Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, May 1, 2018


Aladdin: Limitless: 24 Remarkable American Women of Vision, Grit, and Guts by Leah Tinari

From My Shelf

Flatiron Books: Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor #2) by Jessica Townsend

Alain de Botton's Philosophy of Travel

A soggy, chilly Spring inspires thoughts of an escape to warmer climates. Glossy brochures and travel websites offer enticing reasons to leave home. Swiss-born British writer Alain de Botton takes the concept of travel to a philosophical dimension by exploring not only where one should travel but the more perplexing questions of how and why one should travel. In the process he offers convincing reasons why not to leave home and instead enjoy the sights from the comfort of one's favorite armchair.

The "how" of vacationing is wittily explored in How Proust Can Change Your Life (Vintage, $16), a modern-day guidebook in which Proust's life and writings are the basis for advice on all matter of topics, including the risks of leaving home with the wrong expectations of travel.

De Botton tackles the good, bad and ugly of globe-trotting in The Art of Travel (Vintage, $16.95), with truly hilarious insights into why the reality of travel is often so different from our expectations. Realizing the futility of expecting deliverance through travel, De Botton instead finds satisfaction in observing familiar surroundings with the attitude one would normally reserve for sight-seeing.

A Week at the Airport (Vintage, $17) offers up an unusual travel lens. De Botton spent a week inside Terminal 5 of London's Heathrow Airport as its writer-in-residence, observing and talking with travelers as they made their way through the vast glass and steel building. Most of us value punctuality when flying, but De Botton says he actually prefers it if his flight is delayed so he can spend more time at the airport!

De Botton's writings on travel are an excellent antidote to my persistent case of wanderlust. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer


Holiday House: Tomie Depaola's the Popcorn Book (40th Anniversary Edition) / Very Rich by Polly Horvath / Kingdom of Ash and Briars (Nissera Chronicles #1) by Hannah West / Realm of Ruins (Nissera Chronicles #2) by Hannah West


Book Candy

The Power of Fairy Tales

Brightly imagined "how fairy tales continue to invite us to think harder and smarter."

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"Royal baby Louis's name has a Harry Potter connection that's totally unexpected," Bustle reported.

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Electric Lit "asked Google's new book-based artificial intelligence about the meaning of life."

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"Action Comics #1000: the 10 most important issues from 80 years of Superman" were highlighted by the Guardian.

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Mental Floss shared "25 foreign words with hilarious literal meanings."

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Author and journalist Ronan Farrow "reveals the books that have defined his life" at Entertainment Weekly.


International Thriller Writers: Delacorte Press: Past Tense: A Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child


Great Reads

Rediscover: Kitchen Confidential

Culinary adventurer Anthony Bourdain's food travelogue Parts Unknown returned for its 11th season Sunday night on CNN. This is the itinerant gourmand's fourth such series, after the Travel Channel's No Reservations (2005–2012) and The Layover (2011–2013), and the Food Network's A Cook's Tour (2002-2003). Prior to TV stardom, Bourdain earned his chops as the bestselling author of Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (Bloomsbury), his darkly funny memoir about life behind the stove. With scalding wit and honesty, he relates his road to becoming a chef and his hectic, often drug-fueled work in high-end New York City kitchens during the 1980s as well as shares inside restaurateur tips, like not to order fish on Monday (it's leftover from the weekend) and never order steak well done (overcooking masks low-quality cuts).

In 2011, Bourdain peeled his celebrity chefdom into his own imprint under Ecco, which has published books by chefs, musicians, athletes and others. Bourdain's own literary career has continued since Kitchen Confidential with A Cook's Tour (2001), The Nasty Bits (2006), No Reservations (2007), Medium Raw (2010) and Appetites: A Cookbook (2016). Bourdain wrote several fiction books in the 1990s prior to Kitchen Confidential and returned to that genre in 2012 as co-author of the graphic novel Get Jiro! for DC Comics/Vertigo. Another co-authored comic, Hungry Ghosts, comes out this October. An updated edition of Kitchen Confidential was last published in 2007 by Ecco ($16.99, 9780060899226). --Tobias Mutter


Pegasus Books: The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots: Elizabeth I and Her Greatest Rival by Kate Williams


The Writer's Life

Heather Abel: Activism, Growth and Disillusionment in the '90s

photo: Beowulf Sheehan

Heather Abel has written for the New York TimesSlate, the Los Angeles Times and the online Paris Review. She worked as a reporter and editor for the San Francisco Bay Guardian and High Country News. Abel received an MFA in fiction writing from the New School University, and she's taught writing at the New School, UMass Amherst and Smith College. Her first novel, The Optimistic Decade (reviewed below), was just published by Algonquin. Raised in Santa Monica, Calif., Abel now lives in Northampton, Mass., with her husband and two daughters.

Your background parallels some characters in The Optimistic Decade. How much of the novel is based on your own life or people you know?

None of the characters are one-to-one based on anyone I knew. Instead, the characters each have aspects of my own personality. I grew up in an activist family, like Rebecca, though my parents were academics rather than journalists, like Ira. The milieu of radical leftist in L.A. was very familiar to me, and it was something I haven't seen much written about before.

In my early 20s, I moved to a small town in western Colorado to work for an environmental newspaper. The town itself was fascinating, with ranchers, coal miners, hippies who moved there in the '80s and this newspaper. I fell in love with the landscape--the mountains and high desert--and this place that felt like home. I was interested in all the different people there who felt a claim on this place. They all thought, "this mountain is my home," but they each had different ideas of what this home should look like. I loved that there was a sense of generosity, and we helped each other, even though we had different political ideas. It was the most politically diverse and interesting place I've ever lived. It gave me a sense of human possibility and community, even if I disagreed fundamentally with my neighbor.

Caleb and Ira have very different ideas about how to make a difference. Which approach resonates more with you?

I'm drawn to utopian communities, kibbutzes and communes. I've always been fascinated by this idea of creating the world you wish to see and living it out, but I'm also critical of that approach. I've read enough about them to know they usually fail and can get messed up by people's egos. So, I'm fascinated by them, but when I think of working politically, I think more about Ira's approach, trudging along and trying to make change in a community that already exists. Living in this imperfect world and trying to move it along every day is the approach that resonates with me most. But I'll always be interested in thinking of this idea of utopia because there is something so beautiful and magical about it.

There are some extremists in the novel, on both sides of the political spectrum. Did you intend to show parallels with today's politics?

When I lived in Colorado, I interacted with all kinds of people because I was a journalist in a small town that was very economically diverse. During the 2016 election, I heard a lot of the same words and phrases that I heard in the early '90s in Colorado. So, to me, there's a continuum between the people and the movements they talked about then and what we see happening now.

Ira explains the meaning of the title, The Optimistic Decade, at the end of the novel. Did you create this phrase?

Early in writing the book, something happened politically in the real world. Though I don't usually hear my characters speaking to me, I was walking through New York, and I very clearly heard a voice say in my head, "Well, that's the end of the Optimistic Decade." I wrote it down, and I thought about it, and I knew I wanted that phrase in my novel, but I didn't yet know what it meant. I hadn't heard the phrase before, but it immediately resonated with me, referring not only to idealism and disillusionment but to these booms and busts in the West--how a town can be built up, with thousands of people moving there, and then decimated. So, it refers to the fluctuations both ways--politically and economically.

Did that phrase inspire the novel?

I was in the very beginning stages of working on the novel and didn't yet have an overall picture of what it was about. I wrote the phrase down and over time, it helped me understand what was tying everything together. I was in grad school then, and I asked a professor, "I want to write about these booms and busts in the West. I also want to write about what it was like to grow up so politically and with a sense of disillusionment. Which novel should I write?" And he said, "Don't hold anything back--write it all." This novel has many different parts in it, so that phrase helped me realize how things came together.

You've previously written nonfiction--articles, essays and a brief memoir. What made you decide to try fiction?

While I was a journalist, I went back to the West to report a story. The article was about who had access to the land. The rockhounds were hunting illegally for fossils, the recreationalists wanted to mountain bike, and there were miners, too. Who deserved access to the land? I realized I didn't want to write another straightforward journalistic piece about this. I wanted to get at something complicated and personal that I could only do through fiction, where I could be in each character's life for a little while.

How was the process of writing a novel different from writing nonfiction?

It was longer! And it was more magical. I loved living with these characters, and there was something truly comforting and magical and revelatory about it. I never write an essay if I can't learn something from it--there's always something that is puzzling me that I want to get at through the essay. With the novel, these were ideas I'd been wrestling with for most of my life. What does it mean to try to make change in the world? What does it mean to love a piece of land? Only by going through this weird process of making people up and making up a whole town could I answer these real questions.

In that way, it was stranger and more revelatory than writing nonfiction. That was the first thing my father said when he read this novel, "These are questions you've been asking since you were three! You would say, 'Why do we go to protests? What difference will it make?' " I was troubled by activism even though I was committed to it, even as a little kid. When my father first took me to the wilderness, I thought, "I love it here! I need to move here! I need to own this, be part of this!" Writing a novel is a very inefficient but amazing way of sorting through the questions in your life. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and author of Book By Book blog


Chronicle Books: The Art of Feminism: Images That Shaped the Fight for Equality, 1857-2017 by Lucinda Gosling, Hilary Robinson, and Amy Tobin, edited by Helena Reckitt


Book Review

Fiction

Circe

by Madeline Miller


Six years after her Orange Prize-winning novel, The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller returns to ancient Greece to sing of Circe--witch, goddess and nymph, daughter of a god, lover to great men and a fearsome power in her own right.

Born to Helios the sun god and his preening wife, Perse, nymph and daughter of the river god Oceanos, Circe has neither the power nor the beauty expected of a daughter of titans. She is bullied and scorned by her whole family until the birth of Aeetes, her youngest brother. Before he deserts her for his own kingdom, he mentions the magical pharmaka herbs that grow in places where titans have shed their blood. Desolate, Circe falls in love with a mortal fisherman, but when she uses pharmaka to make him immortal, her nature and that of her siblings is revealed--all have some facility with witchcraft, enabling them to flout the will of the Olympian gods. Ordered by an uneasy Zeus to punish his overreaching offspring, Helios exiles unloved Circe to the island of Aiaia. Her penance turns to pleasure when Circe realizes that a bounty of herbs useful for spells grow there, and that while alone, she has the freedom to do as she wishes.

Circe's world treats females, particularly nymphs, as currency at best and objects at worst. She must fight to walk a different path. Ambitious in scope, Circe is above all the chronicle of an outsider woman who uses her power and wits to protect herself and the people she loves, ultimately looking within to define herself. Readers will savor the message of standing against a hostile world and forging a new way. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Miller's long-awaited sophomore novel returns readers to ancient Greece for a feminist retelling of the myth of Circe, the sorceress famous for beguiling Odysseus.

Little, Brown, $27, hardcover, 400p., 9780316556347

Clarkson Potter Publishers: Skinnytaste One and Done: 140 No-Fuss Dinners for Your Instant Pot, Slow Cooker, Air Fryer, Sheet Pan, Skillet, Dutch Oven, and More by Gina Homolka with Heather K. Jones


The Optimistic Decade

by Heather Abel


Heather Abel's witty and immersive debut novel, The Optimistic Decade, set against the stark and beautiful backdrop of high desert and mountains in western Colorado in the early 1990s, explores the ways that people try to make a difference.

Eighteen-year-old Rebecca has grown up in an activist family in Los Angeles and now attends UC Berkeley. Her father, Ira, comes for a rare visit, and Rebecca is certain he's going to offer her a summer job at his leftist newspaper. She's ready to join the family business and make her father proud. Instead, he wants her to be a counselor at a utopian summer camp, Llamalo, in Colorado run by his nephew, Caleb.

Caleb has created an isolated camp where he can teach young people about living simply and protecting the land. The rancher who used to own the land works for him, but now his son is threatening to take back the property. Rebecca reluctantly agrees to work there, while David, a friend her age, enthusiastically attends camp for his last time--hoping that Caleb will hire him so he can live at Llamalo year-round and always be the person he is there.

All of the characters are changed that summer, while they grapple with questions of identity, purpose and how to make a difference in the world. A strong sense of place invites additional questions about land ownership and wilderness. Woven in among these thoughtful ideas is an engaging and entertaining story about growing up, passion and disillusionment. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and author of Book By Book blog

Discover: A utopian summer camp in the early '90s changes the people involved.

Algonquin, $26.95, hardcover, 368p., 9781616206307

Morrow Cookbooks serves up great gifts - Click through for more info on our bestselling cookbooks


A Nantucket Wedding

by Nancy Thayer


Nancy Thayer (Secrets in Summer, Between Husbands and Friends) is one of the undisputed queens of the summer beach read. Perfect for fans of Elin Hilderbrand or Mary Kay Andrews, A Nantucket Wedding is lovely, light and summery. The story begins with Alison, now happily engaged to David, the owner of a cosmetics company. She never thought she'd marry again after the death of her beloved husband a few years earlier. Since her wedding is just a few months away, she wants to connect her two grown daughters--Jane and Felicity--with David's adult children.

She invites all of them to come to David's Nantucket beach house as often as possible that summer. Jane, a high-powered Manhattan attorney, seeks refuge from her marital problems in the island's calm; Felicity, whose save-the-earth husband keeps their family strictly vegetarian, revels in eating steak and escaping from her kids. But Alison worries that David's son, Ethan, is trying to seduce both of her daughters. What's worse, she is struggling to connect with her soon-to-be-stepdaughter, Poppy, who resents Alison's presence in David's life.

Believable, laugh-out-loud funny and delectably entertaining, A Nantucket Wedding is a charming story of a mature bride and the complicated dynamics involved in merging two families. Thayer does an excellent job of conjuring a peaceful Nantucket summer, and the not-so-peaceful emotions lurking beneath the surface for Alison and her daughters. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this delightful summer beach read, Alison and her grown daughters plan her upcoming nuptials while helping each other over romantic pitfalls.

Ballantine, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9781101967102

Shelf Awareness Giveaway: Berkley Books: Someone to Trust by Mary Balogh


Mystery & Thriller

Codename Villanelle

by Luke Jennings


Three years ago, Oxana Vorontsova ceased to exist. That's when the young Russian woman with that name was plucked from prison and turned into one of the world's most notorious assassins, code name Villanelle. She already had the requisite experience--she'd killed three men to avenge the murder of her father, a battle instructor who had trained her well. It helps that she's unable to feel human emotions, like guilt and repulsion and love, but can fake them well. She's not only drop-dead gorgeous but whip-smart, too.

On her tail is another brainy woman. Former MI-5 officer Eve Polastri is recruited by the Secret Intelligence Service to head up an effort to track down and capture Villanelle. As the hunt intensifies, Eve becomes obsessed with her prey, putting strain on her marriage and her husband's desire for them to have a baby. The closer Eve gets to Villanelle, the more she risks losing everything she cares about.

Because of Villanelle's lack of human feelings and author Luke Jennings's use of omniscient voice, readers may feel a sense of detachment from the action at first. But once Eve is introduced about 50 pages in, the story leans into its cat-and-mouse dynamic, pitting two formidable women against each other. Fans of international spy thrillers might want to join the chase before watching the BBC adaptation, titled Killing Eve and starring Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: Two women--one an intelligence operative, the other an assassin--engage in a deadly international game of cat-and-mouse.

Mulholland Books, $25, hardcover, 224p., 9780316512527

Political Science

Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country

by Steve Almond


Since November 2016, many Americans have asked "What the hell just happened to our country?" Steve Almond answers: Bad Stories. Americans embrace cultural delusions, he writes, settling for entertainment: "Bad stories arise from an unwillingness to take reality seriously." In 16 pithy essays distilled from years of study, Almond (author of Candyfreak, Against Football and co-host of the Dear Sugars podcast) suggests we're seeing "the triumph of unseriousness."

"Elite" and "politically correct" have become insults hurled at anyone trying to discuss policy, epithets deployed to "recast moral negligence as a form of martyrdom." Bad Story #4, "Economic Anguish Fueled Trumpism," cites Trump's portrayal of minorities as predatory--Mexican rapists, Muslim sleeper cells--what Almond calls "fear of a Brown Planet." Racial resentment, rather than economic stress, was "a cause in search of a candidate." He also despairs over mainstream media, illustrating Bad Story #6, "What Amuses Us Can't Hurt Us," with a chilling example: a quote from CBS chairman Les Moonves on the "circus" of the Trump campaign, "It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS."

Almond uses literary allusions--Orwell, Bradbury, Thompson--to reflect Americans' moral downturn, and sees parallels with Moby-Dick. He likens the novel's theme--man pitted against his own nature--to the situation in 2016, and "how one man's vile bombast can ensnare everyone and everything." This slim volume ends with guarded hope. Almond stresses that resistance must include voting and demanding serious media coverage. It's our task "to dream up stories that offer a vision of the American spirit as one of kindness and decency." --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: Steve Almond summarizes 16 fallacies that led to the rise of Trumpism and the decline of "seriousness."

Red Hen, $16.95, paperback, 272p., 9781597092265

Social Science

Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer

by Barbara Ehrenreich


Death is coming: How shall we live? As of publication, author Barbara Ehrenreich (Living with a Wild God) is 76, old enough to have plenty of personal experience with aging and with contemplating her demise. In addition, her Ph.D. in cellular immunology, her understanding of socioeconomic divides and her experience with a breast cancer diagnosis give her educated insights into the science of disease and aging, and fanatic beliefs in the power of diet, fitness and positive thinking. Natural Causes is her critical diatribe against the popular notion that we can control when and how we die.

With dry humor and plenty of scientific endnotes, Ehrenreich examines the poor science and status-seeking behind many fashionable wellness practices, including "ritual" and "humiliating" medical screenings. Exercise can increase our enjoyment of life, but it can also tip over into "another form of conspicuous consumption," as can the new craze for "mass-market mindfulness." Against the idea that we can perfect our minds and bodies, she sets the self-sabotage of our immune systems, illustrated by autoimmune diseases, our reproductive cycles and how our macrophages promote the growth and metastasis of cancer. Moreover, on the fear of mortality, she asks whether, given the facts, it makes more sense to regard death as a "tragic interruption" of one's life, or to see life "as an interruption of an eternity of personal nonexistence, and seize it as a brief opportunity to observe and interact with the living, ever-surprising world around us." --Sara Catterall

Discover: An acclaimed author challenges the delusion that we can control our bodies and suggests a more grounded approach to life and death.

Twelve, $27, hardcover, 256p., 9781455535910

Science

The Plant Messiah: Adventures in Search of the World's Rarest Species

by Carlos Magdalena


Carlos Magdalena is a man on a mission: to rescue and propagate the world's disappearing plants, and to spread the gospel of conservation. A Spaniard and a senior horticulturist at London's Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, he has crisscrossed the world on plant-finding adventures. His memoir, The Plant Messiah--Magdalena's nickname--chronicles his journeys to Mauritius, the Australian outback and other remote places in pursuit of rare specimens.

Magdalena begins with an account of his childhood in Spain and afternoons spent gardening with his mother. Eventually landing in London, he talked his way into an internship at Kew. Like the thousands of species housed in Kew's gardens and greenhouses, Magdalena has flourished there, becoming a champion for vulnerable plants. "Obsession and passion are the key," he writes. Like any zealot, he possesses both in spades.

While Magdalena may be a science geek, he writes for the interested layperson. Though his narrative is sprinkled with scientific names and botanical illustrations, he explains his techniques for capturing and conserving plants in clear, simple prose. Readers will learn about plants they never knew existed, especially the dizzying varieties of Magdalena's beloved waterlilies. Throughout the book, Magdalena returns to his key message: plants are vital to the health and survival of our planet, and all of them (or as many as possible) must be saved. He concludes with a few practical suggestions and a ringing call to "garden our way out of this apocalypse, green up the world, and plant our future." Amen. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A leading horticulturist shares his botanical adventures and urges readers to help save rare plants.

Doubleday, $26.95, hardcover, 272p., 9780385543613

Sports

The Pursuit of Endurance: Harnessing the Record-Breaking Power of Strength and Resilience

by Jennifer Pharr Davis


While hiking is often thought to be a laid-back, relaxing hobby, there are those who prefer to push their bodies--and minds--to their limits on the trail. This is most often seen in through-hikes (hiking thousands of miles from one end of a trail to the other). Fastest Known Time attempts (FKTs) take through-hikes one step further, as hikers push to through-hike as quickly as possible.

FKTs are the subject of Jennifer Pharr Davis's second book, The Pursuit of Endurance. Davis looks back at her own record-breaking supported hike of the Appalachian Trail (she completed the AT in 2011 in 46 days, averaging 47 miles per day). Though the book draws heavily on her experiences on the trails, it is also a deep-dive exploration of the sport of FKTs, packed with interviews with other record holders (including those who came before and after her own AT record). She studies their trails, acknowledges the different approaches to the sport, dissects gender differentials (real or imagined) and reflects on the grit and determination it takes to hike through bad weather, injury, fatigue, hunger and whatever else the trail throws at you.

The Pursuit of Endurance gives FKTs historical context while examining the physical and mental components of the endurance required to achieve them. But Davis's study of endurance is about more than through-hikes. "For each individual," she argues, "the greatest feat of endurance comes in uncovering his or her talents and applying them in a way that makes... [the world] a more beautiful, compassionate and daring adventure." Whatever stamina may look like to readers, The Pursuit of Endurance will prove an inspirational and educational read. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A record-breaking hiker dissects the sport of Fastest Known Time attempts in an exploration of physical and mental endurance on--and off--the trails.

Viking, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9780735221895

Performing Arts

Show Trial: Hollywood, HUAC, and the Birth of the Blacklist

by Thomas Doherty


In October 1947, the Cold War came to Hollywood when the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) held nine days of hearings, searching for alleged Communist subversion in Hollywood. The subsequent firings and blacklisting of directors, actors, writers and film technicians lasted into the early 1960s. Doherty (Hollywood and Hitler 1933-1939) breaks his book into three sections: background conflicts between liberal unions and conservative studio heads; the 41 witnesses who testified during the nine days; and a summary of the careers affected by the blacklist and the decades-later resurrection of several of the "hostile" witnesses.

Doherty smoothly marshals his material and sets the stage well with colorful and knowledgeable backgrounds on all those involved. At this point in HUAC's history (before the rise of Senator Joseph McCarthy), there are few villains to be found--just people scared of losing their careers, film empires and the trust of a very fickle and easily scared movie-going public. The book's middle section is its most compelling, as studio heads and "expert witnesses" like Ayn Rand comment on Mission to Moscow and Song of Russia as pro-Soviet propaganda films. These were the first hearings of their kind, and the public was fascinated, listening to Ronald Reagan, Adolphe Menjou and Ginger Rogers's mother find Communists under every bed. Meanwhile, Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Billy Wilder and the U.S.'s most decorated soldier, Audie Murphy, spoke out against the committee.

Doherty's concise background and the actual testimonies of the witnesses freshen the book. Show Trial is an important and valuable study that illuminates a dark period of American history. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Doherty's Show Trial details the fledgling days of Washington's war on Hollywood and communism, and the birth of the blacklist.

Columbia University Press, $29.95, hardcover, 424p., 9780231187787

Poetry

Night School

by Carl Dennis


Poet Carl Dennis has made Buffalo, N.Y.'s eastern shore of Lake Erie his home for 50 years. He has published some dozen books, which have earned him Pulitzer and Lilly Prizes, and both Guggenheim and NEA Fellowships.

Night School is another stellar collection from this quiet master of formalist narrative verse centered on the kind of middle-class, hardworking people that might call Buffalo home--who might indeed get a leg up by taking courses at night school. There's Ernie from Ernie's Red Hots in "Fast Food," for example, who offers simple hotdogs to customers who "needn't be rich/ To afford a meal that will leave them feeling/ They've received, for once, far more than they expected." That "for once" says it all.

Riding on the cadence of the plainspoken and rolled out in language both familiar and unexpected, Dennis's poems are consistently rewarding--the kind you want to read out loud to everyone around you at Dunkin Donuts. Always thoughtful, they are prolific with lines that stop you in your tracks--like these of the narrator of "Two Lives" who walks a maple-lined path: "Musing on the difference between a life/ Deficient in incident and a life uncluttered." Carl Dennis is a national treasure, and Night School is an excellent representation of what makes him so. Don't miss it. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: This stellar collection of quietly probing narrative poems is the latest from an award-winning poet of the ordinary.

Penguin, $20, paperback, 112p., 9780143132356

Children's & Young Adult

White Rabbit

by Caleb Roehrig


It's been "only one week" since Rufus Holt finally "stopped entertaining pointless fantasies that, one day," ex-boyfriend Sebastian would take him back, and here Sebastian is at Rufus's bff's Fourth of July party. The appearance of his ex is not the worst thing that will happen to Rufus tonight. Rufus receives a phone call from his half-sister, April, begging for his help: she woke up covered in blood with a knife in her hand, next to the dead body of her boyfriend. April claims she's innocent but bribes Rufus to help her find the killer. With Sebastian in tow, Rufus lurches through a long night of lies, violence and threats, desperately hoping he'll be unscathed come morning.

Caleb Roehrig's (Last Seen Leaving) sophomore novel is a compelling and cinematic whodunit elevated by romance and melodramatic family dynamics. Using flashbacks, Roehrig reveals the complexities of Rufus's relationships with his father, half siblings and closeted ex-boyfriend, and his struggle with being an openly gay kid in a narrow-minded school. These isolated moments in time help ground this grisly, serpentine murder mystery and remind readers that these characters are everyday teenagers with everyday problems.

Most effective is how Roehrig uses weather to build tension. From the very beginning, the "thick and sticky heat" lingers in the "heavy, still air," mimicking the solemnity of the situation that lies ahead. Then, as the events unspool, "a mist [rises] up from the lake," turning into a fog that "seems to constrict, drawing in closer." White Rabbit is a riveting, atmospheric read, thick with anticipation, that holds readers in its grip to the final shocking reveal. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader

Discover: This standout murder mystery is a mash-up of an intense, heart-pounding thriller and an emotional, queer romance.

Feiwel & Friends, $17.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 12-up, 9781250085658

Red Sky at Night

by Elly MacKay


"Long ago, here and far away, people looked for clues in nature to predict the weather," Elly MacKay's (If You Hold a Seed; Shadow Chasers) text begins. "They learned from experience by watching the shapes of clouds or noticing the behavior of animals. This wisdom was passed down through sayings." The story starts with a father and two children looking out of a large picture window at a blazing red sunset. One of the two children holds a fishing rod and the father points at the sky: "Red sky at night, sailor's delight."

Full dark now, the next page gives a peek inside the house from the outside, a child and a litter of kittens all in silhouette through the windows. "When the dew is on the grass,/ no rain will come to pass." Next, a double-page spread shows the father and children loaded down with fishing gear, leaving the house trailed by tumbling, pouncing kittens. The colors are muted, the sky a light gray: "Evening red and morning gray,/ two sure signs of one fine day."

MacKay's illustrations are exquisite, all pieces made "using paper and ink" and then "set into a miniature theater and photographed, giving them their unique three-dimensional quality." Her colors are vibrant and her world teeming with life. The book even gives life to the weather itself, depicting the winds and storms as ethereal cats playing and prowling. In her well-researched back matter, MacKay explains all the weather sayings in the book, as well as her sources for the material. Red Sky at Night is deliberately and beautifully paced in such a way that the book is entirely comprehensible as a wordless piece, making it accessible to pre-readers. The sayings enhance the work, though, allowing for both entertaining read-alouds and solo weather journeys. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Elly MacKay's Red Sky at Night is an ode to the natural world and human appreciation of it.

Tundra, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-7, 9781101917831

Past Tense
by Lee Child
ISBN: 9780399593512
Delacorte Press
November 5, 2018


an exclusive interview with bestselling author Lee Child   
 

A successful career as a novelist was not something you dreamed of. How did you go from working at a television production company to becoming the author of one of the best-selling series in the thriller genre?

“I had a job that was a lot of fun and satisfying. It gave me plenty of time off for my family, for reading, and for hobbies. But then I was fired. What was I going to do next? It was a simple equation: I loved reading. I’ve read tens of thousands of books. So, why not try writing one? I was out of work and broke. Desperation is a huge factor. It makes you take it one hundred and twenty percent seriously. The goal is to make a living; to put food on the table. If that’s foremost in your mind, you don’t get all cross about editors or this and that. You just do it to get paid. It makes you ruthless with yourself.”

Read the rest of the interview here.

 

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