From the Shelf
Take a Hike!
June 2 is National Trails Day, a great time to get outdoors and enjoy hiking, whether on a half-mile nature trail in a local park or on one of the classic long trails. To get inspired, read one of these books about hiking: the good, the bad and the ugly.
Bill Bryson's signature humor is in top form in A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (Broadway Books, $15.99), as he and a similarly out-of-shape friend set off to hike the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail with absolutely no preparation. What could go wrong? The memoir is side-splittingly funny and a thoughtful look at the historic trail and the importance of conserving wilderness.
The Optimistic Decade (Algonquin, $15.95) by Heather Abel is a thoughtful novel with a strong sense of place set in western Colorado at a utopian summer camp for kids. Rebecca, a reluctant counselor at the live-outdoors camp, and David, her childhood friend who loves the camp, both learn about themselves and how they can make a difference during one life-changing summer spent immersed in nature.
Cheryl Strayed's memoir of backpacking, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Vintage, $16.95), is even more harrowing than Bryson's. She undertakes the trail, equipped with zero experience, to escape the turmoil in her life, with no idea how harsh and unforgiving the trail is. Strayed pushes herself physically and emotionally up mountains and through snowfields in this moving, engrossing tale of renewal.
Peter Heller (The Dog Stars) turns his attention to suspense in the novel Celine (Vintage, $16). The title character is a kick-ass heroine who, at age 69, is a former FBI agent, crack shot and PI. She's also an avid outdoorsperson, and this gripping mystery takes place in and around Yellowstone National Park.
In this Issue...
by Tanya Boteju
In this YA debut, an awkward queer girl embraces the drag scene, adding sparkle to her boring life and learning to express herself with confidence.
by Brenda Wineapple
A historically relevant and detailed look at Andrew Johnson's impeachment.
by Julia Phillips
This lyrical, gripping novel set in Russia explores how a kidnapping tests a small community's complex relationships.
Review by Subjects:
Places to Visit for Mystery Lovers
Road trip: Atlas Obscura readers suggested "10 must-visit spots for mystery lovers."
Daniel Radcliffe's original Harry Potter glasses "are hitting the auction block," Mental Floss reported.
What would happen if famous literary bachelors joined The Bachelorette, Quirk Books wondered.
Open Culture explored the "strikingly beautiful maps & charts that fired the imagination of students in the 1880s."
In the new movie John Wick: Chapter 3--Parabellum, what was the assassin played by Keanu Reeves "reading at the New York Public Library?"
"Manga in the frame: images from the British Museum exhibition" were shared in the Guardian.
Rediscover: The Joy Luck Club
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the publication of The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, which follows four Chinese-American immigrant families in San Francisco. In 1949, four mothers formed the Joy Luck Club at the First Chinese Baptist Church, where they play mahjong for money and share stories. Tan's novel focuses on three of these mothers (one is recently deceased) and their four daughters. The Joy Luck Club is separated into four sections. The first recounts each mother's tumultuous life in China, the second tracks the childhoods of their daughters, the third follows the daughters as adult women and the final section returns to the mothers.
The Joy Luck Club was adapted into a 1993 feature film directed by Wayne Wang and starring Ming-Na, Lauren Tom, Tamlyn Tomita, France Nguyen, Rosalind Chao, Kieu Chinh, Tsai Chin, Lisa Lu and Vivian Wu. Tan's other novels include The Kitchen God's Wife (1991), The Hundred Secret Senses (1995), The Bonesetter's Daughter (2001), Saving Fish from Drowning (2005) and The Valley of Amazement (2013). Her most recent book is Where the Past Begins: A Writer's Memoir (HarperCollins). The Joy Luck Club was last published by Penguin Classics in 2016 ($17, 9780143129493). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Sonali Dev: Channeling Jane Austen in San Francisco
The author of A Change of Heart and A Bollywood Affair, Sonali Dev fully uses her experiences of life in both India and the U.S. in her new novel, Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors (out now from Morrow, reviewed below). She has won the American Library Association's award for best romance, the RT Reviewer Choice Award for best contemporary romance, multiple RT Seals of Excellence and is a RITA finalist. Dev lives near Chicago with her family.
Did you purposely choose the characters' careers and background to illustrate the elements that drive the story's connection to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice?
The seed of this novel was the gender flip. I had always wanted to retell Pride and Prejudice (what can I say, I'm a cliché). However, having grown up in India at a time when getting daughters married off still seemed like the primary focus of society, I was weary of that angle. So I knew it would never be a retelling that focused on marriage as the vehicle to break class ranks but that focused on power imbalances and navigating those in more personally relevant ways. And given how much we love Mr. Darcy for all his prickliness and how easily we forgive him when he decides to be a decent human being, I wanted to examine how that would work if Mr. Darcy were a woman, with all that pride, privilege and sense of entitlement--and, of course, nobility of intent.
That's where Trisha's career and background come from. With DJ, I wanted to explore the part of Lizzie Bennet's personality where she has every extrinsic reason to not love herself and to not have the courage of her convictions, and yet she believes herself worthy of things society tells her she doesn't deserve. It's a match made in story-heaven: two people who take being right so seriously and yet are so very wrong about each other.
I also wanted to dig into first impressions--how people judge you before they even know you. Culturally, both DJ and Trisha are constantly judged as being something completely different from who they are.
Did you draw from personal experience with your own family in the interactions of Trisha's large family?
Absolutely. My extended family is extremely close. Everyone is very much in one another's business, and expectations and rules are complicated and unspoken. On the other hand, it's a family that is focused on being progressive and on social change. My great grandfather spent his life knocking on people's doors and trying to get them to send their daughters to the school he built for girls, one of the first in colonized India. This was at the turn of the last century. People threw stones at him, literally and figuratively. My grandmother went to medical school in the 1930s; my other grandmother read Jane Eyre to me in elementary school and gave me my first glimpse of what a "book boyfriend" is. I grew up without most taboos of my time, being able to discuss anything and everything with my parents and grandparents. The notion that society is unchangeable was something I just never internalized. I feel like a lot of that leaks into how the Rajes live. This, of course, comes with a huge sense of responsibility toward your family and your world.
The Bay Area setting underlines the obvious contrast between the privileged lifestyle of the heroine and the hero's less affluent life. Could the story have been set as effectively elsewhere, in Los Angeles, for example, or New York?
A large part of our immigrant family lives in the Bay Area, so we spend a lot of time there and it feels very familiar to me personally. It was an absolutely deliberate choice to set the story there. One of the central themes of the book is finding the meaning of home. I needed a place where the immigrant experience (specifically the Indian American experience) isn't entirely isolating. Indian Americans are just about 1% of the U.S. population, and in most parts of the country, growing up Indian American can come with being treated like an other in your own home. In parts of the Bay Area, because of the large Indian population that has settled there, that cultural foreignness isn't as palpable.
It's also a place that takes knowledge and education very seriously. The Raje children have been raised to own their Americanness and assimilate, but living in that part of California has made it feasible in a way that's unique to the place, and that has impacted their personalities and how they interact with their world. They feel an ownership of their home because their environment doesn't push back like it can in other parts of the country.
Your novel tackles big subjects--prejudice, racism, economic divides--on a very personal level for your characters. Did you intentionally set out to bring readers intimate examples of coping with deep cultural issues?
It is always my intention to bring my readers as close to my characters' experiences as I can. And, of course, I want those experiences to be meaningful and relevant to what I want to say with my story. I believe that the only way to truly understand your own self and what you're doing in this world is to develop empathy for those whose lives feel entirely different from your own. From everything I see around me, this is hard for most people: walking in someone else's shoes as though they were your own. Fiction can facilitate the bridging of that gap better than almost anything else. Fiction is my gift for exploring and understanding life for myself and I take pleasure and purpose in sharing it. --Lois Dyer, freelance reviewer
by Julia Phillips
Julia Phillips, a Fulbright Fellow, stuns with her elegant and suspenseful debut, Disappearing Earth. Set over the course of a year on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East, the novel opens on a warm August afternoon. Two young girls are playing by the shore when a strange, limping man kidnaps them under the ruse of asking for help getting back to his car. The chapters that follow offer intimate portraits of people who knew the girls or were members of their tight-knit community. The characters wrestle with the kidnapping while attempting to deal with the day-to-day demands of their lives.
Among the cast is a school administrator struggling with a serious health problem, two young schoolmates learning to deal with their fearful parents' restrictions on where and when they can go out, and a family member puzzling over her brother's increasingly strange behavior.
Each portrait is set in a different location on the peninsula, and all of them are brought to life by Phillips's astounding talent for conjuring a sense of place. The chapter set in the region's thick woods, for example, brims with natural textures and smells: "Charred wood, rich sulfur, and cold earth; the smells of nostalgia." The sights and smells of Russian cooking--garlic, onions, sugar, celery, beef tongues--are everywhere in this novel, lending the story an additional layer of realism.
Filled with unforgettable imagery, Disappearing Earth is an emotionally propulsive look at how a community learns to carry on in the aftermath of tragedy. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor
Discover: This lyrical, gripping novel set in Russia explores how a kidnapping tests a small community's complex relationships.
Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors
by Sonali Dev
Sonali Dev (A Change of Heart; A Bollywood Affair) gives readers an entertaining twist on Jane Austen's classic tale, reimagined in a contemporary family drama. Brilliant neurosurgeon Trisha Rajes is a socially inept member of a wealthy, multi-generational Indian American family. After a teenage error in judgment leaves her semi-estranged from her family, workaholic Trisha focuses on her career. British chef DJ Caine is well on his way to fame and fortune when his beloved sister becomes ill. He leaves behind his successful career and life in Paris to care for her in San Francisco, where he meets her physician, Trisha Rajes.
The two mix as well as oil and water, and their conflict provides a thought-provoking window into issues of disparate cultures, racism and economic divides. Nevertheless, DJ must deal with Trisha, whom he finds difficult and prejudiced. Trisha struggles to cope with her attraction to the handsome chef she believes is too proud to accept their obvious differences in wealth and societal position. The push-pull of sexual attraction heightens the emotional impact on characters already overwhelmed with difficult family situations.
When DJ's sister makes a health decision that he finds unbearable, however, Trisha's unexpected intercession has DJ rethinking his earlier judgment of her character. And when Trisha is compelled to analyze her own prejudices, she must reconsider her own narrow view of the world.
This sumptuous novel is rich with complicated personal and family conflicts, mouthwatering food and the contrast of wealthy vs. modest in a sophisticated urban setting. Dev has a well-deserved reputation for excellence in multicultural women's fiction and fans are certain to love this latest. --Lois Dyer, reviewer
Discover: Two vulnerable people must deal with their own pride and prejudice if they are to bridge cultures and find happiness in modern-day San Francisco.
Mystery & Thriller
by Ragnar Jónasson , trans. by Victoria Cribb
In The Darkness, Hulda Hermannsdóttir was on the cusp of forced retirement from the Reykjavík police department. The Island, which begins 25 years earlier, finds the detective agitating for a higher-ranking job that's opening at the station. Meanwhile, one of her colleagues is blackmailing another detective to ensure the conviction of a circumstantially guilty man whose 20-year-old daughter was murdered at the family's summer house.
Ten years later, Hulda, who lost the job she wanted to her crooked colleague, travels to the United States in hopes of finding her biological father, an American GI who had a fling with her now-deceased mother. With her husband and only child also dead, Hulda is picking her way through "the sorrow that now defined her life."
Back in Iceland, four friends reunite at a hunting lodge on the uninhabited island of Ellidaey to mark the 10th anniversary of the murder of the fifth person in their circle--the young woman killed at the summer house. When the four become three, Hulda is summoned to the island to investigate the death.
Ragnar Jónasson, who also writes the first-rate Ari Thór series, maximizes suspense by thwarting expectations. A typical example: The Island begins with a portentous-seeming scenario--a couple leaves their child with a babysitter--but the chapter concludes without serious incident; it's only toward the book's end that the reader learns the event's significance. The story in between is classic Jónasson: a refreshingly unbloody thriller that Hercule Poirot would have clamored to star in. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: The second thriller in a fine series set in Iceland goes back in time to show detective Hulda Hermannsdóttir attempting to solve both a murder and a personal problem.
A Deceptive Devotion
by Iona Whishaw
Canadian author Iona Whishaw spins another engrossing tale of murder, Russian assassins, British spies and local Canadian constabulary while deftly braiding the many story threads into a twisty plot in A Deceptive Devotion. In September 1947, retired spy Lane Winslow is happily contemplating her upcoming marriage to Inspector Darling when an elderly Russian woman seeks her aid. She takes the destitute lady into her home while Darling searches for the woman's missing brother. Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union, an aging spy Lane once tried to recruit for the U.K. is forcibly retired and sent off to a prison camp. He escapes, using his experience as an agent to seek a way out of the the country and reach asylum in Canada.
When bucolic King's Cove is rocked by a shocking murder, Lane and Darling's search for her guest's brother must take a backseat. But are they overlooking an integral connection between the missing sibling, the escaped Soviet spy and the grisly murder--one that could catch the killer?
Without slowing the pace of the main plot, Whishaw cleverly explores each of her main characters' life experiences that have brought them to this seemingly inevitable confrontation in King's Cove. This sixth entry in the Lane Winslow mystery series can be enjoyed without reading the prior titles and is sure to satisfy fans of riveting, well-conceived stories and smart, interesting characters. --Lois Dyer, freelance book reviewer
Discover: In 1947 postwar British Columbia, an ex-spy and her inspector fiancé solve a violent murder and unravel Soviet and British spy connections.
Food & Wine
Naturally Sweet Baking: Healthier Recipes for a Guilt-Free Treat
by Carolin Strothe , Sebastian Keitel
Carolin Strothe and Sebastian Keitel, the husband-and-wife team behind the beautiful Naturally Sweet Baking: Healthier Recipes for a Guilt-Free Treat, have created a luscious book full of mouth-watering baked goods. Strothe, a well-known German baker, and Keitel, a brand strategist, turn their talents and shared enthusiasm toward adapting recipes to reduce the amount of sugar in them. As they explain in the introduction, both of them grew up eating seasonally, aware of when fruits or vegetables are at their peak. They are alarmed by increasing amounts of hidden sugar in foods and produce that is often bred for extra sweetness.
Featuring fruits as the stars of the show, and encouraging readers to shop locally for in-season produce, recipes in Naturally Sweet Baking include Apple Crumble Muffins, Elderberry Gateau and a Cherry Tart. There are also adaptable recipes, such as the basic recipe for Oat Muffins that can be changed six ways--from banana and peanut butter to carrot and turmeric.
Each recipe has a gorgeous photo and easy-to-read directions. Most use natural sweeteners like maple syrup, honey or reduced amounts of brown sugar. As an added bonus, many of the recipes are gluten- or dairy-free, or are clearly marked with egg-free or lactose-free options. Bakers who are looking to make their sweet treats healthier, or people who are looking to cut down on their sugar intake, are sure to love Naturally Sweet Baking. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: This beautiful cookbook offers naturally sweetened recipes for sumptuous baked goods.
The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation
by Brenda Wineapple
In 1868, three years after Abraham Lincoln's death, the impeachment of Andrew Johnson marked a time of great divide and turmoil in the United States. It also brought an opportunity: removing Johnson from office would help advance the rights of African Americans, continuing one of Lincoln's signature goals.
The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation effectively captures the tumultuous events and pivotal characters from this crucial time in American history. Through her consideration of the investigation's limited scope, Brenda Wineapple (Ecstatic Nation) dispels any lingering perceptions that Johnson's impeachment was a foregone conclusion. One reason for this was that the House could consider only indictable offenses--in this case, Johnson's violation of the Tenure of Office Act--rather than his "abuse of power."
Wineapple delves into the specific grievances against Johnson, including his broad, almost unquestioned issuing of pardons to former Confederates and his attempts to disband the Freedmen's Bureau, which was established to aid newly freed slaves. The Impeachers gives the reader a front-row seat at Johnson's Senate trial as Wineapple argues that the president's acquittal by one vote stemmed from the possible fear that radical Republican Benjamin Wade might assume the presidency.
While recognizing that the circumstances of Johnson's impeachment and the individuals involved may have faded from memory, Wineapple's work reminds us of its importance and relevance to modern times. "To forget the reasons why Andrew Johnson was impeached, to denude or belittle them, ignores how a divided, culpable nation had destroyed so many lives," Wineapple writes. "If those reasons are forgotten, the impeachment of Andrew Johnson seems unreasonable or ludicrous. It was neither." --William H. Firman Jr., presidential historian and freelance writer
Discover: A historically relevant and detailed look at Andrew Johnson's impeachment.
The Map of Knowledge: A Thousand-Year History of How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found
by Violet Moller
For centuries, the pursuit of knowledge has been revered. The Library of Alexandria, founded by Ptolemy I around 300 BC, was the center of scholarship in the ancient world. By 500 AD, the Roman Empire collapsed, cities retreated and the ascendant Christian Church had little interest in pagan knowledge. The Library of Alexandria fell into ruin, and innumerable texts vanished--but not all knowledge was lost.
In The Map of Knowledge, historian Violet Moller examines how classical ideas from ancient Greece survived the Dark Ages--the 1,000-year period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the dawn of the Enlightenment. Moller focuses on Euclid's Elements (mathematics), Ptolemy's Almagest (astronomy) and the work of Galen, whose writings on medicine were so large they account for half of the surviving literature from ancient Greece. Over the millennia, six cities were instrumental in the preservation and transmission of knowledge: scholars in Baghdad laid the foundation for the scientific method, and Arabic translations of Greek texts flourished in the Iberian cities Córdoba and Toledo under Arab control. New trade routes and powerful leaders in Salerno and Palermo provided for the Latin translations of important texts that were disseminated throughout Europe. By the end of the 15th century, Venice became the center of intellectual life, and the newly invented printing press allowed for classical texts to be published broadly in vernacular languages.
Thanks to these politically stable and tolerant cities, scribes and scholars kept classical ideas alive for the great thinkers of the Enlightenment. Often ignored, the scholarship of the Middle Ages gets its rightful place in history thanks to Moller. --Frank Brasile, librarian
Discover: The Map of Knowledge is a sweeping survey of how classical ideas survived a thousand years of darkness.
White House Warriors
by John Gans
In his fascinating debut, policy strategist John Gans sheds light on one of the most enigmatic and profoundly influential institutions of the American government: the National Security Council (NSC). Written for policy wonks and political novices alike, White House Warriors is laid out as a chronology, tracing the NSC from its post-World War II inception, under President Truman's National Security Act of 1947, to its present-day incarnation and mode of operation under President Trump. Gans, in remarkable detail, explains how the advisory body has historically acted as a close, but unofficial, arm of the executive branch. He details, through key historical figures, how some of the most consequential decisions about war were made from boardrooms and briefing rooms. Perhaps most saliently, Gans demonstrates that the NSC is one of the principal ways through which readers can understand executive power and how different presidents choose to exercise it.
The NSC is the venue where looming figures in American politics like Henry Kissinger rose to power. It is an institution that has birthed both scandal and heroic effort. Gans gives his readers a three-dimensional view of the NSC by examining it closely at key historical points: the Vietnam War, the Iran-Contra affair and the invasion of Iraq. For a policy expert who obviously understands every nuance and contour of the NSC, Gans delivers an account that is illuminating, exceptionally readable and in the interest of any who wish to understand the American way of war. --Emma Levy, bookseller at Third Place Books Seward Park, Seattle, Wash.
Discover: Policy expert John Gans explicates the history and influence of the elusive advisory body that has historically shaped the American way of warfare: the National Security Council.
Coders: The Making of a New Art and the Remaking of the World
by Clive Thompson
If asked to name professions that impact our lives, many would list doctors, firefighters or others involved in life-saving professions. But on a daily basis, it's computer programmers who are "among the most quietly influential people on the planet." In Coders, Wired columnist Clive Thompson examines the architects of the digital world and their impact on every corner of society. Thanks to coders, we have unprecedented opportunities to access information, complete complex tasks and express individuality--all within the confines of decisions made by coders.
Women were the earliest programmers, gaining experience with primitive computers and as code-breakers in World War II. Within two decades, women were sidelined by men once the field became lucrative; it has been almost exclusively male ever since. Thompson interviews many coders to identify the traits that make them tick: an affinity for problem-solving, an obsession with efficiency, anti-authoritarian leanings and an infallible belief in the virtues of the meritocracy.
Thompson sees no question that software developed by coders has improved our lives in countless ways, yet his book does not shy away from the problems caused by the industry's white male monoculture. Rarely the target of harassment themselves, coders failed to anticipate how the platforms they created could so easily spread hate and disinformation. Recent trends show the beginnings of democratization in the field, as "hooded young Zuckerbergian coders" who felt they alone could change the world give way to women, people of color and residents of rural areas who can learn code on their own terms. --Frank Brasile, librarian
Discover: This compelling history of coders examines the monumental advances and challenges that computer programming has created in our everyday lives.
House & Home
The Art of Happy Moving: How to Declutter, Pack, and Start Over While Maintaining Your Sanity and Finding Happiness
by Ali Wenzke
When Ali Wenzke moved to Knoxville, Tenn., she thought she was moving to her dream town. Six months later, her family still hadn't settled into their new life, and Ali found herself lonelier than she'd ever been before. No stranger to moving (10 moves in 11 years!), Wenzke took a good hard look at where she had gone wrong and started a popular website for others struggling with the same problems. Now, in The Art of Happy Moving: How to Declutter, Pack, and Start Over While Maintaining Your Sanity and Finding Happiness, Wenzke offers practical and emotionally soothing guidance for one of life's biggest challenges.
Organizing and simplifying to shave off "packing pounds," where to save money and opportunities for earning it, and other tips and tricks are applicable to first-time movers as well as those who have made it a lifelong habit. The chapters are organized in sensible stages, from first thinking about making a move to "The Happily Ever After Checklist." Wenzke mixes conversational advice, hilarious real-world examples and self-assessment quizzes. Special sections are devoted to families with children, and pet considerations are included as well. The appendix offers checklists, guides and other activity sheets (plus a recipe!) that practically guarantee a stress-free move, thoughtfully created from years of experience.
Evaluation techniques for where and when to move and why, as well as how to commemorate what's being given up while finding joy in discovering the new, provide a comprehensive roadmap for anyone looking forward to--or dreading!--their next big move. --BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co., Beaver Dam, Wis.
Discover: Whether single, a couple or married with children, everyone at any stage of the moving process can appreciate this guide filled with tips, advice and self-assessment tools.
Children's & Young Adult
Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens
by Tanya Boteju
It's the summer before senior year, and Nima has been "wizened by two major disappointments": her mom left inexplicably over a year ago and the straight friend she's crushed on for three years doesn't want to be her girlfriend. Wanting to escape the monotony of what life has become, she seeks a way to prove she's not just "simple, awkward, humdrum Nima," but instead a person worthy of "framing and displaying on someone's wall."
When she dares to attend a drag show, Nima is befriended by the "gregarious and beautiful" drag queen Deidre, a "glittering being" with a "thrilling laugh" who convinces Nima she can add excitement to her "sad clown existence." But things continue to backfire: her best friend stops speaking to her after she pushes him into an embarrassing situation; she tries too hard to impress a new girl; and she receives a terse note from her mom requesting they meet. Nima is coping with so many heartaches, she believes her heart is "starting to develop some pretty solid calluses." But she welcomes Deidre's uplifting guidance and dazzling bravada, eager to find the courage to face life's madness and even command the drag stage herself.
At once comedic and heartrending, Tanya Boteju's Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens gracefully explores the fluidity of gender, sexuality and the teenage self. Nima's spirited journey to confidence should resonate with readers who have grappled with thoughts of inadequacy or low self-esteem. Told in Nima's endearingly witty voice, Boteju's debut celebrates the in-between in all of us, and the self-assurance that can be gained through self-expression. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer
Discover: In this YA debut, an awkward queer girl embraces the drag scene, adding sparkle to her boring life and learning to express herself with confidence.
The Absence of Sparrows
by Kurt Kirchmeier
On a summer day in the small town of Griever's Mill (population 3,004), "a roiling mass" of darkness rolls in, leaving "a sky that looked like a liquid bruise and sounded like a steel bridge on the verge of collapse." Eleven-year-old Ben and his 12-year-old brother, Pete, witness the harrowing aftermath: across the globe, adults are turning into obsidian glass statues. To make matters worse, the glassified victims soon start shattering. When an enigmatic voice on the radio suggests a radical plan to end the glass plague, Ben and Pete find themselves in opposition, with Ben racing to find another way to protect his family before it's too late.
Kurt Kirchmeier effectively uses a supernatural event to explore the many faces of grief in his debut, The Absence of Sparrows. Kirchmeier presents a family falling apart, and validates all of the characters and their coping methods, including Dad, who's using physical labor as a way of "erasing the past and fixing the future through sheer exhaustion," and Ben, who reminisces about his Sunday visits to a tea shop with Mom. Ben's nostalgic way of dealing with loss is felt in the details Kirchmeier includes--a general store, a Polaroid camera, a pair of "schoolyard menaces"--that call back to a simpler time. The timeless setting implies this kind of tragedy can happen anywhere at any time, and ratchets up the quiet fear that builds throughout the story.
With its swiftly moving plot and impending sense of dread, this coming-of-age horror novel is gripping and affecting. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Discover: When a small town experiences a strange plague that turns adults into glass, two brothers try to make sense of it in this thrilling middle-grade debut.
by Maya Motayne
Grief-stricken Prince Alfehr is all too aware that the loss of his brother, Dezmin, has robbed the people of San Cristobal of their "true king." Dez disappeared into an endless "dark void" in a failed coup, but Alfie, the reluctant crown prince, is sure his brother isn't dead. In hopes of getting Dez back "alive and well and ready to take the throne," Alfie has been studying "every text of illegal magic" he can find.
At an illicit card game to win four more "forbidden" books, Alfie meets Finn, a loner and thief with powerful magic. Finn steals the game's prize and Alfie uses his propio (unique magical gift) to trick her and take the books for himself. Alfie's theft sets off a series of events that forces Finn to steal a "vanishing cloak" from the palace, where she witnesses Alfie's best friend, Luka, being poisoned. Alfie, trying desperately to save Luka, uses magic too powerful for his abilities and accidentally unleashes a "monstrous villain" from a children's tale. Finn reluctantly offers to help Alfie--she will work with him to trap the power of Sombra before this "god of the dark" can sweep the world into the "endless night" of Nocturna.
Using alternating narratives, mostly from the points of view of Alfie and Finn, two flawed but worthy characters, Motayne's debut Latinx fantasy is a thrilling ride through a rich, magical landscape. The Castallan Kingdom and its one-time Englassen conquerors ground the story in a familiar, but decidedly alternate, universe. Creative magical elements shine and readers will surely be delighted by Nocturna. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: In this Latinx YA fantasy, Prince Alfie and penniless thief Finn work together to keep the dark god, Sombra, from sweeping the world into endless night.