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How do you like your horror? Perhaps you’re a fan of creeping dread, or gory goings-on are more your speed? The White Guy Dies First: 13 Scary Stories of Fear and Power, editor Terry J. Benton-Walker’s anthology featuring authors of color, explores a variety of tropes for readers who enjoy disturbing, thought-provoking fare.

Despite their varied approaches, settings and baddies, all the ominously entertaining stories in The White Guy Dies First have two things in common: They center people of color and, per the book’s title, the white guy indeed dies first. Also evident throughout is an appreciation for horror. As Benton-Walker—author of the bestselling Blood Debts and Alex Wise series—notes, “The genre has always been a medium to deliver terror that’s most often intertwined with a deeper message, which can be far more horrifying than any superficial scare.”

Chloe Gong’s blood-spattered slasher, “Docile Girls,” features Adelaide Hu, head of the prom committee that includes her ex Jake Stewart and his snide friends. Jake had relegated her to “an exotic smiling accessory,” but on the fateful night before the big dance, Adelaide is anything but docile. And in Mark Oshiro’s suspenseful home invasion story, “Wasps,” Nina Ortiz defends her Abuela Carmen’s Brooklyn house from a gentrifier who wants to take their home—despite not knowing just how dark things can get in the Ortiz family’s basement.

There’s body horror (Naseem Jamnia’s “Break Through Our Skin”) and occult magic (Lamar Giles’ “The Protégé”), too. And an angry, hilariously profane haunted house narrates Benton-Walker’s own contribution, “The Road to Hell,” in which a Florida manse that spent centuries wanting love from occupants who “abandoned me, deeming me unlovable, unworthy . . . haunted” pulls out all the terrifying stops in an effort to make its current residents stay put.

Readers won’t want to put down The White Guy Dies First until they turn the last spooky page of this creative and creepy collection in which expectations are subverted and underrepresented groups claim their power from ghouls and demons both real and supernatural.

 

Readers won’t want to put down The White Guy Dies First, a creative and creepy collection in which expectations are subverted and underrepresented groups claim their power from ghouls and demons both real and supernatural.
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Who doesn’t love a friendly little ghost? Readers will fall in love with the delightful hero of Wolfgang in the Meadow, who yearns to be a master of causing fright, but whose happy place is basking in the wonders of a nearby meadow. When he’s not casting spells and “twirling in the air,” Wolfgang loves to hug trees, pick wildflowers and gaze at the sky. His goal is to follow his hero, The Mighty Hubert, as guardian of the Dark Castle. After 999.5 years of his reign, Hubert is about to pick his successor.

As Wolfgang studies the dark arts, he no longer has time to enjoy the splendors of the sunny meadow. Once he achieves his goal and holes up in the castle, he starts to flounder because something is missing. How can Wolfgang continue following this dream while not losing his essence as a nature-loving ghoul?

Author-illustrator Lenny Wen achieves eye-catching contrasts between the gentle meadow and fearsome manor with a combination of graphite and acrylic gouache. Children will delight in the spooky, darkly-tinted Dark Castle, which brims with lightning bolts, skulls and secret potions. The tone is perfect for young audiences, with well-balanced—“frightful,” but ultimately nonthreatening—scenes featuring pint-sized spirits. Nightmares are highly unlikely to ensue from all of this spooky cuteness. These eerie scenes stand out vividly against the bright colors of Wolfgang’s meadow, and together they provide a visual feast that helps readers understand the pleasures of both of Wolfgang’s passions, and how one feeds the other. Wolfgang himself—whose huggable shape resembles a puffy marshmallow—pops out amidst the lush green landscape, filled with wildflowers and woodland creatures.

With Wolfgang in the Meadow, Wen has created a fine story arc about making one’s own way in the world, defying stereotypes and the pleasures of leading a well-rounded life. It’s full of heart and humor, and Wolfgang’s dilemma will speak to readers of any age trying to navigate clashes between joy and ambition.

Wolfgang in the Meadow is full of heart and humor, and Wolfgang’s dilemma will speak to readers of any age trying to navigate clashes between joy and ambition.

We are inundated by media updates about global warming, from statistical warnings and satellite images to news and weather reports on the latest storms, fires and floods. These ever-present alerts often focus on what’s happening to the land, but what about threats to the unique ecosystems of our oceans?

This vast water world is the focus of marine biologist and author Helen Scales’ latest book, What the Wild Sea Can Be: The Future of the World’s Ocean. Organized into three sections covering the ocean’s history, vanishing species and habitats, and the ocean’s restoration and future, the book takes a global perspective while also highlighting how specific regions and their wildlife are affected by the changing climate. Statistics drive home the immediacy of the crisis: “Within just the past fifty years, as people have been overexploiting species, destroying habitats, and releasing pollutants, the total mass of vertebrate life in the ocean has halved.”

Scales explores key issues impacting marine life, from warming waters, to disease-causing bacteria and viruses, to plastics contamination, along with striking examples of how these trends play out. For example, whales have a particularly high risk of microplastics consumption due to the shrimp and krill they eat: During migration to the coast of California, blue whales consume more than 10 million of these plastic particles, which can accumulate in tissues and alter expressions of genes, per day. Ecosystem shifts cause invasive migrations that upset the ecological balance, such as that of lionfish; native to the Indian and Pacific Oceans, they are now found along America’s east coast and in the Mediterranean. These invasive lionfish number five times their population in their native waters, and they threaten to consume other species to extinction.

But as the title suggests, the book is not all gloom and doom. In her introduction, Scales encourages readers to take part in “mental time travel” and “keep seeing the glory and feeling wonderment in the ocean.” By offering hopeful scenarios and advice for making “conscious decisions about the future of the earth’s biodiversity,” she provides the reader with a level of positivity not often heard amid the overwhelming climate news that can often make us feel helpless. “I hope this book will offer an antidote to the rising tide of eco-anxiety and fears for the future of the planet,” Scales writes. “Turn that fear into commitment and initiative.” What the Wide Sea Can Be provides a glimmer of light in a darkening world.

Helen Scales’ inspiring What the Wild Sea Can Be addresses climate-caused threats to our oceans, while providing a glimmer of light in a darkening world.
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For weeks, Phoebe Mendel has woken up, eaten pancakes with her mom, played Scrabble with her dad and gone to bed hoping the next day will come. It never does. Phoebe’s stuck in a time loop—one that keeps her trapped in the same dry summer day, alone in the repetitions. That is, until her old friend Jess Friedman accidentally hits her with their car and becomes aware of the loop too, urging Phoebe to use the extra time to let loose and have fun. As they spend their repeating days together, feelings grow and secrets are revealed, but ultimately, their hopes for the future depend on escaping the time loop once and for all.

Chatham Greenfield’s debut novel, Time and Time Again throws a new twist into the age-old time loop scenario: What if you had to experience with your childhood friend and crush to whom you haven’t spoken in years? For Phoebe and Jess, the loop is a supernatural way to figure out their relationships—with each other, their loved ones and themselves.

While the speculative aspects may grab readers’ interests, the characters drive the heart of this book. Both Phoebe and Jess, whose families initially bonded over shared Jewish identity, also both have chronic illnesses that impact every decision they make, granting glimpses into life with irritable bowel syndrome and oligoarthritis. Phoebe is reflective and self-aware, but often has trouble standing up for herself, whether that means demanding that a fatphobic doctor take her IBS seriously or acknowledging her feelings toward Jess. Jess, on the other hand, is bubbly and brash, but they tend to retreat into secrecy, making Phoebe wonder who they really are and how they really feel.

In fact, the entire cast of this time-bending story is vibrantly multidimensional. Phoebe’s parents are divorced and co-parent their daughter along with the help of her uncles Gabe and Adrian. Jess’ brother Zahir is part of a rowdy band with friends from different classes, backgrounds and identities—all of whom amaze Phoebe with their kindness. Their small town is full of characters with real-feeling histories, preferences and hopes.

Time and Time Again is about being honest with others and with yourself, and finding the courage to dream for your future—and work for it, too. As Phoebe and Jess are given the chance to work on their most important relationships, readers may reflect on what they might do with the same opportunities. Readers looking for a sweet, moving love story will enjoy getting to know Phoebe and Jess in this fun, speculative queer romance.

Readers looking for a sweet, moving love story will enjoy getting to know Phoebe and Jess in Time and Time Again, a fun, speculative queer romance.

One evening in 2020, I happened across a Twitter thread miles long. The original post had been yet another news item about the far-right conspiracy theory known as QAnon, and the replies were flooded with grieving users telling stories of loved ones who had all become so entrenched in the theory’s dark fever dreams that the users had finally been forced to cut contact. For people such as these, and those in journalist Jesselyn Cook’s debut, The Quiet Damage: QAnon and the Destruction of the American Family, QAnon is more than an over-the-top threat to our democracy. It is a destroyer of homes and marriages, a force that orphans and isolates.

QAnon’s most radical believers think that Donald Trump and Q, an anonymous government insider, are locked in a secret battle with “a satanic cabal” of pedophiliac global elites to liberate the country and ensure democracy. Other believers embrace some but not all of the core conspiracy theories. In total, Cook writes, they number twice the population of California.

The Quiet Damage is thoughtful and nuanced, delving into the destructive phenomenon of QAnon through the very human stories of believers and the loved ones who become collateral damage. Cook defies stereotypes, featuring a diverse group of people: a brilliant and formerly progressive lawyer in Tennessee at war with her three grown children; two once-inseparable Black sisters, the relationship irreparably sundered by one’s fascination with conspiracy theories; a young husband and father at risk of losing his family as he binges endless YouTube videos; and a 50-years-married couple facing their first real divide over the wife’s disbelief in COVID-19.

Resisting the all too common temptation to mock the believers who have fallen far enough down the proverbial rabbit hole to believe in the most extreme core conspiracies, Cook instead opts for a considered and thorough investigation into the psychology of what drives people into the arms of conspiracy theorists. The Quiet Damage employs an empathy that invites the reader to feel for both the alienated, hurt families as well as the believers. And as Cook begins to explore the delicate art of bringing the lost back to reality, she makes abundantly clear that empathy and radical compassion, not ridicule, are the most important tools at our disposal.

The Quiet Damage investigates the destructive impact of QAnon on individuals and families, exploring the delicate art of bringing those lost to conspiracy theories back to reality.
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“Cinderella,” “Puss in Boots” and “Rumpelstiltskin” are to this day some of the first stories we hear as children—and as we learn from Clare Pollard’s witty, sexy, historical novel, The Modern Fairies, they were all the rage in the court of Louis XIV.

The Modern Fairies is loosely based on a group of real-life salonaires who met at the home of Madame Marie d’Aulnoy, a woman with a troubled past that included imprisonment and a childhood marriage to a cruel aristocrat. D’Aulnoy and her friends were the original collectors and disseminators of well-known folk tales a century before the Brothers Grimm. Just like the princesses in their stories, they inhabited a world of wicked mothers, murderous husbands, locked towers and poisoned fruit.

The women are joined by Charles Perrault, a wealthy widower and advisor to the king, who went on to great fame as one of the first authors to publish a collection of fairy tales. Over the course of a cold winter, certain details of these contes de fées prove a little too close to the realities of court. There is a spy at d’Aulnoy’s gatherings, and meetings become more dangerous as love letters are misdirected, husbands discover cheating wives, and both the local clergy and the king’s chief of police are put on high alert for any whiff of scandal.

The Modern Fairies is arranged as a series of stories within stories, each fairy tale as light as a bonbon yet cleverly revealing aspects of the teller’s situation, whether a violent husband, younger lover or jealous rival. An all-knowing narrator, perhaps Pollard herself, pops up to offer commentary on the societal restrictions experienced by these noblewomen and to reflect on the subversive ties between tales told and lives lived. An award-winning poet and translator, Pollard has great fun with these stories and with the gossip, the flirtations and the sheer amount of sex at the court of Versailles. She demonstrates, too, how important these women were for documenting, embellishing and preserving a wealth of stories, and like them, plays her part in translating an oral tradition into a written one that we can continue to delight in.

An award-winning poet and translator, Clare Pollard has great fun with these cleverly revealing fairy tales told amid gossip, flirtations and sex at the court of Versailles.
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New York City’s East Side at the turn of the 20th century comes vibrantly alive in The Incorruptibles: A True Story of Kingpins, Crime Busters, and the Birth of the American Underworld. In the late 1800s, Eastern European Jews began fleeing Germany’s pogroms and Russia’s Pale of Settlement, the largest ghetto in history. The East Side became their American ghetto, soon in the grip of an underworld of gamblers, grifters and pimps, and an upper world of titans of manufacturing and politics. Then along came Abe Shoenfeld and his vice squad, the Incorruptibles.

Dan Slater (Love in the Time of Algorithms) stumbled upon Shoenfield’s “reams of reportage and intelligence about the Jewish underworld of pre-World-War-I New York.” Combined with reporting from newspapers of the day, as well court cases, sales receipts, government findings and memoirs of those involved, Slater provides rich context for the setting the Incorruptibles hoped to reform. In a city plagued by abominable labor conditions in factories, the political machine of Tammany Hall and corruption blocking the path to justice, Shoenfeld’s homegrown vice squad was determined, against all odds, to be incorruptible.

Slater recreates the notorious stars of this underworld—the likes of dapper Arnold Rothstein, ruthless Big Jack Zelig and comically clueless gangster Louie Rosenberg—and the women in their shadows, some of whom, like Louie’s widow, Lily Rosenberg, kept their own notes. He also weaves in the critical impact of fomenting antisemitism throughout the country. The vices plaguing the East Side were being attributed to Jewish immigrants at large, rather than the small cabal of wealthy schemers and corrupt politicians. Slater shows how this metastasizing hatred of Jews foreshadowed Nazi Germany.

While the need for reform was an easy message to sell to the public, actually prohibiting popular illegal activities like gambling and prostitution proved hard. Working with a scrupulous lawyer named Harry Newburger and detective Joseph Faurot, whose technical acumen, like bridging telephone wires to listen in to private conversations, revolutionized criminal investigations, the Incorruptibles prompted The World to print on the front page: “BIGGEST GAMBLERS QUIT; BROADWAY SECTION CLEAN.”

If this was the sole substance of Slater’s book, it would be a singularly worthy read. Yet it is so much more. The Incorruptibles is a compelling crime story, colorful history and an ominous warning about antisemitism.

Dan Slater’s vibrant The Incorruptibles chronicles the homegrown vice squad that took down New York City’s most notorious turn-of-the-century gangsters.
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“Too bad I never went to detective school,” Francesca Loftfield muses near the end of The Lost Boy of Santa Chionia. On a mission for an international aid group, the 27-year-old arrives in the titular Italian town in 1960, charged with starting a nursery school in the isolated mountain village. Life here couldn’t be more different than her native Philadelphia: There’s abundant poverty, minimal electricity and no roads, doctor or police force. The big surprise, however, is a skeleton that’s just turned up; it’s been buried under the post office for years but resurfaced during a flood. Several women beg Francesca to investigate, each sure the bones belong to a missing relative. Francesca’s volatile, opinionated landlord, Cicca, claims that “Fate has brought us together,” and before long, they are calling themselves Watson and Holmes as they investigate the mystery.

Fans of Juliet Grames’ debut, The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna, will welcome more of the author’s immersive descriptions of Calabrian culture and scenery. Francesca is charged with interviewing families to determine who should be enrolled in the nursery school, which gives her the perfect excuse to snoop around. A likable, intelligent narrator, she begins to piece together many of the village’s secrets, while observing its economy, customs, victimization of women, patriarchal and religious domination, politics, emigration and more. The author has called herself “a lifelong student of the Italian-American immigrant experience,” and her expertise, eye for detail and verisimilitude shine on every page. There are lovely moments of human connection, humor and a romance with a handsome man named Ugo, who even Francesca declares to be “a cliché of a romantic hero.” Grames makes excellent use of the area’s dramatic landscape: As the suspense heats up, Francesca finds herself in increasingly dangerous situations.

Just like a big Italian family, the novel contains a multitude of characters and plot threads, many of which require careful attention, causing confusion for Francesca and perhaps readers as well. There’s a big, abrupt twist at the very end, which makes one wonder if a sequel might be in store. With The Lost Boy of Santa Chionia, Grames has created a village teeming with life, and, as it turns out, danger and death.

Juliet Grames’ expertise in Calabrian culture and eye for detail shine on every page of The Lost Boy of Santa Chionia, a historical mystery set in 1960 Italy.
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Drew Beckmeyer’s The First Week of School is a game changer, an exceptionally creative back-to-school book that practically turns the genre on its head. It’s full of droll humor that will appeal to readers young and old. As the title suggests, it chronicles a first week inside an elementary school classroom, offering a bird’s-eye view of a variety of perspectives. In a clever, understated nod to the way people tend to pigeonhole both themselves and others, the students are given simple monikers such as the Artist, the Inventor and the Sports Kings, “who usually spend all Recess arguing about teams and never get to actually playing.” But at one point, readers learn that “The Artist is actually the fastest runner in the grade.” Beckmeyer even shares the perspective of Pat, the class’s pet bearded dragon; as well as the teacher (“the teacher gets her eighth cup of coffee before lunch”).

The plot thickens on Tuesday, when an alien called Nobody is beamed down from a spaceship, although everyone at school simply assumes this is the new student who was supposed to arrive next week. All sorts of unexpected, imaginative interactions occur: Nobody and Pat have a slumber party; the Inventor finds mysterious machine parts under his desk; Nobody takes an interest in the shy Artist’s drawings and even mounts an exhibition.

The First Week of School is a sophisticated picture book that packs an amazing punch, brimming with atmosphere and personality—and a wide range of activities, including a STEM lab, gym, show and tell, and recess. It overflows with wry comments, such as an escalating exchange about reading levels during storytime that ends with one student announcing, “I actually memorized this whole book. I read at a twentieth-grade level.”

Beckmeyer’s art style carries a childlike feel, adding authenticity to his narrative voice. Rendered in crayon, his many aerial perspectives take the reader from outer space and zoom in on the sun setting over the ocean and hilly terrain surrounding the school, then on the schoolyard and parking lot, eventually beaming readers—as well as the visiting alien—right into the classroom. In addition to being chock-full of pure entertainment, the diverse perspectives offered in The First Week of School remind readers of all ages that there are many ways to approach a classroom and the many unique, surprising personalities inside.

The First Week of School is a sophisticated picture book that packs an amazing punch, brimming with atmosphere and personality
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More than a fan letter to Judy Blume or a hit-by-hit summary of her career, The Genius of Judy: How Judy Blume Rewrote Childhood for All of Us defends a critically engaged thesis: Blume meant so much to so many because she took the ideas of second-wave feminism and recast them as compulsively readable narratives. Blume was, biographer Rachelle Bergstein writes, “the Second Wave’s secret weapon.”

By writing about everything from menstruation (Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret) to masturbation (Deenie) to teens who have sex without regret (Forever), Blume took growing up seriously, and took the girls’ pleasure seriously, too. She came of age as a writer and woman during the height of the Second Wave and the sexual revolution. Bergstein traces the interlocking of the women’s movement with Blume’s oeuvre, putting her books in conversation with seminal feminist texts like Our Bodies, Ourselves and The Feminine Mystique. Blume’s biography fits right in: Bored and frustrated by her duties as a housewife and mother, writing gave Blume “the zap of something familiar from her girlhood: something electric and joyful. A distant, yet sacred, creative force welled up inside her.”

As a result of Bergstein’s biography, any fan of Judy Blume will gain fresh context on how her body of work amplified and reflected feminist thinking at the time. For instance, thinking about Wifey as Blume’s version of Erica Jong’s feminist classic The Fear of Flying prompted me to reread Wifey—and to enjoy it more. Bergstein excels at this kind of analysis. Her chatty, entertaining summaries of Blume’s books provide important context without getting lost in the weeds.

Blume gathers her laurels today not only for writing honestly about women’s and girls’ experiences, but also for her resistance to book banning. (According to Bergstein, Blume was the most banned author in the 1980s; her books have been fingered in the most recent bans as well.) Those concerned by the current wave of book banning will find Blume’s advocacy for authors and libraries both heartening and instructive. While readers might wish that Blume had participated in The Genius of Judy directly by offering an interview or access to private archives, Bergstein’s groundbreaking book is analytical, smart and accessible, ultimately demonstrating how Blume’s work has contributed to ongoing cultural shifts across multiple generations of women.

 

More than just a fan letter to Judy Blume, The Genius of Judy shows how the groundbreaking author’s work has impacted multiple generations of women.
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Shaun Hamill’s fiction jolts the reader with an immediate sense of ambition, a sense that they are about to be not just immersed, but plunged into something enormous that nevertheless keeps a grip on its humanity. With his follow-up to A Cosmology of Monsters, The Dissonance, Hamill once again retains that massive scope while telling a deeply felt story of loss, love and a chance at redemption, solidifying his place as one of genre fiction’s brightest rising stars.

In their teenage years, Hal, Erin and Athena were introduced to an obscure and powerful magical system known as the Dissonance. They spent their high school summers being tutored by a local professor in their hometown of Clegg, Texas, learning the right way to wield the uncommon and often frightening power that stemmed from their own negative emotions. Then tragedy struck, leaving the trio missing a friend and separated by time, grief and a disconnection from the magic they once shared.

Two decades later, Hal, Erin and Athena reunite in Clegg as the 20-year memorial for the event that rent them apart looms and strange happenings rock the landscape around them. Together with a local teen named Owen, who is caught up in a supernatural mystery of his own, the trio hurtle toward something dark, something that could spell the end of everything or be the beginning of their path back from the brink.

Hamill’s story is packed with fantasy and horror delights, from dark rituals in cemeteries to monsters in the forest to powerful swords that were once thought to be merely mythical. The sense that these characters are caught in the midst of something much bigger than themselves, are being buffeted on all sides by something titanic, is immediate, thrilling and seductive. But even as supernatural weather and the realities of living in a magical world are ever present, the characters always come first. Hal, Athena and Erin emerge as fully formed people carrying heavy burdens that are simultaneously fantastical and relatable, their emotions nearly tangible thanks to Hamill’s direct and page-turning prose.

The Dissonance will hook you with its phantasmagoria of dark imagery, but it will keep you reading because it’s a story about how the shared traumas of our youths can both shape us and save us. It’s fantasy, horror, a coming-of-age journey and so much more.

A phantasmagoria of dark imagery that never loses sight of its human core, The Dissonance solidifies Shaun Hamill’s place as one of genre fiction's brightest rising stars.
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In 18th-century England, women and men had no setting where it was acceptable to converse as equals on intellectual subjects like literature, fine art, foreign affairs, history, philosophy and science. That is, until women began hosting lively gatherings that defied sexist gender norms.

When Elizabeth Montagu began hosting her salons in her house in London, she started a trend that historian Susannah Gibson calls “the centerpiece of the first women’s liberation movement.” Gibson’s meticulously researched and beautifully written The Bluestockings: A History of the First Women’s Movement tells how this groundbreaking development changed the lives of women who achieved prestige as novelists, poets, translators and advocates of education.

Gibson spotlights salon hosts Elizabeth Montagu and Hester Thrale alongside prominent intellectual figures of the period: novelists Frances Burney and Sarah Scott, poets Ann Yearsley and Hannah More, author and advocate Mary Wollstonecraft and historian Catharine Macaulay. “Whatever magic Montagu weaved within the walls of her salon,” writes Gibson, “the old spell was broken and the learned lady—so despised elsewhere—suddenly became a desirable person to know . . . even an aspirational figure.” Macaulay is of particular interest because her experience is emblematic of the existent societal tension. Her multivolume history of England was widely praised, yet she dealt with “an enormous amount of male prejudice.”

The term “bluestocking” “caught on as a way of valuing intellectual endeavors above fashion.”  While Gibson acknowledges the diversity of opinions among the Bluestockings, she writes that, on the whole, they “were advocating for the most fundamental woman’s right: the right to be acknowledged as an independent individual of inherent worth.” Laying the groundwork of a whole new worldview, the movement influenced the suffragists of the next century. Consistently enlightening and insightful, The Bluestockings should be widely read by both women and men.

Meticulously researched and beautifully written, The Bluestockings recounts the lives of 18th-century women who forged a path for feminist movements to come.
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Get ready to fall in love with Max, the irrepressible elementary school narrator of That Always Happens Sometimes. He’s full of energy and enthusiasm that constantly erupts like a volcano.

In Kiley Frank’s clever text, Max poses a series of questions that reveal his personality, such as “Have your electric pencil sharpener privileges ever been revoked because of an unfortunate incident with a crayon?”  On each spread, K-Fai Steele’s illustrations beautifully capture Max’s gusto and the path of debris—not to mention consequences—that follow. His parents and teachers try to rein him in with multiple checklists (items include “keep hands to myself”) and interventions (tennis balls on the legs of his chair to squelch his noisy movements).

Both Frank and Steele excel at conveying much with small, powerful flourishes. For instance, in the chaotic aftermath of Max’s parents trying to get him to school on time, Frank writes, “The car ride to school was very quiet,” while a full-page spread uses just a few strokes to show Max in the back seat clutching his backpack and his father gripping the steering wheel, fury flashing in his eyes and tight-lipped mouth.

Frank uses Max’s questions to reveal life at home and at school, and poses variations on his answers to move the story along in creative ways. Max repeatedly notes, “That always happens sometimes,” or “I always feel that way.”  One day, however, he says, “This has never happened before,” as he participates in an intriguing team-building exercise that produces surprising and affirming results for all.

Young and old readers alike will recognize themselves or someone they know in Max. That Always Happens Sometimes is a delightful book guaranteed to bring on both laughs and greater understanding of the many Maxs in the world.

That Always Happens Sometimes is a delightful book guaranteed to bring on both laughs and greater understanding of the many Maxs in the world.

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