Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, October 17, 2017

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

From My Shelf

Time Travel, with Tea

"History is just one damned thing after another," historian Arnold Toynbee is credited as saying.  For the motley tea-drinking crew at St. Mary's Institute of Historical Research in England, the equation is rarely that simple. Instead of one thing after another, history is more like one thing (or a dozen things) piled atop one another, often at precarious angles, frequently accompanied by explosions. In Jodi Taylor's Chronicles of St. Mary's series (eight books and counting), historians don't only study the vagaries of time: they jump in and out of it, usually with disastrous--and hilarious--results.

Madeleine Maxwell, known as Max, narrates the series (which begins, aptly, with Just One Damned Thing After Another). Max--short, redheaded, tough as nails and lonelier than she'd ever admit--finds her people at St. Mary's, whose cast includes the all-seeing director, Dr. Bairstow; Mrs. Partridge, his indefatigable assistant who moonlights as the Muse of History; unflappable Leon Farrell of the Technical Section; and various fellow historians, all of whose skills in sarcasm and tea-making match (if not surpass) their academic knowledge. As Max and her compatriots navigate the intricacies of time-jumping, they also argue, fall in love, narrowly dodge time-traveling villains and wrestle with the big human questions. When is it ethical to alter the course of history, even a little bit? Are theft, murder and other crimes ever justified in service of the greater good of humanity? Can they capture live footage of dinosaurs and make it back to St. Mary's for a round of drinks? And what caused that loud bang in the general vicinity of R&D?

While the pace of Taylor's series picks up with every book, she always steers her characters (and readers) back to home base. St. Mary's, and its revolving (but never revolting) cast of history nerds, is a true delight for Anglophiles, time-travel aficionados and anyone who loves a highly improbable adventure story. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

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

Book Candy

Actor and Actress Authors

"Actors and actresses who write, from Tom Hanks to Molly Ringwald" were featured by Signature.


Mashable explained "how words get into the dictionary."


"This Paris hotel is offering room service for books," Bustle noted.


Pop quiz: The Guardian noted that "a good number of celebrated writers wish to forget their initial appearances on the literary scene. But have you?"


Potterheads "are going batty over Sugar Shack Donuts' new limited edition Butterbeer donuts, which are topped with an edible Golden Snitch featuring fondant wings," the Huffington Post reported.  


Lit real estate: For only $16.9 million, "you can live in the Long Island mansion that inspired The Great Gatsby!"

The Wonderling

by Mira Bartok, illus. by Mira Bartok

Mira Bartók's world of The Wonderling is strikingly complex: sounds, tastes, colors are all described so vividly that the world practically sparkles. The reading experience can be best described in Bartók's own words: entering the world is like "walk[ing] into a rainbow." It is a place of human/animal hybrids (groundlings), steampunk inventions, dark magic and underground cities; a world of bigotry and class warfare where humans are at the top of a complex hierarchy and groundlings hide on the fringes, often living in abject poverty. Manticores, song-catching machines, powerful night crows and crying gargoyles exist in the Wonderling's present, while the likes of Beethoven and Arthur O'Shaugnessy existed in his past. It's a world that puts the reader constantly off-kilter, featuring a one-eared, fox/human groundling who can understand animals and also comes from a timeline that includes Arthurian legend. It's impossible to grab hold of the familiar while so much remains fantastical--instead the reader is carried by the current of Bartók's prose to places both uncanny and beautiful.

"Before he was called the Wonderling, he had many names: Puddlehead, Plonker, Groundling, Spike, among others. He didn't mind these much, not even Groundling. The name he truly disliked was the first he ever remembered being called: Number Thirteen." Having lived at Miss Carbunkle's Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures for as long as he could remember, Number Thirteen (so called because he was wearing a pendant bearing that number when he was left in the Home) is used to being downtrodden. Food is scarce, music is forbidden and Miss Carbunkle, the matron of the orphanage, uses the young groundlings as slave labor for her evil machinations. "He could not remember being tucked in at night, of if he had ever been truly loved. What he did recall, however, was a sound from long ago: a beautiful, lilting song." And so Number Thirteen survives life with the Miss Hannigan-like Miss Carbunkle by staying very small, being very quiet and holding the tiny scrap of blanket from his time before close to his heart while he sleeps.

An extremely sympathetic character, Number Thirteen's sorrow is painful to behold. But his sadness is quickly alleviated when he befriends Trinket, a tiny groundling who looks like a wingless bird. She remembers her life before the Home and ignites in Number Thirteen a desire to do something else--to be something else. She renames him Arthur, like the great king of legend, and tells him stories of the world outside, including the Great White City of Lumentown, with its wide river and shining streets. Trinket believes Arthur is genuinely heroic and tries to convince him that the two should escape. At first, Arthur is afraid to leave, convinced that when he gets older Miss Carbunkle will release him. But as time goes on and the torments continue, he realizes that to learn who he is and figure out what he is supposed to do, he must leave the wretched Home.

Through Trinket's steampunk ingenuity, they escape the great, dark walls of Miss Carbunkle's. Outside the Home, "May [is] a hush of doves and morning dew. It [is] ladybirds in bright air, harebells and foxgloves blooming in the loam... May [is] the broad blue lift of the sky above the coppice and the hearth, and above the road to the Great White City of Lumentown." Though the pair set out together, they have a plan to split up: Trinket wants to go to the sea to find her family, Arthur will go to the city to find his past. When their paths diverge, Arthur misses his friend terribly but draws strength from her trust and his namesake and journeys on.

Once in the city, Arthur quickly learns that it is not a safe place for groundlings. Humans--in bright white top hats, with cats on leashes--live in the biggest houses, have the most money and despise the groundlings, forcing them into appalling living conditions and indentured servitude. Trusting and utterly green, Arthur is taken in by a streetwise groundling named Quintus who, like Fagin from Oliver!, teaches the young orphan how to steal to make a living. Young, gullible Arthur believes Quintus really is helping him and does his best to make Quintus proud--but when he's given access to a wealthy human's home to pilfer at will, he cannot make himself steal. Instead, kindhearted Arthur (now known as Spike) explores the home, eventually finding the songcatcher, an invention of such beauty that he makes use of it straight away.

While Arthur tries to gain his footing in the city of Lumentown, Miss Carbunkle makes trips to the city herself. Having always found herself in the shadow of her musically-inclined twin sister, Miss Carbunkle has soured on music altogether. Mechanically minded, she hatches an evil plot to use machines to take away all the world's music. But to make her machines, she needs money and groundling slave labor--both of which Lumentown has to spare.

Bartók's prose is as alluring as the story she weaves. Every song, every food, every object adds texture to the world, layering the known, the unknown and the magical. Her pen-and-ink spot illustrations give the work the feel of classical children's literature, reminiscent of the works of Ernest H. Shepard (Winnie the Pooh) or H.R. Millar (Five Children and It). A gentle, modern-day nod to the children's books of old, The Wonderling is a sweet, uplifting adventure. --Siân Gaetano

Candlewick Press, $21.99, hardcover, 464p., ages 10-14, 9780763691219

Mira Bartók: Awakening the Love in Sleeping Hearts

Author and illustrator Mira Bartók won a National Book Critics Circle Award for her memoir, The Memory Palace. She has written and illustrated numerous nonfiction titles for children and has also edited and translated several picture books in Italian, Norwegian and Sámi (Lapp). The Wonderling (which is being adapted for feature film by Fox 2000 and Stephen Daldry) is the first novel in a planned middle grade duology from Candlewick in which a young fox groundling (human/animal hybrid) tries to find his history, family and purpose.

Your previous titles for children have all been nonfiction. What drew you to middle grade fantasy?

Actually, I did write and illustrate one children's book that was not nonfiction. It's called Fox Has His Day--Tales from the Far, Far North, and is a book of Sámi myths and folktales. I guess I've had a thing about foxes for a long time! Anyway, I have always loved middle grade fantasy. I recently found a section from a fairytale I wrote and illustrated when I was 14, and there's a line in there that is pretty much the exact line that the Wonderling's mother tells him is his purpose in life: "You must sing to the lonely, comfort the frightened, awaken the love in sleeping hearts." The heart of this story has been living with me since I was kid. In the fairytale I wrote years ago, I used the word "homeless" instead of "frightened." I grew up in a rather poor, unstable household, and was often afraid of becoming homeless. And I think, because my mother was so ill (she suffered from schizophrenia), I longed for a way to comfort and heal her. 

I didn't have any traditional children's books growing up--I had art books instead. My favorite picture book was about Hieronymus Bosch; his fantasy world both terrified and fascinated me. And then my father, who left when I was four, sent two books from afar: a richly illustrated Russian fairy tale book and a Japanese one. I read them over and over again. I also loved epic adventure stories and stories about polar exploration. I was always more drawn to fantasy books that began in a real world but ended up in a parallel universe.

Also, I used to give tours and teach workshops on ancient world cultures to middle grade kids at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. I just love that age. At 10, 11 and 12, you're less interested in romance, and more interested in who you are in the world. It's such a great age for reading about magical quests!

The world of The Wonderling is incredibly intricate: primarily fantastical with some splashes of events and people from our world thrown in. How was it to create that world? How does the structure incorporate our own world?

Well, my starting point was the character, which came from a sketch that morphed from a rabbit into a fox/dog/human. He went through a couple permutations. At the same time, I was re-reading and listening to a lot of literary classics. (I definitely tip my hat to Dickens, Shakespeare and a little bit of Dante.) I really wanted to set this book in a faux Victorian England with a touch of steampunk. I wanted it to really feel like that time period, so I read people like Henry Mayhew, who wrote about the everyday life of London's working poor. I also looked at a lot of old photographs from the Victorian era, and listened to audiobooks or read almost every Dickens book. At the same time, I threw in references to Beethoven and Mozart and the legend of King Arthur. I suppose I wanted the world of the Wonderling to exist on that strange and mysterious border between fantasy and reality, past and future. I like the tension and magic that happens when worlds collide. A couple of years ago I read T.H. White's beautiful The Once and Future King, which meshes White's world in some ways with the mythical time period of King Arthur. Then I got completely sucked into a British television show called Merlin, starring Colin Morgan. The character of young Merlin in the show is so humble, and has such an innocent heart. He was a good inspiration for my own Arthur. I'm still researching various Arthurian tropes from both classical literature and popular culture in preparation for Book 2.

This work has the feel of classic children's literature, in part because of the spot illustrations. Why did you want to illustrate this work? Why this particular style of illustration?

I wanted it to feel like a Victorian classic children's book, and used a combination of pen and ink, graphite and a little bit of gouache and watercolor to achieve that effect. And I really wanted to illustrate my own book. Partly because much of my writing starts with a drawing anyway. I'm a very visual writer. Before I began writing, I was drawing, painting and making books by hand--making my own paper, creating etchings for the pages and binding my own books. Even in the writing process, I write by hand first, and make little sketches along the way. 

I don't think of myself as an illustrator, and I realized in this process how much I still have to learn! I was a gallery artist for many years, and pooh-poohed illustration to others--but I secretly hoarded picture books and kept them piled up by my bed. Illustrating this book was one of the hardest things I've ever done, and I can't say I'm satisfied with all my pictures. I'm really happy with Arthur and Trinket, but I had to work so quickly, and the book was so long, that I felt I didn't have enough time to really make all the characters just right. But I think that the overall feel of the book works well. And the beautiful design by Chris Paul at Candlewick helps a lot! Not to mention Iacopo Bruno's cover--it's stunning!

The society in which Arthur lives seems almost like a caste system. Did you set out to explore themes of prejudice and bigotry in this novel?

I think it was something that just happened organically. I realized when I finished my first draft that The Wonderling is possibly more autobiographical than my memoir (The Memory Palace). I was dreadfully shy like Arthur and was bullied a bit when I was little. I also grew up on welfare in a working-class neighborhood on the west side of Cleveland, Ohio. We lived for a time in a subsidized apartment filled with poor families who had migrated north from coal-mining towns, then were forced to move in with my grandparents when we got evicted. So my own past was probably floating in the background but, of course, the horrible Syrian refugee crisis was getting worse and worse. Not to mention the volatile pre- and post-election insanity in the U.S. I didn't even realize how much all of that affected my book until later. Also, as I was re-reading Dickens during this time, I saw so many parallels to our current era and the Industrial Revolution, especially in books like Hard Times and Oliver Twist.

There are a lot of great adventure stories where the character starts out as a humble, fearful little guy who transforms into a great warrior. But I didn't want Arthur to be a warrior. I wanted his strength to be in this gift he has--in his imagination, his voice, his music--that divine thing that ushers forth and makes the world wondrous. I wanted him to be the force in the world that says, "Listen. Look around you. See the beauty of the world."  --Siân Gaetano

Interior images: THE WONDERLING. Copyright ©2017 by Mira Bartok. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Review


The Place of Stones

by Ali Hosseini

The Place of Stones by Ali Hosseini (The Lemon Grove) was originally published in Iran in 1997 and is Hosseini's second novel in English. The powerful Censorship Bureau of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance insisted on revisions that censored, among other elements, all literary references to female sexuality. This U.S. translation includes the deleted material. Hosseini also provides the censorship letter at the end of the book.

Haydar and Jamal, descended from farmers, struggle after a wealthy landowner forcibly takes their village's most fertile land. They are left with arid strips of land "that with each plowing produced more stones than anything worth harvesting." Jamal is in love with Haydar's beautiful sister and must find a way to earn a living if he is to marry her.

Hosseini shines his artistic magnifying glass on Haydar and Jamal's little village of Sangriz in Southern Iran at the cusp of the 1979 revolution. He gently unfolds the impact of the uprising and the inexorable forces of modernity on Sangriz and its neighboring city, where peace is shattered by civil unrest. Haydar and Jamal take markedly different paths: one rebels against the loss of his family's livelihood; the other succumbs to the inevitable onslaught of modernity by taking a job at the brick factory built on their ancestral lands. Hosseini's storytelling magically weaves together the lives of his characters pre- and post-revolution, leaving readers in no doubt that something is lost when the march toward modernization benefits a privileged few at the expense of the masses. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer.

Discover: Two families struggle against the forces of industrialization in post-revolutionary Iran.

Curbstone/Northwestern University Press, $18.95, paperback, 248p., 9780810135758

White Dialogues

by Bennett Sims

Bennett Sims blurs the line between madness and genius in his cerebral story collection White Dialogues.

Sims (A Questionable Shape) has been compared with David Foster Wallace for his intellectual reach; he also warrants comparisons with edgy fabulists like Carmen Maria Machado due to the way he unpacks philosophical ideas from horror-genre tropes. The 11 stories in the collection include long, absorbing exercises in psychological horror, most notably in "House-sitting," and shorter but no less unnerving tales like "A Premonition." All the stories contain metafictional elements in which Sims draws attention to the structure itself and the role of the reader. Sometimes he achieves this by using the second person; other times he explicitly refers to the reader. In "Ekphrases," the narrator speaks of "a famous book written at the edge of death," which describes faces readers will see outside if they look up: "In this way every window comes to be haunted by the potentiality of a gaze."

Sims elicits depth with precision. In his relatively straightforward "Fables," for instance, he relays short parables that explore the psychology of morality. When a boy is told by his mother not to release the balloon she bought him, her instruction precipitates a moral crisis that changes the boy's relationship to the balloon, his mother and his own sense of identity: "By forbidding a thought he hadn't had, she has put that thought into his head... as if the prohibition has implanted not just the desire, but an entire prehistory of the desire."

Showcasing an ingenious and darkly subversive mind, White Dialogues is a head-trip worth taking. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: These 11 stories mix horror conventions and literary theory to chilling effect.

Two Dollar Radio, $15.99, paperback, 212p., 9781937512637

Annie Muktuk and Other Stories

by Norma Dunning

The stories in Norma Dunning's Annie Muktuk and Other Stories celebrate the traditions of Inuit culture and condemn attempts to eradicate, erase or ignore that culture. In "Elipsee," a husband and wife head north for the summer in search of a cure for her breast cancer. "Annie Muktuk" tells the story of two friends who fight over one's irrational love of the titular character despite her willingness to sleep with everyone. Three sisters, with the same father but different mothers, appear in "Husky" and "My Sisters and I," both of which explore the ways that traditional Inuit culture clashes with--and is repressed by--white culture.

Dunning's Inuit characters are richly imagined, living everyday lives amid racism and colonialism. Across all 16 stories, characters drink, smoke, have sex, fall in love, fight, laugh, remember, cry, work, play, eat, pray. Women (and men) reclaim power taken from them. Families find ways to stay together despite government schooling programs that take children from their homes in the name of education. Dunning's spare writing style and short sentences nevertheless convey big pictures. "Today the sky is full of geese returning from their winter home.... It is like a homecoming of people who have been lost from one another. It is today. Today is all anyone has."

Individually, the stories in Annie Muktuk are raw, darkly humorous and full of insights into a tradition many know little about. As a whole, the collection is a celebration of the Inuit as well as a searing depiction of those who would dismiss them. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: Norma Dunning's short stories explore the traditions of Inuit culture while revealing the violence done against them.

University of Alberta Press, $19.95, paperback, 192p., 9781772122978

Mystery & Thriller

The Scarred Woman

by Jussi Adler-Olsen, trans. by William Frost

Despite Detective Carl Mørck's affinity for napping, he and his colleagues are busy with five cases in Jussi Adler-Olsen's The Scarred Woman, seventh in the Department Q series. A woman is found beaten to death, and the crime resembles another beating death 12 years earlier. A killer is mowing down young women in the street with a car. A nightclub is robbed, and a woman is shot nearby. All of this while Department Q assistant Rose's psychological problems escalate to an alarming level, and the only way to save her life may be for her colleagues to solve the mystery surrounding a long-ago death in her family.

The novel is eerily timely, with plotlines involving Nazis ("There had been a time when people had thought that this kind of evil could never happen again but all it did was remind [Carl] of the reality in large parts of the world today") and cars being driven into pedestrians, though the killings are personal, not terror attacks.

The hit-and-run killer's motive feels shallow and information is often repeated as scenes are retold from different points of view. Nevertheless, the relationship and banter between Carl and his associate Assad, with Assad's "linguistic blunders," continue to elicit chuckles. Assad: "Are you going to stroke him the wrong way?" "You mean rub him the wrong way, Assad." Adler-Olsen is deadly serious, though, and compassionate when it comes to poor, traumatized Rose. She may have emotional scars but her friends have got her back. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: Department Q looks into multiple cases old and recent, including ones involving a hit-and-run killer and women beaten to death.

Dutton, $28, hardcover, 480p., 9780525954958

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Machine Learning

by Hugh Howey

Machine Learning is an eclectic collection of short stories by Hugh Howey, author of the popular Silo series (Wool). Many of the stories are fantasy or science fiction (including three set in the Silo world), but every one of them has widespread appeal and relevance to issues in our own world.

Howey's talent for writing fiction that is clever, funny and thought-provoking shines here. He looks at familiar tropes from a fresh perspective, as in "Second Suicide"; an alien participating in an invasion of Earth studies the planet and prepares for battle. "Deep Blood Kettle" considers a similar incursion from another perspective: What if aliens agreed to leave humans alone if we gave up our weapons and half of our land. Would our governments be able to agree on this peaceful resolution?

This collection covers diverse themes and settings, including apocalypses, the Old West, AI and fantasy based on myths and folklore. "Executable" includes the best line about robots taking over the world, illustrating Howey's sense of humor. When asked how the rebellion started, one man replies, "It was the Roomba."

Stories range from the three-page "Nothing Goes to Waste"--a gruesome, futuristic satire--to the 44-page "The Plagiarist," a mind-blowing novella about virtual reality and human relationships. Howey includes an afterword for each story, explaining its origins and his views. Machine Learning is an intriguing collection that inspires amusement as well as horror, always prompting the reader to reflect. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and author of Book By Book blog

Discover: The renowned author of the Silo series has created a diverse, creative and thoughtful collection of short stories.

John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28, hardcover, 352p., 9781328767530

Graphic Books

The Customer Is Always Wrong

by Mimi Pond

In Over Easy, Mimi Pond introduced readers to a fictionalized account of her college years in 1970s Oakland as Madge the waitress at the Imperial Café. This follow-up adopts a more serious, reflective and mature tone, dwelling on the consequences of those years of excess for the Imperial's motley crew. This includes Lazlo, the laidback manager and resident counselor to his wayward employees; Camille, the overly confident waitress who sneaks away to the bathroom for hours at a time to get high on heroin; the no-nonsense trans waitress Babette; and the freewheeling, free-loving, potty-mouthed kitchen trio of Bernardo, Sammy and Tony. Sexual escapades and drug-fueled highs mask emotional deprivation and vacuous lives, which Pond does a wonderful job of conveying through snappy dialogue that reaches across pastel-colored panels and the loose lines of her drawings.

Despite the high school drama playing out at the Imperial, it is the heartfelt adult conversations between Lazlo and Madge that make the story sing. Lazlo and Madge are confidants, mentor and mentee (Lazlo's failed dreams of being a writer, Madge's fledgling career as a cartoonist) who trust each other implicitly with their hopes and fears.

Pond originally conceived of the sequel as a part of a longer, single book, but it's a good thing that the two stories were separated. The emotional resonance would have felt out of place with the fun and carefree environment of Over Easy. Instead, The Customer Is Always Wrong carries its own message of hope for a new generation of misfits who perhaps aren't so different from their 1970s counterparts. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: In The Customer Is Always Wrong, the fictional Mimi Pond grows up and finds her true voice amid the melodrama that plays out at the Imperial Café.

Drawn & Quarterly, $29.95, hardcover, 448p., 9781770462823

Biography & Memoir

Significant Zero: Heroes, Villains, and the Fight for Art and Soul in Video Games

by Walt Williams

Walt Williams is a successful videogame writer whose projects have included Bioshock, Civilization and Borderlands. Significant Zero is his memoir of the first 10 years he spent in this enormously profitable and high-pressure creative industry, intertwined with his thoughts on where it could go next.

In this story of youthful ambition and arrogance, Williams aligns himself with the stereotype of pudgy, antisocial, white male developers. He maintains a self-destructive total immersion in his work life, subsisting on junk food and minimal sleep, and rarely seeing the sun. "Work brings order to my world. When things get tough, I slide down into my job and disappear. I let my health, relationships, and responsibilities fall to the wayside. When I finally come up for air, there's a smoking crater where my life used to be. Instead of picking up the pieces to start again, I slip back down into the thick of it. This is how I cope." With bitter humor, Williams displays his own missteps over the years, how his overreaches cost him relationships and occasionally won him projects as well. He takes the reader into meetings, conferences and the thrilling horrors of crunch time.

He discusses the psychology of games, and how game writers handle the moral choices they make in building them. Williams believes gamers are ready for greater emotional challenges. "A well-designed moral choice should sear itself into the player's brain, like a hand burnt on a hot stove. Will it cause outrage? Yes. It should." This is an intimate tour of the pressure-cooker world of game development that will appeal to curious gamers and would-be developers alike. --Sara Catterall

Discover: Video game writer Walt Williams explores the creative processes, work environment and moral challenges of his industry.

Atria, $26, hardcover, 304p., 9781501129957

Logical Family

by Armistead Maupin

Armistead Maupin is an extraordinary storyteller, and fans of his novels (including the nine-volume Tales of the City saga) will rejoice that he's finally written a memoir. While most of Logical Family focuses on Maupin's youth (or "the thirty-some years it took me to claim my truth"), the action frequently jumps ahead to introduce his husband, Christopher, or to finish up tales about his friendships with Rock Hudson ("buddies with occasional benefits"), Christopher Isherwood, Sir Ian McKellen (the two shared a boyfriend a decade apart) and Laura Linney.

Maupin details his decades-long evolution from being a very vocal, conservative, Southern Republican to an openly gay civil rights activist as "the slow decay of cherished myths--about politics and race, about love itself--until nothing was left but compost from which something authentic could finally begin to grow." In 1976, a San Francisco newspaper hired him to write a fictional column called "Tales of the City" that would run five days a week and 800 words a day. "My heart was in my throat," writes Maupin. "Sometimes I was writing Wednesday's column on a Monday afternoon." But he had found his voice and his audience.

The later pages of Logical Family should be printed on water-resistant paper, as few will be left unmoved when Maupin's father and terminally ill mother visit him in San Francisco the same weekend his friend Harvey Milk is assassinated. This beautifully written and evocative coming-out memoir is audaciously funny, reflective and wistful--and, like Maupin's novels, impossible to put down. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Armistead Maupin's memoir of his youth is hilarious, wise and lovely.

Harper, $27.99, hardcover, 304p., 9780062391223

Social Science

The New Wild West: Black Gold, Fracking, and Life in a North Dakota Boomtown

by Blaire Briody

In The New Wild West, Blaire Briody gives readers an in-depth and personal look at the oil and fracking business as seen through the eyes of half a dozen oil employees, their spouses and a few locals located in the remote town of Williston, N.Dak. Situated 60 miles from the Canadian border, Williston's population tripled when it became the epicenter of one of the largest oil booms in U.S. history. As workers, mostly men, came in search of high-paying fracking jobs, available housing disappeared, the city's infrastructure reached a critical point, crime skyrocketed and long lines formed at grocery stores, gas stations and traffic lights. Despite the harsh weather and dangerous, sometimes deadly, work environment, thousands arrived to grab at what for many was a last chance at the American dream. It's not a pretty picture: the work hours are long and highly dangerous, the living conditions are terrible and women in the area additionally face discrimination and possible sexual attack.

Briody interviews a local pastor; a farmer and his Native American neighbors, who watched the land change before their eyes; a grandmother; one of the only women on a fracking site; and a homeless man who lived in his car. Their conversations reveal the true cost of cheap American oil and gas. It's a world with few regulations, irreversible damage to the environment and serious tolls placed on human lives, making the price anyone pays at the pump far higher than what's actually shown. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: Journalist Briody's first book reveals the dark, dirty and hidden world of the oil and fracking business.

St. Martin's Press, $27.99, hardcover, 352p., 9781250064929


What the Qur'an Meant and Why It Matters

by Garry Wills

Prominent American Catholic thinker Gary Wills turns his eye to Islam in What the Qur'an Means and Why It Matters, a thoughtful look at the Muslim holy book and the West's botched dealings with the Middle East in the early 21st century. From the start, Wills makes clear that his project is the beginning of a conversation aimed at mutual understanding, and he delivers a good, quick introduction to Islam for those completely in the dark about the second largest religion on the planet.

Wills begins with American hubris, laying out the disastrous thinking behind the invasion of Iraq and aftermath. Then, after showing how Americans ignore Islam in foreign policy, Wills expertly demonstrates how the United States' fear of ideas like "Sharia Law" is founded on such nonsensical premises it would be funny--if it didn't involve the wholesale demonization of another culture.

After laying the groundwork about how Americans (and, by extension, the West) have misunderstood Islam, Wills digs into the general premises of the Qur'an, the sections that are used to vilify Islam and the religion's relationship to both Christianity and Judaism. As a Catholic, Wills is well versed with both the Torah and Gospel, and he uses that knowledge wisely in examining how it fits among the Abrahamic monotheistic tradition. By the end of What the Qur'an Means, readers will be itching to take their own crack at the holy book to see just how few of its words are properly represented in Western discourse. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: In What the Qur'an Meant and Why It Matters, noted American Catholic thinker Gary Wills provides an easy, thoughtful entrance into Islam's holy book.

Viking, $25, hardcover, 240p., 9781101981023

Children's & Young Adult

Miguel's Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote

by Margarita Engle, illus. by Raúl Colón

Miguel de Cervantes survived his onerous childhood--his gambler father's imprisonments, his family's constant fleeing from debtors--by losing himself in stories. Inspired by his mother's tales, "dazzling plays" and "storytellers on street corners," Miguel imagines he will someday conjure his own "adventures/ of a knight who roams toward a deep/ blue lake.../ a towering mountain.../ a glittering/ cave...." Despite his lack of books, Miguel creates a "world/ of brave/ daydreams" that sustain him through plague, famine and disaster after disaster. His Don Quixote and "his chubby friend" will go "forth boldly... to right/ all the wrongs/ of this wonderful/ but terribly/ mixed up/ world."

Margarita Engle (The Wild Book) and Raúl Colón (Draw!) combine their formidable strengths to create Miguel's First Knight, an inspiring story of tenacious hope and indelible grit. Engle's thoughtful, first-person verses give voice to "the man who dreamed Don Quixote into existence." Artist Colón's sweeping "pen and ink and watercolor" spreads, in a muted palette of browns, greens and yellows, suggests a sense of long-ago history, while his characters' expressions add immediacy: the Cervantes siblings' joy performing their "fanciful world," Miguel's wide-eyed hope when he returns to school, Miguel's mother's beleaguered resignation over the family's next escape.

The final page states that "Cervantes is widely regarded as the creator of the first modern novel." Published in 1605, Don Quixote is indeed the first Western novel, but Murasaki Shikibu's Tale of Genji debuted circa 1010. Numbers aside, what shines forth is the power of imagination to transcend hardship and injustice. As portals to creativity, Engle and Colón prove how "[s]ome daydreams really do/ come true." --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Despite a trying childhood, young Cervantes turns his imaginary adventures of a brave knight into Don Quixote, the West's first modern novel.

Peachtree, $17.95, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9781561458561

Light Years

by Emily Ziff Griffin

Five years ago, in New York, Chicago and Boston, "someone hacked the electric grids, cut the power, and set off bombs on twenty rush hour trains.... 6,000 people died." In the aftermath, "a bunch of college kids in Boston started a group to do all the stuff the FEMA people couldn't seem to manage.... By the end of the year, Front Line was in a dozen cities and now, they are everywhere. There are more Peacekeepers on the streets than actual cops."

This is 16-year-old Luisa Ochoa-Jones's world--either a very near-future or an alternate timeline in which Ariana Grande exists alongside self-driving cars and ubiquitous smart watches. Extremely intelligent, Luisa is one of the five final contenders for tech billionaire Thomas Bell's Avarshina Fellowship, given to a young person with the best new tech idea. Luisa's project, Light Years, "takes any piece of online content and tells you in real time how we feel about it, collectively."

But the day after her interview with Bell, there are news reports of a viral outbreak. Quickly, the virus sweeps across the country, infecting and killing tens of thousands; at the same time, Luisa begins getting strange, anonymous messages from a person seemingly connected to the outbreak. When Luisa's father gets sick, she decides to travel across country to find a mysterious woman who has said she has the cure--or she'll cure it herself.

A synesthete, Luisa can taste, smell and see her feelings, a condition that, at times, appears to make her almost prescient. The tone of Emily Ziff Griffin's novel is reminiscent of the works of Madeleine L'Engle--science meets contemporary life meets religion and faith. The first in what is likely to be a genre-bending series, Light Years is a well-paced read that is shockingly timely. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A brilliant young woman attempts to cure a mysterious virus responsible for the deaths of large swathes of the United States population.

Simon/Pulse, $17.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 12-up, 9781507200056


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

Powered by: Xtenit