Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster: A Short Walk Through a Wide World by Douglas Westerbeke

From My Shelf

Book Club Idea: WWII Novels

Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See is a sweeping, sensory story of two young people in very different places during World War II. Its many layers make for prime book club discussion--and if that time period appeals to club readers, there is no shortage of excellent novels that explore this subject.

The Nightingale is a long novel, but its fast pace will make readers page furiously through to the end. Kristin Hannah tells the story of two French sisters struggling through the Nazi occupation in very different ways. The challenges they face, the hard choices they have to make, and their relationship as both sisters and friends will prove excellent fodder for book club talk.

Kate Atkinson's Life After Life is not strictly a World War II novel; it tells the story of Ursula, a woman who lives her life on repeat. Continually dying and being reborn in the English countryside on February 11, 1910, Ursula lives each life slightly differently: she dies at birth; she drowns as a child; she lives to shoot Hitler. Though her lives vary, she is repeatedly thrown back into London during the Luftwaffe bombings--and Atkinson's depictions of the horrors of this terrifying time of the war are as powerful as any nonfiction account of the Blitz. The touch of science fiction here promises to make a discussion of the time period all the more interesting.

For those seeking a complement to the European focus of the majority of World War II novels, The Gods of Heavenly Punishment offers a story of the Pacific theater, set in Tokyo before and after the firebombing of the city in 1945. Jennifer Cody Epstein's ability to move between the large details of history and the very mundane details of everyday life in a war-stricken land bring this story to life in an incredible way. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Sleeping Bear Press: When You Go Into Nature by Sheri M Bestor, Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

Book Candy

Top 10 Children's Books Set in NYC

Meg Leder, author of The Museum of Heartbreak and an executive editor at Penguin Books, shared her picks for the "top 10 children's books set in New York City" with the Guardian.


Quirk Books "rounded up some of the best socks to put a smile on the face of any book-lover."


Pop quiz: "Who should voice your bio's audiobook?" the Reading Room asked.


"He drew maps for the army." This was just one of "12 busy facts about Richard Scarry" showcased by Mental Floss.


It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a bookshelf! Bored Panda featured "Superhero Bookshelves" by Turkish artist Burak Doğan.

milk and honey

by Rupi Kaur

Rupi Kaur's milk and honey is a collection of prose and poetry that explores themes of silence, abuse, womanhood, family, connections and personal power. Kaur divides the work into four sections--hurting, loving, breaking, and healing--that mirror the poet's growth. In the section "the hurting," Kaur explores the idea of otherness within oneself, how one cannot be at home in one's own body and how so many experiences affirm that to be a woman is undesirable and alien. Her trauma related to alcoholic family members, abuse and rape shape the poet's fraught psyche, leaving a sense of insecurity and confusion that permeates every page. This confusion is directed both toward understanding her place in the world as an individual and her relationships with others.

One of Kaur's overarching themes is the act of silencing women, which furthers a woman's sense of otherness. In childhood the poet witnesses her father "shov[ing] the word hush/ between her [mother's] lips" and shaming her into silence when she tries to speak at the dinner table. These acts of almost casual abuse teach the poet that women are not allowed to have voices unless granted by others. In the poem titled "the idea of shrinking is hereditary" she struggles to realize her own self-worth:

trying to convince myself
i am allowed
to take up space
is like writing with
my left hand
when i was born
to use my right

While deeply personal, Kaur's words have a larger affect on her audience. She confronts taboos and questions figures of authority through the juxtaposition of domestic scenes and of abuse, rendered in both word and line drawings. Acting as a witness, she questions the relationships she observes and participates in within a home environment, including that of her parents:

i can't tell if my mother is
terrified or in love with
my father it all
looks the same

Even in the sections "the loving" and "the breaking," Kaur is not yet secure in herself. The poet continues to struggle to find her own worth and looks to others to give her power. In "the loving," she is consumed by love, or what she thinks is love, with an unnamed lover:

you talk too much
he whispers into my ear
i can think of better ways to use that mouth

In this, her lover tries to suppress her identity, leading to the next section, "the breaking," where she struggles to reclaim herself. This is where readers begin to see Kaur's strength. While all of her poems come from a place of vulnerability, in these last sections her words begin to feel sublime, impressing upon readers a sense of power, even as she shares moments of feeling powerless.

Throughout milk and honey, each poem captures a moment that reveals common experience. While not often discussed openly, many of the issues she brings into focus speak to greater cultural and societal problems. Events she shares, including instances of rape, are considered shameful and are not openly discussed even among friends. She engages with the truth of her experiences, and it is not pleasant or pretty. In calling out her own past, Kaur breaks the restrictions placed on her by everyone who tells women to be silent, and she empowers others to do the same.

you tell me to quiet down cause
my opinions make me less beautiful
but i was not made with a fire in my belly
so i could be put out...

Her poems remind women of their personal power, not given by others but innately possessed. In this way, the prose and poetry in this collection often feel like a call to action, a plea for self-acceptance directed toward women. She celebrates women and womanhood, and shows how being a woman can be strength, something she did not recognize early in her life.

you tell me
i am not like most girls
and learn to kiss me with your eyes closed
something about the phrase--something about
how i have to be unlike the women
i call sisters in order to be wanted
makes me want to spit your tongue out
like i am supposed to be proud you picked me
as if i should be relieved you think
i am better than them

Her words create a sense of communal and global kinship. Experiencing these pieces in consecutive order, readers see the poet processing trauma and moving through significant growth. Her themes evolve, gradually reaching toward empowerment and trust in self. To read this collection is to go through hardship, and find healing on the other side. But healing is not a destination; Kaur reveals healing to be an ongoing process that has no end and requires constant practice. She shows us that true healing requires a love of self and the confidence to speak up and speak out. --Justus Joseph

Andrews McMeel Publishing, $14.99, paperback, 9781449474256

Rupi Kaur: A Balanced Place Where Healing Lives

photo: Baljit Singh

When Rupi Kaur was five, her mother handed her a paintbrush and said, "Draw your heart out." She views her life as an exploration of that artistic journey. Through her poetry and illustrations she engages with love, loss, trauma, healing and femininity. For Kaur, writing has always been a collective experience. At the age of 17 she began sharing her work. The stage was her first love and spoken word is where she found her voice. Kaur pursued her love for language by studying rhetoric at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. She began working on her first collection, milk and honey (Andrews McMeel), which became a New York Times bestseller and has 400,000 copies in print. Kaur's passion is expression, and for her that takes many forms. Her photography and art direction are brought to various spaces around the world and her poetry and prose are breaking international boundaries.

Much of your work comes from a place of love, yet you are not afraid to engage with anger. What purpose does anger serve in your creative process? And what happens to anger when you choose to be vulnerable?

I realized very early that I had to engage with my anger. Some of the earliest work I put into the world was very visceral. Once I began writing, all the emotions came. I learned about them and myself. Each emotion impacts you differently. I learned anger is real and I needed to engage with that anger if I wanted to engage with love.

Anger is also scary. When I am writing on anger, it is difficult to come back sometimes. So I talk with myself. I reason that life, love and relationships are so multi-dimensional. For me to write honestly about each, I cannot pretend that it's all fairytales and rainbows. There is anger. There is resentment. There is bitterness. That's the reality and that's what I want to show.

When I engage with anger, what's beautiful is I eventually reach a resolution. That's what happens when I choose to be vulnerable with my emotions. It changes into something, whether it is kindness, forgiveness--whatever. However, to arrive at this point, I have to go through my process of understanding.

The domestic scenes you describe in many of your poems confront and explore a generational cycle of silence women inherit and the harm it causes. Can you tell us more about how you came to identify such moments and what inspired you to write about it?

Silence is powerful. Figuring out the reason for silence is sometimes even more so. For so much of her existence, my mother and many like her have been told that what they have to say does not have meaning--it is not important, they are not important. There are so many different people and situations that have come and said these words to her. They and their voices are subdued.

I'm very observant. Even as a child, I analyzed and watched women and men in my life behave in certain ways with each other. After some time, you notice patterns. Why do these things keep happening? Why does my mother choose to stay silent when I know every part of her wants to shout? As I began to write, I began to explore this silence.

Healing from both emotion and physical wounds is a theme throughout your work. In what ways have you found healing to be a constant practice rather than a destination?

I'm the type to bury pain somewhere really deep inside, a place I've never ventured, and keep it there. Hidden. After the burial I go and bury myself in my work. Writing the book was facing the pain. Disregarding is not healing. You have to explore to heal, I think. I've had to forgive myself for being too hard on myself. After I wrote milk and honey I very much felt "healed." I thought I'd reached the destination. The purpose of milk and honey--to heal me--was complete. In the months that followed, when I was relentlessly triggered, there was a huge learning experience. Healing isn't a destination--it's something I have to consistently work on. This journey allowed me to forgive myself for so much. I'm learning to be my own best friend. Change the language I speak to myself. Understand why I think the things I do when I look at myself. I truly believe that I am the revolution I need. The belief that I am the most powerful thing in my life--that with my mind I can bring any change to my life. I'm practicing mindfulness and being grateful. It takes you to a balanced place where healing lives.

Each poem seems deeply personal and intimate. It's as though your words uncovered experiences I didn't know I had experienced. Many who have read milk and honey describe your work as "painful." What made you begin to share your poetry, and how did you feel about the ways people responded to it?

Living inside my body felt like screaming a silent scream. I would find empty rooms, pillows, elevators to scream into. No matter how loud the screams were, it always still felt silent. I don't know why I shared my work. I honestly have no idea what possessed me to do such a thing. I think perhaps I did it because I needed that scream to be heard.

It's actually very scary to watch people respond to your work. I think it's caused some of the most anxiety I have felt in recent years. It's undressing yourself and standing in front of a crowd.

In your poetry there is a growing sense of kinship with yourself and other women. What role does community play in your writing and art?

I didn't have a lot [of community] growing up but I was rich in that I had my two incredible sisters and a solid girlfriend or two. We were abundant when together and no matter what I "lacked," because of them I lacked nothing. We understand each other's pains--we are in this together. Women have been a strong part of my healing so in chapter four--"the healing"--there's a natural sense of kinship.

Early on when I began to share my poetry I was writing about abuse and rape. It was other women who were my strength. They would reach out, send letters, post comments about how the poetry allowed them to feel proud to be women. How they had experienced such pains but for the first time since, they wanted to own their womanhood rather than be ashamed of it.

Your poems often feel like a call to action, a plea for women to realize themselves outside the boundaries others would give them. Is this the case, and if so can you explain more about why you chose to write about this?

I was never really writing for anyone other than myself--so it's interesting that you say that and it also makes sense. I guess the poems were a call to action for myself. For me to realize that I'm outside the boundaries others have placed on me. They're self reminders--but after sharing them you realize they become self reminders for others too. This is something we are all struggling with.

Like many others, I was first introduced to your work through your piece titled "period." A photograph showed you in bed during your menstrual cycle and blood was visible on your pants. Since then your art continues to challenge themes of censorship. What experiences in your life have motivated you to confront them, and what value is to be found in confronting the taboo?

It's so funny to me--periods are so natural that I often wonder how they even fall under the category of taboo. What my body does naturally once a month is so not taboo! And I think that's what drives the passion. It's not about challenging taboos for the sake of being controversial. It is allowing our bodies to breathe in this world. I did that project as a way to teach myself how to celebrate my body while on my period. I was so tired of feeling like I was "unlucky" or "wishing I was a man." So, "period." was me working through this. Not for a second did I think that it would be censored. In my mind it's the most natural thing. I see now how naïve I was. I just can't keep my mouth shut.

It seems as though you have a lot of direction and ambition, and I'm excited to see what new art you share with the world. How would you like to be remembered? Alternatively, how would you like milk and honey to be remembered?

I want to leave behind a literary legacy that will show readers how powerful they are. How they are the revolution they've been waiting for. I want my writings to captivate and fill them with love. milk and honey is the first of many. A strong first. I could not have asked the universe for a better first. --Justus Joseph

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Dispatches

War correspondent, author and screen writer Michael Herr died last week at age 76. Between 1967 and 1969, Herr served was a correspondent for Esquire magazine in the Vietnam War. In 1977, he published Dispatches, a vivid, visceral account of his wartime experience that was among the first works to bring Vietnam's horrors home to American audiences. Herr was a contributor to Apocalypse Now and co-wrote the screenplay for Full Metal Jacket alongside Stanley Kubrick and author Gustav Hasford. After Kubrick's death in 1999, Herr wrote two Vanity Fair articles about the director, which later became the biography Kubrick (2000). He also wrote a fictionalized biography of newsman Walter Winchell, Walter Winchell: A Novel (1990).

Dispatches was an immediate sensation. John le Carré called it "the best book I have ever read on men and war in our time," and it got a glowing review on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. Herr's literary, subjective work of New Journalism remains among the great pieces of Vietnam War reportage. In 2011, the Guardian placed Dispatches its list of 100 greatest nonfiction books. Dispatches was last republished in 2009 by Everyman's Library ($24, 9780307270801). --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


Dating Tips for the Unemployed

by Iris Smyles

Crafty comic writer Iris Smyles continues to follow the life of her fictional antihero, Iris, in Dating Tips for the Unemployed. In Smyles's first novel, Iris Has Free Time, Iris was a young, single New Yorker grappling with life after college and the pitfalls of young adulthood. In the new novel, Iris is now 35 and still single. Though she's grown older, she continues to struggle with hard-won wisdom as she resumes her witty, self-deprecating and often self-defeating search for a place in the world.

This time around, Iris--an aspiring writer largely supported economically by her politically right-leaning Greek family--has completed her second master's degree and feels that she needs to find a man and get married "before I gain any more weight, before I get too old, before people start to talk." That quest, channeled through Iris's lovably downtrodden, often absentminded perspective, is not easy to accomplish. In 24 short, eclectic episodes, Iris--a wry observer and keen philosophical thinker--shares stories about men, dating, work (and the lack thereof), loneliness, friendship, sex, literature, costume parties, growing older, time travel, insomnia, Greek mythology and the complete series of Rocky movies. A large cast of family, friends, lovers and strangers enhance the very funny details of Iris's rich, authentic urban odyssey.

Smyles delivers another clever, insightful glimpse into the often absurd existence of an intellectual young woman who makes the idea of floundering in life into a laudable art form. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: Iris Smyles's second novel offers comical stories about a 35-year-old, single, intellectual woman trying to navigate the complexities of life and love.

Mariner Books, $15.95, paperback, 9780544703384

A Certain Age

by Beatriz Williams

In certain glittering circles of Jazz Age society in New York, a little discreet philandering is not only encouraged, but condoned. After meeting Octavian Rofrano, a stoic young World War I pilot, society matron Theresa Marshall has embarked on her first extramarital affair. Though the Boy, as she calls him, wants to marry her, Theresa is unwilling to divorce her husband and give up her lavish lifestyle. But things change when Theresa's brother, Jay, enlists the Boy to perform an old family tradition: presenting an engagement ring on his behalf to the beautiful Sophie Fortescue. Beatriz Williams expertly explores the tangled web in her seventh novel, A Certain Age.

Williams (Along the Infinite Sea) alternates deftly between Theresa's voice and Sophie's, weaving the intertwined stories of two very different families. Sophie's father, a reclusive inventor whose success has suddenly made him a wealthy man, is reluctant to let his bright younger daughter enjoy the privileges of their precarious new social standing. Theresa, the daughter of an old New York family, has raised her children, endured her husband's infidelity and now sees her second chance for happiness. When the time Octavian spends with Sophie leads to the revelation of a terrible secret, both women reach a crossroads, each forced to make an agonizing choice.

Deliciously scandalous and elegantly written, A Certain Age is a dazzling reinterpretation of Richard Strauss's opera Der Rosenkavalier, and a thoroughly satisfying love story. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Beatriz Williams's seventh novel is a glittering reinterpretation of Strauss's opera Der Rosenkavalier, set in 1920s New York.

Morrow, $26.99, hardcover, 9780062404954

First Comes Love

by Emily Giffin

Sisters Josie and Meredith have always had a fractious relationship, made more so by their brother Daniel's death when all three siblings were in their 20s. Fifteen years later, Meredith has reached a crisis in her marriage and her career, and still-single Josie is longing for a baby. As the anniversary of Daniel's death approaches, the sisters are forced to reconsider past choices and make decisions about the future. Emily Giffin deftly explores the complicated bonds of family, fraught with grief, in her eighth novel, First Comes Love.

Giffin (The One and Only) creates two sympathetic protagonists, telling their story in alternating chapters. Warmhearted, impulsive Josie, a first-grade teacher who struggles with having her ex-boyfriend's daughter as a student, is in many ways the opposite of reserved, cautious Meredith, a lawyer with one daughter and a meticulously planned life. Both women continue playing their lifelong roles of free spirit and model child, respectively, while secretly wishing for the chance to break out and do something different. Switching between narrators allows Giffin to explore the assumptions each sister makes about the other's actions, and the secrets they both carry about the night Daniel died.

Although it deals with grief and recovery, Giffin's narrative isn't a downer: it's told with a light touch and ends on a hopeful note. While Meredith and Josie don't resolve their differences (and what pair of sisters ever does?), Giffin brings them to a mutual understanding of the ways family can wound, frustrate and ultimately heal. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Emily Giffin's eighth novel tells a sensitive story of two sisters who must move forward after their brother's death.

Ballantine Books, $28, hardcover, 9780345546920

A Thousand Miles from Nowhere

by John Gregory Brown

If ever it could be said that a man had set his life on fire, that would be true of Henry Garrett, the protagonist of John Gregory Brown's bittersweet novel, A Thousand Miles from Nowhere. But over the course of this quietly seductive story, Brown (Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery) succeeds in transforming a character notable for "his peculiar proclivity for melancholy, his abysmally romantic attachment to sorrow" into a modest but appealing hero.

Henry's flight from New Orleans to the small town of Marimore, Va., in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is the culmination of more than a year of disastrous choices that include leaving his wife, purchasing an abandoned grocery store with the inheritance from his mother's estate and quitting his job as a high school English teacher. It's hard to imagine his life getting much worse--until, shortly after he arrives in Virginia, he accidentally kills a prison inmate, who steps into the path of Henry's car in hopes of securing a $5,000 death benefit for his impoverished family.

Brown patiently reveals what Henry calls his mind's "clatter and chaos, the clutter and noise, the wreck and ruin." It's not easy, at first, to live inside Henry's head as he seems to make little progress in keeping his demons at bay. But his realization that "a life could be changed by a story" provides the energy for the novel's second half. A Thousand Miles from Nowhere is a charming portrait of how redemption can appear in the most unlikely circumstances. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: Hurricane Katrina is the backdrop for a charming story of one man's journey to recover his life.

Lee Boudreaux Books, $26, hardcover, 9780316302807

Mystery & Thriller

Under the Harrow

by Flynn Berry

Under the Harrow begins as a straightforward murder mystery: in the English countryside, Nora enters her sister Rachel's house for a Friday night dinner and finds both Rachel and her dog brutally murdered. But as the search for the killer unfolds, Under the Harrow becomes spectacularly complex. Flynn Berry carefully builds the story around Rachel's and Nora's lives with intricate details that connect perfectly, and often in surprising ways. Nora and Rachel are puzzle pieces that don't fit together: Rachel was brutally assaulted as a teenager and has been obsessed with finding her as-yet unidentified attacker; Nora leads a purposeless, meandering life tainted by guilt over her role in her sister's attack all those years ago.

These elements combine to make Under the Harrow much more than a straightforward whodunit; the novel, Berry's debut, is a nuanced story of grief, loss and the aftermath of trauma. After finding her sister's body, Nora spends much of her time looking back: "I want to tell her about the moment between opening the door of the house and understanding what had happened," reflects Nora, "when what I felt was wonder." As Nora desperately attempts to identify her sister's killer, she relives and redefines her relationship with Rachel, and her understanding of her place in the world.

Under the Harrow is a stunningly complex novel of psychological suspense, exploring the bonds of sisterly love and rivalry through the lens of two brutal acts of violence--introducing an exciting new voice to the genre. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: Debut novelist Flynn Berry delivers a tightly paced and impressive story of psychological suspense.

Penguin, $16, paperback, 9780143108573

Biography & Memoir

Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man's Education

by Mychal Denzel Smith

In this impassioned memoir, the Nation writer Mychal Denzel Smith lays forth his experiences coming of age in the United States as a black man. Growing up, Smith's parents encouraged him to be "twice as good." He recalls, at age 18, watching Barack Obama's 2004 Democratic National Convention speech and being unimpressed: "[Obama] was emerging as the kind of figure I had been taught to admire, but I did everything to reject the moment I started seeing the world differently."

Smith's view of the world is shaped more by the teachings of Malcolm X, the hip-hop music of Mos Def and, later, Kanye West, the art of Aaron McGruder and the entertainment of Dave Chappelle. Through these influences and horrific, racially charged events such as Jena Six and the murder of Trayvon Martin, Smith frames an ideology fueled by frustration and rage.

But behind the fury, Smith identifies a rampant metal health problem plaguing the U.S. black population, caused in part by the continuing stigma toward those with mental health issues and lack of access to good care. He details his own experience with panic attacks and depression throughout high school and college, as well as eventually learning about his "survivor's guilt."

Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching skillfully illustrates how racism in the U.S. affects young black men. Readers may find Smith's generalizations about "America" too broad, but if they look deeper, they'll see the issues that desperately need everyone's attention and action. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: A young black man explores the forces that shape his life and his political philosophy as he comes of age in the United States.

Nation Books, $24, hardcover, 9781568585284

In the Darkroom

by Susan Faludi

In 2004, photographer and Hungarian immigrant Stefánie (née Steven) Faludi announced via e-mail that she had undergone male-to-female gender reassignment surgery and requested that her daughter, journalist Susan Faludi (Backlash, Stiffed), document her story. Faludi consented with the intention of redressing a grievance against the "frustrated filmmaker who had spent most of his professional life working in darkrooms... a simultaneously inscrutable and volatile presence" who had abandoned the family during Faludi's teenage years.

Armed with memories of the rugged outdoorsman, Faludi flew to Hungary to confront "a phantom out of a remote past," an illusion fashioned in the darkroom. Faludi was engaged "in a [10-year] contest... between erasure and exposure, between the airbrush and the reporter's pad, between the master of masking and the apprentice who would unmask him." Stefánie now led a life crafted from 1950s female stereotypes, but she remained a figure of many contradictions: a Jew in denial, whose bravery during the Holocaust belied any indifference shown to her religion of birth; a parent disdainful of abandonment yet who abandoned her own family. Through Stefánie's experiences, Faludi explores the larger questions of transgender politics and sexual identity in a nation whose past has detrimentally shaped its present. In the process, the hard-nosed reporter and feminist is forced to reevaluate the identity she has built as retaliation against an abusive and domineering father.

In the Darkroom is an intensely personal journey for Faludi, and despite the intimate subject matter, she never loses her reportorial edge. Rather, her father's story prompts Faludi to reexamine and open up her own beliefs in feminism. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: In this revealing memoir, Susan Faludi considers questions of gender and national identity when reacquainted with her estranged transgender father.

Metropolitan Books, $32, hardcover, 9780805089080

Florence! Foster!! Jenkins!!!: The Life of the World's Worst Opera Singer

by Darryl W. Bullock

"Florence wasn't just a bad singer: ...she was a stratospherically, catastrophically awful one. And yet it was her limitations that catapulted her to real, lasting stardom." In Florence! Foster!! Jenkins!!!, journalist Darryl W. Bullock (The World's Worst Records) investigates the legendary singer who has been mostly known for a handful of recordings and a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall, both accomplished when she was over 70.

Narcissa Florence Foster Jenkins was born in 1868 to wealthy, educated parents in Pennsylvania. A gifted pianist, she married young and graduated from the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music. By 32, she was divorced and a wealthy heiress. She moved to Manhattan, became a popular socialite and met an attractive younger actor who became her primary lover and manager. She was a gifted, well-connected promoter, financing lavish musical events and charity fund-raisers. She also held private recitals in the Grand Ballroom of the Ritz Carlton Hotel, where she sang challenging classical vocal repertoire in outrageous costumes. Her audiences "developed a convention that whenever she came to a particularly excruciating discord... where they had to laugh, they burst into these salvos of applause and whistles and the noise was so great that they could laugh at liberty." But her friends shielded her from the worst criticism and, in many ways, she led a charmed life, devoted to what she loved, talent or no talent.

Bullock discusses the 2016 biopic starring Meryl Streep in his preface and afterword. With or without the movie, this is an entertaining little biography, well grounded in cited research, with illustrations, a detailed timeline and an index. --Sara Catterall

Discover: A well-researched short biography of the wealthy New York socialite who made herself into a musical cult figure.

Overlook Press, $24.95, hardcover, 9781468313741

Current Events & Issues

Hacked: The Inside Story of America's Struggle to Secure Cyberspace

by Charlie Mitchell

Every one of 16 critical infrastructures in the U.S. economy is susceptible to cyberattacks: agriculture, transportation, the power grid, even the pacemakers already implanted in patient's chests. And still, according to Washington, D.C., cybersecurity journalist Charlie Mitchell, "The effort to secure cyberspace, by government and industry, remains in the embryonic stages." The military, technology experts, business and government agree that the threats are clear, new attacks are discovered all the time and the tools for building defenses are at hand--why hasn't the federal government done more? In Hacked, his first book, Mitchell explains the conflicting interests and political struggles in the messy business of creating and implementing effective cybersecurity policy.

Most of the structures that need to be protected in the U.S. are privately owned. This sets up a tension between national security interests and concerns for personal freedoms, business operations and privacy. In 2008, as the Obama administration began to address the question of cybersecurity, many officials began to realize that "it was a mistake to view cybersecurity as a technical issue. It was about people, process and commitment."

Mitchell dives deep into the negotiations, innovations and failed initiatives of both government and industry. His descriptions of the most tortured legislative battles are straightforward and comprehensible. This is an accessible insiders' guide to a difficult subject that will interest anyone concerned about national cybersecurity. --Sara Catterall

Discover: An accessible guide to the complex debates and conflicting interests in the struggle to create effective national defenses against cyberattacks.

Rowman & Littlefield, $27, hardcover, 9781442255210

Political Science

The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life

by Anu Partanen

When journalist Anu Partanen agreed to leave her native Finland for a life in the U.S. with her new American husband, she hadn't really thought about what she might be giving up. After all, she'd be in the States, the land long considered "the world's shining beacon of freedom, independence, individualism, and opportunity." But in 2010, Finland and the other countries of the Nordic region ranked significantly better as places to live, based on five categories: education, health, quality of life, economic competitiveness and political environment.

Curious as to why this was so, Partanen compared the U.S. with Finland in several major areas--paid maternity and paternity leave, day care for preschoolers, the educational system from kindergarten through college, health care and health insurance, taxes, help for the poor and elderly, and starting and running businesses. In the clear, concise prose of The Nordic Theory of Everything, Partanen argues the pros and cons of these varied aspects of life in both countries, with the conclusion that the U.S. has lost its way, and is stuck in a past that no longer works and which no longer provides a safe, healthy and happy environment for its citizens to grow and enjoy life. Fortunately, she does offer suggestions and solutions to bring the U.S. forward, so that Americans can stop obsessing over money, job security, the proper schools for our children and health care, and learn to relax and be happy. Based on Partanen's analysis, for those in the U.S. searching for the American dream, it's a good time to move to Finland. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A Finnish woman living in the U.S. compares the two societies using a variety of measures--and finds the U.S. has lost its way.

Harper, $27.99, hardcover, 9780062316547

Children's & Young Adult

The Thinking Book

by Sandol Stoddard Warburg, illus. by Ivan Chermayeff

Kids who are as slow as "a handful of honey" just when they most need to hurry up aren't trying to be contrary. They are thinking.

The Thinking Book, first published in 1960, brilliantly champions daydreaming. Though no people are pictured, an adult is trying to rush a child through the day's task of getting ready, and the dreamy child is mightily distracted. When the adult says, "Put on that shirt, the yellow one," the child's inner voice is, "thinking/ I was thinking/ of all the pieces of dust that float/ and shine/ in the sunshine." The request to wash both hands just makes the child imagine "waves and jewels in the caves," and the command to put on shoes and socks sets a rhyming train of thought in motion: "I was thinking of wheels/ I was thinking of eels and seals."

Author Sandol Stoddard Warburg (I Like You) has a history of charming the shoes and socks off readers, and world-class designer-artist Ivan Chermayeff's bright, childlike paintings are simple and spare, leaving plenty of breathing room for individual flights of fancy. On one page, the adult says "Please!" as a delightful gray elephant is blowing out three candles on a cake, and the child is thinking, " I love you a billion/ a zillion/ a whillion/ a gorillian/ a hippopillion/ a rhinocerillion/ an elephantillion." Children who get lost in their own worlds will feel understood--and adults are offered a soft-focus new lens with which to view the occasional agony of getting a child ready to go. A classic. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: This charming 1960 picture-book reissue poses the question: Who has time for washing hands and putting on shoes when there's serious daydreaming to do?

Ammo Books, $14.95, hardcover, 24p., ages 3-7, 9781623260880

The Wolf's Boy

by Susan Williams Beckhorn

Kai's heartbroken father leaves his infant son to die near a wolf's den because he has a "leg like a withered leaf"; the People--their Paleolithic-era community--view anyone with a deformity as tabat, or cursed. But a mother wolf takes the baby into her den, and that's where Kai's human mother discovers her son some months later. From that day forward, Kai lives uneasily, bullied and feared by his immet (village).

By age 12, Kai has become frustrated with his inability to contribute to the immet--as a tabat boy, he is forbidden to hunt: "Cripple or not, I was nearly old enough to be a hunter. There was nothing wrong with my eyes, my arms, my hands. I could climb high into a tree. I could swim and dive in the icy water of our river." When Kai, who is still deeply bonded with wolves, brings home an orphaned pup, it's only a matter of time before her whining hunger--and rapidly sharpening teeth--become problematic. A tragic accident is the tipping point, and tormented, guilt-ridden Kai and his beloved wolf, Uff, set off to the foreboding northern territory inhabited only by the elusive Ice Men, stocky, heavy-browed, so-called "animal-men."

In The Wolf's Boy, the clean, accessible prose of Susan Williams Beckhorn (Wind Rider) draws readers into prehistory at a time when humans were on the verge of domesticating dogs. Fans of adventure, survival and animal stories will love Kai's independent spirit and drive to live and thrive as he transcends his "bad foot" to find his own power in the world. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: As a "cursed" member of his Stone Age community, a disabled boy named Kai must survive the wilderness alone with his adopted wolf pup.

Disney-Hyperion, $16.99, hardcover, 230p., ages 9-13, 9781484725535


Author Buzz

Dragon Kiss
(A Dragon Kings Novella)

by Donna Grant

Dear Reader,

Welcome back to the Dragon Kings! I'm thrilled to bring you DRAGON KISS. The world of the Dragon Kings keeps expanding, and this story brings us Alasdair and Lotti, a powerful couple who have overcome all odds to find love. But a deadly enemy intends to rip them apart.

I can't wait for you to fall in love with Alasdair and Lotti as I have.


Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Dragon Kiss (A Dragon Kings Novella) by Donna Grant

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 9, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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