Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, February 19, 2016

Harperteen: The Someday Daughter by Ellen O'Clover

From My Shelf

Classics, Myths & Legends

One of my first ventures as a boy into the realm of books for grown-ups was Edith Hamilton's classic Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes (Grand Central, $10). The stories it contains are succinct, but they opened up a whole world to me, full of monsters and shape-shifters, drama and romance. Their layers of meaning changed with every new read. Ever since, I've been easily enamored with legends from around the world.

Mythology: An Illustrated Journey into Our Imagined Worlds by Christopher Dell (Thames & Hudson, $29.95) recently caught my eye. Replete with lavish, full-page renderings of sculptures, etchings, lithographs, paintings, pottery and more, it is a treasury of art inspired by many myths worldwide, and it explains myriad symbols that arise again and again in these stories. Among scores of fascinating topics, Dell illuminates how "springs were the homes of goddesses" in Celtic mythology, and in "later Christian iconography, fountains are associated with life and salvation."

While his explanations are understandably brief and referential, the real allure here is the art. Featuring easily identifiable images like William Blake's The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun, on the matter of monstrous foes, as well as obscure pieces like The industry of bees etching, in his discussion of symbolic substances, Dell's Mythology is one to spend hours with.

What remains so captivating about myths, even after all these centuries, is their capacity to be adapted to new contexts. For example, in his new collection of stories, Arcadian Nights: The Greek Myths Reimagined (Overlook, $29.95), John Spurling revives the ancient by infusing it with fresh ideas and modern humor.

As the late David Bowie--a contemporary legend and voracious reader--said of himself on his 2003 album Reality, these tales are "never, ever gonna get old." --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Sleeping Bear Press: Junia, the Book Mule of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson, illustrated by David C. Gardner

The Writer's Life

Matthew Griffin: Forbidden Love After All These Years

photo: Raymie Wolfe

Matthew Griffin is a graduate of Wake Forest University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He has taught composition, literature and creative writing at the University of Iowa and Walters State Community College, and he worked for several years as assistant to the director of the Highlander Research and Education Center, a hub of grassroots organizing for social justice in the South and Appalachia. He was born and raised in North Carolina and now lives with his husband and too many pets in Louisiana, where he is a visiting professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Hide (reviewed below) is his first novel.

Hide tells the story of two men, Wendell and Frank, who fell in love during the mid-20th century, a time when American society wasn't too fond of that idea. What drew you to that particular chapter of gay history?

It was really a necessity of the initial idea and impulse behind the novel, which was about these two characters taking care of one another and failing each other in various ways at the end of a long life together. To have it set close to the present, which I wanted to do, meant their relationship had to have endured those darker periods of our history. There was no way around it--but I also wouldn't have wanted a way around it. That social atmosphere puts tremendous pressure on their relationship and drives so much of the conflict of the novel.

And beyond all that, I also do love a story of forbidden love. Straight people have so many of them, and I wanted to write one about gay people that didn't end in just absolute tragedy.

It's not often that novels about gay men feature those in their 80s, nor do many choose to portray the later years of a long, fulfilling relationship. Why were those factors important to you?

Oh man. There are a lot of reasons. In a very personal way, these characters are closely related to my grandparents. I watched both sets of them struggle to take care of each other at the ends of their lives. My grandmothers in particular felt a lot of anger and resentment when my grandfathers were no longer quite exactly the men they married. And so I was thinking a lot about what it must have been like to maintain a relationship over 50 or 60 years only to watch it dissolve, completely beyond your control. Then, I started to wonder what it would have been like to try to do the same thing as a gay person, with all the added dangers that entailed, and how painful it would be.

I'm interested in futility. There is something really noble and beautiful about Wendell struggling to hold on to Frank, even though he knows it's in vain. The way you can work so hard and give up essentially every other thing in your life to be with a person, and create something really profound and unbelievably beautiful, and in the end it all inevitably slips away--that just seemed like the most devastatingly sad thing to me. And all I ever really want when I read or write is to be made to feel devastatingly sad.

Also, as much as I like a forbidden love story, I didn't want to write about a gay relationship and have the question of whether or not they would get caught be the central source of conflict and suspense.

Wendell definitely seems to be the pricklier of the two, while Frank is sunny and carefree, and their conversations are often quite funny. Was one character more fun to write?

I don't know that one was more fun to write than the other. The most fun parts to write were probably the stretches of dialogue in scenes with both of them together, later in life, when Frank is still mostly himself but starting to slip into dementia--when you can still see the familiar, sort of sweet and funny relationship between them, along with Wendell's frustration at trying to keep Frank healthy. Part of the fun for me in those scenes may have been that it was like hearing my grandparents talk to each other again.

Although, it was also a lot of fun to write Wendell's snarkier observations about the world. The moments I love him the most are probably the moments when he's being the meanest.

Do you see yourself more in one or the other?

I guess I see myself more in Wendell [a taxidermist], just because I wrote everything from his perspective. I probably have some of his pessimism. We're very different people--I mean, I can barely look at road kill on the highway without crying, and I'm constantly paranoid about slightly and unintentionally hurting someone else's feelings--but I really understand him. Whereas with Frank, since I was seeing him from the outside, through Wendell, there's still that fundamental mystery at the heart of him, like there is with any person outside of yourself--that no matter how long you spend with a person, how intimately you know them, you can never really, truly get to that essential truth of who they are.

Wendell loves to cook, and your descriptions of the dishes he prepares are thorough and appetizing. Are you as much of a wizard in the kitchen? What are some of your favorite dishes (to make or eat)?

My husband and I are vegan, so I do a lot of cooking. I make a pretty mean tempeh Reuben, and a chipotle-sausage vegan macaroni and cheese that has like a billion calories because I put a whole can of coconut milk in it. In some ways, I like baking better, because it's so much about precision--if you just measure everything perfectly, and mix it together, it transforms into this magical thing. I know a lot of people find cooking creative, but with all of the uncertainty that comes with writing, I love that with baking, you just need to very methodically and scientifically follow the recipe. It feels like a relief after agonizing all day over whether the sentences you just made up are the best sentences.

And Wendell's cooking is pretty much entirely based on my grandmother's. She was an incredible cook, and I wouldn't compare myself with her, although I do think she'd be pretty proud at how I know my way around a kitchen these days. Most of the dishes Wendell makes, like the yeast rolls and pineapple upside-down cake and potato salad, are dishes she made. We went to visit every other weekend, and those foods played a really central role in my family's life. My mom and I still make her potato salad, and I bake those yeast rolls for Christmas every year now.

You're originally from North Carolina, the state the novel is set in. And while your descriptions of the region are often lush and beautiful, some depictions of the people and attitudes aren't as forgiving. Was there ever a You Can't Go Home Again feeling as you wrote it?

You know, there wasn't. Maybe there should have been! I'll brace myself just in case. But I wrote the book with a very liberating sense of isolation, with the real possibility in mind that maybe no one would ever read it, so I wasn't afraid.

Frank and Wendell really love that town, and I love it, too; I hope that came through. Some of the more disparaging descriptions of people--doctors and the like--are really more about Wendell's distrust and the effects of seclusion than anything else. And in terms of politics, people and attitudes, I suspect they weren't so different in other places. For the time period, Frank and Wendell could really have been anywhere and still have had the same difficulties. Even in Manhattan, though they could have lived slightly more openly, their life would still have been a secret. 

I think the difference between the South and other parts of the country, when it comes to inflicting injustice, has sometimes been exaggerated. Gay people still get beat up in New York all the time. And when you look at things like housing policy, employment discrimination, things like that, the North is just as guilty of systematic racism and oppression. Which is not to say that things haven't been (and are still) horrible down here, but I sometimes think that the South has just been more open with its injustices.

William Barber, the head of the NAACP, once called the South the place "where justice was hammered out." I love that description. People in the South are doing amazing work for the liberation of black people, for LGBT equality, for immigrant rights, for cooperative economics, to stop exploitation of our natural resources. None of that's present in the book at all, of course. But that's the South I love, and I wish Frank and Wendell hadn't been so isolated, so they could have experienced it, too.

Throughout the novel, though, Wendell and Frank watch plenty of television, and they make occasional forays into town. So they're aware of cultural attitudes shifting and yet still cling to their isolation. Why?

A big part of it is that even though cultural attitudes shift, I think people rarely do. At least not very much. Frank and Wendell had been together for over 20 years, living in secret, before the Stonewall riots. And it's not like everything was peachy after the riots either, right? I think when you've lived in isolation and fear like that for so long, it becomes ingrained in you to be suspect of everything and everyone else, even things that seem like they should be good for you.

And Frank and Wendell are pretty conservative, traditional, rural Southern people in a lot of ways. It was really important for me to be true to that, which is why Wendell still refers to black people as "colored." Which is embarrassing and horrifying for me, but he thinks it's the polite thing to say. Because it was, in his time. And in that time, you didn't talk about sex at all. There were no gay people, just "confirmed bachelors" and the like. So the frankness about sexuality that comes with changing cultural attitudes is actually an affront to a lot of their values, which include a pretty large dose of internalized homophobia, too. They had no one to look up to, no one to tell them that they were okay, other than themselves. And so when the gay rights movement picks up steam, and the people in the front of it seem so different from themselves, and there's so much explicit sexuality, they don't see themselves in it. They feel just as alienated as they did before. And even if society at large, driven by younger people, views them differently now, they've been viewing themselves the same way for 50 years. How do you change that? I don't know if you can. Or, at least, I don't know if I could. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Broadleaf Books: What We Remember Will Be Saved: A Story of Refugees and the Things They Carry by Stephanie Saldaña

Book Candy

Live Longer, Join a Book Club

Joining a book club after retirement "makes people live longer and appears to be as important to health as exercise, according to new research," the Independent reported.


Buzzfeed showcased "26 gorgeous new covers for classic books" via Recovering the Classics.


Literary board game: Quirk Books introduced "Shakespearean Pic-Up Stix."


In Gramercy Typewriter Company's new video, Paul Schweitzer "draws the curtain back for a look behind the counter as he cleans, repairs, and inventories an array of typewriters," Gothamist reported.


The Fishbone bookshelf is a "modular shelf resembling herring fish bones that can be arranged in a variety of ways."

Great Reads

Rediscover: Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston tells the story of Janie Crawford, an African-American woman in the early 20th-century South whose life is defined by her marriages to three very different men. Janie is raised by her grandmother, who was born a slave, after Janie's mother runs away. As a teenager, Janie is forced to marry a much older man after she is caught kissing a boy her own age. Janie escapes a life of domestic servitude by running off with another man to Eatonville, Fla., where her ambitious second husband starts a successful business. Once again, however, Janie is treated more like property than partner. When her second husband dies, Janie marries a third, younger man, with mixed results. The novel is an extended flashback, told by a now autonomous Janie in her early 40s to a friend, in language punctuated by period vernacular.

When Hurston (1891-1960) published her novel in 1937, it met with largely negative criticism from other African-American writers. Many black artists subscribed to the Racial Uplift program, an effort spearheaded by W.E.B. Du Bois to depict African-Americans in ways pleasing to popular, that is, mostly white, culture. Even members of the Harlem Renaissance, who rejected the Uplift's strict standards, found Hurston's book immodest. Her work went largely unrecognized until the 1970s, when Black Studies programs became common in American universities and academics like Henry Louis Gates, Jr. recognized the importance of Hurston's work. Today, Hurston's strong, black, female protagonist is situated squarely in the literary canon.

A 75th anniversary edition of Their Eyes Were Watching God was published by Harper Perennial in 2006 ($16.99, 9780061120060). The ebb of Black History Month into Women's History Month is an excellent opportunity to rediscover this classic. --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


Shylock Is My Name

by Howard Jacobson

Hogarth wisely tapped Howard Jacobson to retell Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice for its series of modern takes on the Bard's plays. Jacobson, who refers to himself as "the Jewish Jane Austen," has spent much of his career pondering Jewish identity, and does so again in Shylock Is My Name, using the spine of the play to set up dialogues that plumb questions of ownership, faith and history.

Beyond lifting the plot of The Merchant of Venice and placing it in early 21st-century England, Jacobson makes a diabolical, and brilliant, move: he brings one of Shakespeare's characters along with it. There is a modern version of Shylock (a man named Simon Strulovitch, whose daughter has eloped and who enters into an infamous bargain with a rival), but Shylock himself appears as well, the same man who was condemned to conversion and the loss of his wealth at the end of Shakespeare's play.

It's never explained how Shylock, now wearing a fedora and inserting himself into various scenes, has come to be in modern-day England (and he does not seem to be at all surprised by it), but he provides Strulovitch, and by extension Jacobson, an incredible interlocutor. Much of the book is dialogue between the two, arguing over what they are owed, and what (or who) they are loyal to. Aspects of their discussions may seem a bit esoteric, but Jacobson's wry humor and deep insight makes it worthwhile. --Noah Cruickshank, marketing manager, Open Books, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: Shylock Is My Name transports Shakespeare to the modern world in a deft and insightful narrative.

Hogarth, $25, hardcover, 9780804141321

Ways to Disappear

by Idra Novey

"Whether a beautiful sentence moves you or leaves you cold, Brazilian literature has lost a piece of its soul today." Poet and translator Idra Novey (Exit, Civilian) begins her first novel, Ways to Disappear, with a peculiar bit of breaking news: the celebrated novelist Beatriz Yagoda carried a suitcase into an almond tree and has not been seen since. While this is understandably a very distressing turn of events for Beatriz's two adult children, Raquel and Marcus, the novelist's American translator, Emma, takes the next flight to Rio to help search for the woman whose work has become Emma's obsession.

Novey writes with tremendous insight and a wistful appreciation for the elusive nature of language. While Beatriz's son, daughter and translator negotiate with a fat cat publisher, dangerous loan sharks, cultural differences and their own stewing emotions, Novey's writing wrestles with the difficult natures of translation and meaning. As the plot thickens and the stakes are raised with sexual tension and threats of violence, she interjects pointed dictionary definitions. For example, "Jackpot: Americanism; of uncertain origin. 1. A substantial win.... 3. A word used to justify risking more in pursuit of something unlikely."

But that is not to say that Ways to Disappear is dry and academic--quite the opposite! With lean, incisive prose Novey delivers a bright, unpredictable novel that is both playful and vulnerable. It is an adventurous mystery set in a tropical paradise that is sure to leave you breathless, whether a beautiful sentence moves you or not. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: When a famous Brazilian novelist goes missing, everyone close to her is wrapped up in the mystery.

Little, Brown, $25, hardcover, 9780316298490

The Heart

by Maylis de Kerangal, trans. by Sam Taylor

Maylis de Kerangal's The Heart, translated from the French by Sam Taylor, spans just 24 hours but covers some of the most profound material imaginable. Simon and his two friends leave the beach after a pre-dawn surfing session and crash off the road. In the hours that follow, Simon's parents are asked to make decisions about the removal of his organs. A woman with three sons waits for the heart transplant that will, hopefully, prolong her life. De Kerangal follows these and other players--doctors, nurses, family and friends--as the drama unfolds: of Simon's heart, life and death and definitions, the meaning of generosity and what we love.

The Heart delves deeply into its subjects: the transplant operations are described in precise detail. The anguish of parents losing a child is explored at some length in its various incarnations--aggression, confusion--and compared to that of shipwreck survivors, or of a man who has just been in a fight with "some guy who was asking for it." Characters are complex--the nurse who met with a lover last night, "sober and ravishing"; the soccer-obsessed surgeon with the violent girlfriend; the man from the Coordinating Committee for Organ and Tissue Removal, whose job it is to convince the parents to approve the transplant and who is passionate about music and his Algerian goldfinch. Through these and other points of view, an extraordinary and shocking story is revealed. Taylor's expressive translation renders a sensitive, stark and entirely engrossing novel. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: The story of a heart transplant, from life to death to final outcome, is viewed through the varied perspectives of some of the people involved.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25, hardcover, 9780374240905


by Matthew Griffin

Two men well into their 80s live together in secret in Matthew Griffin's sumptuous and quiet first novel, Hide. Griffin strikes Wendell's narrative tone immediately--his Southern languor belies his growing anxiety when he discovers Frank lying facedown in his beloved garden after a stroke. Not without snide remarks does he call an ambulance ("I'm fairly sure [the operator's] eating doughnuts. Makes all her words sound fat."), despite the couple's shared fear of being discovered. But if Wendell has cultivated a cool aura of irony to cope with their exile, Frank's good humor remains unchanged: "Just needed to lie down for a second," he says, slurring his speech.

Though Hide is dramatic in its depiction of the struggle to care for an aging partner alone, the repartee between the two men elevates the otherwise melancholy novel. Frank's sunny disposition breaks the gathering clouds of dementia. Wendell's quips, though, are frequently barbed with hurt he's nursed since he was 16, when he learned "I wasn't any of the things my parents wanted me to be," and he took off on his own. For decades, Wendell and Frank have had only each other to rely on, and as their secret idyll threatens to crumble, their shared loneliness becomes a foreboding presence.

Matthew Griffin has crafted his characters through the eyes of a long-enduring love. In an effort to ensure Frank eats, after his sense of taste dissolves into metallic blandness, Wendell cooks up every hearty dish and dessert he knows. With much the same fervor, Griffin delivers a novel robust with flavor and brimming with passion. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: With humor, passion, sadness and hearty cooking, an aging gay couple in rural North Carolina deals with the failing health of one of the pair.

Bloomsbury, $26, hardcover, 9781632863386

Mystery & Thriller

Dead Before Dying

by Kerry Schafer

In Dead Before Dying, Kerry Schafer introduces middle-aged, female FBI paranormal investigator Maureen Keslyn. This engaging first entry in a new series also features a mysterious home for the elderly that is full of secrets, an honorable-seeming small-town sheriff, and a sense of the supernatural that's thoroughly grounded in the mundane.

Maureen receives a cryptic summons from a former partner whom she hasn't heard from in more than a decade. He's asked her to come to Shadow Valley Manor, a nursing home for the well-off. Maureen, fresh out of the hospital following a battle with a supernatural beast, grudgingly visits the home, where she finds a hostile woman in charge, secret passages to a basement filled with old lab equipment, and an invisible presence that seems to thrive on blood.

With the help of teenaged mortuary assistant Sophronia, recently hired kitchen staffer Matt and the aging yet still tough-as-nails Sheriff Jake Callahan, Maureen must find out what evil Shadow Valley hides in its basement, especially as the aged residents begin dying one after another.

There's a familiar and well-developed texture to Dead Before Dying; Schafer has crafted a dynamic world that fully immerses its readers--the characters are fascinating and the twisted plot moves swiftly, with vampires, soul suckers and ancient goddesses building upon each new revelation as events approach the satisfying conclusion. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A new series introduces FBI agent Maureen Keslyn, as she investigates a nursing home with a deadly, supernatural history.

Diversion Publishing, $14.99, paperback, 9781626819283

Betty Boo

by Claudia Piñeiro, trans. by Miranda France

Betty Boo, originally published in Spanish as Betibú, is Claudia Piñeiro's fourth book to be translated into English. The real name of the titular Betty Boo is Nurit Iscar; she's known to her friends as Betty Boo because of her head of dark curls (à la Betty Boop). She was Argentina's most successful mystery writer until her fourth novel tanked, and she retreated to ghostwriting.

When Pedro Chazarreta, widower and suspected (but acquitted) murderer of his wife, turns up with his throat slit in the very exclusive Maravillosa Country Club, important people get interested fast. And Nurit Iscar is unable to resist a phone call from her ex-lover, the editor-in-chief of El Tribuno, when he begs her to move temporarily into Maravillosa to report on the attitudes and suspicions of the residents.

Out of her element, Nurit finds herself collaborating with two El Tribuno crime reporters. And as the three dig further into Chazarreta's death, they discover several other murders, and a shocking conspiracy that has spread to the highest echelons of power in Argentina.

Funnier than the works of Guillermo Martínez or Ernesto Mallo, Piñeiro has a knack for breaking up a rather dark series of murders with just the right levity--mostly provided by Nurit's slightly alcoholic friends, and her crush on one of the reporters. Fast-paced, beautifully written, Betty Boo makes it clear why Piñeiro is one of Latin America's bestselling crime novelists. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A novelist and two journalists work together to solve an intriguing series of murders in Buenos Aires.

Bitter Lemon Press, $14.95, paperback, 9781908524553

Biography & Memoir

In Other Words

by Jhumpa Lahiri, trans. by Ann Goldstein

In works like her Pulitzer Prize-winning story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri has distinguished herself as much for her exquisite prose as for her storytelling skill. Her fascination with the beauty of language now has produced In Other Words, an equally affecting account, written in Italian, of her effort to master that language.

Though she studied Italian while living in the United States, with her move to Rome in 2012, Lahiri's immersion became total. From obsessively maintaining a notebook of Italian words and phrases, she haltingly progressed to the pieces (rendered in English by Elena Ferrante's translator, Ann Goldstein) that compose this brief volume. In them, she reflects on everything from the challenges of thought and expression in a foreign tongue to the mystery of creativity. "Investigating my discovery of the language," she writes, "I think I have investigated myself."

Embedded in her memoir are a pair of short stories reflecting what Lahiri says are the themes of her work: "identity, alienation, belonging." They complement the explicit effort in this book to plumb the psychological tension brought about by "the long clash in my life between English and Bengali," the latter her native language.

With the publication of In Other Words, Jhumpa Lahiri has returned to her teaching position at Princeton. Calling herself a "writer without a definitive language," she's uncertain of the direction her next literary effort will take. With the talent she displays here, whether future work is in English or Italian, it undoubtedly will reflect her characteristic elegance and grace. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer
[Editor's note: This is Harvey Freedenberg's 200th review for Shelf Awareness!]

Discover: A dazzling author writes in a new language about mastering that language.

Knopf, $26.95, hardcover, 9781101875551

Every Last Tie: The Story of the Unabomber and His Family

by David Kaczynski

David Kaczynski is a poet, a former English teacher, an impassioned opponent of the death penalty and the younger brother of Ted Kaczynski, better known to the world as the Unabomber. In Every Last Tie, he contemplates "loving memories and painful outcomes," hoping to illuminate his brother's and his own experiences.

Some of David's message involves correcting misconceptions. For example, he says it was not his heroism but his wife Linda's compassionate and principled actions that identified the Unabomber. He relates the process of recognizing Ted's voice in the Unabomber's manifesto: Linda's concern, David's denial, the careful considerations they conducted together and the final decision--betrayal of his brother or betrayal of yet more innocent lives. David often contemplates such difficult questions as how to explain Ted Kaczynski's illness and actions, considering that he came from a family that David portrays as caring, close and committed to education and integrity. 

Every Last Tie is beautifully written, searingly honest, in no way the sensational tell-all it might have been, but a careful exercise--sometimes emotional, sometimes intellectual--in self-examination. David clearly wants to pile praise on his beloved parents, but chooses to consider their complexities, seeking truth over comfort.

This slim, intriguing book is the story of a family whose two sons lead different lives. David Kaczynski's voice is quietly thoughtful, and his writing is lovely; he ranges from family anecdote to psychological puzzle to philosophical musing while retaining an even tone. Every Last Tie is both a straightforward story and a complex consideration of an extremely difficult one. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: David Kaczynski's contemplation of his brother's life and crimes is sensitive and skillfully composed, with broad appeal.

Duke University Press, $19.95, hardcover, 9780822359807

And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East

by Richard Engel

In 1996, Richard Engel traveled to Cairo, chasing his lifelong dream of becoming a foreign correspondent. He was 23 years old, fresh out of Stanford University, with two suitcases, $2,000 in cash and no job. He worked for an Arab newspaper and as a freelancer, gaining first-hand experience with the type of violence he would encounter over the rest of his career. In 1998, Agence France-Presse offered Engel the job of Palestinian affairs correspondent in Jerusalem. He followed the steady paycheck, and the violence followed him: the Second Intifada, which began in 2000, destroyed Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and killed thousands of people.

When it became clear that the U.S. would invade Iraq in 2003, Engel strapped $20,000 to his leg and drove into Baghdad with a fraudulent visa and no concrete employment contract. He rode out the invasion in one piece as an ABC correspondent, but the following catastrophic years of the insurgency nearly killed him more than once. His later postings brought him to other pivotal moments in modern Middle East history: the Israeli war with Lebanon, the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya, the Syrian Civil War (where he was briefly kidnapped) and the rise of ISIS.

And Then All Hell Broke Loose is more than a memoir. Engel (War Journal; A Fist in the Hornet's Nest), current chief foreign correspondent for NBC News, places his own experiences within the larger context of Middle Eastern geopolitical history. His analysis is fascinating, his prose simple yet engaging, and his war stories enthralling. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: The chief foreign correspondent for NBC News shares his harrowing experiences reporting from the Middle East.

Simon & Schuster, $27, hardcover, 9781451635119


Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran

by Laura Secor

In the preface to Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran, journalist Laura Secor writes that Iranian lives during and after the 1979 revolution resembled, to her, "an epic novel, replete with calamities and reversals, crescendos and epiphanies." Children of Paradise is, in essence, about how Iranian people lived and thought through three decades of relentless tumult.

Secor's book is also a depiction of pre- and post-revolutionary Iranian philosophy, particularly a reformist strain of thought that evolved and persisted even during the Islamic Republic's most repressive years. Her protagonists are thinkers, mostly men, like Abdolkarim Soroush, who try to find a middle way between Western and Islamist thought. At times, Secor--who has written about Iran for publications such as the New Yorker, Foreign Affairs, the New Republic and the New York Times Magazine--delves deeply into the intellectual weeds, following her protagonists as they adapt and promote the works of obscure Western philosophers, carefully building an ideological case against hardliners like Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and the doctrine of velayat-e faqih, a complex theory that places Iranian political entities under the "custodianship" of a single Islamic jurist.

Secor does not shy away from the violence that has plagued Iranian life, including the Iran-Iraq War and the horrific "chain murders"--politically motivated serial killings carried out by the Iranian security apparatus--but she emphasizes a narrative of ideological warfare carried out by professorial types like Soroush. She argues, persuasively, that the extremists Westerners see on television represent only a small fraction of Iranian life and philosophy. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: Children of Paradise is a thrilling introduction to Iranian culture and the daring intellectuals who have crafted ideological challenges to the rulers of the Islamic Republic.

Riverhead, $30, hardcover, 9781594487101

Children's & Young Adult

We Are the Ants

by Shaun David Hutchinson

Henry Denton has more problems than your average 16-year-old: bullying, family crises and frequent abductions by slug-like aliens. Though there are extraterrestrials, We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson (The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley) isn't really a science fiction novel. Henry's alien experimenters are just one more inexplicable thing in a life that's been pummeling him with impossible situations. As Henry fantasizes on a grand scale about the end of the world and tries to decide whether it's worth saving, he also looks at his own small life and the lives of those in his little South Florida town, wondering whether everyone would be better off annihilated, with no more troubles to face.

We Are the Ants deals with loss, and it doesn't pull any punches. There are no easy solutions, and the book is refreshingly upfront about the fact that some kinds of pain--like Henry grieving his boyfriend's suicide, his father's absence and his grandmother's Alzheimer's--just have to be slogged through. However, Ants is not depressing. It's wonderfully written, and humor is woven throughout, including an aside on the uselessness of alien nipples. Henry is gay, but there's no angst over that at home. His family is completely fine with it, even his macho, difficult brother. The novel is occasionally brutal--the opening line is "Life is bullsh*t"--but Henry is a thoughtful and compassionate protagonist. As the threads of the story come together, he slowly starts to realize how many people in his life care about him. He may even consider the possibility of caring about himself. --Ali Davis, freelance writer and playwright, Los Angeles, Calif.

Discover: Shaun David Hutchinson's bracingly smart and unusual YA novel blends existential despair with exploding planets.

Simon Pulse, $17.99, hardcover, 464p., ages 14-up, 9781481449632

Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune

by Pamela S. Turner, illus. by Gareth Hinds

In Samurai Rising, award-winning nonfiction author Pamela S. Turner (The Frog Scientist) takes on the heroic and tragic samurai Minamoto Yoshitsune. The playfully narrated story begins in 1160 in Kyoto, the night Yoshitsune's father was beheaded for kidnapping Japan's Retired Emperor... and the reader is hooked.

Yoshitsune, born in the middle of a bloody civil war between the Minamoto and Taira families, spent his life avenging his father's death. At 15, he ran away from a Buddhist temple to train as a samurai: "It was like a boy who had never played Little League showing up for spring training with the Yankees." Still, only six years later, he fled headlong into war. His daring decisions in the heat of battle quickly made him famous--plunging down a sheer mountainside on horseback to infiltrate enemy fortifications, or attacking ships from the backs of horses swimming in stormy seas. His fame spread, too, because unlike most samurai, Yoshitsune was loyal to a fault and kept a core group of friends around him. He also "probably had an ego the size of Mount Fuji."

Turner integrates the political rivalries, and daily life and rituals, of early samurai culture into the thrilling action sequences of Yoshitsune's life--along with information about weapons, armor, honorable death and the high cost of sibling rivalry. Extensive chapter notes provide fascinating insights into her principal sources, mainly translated primary accounts. A list of character names, maps and a hefty bibliography are vital additions as well, and Gareth Hinds (author of graphic retellings like The Odyssey and Beowulf) dramatically enhances the story with brush-and-ink drawings. --Angela Carstensen, school librarian, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

Discover: Pamela S. Turner writes a gripping nonfiction account of Minamoto Yoshitsune, the samurai hero every Japanese warrior aspired to be.

Charlesbridge, $16.95, hardcover, 236p., ages 13-up, 9781580895842

The Big Adventure of a Little Line

by Serge Bloch

A simple line contains a world of endless possibility. French illustrator and cartoonist Serge Bloch (I Dare You Not to Yawn; You Are What You Eat) charmingly interprets an artist's creative odyssey in The Big Adventure of a Little Line.

The opening spread shows a small boy, sketched in fine black lines, walking on a thick swath of pale blue in an expanse of white space. The boy narrator says, "I was out walking one day when I saw it. A little line, lying by the side of the road." He pockets the short red line and later stores it on his treasure shelf, between a snail shell and a pebble. One day, the boy puts the red line on his notebook and it moves, like it wants to draw something. It makes "a wobbly sort of circle that looked a bit like a potato," then promptly falls asleep.

A nuanced, ever-evolving friendship develops between the boy and the line, much like an artist's relationship with a muse. Over time, "We became inseparable." As they grow up together, the line isn't always easy to live with, but "We told stories and made people laugh." Sometimes the line hides, but it always returns. In the end, the narrator, now a grown man, leaves a little red line--a small piece cut off the end of his own red line--for someone else to discover. This winning picture book--a passionate ode to the love of drawing--would make an exquisite gift for artists of any age. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In this French picture book for artists young and old, a boy finds a red line on the street and together they begin a life of adventure.

Thames & Hudson, $19.95, hardcover, 88p., ages 5-adult, 9780500650585


Author Buzz


by Jessica George

Dear Reader,

Exploring the idea that a 'coming of age' can occur at any age and a number of times is at the heart of Maame. An often introspective, often funny, often realistic look at a later bloomer finding herself amidst all her assigned labels: daughter, carer, friend, assistant, mother.

To celebrate the upcoming publication of the paperback, I'm giving away five copies of Maame. Send your mailing address to enter!

Jessica George

Buy now and support your local indie bookstore>

AuthorBuzz: Maame by Jessica George

St. Martin's Griffin

Pub Date: 
February 6, 2024


List Price: 
$18.00 Paperback

Christmas in Cape May
(A Sunshine Sisters Novella)

by Jennifer Probst

Dear Reader,

What happens when a woman who loves Christmas meets a man who relates better to the Grinch are suddenly forced together to run the annual holiday fur gala?

Let the festivities begin.

This enemies-to-lovers, opposites-attract, holiday romance is part of my bestselling Sunshine Sisters series that takes place in the beach town of Cape May, New Jersey. Devon and Jameson stole my heart with their snarky banter, off-the-charts chemistry, and emotional vulnerability that slowly creates a bond between them. But is there enough magic in Christmas to keep them together?

Let's find out.

Happy reading.

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Christmas in Cape May (A Sunshine Sisters Novella) by Jennifer Probst

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
November 7, 2023


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

Legacy of Temptation
(Demonica Birthright #1)

by Larissa Ione

Dear Reader,

Three decades after the events of REAPER, humans in the Demonica world still struggle to adapt to the existence of supernatural beings. Now, an ancient, powerful demon-slaying organization promises to contain or exterminate all underworlders, even if that means ushering in the End of Days.

Standing in their way is the next generation of warriors, children of demons and angels and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

See how they become legends in their own right.

Larissa Ione

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: Blue Box Press: Legecy of Temptation (Demonica Birthright #1) by Larissa Ione

Blue Box Press

Pub Date: 
February 6, 2024


List Price: 
$5.99 e-book


Kids Buzz

Ode to a Pug

by Jill Rosen, illus. by Stephanie Rohr

Dear Reader,

Ode to a Pug is a rhyming story about a precocious pug with a penchant for messes and mayhem who drives her frazzled owner to declare that she will give her pug away! Will she? Families will enjoy finding the answer and children will see that everyone experiences strong emotions at times in Ode to a Pug, starring the infamous clown of the canine world.

The Children's Book Review calls Ode to a Pug "a sweet and funny exploration of what unconditional love looks like."

Wishing laughs and maybe even a tear or two,

Dark Ink: Ode to a Pug by Jill Rosen, illus. by Stephanie Rohr

AM Ink Publishing

Pub Date: 
February 15, 2024


Type of Book:
Picture Book

Age Range: 

List Price: 
$14.99 Paperback

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