From the Shelf
Beauty on Board
We could all use some beauty right now. It's been a long, hard spring. Here are a few gorgeously illustrated board books sure to soothe children and caretakers alike.
Baby Bear by Kadir Nelson (Balzer + Bray, $7.99) began life as a 40-page picture book. In the board book version for children up to four years old, Baby Bear's search to find home is condensed, but no less beautiful. Every page turn reveals a stunning double-page spread illustrated in Nelson's signature medium, oil paints. Full of life, texture and emotion, Baby Bear is a gentle story of hope in a visually arresting package.
On seemingly the other end of the illustrative spectrum is Nikki McClure and her paper-cut art: "I cut my images from black paper with an X-Acto knife. Everything is connected. It is all one piece of paper, yet now it holds a story." Apple (Abrams Appleseed, $8.99, ages 3-5) was also a picture book before taking on life as a board book. In gloriously spare, thickly bordered illustrations, each page turn reveals a new step in the life of an apple tree. Using only black, white and red, McClure gives observers an optical feast.
The Moon Is a Silver Pond by Sara Cassidy and Josée Bisaillon ($10.95, Orca Books, ages 0-2) has spare text with illustrations that tell stories far beyond the words. "The moon is a silver pond" on a cold, winter's night. Bisaillon's cut-paper, watercolor, pencil and digital collage art shows a clear sky, the moon shining down on a cozy cottage with a pond nearby. The moon is "a shining hubcap," "an apple pie," "a lost button"; each gently hued double-page spread depicting the moon and evoking a sense of comfort.
In this Issue...
by Elliot Ackerman
A National Book Award finalist introduces an Istanbul family in crisis, whose future depends on the young son who links them together.
by Edward A. Farmer
Vengeance unfolds slowly in this tense, mid-20th century Southern gothic.
by Kelley Armstrong
Twelve-year-old royal monster hunter Princess Rowan and her friends must face many dangers in their quest to return a baby gryphon to her kind.
Review by Subjects:
From Pages Bookshop
08/11/2020 - 6:00PMThis month we are reading "Orphan Train" by novelist Christina Baker. Whether you have just started the book or finished it months ago, all are welcome to come and join our book club, we would love to have you! This book club is a virtual book club. You can join it here or copying the link into your browser: https://meet.google.com/qts-qdtc-ewz This book club is free and open to the public. Purchase your copy at Pages and get 15% off. This book club meets the first Tuesday of every...
08/13/2020 - 6:30PMPages Bookshop and WDET are excited to present a live conversation with author and radio broadcast host John Moe to discuss his new book "The Hilarious World of Depression." John will be joined in conversation by the host of WDET's CultureShift, Amanda LeClaire. All ticket sales from this event will go towards WDET's fundraiser to raise 2 million dollars before September 30th. To learn more about their fundraiser please visit WDET's website. Tickets are available at different amounts in...
08/18/2020 - 6:30PMLooking for something to help you get through this long, hot summer? We have just the thing! Join us for an evening of poetry with Detroit writer and poet, Nandi Comer. Nandi's latest book of poetry, Tapping Out came out this past May and since we couldn't celebrate with her at Pages, we've decided to take the celebratory reading to a virtual realm. You can register for this event here. You can buy Nandi's book of poetry here. About Taping Out The relentless motions...
08/25/2020 - 6:30PMWe are beyond excited to virtually host poet francine j harris and debut novelist, Raven Leilani for their newest books "Here is the Sweet Hand and "Luster." Both francine and Raven's books come out on August 4, 2020! We cannot wait to hear what these incredible writers have to say to each other and learn more about their books and what it's like to have them come out now. This conversation with be hosted on Crowdcast. You can register for the event here. You can...
Iconic Book Covers
"What makes an iconic book cover?" the BBC asked.
"Science fiction & fantasy costume contestants posing at the 24th World Science Fiction Convention in Cleveland, 1966." (via Vintage Everyday)
Merriam-Webster explained "how to remember the spelling of 'definitely.' "
Author Craig Robertson chose his top 10 Scottish crime novels for the Guardian.
The Royal Press shared a video documenting the "step-by-step process of letterpress printing by experienced composer, Aunty Ah Chan, filmed in 2013."
The New York Public Library suggested "10 books for map enthusiasts to read at home."
Rediscover: Larry Kramer
Author, essayist and playwright Larry Kramer died May 27 at age 84. Kramer, who "had feet in both the world of letters and the public sphere," wrote the New York Times, was co-founder of the Gay Men's Health Crisis in 1981, and later founded Act Up (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), "whose street actions demanding a speedup in AIDS drugs research and an end to discrimination against gay men and lesbians severely disrupted the operations of government offices, Wall Street and the Roman Catholic hierarchy." His breakthrough as a writer came with the award-winning film adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love (1969), which he produced after obtaining it for $4,200 of his own money. Kramer's first novel, Faggots (1978), was a "scathing look at promiscuous sex, drug use, predation and sadomasochism among gay men, it was a lightning rod from the day of its publication."
Kramer's play The Normal Heart, which opened at the Public Theater in New York in April 1985 and ran for nine months, was "a passionate account of the early years of AIDS and his campaign to get somebody to do something about it," the Times noted. Other plays include The Destiny of Me and Just Say No, A Play About a Farce. Kramer's books include the historical novels The American People Volume 1, Search for My Heart (2015) and The American People: Volume 2, The Brutality of Fact (2020), as well as nonfiction works Reports from the Holocaust: The Making of an AIDS Activist (1989, revised 1994) and The Tragedy of Today's Gays (2005). The American People: Volume 2 is available from Farrar, Straus and Giroux ($40, 9780374104139).
The Writer's Life
Reading with... Jenny Zhang
Jenny Zhang is the author of the poetry collection Dear Jenny, We Are All Find and the story collection Sour Heart. Sour Heart was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction, and was a finalist for the New York Public Library's Young Lions Fiction Award. Her new book of poetry, My Baby First Birthday, was just published by Tin House.
On your nightstand now:
Cathy Park Hong's Minor Feelings. Danez Smith's Homie. Morgan Parker's Magical Negro. Mary HK Choi's Permanent Record. T Kira Madden's Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls. Ntozake Shange's Liliane. The Wilhelm/Baynes edition of The I Ching. A notebook where I've mashed together dreams and unfinished to-do lists. Dambudzo Marechera's The House of Hunger. Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. Ocean Vuong's On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous. Elfriede Jelinek's Women as Lovers. Lots and lots of self-help books that I won't be sharing here. Can Xue's Love in the New Millennium. Gilbert Hernandez's Heartbreak Soup: A Love and Rockets Book. bell hooks's communion. Witold Gombrowicz's Ferdydurke. Ariana Reines's The Sand Book. Djuna Barnes's Nightwood. Roberto Bolaño's 2666.
Favorite book when you were a child:
The 100th book in the Sweet Valley series where this girl who was abandoned by her parents and just barely survived a traumatic childhood saw a newspaper photo of the Wakefield twins and realized she looked a lot like them and thought her ticket out of this horrific existence was to murder one of the twins and take her place.
Your top five authors:
I've never been able to answer this.
Book you've faked reading:
At least half of the books I was assigned in my college English classes. Reading should be pleasurable, not forced.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Qiu Miaojin Last Words from Montmartre. It is so delicious and extreme and hot and cold and desperate and unhinged and yet also controlled in the way it depicts desire and rejection. I love it so much.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Can Xue's Love in the New Millennium.
Book you hid from your parents:
Didn't have to hide anything. I was a '90s immigrant latchkey kid, baby! I read dirty books in the stacks of the public library instead of doing my homework and no one ever stopped me.
Book that changed your life:
Probably the first ever Babysitter's Club book narrated by Claudia Kishi. She wore clashing prints. I wore clashing prints. She loved Cheez Doodles. I loved Cheez Doodles. She just wanted to be an artist and hated school. I just wanted to be an artist and hated school. And she was Asian! So little fourth-grade me was like, Cool, I'm gonna write a novel where the main character is Chinese like me.
Recently, as an adult, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It was physically and spiritually affecting.
Five books you'll never part with:
To be honest, I can part with any book as long as it goes to a home that wants it.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Probably all those Little Golden picture books that provided such solace from a completely chaotic world.
Red Dress in Black and White
by Elliot Ackerman
At the center of 2017 National Book Award finalist Elliot Ackerman's formidable Red Dress in Black and White is William, "about seven years old," whose relationship to parents, place and history is brilliantly revealed over a single day. William is the son of Catherine, an estranged daughter of a wealthy U.S. family, and Murat, a Turkish real estate tycoon by inheritance. After a quick Stateside romance and Istanbul relocation, their marriage has survived repeated betrayals, but any emotional bond lingers only through William, adopted when Murat proved unable to father children.
Catherine's growing dissatisfaction, however, leads her to abandon Murat, taking William with her to her lover Peter's apartment. Temporarily living in Istanbul on a U.S. Cultural Affairs Section grant finessed by cultural attaché Kristin, Peter's transition from photojournalist to artist has certainly been boosted by his relationship with Catherine--and her affiliation with Deniz, curator at the Istanbul Modern. When Catherine leaves, Kristin is the first to appear at Murat's side. Over the next 24 hours, William's future, as well as those of the unsettled adults, will need to be negotiated, adjusted and reimagined.
As a peripatetic journalist who has reported from such hotspots as Iraq, Syria and Turkey, Ackerman (Dark at the Crossing)--who is also an impressively decorated Marine veteran--ciphers that global experience into a work of fiction about an imploding family whose disintegration affects so much more than themselves. With the 2013 anti-government Gezi Park protests as backdrop, Ackerman precisely traverses a labyrinth of privilege, manipulation, complicity, crisis, to offer readers a crucial, immersive novel of indelible resonance. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: A National Book Award finalist introduces an Istanbul family in crisis, whose future depends on the young son who links them together.
by Edward A. Farmer
Secrets and revenge haunt a Mississippi plantation in Pale, the potent debut novel from Edward A. Farmer. Bernice takes a job as a servant in the Kern household to find stability and a place with her brother when she was otherwise alone. Jesse and Fletcher, the two sons of fellow servant Silva, arrive to work the cotton harvest in the summer of 1966, and the Missus sees an opportunity to repay old wounds. Flirting with Jesse is only the beginning of a plan that will destroy families. Bernice struggles to discover the roots of the Missus's anger while shielding those that she cares for as much as possible.
Pale is a spare book, full of characters that do not give up their secrets easily. The world is changing as the civil rights movement surges across the country, but at the Kern plantation, young men ask what makes them different from slaves. Missus's revenge is for wrongs a generation old, and its aftermath will stretch into the next. Although this is a brief book, Farmer takes his time setting out the methods by which characters will destroy each other over the course of years. Small, cruel truths slowly come out. Readers will hang on each page, just as Bernice feels bound to stay until the story is done. This intergenerational story of racism, patriarchy and vengeance is one that will not soon be forgotten. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library
Discover: Vengeance unfolds slowly in this tense, mid-20th century Southern gothic.
Outside the Lines
by Ameera Patel
"We know what you did," an ominous warning, proves pivotal in Ameera Patel's electrifying debut novel, Outside the Lines. In a predominantly white middle-class neighborhood of Johannesburg, South Africa, the threatening phrase inextricably links five disparate characters.
"You took the money from the vase," the drug-addicted, university dropout Cathleen Joseph accuses an innocent man, deflecting her own culpability. Her father, Frank, who has devolved into a pathetic, aimless alcoholic since his wife's recent death, chooses to believe Cathleen as she condemns Runyararo, a recently arrived Zimbabwean hired to paint the Joseph house; his muteness renders him incapable of self-defense. Flora, the Josephs' longtime live-in housekeeper and nanny, silently bears witness to the accusation from a distance. "There are too many lies flying through the room," but no one is ready to face the truth. The deceits don't end there--across the city, accounting student Farhana prepares to break the Ramsaan [Ramadan] fast with her extended Indian Muslim family, even as she plans to sneak out to meet her drug-dealer boyfriend, with whom she has a relationship based mostly on dual-sided deceptions.
Originally published in 2016 in her native South Africa by actor and playwright Ameera Patel, this dysfunctional family drama has unexpected moments of dark comedy to disrupt the unfolding, inevitable tragedy. While exposing the multilayered inequities of the haves vs. have-nots, Patel slyly ridicules white entitlement, religious hypocrisy, clueless parenting, casual racism, ineffective rules and breakable laws. In clipped, often unadorned sentences, Patel skillfully presents a raw narrative of careless disconnections and scathing verity. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: A single lie sets in motion a collision that will forever alter the lives of a middle-class South African family and the servants and strangers overrun in their destructive wake.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
The Obsidian Tower
by Melissa Caruso
With straightforward prose, a single first-person point of view and seamless world-building, The Obsidian Tower is a fast-paced and riveting start to Melissa Caruso's Rooks and Ruin series.
All her life, Ryx has lived by the family motto: "Guard the tower, ward the stone." The novel begins as Ryx works to broker peace between two other domains. The first envoy to arrive breaks into the eponymous Tower, and because Ryx's magic works backward, killing anything she touches instead of guiding and shaping life, Ryx accidentally kills them while trying to avoid setting off the powerful obelisk inside. Learning of this, Ryx's grandmother, the Witch Lord of Morgrain, sends Ryx to the nearby Rookery encampment--an international group that deals with magical problems--for aid, and she disappears. Then the other envoy arrives.
"Everything was sliding into the Hell of Nightmares, and I had no idea how to stop it." After upending everything Ryx knows, Caruso slows things down a bit to help Ryx and readers make sense of things before building the pace and tension again with a complex series of twists, betrayals and surprising alliances.
While The Obsidian Tower ends in a satisfying way, readers will be glad to know that Rooks and Ruin is a planned trilogy, because Caruso has left so many threads unwoven that they'll be eager to read what comes next for Ryx and the Rooks. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels
Discover: A fast-paced fantasy series begins with a story about a young woman with broken magic, tenuous alliances and fragile new friendships.
by Yoshiharu Tsuge , trans. by Ryan Holmberg
Yoshiharu Tsuge abandoned making manga in 1987, and yet his legacy has only expanded--deservedly so--during the decades since, far beyond his native Japan. Considered one of the originators of the graphic 'I-novel' (shishōsetsu), he eventually "abandoned what had been considered one of the bare minimum requirements of the comics medium--storytelling--by exploring the possibilities of the irrational and the surreal," writes noted manga editor and researcher Mitsuhiro Asakawa in his compelling, indispensable introduction. "His work did nothing less than redefine the comics medium for readers, creators, and the world of Japanese manga."
The dozen shorts gathered here are a contrasting showcase of both unexpectedly mythic and seemingly quotidian tales, each bearing signs of post-World War II hardships and tragedy; many end without resolution or closure, considerably raising the intrigue factor. In "The Phony Warrior," a mysterious samurai bears "the heavy weight of simply getting by." In "Destiny," a young couple's suicide is thwarted by an unexpected baby rescue. An aimless young man finds "An Unusual Painting" that guides him to endless free drinks. A couple adopts "Chirpy," a Java sparrow that will never fly away. A bibliophilic boy gets an unexpected gift in "The Secondhand Book." Revenge requires utmost patience in "The Ninjess."
Since making his English-language debut in January 2020 with The Man Without Talent--translated by comics historian and professor Ryan Holmberg, who returns here--Tsuge's Western success has expanded. The Swamp is the first in a projected seven-volume series from indie graphic publisher Drawn & Quarterly, with volume 2 in the Complete Mature Works of Yoshiharu Tsuge planned for winter 2021. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Iconic Japanese manga innovator Yoshiharu Tsuge is poised for international recognition with the publication of the first of a seven-volume series.
Biography & Memoir
Good Morning, Destroyer of Men's Souls: A Memoir of Women, Addiction, and Love
by Nina Renata Aron
K is a monster. He is also a savior, a spark amid author Nina Renata Aron's otherwise cold days of drudgery and postpartum depression after the birth of her children. And he is an addict, hooked on seemingly every incarnation of drugs from heroin to methadone--a man who, ever since a cancer diagnosis derailed his life, seems to care only about the next fix. Yet even as he repeatedly abuses Aron, both figuratively and literally, throughout her shattering memoir, Good Morning, Destroyer of Men's Souls, readers will understand why she is hooked on him, too. She wants to save him. She wants to be capable of saving. Even the way she writes about him is tender, mothering: she will refer to her boyfriend only as "K," never a full name.
Aron plumbs her memories, which are as raw and visceral as movie stills, to understand how her codependent personality developed throughout adolescence. She frequently draws on psychological research and fishes for meaning in materials from Al-Anon, meeting groups for those affected by a friend or family member's addiction. She lays out her childhood years, during which she became parentified while caring for her heroin-addicted eldest sister. And she sifts through the debris of her marriage, which she blew apart while having an affair with K. Throughout the book, Aron is ruthless with herself, both self-deprecating and self-punishing, and yet she always comes back to her story's central theme: learning how to love--and how to love yourself--is a practice. You have to work at it.
Hers is an exquisite though demanding story, one so brutally honest it transforms into something beautiful. A master class in memoir. --Lauren Puckett, freelance writer
Discover: Nina Renata Aron pairs her heartbreaking memories with a researcher's eye as she assesses codependency, womanhood and how to love a drug addict.
Troop 6000: The Girl Scout Troop that Began in a Shelter and Inspired the World
by Nikita Stewart
The phrase "Girl Scouts" conjures images of camping, female empowerment, girls in sashes and vests and, of course, the popular cookies. "Homelessness," in comparison, evokes people sleeping on the streets, jobless and in dire circumstances. In Troop 6000, however, journalist Nikita Stewart complicates matters: she asks readers to reconsider both of those images as she brings them together in her account of the first Girl Scout troop to serve families in homeless shelters in New York City, founded within a shelter in Queens.
The narrative follows Giselle Burgess, mother of five, as she--like many others in New York City--slipped from barely scraping by to falling behind financially. Her family ended up in the shelter system, but getting involved in the Girl Scouts helped her to find a new purpose amid her new reality. Stewart's writing blends the history of the Girl Scouts and its founder, Juliette Gordon Low, with the formation of this new and unconventional troop, as she highlights similarities across time, culture and circumstance.
Troop 6000 is accessible and inspirational. Stewart is uncompromising as she makes visible the stark reality of what homelessness in the contemporary United States can look like--and how quickly someone might find themselves in that position when just a handful of things goes wrong. This book is about strength, hope and leadership, and the empowerment of these girls and their families as they came together in Troop 6000. Burgess's work shows how much more can be given through the traditions of scouting, if only people think a little less traditionally. -- Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer
Discover: An eye-opening account of the founding and growth of Girl Scout Troop 6000, the first troop formed by families in homeless shelters.
The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World
by Patrik Svensson
An eel's testicles don't usually leap to mind when one thinks of Sigmund Freud. Yet Freud discovered this "holy grail of natural science" when the answer had eluded many before him. The eel is unusually difficult to study-- "Science has come up against many mysteries, but few have proven as intractable and difficult to solve as the eel." Some of the most famous natural scientists in history have tried to find answers, mostly in vain.
In The Book of Eels, Patrik Svensson, a Swedish arts and culture journalist at the newspaper Sydsvenskan, traces the history of efforts to unfurl the enigma of the eel. Though we know more today than when Aristotle gave it his best shot, the eel remains a fascinating puzzle in the modern era. "Somewhere in the darkness and mud, the eel has managed to hide away from human knowledge," forcing scientists to rely, to some extent, on faith.
An eel can live 50 to 80 years, during which time it metamorphosizes multiple times, dictated not by time, but by migration location. We "know" the eel procreates in the equally curious Sargasso Sea, yet no one has ever seen a mature eel or eels mating there. Answers seem only to create more questions, rendering the eel a perpetually interesting riddle with no end. Winner of the 2019 August Prize for nonfiction, The Book of Eels is nature writing at its finest. Svensson's memories of eel fishing with his father speak to the intersection of life and science, and add to its heart. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: An in-depth and scintillating look at the mysterious life of eels, what scientists have been able to discover and the many questions that remain.
Splash!: 10,000 Years of Swimming
by Howard Means
Thoroughness and depth are hallmarks of Howard Means's long writing career. In Splash!, he delivers a fascinating, compulsively readable history of swimming, dating back to the dawn of humankind.
All "life began with water," Means states, launching his immersive narrative in remote Egypt where, in 1933, a Hungarian explorer discovered a small, ancient cave and multiple painted figures "floating effortlessly on the rock wall... caught midstroke doing some highly relaxed version of the old-fashioned doggy paddle." These mysterious images of swimmers, estimated to be approximately 8,000 years old, gave birth to new ideas about the Earth and its prior gravitational shifts, orbits and bodies of water.
Means probes the relationship of wildlife and humans to water over centuries. He weaves in biblical passages, religious doctrine and Darwin's theory of evolution, among others. Swimming has held different meanings over time. The Greeks, while more interested in the humanities and the arts, took their swimming seriously, as a "civic virtue," while the Romans, a more practical people, treasured swimming and let it drive engineering and architecture.
Along the way of this meticulously documented and comprehensive history, Means cites examples of notable thinkers and their relationships to swimming--from Lord Byron to Ben Franklin--along with aquatic themes in literature penned by greats from William Shakespeare to Michael Ondaatje. The reach of the narrative is vast, and the research impeccable. The passion and enthusiasm of Means (67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence; Instructions for a Funeral), a life-long swimmer himself, shines on every page of this exceptional aquatic exploration. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: A comprehensive, richly informative and entertaining history of swimming that probes all aspects of the activity, from the dawn of creation to modern times.
Revolutions: How Women Changed the World on Two Wheels
by Hannah Ross
Avid cyclist Hannah Ross delves into the history of cycling and feminism in her first book, Revolutions. Cycling for competition or leisure has long been a male-dominated sphere: the vast majority of riders (at least visible ones) and celebrated cycling pros are men. But women have been riding--quite capably--in huge numbers for decades, and their love for the bicycle has become intertwined with other social transformations.
Ross begins with a scene from Cambridge University in 1897: a group of male students protesting a resolution to grant women students degrees (which failed), then tearing an effigy of a female cyclist to pieces. During that era and ever since, women on bicycles have been seen as "liberated," forward-thinking and sometimes dangerous. At the very least, they've shown their unwillingness to stay where they are and do what they're told, which has unnerved the men in charge of business, politics and other areas of society.
Revolutions is part cycling history, part feminist rallying cry. Ross has done her research, and her narrative brims with information about specific types of bicycles and the groups of women who used them. Suffragettes, especially in England and the U.S., were known for their championing of "rational dress" (i.e., sensible clothing that did not restrict movement), which dovetailed nicely with their desire to hop on a bike.
Cycling, Ross says, should be for everyone. Revolutions is an informative, entertaining and inspiring look at what it means to be a woman on a bike. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Avid cyclist Hannah Ross explores the intertwined histories of cycling and feminism in her first book.
Children's & Young Adult
The Gryphon's Lair
by Kelley Armstrong , illust. by Xaviere Daumarie
Monsters are back with a vengeance in The Gryphon's Lair, the breathtaking second installment of the middle-grade Royal Guide to Monster Slaying series.
Princess Rowan of Clan Dacre may be only 12, but she's still the official "royal monster hunter in training" for the country of Tamarel. The last royal monster hunter, Rowan's beloved Aunt Jannah, was murdered by a pregnant gryphon. Though monsters are well studied, much is still unknown about gryphons. So Rowan captured the murderous pregnant gryphon, and now hopes to study the baby gryphon, Tiera. As Tiera grows, so does the danger she poses. When Tiera crosses the line, Rowan must take action and travel with her friends through the forests and mountains to unite Tiera with her kind.
The Gryphon's Lair by Kelley Armstrong (Royal Guide to Monster Slaying) is an action-packed adventure into a world where monsters are real, but not always scary. Rowan's brave spirit and scientific nature provide the perfect perspective to view monsters and analyze if they're a threat or rather misunderstood, frightened or curious. Armstrong casts common monsters of myth and legend--gryphons, pegasuses, jackalopes, wargs--as full characters with their own distinct personalities. Lesser-known creatures from around the world--basan, ceffyl-dwr, chickcharney and more--make surprise appearances. Drawn by French artist Daumarie, who has created much of the art displayed in Armstrong's books, Rowan's illustrated guide at the end of the book offers a closer look at each monster. Remarkably well-crafted, The Gryphon's Lair is a memorable thrill filled with tough choices, hard-fought battles and unforgettable lessons. --Kyla Paterno, freelance reviewer
Discover: Twelve-year-old royal monster hunter Princess Rowan and her friends must face many dangers in their quest to return a baby gryphon to her kind.
Asha and the Spirit Bird
by Jasbinder Bilan
In Jasbinder Bilan's absorbing debut, Asha and the Spirit Bird, 11-year-old Hindu Asha and her 12-year-old Sikh friend, Jeevan, venture on a long, arduous trek.
Anchored in realism and enriched by Asha's belief that her dead nanijee (grandmother) is looking after her in the form of a lamagaia (a bearded vulture), Asha's first-person account describes a harrowing mission: she must find her father in northern India in hopes he'll pay off a loan her mother took out on their farm. Asha knows her father's address because he used to write her letters--but those stopped arriving in the spring, and it's now fall. Asha and best friend Jeevan travel by cart, train, foot and horse; they struggle through illness and storms. They visit the temple at the origin of the Ganges River to ask for blessings and endure the horrors of being temporarily imprisoned as child laborers, a grim reminder of the perils still present in the contemporary world. The two often spar about Asha's belief in reincarnation and things that cannot be seen, while Jeevan believes in what he can observe. Jeevan, however, cannot always find rational explanations for all that happens to the two in their travels.
Asha's determined nature and Jeevan's growing trust in her strengths (realistic and magical) provide young readers with both a growing relationship and a stirring quest chronicle. The mixture of authentic slices of Indian life and the mystical elements of Nanijee's influence blend together to form an exhilarating narrative that carries readers through the Himalayan landscape. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer
Discover: Asha relies on her wits, her good friend and her bond with her deceased grandmother in a perilous quest to find her father.