Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, August 27, 2021


Forge: Project Namahana by John Teschner

From My Shelf

Companionable Narrators

When we sold my father's house last summer, I drove from New Jersey to Michigan to clear it out. For most of that 12-hour drive, Tom Hanks was my companion as he narrated Ann Patchett's wonderful The Dutch House (Harper Audio) as Danny. The intimacy of his voice almost made me believe he was sitting in the passenger seat, telling the story of his family home, and how the enormity of it drove off his mother and attracted a new stepmother, causing a rift between himself and his father and bringing him closer to his sister. It never occurred to me when I selected this audiobook from Libro.fm that this was the story of various people's relationship to a house. It was cathartic.

James Lapine's Putting It Together: How Stephen Sondheim and I Created Sunday in the Park with George (Recorded Books) describes life in another sort of house, the theater. The audiobook version, narrated by Adam Grupper (as Lapine), features a cameo by longtime Sondheim actor Len Cariou, doing an extraordinary channeling of the cadence and timbre of the composer/lyricist's voice. Listeners hear about the inception of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Sunday in the Park with George and the process of collaboration that brought it to fruition, along with melodic lines from the score.

Last month, when I drove back to Michigan to see my family, I wanted humor. It has been a long year. So I took Samantha Irby with me. She narrates her own Wow, No Thank You (Random House Audio) with all the intonation and feeling and wry delivery you could possibly desire; you can't read her words the same way after hearing her voice. Her description of what it takes to prepare for an evening out acquires a whole new meaning in light of the pandemic. --Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor, Shelf Awareness


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The Writer's Life

Reading with... Nawaaz Ahmed

Nawaaz Ahmed was born in Tamil Nadu, India. Before turning to writing, he was a computer scientist, researching search algorithms for Yahoo. He holds an MFA from University of Michigan/Ann Arbor and is the winner of several Hopwood Awards. He is the recipient of residencies at MacDowell, Yaddo, Djerassi and VCCA. He's also a Kundiman and Lambda Literary Fellow. He lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. His debut novel, Radiant Fugitives (Counterpoint), follows three generations of a Muslim Indian family confronted with a nation on the brink of change.

On your nightstand now:

Anjali Enjeti's inspiring book of essays on how to work for change in America, Southbound; Ayad Akhtar's brilliant examination of being Muslim and American, Homeland Elegies; the first volume of N.K. Jemisin's epic Broken Earth series, The Fifth Season; Ersi Sotiropoulos's What's Left of the Night, a fictional account of the Greek poet Cavafy's growing into his art; Robert Jones Jr.'s mesmerizing novel The Prophets, about two enslaved young men in love on a plantation.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I grew up reading books by Enid Blyton, Franklin W. Dixon, Agatha Christie. I was a huge Hardy Boys and Hercule Poirot fan. But if I had to pick a favorite childhood book, it would be a book of fairy tales from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania that I reread so many times. During my childhood, India was flooded with beautifully illustrated books from the USSR, which were much cheaper than the books from the U.K. or the U.S., and this was one of them. I continue to look for it everywhere.

Your top five authors:

Italo Calvino, Leo Tolstoy, Ursula Le Guin, Virginia Woolf, Kazuo Ishiguro.

Book you've faked reading:

There are many books I've only read part of the way through that I have claimed to have read fully. Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, for example, which I still want to finish someday.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Kiran Nagarkar's Cuckold, a historical novel about the affairs of the state and heart and soul of the heir to the Rajput throne of Mewar, which I think is every bit as ambitious and exhilarating as War and Peace. The "cuckold" in the title points to the prince's marriage to the mystic poet Meera Bai, who has pledged her love and devotion to Lord Krishna.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I can't remember buying a book simply for the cover. The closest would be an oversized book about Georgia O'Keeffe, for its gorgeous reproduction of At the rodeo, New Mexico.

Book you hid from your parents:

It belonged to my mother's library, so I only hid that I was reading it: D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover.

Book that changed your life:

I must say Shyam Selvadurai's brave and wonderful Funny Boy, the first book I read with a South Asian gay character, as I was coming out in the mid 1990s. The only gay character I had come across before that, growing up in India, was a cameo in The Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. I reread Funny Boy earlier this year, and realized I'd forgotten that it's also a powerful account of the start of ethnic strife in Sri Lanka.

Favorite line from a book:

"There's just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectation, to burst open and give us everything we've ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) know these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult." From Michael Cunningham's The Hours.

Five books you'll never part with:

These have to be books by friends and mentors who have inscribed them for me, since it seems like you can find anything else at a moment's notice these days. I wouldn't want to pick only five, but the list would include Sharanya Manivannan's The High Priestess Never Marries, Preeta Samarasan's Evening Is the Whole Day, V.V. Ganeshananthan's Love Marriage, Sandip Roy's Don't Let Him Know, Bishakh Som's Apsara Engine. These are also beautiful books in their own right, and readers should check them out.

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

Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd just to experience again the thrill of the denouement. I think her genius at experimenting with the form and tropes of the murder mystery is under-rated.


Tundra Books (NY): Professor Goose Debunks Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Paulette Bourgeois, illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths


Book Candy

Virginia Woolf, Early Millennial

PenguinUK recalled "12 times Virginia Woolf understood the millennial condition."

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Cultura Colectiva offered "8 life lessons to learn from a grown-up 'Little Prince.' "

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Author Lucy Ellmann shared the "top 10 gripes in literature" with the Guardian.

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"Can you define these Colonial-era slang words and phrases?" Mental Floss challenged.

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The New York Public Library recommended "beach reads for every kind of mood."


Tyndale House Publishers: Long Way Home by Lynn Austin


Great Reads

Rediscover: Eloise Greenfield

Eloise Greenfield, a beloved children's author who "left a catalog of books that spanned five decades and fans who grew up reciting her poems, reading her books to their children and buying them for their grandchildren," died August 5 at age 92, NBC News reported. Her first book, Bubbles (1972), was published "at a time when books featuring Black children and families were rare. She quickly rose to prominence with her lyrical creations featuring everyday folks as well as historic figures." Greenfield insisted on having Black illustrators for her books at a time when publishers claimed they could not find any. She won numerous awards, including the 2018 Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award; a Hurston/Wright Foundation North Star Award for lifetime achievement; and induction into the Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent.

Greenfield's 48 books include Rosa Parks; She Come Bringing Me That Little Baby Girl; Honey, I Love; Grandpa's Face; Night on Neighborhood Street; Water, Water; MJ and Me; Grandma's Joy; The Friendly Four; Paul Robeson; When the Horses Ride By: Children in the Times of War; The Great Migration: Journey to the North; The Women Who Caught the Babies: A Story of African American Midwives; and Alaina and the Great Play.


Book Review

Fiction

Feral Creatures

by Kira Jane Buxton


Kira Jane Buxton's Hollow Kingdom introduced an unforgettable crowtagonist in S.T., a human-raised crow fond of pop-culture allusions and relentless animal puns. In Feral Creatures, S.T. carries on his hilariously narrated postapocalyptic adventures in a sequel that expands and evolves Buxton's post-human world. As in her first book, Buxton excels at managing tone, quickly shifting from outrageously silly jokes to darker meditations on humanity's destructive impact on nature. Feral Creatures is a largely stand-alone adventure story about parenthood in a frightening era, but it never takes its anthropomorphized animals so seriously that the novel becomes yet another apocalyptic slog. S.T. is always there to lighten the mood with a joke about Cheetos.

Feral Creatures opens with S.T. hiding away Dee, the last MoFo (S.T.'s characteristically profane term for human beings) in a remote cabin in Alaska, where S.T. raises her like his own fledgling. In the previous book, humans were decimated by a virus that left them zombie-like, and the animals that take over in their absence are not always inclined to look kindly on Dee's species. After calamitous events force the pair into a journey to Portland, S.T. is forced to reckon with the threats that have developed while they were away, particularly the horrifying evolution the Changed Ones (virus-afflicted humans) have undergone. For all of its fantasy-influenced epic scale and its horror-influenced nightmarish beings, Feral Creatures is chiefly about the often-frustrated desire to protect our loved ones and preserve them exactly as we want them to be. --Hank Stephenson, the Sun magazine, manuscript reader

Discover: Feral Creatures brings back the unforgettable crowtagonist from Hollow Kingdom for another hilarious and heartbreaking postapocalyptic adventure.

Grand Central, $28, hardcover, 368p., 9781538735244

Sisters in Arms

by Kaia Alderson


With Sisters in Arms, Kaia Alderson gives the Black women of the 6888th battalion--the only all-Black battalion of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC)--their rightful place in the robust category of World War II historical fiction.

Reserved piano prodigy Grace Steele and spirited aspiring journalist Eliza Jones grew up in very different socioeconomic groups, but they both crave the opportunities promised by the newly formed WAAC. While their relationship is often contentious, the bond they forge gets them through some of the hardest times in their lives and the devastating war.

Alderson deftly blends fiction with history, incorporating prominent figures, places and cultural touchstones. For example, one of the most compelling secondary characters is civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune--in real life a close friend of Eleanor Roosevelt--who in Sisters in Arms helps Eliza secure her post in the WAAC. Alderson's Harlem is vibrant and multi-faceted, dotted with notable landmarks and clubs where jazz musicians are exploring the bebop sound, and the details of daily life are dropped in seamlessly. Never does this read as though Alderson is regurgitating her doubtlessly extensive research. Instead, the history grounds the story and gives depth to the characters and context for their actions.

Sisters in Arms is at times harrowing, as the main characters are both Black and women in the 1940s United States and in the U.S. Army, but it's also hopeful, romantic and defined by the kind of friendship that changes lives--and history--forever. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels

Discover: Focusing on two courageous and complex members of the all-Black 6888th battalion of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, this historical novel is a testament to the power of friendship.

Morrow, $16.99, paperback, 400p., 9780062964588

Jerusalem Beach: Stories

by Iddo Gefen, trans. by Daniella Zamir


Israeli author Iddo Gefen makes his debut with the 13 stories collected in Jerusalem Beach. He moves with ease between dreams as wishes and dreams of the unconscious, as well as geographical and imagined destinations.

The narrator's high-paying job in "Debby's Dream House" is to create first dreams and, later, nightmares for people; but he's not allowed to tell anyone about it, not even his partner, Debby. When he requests her daily reports, he imagines she's having an affair with her boss. But his fantasies are far worse than reality. The chasm between perceptions and reality also haunts the narrator of "101.3 FM," who works in a repair shop and discovers a radio that tunes into "stations" for people nearby and broadcasts their thoughts. Nurit, a woman who works next door, seems rude to him, but her "broadcast" thoughts betray her attraction and lead to romance--however, listening to her thoughts nearly capsizes it, too. "Three Hours from Berlin" lays out the extreme example, a man who constructs a completely fabricated life online, and seeks out the one woman he thinks can understand his choice. In the standout, heartbreaking title selection, Sammy takes his wife, Lilian, to see a place she claims formed her first memory--snow on Jerusalem Beach--on the eve of committing her to a facility for Alzheimer's patients.

Gefen makes imagined destinations as tangible as Tel Aviv, the Negev desert or Hadera. His characters and backdrops demonstrate the breadth of a people and a country and will make readers eager to see what he does next. --Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Iddo Gefen's short stories, set in a real and imagined Israel, mark the debut of a talent to watch.

Astra House, $26, hardcover, 304p., 9781662600432

Gordo

by Jaime Cortez


As a visual artist and performer, Jaime Cortez has always been telling stories. He gets literal in his debut, Gordo, an impressive collection featuring the titular Gordo, a preteen middle child of Mexican American farm workers in California's 1970s Central Coast. Gordo is one of many children growing up together at the Gyrich Farms Worker Camp. Theirs is a tight-knit community, although Gordo's family eventually leaves for better opportunities and misses the easy camaraderie of sharing tight quarters.

Each of Cortez's interlinked 11 stories, mostly narrated by Gordo, are poignant coming-of-age glimpses of growing up "different"--poor, Mexican American, perhaps gay--and realizing that "it's not a good idea to be different." Pa hopes a lucha libre boxing kit might train Gordo away from being fat and effeminate in "El Gordo." Gordo watches another family, more disadvantaged than his, receive help from parents and grandparents in "Chorizo." He witnesses adults behaving badly in "Cookie" (the devolution of a mother/daughter relationship), "Fandango" (a violent ending to a night of drunken revelry), and "Alex" (a transgender neighbor who abuses his young undocumented partner). Gordo experiences his first death among his grandparents' friends in "Ofelia's Last Ride." The future gets briefly acknowledged in two stories about Raymundo, bullied at school for being gay in "The Problem of Style," and lauded for his hairstyling prowess as an adult in "Raymundo the Fag."  

Cortez writes with clear affection and indulgence for Gordo, his family and friends, as they navigate uncertain destinies and still-forming identities. "Tell your story or it'll drown you," one character tells another--affirming once again the lifesaving powers of storytelling. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Eleven interlinked stories deftly and poignantly explore coming-of-age in the 1970s as the son of poor, Mexican American immigrants in California's Central Coast.

Grove/Black Cat, $16, paperback, 208p., 9780802158086

Mystery & Thriller

The Madness of Crowds

by Louise Penny


Revered Canadian writer Louise Penny (A Great Reckoning; The Long Way Home) delivers the 17th Inspector Gamache mystery, The Madness of Crowds. The excellent novel stands alone, although readers will surely wish to enjoy the prior stories.

At home in the bucolic village of Three Pines, Sûreté du Québec Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is celebrating the post-pandemic Christmas holidays with his family when he's unexpectedly called in to work. He's assigned security supervision for a statistician professor's lecture at the nearby university. To his dismay, he discovers the professor espouses a controversial euthanasia theory that has Canadians up in arms, both for and against. When the crowd becomes an angry mob and an assassin fires at the professor, Gamache leaps into action. While searching for the failed shooter, the inspector and his team begin to unravel a snarled skein of events and players, many of whom are acquaintances and friends. When someone close to the professor is murdered, however, it's clear there is much more to the situation than first appeared. The professor's radical theory has raised doubts and violent emotional reactions from everyone in the inspector's close circle, even those with family ties. Now Gamache and his team must question everything about the people they thought they knew well, including themselves.

With a fascinating and tangled plot enhanced by an evocative snowy Canadian landscape, this absorbing novel challenges readers to consider their own stance on larger, societal moral issues while delivering an outstanding mystery. The cast of well-developed characters provides multiple options for the potential killer and will keep readers guessing whodunit until the last page. --Lois Faye Dyer, writer and reviewer

Discover: In Louise Penny's fascinating and evocative mystery, Chief Inspector Gamache and his team must resolve personal prejudices and question both enemies and friends to bring a murderer to justice.

Minotaur Books, $28.99, hardcover, 448p., 9781250145260

Biography & Memoir

I Live a Life Like Yours: A Memoir

by Jan Grue, trans. by B.L. Crook


University of Oslo professor Jan Grue (Disability and Discourse Analysis) was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at age three and relies on an electric wheelchair. In his powerful, matter-of-fact memoir, I Live a Life Like Yours, he explores the struggles and stigma of disability.

Soon after his son's birth, Grue found himself paging through his childhood medical records, marveling at the trials his parents faced. Despite leg braces and customized shoes, he was never going to be a "normal" boy, though he attended mainstream schools. Earning a driver's license for a car with hand controls, he achieved independence. However, studying abroad was challenging in old-fashioned, canal-strewn St. Petersburg and Amsterdam, and even in Berkeley, Calif., where he was a Fulbright fellow, he wasn't guaranteed accessible housing.

"This is how one becomes a problem: by pointing out a problem," Grue remarks. Much as he prefers to blend in quietly, at times he's forced to take up the role of a disability activist. Navigating airports, in particular, poses difficulties that require him to speak out. It takes two pages to describe the precise sequence of movements involved just in standing up from the sofa. By detailing such practicalities, the book elicits compassionate understanding.

Grue alternates between his own story and others' (especially poet/journalist Mark O'Brien, who lived in an iron lung), doctors' reports and theorists' quotations, mingling the academic and the intimate. The fragments build to a deep meditation on the nature of memory and the body versus the self. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck

Discover: In a powerful, matter-of-fact memoir, a Norwegian professor chronicles the practical and existential struggles of life with a disability.

FSG Originals, $17, paperback, 272p., 9780374600785

Now in Paperback

Killer, Come Back to Me: The Crime Stories of Ray Bradbury

by Ray Bradbury


Hard Case Crime celebrates the centennial anniversary of Ray Bradbury's birth with Killer, Come Back to Me, an outstanding collection of 20 of his best mystery and crime stories. Although Bradbury is remembered for his prolific science fiction and fantasy writings, he periodically branched out into other genres. The majority of these stories were published in the 1940s and '50s in magazines like Dime Mystery, Weird Tales and Detective Tales. "The good stories you write later are an umbrella over the bad stuff you discover you left behind you in the years," Bradbury writes modestly. But there is no bad stuff in this collection--each story offers vintage delights.

Fans will covet "Where Everything Ends," which is the source text for his 1985 detective novel Death Is a Lonely Business. Another rarity is "Hammett? Chandler? Not to Worry," a warm tribute to his friend and mentor Leigh Brackett. Many stories have a supernatural element to them. In the time-travel tale "A Touch of Petulance," a happy honeymooner meets a future version of himself who warns he will murder his wife. "The Screaming Woman" is a terrific nail-biter about a little girl who can't convince people she hears a woman buried beneath the earth. "The Small Assassin" features a murderous baby; Bradbury believed it "to be one of the best stories in any field that I have written."

Killer, Come Back to Me will expand Bradbury's fan base with this sensational introduction to his vintage mystery and crime tales, which still sparkle and entertain. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: This captivating collection of mystery and crime short stories is a sure bet to gain Ray Bradbury new fans among mystery lovers.

Hard Case Crime, $16.95, paperback, 336p., 9781789096651

Crosshairs

by Catherine Hernandez


The deadliest year on record for the trans community was 2020. A study released by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law found that people who identify as LGBTQ+ are nearly four times as likely as non-LGBTQ+ people to be a victim of a violent crime. This is America in 2020, a world that startlingly aligns with the dystopian landscape Catherine Hernandez (Scarborough) manifests in her bold second novel, Crosshairs, one of USA Today's 5 Books Not to Miss. Hernandez, a Canadian playwright, novelist and queer woman of color, shepherds her protagonist, Kay, the gay son of Filipino and Jamaican immigrants, through a future Canada in which Black, brown and LGBTQ+ people are hunted, lynched and sent to concentration camps for "the better" of society.

Kay--born Keith Nopuente--has spent his whole life hiding, caught under the critical eye of his Filipino mother, who wishes to "cleanse" him of his homosexuality. When he slips away after a particularly horrifying encounter with the church, he meets a cast of vibrant, gorgeous characters in the drag scene, who teach him to ease into a wig and transform into Queen Kay. But the world outside the nightclubs is growing increasingly hostile, as economic and social injustice collide to give birth to a fascist regime led by the paramilitary Boots, who have started rounding up "Others"--marginalized people--in an effort known as the Renovation. After witnessing one too many attacks, Kay goes into hiding with a white woman masquerading as a supporter of the Renovation. What follows is a heart-wrenching search for freedom, and a poignant attack on the complacency and apathy of so-called allies in an increasingly hostile world. --Lauren Puckett, freelance writer

Discover: Catherine Hernandez uplifts the LGBTQ+ community with shocking beauty in this dystopian tale of fascism and hatred set in a near-future Canada.

Atria, $17, paperback, 272p., 9781982146030

Children's & Young Adult

Home Is...

by Hannah Barnaby, illus. by Frann Preston-Gannon


Hannah Barnaby (Monster and Boy) investigates the meaning of home in this pleasingly rhythmic picture book that brings readers into dwellings found in the natural and human world. Her lyrical narrative is paired with bold, cheerful illustrations by Sendak Fellow Frann Preston-Gannon (Sing a Song of Seasons), creating a charming tour that introduces children to the different forms home can take.

Barnaby points out that where one lives has the potential to be one of scores of arrangements, with a plethora of characteristics: shapes, sizes, locales, even stability. "Home is quiet,/ home is loud./ Home is humble,/ home is proud./ Home has corners,/ home is round./ Home is tunneled underground." Those that inhabit the different dwellings vary as greatly as the homes themselves. Mammals, birds, fish and insects all play vital roles in this delightful study, portrayed in cute yet realistic illustrations that make learning about the various abodes enjoyable. Preston-Gannon's use of subtle details pulls readers into her images, inviting them to inspect the representations for all their fascinating features, like furry white tails on sleeping bunnies, intricacies in a spider's web or the eyes of a snail traveling up a blade of grass. There is no doubt that the natural world is alive and full of amazing homes when one looks through the lens Preston-Gannon offers.

The catchy tempo, array of characters and stunning art make Home Is... an alluring picture book sure to have young readers looking for homes everywhere. As Barnaby concludes, "Home is anywhere you love." --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: The definition of home takes picture book form in a visually captivating, rhythmically catchy exploration of the places in which people and animals live.

Beach Lane Books, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9781534421769

Eyes of the Forest

by April Henry


Eyes of the Forest by April Henry (The Lonely Dead) is a suspenseful, captivating look at what may happen when a fantasy world becomes too real for some of its fans.

When 10-year-old Bridget's mom was dying of cancer, Bridget spent hours reading aloud from R.M. Haldon's Swords and Shadows series to ease the pain for them both. At 12, red-headed and "milk-pale" Bridget impressed the fantasy writer at a signing with her "encyclopedic knowledge" of his books and was hired to keep track of the myriad details for him. Now 17, Bridget still works for him, using her own database to keep everything straight. But Bob Haldon has writer's block and, despite clamor from readers, the series finale isn't forthcoming. Then Derrick, a LARPer and Haldon's "biggest fan," meets his idol, whom he finds drunk and despondent. Derrick and Bob hatch a plan to get the author writing again but things go "horribly wrong," and Bob ends up "in an isolated cabin, injured, shackled. No one but his captors [knowing] where he [is]." Bridget becomes increasingly worried and, since no one takes her fears seriously, begins an investigation of her own.

Henry's engaging and often thrilling narrative is told from multiple points of view, allowing readers close access to the motivations of all her main characters. She expertly examines the darker side of the culture of fandom, including pressures it puts on creators, and how fans themselves get out of hand. Ultimately, it's Bridget who, though completely submerged in the world of Swords and Shadows, manages to save the day by acting IRL. --Lynn Becker, reviewer, blogger, and children's book author

Discover: Seventeen-year-old Bridget must leave fantasy behind when her favorite author is kidnapped by an overzealous fan in this suspenseful story.

Holt, $17.99, hardcover, 272p., ages 12-up, 9781250234087

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