Book List

Indie Best Books of the Month June

A smashing debut that’s both intimate and epic.

TWO LIKE ME AND YOU

In this YA debut, a high schooler befriends the class loner and a World War II veteran.

Edwin Green is a junior at J.P. Hornby High School in Hornby, Alabama. His ex-girlfriend Sadie Evans became a celebrity after improbable events, revealed later in the novel, that happened on April 13, 2014, which Edwin calls “Black Saturday.” In the year since then, he’s been making YouTube videos in the hope of becoming famous himself and winning her back. Then, one day in history class, Edwin’s sad life is graced by Parker Haddaway, a gruff girl whom the teacher makes his partner in a class project. They must ask someone who lived through World War II a series of questions—and luckily, Parker knows just the man to interview: 90-year-old Garland Lenox, who lives at the Morningview Arbor rest home. They ask the cantankerous Air Force veteran about the first time he heard the name Adolf Hitler, and he says, “Doesn’t ring a bell.” He’s teasing them, of course, but the next time the teens visit, Garland has a serious proposal: He offers Edwin $25,000 to help him secretly go to France and reunite with his long-lost love, Madeleine Moreau. The notion is preposterous—but Edwin thinks that if they can complete the mission, he’ll finally become world-famous. Gibbs adds an unconventional sweetness, reminiscent of Jerry Spinelli’s 2000 novel Stargirl, to a tale of a trip to Saint-Lô, which the Allies bombed during WWII. Along the way, the author crafts lines that effectively illuminate both his snarky characters and modern society. Edwin, for example, narrates, “for at least half the famous people out there fame just fell on their heads like bird shit.” Garland, amid irreverent one-liners, provides a wealth of firsthand experience about the Second World War and midcentury America (“I joined the Air Force to get out of the damn woods and see the world”). Parker loves 1990s rap music, and Gibbs sprinkles lyrics throughout the story like confetti. As her fate intertwines with Garland’s and Edwin’s, the meaning of the book’s title comes into flower. In the end, Gibbs avoids easy, saccharine plot turns in favor of ones that strengthen his characters.

A smashing debut that’s both intimate and epic.

Pub Date: May 20, 2019

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Borne Back Books

Review Posted Online: April 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

A wise and realistic program for instilling genuine self-esteem in children.

KID CONFIDENCE

HELP YOUR CHILD MAKE FRIENDS, BUILD RESILIENCE, AND DEVELOP REAL SELF-ESTEEM

A guide to increasing children’s confidence and helping them realize their full potential.

In this book, clinical psychologist Kennedy-Moore (What’s My Child Thinking?, 2019, etc.) promises readers a wide range of practical and effective parenting strategies. But first, the author takes pains to debunk some key concepts of contemporary child-rearing philosophy—the worst of which, she says, is the idea that one must compulsively and universally offer kids uninterrupted affirmation in order to build up their self-esteem. Kennedy-Moore cites recent studies that hint at the problems of such an approach, and her tone is refreshingly blunt as she does so: “self-help gurus and inspirational articles often promote the idea that we have to love ourselves to have a happy, fulfilling life,” she writes. “This is nonsense.” In the place of this concept, she lays out a comprehensive set of guidance tips, designed to help parents to understand their kids’ needs and encourage them with direct communication and honest assessment—not blanket assurances that everything that they do is perfect in every way. Each of the book’s sections offers helpful subheadings, and a separate “Take-Home Points” graphic is designed to summarize key items from the text as a whole. Kennedy-Moore addresses the topics of making parental connections, assessing and building children’s competencies, and helping kids to become more decisive and deal with bullying. Throughout, she employs a clear, concise prose style and an unfailing directness, typified in lines such as “As parents, we can’t protect our children from having bad things happen to them.” Kennedy-Moore has written many books on the subject of parenting and is on the advisory board of Parents magazine, and her expertise is obvious on every highly detailed page of this smart and assured manual. She buttresses each of the book’s subsections, and all of its points of contention, with ready citations as well as a comprehensive 19-page bibliography. On every topic, from sibling rivalry to cyberbullying to proper hygiene, the author’s tone is always staunchly realist (“Winning feels good, but it’s unrealistic for any of us to believe that we will win every contest”) and specifically practical (“To avoid [a] no-win battle, reach for the feelings behind the complaints, and try to tie them to a particular situation or a specific time”). Along the way, she always maintains the tone of quiet compassion that animates the book throughout. The author’s focus returns again and again to her conception of children’s self-esteem, which aims to anchor their sense of self-worth more solidly that other parenting guides tend to do. As a result, crucial insights abound in these pages. For instance, Kennedy-Moore acknowledges the extensive research into what many parents already know—that children have the potential to be incredibly mean—and she offers several helpful tips on countering bullying. At the same time, however, she stresses that children can also bully themselves with a pattern of self-criticism and that parents can help them to counter this tendency.

A wise and realistic program for instilling genuine self-esteem in children.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68403-049-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: New Harbinger Publications

Review Posted Online: March 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

An illuminating introduction to Darwin and evolutionary development for young readers.

POLLEN

DARWIN'S 130 YEAR PREDICTION

From the Moments in Science series

Sometimes scientists take a long time to reach a conclusion—and the team of Pattison and Willis (Clang!, 2018, etc.) explores that idea in this look at a hypothesis about a moth and a flower.

In 1862, Charles Darwin received orchids in the mail (the variety is depicted in the beautiful mixed-media illustrations from Willis, who painted on newspaper to create textured images). When Darwin noticed that the star orchid’s nectary was unusually long, he envisioned the type of creature, a huge moth, that would have had to evolve to allow the flower to reproduce. In 1903, two entomologists found the hawk moth, which they believed to be the insect that Darwin imagined, with a lengthy, trunklike proboscis. But there was a problem: “No one had seen the hawk moth pollinate the star orchid.” It wasn’t until 1992 that entomologist Lutz Thilo Wasserthal was able to verify that the moth and flower depended on each other. Using plenty of science vocabulary made approachable through conversational text and Willis’ kid-friendly illustrations, Pattison captures the sense of wonder that comes from discovery, even if the proof arrives 130 years after the initial idea. The intriguing moment is well-told in this third installment of a picture book series, giving real insight into the scientific process and celebrating the determined researchers who strive to further human knowledge.

An illuminating introduction to Darwin and evolutionary development for young readers.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-62944-119-1

Page Count: 34

Publisher: Mims House

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

A painfully beautiful portrayal of an indomitable, loving mother’s survival.

MY SISTER'S MOTHER

A MEMOIR OF WAR, EXILE, AND STALIN'S SIBERIA

In this heart-wrenching debut memoir, a mother and child survive Stalin’s work camp then struggle to find inner calm in America.

As a child growing up in 1950s Chicago, Urbikas longed for a “normal” mom. Instead, her Polish-born mother, Janina, often told gruesome war stories and talked to herself in the mirror. But as Urbikas matured and suffered her own hardships, she began to understand her mother’s need to recount her past. On the extremely cold morning of Feb. 10, 1940, Communist soldiers pounded on Janina’s farmhouse door near Grodno, Poland, and informed her—a young, single mother—that she was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor. She and 5-year-old daughter Mira were stuffed into lice-ridden train cars and taken to a remote logging camp in the Siberian wilderness. Fed little and plagued by vermin, disease, and blistering cold, Janina lugged a heavy ax 4 miles to and from work every day, where she chopped thick branches off trees. Meanwhile, poor little Mira was left by herself to wait in agonizing bread lines, often unsuccessfully. After years of torture, Janina and Mira—helped by a Polish army officer who eventually married Janina—escaped to England and then America. Urbikas’ flashbacks are seamless as she alternates chapters between her mother’s and sister’s stories—written in third person—versus her own first-person account. With many vivid sensory details—like “the grainy taste of…coarse rye bread”—the author’s lyrical prose instantly transports readers to the labor camp. This gripping page-turner is also filled with stark contrasts. For example, in the camp, Mira and Janina sleep together on a dirty, bedbug-infested cot, and when Janina feels a rat scrabble across her chest, she can barely lift her tired arm to heave it onto the floor. In contrast, one of Urbikas’ biggest worries is making the majorettes team in her American high school. A realistic depiction of the effects of evil, Janina’s and Mira’s experiences are sometimes overwhelming. In one scene, a tiny girl drowns and nobody helps.

A painfully beautiful portrayal of an indomitable, loving mother’s survival.

Pub Date: April 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-299-30850-6

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Univ. of Wisconsin

Review Posted Online: March 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

A keeper of a book by a talented author.

THE RED RIBBON

A MEMOIR OF LIGHTNING AND REBUILDING AFTER LOSS

A debut memoir that recounts a woman’s tragic loss and hard-won survival.

On July, 23, 1994, lightning struck Bills’ husband and their son—pseudonymously called “Geoff” and “Teddy” here, respectively—as they were kayaking off the coast of Maine. The strike took Geoff’s life and nearly did the same to Teddy. The author and several members of her family, including Teddy’s older brother, “Simon,” and his wife, rushed to the hospital in the nearby town of York, Maine. It was initially touch and go for Teddy, but he came through. Then, as Teddy recuperated physically, he and the author faced psychological and spiritual recuperation—which sometimes seemed to be a matter of taking one step forward and two steps back. After this tragedy, death seemed to shadow the author for the next few years; her aged parents back in Montana passed away, as did her uncle and Geoff’s sister, who was such a rock for her after the lightning strike. These losses engender a booklong meditation on mortality. However, Bills does survive the ordeal, and an afterword lets readers know that today, she, Teddy, and Simon are all doing OK. Memoirs of loss and survival are rather common, but what sets this one apart is Bills’ extraordinary perceptiveness and writing talent, as when she notes that “I’m a woman with an emotional thermometer always in her mouth.” Bills also raises intriguing questions, such as whether the obituary cliché “he died peacefully” is really ever true. Essentially the book is a collection of essays, but she uses fictional techniques when appropriate, and some chapters are given over to very impressive poetry. She poignantly evokes a happier past in her chapters about Geoff (they were separated at the time of his death) and their young family. And a chapter titled “The Myth,” in which she asks Geoff questions directly, is exceptionally and deeply moving. There are even moments of goofiness in a chapter on a graveside service (“Planting Iris”), which may take some readers aback, although it’s clear that the author understood the need for occasional levity.

A keeper of a book by a talented author.

Pub Date: May 28, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63152-573-5

Page Count: 216

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: March 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

A hoard of fantasy tales that proves damsels can be as dangerous as dragons.

SWORDS, SORCERY, & SELF-RESCUING DAMSELS

French (Space Angel, 2019, etc.) and debut editor Craft bring 17 fantasy tales with feminist twists in this sword and sorcery anthology.

A spy in the service of the king returns to her old mercenary guild in order to solve the murders of four female warriors…and to confront her own troubled past. A mute slave working in the dungeons of a shadowy keep meets a priest and agrees to take the condemned man’s sword to his lover, though it means risking her life to cross a vast wilderness. A disabled girl is always the last one picked for games, despite the fact that she is the local princess, until some magic intervenes that turns the tables on all. In this collection of fantasy stories, the old archetypes are inverted and the women and girls who normally lack agency are placed center stage. The tone ranges from light to dark, and some entries even lean toward the hard-boiled-detective genre. One standout is “The Princess and the Dragon” by Robyn Bennis, which concerns a princess trapped in a tower who is conspiring with her dragon guard to win back her kingdom. “If one of those knights realizes it’s all a front,” warns the princess, “they could expose the whole operation.” Another is “Aptitude” by Matt Youngmark; the daughter of servants sneaks into the lord of the manor’s library to read his books only to stumble upon an attempt by a magical elf to rob it. The volume includes work by seasoned fantasists like Jody Lynn Nye, Raven Oak, Connie J. Jasperson, and Katie Cross as well as emerging talents like Edward J. Knight. Not every story is a home run, but the diversity of premises and worlds makes for a delightfully unpredictable reading experience. Though each interprets the anthology’s theme a little differently, this sentiment from Jasperson is representative of the volume’s self-assured, spellcasting ebullience: “Three weeks ago, I was a slave, afraid of shadows. Now I am Thorn Girl, friend of minotaurs and mages. Kerk was right. Inside of me is a woman who can do anything.”

A hoard of fantasy tales that proves damsels can be as dangerous as dragons.

Pub Date: March 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-944334-26-0

Page Count: 266

Publisher: Clockwork Dragon

Review Posted Online: April 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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