Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, October 28, 2016

Poisoned Pen Press: That Night in the Library by Eva Jurczyk

From My Shelf

For Book Clubs: Uncomfortably Funny

It may be difficult for a concerned white person in the United States to put their arms around the African-American experience, to understand fully the anger and frustration behind Black Lives Matter. The Sellout (available in paperback from Picador), Paul Beatty's novel of a black Los Angeles slave owner, weed and watermelon farmer and segregationist--which won the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Fiction Award and, this week, the 2016 Man Booker Fiction Prize--might help. Beatty's satire peels away the masks of both black and white stereotypes. 

The Sellout is funny--very funny. As Dwight Garner said in his New York Times review: "The first 100 pages of his new novel... are the most caustic and the most badass first 100 pages of an American novel I've read in at least a decade." As our review put it: "The Sellout is a knock-out punch to everything all races smugly accept as our appropriate roles in a diverse world." Nobody gets away unscathed--Tiger Woods, Clarence Thomas, Rosa Parks, even Dave Eggers get their comeuppance.

But The Sellout's funny is an uncomfortable funny, especially for a book club group balancing the pleasure of laugh-out-loud lines with the tension, anger, guilt and bigotry that run beneath the surface of race relations in the United States. Could anybody but a relatively established black writer get away with the heavy racial humor in The Sellout? Does its somewhat complicated plot get in the way, or merely expand Beatty's platform for humor? Does Beatty's caricature of liberal blacks hit the mark? Although he pokes fun at racial stereotypes, they are stereotypes for a reason--do Beatty's comic wisecracks cut them down to size? And finally, can the humor of The Sellout help ease the United States' heightened racial unease and line-in-the-sand sort of ideological and sociological stand-off? Plenty to think about and discuss in this groundbreaking novel. – Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Book Candy

Trick or Bookish Treat!

NFL Halloween video of the season: For a press conference this week, pro football star Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks "dresses as Harry Potter--and it's awesome," the Huffington Post reported.


Last call for Halloween: Mental Floss unearthed "six books supposedly dictated by ghosts that remain widely accessible today"; Bustle revealed "9 monsters from books based on true stories"; the Huffington Post explored "the spooky poem The Nightmare Before Christmas was based on"; and Brightly noted that "your little monsters, witches, ghosts, and goblins will go crazy for these fun printables and activities."


"Step into the Minotaur Manor. But beware, there are secrets hidden within its walls. Enter if you dare...."


"Silence can be either protest or consent, but most times it's fear." To celebrate Paul Beatty's award-winning novel, Bustle featured "7 The Sellout quotes that prove this book deserved the Man Booker Prize."


"These minimal, black + white illustrations are for book lovers," the Chronicle Books blog promised.

The Word Detective: Searching for the Meaning of It All at the Oxford English Dictionary

by John Simpson

John Simpson is the former chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, where he oversaw the creation of the online edition--the first major reference book to make the leap from print to a digital format. His memoir, The Word Detective: Searching for the Meaning of It All at the Oxford English Dictionary, tells the story of a man, an institution, and how they both changed over time.

Simpson's career with the iconic dictionary began in 1976, when lexicographers still documented words, meanings and expressions on index cards (called "slips"), which were later analyzed as part of the process of writing or revising a dictionary entry. As an assistant on the Supplement to the OED, his first task was to read a work on the semiotics of film--part of a project to bring modern words and ideas into what remained at heart a Victorian enterprise. By the time he retired as the dictionary's chief editor in 2013, the OED had been transformed from a monument of Victorian scholarship to a dynamic on-line database--a revolution in which Simpson played a critical role.

Much of The Word Detective centers on this change, as told through the lens of Simpson's personal experience. At first, we learn about the traditional skills required for a lexicographer--how to "read" a text as research for the dictionary: a laborious word-by-word process that bears little resemblance to reading for pleasure or instruction. How to write a definition, with all its related words and sub-meanings. How a new word earns a place in the dictionary. And, in the case of a charming extended history of the word "f*ck" and its first appearance in the OED Supplement, how new editorial policies develop to reflect a changing world.

The questions and skills under consideration changed when the OED staff took the initial steps into first digitizing the dictionary as a CD-ROM and later creating an online version. Some of the questions were technical, such as how to transfer data from print into new technologies. But other questions involved reconceptualizing both the format of the dictionary and how its editors worked with new resources. Suddenly in the vanguard of new ways of studying language, editors had to consider ways to radically restructure information, how to best utilize new search and display capacities, and how newly digitized databases opened the process of identifying early word uses. Caught up in the wave of change, Simpson never entirely loses track of the OED's roots and offers one example of why those databases can never completely replace the lexicographer's need to do archival research and verification. When his instincts tell him the quotation evidence for an early meaning of "pal" doesn't add up, he hits the road to track the example to its original source in an obscure document in a minor archive, where the word proved not to be "pal", but "Poll"--a nickname for Mary.

Some of the most engaging portions of the book stand outside the larger narrative. Brief essays on the history and meanings of individual words used in the text are highlighted by using in a different font. Some, like the essays on "serendipity," "apprenticeship" and "disability" reflect the arc of Simpson's personal story. Others--"on-line," "launch" and "project" for example--are drawn from the larger story of the dictionary's transformation. A few, most notably "selfie", represent a moment in time--though Simpson also uses "selfie" to illustrate the "truism known only to lexicographers" that all new words are at least 10 years older than we think they are. Many words seem to be chosen for their intrinsic interest rather than any larger thematic issue. In addition to describing the history of an individual word, each makes a different point about how words work, ways to think about language, or how a lexicographer works.

In less skillful hands, The Word Detective might have been a book for lexicographers and computer geeks. Instead, Simpson, writing with a wry and often self-deprecating wit and an obvious passion for his subject, tells a story that is at once deeply personal and part of the larger story of a fundamental shift in how we share information.

The Word Detective will inevitably invite comparisons to Simon Winchester's popular histories of the Oxford English Dictionary, The Professor and the Madman and The Meaning of Everything. In fact, Simpson's subtitle, Searching for the Meaning of It All at the Oxford English Dictionary, seems to demand such comparisons. At one level, The Word Detective continues the story where Winchester left off, telling the story of how the culture of the dictionary shifted from its Victorian roots to the digital age. But its heart is the unexpected excitement of historical dictionary work: finding lost information about a word, and consequently about the people and culture that used it.

Ultimately, The Word Detective is an education in a way of thinking about language that is unfamiliar to most of us. --Pamela Toler

Basic Books, $27.99, hardcover, 384p., 9780465060696

John Simpson: More to Language Than We Thought


John Simpson is the former chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, where he helped take the dictionary online. He now writes and researches on lexical, literary and historical issues and is the co-editor of James Joyce Online Notes, a scholarly online forum for exploring historically accurate information about the real people and unfamiliar words in Joyce's novels. His memoir, The Word Detective: Searching for the Meaning of It All at the Oxford English Dictionary, was just published by Basic Books.

The title of your book is The Word Detective. Did you think of yourself as a word detective before writing the book or did that title come up as you worked?

We think of ourselves as word historians and word detectives because we're always trying to hunt down earlier and earlier references, which take you back to different eras. We try to work out what a particular word in a particular time means in a society.

When I announced that I was retiring from the OED in 2013, a couple of newspapers published retrospectives on my career and they both used "word detective" in their titles: "word detective retires after 37 years." That confirmed it for me.

The concept of being a detective is an intriguing one and it fits in with the sort of work we were doing, so I was quite happy with it as a title.

The book is part memoir, part history of the dictionary. It almost feels like you and the dictionary grow up together over the course of the book. Is that a fair statement?

That's true. The dictionary changes and I change. But I also had the feeling as I finished the book that these sorts of changes were more common at work between 1976 and the present day. Everyone--whether doing dictionary work or working at a head office or a bank--they'd all gone through these online changes. In writing about dictionaries I was also writing about the general experience of working over that period as well.

In the book you say that you ended up at the dictionary almost by chance.

I think most people end up as dictionary writers by chance. You don't wake up when you're five and think, "I must write dictionaries for the rest of my life." My wife saw an ad for the job and thought it would suit me while I decided what I wanted to do. And I found that I loved it. I can't imagine doing anything else at the end. You have the opportunity to follow up any aspect of language and history and culture and society all rolled together. When you finish one word you move on to another that is completely different proposition. It's not related thematically. It's just the next word in the alphabet.

You take what in some ways seems to be the contrarian position that people who claim they love words don't make good lexicographers.

It's people who love strange words because they're odd that I get particularly exercised about. As dictionary writers you have to work with words dispassionately, scientifically, objectively, because that's the job. You can't have favorites and you can't start liking things. You deal with them as scientific objects to some extent. It's an odd perspective but it's one that's been schooled into us, really.

What qualities do you think it does take to be good at the job?

You can say obvious things like you have to be good at analyzing language and you've got to have a clear, concise style. But really you've got to have a lot of physical and intellectual stamina. Especially intellectual stamina. You have to be able to see through a long work, a long project. You have to be able to work in quite lengthy detail on the history of individual words, and then not mind shifting to another word and another word and another word. There's always another word coming. You can't get depressed by the idea that you'll never get to the end of the work--and even if you get to the end of the work you have to go back to "A" again.

The main story line is the enormous task of changing the dictionary from print to what's become a dynamic online database.

We were really ahead of the time, which was an exciting thing. We were one of the first 500 websites on the Internet.

We had to work out how to do things that nowadays seem straightforward and everyone does. How the structure of the dictionary on computer differs from the structure of the dictionary on paper. How you're going to access the dictionary. In print you find your words and then go do something else. But online you've got other options. You can jump from word to word. You can look up a word or look up a theme or a look at things on a timeline. You're not just looking at words. You're looking at language. That was the exciting thing about it.

More recently we've given people the opportunity to not just create a word result list but to document representations of data so you can see on a graph, for example, that the entrance of Japanese words into English has an enormous hiccup between 1650 and 1850, when Japan was closed to the West so there was no need for communicating Japanese words into English. I think people can appreciate that much better from a picture or an animation than they can from just a list of words.

Now the dictionary makes language seem much more dynamic that it was in the old days, when it was very much a frozen and static subject of observation.

You say several times over the course of the book that you don't have a favorite word or words but you mention at one point that you do have a soft spot for words that came into the language during the early modern period.

It's the language of the early modern period rather than the words that come into it. It's that whole rather slow, connected language of Milton and as far as Johnson, for example, with his long extended periods. It's fun because you have to decode them as you're reading them. You can't read a 17th-century book in the way you read a 20th-century book. You have to read them more slowly and you have to look for connections. Some of the work I do for the dictionary is adding 16th- and 17th-century antedatings. You have to immerse yourself into the society of the time to understand even the sentences they're saying.

You retired but you're still involved in words.

I'm on the computer all the time: Working on words. I was writing the book. Working on various historical projects. The James Joyce website. They all involve historical research and writing up short articles. Unlike the OED, they aren't part of long-term research, but they all fit into a bigger picture. --Pamela Toler

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Review


The Babysitter at Rest

by Jen George

Jen George's debut collection, The Babysitter at Rest, ricochets from one hellscape to another in a series of five stories that chronicle the lives of the discontented. Women are visited by ethereal, tequila-swigging Guides who chastise them for their underwhelming existences or by older businessmen who coax them to dress constantly in a bikini. At a house party, fires spontaneously erupt yet the debauchery continues, smoldering with the flames. It's an understatement to proclaim that these pieces are unlike anything else in contemporary literature. They're so far outside the spectrum it's as if they're waving from another world.

Both despite and because of its vulgarity and its surrealism, George's work reads best when fallen into headfirst. Beneath the absurdity, George provides trenchant commentary on the modern world. For example, in the story "Take Care of Me Forever," a young woman receives endless diagnoses: bulimia, a body full of broken bones, auto-pregnancy, miscarriages. She's visited by a religious counselor, who opines, "You could have tried. You could have worked hard. But mostly you could have done things differently, better." He pauses. "How was that delivery? ...Those are the lines in a local play I'm auditioning for."

There are no redemptive endings--few tidy morsels of hope or meaning in The Babysitter at Rest. Instead, it's a funhouse mirror: reflecting the world in its infinite strangeness, distorting a reality we wish we didn't know quite so well. --Linnie Greene, freelance writer

Discover: These creepily captivating short stories are an off-kilter ode to discontented women.

Dorothy, a Publishing Project, $16, paperback, 168p., 9780997366624

Paris for One and Other Stories

by Jojo Moyes

In Paris for One and Other Stories, Jojo Moyes (One Plus One) presents a novella and eight short stories about lonely, often disillusioned women liberated from the stagnancy of life.

In the title story, Nell--a 26-year-old Brit whose friends believe she "has never had a wild moment in her life"--plans a romantic, Parisian weekend getaway with her beau, only to be stood up at the 11th hour. Thus, Nell takes an uncharacteristic leap and sets off alone--launching a journey of self-discovery that leads to adventure and new love.

The eight other tales deal with women at various ages and stages struggling to make sense of their choices and relationships. A woman finds a cell phone and revels in receiving intimate texts from a stranger. A lonely wife is lured by a slice of freedom amid the oppressiveness of marriage and the burdens of domesticity. A businesswoman's life is transformed when she literally slips into someone else's shoes. A pragmatic hard-working wife, struggling to make ends meet, longs for a new winter coat. A dinner party forces a once-adulterous wife to reconcile her feelings for an old flame. A surprise weekend getaway will either make or break a marriage. A media star's reputation comes undone via Twitter. A robbery in a jewelry store spices up the life of a salesgirl.

This entertaining collection highlights Moyes at her smart, clever best, as most of the stories end with an unexpected twist sure to satisfy readers looking for brief, pleasurable escapes. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: An entertaining novella and eight stories about women who are liberated--often unexpectedly--from the stagnancy of life.

Pamela Dorman/Viking, $25, hardcover, 288p., 9780735221079

The Annie Year

by Stephanie Wilbur Ash

Stephanie Wilbur Ash is a hoot, and The Annie Year is the raucous debut novel from the former editor at Mpls.St.Paul magazine. Reading The Annie Year feels akin to pulling into a remote diner and having a lifelong local recount town history nonstop for hours, in intimate detail and regardless of the subject matter's sensitivity or personal embarrassment. The story is told so engagingly--caustic, awkwardly hilarious and full of the joy and anguish of everyday life--it's impossible to do anything but settle in, a willing hostage to the saga.

Tandy Caide is the CPA of a small Midwestern town. Married to a man she's rarely intimate with, charter member of the Order of the Pessimists and patron of the arts, Tandy feels stuck. Raised to take over her father's business, she never had an opportunity to spread her wings. After sharing a moment with the new vocational-agriculture teacher at the high school production of Annie, Tandy's life takes a careening, two-wheels-off-the-pavement left turn.

With his ponytail, man-clogs, freshly-mown-ditch scent and multi-colored beaded belt, the vo-ag teacher lights a fire in Tandy that creates fallout across town. The havoc affects both a former lover and the daughter of her estranged best friend, forcing Tandy on a voyage to find her true self.

Through Tandy's first-person narrative, Ash has created a voice often cringe-worthy, full of introspection and admittedly fallible under the pressures of perfectionism. Readers will find Tandy's serpentine journey by turns familiar and foreign, but always entertaining. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A small-town CPA must reexamine her place in the world after a bewitching new teacher comes to town and opens numerous cans of worms.

The Unnamed Press, $16, paperback, 246p., 9781939419965


by Louis de Bernières

British writer Louis de Bernières (Corelli's Mandolin, The Dust That Falls from Dreams) sets 22 short stories in the fictional British village Notwithstanding--an idyllic, rural small town from days gone by, where everyone knows everyone else.

De Bernières elevates the ordinary by focusing on a variety of subjects and locales--the young and old; townies and outcasts; a menagerie of animals; manor houses and farmhouses; maids, gardeners, squires and reverends; even a high-minded retired general with a disregard for clothing; and nuns with poor driving habits. One story is about the lengths taken by a little boy to curb the obsessive tendencies of his beloved retriever. Gleeful Christmas carolers--whom some in town don't find so merry--change the course of estranged neighbors' lives. A widowed romance writer agrees to a temporary pet-sitting job that leads to dire consequences. A rector is mysteriously summoned to minister last rites to a man who is clearly not dying. A spider in a potting shed becomes the town's confidante. Two unsuspecting souls--musicians--become kindred spirits when a broken-down car brings them together. Townsfolk treat a local medium, whose way of life is literally out of this world, with tender respect.

These and other quirky eccentrics infuse this collection of atmospheric, comforting stories that depict a rustic, nostalgic side of English culture. De Bernières has preserved once-typical ways of life with gentle humor--offering several story conclusions filled with poignant twists and themes that are timeless. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: These charming short stories are centered on a fictional English village and the lovable, eccentric people who live there.

Vintage, $16, paperback, 384p., 9781101969878

The Boy Is Back

by Meg Cabot

Professional golfer Reed Stewart hasn't returned to his hometown of Bloomville, Ind., in a decade. After an embarrassing incident involving his high school girlfriend, a golf cart and a swimming pool, Reed moved to California and has rarely looked back. But when his parents become the subject of an Internet scandal, Reed is called home to assume his filial responsibilities and face his ex, Becky Flowers. Prolific author Meg Cabot (the Princess Diaries series; Every Boy's Got One) spins a frothy, highly entertaining narrative with surprising depth in her fourth "Boy" novel, The Boy Is Back.

Arriving in Bloomville, Reed discovers that his sister-in-law Carly has hired a local senior relocation firm to help his parents purge their belongings and move out of their house. As fate (or Carly) would have it, Becky is the owner of that firm. Through text messages, e-mails and journal entries, Cabot traces the history and rekindling of Becky and Reed's relationship, with plenty of input and sarcastic asides from Reed's siblings, Becky's sister and Reed's caddy, Enrique (who dispenses advice while dining out on Reed's expense account). Savvy readers may guess the novel's main plot twist and conclusion, but that won't rob them of the pleasure of following the characters' witty banter and filling in the gaps when the screens go silent.

With winning characters and a satisfying romantic-comedy plot, Cabot's novel is at once a love story, a tribute to family and a clear-eyed look at the upsides and downsides of living in a small town. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A pro golfer returns to his hometown to face a family scandal and mend fences with his high school girlfriend.

Morrow, $15.99, paperback, 368p., 9780062378774

The Hidden Keys

by André Alexis

Toronto native Tancred Palmieri has had many jobs in his career as a thief but none as intriguing as the one proposed by 50-ish heroin junkie Willow Azarian. Willow's billionaire father left millions to his five children, but he also left each a memento mori. Her siblings' mementos were a bottle of aquavit, a painting, a poem and a replica of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater. Hers was a six-panel Momoyama-period Japanese screen, but with the final panel removed. Willow is convinced that these are clues that lead to a larger inheritance. She asks Tancred to steal the other four mementos so that she can solve the puzzle.

That Willow dies before Tancred can locate them is only one of the complications in The Hidden Keys, André Alexis's (Fifteen Dogs) philosophical mystery. The cast of colorful characters includes Willow's albino drug dealer and an assistant nicknamed Freud; Alexander von Würfel, the artist who designed some of the mementos; and Daniel Mandelshtam, Tancred's childhood friend and a Toronto detective. Once the reader meets a one-legged man known as the Colonel, this enjoyable novel's debt to Treasure Island becomes even clearer. The Hidden Keys is a novel about the roles fate and chance play in life, and the difficulty of knowing whether one's actions are honorable. As von Würfel states in one of the novel's many reflective moments, "When a man has so little idea what the consequences of an action will be, how can he know if he's doing good or not?" --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer

Discover: A wealthy heroin addict asks a well-known thief to solve a mystery her deceased billionaire father left behind.

Coach House Books, $17.95, paperback, 232p., 9781552453254

Biography & Memoir

Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon

by Peter Ames Carlin

This is the portrait of Paul Simon we get from Peter Ames Carlin's (Bruce) entertaining biography: he paid his musicians well, sometimes three times the union minimum. He often tutored younger musicians, chauffeured them and bought them meals. Yet he could be mercurial, "sunlit and laughing one day, consumed by his work the next," a ruthless competitor who shouted down hecklers "with brutal efficiency" and denied songwriting credits to collaborators. And when he was not yet well known, he had the gumption to suggest that the international star Buffy Sainte-Marie open for him during a London concert, not the other way around.

Carlin charts the highs and lows of Simon's career--his and Art Garfunkel's teen years as the doo-wop duo Tom and Jerry, their legendary folk-rock run under their own names, their 1970 breakup after Bridge over Troubled Water, Simon's successful solo albums of the 1970s, misfires such as the film One-Trick Pony and the Broadway musical The Capeman, and the huge success of his landmark 1986 album Graceland. Some of the prose is overly cute (guitar playing that's "forceful enough to make the Kingston Trio's sweaters unravel"), but Carlin writes well about the technical aspects of music. Especially fine is the long chapter about Graceland and the complications surrounding the apartheid-era recording of songs with South African musicians. Filled with delightful anecdotes such as Paul and Art rehearsing in a British launderette in 1965 because Simon liked the acoustics, Homeward Bound is a charming biography. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer

Discover: A veteran music journalist chronicles the storied 60-year career of singer-songwriter Paul Simon.

Henry Holt, $32, hardcover, 432p., 9781627790345


Honor Before Glory: The Epic World War II Story of the Japanese American GIs Who Rescued the Lost Battalion

by Scott McGaugh

The internment of Japanese Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor is a conspicuous blemish on American history. Not as commonly known is an extraordinary part of that story: the Japanese Americans who, often from within internment camps, volunteered to fight for a country that had so abused them. In Honor Before Glory, Scott McGaugh (Surgeon in Blue), marketing director of the USS Midway Museum, chronicles these soldiers' finest hours--a mission in the mountains of Eastern France to rescue World War II's famed Lost Battalion.

The 442nd Infantry Regiment was a segregated unit of Japanese American soldiers led by white officers. When announcing the unit's formation, President Roosevelt said: "Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry." Still, the 442nd fought as though they had to prove their Americanism. By the end of the war, they were the most decorated unit of their size, with eight Presidential Unit Citations, 9,486 Purple Hearts and 21 Medals of Honor, though most of those Medals of Honor would not be given until more than a half-century later.

Many of these awards were earned during a brutal, weeklong mission to rescue hundreds of soldiers surrounded in the Vosges Mountains in late October 1944. McGaugh captures the horror and humanity of this slog through mud, forest and unrelenting German resistance, an effort that made some of the 442nd believe they were being used as cannon fodder. Honor Before Glory certainly achieves the goal McGaugh sets in his preface: "I hope readers will pause and reflect on an American spirit that spawns incredible bravery and one that allows discrimination and hatred born of fear and revenge." --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: The little-known story of a segregated Japanese American unit that rescued a surrounded battalion during World War II.

Da Capo Press, $25.99, hardcover, 304p., 9780306824456

Water Tossing Boulders: How a Family of Chinese Immigrants Led the First Fight to Desegregate Schools in the Jim Crow South

by Adrienne Berard

Thirty years before the Brown v. Board of Education decision made school segregation unconstitutional, a case originated in small-town Mississippi to challenge the same injustices. Journalist Adrienne Berard's Water Tossing Boulders reveals the little-known experience of the Mississippi Delta Chinese population, including the Lum family, whose two daughters were sent home from the local white school they attended in Rosedale, Miss. The resulting case, Gong Lum v. Rice (1924), made it as far as the United States Supreme Court, but failed.

Berard has done rigorous research, as detailed in her author's note, and offers a storytelling style with momentum. She expertly evokes her characters. Jeu Gong Lum and his wife, Katherine Wong, were Chinese immigrants who met and married in the Delta; their daughters had divergent personalities, Berda rebellious and Martha an ardent scholar. Their lawyer, Earl Brewer, spent his career fighting for social reforms. Ultimately an anti-lynching campaign would take his attention away from the Lums' case, perhaps ruinously. Other legal players are profiled, including Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis and Chief Justice William Howard Taft, who penned the Court's unanimous decision in favor of segregation. This is the story of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the tortured arguments of eugenics, racism and segregation as much as it is the story of a family who simply wanted a decent education for their children. Told with precision, sympathy and context, Water Tossing Boulders is a brief but incisive history of great significance. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: Chinese immigrants to Mississippi challenged school segregation a generation before the famous Brown v. Board of Education case.

Beacon Press, $26.95, hardcover, 208p., 9780807033531


Game Changers: The Unsung Heroines of Sports History

by Molly Schiot

Molly Schiot created the Instagram account @theunsungheroines to celebrate pioneering female athletes the world has scarcely heard of. Game Changers expands that concept: a collection of historic photos Schiot found in libraries and archives, paired with short narratives of a page or less, tell the stories of groundbreaking and little-known female athletes.

The women featured here include some better-known names like Kathrine Switzer, Wilma Rudolph, Billie Jean King and Nadia Comăneci. These are joined by early mountaineer Annie Smith Peck, powerboat racer Betty Cook, judo champion (and mother to Ronda Rousey) AnnMaria De Mars, the "Sea Women" of the Korean island of Jeju and many more: boxers, billiard players, swimmers, skateboarders, players of team sports, Olympians, referees and umpires, sports journalists, coaches and policy makers (for example, the legislators behind Title IX). While women from the United States dominate these pages, every continent is represented except Antarctica. Women of color and those of non-binary genders are given special consideration as well. Among the strange and wonderful, don't miss the first woman to hike the Appalachian Trail's entire length in one season: she was 67 years old at the time.

These stories are brief but breathtaking. Not only athletes, these women were often activists and advocates as well as accomplished in business and the arts. Their photographs, naturally, speak volumes on their own. To be read in small pieces or cover-to-cover, Game Changers is an obviously indispensable choice for athletes, fans, parents or anyone else stirred by courage, talent and determination. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This photographic survey of trailblazing female athletes through history celebrates a diverse range of inspirational talents.

Simon & Schuster, $25, hardcover, 320p., 9781501137099

Children's & Young Adult


by Maria Padian

With intriguing, flawed characters and a gripping storyline, Wrecked by Maria Padian (Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress) offers readers a view of a college sexual assault case that is as engrossing as it is important.

MacCallum freshman Haley Dougherty is a devoted soccer player dealing with her third concussion, facing the bitter truth that "the defining activity of her life" is too risky for her now. It's not the ideal time for her quiet, "überstudious" pre-med roommate, Jenny James, to fall apart, too. Haley, with "her bruised, barely-able-to-concentrate brain," soon learns what's behind Jenny's tears: she "drank some stuff" and was raped after leaving Conundrum, a notorious party house. When Jenny files a formal complaint, Haley becomes Jenny's adviser for the sexual assault case. Good-hearted "Math Dude" Richard Brandt lives with Jordan Bockus in a house next door to Conundrum. Over a few beers, Richard learns that Jordan got "a little action" with a freshman from the recent party there. That freshman was Jenny. Though Jordan is no real friend of his, Richard reluctantly agrees to be his housemate's adviser after Jenny files her complaint.

Wrecked soberly explores a college rape case in which alcohol is involved, memories are muddled, evidence is scarce, and social-media insults are flying. Alternating chapters reflect the perspectives of Haley and Richard who, inconveniently, given the confidential nature of their adviser roles, develop a tentative, sweet, stormy and wholly believable romance during the tangled investigation. In between chapters are short passages that chronicle a more complete, and ultimately devastating, version of events from the night of the rape. Powerful, suspenseful and illuminating. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: Maria Padian's valuable, riveting novel (for male and female high school and college students alike) examines the anguish and complexity of a college rape case.

Algonquin, $17.95, hardcover, 368p., ages 14-up, 9781616206246

Comics Confidential: Thirteen Graphic Novelists Talk Story, Craft, and Life Outside the Box

by Leonard S. Marcus, illus. by Various

Anyone who has ever been told to "get your nose out of that comic book" is finally vindicated--a new and glorious age of comics is here. Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer Prize-winning Holocaust memoir Maus (1986) went a long way to "elevate" comic books as real art, and "[b]y the early 2000s, the books were everywhere."

In Comics Confidential, author and children's book historian Leonard S. Marcus (Funny Business; The Wand in the Word; Minders of Make-Believe) interviews an eclectic group of 13 graphic novelists: Harry Bliss, Cátia Chien, Geoffrey Hayes, Kazu Kibuishi, Hope Larson, Danica Novgorodoff, Matt Phelan, Dave Roman, Mark Siegel and Siena Cherson Siegel, James Sturm, Sara Varon and Gene Luen Yang. In the foreword, David Small (Stitches) notes, "It's like a homecoming for life-travelers who are forever in orbit, seeking new forms in which to express themselves."

Each substantial, in-depth artist's interview is introduced by an insightful, expertly crafted biography, and accompanied by a short comic created by the artist just for this book. (The only guideline given was to create a story about "the city.") Harry Bliss spent hours as a teenager sketching his parents while they watched TV. Cátia Chien found her way to comics by drawing the bugs she loves, and "can't draw hands or feet." One of Danica Novgorodoff's very first books was about "magical fire-wielding alien ponies." It's hard to imagine anyone--especially an aspiring artist--who wouldn't be fascinated and inspired by the creative paths of this talented group of graphic novelists and the thoughtful, clear-eyed context that Marcus gives their stories. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Leonard S. Marcus explores comic-book history and interviews 13 graphic novelists in this absorbing book that features a dozen original comics.

Candlewick, $24.99, hardcover, 192p., ages 10-adult, 9780763659387

Little Penguins

by Cynthia Rylant, illus. by Christian Robinson

Winter is coming, and five of the most darling penguins ever to tumble through picture-book pages are excited to get out into the snow. But first they have to dig out mittens, scarves, socks and boots, which they do in a flurry familiar to all who care for the very young: "Socks? One for each foot. What about boots? Red ones." And then the penguins are out the door and into snow that's "Deep. Deeper. Very deep." Mama is a benevolent presence in the background until four of the belly-sledding penguins pause in the vast whiteness to wonder where she is. "On her way!" ... along with the fifth penguin, who is just a little shy about exploring the snowy landscape without his fun-loving mother at hand (or flipper).

Readers of all ages will fall in love with the paint and cut-paper collages of Christian Robinson (Caldecott Honor book Last Stop on Market Street) and with the childlike text of Cynthia Rylant (Newbery Medal-winning Missing May). The keen-eyed will delight in catching details like the open window in the cozy igloo; the abacus and globe on the boot rack; and the yellow-scarfed, round-headed timid one now making snow angels while the rest of the siblings cluster around Mama on their way back inside for jammies, warm cookies and sippy cups. It's impossible not to draw happy comparisons to Ezra Jack Keats's The Snowy Day, nor to feel sweet, sweet nostalgia for an age when winter is nothing but magic. Rejoice! A classic picture book is hatched. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Newbery author Cynthia Rylant's simple winter tale about penguin tots thrilled for the first snowy day is charmingly illustrated with cut-paper collage and paint by Caldecott Honor artist Christian Robinson.

Schwartz & Wade/Random House, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 1-4, 9780553507706


Author Buzz

The Rom-Commers

by Katherine Center

Dear Reader,

Famous screenwriter Charlie Yates wrote a romantic comedy screenplay--and it’s terrible. Aspiring writer Emma Wheeler just got hired to fix it. But Charlie doesn't want anyone rewriting his work--least of all a "failed nobody," and Emma can't support a guy who doesn't even like rom-coms, adding another bad one to the pantheon. So what choice does Emma have but to stand up for herself, and rom-coms, and love in general--and, in the process, to show her nemesis-slash-writing-hero exactly how to fall stupidly, crazily, perfectly in love?

Email with the subject line "The Rom-Commers sweepstakes" for a chance to win one of five copies.

Katherine Center

Buy now and support your local indie bookstore>

AuthorBuzz: St. Martin's Press: The Rom-Commers by Katherine Center

St. Martin's Press

Pub Date: 
June 11, 2024


List Price: 
$29.00 Hardcover

Blue Moon
(A Smoke and Mirrors Novella)

by Skye Warren

Dear Reader,

When I started writing Ringmaster Emerson Durand in the Smoke and Mirrors series, I knew he would get his own story. Insouciant. Charming. And he's actually the villain of that book. So can he be redeemed? It's the question I'm always working to answer in my books.

If he's going to deserve his own happily ever after, it's going to be a journey. A scorching hot journey!

That's what BLUE MOON illuminates. A dangerous ringmaster claims his rebellious acrobat for a sensual show you cannot miss.

Skye Warren

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Blue Moon (A Smoke and Mirrors Novella) by Skye Warren

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
March 12, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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