Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Mariner Books: Briefly Perfectly Human: Making an Authentic Life by Getting Real about the End by Alua Arthur

From My Shelf

Great Music, Great Reads: A Personal Guide

I will never know enough about music, but I'm not inclined to read books devoted exclusively to the subject. Instead, I rely upon personal guides, writers who explore music in context with other aspects of our world like art and literature, philosophy and history.

In April, I heard English tenor Ian Bostridge in concert, singing Schubert's "Winterreise," a stunning 24-song cycle for voice and piano. Then I read his new book, Schubert's Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, which consists of 24 chapters, each inspired by one of those songs. Bostridge's beautifully-crafted (in every sense of the term) book reflects the diverse interests of a world-class singer and Oxford University-trained historian, who once wrote a book titled Witchcraft and Its Transformations, c. 1650-1750.

He notes that Samuel Beckett "was a great admirer of Schubert, and of 'Winterreise' in particular. And there is something deeply Beckettian about the piece." He observes that it "is incontestably a great work of art which should be as much a part of our common experience as the poetry of Shakespeare and Dante, the paintings of Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso, the novels of the Bronte sisters or Marcel Proust."

Winter's Journey joins a long list of books that have served as guides during my reading life. While some are "music books," like composer Philip Glass's insightful memoir Words Without Music (which I'm reading now), most are not. I think of the palpable "sounds" of Mahler in Teju Cole's Open City or the way music weaves through Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse novels. I can almost hear the musicians in Vikram Seth's An Equal Music, Balzac's Gambara and, more recently, Emily St. John Mandel's post-apocalyptic Station Eleven.

In a review of Winter's Journey, composer Glen Roven wrote: "I know these songs very well, but 90% of what Bostridge wrote was completely new to me." What more can you ask from your personal music guide? --Robert Gray, contributing editor

Sleeping Bear Press: A Kurta to Remember by Gauri Dalvi Pandya, Illustrated by Avani Dwivedi

Book Candy

22 Great Genre Books by Women

Flavorwire recommended "22 thrilling, imaginative and twisted genre books by women."


Are you nervous about "reading in restaurants without being weird, awkward or getting ketchup on your book?" Quirk Books offers a few helpful tips.


"Grubbling" is just one of "10 Old English words you need to be using," according to Mental Floss.


Not quite "The End." Buzzfeed found "16 perfect books to fill the void left by Mad Men."


"Writers are finding imaginative ways to negotiate the new era of electronic intimacy with readers," the Guardian noted in showcasing "10 authors who excel on the Internet."

The Travels of Daniel Ascher

by Deborah Levy-Bertherat, trans. by Adriana Hunter

Countless books and films have explored the Holocaust and its effects on those who survived. While estimating the number of lives ultimately affected and the myriad ways in which it shaped them is impossible, the subject inspires ongoing introspection: How much more trauma can original trauma beget, and how can human beings ever move forward once touched by such horrors? In her tightly layered debut novel, The Travels of Daniel Ascher, Déborah Lévy-Bertherat imagines a man haunted by his World War II childhood, and a family marred by the secrets of the past.

Even as a little girl, Hélène Roche had always found her great-uncle Daniel gauche and embarrassing. The odd one out in a family as sedentary as hobbits, Daniel Roche came to reunions wearing a coat with as many pockets as he had fantastical stories of his world travels. While he held the other children spellbound with tall tales of his daring escapades, Hélène stood unmoved. Her immunity to his charm also extended to The Black Insignia, the bestselling children's adventure series Daniel wrote under the name H.R. Sanders, beloved by her brother and children the world over.

Now a young woman studying at the Institute of Archaeology in Paris, Helene moves into a room Daniel offers her in his nearby apartment building. When hearing her fellow students discussing their excavation experiences, "She thought she'd be a beginner for the rest of her life." However, her work on a children's cemetery dig earns their respect, and her relation to Daniel catches the attention of classmate Guillaume. Like most of their contemporaries, Guillaume grew up on the exploits of Peter, hero of The Black Insignia. He cannot believe Hélène never read the series; imagine having J.K. Rowling as your aunt but never reading Harry Potter. Partly spurred by Guillaume's fascination with Daniel when she introduces them, Hélène becomes curious about her great-uncle and his work. She knows her family adopted Daniel during WWII and successfully hid his identity as a Jewish orphan from the authorities. However, as she investigates his past, every inquiry gives way to more questions about his birth family, the Aschers, and his separation from them, as well as his place in the Roche clan. She begins to scrutinize The Black Insignia,too, trying to work out certain plot discrepancies that have bothered its fans for years, searching beneath the façade of series hero Peter for the true face of Daniel. Her hunt for the truth takes her both across the ocean and into the secrets of her Paris neighborhood, and introduces her to previously unseen sides of her relatives, as well as several strangers, including a concentration camp survivor who tells her, "I wouldn't say I saw death up close in Birkenau. I was inside it, you see.... I was right inside death."

The size ratio between story and page count of this novel somewhat resembles a circus clown car act: the reader opens this petite book to find a sprawling, expansive story. Lévy-Bertherat accomplishes this feat not through sleight-of-hand but through thoughtful construction and layers of meaning. That great pain can lead to great art is hardly a disputed concept, but Lévy-Bertherat encourages the reader to ask what that art represents--a grieving process, a healing catharsis, a hiding place from the pain itself? Readers will be left wondering if fiction can ever be purely false, or if some germ of the author's truth always enters into a work. Moreover, if fiction is a falsehood, does it have the same power to injure as outright lying?

Hélène's initially disaffected view of her great-uncle might reflect youth's customary disdain for elders, or perhaps Hélène senses even as a child that he represents a wrinkle in the fabric of her family. Despite her ambivalence, to the reader Daniel is at once a combination of enigma and the fantasy relative few of us had, one who traveled the world for months at a time and returned with presents and outrageous accounts of his swashbuckling adventures. Although he frequently absents himself from the narrative, when he appears, Daniel charms the reader with his eccentricity and a wistfulness Hélène fails to see at first. The traumas of his childhood, the loss of his true family, have in some ways turned Daniel into something of an adult Peter Pan, a lost boy who lives as a grown up but whose pain retains its immediacy from childhood. At one point, he even seems to fly like Pan, trying on a pair of new shoes and joking, "...this is great, now I'm like the poet Rimbaud, the man with soles of wind." While Hélène works to decide whether he is H.R. Sanders, bestselling author, Daniel Roche, outlandish world traveler, or Daniel Ascher, bereft Jewish orphan, the reader sees him shift among all three roles.

Before publishing a novel, Lévy-Bertherat translated works by Russian writers Mikhail Lermontov and Nikolai Gogol into French. With Daniel, she has created a man who constantly works at translating his past into a palatable story, while Hélène translates the family rumors and scraps of history into a cohesive narrative of Daniel's past. While the Holocaust certainly shaped Daniel's life, anyone who has tried to piece together a family history will relate to this translation loop. With an emphasis on our simultaneous needs to disguise our suffering and tell our stories, Lévy-Bertherat highlights a most human conundrum in a mystery whose resolution will fill readers with sorrow and hope. Ink sketches by Andreas Gurewich help to conjure the Parisian setting and give an air somewhat reminiscent of a children's story, leaving readers to wonder if they have experienced not just Lévy-Bertherat's novel, but a chapter of The Black Insignia as well. --Jaclyn Fulwood

Other Press, $22.95, hardcover, 9781590517079

Déborah Lévy-Bertherat: The Translation of Grief

photo: Tina Merandon

Déborah Lévy-Bertherat lives in Paris, where she teaches comparative literature at the École Normale Supérieure. She has translated Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time and Gogol's Petersburg Stories into French. Her first novel, The Travels of Daniel Ascher, is an Indies Introduce selection for spring 2015. Lévy-Bertherat recently shared with us beautiful images that helped inspire her and thoughts on the human fascination with history.

What inspired the story of Daniel Ascher?

It took me more than 10 years to write this book. In the beginning, I had two distinct ideas: one concerned the complex relationship between a Jewish child and the family that hid him during the Second World War; the other concerned the life of a writer who created for himself a heroic alter ego in a series of adventure novels. It took some time for me to understand that these two ideas were connected, and that the writer I was imagining was the child grown up. And so Daniel Ascher was born.

His story is enriched by all sorts of treasures. I walked a lot around my neighborhood, Montparnasse, looking for traces of the past, kind of like Patrick Modiano, whom I admire very much. At Rue d'Odessa, at the bottom of a courtyard, I discovered marvelous public baths.

My old Paris building, which is full of hiding places, became Daniel's home (Andreas Gurewich, the book's illustrator, came by my place to draw it!). In Auvergne, some friends showed me their attic, where two Jewish girls had been hidden; the farm owned by the Roche family, who adopted Daniel, resembles theirs.

I also slipped in fragments of the history of my friends and family. Daniel's father is a photographer, like my grandfather.

Do you think art has the power to heal grief?

I don't know if art can truly heal grief, but it can transform it and make it sublime. A great number of works have come from mourning. Victor Hugo's poems for Léopoldine, his daughter who passed away, are perhaps the most beautiful ones he's ever written.

Daniel, the writer, is incapable of telling his own story; it would be too painful--so he creates the Black Insignia series. But in closely reading these books, Hélène, his great-niece, will realize that all their young heroes are manifestations of Daniel, and that his fictions are a mask of his life. In a sense, she tracks down the lie that saved his life. There's something terrible and fascinating in the destiny of the Jewish children who were hidden: all the children play at lying, at making up stories. For a time these children had to lie continually. If they stopped playing the game, they would be lost. The game became a trap.

Daniel Ascher finds a way to overturn the trap, to gain power from it. His creative energy allows him to escape from his status as victim. At 10 years old, he's already a novelist. Writing becomes for Daniel much more than a source of consolation or resilience: he creates an entire world and offers it to thousands of young readers. His fans claim ownership over the series and identify with his characters. And this, without a doubt, is the greatest joy for a writer: that readers recognize themselves in his books. I was incredibly moved by conversations with readers who were themselves hidden children, and who told me they saw themselves in Daniel's story.

What do you think drives the human obsession with the past?

It's true that we are all obsessed with the past. Our identity is linked to memory: that of our own lives, that of our parents and grandparents, of everything that came before us. In Hélène's case, her fascination with the past comes from what she senses is a flaw in her family's history. There's a mystery that surrounds Daniel, this great-uncle who is so different from the rest of the family, the adopted child whose origins no one knows. But for a long time Hélène doesn't want to know anything, probably because she senses that for her this past has serious implications. Archeology is a detour to understanding. She will apply her methodology to family excavation: observation, patience, documentation. She ends by becoming a specialist in mosaics; symbolically, she perpetuates the reconstruction of the familial puzzle.

As someone who has translated books, how do you feel about having your own work translated?

Reading your own work in a different language is an extraordinary experience. I had the fortune of being translated by Adriana Hunter, a translator of great talent, who has worked on more than 20 novels and has won many awards. She's also someone who is very open. We spent a long time talking over the phone and I realized that my experience as a translator was very different from hers: in translating the classics (Gogol, Lermontov) I could not change one word; I had to add notes to offer clarification. Adriana could modify the text slightly to clarify certain points, like which songs were being quoted--what is evident for a French speaker may not be so for someone who speaks English.

But what is lost in one place is compensated for in others. Adriana's English is superb, and I was charmed from the very first sentences. I had the impression of rediscovering my own book, the way one rediscovers a familiar face when it's seen under a different light. I hope that the other translations will be as beautiful.

What type of research did you do for this story?

I read a lot of documents on the Occupation, particularly the testimonials of the Jewish children who were hidden (for example, the collection Paroles d'étoiles and the works of Serge and Beate Klarsfeld). I was curious to know how these children were perceived by the families who took them in. One testimonial struck me: the daughter of one of these families spoke of the difficulty of building an emotional attachment, because they didn't know how long the young refugees would be staying with them. I held on to these words, and I lent them to the character of Suzanne, the grandmother.

My goal wasn't to write a historical novel; I avoided explanatory scenes, but held on to everything that was exact. The big events (like the fact that the French Jews were not arrested in the mass raid on June 16, 1942--the Vel' d'Hiv roundup), but also the details (the seal on the postcards sent from the Drancy internment camp, or the magazines that the children of that time read). In the end, I had my manuscript read by a specialist, the historian Alexandre Doulut, to make sure there weren't any errors.

My goal was for Daniel's story to be realistic enough to be believed. That's why I slipped in a real historical figure, the painter Soutine. I did research on him as well; I visited an exhibition, considered his paintings. I even tried to paint the portrait that is described in the book.

What's next for you?

My second novel, Les Fiancés, is being published in France. It's the story of a passionate love that has its roots in three wars, in the world of childhood and especially in Andersen's fairy tales. --Jaclyn Fulwood

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Herman Wouk

Happy 100th birthday tomorrow to Herman Wouk, who is still writing: his memoir, called Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author, will be published by Simon & Schuster in December. Wouk's work ranks among the most popular fiction of the past century and should not be missed. Here are highlights:

The Caine Mutiny, set in the Pacific during World War II on the U.S.S. Caine, a Navy destroyer minesweeper, won the 1952 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was made into a movie starring Humphrey Bogart, José Ferrer, Van Johnson and Fred MacMurray. It's a gripping tale of the moral and ethical decisions made by sailors at war.

Marjorie Morningstar is the story of Marjorie Morgenstern, a wealthy, bright, attractive Jewish girl in New York in the 1930s who dreams of becoming an actress, falls in love with an older, unhappy artistic man, and finally marries another man and becomes a contented, religious mother in the suburbs. The movie version of Marjorie Morningstar featured Natalie Wood.

Wouk's World War II saga--The Winds of War, which runs from just before the beginning of World War II through Pearl Harbor, and War and Remembrance, which continues with the same characters through the end of the war--were cultural touchstones and made into two wildly successful TV mini-series in the 1980s. Through their many characters, readers experience the war across the globe, from the major battles and the inner corridors of power to the Nazi death camps. --John Mutter, editor-in-chief, Shelf Awareness

Book Review


The Jesus Cow

by Michael Perry

Humorist Michael Perry (Coop) makes a foray into fiction with The Jesus Cow, a novel about a small town transformed in profound and hilarious ways by a bull calf born in a barn on Christmas Eve.

Perry sets the story in Swivel, Wis.--population exaggerated at 562--only visible from the interstate by a long-stemmed, halogen-lit Kwik Pump gasoline sign whose "logo glows against the sky." He focuses on resident Harley Jackson, who lives in the house where he grew up, on 15 acres of deteriorating farmland. When his prized cow, Tina Turner, delivers a bull calf bearing the image of Jesus Christ on its black-and-white patchwork hide, Harley, a born-again believer, doesn't drop to his knees. Instead, he says, "Well, that's trouble."

Whether the calf was marked by God or not, Harley doesn't want anything to disturb his manageable, unassuming life, but when the Jesus calf escapes from the barn, the animal's image goes viral. Harley's upper Midwest farm soon becomes an international spiritual destination--a circus that sends the town residents into a tizzy.

As in Truck: A Love Story and Visiting Tom, Perry once again delivers his own brand of outlandishness through rich, endearing characterizations of quirky small-town folks, and how their zany foibles and flaws mask underlying disappointments, secrets and longings. By deploying humor in depicting the often painful truths and absurdities of life, Perry successfully makes much larger statements about society and the human condition. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A small Midwest community is turned upside down when a calf is born on Christmas Eve with the image of Jesus Christ on its flank.

Harper, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062289919

The Book of Aron

by Jim Shepard

Following two distinctive and critically praised short story collections, Like You'd Understand, Anyway and You Think That's Bad, Jim Shepard has written a novel for the first time in a decade. In The Book of Aron, he imagines the early years of the Warsaw Ghetto through the eyes of an adolescent whose life intersects with that of Janusz Korczak, the real-life doctor whose struggle to save the lives of some 200 children in his orphanage was one of World War II's great tales of heroism. Perfectly channeling the artless voice of his young narrator, and with impressive restraint, Shepard gives readers a glimpse of the nightmare world of Warsaw's Jews.

Aron Różycki has just celebrated his 10th birthday when the Germans invade Poland, and it's only a few months before the Nazis construct the walled quarter into which they herd the city's Jews. After his father and brother are transported to a labor camp and his mother dies, Aron lands on Korczak's doorstep.

Shepard makes no attempt to exaggerate the terror and bewilderment of the children under Korczak's care. The ones who don't starve succumb to typhus, spread by the lice that infest everyone. Aron accompanies an ailing Korczak on daily trips through the ghetto's streets, begging and bartering for scraps of food. But through all this, as Shepard shows with profound compassion, the doctor's love nourished his charges as much as any physical sustenance. The Book of Aron ennobles unimaginable suffering through the gift of art. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: A compassionate view of suffering in the Warsaw Ghetto, through the eyes of a child.

Knopf, $23.95, hardcover, 9781101874318

Hyacinth Girls

by Lauren Frankel

Lauren Frankel's debut novel, Hyacinth Girls, opens when Rebecca puts Callie's face, along with a provocative question, on a billboard near the high school. A lengthy flashback explains why, in a gradual uncovering of the past. Callie is not Rebecca's daughter but the daughter of her late best friend, Joyce. The happenings and drama of Callie's middle and high school years are more troubling than the average teen experience, and have led to some terrible events that call for a billboard. But what exactly happened, and who is the perpetrator and who the victim, and why? These are questions that take the whole book to unravel, with roles reversing throughout. Rebecca's voice alternates with Callie's, but not until late in the book, when the reader's impressions are already formed. The mixing up of clues and the struggle to sort out loyalties results in an unreliable narrator or two.

The story of Callie and her social circle eventually becomes entangled with that of Joyce and Rebecca, when they were childhood best friends. New and old traumas slowly, coyly come out: bullying, suicide, simple mistakes and basic meanness. Betrayals and lies populate the experiences of both generations. In revealing a complex web of family and community secrets, schoolyard bullies and the nature of trust, Frankel nudges her reader to ask questions like the one Rebecca puts on the billboard: Do you know your children?

Hyacinth Girls is a compelling and powerfully evocative novel of friendship and love, deceit and duplicity, and the rough terrain of being a teenage girl. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A tricky, smart riddle in novel form about bullying and family secrets.

Crown, $25, hardcover, 9780553418057

Girl in the Moonlight

by Charles Dubow

In Girl in the Moonlight by Charles Dubow (Indiscretion), Wylie Rose has known the Bonet siblings since he was 10, when he fell out of a tree and broke his arm at a party on their massive estate. He studies painting with the elder son, who becomes a dear friend; he admires the younger twins and the rest of the family, who are all brilliant, luminous, talented, beautiful and tremendously rich. But it is Cesca, two years older than Wylie, who hypnotizes him, and ruins him for any other woman or any other life than self-destructive devotion to her.

From a distance of decades, adult Wylie reflects on that life--always coming when Cesca called, from their first sexual encounter when he was a teen through her unpredictable comings and goings over the years, and the apparently mature and healthy relationships he throws aside for her in Manhattan, Paris and Barcelona. She seemingly can't help her flirtations, manipulations and self-destructive behaviors. Wylie feels for her like "an exile misses his homeland or an old man misses his youth."

Dubow's writing is a bit uneven, but often inspired in its phrasing, evoking a mystical atmosphere around Cesca's mesmerizing power and the rarefied world she travels in: extraordinary wealth, titles and estates around the world, artistic success and broken hearts. Wylie and Cesca see tempestuous years pass in struggling to define the magnetism they feel for one another, and readers will be spellbound by the process. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A lifetime of love and lust, with a backdrop of fine art, vast wealth and high society.

Morrow, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062358325

The Making of Zombie Wars

by Aleksandar Hemon

Aleksandar Hemon is a very sneaky writer, which he's proven in works like The Lazarus Project, a story with photographs that was both true and entirely fictitious. But the best example of his guile is in his acknowledgements for The Making of Zombie Wars, where he thanks his agent for "not moving a muscle on her face when I told her I'd written a novel she'd known nothing about." The Making of Zombie Wars is an entirely different animal than Hemon's most famous works. Instead of his usual project of forcing readers to confront assumptions about the story he presents, here he forces them to confront assumptions about his overall narrative project.

Joshua Levin, a failed screenwriter and ESL teacher, begins a tryst with his married Bosnian student, which leads to a farcical series of events that grow ever more dangerous and absurd. Scenes from Josh's latest script, a horror movie called Zombie Wars, make up the chapters that don't chronicle his failures as a womanizer and functioning adult. As the novel continues, the script and Josh's life begin to merge. A neurotic Jewish writer in his 30s seems a strange protagonist for a Hemon novel, considering his life as a refugee from Bosnia permeates the rest of his work, but that may very well be the point. The Making of Zombie Wars cheekily skewers the archetypal "Jewish artist" protagonist in American literature even as it shows that Hemon has a wider range than he's ever shown before. --Noah Cruickshank, marketing manager, Open Books, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: A new direction from a contemporary American treasure.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26, hardcover, 9780374203412

A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me

by David Gates

A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me is David Gates's first book of fiction in 15 years, and once again he mines the same rich lode of broken (or at best, bent) lives beneath the surface of New England professionals and academics. In story after story, musicians, doctors, architects and especially journalists descend into drink, divorce and promiscuity. They are getting old, and their careers and dreams have long passed. Sounds bleak, but over the years Gates has honed his sense of irony and sad humor. His characters' smart, often sarcastic dialogue reflects the hard-earned knowledge of people approaching the end.

Perhaps because its length gives Gates room to turn snapshots into a panorama, the opening novella, "Banishment," is the best piece. Its narrator is a snarky, on-again, off-again journalist who took an entry-level job at a Hudson Valley newspaper and married an earnest colleague. She leaves her first husband to marry an architect in his 70s, despite his warning that "things could get a little unattractive in the homestretch." She later leaves him for a surprising new sexual partner and a job at an even lower tier news outlet. Like most of Gates's stories, "Banishment" doesn't conclude so much as just end.

In "A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me," the narrator, who accepts his dying friend's request to take him in and nurse him through his final days, comments, "I don't know what to hope for.... Quality, I guess. And then not too much quantity." Whatever Gates's oeuvre might lack in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: The nuance, irony and pain of smart characters with lots of troubles.

Knopf, $25.95, hardcover, 9780385351539

Coup de Foudre

by Ken Kalfus

In the opening novella of Ken Kalfus's third book of short fiction, Coup de Foudre, an international banker writes an incriminating e-mail to his illiterate rape victim. In events that play out much the way they did during the real-life Dominique Strauss-Kahn controversy, the hubristic narrator escapes conviction but, in Kalfus's imagination, cannot quiet the troubling voices in his head.

The stories that follow explore the world through the eyes of similarly troubled people, but because of the magical and twisted realities in which they live, consequences are never quite as dire as they should be. A town cursed with the knowledge of when each citizen will die submits to its fate. A man inexplicably unable to rise from a park bench wonders whether it's the bench or his own mind that's imprisoned him.

The title of the collection translates literally to "bolt of lightning," but the phrase is a French idiom that means "love at first sight." It's an expression Kalfus's narrator in the novella uses to explain how he loves, "without the oversignificant looks and the lame jokes, in a sudden strike, a jump, a rage--a coup de foudre...." 

Kalfus's stories tend to roll in like thunder, rather than flash like lightning. The stories are separate and distinct but together they create a pensive and wistful atmosphere. Kalfus (Equilateral) blends science and philosophy to create whimsical, off-kilter worlds only slightly different from our own and in which entire universes are born--slanted but familiar. --Josh Potter

Discover: A playful and poignant collection of fiction that masterfully toes the line between comic and tragic.

Bloomsbury, $26, hardcover, 9781620400852

Mystery & Thriller


by William Hjortsberg

William "Gatz" Hjortsberg hung around with the 1960s weed and whiskey writers crowd that included Ken Kesey and Richard Brautigan. In 2012, Hjortsberg published an 800-page biography about the tragic life of his friend Brautigan (Jubilee Hitchhiker), but his best known work is 1978's Edgar Award-winning juju-noir novel Falling Angel (source of the cult movie Angel Heart). His new novel, Mañana, goes back to those days when the adventurous and fugitive went down to kick back on Mexico's Pacific coast with cheap dope and sunshine. Married eight years, Tod and Linda leave the Summer of Love chaos in San Francisco to rent half a duplex in tiny Barra de Navidad for the 1968 Semana Santa celebrations. In a haze of music, surfing, sex, drugs and booze, they party with the next-door group of young ex-cons and dopers on the lam from a Beverly Hills jewelry robbery. Mañana launches with Tod waking from a drugged night to find a girl in his bed, her throat slashed, and Linda and the criminals gone. Packing up his broke-down VW microbus with Hawaiian shirts, leftover Pacifico beer and his back-up weed stash, he takes off to find Linda and learn who killed the girl.

Stoked with alcohol and doobies, Tod makes his way to the cities of Guadalajara and Guanajuato, following leads from loitering street and park pachucos who have heard about gringos trying to sell high-end watches. Hjortsberg's descriptions of Tod's wanderings are detailed right down to the cantinas, plazas and parking lots--clearly he's been there. Part hardboiled mystery and part road trip, Mañana is both an entertaining trip back to the tie-dyed days of sex and drugs and a dive into Mexican life, with its lucha libre, mariachis, tortas and bandidos. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A 1960s drug-fueled adventure searching for a kidnapped wife in Mexico.

Open Road Media, $13.99, paperback, 9781497680739

Science Fiction & Fantasy


by Neal Stephenson

When the moon explodes, no one knows why, how or who made it happen, but humanity needs to figure out what to do next, and fast.

Seveneves, another brilliant speculative novel in a long line from Neal Stephenson (REAMDE), documents the panic of astronomers as they observe the large remnants of moon scattering throughout the upper orbits of Earth, up to the moment--5,000 years later--when humanity, much-changed as a species, returns to its birthplace.

World leaders all hear the hard truth: what's left of the moon will first obscure the sun, then come down in a fiery rain of death and destruction, killing everything on the Earth's surface. The 10 astronauts on the International Space Station race to save the small number of people they can from the doomed planet; the evacuees carry with them digital records of the planet's genetic diversity, hoping to eventually return and re-seed Earth in the far future, once the "Hard Rain" of burning moon detritus has ended and the planet has healed.

Seveneves reads like three smaller novels, with sections one and two detailing humanity's last push to reach the stars, and the small space-bound contingent of human beings who survive. The third section explores what 5,000 years of space living might do to us as a species.

Stephenson brings his considerable intelligence, wit and ability to write engaging, believable characters to a tour de force of speculative fiction. A riveting book from beginning to end. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: An epic that begins with lunar destruction, and then proceeds into the distant future, never once losing sight of the human race that still survives in the face of incalculable odds.

Morrow, $35, hardcover, 9780062190376


The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789

by Joseph J. Ellis

To the modern American, the United States seems a foregone conclusion of the Revolutionary War. But in The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789, historian Joseph J. Ellis (American Sphinx, First Family) argues that nationhood was not a goal of the Revolutionary War, and that at the end of the war, the only connection among the colonies was their resolve to remain free of empire. Comparable to today's European Union, the 13 colonies were a collaborative collection of independent entities.

The politics of the nascent nation changed rapidly between 1783 and 1789, due largely to a quartet of men: George Washington, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. Washington and Hamilton both witnessed firsthand the ineffectiveness of the Continental Congress, instilling in them a desire for a strong, central leadership. Jay spent years in Europe setting American foreign policy, which convinced him that the United States needed to appear united internationally. Madison's political genius made him certain that a confederation would never succeed.

These men were perfectly positioned politically to be able drastically to shift American policy away from boundless independence and back toward centralized authority. By establishing the Constitution and setting the framework of the federal government, in essence they staged a bloodless revolution.

Absorbing in its details, and convincing in its arguments, The Quartet is sure to appeal to history nerds and American politicos. As another election season approaches, a look back at the creation of the government, and the reasons why these founding fathers did what they did, is sure to be engrossing reading for anyone. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A fascinating look at the four men most responsible for the creation of the U.S. government.

Knopf, $27.95, hardcover, 9780385353403

Children's & Young Adult

Jake Makes a World: Jacob Lawrence, a Young Artist in Harlem

by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, illus. by Christopher Myers

Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000) created the 60 panels of his the Migration of the Negro series in 1941 at the age of 23. This sumptuous slice-of-life biography with illustrations by Caldecott Honor artist Christopher Myers (Harlem) plants some seeds in childhood for the artist who would grow up to immortalize his era.

Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts (Harlem Is Nowhere), in her first book for young people, describes the young artist at 13, when he moves to Harlem: "In the morning Jake watches the sun wake up.... He makes a big stretch, and the sun stretches, too." In Myers's accompanying painting, Jake's arms dance above his head; the colors of the sunrise appear in the striped quilt on his bed. The author's lyrical words reflect an artist's view of the world. Jake's feet sink deep into a thick blue rug: "When his toes touch the ground, it's like a sky upside down." Myers skillfully pays homage to Lawrence while retaining his own style. Jake reaches toward Utopia Children's House, where he first met artist and teacher Charles Henry Alston. In one of Jake's paintings, "all the faces" he sees on the street "become one face," and after his teacher shows him an African mask, Jake fashions his own from brown paper bags, glue and paint. As Jake re-creates his street (the cover image), Myers invents a glorious mash-up of Lawrence's most famous figures.

Rhodes-Pitts and Myers imagine a young artist called to his vocation, who honors his city and history as subjects worth capturing for posterity. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts and Christopher Myers offer a window into the childhood of artist Jacob Lawrence, who grew up to immortalize his era.

The Museum of Modern Art, dist. by Abrams, $18.95, hardcover, 44p., ages 6-up, 9780870709654

Rad American Women A-Z

by Kate Schatz, illus. by Miriam Klein Stahl

From A for Angela Davis to Z for Zora Neale Hurston, this memorable abecedarian introduces readers to women leaders of community organizing, music, sports, writing and much more.

Kate Schatz introduces nearly all of the women by their first name (except for "G is for the Grimke Sisters," Angelina and Sarah), gives a one-line encapsulation ("who devoted their lives to the pursuit of equality"), followed by a sentence or two in large type in the color corresponding to the background of the illustration opposite, then provides a few paragraphs of details about each woman's life and work. Miriam Klein Stahl's cut-paper portraits pulse with energy, whether it's an image of Billie Jean King wielding her tennis racquet, or "Queen Bessie" Coleman alongside her biplane. The individuals alone will inspire young people, but as a collective, they demonstrate that each woman's pursuit of staying true to her vision--whether it be dance, preserving nature or designing a war memorial--furthers women's rights as a movement. Some readers may wish for references (e.g., for direct quotes from Carol Burnett and activist Jovita Idar, and a timeline for each woman within her biography, even though it's in the front matter), but most will appreciate the span of this diverse range of women and their vocations.

Author and artist place well-known personalities alongside everyday heroes, and show that you can't have one without the other. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An A–Z guide to women who changed the course of history.

City Lights, $14.95, hardcover, 64p., ages 8-up, 9780872866836


Author Buzz

The Wild Card
(A Rivers Wilde Novella)

by Dylan Allen

Dear Reader,

"What if…?" is my favorite question to ask myself when I start writing a book. The answers that Cassie and Leo's story delivered were unexpected and heartwarming. Adding a heist and serendipitous reunion into the mix took my tried and true favorite trope, second chance, to a whole new level. Theirs is a classic case of right person/wrong time. Whether you're a Rivers Wilde newbie or expert, watching them overcome some pretty steep hurdles is a wild, thrilling, feel good ride.

I hope you love every word. xo,

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: The Wild Card (A Rivers Wilde Novella) by Dylan Allen

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 16, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book


Kids Buzz

Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night

by Steven J. Simmons and Clifford R. Simmons
illus. by Ruth E. Harper

Dear Reader,

My newest and latest in a three-book series, Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night?, came from seeing the fascination so many kids have with the ocean and ocean creatures. How do a whale, octopus, dolphin, clownfish, great white shark and so many other undersea animals get their rest?

After all, they need to get their rest and sleep, just like all of us. So dive into this rhyming STEM picture book to encourage a love of nature and the environment--and under the covers for a great bedtime story.

"What do animals do when children are sleeping? Featuring creatures young children are likely to know, this book has the answers....[and] unusual nighttime facts are a plus." --Kirkus

Steve Simmons

KidsBuzz: Charlesbridge: Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night? by Steven J. Simmons and Clifford R. Simmons, illus. by Ruth E. Harper


Pub Date: 
April 16, 2024


Type of Book:
Picture Book

Age Range: 

List Price: 
$17.99 Hardcover

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