From the Shelf
One, Two, Three, I Believe in Me
There are tons of Big Ideas in contemporary board books for the pre-reader crowd--quantum physics, thermodynamics, even pizza recipes.... With that in mind, it seems like a good time to bring it back to basics: counting, kindness and self-compassion.
We're Going on a Bear Hunt: My First 1 2 3 (based on the film of the same name, Walker Productions, $8.99) is a gentle counting-based introduction to nature. Each number--one to 10--is debossed, so young children can participate tactilely in "reading" the book, such as by drawing a finger along the downward-pointing dotted line of "1/ One dog sniffing the floor." Every number--"Four ducklings in the water./ Five mice curled up all together"--delineates where the child should start and finish drawing the number and is depicted on a page populated with gentle watercolor illustrations of animals, bugs and plants.
Michael Joosten and Wednesday Holmes's Pride 1 2 3 (Little Simon, $7.99), like Bear Hunt, brings children on a trip from one to 10. Where Bear focuses on the "natural" world, though, Pride 1 2 3 features the "queer" world. Starting with "1 parade in the month of June" and ending with "10 waving flags fly brightly with pride," boldly colored pages with a thick black line depict illustrations of diverse groups making merry.
The second in Scholastic's Wonderful Me board book series ($9.99), written by Lorie Ann Grover and illustrated by Carolina Búzio, is as joyful and colorful as Pride. Like the first book, I Love All of Me, I Believe in Me shows children joyously taking part in everyday actions: standing, clapping hands, dancing, dressing, singing and sliding. Simply, it's an exuberant reminder to young children to love and trust in themselves.
In this Issue...
by Te-Ping Chen
An insightful collection of 10 short stories following the everyday lives of contemporary Chinese people.
by Kristin Cashore
When Queen Bitterblue disappears, the daughter of her adversaries gets drawn into her political intrigue in this richly spun fourth volume in the Graceling Realm series.
In this entertaining and informative resource, a neuroscientist provides techniques for guiding the inner voice toward more productive, healthier conversations.
Review by Subjects:
Fairy Tale Book Restoration
"Self-soothe with this video of a 120-year-old book of fairy tales being restored," Lit Hub advised.
"The first American cookbook: sample recipes from American Cookery (1796)." (via Open Culture)
Mental Floss recalled "when Abraham Lincoln tried his hand at being a true crime writer."
Author Eula Biss picked her "top 10 unconventional essays" for the Guardian.
Russia Beyond explored "how Tolstoy's banned novella started a sexual revolution in Russia."
Rediscover: The Wapshot Chronicle
Novelist and short story writer John Cheever (1912-1982), sometimes called the "Chekhov of the suburbs," set much of his work in Manhattan's Upper East Side, the Westchester suburbs or New England villages around Quincy, Mass. His most famous short stories include "The Enormous Radio," "Goodbye, My Brother," "The Five-Forty-Eight," "The Country Husband" and "The Swimmer," most of which were first published in the New Yorker. Cheever also wrote four novels: The Wapshot Chronicle (1957), The Wapshot Scandal (1964), Bullet Park (1969) and Falconer (1977). A short story collection, The Stories of John Cheever, won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and a National Book Critics Circle Award, and its paperback version won a National Book Award in 1981. His final work was the novella Oh What a Paradise It Seems (1982). Cheever received a National Medal for Literature by the American Academy of Arts and Letters six weeks prior to his death from cancer in 1982. His daughter, writer Susan Cheever, revealed her father's bisexuality in her 1984 memoir, Home Before Dark.
Cheever's debut novel, The Wapshot Chronicle, follows the eccentric Wapshot family, who live in a Massachusetts fishing village and share certain autobiographical aspects of Cheever's life, including a bisexual son. It was ranked 63rd on Modern Library's list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. A sequel, The Wapshot Scandal, follows a Wapshot wife who runs off to Italy with a 19-year-old A&P bag boy. Both books are available today in new paperback editions from Vintage International ($16.95). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Te-Ping Chen: The Beauty of Daily Life
|photo: Lucas Foglia|
Te-Ping Chen is a fiction writer and journalist, whose debut collection of short stories, Land of Big Numbers (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, reviewed below), is a portrait of the lives of ordinary people in modern-day China. As a staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal, she lives in Philadelphia and was previously a correspondent in Beijing. She recently chatted with Shelf Awareness about how her experiences in China shaped her writing.
Land of Big Numbers is entrancing from the first sentences. Your language and pacing really bring these vignettes to life. Did you have any specific reasons for wanting to tell a collection of different stories instead of following one character?
That is so enormously kind of you! In some ways it was a byproduct of my life at the time. I wrote Land of Big Numbers while I was working as a journalist in Beijing, and I do think there was something about the short story form that felt really well-suited to the rhythms of my work there, when I'd be reporting or traveling for the paper but also had pockets of time that felt more fallow, where I could dive more deeply into fiction and write in more intense bursts.
And part of what I was attempting to do--to conjure up the country, and the incredible multiplicity I saw around me--just felt naturally suited to the short story format. China is a country that's so sprawling and complex and packed with billions of stories; in some ways I couldn't make myself pick just one. I also had so much fun writing in this genre--the spontaneity of it, the lightness of the form, the way it really allows you to assemble a world through different canvases.
How have your experiences reporting in China shaped and influenced your storytelling?
China is the kind of place that can grab you by the throat and simultaneously make you swoon, all in the course of an afternoon. This book is really me trying to write through and capture the extraordinary nature of the place, as well as the deep emotions I found it provoked, both as a journalist and as a human being. It's an intense place to live, and I felt a deep sense of urgency all during my time there to try to capture those experiences around me, but also a profound sense of inadequacy. I'd take a photograph or write a news story, but it never felt like enough.
That's what really animated these short stories--a desperate feeling of wanting to write it all down. And once I started to write these short stories, it was as though I could finally take a breath.
Has it been easy to switch writing gears between journalism and fiction? Can you speak a little bit about your process in putting together this collection?
Part of what I love about the short story form is how so much of the writing process can be unmapped. Many of these stories started with a stray image or idea, or a voice that suddenly took shape in my head. I might not know who it belongs to, who the character is, or the significance of any one image, but the writing process would reveal it, and that's where a lot of the fun lay.
I didn't know these stories would become a collection, but I was conscious of trying to challenge myself when writing them, of trying to write different kinds of characters, not all of whom I might relate to so readily. Another thing I was conscious of--this might sound silly--but I wanted the stories to have beauty in them. There can be a lot of harshness in daily life in China, and I didn't want the stories to flinch from that, but I also wanted to welcome the reader in and offer pleasure in these stories, too.
As a writer of both nonfiction and fiction, you tell stories. Does fiction allow you to give voice to the human condition in a way that journalism cannot?
That's such a good question. I think both absolutely give voice to the human condition but can do so in different ways. When I was working as a reporter in Beijing, so often I'd encounter details or scraps or stories that might not have been newsworthy, but still said something powerful about the world. There are so many subtle nuances to relationships, families and lives that don't really have a place in traditional print journalism. I love being a reporter--and am especially grateful for the chances I had to travel in China and get to meet so many extraordinary people--but I also found myself craving a space to share some of the vividness of the world around me in ways that felt more lush and expansive.
Land of Big Numbers starts with the story of Lulu. It is filled with such understated suspense that I think I read the entire piece without even taking a breath. In it, you follow two different paths of the Chinese youth experience. Was this purposefully chosen to be the first story in the collection and do you feel that it sets the tone for the rest of the book?
To me the themes of that story are in many ways the questions at the heart of the book, ones that I wrestled with a lot while living in China (and frankly, upon returning to the U.S., too). How do you make meaning and try to create a life when you're operating in a society that can be simultaneously both so unjust and cruel? What does freedom look like, and what does it mean to be a good person? I felt a lot of love for those characters and their family, and I hope that comes through, both in "Lulu" and other stories in the collection.
What well-worn editions of books would we always find on your bookshelves?
Too many to list! As a child I was obsessed with authors like L. Frank Baum, C.S. Lewis and L.M. Montgomery, and those worlds they created ended up feeling like second homes to me. For short story authors, Maile Meloy, Jhumpa Lahiri, Lesley Nneka Arimah, and Carmen Maria Machado are some of the ones that I return to again and again. Other authors in my own personal pantheon are people like Zadie Smith, Lin Yutang, Richard Yates and Kazuo Ishiguro.
Are you working on another book project?
I'm working on a novel about a pair of sisters who grow up and are estranged during the Jazz Age in Hawaii. It's been challenging to find space to work on it amid the past difficult year, since my husband and I are at home with a very mobile toddler and I'm still working full-time, but also fun to have a world to turn to that's utterly removed from this one. --Grace Rajendran, freelance reviewer and literary events producer
Land of Big Numbers: Stories
by Te-Ping Chen
Land of Big Numbers: Stories, the debut by author and journalist Te-Ping Chen, is a luminous collection of 10 short stories focused on the people of contemporary China and its diaspora. The collection crosses continents with expert ease; each story is a vignette about ordinary individuals navigating their way in a world of governmental and societal obstacles. Chen's writing is captivating, whether describing the effects of a fruit that imbues euphoric feelings, a young woman being stalked by her ex or the plight of a group of commuters trapped in the subway for months. She skillfully blends social commentary, politics and the human condition with a sprinkling of magical realism.
Chen's years as a Beijing correspondent for the Wall Street Journal give her first-hand insight into the dichotomy of daily life in modern-day China. While she does not shy away from the oppression or the disillusionment that the characters face, she is able to illuminate the beauty of ordinary life in Chinese society. Chen's love for her subjects and compassionate observation is seen throughout the collection and especially when describing common household scenes: "She liked the way his mother made their kitchen fragrant, dicing red and green bell peppers into pixels.... She liked the way his father knew the seasons, how squash grew and how to pick the kinds of melons that were sweetest."
The stories, although distinct, are woven together by threads of wistful longing. Chen's understated and nuanced language and pacing attest to her prowess as a great storyteller. --Grace Rajendran, freelance reviewer and literary events producer
Discover: An insightful collection of 10 short stories following the everyday lives of contemporary Chinese people.
Proceed with Caution
by Patricia Ratto , trans. by Andrea G. Labinger
Proceed with Caution is the title of this collection as well as one of the stories in it. Readers might also take the phrase as warning: nothing is quite what it seems in Argentinian Patricia Ratto's fascinating English-language debut. Translated by retired Spanish professor and PEN/Heim Award-winning Andrea G. Labinger, the eight stories and ending novella comprise an intriguing introduction to Ratto's unusual fiction.
The relationship between human and beast proves unpredictable, potentially fatal in several stories: "Quintay," about a whaling town's sickening workers; "The Guest," in which an avian witness observes a less-than-intimate first date; "Rara Avis," about a bird-saving man whose caring rescue sets in motion shocking results; and "As If the World Were Ending," about a sneaker-wearing gardener whose true identity isn't exactly human.
Voyeurism--sometimes involving animals--looms in "Black Dog," about an old woman who judges her new neighbor's sexual liaisons. In "Chinese Boy," a woman with anti-Sino sentiments becomes obsessed with a Chinese stranger and watches silently as he is bullied. The titular "Proceed with Caution"--the collection's highlight--follows a cynocephalus (dog-man) who mysteriously visits a lonely widow in her final days. The ending novella, "Submerged," evokes the claustrophobic conditions of 864 hours underwater in a military submarine during the Falklands War, in which the narrator may not even be alive.
Often eerie, sometimes bizarrely comical, other times head-shakingly disconcerting, Ratto's stories here don't always succeed as consistent standouts, but their ability to surprise, confound, even agitate certainly makes for a deserving read. Savvy global readers will find much to explore between these pages. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Argentinian writer Patricia Ratto makes an engrossing English-language debut with eight stories and a novella that prove--in a word--highly unpredictable.
On Fragile Waves
by E. Lily Yu
On Fragile Waves by E. Lily Yu is a shockingly visceral portrayal of a young Afghan family's escape from Kabul and their perilous voyage to Melbourne, Australia. Yu captures with poetic grace the bewildering emotions of abandoning the lingering comforts of a home too dangerous to live in, from the taste of local fruit to the smiles of friends and the surprising predictability of daily life in a war zone.
Firuzeh was born amid the shuddering sounds of gunfire, followed a few years later by a brother, Nour. The children call their mother and father Abay and Atay. As they leave Kabul and travel to Peshawar in Pakistan, Abay and Atay spin elaborate folktales of bravery and adventure to distract the children from the uncertainties of their journey.
When the boy and girl ask, "Where's Australia?" Atay replies, "I don't know. But it's safe." At the mercy of traffickers for whom "borders were like jump ropes," the family is flown from Peshawar to Jakarta, Indonesia. The journey from Jakarta to their final destination is beset with trauma, including a typhoon and an extended stay at a detention facility where refugees are treated like criminals, and where their dignity is confiscated along with their cellphones.
An award-winning author of speculative fiction, Yu's debut offers a heartbreakingly innocent and occasionally humorous lens through which the oft-bickering Firuzeh and Nour experience life in Melbourne. Their parents, in pursuing stability and freedom, realize too late that the cost is unacceptably high, an impossible choice captured with stunning and devastatingly simple prose. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and freelance reviewer
Discover: This intimate window into a family's difficult migration from Afghanistan to Australia gracefully sheds light on how they survive an infamous detention facility.
by Sean Desmond
With Sophomores, Sean Desmond (Adam's Fall) evokes late-1980s Dallas and its suburbs with eerie precision. Spanning just one school year, this is a novel to get lost in.
In the fall of 1987, Dan Malone is a sophomore at the Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas. He belongs to a tight foursome of boys who support each other at school and in their forays with the girls of Ursuline Academy. A bit tortured by his shyness in both areas, Dan's interior workings are self-consciously earnest but endearingly real. Dan's father, Pat, is an airline executive facing a serious industry downturn, culturally Irish Catholic and miserably estranged by his displacement (for work) from his native Bronx. He drinks too much and hides it poorly from his family. He struggles with a recent diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.
Mother and wife Anne provides an essential counterpoint to Dan and Pat's heavily male worlds. As a devout young woman, Anne had been a novice at Sisters of Charity, but she grew into a worldly, quietly feminist woman, inclined to be contrary in her internal monologues. Still a serious Catholic, Anne argues with the pastor both in her head and via anonymous phone calls.
These three perspectives triangulate to offer a rich, subtle story of family grief and love, teenaged seeking and adult angst. Sophomores is a sharp, crystalline look at a few months in the lives of a "regular" family. With a keen gaze, it captures a city in transition and a boy just coming of age. Dan and his parents will stay with the reader long after the story is finished. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: A boy begins to find himself as his parents face private battles of their own in this poignant and searching novel.
The Low Desert: Gangster Stories
by Tod Goldberg
Tod Goldberg's sense of humor and attention to character distinguish the stories in The Low Desert from more traditional fiction about the folly of criminals, those who try to thwart them, and those operating somewhere in between. "Professor Rainmaker" revolves around William Cooperman, who invented an ecologically sound but ultimately unmarketable product intended to obviate the need for elaborate sprinkler systems; instead, he uses the technology to grow incredibly powerful weed, which he sells. Meanwhile, he grudgingly teaches a summer school course in hydrology and listens to gangsta rap "so that he could figure out what the hell people were saying to him, both in class and on the streets." "Palm Springs" centers on Tania, a middle-aged, unmarried cocktail waitress who works at a casino and is looking for her 18-year-old daughter, Natalya, who has disappeared. Some years back, Tania was able to adopt a child from Russia because she won big one night at Caribbean stud: "Adopting Natalya wasn't something Tania planned. It was the money that did it. Well, the money and loneliness."
Tania and others cycle through The Low Desert's dozen stories. Readers may be surprised, if not always relieved, upon learning that certain characters have lived to tell or inhabit another tale. The Low Desert isn't for the faint of heart, but Goldberg (Gangsterland; Gangster Nation) counterbalances the brutality with glimmers of humanity: several of his characters have soft spots for dogs, some lawless types dream of bettering themselves. In "The Spare," a high-ranking member of a crime family decides to risk it all so that his son "would never make the same mistakes" he has. The kid has a better chance of winning at Caribbean stud. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: A dozen witty but pitiless stories revolve around lowlifes hell-bent on the high life, their hapless pursuers and those operating somewhere in between.
Mystery & Thriller
by Abigail Dean
Forgiveness can be both cathartic and corrosive, depending on how one is affected by another's actions, as illustrated in Abigail Dean's gripping debut, Girl A. For Alexandra "Lex" Gracie, forgiveness is a commodity she cannot afford when it comes to the abuse she and her siblings endured from her parents in their home in Hollowfield, England.
Lex was 15 years old when she escaped the "house of horrors" and alerted the authorities, who freed the other children. Dubbed "Girl A" by the authorities, Lex and her siblings were each eventually adopted by different parents in various regions. Now in her 30s and a successful lawyer in New York City, Lex returns to England after her mother, Deborah, dies of cancer in prison. Deborah made Lex the executor of her estate, which includes a bit of money, thanks to good investments by their father, who committed suicide the day Lex escaped. But the estate's main asset is the Hollowfield house, which Lex wants to turn into a community center. To do that, each sibling must agree to the plan.
Anger propels Lex, who has never forgiven her parents, nor does she intend to. Lex's visits to her siblings, some of whom she hasn't seen for decades, forces each to come to terms with their past. Each Gracie child has reinvented themselves, yet, in many ways, none can move beyond their horrible childhood. Dean also shows how Lex's father spiraled from an outsider with a few odd ideas to a violent abuser intent on establishing his own cult. Complicated relationships mired in the past accentuate the solid psychological thriller Girl A. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer
Discover: Complicated relationships ratchet up the suspense in this solid psychological thriller about a woman who reckons with her past when she becomes executor of the estate she fled as a girl.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by Everina Maxwell
True love must overcome political intrigue, murder plots and an imperial grandmother in British debut author Everina Maxwell's sweeping space opera romance, Winter's Orbit.
Scandalous, fun-loving Kiem, "Prince Royal of Iskat and the Emperor's least favorite grandchild," protests when the Emperor orders him to marry handsome, proper Count Jainan immediately. Kiem barely knows Jainan, and he is certain Jainen has no wish to remarry only a month after the death of his partner Prince Taam, Kiem's cousin. Since Iskat's treaty with vassal planet Thea rests on the marriage alliance, Kiem's grandmother overrules his objections.
With marriage comes immediate miscommunication. Kiem tries to give Jainan space to grieve, leading Jainan to believe Kiem wants nothing to do with him. As Jainan strives to be compliant and unobtrusive, Kiem assumes his silences denote disapproval. After they learn Iskat's security operations have covered up details of Taam's death, Kiem and Jainan must rely on each other or become the next casualties. Dealing with their growing attraction, however, may prove even more difficult than preserving interplanetary peace.
Maxwell creates a sci-fi setting packed with the delicate intrigue and social tensions of an imperial romance in this delightful slow-burn love story. Both leads will charm readers as kind Kiem tries to make traumatized Jainan feel safe, while shy and serious Jainan helps Kiem to see himself as more than the Emperor's most frivolous relation. Maxwell's witty dialogue, tender characterizations and portrayal of diverse gender identities should quickly win her a devoted fanbase. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: In this swoony, witty space opera romance, two men forced into a political marriage fall in love while investigating a murder.
Biography & Memoir
Ida B the Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells
by Michelle Duster
Trail-blazing journalist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells has re-entered the historical narrative. She was included in the New York Times "Overlooked" obituary series in 2018 and awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 2020. Her rediscovery is due in part to the efforts of her great-granddaughter, writer, speaker and activist Michelle Duster. Now Duster has written an accessible introduction to Wells, her accomplishments and why she matters.
Ida B the Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells is not a standard narrative biography. Duster moves back and forth in time. She sets incidents from Wells's life in the broader context of the Black experience in America. Duster shares her own family memories as a child during the Civil Rights Movement. Stories from Wells's life are punctuated with sidebars that explain critical events in Black history in the U.S. and illustrated with striking images of Black Americans, mostly women, who have made a difference, from Wells's fellow journalist and suffragist Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin to Kamala Harris. Duster ends with the story of efforts to preserve and promote Wells's legacy, and with a call to action for children to emulate Wells and dream big.
Duster does not sugarcoat the realities of discrimination, oppression and violence that Wells fought against. She celebrates Wells's many accomplishments, but she also shares her failures. The result is a useful introduction not only to Wells's life, but to the Black experience in the U.S. for adults and younger readers alike. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins
Discover: Ida B the Queen tells the story of a woman who fought for civil rights long before the Civil Rights Movement--and the ongoing fight for racial justice that builds on her legacy.
Business & Economics
Made in China: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Cost of America's Cheap Goods
by Amelia Pang
Oregonian Julie Keith was decorating for Halloween in 2012 when she came across an SOS letter, written in careful English with a mix of Chinese characters, stuck inside a package of cheap decorations she'd purchased at Kmart years earlier. The letter, from Chinese political prisoner Sun Yi, sparked a series of news stories and interest in Chinese forced labor camps. Despite the international attention turned toward the "open secret" of the Chinese manufacturing world, little changed in the long run--in large part, argues journalist Amelia Pang in Made in China, because of Americans' demand for trendy products at impossibly low prices.
Pang, a journalist with ties to the religious activist group of which Sun Yi also was a member, spent three years peeling back the layers of this stranger-than-fiction story, including interviews with Sun Yi, undercover trips to China to pose as a buyer, and covertly following trucks in and out of various Chinese factories to track suppliers and producers. Made in China is a careful account of all she learned, from the establishment of the first Chinese labor camps in the 1930s to the persistence of the present-day laogai ("reform through labor") industry--which "remains the largest forced-labor system in operation today... a vast network of prisons, camps, and various extralegal detention centers."
With clarity and sensitivity, Pang exposes the human cost of the global demand for cut-rate products, and provides clear calls to action for individuals, corporations and governments to stem these abuses. Any reader with half a heart will be hard-pressed not to re-examine their own buying habits after reading this incredible, moving account. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: Journalist Amelia Pang peels back the layers of one Chinese prisoner's SOS letter to reveal the human cost of American demand for cheap, trendy products.
Psychology & Self-Help
Chatter: The Voice in Our Heads, Why It Matters and How to Harness It
by Ethan Kross
In Chatter: The Voice in Our Heads, Why It Matters and How to Harness It, Ethan Kross presents intriguing scientific insight into the private conversations people have with themselves and offers a diverse toolbox of research-driven strategies for guiding the inner voice away from self-defeating rumination or "chatter."
Kross defines chatter as the cyclical negative thoughts and emotions that turn our singular capacity for introspection into a curse instead of a blessing. When chatter strikes, our inner coach becomes hijacked by our inner critic, exhausting executive functioning capacity and leading to the question at the crux of Kross's research: Is there a right way and wrong way to talk to yourself?
An engaging writer and self-described "mind mechanic," Kross is an experimental psychologist, neuroscientist and founding director of the Emotion & Self Control Laboratory at the University of Michigan. Chatter chronicles his success vanquishing intrusive thoughts, and walks readers through empirically validated anti-chatter tools. Gaining psychological distance from one's preoccupations, it turns out, is key, through self-talk methods such as addressing oneself by name or engaging in mental time travel to gain temporal distance from the agitated present. Immersion in nature, engaging in rituals and the use of placebos, even when we know they are placebos, can act like painkillers for distracting rumination.
"The key to beating chatter isn't to stop talking to yourself," Kross explains. "The challenge is to figure out how to do so more effectively." Readers who are chatter-prone will find many avenues for relief in Kross's entertaining and highly informative guide. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and freelance reviewer
Discover: In this entertaining and informative resource, a neuroscientist provides techniques for guiding the inner voice toward more productive, healthier conversations.
Children's & Young Adult
by Kristin Cashore
Kristin Cashore returns to her Graceling Realm series after eight years with a wonderful installment rife with political intrigue and tantalizing romance.
When Queen Bitterblue of Monsea learns that two of her emissaries have died under suspicious circumstances, she's heartbroken. Apparently, merchants from Winterkeep have been stealing Monsea's zilfium--a powerful fuel--and it appears they've murdered her men to keep their secret. Bitterblue, along with her devoted adviser, Giddon, and Hava, her half-sister and spy, immediately sails to the Winterkeep capital, Ledra. As Bitterblue's ship approaches Ledra, she's swept overboard, unnoticed by her companions. Bitterblue is "rescued"--then immediately imprisoned and starved by persons unknown. Lovisa Cavenda, the daughter of two highly placed politicians in the Winterkeep government, is perfectly situated to dig into several important mysteries: Where is the zilfium going? And who has Bitterblue? While the devastated Giddon and Hava, believing their queen is dead, dedicate themselves to finishing Bitterblue's work--finding the corruption being hidden by Ledra's elite--Lovisa must decide if she's willing to do what it takes to become a (reluctant) hero of Winterkeep.
Cashore's fourth Graceling novel features two strong, but very different, female protagonists. Bitterblue, determined to uplift her "broken" country--stunted and traumatized from her father's reign of fear--jumps into danger headfirst, while Lovisa, also raised by an abusive parent, is slower to challenge her demons. But confront them she does, in this gripping tale of spies, romantic tension and moral dilemmas. Readers of the previous books should race to grab copies of this magnificent addition to the series. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: When Queen Bitterblue disappears, the daughter of her adversaries gets drawn into her political intrigue in this richly spun fourth volume in the Graceling Realm series.
Karma Moon: Ghost Hunter
by Melissa Savage
Karma Moon knows never to doubt those things her father has dubbed "woo-woo": fortune cookies, crystals, magic-8 balls.... Before Karma's mom left, she taught her daughter all about the importance of the mystical, paranormal and the just plain lucky. So, in Melissa Savage's enticing Karma Moon: Ghost Hunter, when Karma's dad's documentary film team gets a job filming a haunted hotel, she believes she'll need all the woo-woo she can get to face her fears and help make the film a smashing success.
After receiving a particularly lucky fortune cookie, Karma isn't surprised her documentarian dad gets an important call about a new gig. What does surprise her are the details: Netflix wants Totally Rad Productions to head out to the Stanley Hotel in the Colorado Mountains and investigate claims of paranormal disturbances. If they can catch a ghost on film, Netflix will even give them a second season. As Karma and her best friend, Mags, explore the hotel and its earthly inhabitants--the manager, gift shop owner and her grandson, a psychic who rents an office space, chef, an office clerk--they can't quite shake the feeling that maybe there really is a ghost or two lurking in the shadows.
Karma Moon is an insightful and entertaining look into the world of paranormal investigation for middle graders. The Stanley Hotel provides a fascinating historical backdrop and Savage (Nessie Quest) trusts her readers' critical thinking skills by giving them multiple potential explanations for the hauntings--as well as plenty of suspects for a potential hoax. Karma and Mags are admirably brave characters with a remarkable friendship in this spooky fun mystery. --Kyla Paterno, freelance reviewer
Discover: Karma Moon and her best friend help her dad's film company investigate a haunted hotel in this enchanting middle-grade novel.