Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, November 21, 2017

From My Shelf

Clarkson Potter Publishers: Exciting Games for Readers and Word Lovers

Quirk Books: Holiday Gift Guide

Gift Books for Everyone on Your List

It's no secret that you'll find a bunch of bibliomaniacs here at Shelf Awareness. Even if this weren't true, we'd still have to point out that books are pretty much the perfect gift. They're always the right size. A book will never make you look anything but svelte and smart. And there's a book for every type of person on the planet. But before you dip into the 20 possible presents below, let's indulge our particular affection for books about books.

Bookstore Cats (Glitterati Editions, $20) will make you a believer if you ever doubted the charm of our feline friends who hold court in independent bookshops across the U.S. and Canada. A jacketed hardcover with classic book ribbon, this edition features glorious photos of cats hard at work--greeting patrons, providing cuddle assistance when necessary, and showing their individual shops to the best advantage--as well as plenty of feline poetry, fiction and facts.

The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures (Chronicle Books, $35), with more than 200 images from the priceless archive, will add a dash of bookish class to any bibliophile's coffee table. But this volume is much more than just a pretty face. An intelligent history of both the library and the card catalog system, it accomplishes a goal set forth in the introduction, to "extend the sense of ownership and pride in our national treasures to all Americans." 

Finally, 15 writers celebrate the unusual magic to be found within the walls of a bookstore in Browse: The World in Bookshops (Pushkin Press, $22). Each essay addresses a shop that holds special meaning for the author. And with such a varied list of authors--including Andrey Kurkov, Ali Smith and Juan Gabriel Vásquez--it's only natural that the pieces included will inspire, ignite and delight. --Stefanie Hargreaves, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

From My Shelf

Clarkson Potter Publishers: Exciting Games for Readers and Word Lovers

Quirk Books: Holiday Gift Guide

Stay Thirsty, My Friends

How well are we aging, with our Fitbits, paleo diets, hot yoga and kale smoothies? Dr. John Medina has some answers in Brain Rules for Aging Well: 10 Principles for Staying Vital, Happy, and Sharp (Pear Press, $27.99), following his bestselling Brain Rules and Brain Rules for Baby. This is required reading for anyone concerned about mental and physical health--i.e., everyone not in youthful denial. With a conversational tone and infectious wit, Medina explains what happens as we age, the science behind it, and what we can do to improve how our our brains (and bodies) function. We know about exercise and diet, but how about our minds?

First, "We begin, like a Calvinist sermon, with the tough stuff": our brains age, beginning surprisingly early for some functions, like the peak for episodic memory--around age 20. But there is definitely good news: the brain is adaptable, reacting to changes in the environment and within itself, and that compensation can be greatly aided by a number of things. "Aggressive learning" can reduce age-related memory decline: "We can treat the corrosive effects of time with a one-sentence prescription: Go back to school." Reading physical books--at least 3.5 hours a day!--is good for the brain and longevity. Meditation. Wonder. Curiosity. Gratitude. Brain-training games that "have survived the withering fusillades of peer review." Hanging out with good people. Sleep. Exercise. Music. Dance, which combines physical activity and (hopefully) human touch--touch is "wildly important for the elderly." Some tactics are unusual, like listening to the music of your 20s (the research behind this is fascinating, showing your brain favors experiences from your late teens to early 20s).

Brain Rules for Aging Well is a forceful aid in fighting inertia. Dr. Medina's research and engaging manner will have you plotting all sorts of brain- and body-saving strategies--now, instead of "Oh, tomorrow...." --Marilyn Dahl

From My Shelf

Clarkson Potter Publishers: Exciting Games for Readers and Word Lovers

Quirk Books: Holiday Gift Guide

The Wonder of Consciousness

Juli Berwald's Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone, out now from Riverhead Books, is an excellent addition to a growing body of literature seeking to expand readers' minds about what exactly qualifies as a mind. Exciting scientific discoveries regarding animal intelligence helped inspire books such as Frans de Waal's Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, which poses its provocative central question in its title. De Waal makes a case that animal intelligence is often devalued and underestimated by individuals biased by their belief in humanity's unusual intellectual advantages over the rest of the natural world.

Spineless joins Helen MacDonald's H Is for Hawk and Sy Montgomery's The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness, to name a few examples, in setting out to rehabilitate the reputations of often-misunderstood creatures. Frequently, this project involves helping readers comprehend intelligences that are fundamentally alien to our own. For example, Juli Berwald notes that jellyfish, long thought to be brainless organisms vacantly drifting through the sea, actually benefit from a nervous system that is "smart without being consolidated." In other words, jellyfish don't have a central brain because they don't need one, relying instead on a kind of "crowdsourced" intelligence. Sy Montgomery makes a stronger, even spiritual case for the octopus, writing: "I feel blessed by the thought of sharing with an octopus what one website ( calls 'an infinite, eternal ocean of intelligent energy.' Who would know more about the infinite, eternal ocean than an octopus?" While humans may be more readily inclined to appreciate the intelligence of animals closer to us on the evolutionary chain, Berwald and Montgomery are passionate advocates for trying to stretch the limits of our understanding and our empathy in order to fully appreciate the "wonder of consciousness." --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

From My Shelf

Clarkson Potter Publishers: Exciting Games for Readers and Word Lovers

Quirk Books: Holiday Gift Guide

Board Book Duos

If one entertaining board book for young readers is great, wouldn't two be even better? Of course!

A Is for Alice and One White Rabbit (Macmillan, $8.99, ages 2-4) use Lewis Carroll's famous characters and retouched versions of John Tenniel's original illustrations to teach the basics of language and mathematics. A Is for Alice depicts Carroll's well-known characters alongside their corresponding letter and description; One White Rabbit is similar in composition, featuring the characters on the page facing their number. The lively illustrations will help young readers engage with the new skill sets.

Motor Mix: Flight and Motor Mix: Emergency (Chronicle, $9.99, ages 2-4) by Emily Snape and illustrated by Rilla Alexander feature vehicles and related text the reader can mix and match. Flight opens with a rocket ship on the left and a page split into three die-cut snippets of text on the right: "I am launching" "ROAR zoooom" "into outer space." Turn the top part of the page and the rocket ship has a new roof; the top text reads "I am drifting." The same conceit can be seen in Emergency with emergency vehicles. With so many vehicle and text combinations, young readers will be able to return to these titles over and over again.

For slightly older readers, consider the Life on Earth titles (Dinosaurs and Jungle, Wide Eyed Editions, $12.99, ages 5-9) by Heather Alexander, illustrated by Andrés Lozano. Both titles include 100 questions ("How many kinds of dinosaurs were there?" "What is the weather like in the jungle?") with their answers ("Scientists have discovered over 900" "A jungle is very hot and very wet."), often hidden under one of the 70 flaps to lift. Readers can dip in and out of these interactive and informative titles as they desire. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

From My Shelf

Clarkson Potter Publishers: Exciting Games for Readers and Word Lovers

Quirk Books: Holiday Gift Guide


One of my favorite books of the year was published a decade ago. It's not surprising that I missed it then; I was still in college, reading what was assigned and little else. So I can't tell you what the initial reception for Call Me by Your Name (Picador paperback, $17) was, just that André Aciman's seminal novel found me exactly when I needed it. Better late than never.

Luca Guadagnino's film adaptation hits U.S. theaters on November 24. I was lucky enough to catch a screening in June. It's an exquisite depiction of Aciman's moving Italian romance between 17-year-old Elio and 24-year-old visiting grad student Oliver. In lush northern meadows, sultry Roman alleys and Elio's elegant family villa, the two carefully tangle themselves into a splendid summer affair. It's not always obvious how either feels. Oliver can be brash and fulsome; Elio aloof and critical. Most notably he fixates on Oliver's brusque American excuse for a proper goodbye: Later!

I read the novel within a month of seeing the film, and will attest to the brilliance of both. Aciman crafts his narrative around recollection and nostalgia, a young man sifting through emotion and memories after the fact. One moment blurs into the next as Elio seeks to make sense of his feelings for Oliver and the fleeting nature of their relationship. Guadagnino pulls a much more linear story from this poignant tumult, residing fully in each smoldering moment. Timothée Chalamet embodies Elio's sophomoric ambivalence to such a marvelous degree it made me ache. Armie Hammer plays Oliver with a dashing vivacity that has ruined me for other men.

There's often debate as to whether one should read a book before seeing the movie. This time, it doesn't matter. But do both--whether you gulp them down in quick succession like I did, or you choose to save one for later. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

From My Shelf

Clarkson Potter Publishers: Exciting Games for Readers and Word Lovers

Quirk Books: Holiday Gift Guide

Christmas Romances to Melt the Heart

Christmas--the season known to foster peace, love and good tidings of joy--is on the way. Sometimes, however, the sparkly cheer of intended amorous bliss sours at the most wonderful time of the year. Several new novels--stand-alones and additional installments of well-established series--offer feel-good stories of romantic dilemmas.

Elin Hilderbrand has expanded her trilogy of Christmas novels into a quartet with Winter Solstice, which reunites the extended Quinn family of Nantucket. This year, everyone is finally celebrating together under the same roof of the family-owned and -operated Winter Street Inn. But can the welcoming familial nest help resolve festering romantic entanglements, amid long-held traditions, heartfelt reunions and farewells?

A host of clever complications ensues in Merry and Bright by Debbie Macomber, where a single, 20-something office temp reluctantly pursues a new relationship after her well-meaning, but meddling mother and special needs brother set up an online dating profile for her during the holidays.

Ugly Christmas trees upend a whole community in Christmas in Icicle Falls by Sheila Roberts, where one resident in particular, a successful writer, learns that everything and everyone has potential--including an old, overlooked friend who just might hold the key to unexpected romance.

Sugar Pine Trail by RaeAnne Thayne centers on a kindhearted, single, small-town librarian who longs to create a sense of family for herself during Christmas. Her plans go awry when she falls for her tenant--a handsome, sexy, commitment-phobic pilot who has a notorious reputation with women.

In Sugarplum Way by Debbie Mason, the future of true love is tested. A surprising, passionate kiss under the mistletoe at the town Christmas party turns the life of a romance writer--in search of her own happily-ever-after--completely upside down. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Storey Publishing: The Naturalist's Notebook: An Observation Guide and 5-Year Calendar-Journal for Tracking Changes in the Natural World Around You by Nathaniel T. Wheelwright and Bernd Heinrich

Book Candy

Workman Publishing: Enter to Win a Library of Our Bestselling Holiday Gifts

Harry Potter Thanksgiving Desserts

For Thanksgiving, Bustle featured "how to make 3 Harry Potter desserts, according to food YouTuber Binging With Babish."


For National Novel Writing Month, Quirk Books "searched out past NaNoWriMo Pep Talks and spoke with a couple authors to get their best advice for NaNoWriMo participants."


"My sammelband has frisket-bite: a short glossary of delightful library terms," as curated by Jer Thorp via a Twitter request.


"From Pepys's Diary to Ben Judah's impressionistic survey," the Guardian recommended "the 10 best nonfiction books about London."


"Found: A long-lost copy of John Donne's fart-filled satire," Mental Floss promised (threatened?).


Tomas Bordignon's hammock bookcase "is an armchair in solid ash wood.... The sitting is suspended, to emulate the thrill you get when you relax in a hammock," Bookshelf noted.

Avery Publishing Group: The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Carlton Abrams

The Importance of Dust Jackets

"Yes, dust jackets really are that important." Mental Floss revealed "13 secrets of rare book dealers."


Pop quiz: "Do you know what these weird English words actually mean?" Buzzfeed challenged.


"Every Oscar Wilde fan must visit these four places in Manhattan," Signature advised.


Inspired by the new film version of Murder on the Orient Express, illustrator Tom Gauld considered Poirot's "distinctive facial accoutrement" for the Guardian.


Bustle shared "the 15 best ways to organize your bookshelves, according to Reddit users."

Trellis Publishing: Gift from the Garden by Bernie DuBois

The Origins of @, #, ... Etc.

Mental Floss explored "the first known uses of six common typographic symbols."


"Where's your car at?" Buzzfeed asked: "How much of a grammar snob are you?"


Headline of the day (via Electric Lit): "I pretended to be Emily Dickinson on an online dating site." 


For fans of Sherlock Holmes, Quirk Books shared its choices for favorite Dr. Watsons in pop culture.


The Book Fairies, a worldwide group Emma Watson helped launch that leaves books as gifts in public places like buses and park benches, plans to drop copies of Seattle author Rachel Linden's Ascension of Larks in several West Coast cities, the Seattle Times reported.


"Reading in the bath just got way easier, thanks to these 11 genius products," Bustle promised.

Legend Press: Lose yourself in a legendary classic - Click to win a copy

National Novel Writing Month

"Gather your writer friends, stock up on snacks, and pull out your fluffiest pillow," Quirk Books suggested in sharing tips on how to host a writing party for National Novel Writing Month.


Pop quiz: "Do you know which book came out first?" Buzzfeed asked.


Poet Solli Raphael from Coffs Harbour in New South Wales "delivers an encore performance after becoming the youngest winner of the Australian Poetry Slam national final," the Guardian reported.


"Nobody knows how the story ends." Mental Floss shared "9 things you might not know about Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace."


A pet shelter in Orlando, Fla., "sorts their animals into Hogwarts houses to help them find forever homes," Bustle noted.

Prospect Park Books: Addicted to Americana: Celebrating Classic & Kitschy American Life & Style by Charles Phoenix

A Home for Book Lovers and Cats

"A spacious yet cozy home designed for book lovers and cats" was showcased by Flavorwire.


To mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's 95 Theses that started the Reformation, author Peter Stanford picked his "top 10 Protestants in fiction" for the Guardian.


"Here's the pitch publishers rejected when J.K. Rowling was trying to get Harry Potter published," Buzzfeed noted.


"There are so many book releases." Bustle shared "7 reasons Fall is the absolute best season for reading."


Mental Floss found "7 people who hated Pride and Prejudice."


Lucia Grompone's Bücherthron (book throne), three wooden pieces of furniture, "offers your favorite books an exceptional home," Bookshelf noted.

Sounds True: Practice You: A Journal by Elena Brower

Great Reads

Rediscover: Fahrenheit 451

"It was a pleasure to burn," begins Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury's inextinguishable work of dystopian fiction and a book that is still a pleasure to read. First published in 1953, this sci-fi classic stands among 1984 and Brave New World as foundational works not just of the genre, but of all 20th-century literature, among a pantheon of sociopolitically prophetic tales that have remained applicable across generations. In Bradbury's case, his story of a world where firemen burn books, all of which are banned, beckons questions of censorship, the power of reading and the impact of mass media on a democratic populace. If anything, these issues have grown only more contentious over the years.

As well as (ironically) being censored over the decades, Fahrenheit 451 has been adapted into multiple mediums: a 1966 film directed by François Truffaut, a '70s stage play by Bradbury, a 1982 BBC radio dramatization, a 2009 graphic novel illustrated by Tim Hamilton, and an upcoming HBO movie directed by Ramin Bahrani, starring Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon. In 2012, Simon & Schuster published a 60th anniversary edition of Fahrenheit 451 with an introduction by Neil Gaiman ($15.99, 9781451673319), which makes for safer reading than the 200 collector's editions released in 1953 that were bound in asbestos. --Tobias Mutter

Crown Publishing Group: Artemis by Andy Weir

Rediscover: To the Finland Station

Few events have shaped the modern world as extensively as the Russian revolutions of 1917. The first of those upheavals dethroned the tsar; the second overthrew the resulting provisional government and, after a long and bloody civil war, led to the formation of the Soviet Union. By 1917, a war-weary Russia and a weak tsar created prime conditions for political change of some kind, but the Bolsheviks seizing power by force was a chain of improbable events that writers have tried to untangle for the past 100 years.

The recent centennial of the October Revolution has seen a slew of new books on the subject, from Marxist speculative fiction author China Miéville's October: The Story of the Russian Revolution (Verso) to history professor Sean McMeekin's The Russian Revolution: A New History (Basic Books). These modern works add valuable new sources available since the fall of the Soviet Union to contemporary histories, such as Ten Days That Shook the World by John Reed, an American journalist's firsthand account published in 1919, and Leon Trotsky's three-volume History of the Russian Revolution, published in the early 1930s. To the Finland Station: A Study in the Writing and Acting of History by Edmund Wilson (1940) traces the October Revolution back from Lenin's catalytic arrival at Petrograd's Finland Station in 1917 through Marx and the dawn of socialism around the French Revolution. It was last published in 2012 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux ($18, 9780374533458). --Tobias Mutter

Portable Press: Uncle John's Old Faithful 30th Anniversary by Bathroom Readers' Institute

Rediscover: Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther

October 31 marked 500 years since German priest Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of Wittenberg's All Saints' Church, sparking a schism that upended centuries of Roman Catholic hegemony in European religious life. What began as a theological argument against church indulgences, in which monetary donations could take the place of actual repentance, escalated into the Protestant Reformation. The many social and political legacies of that religious movement continue to shape the modern world.

Attempts to understand the man behind this seminal act of doctrinal defiance have been ongoing since Luther's death in 1546. The 500th anniversary of his revolutionary Theses has begotten a host of new biographies, notably Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet by Lyndal Roper (Random House) and Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World by Eric Metaxas (Viking). Roland H. Bainton (1894–1984), a professor at Yale Divinity School and specialist in Reformation history, wrote a classic work on Luther's life in 1950. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther has been in print ever since, and was last reissued in 2013 by Abingdon Press ($19.99, 9781426754432). --Tobias Mutter

Shelf Awareness Sign-up Giveaway: The Land Beyond by Leon McCarron

The Writer's Life

Nonfiction for Children and Teens: Indigenous Peoples

The following four books highlight historical and contemporary Indigenous figures, shining a light on the heroic actions and important voices of Indigenous peoples today and throughout history. They are delicate and in-depth discussions of a fraught past and present, expressions of individuality and journeys toward reconciliation with the nations of North America.

An illustrated picture book biography for middle grade readers, Red Cloud: A Lakota Story of War and Surrender (Abrams, $19.95) by S.D. Nelson tells the story of Lakota leader Red Cloud, Makhpiya-luta, through a fictionalized first-person account: "My people were battle-hardened warriors. We had to be in order to survive in a world of conflict.... We seven tribes of Lakota shared the same language and customs. But we were not united under one chief or leader." The Lakota people had struggled to gain and keep land for themselves, finally establishing a homeland in the Black Hills. But then, "strange people with pale skin came up the rivers" into their country and built a trading post right at its heart. The Lakota "refused to be pushed aside by the intruders."

Nelson's Chief Red Cloud says, "as the years passed, I honed my fighting instincts and leadership skills. Other Lakota were just as brave in battle, but my decisions often resulted in victory." With direct, factual text and pull-quotes, illustrations and black-and-white photographs interspersed throughout, the plight of the Lakota people and their battles to keep their home and sovereignty is depicted through the fictionalized narrative (and actual biography) of Chief Red Cloud. Beautifully illustrated and impeccably researched, Nelson's third in his picture book biography series of Indigenous leaders is engaging and enlightening.

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women, edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale (Annick Press, $19.95) is an anthology for middle grade and young adult readers that contains poetry, statements of personal experience and art all created by Indigenous women. Lisa Charleyboy (Tsilhqot'in, Tsi Del Del First Nation) gives shape to her desire to create and edit this work in her foreword: "I hadn't yet realized that the key to finding my direction was directly tied to finding my place--and pride--as an Indigenous woman.... This book, co-edited with my longtime peer and mentor Mary Beth Leatherdale, gave me the space to not only write a love letter to all young Indigenous women trying to find their way, but also to help dispel those stereotypes so we can collectively move forward to a brighter future for all."

#NotYourPrincess divides the works in it into four headings: "the ties that bind us," "it could have been me," "I am not your princess" and "pathfinders," giving shape and form to the bold and disparate pieces. Every work of art--whether written, illustrated or photographed--is displayed with the title and the author's name and tribal affiliation. Quotes from leading Indigenous women are sprinkled throughout, as each portrait, illustration, comic, poem or personal narrative builds, creating a beautiful--and holistic--look at Indigenous women.

In Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation (Orca, $29.95), Monique Gray Smith speaks to elementary and middle grade readers about Canada's long history with Indigenous peoples. "In this book," she begins, "we are embarking on a journey of reconciliation. This isn't a read-and-do-nothing kind of book. It is an active exploration of Canada's collective history, our present and our future. It's about how we grow as individuals, families, communities and as a country." While specific to Canada, the point of this work--to open dialogue--travels across borders.

Beginning with the "Seven Sacred Teachings" of honesty, respect, love, courage/bravery, truth, humility and wisdom, Smith shares her "own understanding of a complex and painful history." Traveling back to 1763 and the British, Smith takes the reader through the complex history of Indigenous peoples in Canada, going into detail to explain the history of treaties, the Indian Act, the Department of Indian Affairs, the Sixties Scoop ("a period in the 1960s when Indigenous children were removed from their families by child-welfare authorities who deemed the children's parents unfit to raise them"), residential schools and more. With a related website and interactive sections throughout, Speaking Our Truth lays the foundations for further discussion and encourages readers to take an emotional and intellectual journey.

The creation of Andrea Page's Sioux Code Talkers of World War II (Pelican, $14.95) began with her family receiving a newspaper article accompanied by a "World War II-era photo" depicting her "mother's uncle John Bear King and five other men who, according to the article, served in the First Cavalry Division." Reporter Avis Little Eagle had interviewed the last surviving man in the picture, Philip "Stoney" LeBlanc, and "the veteran revealed a secret he had been holding on to for fifty years: those six men and one other who was missing from the photo were Indian Code Talkers." Page and her mother didn't know at the time what code talking was, so Page delved into the history of both the code and her family.

Using facts, firsthand accounts and the National Archive's Incoming and Outgoing Messages file, Page re-creates (with some liberties) the experiences of the Sioux Code Talkers of World War II. It is a vivid history with black-and-white photographs and coded messages sprinkled throughout that teaches about and pays homage to the incredible bravery and intellect of the Indigenous people who helped fight for the United States. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Bunk: The American Addiction

photo: Melanie Dunea

Kevin Young is director of the New York Public Library's Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture and the new poetry editor at the New Yorker. He's published nine books of poetry, edited eight others, and written The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness (Graywolf Press), a survey of African American culture that illustrates its tradition of storytelling, improvising and "jazzing." Young is a very busy man; fortunately, not too busy to research and write an outstanding history of American hoaxing: Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News (Graywolf Press, $30). Marlon James calls it a book "we greatly need, disguised as [a book] we merely want."

Young begins Bunk with what he calls "The Age of Imposture," and ends with our current "Age of Euphemism." While he does touch on non-American hoaxing--the Cottingley fairies, for instance--his contention (amply proven) is that the hoax is "an oddly American phenomenon," one way that 19th-century America "sought to establish its bona fides after the fact" by creating tall stories and foundation myths. We are historically programmed for hoaxing, he argues, even more so today; both our doubt and our need for certainty have led to more hoaxes, not fewer.

The Age of Imposture features, appropriately, P.T. Barnum, and what Barnum called "humbug." His audience wanted a show, and was willing to be fooled as it viewed his curiosities. The dark side to Barnum and other historical hoaxes is the extent to which they relied on the exotic and the dark-skinned, and the frissons of fear this "other" produced. Barnum's popularity coincided with the rise of eugenics and racialism, and pseudo-sciences like phrenology, where "objective investigators constantly rediscovered that Negroes, Indians, and other dark races (some of them European, mind you) were indeed still inferior." Barnum stoked the idea of American exceptionalism and white superiority.

Unsurprisingly, many hoaxes employ African Americans--crack babies, inner cities, welfare queens, the war on drugs. Because of this, Young continues, we are primed to believe almost anything about African Americans, especially if it is clothed in respectable writing. Hoaxes "confirm what we suspect... guns are always smoking, buoying up our worst suspicions without evidence or eyewitness."

Fake memoirs, forgeries and plagiarism are all facets of hoaxing. James Frey, with his false memoir A Million Little Pieces, is the perfect example of Young's observation that "Almost all hoaxers, once discovered, go on to write a novel--when it turns out they were writing a novel all along." We lose something with false memoirs--Mary Karr points out that the writers are cheating themselves "out of their real stories." Not to mention cheating readers out of what could be a story all the more powerful for being real and accessible.

We are now in the Age of Euphemism. Today's hoaxes rely on our cultural amnesia, which enables "alternate facts" and "fake news." The Barnum in the Age of Euphemism is Donald Trump. "The worst of it is that Trump too exploits deep-seated social divisions, ones that, despairingly, echo the very same ones of race and difference on which the history of the hoax has long relied," Young writes. "Little has changed [since Barnum]: race and ruin, devolution and descent, dangerous city life and a noble, now-gone American past become fodder for and are fed by the huckster."

Kevin Young has written a masterful (and massive) book. At 480 pages, it's both scholarly and accessible, angry and witty--absolutely compelling reading, including his 50-plus pages of notes. His sense of humor rarely deserts him: quoting a critic about a poet's worldly advantages, Young writes, "Worldly advantages? He does realize that this is poetry, right?" His precise prose reminds the reader that he is a poet. Young had hoped, when he began, that Bunk would have a happy ending, that we might stop collaborating with the hoax. But our history and our present belie that--"There is of course no larger mass hysteria in American history than the epidemic of racism." He asks, what if truth is a skill, a muscle to be exercised--one that has grown weak? "How might we rebuild it, going from chronic to bionic?" That is a question we all have to answer, and now. --Marilyn Dahl

Reading with... Sophfronia Scott

photo: Rob Berkley

Sophfronia Scott holds a BA in English from Harvard and an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Sandy Hook, Conn. Her latest novel is Unforgivable Love: A Retelling of Dangerous Liaisons, set in 1940s Harlem (Morrow, September 26, 2017).

On your nightstand now:

The Velveteen Daughter by Laurel Davis Huber. I have a fascination with artists and this book is a novelization of the tumultuous life of Pamela Bianco, a child prodigy artist whose mother, Margery Williams Bianco, wrote the famous children's book The Velveteen Rabbit. It's about madness and genius, and the multiple highs and lows that encompass a person touched with both.

The Girl of the Lake by Bill Roorbach. Roorbach is a master storyteller so I was excited to get my hands on his latest collection of short fiction. I'm savoring these stories and his engaging characters.

Olio by Tyehimba Jess. Jess's poetry is ambitious, stunning. The whole book is a fierce work of art and each turn of the page is an adventure.

The Good Divide by Kali VanBaale. This down-to-earth novel is set in the 1960s, on a Wisconsin dairy farm. You've got a small town community, family secrets and an unresolved death of a young woman. I'll finish it soon because the prose is beautiful and swift, making it hard to put down.

Selected Poems by Adonis. A friend recently turned me on to this celebrated Arabic poet who began publishing work in the 1950s. The poems in the book span his entire career, and I'm intrigued to follow the growth of his voice and observant critique of society.
Favorite book when you were a child:

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Of course I had a mad crush on Dickon! And I still have that renewed garden in my head. I remember drawing pictures of it--flowers upon flowers--and hoping someday I'd have such a garden.

Your top five authors:

Toni Morrison: Her voice is like a song constantly in my ear, reminding me what beautiful writing sounds like, and what's possible with the English language.

J.K. Rowling: In scope, vision and edge-of-your-seat storytelling, the Harry Potter series is a major accomplishment.

Zora Neale Hurston: In life and on the page this woman was bold and beautiful.

Charles Baxter: His fiction and nonfiction are both powerful and risky. His work pushes me to be a better writer.

August Wilson: His 10-play cycle changed the face of American theater. I'm inspired by the ambition it took to create such amazing work.

Book you've faked reading:

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I know I've got to read more Russian literature but it's always slipping down my to-read list.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. Whenever anyone asks me to recommend something, without hesitation I start talking about this book. I loved this perfect, heartbreaking story of two lonely people developing an endearing late-in-life friendship and love. The fact that the author was terminally ill and completed the book right before his death makes reading it all the more poignant.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Open by Andre Agassi. I'd always been curious about the flashy tennis player but I bought his autobiography solely because of his strong, clear-eyed gaze staring out from the book's cover. Something told me that gaze meant he wasn't going to pull any punches, that he had some real things to say about his life. The book didn't disappoint me. He was truly that open.

Book you hid from your parents:

A Stranger in the Mirror by Sidney Sheldon. My father never learned how to read, and when I got older, my mother didn't pay attention to what I brought home from the library, so I never really had to hide books from my parents. But if I had to hide one, this would have been it. It marked my "teenage girl reading about sex" stage.

Book that changed your life:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. I was about 13 when I read this book and it opened the world to me because Jane taught me how to think. She was always cognizant of her situation, always considering what she wanted her life to be and how to move toward what she wanted. I realized I could have agency in my life in the same way, and I found that so empowering.

Favorite line from a book:

"If I could show them how much I love them and how much their love means to me, they could not hear it with human ears or see it with their eyes, but I stand in the middle of their suffering anyway and they do not know that I am here." --The Mover of Bones by Robert Vivian.

Five years ago I was in my kitchen making muffins listening to a recording of the author reading this excerpt from his novel. It represents the voice of a missing young woman speaking from beyond the grave. It was so beautiful it literally brought me to my knees in tears.

Five books you'll never part with:

When I was about 11, a fire destroyed part of my family's home. My father, who was very superstitious, said we couldn't keep anything that had been burned even if it seemed salvageable. It was bad luck. However I snuck into the damaged area and rescued the six books I bought at school from the Scholastic Books order form. I'd saved up to get these books, the first I'd ever owned, and I refused to throw them away. They sit on my shelves to this day, their pages crumbling, two of them with their covers burned off. They are:

The Bionic Woman: Welcome Home Jaime by Eileen Lottman. This is a novelization of an early episode of the television show. I loved Lindsay Wagner as the Bionic Woman--I had the doll and her red bag of accessories. The doll didn't survive the fire. The book did.

Jenny by Gene Inyart. Girl acquires a baby brother (bad) and then a puppy (good!).

Lisa, Bright and Dark by John Neufeld. The noted novel about a teen with mental health issues.

A Smart Kid Like You by Stella Pevsner. A girl dealing with her parents' divorce.

Freckled and Fourteen by Viola Rowe. Teen bewails her red hair and freckles. Since I have red hair and freckles, I felt this book was required reading.

My Sister Mike by Amelia Elizabeth Walden. Tomboy Mike is a talented basketball player whose prettier sister gives her a makeover so she can turn the tables on a guy from the boys' team, who dates Mike on a bet.

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

We Danced in Bloomsbury Square by Jean Estoril. Debbie Darke narrates the story of her and her fraternal twin, Doria, getting accepted to attend a prestigious ballet school in London. Long before Harry Potter existed, this book showed me what it was like to get singled out for your abilities and sent away to school in an exciting new landscape. Debbie worried if they didn't get into the school, their Liverpool life would be "dust and ashes." I grew up in a rust belt steel town so I could totally relate. When I first read this book, I envisioned myself wearing the same school uniforms and walking through London parks with the Darke twins and their classmates. I wish I could read this book for the first time again, so I could feel the hope of those daydreams once more.

The most beautiful book you own:

Emily Dickinson: Gorgeous Nothings, edited by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin. This big white coffee-table book catalogues the "envelope poems" of Dickinson--work she wrote on scraps of paper. I love that the images of the delicate envelopes are so sharp and clear you can see every wrinkle and fold and you can almost feel them in your hands. It's simply thrilling.

Megan Hunter: A Modern Fable

photo: Alexander James

Megan Hunter was born in Manchester, England, in 1984, and now lives in Cambridge with her young family. She has a B.A. in English Literature from Sussex University, and an M.Phil. in English Literature: Criticism and Culture from Jesus College, Cambridge. Her poetry has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, and her short story "Selfing" was a finalist for the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award. Our review of her first novel, The End We Start From (Grove Press), is below.

Have you read much science (or speculative) fiction? Do you admire any SF writers in particular?

I often think that I haven't read much SF--I've not read Ursula Le Guin's work, for example, although I'd like to. But then I think of books I love such as The Handmaid's Tale, The Road, How I Live Now, Northern Lights, and of the loves of my childhood--Narnia featured heavily there, as did Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth. I always remember that sense of the imaginative leap in those books--my favourite Narnia book was The Magician's Nephew, in which they travel to many different worlds and dimensions.

The language in this book is beautiful, but the characters themselves are nameless (except for the baby). They are also speechless; there is no directly reported dialogue. What led you to make these choices?

They didn't really feel like choices at the time, more like instinctive moves dictated by what seemed to be the demands of the form and voice of the book. Looking back, I think that the namelessness of the characters fits with the dual sense of the book as modern fable or parable, and as an intimate piece of writing to the self, as in a diary or notebook. Names wouldn't be needed or necessarily appropriate in either of these contexts. This way of looking at the book also works for dialogue--in a notebook (or fairy tale/parable) there wouldn't usually be large amounts of dialogue. The narrator is very much in her own head, and so speech with others is peripheral to her experience. She also has a wordless relationship with her baby for much of the book, and becomes very much rooted in her potent physical experiences. Much of the book consists, as I see it, of the narrator giving voice to wordless experience--and also leaving that experience to speak of itself, in the space and silence that surrounds each section.

Did you do any reading to support your writing, for research, form, musicality?

In terms of form, I was influenced by fragmentary works by writers including Anne Carson, Jenny Offill, Maggie Nelson and David Markson. These writers showed me that there was a way of writing in which I wouldn't feel that poetry and prose fiction were necessarily contrasting forms pulling in different directions--that I could bring my poet self together with my novel/fiction self. And in terms of musicality, my reading of all kinds of poetry was my main guide there. If a sentence didn't stand strongly enough in its own right, it was deleted, or at least edited heavily. In this way my process was similar to my experience of writing poetry--I was looking for a sense of the unexpected, for a certain playfulness with language.

How long did it take you to write this? How would you describe yourself as a self-editor?

The first draft came quite quickly--in around six months. I was editing as I went along, so there was minimal editing at first, and then a longer process with my agent and then my editors in the U.K. and the U.S.--probably around eight months altogether, through all the different stages. As a self-editor, at least in this book, I worked line by line, word by word, often playing with an individual sentence for days at a time. When I worked with editors, it was more looking at overall questions of character, plot, etc. And of adding things--I was fairly cautious at this point, reluctant to add too much to a text that seemed to have been formed in a single creative impulse/trance. Of course, it wasn't quite like that, and editing is always highly necessary. There were also some slightly comic episodes towards the end of the process involving my editor and I discussing single commas for substantial amounts of time!

What books mean the most to you?

Many are books I read as a teenager/young adult--often as an undergraduate. These include Frank O'Hara's poetry, Virginia Woolf (especially The Waves and Mrs. Dalloway), Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea, Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time, Zora Neale Hurson's Their Eyes Were Watching God, Angela Carter's Bloody Chamber and Ernest Bloch's The Principle of Hope. More recently, I have fallen head over heels with Birds of America and Who Will Run the Frog Hospital by Lorrie Moore--she blows me away with her humour and sensitivity. I also recently re-read The Bell Jar--it was even better than I remembered.

The baby and new mother in this book ring very true to life. New parenthood can be difficult to write about, since the exhaustion and distraction at the time can blur your memory. Did you take notes on your children and your own state of mind in their first months?

I've always written a journal/notebook, and I did jot down a few things when my children were babies, but I wasn't a particularly prolific recorder of the experience (compared to some people I know). But when my first child was a baby I did write down one line that is in the book word for word: "It seems that he is feeding me, filling me with a steady orange light." Also, just before I started writing the book we had a new baby in our extended family, and I think the experience of holding him worked as a kind of "madeleine" moment, taking me back to my own experiences six or seven years previously.

What did you learn from writing this book?

I learnt that I could write in a way that felt simultaneously closer and further from myself than anything I'd managed before. My mentor said, "It's like you've suddenly taken off," and it did feel like that. --Sara Catterall

Skottie Young: Reflecting on Artistic Freedom

Skottie Young is a comic book artist and writer who has worked with Neil Gaiman to illustrate several novels. Young collaborated with Eric Shanower to adapt the Wizard of Oz series into graphic novel format and drew Spider-Man, Human Torch and The New X-Men for Marvel Comics. He is currently writing and illustrating his own series, I Hate Fairyland, for Image Comics. Young lives in Illinois with his wife, two sons and two dogs.

You've adapted fairytale-themed comics with Neil Gaiman (Fortunately, the Milk) and with Eric Shanower (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz series). What drew you to the genre?

I grew up watching Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal and reading The Neverending Story and the Oz books. Then, somewhere along the way, Marvel approached me and said, "Hey, we thought it would be cool to adapt the Wizard of Oz novels." I started there, and it just never stopped.

Let's talk about your artistic approaches. How does your process differ when adapting scripts for Neil Gaiman and Eric Shanower from working on your own material?

Well, working with Neil was really interesting because that was him handing over the manuscript, and me really just going through it with a highlighter and finding all the things I wanted to draw in that book. He was an amazing collaborator. When I'd show him drawings, he'd say, "Brilliant!" There was never any "No, not that way" or "No, not this way." It was my interpretation, and he loved it. It was simple.

The I Hate Fairyland comics are my dream come true. It's me playing pretend on paper with no one else's input, and it doesn't get better than that.

Writer and illustrator Molly Ostertag has said that once she told her own stories, there was no going back to doing art for other writers.

Oh yes, for sure. Illustrating a novel is a little different because there is less drawing there and, again, it really depends. Neil is one of my favorite authors, so that's a whole other ball game than spending three or four years working with another writer after you've written your own stuff in comics. I can't go back now that I've done it all. I write and I draw these stories of mine, and that's what I'm going to do forever.

Even if Neil comes knocking on your door?

Not for a comic. It takes a long time to produce comics, so you really need it to be exactly what you intended. The best way for that to happen is for me to write it.

And how does the process on I Hate Fairyland differ from the superhero comics you've done?

It's freedom because it's mine. In a company like Image there is no oversight, there are no rules, and you can do whatever you want. That's the biggest difference. At Marvel, there's a brand they need to protect. It's on kids' shoes, backpacks, it's in movie theaters. That's a business all unto itself. When you decide to play a part in that, you have to respect it. I liken it to being able to take a Jeep onto an open field and drive however you like. Working on superheroes is like going out on a road with orange traffic cones. You're driving the car, and you're in control to a certain degree, but you're still being told where to go and where not to go. It's a difference in freedom, really.

How do you approach a typical issue of Fairyland?

The theme of the issue occurs to me first. When I finally get that, I usually sit in a room and think, "Oh, I want to do a samurai issue! How would I do that? What's that story? What kind of land would she go into? Oh, mushrooms have a samurai-esque feel, like a hat, so I'll start playing around with that." Then I write an initial script. Once I have a general concept, I write a full script for myself. That way I can get the jokes and the timing right, understand the pacing and dive into the drawing. That's where I spend the bulk of the time.

Would you let your kids read Fairyland?

My youngest is almost two and my oldest will be eight, so probably not yet, but soonish. It's definitely an ornery teen book.

Do you have any other projects in the hopper?

There is one other book that I've been chipping away at, but I can't say too much yet. I operate under this theme that if you tell your stories before you write them, your brain thinks you've told it and so your urgency to tell it is gone. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Book Review


The Kites

by Romain Gary, trans. by Miranda Richmond Mouillot

First published in 1980, The Kites is the brilliant final novel from Romain Gary (The Life Before Us), a film director and decorated French aviator in World War II. He was also a popular, prolific author who won the Prix Goncourt in 1956 and 1975.

Ludo, the orphaned narrator and protagonist, lives with his pacifist postmaster uncle in small-town Normandy, France. His uncle is a kite artist who builds fantastical and political figures. Ludo suffers from his family's "excess of memory"; for him, the past is as vivid as the present. As a boy, Ludo meets Lila, an aristocratic Polish girl, and promptly falls in love with her for life. His rivals are her Polish cousin, a German aristocrat and an Italian peasant and pianist; Lila calls them her "four horsemen of the anti-Apocalypse." As his idyllic childhood recedes, Lila vanishes, and the Nazis invade Poland and then France, Ludo and other characters hold firm to their various fantasies and ideals. "You have to watch out for an excess of lucidity and good sense: life has lost some of the prettiest feathers in its cap to them."

Gary pulls off a delicate balancing act in this stubborn comedy of darkest Europe. His humor and optimism are counterweighted by the realities of wartime and by his assertions that inhumanity is all too human. This is a very French novel with international resonance, asserting the persistence of joy in life without letting anyone off the hook for the horrors. --Sara Catterall

Discover: Humor and beauty relieve the darkness in this epic novel of World War II by a beloved French author.

New Directions, $27.95, hardcover, 384p., 9780811226547

As Lie Is to Grin

by Simeon Marsalis

As Lie Is to Grin, Simeon Marsalis's debut novel, is imbued with a constant sense of searching. David, an incoming freshman at the University of Vermont, struggles to know where he fits as a black man in the very white student body of his school. He reads articles, sifts through the archive of the student paper, searches online, looks up histories of buildings, recalls his own history, reads and re-reads American literature.

As this search unfolds, first slowly and then ferociously, David starts to unravel. He mourns the loss of his high school girlfriend, who left him because he lied about his past. He laments his unfinished, semi-autobiographical novel, excerpts of which are scattered throughout Marsalis's novel. He sees connections between things that are not connected, and starts to imagine the presence of a man in a gray suit who is not real.

This unraveling forms the crux of Marsalis's story, as David attempts to find the answer to unstated questions: What am I? Where do I belong? And how does our history explain that place?

Ultimately, As Lie Is to Grin is a story about stories: those we tell about ourselves (be they true or false), those we tell to ourselves, the ones history records (and those it chooses not to record) and the ones we read to understand ourselves. Poetic in its own way and thought provoking to its core, this slim novel from a young author marks the start of a promising career. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A debut novelist explores race, stories and identity in this slim but compelling account of a student's first year at the University of Vermont.

Catapult, $16.95, paperback, 160p., 9781936787593

Where the Sun Shines Out

by Kevin Catalano

Kevin Catalano's Where the Sun Shines Out leaves the gate with a gut-clenching abduction and continues unapologetically through 10 interrelated stories that strengthen his grip on the reader, despite a straightforward, hard-edged approach to tragedy. When an author delves this deeply into soul-grinding subjects like kidnapping, abuse and self-destruction, character and story are more closely scrutinized to determine if the payoff is worth the pain. 

In 1992, the Fleming brothers disappear from the annual Wizard of Oz celebration in Chittenango, N.Y. Only 10-year-old Dean returns alive. Catalano dives into an ocean of guilt and grief, and navigates the waves that flow over the small, blue-collar town for more than two decades.

The sole character to appear in each piece, Dean is the fraying thread that unfurls from one end to the other, morphing into an erratic menace who finds a small measure of peace in heroin and violence. Dean's family and fellow citizens are no less exquisitely drawn, and it is impossible to set them aside although they seem anchored in darkness.

Catalano's writing is powerfully magnetic and his attention to detail (sounds, scents--"the house smelled like the bottom of a shoveled hole"--and incremental measures of forgiveness and redemption) is important ballast since he wields his words like weapons. The sun sometimes shines, but black ice lies beneath and Catalano's prose is honed for bone-deep cuts. In the end, there is no doubt this raw and unsettling debut is worth every wound. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: The inhabitants of a small, working-class town are forever changed by the abduction of two young boys, and one's return.

Skyhorse, $24.99, hardcover, 304p., 9781510721999

The Floating World

by C. Morgan Babst

Hurricane Katrina serves as a backdrop for the separation and upheaval affecting each member of the Boisdoré family. Tess and Joe's marriage, already frayed from the burden of long-buried and unspoken economic class and racial differences, becomes more tenuous after the couple evacuates New Orleans without their daughter Cora, who has gone missing. Suspecting that Cora may have been the victim of--or participated in--a crime during the storm, Tess and Joe's guilt and anger with each other intensifies. Meanwhile, the vagaries of dementia cause Joe's father, Vincent, to disappear frequently from his remote cabin, and another daughter, Del, returns from New York to help find Cora while attempting to escape her own mistakes.

The Floating World begins on the 47th day after Hurricane Katrina's landfall and is told in flashbacks from the perspective of each family member to provide some--but not all--answers surrounding the reasons for Cora's disappearance. With a gripping yet deliberate narrative infused with vivid descriptions, C. Morgan Babst takes her time with this story, allowing it to build slowly and methodically with an appropriate weight, enhancing the confusion wrought by the storm. In contrast, Cora's point of view significantly intensifies the pace, lending an urgency to the novel and making her narrative feel almost cyclonic.

A native of New Orleans who evacuated one day before Hurricane Katrina, Babst has an intimate understanding and knowledge of the region's people and rich culture, its topography and the complex forces of race and class. The result is a timely debut about the power of nature and its omnipresent potential for destruction in every aspect of our lives. --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at

Discover: In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a dysfunctional family copes with the destruction of their home and a daughter's mysterious disappearance.

Algonquin, $26.95, hardcover, 384p., 9781616205287

Queen of Spades

by Michael Shou-Yung Shum

Michael Shou-Yung Shum's modern interpretation of Alexander Pushkin's short story "The Queen of Spades" is a meticulously crafted tale that elevates the art of gambling to the metaphysical.
Shum follows the lives of one woman and three men who work at the Royal Casino: Arturo Chan, a new arrival in town who successfully auditions and earns a position as a poker dealer; Stephen Mannheim, the pit boss diagnosed with terminal dementia who hires Chan; Sam Chimsky, high-limit salon dealer with a large gambling debt to a local bookie; and Chimsky's ex-wife, Barbara, a former addict trying to maintain sobriety through a 12-step program even as Chimsky tests her willpower. The temptress whose path crosses with the four is the mysterious Countess, a wealthy gambler of the Royal whose mathematical precision at faro draws the four together. Her nightly presence at the high-limits salon becomes Chan's single-minded obsession and Chimsky's downfall.

Shum devised the plot based on his own experiences as a dealer and on the stories told to him by a fellow pit dealer, who in 1984 dealt one of the most impressive hands of faro in the 20th century. Shum writes with precision, but it is his power of observation that transforms Queen of Spades into a deeper rumination on avarice, willpower and the uncomfortable alliances forged at the gambling table. Games of chance become the canvas on which Shum examines the internal battle among personal motivation, personal redemption and despair.

Queen of Spades is an intelligent and engrossing debut. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: A card game turns into an entertaining high-stakes battle of mathematical probability between dealers and players.

Forest Avenue Press, $15.95, paperback, 256p., 9781942436317


by Greg Kincaid

Over the course of three novels, Greg Kincaid has traced the lives of the McCray family of Crossing Trails, Kan. Beginning with A Dog Named Christmas, Kincaid has focused on the evolution of developmentally disabled Todd McCray. Since childhood, Todd has been a "homing beacon for injured animals." In Noelle, fourth in the series, he is now an adult, working in the local animal shelter training service dogs and successfully pairing them with people. When a puppy with a badly damaged eye arrives at the shelter, Todd instantly takes to the lovable yet willful mixed-breed that, he learns, is a training nightmare. He names the rebellious dog Elle, and her exasperating flair for trouble makes the admonition "No Elle! No Elle!" a regular and fitting refrain for the Christmas season.

The dog poses one of several challenges facing Kincaid's characters. Todd's mother fills in for a local, ailing Santa Claus, but her self-invented role as Mrs. Anna Claus, who teaches children about giving rather than receiving, is met with reluctance. Todd and his girlfriend, who has a physical disability, face uncertainty about their future. And the effects of familial alcoholism beleaguer a young couple and their children. Elle becomes an unexpected force that unites those with personal hardships.

Kincaid's latest deals with contemporary issues and is rendered in a wholesome, heartwarming style that will make readers root for underdogs--in every sense of the word. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A lovable yet rebellious rescue dog changes the lives of many in a rural Midwestern town during the Christmas season.

Convergent Books, $16.99, hardcover, 288p., 9781524761196

Uncertain Glory

by Joan Sales, trans. by Peter Bush

Joan Sales was a Catalan writer and publisher who fought with the anarchists and communists in the Spanish Civil War before going into exile from the Franco regime. His lyrical and painfully intimate war novel, Uncertain Glory, was first published in 1956. This translation by Peter Bush brings to the English-speaking world a rare anti-war epic, one that resists lionizing its beleaguered heroes, furthermore undermining and unraveling what they believe in. The novel is narrated in turn by Lieutenant Lluís, posted to the Aragonese front; his estranged lover, Trini, left in Barcelona; and the aspiring priest Cruells, who tries to reconcile his spiritual beliefs while witnessing the defeat of anti-Fascist forces. Romantic intrigue transpires as Lluís is drawn to a mysterious widow who enlists his help in securing her estate. Trini learns of the relationship and visits the warfront herself.

Much of this romantic conflict is revealed in letters the characters write to each other. Central to the plot is an old family friend and eccentric visionary named Juli Soleràs, to whom Trini pens her concerns. Soleràs gives the novel intellectual depth in the form of ironic, philosophizing dialogues. He dissects and questions the motives of his friends and the various ideologies in conflict. "And, believe me, don't ever trust people who don't have imagination," he says in a sharp critique of Marxists. "They are terrifying!" Despite its pessimistic ethos, the novel contains quiet, impressionistic reflections that serve as a bittersweet salve to the human atrocities. With "infinite sensitivity," Lluís describes the evanescence of nature and experience: "It was dusk and the music seemed to meld into the glow, the scents and the exquisite dying fall of twilight."

Offering more than mere disillusionment, Uncertain Glory deconstructs warmongering idealism and exposes the many tragic ways humans pit themselves against each other. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: Catalan writer Joan Sales captures the complexities of the Spanish Civil War in a classic novel.

NYRB Classics, $18.95, paperback, 464p., 9781681371801

Seven Days of Us

by Francesca Hornak

British journalist Francesca Hornak makes her fiction debut with Seven Days of Us, a self-assured dramedy. The wealthy Birches of London--Andrew, Emma and their two grown daughters, Olivia and Phoebe--haven't shared the holidays under the same roof in years, but as Christmas 2016 approaches, they prepare to spend an entire week locked up together in the family home. Olivia, freshly back from a stint treating the deadly Haag virus epidemic in Liberia, must remain quarantined for a week after returning to the U.K., and so must anyone who comes in contact with her.

None of the Birches feels thrilled by the prospect of the coming week. Emma is overjoyed to have her children home, but she recently received a frightening diagnosis of the lump under her arm and is afraid to tell anyone, even Andrew. Now a successful restaurant reviewer, Andrew got his start in journalism covering the Lebanese civil war, and had a brief fling in Beirut. Now, this 36-year-old mistake has come back to haunt him in the form of Jesse, the son he's recently learned he has. Phoebe says yes to her boyfriend's proposal and starts planning her dream wedding, doggedly ignoring her own lack of enthusiasm for the groom. As the family limps through the holidays, they must decide whether to let their secrets tear them apart or bring them, finally, back together.

Hornak spends time looking through each character's eyes, and readers' sympathies will shift with each change in point of view. The richly defined inner lives of the Birches propel the story as they try to feel their way through their individual crises. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: When a well-to-do British family of four is quarantined over Christmas, their secrets and lies begin to unravel.

Berkley, $26, hardcover, 368p., 9780451488756


by Joe Ide

Isaiah "IQ" Quintabe, the Sherlock-inspired protagonist from Joe Ide's debut, IQ, is still solving crimes in East Long Beach, Calif., when he happens upon the car responsible for the hit-and-run death of his brother 10 years earlier. The junkyard discovery reignites IQ's resolve to find Marcus's killer. Even though Isaiah moved on with his life and found a role in his community, the loss of his only family haunts him. Meanwhile, Sarita, Marcus's ex-girlfriend, contacts IQ about a job. Isaiah hasn't spoken to her in nearly a decade, but he's secretly been in love with Sarita since she dated his brother; he will do anything to prove his worth to her. Sarita's half-sister, Janine, owes overwhelming debts in Las Vegas and is in serious trouble. The risks are high on this case, and a wrong move could result in prosecution for both Sarita and Isaiah. But Isaiah is determined to come through for the woman he loves, so he calls on his former partner, Dodson, and they head to Sin City.

As the incredibly smart but socially challenged IQ works on the cases, Ide more deeply crafts his dynamic character and the conflicts that plague him. Like Ide's first novel, Righteous is dark, smart and layered. It also displays brilliant humor, especially through Dodson, who is never short on a colorful exchange packed with wit and sarcasm. With only two books under his belt, Ide has proven he's first-rate when it comes to writing great crime novels. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: IQ, the smart and socially awkward PI, still searching for his brother's murderer, heads to Las Vegas on a case for his brother's ex-girlfriend.

Mulholland Books, $26, hardcover, 336p., 9780316267779


by Annie England Noblin

Who better to welcome the holidays than a so-homely-he's-cute pug sporting a Santa hat and promising baked goods? In her third novel, Pupcakes, Annie England Noblin (Sit! Stay! Speak!) delivers a romance that's sweet and satisfying but not sticky.

In Brydie Benson's messy divorce, she lost not only her unfaithful husband but their jointly owned and operated bakery, too. Lonely and bereft, she moves to the neighboring city of Memphis, where her realtor best friend provides a house--with a caveat. The lovely old home is rent-free, but Brydie is now foster parent to Teddy Roosevelt, a lonely (and stubborn) pug. The owner of the house and the dog require Brydie to bring him for weekly nursing home visits. But in a series of delightful coincidences, Nathan, the handsome man with the rascal wolfhound Sasha at the dog park, is the nursing home's doctor, and the dogs (and their expanding pack of off-leash park pals) love Brydie's creative homemade biscuits. Soon Brydie and Teddy share a circle of friends, including Mrs. Neumann, the homeowner.

A job in a big-box store's bakery, while not her own shop, further expands Brydie's world and her confidence. She cautiously returns Nathan's affection, discovers secrets in Mrs. Neumann's basement and scrambles to fill orders as dog treat demand (cinnamon apple! zucchini vegetarian!) spreads. The plot's loose ends are nicely tied up in a Christmas Eve surprise, and the epilogue explains why, if one looks closely, it's obvious the pug on the cover is smiling. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: A lonely dog-sitter finds new friends and happiness through her baking skills and Teddy the pug.

Morrow, $14.99, paperback, 384p., 9780062563781

Start Without Me

by Joshua Max Feldman

As one might expect from a novel set at a family Thanksgiving, Joshua Feldman's Start Without Me captures holiday drama. Thirty-five-year-old Adam Warshaw returns to his parents' Massachusetts home after several years of self-imposed exile. A former keyboardist for his San Francisco band, he is in his ninth month of sobriety, working as an accounts manager for a bank and dreading the houseful of family. He is greeted there by his young nephews and nieces' drawings taped to walls and doors, one announcing "Happy Thanksgiving!"--a declaration that strikes Adam as "an ultimatum" rather than well wishes. Disheartened, he leaves the house at dawn for coffee at a shabby airport hotel restaurant, where he meets Marissa, a flight attendant for a discount airline, who is on her way to join her husband's family holiday in Vermont. Four months pregnant from a one-night stand with a former high school boyfriend, Marissa ambivalently contemplates abortion to avoid cratering her already rocky marriage.

On this chance encounter, Feldman (The Book of Jonah) builds a solid story of the blessings of random friendship and the nature of family. Although preoccupied with 12-step aphorisms and self-analysis, Adam is a charmingly amusing loser. The child of a tough, alcoholic single mom, Marissa is quick to anger but also quick to forgive. Together they navigate the rough terrain of their families' holiday festivities--wounded but not defeated. Start Without Me is a sometimes harsh, sometimes sweet, wholly gratifying novel. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A shared cup of coffee turns two troubled strangers into compadres dealing with their emotionally fraught family Thanksgiving holidays together.

Morrow, $26.99, hardcover, 288p., 9780062668721

A Lot Like Christmas

by Connie Willis

Connie Willis (Doomsday Book, Blackout) absolutely loves the holidays, as she explains in the introduction to A Lot Like Christmas: "I even like the parts most people hate--shopping in crowded malls and reading Christmas newsletters and seeing relatives." This love led her to write the eight short stories collected in 2009's Miracle and Other Christmas Stories. Seven of them, plus five new ones, are gathered in A Lot Like Christmas.

These varied and fantastic stories cover a lot of subjects. There are alien invaders in "All Seated on the Ground" and future Christmases where people hire decorators to come create themed decor, meals and parties for the season in "deck.halls@boughs/holly." In "All About Emily," a young "artificial" experiences some surprisingly human dreams; in "Just Like the Ones We Used to Know," a dangerously white Christmas brings snow to places as unlikely as Honolulu and Beirut; and in "Inn," the biblical Joseph and Mary time-travel to a modern church's Nativity production.

Funny, wry and sometimes downright cheery, A Lot Like Christmas does an excellent job of bringing holiday spirit without falling into the traps of "cynicism or mawkish sappiness" (as Willis explains she's tried to avoid). The epilogue includes an extra little gift to her readers--lists of her favorite Christmas movies, books and television episodes. Even the grinchiest of readers is sure to enjoy this charming collection, with its excellent stories and extra attention from a talented author. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans

Discover: This delightful collection of fantastic Christmas stories includes aliens, robots and a time-traveling Mary and Joseph.

Del Rey, $17, paperback, 544p., 9780399182341

The End We Start From

by Megan Hunter

New parenthood often feels like the end and beginning of the world. First babies can be all-absorbing, and the sleeplessness and animal impulses can fragment a caretaker's perceptions until the outside world becomes distant and unreal. Megan Hunter's impressionistic debut, The End We Start From, narrates a woman's first year of motherhood in a flooded, imploding Britain.

A nameless narrator is knocked out of her "usual cynicism" by new motherhood and an apocalyptic flood that submerges her high-rise London flat. She and her partner lose their sheltered urban lives almost the day their baby is born. "Bad news as it always was, forever, but worse. More relevant. This is what you don't want, we realize. What no one ever wanted: for the news to be relevant." They flee to her in-laws' house in the country, but nightmare dangers drive them farther north, first to a refugee camp and finally to a far island. Most of the characters are nameless sketches, and much is left unexplained, evoking the confusion and constant fear of refugees. The narrator and her baby exist in a small clear eye together at the center of a collapsing world.

Hunter writes in condensed, poetic language, with dreamlike alternations between exact perceptions and evocative obscurity. Short bursts of oracular imagery that read like myth or scripture are scattered through the text. This unsettling and beautiful short novel is a vision of how a life can wash out to sea, and then wash back in again, wrecked and transformed. --Sara Catterall

Discover: Precise poetic language sustains this dreamlike vision of internal and external apocalypse and reclamation.

Grove Press, $22, hardcover, 160p., 9780802126894

The Doll's Alphabet

by Camilla Grudova

Weirdness is the rule, not the exception, in Camilla Grudova's strangely affecting short story collection, The Doll's Alphabet. These 13 stories have been published in magazines like Granta and the White Review, and their cumulative effect is uncanny. This is partly because of the macabre subject matter and partly because Grudova's style is untethered from the conventions of realism. Dolls, corpses, vermin, wolves and various mythical creatures make appearances; Grudova is a magical realist who introduces supernatural elements matter-of-factly. At the core of her stories, though, are human characters with real human needs.

In "Waxy," factory-bound, meat-rationing women are trained to take care of their men at all costs. The story feels as though it's set in the early 20th century--a gramophone is likened to "a grand rotting flower"--but with a sly feminist critique conveys near-future dystopian anxieties about the role of women in society. Grudova's imagination runs wild in stories like "The Sad Tale of the Sconce"; perhaps never before has a story about war and shipwrecks been told from the perspective of a wall sconce. "Notes from a Spider"--about a half-man, half-spider celebrity who falls in love with a sewing machine--is likewise bizarre yet boasts certain bewitching charms. Taken together, the stories in The Doll's Alphabet spin morbid magic. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: Camilla Grudova's debut story collection mixes feminist concerns with fantastical and disturbing plot lines.

Coffee House Press, $15.95, paperback, 192p., 9781566894906

Mystery & Thriller

Infinite Ground

by Martin MacInnes

Infinite Ground by Scottish writer Martin MacInnes is a highly original and confounding mystery that blurs the line between certainty and illusion. One night in a Latin American city that's not identified, the young man named Carlos vanishes from a restaurant. No one sees him leave, and there are no traces of him anywhere.

The unnamed investigator hired to find Carlos becomes absorbed with the nebulous nature of his life. Vasquez and Kandinski, Carlos's coworkers, report that they witnessed increasingly strange physical and behavioral changes at the mysterious corporation where he was employed doing, they agree, nothing that was noticeable. His apartment offers few clues. "He was a segment of environment. He was almost nothing.... How are you going to find that?" asks Isabella, a scientist who suggests, startlingly, that microorganisms can slowly transform a human body into something completely different. The investigator, solitary and increasingly unmoored, moves through the city unsure of his own relationship to his surroundings and experiencing frequent dreamlike shifts in reality.

Paragraphs from an obscure book about native tribes foretell the irrevocable choice that the investigator makes to follow Carlos's trail deep into the tropical rain forest. There, alone and obsessed, he is consumed by the wilderness around him, causing his identity as an individual to be replaced with something more elemental. "How much more could there be, he thought, of him, to give, and of this?" MacInnes, in his debut novel, writes with savage precision of transformation, substitution and the question of what is true and untrue. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: Infinite Ground tells the story of one man's improbable disappearance and the effort to find him, blurring the line between reality and delusion in a hallucinatory, existential mystery.

Melville House, $25.99, hardcover, 272p., 9781612196855

How I Lost You

by Jenny Blackhurst

Emma Cartwright, aka Susan Webster, was convicted of murdering her four-month-old son, Dylan, in a state of postpartum depression and was sentenced to a psychiatric institution. Recently released, she's attempting to put her life back together and move forward, but the past keeps intruding. A photo of a toddler who could be her son appears on her doorstep; she sees someone who looks like him on the street; and she's haunted by dream-like images that could be reality. This leaves Susan wondering exactly what happened four years ago, when Dylan was pronounced dead.

How I Lost You by Jenny Blackhurst is a psychological thriller that weaves Susan's memories of her marriage and first few weeks with Dylan into her ruminations and doubts about her ability to murder her own child. With the help of an attractive male investigative reporter, she searches for answers as more clues are thrust in their direction. This thread is coupled with flashbacks to the past involving a brotherhood of college boys with a sordid and twisted past, one that links with Susan's present in strange and unexpected ways. As the events unfold, the tension ramps up, creating a whirlwind story that races toward a logical, yet not unexpected, conclusion. Despite some stereotypical characters (primarily the frat boys), Blackhurst has developed likable characters in Susan and her allies, and offers readers a complex suspense novel. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A mother is convicted of murdering her infant, but in her own mind, she knows she couldn't have done it.

Emily Bestler/Atria, $16, paperback, 384p., 9781501168826

Nine Lessons

by Nicola Upson

Detective Chief Inspector Archie Penrose is called to the scene of a horrific murder--an organist has been entombed alive in a London church graveyard. In his pocket is a torn photo, showing half of a manor house near Cambridge where, coincidentally, Archie's lover Bridget lives. Moreover, the inspector's old friend Josephine Tey, the mystery author and playwright, has recently moved there. Archie is soon spending a lot of time in Cambridge, investigating a string of increasingly disturbing murders involving former members of the King's College Chapel who studied just before World War I broke out.

Meanwhile, a serial rapist is terrorizing the city, making many women, including Josephine, afraid to venture far from home. As Archie and his friend face alarming violence, they end up discovering that they need each other's expertise to find justice--especially when a secret that Bridget has been keeping holds major implications for each of them.

Fans of Charles Todd, Jacqueline Winspear or Tey herself are sure to adore Nicola Upson's journey into 1930s England. The seventh novel in Upson's Josephine Tey series, Nine Lessons brings the author to life in striking, flawed fashion, adding an extra layer of interest to this historical mystery. Readers interested in Britain between the wars will particularly appreciate the grim undercurrents, but anyone can enjoy this clever mystery. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this smart and haunting mystery that stars real-life author Josephine Tey as an amateur detective, Cambridge suffers an outbreak of disturbing murders.

Crooked Lane Books, $26.99, hardcover, 320p., 9781683313212

The Last Mrs. Parrish

by Liv Constantine

In ritzy Bishops Harbor, Conn., Amber is considered "a frumpy mouse," unworthy of attention from the filthy rich and glamorous residents. But she refuses to be a nobody for long. Amber intends to snare the biggest catch in town--dashing mogul Jackson Parrish--and move into his waterfront mansion. The man is already married with kids and has eyes only for his perfect wife, Daphne, but that doesn't faze Amber.

She befriends Daphne after an "accidental" meeting at the gym and insinuates herself into the couple's lives, becoming indispensable as best friend to Daphne and assistant to Jackson. Along the way, Amber subtly transforms herself into a younger, sexier version of Daphne. Each step of the scheme falls into place exactly as planned--or does it happen too easily?

Amber is a highly unpleasant narrator, but one can perhaps appreciate her being unfettered by the conventional notion that women have to be nice all the time. At least she's reliable. She's duplicitous with other characters, but with readers, she's clear and unapologetic about what she wants and why--she's tired of her station in life and believes she deserves better. Think: a female Tom Ripley. 

The dialogue is often expository and overly formal--close friends and family members speak to one another like people at a job interview--but sisters Lynne and Valerie Constantine, writing as Liv Constantine, build momentum with short, cliffhanger chapters racing toward a satisfying denouement. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A woman executes a meticulous plan to attain a glamorous life with the perfect husband.

Harper, $25.99, hardcover, 400p., 9780062667571


Totally His

by Erin Nicholas

Actress Sophie Birch owns a small community theater in Boston and is horrified when it catches fire. But she is rescued from the burning building by sexy cop Finn Kelly, and circumstances start looking better. Finn is immediately very interested in Sophie, but it's complicated. Thanks to her grandmother's will, Sophie co-owns the theater with her deadbeat father, Frank, and his antics (and string of six ex-wives) have left her wary of relationships.

Finn wants to prove to Sophie that he's worth taking a chance on, and that he won't abandon her the way Frank left her or her stepmothers. But Sophie isn't sure if Finn's sweet ways can make up for years of distrust, especially when Frank turns up in Boston and starts to cause trouble over the insurance payout after the fire. Can Sophie save her beloved theater, with or without Frank's interference and Finn's help?

Erin Nicholas (Completely Yours, Forever Mine) has created likable characters in Sophie and Finn, and their slightly knotty relationship adds a nice layer of believability to their strong chemistry. Sophie's trust issues and Finn's save-the-world mentality will keep readers intrigued to see how they work out their feelings for one another. Furthermore, the hilarious antics of the extended members of the huge (and stereotypically Irish) Kelly clan keep matters light and funny. Theater fans and romance readers are sure to enjoy Totally His--a flirty, steamy romance with which to spend an afternoon. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans

Discover: A reluctant actress and a sexy cop have to work through feelings of mistrust that get in the way of their chemistry in this sweet romance.

Forever/Grand Central, $7.99, mass market paperbound, 352p., 9781455539727

Graphic Books

Verax: The True History of Whistleblowers, Mass Surveillance, and Drone Warfare

by Pratap Chatterjee, Khalil

The graphic novel Verax: The True History of Whistleblowers, Mass Surveillance, and Drone Warfare is terrifying on many levels, and it means to be.

Verax is a collaborative project between investigate journalist Pratap Chatterjee--who's reported on the U.S.'s surveillance and secretive wars for the New Republic, the Guardian and the New York Times--and popular political cartoonist Khalil (Zahra's Paradise). Narrated by Chatterjee, the book chronicles the rise of the country's post-9/11 "military-surveillance-industrial complex"--the unholy alliance of national intelligence agencies, the military and private defense companies, which together have created an unprecedented global surveillance state. This monstrous rise in state power is illuminated here by the stories of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. The novel also shines light on lesser-known whistleblowers in the NSA and other agencies.

Chatterjee's writing is sharp and factual, and Khalil's illustrations are persistently engaging. The surveillance state they describe threatens civil liberties and has engendered the U.S.'s endless drone war, killing scores of innocent civilians with little or no accountability. Verax's most infuriating and heartrending moments focus on the victims of drone strikes: "We had hoped that America would come to the region with educational and development projects and services, but it came instead with aircrafts to kill our children." Furthermore, there are the young drone pilots, many disillusioned and suffering from PTSD.

Verax is a gripping account of abusive power and those who stand up to it. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: An investigative journalist and political cartoonist join forces to expose America's mass surveillance machine.

Holt, $25, paperback, 240p., 9781627793551

Food & Wine

The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen

by Sean Sherman, Beth Dooley

Chef Sean Sherman's debut, The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen, written with cookbook veteran Beth Dooley (Savory Sweet), offers a fascinating and delicious foray into foods native to North America.

Born on the South Dakota Pine Ridge Reservation, Sherman has devoted his career to researching the history and traditions of pre-colonial, Indigenous foods. Sherman's recipes omit European dietary staples of dairy, sugar, wheat flour, pork and beef; rather, they rely on hyper-local, seasonal bounty. The results feel at once fresh and timeless. Animal-based meals often include duck, rabbit or bison, or eggs from duck or quail. Spices include smoked salt, sumac and seasonings like cedar, ramps and sage. Many of the recipes can be easily adapted to suit vegan or vegetarian diets, and all are naturally low glycemic, high protein and gluten-free--not to mention beautiful.

Standout starters include Spring Salad with Tamarack Honey Drizzle, Deviled Duck Eggs and Stuffed Squash Blossoms. Stellar larger meals designed for Sherman's food truck include the Tatanka Truck Fried Wild Rice Bowl and Sunflower-Crusted Trout. As for dessert? Sweet Corn Sorbet.

Sherman educates on how to cook, as well as the history of Indigenous cuisine and his connection to it as a member of the Oglala Lakota. For example, he omits fry bread, explaining that its origins reflect displacement and government-issued commodities devoid of nutritional value. He asks readers to try corn cakes instead, noting that "corn cakes are easier to make and far tastier than any fry bread." And, indeed, his are. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen is an education in flavors and culture, history and hominy.

University of Minnesota Press, $34.95, hardcover, 256p., 9780816699797

A Taste of Italy: 100 Traditional, Homestyle Recipes

by Damiano Carrara

Damiano Carrara was born and raised in Italy, spending winters in mountainous Bologna and summers in coastal Lucca. In both areas, Carrara's family grew and raised most of the food they ate. Through his father and mother, his grandmother and a great-aunt, Carrara learned how to turn out simple recipes with the freshest ingredients. This began Carrara's culinary career, ultimately landing him as a contestant on Food Network Star (season 12). His celebrity enabled him and his brother to later found Carrara Pastries, cafés located in Southern California.

In his first cookbook, A Taste of Italy, Carrara shares his favorite recipes, prefacing each with evocative tidbits about re-creating dishes from childhood and from favorite restaurants. One half of the book is devoted to a sampling of savories: antipasto, soups, salads, sides, pizza and main courses. Notable highlights include several varieties of tartare; spinach lasagna with a rich, creamy Béchamel sauce; a straightforward brown butter sage chicken with fingerling potatoes; and a light and easy farro salad with shrimp. The second half showcases Carrara's passion and prowess for sweets: biscotti, cakes, fruit pies and gelato. The pièce de résistance is Carrara's signature Torta della Nonna, or Grandmother's Pie, which is an elegant, double shortbread crust filled with fresh vanilla custard and capped with sliced almonds and pine nuts. Carrara's well-balanced, deliciously presented cookbook will inspire home cooks to don aprons and dash into their own kitchens. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A celebrity chef from Tuscany shares authentic, mouthwatering recipes for Italian savories and sweets.

Sterling Epicure, $29.95, hardcover, 256p., 9781454926474

Rasika: Flavors of India

by Ashok Bajaj, Vikram Sunderam, David Hagedorn

Rasika (Sanskrit for flavor) is a well-loved Indian restaurant in Washington, D.C., popular with locals, White House denizens and global business leaders alike. It is the brainchild of renowned restaurateur Ashok Bajaj, a pioneer of small-plate Indian cuisine, brilliantly executed by the James Beard Award-winning chef Vikram Sunderam, a U.K. transplant from one of London's most outstanding Indian restaurants, the Bombay Brasserie.

Bajaj and Sunderam co-wrote Rasika: Flavors of India with Washington Post food columnist David Hagedorn, offering readers the recipes that have brought fame to their restaurant. Rasika is also a story of how Indian restaurants came to dominate the fine dining landscape in D.C. The recipes are endlessly adaptable and beautifully photographed, and each section is accompanied by detailed and easy-to-understand techniques. The dishes are likely to be a revelation to those who consider themselves familiar with Indian cooking. Meals such as avocado and banana chaat, and beet and goat cheese tikki, cleverly combine ingredients that are relatively foreign to the Indian kitchen with its traditional spices and flavors. Delicious and easy to make chutney pairings accompany each recipe.

Rasika takes an adventurous approach to cooking both meat and non-meat dishes with a focus on small plates, and contains far more vegetarian, fish and seafood recipes than the average Indian cookbook. Unexpected spice, vegetable and protein combinations abound: Kashmiri chilis and cinnamon with salmon; lime leaves and mustard oil with swordfish; mushroom and artichoke korma; lamb curry with pineapple--the mouthwatering list goes on. Rasika is an invitation to view Indian cooking through fresh eyes, daring home cooks to experiment with innovative ingredients in traditional Indian dishes. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: This new twist on Indian cuisine is filled with imaginative and easy-to-make vegetarian, vegan-adaptable, fish, seafood and meat recipes.

Ecco, $34.99, hardcover, 336p., 9780062435552

Istanbul & Beyond: Exploring the Diverse Cuisines of Turkey

by Robyn Eckhardt, David Hagerman, photographer

Turkey, straddling Europe, Asia and the Middle East, is a complex and diverse nation, as is its cuisine. Food writer Robyn Eckhardt has visited the country several times, traveling from cosmopolitan Istanbul to the country's lesser-known areas. She begins each regional profile with a brief history of the settlements and geography that make it distinctive. Istanbul's location on the edge of Europe brings us dishes with international influences, while the eastern part of the country, with its high elevation and long winters, features more limited but no less interesting fare. The southern Hatay region's Mediterranean climate is ideal for a Sun-dried Tomato and Pomegranate Salad. Head north to the inland provinces in Central Anatolia for hearty grain-based dishes, like Wheat Berries with Chicken and Tomato Butter. The far northeast, along the border of Georgia and Armenia, offers sweet triangle buns filled with caramelized corn flour, while the southeast, near the Syrian border, boasts the sweet heat of the Urfa pepper with sautéed beef and caramelized onions.

The recipes are approachable and clear, even with exotic or unfamiliar ingredients. Nigella seeds, kadayif and za'atar, potentially daunting for home cooks, have suitable alternatives provided when available. "Stocking Your Turkish Pantry" lists the most essential ingredients. Lush photography by Eckhardt's husband, David Hagerman, accompany recipes, as well as profiles of local cooks, farmers and other food providers. The result is a cookbook steeped in rich history and vivid flavors. --Frank Brasile, librarian

Discover: Authentic and approachable, Istanbul & Beyond introduces a world of diverse cuisine to cooks eager to explore new flavors.

Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35, hardcover, 352p., 9780544444317

Biography & Memoir

Where the Past Begins: A Writer's Memoir

by Amy Tan

Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club; The Valley of Amazement) has woven details from her life and family history into her novels, but Where the Past Begins is entirely nonfiction, making the revelations about her and her family's struggles especially heartrending.

Prompted by her editor to write a book between novels, Tan dives into plastic bins in her office containing documents, letters and photos that form "a past that began before my birth." The memorabilia tell stories of sacrifice, hardship and cruelty, suffered most often by Tan's mother and grandmother. The author makes startling discoveries, including the reason her parents played down their education and the truth about a five-year study Tan participated in as a child. Her parents falsely relayed the study's results to her, hoping to create academic motivation but instead creating self-doubt in Tan for more than 50 years. In tracking down the truth, Tan resembles a private detective determined to close a cold case.

Her doggedness is even more impressive considering she still suffers from the ravages of Lyme disease, which has caused, among other symptoms, brain lesions and seizures. Her father, older brother and mother had brain tumors, which killed her father and brother early (her mother's tumor was benign but she died of Azheimer's). Tan wonders if she faces the same fate. She doesn't wallow in self-pity, though, recognizing her life has been both difficult and extremely rewarding. Her tone is one of graceful acceptance, acknowledging that she can be who she is and write her bestselling books only because of her past. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: In a memoir as moving as her novels, Amy Tan shares poignant memories from her family's past.

Ecco, $28.99, hardcover, 368p., 9780062319296

An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice

by Khizr Khan

The public knows Khizr Khan as the Gold Star father who raised the roof at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, but he pointedly concludes his literary debut, An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice, just as he's about to take the stage.

Khan grew up in Pakistan, the precocious son of poor farmers and the favored eldest of 10 children. After pursuing a law degree in Lahore, he took a job in Dubai for which he was overqualified; opportunities had been fewer in Pakistan, where he felt Islam was being exploited, becoming "a deliberate perversion of religion in order to maintain control over an illiterate and oppressed population." Later, after a stint in Houston, where he passed his citizenship exam, Khan attended Harvard Law School, earning "a reputation as the voice of the academic opposition." Still, he was living a quiet life outside Washington, D.C., when he became aware of Donald Trump's derogatory remarks on the campaign trail about immigrants and Muslims. When Hillary Clinton's people reached out, Khan felt it was his patriotic duty to take a stand.

The practical Khan is a remarkably agile storyteller. He elaborates on the thrill he experienced when he first read the Declaration of Independence; on America's appeal (the Fourteenth Amendment, efficiency, country music); and on his financial struggles (even with a Harvard law degree, he spent a few nights on a park bench). An American Family holds its own alongside other fine memoirs of immigration and would be an inspired addition to any college or high school syllabus. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and author

Discover: The Gold Star father who spoke so movingly at the 2016 Democratic National Convention is just as affecting on the page.

Random House, $27, hardcover, 288p., 9780399592492

We're Going to Need More Wine: Stories that Are Funny, Complicated, and True

by Gabrielle Union

In the introduction to Gabrielle Union's essay collection, We're Going to Need More Wine, the actress compares her book with a first date, when one is both excited and wary about how it might go wrong. She needn't worry--her first date with readers is a hit.

As the subtitle indicates, these stories are very funny and complicated, spanning from puberty to her current life as a movie star and famous athlete's wife. As a teen, her lack of sex education made her terrified of getting pregnant: "If you were raised Catholic like I was, you already know from Sunday school that... [y]ou could go to sleep and wake up carrying Baby Jesus." She's been guilty of some "light stalking" of an ex, "skulk[ing] my skully-hatted ass into his bushes so I could look in his window." Union isn't shy about making herself look ridiculous--one of the reasons she's so engaging.

But among the laughs are some devastating stories, none more so than the account of her rape at 19. Though she's since become an activist for survivors of sexual assault, the pain is still palpable in her retelling 24 years later. In another chapter, she writes about the time she wore mittens in her Chicago neighborhood to avoid scaring white neighbors, because "thugs don't wear mittens" and maybe mittens "will make my breathing and living on this planet permissible." It's a sobering observation. Union is as thought provoking as she is entertaining, someone with whom readers will want a second date. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: Actress Gabrielle Union shares her funny and raw experiences as a black woman.

Dey Street Books, $26.99, hardcover, 272p., 9780062693983


by Ron Chernow

If Ulysses S. Grant had accompanied President Lincoln to Ford's Theater on April 14, 1865--as was his intent--John Wilkes Booth's plan to assassinate both men would have elevated Grant's stature in American history to one equaling Lincoln's. Instead, Grant's post-Civil War career is often regarded as an anticlimax to his heroism in battle; his postwar commitment to the rights of African Americans often goes unrecognized.

Such is the main premise that Ron Chernow (Alexander Hamilton) presents in Grant, a skillfully written and extensively researched biography encapsulating all facets of the remarkable personal and political life led by the United States' 18th president. Chernow posits that Grant's support and enforcement of the 13th, 14th and 15th Constitutional amendments (abolishing slavery, providing for due process and giving African Americans the right to vote) held as much significance and importance as Lincoln's accomplishments. It is because of Reconstruction's failure that Grant suffers unfairly.

Chernow explores in detail Grant's presidency, one unfortunately characterized by corruption and graft, while rightfully asserting that his biggest fault was internal: "The world of politics was filled with duplicitous people and Grant was poorly equipped to spot them, remaining an easy touch for crooked men."

Grant includes numerous historical anecdotes to satisfy the interest of casual history buffs, while offering new and deeper theories on Grant that will appeal to more devoted scholars of history. In doing so, Chernow more than expands upon the historiography of the post-Civil War era and comes closer than any other historian before in ranking Grant as Lincoln's deserved equal. --William H. Firman Jr., historian and writer

Discover: The author of Alexander Hamilton delivers an in-depth, new perspective on Ulysses S. Grant's presidency and commitment to post-Civil War rights for African Americans.

Penguin Press, $40, hardcover, 1104p., 9781594204876

Texas Blood: Seven Generations Among the Outlaws, Ranchers, Indians, Missionaries, Soldiers, and Smugglers of the Borderlands

by Roger D. Hodge

If many urban easterners perceive Texas as "a terrifying land of racism and violence and retrograde politics," native Roger Hodge seeks to put them straight in his meandering history and family genealogy, Texas Blood. Former editor of Harper's and the Oxford American, Hodge (The Mendacity of Hope) grew up in the small border town of Del Rio in the 1980s, shearing sheep, shooting guns and drinking with everyone else. But as a fifth-generation Texan, he wanted to understand better how his family migrated to the harsh paisajes of "rolling hills, steep draws, damp drainages, and narrow defiles." 

Setting off into the vastly diverse Texas landscape, Hodge hooks up with distant cousins, ranchers, Border Patrol agents and Mexican immigrants to get a feet-on-the-ground feel for his family history and birth state. Along the way he recounts front-porch anecdotal whoppers and heavily researched library side-trips into the works of early explorers like Cabeza de Vaca and James "Don Santiago" Kirker, and especially into the fiction of Cormac McCarthy. He traverses the many Texas "countries": hill, river, ranch and oil, as well as Comanche country. With a local guide, he digs into the mythology of peyote, polytheism and pictographs. At some length Hodge also investigates the current gigantic border security apparatus. Combining photos, maps and solid journalism with personal drama, Texas Blood has it all. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A road trip mixed with scholarly research and personal interviews, Texas Blood is a colorful history of the Texas-Mexican borderlands.

Knopf, $28.95, hardcover, 368p., 9780307961402

Hirschfeld: The Biography

by Ellen Stern

For nearly 75 years, Al Hirschfeld (1903-2003) was the unofficial artist of Broadway, drawing his distinctive line caricatures of nearly everyone in the theater world. In her comprehensive and playful biography, journalist Ellen Stern (Gracie Mansion) captures the breadth of the congenial artist's circle of friends and his influence across a century of movies, newspapers and theater. Including dozens of illustrations and detailed footnotes, Hirschfeld is a thorough history of the man and his New York City. A Manhattan transplant from St. Louis, Hirschfeld quickly put his pen to work in playbills, magazines, newspapers, books and on the walls of commercial art galleries--and never stopped. He had many famous friends, including Eugene O'Neill, Moss Hart, Ogden Nash, S.J. Perelman, Woody Allen--as Stern notes, "When you're Al's friend, you're Al's friend." This is perhaps because he considered his whorling caricatures to be non-derogatory; he put it this way to Stern in an interview: "I prefer to think of them as 'character drawings.' "

Stern writes in colloquial, breezy prose. She is adept in her focus on the essence of the man and his art--observing of the latter: "No one's dancers--from shimmy to jeté to Fosse hip thrust--are more sensuous, with ribbon limbs, sinuous hands, and bodies arched like parentheses." Hirschfeld the artist (with his daughter Nina's name embedded in each drawing) was often the best part of the Sunday New York Times. Hirschfeld is a fitting exploration of his remarkable life. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Journalist Ellen Stern entertainingly captures the breadth of Al Hirschfeld's friendships and the impact of his distinctive theatrical caricatures.

Sarah Crichton/FSG, $28, hardcover, 368p., 9780374280574

Lou Reed

by Anthony DeCurtis

Through his work in the Velvet Underground and solo career, Lou Reed helped define rock 'n' roll in the 1960s and '70s. With songs about drug use, sex work and other risqué topics (which sometimes seem quaint in comparison to modern music), Reed opened the door for songwriters looking to capture the underbelly of modernity and changed the way popular music would consider its subjects forever. Anthony DeCurtis's 500-page biography, Lou Reed, nimbly moves across the complex, genre-defining 71 years of Reed's life.

Lou Reed follows the typical route in biography, beginning with Reed's childhood in New York. DeCurtis then traces the artist's early days playing gigs at college and his eventual meeting with classically trained viola-player John Cale and the formation of the Velvet Underground. But, notably, the rise and fall of VU (as Reed himself referred to it) barely takes up a third of Lou Reed, although the band is unquestionably where Reed made his biggest impact on music. DeCurtis gives each period of Reed's life the same attention and empathy, arguing that Reed's output in the 1980s and 1990s is as worthy of discussion.

A noted rock critic, DeCurtis writes with clarity and precision, and is forthright in his criticisms of Reed's behavior (which could be quite cruel). Still, he clearly has deep respect for the man and his music, which infuses the biography with warmth. Reading Lou Reed is a bit like having a casual conversation with the rocker's biggest fan: fun, informative and poignant. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: Anthony DeCurtis's Lou Reed is a sprawling, insightful biography of the legendary songwriter.

Little, Brown, $32, hardcover, 528p., 9780316376556

Vivian Maier: A Photographer's Life and Afterlife

by Pamela Bannos

Pamela Bannos, a professor at Northwestern University, frames a fascinating portrait of Vivian Maier, the mysterious nanny who was also a gifted, self-taught photographer who chose to remain unknown. The biography also examines the astonishing circumstances and coincidences by which Maier's photographs emerged into the public eye and her meteoric posthumous rise in the art world. Bannos pieces together clues about the woman behind the camera, dispelling myths that have been perpetuated and shaped since her death in 2009.

Vivian Maier was--and continues to remain--an enigma. Eccentric, fiercely independent and intensely private, she was born illegitimately in Manhattan to a French mother, whose own birth was illegitimate. Both Maier's mother and grandmother were live-in servants. That paved the way for Vivian, throughout her adult life, to work as a nanny for several well-to-do U.S. families. This enabled her to support herself while also secretly pursuing her craft as a visual artist for decades. Those closest to her knew that Maier liked to take photographs, yet no one knew the extent of her passion and drive--and the scope of her talent. It was only near the end of Maier's life that her work was discovered: photographs, thousands of negatives and more than 1,000 rolls of undeveloped film.

Bannos's engrossing, meticulously researched biography sensitively reconstructs Vivian Maier's very private life in conjunction with her posthumous legacy as a visionary photographer. Many questions remain and always will. However, Bannos's comprehensive narrative ensures that Vivian Maier's story and the treasure trove of her work will live on. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A fascinating glimpse into the life of an eccentric, legendary photographer whose work came to prominence only after her death.

University of Chicago Press, $35, hardcover, 352p., 9780226470757

Istanbul: Memories and the City

by Orhan Pamuk, trans. by Maureen Freely

This edition of Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk, translated by Maureen Freely, is a deluxe, updated version of the original published in 2005. Packed with more than 400 black-and-white photographs and drawings, it is a bittersweet, melancholic ode to the city's glorious past, when it was known as Constantinople, the capital of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. Istanbul is no longer the capital but it is still the economic, cultural and historical center of Turkey, an enticing blend of East and West, straddling the Bosphorus strait, which separates Europe and Asia.

Dense and fascinating, Istanbul is an emotional and multi-layered history of the city and the author's family. Pamuk (The Red-Haired Woman) wistfully sees himself in Istanbul's chaotic streets, colorful markets, neglected gardens, decrepit palaces and intricately decorated mosques, in the "accidental grace" of the city. With intimate storytelling and stark photography, Pamuk evokes the lost grandeur and magical energy of the city, its rich past and its complicated present. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: A deluxe, updated history of Istanbul complete with gorgeous photography and illustrations.

Knopf, $45, hardcover, 624p., 9781524732233


The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography and the Man Who Captured Lincoln's Ghost

by Peter Manseau

Humans, inconveniently mortal, have always hoped that death was not final. In The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography and the Man Who Captured Lincoln's Ghost, Peter Manseau (Songs for the Butcher's Daughter) introduces the photographer who offered proof that the dead aren't gone.

William Mumler became a photographer in the mid-1800s. After he took a self-portrait that appeared to include his deceased cousin, the publicity spurred him to start a business taking "spirit photographs." Mumler's wife, Hannah Stuart, was a "healing medium"; together they offered séances and spirit photographs for a fee. Mumler famously photographed Mary Todd Lincoln with the ghost of her husband, President Lincoln, behind her. As unlikely as these photographs were, enough people "entered the Mumlers' studio with a private ache and left with a heart filled" that he became a celebrity.

Manseau introduces contemporaneous historical figures to contextualize Mumler's work. Spiritualists like the Fox sisters encouraged a gullible public. Samuel Morse, besides inventing his code, advanced photographic technology after his wife died and he had no way to remember her face. Alexander Gardner and Matthew Brady, American Civil War photographers, contributed to the commoditization of photography.

Mumler was ultimately accused of fraud and arrested. P.T. Barnum, the showman, played a part in his trial, testifying against him. Mumler was found not guilty but did not return to his former business. He went on to discover technology for magazine images, playing "a pivotal role in the creation of the image-obsessed culture that still defines the nation." Manseau brings disparate historical threads together to create an engaging narrative history. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: The Apparitionists tells the story of those who first saw the possibilities of photographic manipulation for commercial gain.

Houghton Mifflin, $27, hardcover, 352p., 9780544745971

Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine

by Anne Applebaum

Anne Applebaum has made a career out of expertly documenting the crimes of the former Soviet Union in books such as Iron Curtain and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gulag. In Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine, she turns her attention to the Holodomor--a term derived from the Ukrainian words for "hunger" and "extermination"--the 1932-1933 famine that resulted in the deaths of more than 3.9 million Ukrainians. Applebaum aims to put to bed any remaining controversy over how to think about the famine: "It was a political famine, created for the express purpose of weakening peasant resistance, and thus national identity. And in this, it succeeded."

Applebaum traces the Holodomor's roots back to imperial Russia's paternalistic relationship to Ukraine, which Russians sometimes referred to as "southern Russia" or "little Russia." That sense of ownership persisted through the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and combined with a sense of threat after Ukraine became the site of bloody civil war and peasant uprisings. Applebaum sets out to prove that the Holodomor was an artificial famine produced by brutal Soviet social engineering policies alongside ceaseless repression and requisitions.

She is thorough in her recording of the horror of the famine years, but not dispassionate. She never loses sight of the human costs, or shrinks from condemning the grotesque immorality of decisions made at the very top of the Soviet hierarchy. Applebaum is also not blind to the continuing threats to Ukraine's national sovereignty. Red Famine is both a terrible reminder and a warning. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Discover: Red Famine investigates the events and policies that created the Holodomor, the famine that killed at least 3.9 million Ukrainians in 1932-1933.

Doubleday, $35, hardcover, 496p., 9780385538855

Paris Fashion: A Cultural History

by Valerie Steele

Paris fashion: the phrase conjures up glittering runways traversed by sleek models clad in the latest couture designs. But how did Paris become the world capital of fashion, and what factors have contributed to its long reign? Fashion critic and historian Valerie Steele first released Paris Fashion, an analysis of the city's fashion culture, in 1988. This updated third edition brings the history into the 21st century and incorporates recent fashion scholarship on Paris, along with lavish photos, paintings and full-color fashion plates from different eras. 

Meticulously researched but accessible, Steele's text traces the evolution of Paris as a haute couture center, drawing on history, art, economics and social forces and artistic trends. From Louis XIV to Coco Chanel, from the mystique of la Parisienne to Paris's place in global fashion today, Steele's book is an eye-catching look at the city that remains the peak of chic. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Valerie Steele's updated Paris Fashion is a gorgeously illustrated, thoughtful and accessible history of the city's couture culture.

Bloomsbury, $40, hardcover, 344p., 9781635570892

North: Finding Place in Alaska

by Julie Decker, editor

Part of the global North, home to many diverse indigenous cultures and with a rich history, Alaska is complicated and changing. In North, Anchorage Museum director Julie Decker gathers thoughtful essays and full-color photos to showcase Alaska's stunning natural beauty. She also highlights its handicrafts and material culture, the psychological effects of building a life there and the implications of change--both climatic and cultural.

The essays (several written by Decker) are meticulously researched and broad in scope. They explore the myths and stereotypes of Alaskan life and culture alongside the more nuanced, often harsher realities of both. Priscilla Naungagiaq Hensley Holthouse, an Inupiaq writer, sums up what it means to be a northerner: "in turn, brutal and beautiful, like the land itself."

Sumptuously illustrated, North features the best of Alaskan indigenous crafts as well as art made by natives and visitors, always with a deep sense of the land's past and its future. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A gorgeously illustrated collection of essays on the rich, complicated realities of life and culture in Alaska.

Anchorage Museum/Univ. of Washington Press, $39.95, paperback, 304p., 9780295741840

Business & Economics

The Kinfolk Entrepreneur: Ideas for Meaningful Work

by Nathan Williams

Using slick design and trendy photography, Danish lifestyle magazine (and book publisher) Kinfolk focuses on dashing trailblazers around the world. The Kinfolk Entrepreneur peeks into the lives of 40 young creatives across 16 countries who have launched their own businesses. They represent the professional occupations of architects, publishers, gallerists and especially designers--but also a few outliers, including a New York City confectioner and Stockholm perfumer. The latter, heavily tattooed Ben Gorham, gave up a pro basketball career in Sweden to sniff out fragrances and design luxury goods. The entrepreneurs are introduced with short bios and business histories, but the meat of their stories is in the photo spreads of their offices, studios, shops--and their photogenic selves. This is classy eye candy for those who want to cut their own path. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Kinfolk looks inside the lives and work of a global mix of young maverick professionals.

Artisan, $35, hardcover, 368p., 9781579657581

Political Science

Democracy and Its Crisis

by A.C. Grayling

A.C. Grayling (The Challenge of Things) is a left-leaning British professor of philosophy, author of many books and well known for his columns and television appearances in the U.K. In Democracy and Its Crisis, he brings his expertise in the history of philosophy and political thought to the question of modern representative democracy, how it was developed over centuries, how it has recently failed and how we might repair it.

"For many centuries, the idea of democracy was regarded with revulsion and fear." Generations of great thinkers struggled with the question of how to harness the benefits of democracy "without risk of it collapsing into either mob rule or tyranny." Reasonable fears of demagoguery, of mob rule, "manipulation by a hidden oligarchy" and of the "ignorance, self-interest, short-termism and prejudice typical of too many voters" prevented the rise of effective democratic governments until the 18th century. With remarkable clarity and speed, Grayling examines the development of democratic political thought and surveys the ideas of Plato, Aristotle and Machiavelli, the Putney Debates of the English Civil War, Locke, Hobbes, Spinoza, Montesquieu and Rousseau, and the difficult creation of the U.S. Constitution. He argues that we must defend and strengthen the core principles of democracy through compulsory civic education, compulsory voting at an earlier age, and a reconfiguration of politics in civic life. The U.K. is his primary focus, with the U.S. second, but the ideas he discusses apply to the problems of democracy anywhere. This is a serious consideration of a complex subject by an excellent educator and writer, and is worth the time of anyone concerned for the future of good government. --Sara Catterall

Discover: This is a concise, clear and challenging survey of the history of democracy, its recent failures and how we might repair it.

ONEworld, $22.99, hardcover, 192p., 9781786072894

Social Science

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy

by Ta-Nehisi Coates

In We Were Eight Years in Power, MacArthur grant recipient and National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates collects one essay he wrote from each year Barack Obama was president, dissecting his assessments with notes preceding each piece. He's been called "America's best writer on race," which he hates--"not out of humility, but for how it undermined my own sense of what I was doing. I intended to play music in defiance of the masters, and some of those same masters were applauding." Coates wonders how he can defy a power that insists on claiming him, and wants to write something "that black people would recognize as original and old, something both classical and radical." He saw how writing could connect him to a broader tradition as he "chased" the work of Baldwin, Hurston, Doctorow, Forché: "All the magic I wanted was on the page."

His essays are incisive and his notes are apt. The epilogue was published in the Atlantic's October 2017 issue as "The First White President," and is searing. Coates's premise: Trump is a white man who owes his presidency to that fact, and has made the "awful inheritance [of slavery and racism] explicit."

Coates enjoyed the challenge the note writing presented; he says if he can communicate half that joy to the reader, he "will have done [his] job." He does that and more. He delivers a jeremiad not entirely bereft of hope, laced with wit and transcendent prose. He asks, "What does the story you tell matter, if the world is set upon hearing a different one?" His stories matter in the most urgent way. --Marilyn Dahl

Discover: A collection of incisive essays by Ta-Nehisi Coates written during Obama's presidency, with current commentary on each piece and a broadside epilogue.

One World, $28, hardcover, 400p., 9780399590566

The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity

by Esther Perel

Infidelity: the very word elicits a strong reaction from most people. Almost universally taboo, cheating can destroy a couple's relationship faster than almost anything else. However, according to renowned couples therapist Esther Perel, it's possible that affairs hold some important lessons for all parties involved. In her second nonfiction book, The State of Affairs, Perel argues for a new conversation around infidelity: its variations, root causes and ripple effects, and the chance that it may be an engine for growth.

Perel (Mating in Captivity) examines the enduring features of infidelity (secrecy, excitement, lies, jealousy, desire) and also delves into its particular expressions and complications in the 21st century (chat rooms, Internet porn, gender politics, open marriages). Each chapter includes stories of Perel's clients who have been affected by infidelity, and a nuanced look at their experiences. (While Perel includes plenty of statistics, she highlights the narratives because "it is the stories that lead us into the deeper human concerns of longing and disenchantment, commitment and erotic freedom.") She emphasizes the need for nonjudgmental conversation, the ways relationships shape a couple's sense of identity, and the surprising ways affairs can breathe new life into long-term relationships instead of shattering them.

"Love is messy; infidelity more so," Perel says. "But it is also a window, like none other, into the crevices of the human heart." The State of Affairs is a thoughtful view of the complicated landscape through that window: a sensitive take on a really sensitive topic. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Couples therapist Esther Perel provides a nuanced, thoughtful view of infidelity.

Harper, $26.99, hardcover, 336p., 9780062322586

Essays & Criticism

Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes

by Edith Hamilton

Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes is one of the seminal compendiums of classical Greek and Roman stories of the 20th century. And it has long been used as a textbook in schools. Now a 75th-anniversary edition features a new design as well as colored plates by illustrator Jim Tierney. Throughout Mythology, Hamilton condenses various texts into fluid stories about the ancient heroes and gods of the Mediterranean. Beautifully laid out, the book is a perfect gift for lovers of mythology who aren't interested in digging into the ancient texts themselves (teenagers are a perfect fit, since the writing level is a little complex for younger readers). --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: This reissue of Edith Hamilton's classic Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes is a gorgeous compendium of Greco-Roman stories.

Black Dog & Leventhal, $29.99, hardcover, 384p., 9780316438520

The Annotated African American Folktales

by Henry Louis Gates Jr., Maria Tatar, editors

In her rich introduction, Maria Tatar explains that the Annotated African American Folktales "aims to capture stories from times past... as collective forms of cultural expression." She acknowledges the scribes, journalists, authors and storytellers who transformed early performances--which many repudiated because of their associations with slavery--into written word, allowing them to live on as part of the country's literary canon. This collection offers history, literary and sociology buffs a robust assortment of tales, myths and legends that entertain, instruct and inspire, from early African stories, such as the Anansi legends, through Joel Chandler Harris's Uncle Remus tales to Caribbean and Latin American folklore. This beautiful anthology, complete with full-color illustrations and supplemental text as fascinating as the stories themselves, is a colossal gem for any reader. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: Tales, myths and legends that define the African American cultural legacy are packaged with brilliant illustrations and thoughtful annotations in this monumental anthology.

Liveright, $39.95, hardcover, 752p., 9780871407535

Psychology & Self-Help

The Misfit's Manifesto

by Lidia Yuknavitch

The author of a deeply affecting memoir and several novels starring strong girls and women, including the recent The Book of Joan, Lidia Yuknavitch throws a life raft to struggling, depressed, addicted and broken outcasts everywhere with The Misfit's Manifesto. This slim work of nonfiction picks up where her TED talk, "The Beauty of Being a Misfit," leaves off by first defining misfit not as someone who occasionally feels "like a failure or left out," but as someone who "never found a way to fit in at all, from the get-go."

With unflinching detail and prose so clear it cuts like crystal, Yuknavitch describes the experiences that led to her own misfit-dom: an abusive childhood, the death of her daughter, her subsequent struggle with drug addiction. Between these personal admissions are the stories of friends who also identify as misfits. There's the vet who learned to cope with PTSD by helping others; the transgender parent who asks to be called "dad" though he used to identify as a woman; the half-white, half-American Indian woman whose white family members call her "brainwashed" for caring about the environment.

Each story inspires, but none are treated as two-dimensional hero narratives. "Suffering is not a state of grace," writes Yuknavitch. But it does teach most of us, and misfits especially, how to get creative and survive. That's the take-home message, and it's a gift for anyone who reads it. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Lidia Yuknavitch's beautifully written and compassionate collection of personal essays encourages those struggling to fit in to accept themselves just as they are.

TED/Simon & Schuster, $16.99, hardcover, 120p., 9781501120060


The River of Consciousness

by Oliver Sacks

Two weeks before his death in 2015, author and neurologist Oliver Sacks (On the Move) arranged for the publication of his essay collection The River of Consciousness. Sacks was one of the finest science writers--well read, scientifically exact and literary.

The essays cover topics that include the sentience of worms and plants, the senses of speed and time, Darwin's extensive botanical writings, Freud's early work in neurology and anatomy, and how scientific progress is hampered by cultural expectations and fashions in ideas. The title essay considers the scientific evidence for "the idea that consciousness is composed of discrete moments" just as a film is composed of individual frames. "The Fallibility of Memory" deals with the phenomena of false memories, unconscious plagiarism and mistaken eyewitness testimonies, and how forgetting can allow for creativity, permitting us to "assimilate what we read, what we are told, what others say and think and write and paint, as intensely and richly as if they were primary experiences.... Memory is dialogic and arises not only from experience but from the intercourse of many minds."

Sacks's love of the natural world as well as the human one is contagious. The breadth of his interests encourages his readers to expand their own horizons. "I rejoice in the knowledge of my biological uniqueness and my biological antiquity and my biological kinship with all other forms of life. This knowledge roots me, allows me to feel at home in the natural world, to feel that I have my own sense of cultural meaning, whatever my role in the cultural, human world." His curiosity and erudition, and his joy in both intellectual and physical life are in full bloom on these pages. --Sara Catterall

Discover: A brilliant, beautiful and funny collection of essays on a variety of topics by the famed science writer, memoirist and neurologist Oliver Sacks.

Knopf, $27, hardcover, 256p., 9780385352567

Science Is Beautiful: Disease and Medicine: Under the Microscope

by Colin Salter

Who knew that deadly diseases, viruses and bacteria found in humans and animals--along with medications used to treat foreign invaders--could look so striking when ultra-magnified? Colin Salter (Science Is Beautiful: The Human Body Under the Microscope) presents more than 125 stunning microphotographs and short, informative text passages that capture the defense mechanisms of compromised immune systems and counteractive antidotes. Light and electron micrographs are enhanced with additional color to study--in fascinating, dazzling detail--the complexity of diseases and infections including hepatitis, cancer, Parkinson's, Ebola, candida and gonorrhea. Testosterone, cortisone and vitamin E, along with medicines like Viagra and aspirin, are also examined. Salter illuminates the nuances of diseases and medicine "from a safe distance," making this beautiful book appealing to inquisitive scientists, students, artists and photographers. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A fascinating, riveting glimpse into diseases, viruses, bacteria and medicines that affect the body.

Batsford, $35, hardcover, 192p., 9781849944410

Nature & Environment

Wild Horse Country: The History, Myth, and Future of the Mustang

by David Philipps

David Philipps (Lethal Warriors), a Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent for the New York Times, lives on the eastern slope of the Colorado Rockies. On the other side and west lies the Great Basin, the thinly populated land that is home to wild horse herds growing so fast that nobody knows quite what to do with them. Wild Horse Country is Philipps's illustrated investigation into the history, politics, legends and management of these storied symbols of America. Descended from strays, the wild horse "is not pedigreed. It has no stature.... It is beholden to no one. It will not be subjugated." No wonder it is the United States' only animal besides the bald eagle to be protected by specific national law--and no wonder this law has created such philosophical, financial and emotional drama.

Philipps interviews paleontologists who verified the presence of early horses in North America 50 million years ago. He describes the Spanish explorers' reintroduction of the horse in about 1500, and its adoption by Native Americans. Philipps also explores the backdrop to Zane Grey's 40 pulp novels of the Wild West. However, Philipps reserves more concern for the current state of these inspirational animals. The Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages the herds. With little budget and a typical bureaucratic snarl of regulations and acronyms, the BLM is trying to deal with a mustang population growing 15% a year.

The colorful, well-researched and well-reasoned Wild Horse Country concludes with an attempted answer to the wild horse dilemma, "something that could limit the herds without poisoning the legend." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Pulitzer Prize-winner David Philipps gets to the heart of the wild horse controversy with a little history, a little mystique, a little humor and a lot of solid investigation.

W.W. Norton, $27.95, hardcover, 368p., 9780393247138

Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World

by Noah Strycker

Avid birder Noah Strycker travels the globe in his colorful and thrilling memoir Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World. Strycker (Among Penguins) is associate editor of Birding magazine and brings adventure and enlightenment to the increasingly popular activity. "Birds are real," field guide author Kenn Kaufman says in the excellent foreword. "It's a deep dive into the real world." Strycker elaborates on this naturalist philosophy as he sets out in 2015 to observe and tally more than half of the world's living bird species in one year. His quest begins in Antarctica, continues up through the Americas, then shifts to Europe, Africa and Asia.

Strycker writes clear, naturally flowing prose that rises and dips with the vagaries of travel, allowing Birds Without Borders to soar. It serves as an exciting travelogue--Strycker's ventures in Peru turn truly harrowing when his vehicle breaks down on a remote mountain road. He faces similar problems in other developing countries and strikes a nice balance between suspense and more leisurely reflection on different cultures and customs. The book offers an introduction to the world's diverse bird species; with exquisite personal enthusiasm, Strycker describes the colors, shapes and movements of elusive birds--a harpy eagle in Brazil, an Oriental bay owl in India. He also captures the ethos of emerging conservation groups around the planet, a positive sign for the future. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: Aviphile Noah Strycker attempts to break the world's annual birding record in this inspiring memoir.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27, hardcover, 336p., 9780544558144

What We See in the Stars: An Illustrated Tour of the Night Sky

by Kelsey Oseid

Kelsey Oseid rekindles the magic of stargazing in this beautifully drawn edition that mixes scientific fact with the Greek and Roman mythology. In What We See in the Stars, Oseid gives readers an abbreviated tour of the night sky, from the stars that make up the 88 known constellations to planets, solar systems and the lesser-known celestial phenomena that lie in deep space. She covers Ptolemy's original 48 constellations in detail and offers an overview of the Milky Way, including the reasons why Pluto is no longer considered a planet. What makes this book so compelling is the storytelling; it's a yin-and-yang of reason and emotional longing that reflects the role human perception has had and continues to play in mapping the night sky. Handpainted illustrations in sparkly blue-and-silver packaging add to the book's charms and enhance the storytelling, to making it equally appealing to both children and adults.

"After all, it's our own stories we've been reading in the stars all along." --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: Kelsey Oseid mixes the science of the night sky and mythology that defines how we see the stars.

Ten Speed Press, $16.99, hardcover, 160p., 9780399579530

The Naturalist's Notebook: An Observation Guide and 5-Year Calendar Journal for Tracking Changes in the Natural World Around You

by Bernd Heinrich, Nathaniel T. Wheelwright

How often do you literally stop and smell the roses? According to The Naturalist's Notebook, probably not often enough. With this as your guide, you'll develop the resources to be in tune with nature year after year.

Co-authors Nathaniel T. Wheelwright and Bernd Heinrich encourage mindfulness, curiosity and respect for Mother Nature as ways to explore your natural surroundings. Once you learn to be observant, you can recognize nature's rhythm every year. Have daffodils been blooming? When do birds begin their migration south? By recording noteworthy events over time, you learn how to make sense of your observations and use them to develop new knowledge, including recognizing environmental changes. Bernd Heinrich's lovely illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to Wheelwright's thoughtful guidance. Journal entries encourage naturalists to take note of significant natural events, allowing for a five-year retrospective that documents nature in all of its glory. --Frank Brasile, selection librarian, writer, editor

Discover: This delightful resource for connecting with nature will please children and adults alike.

Storey Publishing, $19.95, hardcover, 208p., 9781612128894

A Charm of Goldfinches and Other Wild Gatherings

by Matt Sewell

"We as humans are romantic poets at heart," says illustrator Matt Sewell. In the introduction to A Charm of Goldfinches and Other Wild Gatherings, he muses on the urge to name what we see in nature, and the elaborate labels we choose as collective nouns. Consider, for example, a skein of geese and a fever of stingrays. For each entry in this handsome volume, Sewell's enchanting artwork brings the animal kingdom to life in a way that is just as quirky as the names they bear. And for the grammar geek, he explores a bit of the etymology and context as well. About a business of ferrets, he writes, "The broadly used term 'business' is actually a mistranslation of 'busyness.' As anyone can attest, ferrets are much more busy... than they are businesslike." For the nature lover, the word nerd and the eccentric who has everything, A Charm of Goldfinches is an offbeat treat. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Matt Sewell's illustrated guide to the fauna of the world focuses on creatures with idiosyncratic English collective nouns.

Ten Speed Press, $14.99, hardcover, 144p., 9780399579394

Children's & Young Adult

The Watcher: Inspired by Psalm 121

by Nikki Grimes, illus. by Bryan Collier

For those unfamiliar with "golden shovel" poems, here's how they work: choose an existing poem, then create a new poem by ending each line with the exact words, in order, of the original poem. Here, Coretta Scott King Award winner Nikki Grimes opens with Psalm 121, and alchemizes the verses into The Watcher, a contemporary narrative about a bully and her victim who learn how to be friends.

Jordan cowers and shivers in fear of Tanya, who has been "tease[d]... into meanness." When Israel, a new "kid with a weird accent" joins the class, Jordan warns him, " 'Do not/ trust Tanya!' " Jordan watches, and begins to see beyond Tanya's "pricks like a splinter." She steals because she's hungry. She growls because she's ashamed. She pushes because she worries about her ailing grandmother. Tanya gazes back, and notices Jordan doesn't laugh at her stutter. He smiles when she's angry. He sits with her when she's alone. He stays when she's afraid.

Guiding these former enemies toward cautious friendship is Psalm 121's good Lord, the titular Watcher nudging the children toward small acts of kindness that inspire leaps of faith. The psalm is Christian-specific but Grimes's message is all-encompassing, emphasizing understanding and caring. That empathy gets further embellished by four-time Caldecott Honoree Bryan Collier's (I, Too, Am America) extraordinary collages that combine photographs and drawings, close-ups and landscapes, highlighting how different children all have the similar need to be respected, cherished--and watched over. Hopeful and affecting, Grimes and Collier's third collaboration provides exquisite affirmation of the healing power of forgiveness and compassion. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: In this "golden shovel" poem inspired by Psalm 121, a contentious relationship between two young classmates turns into the beginnings of friendship.

Eerdmans, $17, hardcover, 42p., ages 6-10, 9780802854452


by Tahereh Mafi

As a mordeshoor for the magical village of Whichwood, 13-year-old orphan Laylee is bound by blood "to wash and package the dead destined for the Otherwhere." Thirteen-year-old Alice, from the town of Ferenwood, is tasked through her Surrender ("a magical coming-of-age ceremony") with helping Laylee--and not a second too soon: hard labor and the carelessness of her fellow villagers is draining the life from Laylee.

Whichwood, Tahereh Mafi's companion novel to Furthermore, is as absorbing as (if not more than) its predecessor. A chatty, friendly narrator who knows the characters intimately addresses the reader directly, injecting opinions about what's taking place through informative footnotes, droll asides and cautionary section markers, like "I fear this won't end well." The conversational tone helps ease the darker, more horror-like elements of the book, such as dead spirits wearing the skins of the living, while a dash of humor (said skinsuit "bunched up in all the wrong places") lightens it even more. Mafi's language choices create visually arresting moments, like the beauty of the setting sun: it "stepped down to let the moon slip by." These descriptions further bolster the fanciful setting.

Mafi deftly explores several appealing themes, including the healing power of friendship and the resilience to overcome adversity in her whimsical, Persian-inspired fantasy world. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader

Discover: In this companion to Furthermore, a girl destined to ease the dead's passage to the afterlife receives help from familiar strangers who reinvigorate her, literally and figuratively.

Dutton, $17.99, hardcover, 368p., ages 368, 9781101994795

A Line in the Dark

by Malinda Lo

Even though Angie Redmond seems oblivious, high school junior Jess Wong is very interested in the two of them sharing a romantic "happy ending." But no matter what happens, Jess needs to first make sure her longtime best friend is "okay." When a girl from the exclusive Pearson Brooke boarding school, exuding the usual "we-are-the-sh*t aura," walks into the Creamery where Angie works, Jess immediately senses trouble. And this is before she watches "the Peeb" steal a bag of candy. Afterward, Angie admits she thinks the Peeb (whose name is Margot) is cute, and she and Margot quickly begin dating.

Jess knows she should be happy for her best friend, but watching Angie and Margot together is like "a punch in [the] face." The girls clash repeatedly over Jess's jealousy and dislike of Margot (Jess is sure Angie is "not seeing the real Margot") and the two don't speak for weeks. When they finally make up, Angie convinces Jess to go with her to a small Christmas party at Margot's summer house. The party includes Margot's best friend Ryan, Ryan's boyfriend and four other entitled Peebs. Tensions mount--helped by a healthy dose of alcohol--and secrets, lies and a gun turn into a recipe for disaster.

Jess is a talented comic book artist who draws what she can't say out loud. Her well-thought-out, alternate magical world helps her make sense of her own life, which in turn feeds her art. Her characters Kestrel, Raven and Laney form a familiar love triangle, with passions building out of control. Malinda Lo (Ash) delivers an enthralling mystery full of twists, turns, dark heroics... and high school. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: When Jess Wong's longtime best friend and crush Angie begins dating another girl, buried secrets come to light with disastrous results.

Dutton, $17.99, hardcover, 288p., ages 14-up, 9780735227422

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives

by Dashka Slater

On November 4, 2013, two students on their way home overlap by eight minutes while riding the 57 bus across Oakland, Calif. Sasha, a private school senior, has Asperger's syndrome, was assigned male at birth, identifies as agender (neither male nor female), uses the pronoun "they" and prefers wearing skirts. They've dozed off reading Anna Karenina for their Russian literature class.

Richard, a public school junior, stands "[a] few feet away... laughing and joking" with a cousin and friend. The threesome "goof around, play fighting." And then Richard "surreptitiously flicks a lighter and touches it to the hem of [Sasha's] gauzy white skirt."

Sasha wakes in flames. Richard jumps off the bus. Sasha spends weeks enduring multiple surgeries in a San Francisco burn unit. Richard is arrested and charged as an adult for two felonies with hate-crime clauses.

In so many ways, the crime appears to be a black-and-white case of wrong vs. right. But award-winning journalist Dashka Slater--whose initial 2015 New York Times Magazine piece went viral--deconstructs easy assumptions in stringent detail, supported by such sources as video from the bus, public records and eyewitness interviews. She reveals surprising details that don't seem to make sense, including a letter to the Alameda County district attorney sent jointly from the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Transgender Law Center arguing against Richard being tried as an adult: " ' can demonstrate your office's commitment to protecting the victims of hate crimes without imposing adult sanctions on juvenile offenders.' " Knowing what happened doesn't equate to understanding how something happened, Slater proves, as she mesmerizingly shifts this true crime into a multi-layered lesson on the healing power of humanity. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Journalist Dashka Slater expands her New York Times Magazine article about a crime involving two Oakland, Calif., students.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $17.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 12-up, 9780374303235

The Secret of Nightingale Wood

by Lucy Strange

When 12-year-old Henrietta Abbott (who has "always been Henry") and her family move to a large old home in the English countryside called Hope House, it's supposed to be a fresh start. But Mama is still "confused and upset" by the tragic death of Henry's older brother, Robert, and Father escapes by taking a job abroad. Henry and her baby sister (affectionately called Piglet) are looked after by Nanny Jane, while Mama is cared for by Doctor Hardy, who keeps her sedated with increasing doses of his "special medicine." Asserting that Mama is too ill to see her remaining children, the doctor chases Henry away.

Henry explores nearby Nightingale Wood, and stumbles upon a fragile woman living in a caravan whom she comes to know as Moth. Even though Moth has her own sadness, she understands that to "lighten the darkness," Mama "needs stories, music, sunshine, birdsong, the smell of a rose, the smile of her daughter." Even with the growing certainty that Mama will be committed to Helldon, "a ghastly gray tomb of a building," Moth helps Henry believe "there will be a way to help."

Literature and fairy tales allow Henry to make sense of her world. Moth is like "a forgotten, fairy-tale princess," while Doctor Hardy "fill[s] the doorway like an ogre." Mama, trapped in her room, is Rapunzel, and numerous literary nightingales allude to freedom. In her debut novel, Strange tells a lovely, extraordinarily enchanting coming-of-age tale. Henry is determined to put things right, even while Dr. Hardy and the other adults begin to question her own sanity. As the cook's husband puts it, "we've all been tossed by the waves... the [t]rick is not to sink." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: When her family moves to the English countryside after the death of her older brother, 12-year-old Henrietta Abbott struggles to put her increasingly fragmented world back together.

Chicken House, $16.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 8-12, 9781338157475

Through with the Zoo

by Jacob Grant

Goat is unhappy living in the petting zoo where he is constantly touched by "grabby little hands." When he breaks out, heading for a place where he can be alone, he hightails it into the "big zoo," where the animals seem "safe from the wild children." First, he stays in the habitat of a "clingy koala." Then he moves in with a "nosy elephant." All the zoo animals want to be near him: the penguins surround him, the monkeys climb all over him and even the big bear embraces him like a cub. What's a little goat seeking a refuge to do? Then, Goat finds a big tree away from the crowds and the other animals, and, at first, it seems perfect: "No little faces, no little hands, no little hugs." Could Goat be content there?  Maybe, but he soon finds out that even he "needs a hug now and then." When Goat realizes that he can enjoy the diverse children at the petting zoo and solitary life in the big tree at different times, his happiness is complete.

With author-illustrator Jacob Grant's succinct text, subdued palette and retro-style digital illustrations, Through with the Zoo's quietly amusing premise will help young children sort out their own responses to crowds, hugs, noise, commotion and restful situations. Goat's face is hilariously expressive, displaying just how he feels about being touched, allowing children to find different ways to identify with him as they think about their own experiences at the playground, in preschool or at home. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer

Discover: Goat searches for a better way to live, sometimes staying with the other animals and zoo visitors, and sometimes enjoying his own company.

Feiwel & Friends, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-6, 9781250108142

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

by Karina Yan Glaser

If the Penderwicks (The Penderwicks on Gardam Street; The Penderwicks in Spring) were somehow to marry the Melendys (The Saturdays; The Four-Story Mistake), their babies would look a lot like The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street. This endearing and precocious biracial family includes 12-year-old twins Jessie (a wild-haired scientist) and sweet, introverted, violinist Isa; nine-year-old Oliver, the lone boy of the family and a fan of treehouses and Treasure Island; six-year-old Hyacinth, who "always had her best ideas when surrounded by her favorite things: scraps of odd-shaped fabric... [and] fat spools of thread in a rainbow of colors"; and four-and-three-quarter-year-old Laney, or her alter-ego, Panda-Laney.

The Vanderbeekers have lived for many years in their beloved Harlem brownstone in a warm and culturally rich community. When their cantankerous landlord, a man they call "the Beiderman," announces a week before Christmas that he is not renewing their lease, panic and despair ensue. The parents are resigned, and begin looking for new rentals, but the children launch Operation Beiderman, a secret campaign to convince Mr. Beiderman to let them stay. Tactics include croissants and a kitten delivered to his door (not at the same time); a neighborhood petition; sabotaging the Beiderman's efforts to rent the apartment; and torturing him with sewing needles and Laney's hugs (that one was vetoed).

Karina Yan Glaser weaves all the wonderful elements of old-fashioned family novels into this contemporary, diversely populated story. The kids have wi-fi, but they also play music and read books and conduct elaborate scientific experiments. A heartwarming holiday story for any time of the year. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Members of a large, lively Harlem family combine their best assets to try to prevent their landlord from terminating their lease, resulting in delightful, touching chaos.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 8-12, 9780544876392

Louis Undercover

by Fanny Britt, trans. by Christelle Morelli, Susan Ouriou, illus. by Isabelle Arsenault

Following a successful partnership in the publication of Jane, the Fox and Me, writer Fanny Britt and illustrator Isabelle Arsenault have teamed up again for a second middle-grade graphic novel. Louis Undercover follows a boy from a broken home, who, with his little brother, Truffle, splits time between his alcoholic father and protective mother. Louis is a perceptive child, recognizing that his dad cries in the same way "a dog barks" or "a cat meows."

On his apartment balcony, Louis and his best friend, Boris, spy on cars to find ghost cops: "Is he wearing a trench coat? Undercover cops always wear trench coats." Boris also encourages Louis to talk to his secret love, Billie, whom Louis sees as "a spectacled siren, a rainstorm, a chocolate fountain, a silent queen." But mostly he admires her bravery when she stands up to bullies--Louis is acutely aware of his own lack of courage.

When events bring Louis's family together for a trip to New York City, "the big city swallows [them] up for four golden, milkshake-filled days." But the perfection cannot last.

Britt's words, eloquently translated by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou from the original French, read as authentic preteen wisdom unfiltered by adult experience or cynicism. Arsenault's illustrations complement the text with powerful use of color and texture, conveying emotion better than words could. Louis Undercover forgoes preaching to deliver a subtly complex, beautifully honest story about the meaning of bravery. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: This profound graphic novel bundles the enormity of its themes--including alcoholism, family and bravery--into a heartwarming, picture book-sized package.

Groundwood, $19.95, hardcover, 160p., ages 10-14, 9781554988594

Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel

by Mariah Marsden, adaptor, illus. by Brenna Thummler

Anne Shirley has been delighting readers for generations; her "genius for trouble" and the family she finds in Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert's home are timeless experiences, even with the early 20th-century setting of puffed sleeves and one-room schoolhouses. In her graphic novel adaptation of the classic story, Mariah Marsden faithfully recounts orphan Anne's story, using dialogue to shape the narrative rather than description. Whether it's getting Diana drunk on currant wine or breaking her slate on Gilbert's head after he calls her "carrots," Marsden re-creates Anne's most memorable moments in simple vignettes. The adaptation succeeds by building on Anne's high energy, incorporating simplifications of many of Anne's celebrated interjections throughout ("Would you rather be divinely beautiful, dazzlingly clever, or angelically good? I can never decide").

Brenna Thummler's bright, expressive illustrations are a fittingly colorful expression for Anne's fierce heart and buoyant curiosity. Much of her story is told through full-page spreads of wordless panels, suitable for both younger and reluctant readers, and Thummler's illustrations shine as they portray the beautiful world of Avonlea, as well as scenes like Gilbert's attempt to reconcile with Anne by candy heart. "I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers," Anne exclaims, on a striking two-page spread framed by trees shedding orange leaves almost the same color of her hair. This fall, readers will be glad, too, as Anne-with-an-E glides back into their lives. --Stephanie Anderson, assistant director of selection, BookOps

Discover: A classic presented in a new format that's perfectly suited for one of the most imaginative girls in children's literature.

Andrews McMeel, $10.99, paperback, 232p., ages 7-12, 9781449479602

The Tea Dragon Society

by Katie O'Neill

On her walk home from apprenticing in her half-goblin mother's blacksmith shop, Greta finds two scary-looking dogs cornering a tiny, terrified animal. Realizing the dogs are hungry, Greta gives them the meat she was bringing home for dinner and scoops up the little creature. At home, she gets a closer look at the animal. Seafoam green in color, it looks to be some sort of baby dragon... with leaves growing out of its horns. Greta's scholarly human father knows exactly what the animal is and who it belongs to.

A "little way out of town," the Sylph, Hesekiel, runs a tea shop with his human partner, Erik. Hesekiel is delighted to have Greta reunite him with the tiny Tea Dragon, a mercurial, domesticated animal whose leaves are harvested and turned into highly desired tea. But raising a Tea Dragon (and its leaves) to maturity is a difficult and time-consuming task and, of the many members who used to be part of a worldwide Tea Dragon appreciation and caregiving group called the Tea Dragon Society, Hesekiel and Erik are now the only two left. Greta's interest in and commitment to the dragons pulls her into the cozy world of the Tea Dragon trade.

The pace of Katie O'Neill's (Princess Princess Ever After) world is reflected by the design of the graphic novel: gentle, fully saturated colors and story development that is leisurely yet full of life. The page's natural white space acts as the borders for each panel illustration, allowing for individual panels to spread out organically. The magic of the world is in the forefront as the novel and color palette move from season to season, beginning and ending with spring. Greta's story is soft and sweet, a journey of growing love and friendships. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Katie O'Neill's Tea Dragon Society is a magical world full of diverse peoples and gentle creatures.

Oni Press, $17.99, hardcover, 72p., ages 9-12, 9781620104415

Locked Up for Freedom: Civil Rights Protesters at the Leesburg Stockade

by Heather E. Schwartz

Journalist and author Heather E. Schwartz ventures into one of the many dark corners of the U.S. civil rights movement, illuminating the ghastly story of more than 30 African-American preteen and teenage girls from Americus, Ga., who were arrested in the summer of 1963. While young protestors were just as likely as adult protestors to be arrested and mistreated, Americus police did something unusual in this case, moving the group out of the city jail and into an old, Civil War-era prison miles away in Leesburg, Ga. The girls had no idea where they were, and their parents were not informed. Instead, the detainees--the girls were never charged with crimes--were at the mercy of their callous, hate-filled prison guards.

In Locked Up for Freedom, Schwartz explores the nightmare these children experienced. Weaving in background on the civil rights movement, Jim Crow laws and other high-profile events of the period in call-out sections, the book has an interactive feel, engaging readers in a physically uncomfortable yet vitally important topic. Focusing on girls similar in age to her target audience, Schwartz allows readers to see themselves in these young heroes.

Events like the Americus girls' experience have quietly remained in the shadows of U.S. history; in this striking exposé for young readers, Schwartz reveals a disgraceful blemish on the nation's past and gives a powerful voice to the victims. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: The miscarriage of justice against more than 30 girls from Americus, Ga., during the civil rights movement comes to light in words and pictures that will infuriate and inspire young readers.

Millbrook Press, $33.32, hardcover, 64p., ages 10-14, 9781467785976

The Adventurers Guild

by Zack Loran Clark, Nick Eliopulos

In the city of Freestone, children have their entire lives mapped out for them at the age of 11 when they undergo a sorting process called the "Guildculling." During this public ceremony, the Guilds--a combination profession and caste system--choose which children they will accept. Best friends Zed and Brock are on the cusp of getting everything they've ever wanted: wisecracking Brock is a shoo-in for the Merchants Guild, while shy Zed has a chance that his elven blood might get him into the prestigious Mages, allowing him to give a better life to his Servants Guild mother. But the dangerous Adventurers Guild, a ragtag militia, can trump the choice of any other Guild, and suddenly Brock and Zed are a part of the rudest, crudest and most reviled guild of them all, sworn with fellow new recruits Liza and Jett to protect Freestone against the dangers that surround its walls.

The Adventurers Guild stands out within the fantasy genre, displaying a wonderfully diverse cast of characters. Authors Nick Eliopulos (Spirit Animals) and Zack Loran Clark are enthusiastic Dungeons & Dragons players, and the influences can be seen in their fantastic world as, in any good D&D adventure, Brock and Zed face increasingly scary monsters and trickier moral choices. The novel also makes a case for pulling together to achieve the impossible: "A handful of stars working together can make a constellation to guide the lost," says the intimidating guildmistress Alabasel Frond. "A skyful could illuminate the world." And, aside from its many other merits, The Adventurers Guild is simply great fun to read. --Ali Davis, freelance writer and playwright

Discover: A rough-and-tumble adventure story with monsters, intrigue and a heart of gold.

Disney-Hyperion, $16.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 8-11, 9781484788011

Reference & Writing

This Is What a Librarian Looks Like: A Celebration of Libraries, Communities, and Access to Information

by Kyle Cassidy

Kyle Cassidy (War Paint: Tattoo Culture & the Armed Forces) proved in a 2014 Slate photo essay that the tweed-armored, bun-headed, shushing librarian stereotype bears little resemblance to the passionate professionals working in today's field of information science. He now offers an expanded look at the faces and voices of modern librarians.

This new compilation features more than 200 portraits of librarians and archivists of every age and skin color--with hair ranging from grey to rainbow-dyed, and the occasional tattoo or piercing--accompanied by their explanations of what they do and why the field remains vibrant and vital. Cassidy also includes his own essays on a few standout stories, including one library's smash hit American Girl doll-lending program. Celebrity contributors such as George R.R. Martin and Cory Doctorow add their thoughts on the wonder and necessity of libraries. Give Cassidy's encore to library lovers--or anyone in need of convincing. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager, Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library

Discover: An expansion of the Slate essay by the same name, Cassidy's compilation of photos, interview excerpts and essays makes a passionate case for libraries.

Black Dog & Leventhal, $24.99, hardcover, 240p., 9780316393980


Waiting for the Punch: Words to Live by from the WTF Podcast

by Marc Maron, Brendan McDonald

In 2009, comedian Marc Maron began interviewing his friends for a twice-weekly podcast he still records in his garage. With each episode of WTF with Marc Maron running an hour or longer, Maron's intimate setting and relaxed, freeform conversational style lures comedians, actors, writers, directors and musicians into becoming more vulnerable and open. Waiting for the Punch is a powerful and fascinating collection of some of those conversations. Although the majority of these conversations are with comedians, they are deadly serious when they discuss childhood sexual abuse, drug and alcohol addictions, failed relationships, mental illness, sexuality and death.

These soul-baring interviews are woven together by topic, and form a compelling tapestry of voices and advice from survivors who have faced tragedies, loss and shame, and have put themselves on the path to healing. Bruce Springsteen discusses reversing parent-child roles with his schizophrenic father. Aubrey Plaza reveals she suffered a stroke at age 20. Artie Lange and Natasha Lyonne share their struggles with sobriety.

The extensive roster of celebrities sharing harrowing and darkly humorous tales include Amy Schumer, Garry Shandling, Lena Dunham, Mel Brooks, Barack Obama, Dan Savage, Margaret Cho, Sasha Baron Cohen and Amy Poehler. Louis CK sums up Maron's gift for creating a confessional space: "We understand each other's flaws really well. That's why we're able to tell each other things that we don't want to tell anyone else." Waiting for the Punch is a knockout collection of heartbreaking conversations that will help heal many readers. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Harrowing and darkly humorous, this collection of celebrity conversations from Marc Maron's long-running podcast is shocking, revealing and healing.

Flatiron Books, $27.99, hardcover, 416p., 9781250088888

Everything Is Awful: And Other Observations

by Matt Bellassai

"Everything is copy," the late Nora Ephron's screenwriter mother famously told her. Everything Is Awful is the response from social media fixture, comic and Ephron disciple Matt Bellassai.

The 21 autobiographical essays in Bellassai's first book flow roughly chronologically, starting with a harrowing tale of juvenile embarrassment ("I was six years old when I last peed my pants") and never letting up. The first half of the collection focuses on Bellassai's suburban Chicago childhood, spent as a hefty, athletically challenged kid suffering fairly universal middle-class traumas (orthodontia, torturesome family vacations, nerd status). His stories call to mind a millennial's R-rated Wonder Years. Then it's on to first-world adult trials, including fashion woes (Bellassai used to wear cargo jorts--"What did I keep in them? Definitely not my dignity") and the time the cameraman trained his lens on the wrong guy when Bellassai won a People's Choice Award for Favorite Social Media Star.

All this bummer content is indeed good copy because it's filtered through the mind of a natural wit. Especially sturdy are Bellassai's pieces on coming to terms with being gay and, before he comes out, falling in love with his straight best friend. At one point, he's reduced to hiding in the friend's dorm room--"a closeted gay lunatic sitting on the ground of a literal closet." Lest the reader consider taking Bellassai's plight too seriously, he hastens to note, "I was a strange person to begin with, so hiding in a closet, all things considered, didn't register as insane." --Nell Beram, freelance writer and author

Discover: In social media favorite Matt Bellassai's debut essay collection, a bad day means good copy.

Keywords Press/Atria, $22, hardcover, 256p., 9781501166495

Performing Arts

Breaking Bad 101: The Complete Critical Companion

by Alan Sepinwall

A television drama with a ludicrous premise (dying chemistry teacher cooks and sells methamphetamine to build a family nest egg), Breaking Bad was rejected by major networks and shuffled off to cable. From humble beginnings, it became a critical darling and a top-rated, multi-Emmy-winning sensation. In Breaking Bad 101, longtime critic Alan Sepinwall (The Revolution Was Televised) dissects a show so successful at captivating an audience that he watched "the greatest hour of dramatic television ever made" ("Ozymandias"; season five, episode 14) from a hospital bed after nearly dying from a burst appendix.

The book includes updated show recaps supplemented with insightful details about all 62 episodes, with sidebars of insider facts and back stories, commentary from the actors and creators, as well as brilliant black-and-white comic-style artwork that exemplifies the show's dark humor. Breaking Bad 101 is incredibly fun, but shines when Sepinwall explores the elements that elevated an impractical pitch to awe-inspiring success.

From its focus on the "in-between moments" to its use of cinematography to show rather than tell, Breaking Bad is a model of efficacious storytelling. Many plots would crumble from the fragile framework upon which creator Vince Gilligan and his crew built their masterpiece, but this one grew to epic proportions on the strength of its foundation--the writing (and some admittedly happy accidents). Sepinwall reveals how the script held millions of viewers in suspense while a year of real-time story was spread over several glacially paced seasons of television in a masterful display of craftsmanship. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: Alan Sepinwall offers an episode-by-episode companion to arguably the greatest television drama of all time that will satisfy artists, casual fans and series aficionados.

Abrams, $27.50, hardcover, 288p., 9781419724831

The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums

by Will Friedwald

Few music critics are as persuasive, knowledgeable and passionate as Will Friedwald. He's also supremely ambitious: after writing more than 200 biographies for his essential 2010 book, A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers, he has chosen another Herculean task. In The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums, Friedwald showcases 53 of the best of the 20th century.

Friedwald offers fascinating stories about how each album was made. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong recorded all 11 tracks of Ella and Louis in one day. Doris Day and Robert Goulet never met while recording Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun--Day recorded her vocals in California and Goulet did his in New York. Friedwald succinctly appraises each album track by track. Readers also learn about the evolution of the long-playing record and the careers and lives of each artist.

Some artists earn recognition several times over. Louis Armstrong, Doris Day and Jo Stafford each have three albums on the list. Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan, Bing Crosby and Peggy Lee show up twice. Other artists include Chet Baker, June Christie, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Dinah Washington, Bobby Short and Tiny Tim, who receives a spirited defense. Friedwald is an irresistible mixture of enthusiastic fan and erudite historian. He describes Judy Garland's Judy at Carnegie Hall as "That rare moment in the cultural firmament when pop music became something like Henry V's victory on St. Crispin's Day." This outstanding reference guide will be a boon to music retailers: Friedwald's intoxicating descriptions will create new music fans and invigorate older ones. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Will Friedwald's passionate, persuasive and irresistible guide to the best jazz and pop vocal albums is essential reading for music lovers.

Pantheon, $40, hardcover, 432p., 9780307379078

The Art of Horror Movies: An Illustrated History

by Stephen Jones, editor

Horror movie buffs will find The Art of Horror Movies impossible to resist. This beautifully designed book is full of amazing, vibrant and varied artwork--more than 600 images. These include classic, iconic and rare horror movie poster art, as well as paintings and illustrations created for comic books, magazines and novelizations. Some of the most striking art comes from present-day digital artists who salute and reinvent vintage horror film art.

Stephen Jones and his contributors--film critics, journalists and historians--also offer a superb, concise and opinionated overview of a century's worth of horror on celluloid. Each chapter represents one decade of horror film output, both U.S. and international films. Sprinkled throughout are appreciations of some of the genre's MVPs: actors (such as Boris Karloff and Jamie Lee Curtis), producers, directors and studios. This art book is a treat for horror film enthusiasts, and overflows with vibrant images and fascinating film lore. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: A beautifully illustrated and knowledgably written art book celebrating 100 years of horror films.

Applause, $40, hardcover, 256p., 9781495064845

Art & Photography

This Book Is a Planetarium: And Other Extraordinary Pop-Up Contraptions

by Kelli Anderson

This Book Is a Planetarium--as well as a musical instrument, a decoder ring, a spiralgraph and more. With a smartphone or small LED light, the galaxy comes to your living room. Graphic designer Kelli Anderson exults in the science and the art in the everyday, here playing with the powers of paper. This short but engrossing large-format book is at once an art object and a collection of teaching tools. Each page pops up and moves, dynamically demonstrating lessons from physics, geometry and astronomy. Brief explanations in small print further expand the didactic element. While the text is written for adults, not children, a little grown-up assistance (and supervision of removable parts) could make this an educational toy for all ages. Sensory play involving touch and sound as well as sight is too often left to the kids, but This Book Is a Planetarium is a physical object and absorbing interactive experience for all curious and young-at-heart readers. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This is a work of art, teaching tool, pop-up toy and book that will delight playful lifetime learners.

Chronicle, $40, hardcover, 5p., 9781452136219

The Stampographer

by Vincent Sardon

The Stampographer is a different kind of coffee-table book. Vincent Sardon makes rubber stamps because "the stamp is never neutral"; it generally appears as a tool of bureaucracy, but here subverts authority to play with taboo. The book's endpapers are filled with repeating middle fingers, its pages with insults, erotic and violent images, the profane and the vulgar. In an interview (the volume's only text), Sardon denies any such political motive: "My work simply reflects the world, which seems to have been created by an absolute moron."

These are evocative images and complex references to art and history, showcasing Sardon's dark, satiric, antagonistic sense of humor. He considers his stamps "both tools and works of art," and sells them only to amateurs, not artists, from a private gallery in Paris. Readers not local to Paris are lucky to get a glimpse of his work in this unrivaled art book. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This iconoclastic French artist's work with rubber stamps is for fans of fart jokes, the f-bomb and political satire.

Siglio Press, $32.50, hardcover, 108p., 9781938221163

Sory Sanlé: Volta Photo 1965-1985

by Sory Sanlé

To capture the dreams and fantasies of the mostly young people of Burkina Faso's second largest city, Bobo-Dioulasso, self-taught photographer Sory Sanlé launched his portrait studio, Volta Photo, in 1960. This was just as his country, known as Upper Volta until 1984, became independent of the French. Sory Sanlé: Volta Photo 1965-1985 lays out a cross-section of his striking black-and-white portraits--several featuring men and women in Western-influenced 1960s bellbottoms, cigarettes dangling from their lips and sunglasses on their noses. Against Sanlé's hand-painted backdrops, some subjects rock their Bobo Yéyé record-cover look, some are a gunslinger fantasy. Boxers, sports car drivers, Djombolai dancers--whatever his paying customers wanted, Sanlé found a way to represent. Sanlé's talent, however, makes these portraits more art than flattery, more authentic than make-believe. They embody Burkinabes at the dawn of independence. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: In sharp black-and-white portraits, Burkino Faso commercial photographer Sory Sanlé offers a portrait of his young country's exuberance and dreams.

Reel Art Press/Morton Hill, $29.95, hardcover, 80p., 9781909526525

The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow

by Jackie Morris

Jackie Morris has created mystical and ethereal watercolor illustrations filled with polar bears dancing with women, fairies riding on the backs of snowshoe hares, giant cats, hot air balloons, birds and musical instruments of all sorts in The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow. The accompanying evocative tales tell stories of love, longing and forgiveness, of kings and their courts, and of the beauty, ugliness and cruelty of the world. Yet they leave the reader smiling and daydreaming about what happens next to the young lovers, musicians and numerous animals as they share music, wisdom and life with one another. The detailed wintery fantasy illustrations were first created as Christmas cards for Help Musicians UK and the musical theme runs through both the painting and fairy tales, creating a delightful blend suitable for children and adults. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A wintery fantasy world of dancing polar bears, young lovers, musicians and related tales.

Graffeg Limited, $37.95, hardcover, 100p., 9781910862650

Duane Michals: Portraits

by Duane Michals

After photographing iconic artists for more than 50 years, Duane Michals presents a collection of his work, some accompanied by his musings, in Portraits. Michals searches for the surprise in personalities such as Carol Burnett, Peter O'Toole and Tilda Swinton, and implores viewers to stop looking at people but into them. His subjects are often captured as reflections in mirrors or windows, clouded by smoke, or--in the case of Stephen King--peering through a spider web because "oh what a wicked web King weaves." The most moving portrait is of Michals's father, staring straight at the camera but remaining unreadable. Throughout his life, the elder Michals promised to write his son a letter but died without doing so, leaving the photographer wondering "where he had hidden his love." --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: Many of Duane Michals' portraits from the past 50 years show icons in an inimitable light.

Thames & Hudson, $45, hardcover, 176p., 9780500544877

Into Africa

by Frans Lanting

National Geographic photographer Frans Lanting takes readers Into Africa with pictures that go beyond being gorgeous. His expert eye and camera lens capture native wildlife in moments most people probably will never witness in real life. A chameleon strikes its prey--a grasshopper--with its body-length tongue, "which happens faster than the eye can see." A creepy-looking nocturnal lemur--called an aye-aye and known in Malagasy folklore as "a harbinger of death"--eats a coconut by "scooping out flesh with its bony fingers." The heartbreaking close-up of a zebra's green eye reflects the trophy hunters who killed it right before the picture was taken. Lanting's arresting photos, taken in locations including Madagascar, the Congo and Serengeti Plains, showcase the beauty, tragedy and circle of life. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: National Geographic photographer Frans Lanting captures rarely seen moments in African wildlife.

Earth Aware Editions, $50, hardcover, 224p., 9781608878895

Firecrackers: Female Photographers Now

by Max Houghton, Fiona Rogers

In his foreword to Firecrackers, co-author Max Houghton explains that "how things are seen has a monumental effect on how they are then known or understood." But the perspective of men has long been photography's dominant view. Firecrackers displays the work of 33 phenomenally talented female photographers from around the globe, exploring the optical angle on their environments. From Australian-Singaporean Ying Ang's tension-filled Gold Coast series to Afghan-American Behnaz Babazadeh's politically charged Edible Burka collection and Belgian Bieke Depoorter's brave Ou Menya ("with you") project, contemporary women are creating meaningful art. Firecrackers presents their visual creations in stunning color, allowing all the style, technique and outlook to burst from the page. Art fans--especially photography buffs--will covet this powerful compilation of images and spend hours studying its pages. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: A mesmerizing collection of photography from 33 of the world's most talented female photographers will entice all art lovers.

Thames & Hudson, $45, hardcover, 240p., 9780500544747

Chip Kidd: Book Two: Work: 2007-2017

by Chip Kidd

Chip Kidd, graphic designer and associate art director at esteemed publisher Alfred A. Knopf, said in a recent Shelf Awareness interview, "I have been so lucky to work with such a diverse group of writers and cartoonists who come from so many unrelated backgrounds. I would say the common thread is that they're all great at what they do, and I just hope I can contribute in some small way to that."

He certainly has. He's justifiably famous for his book covers; Chip Kidd: Book Two showcases stunning dust jackets, along with movie posters, magazine covers, CD art, graphic novels and book illustrations. Particularly enjoyable are Kidd's notes about each composition--inspiration, research, process, and completion. This is the perfect gift for book lovers and artists. --Marilyn Dahl

Discover: Chip Kidd's art, particularly his iconic book covers, are well showcased in this second volume covering the most recent decade of his work.

Rizzoli, $60, hardcover, 320p., 9780847860081



by John Freeman

Editor John Freeman's first collection of poetry, Maps, is both global and deeply personal. Pieces like "Sarejevo (Summer 2016)" are examples in miniature, where Freeman and a nameless companion walk down a street in Bosnia that he doesn't know but she knows all too well, since it was the site of a near-death experience. The poem's title suggests a certain exoticism, especially for an American like Freeman, but the piece is really about how geography stays in human memory, even as the actual physical landscape shifts and alters. "You're here; you survived;/ and you're there," he notes in the poem's climax, an idea that runs throughout most of the collection.

Nearly every poem in Maps is a threnody, either to a person or a place. But they also follow attempts at reclaiming that loss. "I went back to the city we visited" begins "Return," while "Oslo" starts with: "I've been here/ before." Freeman's characters are always circling back, trying to make sense of the spaces they once inhabited, as if in the hope they will make sense of the people missing. The two major tragedies in Maps are a divorce and the death of a parent, both of which appear in many of the poems. It's never clear whether these events are autobiographical, and they are universal enough that he may simply be taking different angles at the two most important aspects of life: love and death. Either way, Maps beautifully captures the geography of both. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: John Freeman's Maps combines global concerns with images of trauma, loss and memory.

Copper Canyon Press, $17, paperback, 144p., 9781556595233

Some Say the Lark

by Jennifer Chang

Jennifer Chang (The History of Anonymity) is an accomplished poet with a distinct voice whose work has appeared in PoetryAmerican Poetry Review and the Nation. In her vivid second collection, Some Say the Lark, she is at her inventive best. Divided into four sections, the book takes its title from a passage of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in which Juliet purposely calls the song of a lark that of a nightingale in order to prolong the amorous night and keep Romeo near.

So Chang plunges into the deceptions of love. She is a poet who merges the abstract and the concrete with fierce, visceral energy. "My guts vast, impossible," she states in "There Are Too Many Other Birds to Write About." In "Small Philosophies," one of the collection's best, Chang breaks up experience into "Phenomenology," "Logic" and "Epistemology." "You are a quality/ and a thing silenced/ by pine-shrug," the poet writes in the section of the poem devoted to phenomenology--a branch of philosophy concerned with human consciousness and self-awareness.

Chang's best poems are characterized by openness to pain, to language and the mysterious way it interacts with the wounded psyche. "It's work to gather the seasons,/ to ask a question that finds the feeling/ at the troubled core of thought," the poet states in "Lost Child." In being open to the meanings of love and loss, Chang also exposes the reader to new perceptions and possibilities of being. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: Acclaimed poet Jennifer Chang reconstructs selfhood from the ruins of love in this deep and affecting poetry collection.

Alice James Books, $15.95, paperback, 100p., 9781938584664


by Rachel McKibbens

As the word "blud" is slang for mate or companion, it's fitting that Rachel McKibbens's poetry collection leaves an impression of rough-hewn camaraderie, of bonds forged in trauma.

McKibbens (Into the Dark & Emptying Field) is a poet, activist and playwright who has built her reputation as a passionate performer and chronicler of society's disenfranchised. In blud, her verse is rich with imagery and symbolism but moves with a visceral force, as if propelled by the exigencies of living, by "the delirium chorus/ of a rowing mind," as the poet states in "poem written with a sawed-off typewriter."

Throughout four sections, the poems address abuse, misogyny, mental illness and various forms of trauma, but they don't wallow. They produce an urgent sense of self-determination. In "three strikes," the poet describes herself as "Hell-spangled girl/ spitting teeth into the sink,/ I'd trace the broken/ landscape of my body/ & find God/ within myself." There's also a sense in these poems of reaching out to other broken beings, especially women, evoking pathos as well as intense homoeroticism. "I want to soothe her many hands,/ trace each silver bolt of/ childbirth etched along/ her torso, taste the salted/ hole of her, this sacred,/ this blood-hot church," the poet declaims in "sermon."

Religious themes appear more than once; however, as with the title word, common tropes are repurposed to the poet's own vision. In blud, McKibbens unleashes a fierce, fraught voice crying out for others in the wilderness. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: Poet and activist Rachel McKibbens evokes the power of the self and the bonds of womanhood in this intense and image-rich collection.

Copper Canyon Press, $16, paperback, 88p., 9781556595240


Author Buzz

Dear Reader,

Cass, the singularly reliable wife and mother in POISON, has a blissful marriage...until she begins to suspect that her husband may be trying to kill her. But when she takes action to save herself and her children, no one believes her. 

I wrote POISON as both a suspenseful thriller and a cautionary tale to promote discussion and to keep you riveted. Please write for a chance to win one of five copies.

-Galt Niederhoffer


Buy this book

St. Martin's Press 

Pub Date:
Nov. 21, 2017


List Price: $26.99


Dear Reader,

Archeologist Nick Randall searches for the lost city of Vilcabamba. Hidden deep in the Amazon, he believes it holds proof that his controversial theories are true. When he disappears, his daughter Samantha must set aside her own career to search for him. But someone else seeks him as well. Francis Dumond, a shadowy man with unlimited resources, will stop at nothing to find him first. 

THE RUINS, is a 2015 Adventure Writers Competition semi-finalist. Readers Favorite says, “Robert Rapoza has constructed an elder statesman/action hero worthy of Pierce Brosnan or Liam Neeson.”

Email with the subject line "The Ruins Giveaway" to win one of five signed copies. 

Robert Rapoza


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Ravenswood Publishing  

Pub Date:
Sept. 1, 2017


List Price: $13.99


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