From the Shelf
Ben Clanton: School Is Fin-damental
As a kid, school was something I had mixed feelings about. I had many great teachers, but I didn't make friends easily and I didn't learn as quickly as my peers. Reading was especially a struggle. So why, one might ask, have I written a book about school?
My love for reading came about slowly. It began with comics and eventually became an obsession, due in part to a series you may have heard of: Harry Potter. While attending college, my love of reading led to a passion for writing and illustrating. But my feelings about school were another subject. My school experience improved, but school still wasn't something I was eager to write about.
When Tara Walker, publisher at Tundra Books, saw a mention of a Narwhal and Jelly school-themed story at the bottom of a long list of ideas for future books, she was hooked. She knew right away that those were perfect waters for Narwhal and Jelly. I was unconvinced. Tara gently nudged me about the school theme for nearly a year. Then it clicked. It was the beginning of one of the most challenging school years in recent history, and I was hearing about the struggles with remote learning. But I also saw new levels of creativity and passion from teachers in my life. I found myself reflecting on some of the incredible people who taught me, and suddenly the story began to flow.
I hope teachers will give Narwhal's School of Awesomeness a decent grade and that their students will enjoy reading it--especially those like seven-year-old Ben. The book remarkably came out the same week my oldest child began kindergarten; I'm hoping he likes those waters as much as Narwhal and Jelly do! --Ben Clanton
Ben Clanton is the author of the Narwhal and Jelly early graphic novel series (Tundra Books).
In this Issue...
by Cassandra Peterson
Cassandra Peterson's inspiring memoir is a roller-coaster ride of dizzying highs and crushing lows, told with wit and candor.
by Rabih Alameddine
The brilliant Rabih Alameddine surveys the complexity of one doctor's identity in a wise and wisecracking novel about Syrian refugees arriving on Lesbos.
by Candace Fleming
Isabella Stewart Gardner's quirky personality and interest in art and collecting lead her to create a museum in this joyous picture-book biography.
Review by Subjects:
From Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe
10/15/2021 - 6:00PMMalaprop's is pleased to partner with UNC Press and the North Carolina Arboretum to present this discussion with Lytton John Musselman and Peter W. Schafran, authors of Edible Wild Plants of the Carolinas. Like most of our events, this event is free but registration is required. Click here to register for the virtual event. The link required to attend will be emailed to registrants prior to the event. If you decide to purchase the authors' books, we ask that you...
10/16/2021 - 11:00AMA CONVERSATION ABOUT RACIAL INEQUALITY AT THE NATION’S OLDEST PUBLIC UNIVERSITY The NC Poor People’s Campaign and the YMI Cultural Center present a conversation with civil rights attorney and UNC law professor Geeta N. Kapur, author of the new book, “To Drink from the Well: The Struggle for Racial Equality at the Nation’s Oldest Public University,” at 11 a.m. Oct. 16 at the YMI Cultural Center, 20-44 Eagle St. Kapur will be in conversation with UNC Asheville Professor Dwight Mullen, who with...
10/17/2021 - 3:00PMThe Writers at Home reading series features work from UNCA’s Great Smokies Writing Program and The Great Smokies Review. September's event is canceled, but Writers at Home will resume in October. RSVP here to receive the YouTube link for the live event. We will send a reminder email on the day of the event with link required to attend. Like most of our events, this event is free. If you decide to attend and purchase books recommended during the event, we ask that...
Cook and Stay Overnight at Julia Child's French Cottage
"You can spend the night--and cook up a storm--at Julia Child's charming French cottage," Mental Floss noted.
Merriam-Webster provided a handy guide to "ruffians, rapscallions, cads & more--22 charming words for nasty people."
"An alleged lock of Emily Dickinson's hair is selling for $450,000.... But was it stolen?" Lit Hub wondered.
"Tove Jansson, beloved creator of the Moomins, illustrates The Hobbit." (Via Open Culture)
Guardian illustrator Tom Gauld "on the power of the biography to shatter myths."
Rediscover: The Queen's Gambit
Netflix's series The Queen's Gambit, based on the 1983 novel by Walter Tevis, won two Emmy Awards last Sunday: one for outstanding limited or anthology series, the other for director Scott Frank. The show follows a female chess prodigy through her early years in an orphanage to her ascension among the ranks of chess world champions in the 1950s and '60s. Beth Harmon, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, must also contend with drug and alcohol addiction that began with tranquilizer pills dispensed to the orphanage's charges. The Queen's Gambit received abundant critical praise and set record streaming numbers on Netflix. The series was also favorably reviewed by real-life chess champions such as American Woman Grandmaster Jennifer Shahade, who told Vanity Fair it "completely nailed the chess accuracy."
Walter Tevis (1928-1984) also wrote the novels The Hustler (1959), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1963), Mockingbird (1980), The Steps of the Sun (1983) and The Color of Money (1984), several of which were adapted into successful films, and was the author of some two dozen short stories. A tie-in version of The Queen's Gambit was published last year by Vintage ($16.95) --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
We Are Little Feminists: Brittany Murlas
|photo: Mark Kuroda|
In 2017, Brittany Murlas found that few diverse books were published and marketed to new parents, so she launched LittleFeminist.com. Murlas previously worked for nonprofits serving people with disabilities and served as CMO of BabyList.com. Now, as CEO of Little Feminist, she lives and works in Oakland, Calif., and coaches woman-owned businesses on the side. Earlier this year, We Are Little Feminists: Families, written by Archaa Shrivastav and designed by Lindsey Blakely (Little Feminist, $8), became the first board book to win the Stonewall Children's and Young Adult Literature Award. Shelf Awareness spoke with Murlas about her company and its mission.
How did you feel when you received the call from the Stonewall Award committee?
I started crying immediately. I was so choked up that I couldn't respond. The poor ALA staff on the other side of the phone thought the call had dropped!
Did you know right away that this was the first board book to receive the award?
I was 98% sure we were the first board book ever to win an ALA award, because we had spent so many months at Little Feminist looking for diverse board books and not finding them.
Tell us about Little Feminist, how it works and what your goals are.
The goal of Little Feminist is to help families diversify their bookshelves. In focus groups I ran in our early days, I saw that parents were desperate to diversify their bookshelves but lost on how to start (Amazon really isn't very good at curation). So we started with a monthly book club subscription, which we call Little Feminist Book Club.
Our book selection team spends months searching for the best diverse books available, so that parents can focus on raising their conscious kids. Each month Little Feminist Book Club delivers the best diverse books to thousands of families around the world (accompanied by family discussion questions and a DIY activity).
Then, in 2019, as demand for our 0-to-3-year-old book club was exploding, we were running out of diverse board books to feature. Specifically, we found zero board books featuring people with disabilities; we found only five board books featuring trans and gender-fluid folks; we saw hair becoming an increasingly popular topic but found only one board book (published in Australia) that spoke to hair/head diversity.
At this point, we wondered, "Could we publish the books we knew were missing?" We didn't know much about book publishing, but we did know what the market was missing and what our families were asking for.
We decided to publish three board books, each focusing on a different aspect of intersectional feminism: mobility and ability, gender and sexuality, and race and ethnicity.
So many people worked on our books: we had one main designer, and then two consulting designers; we utilized a diverse book expert, two different writers, four different Little Feminist photographers and a logistics manager!
How did you decide to present this text in this format?
Our book club subscribers kept asking us for more photo-based books because they were their kids' favorites, so we knew we wanted to start with board books featuring photos, rather than illustrations.
Now we're planning on publishing more of the same, because with photographs myriad kids and families get to see themselves represented. With a single illustration style, this is a bit harder. We get to showcase even more diversity than we could with a single author and illustrator.
How did you choose the families represented?
Because We Are Little Feminists: Families, and our other two board books, were written to highlight intersectional feminism specifically, we wanted to make sure each book featured as many different types of identities as possible (Indigenous folks, people with disabilities, Muslim folks, trans and gender-fluid folks, to name a few). We created a ton of spreadsheets to track the identities we had represented, and what we were missing.
Our photographers took 60% of the photos featured, and the other 40% we sourced from influencers/advocates in the space. Of course, all the photographers and parents gave us permission to use their images.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell Shelf Awareness readers?
Little Feminist is a baby publisher--the reason we produced a book that won such high regard is because we talked to so many parents about what they were missing on their bookshelves. We read this book with countless families, educators and preschools. Every single family featured in our book gave us thoughts and advice on it. I encourage all publishers to do the same! --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
The Wrong End of the Telescope
by Rabih Alameddine
In The Wrong End of the Telescope, Rabih Alameddine, the celebrated Lebanese American author of The Angel of History and An Unnecessary Woman, trains a curious lens on the Syrian refugee crisis through the volunteerism of Dr. Mina Simpson, a trans woman from the States, "American of Lebanese and Syrian origin." She arrives on the island of Lesbos, "as close as [she'd] been to Lebanon in decades," at the behest of her friend Emma, whose NGO needs someone with Mina's skills. Moved by a compassion deeper than that of the average disaster tourist, Mina makes herself useful by attending to Sumaiya, a refugee who is resolute in her desire to protect her family, as she attempts to conceal a terminal illness.
But this arresting work of art has many more secrets to reveal. "The island seemed to be casting remembrance spells," Mina says in one of numerous ruminative chapters about her life leading up to this trip. "I was going in circles with my memories as if I were trying to unspool some curse." Her efforts to help a family that reminds her of her own--all but her brother estranged to her--exhumes a complex network of unresolved tension. This she confesses to an unspecified "you, the writer," who already failed to craft a novel about Syrian refugees, and whose identity is heavily inflected with many of Rabih's own attributes: "Fancy, idiosyncratic glasses teetered on the tip of your nose."
With enormous generosity and knowing humor ("don't f**king call it A Lebanese Lesbian in Lesbos, just don't"), The Wrong End of the Telescope is an unequivocal masterpiece. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: The brilliant Rabih Alameddine surveys the complexity of one doctor's identity in a wise and wisecracking novel about Syrian refugees arriving on Lesbos.
A Most Clever Girl
by Stephanie Marie Thornton
Real-life double agent Elizabeth Bentley had a long career spying for the Soviet Union and then informing for the FBI. In her compelling eighth novel, A Most Clever Girl, Stephanie Marie Thornton (The Conqueror's Wife) unravels the threads of Bentley's story, examining her reasons for joining the Communist Party and the complex life--love, grief and purpose--she had as a spy.
Thornton begins her story with Catherine Gray, a young woman who shows up on Elizabeth's doorstep holding a gun and seeking answers about her own past. As Elizabeth tells her story--slowly and deliberately, despite the gun and Catherine's impatience--readers get a glimpse into the life of a lonely young woman in postwar New York. Elizabeth takes Catherine through her early days in the Party, her transfer to the organization's elite underground (which required severing those early ties with comrades), and her longtime romance with her handler, Jacob Golos. Like Elizabeth, the book's narrative rambles a bit, but eventually picks up speed as Elizabeth is forced to make difficult decisions about her life and the lives of other Party informants.
Thornton's eye for historical detail takes her characters from seedy street corners to innocuous Manhattan restaurants and eventually to the courtroom, as Elizabeth testifies before the FBI and exposes some of her former colleagues. Twisty and well plotted, A Most Clever Girl touches on the moral complexity of Elizabeth's actions, but is first and foremost a chance for a much-maligned woman to tell her story. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Stephanie Marie Thornton's compelling eighth novel unravels the threads of love, espionage and complicated friendships in postwar New York.
Mystery & Thriller
The Stolen Hours
by Allen Eskens
At age 18, Lila was drugged and raped by an unknown assailant. Now 26, she's a young prosecutor suddenly sitting across the aisle from the man who may have committed the crime in a deadly cat-and-mouse thriller, The Stolen Hours by Allen Eskens (Nothing More Dangerous).
Someone spikes Lila Nash's drink with gamma-hydroxybutyrate, aka GHB, a date-rape drug. The teenager wakes up naked and alone in the backseat of a car. Lila knows she was raped, but has no memory of who did it. Nude pictures of her are circulated among her classmates, and even her best friend shuns her. Lila spirals into self-destructive behavior. A therapist helps her cope with trauma enough to make it through college and then law school, but her first big case as a junior prosecutor triggers memories of her assault when she comes face to face with Gavin Spencer. Gavin is charged with the rape and attempted murder of a woman named Sadie Vauk. Suddenly Lila realizes that the way Sadie was attacked mirrors the way Lila was assaulted. But Gavin is both smart and wealthy enough to attempt to have both Sadie and Lila killed before either woman can prove their story in court.
The killer rapist character, Gavin Spencer, is astonishingly brilliant and never leaves any forensic evidence that would connect him to his crimes. The Stolen Hours is a nail-biting read, as Lila desperately tries to stay on the right side of the law while making sure Gavin never again gets away with his crimes. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer
Discover: In this nail-biting thriller, young prosecutor Lila Nash plays a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a serial rapist.
by Catherine Dang
Missing girls, overlooked girls, smart girls, ambitious girls emerge in Catherine Dang's scintillating debut novel, Nice Girls. But none could be called nice girls--certainly not Dang's anti-heroine Mary, a sullen bundle of anger, unbridled temper, insecurities, failure, depression and self-loathing, determined to reinvent herself at college from an overweight, disliked teen. She almost made it, until an act of violence got her expelled from Cornell at the beginning of her senior year.
In high school, the near-friendless Mary concentrated on her grades, making her one of the few from her hometown accepted to an Ivy League college. Education was to be her escape, but now "Ivy League Mary," her nickname in the local newspaper, is back in Liberty Lake, Minn., considered a failure by her disgusted father and herself. Instead of a bright future, she finds mindless work at a grocery store. The day she returns, Mary's childhood friend Olivia Willand, now a social media darling, disappears. Mary's attempts to find out what happened give her purpose. She learns that another young woman's disappearance was ignored by the police because, Mary believes, that 19-year-old was Black.
Dang digs deep to explore Mary's ennui and the anger that prompts her spontaneously to lash out, alienating others. Her inability to trust others and herself causes her to make serious mistakes. Even when the edgy Mary behaves badly--as she often does--Dang keeps readers firmly on her side. Expertly character-driven, Nice Girls shows Dang is a talent to watch. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer
Discover: In this gripping, character-driven debut, a young woman forced to return to her small town after expulsion from college investigates the disappearance of two local women.
by Sofi Oksanen , trans. by Owen Frederick Witesman
Dog Park begins with two women originally from Ukraine sharing a bench at a park in Helsinki. As picturesque images go, it's just about the only one on offer in Finnish-Estonian novelist Sofi Oksanen's superb but pitiless thriller.
Narrator Olenka has recently begun working as a cleaning woman--part of a self-reinvention ("I had a Finnish passport and a new life in a city that smelled of the sea") that was undertaken for reasons initially unclear to readers. The shock of seeing Daria beside her on the bench prompts Olenka to recall her life in post-Soviet Ukraine, where, following the fizzling of the modeling career that was supposed to bring her financial security, she donated her eggs to an agency that paid young women for the opportunity to help infertile couples. Olenka became a coordinator for the agency, which found an eager recruit in Daria, a university student keen to make money to help her family.
Oksanen (Purge; When the Doves Disappeared; Norma) is an unflinching storyteller with a commitment to discouraging easy and obvious sympathies; as Olenka's narration jumps back and forth in time, readers' loyalty to some characters will be tested, as will an initial revulsion to others. Dog Park charts the particular degradations that women suffer due to war, poverty and imperialism, although one source of cruelty is purely psychological: as Daria says to Olenka of one of the couples who did business with the agency, "They don't remember you any more than me." --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: This searingly good thriller centers on two Ukrainian women who saw bright futures for themselves with an agency that paid women to donate their eggs to infertile couples.
Biography & Memoir
Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark
by Cassandra Peterson
Cassandra Peterson has been playing the spectacularly funny and statuesque vamp Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, for four decades, and now the comedic bombshell has written a real bombshell of a memoir. Although Peterson's sardonic sense of humor and love of punny wordplay shines through, Yours Cruelly is not fluff. This memoir is explosive, surprising and written with wrenching candor as Peterson explores the physical and emotional abuse in her childhood and her family's three generations of addiction.
At 14, she started working as a go-go dancer at a bar, doing her school work between dance sets. After high school, she became a Las Vegas showgirl. On her 18th birthday, she declined an offer from magician Siegfried (minus Roy) to be her first sexual partner. She also fended off Andy Williams and had a career-changing encounter with Elvis Presley. Her sexual encounter with Tom Jones landed her in an ER. At 29, her agent told her she was too old to make it in Hollywood but she found success when she created the character of sexy punk vampire Elvira and landed a job hosting horror movies at a local Los Angeles TV station.
Peterson's captivating tale is one of survival and perseverance. After six miscarriages, she finally gave birth to her daughter at age 43. When her abusive 20-year marriage ended, she found love with her female personal trainer, and the two have been together since 2002. (This book is her first public disclosure.) Peterson's inspiring life story is written with wit, empathy and verve. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: Cassandra Peterson's inspiring memoir is a roller-coaster ride of dizzying highs and crushing lows, told with wit and candor.
True Raiders: The Untold Story of the 1909 Expedition to Find the Legendary Ark of the Covenant
by Brad Ricca
A true but forgotten tale of archeological adventure and intrigue (and the hinted inspiration for the cinematic hit Raiders of the Lost Ark) is resurrected with novelistic flair in True Raiders: The Untold Story of the 1909 Expedition to Find the Legendary Ark of the Covenant by Edgar Award-nominated author Brad Ricca (Olive the Lionheart).
In 1909, British nobleman and adventurer Monty Parker assembled an eccentric group of adventurers to search for the coveted Ark of the Covenant in the caverns and tunnels outside the city walls of Jerusalem. Building upon the previous explorations of Captain Charles Warren in 1867, the group followed an assortment of clues, including the enigmatic Bible "secret code" that Finnish scholar Valter Juvelius claimed revealed the Ark's location. The expedition eventually ended after a controversial incident that outraged the Islamic population of Jerusalem and dogged Parker for years, the truth of which Ricca resolves thanks to recently uncovered records and newly translated sources.
Due to the fragmentary nature of the expedition's historical record, Ricca makes the bold choice to structure the book as a characterization of the events. Where history leaves a gap, Ricca admits adding dialogue and scenes "as adhesive to help convey the facts," and includes a healthy set of endnotes with supporting sources. Dyed-in-the-wool historians may feel uncomfortable reading True Raiders as true history, but general readers will find the scenes of dark, claustrophobic underground passages and mysterious stone inscriptions deliciously fun. --Peggy Kurkowski, book reviewer and copywriter in Denver, Colo.
Discover: Taking the "script" out of Scripture, this cinematic take on the 1909 Jerusalem expedition to find the Ark of the Covenant mixes fact and fiction and leaves readers to decipher the truth.
Essays & Criticism
Inter State: Essays from California
by José Vadi
In his debut collection, Inter State: Essays from California, poet and playwright José Vadi delves into the metaphysical terrain of his home state, "a place many fantasize about but few experience." Vadi is Afro-Puerto Rican, a third-generation Californian who grew up in Pomona and graduated from UC Berkeley, the son of a college professor and grandson of a bracero. His rambling, frenetic odysseys along California's byways reveal the scope of his profound connection to a state he feels sure he will never leave, despite the many unsettling paradoxes that define it.
Lingering in the remote enclaves of California's Central Valley, Vadi teases out the vestiges of a buried cultural history that nonetheless remains achingly visible. "I find a brand-new city park across the street from a large field with laborers actively and steadily picking up and down the rows." In Oakland and San Francisco, Vadi is unsparing, describing a sea of insular tech industry transplants "in a force field of privilege, keeping their noses and chins afloat, their devices instructing them where to drink... and how to algorithmically get there."
The mournfulness of these passages is offset by rhapsodic memories of skateboarding hangouts in downtown Los Angeles and fruit trees in family backyards. The ever-presence of history is both a blessing and a curse for Vadi--a reminder of everything that has been lost to California's endless cycle of gentrification and racial displacement, as well as an affirmation of fundamental realities no colonizing force could ever hope to erase. --Devon Ashby, sales & marketing assistant, Shelf Awareness
Discover: This dynamic collection of eight personal essays by native Californian José Vadi celebrates the history and culture of his home state while mourning the ravages of gentrification.
Now in Paperback
The Best of Me
by David Sedaris
For long-time David Sedaris fans, The Best of Me, a collection of the humorist's 46 favorite pieces, will feel like coming home. Drawn from his 10 books and nearly 30 years of contributions to magazines, including the New Yorker, Sedaris's writing inspires a "Have you read the one about...?" loyalty; anyone new to his satiric humor can anticipate hours of laughter (and some tears) in one volume.
David's five siblings accepted his ever-present notebook, knowing "their personal lives are the so-called pieces of scrap I so casually pick up." And while they might say, "You have to swear you will never repeat this," he writes, "I always promise, but they know my word means nothing." From the mundane to the tragic, Sedaris family members whip from poignant to hilarious, as when brother Paul launches a surprise shower with dripping parsley in the grocery store, the week the family has gathered to mourn their sister Tiffany's suicide. While family stories are at the heart of Sedaris's work, another favorite theme is his frequent travel, from flight attendants' secrets to the loud passenger who compares a broken overhead bin with Obamacare. While most of the 46 pieces are essays, short stories also reveal the humorist's quirky wit, several narrated by animals.
Introducing The Best of Me--a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice--Sedaris asks, "If I wasn't myself, and someone sent me one of my essay collections, would I recommend it to friends?" His fans know that they will, without hesitation. --Cheryl McKeon, bookseller, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.
Discover: David Sedaris collects his 46 favorite stories and essays from nearly three decades of writing, including classic tales of his family and musings on his worldwide travels.
Harrow the Ninth
by Tamsyn Muir
Harrow the Ninth has a tough act to follow in the deranged, electrifyingly fun Gideon the Ninth--a Shelf Awareness Best Book of 2020--but the middle chapter in Tamsyn Muir's Locked Tomb Trilogy is every bit as wild and weird as its delightful predecessor. Following the events of the first book, Muir shifts focus to the necromancer Harrowhark as she joins a cohort dedicated to assisting the godlike Emperor in fighting strange cosmic entities.
Muir has not lost her penchant for throwing readers in the deep end, and some incomprehension is to be expected on their part. In fact, Harrow the Ninth seems purposefully disorienting for fans of the first book: the novel bounces back and forth in time, retelling events from the first book with noticeable differences that grow more glaring over time. Whereas Gideon the Ninth welded the structure of a locked-room mystery to its saga of necromancers and their sword-wielding escorts in an ancient, crumbling space-tomb, Harrow the Ninth plunges confidently into a mind-bending puzzle box structure. There is plenty of satisfaction in piecing things together, but it's not just an exercise in cleverness: Muir has much to say about denial and the dangers of suppressing grief, building to an emotional conclusion that will melt the hardest of hearts.
Harrow the Ninth carries over all the strengths of its predecessor, including the verbal sparring and ever-entertaining insults: "you bursting organ, you wretched, self-regarding hypochondriac and half-fermented corpse with the nails still on." And it delves even deeper into the vulnerabilities of Muir's damaged characters. Few books can be this funny, sad and romantic all at the same time. --Hank Stephenson, manuscript reader, the Sun magazine
Discover: A worthy sequel to Gideon the Ninth, this novel expands the grotesque world of necromancers and skeletons within an unpredictable puzzle box structure.
Children's & Young Adult
What Isabella Wanted: Isabella Stewart Gardner Builds a Museum
by Candace Fleming , illust. by Matthew Cordell
In What Isabella Wanted, Sibert Medalist Candace Fleming (Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera) boldly succeeds in creating another winning nonfiction picture book, and Caldecott Medalist Matthew Cordell (Wolf in the Snow) handsomely illustrates this paean to one woman's idiosyncratic passions.
"Brash, extravagant Isabella" was an affront to staid Bostonians. She "strolled zoo lions up Beacon Street, and outraged all society." This was "exactly as Isabella wanted." Fleming's lively text portrays a person who did as she pleased, bought the art she wanted and built a magnificent home for her collections. In 1903, she opened her home museum to the public 20 days a year; after her death, she gave the house to Boston. Then, in 1990, there was a robbery of 13 pieces of art that have never been recovered. Two of Isabella's favorites, Vermeer's The Concert and Rembrandt's Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, were among the paintings stolen. Their empty frames still sit on the walls, as shown at the beginning and end of the book, providing a strong dramatic arc to this picture of a singular woman.
This stellar team presents a woman who collects art, first in person, and then through agents she sometimes instructed to use nefarious means. (The excellent backmatter candidly states, "We would call Isabella a thief.") Cordell's broken black ink line and watercolor illustrations are energetic as they offer impressions of Isabella's collected works and the woman herself in many different poses: dramatic in the black dress in which she was painted by John Singer Sargent; humorous as she climbs the walls of her Italian palazzo. Perfect as a group read-aloud or for individual children to enjoy. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer
Discover: Isabella Stewart Gardner's quirky personality and interest in art and collecting lead her to create a museum in this joyous picture-book biography.
Never Saw You Coming
by Erin Hahn
A "former pastor's kid who knew too much" and a "youth group girl who knew nothing at all" explore faith and first love in Never Saw You Coming, a bold and compassionate contemporary YA novel.
At the age of 18, Meg Hennessey's mother reveals to her a shocking truth that causes Meg to question her conservative Christian upbringing. Meg abandons her original plans for a gap year and travels instead to northern Michigan to meet the extended family she never knew she had. Nineteen-year-old Micah Allen has his own messy family history: his ex-pastor father is in jail and his mother is pressuring Micah to publicly forgive his dad at an upcoming probation hearing. After a chance encounter, blue-eyed Meg and "darkly handsome" Micah bond over their complicated relationships with faith and the church. Friendship blossoms into romance and the two teenagers help each other "become who [they] are meant to be."
Erin Hahn (More Than Maybe; You'd Be Mine) conveys the heady excitement of first love as Meg and Micah experience "electrically charged glances and earth-quaking butterflies in the region of your heart," while tackling serious themes such as prejudice and intergenerational trauma. Meg and Micah both have been harmed by their parent's choices and a stifling conservative Christian culture, but together, they are able to heal. Their hopeful story perfectly communicates Hahn's message to "all the church kids": "You. Are. Loved. Just as you are." --Alanna Felton, freelance reviewer
Discover: Two Christian teenagers with complicated pasts fall for one another in this moving, contemporary coming-of-age YA novel.