Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, July 19, 2019

Doubleday Books: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

From My Shelf

Flame Tree Press: A Killing Fire (Fiction Without Frontiers) by Faye Snowden

Quirk Books: Hope Rides Again: An Obama Biden Mystery (Obama Biden Mysteries #2) by Andrew Shaffer

Picture Books Celebrating the Moon Landing

Fifty years ago today, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were en route to the moon; on July 20, 1969, Armstrong and Aldrin became the first people to walk on its surface. Here are a few of the excellent, recently published picture books about those who have been to the moon.

Rhonda Gowler Greene and Scott Brundage's The First Men Who Went to the Moon ($16.99, Sleeping Bear Press) is a poetic, step-by-step recounting of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins's trip to the moon, beginning with boarding Apollo 11 and ending with "the splashdown that brought them home." Scattered throughout, blended into Brundage's stirring illustrations, are additional facts for older readers.

The Daring Dozen: The Twelve Who Walked on the Moon by Suzanne Slade, illus. by Alan Marks ($17.99, Charlesbridge) takes the Apollo 11 trip and builds upon it, showing how each subsequent mission to the moon used the lessons from the one before to expand our knowledge. Marks's illustrated double-page spreads are awe-inspiring, each depicting, in their own way, the expanse that is space. Slade's text is lyrical and full of information for young moon enthusiasts.

David Long and Sam Kalda's When We Walked on the Moon ($17.99, Wide Eyed Editions) takes a similar approach to The Daring Dozen but for a slightly older age range. With detailed chapters and bold, stylized illustrations, this title focuses on making the astronauts fully rounded people.

Special mention goes to John Hare's Field Trip to the Moon ($17.99, Holiday House), which features an imagined elementary school trip to the moon in which one little astronaut displays their artistic talents and meets some new, moon-abiding friends. Who knows what the next 50 years hold? 

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

From My Shelf

Flame Tree Press: A Killing Fire (Fiction Without Frontiers) by Faye Snowden

Quirk Books: Hope Rides Again: An Obama Biden Mystery (Obama Biden Mysteries #2) by Andrew Shaffer

Pride and Prejudice and Pride Again

Jane Austen's novels have long captured the imaginations of modern readers; television and movie adaptations abound, and Austen-inspired stories are easy to come across. Of late, there have been several inventive and out-of-the-box retellings of Pride and Prejudice (Harper Perennial, $10), in particular, worth noting for the avid Austen reader looking for a new take on one of Austen's best-loved novels.

Curtis Sittenfield's debut novel, Prep (Random House, $17), marked her as a writer to follow; her subsequent novels, including Eligible, have carried that reputation forward. In Eligible (Random House, $17), Austen's characters are moved out of 19th-century England and into 21st-century Cincinnati, Ohio.

In Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors (Morrow, $15.99), Sonali Dev also reimagines the classic story in contemporary times--this time in a family drama featuring an immigrant Indian family in modern-day San Francisco, Calif.

Soniah Kamal's Unmarriageable (Ballantine Books, $27) reimagines the large Bennett family as the Binat clan of present-day Pakistan. The Bennetts are once again reinvented, as the Benitez family, in Ibi Zoboi's Pride (Balzer & Bray, $17.99), set in the rapidly changing neighborhood of Bushwick in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Each of these modern-day retellings take inspiration from Austen's classic tale despite vastly different characters and settings, all while maintaining Austen's characteristic wit and satire. More impressively, however, they replicate the biting social observations and criticisms for which Austen is still so beloved. Turns out Austen's study of gender roles, societal expectations, familial duty (and its corresponding conflicts), class and social mobility are just as present in modern times as they were when Austen was writing.

From My Shelf

Flame Tree Press: A Killing Fire (Fiction Without Frontiers) by Faye Snowden

Quirk Books: Hope Rides Again: An Obama Biden Mystery (Obama Biden Mysteries #2) by Andrew Shaffer

Poets, Power and Pop Culture

Poetry can be a finger-beckoning-in invitation. It can be a fist, rising in solidarity. It can supersede the page, subverting genre, form and even power itself. Claudia Rankine--MacArthur Fellow, finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf, $20)--has long been celebrated for her powerful and subversive verse. Fans would do well to pick up her early Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric (Graywolf, $16), a potent, unforgettable exploration of violence, death, entertainment and living in her own body, and her own skin, in her own time.

Rankine crops up often in critical analyses of Beyoncé's body of work--which summons to the table Morgan Parker's There's More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé (Tin House, $14.95). Shot through with pain, sex, pop culture, frustration and fragility, Parker's poems deploy searing satire, as in "Heaven Be a Xanax" and "Slouching Towards Beyoncé." In "Beyoncé Celebrates/ Black History Month," she writes, "I have almost/ forgotten my roots/ are not long/ blonde. I have almost forgotten/ what it means to be at sea."

Evie Shockley's brilliant The New Black (Wesleyan University Press, $15.95) likewise offers equal parts precision, nuance and blunt force. In "post-white," her wordplay belies sobering images: "my country tears of thee sparkling on a stiff gray bow tied against cognitive dissonance." In "ode to my blackness," Shockley employs a similar marine metaphor: "you are my shelter from the storm/ and the storm."

See slam poet, activist and radical self-love advocate Sonya Renee Taylor's The Body Is Not an Apology (Berrett-Koehler, $17.95) for an empowering, grounded introduction to becoming liberated in this world. Taylor's brand of liberation? "The opportunity for every human, no matter their body, to have unobstructed access to their highest self; for every human to live in radical self love."

--Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

From My Shelf

Flame Tree Press: A Killing Fire (Fiction Without Frontiers) by Faye Snowden

Quirk Books: Hope Rides Again: An Obama Biden Mystery (Obama Biden Mysteries #2) by Andrew Shaffer

'I Walk Because, Somehow, It's Like Reading'

I've just returned from the hypnotic pilgrimage that is Kathryn Davis's gorgeous novel The Silk Road (Graywolf), where the bardo somehow intersects with the Camino de Santiago: "Like the place in the dream where you always get lost, a well-traveled, well-known road shaking you loose into fear and confusion, propelling you toward that house just around the bend but there is no toward, there is no house, there is no bend."

Walking is complicated. "For more than 15 years now I have been writing about the relationships between landscape and the human heart," Robert Macfarlane observes in Underland: A Deep Time Journey (Norton), an extraordinary account of his own "journeys into darkness, and of descents made in search of knowledge." Sometimes he climbs: "A cloud-sea fills the landscape below us."

In Here Is Where I Walk: Episodes from a Life in the Forest (University of Nevada Press), Leslie Carol Roberts deftly explores her world through the lens of daily walks in San Francisco's Presidio: "I think of the wild and how it inhabits urban spaces, as image, memory, park, as a place for art to show ideas of our larger situation. Are city parks actually wild places? It depends on whom you ask."

"I walk because, somehow, it's like reading," Lauren Elkin writes in Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London (FSG). "You're privy to these lives and conversations that have nothing to do with yours, but you can eavesdrop on them. Sometimes it's overcrowded; sometimes the voices are too loud. But there is always companionship. You are not alone. You walk in the city side by side with the living and the dead."

Although Erling Kagge's feet seem firmly planted on the ground in Walking: One Step at a Time (translated by Becky L. Crook, Pantheon), he still sees the mind-bending possibilities: "And this is precisely the secret held by all those who go by foot: life is prolonged when you walk. Walking expands time rather than collapses it."

--Robert Gray, contributing editor, Shelf Awareness

From My Shelf

Flame Tree Press: A Killing Fire (Fiction Without Frontiers) by Faye Snowden

Quirk Books: Hope Rides Again: An Obama Biden Mystery (Obama Biden Mysteries #2) by Andrew Shaffer

Historical Fiction with a Twist

I fell in love with magical realism when I read One Hundred Years of Solitude (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, $16.99) years ago. The way Gabriel García Márquez infused an epic family saga with doses of magic and mysticism opened my eyes to a new way of thinking about two of my favorite genres: fantasy and historical fiction. Of late, I've been happy to encounter several books that successfully combine the two to great effect.

In The Cassandra (Holt, $28), an eccentric young woman with the ability to see the future goes to work at the Hanford research center--a key part of the Manhattan Project. Author Sharma Shields combines the real aspects of Hanford's history with the imagined talents of Mildred Groves in a way that sheds light on the brutality of war and the violence that humans do to one another.

Yangsze Choo's impressive The Night Tiger (Flatiron, $26.99) combines a coming-of-age story with a tale of colonialism that features both a man-eating tiger and a train to the land of the dead.

Time After Time (Random House, $27) by Lisa Grunwald is a love story set entirely in Grand Central Terminal, and is packed with historical detail about one of New York City's most famous buildings. But the man-meets-woman-falls-in-love-story has a twist: Nora cannot set foot outside of the station or she disappears for months or years. 

Elizabeth McCracken's Bowlaway (Ecco, $27.99) is less specific in its historical fiction, set in an imagined, not real, New England town at the turn of the 20th century. But the social standards that constrain the women of McCracken's excellent novel feel historically accurate, despite the whimsical nature of what happens to many of them across its pages.


From My Shelf

Flame Tree Press: A Killing Fire (Fiction Without Frontiers) by Faye Snowden

Quirk Books: Hope Rides Again: An Obama Biden Mystery (Obama Biden Mysteries #2) by Andrew Shaffer

The Women Behind the Founding Fathers

This year, celebrate America's origins on July Fourth in a different way: by immersing yourself in the lives of important women connected to our Founding Fathers who have mostly been forgotten by history.

Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie have written two engrossing novels set during the American Revolution, told from the perspectives of strong, influential women, and combining historical facts with compelling narratives.


America's First Daughter (Morrow, $15.99) is about Martha "Patsy" Jefferson Randolph, Thomas Jefferson's beloved oldest daughter. Her mother died when she was a child, and Patsy vowed at her deathbed to take care of her father. The novel follows Patsy and her father to Paris, when Jefferson was U.S. ambassador to France, back home to Virginia and on to Washington and the presidential mansion, where Patsy served as "First Daughter" in the absence of Jefferson's wife. Though the novel is Patsy's life story and focuses on her personal triumphs and traumas, she was an integral part of the early years of this nation and deeply involved in her father's work.


The same winning formula of fascinating history plus an intimate look at a significant woman's life is applied in My Dear Hamilton (Morrow, $16.99), focusing on Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, wife of Alexander Hamilton. Eliza--the daughter of a general--was involved in politics and the Revolution before she ever met Alexander. But with Alexander, she had a front-row seat to the birth and growing pains of our nation and even helped with some of his famous writings. She lived a long and accomplished life decades past Hamilton's death, and Dray and Kamoie bring her to glorious life on the page. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and blogger at Book By Book

Sharjah International Book Fair Oct 30th-November 9th 2019 - Learn More

Book Candy

A Black Girl's Reading List

Authors Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi created "a black girl's reading list: 10 books to inspire and challenge" for the Guardian.


Atlas Obscura explored "how Thoreau's 19th-century observations are helping shape science today."


Quirk Books composed a selection of "literary references in Beatles songs."


BoingBoing showed "how F. Scott Fitzgerald conjugated the verb 'to cocktail.' "


Insider "hired the author of Black Hawk Down and an illustrator from Archer to adapt The Mueller Report so you'll actually read it."

Three Women

by Lisa Taddeo

Lisa Taddeo is not a soothsayer: she's a writer whose work has appeared in well-regarded magazines and anthologies like Best American Sports Writing. But if she's not clairvoyant, how did she know, when she began her eight years of work on Three Women, that the book would arrive at the exact moment when the #MeToo-grappling world so desperately needs it?

After driving across the country six times with her eyes peeled for subjects willing to talk about their sex lives "on the record and without holding back," Taddeo was lucky enough to gain the trust of three women. In an author's note, she says that she "spent thousands of hours" with her subjects, including by phone, text and e-mail when it was impossible for her to be physically present. (Take note: Three Women contains explicit sex scenes.) She distilled those hours of storytelling into dexterous and suspenseful third-person narratives, devoting about a half dozen alternating chapters to each woman.

That Taddeo uses Maggie May Wilken's real name (she changes those of her other subjects) reflects a grim truth: Maggie's name is part of the public record. When she was a 17-year-old senior at West Fargo High, she began an affair with her English teacher, Aaron Knodel, a married father in his late 20s. Throughout their sexual relationship, Aaron kept his pants on, apparently believing that this made the affair only half as illicit. Aaron told Maggie that he wanted to leave his wife. He and Maggie exchanged "I love yous" and countless texts, one of which his wife intercepted. Aaron broke off the affair and all contact with Maggie. Several years later, she is still a wreck, seeing a therapist who writes her prescriptions and finding it impossible to continue at North Dakota State University. When Maggie learns that Aaron has been named North Dakota's Teacher of the Year, she finally tells her parents and the police what happened. At his trial, Aaron is found not guilty.

Unlike Maggie, Lina, who lives in southern Indiana, is the instigator and in her early 30s when she begins her affair. The stay-at-home mom told herself that if her husband's sexual disinterest in her dragged on for three humiliating months, she would take action. In fact, the reader will come to learn that Lina is defined by her agency: she gets a prescription for her depression, can pull a last-minute babysitter out of a hat, and joins a women's discussion group, where she announces that she is sleeping with her high school boyfriend and has asked her husband for a separation. Although Lina presents this to the group as good news, her chapters find her in not just love but a constant state of agitation: When will she see her lover again? The guy makes it clear that he has no plans to leave his wife. Lina isn't fooling herself: "She knows the truth even as she tries to shut it out: he is terrible to her."

Maggie surely would have benefited from a better support system and Lina from the diversion and economic independence offered by a job. But does Sloane need anything at all? She works at a Newport, R.I., restaurant that she co-owns with her husband, Richard, who adores sleeping with her. The sex she's having outside the marriage is rewarding for all involved: "It turned Richard on to watch his wife with another man in his presence, or sometimes it could be just her and the other man while Richard was working. Sloane would send verbal and video updates via text message." She has an epiphany while reading Fifty Shades of Grey: "If previously she'd been simply accommodating her husband's desire without being true to her own, now Sloane had a new lens through which to see their arrangement. She was a submissive, and a submissive acquiesced to the demands of the dominant." Put another way: her sex life is making exactly none of its participants unhappy, although some harsh words from one bedmate's spousal equivalent do give Sloane's conscience a workout.

Would Sloane have been less comfortable in the submissive role if her parents had given her more attention when she was spindly from the adolescent bulimia they somehow never picked up on? Would Maggie have had the strength to run from her teacher if her parents hadn't been alcoholics? Would Lina's lover have had less of a hold on her if he hadn't suddenly stopped phoning her in high school after hearing rumors that she'd slept with three guys at a party (they'd actually drugged and raped her)? Implicitly posed by each woman's narrative are these questions, but Taddeo isn't asking them. In her prologue, she writes, "I set out to register the heat and sting of female want so that men and other women might more easily comprehend before they condemn." Only a reader with a bum ticker would leave Three Women more freighted with reproach than with compassion.

Make no mistake: readers will judge these women's choices. But the point is that the stories of Maggie, Lina and Sloane are offered here without judgment, which allows readers to objectively view their multivalent experiences. With Three Women, a heavyweight and a knockout both, Taddeo makes it possible for each woman to be the agent of her own storytelling, and the book's very existence insists that they are to be believed. It doesn't get much more #MeToo than that. --Nell Beram

Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9781451642292, July 9, 2019
Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9781451642292

Lisa Taddeo: Writing the Truth of Women’s Desire

(photo: J. Waite)

Lisa Taddeo has contributed to New York magazine, Esquire, Elle, Glamour and many other publications. Her nonfiction has been included in the anthologies Best American Sports Writing and Best American Political Writing, and her short stories have won two Pushcart Prizes. She lives with her husband and daughter in Connecticut. Three Women, her first book, will be published in July 2019 and is the inaugural title from Simon & Schuster's Avid Reader Press imprint.

Let's get the obvious question out of the way: What was the genesis of Three Women?

The genesis was to take the pulse of sexuality and desire in American today. A sort of updating of Gay Talese's Thy Neighbor’s Wife, but from a female perspective. Desire is at once all we think about and talk about, and at the same time our most slippery secret. I wanted to explore the nuance of that intersection.

I began by talking to both men and women, but the men's stories, though intriguing, began to bleed together. The throttle of their desire often ended once a conquest was achieved, whereas for the women, it was utterly the opposite. Of course, this is not to generalize. But the three individuals who ended up sticking out to me, who were the most willing to tell their stories in ways that revealed their desire, happened to be three women--these specific three women. There were several subjects who dropped out, the most notable one about seven months into my research, when she began to fear her new relationship would suffer if her past were found out.

In your prologue, you say that you drove across the country six times in order to find your subjects. Can you share a bit more about the search?

I used every mode I could think of, from the most analogue to the most modern. I posted on Craigslist. I posted on Facebook. I posted on message boards. I handed out business cards in sleepy surf towns, taped messages on Starbucks bulletin boards, university bulletin boards, gas station windows, at churches and temples and grocery stores. I chased down newspaper stories of jilted lovers carrying guns.

I read about Maggie in a newspaper story. I was in Medora, North Dakota, when I read about the trial. I called her mother's house and introduced myself, and the next day I was driving to Fargo. I found Lina after moving to the Midwest, where I started a women's discussion group. Right away Lina's story spoke to me. The third woman, Sloane, I learned about through a mutual acquaintance. With each of them I'd like to think it was as much forging a friendship as it was finding a subject. In two of the cases, I moved to be near them, for a little over a year in each instance. It was in this way that I was able to most acutely experience their stories. We worked out together, had coffee, had drinks, had dinner, had lunch, went shopping, went to meet the people they were seeing. Sometimes I waited in the car nearby or followed on my own behind them.

You must have had to embellish at least some of the sex scenes in the book. What was your approach to writing the sex scenes, and was writing them more or less difficult (or fun) than writing other passages?

The sex scenes are not embellished. Lina's, for example, are nearly verbatim from her memory. She would text or call me or send me a message on Facebook on the way home from an interlude with Aidan. What I found so alluring and gorgeous about Lina was her honesty about sex. About all parts of it. She was so enthralled with that man when I was profiling her that she wanted to get everything down so she herself could remember it forever.

With the other two women, it was not as easy. Maggie for obvious reasons--it was difficult for her to speak about something nobody had believed her about, and something about which she later felt shame. And with Sloane, I made a conscious choice to depict her scenes in a less sexually explicit manner, because for Sloane the sex was sort of an obvious thing. She is a sexual person, but her instances of sexuality speak less of her than the other parts about her. Also, because Sloane's story from the outset sounds as though it will be the most lurid, I wanted the other parts of her to speak more loudly.

Regarding fun--no, not at all. I think writing about sex is hard. You don't want to be clinical and you don't want to be pornographic and you don't want to be puritanical, so finding an in-between is difficult. I wanted the sex scenes to be as real as though they were being viewed by the reader, but not gratuitously so. Not to be titillated. But rather, to be empathically understood.

You write in your prologue, "I set out to register the heat and sting of female want so that men and other women might more easily comprehend before they condemn." It's a worthy undertaking, but (I'm devil's advocating here) do you think some readers will fixate on the fact that these women's sexual desires brought them varying degrees of headache and heartache?

Of course, and yet I firmly believe that's the whole point. That comprehending someone's heartache is, unfortunately, very often the only way to stop condemning them. Maggie, Sloane and Lina want to be loved, and they want to love, and they do and they have had moments of exhilaration and have given up a lot for those moments. They want to live life, even when it goes against their religion, their families, their societies. I very much admire people who forgo blazing experiences in favor of "the right path," but I also admire the polar opposite. And these women lived between both poles, as I think we all do at varying points in our lives. --Nell Beram

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Boom! Studios: Buff the Vampire Slayer Vol. 1 by Jordie Bellaire, illustrated by Dan Mora, created by Joss Whedon / Angel Vol. 1: Being Human by Bryan Hill, illustrated by Bryan Edward Hill, Gleb Melnikov, and Gabriel, created by Joss Whedon

From BOOM! Studios: Bury the Lede

Bury the Lede by Gaby Dunn and artist Claire Roe (BOOM! Studios, October 8)

In Bury the Lede by Gaby Dunn and artist Claire Roe, Madison T. Jackson is a young journalism student who has a coveted night internship at the Boston Lede (read Boston Globe). After being alerted by a police scanner, she arrives at the scene of a grisly crime: socialite Dahlia Kennedy is covered in gore and is accused of killing her family, including her husband, a prominent businessman. Jackson throws herself into the story--and gets involved in more ways than she could have imagined.

Gaby Dunn has an extensive presence in TV, movies, magazines, publishing and stand-up comedy--among other things, she was a writer for Netflix's Big Mouth, was Brie on Starz's Take My Wife, is creator and host of the podcast Bad With Money With Gaby Dunn, and created the popular YouTube channel Just Between Us with her comedy partner, Allison Raskin (with whom she has written several books based on the channel, including the bestselling I Hate Everyone But You as well as Please Send Help, which is being published tomorrow). What she calls her career's "long winding road" started not with film school but journalism school and a job as a reporter at the Boston Globe. "It was such a wild time," she remembers. "I was 19, given a car and police radio and worked the night shift. I witnessed a lot of bizarre stuff." But make no mistake: "I loved working at the Globe, and I have a reverence for that."

Gaby Dunn

photo by Doug Frerichs

In Bury the Lede (a clever title that combines several journalistic elements, including the unusual journalists' way of spelling lead, as in "story lead"), Dunn captures "the weirdness" of that period as a young Globe reporter. The plot is "an amalgamation" that includes some material inspired by the fraud and murder case of Clark Rockefeller, who posed as a Rockefeller family member. ("Maybe he could have lived his whole life as a scammer," Dunn says, "but he opened a can of worms when he tried to kidnap his daughter.") It also has a vibe Dunn calls "reminiscent of when I felt so self-righteous about being a reporter and getting at the truth. 'What I'm doing is right, and everyone will thank me later.' "

Bury the Lede also delves into some of the strange traditions about women and crime in mainstream culture. "There is an idea that women don't kill their children," she says. "It's a very twisted form of feminism that the idea of a mother killing her child is the worst thing we can imagine." As a result, she has included "a female villain who may have murdered her own child but is helping the case."

Another related trope about women and crime concerns how action heroes deal with villains. "In action movies," she says, "male action heroes are allowed to directly shoot the enemy and are cheered for it." On the other hand, female action heroes have to do "some clever thing" indirectly to kill an enemy, such as "throw a microwave at them" or make something else fall on them.

Claire Roe

For Dunn, Buy the Lede is a change in direction from her previous work, most of which is either comedy or drama. Going back at least to her time reporting for the Globe, she has been fascinated by crime. But Bury the Lede is more than a tale of a ghastly crime: most of the main characters are women, queer women or women of color--and they are flawed, complex female characters. Dunn comments: "It's a very female queer book that I hope adds another voice to a genre that is typically not that."

Artist Claire Roe (Batgirl and The Birds of Prey) emphasizes this point, saying, "On the surface, this is a crime story, but in its heart, it is the story of some very flawed women. We rarely get to enjoy these types of women in media, especially if they're poc and queer, so getting to dive into this world and draw this story was right up my alley. I think true crime lovers will connect instantly with Madison, and will enjoy uncovering the motivations of the beautiful and enigmatic Dahlia."

BOOM! Studios' senior editor Dafna Pleban says Bury the Lede "masterfully blends the thrilling relationships of Killing Eve with the sharp insights of Devil Wears Prada for an affecting reflection of the world around us. Gaby and Claire bring a different perspective to the world of crime fiction, drawing from their own experiences to examine what it really means to be an investigative journalist in a world where it's getting harder to trust the headlines."

From BOOM! Studios: Girl on Film

Girl on Film by Cecil Castellucci, illustrated by artists Vicky Leta, Jon Berg, V. Gagnon and Melissa Duffy (Archaia/BOOM! Studios, November 19)

Girl on Film is an original graphic novel memoir by award-winning young adult novelist and Eisner-nominated comic book writer Cecil Castellucci. It's been quite a busy, creative life to look back on: her YA books include Shade the Changing Girl, The Plain Janes and The Year of the Beasts. Her short stories and short comics have been published in various anthologies and literary journals. She is the former children's correspondence coordinator for The Rumpus, a two-time MacDowell Fell and founding YA editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books. She has written two opera librettos and is currently writing The Female Furies for DC Comics. Last but not least, as Cecil Seaskull she was a member of the '90s indie band Nerdy Girl.

Interestingly the impetus for this varied, accomplished career was film--specifically the first Star Wars movie that was released in 1977, which moved her deeply. "I really spent my whole life thinking that I was going to be a filmmaker even as I was doing other things, like being in a band or eventually writing comics," she says. "I think it's funny that though I didn't really do film in the end, film has always been on the periphery of what I do. It is and always will be my muse." Castellucci explains: "I really just love stories. That's what I wanted to do. And films spring from stories."

As a result, Girl on Film is about storytelling and how "we are made up of the stories that we tell about ourselves," Castellucci says. "They form our identity and how we see and navigate the world." And those stories are dynamic. In Girl on Film, Casellucci used what she calls "aspects of cinematic genres" to write her memoir. "It was fun to frame the anecdotes and memories I have with those lenses, which changed the way I viewed my own history."

Cecil Castellucci

photo by Eric Charles

Another strong influence on her storytelling came from conversations with her father, who is a neuroscientist. "To break down and discuss certain moments and deconstruct the nature of remembering and forgetting with my dad as part of the story was a real trip. It was fascinating to discuss mis-remembering and forgotten things as well as things that are seared into my brain. I learned a lot about how our memories change and mature and fade even when we keep close. It was a real treat to get to tell a story about my story and to make it a story about the stories we tell."

During the process of writing Girl on Film, Castellucci developed great respect for people who write traditional memoirs. "It is very difficult sometimes to look at yourself and really shine a light on the dark corners of the self," she explains. "There are a few moments in the story that I didn't want to tell, that I resisted, because they were scary or unpleasant." Again, talking with her father the neuroscientist helped, she says. "But sometimes it took longer to get motivated to get to the blank page. It is also challenging to leave out so many things from the story. I was surprised at how many stories and anecdotes and people that I consider vital and important had to be left on the cutting room floor."

Working with four artists was a "joy" that fit well with a story about "how memory is hazy and how we change and grow." The artists have interpreted Castellucci's different ages and different moments in a variety of fluid ways. For example, she says, "there is one scene of me at a young age in the movie theater that Melissa Duffy did that I think is probably the most accurate picture of how I remember myself as a 12-year-old. And it's not realistic at all! Things like that are what make comics so great."

Seven Synonyms for Taking a Break

"Words at Play": Merriam-Webster defined "7 ways to get away from it all."


"The many literary roles of Tom Hanks" were screened by Quirk Books.


"Crookshanks is based on a real cat." Mental Floss shared "8 facts about Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban."


Author Gail Simmons chose her "top 10 books about walking in Britain" for the Guardian.


Design You Trust featured "fantastic pencil sculptures by Jasenko Đorđević."

International Thriller Writers: Dutton Books: Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Mourning Mischievous Mad

With a regretful nod to the classic publication's impending demise, Open Culture recalled "when MAD magazine ruffled the feathers of the FBI, not once but three times."


A Harry Potter Book, "bought for $1 at a yard sale, could sell for more than $37,000 at auction," Mental Floss reported


CrimeReads featured "the most terrifying buildings in literature."


"New Green Gables interpretive center puts focus on L.M. Montgomery," CBC reported.


"Sweden's bokbåten is a floating library that brings books to residents of remote islands," Mother Nature Network reported.

Familius: At the Stroke of Goodnight by Clay Rice

10 of the Bestselling Books in History

Mental Floss shared "10 of the bestselling books in history (minus religious texts)."


"People shared the 14 best pieces of advice they got from self-help books" with Buzzfeed.


Variety had a look "inside Neil Gaiman's rural writing retreat."


Australian Gothic literature: CrimeReads suggested "10 classic Aussie novels to make you shiver."


Author Claire McGlasson picked her "top 10 books about cults" for the Guardian.


Atlas Obscura showed "how a literary prank convinced Germany that Hansel and Gretel was real."

Disney Lucasfilm Press: Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge a Crash of Fate by Zoraida Cordova

First-Year Sales of Famous Books

"How many copies did famous books sell in the first year?" Lit Hub ran the numbers.


Pop quiz: Merriam-Webster challenged the lexically obsessed to "test your knowledge of words related to the season of longer days and vacations."


The home that inspired Peter Pan is reopening as Scotland's National Centre for Children's Literature and Storytelling, Mental Floss noted.


"Fall in love with the written word at these literary-themed New England hotels," Connecticut magazine recommended.


Jane Austen "used pins to edit her manuscripts: before the word processor & White-Out," Open Culture noted.

Berkley Books: Vox by Christina Dalcher

Best Day-Long Books

"A day in the life: the best books set over 24-hours" were collected by the Guardian.


Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer donated annotated copies of D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover to support PEN's crowdfunding campaign.


Nimbus Coffee, a Harry Potter-inspired café, "is now casting spells in DTLA," Los Angeles magazine reported.


Buzzfeed checked out "21 libraries that will make you say: Damn, that is CLEVER."


One of Abraham Lincoln's Bibles, which "has been kept hidden from scholars and the public since the president acquired it in 1864," is now on display, Atlas Obscura reported.


After extensive renovations, Victor Hugo's Hauteville House has reopened, Fine Books & Collections wrote.

Viz Media: Beastars, Vol. 1 by Paru Itagaki

Pride Reading Lists and Prize Winners

Quality reading suggestions for summertime... or anytime: this year's Lambda Literary Award winners/finalists and the Stonewall Book Award winners/honor books.


PEN America has selected poetry, interviews, readings and more from some of the greatest LGBTQIA+ writers across the globe.


"How do you dress a 19th Century lesbian?" BBC's video explored "the look" in HBO's hit series Gentleman Jack. And Mental Floss featured "10 Facts About Anne Lister."


"Reading the rainbow: a Pride reading list" was featured in the Los Angeles Review of Books.


The Poetry Foundation shared a collection of LGBTQ Pride poems.


The New York Public Library recommended "fantastic books with LGBT+ characters," and librarians showcased "meaningful books in their LGBTQ journeys."


The story of Australia's oldest LGBT bookstore, The Bookshop, was told by the BBC.


Electric Lit shared "new and classic queer literature to read for free online."

Great Reads

Rediscover: Ball Four

Major League Baseball pitcher and tell-all sportswriter Jim Bouton died last week at age 80. Between 1962 and 1978, he played for the New York Yankees, Seattle Pilots, Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves. In 1969, Bouton took notes on his season with the Seattle Pilots (their first and only year as a franchise) and later with the Astros. Those notes became Ball Four (1970), a candid look behind the scenes of Major League Baseball, including less than flattering depictions of fellow players. Bouton recounted his earlier years with the Yankees and Mickey Mantle, whose heavy drinking had been successfully hidden prior to Ball Four. Naming names, sharing information given in confidence and revealing secrets like the league's widespread use of amphetamines (or "greenies") made Bouton an industry pariah. Mantle and the Yankees did not resolve their grievances with Bouton until the 1990s.

Ball Four has since sold millions of copies worldwide and is considered a groundbreaking work of sports writing. Bouton's first followup to Ball Four, I'm Glad You Didn't Take It Personally (1971), examines the negative reaction by industry insiders. Ball Four has since been updated and republished several times, most recently with a new epilogue by Bouton, in Ball Four: The Final Pitch (Turner, $29.95, 9781630260347). --Tobias Mutter

Rediscover: Marie Ponsot

American poet and translator Marie Ponsot died last week at age 98. She began writing poetry as a child in Jamaica, Queens, some of which was published in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Ponsot graduated from Columbia University with a masters in 17th-century literature before traveling to post-World War II Paris. She married painter Claude Ponsot and had a daughter prior to returning to the United States. There the couple had another six sons and a divorce, leaving Marie Ponsot a single mother of seven children in New York City. True Minds, a poetry collection released in 1957 by City Lights Pocket Bookshop, was Ponsot's debut and her last published work of poetry for the next 24 years. In the interim, Ponsot wrote for radio and television, translated French children's books and continued producing poetry.

In 1981, Ponsot's unpublished poetry landed on the desk of Knopf poetry editor Alice Quinn. Admit Impediment was the first of several collections released by Knopf, including The Green Dark (1988), The Bird Catcher (1998) and Springing: New and Selected Poems (2002). She also co-authored two books about writing with Rosemary Deen: Beat Not the Poor Desk (1982) and The Common Sense (1985). In 2013, Ponsot received the Poetry Foundation's Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize and served as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2010 to 2014. Her most recent book, Collected Poems (2016), covers the entire 60-year span of Ponsot's career. It is available from Knopf ($28.95, 9781101947692). --Tobias Mutter

Rediscover: Independence Day

Richard Ford's Independence Day (1995) is the second of four novels featuring Frank Bascombe. The first, The Sportswriter (1986), introduces Bascombe as a failed novelist turned sportswriter struggling with the death of his son. Independence Day finds Bascombe working as a real estate agent in New Jersey. Over the course of the titular holiday weekend, he encounters problematic clients, several of his tenants, his lover, his ex-wife and his troubled son, whom he takes on a road trip to the basketball and baseball halls of fame. In The Lay of the Land (2006), Bascombe owns his own real estate company and is expecting his extended family for a Thanksgiving visit. Over the course of three days, he has negative experiences with his son, his ex-wife, an acquaintance he assaults and teenagers who shoot him in the chest. The final Bascombe book, Let Me Be Frank with You (2014), weaves together four narratives about Frank's life in post-Hurricane Sandy New Jersey. In 1996, Independence Day became the first novel to win the Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction in the same year. (It also enjoyed a spike in sales from the release of the unrelated Roland Emmerich action movie.) Independence Day is available from Vintage ($16.95, 9780679735182). --Tobias Mutter

Rediscover: Iris Murdoch


July 15 marks the 100th birthday of British author and philosopher Iris Murdoch (1919-1999). She was born in Dublin to Irish parents, though her family moved to London weeks after her birth. She was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain while studying at Oxford between 1938 and 1942. In 1946, Murdoch won a scholarship to Vassar College but was unable to enter the United States due to her former political affiliations. Instead she studied postgrad philosophy at Cambridge University before returning to Oxford as a professor. Her first novel, a picaresque called Under the Net, was published in 1954. Murdoch went on to write 25 more novels, works of philosophy, poetry collections and plays.

Murdoch's best-known novel, The Sea, the Sea, won the 1978 Booker Prize. It follows playwright Charles Arrowby, who retreats to a house by the sea to write his memoirs. There he meets his first love, Mary Fitch, now an old woman. Arrowby becomes obsessed with the aged Mrs. Fitch and bungles a kidnapping attempt after she refuses his offers to elope. He spends the final chapters of the novel ruminating over his rejection and lost youth. Murdoch's other books include A Severed Head (1961), The Unicorn (1963), The Italian Girl (1964), The Black Prince (1973) and The Sacred and Profane Love Machine (1974). Her final novel was Jackson's Dilemma (1995). The Sea, the Sea is available from Penguin Classics ($20, 9780141186160). --Tobias Mutter

The Writer's Life

Reading with... Erica Witsell

photo: Stefan Carpenter

Erica Witsell lived in Florida, California, Italy and Ecuador before settling in the mountains of western North Carolina 16 years ago. A high school teacher for more than 10 years, she now teaches English as a new language at a community college in Asheville. Witsell's debut novel, Give (BQB Publishing), is a family saga that explores themes of motherhood, queer identity, polyamory and modern fertility. Her reflections on life and motherhood can be found on her blog, On the Home Front.

On your nightstand now:

I recently finished The Behavior of Love by Virginia Reeves, but it's still on my nightstand because I can't wait to lend it out and talk about it with someone. Reeves deals deftly with so many complicated issues--marriage, health and the shifting nature of love and desire--that I hardly noticed when my airplane was stuck on the tarmac for two hours. There's also A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson, because I loved Life After Life so much, and Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins, a gem of a book which my eight-year-old daughter reads to me at bedtime.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I think the books that resonated with me the most deeply when I was young were the ones about children who long for a home of their own: Goodnight, Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian, My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George and Mandy by Julie Andrews. I am not at all surprised that the book I wrote three decades later is about many of those same themes of home and belonging.

Your top five authors:

Jane Austen was my salvation in junior high, when all I really wanted to be reading was romance but wouldn't have been caught dead with a Harlequin. Sarah Waters rocked my world with Tipping the Velvet in the late '90s, and I haven't missed a book of hers since. I've loved Ann Patchett's fiction for years, but her collection of essays, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, definitely sealed her place in my top five. Cheryl Strayed got my attention with Wild, but won my heart with Tiny, Beautiful Things; she was my inspiration when I was working on Give. The fifth slot is a toss-up between Wallace Stegner and my 10-year-old son, Clayton, who made me a very proud mama when he self-published Poseidon: The Defeat of Cronus last year.

Book you've faked reading:

When I was a first-semester freshman in college, I intentionally picked classes with the longest reading lists. Until then, reading had never once felt like a chore, so it never even occurred to me that I should pace myself. By the time we got to Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford in "Literature of the Great War," I was absolutely drowning. I never even opened it.


Book you're an evangelist for:

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. I think if everyone in the U.S. read this book, we might have a chance with criminal justice reform. Also, How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. This brilliant book is hilarious and heart-wrenching all at once.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Pax by Sara Pennypacker. Just looking at the cover of this lovely book makes me nostalgic. I only wish it had been published 30 years earlier, so I could have discovered it as a child.

Book you hid from your parents:

The Valley of Horses by Jean Auel. What can I say? I was horse crazy and checked out any book at the library with "horse" in the title. Let's just say that Auel's title is a bit of a misnomer. I'm a little surprised that the librarian let me check it out, but maybe she was fooled, too.

Book that changed your life:

My mother gave me The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hallfor Christmas when I was 19, soon after I told my parents that I was in love with another woman. I don't remember much of the plot, but I remember feeling, when I read it, that I was connected to something much larger than myself. It was also very clear from that gift that my mom was going to support me no matter what, which is a pretty life-changing thing to know.

Five books you'll never part with:

My beloved childhood copy of Little Bear's Friend by Else Holmelund Minarik has survived not only my three children but many years in my classroom library, so I think it's destined for the next generation, duct-taped cover and all.

Every time I've moved, The Yearling by Marjorie Rawlings has made the cut and come with me. When I read it as a child, I cried my eyes out when the boy has to kill his deer; now, it's the sacrifices the father makes for his son that choke me up.

I'm never parting with Affinity, because I learned from loaning out Tipping the Velvet that I'm unlikely to get a Sarah Waters book back.

Random Passage by Bernice Morgan and A Sudden Country by Karen Fisher have permanent places on my bookshelf, so I suppose I really like novels about women with complex emotional lives who are thrown into harsh and inhospitable circumstances (colonial Newfoundland and the Oregon Trail, respectively).

Book you'd most like to have on a deserted island:

There's no contest: Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, in the original translation. I couldn't put this trilogy down when I read it for the first time as a teenager, and I binge-read it again when I was nursing my infant twin daughters. An epic story about a woman's life in medieval Norway, Kristin Lavransdatter is historical fiction at its best, with timeless themes that resonated with me as much at 36 as at 16. I can't wait to read it again, although preferably not on a deserted island.

Favorite line from a book:

" 'The purpose of Art,' his mother said--instructed even--'is to convey the truth of a thing, not to be the truth itself.' " Kate Atkinson, A God in Ruins.


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

Circe by Madeline Miller. I couldn't put this book down, and then regretted how quickly I was finished with it. Never has Greek mythology felt so fresh or so relevant.

Carolina Setterwall: Love and Loss

photo: Sarah Mac Key

Carolina Setterwall was born in 1978 in Sala, Sweden. She has worked in music and publishing as an editor and writer. Setterwall lives in Stockholm with her son, and makes her literary debut with Let's Hope for the Best (Little, Brown, $27; reviewed below), autofiction written in response to the death of her partner, Aksel, when their son was just eight months old.

Why did you choose the format of autofiction, rather than a more traditional memoir, to tell your story? 

Actually, it wasn't really a conscious choice, at least not in the beginning. To be honest, I didn't exactly know what made a story autofictional (rather than biographical) when I started writing this book. It was more a case of me writing the way I wanted to write, and the story I would have liked to have read myself, than having a plan for exactly what genre the story would fit into. So I'll try to answer this question from a different angle. 

When I set out to write this book, I knew I wanted to tell a story about a grieving process, a loss and also a modern love relationship that I could not only relate to, but that also exposed (side by side with the "purer" aspects) the parts of a grief/loss/relationship, that weren't... so polished. I wanted this story to be the opposite of Instagram, if you know what I mean? 

I wanted to share the days, and thoughts, and feelings that are entangled in both the grief and the love that I had felt shame about. They're normal, but we tend not to talk about them. And with the shame comes the hiding, and with the hiding comes the feeling of isolation, and with the isolation... well, the grief just intensifies. 

In regards to the autofiction, while it is true that I lost my partner under the same circumstances as are told in the book, Let's Hope for the Best still is a fictionalized story, constructed as a novel rather than a biography. Most of the events that take place in the story took place in my real life, too, but not necessarily in the exact same way or in the exact same order.

Let's Hope for the Best's staggered storylines make it fascinating--chapters alternate from the early days of your romance to your reactions after the tragedy. Was it hard to decide how to break the story up, or did this feel natural?

Actually, this (too!) was also more a matter of coincidence than a strategy, or plan. At first I tried to tell the story without involving the person who was lost, but soon found out that I couldn't tell the story without involving what was lost: a past, a shared future, a relationship, a person, a love. To mix two timelines, one after and one before the event that changed everything, was a way to capture how death changes things irreversibly for the people being left behind. 

You spend a lot of time analyzing the effect of Aksel's death on your young son, Ivan. One of the more poignant scenes occurs at Ivan's preschool when the class of two- and three-year-olds are talking about how things die. Do you find that it is generally easier for children to process grief? 

Both yes and no. It's easier because death hasn't yet become taboo for young children. And they're not particularly good at metaphors. So, when talking about death with kids, you have to approach the subject in a really matter-of-fact kind of way. In my experience, they don't judge, and their never-ending curiosity makes it, in a way, easy to talk about. And difficult to avoid talking about! 

On the other hand, it's really hard for kids to understand the infinity of death. My son had a long period of time when he was sure dad was coming back one day. It's absolutely excruciating having to explain that he's gone forever. That he's still around in terms of our memories, and that he would always be his biological father, but in a physical sense, he's still gone and he would remain gone. 

Can you give us a glimpse into your writing process for Let's Hope for the Best? Did you squeeze writing in around your day job, or did you take a break from work? 

When I wrote Let's Hope for the Best, I worked part time for six months and had two days every week completely dedicated to writing. I also wrote during the evenings, when my son was asleep. Some weeks I tended to hate myself for not having written "enough" (in terms of both quantity and quality) during the days that I had spent doing other things than writing (for example: laundry, taking care of an ill child, staring into the wall, scrolling through social media networks). Luckily, some weeks the words just flew. 

I remember the days of writing this book with mixed emotions. It wasn't necessarily the writing that was hard--it was navigating through life at that time. I think, in many ways, writing this story gave me a purpose with my days--a purpose in addition to raising and taking care of my son.
--Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Reading with... Darcey Steinke

photo: Niqui Carter

Darcey Steinke is the author of the New York Times Notable memoir Easter Everywhere, as well as five novels, including Suicide Blonde. With Rick Moody, she edited Joyful Noise: The New Testament Revisited. She has been both a Henry Hoyns and a Stegner Fellow; Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi; and has taught at the Columbia University School of the Arts, Barnard, the American University of Paris and Princeton. Flash Count Diary: Menopause and the Vindication of Natural Life (Sarah Crichton/FSG, $26) is her most recent book.

On your nightstand now:

I have trouble getting to sleep. It's not unusual for me to turn the light off and then have to turn it back on again many times before I can actually sleep. I like to have a wide selection of books available to me in the dark hours. At the moment there are two poetry books, Maggie Nelson's Something Bright, Then Holes and Dance Dance Revolution by Cathy Park Hong. Both are amazing. Nelson for her ability to show how a soul comes awake, and the way Hong makes up words and meaning is thrilling. Also, a book of music criticism: They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib. This book is so alive! And Barry Hannah's collected short stories Long, Last, Happy. Hannah is a master. And this terrific novel The Man Who Walked Away by Maud Casey, about the beginnings of psychiatry in the 19th century.

Favorite book when you were a child:

As a small child I loved this picture book called Play with Me by Marie Hall Ets. It is about a girl who wants a playmate and in her desperation chases after all matter of animals. Eventually she learns to sit very still, and all the animals come up to her. It had a very zen message, one I was able to get even as a child. I also loved Edward Eager's Half Magic, I was so taken with those books that I would Xerox the illustrations and hang them over my bed. There was a young biography series I loved as well: Young Jefferson, Young Abigail Adams.

Your top five authors:

Simone de Beauvoir is my favorite at the moment. The way she did philosophy to the female body in the Second Sex is still so thrilling. And I love the way she writes about people and ideas. Flannery O'Connor, Emily Brontë, the South African writer Bessie Head and Kafka. I like writers who write in a raw and precise way.

Book you've faked reading:

All of David Foster Wallace except the essays, which I adore.

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Vegetarian by Han Kang. This book won the Man Booker International Prize a few years ago. It is a masterpiece. It reframes female "hysteria" and is also about pantheism. When I go to my local bookstore, Greenlight in Brooklyn, and buy yet another copy for a gift, they always very nicely tell me I already have 10!

Book you've bought for the cover:

I can't really think of any book I bought for the cover alone.

Book you hid from your parents:

In the late 1970s, in the basement of a split level, my friend Alicia and I read The Happy Hooker by Xaviera Hollander to each other with wonder and confusion.

Book that changed your life:

There were so many! I think Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar really got to me in my early 20s, as it showed both the life I wanted, a young writer in NYC, and the depression that I was also becoming familiar with. I also read Melville's Bartleby, the Scrivener in high school and I remember that shook me up--the humanity in it, the sadness. I have always wanted books that are honest about the dark parts of life.

Favorite line from a book:

"When you write you do not know whether you are obeying the moment or eternity." --Edmond Jabès

Five books you'll never part with:

The Collected Short Stories of Franz Kafka, The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, Robert Richardson's biographies of William James and Emerson.

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

I really love to read books over and over again, it never bothers me that I know what's coming. I like the sensation. I often reread Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust, and when I get to familiar parts, I can remember where I was when I read them last time and the time before that, it's almost like a time machine, a tiny repository of all the other times I read it. The book and I are in deep relation.

Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson Interview

photo: Kjetil Sverdrup-Thygeson

Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson is a professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. She is also a scientific adviser to the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research and holds a doctorate in conservation biology. In her debut, Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects (Simon & Schuster, $26; reviewed below), the ecologist introduces readers to basic insect biology, looks closely at bugs' relationships with plants and animals and explains how important they are to human life.

As a professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, you're likely involved in all kinds of thoughtful, interesting discussions about the natural world. What drew you to the subject of insects?

I've always been curious about nature. When I was a kid, I used to spend a lot of time in the outdoors with my family. We went for hikes, made campfires, slept in a snow cave, picked berries or mushrooms in the autumn. My granddad taught me the names of flowers and the calls of the birds. I wasn't particularly interested in insects; all the fascinating details and connections in this magical jigsaw puzzle of nature appealed to me.

When I started my studies, I started out in humanities, with studies in history. Later I switched to biology, but they're not as different as you might think. Both look at the connections between the details and the bigger picture.

I still love to be outdoors, to marvel at the intricate details that connect nature and humans in a common web of life. Insects are an important part of this--they make up more than half of all known species on Earth. Life as we know it depends on these small creatures. It doesn't get more interesting than that!

One mind-boggling revelation in your book has to do with honeybees. They can distinguish between human faces!

Yes, it turns out that insects, especially social insects, are capable of doing stuff that we thought was impossible for organisms with a brain the size of a sesame seed, things such as honey bees distinguishing between human faces. It is doubtful that the bees relate to what they are actually seeing. They probably believe that faces are really funny flowers, with the darker areas of eyes and mouth representing recognizable patterns on "petals." But even more amazing, honey bees can remember a face they've become familiar with for at least two days.

Your book delves into the complex relationships that insects have with their natural environments. One interesting case study has to do with the golden poison frog in Colombia. What do insects have to do with this frog? 

In the South American jungle, there lives a poisonous frog with the thoroughly appropriate Latin name Phyllobates terribilis. Its poison is one of the most powerful nerve poisons known to mankind. One frog contains enough poison to kill 10 grown men.

This little frog, no larger than a plum, used to be fairly common in the rain forest in parts of Colombia. The locals would carefully stroke their arrows along the frog's back to ensure that their arrowheads were poisonous enough to kill anything they might encounter.

The pharmaceutical industry got wind of this shocking yellow poisonous sensation in the rain forest. Early tests indicated that the poison was an incredibly effective painkiller when given in very tiny doses. What's more, because it affects the transportation of sodium through cell membranes, it could also be significant for our understanding of numerous diseases, including multiple sclerosis.

A few specimens were fetched from the jungle for closer examination, but when the catch arrived in the laboratory, the frog was no longer poisonous! As it turns out, their poison comes from the frog's diet of a specific species of soft-winged flower beetles. The frog lost its poison when it was no longer able to eat the beetles, which were found in its natural forest habitat.

Sadly, due to rain forest logging, the frog is about to go extinct. Soon, the frogs and the opportunity to do further research into the active ingredients they produce could be lost forever.

Your book also makes clear how important insects are to human life. Broadly speaking, why do we need insects to survive?

In sum, they help plants set seed, are janitors that clean up our world and create soil and they serve as food for other animals. They are also important as predators and parasites that keep other species in check.

There have been a number of recent studies that suggest that insect populations are dropping dramatically. In your book, you suggest that some populations have dropped by 75%! What is causing this steep decline, and what might such a decline mean for humanity?

Yes, the number of 75% drop in biomass of flying insects is from a study of 60 small, German nature reserves, spanning approximately 30 years. The article that explained this got a lot of attention. Then, last year, after my book was published in Norway, another paper on insect decline hit the headlines, this time with a focus on Puerto Rico's rain forest. These studies and others were reviewed in a paper that came out early 2019, which looked into the factors behind the decline. The paper's conclusion is that the main culprit is our intensive land use--habitat loss and conversion to intensive agriculture and urbanization. Pesticide use, introduced species and climate change are other drivers that have negative effects.

I realize that the causes of insect extinction are so systemic that no one person alone can make a difference. But if you could ask readers to do--or stop doing--just one thing to help protect insects, what would you ask of us?

If I am to mention just one thing, it would be to change the way you talk about insects. I believe in knowledge, positive talk and enthusiasm. I would encourage people to be curious about bugs, to take the time to look and learn. I think it's important to teach children about all the strange and useful things insects do, and in general talk nicely about bugs. And if I could add a second thing: If you have a garden, you can make it a better place for insects by turning part of your lawn into a flower-rich meadow or prairie-type habitat. Grow native plants and be sure to avoid pesticides. --Amy Brady, reviewer

Book Review


Raised in Captivity: Fictional Nonfiction

by Chuck Klosterman

In Raised in Captivity, beloved essayist Chuck Klosterman offers a collection of stories that may not be true but feel genuine all the same. As the book's playful subtitle--"fictional nonfiction"--suggests, these short works are at once utterly absurd and eerily familiar. Whether it's two airplane passengers discussing their obligation to disclose the presence of a wild puma in the lavatory, or an assassin who requires four years to kill his targets, Klosterman's characters are arguably at their best when they're serving as proxies for the author himself.

Like the essays in his numerous bestselling collections, many of the stories here serve as meta-commentary on elements of culture and the collective psyche. Klosterman's acclaim as one of the best pop culture critics working today is largely based on his ability to wrest profound meaning from the seemingly mundane, be it a 1988 high school basketball game that occurred in North Dakota or the intrinsic value of a Guns 'N Roses cover band. While he does have two novels to his name, Raised in Captivity is Klosterman's first official foray into short fiction (clever subtitles aside).

In a sense, these aren't stories where anything happens per se, but rather a series of fictional frameworks through which Klosterman is able to examine the madness and minutiae of everyday lives. He isn't prone to definitive conclusions, but Klosterman thrives within the auspices of the unknown, making this collection a worthy addition to his peculiar and impressive legacy. --Zack Ruskin, freelance reviewer

Discover: A well-regarded cultural essayist ventures into short fiction with a collection of compelling, provocative absurdist stories.

Penguin Press, $26, hardcover, 320p., 9780735217928

The Nickel Boys

by Colson Whitehead

The Nickel Boys forgoes the fantastical touches of Colson Whitehead's previous book, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Underground Railroad, for a no-less-harrowing account of a vicious reform school in the Jim Crow-era South.

Whitehead's protagonist is Elwood Curtis, a black boy living in Tallahassee, Fla., in the early 1960s. Elwood is something of an idealist, listening repeatedly to a recording of Martin Luther King Jr.'s speeches and taking to heart his moral vision. Elwood clings to this code even when it is repaid by cruel trickery and, eventually, an encounter with police that cuts short his promising future and sends him to the Nickel Academy.

The Nickel Academy falls far short of its billing as a "reform school." In reality, the students are underfed, segregated and viciously beaten. Some students fare even worse.

At the heart of The Nickel Boys lies the question of how best to respond to the evils of the world. Whitehead shows how difficult it is to put Martin Luther King Jr.'s self-sacrificing ideals into practice, to remain optimistic in the face of bottomless violence and cruelty. Elwood is challenged by fellow student Turner, for whom the problem lies deeper than surface-level inequality: "You can change the law but you can't change people and how they treat each other... the way Turner saw it, wickedness went deeper than skin color.... It was people." Long after students leave the reform school, the Nickel Academy's lessons seem almost impossible to unlearn. Elwood may be naïve, but his convictions give him strength. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Discover: The Nickel Boys is an account of black boys struggling to survive a vicious reform school in the early 1960s.

Doubleday, $24.95, hardcover, 224p., 9780385537070


by Alexi Zentner

Inspired by incidents from Alexi Zentner's (The Lobster Kings) childhood, Copperhead is set in the fictional town of Cortaca, a stand-in for real-life Ithaca, N.Y. The novel's protagonist, 17-year-old Jessup Collins, lives there in a double-wide trailer with his thrice-married mother and younger sister. His stepfather, David John Michaels, has just returned from serving a four-year prison sentence for attempting to cover up his son Ricky's killing of two African American university students that began as an act of self-defense.

Jessup struggles to reconcile his image of David John, a hardworking husband and father--but also a member of the Blessed Church of the White America, a white supremacist church that preaches the doctrine of "Rahowa," or "racial holy war," led by his brother Earl and used as a political platform by an ambitious, media-savvy college student, Brandon Rogers.

Over the course of a long, snowy weekend in November, Jessup, an honor roll student who's counting on a football scholarship to help lift him out of the marginal existence he shares with his loving family, is transformed from the hero of a playoff game to the focal point of a firestorm over a racially charged tragedy. Jessup's predicament is complicated by the fact that his girlfriend is Deanne Diggins, the daughter of his African American football coach.

Zentner skillfully sidesteps one of the principal risks in novels of this sort, that of turning his characters into mere ideological mouthpieces. Both Jessup and David John evolve as the novel hurtles along. It's easy to identify Copperhead's villains, but they're far less interesting than its flawed heroes. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: A teenager struggles with his family's involvement in a white supremacist church--and encounters racial conflict himself.

Viking, $26, hardcover, 368p., 9781984877284

The Great Unexpected

by Dan Mooney

Glass half empty meets glass half full in Dan Mooney's novel The Great Unexpected. Late in his life, Joel Monroe has lived for five years "under the watchful eye of a pack of people who treated him like a child." Frank de Selby is his new roommate, a former soap opera star, arriving at Hilltop Nursing Home with a cheerful demeanor, an arsenal of stories and a natty (if slightly worn) wardrobe. Their camaraderie slowly blossoms into a pact, and the two become the most famous escapees Hilltop has ever known.

Joel can't be blamed for resisting the charms of "the famous Mr. de Selby" at first. His wife's sudden death and the passing of the man assigned to her empty bed have plunged him into a mourning he denies. Yet he discovers a kinship with Frank when he realizes the actor is gay--"an isolated, vulnerable man just like himself"--and decides to confide his deepest secret: he's plotting his suicide. Rather than shock, Frank responds with congratulations to Joel on becoming master of his own fate. With theatrical flair, he offers to help him do it right, suggesting they slip away where they can "plan that final farewell." Their foray prompts stern reprimands upon their return, but doesn't stop them from repeating their escapades, downing pints, sampling night life and reminiscing at sites from their past. Frank nudges Joel to live it up, and leads him to realize "with each day in his friend's company he had walked farther away from the void inside himself." Funny and poignant, The Great Unexpected is a charming story of new beginnings and bittersweet endings. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: A curmudgeon and a cheerful former actor share a room in a nursing home and soon become a notorious duo in this poignant tale of unexpected friendship.

Park Row, $15.99, paperback, 368p., 9780778308584

One Night in Georgia

by Celeste O. Norfleet

In August of 1968, after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., hope for racial equality in the United States seems naïve. One Night in Georgia by Celeste O. Norfleet demonstrates the humiliating effects of racism with the story of a drive through the South, where "the bones of men, women, and children long forgotten had been crushed and buried."

Three friends drive from Harlem to Spelman College in Atlanta for their senior year. Zelda is the daughter of an African American activist who was brutally murdered. She inherited his desire for revolution, saying, "Change only comes when we make it." Daphne, biracial, is deeply devout and conflicted about her place in the black community. Veronica's wealth buffers her from the overt discrimination experienced by others as dark as she. "Why do you always want to make it a war?" she asks Zelda. Escorting them is Daniel, a Vietnam veteran whose confidence makes him frightening to many white people he meets. Carrying the Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide to safe restaurants, gas stations and motels, they set out on what is meant to be a carefree adventure before they graduate. Ultimately, the trouble they try to avoid fractures their trip and changes their lives forever. The strength of this novel is the multi-faceted debate on how best to confront racism. Readers will enjoy a straightforward plot that moves quickly, with characters that understand "if we don't face our past, then we as a nation will surely repeat it." --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: Three young women experience the terrifying effects of racism on a road trip to Atlanta during the summer of 1968.

Amistad, $16.99, paperback, 304p., 9780062329899

The Wind That Lays Waste

by Selva Almada, trans. by Chris Andrews

A broken-down car on a rural Argentinian road brings together two unlikely father-and-teen pairs. Reverend Pearson should have listened to daughter Leni's warnings about their overused jalopy, but its failure lands them in the garage of El Gringo Brauer and his assistant, Tapioca. Pearson considers the unplanned stopover yet another opportunity to preach, but after an initial offer of cold drinks, Brauer quickly withdraws to resurrect Pearson's stalled car. While Leni watches warily, Tapioca just might be willing to listen.

The hot, dusty afternoon progresses, until the brewing storm finally arrives. The foursome are forced inside in close quarters, to share a meal, conversation, something of their very selves. They temporarily re-pair: the teens to play games, the men drinking and talking. But Pearson won't relinquish a potentially savable soul, and somehow he's asking to take Tapioca away from Brauer. Tempers flare, desperation sparks violence and the children become pawns in a showdown for control.

Originally published in 2012, garnering international attention and translated into multiple languages, Selva Almada's first novel, El viento que arrasa, arrives in the U.S. as The Wind That Lays Waste, smoothly translated by Australian Chris Andrews, who was the first to render Roberto Bolaño's work into English. As Almada tautly reveals the events of a single day during which four disparate lives briefly intersect, she deftly interweaves the pivotal details about each of the quartet (Leni's missing mother, Tapioca's abandonment, Brauer's failures, Pearson's self-delusions) that contribute to the final implosion. English-reading audiences can expect a dynamic introduction to a major Latin American literary force. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Lauded Argentinian author Selva Almada makes her U.S. debut with a slim novel about two fathers, their two teens and the single, strained day they're forced to spend together.

Graywolf, $15, paperback, 136p., 9781555978457

Deep River

by Karl Marlantes

In this sweeping saga set against early-1900s Finland, occupied and oppressed by Tsarist Russia, and the untamed old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest, Karl Marlantes (Matterhorn, What It Is Like to Go to War) tells the story of the Koski siblings as they leave their homeland for a raw, new place on the other side of the world.

Fleeing political persecution, 17-year-old Aino joins her brothers on Deep River, just north of the mighty Columbia. What greets her is an unimaginable world of 300-foot trees, a logging frontier that is rough, lush and buzzing with the promise of progress. As her brothers settle into their own rhythm--Ilmari at his farm and Matti as a logger--Aino returns to her socialist roots, working to unionize the big logging camps. The labor movement is in its infancy in the United States, and Aino's passionate mission to bring socialism through the IWW takes her across southern Washington as she gives speeches and organizes rallies, leaving little time for her personal life. As each character faces love, loss, devastation, transformation and redemption--Aino most of all--she must ask: "The cause was worthy--but was it worth it?"

Based in part on his own family history and influenced by the epic Finnish poem The Kalevala, Marlantes depicts the depths of Finnish endurance (Sisu) in a time of hardship and great change. Spanning the years from 1893 to 1932, Deep River is a vast account of the logging, fishing and farming industries and the immigrants and Americans who brought them to life. It is fantastic historical fiction full of impassioned characters working hard to put down roots in a constantly developing world. --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This epic family saga follows three Finnish immigrant siblings in turn-of-the-century Pacific Northwest logging country as the world around them is in flux.

Atlantic Monthly Press, $30, hardcover, 820p., 9780802125385

Under Currents

by Nora Roberts

The harrowing, far-reaching implications of domestic abuse are central to Nora Roberts's Under Currents. The novel begins in Lakeview, an upscale lakeside community in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, where Graham Bigelow, an upstanding surgeon, and Eliza, his stay-at-home wife, raise two children: 14-year-old Zane and 11-year-old Britt. The foursome may look like an idyllic family--they have everything money can buy. But at home, Dr. Bigelow is a cruel, abusive and tormenting figure who beats his complicit wife and their innocent children. With the help of a trustworthy family friend, Zane confronts his violent father, who--along with his mother--is ultimately sent to prison.

The action then moves ahead 18 years. Zane, now a successful lawyer, returns from Raleigh and resettles in his old hometown, while Darby McCray, a Baltimore landscaper recently divorced from her own abusive husband, takes up residence in Lakeview in order to make a fresh start. Zane and Darby start a romance, but the deep pain of their pasts complicates their relationship--along with the re-emergence of Zane's father, released from prison and seeking vengeance.

Readers can always count on Nora Roberts (Shelter in Place, Come Sundown) to deliver high-octane thrillers that focus on the bonds of small-town life, dark secrets and the prospect of new love complicated by evil lurking around sharp corners. She doesn't disappoint in Under Currents, a chilling, suspenseful story that proves how appearances can be utterly deceiving. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A chilling suspense novel about the far-reaching implications of rampant and hidden domestic abuse.

St. Martin's Press, $28.99, hardcover, 448p., 9781250207098

The Journal I Did Not Keep: New and Selected Writings

by Lore Segal

Lore Segal's The Journal I Did Not Keep collects a number of the writings she has produced over the course of her illustrious, decades-long career. Made up of essays, short fiction, excerpts from her novels and bits of memoir, this collection is thoughtfully curated around the titular concept of a journal not kept.

Segal (Shakespeare's Kitchen, Half the Kingdom), now age 91, reconstructs several childhood memories that have remained with her throughout the years: hiking through the Alps with her father, trying to identify her grandmother's recipe for a special rye bread, being bullied in England as a refugee child. What emerges from these reconstructions is a consideration of the ways in which memory adapts to the lessons learned with time and age. What details have become more salient over time? How do memories organize themselves into narrative ex post facto? These are the questions Segal's writing asks her readers to consider.

As a Jewish child born in Vienna, Segal fled from the Nazis in late 1938 on one of the first Kindertransport missions. She subsequently spent the rest of her childhood and adolescence in English foster homes, mostly separated from her parents. Having lived on Manhattan's Upper West Side for the past half-century, Segal remains one of the most distinct voices of the 20th-century American literary tradition. Consistently perceptive with a wry humor lurking just beneath the surface, The Journal I Did Not Keep is a joy to read. --Emma Levy, publishing assistant, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A pleasure to read straight through or dip in and out of, The Journal I Did Not Keep collects some of Lore Segal's most memorable essays and pieces of short fiction.

Melville House, $28.99, hardcover, 448p., 9781612197470

The Gone Dead

by Chanelle Benz

Billie James was just a toddler when her father died. Cliff James, a black poet who made a name for himself in Harlem during the civil rights era, had returned to his family home in Mississippi, where he died of an apparent accident. Billie was visiting him the night he died, but has no recollection of the events. Her mother, divorced from Cliff, flew to Mississippi and took Billie away before Cliff's family could arrange a funeral for him. Now, 30 years later, her mother has died, and Billie is returning to Mississippi, where she's inherited her father's house, and all the ghosts that come with it.

In her debut novel, The Gone Dead, Chanelle Benz constructs a rich sense of place that contributes to the sinister atmosphere. The history of Mississippi and the South provide ample context, and Benz takes her readers on an emotional exploration of the darkness that continues to haunt the nation as her protagonist tries to reconstruct the missing memories from her childhood.

While Billie searches for a connection to her father, she starts asking questions and poking around in things the locals would prefer to keep firmly in the past. She engages the help of a scholar working on a biography of her father, and together they go in search of the facts surrounding the end of Cliff James's life, which could very well result in the end of theirs. Haunting and atmospheric, The Gone Dead is a gripping mystery and a rich family drama--irresistible Southern fiction. --Jen Forbus

Discover: When a young woman returns to her father's Mississippi home 30 years after his death, she finds more than a crumbling old cabin--and her discoveries could be deadly.

Ecco, $26.99, hardcover, 304p., 9780062490698


by Mona Awad

Mona Awad's twisted and hilarious follow-up to 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl expands on classic Queen Bee tropes by transporting them to a setting even more cruel, petty and backbiting than high school--graduate school. In Bunny, a brooding and beleaguered scholarship student must contend with the punishingly effervescent members of her all-female creative writing cohort, discovering to her horror that their fawning affect and carefully curated personas mask a deadly supernatural persuasion.

Struggling through the final year of an elite postgraduate program with which she has long felt disenchanted, Samantha Mackey finds that her passion for writing has been supplanted by repulsed fascination for the other four members of her group. Disgustingly rich, unbearably twee and virtually inseparable, they refer to each other as "Bunny," a habit that Samantha finds grotesque. Assuming her disdain is mutual, Samantha is shocked when the "Bunnies" reach out to befriend her, beckoning her into their candy-colored and tulle-embellished private circle. What seems like a frivolous escape, however, quickly becomes a hallucinatory nightmare, as the balance of power shifts, and lines between fantasy and reality begin to blur.

Awad's flair for the provocative occasionally veers into self-conscious grandstanding (her protagonist, too, is criticized for the "edginess" of her prose). Still, Bunny's gleeful, unapologetic revelry in fantastical revenge play is seductive, gripping and gloriously excessive. Steeped in rank feminine pathos and dripping with psychedelic horror imagery, Bunny is a campy deconstruction of neofeminist artifice, academic class blindness and the sugar-frosted exclusionism they both serve up with an eager, sharp-toothed smile. --Devon Ashby, sales & marketing assistant, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A disillusioned creative writing student's life of bored alienation is hijacked by the sinister influence of a cliquish band of fellow students.

Viking, $26, hardcover, 320p., 9780525559733

Whisper Network

by Chandler Baker

Chandler Baker's Whisper Network starts with eyewitnesses saying what looked like "a giant bird" fell out of the sky. It wasn't a bird but a man, who wasn't super at all. Instead of leaping a tall building in a single bound, he appeared to have just leapt to his death.

The story backtracks to two months earlier, to the day the CEO of Truviv Inc. dies of a heart attack. All indicators point to the man's successor being Ames Garrett, the company's general counsel. Sloane, Ardie and Grace, all lawyers who report to Ames, find this unacceptable. They participate with other professional women in a whisper network, which includes disseminating a BAD Men spreadsheet--the acronym stands for Beware of Assholes in Dallas.

After suffering years of inappropriate behavior from Ames, Sloane puts his name on the spreadsheet. She and her friends make other moves to keep Ames from becoming CEO. Their actions cause a chain reaction, leading up to--but not ending with--that day the body fell out of the sky. 

Women everywhere who have ever worked with toxic men might get neck cramps while reading Whisper Network, from nodding fervently at all the truth bombs Baker drops. Take this observation: "Believe it or not, we didn't want to be offended. We weren't sitting around twiddling our thumbs waiting for someone to show up and offend us so that we would have something to do that day." The social commentary is razor sharp and incisive in its wit, and readers will be loud and clear when recommending this novel. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: Three female lawyers plot to keep their toxic boss from becoming their company's CEO.

Flatiron, $26.99, hardcover, 352p., 9781250319470

Surfside Sisters

by Nancy Thayer

Keely Green and Isabelle Maxwell have been best friends since preschool. They've grown up together on Nantucket, sharing idyllic times at their favorite beach, Surfside, and riding their bikes all over the island. However, Keely, the only child of working-class parents, has always been a tiny bit jealous of Isabelle's much more luxurious life. The Maxwell family has a huge house and spends every summer in Europe; most importantly, in Keely's eyes, Isabelle has a handsome, wonderful older brother named Sebastian.

For years Keely tries to tamp down her infatuation with Sebastian, and focuses on her friendship with Isabelle. They both decide that they want to be writers when they grow up, which creates an extra bond between them. But then, in high school, the boy that Isabelle loves asks Keely to homecoming. A few years later, Keely is forced to drop out of college, while Isabelle continues living her charmed life. This creates deep tension between the two, and Keely must carefully navigate both her changing world and her complicated friendship with Isabelle.

Nancy Thayer (A Nantucket Wedding, Secrets in Summer) knows how to create the perfect beach read. A heady mix of summer, family secrets, first love and friendship, Surfside Sisters is meant to be devoured on a lazy afternoon. Readers who love Elin Hilderbrand or Jamie Brenner will be delighted by Surfside Sisters, with its familiar island routines and its eclectic, book-loving characters. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this charming beach read set on the island of Nantucket, two best friends navigate first loves and jealousies.

Ballantine, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9781524798727

Let's Hope for the Best

by Carolina Setterwall

Swedish author Carolina Setterwall tells a moving and emotional story in her first novel, Let's Hope for the Best. The knowledge that Let's Hope for the Best is a fictionalized memoir makes it even more gripping: Setterwall wrote it to her former partner, Aksel, after his death when their son, Ivan, was just eight months old.

The story flashes back and forth between the morning in 2014 when Carolina woke up to find Aksel dead in their bed, and 2009, when they first met at a party. She recalls their slow courtship, with Carolina pushing a more hesitant Aksel a bit, encouraging him to move in together and then to have a child with her. The reader realizes that their relationship is doomed to be short, which invests every argument and loving moment with added meaning.

Setterwall writes brilliantly, with no hesitation about showing her own flaws and the ways that her helicopter parenting affected their relationship, and about the impact of Aksel's death on her and Ivan. American readers will also be intrigued by the mundane details of their life in Stockholm, as Setterwall shares her experiences with everything from breastfeeding to doctors visits and Ivan's preschool cubbies. The deep impact of the book is in its immediacy, the sense that Carolina's shell-shock and grief are so real, and that detailing her life with Aksel allows her create some semblance of normalcy in the wake of his death. Setterwall has created a shockingly real, moving story in Let's Hope for the Best. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this intense work of autofiction, Carolina Setterwall shares her grief after the death of her partner when their son was an infant.

Little, Brown, $27, hardcover, 336p., 9780316489621

The Most Fun We Ever Had

by Claire Lombardo

In her debut, Claire Lombardo offers a sprawling drama that explores the maelstrom of love, resentment and tension of the nuclear family and the ways in which a shared history can affect the future for years.

When Marilyn Sorenson, exhausted by raising two babies nine months apart in age, gives a patently untrue reply to a question about motherhood, it instantly becomes one more inside joke she shares with her husband, David. "They would repeat it for years to come in times of strife: the most fun I've ever had." The joke follows the Sorensons from 1980 to 2016, the year in which their four adult daughters wreak havoc on their peace of mind in a whirlwind of existential crises, relationship drama and long-buried secrets. As fissures in the family open, close and shift, David and Marilyn look back on their legendary marriage and the joy and heartache inherent in loving the same person for decades.

Lombardo has a deft hand with metaphor, pulling off the inclusion of a literal family tree--a venerable but diseased gingko--with neither camp nor irony. She also has a knack for encapsulating universal relationship truths in single clear-eyed sentences, as when she describes the situation of "one party consumed with worry so the other could sleep through the night" as a life-saving aspect of marriage.

Covering 40 years of Sorenson family strengths and foibles, The Most Fun We Ever Had is a classy but juicy read that always has one more surprise up its sleeve. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: In this ambitious debut novel, four adult sisters and their famously in-love parents unravel decades of family history when a secret from the past resurfaces.

Doubleday, $28.95, hardcover, 544p., 9780385544252

The Saturday Night Ghost Club

by Craig Davidson

Craig Davidson (Rust and Bone) harnesses the appeal of campfire tales in his coming-of-age story The Saturday Night Ghost Club. Jake Baker remembers the summer he was 12, when he believed in monsters and adult benevolence--and discovered both were purely imaginary. 

Jake lives in Niagara Falls, Ontario, where the magnificent Falls loom over seedy tourist traps. His Uncle Calvin owns the Occultorium, a store that attracts tourists as well as local kids eager to be a little scared. Jake himself is easily frightened, but when Calvin tells him and his two friends, "There are places I know... where the barriers between our world and the spirit realm are full of holes," they gamely join his "Saturday Night Ghost Club." The club breaks into a mortuary, investigates the site of a deadly house fire and creeps into haunted tunnels. Calvin's nighttime adventures, however, aren't as random as they seem. Jake learns the sobering truth that evil is a human trait, not ghostly, displayed by those who are "circling the burning fires of civilization, waiting for us to step away from the light."

Davidson also writes horror novels under the pseudonym Nick Cutter, explaining his adroit handling of the ghostly events. This novel presents what adults know full well: life's deepest fears have little to do with conventional horror and everything to do with love and loss. This compact novel is reminiscent of Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine and Stephen King's The Body: dark and unforgettable coming-of-age stories. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: Three children come face to face with evil and their own challenges in this moving coming-of-age story.

Penguin Books, $16, paperback, 224p., 9780143133933

A Girl Returned

by Donatella Di Pietrantonio, trans. by Ann Goldstein

The unnamed narrator is 13, raised by two affectionate parents in a comfortable city home where she has her own room. School, swim and dance lessons, a nearby best friend, the sea a short walk away are the life she's known. And then, one August afternoon in 1975, she's driven to an apartment in a small village with all her possessions, where she's "greeted by the smell of recent frying and a wait." When the door finally opens, she finds a sister she's never met before. Once she passes through, she becomes the "arminuta, the one who was returned."

The mother she's always known is sick, perhaps dying. Her father won't raise her alone. She's told she's grown up "and my real parents wanted me back." She's now one of five children in a family that has no room for her, reduced to neglect, hunger, occasional abuse. Bewilderment and misery define the year she spends with her birth family, mitigated only by the growing bonds with her younger sister Adriana (with whom she shares a urine-soaked bed) and older, often missing, brother Vicenzo. As she navigates her new life, she will need to learn acceptance and practice rejection in order to survive.

Italian author Donatella Di Pietrantonio (who is also a pediatric dentist) makes her English-language debut, thanks to Elena Ferrante translator Ann Goldstein. With unflinching perception, in A Girl Returned Di Pietrantonio presents a heartrending tale of a child discarded, never quite reclaimed. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Donatella Di Pietrantonio makes her English-language debut with a slim novel about a teen caught between parents who raised her and the family into which she was born.

Europa Editions, $16, paperback, 160p., 9781609455286

Mystery & Thriller

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone

by Felicity McLean

"They're kids, for heaven's sake. What have they got to be fearful of?" Perhaps more than anyone knew. In 1992, sisters Ruth, Hannah and Cordie Van Apfel disappeared during Tikka Malloy's skit in their school's Showstopper production. Twenty years later, Tikka returns to Australia to face her sister Laura's lymphoma diagnosis and her own decades-long haunting.

Tikka and Laura knew things they didn't tell in 1992. What Tikka knew, or thought she knew, has gnawed at and unsettled her ever since, with false Cordie sightings continuous as a tic. The detective told them to "sit tight"--he would find their friends. But Tikka can no longer sit tight, compelled to address the past and whether her family did enough to help their neighbors.

Australian journalist Felicity McLean's The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is a well-layered puzzle with unexplained pieces to spare. At the core of this gripping debut novel are the uncertain perceptions of young Tikka and 2012 Tikka, still partially trapped in her 11-year-old self.

McLean's often striking prose swirls deftly between the two Tikkas as suspicions begin to emerge--about the Van Apfels and their violently pious patriarch, Cordie's broken arm, and the school's first male teacher. A slow burn that maintains an electric current of dread, the narrative is also cleverly colored by the underpinning of the infamous Chamberlain case. Although more than 30 years later it was confirmed that Lindy Chamberlain's baby was indeed snatched by a dingo, the Van Apfel girls may get no such closure. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: The unexplained disappearance of three young Australian sisters still haunts their friends and neighbors more than 20 years later.

Algonquin, $15.95, paperback, 304p., 9781616209643

Growing Things and Other Stories

by Paul Tremblay

Of the recent horror writers to have made their mark, Paul Tremblay belongs the most to a tradition of psychological terror. Stories in Growing Things such as "Something About Birds" and "Notes from 'The Barn in the Wild' " have themes of cosmic horror, but his best work derives its power from the ordinary and domestic gone mysteriously wrong. Two other stories connect directly to Tremblay's earlier novel A Head Full of Ghosts, a wrenching tragedy that left what happened to the central character ambiguous. Throughout this collection, the reader is forced to make their own shuddering conclusions as to why, for instance, in "-------," a family man meets a woman acting as if she's his longtime wife and his children seem to agree.

Like fellow New England writer Shirley Jackson, Tremblay is a master of delving so deep into a psyche that a reader longs to come up for air. Yet he's also surprisingly playful about his own reputation and the milieu of horror fiction (as in the blackly funny "Notes from the Dog Walkers"), and restless in his experimentation with form. Growing Things is not Tremblay's magnum opus but a stepping stone to one. Here are 19 stories without boundaries, elegantly crafted and written to speak to the deepest fears and strangest obsessions. And all they ask in return is to enter the reader's dreams, to be thought of with a twinge of anxiety. The only warning one can give is: buyer beware. --C.M. Crockford, freelance reviewer

Discover: Horror writer Paul Tremblay's collection of stories is terrifying, experimental and remarkably vulnerable.

Morrow, $25.99, hardcover, 352p., 9780062679130

Their Little Secret

by Mark Billingham

At the start of Mark Billingham's Their Little Secret, Detective Inspector Tom Thorne and his partner, DI Nicola Tanner, look on as pieces of Philippa Goodwin's body are scraped off train tracks and sent to the morgue. CCTV footage shows Philippa leaping into the path of an oncoming train in the London Underground, and the police consider it a suicide.

Thorne and Tanner notify the deceased's sister and niece, who claim the person responsible is Patrick Jennings, a man who seduced Philippa before vanishing with all her money. The two women don't deny she jumped, but they insist Jennings drove her to it.

Philippa's death is now deemed to involve fraud, so Thorne and Tanner hand the case over to the proper department. But then Jennings's DNA, collected at Philippa's house, matches DNA found at a murder. Camera footage reveals only the victim and an older woman, no Patrick Jennings. The detectives come to realize they're chasing a man-and-woman killing team.

Thorne and Tanner are formidable characters, but Billingham allows them their frailties. Thorne's girlfriend has kicked him out of her flat, and he wrestles with whether or not that's a bad thing. Following the brutal killing of her previous partner, Tanner experiences intense guilt over her and Thorne's complicity.

Billingham (Bloodline) refers to an incident from a previous book as the cause of tension in the detectives' working relationship, but those allusions don't distract from the enthralling, twisty story, with its smartly cohesive style and gallows humor. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer

Discover: In Their Little Secret, detectives chase down a couple with a passion for killing.

Atlantic Monthly Press, $26, hardcover, 400p., 9780802147363

Big Sky

by Kate Atkinson

Less than a year after Transcription, Kate Atkinson (A God in Ruins, Life After Life) is back with a new Jackson Brodie novel, fifth in the series after a nine-year hiatus. Fans are happy, and Big Sky can be read out of sequence, so new fans will be made. Brodie is a private detective (although he doesn't like the term: "Too Chandleresque. It raised people's expectations") now living in a seaside village on the east Yorkshire coast. His occasional roommate is his son, Nathan, with the typical adolescent ego "big enough to swallow planets whole," while his ex-partner, Julia, films a TV series nearby. Dido, Julia's aging yellow Lab, slow but game, also shares the cottage.

Brodie is doing the dull task of tracking an unfaithful husband, but from the first chapter--in which two sisters are flown from Eastern Europe to England for jobs in the hotel industry--it's obvious something worse than infidelity looms. It takes a while to get to the dark crux of the story, but the leisurely pace, as the characters are fully developed, is a pleasure. In particular, Julia is often inside Brodie's head; (" 'Have you even tried being an optimist?' Julia said. 'Once,' Jackson said. 'It didn't suit me.' ") She is neurotic about Nathan's diet, but Brodie thinks, "Another year or two and Julia would be worrying about cigarettes and alcohol and drugs. She should enjoy the sugar years."

Big Sky hosts a slew of nefarious people, like the quartet of golfing buddies with a brutal side gig, and the pedophile prisoner. There are good guys, too: a trophy wife, her stepson, a drag queen, a former colleague of Brodie and her partner. With both dread and humor, Atkinson pulls many disparate threads together in a satisfying weave. Brodie is back, with panache. --Marilyn Dahl, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Mixing grim issues with wry wit, Big Sky, Kate Atkinson's fifth Jackson Brodie novel, features an assortment of murderous golfers and unlikely heroes.

Little, Brown, $28, hardcover, 400p., 9780316523097

Girls Like Us

by Cristina Alger

Cristina Alger (The Banker's WifeThis Was Not the Plan) crafts a gripping story of suspense with Girls Like Us. Fans of murder mysteries packed with action and plot twists will be satisfied by this edge-of-the-seat adventure into seedy Suffolk County in New York.

FBI Agent Nell Flynn has returned home to the unbeautiful end of Long Island to sprinkle her father's ashes, close up his house and move on. Her father, homicide detective Marty Flynn, had some good buddies on the force, and it's nice to see them again, but Suffolk County doesn't hold many pleasant memories. Then Marty's last partner, Lee Davis, with whom Nell went to high school, asks for her help on one last case. Two young women have been murdered: "working girls," the cops call them; one of them was undocumented. In their details, though, these murders take Nell back to the murder of her mother when Nell was seven years old.

Is there a serial killer at work in Suffolk County? Is there a link to Nell's past? With violent action and split-second turns, this is not a book to put down easily: plan accordingly. Alger's thriller is emphatically plot-driven, but her characters hold their own.

Nell is a quintessential damaged cop, even if she is FBI: ignoring her own injuries, pushing too hard, taking foolhardy risks, with a strong sense of right and wrong (as her father seemed to have). Her personality serves as backbone to the electric plot of Girls Like Us, and the reader trusts that she will follow through to the truth, no matter how much it hurts. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: Heart-racing action and a twisty-turny plot mark this thriller of multigenerational cops and murders.

Putnam, $26, hardcover, 288p., 9780525535805

The Triumph of the Spider Monkey

by Joyce Carol Oates

Originally published in 1976, Joyce Carol Oates's The Triumph of the Spider Monkey reveals the mind of a serial killer in the aftermath of his capture. Bobbie Gotteson, abandoned in a bus station as an infant, grew up in foster care, persistently and systematically abused by almost everyone he encountered. Now, after having been convicted of hacking to death nine stewardesses, Gotteson retraces the steps of his miserable life as a wannabe entertainer and ladies' man, up through his final attack. In this reprint, the novel is paired with the novella "Love, Careless Love," which focuses on a down-and-out detective who becomes slowly and violently obsessed with the lone survivor of Gotteson's attack.  

The definition of an unreliable narrator, Gotteson drags the reader into his consciousness, starting from the moment of his own imagined infancy, a corrupted version of a hero's origin story that shows him being birthed from a bus station locker. His reality is a fragmented, sweaty, clamorous, paranoid fantasy and Oates's frenetic prose brings a new understanding to the concept of mania. The women who slip in and out of Gotteson's life and subconscious guide his story, despite his insistence that he hates them. These women--who are depicted by Gotteson as every conceivable female stereotype from virgin mother to sexual trash--fight against the confines of Gotteson's perspective. Meanwhile, the anxious, neon-lit world of '60s and '70s American culture eggs them all on, urging the novel's characters toward one bloody climax after another. The accompanying novella continues the novel's exploration of a world turned nightmare because of capitalist misogyny by delving into the viciousness inherent in even a seemingly ordinary man. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This reprint offers a look at an early text in Oates's oeuvre that lays the groundwork for her interest in pulp fiction, demented psychology and society's fascination with violence against women.

Hard Case Crime, $9.95, paperback, 224p., 9781785656774

Under the Cold Bright Lights

by Garry Disher

Garry Disher (Kickback, Signal Loss) writes several popular Australian crime series. Under the Cold Bright Lights, however, is a standalone featuring cold case detective Alan Auhl that is sure to appeal to fans of Jane Harper or Ian Rankin.

Auhl shares a large house with his daughter, his ex-wife and several boarders--including a few grad students and a timid woman, Neve, who is fleeing an abusive husband. He doesn't care that his fellow cops make jokes about his age and decrepitude. He just wants to find justice for all the victims.

The cold case department is already looking into a murder from six years earlier--a man found beaten to death near his farm--when a young family in a new subdivision finds a skeleton under the concrete slab in their back yard. They begin investigating "Slab Man," but before they get far, a doctor Auhl is convinced killed his first two wives comes in claiming that wife number three is trying to kill him.

Disher has created a wonderful, believable character in Alan Auhl. His innate kindness and investigative instincts interact in intriguing ways. As the three disparate cases and Neve's custody battle unfold, Disher flawlessly combines the many storylines into a twisty final product that will surprise even the savviest of readers. And underlining it all, the Melbourne setting and the oddball cast of house residents make for an entertaining backdrop to the curious crimes. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: When a skeleton is found under a concrete slab, an older detective finds his investigative skills and his ethics tested to the limit in this entertaining Australian mystery.

Soho Crime, $26.95, hardcover, 312p., 9781641290579


by Maggie Gee

Maggie Gee's Blood could be called an unorthodox thriller, a black comedy or representative of any number of other genres. For many American readers, it will be an introduction to the acclaimed author of 15 books published in the U.K. The genre may be difficult to place, but it's easy to see Gee's strengths, particularly in her characters. The novel is told primarily from the perspective of Monica Ludd, a gigantic, buxom woman from a family haunted by the abuse and cruelty meted out by their physically imposing father on his wife and children. When the father is attacked, Monica becomes the chief suspect.

Blood's plot is not particularly twisty--despite the novel's short length, there are passages where Monica meditates on her twisted childhood and a country thrown into turmoil by Brexit and terrorist attacks. What carries the book is Monica's perspective: equal parts rude, funny, fearful, literate and randy. Monica is an unusual but effective vehicle for a conversation about the legacy of abuse and violence. The contradictory aspects of her character echo the difficulty of the topic. At one point, Monica reminds the reader that her father always "adored" her mother in the midst of relating the ways he tormented her: "Yes, I know, it's complicated; life's complicated, get over it." 

Instead of twists and turns, Gee immerses the reader in dread. Her father's fate uncertain, Monica fears that he will return and continue his reign of terror. Blood asks whether a monster can be stopped without further monstrous violence. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Discover: Blood transforms what could be a grim story of abuse and trauma into tragi-comedy thanks to the voice of its outsized, hilarious protagonist and her acid commentary on Brexit-era Britain.

Fentum Press, $15.95, paperback, 296p., 9781909572126

The Ghost Clause

by Howard Norman

Muriel and Zachary are newlyweds living in their newly purchased old farmhouse in small-town Vermont. She has just defended her dissertation on translations of Mukei Korin's erotic Japanese poems; that she brings this work home is a boon for their marriage. He is a private detective investigating the disappearance of a local girl who's been missing for months. They bought the farmhouse from semi-famous painter Lorca, a recent widow whose husband, Simon, had a heart attack and tipped overboard on a ferry en route to Nova Scotia.

The first surprise of Howard Norman's (The Northern LightsWhat Is Left the Daughter) riveting novel The Ghost Clause is that their stories are told in the voice of Simon's ghost. He still occupies the farmhouse, and feels very involved in the lives taking place there now.

Supremely enjoyable, this novel is about the intersections of lives. Finely detailed in its particulars and simultaneously revealing of grand-scale humanity, the story is both poignant and frequently gut-laugh-funny. Norman's prose is inspired; Simon's narration is adorned with lyric moments: "A hammock of moon was traveling pale in hazy light," Simon observes of an evening at home with Lorca when they were still alive together; there is more poetry here than Korin's.

The Ghost Clause is one of the best kind of novels, excelling in every way: it's delightful at line level, humorous, absorbing in individual stories and wise on a higher plane. A book for any reader who cares about people. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This smart, literary novel of human relationships--and a ghost--in a small town in Vermont is heart-wrenching, heart-warming and life-sustaining.

Houghton Mifflin, $27, hardcover, 256p., 9780544987296

The Shallows

by Matt Goldman

Minneapolis private investigator Nils "Shap" Shapiro returns in his third outing by being called to a murder scene at 3:27 a.m. Lawyer Todd Rabinowitz has been killed, his body left in the shallows of a lake with a fishing stringer through his mouth and the other end tied to the dock. It's a clear message to someone, but no one knows what.

Todd's wife, Robin, hires Shap to find the killer, knowing the police would focus only on her, especially since the couple was on the outs and she was having an affair. But she's not the only person who wants to hire Shap to solve Todd's murder. So do the Greater Lake Minnetonka Police Department, the FBI, the partners at Todd's law firm, Robin's boyfriend and a controversial congressional candidate. As the list of potential clients grows, the number of dead bodies almost keeps pace.  

In The Shallows, Matt Goldman (Gone to Dust) manages to cover timely issues in a tone both light and mature, without naming names or being didactic. Shap points out people are born with a neurological makeup that dictates what they believe in and arguing won't change anyone's mind. It helps to know the complex history between Shap and his ex-wife, Micaela, but The Shallows can stand on its own. He experiences life-changing revelations here, but seemingly nothing can dampen Shap's wit. Being summoned to a meeting with a partner at Todd's firm, Shap makes sure to leave his shirt untucked "to convey a dash of apathy." Fans of layered mysteries and well-defined characters will convey only delight. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: Minneapolis PI Nils Shapiro investigates why a local lawyer was murdered in a gruesome, showy way.

Forge, $26.99, hardcover, 320p., 9781250191311

The Reunion

by Guillaume Musso, trans. by Frank Wynne

On the surface, Thomas Degalais is a success. He's an author with several respected novels, enough to support a comfortable life in Manhattan. He is the product of the Saint Ex, an elite French school on the Côte d'Azur. When Thomas receives an invitation to attend the school's 50th anniversary and celebrate the groundbreaking of a new building, he accepts without question--but not to catch up with old classmates. Saint Ex was "far from being a lost paradise"; instead, it was "the setting of a tragedy [he] had been running from" for 25 years.

Vinca Rockwell was an American student who bewitched Thomas when they were students in the early '90s. But her allure also drew others, so when Vinca disappeared at the same time as philosophy professor Alexis Clément, everyone assumed the two ran away together. Thomas and classmates Maxime and Fanny knew the truth: Thomas killed Alexis, believing he was abusing Vinca, and buried him in the walls of the gym that's about to be torn down. And with fellow classmate Stéphane Pianelli, a journalist with a chip on his shoulder, looking to solve the decades-old mystery, Thomas's world is closing in on him.

The Reunion is a multi-layered thriller that's fueled by urgency and drama, and Guillaume Musso adds a menacing quality to the glamorous Côte d'Azur. With plot twists unleashed at a furious pace, The Reunion is a nightmare set in privileged utopia. --Frank Brasile, librarian

Discover: A high school reunion threatens to reveal long-held secrets in this thriller from one of France's bestselling authors.

Little, Brown, $28, hardcover, 288p., 9780316490146

Stone Cold Heart

by Caz Frear

Stone Cold Heart by Caz Frear is told from the point of view of Detective Constable Cat Kinsella, a cop with her own shady past. It's the follow-up to Sweet Little Lies, but references to that novel are minor distractions to Heart's whodunit plot.

Kinsella and her partner, Sergeant Luigi Parnell, are given a murder case. Naomi Lockhart was a 22-year-old who suffered blunt force trauma to the back of the head after attending an after-hours party at her boss's house. Prime suspect Joseph Madden seems like he should be locked up simply as a public service to London's citizens. Kinsella had a personal run-in with Madden before she was even assigned Naomi's case and has justifiable reasons to dislike the guy.

In spite of Madden's bragging about extramarital exploits, his general propensity to lie about even the smallest of things and a mound of evidence against him, Kinsella has her doubts about his guilt, much to the annoyance of the investigative team. Kinsella has a gut feeling something isn't right, and Frear interrupts most of Kinsella's verbal interactions with the detective constable's inner monologue. In a lesser writer's hands, this device could become annoying, but Frear sidesteps the trap by providing readers the opportunity to ride shotgun and solve the crime through Kinsella's eyes. Most everyone surrounding Madden appears to be holding back some truth, but so is Kinsella, which is why she's attuned to other people's lies. How Frear brings all the complex plot points together makes the big reveal worth the journey. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer

Discover: In this savvy novel, Detective Constable Cat Kinsella works a murder case while trying to keep her team in the dark about her own criminal past.

Harper, $26.99, hardcover, 336p., 9780062849885

Death in a Desert Land

by Andrew Wilson

On the heels of her divorce, Agatha Christie is in need of a change. An old British Intelligence Officer friend asks for her help in determining whether the death of Gertrude Bell, famed archeologist and explorer, was a suicide, an accident or murder, sending Christie off to Iran and an archeological excavation that could be under a terrible curse. Going undercover, infiltrating the motley crew at the dig site while keeping her real reason for being there a secret, Christie attempts to make sense of the complicated existing relationships and tensions while trying to solve one alleged murder and prevent another one (or more!) from occurring.

Providing a fascinating glimpse into the lives of real people doing actual excavation work in the city of Ur in 1928, Death in a Desert Land is Andrew Wilson's third book in this series, following A Talent for Murder and A Different Kind of Evil, yet can be read as a standalone mystery. An intriguing cast of characters provides insight into the hierarchical roles, racial and gender prejudices and established modes of 1920s behavior, while the desert landscape is almost a character in its own right, by turns menacing and beautiful.

While there is no doubt Christie will find the answers, the quick pace of the plot, the severe environment and general mood of the circumstances--on top of Christie's sensitivity to heat (including both the sun and the potential attentions of a male photographer at the dig)--creates a dramatic tension that quickly builds to a satisfying conclusion. --BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co., Beaver Dam, Wis.

Discover: In this mystery that merges fact and fiction, novelist Agatha Christie travels to an archeological dig in the Middle East to look into the death of explorer Gertrude Bell.

Washington Square Press/Atria, $28, hardcover, 352p., 9781501197444

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Kingdom of Exiles

by Maxym M. Martineau

Leena Edenfrell is a Charmer, a human with magical powers who collects and wields the power of magical beasts. Normally, she would spend her life in idyllic Hireath, but she fell in love with the wrong man, who got her cast out for a crime he committed. Leena is forced to sell some of her beloved beasts to stay alive--an act absolutely forbidden among her kind--and she is on the hunt for the Myad--the one beast she knows can make the Charmers Council listen to her side of the story and maybe allow her back home.

Noc is the master of the guild at Cruor, feared assassins whose ranks are made up of people brought back from the dead, and he is struggling with a secret curse: anyone he loves will sicken and die from an incurable disease. While he doesn't have much hope of breaking the curse, a Gyss, one of the Charmers' beasts that grants wishes for a price, just might work.

Lena and Noc strike a bargain: he won't fulfill his contract to kill her if she provides person-specific beasts for himself and his three top assassins. But secrets from both their pasts catch up with them, threatening their newfound love and their very lives. The first book in the Beast Charmer trilogy by Maxym M. Martineau, co-founder of, is witty and sexy, featuring a diverse range of people and beasts living in a fully imagined world. --BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co., Beaver Dam, Wis.

Discover: When an exiled Charmer teams up with an assassin, neither one imagines their attraction could be the key to keeping them both alive.

Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99, mass market paperbound, 448p., 9781492689386


Window on the Bay

by Debbie Macomber

Two Seattle friends--divorcées--are faced with empty nest syndrome in Debbie Macomber's Window on the Bay.

Jenna and Maureen met as college freshman while taking a French class and became best friends. They vowed that after graduation, they would take a trip to Paris where they would "walk in the moonlight along the Seine, tour the Louvre, and see the view of the city from the Eiffel Tower." Maureen's unplanned pregnancy, however, forced the friends to defer their plans to "someday."

Over the years, Jenna, an ICU nurse, and Maureen, a librarian, married, had children and divorced. Throughout 20 years of ups and downs, the two single moms emotionally supported each other. Now middle-aged--with their children grown and launched--Jenna and Maureen decide "someday" is now. Paris awaits. That is, until Jenna's mother has an accident that brings an attractive male surgeon into Jenna's life. Meanwhile, Maureen catches the attention of a book-loving plumber who, working near the library, starts paying Maureen visits in search of new reading material. The two women, bruised by the past, are leery, but soon become lured by the prospects of new love. But what about Paris?

Macomber (Cottage by the Sea, If Not for You) unspools several tender, romantic story threads. Through a refreshing role-reversal, the young adult offspring of each woman--with complications in their own lives--prove sources of unexpected wisdom to their mothers on the brink of change. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: Two middle-aged divorcées--friends since college--find their plans to visit Paris complicated by familial demands and the prospects of new love.

Ballantine, $27, hardcover, 336p., 9780399181337

The Highland Earl

by Amy Jarecki

The Earl of Mar and Lady Evelyn Pierrepont are at odds in the sixth book of Amy Jarecki's Lords of the Highlands series. Evelyn has been a spy for the Jacobites in England, using her father's underhanded dealings to fund the cause. "Bobbin' John" Erskine, a widowed Scottish diplomat, is privy to secret information that could help the Jacobites. He's also looking for a new bride to care for his two sons and with a dowry that will clear his debts. Evelyn's father accepts Mar's proposal, and though Evelyn has no desire to wed someone against her political beliefs, she recognizes the benefit of insinuating herself into his confidences.

The Highland Earl starts as a spy drama and quickly turns steamy. Evelyn may not agree with what Mar stands for, but she can't help her physical attraction to the Scottish earl. Mar is similarly attracted to Evelyn, though the memory of his wife impedes an emotional connection. While they enjoy the perks of marriage, the two grow as friends and Evelyn becomes closer to Mar's children. But when her spy work brings enemies to the Erskine clan, their budding relationship is tested. Evelyn gets a fair amount of victim blaming for her contributions to the Jacobite cause, though many others are also involved in the plot. Evelyn and Mar's relationship is somewhat modern--they bond sexually before becoming partners and falling in love. It's a refreshing take on a historical romance, and Jarecki crafts immersive, sweeping scenes in bustling London and the lowlands of Scotland. --Amy Dittmeier, adult services librarian, Brookfield Public Library, Ill.

Discover: Known for her knowledge of Scottish history, Amy Jarecki tells a love story between a spy and a widower who find each other through political peril.

Forever, $7.99, mass market paperbound, 384p., 9781538716021


by Jay Crownover

Jay Crownover (the Marked Men series) starts her first Western series with Justified, which takes place in the imaginary town of Loveless, Tex. New sheriff Case Lawton and attorney Aspen Barlow--childhood friends and now adult enemies--must put aside their animosity when someone breaks in and vandalizes Aspen's office.

Aspen was assigned to represent Case's ex-wife in a divorce that cost him several years of custody of his only son and destroyed the friendship between Case and Aspen. Representing victims of domestic violence and the wealthy alike, Aspen has earned herself a long list of enemies, which makes it all the more complicated for Case to sort out the threat to her life.

When someone sets fire to her home and she's attacked her while leaving the hospital, Aspen moves in with Case so that he can protect her. This proximity forces the two to sort through their baggage and address the sexual tension between them. Crownover excels at balancing the romantic part of the story with the suspense elements. The result is a heart-pounding narrative that readers will be compelled to finish quickly.

The romance unfolds as a slow burn ("I was kissing her the way you kissed someone you loved and hated at the same time. A little sweet, a little mean."), which fits with the enemies-to-lovers premise and the impressive number of times Aspen is nearly killed. Twists and turns abound as this whodunit builds up to revelations that will surprise even longtime suspense readers. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels

Discover: The first book in Jay Crownover's new Western series offers a heart-pounding combination of romance and suspense, sure to please longtime fans and new readers alike.

Forever, $7.99, mass market paperbound, 432p., 9781538746332

The Wedding Party

by Jasmine Guillory

In her first novel, The Wedding Date, Jasmine Guillory introduced Alexa, an attorney who works for the mayor of Berkeley, Calif. Alexa has two best friends: Theo, who works with her in the mayor's office, and Maddie, a stylist she's known since childhood. The problem is that Maddie and Theo hate each other. But for the sake of Alexa, they've muddled along.

One night, a little too much to drink at a party accidentally leads to a sexy night together, and Maddie and Theo realize that they're very physically compatible. But Maddie still thinks Theo is uptight, and he still finds her frivolous. When Alexa gets engaged and asks Maddie and Theo to be her bridesmaid and "bridesman," they realize they're going to have to spend a lot of time together. So they decide to have a fling, no strings attached, that will end as soon as the wedding is over. As they accompany Alexa for cake testing and wedding dress shopping, they keep sneaking off to be together. But they're convinced that since they don't actually like each other, they can't tell Alexa, and they can't be together permanently. Or can they?

Jasmine Guillory has nailed the sexy but quarrelsome tension between Maddie and Theo. Effervescent and smart, The Wedding Party is a romance for people who think they don't like romances. Cameos by other characters from The Wedding Date and The Proposal make The Wedding Party shine, as does the diverse cast of characters and the witty dialogue. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this clever romance, opposites attract when Maddie and Theo are thrown together as bridal attendants.

Berkley, $15, paperback, 352p., 9781984802194

Graphic Books

Hot Comb

by Ebony Flowers

In chunky lines and charmingly chaotic frames, debut author Ebony Flowers uses the comic format to explore the vital and myriad ways that the experience of young black women is tied to their relationship with their hair. Across the eight short stories that make up Hot Comb, Flowers illustrates the profusion of cultural forces young black girls must contend with: peer pressure, white beauty standards, well-meaning strangers, not-so-well-meaning strangers and, perhaps most interestingly, advertisements. Throughout, Flowers makes clear the ways in which the success of the black hair industry depends on the malleability of adolescent self-image and thrives on the insecurities of black children and teenagers. In recognition of this, Flowers ends each story with a powerful editorial insertion: a brand-new advertisement that draws from distinctly black cultural imagery to celebrate black hair as it is.

In Hot Comb, black hair proves to be a rich symbol for interpreting the insidious politics of race and class that play out each day in the lives of black Americans. Flowers's stories do not attempt to mask the harshness of poverty and racism, and they do not romanticize hardship. What Hot Comb does instead is celebrate the devotion of black mothers, the creativity of black children and the ingenuity inherent in the black experience. This is a deeply impressive debut and belongs on the bookshelf between Lynda Barry and Claudia Rankine. Ebony Flowers is a cartoonist to watch. --Emma Levy, publishing assistant, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Ebony Flowers pushes the bounds of the comic form in this intimate and poignant portrait of black womanhood.

Drawn & Quarterly, $21.95, paperback, 184p., 9781770463486

In Waves

by AJ Dungo

In this heartbreaking graphic novel debut, AJ Dungo memorializes his girlfriend Kristen, who died of bone cancer while in her 20s. Kristen loved surfing, and In Waves parallels the story of her life and death with a history of surfing as a pastime, beginning in Hawaii before the Western invasion. Though distant from each other in time and space, these two narratives--one deeply personal, the other spanning centuries and continents--support each other beautifully, both characterized by the rhythmic ebbs and flows of ecstasy, disappointment, triumph and loss.

From the book's sparse captions and bold, coursing lines emerges a subtle exploration of personal (and cultural) tragedy and rebirth. Beginning in high school, AJ and Kristen's relationship builds slowly, driven by a gentle series of meetings and partings. As Kristen gradually warms to AJ and their relationship evolves, In Waves meditates in turn on the slow commodification of Hawaiian culture--a development that would propel surfing into the international spotlight, but forever corrupt its meaning.

An ancient cultural tradition, a competitive sport for some and a path to transcendence for others, surfing is shown to be as much about holding on to the past as it is about learning to exist purely in the moment. For Dungo, this paradox crystalizes into a framework for understanding grief. "It is unpredictable; brewed by a storm in the distance, deep in the ocean, far from view... it grows until it cannot sustain its shape... and then the water retreats, only to begin again." --Devon Ashby, sales & marketing assistant, Shelf Awareness

Discover: This intimate graphic novel beautifully combines a tragic love story with a thoughtful history of surfing.

Nobrow, $18.95, paperback, 368p., 9781910620632

Biography & Memoir

The Wild Boy: A Memoir

by Paolo Cognetti

After turning 30, Paolo Cognetti (The Eight Mountains) felt restless and unfulfilled in the city of Milan. He missed his childhood summers--the first 20 years of his life--spent in the Italian Alps. Inspired by Thoreau's Walden and the principled quest of Chris McCandless (subject of Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild), he rented a renovated but rustic cabin alone in a village of ruins in a high alpine valley and undertook to learn what the mountains had to teach, to "live deep and suck out all the marrow of life." After years of frustration, he hoped to write again.

The Wild Boy is a memoir of three seasons spent in that cabin, or, more accurately, spent hiking and exploring the mountains he remembered from when he was a boy--that wild boy he hopes to find again. It has a lovely and profound story to tell about connections to land and history and one another. In seeking simplicity and a new start in his life, Cognetti rediscovers timeless truths about the human condition.

This is a stunning book: Cognetti's prose is incandescent when writing about nature, about human history, about friendship and, perhaps most of all, about words. For any reader who has wondered about the next step, loved a mountain or a book, struggled with writer's block or stared in wonder into a forest, this astonishing memoir is necessary. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A city dweller returns to the mountains of his youth, and his gorgeous, reflective memoir is full of nature and humanity.

Atria, $16.99, paperback, 176p., 9781501196713

Four Friends: Promising Lives Cut Short

by William D. Cohan

In Four Friends: Promising Lives Cut Short, veteran journalist William D. Cohan (The Price of Silence), a 1977 graduate of the elite Phillips Academy in Andover, tells the stories of four of his contemporaries. Each was prominent in life and died suddenly in his late 30s, or just beyond. As much as it is an account of those tragically brief lives, Cohan's book is a frank meditation on the fragility and preciousness of life at any age.

Of Cohan's four subjects, the most conspicuous, and closest to him, was John F. Kennedy Jr. The young Kennedy lived most of his four decades in the glare of the media spotlight. At the time of his death in July 1999, he was engaged in two fierce struggles: one to right the fortunes of his foundering political magazine George and the other to save his failing marriage to Carolyn Bessette. Cohan recounts both of these grim stories in intimate detail.

Two of Cohan's other subjects--lawyer Jack Berman and lawyer and businessman Harry Bull--had assembled the sort of gleaming résumés and early career accomplishments that foretold lives of professional eminence and material comfort. Will Daniel, the final member of Cohan's foursome, struggled with the notoriety of being the grandson of President Harry Truman, but by all accounts was a compassionate social worker and a loyal friend.

The tragic deaths of Kennedy, Berman, Daniel and Bull are a reminder, Cohan writes, that "Not even those who have every privilege that life offers, right from the start, can escape the inevitable." --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: A seasoned journalist tells the stories of four of his Andover friends whose lives ended tragically before they reached their prime.

Flatiron, $28.99, hardcover, 384p., 9781250070524

Beneath the Tamarind Tree: A Story of Courage, Family, and the Lost Schoolgirls of Boko Haram

by Isha Sesay

In Beneath the Tamarind Tree: A Story of Courage, Family, and the Lost Schoolgirls of Boko Haram, British journalist Isha Sesay transports readers to the remote Sambisa Forest in northeast Nigeria, where Boko Haram is suspected of holding abducted schoolgirls. Through the stories of four girls and their parents, Sesay brings attention to the 276 mostly Christian students who were violently taken from their boarding school in the village of Chibok in 2014. She highlights not only their continuing plight--many of the girls are still in captivity--but also the vast and brutal impact of the militant Islamist group's terrorism on Africa's psyche.

Nigeria is one of Africa's most powerful nations and has the continent's largest economy. It is also the birthplace of Boko Haram. Sesay helpfully examines the confluence of social factors that gave rise to the extremist group, including the struggles between Muslims in the north and Christians in southern Nigeria that are a legacy of British colonial rule. Her tenacious reporting since the Chibok abductions has helped keep up pressure on the government of Nigeria to find the missing girls.

Sesay was born in Sierra Leone and educated in both the U.K. and West Africa. Readers will be moved and inspired by her passionate advocacy for the education of girls in Africa as well as her friendship with and continued support of the 21 freed schoolgirls who were fortunate enough to come home. Sesay accompanied the girls back to Chibok in 2016 with a promise to keep their stories, and the stories of their friends still held captive, alive. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: A former CNN Africa reporter's gripping account of the Nigerian schoolgirls who were abducted by Boko Haram.

Dey Street, $27.99, hardcover, 400p., 9780062686671

Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss

by Margaret Renkl

Margaret Renkl's Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss is a quiet but stunning collection of essays merging the natural landscapes of Alabama and Tennessee with generations of family history, grief and renewal. Renkl's voice sounds very close to the reader's ear: intimate, confiding, candid and alert.

Renkl grew up in "lower Alabama," the adored child of parents, grandparents and great-grandparents: in an old picture, "my people are looking at me as if I were the sun." Her childhood was lived close to the red dirt, pine needles and blue jays of that space. As an adult, she lives in Nashville with a husband and three sons, and carefully cultivates a backyard garden with bird nests, baths and feeders. These are the backdrops to her observations of nature. "The cycle of life might as well be called the cycle of death: everything that lives will die, and everything that dies will be eaten."

Late Migrations studies family and loss: the deaths of great-grandparents, grandparents and parents; Renkl becoming a parent herself and worrying about her children. This is also a book about the labors of bluebirds, red-tailed hawks and cottontails. A book of subtlety and sadness, yes, but also a tough, persistent joy in the present and the future. "Human beings are creatures made for joy," Renkl writes. "Against all evidence, we tell ourselves that grief and loneliness and despair are tragedies.... In the fairy tale we tell ourselves, darkness holds nothing resembling a gift." Part of her work in this book is to find and recognize the gift in the darkness. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This subtle, searing essay collection examines the griefs of family and of the natural world.

Milkweed Editions, $24, hardcover, 248p., 9781571313782

Political Science

Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate: How the Alt-Right Is Warping the American Imagination

by Alexandra Minna Stern

Alexandra Minna Stern (Eugenic Nation) meets the rising wave of white nationalism head-on in her important and timely work, Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate: How the Alt-Right Is Warping the American Imagination.

Stern, American Culture and History professor at the University of Michigan, dispenses with any pretense of neutrality in her reportage, instead referring to herself as a "scholar-activist." She sets out to understand the intellectual underpinnings of the so-called alt-right movement so that it may be better confronted and dismantled. What she finds in this detailed and telling work is a group of disaffected white men desperate to re-establish white male power, epitomized by the idea of a segregated white homeland, or "ethnostate." She follows these men's interactions in online chat rooms and popular media, both in the U.S. and Europe, and discovers what unites them: antipathy toward multiculturalism, feminism and immigration. She finds a movement once confined to the shadows and associated with neo-Nazism now seeking mainstream approval for its racist and xenophobic ideas.

Stern uncovers so many disturbing things about the alt-right movement that it's hard to focus on one. For example, white nationalists have appropriated left-wing environmentalist ideas like green sustainability and bio-community for their white utopian dreams. Some even back reparations for African-Americans, envisioning a separate black homeland in the South. Stern analyzes these different threads of supremacy and separatism, all based on what she deems "racial nationalism." The most disturbing aspect of Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate is the validation the alt-right has received from President Donald Trump. Stern makes a strong case that the president's rhetoric and policies on immigration stem from the same racial nationalism.

Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate is an important volume for anyone interested in the future of liberal democracy. Stern has fashioned an invaluable guide with which to unmask a new breed of racism. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: The myths and pernicious beliefs of white nationalism are laid bare in this mix of exposé and cultural criticism.

Beacon Press, $24.95, hardcover, 192p., 9780807063361

When Islam Is Not a Religion: Inside America's Fight for Religious Freedom

by Asma T. Uddin

When Islam Is Not a Religion by Asma T. Uddin offers a bold exploration of Islam's legal place in U.S. society, as well as a deeply personal glimpse into one American family's Muslim faith. As an attorney devoted to protecting the religious liberties of all Americans, Uddin draws on her legal experience to examine why this constitutional right is not available equally across all faiths, specifically Islam.

Uddin was on the legal team that represented the owners of crafts chain Hobby Lobby in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014). She feels confident asserting that, had Hobby Lobby been owned by a Muslim family asserting its religious freedom rights instead of a Christian family, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court would likely not have ruled in its favor. Concerned about raising her children in a climate of mistrust, Uddin is fearless in calling out what she sees as a religious double standard.

In a fascinating chapter devoted to hijab, Uddin reveals that she stopped wearing her head covering because of its politicization in the U.S. She quotes an alarming Air Force policy paper that calls the headscarf a form of "passive terrorism," a refusal to "speak against or actively resist terrorism."

Uddin's efforts to counter ignorance with grace and humility are ever-present in this well-researched first book. She presents the reader with thought-provoking examples of religious persecution that ultimately threaten to compromise the religious freedom of all Americans, not just Muslims. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: A religious liberty lawyer courageously resets the conversation on the constitutional rights of Muslims as balanced with national security interests.

Pegasus, $27.95, hardcover, 336p., 9781643131313

Social Science

American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century

by Maureen Callahan

On Thursday, February 2, 2012, Samantha Koenig was reported missing by her fellow barista at an Anchorage, Alaska, roadside kiosk. An obscured figure captured on security footage appears to have held the 18-year-old daughter of a local pot dealer at gunpoint for 17 minutes around 9 p.m. the previous night. Due to Samantha's father's criminal past, however, the ensuing investigation first grapples with the possibility that her disappearance was staged for ransom money, before diving headlong into an anxious manhunt in the Lower 48.

Maureen Callahan, the investigative journalist who first pursued this story for the New York Post, crafts a riveting true-crime saga in American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century. With an even hand, she details the power struggles between the Anchorage criminal justice system and the FBI as their cooperative efforts close in on the insidious Israel Keyes, who seems to have materialized out of thin air. No criminal history, hardly any record of his existence at all. In an age of quantifiable Internet footprints, Keyes was the closest thing to a ghost that investigators could track down. Their only leads came from dumb luck.

The lion's share of the book places readers in the tense interrogation room as Keyes recounts his chilling crimes, teasing investigators with the far-flung locations of bodies he buried, in exchange for better treatment in prison and protection for his 10-year-old daughter. For years, Keyes cached his trademark "kill kits" around the country, for whenever and wherever his murderous urges came to climax. American Predator reveals a horrifying truth about the human capacity for bloodlust. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: The 21st century's most meticulous serial killer baffles investigators with his forethought and ruthlessness in Maureen Callahan's riveting true-crime narrative.

Viking, $27, hardcover, 304p., 9780525428640

On the Clock: What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane

by Emily Guendelsberger

On the Clock is a study of modern service work as told through the author's experience working in an Amazon fulfillment center, a Convergys call center and a busy McDonald's. In a voice that is as down-to-earth as it is scholarly, journalist Emily Guendelsberger combines her experience at these service jobs with citations from primary and secondary sources to form a narrative that is both educational and entertaining.

Guendelsberger explores the science and consequences of repetitive physical and emotional stress, delving into increasing worker productivity demands, beginning in the late 1800s and continuing through Ford's assembly lines all the way to today's timed bathroom breaks, call time targets and required greeting of every customer within four seconds.

Rather than serving as an indictment of these three companies, On the Clock uses their practices as examples of the service industry at large. Workers across the sector are dehumanized to the point of being expected not to have bodily functions, emotions or any of the things that make us human.

Guendelsberger begins the book with a tale of two worlds, as defined by their understanding of the phrase "in the weeds." Service workers recognize this as when they are swamped with work, demand outpacing their capacity to meet it. In white-collar jobs, it's defined as being bogged down in the details. Guendelsberger's book seeks to ensure that the workers themselves aren't seen as the details. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels

Discover: With humor and wit, On the Clock delivers history, modern context and real-life stories to anyone wondering why modern workers are so stressed and dissatisfied.

Little, Brown, $28, hardcover, 352p., 9780316509008

Mixed-Race Superman: Keanu, Obama, and Multiracial Experience

by Will Harris

In Mixed-Race Superman, London essayist and poet Will Harris explores what it means to be mixed-race and to see oneself as mixed-race by examining the public personas of President Barack Obama and actor Keanu Reeves. Harris uses this chapbook-length essay to understand how they figure into the cultural consciousness of what such a racial background entails. Drawing on his own life, Harris considers his own perceptions of what it means to be Anglo-Indonesian, of not feeling seen and lacking the language to describe his mixed heritage.

The essay sometimes feels fragmented chapter to chapter. Often, in the final paragraphs of a section, Harris begins teasing out an idea or thought that seems to want more examination. This kernel of an idea is sometimes revisited several chapters on. While critical readers might want these reflections to be pushed further, the fragmented nature stylistically reflects the author's own precarious considerations of who he is, and who he is in relation to other people. Perhaps most importantly, Harris explores different moments in his life where he did or didn't feel connected to wider discussions concerning race in both the U.K. and U.S. public consciousness. He provides a roadmap through which readers might learn to think deeply about these topics. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer

Discover: Essayist and poet Will Harris explores the complications and confusions of understanding one's multiracial identity.

Melville House, $15.99, paperback, 128p., 9781612197890

Essays & Criticism

Kathleen Hale Is a Crazy Stalker

by Kathleen Hale

Some autobiographical writers can get by on voice alone. Others may get away with unspectacular prose if they have scintillating content. Then there's Kathleen Hale: each piece in her six-essay collection Kathleen Hale Is a Crazy Stalker succeeds as both a paragon of writerly execution and a crackerjack story.

In "Catfish," which has sparked considerable controversy since it ran in the Guardian in 2014, Hale goes in search of the true identity of a blogger who has been writing vicious things about her young adult novel. It's an episode that she regrets as "a sort of personal rock bottom" and that precipitated her stay at a psychiatric facility. In "Prey," she recalls her sexual assault by a man she was led to believe was her masseur and describes her role in his subsequent trial. There are several forays into immersion journalism. For one: in "Snowflake," Hale, as the houseguest of a woman in Snowflake, Ariz., who is suffering from what's known as environmental illness, must go fragrance-free and otherwise observe the "local logic" of a beset community.

Linking these disparate pieces are a steady stream of self-criticism, a fixation on animal nature and a preoccupation with ethics, including journalistic ("I wasn't convinced that our chemical odors would kill Snowflake's residents. But our narrative about them might"). Regarding ethics: Hale does things in these essays that the reader may not like--"Catfish" in particular may unnerve some. However, it's hard to be mad at a person who seems so mad at herself. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: In six essays, Kathleen Hale mingles superb autobiographical writing with knockout subject matter.

Grove Press, $23, hardcover, 176p., 9780802129093


Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects

by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson

In light of recent news stories reporting dramatic drops in insect populations around the world, Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson's Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects is an especially vital and timely work. Written by a professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, the book is both witty and informative, a captivating introduction to how creepy-crawlies affect all life on Earth.

The book opens with several chapters on the insects themselves: their biology, their life cycles, the ways in which they organize their communities. The author drops some truly fascinating facts: ants are capable of teaching other ants, she writes. And, incredibly, bees are capable of recognizing specific human faces.

Sverdrup-Thygeson goes on to explore how insects are studied and named--the story of how the Beyoncé horsefly got its name is especially hilarious--and the complex relationships between insects, plants and other animals. The final section is the most poignant and eye-opening. Sverdrup-Thygeson explains in clear and urgent prose how important insects are to human life. Yes, insects are highly adaptable creatures. But through "intensive land use, climate change, insecticides, and the introduction of invasive species," humans have created conditions that are threatening insect populations everywhere. It's our "moral duty," she writes, to "rein in our dominance of the earth" so that "millions of fellow creatures" may have a chance to "live out their tiny, wonderful lives, too." Amusing and thoughtful, Buzz, Sting, Bite reminds us that all life on Earth is connected. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This witty and educational look at the lives of insects is also a reminder of how important they are to all life on Earth.

Simon & Schuster, $26, hardcover, 256p., 9781982112875

The Trouble with Gravity: Solving the Mystery Beneath Our Feet

by Richard Panek

Gravity, to the layperson, is easy to explain: it's a force that keeps us on the ground while Earth rotates, and it's what keeps each planet in our solar system on its rotational path around the sun. That explains what gravity does; what gravity is, however, is a question that philosophers, mathematicians and scientists have been considering for two millennia. Are they any closer to an answer?

In The Trouble with Gravity, science writer Richard Panek (The 4% Universe) delivers an illuminating history of figuring out this elusive force. Early storytellers had no concept of gravity, but they sought to explain what kept humans down here on Earth while something different kept the gods up in the heavens. Seeking an explanation, philosophers Plato and Aristotle introduced logic, though they drew false conclusions. Advances in science and mathematics allowed Galileo, Copernicus and Newton to observe that the heavens aren't so different, and that the same unexplainable force exists throughout the universe. Natural philosophers insisted on replicable scientific experiments as evidence, such as those that successfully predicted the appearance of comets. Einstein's theory of relativity paved the way for gravitational waves; a decade later, thanks to quantum mechanics, mind-bending concepts like black holes emerged.

But do we really know what gravity is? Even as "our understanding of the working of the universe" has grown over time, gravity continues "to refuse to play well with others." It's both an amazingly weak force that we overcome simply by taking a step, and the unlikely force that keeps the entire universe in balance. Panek's thought-provoking look at gravity offers no easy answers but much to contemplate. --Frank Brasile, librarian

Discover: The Trouble with Gravity is a stimulating history of what we know, and don't know, about the mysterious force that rules the universe.

Houghton Mifflin, $28, hardcover, 256p., 9780544526747

Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past

by Sarah Parcak

Space archeology sounds like science fiction: a cross between Indiana Jones and Star Wars. Coincidentally, those were Sarah Parcak's favorite movies when she was growing up. But Parcak is now an Egyptologist, a professor at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, and an actual space archeologist--she uses high-tech satellite imagery in her on-the-ground work. Archaeology from Space introduces the burgeoning subfield and explores how it is transforming the work of people like Parcak and her colleagues.

Parcak shares her childhood fascination with archeology and her experience on digs, both as a student and a professional. She gives a brief history of space archeology, highlighting the role of aerial photographs, remote-sensing technology and more recent advances in satellite imagery from NASA and other organizations. She then delves into the stories of specific digs and projects she has worked on, which have been profoundly shaped by insights gained from comparing satellite images to sites on the ground. Parcak's love for her field and her deep wonder and excitement come through on every page.

"Discovering a city is only the beginning," she says. Archeologists ask a wealth of questions about every site they come across, and the true gift of her work is "the opportunity to search for those answers."

Clear, accessible and fascinating, peppered with witty asides and informative photos, Archaeology from Space is an excellent introduction to an exciting subfield that's still flying under the (satellite) radar. As Parcak herself says, quoting another of her heroes: "The game is afoot. Expect surprises." --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Egyptologist Sarah Parcak enthusiastically introduces readers to the growing field of space archeology.

Holt, $30, hardcover, 288p., 9781250198280

Nature & Environment

The Weather Machine: A Journey Inside the Forecast

by Andrew Blum

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the Eastern seaboard, claiming hundreds of lives and causing tens of billions of dollars in damage. While the destruction was severe, it could have been much worse--the storm was predicted more than a week before landfall. This early warning was the result of weather forecasting, a relatively young science that is becoming increasingly accurate.

In The Weather Machine, journalist Andrew Blum (Tubes) uncovers the nuts and bolts that make prediction possible. The invention of the telegraph in the mid-19th century allowed people to describe and share the weather at their locations and to develop networks and establish patterns. Soon after, the Smithsonian displayed weather across the U.S. on a large map, while the British developed the synoptic chart that showed changes in response to a deadly storm, thanks to reports from farmers and sailors, respectively. In the early 20th century, Norwegian scientist Vilhelm Bjerknes used math and physics to hypothesize about weather patterns, laying the foundation for modern-day meteorology. Blum explores additional elements contributing to the weather machine: stations (including Weather Station Kurt on Newfoundland, the only Nazi incursion on North American soil), global satellites that crisscross the earth and apps that make longer-range predictions.

None of this would be possible if it were not for global cooperation among nations. Weather knows no borders. Yet, the technology that supports weather observation also supports military endeavors, revealing a conundrum: "We learned to see the whole earth thanks to the technology built to destroy the whole earth." With infectious curiosity and spirit, The Weather Machine is an engaging foray into the ingenuity that built the modern science of weather prediction. --Frank Brasile, librarian

Discover: The Weather Machine examines the human, technological and political elements that make weather prediction possible.

Ecco, $25.99, hardcover, 224p., 9780062368614

In Oceans Deep: Courage, Innovation, and Adventure Beneath the Waves

by Bill Streever

Commercial diver-turned-biologist Bill Streever traces the human pursuit of the unexplored depths of our planet in In Oceans Deep: Courage, Innovation, and Adventure Beneath the Waves. Streever started as an oil pipe diver and, later, as a biologist, he retained his fascination with the exploration of the seas and the technology it took to get there--a field little known in comparison to humanity's pursuit of the stars, though it developed simultaneously.

Streever's entertaining book begins with the first successful dive of a manned submersible to the floor of the Mariana Trench in 1960, and then traces the history of human presence in the ocean. Streever considers the biology of free diving and the many, often unconnected, scientific studies that lead to understanding the effects of pressure on both machines and humans. Through this, and including extensive endnotes worth reading, Streever emphasizes that successful exploration is dependent on a partnership between the depths and the surface--key to conserving the ocean itself. He notes, "This story is not one about one person or one group of people or one organization. It is the story of thousands of players often disconnected in time and geography and culture, men and women who not only didn't know one another but who did not even know of one another." Streever tells a story that captures human fascination with the ocean, and encourages readers to become more interested in what lies beneath the waves. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer

Discover: Diver and biologist Bill Streever provides an in-depth, fascinating look at the history of deep diving.

Little, Brown, $28, hardcover, 320p., 9780316551311

The Fate of Food: What We'll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World

by Amanda Little

In every corner of the globe, food supply faces unprecedented threats. Frequent natural disasters such as volatile weather, flooding, famine and drought, along with polluted soil and water and predicted population increases, are only a few factors presenting challenges in feeding the world today and in the uncertain future.

Journalist Amanda Little spent three years traveling to 13 states and 11 countries to observe and understand the promising science and potential solutions for developing and securing sustainable food sources. In The Fate of Food, she recounts visits with Andy Ferguson, a Wisconsin apple farmer focused on data analysis for developing new technology to prevent crop damage. (His orchards lost six million apples--more than $1 million in potential harvest--after a sudden temperature drop one night in May.) In Kenya, Little meets Ruth Oniang'o, a 72-year-old woman using bioengineered seeds as a way to fight famine in her country. In Maharashtra, the second-most populous state in India, Little boards a four-seater prop jet to observe "cloud-seeding," a technique that injects chemical vapor into clouds to stimulate rain in drought-stricken areas.

With its sobering statistics and exploration into unsettling trends such as excessive food waste, The Fate of Food could easily leave readers pessimistic and frightened. But having met many of the most thoughtful and brightest people dedicated to securing the world's food supply, Little doesn't share that view: "My journey so far--into new and strange frontiers of vegetable, fruit, grain, fish and meat production--has convinced me that feeding humanity sustainably in the coming decades will require not just major advances in technology, but also the discipline of applying them wisely and equitably." We are only beginning to harvest the knowledge and technology to do so. --Melissa Firman, freelance writer at

Discover: An environmental journalist delivers a fascinating firsthand look at current and coming challenges to the global food supply.

Harmony/Crown, $27, hardcover, 352p., 9780804189033

Health & Medicine

Everything Below the Waist: Why Health Care Needs a Feminist Revolution

by Jennifer Block

In her well-received first book, Pushed: The Painful Truth About Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care, feminist journalist Jennifer Block exposed the concerning aspects of maternity care in the United States. With Everything Below the Waist, she sounds an alarm about the condition of women's health care in America, where women run greater risks of reproductive system surgery than in any other developed nation. Partly supported by a Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant, Block's chilling exposé unveils a broken medical system and the patients who suffer its inadequacies and abuses.

Block delves deeply into the history of women's reproductive health and its practitioners, contrasting her findings against interviews with modern practitioners, researchers, nonprofit service providers and feminist thinkers. The emergent picture is one evocative of a science-fiction dystopia, a world where medicine ignores the basic fundamentals of female biology while seeking to control and shape it into a more convenient package. Women take hormonal birth control without full understanding of the poorly disclosed risks and side effects, while corporations offer egg-freezing parties to help their female employees put off parenthood. Years later, would-be mothers face painful fertility treatments with no guarantee of success.

Decrying a system that encourages women to sacrifice their most fertile years, Block laments, "We are running a race designed by and for men and literally taking steroids to compete." Everything Below the Waist is a call to action, insisting "[w]e need clinicians who focus less on controlling women's fertility and more on enhancing our health." Women of childbearing age in particular should not skip this important and well-researched analysis of a field that holds their lives in its hands. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Feminist journalist Jennifer Block received a Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant to complete this jaw-dropping investigation into the women's health industry.

St. Martin's Press, $27.99, hardcover, 336p., 9781250110053


Casting into the Light: Tales of a Fishing Life

by Janet Messineo

Casting into the Light, a memoir of teacher, taxidermist and surfcaster Janet Messineo's 40 years fishing, adds a distinct new voice to the choir of sportswriters. As a girl, she was captivated by the lure of the striped bass, the most prized migratory fish in the Northeast due to the degree of difficulty in catching the crafty ocean night-feeders. Now a respected surfcaster, Messineo spent years teaching herself the sport and breaking into the inner circle of colorful Martha's Vineyard locals.

A fascinating story of fish and their predilections as well, as the high art of the hunt (and sometimes hijinks and tricks of the trade), Messineo's memoir is also intimately personal. She shares her rough beginnings, fishing for food and money while relationships burned and burned out. In no small part due to the restorative influence of the natural world, she continues to conquer her demons.

Messineo never loses sight of the fact that perseverance and dedication to her craft remain at the whim of the fish, the sea and her tools. The dream of landing the big one, whether in the famed Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby or alone on a dark beach, keeps her casting against the odds, her line compulsively in the water. Messineo's voice is passionate and she's an enthralling storyteller concerned about the environment and continuing the traditions of the individual fisherman. Humor, zealousness and adoration more than smooth some minor disjointed thoughts and repetitions, making this memoir a prize catch. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A woman's tale of becoming a master surfcaster and of the challenges of life and relationships along her path to prominence.

Pantheon, $26.95, hardcover, 320p., 9781524747640

Travel Literature

Hungry: Eating, Road-Tripping, and Risking It All with the Greatest Chef in the World

by Jeff Gordinier

Amidst the disintegration of his marriage, at the edge of the Caribbean and nearing exhaustion, Jeff Gordinier awoke with a mouthful of sand. This is the unlikely first taste in Hungry: Eating, Road-Tripping, and Risking It All with the Greatest Chef in the World.

Gordinier was on that beach at the behest of René Redzepi--perhaps the best chef in the world. Hungry chronicles what follows, as Gordinier spends the next four years orbiting Redzepi's world-class inner circle in this biographical travelogue.

Constant innovation marks Redzepi's approach to both his cooking and career. His Copenhagen restaurant, Noma, is often called the best in the world. But at the height of its success, Redzepi got bored and closed it to open pop-up restaurants in Japan, Australia and Mexico. Restless again, he then reinvented and reopened Noma.

Gordinier is a consummate food writer. His descriptions offer a poetic magnifying glass on flavors and experiences unattainable for most--tantalizing, tortuous. (Perhaps none will be more tortured than Gordinier's New York Times colleague Grant Gold, who overslept and missed most of his meal at Noma, as Gordinier delightfully gloats no fewer than a dozen times.)

Like Redzepi, Gordinier goes all in, nose to tail--and the ugly parts, of course, are the tastiest. Hungry is at its best as Gordinier observes Redzepi's insatiable mind at work, bent on change and adaptation, evoking emotions that crash in as flavors, bursting forth, inspiring reverence, awe and hunger. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: Fans of Ruth Reichl's wit and Anthony Bourdain's passion will find much to love in this intimate portrait of one man's unparalleled culinary spirit.

Tim Duggan, $26, hardcover, 240p., 9781524759643

Escalante's Dream: On the Trail of the Spanish Discovery of the Southwest

by David Roberts

In Escalante's Dream: On the Trail of the Spanish Discovery of the Southwest, adventure writer David Roberts (Limits of the Known) takes the reader on a journey that is part road trip, part historical exploration and part love story.

In 1776, two Franciscan friars, Francisco Atansio Domínguez and Silvestre Vélez de Escalante, led an expedition across the Southwest in search of a land route from Santa Fe to the new mission at Monterey. In 2017, Roberts and his wife, Sharon, re-created their journey, guided by Escalante's firsthand account and the report of "exploratory rediscovery" created for the expedition's bicentenary in 1976.

Frustration is the dominant emotion for much of Escalante's Dream. Roberts wrestles with the inadequacies of Escalante's account as a travel guide, the bicentennial report's lack of academic rigor and the absence of historical markers commemorating the expedition's travels through the Southwest. He worries over his inability to like, or even understand, the men whose footsteps he follows.

Roberts also struggles with new physical limitations, the result of a two-year battle with throat cancer. He opens the book with the admission that this six-week journey is both tame, compared to the adventures that defined much of his adult life, and the most extreme challenge he is now able to face.

By the book's close, frustration is replaced by appreciation both for the friars themselves and for the value of this "tame" adventure in the company of his wife, "the best thing we had ever done together." --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: Adventure writer David Roberts struggles to follow the forgotten trail of "the Spanish Lewis and Clark" across the Southwest.

W.W. Norton, $26.95, hardcover, 360p., 9780393652062

Performing Arts

So Real It Hurts

by Lydia Lunch

Lydia Lunch, the musician, poet and pioneer of the No Wave music genre (that rejected commercial New Wave music) was hailed by the New York Times as "the angriest punk of '70s New York." So Real It Hurts proves that more than 40 years into her career, she's lost none of her blistering anger and astringent eloquence. In his introduction, the late Anthony Bourdain wrote, "During a period that is still considered a golden time for art, music, and transgression, she was always the smartest person in the room."

This slim collection of potent essays, profane rants and astute cultural critiques sometimes reads like the writings of a hypnotic Beat poet. On her insomnia, she writes, "Exhausted, but jacked up, like an electric rigor mortis that short-circuits the neurotransmitters, creating a dense fog of chronic irritation that can cloud even the simplest of tasks." Elsewhere, her opinions are strong and original. Ruminating on war, she opines, "Maybe war is just menstrual envy. If men bled every month as much as I do, maybe they wouldn't have such incredible bloodlust."

Lunch's lacerating autobiographical essays detail her history of sexual and substance abuse and mental health problems. The powerful essay "1967" describes the post-traumatic stress she suffered from the ages of five to eight from the race riots raging outside her front door, as well as the war inside her home "as the favored daughter of a door-to-door salesman who couldn't keep his hands to himself." These take-no-prisoner essays are not for the faint-hearted, but they are confrontational, confessional, electrifying and unforgettable. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Confrontational singer/poet/activist Lydia Lunch's So Real It Hurts collects her electrifying and unforgettable essays, rants and cultural critiques.

Seven Stories, $17.95, paperback, 176p., 9781609809430


Selected Poems of Edith Wharton

by Edith Wharton, Irene Goldman-Price, editor

Selected Poems of Edith Wharton, edited by Irene Goldman-Price, brings together a collection of the famed writer's poetry, combining better-known pieces such as "A Torchbearer," an elegy for a young acquaintance, with more obscure pieces, such as "Faun's Song." Many of the poems are previously unpublished works found in Wharton's diaries and notebooks, while others have been out of print for many years. The book is divided into sections based on themes--nature, art, public opinion, the supernatural. Most poems are introduced by Goldman-Price's commentary, which provides background on Wharton and a general interpretation of the poem.

While Wharton is celebrated for the novels The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth, she is not often thought of as a poet. Goldman-Price's collection re-considers this foundational American female writer as not only a poet but an important public voice. Poems like "Only a Child" (Wharton's first published poem) and "Prophecies of Summer" (written when she was 14) offer insights into Wharton's biography and literary oeuvre. Meanwhile, those like "The Rose" and "The Bread of Angels" challenge established perceptions of Wharton as simply an aristocratic writer and provide fertile ground for new scholarship to explore the connections between her poetry and novels.

Still, Wharton's poems shine most when commenting on what Goldman-Price titles "Courtship, Love, and Heartbreak," or the fraught relationships between men and women. In these poems, Wharton's sentimentality becomes so interwoven with her satirical criticism that it's difficult to distinguish between the two, suggesting that perhaps there is less of a difference between these seemingly divergent rhetorical strategies than readers may think. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Selected Poems of Edith Wharton provides a beginner's introduction to poetry in general as well as a closer look at a beloved writer and the complexities of her form and subject matter.

Scribner, $18, paperback, 352p., 9781501182839

The Government Lake: Last Poems

by James Tate

James Tate (The Lost Pilot), who died in 2015, has given the world one last wondrous poetry collection in The Government Lake. The 43 prose poems in this collection defy easy categorization. Perhaps they're best described as parables for the peculiar moral lessons they impart, but they're especially surreal ones, full of strange characters and dream imagery, bending reality with a nonchalant assurance reminiscent of the great magical realists more than other contemporary poets. Tate is a builder of small whimsical worlds, and the reader must not so much suspend disbelief as surrender all expectations upon entering.

The book opens with "Eternity," in which a man's wife begins laying eggs. Their house becomes populated with chicks until a fox sneaks in and eats them all. After this bizarre occurrence, the couple tries to get back to a normal life. In an ending that's typical of Tate--when the reader is invited to shift perspectives and consider a lesson--the husband minimizes the whole incident until the wife reminds him: "To the chicks it was an eternity." In "Into the Night," a nun spontaneously combusts, only to come back to life. In "The Seahorse," the main character fills with gas and floats off to sea. These events are portrayed as ordinary happenstance, which makes the poems all the more alluring, as if Tate has stumbled upon another dimension hidden in plain sight.

Whether quaintly sweet or unexpectedly sour, The Government Lake is fun to read. Tate is a master of wordplay and varying mood and effect. He is a wizard who will be missed. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: This posthumous collection of surreal prose poems shows James Tate at both his most absurd and tender.

Ecco, $24.99, hardcover, 96p., 9780062914712

Children's & Young Adult

The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!

by Mo Willems

Yes, that's the "Hallelujah Chorus" you hear. You're hearing it because there's a new Pigeon book from Mo Willems.

As The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! begins, the bird is tearing out its feathers. The Pigeon believes that school is totally unnecessary ("I already know EVERYTHING!"). The Pigeon worries about getting a pigeon hater for a teacher. The Pigeon--and here both the bird and the accompanying text grow tiny--is "scared." Following some bloodletting ("What if there is MATH? Or numbers?"; "Why does the alphabet have so many LETTERS?!"), the Pigeon seizes on an idea: "THERE SHOULD BE A PLACE TO PRACTICE THOSE THINGS!!!" Cue a light bulb over the bird's head: "Oh! That is school."

When Willems's Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! appeared in 2003, it was a shot heard round the picture book world. Its surface accessibility--easy-to-read text via dialogue bubbles; cartoonish renderings of a pigeon set against solid screens in Necco wafer colors--belied a fresh premise that kept readers on high alert: the Pigeon's hilariously hammy spiel seemed to be directed at them. The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! has all this and also addresses a common source of kid (and adult) anxiety: fear of the unknown.

A note to purists for whom the sequel will never be as good as the original: a certain vehicle makes a cameo after the Pigeon realizes that school may be worth a try ("Well, HOW am I supposed to get there, anyway!?!"). --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: In what may be Mo Willems's best Pigeon book, the bird's feathers are a-twist at the prospect of going to school.

Hyperion, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-5, 9781368046459

Hungry Hearts: 13 Tales of Food & Love

by Elsie Chapman, Caroline Tung Richmond, editors

In Elsie Chapman (A Thousand Beginnings and Endings) and Caroline T. Richmond's (The Darkest Hour) Hungry Hearts, 13 stories of how people show "love through food" unfold and intertwine in the neighborhood of Hungry Heart Row. Featuring tales told from diverse points of view that discuss loss, love, family and how food can bring people of all cultures together, this collection of connected short stories combines a number of different genres--fantasy, crime, mystery, magical realism, romance--to create a vibrant neighborhood and a vivid tapestry of experiences.

Hungry Hearts is filled to the brim with delightful surprises and deep familial bonds. In Karuna Riazi's "Hearts à la Carte," a mysterious boy falls from the sky "as harshly... and roughly... as a shooting star" and befriends Munira, a young woman who keeps desperately hoping adventure will find her. The spirit of a dead parent is brought back to life by the cooking of their favorite dish in Sangu Mandanna's "Rain." And "Panadería Pastelería" by Anna-Marie McLemore tells the enchanting story of a girl named Lila who has the magical ability to find and make pastries for those who need them most. Blended together, this baker's dozen of stories creates a multilayered and diverse neighborhood, its community brought together through their experiences with grief, love, intrigue, family and, of course, food. Each author creates an atmosphere that pulls at the heartstrings, the collection leaving a delightfully bittersweet taste in readers' mouths. --Tasneem Daud, blogger and booktuber, Nemo Reads

Discover: Hungry Hearts is a delicious YA collection of overlapping short stories exploring the ways in which food can bring people together.

Simon Pulse, $18.99, hardcover, 368p., ages 12-up, 9781534421851

Captain Rosalie

by Timothee De Fombelle, trans. by Sam Gordon, illus. by Isabelle Arsenault

"I am Captain Rosalie. I'm disguised as a little girl, five and a half years old." Since her father is away fighting in the war, Rosalie's mother must work in the local factory while Rosalie stays at school. Every day, she huddles in the back of the classroom with her sketchpad, confident that no one realizes she is a "spy," sussing out information for her "secret mission." Rosalie is observant, noting the way her teacher, the war veteran, "smiles as though having just the one [arm] is quite something," or seeing how her mother takes longer with her father's letter than she needs, staring at a single page long after she's stopped reading to Rosalie. Rosalie knows it is of the utmost importance she learn to decipher those letters if she wants to bring her mission to an end.

Captain Rosalie by Timothée de Fombelle, translated by Sam Gordon, is a tender journey of learning and discovery. War is all Rosalie has ever known, and it shapes every aspect of her life: "One day," she thinks of her secret mission, "I'll be awarded a medal for this. It's already gleaming deep within me." Isabelle Arsenault's watercolor, pencil and ink illustrations are stark, primarily black and white with small bursts of color, capturing the bleakness of Rosalie's village and the pain at the heart of the story. De Fombelle's brief tale is wildly successful in demonstrating that, when war is a reality of our lives, children can't be shielded from it; Captain Rosalie shows the heart-wrenching experience of a child growing up during war and the true cost of knowledge. --Kyla Paterno, freelance reviewer

Discover: In this illustrated novel for middle-graders, a five-year old girl who lives in a small village during World War I begins a secret mission.

Candlewick Press, $15.99, hardcover, 64p., ages 8-12, 9781536205206

Where I End & You Begin

by Preston Norton

Imagine being a high school guy who's a bit uncertain about your gender identity. "Not 'female trapped in a male body,' per se.... Not even gender fluid." More like you've been "packaged improperly." Now imagine that at the precise moment of a total solar eclipse, you swap bodies with a girl. Then you swap back. And again. Not just any girl, though: "Wynonna fu*king Jones," your tormentor since childhood.

With a "FLASH!," Ezra Slevin felt an impact "like my astral form was being knocked out of my human shell." Next thing he knew, he was watching the eclipse with Wynonna's eyes. The enemies are forced by their bizarre situation to bond (exchanging intel on phone passwords, crushes, family dynamics and how to drive a stick shift). Although the menstruation and fussy clothing with straps and thongs and heels are a bit terrifying at first, Ezra, the book's narrator, finds himself strangely comfortable inhabiting Wynonna's body. Meanwhile, as a punishment for a school infraction, Ezra and Wynonna, along with their best friends, have been forced to participate in a performance of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. The irony of this particular punishment is not lost on either of the swappees, as the play is chock-full of gender-bending, identity-trading switcheroos, which are even more complicated in practice since Ezra and Wynonna are never sure when--or if--they will switch bodies.

In a riotous, stirring and racier variation on Freaky Friday, Preston Norton (Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe; Marrow) presents a canny perspective on selfhood and gender. With its hilarious banter and themes of love, friendship and identity, Where I End & You Begin has charm for teens of any gender. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Two teens suddenly swap bodies, wreaking havoc on romantic relationships, friendships and identities in this fabulous contemporary YA version of Freaky Friday.

Disney-Hyperion, $17.99, hardcover, 416p., ages 14-up, 9781484798355


by Isabel Thomas, illus. by Daniel Egnéus

Isabel Thomas and Daniel Egnéus's Moth, about the transformation of the peppered moth (Biston betularia), is endowed with such a sense of wonder, the evolution story is almost elevated to the realm of myth.

It all begins "with a little moth... waking up from a long winter's sleep." "Hungry predators" lurk nearby--the moth flies away, joining other moths trying "not to get eaten." Most have "speckled, freckled wings," although there are a small number born with "wings as dark as charcoal." As the sun rises, the salt and pepper moths blend into the trees, but the charcoal ones stand out. Thomas's poetic yet pragmatic text asks, "Who was the best hidden? Who would survive?" Because the speckled moths have the best camouflage, they're the ones with the highest survival rate. Until the world changes. With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, the air fills with "smoke and soot." In this "darker" world, the "darkest" moths, with their "charcoal-colored wings," now live long enough to pass on their wing color to offspring--until things change again. Cities begin to green up their acts. "Year by year by year," the air becomes cleaner and "trees shed their sooty bark." The "speckled, freckled" moths can once again blend in, and "today, both colors of moth find places to hide and survive."

Combining watercolors, crayon, acrylics, collage and Photoshop, Egnéus creates stunning visuals that feel soft and organic, yet also intricate and precise. Creative use of color, light and shadow, in addition to intriguing textures and bold shapes, make each spread fascinating to behold. Back matter condenses the evolution of the peppered moth into two pages of historical facts. Moth is a deeply fulfilling look at the ups and downs of natural selection. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: The principles of natural selection and adaptation take on a mythic quality in this picture-book look at the evolution of the peppered moth.

Bloomsbury, $18.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 6-10, 9781547600205

The Singing Rock & Other Brand-New Fairy Tales

by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer, illus. by Simini Blocker

In his first graphic novel for children, writer Nathaniel Lachenmeyer (Octopus Escapes) offers four original, offbeat fairy tales, whimsically illustrated by artist Simini Blocker (My So-Called Superpowers).

In "Hip Hop Wish," a riff on The Arabian Nights, a carefree frog accidentally hops onto a magic lamp. The fiery orange-and-yellow genie who emerges finds granting wishes difficult since his amphibious summoner has none. A traveling minstrel with far more motivation than talent bedevils a grumpy witch who hates music and claims a hilarious (if unconventional) victory in "The Singing Rock." "The Sorcerer's New Pet" follows a jealous sorcerer who attempts to steal his humble but clever rival's spells with amusingly disastrous results. Finally, in "Ogreish Art," an artist grows rich painting flattering but dishonest portraits of royals only to learn, when hired by Rog, King of the Ogres, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Lachenmeyer demonstrates a thorough understanding of folktale anatomy, layering tropes in unexpected combinations that nonetheless make each story feel like a rediscovered classic with a slyly delivered moral. The digital illustrations marry the magical and the pastoral as Blocker's broad palette of rich jewel tones and delicate pastels takes readers into the cool blue of the ogres' caverns, lush green woods and sunrise-skied hamlets. Her gift for capturing nuanced facial expressions extends not only to the human cast but to the many animal characters. This lighthearted collection should delight pre-readers from preschool on, and independent readers through fifth grade. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library

Discover: In this graphic novel for young readers, four original fairy tales feel like rediscovered classics with a sly twist.

First Second, $17.99, hardcover, 112p., ages 4-11, 9781596437500

Tell Me How You Really Feel

by Aminah Mae Safi

Rachel Consuela Recht has hated Sana Khan ever since the "perfect, delicate, tiny girly" girl asked for her number freshman year. Rachel, "a film student so extraordinary that she was granted a scholarship" at the elite Royce School, "had seen Carrie, for Christ's sake," and knew never to "trust beautiful people bearing invitations." Sana had to have been messing with Rachel. Unfortunately, Sana wasn't.

It's senior year and Rachel still hates Sana. As perfect as ever, Sana is cheer captain and headed to Princeton in the fall. But she has a secret: she wants to defer college a year and take a hospital fellowship in India. Rachel, who has been accepted to New York University's film program, is also in a bind: if she doesn't finish her senior film in the next month, her adviser is going to tell NYU that she's slacking. When Sana sees Rachel struggling with camera gear after a shoot, she tries to help, causing both girls to go tumbling and a camera to break. As punishment for the destruction of school property, Rachel's adviser demands Sana become the new lead in Rachel's film, forcing the two girls to work together. As one can expect, Rachel and Sana don't stay enemies for long.

In her sophomore novel, Aminah Mae Safi (Not the Girls You're Looking For) uses the enemies-to-lovers trope to splendid effect, producing a love story that feels natural and a romance that grows organically. Sana and Rachel have big feelings, the melodrama is pitched perfectly, and the two happily subvert stereotypes over and over again. Tell Me How You Really Feel is the best kind of rom-com: genuine and absorbing, with wonderfully over-the-top declarations of love. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In Aminah Mae Safi's Tell Me How You Really Feel, two young women with a conflicted relationship grow close when forced to work on a student film together.

Feiwel & Friends, $17.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 13-up, 9781250299482

The Magnificent Migration: On Safari with Africa's Last Great Herds

by Sy Montgomery; photographs by Roger and Logan Wood

Nature writer and Sibert medalist Sy Montgomery (How to Be a Good Creature) joins friend and wildlife biologist Dr. Richard Despard Estes on a stunning safari through the Serengeti to track the last great African wildebeest migration. "The extravagance of their number stupefies," Montgomery's text states, "one and a quarter million wildebeests, in separate herds of tens of thousands, all on the move at once, accompanied by hundreds of thousands of zebras and gazelles. It is the largest mass movement of animals on land." For two weeks, Montgomery, Estes ("the guru of gnu") and the other members of their expedition follow the signs of these animals that "drive the ecology and evolution of the largest savanna ecosystem in the world."

As the crew experiences a series of near misses seeing the migration, they encounter myriad other life forms affected by the existence of the wildebeest: predators such as lions and crocodiles; fellow travelers including the zebra and the gazelle; the giraffe, whose population depends on the wildebeest. "The presence of so many wildebeests gives the local lions something to eat other than baby giraffes.... The more wildebeests there are, the more giraffe calves survive." Estes, who has been studying wildebeests for "more than half a century" and is considered the world's top expert, educates his companions on the gnu and its environment as they travel through the savanna.

Engrossing and exciting, the search for the wildebeest should fascinate and enlighten young animal lovers. Montgomery's supplemental content on other migrations and tangential information, as well as photographs from two members of the safari, superbly enhance the awe-inspiring narrative of their search for the gnu. Montgomery may inspire some to visit the Serengeti personally, but for those who can't, The Magnificent Migration is the next best thing. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: Nature writer Sy Montgomery takes young readers on an awe-inspiring African safari to learn how the wildebeest migration drives the Serengeti's ecology. 

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24.99, hardcover, 176p., ages 10-up, 9780544761131

Ghost Cat

by Kevan Atteberry

In his back-flap bio, Kevan Atteberry (Puddles; Tickle Monster) insists he "doesn't really like them"--cats, he's talking about. And yet, he's written and illustrated a heartfelt homage to enduring feline love. (And I'm not crying, you are!)

"There is a ghost in my house," a little boy explains. "I think it's a cat. I know because I used to have one." Above the piano are framed photos memorializing the cat-and-boy bond, capturing wide grins of mutual cheek-to-cheek delight. As the boy goes about his day, he sees "a dash from the left, or a dart from the right," yet no matter how closely he pays attention, "It's always gone before I can really see it." Even during the night, "I feel its weight, its warmth, its purring. When I look, it's gone." When morning comes, once again he chases the specter throughout the house and "finally, [he] saw it. And followed it." He watches his old friend leap away... then opens the front door to find the perfect surprise.

On every page, Atteberry poignantly recognizes a child's deep sense of loss. The boy has toys, books, music, a comical pet fish, yet Atteberry never shows more than wide-open eyes and a little nubby nose on his face, seemingly suggesting dampened reactions: the child still mourns. The first smile appears only in a photo from the past--and doesn't return until book's end, when the opening "There is a ghost in my house" gets revised to "There is a ghost in our house." A beloved pet never truly disappears, but joy with a new pet is possible, too. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Kevan Attebery's picture book gently presents a young boy's loss of a beloved pet, celebrating their everlasting bond while offering the promise of new cuddles.

Neal Porter/Holiday House, $18.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-6, 9780823442836

You Are Home: An Ode to the National Parks

by Evan Turk

You Are Home: An Ode to the National Parks begins by honoring the parks' animals: "To the chipmunk in her burrow,/ sleeping beneath the leaves to keep warm;/ to the resilient bison in the streaming oases/ of an endless winter:/ you are home." The book goes on to include the human animal: "To the child in the city,/ surrounded by windows,/ noise, and crowds;/ to the child on the farm,/ surrounded by endless fields;/ you are home," and so on. Finally, the book defines its terms: "A home's walls may topple,/ its floors might crack,/ but what keeps a home standing/ can never be broken:/ a sense of belonging, sung by the streams, from valleys to peaks, over thousands of miles,/ through millions of hearts."

This lyrical tribute demands art to match, and Ezra Jack Keats Book Award winner Evan Turk (Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters) rises to the challenge. Using pastels on black paper, Turk has created scenes that conjure a range of media: the cloudy sky above Yellowstone's bison has a watercolor-like grace; a vibrant spread devoted to Zion suggests cut-paper collage; and a masterful gatefold capturing Yosemite has a chalky glow. In his author's note, Turk writes that most of the book's illustrations are based on drawings he did while visiting 20 of the 25 featured parks. (The name of each park is unobtrusively printed in the corresponding art's corner.) You Are Home is a gallant rebuke to the expression "You had to be there." --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: The art in this stunning picture book tribute to the United States' national parks mimics the poetry of the text.

Atheneum, $18.99, hardcover, 56p., ages 4-8, 9781534432826

Small World

by Ishta Mercurio, illus. by Jen Corace

When Nanda is young, "the whole" of her world is composed of comforting circles. Just after she's born, this means being "wrapped in the circle of her mother's arms"; as a toddler, the meaning expands to include "the circle of her loving family." It's not long before Nanda's world encompasses other shapes as well. Nanda gets "bigger and bigger," and her world grows with her. It opens up to include "a sway of branches" and "scaffolds of steel." It continues to increase in size as she rides a train from the "sun-kissed maze of wheat" near her hometown to the "symphony of glass and stone" that defines her college years.

Nanda's lifelong love of science "spool[s] through spirals of wire and foam" at school, yet Nanda and her world continue to grow. As Nanda gets "bigger and bigger and BIGGER," her world becomes "the roar of twin engines, a glittering ocean far below, and the curve of the planet beneath her."

Mercurio's gorgeously poetic text effortlessly balances the wonders of the natural world with the wonders created by scientists and engineers. Her repeating refrain as Nanda gets bigger ensures that this story is comforting to its youngest readers, while including enough variation to inspire older ones. Corace's gouache, ink and pencil spreads are always warm and bright, anchored by geometric shapes and patterns. An author's endnote says that the inspiration for this story came from a photograph taken at the Indian Space Research Organization showing five women "celebrating after they had helped put a satellite into orbit around Mars." Small World, like that photograph, depicts the joy there is to be found when young girls and women "all over the world" follow their dreams. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: As Nanda grows, so does her world, in this sweet and inspiring story about perspective and following your dreams.

Abrams, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9781419734076

Dogs and Their People

by Anne Lambelet

Dogs and Their People, a picture book in the illustrative spirit of Madeline and Babar the Elephant, follows a girl as she makes her way home through what looks like a 1920s-era cityscape. As she walks, the girl takes note of dog and human pairs: "Some dogs and their people look alike,/ and others could not be more different./ But no matter what, everyone somehow seems to have found their perfect match."

Anne Lambelet's (Maria the Matador) watercolor, pencil and digital media illustrations in muted tones have the wry, sophisticated feel of New Yorker cartoons. The stylized figures in glamorous suits and gowns stroll the streets, leashed to their four-legged companions. Illustrations and text are gently humorous, with charmingly old-fashioned language. The narrator refers to the "matching mustachios... on Lord Banberry and his schnauzer, O'Grady." And when she sees a startled-looking man in top hat, cane and scarf being tugged by a pug, she says, "Augustus Pennyfarthing is very little, and/ his owner, Sir Archibald Pennyfarthing, is very big,/ but everyone knows which one of them/ is really in charge."

The pace of Dogs and Their People is pleasantly sedate, though Lambelet does take readers by surprise with a fun twist of an ending. No wild romps or diabolical plots here: simply a perambulation through the agreeable activity of noticing dogs and their people. Like P.D. Eastman's Go, Dog. Go!, which could be thought of as a younger sibling to Dogs and Their People, the message is plain: whether you're a dog or a human, it takes all types. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: With art deco-style illustrations of all kinds of dogs with all kinds of people, the delightful Dogs and Their People features a girl lightheartedly commenting on dog/human pairings.

Page Street Kids, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9781624146893

The Grief Keeper

by Alexandra Villasante

Seventeen-year-old Marisol Morales knows all about bad luck. Her father "gambled and drank," forcing her older brother, Pablo, to join a gang to provide for the family. Then Pablo was killed by the gang. Terrified, Marisol and her sister, 12-year-old Gabriela, used all of their money to pay coyotes to take them to the United States. After surviving the trek, Marisol is told she and Gabi might be allowed to stay if she will test a "biomedical device" designed to help people with PTSD; the treatment "allows the chemicals... released into the body of a person suffering trauma... to be transferred to another person." That is, Marisol would take on another person's grief in exchange for a green card. Seeing no other option, Marisol agrees: "What is a little grief in exchange for safety?"

The sufferer is Rey Warner, a wealthy 17-year-old. She is suicidal after her twin brother's death but refuses to give up her grief for fear of losing her brother. If Rey won't use the device, Marisol has no deal, so it falls to her to convince Rey to relieve her burden. The two slowly develop a relationship that means both beautiful and painful experiences for Marisol--even as she feels how natural her and Rey's mutual attraction is, the trauma she must endure because of Rey makes her fearful.

Villasante's debut is for the reader who wants to get down and dirty with the emotional landscape, who wants a romance that is hard-earned and sweetly won. The Grief Keeper shows us trauma and grief without ever glorifying the pain or wallowing in the tragedy, creating a realistic yet still hopeful world seen through the gaze of an intelligent, curious protagonist. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In Alexandra Villasante's YA debut, a young woman from El Salvador agrees to a terrible deal in hopes of finding safety in the United States.

Putnam, $17.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 12-up, 9780525514022

Count on Me

by Miguel Tanco

In Count on Me, a young girl shows readers "there are infinite ways to see the world." Her father, her mother and her brother all have various passions (art, entomology and music, respectively). In several spreads, the curly-haired protagonist takes part in various activities: theater, dance, cooking, singing, painting, sports and music. Her true passion, however, is math. This is revealed on a double-page spread in which all of the students, except for her, have painted animals on their canvases--she, shown smiling cheekily at the teacher, has painted numeric equations and formulas.

At the playground, she sees "geometric shapes" and finds "the perfect curve" on the slide; at the lake with her family, she sees concentric circles while skipping stones; and at home, she "solve[s] difficult group problems" by dividing a family meal and flying paper airplanes with her friends. The final pages of the book are part of the protagonist's notebook (aptly titled "My Math") and explain the different types of math in the story, including fractals, basic polygons, concentric circles, curves, solid figures, trajectories and sets. All through her city, the protagonist finds joy in spotting "hidden" math and deciphering how it makes places and things beautiful and unusual.

Count on Me is a sweet, quiet story that can show children there are myriad approaches to view the wide world. Miguel Tanco's watercolor and digital illustrations use a loose black line and a subdued palette with liberal pops of red, creating dynamic illustrations with a Ludwig Bemelmans feel. The depictions of the little girl trying different activities might inspire readers to try new activities for themselves, potentially discovering passions and seeing their world in a new manner. --Clarissa Hadge, bookstore manager, Trident Booksellers & Cafe, Boston, Mass.

Discover: By using math to see the world, a young girl finds beauty and joy in Miguel Tanco's picture book.

Tundra Books, $17.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 3-7, 9780735265752

Bear Out There

by Jacob Grant

Spider and Bear, housemates since Bear's Scare (2018), are friends, even if they don't always share the same habits.

"Spider loved the outdoors." Today, he wants to fly his new kite--and "the bugs were also nice." Bear, on the other hand, is a stay-at-home type. His ideal day includes cleaning up the house, "followed by a nice cup of tea in his cozy chair." But then, as shown in a sweeping illustration of trees, clouds and one lonely kite sailing into the sky, Spider's kite flies away. The tiny spider asks the huge bear for his assistance and Bear is ready to help his friend, despite his dislike of the forest. Unfortunately, when they venture into the woods, their day goes from bad to worse. At first Bear complains about everything--"Who would want to smell so many yucky weeds?" "Who would ever want to see such an unpleasant forest?"--even though it is clear through illustration that Spider really enjoys these experiences. When it starts raining, Bear is ready to give up, but the sight of his forlorn friend inspires him to continue the search.

Jacob Grant's (Through with the Zoo) charcoal, crayon, ink and digital illustrations use a predominantly green and brown palette with pops of yellowy orange and mauve. There is a surprising fluidity to Grant's forms, which are solid and blocky, with fully saturated colors, perhaps showing themselves to be as steadfast as Spider and Bear's friendship. Though the two still have different hobbies, the last wordless spread demonstrates how they find a way happily to share their favorite pastimes, creating a model for children with different interests to find ways to spend time together. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer

Discover: With its spare text and large, easy-to-view illustrations, this read-aloud about compromise and companionship will resonate with children.

Bloomsbury, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-6, 9781681197456

Lock Every Door

by Riley Sager
ISBN: 9781524745141
Dutton Books
July 2, 2019

an exclusive interview with bestselling author Riley Sager   

Even if your name wasn’t on the cover, anyone who has read your first two books would have no trouble pegging LOCK EVERY DOOR as a Riley Sager novel. However, this time around, you ditch several elements shared by your previous releases. Would you care to comment?

“When I stated writing LOCK EVERY DOOR, I had certain rules for myself that I had to follow, because I didn’t want to get to the point where I was repeating myself. And so, no unreliable narrator. Jules is 100 percent reliable. She might be confused at times by what’s going on, but in that building, you can’t blame her. Number two, no flashbacks. Both Final Girls and Last Time I Lied had this really intricate flashback structure that I think worked well for those stories, but I wanted to avoid repeating that again. Number three, no cabin in the woods. I just needed to get out of the woods for a while and have a book that’s completely set in the city, mostly in this one building.”

Read the rest of the interview here.



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