Petra Mayer

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The CEO of Macmillan — one of the Big Five book publishing houses — has announced he'll step back from day-to-day responsibilities, following an industry-wide day of action protest against racism organized by five Macmillan employees.

Gather 'round, children, and let me tell you a story about the amazing group of authors, librarians and critics we've assembled to help judge this year's Summer Reader Poll!

A long, long summer is stretching ahead of us — many summer camps and programs are closed, kids are restless and parents and caregivers are stretched thin. But story time is always a little moment of escape.

So this year, we want to hear all about your very favorite books for the littlest readers, specifically picture books and very easy chapter books. Is it something you loved as a kid? Something the kids in your life demand at Every. Single. Bedtime? Something they love to read by themselves? Something you gift to every kid you know? Tell us about it!

Carlos Ruiz Zafón was frequently called the most-read Spanish author since Cervantes. His breakout 2001 novel The Shadow of the Wind follows Daniel, a young boy in Barcelona just after World War II, whose father takes him to The Cemetery of Lost Books, a mysterious bookstore at the heart of the city.

The National Book Critics Circle — which represents hundreds of critics nationwide, and hands out several prestigious prizes — is the latest literary organization to be riled by accusations of racism.

In Liara Tamani's swirling, poetic new young adult novel All the Things We Never Knew, two high school basketball stars, Rex and Carli, fall in love at first sight — the falling is literal in Carli's case; she has a gallbladder attack and collapses in Rex's arms courtside at a basketball game.

But how do you turn love at first sight into lasting love, when you don't really know how to love yourself? Both Rex and Carli struggle with their own doubts and depths and family secrets.

Journalist and activist George M. Johnson's new memoir is an unvarnished look at growing up black and queer in New Jersey and later Virginia. Johnson draws readers into his own experiences with clear, confiding essays — from childhood encounters with bullies to sexual experiences good and bad, to finding unexpected brotherhood in a college fraternity, all of it grounded in the love and support of his family.

Grady Hendrix's new novel stars a group of determined women who confront a supernatural threat in their community — and while vampires aren't real (as far as we know), Hendrix says The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires has its roots in his own real life.

Cartoonist and literary jokester Tom Gauld usually lampoons classic novels and the predicaments of the writing life. But in his new book, Department of Mind-Blowing Theories — collecting comics from his ongoing column in New Scientist magazine — he turns his pen to the realm of science (and occasionally science fiction).

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

You've seen it all over your Twitter feed. Half your friends are probably playing it — yes, Nintendo's Animal Crossing is the video game of the moment, and it is a great way to keep yourself soothed and distracted.

N.K. Jemisin is fresh off of winning three Hugo Awards in a row for her powerful Broken Earth trilogy — set on a world wracked with constant geological upheavals, where only the despised and exploited people known as orogenes can calm the quakes.

Judy Vogel's life is falling apart. Or really, it HAS fallen apart: Once, she was a successful children's book author whose work was adapted for TV. Now, a couple of flops and a nasty case of writers' block have reduced her to grinding out content for a wellness website; her estranged husband Gary, whose anxiety has stunted his music career, lives in the basement because they can't afford to divorce — a situation they're hiding from their sullen teenager Teddy. And her best friend is dying of cancer.

Flatiron Books, publisher of the controversial new novel American Dirt, has cancelled the remainder of author Jeanine Cummins' book tour after what it called "specific threats to booksellers and the author." This follows several individual event cancellations. [Disclosure: Flatiron Books, publisher of American Dirt, is among NPR's financial supporters]

The "riot baby" in Tochi Onyebuchi's slim, devastating new novel is Kev, born amidst the chaos of the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. Kev is the sort of character who's often reduced to a statistic, in books or outside them: He's young, he's black, he's in prison — while out in the world, his sister Ella is the one who wields mysterious, terrifying magical powers.

Goodbye to Mr. Creosote. Goodbye to the naked organist. Goodbye to Brian's mum, and to all her screeching sisters. Goodbye to Terry Jones, who has consumed his final wafer-thin mint.

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NOEL KING, HOST:

When the creators of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child were working on adapting the wizarding world for the stage, they knew a lot of people have seen the Harry Potter movies. And they didn't want to reproduce the things most people have already seen.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

So, Mary Louise, have you read any good books lately?

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

I have, actually - tons of good books this year. But you know who has read way more, I'm guessing, than you or me?

CHANG: Oh, I already know. NPR book editor Petra Mayer, right?

KELLY: Who - yes, indeed. And believe it or not, she is here with us to talk about the fruits of her labor, not to mention the labor of many, many others here at NPR; the NPR Book Concierge, which is now live.

Hi, Petra.

Margaret Atwood's classic dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale ended on a cliffhanger: The rebellious handmaid Offred stepping into a mysterious black van, on her way to freedom — or to arrest.

The news cycle is driving us to the edge of madness, so why not switch off, unplug and pick up a book? We know you could use a laugh right now — and luckily, several thousand of you told us all about the books, stories and poems that make you laugh.

Petra: It's Saturday! (Or actually, as we're posting this it's now Sunday) I feel the need to reiterate this, lest I forget what day it is or which direction is up! Saturday tends to be the day people bust out their best cosplays — I saw some truly amazing getups, including countless Deadpools (Deadspool?), a lot of women dressed as Loki and Doctor Strange, a really well-done armored Cersei Lannister, Missandei of Naath carrying her own head, and my personal favorite, Logan and Jessica from Logan's Run, complete with life-clocks in their palms.

Mallory: It's Friday! By this point in the con, the crowds are much crowdier, the lines for everything are much longer, the cosplay is starting to come out ... we're in the full swing of things, folks.

Welcome to the 50th San Diego Comic-Con!

A good convention is almost a ritual space — a time and place away from time and place. Once you step through that glass door and swipe your badge, you could be anywhere, anywhen; the hours pass by outside and you don't notice. It's almost as if the rest of the world doesn't exist — you are at Comic-Con. You have always been at Comic-Con. What I'm trying to say, here, is that I've barely been here 24 hours and I already don't know which way is up or really what day it is. Mallory, I hope you're less disoriented than I am.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Knock knock!

Who's there?

THE FUNNIEST PANEL OF SUMMER POLL JUDGES WE'VE EVER HAD!

Voting in this year's Summer Reader Poll is in full swing — and if you still haven't voted, you can do that here — so it's time to meet our expert panel of professional funny people ... who I wish were writing this copy, because maaaan they're all way more hilarious than I am. But in fact, they'll be helping curate our final list of 100 favorite funny reads.

Before she was a novelist (and occasional NPR contributor), Arkady Martine was a Byzantine historian and an apprentice city planner — and that expertise is on display in her new book A Memory Called Empire. It's the story of an ambassador from a small, independent space station on the edge of a huge, devouring galactic empire, who arrives in the imperial capital and is almost immediately launched on a wild ride of intrigue, courtly manners, poetry and plotting.

Well, Valentine's Day is upon us, and whether or not you're in love, I think we can all agree that sometimes the pressure to be in a relationship, or celebrate the fact that you're in one, can get a little ... less than delightful.

Renowned British actor Albert Finney has died at 82; his family confirmed the death in a short statement, saying he "passed away peacefully after a short illness with those closest to him by his side."

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