Jeannie Vanasco: As if Those Things Don't Matter
|photo: Theresa Kell
Jeannie Vanasco is the author of the memoirs The Glass Eye and Things We Didn't Talk About When I Was a Girl (both published by Tin House Books). Her work has appeared in the Believer, the New York Times Modern Love column, Tin House and elsewhere. She lives in Baltimore, Md., and is an assistant professor at Towson University.
Both your books give the impression that you leave it all on the page, that Jeannie Vanasco the person is the same as the character.
A lot of memoirists talk about the character on the page as a persona. It's something I talk with my students about. It can be helpful to see oneself as a character. The idea is that people are capable of change, so the person who writes the book two, five years later might be very different from the character who experienced these events. With The Glass Eye, the meta sections were where I felt the distance between the writer and the character narrowed. I wanted that immediacy. With this book, I feel like more of my personality came through, maybe because there aren't isolated meta sections. The moments where we're inside my head run throughout the narrative. With The Glass Eye, I was sectioning off narratives and scenes, and then present-tense craft sections preceded each chapter.
I don't see the character on the page in this book as being different from who I am. Obviously it was deliberately crafted, and edited, and I wanted it to have that feel of immediacy, as if it were occurring in real time (and a lot of it was). But I think there was less of a persona with this book. And that's what was so scary about writing it.
Even without considering the subject matter, that does sound scary.
Absolutely. I approached it as an interesting intellectual exercise: I will examine the nuances of the language surrounding sexual assault. I went in with that very craft-y mindset, and then as I was working on it, I would be out somewhere and suddenly start crying. What's going on with me? I think it was because I was pushing away the emotions, intellectualizing. This book became a lot more emotional than I thought it would.
But it did give me control over the narrative, to see Mark as a character on the page. I came to see him as three different characters: the very close friend he'd been, and then the 19-year-old boy who carried me down into his basement room and raped me, and then the 34-year-old who felt, it seemed, remorse for what he did. What I realized in working on it is I wanted so badly to see the 34-year-old Mark and the teenaged Mark I'd been friends with as the same. And the guy who committed that act--he was a character, not the Mark I'm in conversation with. Having that craft perspective helped me work on it. But then I would have to remember that this happened to a real person, not a character. It happened to me. I think that's what made the book so difficult. Trying to have mastery over the material and then also being able to let go. To recognize that this is a messy thing that I'm writing about. It's difficult to find that balance between the writing of the book and the living of it.
What impact has writing the book had upon your mental health?
I think writing the book was therapeutic. It's interesting because as a student of nonfiction writing, I was told this is not therapy, what we're doing, it's not therapeutic, as if it makes something not artistic to even think about it in those terms. I do think this gave me some, maybe not resolution, but what happened doesn't obsess me the way it did. I used to have nightmares. I definitely feel like I can talk about it in a way that I didn't think I could before.
Part of the reason I wanted to talk to Mark is that women are so rarely believed. I wanted him on record. Because when I was on tour for The Glass Eye, I was occasionally asked, "How do you know that what happened really happened?" Because I write about psychosis. That became a little frustrating. I understand where the question was coming from, but I was feeling very much dismissed as a narrator. Part of the reason for the meta-ness in that first book is to show that I get that concern; but are any of us really reliable narrators? So I wanted to preempt that, because if I have him on record then hopefully I won't get those questions, how do you know it happened this way, because I'd have him admitting to it. I'm sure there will be some questions that may be upsetting, but I'm not sure they'll be questions I haven't already asked myself.
There is that self-referential quality, that meta-ness, to both your books.
For so long I was afraid to tell. Thinking of the balance between showing and telling, I knew that telling was important. I feel that to just show can lead to a tonally cold narrative. You need some of that intimacy of telling. The meta-ness helped me feel more comfortable outside of writing scenes. This is such a difficult subject, and I didn't even know all my thoughts and feelings. I really need to think on the page.
With nonfiction, I think sometimes people are resistant to that self-referential meta-layering. I think of meta-ness as just telling. Because unless you're doing something really experimental, you're not trying to pull one over on the reader, trying to get the reader to forget that you exist. So it doesn't seem to be really risky with nonfiction, because of course the reader knows I'm working on this book. To pretend that that process isn't a part of writing this book seems artificial.
The Glass Eye arose out of a promise to write a book. So writing the book seemed relevant to the plot. And with this book, the book's very existence was a huge part of reaching out to Mark. And so that meta-ness made sense. There were other ways I could have done it, but it would have felt artificial to me to try to avoid acknowledging the existence of the book. So I think given the starting points of both these books, it made sense to weave in the process of writing them.
Women seem the most obvious readers of this book, but it feels like one men need. What audience do you have in mind?
I would love it if men and boys would read this book. With The Glass Eye, the readers I would most often hear from were women in their early 20s who would tell me, "I love The Bell Jar and Girl, Interrupted and this book," and I was like, okay. Twenty-something sensitive bookish women undergraduates? That's my audience. But I am hoping this reaches a male audience. Recently I was on a plane going to a book festival, and I was seated next to this couple. And he saw that I had a pen and a notebook open and he said "Oh, are you a poet? You're staring off very thoughtfully!" And I said, "No, I write nonfiction." And I thought, I know the perfect way to shut down this conversation. I'll tell him about the second book. And he got really engaged--they both did. We were talking, they were asking me questions, and then at some point he said [referring to his partner], "She's really into #metoo." And he's not? It's interesting. I think some men see themselves as outside thinking about the #metoo movement or feminism, that they don't fully see themselves as playing an active role. So I'm hoping that men will read this and think about the way they should be more active. To think about their own past experiences, and looking the other way when a friend of theirs makes a sexist joke. As if these things don't matter. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
The Book of Lost Saints
by Daniel José Older
Marisol Aragones, the youngest of three sisters, disappeared during the Cuban Revolution, caught up in the violence between warring factions of soldiers and resistance cells. Half a century later, her spirit--never quite able to rest--begins visiting her nephew, Ramón, a shaggy gentle giant who works at a New Jersey hospital by day and spins records at a local club by night. In The Book of Lost Saints, Daniel José Older (Dactyl Hill Squad; Shadowhouse Fall) unfolds Marisol's story through the memories she shares with Ramón.
At first, readers may find Marisol's memories as confusing as Ramón does: half-remembered encounters with neighbors and friends who, like Marisol, end up joining the revolution in various capacities. Meanwhile, Ramón navigates his tricky relationship with Aliceana, a Filipina medical resident at the hospital where he works. Plus, he's dealing with pressure from a local heavy who may have some connection to Marisol and wants to use Ramón's popular DJ shows for his own ends. Eventually, Ramón and Aliceana, along with Ramón's roommate Adina, book a trip to Cuba in search of answers.
Between the grisly scenes of war, prison and heartbreak, Older's otherworldly narrative gives way to moments of lightness: Adina's dry sense of humor, wisecracks from assorted Cubano relatives, the growing love between Ramón and Aliceana. Infused with the pounding beats of Ramón's nightclub, the colors and sounds of prewar Cuba and the complicated ties of family, The Book of Lost Saints is a gritty, compelling look at love and war and the ways past actions reverberate down through the generations. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Daniel José Older's dreamy novel follows a Cubana revolutionary whose spirit visits her nephew in modern-day New Jersey.
hardcover, 336p., 9781250185815
All This Could Be Yours
by Jami Attenberg
If an idealist had written Jami Attenberg's ruthless but rewarding All This Could Be Yours, Victor Tuchman's deathbed might have been the site of touching, tearful reconciliation. But Attenberg (The Middlesteins) is no such idealist, and she makes clear that Victor, whose recent stroke hangs over the novel, is not a good man. He is such an objectively bad man that his abuses taint the lives of nearly every character he interacts with. His wife, Barbra, remains madly in love with him, and yet she might also hate him, deeply, for the closed-off shell he's helped her become. Their daughter, Alex, is obsessed with uncovering her father's criminal activity, in hopes she might psychoanalyze her own shortcomings. Alex's brother, Gary, refuses to fly out to visit their father in the New Orleans hospital where he lies comatose. The life Gary has tried to build--as different from his own childhood as possible--is somehow crumbling around him, in large part due to Victor's disgusting choices.
Over the course of the novel, which takes place in one day but leaves room for perfectly paced exposition, readers are invited to understand how this family became such a mess. No one is meant to feel sympathy for Victor, but rather to recognize him. He is someone familiar--destructive, selfish, toxic. He is someone many have tried to love. Through the Tuchmans and the characters woven in as bystanders, Attenberg manages a realistic but moving tribute to both the fragility and power of family. --Lauren Puckett, freelance writer and editor
Discover: This sharp, soulful exploration of familial dysfunction examines the threads connecting a corrupt, dying man to his wife and children, who must reckon with his hold over their lives.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,
hardcover, 304p., 9780544824256
The Man Who Saw Everything
by Deborah Levy
Saul Adler's world is made up of car crashes, camera lenses, jaguars, tinned pineapple and the Beatles. His mother, a Holocaust survivor, died when he was a child, and his father, a Communist, was always a cold and heavy hand. What marks Saul Adler is not his Jewishness or even the tragedy of his life, but his almost freakish beauty, one that draws gazes, lenses and surveillance of every kind. A young professor, Saul is researching cultural resistance to Nazism, which brings him to East Germany in 1988, on the eve of the country's dissolution. After a breakup and an accident on Abbey Road days before his trip, Saul arrives, wounded and heartsick, in the country that was the birthplace of his mother and the materialization of his father's ideology.
For Saul, the accident on Abbey Road and his time in the German Democratic Republic become a confluence of events that orient the rest of his life. The Man Who Saw Everything is bifurcated into two time periods: 1988 and 2016, but by Deborah Levy's deft hand and brilliant command of metaphor, the boundaries of space and time collapse. This is an extraordinary novel that captures the zeitgeist and specters of 20th-century Communism in such a way that far exceeds the 200 pages it is bound in. As Saul attempts to free himself from the strictures of history, fatherhood and fatherland, two-time Booker finalist Deborah Levy (Hot Milk; Swimming Home) cements herself as one of the 21st century's most crucial novelists. --Emma Levy, publishing assistant, Shelf Awareness
Discover: In Deborah Levy's stylistically bold and brilliantly layered The Man Who Saw Everything, a young historian grapples with the spectral forces of authoritarianism and fatherhood.
hardcover, 208p., 9781632869845
Nothing to See Here
by Kevin Wilson
Families of the particularly dysfunctional variety seem to be Kevin Wilson's forte, whether artistically constructed as in The Family Fang or experimentally psychological as in Perfect Little World. Despite a sense of head-shaking impossibility, Wilson somehow manages to make his make-believe believable--in between the inappropriate laughing and bittersweet empathizing.
Privilege, power and inequity whorl through Nothing to See Here. Back in their "fancy girls' school hidden on a mountain in the middle of nowhere," Lillian and Madison begin their relationship as assigned roommates. Lillian is a valley townie, the daughter of a single mother and missing father; she's poor but smart, and gains entrance on scholarship. That promise gets waylaid by big-money heiress Madison. Alas, the girls' friendship is temporary, canceled by a lucrative deal Madison's father strikes with Lillian's mother that insulates Madison and propels Lillian back to her "awful public high school."
Remarkably, the girls stay in touch, and in the spring of 1995, Madison summons Lillian to Franklin, Tenn., with "an interesting job opportunity." In the decade-plus since they last met, Madison has become a senator's wife and stepmother to his children. Settling into Madison's seemingly idyllic, sprawling compound, Lillian is placed in charge of the senator's 10-year-old twins, Roland and Bessie. "There's something I have to tell you about them," Madison warns. Their "affliction," as she describes it, is that they burst into flames. To keep the twins (and Madison and her senator's carefully curated lives--he's about to run for U.S. president, after all) safe will be Lillian's 24/7 responsibility. But first, she'll need to gain the children's trust.
When it comes to unconventional families, Wilson again proves himself a master of heartstring-tugging, drop-jaw shocking, guffaw-inducing, highly combustible entertainment. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Kevin Wilson's rollicking novel Nothing to See Here is a fiery ode to unexpected, unconventional family love.
hardcover, 272p., 9780062913463
by Elizabeth Strout
In the Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout (My Name Is Lucy Barton) traced the life of a rigidly stoic, set-in-her-ways, lifelong inhabitant of fictional Crosby, Maine. Olive--a former high school math teacher and the wife of a small-town pharmacist--is judgmental, with often-grating hard edges that forge her opinions and resilience.
In Olive, Again, Strout picks up Olive's story in her seventh and eighth decades. Olive, an aging widow, contends with a now elusive world and her feelings for widower Jack Kennison, the antithesis of Olive. Jack, a staunch Republican and former professor at Harvard, migrated to Crosby after a co-worker accused him of sexual harassment and he was fired. He is drawn to Olive, questioningly.
As the narrative unfolds, readers learn that Olive and Jack have married. Despite their vastly different pedigrees, they are moored in similar emotional harbors, which unites them. Olive and Jack had first marriages to good people, yet both carry--and grapple with--guilt. Loneliness plagues them. They take stock of their fates, choices and destinies in a changing world, while facing the often-humiliating infirmities of aging. Jack tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter, a lesbian whom he never accepted. Similarly, Olive contends with her strained relationship with her son, who's married and raising a blended family in New York City.
The 13 episodic stories that constitute Olive, Again are deep and meaningful--made richly entertaining and accessible through Strout's skillful blend of the serious with the comedic. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: A prickly Maine woman finds hard-won wisdom as she butts up against the challenges of aging and ordinary life--and others struggling to survive.
hardcover, 304p., 9780812996548
by André Aciman
Catching up with one-time lovers Elio and Oliver is not, from its outset, the obvious intent of Find Me, André Aciman's hotly anticipated sequel to Call Me by Your Name, which was adapted into a popular film in 2017. Instead, this second novel chooses Elio's father, Samuel, as its reentry point into heady affairs that span tantalizing European settings. It's a decade later, and Samuel is on a train to Rome to visit his son, a professional musician, when he meets Miranda, a striking woman much younger than he. Dissatisfied with the ways love has mistreated them in the past, they bond quickly and deeply, rushing through confessions of insecurity and failings (including Samuel's marriage) into a naked, earnest hope for what could lie ahead for them both.
As a result, when Elio meets the couple the following day, he sees "a man in love. I've never seen you like this. It makes me very happy." From here, the novel picks up with Elio, years farther down the line, establishing an episodic flow reminiscent of its immediate predecessor, Enigma Variations. Still a brilliant pianist, now living in Paris, he becomes entwined with a much older man, Michel, who delights in him endlessly.
Aciman had his work cut out for himself in crafting a sequel as contemplative and gorgeous as Call Me by Your Name, which ended in its own coda of Elio's and Oliver's paths crossing years and years hence. Threading that needle, Aciman expertly delays readers' gratification. Oliver does resurface in time, but his haunting absence throughout much of the novel leaves room to explore the maturing resonance of youthful desires deferred. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: André Aciman's sequel to the phenomenally received Call Me by Your Name stands apart as a generous study of time's effect on desire.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
hardcover, 272p., 9780374155018
Mystery & Thriller
by Lee Child
Jack Reacher is on a bus, minding his own business as usual and headed nowhere in particular, when he sees someone who looks as though he needs Reacher's particular brand of help. Reacher follows the elderly man, Aaron Shevick, off the bus and saves him from a mugging. But when it's clear the man and his wife are being preyed upon by a local loan shark, Reacher decides to stick around to help rescue what little is left of their livelihood.
Two gangs--an Albanian and a Ukrainian one--control the town where the Shevicks reside. They're engaged in a turf war, and the elderly couple are only two of the many innocents caught in the middle. When Reacher inserts his 250 lbs., 6'5" self into the skirmish, the gangs quickly realize he's their most dangerous adversary.
Though it's number 24 in the Jack Reacher series, Lee Child's Blue Moon shows that Reacher isn't slowing down. If anything, he's deadlier than ever to bad guys; the body count in Blue Moon might be the highest in the series. Some of the violence is over the top, characters like hapless cartoons who blow themselves up. Some of it is disturbing, more execution than self-defense. The timeliness of the story, however, will provide some satisfaction to those frustrated with certain systemic flaws in the U.S. It's as if Child became fed up after seeing the lack of protection for society's most helpless and decided to send in Reacher to be the great equalizer in a place where so much inequality exists. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: Jack Reacher combats two gangs to save an elderly couple--and their town--from ruin.
hardcover, 368p., 9780399593543
Your House Will Pay
by Steph Cha
On March 16, 1991, 16-year-old Ava Matthews walks into a Korean-owned convenience store in South Central Los Angeles to buy milk. A scuffle ensues when the owner thinks Ava is stealing, and Ava ends up shot in the back of the head, bleeding out on the floor with two dollars in her hand. Her younger brother, Shawn, witnesses the entire incident, which is caught on tape, but the owner/shooter gets only probation and no jail time.
In 2019, 27-year-old Grace Park is still living at home with her parents and working in the pharmacy they own. She's the dutiful daughter, while her older sister is estranged from their parents for reasons unknown to Grace. One day something catastrophic happens, forcing Grace to reckon with the terrible secrets her family has kept from her.
Steph Cha's Your House Will Pay is based on the true story of Latasha Harlins, a teen shot dead in 1991 in a Korean-owned store. The fallout is believed by historians and Angelenos to have helped spark the L.A. riots the following year. In chapters alternating between 1991 and 2019--and between Shawn's and Grace's perspectives--Cha peels back the layers of race relations in a city with people who can suffer only so much injustice. The Matthews and Park families, on opposite sides of the central conflict, are both depicted with deep insight and empathy--and their flaws intact. There are no villains or heroes, only humans whose paths collided one tragic day, who are still paying for the damage done. The ending is a bit abrupt, but it offers hope that healing and forgiveness can begin. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: Two families intertwined by a decades-old tragedy find their paths colliding again in the present.
hardcover, 320p., 9780062868855
by Elizabeth Hand
During a sweltering summer in 1915 Chicago, a little girl wanders off with a stranger and is never seen again. Her mother tells the girl's sister, 14-year-old Pin, that the world is too dangerous for little girls and Pin must now dress and act as a boy to be safe. This suits Pin just fine, because boys are treated better than girls anyway. Pin's mother reinvents herself as Madame Zanto, who tells fortunes just outside the local amusement park.
Pin wanders the park doing odd jobs and searching for dropped coins. She discovers the body of young girl at one of the attractions. Then, a few days later, another dead girl is found nearby. It's clear a serial killer is preying on little girls, but the owner refuses to shut down the park because people are flocking to see where the murders took place. The police are pressured to make any arrest whatsoever, while Pin suspects the murderer is the same person who took her sister.
Nebula and World Fantasy Award winner Elizabeth Hand (Hard Light) has created a host of strange, dangerous and misunderstood characters with whom Pin interacts on her quest to find the killer: Lord Clyde the Hoo Doo King, who also plays Satan at another attraction; Ida the Living Mermaid & Eighth Wonder of the World; disgraced cop Fatty Bacon, who works in park security; slow-witted Henry, the man-child who claims he's been hired to protect little girls in the park; and a wild group of boys who pickpocket and dole out beatings with impunity. But it's the tight writing that moves this killer story along like a runaway roller-coaster. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer
Discover: In this gripping historical mystery, a tough teen from the poor side of town chases a serial killer preying on children at an amusement park.
hardcover, 384p., 9780316485883
A Bitter Feast
by Deborah Crombie
A Bitter Feast, the 18th entry in the Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James series by Deborah Crombie, is a gently paced mystery set in the beautiful Cotswolds, part of the English countryside characterized by rolling hills and houses built of golden stone. Duncan and Gemma, both high-ranking police officers, are taking a long weekend with their children at the gorgeous, stately home of the parents of Melody Talbot, Gemma's detective sergeant.
Viv Holland, a well-respected local chef is planning a charity luncheon, and the Talbots hope it helps Viv make a name for herself. Gemma is looking forward to the luncheon, and for a chance to explore the fall foliage. But Duncan is delayed by several hours. When he does appear, he's bloodied and dazed, the victim of a car accident in which the other driver and passenger died. And, it turns out that the other car's passenger was a chef with an old connection to Viv.
Despite its place well into the series, A Bitter Feast almost reads as a standalone, a vacation from overarching plot-lines just as it's supposed to be a respite for Duncan and Gemma. But, of course, they can't ignore deaths in their near vicinity, especially when another body turns up. So, they have a bit of a "busman's holiday," helping the local police investigate the deaths. Character-driven and nuanced, Crombie's novel will draw readers deep into the Cotswolds. Perfect for fans of Louise Penny or Donna Leon, A Bitter Feast is a lovely, autumnal mystery. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this slow-burn mystery, Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James investigate the death of a chef while on vacation in the Cotswolds.
hardcover, 384p., 9780062271662
The Man That Got Away
by Lynne Truss
Anyone intimidated by Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation can turn to her mystery novels to enjoy word-perfect sentences minus the reproach. Along with Cat Out of Hell, there's Truss's Constable Twitten series, the second title of which is the witty and unremittingly clever The Man That Got Away.
It's July 1957 in Brighton, England, and there's a dead body on the seafront: someone has slit the throat of Peter Dupont, a 17-year-old clerk in the Sewerage and Waterworks department. On the case is young Constable Peregrine Twitten, who, as it happens, earlier that day overheard Dupont and his girlfriend talking about running away together.
The only person at the Keystone Kops-like Brighton Constabulary who can match Twitten's acumen is its charwoman, who, as he keeps trying to convince his colleagues, is really a criminal mastermind. Twitten is a look-on-the-bright-side type: "It certainly was entertaining being privy to the reactions of a callous and calculating criminal gang boss operating unsuspected in a police station." Yes, but can the woman help him solve the murder?
As diverting as it is, The Man That Got Away wouldn't meet the legal definition of a guilty pleasure. Truss gets in some good digs at the English class system, and for every trope of the mystery-horror genre that she flaunts--a wax museum, a headless torso in a suitcase--she trundles out a serious literary figure. Virginia Woolf, for one, makes the briefest, funniest, and strangest of cameos. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: Truss's second Constable Twitten book is a hilarious blend of mystery, farce and social commentary.
paperback, 304p., 9781635574234
Death and the Seaside
by Alison Moore
Bonnie Falls is chronically unable to make her way in life. She left university before completing her English degree, her attempts at becoming a writer have resulted in nothing but a collection of unfinished stories, and she moves between casual work with indifference. About to turn 30, she moves out on her own for the first time, at her parents' request. In a dingy flat cluttered with abandoned possessions of previous tenants, she meets landlady Sylvia Slythe, who shares without details that she once knew Bonnie's mother, and Bonnie herself when she was a young child. Sylvia becomes interested in one of Bonnie's unfinished stories, one where a young woman in a seaside town is hounded by mysterious messages, and Bonnie is inspired to continue it. Although Bonnie says the setting is fictional, Sylvia believes she recognizes it and urges Bonnie to accompany her on a trip there to find out how the story ends.
Alison Moore (The Pre-War House and Other Stories) has crafted a taut, economical work of psychological suspense that often echoes Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. Interrupting the main narrative with portions of Bonnie's story as well as writings that slowly reveal Sylvia's past and the deeper roots of her interest in Bonnie, Moore builds a slow burn within a brief novel that contemplates the power of stories--both the kind we read and write, and the kind we tell each other about our futures. This is an eerie, tense novel about compulsion and control that will linger with readers for far longer than the time it takes to read. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library
Discover: A feckless young woman becomes subject to the manipulation of her mysterious landlady in a haunting work of psychological suspense.
paperback, 192p., 9781771962759
The Art of Theft
by Sherry Thomas
Sherry Thomas (A Study in Scarlet Women, The Luckiest Lady in London) explores Victorian life beyond the borders of London and across the Channel in The Art of Theft, the fourth entry in the Lady Sherlock series.
Charlotte Holmes, reputation besmirched beyond repair, is no longer welcome to lead the life of a debutante in society, so she has begun a detective agency, with the help of her friend Mrs. Watson. But, alas, the Victorian era is no time for women actually to be thinking, so she is forced to solve crimes under the mantle of her fictional creation: Sherlock Holmes.
An old friend of Mrs. Watson, the mother of a maharajah, has begged the help of Sherlock Holmes in stealing a painting with scandalous secret papers hidden in its back. So Charlotte, Mrs. Watson and a retinue of assistants, including Charlotte's sister Livia and Charlotte's friend Lord Ingram, set off for France in order to attempt a daring heist. The friends soon realize that the mysterious Moriarty, who seems to have it in for Sherlock Holmes, may be involved, placing all of their lives on the line.
Quick-witted and swashbuckling, Thomas's novel is a feminist Victorian delight. Perfect for fans of Deanna Raybourn, Elizabeth Peters or C.S. Harris, The Art of Theft is an excellent entry in a wonderful historical series. Its deft pacing, quirky heroine and intriguing cast of characters make it a mysterious tour de force. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this delightful novel with a Victorian setting, Charlotte Holmes, the Lady Sherlock, races to solve a mystery in a French chateau.
paperback, 304p., 9780451492470
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by Cixin Liu, trans. by Joel Martinsen
Newly translated from Chinese, this science fiction parable by Hugo winner Cixin Liu (The Three-Body Problem, Ball Lightning) imagines a world in which the children become the future much sooner than anyone anticipated.
The Earth's Common Era ends with the death of a faraway star. Its explosion turns the twilight bright as midday, makes human beings phosphoresce and leaves behind a new nebula. Despite the wonder in its wake, the Dead Star also wreaks havoc. While children under 13 will survive the effects of the widespread radiation poisoning, their elders will not. Within one year, the Earth will be a planet of children.
Around the world, governments hold various selection trials to choose Earth's new leaders. In Beijing, Specs, Huahua and Xiaomeng become the heirs apparent to China's government, even though they just graduated from middle school. Adults across the nation labor tirelessly to train their children as fighter pilots and childcare providers for the infant survivors, and they build a store of resources to sustain a new society the adults envision as identical to their own.
When the changeover of power occurs, though, the children of China are more interested in turning part of their country into a giant amusement park than in re-creating the old world order. As the three teen leaders struggle to corral a nation of first panicked and then defiant younger children, bigger trouble brews across the sea in the United States, where unlimited access to weapons has spawned deadly games of soldiers.
With Joel Martinsen's translation, Supernova Era gives speculative fiction readers food for deep thought. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: When a star eight light years away goes supernova, the radiation kills Earth's adult population and leaves its children to start a world of their own.
hardcover, 352p., 9781250306036
by Nicky Drayden
More than 800 years ago, humans were forced to abandon Earth on generation ships. When these ships failed to find a suitable planet, they resorted to hunting, then colonizing gargantuan space animals that skim nebulae for sustenance. But these space beasts can't survive long with human parasites. After about a decade of ruthless use, the dying animal must be left behind for a new one. All homes and most possessions are left behind--save priceless metal items--and reconstructed identically in each new beast.
Seske Kaleigh is the future leader, or Matris, of a strictly matriarchal society. To keep the population in check, family units consist of 10 people who may have only one child among them. Unfortunately for Seske, the current Matris--who is also one of Seske's mothers (in the social rather than physical sense)--betrayed their society's single-child rule by carrying her pregnancy to term after Seske was born. Thus Seske is stuck with a sister (a grave slur) who has her own leadership ambitions. As if that weren't scandalous enough, the heir apparent maintains a friendship and budding romance with Adalla, a lower-class laborer. Their dual narratives intersect and diverge to reveal a society with terrible secrets living on even less borrowed time than they think.
Nicky Drayden (The Prey of Gods; Temper) crafts a wildly imaginative work of speculative fiction with a stunning setting. The upper class enjoys the creature's comforts while workers toil endlessly, building with bone, farming the guts or maintaining vital organs. Adalla's tenure in the creature's heart, where work can be done only in the 3 minutes, 47.5 seconds between beats, is a blood-pounding highlight. Escaping Exodus is a marvelous climate change metaphor wrapped in an entertaining sci-fi story. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer
Discover: In the distant future, the desperate remnants of humanity survive in moon-sized interstellar beasts.
paperback, 336p., 9780062867735
The Bromance Book Club
by Lyssa Kay Adams
It takes two people to fall in love, but it also "takes two people to ruin a relationship." Such is the case for Gavin Scott--a second baseman for the Nashville Legends baseball team, who suffers from a stuttering problem--and his loyal, devoted wife, Thea, the mother of their young twin girls. The couple married when Thea became pregnant. What started as a happy union settled, over time, into a sexless routine as "the daily necessities of dealing with the kids and the house and his game schedule" wore down their relationship.
When Gavin learns that Thea's been faking it in their marital bed for years, the revelation pits them against each other, resurrecting more truths and slights, until their faltering marriage comes completely undone. Gavin seeks the support of his friends, a group that meets covertly to eat, drink and discuss Regency romance novels. They refer to these books set in 18th- and 19th-century England as "manuals" that coach them in their romantic dealings with their partners and spouses.
The Bromance Book Club is the opening installment of a fun and funny, sports-related romance series. It unspools a dual-threaded narrative that juxtaposes Gavin and Thea's story alongside that of a Regency countess and her knight in shining armor. Through a series of clever, entertaining plot twists and striking parallels in the relationships of both couples, centuries apart, Lyssa Kay Adams (The Prospect) depicts how love--and the complications and ecstasies therein--never really changes or goes out of style. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: With the help of a romance book club for men, a baseball player sets off on a clever crusade to save his marriage.
paperback, 352p., 9781984806093
Food & Wine
Salt & Time: Recipes from a Russian Kitchen
by Alissa Timoshkina
In Salt & Time, Alissa Timoshkina writes with passion and nostalgia about the dishes of her home country of Russia, food "tinted with the stereotypes of the Cold War and obscured by the complexities of contemporary Russian politics."
Thoughtful introductions lead into each recipe, giving Timoshkina's updated versions of classic Russian dishes both historical and personal context. She describes her recipe for borscht as "taking a bit (okay, a lot) of creative license" and "iconoclastic." She offers three alternative fillings for the signature Siberian dumpling pelmeni and updates a "mundane Soviet creation" of a cookie into something sophisticated in her recipe for glazed sandwich cookies with plum jam. With stunning photographs of both the dishes as well as the Siberian landscape scattered throughout, Salt & Time is a testament to a time-honored cuisine that is often overlooked in the world of modern cooking. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: A Russian expat updates classic regional dishes for modern kitchens in this stunning cookbook.
hardcover, 240p., 9781623719210
South: Essential Recipes and New Explorations
by Sean Brock
James Beard Award-winner Sean Brock's South: Essential Recipes and New Explorations is a follow-up to his critically acclaimed Heritage and continues his mission to help people "understand that Southern food should be considered among the most revered cuisines of the world... vibrant, diverse, seasonal and evolving." Brock shares favorite classic recipes and modern creations of food that is "both insanely good and nutritious."
What is more classic than that potluck staple, deviled eggs? Brock's get an extra tang by seasoning the yolks with pickle brine. Or fried chicken? He eschews dipping chicken in buttermilk--it creates steam, which blows off the breading. His breading is herb- and spice-heavy, and he finishes the fried pieces in flavorful rendered fats. Even something as seemingly simple and plain as fried catfish gets a lift with Green Tomato Tartar Sauce. Desserts, like Blackberry Cobbler, are given their due, along with pantry recipes like watermelon molasses. --Marilyn Dahl
Discover: Acclaimed chef Sean Brock is a persuasive evangelist for Southern food, and his recipes and instructions back him up.
hardcover, 376p., 9781579657161
My Asian Kitchen: Bao * Salad * Noodle * Curry * Sushi * Dumpling
by Jennifer Joyce
When London-based, U.S.-raised food writer Jennifer Joyce began traveling in Asia in the 1990s, she "discovered the staggering deliciousness of authentic Asian cooking," she writes in the introduction to My Asian Kitchen. She presents an antidote to the "limited... Americanised Chinese (AKA chop suey and egg rolls)" food she suffered in childhood, while assuring us that "successfully cooking this legendary cuisine isn't magic: you just need solid guidance and the right ingredients," widely available online and in Asian markets.
After years of "balancing flavours and learning new techniques," Joyce's toothsome collection includes classics (tempura, ramen, gyoza) as well as more modern recipes (miso-glazed ribs, caramelized fish hot pot, matcha frosting). American home chefs might find the measurements initially daunting (milliliters/ounces vs. cups/spoons), but the delectable results should be worth all conversion efforts. Photographer Phil Webb supplies the visual temptations to get readers cooking. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: London culinary expert Jennifer Joyce's My Asian Kitchen provides tempting access to classic and contemporary recipes with Asian origins.
hardcover, 256p., 9781760527730
Provence: The Cookbook: Recipes from the French Mediterranean
by Caroline Rimbert Craig, Susan Bell, photographer
In Provence, Caroline Rimbert Craig's first solo cookbook, she plumbs her own family history in the French Mediterranean, showcasing the food and flavors of Provençal cooking. Beyond offering a collection of recipes, Craig weaves together the history of Provence's landscape, kitchen staples and stories from her generations of family who have foraged, gardened and cooked there--all accompanied by charming photographs of food and the Provence countryside taken by Susan Bell.
She lays out the recipes seasonally, with a special chapter just for Christmas, and arranges them in suggested groupings for families sitting down to a meal. While all the dishes are made with fresh Provençal ingredients, Craig encourages, "I hope you will use this book as a guide, make the recipes your own, and put your own stamp on dishes you cook from it." --BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co., Beaver Dam, Wis.
Discover: This charming cookbook shares recipes from generations of one family and explores the customs and dishes of the French Mediterranean.
hardcover, 208p., 9781623719203
Curry & Kimchi: Flavor Secrets for Creating 70 Asian-Inspired Recipes at Home
by Unmi Abkin, Roger Taylor
In Curry & Kimchi: Flavor Secrets for Creating 70 Asian-Inspired Recipes at Home, Unmi Abkin and Roger Taylor share recipes from their popular restaurant, Coco & the Cellar Bar, Easthampton, Mass., as well as from their home kitchen.
Many of the recipes are inspired by Abkin's Korean and Mexican-American heritage. However, the element that holds the cookbook together is not the flavors used but rather the authors' belief that great meals begin with great sauces. Instead of relegating sauce recipes to a section at the end, they are placed alongside the main dishes. Each sauce--a homemade ponzu, a salsa verde, a rich Mornay--is paired with a specific entree and accompanied by other suggested uses.
In addition to recipes, Curry & Kimchi includes four-step photo progressions showing how to plate dishes, and a useful guide to less familiar ingredients. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins
Discover: Restaurateurs Unmi Abkin and Roger Taylor introduce home cooks to Asian-fusion cuisine at its best.
hardcover, 176p., 9781635861587
Alpine Cooking: Recipes and Stories from Europe's Grand Mountaintops
by Meredith Erickson
The Alps conjure images of craggy mountaintops, thrilling ski slopes and cozy chalets where one may enjoy a hot cup of cocoa or a snifter of brandy. It's high time delicious cuisine is added to the list.
In Alpine Cooking, Meredith Erickson skis her way through the Alps to highlight decadent yet comforting recipes from the mountaintops of Italy, Austria, Switzerland and France. While Erickson features popular and traditional dishes like schnitzel and fondue, dozens of recipes from family-run restaurants, hotels and inns are the stars. Italian dishes include soups and pastas like Ditalini with Fava Beans and Beet Gnocchi, while Austria offers Venison Ragout and divine desserts like Kaiserschmarrn. Dairy is a mainstay in Swiss specialties, for a simple Raclette or Veal Strips in Cream Sauce, Zurich-Style. Duck Magret with Pont-Neuf Polenta and Chartreuse Soufflé are undeniably French. Informative guides to Alpine wine and cheese, features on the region's art and modes of travel, and spectacular photographs make Alpine Cooking a cookbook to savor. --Frank Brasile, librarian
Discover: Alpine Cooking's sumptuous recipes and stunning photography showcase the underappreciated cuisine from Europe's highest peaks.
Ten Speed Press,
hardcover, 352p., 9781607748748
Weeknight Baking: Recipes to Fit Your Schedule
by Michelle Lopez
Baking is Michelle Lopez's stress-reliever. In college, she whipped up cupcakes instead of studying. As a financial tech executive, Lopez spent evenings creating confections like Better-Than-Supernatural Fudge Brownies and Magic Dream Lemon Cream Tarts. She shared her concoctions with the readers of her blog, Hummingbird High, twice named by Saveur as a "Best Baking Blog" finalist.
In Weeknight Baking, Lopez shares time-saving secrets, suggested staples, substitutions and tested strategies for turning out decadent treats. Featuring more than 80 recipes (including some that are gluten-free, vegan or both) for cookies, cakes, brownies, pies, muffins and more, Lopez's approach is easy to follow. For more time-intensive recipes--white wedding cake, anyone?--Lopez uses her analytic business skills to split the steps into 30-minute-or-less increments over several days for "a damn good dessert any night of the week you want one." --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at melissafirman.com.
Discover: A baker and blogger shows busy cooks how making dessert is possible on weeknights without spending long hours in the kitchen.
Simon & Schuster,
hardcover, 304p., 9781501189876
Bake from Scratch (Vol. 3): Artisan Recipes for the Home Baker
This massive compilation of recipes from the editor of Bake from Scratch magazine is chock full of amazing baked goods, including Strawberry Basil Scones, Nutella Banana Bread and Boozy Fig & Muscadine Tartlets. Each recipe is clearly delineated in both weights (grams) and measurements (cups), making it easy to use either method. Mouthwatering pictures of every recipe are also included, covering cakes, croissants, cookies, tarts, pies and pizza.
With sweet and savory items ranging from easy (like Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars) to harder (Baked Alaska), Bake from Scratch offers recipes for every baking level, and is sure to appeal to those wanting to attempt their own Great British Bake Off-type experiences at home. The cookie section alone continues for more than 100 pages, enough to keep any baker busy for a good long while! --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: This gorgeous cookbook contains luscious recipes for any level of baking expertise.
hardcover, 400p., 9781940772592
The Art of Escapism Cooking: A Survival Story, with Intensely Good Flavors
by Mandy Lee
"I'm not selling you a lifestyle; I'm telling you how I evaded one." Unenthused expat Mandy Lee started her "angry food blog" Lady and Pups after she began attacking her depression with attempts at from-scratch pasta. Loathing Beijing as much as she adored New York City, her previous home, Lee turned a tiny kitchen into a refuge and the act of cooking into the art of survival. In essays (and recipes) as hearty and salty as her Ramen Seasoning, Lee revisits the experiences that led her to master delicacies like Buffalo Fried Chicken Ramen, Dandan Mazemen and Basic Vanilla Mochi Ice Cream.
Part dark wit, part all-consuming food worship, The Art of Escapism Cooking will make the perfect gift for an adventurous home chef or that spice fanatic who would love to place a condiment called "Helldust" next to the salt and pepper. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: Mandy Lee collects some of the best essays, recipes and photographs from Lady and Pups, her no-holds-barred, mostly Asian-inspired cooking blog.
hardcover, 400p., 9780062802378
The Way to Eat Now: Modern Vegetarian Food
by Alice Hart
Beautiful food tastes better. As a food stylist and writer, Alice Hart presents a striking cookbook of beautiful food in The Way to Eat Now: Modern Vegetarian Food.
Hart champions simplicity and, following that, flexibility. Her friendly introductions to each section offer more in the way of developing attitudes and tendencies than encouraging strict adherence to her recipes. But the recipes themselves do shine. Standout dishes include Squash Bao, Paneer Corn Cakes with Charred Chile Salsa, Griddled Halloumi Salad with Date Dressing and Chubby Polenta Fries with Almond Za'atar and Salt. A wild card bound to become a favorite? Son-in-Law Eggs with Green Mango.
Hart espouses "thoughtful" eating, and her mindful approach to dishes guides this book. The result: aesthetically pleasing and sustaining meals for loved ones. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: This lovely vegetarian cookbook from a food stylist is a feast for the eyes as well as the plate.
paperback, 336p., 9781615195732
Skillet Love: From Steak to Cake: More than 150 Recipes in One Cast-Iron Pan
by Anne Byrn
Food writer Anne Byrn (American Cake) persuasively argues that the cast-iron skillet is "the only pan you'll ever need." Her irresistible collection of nearly 160 recipes that can be made in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet range from tasty appetizers, salads, snacks and sides to one-pot brunches, lunches, dinners and desserts. This versatile skillet sears, roasts, fries, bakes, braises and caramelizes. Flavorful main course recipes include Mexican lasagna, chicken pot pie, skillet-seared shrimp, pan-roasted mussels, meat loaf, fish and chips, fried chicken and eggplant parmesan. Delicious desserts include pineapple upside-down cake, mud cake, snickerdoodle bites, brownies, black- and blueberry crumble and bananas Foster.
Experienced cooks will love the array of meals that can be created in this amazing all-purpose pan. Novice chefs will delight in the simplicity of the recipes--the majority of them are made in six or fewer steps. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: Anne Byrn's Skillet Love showcases the amazing versatility of the cast-iron skillet with simple and delicious recipes.
hardcover, 304p., 9781538763186
Women on Food: Charlotte Druckman and 115 Writers, Chefs, Critics, Television Stars, and Eaters
by Charlotte Druckman
While male celebrity chefs and food writers seem to dominate the airwaves and column inches, food nevertheless starts with women. That is what this collection curated by journalist and food writer Charlotte Druckman strives to emphasize to readers, as she includes the voices of 115 women involved in every stage of food production and presentation.
In essays and in interviews, quotes and ephemera, Druckman raises questions about who is heard and seen and who is not in the contemporary landscape, who gets to have a voice, and where the food world erases people. Women on Food explores racism, the #MeToo movement, gender biases and ties between food and culture that we rarely hear about. The various formats spliced together help highlight who is visible, who is seen as odd and who is conspicuously missing.
In this collection, Druckman above all celebrates women's place in and shaping of the food industry of today. Women on Food considers how black female food writers encounter everyday racism simply by eating out, as well as experiences of connecting to one's hereditary food cultures in the face of major life changes, what it is like to be a female farmer or to reshape the culture of a city through food. What readers will find in this book are stories to enrich their connections to their own habits of consuming both food and food writing. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer
Discover: Charlotte Druckman bursts gendered (mis)conceptions about the food industry--from farm to table and every step in between--in this collection of essays and interviews.
paperback, 400p., 9781419736353
Milk Street: The New Rules: Recipes that Will Change the Way You Cook
by Christopher Kimball
With Milk Street: The New Rules: Recipes that Will Change the Way You Cook, Christopher Kimball (Tuesday Nights) ushers in a new normal: one in which home cooks stop pureeing their pesto; where they steam, rather than boil, their eggs; where they create creaminess with corn kernels; where they bloom their spices.
Kimball presents 75 such "rules," along with more than 200 creative recipes, applying them to delicious dishes from around the globe, like Brazilian Fish Stew, Oaxacan Refried Black Beans, Turkish Poached Eggs, Malaysian-Style Noodles and West African-inspired Black-Eyed Pea Fritters.
A founder of both America's Test Kitchen and Milk Street, Kimball offers precise instructions with vibrant photography. Even seasoned home cooks will likely pick up tips--increase lift in a frittata with baking powder!--and Kimball's recipes will surely delight carnivores and vegetarians, casual chefs and home cooking pros. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: Milk Street's Christopher Kimball rethinks how best to get dinner to the table, and how to make it taste incredible, with fresh cooking techniques for diverse, delicious meals.
hardcover, 336p., 9780316423052
Donal's Meals in Minutes: 90 Suppers from Scratch, 15 Minutes Prep
by Donal Skehan
Listing all the tasty dishes in Irish food writer and photographer Donal Skehan's Meals in Minutes might tempt readers to eat the cookbook itself.
Skehan simplifies delicious meals, building them around a small group of staple ingredients such as garlic, onions, Tabasco and honey. His methods encourage even those who proclaim they don't cook not only to enter the kitchen, but possibly craft their own original dishes. With just one pot, amateur chefs can make mouth-watering dishes like Thai Chicken Stew, Cauliflower Mac & Cheese Bake and Indian Chicken Pilaf. From one pan spring entrees like Vietnamese Caramel Salmon, Shaking Beef Stir Fry, and Dark and Sticky Lamb Steaks. There's also a chapter devoted to "kitchen cheats," meal-prep shortcuts that don't sacrifice flavor. The best part for those who want to eat well but have little time to spend on cooking? Many of these dishes can be made in under 30 minutes. Bon appétit. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer
Discover: This cookbook with quick and easy recipes builds impressive meals around simple ingredients.
hardcover, 224p., 9781473674264
Christmas Feasts and Treats
by Donna Hay
Australian trusted home cook and international food-publishing marvel Donna Hay takes the fuss out of Christmas cooking, baking and entertaining.
This beautifully photographed and inviting collection pairs traditional recipes alongside others spun with modern styling techniques and time-saving tricks. The Feasts section includes step-by-step guides for inventively cooking all types of protein--turkey, pork, fish, lobster--quick-fix nibbles and sides, including dressed up veggies, savory tarts, crackers and biscuits. The Treats half of the book highlights cakes, puddings and pies; shortbreads and gingerbreads; and an array of sweet, edible decorations including nougats, candy canes and cookies. Show-stoppers like a Chocolate-Hazelnut Pavlova with Marinated Raspberries and several riffs on Trifle (such as the alluring Brandy Eggnog Panettone Trifle) will round off any holiday feast with a rich, delicious wow! --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: Australian cook Donna Hay offers simple, easy, stress-free ways to prepare and present deliciously elegant holiday dinners and sumptuous desserts.
paperback, 240p., 9781460757802
The Beauty Chef Gut Guide
by Carla Oates
Carla Oates constructs The Beauty Chef Gut Guide around the premise that beauty is an inside-out process and that what people eat can have a profound impact on how they look and feel. Oates (The Beauty Chef) delves deeply into solving gut problems with a creative eight-week meal plan that involves weeding out bad bacteria and seeding the gut with beneficial varieties.
The Beauty Chef Gut Guide brims with nutritious suggestions for optimum health. Omnivores, vegetarians and vegans alike will delight in ingredients and flavors that vary from familiar staples to the moderately adventurous, resulting in dishes like lentil moussaka and cauliflower and tempeh falafel. The selection of tonics and elixirs sweetened with Manuka honey includes a delicious, tangy drink from Indonesia and a flavorful dandelion chai. This excellent guide also contains a bounty of nourishing soup recipes to suit different tastes and moods, complete with elegant photographs. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer
Discover: A beautifully presented compendium of gut-friendly recipes for enhanced health and glowing skin.
hardcover, 224p., 9781743795002
Biography & Memoir
by Mark Morris, Wesley Stace
Mark Morris's Out Loud is a "memoir not a cookbook." He "can't tell you the recipe exactly," but is masterful at describing the ingredients that influence his career as one of the world's foremost choreographers. Morris's influences are many and complex. He asked to flamenco at nine and at 10 won a guest role with Bolshoi Ballet. He loved The Lawrence Welk Show, opera, country music and the traditions and religious mythologies of cultures worldwide. His talent took root at a young age--he improvised shows in his Seattle living room and listened to musical pieces over and over again to decode them.
Inspiration intertwined with Morris's humor (battle-strengthened by the "queer humiliation" of junior high), style ("old men's overcoats and a different rhinestone brooch" every day), brash defiance and sense of self to form the foundation of his multi-faceted style. He beautifully exhibits these traits in Out Loud, which feels like a Morris composition--movements within movements, fits and flows, taken together to form an entrancing and hilarious whole.
Unsurprisingly, Morris is a superb storyteller. In addition to his many professional accomplishments (Mark Morris Dance Group, White Oak Dance Project, numerous awards and honorary doctorates) and high-profile collaborators (Mikhail Baryshnikov, Yo-Yo Ma), Morris shares his private life, friendships, delightful family lore and laugh-out-loud asides (how a bidet formed "the fountainhead of [a] lifelong obsession with water features"). One need not comprehend dance to appreciate Morris's impact or be a devotee to give this work a standing ovation. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: Dancer and choreographer Mark Morris reveals the unmatched eccentricities and events that led him to change the face of dance.
hardcover, 384p., 9780735223073
by Jenny Slate
Judging from the content of Jenny Slate's Little Weirds, the inside of her mind is a fascinating, if unusual, place. In this collage of essays, stories, dreams (both night and day), and pieces that defy easy categorization, the actor and comedian invites readers to pay an extended visit, one that will leave them enlightened, moved and sometimes pleasantly puzzled.
In an assortment this diverse, it's perilous to try to isolate recurring themes. But among the more prominent ones is Slate's often vexed relationships with men. In "Daydreams/Tides," for example, she bemoans a fantasy that's nothing more than an "amalgamation of my different recent loves, who have all been terribly disappointing and irredeemable," what she calls a "flock of flimsy fools."
Slate has a fascination for the otherworldly, whether she's writing about a long-dead sea captain's cache of letters discovered in her Massachusetts childhood home, or musing about the people who preceded her in her more-than-a-century-old Los Angeles house. But it would be unfair to give the impression that the dominant tone of Little Weirds is morose. Slate flashes her comedic gift often, in pieces like "Letter: Dreams," where she imagines correspondence from the "Committee for Evening Experiences," chiding the author for the pedestrian quality of her dreams, notably one in which "you were waiting in line for a sandwich, and that this was the whole dream."
Whether one chooses to accompany her throughout her "peppy procession of all of my little weirds," or drop in at any point along the way, this collection promises a refreshing, original journey. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer
Discover: Life, death, love and ghosts are but a few of the subjects visited in Jenny Slate's freespirited nonfiction collection.
hardcover, 240p., 9780316485340
Still Here: The Madcap, Nervy, Singular Life of Elaine Stritch
by Alexandra Jacobs
Maybe she never threw a television out a hotel window, but in terms of drinking, swearing and making outrageous personal demands, Broadway legend Elaine Stritch could have held her own against any rock star. No wonder Still Here: The Madcap, Nervy, Singular Life of Elaine Stritch, the first book by writer-editor Alexandra Jacobs, is such a carousing entertainment.
Born in 1925, Stritch was raised in a Detroit suburb too small to hold her: "I wanted to be a nurse, a doctor, a whore, and a queen," she later told the press. "The only way I could think of to accomplish all of those endeavors was to go on stage." A convent girl, Stritch moved to Manhattan in 1943 to attend a Catholic finishing school and take acting classes, which led to parts suited to her low voice and older-than-her-years presentation. She understudied Ethel Merman and, in a feat of sublime casting, played tippler Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Stritch's reputation for alcohol-abetted irascibility cost her some choice parts. (Jacobs makes droll use of the fact that Angela Lansbury kept getting them.) Following an unfocused decade, Stritch was handed what would become her career-making signature role: Joanne in Stephen Sondheim's 1970 musical, Company. Jacobs is so adept at situating her subject in her place and time that when Still Here covers Stritch's final days--she died in 2014, at age 89--the reader can feel golden age Broadway and old New York slipping away. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: This biography of Elaine Stritch is spunky, wise and frank, like the Broadway legend herself.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
hardcover, 352p., 9780374268091
Rising: Becoming the First North American Woman on Everest
by Sharon Wood
For more than three decades, Sharon Wood has been a professional speaker, thanks to one single achievement: in 1986, she became the first North American woman to climb to the top of Mount Everest. While she has had other accomplishments over the years, including being a business owner, an internationally certified alpine guide and the first recipient of the Explorers Club's Tenzing Norgay Award for exceptional mountaineering, she has resisted writing a book about her Everest experience, until now. In Rising: Becoming the First North American Woman on Everest, an older and perhaps wiser Wood uses the mountain as a backdrop for discussing emotional growth and examining the value of relationships--"my relationship with myself, with some remarkable people and with the world around me."
Rising strikes a nice balance between the technical aspects of climbing and the emotional story, giving context and definitions for mountaineering jargon throughout the driving narrative. Wood weaves together her own Everest journey when she was young, focused and driven, with the dramas that can occur in small communities, such as her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend showing up during her Everest attempt as competitors on the opposing team. "Climbing Everest reveals the best and the worst of the human condition," Wood writes in the introduction. "The story I have told... conveys the former: a story of exceptional teamwork and the impact it has had on my life." Written lyrically about the harsh natural environment and with unflinching candor about personal growth, Rising illustrates how social connections and support systems--essentially relationships of all kinds--can have lingering effects and shape the path to success. --BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co., Beaver Dam, Wis.
Discover: The first North American woman to summit Everest reflects on her groundbreaking achievement, the sport of mountaineering and the subsequent 30 years of personal and relationship development.
hardcover, 272p., 9781680512625
Janis: Her Life and Music
by Holly George-Warren
Janis Joplin (1943-1970) gets a long-overdue definitive biography by an author who not only understands the music industry in the 1960s and early 1970s, but also has a firm grasp on the creative and emotional life of America's first female rock star. Music biographer Holly George-Warren's (The Road to Woodstock) vital, fascinating and deeply personal biography benefits greatly from interviews with Joplin's siblings, former bandmates and crew. Joplin's career ran just four years (she joined the established rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company in June 1966 and died of a heroin overdose in October 1970). But her husky, emotional and explosive voice, and her steely determination to steer her own career continue to influence new generations of singers.
Ignored or ridiculed in high school, Joplin found her voice and flamboyant fashion sense when she moved to San Francisco and embraced the proverbial rocker lifestyle of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Openly bisexual, Joplin's sexual relations were numerous but usually emotionally unsatisfying. Her huge appetite for alcohol and heroin were as strong as her musical drive. "The mix of confident musicianship, brash sexuality, and natural exuberance, locked together to produce America's first female rock star," writes George-Warren. Months before her death, Joplin said music was the one aspect of her life that had never let her down.
Although her life was brief, Joplin lived it with gusto. Readers will be enthralled by her adventures and her subversion of the men-only music industry. This compelling and inspiring biography captures Joplin's complex personality and immense talent. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: A complex and compelling portrait of America's first female rock star and a brief career that still influences singers and bewitches listeners.
Simon & Schuster,
hardcover, 400p., 9781476793108
Beautiful on the Outside
by Adam Rippon
Figure skating Olympic medalist Adam Rippon delivers a gold medal-worthy memoir that is both laugh-out-loud funny and inspiring. Rippon's sassy, outspoken personality and his skating skills made him a star of the 2018 Winter Olympics. At age 28, he was a decade older than his teammates. He had missed out on two previous Olympics and had broken his foot a year before he finally made the team. But he was also skating at his best. "I think people really connected with all that," he writes. "And I was doing Invisalign, so my teeth were straight and perfect."
At age five, Rippon begged his parents to take him ice skating after he saw an image on a popcorn tin of people skating. He was really more interested in getting a white muff like one held by a female skater in the illustration. Over the next decade, Rippon began competing and winning medals at local, national and international skating competitions. Despite fears that it might keep him off an Olympic team, Rippon publicly came out as gay a year before he finally made the team. He became the first openly gay U.S. athlete to win a medal at any Winter Olympics. Months after his win, his popularity exploded when he attended the Academy Awards wearing a leather harness, began training for Stars on Ice, and signed on for a season of Dancing with the Stars (and won).
Rippon's winning personality shines through on every page. Jaunty and thoughtful, Beautiful on the Outside is the feel-good memoir of the season. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: Cheeky figure skating Olympian Adam Rippon's rollicking and inspiring memoir is a gold medal delight even for non-sports fans.
hardcover, 256p., 9781538732403
The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini
by Joe Posnanski
What's left to be said about Harry Houdini? Curiosity about the magician's enduring fame drives sports journalist Joe Posnanski's fascinating account of Houdini and the immortal legacy he left. Houdini was unquestionably the most famous magician ever to live, and his life and character have been documented in every way imaginable. Gathered together, all of the biographies published on Houdini might fill a library.
As a man obsessed with Houdini, Posnanski (The Soul of Baseball; Paterno) investigates many of the most beloved tales associated with the escape artist and master self-promoter. Even better, he travels the country to visit with strange but wonderful individuals who also find themselves unable to stop thinking about Houdini. For example, there's Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brooks, two magicians who run a museum dedicated to Houdini in Scranton, Pa. Popular magician David Copperfield guides Posnanski through his personal museum in Las Vegas--complete with Houdini's original milk can and other priceless ephemera. These are but a few of many engrossing moments that make The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini such a rare treat. By infusing his own passion for the subject into his reporting, Posnanski reveals the extent to which Houdini still captivates audiences. --Zack Ruskin, freelance reviewer
Discover: A journalist investigates the details of Harry Houdini's enigmatic life, celebrating the peculiar individuals who still obsess over the magician today.
Avid Reader Press,
hardcover, 336p., 9781501137235
The Contender: The Story of Marlon Brando
by William J. Mann
Although both critics and other actors generally acknowledged Marlon Brando as one of the world's finest actors, he consistently downplayed his talent and the acting profession. For decades, the media lamented that he found no fulfillment in acting. But in this outstanding, intelligent and insightful biography, The Contender, William J. Mann (Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn) examines Brando's life and passions from a different angle. He posits that Brando found true satisfaction in his fight for civil rights and his relentless commitment to social justice.
Brando (1924-2004) was a complex and sometimes difficult man, but Mann's expert research finds the reasons behind his actions. Brando was a bookworm and "a thinker, an observer, an examiner of himself and the world with the goal of figuring out both," writes Mann. But he was also a sexual adventurer with both men and women.
Playing Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire (on Broadway and in the 1951 film) catapulted Brando's career, yet by the 1960s, few film projects earned his full attention. His 1961 directorial debut, One-Eyed Jacks, was recut by the studio, leaving him depressed and disillusioned. At this point, his political activism began to take center stage. With few exceptions (The Godfather; Last Tango in Paris), his post-1970 films served only to finance his activism, alimony and lifestyle. Mann calls the last 30 years of Brando's life "a catalog of tragedies that approach the Shakespearean."
At more than 700 pages, The Contender is a brisk and adroit read that is perceptive, thoughtful and gives fans a new view of their idol. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: William J. Mann's outstanding and superbly researched biography, The Contender, reveals Marlon Brando's real passion was for social justice.
hardcover, 736p., 9780062427649
This Is My Body: A Memoir of Religious and Romantic Obsession
by Cameron Dezen Hammon
After converting to Christianity as a young woman, Cameron Dezen Hammon moved from New York City to Houston with Matt, the worship leader who would become her husband. Her memoir, This Is My Body, explores her efforts to reconcile the gender politics of evangelical churches with her own craving for love and affection, and her scars from past relationships with other men, including her father.
A musician and writer who immersed herself in her new faith, Hammon soon found herself singing onstage alongside Matt, then working as a worship minister for several large evangelical churches. But as she spent more time in a culture that valued women only within certain parameters, she found herself frustrated at the gentle but insistent pressure to be quiet or to defer to the men (any men) in the room. As Hammon pursues the work she loves in a context that grows ever more confining, she fights to build and sustain a life she isn't sure she wants. Her experience echoes that of many women who attempt to embrace a brand of Christianity that never fully accepts their personhood. She copes with her frustration in both healthy and unhealthy ways, including a long-distance romantic attachment and, later, a support group that sparks helpful discussions and genuine friendships. By the book's end, she is moving toward a way of believing and being that feels at once less certain and more honest. Hammon's journey will resonate with many readers who have struggled to reconcile their faith with other parts of their identities. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger atCakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: A new convert to Christianity wrestles with gender politics, faith and feminism in her memoir.
paperback, 224p., 9781940596327
by Edmund Morris
In 1877, Thomas Alva Edison--already a prolific inventor, though not yet famous--decided to let his latest creation speak for itself. To the disbelief of onlookers, Edison turned on a machine consisting of a mouthpiece, cylinder, crank handle and speaker that "spoke" all by itself. In an instant, the "talking phonograph" changed everything: "Breath has been turned into metal, metal was convertible back into air," and Edison became the Wizard of Menlo Park.
In Edison, biographer Edmund Morris (winner of the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt) chronicles the life of the inventor in reverse chronology. Morris begins with Edison in the last decade of his life--"a combination of twinkling charm and bruising imperiousness"--and finishes with his youth--an enterprising teenager who invented the two-way telegraph. In time, the most revolutionary of Edison's inventions come into focus. For instance, the first reliable incandescent light bulb and subsequent centralized lighting system were "so unobtrusive and at the same time so world changing" that the impact was inconceivable. And the Kinetograph, showing a 27-second loop of blacksmiths at work, pulled viewers "into a flickering world where Lilliputian figures moved in chiaroscuro."
Morris, who died in May 2019, clearly admired his subject, but this is no hagiography. Regarded by some as "half genius, half fool," Edison was often in dire financial straits, tussled with partners and competitors, and failed often; his family long suffered from his workaholism. But he was also charming, affable and blessed with a boundless curiosity that allowed his genius to flourish, for which the world would never be the same. --Frank Brasile, selection librarian, writer, editor
Discover: The United States' foremost inventor gets his due in this magisterial biography by the late Edmund Morris.
hardcover, 800p., 9780812993110
I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl's Notes from the End of the World
by Kai Cheng Thom
"Deep down, I have always believed that I'm a bad person and that the world we live in is an awful place." The essays and poems in Kai Cheng Thom's I Hope We Choose Love forge a fiery path through the violence and negative messages the trans community simmers in. She seeks to find love--a lofty goal considering queer people, particularly queer women of color, are being murdered, dictated against and most often excluded by social norms, even within "Queerlandia." Thom's voice is one of power, her strength and ultimate hope punching through the tragedy, anger and crises of faith infusing these pieces.
Thom became "queer famous" in 2016 at age 25, when she published several works and entered the fray of social justice. She was stalked and threatened, and ultimately lost faith in her community and herself. In three parts, "Let Us Live," "Let Us Love" and "Let Us Believe," Thom calls out the fragmentation of identity politics and the "Oppression Olympics" (harsh competition for resources), asks her community to acknowledge its own culpability, and highlights the importance of family (noting, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, how babies are ruining everything).
Thom yearns for "gender euphoria," the state of finding joy rather than hatred in one's own gender presentation. The revolution starts at home and inside each of us. "What's an overachieving yet politically disenchanted, attachment-traumatized East Asian tranny who wants to survive and also be a decent person in the world supposed to do?" Thom writes unflinchingly, a marginalized voice of laudable might. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: These evocative and forthright essays focus on the power and vulnerabilities of being an Asian trans woman in today's social warrior and queer culture.
Arsenal Pulp Press,
paperback, 144p., 9781551527758
Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China
by Jung Chang
A trio who dominated the 20th century, Ei-ling, Ching-ling and May-ling Soong remain controversial figures in the 21st, as Jung Chang shows in Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister. The author of Wild Swans and biographies of Mao and Empress Cixi turns her unsparing and detailed focus upon the Soong sisters and their era of political turmoil and revolution in China.
Daughters of a wealthy Shanghai merchant, the sisters spent their early years going to school in the United States. Ei-ling was "the first Chinese woman to be educated in America," with her younger sisters following her. They returned to Shanghai as smart, outspoken women, burnished with the luster brought by their wealth, privilege and foreign educations. Limited by the culture of their time, they became wives.
Ei-ling married her counterpart, H.H. Kung, a wealthy graduate of Oberlin and Yale. Ching-ling, passionately patriotic, ran off against her parents' wishes with the first president of the Republic of China, Sun Yat-sen. May-ling, bored and restless in Shanghai, married a rising political power, Chiang Kai-shek. Within these marriages, each sister soared far above conventional marital expectations.
Chang masterfully intertwines the lives of these women with the history that they helped to shape. Ei-ling, whose money and brains made her a powerful political influence, Ching-ling, who turned to Communist revolution, and May-ling, who became one of the most famous women in the world, are vividly portrayed by a writer whose own life in Mao's China was affected by the actions of the Soong sisters. --Janet Brown, author and former bookseller
Discover: In her history of the famed Soong sisters, Jung Chang explores the lives of three fascinating women and the turbulent times that they made their own.
hardcover, 400p., 9780451493507
The Queens of Animation: The Untold Story of the Women Who Transformed the World of Disney and Made Cinematic History
by Nathalia Holt
In the 1930s, a woman seeking employment at Walt Disney Studios beyond its pink-collar-ghetto Ink and Paint department was apt to receive the company's stock rejection letter: "Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that task is performed entirely by young men." Change had to start somewhere, and Nathalia Holt (Rise of the Rocket Girls) devotes The Queens of Animation to the iconoclastic women who got in early at the House of Mouse. Among her five principal subjects are English-born Sylvia Moberly-Holland, who through her work on Fantasia's "Waltz of the Flowers" became Disney's first female story director; plucky Retta Scott, who through her work on Bambi became the studio's first credited female animator; and the legendary Mary Blair, a painter who brought a refreshingly modern look to Disney animation and was a bona fide art director by the time she worked on Peter Pan.
The Queens of Animation does double duty as the story of Disney's animation studio, which was in debt for years and continually seeking financial relief through new technologies. Holt, foremost a science writer, is good at describing how innovations like Technicolor, the optical printer and xerography work. Her book takes readers through the studio's early 21st-century switch to CGI, which finally obliterated the need for cripplingly costly hand-drawn animation. Of course, the irony is that in the studio's financially unstable golden era, when its male employees thought it beneath them to draw fairies, it was movies about women--a princess here, a Poppins there--that reliably saved Piglet's bacon. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: This incisive look at the first women to work at Walt Disney Studios also tells the story of the animation department's years of struggle to make ends meet.
hardcover, 400p., 9780316439152
Music: A Subversive History
by Ted Gioia
Musical innovation almost always comes from outcasts, Ted Gioia argues in his sweeping, persuasive Music: A Subversive History. Again and again, over the course of millennia, Gioia finds outsiders (enslaved people, shamans, women, bohemians) upsetting the powers that be with breakthroughs in technique, expression, instrumentation and frank passion. And, repeatedly, those powers, after years of resistance, assimilate the outsiders' once-verboten music to shore up their own hegemony. It's a reliable, perennial process that inspires Gioia, a shrewd and restless guide, to link the biblical adoption of the lusty Song of Songs to Richard Nixon's goofy White House meeting with Elvis Presley.
A music historian and the author of, among other titles, Love Songs and How to Listen to Jazz, Gioia here takes the longest of long views, investigating the music making of hunter-gatherer cultures and ancient fertility cults as energetically as he digs into Bach, Louis Armstrong and N.W.A. Gioia writes for a wide audience while still challenging orthodoxies and championing open minds and ears.
The narrative favors Western music but is rich with examples from around the globe. His idea of subversive extends beyond minor differences of politics or marketing categorization to encompass instead assaults upon the established order. In Gioia's history, 1980s parents' outrage at "satanic" rock music is a logical continuation of Pope Eutychius's third-century injunction against blasphemous "women's song and ring-dances." Gioia treats the pop explosion of the last century as the in-progress continuation of his cycles of cultural disruption and adoption rather than their historic endpoint. --Alan Scherstuhl, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Ted Gioia's sweeping Music: A Subversive History puts outcasts and enslaved peoples at the center of everything.
hardcover, 528p., 9781541644366
World War II: Infographics
by Nicolas Aubin, Vincent Bernard, Nicolas Guillerat, Jean Lopez
Created by a team of historians and data designers led by Jean Lopez, the managing editor of Guerres & Histoire (Wars & History) magazine, World War II: Infographics tells the history of that war entirely through well-designed graphics. Although visually stunning, this is not a picture book. Its 357 maps and infographs provide a data-rich examination of 53 topics, beginning with the fall of democracies across Europe in the period between the two world wars and ending with unrest and independence in Europe's colonial empires after the war.
Whether considering aircraft production statistics, Soviet military losses or desert campaigns in the Sahara, World War II: Infographics uses geopolitical, economic, demographic and military data, organizing each topic in ways that ask new questions about familiar information and often provide new answers to enduring questions. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins
Discover: World War II: Infographics is the perfect gift for World War II buffs and data hounds.
Thames & Hudson,
hardcover, 192p., 9780500022924
Beyond the Valley: How Innovators Around the World Are Overcoming Inequality and Creating the Technologies of Tomorrow
by Ramesh Srinivasan
In Beyond the Valley: How Innovators Around the World Are Overcoming Inequality and Creating the Technologies of Tomorrow, Ramesh Srinivasan--professor at UCLA's Department of Information Studies and director of the UC Digital Cultures Lab--examines the character of Silicon Valley's technological development. He scrutinizes the ethos of tech companies, allowing corporations to insulate themselves from the harm caused by their growth, and asks, "Shouldn't technology be people-centered, not in use and addiction, but in creation and application?"
There's an idea of an open Internet that obscures the reality of the network of privately owned architecture most people use to access the Internet. By probing this contradiction, Srinivasan (Whose Global Village?) tries to make his readers more aware of the reality of the digital infrastructure that has infiltrated and permeated their lives, and the implications of its extended reach.
Convenience comes at the price of privacy, creates more risk for vulnerable people, and contributes to economic inequality and political divisions. Beyond the Valley asks readers to imagine a technological future that balances connectivity and innovation with concerns about equity, diversity and democracy, thereby pursuing an "internet that acts as a 'global village.' " For an industry that deliberately keeps the focus off of its negative effects, Srinivasan's work is a necessary intervention and critique, while also shining a light on those working to come up with solutions to counteract the pitfalls of a technologically focused world. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer
Discover: A close look at ethical pitfalls and inequality in the technology industry, and how users and innovators might approach it differently.
hardcover, 424p., 9780262043137
The Problem with Everything: My Journey Through the New Culture Wars
by Meghan Daum
Meghan Daum is hardly the first writer to quibble with practices like so-called purity policing and virtue signaling. But liberals of good faith should take note: Daum is working from within. As she writes in The Problem with Everything: My Journey Through the New Culture Wars, "I felt an obligation to hold the left to account because, for all my frustrations with it, I was still of it."
Daum uses both personal experiences and of-the-moment news items to seed the eight essay-like chapters that make up her carefully reasoned book. Several stories play out on ideological-tinderbox college campuses. Among them is Washington's Evergreen State, where Bret Weinstein, a self-described progressive, was a biology professor until 2017. He resigned after his safety was threatened by student activists calling him a "white supremacist" for challenging the school's decision to ask white students and staffers to stay off campus during an anti-racism event. Daum writes of such goings on, " 'Social justice warriors' emerged on the scene with a self-proclaimed utopian vision that sometimes sounded a lot like authoritarianism."
The author of four previous books and the editor of the bestselling Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, Daum has a penchant not so much for going against the grain as for taking a magnifying glass to its fibers. She's releasing The Problem with Everything with some trepidation; in her introduction, she admits, "I've never been more afraid of writing a book." Open-minded readers may well find themselves grateful that she did. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: In this soundly argued collection of essay-like chapters, a liberal takes on what she sees as the left's wrong turn.
hardcover, 256p., 9781982129330
Volume Control: Hearing in a Deafening World
by David Owen
People have traditionally done a shabby job at protecting their ears. David Owen, a 60-something tinnitus sufferer with mild hearing loss, recalls of his childhood, "We had been warned that slingshots and BB guns and darts and arrows and gym towels could blind us if we aimed them at each other's faces, but I have no memory of being similarly advised about the dangers of sound."
Volume Control: Hearing in a Deafening World is Owen's look at how society has historically treated (in both senses) the deaf, and what we are doing now to solve the problem of hearing loss. A staff writer for the New Yorker who has written more than a dozen books on a host of topics, Owen dutifully metes out the basics about the auditory system, but it's Volume Control's human-interest angle that enthralls. He discusses the ongoing controversy within the deaf community regarding surgical cures; one of Owen's many interview subjects, a tinnitus researcher with a hearing-impaired daughter, explains that some who consider their deafness part of their cultural identity believe that "cochlear implants are unnecessary--that they are solutions to a problem that doesn't exist." And Owen offers a heartbreaking riff on how military men and women, whose ears have always taken a beating, are even today given the message from higher-ups that wearing ear protection and complaining of hearing loss are signs of weakness.
Although Volume Control is inevitably cautionary, the book is not a scold. That's because Owen's curiosity rather than an agenda powers his research. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: This fascinating social and cultural history of hearing problems and solutions sounds notes of both caution and hope.
hardcover, 304p., 9780525534228
Body, Mind & Spirit
The Big Book of Less: Finding Joy in Living Lighter
by Irene Smit, Astrid Van Der Hulst
Irene Smit and Astrid van der Hulst, creative directors of Flow magazine and coauthors of A Book That Takes Its Time, introduce The Big Book of Less: Finding Joy in Living Lighter, a pleasurable guide to clearing the mind through minimizing belongings, digital distractions, negative thinking and the need for control.
Essays explain how we become overstimulated--believing we "can't do without," might miss "something important" or must accomplish everything--and suggest solutions like taking breaks from thinking and screens, developing a dot journal and "embracing... upheaval." Advice comes from experts in psychology, philosophy, mindfulness and stress management. Extras include how-tos on such things as bucket lists, growing plants, slow-cooking recipes, "tiny pleasures" to appreciate. Exploring beyond the book via cited TED Talks, websites and "inspiring reads" is encouraged. Perfect for anyone needing a break, this beautiful adventure in letting go celebrates a simpler life. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer
Discover: Bursting with fun activities and bound-in extras, this fulfilling guide to decreasing mental and physical clutter offers a kind reminder to cherish life's uncomplicated joys.
hardcover, 224p., 9781523506286
Health & Medicine
Wild Beauty: Wisdom & Recipes for Natural Self-Care
by Jana Blankenship
Jana Blankenship, creator of the popular Captain Blankenship natural beauty line, brings her understanding of chemical-free lotions, shampoos and more to Wild Beauty: Wisdom & Recipes for Natural Self-Care. As befits a company whose motto is "Beauty Wild with Nature," this book features "natural perfumery and the rich palette of essential oils." Readers will find 45 recipes for hair and skin products, aromatic oils and healthy drinks, accompanied by lush photography and Blankenship's encouraging voice on making time for self-care. She introduces her recipes by demystifying the ingredients and methods, and she offers supportive directions to reassure those who are trying potions for the first time. Compounds like "Sea Salt and Sunshine Body Scrub" and "Wild Beauty Tea" are examples of the products within that are simple, affordable and offer "the intelligence of nature." --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: Recipes and tips to make natural self-care products at home from the founder of the Captain Blankenship natural beauty line.
Ten Speed Press,
hardcover, 160p., 9780399582813
How to Travel
by The School of Life, Alain de Botton, editor
Combining elements of an activity book, journal and philosophical treatise, How to Travel reimagines the inspirational travel guide. It appropriately builds upon series editor Alain de Botton's ideas in books such as The Art of Travel, about daydreaming of holidays and appreciating mementos.
How to Travel first considers the destination, discussing exoticism, to sun or not to sun, and emotional resonance. It also unpacks travel related to families and romantic relationships--the layers of meaning, of memories, of expectations and realities. The volume explores ways to engage, with special attention paid to shyness and crowds, the power of observation, and the benefits of drawing rather than photographing a scene. There is advice about the holiday fling, the healing nature of a change in perspective, and the religious underpinnings of a pilgrimage. Lastly, the book discusses notions of home: whether to stay there, what coming back is like, and how to live in the present while preserving those precious memories.
Across 30 chapters, with 20 essays of advice and inspiration, thoughtful exercises, illustrations and photographs, and blank pages for jotting down notes, travelers are asked to consider where they are going and why, what they will do when they get there and why, and how to get the most out of the experience of traveling itself. -- BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co.
Discover: An inspirational travel guide advises travelers on how to get the most from their journeys.
School of Life,
paperback, 132p., 9781999917968
House & Home
Decorating with Plants: What to Choose, Ways to Style, and How to Make Them Thrive
by Baylor Chapman
In Decorating with Plants, designer Baylor Chapman invites readers not only to bring plants into their homes, but also to integrate them into new and existing designs. Following a short introduction, she walks readers through the process of choosing among different types of houseplants and then adding plants to every room in the house. She pairs gorgeous photographs and careful styling with practical suggestions to avoid common problems like water damage and dark corners.
Chapman describes each suggested plant in detail, with attention given to nutritional needs, plant size and level of difficulty. Her ingenuity shines, however, when she broaches design in the second section. Chapman gives each room multiple treatments, with options for small spaces, high-traffic rooms and those frequented by children and pets. This is a beautiful, practical book for those who wish to raise beautiful, practical houseplants.--Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels
Discover: Decorating with Plants is full of inspiration and instructions for those just starting out with plants in their homes, those who just need design tips, and everyone in between.
hardcover, 272p., 9781579657765
Land of the Rising Cat: Japan's Feline Fascination
by Manami Okazaki
According to a 2014 shocking reveal by creator Sanrio Japan, Hello Kitty isn't actually feline, she's a British child. Nevertheless, "this culture of anthropomorphic kitties is one of the reasons feline fever has taken so many forms," including--a Japanese historical first!--cat-owners surpassing dog-owners in 2017. The country's "unprecedented boom" originates from centuries of claiming cats as "cherished companions," but social media and a quickly aging population (cats are easier for the elderly) are making kitties more prominent than ever--not only as pets, but as "a ubiquitous presence in art, design and popular culture."
In Land of the Rising Cat, Japanese writer and journalist Manami Okazaki (Kawaii! Japanese Culture of Cute) gathers tales of temples and cemeteries, islands and train stations, artists and activists, cafes and inns--all devoted to cats--throughout Japan. She interviews experts and enthusiasts along the way. Full-color photos enhance every page, tempting, celebrating, fueling readers' furry feline obsessions. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Pop-culture journalist Manami Okazaki's Land of the Rising Cat demonstrates why Japan's centuries-old feline fascination (thankfully) shows no signs of abating.
paperback, 176p., 9783791384948
Girls and Their Cats
by BriAnne Wills, Elyse Moody
When fashion photographer BriAnne Wills rescued two kittens while living in Ukraine, her love affair with cats began. Two years later, resettled in Brooklyn, N.Y., she started photographing other women who shared her healthy obsession, observing, "Cats truly are good for the soul." Wills, along with Elyse Moody, senior editor at Martha Stewart Living, presents 50 sparkling photographs of artists, writers and activists--women from different walks of life--and their beloved "furry quadrupeds." The collaborators pair each visual portrait with the heartwarming story of the distinctive human-feline bond pictured.
Wills and Moody modernize the traditional "cat lady" stereotype, while offering tidbits on everything from how to catproof a home to deciphering cat tail language. Cat worshipers--and those who love them--will be held rapt by this charming collection. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: Delightful portraits and stories about contemporary cat ladies and their beloved feline companions.
hardcover, 176p., 9781452176796
Reference & Writing
The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia: From Abraham to Zabar's and Everything in Between
by Stephanie Butnick, Liel Leibovitz, Mark Oppenheimer
Not since 1973's The Jewish Catalog has there been a reference book that aimed to cover Jewish life, culture, religion, history, food and "everything in between." That new reference book is The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia, compiled by the creators of the Jewish magazine Tablet and the popular podcast Unorthodox.
For beginners curious about the basics of Judaism, one entry is entitled "Shabbat in Seven Easy Steps." The "Delicatessen" entry, a two-page spread, regales history buffs with the progression of Eastern European immigrants spreading across America with their pastrami, pickles, corned beef and rye. There are cross-references ("socialism/socialists" also refers to entries "Radical Jews" and "Politics and Jews"), common Yiddish terms ("schlep... both a verb and a noun... the hauling of cumbersome packages... a long and annoying commute") and cultural definitions ("Ladino.... Also known as Judeo-Spanish or Judezmo, Ladino is the language of Sephardi Jews; it originated in Spain in the fifteenth century"). A Jewish family tree traces the semi-accurate myth that all Ashkenazi Jews are related, from Karl and Groucho Marx (Groucho is Karl's "second cousin once removed's wife's second husband's aunt's first cousin twice removed") to Maggie Gyllenhaal and Irving Berlin (Maggie being Irving's "wife's eighth cousin five times removed"), and the Ashkenazim themselves command an entry a page later.
Often irreverent, completely entertaining and always informative, The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia covers the secular and religious aspects of Judaism from ancient history to 21st-century pop culture, with more than 1,000 entries, charts and infographics, plus 300 photographs and illustrations. -- BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co., Beaver Dam, Wis.
Discover: A culturally sensitive and snarky tell-all encyclopedia of Judaism and Jewishness from the creators of Jewish magazine Tablet and the Unorthodox podcast.
hardcover, 320p., 9781579658939
The Book of Forgotten Authors
by Christopher Fowler
"Absence doesn't make the heart grow fonder. It makes people think you're dead," begins Christopher Fowler's The Book of Forgotten Authors. It is a journey through once-popular literature that has, for one reason or another, disappeared from print, memory or both. Authors can be "ubiquitous, influential and massively successful only to disappear within their own lifetimes," but why?
Pamela Branch, compared favorably with Evelyn Waugh by critics of the time, wrote what Fowler calls "bizarre, deliciously funny" mysteries, but died young. Well-loved children's author Sheila Hodgetts's books, which contained "the full panoply of fairy tale tropes," possibly lacked sticking power because they did not have the merchandising and licensing opportunities of others. Charles Hamilton "was one of the most prolific authors in history, but hardly any of his books can now be found," both because he used so many pen names and because his schoolboy adventure stories, though popular at publication, did not age well.
Mystery author Christopher Fowler (Bryant & May: Strange Tide) has turned his own life-long love of books into a literary monument to forgotten authors. Though his focus is limited mostly to white British and American writers, he addresses minority authors (along with a plea for greater diversity in publishing) and a historical lack of non-English translations in his notes on the choices he made. Fowler's literary guidebook covers 100 individual authors across a broad spectrum of genres and includes 14 additional essays, such as "The Forgotten Rivals of Holmes, Bond and Miss Marple," which are delightful dissections of why some authors succeeded while others have vanished. Bibliophiles wishing to discover "new" authors will appreciate the easily digestible sections and conversational tone. --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Christopher Fowler offers an entertaining and well-researched examination of once-popular authors who have been all but forgotten.
paperback, 400p., 9781786484901
The Way I Heard It
by Mike Rowe
Popular television host, narrator, actor and product pitchman, Mike Rowe presents 35 cleverly written short mysteries about public figures and notables that are culled from his podcast, The Way I Heard It. Between the mysteries, Rowe, with his signature humor and dry wit, ties in entertaining anecdotes about his own life--childhood adventures while growing up in a tight-knit Baltimore family; his mentors and his girlfriends; his penchant for Travis McGee novels; and his many comical experiences on the winding, bumpy road to success.
Rowe has hosted several offbeat shows on networks such as QVC, the Science Channel, CNN and National Geographic. He's most known for Dirty Jobs, where he performed 300 messy occupational duties alongside regular, hardworking employees. Rowe's affinity for the programs of radio broadcaster Paul Harvey served as inspiration for his creation of the mysteries of the book--what he pitches as "some true stories you probably don't know about some famous people you probably do." This includes obscure facts about presidents, musicians, writers, sports figures and more--the living and the dead--as well as places and events.
Readers will be greatly amused and intrigued by Rowe's presentation of each story. He offers just enough information and clues to keep readers engrossed--and guessing--about the who or what of each subject before he delivers surprising twists and reveals the mysterious identity at each story's conclusion. For all the jobs Mike Rowe has held in his storied career, writing might just prove to be his forte. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: Popular TV personality Mike Rowe cleverly spins and unravels mysteries about notable public figures, while sharing stories of his own life.
hardcover, 272p., 9781982130855
Parking the Moose: One American's Quest to Uncover His Incredible Canadian Roots
by Dave Hill
Billed as "the greatest Canada-based literary thrill ride of your lifetime," comedian and radio host Dave Hill's Parking the Moose does not disappoint. Hill, from Cleveland, Ohio, was convinced early on by his Ontario-born grandfather that Canada was a far superior country. Tossing aside the ingrained ideology of the U.S. as the "greatest nation on Earth," Hill became obsessed with Canada. Hockey was his only sport, he eschewed bacon for the "far more delicious" Canadian variety and "whenever the subject of health care was brought up, [he] was more vocal about the vast merits of the Canadian system than perhaps any other nine-year-old you'd ever want to meet."
His passion for our northern neighbor waned following his grandfather's death, but as Hill (Dave Hill Doesn't Live Here Anymore) barreled into middle age, he felt a yearning to learn more about the man and his national pride. Over the next year and a half, Hill and various pals (some he met via social media or podcasts and was mostly convinced were not serial killers) visited cities from coast to coast to determine just what was so special about Canada.
Hill constructs his work as a loose travelogue, a tongue-in-cheek narrative steeped in humor. In this love story to his Canadian weaknesses--poutine, heavy metal and knickknacks--Hill seeks genuine connection and understanding. The result is a laugh-out-loud view of the differences between neighbors and the obvious merits of people who are kind, gentle and still imperfect. Though Canadian multitudes cannot be contained in a "mere book," readers will fall for the country that Hill's grandfather "simply wouldn't shut up about." --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: Comedian Dave Hill hilariously reports on the time he spent exploring his Canadian roots.
hardcover, 304p., 9780385690041
What I Lick Before Your Face and Other Haikus by Dogs
by Jamie Coleman
"Who's a good human? Come on, who is it?" While he doesn't exactly parody the common inane question humans pose, Jamie Coleman (Please Stop Touching Me... and Other Haiku by Cats) does metaphorically point the paw at the indignities our best friends endure, by channeling 64 haiku "written" by poetic canines.
A number of entries are scatological ("The definition/ Of friendship must surely be/ You, a bag, my poop"), with recurring themes around walkies (and the "harness of oppression") and consumption: grass, shoes, maybe sausages, drinks from that big white bowl. Canines are philosophical. A woeful bloodhound addresses the "Good Boy" question: "I no longer know/ If you are being genuine/ Or rhetorical." Each entry includes a portrait-quality photo of the poet, and while some may be snippy, most poems reflect the loving bond between dog and human. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller, Book Passage, San Francisco, Calif.
Discover: Dogs wax poetic about their experiences with their humans in this delightful collection of haiku.
hardcover, 128p., 9781982127442
Morning Glory on the Vine: Early Songs and Drawings
by Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell fans who are still sulking because they weren't among the hundred friends to whom she gave a collection of her drawings and handwritten song lyrics over the 1971 holiday season can perk up: they can finally own a copy. In Morning Glory on the Vine: Early Songs and Drawings, the lyrics to 60-odd Mitchell songs--"Big Yellow Taxi" and "River" among them--are reproduced in her lilting cursive alongside 30-something moody, full-size drawings in color and black-and-white. Subjects include homey scenes (various dining rooms) and familiar faces (Graham Nash, Neil Young). In an introduction written for this edition, Mitchell says that she created the book because in 1971, "all my friends were kind of nouveau riche, so buying Christmas presents was going to be really difficult." This year's holiday shoppers will find nothing difficult about choosing a gift for the Mitchell fans on their list. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: The elegant handcrafted holiday gift that Joni Mitchell gave to her friends in 1971 is now available in a gorgeous facsimile edition for fans.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,
hardcover, 136p., 9780358181729
The League of Extraordinarily Funny Women: 50 Trailblazers of Comedy
by Sheila Moeschen, illus. by Anne Bentley
In the introduction to The League of Extraordinarily Funny Women, author Sheila Moeschen informs readers that in 1916, the El Paso Herald ran a headline proclaiming, "Women's Sense of Humor Is Steadily Developing." A hundred years later, there's ample evidence the female sense of humor is alive and well. Funny Women is a compendium of 50 trailblazers--each spotlighted with an illustrated portrait and short bio--who have changed the face of comedy throughout the past century.
With categories like "Snarky, Sassy, Super Smarties" and "Magnificent, Marvelous, Mighty Misfits," the list is inclusive, with longstanding favorites like Joan Rivers, Nora Ephron and Carol Burnett mingling with more recent stars such as Tig Notaro and Maysoon Zayid. And it's heartening to see many diverse personalities, including Ali Wong, Nasim Pedrad, Margaret Cho and Wanda Sykes. Comedy might be hard, but these women make it look easy. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: A brightly illustrated collection highlights 50 groundbreaking comediennes from the past century.
hardcover, 232p., 9780762466641
Art & Photography
by Rosamund Cox
Unforgettable Portraits is a beautiful, large-format collection of images from several decades of the international Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. Each stunning photo--close-ups and dioramas; elephants, leopards, ants and springtails--gets accompanying text explaining the species, the context, the photographer's equipment and technique, with an emphasis on endangered species and climate change. Readers meet the Atlantic wolfish, the spotted-tailed quoll and the Namib Desert's welwitschia, and learn that spirit bears have "a mutation of the same gene that gives rise to red hair in humans" and that the photographer must be part wildlife scientist to get these shots, designing blinds and lying in wait for days, weeks and longer.
These 70 stunning images, by more than 50 photographers from more than 20 countries, would make a wondrous gift for any lover of wildlife, strangeness and beauty. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: Lions, tigers and bears--and more--light up the incandescent pages of this collection of stunning wildlife photography.
hardcover, 128p., 9780228101833
by Courtney Watson McCarthy
You don't have to be Dan Brown's Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon to spot the wondrous truth of these da Vincis. With Leonardo Pop-Ups, the paper engineer and graphic designer Courtney Watson McCarthy puts the work of a master--and the page itself--into flight. Da Vinci's sketchbook rendering of The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne stands 12 inches tall, its five separate panels creating a dazzling dimensionality. Turn the page and the Vitruvian Man himself leaps up, arms and legs stretched out in his square and circle, representative of the perfection of creation, exquisitely rendered in cardboard. McCarthy's 10 da Vinci pop-ups also include The Annunciation and, from a sketchbook, a pedal-powered flying machine. The follow-up to previous volumes honoring the likes of Gaudi and Escher, Leonardo Pop-Ups itself is something of a flying machine, an improbable marvel. It's sturdy, too. -- Alan Scherstuhl, freelance writer and editor
Discover: The Vitruvian Man leaps from the page in this marvelously engineered pop-up book.
Thames & Hudson,
hardcover, 16p., 9780500239964
Lair: Radical Homes and Hideouts of Movie Villains
by Chad Oppenheim with Andrea Gollin, editors
Architect Chad Oppenheim remembers watching The Man with the Golden Gun in 1978, enthralled by the modernist elegance of assassin Francisco Scaramanga's home: "He had one of the sickest hideouts of all time." In some ways, Lair: Radical Homes and Hideouts of Movie Villains is the culmination of Oppenheim's childhood fascination and delves into the sinister architectural marvels of 15 motion pictures. Several but not all of them belong to Bond villains; one even belongs to animated antagonist Syndrome in Pixar's The Incredibles.
This arresting compendium provides an overview of each film, villain and hideout, along with striking stills and blueprints, all set in silver ink against black pages. Also included are essays and interviews that explore deeper facets of morality and modernism. For the movie buff and design aficionado, Lair offers an unforgettable tour of top-secret retreats of exceptional taste. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Architect Chad Oppenheim and others invite readers to trespass into dangerous and exquisite territory in this magnificent exploration of movie villain hideaways.
hardcover, 290p., 9781732297869
Jim Marshall: Show Me the Picture: Images and Stories from a Photography Legend
by Amelia Davis
Music fans may not realize they know Jim Marshall's photographs, but odds are they have been wowed by his iconic work. From his legendary shot of Johnny Cash "giving one" (i.e., the finger) to the warden before his 1969 concert at San Quentin Prison (purportedly the most bootlegged photograph ever) to a portrait of Miles Davis hanging in Obama's White House, Marshall is known as "the chronicler of rock royalty."
Jim Marshall: Show Me the Picture is a beautifully bound and slip-covered volume of almost 300 glossy pages showcasing hundreds of Marshall's images, marked-up contact sheets, short essays and a brief story of his colorful and tragic life. Marshall respected his subjects--gaining him unparalleled insight and access--whom he captured, almost impossibly, without cropping or added lighting. The power leaps from Marshall's photographs like Peter Frampton in flight. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: Essays by those who knew rock 'n' roll, jazz and civil rights photographer Jim Marshall are woven throughout glossy pages displaying his celebrated images.
hardcover, 288p., 9781452180373
Everyone's a Critic: The Ultimate Cartoon Book
by Bob Eckstein, editor
Despite the numerous essays, reviews and works of short fiction the New Yorker has published since 1925, special attention has always been paid to the cartoon work that accompanies each issue. In this spirit, editor (and frequent New Yorker cartoon contributor) Bob Eckstein here curates work from 36 masters of the craft--half of which have never been published--that plays on a timeless theme and serves as the collection's title. Everyone's a Critic is an intelligent, hilarious discourse on modern-day criticism, featuring everything from judgmental cavemen to altruistic burglars to a police sketch artist with more lofty ambitions. With work from acclaimed contributors like Roz Chast, Bob Mankoff and Liza Donnelly, Eckstein summarizes the book in his introduction when he declares, "I'm hoping this book can be a life-changing experience for those who up until now have been unable to roll with the punches or simply enjoy a chef's salad." --Zack Ruskin, freelance reviewer
Discover: An amusing yet thoughtful collection of cartoons from the New Yorker's best artists focused on our obsession with critiquing everything we encounter.
Princeton Architectural Press,
hardcover, 144p., 9781616898533
Airline Maps: A Century of Art and Design
by Mark Ovenden, Maxwell Roberts
Mark Ovenden, author of Transit Maps of the World, has teamed up with Maxwell Roberts to create Airline Maps: A Century of Art and Design. This beautiful book, filled with images of vintage airline maps starting as early as 1919, showcases how the expanding world of flight led to the evolution of maps over the century.
From their outset, these maps were almost art deco posters in their own right; they became even more color-saturated in the 1950s and 1960s, and then gradually more streamlined as the decades passed. Various airlines chose to highlight differing aspects: cultural icons from their landing places, distorted versions of maps to make destinations look closer, and technical details about the planes on which customers would travel.
Sure to please armchair globetrotters and graphic designers alike, Airline Maps is a fascinating book to explore. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: This attractive volume pairs graphic design and travel in its exploration of airline maps.
paperback, 144p., 9780143134077
Children's & Young Adult
Infinite Hope: A Black Artist's Journey from World War II to Peace
by Ashley Bryan
For four decades, Newbery Honoree and Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Ashley Bryan kept his military experiences in World War II a secret. The author and illustrator of children's books such as Freedom over Me and Can't Scare Me was 19 when the U.S. Army drafted him. Pulled from the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City, Bryan encountered something entirely foreign to him: segregation. "The sky, the sunlight--they enclosed us all equally. But the United States's policy of segregation... separated white people from Black people. While I had experienced prejudice in my lifetime... I had never experienced segregation before." Infinite Hope is Bryan's account of the war and the people, art and determination that carried him through.
Despite the threat of death and the ugliness of racism, Bryan explains, "What gave me faith and direction was my art. In my knapsack, in my gas mask, I kept paper, pens, and pencils.... It was the only way to keep my humanity." Just as creating the art was an escape for Bryan, viewing it in Infinite Hope is an escape for the reader. Sketches and paintings he mailed home enrich this autobiography and show the depth of its subject. The juxtaposition of historical photographs with Bryan's work contributes to the reader's understanding of both the artist's perspective and his wartime experiences. And letters he wrote home to his friend Eva offer personal glimpses into his wartime thoughts and feelings.
Infinite Hope is a must for every library, public and personal. Whether readers enjoy history, literature or art, this book captures them all in the life of a man who has made a lasting impression on the world. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: Renowned author and illustrator Ashley Bryan tells the story of how art carried him through the horrors of war and racism during World War II in this memoir for young readers.
hardcover, 112p., ages 10-up, 9781534404908
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story
by Kevin Noble Maillard, illus. by Juana Martinez-Neal
While Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story is recommended for audiences ages three to six, it's undoubtedly a book that will last on shelves well into readers' double digits. Kevin Noble Maillard--co-editor of Loving v. Virginia in a Post-Racial World, Syracuse University law professor and a member of the Seminole Nation, Mekusukey band--has effectively written two books for multiple age groups.
The first two-thirds is an affecting picture book that features family and friends gathering, creating and enjoying fry bread together. Glorious double-page spreads introduced by pithy, resonating phrases define the Native American staple: "FRY BREAD IS FOOD," "FRY BREAD IS COLOR," "FRY BREAD IS HISTORY." Caldecott honoree and Pura Belpré-awarded illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal's (Alma and How She Got Her Name) artistry revels in the faces: the children's hungry delight at the "light like snow and cream/ Warm like rays and sun" results; the adults' joy in "moments together." Maillard's text readily convinces that "FRY BREAD IS US," as "we strengthen each other/ To learn, change, and survive."
Then comes book two, which augments the simple, sincere verses with illuminating edification for older readers. Maillard's expansive author's note follows across nine pages, amplifying every descriptive "Fry bread is..." phrase with context, background, history and personal tidbits. Insisting on inclusive recognition, Maillard gives "voice to the Indigenous nations and communities within the United States" by including tribe names across the endpapers. Remarkable in balancing the shared delights of extended family with onerous ancestral legacy, Maillard both celebrates and bears witness to his no-single-recipe-fits-all community. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: In Kevin Noble Maillard's debut, the simple act of making Native American Fry Bread becomes a practice of tradition, a celebration of community and the honoring of crucial historical legacy.
Roaring Brook Press,
hardcover, 48p., ages 3-6, 9781626727465
by Nic Stone
Seventeen-year-old Rico Danger (pronounced "DON-gur") doesn't have a life outside of "school, work, and sleep" because she pulls 10-hour shifts at the Gas 'n' Go to help support her mom and nine-year-old brother. While at work one evening, she sells a lottery ticket that she later learns is a winner for a multimillion-dollar jackpot. Which of the lotto buyers could it have been: the middle-aged white guy who pays for his purchases with $50 bills? The cute elderly black lady with a light-up Christmas sweater? To find the winner and make sure they get their jackpot, Rico enlists the help of 18-year-old Alexander "Zan" Macklin, "varsity quarterback, all-around teen dream, and heir to the booty-paper throne" (his family owns a toilet paper company), who was also in the store that night. Zan and Rico's quest slowly moves their relationship beyond friendship, and Rico learns that, while money is a necessity, it doesn't necessarily buy happiness.
In Jackpot, Nic Stone (Dear Martin) excels at shedding light on low-income family struggles that aren't always obvious: Rico's mama won't apply for public assistance because "the stigma makes punches at her dignity"; Rico feels a "sense of unworthiness" whenever she's around Zan and "his nice clothes and... nice car." Stone also illustrates how the lack or excess of money can both offer freedom and restrict it. While having money would allow Rico a "normal high school experience," it keeps Zan from going to college ("a waste of four vital fiscal years," says his father). Smart, humorous and hopeful, Jackpot examines the effects of money and privilege on individual choice and relationships. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Discover: A hard-working teen enlists a wealthy classmate to help her track down an unclaimed winning lottery ticket in Nic Stone's hopeful story about money, entitlement and freedom.
hardcover, 368p., ages 14-up, 9781984829627
Roar Like a Dandelion
by Ruth Krauss, illus. by Sergio Ruzzier
This previously unpublished picture book by the inimitable Ruth Krauss, author of such classics as The Carrot Seed and A Hole Is to Dig, is perfectly paired with the subtly colored pen, ink and watercolor art of 2011 Sendak Fellow Sergio Ruzzier (Two Mice). Delicately filled with enticing details, whimsical commands and humorous illustrations, Roar Like a Dandelion is an unusual, playful alphabet book.
The absurd quality of the activities and the accompanying pictures will be immediately appealing to any child (or adult) with a wry sense of humor: "Paint a picture of a cage with an open door and wait" appears on a two-page spread showing a small animal artist sleeping next to a cage painted on an old wall; strange, winged creatures fly eagerly toward the open cage. The white space on each page provides a sense of quiet order, while the illustrations of individual birds, insects, plants and other objects cavorting exude a happy, wild feel. Ruzzier creates a visual narrative with recurring characters: a cat holding an umbrella as elephants "Fall like rain," for instance, scatters a few pages later when the elephants "Jump like a raindrop." Whether listening to the book as a read-aloud or reading the pages independently, children will surely want to join in on the action ("Hold your arms out like a little pine tree"). A single child or a whole group can easily engage with Roar and follow the silly directions. Not a first alphabet book, this small gem will encourage imaginative wordplay and movement. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer
Discover: Roar Like a Dandelion is a picture book abecedary that concentrates on verbs and action phrases that encourage writing, thinking and speaking.
hardcover, 48p., ages 4-7, 9780062680075
Homerooms & Hall Passes
by Tom O'Donnell
Meet Devis the thief, Thromdurr the barbarian, Sorrowshade the gloom elf assassin, Vela the Valiant paladin and Albiorix the apprentice wizard--your typical group of middle school-aged Bríandalörians. They take on campaigns "thwarting evil. Righting wrongs. Closing infernal gates opened by demented cultists"--you know, the usual. As a break from the quests, the crew plays its favorite game, Homerooms & Hall Passes (H&H), the "role-playing game of nonadventure... set in the fictional Realm of Suburbia." Players embody the roles of "middle-school students" and create characters who fit into different categories (Thromdurr plays Douglas the 8th level Nerd; Vela plays Valerie the 8th level Overachiever). When Devis steals from a cursed treasure horde, the tweens are transported to J.A. Dewar Middle School and into the lives of their H&H characters. All five must excel or they'll "blow it" and be "permanently eliminated from the game"--effectively, "academic failure... means death." (Thromdurr laments this fate: "I had hoped to be mauled by wild pigs... the traditional death of a berserker of the Sky Bear clan.")
Tom O'Donnell's middle-grade novel is both exactly what you'd expect from the author of Hamstersaurus Rex and delightfully surprising. Every chapter begins with text from one of the 27 H&H rule books, giving readers a hilarious, uncanny view of middle school from the perspective of game-makers who reside in a Dungeons & Dragons-style world. Role-players, fantasy-lovers, fans of silly books... all should be entertained by O'Donnell's outrageously funny characters, over-the-top villains and solid one-liners. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A group of adventurers must break the curse that has transported them to the Realm of Suburbia in Tom O'Donnell's wild Homerooms & Hall Passes.
Balzer + Bray,
hardcover, 352p., ages 8-12, 9780062872142
by Renée Ahdieh
When Celine flees Paris for New Orleans, leaving behind a terrible secret and her plans to design "gowns for the Parisian elite," she dreams of finding the city "filled with promise. And absolution." She's bound for the Ursuline convent, whose sisters will find her an "appropriate" husband. Celine tries to see her stay at the convent as a "newfound chance at life," but it's difficult to be excited when she, her friend Pippa and fellow convent resident Anabel are put to work peddling crafts to raise money for the parish orphanage. At least Celine's ability with "ruched silk and Alençon lace" allows her to contribute embroidered handkerchiefs to the wares.
On the trio's first day of peddling, "exquisite" Odette buys all of her handkerchiefs and asks Celine to make her a gown for Mardi Gras. At Odette's fitting, Celine encounters Sébastien, who is handsome in the way of "a prince from a dark fairytale," along with members of the dangerous and "otherworldly" Court of Lions. But, tragically, Anabel--who had been sent by the Mother Superior to follow Celine--turns up dead, and Celine and Pippa find themselves suspect. Until the murderer strikes again, that is, and appears to be targeting Celine.
Renée Ahdieh's (The Wrath and the Dawn) Celine is a strong, deeply conflicted character who attempts to balance society's confining roles for women with her own appetite for excitement. Bad-boy Sébastien, with his "inhuman" friends, is a suitable foil to Celine, and the vibrant city of New Orleans an evocative backdrop for this first in a darkly thrilling series. As the unnamed narrator points out to begin the story, "New Orleans is a city ruled by the dead." By The Beautiful's end, readers will believe it. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: Celine finds romantic intrigue--and the undead--in this atmospheric YA series opener set in New Orleans.
hardcover, 448p., ages 12-up, 9781524738174
Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks
by Jason Reynolds
How much do we really know about the people around us? The students at Latimer Middle School are typical kids: energetic, seemingly carefree and full of life. But beneath the surface, there are stories that sometimes even those closest to them have never heard. Everyone knows the Low Cuts steal pocket change; no one knows the oddly heartwarming reason. Say-So's teacher, in an attempt to keep her from "derailing the entire lesson," permits the class clown five minutes of jokes at the end of each period; Mrs. Stevens doesn't know that Say-So relies on jokes to make her hardworking mother laugh and to bond with her ailing grandfather. And those two boys clamoring down the hall--small Kenzi riding piggyback on "walking anvil" Simeon's back--aren't trying to be disruptive: Kenzi's diminutive stature has resulted in injuries from accidental elbows to the face in the crowded halls.
Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds (Long Way Down) is an unconventional, clever exploration of the secret trials and tribulations of middle schoolers. The 10 connected and intertwining tales are not neatly contained nor completed at the end, but rather left ambiguous, allowing readers to decide what happens next. Each of Reynolds's characters is so highly developed and memorable that they are easily noticed as background players in the others' vignettes. This insightful novel contains thought-provoking truths, often found within hilarious slice-of-life moments. --Kyla Paterno, freelance reviewer
Discover: In Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks, Jason Reynolds explores the lives of middle schoolers in 10 brief, interwoven stories.
Caitlyn Dlouhy/Simon & Schuster,
hardcover, 208p., ages 10-14, 9781481438285
Caspian Finds a Friend
by Jacqueline Véissid, illus. by Merrilees Brown
In Jacqueline Véissid (Ruby's Sword) and Merrilees Brown's Caspian Finds a Friend, Caspian lives in a lighthouse "surrounded by a cold gray-blue sea." Every night the lonely boy "casts his light out into the darkness, searching... but no one arrives, just the sea and the skies." One day, Caspian decides to take his happiness into his own hands and launches a plea into the ocean by way of the proverbial message in a bottle. "Days sink into weeks, weeks into months. He waits and waits, his hopes bobbing like a bottle on waves." When Caspian receives a response, he sets out on a voyage across the murky waters, the stars splashed against the sky "illuminating the darkness." At the other end of the sea, a furry friend with "warm and gentle" eyes lies in wait.
Véissid's lilting, rhythmic text calls to mind the rocking of waves. Brown's luminous illustrations digitally combine oil paint, relief print and charcoal to bring to life textured landscapes, poignant facial expressions and extraordinary spreads that take readers on a wondrous visual journey. As the narrative grows more hopeful, her art shifts from darker, melancholic shades to lighter, more cheerful tints, her palette of mostly turquoise, white and red giving Caspian's world a hyperreal, otherworldly feel. Kids will likely delight in Brown's illustrative details, such as the rainbow fish that seem to follow Caspian wherever he goes. Véissid's words and Brown's images combine in Caspian Finds a Friend to create a moving picture book that speaks to our need for connection, and encourages us to use our ingenuity to find it. --Shelley Diaz, supervising librarian, BookOps: New York Public Library & Brooklyn Public Library
Discover: A lonely little boy wishes for a friend and bravely takes steps to find one in Jacqueline Véissid and Merrilees Brown's dreamlike picture book.
hardcover, 36p., ages 4-7, 9781452137803
Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir
by Nikki Grimes
In her haunting memoir in verse, award-winning author and poet Nikki Grimes shares what she believes is "the most important story" she has to tell: that of her own devastatingly difficult childhood. Grimes, author of Coretta Scott King Award-winning Bronx Masquerade, as well as Between the Lines, The Watcher, Chasing Freedom and many others, is nakedly honest in Ordinary Hazards.
She works within a loosely chronological structure that begins with her birth in 1950 in Harlem and moves through the years to 1966, when her mother's mental illness escalates and her beloved though mostly absent father dies. During these years, coinciding with the civil rights movement, she and her older sister, Carol, pinball between foster homes and stints with their mother and her sexually abusive husband. At three, she and her sister are locked in a cockroach-infested closet all day, every day, by a woman their mother had hired to watch them, leading to a years-long fear of the dark. ("No one warned me/ the world was full of/ ordinary hazards/ like closets with locks and keys.") The horror of her days relents occasionally when she's in a good foster home, finds a friend or, most significantly, discovers writing at age six. For the first time, she lets her thoughts "gush like a geyser,/ shooting high into the moonless sky."
Ordinary Hazards is a gorgeous piece of writing that also serves as powerful inspiration for any reader who has struggled and sought grace. Grimes's triumph over adversity is matched only by her skill with the written word--her memoir is accessible to poetry enthusiasts and detractors alike, and will linger long after the final lines. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: In this stunning YA memoir-in-verse, Nikki Grimes tells the harrowing story of her childhood, out of which she rose, against all odds, to become an award-winning poet and author.
hardcover, 336p., ages 12-up, 9781629798813
Dreams from Many Rivers: A Hispanic History of the United States Told in Poems
by Margarita Engle, illus. by Beatriz Gutierrez Hernandez
In Margarita Engle's Dreams from Many Rivers, nuanced stories in verse about the territory now called the United States ring out from the pages in a chorus of distinct voices. Each poem--inspired by historical figures and a multitude of Latinx experiences--has a name, a location and a year attached in an effort to "portray a few glimpses of a vast and complicated past." The 2017-2019 Young People's Poet Laureate wanted to face "the shameful atrocities of Spanish conquistadors and their descendants" and "acknowledge that the history of the modern US begins in Puerto Rico," highlighting how people "have felt simultaneously accepted and rejected." Split into six sections, the poems begin in 1491 Borikén ("now known as Puerto Rico") and span generations, each section paired with an illustration depicting the growth of the United States.
Engle's poems show a variety of emotions, inviting in a range of readers. In "Daydreams," Yaima asks, "Are all little girls/ just as happy/ as I am/ when I swim/ with quiet manatees,/ telling them/ enchanting stories?" Spanish soldier Vicente de Zaldívar laments in "Vicious" that "violence/ is like a fever, contagious, destroying/ everything in its path, including/ my conscience." Beatriz Gutierrez Hernandez, in her picture-book debut, depicts in sharp, gray-scale art specific details of Latinx life, giving the reader a more concrete experience with the time period discussed and the emotional state of the speaker.
The book ends on an upbeat note, though the poem comes from Elsa in Florida, who has just survived a school shooting: "We are the hopeful future,/ triumphing over this country's/ troubled past." Young readers may see this as an invitation to learn from history and "be leaders, not followers." --Clarissa Hadge, bookstore manager, Trident Booksellers & Cafe, Boston, Mass.
Discover: The history of the United States--from before its founding to the present day--is told through a variety of Latinx stories in verse in Margarita Engle's middle-grade Dreams from Many Rivers.
hardcover, 208p., ages 10-up, 9781627795319
Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of the "Children's Ship"
by Deborah Heiligman
During World War II, British families feared for the safety of their children as German bombers attacked the country. "It seemed a good bet that the children would be safer at sea than at home," so the Children's Overseas Reception Board (CORB) was created to ship children away for the duration of the war.
In September 1940, the SS City of Benares, a luxury liner used as military and CORB transport, set sail to Canada; on board with the crew and paying passengers were 90 CORB children and 10 escorts. "All the children were struck by the ship's grandeur," but what began as adventure--"It is very lovely," wrote one child to her parents, "I wish you were with us"--turned tragic when a German U-boat torpedoed the ship during a strong storm. Injuries, overturned lifeboats, drowning and exposure to cold ultimately resulted in the deaths of all but 148 of the original 406 on board. Of the 90 CORB children, only 13 survived.
In Torpedoed, award-winning children's author Deborah Heiligman (Vincent and Theo; Charles and Emma) explores a harrowing moment in history with clear, insightful prose. Using first-person sources, Heiligman follows the stories of real survivors as events unfold, making history both engaging and personal. In addition to historical documents, photographs and illustrations, Torpedoed also includes ample back matter, including a bibliography, endnotes, an "After the Voyage" section and a list of names of those lost at sea. With her dual focus on the tragedy and the bravery of its heroes, Heiligman maintains an impressive balance while illuminating human strength and resilience in extraordinary circumstances. --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Deborah Heiligman's Torpedoed tells the true story of devastation and survival aboard the World War II "children's ship."
hardcover, 304p., ages 10-14, 9781627795548