Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, January 16, 2018

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

From My Shelf

Not a New Year's Resolution

I have great respect for people who stick to their New Year's resolutions. I just don't happen to be one of them. And while the world cannot seem to agree on who originally uttered "know thyself," I can at least get behind the dictate when it comes to such things. I might not be able to keep a hard and fast resolution, but I'm always up for learning, which may lead to doing.

If, like me, you're somewhat skeptical when it comes to self-help, give Get Your Sh*t Together (Little, Brown, $19.99) by Sarah Knight a go. A self-proclaimed anti-guru and "recovering perfectionist," Knight addresses such topics as ways to manage anxiety, turning negative thinking positive and tackling self-sabotage with wry, chuckle-worthy humor and a practicality that will appeal to those who prefer to dip their toe in the transforming your life pond rather than jumping in naked.

Clean Protein: The Revolution That Will Reshape Your Body, Boost Your Energy--And Save Our Planet (Hachette, $27) by Kathy Freston and Bruce Friedrich is particularly useful as we all continue to ponder the importance of protein in our daily lives. Your options go far beyond tofu and meat--and they're tasty, too, so don't be afraid. You might even end up contributing to the planet's health in a positive way. Win-win!

Finally, for those out there who rely on a daily dose of feel-good stories to get through the day (and who doesn't?), Esther the Wonder Pig (Grand Central, paperback, $15.99) is required reading. From unwanted micro piglet to 600 pounds of porcine love and the namesake of the Happily Ever After Esther Farm Sanctuary, this pig's life gives you all the "ah" moments along with a subtle but powerful suggestion that maybe, just maybe, small acts of kindness and pure love can change the world. Not a bad way to start the year. --Stefanie Hargreaves, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

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

The Writer's Life

Fiona Mozley: Bookseller's Startling Debut Novel

photo: Heidi Stoner

Fiona Mozley was raised in York and has lived in London, Cambridge and Buenos Aires. Her debut novel, Elmet (Algonquin), tells the story of a father and his two children trying to carve out a home for themselves in West Yorkshire; it was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Award. Mozley lives in York, where she is completing a Ph.D. and works at the Little Apple Bookshop.

Elmet is about family, but a specific family that's rather hard to describe. It's also so much more than that. How do you explain the book?

I always tell people it's about a family living on the margins of society in West Yorkshire in the North of England. They build a house for themselves on land they don't own, which brings them into conflict with the local landowner. The community gets behind the family in a kind of collective action to fight against the local landowners, and it comes to a dramatic conclusion. More of a showdown, really. I was somewhat inspired by westerns, so there had to be a showdown.

With so much woven into the narrative, how did you know where to start?

For me, the story is about building this kind of sense of community and themes of questions of the individual versus community versus the natural world. I wanted it to seem as if it was just following a very standard story arc, about this huge strong guy we know as Daddy, but then undercut that and say it's about this strong girl. I wanted to write a book that played with that, our preconceptions about narrative, with who this story was going to be about.

I also had this idea of exploring the relationship between a father and daughter who are very, very physically different, but have a kind of synchronicity or similarity in temperament. Because the book is, in many ways, about people's relationships with their bodies and how they come to terms with their physicality. So I had those ideas, and then the characters of Daddy and Cathy emerged. I put those ideas together, and then the voice of Daniel began to emerge.

The son, Daniel, makes for such an interesting narrative perspective.

I knew that it couldn't be narrated either by Daddy or Cathy, because they're all about being active in the world, doing things and accomplishing things. They're not observers. They're not particularly reflective. So I knew that it had to be somebody else. And Daniel is much more reflective. He's a watcher, so he lends himself to the role of narrator more than the others do, I'd say. I wanted it to be Daniel looking at his father and his sister and wondering what was going on, and what made them tick.

Both Daddy and Cathy have violence within them, but seem to desire a peaceful lifestyle. Are those contradictory character traits? Is it possible for them to embody both?

I think there's a lot of frustration in both of them. They both do want a quiet life, and that's why the family choose to live where they do. I suppose one of the themes in the book, though, is that it becomes clear that it's not really possible to live an isolated existence--nor is it necessarily desirable. So it's about these characters being confronted by the world they're trying to escape as much as anything.

You said you were inspired by westerns, but many aspects of the novel reminded me of a fable of sorts.

That's what I wanted to achieve. I knew it was going to have a big, dramatic ending, so I wanted to spend a lot of time showing how lovely this family's life together was. Westerns follow the narrative structure of much older stories. So, yes, I was certainly influenced by medieval literature, myths and legends, and I wanted it to have that feel as well. Especially because Elmet is a place that has a very particular heritage, and I wanted to explore the impact that the history of a place can have on its contemporary inhabitants.

Could you talk about the history of Elmet?

Elmet was one of the last Britannic kingdoms in what is now England. It survived culturally intact through Roman occupation, and it was situated there whilst people were settling from Scandinavia, the Vikings, and Anglo-Saxons from parts of Germany and Denmark. This kingdom of Elmet kept its identity and remained for an amazingly long time before eventually being slotted up.

It's kind of got this mythical presence, something that's a bit separate, kind of hard to get to in a way. The area is in the middle of the country, but it's not a very easy or accessible landscape.

As a debut author, what was it like to learn your book was longlisted (and then shortlisted) for the Man Booker prize?

It wasn't even on my radar at all. I don't think it's something debut authors really think about. There are other prizes for debut authors that you hope and dream about, but the Booker is just really something else. My editor called me a few days before the official announcement and told me I was on the longlist, and it was a bizarre thing to hear. It was obviously really amazing, but I think one of my first questions was, "How?"

It was in at the deep end, then. I hadn't yet had the experience of having my first book published and all of the emotions that that brings. I had it all at once. Which was fun, but it was a lot.

With such a successful debut under your belt, have you started thinking about what comes next?

I'm writing my second book. I started it before I got the publishing contract for Elmet, which I'm pleased that I did. It meant I had some progress before the pressure started with that. It's very different in style and tone, but it also explores issues of land and land ownership, bodies and gender. But very different stylistically. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Book Candy

An OED Omission

Mental Floss recalled "the time the Oxford English Dictionary forgot a word."


"Don't let the Library's lion mascot fool you; we have a lot of love for literary dogs," the New York Public Library noted in a blog post headlined: "Anything Is Paw-sible with These Literary Pups."


"Correcting people on the differences between sci-fi and fantasy," for example. Bustle explored "11 habits that all sci-fi readers have in common."


Two centuries after the publication of the classic horror novel, the Guardian featured "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein--in charts," offering "the facts behind the myth."


Bookshelf featured the Irkel bookcase, which has "cylinders with square compartments."

Great Reads

Rediscover: Roadside Picnic

In Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, a brief, baffling visit by unseen aliens has left a half dozen places on Earth marred by deadly anomalies that defy the laws of physics. The Visitors also left behind their extraterrestrial equivalent of trash, inexplicable objects that can advance human technology or end human life. Access to these Visitation Zones is highly restricted. Roadside Picnic follows Redrick "Red" Schuhart, one of the "stalkers" who brave the Zones to smuggle out alien objects, facing dangers like "hell slime" and "witch's jelly" for "full empties" and "black sparks." Red rummages through alien garbage like ants and squirrels might scavenge the remains of a human family's roadside picnic. The book tracks Red's deteriorating fortunes over several years, punctuated by harrowing, surreal Zone inclusions and the horrifying tolls exacted on stalkers who survive such journeys.

Roadside Picnic was published serially in 1972 in a Soviet literary magazine. It was released in the United States in 1977. Thanks to Soviet delays and censorship, the original version endorsed by the Strugatsky brothers wasn't published in Russia until the 1990s. They were, however, able to write the screenplay for Stalker, a pioneering 1979 sci-fi film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky and loosely based on Roadside Picnic, that sold 4.3 million tickets in the Soviet Union. In 2012, Chicago Review Press published a new translation of Roadside Picnic by Olena Bormashenko, with a foreword by Ursula K. Le Guin, as part of its Rediscovered Classics series. --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


The Music Shop

by Rachel Joyce

In her fourth novel, The Music Shop, Rachel Joyce (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry) composes a narrative with soul and depth. In a down-at-heel street in a nondescript British city, Frank's record shop doesn't just sell vinyl (and only vinyl), it also gives people the music they don't know they need.

Easygoing about most things, Frank is unbudging about vinyl, with all its idiosyncrasies. "Life has surface noise!" he shouts at a sales rep touting the "clean" sound of CDs. "Do you want to listen to furniture polish?" He's in good company among the eccentrics of Unity Street: kind Father Anthony, who runs a religious gift shop; taciturn tattoo artist Maud; the quiet Williams brothers, who are undertakers; and Kit, Frank's overeager but perceptive shop assistant. All of them--but especially Frank--are intrigued by the appearance of Ilse Brauchmann, an enigmatic German woman in a green coat. Though reluctant to talk about herself, Ilse asks Frank for music lessons, and he is both baffled by and "irresistibly drawn to her great quietness." While Frank and Ilse form a tentative but deep bond, Unity Street struggles against the advances of a wealthy development company.

Joyce writes crisp, evocative prose, drawing readers inside the music, just as Frank draws customers into the listening booths in his shop. The Music Shop is a joyous, poignant, utterly human love song to community found in unlikely places, and a tribute to the healing power of music. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Rachel Joyce's joyous, richly layered fourth novel tells the story of a music shop and its customers.

Random House, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9780812996685

We'll Sleep When We're Old

by Pino Corrias, trans. by Antony Shugaar

Oscar Martello is a misogynistic, bullying, corrupt and famous movie producer in Rome. His hedonistic world of celebrity comes to life with striking detail in We'll Sleep When We're Old, the debut novel by Italian journalist and television producer Pino Corrias.

Martello loves power and money more than anything: "I'm an anarchist, I dismantle power and I pocket it." He lies, cheats and carelessly betrays friends, wives, lovers and coworkers with tacit approval because his influence seems limitless. When one of his movies appears to flounder, Martello devises what seems to be the perfect publicity stunt to turn critical opinion and ensure his profit. He secretly sends Andrea Serrano, a screenwriter and the closest thing to a friend Martello has, and Jacaranda Rizzi, the beautiful but unstable star of the movie, to Paris in a disappearing act. The media frenzy over the actress's whereabouts will boost the movie, Martello knows, and he's right. But when Jacaranda leaves Paris and cannot be found and, simultaneously, Italian police investigate Martello's connection to money laundering and corruption, his world begins to collapse and his capacity for cruelty comes back to haunt him.

We'll Sleep When We're Old, with action between Rome and Paris, vividly describes the debauchery in Martello's world of La Dolce Roma, where "everyone is so damned guilty that no one ever really is." Even the most unlikable characters--of which Martello tops the list--are multidimensional and not merely vile. Fans of Elmore Leonard and Boogie Nights will enjoy this wild ride. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: We'll Sleep When We're Old combines the intimacy of a character study with the pace of a thriller to tell the story of a ruthless movie producer spiraling out of control.

Atria, $26, hardcover, 304p., 9781501144950


by Sam Graham-Felsen

Twelve-year-old David "Green" Greenfeld is one of only two white kids in his South Boston school. Narrator of Sam Graham-Felsen's first novel, Green, he speaks a hip-hop patois with self-conscious concern that he not sound as uncool as his skin color suggests he is: "Awesome is a Caucasian catastrophe." His parents are Harvard-grad former hippies who won't send him to a private school because they "believe" in public schools. Green is a coming-of-age story set in the '90s, about a white boy trying to fit in among his black peers.

In time, Green makes friends with Marlon, a shy kid from the projects who is a curious reader and has a premier collection of video highlights from Celtics games. With a rarely discussed family life at home, Marlon prefers to hang at Green's place, where his parents dote and encourage both boys to study hard for the admission test for Boston Latin School, the prestigious public school from which acceptance into Harvard is almost assured. But this is a novel about adolescent boys growing into manhood. Hitting the books is way down their priority list, below standing up to violent bullies and figuring out how sex works. As Green laments, "You turn my age and you can never be soft again."

Journalist, Columbia MFA graduate and former chief blogger for the 2008 Obama campaign, Graham-Felsen is after more than a Tom Sawyer take on adolescence. Green tackles the nuances of how class and race throw up inflexible barriers preventing a healthy integration of a diverse population. Funny and on the money, Green is a perceptive first novel. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Graham-Felsen's first novel is a wry and moving take on growing up with a white face in an all-brown Boston public middle school.

Random House, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9780399591143

Mystery & Thriller

The Vanishing Season

by Joanna Schaffhausen

Officer Ellery Hathaway knows another death is coming to her town of Woodbury, Mass. But no one will believe her, definitely not the chief of police. Why is Ellery so certain? Because for the past three years, a local resident has disappeared around her birthday, after Ellery receives a birthday card from an anonymous sender. But no one is supposed to know who she really is.

Fourteen years ago, Ellery was 14-year-old Abigail, the sole survivor of a serial killer of young women. Abigail had been kidnapped on her birthday. After her ordeal, she switched to using her middle name, and the only person who knows her true identity is her rescuer, FBI agent Reed Markham. Since another birthday--i.e., the Vanishing Season--is fast approaching, Ellery now calls him for help in stopping a possible copycat killer and the past from destroying her sanity.

In her debut, Joanna Schaffhausen has created an arresting protagonist who's as strong as she is vulnerable. Though Ellery now knows how to protect herself, she's afflicted by PTSD and survivor's guilt: "Ellie wasn't suicidal; she'd fought hard for her life and won. But sometimes, especially during the longest nights, she did wonder if maybe the other girls had been luckier after all." Markham is haunted by the victims he didn't save. The killer isn't as well fleshed out; his motives remain unclear. The reward lies more in seeing how two damaged people work together to beat back demons only they can see and end up saving each other. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A cop hunts a murderer whose methods resemble that of the serial killer she survived as a child.

Minotaur Books, $24.99, hardcover, 288p., 9781250126047

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Girl in the Tower

by Katherine Arden

Katherine Arden delivers another breathtakingly suspenseful, romantic romp through medieval Russia in this sequel to 2016's The Bear and the Nightingale. Pagan gods clash with the growth of Christianity, and an immortal creature of wind and ice must choose between immortality and his longing for a remarkable mortal girl.

Following the death of her father, spirited Vasalisa Petrovna is on the run with the magnificent stallion Solovey. Faced with equally unappealing prospects of marriage or conviction of witchcraft, she abandoned her 14th-century Russian village. She travels the wilds disguised as a boy and is reluctantly aided by the ancient frost demon Morozko. But when she rescues children from bandits, her path intersects with that of her brother Sasha. Now a warrior monk called Aleksandr the Lightbringer, Sasha serves their cousin Dmitrii, the Grand Prince of Moscow. The prince takes a liking to Vasya, who adopts the guise of Aleksandr's younger brother Vasilii. Thanks to her daring, Vasya comes to court, but she must step carefully to avoid discovery, especially by a sharp-eyed and enigmatic northern lord who seems fascinated by her.

While the first volume explored the household and forest spirits of rural Russia, The Girl in the Tower focuses on higher magic and political intrigue. Although Vasya's gift of speech with spirit creatures and animals gave her a consistent edge in her village, the stiffer challenges she faces in Moscow make her triumphs more hard-won and her spirit all the more endearing. A haunting winter's tale. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager, main branch, Dayton Metro Library

Discover: Vasilisa Petrovna and her faithful steed Solovey travel to Moscow, where political intrigue and high magic threaten to ensnare them.

Del Rey, $27, hardcover, 384p., 9781101885963

Biography & Memoir

Anyone Who's Anyone: The Astonishing Celebrity Interviews 1987-2017

by George Wayne

A self-proclaimed "carnivore of pop culture," Jamaican-born George Wayne is known for the snarky and inappropriate questions he lobs at celebrities in his brash q&a column for Vanity Fair magazine. Anyone Who's Anyone collects 44 of those jousting matches. After telling Tony Curtis that most of his films are "unwatchable," Wayne asks him if he's had a testicle tuck. Curtis cops only to a nose job, "for a deviated septum from too much cocaine."

Wayne asks brawny model Fabio the measurement of his "third arm" and tells egocentric film producer Robert Evans, "You haven't had a hit movie for years!" He asks Milton Berle, "Do you still have orgasms?" His first question to Kate Moss is "What do you say to your critics who call you a chain-smoking anorexic supermodel?" But he often gets some candid responses--including Jackie Collins saying, "I don't read the Bible, but I feel that religion is responsible for all the ills in the world." It's also fun when Wayne meets his match with Kathleen Turner, Charlton Heston and Interview magazine editor Bob Colacello, who don't allow themselves to be insulted, misrepresented or corralled into cattiness.

Perhaps to remove some of the sting from his questions, Wayne always refers to himself in the third person (as "GW") and tries to get his subjects to talk about themselves the same way. Stargazers and gossip fans will enjoy this waspish collection of irreverent and engaging conversations. With each interview running a quick four to six pages, it's an enjoyable guilty pleasure. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: George Wayne's barbed collection of short celebrity interviews is an engaging page-turner for gossip lovers.

Harper, $25.99, hardcover, 304p., 9780062380074

The Last Man Who Knew Everything: The Life and Times of Enrico Fermi, Father of the Nuclear Age

by David N. Schwartz

Outside of physics, Enrico Fermi is not well known, despite having won the Nobel Prize. He ushered in the atomic age with his discovery of beta decay and his pioneering experiments with controlled nuclear fission. The latter led directly to the development of the first atomic bomb, which he helped oversee. The long shadow cast by the mushroom cloud may account for Fermi's obscurity, but MIT professor David Schwartz sets out to rectify this in The Last Man Who Knew Everything.

Fermi was a rare breed of scientist, equally comfortable with theory and experimentation. He made several breakthrough discoveries in his short life, each a pillar of nuclear and quantum physics. He devised and built the first nuclear reactor under the bleachers at the University of Chicago, and was a key member of the Manhattan Project team at Los Alamos. He was also a devoted teacher: many of his students would go on to win the Nobel Prize. "Fermi problems" were ingenious shortcuts to solving difficult problems with remarkable speed and accuracy--essentially, he invented napkin math. Jocular, athletic and disinclined toward philosophy or politics, he never strongly opposed fascism, though he eventually spoke out against development of the hydrogen bomb.

Cradle-to-grave biographies are difficult to dramatize, and a dearth of written correspondence doesn't make it easier. Schwartz admirably balances Fermi's life, work, context and personality. His descriptions of the science sometimes sizzle and sometimes slump, but he shines when tracing Fermi's journey through academic, political and military institutions. --Zak Nelson, writer and bookseller

Discover: This balanced and thoughtful biography portrays an unsung genius whose discoveries helped define the 20th century.

Basic Books, $35, hardcover, 480p., 9780465072927


I Couldn't Even Imagine That They Would Kill Us: An Oral History of the Attacks Against the Students of Ayotzinapa

by John Gibler

On the night of September 26, 2014, students from the Ayotzinapa Teachers College were riding in buses in the town of Iguala, Mexico, on their way to a demonstration. Suddenly the municipal, state and federal police opened fire on them, killing six, wounding many and "disappearing" 43. In a different part of the town, a fifth bus, carrying a boys' soccer team, was also attacked.

In Latin America, to "disappear" someone is a murderous crime, an act of violence. For I Couldn't Even Imagine That They Would Kill Us, John Gibler (To Die in Mexico: Dispatches from Inside the Drug War) has compiled first-hand accounts of the atrocities. These come from students who survived the assault, other eyewitnesses and parents of the disappeared. Although repetitious in places, each youth's retelling from his perspective helps to build the tension and disbelief each one felt through the long hours of that night. Why were the police attacking them? Why didn't anyone respond to their calls for help? Why were their friends taken away? As Gibler slowly reveals, the answers lie with illegal drugs being trafficked into the United States coupled with rampant violence and corruption sanctioned by the Mexican government.

The afterword is particularly important: it clears up details of that night as well as exposes the cover-ups, tampering with evidence and lies the police and government officials at the highest levels continue to insist are fact. By pulling together all these traumatic narratives, Gibler helps the parents of the disappeared throughout Mexico say, "Basta" (enough). They won't give up on searching for their loved ones and for the truth. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: Young Mexican students document a night of terror at the hands of the Mexican police.

City Lights, $16.95, paperback, 264p., 9780872867482

Political Science

Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy

by Noam Chomsky, David Barsamian

Linguist and political theorist Noam Chomsky doesn't seem to be slowing down much as he approaches the age of 90. In Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy, a collection of interviews with journalist and frequent dialogue partner David Barsamian, Chomsky seems as lucid, energetic, and passionate as ever. The conversations range over an array of subjects, each one giving him a chance to show his impressive depth of knowledge and his commitment to a better world.

The interviews range from 2013, in the middle of Barack Obama's presidency, to 2017, with Donald Trump firmly ensconced in office. Chomsky certainly has opinions about the merits of each presidency, but is more concerned about the overall trajectory of U.S. diplomacy and power. Structures are more at play than people (though that hardly exculpates any of the particular people mentioned), and Chomsky is always underscoring that point in his positions.

The interview format works for some of these discussions. Barsamian has a habit of jumping around from subject to subject, asking Chomsky questions both about his early childhood and the state of global affairs. It keeps the conversation lively, but perhaps dulls the overall thrust of Global Discontent's aim to cajole and instigate. Still, reading the book is akin to spending quality informal time with one of the most powerful intellectuals of the 21st century, which is certainly worth it. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: Global Discontents is a collection of energizing interviews with Noam Chomsky.

Metropolitan/Holt, $18, paperback, 240p., 9781250146182

Performing Arts

Improv Nation: How We Made a Great American Art

by Sam Wasson

Improvisational theater was invented and developed in the 20th-century United States, and continues to be a life spring of new ideas and talent for the performing arts, TV and film. Sam Wasson (Fosse) spent years writing Improv Nation from archival research and scores of interviews. The result is encyclopedic, garrulous and funny.

Improvisational theater requires its players to be receptive and generous with each other, competitive but also trusting, and to be fearless in front of an audience. The first games and rules of improv were devised by Viola Spolin, a Jewish Chicagoan working at the famous Hull House, which served new immigrant populations in Chicago. Working with children and then with adults at the Chicago WPA Recreation Project during the Great Depression, she developed "Theater Games" that encouraged people to open up and play together spontaneously onstage. Spolin's son, Paul Sills, founded the Compass Theater, whose members included the brilliant comedy duo Nichols and May. Some of its members went on to found the famous and influential Chicago improv theater Second City, which opened in 1959 to such instant success they didn't have to advertise. New theaters were founded in cities across the country, and the age of improv had arrived.

Wasson often seems thrilled and dazzled by his famous subjects, and his enthusiasm permeates this book. He has organized it chronologically, with reference to the major political and cultural events of each period. The intertwined story lines and Wasson's frequent digressions can sometimes feel a little chaotic, but the creative and social joy of improvisational theater, and the application of its principles to daily life, are the unifying themes. --Sara Catterall

Discover: An ambitious and effusive history of the development of improvisational theater in the U.S., its many stars and powerful continuing influence.

Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28, hardcover, 464p., 9780544557208

Children's & Young Adult

Life Doesn't Frighten Me

by Maya Angelou, Sara Jane Boyers, editor, illus. by Jean-Michel Basquiat

Monsters under the bed, specters hiding in closets, demons just outside the door seem to afflict--and limit--every child at some point in their young lives. But what if those "Shadows on the wall/ Noises down the hall" could be confronted... and even banished? What if an incantation as easy as "Life doesn't frighten me at all" was enough to encourage and enable resolute audacity?

Presented as an impassioned ode to courage, the late poet Dr. Maya Angelou's 1993 poem returns in a handsome 25th-anniversary edition to inspire a new generation of brave readers. No matter the challenge--"Bad dogs," "Big ghosts," "Mean old Mother Goose," "Dragons breathing flame"--fear will not win: "I go boo/ Make them shoo/ I make fun/ Way they run.../ Life doesn't frighten me at all."

Writer/photographer Sara Jane Boyers, who conceived this now-iconic project, found the ideal complement to Angelou's intrepid stanzas in the exquisite canvases of the late Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose wild-child free spirit imbued his creations. His art, writes Boyers, "depicts the world as he perceived it: diverse, funny, raucous, poetic, and potentially scary--but always real." In her afterword, Boyers explains that pairing Angelou and Basquiat's work here "created a new story for them--a new story for each of us--and it invites us to pen our own stories, on our own terms." Without fear, Angelou and Basquiat, in verses and paintings, prove anything is possible. The result is timelessly inclusive, a gift of "hope, understanding, and resolve to be us, together." Because together, life indeed, won't frighten us at all. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: The 25th-anniversary edition of Maya Angelou and Jean-Michel Basquiat's Life Doesn't Frighten Me will inspire new generations of fearless thinkers and courageous creators.

Abrams, $19.95, hardcover, 40p., ages 6-up, 9781419727481

Betty Before X

by Ilyasah Shabazz, Renée Watson

Ilyasah Shabazz (X: A Novel) gives a fictionalized account of her mother's upbringing and move toward civil rights activism in Betty Before X, a collaborative novel with Renée Watson (Piecing Me Together).

Since Betty's mother, Ollie Mae, "didn't know how to raise a baby on her own," Betty was raised by her aunt until the age of six. When her aunt dies, Betty is sent back to Ollie Mae, who Betty believes loves her "but in a different kind of way"--even after five years, her "mother's house doesn't feel like home." Betty worries she'll be whipped for small mistakes and imagines running away from the mother who calls her "bad to the core." After a particularly bad beating, Betty runs to Mrs. Malloy, a church member who, Betty has seen, "knows how to love." Mrs. Malloy, who helped organize the Housewives' League and its boycott of businesses refusing to hire blacks, takes Betty in and inspires her to volunteer for the League.

Betty Before X poignantly depicts a young girl acutely aware of racism. In newspaper photographs of race riots, Betty thinks it's "hard to tell who the policemen were actually helping." At the sight of a hanging, Betty and her aunt drop their groceries and leave "the fruit and the bodies behind," making Betty wonder "which would rot faster." Yet Betty's interactions (learning to "count blessings" from Mrs. Malloy; dancing and prank calling with friends) illustrate the power of loved ones to bolster each other during hardship.

Based on recollections and printed interviews, with back matter for additional context, this moving novel illuminates and expands upon the defining events that helped shape a bold, passionate and dedicated civil rights figure. Readers will admire Betty's resolve and share in her joy as she finds the places she belongs. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

Discover: In this inspiring novel, Ilyasah Shabazz and Renée Watson describe the formative childhood years of civil rights icon Betty Shabazz.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16.99, hardcover, 256p., ages 10-14, 9780374306106


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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