, Eve is passionately righteous and leads a disastrously failed campaign for rights for the dorms' black maids. The shock of these twin injustices propels both girls from the bucolic campus to New York and Barnard, for visits to the Village, debates on communism and the Congress of Racial Equality, and relationships with two men who will influence their paths.
White's period details resurrect the emotions of the era. Daniella joins the Mississippi Freedom Riders and Eve joins a radical collective; Daniella becomes a lawyer and Eve goes underground. Years later their paths cross again, as Daniella rescues Eve from the dangers of life as a dropout. Soon, they are both mothers, and although they've changed, their friendship segues into one for their daughters. The challenges of the '80s in some ways mimic what the mothers experienced, and the novel's point of view briefly switches to Daniella's daughter, narrating and presenting perspective on the mothers' lives. Ending with a list of "what ifs," the novel is a reminder that people usually are trying to do their best. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: A novel spanning decades explores how social and political mores of the 1960s through the '90s affect two women and their daughters.
The Book Charmer
by Karen Hawkins
When city girl Grace Wheeler arrives in Dove Pond, N.C., she doesn't plan to stay. She's convinced a year will be long enough for her grieving niece to adjust to Grace's guardianship following the death of her mother, Grace's sister, and for them to learn to cope with Grace's beloved foster mother's growing dementia. After making her way through the foster care system, Grace is solitary and emotionally contained, which makes her completely unprepared for the warmhearted residents of Dove Pond.
Town librarian Sarah Dove has always talked to books. Cranky though the books sometimes are, they have told her to expect a change for Dove Pond. Sarah is convinced that Grace's arrival is the magical good luck that will save her slowly fading town. When friendly Sarah attempts to interact with aloof Grace, however, her overtures are politely rejected. But Sarah is determined, and Grace is in over her head with her moody niece and her foster mother's dementia care. Grace's deepening friendship with Sarah, the kindness of the town residents and her reluctant interactions with her cynical next-door neighbor, Travis Parker, gradually strengthen her bonds with the community. Can it be that these two fiercely independent women have found a way to join forces and solve Dove Pond's financial struggles, as well as Grace's family troubles?
Set in a small Southern town filled with both extraordinary and ordinary magic, this novel sparkles with quirky, endearing characters, dialogue and setting. Fans of women's fiction will love this sometimes whimsical, often insightful, always absorbing story. --Lois Faye Dyer, writer and reviewer
Discover: A solitary city girl and a librarian work together to save a small Southern town and, in the process, find true friendship in a supportive, loving community.
Mystery & Thriller
by Karin Fossum , trans. by Kari Dickson
This time around, Inspector Sejer has a challenge both intellectual and practical. As The Whisperer begins, the Norwegian detective is interrogating 40-something Ragna Riegel, who, during a standard medical procedure a few years earlier, suffered permanent damage to her vocal cords; now her voice can't go above a whisper. As a result, Sejer isn't having the easiest time hearing what she says.
Chapters toggle between their conversations, which the introspective Sejer leads with the gentle touch of a therapist, and sections from Ragna's perspective that show how this hubbub-averse shop assistant at a Europris store came to be under the inspector's microscope. These latter sections painstakingly dramatize Ragna's story, which begins with her account of receiving an anonymous letter that reads "YOU ARE GOING TO DIE." Gradually it's revealed that all the while Sejer is questioning Ragna, she is being held on remand, awaiting trial. The crime of which she is accused doesn't become apparent until the book's final chunk.
Karin Fossum's 13th Inspector Sejer novel (among them The Murder of Harriet Krohn and Hell Fire), which requires no familiarity with the series' earlier titles, displays her signature panache ("Lies sound like nails falling into a tin. But the truth is more of a rushing sound...."). In The Whisperer she takes a narrative risk that may prove controversial for some readers. But for anyone willing to give the author some leeway, the book's rewards, delivered until literally the last page, are abundant and a reminder of what makes Fossum a true force in Scandi noir. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: In the risk-taking 13th Inspector Sejer novel, the Norwegian detective interrogates a woman awaiting trial for a crime not disclosed until late in the book.
The Perfect Wife
by JP Delaney
At the start of JP Delaney's propulsive The Perfect Wife, Abbie wakes up in pain, hooked up to machines and with only vague memories of what transpired before. Was she in a car crash? Her tech-genius husband, Tim, is there and tells her that he and their nine-year-old son, Danny, are fine, that everything's fine. He promises to fill in the gaps in Abbie's memory after he takes her home.
She learns there was an accident five years ago, and Tim has spent all that time devoted to bringing her home. But soon Abbie starts finding hidden items around the house that indicate their relationship wasn't exactly how Tim describes it. As Abbie digs deeper into what happened before the incident, she realizes the truth could mean an end to her newfound life.
Plot points are minimal here because it's best to dive into Perfect Wife with as little information as possible. Delaney (The Girl Before) has written a swiftly paced and thought-provoking psychological thriller, touching on complex issues such as how much technology should be allowed to run our lives and what defines humanity. It asks big questions about sentience and life and death itself. Delaney is far from preachy, though; he wraps these big ideas in a spellbinding and suspenseful story that is constantly surprising and often makes the skin crawl. It's also poignant in unexpected ways (based on some of Delaney's personal experiences, according to the acknowledgments) and reminds readers that compassion is what separates humans from machines. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: Years after an incident, a wife and mother wakes up with patchy memories and seeks the truth about what happened to her.
City of Windows
by Robert Pobi
During a fierce snowstorm days before Christmas, a woman crosses a busy New York City street. A car stops to let her pass, but then lurches forward, killing her instantly. The driver isn't being cruel--he's been shot in the head. The bullet bursts through windshield, cranium, headrest and out the back window--a million-to-one sniper shot that leaves the FBI baffled by the who, what, where, how and why.
Special Agent Brett Kehoe seeks advice from ex-FBI agent and genius Columbia University astrophysics professor Lucas Page. Page left the FBI after an incident robbed him of his leg, arm and an eye. His reluctance to assist the Bureau vanishes when he learns the driver was his old partner. As the body count rises and the sniper's motive remains elusive, Page works with the FBI, matching wits with a brilliant killer.
In City of Windows, Robert Pobi's incredibly realistic plot transforms New York City into an otherworldly place. It's perfect for anyone who wants to melt into a crowd, even become invisible when hunched into winter gear. A lone figure in an army coat carrying a guitar case could be a musician, or his case might hold a rifle. Pobi superbly probes the depths of all his characters, but is especially masterful in his creation of the way Page can break down the logistics of any crime scene and the ESP-like abilities of Page's handler, Special Agent Whitaker. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer
Discover: A sniper wreaks havoc in New York City during a holiday snowstorm, and the FBI turns to a brilliant professor for help.
Biography & Memoir
Girl on the Block: A True Story of Coming of Age Behind the Counter
by Jessica Wragg
Jessica Wragg's Girl on the Block is part memoir, part meat industry education and criticism, and part butchery how-to. Wragg shares stories of her teenage years working at a butcher shop in Derbyshire, England, where she endured sexual harassment and knowledge-hoarding, then moves on to her years balancing university with weekends at the Ginger Pig, one of London's most famous butcher shops. With humor and unflinching self-awareness, Wragg details both her poor choices and her successes, including the time she lived in a bedbug-infested apartment and when she sold her first major piece of writing.
Wragg breaks up the personal narrative with passages detailing the state of the meat industry in the U.K. and worldwide. She discusses factory farms and commercial slaughterhouses, the differences between breeds of cattle and how we began to incorporate so much meat into our diets. The book doesn't shy away from the less savory aspects of meat production and consumption, nor does Wragg ignore the environmental and emotional ramifications of the process: "I have decided that as I continue to eat meat and to work in the industry, it's much better to educate myself and others, to refuse to turn a blind eye to the origin of the meat on my plate."
Girl on the Block is an accessible look into the complicated world of meat, and readers will keep it on the shelf for the lessons on butchering, meat selection and how to prepare the best steak of their lives. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels
Discover: Girl on the Block is an entertaining and educational read for anyone interested in how the meat in their refrigerator arrived there and how to make the most of it.
When at Times the Mob Is Swayed: A Citizen's Guide to Defending Our Republic
by Burt Neuborne
In When at Times the Mob Is Swayed, Burt Neuborne draws on his extensive experience as a civil liberties lawyer to consider threats to American democracy and the Constitution. Neuborne was the national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union and is now the founding legal director of the Brennan Center for Justice. He uses his knowledge of the Constitution, the electoral system and the judicial system to probe not only the state of the union under the 45th president of the United States, but how the structure of the country's founding documents, the Supreme Court and people's civil involvement may have ushered in this time.
"A well-functioning democracy mirrors a society. It does not cure it. That we must do ourselves," Neuborne writes, describing not only major corrections that need to happen on the Constitutional level via the Supreme Court, but also actions that citizens can take, such as prioritizing voting, judicial reform and advocating against runaway campaign finance spending and gerrymandering. He is neither hopeful nor hopeless; rather, his pragmatic tone and realistic approach to what needs to change, and why, makes for a nuanced discussion of civic minutiae, current affairs and historical context that is approachable. While some of the details he mentions have already come to the public forefront (e.g., the Mueller Report and a gerrymandering suit taken before the Supreme Court), this book nevertheless proves itself a prescient how-to for those who, looking at current affairs, feel helpless to effect change. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer
Discover: Civil liberties lawyer Burt Neuborne probes the state of American democracy and suggests citizen actions to "put the brakes on a runaway train."
Essays & Criticism
Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion
by Jia Tolentino
In her highly anticipated debut, Trick Mirror, columnist for the New Yorker Jia Tolentino thoughtfully deconstructs the ethos and mythos of millennial culture, locating within it several key defining themes: infinite scams (Fyre Festival, Theranos), paralyzing economic insecurity (the student debt crisis, the Great Recession) and the unabashed monetization of the personal profile (influencer culture). In nine essays, Tolentino taxonomizes contemporary culture, identifying how the principal forces of reality television, social media and growing political extremism have carved out a particular way of engaging with the world that, for an entire generation, renders selfhood inextricable from capital.
Trick Mirror's first essay, "The I in Internet," grounds the scope of Tolentino's exploration in incredibly stark terms. She argues that the Internet, the key force in millennial identity creation, is entirely oriented toward performance, decontextualization and opposition. Tolentino leaves it to readers to decide what the long-term social consequences of that are, but she does posit the notion that somewhere in the last decade, online presence has become less of a hobby and more of an existential necessity.
A millennial Sontag, Jia Tolentino exhibits profound cultural fluency on a wide range of topics: her essays move seamlessly and cannily between Barre class, Harriet the Spy, mega-churches and drug use--topics otherwise disparate, but cleverly bridged through her analysis. Tolentino documents the extreme precariousness of the advanced capitalist landscape with wry humor and candid self-reflection about her participation in the systems she critiques. A brilliant and hilarious book, Trick Mirror brings some much-needed nuance to contemporary cultural discourse. --Emma Levy, publishing assistant, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Jia Tolentino chronicles an era where Instagram influencers peddle laxative teas, Amazon tracks users' every move and feminism is the market's hottest commodity.
Consumed by Hate, Redeemed by Love: How a Violent Klansman Became a Champion of Racial Reconciliation
by Thomas A. Tarrants
In the 1960s, Tom Tarrants, a product of the segregated South, began reading virulently racist and anti-Semitic literature, started associating with the Klan and ultimately attempted to bomb the home of a prominent Jewish leader in Meridian, Miss. Tarrants was shot four times by law enforcement but survived, and after several surgeries was tried and sentenced to 30 years at Parchman, the most notorious prison in Mississippi. Through Klan contacts, Tarrants orchestrated an escape, but was recaptured and put in solitary confinement for the next three years.
During those three years, he had nothing to do but read. At first, he continued with hateful literature, but slowly he broadened his horizons, and read everything from Plato to the Bible. This led him to convert to Christianity, and caused a drastic change in his personal life. His behavior altered so abruptly that prison guards and FBI agents alike spoke out on his behalf, eventually leading to his release after eight years in Parchman.
Tarrants went to college and seminary, became a pastor and then took a position at the C.S. Lewis Institute, training and teaching other pastors. For many years he has spoken out against racism within the church, promoting racial reconciliation and "seeking the common good and loving people across political divides." His life is an astonishing one, and Consumed by Hate, Redeemed by Love creates hope in this troubled era that other lives can be equally changed. Poignant yet to the point, Tarrants's story of redemption will appeal to both Christian and non-Christian readers. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this engrossing memoir, a former Klansman shares how he found faith in prison and became an advocate of racial reconciliation.
Children's & Young Adult
A Royal Guide to Monster Slaying
by Kelley Armstrong , illust. by Xavière Daumarie
Clan Dacre has ruled over the clans of Tamarel for generations, their authority based on a simple promise: "We will keep the monsters away." In every new generation, the eldest child in Clan Dacre takes the ivory throne, and the second-born takes the "gleaming ebony-wood" sword of the royal monster hunter. Twelve-year-old Princess Rowan wants nothing more than someday to take over her aunt's role as royal monster hunter. Unfortunately, she's two minutes older than her twin brother, Rhydd, placing her in line for the throne instead. When disaster strikes, Rowan has the chance to prove herself and take her aunt's position. All too aware of the dangers of monsters, she sets off on her first quest accompanied only by a feisty baby jackalope and her aunt's fearsome warg, a giant wolf who watches her "like a nursemaid who hates children." Hunting is what Rowan knows best, but can she prove she is best suited for the sword?
A Royal Guide to Monster Slaying by Kelley Armstrong (author of the adult thriller Wherever She Goes; the Age of Legends series) is an intrepid adventure filled with cunning pegasi, unicorns ("Jerks. All of them.") and a deadly gryphon. Rowan's scientific curiosity about the monsters is a wonderful counterbalance to her own impulsive nature, and the monsters themselves are enchanting and terrifying forces of nature. Complemented by Xavière Daumarie's illustrated field guide to monsters at the back of the book, A Royal Guide to Monster Slaying is a fresh take on familiar fantasy creatures and situations. --Kyla Paterno, freelance reviewer
Discover: Twelve-year old Princess Rowan must prove herself worthy of becoming the next royal monster hunter in this first installation of a new middle-grade series.
Here There Are Monsters
by Amelinda Bérubé
Deirdre, at 13, "refuses to wear anything but dresses, and... leaves her hair unwashed until it's hanging in lank strings." She's imaginative to the point of seclusion, living in made-up worlds of tarot card queens, "stick monsters and animal bones." Her parents think she's having "trouble adjusting," but older sister Skye knows better--Deirdre doesn't want to adjust, she wants only to live in her fantasies, where Skye is her knight. Now 16, Skye refuses to be Deirdre's champion any longer. She's spent years coming to her little sister's rescue because kids are mean and because Deirdre--often purposefully creepy--makes herself a target. The family has moved, and Skye is determined to start over, make friends, remove herself from Deirdre's games of queens and knights and stick golems. Then, Deirdre goes missing, and Skye becomes "that girl with the missing sister"; "Count on Deidre to ruin everything," Skye thinks, "spreading awkward silence like a plague."
Deirdre's disappearance is weird, though. Her bed was filled with leaves, pinecones and sticks and, though the police found her boots in the spread of forest and swamp behind the house, she is nowhere within a range that makes sense for barefoot travel. Skye begins noticing scrabbling noises around the house, sees visions of things moving along the edges of the woods, hears a tinkling bell that begs to be followed into the forest.... Is it possible that Deirdre's fantasies aren't made-up? That they're real and malevolent?
Amelinda Bérubé's novel is tight with tension and full of disquieting suspense as she builds a world in which the reader cannot find footing. Everything and everyone reeks of malice while nothing and no one can be trusted--perfect conditions for a compelling YA horror. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Skye's reclusive, threatening younger sister disappears in Amelinda Bérubé's chilling Here There Are Monsters.
Alfred's Book of Monsters
by Sam Streed , illust. by Sam Streed
Alfred's favorite book, about the "monsters that lurk... in the shadows of his little town," begins "the Nixie soaks at the bottom of the stream, beneath ancient slime and pitch-black mud." Holed up in his study, Victorian-era Alfred reads about creatures like the Black Shuck (whose "one blood-red eye burns with an undying rage") until his incorrigible aunty makes him join her for tea. After learning about the Lantern Man, who carries the "light of one thousand souls," Alfred decides to invite the monsters to tea time, hoping to turn something charming into something terrible.
With nods to Tim Burton and Edward Gorey, Sam Streed cheekily juxtaposes the "delightful" with the "dreadful" in Alfred's Book of Monsters. A simple color palette of black and brown punctuated with pops of near-neon colors helps contrast the mundane scenes with the supernatural ones. In scenes with Aunty, cold blues predominate, while warmer oranges, reds and yellows take over scenes of the monsters and Alfred in his study.
The very best part of Alfred's Book of Monsters is the Book of Monsters itself. A bird's-eye view of the pages, with Alfred's hands peeking out from the bottom margin, lets readers experience Alfred's wonderment. Each spread is made to look as though the book is ancient and handcrafted--with tears in the pages and thick, inky black drawings and text. The highly detailed artwork features renderings of the creatures' anatomies (such as their skeletal systems), ratcheting up the gothic tone. This delectably macabre picture book debut is creepy and atmospheric but not so scary that little ones won't enjoy it, too. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Discover: After reading about his town's monsters, a young Victorian boy decides to invite them to tea with his crotchety old aunty in this not-too-frightening gothic picture book.