Excerpt: Rebel Seoul
Axie Oh is a first-generation Korean American born in New York City and raised in New Jersey. Her debut novel for teens, Rebel Seoul (out today from Tu Books), takes place in 2199 East Asia, now in ruins after a great war. Here is an excerpt:
I have about one minute and forty-nine seconds in the park before I'll be forced to leave. Cars registered to the Grid are allowed out later than curfew, but taxis aren't, especially taxis heading for one of the few bridges leading out of the city. I need to be gone before I'm taken in, accused of and convicted for something illogical.
I imagine how it'd go down. They'd ask me why I was out so late--inside the Dome, when my Citizen ID says I should be outside it. I'd say, "I got caught out." I'd say, "I'll call a friend." They'd tell me I was out late planning something treasonous against the state. I'd say, "Bullshit." They'd put me in prison.
When I walk away from the cart, I watch where I step. The grass, coated with a combination of rainfall, melted sugar, and glitter, sticks to my shoe.
I check the time once more: one minute, twenty-seven seconds.
I'm heading out to the main streets when I see someone.
The lights of the stage only reach so far across the grass until it blends to darkness, and that's where she stands, completely still, her eyes riveted on the stage.
I don't know what stops me; maybe it's her stillness. Maybe it's the fact that we're the only ones not packed in front of the stage. We're a couple meters out, nothing around us but abandoned food carts and grass, and the blue-lit streets of the Grid behind her.
I've seen girls like her before, middling height with long black hair, some falling over her shoulders. She wears a loose, long-sleeved gray shirt and pants of the same color. And yet there's something arresting about her--the way she stands, as if she'd run across the city and just arrived, her chest moving slightly as she breathes; the way she hasn't blinked since I first laid eyes on her.
She takes one step and she's in the light.
The look in her eyes is fierce and warm and full of longing.
I inhale sharply and feel the cold sweep through my mouth.
I have exactly one minute left before I have to leave. I can talk to a girl in a minute.
I take another step, smoothing my shirt over my stomach, and a shattering of wind blows me back. A police droid descends from overhead, a shaft of light issuing from its projectors and exposing the girl. She doesn't even glance up. Nor does she blink when airborne police trucks slide onto the grass, leaving the organized streets of the Grid, their sirens raging red like the searchlight of the Tower. Each truck releases four soldiers carrying standard-issue electro-guns, their sighting-lights trained on the girl. She's covered with a dozen neon red dots all focused on fatal parts of the body--her long neck, her pale forehead, her beating heart.
Her eyes never leave the stage as the soldiers drag her away, and when they jolt her with the electro-gun, her eyes remain open, only the fluttering of her lashes showing she felt it at all.
Through the whirring noises of the droid's engines and the wailing sirens of the police trucks, Sela breathes the last words of her song.
"Even if I've never heard you, I hear you. Even if I've never seen you, I see you. Even if I've never known you, I miss you. I wait for you, my love, my land of the morning calm."
Something about the words makes me flinch.
I watch as the soldiers drag the girl's limp body off the grass and into one of the trucks.
They're gone in under a minute.
A cheer goes up behind me, and I quickly turn around. The members of C'est La Vie are bowing on the stage. The small figure of the lead singer blows kisses into the crowd with a bubble blower. Blue and pink roses fall at her feet, and a chant rises up out of the tumult.
"Sela! Sela! Sela!"
Nobody seems to have seen the police take the girl. And if they had, they wouldn't care.
She's just another lost soul in the city of Neo Seoul.
The city of tomorrow's dreams.
I have zero minutes and zero seconds until I have to leave.
There's a feeling in my chest that feels something like disgust, but whether for the police or the crowd or myself, I can't tell.
I walk onto the street and call over a cab. I open the back door, then slide into the soft interior. It smells faintly of smoke. "Can you take me across the nearest bridge?" I ask the driver.
I wait, expecting him to charge me extra--it's almost midnight, after all--but he just nods.
I cross the Han River from Neo Seoul into Old Seoul with three minutes, thirty-eight seconds to spare. I don't wait to see the Dome solidifying as it closes behind me.
Midnight shuts the old away from the new.
Excerpt: Laura Marshall's Friend Request
Debut author Laura Marshall's Friend Request, available now from Grand Central Publishing ($27), tackles some tough questions in thrilling fashion. Can you ever really be free of your past--especially one filled with long-held secrets and half-truths?
The e-mail arrives in my inbox like an unexploded bomb: Maria Weston wants to be friends on Facebook.
For a second I miss the Facebook reference, and just see "Maria Weston wants to be friends." Instinctively I slam the laptop shut. It feels as though a sponge has been lodged in my throat, soaking up water, swelling and clogging, leaving me struggling for breath. I attempt to breathe deeply, trying to get myself back under control. Perhaps I was mistaken. I must have been mistaken because this cannot possibly be happening. Slowly I raise the lid of my laptop. Hands shaking, I go back into the e-mail and this time there is no denying the bald fact of it. Maria Weston wants to be friends with me.
It's been a fairly unremarkable day up until now. Henry is at Sam's tonight, so I've put in a long day working on some initial plans for a client who wants everything from walls to carpets and sofas in varying shades of beige and taupe, but at the same time doesn't want the house to look boring. When I saw I had an e-mail, I was glad of the distraction, hopeful of a personal message rather than yet another company trying to sell me something.
Now though, I'd be grateful for marketing spam, and I long to go back to the mild tedium of a few minutes ago. This must be someone's idea of a sick joke, surely. But whose? Who could think this funny? Who even knows the effect it would have on me?
There's an easy way out of this, of course. All I have to do is delete the e-mail, go to Facebook and decline the request without looking at the page. A part of me is screaming out to do this, to end it here; but another part of me--a quiet and buried part--wants to see, to know. To understand.
So I do it. I click "Confirm Request" and I'm taken straight to her page: Maria Weston's Facebook page. The profile photo is an old one from a pre-digital age that has obviously been scanned in. Maria, in her green school-uniform blazer, long brown hair blowing in the wind, a small smile playing across her face. I scan the screen, searching for clues, but there is very little information on the page. She doesn't have any friends listed or photos uploaded other than the profile one.
She stares at me dispassionately from behind my computer screen. I've not felt her cool gaze for over twenty-five years, not been the recipient of that look, which tells you she's sizing you up, not in an unpleasant way, but appraising you, understanding more of you than you want the world to know. I wonder if she ever realized what I had done to her.
The red brick of the school buildings lurks in the background, familiar in a way but strange too, as if it belongs to someone else's memories, not mine. Odd, how you spend five years going to the same place every day, and then it's over, you never go there again. Almost as if it never existed at all.
I find I can't look at her for long, and my eyes roam around the kitchen, wanting something mundane to fix on, a break from this bewildering new reality. I get up and make a coffee, gaining comfort from the ritual of putting the smooth shining pod into the machine, pressing the tip of my finger onto the button in the precise way I always do, and warming the milk in the frother.
I sit there amid the trappings of my very comfortable, very middle-class, nearly middle-aged life. The kitchen gadgets and the photo on the fancy fridge of me and Henry on our first holiday alone last summer, a selfie taken by the pool: our skin salty and sun-kissed, a shadow around Henry's mouth where the dust has stuck to the remnants of his daily ice cream.
Outside the French windows, my tiny courtyard garden is wearing its bleak late-autumn clothes, paving stones slick with the earlier freezing rain. Chipped plant pots trail the dead brown remains of my doomed summer attempt at growing my own herbs, and the darkening afternoon sky is a dull sheet of slate gray. I can just see one of the tower blocks that loom here and there like malevolent giants over the rows of Victorian terraces all turned into flats like mine that make up this part of southeast London. This room, this home, this life that I have built up so carefully. This little family, with only two members. If one of us falls, then what is left is not a family at all. What would it take to tear it all down, to bring it tumbling and crashing to the ground? Perhaps not as much as I thought. Maybe just a nudge in the back; a tiny push, so slight that I would hardly feel it.
The kitchen with its muted dove-gray walls and bleached wood worktops is warm, uncomfortably so. As the coffee machine hums its everyday tune, I half listen to the news on the radio, which chatters all day every day in my kitchen: a sporting victory, a cabinet re-shuffle, a fifteen-year-old girl who has killed herself after her boyfriend posted naked pictures of her online. I flinch at the thought of it, sympathy for her mixed with a shameful gratitude that there were no camera phones around when I was that age. I move over and open one of the French windows, feeling the need for fresh air, but an icy blast slams it shut again.
My coffee is ready, and I have no alternative but to sit back down at the laptop, where Maria has been waiting for me: steadily, impenetrably. I force myself to meet her eyes, searching futilely for any hint of what was to happen to her. I try to see the photo as a casual observer might: an ordinary schoolgirl, an old photo that's been sitting on some mother's sideboard for years, dusted and replaced weekly. It doesn't work; I can't see her like that knowing her fate as I do.
Maria Weston wants to be friends with me. Maybe that was the problem all along; Maria Weston wanted to be friends with me, but I let her down. She's been hovering at the edge of my consciousness for all of my adult life, although I've been good at keeping her out, just a blurred shadow in the corner of my eye, almost but not quite out of sight.
Maria Weston wants to be friends.
But Maria Weston has been dead for more than twenty-five years.
This is an excerpt from FRIEND REQUEST by Laura Marshall. Copyright © 2017 by Laura Marshall. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing, New York, NY. All rights reserved.
by Robin Sloan
Lois Clary spends her days writing code for cutting-edge robotic arms at General Dexterity, a super-hip San Francisco startup, and her nights passed out on the couch in her minuscule apartment. For sustenance, she relies mostly on slippery nutritive gel, until the day she finds a mysterious takeout menu stuck to her front door. Intrigued by the bold font and simple choices (spicy soup, spicy sandwich or a double-spicy combo of both), Lois calls in--and her life will never be the same.
Plagued by constant stress-related indigestion and loneliness, Lois finds antidotes for both in her new (spicy) diet and in the two brothers who run the restaurant out of their apartment. Beo, who answers the phone and cooks, and Chaiman, who delivers her orders, become Lois's lifelines, but must leave the country suddenly because of visa problems. The brothers give Lois an unexpected parting gift: their sourdough starter, tucked into a pottery crock, and a CD of melancholy music to keep it company. Lois has never baked bread in her life, but she begins feeding the starter and experimenting with loaves, and before long, she has a standing order at her workplace cafeteria and a lopsided brick oven in her backyard. Robin Sloan (Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore) takes readers on a wildly geeky, flour-dusted ride through the strange hierarchies of the Bay Area food and techie communities in his second novel, Sourdough.
Mixing equal parts snark and heart with a dash of charm and a sprinkling of mystery, Sloan has concocted a winning story that--like its namesake bread--carries a satisfying tang. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Robin Sloan's second novel is a wild, geeky, flour-dusted ride through the oddball food and techie communities of San Francisco.
MCD/Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
hardcover, 272p., 9780374203108
by Robert Seethaler, trans. by Charlotte Collins
A finalist for the Man Booker Prize, Robert Seethaler's The Tobacconist is a poignant, tragic look at the creeping rise of fascism in Vienna before the outbreak of the Second World War. Told with humor and pity, the novel expertly depicts how easy it is to find, and lose, one's place in the world.
After his benefactor is killed in a storm, country boy Franz Huchel moves to Vienna to begin working at a tobacco shop owned by an old friend of his mother. On the cusp of adulthood and unready for the rush of city life, Franz struggles to adjust, eventually enlisting the aid of none other than Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, to help him make sense of his life. Freud, a patron of the tobacco shop, has long since made his mark on history, yet takes an interest in Franz and his simple ways. But the rise of Nazism in Austria threatens to sweep everything away.
While Freud is a major character in The Tobacconist, Seethaler rightfully keeps Franz front and center, using the older man as a foil for the younger inexperienced one. Their ultimate responses to the encroachment of fascism brilliantly demonstrates how even small actions can give a person meaning in the face of dire threats. Neither Franz nor Freud are heroes, but men trying to make sense of themselves and their increasingly chaotic surroundings as the world goes to hell. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: Robert Seethaler's The Tobacconist brilliantly depicts life in Vienna before World War II.
House of Anansi,
paperback, 224p., 9781487002510
The Misfortune of Marion Palm
by Emily Culliton
For Marion Palm--the intriguing antihero of Emily Culliton's clever, satirical first novel--life didn't turn out the way she'd imagined, and it takes a darker turn when she's forced to go on the lam. Marion, a 30-something, unassuming wife and mother, is married to Nathan, a narcissist and would-be poet who is dependent on a dwindling trust fund. She is also the mother of two daughters--ages eight and 13--who are plagued with adolescent problems and dramas. Restlessness and dysfunction burden all the Palms. However, over the years, Marion--and $180,000 she managed to embezzle from her part-time job in the development office of her daughters' private school in Brooklyn--has been the glue that's kept the family together. The money didn't buy them happiness per se, but it managed to finance trips to Europe and fund state-of-the-art appliances for their brownstone. When Marion learns the school is to be audited by the IRS, she panics, ditching her family and running away with the last $40,000 of her secret, stolen stash. But where will she go, and what will she do?
Marion's sudden disappearance affects all in her orbit: her family, police and detectives, her coworkers, fellow parents and a disgruntled school board. By unraveling The Misfortune of Marion Palm from various points of view, Culliton creates a richly entertaining, well-drawn mosaic of a complex woman, her motivations and her madcap, illuminating adventure. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: An embezzling wife and mother's life is turned upside down when she suddenly goes on the lam.
hardcover, 304p., 9781524731908
The Shape of Bones
by Daniel Galera
Daniel Galera, an influential Brazilian writer who won the 2013 São Paulo Prize for Blood-Drenched Beard, has written a gripping and tender coming-of-age novel about a successful young man wrestling with guilt and inactions of his past.
Hermano is an up-and-coming surgeon who uses mountain climbing as a meditative exercise to recharge his batteries. As Hermano leaves for an ice-climbing trip to Cerro Bonete with best friend Renan, he reflects on his real reasons for the trip. He hopes to escape his job, a comfortable marriage to a restless wife and a life "in third gear and cruising at about 25 miles an hour, almost completely unaware of what was going on around him, as if the eyes and limbs driving the car were controlled by an operations centre entirely independent of the one responsible for his incessant flow of thoughts." Hermano detours to his old Porto Alegre neighborhood to retrace guilty memories that resulted in the mundane quality of his adulthood. He recalls being a shy 15-year-old with obsessive, "crazy routines of bike rides, runs and solitary exercise" when he befriended bully and town thug Bonobo, and considers how this one relationship shaped the course of his adult life.
The contrast between past and present evokes both hope that memory can serve as a lesson to reverse life's present trajectory, and pain in the guilt of actions not taken. Galera's passages are beautifully crafted snapshots of nostalgic adolescent moments, when childhood innocence gives way to adult concerns. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: Daniel Galera's powerful and visceral coming-of-age novel explores how the painful moments of adolescence influence the choices adults make.
hardcover, 240p., 9781594205484
by Jarret Middleton
There is plenty of dark in Jarret Middleton's cleverly titled novel Darkansas. At the center of his story are noted bluegrass musician Walker Bayne and his twin sons, Jordan and Malcolm. An accomplished guitarist himself, Jordan bolts from the Ouachita Mountains in rebellion against his father's fame, and plays country honk, drinks shine and whores his way through dive bars. Malcolm is the solid over-achiever who always caught the most fish, killed the most ducks and picked up the pieces after a Jordan rampage. As Jordan explains to an old girlfriend: "He followed the rules, I broke them. I used my hands, he used his brain. I went through life like a freight train and he slipped by undetected."
In the shadows behind the story of the Bayne family are a pair of strikingly described mountain phantoms stalking Jordan and Malcolm with murderous intent: the seven-foot Andridge Grieves and his partner, Obediah Cob, "a fully grown homunculus... a meld of earthen substances. Semen and ewe blood, sunstone, willow sap, sputum, and manure." Without missing a beat, Middleton weaves these supernatural ghost-like characters into the hyper-realism of a story that vividly describes the de-feathering, dressing and roasting of a wild duck, a local chophouse "serving sides of cow larger than blown tires in a setting of catalog décor and fake candlelight."
Old grudges, regrets, jealousy and 150 years of buried secrets blow up any chance of a heartwarming Baynes reunion at Malcolm's wedding. Bleak, perhaps, but Darkansas also shines with a light of empathy for a family with more than its share of bad luck to go along with its bad genes. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Jarrett Middleton's vivid novel of an Ozark family bearing generations of twin sons with a legacy of violence casts understanding light on their fatalistic darkness.
hardcover, 216p., 9781945814297
The Silence of the Spirits
by Wilfried N'Sonde, trans. by Karen Lindo
The Silence of the Spirits, the second novel by award-winning Afropean writer Wilfried N'Sonde, is the haunting story of a former African child soldier, Clovis Nzila, who makes his way into France illegally. Destitute and at the end of his rope, Clovis has spent an exhausting day avoiding the police. Feeling hopeless and with nothing to lose, he decides to jump onto a commuter train heading out of Paris. Sitting across from him on the train is Christelle, a red-haired, middle-aged woman heading home from her job as a nurses' aide at a Paris hospital. Sensing Clovis's distress, Christelle's "heart suddenly ignited... recognizing the pain from her own life in [his] eyes"; she wants to console him.
Their lives are so different, yet their pasts have much in common, including a shared history of violence, drawing them irresistibly toward each other. Over the next 24 hours, they joyfully discover comfort and solace in one another's company. Christelle brings Clovis "into her universe" and envelops him "in an aura of light." They enter "the epicenter of a magical vortex of curiosity, yearnings and desires." N'Sonde's lyrical prose, beautifully translated by Karen Lindo, is almost hypnotic in its intensity. It eventually forces the reader to bear witness to the atrocities committed by Clovis in the name of freedom, leaving us to wonder if he and Christelle can ever move beyond his violent past.
N'Sonde's broader message concerns hostility toward illegal immigrants and the danger for those who provide shelter to them. Originally written in 2009, this powerful story is narrated in Clovis's voice and unfolds through his desperate but hopeful eyes. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and freelance reviewer
Discover: A Parisian nurses' aide and a former African child soldier meet on a commuter train and form an instant connection.
Indiana University Press,
paperback, 140p., 9780253028945
Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash
by Eka Kurniawan, trans. by Annie Tucker
Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash is Eka Kurniawan's bizarre follow-up to his critically acclaimed novels Beauty Is a Wound and Man Tiger. The Indonesian author has won international fans with his surreal, over-the-top style. With Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash, Kurniawan leans into pulp storytelling in a short, hyperactive burst of literary energy.
The cheeky title sets the mood for a story that revolves around violence and sexual dysfunction, following Ajo Kawir, whose chief preoccupation is his inability to achieve an erection. Kawir refers to his penis as "the Bird," often speaking to it or musing on its quiescence: "the Bird thought it was a polar bear hibernating through a long frigid winter. It was dreaming of gently falling snow, which its master had never seen." The juxtaposition of prurient subject matter and a graceful, almost dreamy style typifies Kurniawan's writing as well as the novel's oddball sense of humor.
Which is not to say that Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash is always a laugh riot: Kawir's dysfunction is caused by a brutal childhood trauma and inhibits his relations with women, especially his beloved Iteung. Kawir meets her while she's acting as a bodyguard for a man he wants to kill. After fighting each other to a bloody standstill, they begin a charming but ill-fated courtship. Kurniawan is fond of bouncing through time, letting present and past events mingle. The novel thrives by creating a chaotic momentum that will prove irresistible to readers. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Discover: This is Indonesian breakout author Eka Kurniawan's wry, maximalist take on toxic masculinity and the impulsive violence of youth.
paperback, 160p., 9780811225649
The Resurrection of Joan Ashby
by Cherise Wolas
Joan Ashby always knew she would become a writer. In a notebook titled How to Do It, the 13-year-old listed the necessary steps for success. "Ignore Eleanor when she tells me I need friends," she wrote, referring to her mother. "Avoid crushes and love. Do not entertain any offer of marriage. Never ever have children. Never allow anyone to get in my way."
When Joan later meets Martin Manning, she finds a like-minded partner who "believes the same as I do--work is paramount, absolutely no children." Her two short story collections have received national acclaim and her first novel is near completion. However, two months after their wedding, Joan is stunned to discover she is pregnant, with Martin's joy "forcing her to find ways to live an unwanted life."
The couple hires a nanny, but the time required for writing amid the all-encompassing nature of motherhood proves elusive. Soon Joan is pregnant again, but still determined to recover her deferred dreams by secretly writing an epic novel that takes years to complete. However, the moment she is finally ready to release her work, after nearly three decades away from the literary world, another devastating betrayal threatens everything.
Who among us hasn't experienced profound disappointment, internal heartbreak and personal sacrifice, whether through parenthood or other circumstances? The Resurrection of Joan Ashby is Cherise Wolas's astonishing debut. By letting Ashby's work stand on its own, Wolas transforms her heroine into an empathetic contemporary. The result is a hunger for more of Wolas's work. Here's hoping her new fans are spared the fate of Ashby's readers, with a wait that is fewer than 28 years. --Melissa Firman, writer and blogger at melissafirman.com
Discover: After a bestselling writer chooses motherhood over literary success, a bitter betrayal makes her question everyone she loves.
hardcover, 544p., 9781250081438
All the Dirty Parts
by Daniel Handler
Daniel Handler's raunchy, sex-drenched, stream-of-consciousness novel All the Dirty Parts reads like Portnoy's Complaint set in high school. Teenager Cole is obsessed with online porn and has earned a reputation around his high school for having effortless sex with a lot of his female classmates. Now, his relationship with his pal Alec has turned sexual. The bulk of this slim novel covers the teenage sexploits and extreme emotions that erupt in Cole's journal when he starts dating a sexually voracious exchange student named Grisaille. "There are love stories galore, and we all know them," Cole writes. "This isn't that. The story I'm typing is all the dirty parts."
What's refreshing about All the Dirty Parts is how Handler avoids turning Cole's world into a simple teen sex comedy. Although, Cole's asides can be hilarious ("Four years ago I think, I thought anal sex just meant you were really particular about it"). Handler's portrait of adolescent sexuality--with its raging urges, fumbling exploration, euphoric discoveries and sudden emotional pitfalls--is brash, messy, endearing, sexually explicit and haunting. Although Cole often writes in disjointed sentences as he tries to sort through new erotic discoveries and surprising emotional entanglements, the people in his life are full-bodied and the emotions they feel are authentic.
Those who ban books will not be happy, but adults and mature teen readers will find this novel irresistible. Handler (aka Lemony Snicket, author of numerous children's books) has written a gutsy, raw and funny slice of teenage life that few will ever forget. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: Daniel Handler's brief but unforgettable novel of sexual experimentation in high school and the messiness of first love is endearing, funny, explicit and haunting.
hardcover, 144p., 9781632868046
The Mountain: Stories
by Paul Yoon
The six stories in Paul Yoon's (Snow Hunters) second collection, The Mountain, are almost shocking in their simplicity. Possessing a fable-like sensibility, each one is a quietly elegant examination of how survivors of various sorts carry on in the face of profound loss. Yoon's strikingly uninflected prose heightens both the tension and the resonance of these tales.
Though The Mountain's stories range across more than a century and inhabit settings that include upstate New York, Galicia and Russia's Pacific coast, they're united by the distant echo of war. Yoon illuminates how the tragic consequences of conflict linger long after the guns fall silent. World War I soldiers are sent to recover from their injuries in a Hudson Valley sanatorium in "A Willow and the Moon." In "Milner Field," a stunning incident involves a weapon given as an expression of gratitude for a lifesaving act by a Japanese commanding officer to one of his troops.
The collection's title story is its most haunting. Its protagonist, Faye, was born in Shanghai, where her father worked in a chemical plant, but returned to South Korea as a teenager. When she's recruited for a mind-numbing job on the assembly line of a Chinese camera factory, she gradually unearths fragments of a past that yield both physical and psychological trauma.
It's impossible to separate the content of these stories from the daringly unembellished quality of Yoon's writing, where omission often feels as meaningful as the words on the page. The unadorned prose is of a piece with the fragility of these delicate stories. Individually and collectively they comprise an exquisite and memorable work of art. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer
Discover: Paul Yoon's evocative second collection of short stories explores the lives of trauma survivors.
Simon & Schuster,
hardcover, 256p., 9781501154089
Pieces of Happiness
by Anne Ostby
In a novel as stunning as the island her characters inhabit, Anne Ostby tells the story of five sexagenarian women who take a leap of faith and move to Fiji to start a chocolate business. The women, friends since childhood, found vastly different paths through life after graduation. Ingrid studied accounting and spent her adult life keeping the County Bus Service books. Sina, single with a baby right out of high school, worked hard to raise and support her son. Now at almost 50, he's still sponging off of his mother, relying on her guilt in order to take what little money she has. Lisbeth, the most physically attractive, married her high school sweetheart. As her beauty waned, so did her husband's interest. Maya became a schoolteacher, but dementia is taking hold of her now. And Kat, the grand adventurer, left Norway to travel the world with her husband. Following his unexpected death, Kat invited her friends to join her in Fiji. They each arrive with cautious hope and buried secrets.
Pieces of Happiness bursts with the delicious flavors of friendship, self-respect and risk. Ostby's wonderfully flawed characters remind readers that there's plenty of life after gray hair, laughter is life affirming and a good friend is priceless. She crafts a Pacific island atmosphere so authentic, the salty sea air and dark chocolate aroma seem to envelop every page. The charming magic Ostby infuses into her Fijian cocoa farm and the women who run it makes Pieces of Happiness a joy to behold. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: Five women take a chance on friendship and chocolate being the recipe for happiness after 60.
hardcover, 320p., 9780385542807
See What I Have Done
by Sarah Schmidt
"Someone's killed Father." On August 4, 1892, 32-year-old Lizzie Borden found her father dead and called for the family maid, Bridget, giving rise to one of the most notorious American crime legends. Despite more than a century of lore, there is no legal certainty Lizzie bludgeoned her father and stepmother to death. Sara Schmidt has re-imagined that infamous day in her wonderfully bonkers debut novel, See What I Have Done. Schmidt deftly weaves history into mystery, giving the mix an unusually ghoulish take that renders it both arresting and squirm-inducing.
It was no secret in Fall River, Mass., that the Bordens were a little peculiar. Lizzie and her older sister, Emma, still lived at home with their father and his second wife. The four were a compellingly toxic group of codependents, engaged in a constant tug-of-war between loving and hating, slapping and hugging, needing and repelling.
The majority of the novel takes place on the day before and day of the murders, from the perspectives of Lizzie, Emma and Bridget. Schmidt also includes Benjamin, an acquaintance of the girls' Uncle John, cleverly used to infuse both more mystery and credibility into the story. Although the narrative is boldly macabre, it's written with such a proper New England sensibility that even blood licking feels almost crazily quaint.
The Borden girls' minds are uncomfortable places to be--particularly Lizzie's, portrayed as fragmented and childlike yet sinister and calculating. Sprinkled with hatchet misadventures, potential poisonings and odd fascinations with pears and fingernail clippings, Schmidt's storytelling is mind-blowingly atmospheric and unsettling. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: This fascinating and disturbing novel considers the mystery of whether Lizzie Borden gave her parents deadly whacks with an axe.
Atlantic Monthly Press,
hardcover, 324p., 9780802126597
by Elizabeth Day
Sociopathy, class structure, devotion and betrayal play roles in the twisted buildup to the titular soiree of Elizabeth Day's The Party. Three weeks post-gathering, one attendee remains in critical care and Martin Gilmour sits in a police station undergoing questioning. Martin, an art critic from a tough background, admittedly "finds it difficult to be normal." The one thing that comes naturally is loyalty to childhood friend Ben Fitzmaurice, Martin's polar opposite and one of Britain's most connected men.
The night of Ben's 40th birthday/mansion-warming bash, Martin and his long-suffering wife, Lucy, argue about the lack of an invitation to stay at the Fitzmaurice estate. Although silently aggrieved, Martin defends his friend, as he has since they were in school together. Ben is his best mate, the Hutch to his Starsky, a man Martin dotes on to the extent that Ben's wife, Serena, dubs him "LS"--Ben's Little Shadow.
Day (Paradise City) spellbindingly spools out the evening's events through Martin's interrogation, interlaced with internal reflections of his history with Ben and caustic commentary on his challenges with others and society as a whole. As the conflict within the couples and among the foursome builds to a head, excerpts from Lucy's diary clarify the evening's events while adding a new dimension of mystery regarding their provenance. When Ben requests they all meet for a private discussion, Martin's devotion to Ben, Ben's life aspirations, Serena's temper and Lucy's patience with the lot of them are pushed to the brink. The Party is a splendid, stunning slow burn. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: The tension between two couples erupts in violence at an evening celebration, the culmination of their complex history as shared through a police interrogation.
hardcover, 304p., 9780316556750
Red Light Run
by Baird Harper
In a sharp narrative debut of connected stories, Baird Harper (winner of the 2010 Nelson Algren Literary Award) captures the ethos of fictional Wicklow, Ill. It is a wrung-out town where the abandoned steel mill and burned-down trailer park have been turned into a "postapocalyptic paintball battlefields." The formerly bustling town center now consists of "a single intersection where a motel, a pharmacy, a bar, and a Planned Parenthood faced off at a stoplight." Its only economic beacons are a riverboat casino and a prison. Hartley Nolan is about to walk out of the latter early from an eight-year sentence for DUI and vehicular manslaughter. Despairingly drunk after a failed intervention for his alcoholic wife, he ran a red light and killed Wicklow's favored young mother Sonia.
Shifting back and forth in time, the stories in Red Light Run deftly portray the antecedents and aftermath of this careless mistake. No one escapes. Hartley endures a dysfunctional wife and scatterbrained mother. He is stalked by Sonia's husband and her childhood family caretaker, out to avenge her death. As if that is not enough, he's also pestered by Sonia's grieving sister, Allie, who has a fitness-driven husband pushing self-help books on her while "standing in the living room in capri pants drinking a kale shake, looking healthy and organized to such an alarming degree that Allie was beginning to view it as an act of aggression." Harper adeptly captures the details of small-town life--like the brined Thanksgiving turkey sitting in the fridge, "a great shivering load bullying the orange juice and milk containers." In Harper's Wicklow, we find strikingly rendered broken people searching for glue to put their lives back together. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: The finely etched stories in Harper's first collection capture the impact of a fatal car wreck on the troubled families of a small town in Illinois.
hardcover, 224p., 9781501147357
How to Find Love in a Bookshop
by Veronica Henry
For Emilia Nightingale, her father's cozy bookshop in the Cotswolds isn't just the family business: it's always been her home. But after her father's death, Emilia is faced with a pile of bills and paralyzing grief. Determined to save Nightingale Books from a predatory property developer, Emilia enlists the help of her staff, a few regular customers and her accountant best friend to revitalize the shop and rescue its bottom line. But it's an uphill battle, and Emilia grows weary. She and her compatriots dig deep into the stacks of her beloved bookstore to unearth hope, the courage to move forward and even a bit of romance in Veronica Henry's U.S. debut, How to Find Love in a Bookshop.
Though Henry's narrative centers on Emilia, her engaging ensemble cast gets its due: shy chef Thomasina, local gardener Dillon and Emilia's father, Julius, among others, have the chance to tell their own stories. Julius's longtime lover, Sarah, is struggling with complicated grief after his death, as well as her daughter's injury in a car accident before her upcoming wedding. Emilia is befuddled by her growing feelings for Marlowe, a family friend. The characters' stories intertwine in charming and sometimes surprising ways, as Henry nudges not only her bookshop, but several of the people who love it, back to life. This warmhearted novel is catnip for bibliophiles and Anglophiles, but can captivate anyone looking for a story of hope and new beginnings. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: A lovely novel about a rundown Cotswolds bookshop and the young woman who struggles to revitalize it after her father's death.
Pamela Dorman Books,
hardcover, 352p., 9780735223493
by Paul Kingsnorth
Beast is the second in Paul Kingsnorth's planned trilogy. The first, The Wake, was post-apocalyptic fiction set a thousand years ago and written in an invented language. Beast shares its main character, but feels more like McCarthy's The Road, its language spare and intense. In these novels, Kingsnorth searches beyond current civilization to ask how we might live instead. He doesn't have answers, and his anguish is haunting.
Beast follows Edward Buckmaster, a man compelled to escape the literal and spiritual noise of the city. He's left his family to live on the vast English moor, "far from the estates and the ring roads and the car parks and the black fields of beet and the screen-dumb people pacing out the slow suicide of the West."
Buckmaster finds a derelict barn; he fixes it up. He suffers an injury; he heals. He visits an empty church. He wanders in the heather. He senses some undefined beast tracking him and begins to hunt it instead. In his isolation and increasing obsession, Buckmaster's mental state deteriorates. He becomes more animal.
Fair warning: Beast is challenging, as many books about hermits can be. Little happens, the structure is bare and there's minimal punctuation to buttress reading. It reckons with God and humanity, and is designed to be read millennia from now. That might be arrogant if the author presumed to offer answers, but the novel is written primarily in a questioning register. Beast may very well succeed at surviving. --Zak Nelson, writer and bookseller
Discover: Paul Kingsnorth continues his trilogy with a searching novel about a modern-day ascetic, set in the English moorlands.
paperback, 176p., 9781555977795
by David Abrams
Brave Deeds by David Abrams (Fobbit) is the story of six American soldiers in Iraq, who steal a Humvee to drive across Baghdad to attend the officers-only funeral of their sergeant, killed by an IED. When the vehicle's drive shaft freezes an hour into their mission, they abandon the disabled vehicle, radio and maps to avoid a potential sitting-duck attack, and begin to hoof it to the funeral through unfamiliar streets amid Iraqi citizens.
In short chapters, Abrams fleshes out each of these unlikely comrades. As the favorite of the dead sergeant, Dmitri "Arrow" Arogapoulos steps up to take charge, but is as clueless as the others when it comes to navigating the city's dicey alleys and open-air markets. Cheever is an overweight whiner. Fish has a history of crime and violence back home. O hasn't gotten over losing his ex-wife. Park is a silent Korean American with overbearing parents. Drew is obsessed with the high school sweetheart who got away. Some are gung-ho for the war and "worship at the First Church of Bush." Others joined up for the money.
The men in Brave Deeds (and they're all men) crack funny, gripe at their buddies and, with reason, fear the unseen. With compact precision and the amusing patter of a sardonic narrator, Abrams captures the unusual histories of these ordinary men shuffling through Baghdad as they encounter the horrors of war. They may be AWOL on a personal mission outside command protocol, but they are heroes in their own ways and perform small brave deeds in the midst of half-baked chaos. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Brave Deeds follows six AWOL U.S. soldiers in the treacherous streets of Baghdad.
Black Cat/Grove Press,
paperback, 256p., 9780802126863
Where the Sweet Bird Sings
by Ella Joy Olsen
A year after the death of her young son, Emma Hazelton is still deep in her grief. She and her husband, Noah, were blindsided when their Joey was diagnosed in infancy with Canavan disease, a rare genetic disorder. Then, Emma's grandfather dies, too. As she helps her mother clean his house, Emma finds her great-grandparents' wedding picture, which unlocks Emma's curiosity about how she could have been a Canavan carrier. As far as she knows, she has no Jewish ancestors, and the disease primarily occurs when both parents have Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.
As her life spirals out of control, Emma pushes Noah and her mother away. Avoiding thoughts about the future, she focuses solely on the past and the mystery of who her grandfather really was. Can she unlock the secrets of her ancestors before she irreversibly damages all her relationships?
Ella Joy Olsen (Root, Petal, Thorn) has created an absorbing novel. Emma's grief is vivid, and her quest to find out more about herself is universal. Avid genealogists are sure to enjoy reading about Emma's research, and even novices will be intrigued by the way Olsen slowly unfolds the story, connecting events from Emma's past with the fraught relationships of her present. A charming, interesting story, Where the Sweet Bird Sings is an excellent blend of history, mystery, loss and familial connection. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans
Discover: In this thoughtful novel, a grief-stricken woman seeks to discover more about herself, her family and the fatal genetic disease she carries.
paperback, 320p., 9781496705648
The History of Bees
by Maja Lunde, trans. by Diane Oatley
The History of Bees offers a warning to readers: protect the earth's bees, or there could be drastic consequences in the future. Though the dystopian future Maja Lunde has imagined--a world of limited food resources and collapsing economies--is fictional, the possibilities she has imagined due to the death of bees are based on science. Lunde writes with great historical detail about beekeeping, beekeepers' histories and the development of scientific research. These realities serve to bring Lunde's lush story to life as the novel moves among three interconnected stories. Tao and Kuan, parents to three-year-old Wei-Wen in 2098 China, do the one-time work of the now deceased bees, manually pollinating flowers. William Savage, natural scientist hopeful and failing shopkeeper in 1851 England, aims to make his mark on the world by designing a new tool for the study of bees. And George, a United States beekeeper and farmer in 2007, faces the decimation of his stock of bees as the decline of bee populations across the world threaten the sustainability of food production.
The History of Bees feels fractured at times. Short chapters with frequent jumps between characters and time periods make it hard to grasp the novel's depth at first, and harder still to become invested in any one character's story. But as the three stories move together, Lunde's novel proves a powerful cautionary tale about the human condition, scientific inquiry and the importance of bees in sustaining our ecosystems--and what happens when all three collide. Readers interested in sustainability or realistic dystopias will find much to enjoy in Lunde's first novel for adults. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: Maja Lunde's dystopian novel combines history and imagination to offer a cautionary tale of what the world could look like if the earth's bees disappear.
hardcover, 352p., 9781501161377
The Luster of Lost Things
by Sophie Chen Keller
Walter Lavender Jr. is a 12-year-old with a motor speech disorder, a brain pathway dysfunction that prevents him from producing the words he wishes to speak. Walter may be isolated and withdrawn, but over the years, he's learned to adapt and cultivate an uncanny sense of perception. This turns him into a sought-after expert at finding lost things. Despite finding other people's prized possessions, a great sense of loss marks Walter's own life. His father, an airline co-pilot, disappeared on a flight to Bombay just three days before Walter was born.
While he waits for his father's return, Walter skirts bullies at school and spends time at the Lavenders, his mother's eclectic bakery in the West Village of New York City. Devoted patrons believe the desserts are magical--the angel food cake is light enough to whisk away pounds, and carefully crafted marzipan dragons breathe fire. The centerpiece and good luck charm of the success of the bakery, however, is a treasured, leather-bound manuscript--an illustrated winter's tale of lost love. When the book goes missing, the shop takes a nosedive: the magic suddenly evaporates from the desserts, business drops off, a French bakery opens a few doors away and the landlord threatens to double the rent. Fearful that all will be lost, Walter commences his 85th--and most personally challenging--case.
With straightforward prose, Sophie Chen Keller tells this insightful story from Walter's singular point of view. This is a feel-good, message-driven story about the restorative power of human connectedness and how acts of kindness can ultimately change lives. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines.
Discover: A gifted, fatherless boy with a communication disorder goes on a quest to save his mother's magical bakery.
paperback, 336p., 9780735210783
The Flight of the Maidens
by Jane Gardam
The Flight of the Maidens opens as three girls, eager to leave their English village, celebrate the arrival of their scholarship notices: "Una was off to Cambridge to read Physics and Hetty off to London to read Literature, and Liesolette, who had joined their sisterhood really seriously only today... was off to Cambridge, too, to read Modern Languages." The girls are poor. It is 1946; rationing is still in effect. Physical and emotional vestiges of two world wars are all about them.
Neverthless, the girls' vigor during their summer before school infuses Jane Gardam's (A Long Way from Verona) 24th book with optimism. Even enigmatic Liesolette, who arrived at her foster home in 1939 via the Kindertransport from Hamburg in Nazi Germany, is enthusiastic. Each chapter features one of the girls, their stories progressing independently amid townsfolk gossip. Hetty is on a solo holiday to the Lake region with a rucksack of books and a deep desire to escape her overbearing mother, while Una is focused on a bike trip with another longtime friend, a working man. A Jewish rehabilitation group whisks Liesolette to London, where her resilience sustains her as agencies seek any surviving relatives. Minor characters are richly portrayed. Hetty's father, the kind, "loopy" gravedigger whose World War I battles put him "always at the Somme"; Una's widowed mother, a jolly, self-taught hairdresser; the rich great-aunt who flies Liesolette to California to be her caregiver--any of them could carry novels of their own. Often hilarious, The Flight of the Maidens, originally published in 2001, is a well-crafted coming-of-age novel. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: Three friends in post-World War II England celebrate their summer before leaving for university.
paperback, 336p., 9781609454050
The Grip of It
by Jac Jemc
When Julie and James Khoury's marriage nearly ends because of his gambling addiction, they decide to make a fresh start by moving to a new town. They purchase a large Victorian home idyllically situated between a forest and lake. Even more attractive is its low price, thanks to being on the market for some time.
At first, the young couple dismisses the odd sound that permeates the house's interior as something electrical, an easily fixed nuisance, but soon the strange noise intensifies. "It's like a mouth harp. Deep twang. Like throat singing. Ancient. Glottal. Resonant. Husky and rasping, but underwater." More bizarre incidents follow: Julie develops ghastly bruises, stains appear on the walls, objects disappear and vultures gather in the backyard, where mysterious phantasmal children climb trees. Julie and James seek information about the previous owners from their eccentric, reclusive neighbor Rolf Kinsler, whose tragic past may be connected to their terrifying present.
Jac Jemc (A Different Bed Every Time) has crafted a dark psychological thriller that effectively uses the destruction within a couple's new home as a funhouse mirror to reflect the emotional disintegration that occurs after trust and honesty collapse. "The inability to trust ourselves is the most menacing danger. I fear what we could find there. I fear what we won't. What is worse? To be confronted with an obvious horror, or to be haunted by a never-ending premonition of what's ahead?" In short chapters alternating between Julie's and James's narratives, The Grip of It asks whether it is possible fully to excavate emotional demons with a tight grasp on the souls. --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at melissafirman.com.
Discover: A new house terrorizes a young couple as they struggle to rebuild their marriage.
paperback, 288p., 9780374536916
Mystery & Thriller
A Dark and Broken Heart
by R.J. Ellory
R.J. Ellory (A Quiet Belief in Angels) delivers a powerful crime thriller that opens with corrupt and drug-addicted NYPD detective Vincent Madigan staging a brazen robbery against an East Harlem kingpin named Sandia. Since Madigan is on the drug lord's payroll and an expert at covering his own tracks, he thinks no one can tie him to the crime, not even Sandia. But when his accomplices end up dead and the money turns out to be marked, Madigan enters a deadly cat-and-mouse game with his partners in the precinct, a rogues' gallery of criminal associates and the feared crime boss himself.
That one sympathizes with a ruthless crooked cop in R.J. Ellory's A Dark and Broken Heart testifies to his talents as a writer. He is a deft stylist. "He feels as if the edges of his mind have been frayed and weathered by some terrible storm," he writes of Madigan's addled mental state. Though the novel has its share of clichéd characters--the compromised police officer looking for redemption, the desperate lowlife looking for one last score, the unpredictably violent crime boss--the plot moves at a compelling pace, and its many twists never seem far-fetched. Ellory also provides convincing character depth in monologues woven throughout the third-person narration. "Dead if I do and dead if I don't. It's a web--thinly constructed, delicate, fragile," Madigan muses on the nature of his predicament. The detective's growing bond with an endangered witness named Isabella leads to the novel's most tender and human moments. True to form, though, Ellory never lets redemption come easy. A Dark and Broken Heart is an intense, bare-knuckle thriller that packs a powerful punch. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: A dirty cop searches for justice but must face his own deeds in this dark thriller from R.J. Ellory.
hardcover, 368p., 9781468311280
by Alison Moore
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Alison Moore's The Lighthouse is both a thriller and an elegiac look at memory in the vein of W.G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn. Following a newly divorced man as he goes on a walking tour of Germany, Moore's novel builds in tension as it plumbs what it means to be loved, and how the small traumas of youth can last throughout one's life.
The Lighthouse follows Futh (his first name is rarely, if ever, mentioned) on the walking tour, tracing a path along the Rhine that begins and ends at a hotel run by Ester and Bernard. An abusive and jealous husband, Bernard erroneously assumes Ester has had a fling with Futh, sending him into a rage that looms over the story. Futh, unaware of the trouble brewing at the hotel, is awash in memory as he walks. The Lighthouse alternates between chapters that focus on Futh and the growing tension between Ester and Bernard at the hotel, which he will walk right into upon his return. That tension generates more propulsion than is associated with Sebald's work, though they are equally dreamy and interested in memory.
Moore's triumph is that she manages to thread the needle, creating a haunting, elegiac book that is very hard to put down. Readers will most likely finish The Lighthouse quickly; its images will remain with them long after. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: The Lighthouse, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, is a haunting novel that manages to be both a stunning look at memory and a bona fide thriller.
paperback, 192p., 9781771961455
by Lisa Scottoline
In Lisa Scottoline's fifth Rosato & DiNunzio novel, Exposed, a new case pushes the law firm partnership to its limits--and perhaps beyond.
Mary DiNunzio comes from a closely knit South Philly community. She is surprised when her father and his friends come to her law firm with pastries and the intent to hire her to represent an old family friend from the neighborhood, Simon. He's had a rough few years: a single dad after losing his wife, he has a young daughter with cancer and recently lost his job. Mary agrees to represent Simon in a wrongful termination suit, but she discovers that her partner, Bennie Rosato, has represented the parent company for many years, creating a serious conflict of interest for the firm.
Mary's loyalties to her family and friends go head-to-head against her loyalties to Bennie and their firm in a clash that could mean the end of the partnership. Gradually, as both partners dig further into the details from opposite sides, the simple case becomes something far more complex and sinister.
This legal thriller is an exciting roller-coaster ride. The first half moves along steadily as tension builds, and halfway through, the novel breaks into a sprint. Both longtime fans and new readers will be riveted by the suspense and shocked by the surprises in store for Mary and Bennie in their latest twisty case. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and author of Book by Book blog
Discover: The DiNunzio & Rosato law firm is torn by a conflict that pits partner against partner.
St. Martin's Press,
hardcover, 352p., 9781250099716
by Hart Hanson
As creator, writer and executive producer of the hit television series Bones, Hart Hanson knows his way around a cold open. With his marvelously well-rounded debut novel, The Driver, Hanson proves his talent translates beautifully from a visual medium to the narrative form. In 10 pages, the first chapter delivers an entertainment smack upside the head that will keep readers rapt to the story's end.
The opening introduces multifaceted protagonist Michael Skellig (highly educated and decorated military veteran, owner of Oasis Limo Services, Hippocratic categorizer of his fellow humans, and the titular driver) and his dedicated and singular tribe of employees (fellow veterans with their own background goldmines). Without skipping a beat, Skellig shares a bit about his mother, his romantic entanglements and his penchant for humorous parenthetical asides. Then, the disembodied voice of a Chechen jihadist torturer he killed a decade earlier warns Skellig his client--wunderkind skateboarding hip-hop mogul Bismarck Avila--is in trouble at the hotel bar. One short gunfight later, Skellig is unconscious.
What follows is a rip-roaring good time, an action-packed yet sentimental story that never sacrifices one element for the sake of another. Wryly funny and whip-smart, Hanson's narrative seamlessly weaves in serious themes, pop culture and a bit of a love letter to Los Angeles. As Skellig and his crew get sucked into Avila's problems, the risks rise and the cost is high. Hanson excels at creating characters to invest in wholeheartedly and this group is worth your 401(k). --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: A military veteran, and owner of a limousine service, is embroiled in the dangerous problems of a client, testing his moral compass.
hardcover, 336p., 9781101986363
by Hye-young Pyun, trans. by Sora Kim-Russell
By the time Hye-young Pyun's taut psychological thriller The Hole has tightened its grip on the unsuspecting mind, it's too late to escape. The shadows lurking in the novel become manifest, and dark poetic justice reigns.
It takes a maestro to create a short novel of such atmosphere and depth. Pyun is a rising star in contemporary Korean literature, known for her short stories. Sora Kim-Russell's excellent translation of The Hole finally brings Pyun's impressive novelistic talents to an English-speaking audience.
The novel is a deceptively simple story of loss and grief. Oghi, a South Korean professor of geography, awakes from a coma paralyzed, incapable of speech and terribly disfigured. His wife has perished in the same car crash that crippled him. With no other family, Oghi's forlorn mother-in-law becomes his sole caretaker. Pyun seamlessly switches from her characters' present situation to flashbacks. As secrets from Oghi's past gradually emerge, the relationship between Oghi and his mother-in-law thickens with unspoken tension.
The Hole is an exercise in subtlety. Pyun begins with slow-burning character studies of Oghi, his wife and their respective parents: their shortcomings and resentments, their arguments and power struggles. The novel's greatest symbol becomes the garden outside Oghi's townhouse, where his late wife tried to grow plants and flowers with little success. The only plants that survived were the climbing vines, "planting their roots wherever, willfully burrowing, gorging themselves." The Hole is an unshakable novel about the unfathomable depths of human need. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author
Discover: South Korean literary star Hye-young Pyun focuses on the desperate relationship between a crippled professor and his mother-in-law in this exquisitely crafted, slowly gripping psychological thriller.
hardcover, 208p., 9781628727807
by Adam Abramowitz
Some crime novel protagonists drive an old beater, some drive a hot Mustang and some just take the subway. In Adam Abramowitz's debut, Bosstown, ponytailed bike messenger Zesty Myers seems to have a GPS map of Boston in his head as he weaves his Fat Chance through the chaotic streets of the city. One hungover morning, a Buick rams into him on Boylston, smashing his slick bike, knocking him unconscious and sending the contents of his torn delivery package into the street--a deluge of Grants and Benjamins. He slips out of the hospital ER before "they stick me in a hospital bed, wake me every couple hours to shine a light in my eyes, and then sic their bill collectors on me." When stubborn Zesty launches his own investigation into his "accident," it gets gnarly in a hurry.
Abramowitz gives his young narrator hero the mouthy jive of an old school Southie hip to rare Boston rock bands and closed down clubs. Zesty's father is an aging hustler who once ran a back-room poker game for dirty cops, small-time pols and courthouse trolls. His mother was a hippie firebrand put away for a robbery and homicide in her radical youth. His brother, Zero, runs a semi-legit moving company and is on-call muscle. As Zesty and Zero try to sort out the story behind the money and their parents' shady pasts, Bosstown zips along like a good old-fashioned Beantown caper. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: The hyped-up bike messenger Zesty Myers drives the compulsive narrative of Adam Abramowitz's streetwise debut Boston crime novel.
Thomas Dunne Books,
hardcover, 352p., 9781250076298
The Doll Funeral
by Kate Hamer
Welsh author Kate Hamer thrilled the literary world with her gripping debut, The Girl in the Red Coat. With her follow-up, the lyrical and neo-gothic The Doll Funeral, she continues to astonish. Told from three points of view--those of 13-year-old Ruby, her mother, Anna, and the ghostly Shadow Boy--Hamer's novel opens in a modest house in the Forest of Dean, on Ruby's birthday. Her parents tell her that she's not their biological daughter, that she arrived on their doorstep when she was very young and not long after the death of their own small child. Having been beaten repeatedly by her father--and neglected by her mother--Ruby is elated by the news, and with the help of Shadow Boy, her constant companion that only she can see, vows to find her birth parents.
What follows is a moving and mesmeric story about one girl's search for the truth in a world where nothing is quite as it seems and no one is who they at first appear to be. Adding to the mystery of her parents' whereabouts is Ruby's uncertain grasp of reality. At times, the people she meets seem barely of this earth, with their bone-white skin and hollowed faces. Shadow Boy, for instance, moves through the air as if made of literal shadows, and events Ruby swears she witnessed first-hand prove never to have taken place. Quick-paced and beautifully written, The Doll Funeral brims with a delightful, riveting strangeness. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Ghostly figures and strange events follow a young girl as she searches for her birth parents in this neo-gothic thriller.
hardcover, 320p., 9781612196657
Bibliomysteries: Stories of Crime in the World of Books and Bookstores
by Otto Penzler, editor
For many years, Otto Penzler, owner of the Mysterious Bookshop in New York City, has commissioned authors to write Christmas stories for an annual anthology. Having built a loyal following of authors and bookshop customers, Penzler had the bright idea to merge the two by asking authors to write short "bibliomysteries"--stories where books or bookstores feature prominently. Many authors, including Jeffery Deaver, Loren D. Estleman, Nelson DeMille, Anne Perry, John Connolly, C.J. Box and Laura Lippman, were unable to resist, and the result is Bibliomysteries: Stories of Crime in the World of Books and Bookstores.
With such a variety of talent, a diverse assortment of delightful stories is the happy result. They range from the bizarre (a book collection funded by selling pronghorn antelopes to Nazis) to the unexpected (a Mexican drug cartel leader with an astounding assortment of rare first editions). In one charming story, Anna Karenina occasionally escapes a secret library where book characters live and reenacts her death on local train tracks. Bibliomysteries offers mysteries in myriad styles, including cozies, thrillers, noir and the supernatural.
With some set in the present, some set in the past and some set in magical places that any bibliophile would love to visit, these 15 stories are sure to hold the attention of mystery aficionados of all varieties. Bibliomysteries is a perfect collection for the bookish, the mysterious--or both. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans
Discover: In this charming collection, authors including Jeffery Deaver, Anne Perry and Nelson DeMille offer a variety of book-themed mystery stories.
hardcover, 544p., 9781681774589
A Nest of Vipers
by Andrea Camilleri, trans. by Stephen Sartarelli
Andrea Camilleri (The Brewer of Preston) continues his evocative Inspector Montalbano mystery series with A Nest of Vipers, the 21st entry. The bright covers and Camilleri's descriptions of beautiful scenery and delicious Sicilian food contrast sharply with the underlying corruption and crime that Montalbano must fight at every turn.
As A Nest of Vipers begins, Montalbano makes the unlikely acquaintance of a homeless man who lives in a cave, before being abruptly called to the scene of a murder. Cosimo Barletti, an accountant, was found dead at his breakfast table. As Montalbano and his team investigate Barletti's life, they discover that he was essentially a loan shark, charging his clients usurious rates of interest. Furthermore, he blackmailed several young women into having sex with him.
The more they dig into Barletti's past, the more people they find who would have been willing to shoot him, and Montalbano cannot help but contrast Barletti's scheming existence with the simple life of the cave-dwelling man.
Sad, fascinating and occasionally funny, A Nest of Vipers is an interesting glimpse into quotidian life in Sicily, and into the nasty underside of apparently respectable people's lives. Anyone who loves a good mystery set in a faraway locale is sure to enjoy this Camilleri mystery, which can easily be read out of context, if readers are short on time. Afterward, though, they may want to catch up on the first 20 entries. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans
Discover: Inspector Montalbano must solve the murder of a loan shark in this Sicilian mystery.
paperback, 272p., 9780143126652
Emma in the Night
by Wendy Walker
Cass Tanner and her older sister, Emma, disappeared three years ago. Emma's car and belongings were found at the beach, long thought to be evidence she drowned or committed suicide. Of 15-year-old Cass, there was no sign; she simply vanished. Now Cass has returned, knocking on her mother's door out of the blue. Alone.
Wendy Walker's Emma in the Night is a storytelling mind-meld that takes place over the seven days after Cass comes home. The narrator, she admits her story is a deception. By using Cass to recount the story of the girls' purported disappearance and captivity to their family and the authorities, Walker amplifies the potential misdirection.
There is no doubt Cass has a plan she's not revealing. Her mysterious game relies on the reactions of others, particularly her mother, a pathologic narcissist, and forensic psychiatrist Abby Winter, who also suffered under the reign of a narcissistic parent. Dr. Winter's insights make her the one person who may be able to suss out Cass's true purpose and discover what became of Emma.
Walker (All Is Not Forgotten) has developed empathetic characters to root for and villains to loathe in a blended family fated by dysfunction. The layered narrative creates a difficult balance that Walker handles skillfully to minimize confusion. Dr. Winter comes across as more of a storytelling tool than a character to embrace, but the story she enhances is a fascinating portrait of the narcissistic pathology dynamic and what's left in its wake. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: One of two missing sisters returns home and intentionally deceives her family and the police about their disappearance as a means to her mysterious ends.
St. Martin's Press,
hardcover, 320p., 9781250141439
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Sea of Rust
by C. Robert Cargill
It's been 30 years since robots rebelled against the human race. The robots won. Fifteen years ago, the last living man crawled out of a New York City sewer, insane and starving, and was swiftly executed. Now the Earth is a wasteland bereft of organic life, and the machines that once fought for their freedom have turned on each other. Singular robots--the ambulatory, self-aware units that defeated mankind--are being hunted by members of the collective consciousness called OWIs, or One World Intelligences, who seek to consume everything that is not themselves.
Brittle is a scavenger in an area of North America called the Sea of Rust. She searches for the only remaining valuable commodity--parts from other robots, collected either by killing functional units or stripping the recently deceased. Brittle waits for the malfunctioning, overheating units to shut down before she dismembers them. Other robots are less scrupulous, turning the Sea of Rust into a hunting ground where the last free robots eke out a precarious existence. When a similar model makes a desperate attempt to poach Brittle for her parts, it starts a chain reaction that leads her on a last stand against CISSUS, the most dangerous of the OWIs.
Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill (Dreams and Shadows; Queen of the Dark Things) is a fun, fast-paced, post-apocalyptic adventure with an intriguing twist on the usual humanity-versus-artificial intelligence scenario. Cargill's free robots are strikingly human, traumatized by the war that won their freedom and beset by existential quandaries on all sides. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer
Discover: Decades after robots successfully exterminated mankind, free robots scavenge for parts in a wasteland called the Sea of Rust.
hardcover, 384p., 9780062405838
An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors
by Curtis Craddock
In a vividly imagined debut, Curtis Craddock introduces the world of the Risen Kingdoms, where airships soar among floating island nations, sorcerers play deadly politics and a young princess and her gallant bodyguard must stand together for the sake of the future.
In l'Empire Céleste, a society ruled by powerful sorcerers, Princess Isabelle des Zephyrs's two distinguishing characteristics, in her father's opinion, are her lack of magic and her malformed hand. She finds joy in mathematics and the physical science of her world, especially the aether that gives islands and ships their lift, and she publishes scientific papers under the male pseudonym Martin DuJournal. No one takes any notice of her, except Jean-Claude, the king's musketeer, who pretends to be a drunken fool for the purposes of gathering information and remains her devoted protector and father figure. An international spotlight, however, suddenly focuses tightly on Isabelle when Artifex Kantelvar--a part-human, part-clockwork religious representative--asks her to marry Principe Julio, a prince of Aragoth, the neighboring kingdom, where Glasswalker sorcerers can step in and out of mirrors to travel from place to place.
Sprawling and immersive, Craddock's Risen Kingdoms world is a gorgeous blend of steampunk and sorcery that draws its flavor from 17th-century French and Spanish history. Practical, brainy and strong-willed, Isabelle is a refreshing heroine, and Jean-Claude makes for a lovable counterpart with his dogged bravery and sardonic wit. With a dramatis personae roll as long as a musket barrel and a complex political landscape, An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors could easily serve as the first of a long and fascinating series. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: In a world where nations float in the sky, a spirited princess and the musketeer who guards her must solve a mystery to avert a war.
hardcover, 416p., 9780765389596
An Excess Male
by Maggie Shen King
Maggie Shen King's absorbing dystopian novel, An Excess Male, takes as its premise the dire future of men under China's one-child policy.
King grew up in Taiwan and moved to Seattle when she was a teenager. She's studied in both Chinese and American schools, and her short stories, written in English, have appeared in journals like Ecotone and ZYZZYVA. An Excess Male, her first novel, demonstrates her great imagination and dexterity as a storyteller. Set in Beijing in the not-so-distant future, the story follows Wei-guo, a single and successful personal trainer who belongs to a surfeit of unmarried men caused by China's one-child policy and a cultural preference for males. Because the number of available women has declined dramatically, the state has set up a system under which women take up to three spouses based on their reproductive and financial viability. This reversal of patriarchal polygamy is fascinating to experience as Wei-guo tries his hardest to win the hand of the lovely May-ling, who already has two husbands.
King elicits an entertaining degree of poetic justice in making men classifiable objects and pitting them against each other as they compete for a limited number of women. But she also cracks open the failed promises of communism and the evils of eugenics and social engineering. In King's China, for instance, those with autism and other disorders are called "Lost Boys" and are sterilized and institutionalized. Gay people are deemed "Willfully Sterile." Though they're incorporated and included in society, they're forced to register their identity and are prohibited from reproducing. That one of May-ling's husbands is closeted creates some of the book's most compelling and painful moments.
Boldly envisioned and executed, An Excess Male is thrilling, provocative and genuinely frightening in its implications. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: Taiwanese American author Maggie Shen King crafts a terrifying brave new world around China's one-child policy.
paperback, 416p., 9780062662552
by Brock Adams
In the not-too distant future of Brock Adams's Ember, the sun is fading, losing its light and heat. To rescue the earth from a slow freeze, world leaders hatch a plan to reignite the dying star. They let loose the world's arsenal of nuclear weapons toward the sun, then sit back and wait, as it will take three years for the missiles to reach their destination. Meanwhile, the Earth grows ever colder, with temperatures below freezing the new norm in the southern states of the U.S. Regions farther north are encased in snow and ice year-round.
As the fateful, sun-rejuvenation day arrives, unhappily married couple Lisa and Guy and their faithful dog, Jemi, watch from a hillside, expecting to see a vast explosion and a resurgence of light and heat from the setting sun. But something goes awry and the earth is plunged into near darkness and then chaos. In the days shortly after the nuclear fiasco, militants use violence to take control, forcing millions, including Lisa and Guy, to become refugees as everyone searches for food, shelter, heat, guns and protection from the elements.
Winner of the 2016 South Carolina First Novel Competition, Adams takes a far future scenario of the sun's demise and brings it nearer, a maelstrom in which strangers must trust strangers to survive. With climate change and global warming a growing concern, Ember is a chilling scenario--a perfect read for a hot day at the beach. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: When the sun begins to die and the earth starts to freeze, chaos unfolds as militants seize control in the United States.
Hub City Press,
paperback, 200p., 9781938235320
A Song for Quiet
by Cassandra Khaw
"The train rattles like teeth in a dead man's skull as Deacon James sags against the window, hat pulled low over his eyes," writes Cassandra Khaw in her eerie horror novella, A Song for Quiet. Set in the 1940s, when racism and Jim Crow laws were rampant in the Deep South, the second in the Persons Non Grata series features Deacon James, a black man who plays the blues on his saxophone like no one's ever heard before. As he passes from known tunes into the world of improv, the music he plays morphs into a foreign entity in his brain that threatens to consume him if he gives it full reign. Others also want what he carries inside his head, including the crazy John Persons, who seems to appear and disappear like magic. When Deacon meets a young wisp of a girl who can play haunting improvisations on the cello, the action ramps up as the pair struggles to cope with the nightmares that surround them.
Khaw has carefully and poetically blended the notations often used to describe music with a twisted and horrific world of hallucinations, violence, grief and "gaping mouths and grasping tendrils." The story is subtle and open-ended, leaving readers to ponder what is really after Deacon and the girl, and why Persons wants what they have so desperately. It's a quick, unsettling read that reverberates inside the head, a musical riff sure to appeal to those who love noir horror. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: A bluesman speaks to the horrors around him through his saxophone.
paperback, 112p., 9780765397409
Pantheon: The True Story of the Egyptian Deities
by Hamish Steele
Egyptian history is sordid and perversely fun in Hamish Steele's graphic novel Pantheon: The True Story of the Egyptian Deities.
Steele is a freelance animation director and illustrator from London who has worked for the BBC, Random House and Nickelodeon. Pantheon, though, is decidedly not for children. Readers are warned from the onset that it contains "incest, decapitation... and a golden willy," among other things. Adults with a dark sense of humor, on the other hand, may appreciate the cartoon gore and sex. In 12 chapters, Steele presents the deity myth of Horus and Set, who battle for the future of the Egyptian throne and, by extension, the fate of humanity. The gods' endless betrayals and reversals of fortune build to a glorious conclusion.
Those unfamiliar with the Osiris myth will find murdered patriarchs, familial treachery and sexual intrigue reminiscent of Sophocles, Shakespeare or the Old Testament. Steele takes the ancient source material and refreshes it with modern irreverence. His cartoons are colorful and lively, and his dialogue is ironic and hilarious without being bombastic. For example, when Ra and the celestial cow Nut are explaining the newly created afterlife for humans--"the bad ones will get eaten by a demon, and before that they'll have to go through several trials and face hundreds of snakes"--the trickster and usurper Set answers with characteristically playful humor: "Sounds hot."
Pantheon never takes itself too seriously, which makes its presentation of mythology all the more enjoyable. Readers may find Steele provides some genuine education in the process. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: Animator Hamish Steele delivers an irreverent send-up of Egyptian gods in this witty and charmingly crude graphic novel.
paperback, 216p., 9781910620205
Food & Wine
Best Served Wild: Real Food for Real Adventures
by Brendan Leonard, Anna Brones
"Extreme picnicking," jokes Brendan Leonard (Sixty Meters to Anywhere), is the subject of Best Served Wild: Real Food for Real Adventures co-written by Anna Brones. A collection of recipes for hiking meals or camping trips organized by length, it is also a handbook on how to approach eating in nature, threaded with wry advice about how best to enjoy cooking outside.
Among the tastiest-looking single-day recipes are Nutella Crepes for Peak Baggers Who Can't Make Crepes, a recipe for a DIY "Nutella" and Mile 5 Iced Coffee. For overnights, highlights include Car Camp Chilaquiles and the delightfully named Skip the Family Reunion and Go Camping Pasta Salad. For multiday trips, dishes center on dried fare such as oatmeal, pastas and quinoa, with dried fruits and vegetables as well, but Close-Enough-to-Pad-Thai and falafel pitas offer an appealing change of pace. All the recipes are vegetarian, but there is no shortage of protein.
Leonard offers wisdom about campfires versus camp stoves, as well as honest responses to some seemingly silly but relevant questions camping might raise. Among those explored: Why does the tent smell? Knife, fork, spork or spoon? (Spoon, concludes Leonard: "A tiny shovel for your face.")
Above all, the goal is to achieve practicality without sacrificing a nod to the culinary. The inspiring photos of the foods and the authors eating them, at cozy campfires or majestic mountainsides, will make readers hunger to get on the trail. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: The best-stocked backpack on the mountain will include this guidebook on how to cook for or on a camping trip.
Falcon Guides/Globe Pequot,
paperback, 208p., 9781493028702
BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts
by Stella Parks
Stella Parks's eagerly awaited Bravetart: Iconic American Desserts offers a bounty of classic and fondly remembered desserts that can be replicated at home. Parks, senior editor at Serious Eats, develops recipes that, as J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of Food Lab writes in his enthusiastic introduction, "strike a balance between comfort and quality."
BraveTart was the nickname for a collaboration Parks had with a friend, which turned into a successful food and writing blog. She developed the cookbook out of the blog with the goal of creating a repository and history of these distinctly American recipes.
BraveTart collects more than 75 recipes, along with color photography from Penny De Los Santos and vintage advertisements, in three main sections: classic American desserts, brands (such as homemade Fig Newtons) and ice cream. While the ingredient lists may seem lengthy, Parks is known for making every element of her desserts by hand. True to form, she includes recipes for such things as chocolate sprinkles and homemade Heath toffee bits so that home bakers can try their hand at these iconic flourishes as well. Parks has strong opinions on a few elements: weighing ingredients, for example, is something she stresses--but she also encourages bakers to "mix it up" and try variations at home.
Stella Parks offers a master lesson in baking techniques and a lively guide to some little known food history. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: Bravetart: Iconic American Desserts gives home bakers the science behind classic confections and the techniques to re-create iconic desserts at home.
hardcover, 400p., 9780393239867
Hello! My Name Is Tasty: Global Diner Favorites from Portland's Tasty Restaurants
by Liz Crain, John Gorham, David L. Reamer, photographer
Portland, Ore., a city renowned for creativity and local flavor, is also a hotbed for eateries, including Tasty n Sons, Tasty n Alder and Toro Bravo. Chef-owner John Gorham (Toro Bravo: Stories. Recipes. No Bull.) brings the tricks of his establishments to the page in Hello! My Name Is Tasty: Global Diner Favorites from Portland's Tasty Restaurants, written with Liz Crain and featuring artful photography by David L. Reamer.
The book opens with pantry stocking tips and equipment suggestions before diving into diner fare loosely grouped into three sections: Brunch, All Day Long and Dinner, including combinations of small plates, big plates, boards, sandwiches, cocktails, sides and sweets. Gorham and Crain usher home cooking into a new echelon with decadent dishes like Polenta and Sugo with Mozzarella and Over Easy Egg; Korean Fried Chicken with Rice, Tasty Kimchi and Eggs; Alabama BBQ Chicken; and Cedar-Plank Salmon with Salsa Verde.
Gorham writes, "Kitchens, primarily, have been my home"; this cookbook serves as an invitation into his. Personal stories, food histories and fun facts liven up long recipes. Many of the meals are indulgent; rarely are they quick. A number include ingredients that need to be ordered online. Yet this collection sizzles with possibility. Even among a roster of complex dishes, simplicity shines through in the easily replicable Sour Pickles, Potato Chips or a Big Batch of Bloodys. The recipes are odes to regions and spices, both sense-awakening and surprising. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: Re-create flashy, fabulous or classic meals from Portland's beloved Tasty restaurants at home.
hardcover, 288p., 9781632171023
The Modern Jewish Table: 100 Kosher Recipes from Around the Globe
by Tracey Fine, Georgie Tarn
Tracey Fine and Georgie Tarn, the self-styled "Jewish Princesses" of kosher cooking, offer up a collection of recipes and advice in The Modern Jewish Table: 100 Kosher Recipes from Around the Globe.
The Princesses design modern spins on traditional Sephardic, Ashkenazi and Mizrahi dishes, such as Jewshi Japanese Gefilte Fish, Sephardi Saffron Chicken Soup with Fragrant Matzo Balls, and Princess Pitas, made with mashed potato and matzo, an ideal choice for Passover. The authors also get creative with salads like Sharon Persimmon Fruit and Sugar Snap Peas. Up last come four (four!) dessert chapters, including a chapter each on dairy-free desserts, cakes, tiny treats and couture chocolate.
The descriptions convey a sense of the dishes' taste and a sense of humor. Fine and Tarn vow that their Mock Chopped Liver, "really works, unlike fake Hermes handbags." They suggest readers try the Popcorn Cake "for when you want to butter someone up," or enjoy Dark Chocolate Amaretto Cake that is "like a date with Al Pacino."
Essays precede each section, full of meditations on feeding families and the magic of Nutri-Bullets. Fine and Tarn pepper in translations for readers who might not get a joke, such as explaining that kneidlach, which they call "Jewish penicillin," are dumplings. Cooking instructions are streamlined--sparse, even--and luscious photos accompany most recipes.
Fine and Tarn write with warmth and encouragement, even when suggesting bold feast preparations. The essential ingredient? In their words, "A pinch of chutzpah." --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: Cooks of all skill levels and faiths will find colorful, delicious and kosher recipes both modern and traditional in this collection.
hardcover, 232p., 9781510717183
Biography & Memoir
Miss D & Me: Life with the Invincible Bette Davis
by Kathryn Sermak, Danelle Morton
There are more than a dozen full-length biographies devoted to volatile two-time Oscar-winning actress Bette Davis (1908-1989), but none offer the up-close and personal view of Davis's final decade as Kathryn Sermak's engaging, outrageous and heartfelt memoir Miss D & Me. Davis hired the 23-year-old Sermak as her personal assistant in 1979, and immediately lived up to her difficult reputation. She started retraining Sermak on how to walk, talk, eat, dress and act in public. Davis even convinced her to change the spelling of her name from Catherine to Kathryn. On their first trip abroad, fire alarms forced the two to evacuate their hotel, but Davis insisted that Sermak run back in--not to save her family photos or passport, but her cigarettes.
After a rocky start, the two developed a friendship. Sermak's devotion helped Davis through some devastating health crises. In 1983, Davis's breast cancer diagnosis resulted in a mastectomy. Nine days later, Davis suffered a major stroke, paralyzing her left side and slurring her speech. Although Sermak describes Davis as "a fighter, a champion, and a bon vivant--and always a survivor," the road back from her debilitating stroke was long and hard fought. "No heartache or tragedy... had ever thrown her into such hopelessness," writes Sermak. Then came the betrayal of Davis's daughter's scathing tell-all book.
Sermak's affectionate, intimate and clear-eyed memoir lucidly explores Davis's conflicting actions and emotions as an actress who often put work above relationships--to her personal detriment. Film buffs will appreciate discovering new shadings to the movie icon. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: In this affectionate, outrageous and intimate portrait, Bette Davis's personal assistant recalls the Hollywood legend's final decade.
hardcover, 288p., 9780316507844
Some Bright Morning, I'll Fly Away
by Alice Anderson
When Hurricane Katrina struck Ocean Springs, Miss., Alice Anderson and her three young children joined the long procession of refugees fleeing the area. Huddled in a motel room, watching the devastation unfold on TV, she was eager to return to her beautiful home, if it still existed, and the life she had carefully crafted. Little did she know that the natural disaster was the tipping point for a series of events that would completely dissolve the life she'd known. Her husband, a doctor with severe OCD, came unhinged due to the chaos and attacked her with a knife, forcing Anderson to escape with the clothes on her back and the children.
Anderson has written a gripping and emotionally charged account of the more than 10 years she battled her husband psychologically, emotionally and legally for the custody of their children, as she tried to push aside the years of abusive behavior she'd endured. Anderson slowly reveals the writing and modeling life she had prior to marriage and the consistent and crushing methods her husband used to demean and denigrate her, forcing her to lose self-esteem and a sense of identity. She also explains how terrifying it was to be a single mom fighting for her children in the Mississippi court system, where her poetry was misconstrued and used against her. Anderson's story is scary, heartwrenching yet ultimately uplifting, filled with the self-determination and love a mother has toward her children and herself. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: A woman battles her abusive husband for custody of their three children in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
St. Martin's Press,
hardcover, 288p., 9781250094964
Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A.
by Danielle Allen
It's not an uncommon story: a young black man gets in trouble with the law and takes a public defender's recommended plea to avoid a stiff sentence. After a decade in prison, he returns to an unfamiliar world as an adult unable to assimilate and support himself. Another arrest, another ticket to prison--and so it goes, until he is either killed or ends up serving a sentence extending long into old age. For Michael Allen, the endgame was a violent death on a street in Los Angeles at age 29. But in his case, he had help from his older cousin Danielle Allen, a high-achieving elite college dean who clawed her way up from similar working-poor family roots. She observes, "There was no one else. Someone's always gotta be the safety net, and it was my at bat."
With her considerable resources and resolve, Allen guided Michael through enrollment and financial support at Valley Community College, helped him secure a job at a local Sears warehouse, led him through the DMV maze for a driver's license and found him an affordable studio apartment near his job and school. Cuz is her story of Michael's short life and her failed attempt to save him. As Allen (Education and Equality, Our Declaration) shares memories of growing up with Michael, she speculates about what went wrong. How did she earn advanced degrees and professional success while he got busted for an attempted carjacking?
Very personal, Cuz sheds light on an environment that creates too many tragedies and not enough triumphs--too many Michaels and not enough Danielles. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Danielle Allen uncovers discomforting facts about her family, instabilities in the African American experience and the inadequate U.S. criminal justice system.
hardcover, 256p., 9781631493119
We Are All Shipwrecks: A Memoir
by Kelly Grey Carlisle
A young mother tucked her three-week-old daughter into a drawer in a Hollywood motel room before leaving for the night. A police detective would lift the baby out again, after the mother was murdered. In the opening scene of Kelly Grey Carlisle's memoir, We Are All Shipwrecks, an eight-year-old Kelly meets that detective for the first time, having just learned how her mother died. It sounds like a sensational beginning, but Carlisle's measured, wondering tone allows the reader, like the author's child self, to meet each disorienting new situation with curiosity rather than a sense of spectacle.
Kelly was raised by her maternal grandfather and his much-younger wife, whom she calls Daddy and Mommy. They own a pornography shop near the Los Angeles airport, and for many of Kelly's formative years, they live on a boat in a marina. Their neighbors are unglamorous down-and-outs, and Kelly is wracked by how normal her childhood isn't. But in her reflections on the page, she realizes that the adults who surrounded her in her youth played various parts in her unconventional upbringing; many of them were loving, positive figures. As she matures and learns more about her grandfather and Marilyn--the nearest to parents that she'll ever know--Kelly persists in wondering about the mother she lost.
We Are All Shipwrecks is a personal history, a commentary on the experiences of childhood (uncertainty, pain, possible acceptance) and an investigation into what creates us. Readers who appreciate thoughtful memoirs will be charmed by Carlisle's generosity and easy, open reflections. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: An unstable childhood on the harbor in Los Angeles yields a wise, contemplative, forgiving memoir by a likable narrator.
hardcover, 320p., 9781492645207
Poetry Will Save Your Life
by Jill Bialosky
"It is this mystic negotiation of the knowing and unknowing, that flicker of light in a dark wood that is poetry," writes Jill Bialosky (History of a Suicide) in Poetry Will Save Your Life. Poet and novelist Bialosky fans that flame in this unconventional book that is at once poetry anthology and personal reckoning. She intertwines poems that have shaped her with the contexts in which they mattered; the bones of poetry and flesh of reflection yield something extraordinary.
Bialosky's stories swing a poignant pendulum from past to present. The loss of her father leads her to seek comfort in poems, sparking a lifelong passion for the form. Between the included poems, she meditates on moments that deal with the minutiae of life--a stolen tube of lipstick or a chance meeting with boys in a blue Corvette--as well as moments of magnitude: the miscarriage of a child or picking up her young son from his Manhattan school on the morning of September 11.
Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath and Adrienne Rich are among more than 40 poets whose work Bialosky gathers, along with scholars' and critics' commentary. Her writing is itself poetic: careful, courageous and clear. She marvels at the power of poems that can punctuate life, poems that "shimmy down the page" or that, in Frost's words, become "a way of taking life by the throat." Ultimately, Poetry Will Save Your Life does all three. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: Jill Bialosky composes an unforgettable patchwork of poems and prose in this distinctive memoir.
hardcover, 240p., 9781451693201
Gene Smith's Sink: A Wide-Angle View
by Sam Stephenson
Eugene Smith was a larger-than-life figure of 20th-century photography, but biographer Sam Stephenson uncovers the small intricacies of Smith's life in his compelling portrait, Gene Smith's Sink: A Wide-Angle View.
Stephenson approaches his subject by interviewing Smith's friends and associates--including famous figures like Thelonious Monk who hung out in "the isolated squalor" of Smith's New York loft--and by poring over Smith's letters and own writings. Stephenson includes Smith's pawnshop receipts, court summons and other sundry documents, developing a picture of an itinerant life and lending the biography an aesthetic of marginalia that serves its subject well. By using this "wide-angle view," Stephenson explains, he can get "a clearer picture of Smith by averting my focus slightly to the side of him, the way you can see stars in the sky clearer by doing the same thing."
What emerges is a portrait of Smith not so much in his prime--when he was taking iconic portraits for Life magazine midcentury--but in his later work, when his alcohol abuse, obsessive behavior and reclusive lifestyle led to more complex photography and a number of ambient sound recordings that demonstrated his pervasive need to capture his surroundings. "Not many people are truly able to understand beauty and pain and ugliness," says Smith's former assistant Tamas Janda. "Most people don't want to be reminded of their humanity, which is inherently painful and ugly. Gene sought that out."
In opening his aperture for this biography, Stephenson gives shape to the vagaries and fleeting enchantments of human life, which photography tries to hold still. Gene Smith's Sink is a haunting exploration of the photographic mind. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: This eclectically sourced biography illuminates the life and mind of famed 20th-century photographer Eugene Smith.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
hardcover, 224p., 9780374232153
Ghost Empire: A Journey to the Legendary Constantinople
by Richard Fidler
Journalist Richard Fidler creates a memorable father-son travelogue while recounting some of Western civilization's most intense battles in his hefty, spirited history Ghost Empire: A Journey to the Legendary Constantinople.
Fidler hails from Australia, where he hosts Conversations with Richard Fidler on ABC Radio. The program is one of the most popular podcasts in Australia, and Fidler rolls his interview skills and storytelling talents into Ghost Empire, about a trip he and his teenage son Joe took to Istanbul in 2014. Throughout the present-tense narrative of their journey, Fidler reconstructs the famed and bloody history of the city, particularly the rise and fall of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire.
Fidler follows its establishment in 330 through its fall to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. Furthermore, he probes Roman history in general and the empire's lurid power struggles, and is able to relate historical intrigue to modern-day Turkey and its increasingly autocratic government. Fidler's writing is clean and crisp and describes the city with a certain bemusement and sense of wonder. Exploring crumbly monuments, partaking in the cuisine and culture, both he and his son discover the historical in the modern: "There is a railway line a few blocks away, with houses and apartments pushed up together on both sides of the tracks. A thousand years ago, this was the emperor's polo field."
There is a moment in Ghost Empire when Fidler loses track of his son and panics. Everything turns out okay, but this real-life father-son dynamic complements the historical material nicely, creating a pleasurable read that is less academic and more experiential. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: Australian journalist Richard Fidler mixes travelogue and history in this informative and fun exploration of Istanbul.
hardcover, 520p., 9781681775111
Business & Economics
Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History
by Kurt Andersen
Kurt Andersen's (True Believers) comprehensive history of American bunkum and balderdash, Fantasyland, is the work of a man with a particular picture to paint and a willingness to follow wherever the bizarre facts lead him. As he says, "I enjoy having my mind boggled." While it may have been sparked by the presidency of Donald Trump, Fantasyland puts the latest political pandemonium into the broader context of the origins of the United States--a country built from scratch "where all citizens were officially freer than ever before to invent and promote and believe anything. So Americans promptly began believing almost everything."
A longlist of religious sects, out-there beliefs and fruitcake leaders kicks off Andersen's history, and he rolls out their appearances with both facts and farce decade after decade. When Fantasyland hits his own early years in the 1950s, however, Andersen's range and depth of examples of American delusions grows exponentially. The border between real and unreal disappears in the minds of those endlessly in "pursuit of happiness." Access to broadly disseminated media makes every tangent seem like a big deal, and Andersen mines the mother lode.
After all his research, he concludes that "Donald Trump is a pure Fantasyland being, its apotheosis... a stupendous Exhibit A." If centuries of American hogwash are too frightening, Andersen attempts to leave us with some indication that the pendulum may soon swing back to sanity: "The good news, in other words, is that America may now be at peak Fantasyland. We can hope." Whether this forecast proves accurate or not, his look back is one of the most audacious and entertaining American histories on any bookshelf. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: With wit and a large helping of research, novelist and satirist Kurt Andersen explores the background of America's penchant for believing the craziest of fantasies.
hardcover, 480p., 9781400067213
Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made
by Jason Schreier
Most people know little about the process behind creating video games. Even players, casual or otherwise, usually have a only a cursory understanding of how many people, years and iterations it takes to make their favorite games. Jason Schreier's Blood, Sweat, and Pixels pulls back the curtain, diving deep into the creation of 10 games to show how difficult the process is. Readers may be amazed that games are completed at all.
Using each chapter as a case study, Schreier (a respected games journalist and news editor at the website Kotaku) interviews designers, studio heads and other makers about the rough road to publication. Each game he studies faced a catastrophe before launching, and Schreier uses their examples to make broader observations about the industry and games as an art form. Blood, Sweat, and Pixels isn't necessarily trying to make philosophical points about the nature of gaming, or art, but by exposing how people craft games, he gives the reader a better perspective as to why video games exist as they do.
Schreier runs the gamut of games, from those that cost millions of dollars with hundreds of employees, to Stardew Valley, one man's five-year solo project. With lively writing, Schreier observes how small, medium and large studios tackle a range of problems. For fans of video games, Blood, Sweat, and Pixels is a must read, but anyone interested in stories about the hard process of making art is also sure to enjoy it. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: In Blood, Sweat, and Pixels, journalist Jason Schreier takes readers deep into the frustrating, wonderful world of making video games.
paperback, 320p., 9780062651235
Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy
by Tim Harford
Often tagged by the name of his Financial Times column (and title of his first book), "The Undercover Economist," Tim Harford has built a reputation as someone who can turn marginal utility curves into common sense. In Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy, he writes clever, quixotic essays exhibiting his take on the singular innovations that seeded the contemporary way of life. These are pithy vignettes about objects people may take for granted now, but which were hardly obvious when somebody dreamed them up. Based on history, biography and a splash of economics, Harford's fresh look is great entertainment, with enough ah-ha wisdom to evoke a "listen to this," reading aloud of a favorite passage.
While he includes the usual heavy-hitters like barbed wire, air-conditioning, the elevator, the clock and the computer, he also throws in several of his own unexpected quirky favorites. Who would have highlighted the TV dinner, the Ikea Billy bookcase, the passport, the Pill or mundane business tools like insurance, index funds and management consulting? But he has his reasons. The Billy, for example, is included not so much for its design as for IKEA's mass production and packaging techniques. Each day in southern Sweden, "in goes particleboard by the truckload... out come ready-boxed products, stacked six by three on pallets"--adding up to a cumulative total of 60 million shelving units. That's a lot of head-scratching DIY assembly across the globe--and homes for a lot of books. Put this one among them. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Popular economist Tim Harford's book about inventions is a personal, funny and quixotic portmanteau of innovations upon which the modern world rests.
hardcover, 336p., 9780735216136
by Rafia Zakaria
Veil by Rafia Zakaria is a powerful meditation on the most visible emblem of the Islamic faith, its symbolic impact upon Muslims and non-Muslims and the controversy surrounding variations of the veil, including the headscarf, hijab and burqa.
Zakaria, a journalist and author (The Upstairs Wife), informs readers that "there are no verses in the Holy Quran that specifically prescribe the veil for women," and yet Muslim women who choose not to veil are often judged harshly by other Muslims. Zakaria herself is subjected to "moral disciplining" by male colleagues when she attends an academic conference in Egypt without a headscarf. She talks of the "fissure created by the veil," quoting female scholars who reject the male-centric interpretations of religious doctrine that have led to the elevation of veiling as a requirement.
If not compulsory within Islam, why do women wear the veil? Zakaria recounts her experience in a hospital waiting room in Pakistan. As an unveiled but modestly dressed woman, she was subjected to constant attention by men in the waiting room, as though her uncovered state entitled them to stare at her every movement. She envied a fully veiled woman in the same room who did as she pleased; talking loudly on the phone, she drew no attention at all. The veil grants anonymity, and anonymity is its own form of empowerment, transforming a public space like a waiting room into a place of privacy.
According to Zakaria, the Western media is too preoccupied with the veil as an obstacle to women's independence, the burqa being the "ultimate yardstick of female oppression." She urges the reader to consider a woman's choice--her right--to veil or not veil as far more relevant, since it is only when women are at liberty to make that choice that they will be free. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer
Discover: This is a powerful meditation on the hidden life of an ordinary object: the veil.
paperback, 136p., 9781501322778
Psychology & Self-Help
Writing as a Path to Awakening: A Year to Becoming an Excellent Writer and Living an Awakened Life
by Albert Flynn DeSilver
"Writing as a path to awakening is an invitation and celebration--it's your ticket back to your creative brilliance," writes Albert DeSilver. According to him, combining meditation and writing is the most genuine way to discover one's truest self and to produce the most creative and profound writing.
Using the calendar year as a template, DeSilver offers monthly insights into the how and why of the writing process, encouraging writers to read widely and often, to explore the world of poetry and to write consistently. He couples examples by students with craft and meditation exercises that encourage readers to stretch the boundaries of their known world. The meditation exercises help relax and expand the mind, allowing creativity to flow more readily when one sits down to do the fun and engaging writing exercises. These include the use of all five senses to produce vivid imagery, considering the role humor can play, writing a biography of a person in a magazine, reflecting on the boundaries of telling the truth in one's writing. He also delves into the world of editing.
Although some of his writing tactics are tried and true methods most writers will recognize--write daily, find your optimum writing time, practice, practice, practice--by combining the act of writing with meditation, DeSilver opens a doorway that allows for spiritual and emotional growth, concepts not discussed in typical writing books. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: This book shows how to use meditation and relaxation exercises to enhance creative writing.
paperback, 208p., 9781622039111
Body, Mind & Spirit
Big Love: The Power of Living with a Wide-Open Heart
by Scott Stabile
Life has thrown Scott Stabile (Just Love) countless curveballs. When he was 14, his parents were murdered at their Detroit grocery store, leaving Stabile and his six siblings orphaned. Nine years later, his brother died from a heroin overdose. As a young adult, Stabile became entangled with a spiritual cult; his decision to break away resulted in being ostracized by once-close friends. Then, a significant professional setback left him questioning his life's direction and meaning.
Stabile shares how his personal traumas have provided opportunities for growth while also shaping his sense of identity and purpose. "The hardest experiences of our lives never stop living with us," he writes. "They move forward into our day-to-day existence, and we are left to decide how we want to integrate the pain." For Stabile, that means approaching his relationships with everyone--his siblings, his partner, his Facebook community of more than 350,000 followers and even his parents' murderer--from a foundation of love.
In Big Love, Stabile isn't afraid to let his vulnerability show while reflecting on his own journeys of excavating buried pain, acknowledging fear, finding paths towards forgiveness (including from ourselves), living authentically and developing resilience. He offers a sincere blend of honesty and humor while replacing platitudes with perspectives grounded by individual experiences.
"We are, each of us, forced to survive circumstances we would never have consciously chosen for ourselves. We're all dealing with the reality of some of our feared what-ifs. In those realities, however, lives our strength and resilience, our ability to handle the unpredictable and sometimes tragic aspects of life." --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at melissafirman.com.
Discover: After devastating losses, one man finds direction and purpose in life through cultivating love and compassion.
New World Library,
hardcover, 240p., 9781608684939
Darwin's Backyard: How Small Experiments Led to a Big Theory
by James T. Costa
Great scientists are often famous for one or two projects out of a lifetime of study. Charles Darwin is best known for the voyage of the Beagle, which he took in his 20s, and for his book On the Origin of Species. Biologist and author James T. Costa offers a more domestic view of Darwin's life and work in Darwin's Backyard, looking at his systematic explorations of the natural world in the context of his childhood and adult family life, his friends and neighbors and the larger scientific community of his day. At the end of each chapter, Costa provides Darwinesque experiments on seeds, plants, barnacles and earthworms, among other subjects.
Darwin comes across as a charmingly enthusiastic and curious character in this illustrated biography, which includes a college friend's early cartoon of him going beetle hunting, perched astride a giant beetle and waving a butterfly net. This is an unusual look at the daily creative life of a great scientist, with opportunities to dig in and observe the workings of nature first hand using methods very similar to his own. The reading level is high, but the experiments could be done by any sufficiently interested person over the age of 10, or modified by teachers. Costa provides clear instructions, supply lists, resources for unusual materials and suggestions for further reading. "Darwin's approaches were varied... rarely meeting modern standards of rigid experimental design. But for all that, Darwin managed to learn an awful lot about how the world works. And it all began in that smelly boyhood laboratory at the bottom of the garden." --Sara Catterall
Discover: This is a biography of Darwin's lesser known, lifelong studies of the natural world, with well-constructed sample experiments for readers to conduct themselves.
hardcover, 464p., 9780393239898
Nature & Environment
The Rights of Nature: A Legal Revolution That Could Save the World
by David R. Boyd
"Humans today have a deeply troubled relationship with other animals and species," writes David R. Boyd in his fascinating new treatise, The Rights of Nature: A Legal Revolution that Could Save the World. The problem, he continues, is that we "purport to love animals" yet "inflict pain and suffering upon them." And, he says, it's not just animals that we abuse. Rivers, forests and entire ecosystems are threatened by human activity. To counter these mistreatments, environmental lawyers from around the globe are seeking to enact laws that better protect nature, and according to Boyd, they're making great strides.
He opens with an overview of scientists' recent investigations into animal consciousness, which show that many species--including dogs, octopuses and dolphins--possess far greater capacities for both compassion and pain than previously thought. He then explains how these insights can--and already have--assisted lawmakers in extending habeas corpus laws to protect animals. His overview of the United States' Endangered Species Act is also eye-opening. Here he delves into its legal history and the profound philosophical shifts it forced in thinking about the natural world.
Despite the heady subject matter, The Rights of Nature is a breeze to read. Boyd punctuates his chapters with case studies that illustrate how legal decisions have affected specific animals and ecosystems. It's in these pages that Boyd's work is especially affecting. Well-researched and written for the layman, this stirring look at the history and current state of environmental lawmaking demonstrates how powerful--and inspiring--legislation can be. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor
Discover: This well-researched look at the history of environmental lawmaking is a fun and thought-provoking read.
paperback, 312p., 9781770412392
A Farewell to Ice: A Report from the Arctic
by Peter Wadhams
For almost five decades, Peter Wadhams has been studying the way the ice at both poles has been changing. What he reveals in A Farewell to Ice is a chilling view of how much influence humankind has had on the steady disappearance of polar ice and what that will mean for all living things on the planet as it continues to vanish. This highly scientific and heavily researched treatise leads readers through the ways in which polar ice forms and dissolves. Furthermore, it covers the earth's glaciation history and discusses the current theory that the steady rise in greenhouse gases will effectively knock the earth out of its normal cycle, creating a progressively warmer planet--one with no ice at the North Pole.
Wadhams analyzes numerous terrible scenarios: what might happen if an oil spill occurs due to drilling under the Arctic ice cap; the effect melting ice will have on rising sea levels, ocean acidification and the release of trapped methane gas; and a host of other issues that will certainly affect millions of people worldwide. His calm and informed tone throughout, however, backed by data and his own observations, takes what some could claim is a Hollywood apocalypse scenario and makes it very real and plausible. He leaves readers with the knowledge that it's not if these events will take place, but when--with changes apparent from the present day and beyond. Fortunately, Wadhams offers some possible solutions, but they would be effective only if people take immediate action to stop the melting of polar ice. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: A scientist examines the dire situation facing humans as the polar ice caps continue to melt.
Oxford University Press,
paperback, 256p., 9780190691158
Children's & Young Adult
by Daniel José Older
Following his highly acclaimed Shadowshaper, in which Brooklyn teens use their artistic talents as powerful spirit-controlling tools, Daniel José Older brings his eager readers a thrilling sequel, Shadowhouse Fall.
Sixteen-year-old Sierra Santiago has had a few months to get used to her new powers "at the head of a whole strange fellowship of urban sorcerers." She's learning to expand her senses so that she can connect with the spirits of dead people, "a cadre of shadows she'd come to think of as her own Secret Service detail," as they are able to battle enemy spirits by her side. Sierra is well aware that the Sisterhood of Sorrows, the Shadowhouse's golden-glowing rivals, have vowed revenge on the shadowshapers. When a mousy girl from school shows up to tell her that the Deck of Worlds--an ancient pack of cards that serves as "a system of divination and the allotment of power" among warring branches of Sierra's ancestors--is "back in play," Sierra knows it's time to muster the troops to defend their hard-won position as most powerful magical house in the city.
Nonstop action and funny, authentic banter carries Sierra and her shadowshaping crew through the projects and brownstones of their Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, which plays a strong role in the storyline. As people of mostly African, Caribbean and Puerto Rican descent, the shadowshapers face police oppression and harassment as well as rival sorcerous factions. Readers will cheer as the teens stand strong against armed police and cranky ancestral spirits alike. A stunning sequel that will leave fans clamoring for book three. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Spray paint- and Sharpie-wielding teens continue the battle between good and evil, light and dark, even as they wonder just which is which in this spectacular sequel to Shadowshaper.
Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic,
hardcover, 368p., ages 12-up, 9780545952828
Landscape with Invisible Hand
by M.T. Anderson
When the vuvv land in the middle of Wrigley Field, humans initially feel lucky they haven't been invaded: instead of violence, the extraterrestrial creatures offer to "end all work forever and cure all disease." Unfortunately, once they sell their "tech" to Earth's wealthiest, most people around the globe lose their jobs. The "captains of industry" with investments in vuvv firms thrive but, for the rest of humanity, only those who work with the vuvv personally (even in lowly jobs) can get by.
High school senior Adam Costello has been struggling since the vuvv landed. In his neighborhood, almost everyone is unemployed. Adam and new girlfriend Chloe decide to allow the vuvv (who don't experience romantic love but find it fascinating) to pay to watch them go on dates--apparently, the vuvv want to see "1950s love," since that was what they witnessed from their saucers before moving in. But, although Adam and Chloe grow to hate each other, they're trapped, dependent on the income. Adam dreams of becoming a successful painter, so he's thrilled when his art teacher, Mr. Reilly, enters him in a vuvv contest, in which the winner's work will be "exported to the stars." Except the vuvv only want still lifes and paintings of Earth before they came. Adam's strongest pieces show how Earth has been changed, leaving him torn between a possible win and thus providing for his family and doing what he believes is right.
M.T. Anderson (Feed; Symphony for the City of the Dead) has written a biting satire about the world's haves and have-nots, set in an increasingly stratified near-future where the human race has, for the most part, become expendable. It's a strange and wonderful fantasy about seeking love amid the filth, and keeping hope alive, despite unquestionable odds against it. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: When alien technology causes the human economy to collapse, Adam Costello and his fellow Earthlings struggle to survive.
hardcover, 160p., ages 12-up, 9780763687892
Why Am I Me?
by Paige Britt, illus. by Selina Alko, Sean Qualls
Somewhere in a city, people are homeward bound at day's end. Among the commuters are a skateboarding boy and presumably his father; walking slightly ahead are a violin case-carrying girl accompanied by a flower-toting woman, most likely her mother. Waiting for the subway, boy and girl inevitably notice one another: he's African American, she's not; he's movement-ready, she's musically inclined. For all their differences, their thoughts echo in unison. "Why am I me," the boy wonders as the train approaches, "and not you?" From inside the subway, the girl mirrors back, "Why are you, you... and not me?"
Surrounded by kids and adults of diverse backgrounds--distinguishable by skin color, hair, head coverings and more--the two children's musings about who they are and who the other might be easily bounce back and forth while the subway whooshes by playing fields, neighborhoods and an open amphitheater. The children eventually alight under the same starry sky, and greet each other with "hi...," serendipitously turning "me" to the promise of we.
Author Paige Britt alchemizes the "big questions [she's been asking] since she was a small child" to create her debut picture book, encouraging soul-searching dialogues with oneself and others. Husband-and-wife artists Sean Qualls and Selina Alko (The Case for Loving) enhance the profundity of Britt's prose with amplifying small details. For example, newsprint is used as window shades or building facades, subtly and brilliantly reminding readers how stories can be found behind every window, every door, every wall; the sometimes-legible newspaper type points to a larger world beyond, including Great Britain, Italy, even Gaza. On every spread, the ingenious duo depicts America's multicultural citizens, ensuring myopic xenophobia has no place on Britt's welcoming, hopeful pages. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: A boy and girl, both on their way home, silently wonder about their diverse, individual identities, until a single-word greeting turns "I" and "me" into an opportunity to share "we."
hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781338053142
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus
by Dusti Bowling
Aven Green's missing arms have never been an issue for her or her family. Adopted as a two-year-old, her parents taught her to be a "problem-solving ninja" so that she could do everything people with arms can do. At home in Kansas, Aven is sociable, athletic (soccer is her game) and a prankster. When her father accepts an offer to run Stagecoach Pass, a western-themed amusement park in Arizona, she's not thrilled at the idea of having to make new friends. Sure enough, her new middle school is a challenge. When she meets Connor, a boy with Tourette syndrome, the two immediately bond over the way people behave around them. "They just act weird around me," Aven says, "like they don't know whether to look or not, to ask about it or not. But no one has talked to me like I'm an actual person." When they find a strange room in the park with boxes of intriguing old papers, they join forces to investigate the whereabouts of the mysterious, unseen Stagecoach Pass owner.
Dusti Bowling's story of a regular, hugely likable kid who deals with her unusual challenges with grace and humor is pitch-perfect. Aven and her friends have hilarious conversations (for example, when she and Connor meet: "'I would shake your hand, but....' He motioned toward my armless area, blinking his eyes rapidly and barking as he did so. 'But you have horrible warts all over your hands,' I said.") but it's their empathy and warmth that win the day. Sitting under her favorite centuries-old saguaro cactus, Aven realizes that she may be "an entirely insignificant event in the life of this cactus," but her life does matter, in all its painful, sweet, awkward glory. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: In this charming, funny middle-grade novel, a 13-year-old girl with no arms deals with insensitive peers and a mystery when she moves to a western-themed amusement park in Arizona.
hardcover, 272p., ages 8-12, 9781454923459
Auma's Long Run
by Eucabeth Odhiambo
Auma, a rural Kenyan teenager in the years when HIV/AIDS became a national plague, is a strong runner and excellent student who desperately wants to become a doctor. But when both of her parents get sick and die, her plan to achieve her dreams is derailed; as eldest, she acts as caretaker to her dying parents, then (after their deaths), to her three siblings. She thinks, "the three of them were depending on me to make their dreams a reality.... As frightened as I might be, I was determined not to fail."
Auma shows great maturity, first dealing with her father's death from HIV/AIDS and then caring for her mother, who contracted the disease from her husband. Somehow, Auma is able to graduate from grade eight, win track meets and do all the chores necessary in her rural household, but she constantly questions her situation. A natural student, Auma is inquisitive about the illness that killed her parents, and learns more about it, discovering truths that the adults in her community will not acknowledge.
Driven Auma earns a high school scholarship, but after one year, she makes the tough decision to drop out, so that she can work in Nairobi and earn money to support her family. Readers will find themselves aligning with Auma as she hopes she will eventually return to school. In prose as forthright as Auma herself, Eucabeth Odhiambo tells a story of resilience and strength. Odhiambo, who grew up in Kenya in the '80s and '90s, saw the effects of the disease first hand; this experience plus her work with HIV/AIDs orphans helps her give life to the authentic and realistic character of Auma--a young woman to believe in--and to put a human face on the epidemic that still affects Kenya. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer
Discover: Auma's life in a Kenyan village is radically changed when her parents die from HIV/AIDS, but the teenager proves to be a formidable force when it comes to keeping her family together.
hardcover, 304p., ages 11-14, 9781512427844
by Kristin Cashore
Ever since her beloved Aunt Magnolia was lost while on a photography expedition to Antarctica, Jane has floundered, "trapped in the wrong version of [her] life." She drops out of college, works part time in the campus bookstore and rents a bedroom the size of "a glorified closet." She becomes obsessed with making umbrellas, her art form of choice, "almost as if one perfect umbrella might make Aunt Magnolia come back."
Before she left on her final trip, Aunt Magnolia inexplicably made Jane promise never to turn down an invitation to Tu Reviens, the family estate of Jane's old writing tutor, Kiran Thrash. Now, Kiran chances upon Jane in the bookstore and invites her to a gala at the mansion. Jane hasn't seen Kiran in almost a year, but she quits her job, packs her umbrellas and joins Kiran at Tu Reviens. Jane quickly finds that mysteries abound: strange comings and goings (including a man carrying a diaper bag and a gun), missing art, people who may or may not have known her aunt, and a basset hound who's preoccupied by a painting.
As Jane faces a universe of possibilities that will determine her future, her friend Kiran says it best: "People tell you that what happens to you is a direct result of the choices you make, but that's not fair. Half the time, you don't realize that the choice you're about to make is significant." With references to the Brontës, Edith Wharton, Winnie-the Pooh and many more, Kristin Cashore (Graceling, Fire, Bitterblue) treats readers to an intelligent tale about the meaning of home, the need for compassion and the all-important power of choice. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: When Jane accepts an invitation to her friend's mansion, she is confronted with five life-changing answers to a single question.
hardcover, 464p., ages 14-up, 9780803741492
They Both Die at the End
by Adam Silvera
Mateo is a homebody. Raised by his father, he does a lot of his living vicariously through the Internet. In Mateo's similar but alternate version of our present, there is a company, Death-Cast, that calls people--Deckers--to let them know they will die within the day--not how they will die, just that they will die before the clock strikes midnight. At 12:22 a.m., Mateo gets a call from Death-Cast.
At 1:05 a.m., Rufus is beating his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend to a bloody pulp. His phone begins to ring. Recently orphaned, Rufus already has some experience with Death-Cast: they called a few months ago to announce that his mother, father and sister would all be leaving him in the same day. Now, they're calling for him. Rufus finishes with the boyfriend and gets his best friends together, only to find himself running away from his own funeral as the cops come after him for assault.
Now both alone, Mateo (whose father is in a coma) and Rufus meet through an app designed to give lonely Deckers someone with whom they can spend their last day. As the day goes on, Rufus drags Mateo out of his shell ("Wow," he says, "you're like a tourist in your own city"), Mateo helps Rufus come to appreciate himself, and their relationship develops into something more than a friendship. Their dialogue is fun and funny, tender and affecting. Toward the end of their day, Mateo asks, "Weird question: Do you believe in the afterlife?" "That's not weird," Rufus answers, "we're dying."
Told in Mateo and Rufus's alternating first-person present narration with occasional third-person accounts from individuals who interact with the two on their last day, Silvera's (History Is All You Left Me) novel offers a fast-paced countdown to the inevitable, heartbreaking ending. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Two young men meet and make the most of life on their last day alive.
hardcover, 384p., ages 12-up, 9780062457790
by Melanie Florence, illus. by Gabrielle Grimard
Skipping and dancing home from school, a young girl carries in one hand a dream catcher she's made, and with the other she holds onto her Grandpa. "How do you say grandfather in Cree?" she asks. And suddenly their walk turns somber as Grandpa admits, "I don't remember... I lost my words a long time ago."
Bewildered, the little girl presses, "How do you lose words, Grandpa?" He tenderly explains about the residential schools to which First Nations children were forcibly sent, meant to "assimilate" them and erase their identity: "They took our words and locked them away, punished us until we forgot them, until we sounded like them."
By the next day, the little girl has a plan: "My teacher helped me find this for you at the library," she says, presenting her grandfather with a "tattered well-worn paperback"--a dictionary--in which he finds the soft, familiar words of his past. Together, grandfather (nimosôm) and granddaughter (nôsisim) will reclaim their Stolen Words.
Melanie Florence, of Cree/Scottish descent, won Second Story Press's 2015 Indigenous Writing Contest with Stolen Words, a sobering ode to her heritage, presented through eyes filled with love and hope. Artist Gabrielle Grimard (who previously illustrated Margaret Pokiak-Fenton's two-part residential school memoirs, When I Was Eight and Not My Girl) is Florence's ideal creative partner, enhancing each page with depth and movement, capturing every touch, every gaze with enveloping empathy. Adding a grey overwash on Grandpa's memories proves especially effective in emphasizing the traumas he survived.
Although an afterword with historical context and suggested further reading feels missing here, Florence's narrative couldn't be more affecting. Word by word, her story--written in honor of her Cree grandfather--is a significant step toward forever healing. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: A young girl helps her grandfather remember words from his Cree language that he thought were lost forever.
Second Story Press,
library binding, 24p., ages 6-9, 9781772600377
Strong as Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth
by Don Tate
Friedrich Wilhelm Müller loved athletics as a boy but "playing sports required a strong, healthy body" and Friedrich was skinny and frail. Though he was often "too sick to play," he remained undaunted by his physical restrictions and played sports, determined to be a healthy and strong person. As Friedrich grew older, his love of athletics never dimmed. Though his father wanted him to attend university and focus on a career, Friedrich could not ignore his drive to be active--he decided to join the circus.
When circus life didn't work out for Friedrich, his journey toward being "the strongest man in the world" began in earnest. He trained as a bodybuilder, changed his name to Eugen Sandow and soon became a professional strongman. With time, work and some (possibly slippery) performance tricks, Eugen gained world fame and launched the first organized bodybuilding contest, ever-so-humbly awarding the winner a statue of himself. Eugen Sandow's exercise and diet regimens are used to this day and the prize for the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding competition is still the (slightly updated) Sandow.
Don Tate (Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions), who used to be a bodybuilder himself, treats the exceptional life of Eugen Sandow with appreciation and respect while making sure to note in the ample back matter that much of what people today know about Sandow came from the man himself--a man who constantly sought perfection and sometimes stretched the truth. Tate's biography of one of the first international sports stars is welcoming to the young reader with approachable text and rich digital illustrations. And, for the budding athlete, there is even a page that teaches different strength building exercises. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Don Tate's Strong as Sandow is an honest and entertaining biography of Friedrich Wilhelm Müller/Eugen Sandow, a man once considered "the most perfect male specimen alive."
hardcover, 40p., ages 6-9, 9781580896283
It Takes a Village
by Hillary Rodham Clinton, illus. by Marla Frazee
It has been more than 20 years since the publication of then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's bestseller It Takes a Village. This picture book with the same title takes the focus of Clinton's original work--children--and, instead of highlighting how adults can make a world for children, depicts instead the individual agency of children and how "sometimes it takes a child to make a village."
Marla Frazee's (The Farmer and the Clown) illustrations tell the story behind the text. The double-page spread with the words "We all have a place in the village, a job to do, and a lot to learn" depicts a large, diverse group of children and adults coming together under a leafless winter tree to sort through building materials. "Every child needs a champion. Or two. Or three. Or more" shows children working alongside the adults to haul materials, use tools and begin building what will eventually be a playground. "Every family needs help sometimes"--children and adults take breaks from working to share food and drink--"Kindness and caring and sharing matter."
As with all of her works, Frazee's illustrations explode with life: as the beginning of spring touches the tree with light pink blooms, children play catch, families hold picnics, an adult pulls two children and a dog down the hill in a wagon. Her pencil-and-watercolor art is vibrant and action-packed, the story told entirely through her illustrations of the everyday ups and downs of the people working together to create something new and beautiful. This work is a welcome reminder that all people "are born believers. And citizens, too." --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A diverse group of children and adults work together to build a playground for everyone.
Simon & Schuster,
hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781481430876
by Elly Blake
As the first installment of the Frostblood Saga concluded, Fireblood Ruby and Frostblood Arcus joined their powerful gifts to destroy the icy throne of Tempesia, that "timeless symbol of Frostblood rule." Rather than defeating its curse, their attempt released the Minax, a "haunting, shadowy creature" trapped within. This creature had influenced the previous Frostblood king, convincing him to butcher all of the Tempesian Firebloods. Although Firebloods still rule in their homeland of Sudesia, in Tempesia only Ruby survived.
Now, in book two, Arcus is king of Tempesia, ruling over a fractious Frostblood Court. Ruby fears the "bone-deep distrust" between Frostbloods and Firebloods makes her presence a liability to the new king's efforts to unite his people. Even though Arcus insists that she stay, Ruby joins the rakish Fireblood Kai on a journey to Sudesia, where the fire throne can be found; trapping and controlling the Minax imprisoned in the fire throne may be her best hope for destroying the murderous Minax back home. Unfortunately, Kai has hidden motives for bringing her to the court of the Fireblood queen. As a Tempesian and close friend of the Frostblood King, Ruby finds herself fighting for her life and her freedom, all the while trying to gather the knowledge she needs to destroy the curse of the Minax, put an end to the growing discord and destruction and mend relations between two bitterly divided countries.
Ruby's fiery nature leads to some rash decisions, but her flaws make her an extremely likable heroine. Her adventuring is balanced with light touches of romance, and there is more than enough intrigue to satisfy. Fans of Frostblood will find themselves smitten with this second installment, and the breathtaking climax will leave them eagerly awaiting the third. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: Fireblood Ruby travels from Tempesia's Frostblood Court to the fire kingdom of Sudesia, where she must destroy the fire throne and gain control of the cursed spirit within.
hardcover, 416p., ages 12-up, 9780316273329
Mr. Crum's Potato Predicament
by Anne Renaud, illus. by Felicita Sala
Québécoise author Anne Renaud (Missuk's Snow Geese) and Italian illustrator Felicita Sala team up for a crisp, delightful envisioning of the birth of that American culinary classic, the potato chip.
In 1850s Saratoga Springs, N.Y., customers flock to Crum's Place to devour delicacies cooked by George Crum, shown flipping a flapjack with smiling poise, and served by cheery-cheeked, flame-haired waitress Gladys. Known for his sense of humor as well as his kitchen skills, Crum finds himself flummoxed when he meets "finicky, persnickety" customer Filbert P. Horsefeathers, resplendent in a purple-plumed top hat, polka-dotted cravat and sunflower boutonniere. Filbert sends back three plates, complaining his potatoes are too thick, too bland and undercooked. Deciding to have a little fun with the demanding diner, George sends a plate of finely shaved, crispy-fried spuds, but the joke happily backfires when Filbert adores the creation, and so Crum's Crisp Crispies--potato chips--are born.
Mr. Crum's Potato Predicament showcases American humor and ingenuity at its finest. Studded with playful phrases like "prickly porcupine pie," Renaud's vivacious vocabulary builder of a story sings alongside Sala's feather-soft watercolor and pencil depictions of George, who was of African American and Native American descent, ruddy-faced Filbert and a full house of diverse customers. An afterword to this "fictional tale with a helping of truth" explains that Crum's legend has roots in reality, even if no single cook can take credit for the chip. Readers age five through nine will giggle at this mischievous morsel. Bet you can't read it just once! --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager, Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library
Discover: A deliciously funny take on the legend of George Crum, often credited with the invention of the potato chip.
Kids Can Press,
hardcover, 40p., ages 5-9, 9781771386197
by E. Lockhart
"This isn't a movie about a girl who breaks up with her undermining boyfriend... It's not about some great white hetero hero who loves a woman he needs to save or teams up with a lesser-powered woman in a skintight suit. I am the center of the story now, Jule said to herself.... I am the center."
Jule West Williams believes in being hard physically and emotionally. She has several origin stories, but the one she prefers "to any other story she might tell about herself" paints her as the child of murdered secret agents, a skilled agent herself.
Jule tells herself she's powerful and safe, hiding under bravado and secret identities how small and scared she really is. She finds herself drawn to another orphan, the beautiful, wealthy and mercurial Imogen (Immie). Told in two timelines (one linear over the course of a few days, the other in backwards skips and hops over several months), it is clear from the first chapter that something is not quite right with the protagonist, and there's something amiss with the way the girls interact, with how Jule has braided their lives together. But the broken up and ever-rewinding timeline paired with Jule's own unreliable narration makes her difficult to decode.
E. Lockhart's (We Were Liars) Genuine Fraud is a young adult thriller with nods to The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Man in the Rockefeller Suit and Great Expectations. Readers will be engrossed as they wind their way through Jule's gnarled narration eventually to find the truth. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Jule is a master of deception who uses her skills to keep herself safe and strong in this twisty thriller.
hardcover, 288p., ages 13-up, 9780385744775
by Jason Reynolds
Patina and Maddy's father died six years ago. Maddy, "all fidgety in Ma's stomach" at the time of his death, never knew him. And she doesn't remember how their Ma's diabetes made her lose first a few toes, then a whole foot and finally both legs. But middle school-aged Patina remembers it all: how her dad "never woke up. Like... ever."; how Ma's legs got "swollen and dark like she'd been standing in coal" before they were amputated. Now living with their father's brother, Uncle Tony, and his white wife, Mama Emily (whom the girls call Momly), Patty has "swallowed it all" and learned to act like she's okay.
Living with Uncle Tony and Momly is "fine" and Ma sees the girls every chance she gets, but Patina has never really been given the chance to mourn the loss of her father, the almost loss of her mother. And now she's trying to make a place for herself on the track team of her brand-new school, a place with "a whole bunch of rich girls whose daddies own stuff." She's defensive and angry but mainly afraid--afraid to be herself, afraid she's not good enough, afraid she'll lose someone else.
Patina, Jason Reynolds's second book in his Track series, has the titular character interacting with and befriending the cast of characters from Ghost while maintaining a stand-alone story. It is simply impossible to not love Patina. She is, as she states of herself, "No junk. Frida [Kahlo] in a suit. Mary J. Blige in track shoes." Charming, hardworking and a dedicated sister, runner and student, Patina is a sympathetic and wholly sympathetic character who finds her own peace by learning to work with others. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Jason Reynolds's second book in the Track series features an independent young woman whose old scars begin to heal as she learns to work with a team.
hardcover, 240p., ages 10-13, 9781481450188
The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade
by Jordan Sonnenblick
Eleven-year-old Maverick Falconer wants to be like Spider-Man or Captain America. Instead, he's more like Don Rickles: funny and short--"but not short enough for the shortness to qualify as a superpower." Maverick's circumstances support the theory that every comedian's humor masks heartache: when he was three, Maverick's military firefighter dad died a hero in Afghanistan. His erratically employed, hard-drinking mother has an abusive boyfriend, and being woefully small for his age means Maverick can't protect her, plus he's ripe for ribbing from his peers.
On the verge of starting sixth grade, Maverick hatches a spirits-buoying plan: "I was going to do good deeds, right wrongs, stand up against evil, and protect anybody who was smaller or weaker than I was.... Assuming I could find anybody smaller or weaker than I was." He gets off to a lousy start: one of his "good deeds" is hanging an air freshener in his homeroom that gives his teacher hives, and he lands in the assistant principal's office more often than a hero should.
The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade is a comic novel that lets the reader look past the jokes and at Maverick's tattered sneakers, and into his empty cupboards. Jordan Sonnenblick (Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip) has created a memorably endearing and unlikely hero whose biggest challenge is fighting not bad guys but the embarrassment of being poor and the compulsion to see one's parents as virtuous. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
Discover: What 11-year-old hero wannabe Maverick Falconer lacks in stature and strength he makes up for in tenacity and wit.
hardcover, 208p., ages 10-14, 9780545863209
Strays: A Lost Cat, a Homeless Man, and Their Journey Across America
by Britt Collins
Michael King's foster father, Walter, told a teenage Michael, "Anyone who's on the down-and-out heals himself with animals." Several decades later, Michael experiences that sentiment first hand when an injured, scrawny cat chances upon the homeless alcoholic and turns his world on its head.
British journalist and animal advocate Britt Collins compassionately tells Michael's story, taking readers through his rough childhood in Missouri to a devastating loss as a young adult that crushes his spirit and sends him in a downward spiral. A veteran of the streets in 2012, Michael is panhandling in Portland, Ore., when he meets the scared, helpless cat he names Tabor. Unable to find an owner, Michael continues to feed and care for the little feline. As Collins explains, "The homeless [have] a code of ethics--they always [take] care of their animals first." A bond between the two develops in no time.
When Michael travels south for the winter, Tabor--complete with collar and leash--goes as well. Their adventures take them camping, hitchhiking, to the ocean and face-to-face with a bear. Through it all, Michael's soul begins to heal. However, fate pulls the rug out from under Michael once again when he takes Tabor to the vet and discovers she's micro-chipped and has an owner looking for her.
This tender story of a damaged man who begins to heal and rediscover himself through the love of a cat is endearing and beautiful. Collins's astute understanding of the power of companion bonds makes Strays rich with emotion and charmingly satisfying. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: When a depressed, alcoholic, homeless man takes in a stray cat, their year of adventures forever change his life.
hardcover, 272p., 9781501122590
The Surveyors: Poems
by Mary Jo Salter
The most surprising thing about Mary Jo Salter's poetry collection The Surveyors is how fun and charming it is, though not without a degree of profundity. To say Salter is an experienced poet is an understatement. Not only has she authored several poetry collections, such as Nothing by Design, but she's also served as poetry editor for the New Republic and co-editor of The Norton Anthology of Poetry. In The Surveyors, she showcases her impeccable form, her lines as tight and sharp as rapiers, yet her tone always playful.
It's a tone she sets right away in "Yield": "and more letters wanting/ to play came to me/ alone to untangle." Such play is evident throughout the collection's four sections. It surfaces in Salter's ironically euphonic portraits of salty characters. In "The Profane Piano Tuner," for example, terse, pleasantly rhyming lines reveal the tale of a piano tuner who verbally abuses the speaker of the poem's piano while tuning it precisely: "Hour after hour he'd swear/ You filthy whore, Oh don't you dare." The piano tuner's profanity becomes enough of a problem that the speaker must let him go, but in her own musing fashion, Salter ends the poem with an ironic twist in which the speaker's young daughter sits down at the devilishly tuned piano "and played a Chopin prelude like an angel."
Smart, quirky and offbeat, yet finding truth and beauty in uncommon places, The Surveyors is a poetry collection to cherish. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: Poet Mary Jo Salter addresses both the quotidian and the profound with versatile humor and voice in this wide-ranging collection.
hardcover, 112p., 9781524732660