Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, December 18, 2015


Other Press (NY): Nvk by Temple Drake

From My Shelf

Avid Reader Press: Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

Magination Press: Red Yellow Blue by Lysa Mullady, illustrated by Laurent Simon

Gift Books: Sherlock, Shakespeare and More

We get excited about new books every day here, but this season brings a greater number of books that elicit excitement, even swoons--like Sherlock Chronicles by Steve Tribe (Dey Street, $29.99)--all you ever wanted to know about the smash PBS series. Casting, sets, costumes and scads of photos (although "the kiss" should have merited a full page).

Fans of the Bard of Avon will be pleased with Presenting Shakespeare: 1,100 Posters from Around the World, compiled by Mirko Ilić and Steven Heller (Princeton Architectural Press, $50). Shakespeare on a skateboard or punkish with tattoos, Romeo i Julia with a heart-shaped bear trap, a Ralph Steadman Macbeth--fromdelicate to horrifying, these posters are arresting.

British bookstore Waterstone's chose The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith (Penguin Books, $20) as its Book of the Year; we think it's a great choice. In this "sumptuously designed picture book," a lonely fox is guided through a dark forest by a bright star. One night Star goes missing, and Fox, bereft, huddles in his den until he finally goes in search of Star. Bickford-Smith is a designer at Penguin, and her fable of loss, courage and friendship is marvelously enhanced by her arts and crafts–inspired illustrations.

The Best American Infographics 2015, edited by Gareth Cook and Maria Popova (Houghton Mifflin, $20 paperback) ranges from sobering ("All the Guns" and "World's Deadliest Animals"; hint: they're connected) to astonishing (a six-page foldout showing the "Secrets of Il Duomo") to whimsical ("Beer on Twitter"). This year there's a new section of 10 interactive graphics, like "A Day in the Life of a Taxi" and Derek Jeter's career at bat.

There are seven families of bees, and Sam Droege and Laurence Packer showcase them in Bees: An Up-Close Look at Pollinators Around the World (Voyageur Press, $25). More than 100 stunners, like the shimmery-golden Serrated Evening Forked-Tongue, the glowing Wonderful Blue Invader, the fur-trimmed Plush Stealth Cuckoo and the Unknown Cute Bee. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers


Rp Minis: Cats on Catnip: A Grow-Your-Own Catnip Kit by Andrew Marttila


Book Candy

Holiday Spirit--For Word Lovers, Geeks and Others

For word geeks, Scrabble's Anagram Christmas video will help you "change negative things into positive ones... warm your heart and improve your vocabulary."

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"Get your pens, papers and maybe a protractor out, because here's how to celebrate Christmas, geek style," Holly Smale, author of Geek Girl, advised in the Guardian.

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Canine author and Instagram star Marnie the Dog "surprised children at the Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital with the Rockettes to bring goodies for the kids," Buzzfeed reported.

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For his "top 10 Christmas books" list, author Matt Haig chose "the books that will put even the most bah-humbuggiest Scrooge into a festive mood."

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Bustle featured "5 literary themed holiday party ideas book nerds will love" as well as "14 of the best Christmas trees made of books."

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"Haul out the holiday story traditions," Brightly advised.


Ingram: Books Make Great Gifts - Take a Look!


Great Reads

Our Reviewers' Favorites: Nonfiction

In addition to our Shelf Awareness Best Books of 2015, we asked our reviewers to select a few of their personal favorite books of the year. They're an eclectic bunch, and their picks are, too. We'll start with nonfiction; our next issue will reveal their fiction choices.

After seeing young Kate Mulgrew recite poetry in a school program, her mother suggested that she choose whether she wanted to be "a mediocre poet or a great actress." Mulgrew's engaging memoir, Born with Teeth (Little, Brown, $28), highlights her acting career and offers a fine introduction to the writer she might have been instead. --Florinda Pendley Vasquez

In Boss Life: Surviving My Own Small Business (Blue Rider, $26.95), Paul Downs offers an intriguing and deeply personal behind-the-scenes look at one challenging year in the life of an independent furniture designer and manufacturer. There is fierce honesty in this chronicle of the challenges faced by a craftsman who had to learn how to be boss, small businessman, salesman, accountant and more. --Robert Gray

Chasing the Scream (Bloomsbury USA, $27) is Johann Hari's study of the history of the war on drugs, written with a journalistic eye for detail and storytelling that makes this convoluted tale surprisingly easy to read. It's an eye-opening book that will not only change opinions, but prove an important part of the conversation on the war on drugs--and its lasting consequences--in years to come. --Kerry McHugh

Seeking fulfillment, or happiness, or at least some answers to questions she isn't sure she knows how to ask, Jessa Crispin chose to sell all of her possessions and move to Europe, studying those before her who had scrapped their conventional lives in favor of a blank slate. The Dead Ladies Project (Univ. of Chicago, $16 paperback) is part memoir, part travel writing, part literary criticism, all of which combine into an astounding work exploring what it means to live one's best life. --Kerry McHugh

Deal: My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreams, and Drugs with the Grateful Dead by Bill Kreutzmann (St. Martin's Press, $27.99): Kreutzmann's storytelling and prose are a little like his drumming: creative, energetic, and exuberant. Oh, and he's very funny too. If he doesn't remember something exactly, he makes it up well enough that it seems the cold truth. Among the shelves of Dead books, this is easily among the finest. --Bruce Jacobs

Susan Cheever has written a riveting, well-conceived take on the history--good and bad--of one of America's favorite pastimes in Drinking in America: Our Secret History (Twelve, $28). --Kathleen Gerard

Two of our reviewers chose the much-lauded H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (Grove Press, $26):
How many books can be shelved in nature, memoir and/or biography? Helen Macdonald's poetic story of raising a goshawk includes scientific details on the fierce bird, her academician's revelations on another falconer, T.H. White, and her personal struggle after her father's death. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon and Alex Mutter

Hammer Head (W.W. Norton, $24.95) is a lyrical, wise, plainspoken memoir by writer-turned-carpenter Nina McLaughlin that resonated deeply with me. I loved MacLaughlin's descriptions of tools and construction materials (both as physical objects and as an extended metaphor for living), and her thoughtful account of building (and rebuilding) a worthwhile life. --Katie Noah Gibson

It's Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality by Michelangelo Signorile (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27) is a fiery, compelling reminder that full civil rights for LGBT people still requires action, and Signorile provides an empowering map for the future. --Kevin Howell

Stitched like a tapestry of Patti Smith's dreams and memories, M Train (Knopf, $25) eschews the structure of the traditional memoir for a series of interstitial moments, from cups of coffee to overseas trips. Every pause is as luxuriant as a square of sunlight on an oriental rug. --Linnie Greene

As Britain prepared to relinquish control of India, political rivals Jawaharlal Nehru of the Hindu majority and Muhammad Ali Jinnah of the Muslim minority sparked conflict across the newly independent subcontinent. In Midnight's Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India's Partition (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28), Nisid Hajari carefully details the politics that led to one of history's bloodiest civil wars. --Dave Wheeler

My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South by Rick Bragg (Oxmoor House, $27.95): In essays that read like short stories, Bragg describes, critiques and celebrates the South: its flavors, customs and geography. These tales are variously funny, mouthwatering and heartfelt, and will make readers from all over feel homesick. --Julia Jenkins

Sarah Helm's Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women (Nan A. Talese, $37.50) is a historical biography of a women's concentration camp opened by the Nazi regime in 1939. The detailed research and narrative telling make this book an exceptional read. Helm illuminates a part of history that stays with readers long after they have finished reading. --Justus Joseph

Schubert's Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession by Ian Bostridge (Knopf, $29) was chosen by two reviewers:
English tenor Bostridge shares his passion for Schubert's "Winterreise," a stunning 24-song cycle for voice and piano that continues to have a profound effect on audiences today. His book, which is much more than a beautifully crafted (in every sense of the term) companion piece, reflects the diverse interests and singular obsession of a world-class singer and Oxford University-trained historian. --Robert Gray and Justus Joseph

In September 1906, the New York Zoological Gardens (now the Bronx Zoo) exhibited a man known as Ota Benga in its Monkey House. Heralded as a cannibal and pygmy found in the jungles of the Congo, Benga was gawked at by hordes of onlookers and even put in a cage with an orangutan. With Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga (Amistad, $25.99), using previously overlooked primary documents and other sources, journalist Pamela Newkirk demolishes the longstanding myth that Benga was anything but exploited. --Alex Mutter

Lauret Savoy's incisive Trace: Memory, History, Race and the American Landscape (Counterpoint Press, $25) crosses boundaries to "re-member" disconnections in human experience and the history of the land itself. "The American landscape is palimpsest. Layers upon layers of names and meanings lie beneath the official surface," she writes. "Yes, I am palimpsest, too, a place made over but trying to trace back." --Robert Gray

In her powerful little book The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America (Beacon Press, $24.95), Lani Guinier rejects the definition of merit by test scores and argues for proven educational reforms that could give all students the tools to build a truly democratic society. --Sara Catterall

Wanted: A Spiritual Pursuit Through Jail, Among Outlaws, and Across Borders (HarperOne, $25.99): This thought-provoking first work from Chris Hoke makes readers laugh out loud on one page and wipe away tears of heartache on the next. It's a passionately written, intimate look into the U.S. penal system by a man with a special perspective. --Jen Forbus

Weather events have a natural dramatic arc that, when associated with people and places, leads to compelling narrative. In What Stands in a Storm: Three Days in the Worst Superstorm to Hit the South's Tornado Alley (Atria Books, $25), Kim Cross chronicles the impact of some of the 62 tornadoes that struck Alabama and Mississippi on April 27, 2011, a day of nearly 300 outbreaks. --Florinda Pendley Vasquez

Following her husband's traumatic brain injury, Sonya Lea records their lives and challenges with joy and wonder, horror and resentment, commitment and love. Her memoir, Wondering Who You Are (Tin House, $15.95 paperback), is painful, wise and beautifully written. --Julia Jenkins

With her essays in Why Not Me? (Crown Archetype, $25), Mindy Kaling, an ethnic woman in a powerful position in an industry that's tough on females of any color, imparts witty, sage advice on gaining confidence and conquering self-hatred. Her title sums it up: Why can't any of us be anything we want to be? --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis

If literature is a lens through which to see the world, Joni Tevis's essays in The World Is on Fire: Scrap, Treasure, and Songs of Apocalypse (Milkweed Editions, $16) are the kind of high-powered magnifiers that can singe. Political and personal, gentle and brash, they contain multitudes. --Linnie Greene


Justice Studios: Ultrasquad Novels by Julia Devillers and Ronald Raymond Wells Jr, illustrated by Rafael Rosado


Book Review

Mystery & Thriller

White Leopard

by Laurent Guillaume, trans. by Sophie Weiner


Souleymane "Solo" Camara was a French police detective before a tragedy forced him to flee France. Now a private investigator in Mali (the West African nation was his father's homeland), Solo is approached by a beautiful French lawyer named Farah, who wants him to help her free her sister, Bahia, imprisoned for smuggling cocaine from Mali to France.

Solo successfully bribes a judge to free Bahia, but the day after her release Bahia washes up in the river, with her throat cut. Farah is distraught, and forces Solo's involvement in the case by telling everyone she's hired him to find and kill her sister's killers. The killers, who are connected to some very bad men, decide to eliminate Solo before he can find them.

A fast-paced, hardboiled thriller, White Leopard is over-the-top and violent. Its depiction of the corrupt Malian society is fascinating, giving a detailed look at a country that many Americans know little about. Solo's vague past, his dark demons and his wry sense of humor make him a surprisingly likable antihero. His travels through the developing nation, his descriptions of the vibrant and smelly city of Bamako, and his inability to let the case go, even when it would be in his best interest to walk away, make for an enthralling read. White Leopard is the first of Laurent Guillaume's books to be translated into English, but it surely won't be the last. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: White Leopard is a violent mystery set in modern-day Mali, where an embittered private detective must outwit corrupt officials and drug smugglers.

Le French Book, $16.95, paperback, 9781939474506

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Exiled Earthborn

by Paul Tassi


In the second book of the Earthborn trilogy, Paul Tassi picks up where he left off in The Last Exodus. The last survivors of Earth--Lucas, Asha and their adoptive son, Noah--try to rally the population of Sora, a planet populated by humanoids, light-years away from Earth. Sora is engaged in an endless war with Xala, a planet full of genetically modified beings unaware that their warlike nature is the result of a Soran's meddling in the distant past.

Xalan rebels Alpha and Zeta hope to broadcast this shattering truth to their home, a mission both dangerous and nearly impossible, thanks to the security and military might of Xala. Lucas and Asha find themselves caught up in politics they barely understand from the start; they must find out whom to trust and how to behave on an alien world.

Tassi's universe is brightly built with detail and logic. Alpha is alien, intimidating, but always ready with a technological solution or a dry quip. A Soran princess is born to privilege, yet a deep sense of melancholy leads her to champion the war-ending mission. Even the monstrous Desecrator from Xala has a motivational background. Readers will cheer for the heroes as well as understand why the antagonists are out to destroy Sora and its way of life.

The Exiled Earthborn continues the brilliantly told story from the first book, expanding and enhancing the story of two worlds locked in a battle for supremacy, which ultimately caused the total destruction of Earth and its people. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This impressive followup to The Last Exodus continues the story of the last survivors of a ruined Earth as they hope to stop a centuries-long war between bitter alien rivals.

Talos, $15.99, paperback, 9781940456386

Biography & Memoir

The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic

by Ginger Strand


The two Vonnegut brothers, older Bernard and younger Kurt, were as different as brothers could be. Bernard was a genius scientist who earned a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from MIT in 1939. Kurt dropped out of Cornell in 1943 to join the army, where he was captured during the Battle of the Bulge and survived the Allied firebombing of Dresden. Bernard was the left brain: analytical, a man exploring the world through math. Kurt was the right: creative, a free thinker who knew he could be a great fiction writer. But until Kurt made his big literary break, he would have to support his new wife and the seven children they vowed to have.

In 1945, Bernard joined General Electric's research lab in Schenectady, N.Y., a playground for scientists nicknamed the "House of Magic." There he became fascinated by weather modification and control as part of GE's Project Cirrus. When the military took interest in Bernard's work he, like other scientists gravely concerned by the recent unleashing of atomic power over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, found himself in a moral morass.

Meanwhile, Kurt got a job in GE's public relations department and chafed under a conformist corporate culture. The Brothers Vonnegut by Ginger Strand (Killer on the Road) tracks Bernard's work with Project Cirrus and Kurt's struggle to start his writing career. Strand connects Kurt's time at GE and Bernard's weather modification efforts with Kurt's writing, especially in Cat's Cradle. The Brothers Vonnegut is an enthralling mix of science and literature surrounding the formative years of a literary icon. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: Kurt Vonnegut spent his formative fiction-writing years doing PR at General Electric alongside his scientist older brother.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27, hardcover, 9780374117016

Alex Haley: And the Books That Changed a Nation

by Robert J. Norrell


Alex Haley wrote The Autobiography of Malcolm X (as told to him), and Roots, the story of his family from Africa through slavery and the Civil War. Separately, these books had a profound impact on how the United States viewed race relations and its own history. Together, their influence could hardly be overstated, and that is what Robert J. Norrell argues in Alex Haley: And the Books That Changed a Nation, the first biography of Haley and a study of his two seminal works and the controversies they fostered.

Norrell covers Haley's forebears and Tennessee childhood, his three marriages and a writing career growing from the Coast Guard (where ghost-writing personal letters led to public relations assignments) to magazine work, which led to his interviewing Malcolm X for Reader's Digest and Playboy. The process for Malcolm's Autobiography (1965) was dynamic, as Haley walked the fine line between Malcolm's voice and Haley's more moderate political position, and as Malcolm's views on race relations evolved. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Roots (1976) was even harder won, as Haley drew a short book contract out over more than 11 years of research and travel. The effect of the book, and its accompanying television miniseries, was astounding. And yet the rest of his life and work would be shadowed by accusations of copyright infringements and invention in what Haley called a work of nonfiction.

With sensitivity and careful study, Norrell examines Haley's embattled life and extraordinary achievements. His final conclusion about this "likeable narcissist" is that despite Haley's imperfections, his influence was prodigious and deserves our respect and continued study today. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: History and literary criticism enrich the first biography of Alex Haley, author of Roots and Malcolm X's Autobiography.

St. Martin's Press, $26.99, hardcover, 9781137279606

History

To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949

by Ian Kershaw


To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949 by British historian Ian Kershaw, perhaps best known for his enormous two-volume biography of Adolf Hitler (1889-1936 Hubris and 1936-1945 Nemesis), is the first of two new entries in the Penguin History of Europe series. This book marks the "era of Europe's self-destruction" through World War I, interwar economic and political calamities, World War II and the beginning of the continent's division between the United States' influence and the Soviet occupation. The second book will span the Cold War through the modern day.

Even as a standalone volume, To Hell and Back is a monumental work. As Kershaw readily admits in his preface: "for practically every sentence I wrote a plethora of specialist works, often of great quality, was available." In covering such broad and well-trodden ground, To Hell and Back must find success or failure in its clarity and organization. By these measures, Kershaw's work is a triumph. His engaging prose guides readers through details thorough enough to understand fully a given topic without becoming bogged down. Politics, cultural trends and economics alike are coherent in Kershaw's capable hands.

With so much material to cover, Kershaw might have been tempted to gloss over "common knowledge," leaving casual history readers lost in the process. He instead keeps the basics succinct, covering, for example, the course of the Spanish Civil War without boring history buffs or alienating newcomers. The sheer breadth of To Hell and Back gives fascinating insight into the pushes and pulls of the geopolitical tides that shaped the modern world. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: The accessible first of two new volumes in the Penguin History of Europe series documents World War I through the aftermath of World War II.

Viking, $35, hardcover, 9780670024582

Social Science

Lactivism: How Feminists and Fundamentalists, Hippies and Yuppies, and Physicians and Politicians Made Breastfeeding Big Business and Bad Policy

by Courtney Jung


When it comes to parenting, "breast is best" has become cliché, and while its truthfulness isn't usually questioned, Courtney Jung's Lactivism does just that. Her research is extensive, and she devotes each chapter to an issue concerning breastfeeding in the U.S. She separates those who advocate for women's right to breastfeed in public from the "lactivists," a term she uses to describe zealous advocates, policy makers and others who believe breast milk is vital for infant wellness despite the lack of scientific evidence. Jung (The Moral Force of Indigenous Politics) explains that the science that extolled the benefits of breast milk was inaccurate and poorly interpreted, promoting alleged long-term benefits of the "good" bacteria and other breast milk components. 

The dark side of lactivism shames mothers who use formula, and has influenced the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program so that women who do not breastfeed receive grossly unequal benefits compared to breastfeeding recipients. Jung describes how some lactivists have worked to hide the risk of transmitting HIV from mothers with the virus. Ironically, these social and financial pressures encourage women to use breast pumps, removing the only proven benefit of breastfeeding--bonding--from the equation. American women receive no mandatory paid maternity leave, and most of them don't have such leave via medical insurance, yet medical insurance pays for breast pumps. This encouragement to pump is perversely presented as a freedom for women, a choice they can make so they can continue working. Jung's Lactivism illustrates how a woman's choice has become a matter of public health and a socially enforced necessity. --Justus Joseph, bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company

Discover: A critical look at policies that have cemented poor science and damaged women's rights in the United States.

Basic Books, $26.99, hardcover, 9780465039692

The Rift: A New Africa Breaks Free

by Alex Perry


Foreign correspondent and Newsweek contributing editor Alex Perry (Lifeblood) takes an ambitious and controversial approach to answering some of the thorniest questions about Africa's contradictions and its epic quest for freedom.

Perry starts from the premise that "outsiders" all too often get Africa wrong. The journalists, academics and foreign aid workers who define Africa for the Western world tend to treat Africa as a monolithic entity or sell their own solution. Aware he's an outsider, Perry avoids interviewing familiar experts in favor of recounting the stories he's been told over the course of a decade crisscrossing the continent. He writes about men and women from Kenya, South Sudan, Rwanda, South Africa and elsewhere. There's Khalima, the 38-year-old mother of nine in Mogadishu, husband near death, her five remaining children left at the city gates while she searches for a burial site for her dying seven-year-old son. The episode gives a human face to an avoidable disaster: southern Somalia was under the control of a militant group with terrorist ties, and a U.S. aid block, part of the U.S. war on terror, was intended to deprive a few thousand militia fighters, but effectively denied emergency food to several million Somalis, resulting in a humanitarian crisis.

Perry does equal justice to seemingly intractable problems, yet also details how the continent has enormous potential: Africa's economic growth has been double the global average since 2003. The Rift is an immensely readable, shocking and important book. It challenges readers to think about how we relate to a changing continent, the suffering around us, and what it means to do good in the world. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: Drawing from more than a decade of in-person reporting, Rift is a powerful and unforgettable book about a dynamic continent and its people.

Little, Brown, $30, hardcover, 9780316333771

Body, Mind & Spirit

Living Mindfully: At Home, at Work, and in the World

by Deborah Schoeberlein David, with David Panakkal


"Once outside the womb, each human life begins with an inhalation.... To breathe is to live, and mindfulness techniques facilitate and sustain this realization." In Living Mindfully, Deborah Schoeberlein David illuminates how something as simple yet essential as a breath can become the gateway to greater compassion, peace and kindness. Meditation is able to ground us in the present moment and enrich our interactions with others. David shares her own experiences throughout, providing practical examples of how meditation has improved her relationships, parenting and vocation.

She begins with One Mindful Breath, which becomes a foundational gateway to other exercises like Pause, Mindful Counting, Sharing Kindness and many more. David's exercises are concrete and manageable, taking only a second or two, yet demonstrate how "the impact of pausing--at the right time and place--can be infinite." The biological benefits of meditation on stress management and the brain's neuroplasticity are well-documented, so David emphasizes the benefits of learning how to respond rather than react to daily experiences with two basic approaches: "applying mindfulness to promote optimal experience, and... to minimize harm." She spends a chapter on how mindfulness can enrich relationships, child rearing and the work environment, and alleviate times of great pain and loss, as well as encourage the "sense of freedom that comes with recognizing thoughts and feelings as mental events, rather than aspects of a permanent identity." Whether someone is new to meditation or an experienced practitioner, Living Mindfully is a valuable resource. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: A practical approach to meditation and mindfulness.

Wisdom Publications, $16.95, paperback, 9781614291534

Sports

Concussion

by Jeanne Marie Laskas


Concussion is the story of former Pittsburgh Steeler "Iron Mike" Webster's brain and the Nigerian-born forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu, who studied it to discover the cause of Webster's post-football dementia and death at age 50. After graduating from a top Nigerian medical school, Omalu immigrated to the U.S. in 1994, where he worked his way through a half-dozen additional degrees before settling on a neuropathology sub-specialty and working with Pittsburgh's county coroner.

When Mike Webster's corpse was randomly assigned to Omalu's autopsy table, Omalu's relentless curiosity about complicated brain damage, along with dogged persistence, led to his breakthrough insight that Webster's death was caused by repeated concussions from playing football--a published scientific conclusion that brought the weight of the NFL down on him.

GQ correspondent Jeanne Marie Laskas (Hidden America) is the ideal author for this deep-dive into a messy David and Goliath, black immigrant–versus–white power story of subterfuge, lawyering, politics and seasonal Sunday afternoon obsession. With a slam-bam, boffo style buttressed by strong research and interviews, Laskas doesn't miss a thing. She graphically captures Webster's job after the snap to "explode into other guys, head first"; and explains the futility of a helmet when "the brain sloshing around inside that skull was going to bash into the skull walls no matter how much padding you nestled the head in." Concussion is such a well-told story that it is the basis for a forthcoming film starring Will Smith as Bennet Omalu. Smith will have his work cut out to bring Omalu's story to life better than Laskas already has. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Laskas details the dramatic showdown between the mighty NFL and the Nigerian-born pathologist Bennet Omalu.

Random House, $16, paperback, 9780812987577

Performing Arts

American Dancing: From the Cakewalk to the Moonwalk

by Megan Pugh


In American Dancing: From the Cakewalk to the Moonwalk, Megan Pugh uses the history of dance in America as a way to explore larger questions about race, class and, ultimately, American identity.

Dance is a continually evolving hybrid in Pugh's account. Black slaves borrow from the French quadrille and Irish step dancing to create the cakewalk and tap dancing. White teenagers adopt and adapt dances from black culture in the 1920s, and again in the 1950s and 1960s. Agnes de Mille and other choreographers use steps from tap and square dancing to transform the ballet into an American form. The borrowing is not always innocent: the blackface of the minstrel show is the most obvious point at which racism is a driving element in the story. The dance floor becomes an arena in which divergent strands of American culture meet, meld, separate and meet again--creating a recognizably American dance vocabulary in the process.

Pugh handles dance as an art form and its historical context with equal deftness. She builds her book around the personal stories of some of the biggest names in American dance: Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, the Castles, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Michael Jackson and choreographers Agnes de Mille and Paul Taylor. Not only does Pugh draw sometimes unexpected connections among them and place them within her larger story, she also describes their dancing so vividly that readers will want to see the dances themselves--something she anticipates with a detailed list of dance films and videos. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: An examination of how dance reflects the variations of American identity.

Yale University Press, $32.50, hardcover, 9780300201314

Children's & Young Adult

The Only Child

by Guojing


In this weighty, wordless book of exquisite black-and-white pencil drawings by Chinese illustrator Guojing, a cherubic young girl from the city is left alone in the apartment when her parents go off to work.

After staring at the closed door for a while, she busies herself playing dress-up, reading and gazing out at the snowy city. Enough. She dons a snow suit, grabs an umbrella and heads outside. The passage of time marches along in comic-strip panels, pausing here and there in glorious full-bleed spreads. The little girl amuses herself by people-watching and making funny tracks in the snow, and eventually boards bus #25. The world zooms by, she falls asleep, and when she wakes up, the bus is empty. She jumps off somewhere in the forest. (At just this moment, her mother back home finds the note she left, "Gone to visit grandma." Her parents rush to find her.)

Meanwhile, the girl, now frightened, spots a large-antlered stag, which leads her safely into a lake, then up a staircase of clouds, where she has a giddy time bouncing and playing with her adorable new otter-like cloud companions... until they leave her, too.

In an introductory note, Guojing writes, "The story in this book is fantasy, but it reflects the very real feelings of isolation and loneliness I experienced growing up in the 1980s under the one-child policy in China." The loneliness of the little girl is indeed apparent, but her ebullient nature is, too--and this emotional power, combined with the wonder of a cloud adventure and fuzzy animal friends, is sure to mesmerize young readers. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In Guojing's beautiful, wordless storybook, a little Chinese girl left home alone wanders off into the snow and has magical cloud adventures with a benevolent stag.

Schwartz & Wade/S&S, $19.99, hardcover, 112p., ages 5-8, 9780553497045

Why? Over 1,111 Answers to Everything

by Crispin Boyer


For anyone who has laid awake at night, wondering what's at the center of the galaxy, why we get old, whether animals have a sense of rhythm, or why junk food tastes better than healthy food--and for the parents and teachers who have despaired of ever being able to come up with answers on the spot--Crispin Boyer's Why? is an all-you-can-eat buffet of knowledge. Packed with fascinating facts and myth-busters, and with hundreds of gorgeous National Geographic-quality photos, Why? is the kind of book kids and adults will pick up again and again.

What sets Why? apart from other big, glossy collections of fun facts is the easygoing writing style that Boyer (That's Gross!; This or That?) is known for. In the chapter about the universe, Boyer writes, "Nothing against the world's largest ketchup bottle in Illinois, U.S.A., or the museum of roller skates in nearby Nebraska, but a voyage through the solar system reveals more awe-inspiring attractions than your typical cross-country road trip." And, in the animal chapter, he vividly describes the taste of different bugs: "giant water bugs taste like a salty Jolly Rancher candy... scorpions taste funky and bitter, like spoiled crab meat... palm weevil larvae taste like bacon soup."

Organized around topics such as technology, the body, pop culture, history and the planet, Why? includes weird-but-true facts, silly questions with serious answers ("What would happen if I never trimmed my nails?"), and "Q:Tips," or advice related to each chapter's topics. Truly, there's something for everyone here. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: More than 1,000 questions are answered--from why we have belly buttons to which is smarter, cat or dog--in this lush National Geographic Kids compendium of facts and photos.

National Geographic Children's Books, $19.99, hardcover, 224p., ages 8-12, 9781426320965

See No Color

by Shannon Gibney


Drawing on her own experience as a transracial adoptee, first-time novelist Shannon Gibney follows a likable, conflicted heroine as she searches for answers about her families, both real and biological.

Sixteen-year-old Alex "Little" Kirtridge lives and breathes baseball, playing against boys ("pale, skinny Wisconsin kids") and training hours every day to please the team's demanding coach, her father. Her white adoptive family never discusses race, beyond her father's contradictory assertions that they don't see color and that Alex is "only half black." However, half feels like more than enough to Alex--she isn't white, but she feels like an imposter around black people, even Reggie Carter, the handsome pitcher who falls for her. When her 11-year-old sister, Kit, finds a letter to Alex from her black biological father that their parents hid five years ago, Alex must decide whether connecting with him and exploring her identity is worth going against the only parents she has ever known. At the same time, Alex's changing teenaged body begins to slow her down on the diamond, and she starts to wonder if baseball is something she does for herself or for her father.

See No Color is a thought-provoking look into adoption across racial boundaries, deftly combined with timeless coming-of-age themes of independence, self-worth and first love. No matter their background, mature teen readers will find kinship with Alex as she faces the universal struggle to integrate her many parts into a whole self. Gibney knocks it out of the park with a heroine whose courage and humanity will make readers cheer. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services librarian, Latah County Library District (Idaho)

Discover: Biracial female baseball star Alex struggles to connect with the black side of her identity in an all-white adoptive family.

Carolrhoda Lab, $18.99, hardcover, ages 14-up, 9781467776820

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