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The Far Side of the Moon: The Story of Apollo 11’s Third Man

Alex Irvine, illus. by Ben Bishop. Tilbury House, $16.95 (64p) ISBN 978-0-88448-452-3

While Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are household names, “the only thing most people know about Michael Collins is that he didn’t get to walk on the moon.” Irvine and Bishop aim to remedy that with this graphic biography, which traces Collins’s upbringing and NASA career through his selection for the Apollo 11 mission and his life afterward. Bishop works in a rough, schematic style, and his liberal use of swaths of black, accented with violet, makes the vastness of space felt in nearly every panel. Unfortunately, Irvine’s writing tends to be flat and halting, as well as repetitive (“They were about to try to do something that no one in the history of the human race had ever done”; “Collins and Armstrong had just pulled off a flight maneuver that no one in history had ever done before”). Direct quotations from Collins appear occasionally, though their sourcing isn’t always clear. Bishop’s spec-like images of equipment and rocket trajectories aid substantially in understanding the challenges these astronauts faced. Ages 8–12. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Stranger Than Fanfiction

Chris Colfer. Little, Brown, $18.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-316-38344-8

In Colfer’s (the Land of Stories series) first YA novel, four Illinois teens join the 20-something star of their favorite TV show, Wiz Kids, on a road trip. Topher Collins never expected Cash Carter to respond to his invitation to accompany him and three friends on their post-graduation tour of tourist attractions between Illinois and California, and he certainly didn’t expect Cash to be so reckless and candid. As the five veer from their carefully planned itinerary, hidden truths emerge, threatening to ruin their friendship, but eventually bringing them closer. Colfer touches on sexuality, identity, familial expectations, and acceptance through his characters, but many discussions feel rushed and deserving of deeper consideration, including when one character comes out as transgender. Attempts to make the characters relatable can turn cringe-worthy; during a confession while high, Topher confesses that he once dosed his younger brother, who has cerebral palsy, with cough medicine in order to sneak out and watch an episode of Wiz Kids. The book succeeds as offbeat escapism, but it doesn’t adequately address the serious topics it introduces. Ages 15–up. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Hidden Memory of Objects

Danielle Mages Amato. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-244588-9

Debut novelist Amato adeptly mixes the paranormal and historical to build a page-turning mystery. When Megan Brown’s 17-year-old brother Tyler (aka Red) dies from what looks like a drug overdose, she can hardly believe it. Red, a popular star athlete, got through life with a winning smile and easy confidence. Megan, nicknamed “Brown” both for her mousy hair and her less-than-sparkling personality, is the polar opposite, finding solace in her found object art collages. When Brown begins to have visions after touching important items that once belonged to her brother, she starts to piece together what happened the night he died. Woven throughout are tidbits about John Wilkes Booth and Abraham Lincoln—Red was obsessed with Booth, and their mother works at the Ford Theater. Amid startling discoveries and an unexpected romance, Brown emerges a devoted sister who puts herself in jeopardy because she refuses to believe her brother would use drugs. Readers will gladly follow along as she inches closer to uncovering the secrets of the objects her brother held dear. Ages 13–up. Agent: Lana Popovich, Chalberg & Sussman. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Sister Paradox

Jack Campbell. Espec, $14.95 trade paper (180p) ISBN 978-1-942990-40-6

Adult author Campbell (the Wrath of the Great Guilds) makes a foray into YA with a breezy contemporary fantasy. Sixteen-year-old Liam Eagan is an only child and fairly self-absorbed until he is called to the school office to take home his sister, Kari—a sword-wielding sibling who, as far as Liam knows, has never existed, even though Liam’s principal, best friend, and mother act as though she’s always been part of the picture. Kari, Liam quickly learns, has arrived on Earth from a place she calls Elsewhere because she needs Liam’s help on a quest. If the two don’t recover two objects from Earth before sundown, the walls between Elsewhere and this planet will fail, causing them to collapse disastrously into each other. Liam’s journeys with his sister to the fantasy land of Elsewhere follow a standard hero’s journey trajectory. There’s some humor here and there as the teens try to explain their worlds to the other and Liam matures a bit during the quest. It’s a light, zippy escapade. Ages 12–up. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Maid of the King’s Court

Lucy Worsley. Candlewick, $16.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-7636-8806-6

In this YA debut, Worsley, chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces in London (which manages the Tower of London and other sites) delivers a story that’s both delightfully playful and rich in historical detail. It’s 1535 England, Henry the VIII is king, and Eliza Camperdowne has just been betrothed on her 12th birthday, in order to safeguard her family’s future. When the engagement devolves into scandal, Eliza is sent to a finishing school of sorts to “learn how people behave in good society.” Later, she becomes a maid of honor in the king’s court, where she is to wait on Queen Anne herself, but she winds up outlasting Anne and Henry’s subsequent wives as well. Worsley’s accessible prose, headstrong heroine, and sense of romance may remind readers of Shannon Hale’s work. Eliza’s wit and many courtly adventures make her an engaging companion as she transforms from a naïve girl who describes the king as having “exchanged” Anne Boleyn for a new wife to one intimately involved in the machinations of the court. Ages 12–up. Agent: Catherine Clarke, Felicity Bryan Associates. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Best Mistake Mystery

Sylvia McNicoll. Dundurn, $8.99 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-4597-3625-2

In this lightly diverting kickoff to the Great Mistake Mysteries trilogy, seventh grader Stephen Noble documents the mistakes he believes he is prone to making. After school, Stephen works for his father’s dog-walking company, which opens up a whole new world of potential gaffes. Though Stephen’s mistakes are quite minor (they include jumping to conclusions at a fire drill and accidentally dropping a bag of dog doo in a recycling bin), he tends to worry and overanalyze each one. McNicoll (Best Friends Through Eternity) uses her character’s nervousness to tell a broader story about threats, pitfalls, and human error. Danger hits close to home when a bomb squad is called to Stephen’s school, and a car crashes into the gym; Stephen and his assertive friend Renée investigate. As Stephen slowly gains perspective on threats both real and exaggerated and begins to see his attention to detail as an asset, he might persuade a few worrywarts to rethink their outlook. Though it’s not the most suspenseful of mysteries, readers (especially those with a soft spot for dogs) should look forward to Stephen’s future adventures. Ages 9–12. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Rocket Boy

Damon Lehrer. Godine, $17.95 (36p) ISBN 978-1-56792-587-6

In Lehrer’s wordless debut, a curly-headed boy labors over a drawing of a rocket. Suddenly, the rocket emerges from the paper, blasts off from the page, and zips out the window. The boy, who seems only mildly surprised, sets about drawing himself a sleek sports car; it, too, becomes real, and the boy takes off in it after his rocket. A journey through a mysterious passage takes him to another world, where he finds a proud, independent girl and a menagerie of beasts who help him find his rocket. Readers later see the boy awaken in bed with his toy car and rocket at his feet, suggesting it was all a dream. The meticulously drafted pencil spreads recall the sorts of visual adventures found in Chris Van Allsburg’s books, and Lehrer’s self-referential story also salutes the power of drawing. The boy’s dream expresses his wish to draw more beautifully (the boy’s skill level in the opening scenes far outpaces his age, sketches from classical masterpieces are scattered across the floor), and the final spread hints that he is a bit closer to his goal. Ages 3–6. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Bertolt

Jacques Goldstyn, trans. from the French by Claudia Zoe Bedrick. Enchanted Lion (Consortium, dist.), $15.95 (80p) ISBN 978-1-59270-229-9

The boy who narrates Canadian artist Goldstyn’s story doesn’t mind being different. When he loses a mitten, he gets a new one from his school’s lost-and-found box, even though it doesn’t match. He prefers the company of his favorite tree, a venerable oak he names Bertolt. The boy knows every crevice, every turn of Bertolt’s magnificent branches: “When Bertolt is covered with leaves, nobody can see me, but I can see everyone else.” Goldstyn spends a leisurely time laying all of this out—his impish, loopy drawings recall the work of the French cartoonist Sempé—and Bedrick’s translation flows easily. When spring comes, the other trees burst into leaf, but not Bertolt: the tree has died. To give life to Bertolt one last time, the boy hangs the rest of the lost-and-found mittens on the ends of every branch. Because of the time and care Goldstyn spends describing Bertolt’s many pleasures, the tree’s death is a jolt, and the boy’s sweet memorial offers only limited comfort. Yet the story is beautifully observed, and readers will look forward to more from Goldstyn. Ages 4–9. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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An Unseen Attraction

K.J. Charles. Loveswept, $4.99 e-book (209p) ISBN 978-0-399-59396-3

A particular pleasure of Charles’s work is spending time with her articulate (and often scathing) protagonists, who skewer their interlocutors and make agonizing admissions with fluency that is a joy to behold. Now, in contrast, comes Clem Talleyfer: neuroatypical, mixed race, and dependent on the begrudged help of others to maintain his painstakingly crafted niche as a boardinghouse keeper in 19th-century Clerkenwell, England. For eight months he has wordlessly courted one of his lodgers, Rowley Green, who has a taxidermy shop next door. Rowley has no problem with words; he simply chooses not to reveal his well-armored heart. What they see in each other is a generosity of spirit revealed in everyday gestures—more often than not, considerate silence. But they are not immune to silence’s corrosive effects, and when a fellow lodger is murdered, toxic secrets spill. Charles (A Gentleman’s Position) indulges in a plot that’s unabashed pulp, made poignant by its effects on the two bruised souls at its center. Agent: Courtney Miller-Callihan, Handspun Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Beneath the Stars

Lynn Charles. Interlude, $17.99 trade paper (308p) ISBN 978-1-945053-17-7

Charles delivers a slightly cloying contemporary about finding love in the wake of tragedy. Fireman Eddie Garner moves to Connelly, Pa., after his platonic best friend, who’s also the mother of his child, dies of cancer. In his new home, he meets up-and-coming fashion designer Sidney Marneaux, who is splitting his time between his life in Chicago and helping his sister take care of their deteriorating father in Connelly. Both men find an instant and sweetly rendered connection, and their early courtship is a delight to read. When Eddie’s son, artistic and talkative five-year-old Adrian, arrives on the scene, the story bogs down in a series of overly saccharine moments that undermine the delicate sentimentality of the earlier novel. All three characters work through their grief and responses to loss by pulling together and learning to form a family, but their interactions lack the charm necessary to justify the number of pages devoted to their straightforward struggle. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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