Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, July 25, 2017


Shadow Mountain: Christmas Jars Collector's Edition by Jason F. Wright

From My Shelf

Tarcherperigee: Holiday Must-Haves!

Thunder Bay Press: The Greatest Brick Builds: Amazing Creations in Lego by Nathan Sawaya

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


Da Capo Lifelong Books: Veganomicon, 10th Anniversary Edition: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero


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."

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"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."

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

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

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


Bonhomie Press: The Murderer's Maid: A Lizzie Borden Novel by Erika Mallman


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


Lion Forge: Generations by Flavia Biondi


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.


Storey Publishing: Baking Class: 50 Fun Recipes Kids Will Love to Bake! by Deanna F. Cook


Book Review

Fiction

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 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 melissafirman.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

History

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

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

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

Refugee

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

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