Laurie Halse Anderson: Sometimes You Have to Shout
|Laurie Halse Anderson
(photo: Randy Fontanilla)
(photo: Franck Goldberg)
It's been 20 years since Laurie Halse Anderson's groundbreaking first novel, Speak, was published. In honor of this anniversary, Joy Peskin, Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers editorial director and Anderson's editor, interviewed Anderson for Shelf Awareness. A 20th-anniversary edition of Speak, with a new introduction by Ashley C. Ford and an afterword by Jason Reynolds, was just released.
Joy Peskin: According to Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." What in your own life has changed in the past 20 years, since Speak was first published, and what has stayed the same?
Laurie Halse Anderson: My life has gone through tremendous changes, particularly in terms of my family responsibilities. We raised our children, took care of elderly and dying parents and are now enjoying the bliss of grandparenthood. Along with writing lots of YA and historical fiction books, I've also traveled the globe talking with and listening to readers, teachers and families about books, reading and what's important in life.
But still... every 98 seconds, someone in America is sexually assaulted. Every 11 minutes, that victim is a child or teen (source: https://www.rainn.org/statistics).
Until we dramatically change society's willingness to talk about sexual violence, and support victims instead of protecting perpetrators, those horrifying statistics won't change.
How would you say society has changed in the past 20 years, especially in relation to sexual violence, gender politics and other issues you talk about in Speak? How have things stayed the same?
We've made some progress in accepting, supporting and respecting LGBTQIA people, but we have far to go. Women are still underpaid, overlooked, harassed, abused and molested with little judicial recourse and much online shaming. Parents are still afraid to talk to their kids about healthy sexuality and consent. The #MeToo movement has helped open the conversation a bit, but the majority of men I've seen are fighting hard to shut it down.
We've taken a few baby steps. We have miles to go.
When I reread Speak in anticipation of working with you on the 20th anniversary edition, I was struck by how eerily timely it feels--almost as if you wrote it 20 weeks ago, not 20 years ago. What do you think makes Melinda's story so enduring?
I tried to avoid dating the book with too much slang or fashion references. That certainly helped. And sadly, the meat-grinder aspect of high school life hasn't changed much in two decades.
Speaking up after you've been victimized by a traumatic thing is an enormous challenge. While Speak certainly centers on sexual violence, the fact that it provides readers with a practical model of speaking up after trauma is the key to its longevity. Few people get through adolescence without emotional scars.
I've been lucky to sit by your side at several book signings, and without fail, someone tells you how much they connected with Melinda's story. People often cry or confide in you their most personal experiences. How do you, as an author (and not a therapist), cope with holding the pain of your fans?
People in pain need to be heard. They deserve compassion, tissues and an open heart. Sometimes they want a hug. Providing those things to readers is a tremendous honor for me. It's like acknowledging the physical and emotional sacrifices made by our veterans. I can't fix them, but I can help them find healthy support. I can let them know they are seen and their pain is valid. That they trust me enough to share that pain strengthens me.
The 20th-anniversary edition of Speak contains an introduction by Ashley C. Ford and an afterword by Jason Reynolds. Why did you choose each of them to contribute to this edition of the book?
Ashley interviewed Emily Carroll (illustrator of the Speak graphic novel) and me at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books last year. It was far and away the best interview I've had in my entire career. She's brilliant, insightful and an important new voice in the literary community. I've known Jason since When I Was the Greatest was published in 2014. His ability to understand and support teen readers is unparalleled. His voice is significant and powerful. I'm so grateful to both Ashley and Jason for helping Speak reach the next generation.
For this edition, you wrote an essay on consent. Why do you think it's important for young people to learn to talk about consent?
Because you should never touch another person's body without their permission. That rather basic lesson is one that is rarely taught to children. Too many of those children grow up to commit crimes of sexual harassment, abuse and/or violence. The only way to prevent those crimes, and stop the victimization of millions, is to be honest with kids about healthy sexuality, and crystal-clear about the laws and moral code surrounding consent.
You have a new book coming out from Viking Children's Books called Shout, in which you discuss, among other things, your personal experience as a rape survivor. When Speak was first published, do you think many people knew it was inspired, in part, by your own life?
I think a lot of people suspected this was true. Adults never dared to ask, but teens did, to my delight. I always told them the truth: what really happened to me, and how much of my personal experience was woven into Melinda's. Their reactions to my stories led me to write Shout. It's my memoir, written in verse--part biography, part call to action, and all rage.
Sometimes speaking up isn't enough. Sometimes you have to shout.
In 30 years, when we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Speak (as little old ladies), in what ways do you hope society will have changed?
I hope the 50th anniversary edition will be a nostalgic one, of interest to people curious about the brutal time period that the book portrays. I hope that teens then will be baffled by a world where traumatized kids were shamed and silenced, and sexual violence was commonplace.
Let's make that happen!
Tessa Hadley: Catching Fragments of the Living World
British author Tessa Hadley has written six novels, including Clever Girl and The Past, as well as three short story collections. Her work appears regularly in the New Yorker. Her seventh novel, Late in the Day (see our review below), is about two couples and how the sudden death of one of the spouses uproots their lives. Hadley lives in London.
Love, friendship and betrayal are central to Late in the Day. Could this novel be called a love story?
Yes, I suppose it is two love stories. Or three, or four. In our private lives, what could be more interesting? Like the electric charges zinging between molecules, two forces are perpetually at work: the love that draws us together and binds us, and its opposite--resistance, the reaction to love, driving us apart and keeping us separate. Both forces essential for our equilibrium, for our vision. As cultures change through time and history, these forces are expressed in new shapes and new versions. Novelists (and other artists) are the chroniclers of this.
Was marriage the seed that grew this story?
The origins of any novel, the very first seeds, often get lost as you write. I think I wanted to trace the long life of a marriage--or, even better, a couple of marriages. I wanted to see the characters hanging onto one another, or failing to hang on, while they changed shape over time. Marriages last longer now than they ever used to in history, because we live so long. And actually my first novel, Accidents in the Home, is obsessed by the same shape-shifting, couples converging and then falling apart.
Late in the Day begins with a death and winds back in time.
In the very beginning, I thought I'd tell my story in a linear way. But as soon as I tried to imagine arriving at Zachary's death--which would have happened, say, three-quarters of the way through the novel--I knew that wouldn't work. It would have felt to the reader like cheating, or like a mean surprise, a malevolence on the part of the author.... I convinced myself that for his death to work, it had to be written in first, where everything begins.
That first scene--the news of Zachary's death--has such immediacy. It blindsides the characters.
I was seized by that first scene as soon as I thought of it: Christine and Alex's peaceful evening, reading and listening to music, is broken open by a dreadful phone call. I could see it vividly, and it made me think for some reason of Michael Haneke's marvelous film Amour. I had to begin with that scene, once it was in my mind's eye. By opening with Zachary's death, all the characters' past experience is altered as we read it, in the light of what's to come. This isn't at all like life, of course.
The novel can play with time in ways we're not allowed, as mere mortals living inside it. Philosophically, I find this interesting. Perhaps time in the novel relates to Nietzsche's eternal return.
Structurally, this novel is complex.
The structure is quite complicated--sections from the present in which Zachary is dead, alternating with sections from the past.
How did you shape the material?
From the beginning, I needed to have an idea of the knotty complications of relations between the couples, because these complications are the pillars sustaining the novel's structure. But I didn't know what these complications would feel like, until I'd written them.
Ensemble casts of characters are prevalent in your work. Is this a conscious choice?
I suppose it's conscious, although I'm not sure it's a choice, exactly. The first reason for choosing to write about ensembles of characters is that I've always lived inside them. All my experience is of a knotted network of family and friends: perhaps I can't easily imagine a life lived in isolation, where one individual carries the whole story.
The second reason is that ensembles make for such rich material. I can remember discovering this when I was writing as a little girl. By the end of chapter four I was bored with the countess and her lover Frederick Fillet. What joy when I realized I could move the story downstairs, among the servants! New perspectives, new interactions; I could see the old story in a new way, just by shifting my angle to another character. An ensemble trebles, quadruples the material inside a given scene.
What interests you most as a writer?
Catching a small fragment of the living world in the net of writing, holding it still while time passes through it and leaves it behind. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Lyndsay Faye: Writing a Feisty, Feminist Heroine
|photo: Gabriel Lehner
Multiple Edgar nominee Lyndsay Faye is the author of five books, including Jane Steele and The Whole Art of Detection. Faye lives in New York City with her husband. Recently, she spoke with us about the Jazz Age, identity and her new novel, The Paragon Hotel (Putnam, $26; reviewed below).
What made you decide to write a novel set in historic Portland, Oregon?
I grew up there. We moved from San Jose, Calif., when I was around six years old. I've never written a novel about a space I didn't know intimately; I grew up obsessed with London, I live in New York, and now Portland is a progression of that. It would be difficult for me to set a novel in historic Boston, never having been a local, but once you've got the flavor of a city, after the food and weather and attitude and music and pace seep into your bones, you can play with time period, and it still works authentically.
Then there's the more personal aspect where I went through a degree of culture shock in the mid-'80s, moving from a very ethnically diverse part of America to, let's say, a very pale part of America. The historian part of me wanted to explain that aspect of my childhood.
The Paragon Hotel is stuffed with historical detail. You must have learned so much from your research.
Oh god, what didn't I learn researching this novel? And I say that in a self-deprecating, heavy-sigh sort of way, because my heroine Alice in the NOW chapters of The Paragon Hotel is in Portland 1921, and we don't know why she has a bullet wound. And Alice in the THEN chapters is revealing everything that leads up to her being shot and escaping Mafia-controlled Harlem. It's like a double helix of two novels.
This basically means that I researched the history of racial strife and the KKK in Portland, then researched Prohibition, and then thought, "Okay, I can sit down and write this beast." But that was hilarious, because then I needed to get a handle on the history of the Italian-American crime syndicate, the women's rights movement, how everyone felt about and after World War I... I could go on forever.
How did you get your voice into character for the Jazz Age?
Ah, this is interesting because I had a very specific date to deal with, which was 1921. That's not your stereotypical patter year, like the iconic "bee's knee's" from 1923. I needed to find words and phrases from the late teens rather than the early '20s--jargon the trench laddies would have brought back, early jazz speak and such. Just about at the point when I was ripping my hair out over it, during a month-long writing residency in Key West, I discovered that Ernest Hemingway was a prolific letter writer during that time period. I went through his correspondence and poached all sorts of malarkey as far as vocabulary is concerned.
The rest of it--and I really try to develop an ear for this during every separate novel--is cadence and where the sense of humor lands. If you tease Alice, she's not going to tell you to cut it out, she'll say, "March directly to the rear, sir, you are insubordinate." If she's calling someone boring, she'll snidely say they could "charm the skin off a tomato." There's a real flair to the language. It was a blast to write!
How much of Alice's experiences with organized crime is invention and how much is based on real events?
A good percentage of it was based in fact but populated by imaginary humans, which is precisely what I normally do. The whole business of the Barrel murder, which was gruesome in the extreme and affected all of Harlem, really happened. The Clutch Hand--the original leader of the first of the Five Families, Giuseppe Morello--never appears in person, but he drives the novel's plot and was entirely too real for everyone's liking. The guns and gambling and rotgut and smuggling and whoring and murdering and assassinating were all real, and I suppose the names have been changed to protect the guilty.
What role did gender play in the unrest of the time period?
Women turned America upside-down during this era! We got the vote; it was women who pushed hardest for temperance; we were the ones left here during the Great War, so you have this train being sailed (as Alice would put it) by women, in a way that never happened previously. The prospect of a bunch of educated ladies running around voting for candidates and working as secretaries and refusing to polish fire irons all day was very threatening to a portion of the populace. And to heighten the drama, now booze is illegal for everyone--so everyone is on a level playing field suddenly when it comes to imbibing, and you have mixed gender speakeasies instead of the men going to their clubs and the ladies retiring to the drawing room, to put it in very broad strokes.
All this female empowerment terrified everyone, naturally, and that was a major aspect of KKK rhetoric in addition to race. Protect Motherhood and Maidenhood! From "inferior" races, yes, but from women themselves as well. Lord, we need protecting from everything, don't we?
Your heroine is a white woman surrounded by people of color. What steps did you take to make sure the characters of color retain their agency?
Intersectional feminism is extremely important to me and, on the one hand, I'm not at all a fan of White People to the Rescue novels. We need to cut that garbage out, pronto. On the other hand, I'm not going to write from the point of view of a black woman in a first-person novel, because I don't feel I have any right to embody that perspective. On the other, other hand, I'm appalled at the notion of writing a book that's just about white characters. And on the other, other, other hand, how do I try to remove accidental stereotypes from my work?
At the end of the day, all my characters are battling tooth and nail for what they believe in, and to save the people they love. We can all relate to that. If not, then I don't want you at my dinner party. Alice entangles herself, yes, and she observes, and she deduces, and she bears witness, and she fights, but everyone here is both flawed and beautiful, and Alice isn't wearing a cape of any kind. --Jacki Fulwood
Rebecca Stead in Conversation with Susin Nielsen
Children's authors Rebecca Stead and Susin Nielsen chat below about inspiration, their artistic processes and writing for children.
(photo: Faye Bender)
|Susin Nielsen (Tallulah Photography)
Rebecca Stead is the author of the Newbery Medal-winning When You Reach Me, as well as Liar & Spy and FirstLight. Her work has received the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for Fiction and the Guardian Children's Fiction Award. Her most recent solo title, Goodbye Stranger (Wendy Lamb/Random House, $16.99), is a middle-grade novel about the changing faces of friendship.
Susin Nielsen got her start writing for the hit TV series Degrassi Junior High, and she went on to write for more than 20 Canadian shows. She is the author of five titles, including Optimists Die First, We Are All Made of Molecules, Word Nerd and The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen. Her most recent book, No Fixed Address (Wendy Lamb/Random House, $16.99), is a "middle-grade story about family, friendship, and growing up when you're one step away from homelessness."
Rebecca Stead: I'm going to start by asking what I always want to know from another writer: What's writing like for you? Did No Fixed Address begin with an unexpected spark? Did you sit yourself down to map out something new? Both?
Susin Nielsen: That's a great question. Most days, to be honest, writing feels like pulling teeth. Once in a while I have one of those beautiful days, where the characters take over and I can barely keep up, like I'm merely the conduit. I don't outline; I usually have a loose framework in mind and I start writing. At the end of my writing time I'll often add notes: "and then this could happen," "scene where this happens," etc.
Ideas for my books come from different places, but I've never had an idea by sitting down at the computer and trying to conjure one--the idea seems to have to bubble to the surface. In the case of No Fixed Address, I was half asleep in a hotel room, three or four years ago, and suddenly a thought ticker-taped through my brain: "I could write about a boy who lives in a van with his mom." That part of it is so mysterious! But when I start writing the draft, I try to treat it like a job, getting my bum in the seat as many mornings as I can, and forcing myself to plough ahead.
How about you? The best writers make it look rather effortless, and your writing has that quality!
Stead: We have similar approaches. I sort of "feel my way" to a book, and it can take a while to get there. I start with a very rough draft that I write longhand. Revision takes me years and sometimes feels endless, and I guess that's because a person could revise forever. One of the challenges of finishing a novel is just deciding that it's finished. There is sometimes one small "something" that comes very late in the process, a discovery or a connection. If I find one of those, it can feel like a sign that I'm done.
One thing I love about your work is that it doesn't condescend. Which makes me wonder: When you're working, how "aware" are you of your kid readers? I want the emotional landscape to be recognizable to kids, but I don't think about the age of my readers much when it comes to the actual writing. How do you feel about it?
Nielsen: This is so fascinating. I don't have that challenge, re: knowing when a book is finished--I'm normally so relieved when I see it coming, I race too fast to get there. I think this is why I've also been told by my editors that I suffer from "endingitis," because I try to wrap up a whole pile of threads one after another in a final chapter. (At least, in the first draft my editors see.)
I also do not think of my readers when I'm writing. I'm merely focused on the story, the characters. I can't imagine thinking about my readers. That would be oddly paralyzing. Ditto with the age of my readers....
I love what you said about wanting the emotional landscape to be recognizable to kids--that's the perfect way to put it. I've told people that I think I have acute emotional memories of what it was like to be young. I don't remember everything, but I remember the feelings that went along with various experiences.
Stead: I wonder if writing for television--the terrifying, relentless schedule of it--might have taught you how to push past moments when the work felt too hard. Something I'm asked by writers of all ages and stages is, "What do you do when you're stuck?" The truth is that when I'm not writing well, sometimes I just take a break. And, usually, I read (or re-read).
Nielsen: Regarding working for TV, I would say that yes, I do think it helped me to perhaps have more discipline, and to write something, anything, even if it's crap. TV deadlines were good because I just had to make choices and stick to them. There wasn't time to be a perfectionist, which is, in my opinion, a curse. I'm so glad I'm not a perfectionist! Because, of course, nothing is ever perfect.
All of that said, though, I recently submitted a new manuscript to my publishers, and I'm still waiting for notes. In the past I've been good about just diving into something else, but this time I've really been floating. Vacation, travel, promoting the new book.... I've written a new picture book manuscript, but quite truthfully, I've done almost no writing. I feel like the well is taking longer to refill this time. It's not a bad feeling; it just... is. And I trust it will fill up again.
by Mesha Maren
In her debut novel, Sugar Run, Mesha Maren plumbs the human dimensions of the economic and opioid addiction crises of rural West Virginia. And she does so with the kind of attentiveness and sensitivity that invites favorable comparison with the work of writers like Chris Offutt and Tony Earley.
At 35, Jodi McCarty has just been freed from prison after serving an 18-year sentence for manslaughter. She makes her way to a small southeast Georgia town on a mission to rescue Ricky Dulett, the abused brother of her former lover, Paula. As a teenager, Jodi fled her West Virginia home with Paula, a woman twice her age. They drove across the southern United States and into Mexico on a destination-free journey where "each moment takes on a texture of delicious, unfamiliar risk," their wandering fueled by Paula's modest skill as a poker player and petty crime.
When she arrives in Chaunceloraine, Ga., Jodi meets Miranda Matheson, the young wife of a fading country music star, and the women quickly discover their mutual attraction. But her plans for Ricky falter when she confronts the reality of nearly two decades that separate him from his childhood trauma.
Though Maren takes her time finding the rhythm of her story, she moves swiftly once she does. Chapters alternate between 1988 and 2007, toward the senseless crime that led to Jodi's incarceration and the climactic events in her relationship with Miranda. Sugar Run is a bleak tale, but one to be admired for its refusal to trade honesty for false hope. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer
Discover: A former inmate struggles to escape her past and make a new life amid the poverty of her West Virginia home.
hardcover, 320p., 9781616206215
by Hideo Yokoyama, trans. by Louise Heal Kawai
Seventeen by Hideo Yokoyama (Six Four) is an investigative thriller that focuses on the real-life tragedy of Japan Airlines Flight 123, a 1985 crash that left 520 dead, while drawing heavily on the author's experience as a reporter at a local newspaper in Gunma Prefecture after the passenger plane crashed into a nearby mountain range. The novel follows fictional protagonist Kazumasa Yuuki, an experienced reporter at the North Kanto Times in Gunma, as it alternates between the frenzy of the 1985 newsroom and 2003, when Yuuki attempts to climb the famously dangerous Tsuitate rock face on Mount Tanigawa. Nicknamed "Devil's Mountain," Tanigawa claimed 779 lives prior to Yuuki's attempt, and he is understandably nervous.
After the jet crashes, Yuuki moves quickly to coordinate his paper's coverage. Reporters sent to the mountain return shaken by the gruesome site strewn with body parts. Office politics become a major stumbling block in tackling the enormous tragedy, as Yuuki struggles with powerful personalities and factional divides that threaten to paralyze the newsroom. Perhaps Yuuki's greatest challenge in covering the disaster, however, is his strong sense of journalistic ethics, which often puts him at odds with employees of the newspaper operating under the sometimes perverse incentives of for-profit journalism.
Seventeen's most gripping moments come with Yuuki on the verge of enormous scoops, struggling to authenticate information while the deadline comes nail-bitingly close. It is a thoughtful take on the purposes good reportage should serve, as well as a meditation on how brief moments in time can shape the rest of our lives. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Discover: Seventeen is a thriller that alternates between a reporter covering a Japanese plane disaster in 1985 and the same reporter's 2003 attempt to climb a famously dangerous mountain.
MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
hardcover, 368p., 9780374261245
The Western Wind
by Samantha Harvey
In winter 1491, a small English village endures privations and the consequences of a mysterious death. The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey (Dear Thief) is a poignant tale of superstition and guilt narrated by a quietly despairing parish priest.
John Reve, the priest, is, as his name implies, revered by all. "You're God's word to us and his wish," a parishioner says to him, but in this isolated and uneducated flock, faith is accompanied by superstition. When a wealthy and ambitious landowner drowns in the nearby river, the fearful residents feel sure it's a severe punishment from God. Even though it's not clear if the drowning is murder or suicide, the rural church dean expects Reve to name someone as murderer. Reve resists, thinking, "Death itself is the murderer, and birth its accomplice. Men die because they're born to die."
Reve's confessional, a simple box with a recently added screen that mocks a non-existent privacy, hears transgressions both large and small. Dispensing wisdom and pardons in equal measure, he's the one person who knows every sinful thought and action in the village. And, as it turns out, Reve is keeping secrets himself. But who will take his confession?
The Western Wind is a sublime and heartrending story, perfect for readers who enjoy impeccably chosen language and a penetrating look at the human condition. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: During the Middle Ages, the parish priest of a small village confronts a mysterious death as he struggles with his own doubts and regrets.
hardcover, 304p., 9780802128287
The Enlightened Army
by David Toscana, trans. by David William Foster
Early in Mexican author David Toscana's The Enlightened Army, a friend of the protagonist Ignacio Matus asks him to "just promise me that this adventure is for the fatherland, and not revenge for the medal the gringos stole from you." Matus, a history teacher, still grieves the outcome of the Mexican-American War--in 1848--and his "adventure" is to lead a group of pubescent students from Mexico into Texas to reconquer the Alamo. The medal refers to an Olympic bronze that Matus believes he deserved--he staged his own race simultaneously with the one held in Paris in 1928 and achieved a time faster than the gringo who placed third.
Initially, in this highly entertaining farce, Matus does not intend to recruit schoolchildren, but then he is fired for being overly patriotic and fails in his attempt to raise an army of loyal citizens from Monterrey. A boy who lives with him continues his cause and finds support among the highly imaginative and overly romantic students from the institute the boy attends.
"Ubaldo [a student soldier] says he was fascinated by the priest's story about the body that dies and releases an invisible puff of smoke that flies up to a place of blue clouds and happy faces where it will live forever. Didn't you see he was serious? That priest needs to be sent to the institute." Toscana's recounting of the army's journey ably mocks the delusions of nationalism, egotism and religion that so often lead humans to folly. --Evan M. Anderson, collection development librarian, Kirkendall Public Library, Ankeny, Iowa
Discover: The Enlightened Army is a delightful exploration of absurdity and delusion as one man attempts to conquer Texas on behalf of an uninterested Mexico.
University of Texas Press,
paperback, 232p., 9781477317778
An Orchestra of Minorities
by Chigozie Obioma
An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma (The Fishermen) is a tragic look at how binding oneself to a singular purpose can both give life new meaning and destroy it. Narrated by the chi (guardian spirit) of a young man living in Nigeria, the novel is a sprawling look at the country's past and present.
It's a love story between Chinonso and Ndali, a woman far above him in caste and learning. The two meet by chance when he sees her preparing to jump off a bridge to her death. He succeeds in stopping her, and they fall in love, much to the chagrin of her family. A poor poultry farmer, Chinonso has none of the attributes her parents expect in a suitor, and he is ostracized for his failures. At the urging of an old schoolmate, he sells his family's property to enroll in university in Cyprus, hopeful that by returning with a degree he can win over Ndali's parents. But his schoolmate's encouragement turns out to be a ruse, and Chinonso is left penniless on the Mediterranean island, beginning a years-long journey back to Ndali that forever changes them both.
The Odyssey is mentioned offhandedly on a couple of occasions, but An Orchestra of Minorities plays like a dark satire of that foundational text of Western literature. And the chi narrates with the weariness of a creature who has seen all facets of human suffering. Ultimately, An Orchestra of Minorities is a powerful look at the opportunities and ruin that lay before a man in pursuit of his dreams. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: Narrated by the guardian spirit of a young man living in Nigeria, this novel is a dark look at the lengths people will go to achieve their dreams.
hardcover, 464p., 9780316412391
Farewell, My Orange
by Iwaki Kei, trans. by Meredith McKinney
"Wow, women are really something!" Expressed through one tiny line of dialogue, this sentiment nevertheless forms the foundation of Iwaki Kei's Farewell, My Orange. Reflective of Kei's own journey, the novel is set in Australia, where the author emigrated from her native Japan 20 years ago, and spotlights the experience of immigrant women.
Salimah fled ongoing conflict in Nigeria with her husband and sons, in fear for their lives. Although safer, Australia is strange. With her different language and skin color, Salimah feels great weight on her shoulders as she labors daily cutting and packaging meat.
Similarly adrift is Sayuri, despite arriving under different circumstances. She and her professor husband moved from Japan for his career, and she is expecting their first child.
Over the course of several years, Salimah and Sayuri attempt to bid farewell to the known sunsets of their homelands and make way for the new women they are wrestling to become. Through third-person narrative and letters from Sayuri to her writing teacher in Japan, Farewell, My Orange beautifully renders the women's ebbing and flowing strength through suffering. As their paths cross in English-language classes, the twists of life bring joy, pain, success and tragedy that further hone their experiences and relationships.
Kei's work won the Kenzaburō Ōe Prize, created by publishing house Kodansha to honor Nobel laureate Ōe and promote Japanese literature worldwide. Translation to English is part of the prize, and the poignant turns of this slim volume are worthy of a broader audience. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: A difficult and tender look at the lives of immigrant women from varied backgrounds as they forge new lives in Australia.
paperback, 128p., 9781609454784
by Sarah Moss
Silvie's father has long been interested in--even obsessed with--the lives of the ancient Britons. And because Silvie's father's will is absolute, Silvie and her mother spend their summer vacation with him in the north of England, re-enacting Stone Age practices and rituals with a group of anthropology students and their professor. Over the pages of Sarah Moss's slim novel, Ghost Wall, this small group of re-enactors grows ever closer to the past: they forage and hunt, cook over open fires, sleep in a roundhouse and even build a skull-lined barricade similar to those once used to scare off enemies.
"That was the whole point of the re-enactment, that we ourselves became the ghosts, learning to walk the land as they walked it two thousand years ago, to tend our fire as they tended theirs and hope that some of their thoughts, their way of understanding the world, would follow the dance of muscle and bone." This dance becomes dangerous as the group's connection to the past gets stronger and the father's obsession takes on an increasingly violent edge. With stark and haunting prose that perfectly captures the harshness of the conditions the group is re-creating, Ghost Wall explores what the past can teach us about the present and what the present can teach us about the past--especially when the two are not as far removed as we may like to believe. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: A slim, haunting novel explores questions of history, gender roles and violence through the lens of a modern-day re-creation of Stone Age England.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
hardcover, 144p., 9780374161927
The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding
by Jennifer Robson
It's more than a year after the Allies declared victory, and the people of Great Britain are still facing the lingering privations of wartime. Princess Elizabeth's engagement to Prince Philip of Greece gives the citizenry a celebration to look forward to. For the coterie of seamstresses working under London designer Norman Hartnell, it means something else: a once-in-a-lifetime chance to work on Elizabeth's wedding gown.
Novelist Jennifer Robson (Moonlight over Paris) stitches together the story of The Gown through the narratives of two seamstresses: the young Englishwoman Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, a French refugee who becomes Ann's colleague and friend. Woven throughout is the story of Heather Mackenzie, Ann's Canadian granddaughter, who inherits a box of elaborate embroidered flowers after her grandmother's death. Puzzled and intrigued by the flowers, which bear a striking resemblance to those on Queen Elizabeth's wedding gown, Heather hops a plane to London to trace the mystery of her grandmother's life and career.
Robson constructs her narrative with the skill and precision displayed by Ann and Miriam as they work on the gown. All three protagonists are dealing with loss and heartbreak. Ann is still mourning her brother and her parents, who died during the war. Miriam carries the trauma of her family's deaths and her own experiences at Ravensbrück. Heather's grief over losing Ann is compounded by being laid off from her magazine job, and her gradual realization that her beloved "Nan" had an entire life in England that she never shared. Like the gown itself and the tapestries Miriam creates, Robson's novel stitches together disparate components into an elegant whole. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Jennifer Robson's fifth historical novel unfurls the story of Queen Elizabeth's wedding gown and the women who made it.
paperback, 400p., 9780062674951
by Catherine LeRoux, trans. by Lazer Lederhendler
In 2001, a woman's skeleton was found in the woods near Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal. Extensive forensic testing revealed where the woman had lived, what she ate and even how she looked--but the remains were never tied to any missing person or identified. This real-life story of a skeleton dubbed "Madame Victoria" is the inspiration for Catherine Leroux's book of the same name, which imagines 12 possible histories for the unidentified bones.
Though billed as a novel, Madame Victoria (translated from the French by Lazer Lederhendler) reads more like a collection of linked short stories. Was she a teenage mother grieving the loss of her son, dying of cancer and oblivious to reality? Or a Russian spy, murdered by an ex-lover? A woman allergic to the presence of other people, or a slave running for freedom? "It was inferred from her tired bones and the sad features attributed to her, that she had ended up alone because she had made a mess of her life." But Leroux (The Party Wall) suggests otherwise, giving Madame Victoria a sense of purpose and direction, a life not made of messes but of intention.
Like any short story collection, some stories here are stronger than others. The best among them are those that capture Madame Victoria's quest to be seen, to be known, to be understood--an all-too-familiar feeling for anyone who has ever waited for someone simply to speak her name. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: This collection of stories imagines 12 possible histories for the real-life unidentified remains of a woman found in Montreal.
paperback, 240p., 9781771962070
The Water Cure
by Sophie Mackintosh
The Water Cure is a dream-like study of sisterhood, patriarchal norms and what it means to be a woman. Three sisters live in an island compound protected by barbed wire and traps, forced to undergo bizarre acts of self-punishment and denial by their parents in the name of staying healthy. But when their father disappears and three strange men arrive at their door, the small world constructed for the women begins to burst open. Sophie Mackintosh's debut is built like one of the family's traps, turned tight in the opening pages and ready to spring.
Grace, Lia and Sky have grown up knowing little other than the world their parents built for them: daily rituals intended to keep outside contamination at bay, a sheltered existence and the ever-present fear of men other than their father, King. As a result, the strange appearance of the men, claiming to be shipwrecked, forces each young woman to rethink the rules and culture of the compound.
In different hands, The Water Cure might have been a thriller, a twisting cat-and-mouse game where the sisters and their guests continually gain and lose the upper hand. But Mackintosh is more interested in how Grace and Lia perceive masculinity, how it toxifies their relationship and lives. The novel ultimately ends in a show of how powerful the wills of the three sisters are. Fans of haunting works that probe identity will find a lot to love in its pages, as will anyone who likes stories that deconstruct notions of gender and power. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: The Water Cure is a dream-like book that deftly explores questions of gender, power and identity.
hardcover, 288p., 9780385543873
by Sam Lipsyte
Teeming with its share of dubious gurus and generating nearly $10 billion in annual revenue in the United States, the self-help industry offers an inviting target for mockery. It seems inevitable, then, that a satirist with the gifts of Sam Lipsyte (The Ask) would take on the challenge. Hark, his fourth novel, is the irreverent story of a reluctant apostle and his motley band of acolytes. They make efforts to spread the gospel of a pseudo-mindfulness technique that's about as substantial as a wisp of wind.
Hark Morner is a young comic who's found a profitable gig at corporate team-building events, where he's billed as an "expert in some esoteric practice--knife yoga, reverse hypnosis." He calls his concept "mental archery," inspired by a toy bow he found sticking out of a garbage can. In Hark's mind, the sole purpose of this half-cooked stew of pseudo-psychological teaching is to improve its practitioners' focus. But, in truth, there are "no ideas in mental archery, or no complex ones, just poses, mini-wisdoms, historical nuggets of dubious accuracy. Pearlescent shoals of the stuff."
Hark is relatively light on action, deriving most of its appeal from Lipsyte's darkly comic sensibility, edgy dialogue and the ferocious exaggeration of its premise. But in its final third, the novel takes a decidedly more serious turn, as mental archery migrates from the corporate world to the larger culture and the plot gains some welcome momentum.
There's not much that's gentle about Sam Lipsyte's touch, but readers who enjoy fiction that delivers social commentary with a palpable sting will find themselves at home here. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer
Discover: A sendup of the self-help movement for those who take their comedy black.
Simon & Schuster,
hardcover, 304p., 9781501146060
by Tomás González, trans. by Andrea Rosenberg
Tomás González--dubbed "the best-kept secret of Colombian literature"--arrived on the English-language scene with In the Beginning Was the Sea. His follow-up is The Storm, a slim, lyrical novel about the tensions tearing apart a Colombian family. The patriarch of the family, generally referred to as "the father," rules his hotel by the seaside with an iron fist, constantly berating his twin sons, Mario and Javier. His wife, Nora, has been driven to schizophrenia by his blatant affairs and other cruelties. She spends much of the novel conversing with people only she can see. González likewise provides the reader with a multiplicity of voices as he bounces quickly among the perspectives of many of the tourists. They come to form a kind of Greek chorus, commenting on the events of the novel and giving the lie to the main characters' conceptions of themselves.
The novel begins with the father, Mario and Javier heading out for an extended fishing session to feed the hungry tourists. They ignore warnings about an approaching storm, more preoccupied with their resentment and hatred toward each other than with physical danger. As tensions bubble over into something uglier, González expertly deconstructs each character's hypocrisies and self-delusions. The father, for example, fancies himself a canny businessman when he's actually a skinflint: his hotel complex consists of a series of poorly maintained bungalows and it's revealed that he saves money by redirecting sewage into the water. The Storm is a complex psychological portrait of a family on the verge of self-made disaster. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Discover: The Storm is a short lyrical novel about a Colombian family that implodes during an ill-planned fishing expedition.
paperback, 120p., 9781939810021
Come with Me
by Helen Schulman
In Come with Me, Helen Schulman (This Beautiful Life) crafts a story about the desire to cheat the death of possibility. Amy Reed's tech wunderkind boss, Donny, has developed an algorithm that would allow people to explore their "multiverses"--alternative realities in which they made different choices and their lives played out in infinitely varied ways. Relying on a vaguely described combination of data aggregation, math and virtual reality, Donny wants to offer his customers "a personalized crystal ball" that lets them find out "what if." And he wants to beta-test it on Amy.
Amy is intrigued, but barely has the bandwidth for one universe, let alone an infinite number of them. She's keeping her family afloat on a part-time salary while her three sons struggle to thrive in the Stanford-dominated, capital-driven pressure cooker of Palo Alto. Meanwhile, her husband, Dan, an unemployed journalist, is trying to escape his reality in a more conventional way--by following a brilliant, incandescently sexy photographer named Maryam on an impulsive (and secret) reporting trip to Japan.
Overwhelmed and underappreciated, Amy gives in to the seductive pull of finding out what could have been, and what could have been prevented. Told from many shifting perspectives, Come with Me is more illustrative of the dramatically different universes that can exist within just one reality--or one city, or one family--than it is of technology's increasingly expansive role in our lives. It is a sharply observed, entertaining and occasionally heartrending novel that may help readers appreciate their own, singular, similarly flawed realities. --Hannah Calkins, writer and editor in Washington, D.C.
Discover: Set in Silicon Valley--an alternative reality all its own--Come with Me beckons with the alluring but dangerous promise of finding out "what if."
hardcover, 320p., 9780062459138
The Cake Tree in the Ruins
by Akiyuki Nosaka, trans. by Ginny Tapley Takemori
At 15, Akiyuki Nosaka (Grave of the Fireflies) was orphaned during the U.S. firebombing of Japanese cities late in World War II. He explored the aftermath of that event and the realities of mass starvation with brutal candor and poignancy in his children's stories, now included in this collection, in a new translation by Ginny Talley Takemori. The stories take place in the days leading up to Japan's surrender on August 15, 1945.
In "The Whale That Fell in Love with a Submarine," one of Nosaka's better-known pieces, a desperate whale that fails to find a suitable mate falls in love instead with a beached Japanese submarine attempting to evade Allied pursuers. In the book's eponymous story, "The Cake Tree in the Ruins," a child's memory of a sweet--the baumkuchen, a layered cake that resembles growth rings on a tree--becomes a source of hope for desperate survivors seeking relief from hunger. "The Mother That Turned into a Kite" offers images of bodies so emaciated by hunger that they float up to the heavens in the whirlwind rush of a bomb blast. A step-by-step instruction on building a home-based underground bunker in "My Home Bunker" becomes one child's final farewell to a father he will never again see.
These deeply intense and parable-like tales of suffering tear at the heartstrings, but also show hope and resiliency in a nation haunted by war. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: Akiyuki Nosaka offers beautiful and haunting tales of suffering and starvation in the aftermath of the Allied bombing of Japan in World War II.
paperback, 160p., 9781782274186
by David R. Gillham
What if Anne Frank had survived the camps? The world knows her as the bright, curious young girl whose diary gave voice to the experience of Jews in hiding during World War II. But if Anne had lived beyond the horrors of Bergen-Belsen, her story would necessarily be more complicated. With compassion and rich historical detail, David R. Gillham (City of Women) imagines Anne's next chapter in his second novel, Annelies.
Gillham opens his narrative in 1942, as the Franks prepare to go into hiding. Those familiar with Anne's story will recognize the main characters: Margot, the sober, sensible older sister; Miep Gies, the trusted office confidante; and those who joined them in the Secret Annex: the van Pels family and Herr Pfeffer, the dentist. Gillham vividly renders Anne as a restless, ambitious young teenager, at once acutely aware of every small change in her daily life and almost completely ignorant of the larger implications of Nazi occupation.
The novel takes readers through the Franks' years in hiding and into the camps, then to postwar Amsterdam, where Anne--reunited with her father and Miep, but deeply traumatized by her wartime experiences--struggles to make sense of a world she barely recognizes. Gillham's narration brings Anne to complex life. She emerges as a young woman struggling with everyday desires, fears and ambitions, while grappling with unbelievable trauma and deep anger. Annelies is a deeply moving portrait of the woman Anne Frank might have become, and a powerful meditation on loss, humanity and the possibility of redemption. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: David Gillham's powerful second novel vividly imagines Anne Frank struggling to adjust to life in postwar Amsterdam.
hardcover, 416p., 9780399162589
Late in the Day
by Tessa Hadley
More than 30 years of love and friendship--and the loyalty and betrayals therein--are central to Late in the Day, a psychologically astute novel by Tessa Hadley. The story launches with a death that disrupts the lives of two British couples bonded inextricably since their college years.
Zachary Samuels, one of the four, dies suddenly from a heart incident. The death of this middle-aged gallery owner overwhelms his needy, helpless wife, Lydia. And this tragic news also shocks the lives of Lydia and Zachary's closest friends: Christine, an artist who had many showings at Zach's gallery, and her husband, Alexandr, a poet who gave up his writing dreams to become headmaster at a progressive primary school.
Zach is absent throughout the narrative, but his presence looms large in these three lives--and those of the offspring of each respective couple. In Zach's wake, roads not taken are reconsidered, affections shift and old wounds and jealousies are resurrected. This all leads to responses and actions that ultimately upend these once seemingly settled lives.
As in her other work, Hadley (The Past) has a firm grasp on the complexity of grief and the strengths and foibles of human nature. This exquisitely rendered, character-driven novel probes emotional depths of an ensemble cast of ordinary people who are forced to come to grips with the meaning of life through loss and death. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: Tessa Hadley's moving, multifaceted novel explores how a sudden death changes the lives of two British couples and their children.
hardcover, 288p., 9780062476692
Katz or Cats: Or, How Jesus Became My Rival in Love
by Curt Leviant
If one threaded Vladimir Nabokov's obsessive eros through an exploration of religious devotion, it might look something like Curt Leviant's superbly entertaining Katz or Cats: Or, How Jesus Became My Rival in Love.
Like Russian nesting dolls, the novel is relayed as a novel within a novel. John, a book editor, meets the land surveyor Katz on a New Jersey train. Katz shares with John a manuscript his brother wrote about falling in love with a religious woman named Maria. Leviant has tremendous fun with this self-reflective narrative structure. John is bewildered more than once as he tries to determine fact from fiction, Katz from his twin brother--also named Katz--and just how much the former is revising and reshaping the novel as it's being told.
But it is the story of Maria that steals the show. Katz, the twin brother, falls hard for the single, aloof, cat-obsessed Maria, who is torn between sexual desire and her Christian piety. She admits she loves Katz but loves Christ even more and eventually stops sleeping with her lover. Thus Katz, who's Jewish, must compete with an entire theology. "Oppressed by the dense melancholy of memories," he obsesses about how to get Maria back into the bedroom. Leviant uses the conflict to explore both sexual love and religious devotion, suggesting the two are related. The sex scenes have an ecstatic quality, likened to musical scales, and the repartee between the two characters is filled with witty wordplay.
Katz is a heady love story worth the narrative convolutions. Funny and sad at the same time, the novel manages to get at the heart of something profound. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: This enticing novel-within-a-novel pits sexual love against religion, but leaves enough room for reconciliation.
paperback, 360p., 9781945814457
Mystery & Thriller
The Paragon Hotel
by Lyndsay Faye
Lyndsay Faye (Jane Steele) brings readers a feisty, feminist heroine in this Prohibition-era thriller about a white gun moll from Harlem starting her life over at an all-black hotel in Portland, Ore.
In 1921, 25-year-old Alice "Nobody" James lands at the Paragon Hotel with a satchel containing $50,000 in cash and a bullet hole in her side. She's fleeing an unhinged mobster who once loved her. Her shelter comes courtesy of Max, a black Pullman porter who befriended her on a train during her escape from New York. Max's friends at the Paragon, including irascible hotel owner Dr. Doddrige Pendleton and head housekeeper Mavereen Meader, save Nobody's life and take her in. The Ku Klux Klan is growing ever bolder in Portland, so accepting a white boarder seems a fraught proposition. However, they do so cautiously, and Nobody soon finds a friend in charismatic cabaret singer Blossom Fontaine, who lives down the hall at the Paragon.
Faye's expedition into Oregon's history of racism and a New York City ruled by mobsters is stuffed with danger, luscious period clothing and zinging Jazz Age patter. Once a spy for a criminal mastermind, Nobody changes personas with ease depending on her company, but as her relationships with the Paragon's inhabitants deepen, she begins to realize even she doesn't know the real Alice James. As only the best historical fiction can do, The Paragon Hotel captures a certain period in time and gives the reader ample opportunity to draw connections with the present day. Faye's talent sparkles like champagne bubbles and bugle-bead fringe on a flapper's gown. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: A Prohibition-era gun moll running from her past gets caught up in a mystery when she finds shelter and friendship at Portland's only hotel for African Americans.
hardcover, 432p., 9780735210752
Naughty on Ice
by Maia Chance
Lola Woodby, a fallen-on-hard-times society matron, and Berta, her former cook, have been doing well in business together, securing missing items. The Discreet Retrieval Agency is hopping, and Lola and Berta are especially happy to have a case taking them to Vermont just before Christmas. Berta, who is Swedish, misses the snowy winters of her childhood.
They arrive in Maple Hill at the request of the Goddard family, to recover a missing sapphire ring. But they're shocked when Mrs. Goddard, an extremely wealthy woman, falls down dead within minutes.
The local police are extremely suspicious about the timing of Mrs. Goddard's death, so Lola and Berta have to stay in Maple Hill until the killer is caught. But as they continue to interview the people present the night of Mrs. Goddard's death (requiring them to tramp through the woods, poke into cellars and skulk beneath dining windows), two more people turn up dead. Can the Discreet Retrieval Agency catch the killer before the killer catches them?
Lola's tongue-in-cheek narration and Berta's stolid Swedish responses make for excellent repartee. Set in the Prohibition era, Naughty on Ice is a funny and clever fourth entry in a series by Maia Chance (Gin and Panic, Teetotaled). With a slew of entertaining small-town characters, a wintery setting and several interesting twists, this witty novel is sure to appeal to lovers of lighthearted historical mysteries. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this funny Prohibition-era mystery, Mrs. Lola Woodby and her former cook work together to catch a killer in small-town Vermont.
hardcover, 288p., 9781250109071
The Drowned Girl
by Sara Blaedel
The body of a teenage girl has been found tied to a slab of concrete and floating in a bay near Holbaek, and Detective Louise Rick, an ace at the Copenhagen Police Department, has been poached to work the case. The police go to the press with a missing person report, which elicits a teacher's confirmation that the dead girl is her student, 15-year-old Samra al-Abd. She was one of four kids in a Jordanian immigrant family whose patriarch has a history of violence against Samra and her mother. Rick, who has previously worked a case that involved an honor killing, finds herself going along with her colleagues' inclination to view this as another one.
Rick's journalist best friend Camilla Lind, however, is pushing back against her editor's acceptance of the honor killing angle. Rick and Lind will be familiar to readers of the previous books in the celebrated Danish crime writer Sara Blaedel's Homicide Trilogy, and their respective romantic lives get some ink here. The Drowned Girl (first published in the United States in 2012 as Only One Life) is a hard-nosed thriller with a soft spot for big questions: Is it necessarily culturally insensitive to challenge an ethnic group's sexist traditions? And is the expectation of partial assimilation that's placed on young Muslim immigrants, especially girls, unreasonable? As Rick thinks at one point, "There was an ominous demand that girls had to adapt, but only to a certain extent; otherwise all hell would break loose." In The Drowned Girl, all hell does. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: Directional signals point to an honor killing in the provocative third novel in Sara Blaedel's Homicide Trilogy.
paperback, 384p., 9781538759851
Nobody's Sweetheart Now
by Maggie Robinson
Lady Adelaide Compton, whose husband, Rupert, died in a car crash with his mistress a few months prior, is hosting a house party for the first time since his death. When Rupert, or at least a ghostly version of him, reappears as the house party begins, she's understandably surprised.
Addie is doing her best to appear sane--while hissing at Rupert to leave her alone--when her dignified servants inform her that a dead person has been found in the barn. The body turns out to be that of Kathleen Grant, the former wife of a local landowner. When the handsome Anglo-Indian Inspector Devenand Hunter shows up to investigate the murder, Addie is nearly driven to distraction. It's unthinkable that one of her guests could be a killer--her mother, the Dowager Marchioness? Her best friend from school? Her neighbor, the ex-husband of Kathleen? Between pondering their potential guilt and Rupert's snide comments about the attractive Inspector Hunter, Addie is completely flustered--until the moment she catches out a killer, and the stakes become deadly.
Nobody's Sweetheart Now is a clever, charming mystery that perfectly captures 1920s society. Bored debutantes and rich bankers mingle in Lady Addie's world, which is sure to appeal to fans of Ashley Weaver or Rhys Bowen. Likable characters, a well-paced plot and an intriguing detective make Nobody's Sweetheart Now an excellent first entry in this delightful mystery series from Maggie Robinson. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this clever cozy mystery, Lady Adelaide Compton must help solve a murder while distracted by the ghost of her husband.
Poisoned Pen Press,
by Val McDermid
Val McDermid (The Mermaids Singing; Insidious Intent) captures the dour vibe of Scotland perfectly in Broken Ground, an engrossing entry in her Detective Karen Pirie series. DCI Pirie, head of the cold case team, is called in when treasure hunters find more than they were bargaining for in a bog. Alice Somerville's grandfather always said he buried two valuable motorcycles at the end of World War II, as Allied forces were being shipped back home. But Alice and her husband end up finding a dead body with the motorcycles.
Driving back and forth to the remote Scottish highlands and trying to determine exactly when the body was placed with the motorcycles is keeping Pirie busy enough. But then she's pulled into another case, after overhearing a sinister conversation in a coffee shop. Twisty and shocking, the effects of the conversation immerse Pirie in the world of modern crime for a change, and set her on a collision course with higher-ups within the Scotland police force.
Fans of Ian Rankin or Elizabeth George will love Broken Ground. It's atmospheric, tense and believably weaves together two disparate cases. Pirie herself, struggling with insomnia in the wake of a personal tragedy, is smart, stubborn and an eminently likable character as she endeavors to solve the crimes and save her own skin within the police force. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: A shocking cold case will unveil secrets involving the highest echelons of Scottish power in Val McDermid's new thriller.
Atlantic Monthly Press,
hardcover, 432p., 9780802129123
by Ezekiel Boone
In Ezekiel Boone's The Mansion, a figure from the past invites Billy Safford and his wife, Emily, to run a secretive project in upstate New York. Sean Eagle, owner of Eagle Technologies (imagine Google and Apple put together), was once Billy's best friend and Emily's boyfriend. Years later, he is the richest man in the world, but still hasn't forgiven Billy for stealing the love of his life. Billy and Emily have been digging their way out of debt, and Sean's offer of work is impossible to refuse--especially since it pertains to an abandoned project the two men worked on a decade before: Nellie. Like Siri or Alexa on steroids, Nellie is a household super-helper who knows your whims before you have them. But something is dangerously wrong with her programming, and Sean can't fix it without his old friend.
Even with all the bells and whistles, The Mansion is at heart a haunted house story. Boone is fluent in modern conceptions of computer science, so Billy and Sean's discussions of Nellie feel authentic, but the descriptions of technology and programming are mostly window dressing for other specters on the prowl. Boone blurs the lines between imagination and reality almost from the very beginning, and once Billy and Emily arrive on the premises, things start to go bump in the night.
The Mansion is a wonderful update of a classic model: people with secrets stuck in an old house with its own checkered past. Luckily, Boone knows the tropes of that story well, and works to subvert them every chance he gets. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: The Mansion is a thrilling story that combines modern technology with old fears.
hardcover, 432p., 9781501165504
Into the Night
by Sarah Bailey
Into the Night, Sarah Bailey's follow-up to her debut novel, The Dark Lake, rejoins Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock after her life has fallen apart. She's divorced, and her son lives with her ex, so she has moved to Melbourne, where she is now a small fish in a big pond. Her new partner, Nick Fleet, has little charm or professionalism, and her new boss doesn't yet trust her instincts or abilities. When rising star Sterling Wade is murdered on a film set, however, Gemma is sucked into another life-consuming case that distracts her from her personal failings. But is his death as disconnected from her own life as she thinks? And what could it possibly have to do with the homeless man murdered just a day before?
With a seemingly endless cast of potential suspects, Bailey excels at keeping the reader guessing through every turn in the plot. Rather than The Dark Lake's insistence that none of the characters could do such a thing, Into the Night seems to suggest that nearly everyone could have, or did. While the plot is fast-paced and engrossing, it is Gemma herself who allows this workplace thriller to feel fresh. A female reboot of the hardboiled detective, Gemma is both brilliant and haunted, addicted to sex rather than drugs, and frequently stunted by her naïveté despite her experience. Bailey crafts these character tensions with such precision and depth that the reader is left to wonder what the difference between a dazzling hero and a down-and-out workaholic really is. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Fans of Law and Order-style procedurals will fall for Into the Night's intricate plot and neo-noir aesthetic.
hardcover, 416p., 9781538759950
by Taylor Adams
"There's a child locked inside this van." The realization sends a shot of fear through Darby Thorne's body, as she peers through the back window of a vehicle parked at a snowed-in rest stop located in the middle of nowhere Colorado. There are four others there to sit out the blizzard: two young men and a middle-aged couple. But which is responsible for the young girl locked inside the van?
That's only the first question that Darby must answer in Taylor Adams's heart-thumping thriller, No Exit. A filmmaker as well as a novelist, Adams (Our Last Night) delivers a story that moves at breakneck speed with more suspenseful twists and turns than an icy mountain road. Set over the course of a single night, its chapters are broken up by the hour, making the events seem to pass in real time.
Darby, meanwhile, is an unexpected hero: a sheltered but cunning college sophomore with a history of stealing her mother's car and lying with a straight face, skills that come in handy when trying to outwit a crafty kidnapper. She's also immensely likable; her comebacks when facing off against the enemy are hilariously withering. Humor is everywhere in this novel despite its dark premise. The trapped nine-year-old possesses an equally sharp wit, and the strangers in the rest stop all have their own clever moments. Suspense is still the dominating mode, though, and from beginning to end, it never lets up. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor
Discover: This gripping thriller with a young, witty female protagonist will keep even the most experienced readers guessing until the end.
hardcover, 352p., 9780062875655
An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good
by Helene Tursten, trans. by Marlaine Delargy
Swedish crime author Helene Tursten is no stranger to creating strong-willed female heroines who are embroiled in the dark undersides of society. In An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good, Tursten adds comic relief to a murderous mix. In five brief stories, she shares the exploits of Maud, a never-married, 88-year-old woman who lives alone in a spacious, rent-free, first-floor apartment in Gothenburg, Sweden. Maud has long outlived her family. The retired language arts teacher has pressed on, undaunted and self-reliant--traveling the world, relying on the aid of a walker. With nothing to lose, Maud lives life on her own terms and doesn't let anything--or anyone--get in her way. Whether in her apartment, on the streets or in the shops of Stockholm and even aboard a Mediterranean luxury liner, Maud oils the wheels of justice. She capitalizes on--and oftentimes creates--"accidents" as retribution for those she distrusts and with whom she has an ax to grind. This includes antique dealers with designs on Maud's precious belongings; nosy, overbearing and disruptive neighbors; and a glamorous model, a star of Swedish soft porn on the brink of marrying a now 90-year-old man who was once Maud's one true love.
Tursten is best known for the hard-boiled Detective Inspector Irene Huss series of novels (Who Watcheth). However, the comic twists and turns she delivers in this compact collection are equally engrossing. Unassuming, murderous Maud--with her devious, pseudo-innocent charm--makes these concise stories wickedly funny and addictively readable. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: Swedish crime takes a clever turn in five stories about an unassuming yet devious 88-year-old female retiree-turned-murderer.
hardcover, 184p., 9781641290111
by E.S. Thomson
The Blood, the third in E.S. Thomson's Jem Flockhart mystery series (Beloved Poison, Dark Asylum), rejoins Jem and her begrudgingly platonic companion, Will, as they investigate a seaborne hospital colloquially called The Blood. Drawn there by a desperate letter from an old friend, Jem can immediately tell something onboard the ship is amiss. But after both her friend's body and the body of a local sex worker are discovered nearby, the duo must determine which of the ambitious, cruel doctors aboard the ship was involved and why more young women start to show up dead. Meanwhile, Jem is determined to discover what happened to her long-lost lover, by any means necessary.
From its grime-crusted back alleys to its blood-spattered operating tables, The Blood emanates atmospheric appeal. Victorian England, in all its smog, lace and polluted waters, is compellingly conjured in every sentence, giving the setting not only a historical bent, but a macabre horror aesthetic as well. Meanwhile, Jem, who seems to pace the pages with flurried intellect as well as desperation, is a refreshing twist on the Sherlock Holmes archetype. Disguised as a man to get ahead in her career and seeking her long-lost love, Jem provides the otherwise plot-driven book's contemplative moments that strengthen larger themes of gender, power and ambition. At the heart of it all is Thomson's keen insight into the equally fascinating and nauseating medical history of the period. Under such guidance, the London of The Blood becomes a gaseous, bloated body, split open by a master surgeon for dissection. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Featuring a feminist Sherlock Holmes in a Dickensian setting, The Blood delivers quick pacing and satisfyingly grotesque set pieces.
hardcover, 384p., 9781681778754
by Cay Rademacher
Roger Blanc, recently exiled from Paris to the Provençal police force, is called to the scene where the body of a cyclist lies. It was found on the road through the Camargue--a marshy area known for its flamingoes, white horses and fierce bulls.
The dead man was gored by one of the bulls that was being reared to fight. Everyone assumes it's a tragic accident, until Blanc realizes that the dead man is famous reporter Albert Cohen. He also finds evidence indicating that the bull was deliberately freed from its pen. Blanc's superiors are reluctant to make a murder of a probable accident, but Blanc refuses to back down. Then he discovers that Cohen was writing an article about Vincent van Gogh's time in Provence, which opens up a new realm of suspects in the art world.
Ably capturing this region of France, with its shimmering heat and fields of red rice, Cay Rademacher (Murderous Mistral) has crafted a curious mystery set in an unusual world. While Blanc's original "crimes" (which cost him his position as an officer in Paris) are never specifically mentioned, his stubborn refusal to back down in this case is a clear indicator of his tenacity. Yet Blanc's nuanced character, and those of his fellow officers--a drunkard, and a lesbian fighting for the right to marry--keep Deadly Camargue fresh. The van Gogh element is a delightful twist on a typical mystery, sure to make this one appeal to mystery lovers and art aficionados alike. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: When a cyclist is found dead in the wilds of the Camargue, in the south of France, the tenacious Roger Blanc takes on the case.
hardcover, 304p., 9781250110725
Murder at the Mill
by M.B. Shaw
M.B. Shaw is the pen name of British writer Tilly Bagshawe, who has written several contemporary romance novels (Scandalous), as well as thrillers for the literary estate of Sidney Sheldon (Sidney Sheldon's The Tides of Memory). Murder at the Mill is the first installment of her smart, lively mystery series; in it Shaw probes the secrets of an idyllic Hampshire village.
The book opens in December. Iris Grey--a 41-year-old portrait painter--has fled her home in Clapham and her estranged husband, Ian McBride, a once successful playwright. After several years of failing to conceive a child via in vitro fertilization, the couple--heartsick and broke--has split up. Iris had hoped that by settling in to Mill Cottage in Hazelford ("Alone. Like a mad cat lady, only without the cats") she would "paint and hide and lick her wounds." Shortly after her arrival, however, she's commissioned to paint a portrait of resident Dominic Wetherby, a charismatic and famous crime writer. During the Wetherbys' posh Christmas party, a corpse is discovered in the river. The shock leaves the family, townsfolk, gossipmongers and the paparazzi reeling. Speculations abound. Was the death an accident--or murder?
Shaw has created a wise and winning sleuth in Iris. Her keen, observational skills honed from her artistic sensibility allow her to detect subtle nuances of human emotion and motivation. This, along with an intricate, cozy plot--and fully realized characters embroiled in a dynamic whodunit and why--will keep readers guessing, and eager for future installments. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: A portrait painter turns amateur sleuth when a corpse is discovered on Christmas Day in an idyllic English town.
hardcover, 400p., 9781250189295
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by J. Barton Mitchell
In a future where humanity spans the galaxy, a single planet stands above all others, both in economic importance and brutality. 11-H37 is tidally locked with its parent red dwarf star, meaning one side, the Cindersphere, is a permanent furnace, while the other remains in perpetual shadow. Only a thin band of green separates these disparate hemispheres, a stretch of habitable land called the Razor, which shares that name with 11-H37's penal colony. It houses the worst of the galaxy's worst, gangs of men and women condemned to lifetime imprisonment in pursuit of one company's profit. Maas-Dorian needs the Razor to mine Xytrilium, the fuel to its ubiquitous engines, and abominable conditions in the Cindersphere make disposable labor a grim necessity.
Into this hellish world enters Dr. Flynn, ironically a former senior scientist for Maas-Dorian, framed for reasons that matter less than his immediate survival. Maddox, a former guard on the Razor turned prisoner for snitching on corrupt colleagues, joins Flynn on a mobile mining rig crawling out to the Cindersphere. During the course of normal operations, neither of them would have very long to live, but an emergency--including a planet-wide power vacuum--threatens to end their incarceration even earlier. They must escape their scuttled mining rig and reach the planet's starport before the Razor's thin edge fails to protect them.
The Razor is thrilling science fiction at its finest. J. Barton Mitchell has combined something like The Chronicles of Riddick with The Fifth Element into a pulse-pounder with its own rhythm. Though The Razor relies on plenty of sci-fi tropes, Mitchell's plotting keeps pace with any adventure or thriller tale. The Razor cuts a wide swath across genre interests. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer
Discover: In a space-faring future, a framed scientist must survive a brutal prison planet.
hardcover, 400p., 9780765387929
by Kim Stanley Robinson
Thirty years from now, humankind has mastered the Moon. On the lunar South Pole, the pioneering Chinese have assembled vast underground complexes with thousands of residents. On the North Pole, latecomers (or late returners, in the case of an ailing United States) share crater ice and sunlight. Onto this divided satellite steps Fred Fredericks, a hapless American sent to deliver one half of a pair of quantum-entangled communicators. Unfortunately for Fred, someone wants to kill the target of his delivery--the head of China's lunar presence--and uses him to do it.
Meanwhile, free-spirited Chan Qi, daughter of the Chinese minister of finance, is likewise imperiled by internal political strife. Her father wants her back, her father's enemies want to use or hurt her, and she's gotten illegally pregnant on the Moon. When she and Fred are secreted back to Earth, it begins an adventure across a near-future China. It is a country deeply divided by the upcoming party congress, during which a handful of standing committee members, including Qi's father, will vie for ultimate power.
Red Moon is another star in Kim Stanley Robinson's constellation of successful science-fiction novels. Robinson (the Mars Trilogy, Aurora, New York 2140) is considered among the greatest in the genre and Red Moon shows why. Like many of Robinson's novels, this one is a vision of humanity's greatest desires clashing with our worst instincts. Robinson mixes plenty of heart, realistic technology and political conflict into another great story. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer
Discover: Thirty years from now, China dominates the Moon, where a hapless American gets caught up in political intrigue.
hardcover, 464p., 9780316262378
City of Broken Magic
by Mirah Bolender
In Mirah Bolender's debut, City of Broken Magic, three agents of a magical bomb squad, the Sweepers, risk their lives every day to stand between the metropolis of Amicae and its complete destruction. Over hundreds of years, threats to Amicae seem to have subsided, so now only cynical and abrasive Clae Sinclair, last in a line of Sweepers, and his ambitious, determined apprentice Laura serve as the city's line of defense against the monsters.
Laura, who fell in love with the idea of Sweeping after reading an out-of-date history book, obtained her position by marching into Clae's office after the death of his previous apprentice and insisting he give her a chance. Now on the cusp of promotion after three months of survival, Laura lets her competitive spirit go into overdrive when Clae takes on a second apprentice, Okane. As threats suddenly start to increase, Clae, Laura and Okane must learn to stand together as a team or lose Amicae entirely.
Bolender's world combines elements of magic and 19th-century technology with the occasional steampunk flair. Telephones and trains exist, but much of the world runs on magical amulets that sometimes break down. Though occasionally given to long expository passages, Bolender tends to illustrate rather than explain the world's workings, which have enough intricacy to fuel multiple sequels. Laura is an enjoyably flawed protagonist: brave enough to fight monsters, single-minded enough to get ahead in a man's world, but still competitive and insecure. City of Broken Magic shines most brightly in the interactions between the three Sweepers, and fantasy fans will hope for more exploits in Amicae. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: In a magical version of the late 19th century, a crew of three ragtag, smart-mouthed agents is all that stands between the city of Amicae and total destruction.
paperback, 400p., 9781250169273
by Amanda Bouchet
Tess Bailey, rebel captain of the spaceship Endeavour, has run out of luck. Facing what she believes is certain destruction by the Dark Watch, she jumps her ship and ragtag crew into a black hole--and survives. The badly damaged craft limps to the nearest docks, at Albion Five, where she finds a handsome and dangerous starship mechanic, Shade Ganavan. Unfortunately, the man has as many secrets as Tess; Shade's primary occupation is bounty hunting, and Tess is the galaxy's most wanted fugitive, with an astronomical price on her head. While patching holes in the Endeavour's outer skin and being charmed by Tess and her crew, Shade struggles to decide if he will help Tess escape or turn her in to the authorities and claim the reward. The attraction between them is undeniable, but when they finally give in to the irresistible pull, betrayal quickly follows. Now Tess is once again running for her life, pursued by both Shade and the most powerful men in the Dark Watch. Will she survive or will luck truly desert her this time?
Amanda Bouchet (the Kingmaker Chronicles) fills Nightchaser with edge-of-the-seat adventure, steamy romance and warm humor. Bouchet's fans will be delighted with this first entry in what promises to be an engrossing trilogy. --Lois Faye Dyer, freelance book reviewer
Discover: Facing the dangers of outer space, two flawed but honorable people fight to save their world and each other.
paperback, 416p., 9781492667131
On the Same Page
by N.D. Galland
Martha's Vineyard is the setting for N.D. Galland's On the Same Page. Galland (The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., written with Neal Stephenson), an island resident, uses her insider's understanding of the social and political tensions as backdrop for a delightful romantic comedy.
Journalist Johanna Howes is Vineyard-born but worked off-island for years. Returning to care for a cranky uncle, she finds not much has changed. Year-round island residents are fiercely provincial, scorning rich summer people but needing the economic boost that they provide. One wealthy resident says, "You're xenophobes. You don't want outsiders coming in."
Johanna is hired at one of the two local newspapers but, realizing one salary isn't enough, secretly takes a job at the competing paper under a pseudonym. The biggest story on the island is the lawsuit of a summer resident who wants to land a helicopter on his property. The two newspapers take opposing views, and Johanna has to surreptitiously cover the story from both angles. "It's just simpler not to explain it to my bosses," she tells a friend.
Meanwhile, she begins dating an attractive man she meets at a zoning meeting, only to find out that he's Orion Smith, the very man bringing the lawsuit. Johanna engages in elaborate juggling to keep her jobs secret, and serious emotional gymnastics to try to dislike the man she's actually becoming very fond of.
On the Same Page is perfect for fans of Elin Hilderbrand and Nancy Thayer, as well as those looking for a romantic comedy enhanced by contemporary social issues. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: In this romantic comedy set on Martha's Vineyard, journalist Johanna Howe juggles competing jobs and fights her attraction to the wealthy man upending island politics.
paperback, 320p., 9780062672858
My Favorite Half-Night Stand
by Christina Lauren
Millie Morris is practically one of the guys. She's a professor of criminology at UC Santa Barbara, and constantly hangs out with her four best friends--Ed, Chris, Reid and Alex, all fellow professors. Millie likes it that way: friendly, pleasant, but not too deep. She hates talking about her feelings, and loves playing games and drinking beer. They're cruising along until the university announces a black-tie gala, and the five friends all realize they need dates. They make a pact to create online dating profiles together, but before they do, Reid and Millie have a drunken, amazing half-night stand.
Determined not to ruin their friendship, they decide to keep it platonic in the future, and jump into the online dating world. The four guys get some reasonable matches, but Millie just keeps getting creepy pictures from a bunch of questionable men. Irritated, she makes up a second, fake profile, and to her shock, she matches with Reid. This leaves her in a tricky position--trying not to notice her attraction to him in real life, but increasingly falling for him online.
A funny, irreverent romp, My Favorite Half-Night Stand is a witty look at the perils of online dating. Having a new book by Christina Lauren (Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating) on the nightstand is sure to make any romance reader happy. And even those who are hesitant to try the genre will laugh out loud at the predicaments Millie gets herself into. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: Online dating complicates IRL friendship in this funny romance from Christina Lauren.
paperback, 384p., 9781501197406
The Life of Frederick Douglass: A Graphic Narrative of a Slave's Journey from Bondage to Freedom
by David F. Walker, illus. by Marissa Louise, Damon Smyth
In The Life of Frederick Douglass, David F. Walker (Super Justice Force) presents a retelling of the life of one of the abolition movement's most famous leaders, a man "who exists as both a historic personality and as something of a mythological figure." With stark illustrations by Damon Smyth and Marissa Louise, Walker's graphic narrative brings Frederick Douglass to life, highlighting the lasting legacy of his work in the U.S.
Walker narrates The Life of Frederick Douglass in the voice of Douglass himself--a decision perhaps not surprising given Douglass's famous autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and the transcripts available from his lectures on slavery, abolition and racial prejudice. "I made real for them the inhuman horrors of slavery," says Douglass of his lectures to crowds of white abolitionists.
Walker places these horrors in historical context with short lessons on the history of the slave trade, photography (and its importance in documenting Douglass's life) and the trajectory of the Civil War. He also highlights Douglass's key relationships--with his wife, and with abolitionist John Brown and Abraham Lincoln, to name a few. Smyth and Louise's illustrations highlight the human cost of these larger historical trends as well as the emotions packed into each of Douglass's personal relationships. The result is a work that, like the man himself, reveals the violence and horror of slavery at both the human and systemic levels and the pervasive legacy of racism it left in its wake. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: This graphic narrative history captures the life of Frederick Douglass and his role in ending slavery in the U.S.
Ten Speed Press,
paperback, 192p., 9780399581441
Escaping Wars and Waves: Encounters with Syrian Refugees
by Olivier Kugler
Journalist illustrator Olivier Kugler has created a powerful chronicle with his book of interviews and drawings, Escaping Wars and Waves: Encounters with Syrian Refugees.
While embedded with Doctors Without Borders, Kugler interviewed and photographed Syrian refugees and the people helping them in camps in Iraq, Greece and France, as well as families who've resettled in England and Germany. He drew scenes and people from his photos and re-created their interviews in a graphic-novel style that captures the plight of displaced people fleeing their beloved but war-torn country. Ahmed, forced to leave Syria with his wife and six children when its infrastructure crumbled, hopes to get to Germany. But he's stuck in a wet, cold single-room tent in an Iraqi camp. Amira, a 23-year-old physics student, arrived in Greece and walked four miles through hot hills to a hospital just in time to give birth to a son who almost died. Many Syrian refugees live in Calais, France, in a camp called "The Jungle," within sight of the ferries going to England but unable to leave because of armed guards, high fences and the inability to get a visa.
Kugler's interviews form an intense and compelling portrait of people who just want to live ordinary lives and the compassionate people helping them. His original style, layering black-and-white sketches with colored drawings and objects highlighted in each scene, creates a sense of motion and realism. This poignant and eloquent close-up view provides an important and rarely seen perspective. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and author of Book By Book blog
Discover: A powerful and compelling close-up view of the Syrian refugee crisis, told through interviews and drawings from refugee camps around the world.
Penn State University Press,
hardcover, 80p., 9780271082240
Biography & Memoir
Bluff City: The Secret Life of Photographer Ernest Withers
by Preston Lauterbach
Delving into the life of Memphis photographer Ernest Withers, popular historian Preston Lauterbach (Beale Street Dynasty) offers readers a new vantage point on a pivotal time in United States history. Withers began his informal training in photography as a teenager. In the army, he received a formal education in the art and its related technology as part of his basic training. And when he deployed to the South Pacific during World War II, Withers picked up a side gig taking pictures for soldiers to send home to their sweethearts and parents.
He later served a short stint as one of the first African American police officers in Memphis, but fate intended him to be behind the lens of a camera. He photographed rhythm and blues musicians like Ruth Brown, B.B. King and Ray Charles, as well as a then-unknown young white man by the name of Elvis Presley. Withers defied a judge and snapped the now iconic image of Mose Wright identifying J.W. Milam while seated in the courtroom during the Emmett Till murder trial. Following the Montgomery boycott, he rode an integrated bus with a young Martin Luther King, Jr., photographing him with Ralph Abernathy.
Through a deep dive into the events of this period, Lauterbach evaluates the complexity of Withers--the conservative veteran who felt allegiance to his country; the photojournalist who functioned as a confidential informant for the FBI.
Withers's credo was "The Pictures Tell the Story," and Lauterbach allows them to tell as much of the photographer's story as possible. He fills in the remainder with stellar narrative skills. His fastidious research, storytelling expertise and passion for the subject make Bluff City an engrossing, fascinating biography that reads like an espionage thriller. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: A popular historian digs into the complex legacy of an iconic photographer from the civil rights movement who served as a spy for the FBI.
hardcover, 352p., 9780393247923
The Banished Immortal: A Life of Li Bai (Li Po)
by Ha Jin
Chinese American writer Ha Jin's fictional work and poetry examine Chinese history, culture and identity. It's no surprise, then, that he would write a biography of one of China's most important poets, Li Bai (also known as Li Po). The Banished Immortal: A Life of Li Bai (Li Po) is a typical biography, spanning the life and career of the eighth-century poet, but Ha Jin's masterful style and deep affection for his subject make the book a pleasure to read--especially for those unfamiliar with Li Bai or Chinese poetry in general.
Aside from being an outstanding and influential poet, Bai was also the most colorful of characters. A braggart who could dash off masterpieces and perform sword dances, he lived most of his life on the road, traveling across the Tang empire in search of fame and fortune. With a brief stint at court (where he impressed the emperor but ran afoul of other players in politics) and a small role in a rebellion, Bai led many lives in his 62 years, even without considering his poetry.
Ha Jin is smart to keep that poetry front and center, though. The Banished Immortal liberally quotes Bai's work, sometimes reproducing complete poems in translation to show the depth of his imagery and style. A number of readers will pick up this book knowing its author but not Li Bai, and Ha Jin makes sure they see Bai's prodigious talent. Newcomers will be swept up in Bai's personal history while fans of his work will enjoy Ha Jin's own take on the man and his influence. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: In The Banished Immortal, Chinese American author Ha Jin explores the life and influence of legendary Chinese poet Li Bai.
hardcover, 320p., 9781524747411
Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love
by Dani Shapiro
Through nine books, Dani Shapiro has mined her own experiences, trying to find meaning in events that have shaped her life. Shapiro's ongoing literary narrative continues with Inheritance, an unflinching, deeply personal account of how a DNA ancestry test irrevocably altered her life and the familiarity therein. The shocking results forced Shapiro to question her identity and everything she believed about herself and her family history over 54 years of living.
Shapiro grew up an observant Orthodox Jew shaped by her parents and a large "dynastic clan" in New Jersey. Religion and her spiritual life became the bedrock of her existence until she ultimately rebelled, breaking with Judaism while in college. When Shapiro was in her 20s, a catastrophic car accident claimed the life of her father, whom she deeply loved and respected. It also left her mother afflicted by years of related injuries until her death. Shapiro eventually reconnected with the traditions of her Jewish heritage after she became a mother herself.
Several years ago, Shapiro decided on a lark to have her DNA analyzed. The report ultimately revealed a life-altering truth: Shapiro's father was not her biological parent. Relentless in her tenacity, she goes in search of the man who was. She grapples with the secrecy of her parents and the meaning of family while seeking to reconcile the consequences of this revelation.
Shapiro (Hourglass) is always an intellectual, analytical storyteller. The engaging way in which she renders the suspenseful details of this forthright, meaningful odyssey will keep readers totally enthralled. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: This eloquent memoir explores personal and universal issues of paternity, genetics, science, ethics and truth.
hardcover, 272p., 9781524732714
Help Me!: One Woman's Quest to Find Out if Self-Help Really Can Change Your Life
by Marianne Power
Self-help is big business. Each year, consumers spend millions of dollars on books, courses and other tools that promise to make them thin, rich, irresistible or wildly successful. But does self-help actually help? British journalist Marianne Power decided to find out, by reading and following one self-help book per month for a year. After 12 months, she'd surely become--if not perfect--at least a better version of herself. Right?
Taking the form of a "stunt" memoir while also poking fun at it, Power's memoir, Help Me!, chronicles her journey (16 months in the end) of reading and emulating such self-help classics as The Secret and The Power of Now. She tries naked yoga, chats up men on the subway and delves into her troubled relationship with money. Initially, despite her enthusiasm, Power's journey leads to self-obsession rather than self-improvement; readers may cringe as she alienates several friends and brushes off a kind man. Overwhelmed by her own imperfections, she wonders if the project is worth it. But with the help of some stalwart friends and her no-nonsense mother (whose sardonic one-liners constitute some of the best advice in the book), Power begins to find her way forward.
She gains a few lasting insights, mostly having to do with living in the moment, accepting herself and asking for help when she needs it. Like most journeys, her self-help odyssey didn't lead where she expected it would, but her wry account is entertaining, sympathetic and even--perhaps--helpful. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: One British journalist's self-help odyssey leads to tears and embarrassment, but ultimately yields a few hopeful insights.
hardcover, 384p., 9780802129062
Hollywood's Eve: Eve Babitz and the Secret History of L.A.
by Lili Anolik
Before she became an artist and author (Slow Days, Fast Company), Eve Babitz was a party girl par excellence. Carousing with artists, actors and musicians came naturally to her: Eve's mother was an artist; her father was a movie musician; and her godfather was composer Igor Stravinsky. In 1963, when she was 20, she gained notoriety when for an art exhibit she posed for a nude photograph playing chess with artist Marcel Duchamp. She was sexually free and enjoyed her drugs. Babitz once said, "Anyone who lived past thirty just wasn't trying hard enough to have fun."
Much of this juicy and illuminating biography concerns how Vanity Fair contributing editor Lili Anolik's appreciation of Babitz's numerous books and album cover art led her to seek out the now-reclusive icon. Babitz left the limelight after a 1997 fire left her with third-degree burns and massive medical debt. The generous quotations from the author's novels display a witty, caustic and observant writer well worth rediscovering.
But many will read Hollywood's Eve for the tantalizing tales of her sexual exploits. She dated Steve Martin, Jim Morrison, Jack Nicholson and others. Novelist Dan Wakefield remembers, "Our year together was one of my favorite years, but I couldn't have lived through two of them. My God, the decadence!" Her relationship with struggling actor Harrison Ford was strictly physical. "Harrison could f***," says Babitz. "Nine people a day. It's a talent, loving nine people in one day. Warren [Beatty] could only do six." Hollywood's Eve is a gossipy delight and entertaining reintroduction to a very talented writer of L.A. life. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: This fascinating and juicy bio of Eve Babitz will satisfy gossip-lovers and resurrect the superb chronicler of sex, drugs and life in Los Angeles.
hardcover, 288p., 9781501125799
by Sarah McColl
"I loved my mother, and she died. Is that a story?" Essayist Sarah McColl begins her memoir Joy Enough with that question. In a spare, nonlinear narrative, McColl explores the intertwined narratives of her own life story and that of her mother, Allison. She charts the passionate romances that led them both to unhappy marriages, shares anecdotes of the four boisterous children Allison raised and highlights their shared commitment to seeking out everyday pleasures. For McColl, her mother's example was both frustrating and true, at once a pattern to rebel against and an undeniable north star.
The book's timeline shifts between Allison's college days and McColl's childhood, from their family's roots in western Massachusetts to Texas suburbs and McColl's 20-something life in Brooklyn. Both before and after Allison falls ill, McColl asks many of the same questions her mother asked: What does it mean to be a woman in the world? How much should duty dominate a life, and what role can pleasure play? What happens when the people who formed our foundations leave us? And is it still possible to find joy?
As she faces her mother's life-threatening illness plus her own personal and professional upheaval, McColl takes refuge in small sensory acts: cooking a dry-aged steak, building a fire in a wood stove. She does not arrive at answers to her questions, but eventually she learns, like her mother, to "[swim] against her own sadness." The effect is luminous. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Sarah McColl's luminous debut memoir explores her mother's life story and her fierce commitment to joy.
hardcover, 176p., 9781631494703
The Longest Line on the Map: The United States, the Pan-American Highway and the Quest to Link the Americas
by Eric Rutkow
Spanning almost 100 years of hemispheric history, The Longest Line on the Map: The United States, the Pan-American Highway and the Quest to Link the Americas by Eric Rutkow (American Canopy) explores an era of increased connectivity between North and South America. Whereas today there is a fervent political movement to separate and insulate the U.S. from its Southern neighbors, in the not-too-distant past, Central and South America were viewed as important trading partners by successive U.S. presidents.
During those decades, Pan-Americanism, as opposed to globalism, was an important U.S. foreign policy goal. It led to the construction of an ambitious motor road connecting the Americas. Rutkow's fascination with the Pan-American highway is evident in this meticulously researched and vividly recounted drama. He combines a historian's eye for detail with a storyteller's skill at bringing to life the dynamic political and social forces that conceived and constructed the international corridor. While working to connect the U.S. and Canada with Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia and beyond, the U.S. also promoted the building of motor roads in other parts of the world.
Despite its remarkable history and the controversies that surround the still-incomplete road, the highway has never before received the sort of academic attention Rutkow bestows upon it. The Longest Line on the Map is a worthy, thought-provoking read for anyone interested in learning about a time when the "Colossus of the North" opened its doors in friendship and unity to the rest of the Americas. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer
Discover: An impressively comprehensive and entertaining historical account of the longest road in the world, the highway that runs from Alaska to Argentina.
hardcover, 448p., 9781501103902
How We Win: A Guide to Nonviolent Direct Action Campaigning
by George Lakey
George Lakey (Viking Economics) has been an activist in the U.S. since he was first arrested in 1963 during the civil rights movement. In 1964, he co-wrote the widely influential Manual for Direct Action. The political environment has changed substantially since then. How We Win is a new primer that draws on Lakey's decades of experience and includes contributions from three other seasoned activists.
Lakey offers "movement-building approaches that win major changes rather than small reforms." In clear prose and well-organized chapters, he lays out practical advice on how to set goals, plan strategies, create healthy group dynamics, handle attacks and avoid conflicts with groups working toward similar goals in different ways. He addresses the question of violence, the importance of vision and the value and limitations of social media. Real change, he says, is not accomplished by protests or impulsive actions, but by sustained campaigns that build into movements. "Protests are usually organized to express grief, anger, or plain opposition to an action or policy.... Campaigners, by contrast, plan from the start to do a series of nonviolent actions and continue until the goal is reached." Readers need not agree with Lakey's politics to benefit from his advice. Anyone who hopes to change the world will want to pick up this book. --Sara Catterall
Discover: A clear, practical guide to building effective progressive movements by an activist with more than 50 years of experience.
paperback, 240p., 9781612197531
The Future of Capitalism: Facing the New Anxieties
by Paul Collier
Capitalism is worth saving, economist Paul Collier argues in his provocative treatise The Future of Capitalism: Facing the New Anxieties.
Collier (The Bottom Billion) eschews what he calls the enemies of progress--ideology and populism--for a pragmatic, evidence-based approach that attempts to answer why capitalism has gone askew in the last 50 years and what can be done to right the ship. Wide-ranging, the book touches upon fiscal policy, geopolitics, education, trade and a host of other issues.
Collier's initial diagnosis is that growing inequality in the world, especially in the developed world, is a result of failed policies across the political spectrum. He argues the left has propped up a vacuous paternalist state that has failed to help the most vulnerable, while the right has touted a detrimental market fundamentalism that has put huge swaths of people in economic devastation. His answer is to return to the communitarian ideal of social democracy that drove economic growth from the end of World War II through 1970. He calls this political philosophy "social maternalism," a concept that focuses on using both private and public resources to cultivate and nourish upward mobility. One of the best examples of social maternalism is a set of proactive policies for single, low-income mothers that offers mentoring and counseling instead of punitive state action.
Throughout the book, Collier passionately argues for a shared identity and a return to "reciprocal obligations," an ethical citizenry helping each other in the civic process. The Future of Capitalism will spark plenty of debate and enliven our political discourse. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: Economist Paul Collier critiques the ills of modern capitalism and offers a vision for the future that involves practical solutions.
hardcover, 256p., 9780062748652
Burned: The Story of Murder and the Crime That Wasn't
by Edward Humes
Late one April night in 1989, Shirley Robinson opened her door to find neighbor Jo Ann Parks framed by the orange glow of a fire behind her. Parks's converted rental apartment was engulfed in flames; she escaped but her three young children perished in the intense blaze. Fire investigators concluded that Parks set the fire with the intent of killing her children and she was sentenced to life in prison. But was she a monster or the victim of flawed science?
In Burned, Pulitzer Prize-winner Edward Humes (Garbology, Monkey Girl) questions Parks's conviction based on flaws in fire science and in the criminal justice system. Arson is "the one criminal act that consumes rather than creates" evidence, and an accidental fire can easily be interpreted as arson. Was the fact that Parks's previous house also caught fire relevant to the investigation? Did investigators ignore the damage caused by flashover, which turns "a fire in a room into a room on fire?" Is "negative corpus," which insists on the cause of a fire when other possibilities have been eliminated, valid even in the absence of physical evidence? Did investigators ignore advances in fire science and draw biased conclusions?
These questions were enough for the California Innocence Project (CIP) to take Parks's case. In 2018, under habeas corpus, Parks and CIP were granted a hearing to challenge the initial investigators' findings as discredited "junk science" that masqueraded for forensic science (but is still widely practiced). Humes shows how the story of Jo Ann Parks wrongful conviction has the power to upend arson investigation as we know it. --Frank Brasile, librarian
Discover: A mother's conviction of murdering her children by arson is reconsidered in this powerful true crime tale that questions the authority of forensic science.
hardcover, 320p., 9781524742133
Turned On: Science, Sex and Robots
by Kate Devlin
If the title of Kate Devlin's Turned On: Science, Sex and Robots is eye-catching, mission accomplished! Devlin employs a cheeky writing style to discuss the serious academic work for which she is best known: the intersection of robots and human sexuality. Turned On, far from being salacious, covers the history, psychology and philosophical underpinnings of artificial intelligence (AI) as it relates to intimate relationships. "Most of all, it's about being human in a world of machines."
In the 21st century, robots can be purchased at department stores (Roomba vacuums, for example), and AI is ubiquitous (witness Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa). Humans, with a predilection to believe that any "semblance of human-like behavior" indicates a "degree of sentience," often anthropomorphize inanimate objects. If people respond emotionally to a disembodied voice, why not add a body to it? Devlin identifies the challenges and benefits of nonhuman companions as she charts the course from sex toys to humanoid sex robots. Will sex robots with AI be designed only for physical needs, or will emphasis "be placed firmly on interactions and responses"? Throughout her book, Devlin, senior lecturer in the department of computing at Goldsmiths, University of London, introduces people with sex doll fetishes and engineers who built working prototypes of sex robots. Beyond the obvious titillation of her title, she persuasively explores the need for "a serious... conversation about what it means to be human when surrounded by machines that might one day care for us and about us." --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: An expert in human-computer interaction explores the fascinating future of sexual companion robots.
hardcover, 288p., 9781472950895
Hungover: The Morning After and One Man's Quest for the Cure
by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall
Ever been curious about the science behind James Bond's strict policy on the preparation of his martini? Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall (Down to This) has answers: "A study published by the British Medical Journal concluded that shaking a martini is more effective in activating antioxidants and deactivating hydrogen peroxide than stirring one--supposedly lessening a double-O agent's chances of getting cataracts, cardiovascular disease and hangovers." This is the kind of factoid that populates Bishop-Stall's Hungover: The Morning After and One Man's Quest for the Cure.
Fans of Mary Roach will delight in Bishop-Stall's similar knack for collecting stories and anecdotes from a quirky cast of experts, as well as his similar proclivity for fascinating tangents. For a taste of his wit, see chapter titles like "The Hungover Games" or "I Woke Up This Morning." Hungover is a world tour of a party, with a raucous array of winos and experts, figures cultural and political. As for "cures," some will be well-known, like aspirin. Others might be less so, like "squeezing the wedge of a lime in one's armpit."
Bishop-Stall spent the better part of a decade on Hungover, and it shows; the work is expansive, beautifully wrought, occasionally sensitive and, at times, unwieldy. Yet it works. It's long, but it's an engaging journey that comes with the option to take a sip and a break instead of jumping in all the way. It might most responsibly be enjoyed with a tall glass of water, but, more fittingly, a martini--shaken. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall dives deep into a sea of whiskey (and most other drinks), exploring different cultures' searches for what, if anything, can cure a hangover.
paperback, 416p., 9780143126706
Silence: A Social History of One of the Least Understood Elements of Our Lives
by Jane Brox
For some of us, silence is a state we strive to reach--an escape from the noise of the modern world and an opportunity for contemplation. For others, silence is something we avoid, preferring activity and distraction to being alone with our thoughts. Both are manifestations of how silence has been viewed through history: either a way to achieve enlightenment or a means to instill punishment.
In Silence, Jane Brox (Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light) considers how silence and solitude can be a source of "growth and despair" through a dual history of the penitentiary and the monastery. Benjamin Rush, a social reformer and signer of the Declaration of Independence, was perhaps America's earliest criminal justice reformer. Rush sought to "replace the hangings, brandings, and whippings of its colonial past" with redemptive "silent and separate" incarceration rooted in Quaker ideology. Over time, this would give way to solitary confinement as the ultimate punishment for a prisoner, using sound as a menace rather than a comfort. Brox also reflects on the power of monastic silence for those with a religious calling. Unlike the penitentiary, silence in the monastery is communal, sacred and infused with rituals. Every sound, no matter how simple, like the clanging of a bell, is imbued with meaning because it is intentional.
Through two figures--Charles Williams, an African American farmer who was the first prisoner at Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, and Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk whose renowned autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain detailed, then interrupted, his life of solitude--Brox illustrates the dual perspectives of silence as a source of peace or penance. --Frank Brasile, librarian
Discover: A thoughtful meditation on the power of silence as told through histories of the monastery and the penitentiary.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,
hardcover, 320p., 9780544702486
Essays & Criticism
by John McPhee
John McPhee was born in 1931, began contributing to the New Yorker in 1963 and is still one of its staff writers. He is also the author of 32 books, all nonfiction. In The Patch, he offers six previously published essays under the heading of "The Sporting Scene," as well as a second section he calls an "album quilt" of excerpts from uncollected longer pieces. "I didn't aim to reprint the whole of anything. Instead I was looking for blocks to add to the quilt, and not without new touches, internal deletions, or changed tenses--trying to make something, not just preserve it, and hoping the result would be engaging to read."
Fishing, football, golf, lacrosse and New Jersey bears are his subjects in the first section, all viewed from characteristically unusual angles, accented by his dry humor and exact turns of phrase. McPhee has a broad curiosity, and a love of natural beauties and fine technical details. In "The Patch," he interweaves his life in fishing--fly fishing for chain pickerel in particular--with the story of his father's death. "The Orange Trapper" tells of his obsession with picking up and interpreting lost golf balls (he does not play golf). The "album quilt" is an effective and carefully composed sampler of nearly everything that has ever interested him and includes many snippets of his celebrity profiles from the 1950s and '60s. His fans will enjoy this collection, and it is not a bad introduction to McPhee's long and stellar career. --Sara Catterall
Discover: This collection offers six of the great nonfiction writer's recent published essays and an "album quilt" of uncollected excerpts that span his career.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
hardcover, 256p., 9780374229481
I'm Not Here to Give a Speech
by Gabriel García Márquez, trans. by Edith Grossman
The hearty humor and intelligence of celebrated Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014) are on full display in I'm Not Here to Give a Speech, a lively selection of the Nobel laureate's speeches. Translated into English by Edith Grossman, the slender volume covers seven decades of García Márquez's life, starting in 1944 with a speech he gave to his schoolmates. The book includes his famous Nobel Prize acceptance speech from 1982, many speeches delivered across Latin America during tumultuous times, and several speeches delivered in his homeland of Colombia, some as recently as 2007.
García Márquez approached his various subjects with self-deprecating humor, admitting early on he was terrified of giving speeches. This sets the stage for an orator of great gifts who can spin stories, riff on poetry and delve deep into world history without a single note of self-importance. Fellow writers will enjoy his commentary on the craft of writing. "We're writers not through our own merits but because of the misfortune that we can't be anything else," he wittingly said in a speech in 1972. Other speeches touch upon journalism, nuclear proliferation, globalization and the drug trade. But when talking about the history and destiny of Latin America that García Márquez became his most passionate and brilliant. He called for a new era of creativity led by Latin American culture, by those "masters of the imagination."
I'm Not Here to Give a Speech gives fresh voice to a legend. A rousing read for lovers of world literature. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: This collection showcases Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez's powerful oratory.
paperback, 160p., 9781101911181
The End of the End of the Earth
by Jonathan Franzen
The End of the End of the Earth gathers 16 of acclaimed author Jonathan Franzen's essays into a collection as introspective in tone as it is outward-facing in content. "The Essay in Dark Times," for example, reflects on the genre of the personal essay in an increasingly individualistic and self-destructive moment politically and environmentally. To that end, Franzen considers the fallout of his essay (reproduced later in the collection) that was critical of the Audubon Society, revealing intimate and thoughtful questions of subjectivity, writing and revising.
While Franzen tends to focus on his tender obsession with birding--and by extension the world's pressing environmental concerns--the collection also covers other subjects, like his friendship with author William Vollmann and his reflections on Edith Wharton as a writer and woman. The End of the End of the Earth manages both to incite and soothe as it delves into overlooked topics. Over the course of his career, Franzen has become an expert at burrowing into moments others take for granted, a literary skill that always brings up new insights, concerns and revelations. Even in his engrossing essays on birding in Antarctica, South America and Egypt, he connects large-scale destruction with quiet, personal consideration. These essays celebrate the process of internalizing the outside concern, person or species. In this way, birds are the perfect encapsulation of the collection, rejoicing in their "radical otherness.... They are always among us but never of us." --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor
Discover: In this timely and prescient collection of essays, Franzen offers mature and trained insights on vital topics that often escape our attention.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
hardcover, 240p., 9780374147938
In Search of the Canary Tree: The Story of a Scientist, a Cypress, and a Changing World
by Lauren E. Oakes
In the last couple years, dozens of climate change-related books have been published. Some are hopeful, some despairing, some with a more scientific bent and others of a more philosophical nature. Ecologist Lauren E. Oakes's In Search of the Canary Tree: The Story of a Scientist, a Cypress, and a Changing World combines all of these qualities in a magnificent tale about her hunt for the dying yellow cedar in Alaska's remote wilderness. It's based on Oakes's doctoral research project, how she came up with the topic and how she carried out her research. Such a premise may sound dry, but the scientist's breezy writing style and talent for storytelling makes this one of the most engaging climate-centered reads around.
It's also an enlightening look at how science gets done. The story begins with Oakes pondering which scientific questions to ask and the likelihood that she can answer them. It then focuses on team-building as Oakes interviews a diverse group of scrappy and determined scientists to assist her field research. The ambitious crew embarks for Alaska, where they live for several weeks among some of the world's oldest trees. Oakes gets the data she needs to finish her dissertation, but also learns a compelling lesson: "What I do matters in spite of how seemingly insignificant I am in the face of climate change." Engaging and galvanizing, In Search of the Canary Tree is about more than a rare tree--it's about nature's (and humanity's) capacity for resilience in a changing world. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor
Discover: When a group of scientists study a rare tree in remote Alaska, they discover it can teach them as much about hope as science.
hardcover, 288p., 9781541697126
Nature & Environment
The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption
by Dahr Jamail
The End of Ice is a series of reports from the front lines of climate disruption. Dahr Jamail (Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq) bears witness to shrinking glaciers in Alaska, coral bleaching off the Rock Islands of Palau and much more. Instead of "climate change," Jamail prefers the term "anthropogenic (human-caused) climate disruption" to emphasize humans' responsibility for altering planetary climate systems. The End of Ice references catastrophic future scenarios that scientists have promised will result from climate disruption, but it is equally interested in the costs being exacted already. Jamail explains that "only by sharing an intimacy" with the places suffering from climate disruption can we "begin to know, perhaps love, and certainly care for them."
Jamail's love of mountaineering is a feature of many chapters, giving firsthand heft to his observations of Denali and the Gulkana Glacier. Similarly, through scuba diving, he is able to give a personal account of the suffering coral reefs. He backs up his observations with plenty of hard science, very little of it encouraging. Jamail also speaks to locals and experts, including some of the indigenous peoples whose ways of life are being threatened by climate disruption. The End of Ice is not among the many books that place an emphasis on ways to avoid worst-case climate scenarios, and readers might take issue with Jamail's seeming fatalism in that respect. Instead, the book offers an opportunity to mourn the natural wonders disappearing around us. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Discover: The End of Ice offers reporting from the front lines of climate disruption, as well as eulogies for glaciers, coral and so much more.
The New Press,
hardcover, 320p., 9781620972342
Health & Medicine
The Whole-Body Microbiome: How to Harness Microbes--Inside and Out--for Lifelong Health
by B. Brett Finlay, Jessica M. Finlay
In The Whole-Body Microbiome: How to Harness Microbes--Inside and Out--for Lifelong Health, the formidable father-daughter team of scientists B. Brett Finlay (Let Them Eat Dirt) and Jessica M. Finlay explores an invisible world. They analyze the microbes that reside all around and inside our bodies, and they explain how these teeming microbial colonies are essential to a long, active life. Aging healthfully is their focus, and their overarching, inspirational message is one of hope: by nourishing the body's microbiome we can effectively boost its ability to fight disease.
Reviewing expert research on the protective bacteria present on every inch of our skin--as well as the heart, brain, lungs, mouth, immune system, the female reproductive system and the environment--the Finlays prescribe practical measures that can help protect against age-related diseases of the mind and body. We learn, for example, that something as simple as properly brushing teeth boosts the oral microbiome and thereby promotes health throughout the entire body, including protecting against heart disease and even dementia. Encouraging readers to embrace rather than eradicate bacteria on the skin, the authors recommend using regular soap instead of antibacterial soap, because the latter kills off both good and bad microbes.
While there are factors beyond our control that can lead to ill health as we age, it is reassuring to learn that so much is within our power to manage proactively. With its upbeat approach and valuable diet and lifestyle recommendations, The Whole-Body Microbiome will empower readers to invest in the lifelong process of aging well. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer
Discover: A gerontology expert and a biochemist reveal how everything related to aging, from wrinkles to Alzheimer's, has a microbial link that each of us has the power to control.
hardcover, 304p., 9781615194810
When Death Becomes Life: Notes from a Transplant Surgeon
by Joshua D. Mezrich
In When Death Becomes Life, transplant surgeon Joshua D. Mezrich explains the background of organ transplant through the lens of his own experience. Part memoir, part narrative history, the book looks at the major players in transplant medicine with notable contextual details. For example, Nobel laureate Alexis Carrel was inspired to study vascular surgery by the 1894 assassination of the French president, but his groundbreaking transplant research is largely overshadowed by the popular notion that he was a Nazi sympathizer. Mezrich, who tells jokes and plays Tupac in the operating room, walks readers through procedures step by gory step and describes the challenges doctors face outside of the OR: nonstop hours, weighing the risks of surgery and guilt and depression if something goes wrong. He also grapples with ethical questions, such as whether doctors should perform liver transplants on people with alcoholism.
Readers will quickly become acquainted with medical terms like "renal" and "cyclosporine," but the technical language is balanced by thrilling accounts of medical discoveries and the author's own surgeries. In writing about his life-saving career, Mezrich is both casual--"I was interested in learning liver transplantation (the Super Bowl of the abdomen), but I also wanted to have the opportunity to mess with the pancreas"--and reverent--"I'll never forget the simple beauty of the kidney transplant, the feeling of wonder when the kidney turned pink." He recognizes the great responsibility surgeons have and takes care to show the humanity in each patient, both organ donor and recipient. --Katy Hershberger, freelance writer and bookseller
Discover: A fascinating insider account of modern transplant surgery and the medical history that led to it.
hardcover, 384p., 9780062656209
Influenza: The Hundred Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History
by Jeremy Brown
On the centennial of a global influenza pandemic that infected 500 million people and killed up to 100 million of them, Jeremy Brown, a former ER doctor who is now a director at the National Institutes of Health, has written Influenza: The Hundred Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History. It is an accessible, straightforward and often riveting history of this seasonal menace and the many thwarted attempts to defeat it.
Brown wrote this book because he believes that, despite this century's great advances in science and medicine, the world has not effectively learned from the so-called "Spanish flu." The 2017 flu season was the deadliest in decades. "Because of its mystery, and its ability to mutate and spread, the flu is one of mankind's most dangerous foes," Brown writes.
But Influenza isn't all alarmist gloom. In fact, it's brisk, entertaining and written with an endearing zeal. Brown weaves the history and context of the 1918 pandemic into the more contemporary story of how teams of adventurous scientists "resurrected" that year's deadly strain and studied it. He then discusses the complicated development, politics and business of weapons against the flu: vaccines (only partially effective at best) and Tamiflu (as it turns out, not effective at all).
Brown concludes with an elegant memorial to the flu pandemic of 1918 in order to more clearly define it in our collective consciousness. He argues that this century has been one of catastrophe and strife, but also one of mass expansion, technological breakthroughs and medical victories--and "the flu pandemic," he writes, "tells both these stories." --Hannah Calkins, writer and editor in Washington, D.C.
Discover: Part history lesson, part investigative report and part public service announcement, Influenza shows us how far we've come since 1918--and how far we have to go.
hardcover, 272p., 9781501181245
Hero Dogs: How a Pack of Rescues, Rejects, and Strays Became America's Greatest Disaster-Search Partners
by Wilma Melville, Paul Lobo
The 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Okla., killed 168 people. When retired teacher and grandmother of six Wilma Melville showed up with her search-and-rescue dog Murphy, there wasn't much to be done. At the time, there was a woeful nationwide shortage of search teams--only 15, a fraction of what was needed. Knowing more dogs would save lives, Melville created the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation with an unspoken goal of certifying 168 SAR teams--one for each soul lost in Oklahoma City.
Hero Dogs is the astonishing story of how one tenacious woman, helped by a legendary dog trainer and some willing firefighters, fashioned a three-dog pilot program that revolutionized disaster response. Without funding for selectively bred dogs, Wilma was forced to turn to the rejected and allegedly defective. Though she "[doesn't] exactly share their sense of humor," Wilma ended up with three golden retrievers--a twice-rejected guide dog that terrorized wheelchair users, an abused stray and a washed-out field trial competitor.
With co-author Paul Lobo, Melville shares her story in straight-talking prose that evokes the tension and emotion reflective of the high stakes. She is also slyly funny, offering delightfully ironic thoughts on dog humor. When the pilot teams are thrust into the national limelight during their first real-life disaster on 9/11, the results are both triumphant and throat-closing. A fascinating read for animal lovers, thrill-seekers and rescue-hounds alike, Melville's work is proof that some good can rise from the ashes of catastrophe. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: This book recounts how a retired teacher and grandmother turned a band of misfits and rescues into incredible disaster assets.
St. Martin's Press,
hardcover, 336p., 9781250179913
How to Date Men When You Hate Men
by Blythe Roberson
Dating in the 21st century is complicated. So is patriarchy. Humorist Blythe Roberson considers both in How to Date Men When You Hate Men--so titled because "it just didn't sound as catchy to name the book How to Date Men When They Are Born into and Brainwashed by an Evil System That Mightily Oppresses Women." Don't be fooled, though, Roberson likes men. A lot. And lots of them. As she puts it, "I have ended up with a number of crushes greater than the population of Iceland."
In this collection of musings, quips and reflections, Roberson invites readers into an inner monologue, much of which could pull double duty as a stand-up routine. The book is a primer on love and all of its trappings: infatuation, flirting, dating, psychic wounds and break-ups.
And it's hilarious.
A researcher at The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Roberson has comedy bona fides that run deep. So it's not surprising that How to Date Men When You Hate Men is both funny and smart. Harvard educated, Roberson also makes delightful use of her English major, referencing Roland Barthes ("daddy") even more than she references her crush on actor Timothée Chalamet--which is often.
Really, this is more of a philosophy book than a dating book. It's about how crushes are fun, and how women's crushes get policed differently than men's (Roberson excoriates the common accusation that Taylor Swift is "boy crazy"). It's about considering how so many benchmarks in women's lives seem to be based on women's ability to attract, and keep, a man rather than succeed in their own endeavors. Roberson's answer to that? "Prose before bros." --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: In this sharp, entertaining meditation on modern romance, humorist Blythe Roberson wrestles with how not to lose out on love when patriarchy threatens to ruin it.
hardcover, 288p., 9781250193421
Children's & Young Adult
Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship: Tales from India
by Chitra Soundar, illus. by Uma Krishnaswamy
Indian-born Londoner Chitra Soundar (You're Safe with Me) takes inspiration from traditional Indian folklore in this hilariously witty compilation of original stories, illustrated by Chennai artist Uma Krishnaswamy.
If he wants someday to fill his father's shoes as a kind and just ruler in their small agrarian kingdom, 10-year-old Prince Veera needs practice. Luckily, his best friend Suku, the farmer's son, has an ingenious idea: the boys will open their own court and hear some of the minor complaints citizens bring before King Bheema. Soon the bold pair find themselves swamped with tough decisions: a baker wants to charge a poor man for smelling his sweets; a man sells a well to his neighbor but insists he still owns the water inside it; King Bheema himself falls prey to a dangerous superstition. Prince Veera and Suku have an uncanny knack for turning the tables on the unjust, devising solutions that beat swindlers at their own games. With pluck, wit and each other's steadfast support, Prince Veera and Suku prove wisdom isn't solely the province of maturity.
Soundar's energetic prose and wisecracking dialogue sparkle and Krishnaswamy's acrylic folk-based illustrations of characters and nature dance across almost every page. Like any folktale, Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship is best when shared. Read aloud, the adventures of Prince Veera and Suku will surely captivate first- through fifth-grade classrooms, the dilemmas providing excellent opportunities for critical thinking. Independent readers age 8 to 12 are likely to delight in the boys' clever solutions, not to mention their ability to confound and outwit adults. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services division manager at main branch, Dayton Metro Library
Discover: Based on traditional Indian folktales, Chitra Soundar's trickster tales star two clever boys, a prince and a commoner, who solve their kingdom's thorniest complaints.
hardcover, 192p., ages 6-12, 9781536200676
by Constantine J. Singer
Seventeen-year-old Alex Mata lives an unexciting life in Los Angeles: he likes playing his guitar, tagging walls, skateboarding and hanging out with his friends. When he begins hearing ghostly music and a phantom voice, he is convinced these are signs he may be schizophrenic like his deceased uncle, and keeps them a secret from his parents.
Then, an alien murders Alex's parents in a manner similar to other recent attacks, dubbed Incursions, taking place across the world. The government denies these attacks are happening and, Alex, knowing no one will believe him, flees. Prompted by his inner voice, Alex travels to tech pioneer Jeffrey Sabazios's compound in Seattle; Sabazios believes the Incursions are real and promises security from alien hacking through his Live-Tech earpods and screens. At the compound, Alex discovers that his inner voice and music are connected to something greater: he is a "witness," a person who can move through time and change "human futures." Sabazios plans to use Alex and other teen witnesses at the compound to stop the invasion, sending them to "desired future events" where they can create the best outcome. But Alex grows suspicious of Sabazios's motives: Should he listen to those around him--or the voice in his head?
Singer's imaginative, contemporary sci-fi is perfect for fans of Marie Lu's Warcross or M.T. Anderson's Landscape with Invisible Hand. Readers will find their reality reflected in Singer's diverse cast of characters and in technology that feels authentic for use in the not-so-distant future. --Clarissa Hadge, bookstore manager, Trident Booksellers & Cafe, Boston, Mass.
Discover: After his parents' murder, Alex hones newly found abilities to prevent an alien invasion.
hardcover, 432p., ages 12-up, 9781524740245
Unpresidented: A Biography of Donald Trump
by Martha Brockenbrough
Starting with an author's note and jumping directly into the 2016 presidential election, Martha Brockenbrough's (Love, Santa) young adult biography of Donald Trump drops readers into a landscape they are familiar with--the present--before providing a quick overview of Trump's family history. In the first three chapters, Brockenbrough covers grandfather Friedrich's move from a small German town to the United States; the accumulation of family money beginning with Friedrich Trump and continuing with his son, Fred; and Donald's "lucky" childhood.
As the narrative nears the present day, it slows down, going into exhaustive detail. The 1970s are when Donald became the Trump readers know today: his "first attempt to succeed in Manhattan" flopped and "he became president of the Trump Organization after his dad took on the new title of chairman of the board." Donald saw "the press as a potential ally" and used the it to build his name. He met and began working with the lawyer Roy Cohn and he was sued by the United States for violating the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Casino purchases, extramarital affairs, bankruptcy after bankruptcy follow until Brockenbrough reaches 2014 and the run-up to the presidential election. Then, she dives even deeper, with chapters titled "Crossfire Hurricane" (about the FBI investigation into Trump), "The Man Who Would Be King" (about the very beginning of his presidency) and "The Fish Stinks from the Head Down."
Unpresidented is extremely well-researched--in addition to newspapers, magazines and books, Brockenbrough also looked at "sourced legal documents, records of arrests, police and FBI investigations, and Congressional testimony." This detailed biography is a fantastic place to start for readers looking to get a more thorough understanding of Trump, his policies and the current political landscape. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Unpresidented by Martha Brockenbrough is a thorough, unyielding young adult biography of the 45th President of the United States.
Feiwel & Friends,
hardcover, 432p., ages 12-18, 9781250308030
What Is Given from the Heart
by Patricia C. McKissack, illus. by April Harrison
The late Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Award-winning author Patricia McKissack (Let's Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance Spin & Turn It Out!) joins with celebrated folk artist and illustrator April Harrison to capture the joy of giving in What Is Given from the Heart.
After his father's death, James Otis and his mother lose their farm and move to the Bottoms. There, the African American family of two try to rebuild their lives despite a lack of resources and continuous hardships. After a "skimpy" Christmas and new year, Valentine's Day approaches and their pastor implores his congregation to donate items for "love boxes" that will go to needy families, reminding them that "what is given from the heart reaches the heart." Though they don't have much at all, James Otis and his mother enthusiastically embrace the opportunity to use their talents to create gifts for another struggling family of two and are pleasantly surprised with how giving from the heart can quickly circle back.
Harrison's expressive collages combine found materials, acrylic paint and pen drawings to create texture and movement that matches the emotion in McKissack's colloquial dialogue and text. Details that Harrison develops--pictures drawn by James Otis stuck to the refrigerator, portraits mingling colors and shapes--perfectly complement the way McKissack frames the idea of an interconnected community, one that gives of itself and its people to sustain each other and survive. What Is Given from the Heart is a loving tribute to collective work, responsibility and the joy that comes from giving freely from the heart. --Breanna J. McDaniel, freelance reviewer
Discover: What Is Given from the Heart is a sweet picture book celebration of the exhilaration and fulfillment that stems from giving wholeheartedly.
Schwartz & Wade,
hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780375836152
1919: The Year That Changed America
by Martin W. Sandler
"Every so often there is a year when events converge in surprising ways," writes Martin W. Sandler. "And there was never anything quite like 1919." Few will argue with Sandler after reading 1919: The Year That Changed America. In nature and in number, the dramatic happenings of that period in U.S. history were staggering.
Each of 1919's six chapters tackles an event, or series of related events, of that year: Boston's deadly molasses flood; the passage of the Prohibition and women's suffrage amendments; the largest number of labor strikes of any year in U.S. history; hysteria-driven responses to postwar anxiety about the spread of communism, known as the Red Scare; and the Red Summer, the violent and racially charged period during which African Americans were first emboldened to organize against white oppressors.
Sandler, whose previous books for kids include Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War II, seems to anticipate young readers' assumption that history is old news by providing "One Hundred Years Later" sections at the ends of most chapters; by connecting, say, the Red Summer's activism with the Black Lives Matter movement, Sandler illuminates the relevance of history. Harbored in 1919's chapters, which are copiously illustrated with photos, are two-page spreads presenting other high- and lowlights of that tumultuous year, such as the World Series scandal, during which the Chicago White Sox threw the contest. Many readers will leave this authoritative and absorbing book wishing 1919 both a happy centennial and good riddance. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
Discover: This centennial look at a fraught year in U.S. history makes a valiant case for 1919's outsize significance.
hardcover, 192p., ages 10-14, 9781681198019
I Need a Hug
by Aaron Blabey
A very spiky porcupine needs a hug. From the left-hand page, he asks the rabbit on the right-hand page, "Will you cuddle me, Lou?" The rabbit bolts: "What? With those spikes? Get away from me! Shoo!" The porcupine is undeterred. Next up? Ken, the moose: "I need a hug. Will you cuddle me, Ken?" Leaping off the page, Ken screams, "Help! It's that prickly thing at it again!" Still in place on the left-hand page, the little porcupine asks another animal for a little bit of love: "Will you cuddle me, Joe?" The bear turns tail, "Cuddle you? No, I won't! No No NO NO!"
Finally, the porcupine begins to lose hope, speaking directly to the reader, "No one will hug me. That's not very kind." But, "hey! Wait a minute...." Lou, Ken and Joe all appear, sprinting back toward the porcupine. "You've all changed your mind!" When the animals race past the itty-bitty porcupine, there is little time to feel bad for the hug-starved animal--at the very top of the right-hand page, readers will see that Lou, Ken and Joe are running away from a snake. "Geez," the snake says, "all I did was ask for a kiss." A final page turn shows the snake and the porcupine curled together, wholly blissed out. " 'Well isn't this lovely?' 'Yes, how about this.' "
Aaron Blabey's (The Bad Guys) acrylic, pen and pencil illustrations are eye-catching, with each spread making great use of boldly colored blank space. On a field of bright pink, neon green or storm-cloud blue, Blabey's animals pop, their exaggerated features displaying tons of emotion. I Need a Hug is entertaining and sweet. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A tiny porcupine wants some love in Aaron Blabey's I Need a Hug.
hardcover, 32p., ages 3-5, 9781338297102
Twilight of the Elves
by Zack Loran Clark, Nick Eliopulos
Twilight of the Elves continues the exploits of best friends Zed, a sorcerer-in-training, and Brock, a merchant's son with a talent for theft. Their friendship has become strained, however, since they were drafted into the Adventurers Guild, the city of Freestone's last line of defense against outside Dangers. Brock is engaged in a smuggling scheme to keep Zed's infernal (and illegal) magic a secret; Zed is plagued by ominous nightmares, but is too frightened to tell Brock. Additionally, Freestone has taken in dozens of elf refugees--the elves are fleeing an army of their own undead friends and relatives, risen and led by a mysterious figure known as the Lich. The Freestoners, strapped for resources, are frustrated with the shantytown and are often hostile to the refugees. Everything collides when the elven Queen Me'Shala asks the Adventurers to free the city of Llethanyl from the Lich and his army of the dead.
Twilight of the Elves, like its predecessor, The Adventurers Guild, is great fun punctuated by increasingly scary dangers. The series continues to tackles deeper issues of inclusion and exclusion: Zed, the son of a human mother and elf father, struggles to belong with either community. And while the elves resent their treatment by the Freestoners, they, too, have a history of prejudice; night elves are viewed with suspicion by the other elven clans. Authors Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos don't preach, but instead set up tense situations and let young readers watch them play out. In the end, though, there is a firm message: "You have to work with others, people who see things differently than you do, in order to overcome life's greatest challenges." --Ali Davis, freelance writer and playwright
Discover: In this sequel to The Adventurers Guild, best friends Zed and Brock must confront a refugee crisis, bigotry and an army of undead elves.
hardcover, 384p., ages 8-12, 9781484788608
Love Like Sky
by Leslie C. Youngblood
Georgiana "G-baby" Matthews has what seems like the weight of the world on her 11-year-old shoulders. Her mother's recent remarriage has meant a summer move to the suburbs and away from Atlanta and her best friend, Nikki; come fall, G-baby will have to go to a new school. The move also means a new stepsister for G-baby: Tangie, an ornery teen whose younger sister died in a car crash. It's while G-baby and her six-year-old sister, Peaches, are back in Atlanta visiting their dad and new stepmom, Millicent, that the freshly formed family threatens to unravel.
While G-baby is off with Nikki, having snuck out of Daddy and Millicent's house in the night, Peaches becomes sick enough to require hospitalization. G-baby laments that she wasn't there for her sister, who she knew had been feeling ill: "It was possible that little sisters go away and never come back," she reflects. "It happened to Tangie's li'l sister."
Blended family stories and sick sibling sagas are nothing new in middle-grade fiction, but with her debut novel, Leslie C. Youngblood makes this turf her own. Love Like Sky references Charlie Brown, the Kardashians and other pop-culture touchstones familiar to most middle schoolers, but the book also name checks Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown--names that a black "almost-teenager" like G-baby would surely know. Love Like Sky has an abiding warmth, captured in its title--a reference to the sky-high love that G-baby knows her mother and father feel for her. By book's end, she understands that they're hardly the only ones. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
Discover: Leslie C. Youngblood's debut middle grade novel revolves around black "almost-teenager" G-baby and her newly blended family, which faces typical middle-class problems--and then some.
hardcover, 304p., ages 8-12, 9781368016506
The Wicked King
by Holly Black
In The Cruel Prince, human Jude used her place among fey royalty and her training as a knight to install a puppet monarch on the throne. Doing so meant working closely with her bitter rival, the hateful Prince Cardan, but allowed her to keep her murderous adoptive father, Madoc, off the throne, and her young, fey brother, Oak, safe from the court.
The Wicked King sees Jude playing the part of seneschal to High King Cardan, though, in truth, she is "the hand behind the throne." She's tricked Cardan into swearing allegiance to her "for a year and a day," but Jude wants to "keep him in [her] power--and out of trouble--for longer than that." Her plan is to crown Oak who, unbeknownst to most, is a child of the previous High King and therefore "of the right bloodline." But before he can take over for this new (and supposedly temporary) High King, he has to grow up. Unfortunately, Cardan, who never wanted the crown, looks increasingly comfortable playing monarch. Meanwhile, Orlagh, Queen of the Undersea, plots to unseat the seemingly "feckless" Cardan, and Jude juggles different court factions to maintain power.
To complicate matters further, Jude and Cardan become romantically involved, sharing the "sinister pleasure" of ill-conceived desire. Jude begins to get swept away in all of her escalating games of love and hate; stakes rise as her ability to lie, and her growing affinity for murder, may well lead to her downfall. The Wicked King has satisfying twists and turns, sizzling passions, brutal violence, spies and revels of all sorts--no one brings the intricate courtly politics of Faerie to life quite as well, or with as much intelligence, as Holly Black. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: As de facto ruler of Elfhame, Jude struggles to retain power in a divided court in this sequel to The Cruel Prince.
hardcover, 336p., ages 14-up, 9780316310352
The Field Guide to the North American Teenager
by Ben Philippe
Norris Kaplan is about to start his junior year at a new school in Austin, Tex., where his Haitian/Canadian mother recently got a job. He's heard Austin has a "unique flavor" and, upon arrival, he discovers that "none of this flavor... [is] hospitable to your average Canadian. No, to your average Canadian--black French Canadian no less--Austin, Texas, [blows] baby chunks."
Generally pessimistic and especially sour about moving to "the surface of the sun," Norris is determined to hate everything. Which he does. Until Aarti Puri. "Dark skinned... with... artificially dyed dark red hair," Aarti is artistic, smart and probably not into him. But Norris makes a deal with cheerleader Madison when applying for a job at her family's restaurant: he'll cover shifts when she has practice and she'll help him with Aarti. Slowly, with Maddie's help, Norris starts hanging with cheerleaders, makes friends with a nice loner and goes on dates with Aarti--he's "an actual American cliché." All the while, Norris writes in his journal witty, self-satisfied "field guide" entries disparaging life in Austin and the people around him. That type of mindset can backfire, though, and, when it does, Norris might have to leave Texas altogether.
Norris is self-absorbed with a cutting inner monologue. He should be wholly unlikable, but Quebecois-turned-Texan Ben Philippe manages to make Norris a humorous, sympathetic protagonist, lovable yet ultimately responsible for every moment of his own downfall. Norris is selfish, but Philippe is aware, regularly forcing Norris to recognize the humanity of others. Philippe continues this awareness by developing fully rounded characters who don't fit into Norris's stereotypes; no one is only vapid, only smart, only mean, or only an athlete. Which is "kind of the point," right? --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Quebecois-turned-Texan author Ben Philippe uses his own background as a starting point for his YA debut about a black Canadian teen trying to settle in Texas.
Balzer + Bray,
hardcover, 384p., ages 13-up, 9780062824110
When the Truth Unravels
by Ruthanne Snow
Park City, Utah, high school seniors Elin, Ket, Rosie and Jenna are best friends--sort of. Their relationships have been strained lately, but now it's the end of the school year and, as Rosie says, "[t]he thing is... when one of your oldest friends who also tried to kill herself wants to go to prom... well." You go.
Told in four voices, RuthAnne Snow's debut novel moves through prom night (which ends up being "one long nightmare" of missed messages, misplaced friends and some nasty sexual blackmail), flashing repeatedly back to "BEFORE" the suicide attempt. Secrets abound as each girl tries desperately to protect Elin from herself, her parents, her sweet ex-boyfriend, each an unhappiness that might send her spiraling again.
What sets When the Truth Unravels apart is the remarkably undramatic authenticity of Elin's situation. Throughout, everyone--readers included--waits for the big reveal: Why did Elin attempt suicide? Was there abuse in her past? Secret drug use? "Senioritis?" No, no and no. Elin simply and unbearably suffers from depression. Once properly medicated, she is baffled by the foggy memories of what she felt: "I was just sad? That was all?"
Coming to terms with her depression and finally trying to explain it to her friends makes all the miscommunication and turmoil in the preceding months all the more poignant. "[I]t's not 'just depression,' " as Jenna says. "It's f***ing depression. It's a nightmare, that's what it is, and don't ever think it's something to be embarrassed about." For teens struggling with depression or supporting friends who suffer, this novel offers a seriously good understanding of its devastating effects. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: In this startling and sensitive debut novel, four friends grapple with the ripple effects of an earlier suicide attempt made by one of them.
Sky Pony Press,
hardcover, 312p., ages 14-up, 9781510733572
Buried Lives: The Enslaved People of George Washington's Mount Vernon
by Carla Killough McClafferty
By the time George Washington died in 1799, his estate, Mount Vernon, was home to 317 enslaved African American men, women and children. The irony was that "the man who led the fight for American freedom" remained a slave owner his entire life, despite his well-stated personal objections to slavery. In Buried Lives, award-winning author Carla Killough McClafferty (The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon) confronts Washington's role as a conflicted slave owner through the stories of six enslaved Mount Vernon residents.
William Lee was Washington's valet, attending to all his personal needs. Lee served Washington through the Revolutionary War; when severe knee injuries made service impossible for Lee, Christopher Sheels became Washington's personal valet. Caroline was a housemaid in the mansion, while her husband, Peter Hardiman, ran Mount Vernon's large-scale mule-breeding operation. Ona Maria Judge, who began service as a child at Mount Vernon, was Martha's personal maid and accompanied the first First Lady to New York and Philadelphia. Hercules was the renowned "chief cook in the kitchen of the president of the United States" in Philadelphia who impressed dignitaries from all over the world with his culinary prowess.
Relying on extensive research, McClafferty provides an alternative history to the existing, too-often idealized founding fathers' mythology. Beyond the biographies, McClafferty continues with "And Then What Happened?," culling additional information about the descendants of the six slaves. She devotes multiple chapters to the recent archeological reclamation and restoration of the unmarked, untended burial site of Mount Vernon's enslaved and further illuminates her words with drawings, maps, newspaper clippings, photographs and other relevant documents that enhance an already compelling narrative. McCafferty's Buried Lives is a long overdue, careful testimony for a new generation of questioning, challenging readers. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: This illuminating middle-grade history focuses on six African Americans enslaved by George Washington and his family.
hardcover, 168p., 9780823436972
Bold & Brave: Ten Heroes Who Won Women the Right to Vote
by Kirsten Gillibrand, illus. by Maira Kalman
In her first book for children, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (Off the Sidelines) shares the history of women's suffrage in the United States, along with the narratives of 10 individuals who fought for equal voting rights.
Gillibrand introduces readers to Susan B. Anthony, who "tried to vote for president and was arrested!" But after her death, when the 19th Amendment was passed, it became known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. The senator acquaints her audience with Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, women born into slavery who both went on to join the voting rights movement, and Alice Paul, who helped organize the first national parade for women's suffrage. Also included is Jovita Idár, a teacher, journalist and founder of the League of Mexican Women, who fought for women's rights and education. Maira Kalman's (Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything) vivid, striking paintings accompany each woman's story, the full-page portraits emphasizing the pioneers' forceful presences in the country's history. Her powerful brushstrokes and eye-catching colors fittingly mirror the actions and spirits of her subjects.
Admiration and respect emanate from the pages of Bold & Brave. Gillibrand covers some women who may already be familiar to her audience, as well as some who are more obscure but equally worthy of recognition. This reminder of valiant women from U.S. history is inspiring and sure to promote interest in voting at an early age. And in a representative democracy, one is never too young to embrace a healthy respect and appreciation for voting. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: Senator Kristin Gillibrand tells 10 stories of women who shaped the United States through their efforts in the women's suffrage movement.
hardcover, 40p., ages 6-9, 9780525579014
by Jeff Newman, illus. by Larry Day
One rainy evening, a girl gazing out her apartment window notices a bedraggled dog wading through puddles in the city streets below. She runs downstairs, scoops up the pup and brings it inside. The girl already has all the accessories needed to welcome the stray: dog food, a bowl, a bed, a leash.... As the girl takes care of the stray, readers will understand that she is mourning the loss of another dog, Prudence, who is obviously much-loved and has gone missing (according to the poster tacked up on her wall). The new dog wins the girl over completely and they spend some wonderful moments together. Then the girl sees a "LOST" poster outside a pet store and realizes that this new dog (Roscoe) has an owner searching for it. In a heartbreaking climax, the girl chooses to do the right thing, reuniting Roscoe and owner. Yet, even as she despondently walks away, there is a third dog--in a shelter window--that may well be the perfect fit.
Larry Day uses color smartly and sparingly in this wordless picture book, highlighting key story elements with sunshine yellows, bold reds or glum blues. In a nice design touch, the title page doesn't appear until a few spreads in, when the girl carries the wet dog upstairs, emphasizing how it has been "Found." Endpapers also reinforce the themes of Found, with an abandoned dog basket under the girl's bed in the beginning that is replaced by a glimpse of the newly adopted shelter pup at the end. Found expertly conveys the waves of emotion experienced by one compassionate, nameless girl who retains the ability to open her heart again and yet again. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: In this charming wordless picture book, a young girl who has recently lost her own dog falls in love with a stray, only to learn that the stray has an owner searching for it.
Simon & Schuster,
hardcover, 48p., ages 4-8, 9781534410060
We Are Here to Stay: Voices of Undocumented Young Adults
by Susan Kuklin, editor
Susan Kuklin set out to give voice to the silent in We Are Here to Stay. Nine young adults registered in the United States' Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program narrate the book; the idea for the work was to have them come out of the immigration shadows as flesh-and-blood individuals, rather than statistics or ambiguous generalizations. However, the book's original planned publication date collided with the federal government's repeal of DACA, and its existence became a threat to the subjects' safety. Still, the young people wanted their stories told. Originally, the format included full-color portraits, but those pages now appear as blank frames with only initials representing the immigrants' names. The stories, however, remain unchanged.
Coming as mere children from Korea, Independent Samoa, Colombia, Ghana and Mexico, these brave young men and women share experiences of fleeing to escape violence and poverty, to pursue a chance at education and their dreams. Their struggles are heartbreaking, their fortitude extraordinary. Kuklin transcribes the stories as spoken by their owners, which serves to bolster their authenticity and the humanity. Their powerful narratives reinforce one immigrant's words: "Being undocumented doesn't define me. I don't want documents... to be my signifier. Ultimately, I'm just a person." And the missing images speak volumes about the way society views these youths. Chilling, inspiring and hopeful, We Are Here to Stay transcends politics and finds the common bonds of mankind. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: Nine DREAMers share their courageous and daunting stories of pursing better lives in We Are Here to Stay.
hardcover, 192p., ages 14-up, 9780763678845
by Yoon Ha Lee
A fox spirit ("gumiho") masquerading as a human, 13-year-old Min has a dismal life on Jinju, a poor, half-finished planet in the Thousand Worlds league. Her mom and aunties bog her down with mundane chores, and it's unsafe for her to practice her fox magic openly--her ancestors used their shape-shifting abilities to "lure lonely travelers" and "suck out their lives," so people aren't too keen on fox spirits. The only thought getting her through this life is that in two years she can take the entrance exam for the Space Forces, an elite, interstellar military order, and follow her brother, Jun, into the service.
Then, her family receives word that Jun has been accused of deserting his training cruise to search for the Dragon Pearl, "a mystical orb with the ability to... transform"--or destroy--"an entire planet in a day." Min won't allow her brother's reputation to be ruined; she runs away to find Jun and clear his name. She quickly realizes that the situation is more complicated than it appears and the fate of the whole league may rest in her inexperienced hands.
In Dragon Pearl, Yoon Ha Lee (the Machineries of Empire series) melds elements of Korean myth, science fiction and adventure stories into a strong, cohesive narrative that fans of multiple genres will enjoy. Rigged gambling parlors, pirate attacks and battle simulations are layered over conjuring goblins, weather-controlling dragons and vengeful ghosts. Lee's epic romp through space also includes discussions about prejudice, nonbinary identity and inequality between rich and poor. Lee handles these topics sensitively without burdening her audience. Dragon Pearl shoots for the moon and lands flawlessly, delivering a rollicking and meaningful space adventure. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Discover: Dragon Pearl takes readers on an epic journey to a diverse, inclusive world effortlessly infused with elements of Korean mythology.
Rick Riordon Presents/Disney-Hyperion,
hardcover, 320p., ages 9-12, 9781368013352