Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, November 10, 2017


St. Martin's Press: The Secrets of Cavendon (Cavendon Chronicles #4) by Barbara Taylor Bradford

From My Shelf

Imagine: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: The Album, the Beatles, and the World in 1967 by Brian Southall

Clarkson Potter Publishers: Exciting Games for Readers and Word Lovers

Board Book Duos

If one entertaining board book for young readers is great, wouldn't two be even better? Of course!

A Is for Alice and One White Rabbit (Macmillan, $8.99, ages 2-4) use Lewis Carroll's famous characters and retouched versions of John Tenniel's original illustrations to teach the basics of language and mathematics. A Is for Alice depicts Carroll's well-known characters alongside their corresponding letter and description; One White Rabbit is similar in composition, featuring the characters on the page facing their number. The lively illustrations will help young readers engage with the new skill sets.

Motor Mix: Flight and Motor Mix: Emergency (Chronicle, $9.99, ages 2-4) by Emily Snape and illustrated by Rilla Alexander feature vehicles and related text the reader can mix and match. Flight opens with a rocket ship on the left and a page split into three die-cut snippets of text on the right: "I am launching" "ROAR zoooom" "into outer space." Turn the top part of the page and the rocket ship has a new roof; the top text reads "I am drifting." The same conceit can be seen in Emergency with emergency vehicles. With so many vehicle and text combinations, young readers will be able to return to these titles over and over again.

For slightly older readers, consider the Life on Earth titles (Dinosaurs and Jungle, Wide Eyed Editions, $12.99, ages 5-9) by Heather Alexander, illustrated by Andrés Lozano. Both titles include 100 questions ("How many kinds of dinosaurs were there?" "What is the weather like in the jungle?") with their answers ("Scientists have discovered over 900" "A jungle is very hot and very wet."), often hidden under one of the 70 flaps to lift. Readers can dip in and out of these interactive and informative titles as they desire. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness


Hachette Books: Girl Logic: The Genius and the Absurdity by Iliza Shlesinger


Book Candy

The Origins of @, #, ... Etc.

Mental Floss explored "the first known uses of six common typographic symbols."

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"Where's your car at?" Buzzfeed asked: "How much of a grammar snob are you?"

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Headline of the day (via Electric Lit): "I pretended to be Emily Dickinson on an online dating site." 

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For fans of Sherlock Holmes, Quirk Books shared its choices for favorite Dr. Watsons in pop culture.

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The Book Fairies, a worldwide group Emma Watson helped launch that leaves books as gifts in public places like buses and park benches, plans to drop copies of Seattle author Rachel Linden's Ascension of Larks in several West Coast cities, the Seattle Times reported.

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"Reading in the bath just got way easier, thanks to these 11 genius products," Bustle promised.


Workman Publishing: Enter to Win a Library of Our Bestselling Holiday Gifts


Great Reads

Rediscover: To the Finland Station

Few events have shaped the modern world as extensively as the Russian revolutions of 1917. The first of those upheavals dethroned the tsar; the second overthrew the resulting provisional government and, after a long and bloody civil war, led to the formation of the Soviet Union. By 1917, a war-weary Russia and a weak tsar created prime conditions for political change of some kind, but the Bolsheviks seizing power by force was a chain of improbable events that writers have tried to untangle for the past 100 years.

The recent centennial of the October Revolution has seen a slew of new books on the subject, from Marxist speculative fiction author China Miéville's October: The Story of the Russian Revolution (Verso) to history professor Sean McMeekin's The Russian Revolution: A New History (Basic Books). These modern works add valuable new sources available since the fall of the Soviet Union to contemporary histories, such as Ten Days That Shook the World by John Reed, an American journalist's firsthand account published in 1919, and Leon Trotsky's three-volume History of the Russian Revolution, published in the early 1930s. To the Finland Station: A Study in the Writing and Acting of History by Edmund Wilson (1940) traces the October Revolution back from Lenin's catalytic arrival at Petrograd's Finland Station in 1917 through Marx and the dawn of socialism around the French Revolution. It was last published in 2012 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux ($18, 9780374533458). --Tobias Mutter


Storey Publishing: The Naturalist's Notebook: An Observation Guide and 5-Year Calendar-Journal for Tracking Changes in the Natural World Around You by Nathaniel T. Wheelwright and Bernd Heinrich


The Writer's Life

Reading with... Sophfronia Scott

photo: Rob Berkley

Sophfronia Scott holds a BA in English from Harvard and an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Sandy Hook, Conn. Her latest novel is Unforgivable Love: A Retelling of Dangerous Liaisons, set in 1940s Harlem (Morrow, September 26, 2017).

On your nightstand now:

The Velveteen Daughter by Laurel Davis Huber. I have a fascination with artists and this book is a novelization of the tumultuous life of Pamela Bianco, a child prodigy artist whose mother, Margery Williams Bianco, wrote the famous children's book The Velveteen Rabbit. It's about madness and genius, and the multiple highs and lows that encompass a person touched with both.

The Girl of the Lake by Bill Roorbach. Roorbach is a master storyteller so I was excited to get my hands on his latest collection of short fiction. I'm savoring these stories and his engaging characters.

Olio by Tyehimba Jess. Jess's poetry is ambitious, stunning. The whole book is a fierce work of art and each turn of the page is an adventure.

The Good Divide by Kali VanBaale. This down-to-earth novel is set in the 1960s, on a Wisconsin dairy farm. You've got a small town community, family secrets and an unresolved death of a young woman. I'll finish it soon because the prose is beautiful and swift, making it hard to put down.

Selected Poems by Adonis. A friend recently turned me on to this celebrated Arabic poet who began publishing work in the 1950s. The poems in the book span his entire career, and I'm intrigued to follow the growth of his voice and observant critique of society.
 
Favorite book when you were a child:

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Of course I had a mad crush on Dickon! And I still have that renewed garden in my head. I remember drawing pictures of it--flowers upon flowers--and hoping someday I'd have such a garden.

Your top five authors:

Toni Morrison: Her voice is like a song constantly in my ear, reminding me what beautiful writing sounds like, and what's possible with the English language.

J.K. Rowling: In scope, vision and edge-of-your-seat storytelling, the Harry Potter series is a major accomplishment.

Zora Neale Hurston: In life and on the page this woman was bold and beautiful.

Charles Baxter: His fiction and nonfiction are both powerful and risky. His work pushes me to be a better writer.

August Wilson: His 10-play cycle changed the face of American theater. I'm inspired by the ambition it took to create such amazing work.

Book you've faked reading:

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I know I've got to read more Russian literature but it's always slipping down my to-read list.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. Whenever anyone asks me to recommend something, without hesitation I start talking about this book. I loved this perfect, heartbreaking story of two lonely people developing an endearing late-in-life friendship and love. The fact that the author was terminally ill and completed the book right before his death makes reading it all the more poignant.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Open by Andre Agassi. I'd always been curious about the flashy tennis player but I bought his autobiography solely because of his strong, clear-eyed gaze staring out from the book's cover. Something told me that gaze meant he wasn't going to pull any punches, that he had some real things to say about his life. The book didn't disappoint me. He was truly that open.

Book you hid from your parents:

A Stranger in the Mirror by Sidney Sheldon. My father never learned how to read, and when I got older, my mother didn't pay attention to what I brought home from the library, so I never really had to hide books from my parents. But if I had to hide one, this would have been it. It marked my "teenage girl reading about sex" stage.

Book that changed your life:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. I was about 13 when I read this book and it opened the world to me because Jane taught me how to think. She was always cognizant of her situation, always considering what she wanted her life to be and how to move toward what she wanted. I realized I could have agency in my life in the same way, and I found that so empowering.

Favorite line from a book:

"If I could show them how much I love them and how much their love means to me, they could not hear it with human ears or see it with their eyes, but I stand in the middle of their suffering anyway and they do not know that I am here." --The Mover of Bones by Robert Vivian.

Five years ago I was in my kitchen making muffins listening to a recording of the author reading this excerpt from his novel. It represents the voice of a missing young woman speaking from beyond the grave. It was so beautiful it literally brought me to my knees in tears.

Five books you'll never part with:

When I was about 11, a fire destroyed part of my family's home. My father, who was very superstitious, said we couldn't keep anything that had been burned even if it seemed salvageable. It was bad luck. However I snuck into the damaged area and rescued the six books I bought at school from the Scholastic Books order form. I'd saved up to get these books, the first I'd ever owned, and I refused to throw them away. They sit on my shelves to this day, their pages crumbling, two of them with their covers burned off. They are:

The Bionic Woman: Welcome Home Jaime by Eileen Lottman. This is a novelization of an early episode of the television show. I loved Lindsay Wagner as the Bionic Woman--I had the doll and her red bag of accessories. The doll didn't survive the fire. The book did.

Jenny by Gene Inyart. Girl acquires a baby brother (bad) and then a puppy (good!).

Lisa, Bright and Dark by John Neufeld. The noted novel about a teen with mental health issues.

A Smart Kid Like You by Stella Pevsner. A girl dealing with her parents' divorce.

Freckled and Fourteen by Viola Rowe. Teen bewails her red hair and freckles. Since I have red hair and freckles, I felt this book was required reading.

My Sister Mike by Amelia Elizabeth Walden. Tomboy Mike is a talented basketball player whose prettier sister gives her a makeover so she can turn the tables on a guy from the boys' team, who dates Mike on a bet.

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

We Danced in Bloomsbury Square by Jean Estoril. Debbie Darke narrates the story of her and her fraternal twin, Doria, getting accepted to attend a prestigious ballet school in London. Long before Harry Potter existed, this book showed me what it was like to get singled out for your abilities and sent away to school in an exciting new landscape. Debbie worried if they didn't get into the school, their Liverpool life would be "dust and ashes." I grew up in a rust belt steel town so I could totally relate. When I first read this book, I envisioned myself wearing the same school uniforms and walking through London parks with the Darke twins and their classmates. I wish I could read this book for the first time again, so I could feel the hope of those daydreams once more.

The most beautiful book you own:

Emily Dickinson: Gorgeous Nothings, edited by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin. This big white coffee-table book catalogues the "envelope poems" of Dickinson--work she wrote on scraps of paper. I love that the images of the delicate envelopes are so sharp and clear you can see every wrinkle and fold and you can almost feel them in your hands. It's simply thrilling.


Legend Press: Lose yourself in a legendary classic - Click to win a copy


Book Review

Fiction

Where the Sun Shines Out

by Kevin Catalano


Kevin Catalano's Where the Sun Shines Out leaves the gate with a gut-clenching abduction and continues unapologetically through 10 interrelated stories that strengthen his grip on the reader, despite a straightforward, hard-edged approach to tragedy. When an author delves this deeply into soul-grinding subjects like kidnapping, abuse and self-destruction, character and story are more closely scrutinized to determine if the payoff is worth the pain. 

In 1992, the Fleming brothers disappear from the annual Wizard of Oz celebration in Chittenango, N.Y. Only 10-year-old Dean returns alive. Catalano dives into an ocean of guilt and grief, and navigates the waves that flow over the small, blue-collar town for more than two decades.

The sole character to appear in each piece, Dean is the fraying thread that unfurls from one end to the other, morphing into an erratic menace who finds a small measure of peace in heroin and violence. Dean's family and fellow citizens are no less exquisitely drawn, and it is impossible to set them aside although they seem anchored in darkness.

Catalano's writing is powerfully magnetic and his attention to detail (sounds, scents--"the house smelled like the bottom of a shoveled hole"--and incremental measures of forgiveness and redemption) is important ballast since he wields his words like weapons. The sun sometimes shines, but black ice lies beneath and Catalano's prose is honed for bone-deep cuts. In the end, there is no doubt this raw and unsettling debut is worth every wound. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: The inhabitants of a small, working-class town are forever changed by the abduction of two young boys, and one's return.

Skyhorse, $24.99, hardcover, 304p., 9781510721999

Sounds True: Practice You: A Journal by Elena Brower


Seven Days of Us

by Francesca Hornak


British journalist Francesca Hornak makes her fiction debut with Seven Days of Us, a self-assured dramedy. The wealthy Birches of London--Andrew, Emma and their two grown daughters, Olivia and Phoebe--haven't shared the holidays under the same roof in years, but as Christmas 2016 approaches, they prepare to spend an entire week locked up together in the family home. Olivia, freshly back from a stint treating the deadly Haag virus epidemic in Liberia, must remain quarantined for a week after returning to the U.K., and so must anyone who comes in contact with her.

None of the Birches feels thrilled by the prospect of the coming week. Emma is overjoyed to have her children home, but she recently received a frightening diagnosis of the lump under her arm and is afraid to tell anyone, even Andrew. Now a successful restaurant reviewer, Andrew got his start in journalism covering the Lebanese civil war, and had a brief fling in Beirut. Now, this 36-year-old mistake has come back to haunt him in the form of Jesse, the son he's recently learned he has. Phoebe says yes to her boyfriend's proposal and starts planning her dream wedding, doggedly ignoring her own lack of enthusiasm for the groom. As the family limps through the holidays, they must decide whether to let their secrets tear them apart or bring them, finally, back together.

Hornak spends time looking through each character's eyes, and readers' sympathies will shift with each change in point of view. The richly defined inner lives of the Birches propel the story as they try to feel their way through their individual crises. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: When a well-to-do British family of four is quarantined over Christmas, their secrets and lies begin to unravel.

Berkley, $26, hardcover, 368p., 9780451488756

Shelf Awareness Sign-up Giveaway: The Land Beyond by Leon McCarron


A Lot Like Christmas

by Connie Willis


Connie Willis (Doomsday Book, Blackout) absolutely loves the holidays, as she explains in the introduction to A Lot Like Christmas: "I even like the parts most people hate--shopping in crowded malls and reading Christmas newsletters and seeing relatives." This love led her to write the eight short stories collected in 2009's Miracle and Other Christmas Stories. Seven of them, plus five new ones, are gathered in A Lot Like Christmas.

These varied and fantastic stories cover a lot of subjects. There are alien invaders in "All Seated on the Ground" and future Christmases where people hire decorators to come create themed decor, meals and parties for the season in "deck.halls@boughs/holly." In "All About Emily," a young "artificial" experiences some surprisingly human dreams; in "Just Like the Ones We Used to Know," a dangerously white Christmas brings snow to places as unlikely as Honolulu and Beirut; and in "Inn," the biblical Joseph and Mary time-travel to a modern church's Nativity production.

Funny, wry and sometimes downright cheery, A Lot Like Christmas does an excellent job of bringing holiday spirit without falling into the traps of "cynicism or mawkish sappiness" (as Willis explains she's tried to avoid). The epilogue includes an extra little gift to her readers--lists of her favorite Christmas movies, books and television episodes. Even the grinchiest of readers is sure to enjoy this charming collection, with its excellent stories and extra attention from a talented author. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans

Discover: This delightful collection of fantastic Christmas stories includes aliens, robots and a time-traveling Mary and Joseph.

Del Rey, $17, paperback, 544p., 9780399182341

The Doll's Alphabet

by Camilla Grudova


Weirdness is the rule, not the exception, in Camilla Grudova's strangely affecting short story collection, The Doll's Alphabet. These 13 stories have been published in magazines like Granta and the White Review, and their cumulative effect is uncanny. This is partly because of the macabre subject matter and partly because Grudova's style is untethered from the conventions of realism. Dolls, corpses, vermin, wolves and various mythical creatures make appearances; Grudova is a magical realist who introduces supernatural elements matter-of-factly. At the core of her stories, though, are human characters with real human needs.

In "Waxy," factory-bound, meat-rationing women are trained to take care of their men at all costs. The story feels as though it's set in the early 20th century--a gramophone is likened to "a grand rotting flower"--but with a sly feminist critique conveys near-future dystopian anxieties about the role of women in society. Grudova's imagination runs wild in stories like "The Sad Tale of the Sconce"; perhaps never before has a story about war and shipwrecks been told from the perspective of a wall sconce. "Notes from a Spider"--about a half-man, half-spider celebrity who falls in love with a sewing machine--is likewise bizarre yet boasts certain bewitching charms. Taken together, the stories in The Doll's Alphabet spin morbid magic. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: Camilla Grudova's debut story collection mixes feminist concerns with fantastical and disturbing plot lines.

Coffee House Press, $15.95, paperback, 192p., 9781566894906

Mystery & Thriller

The Last Mrs. Parrish

by Liv Constantine


In ritzy Bishops Harbor, Conn., Amber is considered "a frumpy mouse," unworthy of attention from the filthy rich and glamorous residents. But she refuses to be a nobody for long. Amber intends to snare the biggest catch in town--dashing mogul Jackson Parrish--and move into his waterfront mansion. The man is already married with kids and has eyes only for his perfect wife, Daphne, but that doesn't faze Amber.

She befriends Daphne after an "accidental" meeting at the gym and insinuates herself into the couple's lives, becoming indispensable as best friend to Daphne and assistant to Jackson. Along the way, Amber subtly transforms herself into a younger, sexier version of Daphne. Each step of the scheme falls into place exactly as planned--or does it happen too easily?

Amber is a highly unpleasant narrator, but one can perhaps appreciate her being unfettered by the conventional notion that women have to be nice all the time. At least she's reliable. She's duplicitous with other characters, but with readers, she's clear and unapologetic about what she wants and why--she's tired of her station in life and believes she deserves better. Think: a female Tom Ripley. 

The dialogue is often expository and overly formal--close friends and family members speak to one another like people at a job interview--but sisters Lynne and Valerie Constantine, writing as Liv Constantine, build momentum with short, cliffhanger chapters racing toward a satisfying denouement. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A woman executes a meticulous plan to attain a glamorous life with the perfect husband.

Harper, $25.99, hardcover, 400p., 9780062667571

Food & Wine

A Taste of Italy: 100 Traditional, Homestyle Recipes

by Damiano Carrara


Damiano Carrara was born and raised in Italy, spending winters in mountainous Bologna and summers in coastal Lucca. In both areas, Carrara's family grew and raised most of the food they ate. Through his father and mother, his grandmother and a great-aunt, Carrara learned how to turn out simple recipes with the freshest ingredients. This began Carrara's culinary career, ultimately landing him as a contestant on Food Network Star (season 12). His celebrity enabled him and his brother to later found Carrara Pastries, cafés located in Southern California.

In his first cookbook, A Taste of Italy, Carrara shares his favorite recipes, prefacing each with evocative tidbits about re-creating dishes from childhood and from favorite restaurants. One half of the book is devoted to a sampling of savories: antipasto, soups, salads, sides, pizza and main courses. Notable highlights include several varieties of tartare; spinach lasagna with a rich, creamy Béchamel sauce; a straightforward brown butter sage chicken with fingerling potatoes; and a light and easy farro salad with shrimp. The second half showcases Carrara's passion and prowess for sweets: biscotti, cakes, fruit pies and gelato. The pièce de résistance is Carrara's signature Torta della Nonna, or Grandmother's Pie, which is an elegant, double shortbread crust filled with fresh vanilla custard and capped with sliced almonds and pine nuts. Carrara's well-balanced, deliciously presented cookbook will inspire home cooks to don aprons and dash into their own kitchens. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A celebrity chef from Tuscany shares authentic, mouthwatering recipes for Italian savories and sweets.

Sterling Epicure, $29.95, hardcover, 256p., 9781454926474

Biography & Memoir

Texas Blood: Seven Generations Among the Outlaws, Ranchers, Indians, Missionaries, Soldiers, and Smugglers of the Borderlands

by Roger D. Hodge


If many urban easterners perceive Texas as "a terrifying land of racism and violence and retrograde politics," native Roger Hodge seeks to put them straight in his meandering history and family genealogy, Texas Blood. Former editor of Harper's and the Oxford American, Hodge (The Mendacity of Hope) grew up in the small border town of Del Rio in the 1980s, shearing sheep, shooting guns and drinking with everyone else. But as a fifth-generation Texan, he wanted to understand better how his family migrated to the harsh paisajes of "rolling hills, steep draws, damp drainages, and narrow defiles." 

Setting off into the vastly diverse Texas landscape, Hodge hooks up with distant cousins, ranchers, Border Patrol agents and Mexican immigrants to get a feet-on-the-ground feel for his family history and birth state. Along the way he recounts front-porch anecdotal whoppers and heavily researched library side-trips into the works of early explorers like Cabeza de Vaca and James "Don Santiago" Kirker, and especially into the fiction of Cormac McCarthy. He traverses the many Texas "countries": hill, river, ranch and oil, as well as Comanche country. With a local guide, he digs into the mythology of peyote, polytheism and pictographs. At some length Hodge also investigates the current gigantic border security apparatus. Combining photos, maps and solid journalism with personal drama, Texas Blood has it all. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A road trip mixed with scholarly research and personal interviews, Texas Blood is a colorful history of the Texas-Mexican borderlands.

Knopf, $28.95, hardcover, 368p., 9780307961402

Political Science

Democracy and Its Crisis

by A.C. Grayling


A.C. Grayling (The Challenge of Things) is a left-leaning British professor of philosophy, author of many books and well known for his columns and television appearances in the U.K. In Democracy and Its Crisis, he brings his expertise in the history of philosophy and political thought to the question of modern representative democracy, how it was developed over centuries, how it has recently failed and how we might repair it.

"For many centuries, the idea of democracy was regarded with revulsion and fear." Generations of great thinkers struggled with the question of how to harness the benefits of democracy "without risk of it collapsing into either mob rule or tyranny." Reasonable fears of demagoguery, of mob rule, "manipulation by a hidden oligarchy" and of the "ignorance, self-interest, short-termism and prejudice typical of too many voters" prevented the rise of effective democratic governments until the 18th century. With remarkable clarity and speed, Grayling examines the development of democratic political thought and surveys the ideas of Plato, Aristotle and Machiavelli, the Putney Debates of the English Civil War, Locke, Hobbes, Spinoza, Montesquieu and Rousseau, and the difficult creation of the U.S. Constitution. He argues that we must defend and strengthen the core principles of democracy through compulsory civic education, compulsory voting at an earlier age, and a reconfiguration of politics in civic life. The U.K. is his primary focus, with the U.S. second, but the ideas he discusses apply to the problems of democracy anywhere. This is a serious consideration of a complex subject by an excellent educator and writer, and is worth the time of anyone concerned for the future of good government. --Sara Catterall

Discover: This is a concise, clear and challenging survey of the history of democracy, its recent failures and how we might repair it.

ONEworld, $22.99, hardcover, 192p., 9781786072894

Social Science

The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity

by Esther Perel


Infidelity: the very word elicits a strong reaction from most people. Almost universally taboo, cheating can destroy a couple's relationship faster than almost anything else. However, according to renowned couples therapist Esther Perel, it's possible that affairs hold some important lessons for all parties involved. In her second nonfiction book, The State of Affairs, Perel argues for a new conversation around infidelity: its variations, root causes and ripple effects, and the chance that it may be an engine for growth.

Perel (Mating in Captivity) examines the enduring features of infidelity (secrecy, excitement, lies, jealousy, desire) and also delves into its particular expressions and complications in the 21st century (chat rooms, Internet porn, gender politics, open marriages). Each chapter includes stories of Perel's clients who have been affected by infidelity, and a nuanced look at their experiences. (While Perel includes plenty of statistics, she highlights the narratives because "it is the stories that lead us into the deeper human concerns of longing and disenchantment, commitment and erotic freedom.") She emphasizes the need for nonjudgmental conversation, the ways relationships shape a couple's sense of identity, and the surprising ways affairs can breathe new life into long-term relationships instead of shattering them.

"Love is messy; infidelity more so," Perel says. "But it is also a window, like none other, into the crevices of the human heart." The State of Affairs is a thoughtful view of the complicated landscape through that window: a sensitive take on a really sensitive topic. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Couples therapist Esther Perel provides a nuanced, thoughtful view of infidelity.

Harper, $26.99, hardcover, 336p., 9780062322586

Nature & Environment

Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World

by Noah Strycker


Avid birder Noah Strycker travels the globe in his colorful and thrilling memoir Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World. Strycker (Among Penguins) is associate editor of Birding magazine and brings adventure and enlightenment to the increasingly popular activity. "Birds are real," field guide author Kenn Kaufman says in the excellent foreword. "It's a deep dive into the real world." Strycker elaborates on this naturalist philosophy as he sets out in 2015 to observe and tally more than half of the world's living bird species in one year. His quest begins in Antarctica, continues up through the Americas, then shifts to Europe, Africa and Asia.

Strycker writes clear, naturally flowing prose that rises and dips with the vagaries of travel, allowing Birds Without Borders to soar. It serves as an exciting travelogue--Strycker's ventures in Peru turn truly harrowing when his vehicle breaks down on a remote mountain road. He faces similar problems in other developing countries and strikes a nice balance between suspense and more leisurely reflection on different cultures and customs. The book offers an introduction to the world's diverse bird species; with exquisite personal enthusiasm, Strycker describes the colors, shapes and movements of elusive birds--a harpy eagle in Brazil, an Oriental bay owl in India. He also captures the ethos of emerging conservation groups around the planet, a positive sign for the future. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: Aviphile Noah Strycker attempts to break the world's annual birding record in this inspiring memoir.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27, hardcover, 336p., 9780544558144

Children's & Young Adult

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives

by Dashka Slater


On November 4, 2013, two students on their way home overlap by eight minutes while riding the 57 bus across Oakland, Calif. Sasha, a private school senior, has Asperger's syndrome, was assigned male at birth, identifies as agender (neither male nor female), uses the pronoun "they" and prefers wearing skirts. They've dozed off reading Anna Karenina for their Russian literature class.

Richard, a public school junior, stands "[a] few feet away... laughing and joking" with a cousin and friend. The threesome "goof around, play fighting." And then Richard "surreptitiously flicks a lighter and touches it to the hem of [Sasha's] gauzy white skirt."

Sasha wakes in flames. Richard jumps off the bus. Sasha spends weeks enduring multiple surgeries in a San Francisco burn unit. Richard is arrested and charged as an adult for two felonies with hate-crime clauses.

In so many ways, the crime appears to be a black-and-white case of wrong vs. right. But award-winning journalist Dashka Slater--whose initial 2015 New York Times Magazine piece went viral--deconstructs easy assumptions in stringent detail, supported by such sources as video from the bus, public records and eyewitness interviews. She reveals surprising details that don't seem to make sense, including a letter to the Alameda County district attorney sent jointly from the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Transgender Law Center arguing against Richard being tried as an adult: " '...you can demonstrate your office's commitment to protecting the victims of hate crimes without imposing adult sanctions on juvenile offenders.' " Knowing what happened doesn't equate to understanding how something happened, Slater proves, as she mesmerizingly shifts this true crime into a multi-layered lesson on the healing power of humanity. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Journalist Dashka Slater expands her New York Times Magazine article about a crime involving two Oakland, Calif., students.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $17.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 12-up, 9780374303235

Louis Undercover

by Fanny Britt, trans. by Christelle Morelli, Susan Ouriou, illus. by Isabelle Arsenault


Following a successful partnership in the publication of Jane, the Fox and Me, writer Fanny Britt and illustrator Isabelle Arsenault have teamed up again for a second middle-grade graphic novel. Louis Undercover follows a boy from a broken home, who, with his little brother, Truffle, splits time between his alcoholic father and protective mother. Louis is a perceptive child, recognizing that his dad cries in the same way "a dog barks" or "a cat meows."

On his apartment balcony, Louis and his best friend, Boris, spy on cars to find ghost cops: "Is he wearing a trench coat? Undercover cops always wear trench coats." Boris also encourages Louis to talk to his secret love, Billie, whom Louis sees as "a spectacled siren, a rainstorm, a chocolate fountain, a silent queen." But mostly he admires her bravery when she stands up to bullies--Louis is acutely aware of his own lack of courage.

When events bring Louis's family together for a trip to New York City, "the big city swallows [them] up for four golden, milkshake-filled days." But the perfection cannot last.

Britt's words, eloquently translated by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou from the original French, read as authentic preteen wisdom unfiltered by adult experience or cynicism. Arsenault's illustrations complement the text with powerful use of color and texture, conveying emotion better than words could. Louis Undercover forgoes preaching to deliver a subtly complex, beautifully honest story about the meaning of bravery. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: This profound graphic novel bundles the enormity of its themes--including alcoholism, family and bravery--into a heartwarming, picture book-sized package.

Groundwood, $19.95, hardcover, 160p., ages 10-14, 9781554988594

The Adventurers Guild

by Zack Loran Clark, Nick Eliopulos


In the city of Freestone, children have their entire lives mapped out for them at the age of 11 when they undergo a sorting process called the "Guildculling." During this public ceremony, the Guilds--a combination profession and caste system--choose which children they will accept. Best friends Zed and Brock are on the cusp of getting everything they've ever wanted: wisecracking Brock is a shoo-in for the Merchants Guild, while shy Zed has a chance that his elven blood might get him into the prestigious Mages, allowing him to give a better life to his Servants Guild mother. But the dangerous Adventurers Guild, a ragtag militia, can trump the choice of any other Guild, and suddenly Brock and Zed are a part of the rudest, crudest and most reviled guild of them all, sworn with fellow new recruits Liza and Jett to protect Freestone against the dangers that surround its walls.

The Adventurers Guild stands out within the fantasy genre, displaying a wonderfully diverse cast of characters. Authors Nick Eliopulos (Spirit Animals) and Zack Loran Clark are enthusiastic Dungeons & Dragons players, and the influences can be seen in their fantastic world as, in any good D&D adventure, Brock and Zed face increasingly scary monsters and trickier moral choices. The novel also makes a case for pulling together to achieve the impossible: "A handful of stars working together can make a constellation to guide the lost," says the intimidating guildmistress Alabasel Frond. "A skyful could illuminate the world." And, aside from its many other merits, The Adventurers Guild is simply great fun to read. --Ali Davis, freelance writer and playwright

Discover: A rough-and-tumble adventure story with monsters, intrigue and a heart of gold.

Disney-Hyperion, $16.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 8-11, 9781484788011

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