Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Mariner Books: Briefly Perfectly Human: Making an Authentic Life by Getting Real about the End by Alua Arthur

From My Shelf

New Menus for the New Year

In Smoke, Roots, Mountain, Harvest: Recipes and Stories Inspired by My Appalachian Home (Chronicle, $29.95), Lauren McDuffie--the blogger behind Harvest & Honey--writes: "My favorite cookbooks, smudged and smeared with much use, rarely leave my kitchen counter." Clear some space and get ready to smudge and smear, for any of the following will surely suggest new go-tos for menus in the new year.

McDuffie's cookbook is a gorgeous ode to her Appalachian roots. In winter, warm your mornings with her Black Grape & Jalapeño Skillet Corn Bread or a pile of Cathead Biscuits; warm your evenings with indulgent Miso-Bacon Moonshine Mussels. Cap off dinner with refreshing Limelight Fruit Salad, studded with pomegranate and fresh mint.

In the stunning King Solomon's Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World (Knopf, $35), veteran cookbook author Joan Nathan's recipes span continents and centuries, with fascinating historical and cultural context woven throughout. Dazzle friends with the spectacular T'Beet, Baghdadi Sabbath Overnight Spiced Chicken with Rice and Coconut Chutney. For dessert: Arkansas Schnecken, sticky buns redolent of caramel and pecans.

Culinary journalist and community activist Toni Tipton-Martin offers a similarly compelling and beautiful blend of education and instruction in Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking (Clarkson Potter, $35). Delight diners with Sweet Potato Biscuits and Curried Meat Pies, then serve up citrus-kissed Pork Chops in Caper-Lemon Sauce followed by Gingerbread with Lemon Sauce.

For the health-conscious equally conscious of taste, see Amy Chaplin's Whole Food Cooking Every Day: Transform the Way You Eat with 250 Vegetarian Recipes Free of Gluten, Dairy, and Refined Sugar (Artisan, $40). Chaplin offers eye-popping, endlessly riffable dishes, like chia bowls, soups and veggie preparations--especially welcome amidst a winter of biscuits, sticky buns or gingerbread--all delicious, to boot.

--Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Sleeping Bear Press: A Kurta to Remember by Gauri Dalvi Pandya, Illustrated by Avani Dwivedi

Book Candy

National Thesaurus Day

Mental Floss offered "10 fascinating facts about the thesaurus for National Thesaurus Day," which was January 18, and the New York Public Library challenged: "Can you ace our synonym quiz?"


Bestselling author Lee Child is retiring and his brother, Andrew Grant, will be continuing the Jack Reacher series, the Guardian reported.


Jora Vision will design a new Russian theme park inspired by the literary poems and fairy tales of Alexander Pushkin, according to CLAD News.


Alastair Johnston is donating his 30,000-volume collection of golf books to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews in Scotland, Golfworld reported.


"Famous candies from literature" were sampled by Quirk Books.

American Dirt

by Jeanine Cummins

Lydia Quixano Perez is jolted from her comfortable middle-class existence in Acapulco when she becomes the target of a drug cartel boss's wrath. His reach is far and his influence is wide. Mexico is no longer safe for Lydia. She's left with no choice but to flee for her life and that of her eight-year-old son, Luca. So they head for the United States and the hope of refuge. Jeanine Cummins (A Rip in Heaven; The Crooked Branch) tells the harrowing story of their journey with chilling detail and a pace as urgent as her characters' predicament. American Dirt is a novel chronicling the determination of those seeking a chance at life in a world doing everything it can to ravage them.

Before their lives are turned upside down, Lydia enjoys her days running a bookshop in Acapulco. They become even better when a new customer shows interest in some of her favorite books. Their conversation at the check-out counter turns into an invitation for her patron, Javier, to return so they can discuss books. One visit turns into two, and soon into weekly visits and a budding friendship.

Until Lydia learns the identity of her fellow booklover: he is the jefe of Los Jardineros, a Mexican drug cartel.

Lydia's husband, Sebastián, is a journalist. As the people of Acapulco grow numb to the violence consuming their city, he works tirelessly to report it, attempting to keep the atrocities from becoming normalized. He and Lydia take precautions when he publishes stories, but the cartel doesn't show much interest in Sebastián or his work. However, an exposé on Javier changes all that and forces Lydia out of the only life she's ever known.

Cummins puts her readers up close and personal as Lydia and Luca navigate life as refugees. Her attention to the minutiae renders a feeling of authenticity as well as terror. Where will they sleep, and will they stay safe when they do; how can they access money without drawing attention to themselves; and who can they trust in their efforts to stay alive--these are all problems they must face. Mother and son, accustomed to the comforts and amenities middle-class life affords them, must come to grips with who they are now: "When the idea first occurred to her as she squatted in the shade of the oficina del registro civil, it occurred as camouflage: they could disguise themselves as migrants. But now that she's sitting in this quiet library with her son and their stuffed backpacks, like a thunderclap, Lydia understands that it's not a disguise at all. She and Luca are actual migrants... that simple fact, among all the other severe new realities of her life, knocks the breath clean out of her lungs."

Especially daunting are Cummins's scenes involving la Bestia, the train Lydia and Luca must jump in order to make their way north. There are many dangers associated with the train, but the first is simply getting on it. One false move and the journey is over permanently. Two young Honduran sisters teach Lydia and Luca the art of boarding la Bestia and become their traveling companions. Soledad and Rebeca are running from their own monsters and, as young Luca learns bits and pieces of their story, "he starts to understand that this is the one thing all migrants have in common, this is the solidarity which exists among them, though they all come from different places and different circumstances, some urban, some rural, some middle-class, some poor, some well-educated, some illiterate, Salvadoran, Honduran, Guatemalan, Mexican, Indian, each of them carries some story of suffering with them on top of that train and into el norte beyond."

Violence, kidnapping, theft, Cummins paints all of the horrors of the migrant's ordeal with such realism readers can't help but feel a dreadful sense of anxiety. When the travelers are cornered by corrupt police officers, a curtain of darkness envelops the story: "There are at least four policía standing in the back of each truck, plus more inside, and they're all kitted out like they're going to war.... They wear boots and kneepads and helmets and giant, studded Kevlar vests and gloves and dark black visors so you can't see their eyes, and their faces are entirely covered by black balaclavas. Each one of them has weapons strapped all over his body and... Luca can't even begin to imagine what they'd need all that weaponry for, just to catch a few migrants...." Contrasting the diabolical image of the police, Cummins infuses her protagonists with humanity--a mother's will to protect her son, a bond between sisters, the pain of shattered innocence--forcing her audience to see the individuals and their struggles rather than a fabricated security threat.

American Dirt will punch you in the gut one minute and fill you with hope the next. The stirring descriptions, complex characters and heart-pounding race to stay alive combine for a gripping plot, while the themes of injustice and human determination take it to a much higher level than an average thriller novel. This is an important story being told at a vital point in time. On one hand it's a single woman's plight, but on the other, it's the human condition. Powerful! --Jen Forbus

Flatiron Books, $27.99, hardcover, 400p., 9781250209764

Jeanine Cummins: Tackling Injustice Through Fiction

(photo: Joe Kennedy)

Jeanine Cummins was born in Spain, but calls Gaithersburg, Md., her home. She studied creative writing at Towson University before living in Belfast for several years. In 1997, Cummins moved to New York City, where she spent 10 years working in the publishing industry. After her first book, the memoir A Rip in Heaven, became a bestseller, she turned to writing full time. She is the author of the novels The Outside Boy and The Crooked Branch. Her novel American Dirt was just published by Flatiron Books.

Did you always want to be a writer?

I always dreamed of being a writer, but I didn't grow up with any sense that it was possible to make a living that way. My mom was a nurse and my dad was in the Navy. My grandfather was a professional musician, but even that seemed gritty, like a real job. He carried a tuba and bass around, which felt like tools to me. So I always thought I'd end up doing something practical. I thought I'd be a park ranger or a carpenter who submitted poems to local newspaper contests. But then my cousin Julie was murdered when I was 16. She was supposed to be the writer. So I think losing her, losing her talent, and understanding that the life she was supposed to live was no longer available to her, made me super determined to live out the dream we both shared, as if I had to do it now, for both of us. I like the idea that some of her flame may have landed on me when she departed.

In several interviews for your novel The Crooked Branch, you mention starting your book on immigration, but very differently. How did it evolve to its present state?

I'd like to say that it was meticulously planned and that its evolution was organic and beautiful, but the truth is that I wrote two failed drafts of this novel before it became what it needed to be. I was resistant, initially, to writing from the point of view of a Mexican migrant because, no matter how much research I did, regardless of the fact that I'm Latinx, I didn't feel qualified to write in that voice. Because these are not my life experiences. So I spent several years trying to write the book from a variety of perspectives, and all those perspectives failed. They were terrible. Because, ultimately, they were an inappropriate lens for the telling of this story.

But Luca emerged from that early cast of characters. My friend Mary Beth Keane kept pointing to him and saying, "He's the only one I care about." God bless her. I finally listened. I was terrified of going back to his origin story, of trying to truly inhabit the experiences of his life. But I did it as carefully as I could. And I'm glad I did. Because ultimately I remembered the thing that matters most in fiction: they are people. I do know Luca and Lydia; I know their lives. Because I know grief. I know trauma. So that's the thing. Yes, Luca and his mami happen to be Mexican, but they could be anyone. They could be Syrian or Rohingya or Haitian. They are human beings.

There are many emotionally powerful scenes in American Dirt. How did you go about creating these experiences in the book?

My research started with reading everything Luis Alberto Urrea ever wrote. Then I read everything else I could find about contemporary Mexico and by contemporary Mexican writers. Then I read everything I could find about migration. Sonia Nazario's Enrique's Journey is magnificent. So is The Beast by the Salvadoran writer Óscar Martínez. Then I went to Mexico. I spent time in the borderlands, both north and south of la frontera. I met people who are documenting human rights abuses at the border, people who drive out and leave water in the desert, lawyers who provide pro bono legal representation to unaccompanied minors. I visited two orphanages and several migrant shelters in Mexico. I volunteered at a desayunador in Tijuana, where they serve a hot meal to something like 300 migrants for free every day. I talked to people who were deep in their journeys, full of hope and fear. I met people recently deported, some of whom were veterans.

I met deported mothers who visited their U.S. citizen children at the border fence where only the tips of their fingers could touch through the thick metal screens. I even attended a wedding at Friendship Park where the deported bride married her U.S. Marine husband on the Mexico side of the fence, so her mother and U.S. citizen children could attend on the California side of the fence. I met a Guatemalan man whose leg was cut off when he fell from the train three days before he arrived at the Casa de Migrante in Tijuana. Every single person I met made me more and more determined to write this book. So, yes, many of the scenes were inspired by true stories I encountered in my research.

You started writing American Dirt before the current administration took office. Did their practices affect your writing and if so, how?

I started the research for this book in 2013, so way before anyone dreamed that the impetuous star of Celebrity Apprentice would become president of the United States. This problem pre-dated the current administration and, unfortunately, it will still be here after their time is up. But to be sure, the callousness is new. So there have probably been other presidents who felt some private disdain for the suffering of people who don't look like them, but the public expression of that scorn in the 21st century is still incredibly shocking to me. It's not only that the practices of the current administration are cruel, it's that they are gleefully so. It's unthinkable that the leader of our nation, which is supposed to be a symbol of hope and refuge in the world, is responding to the deaths of children in U.S. custody by tweeting things like "If Illegal Immigrants are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built or refitted detentions centers, just tell them not to come." [sic] He doesn't recognize that the United States has a moral obligation to meet a humanitarian crisis with compassion. So, yes, that brutality has certainly intensified my feelings of panic about the crisis. Watching the president shrug and smile while so many people are dying needlessly on his watch makes me feel antagonized. I have a greater and greater sense of urgency about telling this story with each passing day.

If you could ensure that every reader would take away one thing from American Dirt, what would it be?

Migrants are human beings. They don’t need our pity or contempt. They deserve fundamental human empathy. They are LIKE US. --Jen Forbus

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Marion Chesney Gibbons

Scottish author Marion Chesney Gibbons, who wrote more than 160 mystery and romance novels under several pseudonyms, died December 30 at age 83. She was best known for her Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth mystery series, written as M.C. Beaton, and historical romance novels under the name Marion Chesney. She also wrote as Ann Fairfax, Jennie Tremaine, Helen Crampton, Charlotte Ward and Sarah Chester. Her Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth titles have sold more than 21 million copies worldwide and have both been adapted into BBC television series.

Death of a Gossip (1985) began the Hamish Macbeth series. Macbeth is the local constable, or bobby, of Lochdubh, a town in the Scottish highlands. He eschews promotions and has a reputation for laziness, but still solves mysteries with his extensive local knowledge and natural curiosity. Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death (1992) introduced the middle-aged owner of a PR firm who sells her company and moves to the countryside to solve mysteries. In book 15 of the series, Raisin establishes her own detective agency. In the U.S., Hamish Macbeth is published by Grand Central and Agatha Raisin by Minotaur Books. --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


The Sacrament

by Olaf Olafsson

Olaf Olafsson (One Station Away) delivers a spellbinding mystery in his sixth novel, The Sacrament.

The story follows Sister Johanna, a French nun who is called to Iceland years after she investigated alleged abuse at a Catholic school there. Present-tense narration depicts her journey as she leaves behind her convent and travels to Paris, which brings back memories of her formative youth. Flashbacks reveal her relationship with a young Icelandic woman named Halla, and the machinations of an overbearing deacon named Raffin, who eventually becomes a cardinal and is the one to dispatch her to Iceland. Further flashbacks reveal her first trip to Iceland, her investigation and the dramatic death of the school's headmaster, August Frans.

Olafsson writes as sparely as the Icelandic landscape he describes, with a muted lyricism that carries the novel forward. Sister Johanna has rich memories, and she is a complex character, expertly drawn, who questions God and her mission. At the center of the novel is a story of forbidden love between two women, and the power struggle between Sister Johanna and Cardinal Raffin. Raffin discovers the nun's secret and uses it against her. This backstory is carried to Iceland, where Sister Johanna must confront the report she wrote decades earlier and the persistent mystery of the schoolmaster's death. She also yearns to visit Halla although she's been warned not to.

Pulling all these threads together, Olafsson creates a moody noir piece with religious overtones. The Sacrament is quieter than the average thriller yet still provides some riveting plot twists. Above all, Olafsson has created dynamic and memorable characters. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: A nun must revisit her complicated past in this riveting Icelandic mystery novel.

Ecco, $26.99, hardcover, 304p., 9780062899873

Just Watch Me

by Jeff Lindsay

In this exciting thriller from Dexter creator Jeff Lindsay, a corrupt Chicago pharmaceutical billionaire unveils a $50-million statue weighing more than 10 tons. The mayor is paid to give a speech praising the billionaire at the dedication ceremony. Master thief Riley Wolfe then steals both the statue and the billionaire. In broad daylight. In front of a crowd and armed security.

Riley was paid to steal the statue by a cartel drug lord, who wanted it as a trophy. But Riley took the billionaire to mete out societal justice for price gouging prescription medication.

Although Riley is paid well for his efforts, money isn't his sole motive. He's so confident in his abilities, he constantly craves a bigger thrill, perhaps an impossible feat. And he finds it while flipping through a magazine on a commercial flight--Riley decides to steal a priceless diamond from the crown jewels of Iran. But there are two obstacles: he has no idea how to pull it off, and relentless FBI Special Agent Frank Delgado has been on his trail for years. The fact that he hasn't caught Wolfe makes Delgado more determined than ever to do so.

Just Watch Me launches a spectacular projected series. Wolfe shares traits with antihero Dexter Morgan of the popular novel and television series--they're both bad guys with a conscience, and each feels he is making the world a tiny bit better with their actions. Both characters are brilliant manipulators, but Riley might be the more interesting character in that his methods are more cerebral than bloody. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer

Discover: A master thief plots to steal a priceless diamond from the Iranian crown jewels in this exciting thriller.

Dutton, $26, hardcover, 368p., 9781524743949

No Good for Digging

by Dustin M. Hoffman

Dustin M. Hoffman's stories (One-Hundred-Knuckled Fist) are ballads for the working class who toil in the shadows, Studs Terkel's "walking wounded." In No Good for Digging, 31 short tales include the weirdly fantastical (magicians, Ouija board inspectors, diviners) as well as the everyday (plumbers, salesmen, prostitutes). All are treated with the same reverence, as they try to grind out a living against the odds and sometimes against each other.

Many of these tales are poignant metaphors for the cruelties of surviving, the risks taken and the wrongs done to eke forward and protect one's own. The opener, "A Nesting," sets the stage formidably in two short yet crushing paragraphs. Construction of a home has trapped a nest of birds behind the sheetrock. Wielding hammers, each trade points the finger at another and proceeds with their own assigned task, ignoring the sounds of "baby wings fluttering in tangles of pink fiberglass insulation," the house to be "forever haunted by hollow bones and black feathers."

Destructive work ethics and expectations are masterfully explored in "On the Strongest Man Compound," where the Strongest Man is shrinking. He shrugs it off and continues to lift, but still diminishes, to the horror of his fellow Strongest Men. They add weight and reps to his routine, then ponder their reputations and his exile when he keeps shrinking under the burden.

With thanks to those who did and didn't survive building houses with him, Hoffman, a former tradesman and current associate professor of English at Winthrop University, does the trades proud with these empathetic reflections of his experience. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: No Good for Digging offers thoughtful, empathetic stories of life's struggles as viewed through a blue-collar lens.

Word West Press, $12.50, paperback, 110p., 9781733466301

The General Zapped an Angel

by Howard Fast

Originally published in 1970, The General Zapped an Angel collects nine science fiction and fantasy tales from the late American author and TV writer Howard Fast (Spartacus). Inventively strange and thought-provoking, Fast's tales satirize the human condition, focusing on greed. His characters' fixations on seeing their visions realized leads them into ethically treacherous ground: a warmonger shoots an angel and wants just to bury it; an alien race grants a mouse human cognition and telepathy yet refuses to end its suffering on Earth; a husband sells his soul for tomorrow's Wall Street Journal and considers the devil's suggestions on how to afford stock. Other stories explore existentialism. In "The Interval," the protagonist tries to drive to safety when he realizes his world is a stage set being changed. And "The Movie House" modernizes Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" with a projectionist who denies that doors unlock even after a committeeman ventures outside.

Fast seems to condemn inaction as he portrays individuals complacently accepting disaster. After insects decimate cities, a husband assures his wife they "can only live with it the way it is." As Mother Earth bleeds out, the dowser who approved blasting for oil goes on reading his newspaper, noting it's "too late" to help.

Though his aliens' first reaction to humans is "Ugh!," Fast embeds hope in the stories "Mohawk" (a Mohawk Indian successfully meditates on the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral) and "The Vision of Milty Boil" (a short man convinces society that smaller is better). Disturbingly funny and gratifyingly provocative, this eccentric collection encourages readers to think hard about what they value. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

Discover: Clever, bold and enjoyably peculiar, this entertaining collection of science fiction and fantasy stories from the late Howard Fast is an incisive examination of humanity.

Ecco, $16.99, paperback, 160p., 9780062908445

Mystery & Thriller

Deep State

by Chris Hauty

At the start of Chris Hauty's tense thriller Deep State, scrappy army boxer Hayley Chill abruptly exits the military to become a White House intern under President Richard Monroe, a divisive, Russia-loving blowhard. She receives a hostile reception from the other interns, who all come from money and Ivy League-educations and mistake her West Virginia twang for a lack of intelligence.

But Chief of Staff Peter Hall and President Monroe view her as a cut above the rest of the wannabes within her department, after witnessing Hayley's quick thinking during a staff meeting. Before either of them can fast-track her career, however, Hall is found dead at home one morning while awaiting a brief to be delivered by Hayley. Since she discovers the body, Hayley is questioned by an FBI agent who suspects her of withholding information.

And she is. Hayley has discovered a CIA-led plot to assassinate the president. The people behind the plot see President Monroe as a major threat to democracy, but Hayley sets out to stop them.

On the surface, Hayley seems to be a wide-eyed true believer of the president's absolute power. But first-time novelist Hauty makes her a formidable, cagey adversary to anyone who stands in her way. Jealous of attention paid to Hayley by Hall and Monroe, the other interns and staff repeatedly try to sabotage her but fail miserably. When the mercenaries hired to carry out the assassination come after her to stop her meddling, she always manages to elude them. Deep State lets readers think they know what's going on, right up until a jaw-dropping finale. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer

Discover: A White House intern tries to foil a CIA-led presidential assassination in this magnificently crafted thriller.

Emily Bestler/Atria, $27, hardcover, 288p., 9781982126582

Biography & Memoir

Of Morsels and Marvels

by Maryse Condé, trans. by Richard Philcox

"The art of cooking is a gift. Like all the rest, nobody knows where it comes from." Maryse Condé is a scholar of Francophone literature and a winner of the 2018 Alternative Nobel literature prize, but here she brings readers into the world of her passion for food, for the creative processes of cooking. In Of Morsels and Marvels, translated from the French by her husband, Richard Philcox, Condé takes readers into her memories of food, feeding others and finding joy and beauty in the act of sharing it.

The book starts with her looking back to the first kitchen that enchanted her, despite the lack of encouragement from her family to enjoy this part of life--the "cavern of Ali Baba" that "was a concoction of scents." From that starting point, she takes readers around the world and through many cultures and cuisines--across England, France, India, South Africa, Australia, Indonesia and further. And yet, throughout these journeys, what Condé continually returns to are her beliefs about food, that traditional recipes are not necessarily "sacred texts" but that instead, food was meant for creation and invention, and is its own particular route to freedom and discovery. Memoir, sensory food writing and travelogue all come together to evoke pleasure and artistry itself in Maryse Condé's Of Morsels and Marvels, bringing both dishes and landscapes to life, vividly painted by an expert hand. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer

Discover: Travel and food writing come together as an enchanting blend of flavors to be explored in this evocative culinary memoir from Maryse Condé.

Seagull Books, $27.50, hardcover, 324p., 9780857426932

Sidney Lumet: A Life

by Maura Spiegel

In Sidney Lumet: A Life, Columbia University film professor Maura Spiegel (The Breast Book) provides a discerning chronicle of the life of the groundbreaking American director. Known for seminal films such as 12 Angry Men and Network, Lumet's directorial career spanned five decades in film, television and theater. Born into a Polish-Jewish family, he was a child actor in Yiddish theater, radio shows, Broadway and film. He started working as a television director in 1950, when directors "were making it up in this new medium as they went," giving Lumet the freedom to explore "the untidiness and unexpectedness of human motives." Later, when directing films, Lumet notably eschewed the glamour of Hollywood, instead filming mostly in New York City. His distinguished and prolific career includes 43 movies, more than 75 television episodes, movies and "plays for the small screen," and an Academy lifetime achievement award.

Lumet "left no diaries, no papers, no correspondence," a challenge that biographer Spiegel overcame through extensive interviews of the people in Lumet's life. Though he didn't like to dwell on the past--"his inclination was to keep moving forward and not to look back"--his experiences were often reflected in his films, which frequently featured themes of urban poverty, political corruption, familial drama, Jewish culture, and racism and discrimination. Peppered with analyses of his work as well as profiles of the actors, artists and family in his life (including strained family relationships and his four marriages), Spiegel has created a thorough and fascinating account, both personal and professional, of a director whose legacy continues to have a significant impact on modern cinema. --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A well-researched account of renowned American director Sidney Lumet that examines his life, art and influence on modern film.

St. Martin's Press, $29.99, hardcover, 416p., 9781250030153


Land of Tears: The Exploration and Exploitation of Equatorial Africa

by Robert Harms

Historian Robert Harms brings his considerable expertise to bear on the bloody means by which the Congo River Basin was exploited for commercial gain in Land of Tears: The Exploration and Exploitation of Equatorial Africa. The Congo River Basin, rich in rubber and more, was largely dense rain forest that covered parts of six modern-day nations. As he did in The Diligent, his excellent history of the slave trade, Harms follows a few important--and deeply flawed--individuals who helped pave the way for exploitation on a massive scale.

Land of Tears begins in the 1870s, when the region's difficult landscape was just beginning to be scouted by traders, raiders and explorers from Europe and Zanzibar. Harms is skilled at interpreting the deeply biased and self-serving accounts of explorers like Henry Morton Stanley, showing how his 1875-1876 expedition to find the source of the Nile turned into a remarkably violent trip down the Congo River. The Zanzibari trader Tippu Tip plays a major role in the narrative and in Harms's argument that violence, slavery and the ivory trade were deeply intertwined. By following the ivory back to a factory manufacturing piano keys in Connecticut, Harms demonstrates that an already globalized economy fueled and benefited from the bloody work of people like Tippu Tip.

Land of Tears tracks the pursuit of profit at the expense of human life to its apotheosis in the era of "red rubber." Individuals like Stanley and Tippu Tip had diverse motivations, but Harms is clear-eyed about the brutal extractive system they helped create. --Hank Stephenson, manuscript reader, the Sun magazine

Discover: Land of Tears chronicles the ways in which global commerce fed into a scramble to exploit the resources of the Congo River Basin, with terrible consequences for the native inhabitants.

Basic Books, $35, hardcover, 544p., 9780465028634

Psychology & Self-Help

A Woman Makes a Plan: Advice for a Lifetime of Adventure, Beauty, and Success

by Maye Musk

Maye Musk, who has risen to fame as an older model ("Who knew things would take off when I went silver?!"), grew up in Pretoria, South Africa, regularly hearing the Afrikaans saying "A farmer makes a plan." In A Woman Makes a Plan: Advice for a Lifetime of Adventure, Beauty, and Success, she lays out how having an escape plan enabled her and her three young kids (one of whom is tech entrepreneur Elon) to flee her abusive husband. And in 1990, it was having a plan that gave her the chutzpah to move to Toronto with her teenage children to serve their budding professional interests.

A Woman Makes a Plan accommodates these and other stories in chapters bundled into five sections: Beauty, Adventure, Family, Success and Health. In "Success," Musk describes walking her first couture show at age 67 after decades of less glamorous modeling work. (She used to tell people, "I'm the Sears housecoat queen.") In "Health," she outlines her philosophy on nutrition. (Musk has two master's degrees in the field.) As one might guess, she has no truck with fad diets and weight-loss tricks: "You don't need a pill. You need a plan."

A Woman Makes a Plan, which features 20-odd black-and-white photos, many of Musk with her family, is a memoir/self-help book hybrid. Much of her advice is excellent ("If your children aren't used to luxuries, they survive well"). Just don't ask the resignedly single Musk about men--the one area where she admits to being planless. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: The model and nutritionist (and, yes, Elon Musk's mother) shares personal experiences and levelheaded advice on dealing with life's curveballs.

Viking Life, $22, hardcover, 224p., 9781984878502


Homie: Poems

by Danez Smith

Celebrated poet Danez Smith (Don't Call Us Dead) delivers a rapturous cry for all their friends and lovers in the profoundly moving collection Homie.

Smith writes with both power and precision, and their poetic forms are as diverse as their topics. Homie teems with stream-of-conscious prose poetry and in equal measure gleams with lapidary stanzas of more formalized verse. Even part of the book's acknowledgements section is set in poetic fashion. Smith's personal style mixes modern slang with gorgeous imagery, resulting in verse as colorful and fanciful as Pablo Neruda but also savvy, down-to-earth, close to the heart.

Thematically, Homie focuses on friendship, as the poet celebrates the beloved people in and out of their life. Smith's blackness and queerness frame struggles and larger questions of kinship, and they invoke friends, lovers, family members, other minority groups and even strangers. These people are exalted by the searching love that drives these poems. In "my president," Smith shouts out to the "trans girl making songs in her closet, spinning the dark/ into a booming dress." And there's boundless love for fellow dark-skinned people, "we caramelized children/ of dark stars."

Homie doesn't gloss over the oppression black people have suffered at the hands of white people. But neither does the poet slam the door on the possibility of love and reconciliation. This collection is filled with passion and humanity and demonstrates why Smith has been called one of the best poets of their generation. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: Danez Smith celebrates friendship in this immensely readable and glorious poetry collection.

Graywolf, $16, paperback, 96p., 9781644450109

Children's & Young Adult

Race to the Sun

by Rebecca Roanhorse

Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (Trail of Lightning) is a wildly fast-paced adventure based on Diné (Navajo) mythology.

Seventh-grader Nizhoni Begay wants fame--any kind (Internet or school) will suffice. What she's not so sure she wants is her newfound ability to see monsters: "Monsters wear human skin more often than fairy tales would lead you to think." When one of these monsters kidnaps her father, Nizhoni, her younger brother Mac, best friend Davery and newly introduced Diné spirit and talking toad Mr. Yazzie, set off on a daring quest to rescue him. If Mr. Yazzie is right, Nizhoni's monster vision--and Mac's mysterious new powers--mean the siblings have been given the powers of the Hero Twins, the monster-slaying sons of Changing Woman, the creator of the Diné clan system. Their journey will require sacrifice and strength and will bring them to Na'ashjéii Asdzáá (Spider Woman), the Glittering World and the House of the Sun before they face the monster. Such power and daring exploits come to few and often at an extraordinary price--will Nizhoni and Mac become the heroes they need to be in order to save their father?

Roanhorse's characters are vivid, compelling and perfectly imperfect. The author uses Nizhoni's lack of knowledge about her people's stories to enlighten readers without halting the narrative and includes a glossary with the proper pronunciation of Diné terms to enhance readers' experiences. Race to the Sun stands out not as a new take on old mythology, but rather as a refreshing continuation: "The ways of the Diné are not static but alive and ever-changing." Using this base, Roanhorse asks readers to contemplate: "What if these myths are real? What if the stories don't end where we think they do?" --Kyla Paterno, freelance reviewer

Discover: Seventh-grader Nizhoni discovers the truth of her ancestry as she attempts to save her father from monsters in Rebecca Roanhorse's middle-grade debut.

Rick Riordan Presents/Disney-Hyperion, $16.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 8-12, 9781368024662

Me and Banksy

by Tanya Lloyd Kyi

In Me and Banksy, Tanya Lloyd Kyi bites off a lot--cyberbullying, the trade-off between security and privacy, the artist's role in society--but no more than she can chew, and no more than readers can digest.

The middle schoolers at Mitchell Academy are uneasy when, in the putative interest of student safety, the administration introduces some changes: indoor security cameras and ID tags that the kids must scan to enter the building. The students' skepticism is borne out when embarrassing videos of kids and faculty show up on the forum for the school's PixSnappy account. When a video is posted showing eighth grader Dominica Rivers alone in the library taking a moment to right-side-out an inside-out shirt, she and her friends vow to uncover who is sending the files. Dominica finds solace in her head counsel of sorts: Banksy, the real-life anonymous British street artist whose work highlights social justice matters. As it happens, Mitchell Academy has an open house coming up; why take to the streets like Banksy when Dominica can take to the school corridors?

Despite all the book's capital-I Issues, Kyi, who has written nonfiction as well as fiction for kids and young adults, doesn't skimp on narrator Dominica's personal life. In both face-to-face dialogues and text exchanges, Dominica and her besties discuss their family dramas and romantic foibles ("What is it with you and Miranda, hmmmm????"). Me and Banksy may be preoccupied with the day's technological toys, but it puts in the foreground a timeless concern: teen angst. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: In this sassy middle-grade novel, an eighth grader borrows techniques from street artist Banksy to address problems caused by the security cameras at her school.

Puffin Canada, $15.99, hardcover, 272p., ages 10-14, 9780735266919


Author Buzz

The Wild Card
(A Rivers Wilde Novella)

by Dylan Allen

Dear Reader,

"What if…?" is my favorite question to ask myself when I start writing a book. The answers that Cassie and Leo's story delivered were unexpected and heartwarming. Adding a heist and serendipitous reunion into the mix took my tried and true favorite trope, second chance, to a whole new level. Theirs is a classic case of right person/wrong time. Whether you're a Rivers Wilde newbie or expert, watching them overcome some pretty steep hurdles is a wild, thrilling, feel good ride.

I hope you love every word. xo,

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: The Wild Card (A Rivers Wilde Novella) by Dylan Allen

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 16, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book


Kids Buzz

Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night

by Steven J. Simmons and Clifford R. Simmons
illus. by Ruth E. Harper

Dear Reader,

My newest and latest in a three-book series, Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night?, came from seeing the fascination so many kids have with the ocean and ocean creatures. How do a whale, octopus, dolphin, clownfish, great white shark and so many other undersea animals get their rest?

After all, they need to get their rest and sleep, just like all of us. So dive into this rhyming STEM picture book to encourage a love of nature and the environment--and under the covers for a great bedtime story.

"What do animals do when children are sleeping? Featuring creatures young children are likely to know, this book has the answers....[and] unusual nighttime facts are a plus." --Kirkus

Steve Simmons

KidsBuzz: Charlesbridge: Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night? by Steven J. Simmons and Clifford R. Simmons, illus. by Ruth E. Harper


Pub Date: 
April 16, 2024


Type of Book:
Picture Book

Age Range: 

List Price: 
$17.99 Hardcover

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