Its Colours They Are Fine
by Alan Spence
First published in 1977, Alan Spence's debut collection of stories, Its Colours They Are Fine, renders the environs and inhabitants of Glasgow with glass-like clarity.
This new edition of the celebrated collection features an introduction by Janice Galloway. The first stories offer a portrait of rough-and-tumble children who cause trouble in the city's many tenements. Spence's Scottish dialect captures the national character; adult biases, such as anti-Catholic prejudices, are transmitted in the speech of somewhat innocent children. Part two focuses on adults struggling to make a living against the cold, gray atmosphere of the city, while part three features a first-person narrator, a writer of sorts who travels between London and Glasgow.
The streets of Spence's Glasgow can be cruel and hardscrabble, but despite the dreary atmosphere, the miraculous is never out of reach; religious symbols abound. In "Tinsel," the trite Christmas decoration provides something of the everlasting in the eyes of the child protagonist. In "Silver in the Lamplight," Spence's impressionistic descriptions of the city add wonder to the narrative that focuses on juvenile characters causing mayhem. It's perhaps in "The Palace" that Spence offers the quintessential portrait of the Glasgow denizen. Two poor old men meet in an enclosed botanical garden, a refuge from the cold weather, and swap stories. One of the men is described as having "that tattered dignity." "His very eccentricity was a kind of affirmation," Spence writes. "There was life in his eyes, in his voice."
Its Colours They Are Fine
is a Scottish classic that Americans will enjoy. The prose is as beautiful as it is bittersweet. --Scott Neuffer
, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: This new edition of Alan Spence's classic story collection showcases the working-class ethos of Glasgow.
paperback, 272p., 9781786892973
by Daniel Torday
To some members of the millennial generation, whose formative experiences have included the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the economic hangover from the Great Recession of 2008-09, the relative ease with which their baby boomer parents have moved through life might seem especially galling. Feeding that resentment is the fact that many of those same boomers refuse to step out of the working world into retirement. That's the fuel to which Daniel Torday (The Last Flight of Poxl West) applies his satiric match in Boomer1.
Two millennials, Mark Brumfeld and Cassie Black, are one-time lovers and fellow bluegrass band members in Brooklyn, N.Y. Mark is a former editor at a glossy magazine in midtown Manhattan, with a Ph.D. in English literature that has yet to land him an academic job, while Cassie works as a fact-checker for Us Weekly. After Cassie rejects his marriage proposal and with his economic prospects plummeting, Mark decides to move back to his family's home in suburban Baltimore, taking up residence in the basement.
Following an encounter on the basketball court with an entitled boomer, Mark takes on a new identity as "Boomer1." He soon begins to craft a series of "Boomer Missives" on YouTube, railing against the predecessor generation. Mark's videos spark a movement of "Boomer Boomers," who support their ROWRY ("retire or we'll retire you") demand with increasingly brazen electronic guerrilla warfare.
Torday has his finger on the pulse of American society in the 21st century, and he smartly suggests that when it comes to relationships between the generations, the patient may not be in the best of health. --Harvey Freedenberg
, freelance reviewer
Discover: Daniel Torday tackles the issue of generational conflict in 21st-century America in a sharp satire.
St. Martin's Press,
hardcover, 352p., 9781250191793
by Frank Capra
Frank Capra (It's a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) was one of the most influential American filmmakers in the 20th century. In the mid-'60s, Capra wrote a novel but never released it. Published 50 years later, Cry Wilderness is a funny, sometimes brutal take on small towns, nature and what it means to be free. The narrator is Capra himself, presenting this tale as a (somewhat) plausible shaggy dog story about the community of Mono County, Calif., where he has a vacation home. Somewhere in the wilderness are two vagrants, Dry Rot and Bear Bait, who live off the land and the charity of others. When the businessmen of Mono aim to run the two out of the county, a policeman refuses to do the deed, leading to a legal battle inside the municipality with Capra as a major actor and witness. Cry Wilderness moves along like a farce, until its end, where Capra pulls the rug out from under the reader, showing how deathly serious his intentions are. It's a surprisingly assured book from a man who wrote only one.
The novel has a wonderfully conversational style. Capra waxes poetic about the incredible natural landscape of Mono, and his dialogue is as snappy and earnest as the best of his films. But there's a dark tinge to everything as well. Capra sees how the delicate balance between humanity and nature is constantly wobbling, and that the freedom of people to thrive and of nature to endure is in fact one and the same. --Noah Cruickshank
, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: The only novel by American filmmaker Frank Capra is a funny, thoughtful look at humanity's relationship to nature.
Rare Bird Books,
hardcover, 272p., 9781947856301
by Barbara Kingsolver
Barbara Kingsolver's Unsheltered takes place in Vineland, N.J., in two eras: the end of the 1800s and the present day. In alternating chapters, the novel relays the life of 21st-century grandmother Willa Knox and 19th-century science teacher Thatcher Greenwood. Knox has just inherited an old, dilapidated house in Vineland, and lives there with her husband, Iano, and her terminally ill, Donald Trump-loving father-in-law, Nick. Also residing there are her rebellious adult daughter, Tig, and depressed adult son, Zeke. Zeke's wife has recently taken her own life, leaving him with a newborn son. Underemployed, on government assistance and struggling to keep a roof over their heads while their house falls apart, the extended family represents the ailing American middle class that can no longer expect a brighter future for the next generation.
Thatcher, who lives with his new wife, Rose, in Willa's house when it's first built, struggles to fit into Vineland's faux-utopian community. In embracing Charles Darwin's new theories of evolution, he challenges orthodoxy and alienates himself from the town's supposedly benevolent elite. They fear Darwin's scientific explanations of human origins, and Thatcher finds his job in jeopardy as he defends basic scientific principles. Rose's loyalty is also put to the test.
Kingsolver uses the house to great effect, juxtaposing Thatcher's anxieties about its structural deficiencies with Willa's same anxieties more than a century later. Both worry about homelessness, or the state of being unsheltered. More than being physically without a home, though, their states of mind reflect sweeping cultural changes that threaten old ways of life. Kingsolver expertly channels these two eras into a powerful message about the future and humankind's ability to adapt. --Scott Neuffer
, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: Barbara Kingsolver's ambitious novel follows characters in different centuries as they undergo seismic cultural shifts.
hardcover, 480p., 9780062684561
The Clockmaker’s Daughter
by Kate Morton
When Elodie Winslow, an archivist in London, stumbles on a box of assorted artifacts at work, she uncovers a mystery. A leather satchel holds a sepia photograph of a beautiful unknown woman and a sketchbook with an elaborate drawing of Birchwood Manor, home of Victorian painter Edward Radcliffe. But who was the woman, and what was her relationship to Radcliffe? And though she knows it's illogical, Elodie is sure the house is the same one from a bedtime story her mother used to tell. As she begins investigating, pieces of the house's complicated past, including a long-ago summer that ended with the violent death of Radcliffe's fiancée, come to light.
Kate Morton's sixth novel, The Clockmaker's Daughter, draws on some elements and themes from her previous works, such as The Lake House and The Secret Keeper: a grand country house with many secrets; a family saga spanning generations. This narrative is more complex, though, with sections focusing on multiple eras, and interludes exploring the life of the title character and her mysterious connection to the house. The shifts between Elodie's present-day narrative and the other strands can, at times, be confusing, especially as the cast of characters expands. But several of the protagonists are interesting in their own right, including Radcliffe's sister, Lucy, a naturalist who used the house as a school for girls, and Juliet, a London journalist who spent a summer at Birchwood with her children during the Blitz.
Each of the narratives leads back somehow to the fateful summer of 1862 and the book's central mystery. Like the house itself, the novel contains hidden corners and unexpected twists, and while some questions are eventually answered, others are left lingering. Fans of Morton's atmospheric novels will find much to enjoy here. --Katie Noah Gibson
, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Kate Morton’s moody, atmospheric sixth novel follows the history of a country house and its connection to a Victorian painter.
hardcover, 496p., 9781451649390
Waiting for Eden
by Elliot Ackerman
Narrated from the grave by a marine killed in the same IED attack that left Eden Malcom an intermittently conscious, skin-torched, dismembered, vision- and hearing-compromised survivor, Waiting for Eden tells of his wife Mary's three-year bedside vigil holding on to the thread of life. Her refusal to take him off life-support alienates his siblings, who hold a symbolic memorial service and move on. Even the stoic nurses at the San Antonio VA hospital shudder to care for this patient: "Not alive, not dead, what it was didn't have a name... it was man suffering into the anlage of whatever came next."
National Book Award finalist Elliot Ackerman's unusual choice of a dead comrade to narrate his spare tale allows for unobtrusive flashbacks fleshing out the history of Mary and Eden's life. We learn of his first deployment, their early dating and marriage, her desire for a child, his war-driven impotence and the narrator's brief affair that impregnates Mary. When Eden's condition deteriorates to the point where Mary is ready to let him go, his training in prisoner communication by coded taps opens a window of connection. She hesitates until it is clear that he is messaging her to "end, end, end"--the signal of a desire to "tap out." The narrator patiently waits for her decision to release his fellow Marine to the limbo of post-death "whiteness." What comes next is unknown. Waiting for Eden
is a tight, intense story of loyalty, guilt and suffering that belies its brevity. Ackerman (Dark at the Crossing
) has crafted another prismatic window into the long-lasting agony of war. --Bruce Jacobs
, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe
, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: National Book Award finalist Ackerman's spare third novel about a severely wounded soldier on life support is a tightly woven tapestry of loose ends.
hardcover, 192p., 9781101947395
by Leif Enger
Readers who enjoy tenderhearted stories seasoned with a dash of intrigue will find much to like in Virgil Wander, Leif Enger's (Peace Like a River) third novel. By the shore of Lake Superior, the town of Greenstone, Minn., is home to the eponymous narrator. Virgil's near-fatal automobile plunge into the lake is only the first of several events--including a death by giant sturgeon and a near electrocution caused by a wayward kite--that make life there seem unusually dangerous. Things have gotten so depressed that the town, "full of people who could make you sad just by strolling into view," decides to name its festival "Hard Luck Days."
Employed as the city clerk by day, Virgil also owns the failing Empress Theater, which boasts a cache of classic films stolen by a previous owner. As he recovers from his car accident, Virgil invites Rune Eliassen, a Norwegian maker of exotic kites, to share his apartment above the Empress. Rune has left his home north of the Arctic Circle to visit the place where, unbeknownst to him until recently, he fathered a son almost half a century earlier.
Virgil is a patient, observant storyteller, qualities that extend even to his account of the discovery that a homegrown terrorist may be plotting a spectacular bombing in Greenstone. The novel's depiction of how broken souls can begin to mend is both thoughtful and moving. Greenstone may be a town shadowed by bad luck, but those who discover this gentle novel will consider themselves most fortunate. --Harvey Freedenberg
, freelance reviewer
Discover: Leif Enger's third novel is the warmhearted story of how some inhabitants of a depressed small town recover their zest for life.
hardcover, 352p., 9780802128782
The Parting Gift
by Evan Fallenberg
The Parting Gift is a feverish and hypnotic epistolary novel, and a tantalizing literary treat. While wholly its own creation, readers may feel the influences of Patricia Highsmith (the sense of mounting dread) and Edmund White (the white-hot sexual encounters are salacious, surprising and erotic). An unnamed gay narrator who has been living with his straight college friend for the past four months has decided to move on and, as a parting gift, he's decided to write a letter explaining what brought him to his friend's doorstep.
The narrator drops out of grad school "under highly unpleasant circumstances" just months before graduation. Vacationing with friends in Tel Aviv, he meets Uzi, a roughhewn spice merchant, and immediately seduces him. "We were a mess," he writes, "a heaving, sweating, panting, quivering mess. And I was hooked." Uzi has two ex-wives and five kids (including an anorexic daughter and drug-selling son) but makes room in his home for his new romance. As their relationship builds, however, so does the narrator's mistrust. And this paranoia leads him down dark alleys. As he writes to his college friend: "Jealousy is a dangerous motive, and revenge its sharpest weapon."
Evan Fallenberg (When We Danced on Water
) has crafted a haunting, emotionally satisfying and beautifully written story of obsessive love. Few readers will be able to stop reading this short novel before its surprising climax. The Parting Gift
's vivid characters and their pyretic emotions make this an incredibly haunting novel. --Kevin Howell
, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: A haunting, erotic and beautifully written epistolary novel about a gay affair in Tel Aviv that turns into an obsessive quest for revenge.
hardcover, 256p., 9781590519431
An Absolutely Remarkable Thing
by Hank Green
Hank Green, YouTube celebrity and brother of popular YA author John Green, has turned his attention to fiction with a debut novel, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, that is both thought-provoking and entertaining.
Twenty-something April May is working as a graphic designer when she comes across a giant robot-like statue in Manhattan late one night. She calls her friend Andy to bring his video equipment. The two make a video with the statue, which they nickname Carl, thinking it is an art installation, though they soon learn that more than 60 Carls have appeared mysteriously overnight in cities around the world. Within days, the video goes viral and April becomes an Internet sensation, frequently appearing as a guest on TV shows. She is flung into a world of international renown that is both exciting and unsettling.
Green has created a bizarre situation (that gets even stranger) while reflecting the present culture of overnight celebrities, social media empires and divisive politics, all seen through the mirror of the Carls. His compelling novel combines mystery, suspense and science fiction with insightful social commentary while exploring what it means to be famous today, based on his own experiences in becoming an Internet star. As April herself says, "I was virtually a social media celebrity now, and so I had to let the entire world know every time I experienced any inconvenience!" All of this is bound up in a laugh-out-loud, fast-paced story that is just plain fun to read. --Suzan L. Jackson
, freelance writer and author of Book By Book
Discover: In this insightful and funny novel, a young woman experiences sudden fame when mysterious statues appear around the world.
hardcover, 352p., 9781524743444
The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish
by Katya Apekina
Mae is 14, her sister Edie 16, when their mother tries to hang herself from a downstairs rafter of their Louisiana home. Mae, lying on her upstairs bedroom floor, senses what she is doing but does nothing to stop it. Edie arrives in time to save Marianne, who is committed to a mental health facility.
The girls are sent to New York to live with their father, Dennis, who walked away from the family 12 years prior. With Marianne as his muse, Dennis became a bestselling author; without her, he's blocked. He tries to provide stability for his daughters, and Mae finds comfort in the fresh start, away from the suffocation of an unnerving bond with her turbulent mother. Rebellious Edie, however, is fiercely protective of Marianne and wants nothing to do with this new life.
In The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish, Katya Apekina dives into the abyss of family history and examines some rather unsightly affairs. Within short, alternating entries from more than 10 first-person perspectives--primarily Mae and Edie's, along with letters, journal entries, therapy notes and conversation transcripts--Apekina captivatingly unspools the saga of Dennis and Marianne.
Dennis and Mae's relationship begins to spin into dysfunction as her uncanny resemblance to Marianne awakens his creativity. As Mae becomes disturbingly entwined with Dennis, Edie's drive to flee and rescue her mother becomes undeniable. Mae ultimately takes drastic measures of her own to find escape. Dark yet bitingly funny, Apekina's debut evidences depth well worth the ugly. --Lauren O'Brien
of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: Two sisters are forced to deal with dark family history when their mother's suicide attempt results in their reunion with the father they barely know.
Two Dollar Radio,
paperback, 353p., 9781937512750
My Struggle: Book Six
by Karl Ove Knausgaard, trans. by Martin Aitken, Don Bartlett
In a weighty finale to his epic My Struggle series, Karl Ove Knausgaard turns to the recent years of his life in book six. In Part 1, Knausgaard copes with his own doubts and his uncle's anger over the contents of My Struggle: Book One. In Part 2, Knausgaard conducts a close reading of Nazism and the dark corners of the human soul, daring to connect Hitler with his own work. Finally, Part 3 rejoins Knausgaard's family years later, as he grapples with his wife's deepening depression.
While each book in the six-volume series has had its share of meta-textual elements, this final installment explodes any remaining barriers to address the publication of its own pages. Knausgaard maintains all the hypnotic clarity and propulsive insights that attracted past readers, but adds a new layer of literary and philosophical scholarship into literature's most defiled achievement: Mein Kampf
. In doing so, he confronts key thematic questions that have stitched each book together: questions of reality versus fiction, what it means to write and where the divide exists between the individual and the collective. For all its dizzying fatalism and pulsing anxiety, the book's musings ultimately inspire with a spiritual perspective, arguing "the loss of identity in the mass [is] merely ostensible, for the number of stars or the number of grains of sand is not infinite, but finite, and only from a distance are they the same, seen up close each grain of sand is different, each star unique." By the end, the reader, like the writer, experiences an existential exhaustion that is as emptying as it is revelatory. --Alice Martin
, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Unlike anything else in the contemporary literary landscape, Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle: Book Six delivers a fitting final blow.
hardcover, 1160p., 9780914671992
by Merilyn Simonds
Refuge by Merilyn Simonds (The Convict Lover; The Holding) examines the emotional pain and suffering an elderly woman endures after a lifetime pursuit of science leaves her in denial about her personal choices and relationships.
Piqued by curiosity and nagging suspicions, 96-year-old Cass MacCallum invites Nang Aung Myaing, a Burmese woman who says she is her great-granddaughter, to her remote island home in Newbliss, Ontario. Nang hopes to seek asylum as a refugee based on her family's Canadian roots. As Nang relates her violent and tortuous past, Cass reminisces about her own history, spanning three countries and two World Wars. She observes and defines human pain through the frozen faces of black-and-white photographs--a skill she inherited from her amateur naturalist father and carefully honed as a nurse--as she reconciles the hurt that arises from grief and loss.
Cass's need to confront her past honestly and Nang's search for refuge coalesce in a tense and emotionally wrought narrative. Simonds's attention to detail--her descriptive, poetic writing--connects the dots between all the major events of the 20th century through Cass's eyes. She pulls readers in and builds emotional tension, turning the fantastical into believable moments in her characters' lives. Cass's purity of belief in scientific observation becomes a metaphor for her search for human connectedness and refuge--both for herself and for Nang.
As Simonds writes, "Observe. Don't force a moment in the direction of your choosing; allow it to unfold as it will. Truth is rarely extracted, only revealed." --Nancy Powell
, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: In this richly layered story, a visitor claiming to be kin forces an elderly woman to confront uncomfortable truths about the tragedies of her past.
paperback, 320p., 9781770414181
by Olivia Laing
It's the summer of 2017. Amid North Korean nuclear detonations, hurricanes, presidential tweets, Brexit, White House firings, Internet rage, Charlottesville, an earthquake in Mexico, political tension in Spain, an eclipse--Kathy is getting married. She feels conflicted about her wedding, and as she counts down to the date, she consumes current events online, news that washes over her like a saturated sponge.
British author Olivia Laing's first novel follows a fictionalized Kathy Acker in a year when the apocalypse seems nigh. Laing's writing is urgent and lyrical, with short, tightly crafted sentences that can be read as slowly as poetry or as quickly as tweets. She repurposes quotes from Acker's writing, which adds another layer to the narrative; Acker used them to describe the '80s, and they are just as meaningful in 2017.
Throughout, Liang (The Lonely City
) captures both the anxiety and detachment of the time. She writes, "Kathy was becoming obsessed with the numbness, the way the news cycle was making her incapable of action, a beached somnolent whale." The end of the world and beginning of a marriage are both ways to think about our own mortality, and Liang, in less than 150 pages, asks: How is it possible to love, to even think, in a society on the brink of collapse? Crudo
is a time capsule that will become even more meaningful with age. --Katy Hershberger
, freelance writer and bookseller
Discover: In Olivia Laing's first work of fiction, Kathy Acker contemplates marriage and current events in 2017.
hardcover, 160p., 9780393652727
Listen to the Marriage
by John Jay Osborn
Whether readers will enjoy John Jay Osborn's Listen to the Marriage depends entirely on whether they're intrigued or horrified by the idea of reading a novel that is, essentially, a year-long transcript of one couple's marital counseling sessions.
If that description sends them screaming, they should stay away. But if it doesn't--and perhaps if they're fans of Esther Perel's popular podcast Where Should We Begin?--they may take Osborn's novel as an intimate opportunity to observe the healing transaction between couple and counselor.
Gretchen and Steve are an affluent, attractive, 30-something couple in San Francisco. She's an English professor, he's in finance and they adore their two children. But this perfect image has been fractured by infidelity, communication problems and the corrosive pressure of high-stress careers. The counselor, Sandy, is there to guide them toward understanding, if not reconciliation--and she has heartaches of her own.
Much like real-life counseling, the novel is by turns revelatory and tedious. For every insight, there's a setback, and rare breakthroughs are earned only by slogging through some frustrating, repetitive conversations. The story is told from Sandy's perspective, and so readers experience Gretchen and Steve as she does--within the confines of her office, without external influence or context.
In a brief note, Osborn, who wrote the '70s law school classic The Paper Chase
, discloses that Listen to the Marriage
was inspired by his own experience in marital counseling. His deep appreciation for the counseling process, and for his counselor, is apparent; Sandy's quiet inner nature is even more compelling than Gretchen and Steve's unfolding drama. --Hannah Calkins
, writer and editor in Washington, D.C.
Discover: Step into the sacred space of a counselor's office to "listen in" on the slow, intricate, session-by-session repair of one deeply damaged marriage.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
hardcover, 256p., 9780374192020
The Sadness of Beautiful Things: Stories
by Simon Van Booy
In The Sadness of Beautiful Things, British-born and Brooklyn, N.Y., resident Simon Van Booy offers eight short works that focus on a host of ordinary people who suffer devastating life losses, but find ways to go on--dramatically changed.
Each of these haunting, at times mystical, fictions are, at their core, love stories in every conceivable sense of the word. A daughter tells of her absent, volatile father and the lengths her long-suffering, yet forgiving mother ultimately goes to for their star-crossed relationship. Familial love takes center stage when the mental deficiencies of old age lead an unfeeling father into a labyrinthine depression, and his devoted wife and their daughter connect with an eye doctor in Chinatown who offers a remedy.
"Not Dying," the longest and most inventively told story in the collection, probes a father's love for his wife and daughter--and their lives' meaning and purpose--amid impending fears of the apocalypse. Meanwhile, the kindness and loving generosity of strangers are central to another tale, about a mysterious shut-in with a heartbreaking past, who becomes an anonymous benefactor to a struggling family in town.
Van Booy is a wise, philosophical writer. His spare prose is incredibly illuminating and is further enhanced by unexpected resolutions that allow graceful themes to expand and flourish. What makes this collection all the more compelling is that Van Booy claims to have based most of the tales on true stories, told to him over the course of his travels. The dark, sad circumstances that germinate each of these poignant, unpredictable gems will lead readers to refreshing glimpses of transcendence and hope. --Kathleen Gerard
, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: This wise and deeply affecting collection of vividly told stories centers on the inner lives of ordinary people shaped by personal tragedy.
paperback, 208p., 9780143133049
by Blair Hurley
Like an update to Kerouac's The Dharma Bums, Blair Hurley's first novel, The Devoted, tells of a young woman's struggle to reconcile a strict Boston Catholic upbringing with a decade of Buddhist training. Confused and searching, Nicole Hennessey trades in aspirations of Catholic sisterhood and an adulation of her parish priest for obedience and sexual submission to her zen master. After an ill-fated yearlong run from home at 17 ("smelling of weed, wary as a cat, creeping out of her house"), she makes her way to the Peaceful Healing Zen Center ("a glass storefront, wedged in between a hardware store and a Mexican restaurant") where she gradually falls under the spell of the zendo's master. Suspicious of Nicole's obsession, her concerned older brother lures her to Brooklyn in hopes that a new place will break her pattern of spiritual dependence.
A Pushcart Prize-winner and native of Boston, Hurley captures the heart of the Hub, including its provincial and reticent citizens "with every face hidden behind a baseball cap or a coat collar... so buttoned up, so tribal." It is the vulnerable yet determined Nicole, however, who puts the zest into The Devoted
. Whether probing the hoarding fetish of a sensitive guy she picks up in a Boston bar or becoming an informal roshi
herself to a women she meets in an Upper East Side zendo, she is a sincere, if flawed, seeker of personal fulfillment and independence. Hurley's abundant talent convincingly illustrates that dharma
don't come easy. --Bruce Jacobs
, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Hurley's debut novel tells of a young Boston woman seeking release from a strict Catholic past and a decade of zen obedience.
hardcover, 320p., 9780393651591
City of Crows
by Chris Womersley
In 1673, when Charlotte Picot's husband dies of the plague, she leaves her small home village, along with her one remaining son, Nicolas, and searches for a new life. But disaster strikes when ruffians attack them, kidnapping Nicolas and leaving Charlotte for dead. Meanwhile, Adam du Coeuret, also known as Lesage, a tarot card reader imprisoned for performing magic, is set free, and through fate and magic encounters Charlotte. Together, the unlikely duo head to Paris in search of Nicolas. Lesage is familiar with the more sinister aspects of the city, having worked closely with some of the witches who reside there, so he's a perfect ally for Charlotte, who knows nothing of the place. He is also on a quest of his own for which he will need Charlotte's help.
Chris Womersley (Cairo
) has expertly blended historical facts about Paris with his story told in alternating points of view. During this infamous period, the city was filled with murderers, poisoners, witches and others who performed all sorts of wicked deeds, including murdering innocent children, which Womersley shares in abundant detail. The overall effect is a lavish feast for those who love specifics. The main characters are likable and believable, while the supporting characters add their own flair to the tale. Superstition, fear and magic abound in this historical tale of mistaken identity and of a mother's love for her child, making for a read that entertains and informs at the same time. --Lee E. Cart
, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: A mother and her mysterious new acquaintance search for her kidnapped son in 17th-century Paris.
paperback, 384p., 9781609454708
The Bus on Thursday
by Shirley Barrett
Australian author Shirley Barrett (Rush, Oh!) takes readers on an arrestingly dark and hilarious journey to a bizarre small town in Australia and through a young woman's growing madness.
She survived breast cancer, but Eleanor Mellett is unprepared for life after the battle, an aggravating maze of humorless support groups, post-mastectomy dates with insensitive men and thoughtless comments from her friends. Needing an escape, Eleanor finds a job teaching primary school in the town of Talbingo, population 241--actually, 240, since the previous teacher, Miss Barker, skipped town in the middle of the night. Her disappearance made little sense considering her alleged devotion to her students, but Eleanor is in no position to look a gift horse in the mouth.
In a private blog, she chronicles her increasing bemusement at Talbingo, where she learns there is no cell signal. She has a run-in with a priest who tries to exorcise her, a teen student who ogles her and a volatile relationship with the local bad boy who may or may not have had an affair with Miss Barker. Beginning to suspect her predecessor may not have left town of her own free will, Eleanor also slides into drinking and outbursts of uncontrollable anger. Perhaps something is rotten in Talbingo, or perhaps the fault lies in Eleanor's own mind.
Written in Eleanor's snarky, seething voice, this warped gem will throw readers off-balance with its mix of horror and humor. A raw exploration of grief and illness woven into a more traditional horror story, The Bus on Thursday
will chill readers across the board. --Jaclyn Fulwood
, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: Shirley Barrett blends horror and chick-lit conventions with dark humor for a slyly comic slice of dread sure to keep readers guessing.
MCD/Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
paperback, 304p., 9780374110444
Mystery & Thriller
by Sharon Bolton
"I have no means of knowing exactly what Patricia Wood suffered in the hours following her disappearance. I suppose I should consider that a blessing."
Assistant Commissioner Florence Lovelady of the Metropolitan Police ponders this in 1999, as she returns to the town where she started her career in 1969. She doesn't want to think about what poor little Patricia suffered, but she knows what happened to the kidnapped girl 30 years ago: Patricia was buried alive. In a casket. And she wasn't the only one.
The reason for Florence's revisit is to attend the funeral of the sadistic serial killer she hunted and captured three decades earlier. She's come to witness the final nail put in the man's coffin. But instead of the case being laid to rest, disturbing new clues surface to indicate this particular brand of evil is alive--and that someone has sinister plans for Florence.
Sharon Bolton's novels (Dead Woman Walking
, Daisy in Chains
) are known for their atmospheric creepiness, but she cranks up the dial even more in The Craftsman
. Florence's--and the reader's--imagination goes to unsettling places in considering the horrors the victims endured. As if that isn't enough, Bolton throws in witchcraft, effigies, spells and night visits to cemeteries, making this a book you might want to read under a blanket in a room with the door locked. She's also known for strong female protagonists, and Florence and a coven of witches fit the bill. Sharp-eyed fans might guess some of the story's outcomes, but that doesn't take away from Bolton's well-earned reputation as a master craftswoman of suspense. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis
, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: A Met Police assistant commissioner returns to the town where she captured a killer 30 years earlier, only to find the horrific killings may have continued.
hardcover, 432p., 9781250300034
The Witch Elm
by Tana French
Edgar winner Tana French (The Trespasser
) diverges from her Dublin Murder Squad procedural series for the first time with a hair-raising standalone that asks if knowing oneself is truly possible.
Toby Hennessy always thought of himself as the lucky sort, until burglars break into his apartment and savagely beat him. Left with fractures and a head injury, he wakes up in the hospital forever changed. Not only does he have a long rehabilitation ahead of him, but the brain trauma has also blurred segments of his memory and left him with aphasia as well as trouble concentrating and regulating his anger.
Solace comes in an unexpected form when his cousin Susanna suggests Toby should stay a few weeks at their family home, the Ivy House, to keep an eye on their beloved Uncle Hugo, an elderly genealogist dying of cancer. However, their idyll shatters when Susanna's small children find a human skull in the hollow wych elm in the garden. Police identify it as belonging to a high school classmate of Toby, Susanna and their cousin Leon. As suspicion falls on his family, Toby tries to unravel the case before the cops do, but he must suspect everyone, even himself.
While an amateur sleuth as protagonist marks a departure from French's customary focus on a murder detective's point of view, her dark and thoughtful tone remains. Readers who correctly solve the murder ahead of time should keep reading, as she has a few 11th-hour jaw-droppers in store. While Dublin Murder Squad fans may long for the next in the series, The Witch Elm
will satisfy cravings for French's blend of atmosphere and introspection. --Jaclyn Fulwood
, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: In French's first standalone mystery, a skull found in a manor house garden causes a young art dealer to question how well he knows his family and himself.
hardcover, 528p., 9780735224629
Miss Kopp Just Won't Quit
by Amy Stewart
Constance Kopp, deputy sheriff of Hackensack, N.J., is doing her best to keep on keeping on. After a year in her role, she's more than capable of watching over the female inmates in her charge and (literally) chasing down the occasional thief. But 1916 is a contentious election year, and Constance's boss and champion, Sheriff Heath, is under scrutiny as he runs for Congress. While Constance cares little for public opinion, she's loath to jeopardize Sheriff Heath's future or her own. Despite all that, she still has a job to do, and she lives up to the title of her fourth adventure, Miss Kopp Just Won't Quit.
Amy Stewart's plot circles enjoyably around familiar characters: Sheriff Heath and his social-climbing wife, Cordelia; Constance's sisters, flighty Fleurette and stoic Norma (who spends most of the book building an elaborate pigeon cart); and Constance herself, fiercely committed to justice and terrified of losing the job she loves. The local political machinations are based in the reality of 1916, and they carry strong overtones for an election a century later: Stewart highlights the contrast between quiet, sober public servants and glad-handing politicians, letting the modern-day parallels speak for themselves. The book ends with intimations of change for Constance and the nation as war looms closer, but the indefatigable lady detective doubtless has more adventures in store.
Packed with incisive social commentary and colorful characters on both sides of the law, Miss Kopp Just Won't Quit
is a stellar entry in a highly enjoyable series. --Katie Noah Gibson
, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Constance Kopp takes on petty criminals and local politicians in Amy Stewart's witty, insightful fourth mystery.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,
hardcover, 320p., 9781328736512
by Michael Harvey
Emmy and Academy Award nominee Michael Harvey (Brighton) returns to the city of his youth with another thriller alive with the haphazard streets of the Hub. With film rights already optioned, Pulse is a cinematic story of two young parentless brothers and two police detectives--one an Irish Catholic Southie and the other a 250-pound African American raised in a Roxbury tenement. Set in the '70s, Pulse is partly a whodunit, partly a historical coming-of-age story, partly gritty noir and partly quantum physics sci-fi.
Sixteen-year-old Daniel Fitzsimmons is a flaky Boston Latin student suffering from PTSD after witnessing the death of his mother in a car wreck when he was eight. He worships his older brother, Harry, who is gliding through Harvard, acing his classes and leading the football team. With an unknown absent father, they've got each other's backs--until Harry joins his teammates for a traditional end-of-season night in strip joints and brothels. In a deserted alley, Harry is stabbed to death and found by Daniel after a premonition draws him to the crime scene. Detectives Tommy Dillon and Barkley Jones catch the gruesome, headline case. When a sketchy street photographer snaps close-ups of the murder and the perpetrator from his seedy third-floor flat, it looks like an easy case-closed investigation. Until it isn't.
Like a good crime novel, Pulse
is driven by a trail of clues and coincidences that paint a picture of cause and effect. The ghosts, nightmares and visions that motivate and trouble its characters take a back seat to a solid good guys/bad guys tale set in the streets of an old city opening to a new world. --Bruce Jacobs
, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Michael Harvey's second crime novel set in 1970s Boston is rich in the ambience of a city facing problems of race, crime, technology and neighborhood loyalty.
hardcover, 400p., 9780062443038
Depth of Winter
by Craig Johnson
Walt Longmire heads south of the border in Craig Johnson's 15th book about the sheriff from the least populated county in the least populated American state. A black-hearted hitman and drug lord with a serious grudge has kidnapped Walt's daughter, Cady, and is holding her in a lawless Mexican desert town. Red tape and politics seem to have rendered the Mexican and U.S. governments helpless, but Walt is not about to sit and wait. As he explains, "to save my daughter, I'll go as far as hell and back and never blink an eye."
Johnson's series has been growing darker with each book, and Depth of Winter may be the darkest yet. The evil perpetrated on characters is chilling, including skinning faces to stitch onto soccer balls. The intensity of the action ratchets up as well, with daring escapes, chemical explosions, car chases, even a bullfight.
Long-time fans of the series can rest assured that while this one has a different feel from previous books, there's still plenty of the Johnson signature present: crack dialogue, smart humor, mystical realism, strong sense of place and colorful, complex characters. Most of the regular cast remains in the U.S. for this outing, so Johnson offers up a slew of new faces--the blind and legless Seer, an Apache/Tarahumara sniper, a Mexican doctor and some mules. So grab your literary passports and prepare for an unforgettable trip to Mexico. --Jen Forbus
Discover: Sheriff Walt Longmire travels to Mexico to save his daughter from a ruthless, deadly drug lord.
hardcover, 304p., 9780525522478
When the Lights Go Out
by Mary Kubica
Jessie Sloane's plan to accomplish her dying mother's wish that she "find herself" hits a snag when her college application is flagged because her name and Social Security number relate to a death certificate filed 17 years ago. Distraught at the loss of her only family, Jessie sets out to fix what she's certain must be a simple clerical error and finds only more mysteries about her identity.
Meanwhile, back in 1996, Eden and husband, Aaron, have purchased the cottage of their dreams and start trying to have a baby. Eden's fervor in treating the couple's fertility problems is intensified by visits from neighbor Miranda, who seems to get pregnant merely by being in the vicinity of her husband. To make matters worse, Miranda ignores her small children and constantly complains about the drudgeries of marriage and motherhood.
Plagued by insomnia, Jessie experiences visions that twist her perception of the present and her investigation into her past in ways she's unsure she can trust. Eden is also undergoing a transformation as her longing for a child threatens her marriage and makes her question what she's capable of.
When the Lights Go Out
is Mary Kubica
's fifth psychological thriller, and she continues to prove adept at her favored narrative of alternating characters and timelines. Kubica's stories always include emotional underpinnings that serve her characters, particularly important when faced with challenges of coincidence and believability. The final twist will be polarizing, but there is no question that Kubica has a knack for compelling storytelling. --Lauren O'Brien
of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: The story of a newly motherless daughter searching for her true identity is interwoven with the past of a woman desperate for a child.
hardcover, 336p., 9780778330783
We Sold Our Souls
by Grady Hendrix
Twenty years ago, Kris Pulaski's dreams were about to come true. She was the fierce lead guitarist for Dürt Würk, a heavy metal band on the precipice of stardom. But today, Kris is 47, managing a Best Western, and about to be kicked out of the family home. Her life has turned into a nightmare.
Dürt Würk's lead singer, Terry, wanted fame and fortune--fast. Just as the band completed the album Troglodyte, Terry declared Dürt Würk dead and presented contracts for the band to join him as members of Koffin--"nu metal" whose fans Kris dismissed as "cul-de-sac crybabies with their baseball hats on backwards." She refused to sign and fled with her bandmates, resulting in a car accident that changes the trajectory of their lives. The night is stripped from their memories, and Koffin becomes a sensation.
Now Koffin is headlining Hellstock '19. Kris--bitter and with nothing left to lose--seeks to discover the truth about what happened that night. Her visits to former bandmates leave a trail of destruction in her wake, but brings her closer to the unimaginable truth: Did Terry make a deal with the devil that secured his success and doomed her forever? Can Kris elude killer UPS men, sinister spa employees and deranged Koffin fans to confront Terry at Hellstock?
We Sold Our Souls
is a wild ride, and the affection Hendrix (Horrorstör
) has for Kris will have readers rooting for her from the first page. This mix of horror, humor and social commentary makes We Sold Our Souls
a fun and bloody good time. --Frank Brasile
Discover: In this supernatural horror novel, a washed-up heavy metal guitarist seeks the truth about a fateful night that changed her life.
hardcover, 336p., 9781683690122
A Borrowing of Bones
by Paula Munier
In her fiction debut, A Borrowing of Bones, Paula Munier (The Writer's Guide to Beginnings) introduces retired Corporal Mercy Carr and her bomb-sniffing dog, Elvis. Both human and dog share a special bond with Elvis's handler, Sergeant Juan Miguel Pedro Martinez. When he dies in the line of duty in Afghanistan, Mercy and Elvis suffer a heavy emotional loss in addition to their physical wounds incurred during the same duty. Mercy promised the dying Martinez that she'd take care of his dog, so she arranges to take Elvis back to Vermont where they can focus on healing, inside and out.
In Vermont, the pair hike the quiet woods, meditate and bond. But Fourth of July weekend brings an unexpected commotion to their newfound calm. Mercy and Elvis discover an abandoned baby in the forest; game warden Troy Warner and his search-and-rescue dog, Susie Bear, respond to Mercy's 911 call. And when Mercy takes the pair to where she and Elvis found the infant, the two working dogs unearth an even bigger surprise.
Munier's multi-layered plot takes Mercy and Troy through the wilderness, the art world, a cat-infested crime scene and numerous dog-friendly restaurants. The small town possesses its fair share of delightful characters, including Patience, Mercy's grandmother and the local veterinarian. And it isn't wanting for evil crime suspects either. While some of the dog details may not sit well with canine enthusiasts, like an experienced dog handler treating another dog without established permission, the overall novel is an entertaining, escapist retreat. --Jen Forbus
Discover: An emotionally scarred ex-soldier and her canine companion try to find quiet in the woods of Vermont, but instead wind up in a complex criminal investigation.
hardcover, 352p., 9781250153036
Three Little Lies
by Laura Marshall
In the summer of 2005, best friends Ellen and Karina watch an intriguing family disembark from a moving van at the corner house. They are struck by a piano, boxes upon boxes of books, bohemian parents, two teen boys and an alluring, scar-faced girl, Sasha. The girls obsess over the Monkton clan, particularly Sasha, and are soon swept up in house parties filled with artists, booze and music. The good times come to a screeching halt when oldest son Daniel Monkton is accused of rape at a New Year's Eve bash.
Daniel's mother sits at his trial in 2007, watching as Karina, Ellen and Sasha testify against him. Olivia is torn between the natural impulse to believe her son and the gutting fear that some of the girls' lies bear a hint of truth.
In 2017, Ellen and Sasha are roommates in London with no connection to the others, save for threatening letters from Daniel in prison. After Sasha fails to return from work one evening, Ellen learns Daniel is off probation and worries he's seeking retribution. When the police investigation stalls, Ellen revisits the past to find Sasha and settle what happened that New Year's Eve.
Within the alternating timelines of Three Little Lies
, Laura Marshall (Friend Request
) spins an engrossing mystery filled with secrets and lies. She has a knack for the nuances of female friendships and mother/daughter relationships, bolstering the emotional underpinnings of the narrative. Despite a slightly hollow final reveal, Three Little Lies
stirs a dysfunctional family drama and teenage insecurities into a very satisfying story. --Lauren O'Brien
of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: The truth about one reckless New Year's Eve party comes out after a woman goes missing a decade later.
hardcover, 352p., 9781478948568
An Act of Villainy
by Ashley Weaver
Ashley Weaver (A Most Novel Revenge
), takes her characters into the heart of the London theater scene in An Act of Villainy
. Amory Ames and her husband, Milo, have just been to a play in London's West End when they run into an old friend, Gerard Holloway. He invites them to come see a performance of the new play he's directing. When Milo informs Amory sotto voce
that Holloway has cast his mistress as the lead in the play, Amory is both appalled for her friend Georgina, Holloway's wife, and intrigued to see Miss Flora Bell.
Flora Bell turns out to be an astonishingly good actress--who has been getting threatening letters. Amory and Milo agree to help look into who has been sending them, but before they reach any conclusions, Flora is found strangled.
Amory is the one who finds Flora's body, and manages to convince Scotland Yard that she and Milo ought to assist in the murder investigation. Weaver skillfully presents believable motives for nearly all the cast members to want Flora dead, making Milo and Amory's task practically insurmountable, until Amory has a breakthrough. Funny, with a mellow pace and occasional introspection from Amory about the state of her marriage, An Act of Villainy
is a charming historical mystery in the vein of Rhys Bowen or Jacqueline Winspear. Weaver brings the glittery world of 1930s high society to the forefront, and Amory and Milo's lazy, glamorous life is sure to enchant readers. --Jessica Howard
, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this historical mystery set in London in the 1930s, a high society couple investigates the murder of a West End actress.
hardcover, 320p., 9781250159755
by T.M. Logan
It had been an ordinary day for Joe Lynch, and he expects it to be a normal evening, until his four-year-old son spots his wife's car headed in the opposite direction from their home. Joe decides to follow Mel and discovers she's gone to a hotel, where he finds her deep in conversation with the husband of her college friend. He begins to put two and two together and doesn't like the result. When the man disappears and is presumed dead, Joe questions everything he's ever known about his marriage and wife as he navigates a cat-and-mouse game as chief suspect.
In this fast-paced debut by T.M. Logan, readers are dropped into a swirling mix of lies upon lies where unreliable narrators abound and social media, text messages and cell phones play an integral part in the moves and countermoves of all the characters involved in this game of deception and deceit. The action is swift, the dialogue flows and the emotions run deep as Joe tries to figure out how his world unraveled so quickly. This is a tense suspense thriller with a surprising and satisfying ending, a whodunit of the best kind as it twists and turns, creating layers upon layers of storyline. Logan provides a highly sympathetic character in Joe, as he falls deep into a web of dishonesty, duplicity and shams. Perfect reading for a hot summer day, Lies
will keep you guessing until the very end. --Lee E. Cart
, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: After discovering his wife's unfaithfulness, a husband becomes determined to save his marriage regardless of the costs.
St. Martin's Press,
hardcover, 432p., 9781250182265
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by Tade Thompson
"The mind is supposed to be the last sanctuary of a free human." What if that sanctuary is breached? Rosewater by Tade Thompson, the first book in the Wormwood trilogy, presents an alien invasion story with a twist.
Midway through the 21st century a biodome appears in rural Nigeria, initially eliciting worldwide fear. Nearby people notice certain healings, and the dome's properties afford electricity where there is none. A town, Rosewater, grows up around the perimeter, and the dome, nicknamed Wormwood, seems less menacing.
Kaaro, the narrator, is an anomaly, even in a world that includes aliens. He's a "sensitive" who has learned to harness the power of the biodome to access people's thoughts. He admits, "I steal dreams. I steal hopes. I steal entire lives." He uses this skill for the Nigerian government but is increasingly mistrustful of the real motives of the state. When the few other sensitives start mysteriously dying, he realizes that the aliens may in fact have invaded more than the surface of the planet--they may be within the human race.
Even as most of the world accepts aliens, the United States is an enigma. It went dark after Wormwood became established and has not been heard from since, setting up the next piece of the trilogy. Thompson, born in London to Nigerian parents, makes the story believable with his sensual and atmospheric writing. Waiting for the rest of the series will be hard for those enthralled with this imaginative novel. --Cindy Pauldine
, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: Rosewater, a speculative novel set in Nigeria, is a thrilling twist on the alien invasion narrative, perfect for fans of Jeff VanderMeer and N.K. Jemisin.
paperback, 432p., 9780316449052
Zero Sum Game
by S.L. Huang
In Zero Sum Game, S.L. Huang introduces Cas Russell--an expert in the purposefully vague field of "retrieval"--who finds her skills tested after a rescue mission brings her to the attention of a vast and dangerous conspiracy. Russell is no easy target, capable of seemingly impossible physical feats and unerring marksmanship that enables her to kill packs of goons with ease. Rather than super-strength or heightened reflexes, she relies on her uncanny facility for math: "The dark-suited men became points in motion, my brain extrapolating from the little I could see and hear, assigning probabilities and translating to expected values."
Huang's protagonist is hard-nosed to an extreme: the closest thing she has to a friend is another murderously talented killer with a penchant for sadism and few recognizable emotions. The novel pushes a relentless pace, with countless well-executed action scenes and an impressive body count. The only force that can stand in Russell's way for long is an elusive organization named Pithica. Russell must question her own mind as she finds evidence of Pithica's eerie ability to manipulate thoughts.
Zero Sum Game
's pleasures lie in the protagonist's repeated ability to extricate herself from seemingly impossible predicaments, whipping up math-based solutions to gunfights on the fly. In one memorable scene, Russell makes a number of small adjustments, one involving an umbrella, that allow her to eavesdrop on a distant conversation. How? It involves sound waves and, of course, math. In Cas Russell, Huang has created a protagonist with a distinctive hook. --Hank Stephenson
, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Discover: This science fiction thriller stars Cas Russell, an expert in retrieval and seemingly impossible gunplay thanks to her preternatural grasp of math.
hardcover, 336p., 9781250180254
The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt
by Ken Krimstein
Political thinker and philosopher Hannah Arendt was a genius, a survivor and a firebrand. Her distinctive perspective on politics and the human condition has influenced countless writers across genres and disciplines. Moreover, her advocacy of cultural critics like Walter Benjamin helped highlight their work. The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt is a graphic novel that plays with memory and thought, most interested in particular points in her life than an encyclopedic retelling of her biography.
Ken Krimstein, a cartoonist whose work has been published in the New Yorker
and the Wall Street Journal
, uses quick outlines and shade to create a world where lost loves and dead friends can emerge from the background to offer commentary or to interact with Arendt as she thinks through her work. There's a rushed quality to the pictures, but that is clearly purposeful, as if Krimstein wants his work to mirror the "escapes" he's depicting in his art. What's certainly clear is how deeply the author respects and understands his subject, beautifully elucidating key arguments in her work as well as defending her robust reputation as a thinker during her lifetime (and which has since come under attack in intellectual circles). The Three Escapes
nicely introduces Arendt's life and work to those unfamiliar with her, but it may be best for fans who can pick up Krimstein's references and fully grasp the context of the scenes he lays out. Still, the book is a wonderful honoring of one of the greatest minds of the 20th century. --Noah Cruickshank
, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: Ken Krimstein's The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt is a lovely graphic novelization of the life of the political thinker.
hardcover, 240p., 9781635571882
Passing for Human: A Graphic Memoir
by Liana Finck
How often do we reinvent ourselves throughout our lifetimes? And what do we gain and lose each time we redefine who we are, to ourselves and to the world at large? These are some of the intriguing questions Liana Finck explores in her graphic memoir, Passing for Human.
In Finck's case, she felt like an outsider, different than most people, with desires and dreams that didn't mesh with the conventional standards of being a woman. She called this otherness her shadow, which disappears and reappears throughout her story as she pays attention to her calling and alternately ignores it. In pondering her life, she depicts herself as an artist looking for a way to write the book that the reader is holding. With each new chapter, she starts her narrative over again, giving readers her mother's life story, then her father's, and these sections capture the strangeness of her father and the wisdom of her mother.
Various quotes from Wallace Stevens, Emily Dickinson and others and interpretations of stories from the Bible are used to offset new segments. Good against evil, God and the devil, love and relationships, shame and fear are themes throughout, with the fears imaginatively depicted as two rats that gnaw on Finck's shoulders. The line drawings are simple yet expressive. They convey the deep feelings of longing and desire, gloominess and dismay that Finck experiences as she continues the process of becoming her own highly creative and inventive person. --Lee E. Cart
, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: A cartoonist ponders the various paths of her life as a creative outsider.
hardcover, 240p., 9780525508922
RX: A Graphic Memoir
by Rachel Lindsay
Rachel Lindsay turns a critical eye on mental illness medications and the mainstream perceptions of sanity in her first graphic novel, RX.
Diagnosed at 19 with bipolar disorder, Lindsay had to reprioritize her life around the medicated daily ritual. Work became a means to an end; Lindsay ditched her artistic dreams and took a full-time job as an assistant account executive to pay for ongoing treatment. Her involvement with an advertising campaign for Pristiq, an antidepressant by Pfizer, tested the limits of Lindsay's mental fortitude. The reality of her experiences clashed with the magical transformation of patient lives implied by the ad's bullet points, affecting her morale and self-perception. She spiraled into a manic episode, quitting her job and going on a spending spree. This led to her involuntary hospitalization at a mental health facility, where she learned to reclaim her identity and happiness through a maze of medication and self-control.
Lindsay uses humor and visuals to explore the vulnerability of mental illness. The black-and-white sketches move from sedate and clean lines depicting the ordinariness of her 9-to-5 life to the frenzied and energetic scratching that becomes symbolic of her mental unraveling. The ongoing stresses of conformity versus individuality merge into a thought-provoking discussion of whether to medicate or not medicate: "Life planned around being medicated, out of fear of yourself, fear of ruining your life... again. But in exchange--whose life was I actually living?" --Nancy Powell
, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: RX is a candid and heartfelt graphic memoir that looks at the struggle to stay sane in an overly medicated world.
hardcover, 256p., 9781455598540
Food & Wine
Gordon Ramsay's Healthy, Lean & Fit: Mouthwatering Recipes to Fuel You for Life
by Gordon Ramsay
Decorated chef and television personality Gordon Ramsay shifts from Hell's Kitchen to a healthy kitchen with Gordon Ramsay's Healthy, Lean & Fit: Mouthwatering Recipes to Fuel You for Life.
Fans of Ramsay's signature brashness and colorful language will find neither here. Instead, Ramsay (Gordon Ramsay's Home Cooking
) adopts a personable tone, writing often of his family and their tastes both in food and fitness. He groups recipes in three sections. In "Healthy," Ramsay shares nourishing, nutritious dishes for every meal of the day, low in saturated fat, sugar and sodium. Highlights include Healthy Vegetable Samosas--loved by his kids and their friends and easy to make in large batches--and Zucchini and Fennel Carpaccio, bright with lemon, mint and pomegranate seeds. Lower-calorie recipes compose "Lean." Ease and simplicity characterize most: see the Zucchini Omelet with Tarragon or the One-Pan Chicken with Lima Beans, Leeks and Spinach. "Fit" includes pre- and post-workout meals like Peanut Butter and Raspberry Jam Pancakes; Watermelon, Feta and Mint Salad; or even indulgences like Cheesecake in a Jam Jar.
Ramsay includes nutritional breakdowns as well as variations and tips. Don't like sweet potatoes? Use pumpkin. Measuring honey? Coat the spoon with oil so the honey doesn't stick. Many recipes will appeal to parents hoping for finicky eaters to "get their veg on," as Ramsay says. Others, like Miso Cod en Papillote or Baked Whole Tandoori-Spiced Cauliflower, offer a "wow" factor fit for a party--or for making any weeknight dinner feel a little fancy and, incidentally, healthy. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay shares recipes with an eye toward health and wellness.
Grand Central Life & Style,
hardcover, 288p., 9781538714669
Biography & Memoir
Retablos: Stories from a Life Lived Along the Border
by Octavio Solis
In its physical art form, a "retablo" is a devotional painting on a piece of repurposed metal, offered as a vow of thanks to a higher being for helping someone survive a crisis. Director and prolific playwright Octavio Solis interprets the retablo through the written word in 50 short pieces that soulfully revisit moments in his life as the U.S.-born son of Mexican immigrants. Retablos marvels in its demonstration of the vast understatement of the proverb "Good things come in small packages."
The introduction alone is worth the price of admission. Solis reflects on the foundation of the work ("true stories... filled with lies") and how memories evolve over time--creating life fables that elaborate on experiences, like "lace trimming on a tablecloth." Each piece recounts a specific memory, wholly satisfying even in its brevity.
The collection covers a spectrum of topics in nonlinear fashion, and Solis insightfully displays his own perceived shortcomings rather than painting over them. Particularly touching entries recall his hardworking parents, such as his mother's repeated and wistful drives past a pretty bungalow ("Our Other House"). Another instance is how Solis's perception of being a "junior" changes over the course of a day at work with his father ("First Day"). Solis's language is both lovely and discomfiting, compelling return visits to the borderlands of El Paso.
Taken as a whole, Retablos
becomes a glorious mosaic, as if one has stepped back from a single piece of strikingly painted tin and watched a larger masterpiece emerge. --Lauren O'Brien
of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: Director and playwright Octavio Solis recounts his life growing up Hispanic at the U.S./Mexico border.
paperback, 168p., 9780872867864
Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom
by David W. Blight
David Blight (American Oracle) is a historian at Yale University who has studied Frederick Douglass and the Civil War for much of his career. Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom is a thorough, insightful and vivid examination of the man's personal, public and intellectual life.
Those who are familiar with Douglass (1818-1895) may know about his childhood and youth as he described them in his autobiographies. Born and raised a slave, Douglass spent nine years as a fugitive before becoming one of the greatest figures of the 19th century, a brilliant writer, speaker and advocate for abolition and women's rights. Liberals and conservatives have both embraced him, but his complexities made up a whole that was greater than any political category. In clear, energetic prose, Blight shows him with all his great virtues and human flaws, as a radical revolutionary, a genuine prophet and an original thinker who rarely shied away from paradoxes and ambivalences. "From his long experience, personal and public, he came to understand the utterly intertwined nature of light and darkness, love and hatred, life and death."
Blight casts a critical eye on the early autobiographies and does his best to locate the man behind them. He considers Douglass's "deep grounding in the Bible" and the influences of his friends, family and enemies. His access to the Walter O. Evans collection of Douglass material contributes to a better understanding of the final third of Douglass's life. This may be the definitive biography for years to come. --Sara Catterall
Discover: A thorough and insightful biography of the great 19th-century author, activist and speaker.
Simon & Schuster,
hardcover, 912p., 9781416590316
A Mind Unraveled: A Memoir
by Kurt Eichenwald
In a career that's included hundreds of articles in publications like the New York Times and Newsweek and books about the collapse of Enron (Conspiracy of Fools) and other corporate scandals, investigative journalist Kurt Eichenwald has established himself as a dogged and fearless reporter. But no story he's unearthed is as compelling as the one he tells in his traumatic memoir, A Mind Unraveled. In it he focuses on his battle with epilepsy and the equally fierce fight he waged against the discrimination he suffered as a victim of that disease.
First diagnosed in 1979, his freshman year at Swarthmore College, in suburban Philadelphia, Eichenwald underwent care initially guided by his father, a world-renowned expert in pediatric infectious disease, that was nothing short of disastrous. It was only when he entered the care of a neurologist in Dallas who was compassionate and, above all, capable of listening, that his condition began to stabilize.
But Eichenwald's medical story isn't merely an account of treatment that was ill-informed. Equally disturbing is the story of his battle against the efforts of Swarthmore's administration to force him out of school in 1981, treating him as a "frightening oddity impeding other students' education." However, when the college administration became convinced that Eichenwald would follow through with his threat to launch a federal investigation for violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the school capitulated and reinstated him.
Candid, meticulously reported and at times terrifying, A Mind Unraveled
is an inspiring story of a man whose fierce will helped ensure he would not be defined or defeated by a chronic disease. --Harvey Freedenberg
, freelance reviewer
Discover: An esteemed journalist brings his considerable skills to the story of his battle with epilepsy.
hardcover, 416p., 9780399593628
Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America's Most Powerful Mobster
by Stephen L. Carter
Few people know that a black female lawyer, Eunice Hunton Carter, was a vital part of the team that took down notorious New York mobster Lucky Luciano in the 1930s. Fewer still know the story of her remarkable life. The granddaughter of slaves and a graduate of Smith College, Eunice was whip-smart, ambitious and determined to rise above the expectations for black women of her day and time. Her grandson, author and law professor Stephen L. Carter (The Emperor of Ocean Park), paints a detailed portrait of his formidable Nana in the insightful biography, Invisible.
Eunice began practicing law in New York City and even ran for state office. But her career took off when she began working for Special Prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey, the future governor and presidential candidate who was determined to tackle organized crime in the city. Eunice, the only woman and the only black person on Dewey's team, provided essential information and strategy that led to Luciano's conviction. Despite her contributions, Eunice was repeatedly passed over for promotions, but she never gave up, continuing to juggle multiple roles as a lawyer, an activist, a politician and a noted Harlem hostess.
Carter's narrative reads at times like a legal thriller, as he traces the ins and outs of the case against Luciano and other high-profile cases Eunice later handled. This is not merely a courtroom account, though: it is the story of the life of a complicated woman. Meticulously researched and compelling, Invisible
is at once a fascinating slice of New York legal and racial history and a thoughtful portrayal of a woman who refused to be hidden. --Katie Noah Gibson
, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Stephen Carter tells the life story of his grandmother, the black female lawyer who helped take down notorious mobster Lucky Luciano.
hardcover, 384p., 9781250121974
All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir
by Nicole Chung
Nicole Chung grew up in a white family in small-town Oregon, unable to fit in, "the only Korean most of my friends and family knew, the only Korean I knew." Her first book, All You Can Ever Know, is a memoir of her experiences as a transracial adoptee and her development of a mature understanding of herself, and of her adoptive and birth families, while becoming a parent herself.
Chung had loving adoptive parents who never discussed race with her, because they believed that was the right thing to do. "If they did take a 'color-blind' view of our family from its very formation... in this they were largely following ideals they were raised with, advice they had been given." She had no words to deal with the racism she encountered as a child. As she grew older, the love and loyalty she felt for her parents coexisted with new realizations of what she had missed. Her childhood fantasies of her biological family were mingled with her sense of abandonment, and the fear that they had given her away because she wasn't good enough. When she became pregnant for the first time, she collected what fragments of information she had and set out to contact them.
Chung creates a suspenseful story with her avalanches of questions and unexpected discoveries, and her hard-won insights into the nature of identity. She has many thoughts about adoption, but this is also an emotional and level-headed book about the rewards of questioning family expectations in order to come to terms with the complicated truth. --Sara Catterall
Discover: This is a Korean American woman's moving memoir of her experience as a transracial adoptee and her reconnection with her birth family.
hardcover, 240p., 9781936787975
Rap Dad: A Story of Family and the Subculture that Shaped a Generation
by Juan Vidal
Writer, musician and NPR cultural critic Juan Vidal makes an inspiring debut with his memoir, Rap Dad: A Story of Family and the Subculture that Shaped a Generation.
He recounts his turbulent youth growing up Latino in Miami in the 1980s and '90s. His parents were Colombian immigrants--with problems of their own--and Vidal and his friends got into all sorts of trouble that involved drug use, vandalism and other minor crimes. It was during these formative years that he discovered the power of rap music, "loud and savage and free, like us." Vidal reminisces about his youthful ambitions when he formed a rap group and toured around the world, trying his best to build a music career.
That music criticism eventually became his forte is no surprise. He balances his memoir with passionate and insightful critiques of the various rap artists who influenced him--Wu-Tang Clan, Public Enemy, Jay-Z, Nas. The main focus of Rap Dad, though, is on parenting, as Vidal describes his challenges as a father. Candidly and painfully he recalls his father's shortcomings and how, as a young man, Vidal turned to rap music for male role models. His best criticism in the book breaks open the racist myth that black and Latino men are bad fathers. Besides offering substantive research to make his point, he discusses many rap artists who are nobly engaged in fatherhood. "I've come to know that great artists, like great parents, can be the best mirrors for us all," Vidal concludes.
is not only entertaining, it is socially and politically important for the way it challenges stereotypes. --Scott Neuffer
, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: NPR cultural critic Juan Vidal delves into rap music and fatherhood in this illuminating memoir.
hardcover, 256p., 9781501169397
My Own Devices: True Stories from the Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love
Singer and rapper Dessa, member of the Minneapolis hip hop collective Doomtree, is no stranger to non-musical composition; she's published chapbooks, worked as a medical tech writer, spoken at the Mayo Clinic and written for the New York Times Magazine. Her first book, My Own Devices: True Stories from the Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love, is part memoir, part science writing and part philosophy. Throughout, she details her musical life and her beginnings in Doomtree, as well as her long-term on-again-off-again relationship with a member of the crew. In "Call Off Your Ghost," she enlists a team of neuroscientists and undergoes brain scans to help her fall out of love with him. In "Breaking Even," when her train between gigs hits a person, she calculates the mathematical value of the life under the wheels. Dessa continuously goes back to the theme of her difficult love without it feeling repetitive, like a friend too self-aware to be annoying.
My Own Devices
is more universal than most performer bios and more lyrical than many celebrity essay collections, as sharp and witty as the best magazine pieces. "Living as an artist is fundamentally speculative; there's a permanent uncertainty about where you'll be hired next and how long that work might last," she writes. "But really that's true of most parts of our lives.... We don't own much, and what we do own we certainly can't keep indefinitely. Every breath is borrowed by the lungful; you can't save them for later or hold a single one for long." --Katy Hershberger
, freelance writer and bookseller
Discover: Rapper Dessa delivers a philosophical essay collection about science, music and heartbreak.
hardcover, 272p., 9781524742294
The Twenty-Seventh Letter of the Alphabet: A Memoir
by Kim Adrian
The Twenty-Seventh Letter of the Alphabet is a memoir with an unusual structure to match its ever-shifting reality. Kim Adrian (Sock) writes the story of her mentally ill mother, how she got this way and what Adrian can or should do about it.
Linda, Adrian's mother, has been diagnosed with a long list of ailments: borderline and narcissistic personality disorders, bipolar, psychosis, paranoia and more. Adrian's father is an alcoholic; his memories can't be trusted because "he'd been drunk the whole time." In constructing this narrative, then, she relies entirely on her own memory. But the trouble with remembering the truth of what happened is that Linda's lies, manipulations and her own troubles with reality created a wildly shifting experience for her oldest daughter. If Linda retold a story, the very truth of it changed for Adrian. Reconstructing the past now is therefore a fraught undertaking.
This attempt to reorganize a life is presented alphabetically, beginning with an anecdote titled "Abecedarian," about an unexplained event in grade school, and ending not with "Zigzag" but rather "&." "Until the mid-nineteenth century, the ampersand was considered the twenty-seventh letter of the alphabet," and for Adrian it offers "a verbal umbrella" under which she is both mother and daughter, both happy and sad.
The Twenty-Seventh Letter of the Alphabet
is a feat on many levels. Adrian tells a harrowing story, surprisingly redeemed by her own sweet family, and in many ways also continuing. Her work as glossator is astonishing and inventive. The result is whimsical, even darkly funny at times, brimming with compassion, terribly sad and deeply loving. --Julia Kastner
, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: A remarkable memoir, organized as a glossary of terms, that is part detective story, investigating a mother's mental illness.
University of Nebraska Press,
paperback, 304p., 9781496201973
The Diary of a Bookseller
by Shaun Bythell
Scotland officially named Wigtown its "book town" in 1998, following the success of the original Book Town, Hay-on-Wye, in Wales. Ever since, the village in the country's idyllic southwest is a destination spot for book lovers. Now Wigtown native Shaun Bythell, who purchased the Book Shop in 2001, when he was 31, takes readers behind the scenes with The Diary of a Bookseller, a day-by-day record of 2014 in the store.
Bythell writes a stream-of-consciousness, detailed memoir reflecting on the book business, his relationships, colorful customers, village news and literature. His observations are hilarious. "Bev dropped off a box of the mugs onto which she's printed the cover of Gay Agony," and this snarky note on one of the parade of part-time staff: "Today was Katie's last day, so I gave her a hug as she was leaving. She hates physical contact, so it was particularly gratifying to see how uncomfortable it made her." Maintaining his stock of 100,000 titles requires numerous buying excursions, which offer rich stories if not always worthwhile books. Bythell works in the store daily and also coordinates a "Random Books" subscription service; he also manages online sales, a tricky and demanding venture. "Shop small" advocates may appreciate his opinions. He commends James Patterson's bookstore grant program and warns, "The sad truth is that, unless authors and publishers unite and stand firm against Amazon, the industry will face devastation."
Not every day is notable, and a straight-through read of The Diary of a Bookseller
could be tedious. But dipping into Bythell's reflections a few days at a time is sure to bring book lovers chuckles, nods of recognition and a surge of hope for bookshops everywhere. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon
, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: A Scottish bookseller's diary reveals the day-to-day tasks of running a bookshop, told with sardonic wit and abundant title references.
hardcover, 320p., 9781612197241
A Person of Pakistani Origins
by Ziauddin Sardar
A Person of Pakistani Origins is Ziauddin Sardar's ode to what he calls Pakistan's lost identity. The title refers to Sardar's personal odyssey as a British national reclaiming his South Asian roots through his love of Hindi cinema, passion for Urdu literature and poetry, and his large, unruly extended family.
Pakistan came into existence in 1947, a result of the British Empire's decision to partition India along religious lines at the end of almost 100 years of colonial rule. Yet the cultural roots and languages of the two countries remain intertwined: Sardar argues that one can't be properly considered without the other and concludes that Pakistan on its own is an incomplete nation. Sardar diagnoses the country as having a massive inferiority complex as a result of its isolation from its own history and the forced separation that severed its multicultural, multi-religious spiritual past. Instead of returning to its sub-continental roots, the country sold its soul to Saudi Arabia by accepting money and allowing Saudi-promoted religious fundamentalism to take root on its soil.
Despite vexing existential concerns, Pakistan exudes grace and beauty in its poetic language, stunning mountainous northern regions and the humanity of its people, Sardar continues. The country's exuberant national pride in its cricket team unites citizens of all socioeconomic backgrounds. To enjoy a successful future divorced from a troubled past, Sadar encourages Pakistan to embrace its greater Indian sub-continental identity. Moreover, he finds hope and promise in the Pakistani people's continued support for democratic rule. It remains to be seen whether the newly elected civilian leader, the spirited former cricketer Imran Khan, can lead the country toward a calmer, more prosperous future. --Shahina Piyarali
, writer and reviewer
Discover: This is a British cultural critic's impassioned reflection on identity, his own and Pakistan's, against the backdrop of the country's tumultuous 71-year-old history.
hardcover, 256p., 9781849049870
Presidents of War
by Michael Beschloss
Harry Truman often cited James Polk among his favorite presidents because Polk "regularly told Congress to go to hell on foreign policy matters," writes Michael Beschloss in Presidents of War. Such bravado would have rattled the Founding Fathers, who intended that the power to declare war rest solely with Congress, rather than the president. However, Polk's stance during the Mexican War reflects the beginning of a transformative shift, one adopted by commanders-in-chief during the modern nuclear age.
Presidents of War traces the arc of this fundamental change by focusing on the approaches to war taken by Jefferson, Madison, Polk, Lincoln, McKinley, Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman and Lyndon Johnson. Beschloss (The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960-1963) expertly assesses and analyzes each leader's motivations, degree of honesty with the public, level of cooperation with Congress and treatment of civil liberties. As for Congress, Beschloss states, relinquishing the power to engage in war resulted in sending "an unintended message to later presidents that when they ask the House and Senate for war, those commanders-in-chief could be duplicitous, too."
Beschloss's style is to present a complicated dynamic in a well-researched but easy-to-read monograph, and Presidents of War
succeeds in this mission. He captures nearly 150 years in a single volume, from Jefferson's attempts to prevent war with France or England up to the Vietnam War, with brief discussion of the Gulf Wars. For each conflict, Beschloss provides an engaging look at how and why the dramatic pendulum swung, and of the leaders who helped change its--and the country's--direction. --William H. Firman Jr.
, presidential historian and writer
Discover: A thoughtful examination of how eight American presidents approached the prospect of war.
hardcover, 752p., 9780307409607
Current Events & Issues
American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures
by America Ferrera, editor
What does it mean to be an American, especially if you're an immigrant or have immigrant parents? In this thought-provoking collection of essays, actor and political activist America Ferrera has gathered people she deeply admires to discuss the concept of being American. They are successful Olympic athletes, politicians, writers, actors and others who have faced racism and prejudice because they are not white or speak English with an accent.
Many of the stories reflect the turning point, most often in childhood, when the person was forced to recognize that they were indeed different from their peers; they ate different food, wore different clothes, celebrated different holidays or had unusual names. Some have been proud of their heritage and embraced it from the start while others felt shame until they grew older, only later learning to honor their dissimilarities along with the sacrifices and difficulties their parents and grandparents faced. Whether Mexican, Puerto Rican, from Central or South America or from a variety of Asian countries, each person has a story that pushes for reflection on what American identity really is--a concept that goes far beyond skin tone and language barriers. Ferrera writes, "We live as citizens of a country that does not always claim us or even see us, and yet, we continue to build, to create, and to compel it toward its own promise." It's high time the U.S. recognized all of its citizens, and American Like Me
is a great way to start. --Lee E. Cart
, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: In a timely and compelling discussion, Olympic athletes, politicians, writers and actors reflect on their varying heritage and American identity.
hardcover, 336p., 9781501180910
Business & Economics
Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day
by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky
Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky (Sprint) are quick to point out that Make Time is not a productivity book. It's not about "getting more done, finishing your to-dos faster, or outsourcing your life." It is about prioritization, about focusing in on what matters (friends, family, health, hobbies, work, passion projects) and learning to let go of the rest (endless Facebook feeds, e-mail responses, the 24-hour news cycle). The two lay out an overarching strategy for making time (highlight, laser, energize, reflect), coupled with 86 individual tactics that can be cherry-picked, combined and otherwise manipulated to make the system work for individual readers.
That's the beauty of Make Time
, especially when compared to so many other productivity and business books: Knapp and Zeratsky are the opposite of prescriptive. While their thinking is influenced by their tech backgrounds--they created Google Ventures' "design sprint" process--they are neither for nor against technology for its own sake (Knapp has mostly bricked his iPhone, for example, while Zeratsky can't imagine a phone without e-mail). They make no recommendations--or judgments--about what an individual might focus on or what tactics may work best. Instead, they offer suggestions and guidance to shaping a more meaningful, less distracted kind of life. While their methods are not entirely original (and they respectfully give credit where credit is due), Make Time
is a thought-provoking guide for anyone who's tired of living on the "Busy Bandwagon," sure to inspire at least one new habit in the reading. --Kerry McHugh
, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: A set of principles and tactics designed to help readers make the most of each day by focusing on what really matters.
hardcover, 304p., 9780525572428
We Are the Nerds: The Birth and Tumultuous Life of Reddit, the Internet's Culture Laboratory
by Christine Lagorio-Chafkin
When Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian met at the University of Virginia in the early 2000s, each recognized something of himself in the other. Both college students were smart, good with computers and filled with more ambition than most middle-aged CEOs. They also had their differences. Huffman was a quiet, coding savant with a penchant for pranks, and Ohanian was a charming people person. Like Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, they were an ideal duo for launching a tech start-up. Fate agreed, and in a few short years they became founders of the popular website Reddit. According to Christine Lagorio-Chafkin, in her fascinating history of the site, We Are the Nerds: The Birth and Tumultuous Life of Reddit, the Internet's Culture Laboratory, the world would quite literally never be the same.
The book traces Reddit's history from the moment it went live to its arguably significant influence on the 2016 presidential election. Drawing on dozens of original interviews with Reddit's founders and employees, old chat logs and photographs and e-mails, Lagorio-Chafkin, a senior editor at Inc
. magazine, re-creates key moments in novelistic detail. Among the highlights is how some Reddit users exploited the site to cultivate one of Trump's largest online supporter groups consisting of "racists... alt-righters... former Bernie Sanders supporters... Russian propagandists... and anyone lured by the promise of a place that tolerated Islamophobia." Sharply written and brilliantly reported, We Are the Nerds
is an eye-opening look at how Reddit helped shape contemporary Internet and political culture in the United States. --Amy Brady
, freelance writer and editor
Discover: This illuminating history of Reddit reveals the website's significant influence on American culture, including the 2016 presidential election.
hardcover, 512p., 9780316435376
American Apartheid: The Native American Struggle for Self-Determination and Inclusion
by Stephanie Woodard
The Dakota Access Pipeline protests put Native Americans in a new media spotlight. For those who would like to know more, American Apartheid offers a concise, knowledgeable and respectful portrait of the history, current status and struggles of Native peoples in the U.S. by Stephanie Woodard, a journalist who has reported for almost 20 years on these topics when major news outlets did not.
"Tribal communities are set apart from the rest of us geographically, socially, politically and economically." This is no accident, writes Woodard, but the result of federal policies over two centuries. "If a tribe wants to build a housing development or protect a sacred site, if a tribal member wants to start a business or plant a field, a federal agency can modify or scuttle the plans. Conversely, if a corporation or other outside interest covets reservation land or resources, the federal government becomes an obsequious bondservant, helping the non-Native entity get what it wants at bargain-basement prices." She shows how Native people are more likely to receive severe sentences for minor crimes, suffer police brutality and have their children taken from them by the courts. Wealth is drained away from reservation lands by outsiders, while "the reservations themselves act as giant funnels, pouring federal benefits and business earnings into state and regional economies." Though she does not gloss over what Native Americans have lost and still suffer, Woodard also shows the resilience of their cultures, and the organizations and individuals who strive to defend and build up their communities. --Sara Catterall
Discover: The challenges facing Native Americans in the U.S. are presented by a journalist who knows them well.
paperback, 264p., 9781632460684
Almost Everything: Notes on Hope
by Anne Lamott
"Some days there seems to be little reason for hope, in our families, cities, and world," admits essayist Anne Lamott (Hallelujah Anyway; Bird by Bird). "Well, except for almost everything." That exception is the impetus for Lamott's essay collection Almost Everything: Notes on Hope. Lamott, who has made a career out of facing the darkness and then looking for the pinpricks of light, brings her pithy, self-deprecating humor to bear on such topics as a friend's alcoholism, the power of stories to redeem and transform and the ways grace sneaks in: without warning and against all expectations.
In brief, wry chapters on topics such as "Puzzles" (not the 500-piece kind), "Humans 101" and "Famblies," Lamott explores the complicated truth of "the mess and the tenderness"--the ordinary human condition, shot through with despair and joy. This takes the form, at times, of sticking with friends and family members through illness and death; learning to treat ourselves and our bodies with kindness; and struggling not to give in to hate in a fear-filled political climate. It also can mean glancing out the window at a bird, laughing (kindly) at ourselves and simply being willing to be amazed.
On the days when "it doesn't feel like the light is making a lot of progress," Lamott also recognizes that "love has bridged the high-rises of despair we were about to fall between." Fortunately for Lamott's readers, this book, like her others, is both a celebration of that bridge and a gentle but insistent call to keep building. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Anne Lamott's essays on hope offer pithy, straight-shooting insights in times of despair.
hardcover, 208p., 9780525537441
God Is Young
by Pope Francis, trans. by Anne Milano Appel
In this slim conversational volume, Pope Francis brings his spiritual wisdom and hallmark vivacity to a number of pressing matters. Translated by Anne Milano Appel, God Is Young relays a long conversation between the pontiff and Italian journalist Thomas Leoncini. The title derives from the way Pope Francis describes divinity. Rather than emphasizing Catholic dogma, he constantly conceives of God as a youthful, rejuvenating force that resists rigidity. "The Holy Spirit brings freshness, imagination, innovation," he says. To gather the young and old together, he calls for a "revolution of tenderness" in which "there are no hierarchies, each must seek the other out."
Pope Francis proves to be a formidable social critic. He tackles climate change, immigration, cyberbullying, drug addiction and a host of other issues. He uses his moral authority and erudition to promote stewardship of the environment and compassionate policy towards immigrants and refugees. He criticizes nationalism and unbridled capitalism that, in his words, has led to a "culture of discarding." As pointed as he can be on specific policies, the pope always returns to his greater vision of compassion. The most memorable lines in the book are aphorisms that arise naturally from the man's eloquent discourse. "A chink of hope in the heart is enough to let God in," he says when asked about the "machinery of corruption" in the world. At a later point, he tells the journalist "the darker it is, the more perceptible a tiny glimmer can be."
God Is Young
will appeal to both believers and nonbelievers, a window into the mind of an important world leader. --Scott Neuffer
, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: Pope Francis discusses God, politics and the nature of hope in this extensive book-length interview.
hardcover, 128p., 9781984801401
Psychology & Self-Help
How to Leave: Quitting the City and Coping with a New Reality
by Erin Clune
Eventually, in the lives of many, the time comes to uproot. Whether it's to start a family, find a new job or change pace a little, trading the city for the suburbs--or a smaller city--requires an adjustment period that can be filled with anxiety, regret, anger, confusion and homesickness. Fortunately for readers of Erin Clune's manifesto on relocation, they don't have to go through this alone.
How to Leave: Quitting the City and Coping with a New Reality documents the transition Clune (Sh*tty Mom for All Seasons co-author) and her family went through after moving from New York City to Madison, Wis. When the boxes are unpacked, and the house has been set in order, a newbie's work has really just begun. Assuming a get-together in the park is a potluck when it isn't; ordering the wrong dish in a restaurant; overdressing for an evening out--if Clune hasn't experienced one jolt of culture shock or another, she knows someone who has. With anecdotes provided by contacts all over the U.S., she guides readers through the process of settling in--leavening her warm empathy with generous helpings of snark.
At times her jokey prose gives way to solid punch lines, but Clune's real strength is her nuanced understanding of the mixed emotions that go along with fumbled attempts to reestablish oneself in a new place. She has solid advice for making new friends and gives space to grieve friendships lost in the process. Best read in short spurts, How to Leave
can be a fun companion in a challenging phase of life. --Dave Wheeler
, associate editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Relocating is difficult, but Erin Clune's humorous advice can make that transition a little easier.
hardcover, 272p., 9781632868541
Nature & Environment
Plight of the Living Dead: What Real-Life Zombies Reveal about Our World--and Ourselves
by Matt Simon
"This is going to get weird." Depending on one's thoughts regarding zombies, Matt Simon's declaration about the chilling scenarios described in Plight of the Living Dead can be good news or bad news. Regardless, there is no denying that his examination of nature's zombifiers is utterly engrossing (no pun intended). A science and tech writer for Wired magazine, Simon's job is to tell the stories of those who dedicate their lives to science in a way that makes sense to the rest of us. Again, fortunately or unfortunately, he plies his trade marvelously.
Tales of emerald wasps performing brain surgery on cockroaches (to use them as incubators, naturally) might freak out mere mortals. Simon, however, gleefully reveals myriad "diabolical and horrifying" ways organisms have evolved to maximize the perpetuation of their species. One fungus subjects ants to mind control as a means to infiltrate more real estate. And a certain worm variety cuts off the oxygen supply in moose; another lives inside crickets, boring a hole in the exoskeleton to check for water.
Assuming control over a host's mind or body feels like a Hollywood screenplay, but the physiology of the truth is almost too bizarre for fiction. One may not want to conjure up what Simon depicts, but his splendid narrative voice can't help but evoke an enthralling documentary. Conversational and engagingly funny ("There is no dying peacefully in sheets with high counts"), Simon captures the reader's mind like a wasp larva virus in a ladybug. --Lauren O'Brien
of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: Take a wonderfully fun and educational trip through the wild world of nature's parasites and see how the drive to reproduce impacts their evolution.
paperback, 256p., 9780143131410
This Is the Way the World Ends: How Droughts and Die-Offs, Heat Waves and Hurricanes Are Converging on America
by Jeff Nesbit
Himalayan snow melt, worldwide bee colony collapse, increasingly acidic oceans: these are just some of the consequences of climate change, writes Jeff Nesbit in the alarming This Is the Way the World Ends: How Droughts and Die-Offs, Heat Waves and Hurricanes Are Converging on America. And the planet is poised, he continues, to see much worse. The executive director of Climate Nexus and a former White House senior communications official, Nesbit draws from years of experience studying climate change to explain in clear and urgent prose how the Earth is changing and what solutions exist to tackle the problem.
Most impressive is Nesbit's ability to show that seemingly disconnected events are actually closely linked because of climate change. The migration patterns of multiple species are changing, he writes, because of warming temperatures. And these changes result in others that affect "every single type of plant or animal." The reason more people don't see these links is because scientists struggle "to shrink a lifetime of work into a brief statement that conveys instant meaning to a mass audience." Nesbit's book, though not brief, is a profound work that makes climate science accessible to the general public.
Unlike many recent books on climate change, This Is the Way the World Ends
also offers hopeful solutions. Nesbit's blueprint for a "path forward" includes "more efficient resource use, infrastructure investment, and innovation" across public and private sectors. This is a vital book, not only for environmentalists, but for anyone who cares about future generations. --Amy Brady
, freelance writer and editor
Discover: This passionate book written by a former White House communications officer explains the broad scope of climate change and offers proposals for solving it.
Thomas Dunne Books,
hardcover, 336p., 9781250160461
How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals
by Sy Montgomery, illus. by Rebecca Green
Nature writer Sy Montgomery, a 2015 National Book Award finalist for Soul of an Octopus
, recounts the life lessons she gained from 13 encounters with animals, from Australian bush creatures to the family dog.
Montgomery confides that from a young age, animals have always taught her the most, beginning with her scrappy childhood dog, a Scottish terrier named Molly, whose toughness and jaw strength four-year-old Montgomery coveted. Despite her parents' hopes that she would follow the family's military tradition, an encounter with three emus in Australia hooked her on studying animals, and she never looked back. A pinktoe tarantula named Clarabelle taught her to look for wonder in unlikely places. Christopher Hogwood, a runty piglet that became a benign behemoth--and inspired her book The Good, Good Pig--showed her how to treasure each moment. Later, a pair of tree kangaroos in New Guinea would remind her of the beauty of life when the deaths of both Christopher Hogwood and border collie Tess left her heartbroken.
Whimsically illustrated by Rebecca Green (How to Make Friends with a Ghost
), this memoir in animals recalls the childhood joy of discovering a new favorite chapter book. Montgomery's fans already know her musings on animals reach a level of wonder and reflection most often seen in spiritual contemplation, and indeed, her awe feels akin to religion. Her infectious depth of feeling for the creatures that have enriched her life charm anew in this light read that will touch anyone who knows that animals make us human. (Final illustrations not seen.) --Jaclyn Fulwood
, youth services manager, main branch, Dayton Metro Library
Discover: This memoir in animals pays tribute to the wonder and solace nature writer Sy Montgomery has found among them.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,
hardcover, 208p., 9780544938328
by Philippa Rice
Comics artist and illustrator Philippa Rice (Soppy) captures the love-hate relationship between sisters in the cute graphic novel Sister BFFs. The story, based loosely on Rice's relationship with her younger sister, Holly, does not glamorize sisterhood. Instead, it runs the gamut of exchanges as these siblings poke and prod each other: food fights and disagreements about clothing choices, makeup and hair, as well as straight talk about work, romance and everyday life.
The figures are drawn as curvy and obnoxious with pouty lips. They are childishly cartoony yet mature at heart. As Rice delightfully demonstrates in her vignettes, they'll sit on each other, fart on each other and mock each other ("You're tacky and boring and I roll my eyes at you so much my eyeball wires have gone curly"). At the same time, they'll cheer each other on and celebrate minor accomplishments, lift each other up when their own self-esteem fails.
They navigate real-life dilemmas of young adulthood with reckless abandon and a fear that may feel familiar to many. Rice renders this with introspective dialogue in a discussion about the nature of romantic crushes:
"True crushes are best left in the imagination. As soon as you actually approach them in reality, the façade of perfection is shattered and you can't enjoy dreaming about them anymore."
Rice's stories are candid, self-deprecating and endearing. They will have sisters in stitches and nodding their heads in earnest. --Nancy Powell
, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: Philippa Rice reveals the highs and lows of sisterhood with laugh-out-loud candor and wit.
Andrews McMeel Publishing,
hardcover, 144p., 9781449489359
Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart
by Alice Walker, trans. by Manuel García Verdecia
In Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart, a collection of poetry rendered in English and Spanish, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker (The Color Purple) presents a new generation of readers with her harmonic writing and powerful insights. The collection begins with an introduction by the poet, who wishes to respond directly to the spiritual and existential pains of the contemporary moment by investigating an "inevitable need to circle the wound." The poems that follow, such as "The World Is Standing Up for Palestine" and "Especially to the Toddlers of Iran (and Other Countries) and Those Just Learning to Ride Bikes," confront a multitude of political conflicts. Many of the entries memorialize individuals--famous figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Muhammad Ali, as well as unknowns like an Iraqi mother and a Nigerian family.
One of the first poems in the collection, "Breathing," sets a meditative tone for Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart
. Walker's even tenor, simple language and thoughtful attention to detail create a soothing atmosphere, despite the politically charged and often upsetting subject matter. While she never flinches from describing the murder of innocents and the separation of families, Walker maintains her spirit and a sense of hope. To avoid getting lost in the immensity of widespread destruction and a slew of violent headlines, each poem makes the political, the distant and the professional deeply intimate. Again and again, ritualistically, she reiterates, "I am telling you/ Discouraged One/ we will win" and in this way connects disparate bodies with a concept as simple as the intake of breath. --Alice Martin
, freelance writer and editor
Discover: An ambitious collection of poetry by Alice Walker, Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart is an introspective consideration of suffering and hope.
hardcover, 288p., 9781501179525
So Far So Good
by Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula K. Le Guin was a popular and influential novelist, essayist and poet. She completed this final book of poetry, So Far So Good, shortly before her death in 2018 at the age of 88.
"I am such a long way from my ancestors now/ in my extreme old age that I feel more one of them/ than their descendant." In this book, she is a "little grandmother," the chickadee of her first poem who "gazes critically/ at autumn's entropy." The voice of extreme old age is a rare one in literature. Le Guin conveys much of her emotions and sensations, her pleasures and middle-of-the night thoughts with integrity and precision. Many of her poems, as with much of her other work, deal with human life in relation to the natural world. They are populated by trees, birds, animals, familiar landscapes, tides, the open ocean, seasonal change. Stray memories appear, too--a red pear set on a jar, the blackout curtains of her childhood in World War II Berkeley. The section "So Far" contains 12 poems in the voice of William Bligh, who lost his command of the ship Bounty
to mutiny, and navigated "an overloaded open boat four thousand miles from Tonga past the Australian coast to Timor." She considers her approaching death, and the final section of the book, "In The Ninth Decade," is devoted to her old age: "The wire/ gets higher/ and they forget/ the net." --Sara Catterall
Discover: This is the final book of poetry by the acclaimed author Ursula K. Le Guin, on themes of the natural world, memories, mortality and William Bligh.
Copper Canyon Press,
hardcover, 100p., 9781556595387
Children's & Young Adult
by Shauntay Grant, illus. by Eva Campbell
A modern girl daydreams of how life used to be in the once-thriving black community of Africville in Shauntay Grant (Up Home) and Eva Campbell's picture book collaboration.
Located in Halifax, Nova Scotia, at "the end of the ocean,/ where waves come to rest/ and hug the harbor stones," Africville is a place, the child imagines, where "the houses lay out like a rainbow" and "home/ smells like/ sweet apple pie/ and blueberry duff." With berry picking "up over the hill," playing football at "the Caterpillar Tree," rafting "at Tibby's pond" and bonfires "burning red/ like the going-down sun," readers will savor the sweet vision of what life in Africville might have been like.
But, as the backmatter reveals, even though Africville was a "vibrant, self-sustaining community," tax-paying residents had to deal with all kinds of adversity. They lived without such basic services as "running water, sewers and paved roads" and their town became home to "all kinds of unpleasant facilities," including a slaughterhouse and a city dump. Africville was demolished in the 1960s and then, after plenty of opposition, was declared a National Historic Site of Canada in 2002. Former residents later received an official apology from the City of Halifax, and "a replica of the community's church was built on its original site, and... now operates as a museum."
Evocative art, deftly rendered in oil and pastel on canvas, brings to life the heartfelt blending of past and present that coexists in this loving tribute to the Africville community. The final uplifting spreads depict an annual reunion festival now held at the town's original site. Though Africville is gone, young readers may find comfort in the book's final words: "memories turn to dreams, and dreams turn to hope, and hope never ends." --Lynn Becker, blogger
and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: A young girl daydreams about the once-thriving community of Africville, in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
hardcover, 32p., ages 4-7, 9781773060439
The Third Mushroom
by Jennifer L. Holm
"Scientists are not robots! We're human! We feel things deeply!" Ellie's grandpa Melvin, who went on a cross-country journey to discover a way to reverse aging in Jennifer L. Holm's The Fourteenth Goldfish, is still stuck in the body of a teenage boy. Melvin reluctantly enrolls in school, where he poses as Ellie's cousin; she's delighted to have him as her partner for the county science fair. Beyond taking advantage of his smarts, Ellie finds time with her teenaged Grandpa to be a reprieve from some of the less scientific aspects of life. Now in seventh grade, Ellie feels that things with her best friend, Raj, are on a precipice--"like I'm seeing Raj for the very first time." Confused by these feelings, Ellie is happy to dive into an experiment with Melvin focused on a sea creature with the ability to regrow missing body parts.
The Third Mushroom
brims with experimentation--both in the lab and in life. Ellie and Melvin's science fair project, if successful, could have major implications in the medical field. Outside of the lab, Ellie's first experiences with love have unintended consequences. Holm's sequel is extremely funny, with surprising depth--thanks, in part, to Melvin's delightfully cantankerous spirit and insightful, aged wisdom. Beyond the stunning amount of trivia about scientists (the Herschel family, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, James Carroll, Jesse Lazear) sprinkled throughout, Ellie's supplementary notebook at book's end offers additional information in the form of short scientific biographies, books and websites. Holm demonstrates in The Third Mushroom
science's beauty and elegance and the boldness it requires. --Kyla Paterno
, former children's/YA book buyer
Discover: Ellie and her grandfather (who is still trapped in a teenager's body) begin a new lab experiment for the county science fair.
hardcover, 240p., ages 8-12, 9781524719807
by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
In Hey, Kiddo, author/illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka puts his talents to use on a sophisticated project: delving into his own chaotic past.
Krosoczka's mother, Leslie, "started using when she was just thirteen years old" and wasn't sure who his father was until Jarrett was born. When Leslie's "terrible decisions" became too dangerous for three-year-old Jarrett, his grandfather Joe insisted on becoming the boy's legal guardian. Jarrett's grandfather, usually depicted puffing a cigarette, frequently expressed love for his grandson, and provided for him in the best way he could. His grandmother Shirley--also a heavy smoker and a drinker--was abrasive, though she clearly loved the boy. Still, Jarrett "always felt the void that Leslie's absence created." When she did come around, there were good times. But, mostly, there were letters and homemade cards exchanged, where he'd "request a cartoon from her and then she'd request one back from [him]."
Eventually, Jarrett found himself in art. This memoir serves as an expression of the richness of his gift, as well as a tribute to his "two incredible parents" who "happened to be a generation removed." Rendered in black, white and a range of grays, with touches of color, the inked art is moody and expressive. By the time he graduated from high school, Jarrett came to terms with the family that, though far from "idyllic," is uniquely his. Perhaps, as Leslie told Jarrett while he was working on this book, their story "could help somebody who might be walking a similar path to the one [they] had walked." Here's hoping! --Lynn Becker, blogger
and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: Jarrett Krosoczka's graphic novel is a reflection on his unconventional upbringing, which included being raised by grandparents due to his mom's devastating addiction.
hardcover, 320p., ages 12-up, 9780545902472
The Curious Lobster
by Richard W. Hatch, illus. by Marion Freeman Wakeman
This delightful edition, titled simply The Curious Lobster, collects in one volume all of the classic Mr. Lobster stories, originally published in The Curious Lobster (1935) and The Curious Lobster's Island (1939). Teacher and author Richard W. Hatch's reissued work includes the original detailed black-and-white engravings by Marion Freeman Wakeman.
Mr. Lobster, bored after 68 years of the same daily routine, ventures onto land because he is inquisitive and wants to know everything about the world above the ocean floor. Mr. Badger is a very smart, natural leader, who is able quickly to master skills like sailing a boat. He is also a great trickster. Mr. Bear is a bit lazy and preoccupied with food; he had been a circus performer earlier in life and now doesn't really want difficulties or adventure. The three, with their very different personalities, become friends, occasionally behaving like the animals they are, but usually acting like the very civilized beings they aspire to be. (Mr. Bear even has a window in his cabin and fries his fish.) They take turns saving each other from various mishaps on the New England coast and an offshore island, and always proclaim themselves "heroes." The trio repeatedly proves that friendship and teamwork make life worth living, and that "nothing makes people so happy as to rescue someone."
Hatch writes in a soothing, quietly humorous, style that works for adults and children of varied ages and Wakeman's illustrations match the calming qualities of the text. The Curious Lobster
is a perfect bedtime family read aloud or a read-alone for a rainy day at a beachside cottage. --Melinda Greenblatt
, freelance book reviewer
Discover: Mr. Lobster has charmingly old-fashioned adventures exploring the land with friends Mr. Badger and Mr. Bear in this reissue of Richard W. Hatch's Mr. Lobster stories.
paperback, 400p., ages 7-10, 9781681372884
Thank You, Omu!
by Oge Mora
From an open window of a top-floor apartment on "the corner of First Street and Long Street" comes a most delicious smell. Omu (pronounced AH-moo) is preparing "a thick red stew in a big fat pot for a nice evening meal." The irresistible scent can't be contained: it "waft[s] out the window and out the door, down the hall, toward the street, and around the block."
Soon enough, there is a loud "KNOCK!" Omu opens her door to find a little boy who was distracted from playing with his race car by the "most delicious smell." Since she's made "quite a bit," Omu readily shares a bowl with the hungry boy, who eats and leaves with a satiated "THANK YOU, OMU!" The tempting aroma continues wafting "around the block" and no sooner has Omu settled back down when a double "KNOCK!" has her up again. This time Omu finds a police officer hoping for a taste. "Throughout the day, people from all across the neighborhood [knock] on Omu's door" and, of course, no one leaves hungry.
Oge Mora makes her author/illustrator debut with a joyous homage to her personal Omu: her grandmother. Mora's late Omu was a neighborhood beacon, whose large pots of stew fed many; she visually immortalizes her grandmother's ability to build community by enhancing her cut-paper designs with literal representations of assembling, constructing and connecting. Mora's art casually yet vividly reminds readers of the diversity we encounter all around us, presenting her characters in all hues while acknowledging multiple languages in various cut-outs throughout. Words and pictures, food and people all come together to fill hearts with "happiness and love"--and to make sure that Omu, who gave the most, gets "the best she had ever had." --Terry Hong
, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: The tantalizing scent of Omu's stew brings hungry strangers to her door until her intended dinner disappears, but then an impromptu neighborhood feast appears.
hardcover, 40p., ages 4-7, 9780316431248
by Courtney Summers
Sadie begins, "as so many stories do, with a dead girl."
Cold Creek, Colo., is the kind of town "that's only good for leaving." In October, a local resident found the body of 13-year-old Mattie Southern, who had been reported missing three days earlier. "Mattie left behind a nineteen-year-old sister, Sadie; a surrogate grandmother, May Beth; and her mother, Claire; but Claire's been out of the picture for a while." When Claire, an addict, left the girls three years ago, Sadie quit high school and dedicated herself to raising Mattie. "It broke Sadie, Mattie's murder," and it burned that the murderer was never found. Then, Sadie disappeared. As far as May Beth knew, Sadie was simply gone. But in fact, she went on a mission to find and kill the man she believed responsible for Mattie's death. In July, Sadie's car was found; Sadie was not.
Courtney Summers's (All the Rage
) gripping young adult novel is told in two parts: Sadie's first-person narration of the events that begin with her leaving Cold Creek; and a Serial
-like podcast, narrated by host West McCray, that tries to piece together what happened to Sadie. Sadie's journey is punishingly hard--she has little money, a stutter that makes questioning people difficult and only a deep well of pain to keep her moving. The slow revelation of information combined with the close-but-not-overlapping timelines create a sense of both urgency and immediacy: Sadie must
find the murderer; West McCray must
find Sadie. Haunting, captivating and full of surprising moments of beauty, Sadie
leaves a mark on the reader and will open eyes to how very many stories begin with, end with or are wholly about "a dead girl." --Siân Gaetano
, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: This gripping YA novel tells the story of "a dead girl" from two perspectives: her sister, who is hunting the murderer, and a Serial-like podcast that is hunting Sadie.
hardcover, 320p., ages 13-up, 9781250105714
24 Hours in Nowhere
by Dusti Bowling
Short, smart Gus is regularly tormented by Bo, a "thirteen-year-old in the body of an eighteen-year-old with the mind of an eight-year-old." In their hot, dry, rundown town of Nowhere, Arizona, kids like Gus who don't race dirt bikes are, socially speaking, the lowest of the low. So, it is the highest sacrifice when the best dirt bike racer in town, Rossi, a citizen of the Tohono O'odham tribe, offers her beloved bike to Bo to save Gus. Determined to make things right by her, Gus agrees to Bo's ridiculous demand for a piece of gold from the collapsing mine outside town in exchange for the bike.
In no time, Gus, Rossi and two former friends who have unexpectedly joined the foolhardy expedition get lost in a mine, trapped in a cave-in, attacked by wild animals and nearly drown in a mysterious underground lake with skeletons and "strange mutant albino shrimp." They're also coming to terms with the idea that even if their ancestors were murderous, mortal enemies--which, well, they were--the kids don't need to carry on the feuding tradition.
Readers who loved Holes
and Dusti Bowling's earlier novel, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus
, will be delighted with 24 Hours in Nowhere
, a similarly captivating novel abounding in wordplay, eccentric personalities and an evocative setting: "Nowhere was the best at a lot of things: number one in poverty, number one in high school dropouts, number one in least livability, number one in drunken mine deaths. We tried not to let it all go to our heads." Maybe they should. --Emilie Coulter
, freelance writer and editor
Discover: In this funny, moving novel, four teens explore an abandoned gold mine in order to placate their town's resident bully, making discoveries about the past--and themselves--along the way.
hardcover, 272p., ages 8-12, 9781454929246
A Spark of White Fire
by Sangu Mandanna
A Spark of White Fire, inspired by the Mahabharata, an ancient Indian epic, follows Esmae, a girl who "has no wealth, no glory, no power, and no family." A pawn in a massive game between royalty and gods, Esmae tells the reader, "[y]ou'd be forgiven for thinking the girl is irrelevant.... But she's not irrelevant. I'm not irrelevant."
Esmae's uncle, King Elvar, usurped the Kali throne from her father and exiled her family. Esmae, however, was cursed as a baby and sent away by her mother before the exile; everything she knows about her own history and royal lineage was told to her by a god. Esmae, now 17, seeks a way to break her curse and return to her family. Hoping to accomplish this, she enters a contest in which the prize is an unbeatable, god-created warship called the Titania. Alexi, Esmae's twin brother, and her adopted cousin, Max, also enter the contest--Alexi is preparing to take back the throne, while Max is working to keep his father, Elvar, on it. It is Esmae, though, who prevails, winning the Titania and the chance to find her family. But the story that Esmae was told about her mother isn't the real story, and returning to Kali means stepping into a web of political and romantic intrigue. Esmae ultimately must decide whether the family she has sought her entire life is the one she is destined to call her own, or if the gods have another future for her.
Sangu Mandanna's (The Lost Girl
) novel seamlessly weaves science fiction elements with Indian mythology, creating a world that feels truly alive. Mandanna's characters are fully fleshed, especially the engaging and sympathetic Esmae. A Spark of White Fire
is the first in a trilogy, and readers will be eager for the next installment. --Clarissa Hadge
, manager, Trident Booksellers & Café, Boston, Mass.
Discover: With meddling gods, civil war and political intrigue in her way, Esmae won't have an easy time trying to return to her home kingdom and her family.
Sky Pony Press,
hardcover, 320p., ages 12-up, 9781510733787
Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree
by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, Viviana Mazza
Nigerian author Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani's (I Do Not Come to You by Chance) harrowing YA debut is certain to stun readers. Especially staggering is the lengthy afterword by Italian journalist Viviana Mazza explaining that Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree is based on interviews with some of the 276 girls kidnapped by extremist group Boko Haram from the village of Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria, in 2014.
The young Nigerian narrator never tells readers her name, but her parents call her "Ya Ta," Hausa for "my daughter." The only girl in her family, she loves sharing secrets with her best friend (especially about her crush on the pastor's handsome, educated son), and also studies hard to test into a government scholarship, encouraged by her proud father. Her dreams for the future shatter when Boko Haram storms her village, murdering the men and stealing young women and children. Enslaved, beaten and starved, the girl and her friends must convert to Islam at knifepoint and marry their captors. Raped repeatedly and forced to answer to the Arabic name Salamatu, which means "safety," the heroine wonders if she will ever see home again.
Nwaubani portions out the heartrending story in brief chapters with deceptively poetic prose for such a brutal saga. Sensitivity, not sensationalism, rules this raw and important narrative. Nwaubani takes care to indicate the true villains; conversations with kind Muslim neighbors illustrate the difference between Islam and extremism. This difference is emphasized repeatedly, as with the devastating emotional response one of the girls has after being raped: " 'This is not Islam,' she says again. 'This is not Islam,' she says over and over again." Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree
is a disturbing, agonizing story that will surely provide rich thought and discussion for mature readers. --Jaclyn Fulwood
, youth services division manager at Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library, Dayton, Ohio
Discover: This fictional account of one girl's tragedy takes inspiration from interviews with Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by the extremist group Boko Haram in 2014.
hardcover, 336p., ages 13-up, 9780062696724
The Echo Room
by Parker Peevyhouse
When 16-year-old Rett Ward wakes up in an unfamiliar industrial-metal room with a scar on his head and blood on his clothes, his first thought is "[s]omeone is calling to me...." That "someone" is 16-year-old Bryn, a fellow ward of the state from the same boarding facility as Rett. They don't know where they are or how they got there, but know they need to escape. Just as Rett is getting his bearings, something sets him "spinning into blackness." He wakes up in an unfamiliar industrial-metal room with a scar on his head and blood on his clothes, his first thought that someone is calling to him. When it seems that Rett and Bryn will never escape this recurring nightmare, fleeting memories and just-on-the-fringe revelations point to something even more sinister waiting for them on the other side.
Each iteration of this mental puzzle lasts longer than the one before it, as Rett and Bryn begin to fill in the gaps in their memories. Parker Peevyhouse (Where Futures End) manages to avoid repetition fatigue by giving new information--about Rett and Bryn, the dystopian future in which they reside, their true purpose for being in the depot--that pulls curious readers into the storyline. The stakes get drastically higher when the teens gather enough information to complete their mission. What follows is a whirlwind of close calls and shocking disclosures with a mind-bending twist.
The Echo Room
submerges readers in its video game-like atmosphere, holding them in its grip till the gratifying ending. --Lana Barnes
, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Discover: In this time-looping sci-fi thriller, two orphaned teens with foggy memories escape a prison only to realize they may have been safer inside.
hardcover, 320p., ages 13-up, 9780765399397
Tales from the Inner City
by Shaun Tan
In Tales from the Inner City
, Shaun Tan (The Singing Bones
) perfectly illuminates the sometimes symbiotic, sometimes parasitic relationships between animals of various species, with an emphasis on those that include human beings.
In this collection of 25 untitled short stories and poems, Tan imagines existences for animals in inner cities, giving special attention to the curious distance or extreme closeness humans maintain with other animals. A poem features one of the oldest friendships, that between human and dog, and examines the joy of finding companionship, as well as the pain of deep, unsettling loss. A series of illustrations of the same scene in different settings--dog and owner in tundra, war zone, meadow, desert--interrupts verses of the poem, the ending showing the beauty of reconciliation. Many of the stories, like the animals within, form a synergistic bond. One tells about the annihilation of generations when a great shark-like creature is slaughtered; the other tells about the salvation of generations when the fish's roe sack is released into the inky waves of the atmosphere. "The only place left for a fish... the only untouched openness with any tide or current," Tan writes, "well, it's the sky."
With the "names" of each short story or poem marked by the silhouettes of numbered beasts before the epigraph of the book, Tan's brilliant illustrations thread together these haunting pieces. Tan's full-page spreads of the last rhinoceros against a background of bumper-to-bumper traffic and of yellow eyes beaming out from the face of a snowy owl are just two of the evocative illustrations that accompany these prescient and apocalyptic works. Tales from the Inner City
is a nuanced, emotional look at animals who were here pre-human settlement, who will be here after--and those who won't. --Breanna J. McDaniel
, author, freelance reviewer
Discover: A sobering, prepossessing exploration of connection, the resilience of nature and the satisfying finality of what comes when "our time is long past."
Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic,
hardcover, 224p., ages 12-up, 9781338298406
by Il Sung Na
"Once, there was a pig who admired birds./ But he could never join them. Could he?" Hey, this is a children's book: of course he can!
The pig--a minty green color as improbable as the notion that pigs can fly--draws up plans and makes several flying machines; they fail. He seeks the advice of birds, whose suggestions leads to modifications to his plans. This time, his plane flies: "There was no height he couldn't reach. Was there?" Because this is a kids' book, there wasn't--as readers will see.
The beauty of The Dreamer
is that, while its title takes the singular form, the story is about the power of collective dreamers. Il Sung Na has flagged his affection for animals in books like A Book of Babies
and The Opposite Zoo
, and here his digitally composited ink and colored pencil art (with lots of daydream-soliciting white space) features not only the mentor-like birds but the pig's reliable trio of critter pals: they are stumped when he's stumped, pore over plans when he does, cheer when he triumphs. While readers may be able to anticipate the pig's success, they probably won't guess that, while his dreams have taken him places, the story ends as it begins, with the words "Once, there was a pig who admired birds" and an illustration of the pig gazing in wonder at feathered friends in flight. This is one flying pig who never loses sight of his kin: the original dreamers, plural. --Nell Beram
, freelance writer and YA author
Discover: The Dreamer knows when pigs fly: when they get a little help from their (animal) friends.
hardcover, 52p., ages 3-5, 9781452156088
The Storm Runner
by J.C. Cervantes
J.C. Cervantes uses her lifelong fascination with Mayan and Aztec mythologies to create the compelling, humorous The Storm Runner.
"Zane Obispo has a pretty sweet life." Ever since last year, he's been home-schooled, which means he spends his time reading The Lost Myths and Magic of the Maya, wandering around the desert of New Mexico with his beloved three-legged dog, Rosie, and spending time with his hardworking mother. He also recently found an entrance to "a whole labyrinth of caves" inside a dead volcano he considers his own. Life is generally pretty good, even if he does sometimes consider himself a "freak" because one of his "legs [is] shorter than the other," meaning he walks with "a dumb limp."
Things take a turn for the worst, though, a couple days before a solar eclipse. Zane's mom makes him attend a "stuffy private school" and he learns that he's part of a "very big prophecy that was told hundreds of years ago" in which a boy will release from prison Ah-Puch, the "Mayan god of death, disaster, and darkness." Zane is that boy. To make matters all the more overwhelming, he finds out a new friend is a "nawal" (shape-shifter) and an old friend is a "nik' wachinel" (a Mayan seer). When Rosie is killed by a demon from Xib'alb'a, the only thing he wants to do is save her from the underworld. Well, and not let "the Stinking One" out to destroy the world.
Fans of the Percy Jackson books are sure to love Cervantes's hefty, Aztec mythology-based, chosen-one-style adventure. Zane is supremely likable, with an approachable, gently dark sense of humor that works with the horrors he faces. High stakes and terrifying monsters make The Storm Runner
great fun for the voracious middle-grade fantasy reader. --Siân Gaetano
, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Thirteen-year-old Zane Obispo discovers he's the chosen one--to release the murderous and vengeful Mayan god of death, that is.
Rick Riordan Presents/Disney,
hardcover, 448p., ages 8-12, 9781368016346
Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon
by Suzanne Slade, illus. by Thomas Gonzalez
In riveting free verse, Suzanne Slade, author of Astronaut Annie, recounts the almost 3,000 days between President John F. Kennedy's monumental space announcement and the moment when "Armstrong steps onto the Moon,/ leaving a footprint that will last forever." She charts an emotional course for readers through each Apollo mission, from the devastating first to the historic 11th. Slade shares fascinating facts like "getting a simple drink of water/ is a challenging game of 'capture the droplets' " and develops atmosphere that raises goosebumps, such as when "the Earth shrinks/ from a basketball,/ to a baseball,/ to a golf ball." She also builds breathtaking suspense: "The rocket engine must reignite/ and push the craft out of lunar orbit./ If it fails, the men will be trapped in space/ forever." The result is a book that will captivate and entertain young readers while educating them about an amazing decade of U.S. space exploration.
Slade's poetry alone gives this book potent gravitational pull, but Thomas Gonzalez's exquisite, life-like pastel, colored pencil and airbrush illustrations render the reader powerless to its attraction. The amazing detail in elements such as the droplets of water in space and the sense of movement when a lunar module spins out of control boost the power of Slade's words. And the meticulously rendered imprint of Armstrong's footprint on the moon launches modern readers back to 1969 to experience the sheer awe. In the 21st century, space travel goals aim much further away than the moon, but Countdown
drives home how truly incredible the Apollo missions are in the history of mankind. --Jen Forbus
Discover: The story of how the United States put men on the moon is brought to life through a perfect combination of powerful words and striking illustrations.
hardcover, 144p., ages 10-14, 9781682630136
Teen Readers Recommend
A Very Large Expanse of Sea
by Tahereh Mafi
In A Very Large Expanse of Sea
, Tahereh Mafi, author of the bestselling Shatter Me
series, detours from her usual fantasy novels and, for the first time, takes a leap into the world of contemporary fiction.
The story is told through the eyes of Shirin, a daughter of Iranian immigrants, who is entering her second year of high school a year after September 11, 2001. Shirin, taunted not only at school but also on the streets, feels cast out, humiliated, angry, and forms a shell between her and the world. Then, she meets Ocean, a boy from a universe completely different from her own. Ocean, unaware of the extent of prejudice that lies outside his bubble of privilege, falls for Shirin. Although Shirin knows the difficulties of dating a white boy--her parents' and society's disapproval top of the list--her shell slowly shatters as she ventures into love.
Mafi gives vivid voice to an underrepresented audience in this story, which she has said is related to her own life and to growing up in the aftermath of that tragic day. She develops a connection between her characters and her readers through her candid accounts of prejudice and societal expectations in the United States. Her character development is outstanding as the story progresses: the complexity of Shirin and Ocean's characters grounds a realistic tale in which not only Muslim teens can find themselves, but a majority of young adults as well, regardless of faith. The teens' rich personalities, desires, powerful emotions and struggles come together to form a memorable work. An outstanding contemporary novel, A Very Large Expanse of Sea is a realistic love story that provides a much-needed perspective. --Rifal Imam, 17
Discover: A Muslim teen navigates her way through love and hate in the aftermath of 9/11 in Tahereh Mafi's A Very Large Expanse of Sea.
hardcover, 320p., ages 13-up, 9780062866561
by Kevin Brooks
Winner of the Carnegie Medal, the U.K.'s top prize for children's literature, Kevin Brooks (The Bunker Diary
) writes in Born Scared
about one teen's struggle with paralyzing anxiety.
Elliot has suffered from constant and extreme apprehension--bordering on terror--since birth. Every day, he fights to contain the beast within; he eloquently describes his "fear of fear itself" as "a truly monstrous thing, like a howling demon... an insatiable beast that keeps getting bigger and bigger all the time." It's okay though, as long as he has his yellow fear pills (Moloxetine) and a select group of people he trusts: the Doc, Mum, Auntie Shirley and Ellamay, the presence of his twin sister who died hours after they were born, and who lives on in his mind. When his fear pills run out and his mum and his auntie fail to bring him his prescription, he pushes down his fear and sets out in a snowstorm to travel the vast, seemingly insurmountable 527 yards to his aunt's house. Elliot, though, has no knowledge of the sinister plot that is keeping his aunt and mum tied up.
Brooks seems to write regardless of what others will think, not afraid to talk about sensitive topics, like mental illness described from a teen's perspective. He uses unconventional story designs and layouts, here rapidly switching perspectives between Elliot's skewed, terrified experience and the stories of the individuals he encounters who try to help him, hinder his process or even cause him pain. This adventurous story may be helpful in allowing readers to empathize with those who suffer from anxiety and is a great read for anyone interested in literature from writers not afraid to write outside social norms. --Mohammed Jahan, 17
Discover: A teen, with the help of the voice of his dead twin sister, overcomes mountainous challenges in Kevin Brooks's Born Scared.
hardcover, 256p., ages 12-up, 9780763695651