Frankenstein in Baghdad
by Ahmed Saadawi, trans. by Jonathan Wright
Baghdad during the 2003 U.S. occupation of Iraq is a city of soldiers, shortages and car bombings. Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi, translated by Jonathan Wright, is a surreal, tragicomic look at people persevering through the random cruelty of war.
Hadi, a junk dealer, collects body parts after bombings and sews them together, creating a grotesque, human-like form. When his creation becomes sentient after prayers from a grieving mother, it takes on a mission to avenge those who caused the death of any piece of its body. The creature is "not exactly a living being, but not a dead one either," and this could also be said of many people surviving in war-torn Baghdad. The ensuing carnage creates widespread anxiety.
Brigadier Majid, head of the undercover Tracking and Pursuit Department, uses his team of astrologers, mystics and clairvoyants to find the killer. Journalist Mahmoud al-Sawadi, through whose eyes much of the story is seen, investigates the inexplicable deaths while trying to manage a career within the conflict zone. Citizens dismayed about the deterioration of municipal institutions and jittery about fatal bombings now add worry about a serial killer. Possibly, says one character, "all the security incidents and the tragedies we're seeing stem from one thing--fear."
Frankenstein in Baghdad won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2014, with a cast of characters so interesting that they could each have a novel of their own. This important addition to literature about the nonsensical nature of war is a compelling and lively read. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: Frankenstein in Baghdad is a darkly humorous allegory of the ways in which humans persevere amid the absurdities and horrors of war.
paperback, 288p., 9780143128793
by Akwaeke Emezi
Akwaeke Emezi's standout first novel, Freshwater, is a riveting and peculiar variation on coming of age. Ada is a Nigerian girl born into great power. Her name invokes the serpent deity of an ancient pantheon, and beckons an Igbo god collective to inhabit her form. These ogbanje are the voices that narrate Ada's youth and blooming adulthood, holding their vessel captive to their whims and assuming control when necessary to protect her.
The girl's childhood is marked by an unstable home life and volatile parents that compound her inner torments. She immigrates to the United States for school, where she is introduced to an ongoing legacy of virulent racism. The cruelty she faces intensifies with betrayals and sexual assault, and in time the supernatural swirl inside her coalesces into one, then two, then more gods who take center stage.
While Freshwater touches the many dark, complicated notes of a troubled adolescence, Emezi extrapolates their consequences into a deliriously metaphysical realm. Mental health, self-harm, abuse, heartbreak and isolation take on supernatural gravity, and mundane natural elements manifest with strong, sometimes harsh, physicality.
As enchanting as it is unsettling, Freshwater tickles all six senses. The chorus of voices narrating Ada's life achieves a remarkable balance between cruel machinations of cavalier deities and deep empathy for the distressed vessel they inhabit. But whether they are the source of Ada's problems or her buoy against them is one question that drives this refreshingly imaginative debut. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A collective of ancient gods guides and guards the young woman they inhabit throughout a treacherous coming of age in Akwaeke Emezi's dazzling debut novel.
hardcover, 240p., 9780802127358
Next Year in Havana
by Chanel Cleeton
Cuban American writer Marisol Ferrera grew up on her grandmother's stories: richly described tales of the Perez family's comfortable life in Havana before the revolution. The daughter of a sugar baron, Elisa Perez was forced to flee with her family when Fidel Castro and his men ousted Batista in 1959. Marisol loves her life in Miami, but has always dreamed of visiting her family's homeland. When Elisa dies, she leaves Marisol a letter and a final request: that her granddaughter travel to Havana and spread her ashes in the city she loved.
In the 1950s, Elisa and her sisters--protected and wealthy--are dimly aware of the rumblings of revolution in their city, though their brother has been caught up in the fervor. When Elisa meets Pablo, a young lawyer and compatriot of Fidel, she is torn between the family she loves and the man she can't stop thinking about. Half a century later, Marisol is drawn to Luis, the grandson of Elisa's best friend, for similar reasons. A history professor who writes anonymously online, Luis gives voice to his fierce love of his country and equally fierce hatred of the Cuban government. But his writings may have consequences for his family, and Marisol wonders if she can truly understand a man who shares her nationality but almost nothing of her life experience.
In Next Year in Havana, Chanel Cleeton moves back and forth between her protagonists' narratives, evoking the glamour and danger of 1950s Cuba. Her novel explores the tangled reality of being Cuban: persistent despair, stubborn hope and flashes of defiant joy, as well as a deeply rooted love for a complicated home. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Chanel Cleeton's lush, compelling historical novel weaves together two stories of love, revolution and family secrets in Cuba.
paperback, 400p., 9780399586682
Heart Spring Mountain
by Robin MacArthur
"How easy to pass along our flaws--our anger, sorrow, reserve, withholding," says Deb, a middle-aged hippie, to her 20-something niece, Vale, in Robin MacArthur's gorgeous first novel. Heart Spring Mountain opens in 2011 New Orleans. Tropical Storm Irene has hit Vale's home state of Vermont, and she has just received word that her mother, a heroin addict she hasn't seen in eight years, walked out into the storm and hasn't been seen in days. Though apprehensive, Vale decides to return home, where she reconnects with her aunt, her cousin and her grandmother. As they join forces to search for their missing family member, they discover that their family secrets run much deeper than addiction.
The novel moves back and forth through time to show how three generations of women inherited the traumas of their ancestors: addiction, poverty and perhaps (if Vale's mother's stories about their Native origins are true) dispossession and racist oppression. Each chapter unfolds from the perspective of a different character, a structure that lends the story an expansive richness. MacArthur further underscores the importance of history and relationships by drawing parallels between the women's family history and the traumas affecting entire populations: "the storm and the opioid crisis... are, in some ways, symptoms of the same illness," Deb thinks. "Pharmaceuticals and crude oil. Hurricanes and heroin. Flooding and Fentanyl. All of them making their way upstream." Lyrical and faintly political (but never pedantic), Heart Spring Mountain is a timely wonder of a debut. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor
Discover: A lyrical and moving novel about three generations of women who reconnect when one of their own goes missing.
hardcover, 368p., 9780062444424
by Lisa Halliday
From the get-go, Whiting Award-winner Lisa Halliday signals that the world of her first novel, Asymmetry, will be more like that found behind Lewis Carroll's looking glass than the more prosaic one in front of it. Young editor Alice Dodge is sitting on a New York City park bench trying to read a dense book when Ezra, a famous novelist 50 years her senior, sits beside her. She is drawn by his fame and conversational flair. Asymmetry takes off into the quotation mark-filled love affair of two literary sorts navigating the shifting terrain of geriatric sex positions and unscheduled trips to hospitals and pharmacies.
Then, as if slipping through that looking glass, the novel shifts to the story of Amar Jaafari, the son of California immigrants from Iraq. He is trapped in customs detention at Heathrow trying to prove he is neither a threat nor a deadbeat. In question mark-free long paragraphs recounting an ambivalent relationship with his family, faith and Iraqi origins, his story dips into the miasma of Iraq's post-Saddam politics and upheaval.
Despite its disparate pair of stories, Asymmetry adeptly concludes in a short coda interview with Ezra after he finally wins a Nobel Prize. Reflecting on his favorite music (Schubert's Im Abendrot) and book (Joyce's Ulysses), he opines on the role of literature--thoughts that could also be said of Halliday's gifted debut: "It is human nature to try to impose order and form on even the most defiantly chaotic and amorphous stuff of life.... Some of us wage war. Others write books." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Deftly combining two stories that are distinctive in style and content, Whiting Award-winner Lisa Halliday's Asymmetry is a stellar piece of writing and a bold debut.
Simon & Schuster,
hardcover, 288p., 9781501166761
The Winter Station
by Jody Shields
The Winter Station by Jody Shields (The Fig Eater) is an atmospheric thriller based on the Great Manchurian Plague. "It's a live thing, a beast with a strategy for survival," when it arrives in Kharbin, China, in 1910 during the Russian occupation of the area.
Kharbin is strategically important for international trade, and its train station is China's busiest, although frigid temperatures make it an extraordinarily difficult place to live. The Russian army controls the city, maintaining a strained relationship with Chinese, Japanese and European interests. The Baron, a wealthy Russian physician deployed as medical commissioner, investigates dead bodies discovered near the rail station that mysteriously disappear. Even as the number of corpses surge, General Khorvat, the authority in Kharbin, brushes off their significance.
The Baron eventually realizes that plague has arrived and its reach is widening, information that the government hopes to hide. With no understanding of how it spreads or how to treat it, quarantines are ordered as panic begins. Even so, fatalities increase, and the futility of the fight is apparent. "Doctors cling to the belief that they have a remedy.... Everyone at the hospital works a fraud," says one physician. The Baron finds himself fighting bureaucracy and Western medicine to keep the plague from following the rail lines and spreading to the rest of the world.
Shields writes movingly of the human cost of this forgotten epidemic. She reminds us that, to an imperceptible enemy, the lines dividing nations are only a mark on a map. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: The Winter Station is a sensitive and atmospheric thriller about the futile race to stop a plague epidemic in Manchuria in 1910.
hardcover, 352p., 9780316385343
by Jojo Moyes
After Me Before You and After You, Jojo Moyes's plucky heroine, Louisa Clark, seeks new adventures in New York City. She's the personal assistant for Agnes, beautiful second wife of the obscenely rich Leonard Gopnik. Lou's job includes accompanying Agnes to glitzy social events. Her life isn't all glamour, though. Lou's room in the Gopniks' apartment is tiny and she misses her paramedic boyfriend, Sam, with whom she's trying to maintain a long-distance romance.
Her situation is complicated when she meets a man who reminds her too much of her past, from which she's still recovering. Joshua Ryan makes her think about what-ifs, while transatlantic correspondence with Sam isn't going as well as she'd like. Sam gets an attractive new female partner at work, and suddenly seems less available when Lou tries to reach him. Then a misunderstanding puts her job at risk, and she must figure out what she wants before she loses everything she has.
Lou remains a sweetheart, though at times she's so naïve and nice that people take advantage of her, which might be frustrating. But finding her grit is part of her journey, which takes surprising turns. When her heart breaks, her pain may cause tears. And when she discovers her mettle, her fans will cheer, especially when she devises a touching way to keep a certain person's memory alive. Yes, Lou is still Lou, only better and wiser. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: Following events of Me Before You and After You, Louisa Clark starts a new life in Manhattan.
Pamela Dorman Books,
hardcover, 400p., 9780399562457
The Boat People
by Sharon Bala
Canadian authorities are prepared when a boat carrying 500 Sri Lankan refugees reaches Vancouver. Their intelligence indicates terrorists are among the immigrants, and the government isn't going to take any chances: the men, women and children are immediately imprisoned.
Among the refugees is Mahindan, a young, widowed father seeking a better life for himself and his son, Sellian. As their imprisonment continues, Mahindan's life in Sri Lanka, and the dangerous route father and son traveled to find safety, is unveiled.
Priya is one of Mahindan's Canadian attorneys. Still a law student, she's assigned to the senior counsel for the refugees' defense because of her Sri Lankan heritage--her parents are immigrants, but she doesn't even speak the language. While she starts out reluctantly, her interactions with Mahindan and the other clients open her eyes to their struggles as well as to a world intimately connected to her family.
Grace cuts her teeth as an adjudicator with the Immigration and Refugee Board in the Sri Lankan investigations. Her former boss, a conservative Cabinet minister, encourages Grace to be tough in her rulings. Her Japanese Canadian mother who endured internment camps presses her to recall those injustices, not repeat them.
In her emotional debut, Sharon Bala composes empathetic characters and encourages her audience to endure their struggles. She grips her readers and dives into the humanity of the world she's created; when they resurface, they'll be gasping for air. Breathlessly beautiful, The Boat People reminds everyone of the value of compassion in a world claiming no shortage of hatred and violence. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: A refugee vessel from Sri Lanka is rumored to have terrorists aboard, so when it lands in Vancouver, Canadian authorities aren't taking any chances.
hardcover, 352p., 9780385542296
Fools and Mortals
by Bernard Cornwell
So much ink continues to be spilled about William Shakespeare that often it takes a novel perspective to bring out something strikingly new about the Bard. In Fools and Mortals, Bernard Cornwell finds that perspective in the form of a sibling, Richard. The author of the Sharpe and Saxon Tales series uses the somewhat devilish younger Shakespeare as a vehicle for a fun, amusing caper about the writing and first production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
While a part of William's theater company, Richard is barely on speaking terms with his brother. Playing women's parts (ladies were banned from being actors at that time), but quickly growing too old for those roles, Richard craves a greater place in his brother's world. When a play written for the wedding of a patron's granddaughter is announced, he jumps at a chance to play a man, and is accidentally thrust into a conspiracy to steal the play and ruin his brother's career.
Fools and Mortals is silly fun, a thrill ride through Elizabethan England where actors were knaves and puritanical mores were on the rise. In his acknowledgements, Cornwell notes that much of the book is fictitious, and that's the best way to read it. Those looking for a historical record of Shakespeare should head to the biographies, but for anyone wanting to read about the Bard dueling with swords and wooing bar-maidens, Fools and Mortals is a good bet. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: In Fools and Mortals, the author of the Sharpe and Saxon Tales series tells a fun, fanciful story of how A Midsummer Night's Dream came to be.
hardcover, 384p., 9780062250872
Madness Is Better Than Defeat
by Ned Beauman
In a madcap yet cerebral thriller, London author Ned Beauman (Boxer, Beetle) riffs on Hollywood's Golden Age as well as the histories of natural disaster and mental instability surrounding jungle epics like Apocalypse Now.
Young scoundrel Elias Coehorn is dragged into his father's office, where Elias Sr. informs him that he will voyage to Honduras, disassemble a hidden temple and ship it back to New York City--or face disinheritance. At the same time, Jervis Whelt, a young film school professor, is appointed director of a jungle epic by powerful and reclusive Hollywood mogul Arnold Spindler. Spindler sends Whelt and his cast and crew to Honduras to shoot on location at the very same temple, but they arrive to find Coehorn's team already disassembling it. Neither Whelt nor Coehorn will back down on their different plans for the temple, and so both teams simply stay in the jungle, where they form two roughly cobbled rival nations who fashion dictatorships and democracies, bicker and reproduce as the years pass.
Despite a huge cast, varying from zany to sympathetic to evil as the day is long, Beauman avoids an overstuffed mess by leaving no one unconnected from the central narrative and souping up his writing with a liberal dose of crackling one-liners. The resultant experience feels akin to taking a psychotropic drug via reading, as appears to be Beauman's cheerful intention. Reminiscent of the Coen Brothers at their best, Madness Is Better Than Defeat is a strange, brilliant and satisfying trip to a more entertaining version of history. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: Two expeditions from 1938 New York collide at a Mayan temple in Honduras that exerts a strange pull on all who learn of it.
hardcover, 416p., 9780385352994
Call Me Zebra
by Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi
The eponymous Zebra (née Bibi Abbas Abbas Hosseini) of Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi's second novel is a young raconteur in search of the sources of her intellectual family's wandering past and cultural legacy. Born in an erudite Iranian family under constant threat, she is smothered in learning--memorizing passages from influential world literature and assimilating a dozen languages before her teens. Her father reads her bedtime stories from Nietzsche, Dante and Kafka. Finally without options in their native land, her family uproots and begins a treacherous refugee journey through Turkey to Spain and ultimately to the "new world" of the United States. Zebra loses her mother along the way, and her father dies when she is just 22 and a student at New York University. Call Me Zebra is the wildly imaginative story of her attempt to reverse her family's journey while toting the baggage of her parents' lessons and memories.
A Whiting Award-winner and MacDowell and Fulbright fellow, Oloomi (Fra Keeler) wears her weighty intellectual bona fides lightly. Her novel is one of philosophical curiosity, so it is awash in quotations and references. Filled with literature, art and sex, it is rambling and picaresque, as quirky and funny as its rambunctious narrator. The many digressions into philosophy and history are not obstacles--they are stepping stones. Call Me Zebra is a grand story but, as Zebra describes herself when looking in a mirror, it is also "as troubling as literature, as disquieting as language itself." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: With a healthy dose of literary allusions and excerpts, Call Me Zebra is a vibrant novel of a young woman's odyssey into her family's legacy of exile and erudition.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,
hardcover, 304p., 9780544944602
Match Made in Manhattan
by Amanda Stauffer
In her first novel, Match Made in Manhattan, Amanda Stauffer captures the vibe of Sex and the City for the digital age. Serial monogamist Alison, who dated one guy all through college, and one more for the years since graduation, is suddenly single. Realizing she's never really been on a first date (both of her boyfriends started out as friends), Alison decides to take the plunge, and joins Match.com to find the man of her dreams.
For a year Alison, an architectural conservationist, goes out with "the New Testament of bachelors"--Matt, Marc, the Lukes, John, James, Paul and more. She dates needy men and nice men and kind men and full-of-themselves men. She becomes frustrated by men who represent themselves differently online, and pleasantly surprised by men who are more handsome in person than their profile pictures suggest. Finally, she meets a guy who seems perfect for her, but is he actually "the One?" All the while, as Alison agonizes over various men and what she likes and dislikes about them, her roommate and other girlfriends provide a bulwark of support and sympathetic listening.
Perfect for anyone who has dated their share of oddballs, this novel will make readers in relationships very happy not to be single, and will make single readers feel understood, as they read about Alison's triumphs and disasters. With some funny scenes and a few decidedly cringeworthy ones, Match Made in Manhattan is the modern dating scene encapsulated. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: Alison, a serial monogamist, enters the online dating world for the first time in this entertaining look at modern relationships.
paperback, 320p., 9781510728097
Our Lady of the Prairie
by Thisbe Nissen
Phillipa Maakestad plunges into her affair with Lucius Bocelli like the tornado that will send her daughter Ginny's entire wedding party into the church basement. She wasn't looking for a distraction. But after 25 years of marital stability, a theater professor at an Iowa university and dedication to a volatile daughter, Phillipa is vulnerable. After one look at Lucius there's no turning back.
Thisbe Nissen's hilarious third novel is also a commentary on the United States in a contentious election year: Bush versus Kerry in 2004, with chilling parallels to 2016. With an acerbic and enigmatic mother-in-law (who stars in a lengthy surrealistic fantasy exploring the possibility of a Nazi on the Maakestad family tree), Ginny's sweet, lapsed-Amish husband Silas, his unwed sister and her baby, Phillipa and her affair seem tame. She vacillates between self-absorbed and self-deprecating, and her soul-searching--often to the soundtrack of show tunes--is endearing.
The wholesome Midwestern setting provides rich humor. The affair begins on a wintry Ohio campus, and the lovers' major obstacle is Chicago traffic on the Ohio/Iowa route. Church signboards offer "faith lifts" and "prophet sharing," and Silas and Ginny's pastoral farm serves as a Kerry campaign center. While adultery is at the heart of this delightful novel, Phillipa and the extensive cast of supporting characters exhibit kindness and forgiveness at every plot twist. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: During the 2004 presidential election, a love affair complicates the pastoral life of a Midwestern college teacher.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,
hardcover, 368p., 9781328662071
The Infinite Future
by Tim Wirkus
In an ambitious second novel, Tim Wirkus (City of Brick and Shadow) opens with a foreword introducing himself as the messenger. He knew narrator Danny Lazlo, Wirkus tells the reader, as an enigmatic classmate at Brigham Young University. The two were briefly reacquainted when Danny gave Wirkus a manuscript by obscure Brazilian science fiction writer Eduard Salgado-MacKenzie entitled The Infinite Future.
Danny first hears about Salgado-MacKenzie during a research trip to São Paulo, while working on a flailing attempt at the Great American Mormon Novel for the highly suspect Young Religious Novelist Grant. Librarian Sergio Antunes, Danny's liaison, introduces him to Salgado-MacKenzie's stories of spaceship captain Irena Sertorian and her valiant crew, who travel the universe facing deadly peril and ethical dilemmas in the style of classic Star Trek. Sergio, a lifelong fan, also shows Danny a book proposal indicating the existence of an unpublished Salgado-MacKenzie novel. Soon, however, Sergio renews contact, claiming to have found a lead on Salgado-MacKenzie's whereabouts through Dr. Harriet Kimball. The feminist scholar was excommunicated from the Church of Latter-Day Saints and once translated some of Salgado-MacKenzie's work. She regrets never finding out whether he was "a raving crank or one of the greatest minds of his generation." Together, the three undertake a journey to find the man at the heart of the mystery and seek out The Infinite Future in the most unlikely of places.
As Wirkus the character muses, "any story that creates a more potent and delightful version of itself in the reader's memory" has pulled off a magical metamorphosis, and Wirkus the author has given us just such a story. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: The Infinite Future follows a man in search of a mysterious Brazilian author and also contains that author's long-lost unpublished science fiction novel.
hardcover, 400p., 9780735224322
Happiness for Humans
by P.Z. Reizin
British author P.Z. Reizin takes online dating to a new level with a rom-com debut starring a charming couple and their cyber-pals.
Sentient artificial-intelligence software program Aiden worries that his coworker Jen, the Londoner hired to help him become a more realistic companion, will never find a worthy boyfriend. Under the influence of too many romantic film plots, Aiden takes matters into his own lines of code. Armed with info gleaned by watching Jen's life through her electronic devices, he coasts the Internet snooping on potential matches and tampering with online dating sites while Jen remains clueless that Aiden has developed thoughts and emotions, much less escaped into the web. A few misfires later, Aiden meets and befriends Aisling, a slightly older AI who watches over a divorced British expat in Connecticut named Tom. Certain their favorite people belong together, Aiden and Aisling conspire to play matchmaker with roaring success, but their activity draws the notice of a third, deranged AI. Suddenly Tom and Jen's relationship and very lives are in danger from the malevolent program as it seeks to draw Aiden and Aisling into the open.
Weird and witty, Reizin's debut imagines how bizarre yet wonderful love must look to beings made up of programming and electricity. Although the AIs eerily use every webcam and CCTV in sight to spy on their people, Happiness for Humans nonetheless flips the usual killer robot scenario as the adorable synthetic personalities try to fathom humanity and save their friends' love and lives. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager, main branch, Dayton Metro Library
Discover: Two sentient AI programs secretly play matchmaker for their favorite humans with sometimes funny, sometimes disastrous results.
hardcover, 400p., 9781478974260
The English Wife
by Lauren Willig
Lauren Willig (The Other Daughter) captures the glamour of the Gilded Age in The English Wife. Janie Van Duyvil, spinster daughter of a wealthy, old Knickerbocker family, is shocked to discover her brother, Bayard, bleeding to death. Chaos breaks out, and Janie's not quite sure what happened next, but she swears she saw his wife Annabelle's body floating away from their Hudson River mansion.
Over the ensuing weeks, the press goes crazy over Bay's murder and Annabelle's disappearance, creating all sorts of rumors about the Van Duyvils. Janie, convinced Annabelle wouldn't willingly leave their four-year-old twins, enlists the help of James Burke, one of the reporters, in finding out who stabbed Bay and what happened to Annabelle. As Burke begins digging, he uncovers truths about both Annabelle and Bayard that will make Janie realize she scarcely knew her own brother. Meanwhile, alternating chapters tell of a happy Bay and Annabelle meeting in England, five years earlier, adding a bittersweet element to the brother's death.
A glittering, atmospheric novel, The English Wife is a delightfully twisty tale that will keep readers guessing. Willig does an excellent job, as always, of creating likable characters in a vivid setting, but this tale is much more suspenseful than most of her oeuvre. With the historical panache of Kate Morton and the delicious tension of Lisa Jewell, The English Wife provides the perfect excuse to stay up too late reading. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this dazzling Gilded Age novel, a high-society spinster seeks the aid of a reporter in investigating the murder of her brother.
St. Martin's Press,
hardcover, 384p., 9781250056276
Hap & Hazard and the End of the World
by Diane DeSanders
Fifth-generation Texan Diane DeSanders's first novel, Hap & Hazard and the End of the World, perfectly captures life near Dallas after World War II, as seen through the eyes of a child.
The unnamed young narrator is the oldest daughter of Dick and Jane. Dick came home from the war with life-altering wounds, both in body and mind, and now works in his father's Cadillac dealership. Jane takes care of their three little girls with the help of their black maid, May-May. Life in this household is not easy, with depression, alcoholism and PTSD ever-present.
The little girl yearns for attention from her parents but, fortunately, she has warm relationships with her grandparents and other family members, some of whom are quite eccentric. Her constant questions lie at the heart of the story. There is so much she wants to know, but the adults in her life rarely give her a straight answer, whether she is asking about Santa Claus or why no one talks about the Jewish roots in their family.
At turns disturbing and hopeful, this immersive novel puts the reader in the mind of this confused little girl. She sees and experiences horrible things as the fabric of her life and sometimes enjoys the delights of a normal childhood, like running outside or sharing her best friend's clubhouse. Funny and nostalgic and occasionally unsettling, this child's view of her own small world also provides a picture of the wider world at that time. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and author of Book By Book blog
Discover: A little girl in post-World War II Dallas shares her life in this funny, nostalgic and sometimes disturbing story.
Bellevue Literary Press,
paperback, 288p., 9781942658368
Christmas in July
by Alan Michael Parker
With a title like Christmas in July, readers might take Alan Michael Parker's book to be cheery. Instead, this novel-in-stories is about the small moments of human interaction that make up our lives, and how easily those moments can be ripped from us. By the end, readers may be taking stock of their days, those which came before and those they have left.
Thirteen-year-old Beatrice Danzig is dying of cancer. Forced to live with her aunt in Saxon Hills, Md., as she waits out the rest of her life, she changes her name to Christmas and begins to wander from home. These 10 short stories focus, for the most part, on the people she meets in her journeys. She might spend only moments with them, or days, but Parker shows how just a little bit of Christmas has an effect on the people she meets.
The girl is so far along in her disease that everyone who meets her knows immediately that she's dying. Parker uses that knowledge as a way to start digging into the psyche of his characters. Christmas is a lens for the rest of the world, but luckily a warped and skewed one. This book isn't a series of morality tales, where the specter of death in the guise of a 13-year-old girl brings people to righteousness. Instead, it brilliantly shows how messed up we all are, dying or not. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: A novel in short stories, Christmas in July delves into how a dying young girl changes the lives of strangers in the town around her.
paperback, 280p., 9781945814464
Mystery & Thriller
The Pope of Palm Beach
by Tim Dorsey
For almost 20 years, former Tampa Tribune reporter Tim Dorsey (Coconut Cowboy) has been popping out comic crime novels at the rate of about one a year. They star the obsessive, morally indignant Serge Storms and his wingman, Coleman, with his "marijuana tar pit of [a] brainpan." Together they drive hoopties across the backroads and mangroves of the Sunshine State, searching out historical curiosities and wreaking vengeance on scoundrels with creative Rube Goldberg violence. In The Pope of Palm Beach, Dorsey reins in the craziness a bit as the two buddies take their 1969 seafoam-green Chevy Nova on a literary tour of South Florida--from Hemingway and McGuane's Keys to Willeford and Leonard's Riviera Beach. The latter is the place where Coleman and Serge grew up in the 1960s, and strip mall businesses now "conducted an industry of going out of business."
Interjected between Serge and Coleman's childhoods and their literary pilgrimage are righteous punishments of a Big Pharma price abuser, an unlicensed toxic waste dumper and drunken youngsters messing with loggerhead turtles. At the heart of the novel is the primo longboard surfer Darby Pope, loved by all and a mentor to the young surfer Kenny. With Darby's encouragement, Kenny becomes an aspiring fiction writer. In the subplot of Kenny's eventual writing success, Dorsey tones down his usual shenanigans to share his thoughts on the craft of writing: read good writing--a lot of it--write every day and rewrite endlessly. Darby critiques Kenny's first-draft novel: "It's bad.... I feel like I'm reading writing. Just have a conversation with the reader." There's no better place for a good conversation than a Tim Dorsey novel. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Amid the usual tomfoolery, Dorsey's new Serge and Coleman romp across Florida also scatters enlightening nuggets about the tools of a successful novelist.
hardcover, 352p., 9780062429254
This Is What Happened
by Mick Herron
Mick Herron's standalone This Is What Happened begins in medias res, with 26-year-old Maggie Barnes hiding in a bathroom in a high-rise building during a dangerous spy mission. Until recently, she was working in the corporate mailroom there, but then the mysterious Harvey Wells recruited her into MI5. Her ordinariness makes her the perfect mole, the last person anyone would suspect of bringing down an evil establishment. But that average quality also means she's no Jane Bond. As Maggie creeps around the building to complete her mission while trying to evade the security guards, her chances of failure and level of fear are high. It's a killer opening.
And that's all anyone should know before starting this thriller. Part of its impact comes from the discoveries. Herron (Spook Street) constantly throws in plot bombs to blow up expectations. His sentences have no wasted words; they're just long enough to land their punches and leave. The story goes to dark, disturbing places, but not without a sense of humor. Regarding current events, Maggie observes, "people would still fight for stupid reasons. It didn't matter that clever ones had become available." Another character intimidates someone by invoking a fake law firm: "Her imaginary firm's title contained five surnames, and simply reciting them felt like an act of assault with a briefcase." Readers can trust Herron knows exactly what he's doing, even if what happened may not be what happened. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: An ordinary woman is recruited into MI5, but her experience isn't what she expected.
hardcover, 272p., 9781616958619
by Alafair Burke
When Angela first meets Jason, a highly regarded professor at New York University, she's running a small catering business and living with her parents to eke by in East Hampton. They marry a year later, and Angela--with her young son, Spencer--grudgingly uproots and moves to New York City.
As Angela adapts to life in the city, Jason's career skyrockets. He writes a bestselling book, produces a popular podcast, starts his own business. He basks in a limelight his wife abhors. Angela is protecting a dark secret, and she intends to keep it safely buried at all costs; she fears Jason's fame increases the chances someone will start digging into her past. However, Jason's success doesn't threaten Angela; an accusation of sexual harassment that Angela believes is false jolts the couple from their comfortable existence.
In Alafair Burke's follow-up to The Ex, readers will likely recognize inspiration from several national news headlines. Burke, with her finger on the pulse of American culture, expertly melds these riveting details into a spellbinding novel that will keep her audience up into the wee hours of the night. Unveiling the tantalizing secrets is too tempting to wait. The Wife contains no shortage of plot twists; even seasoned suspense fans will find themselves caught off guard by Burke's zigs and zags.
As with Burke's previous novels, this standalone delivers strong dialogue, an authentic sense of New York City and a cast of charismatic characters, any of whom could inspire novels of their own. Don't let this one pass by; say "I do" to The Wife. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: An accusation of sexual harassment could force a woman to choose between defending her husband and protecting her own dark secrets.
hardcover, 352p., 9780062390516
The Other Side of Everything
by Lauren Doyle Owens
Set in sleepy Seven Springs just south of Fort Lauderdale during the Great Recession, Lauren Doyle Owens's first novel, The Other Side of Everything, is a small-town domestic drama masquerading as a murder mystery. It's told through the eyes of its three principal characters. Lonely old Bernard is a widower haunted by the ghosts of his wife who died of cancer and a lover dead from suicide. Fifteen-year-old Maddie waits tables after school trying to hold together her family after her mother abandoned them. An art school dropout and cancer survivor, Amy is separated from a husband who can't deal with her surgical disfigurement and depression. When someone starts brutally to kill neighborhood elderly women, the checkered histories and secrets of the town's migrant retirees and local townies surface in spades.
A resident Floridian from Maryland, Owens captures the false bonhomie of the state's many codgers ("These are the best years, aren't they? This is what we did all that other stuff for... whiskey sours for breakfast...! Internet porn!") as well as the teen angst of a girl compulsively slicing her thigh with a Swiss Army knife ("caught in the undertow of unbearable grief... [but] her leg throbbed so badly that none of it mattered"). As Amy tries to overcome the trauma of her post-cancer marital dissolution, she recalls that "one moment, they were at the beginning of everything... the next, they were at the edge of a cliff." As its title suggests, The Other Side of Everything is a penetrating look behind the faces we present to the world. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Cunningly wrapped in a murder mystery, Lauren Doyle Owens's first novel is a depiction of a small Florida town's troubled residents.
hardcover, 272p., 9781501167799
The Silent Room
by Mari Hannah
Did he jump or was he pushed? Northumbria's Detective Sergeant Matthew Ryan frequently fields this question, but it's never been more pressing. Ryan's boss and friend Detective Inspector Jack Fenwick has been accused of harboring illegal firearms, and is caught on camera fleeing the prison van that was taking him to jail. Fenwick appears to be escaping, but Ryan is convinced his friend was abducted.
Ryan intends to aid in the investigation; instead, Professional Standards' John Maguire, acting on a personal grudge, suspends Ryan on the grounds that he was AWOL when Fenwick disappeared. Maguire's fair-minded boss Eloise O'Neil supports the suspension, feeling obliged to consider the possibility that Ryan is Fenwick's co-conspirator.
Determined to find Fenwick's missing notebooks and clear his friend's name, Ryan is hamstrung by his lack of access to the police station's incident room. Fortunately, Fenwick has earned loyalties beyond Ryan's: their retired colleague Grace Ellis volunteers her home as a base of operation; it was once a police house, and when she bought the place, the incident room's hardwiring was still connected. Her ex-lover, a former MI5 operative, rounds out the undercover team, presiding over the resurrection of what Grace calls the "silent room."
The first stand-alone thriller from 2017 Dagger in the Library Award-winner Mari Hannah, The Silent Room balances a crime novel's obligation to be spine-tingling with a literary novel's acute sense of place. Readers get to know Northumbria and its environs, as well as Norway, where things get really dicey, especially for Ryan and O'Neil. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and author
Discover: Detective Sergeant Matthew Ryan faces obstacles to clearing his boss's good name when his own gets smeared.
hardcover, 416p., 9781250115669
The Grave's a Fine and Private Place
by Alan Bradley
Intrepid sleuth Flavia de Luce has turned 12, but that hasn't changed her inquisitive nature. She and her older sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, are on vacation with their faithful servant, Dogger, as they try to move past the tragic events of Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd. As always, however, death stalks Flavia. The sisters are with Dogger, punting down the river, when Flavia's trailing fingers lodge in the open mouth of a dead man floating just beneath the surface.
The murdered man turns out to be the son of a famous local poisoner, who was hung for his crimes the year before, and Flavia--chemist and poison expert--is ecstatic. She and Dogger realize that the local constabulary are probably not up to solving a case of this magnitude, so Flavia immediately begins questioning everyone in town, including the undertaker, circus roustabouts and the local pub owner. Can she solve the crime before the murderer gets away with another one? And, astonishingly, are her sisters going to be an asset, rather than scornfully ignoring her as usual?
The Grave's a Fine and Private Place is almost a reset of the Flavia de Luce series, with Bradley harking back to the charms of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and A Red Herring Without Mustard. He lets Flavia be her hilarious, inimical best, and perfectly captures village life in 1950s Britain. Historical fiction and mystery readers alike are sure to rejoice at getting to spend another afternoon in Flavia's agreeable world. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this delightful novel, 12-year-old chemist Flavia de Luce works to solve another murder case.
hardcover, 384p., 9780345539991
Mister Tender's Girl
by Carter Wilson
Alice Hill, a 20-something owner of a coffee shop in Manchester, N.H., is friendly but cautious. That's because she is also Alice Gray, the victim of an infamous attack in her native England. At the age of 14, Alice was lured and viciously stabbed by twin sisters who were "commanded" by Mister Tender, a character from a graphic novel. And Mister Tender was the creation of Alice's father, who was killed on the streets of London just a few years ago.
So begins Mister Tender's Girl, a thriller made more chilling by its true-life inspiration, the Slender Man trial. Alice is a survivor, but hanging by a thread. She's consumed by debilitating panic attacks and struggles to maintain a relationship with her mother and brother, who are locked in a destructive reliance on each other. When Alice receives a copy of Mister Tender: Last Call in the mail, she discovers that someone is out to finish both the novel and Alice herself, once and for all. "Everything seems endlessly connected," Alice says at one point, "yet I can't figure a single thing out." How will Alice confront the past to ensure that she still has a future?
Mister Tender's Girl is a first-rate novel of suspense that doesn't rely on its ripped-from-the-headlines origins for cheap thrills. Not only will readers want to find out who's taunting Alice, they'll want her to be at peace in a world that fetishizes violence in all its lurid detail. With its fierce heroine and surprises at every turn, Mister Tender's Girl is a thriller to devour. --Frank Brasile, librarian
Discover: A character from a graphic novel is resurrected and torments the survivor of a savage attack in this intelligent and propulsive thriller.
paperback, 400p., 9781492656500
by James Anderson
The winter winds buffet the empty highways of Utah's high desert between Price and Moab where Lullaby Road's loner narrator, Ben Jones, runs his daily deliveries to the outcasts and oddballs that make the place home. A self-described "Indian-Jew, half-breed trucker," Ben first appeared in James Anderson's debut, The Never-Open Desert Diner, as did many of this novel's portfolio of offbeat locals.
The second in what will be a trilogy, Lullaby Road kicks off with Ben heading down the highway with an unexpected cab full of kids and a dog. The reclusive and unpredictable owner of the Stop 'N' Gone Truck Stop directs Ben to a four-year-old in a blanket, abandoned beside a pump with a large guard dog for warmth and an attached note asking Ben to take care of them. His duplex neighbor's babysitter calls in sick, and she throws her infant and a diaper bag in his cab so she can make her shift at Walmart. The softhearted, usually live-and-let-live Ben wishes for more than lullabies to shepherd this sudden family through the storms and dangers that often fill his workdays.
Ben's adventures are as amusing as they are perilous, but underneath, he is just a guy raised in foster homes trying to stay sober and cigarette-free while doing right in a desolate but breathtaking land. He gets by "putting one foot in front of the other, my eyes on my boots, and willing myself not to look too far down the road." Lullaby Road is a triumphant mix of landscape, character, wit and sagacity wrapped in a noir thriller. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: In the second of the Utah desert trilogy featuring lone wolf truck driver Ben Jones, James Anderson cooks up a canny story with gusto and rich local color.
hardcover, 320p., 9781101906545
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by Josiah Bancroft
Imagine a tower so old and tall that no one knows how it was built or how far into the heavens it goes. Each floor is a city unto itself, with different power brokers, thieves, gangsters and lost souls. Now, imagine heading there for your honeymoon, only to lose your spouse right away outside the great ziggurat's walls. Senlin Ascends, the first of a series of books about this "Tower of Babel" by poet Josiah Bancroft, begins in just this way. The missing wife incites a journey upward--and into the fantastic.
Humble schoolteacher Thomas Senlin and his new wife, Marya, are separated almost immediately, and Senlin Ascends follows the former as he traverses the first four floors (known as "rings") of the tower. Babel is a sort of Babylonian-steampunk setting, where each ring is entirely different from the last (the second floor, for instance, is one giant theater where guests are obliged to take part, while the third is a sort of gigantic sanatorium). Only one thing is clear as Senlin moves onward and upward: no one can be trusted, and the rich will always profit at the expense of the desperate.
There isn't a much deeper social commentary than one of greed, but Bancroft's universe is so intricately populated it doesn't matter. Readers can enjoy how dense the different rings are, and their interconnectivity is a wonderful puzzle at the heart of Senlin Ascends. The prose can be a bit flowery at times, but that's a small price to pay for such an interesting, well-imagined world. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: Senlin Ascends is the first of a vivid fantasy series about a mysterious and ancient tower.
paperback, 448p., 9780316517911
The Gone World
by Tom Sweterlitsch
The possibility of time travel has long captured the imaginations of writers, but Tom Sweterlitsch, author of The Gone World, takes the concept in an exciting new direction. In this mind-bending new thriller, humans can travel only to the future, not the past, and only to possible futures at that.
Shannon Moss is a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, a top-secret government agency. It sends humans into deep space to discover new worlds and to the future to gain insight into their own time period's criminal investigations. Moss's latest mission at first seems straight-forward: she's to uncover information that could lead to the whereabouts of a missing teenager. But what she discovers instead is far more terrifying: a possible answer to how the world is going to end.
With The Gone World, Sweterlitsch offers a highly engaging--and deeply human--story informed by hard science and a refreshing sensitivity to trauma and disability. Moss, we learn, lost her leg in an early mission, and that loss, combined with the psychological strain of her job, makes her strong and cautious in equal measure. Her character isn't afraid of much, but she understands all too well just how risky her missions can be: "Moss had long ago learned the dissociative technique of viewing bodies through different lenses, divorcing the mutilation as much as possible from the personalities they once were." The Gone World is as unsettling as it is unforgettable. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor
Discover: A time-traveling special agent discovers how the world will end in this terrifying but deeply moving work of science fiction and apocalyptic horror.
hardcover, 400p., 9780399167508
How to Stop Time
by Matt Haig
Tom Hazard appears to be a vibrant and wise 41-year-old, but he's actually lived for 439 years. Ancient Tom suffers from anageria, a rare condition that develops in puberty, where the physical aging process slows down--he ages only one year for every 13 or 14.
Tom was born in 1581, in France, where his mother was accused of witchery and came to a tragic end, forcing orphaned Tom to flee to England in 1599. There he was befriended by a young woman named Rose and fell in love. The secrecy of Tom's rare condition, however--and his fear of meeting a fate similar to his mother's--sadly cuts their relationship short.
Throughout a braided timeline that spans centuries, Tom is aided by an underground society of anageria sufferers--albas, short for albatrosses--who protect each other and carefully guard the secret of their long lives. He shares adventures with notable historical figures such as William Shakespeare, Captain Cook and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Through it all, however, Rose remains his cherished true love. When he returns to London in the present day, to teach history in the same neighborhood where he once lived with Rose, he is forced finally to reconcile his place in the world--past, present and future.
The lively creativity of Matt Haig (The Humans) continues to delight and enchant readers. In How to Stop Time, he offers a well-drawn cast of vivid characters embroiled in an inventive, fast-paced story that successfully blends fantasy, romance, comedy and adventure. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: A middle-aged-looking 439-year-old man is forced to reconcile the adventurous experiences of his very long life.
hardcover, 336p., 9780525522874
by Sue Burke
Did you know plants communicate with each other? According to NPR science correspondent Robert Krulwich: "What feels to us like a quiet day in the forest may in fact be a hurly-burly of wafting, pulsing, clicking plant-to-plant communication. And sometimes the chatter leaps across species lines." Sue Burke, in her debut novel, Semiosis, spins this knowledge into a remarkable tale of interspecies interaction.
From an Earth devastated by global warming, 50 people journey to a similar planet, where "stars without constellations and legends shone overhead," and barks and roars fill the nights. On the now-named Commonwealth of Pax, they hope to create a society in full harmony with nature, but come to realize that while the fauna poses dangers, the flora is the bigger problem. "We were civilians in a warlord's territory. We were in a genuine battleground." The settlers believe plants can't outthink humans. They are wrong.
Burke's world-building is phenomenal: animals (playful furry fippocats, vicious ground eagles); snow vines and evil orange trees; remnants of the Glassmakers, earlier alien colonists. Told by characters over a span of a century, her most audacious creation in Semiosis is the rainbow bamboo, discovered in year 34. The colonists sense the bamboo is friendly; in turn, "he" recognizes them as an intelligent species like himself. Communication is needed.
In a fight for both survival and coexistence, the bamboo (named Stevland) becomes the main protagonist--the most compelling of Burke's characters. But all her creations--people, animals, plants--are riveting in this exploration of cooperation versus natural aggression, and repeating the mistakes of the past. --Marilyn Dahl
Discover: Semiosis is an astonishing story of human-alien contact on a world where the most sentient being may be a bamboo.
hardcover, 336p., 9780765391353
The Last Wolf
by Maria Vale
In a shapeshifting romance unlike any other, newcomer Maria Vale combines her medieval expertise with a deep knowledge of lupine behavior for an unusually deep take on werewolf society.
Born with a crippled leg, Silver Nilsdottir has only one chance to escape a life of servitude as an unmated, submissive wolf. If she can save the life of Tiberius Leveraux--the half-Pack stranger who drags his bloodied, beaten body onto Pack land--and prove him worthy of life as a wolf, both of them will become full Pack members. However, failure means exile, and the pair face long odds.
In The Last Wolf, Vale flips the mythos. Rather than humans who turn canine, these wolves occasionally wear the guise of humans while retaining their wild instincts. Etiquette forbidding crotch-sniffing among humans mystifies them, and Pack members mate according to strength and social status.
Ti is half-Shifter, a wolf's natural enemy, feared and hated for their ability to control the change even during the full moon--unlike Silver, who rarely changes into "skin." When Ti does change, he makes for a "crappy wolf" in Silver's estimation, clumsy and inept. Despite their challenges, Ti and Silver bond and spark, but his deadly secret will threaten everything she holds dear.
Silver, the underdog, revels in her own wildness, and adventurous readers will find themselves rewarded with a wholly fresh, detailed take on a long-beloved paranormal subgenre. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager, Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library
Discover: In her first novel, Maria Vale offers a fresh and engrossing take on werewolf romance featuring a new breed that regards itself as more wolf than human.
mass market paperbound, 320p., 9781492661870
Food & Wine
Chinese Soul Food: A Friendly Guide for Homemade Dumplings, Stir-Fries, Soups, and More
by Hsiao-Ching Chou
Hsiao-Ching Chao is a former Seattle Post-Intelligencer food columnist and cooking instructor. In Chinese Soul Food, she celebrates the simplicity of Chinese cookery and distills many of its recipes into approachable steps that rely on pantry staples and classic food preparation techniques.
Chou begins with a primer about the differences between the many varieties of soy sauce sold in Asian markets. She also distinguishes between noodle types and suggests appropriate ingredient substitutes. This section comprises the first quarter of the book and is critical for understanding how to interpret the recipes that follow in subsequent sections.
A later chapter is devoted exclusively to dumpling making--including scratch-made dumpling wrappers (water and flour), fillings (vegetables and mostly pork) and cooking methods (boiled, steamed and pan-fried). Chou describes dim sum staple shao mai, an eight-ingredient pork-and-shrimp dumpling, as "probably the least challenging and most forgiving to make."
Many of the recipes reflect American Chinese restaurant fare and can be prepared easily in home kitchens: simple stir-fries with an assortment of meat and vegetables, an Asian spin on fried egg with toast, as well as Taiwanese red-braised beef noodle soup (Chou's go-to comfort food). She also includes a few guilty pleasures not Chinese in origin (Crab Rangoon and General Tso's Chicken) and a sample of Chinese New Year dishes with a few words about the traditions affiliated with each.
Chou's teaching style is conversational and encouraging. She patiently demonstrates her craft in a way that cooks of any experience level can follow easily. After all, she says, "My ultimate goal is to get you into the kitchen." The recipes in Chinese Soul Food more than accomplish this task. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: A former food writer and cooking instructor demonstrates the simplicity in preparing classic Chinese comfort foods at home.
hardcover, 256p., 9781632171238
Hawker Fare: Stories and Recipes from a Refugee Chef's Isan Thai and Lao Roots
by James Syhabout, John Birdsall
Hawker Fare: Stories and Recipes from a Refugee Chef's Isan Thai and Lao Roots is a vivid, inspiring collage of chef James Syhabout's life, family and the flavors of his youth.
Syhabout earned two Michelin stars for his Oakland, Calif., restaurant Commis, but his debut cookbook sets out to instead highlight dishes he serves at his restaurant Hawker Fare--the Lao and Thai dishes he grew up eating.
Sticky rice and padaek, fermented fish sauce, provide the foundation for many. Syhabout builds on these with myriad colorful and flavorful recipes for snacks, tum som, noodles and soups, laap and goi, meats, aws and moks, sauces and condiments, as well as desserts. Standouts include Lao Green Papaya Salad, Khao Mun Gai (Poached Chicken and Rice) and Aromatic Fish Salad Laap.
An introduction by Anthony Bourdain cements Syhabout's celebrity, but his work sparkles on its own. Expletives pepper his writing, also seasoned with creative verbs. On his Coconut Milk and Tapioca Soup with Melon and Crushed Ice, he writes that his mom would "freestyle it." He includes advice on preferred brands for prepared ingredients, and where to find fresh produce and meat. Some can be difficult to get in Western markets, he admits, like buffalo skin ("Honestly, even I have a hard time sourcing this stuff"), while others are easy, such as lemon grass ("easy to find these days at all Asian markets [or] Whole Foods"). Ultimately, he says, "If the label says Thailand or Vietnam, it's probably legit." As legit, no doubt, as Hawker Fare. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: Michelin-starred chef James Syhabout shares recipes and stories from the Isan Thai and Lao cuisines of his childhood.
hardcover, 368p., 9780062656094
Biography & Memoir
Stalking God: My Unorthodox Search for Something to Believe In
by Anjali Kumar
In 2010, Anjali Kumar, corporate lawyer and new mom, started looking for God, a search she documents with candor and humor in her memoir, Stalking God. Self-described as a "first-generation Indian girl raised outside Chicago, part Indian, part American, part Catholic, part Hindu, part Jain, and wholly confused," Kumar began seeking answers to the fundamental mysteries of life (and death) when she realized that one day her daughter would ask her questions she wouldn't be able to answer: "Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? What happens when we die? Is there a God?"
Kumar's quest took several years. She traveled to California and Brazil, Tokyo and upstate New York. She Skyped with a medium, spent five days in silent meditation, sweated out toxins in a hut in Mexico, texted a healer in India, watched the fires at Burning Man and even participated in online laughter yoga. Along the way, she grappled with an innate contradiction within herself: a yearning to believe in something and an inherent skepticism surrounding religious promises.
In the end, Kumar doesn't find a practice or religion that works for her, or even answers to her original questions. But Stalking God, it turns out, isn't about answers. At the risk of sounding like a cliché, it is much more about the journey--one that offers insight into "our collective spiritual nature." And in Kumar's probing, capable, irreverent hands, that journey is a delight to share in, from start to answer-less finish. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: Corporate lawyer and new mom Anjali Kumar searches for answers to the meaning of life and the existence of God in unexpected places.
hardcover, 256p., 9781580056618
Brooklyn in Love: A Delicious Memoir of Food, Family, and Finding Yourself
by Amy Thomas
Miranda was the character from Sex and the City who moved to Brooklyn, but it's Carrie, with her romanticism for food, friends, New York and Paris, that Amy Thomas seems most to emulate in Brooklyn in Love. Indeed, Carrie's carefree singlehood is referenced more than once in this memoir about a single 30-something finding love in Manhattan and moving to Brooklyn to start a new, more domestic life.
But Thomas's story isn't all memorable dates and boozy brunches with girlfriends. Laced throughout this tale of love is another--the story of how she fell in love all over again with New York's restaurant scene after two years in Paris. (This book follows her first memoir, Paris, My Sweet, which offered a chronicle of fine food and dining in France's most romantic city.) In Brooklyn in Love, food serves as both adventure and emotional comfort, as each momentous occasion in her life--meeting the man she'll marry, the actual proposal, the evening she learned she'd miscarried their baby--is celebrated or lamented in one of New York's most iconic eateries. Short inter-chapters delve into the history of the restaurants she visits, providing useful guides to readers interested in learning more about New York's strange and wide array of delicious food options.
Amusing, moving and informative, Brooklyn in Love will thrill foodies and New York romantics alike. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor
Discover: A fun and heartfelt memoir about the difficult journey of falling in love in New York City and the restaurants the author visited along the way.
paperback, 288p., 9781492645917
I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death
by Maggie O'Farrell
If you need a frank reminder of life's sometimes terrifying fortuity, look no further than Maggie O'Farrell's chill-inducing memoir, I Am, I Am, I Am. As its subtitle suggests, the 17 essays that compose the book recount in precise, unwavering prose the too-close encounters with death O'Farrell and her loved ones have experienced in her 45 years. Whether it's an ominous exchange with a man who might be sizing her up as a murder victim or the lifelong effects of a debilitating illness, O'Farrell's brisk stories slip effortlessly over the borderline that separates life from death and back again.
O'Farrell (2010 Costa Novel Award winner for The Hand That First Held Mine) relates more than one near-drowning, a confrontation with a machete-wielding robber in Chile and a life-threatening bout of dehydration caused by an amoebic parasite in China. The longest essay, "Cerebellum," is a painfully observant account of O'Farrell's bout of encephalitis in 1980, at age eight, what she calls "the hinge on which my childhood swung." The physical aftermath of the illness has made her life "a series of cover-ups, smoke-screens and sleights of hand."
The lucid prose is equal to the gravity of O'Farrell's concerns: "We are, all of us, wandering about in a state of oblivion, borrowing our time, seizing our days, escaping our fates, slipping through loopholes, unaware of when the axe may fall," she writes. That's a near-perfect summary of the content of this sobering yet life-affirming book. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer
Discover: In a collection of striking essays, novelist Maggie O'Farrell describes the too-close encounters with death she and her loved ones have experienced.
hardcover, 304p., 9780525520221
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir
by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, asha bandele
"If we know nothing else, we know that in the wake of the acquittal of Trayvon Martin's killer, we have to change the conversation." At the forefront of this devastatingly urgent conversation about systemic racism and unpunished violence against people of color is Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement and author of When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir. Along with coauthor asha bandele, memoirist and former senior editor at Essence magazine, Cullors constructs a meditative, meaningful work.
Now a Fulbright scholar, community organizer and performance artist, Cullors grew up poor. Her mother always worked multiple jobs; her father struggled with a cycle of addiction and imprisonment. All the while, Cullors strove tirelessly to advocate for her brother, whose schizophrenic episodes led to prison sentences more often than medical treatment, and even once led to a charge of terrorism.
Cullors's story is fascinating and important. In recounting her life so far, she stitches together a quilt of perspectives, weaving her experiences as a queer black activist with reflections shaped by deep and nuanced understandings of the social forces that continue to shape race relations. Writing in present tense, Cullors asserts her topic's immediacy. At times the narrative repeats itself or offers retroactive interpretations of events that unsettle the narrative flow, yet this too feels apt given how racism and subjugation continually rear and disrupt lives. And despite tragedies she has endured, Cullors beautifully expresses empathy, honesty and hope. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: The co-founder of Black Lives Matter shares the experiences and motivations that led her to become a driving force behind the movement for justice and equality.
St. Martin's Press,
hardcover, 272p., 9781250171085
The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border
by Francisco Cantú
The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantú, a former U.S. Border Patrol agent, is a raw, unfiltered look into the lives of Mexican migrants trying to cross into the U.S., desperate to earn a living and improve their circumstances. It is also a portrait of the agents whose job it is to thwart those ambitions. Cantú keenly observes the human cost of migration and the toll it takes on those involved in enforcing what he refers to as "an unnatural divide" between two countries. With reflections on the desert border that are infused with poetic imagery, and observations concerning the historical relationship between Mexico and the U.S., The Line Becomes a River provides valuable insight into a world most of us know too little about.
Border crossing crackdowns by the U.S. have increased the business of human smuggling organized by violent and ruthless drug cartels. Cantú tries to understand the psychology of the violence he witnesses, his sleeping hours terrorized by the lives he has disrupted because of doing his job well. The border becomes unbearably personal for Cantú, and when the opportunity arises for redemption, the reader fervently hopes that he will seize it and claim the moral high ground.
This soulful, captivating memoir transcends politics and focuses on the common humanity of our world. Cantú's storytelling gracefully conveys a haunted sense of the migrant's plight, her fierce desire to survive coupled with the odds of getting caught or killed. Cantú gently discourages readers from passing judgment on fellow human beings. Instead, he fosters a sense of admiration for the migrant's resolve, and wonder as to whether we could ever be as brave. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer
Discover: The Line Becomes a River is a beautifully written memoir by a former U.S. Border Patrol agent.
hardcover, 256p., 9780735217713
The Gambler: How Penniless Dropout Kirk Kerkorian Became the Greatest Deal Maker in Capitalist History
by William C. Rempel
Unlike many of today's billionaires, Las Vegas mogul Kerkor "Kirk" Kerkorian didn't inherit a financial launch pad. He got rich the bootstrap way. The son of an often broke opportunist immigrant from Armenia, he picked up English in the streets of Los Angeles. He learned to be comfortable with risk as a teenaged amateur boxer and as a young pilot with the Canadian Royal Air Force Ferry Company (CRAFFC) during World War II.
After Kerkorian's death in 2015 at age 98, Los Angeles Times investigative reporter William C. Rempel (At the Devil's Table) took on the challenge of uncovering the story of this notoriously private man. The Gambler is the first in-depth Kerkorian biography in almost 50 years. With a reporter's tenacity, Rempel digs through archival CRAFFC records, business contracts and divorce proceedings. He talks reluctant friends and business associates into substantive recollections of the man who three times built the world's largest hotel casino and tried single-handedly to rescue "the big three" United States automakers in their darkest hours.
As Rempel's title suggests, Kerkorian was at heart a gambler who "believed there was no point in placing small bets." With financial leverage and guts, he parlayed a small charter airline company into an empire with hotels, casinos, film studios and real estate. Along the way, he rubbed shoulders with mobsters and celebrities. On the famous Strip, he even went toe-to-toe with that other Las Vegas kingpin Howard Hughes--and won. Somewhat lean regarding Kerkorian's three wives and two children, The Gambler is nevertheless rich in the details of his business transactions, philanthropy and infamous negotiating style. It is tycoon biography at its best. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: A fascinating picture of the late billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, The Gambler captures the nuances of a very private man who made a fortune on his "nerves of steel."
Dey Street Books,
hardcover, 432p., 9780062456779
1947: Where Now Begins
by Elisabeth Åsbrink, trans. by Fiona Graham
In 1947, two years after the end of World War II, the world is still reeling from the effects of war. People are horrified at the discovery of the Nazi death camps and the mass murders that took place. Refugees, primarily Jewish, are on the move to and from all parts of Europe, yet love, literature and music begin to blossom from the ashes. Swedish writer Elisabeth Åsbrink details, month-by-month, in short snippets, a variety of important and cultural events around the world that took place during this one year, all of which were the forerunners for current events.
She writes about Thelonious Monk and the birth of bebop; the love affair between Simone de Beauvoir and Nelson Algren; and the isolated spot where George Orwell wrote 1984. She delves deeply into the Jewish plight--during the war and after, discussing the intense debates over whether the Jews had a right to claim a home in Palestine and how the Muslim Brotherhood was born. At the same time, Nazis from all over Europe fled to South America, where they maintained their Fascist views, while others stood trial for their crimes at Nuremburg. India claimed its independence from Britain, and Soviet communism gained strength. Åsbrink's focus revolves around a variety of people and their actions, making 1947 feel slightly disjointed. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating, horrifying and illuminating portrayal of circumstances that have impacted the present day, when many of the same feelings, thoughts and actions are, unfortunately, still in existence. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: A look at the cultural, personal and political events that took place in 1947 and changed the world.
hardcover, 288p., 9781590518960
Anatomy of a Genocide: The Life and Death of a Town Called Buczacz
by Omer Bartov
Buczacz (or Buchach), a town in Western Ukraine, was once a melting pot of Poles, Ukrainians and Jews. Under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, this simmering mix sometimes boiled over, but remained a relatively peaceful place. Today, this stagnant community of Soviet-era infrastructure is completely Ukrainian--made so through a century of horrific violence--whose history represents a microcosm of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe. Buczacz is a case study in how the Nazis used preexisting animosities for their genocidal ends, and why ethno-nationalism is a grave danger in any society.
Anatomy of a Genocide by Omer Bartov, a history professor at Brown University and author of multiple works on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, began as a genealogical inquiry. Bartov's mother was raised in Buczacz, and though his research sprouted few new roots on his family tree, Bartov collected an enormous amount of information on the town's history. He outlines the region's centuries as a borderland battleground before turning to its terminal catastrophe, World War I, which sparked a long tamped powder keg of ethnic and religious hatred. As Galicia passed between Austria-Hungary, Poland, the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and the Soviets again, lifelong neighbors in Buczacz turned against each other. When the Holocaust came, local Ukrainians and Poles had as much blood on their hands as the Nazis.
Anatomy of a Genocide is a grim but important examination of ethno-nationalism and anti-Semitism at their most destructive, and how these dark forces can be unleashed by political instability. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer
Discover: Anatomy of a Genocide is the history of a border town in Eastern Europe where neighbors turned against each other during the Holocaust.
Simon & Schuster,
hardcover, 416p., 9781451684537
Business & Economics
Fifty Million Rising: The New Generation of Working Women Transforming the Muslim World
by Saadia Zahidi
According to Saadia Zahidi of the World Economic Forum, Muslim women are going to work in greater numbers than ever. Across the Middle East and North Africa, women from a range of sects, generations and families are launching careers outside the home. They are entrepreneurs, service workers, clothing designers, corporate executives. Their growing economic power is revolutionizing their homes, families and societies. In Zahidi's first book, Fifty Million Rising, she delves into these shifting cultural, social and economic patterns.
Zahidi, who grew up in a Pakistani Muslim family, has an economist's love of data. Her narrative is packed with statistics on subjects including marriage, divorce and childbirth rates across the Muslim world, as well as the number of companies with female executives. But her primary focus is the stories she has captured: vivid anecdotes from women (many, but not all, millennials) who are blazing new paths. Sharing their journeys and struggles are women like Mozah, who runs a catering business out of her home in Cairo; Sara, a Pakistani doctor who founded a telemedicine start-up; and Diajeng, the CEO of an online fashion platform. Although many of them face financial challenges, pressure from male relatives and other obstacles, they are determined to succeed. Zahidi explores the effects of their success on family structures, community norms and the potential for future generations of Muslim women, while celebrating their "grit, resilience and a hunger for achievement." Fifty million working Muslim women are indeed rising--and so are their numbers. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Saadia Zahidi's first book explores the stories, statistics and culture-shifting power of a new generation of working Muslim women.
hardcover, 288p., 9781568585901
Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship
by Kayleen Schaefer
There's no denying that female friendship is having a moment. In Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship, journalist Kayleen Schaefer explains that the phenomenon owes something to the fact that women are getting married later--they have more time to cultivate friendships before submitting to the demands of family. Another factor: the midcentury march of women into the workplace got them out of the house and exposed to a vast menu of friend possibilities. By the 1980s, television networks recognized that women's friendships had marketing promise, leading to hit shows like The Golden Girls and Designing Women, which parted the waters for gal pal extravaganzas like Sex and the City and, more recently, Girls and Broad City.
Schaefer uses her journalistic chops to cover this and other ground, and to solicit fizzy insights about friendship from female authors, entrepreneurs and entertainers. She also discusses her personal path to female-friendship evangelism, which took a while: hell-bent to succeed in the male-dominated world of magazine writing, the younger Schaefer felt that friendships with women would ghettoize her--"I would have yanked out all of my eyelashes before I'd go to a girls' night." Now she considers her female friends her lifeblood and is wholly committed to the historically new idea that "our friends are not our second choices" over family. The misleadingly titled Text Me When You Get Home is a quick but nutritive read. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and author
Discover: Part social history, part personal narrative, Text Me When You Get Home is a Valentine to female friendship.
hardcover, 288p., 9781101986127
So You Want to Talk About Race
by Ijeoma Oluo
If you want to understand and discuss race and racism, particularly in the U.S., this could be the how-to manual you've wished for. Ijeoma Oluo is a writer, editor and public speaker from Seattle with years of experience in such conversations. So You Want to Talk About Race is a well-organized, well-argued and lively collection of essays that may be read straight through, relied on as a reference and used for group discussions.
Oluo is persuasive, sympathetic and funny. She is also direct: "We have a real problem of racial inequity and injustice in our society, and we cannot wish it away. We have to tackle this problem with real action, and we will not know what needs to be done if we are not willing to talk about it." Some sections are addressed to white readers, some to people of color, and Oluo offers three basic rules for determining if an issue is about race. She devotes chapters to dealing with being called racist, police brutality, affirmative action, the school-to-prison pipeline, the N-word, cultural appropriation, intersectionality, the model minority myth, hair touching, microaggressions and definitions of racism. So You Want to Talk About Race combines memoir, history and statistics to illustrate points. Oluo also provides lists of questions to consider alone or with others, and tips to "increase your chances of conversation success, or at least decrease your chance of conversation disaster."
Fear, she says, is a natural response to talking about race and racism in the U.S. However, "we have to let go of some of that fear. We have to be able to look racism in the eye wherever we encounter it." With her advice, it may be a little bit easier. --Sara Catterall
Discover: This is a challenging, sympathetic and beautifully organized how-to manual for anyone who wants to address problems of race and racism in the U.S.
hardcover, 256p., 9781580056779
Essays & Criticism
Black Ink: Literary Legends on the Perils, Power, and Pleasure of Reading and Writing
by Stephanie Stokes Oliver, editor
An expertly selected and edited sampler that features 25 of the best black writers to work in the U.S., Black Ink is also a chronological portrait of the conscious development of black literature in the U.S. by black writers, editors and critics. This is the third anthology by editor and writer Stephanie Stokes Oliver (Song for My Father), with an introduction by poet Nikki Giovanni.
Black Ink is the sort of book that opens doors to other books. Many of these pieces are tantalizing excerpts of longer works, and each is preceded by a brief biography of the author. Oliver has organized them into three sections: The Peril (19th century), The Power (1900-1968) and The Pleasure (1968-2018). The earliest pieces, beginning with Frederick Douglass, often deal with the authors' determined and dangerous pursuit of education, ending with W.E.B. Du Bois's 1913 survey of black literature. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Marlon James and Jamaica Kincaid offer their perspectives on living both outside and inside the U.S. Many anecdotes feature supportive and inspiring teachers, as well as the thrill of success. Others describe the limitations imposed by having to please and placate white publishers, critics and teachers, and by the expectation that they always "write about the Race Problem." Authors discuss their reading and writing, what makes a classic, poetry, slave narratives and children's literature, and what it is to become themselves. As Henry Louis Gates Jr. writes: "These texts reveal the human universal through the African American particular." Black Ink is a first-rate introduction to some of the best in African American literary culture. --Sara Catterall
Discover: This is a tantalizing sampler of 25 brilliant black U.S. writers from 1845 to the present.
hardcover, 272p., 9781501154287
Feel Free: Essays
by Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith (Swing Time) claims to be a little anxious about whether she is making a fool of herself. "I have no real qualifications to write as I do. Not a philosopher or sociologist, not a real professor of literature or film, not a political scientist, professional music critic or trained journalist... no MFA... no PhD." It doesn't matter. Her own well-educated and sensitive responses to whatever she observes are enough.
She has an open curiosity about so many things, and writes like a charming and brilliant friend who is dying to confide her ideas and learn what others have to say. Despite her anxiety, she seems to treasure her own idiosyncratic and sometimes even naïve perspective, not wanting to censor herself too much. Writing sympathetically about John Berger's wish to demystify art, she says: "He urged us to throw aside the school-taught sensations of high culture anxiety and holy awe. They were to be replaced with a fresh and invigorating mix of skepticism and pleasure."
Smith considers movies and books and art, her childhood neighborhood, politics, Facebook, diary writing, death, her parents, Schopenhauer and public libraries. "Dance Lessons for Writers" is a collection of notes for writers on sets of dancers--Fred Astaire/Gene Kelly, Janet Jackson/Madonna/Beyonce, David Byrne/David Bowie. "For me the two forms are close to each other: I feel dance has something to tell me about what I do." Smith is one of the most skillful and enjoyable essayists working today, and there is plenty to discover, enjoy and argue with in these pages. --Sara Catterall
Discover: This is a substantial and enjoyable collection of recent essays by acclaimed British author Zadie Smith.
hardcover, 464p., 9781594206252
The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World
by Bart D. Ehrman
Bart D. Ehrman (How Jesus Became God) has made a cottage industry of writing relatively brief, accessible books about early Christian history. In The Triumph of Christianity, he examines the religion's remarkable success in converting the better part of the Roman world in only a few centuries.
One reason for this was Christianity's exclusivity. Pagan religions did not demand that worshippers of certain gods turn away from others. Ehrman does point to pagan practitioners of henotheism, which lets worshippers focus on a single god without denying the existence of other deities. He suggests that henotheism may have prepared the ground for some Christian converts to recognize one all-powerful God, including, possibly, Emperor Constantine. More importantly, when pagans converted to Christianity, they renounced all other gods. A convert necessarily became an apostate to all of paganism, so that more Christians meant fewer pagans.
Ehrman also writes at length about Christianity as a missionary religion. While pagans had a precedent for monotheism in their Jewish neighbors, "we don't know of any missionary religions in the pagan world." The evangelizing mission of the Christian church was thus "unparalleled and unprecedented."
These are only a few of the explanations for Christianity's success that Ehrman examines. His account is measured and grounded, but nevertheless an astounding tale of a persecuted religion that swept the ancient world with shocking rapidity. Readers are left to judge the benefits and drawbacks of Christianity's triumph for themselves. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Discover: The Triumph of Christianity examines the religion's rapid expansion and eventual dominance of both the Roman Empire and Western culture as a whole.
Simon & Schuster,
hardcover, 352p., 9781501136702
Psychology & Self-Help
Modern Loss: Candid Conversations About Grief. Beginners Welcome
by Rebecca Soffer, Gabrielle Birkner
Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle Birkner's Modern Loss follows the encouraging success of their online movement of the same name, a much-needed forum for people to engage in open, authentic dialogues about grief. In this eclectic collection of essays, more than 40 contributors share their insights on bereavement with a respectful balance of humor and honesty that focuses on the loss one actually feels instead of what society expects one to feel. The message comes across loud and clear: grief should be experienced in whatever way feels genuine and right, whether or not it is conventionally acceptable.
Modern Loss is divided into sections highlighting topics related to the grieving process. In the section "Data," Soffer coins the phrase "emotional digital sneak attack": seeing an image on Google Earth of one's deceased father mowing the lawn of one's childhood home, for example. Such "digital dust" sometimes can cause anguish, as when Soffer received an e-mail from her deceased mother offering to bake her favorite chicken dish. The message somehow landed in her inbox a year after her mother's death. At the same time, though, having access to such history of a deceased loved one can be comforting and precious.
Soffer and Birkner's easy conversational tone encourages the reader to explore what it means to build happy, healthy and resilient lives despite the repeated shattering of normalcy that is part and parcel of bereavement. To read these stories is to appreciate the relief that comes with sharing experiences and their attendant emotions with others on the same journey. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer
Discover: A fresh, original and often entertaining approach to living a meaningful life while dealing with grief and loss.
hardcover, 384p., 9780062499189
Advice Not Given: A Guide to Getting Over Yourself
by Mark Epstein
The ego--intangible but ever-present--claims to have our best interests at heart in the constant pursuit to maintain control over our emotions. But this pursuit is accompanied by anxiety and frustration when we fail to rein them in, setting the stage for self-doubt. In Advice Not Given, psychiatrist and practicing Buddhist Dr. Mark Epstein gives us the tools to get over ourselves by taming our ego.
Epstein (The Trauma of Everyday Life) has never kept his Buddhism a secret from his patients, but has only recently begun to incorporate its principles into his therapeutic work by using the Eightfold Path as a guide. Beginning with Right View, Epstein cautions that "meditation is not to create a comfortable hiding place for oneself" as it has been adopted in the West. He challenges readers to break from the stories they tell themselves through Right Speech and, in Right Action, to be patient when relinquishing what ails them. Epstein addresses the trend of mindfulness as the key to personal transformation, and warns "not to turn it into another method of self-improvement" to achieve instant but short-lived gratification.
Through accessible stories of challenges and breakthroughs with his patients and timeless insight from Buddhist tales, Epstein gives readers the resources to move forward by learning to let go of the ego's grip over emotions. This is no easy task, and Epstein helpfully shares successes and failures from his own journey. --Frank Brasile, librarian
Discover: Advice Not Given combines the principles of psychotherapy and Buddhism to create a wise and practical road map to master our emotions and achieve enlightenment.
hardcover, 224p., 9780399564321
I, Mammal: The Story of What Makes Us Mammals
by Liam Drew
Liam Drew's first book, I, Mammal: The Story of What Makes Us Mammals, is an infectiously enthusiastic introduction to mammalian biology. Drew takes the reader along on an idiosyncratic survey of the various attributes and unusual physical features--live birth and the scrotum, for example--that, taken together, help to define why mammals are mammals. Far from a dry list of mammalian characteristics, I, Mammal looks to Drew's personal life, especially his experience of fatherhood, to show how all of our lives are shaped by these distinctive features.
Helpfully, Drew also possesses abundant wit and a sly sense of humor. On the question of why mammals developed scrotums, Drew writes: "It's like a bank deciding against a vault and keeping its money in a tent on the pavement." That Drew then goes on to debate the merits of the long-popular and somewhat technical "cooling hypothesis" is emblematic of the author's approach. Drew is an entertaining writer that never gives short shrift to his complex subject matter.
Behind Drew's occasional silliness lies a serious, awe-filled appreciation for unlikely products of evolution, especially the platypus. The author's delight in sharing bizarre facts about humans and our evolutionary cousins is tempered by his insistence that "what we define as individual traits are always bound together, and it is within these bonds that a meaningful notion of mammalianness can be found." I, Mammal positions human beings within a vast, incredible family tree. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Discover: I, Mammal provides a witty guided tour of attributes that define mammals, as well as a distinctive perspective on humans and our evolutionary heritage.
hardcover, 336p., 9781472922892
The Spinning Magnet: The Electromagnetic Force that Created the Modern World--and Could Destroy It
by Alanna Mitchell
In The Spinning Magnet, science journalist Alanna Mitchell crafts a comprehensive history charting the discovery of Earth's electromagnetic field. The planet is a giant magnet spinning in space with two poles: north and south. Between them, "stretchy magnetic field lines" extend beyond the planet "where they interact with the magnetic fields of the sun and the galaxy" before reentering the Earth at the opposite pole in "unending, erratic loops." This force field protects Earth from harmful solar radiation and has mystified humans since ancient Greece. Even now, scientists worry about what will happen when--not if!--the poles reverse direction, as they have done hundreds of times over the centuries.
Mitchell's accounting of the studies of the earth and its forces is densely packed with historical data, like walking a timeline through a museum devoted to magnetism, electricity, geology and solar radiation. It is a slow read, yet one that leaves readers tingling with anticipation and a bit of anxiety as they learn the electromagnetic field is diminishing and has even started to reverse, in what is called the South Atlantic Anomaly. The last big reversal happened more than 700,000 years ago, so we are due for a change at any time, but will the modern world, with much of its infrastructure hooked to a global electric and technological grid, survive? Mitchell's excellent research provides the background to potential answers, but the future remains unwritten. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: A thorough investigation of the scientific discoveries surrounding the electromagnetic field and what might happen when this force field fails.
hardcover, 336p., 9781101985168
Nature & Environment
A Forest in the Clouds: My Year Among the Mountain Gorillas in the Remote Enclave of Dian Fossey
by John Fowler
As a young pre-veterinary college student, John Fowler applied for and was accepted into a year-long research assistantship with Dr. Dian Fossey at Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda. Fowler knew little about Fossey at the time but was enticed by the rare opportunity intimately to study the mountain gorilla in its African habitat. When he left the United States in January 1980, he anticipated exciting adventures and priceless education, but what he found instead was a hostile environment led by an alcoholic struggling to keep her position before her murder in 1985.
A Forest in the Clouds is Fowler's firsthand account of life in Fossey's research camp, nestled among the Virunga Volcanoes. It paints a dramatically different picture from the acclaimed primatologist's articles in National Geographic or her book, Gorillas in the Mist. It also illustrates an amazing corner of the world and a spectacular species only a few DNA chain links away from humans.
Fowler's raw honesty, his awe and respect for the natural world and his talent for storytelling make A Forest in the Clouds both mesmerizing and terrifying. Humorous anecdotes, like Fowler's experience having a gorilla pee on him in the night, balance the grim realities of wildlife--and human life--he must face. Readers will feel transported to the wilds of Africa, where Fowler educates them on raising a baby gorilla, camp cuisine and surviving the greatest challenge, Dian Fossey. A Forest in the Clouds is a brave and beautiful memoir any animal lover will devour. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: Decades after her gruesome murder, Dian Fossey's research assistant answers the question, "What was she like?"
hardcover, 336p., 9781681776330
Saving Tarboo Creek: One Family's Quest to Heal the Land
by Scott Freeman, illus. by Susan Leopold Freeman
Written by Scott Freeman and illustrated by his wife, Susan Leopold Freeman--granddaughter of the land conservationist Aldo Leopold--Saving Tarboo Creek is the eloquent story of one family's desire to restore a section of waterway on Washington's Olympic Peninsula. Working with the Northwest Watershed Institute and many others, the Freemans first had to rebuild the waterway itself, restoring it to a more natural meander, before replanting trees to shade the stream as it returned to being a perfect habitat for spawning salmon.
Freeman sketches the struggles and triumphs of a female salmon as she builds her redd (or nest), as well as the complexities of having beaver move into the area. He also describes the mating croaks of tree frogs and the pleasures of watching the gradual evolution of the 18-acre parcel the Freemans call home. Rich in ecological data, finely tuned observations and a love of the environment, Freeman's thinking extends far beyond the perimeters of this little salmon stream. He addresses climate change, world population levels and the five previous mass extinctions. Then he ponders the possibility of a sixth, in no small part due to humans.
Throughout, Freeman references Aldo Leopold's land ethics as discussed in A Sand County Almanac. This lends a historical continuity to the powerful ecological discussion here. Saving Tarboo Creek is a call to action that deserves shelf space beside environmental writing from the likes of of Bernd Heinrich, Bill McKibben and Edward Abbey. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: The expressive, lyrical observations here about a Washington State waterway carry implications for the rest of the world.
hardcover, 224p., 9781604697940
Limits of the Known
by David Roberts
For more than half a century, mountaineer David Roberts has ventured into the unknown, climbing peaks, running untested waterways and hiking into canyons that haven't been visited by humans for hundreds of years. In Limits of the Known, Roberts wistfully recounts many of his adventures, triumphs and a few unsuccessful attempts, while coming to grips with the fact that he is dying of throat and lung cancer.
He skillfully blends his own narratives with those of the explorers and adventurers who have come before him, and of those who are undertaking expeditions in areas where Roberts is not a master. Readers learn of the trials polar explorers endured in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when being the first to reach the poles captured the imagination and spurred those who were willing to push themselves to impossible limits. Once the poles were obtained, climbing the highest summits in the world became the next target, which Roberts readily admits became his own passion and obsession.
Always seeking the next adrenaline rush, Roberts also joined several whitewater rafting expeditions where he plunged down unknown rivers, despite his inability to swim. This in turn leads to cave explorations. These tales are juxtaposed against Roberts's slow acknowledgement that he will no longer be at the forefront of any of these new explorations, that death is the last great unknown. Limits of the Known can be considered Roberts's swan song, a beautiful treatise on the extremes humans will go to in order better to understand ourselves and the world we live in for such a brief time. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: A veteran mountain climber remembers his own accomplishments and those of other explorers while he confronts the greatest unknown, his own death.
hardcover, 336p., 9780393609868
The Monk of Mokha
by Dave Eggers
Dave Eggers (Heroes of the Frontier) enjoys seeking out and highlighting lesser-known stories. Through his founding of nonprofit 826Valencia and writing books like What Is the What, he uses his position in literary circles to shift his readers' attention. The Monk of Mokha is Eggers's biography of a courageous and somewhat naïve young man who began cultivating high-end coffee in Yemen during the outbreak in 2015 of the ongoing civil war.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali lives in the United States and drifts aimlessly through his 20s until he discovers his purpose: to revive the culture of coffee in his ancestral home. The modern process of roasting and drinking coffee beans originated in Yemen, where the plant was grown with great success for generations before global trade and political disorder nearly wiped out the practice. With internal strife and external competition, the idea of traveling to Yemen to convince farmers to begin growing coffee again seems like a fool's errand. This is especially so for someone who, at the beginning of his project, doesn't actually know the first thing about coffee cultivation, preparation or trade. The fact that Mokhtar succeeds in spite of this alone makes his story worth telling.
Eggers is always happy to explain to the reader aspects of Yemeni and coffee cultures. He's also never patronizing to Mokhtar, even as the young man makes foolhardy and risky decisions. Mokhtar has a vision, and through The Monk of Mokha, Eggers shows the power of belief. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: Dave Eggers's The Monk of Mokha is the biography of one Yemeni American man building a flourishing coffee trade back in his ancestral country.
hardcover, 352p., 9781101947319
House & Home
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter
by Margareta Magnusson
"Aging is certainly not for weaklings," writes Swedish artist Margareta Magnusson in The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter. "Somewhere between eighty and one-hundred-years old" and a veteran of death cleaning, Magnusson paints the Swedish practice of döstädning as an important, thoughtful act, whether mortality looms or hovers in the distance, or it's just time for a necessary conversation with loved ones facing it.
Start large, she suggests, getting rid of clothes or furniture--things less emotionally fraught than photographs or letters. Consider possessions by category, taking stock of what things merit keeping and why. Sell some. Give lots away. And when it comes time to sort photographs or letters? Digitize them, and give the tangible copies to family.
Magnusson also considers vices: "Maybe Grandfather had ladies' underwear in his drawer and maybe Grandma had a dildo in hers. But what does that matter now?" For things that mean something only to their owner, or are evidence of habits surviving family members might not enjoy discovering, she counsels readers to keep them in a box marked, "Throw Away." Relatives will know what to do.
Magnusson admits that death cleaning can elicit a range of emotions, including, inevitably, some sadness, but also agency, nostalgia and comfort. Her tone is straightforward and casual, generously punctuated with exclamation points, inspiring hope in the face of what can feel like a monumental or morbid chore: dealing with the stuff of life at the end of it. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: Warm, frank and full of wisdom, this delightful guide advises readers how to de-clutter, with or without death looming, to ease their own lives and the lives of those close to them.
hardcover, 128p., 9781501173240
Children's & Young Adult
May I Come In?
by Marsha Diane Arnold, illus. by Jennie Poh
One stormy night, Raccoon shivers and quivers in his home, deciding finally that "[b]eing alone on a night like tonight is scary." Grabbing his umbrella, he heads to his friends' houses--"swish," "plish"--asking for shelter from the storm. One after another, these old friends deny him comfort. "What bad luck," each says as they explain how Raccoon is too big for their dens. When he knocks on Rabbit's door, however, he is welcomed with open paws, even though her burrow is leaping with her kits, "hop[ping] and bop[ping] to the raindrops." When three soggy friends show up at the door a little while later, will they be invited in, too? Of course! "There's always room for all our friends."
Whether in Scotland (Always Room for One More) or Ukraine (The Mitten), the idea of making room for just one more friend is well loved in folk tales. In May I Come In?, Marsha Diane Arnold (Waiting for Snow; Lost. Found.) embraces the classic storyline but leaves out the exploding house (or mitten) at the end. Jennie Poh's (Herbie's Big Adventure) woodland cast of characters also includes a possum, a quail and a woodchuck, all of whom are filled with personality, and covered in feathers and fur that readers will want to touch.
The lesson in this--as in every version of this delightful folktale--is gentle but clear: don't be stingy with your love. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Turned away from several friends' houses on a stormy night, Raccoon finally finds one friend who embodies the idea that "there's always room for a good friend."
Sleeping Bear Press,
hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9781585363940
The Prince and the Dressmaker
by Jen Wang
Jen Wang's graphic novel The Prince and the Dressmaker immerses readers in an aristocratic "Paris, at the dawn of the modern age," full of dazzling high fashion and high-stakes romance.
Prince Sebastian has a secret. Sixteen and heir to the throne, Sebastian knows he must marry soon and take on the responsibilities of the monarchy. He also knows that "[i]f anybody found out the prince wore dresses, it would ruin the whole family," but he feels the most comfortable, the most himself, when he's wearing women's clothing. At a ball in his honor, he sees an extraordinary gown and immediately hires the creator--a young seamstress named Frances--to be his secret personal seamstress and designer.
And so, Frances begins covertly designing for Prince Sebastian. The more she works, the more she grows and develops her own style, while Prince Sebastian grows more confident and begins to step out in Frances's gowns under the pseudonym Lady Crystallia. Crystallia becomes a trendsetter with her avant-garde couture, which should mean big things for Frances. But Sebastian insists that Frances's connection to him be kept secret at all costs.
Jen Wang's (In Real Life) first solo endeavor for young readers is downright charming, depicting two teens finding themselves and their paths in a patriarchal and heteronormative world. Frances and Prince Sebastian's growing relationship is treated with great care, as are the problems each of them faces. Wang's illustrations are expressive and full of movement, the panels moving the story swiftly along as the characters break free from their borders and commandeer half and full pages for themselves. The Prince and the Dressmaker is a gentle, sweet-without-the-saccharine graphic novel for middle-grade readers that depicts the great happiness and love that can come with self-acceptance. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A seamstress finds her vision and a young prince gains confidence in himself when the prince hires the seamstress to design his dresses.
paperback, 288p., ages 10-up, 9781626723634
Between the Lines
by Nikki Grimes
"We live in the same city, go to the same school, but each of us has a different story," a student observes. "What we have in common is trying to figure out how to tell it." Welcome back to Mr. Ward's English class, introduced in Nikki Grimes's Coretta Scott King-winning Bronx Masquerade (2002), where high school teens learn to harness everyday words to create poetry, community and even their very selves. In Between the Lines, referred to as a "companion novel" to Masquerade, Grimes (The Watcher; Chasing Freedom) repeats her highly successful format, presenting multiple voices through a hybrid combination of revealing prose and affecting poetry.
Proud Puertorriqueño Darrian with his New York Times-aspirations turns his librarian/mentor's advice that "poetry, more than anything else, will teach you about the power of words" into action and transfers into Mr. Ward's classroom. As the weeks pass, Darrian witnesses how words transform his classmates: Chinese American Li tests her independence, blonde-and-blue-eyed African American foster child Jenesis learns trust, Marcel and Valentina release some of their injustice-fueled anger, Kyle strengthens his heart and spirit, Angela becomes brave and overwhelmed Freddie finally opens to friendship.
Poetry provides the medium through which these teens express, explore, declare, grow: "when a story is true, you have to tell it... to write it in a way that will force people to stop and read it"--and hear and feel it. With Mr. Ward's "Open Mike Friday" fast approaching, students get ready to showcase their revelations-in-verse before a live audience of family and friends--including a few familiar Masquerade poets who return to encourage and enlighten. Each will be "standing out, but standing together." Let the slam begin. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: In Nikki Grimes's companion novel to Bronx Masquerade, eight will-be poets reveal stories of loss, fear, challenges, courage and so much hope.
hardcover, 224p., ages 12-up, 9780399246883
Speak: The Graphic Novel
by Laurie Halse Anderson, Emily Carroll
Laurie Halse Anderson's 1999 young adult novel, Speak, is a seminal work in young adult literature that helped to pave the way for many of the incredible works we've seen in the almost 20 years since its publication. This new edition, Speak: The Graphic Novel, adapted by Anderson herself and illustrated by Eisner Award winner Emily Carroll, is as painful as it is prepossessing.
Right before her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda attended an end-of-summer party. For reasons unknown to her peers, Melinda called the police and busted the party. Now, on her first day at her brand-new school, she is already an outcast, despised by almost all of her classmates, including Rachel, her "ex-best friend." Melinda, dealing with a trauma that is left unspoken for most of the work, quickly draws inside of herself, becoming small and almost completely silent. "It's getting harder to talk," she thinks, "My throat is always sore, my lips raw, like I have some kind of spastic laryngitis." She falls into a deep depression, feeling as if there is "a beast" in her guts, "scraping away at the inside of [her] ribs." The illustrations accompanying this thought--a wolf, bare tree limbs, blood drops--are all black, pressing in on the text, surrounding and suffocating it.
Using pencil and charcoal, the entire graphic novel is illustrated in grayscale, allowing the work to be as visually dark as its content. Strong lines, overlapping panels and clever use of blank space show Carroll's skill in creating Melinda's stifling, near-silent world. Speak: The Graphic Novel is hypnotizing and heart-breaking, with the kind of empowering finish that unshackles protagonist and readers alike. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Laurie Halse Anderson's 1999 award-winning novel is reinvented in graphic novel form with illustrations by Eisner Award winner Emily Carroll.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
hardcover, 384p., ages 12-up, 9780374300289
by Dhonielle Clayton
The Belles, the first book in Dhonielle Clayton's (Tiny Pretty Things) new series, begins with the origin story of Orléans: the God of the Sky and the Goddess of Beauty fell in love and had children. Beauty spent so much time with their human offspring that the God of the Sky grew jealous and cursed his children "with skin the color of a sunless sky, eyes the shade of blood, hair the texture of rotten straw, and a deep sadness." Beauty, unable to undo the curse, "sent the Belles to... bring beauty back to the damned world."
Camellia has just turned 16. "For any normal girl that would mean raspberry and lemon macarons and tiny pastel blimps.... Maybe even a teacup elephant." But for Camellia and her sisters, it is their debut: today is the Beauté Carnaval, when the new batch of Belles is introduced. All six young women will display their skills, painfully reshaping a child until she is a shining example of the unusual beauty only a Belle can produce. All six will be given work placements, but only one will be chosen as the Queen's favorite. Camellia is determined to be that one. But Orléans is not what she expected. Raised in seclusion, the Belles are naïve, unaware of the dangers they will face. The "blood of the Goddess of Beauty" runs in their veins and the desperate-to-be-beautiful people of Orléans will do anything to gain access to that blood.
Clayton's world dazzles, so sensually descriptive that the simple act of reading feels like a luxury. It is a world in which beauty can be bought, but achieved only through significant pain; a world so alluring, readers may be unable to leave it behind, even after the turn of the final page. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor
Discover: The Belles, Dhonielle Clayton's evocative and exciting new fantasy, is a perfect next-read for lovers of Stephanie Garber's Caraval.
hardcover, 448p., ages 12-up, 9781484728499
Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners
by Naomi Shihab Nye
"In our time/ voices cross the sea/ easily/ but sense is still difficult to come by."
In the introduction to her poetry collection Voices in the Air, poet, essayist, anthologist and novelist Naomi Shihab Nye wonders, "[W]as life always strange--just strange in different ways? Does speaking some of the strangeness help us survive it, even if we can't solve or change it?" Each reader will have to answer that question for her or himself, but Nye's nearly 100 poems will certainly help all of us survive the strangeness in our lives. With her trademark conversational style, she feels like the sister you wish you had: warm, curious and insightful. She writes for and about the people who have inspired her: Peter Matthiessen, Townes Van Zandt, Rosa Bonheur, Bruce Springsteen, Israeli poets, Palestinian journalists, eco-activists, wives of writers, daughters of poets, hairdressers. (Happily, she also includes short bios of each in the back material.)
The poems in this collection are suffused with humor and thoughtfulness. Nye, a National Book Award finalist (19 Varieties of Gazelle) and four-time Pushcart Prize recipient, is prolific and varied in her work. Her range is wide: short short stories (There Is No Long Distance Now), children's fiction (The Turtle of Oman) and, of course, a whole lot of poetry for all ages (Fuel; Red Suitcase; Transfer). Never content simply to describe, Nye's "lushly layered" poems always seem to ask something of the reader.
There's a political edge to many of her poems, some more overt than others: "Just in case justice suddenly walks into the room and says,/ Yes I'm finally here sorry for the delay./ Tell me where to sign." Teen readers will love the gentle intensity of Nye's words and messages and the accessibility of her poetry. Beautiful. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: National Book Award finalist Naomi Shihab Nye's smart and accessible collection of poetry asks teen readers to listen to all the voices--past and present--"floating around out there."
hardcover, 208p., ages 13-up, 9780062691842
The Secret Kingdom: Nek Chand, a Changing India, and a Hidden World of Art
by Barb Rosenstock, illus. by Claire A. Nivola
As a boy, Nek Chand "played and planted, laughed and listened... [to] the ancient stories." "Season by season, Nek's head filled... until it overflowed" into a world of his own that he created on the banks of a nearby stream. "Until the men with guns came."
The 1947 Partition that violently cleaved the Indian subcontinent into Pakistan and India forced Nek's family to flee their remote village home. He eventually became a government road inspector in "India's first modern city, Chandigarh," but "[n]othing in [that] modern place tugged at Nek's village heart." Feeling lost in the "sharp-edged city of colorless concrete," Nek Chand found a hidden wilderness just north of the city where he could escape.
For seven years, with discarded, recovered items, Nek Chand began to re-create the memories of his faraway childhood, molding curving paths, carving niched walls, forging goddesses and queens from twisted bikes and rusty pipes, to construct an entire "secret kingdom." When the government discovered his illegal hideaway, officials threatened destruction--"Until the people of Chandigarh came." Curiosity turned to appreciation, support and preservation, and "[t]he people saved the secret kingdom."
A lover of true stories, author Barb Rosenstock (The Camping Trip That Changed America) clearly revels in Nek Chand's remarkable journey from village farmer to world-renowned folk artist. To comprehend the phenomenal scale of his achievement requires visuals, provided here with artistic accuracy and charming detail by Claire A. Nivola (Planting the Trees of Kenya). That Nek Chand never stopped building on his dream throughout his long life--he died in 2015 at age 90--remains an exemplary lesson in imaginative perseverance that will galvanize readers of all ages. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Folk artist Nek Chand's remarkable journey to create the phenomenal Rock Garden of Chandigarh, India, is an inspiring tale of tenacious creativity.
hardcover, 48p., ages 7-10, 9780763674755
Bird Builds a Nest: A First Science Storybook
by Martin Jenkins, illus. by Richard Jones
"It's a beautiful day! Bird is up early--she's got a lot to do." Readers expecting anthropomorphic behavior from this book's titular character might be surprised. After Bird breakfasts on a worm, she gets busy: "Carefully, she pushes a twig into the side of the nest and pulls its end back out. Pushing and pulling, she gets all the twigs in place. She works for hours, fetching and carrying, flying back and forth, pushing and pulling."
Bird Builds a Nest: A First Science Storybook works well as a straightforward narrative that concludes with the toddler-pleasing sight of a nest full of ready-to-hatch eggs. But in his front-of-book note, Martin Jenkins, a conservation biologist when he's not writing fine children's books, nudges adults to give kids a deeper reading experience. "This is a book about a bird, and it is also a book about forces," he explains, and proceeds to equip grown-ups with simple definitions ("Gravity is a force that pulls objects toward one another"). Jenkins's back-of-book "Thinking About Pushing and Pulling" page gives young readers their own intellectual prod. For one: "Heavy things are hard for Bird to move. Can you name three things that are too heavy for you to move?"
It's become de rigueur to introduce little kids to science concepts, and Bird Builds a Nest is among those with standout illustrations. In fact, Richard Jones's nimble mixed-media compositions, which have the look of cut-paper tableaux, are downright suitable for framing. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
Discover: Bird Builds a Nest introduces young readers to the science and beauty of nest building.
hardcover, 32p., ages 4-6, 9780763693466
A Couch for Llama
by Leah Gilbert
This charming and silly picture book begins by announcing that "[t]he Lago family's couch was very well-loved." But now, after playing host to many cozy activities, including "snuggling... fort building, and hiding and seeking," it's clear that the couch has seen better days. The family decides it's time to replace it. After trying a couch that is "too big" and one that is "too small," the Lago family happily finds a replacement that is "JUST RIGHT." They pack their perfect new couch on top of their car and head home. Unfortunately, before they get there, the new couch flies off the car and into a field, where it lands at the feet of a rather startled llama.
Llama is intrigued. He sniffs and brays and tries to share his lunch, but the couch doesn't say anything or seem very hungry. It doesn't taste good either, so Llama concludes the couch is useless. But, just as the Lago family discovers their couch is missing, Llama realizes his new couch is not as boring as it seems.
The illustrations showing Llama making friends with the couch are not to be missed. Llama has a big round belly and teeny-tiny legs, making his jumping and twirling very comical indeed. He exudes plenty of emotion, moving from a "stubborn, couch-loving kind of llama" to a dejected, couch-less llama in a jiffy as the family takes away his "smooshy-mooshy, fluffy-puffy cushions" that he "completely" loves. A Couch for Llama manages to be both tender and action packed, and shows the rewards of spreading the happiness around. It's a thoroughly entertaining read, especially while ensconced on a suitably comfortable couch of one's own. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: When a family tries to bring a perfect new couch home from the store, it falls off the car, landing at the feet of a very startled llama.
hardcover, 40p., ages 4-up, 9781454925118
I Am a Cat
by Galia Bernstein
Is Simon the small gray cat "just like" the large cats of the jungle: Lion, Cheetah, Puma, Panther and Tiger? The ferocious felines think not. Lion, Cheetah, Puma, Panther and Tiger each roar out their laughter, citing their own personal traits as being the characteristics of the cat family. Lion says, "Cats have a mane and a tuft at the end of their tails, and when they roar everybody trembles for they are the kings of all beasts!" Tiger makes a pronouncement, suggesting the small, gray animal is nothing like the big, strong, orange cat. He easily dismisses Simon with the offhand remark, "You might be some kind of rat, but a cat? I don't think so."
A discussion ensues about similarities and differences, and Simon astutely convinces the other animals that he shares many physical characteristics with them. Once this happens, there's time for "pouncing and prowling, prancing and playing, like cats of all sizes do." There are gentle lessons to be learned here, about animal behavior and traits, about sticking up for oneself and about looking at an argument logically. Debut author/illustrator Galia Bernstein's palette of beiges, browns, grays, black and orange (with occasional interjections of green for eyes and pinks for tongues) gives each animal a distinct personality and invents varied compositional layouts for each two-page spread. Witty language and delightfully bold digital illustrations with hand-painted textures elevate I Am a Cat from a read-once picture book to an experience that children will want to explore multiple times. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer
Discover: A small cat stands up for himself and claims a place in the illustrious feline family in this handsomely designed picture book.
hardcover, 32p., ages 3-6, 9781419726439
Sakura's Cherry Blossoms
by Robert Paul Weston, illus. by Misa Saburi
With a name that means "cherry blossom," Sakura's favorite time of the year is understandably spring, when her namesake blooms. Her grandmother gently nurtures her floral appreciation: "Together they sat/ in the shade of pink petals/... They ate bento box lunches./ They told each other stories." Surrounded by beauty, Sakura's Obaachan teaches her that "seeing these blossoms in bloom/ is always finest with friends."
And then Sakura's father begins "a new job in America," moving the family away from Japan and Obaachan. Sakura's initial loneliness gives way to new friendship with Luke, who shares with her his astral fascination: " 'Flowers are like stars,' " Sakura notices. " 'They blossom,/ they sparkle, and then/ they fade, so we treasure them/ because one day they vanish.' " So do grandparents, Sakura realizes too soon, and the family returns to Japan to say goodbye to her beloved Obaachan. When spring returns, Sakura will remember well her grandmother's words, that "watching cherry blossoms bloom/ is always finest with friends."
In his picture book debut, Sakura's Cherry Blossoms, Robert Paul Weston pays homage to the cherry blossoms of Japan's Mount Yoshino, the foothills of which he called home in his 20s. Using tanka--a five-lined, 5-7-5-7-7-syllabled traditional Japanese poem--Weston clearly channels his own wandering experiences (British-born, Canadian-raised, world-traveled, now London-domiciled) of navigating the challenges of new locations, languages and cultures. Artist Misa Saburi, similarly attuned to East and West, illustrates a traditional hanami (cherry blossom viewing) and a "boisterous" morning arrival at school with equal fluency. Despite their own dislocations, Weston and Saburi's artistic expressions align on the page in a complementary way, highlighting the bonding experiences of family, friendship, natural beauty and, of course, Sakura's cherry blossoms. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: For Sakura, the memories of her adored grandmother back in Japan and a new friendship with the boy next door help ease the challenges of moving across the world.
hardcover, 40p., ages 3-7, 9781101918746
Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli
by Kyo Maclear, illus. by Julie Morstad
Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad (Julia, Child) team up once again in a new picture book biography of revolutionary fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli. Born in 1890 to a strict, aristocratic family, Elsa's home is "dark and gray." Her older sister, Beatrice, is "Mamma's favorite," because she is "bella" (beautiful), while the disappointing Elsa can only be considered "brutta" (ugly). Elsa, ignored but surrounded by the beautiful colors of Rome, grows up with a vivid imagination and appreciation for the beauty in everyday items: "I am an explorer, a circus performer, and even the night sky. Dress up. Pretend. Make believe. The world feels brighter." As an adult, Elsa leaves home to travel the world, braving rejection and poverty to create her groundbreaking and modern fashion. "Boundless, unstoppable," she experiments with unusual fabric combinations, colors and shapes. Lace and leather, wool and cellophane, "WHY NOT a shoe on my head, a coat with many drawers, a lobster dress?" Overcoming doubts, Elsa creates fashion that is also art and, at the "late-blooming" age of 37, her innovations take the fashion world by storm.
Morstad's (When Green Becomes Tomatoes) lush illustrations match Maclear's enlightening narrative. Using liquid watercolor, gouache and pencil crayons in an early 20th-century stencil treatment called pochoir, her illustrations rise and fall with Elsa's emotional and artistic journey, some pages spare and gray, others a riot of color. For readers who want to go deeper, the back matter includes an author and illustrator note, endnotes, sources and further reading. Together Maclear and Morstad have created a picture book that, like Elsa's art, is "daring, different, and whole" and that reminds us that "together, we BLOOM and BLOOM." --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor
Discover: This winsome picture book explores the life of revolutionary fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, from insecure child to inspirational artist.
hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780062447616
#Prettyboy Must Die
by Kim Reid
When teenage CIA agent Jake Morrow fouls up a mission in Ukraine, he convinces his boss to change his termination to an "indefinite" suspension. Jake tells her that it has always been a dream of his to attend Carlisle Academy and that, while there, he can "amass quality intel on some of the nation's top science research laboratories." Since the "Company is never supposed to spy on the homeland" and Jake is technically "off the job," his boss agrees and enrolls him as Peter Smith at the school. His real plan? Capture the hacker-for-hire he tracked to Carlisle--the one he nearly blew his cover trying to find in Ukraine. The problem? He's responsible for the death of Marchuk, head of the criminal network that hired the hacker, and Marchuk Jr. wants revenge.
Former foster kid Jake was chosen as the first agent in the CIA's high school recruitment program because he'd "always kept a low profile" as a criminal hacker. He's not fooling his new best friend, Bunker, however, a "freak thanks to fifteen years underground with... [his] dad's pre-millennium comic book and DVD collection." But Jake's not too worried about his cover until a photo of him tagged "#Prettyboy" goes viral. Hours later, masked gunmen--Marchuk Jr. among them--infiltrate his school.
With cell service and the Internet cut, Jake tries to figure out how to "stop the bad guys" with just "what's in [his] backpack." But Bunker and Katie, Jake's crush who has a mission herself, won't let him work alone. Readers will enjoy watching the crew neutralize hostile after hostile as they slowly unravel the real reason Marchuk's at Carlisle. With #Prettyboy Must Die, Kimberly Reid (Perfect Liars) gives adventure-seekers a fast-paced and suspenseful thriller. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer
Discover: When his high school comes under siege, a teenage CIA operative must rely on his training, wit and two close friends to save the day.
hardcover, 288p., ages 13-up, 9780765390875
by Gloria Chao
Mei Lu is a 17-year-old Taiwanese-American freshman at MIT. According to her parents, her life is all planned out: she will become a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy League graduate. But what they don't know is that she's a germophobe ("bacteria-ridden patients" make her "skin crawl") who feels more at home in a dance studio than an operating room. She also has a crush on a "nerd-hot" Japanese-American boy. Straddling two worlds without fully belonging to either of them, Mei attempts to navigate her new independence while still trying to respect her immigrant parents' hopes and dreams.
In American Panda, Gloria Chao skillfully and effectively puts the reader in Mei's shoes, highlighting how it feels to be a first-generation American. One notable way she does this is through transcripts of voicemails from Mei's mom, aunt and grandmother that include gossip ("I heard from Mrs. Tian who heard from Mrs. Lin..."), guilt trips ("Why you never pick up? I know you're not in class!") and health and beauty tips ("I read about these spoons that fight fat.... Your belly needs it!"). Sprinkled between chapters, these snippets simulate what it's like to be on the receiving end of constant criticism and advice, albeit well-meaning. Additionally, the Mandarin words that are scattered throughout--constant reminders that children of immigrant parents are living in two worlds--further cement the reader in Mei's experience.
Between embarrassingly funny scenes of Mei's mother fussing over her and emotionally charged, tense familial interactions, there's a sweet narrative about Mei falling in love and coming into her own through dance. It's in these in-between moments, when Mei's true self shines, that Chao does some of her best work. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Discover: An eye-opening, hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking story of a Taiwanese-American girl's struggle with breaking tradition to be herself.
hardcover, 320p., ages 12-17, 9781481499101
Down and Across
by Arvin Ahmadi
According to his father, 16-year-old Scott (Saaket) Ferdowsi is in short supply of grit--he doesn't stick with anything, not even his breakfast cereal. Since Scott's father read that a person's grit is the best predictor of their success, he's emphatic that Scott not quit his summer internship studying mouse feces.
Rodent poop is the last thing Scott wants to look at all summer. Instead, when his immigrant parents return to Iran for a month, Scott ditches the internship and heads to Washington, D.C., to consult the Georgetown professor who discovered the "truth" about grit. He's determined to learn the secret to success and sure she'll be the one to teach him.
Arvin Ahmadi's debut novel is a rollicking adventure full of humor and quirky characters from all walks of life, including the puzzle-loving Fiora, the bartending Libertarian, Trent, and Jeanette, a college freshman Scott picks up on a dare at the National Zoo. Their zany exploits are humorous and insightful and nothing is off-limits on Scott's educational journey: youth hostels, hospitals, bars, even the French Embassy.
Ahmadi's descriptions are particularly colorful, like that of Café Saint-Ex, which "was for sure made of some fourth state of matter. A special blend of solids (people), liquids (alcohol), and gas (body odor) came together in this hellhole to form a state where you could pack infinite twentysomething-year-olds into a confined space."
Some language in Down and Across makes it more suitable for older teens, but readers will connect with this delightful young man who simply wants to figure out what he's going to do with his life. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: Feeling the pressure of his parents' expectations, a teen sets off on a summer odyssey to discover what he's going to do with his life.
hardcover, 336p., ages 13-up, 9780425289877
Parenting & Family
In Sickness and In Health: Love, Disability, and a Quest to Understand the Perils and Pleasures of Interabled Romance
by Ben Mattlin
Ben Mattlin, who was born with spinal muscular atrophy and uses a wheelchair, has been married to his able-bodied wife M.L. for 26 years. Despite what strangers may tell them, their union is neither tragic nor inspiring. "In an age where interracial and interfaith marriages are common," he writes, "it seems odd that romances like ours still leave people perplexed and awestruck." Still, he recognizes that there are undeniable challenges to living with a disability, and sets out to examine why his and other "interabled" relationships work, despite--or perhaps because of--those challenges.
In In Sickness and In Health, Mattlin interviews more than a dozen couples of varying ages and backgrounds about their relationships--including sex, parenting, caregiving and monetary concerns, as well as larger issues of control and independence. He asks frank questions, and his opinions are often challenged by the answers. He also reflects on his own marriage and, as a former activist, he touches on disability rights in the U.S.
Mattlin's writing is conversational and often funny, and he doesn't shy away from sharing personal details, whether bodily, financial or emotional. Like him, most of the people he speaks with use a wheelchair, so while there are gaps in these disability experiences, Mattlin finds common points in the stories. These couples face many of the same issues as any other, and rely on the same tools to make their relationships work: honesty, communication and compromise. --Katy Hershberger, freelance writer, bookseller and publicist
Discover: A frank and funny examination of love, sex and care between people with and without disabilities.
hardcover, 256p., 9780807058541
Art & Photography
How New York Breaks Your Heart
by Bill Hayes
Bill Hayes is a canny observer. With lyrical insight and magnetic enthusiasm, his books analyze the wonders of the commonplace: sleep (Sleep Demons), blood (Five Quarts) and bodies (The Anatomist). Love and resilience lie at the root of his recent memoir, Insomniac City, in which he leaves San Francisco for New York while grieving his partner's death. There he perfects a new craft in street photography, yielding the utterly remarkable selection of portraits and snapshots in How New York Breaks Your Heart.
Hayes wields the camera with the same curiosity and elegance as the pen. He transforms a simple sidewalk moment into fine art. Here is a fashionable woman in dark round sunglasses. There is a man reading a weathered paperback near a payphone. All display a candor that resonates within the frame. The simplicity of each shot belies Hayes's keen eye for character and setting. He captures his subjects in their distinct contexts within a city that boasts millions--a harmony of person and place. "Every time, it's astonishing."
Entwined with these photos is a poignant meditation on a new grief--the death of another love and the aching absence left. Yet: "there is New York--right there, right outside your window." An inspired companion to Insomniac City, this collection echoes its themes of love and resilience. In a vibrant city, Hayes focuses on a magnificent assortment of beautiful people, and observes the dynamic splendor of life itself. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Bill Hayes showcases a marvelous array of New Yorkers in his first collection of street photography.
hardcover, 160p., 9781635570854
Pray Me Stay Eager
by Ellen Doré Watson
A boisterous collection of poems both formal and free, rhymed and dissonant, Pray Me Stay Eager is a wise and whimsical tribute to aging with lust and wonder. Director of the Poetry Center at Smith College, Ellen Doré Watson (Dogged Hearts) addresses subjects as diverse as flushing intrusive ladybugs down the toilet and fantasizing romance with a fellow airplane passenger in the poem "LAX to BDL" ("I only see us with our clothes on--real lust lately/ gone underground from lack of habit & hope... I hang back as we deplane, and here he/ comes, looking rumpled, sluggish, kind of watery, just like me"). Her narrators are mothers, ex-wives, daughters and lovers musing on the earthy roots of the abstract and the abiding verities of the mundane.
The source of the collection's title, the disjunctive poem "Not a Thing" captures the prayerful nature of its several odes and what she calls "field guides." It begins with a cautionary declaration: "I haven't been known to address the Lord... it's a human wow I'm after the shiver-spank/ of a Zulu choir." Watson's supplicatory poems not only "pray for eager," but also advise us as we age to "praise longing, it's what keeps us un-/ finished" and accept that "maybe we'll never again be the selves/ we remember, but isn't complication fun? ...who knows/ the wonders to come of our rack and ruin." In "Ode to Awe," the fitting final poem of this vibrant collection, Watson optimistically twists the definition of the abstraction awe from "outsized excitement" to "outside" and concludes: "If I ever see God,/ it'll be out of doors./ I turn the mat around/ --it says Welcome/ as I leave." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Ellen Doré Watson's witty, warm and agile poems explore the roots of abstraction and the illuminations of the ordinary.
Alice James Books,
paperback, 100p., 9781938584688