Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, July 25, 2017

From My Shelf

Viking: The Readymade Thief by Augustus Rose

Harper: The Reason You're Alive by Matthew Quick

The Sun Sets on Amelia Peabody

The Painted Queen, the final book in the Amelia Peabody series, has just been released by William Morrow. Though I cannot remember the precise year I discovered the series by Elizabeth Peters, I do recall my response: Gimme! One after the other, I devoured each installment. I couldn't get enough of the supremely feisty heroine whose ability to attract murder and mayhem was matched only be her keen intelligence and rapier wit. And her archeologist husband, Radcliffe Emerson? Bluster and brawn and a brain coveted by his peers, this was a man up to the challenge.

I suppose Peters could have stopped there and I would have been happy--a well-suited couple able to laugh at themselves while catching the bad guys will always hold a soft spot in my heart. But she didn't. Twisty, clever plots that kept me reading into the night? Check. Historical detail that sparked interest rather than bogged down the narrative? Yep. And the Middle East. Oh, the Middle East. As important a character as Amelia or Emerson, Peters's settings leapt off the page. After finishing one of Amelia's adventures, I felt parched, even sand-swept, a touch of wanderlust calling. It all sounds so clichéd, but I look back on the time spent reading the Peabody series as I would any cherished memory.

So what of The Painted Queen, you ask. A story begun by Peters before her death in 2013 and finished by her dear friend, accomplished mystery writer Joan Hess--I was skeptical. I needn't have been. It's all there. The repartee, battle of wills, danger, even Nefertiti's bust. Oh, how I'll miss Amelia. But hers is a fitting and adventurous end written with love and serious skill. Not a bad way to go out. Not a bad way at all. --Stefanie Hargreaves, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

From My Shelf

Viking: The Readymade Thief by Augustus Rose

Harper: The Reason You're Alive by Matthew Quick

Extreme Browsing

After reading an article about the delights of bookstore browsing (something I rarely do--I usually have a specific book in mind), I decided to divide an unexpected largesse among three indie stores, and so I wandered the aisles to explore outside my usual genres. My rules were: 1) no mystery or fiction, and 2) only paperbacks. Here are a few I bought.

Headed for travel, I got sidetracked (as should happen when browsing) by a travel-ish book: Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve by Tom Bissell. The first sentence I read hooked me: "Early one morning, I walked along the calm, torpid Tiber River, the sky above streaked with watermelon light." I immediately wanted to be with the author, searching for saints (and a cappuccino).

I turned around and browsed the real travel section, and selected The Places in Between by Rory Stewart, serendipitously blurbed by Tom Bissell: "A striding, glorious book." In January 2002, Stewart walked across Afghanistan. That's intriguing enough, but during the journey, he was joined by a retired fighting mastiff, Babur. Next, I picked up Anne Garrels's Putin Country: A Journey into the Real Russia. For an NPR junkie, Garrels is catnip, so that was a natural.

A few years ago, I read River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler (while I was actually on the Yangtze). I became a Hessler fan, so I picked up Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip and read, "There are still empty roads in China, especially on the western steppes, where the highways to the Himalayas carry little traffic other than dust and wind.... It was the thought of all that fleeting open space... landscapes on the verge of change--that finally inspired me to get a Chinese driver's license." I'm in. --Marilyn Dahl

From My Shelf

Viking: The Readymade Thief by Augustus Rose

Harper: The Reason You're Alive by Matthew Quick

Gambling on a Summer Read

All in. Maybe the gambling theme initially drew me to Swimming with Bridgeport Girls by Anthony Tambakis (recently published by Simon & Schuster), which Jonathan Tropper called "a sad, smart, funny-as-hell novel with a broken heart that beats powerfully between the lines of every page...." But I stayed because it's irresistible, the perfect bookend (exacta?) to pair with another recent favorite, Jonathan Lethem's A Gambler's Anatomy.  

Swimming with Bridgeport Girls begins on the cusp of July 4th, and Ray Parisi is on a precipitous losing streak. Divorced from the woman he still loves, he's also lost his ESPN job, owes his bookie $52,000 and has maxed out his last credit cart "on a cash advance that led to a disaster at the blackjack table," which devolved into a brawl, a broken wrist and Ray's banishment from the Mohegan Sun casino. Then there's the unfortunate incident at Belmont Park with a losing jockey.

Time to get out of town. Time to get even. From Connecticut to Vegas to Memphis, Ray seeks the big score that will give him back his life. "Even when the dream of winning is gone, it's easily replaced by the dream of getting even, which can be almost stronger than the dream of winning," Tambakis writes. "After all, winning involves imagining what you don't have, while getting even merely requires you to remember what you did."

In addition to an entertaining, sometimes incendiary, cast of characters, the novel adeptly deals some well-played literary references. Ray buys Dostoevsky's The Gambler (mistakenly shelved in the "Games" section) and reflects: "No normal person could read that book and think gambling was anything but a dead end, but you're not a normal person." Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby figures prominently. Even poet Stevie Smith makes a cameo appearance: "I was much too far out all my life/ And not waving but drowning."

Here's a hot summer tip: Take a chance on this sharply drawn tale of winning and losing... and the chasm in between. --Robert Gray, contributing editor

From My Shelf

Viking: The Readymade Thief by Augustus Rose

Harper: The Reason You're Alive by Matthew Quick

The Weight of Words

photo: Kathy Huang

Is it possible to change lives with words? Michelle Kuo, author of Reading with Patrick (reviewed below), believed so when, at the age of 22, she set out to teach in the Mississippi Delta. Armed with a degree from Harvard and a passion for the Civil Rights movement, Kuo felt sure she would find a city and its people eager for aid. The truth was something altogether different: "What had the Civil Rights Movement been for--the violence, the martyrs, the passionate actions--if its birthplace was still poor, still segregated, still in need of dramatic social change?"

Though daunted in the classroom, Kuo carried on, wondering if she'd ever manage to make a difference. She applied to law schools, convinced by college friends that she could "maximize" her impact with another degree. Eventually, she made strides with her students through writing, the star being Patrick Browning, a 15-year-old with a quiet, calm presence and a desire to learn. But the influence of Kuo's parents, Taiwanese immigrants, coupled with Kuo's own doubts over her effectiveness, led her to leave and pursue a law degree, eventually landing in California.

Still, the Delta was never far from Kuo's mind. And when she heard that Patrick had killed a man, she returned--and stayed, visiting him every day in the almost two years leading up to his trial. They read together and, ultimately, connected in a way Kuo had always hoped for, but feared was impossible: "There were moments when I was reading with Patrick that he appeared to me anew...." "[T]here seemed to exist between us a mystical and radical and improbable equality. This was what reading could do: It could make you, however fleetingly, unpredictable. You were not someone about whom another can say, You are this kind of person, but rather a person for whom nothing is predetermined." Ultimately, Kuo learned it is possible to change lives with words. Maybe not in the precise way one would expect or hope, but change nonetheless. --Stefanie Hargreaves, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

From My Shelf

Viking: The Readymade Thief by Augustus Rose

Harper: The Reason You're Alive by Matthew Quick

The War on Drugs

The United States has spent an estimated $1 trillion on the war on drugs since the 1970s, and currently has the largest prison population in the world--a large percentage of whom are incarcerated for nonviolent drug crimes.

The problem of drugs--and how to combat them--is not particular to the U.S., however, as evidenced in Johann Hari's carefully researched Chasing the Scream. Hari, a British journalist, spent three years traveling around the world to understand the war on drugs, from its origins in the United States nearly a century ago to the beginnings of its end in Canada, Colorado, Portugal and Sweden. The details in Hari's work can be heartbreaking, revealing the gruesome and cruel stories of the current war on drugs, as well as how racism and racial tensions have both shaped and been shaped by these efforts at prohibition.

Michele Alexander's The New Jim Crow explores the war on drugs specifically through this lens of race and racism. Alexander argues--compassionately and compellingly--that modern drug laws are in fact a continuation of social and racial controls put in place under the Jim Crow laws of the South. Alexander's truths are not easy to read, nor are they easy to live for the millions of people whose lives are affected by the systemic racism in the United State's legal system.

Journalist Dan Slater focuses on the impact of the war on drugs even more specifically in his book Wolf Boys. Centering his story on two young Latinos caught in the drug war in Laredo, Tex., Slater explores the Mexican drug trade and the impact that the war on drugs has had on youth in the United States--rather than the Mexican cartels it is said to be fighting against. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

From My Shelf

Viking: The Readymade Thief by Augustus Rose

Harper: The Reason You're Alive by Matthew Quick

Beauty in the Beast

In 2010 and 2011, I lived in Burma (now Myanmar). Though my residency took place at least 50 years after the events of Miss Burma, the newest novel by Charmaine Craig (The Good Men), those decades hadn't erased the sociopolitical tensions that hound the book's heroic family. Craig's novel pulls on her own family history and manages to give engagingly personal perspective to Burma's complicated modern history through the experience of an equally complicated family.

Benny and Khin meet in the capital city, Rangoon, and begin a family despite their combined social disadvantage in Burma, where the nationalist fervor following World War II became violent toward minority groups. Benny, an orphan of the city's once-thriving Sephardic Jewish community, and Khin, of the Karen ethnic nationality, face combat, evacuation, separation, imprisonment and disenfranchisement during Myanmar's turbulent development in the wake of British colonial withdrawal, through the 1960s and the rise of General Ne Win's brutal military rule.

Based on Craig's mother, the novel's titular character is Louisa, the eldest daughter of the struggling couple. Growing up amid the civil conflict, Louisa's resiliency and beauty win her the country's pageant crown, and she begrudgingly becomes a symbol of national unity, even as civil rights abuses in the country soar and her father is imprisoned.

Craig details the neglected perspectives of minority women in Burma's longstanding conflict. Using these underrepresented voices and offering more complex perspective on iconic figures (most notably humanizing the typically lionized Aung San), this revisionist history is made even more engaging with the deeply personal vein of her family story. Whether readers are familiar or not with Burma's history, Craig's novel is a compelling excavation of the origins of conflict and the capacity to overcome. --Kristianne Huntsberger, Shelf Awareness partnership marketing manager

Inkshares: The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein

Book Candy

Excuses to Stay Home and Read

Bustle suggested "15 believable excuses for when you agreed to plans, but you really just want to stay home and read."


"Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know." To celebrate Ernest Hemingway’s recent birthday, Mental Floss shared his "guide to life, in 20 quotes." And Quirk Books collected "Hemingway-esque six-word stories."


Jane Austen will star in Bank of England literary links exhibition, the Guardian reported.


"Vivid ephemera: 13 quotes from psychedelic literature" were highlighted by Signature.


The Millions recommended "10 ways to organize your bookshelf."

Minotaur Books: Paradise Valley (Cassie Dewell #3) by C.J. Box

How to Read More Books

Bustle suggested "10 ways to read more books this year, even if you're super busy."


"More on medieval chained libraries, as seen in Game of Thrones" and explored by Signature.


Author Catherine Lacey shared her picks for the "top 10 opening scenes in books" with the Guardian


"Literary misquotations quiz: can you get the wrong lines right?" the Guardian challenged.


Brain Pickings displayed "the best illustrations from 150 years of Alice in Wonderland."


"He typed out famous novels to learn the art of writing." Mental Floss offered "8 gonzo facts about Hunter S. Thompson."

New Harbinger Publications: The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer

Anatomy of a Book

The Chronicle Books blog presented "the anatomy of a book."


"Only a true bookworm has read 45/66 of these young adult novels," Buzzfeed challenged.


"There's a Harry Potter supper club opening in London this summer," Cosmopolitan magazine reported.


Poetic open house: John Ashbery's Nest is "a website and virtual tour of the American poet's home."


Bustle showcased "12 unique bookshelves that will bring you one step closer to the library of your dreams."

Doubleday Books: The Captain's Daughter by Meg Mitchell Moore

Literary Hiking and Travel

"Take a (literary) hike." Novel Destinations invited readers to "put on your walking shoes and explore these eight literary trails."


Signature embarked on some "great expeditions: the top 10 cities for literary travelers."


My Poetic Side recommended "60 books that will make you fall in love with poetry all over again!"


Headline of the Day (via CNN): "J.K. Rowling wrote a secret manuscript on a party dress."


Classically naughty. Bustle revealed "7 times The Canterbury Tales was way dirtier than 50 Shades of Grey."


Katie Hudnall's Nautilus bookshelf "is loosely derived from the image of a boat on water and is designed to remind the viewer that books (and education in general) can be a form of transportation."

Shakespeare, the Perfect Beach Read

Signature considered "why Shakespeare is the perfect beach read."


"Celebrating the better halves: our favorite literary sidekicks" were featured by the New York Public Library.


Food for thought. Shari's Berries served up "20 desserts Inspired by your favorite children's books."


"Plan a rainy day and we'll reveal which book you should read next," Buzzfeed promised.


Mental Floss offered "7 tips for how to read faster (and still understand what you read)."


"The word choices that explain why Jane Austen endures" were examined in the New York Times.

Beach Reads

Bustle recommended "7 poems about the beach to take your next trip to the next level."


Author Gillian Best picked her "top 10 books about swimming" for the Guardian.


Kurt Vonnegut: Car salesman. The New York Public Library shared some of the "day jobs of 10 famous writers."


Pop quiz: "Can you score 14/16 on this first edition book cover quiz?" Buzzfeed challenged.


Mental Floss took fans of Shakespeare "inside the Public Theater's traveling 'Mobile Unit.' 


Sou Fujimoto's Bookchair is "a compact, essential bookcase from which you can extract a chair," Bookshelf noted.

Things Hardcore Bookworms Do

Lit Reactor considered "10 things only hardcore bookworms do."


"What literary video game should you play?" asked Quirk Books.


Condé Nast Traveler asked 22 foreign ambassadors to the U.S. "to pick the book they believe first-time visitors to their country should read before they arrive."


"Tyrion would be pleased." Buzzfeed reported that "this Game of Thrones bar just opened and it looks pretty damn legit."


"The Boston Public Library has a 'car wash' for books," Atlas Obscura reported.


Brightly shared "fun word games to keep your kids learning this summer."

Great Reads

Rediscover: The Miracle of Dunkirk

Between May 26 and June 4, 1940, more than 338,000 British and French soldiers were evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk in Northern France. Following Hitler's stunningly successful invasion of Western Europe, the British Expeditionary Force found itself trapped and on the verge of annihilation. The new prime minister, Winston Churchill, called the imminent fall of France "a colossal military disaster," and said "the whole root and core and brain of the British Army" was about to be lost at Dunkirk. And yet, like so many other pivotal moments during World War II, a mistake by Hitler--letting the German air force  destroy the troops at Dunkirk instead of moving in on the ground--allowed the Allies to avoid disaster. In what became known as the Miracle of Dunkirk, a flotilla of ships, including small, sometimes civilian-crewed vessels, sailed stranded soldiers back home across the English Channel. Though the BEF lost nearly all its equipment, the rescued soldiers gave a badly needed morale boost after the calamitous collapse of the Continent.

History writer Walter Lord (1917–2002), best known for his riveting, minute-by-minute account of the sinking of the Titanic in A Night to Remember (1955), chronicles the evacuation of Dunkirk in The Miracle of Dunkirk (1982). Using interviews with surviving sailors and soldiers, Lord's book presents the perfect background material to the new Christopher Nolan film, Dunkirk, which has received rave reviews. The Miracle of Dunkirk was reprinted by Open Road Media on July 18, 2017 ($16.99, 9781504047548). --Tobias Mutter

Rediscover: Jane Austen

July 18 marked the 200th anniversary of English novelist Jane Austen's death. Austen (1775-1817) succumbed to an unknown illness at age 41, leaving four major novels published during her lifetime: Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1815). Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published posthumously, and the incomplete manuscript eventually titled Sanditon wasn't released until 1925. Austen's tragically truncated body of work show a transition from 18th-century sentimental novels (as parodied in Sense and Sensibility) to 19th-century literature. Though Austen achieved some contemporary success, the authorship of her novels was kept hidden. However, her modern popularity places her in the pantheon of literary greats. One of many indications of this: On July 18, the Bank of England unveiled a new £10 note bearing Austen's portrait, making her only the second woman, after Queen Elizabeth II, to appear on currency in England and Wales.

Austen's work is a continual source of scholarship, adaptations and plain good reading. Her sharp wit, biting irony and keen eye for social drama have kept readers coming back for two centuries. Pride and Prejudice, that Regency romcom as insightful as it is entertaining, has sold more than 20 million copies. Austen has more than earned her place in the Western canon and is always worth another read. --Tobias Mutter

Rediscover: The Bookshop

English author Penelope Fitzgerald (1916-2000) didn't begin her writing career until age 58, when she published a biography of 19th-century painter Edward Burne-Jones. Her life to that point was one of promise turned to hardship. Her husband, Desmond Fitzgerald, put his legal studies on hold to fight in North Africa during World War II. He returned with a Military Cross and alcoholism. The Fitzgeralds briefly co-edited a literary magazine called the World Review before Desmond was disbarred for forging checks and cashing them at pubs. The family, now with children, faced poverty, homelessness, many years in public housing, and even lived on a houseboat that sank twice. Penelope worked various jobs to keep them afloat, mostly as a teacher, though briefly as a bookseller. She published her first novel in 1977, a comic mystery about the 1972 King Tut exhibit at the British Museum called The Golden Child. Penelope initially wrote it to comfort her terminally ill husband, who died in 1976.

Fitzgerald's other works of fiction were loosely autobiographical. Offshore (1979), winner of the Booker Prize, follows several houseboat residents living on the Thames. Human Voices (1979) looks at wartime life at the BBC, where Fitzgerald worked during World War II, and At Freddie's (1982) takes place in a drama school. The Bookshop (1978), shortlisted for the Booker Prize, is set in 1959 in a fictional coastal town where middle-aged widow Florence Green opens a bookstore. Florence revitalizes an historic, though run down property and runs her store successfully for a year, until business and political problems threaten the shop. For more information on the upcoming film adaptation (and other insights), see Robert Gray's recent column. The Bookshop was last published by Mariner Books in 2015 ($14.95, 9780544484092). --Tobias Mutter

Rediscover: Perdido Street Station

English author China Miéville is a man of many weird and wonderful talents. He is considered, along with Jeff VanderMeer, a principal participant in the New Weird movement, a loosely defined literary speculative fiction category with cross-genre fantasy, horror and sci-fi elements, sprinkled with deliberately unexplained mysteries and existential terror. Miéville is also an academic and political activist; he has a Ph.D. in international relations from the London School of Economics and is a champion of socialist causes (his doctoral theses, Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law, was published in 2005). His most recent book, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution (Verso), was published in May.

Miéville has said he intends to write a novel in every genre. He has a solid track record thus far, with forays into sci-fi (Embassytown), detective noir (The City & the City), American Western (Iron Council) and ocean adventure (The Scar), all of which bear his trademark fantastical weirdness. Perhaps Miéville's best known work is Perdido Street Station. This urban fantasy/steampunk/sci-fi/mystery/thriller (herein lies the vagaries of New Weird) is the first of his three novels set in Bas-Lag, an expansive, richly imagined dark fantasy world. It takes place in the city-state of New Crobuzon, a version of Victorian London filled with magic (called thaumatergy), humans, insect-creatures, cactus people and despotic governance, where scientist Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin receives a seemingly impossible commission: how to restore flight to a humanoid bird who has lost his wings. It was last published by Del Rey in 2001 ($20, 9780345443021). --Tobias Mutter

Rediscover: The Death and Life of Great American Cities

The Death and Life of Great American Cities by journalist and activist Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) is a savage critique of 1950s urban planning, the failures of urban renewal, and remains among the 20th-century's most influential urban studies books. With no academic credentials, Jacobs made lasting strides in the fields of economics and sociology. Her experience came first hand--as a resident of a Greenwich Village under threat by Robert Moses, whose plans for the Lower Manhattan Expressway would have destroyed Washington Square Park. In 1968, Jacobs was arrested at a public hearing during which the crowd rushed the stage and destroyed a stenographer's notes. She later moved to Toronto, where she remained for the rest of her life, over opposition to the Vietnam War.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) criticized mainstream urban planning of the '50s and '60s, in which designers created unnaturally separated areas for residential, industrial and commercial use, a sort of decentralized city that was anathema to the original purpose of cities. She claimed that this anti-urban vein of urban planning was causing severe, if unintentional harm to American cities. Jacobs advocated mixed use development, small blocks with plentiful pedestrian permeability and retaining the unique character of neighborhoods, even at the cost of efficiency. In 2011, Modern Library published a 50th anniversary edition of The Death and Life of Great American Cities with a new introduction by Jason Epstein, the book's original editor ($23, 9780679644330). --Tobias Mutter

Rediscover: Walden

This July 12 marks the bicentennial birthday of poet, essayist, social activist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau. He was born in Concord, Mass., where his father owned a pencil factory. Thoreau studied at Harvard College, though he apocryphally refused to pay the $5 fee for his diploma. He became a public school teacher, then resigned rather than use corporal punishment on his students. The young Thoreau's writing career was nurtured by like-minded locals such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ellery Channing and Margaret Fuller. In 1845, following the advice of Channing to "build yourself a hut, & there begin the grand process of devouring yourself alive," Thoreau set out on a two-year stint of simple living in a cabin on the banks of Walden Pond in Concord.

Thoreau's time on Walden Pond begat his two greatest works. The first, the essay "Civil Disobedience," resulted from Thoreau's brief stint in prison over his refusal to pay taxes. Thoreau objected to slavery and the Mexican-American War, and argued that an individual could not allow a government to overrule their conscience, an approach that influenced Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Walden (1854) is a transcendentalist tract on Thoreau's spiritual self-discovery and practical lessons on isolated life, perhaps best explained by the book's most famous lines: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." --Tobias Mutter

The Writer's Life

Tal M. Klein: Cogito Ergo Sum

photo: Lai Long

Tal M. Klein's debut novel, The Punch Escrow (reviewed below), won the Inkshares Geek & Sundry Hard Science Fiction publishing contest and will be the first book published by the Geek & Sundry imprint. Klein took his cues from hard science fiction books like The Martian while writing The Punch Escrow, emphasizing scientific accuracy and plausibility in his vision of 2147 Earth. In The Punch Escrow, Joel Byram, a "salter" who trains artificial intelligences for a living, is accidentally duplicated while teleporting, putting both Joels in danger from religious extremists, spies and the powerful organization that controls teleportation technology.

Why was it important to you that your vision of the future was so carefully grounded in plausible science?

I'm glad you brought that up. I've always been a fan of the intersection between sci-fi and humor. Especially hard sci-fi and humor. My favorite example of the genre is an essay by Larry Niven entitled "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex," in which we are treated to approximately 2,000 words of Niven typing out loud his scientific hypotheses on the physics and biology behind Superman and Lois Lane's bedroom antics. So, when Andy Weir wrote a hard sci-fi novel with a protagonist who spouted lines like, "Tell Commander Lewis, disco sucks," that awakened something inside me. I felt that if we now lived in a world where our hero could be an astronaut botanist who waxes poetic about eating poop potatoes and hates on disco, then I could get away with a hard sci-fi story featuring a protagonist who loved 1980s New Wave and told bad jokes to computers for a living.

Lengthy footnotes testify to your commitment to the science of The Punch Escrow, but how did you determine the amount of detail you could go into without losing your readers?

Ah, the footnotes. My publisher warned me the book would live or die by its footnotes. The thing is, I spent three years researching the science of The Punch Escrow before I ever set pen to paper. It was important to me that the science of the story not only be cool, but also plausible. I wanted to expose some of that research to the reader, because it's what makes Joel's world so lived-in. I wanted readers to understand why, for example, [genetically engineered] mosquitoes were the solution to air pollution, how they worked, and what the anthropological factors were that led to their development. As for quantity of detail, I would give all the credit there to my developmental editor, Matt Harry. I think he likely still feels the footnotes are "a bit too much" but at least they're not "much too much."

How did you come up with the Gehinnomites, and their ideology?

Initially, the Gehinnomites were nothing more than 22nd-century Luddites. But as I developed their history, I realized that it would be more interesting if they weren't anti-tech, but rather strictly anti-teleportation. Being religiously opposed to just one specific type of technology made them exponentially more interesting. I also liked the idea that they were pacifists--originally Quakers, having slowly grown weary of their passive resistance charter's ineffectiveness at manifesting the change they wanted.

As for the name, I was surprised to find that I'd coined "Gehinnomites." I half expected to find a Moloch-worshipping cult calling themselves that.

Having a double seems to provide the ultimate opportunity for self-consciousness. Do you ever find yourself obsessing over how people perceive you?

Oh God, yes. At the risk of diving too deep, I believe that in "cogito ergo sum," Descartes meant "we think therefore we are" not "I think therefore I am." The reason that's an important distinction (provided we solve for the scientific hurdles of teleportation such that the person who comes out is molecularly the same as the person who went in) is because it transforms his hypothesis into an anthropological quandary, rather than a philosophical one. What I mean is that the existence of any "one" is the onus of the "many."

One example that comes to mind is of a person in jail who did not commit a crime. Despite her innocence (which she knows), she remains a criminal until society (the "many") deems her innocent. The onus on her, her lawyers and her supporters is to sway the minds of the "many" until they believe, and thus proclaim her to be innocent. Only then does she become innocent. But that's just, like, my opinion, man.

Do you think science and/or science fiction are too often presented in a self-serious, humorless light?

Yes, and that's okay. I mean, one doesn't read 2001 for the laughs, just as one doesn't read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for the science. I take bigger issue with the way the future is too often presented in sci-fi as a miserable, dystopian place, and I'm sick and tired of it. That kind of thinking ultimately becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I built Joel's world to be awesome. There are so many cool toys in it. Yes, bad things happen there, but it's certainly not dystopian.

A lot of your ideas for the future can seem pretty off-the-wall to a layperson. How do you develop your ideas?

I use a strategy method called Wardley mapping to assess the technological landscape of the future. It's a value chain mapping technique refined by my friend Simon Wardley. The basic idea is that if we can assess what components of tech will become commoditized and how quickly they will become so, then we can envision innovations that build upon those commodities in alignment with the needs of the market.

I'm sure I've gotten a lot of things about the 22nd century wrong. I hope we don't end up relying on mosquitoes to clear the air. But it's feasible that we might!

Philosophically, your novel seems to revolve around how the reader thinks about the famous Ship of Theseus thought experiment. To give a rough summation: Theseus' paradox asks whether, after every constituent part is replaced over time, his ship is still fundamentally the same ship. Your novel leaves the answer to the question ambiguous, but what do you think?

To take a stab at an answer, I think we go back to "cogito ergo sum." Say we're having a debate about this topic, to settle the matter once and for all. You make a strong and impassioned case about Theseus' ship being Theseus' ship, citing practical evidence, historical anecdotes and hard data. I step up to my podium and offer to buy everyone drinks if they agree with me that it's not Theseus' ship. The crowd sides with me because they'd rather go drinking than listen to us debate. At the bar, you come up to me and ask me if I really believed it wasn't Theseus' ship. I hand you a beer and say, "The answer lies at the bottom of this bottle."

Tell us about The Punch Escrow's unusual journey to publication. Before winning the Geek & Sundry contest, had you approached traditional publishers?

The decision to go with Inkshares versus traditional publishing likely owed more to my day job as a marketer than my being an author. A couple of weeks before the Inkshares Geek & Sundry contest was announced, I was offered a publishing deal by a well-known and respected publishing house. However, the deal they offered me had absolutely no digital marketing built into it. This gravely concerned the marketer in me.

The funny and totally true question I asked the publisher was, "Why can't you guys market my book on sites where my ideal readers hang out, you know, like Nerdist and Geek & Sundry?" I love shows like Because Science, Critical Role, Signal Boost and Co-optitude, and I thought of "people like me" as my target demographic. Their response was, "Digital marketing doesn't work." Then, suddenly, the Geek & Sundry contest appeared in my inbox, and it was exactly in the genre of my book. Almost too kismet to be true! I knew about Inkshares from supporting a book a friend of mine had written, so I knew they were legit. I told the traditional publisher, "No thanks," and I went for it with Inkshares. My agent thought I was nuts. He fired me! --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

A Mammoth of a Story

photo: Eric Levin

Who doesn't love the idea that past mistakes of the human race could possibly be undone by scientific ingenuity? The very thought that one could, with dedicated work, bring an alternate view of the future from improbable to reality is what drives many people toward the sciences. Ben Mezrich's Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History's Most Iconic Extinct Creatures (out now from Atria; reviewed below) is, in part, an account of the scientific community's quest to return the Woolly Mammoth to Northern climates; it's also about the impulses driving those who are trying to achieve what was once considered impossible.

Tell us about the process of putting together this book. What kinds of research were involved?

I've been fascinated by Woolly Mammoths ever since I was a kid; at the same time, my entire goal in life as a writer was to be Michael Crichton. When I first heard about George Church and his Woolly Mammoth Revival project, I became obsessed with the idea of writing it. I reached out to him and he invited me into his lab. I embedded myself there, and got to know his post-docs as well as I could. I was like a fly on the wall, watching this crazy science. As with all of my books, my goal is to tell a true story in a thrilleresque fashion. I want to write it as if it already was a movie, which is how I see it in my head. So I spent months researching, talking to everyone I could, trying to understand the science--and then I tried to make it feel, through the writing, as exciting as it does inside my head.

Aside from Michael Crichton's, what books really stuck with you, both in terms of shaping your writing and fueling your love of reading?

As a kid my dad had a rule: my brothers and I had to read two books a week before we were allowed to watch television. So every week we would pick books--anything counted--and he would test us on them. I usually went for science fiction--I fell in love with Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury. Then as I got older, I moved into Crichton, and then Hemingway. As an adult I read and read The Sun Also Rises the first week of every month. Pretty crazy, but I think it taught me a lot about how to paint a picture with a small amount of words. Then I discovered Hunter S. Thompson and he blew my mind. I really wanted to be a blend of Crichton and Thompson. Telling true stories in a thriller fashion, using real facts to construct something compelling.

The stories of the people involved in this project--their similarities and differences--are explored in Woolly, and you bring it all together in a way that gives the project a sort of epic scale. Did you get a sense that they feel part of an epic story?

Absolutely, epic is the right word. These young scientists who work in Church's lab are truly creating our future. They are bringing back an extinct species using cutting-edge genetic engineering. Because of them, Woolly Mammoths are actually going to walk the earth after being extinct for 3,000 years. That's insane, and huge. And these kids, essentially, aren't doing it for money or fame--they are just doing it because it's a scientific problem they are solving. And then there's George Church himself. I idolize him. He's this incredible, brilliant person--the Einstein of our times--who is pushing us toward a future that he, internally, has already envisioned. I do think everyone who has really thought about the Woolly Mammoth revival feels it's something epic, immense. My favorite quote from the book is what one of the scientists told me: "It's only science fiction until we remove the fiction, then it becomes real...."

How does their work fit into the larger quilt of scientific research? Do you see implications of their work for other fields of study?

That's really the core of the story. The Woolly Mammoth project is a moon shot. It's going to lead us in so many incredible directions. These same tools are employed in reverse aging. The next generation is going to live 150 years because of CRISPR and the mechanisms involved in building a Mammoth. The cure for cancer is going to come from the fact that elephants don't get cancer, because of something written in their genes. Mosquitos that can't carry malaria, the elimination of Lyme disease, biofuels from bacteria, all of this comes out of these advances in synthetic biology. I don't think I can overstate it--the same tech involved in bringing back the mammoth is going to change all of our lives. --Matthew Tiffany, LCPC, writer for Condalmo and psychotherapist

Laurel Davis Huber: Art and Legacy in Fiction

photo: Danny Sanchez

Laurel Davis Huber grew up in Rhode Island and Oklahoma. She has worked as a corporate newsletter editor, communications director for a botanical garden, high school English teacher and senior development officer for New Canaan Country School and for Amherst College. She and her husband split their time between New Jersey and Maine. The Velveteen Daughter (reviewed below) is her first novel.

What sparked the idea of The Velveteen Daughter? Have you always been a fan of Margery Williams Bianco and The Velveteen Rabbit?

Ironically, The Velveteen Rabbit was not a staple from my childhood. I remember so many delightful books my mother read to me--the Babar books, the Beatrix Potter tales and very early Dr. Seuss, like The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins and To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. It was not until I was an adult that I first read The Velveteen Rabbit. What started me on my writing journey was a simple act of diversion. One summer day in 2006 I picked up an old ABC book from my childhood that had beautiful drawings, and for the first time noticed the name of the author/illustrator: Pamela Bianco. Idly, I wondered if she had written and illustrated other books. A quick Google search led to the discovery that she had been a famous child prodigy. Curious, I kept on looking. When eventually I found out--and it took a long while--that her mother was the author of The Velveteen Rabbit, I became obsessed with the story.

Was it difficult to research the lives of Margery and Pamela? For example, throughout the novel Pamela calls Margery "Mam." Did you find documentation that she used Mam instead of mother or mom, or was that creative license?

The use of the "Mam" moniker is a small bit of creative license. The truth is that Pamela almost always referred to her mother as "Mummie" or, even more frequently, "Bombom!" I'm afraid I felt these names would get tiresome quite quickly to readers. However, Francesco (Pamela's father) would refer to Margery in his letters to his children as "Mam" or "Mammy." So I did not make up "Mam" out of whole cloth. As for the research, I wouldn't say it was not difficult. It was time-consuming, but it was so much fun I didn't want it to stop. I traveled all over the country in search of letters and memos and photographs and artwork. At the back of the book there is a list of sources for those who may be interested.

Many glamorous and famous people make cameos in The Velveteen Daughter--Richard Hughes, Eugene O'Neill, the Gershwins. What was the best part of digging into the art and literary worlds of the early 20th century?

I had to restrain myself so that I didn't include too many famous names. The Bianco family lived in the center of Greenwich Village when it was at its height as the stomping ground for bohemian artists, writers and musicians. Edward Hopper lived right around the corner, Edna St. Vincent Millay also lived nearby, and, yes, the Gershwin brothers really did frequent Francesco's bookstore. A caricature published in Harper's Bazaar in 1922 shows Margery and Pamela surrounded by the fashion designer Erté, Stephen Vincent Benet and G.K. Chesterton, to name a just a few! During my research, I stumbled over one surprise after another. The most exciting discovery was handwritten letters that described in detail Pamela's wedding in Harlem; a close second was finding memos from the New Yorker archives detailing conversations with Pamela long after she had faded from the public view.

Why do you think Pamela's fame didn't last? Perhaps her art didn't stand the test of time?

This is almost impossible to answer. I am neither a trained art historian nor an art critic, so I cannot judge Pamela's work in terms of its "worthiness" to stand the test of time. I do know two things: the first is that child prodigies rarely succeed in a big way throughout their lifetimes--they almost always seem to burn early and flame out fast; the second is that floating around "out there" there is an unknown society of writers, poets, artists and composers whose work is forgotten simply because of fate, and not for lack of brilliance. Pamela's work as a child was delicate and highly detailed. Over time her work evolved dramatically, and there was a boldness and strength to her paintings in her middle period. Her later paintings seemed to combine the two styles--they were bold, but also so extraordinarily detailed that it could take her years to finish one piece. She would use a brush with one hair for precision. I think they're amazing. I don't know what art critics today would think.

Did writing about real people made your work harder or easier?

It was both. It was easier because I didn't have to make up characters--I had to study them from all angles through the prism of their letters and their works and make them come alive as best I could. It was harder because I had a strong desire to honor Margery and Pamela by sticking to their real story as much as possible. I was very sensitive to this, and took out many passages where I had let my imagination work overtime. For instance, there were several times I wrote in fictional boyfriends for Pamela, thinking surely she had someone lurking about during the years of Diccon's [Richard Hughes] absence--but then I felt I was treading on shaky ground, and the scenes would feel false, and out they would go! But the temptation to let my imagination run wild was always there.

What are you working on now?

I do have a book I am working on, and the style bears absolutely no resemblance to The Velveteen Daughter. It is contemporary, a work of magical realism in which one of the main characters is a dog. What can I say? On the other hand, I've also been working on the plot of a novel set in New York City in the early 19th century. So we will see which one emerges first! --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Beatriz Williams: Connecting the Past with the Present

photo: Marilyn Roos

A graduate of Stanford University with an MBA from Columbia, Beatriz Williams spent several years in New York and London hiding her early attempts at fiction, first on company laptops as a communications strategy consultant and then as an at-home producer of small persons, before her career as a writer took off. She lives with her husband and four children near the Connecticut shore. Her latest novel, Cocoa Beach (Morrow), is reviewed below.

One of the most intriguing elements of Cocoa Beach is its evocative setting, and your literary descriptions beautifully transport the reader into Florida's atmosphere during the 1920s. What influenced you to set this novel in that location and time?

When I visited that area of Florida during my book tour for A Hundred Summers, I was struck by the region's lush landscape and wilderness-like aspects. I was getting all these gothic vibes and knew I wanted to set a book in that environment. At the same time, I happened to be reading Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s, and I became fascinated by Frederick Lewis Allen's energetic voice, especially his chapter about Florida's social and cultural changes during that time. There were scoundrels making a quick buck, dreamers, a big land boom happening with enormous real estate development. Somehow, I had to find a way to capture all of this in a story.

All those elements seem to come together effortlessly. Were there any challenges?

Definitely. I had written historical fiction, but this was more historical psychological suspense, which was new for me. Cocoa Beach is told in a dual narrative format, a style I love because it's such a great way to juxtapose two characters and different time periods while building suspense and hooking the reader. I wrote this in a linear fashion, almost like two novels; the 1917 section was first, followed by the 1920s and then I connected the two timeframes with Simon's letters.

You have a family connection to Maitland, the plantation that is central to Cocoa Beach's plot. How did you discover this coincidence? 

This is one of those things that sends shivers down my spine. My in-laws were downsizing, and while we were visiting, my mother-in-law was sorting through old papers and letters. I picked one up completely at random. In those days, letter writers included the location where they were writing from and this particular correspondence was from Maitland. "Why would one of your relatives be writing from Maitland?" I said. And my mother-in-law answered, "Because we had a plantation there." You know, just like my fictional characters did in the very next scene I was writing in Cocoa Beach, which involved my character traveling to their family's plantation in Maitland! Sadly, my family sold their plantation years ago, but this intervention of fate seems to add to the gothic flavor of the book, I think. In many ways, Cocoa Beach was a troublesome book for me to write and perhaps this was a sign that I was on the right track after all.

What interests you most about the 1920s?

There were great historical events during that time, of course, and a focus on business. At the same time, it was a return to frivolity with people becoming interested in film stars and sporting figures. When you're talking about the '20s, it's the culture, society and people that leads to rich, character-driven stories. With few exceptions, like The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty and The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell, there isn't much fiction set in this time. Everyone always thinks of The Great Gatsby, but Fitzgerald wrote that contemporaneously.

How do you balance the research aspect with telling a compelling story?

A considerable amount of research goes into my books, but I only bring about 10% of what I learn to each novel. I try to remember that my characters are living in their present. I don't want a history lesson to pull readers out of the scene. Instead, I weave the history into the plot, and that's a fun challenge because I need to entice the reader into figuring out and interpreting what's happening. I love when I get readers who know about the period because the more informed and engaged a reader is, the more they tend to enjoy the story while hopefully finding something new and intriguing about the characters or the plot that sparks their curiosity.

Speaking of your characters, several people from your book A Certain Age reappear in Cocoa Beach

I think I've been slowly building up to this book over the course of several others. One character in Along the Infinite Sea was beginning a new life and I gave her a villa in Cocoa Beach. There's a line about buying it "after the 20s, when it was built in the land boom." I knew that somehow, a few books later, that same villa was going to be the focus of a different novel. While I was writing A Certain Age, I gave my main character Sophie a sister named Virginia, who had an absent husband. All this family really knew about this husband was that Virginia met him while she was a nurse in World War I, there were these letters and she had to go to Florida after he died.

It's a fun connection without being required reading. You don't have to read A Certain Age before Cocoa Beach.

Exactly right. When I heard someone refer to the comics and superhero world as a "shared universe," I thought, "That's what I do, too!" Theoretically, you can read any one of my books alone but having that knowledge about the backstory enriches the story a little more.

So, do you envision any of your characters from Cocoa Beach making a reappearance in another novel?

Yes. There's some mystery to the ending of Cocoa Beach, as readers will discover. It's intentional and related to The Wicked City, which was published in January 2017. I wrote Cocoa Beach before The Wicked City, which takes place two years after Cocoa Beach. My next book is The Wicked Redhead and readers should look forward to seeing a familiar character or two. --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at

Nina George: Writing, Loving, Fighting

photo: Urban Zintel

Nina George is the author of the bestselling novel The Little Paris Bookshop, a story about how books have the power to change destinies. She also writes (in German, with her husband, Jens "Jo" Kramer) a mystery series set in Provence under the pseudonym Jean Bagnol; has written science thrillers as Nina Kramer; and many titles about love, relationships, Eros and femininity as Anne West. In her 27th book, The Little French Bistro (see our review below), George tells the fictional story of a 60-year-old German woman's quest for reinvention and self-discovery. 

Why use the word "little" in the titles of both novels?

In every language, my books have totally different titles. Every market has its own rules. And let's face it: I like to write intimate stories, set in a specific place--because the place is a sort of secret protagonist. Every landscape, every room has its character, which helps me to describe certain emotions and cultural attitudes.

Both "little" books are journey stories. What did you learn about yourself in taking the journey to write these novels?

I love to tell "road stories." The art of developing a "quest," the searching and finding, is one of the oldest ways to create legends. You have to move on--our own, real lives are daily-quests, too. With The Little French Bistro, I found my writing voice. I had nearly 18 years of practice in professional writing, but with Marianne (the protagonist of The Little French Bistro), I reached the magical point of telling the story just exactly the way it wanted to be told. A story finds its way to a writer in different ways. When I found the tale of Marianne, it all started with her "getting lost at the end of the world." And like Marianne, I also found my home--at the "end of the world."

That "end of the world" reference is to Kerdruc, the setting of this novel.

Yes, Kerdruc is a very, very small village in the "Commune Nevez," which is part of the Region Cornouaille in the Department Finistère in the State Brittany (Bretagne) of France. Some call it a place at the "end of the world."

How did you discover Kerdruc?

Years ago, my husband and I traveled without any GPS, and one day we ended up at the Port of Kerdruc. It was like a slap in the face: I had the idea to develop a setting right then and there.

You divide your time between Berlin and Brittany.

Brittany is the place where I feel at home. I belong to the sea, the beauty of the nights; I feel familiar with the savage seashore, the stones and the stolid nature of Bretons.

Did that Breton sensibility spark the idea for this story?

The idea was born when I noticed a group of older people hanging around in a Bar Tabac on a Monday morning--drinking, chatting, enjoying their friendship and their time left together. I wanted to tell a story about older people and why they are still together--is it friendship? Is it love? Is it just home? What is necessary to do in your own life to find the exact place that is meant for you? 

Is that why you chose to create Marianne--the protagonist of The Little French Bistro--as a 60-year-old, as opposed to someone younger?

Modern literature often ignores older people in the autumn of their lives. At 60 years old, the layers of your emotions, your memories, and also the cage you have built up around you, are more complex.

Community is the centerpiece of both "little" books.

Our memories are made of the people we've spent our time with. Life is not about what you get. Not your career or success. It's about who you choose to spend your short time on earth with: friendship--short or long-term--love, an encounter with a stranger on a train by night....

What research was necessary to tell this story?

For several weeks, I traveled through the Finistère; watching, listening, visiting forests and chapels, feeling the loneliness and freedom of this part of old Europe, learning how to cook like the Bretons.

Cooking and gastronomic delights are backdrops of the novel. Are you a cook?

Bah oui! I was raised in a family of cooks. For me it is normal to get something good on the table--to please me, to please the one I love. And I really love to take care of guests. One day, I will open a guest house with a fine kitchen and a library in each room.

How has your life changed since the success of The Little Paris Bookshop?

It took me 20 years to become famous "overnight"... but those years help me to stay humble today. No one tells you beforehand that it is even harder to write another successful novel after having a bestseller. The success also makes it easier for me to support others. The royalties allow me to advocate for authors' rights, for women in literature and to defend those whose voices are silenced. We have to care for the world and the future.

Will there be another "little" book?

I am working right now on a new novel, my 28th, which asks the existential question: Did I become (the woman) who I could have been? It will be based in Brittany again in an endless summer, an intimate play between two women and two men. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Shelf Sampler

Excerpt: The Epiphany Machine

David Burr Gerrard received his MFA in fiction from Columbia University and teaches creative writing at the New School in New York City. The Epiphany Machine (just published by Putnam), his second novel, is an alternative history of New York City, set from the 1960s to the near future, in which a tattoo machine predicts the future with irrevocable consequences. Here's an excerpt:

The first time I asked my father about the epiphany machine was also the only time that he hit me. What made an impression on me was not the actual physical contact, a gentle slap only slightly more abrasive than the wind that was blowing very hard for an October day. My father seemed no more likely to slap me than to slit my throat and watch me bleed out into the leaf-clogged gutter, so for all I knew that might come next. In my young mind, for him to have hit me at all meant that something must have been unlocked in him, something that would have remained boxed up had I not liberated it with the magic words "the epiphany machine," and that would now never cease to pursue me until it had achieved my destruction.

He knelt down and looked me in the eye. "You have no idea how much I've gone through to protect you from that horrible thing."

This made me sob.

"If you're old enough to know about the epiphany machine, then you're too old to cry."

This only made me sob harder.

"Venter, you need to tell me who told you about the machine. Was it your grandmother? She promised me she wouldn't say anything about it until we both agreed that you were old enough."

"It wasn't her. I just heard about it on TV."

This was not technically a lie. One night, after I was supposed to be asleep, I had heard my grandmother weeping while watching an eleven-o'clock news report suggesting that the epiphany machine might be responsible for the spread of HIV, another thing I had never heard of. I connected this to the time when my father had made an excessively big show of not freaking out over the cover of a copy of a magazine that had been left on the table at a coffee shop: "Did a Tiny Cult in New York City Help Spread HIV?" But these events had happened weeks earlier--which might as well have been decades according to my sense of time--and were not why I had asked about the device. I had asked because, at recess that morning, I had heard one teacher whisper to another as I passed by, "His mother got a tattoo from the epiphany machine." Now I wanted to know what it was. I was also wondering whether the epiphany machine had something to do with the tattoo on my father's forearm--SHOULD NEVER BECOME A FATHER--that he had sat me down to talk about shortly before I was old enough to read it, claiming he had gotten it as a stupid prank when he was very young, long before I was born.

"On TV!" my father said, laughing. "My brilliant boy, I'm sorry I slapped you. Let's take a walk." We walked past the crematorium across from our house to the cemetery two blocks away. (Queens was and remains a city of the dead with some half-hearted gentrification from the living.) The wind continued as we maintained silence for several rows of what my father and grandmother called "nails on a sum," aping what they said had been my attempt, at the age of three, to say that gravestones looked like thumbnails. I got myself together and stopped crying, but then I suddenly realized that my father must be taking me to see my mother's grave--that this was how he was going to tell me that my mother was dead, and had not merely run away. I started sobbing again. This time my father did not scold me, but he did not comfort me either. He just looked out at the traffic. Finally, he spoke.

"Do you know why your grandmother and I think that 'nails on a sum' is funny?"

"Because it's silly?"

"Because it's not silly. Because it's actually exactly correct. They've told you in school what a sum is, right?"

"That's in adding."

"Exactly. Can you give me an example of a sum?"

"In two plus two equals four, the sum is four."

"Good, my brilliant boy!"

This made me feel very, very good, as the fact that I hated him at the moment did not make me long any less for him to think that I was a genius.

"The sum is what things add up to," my father continued. "Everyone wants his or her life to add up to something. All the people in this cemetery, all the people that we're walking on, they all did lots of stuff, hoping to make the sums of their lives go higher and higher and higher. Maybe a few of them had sums that were very high, most of them had sums that were not so high. In every case, the gravestone is like a nail on that sum--not like the nail on your thumb, actually, but like the nails in a roof, the nails that say: no, house, you're not going any higher. Gravestones are like nails on a person's life, keeping the sum from getting any higher."

Often, he couldn't tell exactly at which level to speak to me, and so said things that made no sense on any level.

"I don't understand," I said.

"Okay. In a baseball game, there's a score, right? At the end of the game, each team has gotten a certain number of runs. The sum that I'm talking about in a person's life, that's like a score."

Something was stirring in me, a mature and morally serious version of the most childish emotion of all: impatience.

"Dad," I said. "What is the epiphany machine and where is my mother?"

"I'm getting to that," he said. "So the sum of one's life is the sum of everything you've done. And as you get a little older you start to realize that sooner or later you're going to end up here, in this cemetery or one exactly like it, and you want to make sure that your sum is as high as possible. The problem is that life is more confusing than a baseball game. In a baseball game, a run is a run and that's that. In life, sometimes you're not sure what counts as a run. Also, you don't know what the teams are. Or whether you're even playing. Sometimes you think you're playing and you're actually just sitting in the stands, watching other people play."


"Okay. All this means that you have to make up your own way of scoring. You have to decide what's important. For a lot of people, it's money. For a lot of other people, it's some kind of religious fulfillment. You know what the most important thing is to me?"

I shook my head. I knew what he was going to say, but I wanted to hear him say it.

"You are the most important thing to me. So whenever something good happens to you, or whenever I see you smile, or whenever you learn how to do something, that's like a run for me. When something bad happens to you, that's like a run for the other team. That's why I had to do what I did just now. Even though I didn't really hit you--it was really just a love tap, wasn't it?--I still felt horrible while I was doing it. I felt much worse than you felt, believe me. But the epiphany machine is very bad and I have to do whatever it takes to keep you safe from it. It's the sort of thing that could cause you to lose the whole game."


"I'm saying that figuring out what's important in life and how to go about getting it is very difficult. Sometimes you get confused and you get tempted to just let other people make the rules. And some people are really happy to make the rules for other people. Adam Lyons, the man who runs the epiphany machine, is one of those people. There was a time when I let myself get confused enough that I let him write those words on me that you know aren't true."

"The epiphany machine writes things about people on their arms?"

"Exactly, my brilliant boy! I figured out that the machine was wrong. Your mother, on the other hand... well, Venter, it told her that she ABANDONS WHAT MATTERS MOST. You weren't born yet so she didn't know what matters most. Then you were born and she abandoned you."

"Why did she listen to the machine if you didn't?"

"That's the first question you should ask her if you meet her."

"I don't ever want to meet her."

"That shows that you are a very smart boy."

If I had actually been a very smart boy, I probably would have kept asking questions. At the very least I would have recognized his persistent flattery as a shutting-down of my curiosity no less violent than the slap. But I wanted his praise more than I wanted the truth.

Book Review


South Pole Station

by Ashley Shelby

The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station Guide welcomes Cooper Gosling, an artist in residence, with the fact that the average annual temperature is -56.7 degrees Fahrenheit. She'd already been vetted for a grant: subjected to an exam ("True or false: I prefer flowers to trucks"), questioned about why she wants to paint in Antarctica and treated to a trust-building exercise involving Tabasco and 7UP. In Ashley Shelby's witty and affecting debut novel, South Pole Station, Cooper joins a group of eccentrics on the ice for a slide into the surreal. There is Sal, an astrophysicist with one year left to prove his cosmological theory; Pavano, a helioseismologist in the pay of big oil and global warming deniers; Pearl, a cook with culinary ambitions; Bozer, the construction chief who sports a Confederate bandanna; Tucker, the calm and cool African American area director; and various other "margin-dwellers" for whom the Pole is the only place they feel at home.

South Pole Station, told from various viewpoints, always circles around Cooper, who was raised, along with her brother, on tales of polar exploration. The tension in the novel, aside from extreme weather conditions and personal interactions, comes from the opposition to Pavano. The scientists go out of their way to thwart him, which ultimately results in an accident involving Cooper, and the threat by several congressmen to withdraw funding.

Shelby makes serious statements about scientific quests, climate change, politics and people in extremis, but it's the "Polies" who undergird the story. With South Pole Station's satire, science, wry wit and warmth, Ashley Shelby has written one of the best novels of the year. --Marilyn Dahl

Discover: A blocked artist gets a grant to paint in Antarctica, and finds both inspiration and family among the "margin-dwellers" who call the ice their home.

Picador, $26, hardcover, 368p., 9781250112828

So Much Blue

by Percival Everett

Percival Everett's So Much Blue is a masterstroke of a novel that blends biting humor, beautiful ekphrasis and heartbreaking pathos in a stirring, unforgettable composition.

Everett (Erasure) is known for his literary skill and probing intelligence. Here he combines three stories from the point of view of painter Kevin Pace. Pace's present-day life entails family troubles with his daughter and wife, and a secretive, giant painting he keeps under lock and key. Intermittent flashbacks form two underlying narratives, one about a tragic experience in El Salvador when Pace was a young man, and the other about an extramarital affair in Paris when he was older. Layered together much like a painting, the three stories harmonize with striking, revelatory power.

To get there, Everett flexes the full range of his talent, including a sly, cynical sense of humor that cuts to the absurdity of the novel's situations and characters. A rundown cantina in the countryside of El Salvador, for example, is "so much a cliché that it wasn't one." With the same deftness, Everett switches tones and finds his characters in more serious moods. Pace's painting becomes an extended metaphor for his life, and Everett uses the device to sublime effect: "If this feeling were a color, I considered, it would be the orange threads of slightly diluted saffron."

So Much Blue explores the dimensions of human experience as few books can. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author

Discover: Percival Everett renders a rich emotional tapestry in this novel about an artist coming to terms with his past.

Graywolf Press, $16, paperback, 236p., 9781555977825

The Essex Serpent

by Sarah Perry

Following her husband's death, Cora Seaborne leaves London in search of the dirt, earth, fossils, rocks and trees that once entertained her as a young girl. Her arrival in Essex coincides with growing rumors of the return of the Essex Serpent, a great beast living in the Blackwater that is said to claim human lives. A budding naturalist whose passions were squashed by her cruel husband, Cora sets off in search of the mythical beast, but finds instead a local parson, William Ransome, with whom she forms an unlikely friendship.

Sarah Perry's The Essex Serpent transpires over 11 months in the late 19th century, told through the stories of vibrant supporting characters. But the novel is much larger than a single year, person or place as Perry explores questions of science and faith, passion and reason, good and evil, friendship and animosity, past and present, humor and fear. This complex and beautiful novel perfectly captures the tension that exists between opposing forces at every moment of a life, be it large or small. With a quietude that reflects the beauty of the landscapes she describes, and a fortitude that captures the power of a woman's mind, Sarah Perry has proven herself a writer who can dazzle with luminous prose in The Essex Serpent. Here is a novel that will remind readers that they can be, like Perry's perfectly flawed characters, "children of the earth and lost in wonder." --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: In this quiet, beautiful novel, a young widow searches for the mythical Essex Serpent and finds unexpected friendship in its wake.

Custom House/HarperCollins, $26.99, hardcover, 432p., 9780062666376

Grief Cottage

by Gail Godwin

In Gail Godwin's novel Grief Cottage, Marcus Harshaw is 11 years old when he faces the sudden, tragic death of his single mother. That summer he is left in the custody of his great-aunt Charlotte on a remote South Carolina island. His new guardian--a thrice married and divorced, set-in-her-ways, reclusive artist--takes in precocious, self-contained Marcus, and provides him a safe haven.

The young man's formative years with his mother--and their chronic struggles to make ends meet--made Marcus wise beyond his years, enabling him to adapt and be sensitive toward his aunt's brooding, hermetic life. Charlotte gained notoriety painting images of a deserted, dilapidated local house nicknamed Grief Cottage; its occupying family disappeared during Hurricane Hazel in 1954. The battered, run-down residence becomes a source of intrigue for Marcus, too, as he seeks to learn more about its history and those who perished there. This quest also unearths questions about Marcus's background--his relationship with his mother, how he lost his best friend from school and the identity of his absent father.

Godwin (Publishing: A Writer's Memoir) has written an exquisite narrative with metaphor embedded in subplots like the preservation of nested Loggerhead turtle eggs and the presence of a ghost at Grief Cottage. This grace-filled story probes aspects of life and death, isolation and family, and how great pain and loss can ultimately lead to unforeseen transcendence. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: An orphaned 11-year-old works through his grief when he goes to live with his great-aunt on a remote South Carolina island.

Bloomsbury, $27, hardcover, 336p., 9781632867049

The Little French Bistro

by Nina George

While vacationing in Paris with her demeaning ogre of a husband, unfulfilled and unhappy, 60-year-old Marianne Messmann from Celle, Germany, decides to end her life by taking a plunge into the River Seine. But when a stranger rescues Marianne, she sets off on a journey to find her true self--the woman she sadly left behind and lost when she married 41 years before.

Marianne's second chance at life seems dictated by providence. This begins in the hospital, where she finds a glazed tile depicting a beautiful harbor and a dainty red boat, sails slack, named Mariann--"a magnificent scene in the tiny space." On the back is written Port de Kerdruc, Fin. Marianne takes this as a sign. She ditches her husband and sets her sights on Kerdruc, located miles away in the Finistère region, a place in western France that "bulged out into the Atlantic--Brittany."

Kerdruc is all Marianne imagines and hopes for. She lands a job at a bistro where she's befriended by a host of locals--dynamic characters, artists and dreamers--who also carry challenges and burdens of loss, regret and a lack of love and fulfillment. Amid Marianne's liberation and self-discovery, she falls in love again. But when her contrite husband tracks her down, Marianne is faced with a difficult choice. Loyal bonds of community, the tug of romance, gentle humor and poignant revelations buoy Nina George's (The Little Paris Bookshop) beautifully written, French-infused story brightened with hope. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A small, lively town in France offers an unfulfilled, 60-year-old woman liberation and a chance for personal reinvention.

Crown, $26, hardcover, 320p., 9780451495587

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Legendary classic movie star Evelyn Hugo is famous for her scandalous love life, especially her seven marriages that have been tabloid fodder for decades. However, despite being a household name, nobody who is still alive knows the secrets Evelyn has kept for years. At age 79, she's ready to divulge all--but only on her terms. A woman who always gets what she wants, Evelyn has specifically selected as her biographer Monique Grant, a "puff piece" writer for Vivant magazine with her own marital and career woes.

More than a bit curious about why such an iconic figure would choose an unknown journalist to author her blockbuster biography, Monique gradually learns the hidden truth about the woman behind the gossipy headlines and whirlwind affairs with some of the most famous men in the world. As Evelyn reveals secrets about domestic abuse, backstage machinations and forbidden love, Monique is shocked to discover secrets about herself, including her personal connection to one of the silver screen's luminaries.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is more than escapism fiction sweeping its audience back to an era when show biz glamour danced with real-life intrigue, romantic entanglements and perceived impropriety. With memorable characters rivaling any Hollywood blockbuster, Taylor Jenkins Reid (One True Loves) marries themes of loyalty, betrayal, friendship and love into a soaring, fast-paced and gripping performance. It leaves readers asking if they are merely role-playing with those they love or being true to an authentic self. --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at

Discover: Hidden secrets are revealed about love, marriage and identity when a glamorous Hollywood icon taps an unknown writer to pen her tell-all memoir.

Atria, $26, hardcover, 400p., 9781501139239

Everybody's Son

by Thrity Umrigar

Thrity Umrigar (The Story Hour) is best known for her moving novels that delve into class, privilege and family. In Everybody's Son, she also tackles issues of race and identity. At its heart, though, it is a story about the bonds between children and parents--both biological and adoptive--and the struggle to be true to oneself.

Ten-year-old Anton lives in the projects with his mother, Juanita. After she leaves him alone for seven days with no food, Anton breaks a window to escape the oppressive heat in their apartment. Police find Juanita in a crack house where her drug dealer left her, half-naked and barely conscious.

Anton's new life with his foster parents is the exact opposite of everything he has ever known. Judge David Coleman and his wife, Delores, are thrilled to have a child in their home again, after the tragic death of their son. David uses his power and connections to adopt Anton.

Though Anton comes to love his new family and grows up with incredible advantages, he always feels, deep inside, torn between two worlds. His college girlfriend, Carine, tells him, "I can't decide if you're the blackest white man I've ever met or the whitest black man." The truth of these words crushes Anton, who will eventually have to come to terms with his history.

Umrigar's gorgeous language creates a vibrant world. She has crafted another emotionally intense and compelling novel that explores difficult moral questions as well as family bonds. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and author of Book by Book blog

Discover: A poor black child adopted by a wealthy, powerful white couple grows up torn between two worlds.

Harper, $26.99, hardcover, 352p., 9780062442246

Cocoa Beach

by Beatriz Williams

A master of the historical fiction genre, Beatriz Williams (The Wicked City) sweeps readers across war-torn Europe to the tropical landscape of Central Florida with Cocoa Beach, a breathtaking family drama set amid the backdrop and aftermath of World War I. 

It's February 1917, and Virginia Fortescue is driving a rickety ambulance across the muddy battlefields of northern France when she becomes smitten with army surgeon Captain Simon Fitzwilliam. Virginia is determined to resist Simon's charms, especially considering he has a wife back in England. It's an unconsummated marriage of convenience, Simon explains; his wife, Lydia, loved Simon's deceased twin, Samuel, and she stood to inherit a vast fortune. Marrying Lydia would guarantee that the wealth would remain in the family and that Simon would have easy access to the money. Despite Virginia's hesitations, the two eventually marry.

Five years later, Simon dies in a mysterious fire at a lavish villa he's building for Virginia and Evelyn, their daughter. Determined to settle his estate and learn the truth behind Simon's death, Virginia travels to Cocoa Beach, Fla., where she encounters bootleggers, bandits, criminals and conspirators. She also discovers there's much more to Simon--including a shady past and layers of deception--than she ever could have imagined.

The literal and figurative symbolism of a once grand home that has been destroyed allows Williams to give everyone who has suffered heartbreak and been wrong in love and life a chance to see themselves in Virginia. Amid the ashes, it is possible to find the truth and emerge stronger, renewed and with a foundation built upon self-assurance and independence. --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at 

Discover: Cocoa Beach is a breathtaking family drama that moves from the battlefields of World War I France to the sun-soaked beaches of Prohibition Era Florida.

Morrow, $27.99, hardcover, 384p., 9780062404985

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

by Arundhati Roy

Twenty years after winning the Booker Prize for her debut novel, The God of Small Things, human rights activist and essayist Arundhati Roy is back in fiction mode with an epic saga of love and war.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness unfolds amid decades of civil unrest in the Indian subcontinent, during the tumultuous era after the British partition of India, once a treasured colonial jewel. India and Pakistan are at war over the disputed region of Kashmir, a mountainous province in the north renowned for its beauty. Kashmir is a battleground between Hindus and Muslims, soldiers and militants, where children turn into freedom fighters, "tombstones grow out of the ground like young children's teeth" and martyrdom spreads through "saffron fields... like a creeping mist."

Roy infuses her storytelling with mesmerizing imagery and characters. She cleverly compares the tired country of India with an old woman who is forced to hide her varicose veins under imported fishnet stockings and jam her aching feet into high-heeled shoes. Anjum is a transgender prostitute and reality TV star, learning to love herself and yearning for motherhood. Musa, a handsome young Kashmiri freedom fighter, is dealing with unimaginable loss and yet personifies dignity and truth. Love blossoms in the most unlikely of places, including a graveyard repurposed as Paradise Heavenly Guesthouse. As with those in The God of Small Things, Roy's characters finally succumb to her particular version of "happily ever after": bound together by loneliness, they accept each other with the relief that comes with being understood and finding a place to belong. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and freelance reviewer

Discover: An entertaining cast of characters searches for love in the chaos of post-colonial India.

Knopf, $28.95, hardcover, 464p., 9781524733155

The Changeling

by Victor LaValle

The Changeling is Victor LaValle's version of the marshmallow test: forgo the quick thrill of a mass-market mystery/horror and be patient as the author genially paces you through 120 pages of buildup, and you'll receive the kind of shock that fairy tales are made of.

LaValle's (The Ecstatic, The Ballad of Black Tom) fourth novel is about Apollo Kagwa, a rare book dealer in New York City. He's the son of a Ugandan immigrant who disappeared when Apollo was young. Life is going pretty well for him--beautiful wife, new baby, signed copy of To Kill a Mockingbird--until it's most definitely, terrifyingly not. When the baby is killed and his wife disappears, Apollo must venture out in an increasingly unreal landscape--forgotten islands in the East River, a cemetery on Long Island--to find answers, if not justice.

Part of the horror and joy of this book is in the turns it takes, lowering the reader by degrees into its strange and pressurized world. Readers are hereby encouraged to jump in with little foreknowledge.

LaValle is clearly in his element exploring the strange worlds that exist at the peripheries of his beloved New York. His brisk tempo and friendly tone are like a Grimms' tale, masking subcutaneous menace. The twists never betray the story logic, which is as much about navigating the shoals of adulthood as it is about losing parents.

Strange, exuberant and haunting, The Changeling taps into the anxieties of fatherhood and revels in the layers of a city. --Zak Nelson, writer and bookseller

Discover: This dark fairy tale for grownups explores the emotional stakes of fatherhood and uncovers a New York hiding in plain sight.

Spiegel & Grau, $28, hardcover, 448p., 9780812995947

The Lost Letter

by Jillian Cantor

Katie Nelson never shared her father's passion for stamp collecting. But as she tagged along with him on countless Sunday-morning drives around Los Angeles during her childhood, she came to understand the reason for his never-ending quest--or so she thought. Their trips to yard sales, thrift shops and estate sales yielded hundreds of old letters and sheets of yellowed stamps, and Katie always imagined her father, Ted, simply loved the thrill of the hunt. However, when she moves Ted, now widowed, to a memory-care facility, she sorts through his collection and finds an intriguing item: an unsent letter with a highly unusual German stamp from the 1930s. Jillian Cantor (MargotThe Hours Count) unravels the story of the stamp alongside Katie's family history in her third novel, The Lost Letter.

Cantor shifts back and forth between two eras: that of the Anschluss (Hitler's annexation of Austria) and Katie's quest to find out more about the stamp's provenance in 1980s Los Angeles. The World War II narrative follows the journey of Kristoff, a young artist working as an apprentice to stamp engraver Frederick Faber in the mountain town of Grotsburg. Faber's skill has brought him professional recognition and a comfortable living, but his abilities and his Jewish heritage also attract the unwelcome attention of the Nazis.

Both stories offer glimmers of hope, whether through small acts of resistance or larger stories of redemption. Cantor's conclusion skillfully draws together two sets of world events--including the fall of the Berlin Wall--and her characters' intertwined personal histories. The Lost Letter is a poignant story of love, sacrifice and the bravery of everyday resistance. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Jillian Cantor's third novel tells the story of an unusual World War II-era German stamp and its connection to an American family.

Riverhead, $26, hardcover, 336p., 9780399185670


by Kelly J. Ford

Kelly J. Ford's novel Cottonmouths captures life in backwoods America like a fish in a frying pan. Ford takes her young, raw, flailing characters and rakes them over the heat of a high-octane plot until their vulnerable insides sizzle on the page.

When Emily Skinner drops out of college and returns to Drear's Bluff, a small town in the Ozark region of Arkansas, she finds her best friend Jody Monroe raising a child by herself. The single mom lives on an old farm and leases an outbuilding to meth-cookers in order to make ends meet. That Emily, a closeted lesbian whose sexuality disturbs her conservative parents, is in love with Jody adds even more heat to an already explosive set-up.

The results are thrilling. The only hangups occur when Ford uses Emily's internal voice to recapitulate plot points, as though the reader needed to be reminded of major developments. These narrative reminders are unnecessary given that Ford is such a strong writer. Her prose is sharp and lyrical, rendering the South--and outdated attitudes--with uncompromising candor, though such honesty doesn't preclude sympathy for the many small-town characters caught in a vicious cycle of poverty and resentment. Ford's writing fully shines when addressing young, forbidden love and the way it torments her protagonist: "The craving came on like a fever, as if a coal had been stoked within and blurred the edges of reasonable thought." It's a love that burns and breaks and leads to dangerous places. Cottonmouths grips the heart and doesn't let go. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author

Discover: In this intense debut novel set in rural Arkansas, a young woman is torn between her heart and conscience.

Skyhorse, $22.99, hardcover, 296p., 9781510719156

The Reminders

by Val Emmich

When actor Gavin Winters is caught fueling a backyard bonfire with items that remind him of his recently deceased partner, Sydney, he tries to escape his grief--and the media spotlight--with old friends Ollie and Paige Sully back home in New Jersey. Their 10-year-old daughter, Joan Lennon Sully--named in honor of John Lennon by her musician father--has her own issues with memory: she can't forget. One of few people known to have Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, Joan remembers her days to the last detail, including each visit "Uncle" Sydney made to the Sully home.

Joan has a hard time understanding "normal" memory and how someone, particularly her beloved, Alzheimer's-stricken Grandma Joan, could forget her name. Determined to become unforgettable, the young musician decides to win the Next Great Songwriter contest and enlists the help of Gavin, her dad's old bandmate, trading memories of Sydney for Gavin's lyric-writing prowess. When Joan's recollections reveal Sydney's secrets, Gavin wonders if his insecurities about parenthood caused a rift with his partner deeper than he imagined.

Actor and singer-songwriter Val Emmich has written an endearing and sincere paean to the bonds of music and family in The Reminders. Quirky and lighthearted yet still soulful, Emmich's debut reveals his skilled hand for crafting relationships and voice, adult and child alike. Told from Joan and Gavin's perspectives, the novel mines the charming duo for thought-provoking notions about memory, and wraps them in a charismatic, Beatles-themed story of grief, hope and love. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: Both struggling with issues involving memory, a grieving man and a young girl with a remarkable mind team up to write a contest-winning song.

Little, Brown, $26, hardcover, 320p., 9780316316996

Kingdom Cons

by Yuri Herrera, trans. by Lisa Dillman

Although it is the last of Mexican author and editor Yuri Herrera's loosely connected border trilogy to be translated into English, Kingdom Cons is the first in the series. Short, allegorical and centered in the world of northern Mexico cartels, it is the story of an uneducated street singer and composer of corridos, popular ballads about peasant oppression and the heroes who free them. Drifting through cantinas "offering rhymes in exchange for pity, for coins," Lobo finds his hardscrabble life miraculously changed when a narco jefe drinking with his honchos kills a drunk refusing to pay Lobo for a song. The jefe then takes the young musician back to his fortified, opulent mountain compound to become his bard--celebrating in song his exploits and benevolent outlaw generosity.

The other two volumes of Herrera's trilogy (Signs Preceding the End of the World, winner of the 2016 Best Translated Book Award, and The Transmigration of Bodies) are centered on the actual border between Mexico and the United States and on those who are mired in the political and legal no-man's land of living on both sides. The allegorical characters here are caught in the metaphorical borders that separate the rich from the poor, the powerful from the weak and the mercenary from the artistic.

In Kingdom Cons, Herrera has created a mythical hierarchy of power where only an artist might elude the jealousy and retribution of those trapped in the struggle to be on top. This is not just a drug cartel hierarchy, nor is it a Mexican mythology. Rather, it illustrates the difficulty of living on borders wherever they may be found. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: The last of Yuri Herrera's well-regarded border trilogy to be translated into English, Kingdom Cons is an allegory of power, class and art set in the remote compound of a Mexican cartel boss.

And Other Stories, dist. by Consortium, $13.95, paperback, 112p., 9781908276926

How to Survive a Summer

by Nick White

Will Dillard, a Midwestern graduate student in film studies, is jolted from his quiet life upon learning about a new horror movie called Proud Flesh. His friend Bevy describes the slasher flick as "Friday the 13th meets Sleepaway Camp meets I don't know what." But for Will, the terror is far worse.

Proud Flesh, grotesquely twisted from a memoir written by one of the volunteer counselors, transports Will back to the fateful summer his father sent him to Camp Levi, a program whose aim was to cure homosexuality. Contrary to its objective, Camp Levi did no curing, instead leaving its participants with gaping wounds. As the movie begins to take on a cult-like popularity in gay clubs, Will is surrounded by reminders of the summer he'd rather forget--and the camp's victim who didn't survive. He realizes he can no longer run; he must confront his ghosts.

How to Survive a Summer, Nick White's debut, adeptly carries readers between the past, as Will recounts the weeks spent in the Mississippi woods, and 10 years later, as he comes to terms with the camp's devastating effects. White's language is soulful, creating a heavy atmosphere that mimics Will's burdens, weighing him down with internal conflict and overwhelming guilt.

White's theme of acceptance, especially self-acceptance, is at times painful and uncomfortable. Nevertheless, he embeds sparks of hope throughout, making How to Survive a Summer a heartbreaking novel with the potential to leave the reader's heart stronger along the break lines. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: A victim of a gay conversion camp must confront his traumatic experience when a popular movie is based on his summer there.

Blue Rider Press, $26, hardcover, 352p., 9780399573682


by Helen Simpson

Aging is no fun, as the protagonists of Helen Simpson's Cockfosters are all too aware. The breezy, dialogue-heavy style of these stories, each named after a location, masks the melancholy that drives them, with each piece focusing on middle-aged Britons who wonder what the rest of their lives have in store. The title story sets the tone: two 40ish women ride the Piccadilly Line back to Cockfosters, its northernmost terminal, to retrieve the glasses one of them left behind. As they discuss the pain of not knowing when they'll die, their journey is a metaphor for one of the collection's themes: life might be easier, or at least more predictable, if people knew the date on which they'll reach the end of the line.

Simpson explores this theme, as well as that of economic inequality, throughout these stories. A husband frets as much about aging as about the impending visit of his bombastic mother-in-law. After their holiday reading of The Chimes, book group attendees converse about "very average people who've made a great deal of money over the last twenty years." A 50-year-old acupuncturist likens the coming stage of life to Arizona, "brilliantly lit and level and filled with dependable sunshine," to a history professor client. The other woman agrees and says that one might as well be brave about death. After all, as another character in this wise book says, it "makes nothing out of something, and it lasts forever." --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer

Discover: Nine stories dramatize the problems of income inequality and aging among residents of modern-day Britain.

Knopf, $24, hardcover, 192p., 9780451493071

The Answers

by Catherine Lacey

In The Answers, Catherine Lacey (Nobody Is Ever Missing) focuses on a young woman whose passivity and introspection take her places she never planned. Born Junia Stone in East Tennessee, Mary Parsons was renamed and taken in by her aunt when her Bible-obsessed father tried to raise her "in a state of complete purity." A self-described "homeschooled semi-orphan from a barely literate state," she remembers her time at college as "a gestational period, four years of warning and training for this life that was coming." She graduates and moves to New York City with her loopy roommate Chandra.

When she's stricken with body-wracking disease, Mary lets Chandra lead her through a maze of traditional health care before venturing to Chandra's preferred healers. She finally discovers miraculous relief with Chandra's last recommendation: Pneuma Adaptive Kinesthesia ("PAKing"), as practiced with the hocus-pocus jive of the personal masseuse Ed. Problem is, a full PAKing treatment costs thousands, so Mary turns to Craigslist. After numerous interviews, Mary is offered a job with the Girlfriend Experiment, designed to illuminate love and companionship.

When the job and PAKing sessions inevitably end, Mary has a new perspective on the uncertainty of life. She reflects: "I thought of all those billions of hearts beating out there, trying to find love or keep love going. All those people, getting in the way of each other--how do we even stand it? How do we make our way around?" Lacey doesn't give us answers, but she sure gives us a wild story with a memorable protagonist. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: In an adept novel filled with wacky alternative health cures and a bizarre celebrity psychological experiment, a young woman searches for stable ground.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26, hardcover, 304p., 9780374100261

Since I Laid My Burden Down

by Brontez Purnell

Reconciliation doesn't come easy, and for DeShawn it's damn near impossible. So many of the men who touched him throughout his life have passed on. In Brontez Purnell's brazen debut novel, a tired Alabama man, freewheeling in the punk underground of San Francisco, returns home when his uncle dies. There his ghosts come back to haunt him with the heady energy they had when still alive.

Since I Laid My Burden Down entwines past and present as DeShawn is repeatedly called upon to clean up the messes left by the deceased. Arnold was a gritty musician and lover who committed suicide. Jatius was an older childhood friend who did, too. Time and again DeShawn has tangled with white men and black men, men with troubled upbringings and those who paid him attention at just the right moment. The disparities of these rendezvous, though, have come into high relief with age--wisdom he's earned fair and square.

Immensely quotable and supremely enjoyable, Purnell's incendiary sense of humor flips the script on what might otherwise be a somber subject. DeShawn tells his mother that when he dies, he wants to be cremated. "Where do you want your ashes thrown?" she asks. "IN THE EYES OF MY ENEMIES!" he responds.

Since I Laid My Burden Down is a remarkable work of fiction, an invaluable addition to queer literature. Though wounded--and reckless at times--DeShawn remains tenacious, proving that strength lies in how one chooses to live, as well as why one chooses to stay alive. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In Brontez Purnell's outstanding and wicked first novel, returning home to Alabama forces DeShawn to come to grips with the dead men who have shaped him.

Amethyst Editions/Feminist Press, $17.95, paperback, 208p., 9781558614314

The Identicals

by Elin Hilderbrand

Tabitha and Harper Frost were as close as identical twins could be, until their parents divorced when they were 17. Tabitha moved to Nantucket with their mother, famed fashion designer Eleanor Roxie-Frost (ERF); Harper and their father, Billy, moved to Martha's Vineyard. The twins stayed in touch for a few years, but in their mid-20s tragedy struck, and now they haven't spoken in 14 years.

But then, in a matter of days, Billy dies and Eleanor falls, breaking her hip. The sisters are overwhelmed by their lives. Tabitha's teenage daughter, Ainsley, is out of control, and the ERF boutique she manages is losing money. Meanwhile, Harper's reputation on Martha's Vineyard is in flames after her lover's wife catches them together, and spreads the news via the island's gossip mill.

In a desperate attempt to salvage what's left of their lives, Harper and Tabitha trade places, with Harper heading to Nantucket to run the ERF store and keep tabs on Ainsley, while Tabitha heads to Martha's Vineyard to sort out Billy's house and possessions.

Funny, frank and romantic, The Identicals is Elin Hilderbrand (Winter Storms) at her best. Tabitha's uptight resentment and Harper's free-spirited flailing are both products of their childhood. Hilderbrand deftly explores their stories and failings while keeping the plot entertaining and quickly paced. Readers are sure to love both sisters--laughing along with their misadventures--and may want to research island summer vacations after reading The Identicals. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans

Discover: Twin sisters Tabitha and Harper switch island homes, from Nantucket to Martha's Vineyard, for one memorable summer.

Little, Brown, $28, hardcover, 432p., 9780316375191


by Julie Garwood

Julie Garwood (Fast Track) took a three-year break from writing for health reasons, so her fans are sure to be thrilled by the release of Wired. The 13th novel in Garwood's FBI series (but easily read as a standalone), the fast-paced Wired features Allison Trent, a college student and gifted hacker who models on the side to pay for school. Allison has also been supporting her wastrel cousin and the greedy requests of her aunt and uncle; she feels that she owes them since they took her in after the death of her parents.

But then FBI Agent Liam Scott hears Allison talking in a college seminar and gives her the opportunity of a lifetime: work as a freelance hacker for the FBI and help him find a mole who is leaking sensitive Bureau info to the press.

Trying to balance the demands of her avaricious family, her college schedule, the high volume of work the FBI has for her, and her growing attraction to Liam keeps Allison on her toes. Then, when threats start being made against Allison, she is happy to have Liam at her side, protecting her. But can she learn to stand up for herself?

Full of entertaining characters, Wired is a funny, romantic suspense novel that will keep readers up too late, eager to find out what happens next. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans

Discover: A talented hacker starts working with the FBI to track down a mole, and soon begins to fall for the agent in charge of her protection.

Berkley, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9780525954460

The Velveteen Daughter

by Laurel Davis Huber

In this beautiful novel, Laurel Davis Huber's brilliant writing elegantly captures the complicated lives of two artistic women: author Margery Williams Bianco, who most famously wrote The Velveteen Rabbit, and Pamela, her troubled daughter. The girl, a child prodigy, had her art displayed in galleries in Italy, England and the United States before she was out of her teens. But this early success and ability wreaked havoc on Pamela's psyche, and she struggled throughout her life with depression.

The Velveteen Daughter opens on September 1, 1944, when a distraught Pamela arrives unexpectedly at Margery's New York apartment with her son Lorenzo in tow. Margery makes Lorenzo breakfast, and Pamela goes to lie down; both women separately reflect on the years that led them to this breaking point. Slowly, through a series of flashbacks, the reader learns of Margery's hesitation to display Pamela's talent, overruled by her husband, Francesco. Pamela had an unrequited love affair with the author Richard Hughes, and expressed disgust at her cousin Agnes's marriage to Eugene O'Neill, which both played roles in her own failed marriage.

Huber delicately portrays how each woman longs to reach out to the other, and yet is unable to, trapped in a terrible cycle of love and hesitation. Beautifully written, heartbreakingly captivating and full of literary and artistic magic from the early 20th century, The Velveteen Daughter is sure to appeal to fans of Margery's classic, and to anyone who has struggled to understand their parents or their children. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: This wonderful and tragic novel tells of the real relationship of Margery Williams Bianco, author of The Velveteen Rabbit, and her daughter Pamela.

She Writes Press, $16.95, paperback, 416p., 9781631521928

The Lost History of Stars

by Dave Boling

Fourteen-year-old Lettie Venter--imprisoned in a British concentration camp in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War--treasures memories of happier days, like stargazing with her grandfather. Now, the men in her family are fighting the British for their land, settled by her Dutch forebears and now coveted for diamond and gold deposits. The Lost History of Stars is Lettie's heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and Dave Boling's (Guernica) unsparing prose portrays the tragedy of innocents caught in the horrors of war.

Lettie's first-person account, which reads like the journal she faithfully keeps, begins in 1900, the day "Tommies" ride into their yard, threaten her and her family, and ransack their farm. It happens quickly, yet agonizingly: "Half an hour by the clock... a week's worth of heartbeats... a lifetime's tears." When their crammed cart arrives at the concentration camp, children "were already sickened by a disease whose name I had never heard" after drinking from mud puddles on the arduous journey. The narrative then goes back a year, before the men in her family were called up to fight, followed by the months after their drafting, when women and children tended the farm.

Surrounded by starvation, sickness and death in the camp, Lettie is nevertheless a typical adolescent. She and her family exhibit bravery and tenacity throughout their tribulation. "It was only when everything was taken away that you got to see what was at your core." Lettie's coming of age in these horrific circumstances is a tribute to grit and family love. Dave Boling writes a historically accurate novel of war's innocent victims. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: A teenage girl narrates her experiences in a British concentration camp during the Boer War.

Algonquin, $25.95, hardcover, 352p., 9781616204174

Disasters in the First World

by Olivia Clare

In Olivia Clare's lyrical and elegiac first short story collection, Disasters in the First World, the characters' mental health is examined with clear-eyed compassion. The excellent "Pétur" introduces Adam, who watches his mother behave in increasingly strange ways on a shared vacation to Iceland. At first he attributes her oddness to her free-spirit personality, but eventually, he learns the startling truth--that her behavior may have clinical roots. In "Olivia," another standout, the titular character mitigates her anxiety and depression by creating an "Asking place" in her guest bedroom; she visits daily to petition a greater power for happiness. When a young friend of her husband comes to stay with them for a few weeks, Olivia is at first dismayed at having to give up, even temporarily, her sanctuary. But she softens when she realizes that her guest's suffering might be even more debilitating than her own.

Clare's writing sparkles with unexpected word choice, a nod to her previous work, the poetry collection The 26-Hour Day. Her stories unfold in wonderfully astonishing turns. Despite their collective focus on mental breaking points, none offers a simplified diagnosis of a character's suffering. Instead, they reveal the multifaceted impact that mental illness can have on both the sufferer and their loved ones. Clare furthermore suggests that no one is completely defined by how well--or not--their brain functions. Tender yet occasionally biting, Disasters in the First World ekes narrative poetry out of tragedy. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: In her first collection of short stories, poet Olivia Clare writes compassionately and unflinchingly about mental suffering.

Black Cat, $16, paperback, 192p., 9780802126610

Mystery & Thriller

The Child

by Fiona Barton

When a London building is demolished, an infant's bones are unearthed, having been buried beneath the structure for decades. Three women take special notice.

Reporter Kate Waters wants to know who the baby was. How did it die? Who buried it? Emma, a book editor, is shaken by the news of the tiny skeleton's discovery, and hopes the baby isn't who she fears it is. Angela, still mourning the long-ago kidnapping of her daughter, Alice, from the hospital shortly after the baby's birth, both hopes and fears the bones belong to Alice, so she can finally have closure.

As Kate digs into the past, she discovers that quite a few people who lived in the area around the time of the baby's birth have dark secrets they'd prefer to keep buried. Kate might get the scoop of her career, but is she willing to destroy people's lives for it?

Kate, who also appears in Fiona Barton's The Widow, is an appealing protagonist. She's tenacious yet compassionate with her interview subjects: "The college lecturers who taught Media Studies... banged on about objectivity and balance, but she'd like them to sit down with a rape victim or the mother of an abused child and remain unaffected. Without empathy, without feeling someone's pain, how could you... capture the truth of the situation?" Barton captures the truth in Emma's and Angela's aching hearts, takes readers down surprising paths, and ties complex stories together in a satisfying way. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: Three women search for one dead baby's identity in Fiona Barton's psychological thriller.

Berkley, $26, hardcover, 384p., 9781101990483


by Adam Hamdy

Adam Hamdy's high-octane novel Pendulum is the very definition of addictive reading. This taut cat-and-mouse thriller throws readers immediately into the action when photojournalist John Wallace awakens in his apartment to discover he's been drugged and bound. His hulking captor is a cunning serial killer in black armor whose face is hidden with a black mask and black goggles. The killer has put a noose around Wallace's neck, tied it to a rafter and is intent on making this murder look like a suicide. Through sheer luck, John is able to escape (albeit with some broken ribs and collarbone), but the murderer is constantly on his heels as he attempts to hide and piece together who is after him and why.

John Wallace is an interesting protagonist, withdrawn and adrift. While shooting photos in Afghanistan, he witnessed the massacre of innocent women and children, but though he testified against the men responsible, the case was lost and the stress from the trial ruined many relationships. Pendulum, the first book in a proposed trilogy, outpaces most psychological thrillers with the richness of its lead character and the abundance of strong, interesting supporting characters.

Some of the action is a bit far-fetched, but the pacing is relentless in a way that allows readers to suspend disbelief easily. Pendulum has so many twists, turns and surprises that the less readers know about the story, the more they'll enjoy the ride. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Adam Hamdy's high-octane cat-and-mouse psychological thriller offers relentless suspense, quicksilver pacing and characters with surprising depth.

Quercus, $26.99, hardcover, 496p., 9781681441351

You'll Never Know, Dear

by Hallie Ephron

The cover of Hallie Ephron's You'll Never Know, Dear gives the impression that the sinister reside inside. Indeed, the opening pages include some marvelously unnerving descriptions, with shelf after shelf of bisque heads, glass eyes, stiff wigs and "bald, celluloid baby dolls, placid and patient, their painted eyes forever open." Fear not: in the first-rate hands of Ephron, four-time Mary Higgins Clark Award finalist, working through the creepy is worth the reward.

When Lis Strenger was 7, her sister Janey disappeared from the family yard under her watch. Also missing was Janey's doll, a special owner-replica doll made by the girls' mother, Sorrel Woodham. Unbeknownst to Lis, now a mother herself, for almost 40 years Miss Sorrel has purchased a classified ad on the anniversary of Janey's disappearance. Along with a photograph of the doll made in her daughter's image is a $5,000 reward offered for its return.

In the 39th year, Janey's doll may have finally come home. A mysterious young woman shows up with a very old, worn and dirty doll that bears Miss Sorrel's stamp. She runs off before Sorrel can question her, but three decades of Woodham women are determined to identify the doll, find the mystery owner and perhaps discover what happened to Janey.

You'll Never Know, Dear is a grabber, a mystery ballasted by women on a mission and the ties that bind them. Ephron is sharp; she swerves around potential plot snags and tosses red herrings like a master. Power past the menacing doll-head cover and reap the benefits of great writing. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A mysterious woman shows up with a doll that might have belonged to Sorrel Woodham's missing daughter Janey, reigniting the investigation into her disappearance 40 years earlier.

Morrow, $26.99, hardcover, 304p., 9780062473615

Cast the First Stone

by James W. Ziskin

James W. Ziskin (Heart of Stone) produces a memorable romp through 1960s Hollywood in his smart and fun thriller Cast the First Stone.

The Ellie Stone Mystery series follows a young, clever--if somewhat naive--reporter for an upstate New York newspaper. In this installment, Ellie is whisked off to Los Angeles to track down and profile Toby Eberle, a local boy on the brink of stardom. But when Eberle goes missing, and the producer of the film he was starring in is found murdered, Stone must piece together the truth or lose her big story.

Cast the First Stone starts off a little slowly, bogged down by Stone's excessive internal monologue--usually in the form of rhetorical questions used to frame the plot--but soon finds its stride. Ziskin crafts a female lead who is intelligent, resourceful and energetic, and genuinely funny. Her reaction to Hollywood superficiality is both wry and self-deprecatory, especially when people keep telling her, unprompted, that she's pretty but not "Hollywood pretty." Ziskin succeeds at sustaining the historical reality of the early 1960s, not only in the material fashions of the times, but in disturbing reminders of the era's backward mores. For example, as Stone investigates the murder, she discovers a coordinated attempt on behalf of the studios to cover up the homosexual activities of big-name macho actors. Society's intolerance of gays becomes a major theme in the narrative as Stone questions her own attitudes and biases. This adds a serious aspect of social justice to the more standard plot twists and mystery tropes. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author

Discover: A spunky reporter discovers the dark side of Hollywood in this mystery thriller set in the 1960s.

Seventh Street Books, $15.95, paperback, 303p., 9781633882812

The Birdwatcher

by William Shaw

William South is an ordinary copper. A birdwatcher in his free time, he's patient and meticulous, keen to police everyday troubles folks find themselves in. With death in his past, what South wants most is to avoid the murder squad at all costs. When former London Detective Sergeant Alexandra Cupidi joins the Kent Police and draws a bludgeoning for her first case, South's boss puts him on her team to help with the "local impact" of the crime. The victim is South's neighbor and fellow birdwatcher Bob Raynor.

South initially fights the assignment, but can't help but be intrigued by both Cupidi and revelations about his dead friend. How much didn't he know about seemingly harmless Bob? Did Cupidi really leave London because of her troubled teen daughter? When more bodies start turning up, South is blindsided by a connection between the case and his childhood. And as he's preparing to go all-in, Cupidi mysteriously starts shutting him out.

William Shaw's The Birdwatcher is a gem of an addition to the stellar Mulholland line of crime fiction. Shaw's writing is true British procedural; lean and spectacle-free, it nevertheless grabs and doesn't let go. With minimal telling, Shaw paints full characters and relationships with seemingly preternatural ease. Particularly satisfying are South's relationship with Cupidi's daughter Zoe and emotional flashbacks to his childhood in Ireland during the Troubles. A well-plotted mystery with love and loyalty at its core, The Birdwatcher is a gratifying standalone that both satisfies and cries for more. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A policeman forced to assist a new co-worker with the investigation of a brutal murder discovers personal connections to his own violent past.

Mulholland Books, $26, hardcover, 336p., 9780316316248

Final Girls

by Riley Sager

Riley Sager uses the slasher movie trope of the "final girl" (the lone female who manages to survive and escape the killer) as the foundation for a nail-biting thriller.

Quincy Carpenter. Samantha Boyd. Lisa Milner. Even though the three women have never met in person, their names are inextricably linked as the Final Girls, lone female survivors of mass murders so gruesome they rival big-screen slasher flicks. Years after surviving a bloody massacre, Quincy runs a successful baking blog and enjoys a stable relationship with her compassionate boyfriend, Jeff. But when Lisa Milner dies under suspicious circumstances and Sam Boyd turns up on her doorstep, Quincy can no longer hide from her past.

Part thriller, part horror story, Final Girls borrows riffs from Friday the 13th, Halloween and Single White Female, but remains its own sophisticated creature. Although the story's inspiration is pure camp, Sager takes on the heavy theme of trauma survival thoroughly and with due seriousness. While a final girl's tale in a movie usually ends with survival as success, Quincy, Lisa and Sam have to live with and fight their demons. Quincy's coping mechanisms include pill popping and shoplifting; her veneer of normalcy hides darker currents of anger and guilt, which Sager uses to propel the plot and wind tension to the breaking point. Taut and bloody, this chilling mystery invites Gillian Flynn comparisons. Readers should prepare to sleep with the lights on. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: When horror movie-style slasher sprees really happen, a survivor must face her past when other "final girls" are in danger.

Dutton, $26, hardcover, 352p., 9781101985366

She Rides Shotgun

by Jordan Harper

Jordan Harper's first novel, She Rides Shotgun, is a sanguinary crime novel with heart. Nate McClusky is an ex-con ("all muscles and dragons and gunfighter eyes") who gets crosswise with the Aryan Steel gang ("all the dirty whiteboys in California"). He shanked the brother of its leader Crazy Craig Hollington in his last days at Pelican Bay State Prison. Crazy Craig puts out a warrant to the Steel's gang network on the outside to execute Nate, his ex-wife and his 11-year-old daughter, Polly--a precocious kid with few friends and an odd attachment to a beat-up teddy bear. When Nate is released early, he picks up Polly at her Fontana middle school and scares her into taking off with him in his stolen car with a command: "You're coming with me. Right now, no time for fuss." And then they're off on a wild odyssey of violence, righteous retribution and father-daughter bonding.

A screenwriter for TV shows like Gotham and The Mentalist, Jordan first tapped into crime fiction with the story collection Love and Other Wounds. He knows how this game is played. Introspective, shy Polly grows up fast in the company of her crime-hardened father. In fits and starts, Nate cultivates the family connection he needs and wants. She Rides Shotgun is a True Grit sort of saga, but on hot-wired horsepower instead of horseback. With Harper's storytelling chops, it's a rolling hell-bent adventure with all the snappy dialogue and action of the best noir fiction. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Harper's irresistible first novel tempers the brutality of crime with an empathetic story of an unlikely father-daughter alliance.

Ecco, $26.99, hardcover, 272p., 9780062394408

The Force

by Don Winslow

At the start of Don Winslow's The Force, New York Police Department "hero cop" Denny Malone is behind bars. How did he get there? Winslow takes readers through his descent step by step.

Detective Malone thinks of himself as king of Manhattan North. He heads up a special team called Da Force that can tackle cases without having to worry about departmental jurisdictional lines, because often crimes involve narcotics and guns and homicide. Over their 18 years on the job, Malone and his brothers in blue have slowly crossed their own lines--the ones between right and wrong. They rip off drug dealers, beat down child abusers, accept bribes--justifying it as street justice, doing wrong in order to do right. Until all they can do is wrong, and the only way Malone can make his way back is to do the unthinkable.

Like Da Force, Winslow is in command of his turf. He provides details that will make readers feel as though they're doing ride-alongs with these cops and being plunged into Manhattan's mean streets. He shows what it's like to be on the front lines and feel as if every day could be the last, to experience the high that comes with cheating death, to believe one might be invincible. What these cops go through--and become--isn't pretty, and readers may not like or forgive their actions. Winslow, however, reveals the abyss the members of Da Force have to gaze into in order to do their job, and how it's understandable that the abyss eventually gazes back. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, editor at The Edit Ninja

Discover: An elite NYPD task force slides into corruption in Don Winslow's immersive thriller.

Morrow, $27.99, hardcover, 496p., 9780062664419

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Punch Escrow

by Tal M. Klein

The Punch Escrow is a tremendously fun and accessible work of hard science fiction. Tal M. Klein's debut novel takes place in the year 2147, when technological advancements have solved--or at least ameliorated--some of humanity's most pressing challenges. Illnesses and even aging can be reversed by advanced nanotechnology. Clouds of genetically engineered mosquitoes transform pollution into water vapor. Printers can replicate handmade Turkish coffee on a molecular level. Klein's future is thoroughly imagined, and further supported by lengthy footnotes on subjects from quantum foam to steam reforming.

Most importantly, though, Klein's future has adapted to commercialized teleportation, allowing protagonist Joel Byram to take a pricy shortcut to meet his wife early on in the novel. Joel is a "salter"--he interfaces with artificial intelligences, tricking them and telling them jokes in order to make them more intelligent. His wife, Sylvia, works for International Transport (IT), the organization that controls teleportation technology.

Joel's world falls apart when a terrorist incident during teleportation results in his accidental duplication. The two Joels must think on their feet in order to dodge IT and the religious extremists out to end teleportation. The pair must also navigate the difficult ethical and philosophical questions that emerge from their simultaneous existence, much of it swirling around which one of them is the "real" Joel. The Punch Escrow is first and foremost an entertaining thriller, but its head-tripping brainteasers might stick with the reader well after the novel ends. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Discover: The Punch Escrow is a brainy hard science fiction thriller about a teleportation accident that duplicates Joel Byram.

Inkshares, $14.99, paperback, 300p., 9781942645580

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.

by Nicole Galland, Neal Stephenson

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., a collaboration by novelists Neal Stephenson (Seveneves) and Nicole Galland (Stepdog), combines witches, time travel, particle physics and espionage. It's a dizzying range of subjects, but the two authors rope their sprawling novel together with a compelling and propulsive central conceit. At the outset, the modern-day protagonist (and major narrator throughout) is trapped in Victorian England and may not be able to get home.

Mel Stokes, a professor of ancient languages, is hired by a shadowy government agency to translate writings from across geographies and times that discuss magic. Digging further with her handler, Tristan, she finds that magic disappeared from the earth around the time of photography's rise. This leads them to an exiled physicist and his put-upon wife, and the discovery that time travel is possible, given the right conditions. From there, The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. delves into a battle for the future of magic and technology. To its credit, the novel is never portentous regarding its subject matter. Instead, it zips along with a light touch, keeping the reader on her toes as it bounces among eras.

If anything, the book can be too quick (especially regarding how Mel comes to be trapped in the Victorian Era), but given its 400-plus page length, Stephenson and Galland can't be faulted for trying to trim the fat. Fans of both authors, and of swashbuckling fantasy, will certainly enjoy the ride. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., a collaboration by writers Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland, is a rollicking adventure through time and space.

Morrow, $35, hardcover, 768p., 9780062409164

Graphic Books


by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Javier Pina

Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray collaborated eight times previously to publish comics like Power Girl. While Hype involves the common story of a physically gifted superhero combatting evil forces in the world, the concept borders on pure genius.

Amanda Marr is a behavioral psychologist focused on preserving human compassion with emergent technologies. She has been coerced by the Department of Defense into socializing and teaching empathy to a super soldier named Noah Haller (called "Hype," for his hyperawareness of situations and conditions around him), but he can maintain consciousness for only 45 minutes before his body completely breaks down. Hype's first mission was a public relations disaster; his inability to decipher a cult member's reaction resulted in the fiery death of children. Amanda has just six weeks to prepare Hype for his next mission, preventing biological warfare, but she must first quell her own developing feelings for him.

Palmiotti and Gray's script is fast-paced and intelligent, rooted in believable scientific, philosophical and psychological reality despite its superhero setting. The art by Javier Pina and Alessia Nocera, while advancing the action, has a frozen quality that does not give quite the impact one would expect with such clever writing. However, this is the team's first installment, and the combined star power of Palmiotti and Gray is enough to merit a continued run. Hype has the right mix of mojo and fun to become the next big hit. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: An emerging superhero must learn empathy from a behavioral psychologist in order to battle the terrorists threatening the world with biological war.

Adaptive Books, $12.99, paperback, 64p., 9781945293177

Fetch: How a Bad Dog Brought Me Home

by Nicole J. Georges

Lambda Award-winning artist Nicole Georges (Calling Dr. Laura) adopted a scrappy Shar-Pei mixed-breed when she was 16 years old. Her boyfriend named the dog Beija because, he said, "It means 'stranger' in Polish." It doesn't, but the name stuck, and so did the pup.

In Fetch: How a Bad Dog Brought Me Home, Georges details her 15-year friendship with Beija, through relocating from Missouri to Oregon, unstable housing, shattered dreams and finding a place to call home. Rescued from the pound, Beija is temperamental, protective and loud, but over time Georges figures out how to care for her. The rules are eventually distilled to these: don't bend at the waist, don't touch her sides, don't pick her up, don't sit near her bed and don't be a man, a child or another dog.

Eventually, in Portland, Ore., Georges cultivates a reputation as a zinester and artist in the punk scene, with Beija always nearby as her erratic sidekick wearing a warning scarf: Don't pet me. Together they weather breakups, coming out of the closet, a stint at an animal sanctuary and the overzealous attention of a pet psychic. In the process, Georges begins to recognize the needs and neuroses she shares with her dog, and how they can better care for one another.

Fetch is beautiful. Georges's artwork is inviting and frank as she tells a touching story of companionship and personal growth. A dog pack of two, she and Beija form a special bond, a friendship that hits home. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Portland artist Nicole Georges didn't know what she was getting into when she adopted Beija the dog at 16, but their friendship changed everything.

Mariner, $17.95, paperback, 328p., 9780544577831

Food & Wine

Recipes from the Herbalist's Kitchen: Delicious, Nourishing Food for Lifelong Health and Well-Being

by Brittany Wood Nickerson

Basil rules pesto, cilantro sparks salsas and mint muddles into a soothing tea, food aficionados know. But Massachusetts herbalist and health educator Brittany Wood Nickerson guides us beyond the everyday uses of common herbs in her lavishly photographed book advocating their medicinal benefits in Recipes from the Herbalist's Kitchen: Delicious, Nourishing Food for Lifelong Health and Well-Being.

The introduction, "Empower," urges readers to live well through home herbalism, before Nickerson suggests "finding your own deep, meaningful, intimate relationship with herbs, cooking, medicine and health." She shares knowledge from her studies of Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine and Western herbalism, and teaches cooks to listen to their bodies, trust their instincts and taste. Flavor is a powerful indicator of an herb's power, she writes, and "as long as you can taste an herb, it is having a medicinal effect." Use of culinary herbs can "renew our connections with age-old cherished traditions."

The less adventurous home cook may resist the more esoteric of the 110 recipes, like Lavender and Dandelion Flower Muffins, or Lactofermented Dilly Beans. Herb-centric traditional fare, however, calls for easily procured ingredients: Prosciutto-wrapped Dates with Sage; Red Grape Chimichurri with Dill and Oregano; Lemon Roasted Asparagus with Baked Goat Cheese encrusted with chives, oregano, thyme and pecans.

An East Coaster who studied in California, Nickerson delivers a beautiful guide suitable for all seasons and growing climates, and sure to bring healthy dishes to any table. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: An herbalist offers 110 recipes and a primer on the health benefits of common culinary herbs.

Storey, $24.95, hardcover, 312p., 9781612126906

Neighborhood: Hearty Salads and Plant-Based Recipes from Home and Abroad

by Hetty McKinnon, photography by Luisa Brimble

Globetrotting epicure Hetty McKinnon (Community) offers recipes inspired by her travels and her Brooklyn, N.Y., delivery service in Neighborhood: Hearty Salads and Plant-Based Recipes from Home and Abroad.

She begins with advice: always keep two types of soft herbs in the fridge. Stock the pantry with canned legumes. Leftover salad? Put an egg on it. Blend it into soup. Jazz up a grilled cheese. Make an Iranian frittata.

McKinnon then groups recipes by the regions that inspired them. In "Dear America," she honors the American South with a salad of shredded collard greens, baked sweet potato, pinto beans and paprika buttermilk dressing. In "So Frenchie," a highlight is cumin-spiced cauliflower with fried lentils and spinach yogurt. "This Is Australia" includes a green and gold medley of asparagus and golden beets with faro, crispy sage and lemony brown butter. "To Asia, with Love" provides show-stopping brussels sprouts with stir-fried lotus root, black fungus, five-spice tofu and hoisin-sesame sauce.

Each dish is vegetarian, many also gluten-free and vegan, and McKinnon offers substitution suggestions for hard-to-find produce--e.g., black fungus can be replaced with shitake mushrooms. And in the spirit of community, McKinnon calls on chefs from three continents to contribute desserts based on fresh fruits.

Neighborhood is one of those rare cookbooks with even more photos than recipes. The lush colors and textures shine while McKinnon spotlights flavors of neighborhoods the world over, with simple instructions and dishes bound to please. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: Globetrotter Hetty McKinnon creates delectable and vibrant salads with fresh, international flavors.

Roost Books, $24.95, paperback, 240p., 9781611804553

Biography & Memoir

A Stone of Hope

by Jim St. Germain, Jon Sternfeld

"As a member of an underprivileged group I had built a path forward, largely through the efforts of others. I felt like I had no choice but to pay it all back, become a voice for the downtrodden, a vessel for others as so many had been for me." Jim St. Germain's humble words succinctly capture the essence of his inspiring, powerful memoir, A Stone of Hope.

St. Germain, a Haitian immigrant, grew up on the streets of Brooklyn's Crown Heights, living in an overcrowded apartment. When at the age of 15 he was convicted for selling drugs, he encountered one of the people who would advocate for him instead of writing him off. His lawyer negotiated St. Germain a placement in Boys Town, an unsecure detention facility designed to rehabilitate young offenders. The adults who worked with him there, his lawyers, even a dean from his middle school all had faith in the young man who would go on to graduate college and law school, have a son, co-found a nonprofit mentoring organization and contribute to numerous movements for justice system reform.

Through the love entrusted to him, St. Germain learned that being a man doesn't mean being tough and denying pain. That knowledge is reflected in his passionate words and heartfelt admissions. His exceptional experiences facilitate his ability to break open stereotypes and expose the realities hiding beneath. Achingly candid, authentically insightful and compellingly optimistic, A Stone of Hope is destined to help move mountains. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: A young Haitian immigrant who rose out of poverty embodies the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope."

Harper, $27.99, hardcover, 304p., 9780062458797

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

by Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay (Bad Feminist) has tackled issues of race, gender and class head-on with intelligence and unabashed insight. In Hunger, Gay turns the lens inward on her lengthy battle with body image and weight loss, reflecting on the hypocrisies underlying modern notions of beauty and femininity.

A violent rape at the age of 12 propels Gay into a 30-year psychological battle in which she turns to her appetite to stop the hurt and "fill the gaping wound of me, or to try to fill the gaping wound of me." Food became a source of safety for her. In this memoir, Gay uses her experiences to draw out the fallacies of unrealistic demands society places upon women to occupy a smaller space. Behind the deceptively simple passages lies a minefield of emotional pain and longing, whose revelation exposes uncomfortable truths about the destructive patterns that push women to embrace unhealthy behaviors.

"Fat, much like skin color, is something you cannot hide, no matter how dark the clothing you wear, or how diligently you avoid horizontal stripes," she writes. "And then I think about how f***ed up it is to promote this idea that our truest selves are thin women hiding in our fat bodies like imposters, usurpers, illegitimates."

At its rawest, Hunger addresses the dreams and desires, the hopes and fears, and the actualities of living in an overweight body, "hungering for what I cannot have, or perhaps wanting what I dare not allow myself to have."

Gay's journey ends not with the silver linings promised by reality television, but with uncertainty, the unknown and a quiet confidence despite the brutality of her past. Hunger is a work of exceptional courage by a writer of exceptional talent. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: A voice of feminist literature ruminates on her internal struggles with body size and body image in a brutally honest, no-holds barred memoir.

Harper, $25.99, hardcover, 320p., 9780062362599

Chester B. Himes

by Lawrence P. Jackson

Lawrence P. Jackson's absorbing and definitive biography of Chester Himes is essential reading for fans of the prolific African American novelist. Though Himes wrote two outstanding memoirs, Jackson--professor of English and history at Johns Hopkins University--shines as an astute literary critic and compelling biographer.

At age 19, Himes was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to 20 to 25 years in prison. He started writing short prison stories. When he was paroled early at age 26 in 1936, he had already published stories in Esquire. He spent 16 years trying to get his first novel published. A hard-hitting look at prison life and homosexuality, it was rejected and rewritten numerous times. By the time a toned-down version was finally published as Cast the First Stone in 1952, Himes had already published two other novels.

His contentious relationships with publishers, editors and peers marginalized his career as much as the racial and political content of his novels. In the late 1950s, he moved to France and began writing noir mysteries featuring Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson. "The two Harlem detectives solving crimes enabled him to depict black urban life, with its rural slave and blues roots, with a kind of opulence and intrigue that was difficult in books with more obvious political meaning," writes Jackson. These mysteries (including Cotton Comes to Harlem) brought Himes international fame, financial security and stability.

Jackson's outstanding biography is a massive (580 pages) and intimate look at the volatile life and layered fiction of noir expatriate Chester Himes. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Jackson's outstanding and intimate biography of Chester Himes is essential reading for fans of noir fiction, and those interested in race relations in history and lives of adversity.

W.W. Norton, $35, hardcover, 624p., 9780393063899

Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India

by Sujatha Gidla

Sujatha Gidla was born into the lowest level of India's caste system, the untouchables. She compares it to anti-black racism in the United States, and then goes on to explain, "Each caste has its own special role and its own place to live.... The untouchables, whose special role--whose hereditary duty--is to labor in the fields of others or to do other work that Hindu society considers filthy, are not allowed to live in the village at all." She goes on to list some of the thousands of restrictions placed upon this unit of society that, if violated, are often dealt with by violence or death.

In Ants Among Elephants, Gidla tells her family's history, of her great-grandparents, grandparents and parents who came of age when the caste system was still in full force, when India was becoming an independent nation, shaking off the mantle of British rule. Most of the story is dominated by Gidla's uncle Satyamurthy, who became a famous poet and leader of a Maoist guerilla group in the early 1970s, a position that forced him to go into hiding for most of his life.

Throughout, Gidla does not hide the atrocities of the caste system. She discusses how untouchable women are forced to clean public toilets using their hands, a broom and a tin plate to fill baskets to carry away the waste on their heads; how they are forced to become mistresses to those higher on the social ladder. Gidla's family history is intertwined with the evolution of Indian society, yielding a moving portrayal of one family's struggle to live. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A woman from the untouchable level of India's caste system tells her family's history as it relates to the country's gaining independence from Britain.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28, hardcover, 320p., 9780865478114

The Boy Who Loved Too Much: A True Story of Pathological Friendliness

by Jennifer Latson

To Eli D'Angelo, everyone is a friend. With his exuberant and highly sociable personality, the teenager greets strangers with affectionate hugs and rapid-fire chatter. While these qualities may seem positive and endearing, Eli's trusting nature makes him particularly vulnerable for potential harm from others.

Eli is among an estimated 30,000 people in the United States who have Williams Syndrome, a genetic neurological condition characterized by developmental delays, cardiovascular issues, visual-spatial challenges and distinct, elfin-like facial features. People with Williams often have above average musical and language abilities with certain fixations. Eli, for example, is particularly obsessed with twirling objects and floor scrubbers.

For three years, journalist Jennifer Latson followed Eli and his mother, Gayle, to explore the impact of Williams on their family. The Boy Who Loved Too Much offers a scientific overview of the condition and an easy-to-understand explanation of the genetic and hormonal factors involved. It also draws the reader into Eli and Gayle's everyday interactions and gatherings with other families affected by Williams. Latson effectively parallels Eli's emotional growth with Gayle's as she shows how the diagnosis intensifies the typical push-pull parental desire of wanting to protect a child from the world while also encouraging self-sufficiency and learning to let go.

"He'd probably be happier if he stayed a child forever. Then again, she thought, wouldn't everyone? Adolescence might be the most challenging stage of life with Williams, but it's also a challenge for every human being. Growing up is never easy. The reward isn't necessarily happiness; it's independence. But what Gayle wanted for Eli--what parents everywhere want for their children--was both." --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at

Discover: This book shows how parenting a teenager with Williams Syndrome presents challenges and growth for both mother and son.

Simon & Schuster, $26, hardcover, 304p., 9781476774046

Aphra Behn: A Secret Life

by Janet Todd

Aphra Behn was a 17th-century playwright, poet, translator, propagandist and spy, and one of the first English women to successfully support herself as a professional writer. She was an iconoclast who expressed many radical political, religious and sexual ideas through her work. Aphra Behn: A Secret Life is a revised and updated reissue of the 1996 biography by Janet Todd (A Man of Genius), the British scholar, biographer and novelist.

Behn is a tricky subject for any biographer. Very little was written about her by anyone who knew her. As a professional artist, she intentionally invented and hid behind her public image. Todd calls her "a lethal combination of obscurity, secrecy and staginess... not so much a woman to be unmasked as an unending combination of masks and intrigue." In addition, despite her many radical convictions, she was a strongly anti-democratic Royalist, and her ideas did not line up neatly with modern definitions of social liberalism or feminism. However, Todd thoroughly understands the particular cultural and political environment of the Restoration. She traces a convincing and entertaining path through the likely events of Behn's life in the vivid context of her times, examining the evidence and alternatives for every possibility and providing close readings of her works. Her approach creates an effective mixture of historical research, literary criticism and fiction that brings us as close as we may ever get to the truth of this enterprising and enigmatic literary figure. --Sara Catterall

Discover: This entertaining and thorough biography of a great 17th-century English playwright mingles scholarly research with novelistic speculation.

Fentum Press, $18.95, paperback, 608p., 9781909572065

Reading with Patrick: A Teacher, a Student, and a Life-Changing Friendship

by Michelle Kuo

When Michelle Kuo graduated from Harvard in 2003, she joined Teach for America and went to Helena, Ark., a rural town in the heart of the Delta. She dreamed of galvanizing her students through black literature, believing that books could change lives. "It was unabashedly romantic." She chronicles her aspirations, and the hard reality she encountered, in Reading with Patrick: A Teacher, a Student, and a Life-Changing Friendship.

After failing to rouse her students with fiery prose from James Baldwin and Malcolm X, she found a hit with A Raisin in the Sun. She bought YA books for them; they began to guard them "like amulets." Patrick was 15, mild-mannered, and thrived under Kuo's attention. After two years teaching, she went to Harvard Law School; upon graduation, she heard that Patrick had been jailed for murder. Shocked, she turned down a law firm job, and went back to Helena for Patrick and what she considered unfinished business for both of them. They restarted their relationship reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and moved on to haikus, Tennyson, Mary Oliver and Frederick Douglass (for Patrick, "to keep reading was urgent--in fact, not a choice at all.") Every day Patrick wrote, every day they recited poems. He found his métier in writing letters to his young daughter, infused with poetry: "...a silver carp surfaces as if it is jewelry in the water." Both teacher and student evolved.

Tender and gritty, with reflections on race and justice and pedagogy, Reading with Patrick is a paean to literature, to caring and to Forster's maxim, "Only connect." --Marilyn Dahl

Discover: A recent university graduate goes to Arkansas to teach in a rural black school, where she forms an unexpected and life-changing bond with a student.

Random House, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9780812997316

Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman's Awakening

by Manal Al-Sharif

Saudi activist Manal al-Sharif is internationally known for her role in women's driving rights campaigns. Daring to Drive is a memoir of her life and her transformation from a fundamentalist teenager into a central member of the Saudi women's rights movement.

Al-Sharif grew up poor in Mecca. She was beaten regularly by her parents and teachers. Her Libyan mother insisted that she be genitally mutilated, but also that she be educated through college. Like many of her generation, she internalized the fundamentalism taught to her at school and forced it on her family. But she maintained her love of books and art, college broadened her views and September 11, 2001, "was the date of the complete transformation in my beliefs." After graduation, she went to work for the state-owned oil company Aramco, living and learning to drive inside its multinational, mixed-gender compound. She married and divorced, spent six months working in New Hampshire, went skydiving and took a solo vacation to Puerto Rico. When she turned 32, she joined a feminist driving rights group.

Al-Sharif writes gracefully with great openness and perception. She describes how the restrictions on women frustrate many Saudi men as well--with pointless and often cruel personal and monetary costs--and how Saudi Arabia's repressive rules and acceptance of violence poison both public and private life. Nevertheless, Al-Sharif conveys her love of Saudi Arabia despite everything, and her hopes for a more just and equitable nation. "What has happened to the two fundamental principles of being a Muslim--living in peace and showing compassion?" --Sara Catterall

Discover: This intimate memoir by a feminist activist and working single mother describes the best and worst of Saudi Arabia, and her hopes for a better future.

Simon & Schuster, $26, hardcover, 304p., 9781476793023

Blue Money

by Janet Capron

New York City writer Janet Capron offers a wild, bristling account of city life in the 1970s in her provocative semi-fictional memoir Blue Money.

According to her author's note, names from real life have been changed--except for Capron's--and some characters are fictionalized composites of real people. But the environment, the situations and the emotional turmoil are grittily true. Capron reconstructs an episodic narrative in which, as a young woman, she leaves a sheltered, privileged life to become a prostitute in a city seething with drugs and crime. Blue Money follows Capron through a jungle of johns, drug addiction and hallucinations, and the more tender thicket of young love, and the treachery of reckless men and the pain they bring. Many chapters contain explicit content, including a graphic scene of sexual violence that's not for the faint of heart.

Capron writes with the fearless, experiential drive of a Beat poet, though her images are more controlled and precise than the subject matter would suggest. There's an enormous amount of clarity here. For example, the author's self-described stint as a radical feminist produces sharp insights into the way patriarchy divides "good" women from "bad" women. "I would build an arch across this ancient fissure. I would free myself from all the hobbling generalizations," she writes. Capron skillfully digs into social hierarchies to find the city's hidden pulse. She finds plenty of seediness and self-destruction, but also, in the book's best moments, "the unexpected, electric weight of intimacy." --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author

Discover: This intense, electrifying memoir explores a life of prostitution in 1970s New York City.

Unnamed Press, $16, paperback, 212p., 9781944700263


Young Radicals: In the War for American Ideals

by Jeremy McCarter

Jeremy McCarter's Young Radicals: In the War for American Ideals offers a rousing history of a pivotal era in American history as lived and seen through the struggles of five prominent activists.

McCarter, a former culture critic for New York magazine and Newsweek, co-authored Hamilton: The Revolution with Lin-Manuel Miranda. He knows how to bring history to life, and he does it here splendidly with the lives of Randolph Bourne, Max Eastman, Walter Lippmann and John Reed--pioneers of socialist thought--as well as crusading suffragist Alice Paul. McCarter frames their respective struggles and evolving ideologies through lively narration, vividly capturing social and political realities of the U.S. in the early 20th-century. He reveals a formative time in both American and world history when society, coming out of the Industrial Revolution, was fraught with inequality and class warfare.

McCarter is almost elegiac in the way he writes of naive idealism. Young Radicals charts the rocky course of utopian idealism to the catastrophes of World War I, the atrocities of the Russian Revolution, and the mass disillusionment that would characterize the "Lost Generation." Yet all is not hopeless. That idealism melded with what became the progressive movement and produced tangible improvements in the human condition, including Paul's eventual victory in securing women's suffrage. Many of the political battles McCarter evaluates are shockingly relevant to modern-day politics. For instance, opining against the nativism and ethnic violence of his day, Bourne writes of "that miracle of hope, the peaceful living side by side, with character substantially preserved, of the most heterogeneous peoples under the sun." --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author

Discover: Jeremy McCarter illuminates American ideals of equality in this multifaceted biographical history.

Random House, $30, hardcover, 400p., 9780812993059

The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II 

by Svetlana Aleksievich, trans. by Larissa Volokhonsky, Richard Pevear

Since Svetlana Alexievich won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature, a number of publishers have rereleased her decades-old classics in English translation, including Voices from Chernobyl and Zinky Boys. Originally published in 1985, The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II is a brilliant work of history and reporting that showcases Alexievich's boundless empathy and inimitable style.

Instead of a chronological history focused on military affairs, The Unwomanly Face of War patches together dozens of voices under themes that include love during wartime and the backbreaking, thankless tasks many women performed behind the front lines, such as laundry and baking. "Women's stories are different and about different things. 'Women's' war has its own colors, its own smells, its own lighting, and its own range of feelings."

Almost all her interviewees are women, some of the approximately one million who served in the Red Army during World War II. Some of them tell lengthy, gutting stories; others can hardly speak about the war. Alexievich has an eye for odd details that border on the absurd, such as the woman who recalls bringing a suitcase full of candy to war. "Altogether I carried 481 wounded soldiers from under fire," Maria Petrovna Smirnova recalls. The Unwomanly Face of War is a necessary account of almost unbelievable suffering told on a human scale. On the incomprehensibility of war, Alexievich concludes: "There is only one path--to love this human being. To understand through love." --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Discover: The Unwomanly Face of War is Nobel Prize-winner Svetlana Alexievich's searing oral history of World War II through the eyes of Russian women who fought and served.

Random House, $30, hardcover, 384p., 9780399588723

Political Science

The Chickensh*t Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives

by Jesse Eisinger

In The Chickensh*t Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives, Pulitzer Prize-winning financial journalist and senior reporter at ProPublica Jesse Eisinger delves into the unpunished crimes of big businesses in the United States. The result is an urgent spotlight on a justice system that is anything but just when it comes to dealing with the evolution of what Eisinger deems an "ecosystem of corporate fraud."

The term "Chickensh*t Club" comes from a speech delivered by James Comey, who served as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Manhattan before becoming director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The "club" was made up of prosecutors reluctant to see a case to court unless they felt victory was assured. Afraid to have a loss or hung jury on their records, they simply didn't bring risky or complicated cases to trial. Settlements with corporations, rather than prosecution of individuals, became the norm.

What follows is a comprehensive investigation into individuals, companies and systems that allowed this continuance of corruption. Eisinger puts a range of targets in his crosshairs, from big banks to big pharma, shattering the illusion of any company being "too big to fail" and instead characterizing people at the helm of corporations as having become too powerful to be prosecuted--or in Eisinger's words, "too big to jail."

His writing is incisive, adeptly mixing legal jargon and conversational prose for a white-knuckle read that's at once probing and damning. The title may elicit a laugh, but the content is chilling. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist compiles a scathing indictment of the United States Justice Department's increasing inability to litigate white-collar crime.

Simon & Schuster, $28, hardcover, 400p., 9781501121364

Social Science

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating

by Alan Alda

Arguably best known for his role as Captain Hawkeye Pierce on the television series M.A.S.H., Alan Alda's first stab at interviewing scientists for PBS's Scientific American Frontiers didn't go so famously. Alda says, "I walked over to the scientist, smiled confidently--and immediately made three huge blunders." Despite the mistakes, that experience sparked his ensuing two decades of work in the realm of communication, as well as contributions to the establishment of the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University in New York. If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? is the chronicle of his endeavors and the lessons he learned along the way.

Alda makes dogged attempts to teach scientists improvisation exercises. He also shares anecdotes from his acting experiences (and how they translate into universal communication skills), entertaining stories of private experiments he tried on himself, and a plethora of research he gathered through reading and interviewing experts. His findings point to the importance of developing empathy in order to better relate to others and thus to more clearly communicate ideas. "People are dying because we can't communicate in ways that allow us to understand one another," Alda believes. Whether it's doctors to patients, teachers to students, or scientists to laymen, the clear transferance of ideas is vital.

Delivered with a witty, engaging style, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? offers readers a variety of accessible ways to build their own empathy levels. It's a valuable life tool presented in a wonderfully entertaining narrative. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: Comedic actor Alan Alda illustrates a growing need for improved human communication and how improvisation skills can help bridge the gap between speaker and audience.

Random House, $28, hardcover, 240p., 9780812989144

Affluence Without Abundance: The Disappearing World of the Bushmen

by James Suzman

For more than 25 years, anthropologist James Suzman has lived, worked with and studied the Bushmen of the Kalahari region in southern Africa. In this mix of memoir and scientific analysis, he shares a comprehensive history of one group in particular, the Khoisan, whose ancestors were among the earliest humans on earth. He traces the changes they have endured, particularly those created when Western explorers arrived in the 1600s and commandeered the land, forcing the Khoisan into increasingly smaller areas, a displacement similar to that of Native Americans onto reservations in the U.S.

Using personal stories from his adoptive family, Suzman discusses the Khoisan's methods of hunting with poison-tipped arrows, the importance of meat in their diet and the effects of drought and overhunting by nonnatives, including the widespread slaughter of elephants. He also explores the Khoisans' concepts of time, money, work and personal freedom. Many of this group, however, are turning their backs on the old ways, preferring cell phones and connecting on social media to scratching out a living in the sandy soils of the Kalahari. Ironically, Suzman shares, there are Khoisans of this latter demographic who earn a meager wage by living in mock tribal villages. These facsimiles harken back to the days of their ancestors and give eager tourists the opportunity to see "real" Bushmen. Suzman's thoughtful details preserve an insightful link to a shared human history. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A rich compendium of historical and scientific facts augmented by personal stories of life among the Khoisan tribe in southern Africa.

Bloomsbury, $29, hardcover, 320p., 9781632865724

Essays & Criticism

The Hidden Machinery: Essays on Writing

by Margot Livesey

Literature lovers looking for a better understanding of their favorite works, as well as writers who are struggling to create good literature will find new insights in Hidden Machinery: Essays on Writing. Margot Livesey (Mercury) is an admired writing teacher and a graceful and perceptive writer, the author of eight novels. This collection offers her experienced opinions and insights on the mechanics of writing fiction, novels in particular. It is also a memoir of her development as a writer in the context of her life and relationships. She describes her early misunderstandings and errors in composing fiction, and how she has moved from unconscious to conscious choices of techniques.

Much of her teaching is by example, using walk-through analysis of classic novels and stories such as Madame BovaryPersuasionA Passage to India and The Portrait of a Lady. She distills useful advice from authorities such as Aristotle, Francine Prose, E.M. Forster and offers "sixteen golden sovereigns" of advice that she has extracted from reading Shakespeare. Bad writing can also be educational, in her experience, but the main thing is to read with careful attention to how an author succeeds and fails. "For the practicing artist, influence requires a more active engagement. We must work to be influenced." There are many good books on the art of writing, but even those who have a collection of favorites will appreciate these clear and thoughtful essays on writers and the architecture behind their art. --Sara Catterall

Discover: Admired writer and teacher Margot Livesey combines memoir, analysis of classic works and discussion of techniques in this useful and enjoyable essay collection.

Tin House, $15.95, paperback, 224p., 9781941040683


Caesar's Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us

by Sam Kean

Journalist and frequent NPR guest Sam Kean (The Disappearing Spoon) has made a living out of deciphering science and making clever and entertaining what is often dry drudgery. In Caesar's Last Breath, he takes on the science of gases in his trademark effervescent, loopy style--kicking it off with the emergence of Earth from a fiery, uninhabitable atmosphere, a "dragon's breath of volcanoes."

From the planet's hellish beginnings, Kean works his way through the evolution of the atmospheric building blocks of life: oxygen and nitrogen. Biology, chemistry and geology turn quickly into comedic stories, wordplay and metaphors. The search molecularly to combine nitrogen with hydrogen to make ammonia ("the gateway to fertilizer") leads him to the eccentric 20th-century German scientist Fritz Haber and his engineer countryman Carl Bosch. The two succeeded at producing commercial quantities of ammonia and supplied the world with its agricultural bounty, but they also became the fathers of German chemical warfare in World War I and developed synthetic gasoline to fuel Hitler's war engine.

In a similar vein, Kean highlights the other key elements of Earth's atmosphere and the unusual and downright freaky stories behind their discovery. If he occasionally gets a bit corny in his search for colloquial humor, Kean can also put a metaphor right on the money--such as his description of the birth of the Earth's volatile moon as "glowing like a blackened, bloodshot eye." Irreverent, lightly scientific, Caesar's Last Breath is nonetheless a lively, rewarding journey through the evolution of Earth's gaseous atmosphere. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Sam Kean takes on the science and evolution of Earth's atmosphere and the history of the scientists who unraveled its mysteries.

Little, Brown, $28, hardcover, 384p., 9780316381642

Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History's Most Iconic Extinct Creatures

by Ben Mezrich

Any major scientific initiative is driven by two factors: the practical application to everyday human life that success of the endeavor would enable, and the "because we want to see if we can" factor. There's a lot to be said for the energizing effect of any "one giant leap for mankind" that we achieve--innovation powers more inventing, more research, more searching for answers. The stories behind these leaps forward are integral to inspiring more people to become curious about the world around them, and Ben Mezrich's Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History's Most Iconic Extinct Creatures provides both scientific advance and engaging storytelling. As it turns out, there's more at stake with these efforts than simply testing the limits of human ingenuity.

Sergey Zimov is a Russian scientist studying permafrost, which currently--currently being the operative word--covers nearly a quarter of the surface of Earth. It's melting, and if that continues, the amount of methane gas and carbon dioxide released would be devastating to our atmosphere and to life across the globe. When the Woolly Mammoth last walked the Earth, there was significantly less permafrost, and so the thinking goes that if our planet is returning to that environment, we need to restore the other missing pieces of that ecosystem to balance it out. Dr. George Church, considered to be one of the finest minds working in genetics research, is leading a team of scientists in designing, or engineering, a Woolly Mammoth gene sequence to be merged into the genetic code of a type of Asian elephant. Mezrich deftly moves his story back and forth in time, capturing the last days of a majestic animal, the early days of the scientists working to crack the code, and the current efforts safely to increase the pace of progress before the damage to the Earth is irrevocable. --Matthew Tiffany, LCPC, writer for Condalmo and psychotherapist

Discover: The stories of the people and the science behind efforts to bring an extinct species back to life.

Atria, $26, hardcover, 304p., 9781501135552

Nature & Environment

Junk Raft: An Ocean Voyage and a Rising Tide of Activism to Fight Plastic Pollution

by Marcus Eriksen

On June 1, 2008, environmental activist Marcus Eriksen and his friend Joel set sail from Long Beach, Calif., toward Hawaii. Their vessel was far from ordinary; built from more than 200,000 plastic soda bottles, an old airplane fuselage, pieces of old fishing nets, ropes and cargo straps, and several salvaged masts, the contraption was aptly named Junk Raft. Eriksen wanted to bring badly needed attention to the overwhelming amount of plastic found in the world's oceans. He planned to sail Junk through the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, one of many swirling masses around the world, where plastic pollution gathers in the sea. This is not a stable mass of identifiable pieces, but a soup of minute micro and macro particles that creates an underwater fog of plastic residue.

Eriksen's story is an adventure of two men battling the weather, lack of food and entropy to cross a vast ocean; it is also meant to raise awareness of the role plastic plays in our environment. He discusses the effects plastic has on the sea creatures that ingest it and humanity's place in this food chain. He also specifies the responsibility manufacturers and designers need to assume to create truly recyclable plastics, and highlights the efforts of activists to prevent more plastics from finding their way into the oceans. Eriksen's adept ability to combine personal exploration with scientific data makes this an entertaining, highly informative read sure to change the way one interacts with ubiquitous plastics. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: Two men on a raft made of junk bring worldwide attention to the plastic soup that pervades our oceans.

Beacon Press, $26.95, hardcover, 216p., 9780807056400

Travel Literature

All the Agents and Saints: Dispatches from the U.S. Borderlands

by Stephanie Elizondo Griest

"Identity is everything when you live in the periphery," writes memoirist and journalist Stephanie Elizondo Griest in All the Agents and Saints: Dispatches from the U.S. Borderlands. This poignant and fascinating work of journalism explores two borderland communities, the Tejanos and the Mohawks. Mostly American born, Tejanos live a few miles north of the U.S./Mexico border, largely without heat, clean water or better prospects for the future. Their culture, meanwhile, brims with ancient traditions. In a standout chapter, Griest visits one of many "miracle trees" believed by the Tejanos to predict the future and heal the sick. In another, she speaks with a clutch of nuns trying to convince the Vatican to canonize Mother Julia, a beloved nun who died in the 1970s and whose spirit is believed to be working miracles still in their community.

The book's second half turns north to the Mohawks from the Akwesasne Nation, a sovereign state of indigenous people that overlaps the U.S./Canada border. Like the Tejanos, the Mohawks struggle to maintain their complex belief systems and traditional ways of life. Griest tells the story of Saint Kateri, Native America's first Catholic saint. The Mohawks claim her as one of their own, but her story of canonization highlights how tightly the legacy of colonialism intertwines throughout their history.

Griest also introduces artists and activists in both communities working to bring greater awareness to their suffering. With sensitivity and eye-opening detail, her dispatches reveal both the pain and strength of borderlands people. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A journalist tells the fascinating and heartbreaking real-life stories of two communities from the borderlands.

University of North Carolina Press, $30, hardcover, 312p., 9781469631592

Children's & Young Adult

Can You Find My Robot's Arm?

by Chihiro Takeuchi

Where, oh where is Robot's arm? His wee robot friend (think squashed R2-D2) is ever so helpful, looking all through the house, up a tree, at an aquarium for the missing limb, but alas, it's "nowhere to be found." He resorts to offering alternatives but "[n]o, a broom won't make a good arm. Neither will a pencil. Neither will scissors. And an umbrella certainly won't do." The diligent bot-pal tries--and discards--every possible option in every locale, including a library, a candy store ("Shall we look in here? Sweet!") and even a robot factory, ultimately deciding that "[m]aybe a fork is not such a bad arm after all."

Young readers accustomed to I Spy and Where's Waldo? will pore over the intricately detailed black-on-cream cut-paper illustrations, searching for the lost arm, but it's not until the final page that they will be rewarded with a sighting--wouldn't you know it, even robo-dogs are rascally when it comes to carrying off appealing looking objects!

Striking geometric silhouetted images invite long, happy perusal (gears and wind-up keys abound) while opposing pages offer pleasing muted blues, greens and peaches, against which the simple, playful text stands out nicely: "It isn't in the amusement park, but will this lollipop do?"

Chihiro Takeuchi is a well-known cut-paper artist in Osaka, Japan. Can You Find My Robot's Arm? is her debut English-language picture book, although she has written and illustrated several books in Japanese. Readers will surely be asking librarians, "Can you find more books by Chihiro Takeuchi?" --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A one-armed robot and his mini-bot friend search high and low for his missing appendage in this charming, funny cut-paper picture book.

Tundra/Penguin Random House, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 2-5, 9781101919033

Hello Goodbye Dog

by Maria Gianferrari, illus. by Patrice Barton

"There was nothing Moose loved more than hello," especially greetings from her human, Zara. But dogs aren't allowed at Zara's school and "There was nothing Moose disliked more than goodbye." Smart pup that she is, for every "goodbye," Moose finds a way to say "hello": she zooms out the door to Mrs. Perkins's classroom for story time ("Moose... loves story time"), she chews through the backyard rope to sneak into Mrs. Chen's library hour and she even manages a cafeteria dash for homemade cookies and a Zara-read book. Getting Moose to "goodbye"--and go home for good--becomes an all-school chase. And then Zara has an idea: therapy dog school. Moose gets tested and certified, becoming the "Class Reading Dog." Hello Goodbye Dog Moose is now the school's official Hello Goodbye Dog

Author Maria Gianferrari and artist Patrice Barton are clearly dog people; both highlight canine family members in their back flap bios. That pooch-love is evident throughout: Gianferrari's clever text perfectly embodies Moose's mournful "AAAA-WOOO"s over "Goodbye was tag without an 'It.'/ Goodbye was tug and no war./ Goodbye was hide without seek," while Barton's whimsically energetic drawings showcase Moose's delighted devotion to Zara, her mischievous plotting toward her next hello and her rapt attention to reading.

As mirthful and charming as the story is, even more notable is the easy diversity playing out on every page. Zara's mobility is enabled by her wheelchair; Mom is African American; and the students and adults-in-charge represent multiple ethnicities. Effortlessly inclusive, Gianferrari and Barton's creative Hello Goodbye Dog becomes an inviting mirror or window for any child, welcoming every reader in. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Hello Goodbye Dog Moose loses the "goodbye" when her human Zara takes her to therapy dog school, making Moose the official "Class Reading Dog."

Roaring Brook Press, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-7, 9781626721777

What Goes Up

by Katie Kennedy

Rosa Hayashi is a "science princess" from New Mexico whose parents expect great things of her. Eddie Toivonen is from Oolitic, Indiana, and doesn't have the luxury of living with parents; the only one he has is a jailbird. Eddie and Rosa are among 200 brainiac high schoolers who have traveled to Iowa to compete for two trainee spots at a NASA space agency. Both want to succeed, but Eddie must do so: "It was either exploring the cosmos for the Interworlds Agency or handing people fries back in Oolitic."

The competition is a mind-and-body workout that requires defusing a live (well, sort of) bomb and free-associating about the physical laws of the universe while in a plummeting elevator. Then comes an unplanned challenge: the Interworlds Agency's scientists perceive a gravitational anomaly, and Rosa and Eddie must travel to a parallel Earth in order to save the real one.

Katie Kennedy (Learning to Swear in America) has invented a young cast so sympathetic and disarmingly funny that even science-indifferent readers will resolve to understand the laws of physics and other geeky topics of conversation that come up alongside more typical teen concerns. What Goes Up isn't so much about what's out there as about what's down here: the miracle of unlikely friendships, the mixed blessing of privilege and the stigma of social class. As Rosa says to Eddie, "How do we know who we are under the weight of all the expectations?" --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: No science knowledge--or even interest--is necessary to appreciate this cheeky YA novel about whiz kid teens competing for trainee spots at a NASA space agency.

Bloomsbury, $17.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 13-up, 9781619639126

Waste of Space

by Gina Damico

Chazz Young, CEO of DV8, a cable television network dedicated to trashy reality shows like So You Think You Can Pole Dance, has a vision. As he tells the astrophysicists he's hired from NASAW (National Association for the Study of Astronomy and Weightlessness), "[w]e want to take a bunch of teenagers and shoot them into space." Of course, "we'll be faking it," he reassures them: "[T]he mission commences. Lifelong friendships are formed. Bitter fights erupt. Maybe a slap or two. A slap in zero gravity--that's never been done before!... Every eye in America will tune in to check on their new cosmic sweethearts."

But--surprise! Things don't go quite as planned, as the 10 unwitting teens, carefully selected to fit Chazz's hilariously offensive stereotypes--the Party Girl, Rich Kid, Black Gay Astronaut--proceed to do... nothing much. Desperate to hold his viewers' attention, Chazz stirs things up with a manufactured asteroid attack and other space crises. But it's when the 24/7 live streaming contact is unexpectedly cut off--and not by DV8--that the strain of the adventure begins to show in each of the space travelers. Are they the victims of Chazz's heartless manipulations for TV ratings, or some other nefarious force performing psycho-social experiments?

Gina Damico's (Wax; Hellhole; Croak trilogy) biting satire is a fun and funny read that turns darker as it goes along. Watching the typecast caricatures become more human as they begin to crack, readers will experience the disintegration of the wall that usually separates viewers from the more absurd reality programming. Told in a series of transcripts, e-mails and personal accounts and "edited" by an unnamed whistle-blowing intern, Waste of Space is, decidedly, not a waste of time. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A reality TV show fake-launches 10 teenagers into fake space with disastrous effects when the astrophysicists hired for an authentic touch go rogue.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99, hardcover, 400p., ages 12-up, 9780544633162

Magellan: Over the Edge of the World: The True Story of the Terrifying First Circumnavigation of the Globe

by Laurence Bergreen

Although the Strait of Magellan is marked on modern maps, many readers may not be familiar with the Portuguese explorer for whom the Strait is named. Setting out in 1519 with five ships and more than 200 sailors, Fernão de Magalhães (known in English as Ferdinand Magellan) sailed for Spain in an attempt to find the Spice Islands (an archipelago in present-day Indonesia). Magellan was an ambitious man who bristled at sharing power with his fellow captains, ruthlessly drove his sailors (sometimes unnecessarily cutting their rations) and mistreated the indigenous communities along his route, often trying to convert people to Christianity. He survived vicious mutinies only to find death in the Philippines--before his mission was accomplished--by needlessly interfering in a local conflict.

Laurence Bergreen, a prolific biographer (Columbus: The Four Voyages, 1492-1504; Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu), has ably adapted Magellan: Over the Edge of the World from his adult book, Over the Edge of the World. Bergreen tells the story of the Armada de Molucca, at first focusing on Magellan--his good decisions and his bad--but then describing the fates of the other boats, captains and men, revealing that only one boat and 18 men returned to Seville after the full circumnavigation. He details shocking shipboard conditions, such as food contaminated by weevils and rat urine and the prevalence of scurvy caused by the lack of vitamin C and medical knowledge. Excerpts from the journal kept by Antonio Pigafetta, a Venetian scholar who survived the expedition, appear throughout the book and some of the archival illustrations are also from Pigafetta's work. Excellent chapter notes, an extensive bibliography and maps are included. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer

Discover: This absorbing biography of one of the great explorers from the Age of Discovery allows young readers to make their own assessment of Magellan's accomplishments.

Roaring Brook, $19.99, hardcover, 224p., ages 12-up, 9781626721203


by Alan Gratz

Conversations about refugees are often heated, focused on hypotheticals and unknowns. By making visible three young emigrants--rather than those who fear them--Refugee aims to provide a corrective to this American myopia. Josef, 12, is escaping Germany in the late 1930s; after his father is released from Dachau, his Jewish family scrambles aboard the ill-fated German liner St. Louis. Isabel, 11, is escaping Cuba in 1994, leaving in a handmade boat for a better life, one that includes more opportunities for her future as well as keeping her activist father out of Castro's prisons. And Mahmoud, 12, leaves Aleppo, Syria, in 2015 with his family in a panic after their apartment building is bombed. Moving briskly among Josef, Isabel and Mahmoud, each short chapter brings new tragedy, occasional hope and continued instability to all three children.

Alan Gratz (Code of Honor; Projekt 1065; The League of Seven; Prisoner B-3087) uses his trademark straightforward prose to illuminate the danger facing refugee families. Insightful details help contemporary readers to connect with the story, especially in Mahmoud's chapters, in which smartphones play an important role ("Google Maps told them it would be an eight-hour walk, and they split the journey up by sleeping in a field"). Gratz focuses on individual villains and heroes, rather than structural causes of refugee crises, but nevertheless young readers will finish this book and ask: What should we do? Adults will be similarly struck by the words of Isabel's grandfather: "[A] funny thing happened while I was waiting for the world to change, Chabela: It didn't. Because I didn't change it." --Stephanie Anderson, assistant director for public services, Darien Library (Conn.)

Discover: Action-filled short chapters provide painstaking portraits of three young refugees from Nazi Germany, Castro's Cuba and contemporary Syria in Alan Gratz's middle-grade novel.

Scholastic Press, $16.99, hardcover, 352p., ages 9-12, 9780545880831

The Scariest Book Ever

by Bob Shea

"BOO!" A spooky ghost tells the reader it "sure can't wait to find out" what monsters are hiding in those "dark woods" a few pages back. "Hope I don't spill this orange juice on my nice white-- Whoops!" it exclaims as the orange juice mysteriously upends itself directly onto its sheet. "Well, would you look at that. I'm so clumsy.... I guess you'll have to go into the scary dark woods without me." With the page turn, the reader is shown the "scary dark" woods: yellow, orange and blue pointed trees with long, black shadows, a bright yellow flower and a blue hole, all on a pink background.

The now-naked ghost peeks out from behind a chair: "Well? What did you see? A dark hole? Nothing good ever comes out of a dark hole! It's okay, you don't have to go back." The next page turn reveals a tiny white bunny in a hooded sweatshirt leaping from the hole. The bunny hops along, delivering party invitations to all the happy woodland creatures. In the house, the ghost hides, trying to use housecleaning and doughnuts to convince the reader to stay inside. "Can't you just stay here on this page?"

Young readers will see right through the fraidy-cat ghost's bravado as the cutesy animals of the "dark woods" (all depicted in bold yellows, oranges and pinks) get together to pick pumpkins and make costumes for their Halloween party. With accessible second person text and a creeped-out, naked ghost, Bob Shea's The Scariest Book Ever is a super fun, super funny read for the brave and the fearful alike. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A very spooky ghost is (definitely not!) afraid of the dark woods in Bob Shea's amusing The Scariest Book Ever.

Disney/Hyperion, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-7, 9781484730461


by Antoinette Portis

In the world of young children, what is right in front of them most often dictates their preferences: "This is my favorite cloud/ because it's the one I am watching." Throughout a day, a child's favorite friends, colors, foods and books may change based simply on what they can see or hear or touch at that exact moment. Author and illustrator Antoinette Portis (Wait; The Red Hat; Not a Box, winner of a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award) uses this adorable tendency as the basis for her picture book Now.

The book's narrator, a lively little girl, shares her favorite things with readers: a breeze, a hole, a tooth, a hug. Her delightful bouquet of cherished choices blooms into rich sensations through the child's wonder and awe, as well as Portis's vibrant illustrations (using sumi ink, brush and bamboo stick). She basks in it all: "This is my favorite smell. This is my favorite bird. And this is my favorite song/ because it is the one I am singing." Portis's strong, solid brush strokes elicit the simplicity of childhood--everything stable and certain with little room for shades in any ideas or colors.

Now is a story that invites discussion between an adult reader and a child audience. It's a conversation that ignites analytical readers: identifying shapes and colors; sharing thoughts on sights, sounds and smells; and, of course, selecting one's own favorites, which are likely to change with each subsequent read. Sweet, charming and destined to be a favorite. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: Kindling a host of sensations through words and images, a child takes readers on a bold and brilliantly colorful grand tour of some of her favorite things.

Roaring Brook Press, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-6, 9781626721371

Amazon Adventure: How Tiny Fish Are Saving the World's Largest Rainforest

by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Keith Ellenbogen

As part of the Scientists in the Field series, author Sy Montgomery (The Soul of an Octopus) and photographer Keith Ellenbogen trek up the Río Negro, one of the main arteries of the Amazon River, to study piaba: shy, "pip-squeak" fish that may be the answer to saving the region and improving global climate.

Traveling by riverboat, Montgomery and Ellenbogen bring the South American rain forest to life, sharing vivid sights and sounds through engaging storytelling and captivating photographs. Their examination of the many types of fish all called piaba by locals explains, in accessible language, how fishing and exporting the hundreds of species treasured for personal aquariums can provide jobs, reduce the practice of other destructive trades in the rain forest and increase the production of oxygen, thereby slowing climate change. Interspersed throughout the chapters are pages of fun facts (for example, "Meeting the Seven Deadly Plagues of the Amazon--in the Dark") that add to the plethora of fascinating information about the region.

The underwater photos of piaba, with additional images of piranhas, stingrays and pink river dolphins, emphasize these distinctive waters, darkened by natural chemicals found in the plant life. Meanwhile, surface images of Brazil's plants, animals and people burst with vibrant colors and textures. Anyone flipping through these pages will be drawn in by the stunning world displayed in the photographs.

While Amazon Adventure is geared toward readers aged 10-12, this extraordinary look at "the lungs of the world" is sure to intrigue fish enthusiasts, eco-conscious readers and anthropology buffs of any age. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: An exciting adventure on the Amazon reveals a small fish that means a big deal to the world.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $18.99, hardcover, 80p., ages 10-12, 9780544352995

Women in Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win

by Rachel Ignotofsky

Featuring stylized pictures and fact-filled biographical sketches of women athletes from around the world, this jam-packed compendium includes skaters, gymnasts, track and field stars, tennis players, golfers, skydivers, martial artists, mountaineers and many others.

Beginning with figure skater Madge Syers (born 1881) and finishing with gymnast Simone Biles (born 1997), graphic designer Rachel Ignotofsky (Women in Science) has created another great browsing book, attractively formatted on deeply colored glossy pages. Middle-graders, as well as teens and adults, may choose individual women to read about, poring over the amusing portraits (studded with fun facts) opposite the one-page profiles, all illustrated with captioned vignettes that capture the essence of the athlete's story. Other readers will read straight through, gaining insight into the discriminatory practices that prevailed until recently; the drive and ambition that fueled exceptional women to fight back; and the philanthropic and leadership roles in which female former athletes continue their careers.

Ignotofsky writes about women athletes of all types: there are profiles of para triathlete Melissa Stockwell, wounded during the Iraq War, and wheelchair racer Chantal Petitclerc, a Canadian paralyzed in an accident when she was 13. Ignotofsky also writes about the women of the 2016 Refugee Olympic Team who, without a country, competed in the Games for the first time. Well-known women like Kristi Yamaguchi, Serena Williams and Mia Hamm are represented alongside women who don't get the same recognition: Ellen MacArthur, an English woman who sailed around the world alone, and Anjali Bhagwhat, a shooter from India. An illustrated timeline, illustrations of muscle anatomy, comparisons of salaries and media coverage between male and female athletes, influential teams, short descriptions of additional women and sources round out this comprehensive volume that will excite and inspire. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer

Discover: Engaging text and remarkable portraits of women from many decades, countries and athletic fields add up to a 20th- and 21st-century history of women's advances in an important arena.

Ten Speed Press/Crown, $16.99, hardcover, 128p., ages 10-up, 9781607749783

Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee!

by Andrea J. Loney, illus. by Keith Mallett

James, the oldest son born to John and Susan Elizabeth VanDerZee, the butler and maid for President Ulysees S. Grant, was raised in Lenox, Mass., in an artistically inclined family. He "liked to paint, but drawing people was hard. He could never get their expressions right. James wanted to share the beauty he saw in his heart."

When a gentleman comes to his home and uses a "contraption called a camera" that perfectly captures "everyone's smiles and [his] mother's sweet gaze," James knows immediately how one makes great pictures: with a camera. He weeds his neighbor's garden for a quarter a day until finally he saves $5 and becomes the second person in Lenox to own a camera.

In time, James moves to New York, then New Jersey, then back to New York, where he opens his own portrait studio in Harlem amid the cultural celebration "called the Harlem Renaissance." Unlike other photographers of his time who mainly take pictures of poor, rural black people, James photographs famous people--Marcus Garvey, Joe Louis, the New York Black Yankees, Florence Mills, Mamie Smith--and focuses on showing the growing black middle class. Andrea J. Loney's (BunnyBear) text highlights VanDerZee's determination and imagination as it lays out his journey from young dreamer to success story to outdated craftsman to eventual historical hero. Keith Mallett's (How Jelly Roll Morton Invented Jazz) acrylic on canvas illustrations set tone beautifully with gentle spring and fall colors in Lenox, strong browns and reds in the darkrooms and brassy golds and blues in the Harlem of the 1920s and '30s. The vibrant illustrations paired with the lively text make Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! a picture book biography that truly shares the beauty VanDerZee saw in his heart. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee is a picture book biography that shares the beauty in VanDerZee's life and work.

Lee & Low, $19.95, hardcover, 40p., ages 6-9, 9781620142608

I See London, I See France

by Sarah Mlynowski

After a stressful adolescence caring for her younger sister and agoraphobic mother, Sydney is ready to experience a classic rite of passage away from home: backpacking Europe with her best friend, Leela. She's got just enough money, a copy of Travel Europe and a plan--a plan that unravels when they board their flight and see Leela's ex, Matt, on their plane. Matt and his hot friend Jackson cause itinerary changes, at first by attraction, and then by post-breakup repulsion. As the girls skip to Amsterdam, Paris and beyond, both also skip between fearless adventuring and emotional meltdown, and Sydney finds it harder to keep Leela (plus her family at home) together in the way she always has.

Louise Rennison was an early travel inspiration for Sydney and Leela, and Sarah Mlynowski (Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have)) brings Rennison's delightfully madcap energy to her story's older characters. As a result, throughout breakups, panic attacks and other emergencies, the plot never loses its buoyancy or charm. The book may not work for some younger teens--for example, readers who can't already guess what a group of 19-year-olds might get up to in Amsterdam will receive a thorough education about its offerings. But Mlynowski's respect for the complex emotional experiences of late adolescence will make the book especially compelling for older teen and adult readers, reminiscent of the best of Paula Danziger, allowing I See London, I See France to be a poolside read for the ages. --Stephanie Anderson, assistant director for public services, Darien Library (Conn.)

Discover: This lovably screwball YA novel will have readers checking whether their passports are still valid.

HarperTeen, $17.99, hardcover, 384p., ages 14-up, 9780062397072

King Louie's Shoes

by D.J. Steinberg, illus. by Robert Neubecker

Roll out the red carpet for author D.J. Steinberg (Grasshopper Pie and Other Poems) and illustrator Robert Neubecker (Linus the Vegetarian T. rex), whose imperial collaboration tells the delightfully informative and visually stunning story of King Louis XIV's shoe folly.

This nonfiction picture book introduces young readers to the king who was big in every way except height. He gave big parties, grew a big army and gave big gifts. But as Steinberg succinctly explains, "King Louie (which is how you say 'Louis' in French) was a shrimp." After failing several attempts to appear taller--a high throne, a full wig--he calls on his royal cobbler to craft a pair of high-heeled shoes.

Louie's shoes are a hit, igniting a fashion trend. But when Louie's preposterous heels make him take a tumble on the dance floor, he realizes height is not the quality that makes a king great. "Off came the shoes./ Up came the king... dancing holes in his stocking feet!"

Using different font colors and sizes, Steinberg's clever words draw as much attention as Neubecker's vibrantly alluring illustrations. Caricature drawings of the exaggerated wig and heels, a revealing carpenter and Louie's tantrum add lighthearted humor to this true tale. Meanwhile, the fashion of the period is creatively communicated through the women's hooped skirts, men's breeches and plenty of rich color. King Louie's Shoes is a lively way to sneak in culture and knowledge with young readers while enjoying a splendid story time celebration of footwear. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: Diminutive French King Louis XIV learns a big lesson when he tries to be tall.

Beach Lane Books, $17.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 4-8, 9781481426572

Dear Dinosaur

by Chae Strathie, illus. by Nicola O'Byrne

"Max had been looking forward to visiting the big museum for AGES. It had everything from snails and whales to moon rocks and mammoths. But, best of all, there were... DINOSAURS!" When it turns out Max doesn't have enough time to ask his favorite dinosaur, Tyrannosaurus Rex, all of his questions, the museum curator suggests he write the T. Rex a letter. Max does just that, politely asking the dinosaur if it would be okay to pose a few questions.

"Dear Max,/ ROOOOAAAARRRR!!!... I am a terrifying, sharp-toothed, super-strong king of the dinosaurs. I am longer than a bus. I do NOT write nice letters to small children. I eat them."

The scary response (on a piece of paper with a corner chomped off) does not deter Max. He continues writing letters to the T. Rex--asking questions about what he eats and how fast he runs--and receives friendly and informative letters in return. Many of the letters to and from the T. Rex are "real" letters on folded paper that can be opened for a more tactile reading experience. In Chae Strathie's (Captain Firebeard's School for Pirates) accessible text, letters, birthday cards, postcards and e-mails all give facts about the dinosaurs housed in the museum. Nicola O'Byrne's (Open Very Carefully) brightly colored illustrations depict Max and the T. Rex partaking in kid-friendly activities like swimming, building sandcastles and celebrating birthdays (as well as one particularly humorous illustration of the T. Rex using a typewriter). Dear Dinosaur puts an entertaining and interactive spin on a topic that is always a kid favorite. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Young Max learns all about his favorite dinosaur, the T. Rex, by exchanging letters, cards and e-mails with the extinct creature.

Barron's, $11.99, hardcover, 28p., ages 5-8, 9780764168987

The Art of Starving

by Sam J. Miller

"I'm pretty sure boys can't even get eating disorders." Matt hasn't eaten much in the last few days, but he has good reason: "Hunger makes you better. Smarter. Sharper," and he needs his senses and abilities as sharp as possible to save his family. Five days ago, Matt's older sister Maya ran away from home. Though Maya calls and says she's fine, Matt knows there's more she's not telling and that someone has hurt her badly enough to make her leave. His prime suspect is popular soccer star Tariq, the last one to see Maya before she disappeared. As Matt disciplines himself to eat less and less, his senses seem to increase to superhuman levels. Matt is convinced he can use his newfound abilities to uncover Tariq's secret and make him pay for whatever he did to Maya.

The Art of Starving is the provocative story of a teenage boy in the throes of an eating disorder. Grappling with his sister's sudden departure, unresolved issues from his absent father and growing up gay and poor in a small town has left Matt spiraling. His narration is biting, sharply witty and possibly delusional; keeping readers in the moment with Matt and showing only his perspective is a brilliant choice by Sam J. Miller to allow readers full insight into Matt's mind but keep the mysteries of Maya and Matt's possible powers at bay. Miller's powerful, provocative and daring work forces readers to question reality and how much of our world is shaped by what we see. --Kyla Paterno, former children's and YA book buyer

Discover: A teenage boy starves himself in hopes of increasing seemingly superhuman abilities so he can save his runaway sister.

HarperTeen, $17.99, hardcover, 384p., ages 13-up, 9780062456717

Reference & Writing

The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story

by Edwidge Danticat

Edwidge Danticat established her credentials as a memoirist with her 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award-winning Brother, I'm Dying. In The Art of Death, another entry in Graywolf Press's "The Art of" series on literary craft and criticism, Danticat again displays abundant prowess. She seamlessly blends an account of her mother's death from ovarian cancer in 2014 with an enlightening and compact survey of death in prose and poetry, "in order to learn (or relearn) how one writes about death, so I can write, or continue to write, about the deaths that have most touched my life."

Moving from fellow memoirists like Christopher Hitchens and Susan Sontag, through the searing suicides of Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath, to the works of Tolstoy and Chekhov, the breadth of Danticat's literary reach is impressive--especially so in a book that spans fewer than 200 pages. She confesses that her selection is "not an objective grouping but a deeply personal one," encompassing the body of literature she has turned to "when living with and writing about death."

Embedded within this literary criticism, she also offers a concise, but moving, description of her mother's final illness. Sitting by her mother's bedside, Danticat, ever the writer, imagines "a type of story I could tell her to keep her awake, and thus alive--a story that would never end."

"We cannot write about death without writing about life," Danticat says. And so, despite its ostensible subject, The Art of Death overflows with life, quietly but insistently inspiring anyone reading it to make good use of what remains of that precious gift. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: Novelist Edwidge Danticat combines a memoir of her mother's death with a meditation on the subject of death in literature.

Graywolf Press, $14, paperback, 160p., 9781555977771

Performing Arts

Roots, Radicals, and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World

by Billy Bragg

Singer-songwriter Billy Bragg has always been a firebrand, using his music and public persona to push for progressive causes. It's no surprise, then, that he'd be fascinated by the intertwining of politics and pop culture in his homeland of Britain. Roots, Radicals, and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World is a look at how one short-lived musical craze based on American blues, jazz and folk ended up leading to the British Invasion and modern rock 'n' roll.

Bragg traces the history of skiffle, "a uniquely British take on American folk and blues," from its beginnings in England's inchoate jazz scene to its direct influence on the founding of the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and other important British rock bands. Unlike most popular music of the time, skiffle was a grassroots movement, where young working-class teenagers and folk agitators sang songs with reckless abandon (to the dismay of some of the jazz players who gave the genre its start). Bragg's writing is perfectly matched for his subject matter: funny, informative without being laborious, and always willing to knock someone down a peg if he feels it's necessary. Anyone with an interest in the history of pop music will heartily enjoy this book, and most likely learn about singers and musicians that they'd never heard of who changed the course of music. And while politics do appear now and again (Bragg did once rewrite lyrics to "The Internationale"), Bragg isn't interested in making a political argument here. Instead, he's content to show how leftist activism is intertwined with the origins of rock. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: British singer and activist Billy Bragg tells the story of the roots of modern pop music from the genre known as skiffle.

Faber & Faber, $29.95, hardcover, 464p., 9780571327744


Scribbled in the Dark

by Charles Simic

Acclaimed poet Charles Simic is 79 at the time of Scribbled in the Dark's publishing. It's hard not to read the images of darkness falling and lost hope contained in these poems as anything other than meditations on death. But that discounts the streak of puckish glee throughout the collection, the joy in language and in a good joke. Simic may know the lights are being turned off, but there's no reason that that can't be both laughed and cried about.

The quatrain "Shadow on the Wall" is a perfect example of this humor. "Round midnight/ Let's invite/ A fellow bedlamite/ For a bite," he propositions the reader, using a sing-song rhyme that is found nowhere else in the collection. Is Simic suggesting a merry midnight snack with a lunatic? And who is getting bitten? The poem is a lark, only to be followed two pages later by the titular piece, which soberly depicts "Streams of blood in the gutter/ Waiting for sunrise."

Most of the poems in Scribbled in the Dark are simply images teased into verse. Simic will take a single motion (eyes catching on the street, a shout from outside his door), and pry open all its energy onto the page, evoking the tiniest fraction of time to reveal its beauty. None of that might be enough in the case of the man who finds that "little by little night overtakes him," but it might elicit a smile now and again. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: Charles Simic, one of America's most celebrated poets, faces darkness with both sadness and glee.

Ecco, $22.99, hardcover, 96p., 9780062661173

Tough Luck

by Todd Boss

The work of Minneapolis poet, librettist and film producer Todd Boss (Yellowrocket; Pitch) frequently leans on his years growing up on a Wisconsin dairy farm. The title, from the poem "When My Mother Says Tough Luck," gives away the work-hard-and-take-your-lumps farm ethic echoed in similar titles like "When My Father Says Toughen Up" and "When We Say Knuckle Down." The latter puts an exclamation point on it: "we mean the knuckles/ of our wills... the whole body,/ the whole mind, the whole/ damned soul is a goddamned hand."

Boss's daily commute narrowly avoided the 2007 devastating collapse of the Twin Cities I-35W Bridge over the Mississippi. That fortunate escape from tragedy led to the long 35-section poem "Fragments for the 35W Bridge" that sits at the heart of Tough Luck. Although almost exclusively written in single word lines, this centerpiece poem nonetheless illustrates Boss's reliance on rhythm and rhyme to tell a story (such as this view of the detritus below the broken bridge: "half-sunk wrecks and suck-pocked rocks"). But more than a story, "Fragments" is a meditation on the risks of everyday life and the way that time inexorably eats away at even the seemingly indomitable: "A worn gusset plate. A few cruddy bolts. A single lousy joint. What a healthy terrorist Time is." Boss's poems sing with authenticity and permanence. As he notes, partly tongue-in-cheek, in "Fragments": "no badly aging load-bearing metaphor of mine ever imploded during rush hour and killed anyone." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Minneapolis poet Todd Boss captures both the personal and eternal in poems celebrating the family farm and meditating on the 2007 Twin Cities bridge disaster.

W.W. Norton, $26.95, hardcover, 112p., 9780393608625


Author Buzz

Dear Reader,

I left Alex Cooper's fans with a cliffhanger at the end of KILLER LOOK - when someone close to her was murdered on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum. The action in DEADFALL picks up hours later - at the morgue - with Coop trying to figure a motive for the killing, as she becomes a target of investigators. Could this assassination connect to the deadly world of predators smuggling wildlife across international borders? And can Mike Chapman protect Coop from prosecution - and harm? 5 books for contest winners on my site.

Follow Linda on Facebook ( and visit our website to enter our book giveaway (


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Publisher: Dutton

Pub Date: 07/25/2017


List Price: $28.00


Dear Reader,

Secret families and family secrets, a Victorian mansion, a neglected Art Deco theater, and a chance to start over await the reluctant Hudson sisters when they arrive at their late father’s childhood home to meet the terms of their inheritance. My new book, THE LAST CHANCE MATINEE, is loosely based on something that happened in my own family – without the theater and the Victorian mansion.

Enter to win one of five copies by emailing me at

New York Times best-selling author
Mariah Stewart


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Publisher: Gallery

Pub Date: 03/21/2017


List Price: $16.00


Dear Reader,

What if the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was born on another planet? I love scifi, fantasy, and fairy tales, and smelted all three into this dark, complex tale about a young woman’s struggle to rise from slave to hero.

A Wizard’s Forge has 5-star reviews from Readers Favorite and a finalist medal from the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. For a chance to win 1 of 5 copies, write me at

Thank you,

A.M. Justice


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Publisher: Wise Ink Creative Publishing

Pub Date: 09/19/2016


List Price: $15.95


Dear Reader,

Business Solutions, Inc. is in chaos. While employees stalk free snacks and rendezvous in the stairwells, company execs and shady consultants are running the company into the ground. Can former warehouse guy Will Evans and corporate mercenary Anna Reed set aside their differences to save this dumb-but-well-intended company from itself?

Reviewers call the novel B.S., Incorporated “wildly entertaining” and “a rich combination of comedy, ingenuity and sass.”

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Publisher: Wise Ink Creative Publishing

Pub Date: 05/17/2016


List Price: $15.95


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