Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, May 26, 2017


ReedPop: BookCon Tickets & Information

From My Shelf

St. Martin's Press: Come Sundown by Nora Roberts

Yen Press: Brave by Svetlana Chmakova

Christmas in May

Last fall, I received a copy of Fields Where They Lay (Soho Crime). I'd come across the author, Timothy Hallinan, often--he's been publishing crime novels since 1989, with three protagonists: Poke Rafferty, Simeon Grist and Junior Bender. But I had never read him, and don't know why I decided to read this Junior Bender--in May. Out of season. But I am so glad I did--Junior is quite the find. In this mystery, Junior's hired by a Russian mobster to solve a shoplifting problem in his sad, declining Los Angeles mall. The plot's twists are shadowed by Junior's dislike of the holiday. "My issues with Christmas go way back. In fact, the only seasonal present from my father that I've kept is an aversion to Christmas."

Hallinan's vivid prose amplifies the story. "The astringent December sunlight looked, as always at this time of year, like it had been ladled into the smog with a teaspoon, like vinegar." Characters are deftly sketched: the mobster had "dead-looking, oddly flossy blond hair, like an over-styled child's doll might have after her thirtieth perm"; a woman's taut expression "suggested that she had long ago stopped expecting moments of grace that didn't have a price attached to them."

Bender is assaulted by mobsters, seasonal regrets and relentless Christmas music. "The kid kept singing about his damn drum. Who the hell bangs a drum around a newborn baby?" In addition to some fascinating arcana--you'll learn where the word bric-a-brac came from, as well a get a short history of keys--a story from a Jewish Santa adds a fillip of wisdom. Junior Bender knows "the edge of sorrow is especially sharp in what's supposed to be a season of joy," and he learns how to live with both regret and hope. --Marilyn Dahl

From My Shelf

St. Martin's Press: Come Sundown by Nora Roberts

Yen Press: Brave by Svetlana Chmakova

Bad Seeds

For a while, all my friends seemed to be obsessed with S-Town, the new podcast by the creators of Serial and This American Life. In it, host Brian Reed probes suspicious behavior in an Alabama town after a resident begs him to investigate an outrageous murder. It's just a bad town, he's told, and bad things happen in bad towns.

Like Reed, Helene Stapinski faces the question of criminal inevitability in Murder in Matera (Dey Street, $26.99). For her, though, it runs much deeper. A family legend has been passed down for generations about her great-great-grandmother: "Vita was a murderess. She took a life and ran." Her ancestor's violence and loose morals may yet reside in Stapinski's DNA, she's cautioned, and one day she or her children may succumb to such passions. To uncover the truth about Vita, Stapinski departs Brooklyn for the Italian province where it all went down.

The question of bad seeds arises repeatedly in true crime, because usually the offense is so horrific we can't imagine how it could happen otherwise. That's what makes the Jim Jones biography The Road to Jonestown (Simon & Schuster, $28) so enthralling. Jeff Guinn reveals how an ambitious young integrationist became a murderous demagogue.

Likewise, environment can have just as much influence on criminal potential, as Holly Tucker illustrates in City of Light, City of Poison (Norton, $26.95). The Parisian court of King Louis XIV was rife with murder, sex and magic--mysteries the first police chief, Nicolas de la Reynie, was determined to solve, no matter how cruel the interrogation technique.

I hate waiting for new podcast episodes week by week; I get so caught up in the intrigue. With books, too, I can't seem to turn pages fast enough. But heaven forbid the plot gets spoiled. That would be a real crime. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

From My Shelf

St. Martin's Press: Come Sundown by Nora Roberts

Yen Press: Brave by Svetlana Chmakova

Get Out and Play!

May is the cusp of summer in many parts of the world. It's also a marvelous time to get outside and bring that cabin fever down! These three picture books celebrate the joys of being outdoors, whether through kite flying, rediscovering a dog's life or enjoying--sort of--a slumber party.

The thrill a girl named Daisy feels as a borrowed kite "swishes and swirls, dives and zooms" overcomes her with covetousness, and she runs home to hide the kite in her bedroom. When conscience gets the best of her, she finds forgiveness, a new friend... and her very own kite. Janet A. Holmes's spare text tells an all-too-familiar story of impulse and compunction, and illustrator Jonathan Bentley's lovely pencil and watercolor artwork captures the blustery, sunny days in Blue Sky Yellow Kite (Peter Pauper Press).

Raymond, a well-loved chocolate-colored pooch, wonders one day if maybe there's more to life than having his ears scratched in just the right place. In no time, he's on two feet, enjoying "cappuccino-and-cupcake Saturdays" and working as a "rover-ing reporter" at Dogue magazine. But oh, the stress! With their cartoon illustration style and straight-faced humor, French brothers Yann and Gwendal Le Bec poke gentle fun at Type A humans in Raymond (Candlewick). The tongue-lolling, tail-wagging joy of his return to four-footed outdoor fun is palpable.

Chester Raccoon (the Kissing Hand series) returns in Chester Raccoon and the Almost Perfect Sleepover (Tanglewood Books), this time for an "overday" with Pepper Opossum and other nocturnal buddies. They hang from their tails, play Follow the Leader and eat "delicious" snacks of grubs and rotten fruit. But when bedtime comes, Chester is hit with a case of homesickness. Luckily, Mrs. Opossum knows just what to do. Audrey Penn's reassuring story and Barbara L. Gibson's playful illustrations hit the mark for any reader who is almost ready for sleepovers. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

From My Shelf

St. Martin's Press: Come Sundown by Nora Roberts

Yen Press: Brave by Svetlana Chmakova

Advice to Graduates: Read Make Trouble

I'm not adept at taking advice, good or otherwise. And I've sat through a few too many achingly bad commencement speeches. In fact, the previous two sentences could serve as the start of yet another earnest trip down the rabbit hole of "as you go forth into the world on this auspicious day...."

Fortunately, great commencement speeches do happen sometimes. While some attain digital immortality, a chosen few even become books. My favorites include George Saunders's Congratulations, by the Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness; Ann Patchett's What Now?; J.K. Rowling's Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure & the Importance of Imagination; and Neil Gaiman's Make Good Art.

Any of these would make an excellent graduation gift. And this year their select ranks have been joined by a wonderful addition--filmmaker, writer and exquisite troublemaker John Waters's Make Trouble, which is taken from his 2015 Rhode Island School of Design commencement speech.

"Remember, a 'no' is free," Waters counsels. "Ask for the world and pay no mind if you are initially turned down. A career in the arts is like a hitchhiking trip: All you need is one person to say 'Get in' and off you go. And then the confidence begins... Remember: You must participate in the creative world you want to become part of. So what if you have talent? Then what? You have to figure out how to work your way inside."

But wait, there's more: "Listen to your political enemies, especially the smart ones, and then figure out a way to make them laugh. Nobody likes a bore on a soapbox. Humor is always the best defense and weapon. If you can make an idiot laugh, they'll at least pause and listen before they do something stupid--to you."

My advice to graduates: If you can't make trouble today, then at least read Make Trouble. --Robert Gray, contributing editor

From My Shelf

St. Martin's Press: Come Sundown by Nora Roberts

Yen Press: Brave by Svetlana Chmakova

Life After Loss

The year following my father's death, I bought book after book in search of the one that would tell me what to do. After all, I was accustomed to turning to books for everything. Surely there would be one that spoke to my experience. Ultimately, I learned that such a book did not exist. No one will traverse the exact same path as you after the death of a loved one, full stop. But there is hope and understanding, empathy and wisdom to be found, hidden here and there in the lines of this volume and that one.

Naturally, I was curious about Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, just published by Knopf. Admittedly, I had not been one of the millions who'd heeded the call to Lean In. But the woman's very public loss (the sudden death of her husband while the two vacationed in Mexico) piqued my interest. Partnering with author and psychologist Adam Grant, Sandberg goes beyond grief to examine the role resiliency plays in any measure of adversity.

This is no flowery meditation on loss. Recovery requires work. Sandberg lays bare her innermost thoughts (could her children have a chance at being well-adjusted; how would her job evolve in light of her loss; what was dating, and did she even want to know?) while Grant and a host of other experts offer up practical advice on developing the resiliency necessary not only to see your way clear of unfathomable upset, but even grow and help others who find themselves in "the void," that "vast emptiness that fills your heart and lungs and restricts your ability to think or even breathe." Science-y, insightful and straightforward, Sandberg's take is worth your time. --Stefanie Hargreaves, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

From My Shelf

St. Martin's Press: Come Sundown by Nora Roberts

Yen Press: Brave by Svetlana Chmakova

On 'Seeing' Kristen Radtke's Imagine Wanting Only This

I've read Kristen Radtke's graphic memoir Imagine Wanting Only This three times. The title, with its intricate weave of possible interpretations, keeps tracking me down, won't let go. And fragments of this book have apparently sublet my mind's eye, the panels flickering by like movie scenes, always leaving traces.

Film analogies and references are perhaps inevitable here, both for creator and reader. Among other things, Radtke is the film and video editor at TriQuarterly magazine. For me, reading Imagine Wanting Only This feels like watching a documentary film. That response is certainly enhanced by sections like her chapter on Chris Marker's Sans Soleil, or when she discovers a video about the Chicago "urban explorer" whose disintegrating photographs play a key role in her book.

In the weeks since my first reading, two other books have threaded themselves visually into my engagement with Imagine Wanting Only This. The first is Alison Bechdel's Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic and its Broadway musical adaptation. Staging this show at the Circle in the Square theater allowed lighting designer Ben Stanton to place some scenes in squares of white light (at the 30 second mark here), as though the characters were living inside comic book panels. The image stayed with me. Seeing is believing.

Another thread I've somehow woven into this bibliotapestry is Geoff Dyer's Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room, which is a take-by-take account of Andrei Tarkovsky's classic movie Stalker, "summarizing the action of a film almost devoid of action." Zona turns words into frames, accompanied by voluminous, often personal, footnotes. My memory of reading that book also focuses on the definitive straight lines dividing main text from footnotes, like borders... or the initial line drawn to make a panel.

All of this inspires me to ask a question that's actually a recommendation: Have you "seen" Imagine Wanting Only This yet? --Robert Gray, contributing editor


Weinstein Books: A Speck in the Sea: A Story of Survival and Rescue by John Aldridge and Anthony Sosinski


Book Candy

Seeing Favorite Books on the Screen

"The 10 emotional stages of seeing your favorite book as a TV show or movie" were explored by Bustle.

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Merriam-Webster looked up "10 Sherlock Holmes words worth investigating."

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Quirk Books imagined "if beloved authors had a 2000s Goth phase."

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Take a look: "an oral history of Reading Rainbow" was presented by Mental Floss

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Vogue offered tips on "how to make your bookshelves beautiful."


The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World

by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams

Imagine spending a week with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, absorbing their wisdom and insights on life. It would be impossible not to emerge transformed, enlightened and irrevocably changed. Such was the experience of Douglas Abrams, who joined his longtime friend and literary collaborator Archbishop Desmond Tutu in April 2015 for a week-long visit with the Dalai Lama at the latter's home in Dharamsala, India.

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World gives readers an opportunity to journey alongside Abrams as he shares his extraordinary experience, capturing the two world leaders' conversations and reflections on life and on one of its most essential--and often challenging and elusive--emotions.  

"We are fragile creatures," Archbishop Tutu said. "It is from this weakness, not despite it, that we discover the possibility of true joy."

Envisioned as a gift to the world to celebrate the Dalai Lama's 80th birthday, The Book of Joy is structured as a symbolic three-layer cake that aims to provide a practical foundation for cultivating and sustaining joy. Beginning with a "first layer" consisting of the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu's teachings on joy, Abrams elicits answers from the two spiritual leaders on questions reflecting the immediacy of life's real challenges. 

"How do we embrace the reality of our lives, deny nothing, but transcend the pain and suffering that is inescapable? And even when our lives are good, how do we live in joy when so many others are suffering: when crushing poverty robs people of their future, when violence and terror fill our streets, and when ecological devastation endangers the possibility of life on our planet?"

Abrams recognizes that these are not simple questions with pat answers; The Book of Joy explores them without caving to convenient platitudes like "don't worry, be happy." Nor does the book reflect any one faith or religion.

"On this planet," the Dalai Lama said, "over the last three thousand years, different religious traditions developed. All these traditions carry the same message: the message of love."

In his symbolic second layer of The Book of Joy, Abrams supports the concept of joy with a jargon-free overview of current scientific explanations that reinforce the neurological benefits of meditation, generosity and compassion. Volunteering, for example, reduces the risk of death by 24%, and people who develop and curate a sense of purpose in life are half as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease after seven years.

"Research suggests that cultivating your own joy and happiness has benefits not just for you, but also for others in your life. It is a virtuous cycle. The more we turn toward others, the more joy we experience, and the more joy we experience, the more joy we can bring to others. The goal is not just to create joy for ourselves but, as the Archbishop poetically phrased it, 'to be a reservoir of joy, an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that can ripple out to all those around you.' "

This takes practice and, according to the Dalai Lama, developing "mental immunity" is key. "So much of our unhappiness originates within our own mind and heart--in how we react to events in our life. 'Mental immunity,' the Dalai Lama explained, 'is just learning to avoid the destructive emotions and to develop the positive ones.' "

Easier said than done, perhaps, but certainly possible when recognizing how to put into practice the eight pillars of joy: perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness (both of ourselves and others), gratitude, compassion and generosity. The first four of these are "qualities of the mind" and the second quartet are "qualities of the heart." Abrams explores each concept with examples, followed by simple and sustainable "joy practices," such as meditation and prompts for further reflection based on these eight pillars. Those, he says, are designed to help overcome the challenges and obstacles that we encounter on our path to true joy.

Sprinkled into the third layer of Abrams's literary confection are delightful morsels of his week with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu, whom he occasionally affectionately refers to as "Arch," a term of endearment bestowed on the visionary by those closest to him. Despite not having an opportunity to see each other often, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu enjoy a friendship based on mutual respect and admiration--and one filled with laughter, goodhearted teasing and fun. Abrams frequently describes the octogenarians as mischievous and akin to schoolboy pranksters. "When a Dalai Lama and an Archbishop walk into a bar," he writes, "you don't expect them to be the ones cracking the jokes."

"They and everyone around them were constantly guffawing, chortling, giggling, and belly laughing throughout the week, as moments of great levity were spliced together with moments of profundity and sanctity."

Such is the beauty of this life we live, one that holds tremendous suffering and heartbreak alongside moments of beauty and happiness. It is also the essence of this exquisite book, one that offers an intimate glimpse into the minds of two of the world's spiritual guides, and their foundation for an attainable and practical approach to experiencing a more enriching and sustainable life of abundant joy. --Melissa Firman

Avery Publishing Group, $26, hardcover, 368p., 9780399185045

Discovering Joy with His Holiness the Dalai Lama & Archbishop Desmond Tutu

(photo: Miranda Penn Turin)

Douglas Abrams is the founder and president of the book/media agency Idea Architects, where he collaborates with visionaries to create a better world. For more than a decade, Abrams has worked with Archbishop Desmond Tutu on various books and projects, including co-founding Human Journey, an initiative "committed to spreading the African understanding of Ubuntu--the realization that each of us thrives only when all of us thrive." In April 2015, Abrams spent a week with the Dalai Lama and Tutu as they tackled an age-old question: How do we find joy in the face of life's inevitable suffering? The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World (Avery), which Abrams co-authored with the two spiritual leaders, is the outcome. Abrams lives with his wife and children in California.

What an extraordinary experience it must have been for you to spend a week with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.

It was truly extraordinary to be in that room facilitating what we knew was going to be a historic dialogue during what was perhaps the last time these two leaders and close friends might ever meet. I think what we didn't quite realize--even though we knew how much this would mean to the world--was how much this experience would mean to the two of them. Seeing how significant, rewarding and delightful it was for them to be with each other for that amount of time--to play together, explore together and share their traditions--was incredibly moving to witness.

That comes through in the book. I almost got the sense that writing this book was a spiritual experience for you. Did this project transform you in any particular way?

My journey to writing The Book of Joy has been a lifelong process. It began with growing up in a home shrouded by the black dog of depression. Working on The Book of Joy allowed me to see how all the suffering and experiences in my life were necessary for the completion of this project and for me to play this role of scribe. I think there are experiences where we see a larger pattern and a larger meaning, and this was certainly an experience that went beyond the body, the mind and into the heart. It felt like an expanded state of consciousness. 

Tell me about the preparations for the visit. You share a long friendship and a long working relationship with Archbishop Tutu. Had you previously met the Dalai Lama?

I met the Dalai Lama in Washington, D.C., during the preparations for the book, which was created in honor of his 80th birthday as a gift for the world. The Book of Joy was envisioned as a layered birthday cake, with the first layer being their insights, teachings and stories, followed by a travelogue experience of being there with them during this time as they shared their lives. The Dalai Lama teaches Archbishop Tutu how he meditates, and the Dalai Lama dances for the first time in his life. You get those very intimate experiences, along with the science behind their insights.

Their message is universal, one that resonates with people of all faiths as well as those who are unchurched or atheist, or who have had that part of their lives fall away. They offer a very practical way of living that doesn't make the reader subscribe to any one faith.  

The Dalai Lama was adamant that this needed to be a universal human book. It shouldn't require people to believe in any one thing. We knew we were dealing with two global moral leaders who are much larger than their faith traditions and who also speak to people of many faiths or of no faith. They're also very deep practitioners of their traditions. It was an opportunity to bring their two traditions together, along with their universal worldview.  

This visit took place in April 2015, before many significant world events, such as the Brexit vote and the U.S. presidential election. At one point in the book, Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama comment that the world is getting better. Do you think they would still say that? What part of the book's message do you think is most pertinent for us living in these uncertain times?

I visited with Archbishop Tutu right after the Paris bombings, and he spoke specifically of what to say to people who were so discouraged by the terror and intolerance. He remained adamant that we need to have a wider perspective, to realize humanity progresses two steps forward and one step back; however, if you look at the long sweep of human history, we are going in the right direction. We forget that we evolved and grew as a species in a context very different from the world now, and we're not going to further evolve overnight. The book talks about how we deal with despair and those feelings when it seems we're taking a step backward, and even in our own lives when we feel overwhelmed by bad news and feel like we are personally going in the wrong direction.

It's not a "don't worry, be happy" book or one that promotes a superficial understanding of joy while denying the real suffering that exists in the world. Rather, it's about how to cultivate joy in the face of adversity in our own lives. These are two men who speak with the mantle of moral courage because of the suffering they faced. Through them, we understand how we transcend and grow through adversity rather than ignoring or denying it. There's a zig and zag to all our lives and we don’t evolve without that.

We need the pain to realize the growth we're capable of and that we have inside. We have the capacity within us to become stronger and better people.

That's exactly right. For me that was one of the most profound things I learned while growing up around depression. We don't have to get stuck in those emotions. We don't have to live there. As the Dalai Lama would say, we have mental immunity. None of us would be the person we are without our respective losses. The key is not to look at those losses from a place of deficiency, but as a foundation for the character we need to fulfill our purpose. Archbishop Tutu would not be Archbishop Tutu if he hadn't stared down apartheid. The Dalai Lama would not be the Dalai Lama without the experience of being in exile. 

That concept is a powerful one when combined with the understanding that developing this mental immunity is a lifelong learning process, one that can be cultivated. Very few of us can meditate five hours a day like the Dalai Lama, but there are things we can all implement in our own lives. Your book includes a section of practical ways to cultivate those pillars of joy.

If the book was envisioned as a birthday cake, that last layer is the frosting. The overall goal isn't to experience joy as a fleeting emotional state, such as when we're enjoying a song or our lunch. What the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu model for us, and which we saw so powerfully over the course of a week, is how it is possible for joy to become an enduring character trait in everyone's life. --Melissa Firman


Shelf vetted, publisher supported.


Rodale Kids: 'Bringing Health, Healing and Happiness' to Children, Too

Maria Rodale

Rodale Inc., the renowned health, happiness and wellness publisher for adults, is launching an imprint for children of all ages called Rodale Kids. As Rodale chairman, president and CEO Maria Rodale says, "It's long been a dream of mine to expand our award-winning and bestselling Rodale Books publishing program to kids, who are most open to learning new things. Our best-in-class books, magazines and products have transformed the well-being of millions of consumers, and we recognize that Rodale's commitment to shaping a brighter future really starts with our youngest generation. It's time to nurture our mission--to inspire health, healing and happiness in the world--among young readers and their families, where it all begins."

Rodale Kids' first list appears this fall and will consist of 10 titles (more on them below). The imprint plans to publish 30-45 titles a year, but may revise that in line with demand (it already has 50 titles slated for 2018). The books will be fiction and nonfiction for children from infants to teens. Rodale Books VP and publisher Gail Gonzales, who is heading Rodale Kids, says, "We're hopeful that reaching kids and teaching them healthy habits, positive thinking, mindfulness and more will improve their lives (and maybe their parents' lives) so that they don't have to learn these things later in life. Our mission of inspiring health, healing, happiness and love isn't just restricted to adults anymore."

In fact, in its name and in other ways, Rodale Kids makes references to its parent. The imprint's logo, for example, has a trefoil leaf with roots that go deep that is part of the traditional Rodale logo.

Gonzales says she has found this all deeply satisfying. "I love being able to put products out into the world that really help people and change their lives for the better," she explains. "I take it very seriously--I only want to be putting out books that have a good energy."

Rodale Kids is functioning much like a startup, Gonzales says, with many staffers working on both adult and kids titles. "We did have people who had previous kids experience so that definitely helps," she adds. "A great thing about Rodale is that when someone has a new creative idea, we try it. We are agile and nimble enough to start up business initiatives pretty quickly."

Gail Gonzales

The company wants Rodale Kids to stand out in the marketplace as "the go-to imprint for people when they're looking for a credible publisher in the health and wellness space," Gonzales continues. Both fiction and nonfiction should be known "as positive, uplifting, and able to teach ideas and concepts that go back to living a happy and healthy life on a happy, healthy planet." The titles will also aim for diversity in everything from illustration styles to the characters in the stories.

Rodale has increased its adult business in indie bookstores, improving its relationships and communications with booksellers, and will continue doing so this year. "We can always do better in this area," Gonzales says, "and the kids books will let us expand that relationship even further." She notes that Rodale Kids has "some fun things planned" around its taekwondo graphic novels for indies that include swag bags and interactive kits.

Rodale is also increasing its support of the library market. It exhibited at the ALA Midwinter conference for the first time, and has exciting plans for BookExpo and ALA in June. "The librarians are so welcoming and supportive," Gonzales says. "We want to be that right back to them."


Rodale Kids Brands: ATA, Story Pirates, Meddy Teddy, Bloomers

A significant part of Rodale Kids' publishing programs involves working with established brands that share Rodale's emphasis on health, healing and happiness. The four major partners are:

ATA International
ATA International (formerly known as the American Taekwondo Association) is the premier North American organization dedicated to the martial arts discipline of taekwondo and is the founding organization of other international affiliates, including the World Traditional Taekwondo Union and the Songahm Taekwondo Federation. In the United States and worldwide, the organizations have more than 1,500 independently owned and operated schools and clubs and more than a million students registered since ATA International's founding in 1969.

Rodale Kids and ATA International are launching the first book in the Team Taekwondo graphic novel series this fall, Ara's Rocky Road to White Belt (more on this title below), whose life skill lesson focuses on self-esteem. The second and third books in the series, which will appear in spring 2018 and fall 2018 will address respect and honesty, respectively.

Story Pirates
Story Pirates is a media and education organization founded in 2004 to celebrate the words, ideas and stories of young people. It has a popular podcast; had a show for five years called Story Pirates Radio on SiriusXM; performs in schools, festivals and performing arts centers; and has been featured and praised by a range of actors, comedians and personalities, including Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver and Conan O'Brien. A Story Pirates live show is an exciting combination of entertainment and education in which world-class comedians, actors and musicians take kids’ wildest ideas and bring them to life on stage.

The first Rodale Kids book done with the Story Pirates is Story Pirates Present: Stuck in the Stone Age by Geof Rodkey, which will appear in March 2018. Rodkey is the author of the bestselling The Tapper Twins Go to War and its sequels as well as the adventure-comedy trilogy The Chronicles of the Egg. He also is an Emmy Award-nominated screenwriter for movies--including Daddy Day Care, RV, The Shaggy Dog and Good Luck Charlie, It's Christmas--TV, video games and magazines.

The middle grade novel's premise is based on a Story Pirates contest winning entry from Tennessee sixth-grader Vince Boberski, who imagined some modern scientists being transported to prehistoric times where they'd have to use their wits to deal with cave men, saber-toothed tigers and other hazards of the era. The main two scientists at the center of Stuck in the Stone Age have problems: one isn't very good at science and the other isn't very good with people.

Meddy Teddy
Meddy Teddy is a yoga-practicing stuffed animal who was created by Thom Jordan while on a meditation retreat to help teach children (and adults) about meditation and mindfulness. Meddy Teddy can demonstrate yoga poses and is a role model and yoga buddy for children. Meddy Teddy is also a social media star, with almost 30,000 Instagram followers and comes wearing a pair of zen white yoga pants.

Rodale Kids will release two Meddy Teddy books early next year. Meddy Teddy by Apple Jordan (January 16, 2018) allows kids to experience Meddy Teddy in picture book form, following him and his forest friends as they use yoga in their everyday adventures. The Meddy Teddy board book appears in spring 2018.

Bloomers!
Founded by Cynthia Wylie, Bloomers! aims to connect children with nature and promote healthy eating using a variety of approaches. Its Bloomers! Schoolyard is a gardening program and curriculum for schools with educator videos, schoolyard products and classroom resources. Bloomers! Backyard includes a homeschool curriculum, outdoor games and activities, a garden guidebook and instructions. Bloomers! Island is an educational online world with hands-on lessons that includes gardening applications and a community garden blog.

Rodale Kids will begin its publishing program with Bloomers! with Bloomers Island, a hardcover title that will appear in January 2018. Then the first two Bloomers! series trade paperback picture books will appear in April 2018. After that, two Bloomers! books will appear in spring and winter each year. The series will follow a featured character of Bloomers Island on a gardening adventure to instill habits of healthy eating in children--and inspire them to actually grow plants.


The Joy of All Genres

Bustle offered "7 reasons you should never feel guilty about what you enjoy reading, no matter what genre it is."

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Noting that "in 18th-century Europe, the practice was considered a menace to life and property, but mostly to morals," the Atlantic explored "the dangers of reading in bed."

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"Create your dream library and we'll guess your favorite classic novel," Buzzfeed challenged.

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"Advice from fictional millionaires" was distributed by Quirk Books.

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With Amitrani's Double J bookcase & floor lamp, the "weight of the books helps the lamp to bend in a manner so accentuated to support the LED panel placed at the end."


Thomas Nelson: A Stranger at Fellsworth (Treasures of Surrey) by Sarah E. Ladd


The Sad End of Bedtime Reading

"I'm nearing the end of bedtime reading with my daughter and it's breaking my heart," Tom Burns wrote in Brightly.

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"Incredibly rare" pages made by England's first printer, William Caxton, more than 500 years ago have been discovered, BBC News reported.

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Mental Floss showcased "11 English words that make more sense when you know their Arabic roots."

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Author Xan Brooks selected his "top 10 terrible houses in fiction" for the Guardian.

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Mauro del Santo's modular and flexible BooKaos bookshelves are "composed of vertical rails and horizontal elements that can be arranged to form shelves, containers, bookholders," Bookshelf reported.


New Press: Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women by Susan Burton and Cari Lynn


Poems About Summer

Bustle shared "10 poems about summer that you can read online right now."

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"Because exclamation points and question marks are so basic," Mental Floss suggested "13 little-known punctuation marks to try."

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"Amazing Stephen King-inspired artwork from Gallery 1988" was displayed by Flavorwire.

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An exhibition of Charles Dickens's "campaigning journalism shows the fruits of his night-time walks and how his issues are also ours," the Guardian reported.

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"These 15 shelfies will help you up your book Instagram game," Bustle promised.


HarperCollins: Celebrating 200 Years of Great Books


Writers and Cats

"Famous writers and their feline friends" were showcased by Read it Forward.

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The New York Public Library offered a bookish playlist of "10 songs about libraries and librarians."

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The American Writers Museum, featuring nearly 11,000 square feet of galleries, will open May 16 in Chicago.

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Philippe Van Haute and Herman Westerink picked their "top 10 books about psychoanalysis" for the Guardian.

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Rebecca Jones's "reading snug" shed won the Grand Shed Project, which challenged five of the U.K.'s top interior and garden designers to transform sheds "into stylish garden retreats," Bookshelf noted.


Harper: Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton


How to Nurture Young Readers

PopSugar featured "10 easy ways to raise a reader."

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Harry Potter fans "can experience a world of magic through a new immersive tour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art," DNAinfo NY reported.

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Richard Ford shared "his ten rules for writing" with the National Post.

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Read It Forward gathered "7 of the least self-aware characters in literature."

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Bustle offered "14 necessary political lessons from the works of William Shakespeare."


Shelf Awareness Sign-up Giveaway: Deadly Game  (Robert Finlay #2) by Matt Johnson


How Reading Is Good for Your Mental Health

Bustle diagnosed "9 ways reading is good for your mental health."

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"Ludacris rapped a Llama Llama book and it was epic," the Huffington Post reported.

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To recognize Scurvy Awareness Day this week, Quirk Books highlighted "5 swashbuckling stories about pirates!"

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In Germany, Argentine artist Marta Minujín "is creating a Parthenon made of 100,000 banned books," Open Culture reported.

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The Bookshelf showcased Gerard de Hoop's Bricks bookcase, a "free standing metal bookcase and room divider."


Great Reads

Rediscover: Band of Brothers

Military historian and biographer Stephen E. Ambrose (1936-2002) was inspired to write his most popular book, Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest, while attending a reunion of Easy Company veterans in 1988. During interviews conducted for the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans (now called the National WWII Museum), Ambrose was struck by the lasting bond still shared by these aging soldiers. In 1992, after incorporating more interviews and input from Easy Company survivors, Band of Brothers was released to rave reviews, becoming Ambrose's first bestseller. Its 2001 adaptation into a 10-part HBO miniseries (for which Ambrose was an executive producer) brought the story of Easy Company to an even wider audience.

Band of Brothers tracks the training and combat experiences of a parachute infantry company through the D-Day invasion, across France, Holland and Germany, all the way to Hitler's hideout in Berchtesgaden. Easy Company's parachute drops into Normandy and the Netherlands, their besiegement in Bastogne, among so many other perilous operations, shows what ordinary men were capable of when called upon to serve--an apt lesson for this upcoming Memorial Day. A miniseries tie-in edition, with a new foreword by Ambrose, was released by Simon & Schuster in 2001 ($17, 9780743224543). --Tobias Mutter


Rediscover: Confederates in the Attic

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War (1998) is a mix of travelogue, humor and history that alternates effortlessly between the absurd and deadly serious legacies of the American Civil War. Horwitz travels through the Southern United States to places where a 130-year-old war still impacts daily life. He participates in hardcore reenactments, in which starving and freezing are considered good form, tours controversial memorial sites, uncovers the real history behind Gone with the Wind, and follows along on a week-long "Civil Wargasm" tour of battlefields in Virginia and Maryland while in authentic uniform.

Horwitz's look at racial tension and Confederate symbols could be cribbed from modern headlines. The murder of Michael Westerman, shot while waving a Confederate flag from the back of his pickup truck, is just one extreme example of the open animosity Horwitz discovers in Southern states. That vexating vexillological issue, and problematic monuments to Confederate causes, are still enormous headaches. Confederates in the Attic became a major bestseller, and the paperback has been in print since 1999 (Vintage, $17, 9780679758334). Horwitz's latest book, Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War, came out in 2011. --Tobias Mutter


Rediscover: The Secret Man

On the night of June 17, 1972, five men were arrested for breaking and entering into the Democratic National Committee's headquarters at the Watergate complex. Two years later, Richard Nixon resigned rather than face certain impeachment. The story of how a bungled burglary overthrew a president began with a trail of money that connected Nixon's Committee to Reelect the President and the Watergate break-in. Reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post helped bring the scandal to public light. Their anonymous source, whom Woodward met in a parking garage several times between June 1972 and January 1973, revealed that Watergate's roots lay in the highest branches of the Federal government.

The identity of this leaker, nicknamed Deep Throat, remained a mystery for 33 years. In 2005, former FBI associate director Mark Felt was finally confirmed as Woodward's source. Woodward said Felt was compelled to release publicly FBI findings after the Nixon administration's attempts to interfere with the Bureau's investigation. Mark Felt's 2006 memoir, A G-Man's Life: The FBI, Being 'Deep Throat,' And the Struggle for Honor in Washington (PublicAffairs), co-authored with John O'Connor, is currently out of print. In 2005, Woodward wrote The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat (Simon & Schuster, $16.99, 9780743287166), which chronicles Woodward's long relationship with Felt, one that preceded Watergate and became tumultuous when Felt later went on trial for authorizing unconstitutional searches of Weather Underground members' homes. --Tobias Mutter


Rediscover: Jean Stein

Author and editor Jean Stein, a pioneer of narrative oral history with works like American Journey: The Times of Robert Kennedy (1971) and Edie: An American Biography (1982), died on April 30 at age 83. While studying in Paris during the 1950s, Stein conducted a lengthy interview with novelist William Faulkner (with whom she shared a romantic attachment), which she leveraged into an editorial position at the Paris Review. Upon her return to New York, Stein worked for Clay Felker of Esquire magazine. Between 1990 and 2004, she was editor and publisher of Grand Street, a quarterly literary journal.

American Journey: The Times of Robert Kennedy, written in collaboration with Paris Revue editor George Plimpton, was inspired in part by Stein's trip on the train that bore RFK's body from New York to Washington (as facilitated by her first husband, lawyer and Kennedy aide William vanden Heuvel). Stein and Plimpton also worked together on Edie: An American Biography, about heiress and Andy Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick, who died of a drug overdose at age 28. Jean Stein's most recent work, West of Eden: An American Place, is an oral history of the figures that shaped early Hollywood, including Stein's father, a co-founder of MCA. It was released in paperback in February 2017 (Random House, $20, 9780812987935). --Tobias Mutter


The Writer's Life

Paula Hawkins: Drawn to Dark Subject Matter

photo: Alisa Connan

Paula Hawkins is best known for The Girl on the Train, her psychological thriller (turned major motion picture) about a despondent, down on her luck, voyeuristic commuter who gets swept up in a murder investigation. Hawkins's sophomore psychological suspense novel, Into the Water (just published by Riverhead; read our review below), delivers another dark, spellbinding story that explores the overt and subtle ways trauma, grief and long-buried secrets can affect minds, hearts and motivations. 

Why do you think The Girl on the Train resonated so deeply with readers?

I think there are two main points of resonance: the voyeuristic impulse, which I believe is universal, and the character of Rachel (the main protagonist). Rachel is liked and loathed, but she rarely bores.

Has success altered how you write?

Success is both reassuring (people liked the book, so I must have done something right) and unnerving (I now have a huge readership with sky-high expectations). When I was writing Into the Water, I just had to shut out the noise, concentrate on the task at hand and write the best book that I could. That is how I approach every book: I want to improve, to stretch myself.

Is the town of Beckford, the setting of Into the Water, based on an actual place?

Beckford is entirely fictional, although the part of the world in which I have placed it--Northumberland, in the northeast of England--is real.

Why did you choose to structure the book via varying points of view, weaving in a complex and historical backstory and even including fictional book passages?

I had to devise all sorts of strategies in order to tell this twisted tale. There are many mysteries in the book, both current and historic--and the challenge was to allow the characters' secrets to reveal themselves at the right pace and in an interesting way. So I chose to tell my story from many different viewpoints, some first person and some third person; I chose to include flashbacks and a book-within-a-book.... I even chose to leave one or two mysteries unsolved.

A large cast of characters populates Into the Water and those characters are quite diverse in terms of age, life experience, status and background.

The characters developed slowly, over time, the way my characters always do. I have to live with them for a while, to get into their heads and under their skin. That was quite a task for this book, because it has a much wider cast of characters than The Girl on the Train did.

Any favorite characters--who and why?

I love Nickie Sage. Nickie claims to be a psychic--she says she's descended from witches and that she can talk to the dead. Everyone in the village thinks she's a nutter, or a fraud, so they ignore her. But--whether you believe her outlandish claims or not--the fact is, she's an observer. She's canny and astute, and she knows everybody's business.

When you sit down to write a new novel, do you conceptualize the book from start to finish, or does the story arise organically?

I usually know the bones of the story, its basic architecture. But the detail evolves during the writing. I think that many of my better ideas and more ingenious twists have come to me while I was immersed in the writing process.

Do you ever get blocked or stalled in your writing? If so, what do you do?

I don't tend to get blocked, but I do sometimes write myself into a corner from which I find it difficult to escape. When that happens, I usually go for a walk, take a long hot bath or, if neither of those things help, I turn to my agent, my plotting co-conspirator.

You were a journalist before writing novels. What was the impetus for you to branch out?

I was on staff at the Times for several years, but I also freelanced, working for a number of publications. I covered finance and property (real estate), which I really enjoyed, but I was never a great journalist. I'm much better at making up stories than I am at getting the truth out of a reluctant subject.

Using the pseudonym Amy Silver, you wrote "chick lit" novels. Did those influence the writing you're doing today?

Writing those books was wonderful training: I learned a great deal about developing character and about how to pace a novel in order to draw the reader into the story.

Would you ever return to writing romantic comedies?

No. I wouldn't--it really wasn't my forte (I'm not romantic, or particularly funny for that matter...).

How and why did you switch to writing such dark, psychological suspense?

Psychological suspense is much more my cup of tea--I'm drawn to dark subject matter. I'm fascinated by the behavior of people who are frightened, or grieving, or lonely, or damaged in some other way.

Who are your favorite authors?

I have so many favourites. To name just a few: Kate Atkinson, Pat Barker, Margaret Atwood, Sebastian Barry, Armistead Maupin, John Boyne, Cormac McCarthy. In terms of contemporary psych-suspense, I think Megan Abbott is wonderful.

Any plans for Into the Water to hit the big screen? And who do you think should play the key characters?

Dreamworks has optioned it, so hopefully we'll see it up on the big screen before too long. I'm not fantasy-casting just yet. Don't want to jinx anything....
--Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines


Claire Dederer: Power and Vulnerability

photo: Jenny Jimenez

Claire Dederer is the author of the bestselling memoir Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses, which has been translated into 12 languages. Her new memoir, Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning (Knopf, May 9, 2017), explores her unexpected erotic reawakening in her mid-40s, dissecting her past and present while examining aging, sex, marriage, friendship and creativity with acuity, wit and a sometimes- startling honesty. Our review is below.

Early in your memoir, you write "Sex is changing and becoming dirty again," just as you were getting "lumpy and old(ish)." Your daughter, then 12, was near your age when you started going off the rails. Her "glowiness" raised the question of your mortality, but not in any way you cared to admit. Since you have finished the book, can you admit what those ways are?

I think all those things that I don't care to admit have to do with my own lack of desire to think about who I was when I was young, and about my own impending mortality. And then the book perversely becomes my thinking obsessively about all these things. In the final chapter, I'm just trying to talk about what we're going to do until we die--keeping on doing new things. Who knows why we keep going, or how we keep going with a sense of aging and impending death?

And trying to figure out how to be old. You long for the approving gaze of men that fades with aging. What do you replace it with?

I think the book is trying to unmask the motivations for that need. For approval. I try to look at it critically. I'm not trying to get over my need for it, but analyzing darker sides of my personality helps me. It's also an acknowledgement of what doesn't get talked a lot about: that loss of being seen sexually and, in terms of attractiveness, being objectified by the male gaze. We see that objectification as a negative, but it's also something that for our entire lives we are taught to seek and to value. So when we lose it, there's no language for mourning it. But it is a passing of a time of life, and one of the main themes of the book is that I was taught by my culture, by the people around me, to be a sexual creature from way too young an age; I didn't want to be taught that, but I became good at it. The middle-aged person I am in the book is in despair over some of this loss, and figuring out who she is. She's starting to see glimmers through her friendships, travel, the freedom in her marriage, her continuing joy in her children and her work. These are the things I come back around to at the end of the book. But most of the book is me as a character trying to figure out how to move on without that gaze.

In order to move on, do you have to give up the past?

I don't think my looking at the past is motivated by some healthy desire to move on. That makes it sound like a therapeutic impulse, like I was having a hard time. That's not what this book is. What it's describing is me doing a lot of bad behaviors in mid-life, feeling a lot of old feelings of despair and sexual yearning and an intense desire for emotional experiences. Wondering why I am feeling this, and realizing that, oh my gosh, this is exactly how I felt when I was an adolescent and young adult. Exactly. It's not so much me in a healthy way going back and trying to unearth my problems and solve them. It's more like f**ked-up middle-age me seeing f**ked-up adolescent me across the years and sort of saluting each other. That's really the dynamic of the book.

When you talk about thriving in captivity, it reminds me of what you write about pomegranates and Persephone--how she wants a break from her expectations and duties, so she gets herself abducted.

That's the emotional center of the book: It's a very historically female view--I want a change but I want a change to happen to me. I want to give up my agency and pretend I'm not responsible for what is happening to me. That placing of myself in a victim position, as an abductee, is a theme I explore throughout the book.

Writing about Lucy in A Room with a View, and the sun-drenched golden kiss with George, you say, "some of us... when we are middle-aged ladies, we will be susceptible to incursions, to people who make us feel like something is happening to us." That's an interesting way to look at mid-life: being susceptible to incursions.

That's a two-part observation. One is the idea that women are discouraged from seeing their depression or crisis as a comprehension of mortality. It's called menopause, it's not considered the understanding that women can see the same thing on the horizon as men. We are all dealing with mortality. My friend Gordon runs an Everest expedition company, and he says the times of real trouble on the mountain are with either a 45-year-old woman or a 65-year-old man. Those are the times women and men are confronting the end of their ability to have children, and thus confronting their own mortality. That results in a lot of really dumb decisions to summit at any cost.

And then, the second part--being open to incursion. I had never even been kissed by anyone other than my husband in 15 years of marriage, but clearly there was something volatile in me that was suddenly visible. That invited incursion. It was almost as though I were like a vacant body, roaming around, inviting whatever it is someone wanted to enact on that body. Because I was just so checked out in many ways.

What do you have to complain about? You have a good marriage, a nice family, a lovely house, a career....

To talk about it of course invited charges of whining. And privilege. I understand that, but I also think that it's important to try to take apart one's own experience and understand it. Empathy and all of the good human emotions flow out of being in touch with your own pain and real feelings. Clearly the person in this book has been managing those feelings for a really long time, by ignoring them and doing what she can to step around them. I will say I am not a person who believes in catharsis or transformation--we don't really change, we cycle around and become the same person over and over--but I do know that reconnecting with the melancholy and the despair and the difficulty I experienced as a young person made me nicer. It made me more authentically nice. More authentically kind. I am more sympathetic to other people and way less judgmental. Because that's what a rough patch does.

In the '70s and '80s, you "saw every question as a sex question because that was the only answer" you thought you had. Today we have the Kardashians--is that still the only answer?

That's not the only answer for a lot of young women. My daughter, who is 18, is definitely not that person. For some women it's the only answer, which obviously has a lot of rewards attached to it. I've thought a lot about this issue of then and now because the 1970s--when I was an adolescent--was a particularly sexually predatory period, combined with an era of more lax parenting. And more social mobility and openness. All of these things seem like they're good things on their own, but when you put them together, it's a match to tinder. None of those elements on their own should have a victim, but there were victims--girls. We feel so individual, but I'm fascinated by how we are products of a cultural moment. That was the impulse I was following in Poser as well. I have thought a lot about this kind of sexual pressure on girls and where we are now. I feel like culturally we've become more and more crass, in terms of the way we treat girls in media, but parents are way more aware of the dangers. Sexuality is far more dangerous than it was in the '70s.

Talking about sex and agency and power, you say, "You want the men of the world to hold you down, to obliterate you, to take away the agency you spent so many years fighting for, cultivating, growing."

I think there's one part toward the end of the book where I grapple with talking about being a sexual person and liking sex. That's a very difficult thing for me to write down, let alone say out loud to you. But I say that sex is the site of purest simplicity and I think that feeling has its roots in objectification, which I've spent the book setting up and explaining. It's not the way I would have chosen my sexuality to be shaped. But out of that came this thing in my life that has been a powerful and positive force. I think that in that moment, when I'm being overwhelmed by my husband or I'm being touched by someone in the way that takes away my agency, there's a way that that other person is transporting me to a place where I'm happy. Where I feel good. And I don't always feel comfortable, for a lot of reasons, in wanting this. And so I'm grateful to them for just saying "You're going." But that's very difficult, surrendering that agency so one doesn't have to be responsible for one's sexuality. That's a very dark and complicated thing to talk about.

What will it be like to have written a book that is so open about your sex life, and then doing readings and appearances?

I don't know. I got embarrassed just telling you I like sex. I'm scared about going out and supporting this book. I'm nervous about talking about it--it brings up some volatile ideas. I want to represent those correctly with the proper ambiguity and complications. It's a strongly feminist book in a subtle and complicated way. But I wrote this for the me that was in despair five years ago and I really believe in it. If one person gets something out of it, that's valuable to me. --Marilyn Dahl


John Kessel: Sex (and Pianos) on the Moon

photo: John Pagliuca

John Kessel is the author of the novels Good News from Outer Space and Corrupting Dr. Nice and the story collections Meeting in Infinity, The Pure Product and The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories. His fiction has received the Nebula Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award and the James Tiptree Jr. Award for fiction dealing with gender issues. He teaches American literature and fiction writing at North Carolina State University. He lives in Raleigh with his wife, the novelist Therese Anne Fowler. Kessel's new novel, The Moon and the Other (reviewed below), recently published by Saga Press, is set on the moon in the 22nd century and tells two love stories, in two politically opposed lunar colonies--the patriarchal Persepolis and the matriarchal Society of Cousins.

What was the genesis of The Moon and the Other?

When my daughter was little, I'd take her to daycare and watch her on the playground with other kids. There was a difference in the way that the girls and the boys played. The boys would run around, often doing solitary things. The girls would sit in a sandbox doing things together. So I began to wonder: To what degree is gendered behavior innate, and to what degree is it learned?

I read up about primate behavior, including chimpanzees and bonobos, both related to human beings, but with different cultures. That started me wondering whether there are other ways society could be organized. I didn't see myself as advocating anything, but I did consider how the world might be organized differently.

There's a great scene where the protagonists meet with lawyers for a custody hearing, and they're serving tea and greeting each other with hugs.

Bonobos have a female-dominated culture where they defuse conflict by hugging and kissing and snuggling. And having a lot of sex.

Sex is very open and free and unrestricted in the Society of Cousins. Heterosexual sex, homosexual sex, every variety of sexuality. There are personal choices involved, but the culture doesn't repress sexuality.

And you nod to other genders...

That's right. I'm very aware of the rapid changes in our sense of what makes gender. I don't think gender is a strict binary, and it is somewhat fluid.

In creating the Society of Cousins, did you intend to write about femaleness?

I'd say it's more about masculinity. I feel our culture offers impoverished options for people to be men.

Men are asked to behave in limited ways. I'm not saying men aren't privileged--men are very much privileged in our society--but I also think that the roles offered to them, the ways you're supposed to be male, require cutting parts of your heart out in order to fit in.

How do you define science fiction?

The writer Frederick Pohl said that science fiction is a way of thinking about things. It's similar to thinking in terms of sociology, or politics, or any number of other disciplines. You suggest alternatives, project consequences, and see how it looks.

The main thing is, you have to put abstract ideas into the lives of individual people. It's not an essay you're writing. We talk about the ideas I was putting into the book, but in the end, I wanted to write a story about some people. I want you to get caught up in the characters' problems, with risk, adventure, even action scenes.

And explosions! You can't have a science fiction book without explosions!

Kim Stanley Robinson blurbed this book, and one of his lesser-known novels, Pacific Edge, has an Ecotopia-like plot that revolves around a zoning battle. So was that an inspiration for the custody battle at the center of this novel?

I am one of Kim Stanley Robinson's biggest fans. I've read pretty much everything he's ever written. In each book, he looks at different aspects of society and makes them into personal stories. Pacific Edge might've been at the back of my mind. I know that I've learned things from reading his work.

There's a lot of science in what's otherwise a character-driven story. Why?

I like science fiction that takes science seriously and tries to be as accurate as possible. It annoys me a great deal when a story just abandons scientific reality for the sake of a plot. I have a degree in physics, so I try very hard to make it as plausible as I can, given the kind of story I'm telling.

I read a lot about the lunar environment and how to create a colony that would be self-sustaining in an incredibly inhospitable place. I mean, you don't have air, you don't have water. You have immense troubles with radiation. Living on the moon, you'd have to solve all these things long-term in order to sustain millions of people.

My most prosperous colony, Persepolis, is located at the lunar south pole. Why? It's one of the coldest spots in the solar system, down to 40 degrees Kelvin, but that's where probes have discovered deposits of ice. Water is a precious commodity, and extremely massive. It would be very expensive to bring water from the earth to the moon. So if there's a place where you can actually mine ice on the moon, that would be a tremendous economic advantage.

How would you mine a place like that, what would be the risk involved, and what would be the economics? That real science gave my colony a tangibility.

There's an optimism to this book. It feels a bit like a golden age science fiction novel. But those came out of an era that was very optimistic.

It's easy for people of my generation, at my age, to get down on the world. The human race does a lot of stupid things, but I feel that we have to try to do better. We're capable of it. I think it's incumbent on writers to imagine things that might be better.

It has a sense of wonder, too.

Science fiction should be fun. I want to show you things you've never seen before. I'm going to show you what it's like to live inside a huge domed crater, and how it works. I'm going to show you an underground forest on the moon, and I'm going to take you to the ice mine where the temperature is near absolute zero, and I'm going to show you an intelligent dog.

I put an ocean and an artificial beach underground on the moon. Could you do it? How? I wanted to create a place where people on the moon who've never seen water beyond what you could put in a cup can go to a beach and actually swim in water.

And I know I'm the only science fiction writer ever to put a lot of thought into how you would manufacture pianos on the moon.

What authors are you a proselytizer for?

I have my favorites, writers of my generation who I'm fond of, like Karen Joy Fowler, James Patrick Kelly, Bruce Sterling and Kij Johnson. There is a generation of new science fiction and fantasy writers that I am not as familiar with as I should be. People like Usman Malik, Lavie Tidhar, Nora Jemisin, Saladin Ahmed, E. Lily Yu, Alyssa Wong, Eugene Fischer, a dozen others.

What are you working on now?

I just turned in a draft of a new novel called Pride and Prometheus. It was originally a story I wrote in 2008 that merges characters from Pride and Prejudice and Frankenstein.

It’s about Mary Bennet, the moralistic, foolish middle sister in Pride and Prejudice. She's 32, a spinster, and no one's ever wanted to marry her. As she's coming to grips with that reality, she falls in love with Victor Frankenstein, who's in England to create a bride for his monster. And who's probably not a good choice for a partner. --Zak Nelson, writer and bookseller


Ernie Johnson Jr.: 'A Good Sport!'

photo: Edward M. Pio Roda/Turner Sports

Ernie Johnson Jr. is a three-time Sports Emmy Award winner and host of Inside the NBA on the TNT network. Throughout a career that spans 40 years, he's broadcasted a range of sporting events--from major league baseball to Wimbledon to the Olympics--and he's traveled the world. In his memoir, Unscripted (see our review here), Johnson shares inspirational stories about some of the special, unpredictable and unscripted personal moments that have enriched and defined his life.

Unscripted is more about your personal life than your broadcasting career.

I consider myself very fortunate--blessed--to have the job I've had at Turner Broadcasting for so many years. But that's what it is--my job.... Episodes of my work life are intertwined in Unscripted. But to me, my work provides texture to a bigger story about what means the most in my life and how my family and I have navigated cancer, adoption, raising special needs children, the father-son dynamic and the matter of faith.

The theme of the book is learning to appreciate the unscripted moments of life. Are you, by nature, a spontaneous person or do you prefer having structure in your life?

I would say that's been an evolving process. My wife, Cheryl, will tell you that, early in our married life, she could predict exactly what I was going to order if we went out for dinner. I was a meat and potatoes guy who very rarely went outside the culinary box. I was sort of that way, too, when we had kids and figured that when we had a boy and a girl, that was that. End of story. Cheryl is really the one who opened my eyes to adoption, and it changed our lives. I've been much more of an unscripted guy ever since.

You have six children?

Eric and Maggie, our biological children, were so accepting from the moment they first laid eyes on Michael (adopted from Romania) and Carmen (adopted from Paraguay). Michael has developmental delays and muscular dystrophy, so his special needs have been ongoing for more than 25 years now. Eric, Maggie and Carmen experienced the adoption process as kids and now that Cheryl and I have adopted two more girls--Ashley and Allison in 2011--they see, as adults, the demands placed on a family, and they know the difficulties that come along with the blessings.

Family anchors the book. Your father was a great baseball player and a lauded sportscaster. Did you ever work together?

The greatest thrill I've ever had as a broadcaster was working with my father for parts of four seasons in the mid-1990s. We would do the play-by-play for an Atlanta Braves Game of the Week on regional cable, and it was a blast. My dad had come out of retirement to work the games, and to be able to sit there with him shoulder to shoulder was tremendous. 

Over the course of Unscripted, you demonstrate how faith became the grounding force of your life.

I was raised a Catholic, but lapsed. When Cheryl and I went the non-denominational church route in 1997, it was, in a way, "unscripted," and we were encouraged to read the Bible, which I had long considered outdated and irrelevant. I found the messages that were being taught from the pulpit captivating and incredibly useful on a day-to-day basis. I've realized that although I came to a real Christian faith relatively late in life (at the age of 41), even when I wasn't paying attention to God, He was paying attention to me.

You've been in remission from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma for 10 years. How did your faith play a role?

My faith enabled me to frame my illness so I wasn't asking, "Oh, no. Why me?" Rather, I focused on how this battle would be used to shape me. Those years--from diagnosis through treatment (2003-2006)--were a time when I leaned in heavily on my faith. The words "Trust God. Period" became my mantra.

Has cancer changed your perspective on sports and/or the world?

Cancer did make me slow down and enjoy the moment more. When you go through something like that, with all of its inherent worry and anxiety, and you're a father--and you don't know if you're going to be around for graduations and weddings and grandchildren and anniversaries--it's pretty scary. I've always felt that sports are simply a pleasant distraction from the real world, so cancer didn't change that perspective a bit.

Is it as much fun as it looks broadcasting for Inside the NBA?

Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O'Neal--the great people I work with--are as close to brothers as I'll ever have. We do a show that's spontaneous, free-wheeling and unpredictable. No one has ever been at a loss for words on the show, and often it's the loudest voice that gets heard. Things do get out of hand on occasion, but I think the spontaneous nature of the program is what attracts viewers. They don't know what's going to happen next. And sometimes, neither do I.

What moments from the many sporting events you've covered over the years stand out most for you?

When we talk about "moments" that I'll remember, there was Jack Nicklaus playing his final round of major championship golf at the British Open at St. Andrews in Scotland. Broadcasting from the grounds at Wimbledon, and from the NFL sidelines. And calling major league baseball playoff games from Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field.

Has sports broadcasting changed over your career?

When I was working in Macon, Ga., CNN had just started up and people said, "That'll never work. Nobody wants a 24-hour news channel." They said the same thing about ESPN. They were wrong. Once upon a time, if you wanted to cover the NBA, the NFL, major league baseball or the Olympics, you had to work for one of the Big Three--CBS, NBC or ABC. Cable changed all of that, and being at Turner (TNT and TBS), I've had the chance to cover all those events. These days, digital has become such a major force in our industry--watching games online, on your phones. I have no idea how viewers will be consuming sports even five years from now. It's a very exciting and unscripted time to be working in TV.

Do you have a favorite spectator sport?

I don't know if I have a favorite, but there's something cool about watching a hockey game live. The chill in the air, the sound of the skates and the puck on the boards.

Care to offer your prediction about the NBA Finals in 2017?

Golden State is gonna be there out of the West. And if it's not the Cavs in the East, then it just might be Washington. That's as far out on the limb as I'll go.

You have a propensity for wearing bow ties. Why?

Four years ago, I decided to wear a bow tie to a Christmas party just for fun. I've been wearing 'em ever since--but only for basketball. When I'm broadcasting baseball and golf, I stick with the traditional necktie. 

Why different styles? Why not keep consistent?

It's probably because the NBA has been more of a fashion forward/fashion statement kind of league, where thinking outside the box is more the norm, so I've felt comfortable going away from the traditional tie. But one thing that is a constant--no matter what sport I'm broadcasting--is my sock game. I've got some beauties. Life is too short to wear boring socks! --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines


Book Review

Fiction

I Found You

by Lisa Jewell


Lisa Jewell (The Girls in the Garden, The Third Wife) is a brilliant storyteller, creating suspenseful yet believable novels time and again. I Found You is no exception--filled with intriguing characters connected in startling ways. In the present day, Alice Lake, a lonely single mother, finds a man with amnesia on a beach in northern England. Meanwhile, Lily Monrose is a Ukrainian bride who has been in London for three weeks when her new husband goes missing. She turns to the police, but learns that "Carl Monrose" is a false identity, and her husband never actually existed.

Alternating chapters set 23 years earlier tell of Gray and Kirsty, a brother and sister contentedly vacationing at the seaside with their parents until a dark and unpredictable stranger inserts himself into their lives. As the secrets and unknowns build, even the best armchair sleuths will be met with surprises.

As Alice's interest in the amnesiac--whom her daughter has dubbed "Frank"--and Lily's desperation grow, Jewell ratchets up the tension in Gray and Kirsty's lives as well. The dueling time periods make I Found You all the more intense; she is deviously reticent to reveal the siblings' impact on the present. Quickly paced yet delicately nuanced, this novel is sure to appeal to fans of Big Little Lies and The Woman in Cabin 10. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: One woman finds a mysterious stranger and one woman loses her husband, sending them both on journeys of discovery.

Atria, $26, hardcover, 352p., 9781501154591

The Jane Austen Project

by Kathleen A. Flynn


"What kind of maniac travels in time?" The answer is Dr. Rachel Katzman--a Jane Austen fan with a keen desire to retrieve the manuscript of the author's supposedly unfinished seventh novel, and to identify the mysterious disease that caused her death at age 41. Under the auspices of the Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics, Rachel and her colleague Liam Finucane travel to 1815, where they pose as a wealthy brother and sister newly arrived in England from Jamaica. From there, Kathleen Flynn spins an entertaining story of time travel, complicated romantic connections and Austenalia in her debut novel, The Jane Austen Project.

Rachel's wry, observant narrative voice teaches readers the delights and hardships of life in 1815 with rich historical detail. Flynn renders the whole Austen clan vividly: charming Henry, self-absorbed James, neurotic Mrs. Austen, disapproving Cassandra. Jane is as witty and wise a friend as Rachel could wish for, but the latter can never forget that she has a set return date and a task to complete. As Jane's health worsens and their time begins to run out, Rachel also must face the fact that her feelings for Liam are decidedly un-sisterly. Flynn's conclusion raises (and leaves lingering) a few unsettling questions: How much change is too much? Can anyone travel back in time without drastically affecting the future? And is a manuscript--even a completed version of The Watsons--worth a life?

Witty, well-researched and thought-provoking, Flynn's debut is a fun and unusual addition to the canon of Austen tributes and pastiche. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: In Kathleen Flynn's debut novel, two time travelers befriend Jane Austen and try to retrieve a lost manuscript.

Harper Perennial, $15.99, paperback, 384p., 9780062651259

Salt Houses

by Hala Alyan


Hala Alyan's first novel follows the lives of one Palestinian family through the last half of the 20th century into the 21st. Although the history of the Middle East is filled with fraught moments during this time, Salt Houses focuses on what happens before, and after, those moments. Alyan, a poet who also works as a psychologist, is more interested in how people choose to, or choose not to, move on from moments of trauma and upheaval.

The book begins in 1963 with the wedding of headstrong Alia and taciturn Atef, a simple middle-class marriage in the Palestinian town of Nablus. Alia's mother, Salma, reads her daughter's tea leaves, and, in an act of motherly protection, lies about what she has seen. Her silence, while noble, does little to protect Alia from the traumas to come. Soon, she and Atef must flee Palestine for Kuwait, raising their family in a foreign world that shatters once the Gulf War begins. Their three children flee in turn--one, Riham, into a marriage to a much older man and a life of faith; the other two, daughter Souad and son Karam, to the West.

Merely by being a novel about Palestinians, Salt Houses will be considered a political work. That's unfair, given that Alyan very purposefully eschews any political position (in fact, the book seems to suggest any political stance is ultimately rendered untenable by the flow of time). The history of the Palestinian people drives the narrative, but Salt Houses treats it as ancillary, a way to present decisions that can be probed to explore deeper questions about family, love and overcoming trauma. --Noah Cruickshank

Discover: Salt Houses focuses on how a family can grow and survive in the wake of conflict.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26, hardcover, 320p., 9780544912588

The Witchfinder's Sister

by Beth Underdown


The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown opens in 1645, as Alice Hopkins, pregnant and newly widowed, returns in disgrace to her brother's house near London. The two siblings were close as children--after Matthew was disfigured as an infant, Alice was his constant companion--but as adults they have been estranged since Alice, raised Protestant, married a Catholic. Now, dependent upon her brother's favor, she is appalled to realize that Matthew has begun a campaign to ferret out witches by exploiting the pettiness often found in small villages. "Once you have said a name, there is no unsaying," Alice realizes. This debut novel illuminates the malevolence of a flawed and self-righteous man obsessed with women who flout society's expectations.

Matthew's indiscriminate hunt to eradicate witches gains power with every woman he convicts. "The number of women my brother Matthew has killed, as far as I can reckon it, is one hundred and six," Alice writes in her daily book. She is determined to stop him, and in doing so puts her own life in peril, for Matthew's monstrosity means that even his sister can be silenced.

Matthew Hopkins was a real man who instigated numerous witch trials in England between 1645 and 1647. While the trials in Salem, Mass., may be better known, an estimated 40,000-60,000 people, mostly women, were killed as witches in England. Fans of Geraldine Brooks and Sarah Dunant will welcome this well-researched and emotionally charged historical novel, told from the often invisible woman's perspective. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: A young woman with no influence but a strong conscience subverts her powerful brother's witch-hunting crusade in 1645 England.

Ballantine Books, $28, hardcover, 336p., 9780399179143

Startup

by Doree Shafrir


What happens if you take a piece of Silicon Valley and drop it near Manhattan's Madison Square Park? In BuzzFeed culture writer Doree Shafrir's first novel, Startup, you get the same laid-back techie incubator open offices with nerf guns, iced coffee kegerators and lunchtime yoga classes--but you also get huddled sidewalk-smoking employees and 4 a.m. Uber rides to shotgun flats in Greenpoint. Hers is a funny, grittier New York version of kids in their 30s wearing fat do-not-disturb earphones while coding, Slacking, Tweeting and Instagramming to hustle a new app company from nowhere into that rarified billion-dollar unicornland.

Mack McAllister is the wunderkind founder/CEO of TakeOff, whose corporate motto is "Do good work, and the work will help the good." He's approaching a second round of a $500-million venture capital valuation when he inadvertently texts Isabel, the company v-p, a dick pic outside of their usual ephemeral Snapchat sexting. Katya, a young edgy journalist, sees it at a networking bar party when Isabel carelessly leaves her phone while on a bathroom break. With a screengrab of the pic, Katya has a story that could take her from trolling endless tweet and retweet gossip and "into that scrum... with the quote or angle that no one else has found yet."

As Shafrir's story unfolds, it moves easily from the sendup of techie emoji, acronyms, and marketing and business palaver into the more tangled politics of startups. She doesn't miss a lick and she's clearly having a good time. But Startup is more than entertainment--it pushes lots of the right buttons. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Funny, hip and clever, Shafrir's Startup slices through the world of tech startups and the kids running them.

Little, Brown, $26, hardcover, 304p., 9780316360388

The Stars Are Fire

by Anita Shreve


Inspired by the true story of Maine's largest fire in 1947, Anita Shreve takes readers into the fictional life of Grace Holland; her husband, Gene; their two children; and their respective in-laws. Grace is a stay-at-home mom, content for the most part, despite the controlling influence of her husband and the lack of passion she feels toward him.

Suddenly an out-of-control fire races along the Maine coastline, threatening her family. With Gene gone to fight the flames, it's up to Grace to save herself and her children by cowering in the ocean. When the danger passes, she is homeless, penniless and cannot find her husband, but without his dominance, she finds inner strengths and passions she never knew she had. She learns to drive, gets a job and discovers that life is rich and vibrant, full of open doors she only dreamt of finding when living with Gene.

In this mood-centric, romantic novel, Shreve interweaves Grace's musings about her desires with the day-to-day details of life for a woman with two small children who has few worldly experiences, but must forge ahead if she hopes to live. Authentically set in a postwar coastal town, where the year-round residents and the rich don't usually mingle, Shreve conveys the proper tone of obedience and married obligations while exploring the ambitions, desires and drives of a woman suddenly experiencing freedom and her own strength for the first time. Grace's gradual awakening to her own abilities is deftly depicted and leaves readers haunted by her story long after the last page. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: After facing death in a horrific fire, a woman and her children find new life and joy among the ruins.

Knopf, $25.95, hardcover, 256p., 9780385350907

Beartown

by Fredrik Backman, trans. by Neil Smith


In his fourth novel, Fredrik Backman displays once again an almost omnipotent insight into human nature. This time around, the author of Britt-Marie Was Here spreads out his story among the citizens of a small town whose pride is wholly invested in their hockey team. From teenagers to the elderly, Backman chisels each in fantastic detail, illuminating the deepest recesses of their souls while touching the deepest recesses of the readers'.

Beartown has been slowly deteriorating due to unemployment, but the city's promising junior-level hockey team could be everyone's salvation. If the Bears can pull out a championship, there is talk of a hockey academy and a new arena, and that could translate into reasons for people to move to Beartown. The hopes of a whole city are riding on a team of teenage boys, until a fateful night changes everything.

Beartown carries a darker tone than Backman's previous novels, but still possesses his charming wit and delightfully colorful perspective on humanity. His dialogue flows with an authentic and natural rhythm that reflects a keenly perceptive ear--whether from a teenage girl with musical aspirations, a young man coming to terms with his identity or a seasoned coach facing the end of his career. Backman offers his audience a compassionate view of their lives through concise but powerful imagery.

One needn't be a fan of hockey to appreciate Beartown. It's merely Backman's vehicle to themes of loyalty, love and community. He will drive the Beartown Bears into the hearts of all his readers, sports aficionados or not. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: The definition of loyalty is challenged when a dark event threatens to steal the future of a small town hitching its dreams to a junior hockey team.

Atria, $26.99, hardcover, 432p., 9781501160769

Notes of a Crocodile

by Qiu Miaojin, trans. by Bonnie Huie


This English translation of Notes of a Crocodile aptly captures the extraordinary intelligence and sensibility of celebrated Taiwanese lesbian writer Qiu Miaojin (Last Words from Montmartre).

The novel focuses on a cadre of queer college students in Taipei, who form tenuous bonds of friendship--often evolving into eroticism--in the face of a society that, left unchallenged, would homogenize and flatten their personalities. At the center of this group is Lazi, the narrator, who struggles to control her desire for women she falls in love with, as well her own volatile sense of identity. Cleverly layered between Lazi's notebooks and diaries are satirical passages describing the hardships of a newly discovered crocodile who is trying to adjust to human society. In this way, Miaojin lends the queer experience a Kafkaesque strangeness, as the protagonist's alienation is embodied in a giant lizard.

But it is Lazi's candid, painfully self-conscious voice--not the crocodile's--that distinguishes this novel as a great work of literature. For Miaojin holds nothing back in her exploration of young love. She catches the fluid dynamics of relationships with nuance and uncanny precision: "the two of us would come to cherish our ambiguous rapport, at once intimate and unfamiliar, and tempered by moments of silent confrontation." In turn, such nuance is shaken by raw and visceral imagery--"dying beasts incapable of licking each other's wounds"--that lays the heart bare in manifold joy and torment.

Notes of a Crocodile is a powerful coming-of-age story about falling in love and loving oneself in an unjust world. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author

Discover: This touching novel from a Taiwanese literary icon unfolds like a love letter to misfits.

NYRB Classics, $15.95, paperback, 256p., 9781681370767

The Teeth of the Comb & Other Stories

by Osama Alomar, trans. by Osama Alomar with C.J. Collins


The stories in Osama Alomar's collection The Teeth of the Comb and Other Stories skirt the line between poetry and prose. They are exceptionally brief, even for the realm of short stories, varying in length from one sentence to a few pages. They read like fables, whimsical and sometimes dark reflections on life, death, struggles, happiness and the human condition, packed into tales of talking animals, anthropomorphized objects and metaphorical searches.

In the title story, the teeth of a comb are envious of the class differences of humans and so strive to increase their length, only to be discarded as useless upon success. "I turned into a swamp of inactivity, and because of this no one was able to see the gems in my depths," forms the entirety of "Swamp." Two monetary bills discuss agency and dignity in "The Sold Nations," and a feather questions the wind's cruelty in "The Feather and the Wind." A person searches the globe for humanity in "Journey of Life," and lion cubs learn the limits of their mother's power in "The Strongest."

The stories, translated from Arabic by Alomar and translator C.J. Powell, leap from subject to subject. Each is unexpected, new and distinct, but carries within it a lesson in morality. It is impossible to read the collection and not take Alomar's meanings to heart. Be kind, the stories seem to say. Be wise. Be human. Be present. Stand up. Take risks. Try and fail and try again. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A delightful, powerful collection of very short prose offers lessons in morality through a fable-like approach to storytelling.

New Directions, $13.95, paperback, 96p., 9780811226073

No One Can Pronounce My Name

by Rakesh Satyal


No One Can Pronounce My Name, the second novel by Rakesh Satyal (Blue Boy), pays a humorous, loving visit to the Indian immigrant community of Cleveland, Ohio, where a handful of oddballs and outsiders come together to form a circle of support that changes their lives.

Middle-aged Harit doesn't know how to talk to his mother after his sister, Swati, dies in a freak accident. Shy and socially maladroit, he works in sales in a department store, where he becomes friends with flamboyant coworker Teddy, who introduces Harit to alcohol at their local T.G.I. Fridays.

Newly minted empty nester Ranjana thinks her husband, Mohan, has a girlfriend. Not wanting to become the subject of gossip, she keeps her suspicions from her friends and throws herself into writing a vampire novel. At her day job as a receptionist at a proctology clinic, she forges a friendship with Achyut, a young gay patient and bartender, leading her outside her comfort zone and bringing Harit into her orbit.

No One Can Pronounce My Name meditates on immigrants' lifelong struggle for acceptance in the U.S., but also demonstrates that the support of communities of friends can make all the difference. Though the main players' specific circumstances are different, all face loneliness and struggles with identity. Satyal delves deeply into each character's past and psyche, mining fragility and heartache like rare jewels. While the introspection at times slows the action, the natural outgrowth of situational comedy balances the pace. Satyal never plays his characters for fools, though, and book clubs will find rich fodder for discussion in this sparkling, deeply felt story of emotional growth. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: In Cleveland's Indian American community, two discontented middle-agers break out of ruts with help from their friends.

Picador, $26, hardcover, 400p., 9781250112118

The Color of Our Sky

by Amita Trasi


In her debut novel, Amita Trasi addresses poverty, human trafficking and the power of true friendship through a story of searching and self-discovery.

In early 1990s Mumbai, two little girls from very different worlds are thrown together and form a deep bond. Quiet Mukta, a low-caste girl born to a destiny of temple prostitution, is rescued from her fate at age 10 by an upper-middle class foster family with an eight-year-old daughter, Tara. Although Tara's parents treat Mukta like a favored servant, their daughter treats her like a sister and helps her learn to read. But one night in 1993, a man kidnaps Mukta from the room where she and Tara lie sleeping.

Eventually, Tara and her family immigrate to the United States, where Tara's father commits suicide in 2004. She learns afterward that he believed Mukta was alive. Despite the enormity of the task, she returns to Mumbai in search of her foster sister, aided by a former street boy from her past who now runs a nonprofit. In alternating flashback chapters, Mukta reveals the truth of her disappearance to the reader in heartrending detail.

While Tara's narrative sometimes feels like an afterthought to Mukta's more compelling and dramatic history, Trasi breathes astounding complexity into both main characters, avoiding a simple victim/rescuer relationship. Themes of remorse, social taboos and family weave together into a surprising and affecting climax. The Color of Our Sky portrays India as a complicated society where tradition sometimes wars with human rights. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: An Indian American immigrant returns to Mumbai to search for the childhood best friend who was kidnapped in front of her a decade earlier.

Morrow, $16.99, paperback, 416p., 9780062474070

Mad Country

by Samrat Upadhyay


As a Nepalese native living in the United States, Samrat Upadhyay (The City Son, Buddha's Orphans) has a particular viewpoint on the connections between his former and adopted homes. And while Mad Country takes its title from a story set entirely in Nepal, other pieces in this collection of short works prove that the name could easily describe the United States. Indeed, Upadhyay's writing is best when it blurs the line between experiences, showing how people can conflate cultures as they look for meaning in their own lives.

That conflation is best represented in standout pieces like "Freak Street," in which an American from Ohio identifies so closely with her Nepalese hosts she begins to think of herself as native to a country she's lived in for six months. In the Kafkaesque "Dreaming of Ghana," a young man's dreams of an indistinct African country bleed into his real life, with heartbreaking consequences. And in the final story, "America the Great Equalizer," a Nepalese graduate student loses his sense of identity after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the resulting riots.

A lesser author might use such stories to push a "humans are all the same" theme or, worse, attempt to judge cultures against each other. But Upadhyay is less interested in culture clash than culture shock, and how people's identities can be rewritten in the face of that shock. If anything, that is the unifying theme Mad Country skillfully illuminates: the attempt by the psyche to re-create itself in the face of trauma. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: Nepalese author Samrat Upadhyay's short fiction explores identity in the face of dramatic change.

Soho Press, $16, paperback, 304p., 9781616957964

The Distance Home

by Orly Konig


In Orly Konig's debut novel, it's been 16 years since protagonist Emma Metz has set foot in her Maryland hometown. A terrible accident at the local Jumping Frog Farm involving her two best friends--a girl named Jilli and a horse named Jack--drove her away and she's never looked back. Until now.

Her emotionally distant father, who'd never recovered from the death of Emma's mother, has just passed away. As she organizes his affairs and sorts through his belongings, Emma is reminded of her deep and surprisingly abiding love for the farm where she spent the happiest years of her childhood. She also discovers a series of letters and drawings that reveal a closer connection between her damaged family and the farm than she could have guessed. Can Emma let the pain of the last 16 years go in the hopes of a happier future?

Gently paced and introspective, The Distance Home is told in the present, with important points in Emma's past featured through a series of flashbacks. Emma matures from an eight-year-old riding for the first time to a 16-year-old winning competitions left and right, coming full circle through her rise toward horse-riding superiority, fall from grace and journey back to the Jumping Frog Farm. A moving story of homecoming, forgiveness and reconciliation, The Distance Home will appeal to readers of Kristin Harmel or Katherine Reay. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: In this quiet story, a woman returns to the equestrian world from which she's been estranged for years.

Forge, $24.99, hardcover, 336p., 9780765390417

The Boy in the Earth

by Fuminori Nakamura, trans. by Allison Markin Powell


The unnamed protagonist in Fuminori Nakamura's The Boy in the Earth is struggling with depression and despair. On the days he manages to show up to work, he drives a cab aimlessly around Tokyo; on the days he stays home, he contemplates the many ways he could die. "My own existence was futile, utterly powerless--even if I devoted my entire being I couldn't leave the slightest mark on this world."

There's very little in the way of plot, making Nakamura's short book read more like a character study than a traditional novel. That's not to suggest that it's dull, however. Its lack of plot proves compelling from the very start, and its occasional aimlessness and moody darkness feels true to the main character's inner thoughts and feelings.

An impending sense of doom and violence pervades The Boy in the Earth: the taxi driver is robbed at knifepoint, contemplates killing himself and reflects on the horrible abuse he suffered at the hands of his adoptive family as a child. Though these trials are particular to this character, Nakamura's telling of them makes the taxi driver's troubles feel universal. To what lengths will an individual go to survive? What makes that survival meaningful? Who--and what--matters? Who does not? Translated from Japanese by Allison Markin Powell, The Boy in the Earth offers readers a darkly philosophic musing on violence, history, purpose and what it means to be alive, told in elegant prose. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A depressed taxi driver in Tokyo faces down the violence in his life in search of meaning and purpose.

Soho Crime, $23.95, hardcover, 160p., 9781616955946

The Last Neanderthal

by Claire Cameron


Claire Cameron (The Bear) explores the lives of a modern-day archeologist and the skeleton she discovers in the compelling novel The Last Neanderthal.

Rose Gale is an ambitious archeologist obsessed with her latest find in a cave in France: the remains of a female Neanderthal buried intimately with a male Homo sapiens. The artifacts Rose uncovers, as well as the burial of the two species together, cast doubt on long-held theories about Neanderthals and modern humans. In a race against time, she works to unearth more evidence despite her advancing pregnancy.

About 45,000 years earlier, a Neanderthal family is living in that same region of France. Big Mother, the matriarch, is becoming frail as her oldest remaining daughter, Girl, comes of age. Cameron puts the reader in the mind of Girl to experience the world as she does: the comfort of family, the excitement of the summer fish run and the serious dangers inherent in her daily life.

The Last Neanderthal is emotionally engaging and, as it alternates millennia, echoes of the past arise in Rose's modern life. She and Girl are both pregnant and experiencing great changes in their lives. As Rose continues to excavate the skeleton, readers learn more about Girl's life in this immersive story that unites the two women across time. Cameron infuses the interrelated stories with warmth, enhanced by vivid details about Neanderthal experiences. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and author of Book by Book blog

Discover: A modern-day archeologist leads a parallel life to the Neanderthal woman she is uncovering.

Little, Brown, $26, hardcover, 288p., 9780316314480

The Night She Won Miss America

by Michael Callahan


Michael Callahan (Searching for Grace Kelly) possesses a deft and winning skill at re-creating the dreamy romanticism and archaic sexual politics of America in 1949. He also crafts compelling and empathetic characters who capture the imagination and concern of readers. Callahan gives a contemporary edge to a nostalgic era, much like the way Todd Haynes's films Carol and Far from Heaven saluted and updated Douglas Sirk's great 1950s melodramas. Callahan essentially takes those wonderful Rona Jaffe page-turners about 1950s "working girls" and retrofits them with modern insights and sensibilities, without winking asides but rather loving attention to period detail.

To please her mother, 19-year-old Betty Jane Welch enters the Miss Delaware contest and wins. This propels her to Atlantic City and the 1950 Miss America pageant, where she meets and immediately falls in love with her pageant-assigned escort, Griffin McAllister. Betty is slow to realize that her dream man is more of a nightmare--psychotic with violent voices in his head. After she wins the pageant, Betty starts feeling hemmed in by its restrictive rules and, fearing she will lose the first man she's loved, she agrees to sneak away with him to New York City. When the newly crowned Miss America is reported missing and perhaps kidnapped, the police and press join the chase, and soon Griffin's paranoid delusions have flesh-and-blood pursuers--which leads to murder.

Callahan's fast-paced psychological thriller is exciting and entertaining. And the vintage Miss America pageant setting is as fascinating as the characters. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Michael Callahan adds a contemporary edge and sensibility to a nostalgic era with his fast-paced psychological thriller about a Miss America on the run.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $23, hardcover, 336p., 9780544809970

Oola

by Brittany Newell


Lush, edgy, lyrical, bad-ass, pensive, taxing--it's hard to paint Oola into a picture that captures its striking prose and fearless curiosity about identity and obsession. In performance artist, drag queen, recent Stanford graduate and Pushcart nominee Brittany Newell's first novel, 25-year-old Leif housesits for his moneyed New England family's network of friends with empty domiciles around the world. Oola is a striking six-foot music student raised by a metal band roadie and a casino hostess. They meet at a hipster London flat party; and with the impulsiveness of unencumbered youth of means, they take off on a global romance in great houses across Europe, the Middle East, Canada and, finally, at a remote cabin in Big Sur.

As the sparkle of discovery shines on the hidden pleasures of sex, drugs, food, conversation and the mysteries of each other, Leif becomes obsessed with Oola's body and habits, turning his observations into what he envisions will be a novel of celebration. He boasts: "I loved to watch Oola in the shower.... I came to memorize her postures, the hygienic loop (rinse, wash, repeat) that, like prayers of digestion, lent me a glimmer of infinity via the banal."

Like Leif's book, Oola is a novel of discovery--ever shifting and digging deeper. It is a diary, a romance, a dark trip over the edge. Capturing today's zeitgeist of an experimental, hungry, indulgent youth, it also harkens back to the masculine, queer, trippy work of William Burroughs and Hubert Selby. But Newell is very much her own woman, and make no mistake. As the title suggests, this is Oola's story--not Leif's. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Fearlessly exploring the nuances of gender, sexuality, obsession and identity, Brittany Newell's first novel is a wicked, lyrical trip into self-discovery.

Holt, $16, paperback, 272p., 9781250114143

Mystery & Thriller

Fallout

by Sara Paretsky


When V.I. Warshawski is asked to look for an aspiring filmmaker who has become the main suspect in a break-in, the Chicago private detective follows the young man's trail to Lawrence, Kansas. Apparently August, the filmmaker, was headed there with former Hollywood actress Emerald Ferring, to make a documentary of her early years spent in the area.

But August and Emerald disappeared not long after they arrived in town. When a troubled woman calls V.I. to say she saw them, an attempt is made to silence the woman before she can talk. Then people start dying--residents who might have information about August and Emerald's whereabouts, as well as what happened three decades ago around a missile silo in town. The military says the silo has been decommissioned, but V.I. discovers it may not be as harmless as it appears.

After more than 30 years, V.I. remains an appealing protagonist in Sara Paretsky's Fallout. The private eye's forthright manner and low tolerance for lies are a tonic in an age when falsehoods dominate current events. Her assistant, the golden retriever Peppy, is a joy, as is the humor V.I. shows regarding residents who claim to know nothing about August and Emerald, despite knowing everything about everyone's business.

But Fallout covers deadly matters, too, and tackles social issues, including racial tensions in the South. Paretsky's writing remains relevant while reminding readers of lessons from the past, for as one character says, what's happening now is "just another chapter in a long book." --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: Chicago private investigator V.I. Warshawski heads to Kansas to search for a filmmaker and an actress who are missing.

Morrow, $27.99, hardcover, 448p., 9780062435842

Into the Water

by Paula Hawkins


Paula Hawkins (The Girl on the Train) delivers another dark, spellbinding suspense novel with Into the Water. This time, the search to unravel a mysterious death focuses on the river that cuts through Beckford, a small, northern British town. Nicknamed the "Drowning Pool," the river is where, over the centuries, local women--outsiders as well as misfits from within the community--have died under tragic, often suspicious, circumstances.

Danielle "Nel" Abbott--a single mother, successful photographer and lifetime Beckford resident who had been writing a book about the Drowning Pool, its history and its secrets--has become a suicide casualty at the very place of horror she had been researching. Her younger sister, Jules Abbott, gladly fled Beckford years before. An unmarried social worker in London whose bitterness and resentment kept her estranged from Nel for years, Jules returns to Beckford to sort out the "bloody mess" and care for Nel's outspoken and rebellious 15-year-old daughter, Lena. Neither believes that Nel killed herself, and Lena also has doubts about the suicide of her best friend, Katie Whittaker, at the Drowning Pool six months earlier. Katie's inconsolable parents are wracked with guilt. Were they so focused on their anxious, sensitive son that they didn't give proper attention to their confident, over-achieving--yet obviously vulnerable--daughter?

Hawkins keeps readers guessing while exploring the overt and subtle ways trauma, grief and long-buried secrets can affect minds, hearts and motivations. A growing undertow of suspense builds as some characters, consciously and subconsciously, cannot face who they are, so they reinvent themselves and their memories. This intricate story is filled with red herrings and surprising reversals that probe the tangled depths of family loyalty. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A close-knit British community grapples with mysterious deaths--past and present--that occurred at a notorious local riverbank.

Riverhead Books, $28, hardcover, 400p., 9780735211209

Unreliable

by Lee Irby


In a viciously delicious thriller, Lee Irby (The Van) introduces a charming, refined protagonist who could be a monster, a deranged jilted lover or simply one of love's losers. From beginning to end, the only thing readers can rely on is that the narrator is a liar.

Edwin Stith is a mild-mannered, unassuming English professor at a "leafy liberal arts school" in Ithaca, N.Y., whose failed writing career, recent divorce and sexual impotency provide ready fodder for sympathy. A dutiful son, he's headed home to Richmond, Va., for his mother's wedding. However, he's aware this story in and of itself has no teeth, so he mentions to the reader that he may also be on the run for murdering his ex-wife, Bev. Or maybe he didn't. Or maybe he killed a waitress at a truck stop--or maybe not. Maybe Eddie himself is the murder victim. "It doesn't much matter," he devilishly assures us. "Mine, hers, his. You want a body and I want to give you one."

To find out, readers must come along for the ride as Eddie reconnects with his wealthy, aging mother, who's marrying a man Eddie's age; his long-lost high school sweetheart, Leigh Rose; and a handful of old school nemeses and acquaintances who mean Eddie and his rekindled romance no good. Riding shotgun with Eddie will have even the doughtiest reader feeling claustrophobic, hostage to a man who will say anything to keep an audience. Irby sculpts every thrill of terror out of pure psychological manipulation, adeptly batting the reader around like a catnip mouse. Unreliable is tense, hypnotic and elegantly assembled. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: In this mind-bending psychological thriller, the charming narrator could be a lecherous killer or a lovelorn victim, but he's definitely a liar.

Doubleday, $26.95, hardcover, 336p., 9780385542050

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Moon and the Other

by John Kessel


In the 22nd century, humanity has colonized the solar system, including the moon. The Society of Cousins is the most misunderstood lunar colony, a matriarchy where men are given enormous social and sexual liberties, but not the right to vote. The leaders of other colonies--particularly the patriarchal Persepolis--are suspicious of tyranny, and send a delegation to investigate the condition of men.

When the Society of Cousin's biggest male celebrity tries to gain custody of his son, he unwittingly fuels a rebellion led by his volatile lover. In Persepolis, an expat from the Society has married into a wealthy ice-mining family. When he's sent back on a dangerous mission, he must choose between conflicting loyalties.

If the literary zeitgeist has been dominated by dystopias, The Moon and the Other evokes Dickens and H.G. Wells. It's science fiction with heart, romance with ideas. It's utopian and it's savvy. Kessel's droll, sideways humor surfaces periodically, as in "uplifted" dogs and casual allusions to punitive "debtors freezers." He explores gender identity and politics, portraying the complexity of social customs and relationships with neither jaundice nor bullishness. Focused on the lives of his characters, Kessel keeps pace yet makes room for his meticulously thought-out future world.

It's a grownup vision: not because it's serious, but because it's wondrous. It extrapolates not just society and technology, but real-world emotions and human behavior as well. This moon is a place we've never seen before in fiction. --Zak Nelson, writer and bookseller

Discover: This fun, smart science fiction novel contends with gender and matters of the heart, with a message of clear-eyed hope.

Saga/Simon & Schuster, $27.99, hardcover, 608p., 9781481481441

Skitter

by Ezekiel Boone


Millions of people around the world are dead thanks to the flesh-eating black spiders that flowed across the earth like a tsunami. China used nuclear bombs to try to contain the infestation, cities have set intentional fires to burn them out, and President Stephanie Pilgrim and her cabinet have Los Angeles under military quarantine. If troops can locate and destroy the thousands of egg sacs laid everywhere, the human race might survive. That is, until a much larger, glowing egg sac is found in Japan, and changes everything.

Picking up where The Hatching left off, Ezekiel Boone's Skitter takes readers on another scary, whirlwind ride around a world where death awaits those unfortunate enough to be in the path of the creepiest spiders ever. New characters demonstrate the grisly demise that lies ahead for many; one man becomes a prophet with thousands of followers. Those who have survival instincts go to great lengths to protect their loved ones, but the focus remains on the central characters who played crucial parts in book one: Stephanie Pilgrim; Manny, Steph's lover and White House chief of staff; Melanie Guyer, expert on spiders; Mike Rich, Minneapolis cop and devoted father; and Shotgun and Gordo in their survival bunker in the desert. The narrative jumps quickly from location to location, building tension and momentum as the spiders continue to spread, following their own agenda. Boone has written another unsettling cliffhanger, destined to increase arachnophobia worldwide. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: The spiders are winning in the second installment of the Hatching series.

Emily Bestler/Atria, $26, hardcover, 352p., 9781501125072

Borne

by Jeff VanderMeer


In the post-apocalyptic ruins of an unnamed city, a woman named Rachel survives by scavenging for food, water and biotech--living experimental refuse cast off by the defunct Company. She braves desperate fellow humans, inhuman organic horrors and the predatory Mord, a behemoth bear that terrorizes the city. Rachel brings her discoveries to Wick, her partner in love and survival, whose mysterious past with the Company helps him turn Rachel's treasures into drugs--for profit and personal use. Balcony Cliffs, their hidden compound, is precariously perched between Mord's territory and the territory of a rival biotech dealer called the Magician.

Rachel's latest find threatens to upend their uneasy existence. It's a blob clinging to Mord's fur, a thing neither plant nor animal that quickly becomes as threatening as it is unusual. Rachel names this amorphous entity Borne, and decides to keep it despite Wick's reservations. Borne speaks, grows and learns under Rachel's care, ever curious about its possible personhood and purpose--one that may decide the fate of Rachel, Wick and the city itself.

Jeff VanderMeer, author of the Southern Reach trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance), proves himself a wizard of weird fiction with Borne. The titular creature is lovably charismatic, vaguely menacing and presents a peculiar parable of parenthood in its relationship with Rachel. The setting is a delightfully bizarre mix of post-apocalypse, dystopia and light science fiction, blended with the creeping unease of the unknowable that made Southern Reach so memorable, and delivered with VanderMeer's keen eye for natural--and unnatural--detail. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: A scavenger in a post-apocalyptic city raises a charismatic, possibly dangerous piece of biotech.

MCD/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26, hardcover, 336p., 9780374115241

Walkaway

by Cory Doctorow


Cory Doctorow--Internet doyen and successful author in a range of genres, from YA novels like Little Brother to the nonfiction manifesto Information Doesn't Want to Be Free--returns to adult fiction with Walkaway. The novel opens in a dystopia where bantering malcontents Seth, Natalie and Hubert, Etc. (so nicknamed for his 20-odd middle names) meet at a "Communist party"; they flirt with counterculture ideas while dodging the watchful eye of the establishment. When the party ends in tragedy, the trio is inspired to drop out of society and join the "walkaways," a group of people resembling technophilic hippies in their idealism and revolutionary lifestyle. Each character finds his or her place among the dreamers after making the harsh adjustment to a society organized in direct counterpoint to the dog-eat-dog, wildly unequal capitalist norms of what they come to refer to as Default.

The walkaways' idealism is supported by nearly miraculous technological achievements--they live in a "post-scarcity" society where questions of food and shelter are more or less solved by printers capable of manufacturing almost anything at a moment's notice. They even seem to have cracked a problem that Default's hyper-rich "zottas" have failed to solve for years: how to live forever. That discovery prompts a vicious crackdown from Default, escalating quickly into a war pitting hacktivist egalitarians against tyrannical robber barons.

Walkaway is awash in unrestrained nerdery. Doctorow is teaching, but he's also having fun, and it's a pleasure to watch him twist the two together. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Discover: Cory Doctorow's vision of the future pits a rag-tag group of techno-utopians against the dystopian forces of unchecked capitalism.

Tor, $26.99, hardcover, 384p., 9780765392763

Graphic Books

The Torture Report: A Graphic Adaptation

by Sid Jacobson, Ernie Colón


Using euphemisms like "enhanced interrogation techniques," the George W. Bush administration assured the world it was treating terror suspects humanely. However, in 2009 the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence learned otherwise. The CIA had been sanctioning brutal interrogations that went against the laws of war the United States helped to write and promised to uphold.

Staff from the committee spent the next five years examining every possible bit of evidence that could illuminate the CIA's practices. Their work culminated in a 6,770-page "torture report." From that massive report, a summary of more than 500 pages was made available to the general public, leading Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón--authors of The 9/11 Report--to collaborate once again, to depict the Senate Committee's summary in their graphic novel The Torture Report.

Jacobson and Colón have the unenviable responsibility of delivering shocking, disturbing, horrific details of torment and persecution to readers who may prefer to know little about these acts. But the result is exemplary. The illustrations portray the immense suffering without extremely gory details, thereby encouraging civilian citizens to take note, understand and be educated to the truth of torture. The Torture Report respects the gravity of the subject matter, but eliminates much of the governmental and law enforcement jargon.

The authors portray the victims with compassion without ignoring the circumstances of imprisonment. Their work is far from uplifting, but it is informative and vital to U.S. citizens. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: The U.S. government's report on the horrors of interrogation practices against terror suspects takes illustrated form in this eye-catching yet respectful graphic nonfiction.

Nation Books, $16.99, paperback, 144p., 9781568585758

My Brother's Husband, Vol. 1

by Gengoroh Tagame, trans. by Anne Ishii


A death in the family will always leave an empty place in someone's heart. Yaichi knows this well: both of his parents died in a freak car accident, leaving him and his twin, Ryo, to look after one another. In the years following, the brothers slowly became estranged, and then Ryo left Tokyo. Yaichi, now a single father of an energetic girl named Kana, has all but hidden his painful past when Canadian Mike Flanagan arrives on his doorstep as Ryo's grieving widower.

Gengoroh Tagame's beautiful manga novel My Brother's Husband disentangles family secrets and homophobia with endearing grace. Though her father is reluctant to open his home and heart to Mike, Kana is eager to learn everything about Canada and the uncles she never knew she had. The two share a mutual fascination with each other's culture, and bond instantly. Yaichi, however, wrestles with preconceptions about what it means for men to love each other, reservations that Kana's boundless curiosity disarms at every turn.

Tagame reins in his trademark erotic style for this heartwarming story without being disingenuous. Yaichi and Mike boast impressive physiques, a quality the former never tried to hide until his brother-in-law arrived. "I always tell him to put on clothes," Kana tells Mike with exasperation. The wildly expressive girl alternately shouts and pouts through her growing empathy for people restricted in the ways they can live and love.

Thoughtful and fetching, My Brother's Husband is the first in a two-volume omnibus about grief, reconciliation and the strength to be who you are. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Cultures clash and secrets surface when a lovable Canadian muscle bear visits his deceased husband's family in Tokyo.

Pantheon Books, $24.95, hardcover, 352p., 9781101871515

Food & Wine

Savory Sweet: Simple Preserves from a Northern Kitchen

by Mette Nielsen, Beth Dooley


In the cold northern countries of Scandinavia, short growing seasons and fertile soil mean a few months of ripe, abundant fruits and vegetables. Then, as Beth Dooley notes in her introduction to Savory Sweet, cooks and gardeners must try to "keep all that's ripe from racing to rot." In this lavishly illustrated cookbook, Dooley and Mette Nielsen share dozens of flavorful, Nordic-inspired recipes to preserve the best of the season: relishes, pickles, jams, chutneys and more.

Divided into three main sections (vegetables, fruits and seasonings), Savory Sweet takes readers through the garden alphabetically, starting with pickled asparagus and applesauce, and ending with squash, strawberries and zucchini. The authors emphasize bold flavors and unfussy cooking techniques (explained in the first few chapters) over long-term storage. These jams and chutneys might not last in the pantry all winter, but they'll be perfectly fine in the fridge. Fresh herbs and surprising spices, such as anise, cardamom and juniper, make frequent appearances, giving new life to pantry standbys like ketchup, fruit compote and barbecue sauce.

While Dooley and Nielsen's recipes will likely appeal to canning aficionados, their simple, practical guidelines and helpful definitions of terms--the differences between jam, marmalade and preserves, for instance--will appeal to novices. The instructions invite experimentation, but provide a clear road map for first-time canners. Meanwhile, the range of flavors--spicy, smoky, sour, savory and sweet--will send cooks of all stripes straight to their local farmers market for fresh, colorful ingredients. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Beth Dooley and Mette Nielsen showcase bold Nordic flavors and simple recipes in their colorfully illustrated cookbook.

University of Minnesota Press, $24.95, hardcover, 200p., 9780816699582

So Good: 100 Recipes from My Kitchen to Yours

by Richard Blais


Richard Blais, winner of Top Chef All-Stars and a regular on Food Network, professes to be "a little cr-a-zy in the kitchen," and So Good: 100 Recipes from My Kitchen to Yours has an eclectic collection of recipes to match his persona. Although he's a successful restaurant chef, in this fun cookbook, Blais focuses on the dishes he loves to make at home for his family.

His curiosity in the kitchen has led Blais to experiment with many styles of cooking, and thus So Good contains a range of recipes. Many have an Asian influence--oysters with a kimchi cocktail sauce, Chinese chicken and rice porridge, a Hong Kong bowl with trotters and wontons. Others have a Southern flair, like fried chicken, cornbread and campfire baked beans. He also reimagines many old favorites, like vegetarian Horse Carrot Pot Roast, Spaghetti and Bone Marrownara Meatballs, and a delectable Brown Sugar Cheesecake in Oreo Crust with Honeyed Blueberries.

With fresh, unusual ingredients, cute pictures of his family and funny introductions to each recipe, Blais's personality and reputation for being a little unorthodox in the kitchen shine on each page. Sure to be popular with fans of Top Chef and home cooks looking for inspiration, So Good is a beautiful cookbook featuring 100 recipes from this delightfully quirky chef. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: This beautiful, creative cookbook offers a variety of recipes from a popular television chef.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30, hardcover, 256p., 9780544663312

Knife: The Culture, Craft and Cult of the Cook's Knife

by Tim Hayward, illus. by Chie Kutsuwada


Knife: The Culture, Craft and Cult of the Cook's Knife by food writer and self-proclaimed "food geek" Tim Hayward (Food DIY; The DIY Cook) showcases a ubiquitous kitchen tool, from lowly paring knives to handcrafted objets d'art. This may not be the cookbook that gets spattered with grease and smeared with chocolate, but it will take a place of honor on the serious cook's shelf.

Essays and lists accompany the 40 featured knives--each photographed in color, with lighting that complements their cool steel blades. Topics covered include the reason for proper grip, 10 rules for carving, and the difference between working and specialized variations. Hayward interviews knife makers and chefs, illuminating an ongoing fascination with the tool. "The knife has a spirit imbued into it by the bladesmith that enables the user to give it character, so I almost look forward to the moment I get a first scratch on the blade."

Along with features of knives themselves, Hayward reviews the proper ways to cut food (who knew there were so many precise names for vegetable slicing!) and, helpfully, what to do when you cut yourself. As he says, "The knife is one of the few objects to which we give house room while simultaneously fearing."

In this beautifully designed book, Hayward's deft writing skills and culinary knowledge provide an intriguing reference for both the casual reader and the serious knife user. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: Food journalist Tim Hayward turns his attention to the most basic of culinary tools: the knife.

Quadrille Publishing, $29.99, hardcover, 224p., 9781849498913

Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen

by Stacy Adimando, Gonzalo Guzman


Brooklyn food writer Stacy Adimando, co-author of Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen, says, "Hearing about Mexican cuisine from someone who loves it so much makes you almost homesick for a place you may have never even been to."

Chef Gonzalo Guzman, born in Veracruz, wants home cooks to explore and experiment with Mexican cooking, and shares the recipes "that have made the deepest impression on my heart and live on in my memory since being away from home." While still a teenager, he worked in one of Nopalito founder Laurence Jossel's kitchens. He rose rapidly in the business, and now in his 30s works as the sole chef of both Nopalito restaurants in San Francisco.

Fresh, seasonal ingredients are the hallmark of Guzman's Mexican-by-way-of-California food. He packs tips, secrets and passion into his cookbook, noting the "intricacy, variety and layers of flavors involved." Complexity of flavor doesn't require "fussiness," but does emphasize authenticity. He includes specifics on building a Mexican pantry, including a glossary of chiles and other basics. He stresses making components ahead of time and storing them (pickled jalapeños, fresh cheese and pork sausage are in the early chapter "House Recipes").

Guzman coaches the home cook in a conversational tone: an avocado "should feel slightly spongy but not smushy." Small plates, big plates, drinks, desserts and 15 salsas pack this beautifully photographed cookbook. He is proud that his mama could walk into Nopalito and see "the heart of our family cuisine is still intact in our restaurant kitchen." --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: An authentic southern Mexican cookbook emphasizing fresh ingredients brings a popular San Francisco restaurant to the home kitchen.

Ten Speed, $30, hardcover, 256p., 9780399578281

Biography & Memoir

So High a Blood: The Story of Margaret Douglas, the Tudor that Time Forgot

by Morgan Ring


Morgan Ring's So High a Blood: The Story of Margaret Douglas, the Tudor that Time Forgot is a deft, rollicking history full of drama of the highest order. It is addicting in the same way as Game of Thrones, providing political intrigue, forbidden love, royal scandal, shocking reversals and murder. But as the book's hefty notes and bibliography reveal, Ring has carefully grounded her dramatic narrative in historical fact. After all, no one could make up the erratic machinations of 16th-century English monarch Henry VIII, as infamous for splitting with the Roman Catholic Church as he was for executing his wives.

Ring uncovers a lesser known story of the Tudor period, that of Henry VIII's niece Margaret Douglas. From the beginning, Ring characterizes Douglas as a mixed child of torn allegiances, half-Scottish, half-English, whom power players in both countries try to use to their own advantage. What emerges, though, through Ring's skilled storytelling, is the portrait of a woman who is smart, shrewd and independent, who follows her own heart in matters of love but also protects her children and dynastic legacy through political maneuvering. Ring gloriously describes the atmosphere of the Tudor royal court, the festivities and weddings that take place, as well as its many scandals. But more importantly, Ring creates a well-rounded, painfully human portrait of her leading lady, incorporating Douglas's own words into the portraiture.

So High a Blood excites and entertains with grand historical drama and produces some potent pathos in the process. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author

Discover: A fresh look at the Tudor period reveals the bold and volatile life of a forgotten heroine.

Bloomsbury, $35, hardcover, 368p., 9781632866059

All Day: A Year of Love and Survival Teaching Incarcerated Kids at Rikers Island

by Liza Jessie Peterson


Liza Jesse Peterson is a poet, actress and ex-model, a bohemian from Philadelphia, with an inspirational style and hard-nosed classroom control skills. All Day is her first book, about her year teaching a class of teenage boys full-time at Rikers Island after a few years as a visiting artist at the prison.

"I have quite a spirited group of drama kings, court jesters, flyboy gangsters, tricksters, and wannabe pimps all in my charge, all up in my face, to educate. Corralling this motley crew of bad-news bears to do any lesson is like running boot camp for hyperactive gremlins." Wild as the students are, she also sees them as confused children jailed as adults, with every reason to despair. Some work hard, some don't. She tries to give them fresh visions for their lives before they are released or sent to an adult prison. She is honest about her fears and mistakes, but her cultural understanding and experiences with teaching and performance serve her well. While preaching the gospel of education, she maintains order with her verbal fluency and rewards of music and magazines. An open letter from Obama in Vibe inspires an assignment to write back to him, and she includes several of the teens' letters here. Her work is ongoing, and she hopes to make a living from her art someday, but she makes a strong case for supporting creative sympathetic teachers for the most difficult students. "A little attention and compassion go a long way with a kid who's been ignored throughout his years at school and probably even at home. All kids want to be seen, heard, and encouraged, even the most thuggish of thug." --Sara Catterall

Discover: An artist who has worked with incarcerated youth for 18 years delivers an encouraging memoir of teaching teenage boys at Rikers Island.

Center Street, $27, hardcover, 256p., 9781455570911

A Stitch of Time: The Year a Brain Injury Changed My Language and Life

by Lauren Marks


From our earliest moments, we accumulate memories through images, scents, sounds, etc., and as we accrue the vocabulary to describe those senses, the words become the links to those past moments. We use words in speaking, writing, reading and in our internal thinking. So what happens when the ability to form words--to access memories, to speak, write and read or to have an inner monologue--disappears?

When an aneurysm ruptured in Lauren Marks's brain at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, she woke in a hospital and discovered she had lost much of her language abilities. In A Stitch of Time, her soul-searching debut, Marks recalls how she struggled to find the words that had seemingly always been there, but were now beyond her grasp. She ponders who she was and the interactions she had with long-time friends, experiences she could not readily remember. Her aphasia gradually improves as she enters speech therapy classes and learns new ways to process information, yet there is always a piece or two missing in her comprehension.

Feeling as though she'd become someone new in the flash of a second, Marks dives into research about aphasia and the way words play a vital role in human connections. She depicts the support she received and challenges she faced with her long-time boyfriend and with immediate family and close friends. Marks's story is humbling and hopeful, a demonstration of the mind's flexibility and resourcefulness to heal, morph and press on, even when met with potentially life-threatening circumstances. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: When a brain aneurysm ruptures, a young woman's life is dramatically changed.

Simon & Schuster, $26, hardcover, 384p., 9781451697513

Priestdaddy

by Patricia Lockwood


Father Greg Lockwood is a Catholic priest with very conservative views. He plays guitar too loudly (and badly), makes thunderous pronouncements, lounges in boxers--and has a wife and five children (he was originally a Lutheran priest and then became a Catholic priest, and kept his wife and family through Vatican dispensation). Father Greg is Patricia Lockwood's Priestdaddy, an often self-centered patriarch whose life, if his wife is away, descends into willful chaos. Lockwood (Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals) exploits this perfect set-up for absurdity with verve, while exploring life's conundrums: "Faith and my father taught me the same lesson: to live in the mystery, even to love it." A medical crisis causes Lockwood and her husband, Jason, to move into her parents' rectory for a while, providing a rich lode for mining the surrealism of her childhood and adulthood.

As a teenager, Lockwood had "grown timid in the face of my father's thunder." But she found herself in writing; she became a poet whose command of both lyricism and zaniness are beguiling: "the citric humor of high school girls--which is eternal, but which tasted new to us at the time. My friends and I were four full oranges of it, with a resilient shine on our leaves." At a Carmelite convent, "the darkness smelled of curled leaf tips and keys." In her mother's closet she can "still find hangers with pro-life messages printed on them. The Midwest, contrary to popular opinion, does not lack a sense of irony."

Priestdaddy is flamboyant, like Father Greg. At the same time, the graces of humor and familial love shine through. Patricia Lockwood writes with radiance and audacity: "On the page I am strong, because that is where I put my strength." --Marilyn Dahl

Discover: An intense and often zany memoir about life with a Catholic priest for a father.

Riverhead Books, $27, hardcover, 352p., 9781594633737

Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning

by Claire Dederer


Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning doesn't lend itself to the popular "if you liked..." formula for recommending books. Claire Dederer (Poser) defies comparison as she explores her sexuality, femininity, life as a writer and coming of age in a Seattle that has continually grown and transformed over the decades.

Loosely based on her journals, chapters are dated but not chronological. Their 23 titles are often comical; Dederer's wit is irrepressible. "A Is for Acid: An Oberlin Abecedarium," for instance, about her college years. Or "How to Have Sex with Your Husband of 15 Years": A bed is required. Demur if your husband suggests the floor or the couch. Family spaces are "marked by the product of sex: children." 

Dederer reflects from the vantage point of midlife, as a wife, mother of two and successful author, asking how the wild girl she was became the well-mannered woman she is now. In 1980, at age 13, she had been eager to impress an older guy, "kitted out with the signifiers of cool--filthy clothes, long hair, laconic speech, all the stuff I knew to be aces, all the stuff I myself aspired to." Dederer hilariously and poignantly analyzes her "near-rabbit levels of sexual activity" during adolescence to understand better the desires resurfacing in her 40s.

Love and Trouble explores the challenges of growing up female, and will no doubt speak to readers of any age, about feminism and objectifying girls, as well as friendship, family and devotion. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: Claire Dederer explores her coming of age and how she sees the effect of her early experiences on the woman she became.

Knopf, $25.95, hardcover, 256p., 9781101946503

Manderley Forever: A Biography of Daphne Du Maurier

by Tatiana de Rosnay, trans. by Sam Taylor


Tatiana de Rosnay is the author of 10 contemporary novels, including A Paris Affair and The Other Story, whose themes often deal with the dark underpinnings of love, romance and secrets. In Manderley Forever, she explores the life of Daphne du Maurier, who made an indelible impression on de Rosnay from the time she was 11 years old, when she read Rebecca, du Maurier's most popular novel. Published in 1938, Rebecca is psychological suspense about secrets, old flames, jealousy and the looming manor Manderley. Like her subject, de Rosnay hails from a British and French bloodline, a factor that contributed to her fascination with du Maurier and ignited her quest to write a comprehensive biography and uncover the secrets of du Maurier's life, work and inspirations.

Du Maurier was a shy, observant, sensitive child who was largely shaped by patriarchal influences, as well as her two, equally creative sisters, an often aloof mother who was chronically neglected by her wandering, limelight-seeking husband. Du Maurier would later fall in love and marry Major Thomas Browning, 10 years her senior. The demands of his decorated military career--along with the pressures of marriage, motherhood and war--posed significant challenges to her freedom, aspects of which were often reflected in her work, which included dark, gothic romances as well as biographies.

The narrative is distinguished by de Rosnay's esteem and empathy. This deep and thoroughly researched biography offers riveting drama while presenting compelling reasons as to why du Maurier--whom many claimed was funny and cheerful--produced such a gloomy oeuvre, beloved by legions of fans but often scorned by the critics. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A contemporary French novelist explores the fascinating, creative life of one of her favorite literary inspirations, Daphne du Maurier.

St. Martin's Press, $27.99, hardcover, 352p., 9781250099136

My Soul Looks Back

by Jessica B. Harris


Jessica B. Harris (High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America) is a noted culinary historian and author. She is a member of the James Beard Who's Who of Food & Beverage in America and helped develop the concepts behind the critically admired Sweet Home Café at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. But once, she was a young woman starting her career and in a confusing relationship with a charming, sophisticated, bad-tempered older man. That man was Sam Floyd, her teaching colleague at Queens College, one-time lover of Maya Angelou and close friend of James Baldwin.

Harris emphasizes that she is a secondary player in this memoir, but she was an interesting young woman in her own right, raised in Queens by bohemian black parents who gave her piano lessons, dance recitals, etiquette lessons and a good education. The couple bonded over shared loves of cooking, language and literature. He introduced her into Baldwin's literary circle, and between his connections and her work as a literary and theater critic, she landed on the front line of 1970s New York culture, where she met authors, activists, actors, musicians and chefs.

Harris's culinary expertise winds through her stories, and each chapter ends with a recipe, including her mother's Sunday roast chicken and Goujonnettes de Sole with Ersatz Sauce Gribiche, inspired by her favorite after-opera meal. No doubt a few of Harris's friends have been saying for years that she had to write this memoir, and if so, they were right. --Sara Catterall

Discover: The electric intellectual and artistic world of African Americans in 1970s New York City takes center stage in this memoir of culinary historian Jessica B. Harris's youth.

Scribner, $25, hardcover, 272p., 9781501125904

Guesswork: A Reckoning with Loss

by Martha Cooley


Each person's experience of profound loss is different. Novelist Martha Cooley (The Archivist) has chosen to describe hers in Guesswork: A Reckoning with Loss, a collection of lyrical personal essays. The 16 shimmering pieces pay homage to a group of recently departed friends while affirming, with a poet's sensibility, life's fragile beauty as Cooley experienced it in a sabbatical year she and her husband spent in a tiny Italian town.

The eight friends whose deaths Cooley experienced over the decade preceding her arrival in Italy include the writers David Markson and Nuala O'Faolain, along with others not as well-known but no less dear to her. Cooley admits that these "accumulated losses have upended me," describing herself as "still down in an emotional crouch, hands over head." Yet one of these deaths--that of her husband Antonio's first wife from cancer--gave birth to the new life of their relationship, prompting Cooley to recall how the two of them stood "the autumn after Valeria's death, arms wrapped around each other, both of us astonished by a love so visceral and unexpected." At some moments explicitly and at others more obliquely, the looming mortality of Cooley's ailing mother, Nancy, also shadows many of these essays.

Cooley's description of a sky that is a "jeweler's pitch-black velvet cloth sprinkled with diamonds" is only one of many examples of her poetic gift of observation. Guesswork is anything but a maudlin work. It's a tribute to the enduring power of friendship and of the ability of love to outlast death. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: Novelist Martha Cooley's Italian sabbatical inspires a moving collection of essays about the power of love to survive loss.

Catapult, $16.95, paperback, 192p., 9781936787463

Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night

by Jason Zinoman


When David Letterman retired in 2015, after 33 years hosting his late-night comedy talk show, "he received a send-off befitting a secular saint," writes Jason Zinoman, comedy critic for the New York Times. Letterman's two TV series (CBS's Late Show and NBC's Late Night) were wildly inventive, outrageous, combustible and influential. But backstage they were a hotbed for dysfunction, with Letterman the nucleus of it. Described as "a spectacularly committed hypochondriac," Letterman "never enjoyed the successes and scrutinized every failure, musing darkly about the implications and pivoting from self-criticism to despair in a blink," writes Zinoman (Shock Value).

His uncompromising and eye-opening biography is a love letter to the magic created on both shows, but never ignores the hostile and combative atmosphere behind the scenes with a "difficult, fascinating and self-lacerating character who hated revealing himself in his work but couldn't help doing so." Zinoman's knowledge is encyclopedic and his insights are perceptive. Letterman is filled with surprisingly candid recollections culled from Zinoman's interviews with the comedian, his writers (including co-creator and ex-girlfriend Merrill Markoe), producers, directors, production staff and frequent guests like Steve Martin and Sandra Bernhard.

This biography offers a fascinating look at how David Letterman's comedy and personality evolved over the years, and how his TV shows mixed absurdist, conceptual, satirical, slapstick, silly and sophisticated humor--and somehow made it cohesive. Letterman is a frank tribute to the painful process of creating comedy. Fans of TV, comedy and celebrities behaving badly will find it irresistible. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: This bio of acerbic TV host David Letterman reveals how backstage dysfunction produced award-winning television.

Harper, $28.99, hardcover, 368p., 9780062377210

History

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

by Richard Rothstein


Richard Rothstein (Grading Education) is a research associate with the Economic Policy Institute and the author of numerous books and reports on race, ethnicity and education. In The Color of Law, he brings clarity and firm evidence to a topic that has often been glazed over with omissions and euphemisms.

Rothstein systematically refutes the popular idea that segregated neighborhoods are the de facto result of personal choices. He makes a sound argument that they are a de jure ghetto system built by 20th-century government policies that violated the 13th Amendment. He demonstrates how city ordinances and housing projects, many promoted by the New Deal and the Federal Housing Administration, enforced existing segregation and expanded it to previously integrated areas. These initiatives were often supported by liberal progressives who argued that they would promote racial harmony. He also examines wage suppression for African Americans, industrial rezoning, the segregation efforts of white homeowners, churches and colleges, and the roles of corrupt landlords, realtors, lenders and regulators. All these factors twisted together into a choking net that could trap even the most resourceful and hardworking individuals.

This is everyone's problem, says Rothstein. "As a nation, we have paid an enormous price for avoiding an obligation to remedy the unconstitutional segregation we have allowed to fester." He is not optimistic about the political will for change, but he makes both radical and moderate recommendations, and identifies the many obstacles to reform. The first step is to learn and accept the historical truth. --Sara Catterall

Discover: A U.S. race and education expert examines the government policies that built the segregated cities of today.

Liveright, $27.95, hardcover, 368p., 9781631492853

Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe and the Brotherhood That Helped Turn the Tide of War

by Lynne Olson


In Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe and the Brotherhood that Helped Turn the Tide of War, historian Lynne Olson looks at the seldom-told stories of how European refugees--both governments-in-exile and individual patriots--continued to fight Nazi Germany from a (relatively) safe base of operations in London.

Taken individually, their stories are dramatic, and occasionally tragic. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands was outraged when the captain of the British destroyer on which she escaped Amsterdam refused to put her ashore at Zeeland: she had been determined to "be the last man to fall in the last ditch" in defense of her country. Jacques Allier, a young French banker traveling on a fake passport, smuggled the world's supply of heavy water from German-occupied Norway to Scotland under the nose of Abwehr operatives--hamstringing Germany's efforts to develop a nuclear bomb.

Told in combination, these stories challenge traditional accounts of the war. Olson reminds readers that French forces guarded British troops during the heroic evacuation at Dunkirk. Polish pilots played a critical role in the Battle of Britain and in defending London during the Blitz. And Britain's successes in breaking the Enigma codes rested on the work of the Polish underground, who were able to decipher a high percentage of Enigma intercepts by early 1938.

In the English-speaking world, Britain and the United States are often portrayed as standing alone against the Nazis in World War II. Last Hope Island demonstrates how that was never true. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: In London, refugees from occupied Europe fought the Nazis--and sometimes their British hosts.

Random House, $30, hardcover, 576p., 9780812997354

Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber and the Invention of Criminal Profiling

by Michael Cannell


Fascinating true crime stories still require compelling narrators, and Michael Cannell (The Limit) demonstrates he's perfect for the task with Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber and the Invention of Criminal Profiling. The New York Police Department of the 1940s and '50s relied heavily on strong-arm methods, which proved ineffective against a schizophrenic serial bomber. The Mad Bomber confounded authorities for 16 years, planting more than 30 devices in public areas. Pressure to catch the faceless bogeyman ultimately forced the department to embrace a method of detection previously used only by literary icons such as Sherlock Holmes.

Psychiatrist James Brussel, the acknowledged father of modern criminal profiling, played a key role in the bomber's arrest. After looking through the police files, he provided details about what type of man he believed the villain to be, describing him down to the suit he would be wearing when captured. The subtitle's emphasis on profiling is, however, somewhat misleading; Incendiary provides a broad view of the case from several intriguing fronts, including psychiatry, forensics, bomb squad technology, the role of media and the changing landscape of criminal insanity laws. 

Cannell captures his audience like quicksand with a brief prologue, then sets off on a manhunt rich with historic details and a fantastic sense of time and place--a New York full of trench coats, brimmed hats, long-finned sedans, Checker Cabs and the greatest individual menace the city had yet to face. Incendiary is a firecracker of a case history about one of the country's first terrorists. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: One man terrorized a city and evaded capture for more than a decade, forcing the authorities to use methods seen before only in literature.

Minotaur Books, $26.99, hardcover, 304p., 9781250048943

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

by David Grann


The Osage Nation once roamed the Great Plains, from Missouri to the Rockies. As the buffalo population died off, their dwindling numbers finally forced them to negotiate a deal with the United States government to live in what one chief called a "big pile of rocks" in the no-man's land of northeast Oklahoma. The one bright spot? The tribe's savvy lawyer who secured mineral rights in perpetuity for the original 2,000 registered members on the Osage Roll. When oil was discovered outside rundown Pawhuska in 1894, their world was upended. By the Roaring '20s, "the Osage were considered the wealthiest per capita people in the world." Then, mysteriously and systematically, tribe members began to die of poison, odd diseases, gunshots, even a house bombing. The ragtag local police found no suspects as the deaths continued to mount. The Osage "Reign of Terror" had begun.

Killers of the Flower Moon is the sterling history of this forgotten drama that precipitated the first successful major crime prosecution by J. Edgar Hoover's fledgling Federal Bureau of Investigation. In the seasoned hands of historian and New Yorker staff writer David Grann (The Lost City of Z), it is a thoroughly researched narrative with helpful archival photos--as colorful as many of the characters and as well paced as a good true crime thriller. Tracking the killers is Hoover's former Texas Ranger Tom White, who was "six feet four and had the sinewy limbs and the eerie composure of a gunslinger." In Killers of the Flower Moon, Grann turns his years of primary source research into a storytelling wonder. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: David Grann's history of the Osage "Reign of Terror" is a stellar combination of dogged research and provocative storytelling.

Doubleday, $28.95, hardcover, 352p., 9780385534246

Current Events & Issues

American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road

by Nick Bilton


Nick Bilton (Hatching Twitter) describes the rise and fall of a very different Internet start-up in American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road. The titular subject is Ross Ulbricht, an idealistic millennial who often seems less like a criminal mastermind and more like a kid way in over his head. An ardent libertarian, Ross put his beliefs into practice by starting the Silk Road, a site on the anonymizing Dark Web where people could buy and sell drugs using a recently invented (and supposedly untraceable) digital currency called Bitcoin. By the time the website was closed down in 2013, global sales had reached $1.2 billion.

As the Silk Road takes off, Bilton flits between Ulbricht and the eccentric civil servants across the FBI, CBP (Customs and Border Protection) and IRS who took the lead in unmasking the "Dread Pirate Roberts"--Ulbricht's online handle, a reference to The Princess Bride. Bilton does a lot of work to understand the characters, but he's ultimately upstaged by the astonishing events themselves. Ulbricht, with a minimum of soul-searching, approves expanding the websites' wares to include guns, poisons, hacking tools and even human organs. His ethical lapses are almost matched by a few bad actors on the law enforcement side who attempt to steal huge amounts from the website and cover their tracks with torture and a faked contract killing. Fictional shows like Breaking Bad have nothing on Bilton's wild true story. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: American Kingpin recounts the hard-to-believe true story of Ross Ulbricht, an idealistic young man who started an online drug empire.

Portfolio, $27, hardcover, 352p., 9781591848141

Business & Economics

Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy

by Jonathan Taplin


"Data is the new oil," argues Jonathan Taplin in Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy. In this incisive work, Taplin makes the case that Internet monopolies have reshaped the online marketplace, via data mining and advertising, to enormous, unconstitutional profit. And as the title--a motto attributed to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg--implies, this is happening quickly and devastatingly.

Taplin posits that for Google and Facebook, "the difference between the supreme artistry of a Martin Scorsese short film and an amateur cat video lies only in the number of views that can be sold to advertisers." Quality no longer matters. Cat videos aside, Taplin quotes Zuckerberg again regarding his desire to spread free Internet to an untapped Third World market: "Who could be against it?"

Many, it turns out. The ramifications of modern colonialism in the name of "progress" and illegal online distribution have precedent. Taplin draws on his own experience in the entertainment industry, wherein he worked as a tour manager for artists like Bob Dylan and the Band, and as a producer for Scorsese. He employs a measured, persuasive tone, and makes a compelling case for re-envisioning the Internet and reinstating value in creating meaningful art. He considers solutions such as a universal basic income, artist co-ops and greater emphasis on community in order to salvage creative cultural output and assess its value.

Who could be against that? Again, the answer is likely many (especially the companies cited), but Taplin's topic is as important as his arguments are enlightening. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: Jonathan Taplin investigates the impact of Internet monopolies on the production and valuation of creative content in the digital age.

Little, Brown, $29, hardcover, 320p., 9780316275774

Political Science

Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government's Secret Plan to Save Itself--While the Rest of Us Die

by Garrett M. Graff


In Raven Rock, Garrett Graff (The Threat Matrix) has written a thorough analysis and history of disaster contingency plans, from the end of World War II into the Obama administration. He describes how the world entered a new era of warfare when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Japan in 1945, which unleashed fear for the safety of government personnel. Suddenly the threat of a nuclear war became all too real, and President Truman set into motion contingency plans for the continuation of American democracy in the event of such a disaster. These plans have morphed and changed over the past seven decades, but the core idea behind them remains the same: if under attack, have safe places well stocked with provisions and up-to-date communications systems, so the highest people in government can be protected and continue to work--while the masses of citizens fend for themselves.

Graff discusses the complexity of the presidential order of succession, the logistics of finding caves large enough to house personnel, the costs involved in building and stocking these massive underground bunkers with sufficient supplies, and the difficulty of maintaining them as deterioration sets in. Throughout, he consistently points out that the average citizen is not allowed into these protected zones, as well as the numerous executive orders (some written during the Cold War) that would go into effect, giving the administration extreme power. Graff's words leave a chill as he depicts just how insignificant most of the population is in the eyes of the government. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: In the event of nuclear war, the U.S. government has tactics to preserve itself--and only itself.

Simon & Schuster, $28, hardcover, 560p., 9781476735405

Essays & Criticism

Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves: Bookmarked

by Michael Seidlinger


House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is a postmodern typographical puzzle about a suburban home that's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Danielewski combines haunted house horror, domestic drama and paranoid obsession into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. He layers narrative upon narrative: Johnny Truant, an unstable first-person narrator, curates and comments on the disorganized works of Zampanò, a recently deceased blind man who was studying The Navidson Record, a documentary filmed in the titular house by photographer Will Navidson. Much of House of Leaves alternates between Zampanò's satirical in-depth academic study of the Record and Johnny's devolving mental state, his psychosis deepening alongside the inexplicably expanding labyrinth in Navidson's house.

Since its publication in 2000 by Pantheon, House of Leaves has entertained, perplexed and unsettled legions of readers. Michael Seidlinger was so inspired by Danielewski's work that he became an author (The Laughter of Strangers, The Face of Any Other, Falter Kingdom). In this addition to Ig Publishing's Bookmarked series, in which authors reflect on books that have shaped their lives and careers, Seidlinger hurls himself through a personal maze of self-reflection, literary influences and a writing process as winding and wondrous as Danielewski's house. As Seidlinger processes the novel chapter by chapter, each new element sends him on long, frequently footnoted discourses about his journey as a writer that are as heartfelt as they are illuminating. Fans of House of Leaves and those interested in behind-the-scenes glimpses of the creative process will enjoy this volume of Bookmarked. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: A novelist inspired by House of Leaves takes a labyrinthine journey of introspection.

Ig Publishing, $14.95, paperback, 184p., 9781632460516

Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish

by Tom McCarthy


Perhaps only in a Tom McCarthy essay would profound philosophical insight be pulled from both William Faulkner and M.C. Hammer. Such is the brainy, playful and always subversive power of McCarthy's first collection, Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish.

McCarthy (Remainder) is a novelist and ardent defender of the avant-garde. This collection includes 15 of his most provocative essays, many of which have appeared in publications like the Believer and London Review of Books. Almost every essay involves the interpretation of art and literature--classics, pop music and movies sucked into the grind of his intellect. Blended with an encyclopedic knowledge of modern science, especially physics, McCarthy's writing branches out and electrifies new conceptions of reality, much like the tentacles of a jellyfish.

A recurrent theme in the collection is that of the "recessional," or what McCarthy describes as a perceptual space between normal measures of time, between life's inevitable pretenses, where the art of fiction finds raw experience. This is the heart of artistic modernity, McCarthy concludes: a private space always incomplete in its becoming, resisting categorization. If McCarthy relies too much on postmodern skepticism at times--that is, a reflexive aversion to logical positivism--he makes up for it with the sheer, careening energy of his prose, at once wordy and incisive. He's an adept stylist, in the vein of Nabokov, and never fails to deliver dazzling twists of language and meaning. Each essay impresses with the author's preternatural intelligence. Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish will entice lovers of art and literature. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author

Discover: This collection of essays by novelist Tom McCarthy offers a brilliant panoply of art and literary criticism.

NYRB Classics, $16.95, paperback, 288p., 9781681370866

Religion

Holy Spokes: The Search for Urban Spirituality on Two Wheels

by Laura Everett


For most people, having their car break down on the highway during a stormy night would be a crisis. The mishap, however, inspired Laura Everett, a minister in the United Church of Christ, to abandon nearly all driving in favor of bicycling. With encouragement from "cycling sherpas" in her congregation and social circle, Everett began navigating Boston's labyrinthine streets as an all-weather cyclist, which quickly became an enjoyable challenge and essential component to her spiritual life.

"Runners, swimmers and rowers sometimes speak of this--the repetitive motion that allows one's mind to clear.... And so my time on the bicycle became reflective. My internal conversation became chatty, even. As I came to know Boston's roads better and better, my mind would drift and mull over my prayers: the triple-decker house with the foreclosed sign, the roadside shrine to a child killed by a stray gunshot, the despair that seemed to cling to every building on some blocks, the defiant signs of life on others."

Marrying practicality with philosophy, Holy Spokes provides detailed historical overviews of the sport, descriptions of bicycle construction (Everett has become skilled at building bikes), the mechanics of riding and the sport's physicality. With chapter titles representing various bicycle parts and their symbolic qualities to life ("Saddle ǀ Endurance," "Lights ǀ Visibility," "Brakes ǀ Limitations"), Holy Spokes is structured as a series of interconnected essays, blending Everett's appreciation for urban design along with mindfulness writings by a 17th-century monk named Brother Lawrence (a non-cyclist, to Everett's knowledge).

Although occasional repetition causes some narrative wobbles, Everett's insights gleaned from viewing Boston by bike can be appreciated by dedicated cyclists and non-athletes alike who seek a broader spiritual perspective to life. --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at melissafirman.com

Discover: Cycling serves as the impetus for a Boston minister's deepened spirituality and connections to her city.

Eerdmans, $22.99, hardcover, 201p., 9780802873736

Psychology & Self-Help

On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety

by Andrea Petersen


Anxiety disorders don't discriminate. As Wall Street Journal science and health reporter Andrea Petersen learned as a student in college, the debilitating fears that paralyze about 40 million adults in the United States, and the racing heart and strangled breaths of panic attacks, don't care about socio-economic status, race or sexual orientation. While women are more likely to suffer from the disorder ("There is no greater risk factor for anxiety disorders than being born female"), men are vulnerable to it as well. Even the young aren't safe from anxiety; in fact, the rate of diagnosis among college students is on a startling rise.

In On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety, Petersen shares her experiences battling panic attacks and fears as she explains the biological and psychological research underlying current treatments of the 11 anxiety disorders recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). They encompass a wide spectrum of symptoms and are closely tied to other afflictions, such as depression. Those who can identify with any of the evils of anxiety will discover solid research that offers options, understanding and hope. They'll even find some humor. On Edge can even help those who are fortunate enough to elude the irrational fears of anxiety. Petersen quotes Harvard Medical School professor of psychiatry Jordan Smoller: "People underrecognize the toll that [anxiety] takes on people's lives." For those with a family member, friend or employee who is battling with this invisible demon, On Edge can shed light down the dark cavern and help them support their loved ones when "uncertainty far too easily morphs into inescapable catastrophe." --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: A Wall Street Journal science and health reporter takes readers inside the world of anxiety disorders using the most current scientific research and her own journey to a healthy life.

Crown, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9780553418576

Science

Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, and Citizens Can Save the Planet

by Michael Bloomberg, Carl Pope


In Climate of Hope, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg joins forces with former Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope to illustrate how climate change is a series of manageable problems that can be addressed not by the federal government but instead by local administrations, businesses and individual citizens. Their theme throughout emphasizes that "each part of the problem of climate change has a solution that can make our society healthier and stronger." Instead of focusing on politics or long-term consequences, they identify the most immediate threats and how the best solutions not only save the environment, but are economically beneficial as well.

Following George W. Bush's reelection in 2004, Pope stood at the helm of the Sierra Club as the organization worked tirelessly to block the creation of new coal-fired plants in the United States; about the same time, Bloomberg was leading the charge for PlaNYC, an initiative, among other goals, to help the city of New York combat climate change. Using these significant vantage points, Bloomberg and Pope alternate chapters sharing pertinent science and data, as well as their experiences with the various parts of the climate change problem. They address renewable energy resources, housing, food and transportation. Their divergent insights offer a three-dimensional examination of the crisis as well as accessible solutions, innovative suggestions and a plethora of benefits. Most importantly, their positive, forward-looking attitude is inspiring and attainable. Bloomberg and Pope's collaborative work epitomizes the unity needed to solve climate change, and they set an example to follow. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: A businessman and an activist find common ground on the need to combat climate change.

St. Martin's Press, $26.99, hardcover, 272p., 9781250142078

Eclipse: Journeys to the Dark Side of the Moon

by Frank Close


Theoretical physicist Frank Close (The Particle Odyssey) chases a natural phenomenon that has haunted humankind since time immemorial in his enlightening science memoir Eclipse: Journeys to the Dark Side of the Moon.

Close is a professor of physics at Oxford University and former head of the theoretical physics division at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. Despite his hefty credentials, he eschews overly technical scientific jargon for a down-to-earth, lyrical account of solar eclipses, centering on his trips to Africa, the South Pacific and other locales where he pursues, with a mix of intrepid zest and mathematical precision, total solar eclipses. Eclipse beautifully blends these travel narratives with the history of eclipses, not only in science and math but also in art and literature, specifically how they've been represented as supernatural portents. At the same time, Close offers practical advice, such as when to look away from an eclipse, giving his book the feel of an intimate field guide.

But the best thing about Eclipse is neither its practical advice nor its scientific erudition. What stands out is Close's lean lyricism that elevates the material into a work of love. "A circle of profound blackness, a veritable hole in the sky," he writes with genuine awe, "was surrounded by shimmering white light." Adding a nice human touch to the material, Close reminisces about a childhood teacher who first inspired in him the wonder of scientific curiosity. Tracing this early love of stars and planets to his present-day cadre of eclipse chasers--"an international cult whose members worship the death and rebirth of the sun"--Close reveals the abiding passion that makes scientific discovery possible in the first place. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author.

Discover: In this alluring work of nonfiction, a physicist travels to the ends of the earth to understand solar eclipses better.

Oxford University Press, $21.95, hardcover, 208p., 9780198795490

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

by Paul Hawken, editor


As editor Paul Hawken (Blessed Unrest) writes in the introduction to the immensely compelling Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, "reversing global warming requires a change in how we think and what we do." To help initiate these changes, Hawken--who's written seven books on ecological business solutions--and more than 120 scientists formed Project Drawdown, a think tank designed to draft, model, fact-check, review and validate scientific data surrounding climate change and the solutions proposed to end it. Drawdown contains 100 of the most viable solutions they found.

The collection comprises a variety of approaches, including the installment of more green energy generators like wind turbines and solar panels, and the repopulation of land above the Arctic Circle with grass-grazing mammals. The scientific reasoning that supports each solution is offered in layman's terms, and important numbers--such as a plan's total cost, cost per capita and predicted total reduction of carbon from the atmosphere--are highlighted for easy comparison.

Impressively, each strategy also includes a discussion of its inherent challenges. In the section devoted to wave and tidal energy, for example, scientists explain that saltwater damages equipment over time and that waves are less predictable than wind and sunlight--making their energy more difficult to harness. By acknowledging these challenges, the Project's scientists have collated a highly persuasive collection that world leaders--and community activists--can discuss frankly and with the intent of further improvement. Drawdown is not only comprehensive, it's crucial to our world's conversation about climate change. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Drawdown proposes 100 critical solutions to ending climate change.

Penguin Books, $22, paperback, 256p., 9780143130444

Flavor: The Science of Our Most Neglected Sense

by Bob Holmes


In Flavor: The Science of Our Most Neglected Sense, evolutionary biologist Bob Holmes serves up insightful connections about some strange bedfellows. He pairs subtle aromas of wine, the crunch of fresh Pringles and the nuances of a frozen chicken nugget with the particulars of neuroscience, and the results are a sheer delight.

Holmes quickly admits that he lacks a formal culinary background and is no "supertaster." Yet that makes Flavor all the more digestible; his explanations of technical aspects of taste rely not on foodie or scientific jargon but plain English. Even better, Holmes is as funny as he is enlightening. On taste buds, he writes, "Those mushroom-shaped bumps on the surface of the tongue that most people call taste buds are, technically speaking, really fungiform papillae, an impressive-sounding Latin term that means 'mushroom-shaped bumps.' " He also convincingly compares the human brain to a layer cake.

A broad cast of experts populates Holmes's exploration. He hops between continents visiting conferences, labs and restaurants, meeting with scientists, chefs, researchers and wine growers. All five senses, he learns, shape the perception of flavor, as do genetics, neurobiology, culture and the timing of exposure to new foods. Holmes navigates olfaction research, wades through molecular gastronomy and even braves a taste test of a variety of hot peppers, or as he calls it, a "pursuit of pain." He grants that much about flavor remains to be understood, but as studies on the subject continue, Holmes makes a compelling case that its appreciation is a learnable, worthy pursuit that literally makes sense. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: An evolutionary biologist digs deep into what flavor is and how people perceive it.

W.W. Norton, $26.95, hardcover, 320p., 9780393244427

DNA Is Not Destiny: The Remarkable, Completely Misunderstood Relationship Between You and Your Genes

by Steven J. Heine


Cultural psychologist Steven Heine aims to shatter myths about the overarching power of genes in his thought-provoking treatise DNA Is Not Destiny: The Remarkable, Completely Misunderstood Relationship Between You and Your Genes.

In nine incisive chapters, DNA Is Not Destiny provides a brief history of genetics as a scientific discipline before delving into the tricky issues of genetic testing, heritable diseases, race, gender, sexual orientation and social engineering. At the heart of Heine's argument is a warning against many people's fallacious tendency to ascribe effects and traits to underlying and seemingly immutable essences. Heine criticizes the pervasive sense of determinism found in popular views of genetics, which, if not called out, can lead to destructive and discriminatory beliefs. In reality, Heine authoritatively explains, most human traits are the result of genetic, environmental and cultural factors interacting with each other in a complex web. Very few conditions are irreversibly determined by genetics alone.

Besides deconstructing essentialist views and the danger they pose to human rights, Heine targets the false promises of genetic testing and consulting companies. He even reveals his own test results as a way to pinpoint what information people needlessly obsess over, including widely variable risk estimates for certain diseases. In this and myriad other ways, DNA Is Not Destiny is a powerful and important read that necessarily grounds a new era of science and healthcare. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author

Discover: With sharp and timely analysis, a cultural psychologist addresses growing misconceptions about the power of genes.

W.W. Norton, $26.95, hardcover, 352p., 9780393244083

Health & Medicine

The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in "Healthy" Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain

by Steven R. Gundry


Using years of research and case studies, heart surgeon Steven Gundry takes a close look at the intriguing science behind plants, their defensive tactics against predators and how one particular protective measure can cause many illnesses. The large plant protein called lectin, found in seeds, grains, skins, rinds and leaves, is often indigestible for humans, and Gundry analyzes how this protein wreaks havoc on bacteria in the intestinal tract. One well-known lectin is gluten, but there are thousands more in all types of food, including gluten-free grains such as buckwheat, oats and quinoa, as well as in fruits, legumes, certain nuts and animals fed a diet of corn and soybeans. Gundry expertly illustrates how lectins are responsible for multiple health issues, including inflammation, heart disease and a susceptibility to viruses and bacterial infections.

Patients who switch to Gundry's plant paradox eating lifestyle claim to have reversed the effects of diabetes, MS, RA, fibromyalgia, IBS, Crohn's disease, cancer, obesity and a host of other ailments. Gundry's logical and extensive investigation into lectins provides readers with more than enough evidence to take this information to heart and try his method. A comprehensive list of foods with and without lectins, sample menus, multiple recipes and a list of recommended supplements help readers make the switch to a diet that Gundry declares will eliminate numerous illnesses that plague modern humans. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A heart surgeon offers an informative look at the lectins in foods that can cause multiple health issues.

Harper Wave, $27.99, hardcover, 416p., 9780062427137

Children's & Young Adult

Noteworthy

by Riley Redgate


Jordan Sun must once again share the news with her mother when she's passed over for a role in the Kensington-Blaine school musical. Jordan is desperate to justify her enrollment in the prestigious East Coast performing arts boarding school clear across the country from her struggling parents. So when she asks her instructor for advice on how to improve, she's crestfallen to learn her Alto 2 voice isn't conducive to the female roles.

Discouraged and depressed, Jordan reads a school-wide e-mail announcing tryouts for the Sharpshooters, Kensington's elite, male, a cappella octet. Thinking she has nothing to lose and longing for the chance to be a part of something successful, Jordan reminds herself, "Risk [isn't] scary. Insignificance [is] terrifying." So she puts her theater training to work, dressing up as Julian Zhang to audition. To her great surprise, Julian receives a callback.

As Jordan juggles both identities, she feels herself changing. Hiding her secret weighs heavier each day, but she likes the self-confidence and freedom she experiences as a boy. She's even able to explore her sexual orientation, an element of herself she accepted based on expectations, not her personal feelings. Even more, she basks in the feeling of family among the Sharpshooters. But the more entrenched she becomes, the harder it is to maintain her deception.

Riley Redgate's (Seven Ways We Lie) second novel superbly probes identity, privilege and community in a humorous plot of high school growing pains. Like her visual arts students at Kensington, Redgate crafts her characters with delicate lines and strong shadows within a phase of life that is anything but gentle. Noteworthy is a five-star performance, deserving of a standing ovation. Encore! --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: When a female high school junior at a performing arts school disguises herself as a boy to audition for an all-male a cappella group, she winds up with a noteworthy education.

Amulet/Abrams, $17.95, hardcover, 400p., ages 13-up, 9781419723735

My Fairy Godmother Is a Drag Queen

by David Clawson


Who wouldn't be stunned clean out of their cheap Payless shoes if their fairy godmother appeared in drag, bearing a striking resemblance to Diana Ross? Chris Bellows is certainly caught off guard.

Chris, a 17-year-old living with his stepmother, stepsister and stepbrother after his father's death, is quietly and innocuously making his way through high school. His family, however, intends to regain the wealth and social status they lost in the recession. His stepmother's plan involves a very public courtship and marriage between her daughter and New York's most eligible bachelor, J.J. Kennerly. That plan is threatened, however, when J.J. falls for Chris.

David Clawson breaks the glass slipper with his hilarious, heartwarming debut, a modern retelling of Cinderella. The vibrant characters in My Fairy Godmother Is a Drag Queen won't hesitate to steal readers' hearts even as they leave them laughing out loud. Chris's friend Duane, aka Coco Chanel Jones, radiates outrageousness--physically in his drag, but also through his intelligence, intuition, compassion, creativity and humor: "Baby, we've got to get you cleaned up and pretty. I'm going to be your fairy godmother, ya hear?... And when Coco says fairy, honey, she means fairy!" Clawson's dialogue is tack sharp, but be forewarned that it is not always wholesome.

The political element of the novel--the Kennerlys parallel the Kennedy clan--provides a strong conflict for Clawson's star-crossed lovers, putting their love in an all-too-real predicament and creating a perfect scenario to explore the theme of identity.

Ingeniously plotted with a spectacular cast, My Fairy Godmother Is a Drag Queen is magical excellence. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: A witty and modern retelling of Cinderella in which the prince finds a Ferragamo and the fairy godmother impersonates Diana Ross.

Sky Pony, $17.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 14-up, 9781510714113

The Doorman's Repose

by Chris Raschka


Two stories about Mr. Bunchley, the new doorman at 777 Garden Street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, frame this endearing, imaginative collection by Caldecott Award winner Chris Raschka.

Mr. Bunchley, who goes against the grain himself by preferring to talk flowers over baseball, opens the door to reveal the quirky inhabitants of this grand old (and equally quirky) apartment building, a "neo-proto-Aztec-Egyptian-Gothic"-style affair. Fred is the mysterious veteran of "some kind of war" who regulates gravity with pigeons. Myrna Murray-Burdett is the building's requisite resident opera singer ("lyric soprano"). And Victoria is a second grader whose fascination with plumbing helps save a depressed boiler named Liesl. Each inhabitant has a story, and each story is told with the utmost care and respect. Even some of the building's less human residents get their turn. Stories of the mouse families Brownback and Whitefoot are likewise captivating to readers, and Otis the elevator also gets to have his say.

In The Doorman's Repose, readers are reminded that everyone (indeed, every thing!) has a history, but kindness is prequel to understanding. Raschka's (Yo! Yes?; Home at Last; A Ball for Daisy) black-and-white art is beautifully offbeat and expressive. His intertwining tales wind through time, from apartment to apartment, and emphasize the bonds among various residents who have more in common than the "unseen world" of pipes that snake through their building. As Mr. Bunchley so nicely puts it, "This city is more interconnected than the loops of yarn in your grandmother's sweater." A wonderful story for all ages. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: Intertwining tales about the residents and doorman of 777 Garden Street on Manhattan's Upper East Side make up this charmingly sophisticated collection.

New York Review Children's Collection, $17.95, hardcover, 175p., ages 10-14, 9781681371009

The Girl Who Wouldn't Die

by Randall Platt


When Nazis conquer Poland in the fall of 1939, 16-year-old Abra Goldstein--known on the streets as the "Arab of Warsaw" ever since she forsook her "filthy-rich Jewish parents"--is determined to survive in any way possible. Tall, with blue eyes and chopped-off blonde hair, she masquerades as an Aryan boy, running with a gang of petty thieves. The occupation provides unlimited opportunities for her small-time black market business selling cigarettes and whatever else anyone wants, "from a Polish tart to Chopin's heart." Meanwhile, she keeps a discreet eye on her beloved younger sister, Ruthie, still living with their parents in the "posh" Jewish quarter. In her father's disgust at his older daughter's unseemly behavior--getting kicked out of her fancy school, stealing, joining a street gang--he has placed a gravestone in the cemetery with the inscription: "Abra Goldstein/ Gone and Forgotten." But Arab thinks of herself as "the girl who wouldn't die" and spends the early war years proving this truth again and again, even when she is asked to take part in a dangerous act of resistance.

In fluid, almost contemporary dialogue and action, Randall Platt (The Likes of Me) never flinches from the violent, heartbreaking realities of Nazi-occupied Europe. The Girl Who Wouldn't Die is about the measures Jews, gay people and allies took to survive in a savage time--Arab wearing cynicism like armor, for instance. "Trust me," she tells a fellow street kid, "evil trumps good every time." It's possible, though, that even seemingly cold-blooded Arab has a heart bigger than the entire Jewish ghetto in Warsaw. Riveting. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A Jewish girl disguised as an Aryan boy wrenches readers through Nazi-occupied Warsaw in this brutal, beautiful YA novel.

Sky Pony/Skyhorse, $16.99, hardcover, 368p., ages 14-up, 9781510708099

A Face Like Glass

by Frances Hardinge


Caverna is a mad, marvelous underground world filled with artisan-crafted luxuries--"wines that rewrote the subtle book of memory, cheeses that brought visions, spices that sharpened the senses"--whose residents long ago retreated to its tunnels when the aboveground cities fell "into ruin beneath the ravages of war and weather." These underground citizens are born without the ability to adjust their facial features into expressions. Specially trained "Facesmiths" teach people anywhere from one or two placid, servile Faces (for the low-class Drudges)--to several hundred subtle Faces (for the affluent elite, who might choose to wear a smile called "Face No. 301, Dewdrops Regarded in a Spirit of Hope").

Neverfell is a 12-year-old "tangle of fidget and frisk" who, seven years earlier, mysteriously appeared in the passageways near master cheesemaker Grandible's private rooms and laboratories. The gruff Grandible took in the girl as an apprentice but made her wear a mask when he discovered, to his horror, that her face was naturally at the mercy of her emotions, and she was therefore incapable of lying--thus, A Face Like Glass. When Neverfell runs away from Grandible to steal back a valuable piece of cheese she wrongly gave away, she is abruptly exposed to the bizarre, many-tiered world of Caverna, with its intrigue, classism and betrayal.

Frances Hardinge (The Lie Tree; Fly by Night) writes at full throttle, with luscious language, viscerally evocative descriptions and more plot twists and turns than the Minotaur's labyrinth. Themes of empathy and honesty provide the foundation for this stunner, but it's the wily storyline and gorgeous writing that will leave readers longing for a new Face to express their devotion to the author. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A 12-year-old girl living in a complex underground world where people must be taught expressions discovers that she is the only person whose face betrays natural emotions.

Amulet, $19.95, hardcover, 496p., ages 12-up, 9781419724848

Restart

by Gordon Korman


When 13-year-old Chase Ambrose wakes up in a hospital after four days in a coma, there's a woman weeping at his side. "Where am I?" he asks. "Who are these people?" Turns out the woman is his mother, and Chase has developed amnesia after falling off his roof. Once he's recovered from his more acute injuries, he's free to return to most of his normal activities. The trouble is, he has absolutely no idea what those activities were, or with whom he did them. He's told he was a football star. He knows who his best friends are because he finds a picture of them on his phone. But why do so many people cower and cringe when he walks by? Why does a girl dump frozen yogurt on his head? And why do his supposed buddies now seem like "the worst people [he] know[s]?"

As he navigates life post-accident, Chase is horrified to learn that he used to spend his days terrorizing less popular kids. But he also begins finding happiness and satisfaction in things his old self never would have considered: the video club, for instance, and his volunteer work at the assisted living facility. As he learns more about the kinds of things he used to do--blowing up pianos and worse--Chase wonders about the person he was--and the person he is now. Meanwhile, those around him also struggle to understand who the "real" Chase is.

Told in the alternating viewpoints of Chase and his classmates, Restart, by master middle-grade storyteller Gordon Korman (Schooled; Ungifted; The Hypnotist #1), explores what happens when a boy who doesn't even know he needs a second chance gets one. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: As a 13-year-old football star with amnesia restarts his life, he discovers that the bullying and arrogance he used to engage in no longer appeals in the slightest.

Scholastic, $16.99, hardcover, 256p., ages 8-12, 9781338053777

Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World

by Sarah Prager, illus. by Zoë More O'Ferrall


Queer people--"anyone outside society's gender and sexuality norms"--have always been a part of world history, whether we knew it or not. Presidents (and first ladies), Roman emperors/empresses, musicians, athletes, nuns and civil rights leaders have been gay, bisexual, panromantic, transgender and everywhere else along the gender and sexuality spectrum. Although some of these people were accepted in their time and place, many others were closeted or persecuted. Furthermore, "[f]ear of rejection, physical violence, execution, conversion therapy, and more still haunt millions of queer people's daily lives." Nonetheless, today in the United States (and other countries), "a mountain of rights and communities unparalleled at any point since the founding of this country" has been built. In Queer, There, and Everywhere, author and activist Sarah Prager celebrates the lives of 23 people over the past couple thousand years who made remarkable contributions to history.

Written with a pop culture sensibility that will appeal to teen readers, the collection is a fascinating look at history through a different lens than what most history books provide. In the chapter on Abe Lincoln (yes, the Great Emancipator makes an appearance!), Prager writes about Abe and his "intimate friend" Joshua Fry Speed: "They talked to each other all the time about being freaked out about the prospect of getting married" to women. But don't let her breezy style make you doubt Prager's seriousness as a researcher. She has dug deep into the history vaults for biographical information, and includes quotes from letters and interviews, as evidenced in her extensive bibliography and notes section. Each chapter is introduced with Zoë More O'Ferrall's friendly pen-and-ink portraits of the subject. Hurray for Sarah Prager's own splendid contribution to queer history! --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This funny, fascinating collection celebrates the contributions of queer people, including a gender-bending 17th-century sovereign, computer inventor Alan Turing and social-media sensation George Takei.

HarperCollins, $17.99, hardcover, 272p., ages 13-up, 9780062474315

Quicksand Pond

by Janet Taylor Lisle


"No one needed a hidden, half-forgotten pond more than Jessie that summer, and right from the beginning--their first day on the raft--Terri Carr seemed the perfect person to show it to her."

Jessie Kettel "was in a separatist mood that year, her twelfth, and in a state of irritation with everyone around her." When her family rents a rustic seaside cottage with a pond in Rhode Island for the summer, she sees the pond as her place, especially since her "pathetically nice" beautiful older sister gravitates toward the ocean beach and the teens she finds there, her little brother is absorbed with a new friend, her writer father is distracted and her mother is notably absent, back home in Pittsburgh, working day and night.

Jessie discovers an old raft, and a local girl, Terri, discovers her. Terri regales Jessie with stories about long-ago quicksand drownings and murders and wrongful arrests. Jessie is intrigued but also wary--Terri lives in a broken-down house with a violent, alcoholic father, and Jessie's never sure how much to trust her. As the summer and their friendship progresses, Jessie grapples with ethical questions: Is it all right to use the tools from a senile old woman's shed without her knowing? Is it fair to accuse Terri of stealing Jessie's father's laptop just because she's needy and has a shifty look about her? Mysteries from the past begin to overlap with present-day puzzles and, in spite of herself, Jessie begins to distance herself from Terri.

Quicksand Pond by Janet Taylor Lisle (Newbery Honor Book Afternoon of the Elves; The Art of Keeping Cool) is a beautiful, realistic story about trust, self-doubt and judgment. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Two 12-year-old girls fix up an old raft and explore a pond, friendship and the dark mysteries of the past.

Atheneum, $16.99, hardcover, 256p., ages 10-up, 9781481472227

Thick as Thieves

by Megan Whalen Turner


Thick as Thieves offers Megan Whalen Turner's fans an eagerly anticipated return to the Queen's Thief world, but it also extends to a new generation a stand-alone introduction to a spectacularly enchanted empire imagined by a master storyteller. Neither group will be disappointed.

Kamet is a slave, but one with significant position. Literate and educated, he is the personal secretary to the prince Nahuseresh, nephew of the Mede emperor and brother to the emperor's chosen heir. His position has encouraged Kamet to envision lofty goals, "Someday [my master] meant to make a gift of me to his brother, and then, as the next emperor's personal slave, I would be one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in all the empire." But when a friend and fellow slave whispers a warning to Kamet, he realizes his life is in grave danger, bringing his aspirations of greatness crashing down around him. Left with no choice, Kamet runs. 

The complexity of Turner's world combined with the suspense of her layered plot creates a story that will appeal to readers of all ages. The thrill of the chase is magnetic--as is Kamet's budding and unlikely friendship with an Attolian soldier. This enemy of his master is offering to save Kamet, but is he really just leading the slave to his death? The stakes are high, and Turner keeps the intensity elevated throughout the novel, making it a challenge to tear oneself away from the exploits of this diminutive slave with his larger-than-life personality. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: Continuing in the realm of her Newbery Award-winning YA fantasy series, Megan Whalen Turner takes a Mede slave on a harrowing life-or-death journey across the empire.

Greenwillow/HarperCollins, $17.99, hardcover, 352p., ages 14-up, 9780062568243

Green Green: A Community Gardening Story

by Baldev Lamba, Marie Lamba, illus. by Sonia Sánchez


"Green green/ fresh and clean./ Brown brown,/ dig the ground." With a little digging, raking, planting and watering, a garden can grow just about anywhere--even in a cramped lot between city buildings. Green Green is husband-and-wife team Marie Lamba (What I Meant) and landscape architect Baldev Lamba's ode to a greener world, gorgeously illustrated by Barcelonian Sonia Sánchez (Here I Am).

The picture book opens with children frolicking in verdant meadows, butterflies and bees like confetti flung among them. With each passing page, though, the concrete and steel of a city encroaches, shrinking the "green green" to tiny spaces "in between." The city is growing and the children are in danger of losing their green play spaces altogether... until they see the potential in a vacant lot: "Squirrel gray,/ pigeon blue,/ weeds and wildflowers,/ litter, too." They ask the adults, "Brown brown,/ dig the ground?" and soon neighbors join together to create a beautiful community garden that pushes back against the gloomy gray of the city.

Sánchez's illustrations are full of sweet-faced multi-ethnic families in cozy cardigans and mixed-patterned outfits. There's always something new to catch among the pages: a watering can on a fire escape, an old refrigerator in the yard, gardening gloves hanging out of one mom's pocket. The final spread provides ideas to "Make Your World More Green Green" and explains how we can help bees and butterflies. With its simple text and lush artwork, Green Green serves as pure inspiration. Readers of all ages will want to run for their spades and seed packets as soon as the last page is read. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: In this exquisitely illustrated picture book, buildings and litter overwhelm urban green spaces until children take action, getting adults involved in creating a community garden.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 2-5, 9780374327972

The Lines We Cross

by Randa Abdel-Fattah


When Michael sees Mina, it's love at first sight. Unfortunately, they're on opposite sides of an immigration protest at the time. Michael is with his father, the founder of an anti-immigration, anti-Muslim group called Aussie Values. Mina, who escaped Afghanistan with her mother, is holding a sign that says "It's Not Illegal to Seek Asylum." The next day, Michael sees her again, because Mina has moved to the North Shore of Sydney to attend 11th grade at the same private school he does. Though they clash in their first shared class and argue each time they see each other, a crush develops as they spend more time together, confusing both of them. Their arguments inspire Michael to question his family's beliefs, but Mina remains protective of her family and hesitant to trust him. Although their conversations are serious, a healthy dose of humor and their cautious romance brings both Michael and Mina to life. "Can you actually die of a brain aneurysm through overanalyzing whether your date is, in fact, a date?" asks Mina, and Michael is equally unsure.

In alternating chapters, Australian author Abdel-Fattah (Does My Head Look Big in This?; Ten Things I Hate About Me) provides two thoughtful points of view, avoiding cliché or easy answers. As Mina relives flashbacks from her arduous journey to Australia and Michael confronts his parents, Abdel-Fattah's writing brings their struggles to life with compassion. Teen readers will learn from Mina and Michael's experiences even as they swoon over the sweet love story at the book's heart. --Stephanie Anderson, assistant director for public services, Darien Library (Conn.)

Discover: This smart teen romance examines the politics of immigration with nuance.

Scholastic Press, $18.99, hardcover, 400p., ages 12-up, 9781338118667

Colette's Lost Pet

by Isabelle Arsenault


"For the last time, NO PET!" Colette is told. But for this creative new-kid-in-town, an empty moving box quickly becomes the perfect device for introducing her titular "lost pet" to the neighborhood gang. "It's... a parakeet," Colette initially tells Albert and Tom, who appear outside her backyard. The boys propose seeking out Lily, because she has "huge binoculars" to help locate Colette's avian ally who, Colette next declares, is blue "[w]ith a bit of yellow on its neck." Colette continues to divulge delightful details during each encounter with a new friend, until the missing Marie-Antoinette is revealed to speak mostly French, have flown all over the world and last ate a rattlesnake in the jungle. Suddenly, Colette has an entourage ready to revel in all her "truly amazing" adventures--at least until she gets called home for dinner.

Isabelle Arsenault, who lives in Montreal and is a three-time Governor General's Literary Award winner, makes her charming debut as both writer and illustrator (her previous solo title, Alpha, was an ABC book). Her whimsical artistry sparkles here, as she uses just two colors--Marie-Antoinette's blue and yellow--to emphasize the enchanting power of a child's creativity. Colette's yellow hoodie stands out on every page, as the children fall in line to follow her creative lead. Arsenault emphasizes the growing elaborateness of Colette's fowl descriptions by adding color to what could be Marie-Antoinette's domain--the bird feeder, a tree's leaves, water fountain droplets; the more outrageous Colette's avian adventures become, the more colorfully spectacular Marie-Antoinette grows. For picture book readers of all ages, Arsenault's imagination celebration will prove irresistible. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: When new-kid-on-the-block Colette invents a lost pet, she quickly learns that all the neighborhood kids are willing to help fuel her indomitable imagination.

Random House, $17.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 3-7, 9780553536591

Hyacinth and the Secrets Beneath

by Jacob Sager Weinstein


A few boring weeks after her mother forces her to move to London from Illinois, all 12-year-old Hyacinth Hayward wants is a sink that combines hot and cold water. An attempt at amateur plumbing unleashes a magic drop of water into London's sewers, and Hyacinth learns she has until midnight to track it down and exchange it for her mother--who has been kidnapped. In the sewers, she meets a giant pig with index cards for every occasion (including "A YOUNG LADY OF QUALITY, TREATED MOST RUDELY BY RATS"), an old lady who's keeping secrets and an unknown side to the Royal Mail, among other surprises. As Hyacinth encounters toshers (aka sewer scavengers), anarchists and Inheritors of Order (or, as the anarchists see it: Elitists and Egalitarians), she realizes that she is the only one she can trust to use London's many secrets to save her mom.

In his first book for children, Jacob Sager Weinstein uses plentiful humor to hold together the boisterous plot as Hyacinth stumbles through her adventure. Her wry, self-aware voice ("Now, usually, I wouldn't be thrilled to have a giant underground cathedral collapsing around my ears") keeps Hyacinth and the Secrets Beneath light even in intense moments.

"I made up much less of this book than you might think," Weinstein writes in his brief author's note, and parents and teachers may find that readers are so excited for the next installment of this series that they willingly research London history to prepare. --Stephanie Anderson, assistant director for public services, Darien Library (Conn.)

Discover: A lively and inventive fantasy chapter book for fans of Catherynne Valente and Terry Gilliam.

Random House, $16.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 8-12, 9780399553172

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground

by Rita Williams-Garcia


Clayton Byrd's "lungs and soul were ready to pour out his own story through the ten square holes of his blues harp" (harmonica). All he wants is to play the blues with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd. Although Cool Papa lets him play gigs with his band, the Bluesmen, in Manhattan's Washington Square Park, he won't let him take a solo. Cool Papa says, "When you can bend that note proper, I'll wave you in... a bluesman ain't a bluesman without that deep-down cry."

But before Clayton has a chance to prove himself, trouble finds him, as the song goes. Cool Papa falls asleep reading to Clayton one night, and never wakes up. After a lifetime of resentment over her musician father's long absences, Cool Papa's daughter--Clayton's mother--promptly gives away all his things: the records, the guitars and even Cool Papa's trademark porkpie hat (before Clayton yanks it back). Heartbroken and fed up, Clayton goes underground, skipping school to hop the downtown train in hopes of joining up with the Bluesmen. Trouble keeps finding him, though, in the form of beatboxing young subway hustlers.

Rita Williams-Garcia, author of the Newbery Honor Book One Crazy Summer and their sequels, Gone Crazy in Alabama and P.S. Be Eleven, is masterful in her use of music to tell the story of one boy's coming of age. Clayton is so squarely on the cusp of adolescence; the downbeat of his grief falls in with the sharp percussion of his rage against his mother to produce "that round-the-corner, back-to-tell-the-tale blues bend" the Bluesmen talk about. Readers will willingly accompany Clayton and his family in this aching blues riff. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: When his beloved blues-playing grandfather dies, a young New York City boy sets off on a subway adventure to pursue their shared musical love--and to escape his angry, blues-hating mother.

Amistad/HarperCollins, $16.99, hardcover, 176p., ages 8-12, 9780062215918

Parenting & Family

The Unmumsy Mum: The Hilarious Highs and Emotional Lows of Motherhood

by Sarah Turner


Following in the hilarious footsteps of Jean Kerr, Erma Bombeck and Jill Conner Browne, Sarah Turner is this generation's scathingly funny and wickedly frank parenting prophet. In 2013, Turner (a freelance writer from Exeter, England) started a blog that struck a chord with millions of readers who were relieved to discover they weren't the only parents cutting corners and feeling guilty about not treasuring every moment of raising kids. The Unmumsy Mum is a sassy, sidesplitting and loving parenting manual for those who live in the real world, not in the world found online. "Social media is a selective snapshot and is never the full story," writes Turner. "It's not the most helpful place to look when you are having a sh*tty day."

Turner is screamingly funny, whether she's sniffing diapers to identify her baby, fighting for alone time ("If sleep were a drug, I would be the first to lock myself in the bathroom and snort it."), charting the five psychological stages of night-feeding (Hope, Denial, the Standoff, Rage and Guilt) or marveling at the impact on her body after giving birth ("I'm left with something that loosely resembles the original, if you get my drift."). She is also a constantly reassuring sage: "Somebody's children have to be the worst behaved in the park. They just do. The law of averages suggests that, sometimes, those kids will belong to you."

Turner's raunchy, loving and wise The Unmumsy Mum will have parents laughing with recognition and sighing with relief that they're no longer alone. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Popular blogger Sarah Turner delivers a screamingly funny and practical parenting manual.

TarcherPerigee, $16, paperback, 304p., 9780143130048

Art & Photography

Hokusai X Manga: Japanese Pop Culture Since 1680

by Sabine Schulze, Nora von Achenbach, Simon Klingler, editors


Serving much the same function that manga and comic books do today, ukiyo-e (meaning "the floating, transient world"--the art of Japanese woodblock prints and paintings) arose in 17th-century Japan to satisfy public appetites for escapism from the rigidity of everyday life. Ukiyo-e offered safe ways to explore fears and experience the sensual pleasures of taboo subjects; they also served as advertisements for kabuki productions and as ringing endorsements for travel to the Edo capital. Hokusai X Manga developed from a permanent exhibit of ukiyo-e at Germany's Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg. It captures the many facets of this art form: the haunting religious imagery in yōkai ("hybrid spirits"); the quiet spirituality of geometrically layered, Prussian-blue landscapes; erotica, forbidden love and heroic battles. 

The anthology does a wonderful job of exploring the art form's origins and providing cultural context behind its mass appeal. The editors also analyze the visual techniques used in creating woodblock art, particularly in the development of the first comics, kibyōshi, which were cheaply assembled booklets of sequential pictures. Kibyōshi would become the precursors to the modern manga movement and influence anime greats such as Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away) and Shigeru Mizuki (Kitaro). Though Hokusai X Manga fails to address the more widespread influence of these 17th-century Japanese artists on the West, this collection and its colorful commentary should serve as a valuable reference tool for manga enthusiasts and art collectors, with a good sampling of the best ukiyo-e prints. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: The visually mesmerizing collection of Japanese woodblock prints and paintings from the Museum für Kunst and Gewerbe in Hamburg provides historical context for popular manga.

Hirmer Publishers, $34.95, paperback, 240p., 9783777426679

Poetry

The Lice

by W.S.Merwin


This 50th anniversary edition of W.S. Merwin's groundbreaking poetry collection The Lice introduces the poet's bold experimentation to a new generation of readers.

These poems are unrestrained by meter or rhyme. But while many poets who write in free verse adhere to some punctuation, Merwin abandons the comma and the full stop, creating heady juxtapositions through run-on sentences and enjambment. His lines flow in a moody stream-of-consciousness, taking shape both literally on the page and metaphorically, eddying around persistent themes. Like T.S. Eliot, Merwin mines antiquity for symbols. His imagery has an archaic feel. Here are moons, shadows, stones, hands and moths. But he repurposes these motifs in a modernist style to match his impressions of a dark, unaccountable, mid-20th-century world drifting toward annihilation. If The Lice is about anything, it's about the way death both eludes and rules the mind.

The best poems in the collection punctuate the poet's general dreaminess with stark, comparatively plain insights. "And once more I remember that the beginning/ Is broken," reads the terse "Whenever I Go There." In a single, unmoored line, it concludes, "Today belongs to few and tomorrow to no one." When Merwin's thoughts alight on the natural world outside the mind, away from the mythos of the self, the results are breathtaking. "The Widow," for example, opens with a beautifully humble image: "How easily the ripe grain/ Leaves the husk/ At the simple turning of the planet." The same poem produces one of the collection's most powerful lines: "Everything that does not need you is real."

The Lice is inquisitive, bleak and, at its best, profound. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author

Discover: This commemorative edition showcases the early existential musings of one of modern poetry's most recognizable names.

Copper Canyon Press, $15, paperback, 96p., 9781556594984

Lowly

by Alan Felsenthal


For several years, Alan Felsenthal, together with Ben Estes, has run the superlative small press the Song Cave, publishing some of the strongest new voices in contemporary poetry. Now comes Felsenthal's debut, Lowly, from Ugly Duckling Presse, and it is well worth the wait.

Not uncommon to first collections assembled over a long period, Lowly is a smorgasbord of styles and forms. Gnomic utterances yield to poker-faced double entendres, while hints of humor leaven delicate self-consciousness. Possessing a sly wit ("I regard all men/ I knew as boys, as boys") and a nuanced faith ("In myself I will call my soul a she, and to her be singular"), the poet flirts with riddles but ultimately draws back from the chasm of meaninglessness.

This is refreshingly subtle poetry, quiet even, yet remaining alert to the sheer physicality of language, resulting in a musically sophisticated mouthfeel. Witness the hard consonants in a line like "True power gilds the moth, most/ haled then forgot like a loathed toad."

The poems in Lowly repeatedly invoke legends and myths both familiar and obscure (Atlantis, the Sphinx, astrology). In a time obsessed with facts and their obvious dissemblance, Felsenthal values alterity, writing toward a less binary sense of truth. "I'm not expecting to become the gate-/ keeper of these mysteries. I only want time to read,/ to feel a story well, stare at my beloved/ and make of all my discomfort a household/ shrine." Hear, hear. --John Duvernoy, bookseller, Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Wash.

Discover: A respected poetry publisher's debut is an elegant, multi-dimensional collection.

Ugly Duckling Presse, $15, paperback, 80p., 9781937027872

Dreadful Wind & Rain

by Diane Gilliam


In the tradition of Milton and Donne, Diane Gilliam's Dreadful Wind & Rain is an inspired collection of loosely connected poems derived from the Book of Genesis story of Leah and Rachel, and from a 300-year-old folk song of sororicide. Pushcart Prize-winner Gilliam's work is plainspoken and haunting, with an everywoman's voice of wanting and wondering. The narrator of the prose poem "Lots of Ships," for instance, learns with her "pens and pencils rowing for some kind of shore."

Gilliam pins her perspective in the first poem "Girls," describing a young woman's thoughts while peering out a window: "Whatever it is she is wanting, it is not/ too much to ask."

In "Tender" the wanting is to be out of a difficult marriage:

"Loving him is too much
cereal and milk
when what she wants

are platters of fried eggs and ham,
biscuits and gravy, fried apples
in big steaming bowls."

In the overtly biblical "Psalm of Leah," the protagonist laments her hard farming life: "the twisted grimace of husbandry,/ the face beaten like a plowshare/ into the shape of what happens to it."

Like the ragged abraded squares of an old quilt in "Oh, Honey" ("the wear and tear of what happens in bed"), the poems in Dreadful Wind & Rain tell an unforgettable story deep in tradition but singularly modern. This one belongs on the not-to-be-missed list. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Gilliam's poems loosely based on biblical and folk tales are innovative narrative verse at its breathtaking finest.

Red Hen Press, $17.95, paperback, 96p., 9781597097499

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