Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, August 12, 2016


Lion Forge: Upgrade Soul by Ezra Claytan Daniels

From My Shelf

Neal Porter Books: Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: Winnie's Great War by Lindsay Mattick and Josh Greenhut, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Hallo Spaceboy

In John Cameron Mitchell's seminal rock opera Hedwig & the Angry Inch, Hedwig, East Berlin's internationally ignored songwriter, lists among her many influences the American masters Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and Anne Murray ("who was actually a Canadian working in the American idiom"), alongside David Bowie ("who was actually an idiom working in America"). There is no more apt a characterization for Bowie than Hedwig's, in my opinion, but that doesn't mean anyone's going to stop defining and redefining him; he certainly didn't.

Five months after the Starman made his final ascent, Rob Sheffield (Turn Around Bright Eyes) published On Bowie (Dey Street, $19), a devotee's-eye retrospective of the artist and his influence. "When I was in my early twenties, I assumed my Bowie fandom was something that had peaked in my teens.... And as it turned out, I became far more obsessed with Bowie in my late twenties.... In my thirties, forget about it--I got more Bowie-mad than I'd ever been."

As an ardent fan pushing 30, I can relate to Sheffield's evolving relationship. (However, I will never forgive him for calling Outside "dull"; that's deranged.) The Bowie catalogue is vast and referential in way similar to great works of literature, making rereading it a pure delight. I visited Berlin this spring, and it has dramatically altered the way I listen to "Heroes", one of several albums he recorded there (presumably during the fictional adolescence of our heroine Hedwig), as well as the wandering single "Where Are We Now?"

Of course, Bowie was famously well read, a fact that has inspired my colleague Kristianne to read selections of his top 100 books and discuss them with a friend on their thoughtful and entertaining podcast The Bowie Book Club. With On Bowie, Sheffield offers a galaxy of admirers a concise primer through which we may relive our favorite moments with the Thin White Duke again and again. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness


St. Martin's Press: Sit Down and Shut Up: How Discipline Can Set Students Free by Cinque Henderson


Book Candy

Celebrating Booklovers

Last Tuesday was National Booklovers Day, and to celebrate the International Business Times highlighted "21 sayings about reading for bibliophiles," while the Telegraph asked "10 questions only well-read people will be able to answer" and Quirk Books showed us "how to identify a book lover."

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Back to school: Brightly considered the "11 best teachers in children's literature."

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Brignolia ondaatjei
and Brignolia shyami, two new species of spiders, have been named for Canadian authors Michael Ondaatje and Shyam Selvadurai by the National Institute of Fundamental Studies, CBC News reported.

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"Pokemon butt shaped bookmarks are the most adorable way to catch 'em all," Bustle wrote.

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Booker Prize-winning author DBC Pierre chose his "top 10 books writers should read" for the Guardian.


The Book That Matters Most

by Ann Hood

After 25 years of marriage and two kids, Ava's husband has left her for another woman. Reeling from the upheaval in the secure life she thought she had, Ava curls into herself, pulling back from social activities and outings--until her best friend, Cate, invites her to join her small and intimate book club. This group proves central to the story of Ann Hood's The Book That Matters Most.

The novel takes its title from the theme of the book club's reading for the upcoming year; each of the 10 members is asked to select one book that matters most to them for the club to read and discuss. As fellow members rattle off titles of classics--Pride and Prejudice, Anna Karenina, The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby--Ava panics, realizing she's come to her first meeting unprepared. When her turn comes, she blurts out the first title to come to mind: From Clare to Here, the book she read over and over again the summer right after her sister died and her mother took her own life. Hoping to convince the book club to go along with her strange (and out-of-print) suggestion, Ava promises to get the author to come to speak to the club--a task that proves more Herculean than she'd originally intended, and opens doors into her past she may have preferred to leave closed.

As Ava's story unfolds, so, too, does the story of her daughter, Maggie, known to get into more than a spot of trouble but presumed by both Ava and her soon-to-be ex-husband, Jim, to be getting her life on track. Maggie is supposedly studying art history at a program in Florence, but has, without her parents' knowledge, dropped out and fled to Paris, where she is living with a man under increasingly dangerous circumstances. Ava and Maggie's stories move in parallel, revealing not only the depth of their individual growth as women across the course of the novel, but a profound shift in their relationship as mother and daughter.

Layered into this parallel story of mother and daughter--which reads with an element of mystery, as Hood slowly reveals the story of what happened in Ava's past that haunts her to this day, and what will happen to Maggie as she makes a series of increasingly bad decisions--is a much darker story of loss and its accompanying grief. Ava grieves the unraveling of her marriage, and the crumbling of the life she thought she wanted, but also the deaths of her sister and mother, which came in rapid succession the year Ava turned 12. Author Ann Hood experienced great loss herself (she chronicled her grieving process after losing her five-year-old daughter in 2002 in her memoir, Comfort: A Journey Through Loss), and the moments when Ava reflects on her own grief are especially forceful. "I just mean that grief is more powerful than you think," Ava tells Cate at one point, as she tries and fails, again, to suppress the images of her sister's lifeless body that come to her unbidden.

Though these reflections on all that Ava has lost can be heavy, The Book That Matters Most is never without hope--and that hope is most often brought about in the careful ways in which Hood has woven the books that matter most into her novel's plot. "I never thought a book could help with, you know, life," says one book club member--a widower, his eyes wet with tears--to Ava after reading his selection from Slaughterhouse-Five. "But honestly, when I reread this one for tonight, and I thought about time travel and stuff, it actually made me feel better. Or maybe understand something?... I was hoping maybe it helped you too?... All of you?"

Just as Slaughterhouse-Five does for John the widower, each book the club reads helps Ava understand something: something about herself, something about her family, or something about her past. "Somehow, sitting here tonight thinking about choices and the dichotomy of weight and lightness, she felt as if she understood [her mother] for the first time." Each book opens Ava up a little bit, moving her toward the woman she needs to be. And in this way, The Book That Matters Most is in itself a book that matters very much. It is a novel that stands as a testament to the power of reading in our lives, in every moment, both big and small, and as an activity that connects us not only to the world we live in, but to each other. --Kerry McHugh

W.W. Norton, $25.95, hardcover, 368p., 9780393241655

Ann Hood: A Celebration of Books and How They Help Us

photo: Catherine Sebastian

Ann Hood is the author of several bestselling novels, including The Knitting Circle, The Obituary Writer and Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine, and a memoir, Comfort: A Journey Through Grief. Her newest novel, The Book That Matters Most (W.W. Norton), centers on the connections one woman makes with the world and with herself by joining a book club. Hood lives in Providence, R.I.

So much of The Book That Matters Most is about the power of books to shape us and change us. What brought you to that idea?

In 2002, I lost my five-year-old daughter suddenly to a virulent form of strep throat, and in the aftermath of that loss, I also lost my ability to read and write. I couldn't read a short story or a novel because I didn't have the brainpower to read the way that I always had, which was for entertainment and escape, but also, at many times in my life, for comfort.

A year later, when I could finally read again, it was like finding myself. I still remember the first book that I read after that year, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. It was the perfect novel to re-enter the world of books, because it has this great main character and a little mystery and a foreign setting, and it's very quirky and witty and not too taxing. And I remember thinking I would love to celebrate how that book made me feel. I wanted to celebrate literature and what it brings us.

Each of the members of Ava's book club picks one selection for the club to read based on the theme "The Book That Matters Most." How did you pick the books to be included in the club's discussions throughout the novel?

If you had the misfortune of coming to my house in the last five years, you were asked the question, "What book matters most to you?" I had imagined that I'd wind up with this elaborate notebook full of great ideas, but I ended up with a list of about 25 books that repeated all the time with almost no surprises.

Of this list of 25 books, I'd read most of them (though I hadn't read Atlas Shrugged or The Alchemist). So I re-read, or read for the first time, all of these books, and then plotted out my novel and chose the nine that seemed to best fit the plot and theme of my protagonist. For example, when the club reads The Catcher in the Rye, Ava is at a point where she is very worried about her daughter. Salinger's book helps her understand some of her daughter's feelings about growing up and what made her the kind of kid she is. It was a fun jigsaw puzzle to make all those pieces work.

This novel moves among many different perspectives; did you envision that approach from the outset or did it evolve organically over time?

I always write in multiple points of view. I've only written one novel that was a single point of view--and it was really just to prove to myself that I could. But I didn't want this book to be ripping off my own idea from The Knitting Circle, in which every member of the circle had their own point of view. I had to pull back a little on that. I wanted the stories of the book club members instead to emerge through Ava. That was a deliberate choice, though it was tricky to do at times.

When I first wrote it, my plan was to have three point-of-view characters: Ava, her daughter, Maggie, and her son, Will. Pretty much every early reader I had really hated the Will chapters. They were boring. But to me Will's role was very important, especially as a conduit between Maggie and her mother, and as evidence that Ava had not been a bad mother. My editor actually pointed out that Will could still play that role in the e-mails that he sent to his sister. I re-wrote the story so that those e-mails and Maggie's text messages are embedded into the chapters of Ava and Maggie's point of view.

You have traveled extensively in your life, yet set this book in Providence, where you now live. What made you decide on the setting?

I had this instinct to have Ava live in a different city. But when I tried different things, I came back to Providence. I don't know Boston that well. I know New York, but if you put a character in New York, it changes that character; it's such a unique urban environment. It proved more natural to use Providence. I know they say they say write what you know, and that can be very bad advice, but I think for setting, it can work well.

I wanted Maggie somewhere far enough away that her mom couldn't easily check on her. As an art history student, it became somewhat logical plot-wise to have her go to Florence, where so many kids go for that year abroad, and then have her go off to Paris. Two or three years ago, my family actually spent a few weeks in the apartment that Maggie stays in in Paris. I was so taken with that apartment, and that street, and that neighborhood, that I absorbed the details of that place and it was very easy to write Maggie there.

Ava's grief over the end of her marriage seems tied up in her continued grief over her childhood loss of her sister and mother. Do you believe new grief is always woven together with past grief?

I remember when I went to my grief counselor for the first time after my daughter's death and she had me fill out this very long form with all of these pages: How many pets have you lost? How many jobs have you lost? How many times have you had to move? There were so many questions. I asked her about that. And she said that a profound loss triggers other losses. And the opposite is true. A seemingly lesser loss--thought there is really no scale to these things--can trigger our memories of a greater loss. There's an emotional and psychological trigger that connects our losses.

What is the book that matters most to you?

The easy answer is two-fold. Little Women, because it was the first book I read when I really understood so many things about books: the power of characters, the power of stories, emotional arcs. It was my first experience with a true novel. And it was the first time I read a book where I wanted to be one of the characters (I wanted to be Jo March, like every writer). It gave me all the things a novel can give. That was a turning point for me.

As an adult, it would be The Great Gatsby--which was number one in my polling of the book that matters most (followed closely by To Kill a Mockingbird). I think it's because it was the book that made me fall in love with writing, with how things are said, with symbolism, with all the things that writers have to do.

Those are the two I will say over and over, but honestly, the book that matters most changes constantly, because at different times in your life, you find the book you need to find. It helps you through something. It helps you understand something. --Kerry McHugh


Shelf vetted, publisher supported.


Book Review

Fiction

Another Brooklyn

by Jacqueline Woodson


Another Brooklyn is Jacqueline Woodson's (Brown Girl Dreaming) first adult novel in 20 years. Powerfully moving and lyrical, it demonstrates her expertise beyond the children's and young adult literature for which she is known.

"For a long time, my mother wasn't dead yet." This first line presents the powerful narrative voice of August, an adult reminiscing about her Brooklyn upbringing. Chapter 2 flashes back to the summer of 1973, when she was eight years old, and the novel follows chronologically from there. August and her little brother, recently relocated from Tennessee following a murky family tragedy, adjust slowly to city life. August watches a group of three girlfriends from her painted-shut, third-floor apartment window; she longs to be with them and eventually integrates herself, building an intensely close foursome. The girls share the mysteries, miseries and conquests of puberty--though their fate is hinted at by the opening chapter.

Another Brooklyn visits iconic moments in culture and history: damaged Vietnam veterans, white residents fleeing Brooklyn, the influence of the Nation of Islam in the neighborhood and in August's single-parent household, the city-wide blackout of 1977. The city offers hope to four beautiful, talented, intelligent girls, and threatens them with men in dark alleys and the limiting judgments of others. Afros, cornrows and hijabs mark fashions in time. But despite these vibrant, evocative framing elements, this is essentially a coming-of-age story in which a child comes to face the hard edges of reality, both particular and universal. Woodson's eye for detail and ear for poetry result in a novel both brief and profound. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A vibrant, emotive coming-of-age novel explores friendship and its pitfalls in a changing world.

Amistad, $22.99, hardcover, 192p., 9780062359988

Mira Books: A Willing Murder (Medlar Mystery #1) by Jude Deveraux


The Cauliflower

by Nicola Barker


In a fictionalized biography of 19th-century Indian mystic and yogi Sri Ramakrishna, Nicola Barker (The Yips) drops chronology in the blender, rearranging a life's moments into a revelation regarding the nature of faith.

Born in 1836 to a Brahmin family, the young Ramakrishna sought God in many forms and exhibited a particular affinity for Kali, the dark-skinned warrior goddess of destruction, until his death of throat cancer at the age of 50. Barker flings out shards of the mystic's life for the reader's examination, swinging from his birth in 1836 to his last days in 1886. Along the way, she introduces his supporters, including his nephew and attendant Hridayram, who adores Uncle even if he sometimes wants to throttle him; young wife and spiritual protégée, Sarada Devi; faithful but occasionally childish patron Mathur Nath Biswas; and most especially his benefactor and the founder of the Dakshineswar Kali Temple, the wealthy widow Rani Rashmoni.

While matters of religion generally carry an impression of weightiness, Barker deftly juggles reverence and humor. Her zigzagging narrative poses serious questions about religious traditions one moment, then turns around and asks the reader to consider the airspeed velocity of a swift--Indian, not European, and laden with a camera. Haikus dance across the page at random intervals to comment on events or encapsulate bits of wisdom. Script scenes, letters, lists and even a frankly phrased FAQ about Kali round out the unconventional mix of formats. Barker's The Cauliflower is as multi-lobed and densely clustered as the vegetable from which it takes its name. A nutritious treat for the intellect and the funny bone. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Barker offers a witty, asynchronous reimagining of the life of Hindu mystic Sri Ramakrishna.

Holt, $28, hardcover, 304p., 9781627797191

Pegasus Books: Moby Dick: The Illustrated Novel by Herman Melville, illustrated by Anton Lomaev


How to Party with an Infant

by Kaui Hart Hemmings


How to Party with an Infant is one of the titles that chef and single mom Mele Bart considers for her entry in the San Francisco Mother's Club cookbook writing contest. It's also the title that Kaui Hart Hemmings (The Descendants) has given this novel of friendship and parenthood in the Bay Area.

When Mele told Bobby, her daughter Ellie's father, that she was pregnant, he decided that was the right time to announce that he was engaged to someone else. Now Ellie is a toddler, and Bobby and his fiancée want her to be the flower girl at their wedding. Mele has reluctantly agreed to let Ellie participate, but as the wedding approaches she needs an outlet for her nervous energy. The cookbook project presents itself at just the right time.

After the San Francisco Mother's Club's first few attempts to place Mele and Ellie in a playgroup didn't take, they have finally landed in the right group of misfits. As Mele digs into the contest's exhaustive entry questionnaire, she decides to approach the project as a collaboration with the other parents, who are eager to support her. They'll tell her a personal story, and she'll create a recipe inspired by it.

This framework gives How to Party With an Infant a structure of linked stories, with Mele's all-too-revealing responses to the contest questionnaire and excerpts from threads on the Club's message boards functioning as the connective tissue between them. Hemmings has not included recipes in this novel built around writing a cookbook, but she's packed it with plenty of humor, heart and true-to-life dialogue. --Florinda Pendley Vasquez, blogger at The 3 R's Blog: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness

Discover: A chef enters a writing contest with a cookbook inspired by the stories of her friends in a San Francisco playgroup.

Simon & Schuster, $26, hardcover, 240p., 9781501100796

Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers: This Land: America, Lost and Found by Dan Barry


Cooking for Picasso

by Camille Aubray


In the spring of 1936, Pablo Picasso retreated from Parisian society to the village of Juan-les-Pins on the French Riviera. In the solitude of a hilltop villa, he began working again after a creative dry spell, producing, among others, several paintings of an unknown young woman. In her fifth novel, Cooking for Picasso, Camille Aubray gives the woman a name--Ondine Belange--and unfolds a story of food, art and family secrets stretching across generations.

Aubray (previously published as C.A. Belmond) tells both Ondine's story and that of her granddaughter, Céline, a Hollywood makeup artist who was born on the day her grandmother died. When Céline's mother, Julie, falls ill after revealing the family's connection to Picasso, Céline hops a plane to the French Riviera to find out more. Meanwhile, Aubray recounts how Ondine becomes first Picasso's personal chef and then his model, while longing for a life beyond her village.

Ondine is an appealing protagonist, and her naïveté provides an excellent way for Aubray to emphasize the shocking nature of Picasso's art and his love life. Céline is equally naïve, though less appealing; almost all of Aubray's female characters (except Céline's plucky Aunt Matilda) are frustratingly passive. The novel's descriptions of food are mouthwatering, however, and Picasso himself is bold and engaging, a man of outsized passions. Although the plot feels a bit rushed at times, Aubray's novel provides an entertaining getaway for art lovers and Francophiles. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A lushly described novel of food, family secrets and Pablo Picasso's time on the French Riviera in 1936.

Ballantine Books, $27, hardcover, 400p., 9780399177651

Win a Free Trip to Miami Book Fair!


War & Turpentine

by Stefan Hertmans, trans. by David McKay


Stefan Hertmans's War & Turpentine is a superlative novel of war, love, family and discovery.

Urbain Martien was a painter and a soldier, devout and devoted to his family. Late in life, he painstakingly handwrote two volumes of memoir: one of a "practically medieval" childhood in the 19th century, and one of serving in World War I. His unnamed grandson waited more than 30 years to open these notebooks. Parts of War & Turpentine are narrated by that grandson, a writer now in midlife, in which he recounts his own memories of Urbain and his war stories, integrating what he learns from the journals. The novel then shifts to the battlefields and to the voice of Urbain himself.

This Flemish family story explores the difficulties of class and culture in early-20th-century Europe. Urbain portrays his father, who labored in poverty as an undersung restorer of church paintings and frescoes, and the mother he adored. His grandson discovers in the memoirs a love found and lost during the war. Urbain's battle-ravaged world is populated by family, romance and a passion for art--and as the title suggests, by the tension between two halves of a life. This is a story of seeking the truth of one's ancestors, a past that can never be fully known. "Maybe his silence says more than enough about his life as it was then."

Hertmans's writing, and David McKay's translation from Dutch, is elegant and unadorned, intense and restrained. War & Turpentine is a world to get lost in, referencing a history both broad and personal. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This historical novel told in two voices explores war and family with sensitivity and grace.

Pantheon, $26.95, hardcover, 304p., 9781101874028

Fig Tree Books: My Mother's Son by David Hirshberg


Mystery & Thriller

Behind Closed Doors

by B.A. Paris


To their friends, Jack and Grace seem like the perfect married couple. He's a lawyer known for defending battered women, and they have a beautiful home where they throw elegant parties, with Grace as the consummate hostess, Jack always by her side.

But is Jack too attentive? He accompanies Grace everywhere, and she doesn't have a cell phone or her own e-mail account, only a shared one with her husband. Grace often cancels social plans at the last minute. Attempts by friends to get closer to her, to make sure everything's okay, are met by reassurances that the couple's life is idyllic. After all, Grace, who's the guardian of a sister with Down syndrome, never thought she'd find a man who'd accept her and her sister, until leading-man-handsome Jack came along and swept Grace into a whirlwind romance like one from a movie. What their friends don't know is that the movie has turned into a horror flick.

B.A. Paris's debut, Behind Closed Doors, is a chilling confirmation of the adage that no one ever really knows what transpires in other people's private lives. The situation between Jack and Grace when they're alone is atrocious, the polar opposite of their flawless facade. Paris has created one of the most heinous villains in recent memory, upon whom even the most pacifist of readers might wish torturous revenge. They'll likely remain behind their own closed doors as they race through this thriller to see how, or if, the nightmare ends. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A couple's marriage is unimaginably darker in private than the glamorous picture they present in public.

St. Martin's Press, $25.99, hardcover, 304p., 9781250121004

Shelf Awareness Giveaway: Park Row: Under My Skin by Lisa Unger


Biography & Memoir

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal: Not Exactly a Memoir

by Amy Krouse Rosenthal


Readers of Amy Krouse Rosenthal's more than 30 kids' books (Chopstick; Spoon; Duck! Rabbit!) or Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, her 2005 collection of lists of moments and memories, count on the unexpected. In the interactive Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal, the nontraditional, introspective, often hilarious author presents another new format. Why textbook? Four reasons: it can mean "quintessential"; it covers a particular subject; it's a nice choice for an author who previously wrote an "Encyclopedia"; and readers can text Amy! Learn how on page 4.

A "Condition of the Book" checklist leads to a "Pre-Assessment" quiz. (When you look at a picture of a heart, is your first thought "love" or "broken?") A panoply of multiple-choice questions involving ceiling fan strings, headbands and Pillsbury Cinnamon Roll tubes sets the tone of absurdity; the one choice given for the question "You" is "Make me not afraid of getting old."

Divided into nine chapters with academic headings, Textbook is full of sketches, photos, charts, even blank pages (to illustrate that "The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between"). "Romance Language" is a mini-biography in poems about verb tense. "Math" asks "(Patience + Silence) x Coffee = " and "(Patience + Silence) x Beer = " and later offers the formula for the Rosenthal House Special Pea Dip.

Rosenthal cannot resist wordplay. She ponders describing her non-kids' books: "adult" sounds porn-y, "grown-up" infantilizing. And her conclusion is a reflection on "How to Say Good-Bye." Finish reading it; then, because you can, text "End Notes" to receive special farewell music. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: Amy Krouse Rosenthal's quirky "memoir" is reminiscent of a classic school textbook with a timely interactive component.

Dutton, $27, hardcover, 336p., 9781101984543

Origins of the Universe and What It All Means

by Carole Firstman


Carole Firstman's ruminative memoir tracks a strained relationship with her eccentric but gifted father. The ambitious title, Origins of the Universe and What It All Means, is entirely appropriate: it is a direct and repeated quotation from her father, a research biologist obsessed with finding meaning in an enormous and confounding world.

Firstman suspects her father is on the autism spectrum, which might explain some of the social awkwardness, emotional detachment and unrepentant self-centeredness that characterizes Bruce and his parenting strategies--like moving his 19-year-old bride and their newborn daughter, Carole, into a tent in the backyard, because the baby's crying disturbed his work. Despite such shocking details, Firstman gives a nuanced portrayal of an intelligent, lonely man capable of rare displays of concern. Weaving evolutionary theory, hard science and metaphysical origin stories with personal memoir, Firstman takes a contemplative tone. She is concerned with questions of linked causality (think the butterfly effect--except with scorpions, Bruce's area of specialty) and what exactly she may have inherited from him. For example, she puts the same obsessive language in her own mouth that she does in Bruce's, hinting that the Asperger-like symptoms she ascribes to him may tease at her, too. Firstman's mother appears almost parenthetically, but at its heart this memoir is about what is inherited from and owed to one's parents.

Origins contains unusual elements, including diagrams, mock lesson plans and footnotes, alongside Firstman's self-questioning narrative. Despite its broad scope, this essentially human story handles "a conundrum of attachment and detachment" with sensitivity and rigor. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This reflective memoir examines an odd and estranged father through the lens of his scientific expertise.

Dzanc Books, $26.95, hardcover, 232p., 9781938103919

History

City of Sedition: The History of New York City During the Civil War

by John Strausbaugh


In City of Sedition, historian John Strausbaugh (The Village) explores New York City's multi-faceted role in the American Civil War. It was a role complicated by close financial ties with the South in the years immediately before the war; conflicts between recent immigrants and anti-immigration "nativists"; political corruption at all levels; and the rhetoric of competing "penny daily" newspapers. He portrays a city as divided by the war as any border state--so divided that in the months before the war, some political leaders proposed that New York City become a "free port" on the medieval model, seceding not only from the Union but from the state of New York.

Strausbaugh builds his portrait of the city from a multitude of smaller portraits. He tells the stories of well-known New Yorkers: popular preacher Henry Beecher, journalist Horace Greeley, Tammany Hall politician "Boss" Tweed and poet Walt Whitman. He follows less known figures over the course of the war, such as 12-year-old drummer boy Gus Schurmann, who enlisted with his father in the all-German Mozart brigade and spent an afternoon playing with Todd Lincoln. He considers the fates of slave ship captains, abolitionist businessmen, war profiteers and military units from all levels of New York society.

The final result is a richly layered and often surprising history, as crowded and fast-paced as a Manhattan sidewalk. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: Historian John Strausbaugh considers New York City's important, and often conflicted, role in the American Civil War.

Twelve, $30, hardcover, 432p., 9781455584185

Parenting & Family

Raising Human Beings: Creating a Collaborative Partnership with Your Child

by Ross W. Greene


In an age of endless parenting guides, it's easy to get overwhelmed with strategies for kids' successes or dealing with family conflict. Most approaches get bogged down in the details, but social and emotional circumstances can be completely different for two kids living in the same house, much less the millions around the world. It's hard to believe anything that claims it has a "one size fits all" approach to helping children grow into adults.

Ross Greene's Raising Human Beings tries to split the difference, providing a general rubric for how to address issues in parenting without suggesting specific outcomes. Instead, he argues, outcomes should be a collaboration between child and parent, with each party trying to address the others' needs.

If that sounds like quite a challenge, Greene is sympathetic. He doesn't provide quick solutions to parenting (one should be wary of experts who do). Instead, he digs into ways that parents can present themselves as problem-solvers to their children, all the while understanding that this can be a harder or easier task depending on age, family and what conflict the parent is trying to resolve.

While Raising Human Beings is persuasively argued, there are a couple of stylistic choices that might irk readers. When referring to things like adulthood, Greene has a tendency to use the phrase "The Real World," as if giving it a portentous name somehow is more meaningful than saying "life." Likewise, he has a tendency to fall into rhetorical questions more than necessary. But these are small issues amidst overall useful instructions for how to support one's child. --Noah Cruickshank, marketing and development manager, Open Books, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: Ross Greene provides a series of tools to help resolve conflict between parents and children.

Scribner, $26, hardcover, 304p., 9781476723747

Children's & Young Adult

Mary Had a Little Glam

by Tammi Sauer, illus. by Vanessa Brantley-Newton


"Mary had a little glam/ that grew into a LOT./ And everywhere that Mary went,/ she wasn't hard to spot."

In a gleeful story starring a young black fashionista that echoes the 19th-century nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb," Mary Had a Little Glam follows Mary to school one day as she decides to give everyone in the class a fashion makeover. At Mother Goose Elementary, Mary's diverse classmates are straight out of another century, clothes-wise, including Little Boy Blue, Georgie Porgie and Little Bo Peep. They are "glam-less, head to toe": "So Mary offered fashion tips:/ 'More pink! More beads! More shine!'/ A hat for him and trim for her./ Go boa. It's divine.' " By the time everyone's glammed up to the hilt, it's recess, and the students realize they are now too accessorized to play on the swing set and slides. Mary urges them to fling off their fashion-forward scarves and shoes so they can run around freely: "Now Mary's flair for what to wear/ is better than before./ True glamour often calls for lots.../ But sometimes less is more!"

Tammi Sauer's (Chicken Dance; Cowboy Camp) wordplay is as spirited as the story--Mary doesn't walk, she "click-clacks," and "gowns" and "crowns" rhyme with "mounds" (of chiffon). Illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton (The Hula-Hoopin' Queen; We Shall Overcome) captures the giddy makeover mayhem in the dramatic expressions of her characters and in her wonderful, freewheeling use of collaged fabrics and vintage papers. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Mary doesn't have a little lamb, she has a little "glam" in this exuberant picture-book ode to the fun of fashion.

Sterling, $14.95, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-7, 9781454913931

Learning to Swear in America

by Katie Kennedy


An asteroid is speeding toward Earth and physicist Yuri Strelnikov has been rushed by NASA from Moscow to Pasadena, Calif., to help head it off. The problem (other than the giant space rock) is that Yuri is only 17, so the older team members don't take him seriously. They also won't consider his unpublished work on antimatter even though he knows it will work, and they don't trust him because he's Russian. In addition to calculating how to break up the asteroid, Yuri has to figure out this new culture well enough to get people to listen.

Yuri is a compelling character. He knows he's behind on social skills. "I don't even know how I feel," he says at one point, "It's not something I sit around and think about." But he's always working to figure things out, like when he hears a poker game and his mind converts the rise and fall of conversation into sine waves of human interaction. He's also kind. When a janitor's daughter gets shooed out of the snack room by security, Yuri follows "the pretty American girl" out with coffee and doughnuts. And that's how he meets Dovie, who's terrible at driving and good at art.

Learning to Swear in America, Katie Kennedy's debut novel, is a fun read, and she keeps the stakes rising in an exciting and organic way. Yuri will resonate with any teenager who has a lot to say but doesn't feel heard. And he might just take Dovie's advice: "You gotta learn to live life, not just save it." --Ali Davis, freelance writer and playwright

Discover: Science, art and cultures collide in this engaging YA novel about a young scientist learning about non-theoretical life.

Bloomsbury, $17.99, hardcover, 352p., ages 14-up, 9781619639096

The Jolley-Rogers and the Ghostly Galleon

by Jonny Duddle


Tattered sails against a full moon set the scene for The Jolley-Rogers and the Ghostly Galleon, the first in a swashbuckling series of illustrated early readers by Welsh author-artist Jonny Duddle (The Pirates Next Door; The King of Space).

The ghost pirates chant in the moonlight: "Some say we're cursed, some say we're dead!/ We're in search of a key as you sleep in bed!" Inky dark, atmospheric pages build suspense as the pirates crash to shore, daggers drawn, as the "mass of dark briny shadows surged across the beach" of the village of Dull-on-Sea. The very next morning, "Dull TV" goes wild with rumors of a break-in at the museum and eyewitness reports of pirates "[w]aving their cutlasses and singing and cursing and all excited." Young Matilda decides to write her best friend, a boy pirate named Jim Lad, to see if he and the other piratical Jolley-Rogers might have any clues to the theft. A parchment-bearing parrot brings the welcome news: "We be comin' to help!" Indeed, Grandpa Rogers knows all about the "lonnnng dead" Cap'n Twirlybeard and his ghostly crew, and how they seek the skeleton key they lost in a sea battle, a treasure-chest key with a carved skull top that will "save their souls." Can Matilda and Jim Lad restore peace in Dull-on-Sea?

The Jolley-Rogers is distinguished by its top-notch writing, original sea chanteys, dry humor, lively design and deliciously dramatic illustrations just right for a tale of salty ghost pirates. (The second in the series, The Jolley-Rogers and the Cave of Doom, is published simultaneously.) All aboard, me hearties! --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In a swashbuckling series debut for early readers, a band of ghost pirates ransacks Dull-on-Sea in search of a long-lost skeleton key.

Templar/Candlewick, $6.99, paperback, 160p., ages 6-9, 9780763689100

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