Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, June 8, 2018

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

From My Shelf

Father's Day Reading for Dads and Kids

The very first statewide Father's Day celebration took place in 1910 in Washington but the holiday wasn't celebrated nationally until 1972. Make up some of that lost time and celebrate Dad with picture books like the following, which feature loving fathers and grandfathers.
The Too-Scary Story by Bethanie Deeney Murguia (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-5, 9780545732420, June 27, 2017)
"One dark night, in a house on a hill," two children ask Papa to tell them a bedtime story. Grace, the older of the siblings, wants it to be a scary story. Papa begins... but "Too scary!" Walter, Grace's little brother, exclaims. Papa eases the fright factor and brings in the fireflies.
A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illus. by Thi Bui (Capstone Young Readers, $15.95, hardcover, ages 6-8, 9781623708030, Aug 1, 2017)
A Different Pond is a Vietnamese American boy's account of a pre-dawn fishing expedition with his father. They've made this trip before. When the boy asks his father, who has recently taken a second job, "Why do we still have to fish for food?" Dad replies, "Everything in America costs a lot of money."
Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel, $19.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 2-6, 9780399167898, November 14, 2017)
Author and illustrator Oliver Jeffers distills the basics of life, the universe and everything else into child-sized bites in an adorable reminder that "[y]ou're never alone on Earth."
Drawn Together by Minh Lê, illus. by Dan Santat (Disney-Hyperion, $17.99 hardcover, 40p., ages 3-5, 9781484767603, June 5, 2018)
A Thai-American boy is dropped off at his delighted grandfather's house for a visit. They try to chat at lunch but can't understand each other. It's not until the boy slips away to draw that they find common ground: Grandpa likes to tell stories through pictures, too! --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor

Book Candy

Literary Characters' Best Revenge

"Literary characters who got revenge living their best life" were featured by Quirk Books.


"Read 20 famous authors' very first published short stories," courtesy of Lit Hub.


Call Me by Your Name author André Aciman picked five books about first love for the Guardian.


For McSweeney's, Brianna Zgodinski listed "famous works of literature that also describe the night I lost my virginity."


Barba tenus sapientes, for example. Mental Floss suggested "20 Latin phrases you should be using."


Each of the elements in Leo D'uk's Zex bookshelves "can be in five different color solutions. Shelves made of veneered boards and sheet metal."

Visible Empire

by Hannah Pittard

On June 3, 1962, a chartered plane crashed shortly after takeoff from Orly Field near Paris. Among the dead were 121 of Atlanta's most influential civic leaders, philanthropists and arts patrons, all returning home after a three-week museum tour. Thirty-three children and young adults lost both parents in the disaster, which Mayor Ivan Allen declared to be his city's "greatest tragedy and loss."

A native of Atlanta, Hannah Pittard (Listen to Me) has constructed Visible Empire as a tight, compact work of historical fiction based on this event. In this, her fourth novel, Pittard explores the emotional wreckage and recovery of a community impacted by tremendous loss. While she could have chosen to write a strictly historical account of the incident (Mayor Allen is one of several real-life figures in Visible Empire who actually experienced the tragedy's aftermath firsthand), Pittard's literary prowess is on full display through her ability to intermingle fact with fiction.

The novel grounds the reader firmly in the chaos and confusion that engulf Atlanta in the month following the crash, as its residents begin to grasp the scope of the tragedy and attempt to cope with their shock and grief. The devastating impact of their collective loss becomes palpable. "In short, it felt like everyone because... it was everyone," Pittard writes of Mayor Allen's emotionally shell-shocked wife, Lulu. "It was everyone she cared about, and they were all gone in a single, heartbreaking, unbelievable whop."

The abundance of unforgettable characters gives Visible Empire the feel of a novel in linked stories form, as Pittard skillfully pivots her narrative around three distinct yet interconnected perspectives.

Newspaperman Robert Tucker is planning to leave his very pregnant wife, Lily, for Rita, a "girl about town" reporter assigned to cover the trip. Shortly before boarding the ill-fated flight, Rita pens a fateful, decisive letter to Robert, a missive that will survive the crash. Despite the death of his mistress (or maybe because of it), Robert confesses his affair to Lily and proceeds with abandoning his expectant wife, whose parents also were among those killed.

As he unravels further and descends into drunken binges, Robert and fellow ne'er-do-well P.T. Coleman (who lost his wealthy parents) recruit African-American teenager Piedmont Dobbs to drive them to a mysterious, remote mansion in the middle of the night. The hidden enclave turns out to be affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan.

Piedmont, who ran away from home after his application to attend one of the city's all-white high schools was rejected, symbolizes the divisions and tensions defining a city on the cusp of change. He wants a better future, but feels guilty and conflicted about how much he is personally prepared to sacrifice, especially when compared to his emerging activist friends. "Whenever Michael and Jeremy talked about the meetings they attended, Piedmont would wonder about his own responsibility with regard to the Negro Cause. He wondered if it was okay to sit back, keep his head down, and wait for whatever improvements those around him might acquire on his behalf. He wondered if he even believed a better future was possible."

Finally, Pittard uses Anastasia Rivers's storyline to further illustrate the crash's capacity for exposing long-buried secrets and shattering all that friends, lovers, family members and colleagues thought they knew about the people in their lives. Anastasia is a beautiful diver who performs to the delight and pleasure of wealthy diners--and a sexist manager--at a newly constructed downtown Atlanta hotel.

To get the job, Anastasia rewrites her personal history: instead of having been abandoned by her parents and left under a bridge with her twin brother, Billy (which, admittedly, already is dramatic enough), she concocts an even more elaborate Grimm-like rags-to-riches-to-rags tale. In what is perhaps Pittard giving a subtle nod to Oscar Wilde and his Dorian Gray, Anastasia attracts the attention of Genie Case, a socialite who deliberately seeks out and seduces Anastasia to stave off her inevitable aging and satisfy her own hidden, then socially unacceptable desires.

Pittard's ability to weave these three seemingly disparate narratives together makes Visible Empire a dizzying yet compelling, dramatic read. She brings the reader into the heat of Atlanta's sizzling summer of 1962, with nostalgic details defining an era. This is a time when people smoked in public, called collect (the constantly ringing phones evoke a time when breaking news was communicated through one-on-one conversations, not tweets or vibrating texts), drank during pregnancies and placed the baby in "the basket in the backseat and pulled around the buckle to keep it from shifting" as they drove. One almost expects to see Mad Men's Don Draper at the wheel.

Still, despite these unassuming, quaint-sounding and downright dangerous bygones, Visible Empire feels familiar. The snare drum of change that was sounding in 1962, combined with the racial, sexual and cultural tensions and inexplicable losses that soon would test the resiliency of a nation, has relevance as it reverberates more than five decades later. --Melissa Firman

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25, hardcover, 288p., 9780544748064

Hannah Pittard: Capturing a Moment of Change

photo: Jenn Harris

Hannah Pittard is the author of four novels, including Listen to Me, a New York Times Editors' Choice. She received the 2006 Amanda Davis Highwire Fiction Award, was a MacDowell Colony Fellow and is a consulting editor for Narrative magazine. She directs the MFA creative writing program at the University of Kentucky, where she is an assistant professor.

You were born in Atlanta and you dedicate Visible Empire to your mother, who told you about the plane crash. Did your family have personal connections to the tragedy?

Although we were lucky enough not to have any immediate personal connections, I grew up hearing stories from my parents about how the city changed, practically overnight, because of the crash and its aftermath. My mother was 13 when it happened. My father, on the other hand, was 20 and knew many people who lost both parents. From the time I realized I was a storyteller, I knew this was a story that was meant to be told. 

What made you decide that now was the right time?

I didn't think I was ready until finishing my third novel [Listen to Me], yet I had been thinking about this story as a potential novel for years. It was probably a combination of confidence and comfort--and the times we are currently living in made this story feel more relevant.

It is extremely relevant. Even though Visible Empire is set in 1962, you explore themes and issues that could be from today's headlines.

I've always been fascinated by the timing of this terrible, tragic historical incident--which I certainly wish never occurred at all, obviously. But because it happened in 1962 and not 1968, the full-scale gender and racial revolutions of our time had not yet happened. They were coming. We have the benefit of that knowledge now, in hindsight. The crash left behind a community scrambling to comprehend a large-scale loss during a moment of incipient racial, sexual and cultural change in America and that's why I think the issues in the book are relevant to what's happening now. I wanted to be as faithful as possible to 1962 but I also wanted to write a book that speaks to our time.

The title, Visible Empire, seems to refer to the nature of secrets. No matter how much we think something is hidden, it will always be discovered. It's also a reference to the Ku Klux Klan--a character discovers a relative's hidden membership card with the words "invisible empire."

The full name of the Klan ("The Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan") nods at unseen power that is deadly and potent because of its very invisibility. My title invites the reader to question our responsibility to power we can see but choose to ignore because it is so ingrained in our way of thinking and seeing.

One of the most profound moments I had while writing this book was in connection with the two quotes I use as epigraphs. Personally devastated by the disaster, Mayor Ivan Allen said that "Atlanta has suffered her greatest tragedy and loss." Not even an hour after I read that, I came across Malcolm X's statement where he essentially calls on God to do it again by saying "we hope that every day another plane falls out of the sky." The world was suddenly paying attention to Atlanta because of an incident involving the loss of 121 white Atlantans when they hadn't been noticing the South's legalized racism or the city's burgeoning civil rights movement. The treatment of African Americans was also the tragedy, and the title invites questions about our world, then and now. The story is right there.

Mayor Ivan Allen was a real person who experienced the crash's aftermath. Are other characters based on real people?

I wanted to include several people, such as Mayor Allen, to establish authenticity. Others were inspired by my research. I read almost every issue of the Atlanta Journal Constitution from 1962, and some of those stories made their way into the book. That said, I didn't want to write a historical account of the Air France crash or be prevented from imagining a story. I wanted to write about love and loss in a time of deep racial division, precisely because of its relevance to what is happening in our world now.

As writers tend to do, I drew from my own life. Anastasia, one of my favorite characters I've ever written, is very, very, very loosely based on my mother--who is not a con artist or an orphan, but someone who happened to also look very good in a red bathing suit while doing a little diving at a hotel during her youth.

Tell us about Anastasia's relationship with Genie Case. There seems to be a nod to Oscar Wilde and Dorian Gray there. Is that intentional or am I over-reaching?

Oh my gosh, that's about the best thing I've ever heard! It was not intentional, although I feel I should say it was! Perhaps it was there all along. When my mother read this, she said it felt Gatsby-esque. Aging is an age-old theme for a reason. It's something we think about all the time--physical beauty and staying relevant, jealousy and envy. Those are our go-to themes for a reason, right? Yet we struggle to understand them every single day.

There are quite a few characters and story lines in what has been described as "a compact book." It takes place within one month. How did you manage the structure of the book with so many characters and this tight timeline?

I wrote this book differently than any of my previous novels. I plotted it out visually using postcards on a big corkboard and those postcards sort of saved my sanity. Yet because I had been thinking about this story for so long, there were moments and scenes that seemed like a movie in my head. It was already so real to me before I ever wrote a word.

The crash had a wide-reaching impact on the city. What lessons do you feel Atlanta's experience holds for other cities experiencing such catastrophic, deeply affecting, oftentimes violent losses? 

One of my career-long interests has been this idea of sudden loss. I've explored this in my previous work and I was aware, absolutely, of the connection between Atlanta's tragedy in 1962 and what we see in the news on a devastating, daily basis. I'm fascinated by how communities of all types have had to figure out how to restart their lives, time and time again, especially when they don't have time to prepare. How do we make sense of such a loss in our homes, in the lives of our neighbors, in our cities? I've tried to write a book on how people from different backgrounds learn to love and reconnect in moments of extreme change or profound loss.

Literature's job is to promote empathy and to imagine different ways of being. I feel like that should be true for readers as well as authors. Fiction teaches us how to ask good questions about how to move through this world. --Melissa Firman

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Review


Tin Man

by Sarah Winman

"In the front bedroom, propped up among the books, is a color photograph of three people, a woman and two men. They are tightly framed, their arms around one another, and the world beyond is out of focus, and the world on either side excluded." Like their photo, the lives of Ellis, Michael and Annie are complete with each other; they could exclude the rest of the world. Sarah Winman's Tin Man is both devastatingly tragic and sensuously gorgeous, as it follows the three in Oxford, England, from the 1950s through 1996.
Love thrives in all its glory and sorrow, first as a friendship between the boys Ellis and Michael, shifting into and out of a sexual relationship, then the marriage of Ellis and Annie and the mutual love among the three. For a time, Michael leaves; they all mourn their loss. "Life was not life without him" for the couple. Told as a non-linear narrative, their story's end is revealed at the beginning of Tin Man, and discovering the layers of their experiences from separate perspectives and time periods deepens the poignancy.
Other characters are richly drawn: Ellis's mum, who is entranced with Van Gogh's sunflowers and "believes that men and boys are capable of beautiful things"; Mabel, Michael's openhearted grandmother; and friends and strangers who offer kindnesses. Winman's very short novel imparts joy. Plan to read it twice: first for the story, then to savor the beauty of the poetic symbolism threaded throughout the sparsely crafted prose. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: Tin Man is a short novel epic in its portrayal of friendship, love and loss.

Putnam, $23, hardcover, 224p., 9780735218727

That Kind of Mother

by Rumaan Alam

Rebecca Stone is a wife. A daughter. A sister. A poet. A woman who sees herself in Princess Di. And she is a mother to two boys--a white son born to her, and a black son adopted after the unexpected death of her eldest son's nanny.
It is the "and" in that last statement--"and she is a mother to two boys"--that forms the crux of Rumaan Alam's second novel, That Kind of Mother. Alam (Rich and Pretty) explores themes of individuality, motherhood, parenting, adoption, family ties and race through the lens of Rebecca's life. He pursues, to great effect, the tension between how Rebecca sees herself and how she wants to be seen by the world, the many ways motherhood both intersects with these perceptions and is entirely separate from them. Rebecca disappears into motherhood ("You've vanished," her sister scolds her), then balks at it in turn, desiring nothing more than her own quiet inner world. "She didn't want to be that kind of mother, the one who can't stop talking about her children, can't stop thinking about them. Surely there had to be another kind of mother for Rebecca to be."
Is there another kind? As That Kind of Mother unfolds, never shying away from Rebecca's very real flaws as both a woman and a mother, Alam offers nothing close to a definitive answer. Instead, his novel celebrates the impossibility of answering such a question once and for all--and in that, That Kind of Mother couldn't feel more honest in its depiction of the complexities, complications and emotions of what it means to make a family. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: The author of Rich and Pretty tackles big questions about motherhood, individualism and identity in his second novel.

Ecco, $26.99, hardcover, 304p., 9780062667601

Last Stories

by William Trevor

Though his fans can hope for the discovery of a posthumous trove of William Trevor short stories, barring that happy event they'll have to take the title of this collection at face value and enjoy the offering of 10 new tales--three of them previously unpublished--from a 20th-century master of the form.
These muted stories, the majority of them set in England, where the Irish-born Trevor (Love & Summer) spent most of this life, are noteworthy less for their dramatic action than for his keenly observed depiction of melancholy protagonists longing for something that's missing from their lives. Representative of that quality is "An Idyll in Winter," in which a man named Anthony reconnects with a woman he tutored years earlier as a teenager at her home on the Yorkshire moors. Now married and a father, he must confront his deep affection for her, while she understands she was "living in the past, that the past would always be there, around her, that she was part of it herself."
Also among the most moving stories is "Giotto's Angels." The protagonist is an aging prostitute who encounters a man suffering from an "amnesic abnormality" in a bar. When she accompanies him to his flat, she discovers that he's a skilled art restorer, in the process of unearthing a cache of money he's almost certainly forgotten himself.
Noteworthy for their striking openings and sometimes enigmatic endings, these stories fully embody Trevor's artistic gifts. His graceful writing and sharp insight into the tragic dimensions of human existence make this collection a fitting testament to a long and distinguished career. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: This posthumous collection of 10 stories displays Irish writer William Trevor's affinity for plumbing the depths of human sadness.

Viking, $26, hardcover, 224p., 9780525558101

Mystery & Thriller

A Howl of Wolves

by Judith Flanders

Judith Flanders directs a witty, well-plotted narrative of murder onstage and off in her fourth Sam Clair mystery, A Howl of Wolves. Sam generally prefers books to theatrical productions: she is an editor, after all. But when her friend and neighbor Kay and Kay's young son, Bim, land bit parts in a West End show, Sam and her detective boyfriend, Jake, drag themselves to opening night. While the gore-filled play contains more (fake) blood than brilliance, both audience and cast are shocked as the second-act curtain opens to reveal the hanged body of the production's director spinning above the stage. Both Sam and Jake are drawn into the resulting murder investigation--Jake in his professional capacity, and Sam through her connection to Kay and Bim (and her insatiable curiosity).
Flanders (A Cast of Vultures) gives nearly equal treatment to Sam's day job--prep for her company's sales conference, dull editorial meetings--and the spare time she spends chasing down obscure leads. Sam's sleuthing skills lead her to various corners of London, including a costume design archive, an inheritance case from postwar Germany and a few posh drinks parties with her solicitor mother, Helena. Meanwhile, Sam spends hours backstage looking after Bim (and checking for clues); plots with her female colleagues to combat sexism at the office; and wrings helpful information from unlikely sources, including her elderly upstairs neighbor. The plot threads, woven together by Sam's keen observations and wry asides, coalesce into a satisfying denouement for mystery and theatre fans. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Editor and amateur sleuth Samantha Clair dives into murder onstage and off in Judith Flanders's fourth mystery.

Minotaur Books, $26.99, hardcover, 304p., 9781250087836

Biography & Memoir

No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America

by Darnell L. Moore

Darnell L. Moore grew up black and economically disadvantaged in Camden, N.J., a predominantly African American and Latino city that he later came to see as "willfully forgotten" by elected officials. But Moore diverged from the mainstream in another, less visible way: he was gay. No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America traces why, having first kissed a boy at age nine, Moore waited a couple more decades to come out proudly.
Born in 1976, to teenage parents--a stalwart mother and a violent father--Moore was harassed, and worse, by neighborhood kids who suspected that he was gay. Intellectually precocious, Moore had to ask his middle-school principal to put him in AT, or "academically talented," classes. He attended a private high school, having filled out the application himself, and then Seton Hall University, a largely white Catholic college where racial profiling was the norm; it was at Seton Hall that Moore became what he calls "politically black." After he earned his degree, he found his calling in advocacy for the disenfranchised and in activism on behalf of progressive causes.
"What childlike magic did he use to make it through?" Moore, now an editor with advanced degrees in theology and clinical counseling, wonders about his young self in his prologue. No Ashes in the Fire isn't an "uplift memoir" in which a kindly outsider develops a marginalized child's potential. "You can't write!" a teacher once told Moore. This book says otherwise, and resoundingly. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: Activist Darnell L. Moore's graceful memoir describes his experience growing up black, poor and gay.

Nation Books, $26, hardcover, 256p., 9781568589480


Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation

by Robert W. Fieseler

On Sunday, June 24, 1973, a fire set on the outside steps of a New Orleans gay bar caused a harrowing inferno, taking 32 lives. Journalist Robert W. Fieseler salvages this unsettling moment in American history from the edge of forgetfulness in a remarkable, potent remembrance.
From its outset, Tinderbox distinguishes the Up Stairs Lounge fire from other galvanizing incidents in the fight for gay rights. For starters, there is no evidence that this was a hate crime, but rather "most likely... a disgruntled bar patron exacting revenge upon a rival gay clique." Moreover, the Gay Liberation uprising that followed was led largely by outsiders like Troy Perry, founding pastor of the gay-friendly Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in Los Angeles.
Fieseler crafts an evocative, even romantic, portrait of gay life before the fire. Against a sultry summer backdrop, he details the lives of men in their element and men in love. The Big Easy fostered a laissez-faire closet for the gay community; while open homosexuality was despised, the rowdy French Quarter often turned a blind eye to the private liaisons of neighbors.
That disinterest, though, became maddening in the aftermath. Newspapers addressed the tragedy obliquely if at all. Neighboring churches turned away MCC's pleas. Civil rights organizations ghosted. Investigators dragged their feet and fumbled evidence. Live and let live turned on a dime to "Did you hear the one about the flaming queens?"
With amiable prose, Fieseler transforms rigorous research and the moving testimonies of survivors into a vital, inspiring volume in the annals of gay history. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Journalist Robert Fieseler sifts through the ashes of a nearly forgotten tragedy that took 32 lives in a New Orleans gay bar.

Liveright, $26.95, hardcover, 384p., 9781631491641

Political Science

Chosen Country: A Rebellion in the West

by James Pogue

A feet-on-the-ground journalist for diverse media such as Vice, the New Yorker and n+1, James Pogue goes after a story with the tenacity of a bulldog clamped on a stick. In the tradition of early Rolling Stone "new journalists" like Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe and Lester Bangs, Pogue is not afraid to share booze and smokes with his interview targets in order to get the lowdown on his subject. In Chosen Country, he puts on tire chains and drives through snowy central Oregon to understand firsthand what is behind the 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by a ragtag army led by charismatic Mormon zealot Ammon Bundy. Pogue gets to know the occupiers, the FBI, local law officers and the annoyed uninvolved surrounding ranchers and feed store proprietors. In this volatile mix, he finds a potent stew of politics, activism, ideology and messianic cultism. One Bundy supporter states his anti-federal government stance succinctly: "If you don't want your nose broke, keep it out of my business."
Like a good gonzo journalist, Pogue often veers off into tangential historical asides and brings his own prejudices and personal rants to this story of "young men with guns and tactical gear." He chases his story into the Oregon basin because "the country was going insane, and at least here you could see the mechanisms at work." Chosen Country burrows into the widening cracks that divide what someday may turn out to be the ironically named United States. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Gonzo journalist James Pogue digs into the 2016 occupation of Oregon's Malheur Refuge by Ammon Bundy and his ragtag army.

Holt, $28, hardcover, 304p., 9781250169129

Essays & Criticism

Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions & Criticisms

by Michelle Tea

"Doesn't wine retain the flavor of the weather the grapes were grown in? The particularities of the soil, the storms that came or didn't?" asks Michelle Tea in the title piece of her wickedly funny and thought-provoking essay collection Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions & Criticisms. "Memoir is like that," she continues. "It picks up the essence of the moment you wrote it." Here she's speaking specifically of Valencia, one of her five previous memoirs. Since writing that book, she says, her feelings for the people and places described within it have changed considerably. But there's value, she argues, in leaving a record of one's life--even if that record is rendered obsolete by all that happens after.
With Against Memoir, Tea has collected an impressive record of her life's work as a memoirist and essayist. Divided into three sections--art and culture criticism, personal essays on queer love and reflections on writing--the collection features her finest pieces of the last 20 years for outlets like the Believer and xoJane.
Each section is rich with deep feeling and critical precision. "Purple Rain" is a highlight. Here Tea weaves memories of her adolescent sexuality with those of listening to Prince. Perhaps she just liked men who were "small" and "sensitive" and who wore "heels," she wondered while gazing at album covers. It would be years before she'd fully comprehend her own queerness. This essay is about herself, but it's also a smart piece of cultural criticism. As this collection indicates, Michelle Tea has brilliantly balanced both throughout the whole of her career. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Michelle Tea makes a persuasive case for documenting one's thoughts and feelings by collecting nearly 20 years' worth of personal essays in one engaging volume.

Amethyst Editions, $18.95, paperback, 300p., 9781936932184


The Order of Time

by Carlo Rovelli, trans. by Erica Segre, Simon Carnell

What is time? Is it like a river, flowing from the past, to the present and into the future? Is it a man-made construct? Does it even exist on the quantum level? All these questions and many more are expertly answered by Carlo Rovelli in his fascinating Order of Time.
Although more esoteric than some of his previous books, Rovelli (Reality Is Not What It Seems) again combines the lyrical, philosophical and scientific methods and prose to guide readers through an exploration of time on its multiple levels. He is especially intriguing when suggesting that time "passes faster in the mountains than it does at sea level," or that one's perception of time is a matter of perspective. Furthermore, he asserts that language isn't precise enough to describe time, as one person's "here and now" is vastly different for a person located on the opposite side of the globe.
Rovelli also delves a bit into his favorite topic, loop quantum gravity or loop theory, which has been the focus of much of his life's work. Here he dives into the issues of "granularity, indeterminacy and the relational aspect of physical variables" which break down the idea of time to the point of nonexistence. We all have a concept of time, regulated by clocks and the passage of the sun from one day into the next, but Rovelli's explanations and examinations will have one rethinking what it means to be "in the moment" or how to define past, present and future. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: An Italian physicist analyzes what time really is based on the latest scientific findings.

Riverhead, $20, hardcover, 256p., 9780735216105

Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken Genes

by Nathan H. Lents

To call Human Errors by biology professor Nathan H. Lents a primer on natural selection and evolution would be a vast oversimplification. He tackles his subject (one that has no doubt put many a college student to sleep) with a conversational ease, and he does so while recognizing his own fallibility. And it's these qualities that make his writing accessible to the layperson. 
According to Lents (Not So Different), genetic developmental flaws (or the "panorama of our glitches") arose as a result of incomplete adaptations to bipedalism and to ways of life that no longer exist. These include nasal cavities that drain up instead of down and backwards-facing retinas. Using modern analogies, Lents is able to tie natural selection and evolution to human behavior. The fact that we have never encountered, nor received contact from, alien civilizations points to a disturbing conclusion: if they followed a similar evolutionary trajectory as Earthlings (with our environmental pollution, resource overconsumption and war), then those civilizations may no longer exist.
To that end, even as technology and science have seemingly arrested human evolution, cultural and socioeconomic factors may provide the key to evolving future gene pools. "In order to fully grasp any aspect of the human experience, we must understand how it took shape," writes Lents. "Never underestimate science or our species' ability to overcome its own flaws."
Entertaining and informative, Human Errors can provoke thought and discussion as to what evolution and natural selection mean for the future of the human race. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: Flawed genetic development--despite the superiority of human brains and the ingenuity behind our biological selves--is more than the sum of its evolutionary parts.

Houghton Mifflin, $27, hardcover, 256p., 9781328974693

Children's & Young Adult

Drawn Together

by Minh Lê, illus. by Dan Santat

A glum Thai-American boy is dropped off at his delighted grandfather's house for a visit. They try to chat at lunch, but can't understand each other, and the uncomfortable silence grows more and more awkward. In spite of their efforts to connect, the two do not speak the same language or share a culture. It's not until the boy slips away to draw that they finally find common ground: Grandpa likes to tell stories through pictures, too! "Right when I gave up on talking, my grandfather surprised me by revealing a world beyond words. And in a FLASH--we see each other for the first time."
As man and boy weave their illustrations together, "all the things [they] could never say come pouring out." Their heroes look an awful lot like their respective illustrators, with the grandfather's black-and-white, ancient warrior brandishing a beautiful calligraphy brush and the boy's contemporary, anime-style wizard waving a star-topped wand. The swirling, elaborate design develops, the different styles intertwining, until they have created one magnificent world... which is suddenly disrupted by a huge, scaly monster that threatens to tear it apart.
Minh Lê (Let Me Finish!) is a first-generation Vietnamese-American writer and a national early childhood policy expert. Dan Santat is the New York-born son of Thai parents and author and illustrator of the Caldecott Award-winning The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend. Their partnership in Drawn Together is as magical as the grandfather and grandson's eventual bond. Mostly wordless panels represent the frustration and confusion the two share at first, followed by vibrant mixed-media artwork as they bring their talent and imagination together.
Drawn Together is a testament to the strength of a shared love to overcome barriers of age, language and culture, and will leave readers, like Grandpa and his grandson, "happily... SPEECHLESS." --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Separated by language, culture and age, a grandfather and his grandson find a beautiful way to forge a bond made of paint, ink and paper in this touching picture book.

Disney-Hyperion, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-5, 9781484767603

Light Filters In: Poems

by Caroline Kaufman, illus. by Yelena Bryksenkova

Caroline Kaufman's debut poetry collection begins with a dedication to "anyone terrified that it won't get better." These poems, she writes, "are proof that it will."
Now a college freshman, Kaufman began writing poetry at 13 to help her cope with depression. She started an Instagram account--@poeticpoison--that has more than 200,000 followers. Light Filters In is a mix of both new and old poems, a four-part journey through adolescence. In an author's note, Kaufman makes readers aware that "this book was not easy to write," and thus, "it may not be easy to read." She warns that the topics include "mental illness, self-harm, suicide, recovery, sexual assault, abusive relationships, violence, and other issues that may not be the easiest to swallow."
Generally eschewing capital letters, Kaufman's poems are short and full of emotion. The first part focuses on her depression and anxiety: "I am crowded/ in an empty room./ I guess it's the silence,/ the emptiness,/ the nothingness./ it pushes on me./ it tells me you take up too much/ space." In the second, she begins to address the mental illness, learning how to cope. The third part depicts the desire for growth and change: "I want to be a doctor./ maybe a surgeon./ how nice it would be/ to go from cutting my own skin/ in order to harm,/ to cutting someone else's skin/ in order to heal." And in the final chapter, Kaufman begins to heal. "lost:/ depression..../ if found:/ please tell her/ she is not welcome here." Black-and-white illustrations throughout heighten the emotions expressed.
Kaufman's poems are raw portrayals of mental illness and trauma, of healing and hope--they are very personal struggles laid bare in a way that speaks to the universal human experience. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Caroline Kaufman's first poetry collection is a painful, yet hopeful, portrayal of the toll mental illness takes on adolescents.

HarperCollins, $14.99, hardcover, 224p., ages 13-up, 9780062844682

Hawk Rising

by Maria Gianferrari, illus. by Brian Floca

A red-tailed hawk hunts for food to feed its chicks in Hawk Rising, Maria Gianferrari (Coyote Moon; Hello Goodbye Dog) and Brian Floca's ornithological picture book collaboration. A young girl and her mother observe the feathered parent flying through their suburban neighborhood, perching on utility poles and scouting out food.
Gianferrari portrays the behaviors and sounds of the bird with a poetic beauty that mirrors its soaring flight. Sometimes it's easy and carefree: "Father Hawk shakes his wings and springs into the sky./ Keee-EEER,/ Keee-EEER,/ he calls,/ circling,/ seeking prey./ He rides the wind/ like a wave,/ twisting and turning,/ kiting and floating." Other times it's urgent and fierce: "Crashing,/ talons thrashing/ in branches./ Once./ Twice./ Then again/ and again./ Shielded by bramble,/ Sparrows are safe." And throughout, he provides a faithful look at a majestic creature.
Vibrantly complementing Gianferrari's lyrical prose are Caldecott Medal-winning Brian Floca's (Locomotive) striking watercolor-and-ink illustrations. The texture and color of the red-tailed hawk leap from the page. And Floca's alternating perspective--between the humans on the ground and the bird in the air--carries readers effortlessly in the wake of Father Hawk's flight.
Hawk Rising may inspire questions in young audiences about predators and prey (Father Hawk eventually catches a squirrel). The tale, combined with the additional facts at the conclusion of the story, presents an ideal opportunity for examining these and other elements of the natural world. As stunning as its title character, Hawk Rising is a grand tribute to the wonders and complexities of our living world. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: A young girl and her mother observe a red-tailed hawk throughout a single day as the bird hunts for food for its family.

Roaring Brook Press, $18.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781626720961


Author Buzz

The Rom-Commers

by Katherine Center

Dear Reader,

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

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

Katherine Center

Buy now and support your local indie bookstore>

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

St. Martin's Press

Pub Date: 
June 11, 2024


List Price: 
$29.00 Hardcover

Blue Moon
(A Smoke and Mirrors Novella)

by Skye Warren

Dear Reader,

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

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

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

Skye Warren

Available on Kobo

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

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
March 12, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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