Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, September 29, 2020


Workman Publishing: Back-to-School Help is Here with Brain Quest, America's #1 Educational Bestseller!

From My Shelf

Ballantine Books: The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: Spindlefish and Stars by Christiane M Andrews

Calkins Creek Books: The Teachers March!: How Selma's Teachers Changed History by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace, illustrated by Charly Palmer

Informed Voting

President Obama's 2008 election victory inspired me to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. Until then I was content to remain a resident, a "green card" holder unable to vote but fully engaged in all other aspects of American civic life. Taking the oath of citizenship was almost a spiritual experience, conferring as it did the sacred right to participate in this great country's precious democracy.

The naturalization process teaches aspiring citizens some of the history and function of government, but it doesn't address the practical side of exercising one's right to vote. Fortunately Kim Wehle's recently released What You Need to Know About Voting--and Why (Harper Paperbacks, $17.99) offers a bounty of resources for voters across the political spectrum, including a two-step "recipe" for voting, an "ingredient" list for staying registered, and instructions for navigating the different voting rules in each state.

For an unadulterated, neutral discussion of election year topics such as the economy, education, foreign policy and healthcare, the fourth edition of Jessamyn Conrad's What You Should Know About Politics but Don't: A Nonpartisan Guide to the Issues that Matter (Arcade, $16.99) is an excellent starting point. Conrad's role, she says, is to decode political spin, expose "all sides of the story" and offer readers a convenient guide to inform their voting choices.

Pramila Jayapal's ascent from foreign student at Georgetown University to influential member of the House of Representatives offers a striking example of an immigrant's journey to becoming an American and an activist. Use the Power You Have: A Brown Woman's Guide to Politics and Political Change (The New Press, $27.99) presents the Washington State congresswoman's moral vision on issues such as immigration, health care and the minimum wage and emphasizes the power of an engaged, informed electorate to drive social change. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer


Simon & Schuster: Unicorns Are the Worst! by Alex Willan


Book Candy

10 Books About Social Media

Author Matthew Sperling shared his top 10 books about social media with the Guardian.

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"How a team of calligraphers brought Jane Austen's fictional letters to life." (via Atlas Obscura)

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"More/moor than/then two/too/to." Merriam Webster featured a homophone quiz.

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"Read Roald Dahl's heartbreaking 1986 letter about the importance of vaccinations. (via Mental Floss)

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"Horrifying women: 7 novels with diabolical villainesses" were chosen by Denise Jarrott of the New York Public Library.

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"Discovered: the user manual for the oldest surviving computer in the world." (via Open Culture)


DC Comics: Joe Hill Presents Hill House Comics

Introducing Hill House Comics

Joe Hill

DC's Hill House Comics is a new line of original, cutting-edge horror graphic novels that is being curated by horror writer Joe Hill, who is also the author of two of the first five titles from the imprint. With works by some of the biggest names in horror storytelling, Hill House Comics aims to terrify readers with a smart, subversive and scary lineup, each with a slightly different flavor of horror.

The first five titles are being published at a time when horror is having its moment. One sign of that it's the season for horror: The Low, Low Woods, being published today and written by Carmen Maria Machado, with art by Dani, has been nominated for the Indies Next list! (More on The Low, Low Woods in the following article.)

The other four initial titles:

Basketful of Heads written by Joe Hill and art by Leomacs, which was published on Tuesday, September 8 ($24.99, 9781779502971).

The Dollhouse Family written by Mike Carey with art by Peter Gross, which will be published on October 13 ($24.99, 9781779504647).

Daphne Byrne written by Laura Marks with art by Kelley Jones, which appears November 3 ($24.99, 9781779504654).

Plunge written by Joe Hill with art by Stuart Immonen, which will be published November 17 ($24.99, 9781779506887).

Joe Hill, of course, is the author of many bestselling horror titles. including The Fireman and Heart-Shaped Box; Horns, which was made into a feature film starring Daniel Radcliffe; NOS4A2, which is a forthcoming TV series from AMC; the story collection 20th Century Ghosts, winner of the Bram Stoker Award and British Fantasy Award for Best Collection; and Strange Weather, a collection of novellas, published three years ago. His long-running comic book series Locke & Key, featuring the art of Gabriel Rodriguez, won him the Eisner Award for Best Writer.

The idea for Hill House Comics goes back at least to 2016 when Joe Hill and Mark Doyle began talking about "me taking a dip in the Sandman Universe," Joe Hill says. "Eventually, though, we started talking about how the last few years have represented a kind of golden age for horror. Every year brings a new wave of smart, expertly crafted films in the genre, like It Follows and Get Out; the streaming channels are having a horror gold rush with shows like Lovecraft Country and The Haunting of Hill House; a new generation of brilliant horror writers (most of them women) are making scare with shockers like Sarah Pinborough's Behind Your Eyes and Catriona Ward's forthcoming The Last House on Needless Street. I wanted comics to get into the action and Mark said why not?"

Asked about elements the first five Hill House Comics graphic novels share, Joe Hill says, "This was something all of us talked about: taking these very different stories and finding little ways to bind them together. On a visual level, there's a shared color palette, which I sometimes describe as 'three drops of blood stirred into cream.'

"On the level of narrative, I've foisted my almost certainly ridiculous ideas about story math on all the writers. They miiiiiight also be shared universe? Certainly there are narrative connections between some of these tales, although I've sworn not to give away any details."

To say Joe Hill has enjoyed working on Hill House Comics is an understatement. "There were a lot of highs," he says. "I don't know that I could just pick one. Reading the script for Carmen Maria Machado's first chapter of The Low, Low Woods, which was like drinking a perfectly made old fashioned. The page where Daphne Byrne literally feeds a predator his own hand. A masterfully grotesque image, dreamt up by Laura Marks, and executed with a delicious lack of restraint by Kelley Jones. Leomac's light touch with a character moment, his ability to find a comic tenderness in a woman lifting a supernaturally animated severed head and wiping away the snot under his nose. M.R. Carey's calm, disciplined mastery. Every time Stuart turned in a new page. The way David Stewart colors a shaft of light falling through a murky cloudscape. Oh, oh, oh! And we did a back-up feature about werewolves winning the revolutionary war. For some reason every single page artist Dan McDaid turned in made me laugh, especially when he began flinging around the gore. I can't explain it. The dude just made me cry with laughter."

Joe Hill hopes that booksellers and librarians understand their key role in the comic book world, saying, "It's more important than ever that booksellers and librarians pick up the banner for comic books--the artform has never needed their support more. The vast majority of comic lovers never set foot in a comic shop! They discover their next favorite read at the library or their local indie bookstore. Think of the graphic novel section as the punk rock section in a record store. For a certain kind of reader, graphic novels are a shot of adrenaline mixed with a shooter of validation... they're confirmation that it's okay to have a head whirling with ideas about horror movies and superheroes and the permeability of reality.

"As for the Hill House imprint, these are good stories for people who love Stranger Things and Sandman, who want a rush in the dark that ends with a scream and a shout of laughter."


The Low, Low Woods

The Low, Low Woods. Written by Carmen Maria Machado, art by Dani, covers by Sam Wolfe Connelly and J.A.W. Cooper ($24.99, 9781779504524, September 29).

Nominated for the Indie Next list, The Low, Low Woods is set in Shudder-to-Think, Pennsylvania, which is plagued by a mysterious illness that eats away at the memories of those affected by it. El and Octavia are best friends who find themselves the newest victims of this disease after waking up in a movie theater with no memory of the past few hours. As El and Vee dive deeper into the mystery behind their lost memories, they realize the stories of their town hold more dark truth than they could've imagined and that no one around them is entirely what they seem, except perhaps for the Skinless Men in the deep woods and the Deer Woman who appears by moonlight.... It's up to El and Vee to keep their town from falling apart and keep the world safe from Shudder-to-Think's monsters.

Carmen Maria Machado calls The Low, Low Woods "Pennsylvania Gothic, body horror, environmental horror. There a lot of different sub-genres going on." The book, she continues, features two striking young women. "I wanted them to be women of color, I wanted them to be queer, and I wanted them to be the kind of people with whom we'd be really interested in exploring this world," she says. "So you have El, who is a reader, and a writer--they're both sort of dirtbag teens, but she’s especially a dirtbag teen. Just being herself, but also has a lot of questions, and is trying to aggressively pursue answers to the various mysteries of the place where they live. Octavia is very cool and analytical, and is interested in certain mysteries, but there are others that she wants to leave behind, because she just wants to get out of town. They have a different energy, and it was important to me to have that conflict. In many ways they're compatible and similar, which makes sense because they're good friends who really love each other, but also there is this tension between them, about what to do about certain elements of the story."

The Low, Low Woods is the first graphic novel Machado has written, and she found that perspective was different in this medium compared to her other work. "In fiction, you tell stories with perspective, but in this, I could have a person talking, and a voice narrating, and a visual perspective. It's way more complicated, but it also creates a lot more space for the tension of horror--visually, it gives you even more stuff to think about."

Working with artist Dani has been "amazing," Machado says. "I can't draw to save my life, so watching her transform my imagination into these physical images has been really, really incredible."

She also has enjoyed working with Joe Hill. "Joe is not only brilliant in writing comics, but also he's a lovely, kind, generous human, who just gives really good writing advice. I've been overjoyed to have him as a part of this process, because he's done a lot for me, and gotten me to think in different ways about what I'm doing. I'm really grateful to him."

Machado is the author of the memoir In the Dream House and the short story collection Her Body and Other Parties. She was a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the Bard Fiction Prize, the Lambda Literary Award for Literature Fiction, the Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Nonfiction, the Brooklyn Public Library Literature Prize, the Shirley Jackson Award, and the National Book Critics' Circle's John Leonard Prize. Her essays, fiction, and criticism have appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, Granta, Vogue, This American Life, Harper's Bazaar, Tin House, McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, The Believer, Guernica, Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy, Best American Nonrequired Reading, and elsewhere.


Great Reads

Rediscover: Sam McBratney

Sam McBratney, author of Guess How Much I Love You, died September 18 at age 77. McBratney wrote more than 50 books, but as Candlewick Press said, "he achieved international acclaim with the 1994 publication of Guess How Much I Love You, which features a spirited yet tender bedtime competition between two nutbrown hares and the now iconic illustrations of Anita Jeram. Now considered a children's book classic, Guess How Much I Love You has sold over 50 million copies worldwide, been translated into 57 languages, and serves as the cornerstone of a global licensing program." It also popularized the phrase "I love you to the moon and back." McBratney himself described it as "a lighthearted little story designed to help a big one and a wee one enjoy the pleasure of being together."

McBratney's companion to Guess How Much I Love You, titled Will You Be My Friend? (Candlewick, $17.99), has a global publishing date of today, September 29. The author had said about the sequel: "When writing about the hares, I aim to describe moments of emotional significance but with loads of humor and the lightest of touches. This story is about one of those moments. Little Nutbrown Hare's world suddenly glows with the discovery of friendship."


Walrus Publishing: Campaigning Can Be Deadly, Volume 2 by Charlotte Stuart


Book Review

Fiction

Straight from the Horse's Mouth

by Meryem Alaoui, trans. by Emma Ramadan


Contemporary Morocco is the setting for Meryem Alaoui's lively debut novel about a sex worker with an indomitable spirit. In Straight from the Horse's Mouth, translated from the French by Emma Ramadan, Jmiaa introduces herself by saying, "To live, I use what I've got." And what she's got, beside her body, is moxie to spare. Jmiaa admonishes readers, "You only have one life. What's the point of filling it with nothing?"

She fills her life with television, drinking and, obviously, her work. Jmiaa relates her experiences as a sex worker with brutal honesty and a shrug, but she never sees herself as a victim. She lives with Halima, another sex worker who frustrates Jmiaa with her defeatism. Halima was respectable before circumstances led her to Jmiaa's tiny, squalid apartment, and she seems to be wallowing in her fate. Jmiaa, on the other hand, is determined to keep her eyes open for opportunities to move forward. So, when she's tapped to play a sex worker in an indie film being shot in her neighborhood, she jumps at it. Unsurprisingly, her larger-than-life personality transfers to the big screen, and she experiences a life she was sure she was meant for all along.

Jmiaa isn't entirely likable, yet her charisma never flags. This is a funny and profane book; joyful in its celebration of a life lived expansively and filled with the sights and sounds of Casablanca. Straight from the Horse's Mouth received critical acclaim when it was first published in France, and will be equally welcome in this ebullient English translation. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: This novel of a year in the life of a brassy, clever Moroccan sex-worker is funny and profane, rich with the sights and sounds of Casablanca.

Other Press, $16.99, paperback, 304p., 9781892746795

Johns Hopkins University Press: The Doctor Who Fooled the World: Science, Deception, and the War on Vaccines by Brian Deer


Mystery & Thriller

One by One

by Ruth Ware


Ruth Ware's engrossing One by One opens with a BBC News story headlined "4 Britons Dead in Ski Resort Tragedy." The report states the victims were found after an avalanche in a "house of horror," which in its better days is an exclusive chalet high up in the French Alps.

The mystery cuts to five days earlier, when 10 guests arrive at the chalet, all part of a tech startup that created a popular music app called Snoop. On staff at the resort are Erin and Danny, with Erin handling guest relations and Danny the culinary duties. The guests are ostensibly there for a ski retreat, but the more important item on the agenda is deciding whether or not to accept a company buyout offer. Tensions mount as the players disagree, and when the chalet loses power after an avalanche, everyone is trapped together at the top of the mountain. And then, one by one, people start getting murdered. Will the killings continue until there are none?

One of Ware's (The Lying Game; In a Dark, Dark Wood; The Woman in Cabin 10) strengths is propelling the story in a way that keeps readers trapped inside its pages, and armchair travelers can enjoy being whisked away to a location that's both breathtaking and deadly. Anyone familiar with Agatha Christie's work--specifically And Then There Were None, to which this pays obvious homage--might find One by One predictable at times, but Ware gives it a modern twist and an exciting, literally chilling denouement. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: Trapped at a remote chalet in the French Alps after an avalanche, 10 guests are murdered one by one in this Agatha Christie-like mystery.

Gallery/Scout, $27.99, hardcover, 384p., 9781501188817

Viking: The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd


Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Constant Rabbit

by Jasper Fforde


Jasper Fforde (Early Riser; The Eyre Affair) has created a darkly funny satire of modern politics in The Constant Rabbit. It is 2022 and, due to the Spontaneous Anthropomorphizing Event of 1965, there are now more than a million human-sized, talking rabbits living in the United Kingdom.

The rabbits are polite, and mostly take the lower-class jobs that humans don't want. But right-wing politicians, concerned at how quickly rabbits could procreate if they wanted to, warn about the danger to English culture if rabbits are allowed to leave their government mandated warrens: "Let one family in and pretty soon they'll all be here." Middle-aged Peter Knox is a tiny cog in the large machine of a government agency that surveils rabbits--until a rabbit family moves into his village, and he's informed that he has to start spying on Doc and Constance Rabbit. But the thing is, Peter knows Connie--they went to college together--and Peter doesn't want anything bad to happen to the Rabbits. But he also doesn't want to lose his job.

With his trademark quirky flair, Fforde uses Knox to show what can happen when well-meaning people do nothing in the face of fascism. Rabbit causes clearly parallel political stakes in today's world, but with a layer of absurdity created by rabbit cultural oddities like dueling and gamboling ("sort of like mixing jazz dancing and yoga"). Funny and bitingly incisive, The Constant Rabbit is a standalone novel that showcases Fforde's unconventional writing at its very best. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: This satirical fantasy parallels right-wing attitudes toward immigrants in an alternate England, where more than a million human-sized, talking rabbits are being oppressed by the government.

Viking, $28, hardcover, 320p., 9780593296523

Dial Books: Kitties on Dinosaurs by Michael Slack


History

Sex with Presidents: The Ins and Outs of Love and Lust in the White House

by Eleanor Herman


Eleanor Herman (Sex with the Queen and Sex with Kings) continues her unflinching nonfiction series on the insatiable libidos of powerful people by turning the spotlight on American presidents in Sex with Presidents.

Titillating whispers and outright scandal have long surrounded Thomas Jefferson, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, but all the juicy details are expounded upon, and six more presidents get called out for their ribald behavior. Grover Cleveland, the only one to serve two nonconsecutive terms, was the first of three presidents accused of rape. President Woodrow Wilson maintained a public affair with a married socialite while his wife remained at home battling kidney failure. Warren G. Harding checked himself into a sanitarium (twice!), attempting to cure sex addiction with Kellogg's Cornflakes. Eleonor Roosevelt detested sex with her philandering husband, Franklin, but that didn't deter her from leading a sexually fluid lifestyle. Ten presidents, three first ladies and two well-known figures who aspired to be leader of the free world are dragged through mud in this must-keep-reading book.

Eleanor Herman's poison-pen dissection of lauded historical figures is startling in scope and revelation. Herman readily admits many of her claims rely on hearsay and speculation, due to the destruction of thousands of letters and diaries, but she cites 53 different authors' works to back up the existence of such documents and the veracity of her claims. One thing the author does make clear with her engrossing documentation: as long as politicians keep the economy running smoothly, Americans don't really care what happens behind closed doors. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer

Discover: The wild and reckless sex-capades of some highly respected public figures are harshly illuminated in the provocatively entertaining Sex with Presidents.

Morrow, $27.99, hardcover, 384p., 9780062970565

Main Street Publishing: Temple of Eternity by R Scott Boyer


Social Science

How to They/Them: A Visual Guide to Nonbinary Pronouns and the World of Gender Fluidity

by Stuart Getty, illus. by Brooke Thyng


Genderqueer writer and filmmaker Stuart Getty's How to They/Them: A Visual Guide to Nonbinary Pronouns and the World of Gender Fluidity is a charming, often witty and useful guide to a serious subject.

Aided by cartoon-style illustrations from Brooke Thyng, Getty tackles big questions, using a generous helping of personal anecdotes to make their points. They explain the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation, and how both relate to the question of sex assigned at birth. They outline a range of possible gender identifications beyond the binary he/she. They explain why someone might prefer to use the pronoun "they," and place that usage in both historical and multicultural context--obliterating the argument that it is "not grammatical" in the process.

With the background of who, why and what established, Getty moves on to a wide-ranging discussion of practical questions about using they, both for those who identify as they and those who don't. Much of their advice boils down to being polite and not assuming, recognizing that both may be difficult at first. They also point out structural issues that organizations can address to be more gender inclusive. In what may be the most important section, they tackle the difficult questions of talking to a friend or relative who refuses to use your correct pronouns, as well as talking to kids about pronouns.

Getty begins and ends with the assertion that their book, and the use of they as a singular pronoun, is ultimately about freedom. They make their case. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: Half Mx. Manners and half manifesto, How to They/Them is a useful guide to a gender fluid world.

Sasquatch Books, $18.95, hardcover, 240p., 9781632173133

Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America

by Laila Lalami


"American citizenship, which ought to grant the same rights to all who hold it, has been historically circumscribed by a number of conditions that are almost entirely determined by the lottery of birth." So writes award-winning novelist and professor Laila Lalami (The Other Americans; The Moor's Account) in her first nonfiction book, Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America.

This provocatively insightful cross between memoir and essay exposes what it is like to be a nonwhite American citizen, using numerous historical examples combined with deeply vulnerable accounts of Lalami's personal experiences.

As a Muslim-American from Morocco, who was naturalized shortly before 9/11, Lalami quickly learned that she could not expect the same rights and protections as a white American male. In chapters with titles such as Allegiance, Caste and Faith, she illustrates ways in which certain factors, such as race, gender and religion, can be an often-insurmountable barrier to the achievement of the American Dream.

As disturbing as these issues are to confront, Lalami's warmth and skill as a writer make this book difficult to put down. She also ends on a note of hope since, as she says, "Despair is seductive. It takes no effort and gives a way out." Instead, Lalami leaves readers with ways in which they can improve the status quo and continue the fight for true equality.

Her call to action has always been necessary, but even more strikingly amid the social turmoil stoked by the Covid-19 pandemic. --Grace Rajendran, freelance reviewer and literary events producer

Discover: Acclaimed writer Laila Lalami offers a thought-provoking and deeply personal analysis of what it means to be a nonwhite American citizen.

Pantheon, $25.95, hardcover, 208p., 9781524747169

Psychology & Self-Help

Adventures in Opting Out: A Field Guide to Leading an Intentional Life

by Cait Flanders


Adventures in Opting Out: A Field Guide to Leading an Intentional Life finds the Canadian author Cait Flanders leaving her comfortable perch in Squamish, British Columbia, to "slowly travel full-time" for a year. She books a one-way ticket to London, arriving late March 2019 with loosely laid-out plans and a desire to make temporary homes in places that suit her fancy, living the ultimate untethered existence.

An avid hiker and engaging storyteller, Flanders burst onto the self-help memoir scene with The Year of Less, documenting the year she instituted a shopping ban. With several opt-out adventures under her belt, including her decision to give up alcohol, she sees a fascinating parallel between taking a different path in life and the psychological work required to climb a mountain. She describes the ups and downs of her year abroad, and shares with humor and sincerity the unadulterated truth of what it really takes to "do the opposite of what everyone around [you] is doing." The reward, she reveals, is in the trying, and if all goes well, the satisfying ascent to a new way of living, one in which you are more yourself than before.

Adventures in Opting Out is a deeply honest emotional guide, advising readers to tune into the instincts that indicate it's time to consider a new path, whether that's giving up on goals that others expect us to follow, or rejecting the subconscious restrictions we place on ourselves. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: A sober, vegetarian, nomadic writer from British Columbia travels abroad for a year, sharing the glorious highs and inevitable societal complications of following one's own North Star.

Little, Brown Spark, $27, hardcover, 272p., 9780316536943

Science

Great Adaptations: Star-Nosed Moles, Electric Eels, and Other Tales of Evolution's Mysteries Solved

by Kenneth Catania


Scientists aren't trained to write entertainingly, but any expectation of a dull academic style is put to rest by the opening sentences of Great Adaptations: Star-Nosed Moles, Electric Eels, and Other Tales of Evolution's Mysteries Solved. Its reference to the movie The Princess Bride perfectly predicts the tone of this book: the biology covered involves "fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes... electrocution, zombification, deception, and centuries-old legends." As biologist, professor and 2006 MacArthur Fellow Kenneth Catania says in the introduction, he wants this book to show something about the process of discovery. It definitely does, including the failures, wrong turns and coincidences that sometimes lead to success, as well as how often he had to get wet and muddy. Along with describing the complicated details of experiments and theories, Catania shows how observing and wondering comes first: noticing that moles constantly blew air bubbles as they searched for food led to proof that mammals can smell underwater, which was thought to be impossible. Studying small and seemingly simple creatures can lead to answers to big questions.

Catania is an engaging narrator who sometimes studies offbeat subjects, like a collecting technique called worm grunting--which not only resulted in a publication, but also a commemorative T-shirt from the official worm grunting festival. With its combination of clearly explained science and vivid tales from the road, this is a book for anyone who is interested in the natural world and the interesting people who study it. --Linda Lombardi, writer and editor

Discover: Studying small creatures leads to big insights and vivid tales in this engaging and informative book about the scientific life.

Princeton University Press, $27.95, hardcover, 224p., 9780691195254

Art & Photography

ArtCurious: Stories of the Unexpected, Slightly Odd, and Strangely Wonderful in Art History

by Jennifer Dasal


In ArtCurious, podcaster and curator Jennifer Dasal reveals illuminating stories about the rarified world of fine art.

When many people think of art, they imagine themselves admiring lovely objects in museums, created by elite artists in a world far removed from daily life. But many works of art and the artists behind them have stories that are fascinating, surprising, sometimes simply unbelievable. During the Cold War, the CIA (through an agency called the Congress for Cultural Freedom) surreptitiously promoted abstract expressionism as the American epitome of individuality and experimentation to challenge socialist realism, the staid official style of art in the Soviet Union. Monet, whom Dasal considered "the most boring painter of my childhood," was actually subversive; along with the rest of the impressionists, he bucked the art establishment and exhibited rejected artwork in the deliciously named Salon de Refusés.

Dasal upends assumptions about what readers think they know about art and artists. Norman Rockwell, known for his sentimental Saturday Evening Post covers, created some of the most important (and grim) paintings during the Civil Rights era. Andy Warhol was a hoarder who created 610 time capsules that contained everything from business contracts to nail clippings. Dasal also considers the unlikely roots of modern art: Georgiana Houghton and Hilma af Klint, two female artists who were inspired by Victorian-era seances and spiritualism.

The art world loves conspiracy theories, and Dasal weighs in on whether or not Vincent van Gogh was murdered, if Walter Sickert was really Jack the Ripper, and if the Mona Lisa hanging in the Louvre is the real deal. Informative and fun, ArtCurious is a delightful romp. --Frank Brasile, librarian

Discover: Art degrees are not required to enjoy these intriguing and extraordinary stories behind the world's most famous works of art and artists.

Penguin Books, $17, paperback, 288p., 9780143134596

A Year in the Art World

by Matthew Israel


It was only when he started working in the art world that Matthew Israel came to understand that "art history is not just the story of artists and movements": it's also about museum directors and curators, fabricators and fair organizers, advisers and administrators, conservators and shippers. With the pleasingly wonky A Year in the Art World, Israel hopes that readers will "discover that the art world has much more to offer than eccentric celebrities, pretentious ideas and stories of record-breaking auction prices." Happily, his book includes some of that stuff, too.

Each of A Year in the Art World's 15 chapters introduces an aspect of the industry; it begins with an artist, Taryn Simon, in her New York studio, and concludes with art handlers at a Queens warehouse. Israel logs many miles, some overseas, in order to meet with art world movers and shakers who operate largely out of the limelight. Stephen Koch, who manages the estate of the photographer Peter Hujar (1934-1987), believes that "without Theo and his wife, [van Gogh's] paintings would have vanished from history."

A Year in the Art World is a look at the modern art scene, from Campbell's soup cans to nuts. Israel (Kill for Peace: American Artists Against the Vietnam War; The Big Picture: Contemporary Art in 10 Works by 10 Artists) reinforces his book's democratic premise with 16 pages of photos showing not just artists and their work but the folks who toil so that the work can be sought, seen and sold. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: The globe-trotting Matthew Israel lets the lucky reader tag along on his yearlong tour of the art world.

Thames & Hudson, $29.95, hardcover, 256p., 9780500239926

Children's & Young Adult

Nothing in Common

by Kate Hoefler, illus. by Corinna Luyken


Two neighbor children develop a special friendship despite their assumed differences in Nothing in Common, a lovely picture book by Kate Hoefler (Rabbit and the Motorbike) and Corinna Luyken (The Book of Mistakes).

Though they are neighbors, a white girl and boy "had nothing in common, so they never waved./ Except every day, they loved watching the old man with his dog." The dog could do "marvelous" things that the children "felt under the floors of their hearts." When the dog goes missing, they are the only ones who notice the old man's "LOST" posters. Because "a marvelous friend is hard to find," the girl and boy search the city for the old man's companion and soon find each other. When they see a hot air balloon floating over the city, "they were the only ones who thought a dog might be flying it--a marvelous dog who was lost and looking for his friend." Together, they pull the balloon home and return the dog to his owner, realizing along the way that they may have some things in common after all.

Poet Hoefler's whimsical narrative shines as her characters come to know one another and themselves: "They knew the same stars. And the same earth. And the same quiet rooftops they saw every night from their windows." Luyken's magical gouache, pencil and ink illustrations in contrasting reds, blues and whites--representing the surroundings of the boy, girl and dog, respectively--parallel Hoefler's narrative tone, progressively blending together into soft pinks, blues and purples as the children's friendship blossoms. Heartwarming, imaginative and beautifully illustrated, Nothing in Common is the story of how a shared experience can bring two people together through thoughtfulness, observation and compassion. --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor

Discover: United by the search for a missing dog, two children discover that they are more alike than they knew.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-7, 9780544774780

One Summer Up North

by John Owens


In his debut picture book, John Owens takes readers on a mindfulness journey through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) on the Minnesota-Canada border. This gentle, wordless adventure depicts a young child and their family exploring and enjoying the wonders of nature.

Inspired by his own trips to the BWCA, Owens illustrates the awe and wonder of this lush land: dense forest, rushing rivers, tranquil lakes and an expansive night sky. The vibrant colors, strong lines and rich impressions of texture create alluring dimensions on every enticing, double-page spread.

By limiting his book to illustration only, Owens invites his audience to take in all the dynamic details of the family's surroundings and use their imaginations to hear, smell and even taste the natural world depicted. As the interracial family paddles their canoe through a lake full of lily pads, turtles watch and geese fly overhead. Their cozy campsite is inviting, even with the soft gray lines of rain pitter-patting. Realistically illustrated wild, ripe blueberries are picked and savored. Every family member enjoys the bounty of the region and the calm of the Earth.

One Summer Up North lends itself to wonderful discussions with readers of all ages, such as identifying natural elements with preschoolers or appreciating environmental responsibility with older audiences. Owens's love of the BWCA, as described in an author's note, results here in a beautiful homage that is likely to help develop a similar respect in many others. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: A family paddles, portages and camps through the Boundary Canoe Area Wilderness in this wordless children's picture book. 

University of Minnesota Press, $17.95, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-10, 9781517909505

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