Foreword Reviews - - Contents - by Stephanie Buck­lin

Shame the Stars

Guadalupe Gar­cia Mc­call, Lee & Low Books Soft­cover $19.95 (320pp), 978-1-62014-278-3 In this riv­et­ing his­tor­i­cal novel, eigh­teen-year-old Joaquín del Toro has ev­ery­thing he could pos­si­bly dream of: a rich in­her­i­tance, a beau­ti­ful girl he is madly in love with, and the es­teem and love of his fam­ily. But when trou­ble arises on the Mex­i­co­texas bor­der in 1915, Joaquín’s world is changed ir­repara­bly. Not only does Joaquín lose his love, Dul­ceña, as their fam­i­lies fight in the midst of the new con­flicts, but Joaquín is sud­denly faced with a moral dilemma un­like any he ever faced. Should he sup­port the Texas Rangers, who are fight­ing Te­jano in­sur­gents, and whom his fa­ther staunchly sup­ports? Or should he take a stand against the Rangers, es­pe­cially when they turn their at­ten­tion to Joaquín’s own home?

Shame the Stars is a richly imag­ined his­tor­i­cal novel that fo­cuses on the com­pli­cated pol­i­tics and for­tunes of one fam­ily in par­tic­u­lar. Loosely based on Romeo and Juliet, the story looks at the shift­ing al­liances and sus­pi­cions dur­ing the pe­riod of Mex­ico’s rev­o­lu­tion, and the com­pli­cated fig­ures of the Texas Rangers. The style of the prose is sim­ple yet ef­fec­tive, with rich de­tails from the time pe­riod in which the novel is set. Mc­call adds ad­di­tional fla­vor to the work in the form of let­ters, jour­nal en­tries, and news­pa­per clip­pings that fur­ther en­hance the story and give a sense of the im­me­di­acy and ur­gency of the con­flict.

Per­fect for fans of both retellings and his­tor­i­cal fic­tion, Shame the Stars is a fast-mov­ing drama that, while draw­ing on one of Shake­speare’s most fa­mous works, plays by its own rules.


David Kudler, Still­point Dig­i­tal Press Soft­cover $12.99 (236pp), 978-1-9388-0834-0 A cen­tury of civil war has dev­as­tated Ja­pan, but Kano Murasaki has grown up far from the con­flicts and bat­tles that rage in the na­tion. Nick­named “Squir­rel,” or Risuko, all the young girl wants to do is climb trees as she grows up in the Seren­ity Province. And yet, Risuko finds her­self drawn into the war and handed re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and ex­pec­ta­tions that she had never dreamed of when her in­nocu­ous hobby—tree-climb­ing— sud­denly draws the at­ten­tion of a pow­er­ful lady.

Now, Risuko finds her­self pulled into a realm where the stakes are higher and the world more com­pli­cated and deadly. While some in her com­mu­nity be­lieve that she can “bring vic­tory” and be­come “a very spe­cial kind of woman,” Risuko longs to re­turn to the sim­plic­ity of her life be­fore. And yet, she finds her­self in the cen­ter of the con­flict, with the power in her hands to ei­ther reunite the na­tion for good, or to de­stroy it en­tirely.

Risuko is an art­fully crafted novel that evokes a heavy sense of place and en­chant­ment. The world in which Risuko lives is filled with lords and ladies, spies, and com­pli­cated bat­tles, not all of which are fought out on the field. Lady Chiy­ome es­pe­cially is an in­ter­est­ing fig­ure, with a depth that is mir­rored in the com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ships in the rest of the tale. Risuko be­comes an in­ter­est­ing blend of both the his­tor­i­cal and the mag­i­cal, and the stakes of the story are enor­mous. In turn, Risuko’s de­vel­op­ment and evo­lu­tion are fas­ci­nat­ing to watch in this pow­er­ful and re­lent­less com­ing-of-age ad­ven­ture.

Stealing In­di­ans

John Smel­cer, Leapfrog Press Soft­cover $13.95 (198pp), 978-1-935248-82-8 In a riv­et­ing work that Chinua Achebe calls “a mas­ter­piece,” four In­dian teenagers are taken from their homes all over Amer­ica and shipped to a far­away board­ing school for In­di­ans to be­gin a new life. To make them “less In­dian,” their kid­nap­pers—gov­ern­ment men in suits, with slips of pa­per that the chil­dren’s par­ents of­ten couldn’t even read—take the chil­dren from their orig­i­nal homes and send them away to dis­tant lo­cales, osten­si­bly to help them es­cape poverty and lack of op­por­tu­nity. The chil­dren en­roll in a school at Welling­ton, a place that is des­o­late, gloomy, and cruel. The pur­pose of Welling­ton seems to be to erad­i­cate the “In­dian”—to as­sim­i­late the chil­dren to Amer­i­can cul­ture while driv­ing out their her­itage.

More than just a story of sur­vival, Stealing In­di­ans is fo­cused on the chang­ing, shift­ing, and even dis­ap­pear­ing iden­ti­ties of the four young teens, who must rely on and trust one an­other as they nav­i­gate their new chal­lenges. With­out their con­nec­tions to home, the young teens adapt to their new world, and the in­sti­tu­tion be­hind their kid­nap­ping and forced jour­ney seems to have in­ten­tion­ally or­ches­trated this crush­ing of their old senses of self. A com­men­tary on colo­nial­ism and op­pres­sion, Stealing In­di­ans moves be­yond a sur­vival tale by plumb­ing the depths of the teens’ psy­chol­ogy as they strug­gle for­ward in this new world. Ideal for any­one look­ing for a rich ad­ven­ture story with depth and heart, Stealing In­di­ans is a work that en­gages and chal­lenges un­til the very end.

Mem­ory Girl

Linda Joy Sin­gle­ton, CBAY Books Hard­cover $17.95 (396pp), 978-1-944821-08-1

Where does one iden­tity be­gin and an­other end? In Mem­ory Girl, the in­hab­i­tants of Share­haven do not re­ally die—at least, their mem­o­ries do not. The sci­en­tists in that com­mu­nity have fig­ured out how to store and then trans­fer the mem­o­ries of a de­ceased per­son into a new body. But this body is no blank slate: in­stead, the sci­en­tists up­load the mem­o­ries into an ex­ist­ing per­son, a teenager who joins a Fam­ily and re­ceives the mem­o­ries of one of its de­ceased mem­bers.

Jennza is a four­teen-year-old teenager who tries to hide the fact that, un­like many of her ex­cited peers, she is anx­ious about the up­com­ing change. Af­ter the trans­fer of mem­o­ries, she will no longer be called Jennza—and so who will she be? While oth­ers see the join­ing of a Fam­ily as a way to fi­nally come into their own iden­ti­ties, Jennza feels the trans­fer is much more com­pli­cated. And while her friends have an eas­ier time of as­sim­i­lat­ing into the com­mu­nity, Jennza has al­ways found her­self stretch­ing and yearn­ing for just a lit­tle more, and in­dulges this feel­ing in lit­tle re­bel­lions like ex­plor­ing the other side of the Fence.

“No one dies any­more,” Jennza says early on in the novel. But Jennza’s great fear seems to be not phys­i­cal death, but the death of her self. Though it seems un­usual at times that Jennza would be the only one to ques­tion the logic of the mem­ory trans­fer, and to fear its reper­cus­sions, this in turn makes Jennza a highly re­lat­able char­ac­ter to nav­i­gate this dystopian world. Mem­ory Girl is a grip­ping, ac­tion-packed science-fic­tion work that is re­lent­less in its sus­pense, ideal for those who are drawn to smart thrillers that ask dif­fi­cult ques­tions.

In­ves­ti­gat­ing Julius Drake

Daisy Har­ris, Rip­tide Pub­lish­ing Soft­cover $17.99 (258pp), 978-1-62649-448-0

In this touch­ing and poignant com­ing-of-age story, four­teen-year-old Henry Walker en­ters the famed Clin­ton Academy on a schol­ar­ship. Brush­ing shoul­ders with the rich, the en­ti­tled, and the spoiled, Henry finds him­self try­ing to hide his more hum­ble back­ground and his in­ner se­cret. At first more in­ter­ested in fit­ting in than stand­ing out, Henry squelches his de­sire to find au­then­tic­ity in fa­vor of court­ing the es­teem of the stu­dents around him. But as time goes on, his fas­ci­na­tion with the charm­ing, at­trac­tive, and highly trou­bled Julius Drake grows, and Henry finds him­self drawn into a world that will for­ever change him.

In­ves­ti­gat­ing Julius Drake is a gen­tle and yet chal­leng­ing piece of LGBTQ fic­tion that also in­ves­ti­gates is­sues of class, bul­ly­ing, and au­then­tic­ity. As Henry grows closer to Julius, the two launch an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into “The Other Woman,” a mys­te­ri­ous class­mate who is bul­ly­ing other stu­dents on so­cial me­dia, and who even drove one class­mate to at­tempt sui­cide. The back­ground of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion—and the high stakes in­volved—pro­vide an en­gag­ing back­drop to the ex­plo­ration of Henry’s own true iden­tity, and his slow re­al­iza­tion that, to take a stand for oth­ers, first you must be au­then­tic to your­self. Julius him­self is also an in­ter­est­ing foil for Henry, who is more ten­ta­tive, more hes­i­tant, and at times more sta­ble than Julius, but who learns to lean into his own brand of courage and char­ac­ter by Julius’s care­free ex­am­ple. An ideal read for those in­ter­ested in both sus­pense­ful mys­ter­ies and in lit­er­a­ture that nav­i­gates dif­fi­cult is­sues, from com­ing out to peer pres­sure.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

John Rid­land, Able Muse Press Hard­cover $29.95 (124pp), 978-1-927409-76-3

This well-known clas­sic is trans­lated into mod­ern English verse in this en­chant­ing and cap­ti­vat­ing book. The ac­tiv­i­ties and chal­lenges faced by the knight Sir Gawain are de­scribed in great and some­times graphic de­tail as the story moves be­tween what the au­thor calls “hunt­ing” and “bed­room” (in­te­rior) scenes. The story fol­lows Gawain’s strug­gles to live up to the high stan­dards of a knight while he also strug­gles for sur­vival in the midst of his hu­man frail­ties and weak­nesses. The nar­ra­tive is struc­tured into four parts, as in the orig­i­nal, each cen­tered around a dif­fer­ent event or tale, and even in­cludes a few black-and-white il­lus­tra­tions of the scenes at cer­tain key breaks.

John Rid­land, who taught English at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Santa Barbara, for over forty years, here de­liv­ers a ver­sion of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight that cov­ers ev­ery word of the orig­i­nal and pre­serves the same line num­ber­ing. What gives this trans­la­tion life, how­ever, is Rid­land’s metic­u­lous care in craft­ing the meter and rhythm of the trans­la­tion, us­ing tools such as ju­di­cious al­lit­er­a­tion. The re­sult is a text that pre­serves the lyri­cal qual­ity of the orig­i­nal, even if the orig­i­nal meter is no longer rel­e­vant. The book also con­tains Rid­land’s in­tro­duc­tion and notes, help­ing to shape the un­der­stand­ing of this text. The re­sult­ing work is a must-read for any­one in­ter­ested in tales of King Arthur, me­dieval knights, and the won­drous folk­lore of that pe­riod.

Cover de­sign from Risuko, by James T. Egan of Book­fly De­sign. Used with per­mis­sion from Still­point Dig­i­tal Press.

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