Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, March 15, 2019

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

From My Shelf

The Complexity of Landscape

Landscape first appeared in print as an English word at the beginning of the 17th century. It meant what it meant. Over time, however, we've managed to co-opt it with adjectives like historical, political, sociological, economic, technological, cultural and many other variations on a... landscapian theme.

This literal and metaphorical bounty weaves through several excellent books I've read lately that explore natural and human landscapes from disparate, yet also complementary, perspectives.

"Highway storms erase the illusory division between the landscape and you, the spectator; they thrust your observant eyes into what you observe," Valeria Luiselli observes in her brilliant novel Lost Children Archive (Knopf).

Anticipating a wildfire, Pam Houston writes in Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country (Norton): "I want to know precisely when the flames become visible outside my kitchen window. I want to be awake when the fire starts altering my personal landscape forever."

Meghan O'Gieblyn's incisive essay "Pure Michigan," collected in Interior States (Anchor), contrasts the impact of pollution and climate change with a popular PR campaign: "As summer approaches, there are still days when the landscape resembles the image of itself in the Pure Michigan ads, when the sunrise finds the beaches empty and the water along the shoreline a serene and crystalline blue."

Terese Svoboda's Great American Desert (Mad Creek Books/Ohio University Press) is an immersive cli-fi tale set in harsh, yet increasingly vulnerable, terrain that has brushed invasive humans aside like insects for centuries, Manifest Destiny be damned: "In its horizontal way, the land crawls, shudders, slides, and a man has to stand up to it or else he'll slip under it."

New Mexico's Gila Wilderness confronts Philip Connors professionally and personally in A Song for the River (Cinco Puntos Press): "It was a lonely and sun-seared country and in some ways the last American frontier, a place where ranchers, smugglers, and migrants tested their resolve against a pitiless landscape long on rock and short on water."

Landscape is a complex word.

--Robert Gray, contributing editor

The Writer's Life

Reading with... Holly Ringland

photo: Giulia Zonza

Holly Ringland grew up barefoot and wild in her mother's tropical garden on the east coast of Australia. Her interest in cultures and stories was sparked by a two-year journey her family took in North America when she was nine years old, living in a camper van and traveling from one national park to another. In her 20s, she worked for four years in a remote Indigenous community in the central Australian desert. She obtained her MA in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester. Her essays and short fiction have been published in various anthologies and literary journals. She now lives in the U.K. and Australia. The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart (House of Anansi, $17.95) is Ringland's first novel.

On your nightstand now:

At the end of the day I'm often anxious, and too often an insomniac; I've learned to keep books near to me to soothe those sharp edges late at night, or, to set my mind right first thing in the morning for the new day ahead. On my nightstand now are Alice Hoffman's Survival Lessons, River Woman by Katherena Vermette, Nikita Gill's Fierce FairytalesSalt by Nayyirah Waheed, The Friendship Cure by Kate Leaver and The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion by Christopher Germer.

Favorite book when you were a child:

My mother taught me to read I was three; I was instantly obsessed with The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs and Marmaduke the Possum by Pixie O'Harris. I lost my love of reading for a few years in my childhood because of trauma, but after Mum bought me the first novel in Lois Gladys Leppard's Mandie series when I was nine, I was consumed by a deep love of books once again. Mandie kept company on my shelves with Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry and, later in childhood, Came Back to Show You I Could Fly by Ruth Park and Just As Long As We're Together by Judy Blume. 

Your top five authors:

This is an unbearable question! Does anyone ever really only answer five? What happens if I answer six? I'll try. Alice Hoffman. Favel Parrett. Zora Neale Hurston. Brooke Davis. Myfanwy Jones. Ali Cobby Eckermann. Kate Leaver. Kate Gray. (Eight!)

Book you've faked reading:

I'm terrified of fake reading anything; the likelihood of being caught out is a no-brainer. But I firsthand relate to how gripping the temptation to fake read is: I so desperately want to have read everything just to share the thrilling language of a shared story with people. I guess my go-to answer is, "I know of it but I haven't read it." And, in that way, I suppose my big fake read is Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I know the story and have seen the screen adaptations, but--cringing--I've never read the book.

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Friendship Cure by Kate Leaver. A timely, moving and desperately needed manifesto on the power of friendship in our modern world. It's a nightstand staple. 

Book you've bought for the cover:

The Muse by Jessie Burton, which is also a wonderful book.

Book you hid from your parents:

Their own copy of The Joy of Sex.

Book that changed your life:

Everything I've ever read. I know this could sound like a fluffy, evasive answer: truly, I think we're made by the people, places and books we spend our lives with. If I were held at ransom to answer this in a specific way, there are two novels that come to mind as being pivotal in my early adult life. One was Open House by Elizabeth Berg, which I read when I was 22, and the other was At Risk by Alice Hoffman, which I read when I was 24. I borrowed both from libraries when I was too poor to buy books, and they each had their own profound effect on me. They showed me how to write beautifully and bravely about brutal things.

Favorite line from a book:

"Every fairy tale had a bloody lining. Every one had teeth and claws." --from The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman.

Five books you'll never part with:

This is torturous. Impossible. The only truthful way I can answer this is to say that having lived in many places throughout my life, in moving and culling belongings to do so, I've never parted with any of the 36 books by Alice Hoffman that I own. 

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Storm Boy by Colin Thiele.

Will you ever read everything in your TBR pile:

I hope not. As Anakana Schofield wrote recently in the Guardian, "Unread books are imagined reading futures, not an indication of failure." 

Book Candy

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Mental Floss shared "10 Gaelic loanwords to celebrate St. Patrick's Day." Also, The Book of Kells, a medieval masterpiece and one of Ireland's greatest treasures, is now digitized and available online.


Buzzfeed contrasted "15 popular children's book covers back in the day vs. now."


"A 30-million page library is heading to the moon to help preserve human civilization," NBC News reported.


From Mary Beard's Roman history to Kim Stanley Robinson's science fiction, author Jonathan Carr picked his top 10 books about building cities for the Guardian.


The Morgan Library & Museum is home to Oscar Wilde's handwritten  manuscript of The Picture of Dorian Gray and you can browse it online.

Great Reads

Rediscover: One Hundred Years of Solitude

One Hundred Years of Solitude, the magical realism magnum opus of Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014), is coming to Netflix, despite the late author's lifelong refusal to sell the film rights. García Márquez's sons, Rodrigo Garcia and Gonzalo García Barcha, will act as executive producers. The Spanish-language series will be filmed mostly in Colombia.

Since its publication in 1967, García Márquez's masterwork has sold more than 30 million copies in 37 languages (it was translated into English by Gregory Rabassa in 1970). It is the second-bestselling Spanish-language novel after Don Quixote, a paramount product of the Latin American literature boom of the 1960s and 1970s, and a cornerstone of the magical realism style--in which fantastical elements are presented matter-of-factly in an otherwise realistic story.

One Hundred Years of Solitude, beyond its now-famous opening line ("Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."), tracks seven generations of the Buendía family in the fictional town of Macondo, Colombia. Macondo's utopian founding flounders in the repeated, often self-inflicted misfortunes of the Buendías as the town exists first in near-total isolation, then opens to a hostile outside world. Solitude, fatalism and inevitable repetition underscore a temporally fluid mix of real history and surreal events. This Latin American literary landmark was last published by Harper Perennial Modern Classics in 2006 ($16.99, 9780060883287). --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


Me for You

by Lolly Winston

Rudy and Bethany have an enviable life. Married since college, they're still best friends, savoring their near-retirement years even after Rudy was laid off. Bethany still has her job; Rudy enjoys his part-time gig at Nordstrom's playing baby grand piano; and their daughter, CeCe, is successful and happily married. But one morning, Rudy awakens and romantically whispers a suggestion that they go to the beach, only to realize that Bethany isn't breathing. And just like that, Rudy is a widower.

Lolly Winston (Good Grief; Happiness Sold Separately) has a knack for finding the joy after heartbreak, and in Me for You she writes a hopeful but realistic plot. Rudy is lonely (an "embarrassing thing to speak of," which "implied that you personally were deficient") but not keen on following CeCe's encouragement to enroll in the community college online dating class. He instead imagines cooking dinner for Sasha, the Hungarian salesclerk working near his piano, and they do form a friendship. Rudy is happy to advise Sasha on her troubles--an alcoholic husband who's abandoned her and their debts, plus her own recent tragedy--but his grief over losing Bethany only worsens. When CeCe finds he's unkempt, skipping work and despondent, she arranges for a hospitalized rest, and his Stanford doctors diagnose major depressive disorder.

Through Rudy's hospitalization and recovery, Winston writes knowingly of mental health and its treatment. Me for You is a romance with a core of compassion for the struggles following the loss of a loved one, and Rudy's happy ending is well-earned. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: A widower is overcome with grief, and even befriending a charming co-worker doesn't forestall his eventual diagnosis of depression and his struggle for happiness.

Gallery, $26, hardcover, 320p., 9781501179129

Mystery & Thriller

Unto Us a Son Is Given

by Donna Leon

In Unto Us a Son Is Given, her 28th Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery, Donna Leon begins with her trademark gentle style. Brunetti's father-in-law, Count Orazio Falier, approaches the commissario about meeting with an elderly friend. Gonzalo Rodriguez de Tejada, the godfather of Brunetti's wife, Paola, wishes to adopt a young man because, according to Italian inheritance laws, the childless, single Gonzalo's estate will be divided among his siblings, whom he despises. Gonzalo is gay, enamored with a suave man much younger than he is, and this man is his proposed candidate for adoption. Count Falier and all of Gonzalo's other friends are appalled; Gonzalo resents their interference.

Brunetti tiptoes around the situation, hesitant to deny his father-in-law, but also abhorring the thought of interfering in the life of his wife's godfather. When Gonzalo unexpectedly drops dead, Brunetti thinks the quasi-case is closed, until a close friend of Gonzalo is murdered.

There is a gentle pace to how Brunetti and the indomitable Signorina Elettra, the Venice Questore's resident computer wizard, discreetly delve into the history of the Falier and Rodriguez de Tejada families. Unto Us a Son Is Given takes a familiar detective and his wife and adds intriguing layers to their backstory. Fans of other quiet mystery authors, like Louise Penny or Jacqueline Winspear, are sure to enjoy Brunetti's soul-searching. And, as always, Brunetti's introspection is framed by the sights and tastes of Venice, which Leon brings to life. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: Venetian Commissario Guido Brunetti investigates a case that strikes close to home after the death of his wife's godfather.

Atlantic Monthly Press, $26, hardcover, 320p., 9780802129116

Call Me Evie

by J.P. Pomare

From the title of J.P. Pomare's first novel, Call Me Evie, readers can guess Evie isn't the real name of the 17-year-old protagonist. But Pomare makes it hard to ascertain exactly what's going on with her, with her loss of memory and limited view of the world.

She's involved in something traumatic that happened recently in her hometown of Melbourne, but she can't remember it. A man she calls her uncle Jim has taken her to New Zealand and mostly locked her up in a house, away from the Internet and neighbors' prying eyes, in a supposed attempt to help her recall details of the night in question. He forces her to take pills and says she can't go back to Australia until she remembers; she needs control of the facts when police question her. The situation gains urgency when the incident back home is labeled a murder, and Evie's fragmented memories make her question everything Jim says and where the threat is actually coming from.

Pomare grabs readers by the throat the way Jim grabs Evie by the hair in the opening scene, when she tries to escape the house. Everything Jim does he claims is to protect her, and sometimes he seems genuine about that. The author maintains this sense of uncertainty and dread throughout, as Evie--along with the reader--puts together the pieces of her memory. Because she trusts no one, everyone is suspect, including herself, up until the satisfying conclusion. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A teenage girl suffering from memory loss struggles to remember the tragic event that led to her being taken out of the country and locked in a house.

Putnam, $26, hardcover, 368p., 9780525538141

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Mars: Stories

by Asja Bakić, trans. by Jennifer Zoble

Bosnian writer Asja Bakić revels in the surreal. The plots and settings of the stories collected in Mars might get labeled as science fiction or dystopian, but the works themselves feel weightless, unmoored to any real convention as they probe dark corners of the human psyche. There are clones, trips to distant planets, even zombies, but far more memorable are the moments charged with meaning that so often end Bakić's stories, where a look, a touch or a word can upend the world.

The best of the stories in this debut have endings that lie somewhere between twists and epiphanies. In "Buried Treasure," an imaginary monster discussed by a group of children turns out to be real, though neither they nor their parents realize that it is living peacefully among them. In "Carnivore," a man attempts to cheat on his wife with a stranger, only to find that the woman is in fact his wife's mistress; furthermore, his spouse is tied up in the closet of the woman's apartment. But Bakić doesn't play these revelations for thrills, instead using them to break the reality of the little worlds she's constructed, pulling the rug out from under her readers to induce a kind of literary vertigo.

Tricky and hard to pin down, these stories tease and perplex. Readers who might not be interested by zombies and interplanetary space flight shouldn't discount this book. Likewise, lovers of science fiction and horror will find a wonderfully surreal take on tried-and-true stories, where the strictures of plot break open to release something stranger and darker. --Noah Cruickshank, director of communications, Forefront, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: The stories in Mars are brilliant, unsettling explorations of gender, sexuality and genre.

Feminist Press, $16.95, paperback, 144p., 9781936932481

Biography & Memoir


by Albert Woodfox

Activist Albert Woodfox does not profess to be a saint in his memoir Solitary. He's painfully honest with his audience, detailing the path that led him to a 50-year prison sentence in Angola in the 1970s. Woodfox also unlocks the bars and ushers his readers into conditions most would consider beyond their darkest nightmares: "Coming out of slavery and convict leasing, it was as if the cruelty of Angola's history leaked into our present world. Angola was run like an antebellum slave plantation."

Despite the barbaric environment, Woodfox finds hope and purpose in the principles of the Black Panther Party. He explains, "I didn't just get it with my mind, I felt it with my heart, my soul, my body. It was as if a light went on in a room inside me that I hadn't know existed." His involvement with the group turns into a mixed blessing, though. He and another member are framed for a guard's murder and receive life sentences in solitary. Kept in a 6'x9' cell for 23 hours a day, it's the Panther code of living that helps Woodfox ultimately maintain his humanity until he's exonerated nearly 45 years later.

In beautifully poetic language that starkly contrasts the world he's describing, Woodfox awes and inspires. He illustrates the power of the human spirit, while illuminating the dire need for prison reform in the United States. Solitary is a brilliant blend of passion, terror and hope that everyone needs to experience. --Jen Forbus

Discover: A young black inmate weathers more than four decades in solitary confinement and still finds the hope and will to effect change on a broken justice system.

Grove Press, $26, hardcover, 320p., 9780802129086

Social Science

She He They Me: For the Sisters, Misters, and Binary Resisters

by Robyn Ryle

You've been born an alyha among the Mohave at the turn of the 20th century, and are neither man nor woman. Or: you're born a cisgender male in a patriarchal society. Or maybe you were born with an intersex condition. But you could also be a transgender Asian American woman who gets married, a working-class gender-expansive pansexual person or a white gay man with a disability.

How can these realities possibly be contained in a single experience? When organized into a fun, thoughtful and instructive "choose your own adventure"-style book!

In She He They Me, sociologist Robyn Ryle guides readers through more than a hundred different scenarios that show how gender and sex intersect with culture, race, class and disability. Readers can work their way through nearly endless permutations, "trying on" various identities and exploring how cultural contexts might interact with those identities.

The book's playful, non-linear, experimental form deliberately echoes the idea that gender can also be playful, non-linear and experimental. In the introduction, Ryle writes that one reason she wrote this book is because "seeing the world in new and different ways can be a little scary. But eventually, it's liberating and exciting... I wanted to share that scary and exciting adventure with people everywhere."

Those who view gender as binary, fixed and inherently tied to certain biological and cultural behaviors may find She He They Me surprising or uncomfortable, but that's why they should read it. If nothing else, it's an exercise in empathy--and only good can come from that. --Hannah Calkins, writer and editor in Washington, D.C.

Discover: Explore life beyond the gender binary in this fun, creative, intersectional approach to learning about how gender, sex and culture interact.

Sourcebooks, $22.99, hardcover, 400p., 9781492666943

Essays & Criticism

A Desert Harvest

by Bruce Berger

Bruce Berger (Facing the Music) grew up in suburban Chicago, but the desert of the American Southwest is the place he calls home. In his gorgeous essay collection, A Desert Harvest, Berger paints a portrait of a place that's much stranger and more beautiful than most popular presentations would suggest. "Despite cartoons," he writes in "The Mysterious Brotherhood," the desert isn't riddled with "melodramatic bones." Instead it offers "quieter revelations of the vegetable world." He goes on to describe the elusive loveliness of different varieties of cacti at various stages of decay. The intricate patterning of the prickly pear's internal leaves, readers learn, discloses itself only in death.

The subject of death appears again in the collection, most notably in "Comfort That Does Not Comprehend," in which he describes the aftermath of his mother's passing. She had been living in a home in the Arizona desert, having made the move from Chicago when her husband was still alive. Berger draws heartbreaking parallels between the loss of his mother and the loss of several desert acres that succumbed to fire.

The collection isn't all macabre, however. "Cactus Pete" introduces the eccentric titular character, an elderly man who claims to have learned how to map the surfaces of other planets with a handmade "gizmo." The essay is part character study, part celebration of the founding of the small desert town Pete lives in. Moving and enthralling, A Desert Harvest proves that wonder and beauty can be found in even the most desolate places. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This collection of lyrical essays by a seasoned writer celebrates both the beauty and strangeness of the American Southwest.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26, hardcover, 272p., 9780374220570


Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others

by Barbara Brown Taylor

As an Episcopal priest, Barbara Brown Taylor (Leaving Church) spent years delving into the nuances of Western Protestantism. But after parting from parish ministry, she found herself ever more curious about--even envious of--certain elements of other faiths. She began teaching Religion 101 to undergraduates at Piedmont College in rural Georgia, which gave her the chance to explore along with her students. It was permission to learn the basic tenets of five major world religions, as well as to walk forward into the wonder and joy that might await them in a temple, a synagogue or a mosque. In Holy Envy, her 14th nonfiction book, Taylor chronicles two decades of exploration and struggle, as she took her students on field trips to new places and unfamiliar spiritual terrain.

In a time when religious differences are often the subject of polarizing arguments, Taylor offers another way: a gentle, holy curiosity laced with compassion and wonder. She urges her readers to ask questions, to stay open to encountering the divine in whatever form it may appear. Most of all, she encourages keeping a loose grip on certainty: "Once you have given up knowing who is right, it is easy to see neighbors everywhere you look." If this is heresy, it is the most joyful and thoughtful kind: a call to see all people, of all faiths or none, as fully human, and to accept that the divine may show up in ways we least expect. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Barbara Brown Taylor shares thoughtful, joyful reflections on teaching world religions to undergraduates and learning from religious differences.

HarperOne, $25.99, hardcover, 256p., 9780062406569


An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System

by Matt Richtel

In An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Matt Richtel takes the reader on a remarkable journey of exploration inside the human body. His focus is that most crucial connection to every aspect of a person's health and wellness, the immune system.

Richtel's (A Deadly Wandering) approach is richly informative and engaging, a distinctive analysis of life's essential attributes. Just as the immune system works as a peacekeeping force through cooperation with bacteria inside and outside the body, he explains, so should mankind seek cooperation with nature and global neighbors to topple cancer, Alzheimer's and autoimmune diseases. Working to promote balance and harmony inside the body, the immune system functions best without too much tinkering or unnatural interventions. And so, Richtel suggests, gentle, natural remedies are more desirable than aggressive medical interference.

Of course, it's not always possible to avoid toxic drugs and their side effects, especially when fighting cancer, AIDS or other autoimmune diseases. Through the remarkable case histories of four individuals, Richtel explains the ways in which the immune system plays an intricate game of defense and how easily things go wrong when it gets out of control. Richtel's best piece of advice is to stop trying to live forever because this "festival of life" wasn't designed to last indefinitely. Instead we should focus our energies on things we can control, like sleep, exercise, meditation and nutrition. Eminently readable and with so many important takeaways, An Elegant Defense is well worth one's investment of time. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: Fascinating insight into our defense system's evolutionary role and how its smooth function is imperiled by our modern, overly sanitized lives.

Morrow, $28.99, hardcover, 448p., 9780062698537

Travel Literature

See You in the Piazza: New Places to Discover in Italy

by Frances Mayes

The name Frances Mayes has become synonymous with Italy. For the past 30 years, she's split her time between a home in the United States and one in Tuscany. Mayes captivated readers with her blockbusters Under the Tuscan Sun and Women in Sunlight, stories of how Italy--the culture, the landscape and the Italian way of life--has the power to change and transform people. In See You in the Piazza--part guidebook, part travelogue--Mayes's passion for Italy is further enlarged when she and her husband, Ed, hit the road in their Alfa Romeo. The pair--along with cameos by their grandson and friends-- explore the many charms of Italy, uncovering secret places only the locals know, from the northern Piemonte region south to Sicilia.

Rich, sensory descriptions are hallmarks of Mayes's work. Whether on or off the beaten path, Mayes's writing--about hiking or marketing, sightseeing or lounging with books by a pool--offers an intimate, stream-of-conscious perspective on discovering unexpected treasures. Traveling to 13 regions over a year and a half, Mayes offers a trove of little-known information about wine, food and cooking, out-of-the-way restaurants, history, quirky museums and architecture, religious and literary influences. Mouth-watering regional recipes cap off each chapter.

Italophiles, fans of Mayes and armchair travelers will be more than eager to set off on an adventurous journey that provides a rare glimpse into "unique places hidden in plain sight"--the very best of what Italy has to offer. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: Frances Mayes shares her adventures and the out-of-the-way discoveries she made while traveling throughout Italy.

Crown, $27, hardcover, 448p., 9780451497697

Children's & Young Adult

Dreaming in Code: Ada Byron Lovelace, Computer Pioneer

by Emily Arnold McCully

Two centuries before computers became ubiquitous, a brilliant young British woman named Ada Lovelace imagined an "engine" that could process information much like today's computers do. The life of this forward-thinking scientist is brought to light for young readers in Emily Arnold McCully's fascinating biography Dreaming in Code.

Dreaming in Code progresses chronologically from Lovelace's birth in late 1815 (to a domineering mother and poet Lord Byron, the "titled, handsome, reckless, and irresistible" father whom she never knew) to her painful death from cancer in 1852. Although her controlling mother stinted on emotional nurturing, she did give Lovelace a far more rigorous education than most girls of her time were allowed. As a young adult, Lovelace cultivated mentors, one of whom was Charles Babbage, a quirky inventor, scientist and mathematician whom she met when she was 17 and he was 41. During their two-decades-long collaborative friendship, Babbage was developing and modifying engines designed to replace mental labor. Lovelace understood the workings of these machines in a way no one else did, even Babbage himself.

McCully is the Caldecott Medal-winning author/illustrator of Mirette on the High Wire as well as dozens of other children's books, such as Clara. Dreaming in Code is written with grace and intelligence, researched with care and peppered with historic photos and remarkable illustrations of 19th-century technology. It's sure to inspire a new generation of pioneers unwilling to let obstacles distract them from leading the way into the future. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This hugely enjoyable YA biography of Ada Byron Lovelace shows how she overcame 19th-century societal norms and a dysfunctional family to set the information age in motion.

Candlewick, $19.99, hardcover, 176p., ages 12-up, 9780763693565

Two Men and a Car: Franklin Roosevelt, Al Capone, and a Cadillac V-8

by Michael Garland

Legend claims that in 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt rode to the Capitol Building to deliver his "Day of Infamy" speech in Al Capone's bulletproof Cadillac--"ten years after the gangster climbed out of this automobile for the last time, one of America's greatest presidents climbed in." Using this yarn as the basis of his beguiling picture book, Michael Garland (Birds Make Nests; Fish Had a Wish) tells parallel stories, comparing the life of beloved U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt to that of notorious mobster Al Capone.

Both Roosevelt and Capone regularly appeared in headlines during the early 20th century; as Roosevelt ascended in politics, Capone rose in the ranks of the nation's crime syndicate. Garland further connects them by explaining that "both were smart and ambitious" and "young when their fathers died." Through such comparisons, he reels in readers and feeds them wonderful tidbits of biographical information about each man: Roosevelt's mother "kept his hair long and dressed him in frilly gowns"; Capone earned his Scarface nickname when he "received a knife wound to his cheek during a fight." The two may have even "passed each other in the streets of New York. But... headed in opposite directions."

As the audience peeks into the lives of both men, they're treated to Garland's bold and richly textured digi-woodcut illustrations--digital art that mimics woodcut--which give the book an antique feel and lend a sense of gravity to the overall design. Following Garland's comparison of Roosevelt and Capone, he offers resources for further reading as well as a more detailed timeline of their lives, which many are sure to pursue after the enticement of this striking picture book. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: Through an old legend about a tricked-out Cadillac V-8, Michael Garland's picture book compares two newspaper headliners of the early 20th century.

Tilbury House, $17.95, hardcover, 64p., ages 10-12, 9780884486206

A Good Kind of Trouble

by Lisa Moore Ramée

Lisa Moore Ramée's debut middle-grade novel, A Good Kind of Trouble, features junior high school student Shayla Willows, a black girl figuring out shifting friendships, social justice issues and a newly found love for running track.

Shayla and her two best friends, Isabella, a Puerto Rican artist, and Julia, a Japanese-American basketball player, call themselves the United Nations--they've been friends "since forever" and inseparable "super best friends since third grade." But junior high threatens to split up their alliance: now that she is without braces or unibrow, Isabella's outer beauty has caught up with her inner, and, according to her Instagram account, Julia is "squad goals" with the other girls on her all Asian-American basketball team. Even as she creates new friendships, Shayla will have to confront her envy if she wants to keep the United Nations together. At the same time, a police officer is on very public trial for shooting an unarmed black man, forcing Shayla to understand how prejudice affirms ignorance and hate. Perhaps it's time for Shayla to get into a bit of trouble of her own.

Ramée's narrative is straightforward and relevant for a contemporary middle-grade readership, showcasing friendship, community and the diversity of experiences that exist within different marginalized groups. The story moves swiftly and skillfully through a year of Shayla's maturation as an athlete, a sister and a friend. Putting an extra fine point on the depth of Shayla's growth, each chapter ends with direct entries from her observation journal, often poignant musings such as, "I... don't get why some people would think black people are against them when we're the ones getting shot." These and other emotional insights mark the questions of Shayla's (and our) present and future. --Breanna J. McDaniel, freelance reviewer

Discover: With an accessible, likable lead, A Good Kind of Trouble confronts complex social issues like crushes and bullying.

Balzer + Bray, $16.99, hardcover, 368p., ages 8-12, 9780062836687

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