Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, February 23, 2018


Andrews McMeel Publishing: Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

From My Shelf

Timber Press: A Tapestry Garden by Marietta and Ernie O'Byrne / The Garden in Every Sense and Season by Tovah Martin

Mira Books: The Family Gathering (Sullivan's Crossing #3) by Robyn Carr

Love and Marriage

They may go together like a horse and carriage, as the song has it. But love, when it's meant to last a lifetime, can be messy, painful, even deadly dull. Two new books offer a complicated take on marriage that's much more genuine--and more interesting--than the traditional fairy-tale narrative.

Essayist Ada Calhoun admits the truth: marriage is foundational and nourishing, but it's also frustrating and just plain hard. Calhoun's essay collection Wedding Toasts I'll Never Give (Norton, $24.95) delves into the facets of marriage that starry-eyed couples don't always want to acknowledge. These include paying (literally) for a spouse's mistakes, daydreaming about other partners (and other lives) and slogging through what she bluntly calls "the boring parts" of wedded bliss. "Dating is poetry," Calhoun writes. "Marriage is a novel. There are times, maybe years, that are all exposition." Her mock "toasts" brim with wit, wisdom and gut-level honesty about the trials of staying married and the quiet rewards of remaining faithful, however imperfectly.

Renowned couples therapist Esther Perel explores a more dramatic but no less sticky aspect of long-term commitment--infidelity and its fallout--in The State of Affairs (Harper, $26.99). Drawing on her years of work with couples (of various ethnicities and sexual orientations) who have dealt with infidelity, Perel explores the reasons people seek extramarital relationships and analyzes their effects. Despite the pain they cause, she insists that affairs provide "a window, like none other, into the crevices of the human heart." Her clients' stories have many different endings, but most, encouragingly, are still in progress: an affair can expose the fault lines in a marriage, but doesn't have to mean total destruction. Both Calhoun and Perel present clear-eyed yet ultimately hopeful perspectives on marriage as a tough, flexible and ultimately life-giving endeavor. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams


Red Lightning Books: The Curse of the Indy 500: 1958's Tragic Legacy by Stan Sutton


Book Candy

Likely Literary Characters for President

Electric Lit nominated "11 literary characters who should run for President."

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"Which book perfectly matches your personality?" Buzzfeed asked.

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"Should you write what you know? 31 authors weigh in" at Lit Hub.

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The Temple of Knowledge from StoryCorps animates Ronald Clark's memories of his father, who "was custodian of a branch of the New York Public Library at a time when caretakers, along with their families, lived in the buildings."

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Headline of the Day (via the Hill): "Dolly Parton set to donate her 100 millionth book to Library of Congress."

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McSweeney's offered "reality show pitches for your literary friend who claims to be unable to relate to reality TV."


International Thriller Writers: William Morrow & Company: If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin


Great Reads

Rediscover: Red Sparrow

The film adaptation of Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews flies to screens next Friday, March 2. Jennifer Lawrence stars as Dominika Egorova, a Russian ballerina inducted into her country's intelligence service as a Sparrow, an agent trained to use seduction as a weapon. When she falls for her latest target, CIA agent Nate Nash (played by Joel Edgerton), Dominika sparks a chain reaction of deadly espionage that threatens a valuable double agent in Moscow. Director Francis Lawrence's (the Hunger Games trilogy, I Am Legend) adaptation also stars Ciarán Hinds and Jeremy Irons.

Red Sparrow (2013) is the first in a trilogy by retired CIA officer Jason Matthews. Palace of Treason (2015) continues the dangerous affair between Nate and Dominikia--now a mole for the CIA. The Kremlin's Candidate (2018) imagines a Russian plot to assassinate an American politician and replace him with a cultivated asset. The fictionalized version of Vladimir Putin who features heavily in Matthews's trilogy has been cut from the film. Matthews spent 33 years at the CIA before turning to spy fiction. He sold the film rights to Red Sparrow for seven figures prior to its publication, and won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author in 2014. On February 20, Scribner released a movie tie-in edition of Red Sparrow ($9.99, 9781501168918). --Tobias Mutter


Hanover Square Press: The Soul of a Thief by Steven Hartov


The Writer's Life

Matt Haig: History in the Mix

photo: Ken Lailey

Matt Haig is the author of five novels, several award-winning children's books and the memoir Reasons to Stay Alive, which is an account of Haig's battle with depression and how he overcame it with the help of reading, and writing, and the support of his family. In How to Stop Time (Viking, $26), Haig tells an imaginative, adventurous story about a man who has lived for centuries and his journey to reconcile his past and present in order to face the future. The novel dips into 500 years worth of history and is being made into a movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Our review is below.

How did this novel take root?

I had the idea brewing for a long time. Nearly a decade. But it wasn't fully there. I had the voice of someone impossibly old, but I didn't have a story. Then I saw a painting of Omai in the National Portrait Gallery in London. Omai was the Pacific Islander brought to England after Captain Cook's second voyage and prized as an exotic oddity. It got my mind ticking and--even though Omai isn't the main character--he was the starting point.

How to Stop Time straddles genres of fantasy, romance, adventure and comedy. Was this intentional?

I have no idea. But it made the writing of it more fun. I love mixing things up. It just feels more natural to me than to compartmentalize the imagination like that.

The protagonist of the novel is 439 years old yet appears to be a 41-year-old man. Why did you choose these two specific ages?

Well, I was 41 when I created Tom Hazard, the protagonist. So I suppose that was the reason. As for 439 years, I wanted Tom to live within a realistic timeframe for a creature to live. There are clams that can live to 500. And Greenland sharks can live to be 1,000. So 439 began to feel almost realistic.

What was most fulfilling in writing this novel?

The amount of research I had to do was simultaneously the most fulfilling and the most challenging aspect. It was like researching 12 different historical novels in one. But I love social history. I love learning about, for instance, how ale was considered healthier than water for children to drink in Shakespearean times. (In fairness, it was.)

Tom Hazard shares life-changing experiences with notables such as William Shakespeare, Captain Cook and F. Scott Fitzgerald--to name a few. I wanted to mix the very famous with the less well known--such as Omai and the real-life Dr. Jonathan Hutchinson--because I loved the challenge of making people who have become legends into real, living people... with halitosis, in Shakespeare's case.

If you could live in another time, when would it be and why?

To be totally honest, I would like to go back into my own past in order to give myself some life advice before I fell into depression and anxiety disorder in my 20s. Also: ancient Greece, to have a chat with Plato and drink some wine.

Philosophical ideas of time are central to the novel. And there's a quote in the book, "The past resides inside the present, repeating, hiccupping...."

Yes, I think we are repeating the mistake of dehumanizing people. People not like us. I think we are dangerously losing faith in the idea of central unifying narratives. The collective experience of a shared life in a shared society is falling apart. I think social media is sending us back to an age before the mass circulation of the old media, where truth was whatever you wanted to hear, whatever your neighbors whispered to you. It is terrifying if you think about it. But there are signs of hope and progress, too. We are alert to injustices in ways we never were before.

What did you learn about yourself in writing the novel?

That writing can be fun. I had been forgetting that for a few years.

What will readers take away from reading How to Stop Time?

I hope, primarily, readers will be entertained. I don't think there should be any shame in entertainment. I suppose my point in writing the novel was to make people, including me, appreciate life and the nature of our brief and wonderful time here.

Time, loss, death, the surmounting of tragedies--and characters who feel like outsiders--recur in much of your work.

I try to write books that can comfort by showing hardship and the overcoming of that hardship.... I think fiction can be nourishing. I think it can help us cope with life.

Your books, while dealing with dark themes, are often leavened with hope and playfulness. From where do you draw your sense of optimism?

Strangely, I think it comes from depression and anxiety. My experience of those things made me more optimistic. Optimism--hard earned--became essential. It kept me alive. Optimism is very often a product of pain, I think.

If readers are unfamiliar with your work, what book should they read first?

After How to Stop Time, either The Humans or Reasons to Stay Alive. Stay away from The Possession of Mr. Cave--I was in a dark mood when I wrote it.

After writing so many books, how do you maintain enthusiasm for the craft?

I try to keep things new--switch genres, write for children sometimes, or for film or nonfiction. I try to make every book feel like it is a first book. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines


Independent Publishers Group: April is Poetry Month - Enter now to win a bundle of books!


Book Review

Fiction

Freshwater

by Akwaeke Emezi


Akwaeke Emezi's standout first novel, Freshwater, is a riveting and peculiar variation on coming of age. Ada is a Nigerian girl born into great power. Her name invokes the serpent deity of an ancient pantheon, and beckons an Igbo god collective to inhabit her form. These ogbanje are the voices that narrate Ada's youth and blooming adulthood, holding their vessel captive to their whims and assuming control when necessary to protect her.

The girl's childhood is marked by an unstable home life and volatile parents that compound her inner torments. She immigrates to the United States for school, where she is introduced to an ongoing legacy of virulent racism. The cruelty she faces intensifies with betrayals and sexual assault, and in time the supernatural swirl inside her coalesces into one, then two, then more gods who take center stage.

While Freshwater touches the many dark, complicated notes of a troubled adolescence, Emezi extrapolates their consequences into a deliriously metaphysical realm. Mental health, self-harm, abuse, heartbreak and isolation take on supernatural gravity, and mundane natural elements manifest with strong, sometimes harsh, physicality.

As enchanting as it is unsettling, Freshwater tickles all six senses. The chorus of voices narrating Ada's life achieves a remarkable balance between cruel machinations of cavalier deities and deep empathy for the distressed vessel they inhabit. But whether they are the source of Ada's problems or her buoy against them is one question that drives this refreshingly imaginative debut. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A collective of ancient gods guides and guards the young woman they inhabit throughout a treacherous coming of age in Akwaeke Emezi's dazzling debut novel.

Grove, $24, hardcover, 240p., 9780802127358

Shelf Awareness Giveaway: The Sixth Day (Brit in the FBI #5) by Catherine Coulter


Asymmetry

by Lisa Halliday


From the get-go, Whiting Award-winner Lisa Halliday signals that the world of her first novel, Asymmetry, will be more like that found behind Lewis Carroll's looking glass than the more prosaic one in front of it. Young editor Alice Dodge is sitting on a New York City park bench trying to read a dense book when Ezra, a famous novelist 50 years her senior, sits beside her. She is drawn by his fame and conversational flair. Asymmetry takes off into the quotation mark-filled love affair of two literary sorts navigating the shifting terrain of geriatric sex positions and unscheduled trips to hospitals and pharmacies.

Then, as if slipping through that looking glass, the novel shifts to the story of Amar Jaafari, the son of California immigrants from Iraq. He is trapped in customs detention at Heathrow trying to prove he is neither a threat nor a deadbeat. In question mark-free long paragraphs recounting an ambivalent relationship with his family, faith and Iraqi origins, his story dips into the miasma of Iraq's post-Saddam politics and upheaval.

Despite its disparate pair of stories, Asymmetry adeptly concludes in a short coda interview with Ezra after he finally wins a Nobel Prize. Reflecting on his favorite music (Schubert's Im Abendrot) and book (Joyce's Ulysses), he opines on the role of literature--thoughts that could also be said of Halliday's gifted debut: "It is human nature to try to impose order and form on even the most defiantly chaotic and amorphous stuff of life.... Some of us wage war. Others write books." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Deftly combining two stories that are distinctive in style and content, Whiting Award-winner Lisa Halliday's Asymmetry is a stellar piece of writing and a bold debut.

Simon & Schuster, $26, hardcover, 288p., 9781501166761

Madness Is Better Than Defeat

by Ned Beauman


In a madcap yet cerebral thriller, London author Ned Beauman (Boxer, Beetle) riffs on Hollywood's Golden Age as well as the histories of natural disaster and mental instability surrounding jungle epics like Apocalypse Now.

Young scoundrel Elias Coehorn is dragged into his father's office, where Elias Sr. informs him that he will voyage to Honduras, disassemble a hidden temple and ship it back to New York City--or face disinheritance. At the same time, Jervis Whelt, a young film school professor, is appointed director of a jungle epic by powerful and reclusive Hollywood mogul Arnold Spindler. Spindler sends Whelt and his cast and crew to Honduras to shoot on location at the very same temple, but they arrive to find Coehorn's team already disassembling it. Neither Whelt nor Coehorn will back down on their different plans for the temple, and so both teams simply stay in the jungle, where they form two roughly cobbled rival nations who fashion dictatorships and democracies, bicker and reproduce as the years pass.

Despite a huge cast, varying from zany to sympathetic to evil as the day is long, Beauman avoids an overstuffed mess by leaving no one unconnected from the central narrative and souping up his writing with a liberal dose of crackling one-liners. The resultant experience feels akin to taking a psychotropic drug via reading, as appears to be Beauman's cheerful intention. Reminiscent of the Coen Brothers at their best, Madness Is Better Than Defeat is a strange, brilliant and satisfying trip to a more entertaining version of history. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Two expeditions from 1938 New York collide at a Mayan temple in Honduras that exerts a strange pull on all who learn of it.

Knopf, $27.95, hardcover, 416p., 9780385352994

Mystery & Thriller

The Pope of Palm Beach

by Tim Dorsey


For almost 20 years, former Tampa Tribune reporter Tim Dorsey (Coconut Cowboy) has been popping out comic crime novels at the rate of about one a year. They star the obsessive, morally indignant Serge Storms and his wingman, Coleman, with his "marijuana tar pit of [a] brainpan." Together they drive hoopties across the backroads and mangroves of the Sunshine State, searching out historical curiosities and wreaking vengeance on scoundrels with creative Rube Goldberg violence. In The Pope of Palm Beach, Dorsey reins in the craziness a bit as the two buddies take their 1969 seafoam-green Chevy Nova on a literary tour of South Florida--from Hemingway and McGuane's Keys to Willeford and Leonard's Riviera Beach. The latter is the place where Coleman and Serge grew up in the 1960s, and strip mall businesses now "conducted an industry of going out of business."

Interjected between Serge and Coleman's childhoods and their literary pilgrimage are righteous punishments of a Big Pharma price abuser, an unlicensed toxic waste dumper and drunken youngsters messing with loggerhead turtles. At the heart of the novel is the primo longboard surfer Darby Pope, loved by all and a mentor to the young surfer Kenny. With Darby's encouragement, Kenny becomes an aspiring fiction writer. In the subplot of Kenny's eventual writing success, Dorsey tones down his usual shenanigans to share his thoughts on the craft of writing: read good writing--a lot of it--write every day and rewrite endlessly. Darby critiques Kenny's first-draft novel: "It's bad.... I feel like I'm reading writing. Just have a conversation with the reader." There's no better place for a good conversation than a Tim Dorsey novel. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Amid the usual tomfoolery, Dorsey's new Serge and Coleman romp across Florida also scatters enlightening nuggets about the tools of a successful novelist.

William Morrow, $26.99, hardcover, 352p., 9780062429254

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place

by Alan Bradley


Intrepid sleuth Flavia de Luce has turned 12, but that hasn't changed her inquisitive nature. She and her older sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, are on vacation with their faithful servant, Dogger, as they try to move past the tragic events of Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd. As always, however, death stalks Flavia. The sisters are with Dogger, punting down the river, when Flavia's trailing fingers lodge in the open mouth of a dead man floating just beneath the surface.

The murdered man turns out to be the son of a famous local poisoner, who was hung for his crimes the year before, and Flavia--chemist and poison expert--is ecstatic. She and Dogger realize that the local constabulary are probably not up to solving a case of this magnitude, so Flavia immediately begins questioning everyone in town, including the undertaker, circus roustabouts and the local pub owner. Can she solve the crime before the murderer gets away with another one? And, astonishingly, are her sisters going to be an asset, rather than scornfully ignoring her as usual?

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place is almost a reset of the Flavia de Luce series, with Bradley harking back to the charms of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and A Red Herring Without Mustard. He lets Flavia be her hilarious, inimical best, and perfectly captures village life in 1950s Britain. Historical fiction and mystery readers alike are sure to rejoice at getting to spend another afternoon in Flavia's agreeable world. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this delightful novel, 12-year-old chemist Flavia de Luce works to solve another murder case.

Delacorte Press, $26, hardcover, 384p., 9780345539991

Science Fiction & Fantasy

How to Stop Time

by Matt Haig


Tom Hazard appears to be a vibrant and wise 41-year-old, but he's actually lived for 439 years. Ancient Tom suffers from anageria, a rare condition that develops in puberty, where the physical aging process slows down--he ages only one year for every 13 or 14.

Tom was born in 1581, in France, where his mother was accused of witchery and came to a tragic end, forcing orphaned Tom to flee to England in 1599. There he was befriended by a young woman named Rose and fell in love. The secrecy of Tom's rare condition, however--and his fear of meeting a fate similar to his mother's--sadly cuts their relationship short.

Throughout a braided timeline that spans centuries, Tom is aided by an underground society of anageria sufferers--albas, short for albatrosses--who protect each other and carefully guard the secret of their long lives. He shares adventures with notable historical figures such as William Shakespeare, Captain Cook and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Through it all, however, Rose remains his cherished true love. When he returns to London in the present day, to teach history in the same neighborhood where he once lived with Rose, he is forced finally to reconcile his place in the world--past, present and future.

The lively creativity of Matt Haig (The Humans) continues to delight and enchant readers. In How to Stop Time, he offers a well-drawn cast of vivid characters embroiled in an inventive, fast-paced story that successfully blends fantasy, romance, comedy and adventure. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A middle-aged-looking 439-year-old man is forced to reconcile the adventurous experiences of his very long life.

Viking, $26, hardcover, 336p., 9780525522874

Biography & Memoir

Brooklyn in Love: A Delicious Memoir of Food, Family, and Finding Yourself

by Amy Thomas


Miranda was the character from Sex and the City who moved to Brooklyn, but it's Carrie, with her romanticism for food, friends, New York and Paris, that Amy Thomas seems most to emulate in Brooklyn in Love. Indeed, Carrie's carefree singlehood is referenced more than once in this memoir about a single 30-something finding love in Manhattan and moving to Brooklyn to start a new, more domestic life.

But Thomas's story isn't all memorable dates and boozy brunches with girlfriends. Laced throughout this tale of love is another--the story of how she fell in love all over again with New York's restaurant scene after two years in Paris. (This book follows her first memoir, Paris, My Sweet, which offered a chronicle of fine food and dining in France's most romantic city.) In Brooklyn in Love, food serves as both adventure and emotional comfort, as each momentous occasion in her life--meeting the man she'll marry, the actual proposal, the evening she learned she'd miscarried their baby--is celebrated or lamented in one of New York's most iconic eateries. Short inter-chapters delve into the history of the restaurants she visits, providing useful guides to readers interested in learning more about New York's strange and wide array of delicious food options.

Amusing, moving and informative, Brooklyn in Love will thrill foodies and New York romantics alike. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A fun and heartfelt memoir about the difficult journey of falling in love in New York City and the restaurants the author visited along the way.

Sourcebooks, $15.99, paperback, 288p., 9781492645917

The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border

by Francisco Cantú


The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantú, a former U.S. Border Patrol agent, is a raw, unfiltered look into the lives of Mexican migrants trying to cross into the U.S., desperate to earn a living and improve their circumstances. It is also a portrait of the agents whose job it is to thwart those ambitions. Cantú keenly observes the human cost of migration and the toll it takes on those involved in enforcing what he refers to as "an unnatural divide" between two countries. With reflections on the desert border that are infused with poetic imagery, and observations concerning the historical relationship between Mexico and the U.S., The Line Becomes a River provides valuable insight into a world most of us know too little about.

Border crossing crackdowns by the U.S. have increased the business of human smuggling organized by violent and ruthless drug cartels. Cantú tries to understand the psychology of the violence he witnesses, his sleeping hours terrorized by the lives he has disrupted because of doing his job well. The border becomes unbearably personal for Cantú, and when the opportunity arises for redemption, the reader fervently hopes that he will seize it and claim the moral high ground.

This soulful, captivating memoir transcends politics and focuses on the common humanity of our world. Cantú's storytelling gracefully conveys a haunted sense of the migrant's plight, her fierce desire to survive coupled with the odds of getting caught or killed. Cantú gently discourages readers from passing judgment on fellow human beings. Instead, he fosters a sense of admiration for the migrant's resolve, and wonder as to whether we could ever be as brave. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: The Line Becomes a River is a beautifully written memoir by a former U.S. Border Patrol agent.

Riverhead Books, $26, hardcover, 256p., 9780735217713

Religion

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

by Bart D. Ehrman


Bart D. Ehrman (How Jesus Became God) has made a cottage industry of writing relatively brief, accessible books about early Christian history. In The Triumph of Christianity, he examines the religion's remarkable success in converting the better part of the Roman world in only a few centuries.

One reason for this was Christianity's exclusivity. Pagan religions did not demand that worshippers of certain gods turn away from others. Ehrman does point to pagan practitioners of henotheism, which lets worshippers focus on a single god without denying the existence of other deities. He suggests that henotheism may have prepared the ground for some Christian converts to recognize one all-powerful God, including, possibly, Emperor Constantine. More importantly, when pagans converted to Christianity, they renounced all other gods. A convert necessarily became an apostate to all of paganism, so that more Christians meant fewer pagans.

Ehrman also writes at length about Christianity as a missionary religion. While pagans had a precedent for monotheism in their Jewish neighbors, "we don't know of any missionary religions in the pagan world." The evangelizing mission of the Christian church was thus "unparalleled and unprecedented."

These are only a few of the explanations for Christianity's success that Ehrman examines. His account is measured and grounded, but nevertheless an astounding tale of a persecuted religion that swept the ancient world with shocking rapidity. Readers are left to judge the benefits and drawbacks of Christianity's triumph for themselves. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Discover: The Triumph of Christianity examines the religion's rapid expansion and eventual dominance of both the Roman Empire and Western culture as a whole.

Simon & Schuster, $28, hardcover, 352p., 9781501136702

Sports

Limits of the Known

by David Roberts


For more than half a century, mountaineer David Roberts has ventured into the unknown, climbing peaks, running untested waterways and hiking into canyons that haven't been visited by humans for hundreds of years. In Limits of the Known, Roberts wistfully recounts many of his adventures, triumphs and a few unsuccessful attempts, while coming to grips with the fact that he is dying of throat and lung cancer.

He skillfully blends his own narratives with those of the explorers and adventurers who have come before him, and of those who are undertaking expeditions in areas where Roberts is not a master. Readers learn of the trials polar explorers endured in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when being the first to reach the poles captured the imagination and spurred those who were willing to push themselves to impossible limits. Once the poles were obtained, climbing the highest summits in the world became the next target, which Roberts readily admits became his own passion and obsession.

Always seeking the next adrenaline rush, Roberts also joined several whitewater rafting expeditions where he plunged down unknown rivers, despite his inability to swim. This in turn leads to cave explorations. These tales are juxtaposed against Roberts's slow acknowledgement that he will no longer be at the forefront of any of these new explorations, that death is the last great unknown. Limits of the Known can be considered Roberts's swan song, a beautiful treatise on the extremes humans will go to in order better to understand ourselves and the world we live in for such a brief time. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A veteran mountain climber remembers his own accomplishments and those of other explorers while he confronts the greatest unknown, his own death.

Norton, $26.95, hardcover, 336p., 9780393609868

Children's & Young Adult

The Prince and the Dressmaker

by Jen Wang


Jen Wang's graphic novel The Prince and the Dressmaker immerses readers in an aristocratic "Paris, at the dawn of the modern age," full of dazzling high fashion and high-stakes romance.

Prince Sebastian has a secret. Sixteen and heir to the throne, Sebastian knows he must marry soon and take on the responsibilities of the monarchy. He also knows that "[i]f anybody found out the prince wore dresses, it would ruin the whole family," but he feels the most comfortable, the most himself, when he's wearing women's clothing. At a ball in his honor, he sees an extraordinary gown and immediately hires the creator--a young seamstress named Frances--to be his secret personal seamstress and designer.

And so, Frances begins covertly designing for Prince Sebastian. The more she works, the more she grows and develops her own style, while Prince Sebastian grows more confident and begins to step out in Frances's gowns under the pseudonym Lady Crystallia. Crystallia becomes a trendsetter with her avant-garde couture, which should mean big things for Frances. But Sebastian insists that Frances's connection to him be kept secret at all costs.

Jen Wang's (In Real Life) first solo endeavor for young readers is downright charming, depicting two teens finding themselves and their paths in a patriarchal and heteronormative world. Frances and Prince Sebastian's growing relationship is treated with great care, as are the problems each of them faces. Wang's illustrations are expressive and full of movement, the panels moving the story swiftly along as the characters break free from their borders and commandeer half and full pages for themselves. The Prince and the Dressmaker is a gentle, sweet-without-the-saccharine graphic novel for middle-grade readers that depicts the great happiness and love that can come with self-acceptance. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A seamstress finds her vision and a young prince gains confidence in himself when the prince hires the seamstress to design his dresses.

First Second, $16.99, paperback, 288p., ages 10-up, 9781626723634

The Belles

by Dhonielle Clayton


The Belles, the first book in Dhonielle Clayton's (Tiny Pretty Things) new series, begins with the origin story of Orléans: the God of the Sky and the Goddess of Beauty fell in love and had children. Beauty spent so much time with their human offspring that the God of the Sky grew jealous and cursed his children "with skin the color of a sunless sky, eyes the shade of blood, hair the texture of rotten straw, and a deep sadness." Beauty, unable to undo the curse, "sent the Belles to... bring beauty back to the damned world."

Camellia has just turned 16. "For any normal girl that would mean raspberry and lemon macarons and tiny pastel blimps.... Maybe even a teacup elephant." But for Camellia and her sisters, it is their debut: today is the Beauté Carnaval, when the new batch of Belles is introduced. All six young women will display their skills, painfully reshaping a child until she is a shining example of the unusual beauty only a Belle can produce. All six will be given work placements, but only one will be chosen as the Queen's favorite. Camellia is determined to be that one. But Orléans is not what she expected. Raised in seclusion, the Belles are naïve, unaware of the dangers they will face. The "blood of the Goddess of Beauty" runs in their veins and the desperate-to-be-beautiful people of Orléans will do anything to gain access to that blood.

Clayton's world dazzles, so sensually descriptive that the simple act of reading feels like a luxury. It is a world in which beauty can be bought, but achieved only through significant pain; a world so alluring, readers may be unable to leave it behind, even after the turn of the final page. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor

Discover: The Belles, Dhonielle Clayton's evocative and exciting new fantasy, is a perfect next-read for lovers of Stephanie Garber's Caraval.

Freeform/Disney, $17.99, hardcover, 448p., ages 12-up, 9781484728499

Sakura's Cherry Blossoms

by Robert Paul Weston, illus. by Misa Saburi


With a name that means "cherry blossom," Sakura's favorite time of the year is understandably spring, when her namesake blooms. Her grandmother gently nurtures her floral appreciation: "Together they sat/ in the shade of pink petals/... They ate bento box lunches./ They told each other stories." Surrounded by beauty, Sakura's Obaachan teaches her that "seeing these blossoms in bloom/ is always finest with friends."

And then Sakura's father begins "a new job in America," moving the family away from Japan and Obaachan. Sakura's initial loneliness gives way to new friendship with Luke, who shares with her his astral fascination: " 'Flowers are like stars,' " Sakura notices. " 'They blossom,/ they sparkle, and then/ they fade, so we treasure them/ because one day they vanish.' " So do grandparents, Sakura realizes too soon, and the family returns to Japan to say goodbye to her beloved Obaachan. When spring returns, Sakura will remember well her grandmother's words, that "watching cherry blossoms bloom/ is always finest with friends."

In his picture book debut, Sakura's Cherry Blossoms, Robert Paul Weston pays homage to the cherry blossoms of Japan's Mount Yoshino, the foothills of which he called home in his 20s. Using tanka--a five-lined, 5-7-5-7-7-syllabled traditional Japanese poem--Weston clearly channels his own wandering experiences (British-born, Canadian-raised, world-traveled, now London-domiciled) of navigating the challenges of new locations, languages and cultures. Artist Misa Saburi, similarly attuned to East and West, illustrates a traditional hanami (cherry blossom viewing) and a "boisterous" morning arrival at school with equal fluency. Despite their own dislocations, Weston and Saburi's artistic expressions align on the page in a complementary way, highlighting the bonding experiences of family, friendship, natural beauty and, of course, Sakura's cherry blossoms. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: For Sakura, the memories of her adored grandmother back in Japan and a new friendship with the boy next door help ease the challenges of moving across the world.

Tundra, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-7, 9781101918746

If I Die Tonight
by Alison Gaylin
ISBN-13: 9780062641090
William Morrow & Company
March 6, 2018


an exclusive interview with bestselling author Alison Gaylin   
 

Your novel IF I DIE TONIGHT contains subtle messages on issues like social media, teenage angst, divorce, loyalty, and vengeance, and you’re also a devoted plotter. How do you create the mystery?

Alison Gaylin: “I don’t like it when the solution comes out of nowhere. Whatever happens in a novel, it’s got to be earned. That’s important. I’d rather have readers figure out the mystery than say, ‘I never would have guessed that.’ Sometimes, when I think I’ve telegraphed too much, I’ll go back and cut down on some of the clues, so it’s not too obvious. The key to writing mysteries is keeping in mind that everybody’s got a secret. Sometimes they are huge, and sometimes almost nothing. But these are things the characters don’t want revealed, and if each of these secrets come out during the course of the book, that creates pretty good suspense. As writers, we can’t help but state our point of view on the world, especially writing crime fiction because it’s about social issues. But when we start crossing the line, people start to lose interest.  But if I can get someone to see a greater truth and if I can get people to say, ‘Oh, my gosh, I never looked it that way,’ that’s the best thing that can happen.”

 Read the rest of the interview here.

 

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