Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, September 13, 2019

Grove Press: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

From My Shelf

Workman Publishing: Atlas Obscura, 2nd Edition: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders (Second Edition, Revised) by Joshua Foer, Ella Morton, Dylan Thuras

Andrews McMeel Publishing: Bloodlust & Bonnets by Emily McGovern

Bye-Bye Bookselling--for Now

I'm going to miss bookselling. I've been a bookseller for more than six years and likely would have stayed for many more were it not for a recent cross-country move to Madison, Wis. I'll miss my friends and co-workers, of course, but I'll also miss a few of the things that make working at an independent bookstore unique.

I loved writing recommendations. Everyone calls it something different--Staff Picks, etc.--but I seek them out in every bookstore I visit. What surprised me was the impact they can have. I wrote a recommendation for Cormac McCarthy's Suttree (Vintage, $16.95) almost on a whim: it's a long, strange and frankly unapproachable book. To my surprise, it sold and sold throughout my entire time at the bookstore--more than 200 copies in total. This is not to say that all my idiosyncratic picks were winners--my recommendation for the door-stopping The Anatomy of Melancholy (New York Review Books, $29.95) went over about as well as you would expect. Here's the thing, though: it sold. Just a few copies, but that was enough for me. It may sound corny, but one thing I love about independent bookstores is that people respond when you put yourself out there a little.

In a similar vein, when customers asked me for recommendations, they were often looking for something older or out-of-the-way, already familiar with the recent bestsellers. Your kid can't get enough of the Warriors books? Try Brian Jacques's Redwall (Firebird, $9.99). Loved Annihilation (FSG Originals, $14)? Jeff VanderMeer borrowed a lot from Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's Roadside Picnic (Chicago Review Press, $15.95)--check it out! As a long-time genre fan, it made me endlessly happy to show people that there really is something for everyone in science fiction or comic books/graphic novels. Customers respond to that passion, and to the books themselves, of course, and that interplay is just not replicable with an online retailer. I know the first thing I'll do when I need something to read in my new home is find my local indie bookstore. --Hank Stephenson, former bookseller, Flyleaf Books

From My Shelf

Workman Publishing: Atlas Obscura, 2nd Edition: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders (Second Edition, Revised) by Joshua Foer, Ella Morton, Dylan Thuras

Andrews McMeel Publishing: Bloodlust & Bonnets by Emily McGovern

Reading the Wind

I've been reading about wind lately, and realized we're always reading about wind. Consider a beautiful passage in Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient (Vintage) that could be a wind prayer ("There is a whirlwind in southern Morocco, the aajej, against which the fellahin defend themselves with knives. There is the africo, which has at times reached into the city of Rome...."). Or David Szalay's mesmerizing novel Turbulence(Scribner), where diverse yet connected characters circumnavigate the globe like pressure systems.

Go back in time:

So he agreed to help me, and he gave me
a bag of oxhide leather and he tied
the gusty winds inside it. Zeus, the son
of Cronus, made him steward of the winds,
and he can stop or rouse them as he wishes.

Emily Wilson's brilliant translation of The Odyssey (Norton) reminds us that this precious gift from Aeolus, Keeper of the Winds, did not work out so well for Odysseus after his greedy crew opened the bag and unleashed, literally, an epic gale.

"The book in your hands is that oxhide sack. All the winds of the world are inside," Nick Hunt writes in his introduction to the NYRB Classics reprint of Lyall Watson's fascinating 1984 work, Heaven's Breath: A Natural History of the Wind. I love this book. It alters your perception of Earth.

"Living, as we do, at the bottom of an ocean of air, it is easy not to look up. To see only our immediate environment in two-dimensional terms," Watson observes. "Wind is invisible. Which immediately puts it into a category of things like love, hate and politics that we find difficult to explain, and impossible to ignore."

After Watson I read Hunt's Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe's Winds from the Pennines to Provence (Nicholas Brealey), in which he chronicles his 2016 pilgrimage along the routes of several European winds, noting: "These were journeys into wild wind, but also into wild landscapes and the people who inhabit them; they were also, inevitably, journeys into myself."

--Robert Gray, contributing editor

From My Shelf

Workman Publishing: Atlas Obscura, 2nd Edition: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders (Second Edition, Revised) by Joshua Foer, Ella Morton, Dylan Thuras

Andrews McMeel Publishing: Bloodlust & Bonnets by Emily McGovern

Islamic New Year

Muslims around the world just celebrated the start of a new year, the year 1441 A.H. on the Islamic calendar. A.H. stands for "after hijrah," which refers to the migration of Prophet Muhammad and the beginning of the Muslim era.

Muhurram, the first month of the year, is considered a time of deep reflection and is second only to Ramadan in significance. This year, the holy days of Muharram overlap with the tragic anniversary of 9/11. It is deeply distressing that so much violence has been committed in the name of a religion that is, at its core, about peace and unity. As Islamic scholar and former Roman Catholic nun Karen Armstrong points out, there are some forms of religious practice that are bad; just as there's bad cooking or bad art, you have bad religion, too.

Whenever I am asked about introductory resources for non-Muslims seeking to understand the faith, I recommend Islam: A Short History (Modern Library, $17), Armstrong's excellent analysis of the fastest growing religion in the world. She underscores the important point that fundamentalists perverting religion as a tool of oppression and using violence to justify their own domination are not representative of Islam.

Another standout resource is The First Muslim (Riverhead, $18), Leslie Hazelton's fascinating biography of Prophet Muhammad that deconstructs his life and religious awakening. She explores how he became the messenger of God, approaching her subject with an agnostic lens and uncovering truths otherwise obscured by blind devotion.

Eloquently written and spanning the religion's origins and evolution, Reza Aslan's No God but God (Random House, $18) addresses the future of Islam and the necessity of a reformation within Islamic communities worldwide. He argues convincingly that such a reformation has already begun post-9/11. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

From My Shelf

Workman Publishing: Atlas Obscura, 2nd Edition: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders (Second Edition, Revised) by Joshua Foer, Ella Morton, Dylan Thuras

Andrews McMeel Publishing: Bloodlust & Bonnets by Emily McGovern

Kids' Books for Hispanic Heritage Month

From September 15 to October 15, the U.S. observes National Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrating Hispanic and Latinx Americans' heritage and culture and recognizing their contributions to the United States. Here are some wonderful children's titles written and/or illustrated by Hispanic or Latinx Americans to start the celebration a little early.

In Margarita Engle and Rafael López's Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln (Atheneum, $17.99) readers ages four to eight are introduced to the Venezuela-born piano prodigy Teresa Carreño, a great but largely forgotten performer. When she was eight, war broke out in Venezuela, so Carreño's father took the family to New York City. Soon Carreño was playing with orchestras and invited to perform near and far, most dauntingly and climactically for President Abraham Lincoln and his family at the White House.

Twelve-year-old Emilia is going through a period of transition in Pablo Cartaya's Each Tiny Spark (Kokila/Penguin, $16.99, ages 10-up). As her father comes back from deployment and her mother leaves for a job interview in San Francisco, she begins learning about the inequity all around her. Each Tiny Spark shows how politics are inextricable from the personal as Emilia's Cuban-American family deals with racial and religious politics every day.

The emphatic "Where are you from?" is an all-too-familiar scenario for many people of color who call the United States "home." One little girl attempts to answer simply: "I'm from here, from today, same as everyone else." But the insistence lingers and the bewildered child can't satisfy her interrogators. She turns to her Abuelo "because he knows everything, and like me, he looks like he doesn't belong." Certain details point to a South American, likely Argentinian heritage in Yamile Saied Méndez and Jaime Kim's picture book Where Are You From? (HarperCollins, $17.99, ages 4-8), but the mostly nameless scenes also become an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the many backgrounds, roots and histories, of those who live in these United States.

--Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

From My Shelf

Workman Publishing: Atlas Obscura, 2nd Edition: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders (Second Edition, Revised) by Joshua Foer, Ella Morton, Dylan Thuras

Andrews McMeel Publishing: Bloodlust & Bonnets by Emily McGovern

Before There Was Stonewall

The half-century anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots this year drew much fanfare to the significance of that historical moment. It's undeniably encouraging to see the strides made since and, perhaps counterintuitively, continues to pique my curiosity for what came beforehand.

One book I have found indispensable this summer has been Indecent Advances: A Hidden History of True Crime and Prejudice Before Stonewall (Counterpoint, $26) by James Polchin. Extrapolating from news clippings from the early 20th century, Polchin reads between the lines of reportage, teasing out the homosexual implications of certain stories of violent crime. In many of these cases, two unrelated men check into a hotel, but only one checks out. Perhaps more chilling is the way each defendant leans into "gay panic" as motivation--fearful self-defense when faced with "improper advances." Polchin shows how lawyers and newspapers approached these trials with overt and lurid bias, implicating victims in their own deaths. As a result, such defense strategies became viable, and gay men became easy targets for more violence.

Further illumination of this time period is found in Troublemaker for Justice ($13.95) by Jacqueline Houtman, Walter Naegle and Michael G. Long. It's a slim biography of Bayard Rustin, who inspired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. toward nonviolent resistance during the civil rights era. The first YA book from San Francisco publisher City Lights, Troublemaker is an excellent introduction to the gay black Quaker called "Mr. March-on-Washington himself" by friends and undercut by opponents for his sexual orientation. When South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond sought to derail the March, he targeted Rustin as a pervert. Philip Randolph, though, defended his friend and co-activist with a declaration of utter confidence in Rustin's "character, integrity, and extraordinary ability."

The history of social (in)justice runs deep, and these two books are tremendous additions to that legacy. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

From My Shelf

Workman Publishing: Atlas Obscura, 2nd Edition: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders (Second Edition, Revised) by Joshua Foer, Ella Morton, Dylan Thuras

Andrews McMeel Publishing: Bloodlust & Bonnets by Emily McGovern

Books, Bookstores and a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am

I picked up The Bookish Life of Nina Hill (Berkley, $16) expecting gentle humor and light romance. What I got was often-snarky humor and sexy romance; even better, Abbi Waxman (The Garden of Small Beginnings, Other People's Houses) has written a paean to indie bookstores and booksellers.

Protagonist Nina Hill works at a store called Knight's in Los Angeles: "It is like all good independent bookstores should be, owned and staffed by people who love books, read them, think about them, and sell them to other people who feel the same way." Daughter of a single mother--a peripatetic news photographer--and a nameless fling, she grew up with a nanny. Nina's natural state is solitude, with a side of anxiety. She fills her life with activities: books clubs, a trivia team--they are "simply weapons of self-defense." She thinks of books "as medication and sanctuary and the source of all good things. Nothing yet had proven her wrong."

One night, the trivia team is cruising through a contest, when its only true rival team shows up, led by a handsome guy Nina thinks is arrogant. Tom is interested in Nina, but thinks she's too full of herself. We know where this is going, and we know it will be a bumpy ride. In addition to this fledgling romance, Nina finds out the father she never knew has died and left her an inheritance, along with a large, nearby family that doesn't want to share the wealth, which is fine with Nina. She wants no part of it, or them. But she gets it--a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am. With something in the glove compartment.

And thereby hangs a witty tale of the cutthroat world of trivia, romance, unexpected family ties and, most of all, the love of books and bookstores, a delight for all of us "parishioners at the Church of the Dust-Jacketed Hardback." --Marilyn Dahl, Shelf Awareness

From My Shelf

Workman Publishing: Atlas Obscura, 2nd Edition: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders (Second Edition, Revised) by Joshua Foer, Ella Morton, Dylan Thuras

Andrews McMeel Publishing: Bloodlust & Bonnets by Emily McGovern

Sweet on Summer

When the livin' is easy, sweeten long summer days with dessert that's easy, too--like a bowl of homemade ice cream. To learn the basics, start with the Salt & Straw Ice Cream Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, $25). The hit chain's cofounder Tyler Malek promises "making ice cream is fun and easy, I swear" and, with cowriter JJ Goode, he offers recipes and tricks to re-create Salt & Straw hit flavors or invent your own. (Do yourself a favor and start, though, with Salt & Straw's famous Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons.) Then, go a round with The Perfect Scoop, Revised and Updated (Ten Speed, $24.99) by ice cream authority David Lebovitz. Master the custard base or just or call it 5 o'clock somewhere and dive into a Spritz Sorbet or Negroni Slush.

For plant-based treats that feel almost virtuous--or at least free from refined and artificial sweeteners--see "Miss Marzipan" blogger Marisa Alvarsson's Naturally Sweet Vegan Treats (Page Street, $21.99). Try the creamy-dreamy Neapolitan Ice-Cream Cake or the Lime & Berry Tartlets that pack a "a zesty punch" with bright hits of lime. Stay fruit-forward with The Peach Truck Cookbook (Scribner, $28) from husband-and-wife peach-truckers Jessica N. and Stephen K. Rose, whose take on a classic Peach Pie calls for a game-changing tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (hello, tender crust) and whose luscious Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Macerated Peaches "kids might call fancy Jell-O and adults would call heaven."

Evi Aki, "Ev's Eats" blogger, offers mostly savory fare in Flavors of Africa (Page Street, $21.99), but she also includes several standout desserts, such as easy-breezy Malva Pudding, and two particularly delicious doughnut recipes, Nigerian Puff Puffs and Kenyan Mandazi. Either would be perfect on a summer evening with a handful of juicy, fresh berries--and maybe even a homemade scoop of ice cream on the side? --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Other Press: Inheritance: A Novel by Evelyn Toynton

Book Candy

Books Set in a Bookless World

"Books set in a world without books" were highlighted by Quirk Books.


"From the sanguine to the downright choleric," Merriam-Webster explored "humorless words for the bodily humors."


Author Henry Hemming picked his "top 10 books about fake news" for the Guardian.


"The first public library in the Americas," Biblioteca Palafoxiana in Puebla, Mexico, "has more than 45,000 books dating back to the 15th century."


The Slightly Foxed revolving bookcase "spins on a sturdy solid wood base using a high quality lazy Susan bearing set," Bookshelf noted.

Out of Darkness, Shining Light

by Petina Gappah

Zimbabwean writer Petina Gappah (The Book of Memory) takes  readers on an epic adventure through the wilds of 19th-century Africa in her novel Out of Darkness, Shining Light. Following the men and women who deliver the body of Scottish explorer Dr. David Livingstone 1,500 miles from Zambia to Zanzibar, the plot evolves through the narration of two members of the group: Livingstone's cook and a Christian freed slave, both individuals who have faded into the obscurity of history. Gappah returns them to the forefront of this amazing pilgrimage and brings both the time and the terrain into focus for her audience with humor, horror and all the wonder unique to the continent.

Halima is a smart, spirited woman. Readers will find that her sharp wit and cagey nature combine for a fascinating perspective of the funeral trek. She has strong opinions about everyone and everything: "He puts me in mind of a plucked chicken that has sat too long without being cooked, so that when you see the white flesh, you think all is well within, but when you slice it open, it is all green and crawling with maggots, and the smell hits you like a stone to your head. A maggoty fellow if I ever saw one is that Chirango." But she also offers insight into the lives of the slaves and, more specifically, the enslaved women. Sometimes that view is comic: "Misozi, as always, was slow to catch on, but Ntaoéka, Laede, and I looked at each other in perfect understanding. This is how we normally managed things when we wanted something. We talked it over among ourselves first, then with our men separately, until they believed that our thinking was their own."

Through Halima, Gappah also portrays the atrocities of African slavery. Halima has spent her life as a piece of property; she knows the nightmare of those in bondage. Her relationship with Livingstone is touching. While she does not understand his obsession with finding the source of the Nile, she cares for him and nourishes him with her meals, and trusts that he will fulfill his promise to buy her a house with a door. She dreams of her door throughout the journey, "a door that would truly be a marvel to all."

Contrasting Halima is the pious, egocentric freed slave Jacob Wainwright, whose goal is to be ordained and convert everyone to Christianity. He's critical of Dr. Livingstone because in Livingstone's explorations on the continent, he didn't turn more Africans to the religion. Jacob is certain Livingstone's priorities were in the wrong order. Like Halima, Jacob is full of opinions about others. And while he has no room to forgive them, he has ample rationalizations for his own immoral behavior: "I comfort myself with the certainty that it is perhaps as well that I know what it is to sin, for I have, until this moment been completely without blemish. It is surely right that one who is to be a clergyman should know, firsthand, what it means to be a sinner." The pedestal Jacob puts himself on gives him plenty of height to fall from. Through the absurdity of Jacob's character and the pragmatism of Halima's, Gappah delivers her own sermon on the hypocrisy of Christianity and the efforts to force this religious belief on the people of Africa. It comes across as anything but preachy, but still inhabits the souls it touches.

There's a mystery woven into the entertainment of these two colorful characters narrating an arduous trip: people in their group are inexplicably dying. At first the deaths seem to be accidents, but when one demise turns out to be homicide, the others become suspect as well. As the band of travelers begins to dwindle, the likelihood of reaching Zanzibar looks smaller and smaller.

In Out of Darkness, Shining Light, Gappah has managed to artfully blend brilliant humor with a strong sense of place and themes surrounding the dark issues of slavery and colonization. She delivers an engrossing adventure laced with details that history books have neglected, and offers glimmers of hope through her resilient characters. The voices she's chosen to tell this powerful story are stark reminders of all that is lost when such perspectives die. Gappah paints an emotionally charged image of the slaves who are unable to continue walking. Their captors chain them to trees and leave them to die. The infrequently traveled paths mean that often all that is found by the next traveler is a pile of bones at the base of the tree. For the voices of Halima and Jacob, Gappah is their release. She's freed their stories from those chains in order for them to live and shine their light. --Jen Forbus

Scribner, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9781982110338

Petina Gappah: The Subaltern View of History

(photo: Marina Cavazza)

Petina Gappah is an award-winning and widely translated Zimbabwean writer. She is the author of the novel The Book of Memory and two short story collections, Rotten Row and An Elegy for Easterly, which won the Guardian First Book Award. Gappah is also a lawyer specializing in international trade and investment. Her second novel, Out of Darkness, Shining Light, the story of the men and women who carried Dr. Livingston's body and his work across Africa so that his remains could be returned to England, was just published by Scribner.

You published your first story when you were 14 but then went to law school?

I am so tickled that you know that! My first published story came out in 1985 in the annual school magazine, the Santa Dee Blues--I was educated at a rural convent school, St Dominic's Secondary School near my home city, Harare. The story was called "Marooned on a Desert Island" and began with the sentence, "For the umpteenth time I looked out at the sea, and for the umpteenth time, I was disappointed." It would definitely not make the list of immortal first lines!

Before that, at age 10, I had written a science fiction "novel" set in a penal colony on Mars called Return to Planet Earth!, complete with the exclamation mark and my own illustrations.

I always wanted to be a writer, but as the first person ever in my entire family--and we are talking across three generations and more on both the maternal and paternal sides--to go to university, my parents and teachers urged me to study for what they termed a "professional degree." And so I chose law.

In your acknowledgements you say, "this book has been almost twenty years in the making." What connected you to the story of Dr. Livingstone originally?

We studied African history at school, and that included the first encounters between Europe and Africa. Along with English literature, African history was my favourite subject. I still have my history book from when I was 16, the book in which I traced out David Livingstone's journeys and wrote about his final days, his death and the journey that his companions undertook to bring him home to England. That journey, his very last one, as a corpse, was something that intrigued me because it was such an extraordinary thing for his companions to have done. I thought it would not only be a fantastic premise for a novel, but also for a play or a film.

You tell this story through two voices that the history books have essentially erased. Why these two?

I don't think they have been erased so much as they were just not important to the Victorians, and subsequently, to history. Only Livingstone mattered, Halima and Jacob were just two among the amorphous group of anonymous companions who carried his body. I am strongly influenced by what South Asian social scientists call the subaltern view of history, that is, in looking at history and social change not from the point of view of elite participants, but from that of ordinary people. Livingstone's work had a profound effect on the fate of Africa, and his companions played a role that was just as important. Not only did they carry out maps and documents that eventually assisted in the colonization of the African continent, they also cemented the Victorian myth of Livingstone as the white man loved by Africans who ended the east Africa slave trade and spread Christianity in its place.

Did you know from the start it would be Halima and Jacob, or were there others you considered as narrators?

My initial inspiration was the magnificent As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. I had about 12 narrators at first, but the three that really pulled me in, and seemed most distinctive, were Jacob and Halima and the chorus. So I soon dropped the others and focused on those three.

Did you find one to be more challenging to create?

I really loved all three voices because they are so different. Jacob and Halima are contrasting characters in that, much as Jacob believes he is free because he is no longer a slave, he is in fact the least free character in the book, and while Halima believes she is a slave, she is nonetheless the most free.

As much as I loved Halima though, she was the most difficult to write because I could not give her more knowledge than an uneducated and illiterate slave woman of her time could reasonably be expected to have. At the same time, I wanted to avoid the "Massa Livingstone, he talk, Massa Livingstone, he sleep" stereotype that is associated with uneducated slaves. She narrates in the first person, and no one is illiterate in their own mind and, in any event, she may be a slave and uneducated but she is not an unintelligent woman. Finding that line between her ignorance and her natural intelligence was a big challenge. I really missed her voice in the second part of the novel, where Jacob takes over. But if she had been narrating it, it would have just been "and then we came to this place and moved on to that place" because she has no conception of geography. So I had to limit her voice to her knowledge.

I also ended up cutting quite a lot of the chorus voice because at some point it became artificial and stilted. So I left it to just the prologue.

My favourite character to write was Jacob.  I was strongly influenced by Marilynne Robinson in writing his character because she writes such wonderful, believable, and flawed characters of faith.

How did you go about excavating their stories?

I did a crazy amount of archival research. The key really was in Livingstone's journals. He was a man of great curiosity, and was interested in just about everything and everyone. His journals are filled with stories of his companions. One of my favourite passages is when he says that one of the women in his party is dangerously attractive and he wants her married to avoid trouble. I was greatly amused by the idea that while he was on this great, history-making enterprise of looking for the source of the Nile, he was also involved with everyday gossip and interfering in the love affairs of his companions. Little passages like that were really the flesh around which I built the story. The novel is obviously fiction imagined around a historical fact, but I tried as much as I could to give life to actual events, many narrated in Livingstone's journals.

And, finally, what's next now that this book is complete?

I am now working on my fifth book, a novel provisionally titled Mount Pleasant. It is very much in the same subaltern approach as Out of Darkness, and narrates the history of Rhodesia and the transition into Zimbabwe as told through the lifelong friendship between two very different men, one a Jewish man born in Vienna, Austria and the other, a Karanga man born in rural Gutu, Rhodesia. It is a doorstop of a novel, and I can't wait to finish it. --Jen Forbus

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

HarperVia: Lost in the Spanish Quarter by Heddi Goodrich

David Shannon: When All You Have Is a Hammer...

David Shannon 
(photo: Blue Trimarchi ArtWorks)

David Shannon grew up in Spokane, Wash., and graduated with a BFA in illustration from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif. In 1983, he moved to New York City and worked as a freelance editorial illustrator. David's work appeared in many publications, including Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone and the New York Times, as well as numerous book jackets and posters. In 1988, he began illustrating children's books and has since written and/or illustrated more than 40 picture books, including the bestsellers A Bad Case of Stripes, Duck on a Bike, Alice the Fairy and the semi-autobiographical, No, David!, which received a Caldecott Honor in 1999. His latest book is Mr. Nogginbody Gets a Hammer, in which the theatrically clueless Mr. Nogginbody gets carried away by successfully fixing a loose nail in his floor and starts imagining that anything resembling a nail can be fixed with a sturdy whack from his new hammer.

Hello David! Mr. Nogginbody Gets a Hammer is really fun and off-beat with a pretty clear message (and hopeful end!). What made you want to write a book about the "law of the instrument?"

Ha--thank you! Well, I've always thought that was a very pithy observation, and so apropos of the times we're living in. I was looking for a story to go along with the character of Mr. Nogginbody--something that was kind of absurd and unconventional, but that kids would get a kick out of. I was playing around with several ideas and Hammer was the one that said "Pick me! Pick me!"

How did you develop the illustrative style of this book? How did Mr. Nogginbody get his look?

He started out as a doodle in my sketchbook--sometimes I like to draw "nonsense people." He made me laugh so I kept fooling around with him and drawing him doing different stuff.

You also worked with a very limited color palette. Mr. Nogginbody is entirely black-and-white and the pops of color come from the occasional flowers, signs, background shading. Did you make a conscious decision to keep this world primarily black-and-white?

Yeah, I always saw him as black and white in an odd little world, but I thought I was going to paint it. Usually I sketch out a book in pencil on tracing paper and paint the finishes, but this time the whole thing kind of evolved in my sketchbook with these ink drawings. I really liked their immediacy so I decided to use them for the book, with some minimal color added in paint to go with Mr. Nogginbody's pared-down surroundings. It ended up being a pretty significant departure--and a lot of fun!

The concept that "if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" has been attributed to Abraham Maslow, Abraham Kaplan, Mark Twain, the Buddha, the Bible, financier Bernard M. Baruch. Is this your sly attempt to get on that list?

Wow--you've done some research! I only knew about Maslow. I don't belong on that list, but I hope they'd all get a kick out of Mr. Nogginbody!

Rex Ogle's Free Lunch

photo: Rex Ogle

Rex Ogle began his editorial career at DC Comics, working on flagship titles like Justice League, Teen Titans and Superman/Batman. From there, he moved to Scholastic where he helmed New York Times bestselling series like Star Wars: Jedi Academy and Study Hall of Justice, and later, Little Brown for Young Readers, where he developed titles such as the Classroom 13 series and Neil Patrick Harris's Magic Misfits. Rex Ogle has more than 100 published titles in the children's space under various pen names, but is most proud of the ones he writes under his own name. Free Lunch is the story of Rex Ogle's first semester in sixth grade when he was on his school's free lunch program. Grounded in the immediacy of physical hunger and the humiliation of having to announce it every day in the school lunch line, Rex's is a compelling story of a more profound hunger--that of a child for his parents' love and care.

Thanks for chatting with Shelf, Rex! Free Lunch is your middle-grade debut. Why did you want to tell your story to this age group?

Middle grade readers are at that age where they are entering a difficult time in their lives. They're learning about themselves and the world, dealing with changing bodies and evolving friendships and dealing with heavy emotional issues. I wanted to share my story so that they could see a perspective that might either mirror their own, or be completely foreign to them. If my readers are dealing with similar things--like poverty or domestic violence--I hope it lets them know they aren't alone, and offers some hope. And if these difficult topics are alien to the reader, then perhaps it will give them some awareness and compassion for those dealing with these issues.

With my book, I also wanted to push the boundaries a bit. Not because I want to be salacious, but because we live in a world where young readers are exposed to heavy themes every single day--be it through TV or video games or music or movies or friends or the internet. As an uncle of six awesome youths, I want to keep my nieces and nephews as innocent as possible for as long as possible. But I also know they're more mature than adults give them credit for. Preventing exposure is impossible in today's world. So rather than try to hide them from difficult truths, I would like to enlighten them--gently and carefully--in order to start open and honest conversations about hard things they might not fully understand.

You have done a fair amount of writing for comics and graphic novels. How was the experience of writing Free Lunch similar? Different?

Writing graphic novels and comics is fantastic, because you're essentially sharing the workload with a team. With sequential art storytelling, the writer first writes the manuscript, which describes panels and offers dialogue. Then, the artist does the heavy-lifting. Sometimes there's also a different colorist, and of course the letterer. With prose, it's a very different kind of storytelling. The author has to rely exclusively on their own skills to "paint the picture" in the mind of the reader. Graphic novels are a collaboration, so even when you're telling a dark story you don't feel alone. 

With prose--especially a memoir like Free Lunch--you're completely on your own. 

Your story deals with very difficult topics. Was it hard to write those chapters?

Absolutely. Of all the things I've written, Free Lunch was the hardest thing I've ever written. For most of my life I've dealt firsthand with depression, anxiety and panic attacks. I've always wondered whether I was born with it, or if it was a direct result of my childhood.  So, delving into my past to relive some of the more awful moments, I found myself having more anxiety than ever. In the end, it turned out to be a good exercise. I was able to confront those moments and remind myself that they were in the past, that I survived, that I was safe now and that my story might help others. 

Literary Paper Dolls

Daphne du Maurier's novel Rebecca inspired the Paris Review's "literary paper dolls" feature.


From Animal Farm to Catch-22, the Guardian highlighted "the most regrettable rejections in the history of publishing."


Quirk Books "decided to rank the BEST fictional burgers of all time!"


"Pandora's new 'Harry Potter' Collection will include pieces inspired by your fave witches & wizards," Bustle promised.


"Tonga to open first public library system with thousands of books donated from New Zealand," according to RZN.


Architect Emmanuelle Moureaux hung 140,000 pieces of paper from the ceiling to create rainbow passageways for her colorful "Universe of Words" installation, Colossal noted.

Sleeping Bear Press: Snow Globe Wishes by Erin Dealey, illustrated by Claire Shorrock

Guess Classic Novels

"Can you guess these classic novels from their Library of Congress subject categories?" Lit Hub asked.


"A California type foundry is keeping vintage printing alive," Atlas Obscura noted.


David Lynch named his five favorite books of all time for Far Out magazine.


Patrons at the Hakone Honbako book hotel in Japan "are promised a good night's sleep, and--with luck--a good read to boot," the Asahi Shimbun reported.


The Vatican Library has been digitized and is available online.


England's poet laureate Simon Armitage's cancer poem was engraved on a pill to honor a planned new research center, the Guardian noted.

Lifestyle Entrepreneurs Press: The Offline Dating Method: How to Attract a Great Guy in the Real World by Camille Virginia

How to Become a 'Read Out-Loud Book Hero'

The Los Angeles Times shared "five steps to becoming a read out-loud book hero" and "how to help your child become an avid reader."


"The classic novel that is most often abandoned by readers" was explored by Mental Floss.


"Waffle House has an official poet laureate. For real," Atlanta magazine reported.


Author Louise Doughty picked her "top 10 ghost stories" for the Guardian.


Road trips: The biggest William Blake exhibition in 20 years is coming to London, and a Dr. Seuss exhibition is opening in Toronto.


Smithsonian magazine recalled the good old days "when the public feared that library books could spread deadly diseases."

Weldon Owen: The Official Downton Abbey Cocktail Book: Appropriate Libations for All Occasions by Downton Abbey

Find Your Literary Sister

Pop quiz from Quirk Books: "Who would your literary sister be?"


"A long-lost set of sketches from beloved classic The Little Prince has turned up in a Swiss storage facility," ArtNet reported.


The question: "Where does 'run-of-the-mill' come from?" Merriam-Webster had the answer.


Author Lila Savage chose her "top 10 caregivers in fiction" for the Guardian.


"The book led Beatrix Potter to love... then to tragedy." Mental Floss shared "9 facts about The Tale of Peter Rabbit."


Waukegan Public Library unveiled a Ray Bradbury statue on the Fahrenheit 451 author's birthday, Lake County News-Sun wrote.

Magination Press: Snitchy Witch by Frank J Sileo, illustrated by MacKenzie Haley

Modern Classics of Conspiracy Noir

CrimeReads investigated "11 modern classics of conspiracy noir."


"Gwyneth Paltrow hired a personal book curator--Here's what he chose for her shelves," Town & Country reported.


Gabriel García Márquez's "five favorite cocktail stories" were featured on the Paris Review's blog.


Open Culture extended an invitation to "take a virtual tour of Jane Austen's library."


Travel+Leisure found some Key West hotels that "offer waterproof books you can read in the pool."


10 Dickensian character names were deciphered by Lit Hub.

Sterling Children's Books: Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus (Life of a Cactus #2) by Dusti Bowling

Mysteries About Rare Books and Bibliophiles

CrimeReads investigated "7 great mysteries about rare books and bibliophiles."


Mental Floss challenged readers to name these 20 Harry Potter characters, based on descriptions of what their lives would be like if they were muggles.


"Book Junkie on the beach." Newsday noted that "Ishmael Samad takes reading to Manzanilla seaside" in Trinidad & Tobago.


"From Kafka to Gogol via Pynchon," author Joanna Kavenna chose her "top 10 absurd quests in fiction" for the Guardian.


Le Mystérieux Correspondant, "lost Proust stories of homosexual love" written in the late 1890s but held back from publication, will finally be released this autumn.


Bookshelf featured Michael Schlütter's LoculaMENTUM, which is "designed to meld traditional bookcase appearance with a modern interpretation and a twist."

Shadow Mountain:  Master of the Phantom Isle (Dragonwatch #3) by Brandon Mull

Great Reads

Rediscover: Dorothea Benton Frank

Dorothea Benton Frank, author of 20 novels set primarily in the Lowcountry of coastal South Carolina, died September 2 at age 67. She was born and raised in Sullivan's Island, S.C., at the entrance to Charleston harbor. Most of her books are literal beach reads, taking place on summertime South Carolina barrier islands. Frank published her first novel, Sullivan's Island, in 1999. Her other works include Plantation (2001), Pawley Island (2005), Bull's Island (2008) and All Summer Long (2016). Many of Frank's novels feature strong matriarchs, family drama, romance and, of course, the beach. Her final novel, Queen Bee, was published by Morrow in May ($27.99, 9780062861214). It follows a Sullivan Island beekeeper/librarian who must deal with her overbearing mother, nicknamed Queen Bee, and the unexpected return of her dramatic sister.

Cassandra King, author and wife of the late Pat Conroy, called Frank "a force of nature" with "such a big heart," the Post and Courier wrote. She recalled how much Conroy liked Frank, saying they "were so funny together. She called him Fat Boy and he called her the Dotted One."

Book Lovers Con 2020 - The Ultimate Reader Experience

Rediscover: Advise and Consent

American journalist and author Allen Drury is best known for Advise and Consent, a 1959 political novel about a scandalous Secretary of State nomination process. It won the 1960 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, spent 102 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, spawned five sequels and made into a 1962 movie directed by Otto Preminger and starring Henry Fonda. Drury was the United States Senate correspondent for United Press between 1943 and 1945, which heavily inspired his novels. After the success of Advise and Consent, Drury wrote A Shade of Difference (1962), Capable of Honor (1966) and Preserve and Protect (1968), all set same in the same political universe. Preserve and Protect ends on a presidential assassination cliffhanger. Come Nineveh, Come Tyre (1973) and The Promise of Joy (1975) are alternate sequels, each imagining a different outcome of the assassination attempt. Drury also wrote two novels set in ancient Egypt and a trilogy following fraternity brothers over the courses of their lives. He died in 1998 at age 80.

The title of Advise and Consent comes from the U.S. Constitution, which says the president "shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States." When fictional Secretary of State nominee Robert Leffingwell is accused of once belonging to a communist cell, his nomination hearings take a dark turn in a story based on the real Alger Hiss nomination scandal. Advise and Consent was republished by WordFire Press in 2017 ($29.99, 9781614755746). --Tobias Mutter

Rediscover: It

It Chapter Two, the conclusion to the two-part movie adaptation of Stephen King's It, opens September 6. The first film, released in 2017, set box office records for an R-rated horror movie. The two films, like the 1990 miniseries, switch between child and adult characters battling a shape-shifting predator in Derry, Maine, that emerges at regular intervals to feed on children. The most common form It takes is Pennywise the clown, played to great effect by Tim Curry in the miniseries and by Bill Skarsgård on the big screen. A group of outcast 11-year-olds band together to defeat the creature, or so they think, until It reappears decades later. In the novel and miniseries, these time periods are split between the 1950s and 1980s. The first film placed the childhood sequence in the '80s, with its sequel set in the modern day. The adult cast includes Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy and Bill Hader, with Finn Wolfhard and the other child actors reprising their roles as the young Losers Club. A movie tie-in edition is available from Scribner ($19.99, 9781982127794). --Tobias Mutter

Rediscover: Brown Girl, Brownstones

Paule Marshall, a pioneering African American writer, died on August 12 at age 90. She was raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., by poor immigrants from Barbados. Marshall fell in love with language at an early age, and when she was 12 or 13 she changed her name from Paulie to Paule with a silent e in honor of writer Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906). By 1955, Marshall had a masters in English from Hunter College and was working for Our World, a magazine for African American readers. Marshall's debut novel was Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959). In 1961, Marshall received a Guggenheim Fellowship and published Soul Clap Hands and Sing, a collection of four novellas. Her other work includes the novels The Chosen Place, The Timeless People (1969), Praisesong for the Widow (1983), Daughters (1991), The Fisher King (2000) and the memoir Triangular Road (2009).

In the 2014 Norton Anthology of African American Literature, Cheryl Wall called Brown Girl, Brownstones "the novel that most black feminist critics consider to be the beginning of contemporary African American women's writings." It follows Selina Boyce, the 10-year-old daughter of Barbadian immigrants, whose Brooklyn adolescence is marked by poverty and racism. Brown Girl, Brownstones gained further acclaim when it was reissued by the Feminist Press in 1981. It was last published by Dover in 2009 ($12.95, 9780486468327). --Tobias Mutter

Rediscover: Kristin Lavransdatter

In 1928, Norwegian novelist Sigrid Undset (1882-1949) became the third woman ever to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. The award recognized her trilogy of historical novels called Kristin Lavransdatter, which tracks the life of a farmer's daughter in medieval Norway. As a young office worker in Oslo (then named Kristiania), Undset first attempted a novel set in the Nordic Middle Ages. When that manuscript was rejected, she shifted to writing realistic depictions of contemporary urban Norway and related women's issues. These works sold well, allowing Undset to move to the small town of Lillehammer, where she could concentrate on her writing in a traditional Norwegian timber house named Bjerkebæk. After publishing the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, Undset wrote the Master of Hestviken tetralogy, which takes place during the Norwegian civil war era of 1130-1240 and incorporates elements of Undset's conversion to Catholicism. In 1940, her soldier son was killed when the Nazis invaded Norway and she was forced to flee to the United States. Undset was able to return after the war and lived the final four years of her life in Bjerkebæk.

The Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy consists of Kransen (The Wreath), published in 1920; Husfrue (The Wife), published in 1921; and Korset (The Cross), 1922. The original English translation from the 1920s omitted some sexually graphic scenes and added archaic English words to reflect the historical time period, despite concise modern prose in the original Norwegian. Undset's vision was lost to English readers until Penguin Classics published a new translation by Tiina Nunnally, who won the PEN Translation Prize for her work. In 2005, Penguin Classics released a deluxe edition of all three Kristin Lavransdatter novels in a single volume ($28, 9780143039167). --Tobias Mutter

The Writer's Life

Dana Thomas: Making the Case for Slower Fashion

photo: Michael Roberts/ Maconochie Photography

Dana Thomas is the author of Gods and Kings: The Rise and Fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano and Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster. She lives in Paris and is a regular contributor to the New York Times Style section. Her book Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion--and the Future of Clothes has just been released by Penguin Press.

Fashionopolis highlights the importance of learning the origin stories of our clothes. What's the origin story of Fashionopolis?

When I was on a book tour for Deluxe in 2007, in one day I heard two bits of news that made my radar go up. First, Oscar de la Renta CEO Alex Bolen told me over breakfast at the Royalton that the company had just bought the family-owned factory in the Bronx that produced its evening gowns. Bolen said that he liked that he could hop in a car and head up to the factory to see how production was going--that it was close by, that they had control of their supply chain. That afternoon, I was at a Brooks Brothers event, and the company spokesman told me that the brand was soon opening a factory in Long Island City to produce all of its neckties. The company was bringing that manufacturing back to the U.S., and it was only 20 minutes away from headquarters on Madison Avenue. This got me thinking: After decades of offshoring, is garment manufacturing reshoring happening? I snooped around, and it felt too early to write something about it--reshoring wasn't quite a trend yet. But I kept a file in my drawer, and if I saw a story on a company bringing manufacturing back to the U.S., I clipped or printed it and dropped it into the file.

I was working on a book proposal on the subject when John Galliano flamed out at Dior, and I put that proposal aside to write my second book, Gods and Kings. Once that book was published and I'd finished touring, I was cleaning up my desk and file drawers and came across the "Made in the USA" file. I started snooping around again, and found that in those intervening eight years, a reshoring movement had truly taken form. What's more, sustainability was becoming increasingly important. Deluxe, for me, was about companies that sacrifice integrity for the sake of profits. Gods and Kings was about sacrificing the creative for the sake of profits. And Fashionopolis is about sacrificing humanity and the environment for the sake of profits. They are, in a sense, a trilogy.

Your book is scrupulously researched, with a terrific range of interview subjects from around the globe. How did you find all the innovators and activists you profiled?

Some--such as Natalie Chanin, Stella McCartney and Julie Gilhart--I knew through my 30 years of covering the fashion industry. They, in turn, suggested others: it was Natalie Chanin who told me, for example, about organic cotton doyenne Sally Fox. Stella McCartney turned me on to Evrnu, Bolt Threads and Modern Meadow. I learned about Selfridges' movement in sustainability from its annual New Year campaign, Bright New Things. And one of the Bright New Things I read about was Unmade. Basically, I just did what reporters do: follow leads, ask for more leads, take advantage of chance introductions, write down everything and keep every contact that comes my way. I call it "casting a wide net." Pull it in, and it's full of fish.

Fashionopolis is wonderful fodder for a dilemma I've been having. I don't think we should go back to a time when one couldn't leave the house without a hat on, but when I watch, say, The Dick Van Dyke Show, in which even characters' casual clothes are dapper, I can't help but feel that we've lost something. Is it unconscionable to think this way when being permitted to wear T-shirts, sweatpants and other low-cost items in public has made life easier for people who don't have the financial reserves for tailored clothing?

I would say part of the lifestyle that existed during the era of The Dick Van Dyke Show--at least when it comes to consuming fashion--is worth harking back to. Meaning: one bought much, much less, and wore it much, much more. The average female consumer didn't have 10 little black dresses; she had one. And it could be dressed up with pearls, or a brooch, or a scarf, or a jacket, or, yes, a hat. I still have my mother's LBD from then. It's well-made, it's stylish, it's timeless. It's as old as I am, yet every time I wear it, I get compliments. So, I'd say, don't buy 10 hoodies; buy one good suit instead. Chic, after all, is chic.

This is probably a wildly unfair question, but I can't resist: Do you know the origin stories of the clothes you are wearing right now?

Ha! I’m wearing an eight- or 10-year-old Uniqlo navy blue washed-silk shift. The label says it was made in China. So, I'm slightly busted, because it is from a fast fashion brand (though when I bought it, I don't think I realized Uniqlo was "fast fashion"). But I have not consumed it in a fast fashion manner. Thank goodness it wasn't made in Bangladesh. I woulda changed! --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Søren Sveistrup: Exploring the Darkness

photo: Les Kaner

Søren Sveistrup is an Emmy and BAFTA Award-winning screenwriter and producer of TV series including the global hit The Killing. He also wrote the screenplay for Jo Nesbø's The Snowman. Sveistrup obtained a Master's in Literature and in History from the University of Copenhagen and studied at the Danish Film School. He lives in Denmark with his family, and The Chestnut Man (reviewed below) is his first novel.

What made you think this story should be a novel instead of a series?

I studied literature at the Copenhagen University before I attended film school, so writing a novel is actually a return to a former interest. I remember two reasons. First, I felt the need to create something on my own instead of in a team, the latter being very much the case when you write movies or TV. Secondly, I felt I could add something to the crime novel genre, at least regarding many of the crime novels I had been reading. I wanted to see if I could write a novel that kept myself and the reader on the edge of the seat during the whole roller coaster ride, in the same way I've tried to do in my scripts.

What are some differences and similarities between writing a novel and writing a script?

I approached the writing process very much the same way as always, but one of the biggest differences is that you don't have to think about how this or that situation or chapter should be transformed into a scene consisting of actors, camera angles, light settings, the right landscape, a budget, etc. You can write whatever pops into your head and you don't have to discuss it with anybody besides your publisher or agent. That's a phenomenal freedom, but it also makes it a much lonelier process. Besides that, a TV series consists of images, whereas a book is constructed solely out of words--words that create different images in every reader's mind.

You've said part of the reason you write is to explore and control your emotional landscape. What self-discoveries did you make while writing this book? Which of your own emotions ended up in The Chestnut Man?

When I initiated the book, I had many other projects. A couple of movies, a few TV series and some other things, and then I topped it with an ambitious book project. Eventually I had a mental breakdown and felt burned out for many months. When I returned to work, I decided to write the book and drop everything else; in fact, I promised myself to keep my life very simple. I realized that the burned-out side of me could be expressed through Detective Hess, while my aversion towards that feeling could be expressed through the female detective, Thulin. I guess many of my emotions are expressed in the book--my hopes, fears and anxieties. It's like that every time when you create something--you give everything you've got at that exact time.

Was either Hess's or Thulin's point of view easier to write than the other?

Hard to say. My personal mood changed while I was writing the book so I guess the POV challenges stayed the same.

In addition to emotional distress, some of the characters experience extreme physical torture. Tell us about your decision to put them through that.

To be very honest, I actually don't like to write those chapters, even though people tell me I'm good at it! They are too morbid and terrifying, even for me. But the thing is: you can't cry wolf and then never show the wolf and how the wolf terrorizes. I love whodunits and building up suspense and expressing the hopes and fears of the characters, but sometimes you just have to show the reader where the tension and fear all stem from. Some people might believe those scenes mean the writer is a sadist, but it's really the other way around--it's just me writing about my anxieties and worst-case scenarios.

Denmark consistently ranks in the top three of the happiest countries in the world, according to the UN's annual World Happiness Report. Why do you think such dark thrillers come from there? 

The Danes in general are a very friendly people, so I would like to be the clever one that could answer that question--but I'm not! Maybe because of our fear that the happiness will one day disappear. Or that it will show itself to be one big illusion. Or maybe from the fact that living in one of the best welfare systems in the world doesn't mean we don't have serious problems that are being shoved under the carpet.

A wealthy society like the Scandinavian [one] means everything looks good and perfect, at least on the surface. But of course we have cracks in the surface, and maybe Scandinavians sometimes feel a greater need to hide this away because of the seemingly perfect facade. A bit like the never-ending competition on Instagram and Facebook that makes it hard for people to admit their lives are not always perfect and happy-happy. This kind of mental dishonesty accumulates frustration, anxieties and depression, which often seem to be the fuel for Scandinavian crime novels.

What's next for you? The next book in this series or back to screenwriting?

At the moment, I'm thinking about the follow-up story to The Chestnut Man. But screenwriting could also be around the corner. It depends on the next idea I get. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Reading with... Chris L. Terry

photo: Jacob Boll

Chris L. Terry was born in 1979 to an African American father and an Irish American mother. His debut novel, Zero Fade, was named a Best Book of the Year by Slate. Our review called his second novel, Black Card (Catapult, August 13, 2019), a "bold and affecting novel--funny, infuriating and at times profound. Terry is a new talent who's managed to examine race in America like few writers before him." Terry lives in Los Angeles with his family.

On your nightstand now:

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James, which I am digesting in small chunks; Savila Sueños poetry zine by Alma Rosa Rivera; an e-reader full of my friends' manuscripts (save a tree, y'all); my phone with an audiobook of Ghost Month, the first Taipei Night Market novel by Ed Lin; and, uh, a wave cap and a sweating glass of tequila.

I think my nightstand is only missing one book format: someone doing a reading. Holler at me if you want to do a reading on my nightstand.

Favorite book when you were a child:

When I was around nine, The Snarkout Boys and The Avocado of Death by Daniel Pinkwater made me feel like anywhere could be exciting. I last read it front-to-back after finishing a half-marathon and some lamb chops in Chicago in 2012. That was a great day.

Your top five authors:

Nella Larsen showed me that mixed-race black identities could be written about; Danzy Senna showed me that those stories could be set now; Roddy Doyle indulges my obsession with the ways people talk; Raymond Chandler validates my need to be alone, moody and sassy; and I hate quantifying and wish this list could be a whole lot longer so I'll just say that I love the way Steph Cha writes Los Angeles and she's number 5.

Book you've faked reading:

If I haven't read it, I haven't read it, and that's fine by me.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Sharing books is like cooking for guests, you've gotta tailor what you're serving to their tastes. I just passed my wife My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite and that's going well.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I love the bright green lettering and cool woman in shades and headwrap on the cover of My Sister, the Serial Killer, but probably would have read it anyway because I love crime stories and unreliable narrators. The shades got me to pull out some cash instead of my library card, though.

Book you hid from your parents:

My parents were really permissive about art, plus my mom's a librarian, so this was never an issue.

Book that changed your life:

I got Incognegro by Mat Johnson when I knew I wanted to be a writer but wasn't sure what I might write about. Seeing a black character passing for white so they can report on lynchings made me go, "Oh, something like that."

Favorite line from a book:

"She would of been a good woman," The Misfit said, "if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."

That's from the end of A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor. I wish I could be that direct and mean.

Five books you'll never part with:

I'm a library person, so books come and go, but I have been accumulating signed books over the last few years. In a few decades, I hope to impress my grandkids like, "See, I met Sam Greenlee, Amiri Baraka, Roxane Gay, J. Ryan Stradal and Meg Howrey!" 

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

On the Road by Jack Kerouac was really cool when I was 14. My reaction would be hilariously different if I read it for the first time now.

Ilona Andrews: Magic and Mayhem in Urban Houston

The husband-and-wife writing team of Ilona and Gordon Andrews write urban fantasy novels under the pseudonym Ilona Andrews. Their new book, Sapphire Flames (just published by Avon, and reviewed below), is the fourth in the Hidden Legacy series. Ilona and Gordon live with their family in Texas.

Sapphire Flames' setting in contemporary Houston with the added element of magic is fascinating. The characters seem to be ordinary, sympathetic people who just happen to possess extraordinary magical abilities. Is this an aspect of the novel you created deliberately or a result of organic plot evolvement? Do you think the familiar/unknown combination is a factor in the popularity of your novels?

It's probably a little of both. People are emotional junkies.  At the core, we don't read for fantastic powers or cool concepts. We read for people and emotions they allow us to experience. People are the same no matter what abilities they have.

Also, we've learned the hard way that if you're going to throw fantastic elements into a story, you must get the ordinary details right. It helps to ground the readers and allows them to suspend their disbelief. I think it definitely contributed to the success of our books. Plus, it's hilarious to have the character who just saved the world come home and be terribly upset because it's recycling day and they forgot to drag their trash can to the curb.

Catalina's magic manifests as a Siren with beautiful wings. Is the Siren based on a particular legend or mythology?

Catalina's abilities are based on the mythological sirens of Greece. Most people probably know them from reading Homer's Odyssey, where they are portrayed as half-women, half-birds who lure unwary sailors to death with their beautiful singing. Somehow, in later art, particularly during the early 1900s, they morphed to be more mermaid-like, as in Draper's Ulysses and the Sirens, for example, but the earliest accounts and pottery from Ancient Greece show them with wings rather than fishtails. We're both very familiar with Greek mythology, and it felt like a natural choice for this character.

What drew you to write urban fantasy rather than some other genre, such as suspense or mystery, for instance?

For me (Ilona), it was probably a case of overactive imagination. As a child, I kept imagining monsters in the dark and then naturally wondered how the monsters would come to be there in my perfectly ordinary surroundings. We tend to associate fables and myths with historical setting, but for people who created them, these stories were probably contemporary. Every generation has its own legends and folklore, and urban fantasy might be ours.

Ilona, you came to the U.S. from the Soviet Union as a teenager and met Gordon at Western Carolina University. Do you feel your experience in the Soviet Union has influenced your novels?

Yes. Having lived through the collapse of the U.S.S.R., I've watched our social net completely disintegrate. There was a period of time of about six months when the government ran out of money and stopped paying scientists like my father, for example. No recourse, no back pay. Just no money. Goods disappeared from stores--things like sugar and toilet paper that we all take for granted. Crimes occurred and nobody seemed to be doing much about them. It was a very scary time. If anything, a lot of our work is a warning. Nobody wants to live in a world where having the strongest magic or the sharpest sword means you can ignore laws. But it also has some hope. Even in the dark times there are people who do the right thing, and we like to write about those people.   

Before attending university, Gordon, you were a member of the U.S. Army. Does that experience influence your choice of genre?

I was able to attend Western Carolina University on the G.I. Bill after serving four years in the Navy. Later, when I was close to graduating, jobs were hard to find, our house was falling apart and we couldn't afford to pay the bills, let alone tuition. We--and I say we because it affected all of us--joined the army as a way to survive. I don't know if it influenced our choice of genre, but it gave me a familiarity with, maybe an affinity for, firearms and violence.

Tell us about your writing process as a team. For instance, do you each have designated areas of expertise, such as weaponry, mythology, etc.? Does one of you have final draft editing control? Do you co-write the first draft?

We do it all together. The first draft, the research, the editing, though we do edit in shifts because it's brain and soul draining. Our computers are very close together and we discuss the plot even when we're not writing. Writing together is like assembling Ikea furniture--you can do it, or you can't. We're lucky that we can do both without wanting to kill each other. --Lois Faye Dyer, writer and reviewer

Book Review


Hope Farm

by Peggy Frew

Australian author Peggy Frew won the 2010 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for her debut novel, House of Sticks, a deeply affecting story about a young woman becoming a mother. With her second novel, Hope Farm, Frew writes from the perspective of a child. This beautifully written story is set in 1985, the year that 13-year-old Silver experiences a series of events that destroy her relationship with her mother.

Told from Silver's adult point-of-view, the story is set on Hope Farm, a hippie commune where Silver and her mother, Ishtar, begin their new life with Miller, a charming ne'er-do-well with whom Ishtar has fallen in love. Up until this point, Silver and her mother have led an itinerant life, moving from one group home to another. Ishtar's short diary entries appear every few chapters to explain why this is: she became pregnant with Silver at only 17 and was abandoned by her parents after she refused to give up the baby.

At Hope Farm, Silver develops a close friendship with a bullied classmate. She relies on their relationship to escape the drugs, sex parties and general neglect of her home life. But no matter how hard she tries to push that life--and her mother--to the periphery of her day-to-day existence, she can't escape its emotional toll. This devastating coming-of-age tale arrives at a harrowing and deadly conclusion, but the novel's not wholly tragic; Silver's character is cheer-worthy, and her voice lingers long after the final page. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This gorgeous, elegiac novel explores how bonds get broken between mother and daughter.

Scribe U.S., $17, paperback, 352p., 9781947534728

The Grammarians

by Cathleen Schine

When they were children growing up in Larchmont, N.Y., Laurel and Daphne Wolfe were essentially fused particles; their mother feared that her identical twins wouldn't fit in as they went through life because "they seemed to fit nowhere but with each other." When they were five, their father brought home an anvil of a dictionary, sparking the twins' obsession with words, which, while initially a shared passion, ended up coming between them. Could it be that all the words in the world can be insufficient when it comes to making amends? In its opening chapter, which is set when the sisters are middle-aged, The Grammarians reveals that they haven't spoken in years.

When each twin's attempt to hone a distinct identity through attending a different college failed, they both transferred to Pomona in California, after which they began their truly adult lives in an apartment in Manhattan's East Village in the late 1970s. Obliged to find work to pay the bills, the sisters moped down different career paths (Daphne took a job at an alternative journal, Laurel as a kindergarten teacher), but both later found their true callings: working with words, one grammatically, the other artistically.

Schine lays all this out with the deliberateness of someone setting a table with the good china. Her 11th novel, which follows note-perfect outings that include The Three Weissmanns of Westport and Fin & Lady, burbles with her customary witty and exacting observations. Neither Wolfe sister may feel that she will ever achieve her dream of landing on exactly the right words, but Schine pretty much finds them all. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: This sharp-witted novel x-rays the relationship of twin sisters who begin life with a love of words that later tears them apart.

Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27, hardcover, 272p., 9780374280116

After the Flood

by Kassandra Montag

After the Flood, the first novel by Kassandra Montag, is the atmospheric post-apocalyptic story of a mother's quest. Myra, who lived in Nebraska before the deluge came, has spent the last seven years in search of her elder daughter, Row. Row's father snatched her away just before Nebraska flooded, leaving behind a pregnant Myra. Myra gave birth to another daughter aboard the small boat her grandfather built in the attic of their home. Pearl has spent her entire life on this ship, roaming with Myra from island to island, at the tips of former mountain ranges.

This new, watery world is a terrifying place, full of bands of roving pirates and very little food besides fish. Myra and Pearl are floating in what used to be British Columbia when they hear of a girl matching Row's description at a colony on the edge of Greenland. Setting off on an epic journey down the Rockies to the Caribbean, and back up north to Greenland, Myra will battle pirates, the elements and her own fears all the way.

Beautiful, violent and horrifying, After the Flood is the poignant tale of a mother's desperation. When Myra and Pearl join the crew of another ship, the relationships among crew members become a microcosm of humanity in the wake of disaster. Myra's story will resonate with fans of The Road or Station Eleven, and make readers wonder just how well they would handle the end of the world. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this engrossing post-apocalyptic novel, a mother goes on a desperate search for her missing daughter.

Morrow, $27.99, hardcover, 432p., 9780062889362

The Siege of Troy

by Theodor Kallifatides, trans. by Marlaine Delargy

Under German occupation, a Greek village has no teacher for its children, until one day a woman appears.

Everything about this teacher is mysterious; the fragments of information that her students piece together fail to explain who she is. She speaks fluent German, she takes long solitary walks at night to visit a friend in a nearby village, she spends time with a handsome German fighter pilot. But these facts lose their importance when Miss and her students take shelter from British bombers in a cave and she calms them by telling them the story of The Iliad.

Homer was a storyteller, and Miss shares his gift. Soon the reality of World War II fades for the enthralled students. Every day, through Miss's words, the heroes of the Trojan War assume their forgotten glory, flaring into life as flawed and courageous fighters, unbuffered by divine protection. The invading Achaeans are far from home; in their walled city the Trojans are under constant attack. Both sides meet on the battlefield, immersed in a savage, relentless war that pits the soldiers in single combat, fighting with spears, swords and stones, each facing a brutal death.

Pulled from clouds of myth, The Iliad's blood and tragedy is revealed in its true horror; neither Homer nor Miss allows the story to end in triumph.

"War is a source of tears... there can be no victors," Miss tells her students. Her words, and her own shadowed story, will haunt readers of The Siege of Troy. --Janet Brown, author and former bookseller

Discover: As World War II nears its end, an enigmatic teacher brings the Trojan War to unforgettable life, while her private ambiguity provides a compelling counterpoint to this concise and powerful novel.

Other Press, $14.99, paperback, 208p., 9781590519714

The Divers' Game

by Jesse Ball

Jesse Ball (Census) has fashioned a modern allegory about the brutality of society in his dark dystopian novel The Divers' Game.

In this imagined world, humans are divided into two groups, quads and pats. The former are refugees who flood into this unnamed first-world country, much to the chagrin of the pats, the existing citizens. The clash between these two groups leads to a series of inhumane laws. Quads are relegated to slums in the outskirts of the cities, where the rule of law hardly exists, and abusive guards, called helmets, reign by force. Quads are marked with a brand on their faces and their dominant thumbs are removed; this is how they're identified. Pats, living in the supposedly civil areas of the city, carry gas masks and gas canisters at all times. They are trained to use the gas to kill any unwanted quads in their neighborhoods. Laws have been changed so that pats may kill quads as they wish, without cause.

What makes this novel exceptional is the way Ball navigates this horrific world. It would have been easy to follow dystopian tropes, like setting up the quads for a rebellion. But that's not what Ball has in mind. He studies these two groups of people closely, allowing strange cultural practices to develop where human life is worth little. He's like an anthropologist of his own creation.

The Divers' Game is strange and gripping. Ball can be forgiven the sense of fatalism that pervades the work because the world he has created is not unlike our own. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: This disturbing dystopian novel imagines human differences being taken to violent extremes.

Ecco, $26.99, hardcover, 240p., 9780062676108

Welcome to America

by Linda Boström Knausgård, trans. by Martin Aitken

In Welcome to America, Linda Boström Knausgård's second novel (her first published in the U.S.), young Ellen struggles against her own maturation. After the death of her father, Ellen decides to stop speaking to anyone. She blames herself for her father's death after having silently wished it many times, and she fears her future with her intense, explosive brother and narcissistic, flippant mother. While her mother and brother seemingly find ways to move forward, the dark underbelly of their family--her brother's emotional abuse, her mother's self-absorption and inability to face the imperfect truths of her life, the history of her father's mental illness--remains unchanged.

Sparse, sleek and exacting, Boström Knausgård's prose mimics the childlike view at the center of the novel, just as it allows Ellen a mature voice. There is an uncanniness to this perspective. It is both young and old, all-knowing and continuously limited, yearning and terrified. Often, Ellen focuses on her perceived connection to God in conjunction with her disconnection from those around her, who she believes act "as if I didn't exist." While the novel is written as one continuous meditation on the inner workings of a family, the true arc of its tale depends on Ellen's devastatingly futile desire not to grow up: "the whole idea of growing up felt completely wrong. I wasn't going to let it happen." Stalled in this perpetual desire for childhood--or, really, suspicion of adulthood--Ellen provides a haunting and evocative portrait of the process of trauma and the awareness of personal isolationism, even within the structures of faith and family. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Linda Boström Knausgård's Welcome to America is a poetic family drama that offers new perspective on what literature normally considers "coming of age."

World Editions, $15.99, paperback, 160p., 9781642860412

Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe?

by Brock Clarke

Calvin Bledsoe lives an unremarkable life in rural Maine until a heretofore-unknown aunt appears at his mother's funeral. Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe? by Brock Clarke (An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England) is a coming-of-age story told by a middle-aged man. "I may have been Calvin Bledsoe," he says, "but for perhaps the first time ever I wondered what it meant to be him." Reminiscent of Aunt Augusta in Graham Greene's Travels with My Aunt, Calvin's flamboyant aunt Beatrice whisks her stodgy nephew to Europe: "My aunt had an aim and I just didn't know what it was at the time."

Calvin is named after the theologian John Calvin, on whom his mother was an expert; the preacher was an outsized presence in his life. Calvin's natural inclination to fade into the background, because his namesake always overshadowed him, is upended by Beatrice's dynamic personality and mysterious history. They become involved with spies, thieves and adulterers, to Calvin's shock and his aunt's equanimity. When the trip's purpose becomes clear, Calvin realizes, "Learning lessons is like hard exercise, especially if the lessons you're learning are the opposite of the lessons you've already learned."

The dialogue is quick and witty, with John Calvin quotes perfectly and sometimes hilariously integrated into Calvin's thoughts and conversation. This novel deals with sober subjects (life, death, betrayal) in an uplifting and often humorous manner. Readers who enjoyed Andrew Sean Greer's Less will find this novel equally satisfying. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: In this humorous and warm novel, a middle-aged man takes an unwelcome European trip with his aunt, leading him to question everything he's accepted about his life.

Algonquin, $26.95, hardcover, 304p., 9781616208219

The Other's Gold

by Elizabeth Ames

After a friend's darkest secret is revealed, can that friendship survive the revelation? This is the question that faces the characters and challenges the readers of Elizabeth Ames's first novel, The Other's Gold.

After meeting in college, four roommates are linked in a relationship that goes deeper than sisterhood, carrying them through school and into their adult lives. Margaret, whose beauty offers a new definition of brilliance, becomes wealthy through marriage and writes tips for gracious living on a popular blog. Alice, haunted by an act of childhood violence, marries a fellow medical student and pursues an elusive goal of fertility while meeting the demands of being a doctor. Lainey, a passionate activist who achieves fame during Occupy Wall Street, balances her political life with being an ideal mother. Ji Sun, after an act of betrayal, is supported by her family's fortune and tormented by her attraction to Lainey's husband. And yet, while enmeshed in lives that could easily separate them, these women maintain and are nourished by their closeness, even after discovering secrets that threaten to destroy that bond.

Ames takes the familiar story of female friendship into a realm of candor and respect that enters new narrative ground. Her eye for detail is as sharp as Mary McCarthy's in The Group, but without McCarthy's satirical cruelty. Exploring the sensual, visceral and horror-filled experiences of being female while never abandoning the love Ames has for her characters, The Other's Gold is smart and provocative, satisfying and unforgettable. --Janet Brown, author and former bookseller

Discover: Elizabeth Ames brings a bright, sharp lens to a story of friendship among women that will keep readers up long past their bedtime.

Viking, $27, hardcover, 352p., 9781984878496

From the Shadows

by Juan José Millás, trans. by Thomas Bunstead, Daniel Hahn

Though a solitary being, Damián Lobo is never fully alone, as the television interviewer that "existed only in [his] imagination" can attest. His constant interviews--complete with imagined supportive audience, commercial breaks and ratings--are interspersed with reality as he narrates every aspect of his life.

Following a minor theft at an antiques mall, Damián hides from the security guard in an empty wardrobe. Before he can escape, the wardrobe is loaded into a truck and delivered to a bungalow on the outskirts of the city. Voyeurism overtakes caution, and instead of sneaking out before he is discovered, Damián observes the small family (husband, wife and teenage daughter) as they go about their day. When he discovers a hidden closet behind the wardrobe, he makes a secret home of it, becoming like "a moray eel hiding in a crevice in the coral."

From this vantage point he spies on his unwitting hosts at night, and during the day washes their dishes, cooks their meals and makes their beds, all while leaving no trace of himself behind. The husband and teenage daughter assume the mother, Lucia, is responsible, while Lucia herself attributes the mystery to a benevolent spirit.

Translated by Thomas Bunstead and Daniel Hahn, From the Shadows is the first book by prestigious Spanish author Juan José Millás to be published in North America. It is a penetrating parable of suburban family life that is effectively rendered through Damián's neurotic (and yet oddly discerning) imaginary interviews. Millás tells a compelling story of human connection in a way that is sometimes crude but also darkly funny, insightful and ultimately surprising. --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor

Discover: An allegorical story in which a man who lives half in reality and half in imaginary television interviews hides away in a strange family's home and cares for them under the guise of a spirit.

Bellevue Literary Press, $16.99, paperback, 208p., 9781942658665

Bottle Grove

by Daniel Handler

In Bottle Grove, Daniel Handler's seventh novel for adults, love buzzes in the air like a diseased cricket. Padgett, a drunk with local family wealth (and a knack for being fired from menial labor), meets barkeep Martin Icke at a wedding in a San Francisco forest. The story follows the pair, as well as the fleetingly happy married couple, Ben and Rachel Nickels. Then there's the Vic, a hip moniker for a local tech tycoon who invented some majorly invasive software.

Handler's (All the Dirty Parts) story isn't so much a romantic comedy as it is a reckoning for romantic delusion. The tune may be perfect, but everyone keeps hearing it differently. Once again, his dialogue serves as a driving force for the story. Padgett and Martin share playful whispers over a stolen barrel of booze when they first meet in the frigid woods behind Ben and Rachel's wedding. And the prankster spirit Reynard (a shapeshifter, naturally) offers otherworldly wisdom. These and more turn every syllable into whimsical perfection.

The setting for Bottle Grove--a modern San Francisco in the throes of immense (and largely unwanted) change--also adds to the strange yet familiar version of the city that Handler has returned to throughout his career, stretching back to 1998's The Basic Eight. Taken together, these elements turn Handler's novel into a timely satire of love, wealth and the meaning of home. --Zack Ruskin, freelance reviewer

Discover: Acclaimed novelist Daniel Handler delivers a hilarious yet bittersweet love letter to San Francisco with a story centered on two very different couples. 

Bloomsbury, $26, hardcover, 240p., 9781632864277

What Red Was

by Rosie Price

After 22-year-old Kate Quaile is raped by someone she knows at a party at the London home of her friend Max Rippon's family, she procures a morning-after pill but is unable to do much else. She watches the deadline for her application to a master's program in filmmaking come and go. She begins to drink more and filches her roommate's prescription pills, and she has self-destructive impulses that include pouring boiling water onto her hand. Kate vows to tell no one about the rape because "the horror of being disbelieved was worse than the horror of bearing it alone."

This movie-of-the-week-style recap fails to convey the originality of What Red Was, the debut novel from Rosie Price, who is wise beyond her 26 years when it comes to comprehending the experience of trauma and its fraught aftermath.

Kate finds herself taking tentative steps toward a new romance and seeking comfort from Max's mother, a celebrated film director who also knows Kate's attacker. Says Kate's new boyfriend about her relationship with the Rippon family, "They treat you like one of their own." Yes, but is that necessarily a good thing?

What Red Was is about both dealing with pain and the limitations of even the most well-meaning person's efforts on behalf of the sufferer. Although the book's impetuously roving point of view is disorienting and prevents readers from fully knowing Kate, they will nevertheless leave the novel understanding more than they did--about loyalty, about survival--before they cracked its cover. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: In this considered debut novel, a young woman's attempt to recover from a rape is complicated by the fact that she knows her attacker.

Hogarth, $27, hardcover, 336p., 9781984824417

Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead

by Olga Tokarczuk, trans. by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

Olga Tokarczuk, winner of the 2018 Booker International Prize for Flights, exhibits more of her trademark strangeness in her newly translated novel, Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead. First published in Poland in 2009, Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead is a literary murder mystery that draws heavily on the cosmology and style of William Blake. The narrator, Mrs. Duszejko, has been written off by most of the residents in her remote Polish village as an "old madwoman." She is earnest, brilliant and utterly bizarre. She calls everyone by strange names, she calculates the horoscope of each person she meets, she spends her days translating Blake and, perhaps most peculiarly, she insists to all of her neighbors that animals have souls. When the bodies of several prominent local hunters turn up, residents are suddenly forced to contend with Mrs. Duszejko's theorizing.

Tokarczuk writes about the world with clarity and wisdom, and she is not afraid to make the world strange for her readers. Her writing allows them to slip seamlessly into the mind of Duszejko, mentally unstable woman turned existential detective, which turns out to be a surprisingly sensible place. Heartwarming and deeply disturbing, Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead is a novel that instills in readers a desire to reorient their relationship to the animal world and perhaps to move into the woods. A rebel and a luminary, Tokarczuk belongs alongside Gombrowicz, Schulz and Szymborska as one of the finest writers in the Polish tradition. --Emma Levy, publishing assistant, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Olga Tokarczuk confounds the bounds of reality and Polish propriety in this philosophical feminist thriller about animal rights and astrology.

Riverhead, $27, hardcover, 288p., 9780525541332

Today We Go Home

by Kelli Estes

When Larkin Bennett returns home after a tour of duty in Afghanistan, she's grieving the death of her best friend and fellow soldier, Sarah, and struggling to deal with the tragedy that caused it. Among Sarah's possessions, Larkin finds a diary written by Emily Wilson, an ancestor of Sarah who lived and fought as a man during the American Civil War. In her second novel, Today We Go Home, Kelli Estes weaves a thought-provoking narrative of two pairs of strong women, a century and a half apart, fighting to be taken seriously on and off the battlefield.

Estes (The Girl Who Wrote in Silk) draws readers into the lives of both her protagonists, highlighting their contrasts and their similarities. Emily decides to follow her father and brothers into battle because she can't bear the thought of staying home. Larkin is proud of her service to her country, but wracked with guilt over her role in Sarah's death. She struggles with both PTSD and a new direction in life after her honorable discharge. Readers gradually learn more about that day in Afghanistan, and follow Emily through battles and marches. Both stories ask subtle but insistent questions about the treatment of women in the U.S. military (past and present), and the tensions between family, ambition, honor and love. Today We Go Home is a compelling examination of war and its contradictions, and a moving story of two women fighting for their own places in the world. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Kelli Estes's second novel explores the experiences of female soldiers in the American Civil War and the present day.

Sourcebooks Landmark, $15.99, paperback, 416p., 9781492664185

The Body of the Beasts

by Audrée Wilhelmy, trans. by Susan Ouriou

The Body of the Beasts, Québécois author Audrée Wilhelmy's third novel but first translated into English, explores the animalistic side of human nature and female sexuality. Mie, who lives with her mother and siblings near a remote fishing village, has the ability to cast her consciousness into the minds of wildlife. In this way, she explores her sublime but brutal homeland through the eyes of other creatures. But at the age of 12, Mie becomes curious about her own, human form and is determined to learn about it through sex with her older uncle, and her mother's lover, Osip. As she pursues her goal, Mie learns more about her mysterious and distant mother, Noé, the desire that drew Osip and his brother to Noé in the first place and her own body that was formed as a consequence of that desire. 

With its childlike perspective, lyrical prose, ruggedly beautiful landscapes and sense of foreboding, The Body of the Beasts is first and foremost a dark fairy tale. The novel's centerpiece scene--in which Noé tells the story of a trapped Queen while brutally skinning a whale--brings this style together with the novel's larger themes of violence, sexuality and animalism. The fierce sensuality and visceral descriptions prove haunting--in the cases of Mie's longings, the wilderness's violence and the ruthlessness of male desire--but also awe-inspiring. In Wilhelmy's practiced, poetic hand, the flight of a heron and the panic of a crab are brought joyously to life. Nevertheless, the heart of the novel remains with Mie, whose competing curiosity and anxiety vie for the reader's attention until the final page. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

Discover: The Body of the Beasts is a celebration of the body and nature as well as a nightmarish acknowledgement of the violence that is inherent to both.

Arachnide Editions/House of Anansi, $17.95, paperback, 160p., 9781487006105

Everything Inside: Stories

by Edwidge Danticat

Haitian American author Edwidge Danticat (The Art of DeathClaire of the Sea Light) opens up the complexity of immigrant lives in her finely tuned and penetrating story collection Everything Inside.

The eight stories consider emigration from Haiti and immigration to the United States. The emotional tenor that binds them is one of estrangement, of immigrants torn between the old country and the new, between the promise of a new life and the reality of America. These stories also focus on family and how immigration affects subsequent generations, examining the distance between first-generation immigrants and their children. Though the characters in each story are different and not linked, Danticat follows similar themes, unearthing common experiences and crafting a mosaic of hope, regret and perseverance. The title is apt, referring to all that these characters carry inside them as they migrate from one life to the next.

"This country makes you do bad things," the narrator's immigrant friend says about the U.S. in "Dosas," the first story of the collection. "In the Old Days" features a young narrator, the daughter of immigrants, meeting her father for the first time, a man who returned to Haiti after the dictatorship fell. It explores how marriages are affected by the split loyalties of diaspora, with some choosing to stay in the new country and others feeling obligated to return.

Everything Inside thrums with humanity. Danticat is a master of mood and subtlety. As quiet and understated as these stories are, the reader will come away with a deeper, richer view of immigrant communities. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: Acclaimed author Edwidge Danticat delivers a moving story collection about Haitian American immigrants.

Knopf, $25.95, hardcover, 240p., 9780525521273


by Philippa Gregory

Novelist Philippa Gregory is best known for her narratives of the English royal court: The Other Boleyn Girl, The Constant Princess and many others. Tidelands is, too, concerned with royal machinations--namely the English Civil War in 1648-49--but it focuses on the lives of ordinary citizens on England's south coast. Alinor Reekie, resident midwife and healer of Sealsea Island, is struggling to support her two teenage children after her abusive husband disappears at sea. When a young priest, who is also a royalist spy, shows up at her cottage, Alinor agrees to aid him, not realizing that his presence will change her life profoundly. Meanwhile, the neighbors' whisperings against Alinor may make it impossible for her to deny accusations--however baseless--of witchcraft.

Gregory draws her characters vividly: Alinor, uneducated but wise and thoughtful, is especially appealing, as is her daughter Alys, fiercely determined to marry the young man she loves. Alinor's brother, Ned, the local ferryman and a passionate veteran of Cromwell's army, gives eloquent voice to the common man willing to fight for a parliamentary government. Most of their neighbors are more concerned with the day-to-day struggle of living and suspicious of anyone who seems to rise too high too fast. Events unfold swiftly, and though Gregory ties up a few plot threads, she leaves others open for a planned sequel. Richly detailed and brimming with secrets (personal and political), Tidelands is a captivating portrait of a brave woman and a compelling start to a new series. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Philippa Gregory begins a series set during the English Civil War with a captivating novel that centers on a wise woman.

Atria, $28, hardcover, 464p., 9781501187155

The Secrets We Kept

by Lara Prescott

International intrigue, secretaries serving as spies and a literary masterpiece figure in The Secrets We Kept, Lara Prescott's debut novel set during the height of the Cold War. This fast-paced narrative focuses on the women in the typing pool at the Central Intelligence Agency. Unbeknownst to their CIA colleagues, Irina and Sally have been tapped for a clandestine mission: smuggling Boris Pasternak's acclaimed novel Doctor Zhivago out of Russia, where it is banned, so that it can be published abroad.

With a plot that sweeps between the Soviet Union and Washington, D.C., The Secrets We Kept is rich with historical details reflecting the tense times of the 1950s. The Soviets "had their satellites, but we had their books," recalls the novel's mysterious narrator, from an unknown vantage point somewhere in the future. (True to the book's atmosphere, Prescott keeps her reader guessing throughout about the speaker's identity.) "Back then, we believed books could be weapons--that literature could change the course of history."

Prescott goes beyond the political into the personal by adding a secondary layer to the novel's prominent themes of secrecy and women's identities. In addition to the Cold War as a backdrop, the Lavender Scare (a witch hunt within the U.S. government during the '50s to out closeted gays and fire them from their jobs) was in full force. When Irina and Sally realize that their feelings for each other go beyond friendship, they face the choice of being true to themselves or living a lie. "We unveil ourselves in the pieces we want others to know, even those closest to us. We all have our secrets." --Melissa Firman, writer at

Discover: This novel inspired by a true story celebrates the power of literature and secretaries-turned-spies, in the face of the fears and prejudices that defined the 1950s.

Knopf, $26.95, hardcover, 368p., 9780525656159

Polite Society

by Mahesh Rao

Upward mobility through marriage is the prevailing theme in Polite Society by Mahesh Rao. The heroine, Ania Khurana, and her story are inspired by Jane Austen's Emma, and Polite Society pays suitable homage to Emma Woodhouse. It also takes off in a flamboyant new direction with lavish parties, dazzling homes and characters one might find in a Bollywood movie.

Ania lives with her widowed father and her aging aunt Renu on Delhi's most prestigious street. The Khuranas sit atop the city's wealthiest class, blessed with every luxury imaginable, but Ania is bored, lonely and searching for meaning in her life. She catches the matchmaking bug after introducing Renu to a distinguished colonel who rescues her from spinsterhood. It seems only logical that she should also look for a husband for her "poor" friend Dimple. So preoccupied is she with sharpening her matchmaking skills that she neglects to consider what Dimple might want for herself. It takes the arrival of the colonel's handsome nephew from New York for Ania to realize that she is no love expert after all.

Kenyan-born Rao (The Smoke Is Rising), who lives in the U.K., traveled to India to research and write Polite Society. In Delhi, he immersed himself in social gatherings where he mingled with gossipy society matrons and others on the highest rung of the social ladder, cultivating the cunning observations and clever humor that would launch his American debut. Under the surface glamour of Polite Society lies a compelling story about the universal need to love and be loved, and the emotional fallibility of even the most outwardly successful people. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: A social comedy featuring a wealthy young woman in Delhi who takes it upon herself to find an eligible husband for her middle-class friend.

Putnam, $26, hardcover, 368p., 9780525539940

The Reckless Oath We Made

by Bryn Greenwood

Zee Trego is stressed: she's hobbling around waiting tables on a shattered hip, struggling to pay the bills for herself and her housebound hoarder mother, and caring for her young nephew, Marcus. Things get worse when Marcus's mother, LaReigne, is kidnapped by two inmates at the prison where she volunteers. Zee has no idea how to rescue her sister, but she's hellbent on trying. Bryn Greenwood (All the Ugly and Wonderful Things) weaves Zee's family story together with that of Gentry Frank, Zee's--stalker? acquaintance? not-quite-friend?--in the wry, vivid novel The Reckless Oath We Made.

A high-functioning autistic man who regularly hears (and talks to) multiple voices, Gentry is convinced he is destined to be Zee's champion. Zee isn't sure she can trust Gentry--or anyone. But her situation leaves her little choice. Together, they embark on a winding, perilous journey worthy of any knight and lady: from Gentry's actual castle in the Kansas woods to Zee's uncle's house at the very back of nowhere, before they set out on their rescue mission.

Greenwood renders her oddball cast of characters with insight and compassion: nearly every major member of the ensemble gets a chapter of his or her own, though Zee's dry, jaded, often snarky narrative voice carries the book. The story draws together themes of desperate poverty, the complicated bonds of family, mental illness and unlikely (but no less deep) love. Like Zee herself, Greenwood's fourth novel is sharp, unexpected and undeniably powerful. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A struggling waitress and an autistic knight join forces to rescue a kidnapped woman in the backwoods of Kansas.

Putnam, $26, hardcover, 448p., 9780525541844

Nosy White Woman

by Martha Wilson

Martha Wilson, a U.S. expat who has lived in Canada for more than two decades, adroitly balances characters from both sides of the shared border (and beyond) throughout her exceptional debut of 16 short stories, Nosy White Woman. While first collections might often prove uneven, Wilson achieves a rare laudable consistency throughout.  

Standouts, of course, are many. In the titular "Nosy White Woman," Wilson subtly, skillfully transforms a Thanksgiving family meal into a daughter's racially charged warning to her septuagenarian mother, who's about to make her annual Canada-to-Florida snowbird journey. By invoking the tragedies of Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Eric Garner and Sandra Bland, the daughter adeptly warns her mother about the potentially fatal consequences of engaging police as a concerned (white) citizen. Wilson ingeniously examines the impermanence of humanity in "My," as an elderly man's existence gets erased when the last person with any memories of him eventually passes away. In "Binoculars," a woman whose property was the site of a devastating auto accident helps the victim's mother shepherd her daughter's spirit to her final resting place--with extra protection. "Near Hickory" is about a teenager working as a summer au pair who learns about the casual, careless privileges of wealth. And in "Midway," a woman who's always worked in her family's small-town fruitcake business experiences the rest of the world through her insatiable consumption of international news.

While her settings might feel commonplace--kitchen-table dramas, extended holiday gatherings, generational disconnects, neighborly interactions--Wilson adds an extra quirk, an unexpected fleeting detail, a sudden revelation that ensures a satisfyingly lingering resonance with each and every story. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Martha Wilson's exemplary debut collection transforms everyday experiences into moments of surprising, unexpected awareness.

Biblioasis, $14.95, paperback, 224p., 9781771962896


by Nell Zink

Wrapped in the cloak of a social novel that spans three decades of American life beginning in the 1980s, Nell Zink's Doxology is a tender story about what it means to be a good person and a good parent in trying times.

Daniel and Pam Svoboda establish their first marital abode in 1991 in an illegal one-room apartment above a video store on the Lower East Side, where they're joined by a daughter, Flora, the following year. Pam has been living in New York City and working as a computer programmer since fleeing the strict discipline of her parents' home and dropping out of high school at age 17. Daniel's an "eighties hipster" who barely moves a rung up the economic ladder--from law firm proofreader to long-term temporary office assistant--over the novel's span.

Through the lives of the Svobodas, readers experience the terror attacks of 9/11, the Great Recession and the election of Donald Trump, an event that brings into conflict the romantic relationships of Flora, a campaign staffer for the Green Party. This forces her to make a fateful personal choice that will determine her role in nurturing the family's next generation. Zink (Mislaid) is a sharp observer of current events, whose digressions on subjects that include New York real estate, startups and both the beauty of idealism and its limits are highlights of the novel.

Doxology circles around a coterie of gentle, likable characters who seem to find the task of navigating their tangled personal lives as difficult as confronting the challenges of an increasingly complicated world. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: A small family surfs the world's dramatic changes as the 20th century becomes the 21st.

Ecco, $27.99, hardcover, 416p., 9780062877789

Last Ones Left Alive

by Sarah Davis-Goff

Sarah Davis-Goff's view of dystopian Ireland is vividly displayed through fierce adolescent protagonist Orpen. As Last Ones Left Alive begins, Orpen is boldly pushing toward potential salvation. She's alone save for her dog and her birth mother's partner, Maeve, bound and ambiguously lifeless in a wheelbarrow.

The narrative compellingly alternates between Orpen's perilous quest and what necessitated it. Portentous flashbacks paint solitary yet idyllic beginnings on an abandoned island with her mothers Mam and Maeve, where the state of the world was a mystery and death seemed far away. The existence of the zombie-like skrake, "real enough to kill you dead," is also tantalizingly revealed.

Orpen's childhood ends abruptly at seven when she's given a set of knives and a punishing training regimen under Maeve's tutelage. When disaster strikes, Orpen takes her warrior ways on the road, trying to find a mysterious city mentioned by her mothers. Warned not to trust others, Orpen fights a longing for people, one thing she has in common with skrake, and an encounter with other survivors hurls her plans along an even more dangerous path.

In her debut novel, Irish author Davis-Goff, co-founder of Tramp Press, writes Orpen's apocalyptic world in a compelling cadence and shines at the bleak details--a road is "barely a path, a rough line, like a finger drawn across dry dirt." Her fight scenes hit the sweet spot and help highlight the natural feminist bent of the work. Despite the grim surroundings, there is beauty in Orpen's world, where she was taught to survive, but also how to live. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A strong young girl forges across dystopian Ireland with her half-dead mother, battling zombie-like killers on the way to a city she hopes exists.

Flatiron Books, $26.99, hardcover, 288p., 9781250235220

A Door in the Earth

by Amy Waldman

A Door in the Earth by Amy Waldman (The Submission) follows Parveen, an idealistic Afghan American anthropology student who travels to a tiny village in Afghanistan to conduct research and help out at a clinic set up by a charismatic American philanthropist named Gideon Crane. Parveen is one of many Americans who receives Gideon Crane's message with enthusiasm bordering on religious zeal. Through Crane's book Mother Afghanistan, Parveen feels connected to her country of birth in a way that has often proved elusive.

Because the story takes place in 2008, readers benefit from hindsight in a way that Parveen cannot. Some, for example, might note the similarities between Gideon Crane's story and that of Greg Mortenson, the controversial philanthropist and author of Three Cups of Tea. Parveen is young and idealistic, however, and she struggles to reconcile Crane's inspiring memoir with the Afghan community that she encounters. Soon, however, U.S. soldiers arrive, and the war follows them. The Americans offer aid in the form of a new, better road to the village, even though most of the villagers don't have cars.

A Door in the Earth is more than a critique of strategy, of course. Parveen is a study in divided loyalties, not at home with the soldiers or the villagers. The idealism that brought her to the village is of little use when she gets there. As the war creeps ever closer, Parveen is forced to make decisions that have no right answers, decisions that will have life and death consequences for the people around her. In the process, she leaves the easy certainties of youth behind. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Discover: A devotee of a famous American philanthropist journeys to Afghanistan and discovers that the reality is much more complicated than the one painted in the philanthropist's book.

Little, Brown, $28, hardcover, 400p., 9780316451574

On the Corner of Love and Hate

by Nina Bocci

On the Corner of Love and Hate is as charming and complicated as the small town in which Nina Bocci sets it. Cooper and Emma have been friends since childhood but their relationship took a turn in college. Since they both moved back home to Hope Lake, they've been working together at the Community Development Office, but nothing is as it used to be. They're forced to see each other every day, but they don't work together well, never mind spending time together outside of work. When Cooper decides to run for mayor to replace Emma's retiring father, matters get messier. Is Emma Cooper's old friend, contentious coworker, campaign manager or something else entirely?

Hope Lake has been reinventing itself as an outdoorsy tourist town, but all of that work is threatened when Cooper's opposing mayoral candidate proposes defunding all public projects and bringing in mega-stores. When the campaign turns ugly, Emma and Cooper are both forced to evaluate their futures in local government, in their community and in their own relationship. Long-time romance readers will be able to guess where this story is heading, but the push-pull relationship is all the more satisfying for the I-told-you-so moments.

Bocci puts her characters through an emotional wringer, but balances the pining and misunderstandings with humor and an overall uplifting message about community involvement, family and hope. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels

Discover: Readers looking for a feel-good romance set in a diverse, quirky small town will be entranced by On the Corner of Love and Hate.

Gallery Books, $16, paperback, 336p., 9781982102036

Mystery & Thriller

The Long Call

by Ann Cleeves

Ann Cleeves is known for her two mystery series, which have both been turned into successful crime dramas: the Vera Stanhope books, which became the show Vera, and the Shetland mysteries, featuring Detective Jimmy Perez in Shetland. Cleeves excels at creating believable, flawed characters in dramatic settings.

The Long Call is the initial book in a third series, set on the Devonshire coast. Fans of Jimmy and Vera are sure to love Detective Inspector Matthew Venn. Matthew is a newlywed, happy, but still uptight, and trying to become more relaxed, like his husband, Jonathan, who runs a successful town project called the Woodyard Centre. The Woodyard provides services for the needy and the mentally handicapped, and is the focus for the arts in their small town.

Partly because of his job, however, and partly because of his upbringing in a puritanical sect called the Brethren, Matthew remains formal and reserved. He is observing his father's funeral from afar, not welcome to attend, when he gets a call that a body has been found on the Devon beach, a scant distance from his and Jonathan's home. When the dead man is discovered to have ties to the Woodyard, possibly implicating members of the staff, Matthew has to let down his own guard and allow his team to help him catch a killer in a case that strikes far too close to home. Moody and tense, The Long Call will more than satisfy Cleeves's many existing fans and new readers alike. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this atmospheric mystery, the first in a new series from Ann Cleeves, a Devonshire detective investigates a murder that possibly implicates his husband.

Minotaur Books, $26.99, hardcover, 384p., 9781250204448

A Dangerous Engagement

by Ashley Weaver

In A Dangerous Engagement, the sixth entry in the Amory Ames mystery series by Ashley Weaver, Amory and her husband, Milo, leave their native England for a wedding in New York City. Milo grumbles about visiting a city under Prohibition, but Amory is excited to be a bridesmaid in the wedding of her childhood friend, Tabitha Alden.

But soon after Amory and Milo arrive to stay at the spectacular Alden home, they discover that the groom may not be quite what he seems. And then, to everyone's shock, the best man is gunned down on the front steps of the mansion. With rumors of rum-runners abounding, Amory cannot resist infiltrating a speakeasy that belongs to the notorious gangster Leon De Lora, even after Milo warns her away. But she quickly finds herself in danger, and nearly loses her life in a burning warehouse. Can Milo and Amory team up to catch a killer, or will the killer catch them?

Fans of Maisie Dobbs or Lady Georgiana Rannoch who have not yet encountered Amory's enthusiastic schemes are sure to love this addition to the female detective pantheon. Amory and Milo are equally at ease in their upper-crust world and in the questionable areas of Prohibition New York, and the glinting humor in their relationship makes for enjoyable reading. A Dangerous Engagement is a charming mystery full of intriguing historical detail, which can either be read as a standalone, or as a new entry in a delightful series. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this charming historical mystery, an intrepid amateur detective investigates the death of a groomsman in Prohibition-era New York.

Minotaur Books, $27.99, hardcover, 320p., 9781250159779

The Chestnut Man

by Søren Sveistrup

A year after her young daughter was abducted and murdered, Copenhagen's Minister for Social Affairs Rosa Hartung returns to work. On the same day, a woman is found murdered and mutilated, with a nearby figurine of a man--made out of chestnuts.

Detective Naia Thulin catches the case and is partnered with Mark Hess, a detective recently suspended from Europol and sent back to Copenhagen for disciplinary reasons. Neither Thulin nor Hess is ecstatic about the work arrangement, but they must come together to chase a killer who makes it clear he has quickly escalating plans for multiple victims. At each crime scene is a chestnut man, with a shocking link to an earlier case. How many women will die before Thulin and Hess stop the sinister figure, and what do the murders have to do with Minister Hartung?

Fans of the series The Killing should find The Chestnut Man up their alley since it's written by Søren Sveistrup, creator of that international TV hit. The Chestnut Man has the same creepy, slow burn, and is headed by a dogged pair of detectives who don't always agree but learn how to serve a common cause. The torturous killings are not for the squeamish, almost every man besides Hess is a lecher who objectifies women and Hess's logical ideas are frustratingly dismissed by colleagues, but Sveistrup offers commentary on adults who inadequately protect children and the lengths those children go to survive when the odds are overwhelmingly against them. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: Copenhagen detectives chase a serial killer who leaves behind crude figurines made of chestnuts.

Harper, $28.99, hardcover, 528p., 9780062895363

The Bone Fire

by S.D. Sykes

In 1361, the Black Death is again sweeping England, and Oswald de Lacy has decided that for the sake of his family, he must take them to stay with his friend Godfrey on the isolated Isle of Eden. Once the portcullis closes behind them, it will not open again until spring. When they arrive, not only do they find that the plague is not far away on the island, but a murder occurs soon after the fortress is secured. Oswald has some previous experience investigating crimes at his own manor and in Venice, so he begins investigating which of the guests and members of the household is the murderer among them.

The fourth in the Somershill Manor mystery series by S.D. Sykes (after City of Masks), The Bone Fire combines elements of the traditional country house mystery with the oppressive atmosphere of 14th-century England during the plague. Other friends seeking sanctuary from Godfrey, a knight overseeing the defense of the fortress, tradesmen in Godfrey's employ and the household servants are all confined together, knowing that one of them must be a murderer, but that leaving the walls means potential exposure to the disease. Deft characterization introduces new readers to the members of the de Lacy family without slowing the pace with excessive explanation of previous events. This claustrophobic mystery full of medieval atmosphere will be as engrossing as an entry point to the series as it will be to returning fans. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library

Discover: This medieval mystery about a disparate collection of guests trapped between the plague outside and a murderer among them will thrill new readers and series fans alike.

Pegasus, $25.95, hardcover, 320p., 9781643131979

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Ten Thousand Doors of January

by Alix E. Harrow

The Ten Thousand Doors of January expands on one of fantasy literature's most common tropes--magical doors into other worlds--to tell a strikingly original coming-of-age story set in the early 1900s. Alix E. Harrow's debut novel follows January Scaller, a ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke and a curiosity among curiosities. Mr. Locke collects exotic objects from around the world and stores them in his mansion. January's father flits in and out of her life, always sent away by Mr. Locke to find more far-flung treasures. January's fascination with Doors begins when she finds one at seven years old and steps into a "world made of saltwater and stone."

The Ten Thousand Doors of January sets itself apart from its influences--C.S. Lewis's wardrobe comes strongly to mind--by focusing on some of the knottier issues of the early 20th-century setting. January is an outsider not only by virtue of her odd relationship with her father, but because of her skin color, an unplaceable shade that Mr. Locke assures her means she is "odd-colored, perhaps, but hardly colored." Harrow is also thoughtful about why the escapist promise of doors to other worlds lingers in our imagination. January finds a book about Doors that contains stories of another young woman "heartsick with the sameness of her days." The plot revolves around unraveling the mysteries of the Doors, of January's parentage and of her relationship to Mr. Locke. Throughout the book, though, Harrow suggests answers to the larger mystery of why people, especially readers, seek to escape into other realities. --Hank Stephenson, former bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: The Ten Thousand Doors of January uses and comments on the timeless trope of magical doors into other worlds to tell a fantastical coming-of-age story set in the early 1900s.

Redhook, $27, hardcover, 384p., 9780316421997

Gideon the Ninth

by Tamsyn Muir

In her debut novel, Tasmyn Muir positions her protagonist, Gideon Nav, amid foreboding gothic spaces and reanimated skeletons. It would be a stretch to describe Gideon as grounded--her awe-inspiring talent as a swordswoman is on repeated display--but she is perfectly happy to puncture the stuffy, self-serious air of her companions with crude jokes, puns and even a well-timed "that's what she said."

The novel's action kicks off when Gideon finally receives a chance to leave her oppressive home planet as a cavalier, a kind of bodyguard. The Emperor has summoned representatives from the nine houses--a necromancer and a cavalier from each--to a huge, decaying palace where the houses will vie against each other to discover ancient necromantic secrets and attempt to become Lyctors, demigod-like members of the Emperor's inner circle. It's complicated. Thankfully, Muir grounds the strangeness in a few familiar conceits. When necromancers and cavaliers start to die in mysterious fashion, the novel begins unexpectedly to resemble a locked-room mystery, or perhaps even a particularly demented slasher movie.

The crux of the novel is the relationship between Gideon and her necromancer, Harrowhark Nonagesimus. Gideon and Harrowhark have carried on a vicious, sometimes violent feud since they were children, with its roots in a horrible tragedy. Despite their antagonism, they have an undeniable emotional connection, and much of the book's most interesting character work lies in deepening and complicating their relationship.

When it comes to epic fantasy, it's difficult to imagine a more purely fun read than Tasmyn Muir's Gideon the Ninth. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Discover: Gideon the Ninth is a dense, impressively imagined debut about necromancers and swordswomen that wears its heart--and gonzo sense of humor--on its sleeve.

Tor, $25.99, hardcover, 448p., 9781250313195

Sapphire Flames

by Ilona Andrews

Urban fantasy author Ilona Andrews immerses readers in a magic-drenched Houston, Tex., with Sapphire Flames. In this, the fourth entry in the Hidden Legacy series (easily read as a stand-alone installment although readers are certain to enjoy the prior three, as well), the Baylor Investigative Agency is being led by Catalina Baylor, the Head of her House and a Prime who possesses an unusual magic that she has long attempted to conceal. When a friend's mother and sister are killed, however, Catalina can't walk away, despite warnings from other Primes. Much to her surprise, her investigation soon has her crossing paths with her teenage crush, the handsome and wealthy Alessandro Segrado. He has a carefully cultivated reputation as a jet-setting playboy, but the Alessandro who saves Catalina from attempted murder is clearly an experienced and lethal assassin. She's not convinced she can trust him, but she desperately needs his help.

Following clues to solve her friend's case leads to uncovering a conspiracy at the highest level of their world and exposes a horrifying potential for disaster. Warped biomagical research, magic-capable monsters, a murder-for-hire corporation--there seems to be no end to the dangers that loom over them. Now Catalina and Alessandro must think quickly and act even faster, for their investigation has run them afoul of people so corrupt that everyone they love is threatened. Despite the aid of a powerful friend and their best efforts, there is no guarantee they will survive. Even if they do, can there be a future for two people with prior commitments to family and their Houses?

This well-plotted story shines with an engaging cast of characters, creative world building and nail-biting action scenes that are lightened by often hilarious dialogue. Fans of urban fantasy won't want to miss this one. --Lois Faye Dyer, writer and reviewer

Discover: A woman with powerful magic partners with an assassin to fight evil and save lives in modern-day Houston.

Avon, $7.99, mass market paperbound, 400p., 9780062878342

The Blacksmith Queen

by G.A. Aiken

G.A. Aiken, a pseudonym of writer Shelly Laurenston, launches the Scarred Earth fantasy series with The Blacksmith Queen. In the land of the Black Hills, the death of the Old King sets off a flurry of assassinations by his heirs. Each of his sons wants to be crowned king, and when the dust settles, there are five survivors, each with an army. For blacksmith Keely Smythe, war between royals means a growing need for weaponry, and she happily embraces the boom in business. But her blacksmithing abruptly stops when a prophecy declares her younger sister shall become the new queen.

Keely has to leave her beloved forge to guard her sister on the journey to meet the witch seer who will proclaim her worthy of the throne. What Keely doesn't know is that she's walking into a trap. When the seer shocks everyone by naming both Keely and her sister as future queens, Keely faces horrific betrayal by someone she believed she could trust. Guarded by centaurs, demon wolves and a War Monk, Keely travels to the Badlands, where she must find a way to enlist gnomes, barbarians, elves and perhaps dragons in her cause. For if she and Caid, the warrior centaur who befriends her, cannot stop Keely's sociopathic, would-be-queen sister, no one in their world will be safe.

A skilled, fast-paced plot, indomitable characters and a cause to care deeply about will make readers eager for the second installment. --Lois Faye Dyer, writer and reviewer

Discover: When a blacksmith is named queen of her country, she gathers a motley crew of warrior friends and sets off to save the world from greedy pretenders to the throne.

Kensington, $15.95, paperback, 304p., 9781496721204


Well Met

by Jen DeLuca

First impressions lead to weeks of tension in Well Met, a debut slow-burn romance from Jen DeLuca. English teacher Simon is determined to maintain his late brother's legacy, the local Renaissance fair. Emily arrives in town, adrift after a bad breakup and staying for the summer to help her sister recover from a car accident. Everything's going smoothly until her niece announces that in order for her to participate in the local Ren fair, Emily needs to step into her sister's shoes and volunteer for the duration. When Emily uses humor to mask her imposter syndrome, perfectionist Simon thinks her jokes mean she isn't taking the fair seriously. Scowls and snappish comments abound, with two good-hearted adults assuming the worst about each other.

As the fair itself progresses, Emily becomes Emma, a flirty tavern wench, and Simon takes the role of swoony pirate Blackthorne. Through the pretense, their stage-flirting becomes something more real and more confusing. Despite the misunderstandings, these two characters are doing their best, trying to balance familial duty with personal goals. The resolution to all this mess is a happy ending for them as individuals and as a couple, satisfying in its completeness without relying on clichés.

Well Met will especially appeal to readers who like bookstores, Renaissance fair shenanigans and nerdy English teachers wearing vests. DeLuca will have readers laughing all the way to the turkey leg vendor. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels

Discover: For fans of enemies-to-lovers romance, Shakespeare-spouting pirates and Renaissance fairs, Well Met is a charming debut.

Berkley, $15, paperback, 336p., 9781984805386

How to Cross a Marquess

by Jane Ashford

This latest installment in Jane Ashford's delightful series The Way to a Lord's Heart will most assuredly send readers searching for the earlier books, although the story easily stands on its own. Roger Berwick, Marquess of Chatton, grew up at Chatton Castle in Northumberland, which shares a border with the property of Miss Fenella Fairclough's family. When she was 17 and he a few years older, their fathers made ham-handed efforts to force a match, but Fenella spiked their plotting by fleeing north to her Scottish grandmother's home. Five years later, Fenella has returned to care for her ailing father, and Roger is a widower. Both have matured and are ready to move forward from past differences, although the occasional outbreak of earlier antagonism seems unavoidable. Nevertheless, the two slowly leave past grievances behind and seem to be making strides toward a deeper relationship.

When Fenella's father dies, she must deal with the unwelcome oversight of her two extremely obnoxious brothers-in-law, who set to arranging her life without asking about what she wants. She turns to Roger as a confidant. And much to her surprise, he has a scheme that will solve all her problems, skewer her encroaching relatives and set her free. If she accepts Roger's resolution, however, can she ever be assured of his true feelings for her?

The novel smoothly shifts the enemies to lovers in a well-crafted plot with a vivid Regency setting. An intriguing mystery element also adds to the story's appeal. Fans of strong, romantic characters and entertaining dialogue are certain to enjoy this latest from Ashford. --Lois Faye Dyer, writer and reviewer

Discover: An English miss and a marquess find romance and thwart their enemies on the Scottish border in this Regency romance.

Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99, mass market paperbound, 352p., 9781492663416

Food & Wine

Rustic Joyful Food: My Heart's Table

by Danielle Kartes

Danielle Kartes begins Rustic Joyful Food: My Heart's Table with the story of the journey that led to its creation: a failed bistro, a saved marriage, the loss and rebirth of her lifelong love of cooking, the often difficult creation of the food-based business, of which the cookbook is one part. Joy is not something Kartes takes for granted.

Kartes is not a trained chef. Self-taught, she is eager to share what she knows with home cooks. Her clearly written recipes include helpful information about techniques (how to remove the skin from a tomatillo) and occasional encouragement (it may take several tries before you season your cast-iron skillet to no-stick perfection).

The recipes in Rustic Joyful Food straddle the line between aspirational and family-friendly: a recipe for a Spanish-inspired braised chicken with olives is followed by a four-page spread on hotdogs, both accompanied by Jeff Hobson and Michael Kartes's beautiful photographs, styled by Kartes herself. The end goal isn't to get dinner on the table quickly, but none of the recipes call for extensive prep time or fussy techniques. She highlights fresh flavors and a range of produce that reflects her home in the Pacific Northwest, but does not call for ingredients that are hard to find outside of large cities or foodie meccas.

The result is a cooking style that is both familiar and creative. And, in fact, the book ends with Kartes's hope that readers will adapt her recipes to make them their own. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: Rising Seattle food star Danielle Kartes shares recipes from her home kitchen.

Sourcebooks, $29.99, hardcover, 304p., 9781492697879

Biography & Memoir

Diamond Doris: The True Story of the World's Most Notorious Jewel Thief

by Doris Payne, Zelda Lockhart

At age 88, Doris Payne (assisted by Zelda Lockhart) looks back at her six decades as an international jewel thief. Diamond Doris is the first time Payne has revealed all aspects of her remarkable life, including the techniques she used to walk out of world-famous jewelry stores with rings worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. She and her five siblings were raised in a poor, segregated coal mining town in West Virginia by her boorish black father and doting Native American mother. Early on, Payne found she had a talent for stealing things. It put food on her family's table and quickly became a lucrative career when she began visiting high-end jewelry stores. By dressing elegantly and wearing an impressive wedding ring set, she became "a woman of class, not a woman on a mission to steal." And her constant chatter kept storekeepers off-balance long enough for her to perform a sleight of hand.

In 1974, she was apprehended in Monte Carlo after stealing a 10.5 carat diamond ring worth $550,000 at the time. She was held for nine months but not charged because the authorities couldn't find the ring she'd hidden. Rather than being intimidated by her incarceration, when she escaped, she devised and executed a four-day plan to steal from three top jewelers in London, Paris and Rome.

Payne is a feisty anti-hero who refused to be defined by the prejudices and mores of a hypocritical society. Even when she was forced to serve prison time in her 80s. Diamond Doris's captivating capers are audacious and entertaining. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Feisty octogenarian international jewel thief Doris Payne reveals her captivating and audacious capers that span six decades.

Amistad, $25.99, hardcover, 288p., 9780062917997


by Jennifer Croft

Jennifer Croft's Homesick is a startling memoir, stylistically as well as in its content and in the unusual personality it reveals.

Amy and Zoe are very close. This is the defining feature of their young childhood and arguably beyond. The sisters grow up in Tulsa, Okla., where their mother worries over all the possible disasters in the world and their father teaches college. Then the younger sister, Zoe, has her first seizure, and their lives become dominated by more seizures, hospitals, surgeries; the girls are both home-schooled from then on. A tutor, Sasha, comes in the afternoons to teach Zoe Ukrainian and Amy Russian--the girls' choices. Amy loves numbers and letters; she is entranced by the Cyrillic alphabet. Partly out of devotion to Sasha, she throws herself into this study with all her considerable will. At age 15, Amy enters college, and this separation from her sister is both catastrophic and necessary.

This memoir is told in a close third person from Amy's perspective--that of Croft's persona--and interspliced with photographs captioned by an ongoing direct address, apparently from Amy to Zoe in a later time. Disjointed, sometimes heavy with foreshadowing, lush with a love for words and language, the dual narrative of the sisters' intertwined lives and shared pain seems the right artistic choice for this twisting story.

Homesick is astonishing in its emotional reach, its evocation of a child's discovery and a young adult's suffering and all the wonder of words. What is translatable is perfectly communicated here. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This stunning memoir with photos is a love letter from one sister to another, a celebration of language and a story of devotion and disaster.

Unnamed Press, $28, hardcover, 256p., 9781944700942

All the Powers of Earth: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln Vol. III, 1856-1860

by Sidney Blumenthal

Starting in 2016, Sidney Blumenthal has published installments of his multi-volume presidential biography, The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln. Although it isn't mandatory to read A Self-Made Man (2016) and Wrestling with His Angel (2017) prior to All the Powers of Earth, doing so will offer valuable context for this volume's panoramic view of American politics leading up to the Civil War. 

All the Powers of Earth focuses on the founding and growth of the new Republican Party, a development that would have been inconceivable if not for Democrat Stephen A. Douglas's presidential aspirations. Douglas united "his opponents into common cause. The more he tarred them as 'Black Republicans,' the more he galvanized them" into becoming a formidable political party. In this well-researched and easily readable biography, Blumenthal shows how Lincoln used this animosity to his advantage to help build the Republican party in which he was considered a rising star.

"Until his Senate contest with Douglas [Lincoln] was a minor provincial character without any reason to demand a wider attention," Blumenthal writes. Anticipating the 1860 presidential race, however, Lincoln saw opportunity; his victory assured that "a president pledged against [slavery's] expansion would soon be at the helm of the executive branch." It's a pivotal moment in history and an exciting endnote for All the Powers of Earth, a fine addition to Blumenthal's previous work on Lincoln. Historians and casual readers of history should eagerly await his next volume. --William H. Firman Jr., writer and presidential historian

Discover: This well-researched and engaging third volume of a comprehensive biography of Abraham Lincoln explores the future president's rise in the new Republican party during a critical historical moment.

Simon & Schuster, $35, hardcover, 784p., 9781476777283

The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You

by Dina Nayeri

No matter their ethnicity, country of origin or the political intricacies of their situation, refugees flee their homes in search of safety, opportunity and hope. Novelist Dina Nayeri, who fled Iran as a child with her mother and brother, delves into the experiences of many refugees--their varied details and their broader parallels--in her first nonfiction book, The Ungrateful Refugee.

Nayeri (A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea) begins with her own story of seeking refuge: a long, winding journey with her mother and brother between relatives' houses, refugee camps and, eventually, a new, unfamiliar home in Oklahoma. The middle of Nayeri's book explores her visits to refugee camps, her interviews in several countries with those seeking rescue and those seeking to help them, and her return as an adult to Barba, to the former Italian hotel where she once lived as a refugee. Her story, and the others she tells, have overlapping layers and complexities, but all of them are characterized by waiting, legal trouble, separation from loved ones and a desperate, repeated swing between despair and hope.

Blistering in its unequivocal critiques of legal systems that keep refugees in limbo, yet strikingly layered and nuanced in its storytelling, The Ungrateful Refugee is timely, unsettling, compassionate and deeply compelling. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: In her first work of nonfiction, Dina Nayeri delves into the difficulties of the refugee experience.

Catapult, $26, hardcover, 368p., 9781948226424

Even if Your Heart Would Listen: Losing My Daughter to Heroin

by Elise Schiller

"Does any parent accept a child's death before the fact?" This heartbreaking question is one of many that Elise Schiller asks in her raw and powerfully candid memoir of her daughter Giana's life before and after becoming addicted to opioids.  

Even if Your Heart Would Listen opens on January 21, 1980, the day of Giana's birth. One page and almost exactly 34 years later, Schiller learns of Giana's fatal heroin overdose, despite being a patient in a Colorado treatment center. Drawing upon Giana's journals and medical records, and at times pivoting the narrative to address questions to her daughter, Schiller provides readers with a full portrait of Giana: an accomplished swimmer, a dedicated veterinary technician and someone who sought help from five residential and outpatient centers, all of which ultimately failed her and her family.

Schiller's grief and pain is potent on the page, as is her anger and frustration with an inadequate, one-size-fits-all, expensive system of care grounded in self-help and "the legacy of Alcoholics Anonymous" rather than the proven efficacy of medication-assisted treatment. The substance abuse treatment industry still sees addiction as "a moral failing that causes one to have character defects--a huge contradiction that leaves patients and their families confused about what is wrong, causing them to ask: Is it a disease or just a matter of will? How can recovering from a disease be a matter of will, cured by acknowledging one's powerlessness over it?"

Timely and moving, Even if Your Heart Will Listen will resonate with anyone struggling to understand and cope with losing a loved one, especially an adult child, to addiction. --Melissa Firman, writer at

Discover: A mother's powerful memoir of her daughter's heroin addiction and their family's experience with a deeply flawed system of care.

SparkPress, $16.95, paperback, 256p., 9781684630080


The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11

by Garrett M. Graff

Journalist and historian Garrett M. Graff (The Threat Matrix) has assembled an outstanding and emotionally wrenching oral history of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania. As with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, everyone who lived through the 9/11 attack remembers where they were, and has a story. Thousands of these memories have been collected, edited and arranged for a chronological retelling of those harrowing events.

The title refers to the eight hours President George W. Bush and his aides were on Air Force One, circling the skies. The FAA had grounded all other planes after four commercial jets were hijacked with the intention of crashing them into New York City's World Trade Center's twin towers and the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Three targets were hit. The fourth plane, which intended to attack the Capitol, was stopped when its heroic passengers sought to wrest control of the plane from its hijackers. The plane crashed in Pennsylvania, killing all 44 aboard, before it could be used as a missile. The personal memories of survivors, loved ones of those who died, first responders, politicians and news people are heartrending. One man is pulled out of the rubble of the fallen towers and rushed to the hospital, where he expects to see thousands of injured: "I said, 'Where is everybody?' They're like, 'You're it.' "

Hypnotic and profoundly heartbreaking, these first-person remembrances intensify the emotion of that day. This is a book readers will never forget. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: The shocking, frightening and profoundly moving events on September 11, 2001, are relived through thousands of first-person memories in this unforgettable oral history.

Avid Reader/Simon & Schuster, $30, hardcover, 512p., 9781501182204

Current Events & Issues

Fentanyl, Inc.: How Rogue Chemists Are Creating the Deadliest Wave of the Opioid Epidemic

by Ben Westhoff

In 2017, more than 28,000 people in the U.S. died from the use of synthetic opioids, journalist Ben Westhoff reports in Fentanyl, Inc. The most dangerous of those opioids is fentanyl, "lethal at only two milligrams, an amount barely visible to the eye." Often added to other drugs or sold as pills that pose as "name-brand prescription tablets," fentanyl is like a game of Russian roulette. Its users don't always know that it's in the drug they've purchased and underestimate the power of the dosage. Others seek it out for its high, which is far greater than what they find in heroin.

Developed for medical use as a morphine substitute, fentanyl is so addictive that both the U.S. and the U.K. made it a controlled drug in the early 1970s. But by "tweaking its chemical structure," manufacturers produce substitutes that are equally effective, a strategy that's popular, lucrative and seemingly unstoppable.

Exploring the world of synthetic opioids, Westhoff interviews drug users and the dealers who are sheltered by the anonymity of the dark web. He also investigates manufacturers in China that ship fentanyl and the chemicals from which it's made to Canada, Mexico and directly to U.S. customers via FedEx and UPS under fake packaging.

Westhoff finds an effective solution to the opioid threat in European countries that concentrate on "harm reduction" and safe consumption sites instead of punishment, while the U.S continues its unsuccessful War on Drugs at the cost of $58 billion a year. Meanwhile, opioid deaths are "driving down life expectancy," enriching some and bringing tragedy to many others. --Janet Brown, author and former bookseller

Discover: A detailed and far-ranging investigation into the production, marketing and usage of fentanyl reveals an intertwined business network that spans continents and kills thousands.

Atlantic Monthly Press, $27, hardcover, 356p., 9780802127433

Business & Economics

Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion--And the Future of Clothes

by Dana Thomas

In the thorough and invigorating Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion--and the Future of Clothes, Dana Thomas suggests that being fashion-forward means knowing the origin story of our favorite pair of jeans.

Fashionopolis begins with a historical overview of the textile industry, which clings to two ideas from manufacturing's enduring 250-year-old, mass-production model: products must exist before they can be sold, and the more that are made, the cheaper the per-unit cost. In times of "fast fashion" and even faster machines, that's a recipe for a throwaway-clothes culture. Unfortunately, some apparent antidotes to the problem--Sewbots, 3-D printing and other environmentally friendly modern breakthroughs--come with other costs. She acknowledges that industry people have foretold that at a certain point, direct-to-consumer sales, while a move in the green direction, will mean the end of department stores. And, of course, robots, which promise efficiency that can keep down expenses for a conscientious company, kill jobs.

Thomas pins her hopes on the examples set by a batch of forward-thinking companies ranging in size from petite to extra-large. Stella McCartney, for instance, has long been a proponent of sustainability in the fashion industry, and Stony Creek Colors produces indigo, which, until the company's founding in 2012, hadn't been commercially farmed in the United States for more than a century.

Thomas (Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster) approaches Fashionopolis as both an intrepid investigative reporter and an aesthete. One of her many interviewees tidily fuses Thomas's two main concerns--the environment and good design--when she says, "If people still had seamstresses in their families, they wouldn't be chucking things away like they do." --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: This trenchant look at how clothes are produced today is both an environmentalist cri de coeur and an homage to good design.

Penguin Press, $28, hardcover, 320p., 9780735224018

Social Science

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don't Know

by Malcolm Gladwell

"Prejudice and incompetence go a long way toward explaining social dysfunction in America. But what do you do with either of those diagnoses aside from vowing, in full earnestness, to try harder next time?"

This is the question that author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point) strives to answer in Talking to Strangers. It's a slightly anticipatory title, given that Gladwell's focus isn't on the act of conversation with someone perceived as different, but on the common psychological stumbling blocks that could lead to--and indeed, have resulted in--misunderstandings and misperceptions on a grand scale. Gladwell demonstrates that having this awareness is imperative to dealing with a world that is increasingly full of encounters with people who may not share one's perspectives, beliefs or values.

Most of the stories in Talking to Strangers involve familiar, high-profile cases, and Gladwell ties these seemingly disparate incidents together to demonstrate that the human brain tends to "default to truth"--an instinctual, intrinsic belief that our interactions with people are genuine and honest. It's counter-intuitive to the mistaken perception that people are automatically distrusting and cynical.

Like much of Gladwell's work, Talking to Strangers carries relevance for the contemporary moment. American discourse is full of anger, distrust and hostility. While people's preferred interactions are with those we perceive as sharing similar viewpoints, that is an unrealistic expectation today. By enlightening readers about the inner workings of the mind when encountering someone who appears different, Gladwell offers a roadmap for more positive conversations, engagement and interaction. --Melissa Firman, writer at

Discover: Malcolm Gladwell examines the dynamics behind several memorable news stories and personalities to shed light on how we communicate with strangers.

Little, Brown, $30, hardcover, 400p., 9780316478526

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?: Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death

by Caitlin Doughty

Caitlin Doughty wrote Smoke Gets in Your Eyes to share what she's learned about the mortuary business and, more importantly, about death, with adult readers. Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?: Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death is a delightful follow-up and expansion on that project, aimed at younger readers but absolutely for adults as well. Doughty's continuing experience in the business (from crematory operator to mortuary owner, with a degree in mortuary science) means her expertise has grown. Her sense of humor and fun when approaching topics often considered morbid, however, is her most valuable contribution.

"Every question in this book is 100 percent ethically sourced (free range organic) from a real live child." And children do ask "the most distinctive, delightful questions": We eat dead chickens, why not dead people? Can we give Grandma a Viking funeral? What would happen if you died on a plane?

Doughty's answers are as delightful and distinctive as the questions. She blends humor with respect for the dead, joking around but repeatedly reminding her readers that it's never okay to do something with a person's remains that they wouldn't have liked. ("Did Grandma want a Viking funeral?") Dianné Ruz's accompanying images keep the same tone of playful but plainspoken discussion. "Don't let anyone tell you your curiosity about death is 'morbid' or 'weird,' " Doughty reminds readers. If they try to say so, "it's likely they're scared of the topic themselves." This informative, forthright, comical guide to bodies after death is just the antidote--and surprisingly great fun as well. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: In this book for children and adults, the heavy questions about death and dead bodies are answered with honesty and hilarity by the creator of the webseries "Ask a Mortician."

W.W. Norton, $25.95, hardcover, 240p., 9780393652703


by Maria Tumarkin

When Australian literary legend Helen Garner says, "No one can write like Maria Tumarkin," one sits up and pays attention. Cultural historian Tumarkin teaches creative writing at the University of Melbourne while writing novels and essays. Axiomatic testifies to Tumarkin's captivation by and insight into sociology; these five extended essays explore themes that stir intriguing communal reaction and response.

In "Time Heals All Wounds," several youth suicides rock a school community. Students grieve through English papers, "submitting their heartbeats as assignments." Tumarkin delves into the cultural reaction to suicide. The school's administration tries to comfort, but Tumarkin signals the particular difficulties with suicide by deftly contrasting the handling of multiple student deaths in a car accident.

Perceptions of historical trauma and the inadequacy of children's courts are depicted in "Those Who Forget the Past Are Condemned to Re--." A Polish couple abducts their grandson and hides him in a Melbourne "dungeon." Discounting the grandmother's argued protection of the boy as a misapplication of her own trauma (hiding from Nazis to survive the Holocaust), authorities prosecute her and send the boy "home" to unfit parents. 

Tumarkin's writing is often hauntingly beautiful, but the exploration of the generational influences of trauma, addiction and suicide always feels journalistically balanced. The past marks us, but is only one element on the road to "junkie or philanthropist," businesswoman of the decade or abject failure. There are no Hollywood endings, just a fascinating reflection of life in the tarred trenches. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A cultural historian explores how communities and bureaucracies handle various traumas and crimes, as well as the generational impact on those affected.

Transit Books, $16.95, paperback, 224p., 9781945492297

Tell It to the World: An Indigenous Memoir

by Stan Grant

A television news and political journalist and a member of the Wiradjuri tribe of Indigenous Australians, Stan Grant offers a painfully insightful look at the tragic history of Indigenous people in Australia since the British arrived in the 18th century and started colonizing the continent.

Originally published as Talking to My Country in 2016, the book began as a response to the racist humiliation of Indigenous footballer Adam Goodes. Published in the U.S. for the first time as Tell It to the World, this is a transparent look at the full history of Australia and the historic efforts to marginalize and erase Indigenous people.

Grant's family is a microcosm of the horrors of early settlement. John Grant, a forebear, was an Irish Catholic who rose up against the English. He was convicted and sent to the penal colony, "a man in chains, hounded by tyranny, banished from the soil of Tipperary.... He died the wealthiest Irish Catholic in the colonies." As a white man he thrived, while the Indigenous, including his relations, were slaughtered at places now named for their atrocities, such as Poison Waterholes Creek and Murdering Island.

And still today in Australia, Indigenous people are disproportionately suicidal, imprisoned and "trapped by the tyranny of low expectations." In this memoir of a boy, his family and their land, Grant puts lyrical words and truth to the idea that "a truly great country... should be held to great account." --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: Journalist and Indigenous Australian Stan Grant shares an intimate look at his homeland and the historical repression of its first people.

Scribe Us, $15.95, paperback, 256p., 9781947534261


The Girl Behind the Red Rope

by Ted Dekker, Rachelle Dekker

During a service at Holy Family Church, six-year-old Grace Weathers, her brother, Jamie, and their mother, Julianna, witness the appearance of an angel named Sylous, who warns of demons scorching the land and killing the unfaithful in three years' time. The angel's prophecy shakes the entire church. The rafters begin to crumble and the pews rip away from bolts holding them to the floor. The congregation panics and scramble to build a hidden community and escape the clutches of eternal damnation.

Thirteen years later, the utopian town of Haven Valley lies in the middle of the woods encircled by a simple red rope Sylous says keeps the demons out. Church leader Rose Pierce and her council members insist it's still not safe to rejoin society, while Sylous cautions of strangers pretending to be people of light who will enter Haven Valley.

Grace isn't happy about Haven Valley's strict, pious ways, especially the arranged marriages, but it's Jamie who escapes the town confines to see if the dangers beyond the red rope really exist. Grace covers for him and both rule-breaking siblings are brought before the council for punishment. Then an old man and a smiling child companion suddenly appear, asking for Grace and her family. Are these the strangers Sylous warned the town about?

The father-daughter writing team of Ted Dekker (The 49th Mystic), and Rachelle Dekker (The Choosing) have crafted a dark, fast-paced parable about fear-based religious zealotry running amok and the price of being a true believer. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer

Discover: Teen siblings risk their lives to see if demons really do surround their hidden church community.

Revell, $24.99, hardcover, 336p., 9780800736538

Psychology & Self-Help

Good Morning, Monster: Five Heroic Journeys to Recovery

by Catherine Gildiner

Any doubt that seeking therapy is courageous will be put to rest by the patient profiles detailed in Good Morning, Monster. Catherine Gildiner is a clinical psychologist and author of a trilogy of memoirs (including Coming Ashore). As pseudo-memoirist for five of her most layered and poignant clients, Gildiner clearly demonstrates the value of analysis, the resilience of the human spirit and the vast generosity of sharing one's life story.

The patients vary in culture, socio-economic background and temperament. Within their treatments, Gildiner highlights tools available to clinicians to facilitate acknowledgment and change. Despite these interesting instructive moments, Good Morning, Monster is not aimed at academics; rather, it provides a window for the lay person to bear witness to the most intimate of processes.

The levels of despair and dreadfulness underlying each of the five stories can't be overstated. There is abuse, violence and neglect of every gradient. But there is also growth, buoyancy and wonderful wit and humor ("Laura" on intimacy: "Christ! Why not just dance naked in the streets?").

Gildiner is a talented narrator and admirably summarizes years of sessions without the accounts feeling choppy or incomplete. She's also wonderfully frank about her own mistakes and misreads as a psychologist, and she is quick to seek outside guidance when beneficial (finding cultural resources to aid a Cree man, for example). With hard work, each client reckons with the demons they wake with each morning, even when they've been told they themselves are the monster. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A clinical psychologist presents five patient profiles to demonstrate the value of therapy and the determination and resiliency of those who engage with and face down their traumas.

Viking, $19.95, paperback, 368p., 9780735236967


The Nature of Life and Death: Every Body Leaves a Trace

by Patricia Wiltshire

Depending on one's perspective, there are few nicknames greater than "the snot lady," the sobriquet earned by Welsh forensic ecologist Patricia Wiltshire for developing a method to obtain pollen particles from the nasal cavities of the dead. In The Nature of Life and Death, Wiltshire describes that method in terrific detail, part and parcel of her 45-year career studying the world of plants and, since the early 1990s, helping the police solve crimes through ecological trace evidence (pollen, fungal spores, soil, etc.) taken and left behind by victims and perpetrators.

Along with her practical history and pioneering of her profession, Wiltshire walks readers through numerous case studies recounting how her work helped locate a murder victim's body or linked a suspect to a crime. Those interested in plant and animal sciences or forensics will be particularly rapt at the microscopic levels of proof Wiltshire obtains.

Even as she writes for a broad audience, Wiltshire comes across as enigmatic as her subject matter. She writes from a self-centered but somewhat aloof point of view and in a straightforward manner befitting a lecturer. Wiltshire is under no obligation to share herself; her credentials and the case studies speak for themselves. Yet, at the three-quarter mark, she unexpectedly shows her animal-loving side and "explains" her "arrogance." Her disclosures can't help but thaw both writer and reader, serving not to change the absorbing material, but to heighten appreciation and understanding of its source. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: Forensic ecologist Wiltshire shares how her profession came to be and how she uses microscopic portions of the natural world to help nail the bad guys.

Putnam, $27, hardcover, 304p., 9780525542216

End Times: A Brief Guide to the End of the World

by Bryan Walsh

Predictions about the end of the world--or at least of humankind--are as old as civilization itself. But that doesn't mean the end will never happen. In End Times: A Brief Guide to the End of the World, science reporter Bryan Walsh explores all kinds of existential threats to humanity. Among them are super-volcanoes, asteroids, climate change, nuclear war, disease, biotechnology, artificial intelligence and, yes, even aliens. Some of these possibilities might sound outlandish, but Walsh draws on more than 15 years of investigative journalism at Time magazine to get the science right. He also includes interviews with scientists who study various life-ending phenomena, as well as ways to circumvent apocalypse via advanced technology and elaborate warning systems. This is a book that balances doom and gloom with hope and humor.

Walsh shows that some of these threats, like asteroids and super-volcanoes, are not without precedent. Casual readers of science may already know that an asteroid killed off the dinosaurs, but lesser known is the eruption of Toba, a super-volcano that exploded more than 74,000 years ago. As Walsh puts it, "Homo sapiens had a very bad day" when Toba blew. The amount of rock and ash spewed from the mountain, he writes, was the equivalent to 2,800 Mount St. Helens eruptions--enough to darken the skies for years and creating "hell on Earth."  

Rarely is popular science writing this hair-raising. Breezily written but deeply researched, End Times thrills as much as it educates. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This exciting work of popular science explores some possible ends to the world in almost cinematic detail.

Hachette Books, $29, hardcover, 416p., 9780316449618


Three Seconds in Munich: The Controversial 1972 Olympic Basketball Final

by David A.F. Sweet

"They're all gone." These enduring words of sportscaster Jim McKay announced the murder of 11 Israeli Olympians by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Games. Three Seconds in Munich adeptly scrutinizes the infamous basketball tournament between the U.S. and the Soviet Union that took place at the same Games, and sportswriter David A.F. Sweet (Lamar Hunt) strikes a perfect balance in discussing both events.

Sweet takes the gracious risk of losing his audience to anguish by leading with the hostage crisis and not paying mere lip service to the horror. In doing so, he gains crucial trust in a story calling out collusion and game-fixing at one of the highest levels of sport.

Mere days after the massacre, following an undefeated 36-year Olympic streak spanning a "borderline-ridiculous sixty-two games," the U.S. lost to the Soviets 51-50 in the gold medal game. But officials twice added three seconds back on the clock--once after time had expired and the U.S. had won the gold.

Three Seconds is painstakingly researched. While Sweet exposes conspiracy and wrongdoing, he does not discount other elements working against the U.S. team, including coaching style, politics and a dearth of players due to rules prohibiting professional athletes (seemingly overlooked on the Soviet front).

Sweet does a stellar job of pulling emotional strings and revealing how "encountering the evil of terrorism and suffering an excruciating, unjust" loss in only a four-day span continues to affect the players. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A detailed exposé of the controversial 1972 Olympic basketball gold medal match, and the stunning finish that gave the Soviets a gold medal.

University of Nebraska Press, $29.95, hardcover, 264p., 9780803299962

Shula: The Coach of the NFL's Greatest Generation

by Mark Ribowsky

When Don Shula was in junior high school, his hardworking Hungarian-immigrant parents refused to let him play football after he tore his nose open in a game. Undeterred, Shula forged his parents' signatures on the permission slip, and kept playing. The determined 11-year-old didn't become the priest his family hoped he would, but not even he imagined playing and achieving Hall of Fame status as a coach in the National Football League.

Mark Ribowsky, biographer of sports and music personalities (Dreams to Remember), details the "lantern-jawed" stalwart's five decades of football in Shula: The Coach of the NFL's Greatest Generation. Shula's career had more than adequate peaks to overshadow the valleys, but Ribowsky does not gloss over the "failures" that provided grist for the success mill and forged Shula's process of gritty, old-school discipline and grinding. An undefeated season coaching the Baltimore Colts went famously sideways in Super Bowl III, when the heavily favored Colts fell prey to Broadway Joe Namath's outlandish guarantee that his Jets team would win.

After losing another championship coaching the Miami Dolphins in 1972, Shula finally got a Super Bowl ring, and an as-yet-unmatched perfect season, in 1973. Ribowsky provides superb particulars about that game (and many others), including Shula's wife cold-cocking a rude fan and his watch being stolen off his wrist as his players hoisted him in victory. Comprehensive and straight-shooting about Shula's persona and career, touching on cultural influences of race, drugs and politics, Shula is a treasure trove of insight on one of the game's greats. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: The family, teammates, coaches and management that influenced the life and career of NFL great Don Shula are detailed by acclaimed biographer Ribowsky.

Liveright, $28.95, hardcover, 400p., 9781631494604

Travel Literature

Great Cities Through Travelers' Eyes

by Peter Furtado

In Great Cities Through Travelers' Eyes, Peter Furtado, historian and former editor of History Today magazine, has compiled an armchair travelers' delight. Building on the idea that cities are the most enduring of all historical artifacts, he presents travelers' accounts of 38 cities around the world, from Alexandria in Egypt to Washington, D.C.

Furtado outlines his selection criteria clearly for the reader. All the cities still exist: no romantic musings on the ruins of Persepolis or Machu Picchu are included. He does not use descriptions by a writer native to a city. For example, Furtado gives us Dickens's opinions of New York and Rome, but turns to writers from Switzerland, China, the United States (via France) and Germany for impressions of London. He does not draw on travel accounts later than the 1980s because he believes that cheap airfares and the Internet have fundamentally changed the experience of travel and travel writing. Within those criteria, he carefully chooses a range of sources from across the centuries and around the world: men and women, merchants, conquerors, explorers, pilgrims, journalists and monarchs. (Queen Victoria was mildly pleased with Paris.)

Even without entries from the last 30 years, Furtado gives the reader a complex picture of cities through time. Presented chronologically, the entries for each city function as a shaft in a literary archeological dig, allowing the reader to see both change and continuity in how a city is portrayed. The entries also give us an anecdotal history of travel itself, before the age of TripAdvisor and Google Earth. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: Carefully chosen travelers' accounts create a vivid, sometimes opinionated, portrait of 38 cities and how they have changed over time.

Thames & Hudson, $29.95, hardcover, 408p., 9780500021651

A Beginner's Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations

by Pico Iyer

"I've been living in western Japan for more than thirty-two years," Pico Iyer begins, "and, to my delight, I know far less than when I arrived." In A Beginner's Guide to Japan, Iyer--born to Indian parents in England, raised in California, married with children in Japan--ruminates on what he adores and what still eludes him after three decades in his adopted homeland.

Through brief anecdotes and the occasional essay, Iyer (Autumn Light) explores many facets of Japanese culture. Strangers on trains routinely sleep on the shoulders of their seatmates; "love-hotels" abound, as do companies that hire actors to act as loved ones for people who are going through personal crises. Largely apolitical and irreligious, the Japanese value emotional and social intelligence over analysis and introspection: "they turn their backs on the public sphere, and make fantastic worlds out of their passions, counter-societies out of their hobbies." Iyer challenges the Western view of the Japanese as impersonal and robotic, noting how inanimate objects, even the simplest gift, are given "so much spirit and life." Striking observations, such as the ubiquity of small but jam-packed convenience stores in a nation that values minimalism, and the abundance of professional gangsters in an otherwise law-abiding country, speak to its contradictory nature.

Despite his deep affection for Japan, Iyer does not shy away from its unflattering aspects. Recent surveys reveal, for example, that a majority of Japanese men would never consider working for a woman and most Japanese women imagine being single is preferable to marriage; the country's reluctance to accept asylum-seekers speaks to its insularity. Iyer's Japan is a captivating, and sometimes maddening portrait of a nation unlike any other. --Frank Brasile, librarian

Discover: This meditative and occasionally cheeky guide to Japan from Pico Iyer will delight Japanophiles and armchair travelers alike.

Knopf, $24.95, hardcover, 240p., 9780451493958


Our Dogs, Ourselves: The Story of a Singular Bond

by Alexandra Horowitz

Alexandra Horowitz, director of the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College, Columbia University, has conducted extensive scientific research observing and studying dogs--how their brains are wired and sensory systems operate. In Our Dogs, Ourselves, she probes the "dog-human bond," and how "domestic quadrupeds" can tell us much about ourselves. She also explores how dogs' place in society is steeped in great contradiction.

When humans began to domesticate wolves, they "changed the course of the species development." Horowitz recounts how dogs came into human lives and share our world. She examines the ramifications of dog ownership--from strict specifications required of purebreds to mutts adopted from shelters--and care, and clashes surrounding dogs as legal property, as well as arguments for and against dog neutering and spaying. To great effect, Horowitz (Inside of a Dog) overlaps personal and scientific research as she playfully examines dog behavior and cognition and the ways canines are often spoiled. Some dogs are treated like people and members of families, receiving carefully selected names and indulged with special food, toys, socialization goals and costly medical care. She also scrutinizes communication between dogs and humans and why dogs are often thought of as "mirror animals" who hear the phrase "I love you" uttered to them daily by two-thirds of North Americans.

History, facts and data are woven along with entertaining personal anecdotes and asides, allowing Horowitz's findings to be delivered in an appealing, accessible way that readers, especially dog lovers, will savor and absorb. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: An entertaining, scientifically based look at humans' long and complicated relationship with dogs.

Scribner, $28, hardcover, 320p., 9781501175008

Reference & Writing

March Sisters: On Life, Death, and Little Women

by Kate Bolick, Jenny Zhang, Carmen Maria Machado, Jane Smiley

Inspiring generations of women and authors, Louisa May Alcott's Little Women can be argued to exhibit an influence and staying power few contemporary novels have. For the 150th anniversary, four prestigious authors explore their connections to the four March sisters.

Like groomed Meg at the Moffats' ball, Kate Bolick (Spinster) has experienced the anxiety of fitting in and the concept of "frock consciousness," which she calls "a curious feedback loop of self-perception." Jenny Zhang (Sour Heart) empathizes with fan-favorite Jo, whose temper bucks the traditional feminine stereotype: "To be a woman is to know anger. To be underestimated, treated as inferior, have one's concerns classified as minor... how could one not feel angry?" Carmen Maria Machado (Her Body and Other Parties) argues that Beth's frailty (and eventual death) acts not only as a plot point but also dictates her quiet, sweet demeanor, eliminating the possibility of personal ambition. As one who also endured childhood illness, Machado focuses on personal independence and asks, "How do you stay out of other people's stories?" Jane Smiley (Golden Age) offers a fresh perspective on Amy, suggesting that instead of the spoiled and vain baby sister, she is the most self-realized and modern of the four women, "the thoughtful feminist... more like what we aim to be today."

Heavily autobiographical, Alcott's novel "lured readers not with fantastical adventures and talking animals, but with a realism that was radical in its forthrightness, giving voice to female adolescence." As much an exploration of what it means to be a woman in our modern world as it is an homage to Alcott's classic, March Sisters packs a thoughtful, empowering punch. --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Four esteemed authors explore their own connections to each of the four March sisters in this insightful 150th-anniversary celebration of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.

Library of America, $21.95, hardcover, 196p., 9781598536287


Bitter English

by Ahmad Almallah

How are we formed by language? How do we form the world through language? How are our concepts of who we belong to, and where we might belong, formed? These are some of the questions at the heart of Bitter English, Ahmad Almallah's first collection of poetry--perhaps better thought of as an "autobiography in verse."

Almallah explores the themes of family, home and identity in fluid language. The free verse of the poems allows for a deeper exploration of the construction of culture. The titular poem opens the collection, and sets the tone for the rest of the book. Almallah writes, "I owe everything to one place that owns me, not/ here, where what I owe I do not own," and from this point, his writing conveys a sense of being broken apart and remade by borders. Whether those borders are geographical, based on language or cultural, there is a continuing process of learning and unlearning the sense of being whole, of being certain of one's identity. Readers see the flux of selfness in different contexts, across different timelines, and contemplations of what was and what might have been. In poems such as "Lines of Return," this sense is furthered, evoking the strangeness of returning to a place we once thought we knew intimately.

In accessible verse, Bitter English brings to the forefront the displacement in every aspect of the immigrant experience, and Almallah's distinctive voice manages to put this ineffable experience into words. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer

Discover: Ahmad Almallah's "autobiography in verse" explores the language and meaning of being an immigrant in America.

University of Chicago Press, $18, paperback, 96p., 9780226642642

I Will Destroy You

by Nick Flynn

Nick Flynn's fifth collection of poems is riveting, the verses scalding in their passion. The title piece, "I Will Destroy You," is not just a promise to an unknown visitor, to a traumatic memory felt deep in the bones, but a nod to the incendiary quality of his poetry as a whole. Here is a writer whose intensity owes something both to St. Augustine--whom he name-checks in the final poem--and to the unfiltered Sturm und Drang of punk rock. But Flynn never loses sight of form or intent in his pursuit of artistic (and personal) truth. Works like "Uncloudy Day" and "Saltmarsh" are tightly controlled in their meter and structure, keeping the reader in a state between chaos and discipline. Like many great artists, Flynn (who's also written three memoirs, including Another Bullshit Night in Suck City) is able to hold two opposing ideas within himself and find harmony from this conflict.

That uneasy state is appropriate for I Will Destroy You. The poems collected cross-examine films, dead rock stars, fatherhood and the key memory of Flynn's mother, sometimes interpolating them into rich and unexpected patterns. In the concluding "Saint Augustine," he can't stop returning to his mother's death, unable to stay in the present and with God despite the saint's words. Still, he can find the beginnings of closure within this book and in the relentless work of self-interrogation. It appears that will have to be enough. Ultimately, I Will Destroy You is a superb book that will appeal to fans of Flynn's previous writings while sating the poetry reader who needs some raw power in verse. --C.M. Crockford, freelance reviewer

Discover: Poetry fans will appreciate the power of Nick Flynn's disturbing and beautiful fifth collection.

Graywolf Press, $16, paperback, 80p., 9781644450024

Children's & Young Adult

Small in the City

by Sydney Smith

At first, there's no reason to suspect that the narrator isn't addressing the reader: "I know what it's like to be small in the city" corresponds with an image of a behatted, bundled-up and backpack-toting child crossing a skyscraper-flanked avenue. But after several pages of what sound like his calls for sympathy ("People don't see you and loud sounds can scare you"), it becomes clear that the boy isn't being self-referential: "But I know you. You'll be all right." What's going on here? As the boy proceeds to share some tips with the unidentified "you" ("Alleys can be good shortcuts"), he's depicted hanging up flyers--hence the backpack--publicizing a cat's disappearance.

In Small in the City, the first book written and illustrated by Sydney Smith (who previously lent his considerable artistic talents to Sidewalk Flowers and Town Is by the Sea), the images do most of the talking. They range from modest vignettes of city life--a portion of wire fencing, a swatch of building--to showstoppers including a fractured illustration of the downcast boy's funhouse-like reflection in a mirrored-glass skyscraper.

Small in the City is too naturalistic to conclude with the expected child-pet reunion, but toward book's end, Smith gives us the reassuring sight of boy and mother hugging in front of their apartment building. If that doesn't send the reader to the tissue box, this might: a final, wordless illustration showing paw prints in the snow near some red flowers--a promise of relief from winter, relief from sorrow. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: In this heartrending picture book, a boy directs encouraging thoughts toward his missing cat as he combs the city looking for it.

Neal Porter/Holiday House, $18.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780823442614

The World Ends in April

by Stacy McAnulty

To Eleanor Dross, middle school is the worst. But thanks to her overly enthusiastic best friend Mack, whom she has known since kindergarten, it's survivable. Lately, though, mean girl Londyn has been making Eleanor's life miserable and, even worse, Mack keeps talking about transferring to a boarding school for the blind.

When Eleanor stumbles onto a questionable website that claims an asteroid will strike Earth in April--"Code Red. Certain collision. Expect global catastrophe."--she's more intrigued than concerned. Her Grandpa Joe is a prepper, "someone who spends their time and money preparing for the apocalypse," so she knows how to prepare for the worst. And if TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) means the end of middle school and an end to Mack's plans to leave, how bad could it really be? When an overheard lunch conversation between her and Mack piques the interest of other kids, Eleanor finds herself the inadvertent president of Nature Club, a secret survival group preparing students for the apocalypse, and her lonely life begins to change drastically.

Author and mechanical engineer Stacy McAnulty (The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl) has created an endearing heroine in Eleanor, a social outcast who hates math homework and slumber parties with equal vehemence. Despite the lone-wolf mentality she projects, it is only her tenacious belief in the predicted catastrophe that shields her from more personal anxieties about losing her best friend and the stresses of middle school social orders. Filled with information about NEOs (Near-Earth Objects), survival prep and a history of Earth's extinction events, The World Ends in April is a smart, funny and emotionally candid book about surviving in the world, whether an asteroid collision is imminent or not. --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Social outcast Eleanor prepares for an imminent asteroid collision with Earth while simultaneously surviving the tribulations of middle school.

Random House, $16.99, hardcover, 368p., ages 8-12, 9781524767617


by Jonah Winter, illus. by Bryan Collier

Jonah Winter is no stranger to United States Supreme Court Justices. With previous picture books about Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor to his credit, it should come as no surprise that Thurgood is an exceptional introduction for young readers to the nation's first black justice--even older readers will likely learn new tidbits about the man's life. 

From a very young age, Thurgood Marshall honed his power of persuasion: at six, he convinced his parents legally to change his name from Thoroughgood; in school he excelled in debate and attended trials with his father, where "they would sit, watching lawyers argue about justice and injustice, guilt and innocence, truth and falsehood." Winter explains that "this sloppy kid with untucked shirts and ink-stained pockets had a knack for arguing." That knack took him first to law school, then to the NAACP as a lawyer and eventually landed him in front of the U.S. Supreme Court where he won 29 cases, including the landmark Brown v. Board of Education.

Winter's theatrical staging of Marshall's biography mimics a lawyer presenting facts to a jury, drawing readers into the case so they can come to a unanimous decision: Marshall is undoubtedly an American hero. Accompanying Winter's persuasive text are Caldecott Medal and Coretta Scott King Award winner Bryan Collier's (The 5 O'Clock Band) forceful illustrations. His distinctive mix of watercolor and collage emphasizes the strong emotion of Winter's subject matter, the energy of the man himself and the lasting impact Marshall made on the nation. The jury is in: Thurgood is a resounding winner. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: Thurgood, a picture book introduction to the first black justice on the Supreme Court, will inform and inspire readers of all ages.

Schwartz & Wade, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 5-9, 9781524765330

The Star Shepherd

by Dan Haring, MarcyKate Connolly

Soon after the world was first formed, the Seven Elders hung stars "from hooks fastened to the sky." These stars formed a "wide net of light with beams connecting star to star," in order to shield people from "unspeakable horrors that thrived in the darkness." Centuries later, the original burlap casings began to wear out, and it fell to Star Shepherds to "catapult... the stars back into the sky."

When Kyro's mom died five years ago, his father, Tirin, honored her by sending a star back to the heavens in her name. Tirin became a Star Shepherd, but, as time went on, it seemed as if each newly fallen star became a reminder of his loss. Now, all Kyro wants is to "protect the stars" alongside his father and to be allowed to "feel like a part of his own family again," but Tirin barely even notices his son. When unprecedented numbers of stars begin falling and legendary monsters resurface, Tirin disappears, leaving his beloved watchtower in the hands of his worried son. As days go by and Tirin fails to return, Kyro, accompanied by his good friend Andra and his faithful pup Cypher, sets out to find his father and, while he's at it, discover who's been cutting down the stars.

Haring and Connolly have crafted an inviting fantasy that combines the epic feel of a creation myth with plenty of monsters to fight and monumental wrongs to right. Kyro's love--for his father and for the stars--stays strong and, like the best of heroes, he takes his quest seriously. Originally envisioned as an animated film, this handsome volume is adorned with plenty of spot art and striking, full-page illustrations and is likely to draw in younger middle-grade readers as well as tween fantasy lovers. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: Kyro, the son of a star shepherd, must find his missing father and figure out why so many stars have begun falling from the sky in this illustrated middle grade fantasy.

Sourcebooks, $17.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 8-12, 9781492658207

The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh

by Supriya Kelkar, illus. by Alea Marley

Supriya Kelkar's debut picture book, The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh, affirms through a Sikh boy and his colorful patkas ("a common style [of turban] for young boys") that there is beauty and boldness in self-love and friendship.

Illustrator Alea Marley immediately captures the attention of readers with title page art, extending across two pages, depicting the leaping figure of Harpreet, a swirling rainbow of all the colors he loves whooshing behind him. The first page of the book opens on a joyous Harpreet foregrounded against a muted pastel print, reveling in his love of colors. Through the pages, we see the different ways Harpreet uses patkas to express his emotions: yellow when he feels "sunny," red for courage, gray when he's sad. Recently, he has been wearing white for feeling shy, which, now that he and his parents have moved across the country, is often the case at his new school.

Brilliant, brief text provides easy forward movement and fun moments for a read aloud, like the alliterative "He wore pink... bopping along to bhangra beats." Marley's digital illustrations include full-page spreads and smaller isolated scenes showcasing a gorgeous palette of colors and subtle indicators of the challenges faced by Harpreet in his new community. One page shows the various incorrect ways classmates spell his name on valentines; another shows everyone curiously examining his lunch. An enlightening afterword from professor of Sikhism Simran Jeet Singh shares important context about the Sikh religion and the role of turbans as social equalizers. --Breanna J. McDaniel, freelance reviewer

Discover: This bright, vivacious picture book captures a spectrum of emotions as a young boy shows off his colorful head coverings.

Sterling, $16.95, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-7, 9781454931843

Cornelia and the Jungle Machine

by Nora Brech

"I don't want to live here," says Cornelia.

A moving truck sits on the lawn of a large, gloomy house. Cornelia, slumped in a chair, looks around a cluttered room. When she vents her dissatisfaction to her stressed parents, they suggest that "if [she's] not going to help," she should "go and have a look around outside."

Along with her scruffy gray dog, Cornelia crosses an isolated island-of-a-hill, down to a sea of dense trees through which signs of fun can be seen: a treehouse. A long rope ladder descends, and Cornelia hangs onto her dog as she climbs up into an increasingly whimsical world. A boy named Frederik, wearing an eyepatch and a huge grin, waves at her from a hammock on the deck of his nautical-themed treehouse. Frederik welcomes Cornelia inside, where he lives with his many inventions. The "best" by far is the "Jungle Machine," which does exactly what its name suggests: a jungle is conjured, complete with exotic birds and animals, vines and a river to sail along--all the way to a dock outside Cornelia's new home. When she asks if she can visit again, Frederik invites her to come back "every day" if she wishes.

Illustrative details abound in this atmospheric picture book of a mere 112 words. Brech perfectly depicts an oversized, overstuffed, gothic-looking mansion and the frustration of its new young inhabitant, who is small in comparison. Colors brighten as Cornelia's world expands, and both the forest and Frederik's tree-based home seem to contain more light and air. At the end of this mysterious, magical day, Cornelia, it seems, really does want to "live here." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: A girl feels oppressed by her new home, until she discovers her young neighbor and his wild inventions in a treehouse next door.

Gecko Press, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-7, 9781776572595

Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers

by Celia C. Pérez

It's the summer before seventh grade, and 12-year-olds Ofelia Castillo, Lane DiSanti, Aster Douglas and Cat Garcia have no plans to ruffle feathers in their small Florida town. In fact, they don't even know each other. Lane, visiting her wealthy grandmother, leaves the daughter of the woman who cleans her grandmother's house an anonymous invitation to a secret meeting. She leaves two more invitations in the girls' restroom of the public library, figuring that "kids who spent time in places she liked were more likely to be kids she could potentially hang out with."

All three invitees show up, and the Ostentation of Others and Outsiders convenes. The girls fashion themselves as a kind of anti-scout club in reaction to the Floras, a prestigious local girls' troop that focuses on social etiquette. The Ostentation quickly solidifies around an unusual passion project: Cat wants the Floras to discontinue their yearly tradition of crowning Miss Floras with a 100-year-old hat made of bird feathers. Though at first the girls seem to have little in common, they rally around this mission. Unfortunately, while their zeal and moral righteousness are laudable, their techniques are not always wise or safe.

All four girls narrate in alternating chapters, giving context and depth to their individual and collective stories. The age of 12 can be both magical and miserable. In Strange Birds, author Celia C. Pérez (The First Rule of Punk) gathers up all the messy, wild, confusing pieces of early adolescence and offers them back to the reader as a lovely mosaic made with sparkly bits of independence, tradition, principles and friendship. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Four girls awkwardly come together to form a new club to protest the outdated traditions of an elite scout troop in their town.

Kokila/Penguin, $16.99, hardcover, 384p., ages 9-12, 9780425290439

A Stone Sat Still

by Brendan Wenzel

Where most people see the ordinary, Caldecott Honoree Brendan Wenzel (They All Saw a Cat; Hello Hello) uncovers the extraordinary. With its soothing, poetic rhythm, A Stone Sat Still shows young audiences the many facets of what appears to be an average, boring stone.

Where a squirrel sees a dark stone in the light of day, an owl sees a bright stone in the moonlight; when a slimy slug crawls over the rock, it feels rough, but to a prickly porcupine, it's smooth. Through different perspectives and all manner of nature's creatures, Wenzel illustrates how remarkable the stone is: "the stone was a feel/ and the stone was a smell.../ and the stone was a kitchen/ and the stone was a throne." Viewing through Wenzel's lens, readers experience the enormity of this simple rock in the natural world.

Accentuating the profound tale are captivating illustrations composed of cut paper, pencil, collage and oil pastels. The bold colors, strong textures and meticulous detail function like a powerful magnet, drawing the reader to each page in order to absorb every beautiful element. Whether a snail on land or a seal in the sea, Wenzel depicts the creatures in their natural habitats with a clear sense of respect and compassion. Finally, Wenzel reminds his audience of the urgent need for everyone to respect the planet. "A stone sat still/ with the water, grass, and dirt/ and it was as it was/ where it was in the world." But, as a double-page spread that shows nothing but ocean where there had once been land suggests, if we don't change our ways the stone may become a memory. A powerful kaleidoscope of nature, A Stone Sat Still is stunning. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: In this picture book companion to his Caldecott Honor-winning They All Saw a Cat, Brendan Wenzel proves a stone can be more than just a stone.

Chronicle, $17.99, hardcover, 56p., ages 3-6, 9781452173184

The Revolution of Birdie Randolph

by Brandy Colbert

Stonewall Award-winning author Brandy Colbert's (Little & Lion) fourth young adult novel, The Revolution of Birdie Randolph, introduces 16-year-old Dove "Birdie" Randolph, whose summer is upended by unexpected family revelations as she experiences her first sweet, soul-stirring love.

Dove toes the line in tune with every expectation her overprotective parents set for her: excellent grades, no partying, no boys they haven't met and approved. She's exhausted from the emotional and intellectual pressure of her high-achieving academic goals and she has no outlets now that she's given up soccer to focus on schoolwork. Her older sister Mimi's advice--"Suck it up, kick ass on the [SAT], and then the summer before your senior year is free"--is honest, but still requires that Dove's life be on hold for another year. Then best friend Laz introduces Dove to hunky Booker Stratton, a former high school football star with a "chunky Afro" and nice hands, who's spent time in a juvenile detention center. Certain she's found love but knowing her parents won't approve, Dove begins sneaking around to be with Booker. When her risky behavior catches up with her, she finds an unlikely ally in her estranged Aunt Carlene.

Superb pacing and full-bodied development of queer and ethnically diverse central and supporting characters creates a connected, tension-filled narrative. The Revolution of Birdie Randolph crescendos with an unexpected, masterful plot twist and an extremely satisfying ending. --Breanna J. McDaniel, freelance reviewer

Discover: Brandy Colbert's YA novel captures the tension and struggles of Birdie's one-woman revolution when she stops trying to please everyone else and learns to fly free.

Little, Brown, $17.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 15-up, 9780316448567

Frankly in Love

by David Yoon

High school senior Frank Li is the "silent hyphen" in Korean-American: an entity that bridges two cultures without ever taking a full step toward either one, a "Limbo," as he calls it. "I'm not Korean enough," he thinks, but "not white enough to be fully American." He's expected to study hard, go to a top college and marry a nice Korean girl (unlike his sister, who was disowned when she married a black man). Instead, he falls for an "American" (i.e., white) classmate. To appease his parents and satisfy his desire to date outside the "tribe," he concocts a plan with fellow Limbo Joy Song, who hides her Chinese-American boyfriend from her family. The two agree to "fake-date," but what should "work gangbusters" backfires, ultimately teaching Frank that "there's no greater will than the will to love who you want."

In Frankly in Love, David Yoon presents a candid, insightful look at the experience of second-gen Korean-Americans. Delivered with witty banter and Frank's nerdy metaphors--"There are too many worlds in my head... and really all I want to do is reach escape velocity, bust out into space, and form my own planet tweaked just how I want it."--the everyday struggles of a teenager straddling two communities is deftly expressed. Yoon also adroitly deconstructs racial bias, including examples of both overt and unconscious prejudices present in immigrants and their American-born children, within communities of color and among white liberals.

In his debut novel, Yoon examines love in the context of cultural identity, expertly tackling sensitive issues with nuance and a bit of humor. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader

Discover: A Korean-American teenager struggles with his identity in this thought-provoking, heartwarming YA debut about first loves, self-discovery and family.

Putnam, $18.99, hardcover, 432p., ages 14-up, 9781984812209

Butterfly Yellow

by Thanhhà Lại

In April 1975, the U.S. implemented Operation Babylift, a mass evacuation of children from South Việt Nam. Twelve-year-old Hằng and her five-year-old brother, Linh, presented themselves at the airport as orphans. Deemed too old, Hằng was helpless as Linh was torn from her arms and carried onto the airplane. An American volunteer pressed a card into the distraught Hằng's hands: "405 Mesquite Street, Amarillo, Texas."

Six years, two months and 15 days later, Hằng is finally on her way to reunite with Linh. Stranded at a rest stop, she ends up in the new, red truck of 18-year-old Leslie Dwight Cooper, who just that morning renamed himself LeeRoy and embarked on a post-high school adventure to become a cowboy. Hằng's singular determination to find Linh takes the unlikely pair on a wild ride, but Linh, now 11 and living happily as David with a new mother he adores, remembers nothing of his faraway past. Hằng must figure out which stories she can share to convince her brother of their connection.

National Book Award winner Thanhhà Lại (Inside Out & Back Again) makes her YA debut with Butterfly Yellow, inspired by her own background of fleeing war as a child and spending her adolescence in Texas. While readers might find deciphering Hằng's diacritical-laden Vietnamese syllables a challenge, LeeRoy's ability to understand Hằng bodes well for their evolving communication. As LeeRoy and Hằng grow from wary strangers to possible soulmates, Lại suffuses the unlikely relationship with gentle humor, yet remains unblinkingly candid about Hằng's left-behind experiences. Dedicated "In memory of the thousands of refugees at the bottom of the sea," Lại personalizes history with compelling characters, lively interactions and engrossing storytelling. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: In National Book Award winner Thanhhà Lại's Butterfly Yellow, Vietnamese refugee Hằng arrives in the U.S. determined to find her younger brother--but reunion is just the beginning of getting him back.

HarperCollins, $17.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 13-up, 9780062229212

Lalani of the Distant Sea

by Erin Entrada Kelly

Newbery Medal winner Erin Entrada Kelly (Hello, Universe) makes her fantasy debut with Lalani of the Distant Sea, about a young girl who makes the deadly decision to try to rescue her community.

The Sanlagitans live under Mount Kahna's "shadow of vengeance, impatience, and fear." The island villagers believe the mountain punishes those who disturb it, so, every night, they offer Kahna benedictions. Across the Veiled Sea, "bathed in light" and offering "all of life's good fortunes," is Mount Isa. No human has ever actually "laid eyes on her," but "the Sanlagitans are certain the mountain calls to them. They die trying to answer." The strongest men are chosen to sail to Mount Isa; none--Lalani's father included--have survived.

Now, Lalani entertains herself with folktales. Her favorite is that of the mountain beast that lives in Kahna's woods, of "his mangled face, his house of stolen treasures, and his penchant for evil trickery." Her best friend Veyda, however, thinks the myths are "silly": "Why are we asking a mountain to remain quiet? Mountains are mountains." But it does seem that the Sanlagitans are being punished: everything is dying because of a drought. Lalani has no intentions of setting off on a journey to save her home, but when she wanders into Kahna's woods, consequences, danger and magic find her.

Inspired by Filipino folktales, Lalani of the Distant Sea is brimming with injustice, beauty, pain and wonder. Throughout are chapters with imaginative, elegant line drawings by Lian Cho introducing creatures that inhabit Lalani's world, some taken directly from Filipino myth, some created entirely by Kelly. Lalani is a fluid, intentional novel grounded strongly in emotional reality and overflowing with the fantastic. Absolutely bewitching. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Erin Entrada Kelly's debut fantasy is an enchanting, nuanced middle-grade adventure.

Greenwillow, $16.99, hardcover, 400p., ages 8-12, 9780062747273

Color Me In

by Natasha Díaz

Nevaeh's parents have separated; while her father is at their home in White Plains, N.Y., she and her mom, Corinne, have moved into Corinne's family's brownstone in Harlem. Corinne's sister and Nevaeh's dad hate each other, so Nevaeh barely knows this side of her family. And since she has "the only thing close to light skin in [her] family" she feels like "an off-white blip amid a stunning array of deep chestnut and mahogany." While her proximity to whiteness helped her stay under the radar at her wealthy, mostly white schools, she now acutely feels the weight of being "white-passing."

As she deals with her mother's depression, her father's lack of empathy and a best friend who is hoping to go to school abroad, Nevaeh tries to find a space where her mother's Liberian and Jamaican roots make sense with her father's Jewish background. It's not until she experiences a frightening brush with potent racism that she recognizes she "was so wrapped up in believing that [she] was owed some official validation" that she "failed... to see the boundless influence at [her] fingertips."

Color Me In, Natasha Díaz's YA debut, borrows a lot from Díaz's own experience. In an author's note, Díaz points out her similarities with Nevaeh: "I am a multiracial woman who inadvertently passes as white... my heritage is Liberian and Brazilian as much as it is Jewish... and I have a wonderful, loud, blended, multicultural family." Through micro- and macroaggressions, personal stumbles, genuine sadness and a hard-won first romance, Nevaeh's struggles excellently reflect the teen experience and bring her to a place where she can think, "I am me, in all my ambiguous glory." --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Natasha Díaz's debut YA novel features a young woman trying to find stability and calm in ambiguity.

Delacorte, $17.99, hardcover, 384p., ages 12-up, 9780525578239

Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln

by Margarita Engle, illus. by Rafael López

"When Teresa was a little girl in Venezuela, Mamá sang lullabies while Papá showed Teresita how to let her happy hands dance across all the beautiful dark and light keys of a piano." The opening line from Dancing Hands sets both the stage and the mood for this picture-book portrait of a great but largely forgotten performer in her youthful prime.

By age six, Teresa Carreño (1853-1917) could compose music; at seven she performed at a cathedral. When she was eight, war broke out in Venezuela, so Carreño's father took the family to New York City to escape the violence and begin their lives again. But the United States wasn't a nation at peace either--the Civil War was raging. Still, Carreño and her family were safe in New York, and their apartment had a piano. Soon Carreño, who was becoming known as "the Piano Girl," was playing with orchestras and invited to perform near and far, most dauntingly and climactically for President Abraham Lincoln and his family at the White House.

Although Dancing Hands is a story of triumph, Margarita Engle doesn't gloss over the darker circumstances--historical and personal--that surrounded Carreño's artistic rise. Rafael López's digitally assembled mixed-media art is like a reflection of Carreño's emotional topography: he adapts his palette to suit her state of mind. An author's note offers a brief look at Carreño's adult life, which was distinguished by performing, composing, singing and a scandal too delicious not to report here: she returned to her native Venezuela only once because its citizens were appalled that she had married and divorced three times before she settled down with her fourth and final husband. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: This picture-book portrait of the Venezuela-born piano prodigy Teresa Carreño harbors music in its words and images.

Atheneum, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781481487405


Author Buzz

Dear Reader,

Don’t you love novels that pose the question ‘What if?’ in really unexpected and exciting ways? Me too! Which is what inspired me to write Beyond The Moon, where a strange twist of fate connects a British soldier fighting in WW1 with a young woman living in modern-day England. It’s an intelligent and moving time-travel love story with a page-turning, history-rich plot, perfect for book clubs. Kirkus said: “Taylor’s accomplished, genre-bending book succeeds as a WW1 historical novel and a beguiling, time travel romance.”

Write to me at to win one of five copies!


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The Cameo Press Ltd

Pub Date:
June 26, 2019


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Dear Reader,

Any lover of historical fiction who has experienced the throes of young love, endured a long, hot summer of discontent, survived tragedy and learned life lessons along the way will love this poignant story. There is intense action, humor, soul satisfying courage and redemption on a scale that every human being understands. Moon Water promises to stay with you a lifetime. 

Email to enter to win one of five print copies of Moon Water.

Pam Webber

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She Writes Press

Pub Date:
August 20, 2019


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