History of Wolves
by Emily Fridlund
Debut novelist Emily Fridlund's History of Wolves is so observant, so compassionate, so fresh that it can hold its own among the best of more established writers. Linda's life is bent and shaped by Minnesota's grand territory of isolation--its clear lakes and thick forests, small-town beer and bait shops, primitive cabins and summer lake mansions, and especially its extremes of weather. Fridlund salts the novel with snippets from Linda's earlier unchaperoned childhood and later restless years in the Twin Cities with temp jobs and deadbeat boyfriends.
When the suburban Chicago Gardner family moves into the fancy log summer home across the lake from Linda, they provide the answer to the only prayer she has cobbled from her "rinky-dink faith": "Dear God, please help... [us] to be not too bored and not too lonely." Cleopatra ("Patra") Gardner is taking time away from the city with her four-year-old son, Paul; her husband, Leo, is an astronomer temporarily living in Hawaii doing research for a book, which Patra is editing. She desperately needs childcare help when she meets Linda, who happily dumps her part-time job to babysit Paul. A precocious, softhearted kid with an active imagination, he's a handful. Linda tries to teach him simple survival skills, the habits of migrating birds and nomadic wolves, and the mysterious ways of the woods, but fate and Leo's Christian Science teachings override Linda's ingenuous guidance. It doesn't go well. Growing up is hard, but there is nothing more grown up than wondering if one could have done more for those one cares about. Fridlund gets it--and in History of Wolves, expertly tells it. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Emily Fridlund's splendid first novel captures the trials of growing up in the stark isolation of northern Minnesota.
Atlantic Monthly Press,
hardcover, 288p., 9780802125873
by Samanta Schweblin
, trans. by Megan McDowell
Samanta Schweblin's first novel, Fever Dream, is part contemplation, part living nightmare. Amanda lies in a dark hospital room, accompanied by a boy who is not her son. David walks her through the story of their meeting, as two very different mothers care for their two children in a dusty small town. Amanda worries over what she calls the "rescue distance": "that's what I've named the variable distance separating me from my daughter, and I spend half the day calculating it, though I always risk more than I should." He presses her for details, because the two have an unnamed riddle to solve, but at the same time repeatedly chides her, "that's not important." This paradoxical sense of urgency combined with immobility evokes a classic bad dream. With relentless tension and steady pacing, the mystery of what has happened to Amanda, and to David, unfolds. This is a story about a parent's need to protect her child; unnatural elements cannot obscure a cautionary tale about the pressures of parental love.
Fever Dream may be contagious: the reader should beware the compulsion to read it in a single sitting, pulled helplessly along by the power of the story. Though brief, its stream-of-consciousness style and absence of chapters emphasize a sense of inexorable forward momentum. Megan McDowell's translation from the Spanish expertly delivers every atmospheric moment and line of near-panicked dialogue. A sense of foreboding hangs over this story that is at once a dark fairy tale and a realistic expression of everyday danger. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: A woman and a boy sit in the dark, probing a shared story of love, danger and "the invisible thread that ties us together."
hardcover, 192p., 9780399184598
by Emily Ruskovich
Idaho, the first novel by O. Henry Award winner Emily Ruskovich, is a gorgeously designed immersion into the best and worst of life. In rural Idaho, a jumbled family rearranges itself painfully, trying to live on after a great loss. In 2004, Ann Mitchell surveys the Idaho farmstead she shares with Wade, her husband of eight years. Her recollections introduce the reader to their marriage--troubled by the diminishing strength of Wade's memory and a terrible tragedy at the beginning of their relationship.
In 2008, a woman studies her new cellmate at the Sage Hill Women's Correctional Center. Tentatively, they explore friendship, but Jenny doesn't talk about her marriage to Wade, or her daughters. Then, Idaho flashes back to the 1980s and '90s, when Wade was still married to Jenny and both of their daughters were still alive.
Ruskovich's prose is exquisite. Music halts "like an animal at a gate, a child at a word it doesn't know." Her expressions of love, in its clean and messy incarnations, are singular, and she handles Wade's mental decline and a child's piano lesson with equal care and clarity. "On a sunny fall day, she lay next to him on the ground, and as he dozed she felt his old life, his memories, radiate off his skin. She felt everything leave him but her. She shed her own life, too, to match him. They lay there together like a point in time." With lovely language and piercing pathos, Idaho focuses on the power of love and the possibilities of forgiveness and memory. This debut novel deals blows as large as life. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: This tremendous novel about what can be torn apart in an instant, and rebuilt over lifetimes, displays writing as scintillating as its plot.
hardcover, 320p., 9780812994049
House of Silence
by Sarah Barthel
Celebrating her engagement should be a joyful occasion for Isabelle Larkin. Her fiancé, Gregory Gallagher, is among Chicago's most attractive, ambitious political hopefuls of 1875. But when Isabelle witnesses Gregory committing a horrific crime, nobody believes her, and she feigns a nervous breakdown and mutism to escape her circumstances. Shortly after being admitted to Bellevue Place, Isabelle befriends none other than Mary Todd Lincoln, a fellow patient, who becomes a co-conspirator in helping Isabelle seek a life free from her overbearing mother.
With House of Silence, Sarah Barthel (Mackenzie's Cross) has crafted an engaging, fast-paced blend of historical fiction and suspense. Barthel gives her reader a glimpse into the conditions surrounding the real-life hospitalization of Mary Todd Lincoln, whose son Robert committed her to Bellevue 10 years after President Lincoln's assassination, due to her reportedly eccentric behavior.
House of Silence reflects the reality of women in an era when social class was paramount, marriages were arranged for mercenary reasons and women like Isabelle and Mary were discredited, their independence and choices silenced. Together, the women rebel against convention by forming a strong bond. Through their friendship, Isabelle begins to find her voice again and in doing so, must decide whether to conform to societal norms and a predetermined fate or use her newfound strength to take control of her life, moving forward on a path of her choosing. --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at melissafirman.com
Discover: House of Silence invites the reader into a suspenseful tale involving Mary Todd Lincoln's hospitalization in a sanatorium.
paperback, 300p., 9781496706089
Gods & Angels
by David Park
The 10th book by Irish writer David Park (The Light of Amsterdam) offers profound and observational slice-of-life vignettes with a wryness that speaks to the deep psychological issues that men often face--isolation, alienation, regret, suffering--in modern relationships. The 13 stories display a literary complexity that has become a hallmark of Park's writing.
In "Boxing Day," 17-year-old Robbie visits his manic-depressive mother the day after Christmas and is confronted by painful memories of the circumstances that have led to her despondency. Some of Park's stories have surreal elements of escapism, as in "The Strong Silent Type," which describes a date between a girl and a dummy. "I want to apply words to her hurt," the dummy muses, "like a salve as all things I need to say course uncontrollably though my being, rising and falling on a whelming tide of love, but no matter how hard I try, none can breach the sewn seam of my mouth." A War of the Roses game in "The Bloggers" exhibits to humorous effect how a lack of gender empathy negatively affects modern marriages. Park explores the grief and loneliness of an empty nester in "Skype." It is "Crossing the River," however, that stands as Park's most personal and affective. Dedicated to his mother, it is narrated by the Keeper, who ferries the souls of the newly dead across the river, and of the heartrending conversation he has with his Alzheimer's-suffering mother in their final journey together. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: David Park's short stories explore grief, heartache and loss among men wrestling with their masculinity.
hardcover, 304p., 9781408866078
by Shanthi Sekaran
Nothing is easy for undocumented Mexican immigrant Solimar "Soli" Castro Valdez in Shanthi Sekaran's second novel, Lucky Boy (after The Prayer Room). Nor is it a piece of cake for Indian American Kavya Reddy, who at 35 is a Cal-Berkeley sorority cook whose husband, Rishi, works at the Bay Area dotcom Weebies. Kavya and Rishi seem to have it knocked, except for Kavya's desire to have a child.
Two thousand miles south, Soli is desperate to escape her tiny Oaxaca farm town. She arrives at her cousin's house in Berkeley after a harrowing ride on Mexico's informal immigrant express train "The Beast" and a gang-rape by bandits. A disheartened and pregnant brown woman without papers among the privileged who prowl farmer's markets, Soli takes a housekeeping job to pay board at her cousin's, send a little home to her parents and save something to seed the American dream for her expected son--her lucky boy.
As the Reddys work through the social services adoption bureaucracy, Soli delivers her healthy son, Ignacio, and for a year she carries him everywhere. When Immigration discovers that she is in the country illegally, however, Ignacio, a U.S. citizen by birth, is taken to social services while Soli is put in a detention center to await deportation. No surprise in who become Ignacio's foster parents. But that is not the end of the story. There are few easy solutions to life's toughest problems, but Sekaran's Lucky Boy goes a long way toward putting a humanizing face on them. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Shanthi Sekaran's ambitious Lucky Boy captures the street-level reality of the issues of immigration, motherhood and class.
hardcover, 480p., 9781101982242
Everything You Want Me to Be
by Mindy Mejia
In Everything You Want Me to Be, the sophomore novel from Mindy Mejia (The Dragon Keeper), Sheriff Del Goodman of Pine Valley, Minn., a Vietnam vet, has seen plenty of tragedy. But little compares to the devastation of finding Hattie Hoffman murdered in a barn. Del knew her for all 17 years of her too-short life. Like everyone in Pine Valley, Del cannot imagine who would want to harm a much-loved high school senior. His investigations yield few surprises aside from the screen name "LitGeek," a friend Hattie met online and a clue that will lead Del into her darkest secrets.
In chapters alternating between points of view, Mejia reveals the story of Hattie's senior year. Hattie has an incredible gift for acting, fully inhabiting any character she plays. However, all the world is Hattie's stage. She analyzes family, friends and teachers to understand how to play the perfect daughter, the perfect girlfriend, the perfect student, living as a series of fictional constructs to hide the truth of the vacant landscape of her emotions. When handsome, literature-loving Peter Lund moves to town, Hattie feels real passion for the first time. Peter is drawn to her as well, but unfortunately, he's older than Hattie, married--and her English teacher.
The list of murder suspects is short but filled with enough motives to keep early guessers changing their minds. Still, the mystery of the killer's identity sometimes feels secondary to the fascinating layers of Hattie's identity. Readers will surely find this unsettling, character-driven descent into secret desires and hidden faces everything they wanted to see from a talented writer, and then some. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: In this mystery, a small-town sheriff investigates the death of a talented teen actress who had an affair with her married teacher.
hardcover, 352p., 9781501123429
The Boy Who Escaped Paradise
by J.M. Lee
, trans. by Chi-Young Kim
The Boy Who Escaped Paradise is the extraordinary story of a math savant, told from a prison hospital where he's being held by U.S. officials on suspicion of murder and 11 international crimes. The son of an esteemed physician in North Korea, Ahn Gil-mo attends an excellent school catering to his mathematical gift until officials arrive at their home and drag Gil-mo's parents away.
His father returns long enough to collect him, and the two are banished to a prison camp because, as the boy learns, his father was discovered practicing Christianity. He never sees his mother again, and his father, like many others, dies from the hard labor and lack of food, leaving the son at the mercy of those who want to take advantage of his innocence and valuable skills. Gil-mo's affinity for numbers lands him an easier job with Mr. Kang, working with foreign currency. It is here that Gil-mo makes the promise he spends his life fulfilling, no matter the cost: looking after Kang's daughter, Yeong-ae.
With regular allusions to Homer, J.M. Lee (The Investigation) takes his modern-day Odysseus on a journey of epic proportions after he escapes the camp in order to keep his promise to Kang. The characters Gil-mo encounters as he follows Yeong-ae's trail from Asia to North America rival the complexity of Homer's. The novel is a reminder of the power of numbers, but one doesn't need to be a math fan to appreciate the brilliance of this work. To say any more would spoil the plot. An exciting adventure added to rich characters, all multiplied by stunning language, equals an unforgettable novel. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: A North Korean boy with a penchant for numbers leaves a trail of crimes across the world in order to fulfill his promise.
hardcover, 288p., 9781681772523
Of Stillness and Storm
by Michèle Phoenix
When a woman uproots her family and moves to the other side of the globe to appease her husband's passion for his work, it's difficult. But when the impetus is God, even as a deeply spiritual believer, she's in an untenable predicament. In Of Stillness and Storm, Michèle Phoenix's fourth novel, Lauren Coventry doesn't share Sam's conviction that God has given them a sign to leave Indiana and minister to impoverished children in Nepal. His fervor, however, and her wedding vow of "if God calls us, we'll follow" overshadow her reluctance, even though their young son is devastated at the plan.
Phoenix effectively juxtaposes chapters in Kathmandu and ones from the couples' past--how their love blossomed at a college retreat, their joy in parenting Ryan and the struggle to fund and establish their mission. The primitive conditions and 13-year-old Ryan's increasing withdrawal absorb Lauren's energy during Sam's lengthy trips to remote Nepalese villages. Stoically responsible, she finds solace in sporadic Internet access, eventually connecting with a high school friend and long-ago romantic interest, Aidan. Their rekindled friendship is innocent and validates Lauren's individuality. Trouble simmers, though, and Lauren must draw on her faith and strength to face Sam's radical zeal, Aidan's tragic illness and Ryan's furious, climactic acting out.
Lauren doesn't compromise her lifelong service to others when confronting Sam and demanding what she and Ryan need to survive. Phoenix draws a sympathetic character bolstered by her faith who ultimately uses her given talents to forge her own path. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: A missionary's wife balances her faith in God and love for her husband with her son's needs and her longing for fulfillment.
paperback, 336p., 9780718086428
The Girl in Green
by Derek B. Miller
In Derek B. Miller's sophomore novel, The Girl in Green, he follows two unlikely heroes on an errand of mercy in one of the most dangerous places on Earth: modern-day Iraq. During the uneasy ceasefire following the first Gulf War in 1991, American soldier Arwood Hobbes meets Thomas Benton, an older British journalist, in the midst of the "industrial and inescapable" boredom at his post 150 miles from the Kuwaiti border. Cocky and determined to get a local perspective on the Shiite rebellion, Benton takes Arwood's semi-dare to sneak over to a nearby town to interview Iraqis. When violence strikes and Arwood steps in to rescue Benton, the two try to save a Kurdish girl in a green dress, but are unable to stop the teen's murder at the hands of a Ba'athist colonel. Arwood and Benton both lose a part of themselves when the girl dies.
Twenty-two years later, Benton hears from an agitated Arwood, who believes he just saw the girl in green, un-aged and in the same dress, in an Internet video of a mortar attack on refugees in Kurdistan. Arwood is convinced that the universe has granted them a chance to right a terrible wrong.
Miller (Norwegian by Night
) pulls off an amazing feat of alchemy here, because this chronicle of trauma, violence and endless conflict is the unlikely feel-good story of the year. Not only does he pepper the narrative with enough absurdist humor and one-liners to keep readers helplessly grinning at the darkest moments, he hits points of emotional resonance with the precision of a sniper. --Jaclyn Fulwood
Discover: As daring in execution as imagination, this adventure tale crackles with heart, charm and dark honesty.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,
hardcover, 326p., 9780544706255
by Kris D'Agostino
The Westfall family in Kris D'Agostino's The Antiques is headed by Ana and her dying husband, George, owners of an antique shop in a gentrifying upstate Hudson River village. Their oldest son, Josef, is a hotshot entrepreneur in Manhattan, desperate to sell his precarious company to cover his debts, pay support to his ex-wife and teen daughters, and avoid having to take a job "back schlepping around some soul-draining hedge fund." Charlotte ("Charlie") lives in Los Angeles with a disappointing adjunct film professor and their toddler son, Abbott. Charlie works as a handler for a Paris Hilton-like actress in a string of vampire movies--"Policing YouTube videos.... Making sure Melody always wore panties when she went out."
The youngest, Armand, lives in his parents' basement and crafts wood furniture, moping after a sweet young woman from his mother's church. The siblings rarely talk; George and Ana resignedly live with each other's idiosyncrasies; and a hurricane is bearing down on the East Coast and Manhattan. Should the storm destroy their store's inventory, all George has to leave his family is his prized "lesser Magritte" hanging over their fireplace--appraised once for insurance purposes at a half million dollars.
The Antiques takes place as the hurricane strikes, George dies and the Westfall children return home to sort out how to honor the life of a man who was a distant and difficult father. It is an often funny, often poignant portrait of a quirky family on the skids, but as Ana reflects: "Nobody ever said, 'Here's your family. What do you think?' You just got them. Or you didn't get them." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: The Antiques portrays the surprisingly strong bonds holding together a disparate family who gather after the death of its patriarch.
hardcover, 304p., 9781501138973
The Magdalen Girls
by V.S. Alexander
Set in 1962 in Dublin, Ireland, The Magdalen Girls by V.S. Alexander revolves around three girls from different families committed by their parents to life at the Sisters of the Holy Redemption convent. Teagan Tiernan is accused of seducing a priest, Nora Craven is believed to have thrown herself at the boys, and Lea is a bit odd and had no place to live with her stepfather once her mother died. Denied contact with the outside world, forced to work in the hot and humid laundry with the other Magdalens or repair torn lace, the girls form an alliance and plot to escape their holy prison, but their keepers are diligent in their endeavors to flush the sins from these new charges.
Filled with authentic details, Alexander's story evolves through multiple voices, including that of the Mother Superior, Sister Anne, who has her own past sins to atone for and who believes punishment is the best way to show love. As the girls' friendship progresses and their desperation to escape grows, the story quickens, racing toward an ending that is both incredibly sad and hopeful. Because the novel is historically accurate (the last Magdalen laundry closed in 1996), the events depicted are particularly distressing, and readers will be engrossed and horrified by what the Catholic Church and other entities did to rehabilitate "fallen" women, who needed the grace of God to be saved from their sinful lives, no matter how true or untrue. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: This fictional account of life in the Magdalen laundries of the Catholic Church highlights the inhumane treatment young women endured in the name of God.
paperback, 304p., 9781496706126
The Gardens of Consolation
by Parisa Reza
, trans. by Adriana Hunter
The Gardens of Consolation heralds the arrival of yet another prodigiously talented French-Iranian author, Parisa Reza, whose outstanding debut novel, like the works of Marjane Satrapi and Fariba Hachtroudi, voices a side of Iran rarely glimpsed in Western media. Reza's novel tells a sweeping generational saga in less than 300 pages--beginning in the 1920s, in an Iran starting to feel the effects of Reza Shah's modernization campaign, and ending in 1953, with the Western-backed coup that ousted Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh.
Reza relates history like a folk tale, an epic backdrop for the lives and loves of her richly developed characters. The changes occurring in Iran at the time are simultaneously epochal and virtually meaningless to Persians, who are part of an ancient culture. Protagonists Talla and Sardar fall in love, marry, have a son and live an uncomplicated life steeped in quiet dignity: "[Sardar] needed his horizon to be clear so he could see only the essence of life, as it was at the outset, before words existed; having people around, their chatter and bustle, interrupted the view."
Their son, Bahram, on the other hand, is enamored with words. He is as fascinated by political tracts as love poetry and participates in the intellectual ferment of the era. While Reza does not trivialize his efforts, The Gardens of Consolation takes a bittersweet view of Iranian history. As one character puts it: "What would be the point of freedom when enslavement is so tragic, tragedy is so poetic and poetry is so Persian!" --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books
Discover: This gorgeous, lyrical family saga takes place over the first half of Iran's tumultuous 20th century.
paperback, 208p., 9781609453503
Everything Love Is
by Claire King
Claire King launches her beautiful second novel with a riveting scene on a train bound for Toulouse, France, in May of 1968. A mysterious young woman goes into sudden, violent labor. Sharing her train compartment is a midwife who, seeing her distress, offers help. But by the time this brutal, powerful scene is over, the woman--with no identification--will lose her life giving birth to a baby boy, who will be saved by the midwife, a married woman unable to have children, who will become the baby's mother.
What follows is the story of Baptiste Molino, the infant, now a middle-aged bachelor, a man raised in the French countryside. Baptiste has lived a good--yet rather uneventful--life. He thinks he is fulfilled and happy until Amandine Rousseau, an attractive woman wearing green shoes, shows up at his door. During their first meeting, Amandine tells Baptiste she wants "something that makes me feel alive. Joy, passion, despair, something to remember or something to regret.... Perhaps after all this time, what I really want... is to fall in love." As Baptiste learns more about Amandine and her life, he feels challenged, and he begins to question himself: Is there something missing from his life? Is he truly happy? Amandine's presence causes ripples that turn into waves of memories that encourage Baptiste to go on a labyrinthine journey in search of himself.
Discover: This haunting, rewarding memory novel is about a man who goes in search of himself and learns the true meaning of love.
hardcover, 384p., 9781632865380
by André Aciman
One of classical music's greatest mysteries is the secret theme that connects the 14 variations of Edward Elgar's "Enigma Variations." He claimed that, in this work, a "larger theme 'goes' but is not played." Love, one could argue, has something in common with Elgar's masterpiece: a fiber connects each person's attractions, but its nature may not be immediately evident. André Aciman no doubt had the same insight when he borrowed Elgar's title for a portrait of the various loves of Paul, a New York editor whose desires are more complicated than even he seems to realize.
The novel opens when Paul is a boy. He spends his summers on the island of San Giustiniano and falls in love with Giovanni, a cabinetmaker who restores an antique picture frame and two folding desks for Paul's parents. Later sections chronicle the adult Paul's relationships with his girlfriend Maud, who works for a firm that conducts cancer research and whom he suspects of cheating on him with a foreign correspondent; Manfred, a gay man he sees at his tennis club; Chloe, a college friend he bumps into at a book party and has an on-again, off-again romance with over many years; and Heidi, a young woman who wrote an essay that middle-aged Paul rejected about the mezzo-soprano Maria Malibran. The Heidi section feels tacked on, but Enigma Variations is otherwise an elegant, episodic tale of longing that manages the difficult trick of being both cerebral and sensuous. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer
Discover: André Aciman's novel spans three decades in the life of a New York City editor coming to terms with his sexuality.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
hardcover, 288p., 9780374148430
Ema, the Captive
by César Aira
, trans. by Chris Andrews
Ema, the Captive, Cesar Aira's second novel (published in Argentina in 1981), defies traditional genre categories. But, then again, so do most of Aira's novels. His The Literary Conference detailed the attempts of a mad scientist to clone novelist Carlos Fuentes in hopes of achieving world domination, while An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter served as an exegesis on Alexander von Humboldt's scientific theories.
Ema, the Captive concerns the journey of a woman of indeterminate origins in 19th-century southern Argentina. The story is episodic, told through a series of vignettes: Ema travels with a military caravan to a fort in the wilderness; Ema becomes the concubine of an Indian chieftain; and Ema, at the end, transforms into an unlikely entrepreneur. These moments in Ema's life provide the structure by which Aira explores his themes of time, perception and mystery.
Like fellow Argentine Jorge Luis Borges's writing, Aira's continually shifts and unwinds itself. The literal and the metaphorical blend, and philosophical digressions turn out to be a narrative thrust themselves. If all this seems a bit much--and at times it can be--Aira redeems himself with prose that can stun. On the cry of a pheasant, Aira writes: "Inevitably, it brings to mind the solidity of gold. One wonders how it is possible for the pheasant to remain afloat on the flimsy surface of the grass and not sink into the planet like a stone in water." And this is Aira describing the daily rhythm of the Indian tribe Ema lives with: "They seemed to be living solely to prove that fixed moments do not exist. Nature closed its valves for them and presented a single continuous edge, firm and smooth."
Ema, the Captive challenges the reader on every page. And rewards the reader just as often. --David Martin, freelance writer
Discover: An early novel from Argentine master César Aira, Ema, the Captive is a beguiling and enigmatic read.
paperback, 128p., 9780811219105
Of All That Ends
by Günter Grass
, trans. by Breon Mitchell
If you're in your 80s, have received two pacemakers and have enjoyed "decades of self-indulgence in hand-rolled cigarettes and well-stuffed pipes," your thoughts are bound to turn toward death. In Of All That Ends
, a posthumously published collection of poems and lyric prose, Nobel laureate Günter Grass (The Tin Drum
) contemplates his mortality and the fate of a world he's soon to depart. He does so with morbid wit and more than a trace of sorrow. This book, illustrated with many of Grass's drawings, addresses topics that range from his last remaining lower tooth, which he says "would also make a suitable Christmas tree ornament, like a pearl on a pendant," to German chancellor Angela Merkel, Aleppo, the Greek financial crisis and "the bombs exploding daily in Iraq."
But it's not all gloom and doom. In one poem, he writes of a beloved typewriter, "sleek and elegant in form, as if Leonardo da Vinci had invented the typewriter on the side." And he reminds us that there's often plenty of life left in an old body. When 80-something Grass says he's too old to write prose, the 101-year-old scholar he complained to "took me sharply to task," pointing out that there's "so much that's new, still untasted.... It's all right to be amazed again." The message of this moving collection is clear: life ends, but assuming you're in control of the matter, that's no reason to limp across the finish line. --Michael Magras
, freelance book reviewer
Discover: This collection of short poems and prose by Nobel Prize-winner Günter Grass, who died in 2015 at age 87, covers aging, writing and politics.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,
hardcover, 167p., 9780544785380
by Barbara Davis
Societal stigmas and taboos reside at the heart of Love, Alice by Barbara Davis (Summer at Hideaway Key). Set in Charleston, S.C., the novel focuses on 36-year-old Dovie Larkin, whose fiancé committed suicide two weeks before their wedding. A year later, Dovie spends her lunch hours sitting graveside at the cemetery, still grappling with what happened and why, unable to pick up the pieces of her life.
One day, Dovie spots an elderly woman leaving a note at the striking angel grave marker of Alice Tandy, a young maid who died 32 years earlier and, to the bewilderment of locals, had been buried in a plot belonging to one of the richest families in town. After the woman leaves, Dovie reads the note: a mother's impassioned regret for having sent her young daughter to an asylum for unwed mothers in Cornwall, England, in the 1960s. Dovie, identifying with the unresolved grief expressed, soon discovers a trove of related letters in the cemetery's lost and found, and sets off in search of the writer, Dora Tandy, who has come to Charleston to learn more about the life--and death--of her long-lost daughter, Alice.
Hope, love and forgiveness permeate this beautifully rendered novel where both Dovie and Dora unearth answers to mysteries and reveal secrets that will come to define their respective lives and quests for peace. --Kathleen Gerard
, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: Two grief-stricken women cross paths and help each other come to grips with the mysteries of their respective lives.
paperback, 432p., 9780451474810
Between Dog and Wolf
by Sasha Sokolov
, trans. by Alexander Boguslawski
What do readers do when a work of literature is actively trying to trick them? Some books have twists and turns of plot, often with a stunning reveal, but they typically have resolutions, or at least some final thought for readers to depart with. But what about a work that has very little plot to speak of, or one whose plot points are entirely contradicted later in the text? Sasha Sokolov's Between Dog and Wolf (a French expression for "twilight," which is perfectly suited for this story) is uninterested in how readers typically engage with fiction. This dense novel (if it can even be called that) is about narrative itself, the act and its reception.
Written in 1980 and now translated into English, Between Dog and Wolf
follows three narratives: one epistolary, one in dramatic third person and, lastly, the poetic musings of one of the protagonists (if anyone in the book can really be called that). All three sections are dynamic, filled with wordplay, portmanteaus and flights of fancy. It's rarely possible to see where the narrative is going. Instead, readers are taken on a literary ride, rolling through images and counter-images, stories and counter-stories that contradict their predecessors, until it finally ends with a poem that could either be read as a statement of purpose or just another game. Either way, it's one hell of a ride. --Noah Cruickshank
, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: Russian author Sasha Sokolov's novel breaks the bonds of narrative and makes for a dizzying engagement with how we tell stories.
Columbia University Press,
hardcover, 296p., 9780231181464
Mystery & Thriller
The Marriage Lie
by Kimberly Belle
Iris Griffith, a school psychologist, thinks she has the perfect marriage. She and her husband, Will, are each other's favorite person, they adore their downtown Atlanta home, they both like their jobs and they've recently started trying for a baby.
But then, the day after their seventh anniversary, Will, a software engineer, purportedly leaves for a business trip to Orlando. A few hours later, a flight from Atlanta to Seattle crashes, killing everyone on board, and it turns out Will was on that flight instead. Iris is shocked and grieved, confused and increasingly furious. Simultaneously mourning Will, and angry that he lied about going to Orlando, she decides to use her psychology training to dig into Will's past--only to uncover darker secrets than she ever expected.
Kimberly Belle (The Ones We Trust, The Last Breath) has created an engrossing story with an engaging heroine. As the story deepens and Iris's emotions shift from grief to bewilderment to anger and beyond, the novel moves from romance into mystery, and becomes completely addicting. Twisting and suspenseful, reminiscent of several recently popular thrillers, like Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train, The Marriage Lie is a fast-paced journey that will keep the reader guessing, including a few genuinely shocking instances. With lots of sweet moments between Iris and her friends and family as well, The Marriage Lie is perfect for staying up way too late reading. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm
Discover: Iris is blindsided when her husband dies on a flight to Seattle--because he was supposed to fly to Orlando that day.
paperback, 352p., 9780778319764
The Old Man
by Thomas Perry
Since his Edgar Award-winning debut novel, The Butcher's Boy, in 1983, Thomas Perry has put together a rewarding string of suspense novels with as much cool competence as some of his best protagonists bring to their work. The Old Man features Dan Chase, a former U.S. military covert operator in his 60s, looking over his shoulder for adversaries. Lying low in Vermont, he lives with his two prized rescue dogs and his go-bag always packed. Thirty years earlier, his black-op mission in Libya to deliver $20 million to rebels went sideways; the brass cut him loose to fight his own way home and then buried any record of the operation. Disillusioned and angry, Chase went off grid, invested the money well and set up a briefcase of aliases complete with legitimate documents and substantial bank accounts. Good thing. When U.S.-Libya relations shift, for political reasons, U.S. Intelligence sends its best teams after him. They refer to him as "the old man"--but as the most persistent of his pursuers, Julian Carson, observes: "the old man wasn't just an old man, like somebody's uncle. He was old in the way a seven-foot rattlesnake was old."
Perry's pacing is impeccable. The Old Man rips along with plenty of typical tradecraft details, wet work and disguises, but also takes a breather with interludes in Chicago for the old man to find romance, and in Jonesboro, Ark., for Carson to help out his family's vegetable farm. Then it's back to dodging and killing with enough plot twists to keep the train rolling down the track. Perry's a real pro. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Thomas Perry's smart, well-paced thriller features a former U.S. covert operative, now in his 60s and still sharp enough to outwit and outrun a variety of assassins.
hardcover, 352p., 9780802125866
The Hollow Men
by Rob McCarthy
When textbooks start blurring one's vision, what should a medical student do? In Rob McCarthy's case, he chose to write his first thriller. The Hollow Men puts McCarthy's studies into practice through his tormented police surgeon/anesthetist protagonist, Dr. Harry Kent.
Kent is called to a hostage situation when Solomon Idris, a teenage gunman demanding a lawyer and a BBC reporter, needs medical attention. Before Kent can treat the patient for his respiratory distress, a gun is fired and police sharpshooters descend on the building. No one knows who pulled the trigger on that first shot, but Idris is left fighting for his life, and Kent is determined to find out what drove the youth to take such extreme measures. When Idris's life is threatened again in the hospital, the stakes rise even higher and Kent suspects a fellow doctor is hiding skeletons unfit for anatomy class in his closet.
The Hollow Men is gritty and intense; it's complex and explosive. McCarthy's expertise provides dramatic authenticity in the hospital. The pacing is swift, engaging readers in McCarthy's London. Kent is a deliciously troubled hero, and in an effort to fill the hollow inside himself, he's fighting for the folks who've been forgotten. Seasoned mystery buffs may not be overly surprised by the outcome, and the denouement could have been tighter, but the characters in this debut are exemplary and McCarthy is unquestioningly a writer to watch. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: A London police surgeon takes on the role of investigator when his teenage patient's life hangs in the balance.
hardcover, 368p., 9781681772493
Ill Met by Murder
by Elizabeth J. Duncan
The Catskills Shakespeare Theater Company is holding a fundraiser featuring a production of A Midsummer's Night Dream. Wealthy widow Paula Van Dusen is hosting the event in conjunction with a pre-wedding party for her daughter Belinda and fiancé Adrian. The performance is perfect--until a body is discovered nearby, murdered with a prop from the play. Ill Met by Murder is a delightful whodunit weaving together theater, shady dealings, love triangles and family secrets.
Elizabeth J. Duncan (Untimely Death) brings back Charlotte Fairfax for her second appearance as the costumer and amateur sleuth with boundless curiosity. Hugh Hedley, the dead man, was involved in the vicious Manhattan real estate market, and Charlotte soon discovers that two of his business rivals might profit from his death: the groom-to-be and Joseph Lamb, both of whom had unorthodox business arrangements with Hedley. Meanwhile, the search for a missing dog leads Charlotte to a shocking Van Dusen family secret that turns out to be an important clue in the murder investigation.
The large cast of characters and numerous red herrings make the ending truly a surprise. Charlotte's obliging sidekick, Aaron, is more than willing to accompany her while figuring out what he really wants to do with his life. Her boyfriend, a local police officer, provides her with professional and personal support, and their deepening relationship offers a heartwarming subplot to the murder investigation. Duncan, author of the Penny Brannigan mystery series, seamlessly connects her plot lines for a satisfying conclusion. This is perfect for fans of Joanne Fluke and Lorna Barrett, as well as anyone looking for a cozy mystery. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore
Discover: The bizarre murder of a real estate developer upsets the comfortable summer season of the Catskills Shakespeare Theater Company.
Crooked Lane Books,
hardcover, 288p., 9781629537696
The River at Night
by Erica Ferencik
For 15 years, Wini and three friends, Pia, Sandra and Rachel, have gotten together for a week's vacation, time they've spent sharing stories, laughing, drinking and generally enjoying life. But when Pia calls and presses the idea of a camping and river rafting trip in the wilds of northern Maine, rather than venturing to some exotic spot to lie in the sun, Wini is less than enthusiastic. The idea of battling whitewater, of fighting off hordes of hungry bugs, of even simply peeing in the woods, is less than appealing, yet Wini is also afraid to say no.
Despite her instincts, Wini musters enthusiasm for an adventure she doesn't feel adequate to face. Like the others, she follows Pia, who is the true leader of the group. Right from the start, though, it's obvious this will not be like other years when the four women have deepened their bonds by sharing tales of love and angst; Pia takes an extra interest in their young, good-looking male guide, instantly separating Wini, Sandra and Rachel from the new twosome.
The River at Night focuses on the five days the women spend on their vacation--a fast-paced race against nature and things that lurk in the woods that no one dreamed could be there, as well as a statement on the importance of friendship, tolerance and acceptance. The writing is taut and engaging, not overly melodramatic; readers are sure to forget the real world for several hours of chilling entertainment. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: Four friends embark on a whitewater-rafting trip that provides them with far more adventure than they dreamed possible.
hardcover, 304p., 9781501143199
Bryant & May: Strange Tide
by Christopher Fowler
A woman is found dead on the shore of the Thames in central London, chained to a pillar, with one set of footprints leading to the spot where she drowned in the tide. It's another case for detectives Arthur Bryant and John May of the Peculiar Crimes Unit. The irascible Bryant, with his encyclopedic knowledge of London history, is full of theories. Lately, though, he's been wandering the city, confused as to which decade he's in. May, always the straight man, wonders if senility hasn't finally caught up with his old partner. Yet his mental lapses might be the very thing that helps them solve the mystery.
English author Christopher Fowler (Bryant & May and the Burning Man) has been heaped with awards and plaudits, and his popularity in North America is growing. Strange Tide, the 13th novel in his Bryant & May series, is written to stand alone, as are most of the others.
The plotting is tight, the pacing fast and the story conventional enough to feel like a comfortable new pair of slippers. The dialogue is snappy, with occasional metafictional nods ("This isn't an Agatha Christie. Criminals don't leave annoying little puzzles for you to unravel"), and Fowler's prose is both literary and unpretentious. Bryant's mental deterioration may pack more of an emotional punch for longtime readers, and several of the secondary characters may seem more rounded to those familiar with the other books, but on its own, Strange Tide feels complete and satisfying. --Zak Nelson, writer and bookseller
Discover: Strange Tide offers a witty, fast-paced mystery for fans of BBC's Sherlock and The Odd Couple.
hardcover, 448p., 9781101887035
Kill the Next One
by Federico Axat
, trans. by David Frye
Argentinian author Federico Axat (Benjamin) followed a complex recipe for his first work translated into English: create a compelling mystery, but wrap it in layers of uncertainty. Throw in some violence, a dash of a secret suicide club, a pinch of adultery, a mental hospital and enough repressed memories to ice the whole shebang. Don't forget the side order of demonic opossum. Write some scenes twice, changing them just a hair. Cut into pieces and mix, leaving your protagonist and readers to question their sanity for more than 400 riveting and agonizing pages. The result is a spectacular mind-meld of a psychological thriller, Kill the Next One.
Poor Ted McKay is trying to commit suicide when he's interrupted by an insistent knock at the door. His visitor is a stranger who makes Ted an offer he can't refuse: kill a murderer who went free and another man who is suicidal. In return, someone will kill Ted so he can die a heroic victim rather than by his own hand.
As Ted tries to carry out his mission, the world tilts on its axis. It's unclear what is real, who is telling the truth and how Ted was chosen. As his mind fractures, memories start to leak through, bringing frightening clarity with them. Axat brilliantly creates an environment permeated by doubt and the anxiety it perpetuates. The story is chilling, but Axat has the skill to infuse it with humanity while maintaining the nightmarish atmosphere. Kill the Next One is a recipe baked to perfection. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: A suicidal man frantically searches for the truth after accepting an offer that plunges him into seeming insanity.
hardcover, 416p., 9780316354219
The Beautiful Dead
by Belinda Bauer
Belinda Bauer (The Shut Eye) opens The Beautiful Dead with a deeply disturbing scene of a murder about to commence--from the victim's point of view. Afterward, TV crime reporter Eve Singer arrives on the scene to cover the story, and the murderer contacts her. Soon she deduces he has killed before and will do so again, and he wants Eve to have the inside scoop. But even with the clues he provides, she and the cops are unable to stop his murder spree. Then the killer makes his cat-and-mouse game very personal for Eve, and the next murder in the news might be her own.
To read a Bauer thriller is to be hypnotized by her writing. Despite the macabre subject matter, Bauer pulls readers in with insightful portraits of her characters, dark humor and creative descriptions. A forensics officer "had all the calm detachment of a psychopath, but none of the comforting iron bars between her and the rest of the world." When a rival reporter is talking while eating California rolls, "Eve could see it in there--tumbling around like a white wash with added spinach socks."
Eve takes questionable actions sometimes, and because the serial killer story gives her a career boost, she struggles with the murderer's decree that "I need people to die in order to live--and so do you." But she is a sympathetic character, trying to balance work with caring for her beloved, dementia-afflicted father. Eve is a lonely woman surrounded by death who discovers how fiercely she wants to live. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: A TV crime reporter chases a serial killer who gives her exclusive information about his murders.
Atlantic Monthly Press,
hardcover, 320p., 9780802125330
Time of Death: A Stillwater General Mystery
by Lucy Kerr
Twelve years after leaving Stillwater, Ill., where gossip grows alongside the corn and beans, emergency room nurse Frankie Stapleton reluctantly returns home to help her sister through a dangerous pregnancy. When Frankie arrives, the hospital is overloaded with accident victims and she finds a man suffering alone outside the ER. Unable to ignore her instincts, Frankie saves his life before proceeding to her sister's bedside.
When the man dies unexpectedly, Frankie has a lot more trouble heaped on a plate already overflowing with everything she abandoned when she fled town: her scared, angry sister; her cool, critical mother; her childhood flame (the first of three fiancés for the serially engaged Frankie); and a troubled family business. When a surprising plaintiff files suit, the hospital administration targets Frankie, jeopardizing her all-important career.
In Time of Death, Lucy Kerr creates a trio of strong and irresistible characters in the Stapleton women. Although this super debut mystery is focused on Frankie's fight to prove her innocence, there is no lack of small-town family drama fortified by a supporting cast intriguing in their own rights.
The investigation is imbued with just the right amount of medical details--challenging and written with authority while still engaging. Frankie's specialized knowledge allows Kerr's plotting to avoid the pitfalls that often come with amateur sleuth protagonists. But nurses don't often deal with murder, and Frankie may have more to save than her license, and must face her lifelong demons to get the job done. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: An emergency room nurse is blamed for the death of a man she tried to save.
Crooked Lane Books,
hardcover, 336p., 9781629539904
Blood and Bone
by Valentina Giambanco
In chapter one of Valentina Giambanco's Blood and Bone, a woman is accosted in a parking lot at night by two men with nothing good in mind. Instead of being afraid, she gives them more than one warning to rethink their intentions and leave her alone, but like the knuckleheads who gang up on Lee Child's Jack Reacher, the men won't listen. Until the woman teaches them a painful lesson and introduces herself--to the attackers and readers new to the series--as Seattle PD homicide detective Alice Madison. It's a thrilling introduction.
Madison then catches a case involving a man savagely beaten to death in his own home. Clues indicate a possible link to a murder case from seven years earlier--one that was closed when the accused was convicted and imprisoned--and that may not be the only closed case connected to the new one. A serial killer may have gotten away with murder for years by always successfully framing someone else. Worse, the killer has no plans to stop.
Madison is an intriguing character who exudes strength without having to talk tough or behave like a man. Her complicated past and events from previous books are referred to but the details aren't hard to follow or distracting. Madison is no-nonsense, as is Giambanco's lean yet expressive prose: when Madison tells a friend about the murders, "Rachel did not jump in with a reassuring cliché. Madison thanked her for it in her heart." When the crimes are horrific, the understatement says more than enough. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: Seattle PD homicide detective Alice Madison must solve recent murders while also investigating how and if they link to old cases.
hardcover, 384p., 9781681442976
Don't Turn Out the Lights
by Bernard Minier
, trans. by Alison Anderson
French author Bernard Minier's Don't Turn Out the Lights opens with a deeply disturbing prologue depicting the grisly events encountered by a man walking in a forest with his dog. The scene is unsettling, and will keep readers on edge during what lies ahead.
Radio host Christine finds an unsigned and unaddressed suicide note in her mailbox on Christmas Eve, indicating the writer will kill herself if the letter's recipient doesn't intervene. Christine believes the note was mistakenly delivered to her, but it turns out to be the beginning of a nightmare, one in which her life is insidiously destroyed, by unknown persons and for no reason she can imagine. Will she be able to fight her invisible enemy, or will she choose to end the torture with her own suicide?
This psychological thriller is told primarily from Christine's point of view and that of the man in the beginning chapter, Martin Servaz (who appeared in The Circle), a cop on leave for depression. He receives clues from an anonymous sender imploring him to reevaluate an old case labeled a suicide, making Servaz wonder if a more sinister story lies behind it. His path eventually converges with Christine's, but he fears he may be too late to save her.
Minier sustains a sense of dread throughout. It's frustrating--and sometimes unconvincing--how easily Christine's tormentor can manipulate her supporters, including her fiancé, to turn against her, but once she's forced to fend for herself, she becomes a resourceful heroine. Christine endures one blow after another, but her nemesis finds it's harder than expected to put her lights out. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis
, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: A woman struggles to comprehend why an unknown tormentor has launched psychological attacks against her.
hardcover, 400p., 9781250106056
Above the Paw
by Diane Kelly
Police officer Megan Luz and her German Shepherd K-9 partner, Brigit, return for a fifth installment in the Paw Enforcement mystery series. In Diane Kelly's (Against the Paw) other entries, the two have pursued bombers, gang members, thieves and convicts on the lam. In Above the Paw, the lauded Fort Worth, Tex., duo are on patrol at a Fourth of July celebration, where Brigit sniffs out the street/club drug known as Molly (aka ecstasy) among the crowd. Several students at a nearby college have fallen seriously ill after taking the drug, and matters grow even worse after another student collapses at the event. Is it a coincidence that all who succumbed to the drug live in the same college dorm? Twenty-five-year-old Megan volunteers herself and Brigit to go "back to school," where the two work undercover--Megan as a college student and Brigit as her devoted health-service dog--in order to flush out the drug-dealing connection.
The story is told from the points of view of Megan, Brigit and the mysterious perpetrator, which heightens the danger, drama and suspense. Kelly has a keen grasp of college life, student quirks and foibles, as well as politics--on campus and off. Add a dash of comedy and recurring characters like Megan's ex-partner and rival on the police force, along with her sexy bomb squad beau, and Above the Paw
delivers another entertaining whodunit in the continuation of this fast-paced series. --Kathleen Gerard
, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: A Fort Worth, Tex., police officer and her much-loved K-9 partner go undercover at a college to nab a drug dealer.
mass market paperbound, 384p., 9781250094841
The One Hundred Nights of Hero: A Graphic Novel
by Isabel Greenberg
Isabel Greenberg again draws the thick-lined world she introduced in The Encyclopedia of Early Earth
for a wry and wise retelling of One Thousand and One Nights
that's sure to become a feminist classic.
Two friends named Manfred and Jerome make a wager. Jerome insists that his wife is so pure, he himself has not managed to take her virginity. Asserting that all women are deceitful, Manfred bets that he can seduce Jerome's wife. Jerome agrees, even offering to leave town for 100 nights. The winner gets the loser's castle. If Manfred wins, which he intends to do by coercion if necessary, he also gets the lady.
Luckily, Cherry, the lady in question, is not nearly as obedient and pure as her husband believes. She secretly loves her maid, Hero, who overhears the wager and contrives a plan to stall Manfred with 100 nights of storytelling. Every night, Manfred becomes captivated by Hero's stories of jealous sisters, dancing princesses and a moon that walks as a mortal woman. Manfred falls into the trap, telling himself he has weeks to waste. Even if Cherry and Hero can win the wager for Jerome, though, they may still face the repercussions of showing their mettle in a world where men destroy women for "storytelling and sassiness."
Greenberg's elongated, angular characters sport simple, expressive faces and live amid grass-furred woods, misty marshes and lavishly appointed castles. A cry against oppression, a love letter to the human need for stories, a celebration of the many bonds between women, The One Hundred Nights of Hero
will leave readers wishing Greenberg had written 1,000 nights instead. --Jaclyn Fulwood
, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: This sly, funny feminist reimagining of One Thousand and One Nights is set in the same world as Greenberg's The Encyclopedia of Early Earth.
hardcover, 224p., 9780316259170
Food & Wine
Brewing Revolution: Pioneering the Craft Beer Movement
by Frank Appleton
Books on craft beer and the craft beer movement abound, and readers may feel underwhelmed at the prospect of another. But Frank Appleton's memoir, Brewing Revolution: Pioneering the Craft Beer Movement, is different. For one, his focus is on British Columbia, rather than the much-discussed scene in the United States. And Appleton's unapologetic, lively personality communicates a story both personal and national, even global, in scope. Brewing Revolution also expands into an impassioned indictment of mass-market adjunct lagers, as well as a manual for the next generation of brewers.
Appleton, a native of Manchester, England, applied his studies in microbiology to food science and later, after immigrating to Vancouver, B.C., to brewing. He began in one of Canada's "Big Three" brewing conglomerates, where he developed a scorn for adjunct ingredients (or "added junk") like corn, rice and corn syrup, where traditional, quality brews use only malted grains like barley. When an article he wrote comparing adjunct lagers with "tasteless white bread and the universal cardboard hamburger," and calling for a do-it-yourself response, drew the attention of an ambitious pub owner, Appleton's career as a consultant began.
He tells the story of a country's craft beer movement and of his life work, but it doesn't stop there. In his enthusiasm, Appleton can't help but offer troubleshooting advice for ambitious brewers and a healthy review of brewing techniques, including the niceties of equipment, yeast cultivation and malting. As a history of a movement and a personal memoir brimming with zeal, Brewing Revolution is educational, entertaining and, perhaps most of all, thirst-inducing. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: This personal history of Canada's craft beer movement, from a distinctive and accomplished participant, amuses as well as instructs.
paperback, 224p., 9781550177824
Biography & Memoir
Books for Living
by Will Schwalbe
In his second memoir, Books for Living, Will Schwalbe (The End of Your Life Book Club) presents a collection of brief, insightful essays on the titles that have transformed his life: classic novels and children's stories, esoteric volumes of Chinese philosophy and practical writing advice. He begins with an unusual but aptly titled choice: The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang, a text of idiosyncratic philosophy and advice for living, published in the 1930s by a Chinese man who later lived in the U.S. and Europe. Lin's work reappears several times throughout Schwalbe's narrative, as he describes his library and the memories associated with each book in loving detail.
Schwalbe considers the titles through the lens of a particular topic: Searching (Stuart Little), Remembering (David Copperfield), Being Sensitive (Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird). Reading The Gifts of the Body, Rebecca Brown's novel of a home health-care worker tending to AIDS patients, sparks Schwalbe's own painful memories of the AIDS epidemic as a young gay man living in Manhattan and volunteering for Gay Men's Health Crisis. Every book gives Schwalbe a way to make meaning of what has happened to him, or to appreciate profound truths.
"Has any book saved my life?" Schwalbe wonders during his chapter on Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran. "I think it would be more accurate to say that books... helped me choose my life.... Books saved the life I have." For readers who understand this sentiment, Books for Living is a field guide to a handful of titles that might entertain, stir up trouble, or--yes--even save the life a reader already has. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Will Schwalbe, book editor and voracious reader, shares witty, warm, insightful essays on books that have resonated throughout his life.
hardcover, 288p., 9780385353540
George Lucas: A Life
by Brian Jay Jones
As a cinematography student at the University of Southern California in the 1970s, George Lucas aspired to make documentaries or serious independent films along the lines of Fellini, Godard, Kurosawa and William Wyler, a cinematographer famous for his inability to relate to actors--a charge that would later be leveled against Lucas. His first student film established him as a wunderkind in this vein: Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138-4EB won the National Student Film Festival and brought him into contact with other avant-garde filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola. Lucas's dogged pursuit of independence resulted in two of pop culture's most iconic franchises--Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Yet the rebel who shunned the Hollywood studio system became a victim of his own filmic excesses, growing so enamored with "his way" that he emerged as his own brand of studio mogul.
In a sweeping and engaging biography that should delight Lucas fans and film history buffs alike, Brian Jay Jones (Jim Henson: The Biography) reveals exhaustive details behind the filming of the Star Wars franchise--how the project appeared destined for disaster, with never-ending prop malfunctions, budget overruns and intense script and concept battles with studio executives. He covers Lucas's early influences, his friendship with Steven Spielberg, his love/hate relationship with Coppola and the Modesto roots that shaped his filmography--to which he paid homage in American Graffiti. George Lucas: A Life is the fascinating portrait of a onetime Hollywood outsider and obstinate control freak whose identity is linked deeply to his art, and whose sheer force of will rewrote film history. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: How one visionary filmmaker's successes changed the way film would be experienced and marketed.
hardcover, 560p., 9780316257442
Take Me to Paris, Johnny
by John Foster
Originally published in Australia in 1993, John Foster's Take Me to Paris, Johnny recounts the life of his lover Juan Céspedes, who died of AIDS in 1987. This Text Classics edition--the first in the United States--includes an introduction by critic Peter Craven and an afterword by Foster's close friend John Rickard. While these supplementary materials provide context and develop Foster's character, the original work gleams abundantly without their help.
Juan was a Cuban refugee studying dance in New York City when he met Foster, an Australian history professor, in 1981. A one-night stand became a summer-long affair and then a long-term, long-distance relationship, to Foster's surprise. As the couple wrangled with the Australian immigration authorities to gain Juan's permanent residence there, his illness became undeniably serious. He died in a hospital in Melbourne with Foster by his side.
This sensitive, perceptive memoir keeps Juan at its center, outlining his boyhood and escape to the United States before focusing on the love affair and Juan's death; the final event receives due gravity without defining his life or the book. In a mere 200 pages, Take Me to Paris, Johnny achieves a full emotional range, sketches Juan's rare and changeable personality and imbues a tragedy with poetry. Foster's writing is exquisite: thoughtful, lyrical and with an eye for detail. While this is undeniably a sad story, Foster resists wallowing, choosing instead to celebrate Juan and even to laugh at their troubles. Take Me to Paris, Johnny is incisive, wry, loving and deeply lovable. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: This beautifully written memoir of a lover's life and death will impress readers with its lyricism and emotion.
paperback, 256p., 9781925355345
The Wars of the Roosevelts: The Ruthless Rise of America's Greatest Political Family
by William J. Mann
Edgar Award-winning biographer and novelist William J. Mann (Tinseltown) acknowledges at the start of this captivating, ambitious and hefty biography that the feuding branches of the Roosevelt dynasty have become well-trod territory for historians. But Mann is a superb historian and researcher, rarely parroting previous tales without investigating their validity. This often leads him to revisionist perspectives on familiar subjects, and The Wars of the Roosevelts certainly gives fans of historical biographies a fresh look at Theodore Roosevelt's relationship with his alcoholic brother, Elliott (father of Eleanor, who later married her cousin Franklin Roosevelt), his three legitimate children (Alice, Ted Jr. and Kermit) and one illegitimate son (Elliott Roosevelt Mann--no relation to the author).
As expected in any biography covering the lives of two United States presidents, there is plenty of political intrigue, backstabbing and jockeying for power. But what makes Mann's nearly 650-page biography so mesmerizing is the personal drama of an expansive political family at war for nearly a century. Mann's fresh revelations come from new interviews with a number of the Roosevelt family descendants (including Elliott Mann's daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter). While Mann casts no one as a villain, this family portrait leaves no one unscathed or blameless.
The Wars of the Roosevelts is as meticulously researched as it is beautifully written and authoritatively intimate. It's also as juicy as a beach novel, with revelations of mistresses, gay affairs, numerous suicides, neglect, dysfunction and family grudges held until the grave. In short, it's the kind of history book that encourages new generations to become historians. -- Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: William Mann's meticulously researched portrait of the supremely dysfunctional Roosevelt family dynasty reads like a juicy novel.
hardcover, 624p., 9780062383334
Frederick Douglass in Brooklyn
by Theodore Hamm, editor
Edited by Brooklyn journalism professor Theodore Hamm, Frederick Douglass in Brooklyn is a fresh and incisive compilation that elucidates the 19th-century political dynamics underlying Douglass's history-making career.
Eight chapters include speeches Douglass delivered in Brooklyn, as well as coverage of those speeches in various New York newspapers. Hamm's thoughtful introductions to each contextualize Douglass's soaring oratory and reveal the vibrant nucleus of Brooklyn civic life in the Civil War era, a nucleus not as progressive as some might think. That Douglass's speeches routinely sparked controversy shows how the abolitionist movement was divided into different camps, including de-facto segregationists and those advocating mass migration and colonization of Africa. Hamm also discusses the virulent anti-black racism that existed, ironically, among the city's marginalized Irish population. Iconic figures like Walt Whitman, Horace Greeley, John Brown and Abraham Lincoln play important roles not only in Douglass's speeches, but also in Hamm's enlightening introductions.
The star of the collection is undoubtedly the slave-turned-writer whose essays and speeches will always be important to American political discourse. In his impassioned arguments for full racial equality--and his sharp criticisms of white supremacy and political gradualism--Douglass presciently touched upon social issues of division and assimilation still relevant in the 21st century. He is by turns scathing and poetic, and his best proverbs convey timeless moral values: "Many a man can march out on to the perilous edge of battle, but has not the moral courage to confront popular prejudice." Frederick Douglass in Brooklyn is a much-needed restatement of an indispensable American voice. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist and fiction author
Discover: A timely compilation places Frederick Douglass's speeches in the crucible of 19th-century Brooklyn politics.
paperback, 192p., 9781617754852
Defeat Is an Orphan: How Pakistan Lost the Great South Asian War
by Myra MacDonald
In Defeat Is an Orphan: How Pakistan Lost the Great South Asian War, Myra MacDonald quickly covers the milestones of the Indo-Pakistani conflict, fought on and off since 1947, without lingering on episodes that have already been written about at length. Instead, MacDonald focuses on the period from 1998--when India and Pakistan held nuclear tests--to the present day, putting an emphasis on the strategic missteps that allowed India to overtake Pakistan in the two countries' long, bitter rivalry.
Nuclear tests in 1998 were an ecstatic moment for Pakistan, promising strategic parity with its much larger neighbor for the first time. Emboldened by its newfound nuclear umbrella, however, Pakistan increased its sponsorship of militant, terrorist groups, a policy that would eventually alienate the international community and undermine the country's domestic security. Indian interests, on the other hand, lay in improving relations with the international community (including a much warmer relationship with the U.S.) and in expanding its economy. To some degree, MacDonald explains, the rivalry became one-sided: "India had no need to win a war against Pakistan--Pakistan was doing enough damage to itself to lose the competition with its bigger neighbour it had once hoped to win."
MacDonald's history is primarily a work of argumentation, but it is supported by vivid, terrifying accounts of attacks carried out by Pakistan's proxies. According to MacDonald, Pakistan's ideological blindness and short-sighted strategies led to it "fighting a war it did not itself understand" and helping to inflict the current scourge of terrorism on the wider world and on itself. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books
Discover: Myra MacDonald argues that Pakistan has lost its decades-long rivalry with India thanks in large part to its shortsighted embrace of militant groups.
Oxford University Press,
hardcover, 320p., 9781849046411
War Against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914-1918
by Michael Kazin
Michael Kazin is a professor at Georgetown and co-editor of the magazine Dissent. In War Against War, his history of the U.S. pacifist movement against involvement in World War I, he sympathizes with his subjects. He also expertly conveys the complex and electric prewar political landscape, and the constellation of reasons that many Democrats, Republicans, Socialists, farmers, feminists, left-wing trade unionists, segregationists and liberal immigrants had for banding together in this common cause, and then for breaking apart again.
This was an antiwar movement that Kazin says would not be rivaled until 50 years later, during the Vietnam War. And, he says, U.S. involvement may have shortened the war by a year, but it also allowed for the excessively punitive Treaty of Versailles, which in turn "touched off nearly thirty years of genocide, massacres, and armed conflict between and within nations.... The doughboys who helped win the war also made possible a peace of conquerors that stirred resentment on which demagogues and tyrants of all ideological stripes would feed." If we had not entered World War I, he asserts, there would have been no World War II.
After the war, the pacifists were in many ways validated by popular opinion and Congressional actions. Kazin touches on how the same arguments on either side continue to play out in U.S. politics today, including the struggle over whether American citizens should reject loyalties to other nations or cultural identities, or embrace "the ethnic pluralism that had the potential to turn the United States into a 'transnational' republic that could become an exemplar of tolerance to the world." --Sara Catterall
Discover: Michael Kazin details the history of the politically diverse peace movement that resisted U.S. intervention in World War I.
Simon & Schuster,
hardcover, 400p., 9781476705903
The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story
by Douglas Preston
Long before the Spanish landed in the New World, a civilization rich in culture blossomed in the Honduran jungle. Then, for some unknown reason, the area was abandoned, and the jungle reclaimed the acreage, leaving behind tantalizing tales of an ancient and sacred city that filtered down through history--the White City or the Lost City of the Monkey God--a rich site, but one seemingly protected by a curse of death for anyone foolhardy enough to find it. In 2012, as part of a reconnaissance team using highly sophisticated equipment, thriller writer Douglas Preston boarded a plane and flew over the mountains of Honduras searching for this lost city. Thanks to the modern technology, the team discovered it tucked away in a valley ringed by high mountains, deep in a region full of drug traffickers and illegal logging operations, a landscape more reminiscent of paradise than anything remotely dangerous.
Despite torrential rains, numerous poisonous snakes and hordes of mosquitoes, chiggers and sand flies, the expedition wandered the dense ruins, finding more than they could have possibly imagined, including an incurable disease. Preston adroitly combines tension, anticipation and lush and vivid descriptions of the expedition with an examination of the Old World diseases the Spaniards unleashed on the indigenous populations of the New World. He discusses their horrific effect on ancient cultures and nature's frightening retaliation through the ages. This modern-day archeological adventure and medical mystery reads as rapidly as a well-paced novel, but is a heart-pounding true story. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: Modern explorers find a hidden city in the thick jungle of Honduras and uncover a disease that's lain dormant for centuries.
hardcover, 336p., 9781455540006
The French Revolution: From Enlightenment to Tyranny
by Ian Davidson
In The French Revolution: From Enlightenment to Tyranny, journalist Ian Davidson (Voltaire in Exile) uses the skills he developed as a foreign affairs correspondent for the Financial Times to consider one of the most complicated and influential events of the 18th century. The result is an even-handed, step-by-step account of key moments of the French Revolution, from August 2, 1788, when Louis XVI called a meeting of the États généraux in the hopes of getting financial help, through the execution of Maximilien Robespierre on July 28, 1794.
Davidson assumes that his reader is familiar with the catchwords and names associated with the French Revolution, but not with the details of its development. He begins with a careful description of the economic and social conditions in France in the years before the war. He identifies possible points of confusion for a modern reader--the Parlement, for example, was a law court--and gives brief biographies for each of the players, bringing even the most familiar names into clearer focus. Most importantly, he makes it clear that the Revolution began as a peaceful attempt at social change, with leaders who were dedicated to the rule of law, and that it remained largely peaceful for three years.
Davidson's The French Revolution is not a scholar's account of the French Revolution, and makes no claim to be. It is instead a serious work of popular history, challenging enough to intrigue those already familiar with the revolution and accessible enough to engage those who are not. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins
Discover: A seasoned journalist explores the French Revolution.
hardcover, 336p., 9781681772509
Business & Economics
Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace
by Christine Porath
In Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace, business school professor and consultant Christine Porath considers how pervasive incivility is and how damaging such a culture--or even one uncivil employee--can be to businesses. She provides examples from many fields--including medicine, technology, food service and sports--and backs them up with scientific research. The strong influence of civility on employee productivity, contentment and profit becomes abundantly clear. Simple company policies requiring employees to know everyone else's names, for example, have an impact far greater than increased pleasantries.
Porath offers a four-step plan for employers and managers to encourage and maintain a culture that lifts others up, values positive participation and will ultimately be more profitable. Though geared toward supervisors, Mastering Civility can benefit anyone who wants to feel happier and be more effective at work. Readers will be able to identify instances of discourteousness in their own lives, and Porath offers helpful ways of framing these experiences to encourage future success. Activities like self-tests to measure one's incivility level are eye opening, and a resources section points to next steps for teams committing to fostering a more respectful environment.
Porath advocates effectively for why individuals and organizations should pursue more civil behaviors and policies, and offers ideas and strategic planning advice for how to do so. Mastering Civility is a valuable resource for professionals who want to enjoy their jobs more, see their teams thrive and have more pleasant, productive interactions with subordinates and supervisors alike. --Richael Best, bookseller, Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Wash.
Discover: Case studies on civility in the workplace argue for kindness as a business booster.
hardcover, 240p., 9781455568987
The Egyptians: A Radical History of Egypt's Unfinished Revolution
by Jack Shenker
In The Egyptians: A Radical History of Egypt's Unfinished Revolution, journalist Jack Shenker delivers a raw and penetrating study of the 2011 Arab Spring in Egypt, based on firsthand accounts from the battle lines and his own participation in the revolt.
Shenker was a correspondent for the Guardian during the initial uprising in Cairo. In his prologue, he makes it clear that he took sides in the struggle, working not as a passive observer but rather as an activist journalist against the oppressive Mubarak regime. His nervy, kinetic prose works descriptive wonders: "They hauled me from the ground and frogmarched me behind police lines, slapping the back of my neck with metronomic regularity." Besides coverage of the protests at Tahrir Square, The Egyptians weaves together stories of rural farmers, factory workers and emigrants. A focus on emerging art, music and literature further evinces the range and dynamism of the revolutionary zeitgeist.
At the heart of Shenker's history, though, is a stinging critique of neoliberal economic theory and Western-style incremental reforms. The Egyptian revolution has been more than a struggle between Islamism and secular forces, Shenker argues. He shows how, without social democracy and public oversight, foreign capital and business interests in Egypt have strengthened and propped up dictatorial regimes. Even though some of his passages wander into anti-elitist, neo-Marxist cliché, there's no doubting the depth of Shenker's reportage and his exposure of a deeply corrupted and repressive system. The Egyptians belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in Middle Eastern current affairs and the future of democratic movements. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist and fiction author
Discover: A brilliant critic and activist journalist explores the democratic motives behind Egyptians' overthrow of their government in 2011.
hardcover, 544p., 9781620972557
Never Enough: Capitalism and the Progressive Spirit
by Neil Gilbert
Public policy wonk Neil Gilbert calls into question almost every comfortable assumption of modern progressivism in his well-structured and well-argued treatise, Never Enough: Capitalism and the Progressive Spirit.
Gilbert, author of numerous books, including A Mother's Work: How Feminism, the Market and Policy Shape Family Life, is a professor at the Berkeley School of Social Welfare and a senior research fellow at the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development. His expertise becomes apparent as he navigates thorny issues of poverty, inequality, capitalism, public spending and income redistribution, specifically in the United States.
Whether addressing broad political concepts or nuances of complex data, Gilbert writes deftly, with clear analysis and factual authority. At the crux of his argument is what he deems "institutionalized discontent"--the ingrained presumptions in progressive circles that capitalism is the root of all social ill, even in modern welfare states. With careful comparative analysis of public spending and changing demographics over the years, Gilbert shows the incredible gains in living standards in first-world countries. He addresses methods of measuring poverty, inequality and social mobility, and argues that prevailing approaches focus on incomes and consumerism relative to richer peer groups, rather than on actual material deprivations associated with chronic poverty. Furthermore, he exposes a disconcerting trend of welfare spending going to middle-class families rather than to society's most needy.
Besides making progressives question their own data, Gilbert offers a new approach that he calls "progressive conservatism." He proposes graduated public assistance at the family level, including home-visiting services that assist struggling single parents. Likely to produce plenty of critical discussion, Never Enough is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in public policy. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist and fiction author
Discover: A social welfare theorist delivers a thorough critique of modern progressive thought.
Oxford University Press,
hardcover, 232p., 9780199361335
Nowhere Else I Want to Be: A Memoir
by Carol D. Marsh
Arriving at Miriam's House, the Washington, D.C., nonprofit founded by Carol Marsh in 1993 to care for homeless women with AIDS, residents brought "bags and spirits stuffed to bursting with the detritus of lives lived in defiance of the odds." Sharing personal stories of those suffering from the severe, stigmatizing effects of addiction and disease, Nowhere Else I Want to Be is Marsh's memoir of creating a home for women forgotten by their families and neglected by society.
A native Delawarean raised in a white, middle-class household, Marsh's life was starkly different from the primarily black, impoverished, drug- and alcohol-addicted women she felt called to work with and live among during her 14 years as Miriam House's executive director. (She and her husband, Tim, resided in an apartment on the premises.) In an occasionally fragmented narrative that sometimes resembles a collection of essays more than memoir, Marsh lays bare the cultural naiveté, personality clashes and false assumptions made by her, the residents, staff and board members, alongside the tender moments spent by a dying woman's bedside while telling her she is beautiful and loved.
Nowhere Else I Want to Be is a heartfelt, candid story of finding peace with one's place in the world, whether as a woman unable to care for one's children because of the ravages of AIDS or as a struggling nonprofit leader confronting new truths, and the growth that happens within the circle of compassion. --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at melissafirman.com
Discover: This memoir of caring for and living among women fighting addiction and AIDS relates the personal experiences inherent to building a community of respect, dignity and love.
paperback, 325p., 9781942645061
Essays & Criticism
The Correspondence: Essays
by J.D. Daniels
If you missed J.D. Daniels's crackerjack letters when they first appeared in the Paris Review, The Correspondence is your chance to catch up with this talented, funny, often dark master of the personal essay. Mostly nonfiction, the six pieces in this collection by the Whiting Prize-winning Daniels include experiences as diverse as training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, laboring as a deckhand on a Mediterranean ship out of Tunisia, kicking around his hometown of Louisville, Ky., and attending a group psychotherapy retreat. They paint a picture of a man who embraced the contrary, did more than his share of drugs and alcohol, stumbled in and out of college, handled marriage poorly, dabbled in therapy and wound up becoming a writer, despite some of the whiny, self-centered colleagues in his writing classes.
Each entry is a striking piece of prose with Daniels's sharp take on life nested inside humor and clever wordplay, but "Letter from Kentucky," about his return to his hometown, is perhaps his most sensitive, observant essay. It opens with a biblical begats list of his ancestors, touches harshly on his parents and the religion pounded into him, tastes the bars and alleys that shaped his youth, and captures the heart of the culture in drive-by panoramas: "I drove past Magic Vapor Shop and Tri-State Floors... Urban Creek Holiness Church... Jimbo's 4-Lane Tobacco and the Federal Correctional Institution." Daniels catches something true about every piece of the unsettled world. --Bruce Jacobs
, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe
, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: With striking prose and self-deprecating wit, Whiting Prize-winner J.D. Daniels uncovers a plethora of small truths.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
hardcover, 144p., 9780374535940
Letters to a Young Muslim
by Omar Saif Ghobash
What does it mean to be a good Muslim? How can observant Muslims help their children to understand the nuanced tenets of Islam, separate from the current messages of violence and extremism being perpetuated by ISIS and other radical groups? For Omar Saif Ghobash, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to Russia and the father of two teenage sons, these questions are particularly pressing. In his first book, Letters to a Young Muslim, Ghobash shares a series of thoughtful, engaging, deeply personal reflections on his journey with Islam and what it means to be a Muslim in the modern world.
Ghobash draws on his own experiences to explore the issues facing Islam and the Arab world: the prevalence of violence (his own father died a violent death when Ghobash was young); the segregation of the sexes and discrimination against women; the conflict between radical Islamists and other Muslims. He asks the book's central question in several ways: "How should you and I take responsibility for our lives as Muslims?" While Ghobash always lands on the side of openness and critical thinking, he urges his sons to decide for themselves on all these issues. "Remember that knowledge does not consist simply of answers," he says. "Great knowledge consists of being familiar with the questions, the doubts, the possibility that things might be different."
In a time of global fear and upheaval, Ghobash's letters provide a vital glimpse into Islam and a wise, balanced series of questions for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: The United Arab Emirate's ambassador to Russia shares timely, thoughtful reflections on Islam in a series of letters to his teenage sons.
hardcover, 272p., 9781250119841
The Wisdom of the Middle Ages
by Michael K. Kellogg
In his introduction to The Wisdom of the Middle Ages, lawyer and writer Michael K. Kellogg (The Roman Search for Wisdom) notes that "the Middle Ages were a time very much like the present, and we have a great deal to learn from the efforts of medieval thinkers and writers to give shape and meaning to their experience." Europeans were struggling with the disintegration of the Roman Empire, the rise of the Catholic Church and the founding of nation-states. Kellogg offers a clear, competent summary of the origins of Christianity, the history of the European Middle Ages and the period's great literary, theological and philosophical works. He organizes this around his reading of the New Testament and a selection of significant authors: Saint Augustine, Boethius, the Beowulf poet, Abelard and Héloïse, Chrétien de Troyes, Saint Francis, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Boccaccio and Chaucer.
Kellogg chose these examples, as in his previous books, because they are "works that enrich our lives through their intellectual distinction, beauty of expression, and implicit or explicit wisdom." This is a lot of material to cover in one short volume. Kellogg does not go into great depth and his quotes from the works are brief. For readers who are inspired to read more about the Middle Ages or these works, he provides substantial notes, a chronology and suggestions for further reading organized by author. Anyone looking for an overview of the period or concise summaries of the major works that Kellogg considers will find this useful. --Sara Catterall
Discover: This is a clear, competent summary of the history of the European Middle Ages, and the era's great works of literature, theology and philosophy.
hardcover, 390p., 9781633882133
Psychology & Self-Help
Is It All in Your Head? True Stories of Imaginary Illness
by Suzanne O'Sullivan, M.D.
"When words are not available our bodies sometimes speak for us--and we have to listen," says Dr. Suzanne O'Sullivan in Is It All in Your Head? This fascinating casebook with historical insights--compiled by a seasoned neurologist who is now a consultant at the National Hospital of Neurology and Neurosurgery in London--offers a thorough examination of the significant yet complicated role emotions play in physical illness and the stigmas attached to psychosomatic disorders.
Through a series of case studies, O'Sullivan details the many ways in which physical symptoms can mask emotional distress: "neurological disease manifests in elusive and strange ways." After more than 20 years as a physician, she has seen how the "system" has often failed these patients and the ways in which a diagnosis of psychosomatic disorder affects how they perceive themselves and how others perceive them. Sometimes, patients find themselves trapped between the worlds of physiological medicine and psychiatry. And in many instances, neither community takes responsibility.
While the stories in Is It All in Your Head? are intellectually and factually diverse, some are challenging to read--aspects of patient suffering become quite harrowing at times. Additionally, the delivery and impact of a psychosomatic diagnosis and subsequent patient response further tug emotionally at readers. O'Sullivan never trivializes the patient or what he or she is experiencing. Rather, she respects the strength of her patients and encourages them to find ways to address underlying psychological problems in order to overcome some incredible--some might even call them mind boggling--challenges in life. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: A seasoned neurologist probes the often unfathomable mystery of the intimate mind-body connection.
hardcover, 304p., 9781590517956
Win at Losing: How Our Biggest Setbacks Can Lead to Our Greatest Gains
by Sam Weinman
"Learning to lose is an acquired skill, like juggling or parallel parking," says Sam Weinman in Win at Losing: How Our Biggest Setbacks Can Lead to Our Greatest Gains. A sports journalist and digital editor at Golf Digest, he writes with energy and wit in his book debut, explaining his impetus right off the bat: one of his young sons lost a tennis match and threw a tantrum, leading Weinman's wife to lament, "He's turning into you." Inspired to consider how to communicate with his kids about losing, and to reconsider losing itself, Weinman digs in.
He tackles different losses--failure, disappointment, setbacks--and delves into the emotional and mental repercussions of each, analyzing how seemingly negative events can still yield tremendous opportunity. Weinman then interviews a slew of professional athletes, celebrities and friends, reflecting on their failures and what they've learned from defeat. Among the most memorable are Greg Norman, a golfer as famous for his losses as his wins; Michael Dukakis, a Massachusetts governor who lost the 1988 presidential race spectacularly; and Susan Lucci, a soap opera star whose very name became synonymous with failure after losing out on 18 Daytime Emmys in a row before winning one.
Weinman incorporates concepts from a collection of psychologists, authors and professors, but the best moments of Win at Losing are in his interviews, which elicit moments of true candor. Especially in these rich interactions, Weinman's book wins. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: Laugh in the face of failure, or at least learn from it, this author advises.
hardcover, 256p., 9780143109587
The Hot Topic: A Life-Changing Look at the Change of Life
by Christa D'Souza
Killer whales go through menopause. So do certain aphids. And as journalist and contributing editor to British Vogue Christa D'Souza points out in The Hot Topic: A Life-Changing Look at the Change of Life, after the year 2030, 1.2 billion women will have gone through or will be going through menopause.
Whether addressing newsflashes or hot flashes, D'Souza offers a primer on menopause that maps the mental and emotional landscape of this phase of life, explores science, medicine, her own experiences and those of family and friends. D'Souza scouts sources across the globe, interviewing menopausal nuns in Silicon Valley and hunter-gatherer members of the Hadza tribe in Tanzania, whose older women are crucial to the tribe's existence. She culls much of her research from modern science but looks to history as well, citing a variety of 20th-century scientists in addition to wisdom and customs as ancient as Aristotle. She quotes cultural icons like Gloria Steinem and Simone de Beauvoir, and tackles wide-ranging issues of mid-to-late life as a woman, such as sex, hormone replacement therapy, sexism and back fat.
The Hot Topic is a fun read. D'Souza's tone is candid, as if chatting with old friends after a few glasses of wine--which, as D'Souza laments, exacerbate the symptoms of menopause. The book will especially appeal to women undergoing the change or wanting to be informed of what's to come, as well as curious partners or spouses. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: A journalist explores menopause from every angle.
paperback, 192p., 9781501136344
Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less
by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
More is not always more. Though many people view regular sleep, meals and leisure time as wimpy stuff, working long hours every day, checking e-mail at 2 a.m. and charging hard every moment you can stay conscious makes you much less likely to produce good work. Rest combines current neuroscience and psychology with examples from the lives of great scientists and artists to argue that rest is not a luxury, nor is it the opposite of work. "Restorative daytime naps, insight-generating long walks, vigorous exercise, and lengthy vacations aren't unproductive interruptions; they help creative people do their work."
Writer, scholar and business consultant Alex Soojung-Kim Pang (The Distraction Addiction) offers an enjoyable, well-organized and persuasive consideration of the relationship of work and rest. He approaches this through four main insights: that work and rest are partners, not opposites; that rest is active; that it is a skill; and that it stimulates and sustains creativity. These insights are developed in chapters focused on various forms of rest--such as walks, naps, vacations, deep play and vigorous exercise--and on schedule structuring through routines, limited hours and deliberate stops. He describes the philosophical ideas and history behind current ideas about creative work, and argues that a focus on long hours and constant attention to jobs leads people to resolve superficial problems quickly, rather than develop more difficult and worthwhile projects. This book has something to offer anyone looking for new ways to structure their daily lives. --Sara Catterall
Discover: Rest is shown to be the partner of creative work, not its opposite, in this enjoyable and persuasive guide to a more productive working life.
hardcover, 320p., 9780465074877
The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars
by Dava Sobel
Long before women had earned the right to vote, a few worked diligently in the astronomy department at Harvard, carefully cataloguing the position and color ranges of the stars, which were preserved through photography onto glass slides. Dava Sobel (Galileo's Daughter) has meticulously researched and recounted the history of these early female astronomers, who were used as human "computers" to perform intricate measurements and calculations while their male colleagues manipulated the heavy telescopes and glass slides to capture the night skies.
For over a century, Harvard collected data in this manner, amassing a library of more than half a million individual photographs, which reveal far more than is visible through the telescope, "because the sensitive plate, unlike the human eye, could gather light and aggregate images over time." Thanks to the women Sobel writes about and their industrious and eye-opening analysis of the photographs, much has been learned about the nature of the universe, the stars and galaxies, such as the composition of the stars, the identification of binary and variable stars and the distance between stars. The codes developed by these women to catalog their findings are still in use today; their names have become part of astronomy's history and their work is now being digitized for future research. Rich in scientific details, The Glass Universe
is fascinating and enlightening, filled with the personal desires and triumphs of women who were pioneers in the workplace and in the heavens at a time when male dominance was the norm. --Lee E. Cart
, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: The book explores the huge contributions to astronomy that women at the Harvard Observatory made at a time men dominated the field.
hardcover, 336p., 9780670016952
Health & Medicine
The Case Against Sugar
by Gary Taubes
In recent years conventional wisdom on obesity and diabetes has shifted. Carbs have replaced fat as the new villain; new fad diets urge drastic reductions in carbohydrate intake and add consumption of fats to combat weight gain.
But laying blame on carbs misses the point, according to Gary Taubes (Good Calories, Bad Calories). There hasn't been enough public discourse on sugar as a primary cause of diabetes, heaviness, and obesity, he argues. Taubes says sugar destroys the body's ability to regulate fat and he suggests that, like tobacco, sugar is a drug; in fact, it's a key ingredient in cigarettes, increasing their addictiveness. The Case Against Sugar reckons with an inconvenient truth: Western civilization's centuries-old sweet tooth is a devastating addiction that kills.
With clear language and a skeptical eye, Taubes--a physicist and award-winning science and health journalist--lays out the causes for alarm (epidemic rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes) and the history of sugar production and consumption (which reinforced colonialism). He explains the science and the context of scientific thinking on the subject. "If this were a criminal case," reads his author's note, "The Case Against Sugar would be the argument for the prosecution." Taubes makes an unacknowledged pivot from the thesis of his last book (Why We Get Fat), which argued for low-carb diets. Now it's specifically sugar he's after, not just for its "empty calories" (a framing he dislikes), but for its long-term effects on our endocrine system. --Zak Nelson, writer and bookseller
Discover: Like Michael Pollan, Taubes crafts a compelling argument about Western eating habits, refining our understanding of sugar's responsibility for obesity and diabetes.
hardcover, 384p., 9780307701640
Children's & Young Adult
History Is All You Left Me
by Adam Silvera
When History Is All You Left Me opens, the love of 17-year-old Griffin's life is already dead. Theo was Griffin's best friend, boyfriend and first everything. Now Griffin has to face both Theo's funeral and Jackson, the guy Theo started dating after he left New York and went to California for college. Griffin hates Jackson--they even deliver competing eulogies--but begins to realize that he's the only other person who understands what it was like to date Theo and lose him.
The novel bounces back and forth in time between the giddy start of Griffin and Theo's romance and Griffin's current devastation. Adam Silvera (More Happy Than Not) is wrenchingly good at writing about grief. He captures the huge, howlingly lonely feelings of loss, but also the little things, like feeling guilty for enjoying a song or wanting to watch TV: "I just want to know when it'll be possible to laugh again," thinks Griffin. "And when it'll be okay." As Griffin tries to make sense of life without Theo, and his conflicted feelings about Jackson, he is also dealing with worsening OCD.
Much of the book consists of Griffin's internal talking to Theo, so we get a full sense of the churn of his mind and the rawness of his heart. Theo's death is going to be painful for a long time. But the novel quietly shows how dealing with loss will help Griffin see himself and his world more clearly. It's a painful coming of age, but a beautifully written and very satisfying one. --Ali Davis, freelance writer and playwright, Los Angeles, Calif.
Discover: In Adam Silvera's second novel, a young man blown apart by grief slowly learns to put himself back together.
hardcover, 304p., ages 14-up, 9781616956929
by Watt Key
The story begins one hot June day with a boy in a skiff, equipped with a map of Jackson County, Miss., a fishing rod, a flotation vest and "every possible safety item" his chief of police father could think to give him. The only thing he didn't have? "[P]ermission to leave Bluff Creek."
Thirteen-year-old Sam Ford is trying to find the remote, uninhabited swamp called the Pascagoula River Delta--and the dead body the search-and-rescue teams couldn't locate after five days. If he discovers the body, he'll prove he can be brave like his dad, and not just the scared "new kid" who got "beat senseless" by bullies at school. On Sam's vividly described journey through the swamp, he stumbles across a filthy, mosquito-bitten, remarkably cheerful boy close to his age named Davey, fixing up an abandoned fishing camp, waiting for his family to show up. Sam heads back home to sneak supplies to Davey. He starts to think of this ramshackle camp as a dream come true... had he found that purest of pure places--a hideout--to be his best self? He imagines an adult-free life of excitement and adventure, catfish and swimming. In Davey's eyes, Sam could be a competent hero, not a bullied loser... maybe even cool.
Sam's blissful visions evaporate when Davey's menacing, thieving stepbrother, Slade, shows up with his friends in a stolen boat. Suddenly, he and Davey are in real danger and the story turns to serious, suspenseful action. With Hideout, Watt Key (Alabama Moon) creates a wonderfully atmospheric, edge-of-seat middle-grade adventure. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A 13-year-old boy heads into the Mississippi swamp in his skiff to find a missing body, but finds an entirely different kind of adventure.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
hardcover, 320p., ages 10-13, 9780374304829
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team
by Steve Sheinkin
When 19-year-old Jim Thorpe (1888-1955) joined Pennsylvania's Carlisle Indian Industrial School's football team in 1907, it was the fastest team in the country. Already the school's track star, Thorpe was, self-admittedly, "a scarecrow dressed for football" when he approached Coach "Pop" Warner, who promptly told him to take a hike. Thorpe persisted, demonstrating "a combination of power, agility and speed Pop Warner had never seen in one player--and never would again." History proved Warner to be football's "most innovative coach"; Thorpe, of the Potawatomi tribe of Oklahoma, would become "the greatest star the sport had ever seen."
Three-time National Book Award finalist Steve Sheinkin (Bomb; The Port Chicago 50; Most Dangerous) deftly balances the exhilarating glory of Thorpe's story and early American football history with the inequity and inhumanity of the Native American experience. His outrage at these atrocities is most evident when he discusses Thorpe's double gold victory at the 1912 Olympics, for the pentathlon and decathlon. While Thorpe won under the U.S. flag, he was actually not an American citizen, despite his indigenous heritage: another dozen years lapsed "before Congress would pass a law extending citizenship to all American Indians."
With contagious excitement, Sheinkin enthralls readers with the Carlisle team's--and Thorpe's--stupendous feats. Abundant historical photographs enhance the story. If Undefeated seems overloaded with superlatives, Sheinkin meticulously supports his proclamations of "firsts, mosts, bests" with 30-plus pages of citations. Despite the bad and ugly, good triumphs here. Never excusing the adversity Thorpe and his community suffered, Sheinkin compels readers to learn, admire and bear witness to the "world's greatest athlete." --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: In Undefeated, National Book Award finalist Steve Sheinkin tackles the unparalleled achievements of Jim Thorpe and the all-Native American team that helped shape modern football.
hardcover, 288p., ages 10-18, 9781596439542
A List of Cages
by Robin Roe
Fourteen-year-old Julian Harlow looks "like an anime character," with shiny black hair almost falling into his "enormous round eyes." He is shy, sweet, and secretly good at singing and storytelling, but his uncle is beating the light, and life, out of him. Adam Blake, a high school senior, knows and loves Julian because the boy came to live with him and his mother as a foster child after his parents were killed. But it's been five years since Julian's abusive uncle took him in, and the boy, young-seeming for 14, is decidedly worse for wear.
This is not a story to turn away from. Readers will fall in love with Julian. He's unassuming, creative, dyslexic--and terrified. The story alternates between Julian's and Adam's perspectives, and as readers start to see how much Adam--popular, cheerful, "ADHD-fidgety" and compassionate--truly cares for Julian, their hearts will grow three sizes larger. Debut author Robin Roe's writing is extraordinary, clear, funny and insightful. Her sentences pack a wallop: "It's strange how many ways there are to miss someone. You miss the things they did and who they were, but you also miss who you were to them." And, "Maybe instead of accelerating your age, pain won't let you grow." And, "I see everything you do" as a profession of love.
However brutal his particular story, Julian's trials as he lurches awkwardly into teendom are universal--feeling alone, keeping dangerous secrets, feeling timid and inadequate, needing love. A List of Cages is painful, devastating, beautiful and brilliant. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Robin Roe's extraordinary debut YA novel is as much about love and compassion as it is about grief and abuse.
hardcover, 320p., ages 14-up, 9781484763803
A Greyhound, a Groundhog
by Emily Jenkins
, illus. by Chris Appelhans
"A groundhog, a greyhound,/ a grey little/ round hound./ A greyhound, a groundhog,/ a found little roundhog."
Tongue-twisting wordplay abounds in this charming read-aloud romp by Emily Jenkins (Toys Go Out; Toy Dance Party; Toys Come Home; Toys Meet Snow) and Chris Appelhans (illustrator of Jenny Offill's Sparky!; Flight series). Here, Jenkins pays tribute to a 1954 Caldecott Honor book illustrated by Maurice Sendak. She writes in her dedication: "A Greyhound, a Groundhog owes a debt of inspiration and rhythm to A Very Special House, by legendary children's author Ruth Krauss."
After the cheerful dog enthusiastically greets the initially leery "roundhog," the dynamic duo circles around each other playfully: "Around, round hound./ Around, groundhog!" As the new friends whirl and twirl, the artwork does too, dizzyingly. The type curves to heighten the whirlpool effect: "Around and/ around and around/ and around./ The ground and a hog/ and some grey and a dog." As the kinetic illustrations of groundhog and greyhound blur, the words start to blend as well: "grey dog," "greyhog," "a hog little hound dog." The mad revelry stops only when they are both distracted by butterflies, then a bog, then, naturally, a log. In the end, the boisterous buddies collapse, panting and exhausted.
Preschoolers will delight in the sound of the words that rhyme and repeat and mirror and mix, qualities sure to render it a bedtime favorite. Appelhans's watercolor illustrations are both adorable and artful, and the fluid style beautifully complements Jenkins's story of unlikely friendship, joyful rambunctiousness and wordplay. A round, a mound, the sound of applause! --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A greyhound and groundhog rumble and tumble in this splendid adventure in wordplay by Emily Jenkins and Chris Appelhans.
Schwartz & Wade/Random House,
hardcover, 32p., ages 1-5, 9780553498059
Flying Lessons & Other Stories
by Ellen Oh, editor
Flying Lessons--edited by Ellen Oh and published in partnership with We Need Diverse Books--is a top-notch, eclectic collection of stories by 10 powerhouse authors about everything from basketball ("The beautiful symphony of squeaking sneaks and grunts and the thud of body meeting body" from Matt de la Peña's story) to nervous young love to the legendary "Choctaw Bigfoot."
Middle-grade readers are in for a treat: this anthology's contributors are Newbery winners Kwame Alexander (The Crossover) and Matt de la Peña (Last Stop on Market Street); Newbery Honor author Grace Lin (Where the Mountain Meets the Moon); three-time Newbery Honor author and National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming); Soman Chainani (the School for Good and Evil series); Lambda Literary Award winner Tim Federle (Five, Six, Seven, Nate); Pura Belpré Award winner Meg Medina (Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass); three-time American Indian Youth Literature Award winner Tim Tingle (House of Purple Cedar); debut author Kelly J. Baptist (Young); and the beloved, award-winning author to whom this book is dedicated, Walter Dean Myers (Monster: A Graphic Novel).
The book's title story, Soman Chainani's "Flying Lessons," tells the funny and bittersweet tale of an academically ambitious Florida boy whose stiletto-wearing, 69-year-old grandmother takes him to Europe for three weeks, only to abandon him amidst a "dodgy parade" in Berlin and on a nude Barcelona beach in a tiny Chanel swimsuit. She explains, "Because when you're older, no one cares about how many awards you win, Santosh. People care if you have something to talk about." --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: This engaging collection of 10 stories for young people showcases the work of literary stars such as Matt de la Peña, Kwame Alexander, Grace Lin and Meg Medina.
hardcover, 240p., ages 8-12, 9781101934593
Nobody Is Perfick
by Bernard Waber
This quirky little gem by the beloved Bernard Waber (Lyle, Lyle Crocodile; Lyle Walks the Dogs; Ask Me) was first published in 1971 and has lingered long in the hearts of its fans.
Waber imagines and sketches eight scenarios where children are interacting--including "Say Something Nice," "No Rain Again Today" and "My Diary"--to shine a light on the absurdity of human behavior, from contagious laughter to wishing away a perfectly beautiful day just to wear a new raincoat. In "Say Something Nice," a boy torments a girl by bringing up all sorts of "crawly, creepy things." "Lizards!" Arthur exclaims, with a mad gleam in his eye. "That's not nice," retorts Harriet. It escalates: "Spiders!" "Now you stop it!" When Harriet is called inside, she says, "This was fun. Let's do it again tomorrow," deflating and infuriating Arthur. In "My Diary," a girl tells her friend she never shows her diary to anyone. "Not even your mother?" "Not even my mother." "Not even your father?" "Not even my father." Then the inevitable: "May I look at it?" A comically elaborate bartering exchange ensues in which the friend gets to read the first word, "I," then the second, "think," until the diarist's juiciest secret is out. Her friend runs out the door to tell everybody. "COME BACK HERE!"
In this warm, funny and insightful collection of comedy sketches, nobody, not even Peter Perfect, is "perfick." Waber's realistically silly dialogue (in cartoon bubbles) and rough, inky drawings are just right for readers who are more in the mood for a flip-through than a dive-in book. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: This 1971 illustrated classic from Bernard Waber, author of Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, reminds readers that "nobody is perfick" and that we really just have to laugh at ourselves.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,
hardcover, 144p., ages 7-10, 9780544842144
One Proud Penny
by Randy Siegel
, illus. by Serge Bloch
If the luster of a newfound penny has dulled for today's kids, One Proud Penny is sure to polish it right up again.
The starring penny in Randy Siegel's (Grandma's Smile; My Snake Blake) bright shiny picture book was minted in 1983 in Philadelphia ("the home of the Liberty Bell, Patti LaBelle, cream cheese, cheese steaks, soft pretzels, and the United States Mint." The affable penny narrator is actually a photo of a real penny, often with a face, arms and legs inked in by French illustrator and cartoonist Serge Bloch (The Big Adventure of a Little Line; My Snake Blake; Saturday).
This penny gets around, and a whimsical U.S. map shows how far he's traveled. (The flat little guy describes freezing his tail off on a garage floor in Green Bay, Wis., "until I got picked up, and used to pay for stuff several times.") The penny's enthusiasm is contagious as he shares his story. There are 250 billion pennies in circulation, for instance. Also, pennies are now 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper, but in 1943, his "great-uncle" was steel. The penny is happy about the president emblazoned upon him, too: "As my man Lincoln once said: 'Whatever you are, be a good one.' " (He tries to be the best penny he can.)
Readers may truly be inspired by this stalwart coin who endures bouncing around dryers and spending a year in a sewer drain, and still manages to be cheerfully philosophical about it. A brief history of U.S. coins and "Interesting Facts About Pennies" add to the sheen. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: This fun, fascinating picture book, narrated by a goodnatured, rather stoic penny, will have children looking at coins with new respect.
Neal Porter/Roaring Brook,
hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781626722354
Life in a Fishbowl
by Len Vlahos
Jared Stone, a 45-year-old father diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, is worried about leaving his family penniless, so he decides to auction off "not his things, but his actual life" on eBay. His auction listing reads: "You may do with him as you please--slavery, murder, torture, or just pleasant conversation." The reserve price is set at a cool million, and he has some takers.
Len Vlahos's (The Scar Boys; Scar Girl) third-person narrative has a deadpan, reportorial style, reflecting the perspectives of multiple characters (including the giddy, memory-eating brain tumor itself) with a curiously absorbing detachment. The eBay bidders interested in the "Human Life for Sale" are Hazel Huck, a sympathetic gamer; Ethan Overbee, "utterly devoid of empathy," who smells a hot reality TV series; Sister Benedict Joan, who disapproves of Jared's public views on euthanasia and sees an opportunity; and the predatory Sherman Kingsborough, a "stinking rich" young man who follows every dark indulgence with a "noble gesture."
It's Ethan who eventually "wins" by getting his reality TV show, and soon the Family Stone--including Jared's wife and two teenage daughters--is living in "a cruel kind of fishbowl, and all they could do was pucker and swim." While centering on the emotional struggles and remarkable fortitude of introverted 15-year-old daughter Jackie, Life in a Fishbowl is a riveting, witty, skillfully crafted exploration of terminal illness, euthanasia, memory, love, grief, greed, obsession, the exploitative, deceptive nature of "reality" TV and the power of an engaged global community to right wrongs. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: In this quirky and dark YA novel, a father with a terminal brain tumor puts his life up for auction on eBay to support his family.
hardcover, 336p., ages 14-up, 9781681190358
The Warden's Daughter
by Jerry Spinelli
Jerry Spinelli, author of the Newbery Medal winners Maniac Magee, Stargirl, Milkweed and many other middle-grade books, again proves why he's the king of storytellers. The Warden's Daughter, set in a 1959 Pennsylvania prison, is a buoyant yet powerfully emotional coming-of-age novel that reflects its prickly young protagonist's sense of entrapment in her own inarticulable sadness.
As the Hancock County Prison warden's daughter, "scruffy tomboy" Cammie O'Reilly carries significant social heft among her sixth-grade peers, who are intrigued by the world she shares with "crazed" prisoners of every stripe. But it's among these very souls that Cammie searches for a mother figure: "I was sick and tired of being motherless. I wanted one.... If I couldn't have my first-string mother, I'd bring one in off the bench." She finally settles on her housekeeper, the accused arsonist Eloda Pupko, and gets down to the business of wooing her: Cammie fakes an injury, smokes a cigarette in front of her, mocks her, gives her a gift--all to no avail. Will anything turn Eloda, a woman with bright orange hair and a flat demeanor, into the mother Cammie craves?
To her surprise, during this epic summer of adolescent onset and identity search, Cammie finally understands that she is not a happy person: "The sky is blue. The grass is green. Cammie O'Reilly is not happy." It isn't until years later that Cammie learns that with her gruff compassion and stubbornness she can make her own happiness, and that the people in her life have always been looking out for her in ways she never could have imagined. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Cammie O'Reilly, 12-year-old curmudgeon, searches for a mother figure among the female inmates at the prison her father runs in 1950s Pennsylvania.
hardcover, 352p., ages 9-12, 9780375831997
A Squash and a Squeeze
by Julia Donaldson
, illus. by Axel Scheffler
A Squash and a Squeeze--based on a traditional folktale and originally published in the U.K. in 1993--was the first picture book written and illustrated by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, the creators of The Gruffalo, Stick Man and Room on the Broom.
A little old lady is feeling hemmed in by her small house, even though she lives there all by herself. She asks for some advice: "Wise old man, won't you help me, please?/ My house is a squash and a squeeze." The white-bearded man suggests that she bring her hen inside. As the hen lays eggs, flaps around and knocks over jugs, the place feels even tinier. The lady returns to the wise man, who advises her to take in her goat: "The little old lady cried, 'Glory be!/ It was tiny for two and it's titchy for three./ The hen pecks the goat and the goat's got fleas./ My house is a squash and a squeeze.' " A pig and a cow move in next.
In the end, the wise old man tells her to evict all the animals. Suddenly, by contrast, her house feels "gigantic," and she has no more cause to grumble: "And now she's full of frolics and fiddle-de-dees./ It isn't a squash and it isn't a squeeze." Refreshingly, the madcap story does not end with her missing the disruptive animals and inviting them back in to live with her. This story-hour standout trips off the tongue in a way that's sure to tickle the wee-est of wee. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: In this rhyming British picture book, a little old lady feels that her house is too small until a wise man--and a bunch of farm animals--help her realize it's just right.
Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic,
hardcover, 32p., ages 3-5, 9781338052206
Let's Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out!
by Patricia C. McKissack
, illus. by Brian Pinkney
As early as infancy, children start using their fingers, feet and voices to entertain themselves. As they grow, their games become more elaborate, until playgrounds are lively with jump ropers hopping to the rhythm of "Hot, Hot Pepper," hand clappers chanting "Miss Mary Mack" and dancers choreographing complicated moves.
Teaming up again after their Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Award-winning The Dark-Thirty, beloved author Patricia McKissack (Ol' Clip Clop) and two-time Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator Brian Pinkney (Martin and Mahalia; Duke Ellington) showcase an exuberant collection of circle games, jump rope rhymes, hand claps, folktales, superstitions, "mama sayings," hymns, spirituals and performance pieces rooted in African American culture. McKissack shares the lyrics--and their historical context--for her own 1950s childhood favorites in Missouri and Tennessee, as well as those she collected by extensively researching other cultures around the world. Today's youngsters will meet folk characters and historical figures through songs and games--new ones as well as variations on old standbys like "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "This Glory Train." Older readers will marvel at the history lessons--often grim--embedded in familiar rhymes and stories. In a section on the Underground Railroad, for example, McKissack includes a list of coded words slaves used in songs to share messages about their dangerous escapes.
Pinkney's swirly illustrations in both color and black and white positively dance off the pages, evoking the shaking, shimmying and swinging rampant in these pages. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Patricia McKissack and Brian Pinkney team up to present a rich treasury of games, songs and stories from "an African American childhood."
Schwartz & Wade/Random House,
hardcover, 184p., ages all ages, 9780375870880
by Elly Blake
Seventeen-year-old Ruby Otrera is a Fireblood from a remote mountain village, born with the ability to conjure "a river of heat"--and even fire. Her skin is unusually hot, and she has to be careful not to ignite things when her temper gets the best of her. The ruling class of Frostbloods, under the reign of the tyrannical Frost King, has all but killed off the Firebloods they despise. Sure enough, the king's soldiers do find Ruby, murder her mother, destroy her village and lock her up in Blackcreek Prison.
Two Frostbloods from an abbey dedicated to the north wind Fors want the Frost King dead, and they want the imprisoned Ruby, perhaps "the most powerful Fireblood left in the kingdom," to kill him. For sanctuary, eventual freedom and the chance to avenge her mother's death, she warily accepts the challenge. Arcus and Brother Thistle begin training Ruby to master her gift so she can complete her task. In the process, Ruby and Arcus's teasing banter heats up. The sparks that fly between them may not be unexpected, but they are fun to witness, especially as Ruby keeps glimpsing the handsome features of the "conceited icicle" beneath his monk's hood, and his nicknames for her ("Lady Firebrand, "my raging inferno") begin to escalate.
At its core, Elly Blake's exciting fantasy series debut is the story of a young woman's struggle to understand herself, her power and her role in a world that loathes her. Ruby's first-person voice is powerful and passionate, and readers will want to know what's next for her in the Frostblood Saga. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: In this riveting YA fantasy series debut, a teenage Fireblood confronts the cruel Frost King responsible for her mother's death.
hardcover, 384p., ages 12-up, 9780316273251
The Bad Guys
by Aaron Blabey
Perhaps "bad guys"--be they wolf, snake, piranha or shark--are not all that bad. Maybe they're just misunderstood? In The Bad Guys, Mr. Wolf tries to get his much-maligned buddies to be good guys... with mixed results.
Mr. Wolf is a natural at motivational speaking: "Aren't you tired of being the VILLAIN?" he asks his fanged friends. "Aren't you tired of the SCREAMS?" Mr. Piranha says, "Not particularly," and Mr. Snake says, "Not in the slightest." Mr. Wolf is undeterred by their apathy and, determined to prove their capacity as heroes, takes them on an educational field trip in his car (correction: "a fuel-injected, 200-HORSEPOWER, rock 'n' rollin' chariot of flaming COOLNESS" that runs on "undiluted panther pee.") They come upon a cat up a tree. "So what are we going to do?" Mr. Wolf asks professorially. "Rescue the cat," says his peanut gallery in unison, resignedly. "And what are we NOT going to do?" asks Mr. Wolf. "Eat the cat," they answer lifelessly. The understandably freaked-out cat is unharmed during their absurd and ineffective rescue attempts, but Mr. Snake eats Mr. Piranha. Mr. Wolf spins Mr. Snake around by the tail until Mr. Piranha is launched from Mr. Snake's body and, conveniently, knocks the cat out of the tree. ("I should have stayed in Bolivia," quips Mr. Piranha.)
Australian author-illustrator Aaron Blabey's (Pig the Pug) short, snappy story is a full-on hoot for the Captain Underpants crowd, told in cartoon panels, funny black-and-white illustrations and very few words. (Next up in the Bad Guys series: Mission Unpluckable.) --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: In this entertaining series debut for early readers, Mr. Wolf tries to get his bad-guy buddies--Mr. Snake, Mr. Piranha and Mr. Shark--to turn their reputations around.
paperback, 32p., ages 7-10, 9780545912402
Wolf in the Snow
by Matthew Cordell
With a light snow falling outside, two smiling, mug-sipping parents, their daughter and dog are seen through a log-house window. Soon the bundled-up, red-coated girl is heading uphill on her way to school, waving back to her barking dog: "bark! bark! bark!" is shown as handwritten letters floating in the sky. Next up are two juxtaposed "portholes": on the left side a girl (a pointy red triangle with legs) roams the wintery landscape and on the right a pack of wolves does the same. (Yes, this is foreshadowing.) By school's end, the snow has picked up, ominously. The girl heads home and the wolves are on the move, their breath steaming white in the cold.
Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell (Trouble Gum; Another Brother) is an almost wordless story told in watercolors, snowy white paint daubs and scratchy, kinetic pen-and-ink line work reminiscent of Quentin Blake or James Stevenson. The words are mostly howls (wolves), growls (a mad raccoon) and screeches (an owl). When the lost girl meets a lost wolf pup in the woods, the words are "huff huff" and "whine whine." She scoops him up, listens as his "howwll" is answered, and trudges through a vast snowscape to reunite the scared pup with his pack.
Now exhausted, the girl collapses in the snow. As her little dog barks worriedly in the distance, the pack finds her. More howling, more barking, and the girl is rescued by her parents. This heartwarming story is simple but profound in its messages of selflessness and courage, and how we're all in this together, no matter the species. --Karin Snelson
, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: In this almost wordless picture book, a little girl gets lost in the snow... and so does a wolf pup.
Feiwel & Friends,
hardcover, 48p., ages 2-6, 9781250076366
Parenting & Family
At Mama's Knee: Mothers and Race in Black and White
by April Ryan
As a single mother of two young girls, native of Baltimore and veteran White House correspondent, April Ryan (The Presidency in Black and White) has spent much of her adulthood juggling the complex issues of race and race relations in both her personal and professional lives. In her second book, At Mama's Knee: Mothers and Race in Black and White, she draws on that experience--as well as those of other mothers and children--to present a new and multifaceted interpretation of the important role that mothers play in both understanding and defining race relations in the United States today.
Ryan uses her journalistic background to great effect in At Mama's Knee, most notably through extensive conversations with others. Interviews with prominent politicians, such as Hillary Clinton and Valerie Jarrett, combine with the stories of mothers who have been thrust into the news cycle, such as Gwen Carr (mother of Eric Garner) and Sybrina Fulton (mother of Trayvon Martin), to fully flesh out Ryan's ideas of race and motherhood. The sheer number of interviews can be overwhelming at times, and there are points throughout At Mama's Knee when the argument can be lost in cumbersome language. But at its heart, Ryan's work is an important reminder of the place of mothers in the ongoing conversation about race and racial tensions in U.S. "We must teach our children," she urges, "whether with words or actions, about race in America." The words in At Mama's Knee are an important part of that teaching. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: White House correspondent April Ryan reflects on race and motherhood--and the intersection of the two--in the United States today.
Rowman & Littlefield,
hardcover, 160p., 9781442265639
Reference & Writing
Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living
by Manjula Martin
In 2013, Manjula Martin and Jane Friedman founded Scratch, an online journal dedicated to exploring the intersection between writing as an art and publishing as a business. For two years, they published work about the economics of writing by both well-known authors and authors who struggle to pay the rent. In Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, Martin continues the conversation with a collection of powerful essays and interviews.
Writers who need information on how to write a query letter or prepare an estimate for writing a white paper should look elsewhere. This is not a how-to book. (However, Choire Sicha's essay "Monetization" is a funny and informative look at how Internet sites make money, and Cheryl Strayed gives a clear description of how author advances really work--both useful to anyone with dreams of a writing career.) Instead this is a series of candid and generous discussions of the often problematic relationship between writers and money.
The essays are fundamentally personal and oddly transgressive. Writers share stories of debt and bad financial choices, as well as details of their publishing contracts. They consider the nature of financial security and the artistic value of having a non-writing job. They describe life in and after MFA programs. Several discuss the lie of "writing for exposure."
The collective lesson of these essays is that writing is work and should be treated as such, or as Susan Orleans put it, "I ran the widget factory and I was the widget." --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins
Discover: Writers talk frankly about writing, money and making a living.
Simon & Schuster,
paperback, 304p., 9781501134579
Metaphors Be with You: An A to Z Dictionary of History's Greatest Metaphorical Quotations
by Mardy Grothe
As up-to-date as the pun of the title, Mardy Grothe's collection of quotations is a handy reference as well as an entertaining diversion. Metaphors Be with You is tidily organized into 10 metaphors in 250 categories--pick a topic!--and includes QR codes to integrate the book digitally with the author's online database of more than 100,000 metaphorical quotations, which he launched in 2014.
Grothe's enthusiasm for metaphors is infectious. A retired psychologist and author of six language books (including Oxymoronica), his collection began 50 years ago, when he was moved by Thoreau's "different drummer" passage in Walden. In a concise introductory section, he notes that metaphors demonstrate the evolution of language: "Time is money" (Ben Franklin) morphed into "He spent a ton of time." He defines the metaphor's cousins--simile ("less assertive") and analogy ("more cerebral")--and shares his history as a metaphor collector turned curator, as well as the span of his collection's origins: from ancient Greece and Rome to Downton Abbey.
In each of the categories, Ability through Zeal, Grothe has narrowed the metaphors to the 10 best. If readers don't find their nominee for a stellar quote, he suggests they refer to his website and the hundreds of entries on each topic, comparing the website and book with having oceanfront property with a swimming pool in the back.
Dip into these 2,500 nuggets from Mark Twain, Bill Gates, Delia Ephron and many more to bolster a speech or just to savor the pithy prose. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: This thoughtfully compiled collection of metaphors is a rich resource for writers and a pleasant diversion for lovers of language.
hardcover, 528p., 9780062445339
In the Midnight Hour: The Life & Soul of Wilson Pickett
by Tony Fletcher
"Wicked," the nickname of the shouting, screaming soul and R&B singer Wilson Pickett, was no mere publicity handle trading on the near rhyme with his name. Pickett deserved it. Growing up the hard way as a descendant of Alabama sharecroppers, he moved north to Detroit at age 15 to live with his father after a youth of truancy, schoolboy fights and Baptist gospel singing. Longtime music journalist and rock biographer Tony Fletcher (All Hopped Up and Ready to Go; Moon: The Life and Death of a Rock Legend) chronicles Pickett's career arc of fame, fortune and a hard fall in his illustrated biography of this quintessential "soul man."
With his good looks, strong voice and perfectionist drive, Pickett got his break in the '60s, with Eddie Floyd's the Falcons, which showcased his ability to shout on key and pump up a crowd. When Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records signed Pickett, his career took off. He hit the jackpot with what Fletcher calls "the early trifecta" of "In the Midnight Hour," "Land of 1000 Dances" and "Mustang Sally." The latter two illustrate his success with covers, his "riotous, raucous, damn-near Pentecostal" delivery turning them into wildly popular, get-up-and-dance funk.
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, by the mid-2000s Pickett was broken from years of hard living. At his funeral in 2006, the gospel-trained eulogist sang the refrain from "Land of 1000 Dances," and the crowd of family, fellow musicians and friends joined in with a rowdy chorus of "Na, na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na"--a fitting tribute to a man who helped put soul music on the map. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Rock journalist Tony Fletcher documents the enthralling story of one of soul music's highest-flying and hardest-falling legends.
Oxford University Press,
hardcover, 320p., 9780190252946
Falling Ill: Last Poems
by C.K. Williams
Pulitzer Prize winner C.K. Williams, who died in 2015, left a final collection of poems, one that grapples with the process of dying, slowly and with full awareness, and attempts to apply logic to it. Falling Ill: Last Poems is filled with the non sequiturs of the body, the wisdom of age combined with physical failings, the acknowledgement of a breaking down while being powerless to stop it. For example, in "How Many": "How many times do I find myself/ whispering later even as I have to grasp/ death's advent will have to bring sooner."
The poems--all of them five stanzas of three lines each--are filled with unpunctuated questions and struggle with nuances in the language of death--"next," "gone," "life." There's a candid recognition of the body here, a refusal to sugarcoat. One poem states, "Here's my face slung on its bones like a slop/ of concrete here the eyes punched into the mortar." The poems are quietly philosophical, resonant with repetition: "consumed as cicadas in myths are consumed/ by their singing and what is it in me that's/ being consumed and what would consumed mean." Falling Ill paints a melancholy portrait of a man expecting death, meditating on mortality and wondering how life happens even as it comes to a close. The verses ask what crying is for, meditate on what an embrace feels like, marvel at the increasing difficulty of walking and know that "my future tense is dissolving even as I watch." --Richael Best, bookseller, the Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Wash.
Discover: Frailty and aging are confronted head-on in this final collection from a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
hardcover, 64p., 9780374152208