Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, November 19, 2021


William Morrow & Company: The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn

From My Shelf

Soho Teen: History Is All You Left Me (Deluxe Edition) by Adam Silvera

Insights: Calm: A Day and Night Reflection Journal (Inner World) and Insights: Manifesting: A Day and Night Reflection Journal (Inner World)

A Culinary Writing Tour

Flavors, like stories, transport us. It's no wonder food writing opens up worlds, satiating appetites for connection with fellow food lovers and inspiring what we might prepare for our own tables.

Let's start our culinary writing tour with Madhur Jaffrey's Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood (Vintage, $15.95). Born in 1933, the actress-turned-cookbook-author traces her youth in India during British colonization. Its opening taste? "I was born in my grandparents' sprawling house by the Yamuna River in Delhi. Grandmother welcomed me into this world by writing Om, which means 'I am' in Sanskrit, on my tongue with a little finger dipped in honey."

M.F.K. Fisher's incisive writing also spans years of world wars and political upheaval, food often central to her experiences in the U.S. and Europe. Particularly unforgettable in The Gastronomical Me (North Point, $18), first published in 1943, are her descriptions of a sumptuous midday meal in Burgundy and a surprising evening turn involving gin, caviar and candlelight.

Bridging to present day, Josephine Caminos Oría probes food, culture and love across continents, between the U.S. and South America, in Sobremesa: A Memoir of Food and Love in Thirteen Courses (Scribe, $24.95), movingly honoring the spirit of her Abuela Dorita via dulce de leche.

And America's Top Chef alum Kwame Onwuachi (with Joshua David Stein), in Notes from a Young Black Chef: A Memoir (Vintage, $16.95), reflects on his life in the U.S. and time in Nigeria, also looking forward: "I want to see a world in which not only the food from the African diaspora but the food from Africa is given the respect it deserves. When I push open the kitchen doors, I want to see a dining room full of diners, but especially brown and black diners, who, looking at their plates, feel seen, celebrated, and recognized." --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer


Wiley: Prep, Push, Pivot: Essential Career Strategies for Underrepresented Women by Octavia Goredama


Book Candy

Disturbing Vintage Holiday Cards

To get you into (or out of) the spirit of the season, Mental Floss featured "15 disturbing vintage holiday cards."

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Stephen Fry "takes us inside the story of Johannes Gutenberg & the first printing press," courtesy of Open Culture.

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Atlas Obscura explored "how scholars cracked a Medieval alchemist's secret code."

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Merriam-Webster's "great big list of beautiful and useless words."

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Stephanie Sy-Quia chose her top 10 epics in fiction for the Guardian.


Regal House Publishing: Out Front the Following Sea by Leah Angstman


Great Reads

Rediscover: Wilbur Smith

Adventure writer Wilbur Smith, whose 49 novels--including the long-running Courtney series--have sold more than 140 million copies worldwide, died November 13 at age 88. Smith's "instinctive grasp of narrative, the rich material of his upbringing and the boundless story opportunities of his African homeland produced a string of novels that thrilled an ever-growing readership," the Wilbur Smith Books site noted. Smith's first novel, When the Lion Feeds (1964), was a bestseller and each of his subsequent novels has achieved comparable success. The Bookseller noted that after publishing 34 books with Pan Macmillan, Smith had moved to HarperCollins "in 2012 in a six-book deal said to be worth £15 million [about US$20 million].... More than 50 years after his debut, he signed an eight-figure deal with Bonnier Zaffre in 2017, described by then Bonnier Publishing group chief executive Richard Johnson as 'one of the biggest in publishing history.' "

A passionate advocate of adventure fiction, Smith shared his love for the genre through the Wilbur and Niso Smith Foundation, founded by Smith and his wife in 2015. Dedicated to building the readership for adventure fiction and the promotion of reading and writing for younger generations across the world, the foundation's work will continue. In his 2018 memoir On Leopard Rock, Smith wrote: "I've had tough times, bad marriages, people I loved dearly dying in my arms, burnt the midnight oil getting nowhere, but it has, all in the end, added up to a phenomenally fulfilled and wonderful life."


The Writer's Life

Reading with... Joseph O'Connor

photo: Urszula Soltys

Joseph O'Connor is the author of 18 books, including the novels Cowboys and Indians (Whitbread Prize shortlist), Redemption Falls, Ghost Light (Los Angeles Times Book of the Year shortlist; Dublin One City One Book choice 2011) and The Thrill of It All, two collections of short stories, True Believers and Where Have You Been?, plays, film scripts and adaptations, six nonfiction books and hundreds of radio diaries. His novel Star of the Sea has sold more than a million copies. In 2011, O'Connor won the Irish PEN Award for Outstanding Achievement in Literature. His novel Shadowplay (Europa Editions paperback, Nov. 9, 2021) is a historical and gothic romp through the golden age of West End theater in a London shaken by the crimes of Jack the Ripper. It won the Eason Irish Novel of the Year Award and was shortlisted for five other prizes in France, Ireland and the U.K., including the Costa Novel Award 2020.

On your nightstand now:

The End of the World Is a Cul-de-Sac, a breathtaking collection of short stories by the Irish writer Louise Kennedy. The Situation and the Story by Vivian Gornick, whose work I love. The brilliant novel Foregone by Russell Banks. This Hostel Life by Melatu Uche Okorie. Then, Craft in the Real World by Matthew Salesses, a fascinating book that offers alternatives to how creative writing is usually taught.

Favorite book when you were a child:

So many, but I come back to Great Expectations. I don't think I will get over the beauty of its closing lines: "I took her hand in mine, and we went out of the ruined place; and, as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the forge, so the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, I saw no shadow of another parting from her." I mean, wow. Game over. Goodnight.

Your top five authors:

It varies, but Peter Carey, Toni Morrison and F. Scott Fitzgerald are always in my top five. At the moment, the English novelist Elizabeth Taylor is there also, as is the poet Denise Levertov, whose poem "A Map of the Western Part of the County of Essex in England" always fills me with awed admiration.

Book you've faked reading:

In 1985, my university tutor, the fine writer Seamus Deane, suggested I read Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor. I didn't. At our next meeting, Seamus asked me what I had thought of it. I replied that I had admired Flannery O'Connor's style but found his storytelling a little complicated, which is the kind of thing you can get away with saying about almost any book ever published. Seamus permitted the conversation to continue for a minute or two before quietly pointing out that Flannery O'Connor was a woman. Since that mortifying moment, I have never faked reading a book.

Book you're an evangelist for:

I absolutely adore the work of Lydia Davis who, as well as being a writer of astonishing power, is a hugely accomplished translator. Her version of The Way by Swann's, volume one of Proust's masterpiece, À la recherche du temps perdu, will be relished by any lover of storytelling and language. A sumptuous, beautiful, stupendous achievement.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I don't remember ever buying a book for its cover but, as a teenager, I did buy the Patti Smith album Horses and the Muddy Waters album At Newport 1960 for their covers. Two magnificent records from great American storytellers.

Book you hid from your parents:

My parents didn't mind what anyone read; indeed their own large collection of books included banned titles by Edna O'Brien and others.

Book that changed your life:

When I was 17, my first girlfriend gave me a copy of The Catcher in the Rye. It's the book that made me want to be a writer. I still reread it every few years, like going on pilgrimage.

Favorite line from a book:

"Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love, but always meeting ourselves." From James Joyce's Ulysses.

Five books you'll never part with:

A few years ago, my wife gave me a beautiful first edition of Francis James Child's The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. It's in five volumes and I wouldn't part with any of them.

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

Bram Stoker's Dracula is a novel I've been reading and returning to since I was 13. (Stoker is the central character of my own novel Shadowplay.) I never read it without noticing something new and absolutely wonderful, but the first time was unforgettable and life-changing.

The most important thing you've learned over the years as a writer:

My job is to provide the sheet music. It's the reader who sings the song.


Book Review

Mystery & Thriller

The Corpse in the Waxworks

by John Dickson Carr


John Dickson Carr's deliciously florid 1932 novel, The Corpse in the Waxworks, begins with the discovery of a young woman, stabbed to death and left floating in the Seine. She was last seen entering a local wax museum but never seen leaving. Henri Bencolin, examining magistrate of the Paris police, and his American assistant, Jeff Marle (who narrates the novel), explore the spooky Grand Guignol-flavored wax museum for clues and discover a second murdered young woman. She's been stabbed in the back and draped over the arms of the wax figure of the Satyr of the Seine. The two murdered young women, both daughters of former Cabinet ministers, had been best friends. Another clue leads Marle to investigating undercover at a very secretive sex club where its affluent members all wear masks.

Carr (1906-1977) is best known for his impossible crime/locked room mysteries, but Waxworks is an atmospheric whodunit bordering on improbable melodrama. Yet what atmosphere! Opening with two Edgar Allan Poe quotes, the rest of the novel is steeped in the same foreboding doom and deliriously overripe descriptions of musty halls of horror and a decadent, creepy sex club. Even with Carr playing fair with clues, few readers will guess the murderer's identity before the exciting reveal.

Poisoned Pen Press's reprint includes two excellent bonuses: an insightful introduction by Martin Edwards (The Golden Age of Murder) and the rare 1928 Inspector Bencolin short story "The Murder in Number Four"--a humorous locked-room murder mystery set on a moving train. A Golden Age mystery treat! --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Poisoned Pen's reprint of Carr's deliciously florid and melodramatic murder mystery will delight Golden Age mystery fans.

Poisoned Pen Press, $14.99, paperback, 288p., 9781464215438

Romance

How to Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days

by K.M. Jackson


K.M. Jackson (who writes the Real Men Knit series under the name Kwana Jackson) has created a hilariously unlikely road trip adventure in How to Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days. Bethany Lu Carlisle is a Black artist, happily single in her 40s, but she has a forever-crush on Keanu Reeves. For more than 20 years, whenever Lu is upset or sad, she turns to Keanu's films for comfort. So when she sees a celebrity news article saying that the actor is getting married in 90 days, Lu is determined to meet Keanu and plead her own case with him first.

Lu has been close friends with Truman Erickson since high school, so when he offers to come along on her Keanu road trip, Lu is thrilled to have company. Lu and True have all kinds of zany adventures all over the country, as they hunt for Keanu from New York City to California: at conventions, hotels, camping and even bungie jumping. And along the way, Lu begins to realize that maybe her feelings for True are more important than her feelings for Keanu.

Funny, but also introspective as Lu tries to analyze her feelings for True and Keanu, and the role each man has played in her life, How to Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days is an entertaining romp. Readers who have struggled to express their own feelings will relate to Lu. And anyone who enjoys diverse, sexy romances is sure to relish How to Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this zany romance, a woman sets off on a cross-country road trip to convince Keanu Reeves to marry her.

Forever, $15.99, paperback, 336p., 9781538703502

All the Feels

by Olivia Dade


Olivia Dade follows Spoiler Alert with All the Feels, a hilarious and heartfelt opposites-attract romance. Dade again pairs a gorgeous A-list actor with a fat un-famous woman, and her characters are just as lovable as before, but their journey together looks entirely different. Alex Woodroe is the fun-loving, sharp-witted friend everyone loves to be around, but his big heart and ADHD are a liability in Hollywood. When he's arrested in a bar fight, Alex's producer hires Lauren Clegg, a reserved emergency services clinician in need of respite, to keep him out of trouble until the final season of his Game of Thrones-like show has finished airing. They're required to spend almost all of their time together, so Dade keeps the banter flowing. She skillfully develops her characters and their relationship through humor balanced with some deeper moments, moving from "Big Harpy Energy" jokes to a scene in which Alex explains why he writes fanfic to correct the way his character's final season arc depicts abusive relationships.

Lauren and Alex's connection builds slowly, a sweet and sarcastic friendship that ramps up to a few surprisingly steamy scenes during a two-week road trip. Much of the book's conflict is external, and these two generous people are fiercely protective of each other, making it easy for readers to stand firmly in their corner.

All the Feels delivers lots of laughs and gives the characters--and readers--a well-deserved happy ending. --Suzanne Krohn, librarian and freelance reviewer

Discover: A charmingly reckless actor falls for the reserved woman hired to keep him out of trouble in this laugh-out-loud opposites-attract romantic comedy.

Avon, $15.99, paperback, 416p., 9780063005587

Graphic Books

Prophet Against Slavery: Benjamin Lay, a Graphic Novel

by David Lester, with Marcus Rediker and Paul Buhle


Benjamin Lay, small in stature with dwarfism, was a monumental historical figure almost lost until historian Marcus Rediker published The Fearless Benjamin Lay (2017), which returned Lay to prominence as "the first revolutionary abolitionist." Canadian artist David Lester energetically distills Rediker's biography into a dynamic graphic adaptation, Prophet Against Slavery, a testament to Lay's outspoken passion for human freedom.

Born into an English farming family in 1682, Lay became a working sailor at 21 and sailed the world for 12 years, which "allowed [him] to know mankind in all nations, colors and countries." He also witnessed the horrors of slavery. As a Quaker, he could not abide the hypocrisy of owning--then abusing, torturing, murdering--other human beings. His abhorrence played out in Quaker assemblies, where he theatrically underscored his denouncements with sword and pokeberry "blood." In England, in the New World--he eventually settled in Pennsylvania in 1732--he faced expulsion, but never stopped demanding liberation for all. Seventeen years after his death in 1759, the Quakers became the first group to abolish slavery within their communities.

Lester works in black, white and shades in between, his pages often pervaded by darkness, underscoring the images of suffering that permeated Lay's life. Lester's drawings vary from simple lines to intricately detailed, with an especially effective use of white and black space. His panels are unpredictable throughout, as if reflecting Lay's own nonconformist choices. "Almost three centuries later, we are still trying to get the poison and the venom--structural racism and its many injustices--out of the body politic," writes Rediker in an afterword. Even in the 21st century, Lay has much to teach contemporary audiences. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: The inspiring life of Benjamin Lay, history's "first revolutionary abolitionist," gets an impressive, energetic graphic adaptation.

Beacon Press, $15, paperback, 100p., 9780807081792

Tunnels

by Rutu Modan, trans. by Ishai Mishory


No one knows what happened to the Ark of the Covenant, the legendary vessel holding Moses' engraved Ten Commandments, but "archeologists, mystics, and adventurers still seek for it in vain," explains Eisner-winning comics creator Rutu Modan in an introductory note to her intriguing graphic title Tunnels, inspired by true events. The Broshi clan aren't deterred, convinced of ultimate success; Modan turns their search into a dysfunctional family standoff, subversive sociopolitical exposé, biting criticism of academia and--rather surprisingly--a rollicking comedy of countless errors.

Israel Broshi was once a renowned archeologist and professor at Hebrew University. These days, he's stuck at home, barely interacting with his Filipina caretaker. His life's work has been usurped by former colleague Rafi Sarid, who's also taken Israel's son as his primary assistant. Israel's daughter, Nili, shadowed by screen-addicted son Doctor, is convinced she can complete her father's mission to finally find the Ark--especially after she discovers the location-revealing cuneiform tablet in the collection of smuggler/dealer/collector Abuloff. She'll have to contend with the enormous wall that now looms over the former work site, not to mention interested parties making demands on both sides--and beyond.

Modan's vibrant style fills the pages with sharply outlined panels, her characters immediately recognizable especially by their never-changing wardrobe even as weeks pass; Nili's high-waisted camel slacks and blue dress shirt, for example, instantly stand out. As the tunnels progress, participants multiply--IDF (Israeli Defense Force), ISIS, fame-seekers, what Modan calls "the crazies"--and all (temporarily) work together, ignoring the massive barrier above intended for separation. In highlighting those efforts of underground collaboration, Modan's ironic, inspiring genius enthralls. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: An Israeli family's ongoing search for the Ark of the Covenant becomes slyly entertaining fodder involving both sides of--and even under--the Israel/Palestine border wall.

Drawn & Quarterly, $29.95, hardcover, 284p., 9781770464667

Biography & Memoir

Solid Ivory: Memoirs

by James Ivory


When James Ivory won his first Academy Award in 2017 for his screenplay for Call Me by Your Name, he was 89 years old and had been directing and writing films for more than 50 years with his business and domestic partner Ismail Merchant. In Solid Ivory, the filmmaker looks back on his long career making such Merchant Ivory classics as A Room with a View, Howards End and The Remains of the Day. Ivory may be in his ninth decade but he possesses a sharp memory and a storyteller's gift for compelling tales. He also never forgets a slight and still nurses grudges--making for a lively, affectionate and caustic memoir.

Ivory has great affection for Bengali filmmaker and mentor Satyajit Ray. Though he graduated from the University of Southern California film school, Ivory writes, "I didn't know what a director did until I went on Ray's set" and watched him interact with his cast and crew. Some of the other portraits of contemporaries and coworkers are less flattering, but Ivory always counterbalances anecdotes about bad behavior with insight into the insecurities behind the actions of others. He writes juicy and perceptive portraits of George Cukor, Lillian Ross, Vanessa Redgrave, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and especially his nightmarish time directing Raquel Welch in The Wild Party. He also recounts his fractious relationship with the producers and director of Call Me by Your Name, a film he wrote and produced and was originally to co-direct.

Solid Ivory is a candid portrait of growing up gay before World War II and a captivating account of five decades making independent films. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: At 93, James Ivory writes with vigor and candor about his youthful gay experiences and his 50-plus year partnership with Ismail Merchant in life and in films.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30, hardcover, 416p., 9780374601591

Essays & Criticism

Letters of Note: New York City

by Shaun Usher, editor


In 1934, Anaïs Nin wrote to Henry Miller, who had been her lover, "I feel a kind of exhilaration and the tempo is like that of my blood." Nin wasn't writing of romantic stirrings; she was expressing her feelings about New York, which she was visiting at the time. Nin's sentiment is shared by many of the 30 contributors to the invigorating and occasionally heartbreaking Letters of Note: New York City, yet another title in Shaun Usher's proudly atavistic Letters of Note series.

For this collection, Usher has selected correspondence as old as George Washington's 1785 salute to the mayor of New York ("I pray that Heaven may bestow its choicest blessings on your City") and as young as Bianca Jagger's 2015 censure of the Financial Times for misreporting on her decades-prior antics at Studio 54 ("As an environmentalist and an animal rights defender, I find the insinuation that I would ride a horse into a nightclub offensive"). True to New York's democratic spirit, Usher also presents the words of everyday citizens; he includes exercised letters to the editor and a letter from a 9/11 widow to her dead husband.

A nonfan of New York was the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, who had the final indignity of dying in the city that he put pen to paper to call "the very loud, mad middle of the last mad Empire on earth" in 1950. Letters of Note is a pocket-size, big-impact tribute to a city about which words are seldom minced. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: This time around, the resplendently old-school Letters of Note series collects missives by people living and dead, famous and otherwise, who were moved to write about New York City.

Penguin Books, $15, paperback, 144p., 9780143134688

Letters of Note: Dogs

by Shaun Usher, editor


Known for his compilations of lists and letters, Shaun Usher highlights that most common of domesticated animals: dogs. Letters of Note: Dogs features correspondence from authors and artists, and it opens with E.B. White's reply to the ASPCA about "harboring" an unlicensed dog. With characteristic twinkle, he argues, "If by 'harboring' you mean getting up two or three times every night to pull Minnie's blanket up over her, I am harboring a dog all right." Moving between the hilarious and the serious, Usher's collection offers a variety of dog stories, including a memo from former president George H.W. Bush ordering White House staffers to stop giving treats to their springer spaniel as she was on a diet.

This mostly light and humorous collection also deals with grief, as in the condolence letter by Bob Hope to FDR's dog Fala after the president's death in 1945. Writing in the voice of fellow dog Fido, Hope describes the president's powerful influence: "...people had confidence in his plans because his integrity and sincerity were felt the world over. In other words, he made a lot of people see the light, or as we'd put it, he put them on the right scent." Also moving is the scathing letter from travel editor Richard Joseph, addressed to the unknown driver who struck and killed their dog before fleeing the scene. Though focused on the canine set, Letters of Note: Dogs would make an excellent gift for any animal lover. --Sara Beth West, freelance reviewer and librarian

Discover: Perfect for readers who might respond to a "Must love dogs" personal ad, this collection continues the Letters of Note tradition, sharing the unexpected correspondence of well-known figures.

Penguin Books, $15, paperback, 144p., 9780143134749

Religion

Wholehearted Faith

by Rachel Held Evans, Jeff Chu


Rachel Held Evans (Searching for Sunday; Inspired) was well known among evangelical and "ex-vangelical" American Christians for her passionate, thoughtful writing and for wrestling with difficult questions. In Wholehearted Faith, her final, posthumous book for adults, Evans (who died after a brief illness in 2019) shares familiar and new material relating to faith, doubt and her ongoing struggle to lead a life of compassion and grace. Ably edited by Evans's colleague Jeff Chu (Does Jesus Really Love Me?), the essays in Wholehearted Faith present a warm, generous, kaleidoscopic view of Evans's spiritual journey over the past two decades.

Readers of Evans's previous books will find familiar themes here: she returned again and again to questions about inclusion, the role of women in the church, the validity of doubt, and the wild, ungraspable love of God. Often self-deprecating, Evans pokes gentle fun at her younger self and fesses up to her own weaknesses, but she's not interested in castigating anyone else. She admits to harboring lots of questions, even insisting that doubts are a necessary part of a healthy spiritual life. She wrestles with the often-sprawling gap between the person of Jesus and the ways conservative evangelical churches have interpreted his life and teachings. And she insists--in every chapter, if not on every page--that if there is a God, God's love is for everyone, with absolutely no asterisks or exceptions.

Wholehearted Faith is "not the book that Rachel would have written," Chu reminds readers. But it is still a genuine, curious, openhearted collection from a woman who spent her life struggling to balance questions and love. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Evans's posthumous memoir is a warm, generous exploration of faith, doubt and the challenges of living a Christian life.

HarperOne, $26.99, hardcover, 224p., 9780062894472

Psychology & Self-Help

Fierce Love: A Bold Path to Ferocious Courage and Rule-Breaking Kindness that Can Heal the World

by Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis


"The world doesn't get great unless we all get better," declares minister and speaker Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis (The Power of Stories) in the introduction to her third nonfiction book, Fierce Love. With that beginning, Lewis delves into nine daily practices that can help individuals, families and the broader human community break through divisions and create peace and justice where they live.

As a Black woman, Lewis has dealt all her life with sexism and racism; as a minister and a human being, she has dealt with conflict and other challenges. She speaks frankly and powerfully--parts of the text read like a rousing sermon--about coming to terms with her own past wounds and learning to focus her life on positive practices. These include self-love, kindness to others, working through emotional baggage and seeking both joy and justice. All of them are informed by ubuntu, the Zulu concept of community and interdependence that underlies Lewis's writing and speaking career and her ministry at Manhattan's Middle Collegiate Church.

While Lewis has a deep scholarly background in theology, psychology and anti-racism, the most powerful parts of Fierce Love come from her own story. She relates her deep and complicated love for her parents, the struggles of her 20s and the heartbreak of divorce, and her eventual path to the love and friendships that sustain her today. For those discouraged by deep divisions in their families and societies, Fierce Love weaves together one woman's experience with broader principles that can help readers build a more just, compassionate world. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Minister and speaker Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis shares nine practices to pursue joy and justice, based on her own experiences.

Harmony, $27, hardcover, 224p., 9780593233863

Children's & Young Adult

The Me I Choose to Be

by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley, Regis and Kahran Bethencourt, photographers


Imagination, ingenuity and passion combine on the pages of this inspiring tribute to children of color. The poetic composition by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley (I Love My Hair!; The Harlem Charade), coupled with the ingenious photography of Regis and Kahran Bethencourt (Glory: Magical Visions of Black Beauty), results in an exquisite book that trumpets the magic and unlimited potential of young lives.

The Bethencourts' imagery mirrors the boldness of Tarpley's words. A child with flowing hair adorned with dozens of bright flowers waters a garden alongside the lines "I AM A GARDENER/ planting dreams the world will know!" The photos' use of light and shadow emphasizes Tarpley's tone: in a rainbow-filled spread, a smiling youth stands next to the text "I AM A HOME/ where love lives at the center"; in another spread, a child is surrounded by darkness and fire, with the words "I AM A SUPERHERO/ yet unnamed." The models' expressions are natural and authentic, including spirited, open-mouth laughs, mischievous grins and thoughtful countenances. These raw portrayals not only exude beauty and confidence, they also invite the audience to linger on the pages and absorb all the fine details present: hair adornments, fabric prints, backgrounds. The focus is always sharp, reinforcing the clarity of each child's individual charm.

Taken individually, the photographs and text are exceptional. Blended together, they create a book of outstanding aspiration and inspiration. Young children of color should revel in the beauty of the subjects that bear resemblance to them. And readers of any race can find insight into their own potential and ambitions. The Me I Choose to Be is a striking book with a powerful question for everyone: Who is the me you choose to be? --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: This empowering picture book exhibits the vast beauty and promise in children of color.

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780316461542

The Secret of the Magic Pearl

by Elisa Sabatinelli, trans. by Christopher Turner, illus. by Iacopo Bruno


The Secret of the Magic Pearl is a warmhearted tale of wonder, imagination and love for the sea, enhanced by fabulous, surreal illustrations.

Hector wants to be a deep-sea diver just like his dad. The boy's family used to run the marina, a place where "divers from up and down the coast came to meet," but Amedeo Limonta, "the bad guy in this story," built a rival complex next door and forced Hector's family out of business. When Hector turns eight, his dad takes him on his first deep-sea expedition, which is "like being on another planet." On the seabed, Hector notices a flashing light--the legendary Pearl, or "soul of the sea." His family decides to share this elusive beauty by exhibiting it for a time, but they understand they will eventually "have to take the Pearl back to the sea." Greedy Amedeo Limonta, however, wants it as his own.

Christopher Turner's translation of Elisa Sabatinelli's original Italian text is a fanciful ode to sailors, divers and the wonders of the sea that includes a touch of intrigue, a satisfying tale of friendship and a welcome caution against greed. Iacopo Bruno's lavish, colorful full-page and spot illustrations provide a visual feast, adding extraordinary elements to the text. There is even beauty hidden beneath the dust jacket, a fitting touch for a book that so nicely celebrates beauty beneath the sea. --Lynn Becker, reviewer, blogger and children's book author

Discover: In this warmhearted, beautifully illustrated tale, a boy finds the legendary Pearl on his first deep-sea dive and must keep it safe from a greedy rival.

Red Comet Press, $21.99, hardcover, 92p., ages 6-10, 9781636550060

The Children's Moon

by Carmen Agra Deedy, illus. by Jim LaMarche


In the luminous The Children's Moon, Carmen Agra Deedy (Rita and Ralph's Rotten Day) crafts her own folktale to explain why the moon is occasionally visible in the daytime. Jim LaMarche (The Carousel) uses a soothing palette for his illustrations that provide comfort with every page turn.

Every morning, the sun and the moon change places. The moon longs to stay in the sky to see the children whose laughter she hears only briefly before she sets. The moon pleads her case to the sun: "They never see me," she says, "Unless you'd let me come out by day?" The sun says no, telling the moon, "You know the rules." But the moon gives the sun a gift so precious that he eagerly acquiesces to sharing the sky, allowing his nocturnal friend a regular cameo appearance during daylight hours when the children are awake.

The power of Deedy's narrative lies in her ability to weave scientific fact into her mythic tale; she makes the phases of the moon comprehensible for young children while also subtly nodding to the importance of teamwork. LaMarche's acrylic and pencil illustrations in complementary hues of yellow, lavender, blue and green meld beautifully with Deedy's text, visually expanding both the magical and factual aspects of the book. His gentle color scheme stays consistent through the back matter, which includes additional information and educational resources. Deedy has crafted a delightful tale well suited for any setting. --Rachel Werner, author and teaching artist at Hugo House, Lighthouse Writers Workshop and The Loft Literary Center

Discover: The moon longs for a turn to shine during the day in this whimsical picture book tale explaining why children can see the moon before nightfall.

Scholastic Press, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781338216394

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