Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, June 22, 2018


Grove Press: Ayiti by Roxane Gay

From My Shelf

Mira Books: Slowly We Die by Emelie Schepp

St. Martin's: Bring Me Back by BA Paris

Beach Reads for Hot Days

When considering summer reading, whether or not I'm near a beach (I much prefer a hammock in the shade), I think of fast-paced mysteries with a dark edge. The chills on the page are cooling; the sun's warmth welcomes me back from the edge. Here are three books perfect for a lazy afternoon with iced tea (or gin and tonic).
 
The Knife Slipped (Hard Case Crime, $9.95), a 79-year-old mystery by Erle Stanley Gardner is finally in print--in 1939, his publisher thought it was too risqué. The cantankerous team of Bertha Cool and Donald Lam are hired to trail a wayward husband. He is murdered, natch. There are corrupt cops, there are dames, there are cigarettes and whiskey. The prose is classic hardboiled: she had "a long, determined stride which indicated her feet knew damn well she was going someplace to make trouble, and wanted to get her there as soon as possible."
 
Steve Cavanagh has followed his first fabulous thriller, The Defense (Flatiron, $9.99), with The Plea (Flatiron, $26.99). Con artist-turned-lawyer Eddie Flynn is once again forced into defending the seemingly indefensible, and races against the clock to get it done. But once a con man.... Eddie always has a surprise in store for the bad guys. Fans of high-speed action, memorable characters and courtroom drama will find both books a rare treat.
 
The Pisces (Hogarth, $25) by Melissa Broder is not exactly a mystery, but there are thrills (mainly of an erotic sort), there is a beach (Venice Beach), there is water (the Pacific). The suspense comes in the relationship between Lucy, an overly anxious woman with a failing doctoral thesis and reluctant membership in a love addiction therapy group, and Theo, a merman she meets one night while sitting on the beach. In no way a Shape of Water wannabe, The Pisces is a funny and fantastical story of obsessive love. --Marilyn Dahl

From My Shelf

Mira Books: Slowly We Die by Emelie Schepp

St. Martin's: Bring Me Back by BA Paris

The Wonders of Our Second Brain

We are all familiar with the expressions "gut feel" and "gut instinct." Well, it turns out that the gut is filled with millions of neurons that communicate constantly with our brain, playing a crucial role in regulating our mental performance and energy levels.
 
According to Dr. Michael Mosley, author of The Clever Gut Diet: How to Revolutionize Your Body from the Inside Out (Atria, $16), our gut is, in fact, a second brain. It contains as many neurons as we would find in the head of a cat. Dr. Mosley explores the effect of gut health on mental health, the immune system and the causal link between gut bacteria and conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and gluten intolerance.
 
In Gut--The Inside Story of Our Body's Most Underrated Organ (Greystone, $17.95), Giulia Enders explains how the gut works and what keeps it working. With entertaining illustrations (by her sister) and tongue-in-cheek humor, Enders shares her fascination with the central role of an organ that, until recently, was underestimated.
 
The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood and Your Long Term Health (Penguin, $17) focuses on the gut's microbial inhabitants and their importance in keeping us active and healthy. Extreme cleanliness in the Western world has compromised our gut flora. With a concentration on children and developing their gut health, Justin and Erica Sonnenburg suggest ways to boost our guts' microbial community and show how to tell the difference between good and bad bacteria.
 
It's fascinating to realize that our gut is literally at the core of who we are, and that we might improve our state of mind by boosting our gut flora. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

From My Shelf

Mira Books: Slowly We Die by Emelie Schepp

St. Martin's: Bring Me Back by BA Paris

From Russia, with Bookish Love

I've been "reading Russia" since first encountering the classics (Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin) and then the contemporaries (Solzhenitsyn, Akhmatova) in the mid-20th century, during my ancient college years. The adventure continues. I'm always ready for something new.

One of my favorite books this year is The Long Hangover: Putin's New Russia and the Ghosts of the Past by Shaun Walker (Oxford University Press), the Guardian's central and eastern Europe correspondent. A "large cast of Russian characters" populate Walker's book, from ordinary citizens to the man at the top ("Putin was, to some extent, the director of the post-Soviet story for modern Russia, but he was also very much a character in it.").

A speculative novel that's had a profound impact on me is the The Aviator by Eugene Vodolazkin,‎ translated by Lisa Hayden (Oneworld). When Innokenty Petrovich Platanov wakes up in 1999, he is a 100-year-old man in a 30-year-old body. Under a doctor's care, he gradually recovers memories from before he was cryogenically preserved as part of a Gulag experiment. What has he missed? Among other things, the rise and fall of the Soviet empire... and much of his life.

Other reads of note recently are Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea by Teffi (Nadezhda Lokhvitskaya), translated by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler, Anne Marie Jackson and Irina Steinberg (New York Review Books); and the amazing memoir Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich, translated by Bela Shayevich (Random House).

I also recommend 2017: A Novel by Olga Slavnikova, a Russian Booker Prize-winning work translated by‎ Marian Schwartz (Overlook Press). I began reading Slavnikova in 2012 after seeing her on a book conference panel, where she stressed the importance of translators while serving up a sharp little jab: "The only way to reach the American reader is to have the books translated so well they read like they were written in English." Well played, I thought at the time. --Robert Gray, contributing editor

From My Shelf

Mira Books: Slowly We Die by Emelie Schepp

St. Martin's: Bring Me Back by BA Paris

Some Friends of Dorothy

How exciting it was to learn in April that Andrew Sean Greer's novel of comic brilliance Less won the Pulitzer Prize! With its thoughtful, unassuming hero and sweet, understated romance, there is everything to love about Less. It's timely, too, now that it's out in paperback (Back Bay, $15.99), making it perfect for beach reading or your Pride Month book club.
 
There are a lot of excellent, prize-worthy books coming from LGBTQ writers these days, and I love pointing people toward them! Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi (Grove, $25.99) is a potent coming-of-age novel unlike anything I've read before. Difficult to describe, it's one you have to read to believe.
 
The Comedown by Rebekah Frumkin (Holt, $27), on the other hand, is firmly planted in stark history from the late 20th century. It follows decades of hope and hopelessness in the lives of two Ohio families, for what we described in our review as "a talented debut from a novelist with a sharp eye."
 
Another first novel with some well-earned praise is Chelsey Johnson's Stray City (Custom House, $25.99). Set in Portland, Ore., and brimming with candid reflection, this one turns the idea of gaily ever after on its head. What happens when a die-hard lesbian falls into an affair with a man? Well, let's just say it's complicated.
 
But it's not all fiction! The title to Alexander Chee's essay collection, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel (Mariner, $15.99), may give you pause, but don't miss this book. Reflecting on his formative years and his journey toward becoming a powerful voice in literature, Chee champions the process of writing fiction "because the ways you are human are not always visible to yourself."
 
And if you want a break from prose altogether, Junk by Tommy Pico (Tin House, $15.95) is a book-length poem about love and heartbreak but in "a stream-of-consciousness style that recalls the generation-defining mythos of Allen Ginsberg's Howl," our review declares.

There are of course scores more, but this list will set you on the right track! --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

From My Shelf

Mira Books: Slowly We Die by Emelie Schepp

St. Martin's: Bring Me Back by BA Paris

Father's Day Reading for Dads and Kids

The very first statewide Father's Day celebration took place in 1910 in Washington but the holiday wasn't celebrated nationally until 1972. Make up some of that lost time and celebrate Dad with picture books like the following, which feature loving fathers and grandfathers.
 
The Too-Scary Story by Bethanie Deeney Murguia (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-5, 9780545732420, June 27, 2017)
 
"One dark night, in a house on a hill," two children ask Papa to tell them a bedtime story. Grace, the older of the siblings, wants it to be a scary story. Papa begins... but "Too scary!" Walter, Grace's little brother, exclaims. Papa eases the fright factor and brings in the fireflies.
 
A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illus. by Thi Bui (Capstone Young Readers, $15.95, hardcover, ages 6-8, 9781623708030, Aug 1, 2017)
 
A Different Pond is a Vietnamese American boy's account of a pre-dawn fishing expedition with his father. They've made this trip before. When the boy asks his father, who has recently taken a second job, "Why do we still have to fish for food?" Dad replies, "Everything in America costs a lot of money."
 
Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel, $19.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 2-6, 9780399167898, November 14, 2017)
 
Author and illustrator Oliver Jeffers distills the basics of life, the universe and everything else into child-sized bites in an adorable reminder that "[y]ou're never alone on Earth."
 
Drawn Together by Minh Lê, illus. by Dan Santat (Disney-Hyperion, $17.99 hardcover, 40p., ages 3-5, 9781484767603, June 5, 2018)
 
A Thai-American boy is dropped off at his delighted grandfather's house for a visit. They try to chat at lunch but can't understand each other. It's not until the boy slips away to draw that they find common ground: Grandpa likes to tell stories through pictures, too! --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor

From My Shelf

Mira Books: Slowly We Die by Emelie Schepp

St. Martin's: Bring Me Back by BA Paris

Give Your Graduate a Book!

It's graduation season, and time to congratulate friends and family who have finished high school or college. Though I always give graduates what they most want (a check!), I also like to include a book to mark their achievement. Here are some of my favorite choices.
 
A Short Guide to a Happy Life (Random House, $15) and Being Perfect (Random House, $15) are a pair of small books based on commencement addresses given by acclaimed author Anna Quindlen at Barnard, her alma mater. They both provide inspiring advice, accompanied by beautiful photographs, on getting the most out of every day and living your best life, with a focus on happiness in the first book and avoiding the trap of perfectionism in the second.
 
My sons and their friends love F in Exams--The Very Best Totally Wrong Test Answers (Chronicle, $9.95) by Richard Benson, a hilarious collection of outrageously funny (and wrong) test answers written by real students. Any graduate at any level will laugh out loud and pass this book to his or her friends.
 
The perfect gift for high school grads moving on to college is The Naked Roommate (and 107 Other Issues You Might Run into in College) (Sourcebooks, $14.99) by Harlen Cohen, which combines practical advice on problems they might be embarrassed to ask about with a great sense of humor, plus stories from actual college students.
 

For my son's college graduation, I searched for the perfect book to help him begin his adult life, and I found it in Adulting 101: #Wisdom4Life (Broadstreet, $14.99) by Josh Burnette and Pete Hardesty. There are lots of books out there on finding a job or being successful at work or learning how to manage your finances, but this practical guide for those embarking on adult life includes all that--and much more. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and blogger at Book by Book


Loyola Press: The Prayer List: And Other True Stories of How Families Pray by Jane Knuth


Book Candy

The Magic of Fairy Tales

Brightly explored "why kids say they love fairy tales."

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Atlas Obscura explored "where the 'no ending a sentence with a preposition' rule comes from."

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"Caught red handed." Quirk Books highlighted "books stolen in literature."

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From The Lovely Bones to Lincoln in the Bardo, author Tim Thornton picked his top 10 books about the afterlife for the Guardian.

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Nathan Gelgud illustrated "Richard Russo's advice on writing through self-doubt" for Signature.

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What did C.S. Lewis, W.H. Auden and Edmund Wilson think of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings? Ask Lit Hub.


Visible Empire

by Hannah Pittard

On June 3, 1962, a chartered plane crashed shortly after takeoff from Orly Field near Paris. Among the dead were 121 of Atlanta's most influential civic leaders, philanthropists and arts patrons, all returning home after a three-week museum tour. Thirty-three children and young adults lost both parents in the disaster, which Mayor Ivan Allen declared to be his city's "greatest tragedy and loss."

A native of Atlanta, Hannah Pittard (Listen to Me) has constructed Visible Empire as a tight, compact work of historical fiction based on this event. In this, her fourth novel, Pittard explores the emotional wreckage and recovery of a community impacted by tremendous loss. While she could have chosen to write a strictly historical account of the incident (Mayor Allen is one of several real-life figures in Visible Empire who actually experienced the tragedy's aftermath firsthand), Pittard's literary prowess is on full display through her ability to intermingle fact with fiction.

The novel grounds the reader firmly in the chaos and confusion that engulf Atlanta in the month following the crash, as its residents begin to grasp the scope of the tragedy and attempt to cope with their shock and grief. The devastating impact of their collective loss becomes palpable. "In short, it felt like everyone because... it was everyone," Pittard writes of Mayor Allen's emotionally shell-shocked wife, Lulu. "It was everyone she cared about, and they were all gone in a single, heartbreaking, unbelievable whop."

The abundance of unforgettable characters gives Visible Empire the feel of a novel in linked stories form, as Pittard skillfully pivots her narrative around three distinct yet interconnected perspectives.

Newspaperman Robert Tucker is planning to leave his very pregnant wife, Lily, for Rita, a "girl about town" reporter assigned to cover the trip. Shortly before boarding the ill-fated flight, Rita pens a fateful, decisive letter to Robert, a missive that will survive the crash. Despite the death of his mistress (or maybe because of it), Robert confesses his affair to Lily and proceeds with abandoning his expectant wife, whose parents also were among those killed.

As he unravels further and descends into drunken binges, Robert and fellow ne'er-do-well P.T. Coleman (who lost his wealthy parents) recruit African-American teenager Piedmont Dobbs to drive them to a mysterious, remote mansion in the middle of the night. The hidden enclave turns out to be affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan.

Piedmont, who ran away from home after his application to attend one of the city's all-white high schools was rejected, symbolizes the divisions and tensions defining a city on the cusp of change. He wants a better future, but feels guilty and conflicted about how much he is personally prepared to sacrifice, especially when compared to his emerging activist friends. "Whenever Michael and Jeremy talked about the meetings they attended, Piedmont would wonder about his own responsibility with regard to the Negro Cause. He wondered if it was okay to sit back, keep his head down, and wait for whatever improvements those around him might acquire on his behalf. He wondered if he even believed a better future was possible."

Finally, Pittard uses Anastasia Rivers's storyline to further illustrate the crash's capacity for exposing long-buried secrets and shattering all that friends, lovers, family members and colleagues thought they knew about the people in their lives. Anastasia is a beautiful diver who performs to the delight and pleasure of wealthy diners--and a sexist manager--at a newly constructed downtown Atlanta hotel.

To get the job, Anastasia rewrites her personal history: instead of having been abandoned by her parents and left under a bridge with her twin brother, Billy (which, admittedly, already is dramatic enough), she concocts an even more elaborate Grimm-like rags-to-riches-to-rags tale. In what is perhaps Pittard giving a subtle nod to Oscar Wilde and his Dorian Gray, Anastasia attracts the attention of Genie Case, a socialite who deliberately seeks out and seduces Anastasia to stave off her inevitable aging and satisfy her own hidden, then socially unacceptable desires.

Pittard's ability to weave these three seemingly disparate narratives together makes Visible Empire a dizzying yet compelling, dramatic read. She brings the reader into the heat of Atlanta's sizzling summer of 1962, with nostalgic details defining an era. This is a time when people smoked in public, called collect (the constantly ringing phones evoke a time when breaking news was communicated through one-on-one conversations, not tweets or vibrating texts), drank during pregnancies and placed the baby in "the basket in the backseat and pulled around the buckle to keep it from shifting" as they drove. One almost expects to see Mad Men's Don Draper at the wheel.

Still, despite these unassuming, quaint-sounding and downright dangerous bygones, Visible Empire feels familiar. The snare drum of change that was sounding in 1962, combined with the racial, sexual and cultural tensions and inexplicable losses that soon would test the resiliency of a nation, has relevance as it reverberates more than five decades later. --Melissa Firman

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25, hardcover, 288p., 9780544748064

Never Anyone but You

by Rupert Thomson

In Never Anyone but You, Rupert Thomson (The Insult; Katherine Carlyle) re-creates with intimate and emotional detail the lives--and love--of two extraordinary women who lived in the early half of the 20th century: Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore.

Claude and Marcel met as teenagers (then named Lucie and Suzanne, respectively). Despite the possible censure they faced at the time, the two fell in love and embarked on a decades-long relationship with one another. In a stranger-than-fiction twist, their clandestine relationship was further covered by the fact that the divorced father of one married the widowed mother of the other, allowing the two women to live together as stepsisters without raising suspicion.

While history has better remembered Claude--her self-portraits and writing, in particular, have preserved many of her ideas on femininity and gender norms that are as relevant (indeed, downright revolutionary) today as they were during her lifetime--Thomson brings the love between Claude and Marcel to life by writing from Marcel's perspective. This narrative decision serves two purposes: first, by writing in the first person, Thomson conveys an emotional depth to the relationship that would be lacking if told from without. And second, by maintaining Claude as the subject of another's perspective, the art she's left behind is given further context for those who may seek it out.

That being said, the experiences of these two women were so intertwined and interrelated that Never Anyone but You is not so much an accounting of their individual lives and actions, but rather an exploration of their shared life.

"Sometimes, though, just sometimes, Claude would become me and I would become her--while making love, for instance, or dancing--and it was unforced and seamless, it was comfortable, this reversing of our roles, this intermingling of our attributes and our desires. I had seen acquaintances of ours notice this capacity in us, and I had watched it arouse their jealousy... they realized that they didn't have anything we wanted, and they took our self-sufficiency as a kind of rejection, or even as an expression of contempt."

This intimacy between the two women is born in part from the secrecy of their relationship and their continued dependence on one another for love and support. More importantly, though, it is what gave both a place of inclusivity in a world that wanted to exclude them--because of their gender, their sexuality, their politics, or some combination thereof.

Thomson's novels have varied in subject, but his skill as a novelist is on full display in Never Anyone but You. Drawing on historical facts and what is known of Claude and Marcel's personal lives, he has built a richly imagined work of historical fiction that succeeds in capturing the essence of each distinct period of Claude and Marcel's life together: their teenage years in the provincial town of Nantes; the energy and passion of the Surrealist movement in 1920s Paris; the reclusive nature of the women's retreat in Jersey; the fear and apprehension that lay over Jersey during the German occupation of the Channel Islands. Each of these distinct periods serves to provide further context to the complex story of two individual women who defied expectations to live a life of their own creation.

This idea of self-determination and creation was central to Claude's art, and so it's perhaps not surprising that it features so prominently in Thomson's novel. But what Thomson succeeds in imagining, with layers of sentiment that make the story resonate across the decades, is the importance of that determination to the very identity of both women. It is the driving force behind Suzanne's decision to stay with Lucie; it is behind their decision to rename themselves upon arriving in Paris in the 1920s; it is what leads them to set up an exceptionally dangerous anti-Nazi propaganda project in Jersey during the German occupation of their home.

Perhaps most importantly, it is also central to their love for one another. Marcel recognizes the work Claude has put into making the "constantly shifting construct that was herself," and does everything in her power to preserve that construct, no matter the cost to herself or the forces working against her.

Steeped in historical detail, surprisingly timely statements on gender norms and mental health, and suspenseful moments of choice and deliberation, Never Anyone but You is a captivating and heartfelt tale of love and the many shapes it can take. --Kerry McHugh

Other Press, $25.95, hardcover, 368p., 9781590519134

Hannah Pittard: Capturing a Moment of Change

photo: Jenn Harris

Hannah Pittard is the author of four novels, including Listen to Me, a New York Times Editors' Choice. She received the 2006 Amanda Davis Highwire Fiction Award, was a MacDowell Colony Fellow and is a consulting editor for Narrative magazine. She directs the MFA creative writing program at the University of Kentucky, where she is an assistant professor.

You were born in Atlanta and you dedicate Visible Empire to your mother, who told you about the plane crash. Did your family have personal connections to the tragedy?

Although we were lucky enough not to have any immediate personal connections, I grew up hearing stories from my parents about how the city changed, practically overnight, because of the crash and its aftermath. My mother was 13 when it happened. My father, on the other hand, was 20 and knew many people who lost both parents. From the time I realized I was a storyteller, I knew this was a story that was meant to be told. 

What made you decide that now was the right time?

I didn't think I was ready until finishing my third novel [Listen to Me], yet I had been thinking about this story as a potential novel for years. It was probably a combination of confidence and comfort--and the times we are currently living in made this story feel more relevant.

It is extremely relevant. Even though Visible Empire is set in 1962, you explore themes and issues that could be from today's headlines.

I've always been fascinated by the timing of this terrible, tragic historical incident--which I certainly wish never occurred at all, obviously. But because it happened in 1962 and not 1968, the full-scale gender and racial revolutions of our time had not yet happened. They were coming. We have the benefit of that knowledge now, in hindsight. The crash left behind a community scrambling to comprehend a large-scale loss during a moment of incipient racial, sexual and cultural change in America and that's why I think the issues in the book are relevant to what's happening now. I wanted to be as faithful as possible to 1962 but I also wanted to write a book that speaks to our time.

The title, Visible Empire, seems to refer to the nature of secrets. No matter how much we think something is hidden, it will always be discovered. It's also a reference to the Ku Klux Klan--a character discovers a relative's hidden membership card with the words "invisible empire."

The full name of the Klan ("The Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan") nods at unseen power that is deadly and potent because of its very invisibility. My title invites the reader to question our responsibility to power we can see but choose to ignore because it is so ingrained in our way of thinking and seeing.

One of the most profound moments I had while writing this book was in connection with the two quotes I use as epigraphs. Personally devastated by the disaster, Mayor Ivan Allen said that "Atlanta has suffered her greatest tragedy and loss." Not even an hour after I read that, I came across Malcolm X's statement where he essentially calls on God to do it again by saying "we hope that every day another plane falls out of the sky." The world was suddenly paying attention to Atlanta because of an incident involving the loss of 121 white Atlantans when they hadn't been noticing the South's legalized racism or the city's burgeoning civil rights movement. The treatment of African Americans was also the tragedy, and the title invites questions about our world, then and now. The story is right there.

Mayor Ivan Allen was a real person who experienced the crash's aftermath. Are other characters based on real people?

I wanted to include several people, such as Mayor Allen, to establish authenticity. Others were inspired by my research. I read almost every issue of the Atlanta Journal Constitution from 1962, and some of those stories made their way into the book. That said, I didn't want to write a historical account of the Air France crash or be prevented from imagining a story. I wanted to write about love and loss in a time of deep racial division, precisely because of its relevance to what is happening in our world now.

As writers tend to do, I drew from my own life. Anastasia, one of my favorite characters I've ever written, is very, very, very loosely based on my mother--who is not a con artist or an orphan, but someone who happened to also look very good in a red bathing suit while doing a little diving at a hotel during her youth.

Tell us about Anastasia's relationship with Genie Case. There seems to be a nod to Oscar Wilde and Dorian Gray there. Is that intentional or am I over-reaching?

Oh my gosh, that's about the best thing I've ever heard! It was not intentional, although I feel I should say it was! Perhaps it was there all along. When my mother read this, she said it felt Gatsby-esque. Aging is an age-old theme for a reason. It's something we think about all the time--physical beauty and staying relevant, jealousy and envy. Those are our go-to themes for a reason, right? Yet we struggle to understand them every single day.

There are quite a few characters and story lines in what has been described as "a compact book." It takes place within one month. How did you manage the structure of the book with so many characters and this tight timeline?

I wrote this book differently than any of my previous novels. I plotted it out visually using postcards on a big corkboard and those postcards sort of saved my sanity. Yet because I had been thinking about this story for so long, there were moments and scenes that seemed like a movie in my head. It was already so real to me before I ever wrote a word.

The crash had a wide-reaching impact on the city. What lessons do you feel Atlanta's experience holds for other cities experiencing such catastrophic, deeply affecting, oftentimes violent losses? 

One of my career-long interests has been this idea of sudden loss. I've explored this in my previous work and I was aware, absolutely, of the connection between Atlanta's tragedy in 1962 and what we see in the news on a devastating, daily basis. I'm fascinated by how communities of all types have had to figure out how to restart their lives, time and time again, especially when they don't have time to prepare. How do we make sense of such a loss in our homes, in the lives of our neighbors, in our cities? I've tried to write a book on how people from different backgrounds learn to love and reconnect in moments of extreme change or profound loss.

Literature's job is to promote empathy and to imagine different ways of being. I feel like that should be true for readers as well as authors. Fiction teaches us how to ask good questions about how to move through this world. --Melissa Firman


Rupert Thomson: Between the Real and the Imagined

photo: Sveta Mishima

Rupert Thomson is the author of several novels, including The Insult, selected by David Bowie as one of 100 Must-Read Books of All Time; Death of a Murderer, shortlisted for the 2008 Costa Novel; and Katherine Carlyle. His latest novel, Never Anyone but You, tells the story of the real-life love affair between Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore. Thomson lives in London.

Never Anyone but You is based on a true story. How did you first come across Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore?

I found a photo of Claude Cahun in a magazine. She had shaved eyebrows, a shaved head, and she was wearing a black dress. Her head was kind of turned away. She just looked really bizarre. And I thought, "Who is that?"

There were a few biographical details in the article, and they were so intriguing. It was such an extraordinary story, and one I hadn't heard before. Never Anyone but You didn't start as a book quite then, but it lodged in my head, as these ideas often do.

The book is rich with historical detail across both women's lives and spanning several decades of the 20th century. How did you conduct your research?

I take a kind of peculiar attitude to research. I usually just start with my intuition. I wrote one or two drafts of the novel without knowing much at all. I do that to understand the psychological underpinnings of the characters. Background, structure, pace--all those things can come later, as far as I'm concerned. What I was really trying to get at is the relationship between Marcel and Claude.

This is a good thing and a bad thing. It's good because I nearly always discover valuable things that I wouldn't have discovered if I did all the research and at the end painstakingly constructed a book out of all the facts. It's bad because I make all kinds of mistakes. I write things that couldn't possibly have happened. So later on, I have a fair amount of problems.

I did go to Jersey twice, interviewed a bunch of people, and must have read over 100 books. I read and read and read, everything I could lay my hands on. But there does come a point when you realize you know what you need to know, and you have to go ahead with the writing.

I also tell this story from Marcel's voice. There are things she wouldn't have known in her life, or things she wouldn't have found important. The novel is her looking back on 40 years with an extraordinary and complicated woman. So all the research had to be run through the lens of Marcel's mentality. And that became a way of filtering what I was reading. That made it much easier to know what I was going to use and what I wasn't going to use. 

You mentioned this approach caused some problems, though?

After I'd been working on the book for over a year, I tracked down François Leperlier, who wrote the main biography of Claude.

There was a point in August 2015 when we met in person and had drinks together and dinner, and I asked to be in touch with him via e-mail. He was so unbelievably patient and useful. I would have tiny questions like, "When the two women lived on Jersey, did they have a car?" and then I'd have huge questions like, "What kind of Marxist was Calhoun? What kind of Marxism did they believe in?"

We went back and forth on lots of questions, and then, a year later, I went and spent three days with him. That actually almost undermined the book completely. I have this opening scene, for example, that takes place when the Germans are about to occupy Jersey, and Marcel is swimming in the sea, and feels the bombs falling miles away. François stopped me and said, "That's impossible. There's no evidence that Marcel was in the sea when that happened. Claude wrote about that moment and never mentioned anything about it." But as far as I was concerned, there was nothing Claude wrote that says Marcel wasn't in the sea, either.

We had a kind of clash between the academic nonfiction writer and the fiction writer, who works with the imagination. It was a really interesting few days, because he'd keep finding things with no evidence to prove it did happen, while I felt there was no evidence to say it didn't.

I have a theory about real facts and imagined facts. And the imagined facts take precedence even though I'm writing about real people. What fascinated me most about their story is what happened behind closed doors. Those moments that no historian could write, because they can only write things based on evidence. But the whole point of fiction is to go beyond that. So, for me, if something felt psychologically appropriate, I'd go ahead with it. 

Early in her relationship with Claude, Marcel says, "It was the life I was living that unnerved me. The path I had chosen was the one that I could not imagine."

That line looks so simple when you first read it, but it's actually quite a complicated idea. I believe mystery comes from clarity, rather than the other way around.

Marcel had, at one point, imagined a fairly conventional life for herself. Claude throws all of that completely up into the air. The idea of having a lover who is a woman at that time and that place was really unthinkable. I believe Claude's effect on Marcel was rather seismic. She changed Marcel completely. 

Really, the book is a love story. It's one woman talking about the life she spent with another woman who is just extraordinarily complicated and complex and vulnerable. It is an exploration of what is it like to love someone so impossible. --Kerry McHugh


Shelf vetted, publisher supported.


World Cup Ranking--With a Twist

McSweeney's ranked the top 10 men's World Cup teams "by how easily the first lines of each country's national anthem could be slipped unnoticed into expository voiceover in a Lord of the Rings movie."

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Headline of the day (via Forbes): "Bill Murray Is Going to Recite Poetry at This Ancient Theater in Greece."

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Author Caroline O'Donoghue picked her "top 10 lost women's classics" for the Guardian.

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"Because everybody has an opinion," Lit Hub shared the thoughts of "14 famous writers on whether or not to have kids."

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle "helped invent the curse of the mummy," Electric Lit wrote.

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Literature's great con artists: CrimeReads investigated "9 of the all-time great (fictional) swindlers and grifters."


Little Brown and Company: The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand


Phenomenal Fictional Fathers

For Father's Day, Quirk Books considered some "fictional dads we secretly want to be."

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"Only true book lovers will score 100% on this quiz," Buzzfeed challenged.

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"The surprising practice of binding old books with scraps of even older books" was explored by Atlas Obscura.

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CBC Books gathered "90 facts about the wild world of Maurice Sendak."

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Author Marc Mulholland picked his "top 10 working-class heroes in books" for the Guardian.


Running Press: Cats on Catnip by Andrew Marttila


Unsolved Literary Mysteries

Bustle posed "5 literary mysteries that have never been solved but are seriously fascinating."

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To honor the late, great Anthony Bourdain, "who was as passionate a cinephile as he was a chef," IndieWire featured "the 15 best food movies ever made."

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Oxford Children's Dictionaries announced the Oxford Children's Word of the Year is "plastic."

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Who will survive? Electric Lit invited readers to "discover the plot of your post-apocalyptic novel with our handy chart."

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Bookish headline of the day: "Dealing with a Little Free Library Book Thief: A North Chicago Case Study."

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Introducing "the 10 creepiest neighbors in modern suspense," CrimeReads showed "why your neighbors are noir's favorite new villain."


Literary Characters' Best Revenge

"Literary characters who got revenge living their best life" were featured by Quirk Books.

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"Read 20 famous authors' very first published short stories," courtesy of Lit Hub.

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Call Me by Your Name author André Aciman picked five books about first love for the Guardian.

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For McSweeney's, Brianna Zgodinski listed "famous works of literature that also describe the night I lost my virginity."

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Barba tenus sapientes, for example. Mental Floss suggested "20 Latin phrases you should be using."

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Each of the elements in Leo D'uk's Zex bookshelves "can be in five different color solutions. Shelves made of veneered boards and sheet metal."


Presidential Mysteries and Thrillers

To mark this week's release of The President Is Missing by former President Bill Clinton and James Patterson, CrimeReads recommended "23 classics of presidential mysteries and thrillers."

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Electric Lit explored "the four rules for a good book club... and how the group featured in the movie Book Club breaks almost all of them."

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Bustle suggested "10 reading hacks for finally getting through your overstacked TBR pile."

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Stefanie Dreyfuss "made a secret code to review every book she read, and it's genius," Buzzfeed reported.

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For sale: "A winsome map showing the way to Pooh Corner" was showcased by Atlas Obscura, which noted you could "explore the '100 Aker Wood' for only $200,000."


The Struggles of Monogamous Readers

"Do you only read one book at a time?" Bustle explored "12 struggles you probably understand."

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"From Philip K. Dick's obtuse robots to Mark O'Connell's guide to transhumanism," Julian Gough recommended the top 10 books to help you survive the digital age for the Guardian.

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McSweeney's wondered what might happen "if classic literary characters asked for advice on Reddit."

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For Brightly, "a first-time parent reflects on the magic of Oh, the Places You'll Go!."

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For his Corda (Rope) bookshelf, Pedro Carvalho "relied on the simplicity of the supporting structures in architecture to develop a minimal bookcase that requires very little space and few materials."


Great Reads

Rediscover: Call It Sleep

When Call It Sleep by Henry Roth (1906-1995) was first published in 1934, it received critical acclaim but suffered commercial failure. The book was out of print until 1960, then released in paperback in 1964. Literary critic Irving Howe's front page review in the New York Times Book Review, the first for a paperback, propelled Call It Sleep to the bestseller lists. It has since sold more than a million copies.

Call It Sleep reflects Roth's experience as a Jewish immigrant in the ghetto of New York's Lower East Side during the early 20th Century. Like his protagonist, David Schearl, Roth was born in Galicia, Austro-Hungary, before arriving in the United States. Call It Sleep follows six-year-old Schearl's tumultuous family, religious and social lives amid crowded tenements and rough streets. Over the course of three years, Schearl's relationship with his family unravels and his friendship with fellow slum-kids leads down dark paths.

Roth experienced decades of writer's block following the commercial failure of Call It Sleep. His next novel, an epic work called Mercy of a Rude Stream, was published in four volumes in 1994-95. Like Call It Sleep, Mercy of a Rude Stream echoes Roth's real-life experiences, this time as a young man in Jewish-Irish Harlem between 1914 and 1927. His final novel, An American Type (2010), is a posthumously published collection of scenes from Roth's life taking place after Mercy of a Rude Stream, including his time as a farmer in Maine. Call It Sleep was last released in 2005 by Picador ($19, 9780312424121). --Tobias Mutter


Rediscover: Rosemary's Baby

When Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse move into their dream apartment at the Bramford, a Gothic Revival building in Manhattan, they meet a group of elderly, eccentric but amicable neighbors--hardly the dour sort who might inhabit a building of dubious reputation. Guy, a struggling actor, makes fast friends with the neighbors, and soon lands a professional break thanks to a rival's misfortune. Rosemary is thrilled when she gets pregnant, but as the doting neighbors turn from nosy to overbearing, and Rosemary's pregnancy takes uncomfortable turns, she discovers the Bram's odd residents are far more ominous than they seem.

Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby (1967) is a classic work of psychological horror. The book's commercial success, with more than four million copies sold, facilitated a boom in horror novels and films, especially of the Satanic subgenre; in a 2002 interview, Levin attributed The Exorcist and The Omen to Rosemary's Baby, with a rise in such stories perhaps causing a fundamentalist backlash. "Of course," he said, "I didn't send back any of the royalty checks." Roman Polaski's film adaptation starring Mia Farrow remains one of the greatest horror films of the 20th Century. Levin (1929-2007), described by Stephen King as "the Swiss watchmaker of suspense novels," also wrote A Kiss Before Dying (1953), The Stepford Wives (1972) and The Boys from Brazil (1976). A fiftieth anniversary edition of Rosemary's Baby was published on March 7, 2017, by Pegasus Books ($15.95, 9781681774664). --Tobias Mutter


Rediscover: The Road from Coorain

Jill Ker Conway, an Australian-American author who was also the first woman president of Smith College, died on June 1 at age 83. She was born on a 32,000-acre sheep ranch deep in the Australian outback, with little company growing up except her parents, brothers and a teacher. The ranch, called Coorain (an Aboriginal word for windy place), prospered until a seven-year drought. When Conway was 11, her father drowned while attempting to expand Coorain's irrigation system. After a further three years of drought, Conway's mother moved the family to Sydney, where Jill struggled to integrate with her new peers. She went on to graduate from the University of Sydney and moved to the United States in 1960. She received a Ph.D. from Harvard, met a Canadian professor who later became her husband, and taught at the University of Toronto from 1964 to 1975. Conway was the president of Smith College from 1975 to 1985, and thereafter a visiting professor at MIT.

Conway's writing career began with the publication of her first memoir, The Road from Coorain, in 1989. It tracks her early life in the outback and her moves to Sydney and the U.S. Her second memoir, True North (1994), follows Conway's time teaching in Toronto. She also wrote A Woman's Education (2001) and When Memory Speaks: Reflections on Autobiography (1998), and was the editor of several books, including Written by Herself: Autobiographies of American Women (1992) and In Her Own Words: Women's Memoirs from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States (1999). She received a National Humanities Medal in 2013. The Road from Coorain was last published in 1990 by Vintage Departures ($15.95, 9780679724360). --Tobias Mutter


Rediscover: Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain's sudden death last Friday marked a tragic end to a life that inspired and touched the many people who read his bestselling books and watched his engaging TV series. Although we ran an item about his career here recently, we want again to pay tribute to one of our favorite authors.

Just last month, Anthony Bourdain's food travelogue Parts Unknown returned for its 11th season on CNN. It was Bourdain's fourth such series, after the Travel Channel's No Reservations (2005-2012) and The Layover (2011-2013), and the Food Network's A Cook's Tour (2002-2003). Prior to TV stardom, Bourdain earned his chops as the bestselling author of Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (Bloomsbury), his darkly funny memoir about life behind the stove. With scalding wit and honesty, he relates his road to becoming a chef and his hectic, often drug-fueled work in high-end New York City kitchens during the 1980s as well as shares inside restaurateur tips, like not to order fish on Monday (it's leftover from the weekend) and never order steak well done (overcooking masks low-quality cuts).

In 2011, Bourdain peeled his celebrity chefdom into his own imprint under Ecco, which has published books by chefs, musicians, athletes and others. Bourdain's own literary career continued after Kitchen Confidential with A Cook's Tour (2001), The Nasty Bits (2006), No Reservations (2007), Medium Raw (2010) and Appetites: A Cookbook (2016). Bourdain wrote several fiction books in the 1990s prior to Kitchen Confidential and returned to that genre in 2012 as co-author of the graphic novel Get Jiro! for DC Comics/Vertigo. Another co-authored comic, Hungry Ghosts, comes out this October. An updated edition of Kitchen Confidential was last published in 2007 by Ecco ($16.99, 9780060899226).

Ecco president and publisher Daniel Halpern paid tribute to Bourdain, saying, "I've known Tony as an author and friend for many years. He not only revolutionized the memoir genre with his groundbreaking and iconic work Kitchen Confidential, he supported emerging voices and chefs with his imprint Anthony Bourdain Books. His death is a great personal tragedy. Our thoughts are with his daughter and family at this difficult time." --Tobias Mutter


The Writer's Life

Reading with... Tessa Fontaine

photo: Claire Marika

Tessa Fontaine's writing has appeared in PANK, Seneca Review, the Rumpus, Sideshow World and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from the University of Alabama and is working on a PhD in creative writing at the University of Utah. She also eats fire and charms snakes, among other sideshow feats. The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, May 1, 2018) is her first book. She lives in South Carolina.

On your nightstand now:

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I'm almost done with this one, and truthfully, I'd like to hide out for a few days so I can finish and then immediately reread it. A traveling symphony and band of Shakespeare performers journey together after a flu epidemic has wiped out most of humanity, and the novel amazingly weaves the stories of a handful of characters pre- and post-epidemic. I love the way the characters diverge and then reconnect, and how at the center of it all, this human need to perform and tell stories and see art connects people to one another.

The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair. My mom was a painter, but beyond that, she was a lover of colors, so I (have been forced to?) pay a lot of attention to color. This book gives little histories to 75 colors, with anecdotal stories about the ways we have revered them or used them or the mythos behind their naming, like Dragon's Blood, a shade similar to maroon, in whose description we get a brief history of dragon-sightings. I like to read this book before I go to bed, especially if I've been reading Shirley Jackson or something and have scared myself awake.

It Had Been Planned and There Were Guides by Jessica Lee Richardson. I've read this collection of stories before, but wanted to revisit this one story, "Not the Problem," about a lonely grandmother who befriends a family of talking spiders. The writing is so weird and beautiful, and it's fabulist in a way that makes it ring perfectly true. This book plays with short story forms in wild and wonderful ways.

Favorite book when you were a child:

The Patchwork Cat by William Mayne, illustrated by Nicola Bayley. This illustrated book is the story of the cat Tabby whose favorite old quilt is thrown into the garbage. She follows it out and takes a nap on it, only to find she's been dumped into a truck and taken to the dump. She must carry the quilt in her little cat teeth on an arduous quest back home. The illustrations are so evocative--both gorgeous and emotional. I still perfectly remember the cat's pained face as she is dragging that blanket home, her furrowed eyebrows, her matted, garbage-laden fur--and also her determination. Apparently, I was so obsessed with reading this book at a friend's house when I was young that her parents just sent the book home with me one day. Persistence!

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. As a kid whose parents divorced when I was very young, the story of a boy flying between newly divorced parents whose plane crashes in the woods had the perfect emotional grounding. And then the real tale is about how he survives alone in the wilderness! It's great, with the kind of gore and terror that kids love--like the scene where Brian (still remember his name without looking it up, thank you very much) has to dive into the sunken plane to retrieve supplies and sees the bloated, drowned pilot still buckled in. Maybe I should blame more of my darkness on Gary Paulsen.

Your top five authors:

This is so hard to choose, so I'm going to qualify this by saying that this is my list of the moment:

Toni Morrison: her books have blown me away at every stage of my life that I've read them. Ok I'd probably always choose her.

Tana French: she both reveals so much in her books but also maintains mystery that makes her books so propulsive.

Jesmyn Ward: both Salvage the Bones and Sing, Unburied, Sing are two of the best novels I've ever read, and the collection The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, which she edited, is dynamite.

Stephen King: he is, of course, the master of horror. One of his lesser-known books, Lisey's Story, is one of my favorites of all time. And On Writing is fantastically helpful and funny. When I need a treat or reward, I read King.

Robert Hass: I fell in love with Hass's poems when I was in high school, and they still strike me as some of the finest poetry I've ever read. They are not easy, but they are fairly accessible, and they are funny (like his poem about nose-picking called "Shame: An Aria," which is total genius), and sexy and smart and deep and happy and sad.

Book you've faked reading:

I've never read War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, but once someone told me it was foolish to be a writer without having read that book, so I said I had, and he asked me something about it, and I excused myself for the bathroom.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Lately, Things That Are by Amy Leach. This collection of essays begins with some subject matter from the natural world and through a series of amazing and unexpected leaps, connect disparate ideas and objects and animals in such a way so as to make me feel as if everything in the world is new again.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I have a collection of the old Oz series by L. Frank Baum (and then others, over the years), most of which I haven't read, but they have gorgeously illustrated covers. I have them in a glass case and display them like fine china.

Book you hid from your parents:

Somehow I got my paws on the techno-thriller The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton in third grade. It was a hard book to read--each page took me a long time to decipher--but I was so enthralled by reading something I probably wasn't supposed to be reading that I carried on until at least page 60, which took me probably two months.

Book that changed your life:

The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. This is the first hardcover non-children's book I ever had, purchased at a reading of hers I accidentally stumbled into with my mom. We didn't have much money, and it was a big deal my mom bought me this book. I loved it first for that preciousness, and then once I read the book, I loved it like a limb. The language is poetic and stunning, there is sex and magic, and it absolutely changed what I, as a 12-year-old, thought was possible to make happen with words. I think it might be the moment that I knew I would never stop writing.

Favorite line from a book:

This line, from the poem "From Blossoms" by Li-Young Lee:

"There are days we live/ as if death were nowhere/ in the background."

I liked it so much I quoted it in the speech I gave at college graduation. It made me feel very wise.

Five books you'll never part with:

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski: so weird, so formally creative, so mysterious and compulsive. I treasure the object.

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien: one of my favorites of all time. A circular, nonlinear book about war that blurs some interesting fiction/nonfiction lines.

The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch: a stunning, heartbreaking memoir of loss and swimming and finding air with language that makes and then unmakes itself.

Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje: this is a near-perfect book. The imagined life of a New Orleans jazz musician we know very little about. It's written in fragments and operates like a mystery at times. So good.

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell: this was another early favorite. It follows the story of a Native American girl learning to survive alone on an island. She is bold and brave and miraculous.

Though to be honest, this list really includes about a thousand books.

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

The Round House by Louise Erdrich. At the heart of this novel is a mystery--who attacked Joe's mother? But the book is far from simple. It's set on the edge of an Ojibwe reservation and dives deeply into questions of sacred spaces, land legality, spiritual travel, familial healing, racism, sexism and the moments when we cross our most important thresholds. In addition to the urgency and compulsion of the story, the writing is so, so, so damn good. It's a perfect mix of wanting to turn the page faster to know what happens and wanting to slow it all down to enjoy the ride. Erdrich is a wonder.


Reading with... Joanna Cantor

photo: Sylvie Rosokoff
Joanna Cantor holds an MFA from Brooklyn College and a BA from Colorado College. She was the 2014 recipient of a Vermont Studio Center Fellowship. Alternative Remedies for Loss (Bloomsbury, May 8, 2018) is her debut novel. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., with her husband and dog.
 
On your nightstand now:
 
I just finished Tayari Jones's An American Marriage, so that's moved over to my husband's side of the bed. It's rare that a book can have me so engaged at a plot-and-character level (I actually peeked ahead a few times because I couldn't wait to find out what happened!) while also causing me to reflect deeply on larger issues. I can't recommend this one highly enough--it's really outstanding.
 
I'm reading and savoring Sigrid Nunez's The Friend. This novel is barely 200 pages yet it manages to be so many things--a story of loss, an ode to a friendship, a sharp and sometimes hilarious commentary on the literary world and a beautiful, moving portrait of friendship between a woman and a dog.
 
Joan Didion's South and West lives next to the bed--I've read some but I'm not feeling any rush and I like having her nearby. Ditto with Stag's Leap by Sharon Olds and The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs. I definitely keep too many things on the nightstand!
 
Next up are Jesmyn Ward's Sing, Unburied, Sing and Lisa Halliday's Asymmetry.
 
Favorite book when you were a child:
 
Charlotte's Web--I think I made my mom read it to me more than 10 times! I've been an animal nut from day one. I also loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I was fascinated with how things worked in "olden times," as I called anything not contemporary as a child.
 
Your top five authors:
 
Jennifer Egan, James Salter, Edith Wharton, Joan Didion, Jane Austen.
 
Book you've faked reading:
 
This is a strange one, because I can't really say why I haven't read it, but at a party not long ago someone referenced Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. They knew I was a writer and I couldn't bring myself to admit the truth, so I just agreed with whatever they were saying.
 
Also, Harry Potter. This is going to be devastating to a few friends of mine, but I'll come clean: nope, I've never read anything by J.K. Rowling. And--gulp--I haven't even seen the movies. Yes, I just nod and smile at your Harry Potter references.
 
Book you're an evangelist for:
 
I'm an evangelist for a lot of books, depending on when and to whom I'm evangelizing--but one would be Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. It's a collection of advice columns she wrote as "Dear Sugar" for The Rumpus. There's a tremendous amount of heart in this book, and the contents are inherently varied, so whatever the source of your secret heartache, you'll find something wise and cathartic in there.
 
Book you've bought for the cover:
 
The cover of Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong was just so good--lively, vibrant colors, whimsical, offbeat, memorable. I would have read it anyway, but I'd say maybe I bought it sooner because of the cover.
 
Book you hid from your parents:
 
The Baby-Sitters Club series. My mom thought they were junk, but I was addicted. I think it's because they combined the familiarity of a series (comforting to tweens) with a big dose of plot. A lot happened in those books.
 
Also, I would sneak peaks at any parenting book I found on my mom's shelf. I wanted to get inside the mind of the opposition!
 
Book that changed your life:
 
I read Rosie by Anne Lamott when I was 14, on a family vacation. I fell in love with Lamott's warm prose and with the limitless compassion she bestowed on her characters even as they screwed up. It was the first time I remember thinking This is what I want to do--to create a world, and to make readers feel invited into that world, the way Lamott did. Twenty years later, my copy is totally battered; I've flipped through it so many times when I felt in need of courage or inspiration.
 
Favorite line from a book:
 
"I would stay in New York, I told him, just six months, and I could see the Brooklyn Bridge from my window. As it turned out the bridge was the Triborough, and I stayed eight years."
 
This is from Joan Didion's essay "Goodbye to All That" in Slouching Towards Bethlehem--certainly my favorite essay and possibly my favorite piece of writing, full stop. I can't read that line without getting chills. It cuts to the quick of everything we don't know about ourselves when we're young, how it feels to be new to New York and the passage of time. I love the juxtaposition: the relatively small matter of calling a bridge by the wrong name, and the much larger matters of six months becoming eight years (and of the engagement Didion called off in the process, which we learn about in the surrounding lines).
 
Five books you'll never part with:
 
I would have said The Wellspring by Sharon Olds, but I gave it to a friend who was pregnant and moving abroad. It felt important that she have my beloved copy. I keep meaning to buy another one.
 
Emperor's Children by Claire Messud. This came out the year I moved to New York and was one of my bibles when I began writing fiction. When my husband moved in, we somehow had three copies between the two of us, and he was like, clearly we'll get rid of two of these, but I made us hang onto all three! You can't be too careful.
 
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler--actually set the year I moved to NYC, and another New York story that felt like it was written for me. I found Danler's prose inviting and inspiring; I kept my copy by my side as I was revising my novel and still love to flip through when I'm at loose ends.
 
My signed, personalized copy of Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad--she thanks me for introducing her at a reading. Goon Squad is such a brilliant book--definitely never parting with that one.
 
So I don't exclude men entirely, I'll end with 100 Love Sonnets by Pablo Neruda. Family friends gave this to my husband and me when we got engaged, and we ended up including one of the sonnets in our wedding ceremony. You can't beat poetry that finds a way to say something fresh about love.
 
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
 
Elena Ferrante's Neopolitan novels--all four of them! The level of addiction I felt while reading those books (oops I forgot to brush my teeth/check my phone/eat, how is it getting dark out?) is something I associate with reading as a kid--it's harder to find as an adult. It's an almost queasy pleasure, like binging on sweets.
 
Five books that are resources for your own writing:
 
I've touched on this a bit already--Rosie by Anne Lamott was the earliest one. Stephanie Danler's Sweetbitter and several of Jennifer Egan's novels have been others. But two more that I've found myself rereading when I feel stuck in my own writing are The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman and The Privileges by Jonathan Dee. I think Waldman and Dee both really excel at pacing, at knowing when to dive into a moment and when to skim the surface or jump ahead. They move the stories forward with such great energy. I love to dip into these novels when my work is feeling sluggish, to try to hitch a ride on that momentum.

Helen Hoang: The Case for Neurodiverse Romance Heroines

photo: Eric Kieu

Helen Hoang's love of romance novels began in childhood. In her own debut romance novel, she created a cast of characters beginning with the unusually talented but also unusually challenged autistic heroine Stella Lane. The Kiss Quotient (Berkley, June 5, 2018, reviewed below) is the first in a series, with Bride Test scheduled for release in 2019 and a third after that. Hoang lives in San Diego, Calif., with her husband, two kids and pet fish.

The question that is surely on every reader's mind: to what extent is The Kiss Quotient based on a true story?

While The Kiss Quotient is a work of fiction (I've never hired a male escort to be my practice boyfriend, or anything else), significant parts of it are based upon my own experiences.

I wrote this book while I was personally undergoing diagnosis for autism spectrum disorder (I wasn't diagnosed until age 34) and, through Stella, I explored parts of myself I'd never understood and always tried to hide: difficulty with relationships and intimacy, all-consuming interests, social awkwardness, routines, repetitive motions, etc. Stella's struggle to accept her differences and share her label mirrors mine.

To Michael I gave my tight-knit family, complete with the passel of sisters, the trouble-causing dad, the health issues and the relating drama. Family has always been my greatest treasure, but at the same time, love like that brings the kind of responsibility and obligation you can't escape from, not without losing everything that matters.

Do you see yourself in Stella?

I'm far more cynical than Stella, and she's way smarter--but her thought processes and many of her quirks are mine. She's the me I wish I was.

As a reader, it's easy to fall in love with Michael--he is one of the closest embodiments to a perfect man. What do you see as his faults?

It makes me extremely happy to hear Michael referred to this way, since as we know, he's Asian, has unconventional occupations, and is therefore fighting those associated stereotypes. His faults all boil down to insecurity, mostly from things beyond his control. In order to earn a happy future with Stella, he has to overcome these insecurities.

It's exciting to see a heroine with autism. We read plenty about men with autism disorders but not nearly as much about women with that diagnosis. What are you most hoping The Kiss Quotient will accomplish?

I had two goals when I wrote Stella: (1) I wanted to offer a peek into the mind of an autistic woman and show that while her thought processes may be slightly different, she still has the same fundamental needs and desires as anyone else, and (2) I hoped to bring extra awareness to the existence and under-diagnosis of autism in women. Maybe this romance novel can strike a chord with other women like me and help them find their way toward diagnoses of their own and potentially that of their daughters, as well.

For all those autistic people out there trying to figure out romantic relationships, as well as for neurotypical people who are bewildered by the dating world, how did you meet your husband? Any interesting anecdotes about your courtship?

Traditional courtship is like this: men do the pursuing. Women respond by playing hard to get. Mind games ensue until both parties admit their interest.

I didn't do any of that. Senior year of college, when a certain someone caught my eye (he was a physics grad student who taught martial arts in his down time--so sexy, right?!), I joined his class with the sole purpose of getting to know him. It didn't take long for me to discover this person had real potential. Not only did we have common interests, but the way he looked at me, the way he listened to me, even the way he said my name like he enjoyed the sound of it, felt just right.

After the first class, I asked him to lunch. And he said no, he wasn't hungry. After the second class, I asked him to dinner. And he said no, he'd already eaten. After the third class, I asked him to dessert. And he said no, it was too late for sweets. After the fourth class, I invited him to a party at my house. He said he'd show up. But then he had food poisoning. After the last class of the semester, I invited him to see Return of the King with me. Ding ding ding! I should have known Lord of the Rings would do it. He didn't realize it was a date until after the movie, but by then he was bewitched by my charms and bulldog tenacity.

In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have asked him out so many times. After the first couple rejections (or maybe the first one), a people-savvy person would have assumed he wasn't interested, but that idea never occurred to me. I just thought he wasn't hungry. And good thing, because it turns out he's just as clueless as I am and likely neurodiverse himself. He was my first and only boyfriend and quite perfect for me.

What is it that draws you to romance novels?

I read (and write) romance novels for the emotions--to understand them and to experience them.

I'm lucky enough to have the ability to read faces, but that isn't always enough to tell me what people are feeling. It definitely isn't enough to tell me why. In a romance novel, however, emotions are all written down clearly on the page, and they make sense. The author literally tells you the whole story. It's a fascinating window into people's minds.

Also, I am an emotionally reserved person in real life. There are several reasons for that, but one of them is self-preservation. I can't be devastated if I'm never invested, but on the flip side, I miss out on a lot that way, too. The special thing about romance is that it always has a happy ending. It's a defining rule of the genre. Because of this, romance novels allow me to let my guard down and experience a full range of emotion, from first kiss, to heartbreak, to, as promised, happily ever after.

For budding writers out there, can you share anything about your writing process that might serve as inspiration?

The best writing advice I can give is the same life advice that got me a husband: Never give up. Natural writing talent probably exists, but I don't have it. When I started writing, I was fabulously horrible at it. Luckily, it's a learnable skill. If you don't give up, you can and will improve. If you love what you're doing, that is success right there. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer


Reading with... Joseph Crespino

photo: Kay Hinton
Joseph Crespino, Jimmy Carter Professor of American History at Emory University, is a historian of the 20th-century United States and the American South since Reconstruction. He is the author of In Search of Another Country and Strom Thurmond's America. His third book, Atticus Finch: The Biography (Basic Books, May 8, 2018), is a portrait of Harper Lee and her father.
 
On your nightstand now:

Winthrop Jordan, Tumult and Silence at Second Creek: An Inquiry into a Civil War Slave Conspiracy

Wallace Stegner, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West

Marjorie J. Spruill, Divided We Stand: The Battle over Women's Rights and Family Values That Polarized American Politics

Johnny Cash, Man in Black: His Own Story in His Own Words

Jonathan Franzen, Purity

Timur Vermes, Look Who's Back

W.G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn

George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo

Favorite book when you were a child:
 
The In-Your-Face Basketball Book by Chuck Wielgus and Alexander Wolff, with an introduction by Al McGuire.
 
Your top five authors:

Flannery O'Connor
John Williams
Richard White
Elena Ferrante
Tim O'Brien

Book you've faked reading:
 
"Faked reading" is a tricky concept for an academic. I had a professor in graduate school who told his students that it was an essential skill of the profession to be able to say something intelligent about a book that you haven't read.
 
Book you're an evangelist for:
 
Paul Elie, The Life You Save May Be Your Own.
 
Book you've bought for the cover:
 
Michael Ondaatje, The Cinnamon Peeler.
 
Book you hid from your parents:
 
I hid things from my parents, but books weren't one of them.
 
Book that changed your life:
 
Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters. I read it the summer after my freshman year in college. I am a native Mississippian, and Branch's vivid descriptions of the bravery of black Mississippians and their struggles against what can only be called racist terrorism (although I wouldn't have been able to conceive of that term then) astonished me. I once took my copy of that book on a driving tour around my home state to visit places like the Sunflower County Courthouse, where Fannie Lou Hamer demanded the right to vote, or the tiny town of Liberty in southwest Mississippi, where in September 1961 a black man named Herbert Lee was shot dead in broad daylight by a sitting member of the Mississippi state legislature. It's hard to believe, even today. Reading that book made me realize that I had to learn this history, and that I had to try to contribute something to our understanding of it.
 
Favorite line from a book:
 
"It seems to me that the moralist is the most useless and contemptible of creatures. He is useless in that he would expend his energies upon making judgments rather than upon gaining knowledge, for the reason that judgment is easy and knowledge is difficult. He is contemptible in that his judgments reflect a vision of himself which in his ignorance and pride he would impose upon the world. I implore you, do not become a moralist; you will destroy your art and your mind." --John Williams, Augustus
 
Five books you'll never part with:

C. Vann Woodward, Tom Watson: Agrarian Rebel
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
Will Campbell, Brother to a Dragonfly
Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory
Richard Ford, The Sportswriter

Book you most want to read again for the first time:
 
Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety. I read it when I was younger and found it full of wisdom and truth. I'm closer now in age to the characters in the book, and so it would be fascinating I think to encounter it now for the first time.
 
Your favorite cookbook:

Alex Patout, Patout's Cajun Home Cooking. It was my mother's, and I don't know that she ever cracked the spine, but everything I've cooked from it has been absolutely delicious.


Tommy Orange: In the Present Tense

photo: Elena Seibert

Tommy Orange is a recent graduate of the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. He was a 2014 MacDowell Fellow and a 2016 Writing by Writers Fellow. He is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. His debut novel, There There (Knopf), is reviewed below.

When did you start writing and decide that this was your calling?
 
I came to it pretty late. I was kind of doing it unconsciously in the margins of textbooks and on the backs of notes. I have a distinct memory of writing weird little lines everywhere. I did not consider myself a writer, was not headed in that direction. I graduated from college with a bachelor's of science in the sound arts. I was a musician, but did nothing with my degree. I got a job at a used bookstore, and while I was working there, fell in love with literature; from there, I decided I wanted to write. I spent the rest of the time playing catch-up with everyone who knew for a long time they wanted to write.
 
How did getting your MFA at the Institute of American Indian Arts--which offers the first indigenous-centered MFA program in the U.S.--change your writing?
 
I was three or four years into the middle of writing a novel when I started the program. I definitely picked up a lot of tools--there's an amazing faculty there. Also, it was really important to become a part of a writing community. There was a lot of support and energy that added to everything. I felt like I wasn't writing in a void. That helped in a lot of intangible ways.
 
The prologue and interlude in There There are so powerful. They sound like a universal song, or lament, that is always being sung in the background to the novel.
 
I wanted a prologue, and originally there wasn't an interlude, but my editor wanted to break it up--there were 14 pages of it. The way it worked out was perfect. It did always feel like I was trying to write something in a collective voice--the royal "we." As Native people, sometimes we feel we have to explain ourselves or set the record straight because our stories have been told wrong or not told for so long. I really wanted to reach back and update, and to explain what urban Indians are. There are Native families who have been living in cities since the 1950s, and 70% of Native people live in cities now, so it was a way of catching people up on what it means to be urban Indian, the relationship with a city that's its own thing, and I felt I needed to put that in at the beginning to contextualize.
 
In the U.S. as a whole, we like to think of Indians historically and romantically; if we think of urban Natives, we think of homelessness and alcoholism. You write, "We ride buses, trains, and cars across, over, and under concrete plains. Being Indian has never been about returning to the land. The land is everywhere or nowhere." You are pushing against stereotypes.
 
Yes, that's what I was doing with the prologue. We've been facing these stereotypes and these old tropes for so long. If you feel some rage in there, that's because it's really there. We are dying to be seen just as human and equal. And present-tense people.
 
Author Terese Mailhot said that she prefers to be called Indian because it's a "stark word, one embedded in the bureaucracy of North America." In There There, you use multiple words--Indian, Native, Native American, Urban Native, Indigenous.
 
Most Native people I know just use "Native" as shorthand. They don't say Native American or American Indian. Some other communities say Indigenous. I'm okay with Indians calling each other Indian, but it's uncomfortable for me to hear non-Natives saying "Indian." There are certain times when I will slip into saying "Indian"--it depends on the context.
 
I like what Terese said, and I like that we struggle with this, and that it's uncomfortable for us to even pronounce a people, because of how uncomfortable the very history is. We have a lot of reckoning to do with our history.
 
You said, "One of the reasons I wrote a polyphonic novel is that I come from a voiceless community." Was it difficult writing in different points of view?
 
It was difficult for a lot of reasons. There weren't too many other works to look at, for one. There are no other urban Indian novels that I know of, at least, there weren't when I was writing mine. It's super complicated to have everybody's stories get woven together into one whole story, but the powwow--being the place they all converged--gave me a guiding light.
 
What is the importance of powwows?
 
It means different things to different people, but I like it because it's both traditional and contemporary, and it's a place where we can dance, where there are competition and prizes, where we can work on and sell our jewelry. We get to see each other--it's intertribal--and it's a connection to our culture and heritage. You hear loud singing, booming drums--it's unapologetic and proud.
 
In the Thomas Frank chapter--before he was born, he "swam to the beat" of an arrhythmic heart--the percussion in his very being resonated with the sound of powwows.
 
People have commented on that chapter as being rhythmic, and I honestly did not intend to do it that way. That chapter is semi-autobiographical, and it came flying out of me in a very short time period. There wasn't much thinking as far as doing conceptual things with it. It really just happened fast.
 
In the first chapter, the test pattern Indian on Tony's TV sets up the importance of reflections for each of your characters--they look at themselves in mirrors, screens, metal surfaces. Are they searching for their true selves?
 
It's meant to function as a lot of different things. One is reflection, and looking for what is Indian about themselves--they are struggling with identity. The test pattern Indian reflects how we are depicted on screen; screens are ever-present in our lives now.
 
Who are your literary heroes? Who do you like to read?
 
Off the top of my head: Borges, Kafka, Clarice Lispector, Sylvia Plath, John Kennedy Toole, Roberto Bolaño, Marlon James, Alejandra Pizarnik, Ocean Vuong, Louise Erdrich. --Marilyn Dahl

Book Review

Fiction

Us Against You

by Fredrik Backman


With each new book, Fredrik Backman, author of A Man Called OveBritt-Marie Was Here and Beartown, manages to raise the stakes of exceptionalism. Through Backman's astute examination of humanity, Us Against You will elicit snickers and full-blown belly laughs. It will rip out hearts, then replace them stronger than before. Most of all, it is sure to prompt readers to examine their lives in order to be better people, if only in microscopic ways.
 
Peter, the local hockey club's general manager, was forced to make an unimaginable decision at the conclusion of Beartown. The fallout from that decision opens Us Against You: the town's hockey program is dangerously close to bankruptcy; its demise appears inevitable. That is, until an anonymous new sponsor offers to save the team--with certain stipulations.
 
Ana, a teenager who lives with her father in Beartown, feels more comfortable in the forest than anywhere else. She regularly gives of herself, but in a moment of weakness triggered by hurt and embarrassment, Ana makes a choice that throws the town into violent turmoil. Meanwhile, Richard Theo is a politician who presents himself as an advocate for his constituents but is ultimately and deceitfully advancing his own agenda.
 
Backman juggles these characters and more as people battle to bring together the Beartown hockey A-team. His balancing act is masterfully executed with empathy, humor and ingenuity, emphasized by the pitch-perfect portrait of a tired, crumbling small town. Fans of Backman will not be disappointed. His work continues to amaze and captivate, enlighten and thrill. Those unfamiliar with his novels need to pick them up posthaste; Us Against You is a perfect one to grab. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: In the sequel to Beartown, the residents of a small, embattled town struggle to maintain their beloved hockey team amid violence, deceit and hate.

Atria, $28, hardcover, 448p., 9781501160790

Tin Man

by Sarah Winman


"In the front bedroom, propped up among the books, is a color photograph of three people, a woman and two men. They are tightly framed, their arms around one another, and the world beyond is out of focus, and the world on either side excluded." Like their photo, the lives of Ellis, Michael and Annie are complete with each other; they could exclude the rest of the world. Sarah Winman's Tin Man is both devastatingly tragic and sensuously gorgeous, as it follows the three in Oxford, England, from the 1950s through 1996.
 
Love thrives in all its glory and sorrow, first as a friendship between the boys Ellis and Michael, shifting into and out of a sexual relationship, then the marriage of Ellis and Annie and the mutual love among the three. For a time, Michael leaves; they all mourn their loss. "Life was not life without him" for the couple. Told as a non-linear narrative, their story's end is revealed at the beginning of Tin Man, and discovering the layers of their experiences from separate perspectives and time periods deepens the poignancy.
 
Other characters are richly drawn: Ellis's mum, who is entranced with Van Gogh's sunflowers and "believes that men and boys are capable of beautiful things"; Mabel, Michael's openhearted grandmother; and friends and strangers who offer kindnesses. Winman's very short novel imparts joy. Plan to read it twice: first for the story, then to savor the beauty of the poetic symbolism threaded throughout the sparsely crafted prose. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: Tin Man is a short novel epic in its portrayal of friendship, love and loss.

Putnam, $23, hardcover, 224p., 9780735218727

Blown

by Mark Haskell Smith


Los Angeles comic crime novelist Mark Haskell Smith (Moist, Salty, Raw) sends up Wall Street in the comic thriller Blown. Bryan LeBlanc works the esoteric foreign currency trading desk among "the US Marines of capitalism... the few, the proud, the completely full of themselves... surfing the algorithm, riding the markets in new and ever more complex machinations, shooting the tube to wrest lucre from the system." Fed up and seeing a loophole that will allow him to embezzle $17 million while sending an "up yours" message to the fat cats sitting at the top of his firm, LeBlanc engineers a complex scheme to skim clients' margin accounts for a bundle of foreign currency stashed in the Cayman Islands. The chase is on.
 
As LeBlanc goes island-hopping, Smith flexes his character muscles and funny bone with a colorful coterie of company bloodhounds unleashed to track him down. There's his immediate boss, Korean American Seo-yun Kim, who's an algorithmic automaton chafing under an impending conventional marriage and getting a little frisky sexually. The firm's chief security investigator, Neal Nathanson, is recovering from a boyfriend break-up and looking to trucker porn for comfort. After a fatal run-in with his silent partner in George Town, LeBlanc finds yet another pursuer closing in--a relentless, randy 4'7" ex-cop PI from Curaçao. Like one of Tim Dorsey's Serge and Coleman road trips, LeBlanc's romp through the Caribbean is full of conniving and missteps. Cleverly plotted, raunchy and very funny, Blown is a crime novel with an edge--an unlikely mashup of Gordon Gekko and Jimmy Buffet. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: In this comic thriller, Smith takes on Wall Street in a wild embezzlement caper leading to a Caribbean island-hopping chase.

Black Cat/Grove, $16, paperback, 304p., 9780802128140

Convenience Store Woman

by Sayaka Murata, trans. by Ginny Tapley Takemori


In the opening pages of Convenience Store Woman, Keiko Furukura is in her element, at work in the Hiiromachi Station Smile Mart. She knows what the displays need, how properly to promote the day's featured item, when the cold drinks need replenishing. She reads her customers expertly: "Instantly I deduce that he will use electronic money." She is a valued employee and good at her job. The mingled beeps, dings, rustles and clacks of the convenience store form a "sound that ceaselessly caresses [her] eardrums."
 
Few situations in Keiko's life have been so easy. In primary school, she often responded to the world in ways others thought wrong: offering to cook and eat a dead bird on the playground, applying a shovel to the skull of a classmate in order to break up a fight. She wasn't a violent child; these just seemed like practical strategies. Life presented a series of puzzles she could not decipher, until the day she went to work at the Smile Mart. The convenience store offers Keiko a uniform, a series of set lines to be spoken to customers and a manual for staff behavior.
 
Convenience Store Woman, Sayaka Murata's English-language debut, is a compelling novel about conformity in society, and the baffling rules applied in work and life. This brief, brisk novel is an engrossing adventure into an unusual mind. Murata holds the reader rapt, wondering what Keiko will do next. Convenience Store Woman is for all kinds of readers, for anyone who's ever questioned the status quo. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A quirky novel about a convenience-store clerk who seems to be the ideal employee.

Grove Press, $20, hardcover, 176p., 9780802128256

The Storm

by Arif Anwar


The Storm by Arif Anwar is a welcome addition to the fledgling collection of post-colonial literature by Bangladeshi authors writing about their country's war for independence, displacement of their fellow citizens by natural disasters and the immigrant experience. Anwar takes it further, much further, by creating an impressive cast of characters with lives and fortunes that intersect in unexpected ways with Bangladesh's history. From Washington, D.C., to Calcutta to Chittagong and Burma, Anwar journeys through time to unfurl the full breath and strength of the storm that is the literal and figurative center of his ambitious debut novel.
 
Honufa is a peasant woman; Jamir is her fisherman husband. Shahyrar is a young father desperate to find a way to stay in the U.S. His parents, Rahim and Zahira, flee from Calcutta to Chittagong after partition. Claire is a doctor stationed with the British army in Burma, and Ichiro is her patient, a young Japanese pilot captured after his plane is shot down. Through these seemingly disparate individuals, Anwar brings to life the brutal partition of India, Bangladesh's emergence as an independent nation and the historic storm of 1970 that wiped out more than half a million people.
 
Anwar's work for the renowned NGOs Unicef and BRAC is the foundation for his keen understanding of war's destructive effect on humanity and the ways in which the experience of war stays with people, affecting subsequent generations, long after it is officially over. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: A panoramic, multigenerational saga set against the backdrop of Bangladesh's violent birth as an independent nation.

Atria, $26, hardcover, 320p., 9781501174506

Bearskin

by James A. McLaughlin


If an environmental scientist wants to be alone to study an undisturbed native ecosystem, the family-owned Turk Mountain Nature Preserve in Virginia's Appalachians is not a bad place to be. If he needs to hide from a vindictive Mexican cartel sicario 2,000 miles away, on the Arizona/Sonora border, its 7,000 fenced acres seem ideal. As the protagonist of James McLaughlin's near-perfect first novel, Bearskin, 34-year-old Rice Moore is that guy. With his old hippie family boss living in California, a new alias and the Preserve's rotary phone unplugged, the brooding, reclusive Moore thinks he is safely off the grid. But one summer morning, a mysterious, one-armed mushroom picker silently emerges from the woods to lead him to the skinned, mutilated carcass of a bear.
 
Much as natural beauty can mask predator/prey violence, McLaughlin's lush descriptions of the native flora and fauna of Moore's mountain domain, the "fecund riot of chest-high bluestem and orchard grass," seductively create what could be a setting out of Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things. With Moore's discovery of more mutilated bears, however, a tale of natural science and rugged independence soon becomes one of hillbilly crime and poverty, of "trailer homes behind fixer-up muscle cars and four-bys on blocks," of tweakers poaching bears to sell their paws and gall bladders to rich Asians.
 
A land conservation lawyer with an MFA from the University of Virginia, McLaughlin helped manage his family's 1,500-acre preserve near the state's Jump Mountain. And with Bearskin, he has carefully crafted a tale of mystery, ecology, backwoods mysticism and downright evil--a consummately skillful debut. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: An extraordinary first novel of powerful prose, Bearskin captures the blurry line between studying primordial nature and being a part of it.

Ecco, $26.99, hardcover, 352p., 9780062742797

That Kind of Mother

by Rumaan Alam


Rebecca Stone is a wife. A daughter. A sister. A poet. A woman who sees herself in Princess Di. And she is a mother to two boys--a white son born to her, and a black son adopted after the unexpected death of her eldest son's nanny.
 
It is the "and" in that last statement--"and she is a mother to two boys"--that forms the crux of Rumaan Alam's second novel, That Kind of Mother. Alam (Rich and Pretty) explores themes of individuality, motherhood, parenting, adoption, family ties and race through the lens of Rebecca's life. He pursues, to great effect, the tension between how Rebecca sees herself and how she wants to be seen by the world, the many ways motherhood both intersects with these perceptions and is entirely separate from them. Rebecca disappears into motherhood ("You've vanished," her sister scolds her), then balks at it in turn, desiring nothing more than her own quiet inner world. "She didn't want to be that kind of mother, the one who can't stop talking about her children, can't stop thinking about them. Surely there had to be another kind of mother for Rebecca to be."
 
Is there another kind? As That Kind of Mother unfolds, never shying away from Rebecca's very real flaws as both a woman and a mother, Alam offers nothing close to a definitive answer. Instead, his novel celebrates the impossibility of answering such a question once and for all--and in that, That Kind of Mother couldn't feel more honest in its depiction of the complexities, complications and emotions of what it means to make a family. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: The author of Rich and Pretty tackles big questions about motherhood, individualism and identity in his second novel.

Ecco, $26.99, hardcover, 304p., 9780062667601

A Shout in the Ruins

by Kevin Powers


A Shout in the Ruins is Kevin Powers's follow-up to his acclaimed debut, The Yellow Birds. It's an ambitious sophomore effort that draws from more than a century of U.S. history, centering on the legacy of slavery and the Civil War. Beginning in the antebellum South, Powers introduces us to the Reid family: Emily and her father, Bob; and their slaves, Aurelia and her son Rawls. Emily and Rawls grow up in close proximity but separated by a wide gulf. Even as a young boy, Rawls notes that Emily's pain differs from his "in source and scope. While hers came from a rare remonstration by her father, his was inscrutable and vast." As they grow older, they grow farther apart, before being reunited by the cruel plantation owner Levallois and the changes brought on by the Civil War.
 
The narrative also adopts the point of view of George Seldom, who, as a very old man in 1956 North Carolina, searches for evidence of his childhood. Seldom's parentage and true age are a mystery to him as an orphan coming out of the chaos from the Civil War, and he frequently ventures into the past through recollections of a hard life now approaching its end.
 
Powers's cast of characters is large for a relatively short book, and one of the pleasures of A Shout in the Ruins is the way it serves as a jumping-off point for a dozen or more separate but interwoven stories from a variety of perspectives. It brushes aside myth and romanticism for a clear-eyed look at American heritage. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Discover: A Shout in the Ruins is a short but sprawling novel that follows slaves, plantation owners, orphans, veterans and many more from the antebellum South to the 1980s.

Little, Brown, $26, hardcover, 272p., 9780316556477

Into?

by North Morgan


Into?, the third novel by North Morgan (Highlights of My Last Regret), follows 32-year-old Konrad Platt, an aimless, neurotic and narcissistic gym-obsessed gay man caught up in the revolving door of unfulfilling hookups and even worse relationships.
 
Platt feels similar to Bret Easton Ellis's privileged, passive and disaffected protagonists in Less Than Zero and American Psycho. After a messy breakup with his boyfriend, he moves from London to California. A financial adviser at his wealthy father's firm, he works from home; his job requires very little time and is very lucrative. Most of his days are spent trolling his ex's Facebook posts, going to the gym to exercise and cruise men, and searching gay hook-up apps for men who fall into his strict physical and mental parameters (i.e., straight-acting, closeted "bros" with little interest beyond physical encounters).
 
Handsome, buff and financially well-off, Platt is still a victim of his own insecurities and neuroses. When he has bad sex with a hook-up, he still texts the guy afterward seeking validation. He is self-aware enough to realize how empty his life is, but diverts himself with sex, drugs and social media whenever he's tempted to make changes.
 
Into? (previously published in the U.K. in 2016 with the better title Love Notes to Men Who Don't Read) is a fascinating and compelling novel of internalized homophobia among gay men and how social apps have increased the availability of sexual encounters while keeping people more emotionally detached. Readers won't get bored following Platt's repetitious encounters, though, thanks to Morgan's lacerating observations and cool, dry wit. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: North Morgan's third novel, Into?, is as cool, detached and fascinating as his handsome and wealthy gay protagonist.

Flatiron Books, $21.99, hardcover, 304p., 9781250147448

Days of Awe: Stories

by A.M. Homes


There is much to praise about A.M. Homes's varied story collection Days of Awe, her first since 2002's Things You Should Know. Wired into the zeitgeist, she's both a keen observer of some of the more absurd aspects of contemporary American life and someone who's not afraid to explore the boundaries where real life morphs into fantasy.
 
Homes's archetypal characters resemble the members of the Los Angeles family who appear in "Hello Everybody" and "She Got Away." They eat in restaurants that serve "designer-size macrobiotic bites" and pass entire meals staring at their cell phones, while "occasionally and without warning they will speak randomly and out of context." But for all their trendy affluence, one of them feels "drenched in aloneness, the cologne of empty, the odor of nothing."
 
The best of Homes's stories take a familiar situation and give it a bizarre twist. That's true of "A Prize for Every Player," where Tom, Jane and their two children embark on what appears to be a routine Saturday morning shopping trip at a Costco-type store. But this outing takes on an eerie aspect when one of the children discovers an abandoned baby atop the towel display; meanwhile, Tom's observations in front of a bank of televisions inspire his fellow shoppers to promote him as a presidential candidate. In barely 20 pages, it's a telling satire of our consumer culture and current political moment.
 
Unlike many story collections whose appeal lies in some unifying theme, Days of Awe's pleasure emerges from its embrace of the unexpected. Turn the page and you never know what you may find. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: In a diverse collection of stories, A.M. Homes casts a shrewd eye on modern life.

Viking, $25, hardcover, 304p., 9780670025497

Little Big Love

by Katy Regan


One night in June 2005 changes the lives of a family in Little Big Love by British author Katy Regan. Set in Grimsby, a small fishing village in England, the story is told from three distinct perspectives of the Hutchinson family. Zac is a precocious, inquisitive 11-year-old, who has blue eyes just like his father's. He is obsessed with food, the memory of his deceased Uncle Jamie, a chef who died a tragic death, and finding his father, Liam, who left before Zac was born.
 
Zac's mother, Juliet, is a single mom who has a tendency to overeat and to shoplift food from grocery stores. She still carries a torch for her old flame, Liam Jones. Her inability to get over his departure makes dating a challenge--often quite comical. Finally, there is Mick, her dad, ensnarled in the devastating situation that tore his family apart--a situation that has kept his daughter and his wife in a state of inertia for 10 years, and has burdened him with secrets.
 
The inability of the three narrators to move beyond the impact and implications of the night that changed everything--a night that, in its aftermath, has perpetuated lies and mystery--forms the impetus for this moving, bittersweet story that seeks to unravel the truth of what really happened and why.
 
Little Big Love is Katy Regan's U.S. debut; as in her U.K. releases (How We MetThe One Before the One), she delivers an affirming, buoyant novel populated by authentic, empathetic characters, young and old, who infuse her adventurous story with great poignancy, humor and heart. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A lovable, determined, 11-year-old boy seeks to unravel a decade-long mystery in his family and finally find his birth father.

Berkley, $26, hardcover, 368p., 9780451490346

Warlight

by Michael Ondaatje


Childhood plays a central role in Warlight, Michael Ondaatje's dark, absorbing postwar drama set in 1945 London. Fourteen-year-old Nathaniel and his older sister, Rachel, are left behind in London when their parents move to Singapore for work. The children are provided no context or further explanation for their parents' departure. Eventually their mother, Rose, returns as suddenly as she left. Their war-damaged father, always on the periphery of his children's lives, remains a distant figure. As an adult struggling to reconcile what was basically his abandonment, Nathaniel attempts to understand Rose's mysterious past and the impact of her absence on his formative years.
 
Nathaniel and Rachel's life on their own forms the first part of the book. The teens crave security and the truth about their parents' whereabouts, but they find neither in the series of guardians with whom they often feel unsafe. Their childhood insecurity manifests in the paths they take as adults, each fleeing the demons of their imploded family. Warlight is rich with diversions, subplots involving the various adults entering and exiting the children's lives in revolving-door fashion.
 
Warlight's emotionally heftier second half chronicles the siblings' unsettled lives after Rose's abrupt return. Her secrecy and deception gnaw at Nathaniel. It's impossible not to be lured into his memory-soaked rumination on the fragility of family and the central role, or lack, of mothers in constructing a child's inner life. Nathaniel longs for some measure of closure, something concrete about Rose's role in postwar intelligence work. Ondaatje (The Cat's Table), however, is not interested in a neat and comforting finale. For the reader and Nathaniel alike, the satisfaction of closure remains elusive. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: The story of a mother's abandonment and her son's search for the truth set in London just after the end of World War II.

Knopf, $26.95, hardcover, 304p., 9780525521198

Last Stories

by William Trevor


Though his fans can hope for the discovery of a posthumous trove of William Trevor short stories, barring that happy event they'll have to take the title of this collection at face value and enjoy the offering of 10 new tales--three of them previously unpublished--from a 20th-century master of the form.
 
These muted stories, the majority of them set in England, where the Irish-born Trevor (Love & Summer) spent most of this life, are noteworthy less for their dramatic action than for his keenly observed depiction of melancholy protagonists longing for something that's missing from their lives. Representative of that quality is "An Idyll in Winter," in which a man named Anthony reconnects with a woman he tutored years earlier as a teenager at her home on the Yorkshire moors. Now married and a father, he must confront his deep affection for her, while she understands she was "living in the past, that the past would always be there, around her, that she was part of it herself."
 
Also among the most moving stories is "Giotto's Angels." The protagonist is an aging prostitute who encounters a man suffering from an "amnesic abnormality" in a bar. When she accompanies him to his flat, she discovers that he's a skilled art restorer, in the process of unearthing a cache of money he's almost certainly forgotten himself.
 
Noteworthy for their striking openings and sometimes enigmatic endings, these stories fully embody Trevor's artistic gifts. His graceful writing and sharp insight into the tragic dimensions of human existence make this collection a fitting testament to a long and distinguished career. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: This posthumous collection of 10 stories displays Irish writer William Trevor's affinity for plumbing the depths of human sadness.

Viking, $26, hardcover, 224p., 9780525558101

There There

by Tommy Orange


In Tommy Orange's brilliant debut novel, There There, 12 people, primarily urban Cheyenne, move toward convergence to attend a big powwow in Oakland--most eagerly, some warily. "We made powwows because we needed a place to be together. We all came... for different reasons. The messy, dangling strands of our lives got pulled into a braid... layered in prayer and hand woven regalia, beaded and sewn together, feathered, braided, blessed and cursed."
 
Tony Loneman begins the interwoven stories. He has fetal alcohol syndrome, which he calls the Drome. His eyes droop, his mouth hangs open. But he's tall, he's strong, he makes "looking like a monster" work for him. Dene Oxendene is recording urban Native stories. Edwin Black is biracial; he made it through grad school, writing his thesis on the influence of blood quantum policies on modern Native identity and literature written by mixed-blood Native authors. Opal Violet Victoria Bear Shield goes to the powwow to watch her young nephew, Orvil, who has learned to dance watching YouTube videos. Opal's sister, Jacquie Red Feather, a substance abuse counselor, is also on her way to the powwow, 10 days sober.
 
There There is a fierce story of despair, addiction, recovery and hope, with moments of sweetness and humor. Orange asks what it means to be Indian, Native, biracial--how is identity parsed? In the Gertrude Stein sense, "there is no there there" connotes the absence of homeland. For Orange's people, Oakland is a new "there." His title is also a promise of comfort, but one that proves elusive.
 
Tommy Orange has written a bold, passionate book that stabs you in the heart. --Marilyn Dahl

Discover: There There, a powerful novel about urban Native Americans, is underlain with a drumbeat of sadness and conflict, but threaded with hope.

Knopf, $25.95, hardcover, 304p., 9780525520375

The Dependents

by Katharine Dion


Katharine Dion's first novel, The Dependents, takes readers back to that high school standby play, Our Town. Instead of Thornton Wilder's Grover's Corners, however, it takes place in the small former mill town of Colton, N.H., where Gene Ashe is grieving the death of his wife of 49 years from a post-knee surgery blood clot. Moody, forlorn, immersed in memories, Gene is looking for some sign that his rather humdrum life and marriage with Maida provided the happiness he had anticipated when he was a young man.
 
Dion, an Iowa Writers' Workshop graduate and MacDowell Fellow, dexterously captures the warp and woof of small-town life. Through Gene's reflections on his past, readers learn of his smug, savvy college friend Ed's tutoring of him in the ways of dating and seduction--and introducing him to Maida. She hesitantly accepted his proposal, observing: "You're quiet, you're pleasant-looking, and you're kind to me."
 
Living alone now as a bereft widower in failing health, Gene reluctantly hires a caretaker--at his daughter's insistence. When Adele enters his world, Gene finds welcome assistance as well as companionship.
 
Though shaded in the melancholy of a lonely aging man, The Dependents is luminous in the telling. Like Wilder, Dion sensitively and humanely uncovers the ambiguities of life as manifested in the world of a small New Hampshire town. Gene assimilates these ambiguities and, in the end, understands "that the life he'd had--the defective one plagued with uncertainty and misunderstanding--this was the one he wanted after all." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Katharine Dion's singular debut is a polished tapestry rich in character and insight.

Little, Brown, $26, hardcover, 288p., 9780316473873

The Crossing

by Jason Mott


In Jason Mott's dystopian novel The Crossing, a mysterious disease is claiming the lives of the elderly, while a world war sends the young to almost certain death. People wear gas masks, quarantine themselves from loved ones, and throw end-of-the-world parties in a different town every night. Seventeen-year-old Virginia remembers everything she's ever seen, read or heard, including the death of her parents. When her twin brother, Tommy, is drafted, the siblings embark on a disastrous journey to Cape Canaveral to watch a shuttle launch, in hopes of escaping Tommy's fate, connecting them once more to their space-obsessed father, and witnessing perhaps the last beautiful thing in a dying world.
 
Mott's vision of the U.S.--protested by draft dodgers, divided by fear, on the brink of economic and social collapse--feels at once vintage, current and futuristic. The disease, in which sufferers simply fall asleep and never wake, is gentler and more accessible than the plagues of other post-apocalyptic stories, though no less debilitating. Some plot points seem implausible, but the themes Mott (The Returned) brings up are worth considering. The past lives on in memory, though for Virginia, it's more curse than blessing. Around her, people stay hopeful by singing opera, having children and keeping their families close, despite illness. And her parents' advice remains true: it's not just possible, but necessary, to find beauty in an ugly world. --Katy Hershberger, freelance writer and bookseller

Discover: An enjoyable novel about two teens at the end of the world--one who's forgotten the past and one who's doomed to remember it.

Park Row, $26.99, hardcover, 336p., 9780778330738

A Lucky Man

by Jamel Brinkley


In his beautifully wrought debut collection, A Lucky Man, Jamel Brinkley examines the ceremonies and consequences of prescribed masculinities, family, trauma and the inherited "[approaches] to life's deceptions."
 
Whether they're adopting protective personas, seeking questionable comforts, clinging to expectations or subduing desires, the men and boys in A Lucky Man all find themselves in moments of transition, contending with "freedom [as] a wilderness." What is wild is a break from convention, and Brinkley masterfully integrates the harbinger of such breaks--the trickster--into his stories. In "No More Than a Bubble" and "J'ouvert, 1996," Brinkley builds heady and chaotic revelries as opportunities to shake characters loose from what binds them. In "Everything That the Mouth Eats," a story after James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues," he uses the rhythms and logic of capoeira so two brothers can "see the world upside down" and find a bit of liberation from unspeakable pain. Throughout the collection, Brinkley poses subtle, challenging questions. As with capoeira, he often feints one way, only to slide another way. How he complicates love, anger, shame and forgiveness with such serious and tender play is astonishing.
 
Many of the characters carry tense fists and barely concealed hurt. Yet, they do not snap so much as they are stretched to accommodate, however imperfectly, the possibility of transformation. Brinkley synthesizes empathy and accountability with controlled, sharp lyricism and a big steady heart, declaring all the while that "none of us deserves to be loved... so all of us should be." --Shannon Hanks-Mackey, freelance editor and managing editor at the Black Scholar

Discover: The nine stories in A Lucky Man present profound and nuanced takes on masculinity, family, trauma and healing.

Graywolf Press, $26, hardcover, 264p., 9781555978051

Pretend I'm Dead

by Jen Beagin


Whiting Award-winner Jen Beagin's first novel, Pretend I'm Dead, features the raunchy, antsy, droll and painstakingly proficient housekeeper Mona. After a blue-collar childhood in Torrance, Calif., with an alcoholic father and equally dysfunctional mother, she is placed with distant kin in Lowell ("Hole"), Mass., and pretty much left to fend for herself. By day she cleans the houses of her adopted hometown. By night she works at a pop-up needle exchange, where she meets a disabled addict wearing a tee with Jack Kerouac on the front. Two decades older and living in an SRO hotel, this man she calls "Mr. Disgusting" has a room with real paintings, Indian textiles and shelves of existential and Russian novels--unlike her last boyfriend, "some edgeless dude... whose heaviest cross to bear had been acne." Mona may not know where she's going, but she knows what she likes.
 
If Mona's uneasy relationship with Mr. Disgusting opens doors to possibility, her housecleaning work grounds her. She's got a vacuum jones ("on applications she listed it as one of her hobbies") to go with the practice of raiding her clients' medicine cabinets. When Mr. Disgusting disappears, he leaves her a letter urging her to escape to New Mexico to start a new life. Why not? After packing her pickup with books and cleaning supplies, she takes off, rents half an adobe casita duplex in Taos, and launches a housekeeping business.
 
Beagin's debut is grungy and ribald, melancholic and funny. Throw in a little wisdom, schmaltz and a few useful housekeeping tips, and Pretend I'm Dead delivers a real bang for the buck. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Whiting Award-winner Jen Beagin's first novel introduces the raffish and despondent Mona, a beguiling and lovable cleaning lady.

Scribner, $24, hardcover, 240p., 9781501183935

Little Disasters

by Randall Klein


Two babies are born the same July day in 2009 at Park Slope's New York Methodist Hospital. One arrives healthy with all flags flying on his Apgar; the other dies almost immediately of a congenital heart defect. Their fathers meet first in the waiting room and escape outside to share cigarettes and bourbon in a flask. From this chance encounter, Randall Klein's first novel, Little Disasters, spins a story of fraying relationships and stretched love. The dramas play out in a city brought to its knees by a mysterious catastrophe in Midtown that has panicked New Yorkers.
 
Paul and Jenny have already prepped a room in their small apartment for their deceased baby. Paul is an actor chasing auditions, and Jenny does freelance editing to help pay the bills. Michael and Rebecca manage to cover the rent with help from his parents. Bound by their day in the hospital waiting room but separated by the radically divergent fates of their babies, the couples begin to socialize. Michael offers to turn the baby room into a custom-built office for Jenny. Rebecca hosts dinner get-togethers and sends them fresh cookies. Emotions run high. Thrown together during the nursery remodel while their spouses work, Michael and Jenny begin an intense affair.
 
After a decade editing books, Klein has honed his writing chops. With a strong feel for the city and its young strivers, Little Disasters is a poignant debut driven as much by resolving the uncertain future of these once content couples as by revealing just what caused the Midtown meltdown. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Randall Klein's first novel reverberates, featuring New Yorkers on the edge of personal family dissolution and collective urban disaster.

Viking, $27, hardcover, 352p., 9780735221680

Life Is Good

by Alex Capus, trans. by John Brownjohn


In Alex Capus's Life Is Good, Max, a 50-something, married father of three, is cozy in the world he's built for himself. A former writer, he now owns a bar in the small town in Switzerland where he grew up, tending to the needs of his neighbors and old friends after seeing his sons off to school each day. That coziness envelops the book, pulling you into a quiet life--sort of like sliding onto a well-worn couch.
 
There isn't really a plot. The novel begins when his wife, Tina, departs for a year-long sabbatical in Paris, leaving Max to fend for himself and his nearly-grown sons. Capus (Léon and Louise), however, is more interested in probing the psychology of that departure than using it as the start of a narrative arc. Life Is Good dwells in memory, the stories the narrator tells himself and friends about his marriage, childhood and the history of his hometown.
 
Given the description one might assume the story is a bore, a navel-gazing look at the life of an established man. But Capus's writing is lively, and Max is just off-kilter enough to make hanging out with him interesting. Plus, at 200 pages, the book makes sure to not overstay its welcome. It's a perfect companion to a snoozy Sunday afternoon, lounging on that well-worn couch. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: The short novel Life Is Good envelopes the reader in the coziness of small-town life.

Haus Publishing, $19.95, paperback, 160p., 9781910376928

The Ensemble 

by Aja Gabel


First-time novelist and former cellist Aja Gabel delves deeply into the sacrifice and passion needed to deal with the fiercely competitive world of classical music and into the relationships among four friends who find a way to make it to the top together.
 
In 1992, four young string musicians form the Van Ness Quartet, trading promising solo careers for the lure of greater fame and fortune as an ensemble. Ambitious, steel-spined first violin Jana knows she thrives best when playing with others. Privileged viola prodigy Henry could become a superstar on his own, but his friendship with Jana keeps him loyal to the quartet. Sweet, gentle second violin Brit has no family and clings to her fellow musicians as a substitute. Daniel, cellist and ladies' man, waits tables to pay for his rented tuxedos and instrument, sometimes resenting his need to work harder than the others to stay in the music business.
 
The Ensemble follows the Van Ness members over the course of 18 years, through their ups and downs as they win and lose competitions, support and antagonize each other, and find their way home to one another through music again and again. Complex and tender, this slice of life reveals the toll professional music takes on relationships, with its requirement of constant travel, and physically, as the musicians suffer injuries from routine bruises to excruciating arm pain. With its range of topics and core theme of chasing a passion, Gabel's debut will strike the perfect chord with book clubs and readers who love character-driven narratives. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Aja Gabel's debut novel follows the members of a string quartet from young adulthood to middle age for a beautiful portrait of lifelong friendships.

Riverhead, $26, hardcover, 352p., 9780735214767

Mystery & Thriller

You Were Made for This

by Michelle Sacks


Michelle Sacks's debut novel, You Were Made for This, follows a seemingly perfect couple down a dark rabbit hole of sexual obsession and domestic isolation. When Sam inherits a picturesque cottage in Sweden, it seems to be the perfect opportunity for him, his wife, Merry, and their newborn, Conor, to make a fresh start. But beneath their beautiful and tranquil existence, they both hide dark secrets from their past, and Merry's domestic exterior is cracking under the pressure of their marriage and motherhood. Frank, Merry's seductive, charismatic childhood friend, comes to visit, and all of their lives unravel in the face of past horrors and new tragedies.
 
As in her short story collection, Stone Baby, Sacks proves herself to be an expert of both language and atmosphere. By turns mesmerizing and horrifying, You Were Made for This confronts the dark truths behind motherhood, marriage and female friendship with disquieting lyricism. Her intricately woven perspectives and carefully drawn fairytale setting create a world that soon feels more convincing, albeit more disturbing, than our own. The voices of her consistently rotten but unmistakably human characters seduce the reader into a nightmarish dreamscape that is terrifying and thought-provoking for its uncanny familiarity.
 
You Were Made for This plumbs the thematic depths of the popular domestic thriller genre, showing a literary self-awareness while still spinning an intoxicating narrative. With her captivating characters and mesmerizing style, Sacks forces us to stare at what lurks beneath a modern, cool exterior, and touch the mold that grows in the corners of an idyllic cottage in the woods. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye meets the set of a David Lynch film in this haunting, psychological portrait that takes the dark domestic thriller into a new, literary realm.

Little, Brown, $27, hardcover, 352p., 9780316475402

A Howl of Wolves

by Judith Flanders


Judith Flanders directs a witty, well-plotted narrative of murder onstage and off in her fourth Sam Clair mystery, A Howl of Wolves. Sam generally prefers books to theatrical productions: she is an editor, after all. But when her friend and neighbor Kay and Kay's young son, Bim, land bit parts in a West End show, Sam and her detective boyfriend, Jake, drag themselves to opening night. While the gore-filled play contains more (fake) blood than brilliance, both audience and cast are shocked as the second-act curtain opens to reveal the hanged body of the production's director spinning above the stage. Both Sam and Jake are drawn into the resulting murder investigation--Jake in his professional capacity, and Sam through her connection to Kay and Bim (and her insatiable curiosity).
 
Flanders (A Cast of Vultures) gives nearly equal treatment to Sam's day job--prep for her company's sales conference, dull editorial meetings--and the spare time she spends chasing down obscure leads. Sam's sleuthing skills lead her to various corners of London, including a costume design archive, an inheritance case from postwar Germany and a few posh drinks parties with her solicitor mother, Helena. Meanwhile, Sam spends hours backstage looking after Bim (and checking for clues); plots with her female colleagues to combat sexism at the office; and wrings helpful information from unlikely sources, including her elderly upstairs neighbor. The plot threads, woven together by Sam's keen observations and wry asides, coalesce into a satisfying denouement for mystery and theatre fans. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Editor and amateur sleuth Samantha Clair dives into murder onstage and off in Judith Flanders's fourth mystery.

Minotaur Books, $26.99, hardcover, 304p., 9781250087836

The Favorite Sister

by Jessica Knoll


In The Favorite Sister, Jessica Knoll follows her hit debut, Luckiest Girl Alive, with a look at not just one but a group of ambitious women.
 
The novel opens with the producer of a TV reality show about wealthy entrepreneurs called Goal Diggers interviewing one of the cast members, Kelly Courtney, about her sister, Brett, another Digger who mysteriously died. The story then jumps back in time and takes readers through preproduction and production of the fourth season, showing how ruthless the women have become behind the scenes to attain more screen time and avoid being axed. With increasing pressure to maintain ratings, the tension between cast and crew explodes and results in murder.
 
The synopsis might sound campy, but this is no superficial send-up of insta-celeb culture. Knoll's take is a deadly serious exploration of the dichotomy between women publicly espousing inclusion riders and sisterhood while privately sabotaging one another, knowing there's still not enough room at the top for all of them. It's biting social commentary in darkly humorous language: "She doesn't even really seem to like her dogs.... [S]he adopts them for Instagram likes." A woman wonders: if her husband were an air freshener, "what would we call him?... Radiant Herpes." Another Digger cuts to the bone by observing: "If you don't hate yourself just a little bit, you are intolerable." This book is more than tolerable; it's sharp and clear-eyed and will be a favorite for Knoll's fans. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A reality show reflects on how one of its participants ended up dead.

Simon & Schuster, $26, hardcover, 384p., 9781501153198

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Adrift

by Rob Boffard


As far as first days at a new job go, Hannah's couldn't get much worse. She's just shipped in to Sigma Station, a luxury hotel overlooking the Horsehead Nebula on the distant edge of Frontier space. The area was once a battleground between the Frontier and its breakaway Colonies, but that was years ago, and now Sigma is full of vacationers and tour guides. As one such guide, Hannah shepherds visitors onto smaller touring ships, where they can see Sigma Station and the nebula in all its glory. Hannah finds her ship, the Red Panda, at a fraction of its full capacity, with fewer than a dozen passengers of all ages, and a grizzled captain impatient with Hannah's lateness. The shuttle sets off and starts the tour, which comes to a shocking halt when Sigma Station is utterly destroyed by a mysterious warship.
 
Though the Red Panda survives the initial attack--one committed with terrifying, high-tech weapons--Hannah and her charges are stranded with little food and less hope. The passengers are a volatile mix of personalities and allegiances, a situation that Hannah is ill-equipped to handle. Events on board quickly grow out of her control, and somewhere nearby, the ship that murdered thousands of people on Sigma Station is still lurking. Adrift by Rob Boffard (journalist and author of the Outer Earth trilogy) is a tense, sci-fi survival story with intriguing twists and sympathetic characters. Adrift's thrilling pace and high stakes are sure to find fans across genres. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: The passengers and crew of a small touring ship are stranded in the depths of space when their hotel is destroyed by an unknown ship.

Orbit, $15.99, paperback, 416p., 9780316519113

The Book of M

by Peng Shepherd


In the near future, a man in India loses his shadow and people marvel at the phenomenon, until it begins happening to others, too. They soon realize that when their shadow disappears, so do their memories. Married couple Ory and Max hide out in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods of Virginia, hoping that their lack of contact with the outside world will prevent them from contracting the disease. Despite their efforts, one day Max loses her shadow. In order to protect Ory, Max leaves, which sets off a desperate search by Ory to find her before she forgets who he is.
 
In her debut novel, The Book of M, Peng Shepherd has created a fantastical scenario where people not only lose their past but can also re-create the world any way they want, as their memories do not constrain them to what is considered normal. She cleverly intertwines Indian mythology and the effects of her imaginary disease, with its eerie overtones of Alzheimer's, into a story filled with love, longing and the perception of the self. As Ory and Max interact with others--those engaged in a war between the Shadowed and the Shadowless, as well as a cult of Shadowed who worship the Shadowless--tension and excitement build. The story moves from India to Virginia, Washington, D.C., and finally New Orleans, where a bastion of survivors search for a remedy to the affliction. Shepherd's tale pushes the post-apocalyptic story in a new and exciting direction, making readers ponder questions about reality, self-perception and relationships. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A plague is stealing people's shadows--and their memories.

Morrow, $26.99, hardcover, 496p., 9780062669605

Romance

The Kiss Quotient

by Helen Hoang


Helen Hoang's straight-laced heroine in The Kiss Quotient is Stella Lane, a successful Bay Area econometrician in her 30s reluctantly searching for love. Stella is clueless about men and the idea of dating is terrifying, but her traditional mother has already made it clear that she wants grandchildren and Stella is a most obedient daughter.
 
The Kiss Quotient is not a typical romance novel because Stella is not your run-of-the-mill romance heroine. She has a high functioning form of autism, also known as Asperger syndrome, which is a serious social handicap for her. Being autistic is great for her job--work is comforting and she spends her weekends hunched over her office computer--but it's a disaster for her personal life. As in, she doesn't have one. Stella has a hard time reading social cues, she doesn't like to touch or be touched, she gets easily overstimulated and can't deviate too much from her daily routines and obsessions.
 
Stella's quest for a romantic relationship leads her to hire Michael, a professional escort, to teach her the skills she lacks in attracting a mate. Happily for the reader, Michael breaks through what one might expect of a male escort; his relationship with Stella is a series of engaging twists and turns that offer seismic shocks in the most delightful and entertaining of ways.
 
Autistic heroines are rare, especially in romance fiction. Stella's story contributes to a newly enlightened era where autistic girls and women can see themselves represented in a variety of literary genres. The Kiss Quotient is a gratifying read for anyone perplexed by complex, unspoken rules governing affairs of the heart. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: This romance novel features a highly functioning autistic woman and the unlikely hero who captures her heart.

Berkley, $15, paperback, 336p., 9780451490803

A Love Like This

by Maria Duffy


Irish novelist Maria Duffy (In Search of Us) has crafted a charming, suspenseful romance in A Love Like This. William and Donna were born on the same day in the same Dublin hospital, and spend their whole lives almost meeting. Will Cooper-Smith is raised in an affluent suburb by his stern lawyer mother, while Donna O'Neill is mostly raised by her elder sister, Tina, as their mother descends into an alcoholic stupor. Will and Donna cross paths briefly in childhood; as teenagers, they nearly meet when Tina gets a job cleaning the Cooper-Smith house.
 
Then as adults, when something shocking shatters Will's life, he quits his mother's law firm and heads to Perth, Australia, in search of contentment. Donna, who's been happily working in a bakery, finds herself doing something surprisingly out of character after a tragedy in her own life, and sets off on a trip to Australia and New Zealand.
 
The tension in A Love Like This is the perfect balance to a sweet story. Duffy has created a believable series of near misses; readers will wonder if Will and Donna will finally meet. The descriptive journeys through Western Australia and New Zealand are a delightful and exotic contrast to Will's and Donna's everyday lives in Dublin. A story of overcoming odds and tragedy in search of love, A Love Like This will make even the most cynical skeptic want to believe in love at first sight, and is sure to appeal to fans of Jane Green or Cecilia Ahern. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this star-crossed romance, Will and Donna, born in the same Dublin hospital on the same day, spend their whole lives nearly meeting.

Skyhorse, $16.99, paperback, 368p., 9781510733688

Food & Wine

More with Less: Whole Food Cooking Made Irresistibly Simple

by Jodi Moreno


In More with Less, the food blogger behind the popular What's Cooking Good Looking offers recipes and inspiration for clean, whole-food dishes that can be prepared in no more than 30 minutes.
 
"When you try to make more out of less, something magical happens," writes Jodi Moreno in the introduction to her cookbook. It is magical, indeed, to realize that while Moreno's recipes are simple to prepare and call for a minimal number of ingredients, they promise complex and nuanced flavor palettes. Dishes like Broccoli + Tahini Soup with Broccoli Stem Ribbons, Parsnip Chowder with Garlic Chips, Cucumber Noodle Pad Thai and Coconut Curry Lentil Balls highlight the promise of plant-based foods. A chapter on fish dishes offers highlights like Maple Mustard Marinated Black Cod. Each of the 130-plus recipes in More with Less is, as Moreno puts it, designed to be "versatile and forgiving," meaning dishes can be easily adapted to be dairy-, gluten- and soy-free, depending on readers' tastes and dietary restrictions.
 
With a comprehensive list of additional resources and a recommended stock list for one's whole foods pantry (and fridge and freezer), More with Less makes whole-food cooking and clean eating a feasible--and flavorful--possibility for home cooks. Moreno's plant-centered dishes and her invitation to play with flavors, ingredients and textures in new and exciting ways will appeal to vegetarians and omnivores alike; even those skeptical of the health benefits of clean eating will find new dishes to explore here. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: The popular food blogger behind What's Cooking Good Looking offers more than 130 recipes for clean, whole-food eating at home.

Roost Books, $35, hardcover, 272p., 9781611804706

Biography & Memoir

No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America

by Darnell L. Moore


Darnell L. Moore grew up black and economically disadvantaged in Camden, N.J., a predominantly African American and Latino city that he later came to see as "willfully forgotten" by elected officials. But Moore diverged from the mainstream in another, less visible way: he was gay. No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America traces why, having first kissed a boy at age nine, Moore waited a couple more decades to come out proudly.
 
Born in 1976, to teenage parents--a stalwart mother and a violent father--Moore was harassed, and worse, by neighborhood kids who suspected that he was gay. Intellectually precocious, Moore had to ask his middle-school principal to put him in AT, or "academically talented," classes. He attended a private high school, having filled out the application himself, and then Seton Hall University, a largely white Catholic college where racial profiling was the norm; it was at Seton Hall that Moore became what he calls "politically black." After he earned his degree, he found his calling in advocacy for the disenfranchised and in activism on behalf of progressive causes.
 
"What childlike magic did he use to make it through?" Moore, now an editor with advanced degrees in theology and clinical counseling, wonders about his young self in his prologue. No Ashes in the Fire isn't an "uplift memoir" in which a kindly outsider develops a marginalized child's potential. "You can't write!" a teacher once told Moore. This book says otherwise, and resoundingly. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: Activist Darnell L. Moore's graceful memoir describes his experience growing up black, poor and gay.

Nation Books, $26, hardcover, 256p., 9781568589480

Sick: A Memoir

by Porochista Khakpour


Iranian American novelist Porochista Khakpour (The Last Illusion) is no stranger to suffering and the psychological torments of marginalization. As a child, she fled war and chaos in Iran. Her family eventually resettled in Los Angeles. From a young age, Khakpour harbored an inimical feeling of otherness as she and her parents tried to assimilate into American culture. Sick, however, centers on a more fundamental kind of alienation, that of the mind against one's own ill body. "I am a foreigner," she writes, "but in ways that go much deeper than I thought, under the epidermis and into the blood cells."
 
Khakpour suffers from advanced-stage Lyme disease. It took years to figure out what was causing severe, if irregular, anxiety, insomnia and debilitating weakness. She duly chronicles her medical journey, from doctor to doctor, and various tick-laden locales, all potential infection sites. Lyme disease is a mysterious and misunderstood illness. People often attribute the symptoms to psychiatric causes rather than pathogens, Khakpour explains. She doesn't hold back on medical professionals who dismiss her and others with the disease as simply crazy. Sick shines much needed light on the nature of Lyme disease and the way reinfections sneak up and devastate normal life.
 
A gifted literary writer, Khakpour takes her memoir beyond medical and technical aspects of illness. She traces its emotional impacts in her relationships with friends, lovers, her parents. She explores her own demons as well, her struggles with substance abuse and the vagaries of literary fortune. Sick is a hard-hitting memoir of honesty and self-reflection. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: In this compelling memoir, Iranian American author Porochista Khakpour confronts Lyme disease and her own sense of alienation.

Harper Perennial, $15.99, paperback, 272p., 9780062428738

Ghostbuster's Daughter: Life with My Dad Harold Ramis

by Violet Ramis Stiel


Violet Ramis Stiel's affectionate memoir of her father, writer-director-producer-actor Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day, Animal House, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters), offers an overview of both his successful career and their often chaotic family life. At one point, Ramis tells his daughter, "I think, really, being an adult is about acknowledging ambiguity in all areas of life and finding a way to be okay with that." Stiel embraces the disorder of her childhood and her father's life.
 
Stiel's parents had a "marital arrangement of low-key nonmonogamy." When Stiel was eight, her parents decided to divorce because Ramis had fallen in love with his personal assistant (and soon-to-be second wife, Erica). That same year, Ramis and his daughter visited director Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) in the hospital after she'd given birth. Later, Stiel discovered her dad had fathered Heckerling's baby girl. From an early age, Stiel visited the sets of most of her father's films, graduating to bit parts and working behind the scenes. The book ends with heartfelt memories of her father's four-year battle with debilitating vasculitis and a brain hemorrhage--something the family kept hidden. The secret kept his career safe but left the family without emotional support from loved ones.
 
Ghostbuster's Daughter is a genuine love letter to Harold Ramis from his adoring but clear-eyed, shrewd and opinionated daughter. Her portrait captures her father from all sides, calling him a "perfectly imperfect person" and "the best father I could have ever imagined." Fans will enjoy Stiel's deeply personal, irreverent and loving valentine to her beloved father. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Harold Ramis's daughter remembers her beloved father and her disorderly childhood in this supremely loving but emotionally candid memoir.

Blue Rider Press, $28, hardcover, 384p., 9780735217874

Tesla: Inventor of the Modern

by Richard Munson


It's not unusual to find electrical engineers and inventors skewed to the edge of the weirdness spectrum, but Nikola Tesla was in a class all his own, as represented in Richard Munson's illustrated biography, Tesla: Inventor of the Modern. He was a Croatian-born ethnic Serbian immigrant who stood 6'2", weighed 140 pounds, dressed to the nines, spoke eight languages, slept only three hours a day, memorized and wrote poetry, filed 300 patents and mesmerized Wall Street investor audiences with crackling Jedi-like light tubes arcing between eight-foot electrically charged plates. He was like an uber-nerd forerunner of Elon Musk--the charismatic entrepreneur who named his car company after Tesla. On the other hand, Tesla was also a celibate germaphobe, a superstitious numerologist and a lousy businessman who died broke at age 86, in the New Yorker Hotel.
 
More than just a biography of this strange genius, however, Munson's Tesla is a history of the nascent electric power industry and men like Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse and Guglielmo Marconi, who competed with Tesla to bring the miracle of electricity to the masses. Under license to Westinghouse, Tesla's "alternating current" generator converted the electricity market from Edison's "direct current" limited access system to the ubiquitous power grid in place today.
 
An inventor's inventor, Tesla never managed to leverage his genius into the wealth that Edison did. And Munson (From Edison to Enron), a Midwest businessman and energy wonk, taps a variety of primary sources, industry trade literature and Tesla's autobiography, My Inventions, to flesh out this enigmatic inventor and contrarian thinker. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Tesla tells the extraordinary story of the eccentric and enigmatic inventor whose genius transformed the global power industry.

W.W. Norton, $26.95, hardcover, 320p., 9780393635447

There Are No Grown-Ups: A Midlife Coming-of-Age Story

by Pamela Druckerman


American ex-pat and author of Bringing Up Bébé, Pamela Druckerman applies her wit and insight to life in one's 40s, the awkward transitional decade when many individuals shift out of their youth but don't quite enter old age yet. The mother of three says, "I've noticed that men only appraise me on the streets of Paris now if I'm in full hair and makeup." And waiters have shifted from calling her "mademoiselle" to "madame." Determined to understand this disorienting stage, she delves into the finer points of being a grown-up as she travels the winding road of a 40-something adult.
 
At times she turns up the humor, as in a chapter about arranging a threesome for her husband as his birthday gift, which turns into a freelance assignment for an American magazine. But There Are No Grown-Ups is equally full of heartfelt insights and revelations. Druckerman shares her battle with cancer and celebrates the success of her book. She acknowledges goals she'd like to reach but hasn't quite accomplished yet.
 
Throughout the book she receives advice and she imparts it. She examines the mysterious decade with sincerity but never takes herself too seriously. Candid and spirited, Druckerman takes the fear out of 40. She offers those facing this decade reason to anticipate it positively, and those who are currently experiencing it--or already have--plenty to reminisce over. There Are No Grown-Ups assures everyone, "vous allez trouver votre place--you will find your place." --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: Parenting expert Pamela Druckerman tries to make sense out of being 40-something in a book that blends humor, memoir and self-help.

Penguin Press, $27, hardcover, 288p., 9781594206375

Room to Dream

by David Lynch, Kristine McKenna


Filmmaker David Lynch notoriously eludes talking about his work, so a nearly 600-page memoir is quite a surprise. In an effort to create a definitive biography, Lynch and coauthor Kristine McKenna have produced Room to Dream, a tantalizing hybrid of biography and autobiography. McKenna, who interviewed more than 100 people, writes the straightforward biography chapters offering perspectives from ex-wives, producers, cast and crew members. A chapter by Lynch follows, elaborating on the preceding material, sometimes disagreeing but always offering colorful extra details. The clever back-and-forth concept creates a more panoramic view than most biographies achieve.
 
Lynch's first feature-length film, Eraserhead, took five years to complete and became a midnight movie favorite that caught the eye of Mel Brooks. Brooks hired him to helm The Elephant Man and it became a surprise mainstream hit, earning Lynch two Oscar nominations. His next film, an adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune, was a critical and box office disaster. "Failure is a beautiful thing," writes Lynch, "because when the dust settles there's nowhere to go but up, and it's a freedom." That freedom allowed him to create Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, Wild at Heart, Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire and other quirky projects.
 
Lynch is a maverick filmmaker who has found popularity by staying true to his often warped and disturbing vision of the world. Room to Dream shares where those ideas came from, but it also celebrates his decades-long friendships and his love of romance. Film buffs will delight in this compelling and illuminating memoir. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Filmmaker David Lynch casts aside his reticence to discuss his life and films in this wildly enjoyable, massive and bracingly candid memoir.

Random House, $32, hardcover, 592p., 9780399589195

Robin

by Dave Itzkoff


New York Times reporter Dave Itzkoff's biography of Robin Williams, from his lonely childhood in the Midwest to his shocking suicide in 2014, is a rich portrait of a beloved entertainer whom few fully understood. Itzkoff draws on his interviews with Williams, as well as archival research and more than a hundred conversations with the star's family and friends, to create a nuanced view of Robin Williams as a man and a performer. The book is comprehensive--it's 200 pages until Williams's first box office success, in Good Morning, Vietnam--and compelling without being salacious. It shows Williams as a manic comedy genius, a doting but flawed father, a recovering addict, a loving friend to Christopher Reeve and Billy Crystal, and a popular actor who still searched for approval. Itzkoff delves into well-known stories, like Williams's presence at the Chateau Marmont the night John Belushi died, and includes new details, like Jeff Bridges's note congratulating Williams on his Oscar win for Good Will Hunting ("Dear Rob, Man!!! You won!!").
 
Putting the performer in context, the book is also a look inside the worlds Williams inhabited, including the San Francisco stand-up scene, the excesses of Hollywood, and a complicated family life. The interplay between comedy and darkness is infused throughout the book, and the chapter title "Mr. Happy"--a reference to a lewd joke in Williams' early-'80s standup routine--becomes ironic and prescient. Like the man it depicts, Robin shines with intense humor and deep sensitivity. --Katy Hershberger, freelance writer and bookseller

Discover: It may not be possible to understand fully the complexity of Robin Williams, but this layered, definitive biography comes close.

Holt, $30, hardcover, 544p., 9781627794244

History

Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo"

by Zora Neale Hurston


Zora Neale Hurston's Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo," written in 1931 but unpublished until now, blends autobiography, history and folklore to tell the story of the life of Cudjo Lewis. Born Kossola in what is now Benin and sold into slavery at age 19, he was the oldest known survivor of the last ship to bring enslaved people to the United States. In 1927, Hurston recorded his story.
 
Hurston's original text merges with a substantial introduction by Deborah G. Plant to shore up, clarify or complicate Kossola's narrative and related events. Still, Kossola takes center stage. His recollection of life as a "tree of two woods... grown together" moves with heft and certainty. While his vernacular may be a challenge for some, using his spoken word is an act of respect. Barracoon's strength is its emphasis on the power of witnesses and testimonies; converting his words into standard English would have lessened the storyteller and the historical moment.
 
Although Hurston and Kossola's relationship is a small part of Barracoon, it's arguably its heart. Communing with Hurston over shared peaches and steamed crab, Kossola slips in and out of reverie. At times he's overcome with emotion, and Hurston regrets having come to "worry this captive in a strange land." She listens to him speak of the dead and of needing to tend his garden, of matters both spiritual and mundane. When not sending her away, he enjoys her company.
 
The name Kossola means "my children do not die anymore." Barracoon promises his permanence. --Shannon Hanks-Mackey, freelance editor and managing editor at the Black Scholar

Discover: This is the account of an 86-year-old survivor of the last slave ship to arrive in the United States.

Amistad, $24.99, hardcover, 208p., 9780062748201

Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation

by Robert W. Fieseler


On Sunday, June 24, 1973, a fire set on the outside steps of a New Orleans gay bar caused a harrowing inferno, taking 32 lives. Journalist Robert W. Fieseler salvages this unsettling moment in American history from the edge of forgetfulness in a remarkable, potent remembrance.
 
From its outset, Tinderbox distinguishes the Up Stairs Lounge fire from other galvanizing incidents in the fight for gay rights. For starters, there is no evidence that this was a hate crime, but rather "most likely... a disgruntled bar patron exacting revenge upon a rival gay clique." Moreover, the Gay Liberation uprising that followed was led largely by outsiders like Troy Perry, founding pastor of the gay-friendly Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in Los Angeles.
 
Fieseler crafts an evocative, even romantic, portrait of gay life before the fire. Against a sultry summer backdrop, he details the lives of men in their element and men in love. The Big Easy fostered a laissez-faire closet for the gay community; while open homosexuality was despised, the rowdy French Quarter often turned a blind eye to the private liaisons of neighbors.
 
That disinterest, though, became maddening in the aftermath. Newspapers addressed the tragedy obliquely if at all. Neighboring churches turned away MCC's pleas. Civil rights organizations ghosted. Investigators dragged their feet and fumbled evidence. Live and let live turned on a dime to "Did you hear the one about the flaming queens?"
 
With amiable prose, Fieseler transforms rigorous research and the moving testimonies of survivors into a vital, inspiring volume in the annals of gay history. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Journalist Robert Fieseler sifts through the ashes of a nearly forgotten tragedy that took 32 lives in a New Orleans gay bar.

Liveright, $26.95, hardcover, 384p., 9781631491641

Rome: A History in Seven Sackings

by Matthew Kneale


Rome isn't just a millennia-old city. It's been the seat of multiple empires, moments that changed world history and, of course, a battle ground. In Rome: A History in Seven Sackings, British author (and resident of Rome) Matthew Kneale looks at the history of the city through some of its darkest hours, using its near-destructions and resurrections as a novel way to deconstruct how the city became one of the most important in the world.
 
Starting with a Gallic invasion when Rome was barely a city, Kneale skips across the centuries, following Roman, then Catholic, then Italian disputes with neighbors, other empires and each other. He keenly provides background on each conflict while also painting a lively portrait of what the city was like during those periods. Even as he describes war and death, Kneale keeps things rather upbeat, making sure that the book is not one gigantic slog (though his final chapter on the Nazi invasion does leave a bitter aftertaste).
 
Throughout Rome are wily popes, vicious warriors from Central Europe, desperate Holy Roman Emperors and the people of the city themselves. More than anything, Kneale is best when describing the circumstances a common Roman would experience during the seven sieges described. It's rarely good news, but that underscores the author's larger point about the city: Romans truly have seen it all. This is a perfect book for those interested in a quick, fun introduction to the city's past. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: Matthew Kneale's Rome: A History in Seven Sackings deftly brings out Roman history in a concise, fun way.

Simon & Schuster, $30, hardcover, 432p., 9781501191091

Saving Central Park: A History and a Memoir

by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers


Elizabeth Barlow Rogers was a married young mother with a master's degree in city planning when she moved to Manhattan in 1964 and fell in love with Central Park. It was good timing, as the 800-plus-acre park needed love. Conceived by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who won a design competition in 1858 with their plan for a public park that was also a work of landscape art, Central Park went into decline in the 1960s, an era of poor management and relaxed regulations.
 
Vandalism, financial shortfalls, political intransigence and accusations of elitism were among the obstacles that Rogers faced during her 20-year commitment to return Central Park to its Olmstedian glory. In 1980, she became co-founder and president of the Central Park Conservancy, a joint public-private enterprise that, although no longer under her leadership, continues as a force for civic good.
 
Replete with black-and-white and color photos, some providing opportunities for before-and-after comparisons, Saving Central Park: A History and a Memoir has an authorial reserve that prevents it from fulfilling its promise as a memoir, but it's a fascinating and invaluable document of a wildly successful restoration effort. Rogers is at her most vivacious when describing on-the-job challenges, as when the bird-watchers of Central Park protested the Conservancy's removal of several trees in order to reinstate some of the park's original view lines. "A tree war can be a nasty kind of turf battle" are just about the harshest words you'll get out of the endearingly patrician Rogers. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: Elizabeth Barlow Rogers intertwines the story of New York City's Central Park with an account of her decades of stewardship.

Knopf, $30, hardcover, 336p., 9781524733551

Political Science

Chosen Country: A Rebellion in the West

by James Pogue


A feet-on-the-ground journalist for diverse media such as Vice, the New Yorker and n+1, James Pogue goes after a story with the tenacity of a bulldog clamped on a stick. In the tradition of early Rolling Stone "new journalists" like Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe and Lester Bangs, Pogue is not afraid to share booze and smokes with his interview targets in order to get the lowdown on his subject. In Chosen Country, he puts on tire chains and drives through snowy central Oregon to understand firsthand what is behind the 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by a ragtag army led by charismatic Mormon zealot Ammon Bundy. Pogue gets to know the occupiers, the FBI, local law officers and the annoyed uninvolved surrounding ranchers and feed store proprietors. In this volatile mix, he finds a potent stew of politics, activism, ideology and messianic cultism. One Bundy supporter states his anti-federal government stance succinctly: "If you don't want your nose broke, keep it out of my business."
 
Like a good gonzo journalist, Pogue often veers off into tangential historical asides and brings his own prejudices and personal rants to this story of "young men with guns and tactical gear." He chases his story into the Oregon basin because "the country was going insane, and at least here you could see the mechanisms at work." Chosen Country burrows into the widening cracks that divide what someday may turn out to be the ironically named United States. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Gonzo journalist James Pogue digs into the 2016 occupation of Oregon's Malheur Refuge by Ammon Bundy and his ragtag army.

Holt, $28, hardcover, 304p., 9781250169129

Social Science

The Last Cowboys: A Pioneer Family in the New West

by John Branch


Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Branch (Boy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard) immerses readers in the history and deep-rooted traditions of the Wright family--who have lived in southern Utah since their Mormon ancestors arrived 150 years ago. At the heart of the narrative are contemporary patriarch and matriarch Bill and Evelyn Wright of Smith Mesa, parents of 13 children and legions of grandchildren. Love abounds as the family grows, but chronic struggles plague a way of life disappearing from the landscape of the American West.
 
The Wrights, herding cattle ranchers, manage and oversee hundreds of cattle over thousands of acres. Branch depicts, through riveting scenes infused with colorful detail, the many challenges posed by the politics of land management and grazing rights, urbanization and tourism, the influx of corporate cattle ranching, fluctuating beef prices and droughts. Added to the mix are adventurous stories of the modern rodeo circuit, where the Wright boys are among the world's best saddle bronc riders. The dramatic thrill of victory and the agony of defeat and injury force this hardworking, faith-filled family continually and creatively to adapt and reinvent themselves--all in an effort to maintain their way of life in the hope it can be sustained for future generations.
 
Branch's chronicle of a tight-knit, loyal family is meticulously researched and vividly presented. The lengths the family goes to in support of each other is thoroughly engrossing and offers a great appreciation into the plight of modern American cowboys. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A gripping account of a modern American ranching and rodeo family and the many challenges they face.

W.W. Norton, $26.95, hardcover, 288p., 9780393292343

Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to the Present Day

by Peter Ackroyd


Peter Ackroyd has already written a paean to London in his 2000 doorstop London: The Biography. Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to the Present Day is a much shorter book, a celebration and idiosyncratic pocket history of gay life from Roman Londinium to today. Ackroyd writes that "queer" is "an accommodating term, and will be used as such in this study." His book is similarly accommodating, allowing for a fluid definition of queerness that takes into account the enormous cultural differences that make applying such a label tricky. Ackroyd also opts for a playful comic tone that pairs well with the riotous subject matter.
 
From London's founding, "urban life was conducted in the Roman fashion," which meant the common practice of sexual relationships "between master and slave or between man and boy." After London was Christianized, queerness and same-sex love frequently came to be associated with royalty and their courts, as well as the tightly knit military caste. Ackroyd writes movingly about persecution over the centuries and about crises such as the outbreak of AIDS in London.
 
Queer City is far from downbeat, however, gleefully recounting a 17th-century description that "may be the first example of what became known as the 'swishy' gay" and giving his chapters suggestive titles such as "Bring on the dancing boys." Ackroyd's is an unrepentantly "queer narrative" and a tribute to the enduring vibrancy of gay life in London. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Discover: Queer City is a witty history-cum-tribute to gay London, from the Roman "wolf dens" through Oscar Wilde and Gay Pride marches to the present day.

Abrams, $26, hardcover, 272p., 9781419730993

Essays & Criticism

Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics

by Stephen Greenblatt


Even more than usual, tyranny is a matter of concern. Stephen Greenblatt (The Swerve) scrutinizes William Shakespeare's portrayal of its agents in Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics, and draws a line from Elizabethan England to the world of today.
 
Shakespeare, a businessman in addition to a gifted playwright, knew that he had to avoid offending Queen Elizabeth, because those who did were tortured or killed. "He could tell the truth about his own world, but only from an oblique angle." So, too, does Greenblatt shine an indirect light on current events, using Elizabethan England as his mirror.
 
He establishes that Shakespeare's tyrants share certain characteristics--ones that sound remarkably familiar. Henry V manipulates his subjects, disdaining inconvenient facts and displaying false populism. In reality, this scheming king has no interest in the have-nots, but understands that "they can be made to further his ambitions." Richard III is a despot whose physical deformities reflect his twisted personality. Richard feels "inward bitterness, disorder, and violence that drive him forward, to the ruin of his country...." Greenblatt shows how other major characters, including Lear and Hamlet, demonstrate a tyrant's deeply flawed psychology.
 
Greenblatt provides historical context throughout and, without being political, subtly compares Shakespeare's characters with modern heads of state. Greenblatt shares Shakespeare's hope that "the political action of ordinary citizens" is the savior of democratic institutions. This small volume is an unusual and sobering look at the insidious nature of tyranny and the necessity for citizens to rise up against it. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: The fragility of democratic institutions and the rise of tyranny is examined through the lens of Shakespeare's many portrayals of tyrants and corrupt government leaders.

Norton, $21.95, hardcover, 224p., 9780393635751

Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions & Criticisms

by Michelle Tea


"Doesn't wine retain the flavor of the weather the grapes were grown in? The particularities of the soil, the storms that came or didn't?" asks Michelle Tea in the title piece of her wickedly funny and thought-provoking essay collection Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions & Criticisms. "Memoir is like that," she continues. "It picks up the essence of the moment you wrote it." Here she's speaking specifically of Valencia, one of her five previous memoirs. Since writing that book, she says, her feelings for the people and places described within it have changed considerably. But there's value, she argues, in leaving a record of one's life--even if that record is rendered obsolete by all that happens after.
 
With Against Memoir, Tea has collected an impressive record of her life's work as a memoirist and essayist. Divided into three sections--art and culture criticism, personal essays on queer love and reflections on writing--the collection features her finest pieces of the last 20 years for outlets like the Believer and xoJane.
 
Each section is rich with deep feeling and critical precision. "Purple Rain" is a highlight. Here Tea weaves memories of her adolescent sexuality with those of listening to Prince. Perhaps she just liked men who were "small" and "sensitive" and who wore "heels," she wondered while gazing at album covers. It would be years before she'd fully comprehend her own queerness. This essay is about herself, but it's also a smart piece of cultural criticism. As this collection indicates, Michelle Tea has brilliantly balanced both throughout the whole of her career. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Michelle Tea makes a persuasive case for documenting one's thoughts and feelings by collecting nearly 20 years' worth of personal essays in one engaging volume.

Amethyst Editions, $18.95, paperback, 300p., 9781936932184

Pops

by Michael Chabon


Pops, Michael Chabon's third collection of essays, is a fun-loving meditation on fatherhood. Chabon remembers the small moments between himself and his four children that culminate in a rewarding, albeit sometimes challenging, life as a father. In "Little Man," he grapples with the understanding that his children will become people beyond his complete comprehension while he follows his gifted son around Paris Fashion Week. In "Baseball," he considers what it means to share interests with your children, rather than impose them. These tidbits lead to a final essay that reveals the subtle scars behind his own relationship with his often distant pop, a relationship that Chabon will forever try to outrun as a father himself.
 
While much of the collection's subject matter could be heavy in tone, Chabon balances these weighty emotional moments with tenderness and light humor. Overall, the collection reads as a concise and breezy reflection on family life, offering insight and entertainment in even doses. Acknowledging that parenthood is not a sitcom subplot, Chabon doesn't shy away from the thornier conversations he's had with his children, recounting a conversation about race in "Tom" and a tutorial on feminism for his son in "Dicktitude." These essays don't offer simple right answers for being a role model (thank goodness), but rather engage with the difficulty in a adroit and gentle way. As a follow-up to Chabon's Moonglow, this collection continues the thread of fatherhood, expectation and masculine domesticity that enlightens so much of his best work. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A pitch-perfect ode to fatherhood, Pops offers a set of feel-good yet still thoughtful essays for the literary dad.

Harper, $19.99, hardcover, 144p., 9780062834621

Science

The Order of Time

by Carlo Rovelli, trans. by Erica Segre, Simon Carnell


What is time? Is it like a river, flowing from the past, to the present and into the future? Is it a man-made construct? Does it even exist on the quantum level? All these questions and many more are expertly answered by Carlo Rovelli in his fascinating Order of Time.
 
Although more esoteric than some of his previous books, Rovelli (Reality Is Not What It Seems) again combines the lyrical, philosophical and scientific methods and prose to guide readers through an exploration of time on its multiple levels. He is especially intriguing when suggesting that time "passes faster in the mountains than it does at sea level," or that one's perception of time is a matter of perspective. Furthermore, he asserts that language isn't precise enough to describe time, as one person's "here and now" is vastly different for a person located on the opposite side of the globe.
 
Rovelli also delves a bit into his favorite topic, loop quantum gravity or loop theory, which has been the focus of much of his life's work. Here he dives into the issues of "granularity, indeterminacy and the relational aspect of physical variables" which break down the idea of time to the point of nonexistence. We all have a concept of time, regulated by clocks and the passage of the sun from one day into the next, but Rovelli's explanations and examinations will have one rethinking what it means to be "in the moment" or how to define past, present and future. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: An Italian physicist analyzes what time really is based on the latest scientific findings.

Riverhead, $20, hardcover, 256p., 9780735216105

Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken Genes

by Nathan H. Lents


To call Human Errors by biology professor Nathan H. Lents a primer on natural selection and evolution would be a vast oversimplification. He tackles his subject (one that has no doubt put many a college student to sleep) with a conversational ease, and he does so while recognizing his own fallibility. And it's these qualities that make his writing accessible to the layperson. 
 
According to Lents (Not So Different), genetic developmental flaws (or the "panorama of our glitches") arose as a result of incomplete adaptations to bipedalism and to ways of life that no longer exist. These include nasal cavities that drain up instead of down and backwards-facing retinas. Using modern analogies, Lents is able to tie natural selection and evolution to human behavior. The fact that we have never encountered, nor received contact from, alien civilizations points to a disturbing conclusion: if they followed a similar evolutionary trajectory as Earthlings (with our environmental pollution, resource overconsumption and war), then those civilizations may no longer exist.
 
To that end, even as technology and science have seemingly arrested human evolution, cultural and socioeconomic factors may provide the key to evolving future gene pools. "In order to fully grasp any aspect of the human experience, we must understand how it took shape," writes Lents. "Never underestimate science or our species' ability to overcome its own flaws."
 
Entertaining and informative, Human Errors can provoke thought and discussion as to what evolution and natural selection mean for the future of the human race. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: Flawed genetic development--despite the superiority of human brains and the ingenuity behind our biological selves--is more than the sum of its evolutionary parts.

Houghton Mifflin, $27, hardcover, 256p., 9781328974693

Fallout: Disasters, Lies, and the Legacy of the Nuclear Age

by Fred Pearce


On a planet undergoing severe climate change because of the burning of fossil fuels, some argue that nuclear energy is a smart energy alternative. But in the insightful Fallout: Disasters, Lies, and the Legacy of the Nuclear Age, London environmental journalist Fred Pearce (The Land Grabbers) questions that logic after visiting nuclear disaster zones in Russia, Japan and the United States.
 
In Russia, a scientist who has helped monitor the aftermath of the 1957 Mayak reactor disaster describes for Pearce the lax safety regulations that have been a long-time staple of the power plant: "Until 1955, even pregnant women worked on plutonium products," he says. In Japan, Pearce visits the evacuated villages near Fukushima, where nuclear reactors melted down and exploded after being flooded by a tsunami in 2011. The villages have become home to several plant and animal species that are thriving in the absence of humanity. This is, Pearce argues, the happiest legacy of nuclear energy on planet Earth.
 
Most terrifying are Pearce's discoveries of government cover-up. He presents evidence of government officials in Japan, Russia, Britain and the United States failing to warn the public about the dangers of nuclear energy. In Russia, the government went so far as to refuse to send help to fallout victims in the name of national security. Part history lesson and part call to action, Fallout is an eye-opening and much-needed addition to the literature on nuclear power. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Fallout is a fascinating but enraging look at the international history and present-day problems of nuclear energy use.

Beacon Press, $27.95, hardcover, 264p., 9780807092491

Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth

by Adam Frank


The discovery of thousands of exoplanets in the last two decades has confirmed Earth's status as just one orbital body in a crowded cosmos. Prior to this flood of planets spotted around other stars, our solar system, for all astronomy could prove, was thought to be unique. Now we know that is far from the case. Extrapolating these finds to a galactic level means that there are billions upon billions of Earth-like worlds around us, which points the hunt for alien life in exciting new directions.
 
In 1961, astrophysicist Frank Drake created a probability equation to determine the number of technologically advanced civilizations in the Milky Way. Many of the Drake equation's variables could not be answered at the time, such as the fraction of formed stars that have planets. Others, like the fraction of those planets that actually develop life, still cannot be solved. However, according to astronomer Adam Frank, recent breakthroughs in exoplanet detection have filled in enough variables of Drake's equation to provide startling answers.
 
Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth uses what we know for sure about our planet, other bodies in our solar system and exoplanets to reach some solid and sobering conclusions: there have been technologically advanced civilizations elsewhere in the universe. The final variable in Drake's problem remains: how long an advanced civilization survives. While Frank can't speculate on sociological trends on alien worlds, observations on Earth, especially our descent into the Anthopocene--a new geological era defined by manmade climate change--have potentially grim implications for life in the universe. Light of the Stars is a fascinating, multi-disciplined approach to the most pressing questions on Earth and beyond. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: Recent breakthroughs in exoplanet detection allow an astronomer to apply hard facts to alien life and offer sobering implications for human civilization.

W.W. Norton, $26.95, hardcover, 272p., 9780393609011

Nature & Environment

The Weather Detective: Rediscovering Nature's Secret Signs

by Peter Wohlleben


"Forecasts of up to a week in advance are about seventy percent likely to be true," writes Peter Wohlleben (The Hidden Life of Trees) in his fascinating look at the natural world, The Weather Detective: Rediscovering Nature's Secret Signs. But that 30% of uncertainty can wreak havoc on a garden. Luckily, he continues, we can learn to make weather predictions ourselves that are often at least as--if not more--accurate than what our local meteorologists tell us. That's because meteorologists, he says, are predicting temperature and other averages for swaths of land that cover many miles. But those averages can vary over a couple of blocks and even from one corner of a garden to another.
 
That's why looking closely at the subtle signs of change that nature gives us every day, from those in the soil to those in the clouds, is so important. And Wohlleben, who's been a German forester for more than 20 years, is just the person to teach us how, when and where to look.
 
Flowers and birds, he says, are great tellers of "true local time" (as opposed to "clock time"). They sing their songs and open their petals according to the sun's precise location in the sky. He also shows how to link the consistency of soils, the size of snowflakes and the phase of the moon to weather patterns that will affect the garden. Written for nature enthusiasts of all levels and backgrounds, The Weather Detective is as fun as it is informative. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This fun and educational book by the author of The Hidden Life of Trees teaches readers how to be better predictors of weather.

Dutton, $20, hardcover, 208p., 9781524743741

American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic

by Victoria Johnson


David Hosack (1769-1835) was a celebrity in his day. He was the founder of the first botanical garden in the United States, an early adopter of new medical treatments, and a charismatic teacher and public speaker. American Eden is an exhaustively researched, brilliant and lively biography set in the close political, social and intellectual circles of the new Republic by professor of urban planning Victoria Johnson (Backstage at the Revolution).
 
Hosack is a genuinely interesting figure--talented, adventurous, hardworking and acquainted with many of the great minds of his day. Johnson amplifies his appeal by emphasizing his relationships with Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, as family physician and as collaborator in their gardens and botanical interests.
 
In New York, he became an admired professor, founded one of the first U.S. medical journals, promoted effective new medical treatments and championed the Hudson River School of painting. The botanic garden he founded was funded mostly out of his own pocket in what is now midtown Manhattan, modeled on the medical research gardens he had visited overseas. Hosack and his students also ignited a national craze for botany that still echoes in the public parks and private gardens of the United States. Johnson's storytelling skills and her thorough knowledge of the period and the science makes this a book that will appeal to history lovers, botanists and gardeners alike. --Sara Catterall

Discover: The story of a visionary New York botanist, doctor and influential teacher in the energetic and competitive young United States.

Liveright, $29.95, hardcover, 480p., 9781631494192

Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore

by Elizabeth Rush


Journalist Elizabeth Rush's Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore is science, poetry and personal witness, concerned with human and more-than-human communities. It is a reckoning with the ugly reality of climate change, with numbers and predictions becoming grimmer each year. It is a poetic meditation on the nature of change, on how people can make peace with a changing world and our affect on it. And it is an impassioned consideration of the injustices humans perpetrate on one another and on the non-human world.
 
Rush saw firsthand the reality of rising sea levels in inland Bangladesh. It took her years to follow that story to the U.S. communities she visited in researching and writing this book. In Rhode Island, Louisiana, Maine, Florida, New York, Oregon and California, Rush interviews local residents, observes local flora and fauna and questions scientists. She studies climate change and the rise of sea levels globally, but particularly in wetland ecosystems.
 
Rush's concerns begin with plants and animals: salt marsh harvest mouse, roseate spoonbill, Caspian tern, rufous hummingbird, red knot, black tupelo. But she quickly extrapolates them to tell a human story, too, about the people threatened alongside greater egret and cypress, and about her own struggle to navigate hope and action within despair.
 
Rising is in some ways a difficult read; its subjects are sobering and saddening. They are important to consider, regardless of the pain they may cause, but Rising has more to offer: pulsing, gleaming prose and a stubborn search for, if not hope, then peace in the face of disaster. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This study of rising sea levels puts both science and poetry to work in honoring human and non-human coastal communities across the United States.

Milkweed Editions, $26, hardcover, 320p., 9781571313676

Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America

by Eliza Griswold


In Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America, poet and journalist Eliza Griswold chronicles the impact on landowners in western Pennsylvania when the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) industry comes calling with deep pockets and false reassurances. It is both an intimate portrayal of one family's protracted struggle with gas and chemical contamination and also a frank rendering of the collateral devastation often wrought by companies bent on extracting natural gas from the land.
 
Amity and Prosperity is centered on Stacey Haney, a nurse and landowner. Her property is contaminated by a leak at the large fracking site up the hill from her farm. Haney gets sick, along with her children and animals, and is forced to abandon her beloved farm. Therein begins her protracted six-year fight for justice and for her family's health and security. Griswold (The Tenth Parallel) reminds us that Haney and her community represent the human cost of energy development and that exploiting energy often involves exploiting people as well as the environment.
 
It is a testament to Griswold's gift for the written word that an account of the perils of fracking is transformed into a gripping legal drama, pitting farmers and their small tight-knit community against one another and against the powerful forces jeopardizing their land and their families' physical and mental health. Griswold boldly takes the fracking industry to task, as well as the government agencies that fail in their civic mandate to protect the environment and the rights of landowners like Haney and her neighbors. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: An absorbing account of the devastation wrought by the fracking industry on farming families in western Pennsylvania.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27, hardcover, 336p., 9780374103118

Health & Medicine

The Addiction Solution: Treating Our Dependence on Opioids and Other Drugs

by Lloyd I. Sederer


"Drug taking is a highly complex and variable human and social phenomenon... [that] is not going away." Material on addiction is seemingly limitless, and choosing who and what to believe can be treacherous territory when lives are at risk. Lloyd Sederer, M.D., chief mental health officer of the New York State Office of Mental Health, brings a prestigious pedigree to his perspective, The Addiction Solution.
 
Sederer engenders confidence on numerous fronts, particularly in acknowledging that drugs are winning the "War on Drugs" by a landslide; that current drug policies are actually institutionalized racism; and that there is no "one-size-fits-all" answer to a very individualized epidemic. Confining his discussion to illegal drugs and the abuse of legal drugs, Sederer presents a straightforward, plain-language overview of available options and best-care treatment scenarios.
 
He advocates the use of social values and family influence over "control and consequences," which he considers a "puritan approach" akin to tilting at windmills. Moreover, a community methodology emphasizes identification of risk and the importance of eliminating adverse childhood experiences. As Frederick Douglass said, "It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men."
 
Summarizing available methods and treatments, Sederer believes single-method recovery (i.e., 12-step) is not the road to maximum success. He recommends a multifaceted plan attacking addiction on multiple fronts that enhance one another. The Addiction Solution offers guidance; it is not a textbook or exhaustive treatise. It proposes tools to fight the disease and plainly, though not overly simplistically, suggests the best means to implement them. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: The chief medical officer for the largest state mental health agency in the U.S. provides insight and opinions on how to start winning the war on drugs.

Scribner, $26, hardcover, 224p., 9781501179440

Sports

Men in Blazers Present Encyclopedia Blazertannica: A Suboptimal Guide to Soccer, America's "Sport of the Future" Since 1972

by Michael Davies, Roger Bennett


Roger Bennett (Rog) and Michael Davies (Davo)--together known as Men in Blazers--post a weekly podcast, host regular television shows on NBCSN and produce soccer-themed short films. Their output is a mix of hard soccer analysis and inside humor, the latter of which is most evident in this, their first book.
 
Both British transplants, they are highly entertaining and extremely funny. Rog is the post-Dennis Miller King of References--some literary, some pop-culture. He wanted to relocate to the U.S. for multiple reasons, including a mild obsession with Molly Ringwald. Davo often ends up playing the straight man with drier and subtler humor.
 
Men in Blazers Present Encyclopedia Blazertannica covers the cultures of international and U.S. football (soccer) clubs, but also such important subjects as players' neck tattoos, facial hair and mullets. They share Portuguese phrases they picked up when they covered the 2014 World Cup in Rio: Estou sem dinheiro. Sequestra ele ao inves de mim. ("I have no money. Kidnap him instead.") They imagine a Game of Thrones Ultimate Starting XI: Daenerys Stormborn is, of course, a striker, and Hodor, the keeper. And they give good advice on celebratory knee slides: when to abort (on AstroTurf) and when to add a flourish (in the rain).
 
Their claim that this is the "first book jacketed in tweed" appears valid. The book will be appreciated most by their GFOPs (Great Friends of the Pod), an intensely loyal fan base, familiar with MIB's lexicon. However, given the wide range of entries in Blazertannica, it will prove enormous fun for all soccer fans. --George Carroll, editor, litintranslation.com

Discover: The U.S.'s most popular soccer pundits provide an offbeat take on the game.

Knopf, $27.95, hardcover, 224p., 9781101875988

Children's & Young Adult

Summer of Salt

by Katrina Leno


"On the island of By-the-Sea, you could always smell two things: salt and magic." For Georgina (Georgie) Fernweh and her twin sister, Mary, odd occurrences are a part of everyday life. The Fernweh family, which has lived on By-the-Sea for hundreds of years, is magic. Every Fernweh woman inherits an ability--controlling fire, walking on water, teleportation--before her 18th birthday. While Georgie's mother is skilled with potions and Mary has been able to float since birth, Georgie is still without a gift, and, with her birthday right around the corner, she fears she may be "normal... just a sidekick." The twins are also preparing for this to be their last summer on the island, since both are setting off for college in the fall.
 
The twins plan to spend the summer working at their mother's inn, which caters to the devout birdwatchers who return each year to observe an unusual, maybe-300-year-old bird named Annabella on its annual island pilgrimage. But when a chilling crime shocks the island and the community is divided, the superstitious islanders (who know about but never speak of the Fernweh family magic) become suspicious of Georgie and her sister. Assisted by a few faithful friends--including Prue, a beautiful tourist with whom Georgie is quickly and secretly falling in love--Georgie races to find justice.
 
Treacherous weather, shaken faith, a sister who seems to lose herself more each day and insecurity in her own magical abilities all plague Georgie as she vows to protect her family, find the real perpetrators of the crime and right the wrongs in the only world she has ever known. Readers will find themselves absorbed in Katrina Leno's (Everything All at Once) Summer of Salt as they are pulled inexorably toward the painful but powerful conclusion. --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Twin sisters from a magical family find themselves at the center of a mystery in this modern novel steeped in magic, love, loss and redemption.

HarperTeen, $17.99, hardcover, 272p., ages 13-up, 9780062493620

Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe

by Preston Norton


Sixteen-year-old Clifford Hubbard is 6'6" and 250 pounds: a "Grand Canyon-assed, Twinkie-and small-children-eating," "solemn warning of Darwinism gone wrong," according to his classmates at Happy Valley High School (HVHS). But most simply call him Neanderthal. To get through, Cliff abides by the "three rules to high school" that his idolized older brother, Shane, established. Rule number one: "It's all bullsh*t." Rule two: "People suck." And rule three: "Fists speak louder than words." Ever since Shane's suicide a year ago, Cliff has become more bitter, sardonic and violent. "If it was possible for me to give negative sh*ts," he thinks, "I'd distribute those like a six-year-old flower girl at a wedding."
 
When popular quarterback Aaron Zimmerman falls into a coma after a boating accident, then experiences a miraculous recovery and returns to school saying he saw God, Cliff's "Weird Sh*t-O-Meter" goes "off the scale." Aaron claims God gave him a list of things to do to make HVHS a better place and says that God "put a lot of emphasis" on Clifford Hubbard being his assistant. Thus begins an outrageous attempt by the oddest pairing in HVHS's history to right the wrongs of their Montana high school. Cliff and Aaron tackle (not always literally) drug dealers, a vicious bully, a good teacher gone bad, a clique of extremely unchristian "Jesus Teens" and a mysterious computer hacker called HAL. By the end of their strange mission, Cliff and Aaron have righted plenty of their own wrongs as well.
 
Preston Norton's (Blüd and Magick; Marrow) characters speak with a whip-smart, profanity-laced snark that belies the fragility lurking in even the biggest brutes. Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe is a book for any teen, teeming with despair, hope and transcendence. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: In this biting, hilarious, gut-wrenching novel, a huge disgruntled teen is recruited on a crazy mission by the most popular kid in school to rehabilitate bullies, uncaring teachers and drug dealers.

Disney-Hyperion, $17.99, hardcover, 416p., ages 14-up, 9781484790625

Drawn Together

by Minh Lê, illus. by Dan Santat


A glum Thai-American boy is dropped off at his delighted grandfather's house for a visit. They try to chat at lunch, but can't understand each other, and the uncomfortable silence grows more and more awkward. In spite of their efforts to connect, the two do not speak the same language or share a culture. It's not until the boy slips away to draw that they finally find common ground: Grandpa likes to tell stories through pictures, too! "Right when I gave up on talking, my grandfather surprised me by revealing a world beyond words. And in a FLASH--we see each other for the first time."
 
As man and boy weave their illustrations together, "all the things [they] could never say come pouring out." Their heroes look an awful lot like their respective illustrators, with the grandfather's black-and-white, ancient warrior brandishing a beautiful calligraphy brush and the boy's contemporary, anime-style wizard waving a star-topped wand. The swirling, elaborate design develops, the different styles intertwining, until they have created one magnificent world... which is suddenly disrupted by a huge, scaly monster that threatens to tear it apart.
 
Minh Lê (Let Me Finish!) is a first-generation Vietnamese-American writer and a national early childhood policy expert. Dan Santat is the New York-born son of Thai parents and author and illustrator of the Caldecott Award-winning The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend. Their partnership in Drawn Together is as magical as the grandfather and grandson's eventual bond. Mostly wordless panels represent the frustration and confusion the two share at first, followed by vibrant mixed-media artwork as they bring their talent and imagination together.
 
Drawn Together is a testament to the strength of a shared love to overcome barriers of age, language and culture, and will leave readers, like Grandpa and his grandson, "happily... SPEECHLESS." --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Separated by language, culture and age, a grandfather and his grandson find a beautiful way to forge a bond made of paint, ink and paper in this touching picture book.

Disney-Hyperion, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-5, 9781484767603

Fat Girl on a Plane

by Kelly deVos


Fashion blogger Cookie Vonn is the daughter of a famous supermodel--she could even be "Leslie Vonn Tate's doppelganger," except that she weighs 330 pounds. Cookie has just scored an interview with her idol, designer Gareth Miller, at her first ever fashion preview. En route through Chicago, however, flight attendants decide she needs a second seat and won't let her leave for New York unless she buys one. Mortified (and down an interview opportunity), Cookie decides she's "done being the fat girl on the plane" and joins NutriNation. Slowly, the pounds come off. When Cookie does finally meet Gareth Miller (on a plane, no less), he introduces himself with a joke about a woman who's too fat to fly! Cookie still intends to design plus-size clothes that let women "look and feel great," so when, as a PR ploy, Gareth is convinced to "launch a plus-size capsule collection" with her, Cookie seizes the opportunity.
 
But if Cookie thought her life would be perfect as a thin person, she has to rethink that. She's still feuding with "snothead" nemesis Kennes Butterfield; can't get anything going with her longtime crush, Tommy Weston; her parents remain mostly absent; and attending Parsons for fashion design continues to be financially out of reach. She's not even sure she likes the way people look at her now that she's thin.
 
Cookie is a strong character, one whom readers will enjoy accompanying on her journey of self-discovery. Engagingly told, alternating chapters go back and forth in time, allowing the author to contrast the way Cookie is treated when she's heavy and after she's lost weight. Kelly deVos, who, like Cookie, was also once "declared too fat to fly," says it best in her compelling note at the outset: "It's what's inside us that counts." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: When 17-year-old Cookie, the daughter of a famous supermodel and fashion devotee herself, is forced to buy a second seat on an airplane, she vows to lose weight and take the fashion world by storm.

Harlequin Teen, $18.99, hardcover, 384p., ages 12-up, 9780373212538

The 5 O'Clock Band

by Bill Taylor, Troy Andrews, illus. by Bryan Collier


This follow-up to Troy Andrews and Bryan Collier's Coretta Scott King Award–winning Trombone Shorty guides readers through the spirited streets of New Orleans. Having missed his band's practice, Shorty questions whether he has what it takes to lead. Wandering the streets in search of his friends, Shorty encounters different members of his community and asks them what it takes to be a leader.
 
Andrews's words blanket the audience in the sights, sounds and smells of all these encounters, while Collier's bold illustrations heighten their effects. Andrews describes street musician Tuba Tremé as "a giant of a man" who was "sweet as pecan pie." Tradition, Tuba Tremé tells Shorty, is important to leading--every bandleader "needs to know where music came from in order to move it forward." "Lola, the Creole Queen" next fills Shorty's belly with delicious food--and his heart with sage advice. Shorty asks her how she makes such amazing food and she answers, " 'Love. There's love in my food... As long as you love what you do, you will always be a success.' " Shorty's final encounter is with the "chief of the neighborhood Mardi Gras Indian tribe." Shorty needs dedication, Big Chief tells him. " 'Each year, all the Indians make new suits, hand-sewn from scratch,' " Big Chief says. " 'It takes a lot of time and patience, but... it's worth it.' " Collier's depictions of the brilliant colors of the suits of "the soul of Mardi Gras" pop from the page.
 
Troy Andrews's tribute to New Orleans and the music it has created is melodious and invigorating; Bryan Collier's visual interpretation carries the audience along on a distinctive and beautiful parade. The combo of text and illustration is well-tuned, and readers of any age are sure to find themselves thoroughly entertained. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: A young musician wanders the lively streets of New Orleans in search of the secret to being a great bandleader.

Abrams, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781419728365

Saturday Is Swimming Day

by Hyewon Yum


The stomachache ploy can't get a little girl out of her Saturday morning swim lesson. Armed with her "strawberry bathing suit" and "too-small swim cap," she arrives at the pool, where swim teacher Mary offers little comfort. On the "slippery and cold" pool deck overrun by children loud with happy anticipation, the girl remains virtually paralyzed, her head squeezed by her ill-fitting cap, her belly in turmoil. The other students eagerly jump in, but teacher Mary doesn't insist the child participate--she instead sits "on the edge of the pool the whole time."
 
The next week, despite another "very bad stomachache," she returns to the pool. This time, Mary entices the girl to practice "ice-cream scoops and kicks," always remaining at her side. By the third Saturday, the stomachache improves, while a new, looser swim cap gives her thinking space. Although she faces the water "carefully," she's eager to show Mary the kicks she's practiced at home in the bathtub. Floating comes next, then a few bobs... until she's actually looking forward to next week's aquatic challenges.
 
Author/illustrator Hyewon Yum, who earned the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award with Mom, It's My First Day of Kindergarten!, moves from school to the pool in Saturday Is Swimming Day. Yum uses phrases like "my stomach hurt," "[m]y head felt tight inside my swim cap," "[t]he pool was loud," to signal the girl's anxiety and fear. Her vibrant watercolor and colored pencil pictures amplify the little girl's concerns, depicting her stooped over in defeat, hiding in a locker or hugging the walls, all while surrounded by rambunctious, water-loving children. As the little girl cautiously moves--very much at her own pace--toward comfort and confidence, Yum captures the power of empathic patience to turn apprehension into accomplishment. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Swimming lessons give a little girl stomachaches--until her patient teacher gently draws her into the water for floating, bobbing, splashing fun.

Candlewick Press, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-6, 9780763691172

The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle

by Christina Uss, illus. by Jonathan Bean


Ever since Sister Wanda found her as a toddler, wearing only a "faded pink T-shirt decorated with a drawing of a bike and the word BICYCLE printed in block letters," Bicycle has been a permanent fixture at the Mostly Silent Monastery in Washington, D.C. Having grown up around monks who speak only the Sacred Eight Words--"yes," "no," "maybe," "help," "now," "later," "sleep" and "sandwich"--the now 12-year-old Bicycle would much rather ride her bike, Clunk, than make friends. And so, when Sister Wanda decides to send Bicycle to the Friendship Factory ("Three Guaranteed Friendships or Your Money Back"), Bicycle comes up with her own friendship plan: a cross-country cycling trip.
 
What starts out as a solitary journey turns into an extraordinary pilgrimage featuring several fantastical characters and an unforgettable adventure to boot. While these colorful people and their stories surely delight, the strength of Christina Uss's writing lies in her ability to meld multiple genres into one enjoyable, cohesive story. She easily weaves together mystery (a woman in black who's very curious about Bicycle's whereabouts), adventure (several calamitous events raise the stakes) and the supernatural (a chatty Civil War ghost with unfinished business), creating a memorable middle-grade novel debut.
 
Uss is a seasoned cyclist, having made her own cross-country trip in 1996. Her descriptions of landscapes--"the Ozark Mountains... were more like a monster-sized roller coaster"--challenges and the physical effects on a rider's body all attest to Uss's familiarity with trekking coast to coast, making Bicycle's story all the more believable. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader

Discover: An orphan who's grown up in a mostly silent monastery rides a bicycle cross-country to prove to her guardian she can make friends on her own.

Margaret Ferguson/Holiday House, $16.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 8-12, 9780823440078

Light Filters In: Poems

by Caroline Kaufman, illus. by Yelena Bryksenkova


Caroline Kaufman's debut poetry collection begins with a dedication to "anyone terrified that it won't get better." These poems, she writes, "are proof that it will."
 
Now a college freshman, Kaufman began writing poetry at 13 to help her cope with depression. She started an Instagram account--@poeticpoison--that has more than 200,000 followers. Light Filters In is a mix of both new and old poems, a four-part journey through adolescence. In an author's note, Kaufman makes readers aware that "this book was not easy to write," and thus, "it may not be easy to read." She warns that the topics include "mental illness, self-harm, suicide, recovery, sexual assault, abusive relationships, violence, and other issues that may not be the easiest to swallow."
 
Generally eschewing capital letters, Kaufman's poems are short and full of emotion. The first part focuses on her depression and anxiety: "I am crowded/ in an empty room./ I guess it's the silence,/ the emptiness,/ the nothingness./ it pushes on me./ it tells me you take up too much/ space." In the second, she begins to address the mental illness, learning how to cope. The third part depicts the desire for growth and change: "I want to be a doctor./ maybe a surgeon./ how nice it would be/ to go from cutting my own skin/ in order to harm,/ to cutting someone else's skin/ in order to heal." And in the final chapter, Kaufman begins to heal. "lost:/ depression..../ if found:/ please tell her/ she is not welcome here." Black-and-white illustrations throughout heighten the emotions expressed.
 
Kaufman's poems are raw portrayals of mental illness and trauma, of healing and hope--they are very personal struggles laid bare in a way that speaks to the universal human experience. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Caroline Kaufman's first poetry collection is a painful, yet hopeful, portrayal of the toll mental illness takes on adolescents.

HarperCollins, $14.99, hardcover, 224p., ages 13-up, 9780062844682

The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I

by Carolyn Mackler


Five months after the events in the Printz honor-winning The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, 16-year-old Virginia still doesn't have it all figured out. She's "fallen out of like" with boyfriend Froggy; BFF Shannon is MIA for the summer; and, worst of all, police have charged her older brother, Byron, with rape. There is one bright spot: Sebastian, a "sea-glass-eyed, long-haired... nonskater artist boy" who makes her "stomach flip." Happiness is fleeting, though, when a twist of fate threatens to ruin their summer romance before it even has a chance to begin.
 
Virginia breezily shares her insecurities, fantasies and fears in a chatty voice, immediately establishing a rapport with readers, who will likely empathize with her "Entire Family Issues," including when her CEO dad makes her feel like "a lowly employee in his executive universe." Curvy Virginia often feels invisible in her athletic family, but she is often the metaphorical "punching bag whenever [her] parents are stressed," and it's only after both her siblings have disappointed their parents that Virginia finally rises to the top of "The Mike and Phyllis pressure machine."
 
While Carolyn Mackler's (The Future of Us) The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I delves into sensitive and painful topics, there is also a lot of humor. Virginia's wry observations of her small slice of the world are delivered through brutally honest lists about important things in her life, like her rules for "How to Make Sure Skinny Girls Aren't the Only Ones Who Have Boyfriends" (Rule #2: "Don't act like you're intimately acquainted with all the restaurants within a twenty-block radius of your apartment"). This welcome sarcasm coupled with a frothy romance balances the headier, more emotional topics. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader

Discover: A wry teenager navigates family challenges, body image issues and romance in this stand-alone sequel to The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things.

Bloomsbury, $17.99, hardcover, 288p., ages 14-up, 9781681195995

Not the Girls You're Looking For

by Aminah Mae Safi


In her compelling debut, Aminah Mae Safi depicts with poetic beauty the emotional chaos of being a teenage girl. Leila "Lulu" Saad describes herself as not "rainbows and sunshine... not some magical f*cking princess who can't form a serious opinion." With one Iraqi parent and one American parent, she goes through more turmoil than the average teen and feels like an outsider in both groups. Lulu's father's Arab family is very close: "These women [know] how to look after one another. But they never [extend] the courtesy to her mother. And they only [give] such consideration to Lulu when they [see] her father in her." At the same time, some of her white classmates view her as a terrorist after the attack on Paris: "She was Iraqi, wasn't she, they... accused. They knew she was Muslim. Her fault... the dirty little terrorist." Luckily, though, Lulu is fully accepted by her three best friends, Audrey, Emma and Lo. Lulu knows that each of the girls would go to the ends of the Earth to help any of the others--until she manages to make a horrendous mess of their friendship and winds up completely alone.
 
Not the Girls You're Looking For is emotionally raw and relentlessly honest and funny. Safi celebrates young women and their distinctive bonds, depicting her characters with all the foibles growing pains produce. She also presents the identity struggles of blended families with candid realism, encouraging empathy for those who find themselves straddling two vastly different cultures and are trying to figure out who they are. Though they may not be the girls you're looking for, you should definitely seek out this book. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: An Arab-American teen mangles the friendships that sustain her and struggles to find her place in the world.

Feiwel & Friends, $17.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 13-up, 9781250151810

The House That Lou Built

by Mae Respicio


Seventh-grader Lucinda "Lou" Bulosan-Nelson dreams of being an architect and cannot help but compare the people around her with houses. For example, her grandmother "would be a hot pink Painted Lady--one of those fancy San Francisco Victorians tourists love, with intricate stained glass that casts rainbows onto the sidewalks." That is to say, "She's colorful." Lou's own style is more in line with a tiny house, one that has "a composting toilet and, right above the kitchen, a cozy sleeping loft." Someday, she's going to build her dream home on the land her father left her when he died. But just before Lou's 13th birthday, her mother announces she's accepted a job in Washington State. Lou can't fathom leaving her friends and her large, affectionate Filipino family. She decides she has to do something to stop her mother from making this move--she'll build her tiny house now.
 
Mae Respicio's charming middle-grade debut offers an intimate experience of Filipino culture as well as a message of empowerment to young girls with grand goals. Lou is ambitious and curious; feels butterflies in her belly when a boy she likes pays attention to her; and shuns dresses, delighting in a tool belt her cousins give her (especially because "it's not even girl-ified in pink or with swirly designs"). Lou is a narrator with whom readers can empathize, making The House that Lou Built a sweet treasure for any budding reader. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: A Filipino girl with dreams of being an architect determines to build her own tiny house in order to prevent her mother from moving them to another state.

Wendy Lamb/Random House, $16.99, hardcover, 240p., ages 8-12, 9781524717940

Lions & Liars

by Kate Beasley, illus. by Dan Santat


Ten-year-old Frederick Frederickson is not the guy who wins games and walks around school like he owns the place. He's the guy "who missed the shot and lost the game for everyone else, the one who got laughed at." Frederick's friend Joel has a philosophy about people: some are lions, some are gazelles and some are fleas on meerkat butts. And, although Frederick's always been okay being a "loser," believing that he would one day transform, like Harry Potter becoming a wizard, he's beginning to worry. He suspects--and his so-called friends corroborate--that he's the flea.
 
The one bright spot in Frederick's life is the annual Labor Day cruise his family takes. But this year, warnings of an impending hurricane put the kibosh on the trip. Frustrated, Frederick bumbles through a series of poor choices that, combined with some bad luck, leave him--literally--up a creek without a paddle. He awakens on a sandy bank on the grounds of Camp Omigoshee, where delinquent "boys are transformed," according to the camp propaganda. Mistaken for a notorious bad boy named Dashiell Blackwood, Frederick suddenly, magically, becomes the popular ringleader for his cabin group. Not surprisingly, the deception eventually goes terribly wrong, and Frederick/Dashiell once again is in a terrible predicament, with the aforementioned hurricane now headed straight for Camp Omigoshee!
 
Like Holes for a slightly younger age group, Lions & Liars is a funny, slightly dark story about the assumptions we make about others and the self-fulfilling prophesies with which we curse ourselves. Kate Beasley (Gertie's Leap to Greatness) and Caldecott Award-winning artist Dan Santat (The Adventures of Beekle) team up in this funny, accessible and thought-provoking novel, which will have readers rooting for the flea on the butt of the meerkat every time. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A string of unlucky events leads 10-year-old Frederick to a disciplinary camp for boys, where he finds himself uncharacteristically the leader of the pack... until the hurricane comes.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 8-12, 9780374302634

Vernon Is on His Way: Small Stories

by Philip C. Stead


Readers first met Vernon in 2012's A Home for Bird, in which the bipedal yellow toad goes to great lengths to find a dwelling place for Bird, his new, nontalking blue friend. The book's ending reveals Bird to be a clock's inanimate cuckoo--a fact either lost on Vernon or of no consequence to him: his love for Bird is unconditional. In Philip C. Stead's new companion volume, Vernon Is on His Way: Small Stories, Vernon returns in three tales that do nothing to reverse the impression that the little toad is a big softie.
 
In the blink-or-you'll-miss it "Waiting," Vernon is relieved of the tedium of waiting when the shell that he stands on to smell a tall flower turns out to be a snail who takes him "on his way." In "Fishing," Vernon and his friends Skunk and Porcupine do nothing but gab ("Do fish have toes?") when they're supposed to be fishing; eventually, they admit that they don't know how to fish, but they give their outing top marks anyway. And in "Gardening," Vernon misses Bird, so he sets off to "look for his memories"; meanwhile, Skunk and Porcupine, who note Vernon's sadness, plot to cheer him up and succeed circuitously.
 
In Vernon Is on His Way, Stead's media--gouache, crayon, chalk pastel and charcoal--leaves a distinctly inviting textural impression. Illustrations untouched by technology suit these stories untainted by modernity, which harbor a timeless message about how friendship can be transformative--and, in "Waiting," transportational. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: Philip C. Stead's toad protagonist from A Home for Bird returns in three stories that reinforce Vernon's sweetheart character.

Roaring Brook Press, $19.99, hardcover, 64p., ages 4-8, 9781626726550

Hawk Rising

by Maria Gianferrari, illus. by Brian Floca


A red-tailed hawk hunts for food to feed its chicks in Hawk Rising, Maria Gianferrari (Coyote Moon; Hello Goodbye Dog) and Brian Floca's ornithological picture book collaboration. A young girl and her mother observe the feathered parent flying through their suburban neighborhood, perching on utility poles and scouting out food.
 
Gianferrari portrays the behaviors and sounds of the bird with a poetic beauty that mirrors its soaring flight. Sometimes it's easy and carefree: "Father Hawk shakes his wings and springs into the sky./ Keee-EEER,/ Keee-EEER,/ he calls,/ circling,/ seeking prey./ He rides the wind/ like a wave,/ twisting and turning,/ kiting and floating." Other times it's urgent and fierce: "Crashing,/ talons thrashing/ in branches./ Once./ Twice./ Then again/ and again./ Shielded by bramble,/ Sparrows are safe." And throughout, he provides a faithful look at a majestic creature.
 
Vibrantly complementing Gianferrari's lyrical prose are Caldecott Medal-winning Brian Floca's (Locomotive) striking watercolor-and-ink illustrations. The texture and color of the red-tailed hawk leap from the page. And Floca's alternating perspective--between the humans on the ground and the bird in the air--carries readers effortlessly in the wake of Father Hawk's flight.
 
Hawk Rising may inspire questions in young audiences about predators and prey (Father Hawk eventually catches a squirrel). The tale, combined with the additional facts at the conclusion of the story, presents an ideal opportunity for examining these and other elements of the natural world. As stunning as its title character, Hawk Rising is a grand tribute to the wonders and complexities of our living world. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: A young girl and her mother observe a red-tailed hawk throughout a single day as the bird hunts for food for its family.

Roaring Brook Press, $18.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781626720961

From Twinkle, with Love

by Sandhya Menon


At 16, Twinkle Mehra is the youngest junior at her Colorado Springs charter high school. Twinkle knows "[s]ome might call people like [her] losers," but Twinkle prefers the term "groundlings"--channeling the poor who stood in front of Shakespeare's stages, unlike the privileged in their "silk feathered hats" comfortably seated at a distance. For much of her life, being "Invisible Twinkle" hasn't been all bad, especially since she had Maddie Tanaka as her best friend. But now that Maddie has left her to join the silk-hatted, Twinkle has plenty of time to figure out why Maddie feels she's not "BFF material" anymore.
 
For as long as she can remember, Twinkle has wanted to be a filmmaker. With the school's "biggest event of the year," the Midsummer Night festival, approaching, Twinkle gets her chance to take the director's chair. She finds her producer in film critic-wannabe Sahil Roy, who happens to be the brother of the boy Twinkle has been crushing on forever. Difficult truths and painful accusations will need to be resolved, new alliances will be made, secret admirers will be unmasked and Dracula and other monsters will all need to be confronted (and tamed).
 
India-born, Colorado resident Sandhya Menon's (When Dimple Met Rishi) second teen rom-com, From Twinkle, with Love, clearly celebrates the influence of her self-confessed "steady diet of Bollywood movies." She transfers her filmi devotion to the page as Twinkle tells her story through journal entries addressed to her "fave female filmmakers." Between Twinkle's entries, Menon inserts Sahil's confessional blog and his texts to his best friends, along with mysterious e-mails Twinkle receives from a fan calling himself "N." While Twinkle's is clearly the directing voice, Menon makes sure she gets a diverse, committed supporting cast and crew to help her sparkle and shine. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: 16-year-old Twinkle Menon goes from being virtually invisible to commanding the spotlight when she makes her debut film with a crew of unexpected new friends.

Simon Pulse, $18.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 12-up, 9781481495400

Art & Photography

Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous

by Christopher Bonanos


Before there was even a word for photojournalism and the front page of the New York Times was still mostly a text-only eye test, Ukrainian immigrant Usher Fellig staked claim to the handle "Weegee the Famous" and nightly prowled the streets of New York City shooting crime scenes and disasters. Across from what was the back door of the Centre Street Police Headquarters building, he kept his 4x5 Speed Graphic camera and flashgun beside his iron cot, ready to go whenever the sirens sounded. In his Weegee biography, Flash, journalist and New York magazine editor Christopher Bonanos (Instant: The Story of Polaroid) uncovers the man and hard work behind the camera.
 
If he made his mark with graphic crime scenes (what Weegee described as "one good murder a night, with a fire and a holdup thrown in"), it was his shifting attention to the onlookers and backgrounds of the scenes that lifted his work from the pages of the Daily News or Mirror to his first showing at the Museum of Modern Art. As Bonanos notes, Weegee became "a messenger from the indecorous parts of the city to its nicer ones."
 
In Flash, Bonanos conversationally chronicles the wild life and weird ways of this early practitioner of photojournalism and street life photography. Well-illustrated with many examples of his iconic shots, it is an assured, authoritative picture of the man who called himself Weegee the Famous. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Christopher Bonanos's solid and sympathetic biography of Weegee describes a complex man who lived to shoot good pictures--and make a name for himself.

Holt, $32, hardcover, 400p., 9781627793063

Against the Grain: Bombthrowing in the Fine American Tradition of Political Cartooning

by Bill Sanders


If political cartoonist Bill Sanders has proven anything in his nearly 56-year journalistic career, it is that differences in opinion do not equate to unpatriotic. A man of this nature, according to fellow cartoonist Jules Feiffer, embodies the meaning of citizen: "a man of the people," a person vested in the public interest. Such is the power of Sanders's memoir, Against the Grain, in which he mines the United States' recent past to educate and empower the citizenry.
 
The early part of Sanders's memoir is anecdotal and nostalgic. He grew up in a dysfunctional Tennessee family and bounced around the South in his formative years, discovering his calling through the no-holds-barred commentaries of Herblock's Here and Now. Sanders honed his craft through hours of reading and research. No topic was taboo; his caustic witticisms skewered politicians from both left and right, earning the grudging respect (and resentment) of those he covered. His musings on 1960s extremism, the paranoia of the Nixon administration and the distractions of both Bush presidencies draw eerie parallels to 21st-century politics and culture. When Sanders describes Alabama governor George Wallace's "bigoted bombast... ready and willing to exploit that border for personal gain," he could easily be describing the current political climate.
 
Sanders may be the real-life incarnate of Jimmy Stewart's Mr. Smith or Gary Cooper's Mr. Deeds, but his criticisms will certainly incite those who are unwilling to embrace contrarian viewpoints. Such things are not Sanders's concern. "It is our role to absorb enough outrage on the public's behalf to call out the hypocrites and rogues and try to awaken similar outrage in our readers." --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: A political cartoonist reflects on journalistic integrity in a chronicle of national politics whose lessons continue to reverberate.

NewSouth Books, $27.95, hardcover, 232p., 9781588382948

Audio

Macbeth

by Jo Nesbø


Jo Nesbø's (Midnight Sun) retelling of Shakespeare's Macbeth takes place in the 1970s amidst a rampant drug epidemic. Using the scaffolding of the original play and constructing his own dark plot full of misfortune and adversity, Nesbø clearly illustrates the universal nature of the Bard's classic work.
 
The character names mirror the 17th-century cast, but the individuals themselves receive the royal treatment of Nesbø's creativity. Inspector Macbeth, head of SWAT, was an orphan. While not married, he does have a monogamous relationship with Lady, the owner and operator of one of the town's two casinos. His best friend and surrogate father, Banquo, serves alongside Macbeth in the police department headed by Duncan, the chief of police. Hecate is the drug kingpin leading Macbeth around by his dark secret.
 
Euan Morton (Alice McDermott's The Ninth Hour and Candace Fox's Crimson Lake) narrates the audio version of this modern Macbeth with exceptional insight into each of the novel's characters. The dark tone, the driving ambition, the unmooring insanity seep into the audience through Morton's well-paced, dramatic reading. He unnerves the listener the same way the plot's circumstances rattle its title character.
 
Fans of Nesbø may find this work a bit jolting since it's a deviation from his contemporary norm, but Macbeth is cleverly layered with symbolism and complexity. Morton ensures the audience's reaction is as spinetingling as those experienced in the Globe. A fascinating novel and a stunning narration, the perfect combination. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: The king of Scandinavian noir retells Shakespeare's Macbeth in a 1970s town suffering from a major drug crisis.

Random House Audio, $50, CD, $30 download, 9780525588337

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Kids Buzz

Everything I Know About You  

by Barbara Dee

Dear Reader,

Like my award-winning 2017 middle grade novels, STAR-CROSSED and HALFWAY NORMAL, my newest, EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT YOU, treats a serious topic--tween eating disorders--in an entertaining, kid-friendly way. During the seventh grade trip to Washington, math nerd Tally suspects roommate Ava has an eating disorder.  Is Ava's secret hers to keep?

Elly Swartz (Smart Cookie) calls EVERYTHING, "A beautiful and meaningful book that will be loved by many and needed in school libraries."

“A poignant and hilarious slice of middle-grade life.” -- Kirkus

Happy reading!

Email barbara@barbaradeebooks.com to enter to win a copy.

Barbara Dee


Buy this book



PUBLISHER:
Aladdin/S&S

PUB DATE: 
June 19, 2018

ISBN: 
9781534405073

TYPE OF BOOK: 
Middle Grade  

PRICE: 
$17.99

 

Summer Supper

by Rubin Pfeffer

Dear Reader,

SUMMER SUPPER sees stars! “Vivid colors, a multiracial cast, and seamless alliteration make this book a wonderful read.”—*Kirkus. “…this farm-to-table picture book is a lively classroom read-aloud choice.”—*Booklist.

I’m fascinated by the way picture books magically merge story, information, illustration, and design into a reading experience. SUMMER SUPPER was an idea planted by rolling an alliteration in my head of “sun, soil, seed” and letting that grow into the full story of a joyful group whose hard work and tender care yield bountiful meals and reasons to be to be thankful. “ a vibrant celebration of gardening, nature’s bounty, family, cooperation—and the letter S.” I hope readers will eat this up and agree that it’s “a simple, satisfying—and ultimately sweet—offering.” —Publishers Weekly.

Rubin Pfeffer


Buy this book



PUBLISHER:
Random House

PUB DATE: 
May 8, 2018

ISBN: 
9781524714642

TYPE OF BOOK: 
Picture Book 

PRICE: 
$17.99

 

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