Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, October 16, 2018

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

From My Shelf

Go Norse

Norse mythology and history are having something of a cultural moment. From hit TV shows such as Vikings to the enormously successful video game God of War, Scandinavian culture has been finding a larger place in the popular imagination. In the literary world, Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology (Norton, $15.95) offers an approachable introduction for children and adults to Thor, Odin, Loki and many more legendary characters who--believe it or not--are far more interesting than their counterparts from the Marvel movies. Gaiman's appreciation for Norse mythology has been apparent in many of his books, especially in the beloved American Gods (Morrow, $19.99), and here he turns his enthusiasm and storytelling abilities to the dark, weird myths that inspired characters like Mr. Wednesday.
In historical fiction, I would recommend Linnea Hartsuyker's The Half-Drowned King (Harper, $15.95), the first book in an ambitious trilogy about Viking-era Norway, and Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Chronicles (HarperCollins), an extensive series about the ninth-century Viking invasion of what would become England.
Some of the best historical fiction about the Norse can be found in comics and manga, from Brian Wood's epic Northlanders (Vertigo, $16.95) to Makoto Yukimura's Vinland Saga (Kodansha, $19.99). Northlanders is best approached as a series of short stories or novellas in settings as diverse as the Orkney Islands and Iceland, often focusing on the colonizing efforts of the far-travelling Norse. Illustrated by a number of personal favorites including Fiona Staples and Becky Cloonan, Northlanders is not to be missed. Vinland Saga is a lengthy, winding story eventually concerned with Viking efforts to settle in North America. Yukimura tells a well-researched story rich in visual detail. It's wonderful to see Norse culture celebrated in so many different mediums by so many talented authors, and to have simplistic depictions of Viking barbarians replaced by a more nuanced picture. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Book Candy

The Benefits of a Home Filled with Books

"New study confirms growing up in a home filled with books is good for you," Mental Floss revealed.


Electric Lit featured an infographic exploring "who's the most Instagrammed writer of all time."


Pop quiz: Merriam-Webster's test featured "words to improve your Scrabble game."


Introducing your "literary book club dream team," via Quirk Books.


Buzzfeed pop quiz: "Are you more Winnie the Pooh or Paddington Bear?"


Author Glenn Skwerer picked his "top 10 real-life monsters in fiction" for the Guardian.

Zola's Elephant

by Randall de Seve, illus. by Pamela Zagarenski

In Randall de Sève and Pamela Zagarenski's first picture book collaboration, a nameless young girl imagines that her next-door neighbor lives in a stunning, vibrant world... with a pet elephant. Intricate and beautiful, Zola's Elephant displays a perfect balance of text and illustration while asking all readers to remember that what we think isn't necessarily what is true.

A young girl looks out the window at a family moving in next door. A mini, apple-cheeked Pierrot, the girl is dressed whimsically in harlequin-style red-and-white checked pants and a ruffled collar, holding a toy elephant wearing a red-and-white striped hat identical to the one atop her pigtails. The new next-door neighbors stand in front of a massive stack of boxes while, in the background, two movers struggle with a large crate marked "fragile."

"There’s a new girl next door," the girl's narration begins. "Her name is Zola. I know because our mothers met this morning and decided we should be friends. But Zola already has a friend. I know because I saw the big box." One might wonder what kind of friend would arrive in a "big box" but the girl is certain she knows what it is: "You need a big box to move your elephant."

Peering through the window, the girl imagines an elephant curled up inside the enormous box. The acrylic-on-wood illustration depicts her imaginary world in the colors of a nebula, everything in shades of blue, green and gold. An otherworldly star chart overlays, with words like "magic" or "believe" in place of the more common words like "equator" or "elliptic."

The nebula-like palette continues onto the next spread as the Zola she imagines throws slices of toast to her elephant: "You also need to feed your elephant as soon as it arrives.... I know Zola's feeding her elephant now because I smell toast. Lots of toast." But the next page turn shows the reader what's really happening. The glorious colors are gone, replaced by doleful blues and grays. Zola sits alone, using the big box as a table for her toast and tea. With the next page turn, we are again back in the world of imagination. This back and forth continues as the reader is shown the glorious, fanciful scenes the narrator's mind creates as she comes up with excuses to not go meet Zola and her elephant. Hearing hammering, she imagines Zola and her elephant are building a clubhouse; in reality, an adult is assembling furniture while Zola holds her hands over her ears.

The narrator is sure Zola's clubhouse is "very cozy with pillows and curtains and a carpet of stars.... Perfect for sharing stories." And, in her imagination, it is: the clubhouse looks like a circus tent and Zola naps tucked into the elephant's trunk. "I like stories," she thinks, "and clubhouses and playing hide-and-seek and taking bubble baths with elephants. I really like elephants." And so, there are no more excuses--she simply must meet Zola and her elephant.

The narrator walks across the yard to Zola's front door and knocks. The girl is invited in, only to discover that there is no elephant--the box holds a couch. "Okay, so maybe Zola doesn't have an elephant. But do you know what she does have? A new friend."

Bestselling author Randall de Sève worked on Zola's Elephant for years, trying Zola many different ways, "including using alternating narrators." When "the versions got too tangled up," she "put the story away for a while" to clear her head. When she returned to Zola and her elephant, she simplified the story, creating the delightful and concise narrative Zola is now. Caldecott Honoree (Sleep Like a Tiger) Pamela Zagarenski's striking acrylic on wood illustrations work perfectly with the text, telling both the written story and the story in between. Of Zagarenski's illustrations, de Sève said, "I don't even know where to begin gushing: Perhaps at the vibrant colors and endless patterns on every page... the stark contrast between real... and imaginary... worlds, the timeless designs of costumes and architecture, the compositions that keep your eyes moving and searching and never growing tired... Or how brilliantly Pamela imagined this short but complex story."

And complex the illustrations most certainly are: visual themes travel from page to page; there are secondary and tertiary storylines in the illustrations and in the interwoven designs; and the endpapers expand upon de Sève's tale. "I always imagine endpapers as pictorial extensions of the story," Zagarenski said. "While I painted these pages I personally experienced the 2017 solar eclipse. It felt like a larger-than-life event." Zagarenski included the sun, the moon and the stars throughout the picture book to build on that event and as a "reminder" of "our constant and mysterious companions." In the endpapers, she painted the sun, the moon and the eclipse in the sky, "both day and night happening simultaneously."

Zola's Elephant's easy-to-read text gives many access points to young readers while the material itself poses grander questions for older readers to mull over. Zagarenski's illustrative interpretation of the text is as vibrant and intricate as the text itself, certain to draw in pre-readers and readers alike. A deceptively simple tale, Zola's Elephant has depth to consider and explore. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., 9781328886293

Randall de Sève: Fascinated by the Stories We Tell Ourselves

Randall de Sève is the author of the New York Times bestseller Toy Boat, as well as The Duchess of Whimsy, Mathilda and the Orange Balloon, Peanut and Fifi Have a Ball and A Fire Truck Named Red. Randall fully admits that she's gone through life thinking that every big box really could contain an elephant. It's her runaway imagination that has also inspired her teaching of young children, both at the Blue School and Saint Ann's School in New York City, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. Visit her at Her newest book for young readers is Zola's Elephant (HMH Books for Young Readers).

What was your inspiration for this story?

For as long as I can recall, I've been fascinated by the idea that the stories we tell ourselves are not always the truth--yet too often we give these stories the power to dictate important decisions and impact our experiences and relationships.

This is where my head was when our new neighbors moved in. They came with a daughter [who's] my daughter's age, and lots of boxes. There was some excitement from the parents (despite the girls' mutual wariness) about a potential friendship; there was also some excitement from my husband: seeing a large box being lugged inside, he joked, "R--'s tiger is here!"

And I dashed upstairs to begin Zola's Elephant.

Why an elephant, specifically?

Good question--especially since the story came from a comment about a tiger! The first drafts were about a girl and her tiger. And (cool side note) I had Pamela's Sleep Like a Tiger in mind in those early days, way before selling this story to HMH or its editor, Ann Rider, showing it, unbeknownst to me, to Pamela. Ultimately, however, I felt like the story needed something bigger than a tiger-sized box to grab its narrator's attention and get her going. An elephant-sized crate was just the thing!

Did you have contact with Pamela or give any specific instructions for the illustrations?

When I write, I always have pictures in mind and describe them in my first drafts. This allows me to pace a story, to avoid overwriting and to leave room for the art to help tell it. Before a story goes to its illustrator, however, all but the narrative art notes come out, so that the artist can bring their own vision to the piece. I had no direct contact with Pamela through this process (standard practice) and only sent a few queries through our editor. We've still never met, but we exchanged love letters over the holidays when our jobs were done.

How did you feel upon seeing Pamela's illustrations for the first time?

At first, I was speechless, in awe. The art is so full of whimsy and delight, with new surprises and treasures on every page. I'm guessing children will be over the moon in love with it.

Who are you hoping will read this book? What do you want readers to come away with from Zola's Elephant?

I've written and spoken about how picture books can be enjoyed on so many levels, by people of all ages. I hope Zola's Elephant entertains children and their adults; I also hope it gently nudges readers to rethink some of their own fixed narratives.

Are you working on anything at the moment?

I'm wrestling with the idea of forgiveness... and Vikings. --Siân Gaetano


Pamela Zagarenski: Drawn to Paint

Pamela Zagarenski is the winner of two Caldecott Honors. The books she has illustrated have also been Booklist Editor's Choices and winners of Bank Street's Claudia Lewis Award, and have been translated into many languages. As well as illustrating picture books, she creates paintings and has a gift card line. Her newest book for young readers is Zola's Elephant (HMH Books for Young Readers). She lives in Connecticut. Visit her on Instagram and Twitter.

What materials did you use for the illustrations in this book? Are these the materials you regularly use? What draws you to them for your work?

My illustrations are created with acrylic paint on wood and yes, these are materials I regularly use. I love painting. It is hard to say why I am drawn to paint. I have loved it as far back as I can remember. It is much like being drawn to a particular kind of landscape that feels like home: like the old stone walls, red cedars, oak trees and the Atlantic Ocean, paint just feels like part of me.

You have illustrated a number of books written by others, as well as your own written works--do you prefer one over the other? Do the processes differ?

I love words. It has always been impossible for me to hear a word without "seeing" it. When I receive a story from an author I read it over and over, as if I am memorizing it. The words talk to me and, as my contribution to the conversation, I give the words color and a visual life. The story and I need each other equally for the conversation. Whether it is words that I have written or the words from another, it does not really matter. I imagine that the white space between the words reveals imaginary and secret things--with illustrations, I fill in those blanks. When I both write and illustrate, the only real difference is that the conversation between words and images happens simultaneously. The words can tell the pictures what they want to show and then the pictures tell the words what they want to say. Back and forth, like a pendulum, I swing from pen to paint as the book takes shape.

How did you make the choices you did in order to have Zola's Elephant World be different from Zola's Real World?

I felt Zola's real world was new, lonely and frightening. So, I wanted it to feel blue, empty, angular and a bit harsh in contrast with the narrator's soft and colorful life imagined of Zola. The life of one having an elephant as a best friend.

You also create beautifully illustrated greeting cards. Is the process of creation very different from card to book? Is there one you prefer?

A card is simply a two-page book. I admit picture books will always be my favorite and always have been--they are just a more complicated puzzle and I like the challenge. But words and images... and images and words... I am the grateful, humbled puppet of both worlds. --Siân Gaetano

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Review



by Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver's Unsheltered takes place in Vineland, N.J., in two eras: the end of the 1800s and the present day. In alternating chapters, the novel relays the life of 21st-century grandmother Willa Knox and 19th-century science teacher Thatcher Greenwood. Knox has just inherited an old, dilapidated house in Vineland, and lives there with her husband, Iano, and her terminally ill, Donald Trump-loving father-in-law, Nick. Also residing there are her rebellious adult daughter, Tig, and depressed adult son, Zeke. Zeke's wife has recently taken her own life, leaving him with a newborn son. Underemployed, on government assistance and struggling to keep a roof over their heads while their house falls apart, the extended family represents the ailing American middle class that can no longer expect a brighter future for the next generation.
Thatcher, who lives with his new wife, Rose, in Willa's house when it's first built, struggles to fit into Vineland's faux-utopian community. In embracing Charles Darwin's new theories of evolution, he challenges orthodoxy and alienates himself from the town's supposedly benevolent elite. They fear Darwin's scientific explanations of human origins, and Thatcher finds his job in jeopardy as he defends basic scientific principles. Rose's loyalty is also put to the test.
Kingsolver uses the house to great effect, juxtaposing Thatcher's anxieties about its structural deficiencies with Willa's same anxieties more than a century later. Both worry about homelessness, or the state of being unsheltered. More than being physically without a home, though, their states of mind reflect sweeping cultural changes that threaten old ways of life. Kingsolver expertly channels these two eras into a powerful message about the future and humankind's ability to adapt. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: Barbara Kingsolver's ambitious novel follows characters in different centuries as they undergo seismic cultural shifts.

Harper, $29.99, hardcover, 480p., 9780062684561

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

by Hank Green

Hank Green, YouTube celebrity and brother of popular YA author John Green, has turned his attention to fiction with a debut novel, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, that is both thought-provoking and entertaining.
Twenty-something April May is working as a graphic designer when she comes across a giant robot-like statue in Manhattan late one night. She calls her friend Andy to bring his video equipment. The two make a video with the statue, which they nickname Carl, thinking it is an art installation, though they soon learn that more than 60 Carls have appeared mysteriously overnight in cities around the world. Within days, the video goes viral and April becomes an Internet sensation, frequently appearing as a guest on TV shows. She is flung into a world of international renown that is both exciting and unsettling.
Green has created a bizarre situation (that gets even stranger) while reflecting the present culture of overnight celebrities, social media empires and divisive politics, all seen through the mirror of the Carls. His compelling novel combines mystery, suspense and science fiction with insightful social commentary while exploring what it means to be famous today, based on his own experiences in becoming an Internet star. As April herself says, "I was virtually a social media celebrity now, and so I had to let the entire world know every time I experienced any inconvenience!" All of this is bound up in a laugh-out-loud, fast-paced story that is just plain fun to read. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and author of Book By Book blog

Discover: In this insightful and funny novel, a young woman experiences sudden fame when mysterious statues appear around the world.

Dutton, $26, hardcover, 352p., 9781524743444

Listen to the Marriage

by John Jay Osborn

Whether readers will enjoy John Jay Osborn's Listen to the Marriage depends entirely on whether they're intrigued or horrified by the idea of reading a novel that is, essentially, a year-long transcript of one couple's marital counseling sessions.
If that description sends them screaming, they should stay away. But if it doesn't--and perhaps if they're fans of Esther Perel's popular podcast Where Should We Begin?--they may take Osborn's novel as an intimate opportunity to observe the healing transaction between couple and counselor.
Gretchen and Steve are an affluent, attractive, 30-something couple in San Francisco. She's an English professor, he's in finance and they adore their two children. But this perfect image has been fractured by infidelity, communication problems and the corrosive pressure of high-stress careers. The counselor, Sandy, is there to guide them toward understanding, if not reconciliation--and she has heartaches of her own. 
Much like real-life counseling, the novel is by turns revelatory and tedious. For every insight, there's a setback, and rare breakthroughs are earned only by slogging through some frustrating, repetitive conversations. The story is told from Sandy's perspective, and so readers experience Gretchen and Steve as she does--within the confines of her office, without external influence or context.
In a brief note, Osborn, who wrote the '70s law school classic The Paper Chase, discloses that Listen to the Marriage was inspired by his own experience in marital counseling. His deep appreciation for the counseling process, and for his counselor, is apparent; Sandy's quiet inner nature is even more compelling than Gretchen and Steve's unfolding drama. --Hannah Calkins, writer and editor in Washington, D.C.

Discover: Step into the sacred space of a counselor's office to "listen in" on the slow, intricate, session-by-session repair of one deeply damaged marriage.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25, hardcover, 256p., 9780374192020

City of Crows

by Chris Womersley

In 1673, when Charlotte Picot's husband dies of the plague, she leaves her small home village, along with her one remaining son, Nicolas, and searches for a new life. But disaster strikes when ruffians attack them, kidnapping Nicolas and leaving Charlotte for dead. Meanwhile, Adam du Coeuret, also known as Lesage, a tarot card reader imprisoned for performing magic, is set free, and through fate and magic encounters Charlotte. Together, the unlikely duo head to Paris in search of Nicolas. Lesage is familiar with the more sinister aspects of the city, having worked closely with some of the witches who reside there, so he's a perfect ally for Charlotte, who knows nothing of the place. He is also on a quest of his own for which he will need Charlotte's help.
Chris Womersley (Cairo) has expertly blended historical facts about Paris with his story told in alternating points of view. During this infamous period, the city was filled with murderers, poisoners, witches and others who performed all sorts of wicked deeds, including murdering innocent children, which Womersley shares in abundant detail. The overall effect is a lavish feast for those who love specifics. The main characters are likable and believable, while the supporting characters add their own flair to the tale. Superstition, fear and magic abound in this historical tale of mistaken identity and of a mother's love for her child, making for a read that entertains and informs at the same time. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A mother and her mysterious new acquaintance search for her kidnapped son in 17th-century Paris.

Europa Editions, $17, paperback, 384p., 9781609454708

Mystery & Thriller

We Sold Our Souls

by Grady Hendrix

Twenty years ago, Kris Pulaski's dreams were about to come true. She was the fierce lead guitarist for Dürt Würk, a heavy metal band on the precipice of stardom. But today, Kris is 47, managing a Best Western, and about to be kicked out of the family home. Her life has turned into a nightmare.
Dürt Würk's lead singer, Terry, wanted fame and fortune--fast. Just as the band completed the album Troglodyte, Terry declared Dürt Würk dead and presented contracts for the band to join him as members of Koffin--"nu metal" whose fans Kris dismissed as "cul-de-sac crybabies with their baseball hats on backwards." She refused to sign and fled with her bandmates, resulting in a car accident that changes the trajectory of their lives. The night is stripped from their memories, and Koffin becomes a sensation.
Now Koffin is headlining Hellstock '19. Kris--bitter and with nothing left to lose--seeks to discover the truth about what happened that night. Her visits to former bandmates leave a trail of destruction in her wake, but brings her closer to the unimaginable truth: Did Terry make a deal with the devil that secured his success and doomed her forever? Can Kris elude killer UPS men, sinister spa employees and deranged Koffin fans to confront Terry at Hellstock?
We Sold Our Souls is a wild ride, and the affection Hendrix (Horrorstör) has for Kris will have readers rooting for her from the first page. This mix of horror, humor and social commentary makes We Sold Our Souls a fun and bloody good time. --Frank Brasile, librarian

Discover: In this supernatural horror novel, a washed-up heavy metal guitarist seeks the truth about a fateful night that changed her life.

Quirk Books, $24.99, hardcover, 336p., 9781683690122

Food & Wine

Gordon Ramsay's Healthy, Lean & Fit: Mouthwatering Recipes to Fuel You for Life

by Gordon Ramsay

Decorated chef and television personality Gordon Ramsay shifts from Hell's Kitchen to a healthy kitchen with Gordon Ramsay's Healthy, Lean & Fit: Mouthwatering Recipes to Fuel You for Life.
Fans of Ramsay's signature brashness and colorful language will find neither here. Instead, Ramsay (Gordon Ramsay's Home Cooking) adopts a personable tone, writing often of his family and their tastes both in food and fitness. He groups recipes in three sections. In "Healthy," Ramsay shares nourishing, nutritious dishes for every meal of the day, low in saturated fat, sugar and sodium. Highlights include Healthy Vegetable Samosas--loved by his kids and their friends and easy to make in large batches--and Zucchini and Fennel Carpaccio, bright with lemon, mint and pomegranate seeds. Lower-calorie recipes compose "Lean." Ease and simplicity characterize most: see the Zucchini Omelet with Tarragon or the One-Pan Chicken with Lima Beans, Leeks and Spinach. "Fit" includes pre- and post-workout meals like Peanut Butter and Raspberry Jam Pancakes; Watermelon, Feta and Mint Salad; or even indulgences like Cheesecake in a Jam Jar.
Ramsay includes nutritional breakdowns as well as variations and tips. Don't like sweet potatoes? Use pumpkin. Measuring honey? Coat the spoon with oil so the honey doesn't stick. Many recipes will appeal to parents hoping for finicky eaters to "get their veg on," as Ramsay says. Others, like Miso Cod en Papillote or Baked Whole Tandoori-Spiced Cauliflower, offer a "wow" factor fit for a party--or for making any weeknight dinner feel a little fancy and, incidentally, healthy. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay shares recipes with an eye toward health and wellness.

Grand Central Life & Style, $32, hardcover, 288p., 9781538714669

Biography & Memoir

A Mind Unraveled: A Memoir

by Kurt Eichenwald

In a career that's included hundreds of articles in publications like the New York Times and Newsweek and books about the collapse of Enron (Conspiracy of Fools) and other corporate scandals, investigative journalist Kurt Eichenwald has established himself as a dogged and fearless reporter. But no story he's unearthed is as compelling as the one he tells in his traumatic memoir, A Mind Unraveled. In it he focuses on his battle with epilepsy and the equally fierce fight he waged against the discrimination he suffered as a victim of that disease.
First diagnosed in 1979, his freshman year at Swarthmore College, in suburban Philadelphia, Eichenwald underwent care initially guided by his father, a world-renowned expert in pediatric infectious disease, that was nothing short of disastrous. It was only when he entered the care of a neurologist in Dallas who was compassionate and, above all, capable of listening, that his condition began to stabilize.
But Eichenwald's medical story isn't merely an account of treatment that was ill-informed. Equally disturbing is the story of his battle against the efforts of Swarthmore's administration to force him out of school in 1981, treating him as a "frightening oddity impeding other students' education." However, when the college administration became convinced that Eichenwald would follow through with his threat to launch a federal investigation for violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the school capitulated and reinstated him.
Candid, meticulously reported and at times terrifying, A Mind Unraveled is an inspiring story of a man whose fierce will helped ensure he would not be defined or defeated by a chronic disease. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: An esteemed journalist brings his considerable skills to the story of his battle with epilepsy.

Ballantine, $28, hardcover, 416p., 9780399593628

Social Science

We Are the Nerds: The Birth and Tumultuous Life of Reddit, the Internet's Culture Laboratory

by Christine Lagorio-Chafkin

When Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian met at the University of Virginia in the early 2000s, each recognized something of himself in the other. Both college students were smart, good with computers and filled with more ambition than most middle-aged CEOs. They also had their differences. Huffman was a quiet, coding savant with a penchant for pranks, and Ohanian was a charming people person. Like Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, they were an ideal duo for launching a tech start-up. Fate agreed, and in a few short years they became founders of the popular website Reddit. According to Christine Lagorio-Chafkin, in her fascinating history of the site, We Are the Nerds: The Birth and Tumultuous Life of Reddit, the Internet's Culture Laboratory, the world would quite literally never be the same.
The book traces Reddit's history from the moment it went live to its arguably significant influence on the 2016 presidential election. Drawing on dozens of original interviews with Reddit's founders and employees, old chat logs and photographs and e-mails, Lagorio-Chafkin, a senior editor at Inc. magazine, re-creates key moments in novelistic detail. Among the highlights is how some Reddit users exploited the site to cultivate one of Trump's largest online supporter groups consisting of "racists... alt-righters... former Bernie Sanders supporters... Russian propagandists... and anyone lured by the promise of a place that tolerated Islamophobia." Sharply written and brilliantly reported, We Are the Nerds is an eye-opening look at how Reddit helped shape contemporary Internet and political culture in the United States. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This illuminating history of Reddit reveals the website's significant influence on American culture, including the 2016 presidential election.

Hachette Books, $28, hardcover, 512p., 9780316435376


Almost Everything: Notes on Hope

by Anne Lamott

"Some days there seems to be little reason for hope, in our families, cities, and world," admits essayist Anne Lamott (Hallelujah Anyway; Bird by Bird). "Well, except for almost everything." That exception is the impetus for Lamott's essay collection Almost Everything: Notes on Hope. Lamott, who has made a career out of facing the darkness and then looking for the pinpricks of light, brings her pithy, self-deprecating humor to bear on such topics as a friend's alcoholism, the power of stories to redeem and transform and the ways grace sneaks in: without warning and against all expectations.

In brief, wry chapters on topics such as "Puzzles" (not the 500-piece kind), "Humans 101" and "Famblies," Lamott explores the complicated truth of "the mess and the tenderness"--the ordinary human condition, shot through with despair and joy. This takes the form, at times, of sticking with friends and family members through illness and death; learning to treat ourselves and our bodies with kindness; and struggling not to give in to hate in a fear-filled political climate. It also can mean glancing out the window at a bird, laughing (kindly) at ourselves and simply being willing to be amazed.

On the days when "it doesn't feel like the light is making a lot of progress," Lamott also recognizes that "love has bridged the high-rises of despair we were about to fall between." Fortunately for Lamott's readers, this book, like her others, is both a celebration of that bridge and a gentle but insistent call to keep building. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Anne Lamott's essays on hope offer pithy, straight-shooting insights in times of despair.

Riverhead Books, $20, hardcover, 208p., 9780525537441

Psychology & Self-Help

How to Leave: Quitting the City and Coping with a New Reality

by Erin Clune

Eventually, in the lives of many, the time comes to uproot. Whether it's to start a family, find a new job or change pace a little, trading the city for the suburbs--or a smaller city--requires an adjustment period that can be filled with anxiety, regret, anger, confusion and homesickness. Fortunately for readers of Erin Clune's manifesto on relocation, they don't have to go through this alone.
How to Leave: Quitting the City and Coping with a New Reality documents the transition Clune (Sh*tty Mom for All Seasons co-author) and her family went through after moving from New York City to Madison, Wis. When the boxes are unpacked, and the house has been set in order, a newbie's work has really just begun. Assuming a get-together in the park is a potluck when it isn't; ordering the wrong dish in a restaurant; overdressing for an evening out--if Clune hasn't experienced one jolt of culture shock or another, she knows someone who has. With anecdotes provided by contacts all over the U.S., she guides readers through the process of settling in--leavening her warm empathy with generous helpings of snark.
At times her jokey prose gives way to solid punch lines, but Clune's real strength is her nuanced understanding of the mixed emotions that go along with fumbled attempts to reestablish oneself in a new place. She has solid advice for making new friends and gives space to grieve friendships lost in the process. Best read in short spurts, How to Leave can be a fun companion in a challenging phase of life. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Relocating is difficult, but Erin Clune's humorous advice can make that transition a little easier.

Bloomsbury, $26, hardcover, 272p., 9781632868541

Children's & Young Adult

The Curious Lobster

by Richard W. Hatch, illus. by Marion Freeman Wakeman

This delightful edition, titled simply The Curious Lobster, collects in one volume all of the classic Mr. Lobster stories, originally published in The Curious Lobster (1935) and The Curious Lobster's Island (1939). Teacher and author Richard W. Hatch's reissued work includes the original detailed black-and-white engravings by Marion Freeman Wakeman. 
Mr. Lobster, bored after 68 years of the same daily routine, ventures onto land because he is inquisitive and wants to know everything about the world above the ocean floor. Mr. Badger is a very smart, natural leader, who is able quickly to master skills like sailing a boat. He is also a great trickster. Mr. Bear is a bit lazy and preoccupied with food; he had been a circus performer earlier in life and now doesn't really want difficulties or adventure. The three, with their very different personalities, become friends, occasionally behaving like the animals they are, but usually acting like the very civilized beings they aspire to be. (Mr. Bear even has a window in his cabin and fries his fish.) They take turns saving each other from various mishaps on the New England coast and an offshore island, and always proclaim themselves "heroes." The trio repeatedly proves that friendship and teamwork make life worth living, and that "nothing makes people so happy as to rescue someone."
Hatch writes in a soothing, quietly humorous, style that works for adults and children of varied ages and Wakeman's illustrations match the calming qualities of the text. The Curious Lobster is a perfect bedtime family read aloud or a read-alone for a rainy day at a beachside cottage. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer

Discover: Mr. Lobster has charmingly old-fashioned adventures exploring the land with friends Mr. Badger and Mr. Bear in this reissue of Richard W. Hatch's Mr. Lobster stories.

NYRB Kids, $14.99, paperback, 400p., ages 7-10, 9781681372884

Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree

by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, Viviana Mazza

Nigerian author Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani's (I Do Not Come to You by Chance) harrowing YA debut is certain to stun readers. Especially staggering is the lengthy afterword by Italian journalist Viviana Mazza explaining that Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree is based on interviews with some of the 276 girls kidnapped by extremist group Boko Haram from the village of Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria, in 2014.
The young Nigerian narrator never tells readers her name, but her parents call her "Ya Ta," Hausa for "my daughter." The only girl in her family, she loves sharing secrets with her best friend (especially about her crush on the pastor's handsome, educated son), and also studies hard to test into a government scholarship, encouraged by her proud father. Her dreams for the future shatter when Boko Haram storms her village, murdering the men and stealing young women and children. Enslaved, beaten and starved, the girl and her friends must convert to Islam at knifepoint and marry their captors. Raped repeatedly and forced to answer to the Arabic name Salamatu, which means "safety," the heroine wonders if she will ever see home again.
Nwaubani portions out the heartrending story in brief chapters with deceptively poetic prose for such a brutal saga. Sensitivity, not sensationalism, rules this raw and important narrative. Nwaubani takes care to indicate the true villains; conversations with kind Muslim neighbors illustrate the difference between Islam and extremism. This difference is emphasized repeatedly, as with the devastating emotional response one of the girls has after being raped: " 'This is not Islam,' she says again. 'This is not Islam,' she says over and over again." Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree is a disturbing, agonizing story that will surely provide rich thought and discussion for mature readers. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services division manager at Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library, Dayton, Ohio

Discover: This fictional account of one girl's tragedy takes inspiration from interviews with Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by the extremist group Boko Haram in 2014.

Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins, $17.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 13-up, 9780062696724

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