by Hannah Lillith Assadi
Hannah Lillith Assadi's Sonora is a beautiful desert wind of a novel--wild, plangent and revealing. In the suburbs of Phoenix, Ariz., and later in the bohemian subculture of New York City, Ahlam, the daughter of a Jewish mother and Palestinian father, narrates her struggle to belong in a postmodern U.S.
Fans of Denis Johnson will find in Assadi a similarly edgy and visionary writer. Her hallucinatory prose evokes Arizona's harsh beauty, its legends of ancient treasures and alien spaceships, and the way endless suburbia displaces both the landscape and history. Assadi's raw, poetic talent continues to dazzle in later passages set in New York, where Ahlam and her best friend, Laura, get caught in a destructive whirl of partying and drug abuse. "The dawn is so violent when you've stayed up all night," she reflects on the growing danger in her life. Rather than glorifying the city's counterculture, Sonora offers a lurid yet achingly authentic female perspective on the emotional costs of hipsterdom.
Assadi smartly connects the alienation of her young characters to that of her older characters. Her shrewd dialogue leaves a trail of barbed insights into society. "When you are rich, your past disappears," says Ahlam's immigrant father, who's haunted by ambivalence toward the U.S. and fear that he doesn't belong. Both disturbing and touching, Sonora is a brilliant debut novel. Assadi is an exciting talent, and a writer to watch. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author
Discover: This startling coming-of-age story mixes childhood visions of Arizona with the postmodern anomie of New York City.
paperback, 208p., 9781616957926
One of the Boys
by Daniel Magariel
With his fiction debut, Daniel Magariel shows he knows how to pack a knockout punch in a short jab. Tight and disturbing, One of the Boys explores the sinister damage an acrimonious divorce inflicts on two teenage boys caught between their unreliable mother and violent, cocaine-addicted father. Vulnerable and looking for some stability, the brothers want to believe that their father loves them and really will provide the safe new life he promised after they leave their mother in Kansas.
The suburban Albuquerque apartment he finds them, however, soon becomes a place that swings between a frat house and a crack house. For weeks at a time their dad disappears into his bedroom with his drugs and various women while the boys grow up fast, learning to cook, drive, buy groceries, manage school and sports, work part time at the Stop-N-Go, and somehow pay the bills. The drugs soon make their dad increasingly abusive and paranoid--until the binges end, and remorse and promises return. The brothers know the cycle: "Our dad was an act with a single end. His trajectory: down, down, down." In telling this bleak story from the younger brother's perspective, Magariel puts an exceptional spin on what is sadly a predicament common to many adolescent children of bitter divorce. The narrator's yearning for stability, his resilience and his confusion drive the narrative. Magariel doesn't pull his punches. This incisive debut is as heartbreaking as it is unflinching. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: In his taut first novel, Daniel Magariel tells the evocative story of two teen boys forced to grow up too fast in a home shaken by divorce, drugs and violence.
hardcover, 176p., 9781501156168
The Gargoyle Hunters
by John Freeman Gill
New York City is always reinventing itself: growing, pushing, regenerating, completely overhauling. Often that reinvention comes at the cost of preserving its past. As urban renewal projects multiply in 1970s New York, 13-year-old Griffin Watts gets swept up in his father's obsession with saving the city's ornate, often quirky architectural carvings from the wrecking ball. John Freeman Gill tells Griffin's story in his erudite, irreverent debut novel, The Gargoyle Hunters.
Gill (who writes the monthly "Edifice Complex" column for Avenue magazine) delves into the architectural history of Manhattan, as Griffin listens to his father wax eloquent about landmarks public and private: grand structures such as the Woolworth Building and humbler ones such as the Washington Market studio where Griffin's parents lived as newlyweds. "Every New Yorker," Gill notes, "has his own idiosyncratic system of cartography." With his parents' marriage crumbling as fast as the city around him, Griffin agrees to join his dad in "liberating"--i.e., stealing--and then selling scraps of the city, from limestone gargoyles to an entire set of exterior panels for a building. As he learns more about his dad's illicit work, Griffin starts to wonder if his father's obsession is an unhealthy one, but before long, both father and son may be in too deep to extricate themselves.
With a fresh, wry narrative voice, Gill presents a vividly imagined slice of New York history, a quirky portrait of the 1970s and a tender father-son story--with plenty of gargoyles on the side. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: John Freeman Gill's debut novel weaves together architecture, history and family drama against the backdrop of 1970s New York.
hardcover, 352p., 9781101946886
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
by Lisa See
Lisa See (China Dolls) pays homage to the enduring bond between mother and daughter while also illuminating the fascinating world of small tea farms in China during the economic reforms of the 1980s and '90s.
Born of the Akha people in the Yunnan province hills of southern China, Li-Yan knows her future by the age of 10. Like her a-ma, she will become the midwife and healer of Spring Well Village and marry a boy from a neighboring tea farm. A hidden grove of ancient tea trees and medicinal plants makes up her dowry, passed through the generations by the women of her family.
When Teacher Zhang suggests that Li-Yan has the intelligence to become the first person from her community to go to college, she sees a way out of her narrow existence. Then Mr. Huang, a Hong Kong businessman, arrives in Spring Well looking for the source of fermented Pu'er tea, an up-and-coming Hong Kong trend said to have health benefits. Between translating her family's words to Mr. Huang and sneaking away to meet San-Pa, the boy she loves, Li-Yan misses her opportunity to test into college. Worse, after San-Pa leaves to earn money for their marriage, Li-Yan realizes she's pregnant. When he does not return, tradition dictates she must kill her fatherless daughter at birth, but Li-Yan rebels and leaves newborn Yan-Yeh at the Menghai Social Welfare Institute, but never stops grieving for her lost child. Meanwhile, Yan-Yeh is adopted by an American family and struggles to understand why her birth mother abandoned her.
Meticulously researched, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane explores the link between tea production and an ethnic minority's survival and customs. An intimate portrait, this family drama will dazzle book clubs eager to watch a woman rise above her circumstances against an uncommon and captivating backdrop. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: A young woman of China's Akha people rises through the tea industry but never forgets her infant daughter, whose life she saved by giving her away.
hardcover, 384p., 9781501154829
by Jerome Charyn
Jerzy Kosinski (1933-1991) was the secretive yet celebrated author of Being There and The Painted Bird, an oeuvre as contradictory as the man himself. While the former was a lighthearted tale about a hapless gardener turned political pundit, the latter was a dark allegory about the moral destruction of World War II that drew on his experience as a Jew hiding from the Nazis in Poland. Kosinski was an author weighed down by accusations of plagiarism who nevertheless enjoyed fame, befriending movie stars and appearing on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
In Jerzy, Jerome Charyn (The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson) offers a fictionalized biography of Kosinski told through the voices of people who knew him over the course of his career, revealing the many shades of his persona. It is a minimalist and unsentimental story of an elusive, larger-than-life character.
Charyn takes poetic liberties with some of the holes in Kosinski's real life. In the novel's first vignette, Kosinski resists Peter Sellers's attempts to play the main character in the film adaptation of Being There, until finally he relents and sees his character taken from him. In another, he dates Svetlana Alliluyeva, the daughter of Joseph Stalin, slowly turning her into a character he can use in a story about his liberation at the hands of the Red Army.
In Jerzy, Kosinski can't seem to forgive himself for using true events as inspiration for his greatest work of fiction. But, in Charyn's hands, Kosinski the man is vindicated, proving that life is itself a work of art. --Josh Potter
Discover: Jerzy is a fast-paced, minimalist exploration of one of 20th century's most elusive literary figures.
Bellevue Literary Press,
paperback, 240p., 9781942658146
by Jess Kidd
Himself, Jess Kidd's debut novel, has an intricate, twisting, turning plot that weaves Irish mythology, magical realism and ghosts into a whodunit that is anything but typical of its genre. In 1970s Ireland, 26-year-old, bell-bottom-wearing Mahony, raised in a Dublin orphanage, pursues a life of petty theft. When he receives an anonymous letter suggesting that his mother did not give him up willingly, however, Mahony sets aside his roguish ways and heads to her small hometown of Mulderrig to find out what really happened all those years ago.
As Mahony's search for the truth unfolds, Himself draws on elements of Irish folklore in ways that make Kidd's novel feel both whimsical and ominous. "There's a lot of truth in folklore," insists Mahony--and given his ability to both see and speak with the dead, this assertion comes as no surprise. Though he's had the ability since he was young, he's avoided interacting with ghosts in Dublin. But no such thing is possible in Mulderrig, where the spirits of the town's dead flock to his side and whisper secrets to him--secrets the living would prefer to be left in the past. With the assistance of the apparitions and Mrs. Cauley, an aging stage actress self-described as "Miss Marple.... With balls," Mahony starts to piece together the secrets of this darkness in ways that lead him to his mother.
Kidd combines these elements of magic and mystery with moments of wry humor and heartfelt emotion. A tribute to the classic Irish art of storytelling, Himself is a delight from start to finish. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: A young man searches for the truth about his mother's past in a mystery that marvelously combines mysticism and Irish folklore.
hardcover, 384p., 9781501145179
My Last Lament
by James William Brown
Aliki, one of the last lamenters in Greece, is dragging the weight of her life behind her in the opening pages of My Last Lament, James William Brown's brilliant work of historical fiction. "There is this about the dead: they're so light. They slip in and out of our world with no effort whatsoever. By contrast, we seem heavy, dragging our lives along behind us like an old sack of stones."
To lessen this burden, Aliki begins to tell the story of her life, speaking into a tape recorder left by a sociologist studying the art of Greek laments. As her memories unfold and unpack themselves, her recounting evolves into a lament itself, for all that she has loved and lost in her long life.
By framing the story as a kind of oral memoir, Brown (Blood Dance) has crafted a novel that is at once epic in its scope and yet remains grounded in the confines of one woman's life. Aliki shines through every page of My Last Lament, a strong and consistent voice that proves a near-perfect vessel for Brown's lyrical prose and centers a story that moves backward and forward through time to recount both Aliki's past and her present.
Brown's ability thoughtfully to address meaningful reflections while examining the very essence of what it means to be alive--in any time, any place--is what makes My Last Lament exemplary of the historical fiction genre. "How does any story end? It just turns into the beginning of another one, the one about us all." --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: This ambitious novel about grief and tragedy is dense but never dull, complex but never confusing.
hardcover, 352p., 9780399583407
The River of Kings
by Taylor Brown
In a rich, atmospheric novel, brothers Hunter and Lawton Loggins paddle down Georgia's Altamaha River in kayaks, carrying their father's ashes to his final resting place. Taylor Brown (Fallen Land) also transports his audience to the 16th century to discover a French expedition on the same river that included Jacques le Moyne, the first European artist to travel to North America. As the mystery and mystique of the ancient waterway washes up on the shores of both time periods, the long-hidden secrets of a father and those of an early explorer weave together to create a beautifully layered story of love and regret, fidelity and honor, courage and cowardice. Brown tests the limits of humanity along the River of Kings, and the result is a gripping novel.
The Altamaha demands to be treated as a character. Brown willingly complies with exquisite imagery and a deference befitting royalty, writing: "Bald cypress rise round and gray from the banks on roots splayed like the feet of elephants, their gnarled toes marked by dark lines of old flood. Their limbs spread horizontally, edged high over the water like rotors, each draped with long beards of moss."
Readers are sure to experience the journey through all of their senses. The inclusion of maps and illustrations to coordinate with le Moyne's story enhances this effect, making The River of Kings a dynamic reading experience that fully engages its audience. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: As two brothers take their father's remains to his final resting place, the mysteries of an ancient waterway help them answer questions about their enigmatic parent.
St. Martin's Press,
hardcover, 336p., 9781250111753
If Not for You
by Debbie Macomber
Beth Prudhomme, a 20-something Chicago native, decides to break free of her controlling, judgmental mother. She sets off for Portland, Ore., where she lands a job teaching high school music and reconnects with her mother's estranged sister, Aunt Sunshine, an avant-garde, successful artist. Beth seems on her way to liberation until a dear friend sets her up with Jim, a scruffy, beer-drinking, tattooed auto mechanic with a big heart. En route home after a disastrous first meeting, Beth is involved in a devastating car crash; Jim witnesses it and instinctively rallies to help at the scene.
The accident unites the pair, with Jim checking on Beth at the hospital during her recovery and rehabilitation. The two soon learn they share a love of music--Jim brings his guitar to the rehab center, and he and Beth, who plays keyboard, begin to serenade the patients, workers and each other, ultimately sparking a friendship that leads to romance. Complications ensue, including the arrival of Beth's mother and her disapproval of Jim. Beyond Beth's many challenges, she soon discovers that others also carry heavy burdens. Believing she can ease the pain of those she cares about, she meddles, but despite her good intentions, she's often more of a detriment than a help.
Macomber (Starry Night) explores familial and romantic entanglements--along with forgiveness and reconciliation--in this heart-tugging story about how the pain of love often gives way to joy. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: A horrifying car accident unites an unlikely couple who face serious obstacles to their opposites-attract romance.
hardcover, 384p., 9780553391961
by Elif Batuman
When Selin Karada, the slightly off-plumb narrator of Elif Batuman's first novel, The Idiot, enters Harvard in the mid-'90s, e-mail is a curious new way to communicate and Facebook is just a Zuckerberg dream. The daughter of ambitious Turkish immigrants, Selin was an academic star in her New Jersey high school, but at Harvard "you were now a little fish in a big sea." She nurtures a romance by e-mail with Ivan, the older Hungarian from her Russian class, yet she knows herself well enough to recognize that "I was just an American teenager--the world's least interesting and dignified kind of person." Nonetheless, she soldiers on, taking a job teaching ESL to immigrants in Boston, reading classics like "Bleak House, which was as simultaneously absorbing and off-putting as someone else's incredibly long dream," and signing up for a summer travel program providing English skills to children in Hungarian villages--with the vague plan to see Ivan there and meet his family and friends.
Batuman first explored some of the themes of The Idiot in her well-regarded first book, The Possessed. While the titles of both clearly reflect her fascination with Dostoevsky, they are nonetheless rooted in the language and optimism of the United States. Describing a year of discovering oneself, The Idiot is half The Education of Henry Adams and half Innocents Abroad. Twain would have savored Selin's first international trip, and Adams surely would have applauded Selin's frustration with traditional learning. First footsteps into adulthood are often memorable. Taking them in Selin's shoes is an entertaining, intellectual journey not to be missed. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: The astute Selin embarks on her first year at Harvard and a summer abroad with wit, humility and an offbeat take on life in the mid-'90s.
hardcover, 432p., 9781594205613
by Kevin Canty
Kevin Canty's novel is an emotionally blistering look at a small American town in the throes of grief, thwarted hope and fragile healing. The Underworld draws on the history of a tragic fire that ripped through a North Idaho mine in the 1970s, killing 91 men. Almost everyone in town loses a family member, lover or friend in the disaster and must learn to forge ahead in its aftermath. This includes Ann, a disenfranchised housewife; Lyle, a retired miner living off Social Security and savings; and David, a Montana college student who attempts to escape his past but is sucked back into it.
Canty (Winslow in Love; Everything) tracks the rituals that bind working-class Americans: troubled marriages and indifferent parents, church services and bar-hopping, sex and longing. These forces help hold the town together before the disaster, but serve as bare recompense and unworthy edifices in the tsunami of grief that engulfs the town after the fire. Some characters buckle under the grief; others make halting, tentative lurches toward new lives. Some adhere to bits and pieces of morality while others make bad and dangerous choices. The underworld of the title isn't just the mine; it is also about the threshold of death and the hell of daily life that good people face in times of unbearable grief and incomprehensible events. Canty's compassionate yet unsentimental eye never judges. He is a master of understatement and the slow burn. Every epiphany is earned and the details he paints this landscape with are as ripe with memory and emotion as a faded Polaroid. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: A devastating tragedy in a 1970s mining town becomes a stunning and engrossing meditation on grief and survival.
hardcover, 256p., 9780393293050
The Adventures of John Carson in Several Quarters of the World: A Novel of Robert Louis Stevenson
by Brian Doyle
In a novel with layers of authors, Brian Doyle (The Mighty Currawongs) honors the art of storytelling. The Adventures of John Carson in Several Quarters of the World is firmly based in fact: Robert Louis Stevenson boarded for some months at the home of Mrs. Carson in San Francisco while waiting to marry his love, Fanny. He conceived of a novel based on the tales of his landlady's husband, but never wrote it.
In Doyle's imagination, Stevenson sits by the fire with Mr. Carson as the latter recounts his voyages around the world as a seaman and his experience as a Union solider in the Civil War. This talented storyteller takes Stevenson (and Doyle's reader) through the jungles of Borneo, over the rocky hills of Irish islands, from coast to coast of Canada in winter, to Australia's Sydney Harbor and to the battlefield at Gettysburg. Mrs. Carson turns out to be as fine a narrator as her husband, and both have a knack for ending on a cliffhanger just as dinner is ready.
Doyle's characteristic prose style is effusive, wry, highly descriptive and always passionate about his subjects. Throughout this story of stories runs a thread of commentary on the value and nuances of the storytelling art. Readers hungry for more stories-upon-stories will delight in Doyle's "Afterword" and "Thanks & Notes," which are filled with recommendations for further reading (what he calls "homework").
Stevenson's rollicking zest for adventure blends happily and seamlessly with Doyle's unrestrained love of words and life. Adventures offers daring exploits, romance and emotional highs and lows, and Doyle's signature style expresses it all perfectly. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: With enthusiasm and verve, in the style his fans love, Brian Doyle re-creates a novel Robert Louis Stevenson intended to write.
hardcover, 240p., 9781250100528
by Michel Stone
In The Iguana Tree, Michel Stone told the harrowing story of a border crossing that resulted in the loss of a child, betrayal by loved ones and exploitation by law enforcement on both sides. Border Child addresses the aftermath of that journey and the emotional and economic consequences that have ensued.
Nearly three years after their deportation, Hector and Lilia Santos are back in their remote village of Puerto Isadore. Despite adding a son to their family, both harbor guilt over the disappearance of Alejandra, their infant daughter: Lilia for leaving her daughter in the hands of an unknown female coyote, and Hector for his naiveté and for abandoning his family in his pursuit of the dream in el Norte. When Hector spots Emmanuel--Lilia's former boyfriend and the man responsible for connecting her to the treacherous coyote--in a nearby town, he decides to follow him. Hector once again must leave a very pregnant Lilia and their son under tenuous circumstances to discover the fate of their daughter.
Stone poetically considers the marital pressures and emotional toll that comes with the trauma of losing a child: "Our marriage is like a shattered clay pot whose shards have been glued back in place. The thing is not what it once was, but it's been salvaged." She also puts an authentic face to the problem of immigration and the price paid for daring to live a dream: the loss of innocence, the tearing apart of families, and the devastation and desperation of dashed hopes. Gripping, visceral and beautifully written, Border Child carries the potential to stir awareness and trigger debate about an increasingly controversial issue. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: The loss of a child in a treacherous border crossing devastates a young couple after their repatriation in Mexico.
Nan A. Talese,
hardcover, 272p., 9780385541640
by Sarah Dunn
The Waldmans' hot tub parties were the most scandalous thing to ever happen in Beekman, N.Y., an idyllic Hudson River town, as Lucy has learned via "the communal mommy-memory of the town, passed down from woman to woman on park benches." So when she and her husband, Owen, decide, on a slightly drunken whim, that their relationship needs some variety, they decree that the first rule is their experiment must remain a secret. They also decide their marriage will be open for only six months, they can't sext in the house, there will be no snooping into each other's affairs--and no falling in love.
At first, the arrangement seems perfect--bringing new liveliness to both Owen and Lucy, and making the mundanity of their suburban life with their son, Wyatt (who has autism), seem more exciting. But can such a pact ever work in the long run? Or will the rules (and their hearts) get broken?
Sarah Dunn (The Big Love; Secrets to Happiness) has perfectly captured middle-aged marriage, with its mix of the boring quotidian and moments of deep happiness. The new relationships that Lucy and Owen embark on shed light on their own marriage and those of their neighbors. Readers will be laughing helplessly as circumstances grow ever more fraught, but will also muse about what makes a truly happy marriage possible. Fans of Kristan Higgins and Meg Wolitzer are sure to love The Arrangement. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm
Discover: A couple decides to try an open marriage for six months, with hilarious and devastating consequences.
hardcover, 368p., 9780316013598
by Laura Trunkey
The nine stories in Canadian author Laura Trunkey's debut collection, Double Dutch, are fantastical and eerie, filled with sentiments and descriptions that will haunt the reader. While the tales are fiction, some are based on facts, as in "Electrocuting the Elephant," which depicts the execution of Topsy the elephant at the hands of Thomas Edison. Trunkey expertly takes readers into the mindset of several of the men involved in the decision, as well as that of the pachyderm preparing for death in front of a crowd.
Death, miracles, a debilitating disease and dread of the unknown are some of the themes Trunkey explores in her unusual stories. In "Night Terror," a mother fears her son is the reincarnation of a Muslim terrorist when she hears him muttering Arabic in his sleep. In "Double Dutch," a man ponders the meaning of his life after spending so much of it as the double for former president Ronald Reagan. A grizzly bear attack changes the course of a couple's life together in "Ursus Arctos Horribilis." Ordinary people enter extraordinary circumstances, and their reactions betray the prejudices, beliefs and suspicions that they carry deep inside.
Trunkey's writing is raw. She approaches subjects obliquely, sending readers on unexpected tangents, but the effect leaves a deep impression of wonder and fascination, touched with a longing for the next collection from this talented writer. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: These short stories peer from an angle at otherwise normal circumstances.
Astoria/House of Anansi,
paperback, 280p., 9781770898776
by Deepak Unnikrishnan
Temporary People is a triumph of language and allegory. This collection of stories about euphemistically named "guest workers" in the United Arab Emirates shines a light on a little-known and largely invisible group. Foreigners working in the Gulf constitute more than 80% of the population, yet they have no rights as citizens. They toil in harsh conditions for decades, at which point they are "retired" and immediately deported to a home country they may barely remember. Deepak Unnikrishnan treats his characters with understanding born of experience; he is the child of Indian workers in the Gulf who will be deported when their work is no longer needed.
Unnikrishnan's characters persevere, often in anonymity (some never have names) and with an understanding of their disposability. In "Birds," Anna spends her nights searching for men who jump off buildings, "then puts them back together with duct tape or some good glue." A group of entrepreneurs repurpose a greenhouse to supply the ever-expanding need for compliant labor in "In Mussafah Grew People." An immigrant teen in "Glossary" can no longer bear to be silent. His tongue escapes his head, "causing all the nouns the now deceased tongue had accumulated in its time in the boy's mouth to be released into the air like shrapnel."
Temporary People is the inaugural winner of the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, founded to "discover urgent, culture-straddling writing from first-time, first-generation writers." In Unnikrishnan they have found an exhilarating new voice. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: The surreal sensibility of Temporary People makes a universal statement about invisible and displaced people everywhere.
paperback, 272p., 9781632061423
The Devil and Webster
by Jean Hanff Korelitz
In The Devil and Webster, Jean Hanff Korelitz (You Should Have Known) chronicles a year in the life of a small college destabilized by a long-running student protest.
Naomi Roth's handling of a residence hall demonstration that involved a transgender student elevated her to the presidency of Webster College. Her tenure has been largely peaceful and productive ever since, but as a former dissenting student herself, Naomi respects activism among Webster's undergraduates. When she learns that a group of students has occupied the quad to protest the denial of tenure to a popular professor, she's initially unfazed.
But as Naomi discovers that Webster's students are more inclined to air their grievances on social media than in dialogue with the college president, she grows frustrated. While the college administration defends the confidentiality of tenure decisions, the protesters read sinister motives into the lack of transparency. The conflict begins to overshadow everything else at Webster, prompting critical reconsideration of the college's centuries of history and of the performance of its first female president.
The Devil and Webster can be read as a suspense novel seasoned with social commentary or as a plot-driven academic satire. Korelitz excels in both directions. Her writing has an almost old-fashioned formality that fits the college setting, but her story is very much of the moment. Webster College is a small world where hot-button issues--representation, discrimination and free speech, among others--loom large. The political climate at the time of this novel's publication lends it a striking immediacy. --Florinda Pendley Vasquez, blogger at The 3 R's: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness
Discover: A prestigious small college is undermined and redefined by a year of student unrest.
Grand Central Publishing,
hardcover, 368p., 9781455592388
by Lesley Krueger
Once a rising painter in Victorian England, Richard Dadd succumbed to madness, murdered his father and spent the rest of his days in asylums painting works that are now considered masterpieces. The main focus of Mad Richard by Canadian author Lesley Krueger (The Corner Garden) is Dadd's life before his break with reality. But Krueger ingeniously attaches Dadd's story to two of the most important writers of his age, Charlotte Brontë and Charles Dickens.
It's unclear how well Dickens and Dadd knew one another. They grew up in the same area of England for a short time (Dickens was older), and had similar social circles before Dadd's psychotic break. As for Brontë, Krueger arranges what is most likely a fictional meeting when Brontë visits Bedlam, where Dadd was incarcerated. Krueger uses this meeting to tie Brontë's and Dadd's lives together, running the story of Dadd's youth parallel to that of Brontë's final years. By portraying artists before and after their most significant achievements, Krueger is able to tease out a moving narrative of fame, beauty and what an artist owes his or her craft.
Dickens, of course, pops in and out of the story, mentioned here and there in both Brontë and Dadd's lives. But Krueger is also smart to give the man his due, showing how fame as England's greatest author came with the same struggles that Brontë and Dadd faced. Ultimately, Mad Richard is about how artists position themselves in relation to their work, and what they must give up to do so. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: Lesley Krueger explores the lives of Victorian-era creative titans in a meditative novel about art and the people who make it.
paperback, 344p., 9781770413566
by Caitriona Lally
Caitriona Lally's first novel, Eggshells, portrays an unbalanced but charming narrator stuck in an overwhelmingly complex Dublin, searching clumsily for home. In the opening pages, Vivian settles into the house she's recently inherited from her great-aunt Maud, who "kept chairs the way some people keep cats." This dusty, cluttered house suits the eccentric heiress, who avoids mirrors and hygiene, preferring to cultivate her own "earthy tang." Vivian believes that she is a changeling, fallen out of a world of fairies and elves and into this one by accident. Her daily chore is to find a magical door through which to reenter her rightful place in that other world.
Vivian walks the city and takes buses and cabs, exploring streets with promising names (Ferrymans Crossing, All Hallows Lane) and performing tricks and charms--circling a particular pole three times, whispering to herself, and otherwise alarming passersby. She makes lists in her notebook--names of birds, favorite sweets, museum artifacts--anywhere she might find weird words and possible anagrams. Her fascination with wordplay echoes Lally's knack for language, and this emphasis is one of the great charms of Eggshells, a sweetly off-kilter novel about loneliness, communication and finding one's place in the world.
Vivian stumbles, and may never find the portal to the place she yearns for. But she makes shaky progress: acquiring a pet goldfish, throwing a dinner party of sorts, finding a new friend with traumas and eccentricities of her own. Eggshells is ultimately a funny, occasionally grim story with a sympathetic character who is either disturbed or a changeling from a fanciful world: it is for the reader to decide. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: A narrator who belongs in a fairy tale becomes lost among the indifferent streets of Dublin in this quirky, imaginative debut novel.
paperback, 288p., 9781612195971
The Book of Polly
by Kathy Hepinstall
The Book of Polly by Kathy Hepinstall (Blue Asylum) is a family drama that strikes a perfect balance between sorrow and rib-tickling hilarity, thanks to an unforgettable mother-daughter pair.
Willow Havens worries about her mother, Polly, almost as fiercely as she loves the margarita-swilling, chain-smoking, varmint-shooting steel magnolia. A surprise baby in Polly's late 50s, Willow was born shortly after her father died and long after her siblings, Shel and Lisa, left the nest. At 10, Willow is the only girl in her Texas school with a senior citizen for a mom, and also the only one with a mother willing to walk into said school carrying a borrowed falcon to get her daughter out of trouble for telling tall tales. School smoking prevention campaigns leave Willow terrified that Polly will get lung "Bear" (the word her mother uses to replace cancer), and the girl obsesses over her mother's past in Louisiana. Unfortunately, Willow's attempts to hide Polly's smokes fail even more spectacularly than her snooping, which leaves her with nothing but an old prison address and the name Garland. When the Bear does come for Polly, Willow is determined to save her mother and put the past to rest once and for all.
Filled with sass and vigor, Hepinstall's coming-of-age story is loosely based on life with her own mother. With a memorable supporting cast of quirky souls, including Shel's old high school buddy who worships Polly; demonic Montessori-schooled neighbor children; and a squirrel named Elmer, The Book of Polly is tailor made for mothers and daughters to enjoy together. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: Polly is a strong, eccentric 68-year-old Southern woman, and her 10-year-old daughter, Willow, is determined to save her from herself.
Pamela Dorman Books,
hardcover, 336p., 9780399562099
The Weight of This World
by David Joy
David Joy's second novel is set in the same Appalachian nooks and crannies of Jackson County, N.C., as his Edgar-finalist debut, Where All Light Tends to Go--and it teems with a similar cast of characters saddled with a legacy of poverty, violence, addiction and hopelessness. The Weight of This World begins with the suicide/murder of 12-year-old Aiden McCall's parents, and makes its way through more mayhem and death as it unwinds toward its grim conclusion. In between are all manner of tweakers, shake-and-bake meth cookers and hillbilly nimrods trying to survive.
A lifelong Jackson County resident, Joy knows every crossroad, fishing hole, church and corner store where "most folks came in for Zebra Cakes and SunDrops, a box of Copenhagen or a carton of Dorals." His novel reeks of authenticity; this world is grisly and bleak--a place where "hard led to harder" and "small arrest led to small arrest... rap sheets became résumés." When his drug dealer accidentally blows off the top of his own head, Aiden and his lifelong running buddy, haunted Afghan vet Thad, steal the dealer's guns, cash and dope. Despite their big score, matters only get worse. Violence marches through The Weight of This World, but underneath it, Aiden and Thad are two beat-down human beings who still maintain a loyal friendship and muster as much hope as they can find. As Aiden tells Thad, "I ain't all right with just getting by." There may not be much joy in Joy's mountain world, but he tells a hell of a story. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Joy's second novel of "Appalachian noir" may be even better than his Edgar-finalist first--albeit more grisly and violent.
hardcover, 272p., 9780399173110
Mystery & Thriller
Follow Me Down
by Sherri Smith
Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) has said having a happy home life is probably why she can explore such dark places in her novels. After reading Sherri Smith's twisted Follow Me Down, one might think Smith's home life is full of joy, too.
Mia Haas gets a call from the police chief of her North Dakota hometown, asking if she's heard from her twin brother, Lucas; he's suspected of murdering one of his high school students and has disappeared. Reeling, Mia rushes home from Chicago to look for him.
From childhood, Lucas had been beloved by everyone in Wayoata, but Mia finds the town has developed a lynch-mob mentality against him, demanding his arrest without any evidence. But there's plenty of vicious gossip, labeling him murderer and rapist and molester of underage girls--including the one who ended up dead. When Mia keeps insisting he's innocent, Wayoata's residents turn against her, too--violently. This doesn't stop her from rooting out the truth, but saving her brother might cost Mia her life.
Smith's first thriller--her previous titles are historical fiction--is deliciously creepy, full of nasty characters and wry observations such as: "They fancied themselves Sex and the City type gals, without the city," and "It said something about the town that the welcome sign was always in some state of defacement while the antiabortion sign remained unscathed." Mia may be flawed, but she's fierce and loyal to Lucas. Smith will likely gain some loyalty, too, from readers who will follow her down whatever dark path she travels next. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: A woman returns to her hometown to help locate her twin brother, the missing suspect in a girl's murder.
hardcover, 352p., 9780765386700
A Twist of the Knife
by Becky Masterman
Edgar Award nominee Becky Masterman (Fear the Darkness) knows how to open a novel. In the prologue of A Twist of the Knife, FBI rookie Brigid Quinn witnesses her first live execution by electric chair. It's a ghastly scene, but Brigid isn't against the death penalty--she believes some people "simply need to be put down."
Thirty-five years later, when Brigid--now retired--receives news that her elderly father has been hospitalized in Florida, she returns to her hometown after many years away. While there, she reconnects with former colleague Laura Coleman, who saved Brigid's life on a case they worked together.
Laura is now working as an investigator for a criminal defense lawyer who handles appeals. Her current case involves Marcus Creighton, a man on death row for killing his wife and three children. Laura is certain Creighton is innocent, and though Brigid isn't so sure, she agrees to help Laura dig up info that could stay Creighton's execution. But with five days to go, can they do it in time?
In her third outing, Brigid remains an arresting character. She promises "to tell the truth in these stories... even if it makes me look bad." Au contraire--her bluntness and dry sense of humor make her riveting. Her time spent with family allows readers to learn more about her past, with Brigid discovering painful truths that challenge what she thought she knew about her kin. Twist also examines, without judgment, the limitations of the justice system, and how even when good people do what they believe is right, their actions can bring devastating consequences. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: Brigid Quinn and former FBI colleague Laura Coleman attempt to prevent an inmate's execution, while Brigid deals with her ailing father and family secrets.
hardcover, 320p., 9781250074515
by C.J. Box
C.J. Box's Vicious Circle brings back the Saddlestring rodeo star Dallas Cates, who in an earlier Joe Pickett thriller dumped Joe's rodeo-loving daughter April in harm's way, forcing Joe to "go western" on the whole sleazy Cates family. Now Dallas is hell-bent on revenge. Joe, his wife, Marybeth, and their three daughters are in Dallas's crosshairs as he gathers two low-life ex-cons and an axe-wielding tweaker to torment the Picketts. Box's Wyoming is full of shoot-first individualists with little love for Washington (or the local game warden), but Joe is a lousy shot, a careful man and a champion of fair play. His loyal wingman, ex-special forces rifleman Nate, keeps Joe's contact number filed under Dudley Do-Right. But when it comes to kin, Joe holds nothing back.
What sets Box's Pickett series apart is the heavy load of family dynamics. The only guy in a houseful of women, Joe gets his macho posturing knocked down all the time. His attempts to balance nurturing his family while corralling the violent and the corrupt engender a compassionate heart in the not-quite-social Joe. The remote mountain landscape and natural bounty of Twelve Sleep County make for a stunning backdrop to Box's swiftly tangling plots and his sharp eye for little character tells--like the governor's heiress wife who'd "had enough face-tightening medical procedures to appear perpetually astonished." Vicious Circle brings us the comfort of old friends, old enemies and a tasty bunch of new oddballs and losers. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Joe Pickett and his loyal wingman, Nate, protect the Picketts from the vengeful torment of a sleazy rodeo star newly released from jail.
hardcover, 384p., 9780399176616
The Satanic Mechanic
by Sally Andrew
Sally Andrew (Recipes for Love and Murder) stirs up another engaging mystery in her second Tannie Maria novel, The Satanic Mechanic. Although South African journalist Maria van Harten (affectionately called "Tannie" or "Auntie" by her younger colleagues) relishes her role in helping others with cooking and relationship advice, her own love life is more complicated. Still haunted by memories of her abusive husband (now deceased), Tannie Maria is hesitant to open herself up to her still-new boyfriend, Detective Henk Kannemeyer. When Tannie Maria sees a man poisoned at an arts festival and witnesses another murder days later, her relationship with Henk (who is investigating both cases) becomes much more fraught.
"I was maybe too hungry for love and ended up with murder on my plate," Tannie Maria admits as the novel opens. Determined to move past the dark memories of her marriage, she starts attending a local counseling group run by a gentle former Satanist named Ricus, the titular mechanic. But as Maria begins to confide in her fellow group members, Ricus's shadowy past comes back to haunt them.
Tannie Maria's first-person narration is studded with Afrikaans words, most of them related to food, and features a sheaf of recipes at the end. Andrew weaves together the two murders with issues of land rights and discrimination against indigenous peoples, while gently nudging her protagonist forward--not minimizing her past wounds but helping her deal with her pain in new ways.
In short, Tannie Maria's second adventure is like the meals that come from her kitchen: a bit eclectic, with many different influences, but ultimately a satisfying feast for readers. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Sally Andrew's second Tannie Maria mystery focuses on a double murder while serving up mouthwatering recipes and dealing with matters of the heart.
hardcover, 384p., 9780062397690
The Devil's Feast
by M.J. Carter
Jeremiah Blake and Captain William Avery most recently investigated the gruesome murders of several Victorian London prostitutes in M.J. Carter's The Infidel Stain. As The Devil's Feast begins, Avery is forced to initiate an investigation on his own, because the recalcitrant Blake has gotten himself incarcerated in debtor's prison.
Avery is initially thrilled to be invited to dinner at the exclusive Reform Club, where the renowned Alexis Soyer, French celebrity chef and toast of British high society, reigns. But when a gentleman expires in agony midway through the elaborate meal, Avery realizes he may be in over his head. Soyer (who's based on the historical figure Alexis Soyer) and the Reform Club owners confide in him that Ibrahim Pasha, heir to the Egyptian throne, will be dining at the Reform Club in mere days, so if a murderer is on the loose, they need him caught quickly.
The chef's quirky brilliance captivates Avery, perhaps a bit too much. He is struggling to get to the bottom of the mysterious death and to look past his own admiration of Soyer, when he's informed that Blake has engineered his escape from prison. At first relieved to have aid from Blake, Avery soon discovers that his troubles have gotten worse.
Beautifully researched and historically mesmerizing, The Devil's Feast will keep history buffs and gourmands equally fascinated. An excellent entry in a great series, it is perfect as a standalone, or as the stepping-stone to reading more of M.J. Carter's novels. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm
Discover: Historical details in The Devil's Feast add authenticity to an intriguing Victorian mystery.
hardcover, 432p., 9780399171697
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by Sylvain Neuvel
Nine years have passed since the end of Sylvain Neuvel's Sleeping Giants, but the appearance of a new robot causes Canadian linguist Vincent Couture, former army pilot Kara Resnik and the nameless Interviewer to spring back into action. Unlike Themis (whose ancient parts were excavated and reassembled into a towering turquoise-veined female robot in the first story), this robot, male in appearance, appears in Trafalgar Square assembled and fully operational. The people of Earth assume the robot, quickly nicknamed Kronos, shares the same origin point as Themis, its concealed pilots almost certainly the same species as her builders. However, when the authorities decide to send Themis to meet Kronos on a mission of peace, her pilots, Kara and Vincent, worry they may be marching to their own deaths. The newer Kronos robot will have more advanced weapons, and since no one has ever unlocked the secrets of Themis's propulsion system, they can retreat only by literally running away.
This sci-fi thriller's assemblage of transcripts from interviews and radio conversations, memos and letters delivers the same over-the-top action quotient as the first installment, with a dash more soul-searching. Readers new to the series should catch on quickly, and fans will delight in the reunion with their favorite characters, though the body count is not limited to bystanders. Despite a few teary moments, little can beat the sheer escapist fun of giant robot fights, and Waking Gods' cliffhanger finale promises more answers to come in the third book. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: Nearly a decade after the events in Sleeping Giants, the pilots of giant alien robot Themis spring back into action when a new alien-piloted robot lands in London.
hardcover, 336p., 9781101886724
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 Cousins' 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 idea density. 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 romance, with a message of clear-eyed hope.
Saga/Simon & Schuster,
hardcover, 608p., 9781481481441
The Damned, Vol. 1: Three Days Dead
by Cullen Bunn, Brian Hurtt, Bill Crabtree
Eddie has a secret power granted by a demonic curse: he can come back to life once he's been killed (so long as someone touches him). This makes him a perfect foil for a powerful gangland demon who's looking for a missing courier in a desperate play for peace between the demon's crew and a rival gang. When mob boss Alphonese "Big Al" Aligheri revives Eddie for one last job, it becomes clear that there's more to the game than just drug running and trading in mortal souls. Complicating matters is the fact that Eddie's still in love with his beautiful yet ethically ambiguous ex-girlfriend, especially when her current mob-boss boyfriend becomes a suspect in Eddie's investigation.
Originally published in 2010, The Damned: Three Days Dead has been newly colored by Bill Crabtree. Every page shows off a muted palette that's perfect for a Prohibition-era story about the supernatural and the mob. Graveyards and city streets share the same gray tones, while bursts of color call out important moments.
More than a mere mob and demon tale, Three Days Dead fills in a compelling story with small bits that will entice close readers. Where does Eddie go to when he's dead? Who is following him in the underworld? The final panel of the volume leaves readers wanting more, without a clichéd cliffhanger. The Damned series gets off to a promising start with this first volume. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor
Discover: A Prohibition-era, demon-led mafia trades in human vice and mortal souls in this freshly colored comic.
paperback, 152p., 9781620103852
Food & Wine
A Really Big Lunch: Meditations on Food and Life from the Roving Gourmand
by Jim Harrison
"Owning an expensive car or home and buying cheap groceries is utterly stupid," Jim Harrison wrote for Playboy in 2011. A Really Big Lunch: Meditations on Food and Life from the Roving Gourmand celebrates the acclaimed author of 39 works of fiction, nonfiction and poetry--including Legends of the Fall, The Big Seven and Brown Dog. With an introduction by Harrison's longtime friend, chef Mario Batali, the posthumous collection includes 48 sage and succulent essays, some previously published and some unearthed after his death, that span from 1981 to 2015.
Simply to call Harrison salty is to ignore the myriad flavors of Harrison's searing wit and capacious heart. He was a consummate poet with an appetite to match, and his food writing is among his best and most fun. In the titular essay, Harrison delightfully details a 37-course meal he enjoyed in France. A man interested in both morality and morels, his humor permeates even the holy; in "Snake-Eating," he wrote, "Everyone knows that if Adam and Eve had eaten the snake rather than the apple, the world would be a better place." Elsewhere: "Good food is so much more important than the mediocre writing that pervades the Earth."
In this collection, Harrison's wisdom shines throughout. "Whenever life begins to crush me," he declared, "I know I can rely on Bandol, garlic, and Mozart." We can add Harrison's writing to this list of life's pleasures. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: Laugh, cry and get hungry with essays by the late, great writer and food connoisseur Jim Harrison.
hardcover, 272p., 9780802126467
Jack's Wife Freda: Cooking from New York's West Village
by Maya and Dean Jankelowitz, recipes by Julia Jaksic
As they brainstormed names for their New York City restaurant, Maya and Dean Jankelowitz toyed with calling it "Jack's Wife Freda" in honor of Dean's grandparents, and grandmother in particular. According to Maya, people said no one would invest in their restaurant "with that ridiculous name." But they chose it anyway--and had great success. Now, their cookbook, Jack's Wife Freda: Cooking From New York's West Village, offers a chance to re-create some of their most popular dishes at home, with recipes written by the restaurant's chef, Julia Jaksic.
The dishes reflect flavors Maya and Dean grew up with, Jewish cuisine that draws from both Maya's Israeli background and Dean's South African roots. The recipes are succinct and easy to follow. Gorgeous photos accompany each recipe, and pictures throughout depict the joyful bustle of the restaurant itself. Breakfast hits include a fuchsia Eggs Benny--with beet Hollandaise and latkes in lieu of English muffins--and Rose Water Waffles. The lunch menu offers the seasonally adaptable Maya's Grain Bowl as well as a dill-filled Matzo Ball Soup. The dinner menu boasts perennial favorites like Zucchini Chips, Chicken Livers on Toast and Freda's Fishballs.
Vegetarian options are numerous, and a handful of recipes will please vegans and gluten-free eaters, too. But Jack's Wife Freda is at heart an omnivore's delight, a vibrant mix of ingredients, flavors, textures and cultures. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: This cookbook shows how to re-create a popular New York restaurant's beloved Jewish comfort food in your own home.
Blue Rider Press,
hardcover, 256p., 9780399574863
Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste
by Bianca Bosker
Bianca Bosker (Original Copies) believes that the reason an average wine drinker can't tell a Merlot from a Meursault is because of Plato. The philosopher argued that the experiences of the nose and mouth were intellectually bankrupt, and generations of thinkers have continued in this tradition, shaping cultural attitudes. But the fanatical sommeliers whom Bosker chronicles in Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste have turned Plato's philosophies on their head. Eschewing toothpaste, deodorant and any warm drinks that could possibly alter their palates, these obsessive wine servers are determined to be able to identify any wine, right down to the vintage year, after a mere sniff or sip.
When Bosker, at the time a tech reporter, first heard about the world of elite sommeliers, she was fascinated, and eventually quit her job to chronicle her entry into their world. Starting as a "cellar rat" earning $10 an hour in a top New York restaurant, Bosker slowly immerses herself into the wine subculture.
Reminiscent of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, the larger-than-life characters that Bianca encounters in Cork Dork are funny, profane and experts in their chosen field. Along the way, her "original obsession with making sense of their obsessive ways... morphed into an obsession with the things they obsessed over," and Bosker decides to try to pass the Certified Sommelier Exam herself. With a quick wit and keen attention to detail, Bosker will draw readers into her challenge--even those who don't like wine! --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm
Discover: A former tech reporter explores the fascinating wine-obsessed world of elite sommeliers.
paperback, 352p., 9780143128090
Eating Korea: Reports on a Culinary Renaissance
by Graham Holliday
Graham Holliday (Eating Viêt Nam) fell in love with Korean food during the two years in the mid-1990s that he spent as an English teacher in South Korea. In Eating Korea, he details his return 20 years later. Crisscrossing the country, he searches for the dishes that make its food distinctively and quintessentially Korean. What he finds, however, is an altered culinary landscape, gentrified and modernized in response to inevitable global influences.
What used to be considered a mainstay in the diet (kimchi) has largely fallen out of favor with the country's youth because of its fermented smell. Noting the increased availability of cheap food, Koreans' obsession with upward mobility and diminished interest in home cooking, Holliday travels to the farthest reaches to pry secrets from grand masters who uphold culinary traditions. In particular, he is determined to find dak galbi, the mixed chicken dish he ate for much of his initial stay in Korea: "a mess, a mistake that works... where everything Korean that's edible got dumped inside, turned upside down, rattled about, and thrown in your face."
No matter how many people Holliday asks, though, no one can define Korean cuisine to his satisfaction. He is left to rue--through nostalgia and sharp but witty critiques of modern Korean lifestyles--the loss of "the Korean food I had known that was born out of poverty and postwar solutions." Grudgingly, entertainingly, he persists, mulling over the implications of South Korea's culinary rebirth. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: Graham Holliday searches out the foods and ingredients that give Korean cuisine its fiery and rebellious character.
hardcover, 320p., 9780062400765
Biography & Memoir
In-Between Days: A Memoir About Living with Cancer
by Teva Harrison
In 2013, 37-year-old Canadian artist Teva Harrison was diagnosed with stage four metastatic breast cancer that had also spread to her lymph nodes and bones. Her eloquent, moving and inspiring graphic memoir, In-Between Days, offers her space to sort through her past and come to grips with the realities of her present and future. "Living with metastatic cancer is like a game of Whac-a-Mole," Harrison writes. "There's no point trying to cut it out, because it will just keep popping up somewhere else."
Harrison finds it hard to be optimistic when her doctor's diagnosis ends with, "We are no longer looking for a cure." But she understands that without hope she would not be able to go on. "I need to be careful," she writes. "Hope is delicious, heady stuff, but reality has a way of upsetting the applecart." A simple but expressive full-page illustration precedes each short (one or two pages) chapter/essay. Harrison deals with chemo-induced menopause, the genetic heritage of her disease in other family members, learning to put herself first and trying to find the "sweet spot" in her pain medication.
Harrison captivates with her charming illustrations as she navigates her disease and her uncertain but hopeful life with wry humor and refreshing candor. The journey to sad and dark places is a little less scary with her leading the way. "I understand now, though, the fear of being forgotten, of being erased," she writes. No one reading this gripping and inspiring memoir will forget Teva Harrison. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: In-Between Days navigates Teva Harrison's brave, wry and unforgettable journey after her stage four cancer diagnosis.
House of Anansi Press,
paperback, 128p., 9781487001087
My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew
by Abigail Pogrebin
Abigail Pogrebin's casual relationship with Judaism never troubled her until she realized that, despite the wonderful people in her family and the accomplishments she attained, she felt spiritually devoid of purpose. Not having paid much attention previously, she decides to observe all 18 Jewish holidays over the course of a year in hopes of understanding what Judaism has to offer her. She tackles the task eagerly, with an earnest commitment to observe the holidays and study the traditions associated with each beforehand. She speaks to fellow Jews, interviews rabbis, reads the Torah and its commentaries, and tries to participate fully.
Pogrebin's exploration takes her down unexpected paths. She encounters things that lead her to feel conflicted about her own practices, traditions and perceptions. When it comes time to celebrate Hanukkah, for example, she is distressed to learn that in its time of origin, the Jewish people were divided according to what constitutes authentic Judaism, and draws parallels to how the ultra-Orthodox see secular and Reform Jews today. Pogrebin also shares humorous stories, like the time she nearly drove her family mad trying to learn to blow the shofar, a ram's horn that is sounded to mark Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. Throughout My Jewish Year, Pogrebin engages candidly with the holidays and traditions, confessing when not every part of the practices come alive for her, noting what resonates, what doesn't and why. In reading this memoir, it becomes apparent how many people around Pogrebin share her search for meaning, a journey other seekers will relate to. --Justus Joseph, Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Wash.
Discover: A previously unobservant Jew takes readers through her year of religious observance and finds moving insight and comical disconnections.
Fig Tree Books,
hardcover, 336p., 9781941493205
The New Old Me: My Late-Life Reinvention
by Meredith Maran
With wit, hard-won insight and wisdom, memoirist Meredith Maran details how her life came apart when she was 60 years old and how, over a period of three years, she attempted to put it back together.
The story starts in California's Bay Area: Maran (Why We Write) packs up and leaves the home where she raised her two sons, wrote nine books, celebrated birthdays and shared 15 years with her wife, the love of her life. Harmony and peace had evaporated from the couple's relationship--along with the balance in Maran's bank account. When offered a copywriting job for a growing fashion company in Los Angeles, Maran took a leap and set off in search of a whole new life.
Change and reinvention are never easy, but Maran's story is told with plenty of comic relief. She laughs through her tears while enduring the culture shock of navigating life alone, and swallows her dread of working alongside "the kids"--svelte, confident, workout-obsessed employees, some of whom are young enough to be her grandchildren. Beyond work woes, she faces the challenge of finding a new home; old friend withdrawal and a creative search for new one; the perils of dating and death; and the sting of Botox and a Brazilian wax. Brisk, succinct prose infuses this entertaining memoir. It delivers a healing, hopeful message that will charm readers--especially women seeking to liberate themselves from the quicksand of aging by letting go of old dreams and insecurities. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: A 60-year-old freelance writer from California reinvents her life with panache in this funny, insightful memoir.
hardcover, 304p., 9780399574139
Becoming Leonardo: An Exploded View of the Life of Leonardo da Vinci
by Mike Lankford
Many books have been written on the life of Leonardo da Vinci, the great 15th century painter and inventor. But no one has probed his soul and speculated so profoundly about his actions quite the way Mike Lankford does in Becoming Leonardo: An Exploded View of the Life of Leonardo da Vinci.
Using copious research, Lankford dives into Leonardo's life, beginning with his birth, which was the result of a possible rape that a notary named Ser Piero committed against Caterina, a house slave. Lankford pushes the envelope of what is known about the man and ponders the true nature of the artist. He was left-handed, but was he also dyslexic, and did this cause him to write backwards? Did he have Asperger syndrome, and would that explain his fascination with new and intriguing ideas, as well as his inability to finish a project? Was he a homosexual, and is that why he was thrown into prison for an unspecified amount of time?
The list of conjectures is long, but Lankford backs his ideas with sound observations and keen analysis. He paints a thorough picture of the man who continually searched for new ways to express himself through his art, using innovative techniques that often failed and stopping long before a project was anywhere near completion. During his lifetime, Leonardo failed far more often than he succeeded but, as Lankford surmises, it was only failure in the eyes of those around him. Leonardo led the life he wanted, full of observation and exploration. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: This exciting new slant on the life and times of Leonardo da Vinci strips away the polish and shows the man with all his peculiarities.
hardcover, 304p., 9781612195957
Captain Fantastic: Elton John's Stellar Trip Through the '70s
by Tom Doyle
After conducting a series of interviews with Elton John for British music magazine Mojo, Tom Doyle (Man on the Run) realized that he wouldn't have enough space to include some of the best material. Thus, the idea for Captain Fantastic: Elton John's Stellar Trip Through the '70s was born. Based on primary sources, including additional interviews and John's personal diary, this enthralling biography recounts the best and worst of the glam singer's biggest decade.
It opens on Reginald Dwight, the "moon-faced twenty-one-year-old" who would become Elton John, poring over his extensive record collection. Music was a way for the shy but ambitious young man to express his thoughts and feelings to the world. That passion for music led John to team up with Bernie Taupin, a budding lyricist who also felt like an outsider to the hip world of rock 'n' roll. He was "the brother I always wanted," John tells Doyle.
Doyle's biography follows the pair from their first songwriting successes to John's painful engagement to Linda Woodrow and through the singer's late-'70s struggle with drug addiction. Doyle includes anecdotes from friends and family, and fascinating excerpts from John's diary. "Went to the fair with Mick and Pat: I won a coconut and two Goldfish!!" wrote John in 1969. Insights like these help to humanize a celebrity who often seems larger than life.
Well-researched and compassionate, Captain Fantastic is an engaging and moving account of a life lived hard. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor.
Discover: Music writer Tom Doyle offers a fascinating glimpse at Elton John's life in the 1970s.
hardcover, 336p., 9781101884188
Marilyn in Manhattan: Her Year of Joy
by Elizabeth Winder
Dozens of full-length biographies have been written about Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962), and most concentrate on her struggle with drugs, depression and anxiety. What makes Elizabeth Winder's Marilyn in Manhattan so refreshing and eye opening is her focus on the 14-month period when Monroe left Hollywood and moved to New York City. At the height of her career, in late 1954, Monroe moved east to train with Lee Strasberg and free herself from a long-term contract with 20th Century Fox that kept her underpaid and gave her no creative voice in her film projects. "For the first time she felt accepted," writes Winder. "Unlike glassy, judgmental Hollywood, New York embraced her quirks and creativity."
New York centered and revitalized the 28-year-old actress. Winder (Pain, Parties, Work, about Sylvia Plath) uncovers a gifted, intelligent and vulnerable woman who was far more complex than her sultry blonde bombshell image. She left her second husband, Joe DiMaggio, and took control of her life and career, founding her own production company with photographer Milton Greene and moving to Manhattan with Greene and his wife. She made friends with writers and intellectuals, studied with Method actors and refused all film offers. After a year away from Hollywood, she negotiated a new contract, won her dream film role (Bus Stop) and began a relationship with playwright Arthur Miller.
Winder writes with ease, mixing first-hand recollections from numerous biographies to create a vital and upbeat oral history of Monroe's emotional rebirth. Marilyn in Manhattan is an essential missing piece in her life story that enriches her legend. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: Elizabeth Winder chronicles how Marilyn Monroe left Hollywood and moved to New York City to regain control of her life.
hardcover, 304p., 9781250064967
Walking to Listen: 4,000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time
by Andrew Forsthoefel
Following college graduation, most young people look for a job. Instead, Andrew Forsthoefel went searching for individuals who would talk to him. Inspired by the writings of Walt Whitman, Khalil Gibran and Rainer Maria Rilke, as well as the teachings of Dr. John Francis (Planetwalker), the 23-year-old filled a backpack, much the way someone attempting to walk the Appalachian Trail might. Included with his camping gear and provisions were his tape recorder, journal and a mandolin. Attached to the outside of his pack was a hand-printed sign that read, "Walking to Listen." Forsthoefel was going to trek across the United States to hear people's stories.
He started near Philadelphia with a set of rules: stick to the roads in order to meet a diverse cross-section of people, view everyone as a teacher and walk "until it felt like I should stop; until I broke four thousand dollars; or until I hit the Pacific Ocean. Whichever came first." Forsthoefel found incredible insights, compassion and generosity, in addition to the stories that connected him with those he met.
Forsthoefel opens each chapter of Walking to Listen with a transcribed story and then weaves additional anecdotes, conversations and experiences into the narrative of his journey. His observations are frank, sometimes humorous and always thoughtful. The metaphors he employs to illuminate his experiences are vivid and powerful. And the lessons he takes away from his interactions with people of all walks of life are extraordinary, reshaping his very existence. Reading about it will undoubtedly transform his audience as well. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: A college graduate comes of age as he walks across the United States intent on listening to the stories of strangers.
hardcover, 400p., 9781632867001
Unscripted: The Unpredictable Moments That Make Life Extraordinary
by Ernie Johnson Jr.
Fans probably know Ernie Johnson Jr. best as the Sports Emmy Award-winning host who sits alongside basketball greats Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O'Neal on TNT's Inside the NBA
. While Johnson always shows up meticulously prepared to talk sports on-camera, off-camera he's had an unscripted life that has thrown many obstacles his way. Johnson is a man whose Christian faith has been tested, and, in the process, his spirituality has been strengthened. Unscripted
, a moving and multifaceted memoir, probes some of Johnson's personal detours while sharing the many joys that have defined who he is and how he has come to lead his life.
Johnson followed in the footsteps of his father, a great major league baseball pitcher who later became a legendary sportscaster. Father and son forged a strong bond that instilled a sense of integrity and character in Ernie Jr. as he built his own 40-year career in broadcasting. Unscripted
offers stories from Johnson's childhood, as well as funny and unforgettable on-the-job anecdotes. Details about Johnson's personal life include his marriage to loving wife, Cheryl; their six children, four of whom were adopted; one son's battle with muscular dystrophy; and Johnson's own non-Hodgkins lymphoma, an ordeal that deepened his faith and wisdom. Throughout, he offers positive, inspirational lessons for readers and a hopeful message about learning to appreciate every moment of life. --Kathleen Gerard
, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: A sportscaster opens up about his life--on camera and off--giving an inspirational perspective on faith.
hardcover, 224p., 9780801074103
Cheech Is Not My Real Name: ...but Don't Call Me Chong
by Cheech Marin
Born in the hippie, sex-drugs-and-rock-n-roll '70s, Cheech & Chong was the original stoner comedy and film act that paved the way for Harold & Kumar, Dazed and Confused, even The Big Lebowski. Richard "Cheech" Marin was a South Central L.A. kid who hooked up with the Canadian musician Tommy Chong in Vancouver while on the lam for burning his draft card. Cheech Is Not My Real Name: ...but Don't Call Me Chong is Marin's rambling autobiography that chronicles how this Boy Scout, altar boy, self-described "little wiseass who got straight As" became a voice of the counterculture, a mainstream TV and movie star, and a premier collector of contemporary Chicano art.
His unlikely path took its first turn when his family moved from the gangbanger streets to the San Fernando Valley suburbs. Nurtured by weed, the Beatles, anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, his natural stage savvy and love of applause, Marin built a remarkable showbiz career. After the enormous success of their debut movie, Up in Smoke, he and Chong had a good run of albums and movies until the dope thing ran out of gas. Their split was difficult, but Marin found his own groove voice-acting in Disney animated films like The Lion King and Cars; as the strip club barker Chet Pussy in the cult zombie movie From Dusk Till Dawn; and as Kevin Costner's drinking buddy Romeo Posar in Tin Cup. Best known for what Rolling Stone once called "a lot of pee-pee, ca-ca and doo-doo jokes," he justifiably shows that his long career was really built on "comedy that is edgy, controversial, and more than a little antiestablishment." Yes, that--and some timeless dope jokes. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Richard "Cheech" Marin candidly traces his winding path from the streets of L.A. and dope comedy to mainstream films and museum-quality art collecting.
Grand Central Publishing,
hardcover, 272p., 9781455592340
Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Coming Home
by Amy Dickinson
Amy Dickinson is best known as the author of "Ask Amy," a popular syndicated newspaper advice column. In her memoir The Mighty Queens of Freeville, she shared the journey that led her from Freeville--a tiny village (pop. 520) in New York State--to Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., London and Chicago, with forays back to her hometown. In Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things, Dickinson continues her story, rooting her narrative more fully in Freeville, a town with "one stop sign marking the end of tree-lined Main Street." It has been home to her ancestors for generations.
Dickinson--a divorced, single mother, her only daughter off to college--"chose to move home permanently," living in a house down the street from her aging and increasingly infirm mother. She unpacks an adventurous story that winds through her upbringing and recounts how, when her often menacing father abandoned the family, their dairy farm failed. Her stoic mother, Jane, was then left to find ways of keeping the family afloat and of reinventing herself when she, too, was middle-aged.
This shared history launches into details about Dickinson's marriage and her husband's infidelity, their divorce, raising a child as a single mother, dating hazards and career shifts, and how she ultimately longed for "home." "Real life doesn't always reveal itself as neatly as a question sent in to an advice columnist," Dickinson admits. But the heartfelt honesty of her entertaining narrative--rife with contemporary dramas to which many readers will relate--makes for a compelling, hopeful portrait of a woman coming-of-middle-age with wit, aplomb and authenticity. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: This memoir of self-discovery is by a divorced, middle-aged writer who resettles into the small town where she was raised.
hardcover, 240p., 9780316352642
Charlton Heston: Hollywood's Last Icon
by Marc Eliot
Although Charlton Heston wrote several excellent autobiographies (including The Actor's Life: Journals 1956-1976 and In the Arena), Marc Eliot's hefty, compelling and intimate biography stands as the definitive portrait of the complicated and controversial Oscar-winning actor and political activist.
Prolific biographer Eliot (Cary Grant) creates a captivating portrait with the help of Heston's son and daughter (who had no editorial control) and new interviews with dozens of Heston's friends and foes. Eliot also uses the actor's files and unpublished journals. Surprisingly blunt about Heston's acting style, Eliot writes, "He played his characters literally, on their and his surface, at least in part because he was never asked to do more." And after Touch of Evil's box office failure in 1958, "he would henceforth seek out the conventional, the mainstream, and the commercial, and resist films that were personal artistic statements."
Charlton Heston offers plenty of juicy, behind-the-scenes tales of the making of some of his classic films, including Planet of the Apes, Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments (where Yul Brynner and director Cecil B. DeMille kept their exhausting pace thanks to amphetamine injections and pills). Even more fascinating is Heston's political evolution: from a liberal Kennedy supporter, marching with Martin Luther King in 1963, to a disillusioned independent who eventually--right around the time his film career sputtered out in the 1980s--became a Republican gun rights advocate and NRA spokesperson. Eliot's Charlton Heston: Hollywood's Last Icon is an absorbing, haunting and richly detailed portrait of the iconic actor. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: Fascinating and intimate, Charlton Heston follows the enormously popular film star's evolution and offers a complex study in contradictions.
Dey Street Books,
hardcover, 576p., 9780062420435
City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris
by Holly Tucker
In City of Light, City of Poison, Holly Tucker (Blood Work) emphasizes that in the late 17th century, Paris was not an elegant and refined place to live. Violence and danger were found in its overcrowded streets and alleyways, where brass knuckles, knives and pistols were frequently used during brawls that broke out in public areas. So when one official lieutenant was murdered, and another civil magistrate found dead under suspicious circumstances, King Louis XIV went into action, appointing Nicolas de La Reynie as the first police chief and giving him the task of bringing order to the chaos.
Between April 1679 and July 1682, more than 400 people were questioned, 200 imprisoned and 30 executed by beheading, hanging or incineration for events known as the Affair of the Poisons. Tucker shares her four years of meticulous research through hundreds of handwritten documents to expose the truth about one of the more gruesome episodes in French history. Filled with the stories of the men and women involved in murder, attempted murder, Satanic rites and many infidelities among Paris nobility--including the king and his multiple mistresses--Tucker's exposition is a true detective story of the finest kind.
Interrogation scenes feature grisly details, but their intensity is offset by titillating details of Louis XIV's repeated romps with many a younger woman, and of La Reynie's relentless pursuit of the truth. For anyone interested in the darker side of the Sun King's reign, City of Light, City of Poison will not disappoint. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: The vivid true story of numerous murders by poison in Paris is set against the backdrop of Louis XIV's lush and sensual reign.
hardcover, 336p., 9780393239782
Flaubert in the Ruins of Paris: The Story of a Friendship, a Novel, and a Terrible Year
by Peter Brooks
Gustave Flaubert's evolving connection with political ideals and disillusionment drives Peter Brooks's fascinating work of literary history, Flaubert in the Ruins of Paris: The Story of a Friendship, a Novel, and a Terrible Year.
Literary critic Brooks (Reading for the Plot) focuses his discerning mind on Flaubert's underappreciated novel, Sentimental Education. He convincingly connects the book Flaubert considered his masterpiece to the violent and tumultuous political history of 19th-century France. Flaubert in the Ruins of Paris explores Flaubert's own assertion that serious reading of Sentimental Education would have prevented the devastation wrought in Paris in 1871, following the Franco-Prussian War, when the French Third Republic bloodily suppressed the Paris Commune.
Sentimental Education, Brooks skillfully argues, was written about the ill-fated revolution in 1848 that led to the French Second Republic, a failed revolution in which Flaubert foresaw the irrationality and violent sectarianism that would later tear his country apart. To make his case, Brooks includes Flaubert's correspondence with friend George Sand as well as passages from the novel, all of which display Flaubert's singular talent for description, characterization and mood. Moreover, Brooks's careful, sophisticated and nuanced scholarship pieces together a larger impression of troubled modernity, and reveals Flaubert's self-consciousness as an author in the face of cataclysmic historical events. Flaubert in the Ruins of Paris is a profound look at the personality and beliefs of a literary giant, a work as entertaining as it is probing. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author
Discover: Literary historian Peter Brooks sheds light on Gustave Flaubert's politics and his great, overlooked novel, Sentimental Education.
hardcover, 288p., 9780465096022
Business & Economics
A Fine Mess: A Global Quest for a Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Tax System
by T.R. Reid
Who better than Washington Post journalist T.R. Reid to bring to life and then systematically carve up the particularly byzantine United States tax system? With decades in Washington and assignments as bureau chief in London, Tokyo and Denver, Reid (The Healing of America) has seen enough to explain tax structures in lucid, jargon-free prose that at times seems as amused as it is outraged. A Fine Mess covers the primary categories of federal taxes detailed in the 73,000 pages of IRS regulations, and even includes thoughtful chapters about recent events like the fascinating story of the Panama Papers exposé and Thomas Piketty's surprise bestseller, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, with the reminder, "Piketty is French, and France is the world champion at soaking the rich through taxes."
Everybody knows the United States tax structure is in need of reform--even Congress (though Reid advises, "When Congress takes up tax reform, the 'reform' generally makes things worse"). But he argues that to confront myriad vested interest groups--including tax preparers ("Today, barely 10% of Americans do their own tax returns"), lobbyists, realtors, nonprofits, huge international corporations, tax lawyers, M&A consultants and even the 90,000 IRS employees--takes backbone. Methodically, Reid illustrates how dozens of countries collect taxes much more fairly and efficiently--and have happier taxpayers to boot. After his lively discussion of what exists today in the tax world, his concluding multi-point recommendations to fix the mess make eminent sense. But who's going to step up and do it? --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Veteran journalist T.R. Reid takes a lucid, entertaining journey through the labyrinth of the U.S. tax structure and convincingly suggests how to fix it.
hardcover, 288p., 9781594205514
You're More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen's Guide to Making Change Happen
by Eric Liu
Political tension and uncertainty can produce feelings of helplessness amid injustice and dramatic change. While such thinking is understandable, Eric Liu (A Chinaman's Chance) presents effective strategies for individuals and groups to harness their potential by amplifying their voices and elevating causes.
Defining power as "the capacity to ensure that others do as you would want them to do," Liu focuses You're More Powerful Than You Think not on personal or professional empowerment but on the political. It's an arena he knows well. A former White House speechwriter, policy adviser and deputy assistant to President Bill Clinton for domestic policy, Liu offers a seasoned perspective regarding the influential impact of global campaigns such as Brexit and movements that include, among others, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, Feel the Bern and $15 Now in the United States.
Each of these initiatives represent "a moment of citizen power [and] a deeply optimistic surge" with the same three core concepts that ordinary people have adopted throughout history, with positive results. "Because power creates monopolies and is winner-take-all, you must change the game. Power creates a story of why it's legitimate. You must change the story. Power is assumed to be finite and zero-sum. You must change the equation."
Embracing one's power can feel daunting at the onset but becomes achievable through experience, he writes. "True alienation is deadly silent and sullen. The upheaval and ruckus of our times are hopeful at heart. People still believe change is possible." --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at melissafirman.com
Discover: A former White House official explores the psychology of power and how to implement effective strategies to produce meaningful change.
hardcover, 256p., 9781610397070
The Creative Spark: How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional
by Agustín Fuentes
In The Creative Spark, primatologist and biological anthropologist Agustín Fuentes challenges previous and current models of evolution. Where Charles Darwin argued for survival of the fittest, Fuentes argues that evolution promotes the survival of the most creative. By synthesizing research from numerous scientific disciplines, including psychology, genetics, biology and even philosophy, he presents a new, compelling model of human development. The jump from our early ancestors' stone tools to modern technology is huge, but in bridging this gap, Fuentes takes readers through a re-creation of our potential evolution and ponders what key moment could illustrate the beginnings of human inspiration. While the details are informed by science and extensive research, Fuentes presents his theories in a captivating narrative that feels like an intriguing mystery.
Though all primates develop creative solutions to address complex social problems, no other group of animals is as ingenious. Creativity and innovation are constantly driving the success of human life, and have been for thousands of years. This includes how early Homo made and used tools--acts that require coordination and skill--to more modern inventions of science, religion and art. Fuentes demonstrates that even the most ordinary of occurrences, such as how people agree to basic rules like standing in line at the grocery store, are a marvel. No other creature queues for food. Behind it is a long evolutionary history that he unravels with delight. To look up from The Creative Spark after finishing the last page is to see the world in new, complex ways. Fuentes's work adds depth to our reality and fosters a deep respect and appreciation for the many forms creativity takes. --Justus Joseph, Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Wash.
Discover: The Creative Spark makes the case that what truly defines and separates humans from any other living creature on Earth is our capacity for creative collaboration.
hardcover, 352p., 9781101983942
Essays & Criticism
Printer's Error: Irreverent Stories from Book History
by Rebecca Romney, J.P. Romney
The printed word comes to life--warts and all--in J.P. Romney and Rebecca Romney's rollicking history, Printer's Error: Irreverent Stories from Book History.
J.P. Romney (The Monster on the Road) is a historical researcher and YA novelist, and Rebecca Romney is a rare-book dealer famous for her appearances on the History Channel's Pawn Stars. Together they make a whip-smart team, offering a fun, dynamic exercise in literary myth busting. Eleven chapters unfold episodically to reveal little-known facts about famous authors and print innovators who made the book what it is today. Johannes Gutenberg, William Shakespeare and Benjamin Franklin are a few prominent figures subjected to the authors' prying, ribald treatment. The overall result portrays a publishing legacy that's rife with whimsy, error, human folly and, from one century to the next, a degree of self-interest belying literature's noble image. With sharp, detailed prose--and a persistently uproarious sense of humor--the authors revel in the historical ironies of the book business, such as when Charles Dickens, trying to secure foreign copyright protections, was excoriated by capitalist Americans for being greedy. They adroitly draw parallels between 19th-century pirated books and the profusion of pirated material in the digital age.
As much fun as Printer's Error is to read, it uncovers darker aspects of society that shouldn't be forgotten. A chapter devoted to Mary Wollstonecraft serves as a reminder that the brilliant "mother of feminism" was vilified in her own time for perceived promiscuity. Complex, illuminating, yet always entertaining, Printer's Error is a treasure trove for bibliophiles. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author.
Discover: A renowned rare-book dealer teams up with a researcher to unveil the wacky and fascinating history of print.
hardcover, 384p., 9780062412317
Literature Class, Berkeley 1980
by Julio Cortázar
Literature Class is a transcription of a lecture course given by the brilliant Argentine writer Julio Cortázar (Final Exam) at the University of California at Berkeley when he was 65 years old. Cortázar (1914-1984) was from Buenos Aires, devoted to books since childhood and possessed a strong lifelong bent toward fantasy and experimental fiction. "The fantastic for me... was one aspect of reality, which under certain circumstances could manifest itself... it wasn't some kind of outrage within an established reality." He describes how he gradually evolved from the unworldly aesthetic literary purism of his youth toward a strong sense of political and historical context, and how he approaches a balance between literary merit and sociopolitical content. He discusses his own books and his approach to writing, the writers he admires, story structure, time, fate, musicality and humor, playfulness, eroticism and the problems of translation.
This book is a fairly exact record of an intellectually serious course. Cortázar reads stories to his students, takes their questions and informs them of his office hours. He is frequently funny and charming, with an open casual demeanor, but his discourses also require careful attention and consideration. This is not a popular writing guidebook by any means. But for those who would jump at the opportunity to audit a course with one of the greatest Latin American writers of the 20th century: here is your chance. --Sara Catterall
Discover: This is a nearly verbatim transcription of a lecture course taught by the brilliant 20th-century Argentine novelist and short story writer Julio Cortázar.
paperback, 320p., 9780811225342
The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables
by David Bellos
Since its publication in 1862, Victor Hugo's Les Misérables has been a perennial bestseller, inspiring multiple Hollywood film adaptations and the beloved Broadway musical. Its origins, argues translator and biographer David Bellos, are as compelling as the novel's story of revolution, love and redemption in 19th-century France. In The Novel of the Century, Bellos delves into Hugo's inspiration, his approach to writing and the physical production of Les Mis, while exploring the novel's enduring appeal. As Bellos notes in his introduction, "Most plans to conquer the whole world with a story go awry. Les Misérables is a wonderful exception."
Bellos (Is That a Fish in Your Ear?) divides his book (like Les Mis itself) into five parts, which cover a swath of topics related to the novel: Hugo's personal life; his politics; the historical events that shaped the novel and appear in it (notably the Battle of Waterloo and the uprising of 1832); the novel's evolution over time; and Hugo's monumental effort to get it in shape for publication. Each section ends with an "interlude," a deeper dive into a smaller, quirkier motif: contemporary French systems of coinage and color, the novel's use of "high" and "low" language, even a rumination on the enigmatic inner life of Jean Valjean. This is not a work of textual criticism, but it provides plenty of historical context and cultural insight for readers who love Hugo's story.
Accessible--even breezy--but well researched and informative, The Novel of the Century is a treat for fans of Hugo's masterwork. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Translator and biographer David Bellos explores the origins, historical context and enduring appeal of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
hardcover, 336p., 9780374223236
Nabokov's Favorite Word Is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing
by Ben Blatt
Do writers take their own writing advice? Are -ly adverbs truly the enemy of fiction? Has fiction gotten "dumber" over the years? These are some of the questions statistician and journalist Ben Blatt (I Don't Care if We Never Get Back) seeks to answer in Nabokov's Favorite Word Is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing.
One might think it easy to tell whether a book was written by a man or a woman from the use of such words as "boyfriend" or "league," but what about seemingly neutral words like "everything," "something" or even "the?" Turns out, they're just as revealing, and Blatt has done the hard work for us. He also discovers--among other factoids you never knew you needed to know--that Ray Bradbury has an unusual affinity for spearmint.
Blatt looks at an astonishing number of words. Breaking fiction into literary classics, modern popular fiction and modern literary fiction--and occasionally dipping into vast stores of Internet fan fiction--he uses text analysis to tell us more about what we already read. Nabokov's Favorite Word Is Mauve may be all about numbers, but it's far from dry. There's an incredible amount of data available, and Blatt uses that data to ask good questions about our favorite books. His conclusions are helpfully illustrated with charts and peppered with anecdotes from authors--which he, of course, fact checks. The result is a lighthearted numerical examination of words that is informative, surprising and funny. --Richael Best, bookseller, Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Wash.
Discover: A statistician uses curiosity and big data to uncover answers to persistent literary questions.
Simon & Schuster,
hardcover, 288p., 9781501105388
The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America
by Frances FitzGerald
is a comprehensive history of white evangelical movements in the United States, geared to provide a deeper understanding of present-day evangelicals and their influence. Journalist and historian Frances FitzGerald (Fire in the Lake
) presents nearly 300 years of complex ideologies, schisms, social reforms and energetically creative theology in a well-organized, eye-opening narrative.
FitzGerald locates some of the deepest roots of U.S. culture in the two Protestant revivals of the 18th and early 19th centuries, known as the Great Awakenings. The revivalists of these movements transformed the rigid and hierarchical colonial society into the more democratic and free-thinking one of the 19th century. Their version of Christianity dominated the U.S. for a hundred years and "brought a populist anti-intellectual strain into American Protestantism" that still reverberates in American distrust of expertise and belief in individual freedom and conscience.
Early revivalists lobbied for the separation of church and state, and many fought against social hierarchies and religious organizations. But they eventually split over the abolition of slavery and the civil war. In the South, "the rejection of emancipation led to the rejection of all social reform," as well as a separation of religion from social and political life that mostly held until the Moral Majority and Roe v. Wade
This book is not only for those with a particular interest in religious history; it is for anyone with a serious interest in American social movements, politics and culture. It is a history that strongly re-emphasizes the evolution of a nation, and those who hope to shape the future are wise to study the past. --Sara Catterall
Discover: The pervasive influence of evangelical movements on U.S. culture and politics is illuminated in this comprehensive history.
Simon & Schuster,
hardcover, 752p., 9781439131336
Resurrecting the Shark: A Scientific Obsession and the Mavericks Who Solved the Mystery of a 270-Million-Year-Old Fossil
by Susan Ewing
Long before nature writer Susan Ewing (Going Wild in Washington and Oregon) mentions Indiana Jones in Resurrecting the Shark, readers are ensnared in a quest for a 270 million-year-old fish fossil that feels like riding shotgun with Indy. Paleozoic shark Helicoprion ("spiral saw") is the stuff of movie legend. If the thought of a great white doesn't get the blood pumping, imagine a shark with a two-foot-tall whorl of teeth--like a circular saw--sitting midline in its lower jaw.
Meticulously researched and spanning numerous disciplines, along with a "rockin' lot" of evolution, Resurrecting the Shark is the compelling saga of how an ancient ocean oddity became a global passion project. First stumbled upon by an Australian looking for gold under blackbutt trees in the 1880s, Helicoprion fossils were later discovered in Russia and the United States--each find sparking new fervor, doubt and debate.
An astonishing amount of information is shared, but just the right sense of cheeky humor and an enthusiastic writing style keep the facts from becoming overwhelming. By fleshing out theories and arguments spanning more than a century, Ewing treats readers to the culmination of the Helicoprion adventure: what it looked like, where it ranged, and how and what it ate.
From unknown specimen to gallery and museum exhibit, Helicoprion's journey was a labor of love. Geology enthusiasts, taxonomy nerds, paleontology buffs, shark devotees and artisans alike will rejoice in this recounting of how a multitude of people brought the mystery to life. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: A diverse group of scientists and artists undertake a fascinating investigation into a bizarre, ancient shark fossil.
hardcover, 312p., 9781681773438
Nature & Environment
The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature's Great Connectors
by David George Haskell
The essays in The Songs of Trees by David Haskell are contemplative, lyrical and filled with insights on nature that come from years of dedicated observation. Haskell has a deep understanding of the complexities of nature and the interconnectedness of living things. These relationships can be seen through the interactions of a variety of trees around the globe with the birds, insects, animals, air, water and soil that surround them. His descriptions at times are like eulogies to dying trees that have fallen due to an encroaching sea, and at other times akin to the notes an oenologist might write for a fine wine: "The golden sap between dark plates of ponderosa bark has the vigorous odor of rosin and turpentine: oily, acidic, and bright."
Haskell studies the various microcosmic layers of plants, insects and water among the branches and leaves of a giant ceibo tree deep in the Amazon jungle. He listens to the rain as it falls on orchids, bromeliads, strangler figs and philodendron leaves, and hears hundreds of bats, the croak of frogs, the squawk of scarlet macaws and the call of howler monkeys from upper branches where the energy is vibratory and intense.
Throughout his observations, he deftly interweaves a deeper and broader scope: history, war, climate change, industrialization--the latter of which is threatening not just to these trees, but to all living things that share this planet. If anyone ever doubted that life is dependent on symbiotic relationships, then reading Haskell's The Songs of Trees will change that opinion forever. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: These vibrant and poetic essays are about the complexity of life found in the ecosystems of a dozen species of trees around the world.
hardcover, 304p., 9780525427520
Never Out of Season: How Having the Food We Want When We Want It Threatens Our Food Supply and Our Future
by Rob Dunn
Modern food-growing techniques have transformed the global diet: instead of eating hundreds of different foods, like our hunter-gatherer ancestors, human beings are increasingly dependent on a small number of hardy crop varieties, grown on a massive scale. While this method of producing food has its benefits (including greater yields), it has raised the alarm among nutritionists and ecologists. Rob Dunn is the latter, and in his fourth book, Never Out of Season, he explores the pros and cons of crop monocultures and suggests a few strategies for diversifying the world's food supply before it's too late.
Dunn (The Man Who Touched His Own Heart) explores the complex relationship among people, their food and the planet, noting that "our hunger has shaped the earth in much the way that the hunger of a caterpillar remakes a leaf." He recounts the stories of vital crops such as coffee, cacao, wheat and cassava, as well as the Irish potato famine of the 1840s, to demonstrate the potential risks of monocultures. But he also highlights a few unsung heroes: farmers, biologists and other researchers who are studying pathogens, saving seeds and experimenting with new, disease-resistant varieties of vital foods in response to climate change and other factors.
While Dunn's narrative occasionally staggers under the weight of detail, his message is clear and timely: scientists, governments and consumers must work together to preserve and improve a diverse, resilient food supply in a rapidly changing world. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Ecologist Rob Dunn explores the need to diversify the global food supply in response to climate change, pathogens and other factors.
hardcover, 336p., 9780316260725
Health & Medicine
No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America
by Ron Powers
In the opening line of No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America, Ron Powers, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, author and co-author of nonfiction such as Mark Twain: A Life and Flags of Our Fathers, writes: "This is the book I promised myself I would never write." It is a hybrid, a nontraditional history of mental health care fused to an incredibly personal story about his two sons' struggles with schizophrenia. For his son Kevin, that struggle ended in suicide.
Powers doesn't attempt an encyclopedic history of mental illness and care in the United States, instead focusing on specific factors--trends, innovations, individuals, etc.--that played a role in creating a status quo wherein "too many of the mentally ill in our country live under conditions of atrocity." His story is one of repeated moral failings, from the doctors performing transorbital lobotomies to the greed-fueled depredations of Big Pharma. The title of the book is a quote from leaked government e-mails, repurposed into a damning allegation.
For the families of the mentally ill, of course, caring about "crazy people" is a necessity. In roughly alternating chapters, Powers allows us to watch his sons grow up, dealing with the challenges of incipient schizophrenia as well as tragic events that shape their young minds. The boys' interactions with the mental health care system give Powers a first-hand look into its failings, and in turn he shows the reader the devastating human consequences of society's indifference toward the mentally ill. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Discover: No One Cares About Crazy People pairs a history of mental health care with the deeply personal story of the author's two sons.
hardcover, 384p., 9780316341172
Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs
by Michael T. Osterholm, Mark Olshaker
"Infectious disease is the deadliest enemy faced by all of humankind," according to Michael Osterholm, an internationally known epidemiologist. In Deadliest Enemy, he gathers scientific research, case studies and analysis of current health policies into a thorough consideration of various microbes, bacteria and viruses that have the potential to be the world's next pandemic.
He begins with HIV/AIDS, an infectious disease unidentified prior to the early 1980s, which now infects an estimated 40 million people worldwide, with millions of new cases each year. Malaria and TB still kill thousands, while other illnesses, such as toxic shock syndrome, Ebola, Zika, MERS and SARS, have found their way into worldwide news as outbreaks have cropped up. Osterholm shows how easy it is for diseases to be transmitted from one continent to another, and he points out how unprepared the world is to fight most of these diseases on a global scale, with vaccines in short supply or nonexistent. He amply discusses the threat of bioterrorism, along with the probability that antibiotics will no longer be effective against certain diseases in the near future. His intent is not to create alarm with his findings, but rather to open the doorway to discussion. Osterholm hopes such conversation will lead to new policies so that when, not if, the next pandemic strikes, the world can respond rapidly, as a cohesive unit, to a potentially devastating threat. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: Pandemics are the biggest threat to human life, and this eye-opening account addresses what needs to be done to prevent a future global catastrophe.
hardcover, 352p., 9780316343695
Children's & Young Adult
Defy the Stars
by Claudia Gray
Seventeen-year-old Noemi is a fighter pilot for the planet Genesis in its war against the Earth. When she stumbles on Abel, the most sophisticated mech (robot) ever built, she realizes that she can use him in a suicide mission that will keep Genesis safe for decades. Abel has been alone since he was abandoned in battle 30 years ago. His sophisticated programming allows him to dream, want and develop complex emotions. But Abel's hard-wiring forces him to obey Noemi even though he knows she will end the life he's only begun to taste.
At first glance, it seems that Defy the Stars will hit the marks of a standard action-buddy story: Hostile combatants forced to work together develop a grudging respect that blossoms into friendship. But author Claudia Gray (A Thousand Pieces of You; Evernight) has a far more interesting and entertaining book up her sleeve. As the two race through the galaxy to carry out Noemi's plan, every slam-bang plot twist brings up a knotty philosophical issue. When Abel realizes that a pursuing mech has been given a mind as advanced as his own, he feels the new danger--but also the pull of not being alone anymore. Noemi, in turn, realizes that trusting Abel "doesn't feel like trusting a bridge to hold you over a river, or an oven to bake your bread. It feels like... trusting a person." Every explosion is balanced with a meditation on what it means to have a soul. Defy the Stars is a marvelous blend of thought, heart and pure adventure. --Ali Davis, freelance writer and playwright
Discover: A tour-de-force whirl of space opera, philosophy and budding affection.
hardcover, 512p., ages 14-up, 9780316394031
Lucky Broken Girl
by Ruth Behar
When Ruthie Mizrahi moves from Cuba to Queens, N.Y., and starts fifth grade, she has two goals: get out of "the dumb class," and get a pair of go-go boots like Nancy Sinatra's. But after a car accident leaves her in a body cast, her new goal is just to be a normal kid again. Ruthie's Jewish Cuban family, financially strapped and still adjusting to life in a new country, is strained by her injury. But the support of family, friends and neighbors buoys Ruthie and the Mizrahis through their challenges. "I've been through a metamorphosis," Ruthie tells a friend at the end of her recovery; for although this is a story of physical confinement, it is also a story of a young mind expanding and finding unexpected freedom.
Cuban-American cultural anthropologist and poet Ruth Behar, who based her first middle-grade novel, Lucky Broken Girl, on her own childhood, vividly outlines 1966 Queens with Ruthie's observations. Peppered with Spanish and Yiddish and the stories of every person she meets, her world is so tangible that readers will feel they're sitting on the stoop of the Mizrahis' apartment building. But even these details pale beside the emotional clarity of Ruthie's voice. In particular, her prayers (first to God, with Shiva and Frida Kahlo added along the way) at the end of most chapters recall the candid petitions of Judy Blume's Margaret. Equal parts heartbroken and hopeful, Ruthie is a middle grade heroine for the ages. --Stephanie Anderson, assistant director for public services, Darien Library (Conn.)
Discover: This emotionally true and unexpectedly funny chapter book about a Jewish Cuban-American fifth grader who spends a year in a body cast has wide appeal.
Nancy Paulsen Books,
hardcover, 256p., ages 10-up, 9780399546440
by Mal Peet, Meg Rosoff
Mal Peet--British author of the Carnegie Medal-winning Tamar and The Murdstone Trilogy--died in 2015 before he could finish his YA/adult novel Beck. Printz-winning author Meg Rosoff (How I Live Now) completed Peet's novel, but says, "Beck is Mal's book. Like all his work, it's bold and compassionate, unsparing, moving, and joyously, mordantly funny."
On her deathbed in Liverpool in 1918, Beck's mother squeezes her hazel-eyed, brown-skinned son's hand, unaware of the brutal life he'd face. After years in a "dire and loveless" Catholic orphanage, Beck is shipped to a Christian Brotherhood home in Montreal. There, the mixed-race boy the priests disturbingly nickname "Chocolat" is locked in a room with the lascivious, pink-eyed, naked-in-a-bathtub Brother Robert, then caned--and much worse--for violently resisting him. Beck is sent off to work on a remote Ontario farm as slave labor. Bleak, yes, but young adults are likely to see a gleam of hope in the fierce, brave boy who won't let himself be whipped twice. "I fookin' hate 'em," he tells the Home Boys' Society inspector, before fleeing again.
Heading south to the Detroit River, Beck lands in the home of a Prohibition-era bootlegger and his girlfriend, a black couple who, finally, give the young man "the tiniest inkling of the faintest possibility of a life that wasn't simply one hell followed by another...." Down the road, he encounters a half-Scottish, half Siksika (Blackfoot) woman named Grace McAllister, who also makes him feel that "faint possibility"--and much more. Whether a hardened heart can--or should--leave itself vulnerable to love is brilliantly explored in this powerful, beautifully written coming-of-age odyssey. --Karin Snelson, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Mal Peet began this exquisite YA novel about an English orphan shipped off to Canada in the 1920s; after his death, Printz-winning author Meg Rosoff finished it.
hardcover, 272p., ages 14-adult, 9780763678425
by David Elliott
Broadway's Hamilton meets Edith Hamilton in David Elliott's crackling YA debut, a rapid-fire verse reimagining of the Greek myth of the Minotaur.
The cast members take turns dropping rhymes to tell the story. Minos, the "all ego" monarch of Crete, offends Poseidon--"King of the Sea!.../ Old Earth-Shaker/ And one helluva troublemaker"--by keeping the prime white bull the god sends as a sign of Minos's right to rule, instead of sacrificing it as promised. Cursed by Poseidon, Minos's wife, Pasiphae, falls in love with the bull and gives birth to "my beautiful beautiful monster," who grows into the Minotaur. Sheltered and educated at Pasiphae's command, beloved by his sister Ariadne (who knows "who the monsters are"), the Minotaur is nonetheless stalked by a future that brings imprisonment in Daedalus's labyrinth and a young prince named Theseus who "[B]elieves his own hype."
Elliot, author of the picture books This Orq. (He Cave Boy) and In the Sea, revamps the famous monster as a gentle soul victimized by society and machinations beyond his control. His catchy, occasionally explicit verse begs for dramatic readings, and he imbues female characters in particular with a depth and sense of agency lacking in many retellings, while painting power players Poseidon, Minos and Theseus as the true bullies. Older teens will find this version of Greek mythology darker and edgier than they remember from their Percy Jackson phases but every bit as intense and enjoyable. Razor-sharp rhyme schemes and sly, vicious humor make Bull a bawdy yet sophisticated romp, a literary feast fit for the gods. --Jaclyn Fulwood, lead librarian at Del City Public Library, Okla.
Discover: David Elliott retells the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur in a verse novel sure to please rap fans.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,
hardcover, 200p., ages 14-18, 9780544610606
by Jane Yolen, illus. by Josée Masse
Anyone who has ever marveled at the intricate tunnels of an ant farm or dreamed of archeological adventure will revel in this wondrous, thunderous picture book of 21 poems by Jane Yolen (Owl Moon; the How Do Dinosaurs series; Birds of a Feather; Bug Off! Creepy, Crawly Poems). Thunder Underground mines the Earth for its riches, from tree roots to rabbit warrens, subways to lost cities.
There's a whole world underneath our feet, and in the wonder of that discovery lies the magma-hot core of this fine collection. Here, a curious young black girl with a treasure map and her shovel-toting white friend put their ears to the ground, rummage in the basement, dig for pirate gold and crawl through caves--all in happy pursuit of what is "under." (The first poem, "Under," examines the root word in "underground" and "understand.") In poems like "Seeds," Yolen's words flow like an underground river and beg to be read aloud: "This dot,/ this spot,/ this period at the end/ of winter's sentence/ writes its way up/ through the dull slate of soil/ into the paragraph of spring."
"Scientific and personal" notes contain gems: corn roots emit sounds that can be recorded; moles keep larders of earthworms for snacking purposes. Josée Masse (the illustrator of Marilyn Singer's Mirror Mirror and Echo Echo) artfully reflects the grand scope of Earth from the inside out in colorful mixed-media compositions, while zeroing in on kid-friendly details. The eye-opening, ear-opening Thunder Underground echoes the power of the rumbling, ever-changing Earth beneath ground level. --Karin Snelson, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Jane Yolen and Josée Masse delve beneath the surface of the Earth in this delightful picture book of 21 poems examining ants, moles, subways, forgotten cities, magma and more.
hardcover, 32p., ages 5-10, 9781590789360
Town Is by the Sea
by Joanne Schwartz, illus. by Sydney Smith
Town Is by the Sea offers some of the most beautiful paintings of sunshine on water ever painted, and that is more than enough reason to track it down. But Toronto children's librarian Joanne Schwartz's (Our Corner Grocery Store; Pinny in Summer) extraordinary picture book, illustrated by Sydney Smith (Sidewalk Flowers), is also a moving visual portrayal of what it means to send humans deep into the earth, deep under the sea, to dig for coal.
In a 1950s mining town in Nova Scotia, a boy and his family live in a house overlooking the water. The chummy boy narrator describes it in conversational style: "It goes like this--house, road, grassy cliff, sea." When he wakes up, "it goes like this": "first I hear the seagulls, then I hear a dog barking, a car goes by on the shore road, someone slams a door and yells good morning." As cheerful days of baloney sandwiches and sunny shoreline ambling are vividly chronicled, Smith intermittently yanks the reader down into the blackness of the coal miner's subterranean realm, where the boy's father pushes his way forward through a claustrophobic tunnel.
Echoing a longstanding mining tradition, it seems likely that the boy will eventually follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather: "One day, it will be my turn," he says matter-of-factly. Coal is frequently in the headlines these days, and this book puts a human face on the centuries-old practice of coal mining. More abstractly, Town Is by the Sea is a powerful and profound work of art that tweaks our perspective and transcends its subject. --Karin Snelson, freelance writer and editor
Discover: In Canadian author Joanne Schwartz's stunning picture book, illustrated by Sydney Smith of Sidewalk Flowers, a boy lives a sunny life while his father digs in the coal mines deep beneath the sea.
Groundwood/House of Anansi,
hardcover, 52p., ages 5-9, 9781554988716
Speed of Life
by Carol Weston
Sofia Wolfe isn't depressed, she's sad. And who wouldn't be? Her mom died nine months ago, and by now everyone, even best friend Kiki, expects her to have bounced back. Most people at the private, all-girls school Sofia attends in New York City are kind, but others treat her as though her mom's death "might be contagious."
At 14, Sofia has other changes to cope with, too. Kiki recently turned into a "boy magnet." The girls are all getting their periods. And Sofia worries she may be the only one in her class who has never kissed a boy. She knows she can talk to her gynecologist dad, but these kinds of things were so much easier with her mom. She begins writing to Dear Kate, a popular advice columnist at Fifteen magazine. Sofia needs someone to ask all of her "superpersonal" questions, especially now that her dad is showing signs of moving on. She thinks he may even be dating. When she finds out that Dad's new girlfriend is Dear Kate herself, Sofia is mortified.
Author Carol Weston (Girltalk: All the Stuff Your Sister Never Told You; Ava and Pip) has been the voice of "Dear Carol" at Girls' Life magazine since 1994. She draws on her many years of experience to tackle tough issues with honesty and humor. Death and grieving, self-esteem, "bras, periods, cliques, and crushes" are all addressed head-on in this engaging novel. Readers will enjoy spending a pivotal year with Sofia, as she learns to find comfort in life's changes, both big and small. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: After her mom dies, 14-year-old Sofia has to cope with many changes, including finding out her dad is dating the advice columnist Sofia has been writing to.
hardcover, 352p., ages 10-14, 9781492654490
Niko Draws a Feeling
by Bob Raczka, illus. by Simone Shin
Everywhere Niko, a budding artist, looks, he sees something that calls out to be drawn. "It might be a mother bird building her nest. Or the low autumn sun peeking out from behind a cloud. Or the ice cream truck ring-a-linging down the street." Inspired, he draws and draws. But when he shows his pictures--fantastic, abstract scribbles of line and color and shape--to other people, they just don't get it. "What is it?" they ask. "It doesn't look like the ice cream truck." Niko explains: "It's not the ice cream truck.... It's the ring-a-ling." They ask, "Where's the bell?" Patiently, Niko repeats: "It's not the bell. It's the ring-a-ling." Discouraged, Niko seems ready to retreat into himself when he meets the new girl next door, who turns out to be a kindred spirit, one who experiences his art, rather than trying to pigeonhole it.
The creative process is clearly near and dear to the hearts of Bob Raczka (Fall Mixed Up; Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems) and Simone Shin (If I Could Drive, Mama). In Niko Draws a Feeling, Raczka provides possibly the best description of artistic inspiration ever: "[I]t felt like a window opening in his brain. An idea would flit through the open window like a butterfly, flutter down to his stomach, then along his arm and fingers to his pencils, where it would escape onto his paper in a whirlwind of color." Shin's mixed-media, digital and acrylic artwork wonderfully captures the passion and poignance of a misunderstood artist. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: In this sensitive picture book, no one understands the abstract work of a young artist until he meets a new friend.
hardcover, 32p., ages 5-9, 9781467798433
Olivia the Spy
by Ian Falconer
Oh, Olivia, you maddening, marvelous piglet, how we love you.
This time around, Olivia, the everytoddler from Ian Falconer's Olivia series (Olivia and the Fairy Princess, etc.) develops a fascination with eavesdropping. After overhearing her mother talking about her latest mischief, Olivia thinks, "What ELSE is she saying about me? Maybe I should investigate." Of course she should. And when investigating, it's best to be sneaky, to "blend in," even if she's "always stood out." Disguising herself as a lamp, a piece of artwork, a zebra-print rug, the porcine spy listens in on conversations whenever and wherever she can. But the problem with eavesdropping is that one picks up "[p]artial truths and misinformation," which can make a person feel "[i]nsecure and suspicious," as Olivia learns--the hard way--when she catches her parents discussing an "institution" they'd like her to go to. Her helpful teacher gives her several definitions of this scary-sounding word, including "prison." Readers' hearts will go out to the contrite pig as she prepares for the "SPECIAL" place her mother says she's taking her, unaware that they're actually going to the Lincoln Center--a true New York City "institution"--to see a ballet!
Falconer's incorrigible and independent Olivia, portrayed in his trademark charcoal and gouache artwork, is beloved among a generation whose parents and grandparents were raised on the exploits of another New York scamp, Eloise. Olivia the Spy features the pig, with her propensity for costume changes, at her finest: confidently viewing the world through her own unique eyes. Eavesdropping? "Mommy, I would NEVER do that! I was SPYING!" --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Ian Falconer's lovable, troublemaking pig Olivia is back, learning the pitfalls of eavesdropping.
hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781481457958
Grendel's Guide to Love and War: A Tale of Rivalry, Romance, and Existential Angst
by A.E. Kaplan
Tom Grendel can divide his 17-year-old life in "exactly three phases: before Mom, after Mom but before Dad/Iraq, and my current post-Dad/Iraq period." Tom's mother died suddenly when he was nine. His father deployed to Iraq, leaving Tom and his sister, Zipora, with their grandmother. Dad returned as the sole limbs-intact survivor of an IED explosion, Zip left for college, father and son moved "to our quiet house by the lake, and all was well... enough, anyway."
Besides doing lawncare for the neighborhood's mostly elderly women, summer vacation was supposed to be spent hanging out with best buddy Ed Park. Then TV journalist Ellen and her two teenagers--intractable Rex and enticing Willow--move in next door, and Ellen promptly disappears to cover an out-of-state story--leaving the house party-ready. The unrelenting thumping music into the wee hours is enough to trigger Tom's father's PTSD, exiling him to a Florida business trip. His absence gives Tom two weeks to stop the madness before Dad can come home. Complications grow--inept, bribable police, Willow's kisses, the enabling appearance of Rex and Willow's cousin Wolf, and the return of prodigal sister Zip.
A.E. Kaplan's debut novel proves raucous and entertaining, but it's also got centuries-old history attached: literary aficionados might recognize enough of the characters' unique names and plot lines as an homage to Beowulf, albeit epically reimagined and reclaimed from Grendel's point of view. Old English lesson aside, Kaplan's witty writing--enhanced with attack dogs, high pigs, long-lost love letters and a (really awful) painting--should do just fine as boisterous, contemporary fun. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Tom Grendel could never have predicted that his summer vacation might involve loud parties, pranks-gone-wrong, missing parents, needy elderly and (of course) the girl next door.
Random House Teens,
hardcover, 320p., ages 14-up, 9780399555541
CatStronauts: Mission Moon
by Drew Brockington
In the cat-centric world of CatStronauts: Mission Moon, when a global energy crisis threatens lights-out for the planet, the president of the United States--a handsome dark-furred feline--calls the World's Best Scientist for advice. Not to worry, though; the bespectacled scientist has a plan. Four brilliant catstronauts--Major Meowser, Waffles, Pom Pom and Blanket--"will fly to the moon and build a solar power plant on the surface." The president is sold (fantasizing about newspaper headlines: "Moon Power Saves World: Coolest President in History!") and the mission is a go.
At Catsup Headquarters, the catstronauts train and pack for their voyage, while engineers race against time--literally, as huge clocks have been installed all over HQ to "keep us on task"--constructing a new spaceship from a massive carton labeled SATURN VI ROCKET KIT. Will they make it to the moon before the world goes dark? Only time (56 days, 16 hours, 37 minutes and 12 seconds) will tell.
Author and illustrator Drew Brockington rockets to a terrific start with his debut graphic novel series (book 2, Race to Mars, was released simultaneously with Mission Moon). Clever feline gags (Waffles is caught licking his paw during a meeting) mesh with realistic but accessible space lingo and technology. Full-color illustrations make each squarish catstronaut's personality pop: whether it's Major Meowser's raging, tiny-fanged expression when Blanket and Waffles have fallen asleep on the job or the commander-in-chief's bug-eyed face as he "spitooo"s his coffee while reading the paper (where he apparently gets all his intel). Cat fanciers, space enthusiasts, STEM educators and comic book fans alike will purr with delight at Brockington's exciting and funny series. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: In this clever and humorous graphic series debut, an energy crisis will doom the world unless four catstronauts can fly to the moon to establish a new source of power.
hardcover, 160p., ages 6-10, 9780316307475
A Letter to My Teacher
by Deborah Hopkinson, illus. by Nancy Carpenter
"Dear Teacher," a former second grader--now an adult--writes to her old teacher, "Whenever I had something to tell you, I tugged on your shirt and whispered in your ear. This time I'm writing a letter." The letter writer reminisces about her "exasperating" behavior--dripping rainwater in the classroom, distracting her classmates when she didn't want to be called on and disappearing on a field trip. All along, her remarkable teacher handles her conduct with aplomb. When our heroine shouts in excitement at the news that the class will plant a garden together in the spring ("Yay! We get to dig in the mud!"), her teacher responds: "True, but first we read about plants... We'll use math to measure our plot, and we'll write our garden plan." The sweet twist in A Letter to My Teacher comes at the conclusion: the former student reveals that she is about to start a new job--as a classroom teacher.
Having previously collaborated on Apples to Oregon, Deborah Hopkinson (Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building) and Nancy Carpenter (Dear Mr. Washington; Lucky Ducklings) join forces again in what amounts to a sweet love letter to an adored teacher. Although this book will make a touching gift to a teacher, it is also a gratifying read-aloud for early elementary children, reminding them that they are not alone in not always knowing how to express worry, fear and even love. Carpenter's pen-and-ink and digital media artwork, in black and white with washes and splashes of color, warmly captures the remembered busy classroom and the spirited little girl. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: An impulsive child is a challenge to her second grade teacher, but in a letter the girl writes to her years later, it's clear the gentle, empathic teacher made a profound impact.
Schwartz & Wade Books,
hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780375868450
by Ryan T. Higgins
Rupert the mouse has a sensitive artistic temperament, so when he decides to create a "visually stimulating" wordless picture book, he is not amused when his pals Thistle and Nibbs try to horn in on the creative process. He remonstrates them repeatedly for speaking: "Shhhh. Be QUIET. This book does not have words." Thistle is unfazed: "Wowee, a wordless book! Can I help?" he asks, then claps his paws over his mouth: "Oops--I'm talking! Eep! I'm TALKING about TALKING." "Every book needs a bear in it!" Nibbs chimes in. (On this page, fans of author Ryan T. Higgins's earlier books, Mother Bruce and Hotel Bruce, will recognize the titular scowling purple bear.) Bespectacled Rupert nearly goes mad with the constant chatter and unwelcome suggestions.
Clever hilarity and downright silliness abound, as when Thistle suggests including a "silent superhero" and Nibbs says, "We'll call him CAPTAIN QUIET and he could fight words!" The opposite page shows a comic book cover featuring a muscle-bound, blue-caped superhero with "SH" on his belt buckle and the words "Vocabulary Vigilante" over his head. By the end, the fussy would-be author is stomping his feet with vexation: "NO! NO! NO! No superheroes and no onomatopoeia, either!"
In the spirit of Michaela Muntean and Pascal Lemaitre's Do Not Open This Book and B.J. Novak's The Book with No Pictures, Higgins's Be Quiet! will delight readers who are beginning to realize that books don't just magically appear; they have authors and illustrators, and occasionally frustrating moments, behind them. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: A mouse is desperate to write a book with no words, but his friends keep interrupting, in Ryan T. Higgins's laugh-out-loud picture book about picture books.
hardcover, 40p., ages 3-5, 9781484731628
by Alyson Gerber
Rachel Brooks is excited about being in seventh grade, in spite of the scoliosis she's keeping hidden from her friends. Playing on the school soccer team with her best friends, Hazel and Franniem, is even better now that she has a shot at playing offense, and everyone agrees her crush Tate might be interested in her. But when a doctor visit shows the curve in her spine has worsened, there's only one way to avoid surgery: "We have to brace her," the doctor tells her mother in his "robotic" voice. Rachel must wear a hard plastic back brace that reminds her of "a turtle shell, only it goes all the way around" for 23 hours a day--including at school--until she stops growing. Her new clothes won't hide the lumpy shape. Even worse, she'll have to wear the brace to soccer practice. When her friends start to act differently around her and soccer proves to be more of a challenge than expected and her mother--who also had scoliosis as a teen--doesn't seem to understand her struggles, Rachel wonders if it's possible to continue her old life.
Debut author Alyson Gerber's Braced confronts readers with the awkward and painful realities of scoliosis, back braces and being different. Gerber herself spent three years in a back brace in her early teens, and her firsthand experience is well used. Casual remarks about Rachel's appearance sting the reader as much as Rachel, while her moments of bravery and decisiveness are inspiring. Gerber's cast of characters are wonderfully flawed and believable. Beautifully emotional, Braced will help readers recognize and celebrate their differences. --Kyla Paterno, former children's and YA book buyer
Discover: When her doctor finds her scoliosis is worsening, Rachel must learn to navigate seventh grade while wearing a back brace.
hardcover, 304p., ages 8-12, 9780545902144
by Agnese Baruzzi
"Small or big?" "Empty or full?" "Straight or curvy?" Appearances can be deceiving in this sturdy square board book about one of the more fun early learning concepts: opposites! Open the book to any page and see, for instance, a bright yellow sun, the heat blazing out its rays. The bold text across from the picture reads simply, "Hot or cold?" Hot, of course, right? But open the gatefold and--surprise!--that wasn't a sun, it was the tops of two icy popsicles! Then, "Thin or wide?" It sure looks like a thin pencil... but no, unfold the page and discover what you were looking at was in fact the edges of a wide bridge. "One or many?" One sweet sheep stands alone... until the double-creased page opens to reveal many sheep--what looked like just one was the front of one and the back of another.
The youngest readers will delight in the unexpected in Italian illustrator Agnese Baruzzi's charming, interactive Opposite Surprise. Baruzzi, who clearly enjoys inspiring readers to shake up their assumptions and explore different perspectives, as evidenced in Look, Look Again and Topsy-Turvy Monsters, knows better than to clutter up the pages of a book designed for children who are just starting to play with words. Minimal but thickly drawn text on brightly colored solid backdrops contrasts appealingly with clean, colorful illustrations on the bright white opposing pages. Tots will not only begin to grasp the concept of opposites; they will have a glimpse into a (friendly) world where what you see might not be what you get. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: This bright, cheerful board book will surprise young readers with fold-out illustrations that are the opposite of what they first seemed.
board book, 30p., ages 2-5, 9789888341375
Reference & Writing
Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries
by Kory Stamper
Most people use a dictionary with little thought given to the genesis of definitions, or their maintenance. Merriam-Webster editor Kory Stamper pulls back the curtain in Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, a paean to the craft of lexicography and a sometimes bemused exploration of the "Escher-esque logic of English."
Stamper neatly and wittily covers grammar, defining philosophy (recording language as people use it vs. guarding the purity of the language); "wrong" words, like irregardless and unravel; dialects (where marginalization of same can have dire results, as in the Trayvon Martin trial); the history of dictionaries; adding new words (with the standard resultant carping about the decline of civilization); revising (constant); etymology (many origin stories, like those for "posh," are false); dating ("OMG" can be traced back to 1917); pronunciation; and the sociolinguistic implications of "nude" (whose skin?).
Stamper obviously loves working with words, and has written a smart, sparkling and often hilarious valentine to the content and keepers of dictionaries. Whether describing the editorial table at Merriam-Webster (room for four editors to sit comfortably, or six "in introverted terror") or the reverence lexicographers have for "this gorgeous, lascivious" language, she shares her admiration and appreciation for the invisible craftspeople who not only define the recently added "face-palm," but also revise the verb "ghost" to match the current dating scene. In doing so, she deftly explains why "a living language made by fallible people will not be perfect, but it will be remarkable." --Marilyn Dahl, editor emerita, Shelf Awareness for Readers
Discover: Merriam-Webster editor Kory Stamper writes a superbly entertaining account of dictionaries' inner workings and creation.
hardcover, 320p., 9781101870945