Mother's Day Reads
The joy in giving and the joy in pregnancy; caring for a child and introducing them to your traditions; the sacrifices made and the relationships built... All of these books feature loving, strong--sometimes unusual--relationships between children and their mothers and grandmothers, perfect for a Mother's Day-weekend read.
In Yasushi Muraki's board book, Mom Loves Little Jumbo (minedition, $9.99), Little Jumbo the elephant tells readers ages 3 to 5 all about Mom. The tiny, gray elephant stands next to his mother, her shadow stretching from the left-hand page to the right: "Mom is big. I am small." Mom protects and cares for Little Jumbo in a number of ways: keeping him dry during a rainstorm, catching him when he falls, playing hide-and-seek with him.... Most important, though, "my mom loves me," Little Jumbo states on the last page, as the two walk off together, "and I love my Mom."
The late Patricia McKissack joins celebrated folk artist and illustrator April Harrison to capture the joy of giving in their picture book, What Is Given from the Heart (Schwartz & Wade, $17.99, ages 4-8). After his father's death, James Otis and his mother lose their farm and move to the Bottoms. There, the African American family of two try to rebuild their lives. After a "skimpy" Christmas and new year, Valentine's Day approaches and their pastor implores his congregation to donate items for "love boxes" that will go to needy families, reminding them that "what is given from the heart reaches the heart." Though they don't have much, James Otis and his mother embrace the opportunity to create gifts for another struggling family of two and are pleasantly surprised at how giving from the heart can quickly circle back. What Is Given from the Heart is a loving tribute to collective work, responsibility and the joy that comes from giving freely.
Crescendo by Paola Quintavalle, illustrated by Alessandro Sanna (Enchanted Lion, $19.95), takes readers ages 4 and up through human gestation. Each week (from fifth to 40th) is honored in a two-page spread featuring Quintavalle's carefully chosen text and a facing illustration. Is there a picture book that better marries art and science? Sanna seems to be working in watercolor with a brush dipped in celestial light, and yet Crescendo is deeply scientific. Quintavalle has loaded her pen not with sunshine and moonglow but with information about human gestation; her narrative, utterly faithful to the stages of embryotic and fetal growth, concludes with "Developmental Facts That Inspired the Text." Crescendo is a book that belongs on multiple shelves in the kids' section of a bookstore or library, but the truth is, it wouldn't be out of place in an adult's collection.
When Maya says that she wants to see her grandma, Mother explains "Grandma lives many thousands of miles away." But, a few weeks later, while walking home from school, Mother says she has a surprise for Maya: Grandma! Maya learns right away that Grandma does things differently. She wears a "crimson sari" and offers "homemade sweets." The next morning, instead of taking the exciting trip Father had promised to an island with a carousel, Mother says the family will pray at a temple for Holi. Maya "wish[es] Grandma had never come." Saumiya Balasubramaniam takes a tender look at the complexity of family bonds--especially when they span oceans and generations--in When I Found Grandma, illustrated by Qin Leng (Groundwood Books, $17.95, ages 4-7). Maya's initial unhappiness gives way to acceptance and love; her struggles with cultural differences are convincingly stated, and reinforced perfectly by Leng's lively ink-and-watercolor illustrations. Maya's and Grandma's compromises are satisfying and, by the end, Maya didn't just find Grandma, they "found each other."
Delia, whose father left when she was young, knows that she's unlikely ever to roam far from Jackson, Tenn.: even with three jobs between the two of them, she and her mom (with whom she has a close relationship) make just enough to squeak by. Delia plans to go to community college and keep filming her cable access TV program, Midnite Matinee, with best friend Josie, who has dreamed of working in TV since she "was old enough to remember." Even though she doesn't love the terrible scary movies that Delia adores, Josie enjoys playing Rayne Ravenscroft to Delia's Delilah Darkwood on their Elvira-style show. When the girls are invited to a horror convention, Delia becomes convinced she can talk someone into producing Midnite Matinee. The girls set off on a road trip that could make or break the show--and their friendship, too. Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee (Crown, $17.99, 12-up) is a change for Jeff Zentner, whose earlier works featured teens in significantly more tragic situations. Throughout, Zentner keeps the spotlight firmly planted on his two female protagonists, creating a novel as funny as it is bittersweet.
In Ben Philippe's The Field Guide to the North American Teenager (Balzer + Bray, $18.99, ages 13-up), Norris Kaplan is about to start his junior year at a new school in Austin, Tex., where his Haitian/Canadian mother recently got a job. Generally pessimistic and especially sour about moving to "the surface of the sun," Norris is determined to hate everything. Which he does. Until Aarti Puri. "Dark skinned... with... artificially dyed dark red hair," Aarti is artistic, smart and not into him. But Norris makes a deal with cheerleader Madison when applying for a job at her family's restaurant: he'll cover shifts when she has practice and she'll help him with Aarti. Slowly, with Maddie's help, Norris starts hanging with cheerleaders, makes friends with a nice loner and goes on dates with Aarti. All the while, Norris writes in his journal witty, self-satisfied "field guide" entries disparaging life in Austin and the people around him. That type of mindset can backfire, though, and, when it does, Norris might have to leave Texas altogether. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Helen Hoang: Writing from the Heart
|photo: Eric Kieu
Helen Hoang's debut novel, The Kiss Quotient, became a breakout hit and has been acquired by Pilgrim Media Group for a movie adaptation. The Kiss Quotient features a brilliant female lead with autism--which Hoang also has--and a half-Vietnamese man as her love interest. Her follow-up, The Bride Test (reviewed below), is about a young Vietnamese woman who's brought to the U.S. by a Vietnamese American mother to be a potential bride for her son, who has autism. In her author's note, Hoang mentions that her heroine is inspired by Hoang's mother, a former refugee and successful businesswoman, who died recently. Hoang lives in San Diego, Calif., with her husband and two children.
Did your mother read The Bride Test? How would she feel about Co Nga arranging a mail-order bride for her son?
No, my mom never read the book. But my aunt tried to arrange a wife for my cousin in much the same manner [as in the book], and my mom was aware of that. She didn't seem to think the idea was that outrageous, though she was never very meddling with my siblings and me.
Why does Co Nga choose a woman from Vietnam, instead of from the local Vietnamese American community?
When my aunt tried to arrange a marriage for my cousin, she spoke to women in Vietnam because the Vietnamese American women she knew were either uninterested in her son or not up to her standards in terms of Vietnamese traditions and values.
What were some of those standards? And what was the result of her matchmaking attempt?
My aunt was unsuccessful. Her son refused to meet any of the girls she liked from Vietnam and eventually married a Filipino American woman. I believe my aunt wanted him to marry a woman who spoke Vietnamese and would be a homemaker, practice Buddhism, give her grandbabies and take care of her in her old age.
Your author's note says you interviewed your mother for this book, about her experiences growing up poor and as a refugee. What was the biggest revelation for you during these discussions?
Growing up, I often thought my mom worked not only by necessity, but by preference. In other words, she was a workaholic, and sometimes I was resentful of this when I was a kid. Through these conversations with my mom, I came to understand why she was compelled to work so much and I could better empathize with her. Not only was she providing for her family and achieving financial security, but she was earning her own sense of worth. That was a heartbreaking realization for me--that her sense of self-worth was dependent on how much money she made.
How has writing about people with autism helped you in your daily life?
Writing these books has helped me process and understand my own autism so I can better communicate my needs with the people in my life and advocate for myself. For example, as I wrote The Bride Test, I finally understood why I bring books to wedding receptions. These events are truly overwhelming to me and because I'm physically trapped there, I read in an attempt to escape into myself. Now, instead of bringing a book to a wedding, I can leave early and it's okay. People don't get angry.
Your voice, and those of your protagonists, are specific and distinctive. What have readers told you they've learned the most from your characters and stories?
From what I've heard, it is eye-opening to read from the perspective of an autistic and/or Asian/Asian American character.
Regarding the autistic perspective, readers have appreciated learning about the specific challenges facing autistic people, but they've also remarked that they were happy to see that people of different neurotypes still have the same basic emotional needs and insecurities as most everyone else.
Khai's brother, Quan, has made memorable appearances in The Kiss Quotient and The Bride Test, and steps onto center stage in your next book. Anything juicy you can tell us about it?
I've been conceptualizing Quan's book as a gender-swapped Sabrina, where instead of the chauffeur's daughter and the two rich brothers, we have the chef's son and the two rich sisters.
You write about people who rarely get to be the center of Westernized stories. The couple in The Kiss Quotient include a half-Vietnamese man (who's hot, not nerdy!), while both leads in The Bride Test are of Vietnamese descent, though one is half Vietnamese. Any plans for a story with both leads being 100% Vietnamese?
For Quan's book, his love interest is Chinese American, and my next contracted books after this feature Michael's sisters from The Kiss Quotient, who are all half Vietnamese. I don't have specific plans to write a story with both leads being 100% Vietnamese, but I'm certainly not ruling it out. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
by Julia Phillips
Julia Phillips, a Fulbright Fellow, stuns with her elegant and suspenseful debut, Disappearing Earth. Set over the course of a year on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East, the novel opens on a warm August afternoon. Two young girls are playing by the shore when a strange, limping man kidnaps them under the ruse of asking for help getting back to his car. The chapters that follow offer intimate portraits of people who knew the girls or were members of their tight-knit community. The characters wrestle with the kidnapping while attempting to deal with the day-to-day demands of their lives.
Among the cast is a school administrator struggling with a serious health problem, two young schoolmates learning to deal with their fearful parents' restrictions on where and when they can go out, and a family member puzzling over her brother's increasingly strange behavior.
Each portrait is set in a different location on the peninsula, and all of them are brought to life by Phillips's astounding talent for conjuring a sense of place. The chapter set in the region's thick woods, for example, brims with natural textures and smells: "Charred wood, rich sulfur, and cold earth; the smells of nostalgia." The sights and smells of Russian cooking--garlic, onions, sugar, celery, beef tongues--are everywhere in this novel, lending the story an additional layer of realism.
Filled with unforgettable imagery, Disappearing Earth is an emotionally propulsive look at how a community learns to carry on in the aftermath of tragedy. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor
Discover: This lyrical, gripping novel set in Russia explores how a kidnapping tests a small community's complex relationships.
hardcover, 272p., 9780525520412
by Max Porter
Following his first novel, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, Max Porter again takes his reader into a weird and magical world with Lanny. Similarly short, lyric and mysterious, this touching story is partner but not sequel.
Lanny's mum and dad have moved to a village not far from London, "fewer than fifty redbrick cottages, a pub, a church." Lanny's dad commutes into the city while his mum works on writing her murder thriller. Lanny goes to school and plays in the woods, singing, fairy-like and joyful; he is "young and ancient all at once, a mirror and a key." There is also an old man in the village named Pete, an artist who works with natural materials and was once famous in London. He describes himself as a "miserable solitary bastard" but is actually caring and sensitive; he becomes the closest friend Lanny's family has in town.
And then there is Dead Papa Toothwort, a legend and an enigma, tied up in trees and leaves and related to the green men carved in old churches in this part of the world. As a force, it is unclear whether Dead Papa Toothwort is good or evil; he is associated with death as well as seasonal renewal. And he is obsessed with Lanny.
The whole village, in a way, revolves around Lanny--especially after misfortune strikes. Often a stream-of-consciousness style leaves the reader a bit off-kilter, but this is suited to Lanny's dreamlike setting: trust in the story will be rewarded, and Porter's prose is undeniably gorgeous. These elements in combination are every bit as imaginative, compelling and magical as Lanny himself. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: This novel about family, the power of the woods and the creative spirit, centered on a special young boy, will charm any reader.
hardcover, 160p., 9781555978402
A Brightness Long Ago
by Guy Gavriel Kay
World Fantasy Award-winner Guy Gavriel Kay (Ysabel) returns to the world of Children of Earth and Sky in a standalone alternate-history adventure that revolves around Batiara, the author's version of Renaissance Italy.
Newly out of boyhood, Guidanio Cerra, a tailor's son from the city-state Seressa, finds that a quality education and his natural wit draw him into circles above his station. Engaged to serve at the court of Uberto the Beast, ruler of Mylasia, Danio recoils at his master's vicious appetites but has no power to stop him. When Adria Ripoli arrives at the court, Danio knows she has come as an assassin on behalf of her uncle Folco Cino d'Acorsi, a powerful mercenary who would love to add a port city like Mylasia to his holdings. Danio must choose whether to reveal Adria's identity or allow her to proceed, and his split-second decision brings unrest to the region.
As Folco and his rival mercenary commander Teobaldo Monticola di Remigio vie for dominance, fortune drags Danio into their paths repeatedly. At times, Adria Ripoli flashes back through his life like a bright ribbon in a windstorm. In a landscape of intrigue, political tension and murder, Danio will need every scrap of wit and luck he possesses to find his path to maturity.
Now an elderly man looking back on the passion and tumult of his youth, Danio reflects on "the choices we make. The person we become." A surefire hit for historical fiction and fantasy readers, A Brightness Long Ago further cements Kay's reputation as a wise and beguiling storyteller. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: In his first novel in three years, Guy Gavriel Kay riffs on themes of connection and memory in a setting reminiscent of Renaissance Italy.
hardcover, 448p., 9780451472984
Loudermilk: Or, the Real Poet; Or, the Origin of the World
by Lucy Ives
Loudermilk, the second novel from poet Lucy Ives (Impossible Views of the World), is a book where profound poststructuralist meditations on language, chance and creativity are deftly spun through with a myriad of jokes about farting, sex and male anatomy. The novel centers on handsome Troy Augustus Loudermilk, who wins a fellowship to a famed Midwestern creative writing institution by using his friend Harry's poetry. Harry Rego--directionless, agoraphobic and bearing close resemblance to "a hobbit or shaved teddy bear"--follows Loudermilk to the Midwest, agreeing to be his ghostwriter in exchange for a spare room. With the Bush presidency and invasion of Iraq playing out ambiently and calamitously in the background, Loudermilk perfectly captures the strange cultural ethos of the early 2000s.
Although Loudermilk's frat-boy antics and inexplicable charisma are the heart of the novel, Loudermilk is also populated with a number of other characters ranging from plotting to pathetic: one-time award-winners with perpetual writer's block, drunk professors, scorned geniuses and teenagers on their worst behavior. Throughout the course of the novel, Ives produces distinct writing as every one of these characters, prompting the reader to consider the ways in which creativity often involves accessing other selves and inhabiting different personas. With razor-sharp prose and a plenitude of linguistic strangeness, Ives has written a novel about American college life that is both philosophically gripping and exceptionally hilarious. --Emma Levy, bookseller at Third Place Books Seward Park, Wash.
Discover: In the wickedly funny novel, a wealthy jock cheats his way into a prestigious poetry fellowship while his fellow students negotiate the complexities of art and language.
Soft Skull Press,
paperback, 304p., 9781593763909
by Ma Jian, trans. by Flora Drew
China Dream is a deeply felt satire of modern-day China under President Xi Jinping by Ma Jian, whose works have been banned in his home country ever since the release of his first book decades ago. Ma Jian takes aim at Xi's "China Dream of national rejuvenation" for attempting to replace dark memories of the Communist Party's reign with "rabid consumerism" and "inflated nationalism." His protagonist is Ma Daode, director of the China Dream Bureau. In one of the novel's occasional fantastical touches, Ma is preoccupied with the creation of a neural implant called "the China Dream Device," which he plans on first inserting into his own head so that "any dream from my past still lingering there will vanish into thin air." Ma is in urgent need of that device because memories that he would rather suppress have begun to surface, forcing him to reckon with his--and the nation's--violent, disturbing past.
In the foreword, Ma Jian writes that "in evil dictatorships, most people are both oppressor and oppressed." His portrait of Ma Daode is similarly multifaceted, invoking ridicule and sympathy in equal measure. The book contains somewhat magical concepts like the China Dream Device, but they are often hard to distinguish from the real-life absurdities that emerge under totalitarian systems. Perhaps most absurd, Ma Jian seems to suggest, is the government's attempts to bury a past filled with so many skeletons. There will always be people like Ma Daode who remember even what they'd rather forget. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Discover: China Dream is a satire about Xi Jinping's China in which a corrupt bureaucrat finds his position and his sanity threatened by memories of his bloody role in Mao's Cultural Revolution.
hardcover, 176p., 9781640092402
Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors
by Sonali Dev
Sonali Dev (A Change of Heart; A Bollywood Affair) gives readers an entertaining twist on Jane Austen's classic tale, reimagined in a contemporary family drama. Brilliant neurosurgeon Trisha Rajes is a socially inept member of a wealthy, multi-generational Indian American family. After a teenage error in judgment leaves her semi-estranged from her family, workaholic Trisha focuses on her career. British chef DJ Caine is well on his way to fame and fortune when his beloved sister becomes ill. He leaves behind his successful career and life in Paris to care for her in San Francisco, where he meets her physician, Trisha Rajes.
The two mix as well as oil and water, and their conflict provides a thought-provoking window into issues of disparate cultures, racism and economic divides. Nevertheless, DJ must deal with Trisha, whom he finds difficult and prejudiced. Trisha struggles to cope with her attraction to the handsome chef she believes is too proud to accept their obvious differences in wealth and societal position. The push-pull of sexual attraction heightens the emotional impact on characters already overwhelmed with difficult family situations.
When DJ's sister makes a health decision that he finds unbearable, however, Trisha's unexpected intercession has DJ rethinking his earlier judgment of her character. And when Trisha is compelled to analyze her own prejudices, she must reconsider her own narrow view of the world.
This sumptuous novel is rich with complicated personal and family conflicts, mouthwatering food and the contrast of wealthy vs. modest in a sophisticated urban setting. Dev has a well-deserved reputation for excellence in multicultural women's fiction and fans are certain to love this latest. --Lois Dyer, reviewer
Discover: Two vulnerable people must deal with their own pride and prejudice if they are to bridge cultures and find happiness in modern-day San Francisco.
paperback, 496p., 9780062839053
Orange World and Other Stories
by Karen Russell
Karen Russell, the author of Swamplandia!, offers eight fantastical tales in Orange World and Other Stories. In "The Prospectors," two friends must survive a night at a party of denial-ridden ghosts. In "Bog Girl," a young boy falls in love with a girl he discovers buried in peat and mud in a nearby swamp. Other standouts from the collection include the post-apocalyptic, poisonous Everglades of "The Gondoliers" and the bargain a woman makes with the devil to save her family by breast-feeding a fiend in the title story, "Orange World." These tales all capture the atmosphere of the unbelievable and ground it in the lives of startlingly realized protagonists, making a seemingly incredible situation, suddenly and unnervingly, emotionally prescient.
Hauntingly beautiful, lyrical and strange, these stories gleam with sensitive insight and intelligence. Each tale delights in the unexpected and the uncanny. Russell tips the worlds of her characters' lives just slightly off balance but never upends her readership. She continues to have a masterful sense of how the eccentric, magical elements of her stories map onto her readers' intimate, emotional lives. While none of these stories are straightforward metaphors, each one manages to tap into its audience's buried desires, fears and discomforts. Sometimes, it is the very off-kilter nature of these worlds, these people and their attachments that feel most akin to the real world. Whether she is tackling the anxieties of motherhood, the dark yearnings of first love or our desire for unity in a time of mutual destruction, Russell's stunning prose and wondrous creations never miss their mark. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Karen Russell's Orange World offers a collection of magical realist short stories that will fascinate and captivate fans of Aimee Bender, Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood.
hardcover, 288p., 9780525656135
by Abi Maxwell
Abi Maxwell's (Lake People) second novel, The Den, features cleverly interwoven stories about two pairs of sisters on the same land 150 years apart.
In modern-day New England, sisters Henrietta and Jane, ages 15 and 12, live in an old farmhouse on the outskirts of a small town. Jane is distressed when Henrietta starts to distance herself from her family after meeting a boy from town, and she follows the young couple, hoping to get close to her sister again. One night, Henrietta disappears without a trace, leaving her parents and Jane distraught and stunned.
On the same property, 150 years earlier, Elspeth Ross lives in a small cabin in the woods with her husband, who works at the local mill, and their three sons. She hated to leave her beloved younger sister, Claire, and her parents behind in Scotland, but Elspeth was forced to move with her new husband to hide her pre-wedding pregnancy. After a series of violent incidents involving the mill owner, Elspeth and her family leave town without a trace.
These two stories are intricately connected, not only by the locations and similarities but also by a fantastical story about the Rosses' disappearance in a local book that Henrietta and Jane's father read to them over and over. In both cases, the older sisters vanish under mysterious circumstances, while their younger sisters pine for them. This intriguing story of two families separated by time also explores desire, shame and secrets. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and author of Book By Book blog
Discover: In this intricate story of shame and longing, two families on the same land, separated by 150 years, are devastated when the oldest sisters disappear.
hardcover, 288p., 9780525655282
by Christina Lauren
Christina Lauren (My Favorite Half-Night Stand, Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating) is the combined pen name of best friends and writing partners Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings. And they nail the complicated but sweet sisterly relationship between twins Ami and Olive Torres in The Unhoneymooners.
Ami has been lucky her whole life and has won everything, from the buffet at her wedding reception to a fabulous 10-day Maui honeymoon, all for free. Olive, Ami's maid of honor, has always been unlucky, including being laid off from her job. This is their pattern--until the shellfish at the buffet turns out to have been contaminated, leaving only Olive and Ethan, the best man, standing. From her sickbed, Ami insists that Olive take the honeymoon trip with Ethan; since it was free, it can't be rescheduled. The lure of a no-cost vacation is tempting, but Olive has always disliked stuck-up Ethan, and isn't sure if she wants to spend that much time with her nemesis. Ethan and Olive decide to make the attempt, however, and head off to Maui, where the island aura--and being thrown out of their regular lives--makes the two realize that maybe they have more in common than they'd thought.
Lighthearted, laugh-out-loud funny and all too accessible (as the many Torres aunts and cousins keep butting into Ami's and Olive's lives), The Unhoneymooners is delightful. Olive's initial dislike of Ethan, tempered by her slow realization of his good qualities, makes for a charming and enjoyable romance. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this hilarious romance, the best man and maid of honor end up taking the honeymoon together, after the bride and groom are felled by food poisoning.
paperback, 432p., 9781501128035
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
by Kim Michele Richardson
A determined and forthright Cussy Mary Carter tells her story in The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. In her fourth novel, Kim Michele Anderson gives her a voice true to the Appalachian backwoods of "western Kaintuck" in the 1930s.
At 19, Cussy hopes to overcome a lifetime of poverty and scorn, when she joins the Works Progress Administration's Pack Horse Librarians program "to put females to work and bring literature and art into the Kaintuck man's life." Cussy got the job against her ailing coalminer father's objections that "a workin' woman will never knot." Finding her a husband will be hard enough, Pa knows, because she's a "Blue"--the last of a blue-skinned clan descended from French Blues who'd settled there four generations back. But Cussy perseveres, and on her reliable mule Junia, she's welcomed as "the Book Woman" by her patrons, whose isolated cabins are spread out for miles. In spite of her own hardships, she shares what little she has, and relishes "bringing a hopeful world into their dreary lives and dark hollers."
A heroine richly deserving of happiness, Cussy does find love and joy, but in the author's historically accurate plot it's compromised in an episode of prejudice and violence. Pack Horse librarians, Troublesome Creek and the blue-skinned people of Kentucky were all real, and their story, as Cussy tells it, is a bittersweet homage to an unusual time and place. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: Set in Kentucky's Appalachian region during the Depression, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a tale of determination and the power of books.
paperback, 320p., 9781492671527
by Jamie Brenner
Emma Mapson, a busy single mom, expects that the summer season will be a little crazy, with her teenage daughter, Penny, out of school and the touristy crowds flooding the American Hotel where she works. But to Emma's shock, this summer becomes wildly different from any other Sag Harbor, N.Y., summer. First, celebrated artist Henry Wyatt, who had been helping Penny with her dreams of writing a graphic novel, dies in the lobby of the American Hotel. Then, Emma discovers that Henry left his vast beachside mansion to her daughter.
But Henry's business partner and friend of decades, Bea Winstead, turns up, claiming that Penny and Emma must have tricked Henry into leaving the house to them, because he'd always planned to have it turned into a museum for his artwork after his death. Bea battles Emma for the house, and Emma worries about Penny, whose OCD has gotten markedly worse in the wake of Henry's death. In the background, the idyllic Sag Harbor setting provides the perfect relaxing counterpoint to the tension in Emma's life.
Readers of Elin Hilderbrand or Nancy Thayer are sure to love Drawing Home, a charming entry in the heartwarming beach read canon. Jamie Brenner (The Forever Summer, The Husband Hour) has created a slew of likable, flawed characters, all struggling to handle their grief at Henry's death and figure out his apparently conflicting final wishes. Emma, Bea and Penny end up learning surprising lessons about themselves and each other as the summer unfolds. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this comforting beach read, a single mother is shocked when a famous artist leaves his mansion to her teenage daughter.
hardcover, 368p., 9780316476799
by Mario Levrero, trans. by Annie McDermott
Uruguayan novelist Mario Levrero's Empty Words, his first to be translated into English, documents the quest of a writer who decides to improve his handwriting in order to conquer his personal problems. This plan goes awry, yet what emerges is charming, hilarious and often insightful. Much like Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes, Empty Words is a book about writing itself and the frustrations of the creative process. Even when the narrator tries to focus on the task at hand, he inadvertently begins to document his neuroses and petty complaints. Levrero's prose is often poetic and slightly winking throughout; he knows that his hero is a bit ridiculous but likes him regardless. (And translator Annie McDermott has done an impeccable job adapting him.)
Levrero seemed to chafe at being placed in any canon of Latin American literature, and he shares the tendency of Borges and Lispector to reach epiphany through roundabouts and the gleeful embrace of the strange. It's only when the narrator writes about his weird dreams and feelings that he can actually move on from what bothers him. Empty Words does not suggest that there's an easy solution to unhappiness. But there is at least the possibility of serenity, and the sheer power that comes from creation, from putting words onto the page. Hopefully this isn't the first and last of Levrero's works to be translated. --C.M. Crockford, freelance reviewer
Discover: Uruguayan novelist Mario Levrero's first novel to be translated into English reflects on the absurdities of life and the written word.
Coffee House Press,
paperback, 152p., 9781566895460
If You Cross the River
by Geneviève Damas, trans. by Jody Gladding
If You Cross the River is the ominous threat made to François Sorrente by his hostile father, Jacques, in Geneviève Damas's slender but excellent novel, translated by Jody Gladding. Across the river is where François's beloved older sister, Maryse, fled, and where the burnt-out remains of the Bridge Farm (so named for the wooden bridge that no longer exists) loom, mysterious and menacing. Indeed, much for the illiterate pig-tender François is mysterious and menacing. A self-proclaimed simpleton, he actually has considerably more awareness than he realizes or credits, noting, "In our house, no one cried, inside there were tears, but outside it was dry." His older brothers Jules and Arthur are cruel, his other brother Jean-Paul is dead and his mother disappeared just after his birth. Aside from his pigs, 17-year-old François is isolated and unloved.
A chance relationship with the village priest, who first reads to François and then teaches him to read on his own, offers liberation. However, the freedom is not easy, and François approaches it with trepidation: "Maybe books lie, maybe they do nothing but lie, so what's the use of reading, just to start hoping for things that won't ever happen."
Belgian author Damas's first novel unfolds quickly, but with much emotion. Readers will connect immediately with François and yearn, as he does, to uncover what happened across the river, uncover what happened to his mother and to Maryse. And while the denouement is neither wholly original nor unexpected, it still packs a satisfactory punch. --Evan M. Anderson, collection development librarian, Kirkendall Public Library, Ankeny, Iowa
Discover: If You Cross the River is a modern fable about the pursuit of enlightenment and family.
paperback, 152p., 9781571311207
A Job You Mostly Won't Know How to Do
by Pete Fromm
When Marnie slips the pregnancy test from her tool belt, surprising Taz as they're demo-ing their fixer-upper, he's dumbstruck but pleased. A Job You Mostly Won't Know How to Do feels like a comedic novel of young parenthood. Then, just before the birth, they make a romantic last visit to their favorite secluded fishing spot in the Montana mountains near Missoula, Pacific Northwest author Pete Fromm's (The Names of the Stars) favorite setting. Their situation seems idyllic, but Fromm has another story to tell: of resilience in the face of incomprehensible tragedy.
Marnie delivers Midge, clutches Taz's hand and in an instant, he is a widower with a newborn daughter. Ensuing chapters are titled "Day One" through "Day Five Fifteen" as Taz grapples with grief and fatherhood. While Taz forms an awkward bond with Marnie's mother--a tender storyline--it's their friend Rudy who becomes an unlikely uncle to Midge. His beer-drinking, irregular schedule and droll wit serve as comic relief to the novel's sorrow. (When Taz balks at taking days-old Midge to the club, Rudy says, "She doesn't have to order anything!") He's there, always, sometimes on the porch before Taz even realizes he needs him. He helps Taz resume his carpentry work, and arranges an introduction to Elmo--the bartender-turned-nanny who stabilizes their lives, becoming Midge's "Momo." Taz dotes on Midge, and when the ever-present voice of Marnie eventually says, "The future, it's where you're headed, you can't help that," Taz allows himself to once again feel joy. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: This bittersweet novel of young love turning tragic follows a widower and his newborn forging a life among friends and memories.
hardcover, 336p., 9781640091771
The Conviction of Cora Burns
by Carolyn Kirby
Are we born bad, or do our circumstances shape us?
That's the question burning at the heart of Carolyn Kirby's debut novel, The Conviction of Cora Burns. The eponymous protagonist was born in the Birmingham Gaol (jail) to a mother she never knew. Twenty years later--after a harsh childhood in a workhouse, and several years as a laundress at an asylum--she returns to the gaol as a prisoner, having committed a yet-to-be-revealed crime. On the day of her release, she's sent onto the streets with nothing but her wits, her temper and a tarnished, broken medal bearing a cryptic engraving. Cora is certain that the medal's missing half will lead her to her long-lost friend, Alice Salt--a girl with whom she shared a profound bond, a twin-like resemblance and an unspeakable childhood transgression. Instead, the medal leads her into the dark machinations at the home of Thomas Jerwood, a "gentleman scientist" who is determined to prove that criminality is hereditary.
Kirby seems to be challenging readers to understand the social and economic contexts that often determine people's fates, and to view what Jerwood cruelly calls "the lower orders" with empathy and nuance. With its complex anti-heroine and its dark, twisting plot, The Conviction of Cora Burns is haunted by transgenerational trauma, twins and doubles and the painful legacies of maternal sacrifice. All at once, it's a historical thriller, a ghost story and a sneakily political treatise on the need for a more equitable society. --Hannah Calkins, writer and editor in Washington, D.C.
Discover: This historical thriller stars a young woman in 1880s Birmingham, England, struggling to solve the painful mysteries of her past.
paperback, 296p., 9781945814846
Mystery & Thriller
by Ragnar Jónasson, trans. by Victoria Cribb
In The Darkness, Hulda Hermannsdóttir was on the cusp of forced retirement from the Reykjavík police department. The Island, which begins 25 years earlier, finds the detective agitating for a higher-ranking job that's opening at the station. Meanwhile, one of her colleagues is blackmailing another detective to ensure the conviction of a circumstantially guilty man whose 20-year-old daughter was murdered at the family's summer house.
Ten years later, Hulda, who lost the job she wanted to her crooked colleague, travels to the United States in hopes of finding her biological father, an American GI who had a fling with her now-deceased mother. With her husband and only child also dead, Hulda is picking her way through "the sorrow that now defined her life."
Back in Iceland, four friends reunite at a hunting lodge on the uninhabited island of Ellidaey to mark the 10th anniversary of the murder of the fifth person in their circle--the young woman killed at the summer house. When the four become three, Hulda is summoned to the island to investigate the death.
Ragnar Jónasson, who also writes the first-rate Ari Thór series, maximizes suspense by thwarting expectations. A typical example: The Island begins with a portentous-seeming scenario--a couple leaves their child with a babysitter--but the chapter concludes without serious incident; it's only toward the book's end that the reader learns the event's significance. The story in between is classic Jónasson: a refreshingly unbloody thriller that Hercule Poirot would have clamored to star in. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: The second thriller in a fine series set in Iceland goes back in time to show detective Hulda Hermannsdóttir attempting to solve both a murder and a personal problem.
hardcover, 352p., 9781250193377
A Deceptive Devotion
by Iona Whishaw
Canadian author Iona Whishaw spins another engrossing tale of murder, Russian assassins, British spies and local Canadian constabulary while deftly braiding the many story threads into a twisty plot in A Deceptive Devotion. In September 1947, retired spy Lane Winslow is happily contemplating her upcoming marriage to Inspector Darling when an elderly Russian woman seeks her aid. She takes the destitute lady into her home while Darling searches for the woman's missing brother. Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union, an aging spy Lane once tried to recruit for the U.K. is forcibly retired and sent off to a prison camp. He escapes, using his experience as an agent to seek a way out of the the country and reach asylum in Canada.
When bucolic King's Cove is rocked by a shocking murder, Lane and Darling's search for her guest's brother must take a backseat. But are they overlooking an integral connection between the missing sibling, the escaped Soviet spy and the grisly murder--one that could catch the killer?
Without slowing the pace of the main plot, Whishaw cleverly explores each of her main characters' life experiences that have brought them to this seemingly inevitable confrontation in King's Cove. This sixth entry in the Lane Winslow mystery series can be enjoyed without reading the prior titles and is sure to satisfy fans of riveting, well-conceived stories and smart, interesting characters. --Lois Dyer, freelance book reviewer
Discover: In 1947 postwar British Columbia, an ex-spy and her inspector fiancé solve a violent murder and unravel Soviet and British spy connections.
paperback, 392p., 9781771513005
If She Wakes
by Michael Koryta
Tara Beckley, a senior at Maine's Hammel College, has one simple assignment: drive a visiting professor to a conference dinner. But Professor Oltamu insists on stopping along the way for them to step out and for him to take her picture. Before they can get back in the car, a van rams into them, killing Oltamu and flinging Tara into the cold river.
She wakes in a hospital room with her sister, Shannon, telling her mom and Mom's boyfriend that they should never give up on her. Who and what is Shannon talking about? Tara tries to communicate, with words, fingers, a blink--anything--but can't. She has locked-in syndrome--she can process stimuli but can't express herself to the outside world. If she can't demonstrate that her brain is alive, she might be taken off life support.
And someone else might end her life in a less merciful way. Oltamu's death was no accident, and Tara is a witness. If she starts communicating what she knows, an assassin would make sure she's silenced forever.
In If She Wakes, Michael Koryta (Rise the Dark) gives readers not one or two but four formidable female leads. Besides Tara, who fights for her life with every muscle twitch, there's Shannon, Tara's fierce defender; Abby, an insurance investigator trying to overcome her own trauma while looking into Oltamu's death; and Boone, also on the case but with a mysterious agenda. Koryta writes them with confidence, and each is someone to be reckoned with. As is the assassin, who's connected to characters in a previous Koryta thriller, which should delight fans. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: A woman with locked-in syndrome--appearing comatose while being mentally awake--struggles to communicate that she's not only present but the victim of attempted murder.
hardcover, 400p., 9780316294003
The Favorite Daughter
by Kaira Rouda
Jane is rising from the ashes following a year of medicated mourning for her brilliant daughter, Mary. Her husband has become distant and absent; her remaining daughter, Betsy, the "average" one, is combative and angry. Jane is determined to regain her image as a perfect O.C. wife.
As Jane narrates her "coming out" plan in the days before Betsy's graduation and a celebration of life in Mary's honor, it becomes apparent the details of Jane's "complicated grief" diagnosis have been meticulously researched, down to her fascination with death statistics ("Cows kill twenty people a year in the U.S., which seems like a low number considering what we do to those poor creatures.").
In The Favorite Daughter, Kaira Rouda (Best Day Ever) provides a front-row seat to the riveting unraveling of an unhinged narcissist who will do anything to regain a picture-perfect image. Through the conversational first-person narrative, Jane slowly reveals her true self and how far she will go to put her life right, including more than a little revenge and destruction.
Rouda's portrayal of Jane is fabulously compelling and darkly hilarious, detailing her self-obsession and conceit. (Jane re-watches news interviews from when Mary went missing, happy with how her makeup looked and proud "all of [her] acting experience shined through.") This amplifies the discomfort of witnessing Jane coming unwound, but it's impossible to look away from the wreckage. The resolution is satisfying, but the ride is so diabolically twisted and entertaining that readers will be sorry when it comes to a stop. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: As a narcissistic wife and mother tries to regain control of her image and family, the tragic and devious truths behind her plan begin to rise to the surface.
hardcover, 368p., 9781525835148
The Paris Diversion
by Chris Pavone
Paris, 9:17 a.m.: A Middle Eastern man walks into the Louvre courtyard, wearing a suicide vest and carrying a briefcase. Across the Seine, Kate Moore (expat housewife, frustrated American intelligence agent) hears the sirens and wonders what has happened, and whether it has anything to do with her. Meanwhile, Kate's husband, Dexter, is preparing for one of the biggest stock-trading days of his career, as his former colleague Hunter Forsyth, tech CEO, readies himself for a huge announcement. But none of these people, or their actions, are exactly what they seem. Chris Pavone returns to the setting and protagonist of his debut novel, The Expats, in his fourth propulsive thriller, The Paris Diversion.
Pavone (The Travelers, The Accident) plots his narrative as tightly as a labyrinth of Paris streets, its threads twisting, doubling back and occasionally intersecting in surprising ways. He combines international political posturing, round-the-clock television coverage of terrorist events (real or potential) and the machinations of global tech companies with the quieter domestic drama of two marriages long plagued by secrets and lies. Adding a compelling layer are the minor characters and settings: a Louvre sniper called Ibrahim, a quick trip to an unnamed but highly recognizable Left Bank bookstore, several women who are much more than their administrative job titles suggest. Readers may think they know how Pavone's smart, stylish story will turn out, but his gift for illusion (rendered in crystal-clear prose) means nothing is certain until the last page--if then. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Chris Pavone's fourth Eurocentric thriller follows the interconnected actions of several people during a bomb threat at the Louvre.
hardcover, 384p., 9781524761509
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by Seanan McGuire
In a fantasy as deftly twisted as her Wayward Children series, Nebula winner Seanan McGuire (That Ain't Witchcraft) once again demonstrates her instinct for turning sweetness into darkness.
Twin siblings Roger and Dodger reconnect during elementary school after their separation at birth, but their reunion is no Hayley Mills summer camp singalong. For one, they live on opposite coasts of the United States and communicate through an inexplicable telepathic link. For another, the twins weren't born but built and harvested in a secret lab by James Reed, who has ambitions to rule the world.
By design, Roger has great facility with language and strong powers of persuasion, while Dodger lives for mathematics and can reset the timeline of the universe. As they grow up, the twins connect psychically but are separated repeatedly. Eventually, aided by another construct whose twin was murdered, Roger and Dodger must decide whether to remain puppets or take the fight to Reed.
Alchemy and its pseudoscientific accoutrements strike the perfect balance between the mystical and the eerie in this high-concept fantasy. McGuire's penchant for snappy, character-revealing dialogue carries the day and makes the more mind-bending plot twists go down easily. References to L. Frank Baum, the Midwich Cuckoos and more recent pop culture also help to break down the sometimes dense logical structure for the reader.
As atmospheric and suspenseful as a gothic thriller, Middlegame is at heart a loving examination of the push-and-pull nature of the sibling bond, in which the parties can simultaneously be best friends, worst enemies and each other's biggest weakness. Readers should come for the tightly constructed world and stay for the pleasure of watching the twins choose each other, come what may. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: In this standalone fantasy by the author of The Wayward Children, telepathically linked siblings can achieve godlike powers if they manage to survive.
hardcover, 528p., 9781250195524
by W.M. Akers
Playwright W.M. Akers has crafted a wildly imaginative debut novel in Westside. Akers's gutsy heroine, Gilda Carr, inhabits an early 20th-century Manhattan split down the middle by a fence of wrought iron and barbed wire. While the Eastside is business as usual, the Westside is a nightmarish fantasy-scape, where the natural laws of the universe are subverted and people vanish into thin air. Amid this chaos, Gilda seeks out and solves "tiny mysteries"--who serves the best roast beef sandwich on the Eastside, what is producing the peculiar smell that permeates Washington Square--in an effort to avoid the big mystery that hangs over her life: What happened to her father? When asked to recover an Eastsider's missing glove, she's thrown into a mystery that will take her deep into the heart of the magic infecting the Westside.
The irrepressible Westside is equal parts Stranger Things and Doctor Who, with a healthy dose of hardboiled noir thrown into the mix, and it's an awesome combination. The setting is weird, wonderful and unsettling, while Akers's prose is atmospheric and occasionally lyrical. The one weak spot seems to be the story's strange insistence on Gilda's relative competence and cleverness, to the detriment of most of the other characters; at times they literally fall all over themselves. It's often entertaining, but feels a bit superficial. In all other ways, Westside is deeply, intricately creative and compelling. Akers's Westside is an excellent addition to the fantasy genre. --Judie Evans, librarian
Discover: A promising new author offers weird and wonderful fantasy set in an alternate version of Manhattan.
hardcover, 304p., 9780062853998
The Bride Test
by Helen Hoang
Khai Diep is certain he has a stone heart, one that can't feel love or sadness. During his cousin Andy's funeral, Khai remains dry-eyed. It doesn't bother him too much, though. Isn't it a good thing grief can't touch him? Who wants to wail like his aunties? Besides, he likes being alone with his routines, not dealing with messy emotions.
But his mother has other ideas. She knows Khai processes emotions and social cues differently because he has autism. She goes to Vietnam to choose him a bride and meets My, a feisty young single mother who cleans hotel bathrooms. Khai's mother gives My a startling offer: she'll pay for My to spend the summer with Khai in California and get him to marry her. Other than the possibility of a better life for her and her young daughter, My has another reason for accepting the offer: she wants to find her American father, whom she's never known.
My renames herself Esmeralda, and her plan to win over Khai leads to unexpected discoveries about herself and what she wants from life.
Helen Hoang's The Bride Test is even more affecting than her breakout hit, The Kiss Quotient. With heart and humor, she humanizes people who are routinely marginalized, and Esme especially is someone to root for--a woman born into poverty who knows her value even when the world looks down on her. By the time Hoang says in the author's note that Esme is based on the author's own mother, a war refugee who became a successful businesswoman, readers might find their eyes aren't dry at all. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: Over one summer, a mixed-race woman from Vietnam stands in front of a Vietnamese American man with autism, just asking him to love her.
paperback, 320p., 9780451490827
The Charmer in Chaps
by Julia London
Ella Kendall returns to her hometown of Three Rivers, Tex., a little better off than she started. After being raised in the foster care system, she's been taking and cherishing what she can get: her old, beat-up car, the rundown house she inherited and the memory of a stolen kiss from Luca Prince in high school. The Princes are a dynasty in Cimarron County--rich, famous and a staple of the community. Ella has no idea why Luca kissed her that night, or why he's decided to notice her when she moves back home.
Julia London (the Highland Grooms series) could have easily put Luca in the billionaire bad boy role, but instead creates a well-developed character. Luca has had a comfortable upbringing and wants for nothing. However, his family willfully ignored his dyslexia while he was growing up, leaving him functionally illiterate as an adult. His drive to become a conservationist and revert his family land to wildlife spurs him to learn how to read as an adult. Luca's soft heart for animals and desire to become more than just his money make Ella to fall for him. The majority of the book is fun and lighthearted, but the last quarter takes a darker turn as Ella deals with her toxic relationship with Stacy, a friend from the foster system. However, London steers the story back to the hopeful and delivers a satisfying happily-ever-after. --Amy Dittmeier, adult services librarian, Brookfield Public Library, Ill.
Discover: This new contemporary western series promises lots of laughs and cute animal friends while following the Prince family's path to love.
mass market paperbound, 368p., 9780451492357
Food & Wine
A New Way to Food: 100 Recipes to Encourage a Healthy Relationship with Food, Nourish Your Beautiful Body, and Celebrate Real Wellness for Life
by Maggie Battista
Maggie Battista has tried "every diet or lifestyle plan ever invented... low fat, low carb, mostly grapefruit, and high protein." But finding that none of these cured the "desperately desperate" way she felt about her body, Battista realized that something needed to change in order for her to feel happy in her own skin. And so was born her "new way to food," a style of cooking, eating and thinking designed to reset her relationship with food altogether. Battista documents this way of eating, along with accounts of her own personal journey "from fat girl to mostly well and happy-to-just-be-me lady" in her cookbook of the same name. She's quick to point out that the book is not a diet book, but a collection of advice and suggestions to transform one's eating and one's attitudes.
Many of the dishes here are vegan, like a meatless take on Bolognese sauce and vegan chocolate chip cookies, but Battista doesn't shy away from meat altogether; there are also dishes like Steak au Poivre and Smoky Paella with Fennel. All of the recipes feature fresh, wholesome ingredients and easy-to-follow instructions, and are accompanied by notes on how often a dish might be featured in a meal plan. These recipes sit side-by-side with tips on things like how to think about healthy eating, how to revamp your pantry and your meal-planning routines and how to love yourself. This makes A New Way to Food not only a beautiful exploration of colorful, wonderful foods, but the kind of cookbook packed with enough narrative that readers will want to make time to sit down and read the whole thing cover to cover. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: In this colorful, personal cookbook, Maggie Battista offers recipes, tips and advice for building a healthy relationship with food and one's body.
hardcover, 304p., 9781611806175
Naturally Sweet Baking: Healthier Recipes for a Guilt-Free Treat
by Carolin Strothe, Sebastian Keitel
Carolin Strothe and Sebastian Keitel, the husband-and-wife team behind the beautiful Naturally Sweet Baking: Healthier Recipes for a Guilt-Free Treat, have created a luscious book full of mouth-watering baked goods. Strothe, a well-known German baker, and Keitel, a brand strategist, turn their talents and shared enthusiasm toward adapting recipes to reduce the amount of sugar in them. As they explain in the introduction, both of them grew up eating seasonally, aware of when fruits or vegetables are at their peak. They are alarmed by increasing amounts of hidden sugar in foods and produce that is often bred for extra sweetness.
Featuring fruits as the stars of the show, and encouraging readers to shop locally for in-season produce, recipes in Naturally Sweet Baking include Apple Crumble Muffins, Elderberry Gateau and a Cherry Tart. There are also adaptable recipes, such as the basic recipe for Oat Muffins that can be changed six ways--from banana and peanut butter to carrot and turmeric.
Each recipe has a gorgeous photo and easy-to-read directions. Most use natural sweeteners like maple syrup, honey or reduced amounts of brown sugar. As an added bonus, many of the recipes are gluten- or dairy-free, or are clearly marked with egg-free or lactose-free options. Bakers who are looking to make their sweet treats healthier, or people who are looking to cut down on their sugar intake, are sure to love Naturally Sweet Baking. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: This beautiful cookbook offers naturally sweetened recipes for sumptuous baked goods.
paperback, 208p., 9781465483959
Biography & Memoir
Ladysitting: My Year with Nana at the End of Her Century
by Lorene Cary
Lorene Cary (If Sons, Then Heirs) shares a heartfelt, multifaceted story of caring for her "Nana Jackson," her paternal grandmother, during the end of her life. Nana, who lived to be 101 years old, was complex. An African American who could "pass for white," Nana was strong, independent, affluent and elegant. She drove fancy cars, went to museums and concerts, doted on Cary and generously established a scholarship fund for black students. Nana could also be tough; she demeaned her husband and was a no-nonsense landlord.
Nana's life was not easy. She was raised with four siblings by their widowed father and lived through many health crises and a serious car accident late in life. Nana and Cary's father, whose bond once "seemed inseparable," also stopped speaking to each other for many years.
Approaching her 100th birthday, Nana--a widow struggling to live on her own in a now-unmanageable house in suburban New Jersey--began to suffer from degenerative heart disease. When she could no longer care for herself, Cary and her second husband, a minister, arranged to take Nana in at their rectory in Philadelphia. This arrangement revealed an ornery and demanding grandmother who tested Cary's patience and love amid Nana's complicated end-of-life care.
The last year and a half of Nana's life becomes fertile literary ground for Cary to mine her memories and her family's history in order to pull Nana's remarkable life--and her own--sharply into focus. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: This reflective memoir steeped in love and forgiveness explores a devoted granddaughter's perceptions about her grandmother.
hardcover, 256p., 9780393635881
In Love with the World: A Monk's Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying
by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Helen Tworkov
Nepal native Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche (The Joy of Living) entered the monastery as an 11-year-old, and by 2011, then age 36, he found himself the abbot of three Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. Through his organization Tergar International, he was also the leader of a worldwide network of meditation communities. On June 1, 2011, under cover of darkness and without a word to his followers, he traded his privileged heritage and sheltered surroundings in a monastery in India's Bodh Gaya for the harsh existence of a solitary wandering yogi, an "ego-suicide mission" he planned to pursue for at least three years.
In Love with the World focuses on the first few profoundly consequential weeks of Mingyur Rinpoche's itinerant retreat. He vividly describes that new environment, beginning with the sensory shock of encountering life in a packed, foul-smelling coach on the train to the Hindu holy city of Varanasi, sharing his existence in an elemental way with some of the most impoverished members of Indian society.
But the heart of the book is a terrifying account of his near-death experience in Kushinagar. He is stricken with a catastrophic case of food poisoning, after dining on scraps he begs from a nearby restaurant when he spends his last rupee. As his illness deepens, he drifts in and out of consciousness, and draws upon a lifetime of intensive meditation practice to inhabit his experience.
In Love with the World takes the reader inside the mind of a meditation master, with much the same feeling one might have listening to a world-class musician or artist describe the process of executing a complex work. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer
Discover: A prominent Buddhist monk describes his intense spiritual experience at the beginning of a lengthy wandering retreat.
Spiegel & Grau,
hardcover, 288p., 9780525512530
At Home with Muhammad Ali: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Forgiveness
by Hana Ali
There may be no more recognizable person than three-time World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Muhammad Ali, "The People's Champion." Ali's persona is highlighted by his feats in the ring, quick wit, religious conversion and stance against the Vietnam War. Many books have been written about Ali, including three by his second-youngest daughter, Hana (Ali on Ali). In At Home with Muhammad Ali, Hana Ali changes focus and shares an intimate look at Ali's private moments with his family and what it was like to be the child of The Greatest.
A sentimental softy, Muhammad Ali recorded the goings-on in Hana's childhood home, the tapes part of the legacy he left for his children. Shared at length, transcripts include him "messin' " with his kids, prank calling friends and participating in various political causes, including trying to resolve the Iranian hostage crisis. A practicing Muslim, Muhammad Ali believed that by helping one person he was helping hundreds, and he was known to invite strangers from the street to the house.
A loving family man and father, Ali doted on his kids, making sure all seven of them (from multiple wives and mothers) grew up knowing each other. Hana is open about her father's professional pressures and romantic complications, but also his true love with her mother, Veronica, and the later-discovered letters that shed light on their sad parting. A beautiful, in-depth look at a complex and beloved man, Hana Ali's memoir is also a personal journey of forgiveness and the incredible bond between father and daughter. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: Hana Ali shares transcripts of recordings, love letters and various other childhood mementos that project an intimate light on her childhood with one of the most famous men in the world.
hardcover, 480p., 9780062917393
The Farmer's Son: Calving Season on a Family Farm
by John Connell
As a young Irishman with literary ambitions, John Connell couldn't wait to escape his family's farm in County Longford. But after more than a decade away, he returned to his childhood bedroom, helping his father with the tasks of calving season and tending to the family's flock of sheep. An investigative journalist who has also published short stories and a novel (The Ghost Estate), Connell turns his sharp eye to memoir in The Farmer's Son. He explores the rural setting of his childhood, the long historical relationship between human beings and cows, as well as his own (slightly more fraught) relationship with his father.
Connell's rendering of farm life--mucking out the cows' stalls, chasing down errant sheep, the actual mechanics of delivering a calf--is sober and clear-eyed. In each day, each task, each argument (spoken or unspoken) with his father, Connell weighs the pull of the land and his family's history against the grit, blood and constant uncertainty of working with livestock.
There's no glamour in farming as Connell renders it; some of the bloodier scenes are like James Herriot without the cheeky humor. But there is a kind of everyday nobility in the quiet work. Connell is able to absorb himself in the mundane details of farm life and pull back for a broader perspective on farming and farmers. His book is neither a polemic nor an elegy, but a thoughtful, often luminous portrait of an ancient, valuable way of life that is in danger of disappearing. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: John Connell's memoir is a thoughtful, sober-eyed account of a calving season on his family's farm in rural Ireland.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,
hardcover, 256p., 9781328577993
How to Forget: A Daughter's Memoir
by Kate Mulgrew
Actress Kate Mulgrew (Star Trek Voyager, Orange Is the New Black) follows up her candid and thoughtful 2015 memoir, Born with Teeth, with an equally forthright and emotionally raw tale of caring for her parents at the end of their lives.
When her father is diagnosed with stage-four cancer that has spread from his lungs to brain stem, liver and kidneys, Mulgrew's return visit to her home state of Iowa is extended indefinitely. Six years earlier, her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and continued living at home thanks to a full-time caregiver. How to Forget tenderly chronicles Mulgrew's decision to care for her parents over the last two years of their lives.
With crystal clarity and sharp insight, Mulgrew paints a complicated family portrait as rich and complex as families in Pat Conroy's epic novels. As an adult, Mulgrew sees her parents and siblings with a fresh perspective. She realizes that one of the unspoken tenets of her parents' relationship was "they should never be emotionally vulnerable to each other, that such exposure could only lead to trouble." Mulgrew also writes beautifully of the way families are often torn apart--rather than united--by loss. "We longed to reach out to one another, but at every turn this instinct was thwarted, tangled in a web of suspicion and resentment," she writes. "As much as we had loved one another in the fullness of life, we hated what we had become when that wholeness was eclipsed by loss." How to Forget is an unforgettable, tender and loving memoir of acceptance and loss. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: Kate Mulgrew's perceptive and beautifully written memoir of caring for her dying parents packs an emotional wallop.
hardcover, 352p., 9780062846815
No Walls and the Recurring Dream
by Ani DiFranco
Maybe it began the summer when young Ani DiFranco wanted to spend more time at a horse camp than her parents were willing to pay for. DiFranco raised the extra money herself through babysitting, selling her possessions and otherwise honoring the DIY creed with which her name is now synonymous. As the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter writes in her memoir, No Walls and the Recurring Dream, "My utter conviction that I don't need anyone or anything but myself to do what I need to do in life got me through childhood and... has also been the essence of my superpower."
DiFranco, who was born in 1970 and raised by bohemian parents in Buffalo, N.Y., began performing music with her guitar teacher when she was about 10. By high school, she knew her path: she created a three-year course plan and graduated at 16, becoming an emancipated minor. Her fame was gradual and hard-won, achieved through schlepping to every gig offered and creating Righteous Babe Records in 1990. "The point was not to conquer the world of business so much as to devise a way of having a career in music without having to associate with businesspeople at all."
Fans of DiFranco's music know that she can write lyrics, and No Walls and the Recurring Dream's prose employs a similar playful acuity (Pete Seeger would "reach around behind the heads of people he was talking to and turn off the spotlight they had trained on him"). The book tracks DiFranco's career only through 2001; let's hope for an encore. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: Grammy-winning folkie Ani DiFranco's memoir is as skillfully written as her lyrics.
hardcover, 320p., 9780735225176
Things My Son Needs to Know About the World
by Fredrik Backman
Following five successful novels--including A Man Called Ove and Us Against You--Swedish author Fredrik Backman turns to nonfiction. It should come as no surprise that this collection of essays to his young son is splendidly entertaining. As Backman generously offers a peek into the wisdom he bestows on his progeny, readers will find all the humor, profound insight and compassion that make his fiction so irresistible.
Backman claims that parents "actually haven't got a clue what we're really doing--having kids is in many ways like trying to drive a bulldozer through a china shop. With broken legs. Wearing a back-to-front ski mask. While drunk." Yet, he still manages to fill the pages with a deep understanding of human nature, a savvy instinct about the world and an endearing moral compass. He wraps this complex astuteness in hilarious analogies, anecdotes and lessons: a plea for his son to love soccer, warnings about IKEA, repeated apologies, a recipe for hot dogs, a lecture about God. And tucked in between the essays are short, bonus gems, including "Notes to self," conversations and observations.
One needn't be a father--or even a parent--to treasure this collection. As with all of his previous work, Backman artfully crafts his words to touch each person both individually and universally. He tells his son, "They say that sooner or later, all men turn into their fathers. And I really hope that's not the case. I hope you become much better." If his son manages that feat, it will be quite an accomplishment. --Jen Forbus
Discover: A father's witty and profound lessons for his son offer a heartwarming education to readers young and old alike.
hardcover, 208p., 9781501196867
Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee
by Casey Cep
The residents of rural Coosa County, Ala., could be forgiven for being leery of Reverend Willie Maxwell. After all, five people close to him, including two wives, died mysteriously--leaving life insurance policies in Maxwell's name. In her first book, Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee, journalist Casey Cep explores both the strange case of Maxwell's life and death, and how famous Alabama native Harper Lee came out of seclusion and shook off her demons to try to chronicle this story of crime and vigilantism.
Maxwell collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance but, although he was investigated thoroughly, he was never charged with a crime. The entire county "knew who had committed them, they just did not know how, or how to stop him." So, after the death of Maxwell's adopted stepdaughter, Shirley, her uncle figured that he knew how to stop the man. Robert Burns shot and killed Maxwell in front of hundreds of mourners at her funeral.
Cep knits together race, superstition, law and politics to create a compelling narrative that leads up to Harper Lee's appearance in the third section of the book. Cep's candid and empathetic portrayal of a gifted author tortured by success, creatively blocked, yet who spent years researching this true-crime story, provides what may be the most comprehensive recounting of Lee's ultimately futile attempt to write a follow-up to To Kill a Mockingbird. With Furious Hours, readers will conclude, Cep has written the book that Lee herself wanted to write. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: Furious Hours tells the story of Harper Lee's struggle to overcome her writer's block and tell the true story of Reverend Willie Maxwell's secretive life and bizarre death.
hardcover, 336p., 9781101947869
The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation
by Brenda Wineapple
In 1868, three years after Abraham Lincoln's death, the impeachment of Andrew Johnson marked a time of great divide and turmoil in the United States. It also brought an opportunity: removing Johnson from office would help advance the rights of African Americans, continuing one of Lincoln's signature goals.
The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation effectively captures the tumultuous events and pivotal characters from this crucial time in American history. Through her consideration of the investigation's limited scope, Brenda Wineapple (Ecstatic Nation) dispels any lingering perceptions that Johnson's impeachment was a foregone conclusion. One reason for this was that the House could consider only indictable offenses--in this case, Johnson's violation of the Tenure of Office Act--rather than his "abuse of power."
Wineapple delves into the specific grievances against Johnson, including his broad, almost unquestioned issuing of pardons to former Confederates and his attempts to disband the Freedmen's Bureau, which was established to aid newly freed slaves. The Impeachers gives the reader a front-row seat at Johnson's Senate trial as Wineapple argues that the president's acquittal by one vote stemmed from the possible fear that radical Republican Benjamin Wade might assume the presidency.
While recognizing that the circumstances of Johnson's impeachment and the individuals involved may have faded from memory, Wineapple's work reminds us of its importance and relevance to modern times. "To forget the reasons why Andrew Johnson was impeached, to denude or belittle them, ignores how a divided, culpable nation had destroyed so many lives," Wineapple writes. "If those reasons are forgotten, the impeachment of Andrew Johnson seems unreasonable or ludicrous. It was neither." --William H. Firman Jr., presidential historian and freelance writer
Discover: A historically relevant and detailed look at Andrew Johnson's impeachment.
hardcover, 576p., 9780812998368
The Map of Knowledge: A Thousand-Year History of How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found
by Violet Moller
For centuries, the pursuit of knowledge has been revered. The Library of Alexandria, founded by Ptolemy I around 300 BC, was the center of scholarship in the ancient world. By 500 AD, the Roman Empire collapsed, cities retreated and the ascendant Christian Church had little interest in pagan knowledge. The Library of Alexandria fell into ruin, and innumerable texts vanished--but not all knowledge was lost.
In The Map of Knowledge, historian Violet Moller examines how classical ideas from ancient Greece survived the Dark Ages--the 1,000-year period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the dawn of the Enlightenment. Moller focuses on Euclid's Elements (mathematics), Ptolemy's Almagest (astronomy) and the work of Galen, whose writings on medicine were so large they account for half of the surviving literature from ancient Greece. Over the millennia, six cities were instrumental in the preservation and transmission of knowledge: scholars in Baghdad laid the foundation for the scientific method, and Arabic translations of Greek texts flourished in the Iberian cities Córdoba and Toledo under Arab control. New trade routes and powerful leaders in Salerno and Palermo provided for the Latin translations of important texts that were disseminated throughout Europe. By the end of the 15th century, Venice became the center of intellectual life, and the newly invented printing press allowed for classical texts to be published broadly in vernacular languages.
Thanks to these politically stable and tolerant cities, scribes and scholars kept classical ideas alive for the great thinkers of the Enlightenment. Often ignored, the scholarship of the Middle Ages gets its rightful place in history thanks to Moller. --Frank Brasile, librarian
Discover: The Map of Knowledge is a sweeping survey of how classical ideas survived a thousand years of darkness.
hardcover, 336p., 9780385541763
Surprise, Kill, Vanish: The Secret History of CIA Paramilitary Armies, Operators, and Assassins
by Annie Jacobsen
The president of the United States has three options when dealing with threats to American interests abroad: diplomacy, war or covert action. Tertia Optio, meaning third option, is the motto of the Central Intelligence Agency's Special Activities Division (SAD). For more than half a century, this branch of the CIA has conducted assassinations, paramilitary missions and other clandestine operations around the world.
Surprise, Kill, Vanish: The Secret History of CIA Paramilitary Armies, Operators, and Assassins by Pulitzer Prize finalist Annie Jacobsen (Area 51; The Pentagon's Brain; Operation Paperclip) chronicles SAD's long and often troubling history. She begins with the World War II-era predecessor of the CIA, the Office of Strategic Services, and its missions behind enemy lines, which laid a groundwork for the CIA's SAD (another part of their legacy was training Ho Chi Minh how to fight the occupying Japanese army). During the Korean War, many similar airborne insertions ended in failure, in part due to betrayals by supposed indigenous allies (which again became a problem in Afghanistan). Jacobsen devotes much of Surprise, Kill, Vanish to the career of Billy Waugh, a Vietnam Green Beret who later worked for SAD in Libya and Sudan (where he spied on Osama Bin Laden and facilitated the capture of Carlos the Jackal), and, at age 71, in Afghanistan.
Surprise, Kill, Vanish is a compulsively readable history of violence perpetrated in the name of American interests. Jacobsen's 40-plus insider interviews present both a thrilling and disturbing account of SAD missions over the decades. The result is a surprisingly nuanced take on what seems, at first glance, to be unmitigated evil. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer
Discover: A Pulitzer Prize finalist offers an enlightening look at the darkest reaches of the CIA.
hardcover, 560p., 9780316441438
Nuking the Moon: And Other Intelligence Schemes and Military Plots Left on the Drawing Board
by Vince Houghton
Desperation makes for poor decision making. While Cold War paranoia may have rushed Americans to the first lunar landing, it also spawned ideas like the titular project of Nuking the Moon by Vince Houghton, historian and curator of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.
Houghton chronicles 21 visionary, dumb or dangerous attempts by the U.S. military and intelligence agencies to spy on, sabotage or obliterate their enemies. He divides these escapades into four parts. The first involves animal subjects, from a house cat surgically wired with microphones by the CIA to fitting bats with incendiary bombs and the use of live chickens to keep nuclear landmines warm in Central Europe. Part two reveals absurd intelligence operations, such as Operation Northwoods, which proposed staging false-flag attacks on American citizens to justify war with Cuba. Part three shines light on outlandish technology, like plans to blanket Earth's orbit with anti-missile missiles. Part four explodes into the atomic age, including nuking the Moon (with Carl Sagan's help).
Houghton explores these foibles with insightful glee. While most of these projects were deadly serious, the sheer audacity of these attempts makes for entertaining reading. Houghton's prose is breezy, punctuated by amusing asides and historical insight. Nuking the Moon: And Other Intelligence Schemes and Military Plots Left on the Drawing Board is as funny as it is frightening. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer
Discover: Here are 21 morally dubious, ill-considered or downright laughable plans never realized by the CIA or U.S. military.
hardcover, 320p., 9780525505174
White House Warriors
by John Gans
In his fascinating debut, policy strategist John Gans sheds light on one of the most enigmatic and profoundly influential institutions of the American government: the National Security Council (NSC). Written for policy wonks and political novices alike, White House Warriors is laid out as a chronology, tracing the NSC from its post-World War II inception, under President Truman's National Security Act of 1947, to its present-day incarnation and mode of operation under President Trump. Gans, in remarkable detail, explains how the advisory body has historically acted as a close, but unofficial, arm of the executive branch. He details, through key historical figures, how some of the most consequential decisions about war were made from boardrooms and briefing rooms. Perhaps most saliently, Gans demonstrates that the NSC is one of the principal ways through which readers can understand executive power and how different presidents choose to exercise it.
The NSC is the venue where looming figures in American politics like Henry Kissinger rose to power. It is an institution that has birthed both scandal and heroic effort. Gans gives his readers a three-dimensional view of the NSC by examining it closely at key historical points: the Vietnam War, the Iran-Contra affair and the invasion of Iraq. For a policy expert who obviously understands every nuance and contour of the NSC, Gans delivers an account that is illuminating, exceptionally readable and in the interest of any who wish to understand the American way of war. --Emma Levy, bookseller at Third Place Books Seward Park, Seattle, Wash.
Discover: Policy expert John Gans explicates the history and influence of the elusive advisory body that has historically shaped the American way of warfare: the National Security Council.
hardcover, 272p., 9781631494567
Humans: A Brief History of How We F*cked It All Up
by Tom Phillips
For everyone who's ever said, "We'll look back on this one day and laugh"--and even anyone who hasn't--Tim Phillips's Humans: A Brief History of How We F*cked It All Up is for you. The London journalist looks back on the whole of human existence to examine some truly catastrophic mishaps in areas such as the environment, war, colonization and more. And through his theme of "our deep and consistent ability to fool ourselves with stories and delusions about what it is we're actually doing," he gives his readers plenty to chuckle about.
Beginning with Lucy, whose fossilized remains introduced scientists to a new species they believe is the missing link between humans and apes; touching on the Cuyahoga River catching fire, repeatedly; and even analyzing Hitler's invasion of Russia (a rerun of Napoleon's fiasco), Phillips employs brilliantly sarcastic wit to make his history text lively, informative and superbly entertaining. He calls out humans on their propensity for greed, and he identifies racism, often mocking the utter idiocy of rationalizations for bigotry--as he does in his coverage of Easter Island: " 'Aliens must have done it' is a remarkably popular and obviously extremely rational solution to the conundrum of nonwhite people building things that white people can't imagine them having built."
Humans have a colorful history of mucking things up. Sometimes it's because of the skills we have that other species do not--seeing patterns, communicating, imagining the future--sometimes it's as simple as greed, arrogance or alcohol. But no matter the reason, Phillips delivers the story with clever style and verve, making it fascinating and fun. --Jen Forbus
Discover: A journalist and humor writer takes readers on a hilarious history tour of the human race's monumental failures.
Hanover Square Press,
paperback, 320p., 9781335936639
No Visible Bruises: What We Don't Know about Domestic Violence Can Kill Us
by Rachel Louise Snyder
Journalist Rachel Louise Snyder used to think of domestic violence as "an unfortunate fate for the unlucky few," a hardwiring gone wrong. But then an acquaintance offered a new perspective: that this is a social epidemic, one it is possible to prevent. No Visible Bruises: What We Don't Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us is the product of copious, immersive research, an investigation into a universal and insidious violence and what can be done about it.
Snyder presents her findings in three parts, ordered as "The End," "The Beginning" and finally "The Middle." That is, she first studies what intimate partner violence looks like at its conclusion: homicide and regrets that various systems (judicial, law enforcement, advocacy, etc.) couldn't do more. Next, she investigates the beginning of such violence. Abusers often come from abusive home environments and, along with their victims, grow up in a society that values stoicism, control and violence in men, submissiveness and emotional labor in women. "The Middle" examines how services are provided to victims of domestic violence, and what changes should be considered.
No Visible Bruises sounds like an appallingly dark read, and it's true that the content is deeply disturbing. But by focusing on case studies--individuals' stories--Snyder returns humanity to the horrifying larger issue. The result is an impressive body of knowledge about domestic violence in the United States: what it looks like, its terrifying prevalence, what works and what doesn't in trying to stem the tide. Snyder speaks with urgency about solving a problem that, however invisible, affects us all. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: This thoroughly researched examination of the domestic violence epidemic is chilling but deeply important and surprisingly accessible.
hardcover, 320p., 9781635570977
The Man They Wanted Me to Be: Toxic Masculinity and a Crisis of Our Own Making
by Jared Yates Sexton
When Jared Yates Sexton was reporting on the 2016 presidential race (his observations fill his acclaimed book The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage), he saw that the "dark heart" of Donald Trump's campaign was guys with backgrounds similar to his own: they were white, working-class and living far from either coast. The Man They Wanted Me to Be: Toxic Masculinity and a Crisis of Our Own Making is Sexton's look at these men and his lifelong struggle to figure out his role among them.
Sexton, who was born in 1981 and raised evangelical in Linton, Ind., entwines scholarship about virulent masculinity's toxicity with personal experience: being taunted as a child for his sensitivity; his and his mother's poverty; their maltreatment at the hands of his father and stepfathers; his later difficulty sustaining healthy relationships with women. Sexton cites research on how "performative masculinity" markers, such as avoiding the doctor, contribute to the recent drop in men's life expectancy, and on how self-doubt in men correlates with hypermasculine behavior. "As men are taught that emotions are for women and the only acceptable means of communication is anger," Sexton writes, "their aggrieved entitlement is routinely finding an outlet in senseless violence."
While The Man They Wanted Me to Be offers glimmers of hope--Sexton recounts his father's transformation in the final years of his life from rage-filled tough guy into introspective Prius driver--the book is frankly alarming. It's also alarmingly good. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: A reporter who covered the 2016 presidential race turns his eye to the people he grew up with: angry white males.
hardcover, 288p., 9781640091818
A Walking Life: Reclaiming Our Health and Our Freedom One Step at a Time
by Antonia Malchik
Going for a walk, or even stepping out the door on two feet, is a fundamentally human activity. But over the last few centuries, much of humanity has gradually lost, or is losing, the access and ability to walk without impediment and without fear. In her first book, A Walking Life, journalist Antonia Malchik delves into the repercussions of a sedentary life and explores the benefits--social, political, physical and spiritual--of reclaiming walking as an essential practice. "We walk," she says, "to remind ourselves that we are free."
With chapter titles like "Stride," "March," "Quest," "Pace," "Meander" and more, Malchik explores the physical and psychological processes of walking and the ways bipedalism has shaped the human experience. She examines walking as migration, as public protest, as spiritual practice, and visits cities on every part of the pedestrian-friendly continuum. (Denver, despite its reputation as a walkable city, has a long way to go--but so do most American metropolises.) She argues convincingly that walking, and easy access to safe pedestrian paths, has a powerful impact on individual citizens and their communities. It is, she says, vital for physical health, mental sharpness and connection with both nature and fellow humans. Malchik also draws on her own experience, from brief sanity-saving walks with her young children to her family's larger story of emigration from Russia to Montana.
Thoroughly researched, insightful and engaging, A Walking Life will inspire readers to slip on their shoes, open the door and just go. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Antonia Malchik makes a convincing case for the physical, social and spiritual benefits of walking as a way of life.
Da Capo Lifelong,
hardcover, 272p., 9780738220161
Psychology & Self-Help
Millenneagram: The Enneagram Guide for Discovering Your Truest, Baddest Self
by Hannah Paasch
Hannah Paasch, a blogger and Twitter influencer credited with starting the #churchtoo movement and #millenneagram, has turned her snark to good use in Millenneagram: The Enneagram Guide for Discovering Your Truest, Baddest Self, a funny and profane update to the ancient personality typing system of the Enneagram.
Paasch, who calls herself an Ex-vangelical, has updated the Enneagram for the millennial crowd, replacing its spiritual overtones with her brash, insightful look at life today. Millenneagram, "a revamped spin on the Enneagram that helps us be our truest, enough-as-is, bad-ass selves," is sure to make readers laugh and also cringe a little as they recognize themselves in the nine personality types of the Millenneagram. From One ("The Machine") to Four ("The Tortured Artist") to Nine ("The Wallflower"), Paasch offers penetrating glimpses into how personality shapes us and how best to live a mentally healthy life.
Each chapter offers warning signs on disintegration (what direction each type heads when not at their healthiest) and helpful tips for improving integration (moving in a mentally healthy direction). Paasch also breaks down each of the nine types into their three instinctual subtypes: the self-preserving, the social and the sexual. For readers who haven't yet jumped on the Enneagram bandwagon, Paasch offers tools and tips for helping to determine your type. A quirky combination of Unfu*k Yourself and The Road Back to You, Millenneagram is quick and refreshingly honest. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this irreverent update to the Enneagram personality typing system, readers are sure to recognize themselves in one of nine types.
hardcover, 272p., 9780062872395
Coders: The Making of a New Art and the Remaking of the World
by Clive Thompson
If asked to name professions that impact our lives, many would list doctors, firefighters or others involved in life-saving professions. But on a daily basis, it's computer programmers who are "among the most quietly influential people on the planet." In Coders, Wired columnist Clive Thompson examines the architects of the digital world and their impact on every corner of society. Thanks to coders, we have unprecedented opportunities to access information, complete complex tasks and express individuality--all within the confines of decisions made by coders.
Women were the earliest programmers, gaining experience with primitive computers and as code-breakers in World War II. Within two decades, women were sidelined by men once the field became lucrative; it has been almost exclusively male ever since. Thompson interviews many coders to identify the traits that make them tick: an affinity for problem-solving, an obsession with efficiency, anti-authoritarian leanings and an infallible belief in the virtues of the meritocracy.
Thompson sees no question that software developed by coders has improved our lives in countless ways, yet his book does not shy away from the problems caused by the industry's white male monoculture. Rarely the target of harassment themselves, coders failed to anticipate how the platforms they created could so easily spread hate and disinformation. Recent trends show the beginnings of democratization in the field, as "hooded young Zuckerbergian coders" who felt they alone could change the world give way to women, people of color and residents of rural areas who can learn code on their own terms. --Frank Brasile, librarian
Discover: This compelling history of coders examines the monumental advances and challenges that computer programming has created in our everyday lives.
hardcover, 448p., 9780735220560
The Rise of the Ultra Runners: A Journey to the Edge of Human Endurance
by Adharanand Finn
Ultra running (running a race of any distance greater than a marathon) has boomed in recent years. Experts estimate a 1,000% increase in the number of ultra races held around the world each year and, according to ULTRA magazine, the number of ultra finishers in the U.K. jumped from 595 in 2000 to 18,611 in 2017. But why, wondered self-identified "runner-geek" Adharanand Finn (Running with the Kenyans), would anyone want to run that far, that hard and for that long? That's what he sets out to answer in The Rise of the Ultra Runners. He uses his own experience training for--and running--one of the world's toughest ultramarathons to try to understand why this "admirable... courageous... mad and insane" sport has seen such a rise in popularity.
Documenting 18 months of training and 10 ultramarathon finishes, Finn leaves no stone unturned in his journey to understand ultra running. He registers for races of increasing distances (from a 50k to a 100-miler) across varied terrain (the desert, a track loop in London, the mountains of France) and speaks to as many elite participants as he can along the way. While The Rise of Ultra Runners will be most appealing for those who have dabbled in, or been intrigued by, the sport, any reader who has wondered about his or her own limits will revel in Finn's stories of the grit and determination it takes to finish one of these races. After all, as ultra runner Elisabet Barnes told Finn, "It's always interesting to push your boundaries. If you always succeed you don't know where your limits are." --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: A marathoner and author sets out to understand the increasing popularity of ultra running by training for and running one of the world's toughest ultra races.
hardcover, 272p., 9781643131351
Ten Innings at Wrigley: The Wildest Ballgame Ever, with Baseball on the Brink
by Kevin Cook
When Kevin Cook launches into the sagas of the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies, fan partisanship gives way to the lore of two of the league's oldest teams. In Ten Innings at Wrigley, Cook delves into the culture of baseball at a tipping point through a May 17, 1979, rubber match that turned into "the wildest ballgame ever."
Cook admirably winnows remarkable team histories to set the table. The Cubs, "born to lose" and cursed by a goat, were not a big market team in 1979, with Wrigley (a character in its own right) used for other events (e.g., ski-jumping contests) to make money. The Phillies were also "lovable losers," the last original franchise yet to win a World Series. But they were on the rise with something to prove, winning three straight division titles.
The game supports an inning-by-inning and pitch-by-pitch written recounting. With winds gusting to 30 mph, six runs in the first 10 minutes, 97 total bases and a run total of 45 that stands as the second highest of all time, the garbage truck fire beyond the bleachers is a mere afterthought. Many of the game's legendary and most colorful characters were playing (Rose, Bowa, Buckner, Kingman, Maddox) on the brink of epic cultural and league changes--cable television, the high-five, facial hair, computers, labor strikes and modern metrics, to name a few. Cook seamlessly blends these issues into this reconstruction of the game and its aftermath, a slice of history fans of any team will relish. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: The histories (and futures) of some of Major League Baseball's greatest franchises and players are relayed through a record-setting, extra-inning 1979 game.
hardcover, 272p., 9781250182036
How to Build a Boat: A Father, His Daughter, and the Unsailed Sea
by Jonathan Gornall
Jonathan Gornall has been boat- and water-obsessed for many decades, but he is the first to admit that, as a longtime chair-bound freelance journalist, his DIY skills are nil. The idea of him building anything from scratch is unlikely. But Gornall is also giddy with joy at becoming a father again at age 58. As he seeks a project sufficient to show his new daughter his love and hope for her life, the idea feels natural, even obvious: he will build her a boat.
How to Build a Boat: A Father, His Daughter, and the Unsailed Sea is a love letter to that small child, Phoebe. It is a memoir of a life on and off of water and a study of the history, art and science of boatbuilding. Gornall considers his first sea voyage (in utero, with an unwed mother who consistently claims he's ruined her life), his first experiences with boats (at boarding school) and his significant time on the ocean. Gornall has twice attempted to row across the Atlantic, with enormous press and personal pressure, and twice failed: these disappointments weigh heavily on him and contribute to the urgency to get this boating effort right.
Gornall's tone is drily funny and always self-deprecating. His research, however, is as serious as his journalistic background would suggest. The result is a deeply moving intersection of the personal with the practical. This is not quite a how-to manual, but readers with aspirations to fashion their own boat would have a headstart upon reading. If the boat is a gift to Phoebe, this book is another. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: A father ill-suited to DIY projects builds a boat for his daughter, and in the process writes a charming, heartfelt love letter to both boat and child.
hardcover, 336p., 9781501199394
House & Home
The Art of Happy Moving: How to Declutter, Pack, and Start Over While Maintaining Your Sanity and Finding Happiness
by Ali Wenzke
When Ali Wenzke moved to Knoxville, Tenn., she thought she was moving to her dream town. Six months later, her family still hadn't settled into their new life, and Ali found herself lonelier than she'd ever been before. No stranger to moving (10 moves in 11 years!), Wenzke took a good hard look at where she had gone wrong and started a popular website for others struggling with the same problems. Now, in The Art of Happy Moving: How to Declutter, Pack, and Start Over While Maintaining Your Sanity and Finding Happiness, Wenzke offers practical and emotionally soothing guidance for one of life's biggest challenges.
Organizing and simplifying to shave off "packing pounds," where to save money and opportunities for earning it, and other tips and tricks are applicable to first-time movers as well as those who have made it a lifelong habit. The chapters are organized in sensible stages, from first thinking about making a move to "The Happily Ever After Checklist." Wenzke mixes conversational advice, hilarious real-world examples and self-assessment quizzes. Special sections are devoted to families with children, and pet considerations are included as well. The appendix offers checklists, guides and other activity sheets (plus a recipe!) that practically guarantee a stress-free move, thoughtfully created from years of experience.
Evaluation techniques for where and when to move and why, as well as how to commemorate what's being given up while finding joy in discovering the new, provide a comprehensive roadmap for anyone looking forward to--or dreading!--their next big move. --BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co., Beaver Dam, Wis.
Discover: Whether single, a couple or married with children, everyone at any stage of the moving process can appreciate this guide filled with tips, advice and self-assessment tools.
hardcover, 288p., 9780062869739
A Craftsman's Legacy: Why Working with Our Hands Gives Us Meaning
by Eric Gorges, Jon Sternfeld
Eric Gorges describes the television show he hosts, A Craftsman's Legacy, as "a celebration [of crafts], but it's also a demonstration, a lesson." In his book of the same name, co-written with author Jon Sternfeld (A Stone of Hope), that celebration and demonstration moves from the screen to the page, as Gorges documents the many lessons he's learned from various crafts and craftsmen (and women) across the country.
Each chapter of A Craftsman's Legacy is based on topics like focus, respect, individuality and sacrifice. Within these, Gorges explores the works of one or two master craftsmen, giving a short history of each craft (as varied as sword making, engraving, woodworking, stone carving and even jeans-making). This historical detail gives context to Gorges's argument that "a craftsman is simply a vessel for the craft--adding to it and shepherding it along across time and space," and allows him to explore the role of the craftsman in a century rife with new technology and automated processes.
"Crafts and craftsmanship can move us, help us feel alive, and restore our sense of humanity," argues Gorges. This point comes across clearly in nearly every interview, but also in Gorges's account of his own experience building a custom motorcycle business, which is woven throughout the book. Some of these stories may feel overly simplified or romanticized, but that's ultimately the appeal of handmade crafts: they seem deceptively simple, masking the skill, time, patience, knowledge, personality and energy they take to create. A Craftsman's Legacy gives tribute to that simplicity while celebrating each craft's distinct complexities. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: The host of the TV show The Craftsman's Legacy explores the benefits of working with one's hands through accounts of various crafts and the people who practice them.
hardcover, 256p., 9781616208363
Our Symphony with Animals: On Health, Empathy, and Our Shared Destinies
by Aysha Akhtar
"Animals provide steady comfort in the midst of chaos," writes Dr. Aysha Akhtar in her moving--if occasionally enraging--second book, Our Symphony with Animals: On Health, Empathy, and Our Shared Destinies. "As with human bonds," she continues, "our love for animals can foster in us a sense of security and well-being." Akhtar, a physician and deputy director of the army's Traumatic Brain Injury Program, explores just how deep that love goes by speaking with a range of pet owners, including victims of domestic violence and homeless people. She concludes from these firsthand interviews as well as from expert studies that human relationships with animals can sometimes truly mean the difference between life and death. In one especially poignant chapter, she interviews a woman who was beaten by her partner. The dog would repeatedly jump between the man and the woman to protect her, ultimately receiving those blows instead.
Akhtar, who also writes frankly in the book about her own childhood abuse and the dog who saved her, explains that society's most vulnerable people would fare far better, both physically and psychologically, if we could offer more care for their pets. Fewer than 200 women's shelters in the United States, she writes, allow pets in their facilities. As a result, many women stay with their abusive partners. The homeless are also healthier and happier with their pets, but often lack access to medical care when their animals fall ill. Our Symphony with Animals is a timely and necessary book that sheds light on how far animals will go to help us, and how much better we need to treat them in return. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor
Discover: This deeply affecting book reveals just how important animals are to human health and happiness.
hardcover, 336p., 9781643130705
Parenting & Family
How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results
by Esther Wojcicki
In How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results, Esther Wojcicki offers a direct rebuttal to the prevalent style of intense, overprotective parenting. Reflecting on her own journey as a mother, Wojcicki presents an altogether calmer and more wholesome prescription for effective childrearing.
A teacher for more than 35 years, Wojcicki raised three bright, productive daughters and mentored countless teenagers through her journalism program at Palo Alto High School in California. Forget the pressure-cooker parenting techniques of tiger mothers, she advises. Instead, focus on cultivating self-confidence and independence in children and teenagers. It begins with instilling trust and letting them take risks and make mistakes. Respect for each child's autonomy is essential.
Respectful parenting is supportive but also demanding, because it's important to hold one's child to standards that help them grow and learn. Wojcicki encourages parents to nurture a culture of kindness so that children and teenagers can experience the personal rewards of helping others through selfless acts. Collaboration between parent and child, where each family member contributes to discussions, is also an integral part of Wojcicki's parenting approach.
But it's not just about the children. Parents are urged to reflect on their own childhoods and work through unresolved traumas and challenges to avoid inflicting those same wounds on the next generation. Wojcicki, now a grandmother of nine, cautions against the myth of the perfect parent and wholeheartedly embraces the mistakes she made as a mother. Her best piece of advice? Let go of your parenting fears by forgiving yourself for past errors in judgment and trust in your ability to do right by your children. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer
Discover: A mom, journalist and teacher imparts straightforward, time-tested parenting techniques to combat the modern affliction of anxious, competitive childrearing.
hardcover, 336p., 9781328974860
Folded Wisdom: Notes from Dad on Life, Love, and Growing Up
by Joanna Guest
Every morning for 14 years, Bob Guest--artist, husband, father and man of routine who was "ahead of his time"--sat down to write notes to his children on a 6x9 pad of paper. Often folded like little footballs, the notes were tucked into lunchboxes or waiting on the kitchen counter. His daughter, first-time author Joanna Guest, was seven when they began. As an adult looking back at the more than 3,500 notes (out of roughly 4,775) that survived time and the family washing machine since 1995, Guest found wisdom and meaning in them that she couldn't fully appreciate as a child.
In Folded Wisdom, Guest shares the inception of the notes and how they progressed as she and her younger brother, Theo, grew older and their life problems became more complex. Bob was sparked by a desire to encourage Theo to read, and was dedicated to connecting with his kids. One of eight children of a rear admiral in the navy, Bob had a "minimal" personal relationship with his absentee father.
The notes, which often included puzzles and drawings, ranged from snippets of love and encouragement to pages of thoughts on what it means to be part of a family, deal with life and say "I'm sorry." As insightful and charming as the notes themselves, Guest's narration winds between photographs of the real deal. Folded Wisdom is a wonderful testament to love and to Bob's success in perpetuating thoughtfulness and value in expressing ourselves to others. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: The author shares the daily notes--learning tools and lessons on life, love and family--her father wrote to her and her brother as they grew up.
hardcover, 224p., 9781250207791
Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool
by Emily Oster
In her 2013 book Expecting Better, economist Emily Oster equipped pregnant people with the data and information they need to make informed, evidence-based decisions about their pregnancies. The book's straightforward, judgment-free presentation of the data made it a big (if somewhat controversial) hit in a world where expectant parents are bombarded with abundant, and abundantly confusing, advice.
Now, Oster is taking a natural step forward with Cribsheet, a similar guide for parents navigating the first three years of their child's life. What does the data say about when to give your newborn her first bath? Are the apparent benefits of breastfeeding more correlational than causational? Are things like co-sleeping or "crying it out" truly harmful? How do various childcare options affect developmental results? And how much "screen time" can we get away with, really?
These questions may not have clear-cut answers, but Oster can tell you exactly what the data says (and also, anecdotally, share her own wisdom as a parent of two). In addition, she will give you some insight into how trusted organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics make their recommendations.
Crucially, Oster's goal is to present readers with a thorough but accessible and layperson-friendly analysis of the available data on a given topic, and leave the decision-making up to them. Considering how fraught, frightening and often contradictory the discourse on these topics can be, Oster's even, friendly tone is both refreshing and reassuring. --Hannah Calkins, writer and editor
Discover: For expecting parents, new parents or veteran parents, Cribsheet is a welcome, straightforward guide to making decisions about the first years of their child's life.
hardcover, 352p., 9780525559252
Nothing's Bad Luck: The Lives of Warren Zevon
by C.M. Kushins
Near the end of his life, musician Warren Zevon (1947-2003) was asked if his cancer battle taught him anything about life and death. "...Enjoy every sandwich," he famously answered. Cheeky and merciless: this is the Warren Zevon profiled in Nothing's Bad Luck: The Lives of Warren Zevon by C.M. Kushins.
Zevon's early life was unsettled: his Mormon mother raised him while his Jewish gangster father was rarely around. He was an early prodigy on both piano and guitar, leading to a record contract while still a teenager. He was ill-prepared for the resulting temptations. "Both his life and burgeoning career had slowly become defined by stretches of genuine warmth and creative genius, yet punctuated by jarring moments of extreme jealousy and ingratitude." Zevon's growling voice, quirky, literate lyrics and classically influenced melodies became successful--strangely so for pop music. In a career that spanned more than 30 years, Zevon won Grammy awards and received widespread industry respect. Low points were many: years of addiction, which made him violent and unpredictable, a revolving door of wives and women and the mercurial tastes of the music industry that saw his work fall in and out of favor and contributed to his destructive behaviors.
In his first book, journalist Kushins relies on extensive documentation, including hundreds of interviews with Zevon's family, friends and colleagues. These give the reader an intimate, sometimes painful window into "the conundrum of Warren Zevon." Readers are advised to have Zevon's extensive catalogue queued up to accompany this absorbing, compelling biography. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: Musician Warren Zevon's turbulent life and career are meticulously detailed in the biography Nothing's Bad Luck: The Lives of Warren Zevon.
Da Capo Press,
hardcover, 416p., 9780306921483
On Streisand: An Opinionated Guide
by Ethan Mordden
Prolific novelist and American music theater expert Ethan Mordden (All That Jazz) offers a fascinating, perceptive and very concise overview of Barbra Streisand's six-decade career in the studio, on stage, TV and screen. On Streisand: An Opinionated Guide examines and evaluates her prodigious output (she's won 10 Grammys, two Oscars and five Emmy awards) with a keen and critical eye. He also looks at her motivation behind each project. "Streisand is not a creature of impulse," writes Mordden. "She makes considered--even excruciatingly interrogated--judgment calls, because her work is her identity."
While Mordden is a fan, he's not undiscerning. Discussing her most recent two CDs, he notes, "We can no longer avoid noticing that Streisand's instrument is truly in decline." And while her 1976 movie A Star Is Born was a massive hit, Mordden notes that with her re-editing, she created "a love story with only one person in it." But he champions her amazingly assured directorial debut, Yentl, as well as Hello, Dolly!, Funny Girl and the problematic The Way We Were. Mordden folds in Streisand's personal life, her difficult reputation (sometimes earned, sometimes not) and how her genuine distinctiveness worked for and against her. "She was an Original, and many people dislike Originals--at first," he writes. Her movie career slowed down when she became "a compulsive ditherer... endlessly changing her mind about everything."
On Streisand is a thoughtful, perceptive and at times analytical look at Streisand's creative output and working methods. Mordden's engaging examination celebrates and deepens an appreciation of Streisand and her body of work. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: This concise and engaging review of Barbra Streisand's six decades of work on TV, movie screens and in recording studios will deepen your appreciation of Streisand and her output.
Oxford University Press,
hardcover, 176p., 9780190651763
by Emily Skaja
Poet Emily Skaja, recipient of the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets, writes visceral, tactile pieces about love and aggression in her first collection, Brute. These are poems of rage and tenderness, sometimes embodied in one breath and the next, but it is Skaja's attention to the natural world that surfaces again and again as the speaker's preoccupation. "It's Impossible to Keep White Moths" bursts forth into its first line to complete the thought, "from flying out of my mouth." She adds, "ravens/ lurk on the Divine Lorraine Hotel as if to say/ Always a corpse flower, never a bride."
Far from being a pastoral collection, however, Brute also dredges up the chilling betrayals of modernity as well. "No, I Do Not Want to Connect with You on LinkedIn" seethes over the cruel trespasses of an ostensibly professional acquaintance. "Trust me when I say we know all about your kind in our ranks," the poet assures him after declaring, "This here is girl country."
A mix of elegies and aubades, plus a litany of girl saints ("Dear Katie," "Dear Ruth," "Dear Emily"), Brute draws to a close over the recurring myth of Eurydice, once "just a woman walking alone/ through a field of snakes." In the end, the poet coaxes her from the underworld, "Come out into the new wet earth," breaking a cycle of death and asserting, "I will lead myself out of it."
Piece by piece, Emily Skaja builds a powerful narrative from singular marvels of imagery. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: These potent, magnificent poems cohere into a lucid reflection of modern feminine experiences in the myth of Eurydice.
paperback, 72p., 9781555978358
by Francesca Bell
Poet Francesca Bell shows she's one of the most exciting--and disturbing--voices in contemporary poetry with her dark and resplendent debut collection, Bright Stain.
Bell exhibits a thrilling fearlessness in her subject matter. These are poems about sex, crime, violence and desire. She employs multiple points of view to explore taboo characters like pedophile priests and serial killers. She even dramatizes the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Mixed in with these narrative poems are lyrical pieces on sexual experience, the female body, divinity and redemption. The collection strips down each speaker, including the poet herself, to a visceral level. The sensuality is striking, and the reader is "laid open/ on the blade of its loveliness."
Bell takes an incredible risk in extending this sensuality to abusers and killers. There is always moral hazard in humanizing monsters. Yet the risk pays off, as Bell is able to elicit humanity, and even divinity, from the worst of the worst. "The Curator," for example, ends with notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer being beaten to death: "He waited, patient/ on the prison's bathroom floor, for God/ who gathers our shards, every splintered/ fragment, into His boundless hands."
Bell reveals a faith--if not in religion itself, then in religious experience--that is as vast as the pain her characters cause. There is something that binds this "world of hunger" together. It may be the ability to move beyond pain. Perhaps Bell's poem "Benediction" says it best: "May each loss leave/ only the bright stain/ of a new beginning."
Beware: Bright Stain is an addictive read, almost impossible to put down once started. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: In this stunning debut poetry collection, Francesca Bell touches upon taboo subjects.
Red Hen Press,
paperback, 104p., 9781597098618
by Tina Chang
Tina Chang is the poet laureate of Brooklyn and, based on the content of her collection Hybrida, the title is well-deserved. This is a searing, often devastating book of poems that centers on her mixed race child, Roman, and her alarm over his well-being as black men and women are regularly killed by the police: "I envision, now, my son rising, arms above him,/ like hosanna out of a car." Yet Chang is never content to create a hundred stanzas out of a single idea. The book is a weaving of a hundred threads and motifs into a tapestry of poetic form. The poems here are restlessly, dizzyingly creative: they range from prose poetry to ekphrasis, all in the same lyrical and fierce voice. Sharon Olds or Margaret Atwood come to mind, but Chang is completely and utterly herself.
If at times the verse is so metaphorical as to be obtuse, Chang earns that with the sheer power of the emotions at play. "Bitch," the masterpiece of Hybrida, is near-horrific in its empathy for Laika, the space dog, and for the women who have followed her in lonely exploration and then persecution: "While humans went about their earth lives below, she remained/ chained but floating. Her canine self, a mortal wound." Overall this is a remarkable book by a poet who taps into the great Over-Soul, as Emerson would put it, and carries the anguish, the urgency she finds there and puts it to paper. This is one of the best poetry collections of 2019. --C.M. Crockford, freelance reviewer
Discover: Tina Chang's haunting poems explore motherhood, inheritance and fearing for the safety of one's children in a dangerous and predatory world.
hardcover, 144p., 9781324002482
Is, Is Not: Poems
by Tess Gallagher
Tess Gallagher (Dear Ghosts) elucidates liminal spaces in her fully realized poetry collection Is, Is Not.
The book is divided into eight sections, all bearing Gallagher's richly layered and evocative style. Her poems are wide-ranging in form and content, switching from long, complex, flowing meditations to terse, single-stanza observations. She considers the natural world as much as the human world, with a keen eye for where the two meet. Much of Is, Is Not straddles the boundaries between wilderness and civilization, between history and oblivion, life and death. In "Your Dog Playing with a Coyote," the poet writes of "Some ancient tincture of permission/ allows the edge of night/ to blend where wild and tame/ exchange fur in one naked, human/ mind."
Exploring these thresholds changes the poet's perception of the world and the nature of language itself. In "the night-nest of one mind" mingle impressions, memories and words, blending the objective world with the subjective self. Poetry, the poet maintains, springs from this melding of worlds.
Gallagher is as cerebral and intellectual as she is evocative and sensuous. These poems delight with their willingness to trespass into unknown realms of thought and being. The result is a heady reading experience. As she says in "Encounter," one of the collection's best, "A small entitlement of steps/ led me to mystery, seeking to be/ left out." She then asks: "How else let difference tell you/ what you are?" Is, Is Not will leave such questions spinning quietly in the mind. A bold new work from a poet of consequence. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: Tess Gallagher is in top form with this collection of challenging but intellectually rewarding poems.
paperback, 160p., 9781555978419
Children's & Young Adult
Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens
by Tanya Boteju
It's the summer before senior year, and Nima has been "wizened by two major disappointments": her mom left inexplicably over a year ago and the straight friend she's crushed on for three years doesn't want to be her girlfriend. Wanting to escape the monotony of what life has become, she seeks a way to prove she's not just "simple, awkward, humdrum Nima," but instead a person worthy of "framing and displaying on someone's wall."
When she dares to attend a drag show, Nima is befriended by the "gregarious and beautiful" drag queen Deidre, a "glittering being" with a "thrilling laugh" who convinces Nima she can add excitement to her "sad clown existence." But things continue to backfire: her best friend stops speaking to her after she pushes him into an embarrassing situation; she tries too hard to impress a new girl; and she receives a terse note from her mom requesting they meet. Nima is coping with so many heartaches, she believes her heart is "starting to develop some pretty solid calluses." But she welcomes Deidre's uplifting guidance and dazzling bravada, eager to find the courage to face life's madness and even command the drag stage herself.
At once comedic and heartrending, Tanya Boteju's Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens gracefully explores the fluidity of gender, sexuality and the teenage self. Nima's spirited journey to confidence should resonate with readers who have grappled with thoughts of inadequacy or low self-esteem. Told in Nima's endearingly witty voice, Boteju's debut celebrates the in-between in all of us, and the self-assurance that can be gained through self-expression. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer
Discover: In this YA debut, an awkward queer girl embraces the drag scene, adding sparkle to her boring life and learning to express herself with confidence.
hardcover, 384p., ages 12-up, 9781534430655
Lion and Mouse
by Jairo Buitrago, trans. by Eliza Amado, illus. by Rafael Yockteng
Jairo Buitrago's (Walk with Me) retelling of the classic fable "The Lion and the Mouse" is likely to have early readers giggling with glee. Buitrago injects a playful air into this story about an improbable friendship between a mouse and the lion who resists eating him, describing the mouse as "a busybody" who the lion thinks is "too small and ugly" to have a girlfriend. The mouse, venturing "uninvited" into the lion's house to steal some food, is "well mannered" and makes sure to wipe "his feet on the lion's mane." The lion--amazingly--does not eat the mouse, and the scene is set for a humorous romp through the forest. Buitrago's jovial, joking text entertains young readers while also making subtle, witty jabs at modern society that may amuse older readers (the lion doesn't recognize the mouse "because all mice looked alike to him").
Adding to Buitrago's wonderful waggishness is Rafael Yockteng's delightful mixed-media illustrations. The colors, textures and shading enhance the natural feeling of the setting--flowing water, gnarly trees--while matching the stylized depictions of the animals. Plus, the rich images of their friendship in the latter half of the book are whimsical and uplifting. What youngster can resist a mouse dressed up as a lion to scare away a bug?
The entertaining text and superb illustrations combine to spark new life in this old tale of kindness, compassion and friendship. No matter the age, we can all stand to be reminded of what the lion learned, "You know, seeing you so close up, friend mouse, you aren't... at all ugly." --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: The timeless fable of an unlikely friendship between lion and mouse gets a modern makeover in this charming picture book.
hardcover, 32p., ages 4-7, 9781773062242
Love from A to Z
by S.K. Ali
Two Muslim teens, Adam and Zayneb, have each, independently, spent years writing journals inspired by an ancient book called The Marvels of Creation and the Oddities of Existence. In an odd and marvelous case of serendipity, the two meet on their way to Doha, Qatar. Adam, 18, has stopped going to classes at his university in London after receiving a life-changing piece of news. He disengages with the routine he had begun in college and instead hangs out in his dorm room, making things: tiny models, meaningful gifts, intricate creations. Now he's going home to Doha to--maybe--share his news with his sister and his dad, who is still grieving the death of Adam's mother nine years earlier.
Zayneb, also 18, is visiting her aunt in Doha after getting suspended from her Indiana high school for confronting an Islamophobic teacher. Zayneb is determined to become a better version of herself (more "poised and peaceful. Maybe quieter, too"), especially once she meets Adam, who seems to have far more self-control and optimism than she does. She writes in her journal about her frustration and anger at constantly being judged and stereotyped for being a hijabi. If only there was a way to confront injustice that fell between looking the other way or posting "a few words of outrage online" and "mak[ing] someone pay" for the horrors of war and prejudice. Although Zayneb's journal is heavier on the oddities and Adam's on the marvels, together they begin finding a way to live in a world with both.
In Love from A to Z, S.K. Ali (Saints and Misfits) once again takes an unflinching and moving look at the intricacies of life as a Muslim teen in an imperfect, multi-cultural world. Beautiful. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: In S.K. Ali's YA novel, two Muslim teens struggle to control what can't easily be controlled, wanting to right the wrongs of the world while being true to their deepest selves.
Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster,
hardcover, 352p., ages 14-up, 9781534442726
Our Castle by the Sea
by Lucy Strange
For 12-year-old Pet, normal is "living in a lighthouse" with her Pa, sister Mags and German-born mother, Mutti. But the start of World War II, with Hitler's army "surging up through France," is not an easy time to live in England and have a mother from Germany. Insults are hurled and Mutti is blamed for acts of sabotage in the nearby village. When "a package of information and drawings" is "intercepted... on its way to Germany," Mutti is taken away to live in an internment camp with other "enemy aliens." Mags convinces Pet they should "find out who the real spy is," and their first guess is the "nasty old" recluse living on the nearby south cliff, Spooky Joe. But before they can do much investigating, Mags's odd behavior--she's been getting into fistfights with Kipper Briggs and sneaking around with "handsome Michael Baron"--causes a rift between the sisters. Pet feels her entire family slipping away, and it falls to her to be brave enough to make sense of a very complicated world.
Lucy Strange's (The Secret of Nightingale Wood) second middle-grade work features elegant prose and an enchanting protagonist. Pet is earnest and unwavering, and the "small, mousy, and unimportant" girl at the beginning of the story is quite different from the strong young woman who emerges by the end. Her kinship with the Daughters of Stone--mythical girls who sacrificed themselves for the safe return of their fishermen fathers--lends a timeless, haunting quality to the story, and endows it with the weight of legend. The message that everyday friends, "people from church, the village shopkeepers and fishermen," can easily turn into an angry, frightened mob is especially timely. This haunting, historical novel is sure to touch young readers' hearts. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: In this middle-grade novel, "mousy" 12-year-old Pet's life is ripped apart by the start of World War II, but she becomes "someone extraordinary" to save her family.
hardcover, 336p., ages 8-12, 9781338353853
The Absence of Sparrows
by Kurt Kirchmeier
On a summer day in the small town of Griever's Mill (population 3,004), "a roiling mass" of darkness rolls in, leaving "a sky that looked like a liquid bruise and sounded like a steel bridge on the verge of collapse." Eleven-year-old Ben and his 12-year-old brother, Pete, witness the harrowing aftermath: across the globe, adults are turning into obsidian glass statues. To make matters worse, the glassified victims soon start shattering. When an enigmatic voice on the radio suggests a radical plan to end the glass plague, Ben and Pete find themselves in opposition, with Ben racing to find another way to protect his family before it's too late.
Kurt Kirchmeier effectively uses a supernatural event to explore the many faces of grief in his debut, The Absence of Sparrows. Kirchmeier presents a family falling apart, and validates all of the characters and their coping methods, including Dad, who's using physical labor as a way of "erasing the past and fixing the future through sheer exhaustion," and Ben, who reminisces about his Sunday visits to a tea shop with Mom. Ben's nostalgic way of dealing with loss is felt in the details Kirchmeier includes--a general store, a Polaroid camera, a pair of "schoolyard menaces"--that call back to a simpler time. The timeless setting implies this kind of tragedy can happen anywhere at any time, and ratchets up the quiet fear that builds throughout the story.
With its swiftly moving plot and impending sense of dread, this coming-of-age horror novel is gripping and affecting. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Discover: When a small town experiences a strange plague that turns adults into glass, two brothers try to make sense of it in this thrilling middle-grade debut.
hardcover, 384p., ages 8-12, 9780316450928
by Nicole Melleby
Sixth-grader Fig knows a lot about artist Vincent van Gogh now that she's studying his life in art class. Fig isn't interested in art but she enrolled because "art and music, the whole language her dad spoke and played and hummed, made very little sense to her." Fig's dad was once a famous pianist and composer; she believes that learning more about his "language" will help her connect with him. Now, though, he lives in extremes: buzzing with frantic energy, trying to create his art, or barely able to get out of bed, leaving Fig to fend for herself. When his erratic behavior leads Fig's teacher to call New Jersey's Child Protection and Permanency agency, Fig is terrified--it's the second incident in CP&P's file and they might "take him away from her." Fig knows how to take care of her dad, but as questions build, Fig wonders if her dad has more than art in common with Vincent van Gogh.
Hurricane Season, Nicole Melleby's debut, is a delicate storm. The relationship between Fig and her father is beautifully nuanced: Fig's father is sympathetic even at his most extreme; Fig often takes on the role of caregiver without realizing how heavily it weighs on her 11-year-old shoulders. While the relationship between Fig and her father is central, a moving side plot about her father's romantic life is paralleled with Fig's own first forays into love: she can't stop thinking about Hannah, the older girl who works at the library. Melleby deftly tackles weighty topics--mental illness, child protective services, single parenting, sexuality--while effortlessly weaving in elements of the life and works of Vincent van Gogh, creating a thoughtful, age-appropriate and impressive novel. --Kyla Paterno, former children's book buyer
Discover: Nicole Melleby's middle-grade debut features sixth-grader Fig, who discovers the world of art through trying to connect with her troubled father.
hardcover, 288p., ages 9-12, 9781616209063
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me
by Mariko Tamaki, illus. by Rosemary Valero-O'Connell
Laura Dean has broken up with Freddy Riley three times. This time, Freddy walked in on Laura kissing another girl at a dance. Her friends Eric, Buddy and Doodle comfort Freddy outside the school, where she decides to chug a bottle of liquor (" 'Where did you get Schnapps?' 'Oh my God. I can smell it from here.' "). Couple Eric and Buddy head home, leaving Doodle to take care of the very drunk Freddy. Life proceeds miserably for a bit until Laura shows up at Freddy's doorstep and the two begin dating again.
Freddy can tell that her "nonprofessional advice-giving friends are struggling to muster sympathy for [her] increasingly ridiculous situation," so she writes a series of e-mails to an advice columnist. The e-mails work as the graphic novel's exposition while also giving readers an idea of how Freddy perceives the world. Completely involved with Laura, Freddy realizes she's being a bad friend, but can't seem to break out of the cycle. Doodle is in desperate need of a friend--will Freddy come through for her?
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me is almost too real. Mariko Tamaki (This One Summer) and Rosemary Valero-O'Connell get the ache, desire and humiliation of being in a relationship that has moved past love into compulsion. Tamaki's Berkeley, Calif., teens are witty and bright, cracking jokes and holding serious discussions about the age of consent. Valero-O'Connell's pencil, ink and digital illustrations depict the rawness of the teen's emotions, every feeling showing in their faces and postures. Each character is infused with personality: Doodle's quiet shrinking into herself; Laura's sexy self-confidence; Freddy's low self-esteem and indecision. Laura Dean isn't a light read, but it's certainly a true one. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me is a young adult graphic novel featuring a heartbroken teen who won't stop getting back together with her ex.
hardcover, 304p., ages 14-up, 9781250312846
With the Fire on High
by Elizabeth Acevedo
Emoni is a high school senior who got pregnant with Emma (more commonly called Babygirl) during her freshman year. 'Buela has raised them both--after her mother died, Emoni's father returned to Puerto Rico, leaving her in Philadelphia with his mother; Babygirl's father, too, tends toward missing, reappearing for every-other-weekend visits with his daughter. Despite challenging circumstances, Emoni and Babygirl are thriving in their loving three-generation household.
Emoni has "magical hands when it comes to cooking." Her "innate need to tell a story through food" helps her create "straight bottled goodness that warms you up and makes you feel better about your life." This school year, Schomburg Charter is offering a "Culinary Arts: Spain Immersion" elective that includes a weeklong trip to Spain. Emoni can dream, but she knows the class would be an impractical choice. However, at BFF Angelica's insistence, she enrolls. Amid school, work and parenting, Emoni will need to figure out how to balance what she must do with what she wants to do.
Elizabeth Acevedo (The Poet X) turns to prose for her sophomore effort. Her writing remains undeniably insightful and breathtakingly lyrical, though at 400 pages, With the Fire on High lacks the spare sharpness of X. While her characters occasionally seem predictable--teenage mother, deadbeat father, sacrificing grandmother, mean boss--the positives here win. Acevedo's treatment of teenage pregnancy is fresh and honest, 'Buela gets a secret life of her own, Emoni's solutions are especially creative, deadbeat dads can surprise you, teachers and mentors always matter. With such distinctive ingredients combined with Acevedo's already established sizable audience, this Fire on High should undoubtedly prove to be a sizzling success. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: National Book Award winner Acevedo's sophomore title features a tenacious teen mother determined to follow her culinary dreams.
hardcover, 400p., ages 13-up, 9780062662835
Secret Soldiers: How the U.S. Twenty-Third Special Troops Fooled the Nazis
by Paul B. Janeczko
During World War II, U.S. military officers conceived of a "deception unit" that could assist in the war effort. The group used radio signals, recordings, inflatable prop military vehicles and other special effects to mimic the movements and actions of other groups. The men in the unit risked their lives to convince the Nazis of a larger presence, an alternate attack plan or simply to cover the retreat of a weary company while another was en route to take its place. Often staging their scenes near the front lines of the war, the men--actors, camouflage experts, sound engineers, painters and set designers among them--knew their missions were dangerous and that the cost of discovery would be devastating; they "were ordered to say nothing of their exploits and accomplishments for fifty years."
Secret Soldiers by Paul B. Janeczko (Double Cross: Deception Techniques in War) brings to light a little-known element of the Allied war effort: the U.S. Twenty-Third Special Troops and the unusual yet critical part it played in World War II. Whether attempting to trick the Nazis about the details of the impending D-Day invasion or masquerading as another troop to allow it to slip into an alternate position, the missions of the Twenty-Third were varied and high tension. Janeczko intersperses his narrative with photographs and mini biographies of the men in the unit. Secret Soldiers is enlightening and intriguing, a must-read for young military buffs. --Kyla Paterno, former children's and YA book buyer
Discover: The true story of how the U.S. Twenty-Third Special Troops used technological savvy, artistry and showmanship to deceive the Nazis during the critical last years of World War II.
hardcover, 304p., ages 12-up, 9780763681531
by Maya Motayne
Grief-stricken Prince Alfehr is all too aware that the loss of his brother, Dezmin, has robbed the people of San Cristobal of their "true king." Dez disappeared into an endless "dark void" in a failed coup, but Alfie, the reluctant crown prince, is sure his brother isn't dead. In hopes of getting Dez back "alive and well and ready to take the throne," Alfie has been studying "every text of illegal magic" he can find.
At an illicit card game to win four more "forbidden" books, Alfie meets Finn, a loner and thief with powerful magic. Finn steals the game's prize and Alfie uses his propio (unique magical gift) to trick her and take the books for himself. Alfie's theft sets off a series of events that forces Finn to steal a "vanishing cloak" from the palace, where she witnesses Alfie's best friend, Luka, being poisoned. Alfie, trying desperately to save Luka, uses magic too powerful for his abilities and accidentally unleashes a "monstrous villain" from a children's tale. Finn reluctantly offers to help Alfie--she will work with him to trap the power of Sombra before this "god of the dark" can sweep the world into the "endless night" of Nocturna.
Using alternating narratives, mostly from the points of view of Alfie and Finn, two flawed but worthy characters, Motayne's debut Latinx fantasy is a thrilling ride through a rich, magical landscape. The Castallan Kingdom and its one-time Englassen conquerors ground the story in a familiar, but decidedly alternate, universe. Creative magical elements shine and readers will surely be delighted by Nocturna. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: In this Latinx YA fantasy, Prince Alfie and penniless thief Finn work together to keep the dark god, Sombra, from sweeping the world into endless night.
Balzer + Bray,
hardcover, 480p., ages 12-up, 9780062842732
Crossing on Time: Steam Engines, Fast Ships, and a Journey to the New World
by David Macaulay
The Way Things Work Now author David Macaulay takes readers on a transatlantic voyage in this homage to designer William Francis Gibbs's Blue Riband-winning steamship, the SS United States.
As a child, Macaulay emigrated to the United States with his family. Macaulay, his mother and his siblings journeyed to their new home on the ocean liner Gibbs spent 30 years imagining, researching and refining. Crossing on Time tells the story of both the ship's evolution and the Macaulay family's move. Accompanied by his illustrations and engineering-style blueprint drawings, Macaulay takes the audience through a brief history of the steam engine and its effect on sea travel. He depicts models and offers visual representation of the scientific concepts he explains in the text. As he continues to images of the vessels and their construction, he incorporates humans and animals to offer perspective, emphasizing the enormity of not only the craft but also Gibbs's dream.
Macaulay includes fascinating details about the United States, sure to engage future engineers and architects, such as Gibbs's concern for fire at sea: "The only wood he allowed belonged to a couple of grand pianos and a few chopping blocks in the galleys." Macaulay also injects charming humor that keeps the narrative animated and entertaining, such as when the family sees France from the boat: "This was our first trip to France.... It looked just like England, but with different flags." Maintaining the personal nature of the story, Macauley even includes the only two pictures of his family aboard the SS United States in the book's back matter.
A stunning book befitting its magnificent subject, Crossing on Time is a blue-ribbon read. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: David Macaulay takes his readers over the ocean and through the steamships for a look at the inner workings of the vessel that marked a turning point in his childhood.
hardcover, 128p., ages 10-14, 9781596434776
When Aidan Became a Brother
by Kyle Lukoff, illus. by Kaylani Juanita
"When Aidan was born, everyone thought he was a girl." But his name, his room, his clothes just didn't fit. Aidan realized "he was really another kind of boy": Aidan is transgender. With the help of other families with transgender children, Aidan's family figured things out. Now his parents have announced they are having another child, making Aidan a soon-to-be big brother. As the baby's arrival approaches, he expresses his fears: "I don't want them to feel like I did when I was little, but what if I get everything wrong? What if I don't know how to be a good big brother?" Thoughtfully, his mother explains, "We didn't know you were going to be our son. We made some mistakes, but you helped us fix them." Most fundamentally, "you taught us how important it is to love someone for exactly who they are."
Like Aidan, when author Kyle Lukoff (A Storytelling of Ravens) was born, everyone thought he was a girl; he reveals in his author's note that parts of his own story are "very much like Aidan's." Kaylani Juanita clearly enjoys challenging gender expectations with her digital illustrations. As Aidan explores "different ways of being a boy," Juanita shows him posing in a superhero cape (with cutouts from his discarded dresses) and wearing pink shoes with bows. His wardrobe couldn't be more gender-defyingly fabulous, comprised of a mishmash of stripes, zig-zags, checks and animal prints. Together, Lukoff and Juanita create "a world that supports and believes in [Aidan]," modeling a community that embraces "all different kinds of kids." With insight and empathy, both author and artist encourage and enable young readers to help "create that world." --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: When Aidan, a transgender boy, learns he's going to be a big brother, he helps his parents prepare for the newest addition to their family in the most welcoming ways.
Lee & Low Books,
hardcover, 32p., ages 5-8, 9781620148372
Sparky & Spike: Charles Schulz and the Wildest, Smartest Dog Ever
by Barbara Lowell, illus. by Dan Andreasen
"Sparky's dog, Spike, is a white dog with black spots. He's the wildest and smartest dog ever." What makes Spike so smart? Well, he can ring a doorbell, fetch a potato and eat things like screws and handkerchiefs to no ill effect.
The other love of young Sparky's life is comics, and he dreams of becoming a cartoonist. Persevering through his insecurities, he develops a talent, and soon the kids at school are clustering around him and requesting illustrations.
One day, Sparky realizes that the newspaper comic strip Ripley's Believe It or Not! offers a way to merge his two loves: he draws a picture of Spike on a letter heralding the dog's sense of gastronomic adventure and submits it to the strip. Finally, the Sunday paper runs Sparky's illustration, supplemented with the caption "A hunting dog that eats pins, tacks, screws and razor blades is owned by C.F. Schulz, St. Paul, Minn.," and a storied career is unassumingly launched.
Sparky & Spike: Charles Schulz and the Wildest, Smartest Dog Ever features Barbara Lowell's borderline "See Spot run"-simple sentences and Dan Andreasen's Tintin-reminiscent illustrations, some in panel format, many on pixelated backgrounds, Sunday funnies-style. These beguiling nods to an earlier era may elude young readers, who needn't register these winks in order to be charmed by this double homage: to a boy's dog, and to a boy who grew up to become the beloved illustrator of the comic strip Peanuts, which starred a certain other white pooch with black spots. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
Discover: This winsome picture book pays tribute to both the creator of the comic strip Peanuts and the real-life canine inspiration for Snoopy.
hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781944903589
William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Mean Girls
by Ian Doescher, illus. by Kent Barton
After a made-for-TV sequel, a novelization and a musical adaptation on Broadway, the wildly popular 2004 teen comedy Mean Girls is now a Shakespearean play in Ian Doescher's Much Ado About Mean Girls.
Doescher (William Shakespeare's Star Wars series) remains faithful to the original script, telling the story of 16-year-old, homeschooled Cady, who has been living in Africa for the past 12 years. Now a student at an Illinois high school, Cady struggles with adapting to life outside the "Afric plains." Outcasts Janis and Damian educate her about their school's social classes, warning her against the uber-popular Plastics. When Plastics leader Regina takes an interest in Cady, her new friends encourage her to infiltrate the group. But as Cady climbs the popularity ladder, she quickly learns that it's a long fall from the top.
Doescher doesn't merely adapt the cult classic; he transforms it. He effortlessly translates scenes and dialogue from the screenplay ("I hear her hair's insured for $10,000") to Shakespearean language and meter (" 'Tis said the lady's hair is well insur'd--ten thousand ducats should it damag'd be"), maintaining its original humor while injecting some of his own. He pays homage by including lines from the Bard's plays, mostly delivered by main female characters who are all paired with a Shakespearean counterpart (according to an afterword), as well as from "extras," like a mall salesperson who quotes Love's Labour's Lost. Barton's handful of black-and-white vignettes aid in bringing together the old and new; for example, showing the Plastics' notorious "Jingle Bell Rock" costumes adorned with ruffs.
Because of Doescher's handiwork, this amalgam of storytelling forms stands on its own. Those already familiar with the film should find this Shakespearean treatment easily accessible, while Bard fans will likely relish the nods to his style and characters. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Discover: This mash-up of Shakespeare and Mean Girls is totally fetch.
paperback, 176p., ages 12-up, 9781683691174