Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, February 24, 2017


St. Martin's Press: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

From My Shelf

W. W. Norton & Company: Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Arthur A. Levine Books: Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King

Following in Le Guin's Footsteps: Female Fantasy Writers

"We like to think we live in daylight, but half the world is always dark, and fantasy, like poetry, speaks the language of the night." Ursula K. Le Guin's definition of fantasy literature speaks to the genre's power to captivate and illuminate all at once. These female writers are following in Le Guin's footsteps, crafting exquisite, complex, brilliant tales that challenge the imagination and ask big questions about life.

In Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Cycle series (beginning with The Raven Boys), Blue Sargent is raised in a house of psychics. When Blue falls in with a trio of boys from the local private school, she finds herself drawn into a search for the grave of an ancient king along a subterranean line of power that runs through a spiritual forest. It sounds complicated because it is--and that complication is a delight to unpack over the course of four books that explore the mysteries of magical powers alongside the difficulties of being a teenager.

Erika Johansen's Tearling trilogy (starting with Queen of the Tearling) features a strong (if flawed) female protagonist in Kelsea Glynn, named Queen of the Tearling at age 19. Though Johansen's series may be at times too epic, tackling everything from learning to own one's magical powers to the bravery it takes to stand up to unjust laws, the trilogy overall stands as an example of finely woven magic, mystery and political intrigue.

N.K. Jemisin's The Killing Moon (and its sequel, The Shadowed Sun) take readers to an imagined desert-like land called Gujaareh in which priests harvest dreams and lead citizens to their gentle deaths. Jemisin's epic stories (like those in the Inheritance trilogy) question life, death, religion, violence and government and how they all interact--a testament to the power of otherworldly stories to shine a light on our own crazy, mixed-up world. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

From My Shelf

W. W. Norton & Company: Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Arthur A. Levine Books: Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King

The Binge-watcher's Guide to Binge-reading in 2017

"Binge-watching is a night out, even when you spend the whole day in. It's a way of being. (As Sartre unaccountably failed to note in his book Being and Nothingness, 'binge' and 'being' are anagrams of each other.)"

Australian Clive James is one of my favorite writers. I've been watching his brilliant mind at work on the printed page for a long time. He seems, to me at least, the ideal frame for highlighting some of this year's book-to-TV adaptations.

In Play All: A Binge-watcher's Notebook, James explores the seasons... as they are organized in DVD box sets. His viewing adventures take him from The Sopranos to Band of Brothers to The West Wing and beyond, including a savvy pilgrimage through the Seven Kingdoms: "So finally Game of Thrones stands revealed as a crowd pleaser. To despise that, you have to imagine you aren't part of the crowd. But you are: the lesson that the twentieth century should have taught all intellectuals. Now it is a different century, and they must go on being taught."

What will you be watching/reading in 2017? The menu offers a binge-watcher's feast, with projects based on Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events books (Netflix), Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu), Neil Gaiman's American Gods (Starz), Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects (HBO), Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling's Cormoran Strike series (BBC/HBO), Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why (Netflix), L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables (Netflix), Charlaine Harris's Midnight, Texas series (NBC), Dan Simmons's The Terror (AMC) and many others. (See our Rediscover about Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies on HBO below.)

Play all? Why not?

James reminds us, however, that even though "moving pictures" are one of the primary ways the world is transmitted to us, the best they "can do is to not tell us outright lies about that reality. For the subtleties, we still need books." --Robert Gray, contributing editor

From My Shelf

W. W. Norton & Company: Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Arthur A. Levine Books: Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King

Theories of Mass Incarceration

photo by Chris Taggart, courtesy Fordham Law School

The United States contains about 5% of the world's population, yet holds nearly 25% of its prisoners. John F. Pfaff, a professor of Law at Fordham Law School, in Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration--and How to Achieve Real Reform (Basic Books), argues that current accounts of the causes of this mass incarceration are fundamentally misguided, and wants us to reconsider what we must to do build a more equitable and humane society.

He says, "The most widely accepted explanations--the failed War on Drugs, draconian sentencing laws, an increasing reliance on private prisons--actually tell us much less than we like to think. Only about 20% of people in state and federal prisons are there for drugs. Over half of all people in prison have been convicted of a violent crime.... The dominant factor in the rise of our prison populations is rising admissions, not longer sentences. Most prisoners are locked up for very short periods of time." Other factors include a major shift in prosecutor behavior in the mid-1990s, when prosecutors began bringing felony charges against arrestees about twice as often as they had before.

"One theory is that we simply have more prosecutors: as crime dropped over the 1990s and 2000s, the number of prosecutors rose from 20,000 to 30,000, and those additional 10,000 prosecutors needed something to do. Another theory is that prosecutors may have become more aggressive in hopes of using a tough-on-crime reputation to win higher office."

The current discussion about incarceration is often about the inflated rates for African Americans: "The black-white incarceration rate remains shockingly wide, with the black rate more than 5 times greater than the white rate. Surprisingly, imprisonment for drug offenses explains almost none of this racial gap. Urban prosecutors, for example, focus most of their attention on crime in the cities, but they are elected by county, not city, voters. This results in wealthier, whiter suburbanites having a strong say over who enforces the law in the city, even though those suburbanites do not feel the costs of over-enforcement borne by more-minority urban residents." --Marilyn Dahl

From My Shelf

W. W. Norton & Company: Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Arthur A. Levine Books: Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King

Expect the Unexpected: Reading John le Carré

Lara Elena Donnelly is the author of Amberlough (Tor, $25.99), a debut spy thriller set in a fantastical version of the Roaring Twenties (reviewed below). Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Nightmare, Strange Horizons, Escape Pod and Mythic Delirium. She is a graduate of the Alpha and Clarion writers' workshops and a winner of the Dell Magazine Award.

photo: Debra Wilburn

I put off reading John le Carré's classic Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy for a long time, convinced it was going to be a boring book about boring old white men. How delicious to be proven so very, very wrong. I finally read it when I was working on my own spy thriller, Amberlough, and needed intel on how real espionage worked. Le Carré started writing fiction while he still worked for the Secret Intelligence Service, so I figured he wouldn't steer me wrong.

The opening scene, in which Jim Prideaux tows his trailer onto school grounds and meets Bill Roach, school outcast, threw me off balance, charmed me. What was this story about a limping French teacher and a painfully nerdy kid? This wasn't how a spy thriller was supposed to start. But the tension in this book builds like the gradual increase of white noise in a stress test chamber, until it's roaring in your ears, jacking up your blood pressure, shortening your breath. You don't remember getting to this point, but here you are.

It's a structure that mirrors its main character, George Smiley, a man so inoffensive, so bland and unassuming, you don't realize he's interrogating you until you've told him all your secrets. And while it is a book largely about old white men, there are several capable, canny women. There is canon queerness. There is incredible complexity in every character interaction, and all of it feeds into the plot. I had to eat my words: this book was anything but boring.

It served as inspiration for Amberlough. Spies didn't need to be James Bond; they didn't need to chase down villains and assassinate them with exploding pens. All they needed was to know the right people, and lean on them just hard enough.

From My Shelf

W. W. Norton & Company: Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Arthur A. Levine Books: Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King

Say It with Animals

Here are three of our favorite Valentine's Day picture books.

Before you, says the narrator, "I was a flower with no pot./ I was a polka with no dot." "I was a tail without a wag./ Just a bean without a bag." Rebecca Doughty's Before You (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) captures the forlorn nature of each "before you" scenario with just the right amount of sadsack droopiness. "I was a bowl without a fish" is illustrated, suspiciously, with an empty fish bowl and a cat pawing the side of the glass. When the much-anticipated "you" does arrive, the tune changes: "You put the fizz into the pop./ You put the flip into the flop." A fizzy adult-to-adult valentine.

In Adam Rex and illustrator Scott Campbell's XO, OX: A Love Story (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press), Ox is utterly enamored with the starlet Gazelle and finally writes to tell her so: "Even when you are running from tigers you are like a ballerina who is running from tigers. I think that what I am trying to say is that I love you." Gazelle responds with a form letter. Ox persists, finally getting under her skin by lovingly implying that she might have a fault or two. Is her main fault that she "could never, ever love an ox?" Or could she be persuaded? (She can.)

Mick Inkpen (the Kipper series) packs a surprising emotional punch with I Will Love You Anyway (Aladdin), a rhyming British import about unconditional love, expressively illustrated by his daughter Chloë Inkpen. A bulging-eyed pug is trouble, silently telling his beloved redheaded boy: "I steal your glove./ I steal your shoe./ I steal your socks./ They smell of you." He runs away, but the family retrieves him: "I don't do 'Sit!'/ I don't do 'Stay!'/ But I will love you anyway." Drop everything and find this wonderful book right now. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

From My Shelf

W. W. Norton & Company: Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Arthur A. Levine Books: Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King

Children's Books: Celebrate Black History Month

A teenager comes of age in Civil Rights-era Mississippi, a former slave teaches a horse to read and an enslaved family escapes their fate in these recommendations for Black History Month.

Debut author Linda Williams Jackson's powerful, vividly told novel Midnight Without a Moon (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; ages 10-12) opens during the summer of 1955 in Mississippi. Thirteen-year-old Rose Lee Carter, whose dark skin has "sentenced her to the [cotton] field" begins to awaken to the injustice in black people's lives, especially when her aunt visits from St. Louis, where she has become active in the Civil Rights movement.

Veterinarian and former slave William "Doc" Key (1833-1909) teaches a horse he calls Jim to sit, fetch and play dead... and, with time and patience, to count, read and do arithmetic! Doc raised awareness for the humane treatment of animals and broke down racial barriers at the turn of the last century. In Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness (Lee & Low; ages 7-12), Donna Janell Bowman and illustrator Daniel Minter tell his amazing true story with energy, heart and stunning linoleum-block prints.

Grace, a light-skinned, blue-eyed African American girl, is called up from the slave quarters to work in the Big House for "hateful as a toad" Missus Allen. After being told her whole young life to "keep those eyes/ looking up--/ that's where the good Lord/ n His angels live," it's nearly impossible to start keeping her eyes down and her mouth closed. When she loses the fight to stay silent, she and her family escape into the marshy area between Virginia and North Carolina called the Great Dismal Swamp. Ann E. Burg's moving and lyrical Unbound: A Novel in Verse (Scholastic; ages 9-12) is based on narratives of escaping slaves.

--Emilie Coulter, freelance editor and reviewer

HarperOne: Driving Miss Norma by Tim Bauerschmidt and Ramie Liddle


Book Candy

On the Eve of the Oscars, Novels About Hollywood

In anticipation of Sunday's Oscars ceremony, author Tim Walker chose his "top 10 Hollywood novels" for the Guardian.

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"Science fiction is one of the greatest predictors of the future," and Quirk Books "thought it would be fun to take a look at some... sci-fi tech feats that haven't happened yet... but could!"

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"Medieval shelfies": The British Library's publishing team (@bl_publishing) "encouraged followers to send in their shelfies.... However, the appreciation of the aesthetic value of books and bookcases is not just a modern day phenomenon."

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"You could be 'writer in residence' for the Mall of America," the Star Tribune reported.

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"Illuminated book sculptures form highly detailed magical worlds," My Modern Met noted.


The Impossible Fortress

by Jason Rekulak

It is 1987, and 14-year-old Will has an ordinary, perfectly boring teenage life. His time and energy are spent on fitting in in high school, obsessing about hot girls, ferreting out the secrets of computer coding--and, wherever possible, combining those three things for greatest effect. Case in point: his coding of the game "Strip Poker with Christie Brinkley," in which a string of computer code allows players to battle the computer in poker, removing an article of clothing from Brinkley (rendered in punctuation marks) for every hand the computer loses. His mother works the late shift at the local grocery store, leaving Will and his two best friends, Alf and Clark, with ample un-chaperoned time to spend as they see fit--biking around town, renting videos and generally acting like teenage boys. "But then Playboy published nude photographs of Wheel of Fortune hostess Vanna White, [Will] fell head over heels in love, and everything changed."

So begins The Impossible Fortress, Jason Rekulak's debut novel, which features the world's most unlikely heist: the theft of the Vanna White issue of Playboy (since they're too young to purchase it) from a local office supply store. With wily ingenuity, Will and his friends plot their caper, complete with a scale model of their small hometown that would leave even Ocean's Eleven envious of their planning skills.

Part of the boys' plan to steal the magazine involves Will romancing the office storeowner's daughter, Mary. But as Will sets out to befriend and ultimately seduce the awkward, computer-obsessed girl who codes in the back of the store, he finds he's more intent on working with Mary to build a new computer game than he is in kissing her. As the two work together to teach themselves a new coding language and design a game to enter in a nearby gaming contest, their friendship turns into something more real than Will had ever envisioned--and the already complicated heist becomes more tangled than any scale model could predict. As Will's feelings for Mary intensify, he begins to realize the potential for his reckless actions to hurt those he cares most about.

The Impossible Fortress is set in 1987 Wetbridge, N.J., a working-class town, and the novel feels entirely a part of this time and place. Will is captivated by early-days computer coding on a Commodore 64, and dreams of winning an IBM PS/2 in a video game design contest. He and his friends visit the local video store to rent and re-rent the same movies time and again. Their town is marked by a main street full of shuttered or struggling shops, "squeezed by competition from all the new shopping malls." The very center of the heist--the Playboy and the boys' plan to sell photocopies of the pictures to classmates--is inherent to the year. But while The Impossible Fortress is fully immersed in 1980s culture, what is most remarkable about Rekulak's story is the way his reflections on being a teenager on the cusp of adulthood prove as relevant today as they would have been then.

Rekulak's tale takes place during a few months of Will's freshman year of high school, when Will and his friends are still poised on the edge of young adulthood. In many ways, the three are still little boys, dreaming up wild adventures to fill their empty afternoons that feature themselves as the heroes of their own stories. But they are also beginning to recognize their place in the world, the hardships their parents face and the realities of moving into adulthood. Will, in particular, seems to realize the potential for his actions to help (or hurt) those around him as he grows into himself (a transition represented by his switch from the childhood nickname "Billy" to the more adult "Will" over the course of the book). This coming of age is brought more fully into focus as the relationship between Will and Mary becomes ever more meaningful. 

Rekulak has carefully nested these thoughtful reflections on growing up within the absurd story of the boys' attempted burglary, which keeps the book squarely in the camp of "funny" over "serious." But the funny here serves to further underscore the importance of the serious: the heist provides a unique framework for a sweet and memorable coming-of-age love story. Rekulak's ingenious novel is sure to appeal to anyone who likes an endearing tale. --Kerry McHugh

Simon & Schuster, $24, hardcover, 304p., 9781501144417

Jason Rekulak: Growing Up in the '80s

photo: Courtney Apple

Jason Rekulak is the publisher of Quirk Books, where he has worked on bestselling titles such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. In his debut novel, The Impossible Fortress, three teenage boys in the 1980s set out on a seemingly impossible task: to steal the issue of Playboy featuring Vanna White. Rekulak lives in Philadelphia with his wife and two children.

You work in publishing, but this is your first novel. Was the process surprising? Did your work experience make this easier or harder?

I've been at Quirk for 16 years, so I'm pretty entrenched in the indie world with no corporate infrastructure or massive resources. So it has been revealing to see how a big house handles your book. That's been fascinating, and I've had some exposure to some new things. On the other hand, though, some things are wholly familiar. They're currently in the process of changing the cover... again. Of course they have to change it. It wouldn't be publishing if they didn't have to make changes. I'd say background at Quirk has definitely prepared me for some of the bumps along the road.

Do you think your experience as a publisher changed the way you wrote the book at all?

Probably. At this point, I've worked on a lot of books. I feel a lot more confident than I did when I was younger, but I don't know if that is because of my experience as a publisher, necessarily.

On the one hand, I think the book is commercial and has a lot of hooks. On the other hand, I think it must not be commercial at all, because there aren't really any good comparative titles for it. So part of me thinks that maybe my work as a publisher influenced some of the choices I made, but I'm not sure.

The Impossible Fortress reads like a heist story--but not a traditional one. What drew you to this genre?

The Impossible Fortress is, on the surface, a silly heist book set in the '80s about these young boys who are planning to steal something totally ridiculous: the issue of Playboy featuring Vanna White.

I had that itch that I think a lot of writers have: to write about my childhood, my adolescence, my coming of age. Will and the world that he lives in are based on my own experiences. His town is exactly where I grew up geographically. I loved the downtown we had; instead of a Staples, you had a real store, and that money stayed in the community. We had an independent bookstore that was five blocks from my house.

But then I had to ask myself, what are they going to do? These kids can't just sit around talking for the whole book. Once I hit on the heist framework, that gave all these ideas a shape and a structure. It wasn't like the heist here was life or death, either, because I didn't overwhelm all of the other things I wanted to write about.

On its surface, the book is very funny; it's slightly absurd and has some hilarious moments. But it's also fairly serious, with many reflections on what it's like to be a teenager, especially in the '80s.

I find I'm most comfortable with the funny stuff. I'm less comfortable with the passages where I'm trying to dig into real emotion and heart. I just worry that it's going to make readers throw the book across the room. That was something that really came out in the editing process. I had a great editor who would point out where I had a strong point and needed to add a couple more lines to really get to the heart of what was happening emotionally. A lot of that is still pretty subtle, though. I thought that any kind of big scene where I spelled it all out would be kind of annoying. 

Will is a computer gamer who teaches himself code. Are you a coder yourself? Or were you when you were Will's age?

I was a big computer programmer when I was a teenager, and I really loved that era of early home computers where you had to literally type in the code if you wanted to play something. The games you could buy then weren't designed by thousands of people like they are now, they were designed by one person who did everything: the graphics, the sound, the music, and the coding. When I was Will's age, 13 or 14, that was my aspiration: I wanted to be one of those people.

I would make games that were really very rudimentary: you would be a square and you'd have to go fight the monsters that were squares. But the instructions for the game would be 7 or 8 pages of text, with history and backstory and where all the square characters were from and where they were going. It was all completely irrelevant to the game, but it was a form of writing that I felt like I could do. So I would create these giant games with these giant backstories, which was kind of like writing fiction, in a way.

By the time I got to college, I realized I didn't have to do the coding part of it if I didn't want to. I could do the writing and the story part of it and not have to bother with the messy coding and software and all that stuff. So that's what I did. And now I work in publishing.

So the pieces of code that introduce each chapter... are those functional?

My original plan was to make the game that Will and Mary are making; those excerpts are code for the game. I wanted them to be playable on these emulators you can download for your computer now that will turn it into Commodore 64 or a TRS-8 or whatever. But six months into writing the book and making the game, I realized no one was going to download the emulator for Commodore 64 and then type in all of this code. (Even though that's what I did all the time when I was 14; I'd think nothing of typing in several hundred lines of code.)

Instead I ended up partnering with this husband-wife wizard programming team to make this game where readers could just go online to play it. They read the book, and read about the game in the book, and they figured out a way to turn it into a real thing. Ultimately, if we did the game right, I think the gameplay will underscore the story of The Impossible Fortress. --Kerry McHugh


Shelf vetted, publisher supported.


Fake Novelists on TV

"Who is the best fake novelist on TV?" asked Electric Lit.

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Bustle nominated "11 things the Game of Thrones books can teach us about politics."

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Atlas Obscura explored "library hand, the fastidiously neat penmanship style made for card catalogs."

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From the Bureau of Labor Statistics: "Mapping The Hunger Games--Using location quotients to find the districts of Panem."

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A Canadian university professor "claims to have found the only existing moving picture of French writer Marcel Proust," the Guardian reported.


Second Story Press: The Pain Eater by Beth Goobie


Presidents and Poets

Infographic of the Day: My Poetic Side showcased "U.S. poet laureates and the presidents they served under."

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Spring is coming: Flavorwire explored "10 gorgeous libraries with gardens."

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"Ignoring isn't the same as ignorance, you have to work at it." Bustle shared "15 quotes from The Handmaid's Tale that everyone needs to remember in the coming years."

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Headline--and word--of the day (via the Guardian): "Thieves steal £2 million of rare books by abseiling into warehouse."

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The #UnitedStatesOfBooks is a new social initiative and Read-Down book list series from Penguin Random House that celebrates, on Instagram and penguinrandomhouse.com, "the literary spirit of each of the 50 states."

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Buzzfeed unveiled "24 pieces of bookshelf porn that are borderline NSFW."


Titan Books: The Killing Bay (Faroes #2) by Chris Ould


Profound Act of Reading Aloud

Brightly explored "building a world of empathy through the simple yet profound act of reading aloud."

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Headline of the day: "Portrait of 'real' Mr. Darcy unlikely to set 21st century hearts aflutter."

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Bustle shared "13 quotes from 1984 that are horrifyingly relevant In 2017."

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The New York Public Library shared "10 fun facts about Winnie the Pooh."

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Buzzfeed displayed "26 literary tattoos that are borderline genius."

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In Siberia, an Ice Library of Wonders at the Gora Sobolinaya (Sable Mountain) ski resort near the town of Baikalsk "is part of a campaign to put the area on the international tourism map," BBC News reported.


Shelf Awareness Sign-up Giveaway: The Burning World by Isaac Marion


A Bookish Valentine's Day!

Be our bookish valentine: Buzzfeed shared "21 of the most romantic quotes in literature"; The Guardian listed the "top 10 authentic romances": Chronicle Books blog showcased "15 love-filled illustrations from children's literature"; and, as an alternative, "10 anti-love poems for Valentine's Day."

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Voting has opened for the Chronicle/Little Free Library design competition.

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Author Michelle Tea chose her "top 10 books about the apocalypse" for the Guardian.

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Quirk Books considered titles "we'd like to see get the LEGO movie treatment."


Book or Movie?

BookBub considered "10 things you'll relate to if you prefer the book to the movie."

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"In the time you spend on social media each year, you could read 200 books," Quartz wrote.

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My Poetic Side featured "51 immigrant poets" in an interactive map.

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Book blast from the past: Check out this 2010 Reading for Life U.K. advert featuring British actors, musicians and other celebrities showing how reading is central to their lives.

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Alaska's Dr. Seuss House "is a whimsical tower made of stacked cabins," Inhabitat noted.


Great Reads

Rediscover: The Dispossessed

Last year, the New York Times described Ursula K. Le Guin as "America's greatest living science fiction writer," though Le Guin said she would prefer to be called an "American novelist." Her fantasy and science-fiction works transcend the boundaries of genre, exploring sociological, anthropological, environmental and spiritual themes in the guise of spaceships and magic. Le Guin is perhaps best known for Earthsea, a fantasy series set on an archipelago world, and the Hainish Cycle, a loosely related collection of novels and short stories set in the same science-fiction universe. The Hainish Cycle imagines a range of planets colonized long ago by humans from Hain, who are just recently reconnecting with these scattered and radically diverged worlds.

The Dispossessed (1974), the fifth Hainish novel, takes place on a pair of twin worlds in Tau Ceti. Shevek, a physicist on the anarchist world of Anarres, travels to Urras, from which the anarchist Odonians fled several generations prior. The book is split into two connected narratives: the first chronicling Shevek's trip to the lush but authoritarian world of Urras; the second Shevek's upbringing on arid, anarchist Anarres, and what drove this brilliant scientist to abandon his homeworld. Le Guin's construction of a pacifist-anarchist society is a testament to her anthropological upbringing (her father was a famous anthropologist) and literary genius. The Dispossessed illuminates human behavior and social structures through the lens of the fantastic, as only the best sci-fi can. It was last published as a Harper Perennial Modern Classic in 2014 (9780060512750). --Tobias Mutter


Rediscover: Big Little Lies

The first episode of Big Little Lies, a limited television series based on the novel by Liane Moriarty, premiered Sunday on HBO. This dark comedy/drama stars Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Alexander Skarsgård, Laura Dern, Adam Scott and Zoë Kravitz in a murder mystery with an unusual unknown: the identity of the victim. Episode one introduces Madeline Martha Mackenzie (Witherspoon), Celeste Wright (Kidman) and Jane Chapman (Woodley), mothers with marital and child troubles being interrogated by police after trivia night at a public school ends in homicide. Who the victim is, how the personal lives of these women and their families intersect, and who killed the dead mystery man, will be revealed over the next six episodes.

Big Little Lies (2014) is the fifth novel by Australian writer Liane Moriarty. She is also the author of The Husband's Secret (2013) and, most recently, Truly Madly Guilty (2016). Big Little Lies combines light "chick-lit" humor with powerful, disturbing insights on abusive relationships and domestic violence. The novel was a #1 New York Times bestseller and has sold more than 1.7 million copies. A tie-in version was published by Berkley on February 7 ($9.99, 9780399587207). --Tobias Mutter


Rediscover: James Baldwin

Writer and activist James Baldwin (1924-1987) scrutinized racial, sexual and class disparities in American culture. He was raised in Harlem by an impoverished mother and abusive stepfather, where abuse by white police officers, a search for solace in religion, and the realization that he was homosexual all greatly influenced his future writing. Baldwin, disillusioned by the treatment of black and gay men in the United States, moved to France at age 24. He wrote Go Tell It on the Mountain, a semi-autobiographical novel, in 1953, and published Notes of a Native Son, an essay collection, in 1955. Giovanni's Room (1956) caused controversy with its predominantly white cast and explicit homoeroticism. Baldwin's extensive later works include The Fire Next Time, a book of two essays ("My Dungeon Shook" and "Down at the Cross") exploring the role of race in American history and the intersections between race and religion. Baldwin became an avid supporter of the Civil Right Movement, though his permanent home remained a village in southern France.

Prior to his death, Baldwin was working on Remember This House, a memoir about his relationships with civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. In 2016, Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck adapted this unfinished manuscript into I Am Not Your Negro, a documentary about racism in the U.S. narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, now nominated for Best Documentary Feature in this year's Academy Awards. On February 7, Vintage released a companion book featuring 40 black-and-white images from the film ($15, 9780525434696). --Tobias Mutter


Rediscover: Knots and Crosses

It's been 30 years since Scottish author Ian Rankin introduced the world to Detective Inspector John Rebus, an Edinburgh police officer and former SAS member with a curmudgeonly, sometimes misanthropic disposition. Knots and Crosses, the first of 21 Inspector Rebus mysteries, was written while Rankin was still a postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh. It takes place in an Edinburgh terrorized by a serial killer strangling young girls. Inspector Rebus, between overindulging on drinks, cigarettes and women, investigates the murders, only to discover that his own family and military past are keys to stopping the killings.

Rebus's hardboiled exploits have made Rankin an international bestseller. He has been praised for his elaborate plots that span a wide variety of Scottish locations and weave throughout the series. The novels take place in real time, so Rebus ages as the books progress. 2007's Exit Music, the 17th in the series, retired Rebus from the police force, but not from solving crimes. His latest mystery, Rather Be the Devil, was published by Little, Brown on January 31 ($27, 9780316342575). Knots and Crosses was last published by Minotaur Books in 2008 ($16.99, 9780312536923). --Tobias Mutter


Rediscover: Little House on the Prairie

This new hardcover edition of Little House on the Prairie has a foreword by Patricia MacLachlan, who grew up on the Wyoming prairie and saw herself in Laura.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the much-loved Little House series, was born 150 years ago, on February 7, 1867 in Pepin, Wis. Wilder's novels are based on her experiences growing up on the American frontier, from eating crispy-roasted pig tails to more sobering challenges of pioneer life. Impressively, five of the nine books in this series won Newbery Honors.

Bich Minh Nguyen, author of Pioneer Girl, said in a Shelf Awareness interview, "It never struck me as strange when I was growing up that a Vietnamese American girl would identify so strongly with Laura Ingalls Wilder. I can identify with her sense of home, of searching for home and wanting a place to call her own, while at the same time wanting adventure.... It is a story of migration and immigration within the United States." Indeed, many authors we've interviewed cite the Little House books as childhood favorites: Laura Kaye, Martine Leavitt, Mary-Louise Parker, Leslie Pietrzyk, Chloe Neill, Maria Russo, Melanie Shankle, Heather Gudenkauf, Sara Paretsky and Laurie Halse Anderson, to name a few.

To celebrate Wilder's 150th birthday, HarperCollins just released unjacketed, hardcover, nonillustrated editions of three of the original novels: Little House in the Big Woods, Farmer Boy and Little House on the Prairie ($12.99 each). HarperCollins is also the publisher of Louise Erdrich's exquisite, not-to-be-missed Birchbark House series for middle-graders, set in the 19th-century Midwest, like the Little House books--but from the point of view of an Ojibwe family. --Karin Snelson, children's editor, Shelf Awareness


The Writer's Life

Reading with... Adam Silvera

photo: Margot Wood

Adam Silvera's debut YA novel, More Happy Than Not, received multiple starred reviews and is a New York Times bestseller. His second YA novel, History Is All You Left Me, was released by Soho Teen on January 17, 2017. Born and raised in the Bronx, N.Y., Silvera has worked as a children's bookseller, marketing assistant at a literary development company, and reviewer of children's and young adult novels. He now writes full-time in New York City.

On your nightstand now:

My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier, which is a compelling combo of delightful and creepy. I'm also ready to reread The Young Elites by Marie Lu and finally read Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Stellaluna by Janell Cannon is my first favorite book ever. I was so devastated when I lost my plush Stellaluna doll that my mom put up missing posters around my school. This story does not have the happy ending six-year-old Adam wanted.

Your top five authors:

Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Becky Albertalli, David Arnold, Nicola Yoon and John Corey Whaley.

Book you've faked reading:

Pretty much all required reading in school. I hated the cover of The Giver by Lois Lowry in seventh grade and refused to read it. I read it when I became a bookseller and loved it. Don't judge a book by its cover, Seventh-Grade Adam!

Book you're an evangelist for:

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. I always tell everyone how happy and sane I would've felt if I had that book as a teen.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Recently it was Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch. It's a graphic novel with the tagline "Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl." It was unlike anything I've ever read before.

Book you hid from your parents:

Mass-market copies of Charmed and Supernatural stories when I should've been doing homework.

Book that changed your life:

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling absolutely turned me into a writer. I was writing fan-fiction at 11. And 15 years later I'm a published author about to release my second book. I'm indebted to Rowling for that spark.

Favorite line from a book:

"I want a person to kiss hello." I love this line from Julie Murphy's Dumplin' so much.

Five books you'll never part with:

Noggin by John Corey Whaley, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling.

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

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and it would be really nice if someone doesn't spoil it for me the moment I'm about to begin this time.


Bill Hayes: New York Will Always Answer You

photo: Walter Kurtz

Bill Hayes is the author of The AnatomistFive Quarts and Sleep Demons. He is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in nonfiction and was a visiting scholar at the American Academy in Rome. He is a frequent contributor to the New York Times, and his writing has appeared in the New York Review of Books and Salon, among other publications. His photographs have been featured in Vanity Fair, the New York Times and the New Yorker. Insomniac City (Bloomsbury USA, February 14, 2017) is his memoir of life in New York City with Oliver Sacks. (See our review below.)

Insomniac City takes an evocative, mixed media form: essays, journal fragments, photographs. I love the line you mention scrawling on an envelope, "New York will always answer you." Did you imagine that the city would become its own character?

I always knew that New York would be the main character of this book, because it saved my life in a certain way after losing my partner Steve. It welcomed me with open arms, with its beauty and craziness and chaos. My goal was to capture my experience of New York: a combination of life on the street or subway, where I encountered New Yorkers--but also my parallel life with Oliver in our apartment in the West Village. When the photographs appear in the book, I wanted them to appear almost as passing strangers. They don't come with stories explaining them. It's like passing an interesting face on the street--there are three lovely women at the bodega and when you turn the page, you're on to another story.

What does the camera offer you as an expressive outlet that you hadn't realized before?

I first bought a camera after Steve died. I made a spontaneous trip to London. This was right before people commonly used cell phones as cameras, so I bought this digital Canon, one that I could slip into a pocket. That trip was a significant one; it was my first time abroad alone, newly single again, and the camera kept me company. It gave me a reason to leave the apartment and discover new parts of London and interact with people. I was drawn to taking pictures of people, but it wasn't until I moved to New York a year later that I really began to use the camera. I slipped it into my pocket and hopped on the subway to Washington Heights or Harlem or the East Village. It became a way for me to get to know the city and get to know New Yorkers. Once the limitations of that camera became clear, I bought a slightly better camera, and then a slightly better one. Then, when Oliver and I were together, it became part of our relationship; I would be out on the street, taking pictures, meeting people, and then come back at the end of the day with stories to share and pictures to show him. So it's evolved over time to the point where I take photography as seriously as my writing.

You demonstrate such openness to the world around you. Had you always felt that way, or was that something that developed with the camera?

In a certain way, yes, that openness is part of my DNA. Which I suppose has its flip side: gullibility. But I've also seen that openness can bring out the same in strangers. I always ask permission from the person I'm photographing, so that immediately involves an encounter with a stranger. At least half the time people say no, but if they say yes, it's usually a very quick encounter. I only take two or three pictures. And I think there's something very beautiful about that, an anonymous encounter that can be very intense in a certain way, and the trust placed in me, and the openness they give me when I take their photograph.

Oliver Sacks (photo: Bill Hayes)

Your relationship with Oliver came late in your life and much later in his--for you after Steve's death and for Oliver after considerable solitude. How was it to open up to each other at that time in your lives?

As you noted, I had just come out of a long relationship that had ended tragically; I wasn't looking for a new relationship. I had also been out as a gay man and written a lot about being gay. Oliver had led an almost monk-like solitary existence, devoted to his patients, his practice and his writing. So to put us together, there were definitely challenges in making the relationship work. But at the same time there was something charmed about it. He was so ready to open his heart up completely and fall in love.

One of the most challenging things in the very beginning was the fact that he was still very private about being gay. Even people within our own apartment building didn't understand the full nature of our relationship. It definitely had something to do with the vast difference in our ages--almost 30 years. Often people assumed that I worked for him. Or people assumed that we were related, and so they would ask me about my "father" and him about his "son," which we both found charming and funny because he had a pretty strong British accent, and I don't--I'm from Washington State.

A Small Parade (photo: Bill Hayes)

Even though Insomniac City begins and ends with death, you manage to infuse the stories of both with such joy. Did you find that writing about it was more cathartic or more painful?

I don't know if catharsis is the first word I would use to describe the process, but it felt good to create something beautiful out of those two very painful losses in my life. And I end the book on what feels like a love letter to New York City itself. I write about taking a short walk after Oliver died to visit Ali in the smoke shop down the street, sharing the news with him, and how he made me laugh and how good that felt. Ali is a recurring character in the book, which was not something I planned from the outset, but he's part of my life. We live in the same neighborhood, and more than ever I do believe in the importance of neighbors and neighborliness, especially since the 2016 election, so I'm happy the book ends with that scene with Ali.

West Village (photo: Bill Hayes)

There's a lot of fear today of strangers and the other, and I think, without being particularly political, you challenge readers to talk to our neighbors and the strangers on the street.

I learned that after Steve's death, because it was so shattering. The neighbors in my apartment building helped me so much--in big and small ways. It's different with Oliver's death--the neighborhood is global. People from all over who loved him have reached out. One little passage that I almost cut out because of length, but I'm so glad I left in, was the short chapter about the homeless man named Raheem, whom I first spotted on the street with his several shopping carts full of plastic bottles and cans that he collects and trades in for money. I had seen him on the streets before, and asked to take a photograph, and then we had such a good conversation. I've seen him many times since, and we always say hello. I have so much respect for him because he has given his life a sense of purpose by going through the garbage we all leave behind--and there's garbage all over New York City--and picking out the plastic bottles and cans, organizing them and trading them in for money. I admire Raheem because he does not have an easy life by any means, whether he's sleeping outside or being chased away by cops or being insulted by neighbors in high-rise buildings who don't like his shopping carts in front of their building. But he's got real dignity. He's a survivor. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness


Daphne Merkin: Reckoning with Depression

photo: Tina Turnbow

There are few things more under-discussed, while simultaneously increasing in frequency, than depression. While standards of measurement are debated, there is mounting evidence that its prevalence is increasing.This has also lead to more narratives about depression, including This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression by Daphne Merkin (just published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Merkin is a former staff writer for the New Yorker and a contributor to ELLE. Her writing frequently appears in the New York Times, Bookforum, Departures other publications. Her previous books include the novel Enchantment and two collections of essays, Dreaming of Hitler and The Fame Lunches. She lives in New York City.

There's a sense in this book of a safari, taking a boat up tributaries of a river, finding the sources, mapping it out. Do you feel closer to having a "map" of how depression comes together for you?

I don't know if I feel closer to having a "map" of depression, if only because depression is so elusive an animal, but I do feel closer to being able to navigate its landscape when it arrives. I think it's important to keep an eye on the light at the end of the tunnel--which, hopefully, is not the light of the oncoming train, as Robert Lowell once darkly quipped, but the light of a future where depression doesn't have so much sway. One of the intrinsic problems with depression is that in some way it always presents itself as "new," just when you think you've left it behind. So, it is important to keep an open mind, so to speak, about the possibility of its returning rather than imagining that it's gone for good. That doesn't mean walking around with one ear constantly bent to internal rumblings, but to be aware and conscious of the warning signals so as not to be caught totally off guard.

Many people seem to have ideas about living with depression that fall into two categories. The first is that one should remain as optimistic as possible and work toward a goal of "curing" depression. The other is that depression is simply "incurable," and that one's overall contentment can be increased by accepting it and working within those parameters. Do you feel drawn to the idea of possibly living depression-free at some point?

I think the whole point is to try to avoid these do-or-die scenarios about depression, because neither of them really apply--at least not for me. It's hard to give up on the hope of "curing" one's depression, although I think there are people for whom severe depression remits, never to return. I am definitely still captured by the idea of living free of depression, but experience has told me otherwise. If you have a predisposition to this illness, there are too many slings and arrows that can set it off, from minor scrapes to hard falls. At this point I work hard on keeping my depression at bay by whatever means possible--medication, therapy, friendship, negotiations with myself--and hope that it will slink away forever, without actually believing that it will.

What books did you look to for inspiration, or comfort, in writing this book?

I always look to books for comfort, whatever I'm doing, so I'm not sure I looked to particular ones for inspiration or comfort while writing this book. I wanted it to be as readable as a good novel, so, to that end, I re-read some of my favorite novels, like Walker Percy's The Moviegoer, to make sure it had some narrative propulsion. I also read a lot of memoirs to see how the personal material was handled and to gather clues on how best to frame my own experience. I didn't particularly look at books about depression because I wanted to try to go my own way, without undue influence.

Tell us about your experiences in therapy: what has worked, what hasn't worked, what do you look for in a therapist? What have been your biggest challenges in finding support?

My experiences in therapy have been manifold and I do ultimately credit therapy with helping me get through the dark times. That said, I have had better and less good therapists. I think what's important for me is that the therapist in question doesn't get overwhelmed or scared off by the negative power of my depression. Depression is an isolating illness as it is, and it isn't useful for someone else to feel vanquished by it--especially someone you're looking to for support. That happened to me with one psychoanalyst who barely believed in medication but suddenly started espousing ECT (shock therapy) for me when my mood plunged. It seems to me that the biggest challenge is finding a therapist who doesn't underrate your depression but also has the vision to see beyond it on your behalf. A sustaining sense of humor is crucial as well.

There's still a lot of fear about ECT. I've seen dramatic results in a couple of people, and I've also worked with people on their fear of going anywhere near it. Did you feel that that therapist was turning to ECT out of a fear that they had underestimated your depression, or overestimated their ability to help you in other ways?

I recognize that ECT can really work--I personally know people who swear by its efficacy. And I haven't come to any permanent decision about it for myself, despite harboring fears of it--specifically the memory loss that comes in its wake. In my own situation, I did feel that my therapist was turning to ECT precisely out of a sense of fear--and, perhaps, a sense that he had miscalculated the beneficial effects of therapy. Perhaps had the possibility of ECT come up in a different way, I might have been more open to it. In some ways, the whole approach goes against my ideas about how identity is formed and the mind/brain division, but my ideas are undoubtedly arbitrary and unscientific in the extreme. --Matthew Tiffany, counselor, writer for Condalmo


Elliot Ackerman: The Same Emotional Collective

photo: Peter van Agtmael

Elliot Ackerman is the author of Green on Blue, a former White House Fellow and a former Marine who served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for Valor and the Purple Heart. His new novel, Dark at the Crossing (reviewed below), is set on the border between Turkey and Syria during the ongoing Syrian Civil War and follows an Iraqi American trying to cross the border and fight for the Free Syrian Army. Ackerman lives in Istanbul, where he has covered the Syrian conflict since 2013.

Most of Dark at the Crossing takes place in Turkey or in the protagonist's memories of Iraq and the U.S. Why take such an indirect approach to the conflict in Syria? Is the novel even about Syria?

The Syrian Civil War (or revolution, depending on your perspective) is the backdrop of the novel, but I don't believe it is what the novel is about. My ambition for the book was to tell the story of a failed revolution through the prism of a failed marriage. Why this choice? Because while spending significant time covering the war in Syria, what became evident was how so many of the democratic activists who had taken to the streets to protest the regime of Bashar al-Assad were suffering from a kind of heartbreak in the wake of their failed revolution. They had given themselves completely to the cause of bringing democratic reforms to Syria and had seen their efforts end disastrously. They had upended their lives to support the revolution at great personal expense and so many of them had fallen in love with its ideals. The notion of upending one's life for an ideal is also experienced when two people come together and marry. A marriage is, in its way, a revolution of sorts. And just as with actual revolutions, when a marriage fails, it leaves behind significant wreckage. The novel explores how the principal characters not only deal with the wreckage left behind by their revolution, but also the wreckage left by their failed marriage. Parity exists between these two emotional arcs.

Your previous novel, Green on Blue, followed a young Afghan who fights with a U.S.-sponsored militia. In Dark at the Crossing, Haris Abadi is haunted by the time he spent as a translator for U.S. forces in Iraq. Are you particularly interested in the moral cost of collaborating with an occupying foreign power?

I think it's important to keep in mind that Haris Abadi is an American and an Iraqi. In the opening pages of the novel, the reader learns how he earned his American citizenship. His name was a very intentional choice. Haris with one "r" is an Arabic name, but with two, it is a Western one. I have an interest in characters who are torn between two separate identities, who perhaps lead double lives. The result is incompleteness, an emptiness within. This also results in the human heart coming into conflict with itself, which is the only thing worth writing about.

Haris Abadi wants to join the Free Syrian Army and fight Assad, but he encounters characters aligned with the Daesh, also known as ISIS. Was it difficult to empathize with or, at the very least, understand these men?

As a novelist my job is to empathize with my characters, particularly the ones who at face value feel most distant from me. When I envision them, I am trying to make their case as though they were standing before God explaining themselves. But this obviously takes some work. With regards to the characters who were members of the Islamic State, I became friendly with one former member of Al-Qaeda in Iraq who actually fought in al-Anbar province the same time I was there fighting as a Marine. The two of us met in a refugee camp along the Syrian border and, oddly enough, became friends. We were soon getting together every few months to talk and have tea, sort of an impromptu VFW meeting in south Turkey. We would usually discuss the old days fighting in Iraq on opposite sides, and recent events in the region. Although he was no longer fighting, he still believed in the fundamental strains of Islam that fuel radical groups like the Islamic State. This led to many debates between us. Did I agree with him on most issues? No. Could I understand how as a Sunni Arab who had spent time in prison in Bashar al-Assad's Syria and who had been disenfranchised within his country, why he would turn to religion and radicalization? Of course, I could.

Dark at the Crossing is not only about war but about the kinds of love that develop in its shadow. What characterizes relationships that develop in these seemingly impossible conditions? I'm thinking not only of romantic relationships, but of the strange bond between Haris and an American Special Forces soldier named Jim.

War by definition is a manifestation of extreme emotion. It is one group of people believing enough in some cause that they are willing to kill for it and perhaps to die for it. (It is also the story of innocents trying to survive those groups of believers.) The relationships that develop in this heightened emotional space are of an extreme intensity. This is an environment that strains relationships--even the most basic: mother to child, husband to wife, etc.--pushing them to their breaking points, or else soldering them into bonds of incredible durability.

You write: "When the last of the Free Army dissolved, the revolution would finally be over. Then the war could begin." At this point, the Free Army seems to exist mostly in a nominal sense. Is the revolution over? Do the hopeful vestiges of the Arab Spring still exist in any meaningful way?

It depends on who you speak to. And this is obviously a loaded question when discussing the revolution with Syrians. I had one Syrian friend in particular, Abed, to whom the book is dedicated. He was a democratic activist in the revolution's early days who was forced to flee the country by the regime. Stranded in Gaziantep, or Antep as most locals refer to it, he and I would often eat dinner together. On any given night, we could be sitting down and ordering our meal while he insisted in our discussions that the revolution was not over, that the Free Army could still defeat Assad if properly supported by the West. However, by the time our meal was over and we were having our tea, he would be lamenting that the entire revolution was a mistake, that he wished he could take it all back, that he and the other activists had never gone into the streets in protest, that he had destroyed his own home. Whether the revolution is over is not just a political question. I came to learn that it is also a deeply personal question, one so many Syrians have wrestled with and continue to wrestle with as they decide whether or not to abandon their country and craft a new life in the diaspora or to stay engaged with political developments at home.

As an American writing about Iraqi and Syrian expatriates, how did you make sure that you portrayed your characters realistically and respectfully?

When writing any character in a novel, I am by definition writing about someone who is outside of my experience. It is my job to become as close to that character as I possibly can, to do my best to understand who they are. If a character shares my nationality, that doesn't necessarily mean that I know them better than one who does not. The unknown variables for every character are different. When I read, the authors that I admire most open up through their imaginations the interior lives of people that would otherwise remain inaccessible to me.

I happen to be a veteran and a novelist. Some years back there was a great deal of controversy among Iraq and Afghan war vets when certain novels came out that were written by authors who had never served in the military, particularly when those novels received a great deal of acclaim and when literary critics commented on their realism. Some in my community viewed this as an act of cultural appropriation by those non-vet authors, as if our stories were ours alone to tell and were somehow being robbed from us. I reject this view entirely. What fiction does, and what it does extremely well, is assert that all of us are part of an emotional collective. When I am reading a really excellent book, I feel something as I turn the pages. That is what good art does: it transfers emotion. Whatever the writer felt as they crafted their story is passed onto the reader. But if we begin to make rules that only certain topics can be breached by certain artists based on some experiential authority, then we are negating what the best art asserts: that we are, all of us, part of that very same emotional collective. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books


Mary Pope Osborne: Boosting Literacy Through Time Travel for 25 Years

photo: Elena Seibert

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Mary Pope Osborne's Magic Tree House series, with more than 134 million copies sold since 1992. In these popular illustrated chapter books for early readers, siblings Jack and Annie discover a magic tree house full of books that launch them on time-travel adventures around the world. Osborne lives in Connecticut with her husband, actor and author Will Osborne.

What excites you most about writing for children?

I love writing for children because I'm still a child at heart. I had a great childhood traveling from army post to army post with my military family, playing with my sister and two brothers (one of them my twin). Everywhere we lived, we were free to roam around by ourselves. We constantly shared imaginative adventures, from being pirates and cowboys to spies and soldiers. Writing about Jack and Annie's journeys in the magic tree house matches my childhood love for make-believe adventures.

Why are these books so effective in boosting literacy?

Over the years I've gotten thousands of letters that say the series has not only taught children how to read, but has given them a love for reading. I think the kids identify with Jack and Annie, and love their mysterious and wild adventures. Readers also seem to like that the books have factual information about animals, sports, the arts, science, and famous people and historical events. Kids like the facts so much that my husband, Will, and my sister, Natalie Pope Boyce, have authored a series of Magic Tree House Fact Trackers--these are nonfiction companion books to the fiction books. So if readers like Stallion by Starlight, they might also enjoy the Fact Tracker Horse Heroes. If they like Midnight on the Moon, they might like the Fact Tracker Space. The combination of fiction and nonfiction titles works well in the classroom.

A child in Guatemala absorbed in reading.
Children in Ghana use an e-reader provided by Osborne's donation to Worldreader.

Do you have any stories about children who have learned to love to read through your books?

A teacher once wrote to me that he had an extremely shy student who was unable to speak in class. The girl loved Annie in the Magic Tree House books, so one day the teacher urged her to pretend that she was Annie. For the first time ever, she spoke up in class. From then on, the teacher frequently encouraged her to "Be Annie," until eventually she fully emerged from her shell.

Did you have any idea when you wrote the first book in the Magic Tree House series, Dinosaurs Before Dark, that the series would become an international phenomenon?

Before the Magic Tree House series, I'd written a number of young adult novels, retellings of mythology and folktales, biographies and mysteries. When Random House asked me to develop a series of four early chapter books, I quickly came up with the idea of time travel. But it took over a year for me to develop the idea. I tried magic whistles, a magic cellar, a magic artist studio, a magic museum... none of these ideas worked. I was about to give up on the series idea altogether and return to my other writing, when Will and I came across an abandoned tree house in the woods of Pennsylvania, near a cabin we owned. By nightfall, we had come up with the idea of a magic tree house.

Dinosaurs Before Dark came quickly after that. Then The Knight at Dawn, Mummies in the Morning and Pirates Past Noon. By then, the letters from teachers and parents and kids had started to arrive, and the school visits started. Soon I had a new life's passion: inspiring young kids to read. I kept writing the books, Sal Murdocca kept illustrating them, and Mallory Loehr, our wonderful editor at Random House, kept working with us and her team, until four books grew to 55 that are now published all over the world. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined this on the day I first saw that tree house.

The Magic Tree House RV travels to Newark, N.J., to encourage literacy and share the magic of the series.

You've donated Magic Tree House books worth $2.5 million through your Gift of Books program. How does the program work?

For the last 25 years, I've visited hundreds of schools and talked with countless educators about how they use Magic Tree House (MTH) books in their classrooms to inspire kids to read. So, as a way of giving back to all the teachers who have supported the series, I created the MTH Classroom Adventures Program (CAP). CAP's website provides teachers with all kinds of fun teaching tools, free of charge. It also offers a MTH book giveaway component for Title I classrooms. Beyond that, I've made large contributions to underserved kids in cities such as Chicago, Newark and Trenton. Handing a free set of MTH books to a boy or girl who has never owned even one book has been the most rewarding part of writing the series.

What is the number-one message you like to share with the children you meet around the world?

I want to share a hopeful message: kids are the same everywhere. I've encountered thousands of kids--in every part of the U.S., as well as Japan, Italy, France and Germany. I've met with kids in times of great disorder and angst, including after 9/11 in New York, after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and after the terrible tsunami in Japan of 2011. I've met kids from orphanages and kids dying of cancer. And all the kids I meet give me more than I give them. I've found that most kids from ages six to 10--no matter where I've met them--are positive, open, kind and eager to learn. Most amazingly, the kids I meet today are just like the kids I met over two decades ago. There is a universality to childhood innocence that seemingly cannot be altered by geography or time.

You have two Magic Tree House books coming out on March 17, 2017: World at War, 1944 (previously published as Danger in the Darkest Hour) and its nonfiction companion, World War II. What are you working on now?

I've just completed A Big Day for Baseball, which involves Jackie Robinson's first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Jack and Annie will magically become "batboys" at that game... and of course, get into lots of trouble. My sister, Natalie, has written the Magic Tree House Fact Tracker Baseball as the companion nonfiction book.

Anything else you'd like to share with the readers of Shelf Awareness?

One of the most exciting things to happen in the last few years has been the development of a number of Magic Tree House musicals. My husband, Will, has collaborated with composer Allen Toussaint, as well as composer Randy Courts and playwright Jenny Laird to create shows based on Jack and Annie's adventures. Often productions of these musicals go hand in hand with our book giveaways. It's been thrilling to bring both live theater and books to lots of underserved kids throughout the U.S.  --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

(You can watch a video featuring Osborne and her young readers, commemorating the 25th anniversary of Magic Tree House.)


Book Review

Fiction

I Liked My Life

by Abby Fabiaschi


After she steps off the roof of the Wellesley College library and dies, Maddy Starling refuses to move on to the next phase awaiting her until she knows her husband, Brady, and teenage daughter, Eve, have the right person looking after them. To that end, she chooses Rory, a local teacher with a terminally ill mother, as Brady's next wife. Able to plant suggestions in the minds of the living, Maddy maneuvers Rory into her family's orbit.

While the premise may sound like the setup for an oddball rom-com, the execution is far more profound. Brady and Eve can't function without Maddy, the hardworking, self-sacrificing homemaker who held the family together. Grief numbs Eve to her former life and relationships, while workaholic Brady has no idea how to step into the role of single parent. Both feel frustration over the lack of explanation for Maddy's suicide, as well as an oppressive guilt--perhaps if they had loved her better, appreciated her more, she would still be alive. Well-intentioned people, including Maddy's best friend, Paige, and sister Meg, often intrude when they mean to help. Through subconscious nudges and old journal entries, Maddy tries to help the people she loved most begin to live again without her.

Filled with deaths and myriad ways that human beings fight or surrender to pain, I Liked My Life nonetheless is an affirmation of love and the ability to survive grief and find joy again. Book clubs in particular will take delight in the wealth of emotion to ponder from this talented new voice. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: This graceful drama from newcomer Abby Fabiaschi follows a woman's family after her suicide, watched over by her matchmaking ghost.

St. Martin's Press, $25.99, hardcover, 272p., 9781250084873

The Lonely Hearts Hotel

by Heather O'Neill


Heather O'Neill (Daydreams of Angels) weaves a magical story of two talented orphans who live outside convention and survive the Great Depression in the author's native Montreal.

In 1910, two infants are in the grim care of strict nuns at a Catholic orphanage. The first, a boy, barely survived his birth. The second, a girl, was found freezing in the snow by a factory worker. The nuns nickname the boy Pierrot after the sad clown of the Commedia dell'Arte, and the girl Rose, for the pink spots that appeared in her cheeks after she thawed. Pierrot and Rose are drawn to one another from their earliest days, but the nuns mercilessly keep them separated, determined to squelch any possibility of future romance between the two. However, their talents for music, comedy and acrobatics make them a natural double act, and by their teen years, the Mother Superior is grudgingly allowing them to perform in rich homes to help support the orphanage. As feared, the two fall deeply in love, but when a wealthy man adopts Pierrot, Sister Eloise causes a misunderstanding that breaks up the blossoming romance.

Rightfully compared with Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus for its eccentricities, thwarted love affair and whimsical imaginings of a circus-like revue, O'Neill's fairy tale spins a bittersweet spell. Her acrobatic prose sweetens the experience, liberally dusted with confections of phrase such as "the leaves were like poems that had fallen to the ground." Brazen, offbeat and thoroughly bewitching, The Lonely Hearts Hotel mixes the sacred and profane into an effervescent love potion. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Two orphans, each graced with vaudevillian talents, come of age in Depression-era Montreal.

Riverhead Books, $27, hardcover, 400p., 9780735213739

Ghachar Ghochar

by Vivek Shanbhag, trans. by Srinath Perur


Halfway through Vivek Shanbhag's novella Ghachar Ghochar, translated from Kannada by Srinath Perur, the unnamed narrator drops by the wood-paneled Bangalore coffee shop he visits "for respite from domestic skirmishes," and asks a waiter named Vincent what's new. Referring to a type of South Indian pancake, Vincent replies, "Holes in dosas in everyone's house, sir"--which is another way of saying, "Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." That's an apt description for this darkly entertaining work, a Tolstoyan portrait of family conflict and shifting priorities in modern-day India.

At the heart of this work is the effect that sudden wealth has upon the narrator's family. The breadwinner used to be his father, a salesman for a company that sold tea leaves until the firm forced staff to accept early retirement. Now it's his chikkappa (uncle), whose wildly successful spice business has allowed the family to move from its small, four-room house to a much larger dwelling. But that doesn't solve the family's problems. Among the more vexing are the lavish wedding and troubled marriage of daughter Malati, "quick to anger and inconsiderate of others"; the narrator's own arranged marriage; and the appearance at the family home of a woman whom the narrator's chikkappa wants to avoid. Malati's mother-in-law disapprovingly states, "They say the newly rich carry umbrellas to keep moonlight at bay." Maybe so, but as this captivating work makes clear, it would have to be an awfully big umbrella to guarantee complete protection. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer

Discover: Vivek Shanbhag's first novel to be translated into English is a brittle portrait of the effect that sudden wealth has on a Bangalore family.

Penguin, $16, paperback, 128p., 9780143111689

The Refugees

by Viet Thanh Nguyen


Following his Pulitzer Prize-winning debut novel, The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen shares eight short stories in The Refugees. Each entry in the collection examines a snapshot in the life of an individual straddling two disparate spheres--their homeland and their adopted country. Nguyen's penetrating gaze will mesmerize readers and open windows to the particular nuances of a population struggling to find its identity.

Nguyen constructs intricate relationships among his characters, whether it is a familiar connection, like the married professor and Mrs. Khanh from "I'd Love You to Want Me," or something more distant, like Arthur Arellano's link to his organ donor, Men Vu, in "The Transplant." Each word and action carries powerful significance; no detail is irrelevant. In "Someone Else Besides You," the souvenirs Thomas collected with his ex-wife while they were married--which she displays around her new home--send a starkly different message when he visits unannounced than her words, "Don't come back, Thomas." Because Thomas's identity is rooted in his struggling relationship with his father, a triangle of complication enhances the intensity of their story.

While Nguyen offers philosophical battles both internal and external, he also uses language that is delivered with reverence and grace, conjuring robust imagery. "Michiko was the one who wanted to see Vietnam, hearing from relatives who had toured there that it reminded them of Japan's bucolic past, before General MacArthur wielded the postwar hand of reconstruction to daub Western makeup on Japanese features."

The Refugees is simply a beautiful collection of captivating stories. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: Pulitzer Prize-winner Viet Thanh Nguyen offers a collection of short stories about people struggling to redefine themselves in new worlds.

Grove Press, $25, hardcover, 224p., 9780802126399

The White City

by Karolina Ramqvist, trans. by Saskia Vogel


Karolina Ramqvist's The White City is the story of sensitive Karin and her mysterious gangster lover, John. Karin's lavish life has gone on the rocks after John has disappeared and the Swedish authorities are about to seize their modernist mansion, car and ill-gotten bank accounts.

All Karin has left is their infant daughter, Dream, and a safe full of guns. Her phone and utilities are soon to be disconnected; winter's wind and snow chill her cement-floored house. John's former gang members and their girlfriends won't return her calls. Karin's once extravagant edgy life has been shrunk to one of motherhood: "Dried pools of breast milk and urine, patches of drool, and globs of spit-up splotched the champagne-colored satin sheets.... Dirty towels and crumpled wet wipes were strewn among glasses and bowls crusted with leftovers." Can Karin muster the energy and wits to use John's small arsenal to shake money out of his fellow mobsters? Can she be the mother to Dream that she wants to and feels she ought to be?

If lean on plot, The White City is rich in language and ambience. Moody, mysterious, maternal and magnetic, it is a story set against a frozen landscape "mottled with meltwater and mud splatter," with slippery subway stairways and immigrants shoveling snow from roofs. Winner of Sweden's prestigious 2015 Enquist Prize, it is a haunting novel of a woman adrift yet firmly attached to romantic memories of her lover and the simple needs of her daughter. Like a Madonna of the tundra, Karin is a resilient and irresistible protagonist, and Ramqvist is a serious contender for the Swedish literary limelight. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: The White City is an evocative, moody story of a missing mobster's lover--once living large, but now left with only her infant daughter and a safe full of guns.

Black Cat/Grove Press, $16, paperback, 224p., 9780802125958

Dark at the Crossing

by Elliot Ackerman


Dark at the Crossing, decorated veteran Elliot Ackerman's second novel, after the acclaimed Green on Blue, follows Haris Abadi, an Iraqi American trying to cross the border from Turkey into Syria to fight with the Free Syrian Army. Haris is haunted by his time as a translator for an American Special Forces unit in Iraq, where he was "Iraqi in a war against Iraqis, and American in a war against Americans." Haris's ambitions are frustrated almost immediately upon arriving in Turkey, when he's robbed and forced to rely on the well-positioned Syrian refugee Amir and his wife, Daphne, a troubled, grieving couple who might be able to help him get across the border. Amir and Daphne are struggling with the slow disintegration of their marriage as they find drastically different ways to reconcile their experiences in Syria. Haris's search for a morally and spiritually redemptive "good war" is constantly frustrated by the region's messy reality.

Despite the despairing tone of the novel, Ackerman extends an impressive amount of empathy toward each of the characters. Everyone, he seems to argue, has a reason for doing what they do, even if it's an obscure, almost atavistic reason: "For Jim, maybe there wasn't a shred of meaning in any of this. Maybe for Jim, the whole war was just an impulse fulfilled." Instead of trying to make a grand statement about what war means, Dark at the Crossing illustrates how war can mean different things to different people. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: Iraqi American Haris Abadi makes a morally fraught journey to fight for the Free Syrian Army.

Knopf, $25.95, hardcover, 256p., 9781101947371

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

by Jennifer Ryan


Jennifer Ryan's first novel, The Chilbury Ladies' Choir, takes on a range of the human experience through the lives and voices of the women of the village of Chilbury, in the south of England, at the beginning of World War II.

Mrs. Tilling is a timid, good-hearted, churchgoing lady, a widow whose only son is about to be sent to France to fight. In her journal, she documents how the funeral for young Commander Edmund Winthrop is to be the last appearance of the village choir, as, according to the Vicar, "all our male voices have gone to war." In addition to Mrs. Tilling, the reader is introduced to Miss Edwina Paltry, the town's sly midwife; Kitty Winthrop, the 13-year-old sister to the lost Commander; and her older sister, Venetia, a wildly boy-crazy 18-year-old.

When a new music teacher arrives from London, she doesn't see why a choir needs male voices, and promptly calls practices again. The Chilbury Ladies' Choir meets some resistance, some grumblings about tradition, but as the war proceeds, the women learn to lean on one another. Eventually the choir becomes a central institution in the town, providing material as well as moral support, and a theatre for personal growth.

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir offers a world of emotions, experiences and characters in a tiny village, over a few months in 1940. Through variously sweet, mischievous, aggrieved and hopeful letters and journals, these ladies bring home the impact of war in an inspirational, sometimes sad, novel that Jennifer Ryan crafts with style. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A village deprived of its men proves that women can pull together and do anything that needs doing.

Crown, $26, hardcover, 384p., 9781101906750

A Separation

by Katie Kitamura


Katie Kitamura paints a nuanced picture of the dissolution of a marriage in her third novel, after New York Public Library Young Lions finalists The Longshot and Gone to the Forest. Married five years, the sensible narrator accepts that her philandering writer husband, Christopher, will not change and divorce is inevitable. She recognizes that "it was no small thing, dismantling the edifice of a marriage... some continuous and ongoing thing, rather than a decisive and singular act." Besides, she's also taken a lover. A full stop is imminent.

But Christopher has disappeared from London. His willful mother locates him at an off-season resort hotel in a southern seaside Greek village and bluntly instructs her daughter-in-law to bring him home. Off she goes, intent on confronting Christopher with divorce and getting on with her life. Upon arrival in Gerolimenas, however, she discovers a bleak scene: the hotel is nearly empty, the countryside is charred by fires set by feuding farmers, the sea is too cold for swimming, feral dogs prowl at the hotel gate, the Greek economic collapse has shuttered much of the village, and Christopher has disappeared again. He's left a young, lovelorn hotel receptionist and a suite full of scattered clothes and pages for an unfinished book. Through the narrator's sensibilities and observations, Kitamura adeptly fills in this portrait of a woman gradually understanding that her marriage and her husband aren't what they seemed--and neither is she. A Separation is a tightly wound novel of self-discovery and forbearance. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Taut and insightful, Kitamura's third novel is a subtly shaded portrait of a woman discovering the ambiguities of her marriage, her husband and herself.

Riverhead Books, $25, hardcover, 240p., 9780399576102

The Evening Road

by Laird Hunt


The Evening Road by Laird Hunt (Neverhome) meanders the backcountry roads of rural Indiana on a hot and troubled night, exploring human ugliness and the lives of two remarkable women.

Ottie Lee Henshaw is a red-haired beauty, eternally exasperated with her ill-kempt husband, Dale, and pursued by her randy boss, Bud. On this summer afternoon in 1920, Bud comes in excited by the prospect of driving to the neighboring town of Marvel to attend the "show": a promised lynching. Ottie Lee sets off with Bud, Dale and others; with a shifting cast of companions, she'll spend the rest of a long, sweltering night trying to get to Marvel.

Ottie Lee's adventures take up the first half of this novel before her counterpart, Calla Destry, appears. Calla is a light-skinned woman from the black part of town who faces her hard, violent world with stark defiance: she is inclined to head straight into Marvel to break the lynching's intended victims out of jail, while her family and community run the other way, lest they become victims themselves. It soon becomes clear that Calla's real aim is to find the man who has promised her a new beginning. But her wanderings parallel Ottie Lee's, and the two soon become more closely involved than either realizes.

The halves of this story are told in the first-person perspectives of these two women, and both are strong vernacular voices that bring flavor and color to their narratives. The Evening Road is a sad and raucous story, ugly and beautiful at once, evocatively starring two very different women. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: Two women from different sides of the tracks explore rural Indiana on a single night that is both allegory and starkly real.

Little, Brown, $26, hardcover, 288p., 9780316391283

Ancient Tillage

by Raduan Nassar, trans. by K.C.S. Sotelino


Raduan Nassar's Ancient Tillage, newly translated by K.C.S. Sotelino, offers a Dionysian rush of lyricism, a drunken dance of description and imagery that opens the darkest doors of human desire. First published in Brazil in 1975, this short yet emotionally intense novel is divided into 30 chapters, ranging in length from a few pages to brief single paragraphs. The tragic tale of a farmer family in dissolution is revealed through the point of view of André, the family's adolescent son, who is torn between a father's piety and his own indulgent desire for his sister, Ana. His transgressive sexuality and poetic sensibilities become a potent, anarchic force undermining patriarchal order.

In this way, Ancient Tillage extends the dark romantic individualism of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; it presents the individual mind as bold destroyer of hierarchy but also, in turn, as a passive receptacle, fatally sensitive and eternally haunted by images and desires. That such self-indulgence leads to familial strife and tragedy, as in Goethe's novels, is not surprising. But unlike his European predecessors, Nassar (A Cup of Rage) hews an earthy, sensual expressionism more reminiscent of Latin American poets like Pablo Neruda. The novel brims with lavish images and symbols of nature, such as "the damp, silent blue breeze that soars like a scarf over the atmosphere at the same time every day." Nassar's sentences flow in sinuous, mesmerizing waves, educing "destiny's baroque geometry" and the "bright dust" of creation. Deeply stirring and unforgettable, Ancient Tillage is nothing short of a literary masterpiece. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist and fiction author

Discover: This English translation of a classic Brazilian novel offers a dizzying and disturbing experience of the lyrical self.

New Directions, $14.95, paperback, 184p., 9780811226561

No Man's Land

by Simon Tolkien


Adam Raine is born into the lowest social strata of a British Empire on the verge of irrevocable change. His impoverished childhood in early 20th-century London is marked by one misfortune after another: first the death of his mother, then his father's inability to find work. Adam's father gets a second chance when a relative offers him a job in coal-mining country, in the town of Scarsdale, helping the miners negotiate with the mine's owner, Sir John Scarsdale.

Adam comes of age in this new countryside home amid miners and their sons toiling in horrifying conditions deep beneath the earth. He is sent to a nearby school, in hopes that his intellect will earn him a scholarship to Cambridge or Oxford. He makes a few friends and enemies, develops a romantic interest in the local parson's daughter, and seems to be on a path that will send him above his father's social station. But then, like the rest of his generation, Adam's life is utterly upended by World War I.

Simon Tolkien (The Inheritance; Orders from Berlin), grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien, crafts an epic coming-of-age story in No Man's Land. He draws on some of his grandfather's experiences fighting in the Battle of the Somme to depict Adam's tribulations in the trenches. Tolkien hits all the resonant notes--class conflict, romance, family drama, war--that turn No Man's Land into a thoroughly enjoyable, if sometimes a little melodramatic, piece of historical fiction. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: In an epic coming-of-age tale, a poor English boy is caught up in class conflict, coal mining and World War I.

Nan A. Talese, $27.95, hardcover, 592p., 9780385541978

Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan

by Ruth Gilligan


In 1901, Ruth Greenberg and her family are bound for America from Lithuania, but their boat ends up on the Emerald Isle. Despite her mother's protests and disdain for Ireland, Ruth embraces the new land as her home, gathering its stories and folklore along the way.

In 1958, Shem Sweeney is mute--after uncharacteristically skipping school one day, he observed a horror so great it stole his voice. His father, humiliated by Shem's behavior, tries unsuccessfully to cure his son with both medical and psychological doctors, then gives up and institutionalizes Shem. In the hellish asylum, Shem develops an unlikely friendship with Alf, the only other Jewish inmate, as he records the story of the older man's lost love.

In the present day, Aisling Creedon is an Irish Catholic in love with a British Jew. Secretly she's been considering converting to Judaism; she's even staying in London rather than going home to Ireland for Christmas with her family. But when her partner, Noah, presents her with a secondhand copy of A Voyage of Discovery--Considering a Judaic Conversion? she flies into a rage and promptly books her flight to Dublin. Aisling seeks refuge in the familiar as she contemplates the biggest decision of her life.

Gilligan meticulously intertwines these three lives to relate the 20th-century Jewish experience in Ireland. Whether readers have an intimate experience with Judaism or no experience at all, Nine Folds Makes a Paper Swan will captivate and inspire. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: Three lives, spanning the 20th century, tell the moving story of the Jewish experience in Ireland.

Tin House, $15.95, paperback, 400p., 9781941040492

We Were the Lucky Ones

by Georgia Hunter


Set in World War II, Georgia Hunter's debut novel, We Were the Lucky Ones, is based on actual events in her family. At 15, Hunter discovered her family had once lived in Radom, Poland, and had been persecuted for being Jews.

In early 1939, young Addy Kurc is living in Paris, enjoying the music and food of the city on his days off from work as an engineer. Although he's far from his family in Poland, he knows he'll return to share Passover with his parents and siblings. Then a letter arrives from his beloved mother, begging him to stay where he is, not to attempt to cross German borders because it's dangerous to do so. He realizes his mother is not telling him everything and that he's missed or ignored clues that indicate unrest and hostility toward Jews. It will be many years before Addy sees his mother again.

Meanwhile, his sisters, brothers and parents are facing their own dangerous situations. On September 1, 1939, Hitler invades Poland and begins his systematic annihilation of the Jewish population of Europe. Within weeks, the Red Army takes over the eastern part of Poland. Forced into ghettos or shipped off to Siberia, family members struggle to get through one more day under the harshest of conditions.

Hunter does an excellent job of bringing history to life, with just enough gruesome details of what happened during the Holocaust while conveying the desires and hopes of the Kurcs as they fell in love, got married and had children during this horrific period. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: This story of one family's incredible ability to stay alive during the Holocaust is based on true events.

Viking, $27, hardcover, 416p., 9780399563089

Desperation Road

by Michael Farris Smith


A butterfly squirms in a web. Even if it escapes, remnants of the entanglement will hang on to cripple all efforts to survive. This early scene in Michael Farris Smith's Desperation Road is mere paragraphs, but the author skillfully casts an unrelenting web over his characters through nearly 300 bleak yet dazzling pages of life struggle.

Returning to McComb, Miss., after 11 years in prison, Russell Gaines is trying to assimilate, with the support of his father. Still, the web pulls on him in the guises of his former fiancée and a vengeful family whose lives he changed irrevocably. Russell isn't looking for redemption when his troubled path introduces him to Maben, a woman on the run. She seems to have been born in a web, and though she tries desperately to break free from constant abuse and create a life for her young daughter, brutality continues to threaten her.

Russell finds meaning in the idea that "the things he could put his hands on needed someone to put out those hands." But rough lives only get rougher, and the slightest breeze could push them further into disaster.

Smith (Rivers) is incredibly gifted; emotion and poetry soak his straightforward prose, its easy flow masking the precision behind every word. He imbues the everyday slog of difficult lives with reverence and grace, painting the faintest glimmer of hope in opportunities lost and prices paid for flying too close to the web. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: An ex-con returning to his small-town home faces a vengeful family from his past as he tries to help a woman and her daughter outrun their own.

Lee Boudreaux/Little, Brown, $26, hardcover, 304p., 9780316353038

Autumn

by Ali Smith


The stunning Autumn is the first of a projected quartet of seasonal novels by Scottish author Ali Smith, whose earlier novels Hotel WorldThe Accidental and How to Be Both were shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Set in the factional, jingoistic post-Brexit United Kingdom--where "what had happened whipped about itself as if a live electric wire had snapped off a pylon in a storm"--Autumn is a compact story of the unlikely friendship of two neighbors: Daniel, an iconoclastic old man with a house full of art, books and music, and Elisabeth, an impressionable, lonely young woman, 70 years his junior, who harbors a festering grudge against her annoying, self-serving mother. A marginally employed adjunct lecturer in art history, Elisabeth has returned to her mother's house to spend time with now 101-year-old Daniel. He lives in a nursing home where he sleeps through flashing images of his life more often than he listens to Elisabeth read Dickens to him--although he processes enough to conjure his own darker version of A Tale of Two Cities.

The backdrop of Autumn might be social disarray, but the story is one of life going on and the seasons passing. As Smith writes toward the end of her novel: "Here's an old story so new that it's still in the middle of happening, writing itself right now with no knowledge of where or how it'll end." If fall is the twilight of the year, what will Smith's long cold winter bring--and better yet, her spring and summer? --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Ali Smith's first of a projected quartet of seasonal novels is a triumphant story of a May-December friendship within a divided Britain.

Pantheon, $24.95, hardcover, 272p., 9781101870730

The Girl in the Garden

by Melanie Wallace


Melanie Wallace (The Housekeeper) takes readers back to 1970s New England with The Girl in the Garden. June is a very new, very young mother when Ward abandons her and their son, Luke, in a vacation cabin on the Atlantic coast. June's short life has been one of isolation and neglect; she has no one to go back to and no idea of a future to work toward.

Mabel, the woman who rented the cabin to Ward, takes pity on June and allows her to stay. When the vacation season draws to an end and the cold weather approaches, Mabel makes arrangements for June to move into a guesthouse belonging to her reclusive friend Iris. Here June meets Iris's lawyer Duncan and his friend Oldman. She begins to shape a life for herself and Luke in the small community, until Iris's estranged daughter returns, bringing a war-scarred Vietnam veteran along with her. The Girl in the Garden tells their stories--their secrets, struggles and successes--gracefully woven together in poetic prose that evokes strong atmosphere and sense of place. Whether it's Oldman's Studebaker, the town restaurant or Iris's garden on the year's first snowfall, Wallace warmly envelops the reader in the essence of her setting.

The Girl in the Garden is populated with scarred characters; some carry visible scars while others harbor hidden ones. Each suffers on the fringes of society because of these scars. But Wallace shows how healing acceptance can be. Soulful and exquisite, this novel blooms with the beauty of humanity. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: A young mother, abandoned with her infant son in a coastal New England village, finds a future and a purpose with the townspeople who take her in.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25, hardcover, 240p., 9780544784666

Days Without End

by Sebastian Barry


In Days Without End, Irish immigrant Thomas McNulty and his love, beautiful John Cole, meet as homeless boys and share a lifetime of violence and deprivation, adventure and affection. In spite of their suffering, Thomas's first-person narration sings with wonder at the beauty of the world and their place in it.

"We were two wood-shavings of humanity in a rough world," Thomas reflects on their striking out together "in the enterprise of continuing survival." He and New England-born John find work in costume as saloon dancers for miners delighted to pay for a waltz or a foxtrot. They outgrow that job and join the army on the Oregon Trail, desperately seeking a secure future.

Sebastian Barry (Booker-nominated author of A Long Long Way and The Secret Scripture) balances gruesome depictions of massacres, near-starvation and Civil War battles with poetic phrasing and exclamations of joy at the wonders of nature and the gift of life. The duo crisscross the United States, from peace to strife and back, motivated by their commitment to Winona. Rescued during a Sioux massacre and sheltered at the army fort, she is put in their care as a servant but the men love and care for her as a daughter. Thomas's matter-of-fact tenacity turns humorous in Barry's narration; he describes the traditional family they make: Winona, John Cole ("the best-looking man in Christendom") and Thomas (who prefers a "simple hued housedress" to "dragging on the trews"). Happiness is tenuous, and Barry feeds the tension through to the end of this painful and beautiful novel. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: Thomas McNulty, orphan immigrant, makes his way through the States by fighting in the Indian and Civil Wars, and finding love with a fellow soldier.

Viking, $26, hardcover, 272p., 9780525427360

The Animators

by Kayla Rae Whitaker


Like an updated version of Thelma & Louise, New York University MFA graduate Kayla Rae Whitaker's first novel, The Animators, is a girlfriends story of two young women who meet in an upstate New York preppy college visual arts program. They combine their contrasting personalities and drawing skills to create critically acclaimed full-length animated movies. Careful, self-aware Sharon Kisses is the first of three siblings to escape her hillbilly hollow and leverage her talent into the edgy Bushwick creative arts scene. Her collaborator, Mel Vaughn, is a funky, frequently alcohol-fueled lesbian party girl from a busted family in central Florida. Ten years out of college, Mel and Sharon snag a prestigious grant for a cartoon film based on Mel's mother's life of petty crime, prostitution and prison. Theirs is an uneasy collaboration that surprisingly works.

However, in Whitaker's sure hands, what begins as a story of young artists making it in New York City literally goes south when Mel's mother dies in a prison fight. Mel and Sharon go to Florida to identify the body. The Animators is not just a buddy road trip story. It's a sensitive portrait of a close but ambivalent friendship, and the process and power of creating art. Whitaker takes us behind the onionskin drawings and slick celluloid, behind the Brooklyn booze and artsy raves to the personal angst and longing that finds some relief in friendship, love and art. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Whitaker's first novel follows a beguiling story of friendship through artistic collaboration and the sources of creativity.

Random House, $27, hardcover, 384p., 9780812989281

My (Not So) Perfect Life

by Sophie Kinsella


Katie Brenner is living her dream London life: working at a hip branding agency, exploring vibrant neighborhoods, relishing city living. Or that's what she keeps telling herself. In reality, her job involves lots of boring admin work, her flatmates are not only odd but also irritating, and her commute is a non-Instagrammable slog. Not to mention her posh boss, Demeter Farlowe, seems to embody the perfectly constructed existence Katie craves.

When Katie is laid off, she heads home to Somerset to help her dad and stepmother launch a glamping business, pouring her frustrated creative energy into designing a sleek website and making sure every detail is perfect. To her surprise, the Ansters Farm holiday experience is a roaring success--until Demeter shows up with her family in tow. Hilarity ensues as Katie tries to avoid coming face to face with her former boss. But as Katie begins to suspect that Demeter's reality might not entirely match her flawless facade, she is forced to question her long-held beliefs about what constitutes a meaningful life.

Kinsella (the Shopaholic series; Finding Audrey) expertly skewers the assumptions surrounding social media, the absurdities of office politics and the ironies of wealthy Londoners shelling out cash for a luxury camping experience. But her breezy narrative, told in Katie's voice, offers deeper insights about the pressures of family expectations and forging one's own path. There's a love story, but it's less important than Katie's struggle to build a life she loves--even if it wouldn't play well on Instagram. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A breezy, insightful novel of a young woman struggling to "make it" in London and build a meaningful life.

Dial Press, $28, hardcover, 448p., 9780812998269

Always

by Sarah Jio


Just when Kailey "KC" Crane is about to start a new chapter of her life, the successful journalist--in her 30s, working for a Seattle newspaper--is brought face to face with an old flame. The chance encounter happens one night after KC and her handsome, attentive fiancé, Ryan, a high-end property development manager, dine in an upscale French restaurant. As Ryan fetches the car after dinner, good-natured KC offers a painfully thin, homeless man her leftovers and discovers the man is Cade McAllister, a once-successful music business mogul and the long-lost love of KC's life.

What ensues is a richly drawn, emotional story rife with conflict. Cade has suffered a traumatic brain injury of unknown origin, which has compromised his memory. KC eagerly volunteers to help Cade, while trying to piece together what happened to him and why he disappeared from her life 10 years before. In her quest, KC's heart is pulled in two directions, and she is forced to reconcile the choices that have shaped her own life: Will KC have a fulfilling future with Ryan? Might she still be in love with Cade, even in his altered state?

Sarah Jio (Goodnight June) braids a thought-provoking narrative that examines the forces that brought KC and Cade together and pulled them apart--the tenuous bond of their love--versus the cushy, comfortable life she shares with Ryan. Contrasting past and present perspectives, and KC's choice between old love and new, makes for a suspenseful and highly charged romantic conclusion. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: An engaged woman reunites with an old flame, forcing her to reconcile her feelings for two men.

Ballantine Books, $27, hardcover, 288p., 9781101885024

The Twenty Days of Turin

by Giorgio De Maria, trans. by Ramon Glazov


Intertwining the present and the past, Giorgio De Maria's cult novel of societal breakdown, The Twenty Days of Turin, appears in English for the first time, smartly translated by Australian writer Ramon Glazov. A nameless office worker is obsessed with events of a decade earlier, when a mysterious collective created a secret and ultimately dangerous library. Ominous messages and suspicious activity convince the narrator that the same forces are regrouping. "A business we believed was over and done with is coming back into motion with a coldness, a clarity, which would have been unthinkable in the time of the Twenty Days...."

Ten years prior, this group amassed diaries and journals from willing citizens who allowed others to read their offerings: "The prospect of being read quivered in the distance like an enchanting mirage." Unsettling events occurred. Mass insomnia overtook the citizens of Turin. A deep feeling of unease and dissatisfaction infiltrated society. This culminated in a terrifying 20 days, when hundreds of people were randomly and horrifically murdered. After that, the library was supposedly destroyed--but was it?

Italian novelist and playwright De Maria wrote this during the 1970s, when terrorism and corruption reigned. He presciently describes a society where human connections are decreasing, where spilling personal information becomes addictive, and where "browsing the thoughts of others" brings voyeuristic pleasure as well as unknown risks. De Maria gives mundane events menacing undercurrents, bringing to mind H.P. Lovecraft and Shirley Jackson. Readers will recognize the contemporary social media landscape portrayed in this cautionary, relevant novel. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore

Discover: The Twenty Days of Turin is the dystopian foreshadowing of the emotional and societal chaos when secrets become fetishes and personal interaction is discouraged.

Liveright, $24.95, hardcover, 224p., 9781631492297

The Signal Flame

by Andrew Krivák


Andrew Krivák (The Sojourn) paints indelibly rich scenes and relationships with The Signal Flame, an astonishing novel set in a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania's Endless Mountains. A strong tie to that setting is one of the elements that binds together a community and a family struggling with loss and continued life.

The people in Dardan mourn patriarch Jozef Vinich. He is survived by his daughter, Hannah, and her son Bo; these three generations have been touched by war. Jozef lost fingers in World War I; Hannah's husband survived World War II but returned in ignominy, a deserter later killed in a hunting accident; and Bo's younger brother, Sam, has been missing in action in Vietnam for some months. As they grieve for Jozef and Sam, Hannah and Bo must also navigate a lingering feud with another local family, the management of a business and a farm, a natural disaster and a legacy Sam has left behind.

The town of Dardan and its inhabitants are eloquently portrayed, both in the everyday and exceptional. Krivák's writing is beautiful, luscious but never overwrought; he recalls Norman Maclean in the understated loveliness and clarity of both language and meaning. He imbues his story with methodical pacing, a strong sense of place and a perfectly expressed sense of the quotidian: The Signal Flame takes place between Easter and Christmas of 1972, but encompasses a world of human experience. This is an extraordinary novel to be savored. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This novel of love, grief and the cycles of life veils its profundity in deceptively simple everyday events.

Scribner, $26, hardcover, 272p., 9781501126376

The Wicked City

by Beatriz Williams


New York City, 1998: After discovering her husband in the act of adultery, Ella Gilbert flees their SoHo loft for a quirky building in the West Village. As she adjusts to her new surroundings (and her too-handsome upstairs neighbor), Ella begins hearing strange noises from the basement. The place was a speakeasy in the 1920s, but it's been empty for decades.

New York City, 1924: Geneva Rose "Gin" Kelly, streetwise and smart-mouthed, escaped her backwoods Maryland town to build a life in the city. Spending her days in the typing pool and her nights drinking bootleg alcohol suits Gin just fine, but she can't entirely shake her scheming stepfather, Duke, whose connections extend all the way to Gin's favorite speakeasy. When Gin receives a summons to her dying mother's bedside, she finds her carefully separate worlds suddenly on a collision course.

Williams (A Certain Age; Along the Infinite Sea) evokes the glitter and scandal of Jazz Age New York, as Gin narrates her own story with understated, dry wit. The occasional leaps back into Ella's slower present-day narrative feel like interruptions, though readers of Williams's previous Schuyler family novels will enjoy glimpses of several familiar characters. As Ella struggles to define herself apart from her husband, Gin's definitions--of herself, whom she loves and whom she can trust (not always the same people)--are shifting by the minute. Williams ratchets up the action on each successive page, leaving readers no choice but to race after Gin as she pursues love, revenge and the perfect stiff drink. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Beatriz Williams spins a glittering narrative of a young woman caught up in deception and debauchery in 1920s New York City.

Morrow, $26.99, hardcover, 384p., 9780062405029

Powers of Darkness: The Lost Version of Dracula

by Bram Stoker, Valdimar Ásmundsson, trans. by Hans De Roos


In 1901, Valdimar Ásmundsson published Makt Myrkanna (or Powers of Darkness), an Icelandic translation of Bram Stoker's popular gothic novel, Dracula. Stoker approved of the translation, collaborating with Ásmundsson on his efforts and providing an author's note to appear in the original edition. In 2014, Hans De Roos set out to translate Ásmundsson's Icelandic tale back into English--and was astonished to find that Powers of Darkness was not merely a translation of Stoker's classic novel, but rather an entirely new adaptation of the story. Large swaths of Stoker's original text had been removed or modified, resulting in a tightened version of Dracula that more fully drives home the terror of the infamous monster.

Powers of Darkness follows Stoker's original outline in many ways, using Harker's journal entries to convey the terrors of Count Dracula's castle, and following a similar timeline and cast of characters. But Stoker and Ásmundsson's adaptation draws heavily on both Norse mythology and aspects of the Icelandic language as well, changing the original story in subtle and fascinating ways. These alterations are expertly highlighted throughout the text in De Roos's detailed and explicit annotations, which provide linguistic, cultural and historical context for the revisions made to the original Dracula. With a foreword by Dacre Stoker, a descendant of Bram, and an afterword by Dracula expert John Edgar Browning, Powers of Darkness is a delight to read as a classic tale of horror and fear, and as a fascinating look at the role of translation in the interpretation and understanding of classic literature. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A re-translation of the Icelandic version of Dracula reveals an updated and adapted version of Stoker's original gothic tale.

Overlook Press, $29.95, hardcover, 320p., 9781468313369

Mystery & Thriller

Amberlough

by Lara Elena Donnelly


Lara Elena Donnelly's gay fantasy spy novel straddles a number of genres, but Amberlough is an audacious, hypnotic and completely compelling debut novel that never feels restrained by genre limitations or fractured by its reach. At nearly 400 pages, this is a hefty novel full of fascinating characters exploring oversized topics such as sexuality, music, culture, fascism, nationalism, class wars, revolution and love.

It opens with epigraphs from John le Carré and from Christopher Isherwood's fictional character Sally Bowles. So it's not surprising that the vaguely European city of Amberlough feels like noir-ish Berlin in the 1930s. The government is corrupt, the nightlife is decadent and a conservative, fascist organization called the One State Party (nicknamed the Ospies) is on the rise. Gay master spy Cyril DePaul works for the city's central intelligence and has been on desk duty since he was nearly killed on his last mission. Although shaken by the experience, he's convinced to go back into the field to infiltrate the Ospies. Complications arise when his cover is blown and he's blackmailed into working as a double agent to help sway the upcoming election to favor the Ospies. Amberlough is not a trustworthy city, but DePaul's only way out is to endanger the lives of two people he does trust: his lover Aristide Makricosta (the high-profile emcee at the very popular Bumble Bee Cabaret and a secret black market smuggler) and beautiful dancer Cordelia Lehane, who works with Makricosta.

Donnelly's exuberant and complicated espionage thriller is a delicious adventure that smoothly addresses timely topics such as diversity, nationalism, corruption and repression. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: This timely debut novel is an ambitious and entertaining espionage thriller that tackles sexual politics, the rise of fascism and political corruption.

Tor, $25.99, hardcover, 400p., 9780765383815

The Nightwalker

by Sebastian Fitzek, trans. by Jaime Lee Searle


In childhood, Leon Nader suffered a series of strange sleep disturbances, far beyond sleepwalking. Following the death of his parents, one such instance was so violent that his foster family kicked him out. After years of therapy, he finally got his sleep habits under control, though as an adult he still suffers from occasional haunting dreams and sleep paralysis. Or at least he thinks so, until he wakes one day to find his wife sobbing on the floor, packing a suitcase. Bewildered by her battered appearance, he tries to understand what's happened, but she doesn't explain before she runs away. Despite his doctor's assurances that he'd been cured, Leon realizes that his parasomnia has returned and, with it, his violent behaviors. Determined to figure out what's going on, he contacts his childhood therapist who assures him he never actually hurt anyone in his sleep. But Leon doesn't trust this. He buys a motion-activated camera to wear at night. What it reveals is terrifying.

Sebastian Fitzek begins The Nightwalker with a suggestion that it takes place close to readers, possibly in their own neighborhood, establishing an intimacy that carries onward. Leon becomes a familiar person, a man anyone might encounter, which makes his descent all the more horrifying. Every time he wakes, he discovers more amiss in his life; his memories and reality do not align. The narrator leads readers through these unexpected discoveries, each one contributing an increasing sense of wrongness. And just as readers realize the broadening scope of the story, the author delivers one final chilling twist. --Justus Joseph, bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Wash.

Discover: In this thrilling horror story, a man struggles to understand the destructive acts he's committing while asleep.

Pegasus, $25.95, hardcover, 416p., 9781681773278

Cruel Mercy

by David Mark


David Mark (Taking Pity) ventures into the dark corners of human evil in his twisted crime thriller Cruel Mercy. The fifth novel in the Detective Sergeant McAvoy series, it finds the resilient Scottish detective embroiled in a mob plot gone haywire in New York City. McAvoy is called in to assist NYPD Detective Ronny Alto investigate the murder of boxing protégé Shay Helden, and the near-fatal maiming of the man's coach, Brishen Ayres. Both victims have connections to McAvoy's family back in England, including his missing brother-in-law, Valentine Teague. McAvoy quickly learns the brutal crime involves not only the deepest levels of New York organized crime, but also the local Catholic parish and a series of bizarre ritualistic killings.

For this installment of the McAvoy series, Mark couldn't have conjured a more complicated plot, yet he pulls it off, successfully head-hopping from one character to the next in order to weave a sinister tapestry of motives and murder. Point-of-view passages from victims are harrowing and display Mark's talent for internal monologue and characterization. His external scenes are just as convincing, peppered with quick-witted dialogue and blunt yet brilliant metaphors. Falling snow in the city is likened to "a plague of butterflies," and prayers are described as "urgent, skittish things, specters born behind locked teeth." Mark is able to turn his language on a dime and evoke a pervasive sense of evil. As much as Cruel Mercy is an elaborate crime saga, it's also a story of occult horror loaded with lurid religious themes. It's a brutal, bloody read, brimming with gothic splendor. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist and fiction author.

Discover: This darkly poetic crime thriller takes Scottish Detective McAvoy to New York City.

Blue Rider Press, $28, hardcover, 368p., 9780399185113

Snowblind

by Ragnar Jonasson, trans. by Quentin Bates


It's 2008 and the Icelandic economy is imploding, so Ari Thór Arason is thrilled to be offered a police job straight out of the academy. His girlfriend is not so excited to learn that the job is in Siglufjörður, a remote northern fishing village closer to the Arctic Circle than to Reykjavik, and so she stays behind.

Siglufjörður is surrounded by fjords, and the only road access is through a narrow tunnel. This seems charming at first, but quickly gives the already lonely Ari a mounting sense of claustrophobia. Then, in quick succession, a retired, famous author is found dead at the bottom of the local theater's staircase, apparently the victim of an unfortunate stumble, and a woman is found lying in the snow, half-naked, bleeding and barely alive.

As an avalanche blocks the road, Ari becomes convinced that the two incidents might be related, and that the elderly writer's fall was no accident. But small-town prejudices are playing against Ari the newcomer, and he must race to catch a killer before the road reopens. His suspect pool is small, but they seem to be protecting each other.

A blend of Agatha Christie's classic crime stories and Arnaldur Indridason's Icelandic thrillers, Snowblind aptly depicts Ari's tension and terror as he grows ever more isolated. Perfectly capturing the pressures of rural life and the freezing, deadly Icelandic winter, Snowblind will keep readers on the edge of their seats--preferably snuggled beneath a warm blanket. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A young Icelandic policeman struggles to solve his first case in a tiny town cut off by an avalanche from the outside world.

Minotaur Books, $25.99, hardcover, 320p., 9781250096074

The Dry

by Jane Harper


Desperate times call for desperate measures, but could a tenacious drought and economic hardship drive Luke Hadler to murder people he loved before killing himself? Australian author Jane Harper turns up the heat in her accomplished debut mystery, The Dry, filling the arid atmosphere with blistering tension.

Unlike many in the Australian farming community of Kiewarra, Luke's father doesn't accept a murder/suicide theory. He writes to Luke's childhood friend Aaron Falk, a federal agent in Melbourne, leaving no room for refusal: Luke lied. You lied. Be at the funeral.

Falk is as reluctant to return as the town is to receive him. Decades earlier he was driven from Kiewarra following the death of Ellie Deacon, one of the "gang of four" school friends consisting of Luke, Falk, Ellie and Gretchen Schoner. Tied to Ellie's demise by a mysterious note, Falk escaped prosecution only through Luke's alibi.

Ellie's death remains unsolved, and Falk is still thought by many to be her murderer. While he and new local cop Greg Raco examine the Hadler deaths, escalating harassment makes it clear Falk's presence is a threat, Luke's old alibi is coming unraveled and someone is afraid of long-buried secrets.

Threading present with past, old death with new, Harper pits a determined Falk against the town that turned on him. A taut investigation in a harsh environment written with clarity and skill, The Dry is a thrilling procedural that pays off on every level. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review.

Discover: A federal agent returns to his hometown to look into the death of a childhood friend, and faces new information about the murder he was accused of decades earlier.

Flatiron Books, $25.99, hardcover, 336p., 9781250105608

Desert Vengeance

by Betty Webb


That an abused foster child with a horrific past becomes a smart, fearless private investigator typifies the spunk and mysterious charm of the Lena Jones mystery series by Betty Webb (Desert Noir).

In the latest entry, Desert Vengeance, the indefatigable Jones is impelled to investigate the grisly murder of the man--just released from prison--who abused her when she was nine, as well as the murder of his enabling wife. The case is complicated not only by the moral ambivalence of the crime--Jones had hatched her own revenge plot before someone else acted--but also by the sheer number of victims traumatized by the same man. Because so many had a motive and the means to commit murder, Jones must navigate a tangled web of past wrongs and pursue her own instincts toward some hazy dawning of justice.

Webb's pithy first-person narration cuts to the chase without a lot of filler, making Desert Vengeance a pleasure to read. Though lean and mean, the prose carries enough quirk and nuance to convey the protagonist's distinct, cheeky voice. Lena Jones is tough yet vulnerable, irreverent and sarcastic, yet dead serious at times. She's the flawed hero one can't help but love. Webb depicts her evenhandedly in terms of balanced characterization, and in relating her to the setting. The Arizona desert and its touristy towns offer up a strange bonanza of desert tropes, and Webb mines them with enough restraint to strengthen, rather than overshoot, her themes of loss and retribution. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist and fiction author.

Discover: Desert Vengeance is a wry entry in a mystery series set in the American Southwest.

Poisoned Pen Press, $26.95, hardcover, 284p., 9781464205934

The Possessions

by Sara Flannery Murphy


Sara Flannery Murphy's debut novel, The Possessions, resists easy genre classification. The protagonist, Eurydice, a shy young woman with a troubled past, works as a "body" for the Elysian Society. Her job involves channeling dead wives, daughters and girlfriends for their grieving loved ones by taking a pill called a "lotus." Eurydice's life is one of routine and numb efficiency, interrupted by a new client, Patrick Braddock, who forges a more intimate connection with her as she channels his deceased wife, Sylvia.

Outside of the imaginative premise, though, The Possessions is surprisingly grounded. There are few futuristic or otherworldly touches aside from the lotus, and Murphy dispenses with the dense world building common to science fiction. Patrick Braddock's seemingly idyllic relationship with Sylvia soon reveals itself to be more complicated as Eurydice starts playing amateur sleuth and learns more about the circumstances surrounding Sylvia's unusual death.

The Possessions is essentially a psychological thriller with a science fiction twist. Numerous mysteries weave in and out of the main plot, adding a page-turning element to the book, and another ingredient to Murphy's intriguing genre fusion. The more questions are answered, the more fragile Eurydice's identity seems to become. When she starts to confuse Sylvia's thoughts and emotions for her own, The Possessions raises the terrifying possibility that Eurydice might be permanently displaced from her "placeholder" life. Murphy's debut novel mixes these intellectual fears with more down-to-earth threats, resolving its mysteries in shocking and thoughtful ways. The Possessions is difficult to classify but very easy to enjoy. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: Men and women channel dead loved ones in this dense psychological thriller that questions the permanence of identity.

Harper, $26.99, hardcover, 368p., 9780062458322

Distress Signals

by Catherine Ryan Howard


Catherine Ryan Howard's Distress Signals--shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards' Crime Novel of the Year after its U.K. release--opens with a man plunging off a cruise ship into dark waters, but readers will have to wait to discover why he jumped.

Adam Dunne's girlfriend Sarah leaves Cork, Ireland, to attend a business conference in Barcelona. She doesn't return. And no one can reach her. Then he receives her passport in a package mailed from France, with a note saying, "I'm sorry--S."

Adam sets out to track down Sarah, not believing she would leave him like that. When he digs into her recent activities, however, he discovers a shocking secret, and that Sarah was last seen on a cruise ship called the Celebrate. He books himself on the same ship, but will he find Sarah at one of the ports, or his own death?

Though this is Howard's debut novel, she writes with complete command of language, plot and the thriller genre. She also knows the ins and outs of maritime laws that often lead to deaths on ships in international waters going unsolved.

The chapters alternate among the points of view of three characters: Adam; a crew member on the ship; and a boy named Romain, whose story occurs mostly in the past and is itself a mystery in how it intersects with the others. In a testament to Howard's skill, Romain's narrative is the most moving and resonant--his soul may be distressed but his humanity comes through loud and clear. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A man goes looking for his missing girlfriend on the cruise ship where she was last seen.

Blackstone Publishing, $24.99, hardcover, 9781504757522

Fatal

by John Lescroart


There's nothing particularly distinctive about Kate's life: she's happily married with two kids, living in one of San Francisco's nicer neighborhoods and wanting for nothing. At least until she meets Peter at a dinner party, and realizes that she wants him. Unable to ignore her sudden and unexpected feelings for this strange man, Kate carefully plans her next move--one that proves to have larger consequences than she could ever have imagined.

In Fatal, John Lescroart (The Keeper; The Fall) focuses on Kate and Peter's short but impassioned entanglement, which continues to haunt her--first in Peter's repeated appearances in her life, and then in the news of his death six months after their affair. The investigation into his death leads detectives through lie after lie, until a tangled web of deceit captures Kate, her family, Peter, his family and many friends in its threads.

Most of Fatal moves forward at breakneck speed, though the story is sometimes cluttered by side plots and unnecessary details: a terrorist attack in central San Francisco, a detective's sick child, the reappearance of a one-time suspect with an eating disorder. Somewhat surprisingly, Lescroart manages to tie these disparate threads back together, pushing the novel forward to an unexpected conclusion. Fatal marks a departure from Lescroart's more typical series novels, offering a standalone story of suspense that combines questions of marital infidelity with a complex whodunit that leaves a string of bodies in its wake. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: John Lescroart's standalone suspense delves into questions of murder, marriage and friendship as it builds to an unexpected conclusion.

Atria, $26.99, hardcover, 320p., 9781501115677

Long Time Lost

by Chris Ewan


Chris Ewan (Safe House) has wrought more hairpin twists and turns than a mountain road in the adrenaline-spiked thriller Long Time Lost.

Widower Nick Miller lives a covert life protecting compromised witnesses from a ruthless British crime family. When Miller falls hard for his latest charge, Kate Sutherland, his carefully managed program begins to disintegrate, threatening to expose every witness he's helped, as well as his own dark secrets.

Ewan, channeling his inner Robert Ludlum, wheels his characters across various European locales to great dramatic effect. What begins as a botched hit on the Isle of Man becomes an ever-tightening game of cat-and-mouse in Rome, Prague and the Swiss Alps. Although the plot's machinations strain credulity at times, Ewan more than compensates with sly, self-conscious campiness, poking fun at the well-trodden tropes of the Euro crime thriller genre. Ewan also succeeds in drawing his characters' flaws and foibles with genuine insight and tenderness, including the novel's duplicitous villains. These adroitly developed dimensions allow for nice character depth and more than one surprising reversal.

Above all, though, Long Time Lost offers skillful and dazzling prose. Ewan revels in the atmospherics of his attractive settings. Descriptions of a standoff in a remote Swiss chalet, near the end of the novel, achieve a tense, foreboding grandeur: "She could still hear the distant boom of thunder far away across the Alps and glimpse the muted stutter of lightning." --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist and fiction author.

Discover: This evocative and highly entertaining thriller follows a tightening cat-and-mouse game throughout Europe.

Minotaur, $27.99, hardcover, 464p., 9781250117397

Rather Be the Devil

by Ian Rankin


After more than 15 mysteries starring the maverick, whisky-drinking Inspector John Rebus, it seemed Ian Rankin (Even Dogs in the Wild) had left him behind, instead writing about Inspector Malcolm Fox, a teetotalling, do-it-by-the-books cop. But, in his last few novels, Rankin has crafted some delightful mysteries starring these two as part of an unlikely trio of investigators: Rebus, Fox and DI Siobhan Clarke.

When Darryl Christie is badly beaten, Clarke immediately suspects the Edinburgh gangster's long-term rival, Big Ger Cafferty, who has supposedly retired from the life of crime. Fox and his team of specialist investigators are called in when the organized crime alerts go off, and Clarke and Fox turn to the retired Rebus as their unofficial assistant, since his knowledge of Big Ger Cafferty goes back decades.

Over the years Rebus has achieved a grudging respect for his former nemesis, especially since the young new villains aren't playing by the rules. But things get more complicated as Rebus can't resist poking his nose into a cold case, Fox and Clarke find a former cop dead under suspicious circumstances, and Christie's supposed assailant vanishes from police surveillance. In addition, Fox is facing some huge problems with his sister, who struggles with addiction and who tangentially gets involved in their case against Cafferty.

With his spare Scottish prose, some hilarious moments between Rebus and Fox as their disparate personalities clash, and a deft weaving of many separate plot lines, Rather Be the Devil is a practically perfect mystery. And its shocking denouement will leave the reader eager for the next in the series. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: Detective Inspector Rebus comes out of retirement to help with a tricky case involving several of Edinburgh's biggest crime bosses.

Little, Brown, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9780316342575

Behind Her Eyes

by Sarah Pinborough


Single mom Louise rarely has time to date, but one afternoon she meets the man of her dreams in a bar, shares passionate kisses with him, and then finds out the following Monday that he's her new boss.

Adele has just moved to North London and doesn't know anyone. One day she literally bumps into Louise on the street, after which the two women chat and become friends. The problem? Adele is the wife of David, Louise's new boss, although Adele seems unaware of the indiscretion between her husband and her new friend. Complicating matters further, Adele asks Louise not to tell David about their friendship, claiming he "can be a bit funny about mixing work life and home life."

As she gets to know David more and the women's friendship intensifies, Louise notices that the marriage is very odd, with David keeping a tight leash on his wife, calling her several times a day--always at the same times--to check up on her. Is Adele in an abusive, oppressive relationship? Should Louise try to rescue her? How does she do that when even she can't stay away from David?

This psychological thriller jumps back and forth in time and alternates between Louise's and Adele's first-person accounts, one of which is more unreliable than the other. Though the women sometimes make unwise choices, Pinborough keeps readers in the dark until the unpredictable ending that has generated its own hashtag (#WTFthatending) on social media. How readers feel about that ending will depend on how much they're willing to embrace events that go beyond reality. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A woman suspects her friend might be in an unhealthy marriage, but she, too, finds the man irresistible.

Flatiron, $25.99, hardcover, 320p., 9781250111173

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Weight of the World

by Thomas Toner


The sprawling epic The Weight of the World, sequel to 2015's The Promise of the Child, is a tour de force of universe building and characterization. In a plausible far-future posthuman society, 14-foot-tall Lycaste the Melius tags along with Hugo Maneker, of an immortal race called the Amaranthine (after the mythical flower that never fades), and the tiny Huerepo, a clever little being with a flair for finding (and hoarding) treasure. Lycaste is invested in Maneker's quest to save the Solar Satrapy from hordes of the Prism, a loose alliance of hominids intent on overthrowing the rule of the Amaranthine. The immense war spans the galaxy, something Lycaste seems buffeted by without any real motivational compass.

The sequel also resumes the story of the immortal Jatropha, who must ensure that an infant heir assumes the Amaranthine throne. Meanwhile, Sotiris, another Amaranthine, continues his quest to find his long-lost, presumed-dead sister in a dimension that only he seems able to see.

The Weight of the World requires careful attention and frequent use of the glossary at the end of the volume to track its splendid, outrageous and brilliant speculations about the galaxy-spanning society of the 147th century. The characters may be highly evolved physically, but they retain the desire for wealth, fame, meaning and love that current humans do. The novel does not handhold, affording careful readers a complex tale of a possible far future. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This extensive story of the 147th century is filled with spectacular ideas and adventure across the solar system and beyond.

Night Shade, $26.99, hardcover, 432p., 9781597808750

Binti: Home

by Nnedi Okorafor


In Nnedi Okorafor's series, a gifted young Himba girl named Binti heads to an off-Earth university for highly talented galactic citizens, against her family's wishes. En route, she chooses to become genetically altered to better broker a peace between the jellyfish-like aliens who attack the transport ship (the Meduse) and the humans aboard.

This altering gives Binti tentacles in place of hair, further making her feel like an outsider at home. While she befriends aliens on a different planet, her Himba family and friends value putting down roots and never wandering. Binti and her honorable Meduse friend, Okwu, have both done well in their studies on Oomza; still, Binti feels called to return to her family home and undergo the traditional rites of becoming a woman. Taking her friend home with her is Binti's way of harmonizing relations between humanity, her conservative family and Okwu himself.

Once on Earth, Binti's family has a hard time accepting Binti's new tentacles, not to mention her wanderlust. When Binti's paternal grandmother comes to the tiny village from the nearby desert, Binti must choose between loyalty to her matriarchal tribe and yet another unsanctioned trip away, with her grandmother's tribe, who are outcasts among the Himba.

Home, like its Hugo and Nebula-winning predecessor, Binti, gives readers a view of humanity's future from a non-Western perspective, with a young woman-of-color protagonist and a well-constructed universe full of alien and human foibles. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A woman must choose between rigid family tradition and adventure among space aliens.

Tor, $14.99, paperback, 176p., 9780765393111

Food & Wine

A Meatloaf in Every Oven: Two Chatty Cooks, One Iconic Dish and Dozens of Recipes--From Mom's to Mario Batali's

by Jennifer Steinhauer, Frank Bruni


Peek at the acknowledgements for this homage to one of America's favorite comfort foods, note that the authors credit the "sage counsel" of their publisher, and you have an idea of the wit in A Meatloaf in Every Oven. Former New York Times chief restaurant critic and current columnist Frank Bruni (Born Round) and Times reporter Jennifer Steinhauer (Treat Yourself) share their admiration for "a dish desperate for illumination," in this product of a decade's worth of conversations prone to shift "from Obamacare to oregano." The 50 recipes span the globe; contributors range from chefs (April Bloomfield's Lamb Loaf with Yogurt and Mint; Bobby Flay's Korean-Style Meatloaf with Spicy Glaze) to members of Congress (Oh, Deer, Speaker Paul Ryan's venison loaf; Nancy Pelosi's Italian-Style Bison Loaf).

Leslie Bruni's Sweet Nostalgic Loaf is here, too, with the traditional Worcestershire, tomato sauce (Hunt's, to be true to the Bruni kitchen) and brown sugar. Steinhauer's Jewish Christmas Loaf honors "the urban tradition of Jewish families trekking to Chinese restaurants on Christmas" and uses garlic, soy sauce and five-spice powder. Bruni embraces lamb, Steinhauer agrees it is a "protean protein" and they're off: Greek Loaf with Lamb and Feta, Jerusalem Loaf with Suman and Couscous, and more.

Nudging ground beef (not lean; meatloaf "is not a diet food") and lamb aside are ground turkey, pork, veal and--vegetarians, you're included!--zucchini (from chef Daniel Patterson) and kasha (by chef Michael Schwartz).

The friendly banter between the authors is reason enough to add this cookbook to a collection. The recipes will guarantee it moves from the bookshelf to the kitchen. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: Two New York Times writers offer 50 meatloaf recipes interjected with jovial loaf-inspired commentary.

Grand Central Life & Style, $24, hardcover, 272p., 9781455563050

Biography & Memoir

Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me

by Bill Hayes


Writer and photographer Bill Hayes first met the great writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks in 2008, when Sacks contacted him to say how much he enjoyed Hayes's The Anatomist. They corresponded, found shared interests and met once for lunch.

Hayes was grieving his partner of more than 16 years, who one night suddenly went into cardiac arrest and died. In 2009, Hayes moved from San Francisco to Manhattan for a change of scene. Although he had not moved for Sacks, he was now his neighbor, and they began spending time together. "He was without a doubt the most unusual person I had ever known, and before long I found myself not just falling in love with O.... I adored him." Sacks told him to keep a journal, and Hayes's brief impressionistic entries are woven throughout Insomniac City, which seems written in heightened states of feeling that infuse every detail with meaning and transient beauty.

Hayes is one of those people whose appreciation of daily life and capacity for love only expand with age and the awareness of death. His compassionate curiosity extends to everyone and everything around him. He meets all kinds of New Yorkers in the streets and on the subway, talks with them, photographs them (his photos bookend numerous prose segments throughout), builds acquaintanceships and friendships. His relationship with Sacks is filled with domestic detail and tenderness, through to Sacks's death in 2015. Thankfully, Hayes has no pat answers for anything in life, but many reasons why it continues to be worth living. --Sara Catterall

Discover: Grief, love and the beauty of the world infuse Bill Hayes's memoir about Manhattan and his life with the writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks.

Bloomsbury USA, $27, hardcover, 304p., 9781620404935

Darling, I'm Going to Charlie: A Memoir

by Maryse Wolinski


On January 7, 2015, a day that started like many others, Maryse Wolinski woke to find her husband, Georges, a satirical cartoonist, already up and getting ready for work, headed to an editorial meeting at the Charlie Hebdo offices. This turned out to be no ordinary day: this was the one on which the Kouachi brothers barged into the meeting with Kalashnikovs and murdered Georges and 11 others in cold blood.

With tenderness and affection, Wolinski weaves memories of her 47 years with Georges together with almost minute-by-minute accounting of that fateful Wednesday, when her life, and that of so many others, was irreparably shattered. She shares the sweetness of Georges's affection for her, his adoring gaze--"a look that inspires longing, confidence, a desire to live, a desire to love. A look that makes you addicted to it"--along with the numerous sticky notes he left throughout the decades expressing his love for her.

She questions why the police were so slow to respond to urgent calls from a number of people that day, and why there was such a long wait to see Georges's body. She wonders what more could have been done to prevent such a tragedy. Expressive and heartrending, yet not melodramatic, Wolinski's narrative places readers inside the soul of a smart woman deeply in love with her partner despite his flaws, a man whose loss is profoundly felt throughout her testimony. Having a tissue handy while reading is a good idea. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: The wife of a murdered Charlie Hebdo cartoonist shares memories of her husband and details about the attack on January 7, 2015.

37Ink/Atria, $22, hardcover, 144p., 9781501154898

The Spider and the Fly: A Reporter, a Serial Killer, and the Meaning of Murder

by Claudia Rowe


Claudia Rowe is a careworn reporter in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., when a local man confesses to the rape and murder of a series of missing women. The case has journalistic potential, but there is more to the story. As Rowe and killer Kendall Francois communicate in letters and phone calls and during prison visits, the journalist's life goes into a tailspin. Her boyfriend leaves, taking their dog; she moves to the woods and lives in a barn like a hermit. As her obsession with Francois grows, Rowe delves into her own past, a troubled childhood and damaged relationships leading to what she sees as a lifelong fascination with brutality.

Chasing violence and fear has led her to a serial killer who can seem like a big teddy bear as well as a disturbed predator. Rowe yearns to understand where a man like this comes from, how a murderer is made, and the intricacies of race and class in Poughkeepsie and beyond. She puzzles over Francois's family home, so stuffed with rot and detritus and denial that decomposing bodies went unnoticed. What she learns is that Francois may not be a riddle she can solve.

The Spider and the Fly is a work of personal exploration, as much about Rowe's growth as an individual as it is about Francois's crimes. The reflective tone and dogged probing into the ugliest of human behaviors enrich this blend of true crime, memoir and suspense. Looking into darkness, Rowe gains some understanding and some release. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A journalist with trauma of her own exchanges a torrent of letters with a serial killer in this absorbing, suspenseful memoir.

Dey Street, $26.99, hardcover, 288p., 9780062416124

Once We Were Sisters: A Memoir

by Sheila Kohler


Novelist Sheila Kohler's first book of nonfiction, Once We Were Sisters, is an achingly beautiful memoir. The story probes Kohler's relationship with her sister, Maxine--two years older--and the bond they shared in life and in death. When Maxine was 39 years old, the devoted wife and mother of six was killed in a mysterious car crash that Kohler strongly believes was intentional. The driver of the car was Maxine's abusive husband--a successful and renowned heart surgeon with a relentless dark side. He survived the crash.

Telling the story more than 35 years later, Kohler (The Bay of Foxes) seeks to find answers, identify the forces that precipitated Maxine's death and untangle her sister's life from her own. Despite their contrasting personalities, the two were close during a privileged upbringing in a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa. They studied at exclusive boarding schools and later traveled abroad together. The death of their father in their youth, and a mother who frequently departed into her own alcohol-infused world, marked their lives, and both sisters married philandering husbands.

Kohler's search for literal and emotional truths, her abiding love for her sister--along with guilt and regret--propel this succinct narrative. Maxine's shattering death has deeply permeated and haunted every aspect of Kohler's life, especially her writing. Thankfully, the years have finally granted this gifted fiction writer the perspective and liberation to share her own story. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: This beautifully written memoir maps a woman's search for the truth about her beloved sister's life--and her mysterious death.

Penguin, $16, paperback, 256p., 9780143129295

Waves Passing in the Night: Walter Murch in the Land of the Astrophysicists

by Lawrence Weschler


Waves Passing in the Night: Walter Murch in the Land of the Astrophysicists by Lawrence Weschler, author of Pulitzer Prize finalist Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder, is a profile of legendary sound editor Walter Murch's persistent attempts to promote his potentially revelatory theories in the field of astrophysics. It might seem like an odd preoccupation for a man known for his groundbreaking work on films such as Apocalypse Now and The Godfather, but Weschler makes the case for Murch as a borderline-obsessive polymath with insatiable curiosity and far-reaching insights. Murch has spent decades investigating and promoting his own updated interpretation of the centuries-old Titius-Bode law, which hypothesized that--to simplify things greatly--planets and moons are distributed in predictable, mathematically consistent patterns. His ideas have a number of complicated corollaries, including an elegant link between the positions of the planets and notes on a musical scale.

Murch has run into difficulty introducing these ideas to the insular and highly technical community of astrophysicists, however, who consider his elaborations on Titius-Bode to be little more than numerology. One of the more obliging scientists Weschler talks to concludes, "Murch comes off as a charming amateur, who is having a good time playing with numbers, but there is nothing new or profound in what he is finding." Regardless of whether Murch's ideas are scientifically accurate, though, Waves Passing in the Night makes incisive points about the impenetrability of modern physics and the sad decline of the amateur scientist, whose unorthodox thinking once led to profound discoveries. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: The story of a legendary sound editor who has spent decades determined to advance his remarkable theories in astrophysics.

Bloomsbury, $25, hardcover, 176p., 9781632867186

The Men in My Life: A Memoir of Love and Art in 1950s Manhattan

by Patricia Bosworth


Patricia Bosworth's moving and raw The Men in My Life is a riveting memoir of family dysfunction, comparable to Jeannette Walls's The Glass Castle and Brooke Hayward's Haywire.

This unsparing and superbly written follow-up to Bosworth's 1997 memoir, Anything Your Little Heart Desires, focuses on the years 1953 to 1964. At 20, she marries the first man she bedded--a volatile and physically abusive painter who distances her from her family and erodes her self-esteem. When her gay younger brother commits suicide, her family splinters further. "We remained a family full of terrible silences," she writes. Her lawyer father's escalating alcoholism and prescription drug addiction leads to several suicide attempts and unsuccessful rehabs stints before he also kills himself. Adrift from her family and reeling from grief, Bosworth focuses her attention on an acting career and is accepted into Lee Strasberg's Actors Studio. She channels her suppressed emotions and forges friendships with Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, Elaine Stritch and others.

Her bad romantic choices in men (including a married actor four years her father's senior), and a near-deadly abortion days before flying to Rome to film The Nun's Story opposite Audrey Hepburn, finally bring an epiphany. Although she had appeared in several Broadway productions, she realizes her true passion is writing. Her friendships with Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal point her toward this calling. Bosworth's memoir excels as both a searing and tragic family portrait and fascinating look at a budding stage career in the 1950s. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Patricia Bosworth dissects how the suicides of her brother and father propelled her toward bad relationships and a career on stage.

Harper, $27.99, hardcover, 384p., 9780062287908

Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty

by Kate Hennessy


Kate Hennessy examines the complicated and poignant relationship between Dorothy Day and her daughter--Kate's mother, Tamar Hennessy. Day's journey of conversion and religiosity began with Tamar Hennessy's birth, yet the same experiences that pulled Day toward Catholicism--the beauty of the sacraments and the discipline of the faith--turned Tamar Hennessy away from it. She instead endured a bad marriage and a tightly regimented life that allowed little room for self-discovery.

Kate Hennessy follows in her grandmother's footsteps and peels away the layers to reveal the vulnerable Dorothy Day, a woman who possessed great love for her daughter. But it was complicated by Day's demanding role as social activist and leader of the Catholic Worker, the organization she cofounded with Peter Maurin to offer hospitality, dignity and hope to the poor and disenfranchised of New York City. And Tamar Hennessy competed with it for Day's attention: "That is the danger of holiness on your own doorstep, in your own family. Either you cannot see it for the view is too close, or if you do, you feel you haven't a chance of being the person she was. You feel it is a sad mistake you are related." Nevertheless, both daughter and granddaughter understood the project's enduring legacy, and both shared a love for it, no matter where their faith stood. In the end, Kate Hennessy finds peace with the two halves of her heritage, finding the beauty and spiritual sustenance so beloved by her grandmother. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: Kate Hennessy provides a considerate and intimate analysis of the mother-daughter relationship between her grandmother Dorothy Day and her mother, Tamar Hennessy.

Scribner, $27.99, hardcover, 384p., 9781501133961

History

The Book That Changed America: How Darwin's Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation

by Randall Fuller


In The Book That Changed America: How Darwin's Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation, Randall Fuller examines the explosive impact that Charles Darwin's 1859 On the Origin of Species had on the political and ideological landscape of the United States. The work of scientific theory triggered controversy in an evolving country already rife with divisions.

Fuller sketches scenes with buoyant prose. He breathes life into familiar names, humanizing historical figures with delightful descriptions of their personalities and quirks. Boston, Concord and Manhattan also come alive, abuzz with shockwaves from Darwin's ideas. Fuller cites leading scientists of the day and cultural icons such as Bronson Alcott and his daughter Louisa May, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Frederick Douglass. Not all accepted Darwin to the same extent--some esteemed thinkers found his ideas preposterous--but their engagement with the theory and whether it could be reconciled with Creationism helped shape the era's literature, attitudes and politics. Especially compelling is how Fuller explores the influence that Darwin's ideas had on arguments about race and slavery.

Darwin's ideas feel fresh in Fuller's recounting as the author quotes liberally from diaries and articles of the day, as well as from On the Origin of Species itself. Considering the scientist's findings on understanding interactions between organisms and their environments, Fuller delivers one of his best lines: "Such tiny relationships, such insignificant causes and effects, could be decoded; they were in fact the very warp and woof of nature, diverse threads woven together to create a beautifully complex tapestry of life." --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: Darwin's theory of natural selection and its effects on politics and culture leading up to the Civil War come to life in this fascinating history.

Viking, $27, hardcover, 304p., 9780525428336

At the End of the World: A True Story of Murder in the Arctic

by Lawrence Millman


Scientist and writer Lawrence Millman (Giant Polypores and Stoned Reindeer) declares himself a sympathetic witness to a traditional lifestyle affected by outsiders. At the End of the World: A True Story of Murder in the Arctic uses the story of multiple murders in an isolated area of Canada to reflect on larger questions of cultural tolerance and humanity's relationship to the natural world.

Nine murders in 1941 shocked the residents of Belcher Island in Hudson Bay. Charlie Ouyerack and Peter Sala, both Inuit, were influenced by early Christian missionaries and became convinced that they were Jesus and God. When a 13-year-old challenged their claim, followers promptly beat her to death. Two weeks later, two men who again defied the cult leaders were murdered with rifle and harpoon. Finally, Sala's sister herded 12 naked people onto the ice with promises of redemption, where six of them died from exposure. The facts of the killings were known almost immediately, including sensational coverage in Life magazine. As the case went to trial one Canadian newspaper asked, "Will God be hung?"

Millman immersed himself in the community because "I couldn't write about the past without also writing about the world immediately around me." At the End of the World, Millman's 17th book, unfolds in short bursts. Introspection, combined with fine writing, propels readers into the struggle to reconcile past actions with present. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore

Discover: A bizarre series of cult murders receives a fresh look in At the End of the World: A True Story of Murder in the Arctic.

Thomas Dunne Books, $24.99, hardcover, 208p., 9781250111401

Current Events & Issues

Pill City: How Two Honor Roll Students Foiled the Feds and Built a Drug Empire

by Kevin Deutsch


In 2015, two West Baltimore computer geek teens engineered the city's largest-ever prescription drug heist and proceeded to upend and disrupt forever the traditional street-corner drug business. With police preoccupied by protests after Freddie Gray's death, Willie "Wax" Harris and James "Brick" Feeney hooked up with leaders of the Black Guerrilla Family street gang to steal pharmaceutical opiates worth $100 million from a dozen neighborhood drugstores. Possessing a premium product at zero cost and with their own algorithm, they set up a darknet-encrypted phone service for serious addicts and rookies to order pills anonymously at rock-bottom prices with Uber-like doorstep delivery. They called their business Pill City, and crime journalist Kevin Deutsch (The Triangle) tapped into his street resources and gang access to discover who they were and how they did it.

With direct connection to Wax and Brick over their encrypted lines and firsthand observation of the old-school street gangs fighting to protect their livelihood, Deutsch connects the dots. Pill City examines how these wonky sons of junkie moms bypassed probable college scholarships to take the express train to riches. Along the way, they unleashed bloody turf wars and seeded a multitude of largely poor African American addicts and overdose fatalities. Streetwise, brutal, deeply researched and filled with candid interviews from both sides of the law, Pill City is true-crime reporting with an edge--while the opiate epidemic it describes is still gaining steam across the United States. Pill city has become pill country. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Two West Baltimore teens upended the opiate drug business with darknet algorithms and cheap prices.

St. Martin's Press, $26.99, hardcover, 288p., 9781250110039

Business & Economics

Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street

by Sheelah Kolhatkar


To make it in the largely unregulated hedge fund world, one has to have an edge on the competition, and the savvy founder of SAC Capital Advisors, multi-billionaire and dilettante art collector Steven "Stevie" Cohen had just that. His is what the industry calls the "black edge," where advantage is acquired in the shady underworld of loose-lipped corporate gossip and flat-out illegal insider trading. When Cohen's SAC racked up consistently remarkable 30%-50% returns in the '90s and he began to flaunt his wealth publicly in the art market, a half dozen federal agencies began to dig into his business with the intent to put him away.

In her first book, Black Edge, former financial analyst and staff writer for the New Yorker Sheelah Kolhatkar tells the dramatic story of Cohen's rise and the investigative and legal maneuverings arrayed against him. It is a tale about the allure of money--lusting for it, manipulating it, spending it and ultimately having so much that it no longer means much. It is also a chronicle of the diligent pursuit of justice by overworked bureaucrats, forensic accountants and lawyers (lots of lawyers). In the end, the feds almost got their man, but "left him with only a bruise." The long legal wrangling set Cohen back only a couple billion dollars in penalties, leaving him free to savor the art collection in his massive Greenwich estate. He can go back to wheeling and dealing on Wall Street in two years and do it all over again. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Kolhatkar's chronicle of shady hedge fund financier Steve Cohen and the government's attempt to bring him down reads like a wingding financial thriller.

Random House, $28, hardcover, 368p., 9780812995800

Political Science

Insane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus

by Matt Taibbi


Journalist Matt Taibbi collects 25 of his Rolling Stone articles from the 2015-2016 United States presidential race to create this emotionally charged overview of the "end of an era... the one that began back on August 28, 1963, with Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech."

Insane Clown President opens with a look at Taibbi's 2009 The Great Derangement, in which he outlined the electorate's growing mistrust of government and media. He saw people moving away from facts toward conspiratorial politics, valuing spectacle over ideology--in essence, fleeing the political establishment. Meanwhile, the factions of the establishment remained isolated and ignorant of their constituents' dissatisfaction. Even though Taibbi didn't foresee Trump, the Rolling Stone articles that follow illustrate just how much his earlier observations prophesied an unprecedented U.S. election.

Taibbi's collection includes astute analysis of the left and the right, as well as the media's role in the political climate. His knowledge and grasp of the U.S. government's inner workings, as well as his understanding of the citizens' explosive discontent, allows Taibbi to dissect the circus-like events. His words are often acerbic, which may rankle some readers--especially if they identify with the target of his criticism--while amusing others. But the insights are powerful and thought provoking, with the potential to kindle vital dialogue. Insane Clown President is not reassuring or comforting, but it is a passionate, intelligent record of this monumental time, one Taibbi believes is "the end of the dream." --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: The political writer for Rolling Stone traces what made the 2016 presidential election so unusual.

Spiegel & Grau, $26, hardcover, 352p., 9780399592461

Social Science

The Memory Code: The Secrets of Stonehenge, Easter Island and Other Ancient Monuments

by Lynne Kelly


The standing boulders at Stonehenge, the giant head sculptures on Easter Island, the Nazca lines drawn in the Peruvian desert and many other monuments left behind by ancient cultures have intrigued researchers for centuries. In The Memory Code, science writer Lynne Kelly gives readers a new and plausible reason for their existence.

Created by people who had no written language, these sites, Kelly proposes, were used as memory aids to help cultures remember the information they needed for survival, like landscape details that would lead them to food and water, and the healing properties of plants. They were also used to record traditions, myths and ceremonies. Kelly's idea is not farfetched when one considers how indigenous Australians still use songlines to keep track of pathways; Africans have lukasa, or memory boards, covered in beads that represent multiple levels of information; and Native Americans keep records using birchbark scrolls covered with intricate designs.

Kelly not only analyzes a variety of techniques used by indigenous people, but also implements the ideas in her own life. Using her own memory boards, carved sticks and walking routes, she's memorized vast details in geological history, a field guide of state birds, the lineage of royalty in Europe and China, and an array of other details. Readers can readily implement her ideas and train themselves to use these mnemonic devices just as the ancient ones may have done so long ago. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: The author outlines methods for remembering details that rely on those that may have been used by ancient cultures in their oral traditions.

Pegasus, $27.95, hardcover, 336p., 9781681773254

Modern Death: How Medicine Changed the End of Life

by Haider Warraich


In Modern Death: How Medicine Changed the End of Life, Haider Warraich explores how human death has evolved over the course of history and offers recommendations for its future. A medical doctor, Warraich supplements his research with anecdotes from his personal experience, and draws on literature, theology, statistics and legal theory as well as the hard sciences. The resulting expert opinion is heartfelt, convincing and well informed.

Warraich begins with the mechanics of how cells die and the opportunities for analogy they offer: cells choose to die to promote the good of the organism; not dying on time is as bad as dying too soon. He recounts the medical advances that have increased human life spans astronomically in the last two centuries. In what comes to feel like the heart of Modern Death, Warraich then studies the nuances of euthanasia, assisted suicides and the withdrawal of life-support systems, and their legal histories in the United States and worldwide. He finds that these three categories of death are far less distinct than generally believed. Finally, he advocates strongly for patients' control over their own ends of life and exhorts his readers--patients and physicians alike--to discuss death openly.

For anyone interested in its thesis--that death is an important part of life, and medicine and society could do a better job of delivering this experience--Modern Death is a sincere and thorough examination of an often overlooked subject. Well served by Warraich's professional expertise and earnest emphasis, this is an indispensable contribution to the conversation about death. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This interdisciplinary study of death and how we can improve--not avoid--it is highly readable and timely.

St. Martin's Press, $26.99, hardcover, 336p., 9781250104588

Science

Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity

by Carlo Rovelli


Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli takes readers on a fascinating adventure into the outer limits of space and into the smallest atom in Reality Is Not What It Seems. Expanding on the concepts described in Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Rovelli explores the evolution of the world of physics. He considers early Greeks like Democritus, who pondered what the heavens consisted of; Einstein and his brilliant deductions of general relativity and special relativity; and the most modern concepts of loop quantum gravity, the Big Bounce, spinfoam and other mind-benders.

Rovelli manages to break down complex, proven ideas into smaller, easily assimilated concepts so those with little to no scientific background can understand the fundamental ideas being used today to understand and create our technological world. About quantum gravity, which is at the crux of the book, he writes, "An elementary structure of the world is emerging, generated by a swarm of quantum events, where time and space do not exist. Quantum fields draw together space, time, matter, and light, exchanging information between one event and another. Reality is a network of granular events; the dynamic that connects them is probabilistic; between one event and another, space, time, matter and energy melt into a cloud of probability." Drawings and tables help readers visualize the complicated, multi-part mathematics and concepts presented, and Rovelli's infectious enthusiasm and excitement for his subject help carry readers over the more difficult aspects, allowing one to let the imagination soar. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: An exciting description of the evolution of physics takes readers to the edge of human knowledge of the universe.

Riverhead Books, $26, hardcover, 288p., 9780735213920

Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation

by Alan Burdick


According to Alan Burdick in Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation, "time" is the most commonly used noun in American English. A staff writer for the New Yorker and National Book Award finalist for Out of Eden, Burdick recognizes that his subject is complicated. He notes, "If you ask a scientist who studies time to explain what time is, he or she invariably will turn the question on you: 'What do you mean by time?' "

There are many answers, which Burdick tackles with wit and wonder, mapping a nuanced exploration through mathematics, sciences, philosophy and observations of his own young sons. Burdick's investigation leads him across the world, to neuroscientists' labs, a free-fall attraction in Texas and even an encampment north of the Arctic Circle, where the sun shines night and day during summer. The book teems with entertaining trivia and stories, such as the fact that even cabbages have circadian clocks, and the origins of Greenwich Mean Time and the frustrated astronomer charged with keeping it--whom the townspeople incessantly interrupted to find out the time. Some of the science is mind-boggling. It turns out, Burdick relays, that "right now" has always already happened, several milliseconds ago--and that the perception of "right now" can be manipulated in labs.

Burdick's compelling research consistently conveys curiosity and awe for the notion of time and its passage. Why Time Flies is not a quick read; it demands contemplation. But, naturally, it's time well spent. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: This is an elegant, illuminating and occasionally mind-bending exploration of the concept of time.

Simon & Schuster, $28, hardcover, 320p., 9781416540274

Amazing Stories of the Space Age: True Tales of Nazis in Orbit, Soldiers on the Moon, Orphaned Martian Robots, and Other Fascinating Accounts from the Annals of Spaceflight

by Rod Pyle


The dawn of the Space Age launched many out-of-this-world ideas. Some of these moonshots actually flew, but many never left Earth's drawing boards. In Amazing Stories of the Space Age, science writer Rod Pyle (Curiosity, Destination Mars) explores ships, space stations and interplanetary missions that never got off the ground, and a few that did. He also navigates noteworthy though little-known highlights of successful missions, and recounts stories of close calls and near misses.

Pyle begins with Nazi plans for a ramjet bomber called Silbervogel (Silverbird), part of project Amerika Bomber, in which a rocket plane would "skip" along the upper atmosphere and deliver destruction at incredible distances. The Silverbird never flew, but as Pyle chronicles in subsequent chapters, the U.S. successfully tested similar designs in later decades.

The fall of the Third Reich sent Nazi aerospace engineers into the service of the Soviets and Americans. The most famous of these men, Werner von Braun, whose V-2 rockets rained destruction on European cities during the war, envisioned manned space expeditions far more elaborate than the Apollo program that eventually sent men to the Moon. In Das Marsprojekt, first published in English in 1953, von Braun laid out an audacious plan to send a flotilla of ships and 70 men to explore Mars. This fascinating idea, and another for an inflatable space station housing hundreds of astronauts, obviously never came to fruition.

Pyle excels at mixing technical details and historical perspectives into compelling narratives. His subjects, from pistols designed to fight communists on the Moon to the botched deployment of the Skylab space station, are all worthy of the book's title--amazing. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: A science writer chronicles far-out plans and risky or unusual missions of the Space Age.

Prometheus Books, $18, paperback, 365p., 9781633882218

Health & Medicine

The Cancer Whisperer: Finding Courage, Direction, and the Unlikely Gifts of Cancer

by Sophie Sabbage


In 2014, Sophie Sabbage learned she had incurable lung cancer. Doctors consigned her to a likely death and said that her remaining time must revolve around treatments to extend her life and reduce her suffering. But when Sabbage learned more about treatments for terminal cancer--how all-consuming and painful they would be, and how they would rule her remaining time--she decided to make living meaningfully her priority over treatment. This involved creating resources for herself that would support her physical, spiritual and mental wellbeing. At the core was how she could retain her personhood, something she felt that medical treatments had stripped from her--the difference between being a patient and being a person. In writing The Cancer Whisperer, Sabbage aims to reach people diagnosed with cancer who want to be treated as "dignified, empowered human being[s]."

Sabbage divides her book into nine sections, with topics that include dealing with the shock that accompanies a diagnosis; how to ask self-reflective questions for living with cancer; how to deal with the numerous suggested diets; and figuring out ways to stabilize one's body following aggressive treatments. Sabbage approaches the topic with a firm resolve to empower readers in establishing their own purpose and autonomy. She combats the idea that surviving cancer is the cornerstone of success, and argues that preserving personhood throughout one's life is more important. In this way, her goal is not to outrun her prognosis but rather continue to live consciously. The Cancer Whisperer does not purport to offer magical cures or miraculous recoveries; instead, it delivers to readers a greater gift, one of transformation. --Justus Joseph, bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company

Discover: Sophie Sabbage offers alternative ways of thinking and approaches that aim to improve one's experience with cancer.

Plume, $26, hardcover, 224p., 9780735212367

Travel Literature

The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Love and Food in Iran

by Jennifer Klinec


Jennifer Klinec, founder of a London cooking school, has traveled all her life in search of new places, people and food. In The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Love and Food in Iran, she goes to the Middle East in search of a cuisine that has been preserved throughout generations and is often kept behind closed doors. In the city of Yazd, she encounters Vahid, whose mother spends a few weeks teaching Klinec in their kitchen. Vahid shows the chef around the city, the two venturing out carefully in public with one initial goal: to eat.

Klinec's fearless palate is a fascinating way to experience Iran, and her skill for writing about food is phenomenal. As Klinec and Vahid develop a closer relationship, the later parts of the memoir become perhaps too focused on securing a temporary marriage license that would allow the couple to be seen together. Klinec's disarming candor about contradictions encountered during their courtship--wildly changing feelings, for example, or unexpected and incongruous aspects of the other person--is notable because she could have smoothed difficulties of conflicting backgrounds and expectations to serve the narrative.

The Temporary Bride takes the reader on a journey into a beautiful, complicated culture, encouraging a departure from the beaten path in search of pleasurable food, broader experience and the surprising relationships that inevitably develop while sharing a meal. --Richael Best, bookseller, Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Wash.

Discover: A quest for Iranian cuisine leads to culinary delights and unexpected romance in this vivid memoir.

Twelve, $15.99, paperback, 240p., 9781455537693

The Not-Quite States of America: Dispatches from the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the USA

by Doug Mack


What exactly is a U.S. territory? Do residents of the territories have the same rights and privileges as those who live in the 50 states? Should the U.S. even have territories if it calls itself a democracy? Stumped by these and other questions, travel writer Doug Mack (Europe on Five Wrong Turns a Day) hops on a plane (eventually several) to delve into the convoluted histories and uncertain futures of the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico. Mack recounts his adventures, sharing stories of the people he meets and pondering the big questions of what it means to be an American, in his second book, The Not-Quite States of America.

Mack begins his quest with a visit to the Virgin Islands. He meets longtime residents and newcomers from the continental U.S., members of groups agitating for statehood and those mostly satisfied with the status quo--which is slightly different for each territory. He explains the complex and often conflicting histories of the territories, discussing U.S. imperialism (past and present), the concept of Manifest Destiny and the influence of other cultures (Japanese, Polynesian, Latin American) on the cultural identity and day-to-day life of each place. At every stage, he encounters paradoxes and contradictions, which are summed up in one phrase that applies to all the territories: "a tricky, burdensome dual identity."

Witty and thoughtful, with plenty of vibrant characters and vivid descriptions, The Not-Quite States of America is also a well-researched history and a highly enjoyable travelogue. Frequent fliers and armchair travelers alike will relish Mack's account and wonder where he's headed next. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: This entertaining and well-researched travelogue of U.S. territories explores what it means to be American.

W.W. Norton, $26.95, hardcover, 336p., 9780393247602

Bears in the Streets: Three Journeys Across a Changing Russia

by Lisa Dickey


In 1995, ghostwriter Lisa Dickey (Citizenville by Gavin Newsom) was working as a translator in St. Petersburg when she set out on her first voyage across a Russia still reeling from the fall of the Soviet regime. Guided by intuition, she and a photographer made their way westward from Vladivostok, profiling locals and making friends in 11 cities and villages, including Lenin impersonators, the nouveau riche and farmers descended from Genghis Khan. Dickey returned in 2005 to a Russia that was more affluent, confident and open. And in 2015, she found that that confidence had stubbornly ossified amid economic collapse and growing tensions with the U.S. Yet wherever she went, she found a gracious, savvy and often humorous people who were easily able to overlook their differences.

Bears in the Streets is about real people and their cultures, a journalistic ethnography as much as a travelogue. Dickey knows when to report objectively and when to cut loose and enjoy the vodka. She sprinkles her reportage with humorous footnotes and includes personal photos that become a metacommentary on life and aging. Dickey deftly uses her own homosexuality as a lens and point of contrast, as Russian attitudes toward gays change--albeit more slowly than in the U.S.--in the time between her visits. They still believe, however, that Americans think bears roam the Russian streets.

Bears in the Streets is one of those rare books that shows readers something new in the ordinary; it's touching, funny and utterly necessary. --Zak Nelson, writer and bookseller

Discover: This witty and heartfelt time-lapse travelogue focuses on ordinary people, revealing a Russia overlooked by most Westerners.

St. Martin's Press, $25.99, hardcover, 336p., 9781250092298

House & Home

The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Contentment, Comfort, and Connection

by Louisa Thomsen Brits


The trendy Danish concept of hygge is the subject of Louisa Thomsen Brits's first book. Half Danish and half British, Brits was born in Uganda and spent her childhood summers in Denmark. With her simultaneous insider and outsider perspectives on Danish culture, she translates this aspect of it for the rest of the world with skill and subtlety. The Book of Hygge is likely to be one of the best guides to creating a more socially connected and rewarding life.

Hygge is a temporary escape from the conflicts of daily life, a form of mindfulness focused on the enjoyment of human community and familiar pleasures rather than material consumption. It means feeling "warm, safe, comforted, and sheltered... with people and places that [anchor] and [affirm] us... a sense of abundance and contentment... being, not having." The possession of basic comforts is necessary for hygge, but no more. It also involves an ideal of egalitarian social life without conflict, debate or self-indulgence. It "isn't the complete absence of the usual demands of a fully engaged human life, but it is facilitated by a willingness to put down our problems and abandon our cares for a while."

This is a pretty book, illustrated with photos of candles, natural environments, stones, baths, drinks and soft textiles, and salted with quotations and proverbs. It is soothing to look at, but it also offers a genuine challenge to develop oases of tolerance and peace at home and in the workplace, to balance the alienation, overstimulation and anxious striving of everyday life. --Sara Catterall

Discover: In this attractive, inspiring guide, a Danish-British writer explains the philosophy and methods behind the increasingly popular Danish concept of hygge.

Plume, $22, hardcover, 192p., 9780735214095

Children's & Young Adult

The House of Months and Years

by Emma Trevayne


Sometimes a house is more than just a house, as 10-year-old Amelia Howling learns in The House of Months and Years by Emma Trevayne (Coda; Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times).

Much to Amelia's chagrin, the sudden passing of her aunt and uncle forces her and her parents to relocate to a strange new house to care for her orphaned cousins. But something is awry: "Since the moment she'd arrived, the house had given her the feeling it could think for itself." Determined to flush out the mystery, Amelia investigates, discovering Horatio, the house's builder, in her attic. Horatio is not a ghost lurking in the shadows but rather an immortal capable of transforming into shadow. The house, he says, "is a time machine" and Amelia his chosen apprentice: "I can teach you all I know. I can make you into what I am." With Horatio, Amelia can--and does--travel through time and space to Victorian England and pirate ships of old. All the while, Horatio promises grander adventures just beyond the horizon, yet Amelia can't help but be suspicious. How can she leave her own world behind if Horatio won't reveal the potential danger in being part of his?

Cousins aside, Amelia's loneliness and feeling of unease are striking, thanks to Trevayne's atmospheric prose. The "calendar house," with spaces representing the 12 months and four seasons, is a fascinating, inventive twist. Horatio, aloof and alternately enchanting and frightening, is a puzzle, much like the house he has built. Readers will agonize with Amelia as she weighs the cost of immortality. --Kyla Paterno, former children's & YA book buyer

Discover: In Emma Trevayne's spooky, thought-provoking novel, a young girl discovers her new house may be harboring the secret to time travel.

Simon & Schuster, $16.99, hardcover, 288p., ages 9-12, 9781481462556

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful

by Eric Lindstrom


Teens have ups and downs. But what 16-year-old Mel Hannigan has are no typical hormone-fueled mood swings. ("Trying to learn Portuguese overnight isn't a mood. It's someone else jumping into my head and grabbing the controls.") She suffers from a serious form of bipolar disorder that cycles rapidly through highs and lows. Heavily medicated after a brutal few years during which her brother died, her parents divorced, she and her mom moved south of San Francisco and she lost her two new best friends, Mel believes that her superpower is "the ability to not think about anything I don't want to think about." But when the grandson of a new resident at the nursing home where she works enters her life with an unflinching interest in her, Mel begins to question the sustainability of her denial-based approach to friendships. And when her former best friends reappear in her life, reminding her of raw memories, it becomes clear Mel needs to find a new superpower: "I've always thought I had the strength to avoid thinking about painful things. What if I actually can't think about them because I lack the strength?"

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom (Not If I See You First) is the funny and heartbreaking portrait of a hugely likable teen struggling to find her authentic self in a muddle of medication and mental illness. This beautiful, nuanced novel will speak to those who suffer from bipolar disorder, as well as to anyone who doubts they are worthy of love just the way they are. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Mel, a 16-year-old girl with bipolar disorder, grapples with identity in Eric Lindstrom's moving young adult novel.

Poppy/Little Brown, $17.99, hardcover, 288p., ages 15-up, 9780316260060

What Will Grow?

by Jennifer Ward, illus. by Susie Ghahremani


"Shiny, brown./ Bumpy crown./ What will grow?/ Oak tree."
"Fluffy, white./ Taking flight./ What will grow?/ Dandelions."

What Will Grow? is a joyful, rhyming picture book about the miraculous nature of seeds from the creative team behind What Will Hatch?: Jennifer Ward (Feathers and Hair: What Animals Wear; Mama Built a Little Nest) and illustrator Susie Ghahremani. Each seed-rooted riddle is illustrated by a lovely, lush and leafy gouache-on-wood, double-page spread featuring some curious, usually hungry, animal--be it deer, squirrel or rabbit--and always, always a ladybug hiding in some corner for a wee reader to spot. In one spread ("Very tiny. Then so viny!"), a fox bites into a tomato, ripe on the vine, sprouted from pale and tiny seeds, also pictured. In another, a yellow bird clamps a sunflower seed in its beak ("Stripy black./ Crunchy snack."). What will grow? A towering, beautiful sunflower, so tall that readers have to open up the vertical gatefold to reveal its full glory. The rabbit-inhabited carrot spread is also particularly masterful, as the gatefold opens down to show the "Flowery fruit/ Orange root" carrots growing underground. And, oh, that serene and gorgeous transformation from pinecone to pine tree!

The inviting pages crescendo to a double-page, rainbow-arched garden at the end, and a planting how-to and a "seed to plant" illustration further illuminate the cyclical nature of seeds, plants and flowers. Don't let its deceptively humble subject fool you; this is a mighty oak of a book. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: This lyrical picture book about the wonders of seeds will charm readers with its fun gatefolds and softly appealing illustrations of animals and plants.

Bloomsbury, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-6, 9781681190303

Dreamland Burning

by Jennifer Latham


"The dead always have stories to tell. They just need the living to listen." The dead find a voice in Rowan Chase, the 17-year-old biracial girl at the center of Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham (Scarlett Undercover). On the first day of summer, Rowan is shocked when renovators discover an old skeleton under the floorboards of her family's 100-year-old property in Tulsa, Okla. With only an old wallet and a faded receipt found among the remains, Rowan launches an investigation into the skeleton's identity.

In a parallel story set in 1921, 17-year-old half-white, half-Osage Will Tillman's world is changing in baffling ways. Though the Ku Klux Klan's power is rapidly growing in Tulsa, Will's white father makes a surprising and unorthodox business deal with a young black delivery boy named Joseph. Racial tensions are rising and Jim Crow laws make such deals highly illegal. As Tulsa spirals toward a violent eruption, Will sees how "complicated the world really was, what with some folks being good and some being bad and most sitting in the middle with room to slide either way."

Based on Tulsa's 1921 race riot, one of the deadliest in U.S. history, Dreamland Burning raises questions about historical truth, segregation and more. Rowan and Will tell their respective stories in alternating chapters, each with a strong narrative voice, revealing unexpected commonalities in their experiences. Latham's skillful handling of race, choice, and opportunity is impressive. No character is beyond redemption, and in the end all must answer for their actions. --Kyla Paterno, former children's & YA book buyer

Discover: In present-day Tulsa, a biracial girl investigates a skeleton found on her property; in a parallel narrative a century earlier, a white/Osage boy faces hard truths about segregation.

Little, Brown, $18.99, hardcover, 384p., ages 12-up, 9780316384933

Great, Now We've Got Barbarians!

by Jason Carter Eaton, illus. by Mark Fearing


Parents are always nagging their kids to clean up their rooms. One messy little boy's mom is no different. She tells him, "If you don't clean up after yourself, we're going to have pests!" But really, what's the harm if his abandoned food scraps attract a few ants or a "little bitty mouse?" "What was the worst that could happen?"

As it happens, there is something worse than tiny pests, hence the book's title Great, Now We've Got Barbarians! When the crumbs and sticky messes around the house reach critical mass, the big, hulking barbarians infiltrate. Our grubby hero thinks Vlad, the first barbarian, is cute, and gives him a cupcake. But after Törr shows up, "seeking glory" (and cheese curls), the boy shoos him out of the house with a fly swatter. Things devolve quickly, with shaggy barbarians watching TV, stealing blankets to make forts and using school supplies to scratch their hairy backs. Even traps and the pest exterminator don't get rid of the "snoring, snarling, belching, badgering, grumbling, growling, loitering, looting, and lazing savages." It's time to take drastic measures: get out the rubber gloves and brooms and start cleaning.

Jason Carter Eaton (The Facttracker) and Mark Fearing (Tommy Can't Stop!) team up in a hilarious picture book that parents will love every bit as much as kids. The cartoonish barbarians, with their scruffy beards, horned helmets, scars and tattoos are like overgrown puppies, and just as threatening. Even dyed-in-the-wool slobs won't mind being on the receiving end of this fun cautionary tale. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A little boy's slovenly habits attract an infestation not of ants but barbarians in this riotous picture book.

Candlewick, $15.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780763668273

The Harlem Charade

by Natasha Tarpley


Twelve-year-old Jin Yi records "interesting moments and details" in her memory notebook while watching customers shop in her Korean-American family's Harlem bodega: "[P]eople will tell you their stories in the way that they move, how their faces look, how they speak." Observing turns to action when a girl Jin recognizes from history class leaves a subway fare card taped to a pickle jar with a Post-It note, Enjoy 1 Free Ride. Intrigued, Jin pursues the girl, Alex, and discovers that she's been leaving free MetroCards across the city. When Jin confronts Alex at school the next day, she grudgingly allows Jin to join her next do-good outing. The two girls stop a would-be thief who turns out to be a hungry boy who's been living in a subway station ever since finding his unconscious grandfather in a local park. Elvin, also 12, needs to figure out who attacked his grandfather--and Jin and Alex become his unlikely allies. The trio's quest to solve a crime points to a mystery almost half a century old that involves missing paintings, multiple generations and a much-needed resurgence of community activism.

Natasha Tarpley (I Love My Hair!) makes her middle-grade debut with a multi-layered, multi-cultural whodunit that emphasizes art as a powerful force for change while illuminating later 20th-century Harlem cultural history beyond the better-known Harlem Renaissance. (Helpful notes about "real events and locations" appear at book's end.) Readers will discover a nimbly plotted, inclusively populated adventure, all the while enjoying the adrenaline rush of solving this Harlem Charade. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Three intrepid seventh graders from Harlem work together to solve a decades-old mystery in the art world--and manage to save their neighborhood, as well.

Scholastic, $16.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 8-12, 9780545783873

Bob, Not Bob!

by Elizabeth Garton Scanlon, Audrey Vernick, illus. by Matthew Cordell


Little Louie doesn't need his mom "every minute of the day." But when he catches a cold--his nose is clogged, his ears crackle and his brain feels full ("He didn't know of what")--he doesn't want to color or watch TV or even shoot baskets with wadded-up tissues. All he really wants is his mom. He tries to call for her, but his nasally voice can only wail "Bob!" Then, because his big black-spotted dog happens to be named Bob, it's the pooch that comes bounding "[a]nd slobbering," ready to play. Frustrated and sapped of energy, Little Louie flops and moans in a manner familiar to anyone who has ever spent time with a sniffling, sneezing family member. Luckily, his mom knows just what her miserable boy needs: her undivided attention and an afternoon of snuggling.

In Bob, Not Bob! authors Liz Garton Scanlon (The Good-Pie Party) and Audrey Vernick (Brothers at Bat) and illustrator Matthew Cordell (Wolf in the Snow) form a perfect team to capture the woeful state of a kid with a rotten cold. The agony Little Louie feels as he tries to pronounce words through his "weird, all-wrong, stuffed-up nose" is palpable. "NO! I wan by BOB, not BOB!" (Keen-eyed readers will notice that a heart forms the center O in "Bob" the mom, textually differentiating the word from Bob the dog.) Cordell's slap-happy watercolor-over-pen illustrations are wonderfully reminiscent of Quentin Blake's art. Bob, Not Bob! will have kids and their chicken-soup-bearing caregivers laughing aloud. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: In this droll picture book, a little boy is so congested with a cold he can't pronounce his Ms, so his dog Bob comes running every time he calls for his mom.

Disney-Hyperion, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-5, 9781484723029

American Street

by Ibi Zoboi


Arriving with her mother from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, at Kennedy Airport, "holding hands for courage," 17-year-old Fabiola Toussaint, a U.S. citizen by birth, is ushered through Customs while immigration officials detain Manman. Fabiola is forced to leave her behind in New York, and lands alone in Detroit to face the only other family she has, uncertain of the "good, brand-new life" her mother promised. "Back in Haiti, it was always just me and Manman. But now, my world has ballooned and in it are these three cousins, and my aunt, too." Fabiola dares to hope: "Family takes care of each other." While she waits for her mother's release, her three cousins help her adapt to American English, high school in a large city and the social hierarchies on and off the street. Known as the "Three Bees"--Chantal is the brains, Donna the beauty, Pri the brawn--they hover as Fabiola navigates new relationships, including the sweet promise of first romance. Fabiola must figure out if--and how--she fits in as the fourth Bee.

Author Ibi Zoboi, who immigrated to Brooklyn, N.Y., from Haiti at four, "pulled from [her] own memories of living in between cultures" to write her electrifying debut novel; even as Fabiola morphs into an urban American teen, Zoboi keeps Fabiola intimately connected to Haitian traditions through Vodou, lwas (mystical spirits) and patron saints. Zoboi's raw, gritty, cautiously hopeful narrative captures a family in transition, working to support each other, stay together and do more than just survive the dangers and temptations on American Street. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: In this compelling YA debut, Fabiola Toussaint gets separated from her mother during their journey from Haiti to Detroit and learns that the American dream is hardly guaranteed.

Balzer + Bray, $17.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 14-up, 9780062473042

We Are Okay

by Nina LaCour


Marin Delaney is alone in her college dormitory at Christmastime, having decided to stay on campus in New York for a month-long semester break after Gramps, her only family, died back home in San Francisco. The staff gave her the groundskeeper's number in case anything went wrong. It's obvious that a lot has gone wrong already for Marin--but the reader is in the dark at first, left to discover Marin's history in flashbacks to her life with Gramps in California.

Anyone who has ever fantasized about spending an entire month completely alone will appreciate Marin's intimate, vivid descriptions of a cleared-out dorm, surrounded by snow, so quiet she can hear the heat come on. She makes lists of things she'll do: make soup, meditate, watch documentaries, find new music. From her emotional depths, she wonders how she'll act when Mabel--the beautiful friend she used to "practice kissing" with, until neither one was practicing anymore--flies 3,000 miles to visit her: "I don't know what I will do with my face: if I will be able to smile, or even if I should."

All the awkwardness and emotion of Mabel's visit are wonderfully portrayed, as the two young women do a delicate dance of friendship and love, hurt and healing, mostly inside an eerily empty dorm. In the hands of Nina LaCour (Hold Still; The Disenchantments; co-author of You Know Me Well), the story of a grieving girl and her profound sense of loneliness is bittersweet and hopeful. Marin is not alone, and in this poetic, skillfully crafted story, lonely teens may see it's possible that they aren't, either. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In Nina LaCour's YA novel, a grieving student with no family decides to spend winter break alone on her college campus in New York.

Dutton, $17.99, hardcover, 240p., ages 14-up, 9780525425892

Harry and Clare's Amazing Staycation

by Ted Staunton, illus. by Mika Song


A rainy vacation at home doesn't have to be a disaster if one has imagination. Harry and his big sister Clare have imagination to spare. On Monday they stay in and go to Mars (which "looked a lot like the family room, except for the volcanoes."). Tuesday they ride a fancy "Pasta Linguini" race car around the supermarket while Dad shops. The week goes on, and all would be well if only Clare would stop hogging the snacks and the rule-making rights. Clever Harry finally stops trying to share his ideas, and starts lining his pockets with pilfered treats. Thursday, when the two are avoiding "umpire bats" on their "Kimono dragons," Clare realizes they forgot food. Harry saves the day by quietly producing asteroid burgers (cookies) and volcano sticks (baby carrots), but lets his sister have some only when she agrees to let him lead some of the explorations.

Younger siblings are often at a disadvantage when it comes to calling the playtime shots. Resourceful Harry manages to work the big-sister system without ever resorting to tears or tantrums. Clare, to her credit, seems to recognize that sharing a little power doubles the creative possibilities. Ted Staunton (Morgan on Ice) is a masterful storyteller, capturing the magic of childhood play and sibling relationships with sly humor and understanding. Mika Song's sweet pen-and-watercolor illustrations blend the everyday (a plain staircase with pale blue wallpaper) with the fantastical (an "Abdominal Snowman" in fuzzy slippers chasing a golf-club-wielding Harry up a snowy mountain). Every rainy "staycation" should be this much fun! --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Harry and Clare peacefully resolve sibling conflict in a lighthearted picture book about an adventure-packed "staycation."

Tundra Books, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9781770498273

At the Edge of the Universe

by Shaun David Hutchinson


Any breakup can make a person feel like the world has just ended, but high school senior Ozzie Pinkerton of Florida feels even worse: as far as the universe is concerned, his ex-boyfriend Tommy never existed.

His friends and family won't talk to him about Tommy because they have no memory of him. Ozzie is determined to find him, but there are complications. He starts crushing on the smart, mysterious Calvin and wonders whether he can cheat on someone who never existed. His parents' marriage is over, but they all still share a house, and his brother is about to leave for the military. It's no wonder he feels like the world is closing in on him, but--oh, wait--that's happening, too. When Ozzie realizes the universe literally is shrinking every day, he starts to wonder if the universe is trying to tell him something, and if so, what the heck it could be.

While Shaun David Hutchinson (We Are the Ants) is a master of fusing the bizarre with the mundane, and the plot is delightfully constructed, it is Ozzie's pained, sardonic voice that steals the spotlight. Hutchinson's authentic characters, exploring their gender and sexuality with equal parts confusion and confidence, will resonate with many teens who no longer see their identity as binary or unchanging. Ozzie's story may be fantastical, but its emotional honesty renders the whole complicated story believable, and readers will flock to its central truths. --Stephanie Anderson, assistant director for public services, Darien Library (Conn.)

Discover: Shaun David Hutchinson's smart YA novel finds authenticity in the weirdest of places.

Simon Pulse, $17.99, hardcover, 496p., ages 14-up, 9781481449663

Fire Color One

by Jenny Valentine


Sixteen-year-old Iris is obsessed with fire. And art. "I find it near impossible to look anywhere else when there's a fire burning.... I think about the dancing, shifting, elusive character of a fire, of the colors it paints, unlike any other colors I will ever find, in a whole lifetime of looking." After being caught lighting one too many fires at home and in school, and with her family's household debt mounting, Iris is dragged from Los Angeles to the English countryside by her mother, Hannah, who is a self-centered money-grubber, and her stepfather, Lowell, "aging pinup boy, one-time TV star, and current no-hoper." Hannah and Lowell are in pursuit of an inheritance from Iris's "sick old stranger of a father," who happens to be a millionaire art collector.

Forced to spend her father's last dying days with him, Iris discovers something that staggers her: that she could be "loved so much and by someone my mother only taught me to hate." Disgusted by her mother's grasping materialism--"It's nuts when you think about it, how easily we lose our minds over stuff, how quickly money eats up the world, just like fire"--Iris ponders a way to dodge her mother's unsavory scheme and maybe even get some satisfying revenge while she's at it. British author Jenny Valentine's (Me, the Missing, and the Dead) beautifully written YA novel Fire Color One was a Carnegie Medal finalist. Iris is a grumpy, complex and likable protagonist, with depth and a dark humor, and her hopeful story of redemption will leave readers cheering her on. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: In Jenny Valentine's British YA novel, a Carnegie Medal finalist, a teenage pyromaniac finds her long-lost father.

Philomel, $17.99, hardcover, 240p., ages 12-up, 9780399546921

Animal Ark: Celebrating Our Wild World in Poetry and Pictures

by Kwame Alexander, illus. by Joel Sartore


Photographer Joel Sartore set out to document every animal in captivity, asking the question "once we love something, won't we do anything to save it?" His hope for his National Geographic's Photo Ark project is that people will "look these animals in the eye, and then fall in love with creatures as dazzling as a pheasant or as odd as an octopus."

In Animal Ark, Sartore teams up with Newbery Medal-winning author Kwame Alexander (The Crossover; Out of Wonder) to add a poetic narrative to his stunning collection of big, bold animal photographs. On every page, an elephant, a bat, a snake or neon-bright grasshoppers are set against a black or white backdrop, with Alexander's playful yet pointed verse meandering around the images. Each creature is allotted the same amount of space, giving the chameleon ("turquoise and gold/ camouflage in the trees/ moods changing with the breeze") and the wolf ("HOWL like you mean it... the world is listening") equal air time. Several pages fold open to reveal still more exquisite photos, along with lyrical exhortations to respect and protect vipers, beetles, foxes and tigers. Because, Alexander writes, "The majestic and powerful are counting on us to help them."

A final foldout includes thumbnail photos of every animal showcased in the book, labeled with name, threatened status and where the creature can be found in the wild. Any reader who loves poring over detailed close-ups of animals--every feather, fang and shell ridge is visible--will happily lose themselves in Animal Ark. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Magnificent and highly detailed images of animals by National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore are accompanied by lovely, meaningful haiku by Newbery Medal winner Kwame Alexander.

National Geographic, $15.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 4-8, 9781426327674

Dance

by Matthew Van Fleet


"Once upon a time/ there was a tiny little chick/ who went down to the dance hall/ just to get some kicks." The bad news is that Chickie Baby just hatched yesterday and doesn't know how to dance. The good news is that the dance hall is filled with jazzy, jiving animals eager to help the baby chick learn. A three-piece band of rhinoceroses (called The Rhinyls, naturally) keeps the beat while hula-skirted hippos show Chickie Baby how to shake and shimmy, alligators do the Gator Mashed Potater and bowtie-clad pigs demonstrate the Crazy Piggy Tap: "Tippity, tippity,/ tippity, tippity,/ tippity, tippity,/ TAP!"

It's hard to decide what is the best part of Matthew Van Fleet's (Tails; Dog; Heads) extra-sturdy interactive board book. Is it the toe-tapping rhymes, the adorable pastel-colored animals or the big tabs that, when pulled, make the gator's arms swing, the hippopotamus's skirt swish and the Bouncy Bunny's feet "hippy hippy HOP!" behind clear plastic windows? Preschoolers will chant along with a menagerie of wild and barnyard animals as they "boom, baba, BOOM!" and "shimmy,/ shimmy,/ SHAKE!" until the final spread when a partial page folds back to reveal a pop-up grand finale and curtain call. The message to Chickie Baby--and to the reader--is, "You can dance!" Fans of Barnyard Dance (Sandra Boynton) and Saturday Night at the Dinosaur Stomp (Carol Diggory Shields and Scott Nash) will do the Busy Beaver Bop in their joy at being able to add another happy, energetic dance book to their repertoire. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A just-hatched chick gets the lesson of a lifetime at a dance hall full of shimmying, bopping, tap-dancing animals in Matthew Van Fleet's hugely appealing interactive board book.

Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster, $19.99, other, 16p., ages 2-up, 9781481487078

Laundry Day

by Jessixa Bagley


Tic and Tac are a pair of bored badgers. They've read all their books (then read them backward). They've caught all the fish in the pond (then let them go). They've built a fort (and invaded it). When their tired mother suggests that they help her hang laundry, they're intrigued. "We haven't done that yet," says Tac. They master the skill quickly, so when Ma Badger leaves them in charge while she goes to the market, they are finished in no time. If only there was more laundry to hang! The industrious brothers set to work finding other things to hang on the line: "They pilfered the pots. They pirated pillows. They looted lampshades and even took the toaster!" When Ma comes home, she's in for a big surprise. Luckily, she has a mom trick up her own sleeve.

Jessixa Bagley (Before I Leave; Boats for Papa) has perfectly captured a typical moment in every child's life, and the wonderful havoc that can be wreaked by a couple of restless kids. Readers will lose themselves in Bagley's warm pen-and-watercolor illustrations: the bric-a-brac and knickknacks alone will entertain for minutes on end. Tic hanging by his knees to attach newspapers (and a vase with flowers) to the line while Tac stands on a stump to hang roller skates is pure viewing pleasure. Perhaps the best illustration of all is at the beginning, when Tic and Tac sprawl on the lawn, arms akimbo, saying, "I'm bored." "Me too." Who hasn't been there? --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: In Jessixa Bagley's sweet and funny picture book, two bored badgers "help" their mother hang laundry on the line but get a bit carried away.

Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-6, 9781626723177

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