We Kiss Them with Rain
by Futhi Ntshingila
Fourteen-year-old Mvelo lives in a squatter town on the outskirts of Durban, South Africa, amid "the chaos of human lives engaged in surviving anew every day." She is pregnant after an unwanted sexual encounter with a traveling minister. Her mother is dying of AIDS. These are the facts of Mvelo's life, and in a different storyteller's hands, they could easily result in a story without hope. But for Futhi Ntshingila, "someone with nothing to lose has a chance to arm-wrestle with God, and maybe to win."
This "maybe" is the heart of We Kiss Them With Rain, Ntshingila's third novel. Mvelo never knows if she will win or not, but throughout this slim but powerful novel, she takes chances and pushes forward on the assumption that maybe, just maybe, she can. A series of coincidences and hidden identities that rival a Shakespearean comedy dapple the bleak landscape of Mvelo's life with spots of humor and moments of love. Her story is not about endurance or even survival, though of course she must do both things at far too young an age. It is a story about joy and hope and courage, and what it means to lift up others and be lifted oneself, and how one young girl found her voice in a world seemingly determined to take it away. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: In this fable-like novella, a young girl fights for the life she wants against the backdrop of AIDS and poverty in modern-day South Africa.
paperback, 172p., 9781946395047
The Italian Teacher
by Tom Rachman
Canadian-English author Tom Rachman (The Rise and Fall of Great Powers) writes narratives that crisscross the globe. The Italian Teacher is a bittersweet novel that brings to mind Rachman's fellow Canadian Robertson Davies. It begins in 1950s Rome, then hops back and forth across the Atlantic as it follows the life of a man on the edge of greatness.
Charles "Pinch" Bavinsky grows up in Rome as the son of Bear Bavinsky, a prominent American avant-garde painter in the early 20th century, and Natalie, an aspiring artist whose life and work are put on hold by Bear's overwhelming personality and the demands of motherhood. As his parents' relationship collapses, Pinch begins to find his own artistic voice, learning from his capricious father and devoted mother as he attempts to make his own way. But The Italian Teacher is ultimately about failure: Pinch's dreams, sabotaged by himself and others, never come to fruition. The novel examines how Pinch deals with those failures, how they shape his life and how he, through his own acts of sabotage, comes to make peace with them.
Readers may finish The Italian Teacher feeling wistful and nostalgic, a high mark for any book, and that is proof of Rachman's talent. Pinch is more than just a vessel where the novelist can examine art from the mid-20th century. His losses and compromises with reality leave the reader with a pang for what might have been. This book is a wonderful, heartbreaking read. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: Tom Rachman's The Italian Teacher is a heartbreaking look at promise and failure.
hardcover, 352p., 9780735222694
by Bruce Holbert
Being an adult is hard for many, impossible for some. The White family of Grand Coulee, Wash., falls near the hopeless end of the spectrum, their lives running to violence, booze, estrangement and recklessness. This is the focus of Whiskey, told with a strong hand by Bruce Holbert (The Hour of Lead, Lonesome Animals), who infuses the upbringing of brothers Andre and Smoker with just enough humor to bridge the hard stuff.
Told in three alternating time periods, the novel begins in August 1991 with "Exodus," which finds the Whites on ever-diverging paths. Andre's marriage is ending, his parents are aging far from gracefully and Smoker's daughter needs rescuing, setting the brothers off on a road trip involving a mysterious preacher and a bear lured from a tree with a picnic ham tied to a rope.
As the brothers discuss life, love, blame and shame, Holbert takes readers through five decades of family saga--sections "Genesis" and "Lamentations." The meeting and courtship of matriarch Peg (a hell-raiser who "could put a year's living into a long weekend") and Pork (who would maim for her) begins when "they took the wrong turn that was each other" and lived life with a full head of booze-fueled steam.
Andre and Smoker's childhood is bleak, ducking thrown dishes just a normal day's calisthenics. Holbert's descriptions and dialogue, however, are to be savored, particularly as the brothers struggle to come to terms with their destructive past and accept who they have become. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: A biting yet often comic saga of a central Washington family who wrestle with their demons, each other and those around them over five tumultuous decades.
MCD/Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
hardcover, 272p., 9780374289188
by Wendell Steavenson
Paris Metro by Wendell Steavenson (Circling the Square) is sophisticated novel in both its politics and its treatment of the family drama at its heart. Like Steavenson, her protagonist, Catherine ("Kit") Kittredge, is a journalist who's spent most of her professional life traveling from one hot spot to another around the world. While in Baghdad following the U.S. invasion in 2003, she meets and eventually weds Ahmed Solemani, the son of a murdered Iraqi diplomat, whose ambition is matched only by his penchant for concealment. Kit undergoes an express conversion to Islam solely for the purpose of their marriage, and a short time later discovers her husband will be bringing a son from his first marriage--the boy Kit calls "Little Ahmed"--into the relationship.
The ill-matched pairing predictably falters and fails, and Kit finds herself in Paris with Little Ahmed in the fateful year of 2015--bracketed by the terrorist attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, to which she has a deeply personal connection, and the mass killings centered on the Bataclan theater. Kit's despair over these events is heightened by her fear that her adopted son, now 13 years old, is falling under the influence of a radical imam.
Steavenson thoughtfully portrays Kit's growing distress. By the novel's climax, events have moved Kit closer to a more sophisticated understanding of the dangers in an early-21st-century world, but Steavenson never suggests there will be any easy solutions to these conflicts. Fans of work by Graham Greene or John le Carré will find much to admire in the engrossing Paris Metro. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer
Discover: The political and the personal intertwine in this story of a journalist struggling to bridge the divide between Islam and the West.
hardcover, 384p., 9780393609783
by Jonathan Evison
Mike Muñoz, the endearing protagonist of Lawn Boy, Jonathan Evison's fifth novel (West of Here, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving), is 22 and lives in a trailer on the rez in Suquamish, on Puget Sound. His chain-smoking mother works double shifts at the Tide's Inn while Mike babysits Nate, his developmentally disabled big brother, and spends his spare time reading books like The Octopus and The Jungle.
He works for a lawn service and loves his job--fresh air and satisfaction. He's also something of a savant with topiary. On Tuesdays, the company goes to Bainbridge Island--home to the wealthy and sheltered. Mike's boss sends him to the McClures to clean up their St. Bernard's dumps. It quickly goes to sh*t, so to say, and Mike is fired.
Arrayed against him is a culture of poverty. He finds several new jobs, none of which work out. His mower gets stolen, his truck breaks down permanently, he loses a bit of his soul working for a real estate hustler.
Lawn Boy is empathetic and angry in its portrayal of class, poverty, discrimination--destroyers of dreams. But Mike perseveres--"I had poetry in my heart, goddammit"--and learns to blaze his own trail. He "gets his mow on"; he even finds unexpected true love. In Evison's tough and wry novel, Mike Muñoz is every person who wants a living wage and a little dignity, "the opportunity to think beyond sustenance long enough to dream." --Marilyn Dahl
Discover: Jonathan Evison has written a fierce and funny novel about a young man's attempts to transcend class and poverty.
hardcover, 320p., 9781616202620
Every Note Played
by Lisa Genova
Lisa Genova, novelist and neuroscientist, has a gift for telling accessible stories about complex maladies and their victims. Still Alice explored early-onset Alzheimer's; in Left Neglected, a high-achieving woman suffers a brain injury. In Every Note Played, celebrated classical pianist Richard denies his diagnosis of ALS, until he sits at his Steinway and "the keys want to be caressed, the relationship ready and available to him, but he can't respond, and this is suddenly the cruelest moment of his life." Having chosen performing over his marriage and his daughter, Richard's tragedy is multiple; he suffers alone. Genova alternates Richard's chapters with Karina's, his ex-wife who sacrificed her rising career as a jazz pianist and deferred to Richard's relocations and touring. Richard is unfaithful; Karina grows bitter and vindictive.
Three years after their separation, as he becomes too disabled to live alone, she reluctantly takes him into her home. Their relationship is frosty; she cares for him but both rue their situation. However, as they each reflect on what led to their estrangement, the reader learns that Karina is not blameless. As Richard moves toward his inevitable death, they both hope for forgiveness and redemption.
Genova unsparingly details the tragedy of ALS. But she includes the beauty and joy of Richard and Karina's lives in music, balancing the horrific with the uplifting. Every Note Played is the story of a marriage, as well as a hard-hitting primer on a disease. She includes links to her website and "Readers in Action: ALS," and urges readers to learn more. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: A divorced couple reluctantly reunites when one learns he is dying of ALS.
hardcover, 320p., 9781476717807
The Recipe Box
by Viola Shipman
Nourishment--especially of the heart and soul--forms the basis of The Recipe Box, a moving novel about the inextricable bonds of family by Viola Shipman (pen name for Wade Rouse). The story is a multi-generational chronicle of the Mullins family of Suttons Bay, Mich., and their agricultural orchard nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Samantha "Sam" Nelson was given her great-great-grandmother's recipe box at age 13. After high school, she chooses to leave the Mullins Family Orchard and Pie Pantry and attend culinary school. She later takes a job at a Manhattan bakery run by a demeaning reality TV chef. At work, she is befriended by Angelo Morelli, a young man who delivers organic produce to the bakery and is trying, like Sam, to chart his own path. When Sam loses her job, she retreats to the family orchard to reassess her life. There, she gains a new appreciation for the long-held family business and the cherished wisdom of her ancestors. But when Angelo arrives for a visit, Sam is torn between staying at the orchard or returning to the New York culinary scene.
Shipman (The Charm Bracelet) traces more than a century of Mullins family history, showing how the orchard--and those who passionately tended to it--evolved and endured. The inclusion of scrumptious recipes sweeten this wholesome story where food and baking become acts of love. Shipman has sensitively crafted another tender, deeply resonant novel that readers can savor. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: The history of a family-run orchard and pie shop enlightens a young pastry chef as she re-evaluates her own life.
Thomas Dunne Books,
hardcover, 336p., 9781250146779
The Life to Come
by Michelle de Kretser
Michelle de Kretser's virtuosic novel The Life to Come labors quietly to find genuine human connection in a superficial and alienating world.
De Kretser (Questions of Travel) is a Sri Lankan-born Australian writer who has an extraordinary talent for both satire and impressionism. The Life to Come is a modern-day mosaic that follows multiple Australians in Sydney and abroad in Paris, as well as immigrants with roots in Sri Lanka. Three characters stand out: Celeste imagines a more fuller life with her Parisian lover, while Pippa tries desperately to make her mark as a writer among Sydney's upper-crust literati. Christabel, Pippa's neighbor, is a Sri Lankan immigrant who searches for consolation after her lifelong friend and roommate, Bunty, dies.
By turns acerbic and evocative, de Kretser's prose works like acid to melt away perceived realities until her characters are baffled by more fundamental truths beneath the surface. The surface dissolved most efficiently is that of white luxury liberalism. Pippa espouses multicultural views and takes great pains to advertise her own virtue on social media, while treating minorities in real life with paternalistic disdain. The most disturbing scene shows Pippa posting tweets in support of her Muslim friend Rashida, while fantasizing about the woman's death because of the attention she's received from family members, including Pippa's husband. In counterpoint to this hypocrisy stands the fortifying journey of Christabel, who in "one stark, superb gesture" dispenses with Pippa's façade and claims her own life.
At one point in the novel, the characters discuss the "ethics of possibility," what the new world may look like by way of globalization and changing attitudes. In its last pages, The Life to Come intimates an era of hope. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: In this superbly written novel, Michelle de Kretser examines multiculturalism in Australia and abroad.
hardcover, 352p., 9781936787821
I'll Be Your Blue Sky
by Marisa de los Santos
Clare Hobbes believes in love: in fierce devotion and steadfast kindness. She's grown up surrounded by deep love--from her mother, her almost-mother, Cornelia, and the jumbled but joyous family they began constructing together in Marisa de los Santos's debut novel, Love Walked In. Now, as a young woman on the cusp of marriage, Clare finds herself facing a wrenching decision about whom, and how, to love. In her fifth novel for adults, I'll Be Your Blue Sky, de los Santos weaves Clare's story together with that of Edith Herron.
Days before her wedding, Clare meets Edith, an elderly woman whose wise counsel and compassion give Clare the strength to break off her engagement. Several weeks later, Clare learns that Edith has left her a house--Blue Sky Cottage--with a mystery attached. Captivated by the house itself and intrigued by the photos (taken by Edith) adorning its walls, Clare begins digging into the woman's background with the help of her best friend, Dev. The two trace Edith's movements all along the mid-Atlantic coast and back up to the Canadian border, while Clare struggles to navigate the shifting geography of her own heart. As de los Santos's two narratives unfold side by side, readers can see two brave women, decades apart, struggle to do the right thing for themselves and for those they love.
Tender and insightful, I'll Be Your Blue Sky is a richly layered story that will nourish both longtime and new readers of de los Santos's work. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Marisa de los Santos's fifth novel is a mystery, a love story and a captivating narrative of two strong women.
hardcover, 320p., 9780062431936
Speak No Evil
by Uzodinma Iweala
Uzodinma Iweala, author of the critically acclaimed Beasts of No Nation (made into a Netflix film), has written another brief but powerful novel, Speak No Evil. It focuses on two wealthy teen friends from different backgrounds in Washington, D.C.
Niru and Meredith are best friends who are both on the track team at an exclusive private school. Niru is the school's track star, and has already been accepted to Harvard to pursue a medical degree. Meredith is also an excellent runner and a good student, but she is worried that she hasn't yet heard back from Harvard. Both teens struggle with expectations set by their high-achieving parents to be the best, to follow the paths set for them and to fit within the cultural norms of their class.
Niru is hiding a secret, though: he has begun to realize that he's gay. His Nigerian immigrant parents are deeply religious and traditional, and being gay definitely does not fit into their aspirations for him. He finally confesses his secret to Meredith, and she encourages him to follow and not deny his true nature. Afterward, a series of incidents eventually leads to tragedy, amid Niru's immense struggle between his nature and his parents' beliefs.
The story is told from both friends' perspectives and touches on issues of tolerance, immigration, religion and violence. This succinct and potent novel explores the gut-wrenching struggle of defining yourself against the expectations of family and society. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and author of Book By Book blog
Discover: The powerful, heartbreaking story of a gay teen and his best friend, both struggling with the expectations of their families and society.
hardcover, 224p., 9780061284922
by Chelsey Johnson
Andrea Morales, self-described member of the "Lesbian Mafia," is having an illicit affair. With a straight man. This simple construct provides the jumping-off point of Chelsey Johnson's Stray City, which explores the many ways friendship, love and sex intersect--and the many ways they do not.
Stray City is not built on a fast-moving plot: Andrea (Andy, to her friends) starts her affair with Ryan. She continues her affair with Ryan. She keeps the affair a secret. She questions what the affair means to her, but also what it means to her identity, to her queerness, to the life she has made for herself in Portland. The slow build of Johnson's debut is its best feature, giving Johnson space to explore not only the affair, but how it impacts Andy and the family she has found in Portland. Andy's reflections kaleidoscope inwards and outwards, filling the pages of Stray City with a cast of perfectly imperfect characters. Collectively, this group brings to life a specific place and time--queer, woman-centric, late-'90s Portland--in a way that is at once specific to that moment and yet universal in its truths: we are individuals and lovers and friends and family, and sometimes those things are the same and sometimes they are at odds.
Johnson writes with an energy and emotional intelligence that is at once unapologetic in its honesty and yet tender in its delivery of it. Stray City is a love letter to community, to a nostalgia-inducing era of Portland history, and to anyone who has ever gone looking for one's self and found it in an unlikely place. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: A self-identified member of the "lesbian mafia" has an unexpected affair with a man, forcing her--and her community--to contemplate love, family and belonging in challenging ways.
hardcover, 432p., 9780062666680
Let's No One Get Hurt
by Jon Pineda
"I know I'm not a woman yet. But I'm also not a girl. I'm a poem no one will ever translate." With Let's No One Get Hurt, Jon Pineda (Apology) offers a wild, yearning, strong-willed protagonist and a novel with both tenderness and violence at its core. Pearl lives in an abandoned boathouse with her father and two other adult men. Dox and Fritter are father and son, and they form a family of sorts, subsisting on catfish and crayfish from the river, mushrooms and wild rice from the woods and building scraps from the wealthy subdivision nearby.
Pearl's coming-of-age and her troubled liaison with the upper-class boys who live in the development near her makeshift home define the novel's timeline. As she grows up, her old dog, Marianne Moore, is dying. Her father, a former poetry professor who named the dog after one of his favorite subjects, also suffers from increasingly poor health. Fritter paints a never-ending mural of pitch black, and Dox noodles on his cigar-box guitar.
Pearl's mother was a scholar who said that "poems were never finished, that they were only abandoned." Pearl likes to think that maybe all abandoned things are poems. She lives in an abandoned place; maybe she lives inside a poem.
Let's No One Get Hurt is thick with the lush warmth of the American South and the harshness of a life scavenged out-of-doors, and Pineda's teenaged girl's perspective is spot-on. This novel of exploration, exploitation and the poetry in it all will stun readers of all kinds, especially those who appreciate strong characters and tough choices. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: A teenaged squatter with a poet's heart and a stolen fly-fishing rod struggles to map her own way.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
hardcover, 256p., 9780374185244
The Last Watchman of Old Cairo
by Michael David Lukas
Based partly on historical accounts, The Last Watchman of Old Cairo by Michael David Lukas (The Oracle of Stamboul) chronicles a Muslim family's unusual bond with a Jewish synagogue.
Around 1000 CE, "when Cairo was still two cities and the Jews but a tribe among them," a Muslim orphan named Ali becomes watchman of Ibn Ezra synagogue, a recently vandalized Jewish temple. One of his chief duties is protecting the Ezra Scroll, a perfect, magical Torah scroll. Though Ali intends to serve faithfully, disastrous temptation awaits. Almost 900 years later, two wealthy British sisters who study ancient texts visit Ali's descendant Muhammad al-Raqb, desperate to find the Ezra Scroll before con men steal it. In the present day, Berkeley literature student Joseph al-Raqb goes to Cairo on impulse following the death of his father, Ahmed, the last watchman of Ibn Ezra. Raised in America by his Jewish mother, Joseph searches for the truth behind family legend, guided by a framed fragment of an ancient letter suggesting a boy named Ali receive a job as watchman of Ibn Ezra.
A coming-of-age story spanning several ages, Lukas's desert outing soars thanks to its themes of inclusion and forgiveness. Deceptively brief, The Last Watchman of Old Cairo charms with its cast of misfits and lost souls who find their way with the dream of the Ezra Scroll to guide them. Lukas's warm, thoughtful prose has a wry undercurrent steering it clear of the maudlin. Sweet yet melancholy, this romantic gem weighs little but invites deep discussion. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager, main branch, Dayton Metro Library
Discover: A modern-day son of the Muslim watchmen who guarded a Jewish synagogue for over a thousand years learns of his family's history.
Spiegel & Grau,
hardcover, 288p., 9780399181160
by Jennifer Clement
Pearl has spent her entire life residing in a 1994 Mercury, in the visitor's lot of a Florida trailer park. Her teenage runaway mother parked the car, intending to stay temporarily. More than a decade later, the two still call the Mercury home. Pearl lives in the front seat and her mother in the back. Neither is unhappy with their situation, and their love for each other is unconditionally strong. Pearl attends school but has few friends. Her mother is all she needs--until Eli arrives.
The gun culture in Florida has always surrounded mother and daughter, but with the advent of Eli, it permeates the quiet safety of the sedan home and changes the entire trajectory of the pair's life.
Jennifer Clement's (Prayers for the Stolen) enchantingly poetic novel about family, love and resilience is plopped down in the midst of the debate about guns in the U.S. All around Pearl and her mother, people covet their firearms. The juxtaposition of these powerful themes, reflected subtly in the book's title, will strike readers forcefully, as will Clement's breathtaking use of language and imagery. Her sparse, well-chosen words have the force of a fired bullet: "I knew he was not a strong white flag of a person but was put together with scraps of Scotch tape and a few staples and glue."
Gun Love's ammunition piles up: dynamic, tragic characters, Pearl's strong voice, and a sense of place so acute, readers will cringe from the stench of the nearby dump. Clement has definitely hit the mark with Gun Love. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: A young girl and her mother live in their car, surrounded by a community in love with guns, until a man walks into their lives and changes everything.
hardcover, 256p., 9781524761684
Anatomy of a Miracle
by Jonathan Miles
Cameron Harris, the protagonist of Jonathan Miles's third novel (after Dear American Airlines and Want Not), is in need of a miracle. And Anatomy of a Miracle is the funny, clever, moving story of this Biloxi, Miss., vet who returns from Afghanistan paralyzed from the waist down.
On a trip to the Biz-E-Bee convenience store for cigarettes and beer under the watchful eye of his mouthy sister, Tanya, Cameron's four years in a wheelchair come to an abrupt end when a surge from within propels him upright and walking. Told in a long-journalism format, Anatomy of a Miracle reconstructs this inexplicable medical event from the before to the more bizarre after. It is a remarkable combination of medical mystery, satire and war story.
An odd place for a miracle, the rundown Mississippi Gulf resort town of Biloxi "doesn't mind the smell of fish guts." When word of Cameron's recovery spreads, the town is swarmed with religious kooks and pilgrims. While Miles can be canny and hilarious about the absurdities of all this miracle whoop-de-do, he also steps back to explore what it might mean if one's life were suddenly changed from hopeless dependency to the freedom to be "normal" again. Although he gets a miracle he never expected, Cameron finds that a return to normalcy is not all it's cracked up to be. After the laughs subside, Anatomy of a Miracle leaves one pondering all the "what ifs" in life. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: In Jonathan Miles's third novel, a wheelchair-bound Afghan War vet stands and walks--only to find that this "miracle" has its downsides.
hardcover, 368p., 9780553447583
by Anna Quindlen
Nora Nolan loves New York and can't imagine living anywhere else. For her husband, Charlie, however, the city is "not his natural habitat," so when he scores a long-desired permanent parking space on their dead-end street, she indulges his crowing. Anna Quindlen's 10th novel, Alternate Sides, builds from this quotidian victory into a fast-paced novel of family dynamics, societal inequities and, eventually, choosing what matters most to make a satisfying life.
Nora and Charlie have an enviable city home, good jobs and loving, successful college-age twins. While Nora notes Charlie's apparent unrest with his life, overall things are good, and her career as manager of a jewelry museum and her close-knit friendships sustain her. She understands the neighbors, among them George, the self-appointed majordomo, and Jack, dour and short-tempered. All rely on Ricky, the Latino handyman who arrives in his van to fix the pipes, shovel the walks and rescue them from household emergencies. But the peace is shattered when Ricky is assaulted, apparently over a long-simmering parking conflict. Nora and Charlie argue over the incident and its investigation, illuminating their differing perspectives on life, and leading her to make dramatic choices.
Quindlen has a gift for realistic contemporary fiction; supporting characters are richly drawn and their dialogue is often humorous. ("Ice?" Nora asks her son in response to her daughter's text. "I Can't Even" he explains, teasing, "Get with the program, lady!") Quindlen captures the ambience of the city itself in countless details, and readers will appreciate Nora's affection for her New York life. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: A New York City couple faces their conflicting perspectives when a violent act shatters their peaceful neighborhood.
hardcover, 304p., 9780812996067
The Family Next Door
by Sally Hepworth
The Family Next Door, the riveting fourth novel by Sally Hepworth (The Things We Keep), starts with Essie leaving baby Mia at a park while she goes to get a coffee and heads home by herself. Three years later, after a short stint in a psychiatric hospital to treat the related mental breakdown, she and her husband are glad to have added another daughter. They're even happier that Essie's mother, Barbara, has moved in next door to help with the girls.
Fran, a lawyer and the mother of two small girls, and Ange, a successful realtor and the mother of two adolescent boys, live across from them on Pleasant Court in a small and happy corner of Melbourne, Australia. But then Isabelle moves in, single and somehow simultaneously mysterious and extremely friendly. Her arrival coincides with a seismic shift in the relationships on Pleasant Court, one that reveals shocking details about the women who live there.
Told in alternating chapters from the perspectives of the main characters, The Family Next Door is a gripping, entertaining and occasionally heartstring-tugging story. Discussing some tough themes--mental illness, infidelity, depression, gender roles--in a lighthearted way, it is hard to put down. The broiling Melbourne summer reflects the rising tension among the residents of Pleasant Court as Hepworth's story barrels toward its finale. With charming characters and shocking plot twists, this novel is not to be missed. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson
Discover: In this riveting novel, four neighbors discover shocking secrets about themselves (and each other) when a woman moves into their Melbourne cul-de-sac.
St. Martin's Press,
hardcover, 352p., 9781250120892
Pure Hollywood: And Other Stories
by Christine Schutt
Christine Schutt traffics in literary realism, but her stories are filled with ghosts. Death--past, imminent, right before our eyes--looms over most of the 11 stories in Pure Hollywood. In "A Happy Rural Seat of Various View: Lucinda's Garden," a newly married young woman accidentally kills an animal while driving a gardener's minicar; later, she disappears. In "Species of Special Concern," a man is certain that he understands a renowned lepidopterist and identifier of species better than the dying woman's husband does. In the title novella, a failed young actress, recently widowed by a decades-older comedian, loses her home to the grown children from his first marriage. Moreover, there's no scarcity of flawed parenting on parade in Pure Hollywood.
Schutt (whose novels include the seductive marital atomization Prosperous Friends and the 2009 Pulitzer Prize finalist All Souls) leavens her dispiriting subject matter with the spryest of prose, arranging words in effortlessly euphonious combinations: "Leaf-fall, stomped to leaf-meal, dusts her shoes." A cranky woman makes "tough, irritated pickax sounds with words like crap, drink, think." The mother of a baby hears "the tuneless xylophone of his bottle banged against the crib slats." Schutt's extraordinary command of language can go only so far to vitalize her wispier pieces--one is two pages long--but hardly a sentence scuds by that's not like a bloom from one of Pure Hollywood's many gardens. Of course, flowers only affirm this collection's funereal air. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: Christine Schutt's crystalline stories are written with an agility that leavens her bleak subject matter.
hardcover, 144p., 9780802127617
by Yelena Moskovich
In The Natashas, two seemingly disparate performers fall down a rabbit hole of sights and sounds that spotlight society's obsession with poisonous sexuality. César, an ambitious and talented Mexican actor, gets his big break by playing a serial killer, but his fascination with the killer's character grows dangerous. Meanwhile, the beautiful and lonely jazz singer Béatrice is captivated by a seductive, enigmatic woman named Polina, who may or may not exist completely within Béatrice's own mind. Reigning over them are the Natashas, a collection of sexually objectified mystery women who appear as both angels of meaning and harbingers of punishment.
Yelena Moskovich's debut novel reads like a montage of Kafka-esque visuals that both hypnotize and horrify their audience. While the plot rejects classic coherence, the atmosphere and tone vibrate in a reader's mind long after the story has ended. The novel isn't a detective story, per se, but the haunting images and pitch-perfect reverberations suggest a twisted noir fantasy that both unsettles and challenges the reader. The novel's most spellbinding moments, however, aren't the depictions of extravagant lust or garish physicality, but the unexpected sweetness that simple intimacy can have: for instance, when Béatrice's sister would "climb into her bed and pull her in close." Like a singer's "do-bee-do-bee-do" melody, these gentle notes soar above the piece's pointed screech. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor
Discover: The Natashas is nightmarish assemblage that uses David Lynch's aesthetics and Angela Carter's thematics to capture a terrifyingly real portrait of violent sexuality.
by Audrey Niffenegger, Eddie Campbell
Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler's Wife) once said that her book The Three Incestuous Sisters is a "novel in pictures" rather than a graphic novel. The 13 stories contained in Bizarre Romance are just that--oddly whimsical, mildly titillating and sometimes poignant tales in pictures. Co-authored and illustrated by Niffenegger's husband, Eddie Campbell (From Hell), the collection considers the wonders and horrors, banality and mystery of love and relationships in all their manifestations--romance, family, friendship and the metaphysical.
Some of the pieces are goofy. In "The Ruin of Grant Lowery," a man ends up in indentured servitude to an ocelot-juggling fairy, and in "Jakob Wywialowski and the Angels," angels are exterminated by flame-wielding pest control experts. What shines as the most memorable are the longer prose pieces--the hauntingly wistful Hurricane Katrina love letter in "Girl on a Roof"; the isolation of success and the desire to connect in "Secret Life, with Cats"; Niffenegger's thought-provoking meditation on religion and art in "The Church of the Funnies."
Campbell lightly illustrates longer prose pieces with simple pen-and-ink sketches. On more comics-driven stories, he uses a more contemporary style. Photographic play on "Motion Studies: Getting Out of Bed" especially stands out.
Perhaps the artistic vision expressed in "The Church of the Funnies" explains the manner in which Niffenegger and Campbell have approached their collaborative debut: "We make things to find out what they are, what they can be, what they might mean. We make things to keep us company in the world. We make things to show them to other people, because we want them to understand." --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: The collaborative debut of two storytelling masters describes love in all its beauty, ordinariness, wickedness and regret.
hardcover, 168p., 9781419728532
Heads of the Colored People
by Nafissa Thompson-Spires
Nafissa Thompson-Spires's debut collection, Heads of the Colored People, is a kaleidoscopic illumination of often neglected aspects of contemporary middle-class black life. Her stories mix gallows humor and sensitive candor with issues of psychological and physical stress, marginalization and isolation. Like counterweights in conversation, her characters internalize, react to and resist the pressures of being black in the United States, negotiating "the violence directed inside [that] mitigates the violence that comes from outside."
"Heads of the Colored People: Four Fancy Sketches, Two Chalk Outlines, and No Apology," which won StoryQuarterly's 2016 Fiction Prize, destabilizes internal and external beliefs on what constitutes "blackness" while reiterating the vulnerability of all black bodies. In the painfully comic "Belles Lettres," two status-obsessed mothers whose daughters attend a predominately white school pass increasingly vicious notes to each other via their daughters' backpacks. In "The Body's Defenses Against Itself"--only one example of Thompson-Spires's flirtation with surreal body horror--the now-grown daughter of one of the mothers in "Belles Lettres" struggles to ground herself in a traumatized and teeming body. A woman teases her suicide on social media in "Suicide, Watch," a perfect showcasing of Thompson-Spires's brilliant use of the absurd both to emphasize and alleviate the pressure of difficult issues.
The stories in Heads of the Colored People float along the tensions between devastation and humor, vulnerability and defiance, frustration and hope. It's a rare talent that can take such complicated and harrowing subjects and turn them into a refreshing and compulsive read. --Shannon Hanks-Mackey, freelance editor and managing editor at the Black Scholar
Discover: This debut collection of 11 stories illustrates modern middle-class black life with a perfect mixture of solemn intensity and dark humor.
hardcover, 224p., 9781501167997
Mystery & Thriller
American by Day
by Derek B. Miller
We called Derek B. Miller's first novel, Norwegian by Night, "moving yet never sentimental, intricate yet effortless." His second novel, The Girl in Green, "crackles with heart, charm and dark honesty." In his third, American by Day, Miller revisits a character from Norwegian, Sigrid Ødegård, with his now-expected originality and humanity.
Sigrid, an Oslo chief police inspector, travels to upstate New York to search for her brother, Marcus. He disappeared after the death of his lover a few weeks earlier; she had fallen--or was pushed--from a building soon after her young nephew had been killed by police. Further distress: she and the boy are black.
Also looking for Marcus is Sheriff Irv Wylie. He's not the simple foil for Norwegian pragmatism one would expect. He has a divinity degree, and uses it: "Corinthians Thirteen. Who knew it was actually a foundation for a solid investigative strategy in a murder case." Sigrid, for her part, is impatient with pointless American banter. Miller excels at banter, while limning characters and scenes precisely: a hotel clerk "clacked away at the keys with the lightness of Art Tatum"; a bedroom is "furnished in earth tones and shadows."
American by Day is a wise story wrapped in a mystery format, with dry wit ("So I'm feeling pretty good about things, but I'm always open to scrutiny and abuse") and a nuanced look at cultural differences. Miller dissects race, depression, politics and guns with a relevant, discerning eye. This is a novel to savor for its compassion, heart and imagination. --Marilyn Dahl
Discover: Derek B. Miller's third novel, a sequel to Norwegian by Night, is a remarkable and enjoyable story filled with wisdom, humor and grace.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,
hardcover, 352p., 9781328876652
To Die but Once
by Jacqueline Winspear
To Die but Once, the 14th installment in Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series, is set in a tense London, as England is preparing for imminent invasion. Maisie and her loyal assistant Billy are drawn into an unusual case when a local publican, Phil Coombes, comes to Maisie with concerns about his 15-year-old son, Joe. The boy was lucky enough to get a reserved job, with no fears of military service; however, Coombes senses that something is wrong with Joe, who has been complaining of terrible headaches for weeks, and who missed his usual call home.
Maisie and Billy discover Joe was working on a hush-hush contract: painting the buildings of Britain's many burgeoning airfields with fire-retardant paint. Soon after, the body of a teenage boy is found near a train station, and a mysterious black car begins following Maisie--coincidence? Adding to the stress of the case are Billy's worries about his two sons; one of whom who has joined the army already and another who wants to. Maisie also harbors concerns for Anna, the orphaned refugee girl she hopes to adopt, who's staying in the country with her parents.
With her gentle wit, Winspear aptly captures the tension of these months, as the horrible events of Dunkirk unfold, and Maisie finds herself tested to her emotional limits by the various plights of her clients, family and friends. Her empathetic nuances make To Die but Once a joy to read, in spite of its sometimes sad subject matter. Historical fiction admirers are sure to devour the latest entry in this delightful historical mystery series. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this excellent historical mystery, Maisie Dobbs investigates the death of a teenage boy as the threat of German invasion looms in Britain in the early years of World War II.
hardcover, 336p., 9780062436634
by Alan Parks
Harry McCoy grew up in a children's home, is prone to drunkenness, takes speed, likes to use his fists, romances a heroin-addicted prostitute and consorts with criminals. He has more in common with the crooks he chases than with his fellow detectives on the Glasgow Police Force.
On January 1, 1973, McCoy is summoned to Barlinnie prison by an inmate with a tip: a young waitress named Lorna will be killed the following day. Although he's on the scene on January 2, McCoy can't stop a teenager named Tommy Malone from fatally shooting Lorna and then himself at a bus station. McCoy has previously tussled with the wealthy Dunlop family, for whom Tommy was working as a groundskeeper. Now he's forced to grill Jimmy Gibbs, the former dirty cop running the Dunlop house; more gallingly, Gibbs is dating McCoy's ex. After another young woman--like Lorna, a turner of tricks--is murdered, McCoy bears down on the Dunlops, knowing full well how "bulletproof the rich really were."
Alan Parks's thrilling debut teeters on a cultural tipping point: heroin is becoming Glasgow's drug of choice, Barlinnie seems to be run by hippies, one of McCoy's love interests is an outspoken feminist, and he can't get behind the new music--embodied by the androgynous David Bowie, who makes a wordless but tasty cameo in the book. Bloody January's classic-noir feel is reinforced by McCoy's reluctance to let go of the past, no matter how badly it treated him. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: In this classic noir-flavored debut set in 1973 Glasgow, Detective Harry McCoy grapples with both a horrific crime and changing times.
paperback, 304p., 9781609454487
by Michael Farris Smith
The Fighter by Michael Farris Smith (Rivers and Desperation Road) is the story of the orphan Jack Boucher. His long road of institutions and foster homes ends on the 200 acres of the never-married Maryann, who raises him with the only love he's ever known. With few skills besides willfulness and a strong physique, Jack leaves at 17. He aims to make his way as a bare-knuckle cage fighter on the backwoods circuit filled with "men who killed dogs with other dogs." They are "a suffocating mass of the drunk and disturbed."
After some years of success, Jack sustains a massive concussion and, after self-medication with pills and booze, his battered body finally gives out. In his 40s, he drags himself back to Clarksdale to see Maryann as she lies with advanced dementia in a nursing home. Her multigenerational home is in foreclosure, and Jack owes $12,000 to the vicious local loan shark Big Momma Sweet. Good luck at a Natchez casino brings him enough to cover his nut, but bad luck rears its head when his truck crashes and the money disappears while he stumbles to get help.
Winner of the 2014 Mississippi Author Award and born in Mississippi to a Baptist minister, Smith writes with the Delta river silt and cotton fields in his blood. In the tradition of the Mississippi literature like Faulkner and Larry Brown, The Fighter is rich in character and landscape but, more insidiously, in the hard life and meager hopes of those who live there. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: The Fighter is the raw story of a broke-down Mississippi cage fighter searching for deliverance in whatever form it appears.
hardcover, 256p., 9780316432344
If I Die Tonight
by Alison Gaylin
"By the time you read this, I'll be dead," writes teenager Wade Reed on his mom's Facebook page at the start of Alison Gaylin's If I Die Tonight. Wade continues, apologizing to his mom and his younger brother: he never meant to hurt them but at 17, he believes he's already lived too long. The post says Wade is in an undisclosed location, and the pills he swallowed have started taking effect. No one would find him in time.
Cut to five days earlier. A kid at Wade's school is killed in a hit-and-run on a rainy night, while trying to help a woman being carjacked. The woman turns out to be faded pop star Aimee En, and the dead teen, Liam Miller, is declared a hero, resulting in added publicity and pressure for the carjacker to be found. As the story leads up to Wade's Facebook post, his brother Connor remembers Wade sneaking into Connor's room, dripping wet, late on the night of the crime. Then Wade asks him to dispose of a bag while making Connor promise not to look inside or tell anyone about it. Is Wade the carjacker and Liam's accidental killer?
With alternating viewpoints, Gaylin weaves a story that's gripping on multiple levels. She keeps readers on the hook with the mystery surrounding Liam's death, but also explores timely issues such as bullying and persecution in the court of public opinion. Each character is complex and achingly human, as real as people you know, in person or on Facebook. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: After a teenager dies while reportedly trying to help a carjacking victim, a schoolmate is suspected of the crime.
paperback, 384p., 9780062641090
The Temptation of Forgiveness
by Donna Leon
The Temptation of Forgiveness, the 27th novel in the Commissario Guido Brunetti series, is another compelling look at life in modern Venice. After more than 20 years on the Venetian police force, Brunetti is inured to all forms of graft and corruption, but this time even he will be surprised.
Professoressa Crosera, a university colleague of Brunetti's wife, Paola, comes to tell him that she suspects her son is doing drugs. The commissario is at a loss. Crosera refuses to tell him who she suspects is selling the drugs at her son's exclusive school, so Brunetti puts it from his mind until a week later, when the woman's husband, Tullio Gasparini, is found at the bottom of a bridge with his head smashed in.
Is there any way Gasparini could have fallen accidentally? Could it have been an attack related to the suspicion of drugs? Brunetti and his colleagues, including Commissaria Claudia Griffoni, begin to put out gentle feelers, discovering an odd connection between Gasparini and a potential fraud ring.
With underlying themes of parental concern and violence against women, The Temptation of Forgiveness is an appropriate novel in the wake of the #metoo movement, and in a world where many parents fear the terrible things that could engulf their children. The philosophical debates between Brunetti and Griffoni lend a gentle thoughtfulness to the novel, which is placed in historical context by the ancient Greeks and Romans that Brunetti loves to read. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this gentle mystery, Commissario Guido Brunetti investigates an attack on a Venetian man.
Atlantic Monthly Press,
hardcover, 272p., 9780802127754
A Killing for Christ
by Pete Hamill
"Setting down a fiddle and picking up a cello" is how acclaimed journalist and writer Pete Hamill (A Drinking Life) describes the difference between his early journalism and this first novel, A Killing for Christ, rereleased to mark the 50th year of its publication. Hamill adds a foreword to this edition, providing context for a remarkably mature debut novel.
The story takes place in Rome, from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday. Malloy is an American, a Vietnam vet and a faithless priest. "Perhaps he had come to understand that sin was a celebration," he thinks. He clerks at the Vatican to remove himself from pastoral duties. At night he drives to an apartment by the sea, where his mistress, Franca, waits for him. Meanwhile, a group of cardinals who oppose the politics of the current pope are conspiring to assassinate him. They employ Harwell, a malevolent young man with a rifle, and Rail, a mysterious co-conspirator, to carry out the assassination in front of the huge Easter Sunday audience. When Franca becomes involved with the conspirators, and a man is killed, Malloy trades his fatalism for outrage to become the savior he does not believe in.
A Killing for Christ is steeped in noir sensibility: bleak, sexual and cynical. The disillusionment in each character calls into question the motives of every social entity including, most crucially, religion. This is a tense, page-turning thriller that is as pertinent today as it was when it was first published. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: Hamill's noir thriller, released in a 50th anniversary edition, finds continued relevance with its provocative questions about faith and morality.
paperback, 266p., 9781617755781
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by Sam J. Miller
Blackfish City is Sam J. Miller's adult science fiction follow-up to his debut young adult novel, The Art of Starving, and establishes a dystopian world that stands apart in a crowded field. Miller's take on climate change-fueled dystopia has some superficial similarities to the work of Kim Stanley Robinson and Paolo Bacigalupi: rising sea levels are just one of a number of threats unleashed by global warming, and humanity hastens its own collapse through wars, religious fundamentalism and genocide. Blackfish City distinguishes itself by a number of idiosyncratic touches. An "orcamancer" arrives in Qaanaaq--a floating city under the laissez-faire rule of a collection of AI and mysterious "shareholders"--and sets off ripple effects in the lives of each of the novel's many characters.
Blackfish City has multiple layers, but frequently revolves around the orcamancer, one of the last of a persecuted race of people who bonded with animals through nanotechnology. She makes quite an entrance, accompanied by a killer whale and a polar bear. Eventually, the characters become embroiled in a larger skirmish between an ambitious gang leader and one of the shareholders.
The climate and the environment are not the most pressing threats to humanity's survival. Base human impulses such as fear and greed are far more destructive, and the novel is committed to exploring the distortions caused by inequality. Questions of fairness and justice are ever-present in Blackfish City, where the characters must reckon with the sins of the past in order to forge a hopeful future. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Discover: In a dystopic future where climate change threatens human survival, a strange "orcamancer" might offer the only glimmer of hope for the inhabitants of the floating city of Qaanaaq.
hardcover, 336p., 9780062684820
The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror
by Mallory Ortberg
The 11 stories in The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror reimagine classic bedtime tales in new (and sometimes twisted) ways. "Beauty and the Beast" is the clear inspiration for the title story, while threads of "The Little Mermaid" appear in "The Daughter Cells," and anthropomorphic characters from The Wind in the Willows and Frog and Toad Are Friends appear in "Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Mr. Toad" and "Good Fences Make Good Neighbors."
These are not classic adaptations and retellings, however eerily familiar some parts of the stories may seem. Mallory Ortberg, co-founder of The Toast and author of Texts from Jane Eyre, combines these well-known tales with lesser-known stories, myths, prayers and other time-worn narratives in ways that are at once bizarre and delightful, horrific and compelling. Imbued with Ortberg's characteristic dry humor and sense of mischief managed, each piece in The Merry Spinster bends and twists to grapple with big questions: Do we own ourselves, or are we obligated to share ourselves with others? If the latter, what does that look like? How important is gender in our understanding of the stories we read? How do we force our expectations on the roles we see others play: spouse, lover, partner, parent, child, sibling, friend? The Merry Spinster is part of the great tradition of storytelling, updating classics in sometimes startling, always subversive ways that will make readers rethink how--and why--some stories are told again and again. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: The co-founder of The Toast updates 11 classic fairy tales in ways that are both disturbing and thought-provoking.
paperback, 208p., 9781250113429
by Elizabeth Bear
Elizabeth Bear brings back her intrepid duo of female adventurers in Stone Mad, a steampunk western that features Karen Memory and her partner and love, Priya. In this installment, the couple are having a celebratory dinner out in the dining hall of the Rain City Riverside hotel, when they overhear two spiritualists at a nearby table. That is unusual, but not as odd as when a table begins to levitate and, stranger still, Karen and Priya's table flips over on its own. Karen knows she has to find out just what is causing all of this ruckus and jumps into the fray, much to her partner's dismay.
Bear's imaginative and fast-paced piece is filled with spiritualists, illusionists and a mad tommyknocker, as well as great descriptions that easily place the reader in this Victorian Pacific Northwest town. Blending strong elements of feminism and lesbian love, she captures the nuances of an argument between two lovers with perfect pitch. Stone Mad is as much about relationships and how to negotiate them as it is about the strange happenings at the hotel. Readers would do well to read Bear's Karen Memory before starting this one, as there are many references to the previous novel. For those searching for strong female characters in an unusual genre, this is a good series. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: Karen and Priya battle a tommyknocker and spiritualists in book two of this adventure series.
paperback, 192p., 9781250163837
Guardian Angels and Other Monsters
by Daniel H. Wilson
Daniel H. Wilson's creations can be the stuff of nightmares. His debut novel, Robopocalypse, chronicles a global robot uprising led by Archos, an insidious AI whose war against humanity has terrifying consequences. In his first short story collection, Guardian Angels and Other Monsters, Wilson taps a similar node of speculative technological horror grounded by sympathetic human stakes.
Guardian Angels begins with "Miss Gloria," in which a robot protector must rescue its young charge from kidnappers by transferring its consciousness from machine to machine as each of its bodies are destroyed. Tutor/babysitter/bodyguard Chiron's quest to free little Gloria is an oft-repeated theme in Wilson's collection--parents, lovers or siblings struggling against oppressive high-tech circumstances. The next tale, "The Blue Afternoon That Lasted Forever," is a stunningly imagined vision of astrophysics gone wrong, framed by a father's futile attempts to shield his daughter from danger.
Many of Wilson's stories do not have happy endings. His futures--some far, others near, a few allegorical--are grim places where the human spark is all too easily extinguished. "All Kinds of Proof" provides a little levity when a drunk is assigned to train a silent but endearing mail-delivery robot, and "Special Automatic" gives a mixed message of human empowerment via machine when a disabled teen builds his own invincible guardian.
Wilson's work is masterfully rendered, and his fans will find Robopocalypse and The Clockwork Dynasty tie-in entries. For newcomers, there are plenty of other sometimes dark, always engaging worlds to love. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer
Discover: Robopocalypse author Daniel H. Wilson's first short story collection delivers on all counts.
paperback, 304p., 9781101972014
Food & Wine
How to Taste: The Curious Cook's Handbook to Seasoning and Balance, from Umami to Acid and Beyond
by Becky Selengut
In How to Taste, chef and cooking teacher Becky Selengut offers a guide to balancing flavors and transforming good--and even bad--food to great.
"If you've ever made a disaster of a dinner, been mystified by what the term 'season to taste' means, and had no bloody idea what went sideways," Selengut writes, "this book is for you." She walks the reader through the ways flavors interact and how to adjust them, and each of the 12 chapters covers one element of taste, including salt, sweet, aromatics, bite and texture. She explains how to tell when a dish needs something more and, miraculously, how to fix food that's overly salted, spiced, fatty or cloying. Every chapter concludes with an experiment to highlight her points in a real kitchen, resulting in practical understanding without wasting time or food--you're left with a carrot salad, toasted fennel or lightly sweetened cup of coffee. She also includes additional recipes and video links to see her methods in practice.
Selengut's irreverent and humorous voice makes How to Taste a joy to read. She explains food science without being esoteric, and recognizes that flavor is influenced by the eater's culture, memory, age, genetics and other factors. She encourages readers to taste intentionally and trust their senses in order to be in the moment, enjoy food more and make cooking less of a chore.
Novices and accomplished home cooks alike will find something helpful, perhaps game-changing, in How to Taste. Read it all the way through, then keep it in your kitchen as a quick reference. --Katy Hershberger, freelance writer, bookseller and publicist
Discover: An approachable, fun and highly informative guide to crafting dishes like a chef.
hardcover, 240p., 9781632171054
Biography & Memoir
The Beekeeper: Saving the Stolen Women of Iraq
by Dunya Mikhail, trans. by Max Weiss
Dunya Mikhail, in The Beekeeper: Saving the Stolen Women of Iraq, gives voice to victimized women and one daring rescuer who hope that "people will know the truth about what's happening."
Since 2014, ISIS, called Daesh in Iraq, has terrorized the Yazidi area of northern Iraq by killing men who will not convert to Islam and kidnapping women and children. Those enslaved are raped, tortured, forced into the sex trade and even work with chemical weapons. The unlikely hero of this story is Abdallah, a beekeeper in Iraq until he organized a network of rescuers because "[o]ur mountain has melted from the tears and beseeching of the families." Mikhail, now a United States citizen, is a journalist and poet from the Yazidi area. The book is a series of heart-wrenching conversations between Mikhail and several Yazidi women, interspersed with her reminisces of the brutal world that replaced the Iraq of her childhood.
Abdallah's network consists of often unnoticed farmers, taxi drivers or shopkeepers. His ability to find ransom, plan escape routes across countries and remain calm in the face of terrorists is striking. The fearlessness of the captives who trust those they don't know in order to escape is a testament to the will to survive. As Abdallah says, "Hope is our daily bread."
Headlines cannot do justice to the suffering of victimized groups across the globe. As the surviving Yazidis bear witness, the very least the rest of the world can do is listen. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: The Beekeeper tells the story of kidnapped Iraqi women and children through the lens of a remarkable rescuer.
paperback, 240p., 9780811226127
Odd Girl Out: My Extraordinary Autistic Life
by Laura James
Laura James wrote Odd Girl Out: My Extraordinary Autistic Life after receiving the diagnosis in her mid-40s. It confirmed what James already felt for much of her life: she was hardwired differently, and her struggles were not those shared by her peers.
First published in the U.K. in 2017, Odd Girl Out chronicles James's eventful life both before and after her diagnosis. Autism is often associated with boys, with diagnosis in girls far less common. James explains that girls are better at blending in with their peers and masking some of the signs that normally lead to discovery of autism spectrum disorder. By publicly sharing her story, James joins brave souls like Temple Grandin in paving the way for greater acceptance, understanding and support for women and girls on the autism spectrum.
James's mind works best with logic, data and patterns, which she is prone to let consume her. As a result of her remarkably single-minded focus, James accurately predicted both the Brexit vote and the Trump presidency. Fear of losing control drives her pre-diagnosis days, with something as simple as an incorrect coffee order leading to a meltdown. Post-diagnosis James is better equipped to explore the depths of her neurodiversity and finds unexpected comfort in being part of the broader autism community.
There's inspiration in these pages, after a difficult journey of self-acceptance. Above all, Odd Girl Out makes clear that autism doesn't have just one face or one image. After being told again and again that she didn't look or act autistic, James speaks up for others whose neurological disabilities don't fit neatly into a preordained design by emphasizing the vast spectrum and range of autism. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer
Discover: A British journalist reflects on the challenges of living with autism spectrum disorder.
hardcover, 256p., 9781580057806
Hey Mom: Stories for My Mother, but You Can Read Them Too
by Louie Anderson
In 2015, Louie Anderson was hired to play Zach Galifianakis's mother, Christine Baskets, on the FX comedy series Baskets. Since he felt that he was channeling his mother to portray the character, he started writing letters to his mom (who died in 1990) to update her on his life and career, ask her questions and try to sort out his childhood. Anderson was the 10th child (of 11 kids) in a poor family dominated by a violent and abusive alcoholic father.
Over the three years he penned these letters, Anderson won an Emmy award for his performance on the series, sorted through troubling family history, grieved the sudden death of his younger brother, and tried to strengthen the ties with his remaining siblings and family. Anderson has made a career out of poking fun at his dysfunctional family and food addiction, so there are some laughs throughout. (Anderson once dreamt he'd died and was embalmed with butter. "People were walking by me, paying their respects and saying, 'God, he smells good.' ") But the comedian primarily delves deeper to reveal painful family secrets, forgive the past and curb his destructive behaviors by joining Adult Children of Alcoholics and entering therapy. Anderson also looks back on his four-decade career, celebrating successes (his animated Life with Louie TV series), acknowledging his failures (losing his job hosting Family Feud) and appreciating his career resurgence.
Hey Mom is an articulate, insightful and openly emotional series of letters that will resonate with those recovering from traumatic childhoods and with fans of Anderson's 1989 book, Dear Dad. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: Louie Anderson remembers his traumatic childhood and 40-year career through articulate and emotionally raw letters penned to his late mother.
hardcover, 288p., 9781501189173
The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath
by Leslie Jamison
While Leslie Jamison (The Empathy Exams) follows the recovery memoir's common arc in The Recovering, her scope is significantly broader. She draws on the stories of several others and their contributing social forces. What does it mean to be a white woman struggling with addiction? What does it mean for a writer to be an alcoholic? The result is a staggering investigation into cultural assumptions about addicts, and a necessary critique of a literary scene that idolizes the drunken genius.
At the Iowa Writers' Workshop, "I spent my days reading dead drunk poets and my nights trying to sleep with live ones." Jamison contends with the legacies of literary lushes like Charles Jackson (The Lost Weekend) and John Berryman (The Dream Songs), among many other men who garnered reverence for their vices. Meanwhile, women such as Jean Rhys (Wide Sargasso Sea) and Billie Holiday (Lady Sings the Blues) drew only scorn for theirs. Moreover, Jamison digs into Bill Wilson's history and the 12-step program he spawned. Alcoholics Anonymous becomes a touchstone for her while she peels back myths of alcoholism as a creative force and breaks through to something fresh: "Thinking of addiction in terms of generative variation is the luxury of someone who hasn't spent years telling the same lies to liquor-store clerks."
More than most in the genre, The Recovering focuses on the aftermath--the frustrating realities and surprising joys of staying sober. Jamison emphasizes the perennial nature of recovery. Stability is indeed a humble, messy persistence within a culture that craves simple narratives about addiction and sobriety, genius and madness. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Empathetic and unflinching, The Recovering offers a refreshing antidote to narratives that would marry substance abuse to creativity.
hardcover, 544p., 9780316259613
The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and Recovery
by Barbara K. Lipska
Barbara Lipska was relentlessly motivated. She fled an unstable Poland in the late 1980s for the United States, where she became an expert in the relationship between mental illness and the brain. She and her family were accomplished professionals as well as competitive athletes. And Lipska survived a brush with cancer. Despite those achievements and challenges, nothing prepared her for the harrowing eight weeks when she lost her mind.
In The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind, readers accompany Lipska as she is diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, causing the development of multiple tumors in her brain. Vision impairment quickly gave way to a state of confusion, shocking her family, coworkers and strangers with her increasingly hostile and bizarre behavior. She held out for hope, but prepared for death. Then two remarkable things happened--against the odds, she recovered thanks to an experimental immunotherapy treatment. And even more amazing, she remembers her experiences in vivid detail. As a neuroscientist, she takes this singular opportunity to examine how each compromised part of her brain affected her behavior. "Without a functional frontal lobe," she wrote, "my brain is like a horse galloping dangerously after the rider has lost its reins."
Though Lipska's recovery is extraordinary, her suffering and its effect on her family are familiar to anyone impacted by devastating illness. Her experiences provide empathy and understanding for people whose behavior is beyond their control. Lipska is a survivor, and readers will be all the wiser because of it. --Frank Brasile, librarian
Discover: A neuroscientist struggles with an aggressive brain cancer and its treatment in this brisk and urgent memoir.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,
hardcover, 208p., 9781328787309
My American Dream: A Life of Love, Family, and Food
by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
As a little girl in Istria, Lidia Bastianich plucked figs straight from the tree for breakfast and tended her grandmother's goats. She fished in the Mediterranean. She played in the streets of Pola. Her biggest fear was that her grandfather would catch her sneaking cherries from his trees. But over the years, larger fears crept in; Bastianich lived in a part of Italy that had been ceded to Yugoslavia following World War II, under communist dictator Tito. Violence grew ever closer to home. Eventually, her family fled.
The Bastianiches waited two years at San Sabba refugee camp in Italy--formerly a concentration camp--for a country that would take them in permanently. "I didn't have an identity; I was neither Yugoslavian nor Italian. I was like a leaf in the wind."
But she became American. In her inspiring, vividly detailed memoir My American Dream: A Life of Love, Family, and Food, Bastianich explores how that came to be.
When her family moved to New Jersey in 1958, Bastianich immediately embraced her new country and growing identity as an American. She worked, saved, fell in love and started college. Then she started a restaurant--and then another, and then another. In the ensuing decades, she wrote more than a dozen cookbooks, starred in cooking shows and founded her own brand.
Her legions of fans know her as warm and effusive, and My American Dream is no different. Wisdom peppers her reflections on her life, infused with deep love for family and country--and food, too. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: In this deeply personal memoir, beloved celebrity chef and matriarch of an Italian food empire Lidia Bastianich reflects on the experiences that shaped her life.
hardcover, 352p., 9781524731618
Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality
by Sarah McBride
Human Rights Campaign national press secretary Sarah McBride always knew she was female, but because of the physical body she was born in, the rest of the world considered her male. In college she made the decision to come out; she could no longer live as someone she wasn't. McBride shared this life-altering news with her family and close friends, then posted it to Facebook.
Composing her note that day, McBride had no idea how much her decision and her subsequent activism would change the face of the transgender community in the United States. She went on to inform members of the Obama administration as an intern in the White House, affect legislation in her home state of Delaware and beyond, and became the first transgender person to speak at a national political convention. Tomorrow Will Be Different is her inspiring story of realizing her true self and fighting for the freedom of others to do the same.
McBride is candid about her fears and reservations, her triumphs and failures, her loves and losses, all of which drives home her humanity. She points out how her white, middle-class advantages, coupled with the strong support of her family and friends, limit her perspective. But her insights into the legal, political and social battles for transgender equality offer readers a vital, albeit often heartbreaking, glimpse into a community that desperately needs to be understood better. Authentic, persuasive and sincere, McBride's work ensures tomorrow will be different for everyone who reads it. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: A young, transgender activist shares her story of coming out, living as her true self and fighting for the rights of others to do the same.
hardcover, 288p., 9781524761479
Berenice Abbott: A Life in Photography
by Julia Van Haaften
Best known for her stark photographs of New York City and striking portraits of her notable contemporaries, Berenice Abbott was also a versatile science photographer, author, photo gear tinkerer with several patents, teacher at the New School of Social Research, archivist of Eugène Atget's prints and negatives, and pioneer feminist. Born in Ohio in 1898, her 93 years spanned nearly all of the 20th century. Van Haaften's authoritative Berenice Abbott reveals the personal and professional struggles and triumphs of a woman who cut her own path, a volume prolifically and judiciously illustrated, with numerous quotations from Abbott and her long-time partner, critic and journalist Elizabeth McCausland.
Abbott left Ohio State University for Greenwich Village in 1918 and never looked back. Broke and vaguely interested in art history, she hung around the bars of the Village with the likes of Edna St. Vincent Millay and Eugene O'Neill, and worked odd jobs until she scraped together enough money to move to Paris. She learned photography in Man Ray's portrait studio and created what Van Haaften describes as "a visual legacy of strong women, many of them lesbian," including Gertrude Stein, Janet Flanner and Djuna Barnes. Returning to New York during the Great Depression, Abbott fumbled along, supporting herself shooting occasional portraits until Roosevelt's WPA Federal Artist Project funded her "Changing New York" cityscape series. She quickly recognized her niche in the growing field of photographic art: "What a vast subject the metropolis is and how the work of photographing it could go on forever." Hanging precariously from skyscraper rooftops to get her shots, the enterprising Abbott was an active participant and observant lodestar in a tumultuous century. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: With its wealth of photographs and thorough research, Van Haaften's biography of Berenice Abbott illuminates both the familiar and obscure touchstones of her life.
hardcover, 656p., 9780393292787
My Dead Parents
by Anya Yurchyshyn
Children rarely know their parents as complete human beings. When writer Anya Yurchyshyn and her sister were little girls, their parents were exciting people with brilliant careers. Their house was crammed with exotic objects they collected on their world travels. But as parents, they were distant, self-dramatizing and verbally abusive. She thought they had never been happy.
Her Ukrainian-born father died in a car accident in Ukraine when Yurchyshyn was 13. At the time, she felt only relief, as she did again when, years later, her mother died of alcoholism. But when she began dredging out her childhood home, she found a bundle of her parents' love letters to each other. Those letters were her first clue that they had at one time been happy together, passionate and hopeful. "I wanted to wave their letters in their faces and say, 'Hey, what the hell is this? And what the hell happened to you?' "
By dividing her book into two sections, Yurchyshyn allows her readers to experience her bewildering discoveries much as she did. The first tells the story of her harrowing, chaotic childhood. The second tells what she learned about her parents after their deaths, from their papers, from people who knew them and from her investigation into her father's death. What she learns does not erase her experiences, but it brings up better memories, of times they were fun and generous, and allows her to accept them, love them and grieve. --Sara Catterall
Discover: After the deaths of her unhappy, hurtful parents, a writer discovers their passionate early love and the suspicious circumstances of her father's death.
hardcover, 352p., 9780553447040
The Gospel of Trees
by Apricot Irving
Apricot Irving's parents were farmers in California when they decided to be missionaries and move with their three young daughters to the north of Haiti. Over nine years, her father planted trees to combat deforestation. As he committed himself to the country and his own goals of saving it, he grew more distant from his family--eventually violent--and more resentful of their privilege and status as outsiders. While they had been poor for California and lived in a cabin without an indoor toilet, in Haiti they were treated as foreign dignitaries, a startling shift. They were also demoralized by the failures of their humanitarian projects, and the knowledge that even if they succeeded, their actions would never be enough to help everyone.
Set against a history of colonialism and political unrest, Irving presents a nuanced look at her childhood and the place where she spent it, both of which are too complex for her to describe easily. "The missionaries I grew up with were neither marauders nor saints; Haiti was neither savage nor noble," she writes. "The truth was far more complicated." She paints these contradictions thoughtfully, and while she both loved and hated living there when she was young, it formed who she is as an adult. With evocative prose and electrifying scenes, The Gospel of Trees shows how a woman reconciles the pain and beauty of the religion, family and country she was exposed to as a girl. --Katy Hershberger, freelance writer, bookseller and publicist
Discover: A considered and compelling memoir about girlhood as a missionary's daughter in Haiti.
Simon & Schuster,
hardcover, 384p., 9781451690453
Diving for Starfish: The Jeweler, the Actress, the Heiress and One of the World's Most Alluring Pieces of Jewelry
by Cherie Burns
Journalist Cherie Burns first laid eyes on the Boivin starfish at a book launch for her 2011 biography of the American heiress Millicent Rogers, hosted by the Fifth Avenue jeweler Verdura. Burns was shown a palm-size ruby-and-amethyst starfish pin and told that it had been owned by Rogers herself. When Burns returned to Verdura the next day to have another gander, she learned that her party's "honored guest" had already been whisked away by a London dealer.
Burns's enchantment with the piece and interest in its provenance leads to a multiyear quest that takes her to London and Paris, where the house of Boivin designed the starfish in the 1930s. She knows that the now-shuttered house made at least three starfish. Are there more? Where is the Rogers starfish now? And what's become of the one owned by the golden-age-of-Hollywood actress Claudette Colbert? Answers are closely guarded by what Burns, a neophyte to the jewelry world, comes to understand is "a business whose distinguishing feature is secrecy."
Burns has a jeweler's eye for detail when it comes to describing the eccentric characters who animate her detective story. To enjoy Diving for Starfish: The Jeweler, the Actress, the Heiress and One of the World's Most Alluring Pieces of Jewelry, one needn't have an interest in gems--just an appreciation for fine design and strongly held beliefs. Says one typically opinionated industry insider: "Boivin was a designer with a sense of design and good craftsmen. Cartier made junk." --Nell Beram, freelance writer and author
Discover: Journalist Cherie Burns goes on a multiyear quest to learn the provenance of a mysterious piece of jewelry.
St. Martin's Press,
hardcover, 240p., 9781250056207
No Way Home: A Memoir of Life on the Run
by Tyler Wetherall
Tyler Wetherall is spending her 12th birthday in St. Lucia with her older sister and fugitive father when the phone call comes: Scotland Yard has tracked him to his not-so-secret location, and the girls need to flee to their mother in London immediately. In No Way Home, editor and creative writing instructor Wetherall artfully shares her life in pieces--from early days living as something resembling a family unit to her adolescent years filled with secrecy and surveillance while separated from her on-the-run father, and finally her adult efforts to learn and come to terms with the family legacy.
The first half of Wetherall's memoir reads like emotionally exhausting spy fiction. By age nine, she has lived in 13 houses in five countries on two continents, yet knows nothing of fake identities or legal problems. Reliving the accounts of her siblings as they begin to suss out the family secret is thrilling and gut-wrenching. Wetherall, who kept a journal from a young age, infuses her early memories--filled with clandestine phone calls and surprise visits from black-coated authorities--with a riveting presence of thought and perception.
Aided by her father's 300,000-word prison treatise, Wetherall reveals the saga behind the screens her parents employed to protect their three children. Although it lacks the emotional resonance of Wetherall's childhood account, her father's account of the impact his life had on the relationships, dynamics and paths of the family lends completeness to an undeniably fascinating work. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: In a memoir worthy of the big screen, the author shares her family's life on the run as her father is pursued by the FBI and Scotland Yard.
St. Martin's Press,
hardcover, 320p., 9781250112194
Memphis Rent Party: The Blues, Rock & Soul in Music's Hometown
by Robert Gordon
Journalist and filmmaker Robert Gordon has documented Memphis for decades. Born and raised there, he was submerged in the music scene as a kid, eventually devoting himself to tracking down lost stories of the town where rock-and-roll was born. Memphis Rent Party collects many of those stories, adding anecdotes and introductions to previously published work, along with pieces that haven't seen the light of day. In totality, the book is a sprawling look at Memphis old and new, examining the birth of rock and rockabilly, and the economy of music in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Using his own journey as a guide, Gordon weaves his way through 75 years of music, from the birth of Jerry Lee Lewis to the death of Alex Chilton (the musical powerhouse behind Big Star) in 2010. The only constants throughout these pieces are Gordon and the city of Memphis itself. Memphis Rent Party depicts pipe and drum hootenannies out in the middle of nowhere, avant-garde proto-punk shows and everything in between, showing how so much of modern music was influenced, if not downright born, in Tennessee.
Since each piece is short (most were originally intended for newspapers and magazines), readers won't find the kind of depth one sees in a biography. But as a whole, the works here form a larger tapestry, where one can easily glean the sheer volume of talent and creativity that moved through Memphis's streets--and still does, Gordon would likely say. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: Memphis Rent Party collects works by journalist Robert Gordon that showcase the musical history and impact of Memphis, Tenn.
hardcover, 272p., 9781632867735
I Found My Tribe
by Ruth Fitzmaurice
Ruth Fitzmaurice's life changed drastically when her husband, Simon, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND) in his early 30s. In the years since, Ruth has kept her sanity by chasing her five rambunctious children, wrangling a never-ending stream of nurses and caregivers, and jumping into the frigid Irish Sea with her two dear friends. Simon chronicled his experience of living with MND in his memoir, It's Not Yet Dark (2017). Now Ruth tells her own story of grief, motherhood and swimming in I Found My Tribe.
It unfolds in brief, luminous chapters: like the sea glass her son Arden gathers on the beach, they are fragmented, sometimes jagged, often lovely. And like her beloved waves, Ruth's narrative shifts back and forth: meeting Simon, childhood memories, early marriage, motherhood, any number of ordinary days. Interwoven is the story of the Tragic Wives' Swimming Club, Ruth's name for herself and her friends Michelle and Aifric. Nearly every day, they dive into the freezing water at Greystones, and Ruth writes about the fear and exhilaration, the way swimming gives her a brief flash of freedom from her life, and then the courage to face it.
"This is my cove and the sea is my salvation," Ruth declares. Later she admits, "The fear is still with me, but these days I jump anyway." I Found My Tribe is a slim, powerful testament to jumping in--whether to the sea or to life's crashing waves--and an urgent call to live with bravery and love. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Ruth Fitzmaurice writes about grief, motherhood and swimming in the Irish Sea in a fragmented, luminous memoir.
hardcover, 224p., 9781635571585
The Death of Democracy: Hitler's Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic
by Benjamin Carter Hett
Parliamentary politics seldom makes for propulsive reading. Yet, with the fate of Weimar Germany and tens of millions of lives on the line, the machinations of men like Paul von Hindenburg, Kurt von Schleicher and Heinrich Brüning in the late 1920s and early 1930s becomes the stuff of thrillers. In The Death of Democracy: Hitler's Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic, historian Benjamin Carter Hett (Burning the Reichstag; Death in the Tiergarten) delves into the death throes of interwar German democracy.
The Weimar Republic's tumultuous foundation made it a fragile system. Created after losing World War I, this parliamentary government became a scapegoat for the humiliating reparations and territorial losses imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. Between hyperinflation in the early '20s, mass unemployment during the Great Depression and a constant simmer of political violence, it was a miracle this system lasted as long as it did. By the early '30s, the Reichstag was paralyzed by radicalized extremes on the left and right--the Communists versus the Nazis--with a crumbling center-left and center-right unwilling to unite against either force.
Still, Hitler's takeover was far from inevitable. Hett shows how personal blunders--often by Reich president and octogenarian war hero Paul von Hindenburg, though also by other conservatives seeking to use Hitler's populist power for their own gain--allowed the Nazis to seize control. Weimar's final destruction came with the 1933 Enabling Act, when the Reichstag--freshly purged of Communists and crawling with armed stormtroopers--gave Chancellor Hitler extraordinary powers. The Death of Democracy is an accessible account of the many missteps that led to that moment, and teaches a few chilling lessons for the modern day. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer
Discover: A concise account of how the Nazis took control of the Weimar Republic.
hardcover, 304p., 9781250162502
Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History
by Lesley Adkins, Roy Adkins
Gibraltar, the small territory on the coast of Spain, has been in British hands for hundreds of years, and remains a source of tension between the two nations. Gibraltar, by historians Roy and Lesley Adkins, traces the history of that strain, focusing on the years 1779 to 1783, when the forces of Spain and France laid siege to the British garrison stationed there. One of the longest in modern history, the siege is a story of courage and ingenuity, on both sides of the war.
Using dispatches, diaries, newspaper clippings and other first-hand accounts, the Adkinses put the thoughts and feelings of the participants of the siege front and center, turning what could be a typical dry history of war into one filled with small, tender moments. Gibraltar housed many families, and the book wisely focuses on the plight of the women and children as their homes were destroyed by Spanish artillery. Matters of race and class are always in the background, and the authors call out the injustices of the British Empire and class system.
But, most importantly, the siege of Gibraltar is a riveting story, where a small group of British soldiers and sailors managed to outlast a massive campaign by Spain and France. The Adkinses lean into the terrors and triumphs of the siege, making sure the reader is swept up in each twist and turn of the battle. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: Historians Roy and Lesley Adkins bring to life the four-year siege of Gibraltar in 1779.
hardcover, 480p., 9780735221628
Our 50-State Border Crisis: How the Mexican Border Fuels the Drug Epidemic Across America
by Howard G. Buffett
Howard Buffett, philanthropist and law enforcement officer, knows from personal experience what the Mexico-U.S. border crisis looks like. He regularly sees unauthorized immigrants crossing his ranch lands in Arizona. In this well-written, in-depth analysis, Buffett links the U.S. drug epidemic to the use of the border by Mexican drug cartels. Politicians may consider them separate issues, but Buffett's discussions with ranchers, migrants, Border Patrol and other law enforcement officials show readers that the two are inextricably entwined. As long as there is demand for drugs in the U.S., the Mexican cartels will find a way to get them here, whether by using human "mules," shooting packages across open fields with T-shirt cannons, digging extensive tunnels or dropping the drugs by plane.
Buffett reflects on why so many migrants flee their native countries--many are starving or have faced such extreme violence and death threats that the dangerous trek across desert lands where they face heat stroke, dehydration and rape seems like the lesser of the evils. He suggests Mexico step up and enforce stricter rules on the cartels, and that the U.S. help. He touches on the American pharmaceutical industry's role in the drug crisis, but doesn't hit them with any real force. He also considers the effects a full border wall would have on nature and animal migrations. His book is not a call-to-action, per se, but rather a way to open much-needed discussions on how to resolve this multifaceted problem. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: A frank discussion on the American drug epidemic and the Mexico-U.S. border.
hardcover, 384p., 9780316476614
Voices from the Rust Belt
by Anne Trubek, editor
The borders of the U.S. Rust Belt are not defined, writes author and editor Anne Trubek (The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting), but "anywhere an economy was previously based on manufacturing and has since been losing population can be part of the gang." Her new anthology, Voices from the Rust Belt, aims to scrape some popular stereotypes off these places.
Trubek is founder and editor of Belt Publishing, and many of these 24 essays have appeared in Belt magazine and in Belt's city-themed anthologies. They are all by writers with personal, often life-long knowledge of their particular communities. They tell stories of their childhoods, work lives and night life, of desperate poverty in Pittsburgh, the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum and the crummiest gay bar in Cincinnati. An Iraqi-American woman moves to Cleveland with her family and finds the warm Arab community she never had before. An Ohio professor teaches local ecology in parking lots: "I grew up with young forests and orange creeks because my own family had created them.... I give students a similar sense: This is the place where we live, that we have shaped and continue to shape. This is the place where our children will live." Several compare the history of white flight from their cities with the return of white liberals who praise diversity, but often recharge old injustices.
Oversimplified and whitewashed versions of the Rust Belt have too often been told by flyover journalists to serve preconceived political or cultural narratives. This collection is a welcome and humane antidote. --Sara Catterall
Discover: A rich, multifaceted look at the Rust Belt by 24 writers who know it well.
paperback, 256p., 9781250162977
Love and Death in the Sunshine State: The Story of a Crime
by Cutter Wood
As Love and Death in the Sunshine State opens, Cutter Wood has just graduated from college and is on a family vacation to the island of Anna Maria, near Tampa Bay, Fla. Afterward, he returns home to wait tables, expecting never to think of the place again--until he finds out about a fire at the motel in Anna Maria where he had stayed.
A woman named Sabine Musil-Buehler, co-owner of the motel, has been missing for several weeks. Her car is recovered, with blood on its seats and a stranger behind the wheel. Police name three persons of interest: Sabine's husband, her boyfriend and the man who stole the car.
Wood is fascinated. He is drawn back to Anna Maria and begins to pull apart the relationship that might have killed Sabine. Love and Death in the Sunshine State, Wood's debut, is a memoir of post-college ennui; an investigation into a likely murder; an exploration of the light and dark sides of human connection; and an imaginative account of what might have happened to Sabine. Wood blurs genre boundaries, eventually offering a hybrid form that best suits his mind's wanderings.
His book is essentially an examination, not only of Sabine and of her murderer's emotions and motivations, but of the narrator himself, of universal human flaws. It is an often lovely evocation of place and culture: the gritty, small-town life of Anna Maria, its beautiful backdrop and trivial treacheries. His writing style starts out a little overblown, but soon settles into a meditative tone appropriate to his subject. In the end, Love and Death is a memorable, thought-provoking work of true crime and imagination. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: In Florida, a stolen car, a missing woman and a conflagration draw a writer from out of town to ruminate on the darker side of human relationships.
hardcover, 240p., 9781616207304
The Fevers of Reason
by Gerald Weissmann
Essayist Gerald Weissmann has a storied career as a physician, so it's no surprise that The Fevers of Reason, a collection of new and previously published works, focuses on the moments where art and science intersect. The pieces expertly hopscotch across all sorts of topics--rheumatology, Viennese art in the early 20th century, the genesis of Sherlock Holmes, RNA sequencing. Throughout the book, Weissmann's humanist, sometimes sardonic, voice binds together disparate strands to show how all human endeavor is linked in one way or another.
There are particular subjects that are close to Weissmann's heart, and appear more than once; the Nobel Prize and the percentage of American winners who were immigrants is one. He makes strong cases for immigration throughout the book, showing how welcoming the refugees who fled Nazism created medical breakthroughs in the United States. But Weissmann also takes time to focus on unheralded women in medicine, especially Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to graduate from a U.S. medical school. "Dr. Blackwell Returns from London" charts her career, showing how she paved the way for generations of women physicians to come. Weissmann clearly sees how history obfuscates the work of women, people of color and immigrants, and tries to alter that.
While he can lapse into jargon on occasion, Weissmann's prose is usually polished and funny, and anyone with an interest in American scientific or literary history will enjoy this collection, especially if they're already medically inclined. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: The Fevers of Reason is a collection by physician and essayist Gerald Weissmann about science, art and humanity.
Bellevue Literary Press,
paperback, 272p., 9781942658320
Elastic: Flexible Thinking in a Time of Change
by Leonard Mlodinow
We are taught that analytical thinking is the appropriate response to situations that require a problem to solve. However, a deliberate, step-by-step approach is not particularly well-suited for the rapid changes of the 21st century. Instead, physicist and author Leonard Mlodinow urges us to embrace elastic thinking if we want to thrive in this unprecedented age of change.
Thanks to our advanced brains, elastic thinking was key to the evolution of the human species. In today's world, where "we consume, on average, a staggering 100,000 words each day from various media," our tolerance for new information, constant progress and creative solutions is achievable thanks to elastic thinking's bottom-up approach to problem solving. While our top-down analytical brains dismiss unusual or seemingly illogical solutions to problems, our elastic brains allow us to consider ideas from different angles. Daydreaming, or "thinking without thinking," is crucial to the development of new ideas; Mary Shelley was unable to rise to the challenge of telling a ghost story until she let her mind wander and conceive Frankenstein. Just as important, frozen thinking--or thinking that resists "accepting nonconformist ideas"--stands in our way, as illustrated by General Stanley McChrystal's analysis of how Israel failed to anticipate obvious warning signs leading up to the Yom Kippur War.
With humor and insight, Mlodinow (a former writer for MacGyver and Star Trek: The Next Generation) takes readers for a tour of the brain and provides opportunities to test our own thinking with riddles, puzzles and quizzes. With elastic thinking, you'll never approach a problem the same way again. --Frank Brasile, librarian
Discover: Steeped in research and never boring, Elastic helps readers explore new and creative ideas so we can excel in a rapidly accelerating world.
hardcover, 272p., 9781101870921
Nature & Environment
The Man Who Caught the Storm: The Life of Legendary Tornado Chaser Tim Samaras
by Brantley Hargrove
Tim Samaras turned his childhood obsession into a lifelong passion that he used to change the world. Captivated by The Wizard of Oz and a PBS storm-chasers special as a boy, Samaras became the greatest tornado researcher of our time. The Man Who Caught the Storm is journalist Brantley Hargrove's intimate portrait of a fascinating man whose goal was to do the undoable: map ground-level data from the heart of a supercell twister.
Samaras, a self-taught weather forecaster and electrical engineer, made his living testing weapons systems at the Denver Research Institute, a job he obtained with no experience and a hand-written résumé. The fervor and fortitude that jump from Hargrove's well-researched profile show Samaras as a person who simply would not be denied his legacy. During tornado season, Samaras lived and breathed storms, chasing weather fronts along with funding to continue his research. Featured regularly on Discovery Channel's reality series Storm Chasers, Samaras became a legend in the weather community. He died in 2013, along with his son and another colleague, when a vehicle they were in was struck by a tornado.
Hargrove does a marvelous job mixing heady science with an engrossing and personal narrative. Nirvana for weather fanatics, the storytelling will appeal to a broad audience, and is infused with the soul of a loving family man on a mission to achieve his dreams, dancing with nature's devil while trying to make the world a safer place. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: This is the scientifically detailed yet heartwarming biography of the country's greatest tornado researcher, who developed the first probe to measure data from inside a twister.
Simon & Schuster,
hardcover, 304p., 9781476796093
Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory
by Michelle Hamilton, Deena Kastor
Since she was a child, Deena Kastor loved to run. Naturally talented, she won many races as a junior athlete by simply running harder and faster than the competition. But in college, plagued by injuries and her own persistent negativity, Kastor struggled with burnout. After graduation, she moved to Colorado to train with legendary coach Joe Vigil. To her surprise, Vigil emphasized training the mind even more than the body. Kastor details her journey toward mental toughness and a stellar career in her memoir (co-written with Michelle Hamilton), Let Your Mind Run.
"Ironically, practicing positivity showed me just how negative I could be," Kastor admits. She writes about the relentless daily effort of redirecting negative thoughts, sometimes dozens of times during a workout. Gradually, she built up a range of positive approaches: focusing on her breathing, her feet, the landscape, her goals of winning the next race or improving her times. While excelling as a runner remained important, Kastor also concentrated on building character: becoming kinder, more positive, more gracious. She chronicles the daily grind of practice, with its triumphs and setbacks, and tells the stories of key races within a larger narrative of becoming an elite runner and meeting her husband, Andrew. Together (with Vigil), they built a training program that would take Kastor to three Olympics and multiple world records.
Relentlessly positive without being trite, Kastor's memoir will inspire runners and anyone who wants to build a stronger, more agile mind. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Olympian runner Deena Kastor details how she built the mental toughness required for her championship career.
hardcover, 304p., 9781524760755
Book Towns: Forty-Five Paradises of the Printed Word
by Alex Johnson
Bibliophiles and armchair travelers alike will delight in Alex Johnson's Book Towns: Forty-Five Paradises of the Printed Word, a tour of "semi-officially designated book towns." This charming, alphabetically organized--Bowral, Australia, follows Borrby, Sweden--guide highlights each town's unusual features in a dizzying spin around the globe.
These literary hot spots operate independently, but all encourage tourism, striving to boost their local economies as well as promote book-related businesses. The book town movement began in Hay-on-Wye, Wales, growing from the first few shops in the mid-'70s to a popular 10-day literary festival held every spring; these festivals have come to be replicated around the world as "Hay festivals."
Johnson includes entertaining idiosyncrasies in his reports. The Featherston, New Zealand, Yarns in Barns literary festival hosts its headlining event in a woolshed. Montmorillon, France, features its famous macarons and hundreds of types of beer during its June book fair. Wigtown, Scotland, offers the chance to live above and run a bookshop for up to two weeks, an experience "booked out months in advance." Paju, South Korea, is reputed to be the town most dedicated to books, with 250 publishers employing 10,000 people. Wunsdorf, Germany, has perhaps the darkest history: it was a Prussian military base, then headquarters of the Nazi Wehrmacht, and then, until 1994, was the largest Soviet base outside of the U.S.S.R.
With full-color photographs throughout, the tidy 8×6-inch Book Towns includes basic travel information for those opting for a first-hand experience. Johnson writes, "Book towns are beacons of hope in the fight to keep the traditional book alive. Please visit them and buy a book or two." --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: A tour of 45 towns dedicated to bookshops and publishing around the globe will inspire buying a book or taking a trip.
hardcover, 192p., 9780711238930
Children's & Young Adult
You Go First
by Erin Entrada Kelly
Benjamin Boxer and Charlotte Lockard have a lot in common: they're both smart, they love playing online games of Scrabble together and they're both having a terrible week. Unfortunately, they're about a thousand miles apart. In Pennsylvania, 12-year-old Charlotte's dad just suffered a major heart attack and her best friend is slowly pulling away. Meanwhile, in Louisiana, Ben's parents have announced they're divorcing and his only real-life friends have disappeared into the crowds of middle school. As Ben comes to understand his own loneliness, he begins to wonder if Charlotte could be his friend outside of the game, too. " 'Do you think our generation relies too much on digital communication?' " he texts her. " 'Never thought about it,' " she responds, " 'Why?' " And an Internet-age friendship is born.
Told in Charlotte's and Ben's dual points of view over the course of a week, with charming cityscape illustrations dividing each of the days, You Go First by Erin Estrada Kelly is a delicate look at friendship, bullying and coming of age. Ben and Charlotte are sympathetic characters, each with their own charm. Ben's persistent heart and logical nature are relentless; his initial response to his parents' impending divorce--"it just didn't make any sense, and he lived in a world of sensible things"--is achingly heartfelt. Charlotte's struggles with losing her best friend while also facing the potential loss of her father are introspective and profound. You Go First is a brilliant follow-up to Entrada Kelly's Newbery winner, Hello, Universe, and challenges readers to rethink the rules of friendship. --Kyla Paterno, former YA and children's book buyer
Discover: Twelve-year old Charlotte and 11-year old Ben individually face tumultuous weeks but are connected by their online Scrabble game.
hardcover, 304p., ages 8-12, 9780062414182
by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, illus. by Ebony Glenn
The young Muslim narrator of Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow's debut picture book delights in all the wonder of her mother's headscarves. She luxuriates in the bright, beautiful colors and styles: "Some have tassels. Some have beads. Some have sparkly things all over. And she has my favorite color... yellow!" She uncovers a sense of empowerment while wearing them: "When I wear Mommy's khimar, I am a superhero in a cape, dashing from room to room at the speed of light." And she eagerly embraces a special connection with her mother: "I close my eyes and if I breathe in deeply--really deeply--I smell the coconut oil in Mommy's hair and the cocoa butter on her skin." The little girl's love for her mother's khimar and all it represents is reinforced by the acceptance of family and friends from a dazzling array of ethnicities and religious backgrounds. Mom-Mom, who doesn't wear a khimar or "go to the mosque like Mommy and Daddy," sees the little girl in her mother's bright yellow hijab and calls her "Sunshine," singing out a gleeful "Sweet Jesus!"
Ebony Glenn's (Beacon to Freedom) lustrous illustrations help the girl's pride radiate from the page. The vibrancy and charm of Glenn's art is embracing, allowing readers of all cultures and faiths to appreciate the narrator's joy and celebrate with her. Readers of all backgrounds can easily identify with the imaginative, young narrator--what child wouldn't want to be a star "shooting... into a pile of clouds?" The delightful prose and whimsical illustrations reflect a culture of diversity and acceptance while offering many entry points for discussion with young audiences. Warm and sweet, Mommy's Khimar is an uplifting and invigorating tale for any story time. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: An inventive young Muslim girl finds wonder and joy in the brilliantly colored headscarves her mother wears.
Salaam Reads/Simon& Schuster,
hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781534400597
by Justina Ireland
Life would have been very different for Jane McKeene if the dead hadn't "rose up and started to walk" in Gettysburg two days after she was born. As a black child born to "the richest white woman in Haller County, Kentucky," Jane might have become a "proper house girl" or even "taken Aunt Aggie's place as House Negro." Instead, now 17-year-old Jane attends Miss Preston's School of Combat for Negro Girls, located just outside of Baltimore. She and her classmates learn the fine art of killing the undead ("shamblers") who have terrorized the country since the end of the War Between the States. Jane's education at Miss Preston's is important: a trained student from Miss Preston's may be hired as an Attendant to a fashionable white woman. As an Attendant, Jane will keep "her charge from being killed by the dead, and her virtue from being compromised by potential suitors." The War may be over, but the popular Survivalist Party freely compares black people with "apes" and "livestock" while it focuses on "securing the safety of white Christian men and women" and restoring the nation to "its former glory."
When sweet-talking, also multiracial ex-beau Jackson Keats asks Jane to help him find his missing sister, Jane sneaks out of school accompanied by her "passing light" classmate and nemesis, Katherine Deveraux. In their search, the two girls and Jackson find themselves swept up in a plot wherein white families and Attendants are going missing. Witty and subversive, Ireland deftly tackles important issues from our nation's past and present. Themes of racism, power and humanity are blended into this action-packed adventure with a cast of well-developed characters who practically jump off the page. A neat conclusion ties up most plot points, but readers will hope for a sequel. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: Since the onset of the undead plague, black and indigenous peoples are being trained to protect white Christians who are struggling to re-impose pre-Civil War values on the nation.
Balzer & Bray,
hardcover, 464p., ages 14-up, 9780062570604
The Heart Forger
by Rin Chupeco
By the conclusion of The Bone Witch, Tea had tamed the monstrous, three-headed dragon-like daeva known as the azi and led the capture of one of the Faceless, Aenah, a bone witch turned fully to the Dark. In the story's alternate thread, which features an older, wiser Tea preparing to take revenge on those who have wronged her, she raised her lover from the dead to become one of her familiars.
In this second installment of the series, Tea and her brother Fox (her first familiar) visit the kingdom of Odalia to search for her mentor Mykaela's heartsglass. Like all the children in Odalia, on Mykaela's 13th birthday, her emotional core was spelled into a magical case to keep it safe from treachery and heartache. Years ago, the adult Mykaela foolishly gave her heart (and heartsglass) to King Vanor, knowing that if he rejected her but kept the heartsglass, she would die. Even though Tea is an extremely powerful necromancer, she cannot compel the dead King Vanor to reveal where he hid Mykkie's glass. And, as she works to save her mentor, Tea finds herself fearful of her own growing abilities, worried she may, like Aenah, come to "crave... the Dark beyond her own limits." When the prince of Odalia falls victim to a sleeping disease, Tea begins yet another hopefully heroic journey to find a cure. Meanwhile, in the alternate thread, future-Tea invades the kingdom of Daanoris, bent on harming old enemies, Faceless and royal alike.
Chupeco has crafted a glorious world for her twisting, turning plot, rich with magic, exotic beasts, romance and treachery. The alternating narratives are masterfully designed, drawing readers ever closer to their inevitable convergence. A mesmerizing tale, this sequel is even stronger than its precursor. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: In this sequel to The Bone Witch, Tea struggles to keep the eight kingdoms safe from monstrous daevas as well as from the dangerous Faceless Dark asha who seek power and immortality.
hardcover, 528p., ages 14-up, 9781492635857
by Catherine Barter
When Lena was three years old, her mother died suddenly. Lena's half-brother Danny, 22 years old at the time, became her legal guardian. Danny had only been dating Nick for a few months at the time of Lena's adoption, but Nick "apparently liked [her] brother enough that he didn't complain that Danny now came with a three-year-old."
Twelve years later, all of Lena's memories are of life with Danny and Nick. This isn't a bad thing--she loves them and they are the only parents she has ever known--but she is disappointed with her three-year-old self for not creating any mother memories. Danny refuses to talk about their mother, and he has to be treated "like [he] might be carrying ancient unexploded weapons inside" of him at all times. Which means that, when Lena finds a picture (and then a video) of their mother at a protest with baby Danny, she has to do some snooping into the past to learn more. As Lena digs into history Danny would rather she left alone, Danny gets a new job working for a conservative politician whom Nick, the owner of a small, all-organic coffee shop, loathes. Meanwhile, a bomber targets London's grocery stores, making the city tense and wary.
Indie bookstore manager Catherine Barter's debut novel for teens is a quiet, powerful work. Most of the story is in the things left unsaid and undone--bombs that haven't exploded, histories that haven't been told--making Lena and the city she inhabits seem on the edge of a radical change. Troublemakers is an affecting dive into the everyday of a family striving for stability in an ever-changing world. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Catherine Barter's debut YA novel is a tense, subtle work about family and bringing secrets to light.
hardcover, 360p., ages 12-up, 9781512475494
by Matt James
When her great-uncle Frank dies, Norma prepares to attend the funeral with her parents. She practices her sad face in the mirror even though she is actually feeling "pretty happy." After all, she gets to skip school and she'll see her favorite--"FAVORITE"--cousin Ray. During the long church service, Norma entertains herself by watching the dust motes dancing in the light of the stained-glass windows. Ray climbs and fidgets and stares at the hairy ear of the man next to him. When they are finally released, the cousins slip outside to play, happily shedding the somber mood of the funeral. They read names on gravestones and roll down a grassy hill and find feathers and frogs and sticks.
Matt James's (I Know Here) quiet, child's-eye view of a funeral, with all its mysterious rituals and traditions, is a pitch-perfect introduction to a sometimes-difficult theme. Readers can see Norma's mind working as she studies herself in the mirror and looks at the flower-covered coffin in front of the church, and when Ray asks her if Uncle Frank is still a person. At the end of the day, though, she seems pleased by the experience. "Mom..." she says as she heads home with her parents, "I think Uncle Frank would have liked his funeral."
James's inviting multi-media artwork in The Funeral includes acrylic and ink on masonite and dimensional elements of cut paper, masking tape, rolled-up twine, cardboard and scroll-sawn masonite. The overall effect gives the illustrations depth and carries the story beyond the text. Simply lovely. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: A girl experiences her great uncle's funeral in this graceful, beautifully illustrated picture book about death, customs and emotions.
Groundwood/House of Anansi,
hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781554989089
by Sophie Blackall
Caldecott medalist Sophie Blackall (Finding Winnie) illuminates the isolated and ritualistic life of an old-fashioned lighthouse keeper, showing the allure of the iconic structures.
New to his post, the young lighthouse keeper does the constant repetitive tasks necessary to keep his beacon lit--polishing the lens, refilling the oil, winding the clockwork--his actions shown in arched cutaways and porthole insets. In time, his industrious wife joins him, helping with regular tasks and tending the lighthouse when her husband lies ill. Soon, under the serpentine display of an emerald aurora, the lighthouse says "Hello! ...Hello! ...Hello!" to their first child. Around their red-and-white home, the sea shifts through the seasons. Fishscale ripples glow in rosy sunset tones, storm waves evoke Japanese woodcuts and "[t]he sea turns into a carpet of ice" for lounging leopard seals. When the Coast Guard brings an automated light, the family leaves for the mainland, but a gatefold spread shows the lantern from their house on the coast shining a greeting back to their old home.
Blackall's Chinese ink and watercolor illustrations feel nostalgic and comforting, showing a small but homey microcosm warmed by rugs, wooden furniture and a coal stove. The circular shape of the lighthouse walls acts as a motif, reappearing as the frames of insets, the wagon-wheel pattern of the quilt and a reflecting telescope lens. An author's note on lighthouses provides a more in-depth overview of the daily life, duties and dangers of lighthouse keepers. This romantic glimpse into history will captivate readers age four through eight. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services division manager at main branch, Dayton Metro Library
Discover: Caldecott medalist Blackall looks lovingly at a time when lighthouses and their keepers guided ships to safety.
hardcover, 48p., ages 4-8, 9780316362382
You're Safe with Me
by Chitra Soundar, illus. by Poonam Mistry
It's time for bed, but the dark, stormy sky prevents four baby animals--a monkey, a loris, a tiger and a pangolin--from finding sleep. Fortunately, Mama Elephant is passing by and notices their restlessness. As she rocks them with her trunk, she tells them, "You're safe with me." When they fret about the wind, she consoles them, "He's an old friend of the forest. He brings us seeds from faraway lands." And the thunder? It "brings us water from the sea and makes this forest grow from scattered seeds." The sound and sight of lightning, the rumble of the river--Mama Elephant has a soothing explanation and a "You're safe with me" for everything.
Chitra Soundar's text has the rhythm of a song, with call-like verses and response-like "You're safe with me" chorus. Poonam Mistry's illustrations in nighttime hues support the story's folkloric setting, giving the pages of You're Safe with Me the look of elaborate quilts in which geometric shapes are fused into emblems of the natural world; a frog, for one, looks as though it's embroidered out of circles, rectangles, triangles and ovals. Each spread is so densely packed--occasionally the text must bend to fit an illustration's contours--that some have a visual puzzle-like quality. As the four baby animals nestle in Mama Elephant's trunk, they assume a teardrop shape, and it's not clear where one ends and another begins--just right in a book about how, though we come from many different mothers, we're all in this together. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
Discover: Mama Elephant knows just what to say to soothe four animal babies unable to sleep.
hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9781911373292
Mama, Is It Summer Yet?
by Nikki McClure
"Mama, is it summer yet?" a little boy asks his mother as they look out the window at bare tree limbs, a pair of mittens warming on the radiator under the sill. "Not yet, my little one./ But the buds are swelling./ Soon new leaves will unfold."
In a lyrical ode to the sweet anticipation of a new season, the board book version of Nikki McClure's Mama, Is It Summer Yet? will captivate readers young and old. Striking cut-paper artwork balances beautifully with McClure's gentle, almost old-fashioned text. As winter gives way to spring and beyond, the boy and his mother clear the garden space, plant seeds, build a windsock and wait for the fruits of their labor--strawberries, for starters. Nature's changes are at the center of McClure's book. Swallows swoop with fantastically long, intertwined tail feathers. A squirrel builds her nest on a branch with tiny buds. The boy and his mother paddle through a marsh where ducklings "grow big and bold." Eventually, the two enjoy books on a blanket under the now blossoming tree. Throughout, the boy's refrain returns: "Mama, is it summer yet?" Again and again, his patient mother responds with "Not yet, my little one. But..." until, inevitably, the answer turns to a joyful yes.
Nikki McClure (To Market, to Market; In; Waiting for High Tide) captures the loving, playful bond between mother and son. Black-and-white art is accented with splashes of color that grow ever bolder as summer draws near: a lilac windsock, pink blossoms, red strawberries. This thoroughly pleasing board book offers young readers an opportunity to absorb themselves in the simple, hopeful gifts of the seasons. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: In this perfect little board book, Nikki McClure uses cut-paper artwork and loving, lyrical text to celebrate nature, changing seasons and the bond between mothers and sons.
board books, 30p., ages 0-3, 9781419728280
The Wild Robot Escapes
by Peter Brown
In Peter Brown's sequel to his bestselling middle-grade novel, The Wild Robot, Roz is delivered to Mr. Shareef, a recent widower and father of two, to help him on his dairy farm. Hilltop Farm's animals first see Roz as "a monster," but she quickly connects with them by speaking "to the cows in the language of the animals." She bonds with the farm animals and the Shareef children, but desperately misses her adopted son, a goose named Brightbill. After many months and much help from her friends, Roz is finally reunited with Brightbill, and the two set out to return home. As she runs away from the farm, though, she feels, not free, but "something more like fear" that she'll be captured and destroyed, or that her son will be hurt. Indeed, both Roz and Brightbill are not free--in order to have any chance of making it home, they will have to escape a society that doesn't understand them.
The Wild Robot Escapes has a broad appeal beyond the typical middle-grade audience. Brown's simple prose and illustrations, in combination with the story's complex themes, make The Wild Robot Escapes both accessible and thought-provoking. Roz observes and explores her world with open curiosity, and many of her conversations pose interesting questions to the reader. Black-and-white illustrations, drawn in Brown's expressive style, add visual context that will attract and aid any reader who's still building the ability to decode text. The book also works beautifully as a read-aloud, thanks to ultra-short chapters and third-person narration that often addresses the reader directly. For the sake of Roz's happiness, readers may hope this is her final adventure. Whether it is or isn't, Roz and her numerous families have given readers a book to mull over for many years. --Stephanie Anderson, assistant director of selection, BookOps
Discover: The sequel to Peter Brown's acclaimed The Wild Robot is a magical middle-grade mixture of prose and illustration about what it means to be free and what it means to belong.
hardcover, 288p., ages 7-12, 9780316382045
Alma and How She Got Her Name
by Juana Martinez-Neal
For Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela, her oversized moniker is "'so long... [i]t never fits.'" Her father knows something more: "Let me tell you the story of your name," he offers, "Then you decide if it fits."
Opening the family photo album, Daddy explains how Alma got each of her names: Sofia for her "books, poetry, jasmine flowers"-loving grandmother; Esperanza for her great-grandmother who hoped to travel the world; José for her artist grandfather; Pura for her great-aunt who "believed that the spirits of our ancestors are always with us"; and Candela for her activist "other" grandmother. With each ancestral tale, Alma enthusiastically underscores her direct connections to her familial inheritance. When Daddy finally arrives at how he chose "Alma," she realizes her name "fits [her] just right," with all the room she needs to write her own story.
Juana Martinez-Neal, who won a 2018 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award for La Princesa and the Pea by Susan Middleton Elya, makes her author/artist debut with a story of her own--literally. Alma and How She Got Her Name also doubles as a glimpse into Martinez-Neal's multi-monikered background: her full name, Juana Carlota Martinez Pizarro, holds her own family history, which she shares in her author's note. As artist, her mostly black-and-white graphite and colored pencil drawings with splashes of red (suggesting now) and blue (capturing then) provide an additional, enhancing narrative: the family's Peruvian roots, Alma's avian and floral interests, her bilingual drawings, her historically inspired style sense, even a peek at Esperanza's worldly treasures.
Names are so much more than a collection of letters and sounds, Martinez-Neal reminds. The book's final words, "What story would you like to tell?" become an invitation for readers to share and claim each of their own, distinctive stories, histories and identities. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Young Alma's full name might be very, very long, but so is the legacy of creativity, resilience, resistance and love embedded in her multiple monikers.
hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9780763693558
by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Twelve-year-old Jerome was always "the good kid": whenever possible, he "skated by. Kept [his] head low." But now that he's dead, he's famous. Jerome was shot just a few blocks from home while playing with a toy gun. Officer Moore arrived on the scene, didn't announce himself, didn't tell Jerome to put down the gun or raise his hands. He shot Jerome before the cruiser even stopped and didn't render aid or call for help as Jerome died.
By many accounts, Moore "is a good cop." His daughter Sarah--who's the same age and grade as Jerome--however, becomes doubtful: "he can't be if he killed a kid, can he?" Sarah sees what her father can't--literally--because she's the only person alive to whom Jerome is visible, with whom he can talk directly. Prodded by the 60-plus-year-old ghost of Emmett Till (whom Sarah can also see), Sarah and Jerome learn the ugly history of decades of racial and police violence, beginning with Emmett's heinous murder in 1955 at age 14. While Jerome tries to understand his own death, often aided by Emmett's gentle conversations, Sarah must come to terms with her father's "racial bias" and figure out how she might "make sure no other kids die for no reason."
Inspired to give voice to the "countless" deaths in her own lifetime due to "conscious or unconscious racism," Coretta Scott King Honoree Jewell Parker Rhodes (Ninth Ward; Towers Falling) adds a fictional name to the long list of black boys killed in police violence. Beyond easy labels of good and bad, right and wrong, Rhodes unblinkingly confronts challenging perspectives and the mutability of truth. Rhodes wrote Ghost Boys because "racial prejudices and tensions... still haunt America" and she hopes that Jerome's story might prompt "meaningful change for all youth." --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Jewell Parker Rhodes examines the death of 12-year-old Jerome through the historical lens of Emmett Till's murder and the contemporary statistics surrounding police violence against black youths.
hardcover, 224p., ages 9-12, 9780316262286
Boots on the Ground: America's War in Vietnam
by Elizabeth Partridge
Beginning in May 1962 and finishing in November 1982 with the National Salute to Vietnam Veterans, Elizabeth Partridge tells the complicated and painful history of the United States' involvement in Vietnam. Through different perspectives, in Vietnam and in the States, Boots on the Ground gives young readers a linear history of the war while keeping the focus on the individuals affected.
"It looked like only dead-end jobs out there for someone like" Mike Horan, so he signed up for four years with the Marines. Horan, a military adviser, was "in country" from May 1962 to June 1963; he was captured by the Viet Cong, held for several days, then accidentally rescued and sent immediately back into "regular duties." Focusing primarily on such oral histories--recorded by the author via in-person interviews, phone calls and e-mails--Partridge's short chapters alternate between experiences in Vietnam and in the States. She tells the history from 15 points of view, including four presidents (Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford), Green Beret David Oshiro, nurse Lily Lee Adams and Vietnam Veterans Memorial designer Maya Lin.
With more than 100 photographs and ample back matter, Boots on the Ground shows the same dedication to detail that Partridge has displayed in her previous nonfiction works (Marching for Freedom). The people she chooses to highlight help tell a fully developed history, one that doesn't shy away from showing how men of all ethnicities fought side by side "in country" even though some couldn't sit next to each other at lunch counters back home. Partridge's work makes the morass that is the history of the Vietnam War accessible, brings all the facts to the front and gives voice to stories that have gone mostly untold. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Elizabeth Partridge uses the voices of presidents, infantrymen, nurses, protestors and others to bring readers an approachable and captivating history of the Vietnam War.
hardcover, 224p., ages 12-up, 9780670785063
The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Rivalry, Adventure, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements
by Sam Kean
A "treasure trove of all our passions and obsessions," the periodic table of the elements is more than a turreted catalogue of the different kinds of matter in the universe. "The periodic table is... an anthropologic marvel, a human artifact that reflects all of the wonderful and artful and ugly aspects of human beings and how we interact with the physical world." In this young readers edition of his bestselling The Disappearing Spoon, science writer Sam Kean (Caesar's Last Breath) presents the wide-ranging history, conflict, rumors and science behind each element, from discovery to present-day use.
Kean tells of bitter custody battles over element discoveries; fierce competition among nations and individual scientists to claim naming rights; and sometimes humorous, often insanely dangerous exploits in the name of science or power. During the 1990s, a 16-year-old Boy Scout decided to try to solve the world's energy crisis by building a nuclear reactor in his backyard shed. In the sixth century BC, a Babylonian king had his palace walls painted yellow with an antimony-lead paint mixture and went mad--antimony (element 51) is highly toxic. And, yes, it is possible to make a spoon disappear in your cup of tea, as long as that spoon is made of the easily meltable element 31, gallium.
The Disappearing Spoon reveals how gloriously and dangerously intertwined everything truly is, and not just chemically speaking. Kean wraps his exploration of elements in history, politics, mythology, warmongering, philosophy and more: "I realized that there's a funny, or odd, or chilling tale attached to every element on the periodic table. At the same time, the table is one of the great intellectual achievements of humankind. It's both a scientific accomplishment and a storybook...." This "storybook" will encourage young readers to brave the elements of science. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: With wit and scientific savvy, Sam Kean tells the stories behind each of the elements in the periodic table in this middle-grade adaptation of The Disappearing Spoon.
hardcover, 240p., ages 10-up, 9780316388283
Orphan Monster Spy
by Matt Killeen
Sarah and her mother's attempt to flee Nazi Germany fails, leaving Sarah alone near the Swiss border. "A Jew with no papers" being chased by the men who killed her mother, Sarah escapes onto the roof of a deserted warehouse. But she is not alone: someone is on the roof, "standing and watching" as if "looking for a rare bird." Although this man represents a threat, through a series of brave (and potentially stupid) actions, Sarah saves his life.
Captain Jeremy Floyd--a British spy--sees potential in Sarah. She is 15 years old, but her naturally small build and years of malnutrition have made her appear to be no older than 11; she is half-Jewish, but her Rapunzel-like "golden hair" and "pale blue" eyes make her appear Aryan; and she is adept at both "accent recognition" and fluid, fast-thinking lies. With her set of skills, Floyd believes Sarah could be the perfect spy for his current mission: to stop a Nazi scientist from developing a "bomb... with enough destructive power to flatten a city." Sarah enrolls at the Nationalist Socialist school that the scientist's daughter attends with the directive to befriend the girl and find the bomb.
Matt Killeen's debut work is captivating, the 400 pages flying by. Sarah's experiences are deeply upsetting and her growth hard-won, the thrilling spy heroics engaging yet always aware of the brutal framework in which they take place. Orphan Monster Spy features a teen girl surviving--and thriving--in situations much more dangerous and frightening than anything 007 experienced, and he never had to pretend to be "a good... little monster" to survive. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A 15-year-old half-Jewish girl works with a British spy to help take down the Nazis.
hardcover, 432p., ages 12-up, 9780451478733
The Doggie in the Window
by Rory Kress
Neither Rory Kress nor her boyfriend had ever owned a dog when they moved in together. But the journalist longed to add a furry friend to her household. Kress had heard stories about illegal puppy mills and was leery when she received a recommendation for a pet store where she could buy a puppy. However, the store touted its policy of selling dogs only from USDA-licensed breeding facilities, so the first-time pet owner felt confident that Izzy, her new Wheaten Terrier, did not come from a puppy mill. When her journalistic nature kicks in, though, Kress sets out to discover exactly where Izzy came from. What she uncovers is shocking.
With the determination of a dog after a bone, Kress delves into the world of government-regulated dog breeding. She digs through research, follows paper trails and interviews people throughout the industry. Representatives from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), breeders, retailers, veterinarians and other animal scientists--as well as those who have purchased the canines--contribute to Kress's investigation. Her findings are eye-opening, often heartbreaking but not hopeless. They offer potential dog owners much-needed information on which to base their decisions--when acquiring a companion as well as making voting choices.
The Doggie in the Window is a thoroughly researched probe enhanced by Kress's personal experience as a cog in the system. Her raw honesty draws readers into her experiences and journey, encouraging them to take away valuable lessons and to take action for fundamental change. This is a definite must-read for all animal lovers. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: A journalist and first-time dog owner goes in search of her beloved pet's origins and uncovers a world of government-licensed puppy mills.
paperback, 368p., 9781492651826
Nobody's Girl Friday: The Women Who Ran Hollywood
by J.E. Smyth
Fans of Molly Haskell's From Reverence to Rape and Marjorie Rosen's Popcorn Venus--which chronicled how women were portrayed on screen from silent films until the mid 1970s--now have an outstanding additional resource in J.E. Smyth's Nobody's Girl Friday. Smyth (Edna Ferber's Hollywood) delves even deeper to examine how female directors, writers, producers, editors, agents, designers and actresses shaped Hollywood films during the studio era.
Along with profiles of some familiar women working behind the scenes (like directors Dorothy Arzner and Ida Lupino, costume designer Edith Head and actresses Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn), Smyth shines a spotlight on some fascinating women whose stories have previously been neglected. Screenwriter Mary C. McCall Jr. (Craig's Wife) became the first female president of the Screen Writers Guild in 1942 and served two additional terms. She was one of the most visible and vocal women in her field. She battled extreme right-wing political groups within the industry and was later blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Film buffs will delight in discovering the lives and careers of Oscar-winning film editors Anne Bauchens (who edited every Cecil B. DeMille film from 1918 to 1956) and Barbara McLean (All About Eve), producer/writer Virginia Van Upp (Gilda) and many others. Smyth's appreciation of producer/screenwriter Joan Harrison (Rebecca) removes her from the shadow of her mentor, Alfred Hitchcock.
Nobody's Girl Friday is an energetic, surprising and vital book that uncovers and celebrates the accomplishments of women who created film history from the 1920s to the 1960s. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: An invigorating addition to movie history, Nobody's Girl Friday uncovers and celebrates the enormous contribution of women behind the scenes in Hollywood during the studio era.
Oxford University Press,
hardcover, 328p., 9780190840822
Wade in the Water: Poems
by Tracy K. Smith
U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith (Ordinary Light) believes poetry can "help us make sense of the contemporary moment." That moment includes her country's historical and present-day acts of injustice against refugees, former slaves, African Americans and the poor. Her fourth collection, Wade in the Water, examines that injustice (political and personal) with sharp insight and telling detail.
Smith moves deftly from the broad theme to the striking personal image: in "New Road Station," for example, "History is in a hurry. It moves like a woman/ Corralling her children onto a crowded bus." "Unrest in Baton Rouge," inspired by the iconic photo of a female protester facing down two armored policemen, asks, "Is it strange to say love is a language/ Few practice, but all, or near all speak?" The poem mentions "jangling handcuffs" and blood that "pools in the pavement's seams," but its enduring image is "Love: naked almost in the everlasting street,/ Skirt lifted by a different kind of breeze."
While Smith repeatedly calls injustice and its perpetrators to account, her poems also contain deep compassion and an insistence on hope. She writes with warmth about her young daughter in "4 1/2" and "Dusk," and recalls fond childhood memories in "Urban Youth": "The hedges thrummed with bees/ That only sang." Family and love can be fraught, too, but Smith is fierce in her cherishing of the good.
"What is the soul allowed to keep?" Smith asks in "Eternity." "Every/ Birth, every small gift, every ache?" Wade in the Water is deeply frank about the ache, but it also quietly celebrates many small--and vital--gifts. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith's fourth collection contains sober-eyed, insightful poems that call injustice to account but insist on hope.
hardcover, 88p., 9781555978136