Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, March 24, 2017

HarperCollins: Chester and Gus by Cammie McGovern

From My Shelf

W. W. Norton & Company: Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition by Paul Watson

Algonquin Books: Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein

Science Books for Non-Scientists

In A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson observed that, among textbook authors, "there seemed to be a mystifying universal conspiracy... to make certain the material they dealt with never strayed too near the realm of the mildly interesting."

Luckily for the modern reader, contemporary science books have come a long way from the dry, never-interesting conspiracy of the scientific textbook--and Bryson's own work is a testament to that fact. A Short History of Nearly Everything (which, at 500+ pages, is not actually short) tackles the history of, well, everything. From the Big Bang theory to the rise of modern civilization, Bryson offers a quick tour of the greatest concepts of scientific theory, all in his characteristically witty style.

Where Bryson's sense of humor elicits the occasional chuckle and inward smile, Mary Roach's writing brings about tears of laughter. Truly, it's hard to believe that writing about cadavers (Stiff), digestion (Gulp) or military science (Grunt) could be so funny, but with anecdotes, footnotes and a sense of tell-all determination, Roach packs her books full of scientific detail and laugh-out-loud delights.

Humor is not the only way to make scientific study accessible, of course. In her memoir, Lab Girl, Hope Jahren writes about her passion for scientific inquiry and her curiosity about the world through the lens of her career as a geobiologist. In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot explores the intersection of scientific study and social justice through the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman whose cancer cells were used--without her knowledge or permission--as the basis of myriad studies over the last several decades.

"We are part of this universe; we are in this universe," said Neil DeGrasse Tyson (astrophysicist and author of Death by Black Hole). Studying that connection can be both fascinating and entertaining; we offer these books as proof. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

From My Shelf

W. W. Norton & Company: Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition by Paul Watson

Algonquin Books: Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein

Never Get Old

Age-old wisdom can easily become lost amid today's growing mountains of competing ideologies. In his 1915 address to students of the Froebel Educational Institute, Jewish scholar C.G. Montefiore stressed the importance of balancing an open, curious mind with one ready to test new fads and theories for durability--a pivotal habit for those who wish to stay young while growing old. Pushkin Press' London Library series gives readers a chance to dip into knowledge from a century ago, and I'd say Life in a Bustle: Advice to Youth (which contains Montefiore's speech and two other turn-of-the-century pamphlets on health and well-being in a busy society) holds up superbly.

"Youth is said to be the season for hero-worship, but if we want to keep young, that worship must persist all through our lives," writes Montefiore, quick to clarify that he does not consider this an affected and shallow notion. "I mean the power to feel before the human mind and before human goodness a certain reverence, a certain awe." I speak from experience when I say that there are few things more satisfying than discovering people worth admiring, and telling them so.

I'd only add that stopping a moment to marvel at the non-human wonders that surround us, too, can bring a youthful jolt back into the day. Bloomsbury's Object Lessons series dwells on subjects many of us may take for granted: eggs, traffic, trees, earth. In the hands of contributing essayists like Nicole Walker, Paul Josephson, Matthew Battles, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Linda T. Elkins-Tanton, however, such commonalities leap from the doldrums with a rush of color.

At the risk of sounding like the Insane Clown Posse hit "Miracles," (which implores, "It ain't no way/ to ignore the miracles of every day"), the world is teeming with wonders. Stay curious. Stay astonished. Stay young. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

From My Shelf

W. W. Norton & Company: Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition by Paul Watson

Algonquin Books: Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein

Peggy Orenstein's Girls and Sex

photo: Michael Todd

Newly released in paperback, Peggy Orenstein's Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape (HarperCollins, $15.99) is, quite frankly, terrifying. As the mother of two teen girls and fan of Orenstein's intelligent and thought-provoking work (Cinderella Ate My Daughter), this study of 21st-century sexual culture--culled from interviews with more than 70 high school and college-aged girls--was an auto-buy for me. Ten pages in, I patted myself on the back for bravely going where many parents would not. Twenty pages past that point I wondered whether my courage could prevail. And 15 more found me resolute, both perplexed by my own ignorance and eager to educate myself about the current state of sex in the United States.

People, it's complicated. And Orenstein is the first to admit as much. The nature of relationships has changed. Many begin with a physical encounter of some kind (hello, hookup), then, should the stars align, progress to a date, then a second, and so on. Emotional connection ("catching feelings") is a no-no. The definition of "virginity" is open to debate; what constitutes consensual sex depends on who you're talking to; and the list goes on. Here's a hint: this is all just as confusing for your girls as it is for you.

Orenstein's genius is in her ability to coalesce this broad range of insight and information into something that urges us to think beyond the standard talking points. Yes, disease, consent and contraception are need-to-knows. But so is the idea that sexuality can "be a source of self-knowledge and creativity and communication." And girls should be emboldened to "ask for what they want in the bed, and to get it." Yes, as my youngest daughter would say, this conversation would, most likely, be "cringe-y." But oh, so worth it. --Stefanie Hargreaves, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

From My Shelf

W. W. Norton & Company: Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition by Paul Watson

Algonquin Books: Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein

Majoring in March Madness: Reading Basketball 101

The NCAA college basketball tournament, aka March Madness, has traditionally been my marker of Spring. Starting this week, the "Road to the Final Four" prompts an intensive focus on bracketology, a field of study even the book world can't escape (see Tournament of Books).

Human interest studies are also a popular subject. This year the center of attention has been actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus (just Google her name and "basketball"). Her son Charlie plays for Northwestern, which has made the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.

My March Madness TBR list includes Bill Walton's Back from the Dead (out in paperback next week). Now a broadcaster, Walton brought a refreshing burst of Deadhead/hippie fresh air to the sports scene in the 1970s as a UCLA and later NBA Hall of Fame-level player. At 64, he's still a tie-dye loyalist. Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart even blurbed the book: "This isn't a basketball story, it's a story of victory over adversity and the Tao of positive thinking."

For a different perspective on the game, check out Dust Bowl Girls: The Inspiring Story of the Team that Barnstormed its Way to Basketball Glory by Lydia Reeder, as well as the insightful Integrated: The Lincoln Institute, Basketball & a Vanished Tradition by James W. Miller.

College basketball majors might enroll in an Atlantic Coast Conference studies course, built around Dean Smith: A Basketball Life by Jeff Davis; Game Changers: Dean Smith, Charlie Scott & the Era that Transformed a Southern College Town; and John Feinstein's The Legends Club: Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano & an Epic College Basketball Rivalry.

Side note: My sole claim to personal basketball glory is that when I was a bookseller, I once helped Duke University coaching legend Krzyzewski pick out a large stack of art books for his mother. Slam dunk, bookstore style. --Robert Gray, contributing editor

From My Shelf

W. W. Norton & Company: Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition by Paul Watson

Algonquin Books: Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein

Hester Young: Setting, Shaping Story and Self

photo: Francine Daveta Photography

The eerie Southern Gothic style of Hester Young's debut, The Gates of Evangeline, earned her rave reviews and many fans. And while her second novel, The Shimmering Road, moves away from that Louisiana environment, the setting still plays a major role in the effectiveness of the book. Protagonist Charlie Cates is summoned to Arizona by both her premonitory dreams and the death of her estranged mother.

Young explains, "The settings came to me in very different ways. The Gates of Evangeline began with a dream. I always feel like the Louisiana swamps chose me, instead of vice versa. My writing challenge was to anchor the story with vivid details about that setting. With The Shimmering Road, the southern Arizona setting was a much more deliberate choice. I've lived there, and I wanted to share the complexities of living on the border. The challenge was approaching the setting from Charlie's perspective, and not my own."

From Arizona, Charlie travels to another powerful setting--a garbage dump in Nogales, Mexico. "While doing research on Nogales, I found an article about Tirabichi with some very moving photos of its inhabitants. Although I'd read about these recycling communities that sometimes spring up around landfills, I associated it more with Mexico City. It was a little startling to realize a community like this existed just a few miles from the U.S. border.

"Charlie, like many New Yorkers I know, is a bit insulated in her world. In both The Gates of Evangeline and The Shimmering Road, she is entering new spaces as an outsider and coming to understand the things we all have in common as human beings. I felt like Tirabichi was the perfect place for her to continue absorbing that lesson." --Jen Forbus, freelancer

From My Shelf

W. W. Norton & Company: Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition by Paul Watson

Algonquin Books: Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein

Lyndsay Faye: Cap Off to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

photo: Gabriel Lehner

Lyndsay Faye is the author of five novels, including Dust and Shadow, featuring the inimitable Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. She returns to these beloved characters in the 15 stories in The Whole Art of Detection (Mysterious Press).

Lyndsay Faye has been reading Sherlock stories since she was 10. "I loved them," she says, "and then I never actually stopped reading them. Lacking the Internet, it wasn't until I was a teenager that I discovered there was such a thing as pastiches and fan fiction out there. Then I read as much of the non-canonical material as I could find--probably thousands of stories at this point, no joke.

All that absorption of matters Holmesian means I can tell within about two paragraphs whether a new story's voice is going to work for me. I wasn't trained as a writer--I was a professional actress. So I studied how to mimic syntax and accents and characterizations. At a certain point, I picked up a fresh new Sherlock Holmes paperback at Borders and thought, 'I could do that.' "

Her experience writing Holmes material gave her new sympathy for Arthur Conan Doyle "for occasionally being a bit repetitive." She explains: "Coming up with solvable but grotesque circumstances in which to land Holmes, over and over again, is extremely challenging. Doyle famously hated it. I've only done 15, not 60, and my cap is entirely off to him."

She's still writing in the genre, though, despite the challenges. "But," she notes, "I've started branching out into narrators other than Watson and Holmes--peripheral characters who knew them to varying degrees and offer a fresh point of view. It's the perfect way to challenge myself without leaving Victorian London. I'll never tire of the Great Detective and the Good Doctor." --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Indiana University Press: What My Last Man Did by Andrea Lewis

Book Candy

How Reading Improves Relationships

Bustle suggested "10 ways reading can help improve the relationships in your life."


Monday was Alien Abduction Day, so Quirk Books showcased "some planets we wouldn't mind seeing."


Help wanted: Mental Floss reported that the company is looking for a researcher "to ensure accuracy and authenticity of American Girl characters" in books, toys, games, and anywhere else they appear.


The Millions offered "a brief review of walls in literature."


Headline of the day (via "It's a mystery: A1 Steak Sauce bottles appear at Avon Lake Public Library."


Cool bookshelf of the day: "frame book storage" by NAM, constructed of steel and wood and fixed wire in frame.

A Colony in a Nation

by Chris Hayes

Chris Hayes, author of Twilight of the Elites and host of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes, seeks to establish a new framework for understanding America's fractured society with his book A Colony in a Nation. Hayes contends that the country has been divided into two halves that he labels the Colony and the Nation. The idea is adapted from Richard Nixon's 1968 speech at the Republican National Convention, in which he asserted that black Americans "don't want to be a colony in a nation." Hayes argues that almost a half-century later we have created just that:

...we have built a colony in a nation, not in the classic Marxist sense but in the deep sense we can appreciate as a former colony ourselves: A territory that isn't actually free. A place controlled from outside rather than within. A place where the mechanisms of representation don't work enough to give citizens a sense of ownership over their own government. A place where the law is a tool of control rather than a foundation for prosperity.

These views crystallized while Hayes was reporting on the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., after the controversial police shooting of Michael Brown. Peaceful protests, along with incidents of violence and looting, were met with a massive police response that helped to raise questions about police militarization. Hayes asks how "law and order" rhetoric and policies have worked to create aggressively policed islands of poverty (the Colony) practically next door to more affluent, leniently policed havens (the Nation). Ironically enough, Hayes attributes much of the Colony's construction to Nixon, whose dog-whistle rhetoric would eventually merge with the War on Drugs to encourage the explosive growth of American prison populations.

Hayes's argument not only engages with the recent past, however, but goes all the way back to the Founding Fathers. He audaciously compares conditions in our present-day "colonies" to the circumstances that led the American colonies to revolt. Famous revolutionaries like John Hancock were forced into smuggling and black market profiteering by the British government's mercantilist policies. They were, in other words, criminals, and overreaching attempts to crack down on their illicit activities helped provide the spark for war. Hayes compares smuggling to the drug trade in the modern-day Colony: "Sure, the drug trade is illegal, reckless, and destructive, but it encourages commerce in places where the legitimate economy produces few jobs."

Hayes extends his comparison further, arguing that British attempts to crack down on smuggling and collect taxes "essentially inaugurated America's first tough-on-crime era." He compares constant British harassment to the NYPD's infamous "stop and frisk" practices and to the "writs of assistance" that let British officials invade American homes to the humiliating privacy intrusions that often characterize life in the Colony. Hayes's purpose is not only to thumb his nose at "law and order" advocates who tend to wrap themselves in the flag, but also to point out how exploitative colonial relationships have been adapted and imported into the 21st century.

A Colony in a Nation is not primarily a history lesson, though it does provide a serious, empathetic look at the problems facing the Colony, as well as at the police officers tasked with making rapid decisions in a gun-rich environment. Hayes takes us through his less-than-successful experience putting himself in the latter's shoes by trying out an unusual training tool, a virtually reality simulator: "We're only one scene in, and already the self-righteous liberal pundit has drawn his weapon on an unarmed man holding a cinder block." Elsewhere, Hayes examines his own experiences with the law, such as an incident when he was almost caught accidentally smuggling "about thirty dollars' worth of marijuana stuffed into my eyeglass case" into the 2000 Republican National Convention. Hayes got away without so much as a slap on the wrist, protected by luck, circumstances and privilege. For black men living in the Colony, encounters with the police are much more fraught. Racial profiling and minor infractions can lead to "being swept into the vortex of a penal system that captures more than half the black men his age in his neighborhood... an adulthood marked by prison, probation, and dismal job prospects...."

Hayes aims to show not just that the law is unequally applied, but that the Nation and the Colony have two entirely different justice systems. He points to colleges and universities as a key example: "All these schools and hundreds of others draw their student bodies disproportionately from upper echelons of society, and they are places where parents and administrators outright expect students to engage in illicit behaviors." Why aren't poorer neighborhoods extended the same "extremely liberal norms of tolerance"? In fact, under the widely celebrated "Broken Windows" theory of policing in the 1990s, New York "constructed an entire new judicial system around low-level offenses" where the goal was "not to figure out if the person in question committed a crime but to sort city residents according to their obedience and orderliness." The benefits for the Nation were manifest and the practices were almost immediately exported to cities all over the country. Cleaned-up cities came at a cost, though, vacuuming huge numbers of poor, mentally ill and minority-status Americans into prisons and inflicting "widespread harassment and misery" on residents of the Colony.

Hayes does not propose solutions in A Colony in a Nation. Instead, he makes a powerful dichotomy visible to those who can't see it. His framework serves as a powerful lens through which to understand the last half-century of American history, as well as the immense challenges going forward. --Hank Stephenson

W.W. Norton, $26.95, hardcover, 256p., 9780393254228

Chris Hayes: The Political Equivalent of Enriched Uranium

photo: Virginia Sherwood

Chris Hayes is the Emmy Award-winning host of All In with Chris Hayes on MSNBC, the New York Times bestselling author of Twilight of the Elites, and an editor-at-large at the Nation. His newest book, A Colony in a Nation, argues that American society has been split into two parts: the Colony and the Nation. In the Colony, life is characterized by aggressive policing and abridged civil rights. The Nation enjoys a much higher quality of life with more lenient policing. Hayes explains how the dynamic was created and why it persists.

How did you come up with the Colony/Nation framework?

Two things led me to it. The first was my time in Ferguson after the controversial police shooting of Michael Brown. I was overwhelmed by the ways in which the police felt so much like an occupying force. It felt that way not just to the protesters and residents, but the media as well. And when you talked to residents, you heard stories of police conduct that sounded like the kind of petty, capricious predation I normally associate with dictatorships or places under occupation, not a liberal democracy. (I should make the obvious point here that this is the experience of policing for millions of black and brown folks all over the country). As I continued to report, I was struck how policing in the U.S. looks nothing like the ideal notion of democratic accountability. Then I read Nixon's 1968 speech, in which he uses this phrase about African Americans: "They don't want to be a colony in a nation." And it stuck in my head. That's basically what we've created. 

Would it be fair to say that your book is, in large part, an attempt to explain black and brown experiences of the law to white America?

As a writer, you want everyone to read your book, across every racial and ideological category. In part, this book is trying to explain to white people why the Colony/Nation divide affects everyone, both as a matter of racial justice, but also as a question of the most fundamental democratic commitments we have as a citizenry and people.

But for readers who are already familiar with the effects of this policing regime, particularly readers of color, I hope the book offers some fresh insight into how the system got built. Like, why did white people make this? And using my own experiences to excavate the nature of white fear and how powerful and seductive it is, I hope people come away feeling they have a better sense of the political substrate of the system we've built.

Do you think that citizens of the Nation truly don't understand how bad things are in the Colony or do they understand but consider it a small price to pay for personal safety?

I think it's both. The vast majority of people aren't spending a ton of time thinking about criminology. And at an intuitive level, it's not crazy to think, "well, we had a lot of crime and then we hired a lot more cops and started putting a lot more people in prison and crime went down." But I also do think faith in that basic story is predicated on not having to confront on a daily basis the immense costs that mass incarceration and stop-and-frisk policing impose on our fellow citizens. It's not that different from the ways in which Americans think about American foreign policy--they hear about it in an abstract sense, but they don't have to directly experience the worst consequences of it.

America was founded with different systems of justice already in place in regard to white citizens and black slaves. Hasn't black America always been "a Colony in a Nation?" What has changed?

Of course, from slavery to Jim Crow, separate systems of justice are foundational. And, in fact, this notion of internal colonization and separateness is an old one. I quote DuBois referring to black Americans as constituting a "nation within a nation." What's changed, I think, and what distinguishes this particular era is the development of black political power. Part of the structure of Jim Crow was to block enfranchisement and black representation. Today, there's greater black elected political power than any time in the nation's history (though it is still a small fraction of all elected reps) and yet that enfranchisement has not eradicated this internal division and the democratic deficiency it represents.

President Trump successfully ran as a "law and order" candidate despite crime rates at historic lows. What is fueling the disparity between perception and reality that Trump capitalized on? Do you worry that the Colony will suffer more under his administration?

Well, yes. I mean, he basically just threatened to declare martial law in Chicago because he was watching a Fox News segment on violence there. Remember, Donald Trump is someone whose entire worldview was shaped in the high crime New York City I grew up in, which I describe in the book--one where white fear thrived. Trump famously called for the execution of the Central Park Five, who spent years in prison before being exonerated. He's never apologized and still contends they were guilty! In many ways Trump was able to the take the local politics of law and order and the cultivation of white fear of the New York City of my youth and project it out across the nation, integrating other threats--Muslims and immigrants primarily. The message is that the country is disordered and dangerous due to lawlessness at the border: unruly, violent criminal immigrants, a Muslim fifth column and inner-city black violence. In the book, I call this "the political equivalent of enriched uranium." It's a way of triggering the absolute worst impulses in white voters, and as a campaign tactic it's been very successful. We're just beginning to see--with the immigration executive order that bans travelers from seven Muslim countries--how it works as a governing agenda.

America is a nation founded on revolution but obsessed with order. How do you think veneration for our rebellious ancestors coexists in American minds with such a strong intolerance toward disunity of any kind?

This is a great question and touches on a great historical irony I wrestle with at length in the book. The same folks who attended tea party rallies with Gadsden flags and tricorne hats are the most likely to say police aren't sufficiently respected and that you should just do what a cop says, no matter what. There's a deep tension there! The original tricorne hat crew used to like to beat up customs officers and tar and feather them. Can you imagine, if a mob did that to a modern-day police officer, how constitutional conservatives would feel? So, I don't think there's a single answer. The tension between fidelity toward our revolutionary founders and our deep desire for order is forever unresolved and plays out in all kinds of ways in our politics.

Books of this kind often identify a problem and then propose solutions. I didn't find much in the way of policy prescriptions in A Colony in a Nation. Was that a deliberate choice?

It was absolutely intentional. I wanted to avoid what some people call "The Last Chapter Problem." It's what happens when a nonfiction author lays out a critique of some social problem in the first 90% of the book and then uses the last 10% to attempt to solve it. It rarely works. In fact, I did precisely this in my first book, Twilight of the Elites. The first 90% of that book holds up, I think, remarkably well. In fact, I think in many ways it's more relevant than it's ever been. But I can't say the same for the last chapter. I also think I was inspired by Ta-Nehisi Coates, who believes that it's not a social critic's job to offer solutions. If people are moved by the book, they will seek out experts and advocates offering concrete solutions.

Is there a "win-win" scenario or does any potential fix require there be a "loser?"

That's the big question, isn't it? I want to believe it's win-win. I mean, I genuinely do believe we can have a more equal, safer nation, where people can flourish and exercise the full liberty and autonomy that should be our birthright as Americans. But I also don't want to discount the more difficult notion that the current arrangement represents a kind of redistribution from the Colony to the Nation and that abolishing the "colonial" arrangement would mean that the Nation would lose privileges and benefits it currently enjoys. We need to develop a political language and framework to destroy the boundaries of the Colony and the Nation even if that's true. --Hank Stephenson

Malin Persson Giolito: A Small and Scattered World

photo: Viktor Fremling

Malin Persson Giolito was born in Stockholm in 1969, and grew up in Djursholm, Sweden. She holds a degree in law from Uppsala University and has worked as a lawyer for the biggest law firm in the Nordic region and as an official for the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium. She is now a full-time writer and has written four novels; Quicksand is her English-language debut. Persson Giolito lives with her husband and three daughters in Brussels. 

Was it the crime that sparked this novel for you, or Maja herself, or something else?

I couldn't stop thinking about the crime. But it's quite a difficult subject to write about, especially if you want to write a book people actually enjoy reading. I didn't get anywhere until Maja came along. And I think the reason I wanted to write about a school shooting was not particularly the crime itself but the environment, that is, the school. It's a very closed kind of environment. I think the book is about situations that you can't control, and closed rooms. Maja was the key to the story. The first idea was the school shooting, but I didn't know what to do with it until Maja came along.

It's quite funny: as a writer, you're probably the least capable of talking about your novel. You don't really know what you're doing. For the longest time you're doing this puzzle upside down, so to speak, and then when the book is done hopefully you will see what the puzzle looks like, or perhaps one of the readers will tell you. There is something about this closed room that must have intrigued me, because we have not only the school but also the courtroom and the neighborhood where she grows up, which is an upper-class, very closed neighborhood--they're very isolated from other parts of the Swedish society. Also, being a teenager is being isolated. You live in your own world of black and white, right and wrong, love and hate... teenagers are lovely. I have two. But they're also quite isolated in their own minds, in their own day-to-day world.

You write the voice of this teenager so convincingly.

I have a tendency to say this was the easy part, but that's not really true. It took me a lot of time to get to her. But once I had her, that was the best part, just living inside her head, with her rage and her judgments. She's an enraged teenager. She's a very privileged teenager that has gone through this tragedy, and now she's put in a place where she has absolutely no control over her situation anymore. And we learn that during the year that led up to these events, this tragedy, she also lost control of her life. So how does she react? Well, one of the reactions is this rage. She hates everyone. And funnily enough, that was when I liked her. I think there must be an enraged teenager within me.

I think we all can relate to this loss of empowerment when we look at the world around us right now. One of the things I really liked was that I didn't have to be this thoughtful adult who sees the good in people--I could just let go of everything and just be her. Which is not the same as saying that I agree with her. Her way of judging people around her is not something that I necessarily share. But it was still surprisingly easy, once I was there, to just do that. Once in a while you just want to let it go, to quote a famous Disney princess. I really liked that with Maja.

One of the tricks, when you write suspense novels, is to use the unreliable narrator. And when I started writing I knew from the beginning I didn't want that. I didn't want her to turn out to be someone else, didn't want her to wake up after having had an alcohol-related dementia, or whatever. I wanted her to be reliable narrator, in the purest sense of the term. But I didn't think of the fact that she's a teenager, and if you look up "unreliable narrator," I think you'll see a picture of a teenager. But she's just her, and that was very important. That's what made me really love her. She just wants to get through this. She's a survivor, in more ways than one.

What in your background prepared you to write this story?

The fact that I'm a lawyer prepared me a little too well, I think. There are parts of courtroom procedure that interest a lawyer that are not interesting for anyone else. It's easy to take certain things for granted, certain principles. But once I had Maja, this was an advantage. Because she could ask all those questions that lawyers are supposed to have moved away from. Maja's first big question is, how can you say that you're innocent until you're proven guilty? That is absurd. Either you're guilty from the beginning or you didn't do it. That's not something that a court can change. Obviously this is a core problem. These are the Ten Commandments for a lawyer. Maja made me question my own Ten Commandments, which is fantastic.

When it comes to growing up in Djursholm--and it could be any rich neighborhood because they all more or less look the same, I think--I grew up there with a single mom who worked as a nurse. I'm not saying I had a hard childhood. I was privileged. But we didn't have the economy of my classmates, so to speak. I think that the fact that I grew up there not as a rich kid has made me a good observer. Or I hope so. I knew that I wanted to write a story about the way that our society looks today, with all the differences and the inequalities, and the growing gap between the people who are the richest and those who have the least, and I knew that this was my angle.

A lot of people ask me if I've eavesdropped on my own teenagers, but I don't think that you can. They helped with music, and Snapchat, and whatever, but I've tried to avoid naming all those things anyway, because they change so quickly. Obviously it helped that she was in isolation, in jail. It was good for many literary reasons, actually. If you want to write about the life of a teenager one of the problems is they have so many friends and they do so many things. I just said that their world is very small, but it's also true that their world is very... scattered. And I didn't have to worry about that while she was in jail.

You speak English very well. How does translation work when you are proficient in both languages?

I was lucky to be translated by Rachel; she's absolutely fantastic. It's one thing to speak a language--I can see that this is a very good translation--but I'm not an English speaker. We would have a discussion to find something equivalent or take it out entirely, which we did in a few instances. I think it worked very well. There are actually two versions, the same English translation, but one is more British. And maybe because I'm more Americanized than I am British, it feels strange to hear Maja speak British English. I don't know why. I can see her as an American teenager. It doesn't strike me as odd.

I'm involved, but more as an observer than as a translator. I can't translate my own text, but I can applaud.

Is this novel a departure from your previous work?

Quicksand stands out because it's Maja's book, it's so much just her, she's the only voice that we hear. All of my previous three novels have lawyers as main characters. The first one is not a suspense novel; it's about a woman who works in the biggest law firm in the Nordic area and she gets fired when she's expecting her third child. And I wrote that novel, coincidentally, just after being fired from the biggest law firm in the Nordic area, while expecting my third child.

My third book is about a man that has been convicted of murdering a 15-year-old girl, and he's been in prison for 11 years when he gets a new lawyer--my main character--and she tries to get him off. That is more traditionally court-related, more like this one in that sense. The other is about a lawyer representing a seven-year-old boy who is cared for by the state's social authorities. Very sad story. I have readers who say, do you ever write anything where children are not hurt? Nope. Always very depressing. I don't know what it is. I always say to myself that the next one is going to be a fun, lighthearted, feel-good novel, but it never works.

What are you working on next?

I'm in that phase where still everything is possible, like I think that I can write the great novel that will reveal the truth about everything. I don't know, I have this idea about trying to place the novel in Brussels, because I live in Brussels, but I also knew that I'm not going to write about terrorism. And writing about Brussels today without writing about terrorism, well--so I guess it's going to be another feel-good, lighthearted novel about terrorism. I seriously don't know. I think I know who it is about, which I won't tell you. But I think that I'm onto something. --Julia Jenkins

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Walking with the Brontë Sisters

The Novel Destinations blog featured "5 must-do pastimes in Brontë country," for viewers struck by wanderlust after watching the PBS Masterpiece drama To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters, which will make its debut this coming Sunday, March 26.


Grammar nerd headline of the day (via the Guardian): "Oxford comma helps drivers win dispute about overtime pay."


Author Mary Beard (SPQR) chose her "top five powerful women in ancient Greece and Rome" for the British Museum blog.


Check it out: "Giant cedar tree repurposed as a Little Free Library."


Mental Floss revealed "11 authors who hated the movie versions of their books."


Alessio Rocchi's Hoja bookcase "allows you to hold about 40 books in a small space," Bookshelf noted.

Titan Books: Relics by Tim Lebbon

Grammar Jokes

"Past, present, and future walk into a bar..." Buzzfeed told "25 jokes guaranteed to make grammar nerds laugh."


"Dog-earing Books: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." Chronicle Books blog conducted a Twitter survey to see where booklovers stand on this controversial issue.


"If you don't have time to read all 206,052 words of Herman Melville's Moby Dick, maybe you'll have time for the abbreviated version" translated into emojis, Mental Floss noted.


Headline of the day: "Typewriters Used to Write Lonesome Dove Sell for $37,500 at Heritage Auctions," Fine Books & Collections reported.

Author Emily Ruskovich picked her "top 10 novels on rural America" for the Guardian.


Humility quiz for muggles: "Which unimportant Harry Potter character are you?"

Farrar, Straus and Giroux: Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat

Book Reading Tattoo Test

"This tattoo test will determine what book you should read next," Buzzfeed promised.


"Emma Watson's 'book fairies' are hiding novels around London," Time Out reported.


The Handmaid's Tale author Margaret Atwood shared Adweek's Facebook post from Austin's South by Southwest festival; "Hulu is doing a great job creeping everyone out at #sxsw with all these handmaids walking around in complete silence."


Le Chat Chapeauté. Mental Floss wondered: "How are Dr. Seuss's books translated?"


From "alibi" to "mauve," the Guardian explored "what famous writers' most used words say about them."


Buzzfeed shared "11 beautiful and actually doable ways to display your books."

Yearling Books: Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar

Nine Poets to Remember During Women's History Month

My Poetic Side featured "9 poets to remember during Women's History Month."


Reading the book before the movie, for example. Bustle examined "15 things all book-lovers can't stop fighting about."


"From George R.R. Martin's vast, warlike realms to Neil Gaiman's London Below," the Guardian explored the "top 10 fantasy fiction universes."


Henry David Thoreau's Walden "has been adapted into a video game, and you can play it right now," the Verge reported.


"What's the saddest sentence in the history of literature?" Buzzfeed asked.


"Stepped bookshelves help to divide and characterize" Andrea Mosca's Bookshelf House, located just outside of Paris."

HarperCollins: Curiosity House: The Fearsome Firebird (Curiosity House #3) by Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester

Riddle Me This Book Title

Pop quiz: "Can you name the bestselling book title from the visual riddle?" asked BuzzFeed.


"Printing money: 10 of the richest book deals of all time" were showcased by the Guardian.


"Welcome to the largest surviving chained library in the world," Signature wrote.


What if Les Miserables was a Dungeons & Dragons Game? Quirk Books asked.


The Awl checked out "8 famous writers' desks you could have owned."


"An architecture firm and the Singapore government "collaborated on a bus stop with books, a rooftop garden, and a swing," the Atlantic reported.

Shelf Awareness Sign-up Giveaway: The Greatest Story Ever Told--So Far: Why Are We Here? by Lawrence M. Krauss 03.21.17

Great Reads

Rediscover: The Bridges of Madison County

Robert James Waller, author of the bestselling romance The Bridges of Madison County, died on March 10 at age 77. Waller's novel follows Robert Kincaid, a National Geographic photographer chronicling the covered bridges of Madison County, Iowa in the 1960s, where he engages in a four-day affair with Francesca Johnson, a married Italian-American woman. This fictional story is presented as a novelization of true events, though Waller was often coy about the many similarities between himself and the main character, and whether or not those similarities extended to the novel's extramarital relations. The book rose to the top of the bestsellers lists, where is remained for several years. It has since sold more than 50 million copies, and was adapted into a 1995 feature film starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep and a short-running Broadway musical in 2014.

In 2002, Waller continued the stories of Robert Kincaid and Francesca Johnson in A Thousand Country Roads: An Epilogue to The Bridges of Madison County, in which the two lovers reflect on the four days that forever changed their lives. High Plains Tango (2005) follows Carlisle McMillan, the illegitimate son of Robert Kincaid, and his relationships with two women in small town South Dakota. The Bridges of Madison County was last published by Grand Central in 2014 ($8, 9781455554287). --Tobias Mutter

Rediscover: Coming Unbuttoned

James Broughton (1913-1999) was a poet, filmmaker and author who was part of the San Francisco Renaissance, a predecessor of the Beats movement. He was a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a street performance group that uses drag and religious images for charity and LGBT activism, and the Radical Faeries, a spiritual group for gay men. Broughton maintained a joyful, sexually open attitude throughout his experimental films. He delighted in breaking taboos in work like The Bed, a 1967 short film that "celebrated the dance of life" and won multiple film festival awards.

In 1993, Broughton wrote the autobiography Coming Unbuttoned (published by City Lights Books). He recalls the earliest meeting with his muse, Hermy, whose radiant presence reappeared periodically from age three on: "He insisted I would always be a poet even if I tried not to be.... Despite what I might hear to the contrary the world was not a miserable prison, it was a playground for a nonstop tournament between stupidity and imagination. If I followed the game sharply enough, I could be a useful spokesman for Big Joy." Coming Unbuttoned shows how Broughton brought Big Joy to all his endeavors, from a professorship at the San Francisco Art Institute to his many relationships with men and women. Last year, Query Books republished Coming Unbuttoned ($17.95, 9781944507015) with a new foreword by Mark Thompson, author of the Gay Spirit, Gay Soul and Gay Body trilogy and editor for the Advocate magazine. --Tobias Mutter

Rediscover: All About Love

Gloria Jean Watkins, known by her pen name bell hooks (all lowercase), is a feminist, social activist and author of more than 30 books. Her work explores issues of race, gender and class, and how these social structures intersect to create and perpetuate forms of oppression. She has taught at many colleges and universities across the United States, and is currently a professor at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, the same state where she was born in 1952. The name bell hooks is an homage to Watkins's maternal great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks. Her first major book, Ain't I a Woman? (1981), a reference to Sojourner Truth's famous speech, analyzed issues faced by black women that were often ignored by the larger feminist movement and showed how black women became an underclass American society. Ain't I a Woman? is often used in gender studies and philosophy courses.

In All About Love: New Visions (2000), hooks drew on the sometimes tumultuous relationships with her last two long-term boyfriends to write about modern love from a feminist perspective. She wrote it after searching for, and failing to find, a book that would explain to men the corrosive effects of sexist gender roles inside romantic relationships. All About Love does explore patriarchal pathologies, but it also delves into the very meaning of the word love, of how the concept has been watered down by society and lost a necessary definition. Hooks supplies that definition, among other insights, by saying that love does, or should, consist of affection, respect, recognition, commitment and trust, rather than what usually occurs--gender stereotypes, domination, control, ego and aggression. All About Love was released in paperback in 2001 (Morrow, $14.99, 9780060959470). --Tobias Mutter

Rediscover: Daddy Was a Number Runner

Last year, the Feminist Press and TAYO Literary Magazine launched the Louise Meriwether First Book Prize, which honors "the best debut fiction by women and nonbinary writers of color." Malaysian author YZ Chin is the prize's first recipient. Her debut short story collection, Though I Get Home, will be published by the Feminist Press in 2018. The prize is named after pioneering African-American author Louise Meriwether (born in 1923), whose first novel, Daddy Was a Number Runner (1970), was a landmark achievement in black literature. Louise Meriwether has been cited as an influence by writers like Jacqueline Woodson and Bridgett M. Davis, among many others.

Daddy Was a Number Runner tells the partially autobiographical story of 12-year-old Francie Coffin and her family in Depression-era Harlem. Francie must rely on her own fortitude and cleverness to survive a harsh environment defined by racism, extreme poverty, sexism and violence. She grows from a good-natured, naive girl into a young woman jaded by her experiences, though she retains a core tenderness and sense of humor. James Baldwin wrote an introduction for the original edition of Daddy Was a Number Runner. The book was last published by the Feminist Press in 2002 ($16.95, 9781558614420). --Tobias Mutter

The Writer's Life

Lauren Grodstein: Our Short History

photo: Ken Yanoviak

Lauren Grodstein has written four novels, including A Friend of the Family and The Explanation for Everything. Her new one is Our Short History (see our review below). Her essays, stories and articles have been published in Gourmet, the New York Times and the Washington Post. She is an associate professor of English and directs the MFA program at Rutgers University-Camden; she lives in New Jersey with her husband, son and dog.

Our Short History is a poignant novel-as-letter from Karen, a dying mother, to her little boy. You have a young son. Was writing this novel more emotional for you than your first three books?

You know, I manage to get pretty worked up no matter what I write, simply because writing a novel is such an intense process. That said, I certainly felt emotional while thinking about the women I knew who inspired the novel. In trying to wrestle with Karen's illness, for instance, I read a letter from an acquaintance of mine, a wonderful poet, that she wrote to her husband at the very end of her life. She wanted him to know how much she loved him and their young children, and how they'd made her short life worthwhile. That letter utterly did me in.

Your novel smoothly incorporates details of ovarian cancer and end-of-life planning, while not losing the sense that this is a very personal missive to Karen's son. How did you research?

I always begin my research by reading. For Our Short History, the first thing I read was a wonderful book called Memoir of a Debulked Woman by Susan Gubar, an English professor. She was unsentimental and unsparing about the details of her treatment (hair loss, exhaustion, panicked trips to the bathroom, despair, unexpected moments of humor). I also talked to some doctors I knew, and the doctors they referred me to, about what a young, otherwise healthy woman's prognosis would be, and what her treatment would likely look like.

But the research that affected me most was talking to ovarian cancer patients and the people ovarian cancer left behind. My sister-in-law's family has been struck by ovarian cancer again and again, and she was so generous and insightful when she talked to me about the disease, and what it means to fight through it. The book was inspired, in part, by her family and their fight.

The novel has a sense of immediacy, because of the letter format. Did you try other approaches to the story?

I didn't. The novel just wanted to be addressed to Jake. Karen was writing for him and only for him. And I think, because she didn't see herself as a novelist, really, she would never have set out to write a novel if it weren't something written specifically for her son.

How do you feel about your character Ace, in light of the current political atmosphere? Would you have written him any differently in light of the 2016 election?

Ace seems like such an innocent now. He's kind of a slimeball, a low-level New York City politician who made his way up the power chain by slapping backs and making backroom deals. He was also sleeping with any young girl he could get his hands on. But, hey, he never grabbed anyone by the pussy, never stiffed his workers or contractors, never lied to his constituents, never filed for bankruptcy, never claimed close to a billion-dollar loss on his taxes and never conspired with any Russians. His worst crime was hurting someone he loved. Doesn't that seem quaint? I don't know, had I written him after Trump's election, if I would have written him differently--I just might not have written him at all. The idea of writing about politics is much less appealing now than it was when I started this book in 2012.

Karen is so multi-dimensional: selfless mom, savvy political consultant, conscientious daughter, yet initially flawed in her resentment of Jake's father. Was it challenging to balance these characteristics to come up with a really credible protagonist?

I always imagine my characters as real people, people who are good and bad, selfish and selfless, full of good humor and self-doubt and ambition and anger. Karen is certainly all that, or at least that's how I envision her.

Actually, what was most important to me was to make Karen something besides her illness. I think we often treat people with incurable diseases or other physical ailments as somehow other, as if they didn't live among us, as if they might not be us one day. Karen is funny and smart and angry and loving and happens to be a terminal cancer patient. And I think you can see, in the book, how people treat her gingerly, as though she's somehow a little bit less legitimate because she's dying.

The cover is perfect. Did you contribute to it?

Don't you love it? I love it. My agent suggested the mother and son outline on the bottom of the image, which I think makes the whole thing come together. But I had nothing to do with it. I'm actually not a very visual person, so I can never come up with good cover ideas beyond "please don't make it a sexy picture of a woman's legs."

What are you reading and recommending these days?

I've been reading some wonderful books lately--anything to take my mind off the news. I loved Nathan Hill's The Nix, and A Separation by Katie Kitamura, and I also read Brad Watson's Miss Jane, which I want to mention here because I want more people to read it. It was so lovely!

You direct the Rutgers University-Camden creative writing MFA program. How do you balance home and work and writing?

I think there are two things that help me get it all done. The first is that, by nature, I'm very jittery. It's hard for me to sit still. From the moment I open my eyes, I'm doing something, washing dishes or making lunches or folding laundry or answering e-mails or, on the best days, writing. I basically don't stop until I pass out at night, although I pass out pretty early, since I've been so damn jittery all day.

The second thing is that by inclination and location (I live in southern New Jersey), I don't go to a lot of parties, I don't do a lot of networking, and I don't participate in any kind of real literary social life outside what I do for my job. While this can be sad for me sometimes--I like going to readings, for instance, and even enjoy an occasional party--the truth is I'm a homebody, and I don't have a lot of distractions.

Oh, and I guess the third thing--there's a third thing!--is that I like all of the different things I do, for the most part (even the laundry folding, since that's when I treat myself to Internet reruns of Samantha Bee). It's not hard to get stuff done when you like what you're doing. And believe me, I know how lucky I am to be able to say that. If there's one thing writing this novel has taught me, it's that I'm a lucky person to be here, to be with my friends and family, to be folding the laundry, to be alive. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Reading with... Yewande Omotoso

photo: Victor Dlamini

Yewande Omotoso was born in Barbados, grew up in Nigeria, and moved to South Africa with her family in 1992. She is the author of Bom Boy, published in South Africa in 2011. She won the South African Literary Award for First-Time Published Author, was shortlisted for the South African Sunday Times Fiction Prize, and was a finalist in the inaugural pan-African Etisalat Fiction Prize. She lives in Johannesburg, where she writes and has her own architectural practice. Her U.S. debut, The Woman Next Door, was published by Picador on February 7, 2017.

On your nightstand now:

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyika. Taduno's Song by Odafe Atogun. The Sellout by Paul Beatty. Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila. The Story of Anna P as Told by Herself by Penny Busetto. Things Unseen by Pamela Power. I'm not reading them all at once though, I've never been able to read more than one book at a time. Instead they represent the most recent books I've read, the one I'm actually reading and the ones I'll be reading next.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot. Some of my earliest memories are of my mother reading these poems to my brothers and me at bedtime. She was very good with the voices and we never tired of them.

Your top five authors:

I'm not a top-five person. I'm not even a top-10. Perhaps I could create a top-25 list without too much of a sweat, but seriously I hate to choose. There are so many incredible authors that inspire me. So perhaps I'll take the liberty of rephrasing the question. There are so many authors I love and respect, but there are a few whom I read where I know this isn't just loving a work, this is instruction. A writer like Siri Hustvedt feels like instruction. Similarly, Toni Morrison, Helen Oyeyemi--I feel compelled to read all their works, that this is somehow important for my own growth as a writer.

Book you've faked reading:

Being a Nigerian and knowing that the book was taught in schools across the country, I don't know how I missed this, but for a long time (too embarrassing to give specific time period) I hadn't read Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. And I never had to work hard to fake it because it was pretty inconceivable for anyone to imagine that I hadn't read it. Anyway I can confess this here because I've now corrected this grievous error.

Book you're an evangelist for:

There are many books I turn to in worship. Of late Three Strong Women by Marie NDiaye just amazed me. In general I think Helen Oyeyemi's writing demands evangelism.

Book you've bought for the cover:

None. While I have a deep appreciation for aesthetics when it comes to books, I seem to abide by the cliché that says don't judge based on looks. In the end, though, I usually buy based on the first sentence and the typeface.

Book you hid from your parents:

Love at Second Sight by Cathy Hopkins--a very Mills & Boon-y book. I was quite young and thought my parents would be scandalised to see me reading a book with the word "breast" on so many of the pages.

Book that changed your life:

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. She's an architect, I was studying architecture at the time and not really loving it, wanting to write but thinking I'd lost my chance somehow. Reading the book gave me courage and a sense of hope that things could still work out.

Favorite line from a book:

Again there are many. My problem is my memory is useless! But one I remember often and smile (cry?) about: "Why be happy when you could be normal?" from Jeanette Winterson's book with the same title.

Five books you'll never part with:

I struggle to part with any of the books I read, and I lend them out reluctantly, because I imagine I'll never see them again. But then again I've moved a lot and so, strangely, many of my favourite books aren't on my shelf, they are in storage somewhere or "lost." As a result some of the books I have loved dearly are nowhere to be found--Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ, all the plays by August Wilson and many more.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

I can think of several, and most are tied in with nostalgia. The books I read when I was between the ages of 12 and 14: Yoruba Girl Dancing by Simi Bedford. In The Castle of My Skin by George Lamming. Beka Lamb by Zee Edgell. As with music, the books you read at certain times in your life hold a special space, not only because of the specialness of the books themselves but also the particularity of the actual period you encountered them in.

Thi Bui: Thinking in Pictures

photo: Gabe Clark

Thi Bui and her family arrived in the U.S. as refugees from Vietnam. After studying art and law and considering a career as a civil rights lawyer, she taught public school in New York City and was a founding teacher of the Oakland International High School, the first public high school in California for recent immigrants and English learners. She currently teaches in the MFA in Comics program at the California College of the Arts and lives in Berkeley with her family.

Her debut graphic memoir, The Best We Could Do (Abrams ComicArts), tells the story of her family's escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves. Newsweek called it "one of the books that will make 2017 interesting," and it's a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection for spring 2017.

While writing The Best We Could Do, you wanted to quit numerous times. What made you keep going?

Haha, it was that I had successfully created a trap for myself. By telling so many people that I was working on this book, and sharing the process of it all along the way, I made it impossible to quit.

How did the idea of presenting it as graphic memoir come to you?

I read Maus by Art Spiegelman and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. And Blankets by Craig Thompson. Before that, I didn't know that comics were a medium that would work well for this kind of story. Since then, I've discovered many other amazing stories told through comics. Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Taiyo Matsumoto, Sarah Glidden, Eleanor Davis, Pat Grant, Bastien Vives and Gipi are some of the cartoonists whose storytelling I really admire. But those three big books [by Spiegelman, Satrapi, and Thompson] made it into the mainstream where I could find them without knowing a lot about comics.

When I was younger, I had tried with very little success to get at similar content through drawing and sculpture, and a little more successfully through shadow puppetry. I turned a corner when I approached it as an oral history project. But the story finally found a happy home in the form of a graphic memoir.

You say in the book "it took a long time to learn the right questions to ask" your parents about their past. What were the right questions?

My parents have actually always talked about the past. I knew a lot of stories just from living with them. It was more a question of growing up and growing enough empathy to be able to listen to them more carefully. And the process of trying to piece it all together into a coherent narrative helped me see how much I didn't know. I'd constantly have to go read more history and then go back and ask more informed questions. Trying to envision the stories enough to draw them, and really trying to put myself in their shoes, got me thinking and asking questions in a way that fleshed out the words and deepened my understanding of my parents' lives.

Have they seen the finished book? What were their reactions?

They've both read the finished book. They read rough drafts of each chapter as I drew them, and often gave me feedback or more information that I incorporated into the next draft. On sensitive parts, I like to think they always had veto power. They like to think that I told the story the way I saw it. That's fair. They don’t really tell me directly what they think of it, but I've heard them telling other people about it, so I think they're proud of it.

How do they feel about their personal stories being made public?

Things like this are a bit personal for them, and they've been very generous to let me portray them as whole human beings, meaning not perfect. There's plenty I don't tell about them out of respect for their privacy. I think they see themselves as part of a greater diaspora, and they support Vietnamese stories getting told. My mom is telling all her friends to buy the book.

She recently came with me to hear [Pulitzer-winning author] Viet Thanh Nguyen talk about his nonfiction book, Nothing Ever Dies, at UC Berkeley. Afterwards she told him that she loves his work and that she thinks it's very important, even if it might be too radical for some people of her generation. She said it's not too radical for her, because she has her kids, like me, chipping away at her. It's only through occasionally hearing my mom talk about me to other people like this that I have any idea what she thinks of me!

Refugee children aren't often encouraged to go into the arts. How did your parents feel when you moved to New York City to be an artist?

I'm lucky to have two older sisters, one who went to medical school and another who went to law school. I'm a lot younger than they are, so by the time it was my turn to be a teenager, my parents were so tired and broken into the challenges of raising kids in America that they didn't put too many demands on me. My mom just wanted to make sure I went to college. My dad really wanted me to be an artist.


My father had artistic aspirations, too. He drew a lot when he was younger. He used to write poetry and published it in Vietnamese-language papers and magazines like Làng Văn. I don't remember him being a very practical person about money and career choices. My mother was the breadwinner after we immigrated.

You refer to the "ability to run when the sh*t hits the fan" as "refugee reflex." Do you still have that reflex? If not, at what point did you feel it was no longer necessary?

I did a lot of work on myself over the course of writing this book. I think in moments of crisis, my fight-or-flight reflex is still very strong. But instead of running, which is good for self-preservation, I'm hanging onto the notions of community that I've formed from so many years of teaching and nonprofit work, and the stronger sense of myself that just comes with getting older and better. So now I'm more interested in fighting.

What are your thoughts on the current refugee crisis and immigration ban?

The travel ban on people from targeted countries is horrible and has nothing to do with national security. People going through the immigration process are so vulnerable already. Their lives hang on being granted the proper paperwork. A piece of paper with a stamp on it. For our government to rip away the assurances promised to them, without warning or reason, is miserably cruel and petty.

You expressed a hope for your son to be free of the weight of the past. How do you help him get there? What will you say when he reads this book and has questions about his family history?

My son recently read the book. He's 11 now. He grew up around me drawing it, so he's gotten the stories in pieces over the years anyway. I don't shield him from history. We have had many long conversations about history in which he asked all the questions he wanted to, and I did my best to explain or lead him to books and movies that could give him more than I could tell him.

It's more the emotional and psychological scars of our family history that I would like him to be free of, you know? The irrational fears or odd behavior that survivors often have. I'd like him to be free of those. He's a pretty joyful child, and it gives me joy to see that.

What do you hope other refugees will take away from your book?

I'm not sure I have any wisdom to offer other refugees, who went through the same things or much worse. The best I can offer them is a mirror for their experiences and perspectives. To say I am here, and that acknowledges that you, too, are here and part of this country. You deserve to have stories that acknowledge you. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Paul La Farge: Looking at Lovecraft

photo: Carol Shadford

Paul La Farge is the author of the novels The Artist of the Missing and Luminous Airplanes, as well as The Facts of Winter, a "book of imaginary dreams." La Farge's newest novel is The Night Ocean (reviewed below), which follows the early 20th-century horror writer H.P. Lovecraft and his fans, especially his real-life contemporary Robert Barlow, and the fictional modern-day characters Charlie and Marina. La Farge delves into the controversial subjects of Lovecraft's racism, his potential homosexuality and the relationship between creators and their fans.

What's your personal history with Lovecraft? Did you ever, like many of your characters, reach a breaking point where you had trouble reconciling the man's odious beliefs with his unforgettable stories?

I first read H.P. Lovecraft's stories when I was 10 or 11--I'd seen Cthulhu in a rulebook for the game Dungeons & Dragons, and he (it!) seemed so intriguingly awful that I bought every Lovecraft book I could find. Something in his work rhymed with my experience of growing up in New York City in the 1970s and early '80s: the world was terrible. We were doomed. And because I was a nerdy kid, the idea that the universe had forbidden secrets, and that they were to be found in books, was enormously appealing to me. But actually, I wanted to be one of Lovecraft's insane cultists, not one of his bookish protagonists--the cultists were clearly the ones who were having all the fun. I'd like to say that the story which appears in The Night Ocean about a couple of kids going out at night in homemade black robes, carrying signs that read THE END OF THE WORLD IS NIGH--GIVE TO THE CULT OF CTHULHU, is fictional, but, alas, it happened.

Many years passed before I learned anything about Lovecraft's beliefs, and I'm grateful for the interval. By the time I read L. Sprague de Camp's biography, which was the first place where I learned much about Lovecraft the human being, my cultish admiration for his stories had already waned. So there wasn't really a breaking point, for me; my thinking about Lovecraft just became more complicated. Which is fine with me--the world is complicated. People are complicated, and their capabilities and contradictions are interesting, certainly to a fiction writer.

To this day, I re-read Lovecraft's stories with pleasure. I can do that in large part because I believe that fiction has a separate life from that of its creator: once you write a story, it becomes its own thing, which may be reprehensible, but only on its own terms. And when I'm deep in Lovecraft's biography, and the autonomy of his fiction impresses itself on me less strongly, I retain some tolerance for the stories by recalling that Lovecraft's odious beliefs did not lead him (so far as I know) to odious actions. In his dealings with actual, living human beings, he was at worst harmless, and often generous and kind.

While researching Lovecraft, Barlow and the other real-life characters in the book, did you ever find yourself immersed in the project in a way that threatened your health or personal relationships? I'm curious how much of your own tendencies and experiences made it into the book.

You should see my notes! I had the great good fortune to do most of the research for The Night Ocean over the course of a nine-month fellowship at the New York Public Library, which gave me access to a huge quantity of possibly relevant material, and to a staff of librarians whose job it is to help people like me track things down. I gave myself over as fully as I could to that space, and that experience, and yes, there were times when it seemed to me that no sane person would be trying to find out all the things I was trying to find out. (I have copies of the FBI files on several of my characters, to give you just one example.) I'm not sure my health was ever at risk, but I did sneak into Robert Barlow's house in Florida, which was abandoned at the time, and while I was taking pictures of Barlow's childhood bedroom I was sure I heard someone coming up the stairs....

That kind of thing doesn't happen to novelists very often. The more frequent and, in some ways, more serious peril of research is that, having amassed those heaps of shiny facts, a writer will feel obliged to put them all on display in his or her work. I was glad to run that risk here, because the historical material from which The Night Ocean derives its existence is so rich and weird that it beggared anything I could have invented, except in a few cases. That said, not everything I learned from the library, or from the world--after a certain point they started to seem like the same thing--found its way into the novel. But the many things I left out served as a kind of atmosphere, I think, in which The Night Ocean could be written.

To this day, the idea that Lovecraft might have been gay is controversial among his fans and the horror community. Why was homosexuality such an important thread for you to emphasize throughout the book?

To answer this question, I should say something about how The Night Ocean came to be. I got the idea for the book from the poet Robert Kelly, who told me the story of Lovecraft and Barlow at dinner one night in the winter of 2005: the question of what had happened, of what might have happened between the two of them in Florida was a blank spot, in which I thought there might be room to write a novel. So Barlow's homosexuality, and Lovecraft's mysterious and mostly absent sexuality, were at the root of the project. Then, as I learned more about Barlow and about Lovecraft's circle of friends and fans, the thread of homosexual desire was just insistently there: Barlow really did teach William S. Burroughs, and Lovecraft's friend Samuel Loveman was gay, and Loveman was friends with Hart Crane....

I can't speak to the attitude of fandom as a whole with respect to homosexuality; in my experience, present-day fans are pretty tolerant of all kinds of queerness. The fans of the 1930s and '40s were certainly less tolerant, and their intolerance is an important part of my book: a lot of what happens in The Night Ocean is a kind of human equivalent or counterpart to Lovecraft's cosmic horror, and the prejudice against homosexuality pushes Lovecraft and Barlow's relationship into the very Lovecraftian territory of the unspeakable, the forbidden.

Which brings me back to the first part of your question, about Lovecraft's sexuality. From where I sit, the question of whether he was really gay or not isn't that important. In Lovecraft's letters, he abhorred homosexuality; but on the other hand, he doesn't seem to have been tremendously capable of heterosexual love, either. So for me, for my narrative, the vital question was, is this person capable of love at all? Under what circumstances? And what would it do to him, if he was? That's what Barlow--the Barlow character in The Night Ocean, I mean--is trying to figure out: "I love you. Can you love me back?" To me, that question is the most urgent thing in the novel, though neither you nor anyone else is under any obligation to agree with me.

Many of the characters in your novel have confused relationships with their own bodies, especially Lovecraft, who could seem almost inhumanly divorced from physical pleasure. How much of your characters' unhappiness do you think derives from this mind-body disconnect?

That's an excellent question, by which I mean that I'm not sure how to answer it. I don't think of Marina and Charlie as having confused relationships with their bodies, and neither does Spinks, really--he's handsome and knows it. Lovecraft does, of course, and surely his unhappiness is connected to his experience of his physical self. How could it be otherwise, when his mother told her friends that he was too ugly to go outdoors in the daytime? But in a way, I think Lovecraft's unhappiness comes less from the particulars of his physical self than from the simple fact that he had a physical self. A remarkable number of his stories are about minds which move from one body to another: even The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is kind of about that, in that Joseph Curwen takes the place of young Charles Dexter Ward. These are horror stories, of course, but I can't help wondering if there was some wish-fulfillment in them, too: if Lovecraft wouldn't have delighted in being a consciousness that could roam from body to body, from era to era. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Book Review


Turkish Delight

by Jan Wolkers, trans. by Sam Garrett

Jan Wolkers's 1969 novel Turks Fruit was translated from the Dutch into many languages and adapted into a highly regarded 1973 film. Sam Garrett's English translation is not the first of this work, but reflects its continuing appeal.

Turkish Delight opens with the unnamed narrator, a sculptor, lamenting and railing against his lost love. He describes in great detail a surfeit of sexual affairs undertaken after she departed, then flashes back to describe their first encounter: Olga picked him up as a hitchhiker, then pulled over the car for the first of their sexual enthusiasms. Olga is the heart and life of this novel and of the narrator's existence: he obsessively recites and reviews her body, her sex, her red hair, her love for animals, her jokes and delights. The lengthy flashback sees their relationship and, later, marriage run its course (his evil mother-in-law plays a heavy role), and returns again to the sculptor's tortured single life. His love for Olga does not flag, even as she degrades herself (in his eyes) with subsequent marriages and physical decline. The novel ends at Olga's deathbed, where the former lover feeds her the soft candy Turkish delight, as her teeth fail her.

Not for the faint of heart, Turkish Delight was immediately notorious upon its original publication for its graphic sexual content. Garrett's translation of Wolkers's prose is often lyrical and always heartfelt; the juxtaposition of poetry with crude language echoes the narrator's passionate love and enormous lust. Turkish Delight is a serious and artistic literary work, but only appropriate for readers fully tolerant of the salacious. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A Dutch novel of 1969 still titillates with its sexual content, but deserves serious consideration for style and themes, too.

Tin House, $15.95, trade paper, 240p., 9781941040478

The Keeper of Lost Things

by Ruth Hogan

The mysteries behind unclaimed treasures, those who have lost them and the man determined to reunite possession and owner are the carefully tended threads of The Keeper of Lost Things, a rich and heartfelt first novel by Ruth Hogan.

Seventy-four-year-old Anthony Peardew, an unmarried British writer, resides in a charming mansion. Forty years earlier his beloved fiancée, Therese, as a token of her love, gave him her Communion medallion embossed with a tiny picture of St. Therese of the Roses. Soon thereafter, Peardew lost the medallion on the same day that Therese died unexpectedly. As atonement for the eerie timing of the lost medal, he made it his purpose in life to gather, meticulously label and give a loving home to a "sad salmagundi" of lost objects--jigsaw puzzle pieces, hair bobbles, gemstones and even a biscuit tin containing cremation remains--which he stored in his large study.

But objects aren't the only things in life that can get lost. People, too, often lose their way and need someone to rescue them. Laura, Peardew's devoted housekeeper and a childless divorcee, finds asylum in his home. And after he dies, she teams up with his neighbor Sunshine and Freddy the gardener to carry on Peardew's legacy.

Hogan's prose is thoughtful and elegant. She richly portrays a cast of likable characters, wounded souls in search of love, peace and a sense of belonging. Readers are bound to discover joy and hope in this quietly moving, tender story that examines how serendipity often plays a pivotal role in human interconnectedness. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A heartwarming, enchanting novel about how lost things--and the lost souls of people--can often be found via serendipity and fate.

Morrow, $26.99, hardcover, 288p., 9780062473530


by Domenico Starnone, trans. by Jhumpa Lahiri

Domenico Starnone's Ties is an expertly crafted short novel that is charmingly intimate, disarmingly chatty and laced with some walloping surprises. Its Italian publication so captivated Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri (whose memoir In Other Words documents her study of Italian) that she translated the novel into English, and superbly so.

The novel is a meditation on love--what is gained, what is lost and who is affected when it all goes wrong. Part one follows a sequence of furious letters written by Vanda Minori, a 30-something wife abandoned, along with her two well-behaved children, by her husband, Aldo, who has fallen in love with 19-year-old Lidia and set off on a new, exciting life.

Part two, told by Aldo 40 years later, opens with Aldo and his wife (they're still together!) returning home one night to discover their apartment vandalized and the cat missing. Among the wreckage Aldo finds a swollen yellow envelope containing his wife's letters from four decades ago--the contents of part one. Something else has gone missing as well--the secret little packet with naked photos of Lidia that Aldo has never been able to throw away. Part three is unexpected, perfect and best left without comment here.

Starnone's natural theatricality and robust characters, combined with a sneaky, clever plot, make for a delightful novel that is cruelly short. Nevertheless, the whole story reeks of love--the frustrated, truncated, too-much and not-quite-enough love that holds families together in life. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.

Discover: Jhumpa Lahiri has translated this perfectly crafted Italian novel about marital infidelity.

Europa Editions, $16, paperback, 144p., 9781609453855

Waking Lions

by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, trans. by Sondra Silverston

"He's thinking that the moon is the most beautiful he's ever seen when he hits the man." The opening line of Ayelet Gundar-Goshen's intense, edgy Waking Lions perfectly captures the moment when Dr. Eitan Green's life changes forever. Eitan, a successful brain surgeon and father of two, has always been a kind and caring person. But his recent forced transfer from Tel Aviv to small town Beersheba (after he threatened to expose corruption in the Tel Aviv hospital) has embittered him. One night, in a fit of rage after an endless shift, he drives recklessly through the Israeli desert on his way home, and hits and kills an illegal Eritrean immigrant.

Knowing that his family's life would be forever altered, Eitan makes the split-second decision to flee the scene of the accident. But the next day the immigrant's widow shows up at Eitan's door, holding his wallet and making extraordinary demands. As Waking Lions unfolds, Eitan must decide how far he will go to keep his actions a secret from his wife, Liat, a police detective.

Tense from the very beginning, as Eitan's anger seeps through the page, Waking Lions is immensely suspenseful. Ayelet Gundar-Goshen's (One Night, Markovitch) alarmingly realistic and superbly written novel will leave readers wondering what they might be capable of under duress, and what makes a good person do such an awful thing--and if a marriage can survive such deception. The difficult decisions faced by Eitan, Liat and the Eritrean community are haunting. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: In this tense thriller, an Israeli brain surgeon flees the scene of a hit-and-run and is blackmailed by the victim's widow.

Little, Brown, $26, hardcover, 352p., 9780316395434

Like Death

by Guy de Maupassant, trans. by Richard Howard

Richard Howard's elegant translation of Like Death has the cool exactitude and passionate interplay of characters that readers expect from Guy de Maupassant, whose 1889 novel tells with ironic detachment and killing specificity the story of a portrait painter's great love.

Olivier Bertin is still handsome, though white-haired, and for 12 years has been the lover of Anne, the Countess of Guilleroy. But Anne's daughter comes home from school as a ravishing reincarnation of her mother, and the Countess is painfully aware that her own beauty is fading. What begins as a happy trio quickly goes sour when she begins to suspect that Bertin has fallen in love with her daughter, whether he knows it or not.

Maupassant is exacting when it comes to emotional misery--he examines every corner of the pain. His well-wrought sentences objectively probe the meaning of desire as he records the details of Bertin's fascination with these two women. Whether he's describing the skylight in the artist's studio, or re-creating the chatter in the club fencing hall, or psychologically probing the Countess's increasing melancholy over growing older, the author's meticulous, excruciating details are exactly right.

No character has protection from Maupassant's penetrating, merciless dissection. His exposure of their motives in love, their true feelings and secret weaknesses, is surgically precise, a psychological analysis predating Proust's longer, more famous analysis of love by a couple decades. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.

Discover: Maupassant dissects the psychological ploys of a man smitten by his mistress's daughter.

New York Review Books, $15.95, paperback, 240p., 9781681370323

Grim Death and Bill the Electrocuted Criminal

by Mike Mignola, Tom Sniegoski

Comic book writers Mike Mignola (Hellboy) and Tom Sniegoski (B.P.R.D.) have collaborated on a highly entertaining, illustrated gothic horror story. In Grim Death and Bill the Electrocuted Criminal, Bentley Hawthorne is a Bruce Wayne type of vigilante. Haunted by ghosts of the unjustly killed, he dishes out vengeance to murderers behind a skull mask and black trench coat, guns a-blazing. He is assisted by Pym, the devoted manservant who raised and protected Bentley after his parents died.

One day the ghost of a beautiful circus aerialist visits Bentley and demands justice for her murder at the hands of her lover, William Tuttle, who now sits on death row awaiting execution. What appears to be a clear-cut case turns out to be anything but, and Bentley must solve the puzzle of what transpired in the face of  threats to his own life.

The story alternates between present and past, with the past serving to highlight how Bentley came to inherit his current occupation. Mignola and Sniegoski are both masters of storytelling, and Grim Death follows in this tradition. The authors include a lot of visual description, which makes the novel move like panels in a comic, building in suspense and anticipation until the final reveal. Mignola's drawings serve to break up the story and emphasize Bentley's vengeful nature. Grim Death offers a satisfactory and somewhat uplifting ending that leaves open the possibility for sequels. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: In this engrossing gothic mystery, a skull-faced vigilante seeks vengeance for those who have died too early.

St. Martin's Press, $23.99, hardcover, 272p., 9781250077684

White Tears

by Hari Kunzru

With White Tears, Hari Kunzru (Gods Without Men) bends time when two audiophiles happen upon a storied old blues track. Seth is a socially inept weirdo. He builds his own sound equipment and wanders Manhattan, recording the ambient noises of the city. His only friend is Carter, a brooding record collector and producer obsessed with black music. They are rising stars in the music industry. When Seth unwittingly picks up a man's voice singing an entrancing blues song, Carter fixates on it. With a little studio magic, they isolate the song, add a bit of old-timey patina and arbitrarily name it "Graveyard Blues" by Charlie Shaw. Carter posts it to collector forums. If they can pass off a recording from last week as a rare 1928 blues single, what can't these white boys do?

That act of hubris launches the duo into a dangerous slipstream, however, when a mysterious collector demands to know where they found the record--and what the B-side is. After their ruse is exposed, Carter is seriously injured and hospitalized, and Seth must confront the possibility that Charlie Shaw may be more than just a fabrication.

A gifted surrealist, Kunzru twists together a gripping story about obsession, musicology, race and the pathology of white guilt. He blurs distinctions between several first-person narrators as Seth, trapped in an alarming fugue state, seeks absolution. White Tears is a slippery, daring novel that raises provocative questions about appropriation and reparations. Kunzru conjures a Faustian bargain for the boys who "really did feel that our love of the music bought us something, some right to blackness." --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Amid an increasingly distorted sense of reality, an old blues track haunts the two music nerds who thought they had created it.

Knopf, $26.95, hardcover, 288p., 9780451493699

No Other World

by Rahul Mehta

Rahul Mehta (Quarantine) crafts a lovely story about personal discovery and family ties in his debut novel, No Other World. In the suburbs of western New York, 12-year-old Kiran Shah is causing concern for the neighbors. He's been watching the Bells' house from across the street, transfixed by his schoolmate's father, Chris. But Kiran's parents, immigrants from India, have enough on their minds: Nishit is a successful doctor but feels responsible for his widowed brother back in India, and Shanti is growing dissatisfied with her arranged marriage. Meanwhile, their daughter, Preeti, has become involved with a rough young man from school.

Hindsight is 20-20 for the Shah family as Mehta leads readers back and forth across a decade that leaves Kiran--and those who love him--utterly transformed. While it takes time for him to understand his attraction to men, it requires grace and patience for his family to come to terms with the fact. And the compassion Kiran needs from his sister as an adult may be the very comfort he neglected to give her when she was a teen with a dangerous boyfriend.

Like Tom Perrotta, Mehta digs into suburban angst and household secrets with insight and humor. Cultures, generations, religions and genders clash as the Shahs face tensions that have built up over the years. For Kiran, this means traveling to his parents' home country, where he finds a kindred spirit in a beautiful young outcast. A family saga for the 21st century, No Other World journeys into daunting horizons to discover the familiar. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A young man comes of age amid his suburban family's hidden turmoil.

Harper, $25.99, hardcover, 304p., 9780062020468

A Horse Walks into a Bar

by David Grossman, trans. by Jessica Cohen

Risky and squirm-inducing, A Horse Walks into a Bar superbly combines the anxiety of watching a comedian single out audience members with the aching discomfort of witnessing another human being come unglued in public. Israeli activist David Grossman (To the End of the Land) uses a stand-up comedy routine to share a dissertation on the tragedies of life, and readers will be sweating as if sitting in the front row.

Dovaleh G is a 57-year-old comedian. Two weeks before a set in Netanya, Israel, he contacts a man he knew when they were boys and asks him to attend. What follows is a hypnotic and exhausting rollercoaster ride through Dov's history as expressed in his performance.

The set is an all-out assault--on the audience, humanity and Dov himself. He swings wildly from scathingly funny to pointedly vicious, from introspective to physically violent. This constant transformation sets the audience on tenterhooks; fluctuating emotions leave them wondering what they're witnessing and how to react.

A slim volume with no chapter breaks, A Horse Walks into a Bar is Dov's set interspersed with the perspective of his guest, who slowly reveals who he is, why he was invited and what brought Dov to this anguished routine.

Grossman's evocative writing is amplified by the unusual format. Like a master conductor, he weaves moments of safety into a blindfolded walk along a precipice, resulting in a soul-baring performance not to be missed. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: An aging comedian asks a childhood friend to bear witness to his stand-up comedy routine, which quickly turns into something deeper and more emotional.

Knopf, $25.95, hardcover, 208p., 9780451493972

On Turpentine Lane

by Elinor Lipman

Prescription coverage should include Elinor Lipman (The View from Penthouse B), surely an antidote to gloomy times. Laughing is therapeutic, and the chuckles keep coming in On Turpentine Lane, Lipman's 12th novel. Also an essayist and dedicated political tweeter (her 2012 election tweets were collected as Tweet Land of Liberty), Lipman writes with the comedic grace of Jane Austen and an ear for up-to-date dialogue and predicaments.

Faith Frankel, like Lipman's previous protagonists, has a sunny disposition, excusing her fiancé Stuart's walk across America (sponsored by Faith's credit card) in search of himself. She opts to overlook the many flaws in the "doll house" at 10 Turpentine Lane, a cozy fixer-upper she can swing on her salary as an assistant in a private school development office. Just as her suspicions about Stuart's on-the-road escapades are confirmed, a donor inadvertently casts doubt on Faith's honesty. Home-sweet-home is not a refuge, either: a photo album found in the attic suggests her bungalow has an unsavory history. Among a supporting cast are handsome co-worker Nick, Faith's very involved mother, a legally art-forging dad, and Stuart's multiple moms (it's complicated). Madcap developments include Stuart's self-serving return "without a scintilla of Faith-based anything," and Nick's adding housemate to office-mate status. Turmoil reigns when the photo album leads to a murder investigation and the (presumed deceased) original homeowner shows up in Faith's charming linoleum kitchen. Harrowing segues to hilarious, and Faith perseveres to a happily-ever-after. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: This witty, fast-paced novel of a young woman's perseverance through romantic and professional snafus is a sophisticated comedy of errors.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24, hardcover, 305p., 9780544808249

Our Short History

by Lauren Grodstein

A single mother dying from ovarian cancer writes a book of memories, hopes and wisdom for her six-year-old son. Her plan is for him to receive it when he is 18, so he can "open this book and read these pages and remember me." Readers should have tissues nearby. Yet Our Short History, Lauren Grodstein's fifth work of fiction, is funny as well as poignant, sad but not maudlin.

Manhattanites Karen Neulander and her son, Jake, are spending their summer across the country, on Lake Washington's lush Mercer Island, with her sister and her family, who will care for Jake after Karen dies. She's in remission, and so she has continued working as a political consultant for a narcissistic New York City council candidate--whose antics offer a welcome respite from tragic themes. In spite of Karen's carefully constructed plan for Jake's future, her bright little boy throws her a curve: he asks her to find his father. Her lover rejected Karen when she announced her pregnancy; she's told Jake his father left them. However, Jake persists, and Karen concedes and contacts David.

Against her hopes, and to Jake's delight, David is kind, thoughtful and smitten with the son he'd never met. Karen honors Jake's needs, struggling with her own sorrow while allowing father and son to grow closer. While a happy ending is impossible, Grodstein reaches the inevitable conclusion with Karen at peace, knowing she's given Jake everything she could. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: As she is dying, a young mother writes a book to her son for him to receive when he is 18.

Algonquin Books, $26.95, hardcover, 352p., 9781616206222


by Peter Heller

When a knockout mystery is the least fabulous element of a novel, something exceptional is afoot. Celine by Peter Heller (The Dog Stars) gives us an intriguing protagonist in a suspenseful thriller.

Born into American aristocracy, Celine Watkins is as comfortable in Jackie O sunglasses as a Glock shoulder holster. She's a 69-year-old recovering alcoholic with emphysema and a mysterious history in government work. The epitome of an old-school movie dame, she's wickedly sharp and does not suffer fools.

A private investigator with a soft spot for lost causes, she specializes in reuniting families. One day a stranger named Gabriela shares the story of her beloved father, long believed dead. Celine and Pete, her perfect counterweight of a husband, are sufficiently intrigued to set out in a borrowed camper to investigate.

The inquiry serves as backdrop for larger themes about art, despair, loyalty, obligation and privilege, illuminating Celine's colorful history and deeper motivations along the way. Heller's writing is smart and clever, the depth and vitality of his characters second to none.

When a novel like Heller's Celine unfurls page after page--when the characters are so rich one doesn't want to break the bond by turning the last one--it's an honor to have inhabited its world. Pete summarizes it best: when one moves through the world with Celine, it's simply more fun. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A tough PI and her husband hit the road to investigate the decades-old disappearance of an artist who's long been assumed dead.

Knopf, $25.95, hardcover, 352p., 9780451493897

The Lost Book of the Grail

by Charlie Lovett

Arthur Prescott is happily ensconced in his life in Barchester, England, teaching at the university, spending untold hours in the library working on his never-finished guidebook to Barchester Cathedral, and continuing his secret search for the Holy Grail. But the sudden arrival of Bethany Davis, an attractive young American who has been charged with digitizing the library's manuscripts, upends Arthur's world. Prepared to defend his beloved library against the onslaught of digital technology, Arthur is shocked to find that Bethany's passion for books--and the Grail--equals his own. The unlikely pair embark on a twofold quest: searching for the Grail and for the lost Book of Ewolda, which contains the story of the cathedral's patron saint. Charlie Lovett spins a fascinating literary and historical mystery in The Lost Book of the Grail.

Lovett (First Impressions) anchors his story in the present day, but deftly interweaves flashbacks from multiple historical eras--the night in 1941 when Nazi bombs hit the cathedral library; the origins of St. Ewolda's story in A.D. 560. Bethany's sunny optimism provides a nice foil for Arthur's crusty skepticism, and Lovett explores the nature of faith and doubt while unraveling the long history of the cathedral and its treasures. Supporting characters like Gwyneth the cathedral dean are a delight, and the ending, while tidy, is entirely satisfying. For bibliophiles, Grail enthusiasts and anyone who loves a good quest, Arthur's story is a rich, erudite and entertaining adventure. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: An unlikely pair of rare-book enthusiasts embarks on a twofold quest for the Holy Grail and a lost medieval manuscript.

Viking, $26, hardcover, 336p., 9780399562518

Setting Free the Kites

by Alex George

Setting Free the Kites by Alex George is a moving novel of friendship, family, loss and reconcilation.

Nathan Tilly and his parents arrive in Haverford, Maine, in the autumn of 1976, following Mr. Tilly's whimsical decision to buy a lobster boat. Robert Carter's family owns Fun-a-Lot, the amusement park where nearly every teenager in town has a summer job. Beginning a friendship with unexpected acts of kindness and violence, Nathan rescues Robert from the eighth-grade bully before they witness the terrible kite-flying accident that kills both Mr. Tilly and Nathan's pet mongoose.

Nathan's life is changed by loss, but Robert's life has been defined by the expectation of it. His brother, Liam, is terminally ill, and his parents' preoccupation with their older son's condition has made Robert feel like his family's afterthought. Nathan is adventurous and optimistic despite his losses, while Robert's have made him more cautious and reserved. Their personalities balance each other, and they are nearly inseparable as they enter high school and join the summer staff at Fun-a-Lot. They soon find much of that time will not be much fun at all. 

Setting Free the Kites is told from Robert's adult perspective as he looks back on three years of his youth. So much happens that a reader might feel like George was piling it on his characters, if not for the humor and genuine feeling he weaves throughout their story. The result is a balance of comedy and tragedy that mirrors the friendship it describes and makes for an emotionally resonant novel. --Florinda Pendley Vasquez, blogger at The 3 R's: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness

Discover: Two boys form a fast friendship in the wake of tragedy in a small town in Maine.

Putnam, $27, hardcover, 336p., 9780399162107

The Schooldays of Jesus

by J.M. Coetzee

Having won the Nobel Prize, two Booker Prizes and cemented himself in the literary canon, one might expect J.M. Coetzee (The Childhood of Jesus) to slow down at the age of 76. Instead, he seems to be embarking upon one of his grandest projects. The Schooldays of Jesus is the second novel in a world that is best described as Kafka-esque, full of strange bureaucracy and even stranger mysticism.

David and his two caretakers, Simon and Ines, have fled the city of Novilla for the provincial town of Estrella. A nominal family, the bonds among the three become quickly frayed as David starts school at a prestigious academy of dance, becoming enamored with his beautiful teacher and her strange philosophy, which Simon and Ines can make neither heads nor tails of. David is headstrong, and while not exactly fitting the picture of Jesus with which the title saddles him, he swimmingly takes to the academy's transcendental concepts, chiding Simon's lack of understanding without ever really explaining what is going on. There's a murder and a trial, but the plot is ancillary to the conversations between Simon and the rest of the cast. The Schooldays of Jesus is less about what happens to David and Simon and more about Simon's concerns as to how to raise the boy.

It's odd to say The Schooldays of Jesus argues that parenthood is much like a Kafka story. But, like Kafka's work, the novel illustrates the struggle of logic against the ineffable. In this case, what cannot be described is the internal life of the little creatures raised into adults. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: The sequel to The Childhood of Jesus is another bold look at humanity from a Nobel Prize winner for Literature.

Viking, $27, hardcover, 272p., 9780735222663

The Housekeeper

by Suellen Dainty

When the famous Chef Anton--Anne Morgan's boyfriend and boss--tells her he's in love with someone else, she's both devastated and suddenly in need of a job. Anne's always worked in professional kitchens, but, on a whim, she applies for the position of housekeeper for her idol Emma Helmsley, a lifestyle guru who is essentially the English Martha Stewart.

Soon Anne is practically the fifth member of the illustrious Helmsley family--enjoying working in their home and getting to know Emma; her husband, Rob, a prominent television personality and academic; and their two charming children, Jake and Lily. But she's surprised to discover that all is not as it seems on the surface and, as the months go by and Anne learns more of the Helmsleys' dirty secrets, her future becomes increasingly entwined with theirs. Meanwhile, shocking truths about Anne's own past come to light, with repercussions for all of them.

Suellen Dainty (After Everything) has created a detailed and slowly paced (yet completely addicting) story in The Housekeeper. Anne's repressed personality and the gilded Helmsley family don't seem to mesh at first glance, but as the novel unfolds and the Helmsleys' emotional vagaries play out, the reader will be frantic to know how it ends. Somewhere between chick lit and tense psychological thriller, The Housekeeper is a tantalizing glimpse into the everyday lives of the rich and famous--and the people who work for them. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A housekeeper discovers the dark secrets her rich employers are hiding.

Washington Square Press, $16, paperback, 320p., 9781476771403

Everything Belongs to Us

by Yoojin Grace Wuertz

Less a debut and more an arrival, this arresting first novel from Yoojin Grace Wuertz brings to life a South Korea poised on the brink of transformation and the young people caught up in its turbulence.

Childhood friends Namin and Jisun have always managed to ignore their differences, or at least pretended to. As students at Seoul National University in the fading days of the 1970s, though, their friendship may finally fail to survive their divergent paths. Jisun lives in a mansion and stands to inherit her father's wildly lucrative shipping business, but she rebels against her family's prestigious legacy by acting as a translator for American missionaries who secretly encourage factory workers to unionize.

Namin, her parents and her elder sister, Kyungmin, share a three-room house with no hot water or indoor plumbing in one of Seoul's poorest neighborhoods. Kyungmin works long hours in a factory, and their parents operate a dilapidated food cart to pay for Namin's education in hopes she will raise the family from poverty. All Namin wants is a gateway to the success she needs to care for her mentally handicapped brother, who lives with her grandparents. Though a mutual outsider status at the private girls' school Jisun and Namin both attended in childhood led to the pair bonding, their growing impatience with each other's differing views of the future damages their relationship.

Inspired by stories of her parents' college days in South Korea, Wuertz evokes a time of change in a country with which most Westerners aren't very familiar. Powerful and absorbing, Everything Belongs to Us introduces a new and compelling voice. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: South Korea comes to life in this debut following two college students, one rich and one poor, as their lifelong friendship struggles to its close.

Random House, $27, hardcover, 368p., 9780812998542

The Orphan's Tale

by Pam Jenoff

Immediately after birth, 16-year-old Noa's newborn is taken as part of Germany's Lebensborn program, which was "designed to deliver babies in good health to the Reich." More than a year later, disowned from her family and mourning her child, Noa discovers a railcar carrying infants headed for the concentration camps. Instinctively, she grabs a baby boy, saving him from death.

During their escape, Noa and the child encounter the traveling Circus Neuhoff, and their story becomes entwined with that of Astrid, a Jewish woman who married a German soldier. With Hitler gaining power, her husband demands a divorce out of loyalty to the Nazi Party. Returning to her family's circus, a friendly competitor of the Circus Neuhoff, Astrid finds everyone gone, and she's taken in by the benevolent Herr Neuhoff. When Noa arrives with infant in tow, she and Astrid train and perform together as trapeze artists. Initially adversaries, the two women struggle to develop the mutual trust required by their risky circus act and personal circumstances.

Inspired by a real-life circus that harbored Jews during the Holocaust, as well as Jewish circus dynasties, The Orphan's Tale is not one person's story of abandonment but that of a generation lost to history. With a detailed command of circus life, unexpected twists and parallel narratives, Pam Jenoff (The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach) uses the circus's mystique to symbolize each character's secrets. Noa and Astrid's death-defying trapeze stunts--along with the circus itself--serve as backdrop to the world's terror, the risks they take to protect each other and the tenuous grip on those we love. --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at

Discover: During the Holocaust, a traveling circus provides safe haven to Jews, including an infant originally bound for a concentration camp.

Mira, $26.99, hardcover, 352p., 9780778330639

The Night Ocean

by Paul La Farge

Paul La Farge, author of novels such as Haussmann, or the Distinction and Luminous Airplanes, has, with The Night Ocean, crafted yet another that defies categorization. La Farge frequently mixes fact and fiction with wild abandon, and The Night Ocean is no exception: its characters, real and fictional, orbit around the life of H.P. Lovecraft, the genre-defining horror writer from the early 20th century.

Marina Willett is a psychiatrist forced into the role of amateur sleuth in order to discover the whereabouts of her husband, Charlie, who recently disappeared after escaping from a psychiatric hospital. The police believe that he drowned in a nearby lake, but Marina isn't so sure. Her investigation delves into Charlie's notes and his obsessive, unhealthy research concerning the relationship between H.P. Lovecraft and the real-life fan and fellow writer Robert Barlow.

La Farge reveals his nesting-doll narrative structure gradually, leading readers to feel as if they're participating in the investigation into Lovecraft's life and the lives of his enemies and devotees. Along the way, La Farge delves into controversial subjects such as Lovecraft's rumored homosexuality, his racism and the merit of evaluating works of art using the lives of their creators as context. La Farge rarely delivers neat conclusions--his method somehow produces insights while muddying the historical waters even further. Instead, the fact of what may have happened becomes less important--maybe even less fun--than the many imaginative possibilities La Farge provides. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Discover: The Night Ocean mixes history with fiction in telling the interlocked stories of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, his fans and his foes over the years.

Penguin Press, $27, hardcover, 400p., 9781101981085

The Weight of Him

by Ethel Rohan

How does a father cope with the suicide of his firstborn? Big Billy Brennan, loving husband and father of four, won't accept his family's efforts to move on from grief. He knows the townspeople, with their "small mouths and sour faces," are whispering and gossiping in the Irish village where his house abuts the family farm. Why did 17-year-old Michael cut down the clothesline and hang himself in the woods? Nobody knows, and in Ethel Rohan's debut novel, The Weight of Him, Billy takes bold steps as he tries to salvage some good from the tragedy.

Billy acknowledges that, massively overweight, he was "killing himself, not nearly as swiftly or brutally as Michael but killing himself just the same." Shy as a boy and scorned by his father, he'd taken refuge in food, hitting 250 pounds at 15.  Loaded burgers and "thick, salted, vinegar drenched chips" are a continuing comfort. By the time he resolves to diet to spare his family "another premature funeral," he weighs 401 pounds. When his children's school has a walk-a-thon, Billy is inspired--why not gather pledges for each pound he loses, donate the money to suicide prevention efforts and hold a march to draw attention to the cause?

While Billy is struggling to drop the weight, enduring his family's horror at the attention he's drawing and grieving Michael's death, his determination and success build slowly. The omniscient narrator reveals the alienation of Billy's youth and his growing self-confidence. He is an engaging character as he heals and perseveres, and his family's sorrow eases as they rally to support him. While the grief over Michael's death never subsides, Billy's campaign infuses his story with love and hope. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: An Irishman resolves to lose weight as a fundraiser for suicide prevention following his teenage son's death.

St. Martin's Press, $25.99, hardcover, 336p., 9781250092120

The Dark and Other Love Stories

by Deborah Willis

Love often has a dark side. In The Dark and Other Love Stories, her second collection, Deborah Willis (Vanishing and Other Stories) explores this duality in 13 exceptional tales infused with foreboding and simmering sensuality.

The title story accompanies summer campers sneaking out to swim naked in a moonlit lake. In "Welcome to Paradise," two teenage girls break into neighbors' homes, read Cosmopolitan and flirt with the pizza delivery boys. While trick-or-treating with his son dressed as a Transformer, an alcoholic father falls prey to latent vengeful tendencies and destruction in "I Am Optimus Prime."

"Hard Currency" finds a famous novelist hiring a prostitute to accompany him on a pilgrimage to his deceased grandmother's former home in Russia. "A boy can be in love with his grandmother's stories, with his grandmother herself, in her apartment off Moskovskaya, eight floors up. Because when his grandmother talked, ghosts appeared, witches had teeth of iron, and geese could lift and carry little boys away in their beaks."

"Girlfriend on Mars," among the best of this stellar collection, uses dark humor to illuminate reality television's seductive manipulation, and its impact on a dysfunctional couple running a marijuana plant operation. (The opening line: "Amber Kivinen--drug dealer, lapsed Evangelical Christian, my girlfriend of twelve years--is going to Mars.")

Set mostly in Canada, Willis's stories examine the element of darkness and love within the prism of relationships. Through flawed, memorable characters that will resonate with her readers, she illuminates how easy--and possible--it can be to simultaneously love and loathe the same person. --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at

Discover: Thirteen irresistible short stories in Deborah Willis's engaging collection explore the dark side of love.

W.W. Norton, $24.95, hardcover, 256p., 9780393285895

Their Finest

by Lissa Evans

In 1940, as Nazi bombs fall on Great Britain and soldiers deploy for war, the Ministry of Information brings together a group of four misfits to make a feature-length propaganda movie. While the best and brightest of Britain are busy fighting the war, Lissa Evans's amusingly hapless characters in Their Finest are unprepared for their task: to make a film both to entertain British and American audiences and to promote the war effort. They are Ambrose Hilliard, an actor past his prime who insists he is still a leading man; Catrin Cole, a young writer; Edith Beadmore, a quiet and meticulous seamstress; and Arthur Frith, a shell-shocked soldier recently given the ambiguous title of Special Military Advisor. Despite the war and its effects, each is mostly concerned with personal long-term goals; for them the war is either an opportunity or an inconvenience.

On location, they come to understand the hard work behind the camera, and as they become involved, their sense of life before the war becomes more distant. Drawn together to play-act a largely fabricated moment from the war, their interactions change them. The narcissism that previously impeded Ambrose's ability to see the world begins to fail him. Catrin's writing opens her life to unimagined possibilities. After losing her home to a bomb, Edith struggles to find a more daring self. Being away from the war front gives Arthur time to understand that he's still alive. At first entertainingly clumsy, each character begins to step beyond their place of comfort and embrace the unpredictability and inconstancy of their wartime lives. This transformation gives Evans's comical story an earnest and contemplative heart. --Justus Joseph, bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company

Discover: An endearing group of oddball characters attempt to make a feature film to bolster morale during World War II.

Harper Perennial, $15.99, paperback, 464p., 9780062414915

Mystery & Thriller

Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly

by Adrian McKinty

Adrian McKinty (Gun Street Girl) writes again about the tense world of 1980s Northern Ireland in Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly (a line from a Tom Waits song that aptly sums up the violent atmosphere). As the novel opens, Detective Sean Duffy, one of the only Catholics on the Royal Ulster Constabulary force, is being marched at gunpoint into a boggy wilderness. Unknown villains have come calling for Duffy's head, and even Duffy's quick tongue is unlikely to save him.

The story then flashes back a few weeks, to when a low-level drug dealer turned up dead with a crossbow bolt in his back. It seemed like an open-and-shut case, but the more Duffy investigated, the more he was convinced that somebody--quite possibly a high-ranking officer in the RUC--wanted him to think it was an easy solve. And so, naturally, someone as stubborn, tenacious and irreverently honest as Duffy couldn't stop digging. But will it be the death of him?

Often laugh-out-loud funny, with a vivid Irish setting, McKinty's sixth Sean Duffy novel is sure to appeal to fans of Ian Rankin or Tana French as well as to history buffs who remember the days of "the Troubles." Set during the escalation of violence following the March 1988 deaths of IRA volunteers in Gibraltar, Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly is simultaneously a gripping thriller and a fascinating history. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: Detective Sean Duffy must tread a thin line between the IRA, his fellow police officers and the criminals who are gunning for him.

Seventh Street Books, $15.95, paperback, 319p., 9781633882591

The Wages of Sin

by Kaite Welsh

Sarah Gilchrist, the tenacious protagonist of Kaite Welsh's gripping debut thriller, The Wages of Sin, knows how seedy Edinburgh, Scotland can get--and she learned it the hard way. In 1882, when few women worked as doctors, Sarah has enrolled in Edinburgh's medical school, where male classmates harass her mercilessly. Between trying to study and finding her resolve to stay in school, she volunteers at an infirmary. There she meets Lucy, a young prostitute carrying an unwanted baby. A few days later, Lucy reappears in Sarah's life--as a corpse on her school's examination table. No one except Sarah has noticed the signs of murder on the dead woman's body, and she is determined to find the killer.

What follows is an exhilarating and atmospheric mystery set mostly in the gas-lit streets of Edinburgh. Welsh adroitly captures details of the time--the cobbled streets, a whalebone corset--while making space for Sarah's more contemporary sensibilities. Indeed, Sarah, with her radical (for the time) notion that women like Lucy deserve police protection, reads as a spokesperson for modern-day feminism. In the hands of a lesser writer, Sarah's anachronistic qualities would clang with inauthenticity. But here, Welsh, who is also a columnist for the Daily Telegraph, balances her protagonist's progressive inclinations with a self-awareness that enables her to play the roles (good niece, demure dinner guest) that the era demands. The result is a layered, provocative and riveting mystery about Victorian dynamics and womanhood. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: In Victorian Edinburgh, a medical student risks her life and rejects the gender norms of the day to solve a murder mystery.

Pegasus Books, $25.95, hardcover, 400p., 9781681773322

Death Going Down

by María Angélica Bosco, trans. by Lucy Greaves

Buenos Aires after World War II is filled with émigrés who escaped the horrors of war and would like to forget their pasts. Death Going Down, María Angélica Bosco's (1917-2006) first novel, opens with German citizen and war bride Frida Eidinger found dead in the elevator of a building not her own. Her killer is one among a cast of suspicious characters motivated by past trauma and current jealousies: "This case is one of a passionate obsession and its resulting resentment and devastation."

Inspectors Ericourt and Blasi discover that Frida conducted secret evening trips to the apartment building where she died. Her husband was aware of her activities, and residents of that building have murky connections to her past. They include a Bulgarian photographer and his sister; a physician quick to dispense tranquilizers; a womanizing drunk; and an invalid with a dependent wife and rebellious daughter. There are plenty of possible clues and motives to consider, but Blasi slyly warns readers to be wary of red herrings. "I don't like clues. Their interpretation often leads us the wrong way." The suspects are caught in a web of evasions and fabrications before Ericourt and Blasi piece together the facts of the case and re-create the fateful night and reveal the murderer.

Death Going Down won the inaugural Emecé Novel Award in 1954, initiated to recognize new Argentinean authors. This is a fine example of translated fiction newly brought to the attention of English-speaking readers. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: This hardboiled mystery pits detectives against the many possible suspects in the murder of a German woman in Argentina.

Pushkin Vertigo, $13.95, paperback, 160p., 9781782272236

Old Bones

by Trudy Nan Boyce

Sarah "Salt" Alt, the Atlanta homicide detective Trudy Nan Boyce introduced in her debut, Out of the Blues, is back on duty conditionally. Because of two incidents involving her use of lethal force, Salt is ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation. Meanwhile, Atlanta is coming apart at the seams. A Take Back the Night vigil ends in violence when 11 Spelman College students are shot, leaving one dead. As the Atlanta police try to find the shooter, the city erupts in angry frustration and all law enforcement hands are called to riot duty. In addition, Salt catches a homicide case involving a decomposed body. That investigation takes her back to her old patrol stomping grounds.

Boyce leads her readers through these events as Salt experiences them, but she also dissects them in Salt's required sessions with Dr. Ian Marshall. Additionally, the appointments with Marshall draw Salt--and Boyce's audience--into her troubled past.

Old Bones is an engaging police procedural with authentic characters, voice and action; it is also a rich literary work delving into racism and law enforcement relationships with the public. Boyce's history in the Atlanta Police Department provides an astute perspective that makes this novel so much more than a bad-guys-versus-good-guys showdown. She reaches deep into the heart of her subject and acknowledges, "The incidents had their roots in slavery, Jim Crow, and the legacies of poverty and systemic racism." Dark, haunting and disturbingly reflective of the world Boyce lives in, Old Bones is astounding. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: Atlanta homicide detective Sarah Alt must prove her psychological fitness for duty amid race riots and murder.

Putnam, $27, hardcover, 352p., 9780399167270

Shining City

by Tom Rosenstiel

The United States capital has long been home to ambitious egos and an army of sycophants and influence peddlers. Debut novelist Tom Rosenstiel's Shining City, like a mashup of The West Wing and House of Cards, captures the high stakes political maneuvering behind pushing an iconoclastic Supreme Court nominee through a divisive Senate confirmation hearing.

Conservative Peter Rena ("ex-military, Special Forces, one of those crazy guys who swim across alligator-infested waters to slit your throat") and his liberal partner, Randi Brooks, run a nonpartisan "problem-solver" consulting firm. Charged with thoroughly scrubbing the background of Edmund Roland Madison, they must prep the blunt independent jurist for the inevitable high-profile committee grilling. Meanwhile, the psychopathic brother of a man convicted of murder and rape in Madison's California courtroom is systematically killing the cop, public defender and prosecutor in the case--and his ultimate target is Madison himself.

A former journalist with the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek, Rosenstiel (Blur: How to Know What's True in the Age of Information Overload with Bill Kovach) salts his Washington political thriller with contemporary issues and D.C. characters--like the leader of a look-alike Tea Party caucus who wears a Heritage Foundation T-shirt and takes his coffee in a Cato Institute mug, and "Craggy" Aggie Tucker, "the feral boy senator of Texas." Shining City is a diverting look behind the capital's political curtain with enough barbarity to give it plenty of propulsive juice. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: This political thriller abounds in Washington power jockeying and unsettling violence.

Ecco, $26.99, hardcover, 368p., 9780062475367

The Third Squad

by V. Sanjay Kumar

V. Sanjay Kumar (Artist, Undone) delivers dark literary noir in his strange yet hard-hitting crime novel The Third Squad.

Set in Mumbai, the novel follows the secret and deadly work of a police sharpshooter named Karan. Diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, Karan is recruited into an elite police squad that carries out extrajudicial killings of the city's burgeoning gangster population. With these unusual elements, as well as surrealist descriptions and aphoristic dialogue, Kumar produces an eerie postmodern atmosphere of urban chaos and moral ambiguity. Karan is haunted by his inability to feel and process the killings normally; Kumar skillfully ties this mood to the shape-shifting city itself. His Mumbai embodies the vagaries of globalization, where an emerging middle class must contend with chronic poverty and a vicious criminal underbelly. Kaleidoscopic shifts in point-of-view further evoke this fragmentation of civil life and a blurring of right and wrong.

Kumar's understated, deadpan style cloaks his wit, poetic intelligence and impressive perceptiveness. Beneath the novel's anomie and shadowy atmospherics is a humanist inquiry into the worth and dignity of life. "I am a person, not a puzzle," Karan repeats throughout, as if trying to affirm his own humanity. The Third Squad ends with an emotional wallop, making it stand out among crime novels. It has the chiaroscuro effects of classic noir, but also the philosophical depth of highbrow literary fiction. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist and fiction author

Discover: Mumbai teems with lurid intrigue in this smart and affecting work of postmodern noir.

Akashic, $15.95, paperback, 240p., 9781617754975

The English Agent: A Christopher Marlowe Mystery

by Phillip DePoy

The historical figure Christopher Marlowe left few biographical clues. But in The English Agent: A Christopher Marlowe Mystery, Phillip DePoy mines what little is known about the secret agent to create a fully realized portrait of a man desperately racing to stop the one person "there to kill a queen and destroy a country."

In 1584, young Marlowe is a student, playwright and an operative in Queen Elizabeth's secret service. He is charged with preventing the assassination of William the Silent in Spain, thereby halting a plan to overthrow Elizabeth and place Mary, Queen of Scots (currently under arrest), on the throne. When he fails, Marlowe discovers that the plot is more complex than he was led to believe. With Queen Elizabeth's life still in danger, he must act quickly to foil that plot and save the queen and the fate of England. Along the way, a murder of enormous personal consequence leads Marlowe on a parallel mission to find the killer--who also may be tangled together with "the larger fabric of betrayal" involving the nation and the Queen.

The coarse world of theater in the 16th century looms over the novel's swashbuckling action, which races from Spain to the Netherlands and back to England. DePoy (A Corpse's Nightmare), himself a playwright as well as a novelist, creates an exciting, well-researched sequel to A Prisoner in Malta. Fans of The Name of the Rose and Wolf Hall will relish this intelligent mystery. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: Christopher Marlowe uses his wit, prowess in fighting and connections in theater to thwart an intricate plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth.

Minotaur Books, $26.99, hardcover, 320p., 9781250058430

The Book of Mirrors

by E.O. Chirovici

Romanian E.O. Chirovici's first novel written in English is a psychological thriller about a murder investigation reopened years after it happened. The Book of Mirrors uses varying points of view to demonstrate, as Chirovici says on his website, "the human mind's capacity to cosmeticize and even falsify its recollections."

Literary agent Peter Katz receives a partial manuscript for Richard Flynn's firsthand account of events leading up to--but ending just before--the murder of charismatic professor Joseph Wieder. Katz tries to contact Flynn but discovers that he died weeks earlier. Frank Spoel was convicted of Wieder's murder, but the partial manuscript seems like a confession, or perhaps a revelation of the true murderer. Katz is compelled to learn how the story ends, and hires investigative journalist John Keller, who ferrets out those closest to the case--finding out that while they may have been involved in the same event, everyone's perceptions are quite different "The boundaries between fiction and reality don't exist, or else they're very slender." He tracks down Spoel (still in prison), as well as Derek Summers (handyman for the murdered professor) and Lauren Baines (the professor's mysterious protégée and Flynn's love interest). He recruits the original police investigator, Roy Freeman, to examine the case anew, but what Keller and Freeman piece together leads to a surprising and sorrowful conclusion.

With language both direct and fresh, and a plot full of unexpected twists, Chirovici illustrates the rash consequences of taking action when memories are so deceiving. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: A mysterious manuscript leads to the re-examination of a decades-old murder.

Atria, $26, hardcover, 288p., 9781501141546

A Cast of Vultures

by Judith Flanders

London book editor Samantha Clair is used to juggling cranky colleagues, needy authors and epic hangovers from launch parties. But on a morning when she's dealing with all three, Sam gets drawn into a neighborhood mystery on her market run: a missing man, a burned-out building (possibly a case of arson) and a possible drug-dealing network. Never able to leave well enough alone--much to the chagrin of her boyfriend, police inspector Jake Field--Sam begins investigating. Judith Flanders delivers another whip-smart plot in her third mystery featuring Sam, A Cast of Vultures.

Readers of Flanders's previous novels (starting with A Murder of Magpies) will recognize Sam's supporting cast: her irritatingly competent mother, Helena; agoraphobic neighbor Mr. Rudiger; and multitalented assistant, Miranda. (Despite his professional interest in the case, Jake fades into the background for much of this installment.) Sam's wry first-person narration and her compulsive nosiness drive the story--landing her in a few sticky situations, but drawing her ever closer to the mystery's solution. Flanders, a social historian, also uses the plot to explore several facets of modern urban living: knowing one's neighbors (or not), the ins and outs of property and tenants' rights, the problems caused by gentrification and the issues facing at-risk youth. (Sam's friend Sam, a local unemployed teenager, comes through for her in surprising ways.)

Witty and thoughtful, with a twisty plot and engaging characters, A Cast of Vultures is Sam's most entertaining adventure yet. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Editor Samantha Clair is drawn into a neighborhood mystery involving arson and a missing man.

Minotaur Books, $25.99, hardcover, 320p., 9781250087829

Among the Ruins

by Ausma Zehanat Khan

On leave from the Canadian Community Policing department, Inspector Esa Khattak has set off for an unlikely vacation destination: Iran. Using his Pakistani passport to gain entrance to the closed-off country, Khattak schedules a few weeks of rest and prayer to recover from stressful events at home. However, when he is approached by a fellow Canadian for assistance tracking down the murderers of a prominent Canadian-Iranian filmmaker, his plans for peace and relaxation are disrupted. Though Khattak has no jurisdiction in Iran--and is in fact risking his life by getting involved--he is sucked into the mystery of the woman's brutal death, aided by long-distance support from his partner back in Canada.

Among the Ruins is the third in Ausma Zehanat Khan's Rachel Getty and Esa Khattak series (those new to the characters will have no trouble following this novel, despite a few references to past stories). Khan (The Language of Secrets) weaves together multiple stories, building from basic political intrigue to a multinational plot involving heists, murders and cover-ups. These capers are kept firmly grounded in Khan's depiction of Iran, a country full of vast contradictions, extreme beauty, rich history and violent human rights violations. "What the world thinks of Iran seems ludicrous when you deal with people in your daily interactions," Khattak is told. It is those very people--and their stories, both beautiful and horrific--that center Among the Ruins, an accomplished, multi-layered mystery from start to finish. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: Detective Getty and Inspecter Khattak must solve the brutal murder of a prominent filmmaker in Iran.

Minotaur, $25.99, hardcover, 368p., 9781250096739

The Shimmering Road

by Hester Young

The stunning Southern gothic style of Hester Young's debut, The Gates of Evangeline, is nowhere to be found in The Shimmering Road. But that shouldn't deter any readers from snatching up this strong second installment of journalist Charlie Cates's story. Young incorporates a chillingly complex plot, evocative sense of place and mystically engaging characters to lure her audience into this captivating thriller steeped in spine-tingling action.

While The Shimmering Road is the second novel to feature Charlie Cates, it is essentially self-contained. She and her partner, Noah Palmer, are living in Texas as they nervously await the birth of their daughter. But a dark cloud hovers over what should be a happy occasion because Charlie is experiencing violent premonitions in which she and her unborn infant are murdered. Due to her unusual supernatural gift, both parents know this isn't just prenatal stress; it is legitimate cause for concern. And in Young's deliciously terrifying imagination, it's only the beginning of Charlie's nightmare. She learns her mother, who abandoned her as a small child, has been shot to death, leaving behind a granddaughter Charlie knew nothing about. The couple head to the southern Arizona desert in their search, but discover much more than Charlie's orphaned niece. And it could lead them straight into Charlie's nocturnal portent.

Young proves she's no one-hit-wonder with The Shimmering Road. This encore truly shines. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: Mother-to-be Charlie Cates attempts to track down her orphaned niece despite her vision of a violent death for her and her unborn child.

Putnam, $26, hardcover, 416p., 9780399174018

A Divided Spy

by Charles Cumming

Thomas Kell thought he was done with spying. In the wake of the mission that killed his fiancée, Rachel, he has left SIS (the British secret service) behind, and is living a quiet, solitary life in London. But then chance drops a ripe possibility in his lap: one of his former colleagues is on vacation in Egypt when he spots Tom's nemesis, Alexander Minasian, the SVR (Russian secret service) agent who carried out Rachel's murder. And, unbelievably, Minasian appears to be in a relationship with an older German man named Bernhard Riedle.

Tom knows that because of the homophobic atmosphere within the SVR, if he can catch Minasian with Riedle, he'll have a means of blackmail to find out who ordered Rachel's killing. Tom also knows that his former bosses at SIS will not approve of this plan, so he goes undercover, moving into the same apartment building as Riedle. The stakes climb higher as Tom's deception grows, but when he finally comes face to face with his nemesis, the encounter leaves Tom reeling as Minasian reveals secrets he never could have guessed.

Charles Cumming (A Foreign Country, The Trinity Six) creates believable threats and details the intricacies of spycraft as Kell and Minasian negotiate how to meet each other without either of their governments becoming aware of their clandestine activities. Fast-paced and lethal, A Divided Spy is perfect for fans of Robert Ludlum or John le Carré. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: This thriller takes former SIS agent Thomas Kell across Europe in his quest to uncover the truth about his fiancée's death.

St. Martin's Press, $26.99, hardcover, 368p., 9781250021045

Science Fiction & Fantasy

New York 2140

by Kim Stanley Robinson

In New York 2140, Kim Stanley Robinson (Shaman), one of the greatest living science fiction writers, presents a drastically changed city that retains many of its eternal charms and perils. In his vision, climate change has resulted in the First Pulse and the Second Pulse, massive sea level rises fueled by polar ice sliding into the ocean. After a period of devastating flooding, New York has adapted and survived as the newly christened "SuperVenice"--a city linked by boats, sky bridges and dirigibles rather than roads.

The novel's complex plot revolves around the mysterious disappearance of two coders from the partly submerged MetLife building, which leads to wide-ranging investigations. These turn up various threats that target the building, including sabotage, a hostile takeover attempt and machinations by cutthroat corporations.

Sporting a diverse cast of characters and a bracing, rarely cynical tone, New York 2140 is some of Robinson's nimblest writing to date. More traditional characters are occasionally interrupted by a "citizen" who provides a witty, fourth wall-breaking running commentary: "a New Yorker interested in the history of New York is by definition a lunatic, going against the tide, swimming or rowing upstream against the press of his fellow citizens, all of whom don't give a s**t about this past stuff."

The trials and travails of Robinson's characters range from goofy to darkly topical--Robinson has cleverly replaced subprime mortgages with "submarine mortgages," for example. Through it all, though, his 2140-era New York City remains as delightfully confounding as the present iteration. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Discover: Kim Stanley Robinson envisions a future New York City where rising sea levels have forced inhabitants to ingeniously--or maliciously--adapt.

Orbit, $28, hardcover, 624p., 9780316262347

The Song Rising

by Samantha Shannon

In the third installment in Samantha Shannon's projected seven-book Bone Season series, the motley crew of clairvoyants are surrounded by adversaries. The government is determined to hunt them down using a dangerous new technology while panic leads to vicious infighting.

In the near-future realm of Scion (an alternate-universe version of England and eight other European nations), the ScionIDE military is poised to seek out and quarantine the so-called "unnaturals," people with psychic gifts. Though a prejudicial human bureaucracy fronts Scion, the strings are pulled by ethereal entities called the Rephaim, who exploit the clairvoyant captives as an expendable force against their enemies. Following the events of The Mime Order, 19-year-old dreamwalker and seventh-level clairvoyant Paige Mahoney now rules the London voyant underground as Underqueen and co-leads the Mime Order (which aims to overthrow Scion). When rumors reach her of a coming portable Senshield scanner, Paige gathers her closest confederates, intent to destroy its power source for good.

Series newbies would do well to begin with The Bone Season, though the author's blog contains detailed recaps. Paige shines as she finally gets the chance to take the fight to Scion, but also realizes that straightforward revolutions where "the world stands with you in your fight... [exist] only in daydreams." Shannon's hybridized world combines sci-fi and fantasy as the perfect backdrop for a human rights thriller. While many issues remain unresolved, including romantic subplots, readers who sign on for the series will appreciate the amount of meat on the bone for future adventures. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: In the third book in the Bone Season series, clairvoyant Paige Mahoney faces hard choices and dangerous missions as the Underqueen of London.

Bloomsbury USA, $26, hardcover, 384p., 9781632866240

Gilded Cage

by Vic James

Vic James's Gilded Cage imagines an alternate version of England, in which the monarchy's power is derived from Skill (a magic inherent to those of noble birth). Social order requires every commoner to serve 10 years as a slave in his or her lifetime. Hoping to avoid the miserable conditions of the country's slave towns, the Hadley family arranges to spend their tenure serving on the estate of one of the most powerful ruling families in England. But they soon learn that even a "gilded cage" is a cage, and a lack of freedom is nothing to be taken lightly. Their circumstances get more complicated when their teenage son, Luke, is sent to serve his 10 years in a slave town instead of with his family. There he falls in with a group that makes him question everything he once thought reasonable about the concept of slave years.

Gilded Cage pushes the concept of inequality to its extremes. The upper classes are elitist and classist; they look down upon those without Skill in every way, shape and form. Meanwhile, slaves are mistreated, raped, beaten, poorly fed and otherwise suppressed. But within this black-and-white context of good and evil lies a surprisingly nuanced and captivating story of what it takes to fight for freedom and justice against a cruel and unfair system. Those seeking a neat and tidy conclusion will be disappointed, for Gilded Cage ends on a cliffhanger, perfectly setting James up to continue this promising fantasy series. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: In an alternate version of England, the monarchy derives its power from magic in this start to a promising fantasy series.

Del Rey Books, $20, hardcover, 368p., 9780425284155

Biography & Memoir

Judy and I: My Life with Judy Garland

by Sid Luft

When Judy Garland married her third husband, Sid Luft, in 1952, he was a low-level agent making deals with poverty row studios like Monogram Pictures, and she was a star without a studio. "She had a track record six miles long of hysteria, attempted suicide, and walking off of movie sets," writes Luft, who became her agent and began repairing her reputation by setting up cross-country concert dates.

During their 13-year marriage, Garland ricocheted between triumphs (two children and two Oscar nominations) and turmoil (pill addiction, numerous hospitalizations and rehab stints). As the producer of Garland's comeback film, 1954's A Star Is Born, Luft offers an insightful look at its making (both Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra wanted to co-star) and unmaking (the greedy studio cut the three-hour film to 100 minutes to gain more daily showings and the movie sunk).

Luft worked on Judy and I for decades, but only completed the chronology up to 1960 before his 2005 death. Randy L. Schmidt (Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter) shaped the manuscript, sorted through a mountain of research and completed this compelling memoir. It now ends with Garland's overdose death in 1969 at the age of 47. Luft is a controversial figure to many Garland fans. Was he a savior or exploiter? His warts-and-all approach toward Garland ("She was married to the drugs before she met me and she never really got divorced") is equally critical of his younger self. Judy & I is a gossip-lover's delight, but it's also heartfelt, tough and sad. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Judy Garland's third husband offers an intimate and compelling portrait of a great artist who was depressed, suicidal and addicted to pills and alcohol.

Chicago Review Press, $30, hardcover, 480p., 9781613735831

Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

by Helene Cooper

Helene Cooper (The House at Sugar Beach) is a Liberian-born, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has worked for the White House, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Her second book, Madame President, is a sympathetic biography of Liberia's extraordinary and controversial president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Raised mostly in Monrovia as a light-skinned member of the Congo elite, Sirleaf became head of the Debt Service Division at the Treasury Department in the 1960s, a huge job for a young woman in Liberia at the time. Her courage was astonishing from the start of her career. She repeatedly spoke out against Liberian political corruption despite being marginalized at work, jailed and sentenced to hard labor, released and imprisoned again, gradually becoming a domestic and international political hero. She first ran for president in 1997, but lost. She ran again in 2005, with a spectacularly successful grassroots campaign that increased the voter registration of Liberian women from 15% to 51%. Sirleaf then had to confront the chaos of her decimated, traumatized and deeply violent country, its $4.7 billion debt and the outbreak of Ebola. She won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize four days before she went up for re-election.

Cooper frankly describes Sirleaf's missteps, nepotism and other failings as president, while sympathetically laying out what she considers to be extenuating circumstances. She regards Sirleaf as a flawed but still heroic figure, and though her view is persuasive, she also makes it possible for readers to develop their own opinions. Madame President is a valuable addition to the history of an iconic world leader. --Sara Catterall

Discover: This is a sympathetic biography of Liberia's extraordinary and controversial president by a Liberian-born U.S. journalist.

Simon & Schuster, $27, hardcover, 336p., 9781451697353

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit

by Michael Finkel

On April 4, 2013, 47-year-old Christopher Thomas Knight was arrested during a break-in at a summer camp for the disabled in the woods of central Maine. What made that otherwise unremarkable apprehension of a petty thief extraordinary was the identity of the perpetrator--someone who had spent 27 years in those woods, intentionally cut off from any human contact. The Stranger in the Woods is journalist Michael Finkel's intimate account of Knight's long sojourn, one man's singular response when the tension of living in society became unbearable.

After Knight left his job installing home and vehicle alarm systems in 1986, he made his way to an area about 25 miles north of Augusta, where he settled for the duration of his time in the woods. He supported himself through periodic raids on the nearby camp and seasonally occupied cabins. One of the most striking aspects of Knight's isolation was the fact that his elaborate hiding place lay about a three-minute walk from the nearest cabin. And yet, in all those years, his only human encounter was a brief one with a passing hiker in the 1990s.

Finkel (True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa) adroitly connects Knight's story to accounts of other hermits. In the fast-moving 200 pages of The Stranger in the Woods, Finkel takes pains not to deify or demonize him. He does offer an undeniably sympathetic portrait of his subject, a "refugee from the human race." His account will appeal to readers who enjoy stories of encounters with both the natural world and the natures within. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: Journalist Michael Finkel offers a fascinating look at one man's 27 years as a hermit in the Maine woods.

Knopf, $25.95, hardcover, 224p., 9781101875681

Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life

by Yiyun Li

A literary writer from China, Yiyun Li (Kinder Than Solitude) is known for her brilliant English-language prose, and her fiction has won her many awards and a MacArthur Fellowship. Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life contains subtle, densely packed essays inspired by a two-year period of suicidal depression and hospitalizations.

Li's devotion to English turns out to be partly the result of her well-founded desire to flee her past. "My private salvation, which cannot and should not be anybody's concern, is that I disowned my native language." Li, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1996, explores her struggles with her inescapable self, her emotional alienation, her sense of time and of emptiness, and "the past I cannot trust because it could be tainted by my memory." She has tried hard to avoid autobiography in her fiction. The idea has horrified her: "Anyone reading one's words is able to take something from one. Had I been more disciplined I would have written nothing, and lost nothing." But here she builds a different bridge between herself and her readers that she has not attempted before. She writes about her Beijing childhood, her difficult mother, lost friends, career path, illnesses and most of all her favorite writers over the years, and her silent conversations with their writings. Readers who understand depression, and who have made books into friends as an alternative way of connecting with other people and with the world, may find a thoughtful new companion in these pages. --Sara Catterall

Discover: A Chinese American writer considers her life, her suicidal depression and the books that have meant the most to her.

Random House, $27, hardcover, 224p., 9780399589096

Cravings: How I Conquered Food

by Judy Collins

Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Judy Collins is a breathtakingly forthright and uncompromising writer. Cravings uses the same adroit prose and relentless soul searching found in her best songs and her six previous books (especially The Seven T's, about surviving her son's suicide). She begins by labeling herself "an active, working alcoholic with an eating disorder" and admits, "I am not a medical doctor, just a survivor who has learned more in my lifetime about eating disorders than most doctors."

Cravings is an unsparingly frank autobiography of Collins's multiple addictions (food, drugs, alcohol, prescription pills), multiple hospitalizations, bulimia and even a teenage suicide attempt. It is also a self-help guide with chapter-length profiles of "the gurus of dieting," including Robert Atkins, Andrew Weil, Jean Nidetch, Herman Tarnower, Linus Pauling and Adelle Davis, and the origins of both Alcoholics Anonymous and GreySheeters Anonymous (an organization helping people recover from compulsive overeating). Collins's knowledgeable and concise history of decades' worth of diet plans and medical theories elevates the book with first-hand evaluations of each one's strengths and weaknesses. By the time she finds a life plan (rather than diet) that works for her, readers who have been on similar quests will appreciate her exhaustive and useful search for a solution.

"We must each find our own way," Collins acknowledges. But readers who have struggled with their own addictions will feel less alone after reading Collins's eloquent, carefully researched and blazingly honest account of her potentially deadly 60-year struggle with food disorders. Cravings is a roadmap toward solutions that could save lives. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Judy Collins's Cravings is two books in one: a memoir about her alcohol, food and drug addictions and a well-researched self-help guide.

Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $26, hardcover, 272p., 9780385541312


Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the Wickedest Town in the American West

by Tom Clavin

Tom Clavin (The DiMaggios) opens Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and the Wickedest Town in the American West with Masterson stepping off the train in Dodge City in Kansas, expecting trouble. The scene is tense; Clavin deliberately evokes the images of lawlessness and violence associated with the city's name.

The uneasy relationship between that violence and the creation of a system of frontier justice unfolds here. Clavin builds on the premise that most of the books and films about Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Doc Holiday and Dodge City are fiction, "including the ones published as nonfiction." He sets up popular images, and then carefully dissects them in search of a measure of historic truth. (Not an easy task--legend and misinformation appeared almost immediately, thanks to the popular press, dime novels and inconsistencies in the accounts of the characters involved.) He follows his main characters, their relatives and an enormous cast of cowboys, outlaws and lawmen through their travels in and out of Dodge City. More importantly, he sets "the wickedest town in the West" in its historical context of buffalo hunting, cattle drives, westward expansion of the railroads and a national sense of manifest destiny.

The result is a colorful and careful depiction of a city in transition. As Clavin presents it, Dodge City was violent, lawless and complex. The dividing line between outlaw and lawman was fluid. And justice was a moving target. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: The "wickedest town in the West" created frontier justice in spite of itself.

St. Martin's Press, $29.99, hardcover, 400p., 9781250071484

The Devil's Mercedes: The Bizarre and Disturbing Adventures of Hitler's Limousine in America

by Robert Klara

The Mercedes-Benz 770K W150 was a monstrous limousine used by monstrous men. These bulletproof behemoths carried high-ranking Nazis, including Adolf Hitler, around the Third Reich. Famous photos of crowds hailing the Fuhrer showcase the sheer menace of these machines, with hoods as long as some whole cars, seating for eight and grilles that look like something off of a battleship. After Germany's defeat, 770Ks became coveted war trophies. Several of them were brought to the United States in the years after the war. These vehicles, with little or no evidence, were often touted as Hitler's personal car, ignoring the fact that he had a whole motorpool of Mercedes.

In The Devil's Mercedes, Robert Klara (The Hidden White House; FDR's Funeral Train) tracks the winding provenance of two 770Ks and the eccentric cast of characters who possessed them. The first is a Mercedes used as payment, in lieu of hard currency, from Sweden to a Chicago businessman. The second is captured by an American soldier in Bavaria, borrowed by a general for his personal ride, then shipped home. Klara follows the roads taken by these cars under various ownerships, through record-setting auctions and fund-raising tours, storage in warehouses and museums, and back to their original riders, whose real identities are a rewarding surprise. The Devil's Mercedes is an engrossing mystery with thematic depth, a look at how cars, admittedly impressive ones, became symbols of Nazi horror, and what those symbols have meant for generations of Americans. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: Two monstrous Mercedes limos used by the Nazis undergo a peculiar exchange of hands.

Thomas Dunne, $26.99, hardcover, 352p., 9781250069726

Stalin and the Scientists: A History of Triumph and Tragedy, 1905-1953

by Simon Ings

Science in the early Soviet Union became a precarious profession. If scientists were bureaucratically astute and in the right fields of study, they could receive lavish amenities and countrywide fame. If not, scientists were as much at risk as any other perceived enemy of the revolution and subject to exile, torture or execution. They had to tread a political minefield with every publication, a labyrinth of social considerations where objective truth meant far less than adherence to Marxist philosophy, or, increasingly as time went on, the whims of one ruthless amateur scientist--Joseph Stalin.

In Stalin and the Scientists: A History of Triumph and Tragedy, 1905-1953, Simon Ings, editor at New Scientist and author of A Natural History of Seeing, chronicles the catastrophic collapse of certain sciences under the Soviets. The brutal first years of revolution and civil war brought most academic and research organizations to their knees. Once the state stabilized (to a relative degree), scientists faced two challenges: overcoming the stigmatization of any "Old Guard" group that existed under the tsars, and wrapping new research in the guise of Marxism.

The latter proved a fatal barrier to genetics. Soviets were obsessed with Lamarckian evolution, in which traits gained during a parent's lifetime could be passed to offspring. Geneticists who advocated Darwinian evolution and genes as physical objects faced dismissal and even death. Trofim Lysenko, an amateur agrobiologist, led the charge against genetics (with the personal backing of Stalin) while his own unscientific methods exacerbated crop failures. Ings skillfully relates this maddening chapter of science history, but doesn't neglect the eventual triumphs that did come from Soviet science. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: In the early Soviet Union, the study of science became precariously politicized.

Atlantic Monthly Press, $28, hardcover, 528p., 9780802125989

Current Events & Issues

Unwarranted: Policing Without Permission

by Barry Friedman

To get a feel for the state of U.S. policing, one need only look at images of heavily armed Boston police in armored BearCats swarming their sheltered-in-place city during the 2013 bomber manhunt. Or watch 2014 footage of police in Ferguson, Mo., lined up in SWAT body armor and riot helmets, brandishing assault rifles and flash-bang grenades behind military MRAP vehicles to face off against citizens. How did Andy Griffith turn into Sylvester Stallone? In Unwarranted, a measured, commonsense, sometimes even breezy study of current policing, New York University School of Law professor and noted constitutional law pundit Barry Friedman (The Will of the People) reminds us: "The authority to use force on citizens and to conduct surveillance of them... are the most awesome powers we grant any public servants.... The real problem with policing is not the police; it is us."

Frightening as Unwarranted sometimes is, Friedman's analysis is not without hope and concrete suggestions. He puts much of the burden on courts to take a firmer stand prohibiting police from bending the Constitution without specific authorization from legislatures. Elected representatives also need to step up and draft laws that directly outline the allowed rules for enforcement rather than turn these decisions over to appointed agencies. The police must be more transparent and willing to take direction from citizens. Unwarranted is an accessible and important book at a time when a police force armed to the teeth and a vast government surveillance network have become the norm. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Constitutional law guru Barry Friedman unravels the current state of out-of-control policing in a provocative overview and remedy.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28, hardcover, 448p., 9780374280451

Political Science

No Friends but the Mountains: Dispatches from the World's Violent Highlands

by Judith Matloff

One quarter of the earth's surface is mountains, and about 10% of the population resides in them. Given the inclement weather, difficult travel conditions and relative isolation, this is perhaps unsurprising. In No Friends but the Mountains, journalist Judith Matloff does explore a surprising statistic: approximately 85% of the world's conflicts over the past two decades have been fought in mountain areas.

A professor of conflict reporting at the Columbia School of Journalism, Matloff is intimately familiar with this disproportionate reality, learning firsthand as she covers clashes in 39 countries over five continents. While altitude appears to nurture danger, the causes are many and fascinating, borne of different cultures, environments, traditions and politics.

Whether the discord is violent at its core (drugs, traditional vendettas), based on spiritual connections to land, or the product of diminishing resources, harsh topography tends to breed self-sufficient, insular communities that don't take well to rule by others. No Friends but the Mountains travels straight to the heart of eight mountainous regions as distinctive as their surrounding terrain.

Each region is steeped with centuries of politics, religion and culture. Matloff's lively writing keeps the dense subject matter from getting bogged down, and her accounts of perilous trips into hot zones are akin to an adventure novel. In addition to macro views, Matloff highlights the stories of individuals to provide a more personal perspective and connection. As distant as they may seem, mountain conflicts have global consequences. Understanding is crucial, and No Friends but the Mountains is an essential work on the fundamentals of high-altitude warfare. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A specialist in war reporting investigates why hostilities at high altitude account for a vastly disproportionate percentage of global conflict.

Basic Books, $27, hardcover, 272p., 9780465097883

Social Science

The Mother of All Questions

by Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me was warmly welcomed by readers who saw their own experiences reflected in Solnit's reaction to patronizing exchanges with men who considered her incompetent or underestimated her intelligence simply because of her gender. In her follow-up collection, The Mother of All Questions, Solnit continues the conversation with new and previously published essays that explore the "rapid social changes of a revitalized feminist movement in North America and around the world that is not merely altering the laws [but] changing our understanding of consent, power, rights, gender, voice and representation."

In this collection's newest and longest essay ("Silence Is Broken"), Solnit writes of "the ocean of the unsaid, the unspeakable, the repressed, the erased, the unheard.... If our voices are essential aspects of our humanity, to be rendered voiceless is to be dehumanized or excluded from one's humanity. And the history of silence is central to women's history."

Distinguishing silence from quiet's more voluntary nature, Solnit explores why many in society perpetuate the silencing and discrediting of women through instances of domestic violence, sexual assault, online harassment and economic inequality, among others. Solnit is encouraged by the groundswell of activism in the aftermath of recent high-profile incidents such as the Steubenville rape case, the massacre at a University of California Santa Barbara sorority (which prompted the hashtag #yesallwomen), and reports of "America's Dad" Bill Cosby assaulting enough women for New York magazine to fill an entire cover with their photographs. Solnit documents an uprising of empowerment that can amplify others' voices and stories with the potential to bring meaningful change. --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at

Discover: Rebecca Solnit's essay collection is an engaging followup to Men Explain Things to Me.

Haymarket Books, $14.95, paperback, 192p., 9781608467402

Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto

by Jessa Crispin

Jessa Crispin (The Creative Tarot) is a writer, editor, founder of two influential literary websites and a woman known for applying her radical ideals directly to her life. Her third book, Why I Am Not a Feminist, seems inspired by years of accumulated frustration with a particular but large set of mostly white, straight, well-educated, economically secure feminists. Crispin denounces their brand of "universal feminism," which seeks mainstream inclusion and individual gain; it promotes the feminist label without the radical ideas. "Fighting for your own self-interest, without the awareness of your motives or the ramifications of your success, does not make you a hero. It makes you just the same as any other selfish ambitious jerk." Women who have always had to work at dull, grueling, badly paid jobs, who find their best rewards in their homes and personal relationships, are scorned and patronized by such feminists, if they are noticed at all, she argues.

Crispin is interested in broad social justice, and in building new forms of family, community and meaningful, supportive interdependence. She wants these women to cultivate discomfort and self-examination, and to address the roots of misogyny and injustice rather than shaming individuals. She rejects the idea that women are inherently more empathetic and nurturing than men, and challenges them to forgo the gratification hatred brings with its "lazy thinking, easy scapegoating and pleasurable anger." Few may agree with everything Crispin has to say. But every political movement needs a regular supply of thoughtful sharply pointed argument-starters. This is a good one. --Sara Catterall

Discover: In her smart, sharp, funny attack on mainstream feminism, Jessa Crispin demonstrates how she would like to see everyone do better.

Melville House, $15.99, paperback, 176p., 9781612196015

The Brain Defense: Murder in Manhattan and the Dawn of Neuroscience in America's Courtrooms

by Kevin Davis

To some, the increasing role of neuroscience in the courtroom is the modern equivalent of 1970s comedian Flip Wilson's plea of innocence: "The devil made me do it." However, as Kevin Davis shows in The Brain Defense, technological advances in the scanning of brain activity are providing defense attorneys with ever more sophisticated tools to build a case. A former crime reporter and professor of journalism and writing, Davis (Defending the Damned) builds his study from one of the first instances where a brain scan entered the courtroom--the lurid case of Herbert Weinstein, who in 1991 confessed to strangling his wife and throwing her body out the 12th-story window of his Upper East Side apartment. An MRI of Weinstein's brain showed a cyst "the size of an orange" over his temporal lobe, or, according to one specialist who evaluated the scan: "he is not rowing with all his oars in the water."

It would be easy for a subject as steeped in scientific jargon and legalese as "neurolaw" to lead to a big yawn, but Davis smoothly guides his narrative through the quagmire of acronyms and precedents with arresting participant interviews. He demonstrates that "broken brains" apply not just to violent criminal behavior, but also to the "abnormal" acts of athletes who play contact sports, juveniles, addicts and military veterans. The Brain Defense concludes that the role of neuroscience in the courtroom is still evolving. Its most prevalent application today is not in establishing guilt but in mitigating death penalty judgments. As one attorney active in the field summarizes: "The real issue is what the hell do we do with people when it comes to sentencing." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Cutting through scientific jargon and legalese, The Brain Defense is an engaging overview of the history and future of neuroscience in the courtroom.

Penguin Press, $28, hardcover, 336p., 9781594206337

Essays & Criticism

Bit Rot: Stories + Essays

by Douglas Coupland

Douglas Coupland (Generation X) is a media theorist, artist, writer and designer. He's also wickedly funny, which makes his thoughts on modernity all the more biting and enjoyable. Bit Rot, a collection of essays, short fiction and pieces that are best described as miscellanea, shows off all sides of Coupland's work without ever losing his sardonic edge. Because few pieces go over five pages, the book feels like an ongoing conversation with a hilarious, intelligent friend.

Bit Rot is mostly made up of essays that both skewer and defend contemporary existence. Coupland is upfront about his own susceptibility to nostalgia, but also has little patience for anyone who believes that the world is somehow worse off due to the Internet, smartphones and the like. One might assume Coupland is a misanthropist, given his sense of humor, but he's nothing of the sort. In the piece "Stuffed," he explores hoarding from prehistoric times to the present, showing how our need for "stuff" is both pathological and simply a way of being human.

The short works of fiction dotted throughout Bit Rot provide a nice change of pace without losing sight of Coupland's arguments. By placing them alongside the essays, he's able to present his topics in different modes of discourse. This is especially welcome since he sometimes has the tendency to repeat himself in the essays (which, to be fair, should be somewhat expected in a 400-page collection). Even with that minor quibble, Bit Rot remains an engaging, thought-provoking look at the modern age through the thoughts of one smart, funny man. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: This collection by Douglas Coupland helps make sense of the modern condition.

Blue Rider Press, $27, hardcover, 432p., 9780399575808

Psychology & Self-Help

How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain

by Lisa Feldman Barrett

Lisa Feldman Barrett (Handbook of Emotions) is a psychologist, neuroscientist and the director of the Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory at Northeastern University. In How Emotions Are Made, she explains a new theory of emotion that may be counterintuitive for many people but has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of almost every aspect of life.

Most of us probably take for granted what Barrett calls "the classical view of emotion"--emotions as universal, irrational, reflexive responses to our experiences. However, she says, if scientists ignore the classical view and look only at the data, they find that emotions are not hardwired, or universal, or triggered by external events: "You are not a passive receiver of sensory input, but an active constructor of your emotions. From sensory input and past experience, your brain constructs meaning and prescribes action." We create our emotional realities, which means we also have the power to change them intentionally.

This is a well-structured, enjoyable book, written in a conversational style and augmented by four appendixes, thorough notes, an extensive bibliography and links to more information online. Barrett summarizes the history of emotional science and the current state of the field, and explains how biology and culture work together to form the concepts that create our emotions. She also describes how this new understanding of emotion may be practically applied to balance our emotional health, rewire our emotional responses and transform our approaches to social issues, health care, other species and law enforcement. --Sara Catterall

Discover: A neuroscientist offers an enjoyable guide to a revolutionary scientific theory of emotion and its practical applications.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $29, hardcover, 448p., 9780544133310


The Body Builders: Inside the Science of the Engineered Human

by Adam Piore

In the 1970s, TV's Steve Austin was the stuff of kids' dreams. Rebuilt after a horrific accident, the Six Million Dollar Man had a bionic eye, could run alongside a car and leap onto tall buildings. Thanks to real-world bioengineering, the Steve Austin model has been left in the dust. Today we can regenerate tissue to grow new body parts, see using our ears, stave off degenerative diseases with enhanced muscle growth, and medically augment intuition.

It may still sound like television fantasy, but journalist Adam Piore's The Body Builders offers a behind-the-scenes peek into the astounding realm of human engineering. Steeped in heady principles, Piore uses examples of tragedy and indomitable human resilience to give life and depth to the subject. The science is complex, but his conversational style is captivating whether or not one knows how big a container you'd need to hold 2.4 million nucleotides.

Neither scientists nor Piore believe the story stops here. Our ever-advancing ability to hack bodies and minds to make "better" versions of ourselves has implications far beyond fixing broken or missing parts. Will the concepts be used for good? Who decides what that is? If we have the ability to engineer superhuman soldiers who are impervious to pain, should we?

The Body Builders raises these and many other difficult questions. The answers are unknown, but there is no denying Piore has crafted a fascinating foundation for discussion, while highlighting the dedication of our scientists and the resilience of the human spirit. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: Journalist Adam Piore takes a fascinating look at the scientists and engineers working in the realm of human augmentation.

Ecco Press, $26.99, hardcover, 400p., 9780062347145

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

by Yuval Noah Harari

In Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari's thesis is that an emerging religion he calls Dataism--which "collapses the barrier between animals and machines" as it "expects electronic algorithms to eventually decipher and outperform biochemical algorithms"--will gradually overtake, and perhaps supplant, humankind. This new faith, fed by the ceaseless flow of information from our smartphones, computers and devices yet unimagined, will supersede the worldview of liberal humanism--with its emphasis on the exercise of individual free will--that emerged in the late 18th century and eventually triumphed in the 20th over the ideologies of Nazism and Communism.

Homo Deus shares DNA with the work of writers like Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs, and Steel) in its proclivity for synthesizing large swaths of history, while drawing freely from other disciplines in both the humanities and sciences. It's emphatically a work for the general reader eager to grapple with big ideas, but who is equally hungry for context for today's headlines. Harari possesses a well-stocked mind and is an engaging stylist skilled at neatly summarizing arguments--like his contention that overeating is more of a threat to humankind than violence--with memorable, epigrammatic sentences: "Sugar is now more dangerous than gunpowder."

Harari (Sapiens) is neither advocate nor alarmist, but anyone who engages seriously with this challenging work should come away from it with ample motivation to think more deeply about what's around the next bend in the river of human history. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: Historian Yuval Noah Harari envisions a data-driven future in which immortal beings may seek to attain the status of divinity.

Harper, $35, hardcover, 464p., 9780062464316

Children's & Young Adult

Star Scouts

by Mike Lawrence

Avani's dad wants her to go to Flower Scouts to make some friends in their new town, but she doesn't have much in common with the other girls and hates being a scout. When an alien scout accidentally abducts her, though, scouting becomes her lodestar. Avani's new alien friend Mabel introduces her to the Z-98s, "the worst troop in Star Scouts," and Avani's lonely days are transformed. But when her new troop heads to the galactic Camp Andromeda for a week, Avani stumbles into a competition for badges with an angry "methane breather" (the camp is split between oxygen and methane scouts), and she'll need help from all of her new friends to get her back to Earth and keep her Star Scout status.

Lawrence's debut as a solo graphic novelist (he previously illustrated Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek by Elizabeth Rusch and The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil) is a colorful romp with a silly sense of humor; one benefit to adding methane-breathing aliens to a book is endless opportunities for fart jokes. Though there's not much Earth science in the story--one of the badge challenges is Jetpacks--the book's sense of wonder will complement STEM-oriented lessons and readers. Lawrence’s illustrations are bright and dynamic, driving the action across (and down, and around) each page. And, significantly, when Avani's father tries to cheer her up with "tum meri raajkumari ho" ("you are my princess" in Hindi), Star Scouts adds a much-welcome young Indian girl to Earth's ranks of fictional space explorers. --Stephanie Anderson, assistant director for public services, Darien Library, Conn.

Discover: This winning middle-grade graphic novel celebrates outer space, teamwork and the power of curiosity.

First Second, $14.99, paperback, 192p., ages 8-12, 9781626722804

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life

by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Printz Honor recipient Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe) returns with a complex slice-of-life drama.

Salvador, a white 17-year-old, has lived a quiet, happy life in El Paso, Tex., with his adoptive father, Vicente, a gay Mexican-American who always supported Sal. However, on his first day as a high school senior, normally laid-back Sal punches another student for insulting Vicente. Soon after, he finds himself speaking with his fists again. As Sal tries to understand and control his sudden outbursts, Vicente gives him a sealed letter from his mother, who died when he was three. Events spiral beyond Sal's control as Mima, his adored grandmother, receives a terminal cancer diagnosis, his best female friend Samantha faces a life-altering tragedy, and his best male friend Fito struggles with an insecure home life and bullying at school. Over the course of the year, Sal learns that choices, not circumstances, define a man.

Sáenz once again proves himself the master of relationship development; at heart, his latest is the story of a devoted father and son discovering how to live their own lives and of two lifelong friends turning and returning to their unbreakable bond. Delicately wrought dialogues between major characters quietly convey deep and abiding love. Older teens especially will relate to Sal's transitional year as he simultaneously grapples with college essays and his inner demons. Loosely plotted to mirror the unpredictable cadence of real life, The Inexplicable Logic of My Life affirms the blessing of a supportive family, whether made by birth or by love. --Jaclyn Fulwood, lead librarian at Del City Public Library, Oklahoma

Discover: In this realistically knotty YA novel, 17-year-old Salvador learns to give and take support during his tumultuous and tragic senior year.

Clarion, $17.99, hardcover, 464p., ages 15-18, 9780544586505

The Bone Witch

by Rin Chupeco

Tea learns she is a "bone witch" on the day of her brother Fox's funeral, when she accidentally raises him from his grave. While witches are fairly commonplace in the Eight Kingdoms, bone witches, or Dark asha, are feared and reviled for their ability to control the dead. Nevertheless, they wield their "complicated and exclusive and implacable" death magic to keep people safe from the daeva--"strange and terrible monsters" commanded by servants of the traitorous False Prince. Twelve-year-old Tea discovers she commands her new-found magic with ease.

Along with Fox, now serving as her familiar, Tea is hustled to the capital city by Lady Mykaela, another Dark asha, to be trained to manage her power. The headstrong Tea takes her place in House Valerian, where she learns to dance, fight and navigate political intrigue in the district's teahouses. Tea's growing awareness of the price Dark asha pay to control the daeva makes her increasingly wary of dedicating her life to the endeavor. But when a particularly fierce daeva wreaks havoc during a ceremony, Tea steps in to save Lady Mykaela and takes her own craft to a much more dangerous place.

The Bone Witch is fantasy world-building at its best, and Rin Chupeco (The Girl from the Well; The Suffering) has created a strong and colorful cast of characters to inhabit that realm. Interspersed with Tea's narrative are short chapters describing her future exile "at the end of the world." Readers will feel the impending doom in this enticing, highly original fantasy, but must wait until the sequel for answers. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: In this strikingly original fantasy, 12-year-old Tea learns she is a powerful "bone witch" who can control the dead.

Sourcebooks Fire, $17.99, hardcover, 432p., ages 12-up, 9781492635826


by Matthew Laurence

Freya is really something--funny, gorgeous, smart. She also happens to be the Norse goddess of love and war. Centuries of diminishing belief have left her in a weakened state, so she bides her time in a Florida mental hospital, passing herself off as a delusional high school student. As she says, it's "the only place where they'll believe in me." When the evil Finemdi corporation comes calling, resolved to add her to its stable of useful deities, Freya bolts, causing a bit of mayhem in the process. She gets work as a Disney World princess, gaining strength from the adoration of small children, and then decides to destroy Finemdi from the inside, pretending to work for the company while devising a plan of attack.

This raucous debut young adult novel by Matthew Laurence celebrates a strong-willed female out to establish herself as a "world-changing goddess on the rise." She's not above using her sexual charms to get humans and gods to do her bidding, but she's also dabbling in something new for a goddess of her vintage, self-control. As she resists the urge toward chaos, she gains control over her life, a lesson any non-divine teenager might find helpful. In Finemdi, Laurence nicely satirizes the earnestness of corporate life. One droll scene shows Freya and her nemesis, Dionysus, enduring a PowerPoint presentation entitled "Divine Calibration: Setting you up for success!" Freya's refusal to cede her divinity to her corporate overlords, and her determination to fight back when the moment is right, make her a goddess worth worshipping. --Ann Shaffer, freelance writer and editor

Discover: After sitting out several decades of human history, Freya, the Norse goddess of love and war, takes on a vast corporation determined to subvert divinity for its own shadowy ends.

Imprint, $17.99, hardcover, 352p., ages 15-up, 9781250088178

Armstrong and Charlie

by Steven B. Frank

The year is 1974 and Armstrong and Charlie are both 11, both good arm wrestlers and both dreading sixth grade at Wonderland Avenue School. But it's their differences that they notice first. Armstrong is in one of the first cohorts of black kids being bused to formerly all-white schools in Los Angeles. "[T]he Supreme Court has said it's time for black and white to blend," Armstrong's dad tells him. Armstrong is not so sure: "I don't see why. It's not like we're going to rub off on them." Smart, mouthy and hot-tempered, Armstrong enters Wonderland with a chip on his shoulder. Charlie, who is white and whose brother recently died, is obsessed with death statistics and rigid about following rules. He's promptly dubbed Rules Boy by Armstrong, thus setting the stage for a long, antagonistic school year. But the fights gradually morph into pranks, then transform again into competitiveness, grudging acceptance and, finally, friendship.

Steven B. Frank's debut middle grade novel, inspired by his own sixth grade year at Wonderland, is one part comedy, one part poignant drama and one part food for thought. The boys' alternating voices provide a context to their lives that isn't always apparent in first--or subsequent--meetings. Occasional interjections in the form of hilariously deadpan playground incident reports by Yard Supervisor Edwina Gaines give a wider picture of events. With an undercurrent of the tension and racism accompanying the era, Armstrong and Charlie also captures the awkward coming-of-age of two boys who learn that sometimes one must leave something behind in order to move forward. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: In 1974, two 11-year-old boys, one white and one black, learn that their differences don't have to keep them from becoming friends in this funny and moving middle-grade novel.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 10-12, 9780544826083

Deep in the Woods

by Christopher Corr

In Deep in the Woods, British illustrator Christopher Corr, whose distinctive style has graced A Year Full of Stories and other picture books, brings his luminous artwork to a retelling of a familiar Russian folk tale. "Deep in the woods was a little wooden house. It was painted bright white, with nine neat windows and a red front door." Sadly, this "perfect little home" stands empty, until a mouse passes by one day and decides it's the right place for him to set up housekeeping. Next, a frog hops by and gets the same idea. The mouse welcomes him warmly. And then a rabbit shows up, followed by a beaver, a fox, a rooster and so on. All--predator and prey alike--settle in, adding their homey touches and singing the night away. But when a bear comes along and asks if there's room for him, the music and dancing screech to a halt. "No," the animals answer unhappily, "There isn't room for a big bear in this little wooden house!" Unswayed, the bear tries every means of access: the windows, the door and, finally, the roof. "The little wooden house begins to tremble... Crrrreeaaak!" And "Crrumph!" goes the house. Disaster! Are the animals destined to become homeless again? Not while the strong and caring bear is around!

Thick, rich paper absorbs Corr's brilliant neon colors, and the textured cover adds to the overall sensual experience of this radiant picture book. The classic folk tale's theme of inclusiveness and resourcefulness is as fresh today as it has been for generations of children. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: There's always room for one more--until there isn't--in this retelling of the classic Russian folk tale, illustrated with gorgeous, wild colors by Christopher Corr.

Frances Lincoln, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-7, 9781847807267

Hello, Universe

by Erin Entrada Kelly

Hello, Universe by Filipina American Erin Entrada Kelly (Blackbird Fly; Land of Forgotten Girls) is about the unlikely connections people make when they pay attention to the "letters" the universe is always sending.

The stories of four middle-school narrators are woven, Shakespearean comedy-style, in a web of crossed paths. The four collide when a bully named Chet Bullens tosses 11-year-old Filipino American Virgil Salinas's purple backpack (and guinea pig) into an abandoned well in the woods, leaving the horrified boy no choice but to climb down and rescue his pet. This unfortunate event on the first day of summer, fortunately, ends up bearing all sorts of unexpected fruit for Virgil and two of his girl classmates (the other two narrators): hearing-impaired biologist-to-be Valencia Somerset and Japanese American psychic Kaori Tanaka.

Trapped at the bottom of the well, Virgil discovers his inner bayani (hero) when he faces Pah, the monster bird who rules darkness in his beloved grandmother's grisly Filipino stories. Virgil emerges from his ordeal willing to face his other fears, which seem suddenly less significant in contrast to the dark well: "Being face-to-face with death made Chet seem so... ordinary. Boring, even."

Through Kelly's playful, inventive plotting, Virgil, Valencia, Kaori and Chet all confront "the universe" in their own way. In the process, Kelly gives this hope to young readers: we can each discover our inner hero and transform even our toughest struggles by opening ourselves up to the mysteries of chance and reaching out to friends and loved ones. --Kristianne Huntsberger, writer, storyteller and partnership marketing manager at Shelf Awareness

Discover: The lives of four middle-schoolers intersect when a bully tosses a boy's backpack into an abandoned well, not knowing there's a guinea pig inside.

Greenwillow, $16.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 9-12, 9780062414151

Priscilla Gorilla

by Barbara Bottner, illus. by Michael Emberley

At age six, Priscilla falls in love with gorillas after reading a book about them with her dad "a million skillion times."

She draws pictures of their habitats, learns about Dian Fossey and writes in her "private GORILLA GAZETTE." She tells her mother what she loves most about gorillas: "They always get their way." But Priscilla's obsession with gorillas starts getting her in trouble at school. She tries to teach a friend her gorilla dance during nap time. She's rude to her teacher. She refuses to take off her gorilla costume for the class picture. Mr. Todd, her rumpled, harried teacher, invites her to the Thinking Corner whenever she misbehaves. It's not until Priscilla's wise dad re-reads aloud the part of the beloved gorilla book about how these great apes are known for cooperating with each other that she grudgingly recognizes the error of her ways. She tells Mr. Todd, "My ALL ABOUT GORILLAS book says even gorillas don't always get their way." Ever gracious, Mr. Todd responds: "If that is an apology, I accept it, Priscilla."

In Priscilla Gorilla, Barbara Bottner and Irish illustrator Michael Emberley, who also "cooperated" on Miss Brooks' Story Nook, have created a perfect gem of a picture book, complete with a troublemaker, canny adults, droll humor and a gently proffered lesson. Priscilla's home is a comfortably cluttered haven, filled with books, laptops, art supplies and love. Strong-nosed, slightly potbellied Mr. Todd is like one of those memorable teachers from just about everyone's childhood: firm, grumpy and goodhearted. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: In this terrific picture book, six-year-old Priscilla's passion for gorillas gets her into trouble until she learns that they are known more for cooperation than for getting their own way.

Simon & Schuster, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-7, 9781481458979

A Good Day for a Hat

by T. Nat Fuller, illus. by Rob Hodgson

Mr. Brown, a cheerful, pear-shaped brown bear, is a big, big fan of hats. As he steps out one morning, he's wearing the perfect topper to call on his friend Miss Plum: a wide-brimmed purple derby with a perky flower in the brim. Alas! It's raining. Luckily, "I have just the hat for that," says Mr. Brown, retreating to don a bright yellow rain hat. He opens the door again... but now it's snowing! Thank goodness he has just the hat for a snowstorm, too: a cozy, green-ear-flapped number. Savvy readers will have a sneaking suspicion by now that his next attempt to leave the house will be met by yet another hat-changing event--and they will be right. Again and again (but not enough to get boring!), dogged Mr. Brown returns to his hat rack to find the right headgear for a marching band, a "rootin' tootin' rodeo" and even a fire-breathing dragon. When he realizes he's going to be late for his visit, his delightful solution is, of course, to wear them all, one on top of the other. Little does he know that the biggest surprise of the day awaits him behind Miss Plum's door: a birthday party for him with all the friends we've been catching sight of in previous pages.

Hats off to T. Nat Fuller and Rob Hodgson for joining the pantheon of hat-obsessed children's authors and illustrators. Their silly and entertaining contribution will fit nicely on the shelf between P.D. Eastman's Go, Dog. Go! and Esphyr Slobodkina's Caps for Sale. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A bear of many hats is forced to wear them all as the scene outside his door changes from rain to snow to the high seas, in this charming picture book about patience and adaptability.

Abrams Appleseed, $15.95, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-5, 9781419723001

Bronze and Sunflower

by Cao Wenxuan, trans. by Helen Wang

Cao Wenxuan is one of China's most beloved children's authors and winner of the 2016 Hans Christian Andersen Award. His lyrical middle-grade novel Bronze and Sunflower brings to life two devoted siblings: Bronze, the mysterious, mute young son of impoverished farmers in a remote Chinese village, and Sunflower, the seven-year-old city girl who comes to the country with her artist father after he is consigned to forced labor and reeducation during the harsh years of the Cultural Revolution. When her father drowns, Sunflower is adopted by Bronze's loving parents. The family struggles together, each sacrificing to help the others. Bronze walks miles to the nearest town in freezing weather so he can sell shoes woven from river reeds to pay for Sunflower's schooling. Sunflower steals away on a boat so she can scavenge valuable ginkgo nuts at a distant plantation to raise funds for her grandmother's medical care.

The author, who grew up amid the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, faces the hardships of village life head-on. Children are tied to trees and beaten for misbehavior, and when starvation takes hold, people grow so desperate they think "about gnawing on stones." Despite privations, small pleasures--like riding to school on the back of a water buffalo or creating a sparkling necklace out of icicles--make life beautiful. Cao shows English-speaking readers a foreign world where time is measured in the seasonal comings and goings of the swallows, but also a familiar one where the fabric of family is woven from shared hopes and unexpected acts of kindness. --Ann Shaffer, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This graceful story of a girl growing up in a poor village during China's Cultural Revolution introduces English-speaking readers to the work of Cao Wenxuan.

Candlewick, $16.99, hardcover, 400p., ages 9-12, 9780763688165

Amina's Voice

by Hena Khan

Pakistani American sixth grader Amina Khokar and her best friend Soojin Park were always "the only kids in elementary school who had names that everyone stumbled over." But now Korean-born Soojin, whose family is about to gain U.S. citizenship, wants to change her name to something more American, like Jessica or Melanie. She's also warming up to a popular white girl named Emily who has never been friendly to Amina and Soojin. Soojin seems to be moving into adolescence faster than Amina can keep up, and their comfortable friendship is teetering. "[S]omething about Soojin wanting to drop her name makes me worry that I might be next," Amina says. Meanwhile, Amina's shyness prevents her from auditioning for a school solo even though she longs to sing; her older brother, Mustafa, is pushing back against the family's Muslim traditions; and their conservative uncle is coming for a three-month visit, during which their parents expect them to "be perfect." Their close-knit family is on edge as their Muslim customs bump up against contemporary Milwaukee culture. When a terrible act of vandalism against their mosque throws her community into fearful turmoil, Amina must decide if she's brave and open-minded enough to use her voice to make a difference.

Amina's Voice is the first title in Salaam Reads, Simon & Schuster's imprint dedicated to publishing books that feature Muslim characters and stories. Hena Khan (It's Ramadan, Curious George) writes a gentle coming-of-age story universal in theme and original in context, and appealing to any reader who has just wanted to slow the world down. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Changing friendships, cultural conundrums and a shocking act of vandalism make middle school a struggle for a Pakistani-American Muslim girl.

Salaam Reads/S&S, $16.99, hardcover, 208p., ages 8-12, 9781481492065


by Mac Barnett, illus. by Jon Klassen

First in a trilogy by the talented and offbeat duo Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen (Sam and Dave Dig a Hole; Extra Yarn, both Caldecott Honor Books), Triangle is an unusual early concept book. The protagonist is a dark triangle with big eyes and a pair of stumpy legs. He lives in a triangular house with a triangular door in a region of earth-toned "small triangles and medium triangles and big triangles." Our three-pointed hero wakes up one morning with a plan to play a "sneaky trick" on his friend Square. As Triangle makes his way past "shapes that weren't triangles anymore" looming boulder-like forms fill the landscape, gradually giving way to his friend's more cubical neighborhood. Arriving at Square's house, Triangle can barely contain his giggles as he begins hissing like a snake. "Oh dear dear dear!" says Square. "How many snakes are out there? Ten? Ten million? Go away, snakes!" That sneaky Triangle! But Square might have a trick of his own up his sleeve.

Cheeky Triangle and ingenuous Square's quirky relationship is reminiscent of Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad, but with a twist. Klassen does remarkable things with a minimal canvas--shapes and eyes are all he's got, after all. Triangle's mischief is all in his bright, eager gaze. Square, afraid, has wide-open, oblong eyes that look directly at the reader. As his suspicion grows, his eyes narrow: "Triangle!... Is that you?" And once he begins chasing his sneaky friend, his side-eye is priceless. This weird and wonderful picture book presents a whole new angle on shapes--and friendships. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: The supremely talented Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen team up in a funny and surreal picture book--the first in a trilogy--about a triangle playing tricks on a square.

Candlewick, $15.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 5-9, 9780763696030

My Valley

by Claude Ponti, trans. by Alyson Waters

Claude Ponti's gorgeous, deliciously oversized French picture book My Valley may feel to adults like one of those childhood favorites whose illustrations are forever etched in their minds.

In fact, it's difficult to imagine anyone, young or old, able to resist the charms of this inventively imagined valley world and its tiny bear-beaver-monkey hybrids called Twims. Narrated with heart and humor by young Poochie-Blue Twims, the book begins: "This is my valley. I was born in the House Tree on the Blue Cliffs. I'm a Twims. All the Twims live in my valley. It's the most beautiful valley in the world." Lush paintings reveal mountains, a winding river, wildflowers, craggy trees and exposed boulders, and the intricate details invite close scrutiny. My Valley is firstly elaborate world-building; its real storytelling lies in distinct vignettes illuminating aspects of Twims life, such as "The House Tree," a place where every child on Earth would wish to live (big library! trapeze room! swinging bench room! star room!). Then there are the rules, such as "Whenever a Twims makes a wish, he or she goes and sticks a gold leaf on the Singing Stone. When the wind blows in a certain way, the stone sings and the wishes come true. It has been this way since the Goochnies' time. The Goochnies are shy and they look like mushrooms."

Poochie-Blue goes on to matter-of-factly spin fantastical stories about the "Tree of Secrets," how the Blue Cliffs turn blue when it's foggy, "The Very Sad Giant" and "The Theater of Hissy Fits" (where you can shout and stamp your feet). A wonder. --Karin Snelson, freelance writer and editor

Discover: With this charming, quirky, oversized French picture book, readers will revel in the elaborately described world of the bushy-tailed, valley-dwelling Twims.

Elsewhere Editions/Archipelago, $24, hardcover, 42p., ages 5-9, 9780914671626

Goodbye Days

by Jeff Zentner

It's tragic enough that 17-year-old Carver Briggs's friends Mars, Eli and Blake were killed in a driving-while-texting car accident, but Carver feels responsible: it was his text that Mars was responding to when the accident happened. ("Where are you guys? Text me back.") Wracked with grief, terrified by the potential lawsuit against him and bewildered by his new closeness with Jesmyn, Eli's girlfriend, Carver is foundering: "I once thought heartbreak was akin to contracting a cold or becoming pregnant. It only comes one at a time." But it turns out your "love heart, separate from your grieving heart, or your guilt heart, or your fear heart" can all be broken in their own way.

When Blake's grandmother asks Carver to take part in a "goodbye day" with her--a chance to do all the things they imagine Blake might have wanted to do on his last day--a seed is planted. Carver begins to wonder if it wouldn't be helpful for each of the three grieving families to have a goodbye day to help them move forward.

In his gorgeous, devastating YA novel, Jeff Zentner (The Serpent King) explores the tormented inner life of a teenager in crisis. Although many will never experience tragedy on the scale Carver does, virtually everyone at some point goes through the kind of hardship that can drive a person deeply inward. With the help of a caring, funny therapist, memories of his sweet, smart and goofy friends, and Jesmyn, Carver struggles to find a way out of pure despair by recognizing that the living "still have to live." --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Seventeen-year-old Carver grapples with grief, guilt, fear and love in this exquisite and tragic YA novel by Jeff Zentner, author of The Serpent King.

Crown, $17.99, hardcover, 416p., ages 14-up, 9780553524062


by Joyce Sidman, illus. by Taeeun Yoo

The simplest things can bring the greatest pleasure, as small children know intuitively. Newbery Honor poet Joyce Sidman (Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night; Winter Bees) and illustrator Taeeun Yoo (Tua and the Elephant) understand this, too, as reflected in their exquisite, perfectly square book about round things. A dark-haired little girl who favors polka-dotted overalls and bare feet (or pink flowered boots) talks about the many wonderful, almost magical attributes of her favorite shape: "I love when round things/ pop up quickly... / and last only a moment," she says, while blowing bubbles in a meadow. And, while counting rings on a tree stump and finding eensy ladybug eggs on a leaf: "I love round things when they're hidden/ and you have to discover them./ Some hold secrets inside./ Some are almost too tiny to see." She even finds herself: "I can be round, too... / in a circle of friends/ with no one left out./ Or, I can curl by myself/ in a warm, round ball."

Yoo's artwork in Round--mixed media with printed texture--is full of warm reds and yellows and soft blues and greens. A white duck, a spotted dog and a man--perhaps her dad--accompany the sphere-seeking girl on every outdoor adventure. Young readers will love finding the round things on each spread: a sunflower's center, a balloon, spots on mushrooms, spirals on a turtle's back. Encircled in her father's arms, the girl completes the cycle with the same words she started with: "I love round things." An author's note explains why so much in nature is round. Lovely. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This early-concept book about "roundness" by Newbery Honor author Joyce Sidman will charm readers just starting to grapple with shapes.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-7, 9780544387614


Always by My Side: Life Lessons from Millie and All the Dogs I've Loved

by Edward Grinnan

In Always by My Side, Edward Grinnan--editor-in-chief of Guideposts, a magazine filled with affirming, life-changing stories of faith--details the years he has shared with a host of dogs that have enriched his complicated life. Grinnan, a recovering addict, believes God sent dogs to guide his way "from the darkness that once threatened to swallow" him.

The narrative, which is heartfelt and candid, centers on Millie--a much-loved and highly sensitive golden retriever--who is riddled with foibles, yet demonstrates courage, even through illness. Along the way of telling her story, Grinnan recounts his relationships with other unforgettable dogs, often in times of adversity: Sparky, an "unruly, errant beagle"--Grinnan's sister's dog--offered him companionship during an infirm childhood in Detroit; Pierre was a smart poodle that comforted him after his older brother, a 12-year-old with Down syndrome, mysteriously drowned in a Michigan lake; Sally Browne--an egotistical yet sweet cocker spaniel--demonstrated pure compassion, especially for the homeless; Marty, an enormous, "crazed" Labrador, crashed a Central Park wedding; and Rudy, "a big burly cocker spaniel," shared in Grinnan's quest for sobriety and served as a "divinely dispatched matchmaker" in his union with wife Julee.

"Sometimes God shouts, sometimes he whispers, and sometimes he sends a woof," Grinnan (The Promise of Hope) states, as his great affection and gratitude for dogs, especially Millie, teaches him personal and universal lessons about love, life and letting go. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A dog lover shares stories about unforgettable canines that have offered him companionship, adventure and life lessons.

Howard Books/Simon & Schuster, $24.99, hardcover, 288p., 9781501156380

Gizelle's Bucket List: My Life with a Very Large Dog

by Lauren Fern Watt

"I guess when you bring a dog into your life, you are setting yourself up for heartbreak, aren't you? Sure, you will most likely have to say good-bye and it will be the saddest day ever, but it's so worth it," Lauren Fern Watt learns through the unconditional love of her 160-pound, English mastiff best friend, Gizelle.

Nineteen-year-old Watt and her mother buy Gizelle as a not-so-little puppy on a whim one weekend. Gizelle's ever-growing size isn't an issue while Watt is in college near home in Tennessee. But when Watt--who habitually keeps lists in her journals--decides she's going to cross off a goal by moving to New York City with her giant best friend, life becomes much more challenging. Through tiny apartments, a boyfriend, her mother's addiction, even their jaunt on a Halloween costume contest runway, the pair navigate life in the city that never sleeps.

Gizelle's Bucket List is more of a before-the-bucket-list story, but the last third focuses on the tragic news of the Gizelle's cancer diagnosis and list Watt creates to ensure her friend experiences as much life as possible in her remaining days. Anyone who's ever loved a pet will identify with the humor that fills one's heart to overflowing and the devastation that breaks it into a million pieces. Watt articulates those emotions with raw authenticity and honesty. She will undoubtedly have readers scribbling their own pets' bucket lists before they even reach the end of this touching memoir. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: When a young woman learns her dog has cancer, they set off on a bucket-list adventure to make the most of their time together.

Simon & Schuster, $24.99, hardcover, 256p., 9781501123658

The Education of Will: A Mutual Memoir of a Woman and Her Dog

by Patricia B. McConnell

Conventional wisdom says that a pet's affection has healing powers. Professional dog behaviorist Patricia B. McConnell (The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs) knew and loved many canines before she met Will. While helping him overcome his anxieties, she identified and subdued her own. In the style of H Is for Hawk and Dog Medicine, The Education of Will: A Mutual Memoir of a Woman and Her Dog is an eloquent story of how the bond between human and animal uncovered the connection between McConnell and her deepest self.

Her zoology degree led to her studies of animal behavior, specifically how shepherds communicate with their working dogs. Eventually she co-founded a business helping dogs with behavior issues, relishing "acting as a translator between members of two different species." As her memoir opens, McConnell recalls choosing Will, the black-and-white fluff ball who would join three other dogs on her Wisconsin farm. He looked at her with "soft, radiant eyes," as if asking a question. "Somehow it seemed imperative that I find the answer," she writes. Will was sweet and responsive, yet excessively fearful of other dogs and sudden noises. "Willie desperately needed to feel safe and secure. The thing was, so did I."

Human and border collie lead each other to peace. Through eloquent parallel stories, McConnell reveals her history of severe trauma and her patient and professional handling of Will's behaviors. The Education of Will is part testimony to the pair's healing process and part instruction guide to animal communication, with advice on how to listen and soothe your best friend. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: An animal behaviorist's memoir parallels her healing from multiple traumas as she patiently leads her beloved border collie to overcome his fears.

Atria, $26, hardcover, 288p., 9781501150159

Performing Arts

High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic

by Glenn Frankel

Film buffs and history aficionados will be delighted and riveted by Glenn Frankel's insightful and intimate look at the making of the classic 1952 western High Noon. Most remember the unconventional and left-leaning western as the film that won Gary Cooper a Best Actor Academy Award. Few remember that it was made at the height of the Red Scare in Hollywood, when hundreds of studio employees were blacklisted out of jobs because of their liberal politics. Carl Foreman's award-winning screenplay was an allegory about American foreign policy during the Korean War and a swipe at the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Frankel (The Searchers) rightfully focuses on Foreman as the hero behind High Noon. He wrote the script after his 1947 appearance before HUAC, where he refused to name suspected Communists. Foreman was labeled an uncooperative witness and, after the release of his film, was blacklisted from films until 1961. His presence on High Noon strained relationships with its producer (Stanley Kramer) and director (Fred Zinnemann). It also made the film a target of some of the loudest right-wing hawks in Hollywood--like columnist Hedda Hopper and actor John Wayne.

Frankel's saga presents a gripping and coherent picture of the corrupt politics, paranoia and fear mongering that drove Hollywood studio heads to capitulate to anti-Communist witch-hunters. High Noon is an important and compelling history of a great film made during one of the U.S.'s worst periods. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Glenn Frankel creates a fascinating and definitive portrait of the left-leaning western High Noon during the height of the McCarthy blacklist era.

Bloomsbury, $28, hardcover, 400p., 9781620409480



by Layli Long Soldier

In this searching, plaintive poetry collection, Native American poet Layli Long Soldier digs deep into the often unseen strata of language, history and identity. Whereas beautifully upends poetic forms to summon a powerful voice hidden in the interstices.

Long Soldier is a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation. Her poems confront the dual existence of those Americans belonging to a culture predating European colonialism. They address atrocities and injustices perpetrated against indigenous peoples and the duplicity of the American government in officially "apologizing" for historical wrongs. In fact, the collection's title refers to the government's self-indemnifying legalese, perhaps nowhere more conspicuous than in repeated use of the conjunction "whereas."

To break through such jargon, Long Soldier unleashes fierce poetic energy. While it manifests in experimentation with shape and punctuation--forcing attention to the bright lacunae of a page and alternately to isolated words in all their gravid peculiarity--it also produces cadences and images of breathtaking clarity: "Whereas since the moment had passed I accept what's done and the knife of my conscience/ slices with bone-clean self-honesty."
These poems are haunted by what Long Soldier describes as the "meta-phrasal ache of being language poor." Exploring this ache--and delving into the instability of linguistic meaning and identity--she is able to create a surprisingly positive argument for poetry as a way to fill the philosophic void and provide spiritual restitution. "My hope: my daughter understands wholeness for/ what it is, not for what it's not, all of it     the pieces." --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author

Discover: Layli Long Soldier's debut poetry collection stands as a remarkable achievement of artistic innovation and personal revelation.

Graywolf Press, $16, paperback, 114p., 9781555977672

Love's Last Number

by Christopher Howell

Christopher Howell (Gaze) demonstrates the imagination of a fabulist and the intellect of a philosopher in his richly contemplative poetry collection Love's Last Number.

The pieces are compiled in three thematic sections exploring recurring themes of love, loss, death and divinity. Howell was a military journalist in the Vietnam War, and his experience shows in a number of poems about historical conflicts and the ghostly legacies of refugees, soldiers and others lost in the machinations of history. In "Tin Soldiers," a prisoner of war about to be executed beautifully describes "the drenched butterfly of my hope/ wandering in circles."

It is this eloquent imagism that gives such power to Howell's poems. His metaphors are deceptively simple. Nowhere is this talent more evident than in the way Howell addresses the existence of God. "God is a tree on the moon/ inside us," he writes in "Reflection Upon Psalm 121." Neither trying to prove nor deny the existence of a deity, he arouses a wistful agnosticism in which the wonder of all possibilities is in itself divine. In the collection's titular poem, Howell settles on a basic metaphysic of love that resonates for the ages: "But love/ burns without consuming and weighs nothing."

Love's Last Number showcases a visionary mind and serves as a testament to the power of imagination in connecting human beings to each other. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author.

Discover: A former war journalist's elegant and profound poems use awe-inspiring imagery to answer some of the greatest questions of human existence.

Milkweed Editions, $16, paperback, 96p., 9781571314758

Incendiary Art

by Patricia Smith

If there were any question whether Patricia Smith (Blood Dazzler) is one of the best poets working in the United States today, her powerful collection Incendiary Art answers with the full force of veritable genius.

Rooted in the contemporary African American experience and revolving around historical incidents of violence against black men and black children, Incendiary Art sets the conscience on fire. Smith employs a dazzling array of poetic forms--from the formal sonnet to the free-flowing prose poem--and an arsenal of stark and sublime images to convey the perspectives of countless victims of police brutality and racial violence. Victims and their family members get a voice in these poems--and at one point, in a brilliant twist, the gun used in a crime does, too. Smith leaves no angle overlooked, no point of view forgotten, in what becomes a thoroughly moving, multifaceted reckoning of recent history.

Yet as much as physical violence plays a central role in this collection, Smith explores the cold spaces of loss to discover warmth, human affection and some recognizable form of grace. In "Elegy," a 10-page prose poem, she searches the legacy of her murdered father and finds an almost irrational, abiding love, one that "breaks and breaks and rearranges," born of little more than "your sweet inability to put me down." Even in this most personal of poems, Smith has a way of imbuing lines with historical significance. She imagines her own infant body as "holding/ the whole promise of north in your grasp." --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist and fiction author

Discover: This bold, provocative and cathartic collection produces a vital poetics of social conscience.

TriQuarterly/Northwestern Univ. Press, $18.95, paperback, 144p., 9780810134331

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé

by Morgan Parker

"Okay so I'm Black in America right now and I walk into a bar." This is classic Morgan Parker (Other People's Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night), who tackles weighty issues with deft wit and powerful candor, as in this wry line from the first poem in There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, Parker's insightful and irreverent collection of poetry exploring race, sex, womanhood and popular culture.

Parker's poems turn a sharp eye toward a broad collage of subjects, including her muse Beyoncé, the Obamas and historical figures like the so-called Hottentot Venus. Topical references abound, as do nods to other poets. Her pop-culture reimagining "Freaky Friday Starring Beyoncé and Lady Gaga" precedes a riff on Wallace Stevens in "13 Ways of Looking at a Black Girl." In "We Don't Know When We Were Opened (or, The Origin of the Universe)," Parker echoes Gwendolyn Brooks: "We better homes and gardens./ We real grown. We garden of soiled panties."

Parker borrows one poem's title from Beyoncé's husband, Jay-Z, "99 Problems," compiling a literal problem list. Among them: "16. Oppression," "36-42. American History" and "86. My dog eats a lipstick." Parker uses her signature humor throughout, but the laughs are never cheap; the stakes are too high. Parker begins "White Beyoncé" with the droll introduction "Sneezed on the beat/ and blessed herself," but slays in the closing lines: "Her daughter learns about beauty/ Discovers nothing surprising."

This collection pairs well with Beyoncé's music, but Parker's poems sing just as impressively unaccompanied. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: Parker's bold, brilliant and biting poetry explores race, sex and womanhood in contemporary culture.

Tin House Books, $14.95, paperback, 80p., 9781941040539


Kids Buzz


by Barbara Dee

Dear Reader,

Here's Gail Carson Levine (Ella Enchanted) on STAR-CROSSED: "Star-Crossed delighted me! Barbara Dee has a light touch and a pitch-perfect middle school voice." And Donna Gephart (Lily and Dunkin): "Star-Crossed takes...Romeo and Juliet and transforms (it) perfectly to the middle school stage."

STAR-CROSSED is a gentle comedy about a girl crushing on the girl playing Juliet.  Kirkus Reviews calls STAR-CROSSED "a sweet story of young love amid middle school theatrics."

Email to enter to win a free copy!

Happy reading!

Barbara Dee


Buy this book

KidsBuzz: Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee


PUB DATE: March 14, 2017

AGE RANGE: 9 to 13

TYPE OF BOOK: Middle Grade Fiction

ISBN: 9781481478489

PRICE: $16.99


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