Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, February 23, 2018

Sourcebooks Landmark: Carnegie's Maid by Marie Benedict

From My Shelf

Oxmoor House: The Minimalist Kitchen: 100 Wholesome Recipes, Essential Tools, and Efficient Techniques by Melissa Coleman

Clarion Books: Florette by Anna Walker

Love and Marriage

They may go together like a horse and carriage, as the song has it. But love, when it's meant to last a lifetime, can be messy, painful, even deadly dull. Two new books offer a complicated take on marriage that's much more genuine--and more interesting--than the traditional fairy-tale narrative.

Essayist Ada Calhoun admits the truth: marriage is foundational and nourishing, but it's also frustrating and just plain hard. Calhoun's essay collection Wedding Toasts I'll Never Give (Norton, $24.95) delves into the facets of marriage that starry-eyed couples don't always want to acknowledge. These include paying (literally) for a spouse's mistakes, daydreaming about other partners (and other lives) and slogging through what she bluntly calls "the boring parts" of wedded bliss. "Dating is poetry," Calhoun writes. "Marriage is a novel. There are times, maybe years, that are all exposition." Her mock "toasts" brim with wit, wisdom and gut-level honesty about the trials of staying married and the quiet rewards of remaining faithful, however imperfectly.

Renowned couples therapist Esther Perel explores a more dramatic but no less sticky aspect of long-term commitment--infidelity and its fallout--in The State of Affairs (Harper, $26.99). Drawing on her years of work with couples (of various ethnicities and sexual orientations) who have dealt with infidelity, Perel explores the reasons people seek extramarital relationships and analyzes their effects. Despite the pain they cause, she insists that affairs provide "a window, like none other, into the crevices of the human heart." Her clients' stories have many different endings, but most, encouragingly, are still in progress: an affair can expose the fault lines in a marriage, but doesn't have to mean total destruction. Both Calhoun and Perel present clear-eyed yet ultimately hopeful perspectives on marriage as a tough, flexible and ultimately life-giving endeavor. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

From My Shelf

Oxmoor House: The Minimalist Kitchen: 100 Wholesome Recipes, Essential Tools, and Efficient Techniques by Melissa Coleman

Clarion Books: Florette by Anna Walker

A Sense of Place... to Place to Place

When readers speak or write about "sense of place" in praising books, they often mean a particular landscape, but the phrase can also be--maybe always is to a degree--more fluid than that. Some of my favorite recent books have each deftly stretched the concept of place in different ways.

In Willy Vlautin's novel Don't Skip Out on Me (HarperCollins), Horace Hooper is a lost young man living a hard but also secure life on a Northern Nevada ranch. He's itchy to move beyond safety and prove himself as a boxer. This isn't a good plan, but it propels him on a tough, compelling journey from Tucson to Mexico to Las Vegas in search of his own elusive place in the world.

Growing up in an Idaho mountain landscape offered a beautiful sense of place for Tara Westover, but her strict Mormon fundamentalist family tempered nascent dreams. In Educated: A Memoir (Random House), she chronicles how she was able to transcend minimal home schooling and her restrictive upbringing to achieve academic success at Brigham Young University and the University of Cambridge.

In The Unmade World (Unbridled Books), Steve Yarbrough shows how place can become a web as the intense story moves from Krakow to California to the Hudson Valley, with Poland threading through the narrative. Colm Toibin nailed it when he wrote that this "many-layered novel is a thriller, a love story, a travelogue full of richly observed scenes from Polish and American life, a morality tale replete with betrayal, remorse and lust for revenge, and a hilarious comedy."

Sense of place is intensely multilayered in Peter Carey's novel A Long Way From Home (Knopf, Feb. 27). During the 1950s, Willie Bachuber, a man devoted to maps, takes part in the Redex Trial, a 10,000-mile car race through the unforgiving Australian outback. There he is confronted with equally unforgiving revelations about his personal and cultural history that no map could chart.

Place is complicated. As Westover writes at one point, "I could have said, 'That place has a hold on me, which I may never break.' " --Robert Gray

From My Shelf

Oxmoor House: The Minimalist Kitchen: 100 Wholesome Recipes, Essential Tools, and Efficient Techniques by Melissa Coleman

Clarion Books: Florette by Anna Walker

Revisiting Many Waters

In the months leading up to the release of the A Wrinkle in Time movie, we're asking authors of middle grade and young adult to revisit a title in Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quintet. For February, Karuna Riazi (The Gauntlet) revisits Many Waters:

Karuna Riazi

I always wanted to be a twin.

There seemed to be a particular magic in seeing your own face outside of a mirror--passing back and forth secrets and deeply held sorrows with the warmth of shared confidences and determined unity.

I point an accusatory finger at Madeleine L'Engle and Many Waters for this desperate longing for a twin, just as I blame L'Engle for equally desiring a boy to admire both my bravery and my moon-boat eyes.

The ability to anchor the extraordinary within the commonplace is what I've always admired in the Time Quintet, and what really shines in Many Waters.

Sandy and Dennys are particularly magical twins. They finish each other's sentences and stumble into adventure almost as an afterthought. But they are grounded in reality in a relieving way. They casually welcome you into L'Engle's extraordinary tale: shifting time and space, awkward youth performing slightly less awkward acts of heroism.

And even the new world--populated with beautiful, blushworthy seraphim--is not all that unfamiliar. There are still large and teeming families, newfound friendships and painstakingly carved alliances.

"I'm homesick," Sandy says at the book's close. "We probably always will be," Dennys agrees.

This, too, is reality for me: pining for them, their worlds and their capriciously commonplace lives. Every year, I move forward without a twin, and with the sense that I am not as magical and brave and charmingly capable as I hoped to be.

But with every reread, I am able to share their secrets and be warmed by shared confidences and determined unity. And yes, I still don't have a twin, but I hold out hope for a boy who likes a girl with bookish bravery and not necessarily moon-boat eyes. --Karuna Riazi

From My Shelf

Oxmoor House: The Minimalist Kitchen: 100 Wholesome Recipes, Essential Tools, and Efficient Techniques by Melissa Coleman

Clarion Books: Florette by Anna Walker

Presidential Histories

What better way to spend a three-day weekend than with a book (or three or four or more)? In keeping with the theme of Presidents' Day, chunksters like Ron Chernow's Grant (clocking in at 1,100 pages) might be a bit much to tackle in a short time, but not all presidential histories are so daunting.

Starting with the first president of the United States (because who doesn't like a good chronological order to things?), consider Valiant Ambition (Penguin, paperback). In this engaging history, Nathaniel Philbrick (In the Heart of the Sea) explores the relationship between George Washington, the United States' most revered president, and its most reviled traitor, Benedict Arnold. Philbrick approaches both subjects--whose stories have been retold often enough to become near-mythological--with a nuanced, respectful consideration that highlights the complexities of both their personalities and the roles they played in the American Revolution.

Candice Millard's Destiny of the Republic (Anchor, paperback) is equally engaging, though Millard focuses on an entirely different period in U.S. history. The history opens with James Garfield's unfortunate run-in with Charles Giteau, a disgraced lawyer who believed he had been told by God to murder the 20th president. Millard uses this pivotal moment to explore trends in science and medicine in the 1880s, as well as political traditions surrounding Garfield's unexpected win.

Garfield's, of course, was not the first--or last--presidential assassination, as Sarah Vowell explores in her part-memoir, part-history, Assassination Vacation (Simon & Schuster, paperback). Here, she documents her delightfully strange habit of planning vacations to visit the sites of presidential assassinations and other moments of political violence, which she then uses as a lens to explore the role of political violence in shaping U.S. history. Vowell approaches all of this with her characteristic dark sense of humor, which adds moments of lightness to an otherwise bleak subject. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

From My Shelf

Oxmoor House: The Minimalist Kitchen: 100 Wholesome Recipes, Essential Tools, and Efficient Techniques by Melissa Coleman

Clarion Books: Florette by Anna Walker

True Love, Historical Style

In truth, Valentine's Day is a bit of a needy holiday. There are the reservations to be scheduled. Cards to be bought. Flaming desserts to be made. And if you're single? More energy may be required to maintain your cool during this chocolate-covered 24-hour period than the rest of the holidays combined. Let's eliminate the stress and, instead, pick up a historical romance. The happily ever after is reached by simply turning the pages. Low impact, indeed!

Beverly Jenkins is known for her powerful portrayals of black characters and her latest, Tempest (Avon, paperback), is an Old West–meets–new love tale. Mail-order bride Regan Carmichael thinks she has everything figured out--until she meets her intended, widower Dr. Colton Lee, who's sure his days of romance are behind him.

Set in Venice, Victoria Alexander's The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger (Harlequin, paperback) finds Lady Wilhelmina Bascombe searching for a priceless family treasure in order to shore up her dwindling bank account. There's only one problem: Dante Augustus Montague believes the painting belongs to him, and he'll stop at nothing to retrieve it--even going so far as to fall in love.

Laura Lee Guhrke offers up a delicious wallflower and rake pairing in The Trouble with True Love (Avon, paperback). Poor prim Clara Deverill ends up right in the path of Rex Galbraith, reprobate par excellence. Will she give way, or stand up for love? Suzanne Enoch's Scottish-set historicals never disappoint, and A Devil in Scotland (St. Martin's, paperback) is a fine example of why. Lush settings, rapier wit and two well-drawn characters will leave you sighing with delight long after this second-chance-at-love story has ended. --Stefanie Hargreaves, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

From My Shelf

Oxmoor House: The Minimalist Kitchen: 100 Wholesome Recipes, Essential Tools, and Efficient Techniques by Melissa Coleman

Clarion Books: Florette by Anna Walker

Baby, It's Cold Outside

I've had a hankering for Cold War-related fiction lately. Current politics, perhaps? The long, dark winter nights? Or maybe it's simply the word "cold"--and those of you in the frigid parts of the country surely understand the urge to stay indoors and read. Some recent first-rate espionage books stand at the ready.
It's been 25 years since spy master John le Carré released a George Smiley novel--and A Legacy of Spies (Viking) was well worth the wait. Dedicated Secret Service agent Peter Guillam must press pause on his English coastal retirement life and return to London when his Cold War past comes under fire. Le Carré is on point with this atmospheric thriller that will leave readers eager to revisit earlier Smiley adventures. As twist-and-turny as they come, Charles Cumming's A Divided Spy (St. Martin's Press) finds former agent Thomas Kell retired, too. That is, until he's given the opportunity to catch Russian spy Alexander Minasian, the man responsible for the death of Kell's fiancée.

Joseph Kanon's pitch-perfect Defectors (Atria) takes place at the height of the Cold War when a pair of brothers, one a straightlaced State Department man and the other a CIA traitor, suddenly find themselves back in each other's lives. Who can be trusted? It's anyone's guess.

And last, but certainly not least, the timely High Hand by Curtis James (Copper Peak Press) is a taut thriller that follows former Moscow correspondent Frank Adams as he uncovers the truth behind a presidential candidate and ties to the Russian government. --Stefanie Hargreaves, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

International Thriller Writers: Harper: The Wife by Alafair Burke

Book Candy

Likely Literary Characters for President

Electric Lit nominated "11 literary characters who should run for President."


"Which book perfectly matches your personality?" Buzzfeed asked.


"Should you write what you know? 31 authors weigh in" at Lit Hub.


The Temple of Knowledge from StoryCorps animates Ronald Clark's memories of his father, who "was custodian of a branch of the New York Public Library at a time when caretakers, along with their families, lived in the buildings."


Headline of the Day (via the Hill): "Dolly Parton set to donate her 100 millionth book to Library of Congress."


McSweeney's offered "reality show pitches for your literary friend who claims to be unable to relate to reality TV."

Lion Forge: Black Comix Returns by John Jennings and Damian Duffy

The Resurgence of Typewriters

Headline of the day (via the Christian Science Monitor): "Digital burnout leads to a resurgence of vintage typewriters, and it isn't just a fad."


To celebrate Toni Morrison's recent birthday, Mental Floss shared "11 haunting facts about Beloved."


"A visual tour of 35 literary bars and cafés from around the world" was conducted by Lit Hub.


"Juliet changes her mind." Electric Lit considered "alternate Shakespearean endings."


McSweeney's imagined "if literature's 'complicated men' were on Tinder."


The Guardian showcased "the 24 finalists competing to illustrate a new edition of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Selected Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes."

Square Fish: Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1) by Leigh Bardugo

Books About the Olympics Host

Author Mary Lynn Bracht picked her "top 10 books about South Korea" for the Guardian.


For Presidents' Day weekend, Quirk Books elected to showcase "fictional female presidents and their rise to power."


Valentine's Day may be over, but it's never too late to celebrate "30 of the worst couples in literature," according to Lit Hub.


Brightly featured "the very best things about reading aloud with kids, according to parents."


"These 'yes or no' questions will help us determine if you'd survive the Hunger Games," Buzzfeed promised/threatened.

Shelf Awareness Giveaway: The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

Valentine's Day for Single Bookworms

Bookstr recommended "6 Valentine's Day activities for you single bookworms out there."


To celebrate the legendary YA author's 80th birthday, Mental Floss showcased "15 wonderfully wise quotes from Judy Blume."


Headline of the day (via CNN): "A lack of an Oxford comma cost dairy $5 million."


"It's finally happened: a Harry Potter-themed cruise is coming," VIVA Lifestyle & Travel reported.


Noting that Tom Hiddleston has "taken on an impressive number of literary adaptations," Quirk Books explored the actor's "literary roles over the years."


Bookshelf featured an ambitious attic conversion with creative bookshelves and a library ladder.

Inspiring Love Letters for Valentine's Day

Bustle delivered "21 love letters by authors to inspire your own Valentine's Day notes."


Mental Floss shared "13 mnemonic sentences to boost your general knowledge."


"Which hero is your literary crush?" Penguin Random House asked.


Remember "when New York rioted over Macbeth?" OZY does.


Composer, performer and author Kerry Andrew picked her "top 10 books about the Scottish Highlands and Islands" for the Guardian.

Maps of Fictional Worlds

"Charting the geography of classic literature." Atlas Obscura featured a new exhibit that focuses on "maps of fictional worlds."


"What quote helped you through a tough time?" Buzzfeed asked.


Virginia Woolf's personal photo album has been digitized and made available online by Harvard, Open Culture reported.


"This couple has a personal library of 10,000 books and we want them to adopt us," Bookstr requested.


"From Infinite Jest's antsy prodigy to Brighton Rock's haunted antihero," author Danny Denton picked the "top 10 errant teenagers in fiction" for the Guardian.


"Read Susan Sontag's love letter to Borges, written 10 years after his death," Lit Hub invited.

New Words from the OED

The Oxford English Dictionary's "new words include 'mansplaining' but steer clear of 'poomageddon,' " the Guardian noted.


The Rookery, Chicago's pop-up bar inspired by Stephen King's The Shining, is open until February 10, Mental Floss wrote.


In 90 seconds, bestselling author Diana Gabaldon "explains how she crafts a sentence" during an interview filmed at the Random House Open House, in conversation with Julie Kosin, editor at Harper's Bazaar.


Are you ready to order? Quirk Books cooked up some "book and grilled cheese pairings."


Lit Hub tuned up "11 pop songs for literary people."


If you do 19/29 of these things then you should own a library," according to Buzzfeed.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Red Sparrow

The film adaptation of Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews flies to screens next Friday, March 2. Jennifer Lawrence stars as Dominika Egorova, a Russian ballerina inducted into her country's intelligence service as a Sparrow, an agent trained to use seduction as a weapon. When she falls for her latest target, CIA agent Nate Nash (played by Joel Edgerton), Dominika sparks a chain reaction of deadly espionage that threatens a valuable double agent in Moscow. Director Francis Lawrence's (the Hunger Games trilogy, I Am Legend) adaptation also stars Ciarán Hinds and Jeremy Irons.

Red Sparrow (2013) is the first in a trilogy by retired CIA officer Jason Matthews. Palace of Treason (2015) continues the dangerous affair between Nate and Dominikia--now a mole for the CIA. The Kremlin's Candidate (2018) imagines a Russian plot to assassinate an American politician and replace him with a cultivated asset. The fictionalized version of Vladimir Putin who features heavily in Matthews's trilogy has been cut from the film. Matthews spent 33 years at the CIA before turning to spy fiction. He sold the film rights to Red Sparrow for seven figures prior to its publication, and won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author in 2014. On February 20, Scribner released a movie tie-in edition of Red Sparrow ($9.99, 9781501168918). --Tobias Mutter

Rediscover: Blue Angel

Author, essayist and book critic Francine Prose's Blue Angel (2000) is coming to select theaters on March 9. Submission, adapted and directed by Richard Levine, stars Stanley Tucci as creative writing professor Ted Swenson, whose deeply rooted cynicism is challenged by an unexpectedly gifted undergrad. It's been decades since Swenson last published a novel, and the dreary routine of reading poorly written student manuscripts and putting up with the smugness of his fellow professors has left him complacent. Angela Argo (played by Addison Timlin) seems like yet another undergrad with more enthusiasm than literary ability. But when she privately shares a draft of her novel, Swenson discovers the first potentially great writer he's ever taught. The fact that her work revolves around a romance between a teacher and student slips his mind, at first, until Swenson's obsession with his pupil turns disastrously inappropriate. His good intentions, if stupid actions, culminate in campus-wide humiliation, desertion by his family and colleagues, and a sexual harassment hearing of farcical proportions.

Francine Prose received the PEN Translation Prize in 1988 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1991, among other accolades for her voluminous body of work. Blue Angel was a finalist for the National Book Award. It was published in paperback in 2006 by Harper Perennial ($14.99, 9780060882037). --Tobias Mutter

Rediscover: The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant

President's Day provides plenty of potential reading material. For a look at Lincoln, see Carl Sandburg's classic compendium, for more current commanders-in-chief, The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy gathers living ex-executives--and there are many more options. The latest big book (literally large, at 1,100 pages) to highlight a man in the highest office is Ron Chernow's Grant, which gives a glimpse at the flawed but generally noble Union general turned president whose roughness of character is as well known as his advocacy for African-American rights. Grant hit the top spot on the New York Times bestseller list, marking another biographical bonanza for National Book Award-winner Chernow after Alexander Hamilton, Washington: A Life, and more.

An account of Grant's life is also available in his own words. The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant is a two-volume autobiography written as Grant was dying of throat cancer. By 1884, the former president had gone bankrupt thanks to financial fraud and desired something to leave his family. He made a publishing deal with his friend Mark Twain, and sometimes wrote 25 to 50 pages a day, in a race against his illness. He finished the manuscript five days before his death. Twain sold 350,000 copies by sending 10,000 canvassers across the North, many army veterans in their uniforms. Grant's widow received $450,000 (worth at least $10 million in today's dollars). In addition to financial success, The Personal Memoirs has been heralded as a concise, intelligent account of a storied military career written at a time when other Civil War memoirs were often bogged down by flowery Victorian language. In 2017, Belknap Press published an annotated version of Grant's Memoirs ($39.95, 9780674976290). --Tobias Mutter

Rediscover: The Boys of Winter

The U.S. Olympic hockey team is going for gold in Pyeongchang. Thirty-eight years ago, a very different type of team, mostly blue-collar amateurs, took on the juggernaut Soviet squad in Lake Placid, N.Y. They faced off in the first game of the medal round, both undefeated, with the U.S. team having already upset second-place favorite Czechoslovakia in the group stage. The first period ended in a 2-2 tie. The Soviets went ahead by one in the second. The Americans tied 3-3 in the third, then with 10 minutes left to play, team captain Mike Eruzione put the U.S. ahead 4-3. With 10 seconds left and an exuberant crowd counting down to the end of the game--and a U.S. victory--ABC announcer Al Michaels delivered one of the most famous lines in sportscasting: "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!"

Thus the Miracle on Ice became the stuff of sports legends. The U.S. team took the gold with a win over Finland while the Soviets beat Sweden for the silver. Cold War politics turned the hockey game into a political coup. A made-for-TV movie called Miracle on Ice aired in 1981, and a Disney film starring Kurt Russell as head coach Herb Brooks came out in 2004. The Boys of Winter: The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team by Wayne Coffey (Crown, $15, 9781400047666) gives an in-depth account of the Miracle on Ice and the later careers of all involved. It was published in paperback in 2005. --Tobias Mutter

Rediscover: The Ancient Olympics

The opening ceremony for the 2018 Winter Olympics airs tonight from Pyeongchang, South Korea, kicking off two weeks of skating, skiing, sledding and other sports that would have left the original Olympians scratching their heads. The city-states of Ancient Greece created the Panhellenic Games, of which the Olympics were the primary event, on a four-year cycle that celebrated culture as much as athleticism. From roughly 776 BC to 394 AD, contestants wrestled, ran and raced horses, among other events, for personal accolades and the honor of their home cities. The games were also important forums of Hellenic religious and artistic life, and became political tools for querulous city-states--though the Olympic Truce meant spectators and athletes were free to travel to the games even in times of war. After a long decline, the Ancient Olympics ended when Roman Emperor Theodosius I banned all pagan festivals. The modern games began in 1896.

Cambridge University classicist and athletics coach Nigel Spivey sculpts an unflinching monument to antiquity athleticism in The Ancient Olympics: A History (2004), with depictions of brutal events and athletes desperate for victory. Spivey also explores an underbelly of the games unfortunately familiar in its modern iteration: cheating and bribery. The Ancient Olympics strips away mythology to display the original Olympics as nakedly as its participants. It was last published in 2012 by Oxford University Press ($18.95, 9780199602698). --Tobias Mutter

Rediscover: Black Sunday

Last Sunday's Super Bowl was certainly explosive. In Thomas Harris's 1975 thriller, Black Sunday, that expression is far more literal. After years of torture as a POW in Vietnam, Michael Lander returns to a failed marriage and a court martial. He seeks to take his own life, along with as many of the happy civilians Lander sees every weekend as an NFL blimp pilot. With the help of terrorist group Black September, Lander loads his blimp with bombs and steel darts, and plans to detonate it over a packed Super Bowl stadium. FBI agent Sam Corley and Mossad agent David Kabakov race to stop Lander from turning the big game into a bloodbath.

In 1977, Black Sunday was turned into a film starring Bruce Dern as Michael Lander, Robert Shaw as David Kabakov and Fritz Weaver as Sam Corley. Director John Frankenheimer's (Ronin; The Manchurian Candidate) adaptation was more of a critical than commercial success. Black Sunday is probably the least-known of Harris's work--he went on to write Red Dragon (1981), The Silence of the Lambs (1988), Hannibal (1999) and Hannibal Rising (2006). His first novel remains the only one without Dr. Hannibal Lector, though Michael Lander is almost as tasty an antagonist. Black Sunday was last published in 2001 by Berkley  ($7.99, 9780451204158). --Tobias Mutter

Rediscover: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Yesterday marked the 100th birthday of Scottish author, essayist and poet Muriel Spark (1918-2006). Her most famous work, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), was number 76 on Modern Library's list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. It takes place in 1930s Edinburgh, where an outgoing teacher, Miss Jean Brodie, self-described as "in her prime," takes a special interest in several pupils at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls. These six students quickly become the "Brodie set," connected to each other and their teacher by Miss Brodie's unorthodox lessons. The novel follows the Brodie set and Miss Brodie through their school years and via flash forwards, to when one among them helps ruin Miss Brodie's teaching career.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie incorporates autobiographical details from Spark's life. Miss Brodie was modeled in part on Christina Kay, Spark's teacher for two years at James Gillespie's School for Girls, whose idiosyncrasies included hanging up posters of Renaissance paintings alongside pro-fascist images. Spark's conversion from Anglican to Roman Catholic also occurs in the favored girl among the Brodie set (and is a recurring theme in Spark's other work). In 1969, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was turned into a popular film starring Maggie Smith as Jean Brodie, for which she received an Academy Award for Best Actress. On February 6, 2018, Harper Perennial Modern Classics will publish a new paperback edition of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie ($13.99, 9780061711299). -Tobias Mutter

The Writer's Life

Matt Haig: History in the Mix

photo: Ken Lailey

Matt Haig is the author of five novels, several award-winning children's books and the memoir Reasons to Stay Alive, which is an account of Haig's battle with depression and how he overcame it with the help of reading, and writing, and the support of his family. In How to Stop Time (Viking, $26), Haig tells an imaginative, adventurous story about a man who has lived for centuries and his journey to reconcile his past and present in order to face the future. The novel dips into 500 years worth of history and is being made into a movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Our review is below.

How did this novel take root?

I had the idea brewing for a long time. Nearly a decade. But it wasn't fully there. I had the voice of someone impossibly old, but I didn't have a story. Then I saw a painting of Omai in the National Portrait Gallery in London. Omai was the Pacific Islander brought to England after Captain Cook's second voyage and prized as an exotic oddity. It got my mind ticking and--even though Omai isn't the main character--he was the starting point.

How to Stop Time straddles genres of fantasy, romance, adventure and comedy. Was this intentional?

I have no idea. But it made the writing of it more fun. I love mixing things up. It just feels more natural to me than to compartmentalize the imagination like that.

The protagonist of the novel is 439 years old yet appears to be a 41-year-old man. Why did you choose these two specific ages?

Well, I was 41 when I created Tom Hazard, the protagonist. So I suppose that was the reason. As for 439 years, I wanted Tom to live within a realistic timeframe for a creature to live. There are clams that can live to 500. And Greenland sharks can live to be 1,000. So 439 began to feel almost realistic.

What was most fulfilling in writing this novel?

The amount of research I had to do was simultaneously the most fulfilling and the most challenging aspect. It was like researching 12 different historical novels in one. But I love social history. I love learning about, for instance, how ale was considered healthier than water for children to drink in Shakespearean times. (In fairness, it was.)

Tom Hazard shares life-changing experiences with notables such as William Shakespeare, Captain Cook and F. Scott Fitzgerald--to name a few. I wanted to mix the very famous with the less well known--such as Omai and the real-life Dr. Jonathan Hutchinson--because I loved the challenge of making people who have become legends into real, living people... with halitosis, in Shakespeare's case.

If you could live in another time, when would it be and why?

To be totally honest, I would like to go back into my own past in order to give myself some life advice before I fell into depression and anxiety disorder in my 20s. Also: ancient Greece, to have a chat with Plato and drink some wine.

Philosophical ideas of time are central to the novel. And there's a quote in the book, "The past resides inside the present, repeating, hiccupping...."

Yes, I think we are repeating the mistake of dehumanizing people. People not like us. I think we are dangerously losing faith in the idea of central unifying narratives. The collective experience of a shared life in a shared society is falling apart. I think social media is sending us back to an age before the mass circulation of the old media, where truth was whatever you wanted to hear, whatever your neighbors whispered to you. It is terrifying if you think about it. But there are signs of hope and progress, too. We are alert to injustices in ways we never were before.

What did you learn about yourself in writing the novel?

That writing can be fun. I had been forgetting that for a few years.

What will readers take away from reading How to Stop Time?

I hope, primarily, readers will be entertained. I don't think there should be any shame in entertainment. I suppose my point in writing the novel was to make people, including me, appreciate life and the nature of our brief and wonderful time here.

Time, loss, death, the surmounting of tragedies--and characters who feel like outsiders--recur in much of your work.

I try to write books that can comfort by showing hardship and the overcoming of that hardship.... I think fiction can be nourishing. I think it can help us cope with life.

Your books, while dealing with dark themes, are often leavened with hope and playfulness. From where do you draw your sense of optimism?

Strangely, I think it comes from depression and anxiety. My experience of those things made me more optimistic. Optimism--hard earned--became essential. It kept me alive. Optimism is very often a product of pain, I think.

If readers are unfamiliar with your work, what book should they read first?

After How to Stop Time, either The Humans or Reasons to Stay Alive. Stay away from The Possession of Mr. Cave--I was in a dark mood when I wrote it.

After writing so many books, how do you maintain enthusiasm for the craft?

I try to keep things new--switch genres, write for children sometimes, or for film or nonfiction. I try to make every book feel like it is a first book. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Maggie O'Farrell: Close Encounters with Death

photo: Murdo Macleod

Inspired by her daughter's severe case of anaphylaxis, Costa Novel Award-winning author Maggie O'Farrell's memoir, I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death (Knopf, February 6, 2018), explores her close encounters with death, in forms that range from her childhood encephalitis to a chance meeting with an apparent serial killer. O'Farrell's (The Hand That First Held Mine) candor and grace render these stories both sobering and life-affirming.

You've published seven novels since 2000, but this is your first work of nonfiction. What were some of the challenges in writing a memoir?

I always planned to never write a memoir. I never thought I would write about myself in that way. I've always been uncomfortable with the idea of exposing so much about yourself. The genre of memoir can also be a huge tax on your friends and family. But you don't necessarily choose the book, the book chooses you. This book just appeared in the back of my notebooks. I was so reluctant about it that when I signed the contract in the U.K., I said I didn't want an advance for it, because I didn't know whether I was going to finish it or, if I did, whether I was going to publish it. My agent told me I had to be paid something to make it legal, so I asked for £1.

What led to your decision to structure the memoir as 17 non-chronological essays about what you call "brushes with death," each one associated with a body part or body system, rather than a more conventional narrative?

As a writer of fiction, chronology is never something that's interested me. I find it quite tyrannical. I don't think our brains, our memories, our personalities work like that. Coming up with the structure was quite liberating for me. Not only did the format of these episodes release me from the tyranny of chronology, it allowed me to leave quite a bit out, including not having to expose other people who don't have a right of reply to what I write.

You have three children, and you've said that you wrote this book to help them understand that your daughter's health challenges, including an extreme risk of anaphylactic shock, aren't abnormal. They're still perhaps too young to absorb that message fully, so how have you dealt with it, if at all, in their lives so far?

The book was written because my daughter suffers this life-threatening immune disorder, something we grapple with on a daily basis, the idea of keeping her alive. If one member of a family has a disability or health problem, it's something that's shared by the whole family. As the mother, you have to think about how it affects the other two children. The book was an attempt to try to make sense of what my daughter is going through, what it's like to come so close to death, to feel your body conspiring against you, but also what it's like to be close to someone you love in that condition, what it's like for my other children to deal with that.

Your own childhood was profoundly affected by a bout of encephalitis at age eight. Can you describe how that's shaped the rest of your life, both physically and emotionally?

It's quite hard to imagine what I would have been like without that experience. It happened at such a young age that it's always felt very much a part of me. In a lot of ways, I don't know where my encephalitis begins and where I end. There are so many things in my physical being that seem completely normal to me that I realize to other people aren't normal. I wouldn't describe what I have as disabilities; they're mild incapabilities, perhaps. I just get on with it. Someone once asked me, if you could wave a magic wand and wish that you didn't have encephalitis as a child, would you do it? And I don't know. Coming so close to death at such a young age, and hearing people talk about it, I think gives you a very strong sense of living on borrowed time, that it's a bit extra, and that I need to make the most of it. It could have made me quite a cautious person, quite fearful, but in fact it had the opposite effect. I think it made me a bit too reckless, actually. And when I didn't die, the doctor said I would never walk again, never write again, but I managed to find a way out of that particular destiny. I've always felt, since then, like the luckiest person alive.

At least two of the incidents in the book involve encounters with criminals--one a likely serial killer who murdered another young woman shortly after you met him, the other a machete-wielding thief. In describing the former, you write, "Death brushed past me on that path, so close that I could feel its touch, but it seized that other girl and thrust her under." Have these incidents influenced how you feel about life's sheer fortuity?

The first instance, when I was 18, I completely buried. I never talked to anyone about it and left the area where it occurred soon afterwards. In an odd sense, I feel both quite lucky to have survived and quite guilty. It very easily could have been me, but it turned out to be someone else. One of the reasons I never talked about the incident in later life is that, in a sense, the story doesn't really belong to me, the narrative isn't mine. The central tragedy belongs to the other girl; I'm just a footnote in that chapter. And one of my impulses in writing that chapter was to protect her. As a novelist, you can have complete ownership. In a memoir, it's much more nuanced and complicated.

You write, "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." Have your near-death experiences made you more mindful, more appreciative of life?

From a very young age, I've had a sense of the frailty of human existence. That we all hang by a thread; that we all could take a few steps in the wrong direction; that we could take the wrong path; that we could meet the wrong person and that's it, it's all over. Probably more than most people, I have a stronger sense of how temporary it all is and how fragile we all are, but also how strong. There's a huge amount of strength in our frailty.

In many ways, I Am, I Am, I Am is quite a life-affirming book, but what do you say to readers who might be inclined to avoid it because they consider the subject matter morbid or depressing?

Even though the subtitle includes the word "death," the book is really about life. It's about how we carry on, why it's important to live your life to the fullest. This is something I say to my daughter when she feels upset about what she's going through: "Everybody has something they're struggling with, that challenges them." We've all just got to try to live the best life we can, live the biggest life we can. We all have strictures around us, whether they're physical or financial, spiritual, geographical or social. Everybody has to do the best. We all have to seize the day, because we're all only here for a short time. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Chanel Cleeton: Community Outside of Cuba

photo: Chris Malpass

In Florida, Chanel Cleeton grew up on stories of her family's exodus from Cuba following the events of the Cuban Revolution. She is the author of 11 books, including Next Year in Havana (Berkley, $15), her first historical novel. Our review is below.

Your family's history was part of your inspiration for the book.

My father and my grandparents left Cuba in 1957, a little bit later than the family in the book. My grandparents always thought they would be able to return one day. From the time I was a young child, they would paint the picture of their life there for me. They lived with us, and we ate Cuban food all the time. They had that huge nostalgia for their homeland and they were never able to go back.

Some of my relatives had planned to return to Cuba for a family reunion when travel from the U.S. became possible. But my grandfather felt strongly about not supporting the regime by returning, and that opened up a series of family discussions. My dad told me a story about how, before they left, everyone came over to my grandparents' house in the middle of the night and buried their valuables in a box in the backyard. As a writer, that really inspired me: If you had a similar box, what would you save? They also buried items in the walls of their home, to try to preserve whatever they could.

I haven't been to Cuba, but I talked to friends and family members, people who lived there once or had been back recently. We also have photos and documents that were smuggled out, and my grandfather's hand-draws maps of Havana. It's one of his passion projects. So I was able to re-create some of the buildings, the neighborhoods, the city as it was then.

How did you decide to tell the novel's story through a dual-narrative structure, involving women from multiple generations of the same family?

I wanted to explore how the Cuban revolution is ongoing for so many exiles. In talking to friends who aren't as familiar with it, I was surprised to hear that people didn't understand why Cubans cling to their homeland so much. I wanted to explore what that meant for the exiled community--what it meant for my grandparents' generation and my father's generation, who left their home with nothing.

For my generation, we struggle with identity a little bit, because we don't have the same tangible connection. My mother is American and my father is Cuban, but I've never even been to the country. We have this unresolved sense of our place in the world, as Cubans and Cuban-Americans.

Many Cubans who immigrated to the U.S. right after Castro's rise to power expected to return soon, but ended up building lives in Florida and elsewhere.

I think when the revolution happened, people expected to return in a few months. That's still a toast we make at New Year's Eve: Next year in Havana, which became the title of my book. There have been so many moments where Cubans thought, "Okay, we'll go home soon." That makes it hard when you are building a life.

My grandparents were closer to their 50s when they came to the U.S.: later in their careers and their lives. How do you put down roots when you're always looking to another country? We were always waiting for Castro to die. There was definitely an expectation in the 1990s that Castro would pass away and everything would go back to the way it was. As I was writing the book, the U.S. was opening relations with Cuba, and we thought we might see a sea change there, but that has been dialed back. Castro died right as I was finishing up the manuscript, but things will never go back to the way they were before he came to power.

Can you talk about the Cuban community in the U.S.?

I tried to focus on the idea of Cubans helping Cubans, and the sense of community and sacrifice. That really impressed me about my grandparents' stories: they had a huge network of friends and family that they kept in touch with. It was a story of friends coming together and making sacrifices for each other. When my grandparents came to this country, they came as refugees, and family friends helped my grandfather get a job and helped my grandparents find an apartment. That's one thing that comes through: how much people have built their own community outside of Cuba. They've passed down the stories: most people didn't get to bring much with them in terms of possessions or documents, but that oral tradition and culture are still very strong.

Both of your protagonists fall in love with men who have radical ideas about how to reshape Cuba. Tell us about the differences and similarities between the two men.

I knew that, no matter how hard I tried, I was always going to be writing as the granddaughter of an exile. That's the genesis of this story, and my perspective. But I wanted to give a holistic portrayal, as best I could. With Pablo [Elisa's love interest], I wanted to show a good man who was trying to do the right thing, who was passionate about his country. A young girl like Elisa, from an affluent family, was not going to have access to that segment of society: he was a great foil to her. And she didn't have to agree with him about everything. As for Luis [Marisol's modern-day love interest]: there's a new generation of Cubans who are trying to use technology to demand change within the government and the country. I feel like the two male characters told the side of the story that I couldn't tell.

In my research, I listened to a lot of recordings of men who were involved in the 26th of July movement. I kept hearing what their goals were when they got involved, and how those goals didn't come to fruition. They were kids playing at revolution, and they didn't know how to build a government. They didn't really have a plan in place. All they knew was that they wanted to get rid of Batista. They didn't know anything about governance. I wanted to flesh out that idea of good intentions, being dedicated to your country and your beliefs, but maybe it didn't work out the way you wanted.

The novel explores the tensions, overt and subtle, between Cubans who fled to the U.S. and those who stayed. How do you see that?

In Cuba, there's a lot of diversity. There are diverse experiences both among the exiles and those who have stayed. Socioeconomically, for example, there were people who were doing well under Batista's regime. It was more of a European class: the big plantation owners, whose industries were threatened almost immediately. For that exile community, Fidel has done no good in Cuba. But for a lot of the people who stayed, there have been some improvements: healthcare access, the national literacy rate. Racism is obviously prevalent, both under Batista and Castro. The official position is that we've eradicated racism, but that's not true. For a lot of people, it's a question of: What did you lose? --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Tom Sweterlitsch: Many Possible Futures

photo: Michael Ray

Tom Sweterlitsch's second science fiction novel is The Gone World (Putnam, $27, reviewed below). Like his debut, Tomorrow and Tomorrow, this novel throws into question the very foundation of reality. Shannon Moss is an agent working for a top-secret government agency that has discovered how to send humans through time and into deep space. When Moss is sent to the future to find clues to a difficult murder case taking place in her present, she uncovers details that link not only to the murder--but to the very end of humanity as we know it. It's a thrilling novel that blends the mind-bending storytelling of science fiction with the pace of a thriller.

Your protagonist, Shannon Moss, lives in a world where humans have discovered how to travel through time and space. But unlike other novels that take up similar concepts, Shannon can't travel to the past--only the future, or "futures" (since every future is only one possibility of many). What kinds of scientific theories underlie your take on time travel?

There's a fun paper from the September 1988 Physical Review of Letters you can find online called "Wormholes, Time Machines, and the Weak Energy Condition" by Michael S. Morris, Kip S. Thorne and Ulvi Yurtsever. It's about how super-advanced civilizations might be able to time travel. I read a lot of speculative science like this to keep my time traveling at least in the general realm of plausibility.

But the image of time travel came before trying to figure it out. That idea of traveling to futures that cease to exist once the traveler returns home to the present had been in my mind for a number of years, and when I started researching for The Gone World I had to ask myself: What does "cease to exist" even mean? There were two theories in quantum mechanics that captured my imagination because both seem to be about how 'nothingness' might not be nothingness at all. One was the "Casimir Effect" of Hendrik Casimir, the other was John Wheeler's idea of "Quantum Foam." Quantum Foam is a driving image in The Gone World--the idea that at the absolute smallest of levels, the "void of space," or "smooth spacetime" is actually a seething, turbulent foam of particles or wormholes.

What's surprised you the most about what humans have already learned and accomplished in terms of time and space travel?

I'm constantly in awe of what's discovered. And I'm inspired by my father-in-law, Dr. Howard Brandt, who was a brilliant theoretical physicist in the fields of quantum cryptology and quantum computing for the Department of Defense, but also--and this is somewhat unusual in the sciences--he was a man of great religious faith. He was demanding and rigorous in his science, but his faith gave him humility that what we know about the universe is only a fraction of the truth.

Shannon is physically and mentally strong (despite a disabling injury). Where did she come from?

Shannon Moss is the best thing about this book. One of my favorite parts of writing is discovering characters while I'm writing--how they suddenly "appear" in your mind from out of nowhere and then the more you write about them the more you discover. But there are definitely influences. I'm writing about my own childhood friends, for sure, and also some of my wife's memories. And during an early draft I was watching The Ultimate Fighter 23, with Rose Namajunas--her serious-minded, determined way of speaking really helped focus how I thought of Shannon.

While I wouldn't exactly categorize The Gone World as an apocalyptic novel, it brushes up against the genre. Why do you think apocalyptic and dystopic stories are so popular right now?

We're undoubtedly living in a dystopian and apocalyptic time. For many years, racial minorities and the poor have already been living in dystopian America, and now, with every news cycle, it's easier to imagine apocalyptic nuclear devastation. Both subgenres address a fear that the pleasures of life and the institutions that protect our safety and happiness are false or fragile and can easily disappear.

One of the more unsettling ideas in your book is that humans from future timelines don't actually exist. Yet, they feel and think like real humans. What was it like to spend time with characters who would eventually discover such a thing about themselves?

The first voice Shannon hears when she time travels to the future is an air traffic controller, a young woman. For Shannon, hearing that voice is like hearing the voice of a ghost, because the controller might not ever exist as a "real person," but only as a possibility. And as the book progresses, every character is forced to question their own existence. Does everything exist? Does nothing exist? The Gone World is all about existence and nonexistence, each character forming and holding onto beliefs about the nature of reality that aren't necessarily true. I think the "nature of the universe" in the book is much more compassionate than the characters think it is.

Your book has already been compared to Inception and True Detective. Did they influence your writing? Who or what else influenced your book?

I certainly like Inception and True Detective, Season One, and the comparisons would give a reader an idea of The Gone World, but my actual influences are different. The Divine Comedy, The Glass Menagerie, Strindberg and Albee--those are the major influences. But I was also strongly influenced by Anna Kavan's brilliant novel Ice, Ballard's The Crystal World and the strange fiction of William Hope Hodgson, such as The House on the Borderland and The Night Land.

What’s next for you?

Thanks for asking! I'm hoping to finish a draft of my next novel this year, and I'd also like to write more short stories--I have this huge file of ideas that I've stockpiled and I'd love to finish up some of those. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

John Fowler: An Inside Look at Dian Fossey

photo: Isabel Fowler

John Fowler holds a B.S. in Zoology from the University of Georgia and an M.S. in Technology and Science Policy from Georgia Tech. Fowler appeared in the pages of Dian Fossey's classic Gorillas in the Mist and in Farley Mowat's Woman in the Mists. After 21 years working in zoological parks, he is now a research professional in Tallahassee, Fla. A Forest in the Clouds: My Year Among the Mountain Gorillas in the Remote Enclave of Dr. Dian Fossey (reviewed below), a memoir about his experience as Fossey's research assistant, is his first book.

You say you weren't really qualified to be a student research assistant when you first traveled to Rwanda, yet Dr. Terry Maple seemed confident and made great efforts on your behalf.

I have never really discussed that with Terry, but I think that for him it was more intuitive on his part than anything. He knew me from his study-abroad program the previous summer, and I think my enthusiasm may have played a part. We had a good rapport, and I think he was always looking for potential grad students he could mentor and develop. I'm sure the timing of the opportunity played a role as well. Other than that, he wasn't certain of anything, and just took a chance on me. 

As it turned out, I was qualified to be what Dian wanted as a student research assistant, with "assistant" being the key word. I realized eventually that independent research students working on their theses in a graduate program should've taken precedence over an undergrad like myself, but that hadn't fit well with Dian's needs, which by then were more of an occupancy of her territory and the battling of poachers rather than conducting research. Dian's people skills were combative and resentful and with her departure imminent, she could neither work collaboratively nor relinquish control, and needed to have what she thought were her own loyal people in place. That said, it was a phenomenal learning experience for an undergraduate in zoology like myself and I made the most of it, including getting credit for it toward my undergrad degree. 

Heading into Rwanda, I was blissfully ignorant of what I was getting myself into and I didn't heed the warnings about those who hadn't lasted there. Upon arrival, I soon learned Dian was the biggest obstacle to overcome, and realized why others came and went. I didn't want to become one of those statistics. I stuck it out because I had made a commitment to Terry, and to Dian, too, to stay for a year. Even with all the conflict and adversity, I knew what a special opportunity it was and how worthy the gorillas were of our efforts. I also knew I would regret having left early if I did. Terry Maple would also point out that my airfare ticket to Rwanda was one-way only. 

Your depictions of the environment and all of the amazing wildlife are very vivid.

Those images are still with me, perhaps even more vivid having written them down. I also still have my field notes, letters and photographic slides which I used to corroborate the memories. There were things I had nearly forgotten, but recalled upon re-examining my notes and letters and photos. Some of the events I took directly from these, like encounters with the forest elephants. That's how I could recount the details of how many there were, the sizes and who had tusks. Re-creating the world of Karisoke and those experiences are what drove my writing of this book. I even wanted to re-create Dian as the most astonishing creature of all at the center of that world. I knew there had yet to be a full-rounded written portrayal of her, up close and personal.

Readers are certain to fall in love with the gorilla Bonne Année from your captivating descriptions. What are your most meaningful memories of her?

Seeing her for the first time, her plaintive, sincere face, and the way she grasped me with arms and legs when I first picked her up is what comes to mind. I can even remember her celery breath. Another poignant recollection is the moment she tried to feign an interest in feeding among the members of Group 5, which Dian described as "displacement behavior." It was a heartbreaking scenario. She was in the middle of a full assault, but was just trying to fit in as if nothing was happening, much like a new school kid might do while being bullied by others in the lunchroom.

The allure and great work of zoos enticed you to join the Audubon Zoo after Karisoke. What important things do you see happening today?

The first thing I noticed was the improvement of conditions for zoo animals. Bars and concrete were giving way to grass and shrubs and open spaces. This became a better experience for zoo-goers as well, and a better platform from which to provide public awareness about animals and their habitats. I see public education and awareness as a great contribution of zoos, as well as their work to preserve species. A zoo or aquarium is where humans can first see animals not familiar to them, and where they can develop appreciation for myriad other species that occupy the same planet. Those places accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association have to maintain high standards for animal care, as well as education, research and conservation components. I was an AZA Professional Fellow for most of my career as a zoo curator, and can attest to the standards. 

While at Zoo Atlanta, I was proud to coordinate the release of peregrine falcons into the city of Atlanta. This was a project initiated by the zoo in a cooperative effort with state and federal agencies. As a zoo, we contributed our animal husbandry and publicity skills to turn a cityscape into habitat for an endangered species. As a result, Atlanta is proud to host a resident breeding pair of the once endangered peregrine falcon. Many years later, a pair of these once-rare birds still nests and raises new young each year in downtown Atlanta. 

This effort parlayed into our raising bald eagle chicks for release into the state of Georgia. It took our understanding of captive animal breeding and hand-rearing to make that possible, as well as the public outreach for which zoos must succeed at to generate revenues. We had the expertise for raising the birds from babies, and the state provided a wild release site on the coast. Zoo Atlanta's promotion of the effort brought well-deserved recognition for Georgia's commitment to re-establishing wild populations of this bird, which is our national symbol, by the way. Thanks to these kinds of efforts, the bald eagle, which was once absent from most states, has recovered well and is no longer listed as an endangered species.

Since you've answered the question you set out to, is A Forest in the Clouds the beginning and the end of your writing career?

I don't have another true story with all the spectacle and complexity of A Forest in the Clouds but now that I've honed my writing skills, I'd love to bring the zoo world to life, perhaps in fiction. Let's see what happens next. --Jen Forbus, freelance

Sue Burke: Intelligent Plants

Sue Burke has been a literary translator as well as a journalist and editor for a variety of newspapers and magazines. She has also published several short stories. Burke lives in Chicago, and Semiosis (Tor Books)--a story about an alien world and sentient species--is her debut novel. Our review is below.

Sentient plants--what an astonishing idea for a story. Where did it come from?

It started with house plants. One of my plants killed another plant. It wrapped around the other plant and starved it. And then another plant tried to sink roots into a different plant. I stopped that in time, and thought it was suspicious--two attempted murders in my house. I started doing some research and found that plants are really terrible. They compete viciously with each other, they kill each other. For example, in the forest, hardwood trees grow slowly--it takes a lot of energy and nutrients. But the advantage is that most of the other trees are softwood. So as a hardwood grows, its branches rub against the softwood branches and saw them off. So they saw their way up to the top of the forest at the cost of other plants. That's just one example of a variety of things plants do to each other. There is a limited amount of water--they can't do much about that. But they need light, and fight to the death over that.

I did a lot of research into plants. They are not passive. They are resourceful. They also cooperate, when it's helpful to them. They are very active in this world and if they could think just a little bit (and it's not clear that they don't think), if they could plan ahead a lot more carefully than they do, then what would happen? That was the question that motivated Semiosis. Knowing that plants are active and kind of impatient, if they had a chance, what would their world be like?

Why did you tell the story over seven generations?

That was simply because plants are slow. I had to give Stevland (the bamboo) enough time to figure out there was a new animal around, and how he could deal with it. There had to be a long period of time between chapter one and two. Then time for the humans and Stevland to start to work together--that couldn't be fast, in part because they had so much to learn about each other.

I'm writing a piece about the Osage orange, whose fruit is designed for an animal that is now extinct. The orange hasn't figured out that the animal has been gone for 11,000 years. To them, it's been only a few generations and they haven't had much time to react. On Pax, the plants do react quicker, because intelligence gives them more options to think a problem through rather than living a problem through.

I wanted to make it as real as I could. Nothing happens on Pax, with plants and animals, that couldn't happen here if plants could think. Plants can make poisons, they can try to kill us, they can try to feed us, they can be trained to be cooperative. We know that even among species, trees will warn each other if a pest attacks them, so that the other trees can make pesticides. They can do that within a couple days. They are very good at making chemicals, but if they have to notice there is a change in the animal that distributes their seeds, that will take several generations. And then they have to figure out what to do about it.

Early on, Octavo, the botanist, realizes that the colony is in battle for dominance, exactly what they had left behind on Earth. Vera says they left behind the failed paradigms of war. But you seem to be saying that that's the dominant paradigm no matter the intentions of people. Or plants.

Well, that is the premise of the book. I don't know if that's necessarily true. But there was a botanist who said, "All plants of a given place are in a state of war with respect to each other." So if that's the case with plants, then yes. I think that even among people it's going to be hard to eradicate war.

Sylvia and Julian discover the rainbow bamboo and eat its fruit--it's not forbidden fruit, but the bamboo uses the fruit to pacify the people? Keep them happy?

Or to keep them dependent, the way we're all dependent on a food source. And there's caffeine in it, so it's mildly addictive. Like, are we going to throw away all our coffee plants?

That would be the end of life!

Right. So the bamboo makes the fruit as attractive as it can be to make these particular animals loyal to him. Then it goes further, because he is so lonely. He's a bit neurotic and has abandonment issues. He's a social species. He is self-aware enough to know that he has to keep the humans with him because he needs company.

Octavo says that plants are not altruistic.

We are altruistic as a social species. We help each other out, but we don't necessarily help out things that are not in our society, whether it's narrowly defined as humans vs. humans, or humans vs. another species. We don't go out of our way to help certain wild animals, we don't think much about chopping down forests. Plants don't help us because it's a nice thing; they get an advantage out of it.

Your animals are fascinating, sometimes scary. The fippocats and fippolions are particularly endearing.

The fippocats were actually my sister-in-law's imaginary animals when she was six years old. She gave me permission to use them and she told me a little bit about them. They can hop, they can slide, they're furry and green. So I took that and ran with it. She likes what I did with her animals.

Will there be a sequel?

Yes, I've already written it, and am working on the third book in the series. It's set about 100 years after the end of Semiosis. A group of anthropologists from Earth come to Pax to see if the colony survived. And they don't get along, among themselves and elsewhere. --Marilyn Dahl

Book Review


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.

Penguin Books, $16, 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.

Grove, $24, 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.

Berkley, $15, 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.

Ecco, $25.99, 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, $26, 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.

Little, Brown, $27, hardcover, 352p., 9780316385343

Still Me

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, $27, 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.

Doubleday, $26.95, 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.

Harper, $27.99, 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.

Knopf, $27.95, 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, $24, 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 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.

Skyhorse Publishing, $15.99, 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, $25, 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.

Penguin Press, $28, 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.

Grand Central, $26, 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, $26.99, 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, $16.99, 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.

Dzanc Books, $16.95, 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.

William Morrow, $26.99, 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.

Soho Crime, $25.95, hardcover, 272p., 9781616958619

The Wife

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.

Harper, $26.99, 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.

Touchstone, $25, 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.

Minotaur Books, $25.99, 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.

Delacorte Press, $26, 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.

Sourcebooks, $15.99, paperback, 400p., 9781492656500

Lullaby Road

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.

Crown, $26, hardcover, 320p., 9781101906545

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Senlin Ascends

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.

Orbit, $15.99, 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.

Putnam, $27, 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.

Viking, $26, 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.

Tor, $25.99, 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.

Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99, 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.

Sasquatch Books, $24.95, 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.

Anthony Bourdain/Ecco, $39.99, 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.

Seal Press, $26, 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.

Sourcebooks, $15.99, 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.

Knopf, $25.95, 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, $24.99, 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.

Riverhead Books, $26, 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, $28.99, 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.

Other Press, $25.95, 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, $30, 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.

Nation Books, $28, hardcover, 288p., 9781568585901

Social Science

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.

Dutton, $24, 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.

Seal Press, $27, 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.

37 INK/Atria, $26, 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.

Penguin Press, $28, 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, $28, 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.

Harper Wave, $24.99, 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.

Penguin Press, $26, 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.

Bloomsbury Sigma, $27, 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.

Dutton, $28, 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?"

Pegasus, $27.95, 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.

Timber Press, $25.95, 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.

Norton, $26.95, hardcover, 336p., 9780393609868

Travel Literature

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.

Knopf, $28.95, 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.

Scribner, $18.99, 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, $16.99, 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.

First Second, $16.99, 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.

Nancy Paulsen/Penguin, $17.99, 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, $19.99, hardcover, 384p., ages 12-up, 9780374300289

The Belles

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.

Freeform/Disney, $17.99, 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."

Greenwillow/HarperCollins, $17.99, 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.

Candlewick, $16.99, 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.

Candlewick, $16.99, 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.

Sterling, $16.95, 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.

Abrams, $16.95, 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.

Tundra, $17.99, 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.

HarperCollins, $17.99, 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.

Tor Teen, $17.99, hardcover, 288p., ages 13-up, 9780765390875

American Panda

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.

Simon Pulse, $17.99, 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.

Viking, $17.99, 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.

Beacon Press, $27.95, 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.

Bloomsbury, $25, 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, $15.95, paperback, 100p., 9781938584688

The Wife by Alafair Burke
ISBN-13: 9780062390516
January 23, 2018

an exclusive interview with bestselling author Alafair Burke 

The sexual harassment issues that are central to #MeToo are writ large in your new standalone novel THE WIFE, but the book went to press before the scandal broke. How did this book come about?

“Even before people were talking about #MeToo or Harvey Weinstein, there were already headlines of beloved public figures, usually men, doing things that seemed inconsistent with their public persona. There’s the face that we see in public, and some of those men, at least, were known for good works, including ones that benefit women. And then behind closed doors, they apparently become somebody else. What I kept noticing is how the wife becomes scrutinized. It can’t just be about what the man did and what his penalty should be; the wife becomes part of the narrative. [People insist] she must’ve known, that she’s complicit. Every decision she makes becomes scrutinized to the point that when the first woman nominated to be a presidential candidate for a major party shows up to a debate, her husband’s accusers are sitting in the audience, brought by her opponent. Every time the woman gets dragged into the story, I thought, what’s it like to be that woman?”

 Read the rest of the interview here.



A DEATH IN LIVE OAK by JAMES GRIPPANDO: From the 2017 winner of the Harper Lee Prize for legal fiction comes a story of race, injustice, and murder when the body of the president of the pre-eminent black fraternity at a Florida's university is discovered dead and a fellow student is accused, setting off a firestorm. Read more at The Big Thrill.

PERISH by LISA BLACK: The unique crime fighting duo of Maggie Gardiner, a forensic investigator and Jack Renner, a serial killer, go up against a diabolical killer who is brutally murdering women executives at a mortgage firm that is under investigation for bilking many of its customers through shady financial dealings. Find out more here.

THE TAKE by CHRISTOPHER REICH: From the New York Times bestselling author comes an international spy thriller featuring Simon Riske, a freelance industrial spy who has avoided big messy assignments until a gangster orchestrates the greatest street heist in the history of Paris, and it’s thief against thief as Riske plunges into the case. Learn more at The Big Thrill.

THE KING OF BONES AND ASHES by J. D. HORN: From the bestselling author of the Witching Savannah series comes the story of a young witch’s quest to uncover her family’s terrifying history following disappearances in the occult circles of New Orleans—even if by doing so, she puts her fragile psyche may be at risk. Visit The Big Thrill for more. 

THE RIVER BELOW by BONNIE HEARN HILL: When a mangled car is pulled from the river, containing bloodstains and a gun, the sense of safety is shattered in Tessa's Californian hometown. Tessa, who works at the river conservancy, thinks she saw a girl out on the riverbank, but is her memory reliable? Read more here.

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