Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel; Harper, 320 pages ($25.99)
Florida native Susanna Daniel returns to the watery world of her first book (“Stiltsville”) with the story of a mother navigating the responsibilities and risks of parenthood.
In the summer of 1992, Georgia Quillian, her husband, Graham, and 3-year-old Frankie moved from Illinois to make a fresh start in her hometown of Coral Gables, Fla. Eight years later, Georgia relives that summer and, in the course of “Sea Creatures,” the events that led up to it.
Graham suffers from a rare sleep disorder that leads to wandering at night, and Frankie has inexplicably stopped speaking. So when they move into a houseboat, even Georgia admits that it’s “a peculiar choice for any family, but especially for us.” Promising that life on the water will be “an adventure,” Graham brushes aside Georgia’s fears, and they settle in, he at a nearby oceanography institute, and Georgia as a part-time gofer and curator for a reclusive local artist, Charlie Hicks. With Frankie in tow, Georgia learns to drive a boat across the bay to Charlie’s house in Stiltsville, a collection of wooden houses raised on pilings off the shore of Key Biscayne.
In a story overflowing with the ways life tests us, regardless of how vigilantly we scour the horizon for danger, Georgia finds that “to be a parent is terrifying. But it seems to me that what worries us most – pedophiles, kidnappers, dog attacks – is least likely to happen, while what is most likely is some unimagined event. How do we prepare for that?” The real risks Daniel asks us to consider are the inevitable ones that accompany love, including the hard and sometimes dangerous bargains we make to hold onto it.
– Gina Webb, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Toys in Space by Mini Grey; Alfred A. Knopf, $16.99. Ages 5 to 8.
A WonderDoll, a “helpful” windup robot, a “thoughtful” green dinosaur and several other toys are carelessly left outdoors overnight, giving them their first view of the night sky full of stars in this charming new picture book from the author/illustrator of “Traction Man Is Here.” The narrative gives voice to the insecurity of any child confronting the unknown, as the WonderDoll quiets her friends’ fears with a story about an adventure into space to meet a spaceship with an alien space creature they call an Hoctopize, who has accumulated a “Room of a Thousand Lost Toys” from “gardens all over the Earth” in its hunt for its own beloved lost toy. The story, with Grey’s droll illustrations, is a beguiling mix of empathy for children’s fears and Grey’s trademark offbeat sense of humor (the stuffed lamb worries “someone might get their stuffing probed!”).
– Jean Westmoore
The Highway by C.J. Box; Minotaur, 400 pages ($25.99)
With three-dimensional characters and a gripping plot, “The Highway” is the summer’s most terrifying novel. C.J. Box bases his edgy, compelling 17th novel on the FBI’s real hunt for a murderer working as a long-haul trucker. Set in the remote corners of Montana, the isolated landscape lends a chilling atmosphere where the whine of an 18-wheeler and an unlit back road ratchet up the suspense.
Box returns to Cody Holt, a Montana sheriff’s department investigator first introduced in the 2011 “Back of Beyond.” Cody often is fired because of his grating personality and his penchant for skirting the law to make an arrest. He has stopped drinking and reconciled with his ex-wife, Jenny, and his teenage son, Justin. Justin is worried about his ex-girlfriend, Danielle Sullivan, and her sister, Gracie, who have taken a detour to visit him in Montana. Danielle is a texting fiend, but hours have passed since Justin heard from the sisters, who are in an area where other young women have disappeared. A trail leads Cody to a trucker who calls himself the Lizard King and who usually preys on truck-stop prostitutes. Box stretches his storytelling skills with “The Highway,” taking extreme risks with the plot, which accelerates from one harrowing, unpredictable twist to another with aplomb.
– Oline H. Cogdill, Orlando Sun Sentinel