Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, January 8, 2016


Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr): Vroom! by Barbara McClintock

From My Shelf

Bunim & Bannigan: David Lazar by Robert Kalich

First Second: Stargazing by Jen Wang

Book Brahmins

In Shelf Awareness Pro, we run a twice-weekly feature called Book Brahmin, in which we pose a series of questions to authors and others in the book business; we receive some predictable answers ("Book You've Faked Reading: Ulysses") and often, some highly unpredictable ones. A sampling, with links to the full Brahmins:

Marlon James, whose most recent novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings (Riverhead), won the 2015 Man Booker Prize. He teaches at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., where Gov. Mark Dayton declared Marlon James Day in October.

Favorite book when you were a child:
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I remember it being the first book with more words than pictures that I stuck with anyway. I really thought it was an anti-picture conspiracy, these books with only words. My five-year-old self just couldn't figure out why anybody would want a book without pictures. Ridiculous. But I stuck with it, despite that atrocious flaw, and realized at the end that I kinda liked it. After that, I couldn't stop reading. A few years ago I was on a panel with an Iranian and a Vietnamese writer, and when asked this question, we all said Little House in the Big Woods. There might have been many reasons, but the main one was really that Wilder was such a world-famous author that her books were just the most likely to be in a library.

Mary-Louise Parker is a Tony, Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning actress. Dear Mr. You (Scribner) is her first book.

Book you're an evangelist for:
I'm quite thrilled when I introduce someone to poetry who was disinterested in it altogether, or thought it was something they had to suffer through. I read Wallace Stevens aloud to someone recently after they told me they didn't understand the point of poetry. I read just one poem, and this person was completely converted, was hearing music for the first time. I felt like I'd caught a 20-pound trout with my hands and gutted and roasted it, or that I saved a baby snow leopard from a poacher.

--Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

New Harbinger Publications: Raising Good Humans: A Mindful Guide to Breaking the Cycle of Reactive Parenting and Raising Kind, Confident Kids by Hunter Fields-Clarke and Carla Naumburg


Book Candy

Tender Is the Price: Fitzgerald Home for Sale

Real estate listing of the day: A row house on Summit Avenue in St. Paul, Minn., where F. Scott Fitzgerald once lived. The Pioneer Press noted that the three-story brownstone, built in 1889, is listed for $665,000.

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"Books you don't like that become wildly popular," for example. Bustle considered "15 reading pet peeves every book-lover understands."

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"Ten libraries we'd love to get lost in" were showcased by Read It Forward.

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Author Carolyne Larrington chose her "top 10 modern medieval tales" for the Guardian, noting that the "medieval period has always captured the imagination, with its tales of gallant knights and lovely ladies, its dauntless warriors and brutal barbarians."

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The latest DIY from Quirk Books: "How to make a booklover's breakfast tray."


Sleeping Bear Press: Nian, the Chinese New Year Dragon by Virginia Loh-Hagan, illustrated Timothy Banks


Great Reads

Rediscover: My Depression: A Picture Book

Elizabeth Swados, the writer, composer and director, died on Tuesday from "complications of surgery for esophageal cancer that she had undergone in April," the New York Times reported. She was 64. She was best known as the creator of socially conscious musicals--her 1978 musical Runaways, about runaway teenagers, was a Broadway hit, and some of her creations had strong literary ties. She directed and wrote the music for Dispatches, adapted from Michael Herr's groundbreaking book about the Vietnam War; created Nightclub Cantata, a revue based on work by Sylvia Plath, Pablo Neruda and other poets; and collaborated with Garry Trudeau on two theatrical social satires, Doonesbury and Rap Master Ronnie.

Swados was also an author whose work spanned many genres: she wrote three novels, seven books for children and two memoirs. The Four of Us: The Story of a Family was about her difficult family life (her mother suffered from depression and alcoholism and committed suicide; her brother became schizophrenic and also committed suicide). Her best-known book is her other memoir, My Depression: A Picture Book, which first was published in 2005 and came out in a new paperback edition last year from Seven Story Press. In the book, Swados chronicles her battles with depression, made all the more harrowing by her family history. She adapted the book into an animated film called My Depression (The Up and Down and Up of It), starring Sigourney Weaver and Fred Armisen, that made its debut on HBO last July.

Swados's last novel, Walking the Dog, will be published by the Feminist Press at CUNY in June. The book's protagonist, a former child prodigy, kleptomaniac and radical activist, moves to New York City after spending 20 years in prison. She becomes a dog walker, connecting more with the animals than their owners, and tries to establish a relationship with her estranged daughter, who has become deeply Orthodox.


Rp Minis: Dancing with Jesus: Bobbling Figurine by Sam Stall


The Writer's Life

Ben Rawlence: Telling the Stories of Refugees in the Horn of Africa

photo: Jonny Donovan

Ben Rawlence studied Swahili and history at the University of London and received a Master's Degree in International Relations from the University of Chicago. He has written for the Guardian, the London Review of Books, the Huffington Post, Prospect and the New Yorker. Rawlence worked as speechwriter for the U.K.'s Liberal Democrats before joining Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organization that advocates for human rights. Radio Congo, his first book, chronicled the lives of individuals during and after the Congo war. City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World's Largest Refugee Camp (reviewed below) is a first-hand account of nine refugees in a camp in Kenya called Dadaab whom Rawlence observed over the course of four years while working as a researcher for Human Rights Watch.

In the prologue to City of Thorns, you write about an October 2014 meeting at the White House in which you briefed the National Security Council about the situation in Dadaab, but their focus was on the radicalization of Somalian youth. Has concern for the well-being of African refugees continued to be secondary?

I think the discussion that I described is a microcosm of the issues that are being discussed in North America and Europe right now. In some countries compassion is winning out--as in Canada and Germany. Unfortunately, in many others the reverse is true.

Celebrity intervention and human rights groups, except for brief periods, have not been able to shift the focus from terrorism.

I think we need more stories, different stories; whole, rounded stories that do not present lives as simply examples or tokens of arguments. That is what I have tried to do in this book. The solidarity in many countries with refugees despite a lot of official cynicism shows that many people can and do still think for themselves.

There seems to be a disconnect in how men and women view the camps--the hype and "allure" of the camp becomes a point of contention in the relationships of several of the people you covered: Guled and Maryam, Nisho and Billai, Monday and Muna. Why do the men feel the need create the illusion that the camp is better than it really is?

I think for each person it is different. They assemble the facts of their lives into narratives that make sense to them. For Guled, he is genuinely at risk, so he has to believe in the camp. For Nisho, it is about independence, and also fear of the unknown. For Monday, the camp is the route to a better life that he still hopes for, even if Muna has given up.

In your experience as a human rights watcher, how does the situation in Dadaab compare to the current situation in Syria?

Life in a refugee camp and life in a war zone have many similarities and many differences, but the active threat to life is absent in the camp. The main difference in the Somali refugee experience is how protracted it has become. Dadaab is 25 years old. People went to the camps expecting to be there for a short time, either to go home or to another country. Syrians seem to be much more reluctant to remain in camps. Partly that is because the illegal route to Europe is cheaper and shorter than from Somalia, but also I think the Syrians are recognising that the international refugee quota system is broken and acting accordingly.

In light of the recent terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and Paris and talk in the U.S. of not accepting Syrian refugees because of terrorist fears, how will this affect the Dadaab refugees' chances of repatriating abroad?

I am sure it will make it more difficult; indeed, the international climate has already led to massive reductions in national quotas for Somali refugees

It would seem that former youth leader Tawane would have been at the top of the list for repatriation given his work as an intermediary between the NGOs and the citizens of the camp, yet even he was unable to escape the bureaucratic red tape except to go back into Somalia and begin his own NGO. Have you kept in touch with Tawane?

I have, and he is doing well. He is still in the camp but running his NGO from there.

Do you think Tawane will ever leave Dadaab?

I really don't know, and I think he doesn't know either. What I tried to do in the camp is to convey the sense of the mind of people trapped in the camp--and the way the world appears from that vantage point is difficult and scary. Every move seems both necessary and impossible at the same time. And because of each person's history, the changing political landscape (the war and the politics surrounding return) resonates in different ways at different times. Being in limbo is a very inconsistent place for someone to be--it is hard to imagine the future when you have never known stability, and at the same time, you must imagine a future in order to survive.

What do you think could be done to bring more Western attention to the situation in Dadaab? And do you see any resolution to the crisis in the Horn of Africa?

I think the West--that is, Western governments--understand well the hardships of life in Dadaab but they have no ideas, no money and most of all no real will to solve the crisis of the camp. The generosity towards Syria was forced on rich governments by the sheer numbers arriving in Europe; that is unlikely to happen with Somalia. Somalis, Ethiopians and Eritreans have been arriving on European shores for more than a decade, and the numbers show no signs of slowing. The crisis in the Horn of Africa is unlikely to end any time soon; like the Middle East, it is rooted in unrealistic colonial borders and sustained by regional geopolitics and bad government. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant


Book Review

Fiction

The Merman

by Carl-Johan Vallgren, trans. by Ruth Urbom


Carl-Johan Vallgren's The Merman, translated from the Swedish by Ruth Urbom, concerns the realistic and heartbreaking circumstances of teenaged Nella and her little brother, Robert; at the same time, it is a dark fairy tale about a mythical creature from the deep and the possibility of resisting evil.

Nella and Robert's parents are terribly incompetent, uncaring people. Robert struggles with learning disabilities and is bullied at school; protecting him, getting him the glasses he needs, and caring for his general well-being falls to his sister. Nella is hard-pressed to handle the responsibilities of the household, including cleaning up after her alcoholic mother.

When the neighborhood bullies begin to threaten Robert with violence, Nella turns to her only ally at school, a boy named Tommy. But contact with Tommy's brothers presents a new difficulty. They have pulled a mystical being from the ocean, whose otherworldly nature and wordless communication will change everything Nella understands about her life.

Nella is a compelling protagonist, reminiscent of Roald Dahl's Matilda in her miserable circumstances, but with a harder, more adult edge. Robert's suffering is almost unbearable, but sadly realistic. In Ruth Urbom's translation of Vallgren's tale, dialogue can be a bit stiff and formal, especially in the children's cases, but overall she establishes a tone appropriate to the balance of reality and mysticism in Nella's story and the stark ugliness of her life. Vallgren evokes his fantasy element with wonder and detail; The Merman is a singular story. Fans of adult fairy tales and bleak realism will be haunted and enthralled by this novel of human tragedies and the mystery of what lies beyond. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: In this grown-up fairy tale, a young women's battles with poverty, violence and neglect are further complicated when a mystical creature enters her life.

Pegasus Books, $24.95, hardcover, 9781605989129

Only Love Can Break Your Heart

by Ed Tarkington


Ed Tarkington kicks off his first novel, Only Love Can Break Your Heart, with a ghost, a gun and an abandoned, white-pillared Southern mansion called Twin Oaks. He wraps it up with a grisly double murder in the same place. In between, his story touches on nearly every benchmark of good Southern Gothic literature: violence, sex, money, sibling rivalry, antipsychotic drugs, incest, abortion, religious fanaticism and plenty of alcohol. Set in the '70s and '80s, the narrative rides along on a soundtrack of the era: "Steely Dan, Zeppelin, the Who, Dylan, Rod Stewart... beneath the holy trinity of John Lennon, Mick Jagger, and Neil Young." There is even an uninhibited teen daughter of hippie parents named Cinnamon (after Young's "Cinnamon Girl") who "appeared to subsist on cigarettes, MoonPies, and Doritos... [and] eschewed bras... testing the limits of a dozen different perfectly aged concert T-shirts."

Tarkington clearly gets the ambience of the epoch as it filters life in his fictional northern Virginia small town of Spencerville. More importantly, he tells his story with the confident ease of Dickens in Great Expectations. Narrated by Richard "Rocky" Askew, Only Love Can Break Your Heart is the story of his early adoration of his older, chain-smoking, juvenile delinquent half-brother, Paul; his ambivalence toward his strict, gentry-aspiring father he calls the "Old Man"; and his touchy relationship with his mousy, Bible-reading mother, Alice. Navigating the roller-coaster fortunes of the Askew family and Spencerville, Rocky is the voice of candor and insight that holds Tarkington's ambitious tale together--both the Pip and Neil Young (as it were) of his generation. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: This first novel is an accomplished, confident coming-of-age story in the Southern Gothic tradition.

Algonquin, $25.95, hardcover, 9781616203825

The Violinist of Venice: A Story of Vivaldi

by Alyssa Palombo


Alyssa Palombo's training as a classical musician is evident in her first novel, The Violinist of Venice, a historical romance set in the 18th century. Adriana, the musically talented daughter of a strict merchant father, has been forbidden to pursue her creative endeavors. Determined, however, to pursue her dreams despite her father's temper, Adriana secretly receives tutoring in playing the violin from a young priest and musician, Antonio Vivaldi, a situation that quickly escalates into a romantic, heated love affair. What unfolds amid the canals, grand homes and days of Carnival in Venice is a complex plot of lust and love, of duty and dedication, and of the misfortunes that befall those who test Fate.

Palombo's depictions of Vivaldi's music will make readers want to find each piece and listen, as in this description of Summer from the "Four Seasons": "The movement was punctuated here and there by bursts of rapid violin passages, perhaps an indication of an oncoming storm.... With no warning, all the instruments began to play at a frantic pace, with the violins moving to create waves of sound like rolling thunder. Vivaldi's harried, agitated solo evoked both lightning flashing jaggedly across the sky, as well as some poor creature trying to flee the storm. The lower string instruments combined to imitate the ominous rumblings of thunder, with the violins rushing on almost without pause."

Palombo skillfully blends historical facts with innovative and colorful fiction, creating a delightful, fast-paced romance that is sure to please music lovers and romance readers alike. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: The secret trysts between a merchant daughter and Antonio Vivaldi change their lives in ways neither of them could have expected.

St. Martin's Griffin, $15.99, paperback, 9781250071491

Mystery & Thriller

False Positive

by Andrew Grant


Born in Birmingham, England, Andrew Grant (Run, More Harm Than Good) sets his latest thriller in Birmingham, Ala., a mini-urban sprawl as full of psychopaths, police politics, drugs and prostitutes as any big metropolis. Cooper Devereaux, a loner cop with a history of violence, shadowy criminal ties and disciplinary suspensions, catches a fresh missing-child case with the clock running. He is teamed with former undercover vice detective Jan Loflin, who has her own sketchy past, full of nervous energy, "as if there was too much for her small body to contain, leaving her muscles to burn off the excess like the flares at an oil refinery." Together they interview the parents of missing seven-year-old Ethan Crane, their neighbors and the boy's teachers and friends. Leads are scarce, the press and police brass clamor for progress, and soon the FBI joins the hunt. Both outsiders and cautious with each other, Devereaux and Loflin doggedly chase down a discarded toy here and an eyewitness sighting there while doing their own sleuthing on the side.

While the action zips along in short chapters, which open with the ominously increasing hours since Ethan's disappearance, Grant slowly connects Devereaux's foster care past, Loflin's dark family history and an FBI database revealing a long pattern of similar kidnappings. At first, False Positive is the very manifestation of a whodunit, but it soon becomes an inquiry into whether the destiny of children is genetically cast from violent parents. Grant knows well how to make this work and then leaves us with a delicious surprise twist on the last page. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Rogue Birmingham, Ala., cop Cooper Devereaux chases down a serial kidnapper in this driving crime thriller.

Ballantine Books, $27, hardcover, 9780345540751

Web of Deceit

by Katherine Howell


In the sixth novel of her Ella Marconi mystery series--the first published in the United States--Australian crime writer Katherine Howell performs an intricate juggling act with three alternating stories. Paramedics Jane Koutoufides and Alex Churchill race to the scene where a man has crashed his car into a telephone pole. The driver, Marko Meixner, appears fine physically but is convinced that he is being followed, and that he's in grave danger. With no option but to leave Meixner in the waiting area of a crowded hospital--at the triage nurse's direction--the paramedics next encounter their victim under a train, dead.

Detective Ella Marconi and her colleagues must determine whether Meixner's death is a murder or a suicide. Marconi is convinced he was pushed, and has several potential suspects, but her cost-cutting supervisor believes Meixner was psychologically unstable and took his own life. If Marconi can't establish solid proof quickly, her boss will reallocate the team's manpower to clearing cold cases.

Meanwhile, Koutoufides is dealing with her ex-husband's jealous wife, who is becoming increasingly violent, going so far as to fabricate a serious assault complaint against Koutoufides to her employer. And Churchill's teenage daughter is acting out at home and school; one night when Churchill is on night shift, she runs away.

Howell skillfully keeps these plot knives in the air, maintaining an engagingly quick pace, high suspense and well-concealed twists. One of the threads' conclusions feels a bit forced compared to the other satisfyingly smart outcomes, but the slight bobble doesn't diminish the overall enjoyment of this riveting, coordinated performance. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: Detective Ella Marconi must determine if a man's death is vicious retribution or a desperate man's escape from depression and anxiety.

Minotaur Books, $25.99, hardcover, 9781250053961

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Time and Time Again

by Ben Elton


Very early on in Ben Elton's Time and Time Again, a Cambridge professor asks High Stanton, the protagonist, a difficult multi-part question: "If you could change one thing in history, if you had the opportunity to go back into the past, to one place and one time and change one thing, where would you go? What would you do?" While a great deal of popular culture has pondered the implications of time travel and changing history, Elton's approach feels fresh and distinct. Not only is his attention to historical detail impeccable, but his characters provide more original answers to the familiar question posed at the beginning of the novel. Instead of settling on the popular "kill Hitler" scenario, Elton has his characters trace the 20th century's woes back further, to the First World War.

After the usual pseudo-scientific rigmarole--albeit with fairly clear rules and a surprising cameo from Sir Isaac Newton--Stanton is transported back to Istanbul in 1914 with a few high-tech gadgets and a plan to save generations of soldiers and civilians from decades of war. Time and Time Again has more tricks up its sleeve than the average time travel novel, including a mind-bending twist that would make M. Night Shyamalan blush with envy. Although Elton (Blind Faith) places a great deal of emphasis on the detailed workings of his "what if" premise, Time and Time Again is most successful when it loses its slightly predictable sci-fi trappings in favor of lovely evocations of a world on the brink of vast change. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: Time and Time Again uses time travel as an excuse to explore antebellum Europe in its rich and dangerous ferment.

Thomas Dunne Books, $26.99, hardcover, 9781250077066

Romance

Anything for You

by Kristan Higgins


Kristan Higgins (If You Only Knew) returns to Manningsport, N.Y., and the Blue Heron Vineyard with a love story that begins with a proposal gone wrong and flashes back over a relationship that the words "it's complicated" can't begin to describe.

Connor O'Rourke has loved Jessica Dunn for years, but the course of that love has not run smooth. Their first meeting as preteens ended in the destruction of her family dog after it attacked Connor. Though blameless, Connor couldn't get the time of day from Jessica from then through high school, although it seemed every other boy could. In their 20s, a chance meeting at a wine class ended in a passionate night and a morning made awkward by his big mouth. After subsequent years of on-again off-again contact, Connor pops the question, but Jessica turns him down flat.

Jessica's worked hard to shed her old reputation as the daughter of drunken trailer trash and her promiscuity-inspired nickname "Jessica Does." Her younger brother, Davey, whose fetal alcohol syndrome renders him dependent, will always stay her first priority, and he refuses to accept Connor. Besides, she knows her past has left her undeserving of a happily ever after.

Higgins fearlessly navigates a rocky, hard-won romance, finding harmony between small-town charm and dark issues, including alcoholism and child neglect. Jessica and Connor's relationship may have its ups and downs, but this cross between gritty realism and starry-eyed enchantment will have readers cheering when the lovers inevitably find their way to each other. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: In a love story that spans a decade, a jilted proposal leads the thorny way to happiness.

Harlequin, $7.99, mass market paperbound, 9780373789085

Food & Wine

The Magic of Spice Blends: A Guide to the Art, Science, and Lore of Combining Flavors

by Aliza Green


The Magic of Spice Blends belongs in every kitchen since the focus is on using spices to improve any dish. Aliza Green begins by presenting five categories of spices--sweet, pungent, tart, hot and savory--and then explaining why some fall into more than one category (for example, habanero chilies are hot, sweet and fruity). She analyzes the plant parts because shared features indicate complementary relationships between spices: coriander, cumin, fennel and anise are part of the Apiaceae family and share umbrella-shaped seedpods. Other shared features include bulbs (onions, garlic, shallot), rinds (orange, lemon, lime) and rhizomes (ginger, turmeric, wasabi). The section on production explains why most spices are grown in tropical or temperate regions and are harvested by hand, as well as why the taste of some spices changes according to form (dried, powdered, fresh, etc.).

Before presenting the recipes, Green provides tips for drying, roasting, grinding and straining fresh herbs, creating flavored oils and spice-infused pickling syrups, and curing with a wet spice paste. Recipes are organized by region: for example, African Blends include berbere, harissa, dukkah, while Asian Blends include Thai curry, lemongrass, five-spice. A wonderful list titled "Cooking Without Recipes" demonstrates how spices may enliven a dish within seconds. For example, flatbread can be rubbed with oil and sprinkled with panch phoron, za'atar, vadouvan, berbere or khmeli-suneli; steaks can be rubbed with chili powder, berbere or Turkish baharat. From a novice's first pie to an experienced chef's signature dish, The Magic of Spice Blends will enrich any kitchen. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: How spices add so much flavor and personality to dishes around the world.

Quarry Books, $24.99, hardcover, 9781631590740

Biography & Memoir

The Sound of Gravel

by Ruth Wariner


In The Sound of Gravel, Ruth Wariner tells of growing up in a Mormon polygamist colony in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. Her childhood was filled with sad and shocking hardships, some painfully difficult to read. But Wariner's tone is never self-pitying, and her love for her mother and siblings imbues a distressing memoir with nuance, and eventual relief.

Ruth's mother, Kathy, became the fifth wife of Joel LeBaron when she was 17 years old. Ruth was Kathy's fourth child and Joel's 39th. LeBaron was soon after murdered by his brother over a conflict about church authority, and Kathy remarried to a man named Lane and bore another six children with him.

The Sound of Gravel details the poverty and poor living conditions that come with Kathy's choices, based on her religion, her devotion to and dependence on Lane, and a belief that the United States is a Babylon "standing between us and our connection to God." But the most heartbreaking aspect of Ruth's childhood is Lane's sexual abuse of her, which continues for years even as Ruth repeatedly reports him to her mother.

Despite her profound anger at Kathy's failure to protect her from Lane, Ruth understands that she is loved and deeply loves her mother in return. "I realized how little she had asked of the world, and how even that had been too much for the world to give." The Sound of Gravel's power lies in the facts of Ruth's story, which is deeply affecting both in its horrors and in its redemptive conclusion. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: Ruth Wariner tells her painful story of growing up in poverty and abused in a polygamist colony--and of finding redemption.

Flatiron Books, $27.99, hardcover, 9781250077691

Current Events & Issues

City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World's Largest Refugee Camp

by Ben Rawlence


Ben Rawlence (Radio Congo) has written an intimate yet searing document of human pain. Suffering drought, poverty, war and violence that has torn their homelands apart, hundreds of thousands of Somalis and other Africans arrive at Dadaab, a United Nations refugee camp near Kenya's border with Somalia. Instead of relief, they find themselves overwhelmed by destructive forces they had hoped to escape. As the UN struggles to maintain habitable conditions in the camp, Western governments are more concerned about the camp's religious radicalization than its dignity. "At a time when there are more refugees than ever, the rich world has turned its back on them," Rawlence writes. "Our myths and religions are steeped in the lore of exile and yet we fail to treat the living examples of that condition as fully human." 

The portraits that Rawlence paints resonate deeply. There is Guled, the soccer-loving teenager forced to be a child soldier under Al Shabaab; Nisho, a porter and son of a former Somalian dictator who has known only life inside the camp; Monday and Muna, lovers who incur the wrath of their families for daring to cross clan boundaries; and Tawane, the youth leader whose efforts to improve camp life are at odds with his desire to leave and resettle in the West.

City of Thorns depicts the desperate struggle of Somalians divided by war, politics and colonial greed, and Ben Rawlence writes deeply and movingly about the suffering incurred by inhabitants of the world's largest refugee camp. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: City of Thorns is a timely document on the disturbing plight of refugees in Kenya.

Picador, $26, hardcover, 9781250067630

Gardening

What Is a Garden?

by W.S. Merwin, photographs by Larry Cameron


For more than 40 years, W.S. Merwin and his wife, Paula, have been restoring 19 acres of agricultural wasteland on the island of Maui. Through three essays that speak of this topic from slightly different angles and multiple poems, Merwin explains how this land came to him and why he's spent decades planting hundreds of species of palm trees, along with a vast assortment of other plants, on this acreage.

From an early age, Merwin has loved trees and gardening. He writes, "For the person who has arrived at gardening at whatever age, it is an enchantment, all of it, from the daydreaming to the digging, the heaving, the weeding and watching and watering, the heat, and the stirrings at the edges of the days." Augmenting Merwin's descriptive verse and prose are numerous full-color photographs by Larry Cameron, of many species of palm trees and beautiful close shots of various plants and flowers found throughout what is now known as the Merwin Conservancy. The overall effects are majestic, evocative and reminiscent of the French story The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono. Merwin writes, "after an age of leaves and feathers/ someone dead/ thought of this mountain as money/ and cut the trees/ that were here in the wind/ ...but the trees have risen one more time/ and the night wind makes them sound/ like the sea that is yet unknown...." What Is a Garden? is a tribute to one couple's dedication to give back to the earth far more than they've received. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: W.S. Merwin explains how and why he and his wife have devoted much of their lives to the reforestation of a small section of the island of Maui.

University of South Carolina Press, $29.95, hardcover, 9781611175677

Children's & Young Adult

When Mischief Came to Town

by Katrina Nannestad


When Mischief Came to Town, originally published in author Katrina Nannestad's home country of Australia, is a funny, warmhearted story about the search for family and the power of belonging.

From the moment 10-year-old Inge Maria Jensen steps off a boat onto the Baltic Sea island of Bornholm in 1911, life in the quiet Danish town of Svaneke is forever changed. With her lopsided, spiky tufts of hair (one of her long blonde plaits was chewed off by a goat), Inge Maria presents quite a contrast to the somber, black-clad grandmother who waits for her at the harbor and then drags the girl by the arm to her comfortingly pretty, straw-thatched farm house. Winning Grandmother's heart is hard going at first, especially when Inge Maria's kicking contest with the donkey results in a dozen broken eggs and a concussed turkey named Henry. But it doesn't take long before Grandmother, more softhearted than she looks, is shaking with laughter at Inge Maria's mishaps and goodhearted mischief. The joyless, creativity-squashing schoolmaster, however, is less amused by the spirited girl's frequent challenges to his rigid rules.

Inge Maria adores the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, and they figure prominently in the story as both a relic from her previous, happy life in Copenhagen with her late mother and as the inspiration for much of her inventive storytelling. In the end, Andersen's fairy tales become a bridge between Inge Maria and her jelly-soft Grandmother, as cozy bedtimes spent reading together allow the girl to feel safe and loved again. --Lynn Becker, host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators

Discover: Fans of Pippi Longstocking will devour this hilarious debut novel, featuring an energetic 10-year-old who invigorates an isolated Danish town.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99, hardcover, 208p., ages 9-12, 9780544534322

Hop

by Jorey Hurley


In Nest and Fetch, Jorey Hurley tells simple animal stories with pictures punctuated by single words, and Hop--a wonderfully close study of a mother cottontail rabbit and her three bunnies--echoes that concept.

In the first spread, featuring the single word "hop," the mother rabbit hops out of a hole at the base of a tree into a sea of spring-green grass and pastel wildflowers in order to declare the all-clear for her babies. Then: "listen." Readers can almost sense the mother's ears quivering, alert, while the babies stay hidden in their tree nest. As they leap out in single file into the meadow to join her, the encapsulating verb is "follow." One of the best aspects of this minimalist format is that it leaves room for lots of interaction when reading it aloud: "What do you think the mother rabbit is listening for?" "Where do you think the bunnies might be going?" (Bonus: An informative author's note may answer some of the questions about rabbit behavior.) The rabbits "nibble" and "play" until--"freeze"--a red-tailed hawk soars ominously above. A fox creeps stealthily toward them through the grass. Run! Hide! Here, the rabbit family is shown huddling in a borrowed burrow, with a couple of earthworm tunnels nearby for good measure. The sparkling eyes and expressive ears and whiskers of the attentive rabbits--reflecting the joy of grazing or the fear of predators--take center stage in the clean, bold compositions.

All ends well when the bunnies go home to snuggle and sleep, the perfect ending to any bedtime story. --Karin Snelson, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A rabbit family braves the great outdoors in this appealing picture book told with just one word per spread.

Paula Wiseman/S&S, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 2-5, 9781481432726

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Dear Reader,

In a small Pennsylvania city, one girl goes missing just as another is found alive. With more questions than answers, Detective Josie Quinn follows the dark trail of a series of disappearances in her community. Every turn in her investigation uncovers a disturbing new revelation and brings her closer to unearthing her town’s most shocking secret. Two things are certain: a killer is on the loose and Josie can trust no one.

I’m giving away five copies of Vanishing Girls. Email me at lisareganauthor@hotmail.com to win!

Lisa Regan
www.lisaregan.com


Buy Now From Your Local Indie Bookstore



Publisher:
Grand Central Publishing

Pub Date:
November 26, 2019

ISBN:
9781538734117

List Price:
$12.99

 

Dear Reader,

This year, I had the opportunity to return to one of my favorite couples, JC and Gwen from the Found Duet. They are some of my most passionate characters, people who love each other deeply and have the most amazing chemistry. The foundation of their relationship’s based on sex, so I wondered what came next—after kids, when life got the better of them.

The Open Door is a sexy, edgy, very romantic story about two people, anchored to each other in every way, who want to explore the boundaries of that love in a safe, consensual setting. I loved writing it and think you’ll love reading it. It’s not necessary to have read anything previously.

Please write to 1001DarkNights@gmail.com to enter to win one of five copies.

Xoxo,
Laurelin
www.1001darknights.com/authors/collection-six/laurelin-paige-the-open-door
www.laurelinpaige.com


Boy Now From Kobo

Publisher: 
Evil Eye Concepts, Inc.

Pub Date:
December 2, 2019

ISBN: 
9781948050982

List Price: 
$2.99

 

Dear Reader,

Success carries a price, as everyone in this sweeping, suspenseful saga must learn. Boundaries are tested, souls are opened, passions are unlocked…enemies are confronted. Every story brings a journey of scandals, a ride of revelations, and a push to the very limits of what hearts can endure—until every character learns fate's biggest lesson of all. 

The edge is just the beginning.

Email robyn@waterhousepress.com with "Shark's Edge Giveaway" in the subject line for a chance to win one of 10 paperback copies of Shark's Edge!

Angel Payne and Victoria Blue
www.angelpayne.com
www.victoriablue.com
www.waterhousepress.com/collection/book/sharks-edge


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Publisher:
Waterhouse Press

Pub Date:
December 10, 2019

ISBN:
9781642631494

List Price:
$15.99

 

Dear Reader,

I am giving away five signed copies of my debut novel, Against the Wind. Please write to jimtilley@optonline.net to enter the contest.

Ralph and Lynn, former high school and college sweethearts, are brought together again on opposite sides of a wind farm dispute. Ralph is an environmentalist at heart, but he has built a successful law practice representing big energy companies. Lynn, a high school English teacher separated from her politically ambitious French-Canadian husband Jean-Pierre, struggles to raise her brilliant transgender grandchild Jules. The stories of these four characters and two others thread together to weave what Kirkus Reviews has called a “resonant and humanistic novel.”

Jim Tilley
www.jimtilley.net


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Publisher:
Red Hen Press

Pub Date:
September 24, 2019

ISBN:
9781597098359

List Price:
$16.95

 

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