Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, March 10, 2020

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

From My Shelf

Working Women

In the shadow of another thwarted attempt to see the first woman elected as United States president, it's more important than ever that young women witness other women in a wide array of career fields to prove the reality of their social equality. 

Women's Work: Stories from Pioneering Women Shaping Our Workforce (Simon & Schuster, $35) by Chris Crisman helps illustrate the breadth of work women do in the United States. While the 58 women who tell their stories in this collection have faced plenty of hardship and opposition while achieving their career distinctions, it's their various routes to satisfying work--from beekeeper to taxidermist to paralegal-turned-coffee roaster--that serve up healthy doses of inspiration, enhanced by Crisman's vivid photos.

Recollections of My Nonexistence by Rebecca Solnit (reviewed below, Viking, $26) is a thorough investigation of a woman's struggle to achieve career contentment. In this genre-defying book, Solnit browses her personal experience of harassment, intimidation and humiliation to illustrate the journey that made her a celebrated essayist and activist. In a book that is less memoir than a probing critique of social systems, Solnit's own becoming calls out cultural silencing and suppression that prevent women and other marginalized people from achieving their potential.

A similar struggle against social constructs in hopes of achieving a fulfilling work life plays out in Hilary Leichter's absurdly comic debut novel, Temporary (Coffee House Press, $16.95). Our heroine is locked in a struggle with the isolating anonymity of late-stage capitalism as she temps her way through bizarre placements as house ghost, pirate and assassin's assistant. While shuttling through each impersonal and unstable gig, our temp seeks belonging and value and, most importantly, learns that she deserves both. --Kristianne Huntsberger, partnership program manager, Shelf Awareness

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

Book Candy

Honoring Women's History Month

Novel Destinations suggested "5 ways for bibliophiles to honor Women's History Month."


"Women's History Month reads: 'Ordinary' women who made extraordinary contributions." Also: "A book list of women standing up around the world." (via the New York Public Library)


"Required reading: ten books on Black women's history to read for Women's History Month." (via Ms. magazine)


Author Kate Schatz recommended "5 women's suffrage activists for kids to know and celebrate" for Brightly.


An open letter "calling on Oxford University Press to change its dictionaries' 'sexist' definitions of the word 'woman.' " (via the Guardian)


"Margery Kempe, the medieval patron saint of moms, "had 14 children and she still invented the memoir," Electric Lit wrote.

A Good Neighborhood

by Therese Anne Fowler

In Therese Anne Fowler's followup to Z and A Well-Behaved Woman she turns from historical fiction to a contemporary novel touching on some of the most divisive issues in American life. A Good Neighborhood is a tragedy, and Fowler never lets the audience doubt that it will all end in tears. In the very first paragraph, Fowler writes: "Later this summer when the funeral takes place, the media will speculate boldly on who's to blame." The heavy foreshadowing alludes to Shakespearean tragedy, as does the story of young, forbidden love gone awry. The novel even has a Greek chorus of a sort--it's narrated by the collective voice of the neighborhood.

A Good Neighborhood's "two households, both alike in dignity" are that of the Whitmans and the Alston-Holts. Set in a North Carolina neighborhood with a progressive reputation, the seeds of conflict are sown when the Whitmans build a lavish house--complete with a backyard pool--next to the Alston-Holts' more modest home. Single mother Valerie Alston-Holt, a professor of forestry and ecology, has deep reservations about the construction, especially the effect it might have on a beloved old tree on her property. Brad Whitman, the patriarch of the Whitman clan, makes a poor impression when he mistakes Xavier, her mixed-race, conservatory-bound son, for a yard worker. When Xavier tells his mother about Brad's mistake, she answers: "Are we surprised?"

Still, young love has a way of breaking through barriers of race, class or anything else. Xavier's attraction to Brad's stepdaughter, Juniper, is immediate, and he soon discovers that she's far from a pampered rich girl. Juniper's life changed dramatically when her mother, Julia, married Brad, vaulting them from trailer-park poverty to wealth. Even years later, Julia and Juniper don't take their change in status for granted. Fowler uses the small scale of the story--set primarily in the neighboring households--to focus on the characters and their relationships. And through the gossipy voices of the neighborhood she carefully teases out the fault lines that will eventually put the neighbors at odds.

Perhaps one of Fowler's most surprising character studies is that of Brad Whitman. Brad is a self-made man whose confidence seems to have risen out of proportion to his success. After inventing "some gadget or part of an HVAC system (we're not clear on what exactly it was)" and selling the patent for millions, Brad is self-assured to the point of delusion. Valerie is sure that he violated environmental regulations in building his enormous house, and eventually pursues legal remedy. His outsized response to this challenge helps set terrible events in motion. Having achieved the American Dream, Brad comes to represent the dark side of that dream, his privilege multiplying his greed, prejudice and vindictiveness:

"He... now had no trouble whatsoever walking into a bank with a request for money and walking out with a Maserati, walking out with a small mansion, walking out with a beach house.... He didn't want something he could just write a check for; that was something that would have excited the old Brad. The newer Brad saw how large a guy could live using other people's money and wanted in on that."

Xavier and Valerie can't afford to be as oblivious as Brad. Though they live in a purportedly forward-thinking neighborhood, neither of them is blind to what it means to be black in America. Still, as Xavier falls for Juniper, he clashes with his mother over the question of just how much has changed, especially in regard to families like the Whitmans. After all, the Whitmans did encourage Juniper to make a purity vow--a religious pledge to abstain from sex before marriage that strikes many in the community as oddly old-fashioned. Or, as Valerie puts it to Xavier: "Come on. Those kinds of people are all about keeping their girls and their bloodlines 'pure.' Forty-fifty years ago his kind would lynch you just for looking at her. Maybe they're not stringing boys up anymore, but the attitudes haven't gone away."

The narrators observe that "context matters when it comes to understanding how and why our fellow human beings behave in the ways they do." This serves as a kind of mission statement for A Good Neighborhood, which is to explain why and how tragedy emerges amidst mostly goodhearted people. Each character unfolds layer after layer as Fowler delves into their backstories, examining their motivations and preparing the reader to understand their actions. Even Brad, who might be easy to dismiss as a villain, is a product of "who raises us and where we're raised and how." Or another way of putting it: "The differences make differences."

Fowler is primarily interested in telling a story about modern families, love and tragedy. To do so in a contemporary American setting, however, is to reckon with the forces that divide us. By setting her story in a "good neighborhood," we see how even America's best intentions fall short. As a country and as human beings, we like to pretend that the past is the past, but deep wounds don't erase themselves, not after years or many decades. A Good Neighborhood shows how even something as pure as young love can lead to calamity in a fractured society. --Hank Stephenson

St. Martin's Press, $27.99, hardcover, 320p., 9781250237279

Therese Anne Fowler: The Sum of All Our Parts

photo: John Kessell

Therese Anne Fowler is the New York Times bestselling author of Z and A Well-Behaved Woman. Z has been adapted for television by Amazon Studios, while A Well-Behaved Woman is in development with Sony Pictures Television. A Good Neighborhood, from St. Martin's Press, is a contemporary novel about a tragedy involving two neighboring families in a North Carolina town. The novel takes on divisive issues in American life such as race, class and conservative religion.

Readers of your previous novels, Z and A Well-Behaved Woman, might be a little surprised by the direction you take here. What prompted you to write a contemporary novel?

I'd planned to write another biographical historical novel, if I found a subject whose story engaged me passionately. But as I was researching various ideas for that potential next book, the seeds of A Good Neighborhood took root in my brain almost of their own accord, and grew like Jack's beanstalk. I thought, okay then, that's the book I have to write.

In many ways, this novel is a response story. The tradition of response stories is that other works provoke them, but in this case, I was provoked by my distress over the direction our country is moving. Storytelling has many purposes, one of which is to inspire--I mean, look at The Handmaid's Tale for one powerful example. Storytelling as activism. I can't think of a better use for my time right now.

Readers who know my work will recognize some TAF hallmarks, if you will, in A Good Neighborhood. Regardless of genre, my novels will always have a concern for social issues, interest in flawed but strong female characters and an examination of the troubling consequences that arise from what seemed to be good decisions.

Valerie has a deep connection to her local ecosystem, especially the nearby tree. Did that aspect of her character emerge from your own ecological concerns?

It did, and especially from my anxieties concerning the health of a huge oak in my own backyard after a new house was built next door. Having been a child of the '70s, when green activism became so prevalent, I feel as if environmentalism was built into me--so much so that I used cloth diapers with my firstborn (and no diaper service; I had no money for that) and tried to avoid plastic toys entirely.

I had, and still have, a deep affinity for nature, and I'm deeply troubled by the ongoing deliberate policymaking that disregards science in favor of corporate and individual profit. As Valerie (who's an environmentalist) says in the novel, "Trees are life. Not just my life, but life, period."

One surprising choice in the novel is your use of the neighborhood as a Greek chorus or narrator for the events. Why did you want to emphasize the neighborhood's perspective?

Every time I start a book, I spend a lot of time considering what the best narrative perspective is going to be for that particular story. With Z, it became obvious quickly that the story was Zelda's to tell. With A Well-Behaved Woman, I felt we needed to see not only Alva but the entire Vanderbilt world from a broader perspective than first-person would permit.

When I began A Good Neighborhood, it was clear to me that the story also needed a broader view--but that the view, and therefore the voice of the story, should also be particular, the way it is with a first-person account.

I thought, this is a story about us. These characters are people we know. We live with them, we work with them, they teach our children... and so it felt right that "we" should narrate. Using the collective point of view this way makes the story personal, and the personal is always more effective at conveying a message or lesson, as the narrators here tell us they hope to do.

I found almost every character easy to like, despite their flaws, with the exception of the wealthy patriarch of the Whitman family, Brad. Did you have a model in mind for his self-confident-bordering-on-delusional thinking?

Unfortunately, there are more than plenty of Brad-like men present in our news cycles these days, some of whom we've gotten to see in-depth. I've also known (and still know) a few such men personally.

A Forbes article from last summer [2018] reported on a study detailing how and why such men are often so successful in business, summarizing, "...research has found that narcissists are often socially successful, undeterred by rejection, charming, and highly motivated."

An earlier study's authors wrote, "[H]igh narcissists may be socially callous, but that is no reason for them not to be psychologically healthy. To use a far-fetched metaphor, the mind of a narcissist is like a sports utility vehicle. It is great to be in the driving seat, but fellow motorists must watch out, lest a collision with this mobile fortress demolish their more humble hatchbacks."

That's Brad, and that's our story.

The book tackles many hot-button issues, particularly racial prejudice and the dangers faced by young black or mixed-race men like Xavier. How did you make sure that you approached these issues with a level of sensitivity and understanding?

Yes, definitely a lot of interrelated big issues in this story--which wasn't by design, exactly; rather, I was just reflecting the complexities inherent in the lives and characters of people today. You really can't (and shouldn't, if you're trying to create truth) separate out race and class and gender and beliefs and occupation and culture and family. We are each the sum of all our parts.

Tackling racial prejudice, though, was the most delicate matter. So before I wrote the book, I read a lot of personal essays and articles detailing a wide variety of experiences with prejudice. I watched documentaries and interviews and news programs wherein the subjects recounted their stories, and wherein racial discrimination was examined in all its vast, ugly truth.

I read articles on the ways white authors, even well-meaning ones, too often make egregious mistakes when writing about non-white characters. Drawing from my own educational background in sociology and cultural anthropology helped, as did recalling observations I made while growing up in a diverse community and, later, the experience of being a minority during the three years I lived in the Philippines. And I asked questions of people I knew, including a friend of mine who in many ways resembles Valerie and who read the book in draft.

An author is always obliged to put themselves into the lives of the characters they're depicting. My own approach is something like method acting. Given the parameters of the character's traits and situation(s), how would that character think? What would they say and do? You can only do this well if you're sufficiently armed with information, humble about mistaken apprehensions and able to get out of your own way in order to give a truthful performance. I hope I was able to do so.

One thing that struck me about the book was the complicated power dynamics between and within the two families. Is there something you wanted to capture about how varying levels of privilege can distort relationships?

I think what I was aware of trying to do was simply to represent the complexities that comprise most relationships, and specifically the ones that would arise from putting these characters together.

Many years ago, John Gardner wrote about how if verisimilitude is the writer's object (and really, it had better be), authorial intention must be submissive to the authorial subconscious. A lot of what ends up on the page gets there through what feels like a mysterious organic process that's independent from deliberate authorial direction. For example, the scene in which Julia comes to the neighborhood book club meeting at Valerie's house: until I was writing the sentence about the food she brought, I didn't know she'd bring foie gras, but the choice then triggered other telling details about class and power for Julia versus the others present. The dynamic between Brad and Xavier at the book's opening is another example of just putting the characters in a scene together and then watching it play out as I typed.

But thinking about it concretely now, I wanted to capture what happens when the kind of corrupt thinking that can come from privilege perverts power, and therefore distorts relationships.

What do you think it means to be a good neighbor in an era when Americans seem so divided by class, politics and race?

I think the criteria are the same as they've always been: follow the Golden Rule. I don't mean to sound pat, but it's that simple. And also that hard. --Hank Stephenson

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Betsy Byars

Betsy Byars
Award-winning children's author Betsy Byars died last month at age 91. Her best-known work, The Summer of the Swans (1970), won the Newbery Medal. Her other books include The Night Swimmers (1980), which won a National Book Award; Edgar Award-winner Wanted... Mud Blossom (1991), one of several titles about the Blossom children; The Midnight Fox (1968), The Glory Girl (1983), Coast to Coast (1992) and a memoir, The Moon and I (1991). Byars wrote more than 60 books for, according to the Washington Post, "those in-between children too young to be called big and too old to be called small."

"Every time I sit down to write a book, I feel like that character in the old fairy tale who, in order to survive, has to spin straw into gold," Byars told the School Librarian. "What I know about spinning straw is nil, and I have learned from hard reality that no little man in a funny suit is going to pop out of the woodwork to strike a deal.... We authors write the best we can, with what skills we have, what tricks we've learned, and then if we are lucky, very lucky, the straw actually will be turned into gold, for a fleeting moment by the miraculous mind of a child."

Book Review


The Women in Black

by Madeleine St. John

The 1950s were an exciting time in Sydney, Australia. World War II had recently ended, ushering in an era of hope and prosperity, along with immigrants looking to rebuild their lives. Traditional roles were slowly evolving, as many young women headed off to university instead of focusing on marriage and family. Madeleine St. John (The Essence of the Thing) illustrates these developments in a delightful and uplifting slice-of-life view of the changing social and economic climate by offering an in-depth look at the lives of several saleswomen in the Ladies' Frocks Department of Goode's Department Store, aka The Women in Black.

Magda, Patty, Fay and Lesley/Lisa each represent a different stage and role of womanhood, weaving in and out of each other's lives on their paths toward reaching their dreams. Magda, a Slovenian immigrant, runs the Model Gowns department, throws fabulous parties with her husband and other cultured, émigré friends and dreams of owning her own boutique. Patty and Fay, in Ladies' Cocktail Frocks, are more focused on home matters: Patty and her husband have yet to produce a child after a decade of marriage; meanwhile, Fay approaches a birthday despairing that she will ever get married. And Lesley, who's waiting to hear if she did well enough on her end-of-school exams to receive a university scholarship, is trying on a new persona as "Lisa," and working as a holiday temp in Ladies' Frocks.

Originally published in Australia in 1993, The Women in Black remains a striking debut novel of wit, charm, female friendships and universal dreams. --BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co., Beaver Dam, Wis.

Discover: This delightful and uplifting romp through 1950s Sydney, Australia, shares the experiences of women working at a department store.

Scribner, $16, paperback, 224p., 9781982134082

Writers & Lovers

by Lily King

Three cheers--heck, make that four--for the writer who pulls off a fairly plotless novel. Naturally, it helps when a protagonist is unusually engaging, smart or sympathetic. In a neat hat trick, Lily King (Euphoria) plants all three qualities in Casey Peabody, the narrator of her plot-light but payoff-heavy fifth novel, Writers & Lovers.

Things aren't going well for 31-year-old Casey, and the novel on which she has been working for six years is so far from completion that it doesn't even have a title. She has recently returned to the Boston area, and to chip away at her debt, she works at Iris, an upscale restaurant in Cambridge's Harvard Square. One night, at a book party for the novelist Oscar Kolton, Casey meets another writer, Silas, and later accepts a date with him, which he proceeds to break.

Later, Casey encounters Oscar Kolton having brunch at Iris with his two young sons. A 47-year-old widower, Oscar woos Casey, and they start seeing each other. Eventually, Casey dates both men until Oscar invites her over for Sunday dinner so that she can get to know his kids. Now she feels obliged to pick a side: "I've reached the elimination round."

Despite Casey's habitual teariness, her wit and chirpy optimism carry Writers & Lovers. With its timeless themes--choosing between the practical and the creative life, choosing between "fireworks and coffee in bed"--the book's title, with its fulcrum-like ampersand, makes perfect sense. While romance is often a conundrum, resolving an artistic dilemma can be equally flummoxing. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: Lily King's sparkling fifth novel centers on a young woman trying to find love and artistic success, not necessarily in that order.

Grove Press, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9780802148537

Sisters by Choice

by Susan Mallery

Susan Mallery (Barefoot Season; Three Sisters) has created a lovely little world in Blackberry Island, Wash. Located near Seattle, it was once home to three very different cousins. Kristine stayed on the island and has been married to her high school sweetheart for 16 years. Sophie moved to Southern California to start a business empire selling cat-related items. And discontented Amber remains dependent on her family amid perpetual victimhood.

When Sophie's business burns down, she takes the insurance money and moves back to Blackberry Island for a new beginning. She enjoys spending time with Kristine, her "sister by choice," who is trying to launch her own bakery, as well as with Kristine's handsome tai chi instructor, Dugan.

Kristine's husband, Jaxsen, however, attempts to prevent her opening the bakery, because he wants her to continue being a stay-at-home mom, effectively forcing her to choose between her dream and her marriage. Amber's problems continue to worsen, making things complicated for the cousins. And Sophie herself is struggling both to get Clandestine Kitty Industries up and running again--and to define her relationship with Dugan.

Nuanced and realistic, showing the complicated problems that family can create, Sisters by Choice is a satisfying read. Mallery knows how to capture her readers; Sophie's stubbornness, Kristine's real dilemmas and Amber's imaginary woes make all three women interesting in their own ways. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this heartwarming story set on a small Washington State island, three cousins find themselves at personal crossroads.

Mira, $16.99, paperback, 448p., 9780778309390

Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes

by Kathleen West

There's something twistedly thrilling about watching full-grown adults lose their minds over juvenile drama. Kathleen West's delicious debut, Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes, features a posse of upper-middle-class snowplow parents making way for their gifted children. But unlike similar setups like Big Little Lies, there's no violent mystery at the heart of the story. West relies instead on commonplace but no less contentious conflicts: Do politics belong in the classroom? Should parents involve themselves in the everyday goings-on of their children? What about teachers? How far is too far?

West, a former middle and high school teacher, addresses these questions first and foremost with Isobel Johnson, a progressive English teacher at Liston Heights High School. She's determined to atone for her family's past wrongdoings by encouraging privileged students to see "multiple perspectives," i.e., read from a point of view other than upper-middle-class, male, white, heteronormative and nationalistic. But when parents protest this perceived deviation from curriculum--or, rather, deviation from the status quo--tensions bubble. Tack on the ever-growing popularity of a Facebook gossip page for Liston Heights parents, with a suspicious number of posts from an anonymous insider at the school, and Julia Abbott, a particularly over-attentive Liston parent, can't wait to wade in. That is, until she, too, is sucked into controversy.

This juicy but thoughtful story is a treat for parents who understand the frustrating temptation to hover--as well as their grown children who learned to break free. --Lauren Puckett, freelance writer

Discover: Privileged parents and progressive teachers clash in this humorous but humbling dive into the misadventures at a Minnesota high school.

Berkley, $26, hardcover, 384p., 9780593098400

Mystery & Thriller

When You See Me

by Lisa Gardner

Hang on tight, the branches of Lisa Gardner's literary family tree are becoming wonderfully twisted. After more than 15 years of writing about (mostly) female law enforcement protagonists, Gardner (Never Tell) still finds new ways to push the boundaries of her series and characters. When You See Me features Gardner's most prolific heroine, Boston Homicide Detective D.D. Warren. Flora Dane, introduced as an abduction survivor in one of D.D.'s recent cases, continues in her third straight entry as an informant, providing insight to D.D. from the "victim" perspective. 

New to this mix is FBI Agent Kimberly Quincy, who has appeared in other books, solo and with her father, part of the Quincy & Rainie Profiler series. The joining of so many characters is plot-specific and feels organic. Quincy's investigation into a set of human remains uncovers a connection to Flora's infamous abductor. D.D. and Flora's knowledge is an incredible asset, so Quincy assembles the team in the hills of an insular Georgia town to find answers and deal with long-hidden demons.

Gardner presents the case through the lenses of D.D., Flora, Kimberly and a wonderfully rendered mute girl in peril. The author melds and shifts perspectives superbly to move the investigation forward. The final push is rushed and a touch theatrical, but her powerful character work carries the day. Despite extensive history, these women are always evolving. Gardner brings them together in a tour de force and provides answers to questions from prior cases while still masterfully generating a yen for more. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: Characters from Lisa Gardner's multiple mystery series come together to solve a murder that has tentacles deep within a small town and personal implications for the team.

Dutton, $27, hardcover, 400p., 9781524745004

The Other Mrs.

by Mary Kubica

"I'm not going to tell you everything. Just the things I think you should know." These thoughts from the mind of a Mary Kubica character perfectly encapsulate her maddeningly tantalizing style. The Other Mrs., her fifth standalone thriller, solidifies Kubica (When the Lights Go Out) as a master of the multi-perspective mind-twister.

Sadie and Will Foust leave plenty behind in Chicago when they relocate to Portland, Maine--most of it bad: Will's affair, Sadie's legal problems at work and oldest son Otto's expulsion from school. Unfortunately, their "fresh start" is marred by its own troubles. The home bequeathed to them by Will's sister, who hung herself in the attic, comes with his openly hostile teen niece. There's history they just can't shake, including threatening messages, inklings of Will's infidelities and Sadie's random disappearing acts. When a neighbor is murdered, all signs point to something amiss in the Foust home.

Kubica dangles bits of bait only to yank them from view and replace them with three more. Despite the swirl of characters and activity, past and present, the narrative always feels under control. Its outlandishness is a purposeful, compelling level of chaos that Kubica deftly manipulates. Through the voices of Sadie, Camille (Will's former mistress) and a mysterious, mistreated girl nicknamed Mouse, Kubica doles out a psychological whopper of a tale. The Other Mrs. is a roller coaster with tracks that dip from view and turn unexpectedly, creating unease enhanced by a compulsion to race forward for an answer to the burning question: "Who is Mouse?" --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: In this mind-bending thriller, a family looking for a new start is thwarted by hostile forces, some of which might be under their own roof.

Park Row, $26.99, hardcover, 368p., 9780778369110

All the Best Lies

by Joanna Schaffhausen

The relentless pursuit of the truth beneath a mountain of falsehoods makes Joanna Schaffhausen's All the Best Lies a compelling read.

In 1975, young mother Camilla Flores struggles to make ends meet as a Las Vegas waitress. She's engaged to a cop and about to testify against a drug dealer, but then is brutally murdered. Her case goes unsolved because the only witness is her infant son, Reed.

Forty years later, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department informs Reed, who's now an FBI agent, that the case is being closed due to the lack of new leads. Reed refuses to let that happen without trying to crack the case himself. He enlists the help of Ellery Hathaway, a cop he rescued from a serial killer when she was a teenager and he was a young officer. The two have since solved cases together, and Ellery is currently suspended from her job for shooting a killer in the previous book in the series (No Mercy).

The pair heads for Vegas but receives a cold reception from local police when they ask to review Camilla's murder file. LVMPD Sheriff Brad Ramsey worked the case years ago and he insists Reed and Ellery are wasting their time; all suspects and leads were thoroughly exhausted. But Ramsey has his own reasons for wanting the case to remain closed. Reed and Ellery are followed, their tires are slashed and some big lies are exposed, but new ones get in the way as they get closer and closer to solving this complicated mystery.

Joanna Schaffhausen's everyman plot and accessible prose rams home an eternal truth: lies left alone will fester and turn everything rotten. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer

Discover: Uncovering ugly truths and the healing power of redemption make for a thrilling mystery.

Minotaur, $27.99, hardcover, 336p., 9781250297389


Chasing Cassandra

by Lisa Kleypas

Chasing Cassandra is the sixth and final novel in the Ravenels series (Devil's Daughter, Marrying Winterbourne), set in Victorian England. This excellent tale easily stands alone, although readers will surely wish to explore earlier books in the series.

Wealthy businessman Tom Severin is accustomed to buying anything he wants. He believes acquiring a wife will be equally simple. Unfortunately, the lady he decides he must have is committed to marrying for love. Lady Cassandra Ravenel's long-held desire is to marry and have a happy home and family. Sadly, none of London's eligible gentlemen stir anything more than a desire for friendship, until she meets Tom. She's both intrigued by and extremely attracted to the brilliant railroad magnate but is convinced a marriage will not suit. He can't offer her love, insisting his heart is frozen and he's incapable of emotion. Fate, however, has other plans for the two: they move in the same social circles, share a set of friends and are thrown together on multiple occasions. Interactions with Cassandra and the young street urchin Tom befriends slowly begin to erode the walls around his cynical heart. When Cassandra desperately needs his help, will he have the courage to face his demons and claim a future with her?

This lush and romantic novel boasts an absorbing plot with fascinating historical details, intriguing main characters, an engaging secondary cast and wonderfully witty dialogue. Readers will love this Ravenels family finale. --Lois Faye Dyer, writer and reviewer

Discover: An English lady who vows to marry for love meets a business tycoon who offers only money; hijinks, heartaches and life lessons ensue.

Avon, $27.99, hardcover, 272p., 9780062975041

Biography & Memoir

Recollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir

by Rebecca Solnit

There's always been a strong autobiographical current coursing through Rebecca Solnit's politically engaged writing. In Recollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir, however, the prize-winning journalist, critic and activist departs from the piecework of collections like The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness for a more sustained encounter with the events and ideas that have defined her work. In this account--a multifaceted description of identity formation and social commentary--Solnit remains both provocative and eloquent.

Solnit's memoir is rooted in the soil of the 25 years she spent in a small studio apartment in San Francisco's Western Addition neighborhood. She moved to the predominantly African American area in 1981, at age 19, watching it slowly gentrify in the face of the technology industry's invasion of the region. In that apartment--where she says she "was a hermit crab who had crawled into a particularly glamorous shelter, until, as hermit crabs do, I outgrew it"--Solnit describes establishing herself as a writer and forging her identity as a woman and a feminist.

It's to that latter subject that Solnit devotes much of her attention. She begins with her writing desk, the gift of a female friend who survived a knife attack. Solnit then expounds on the subject of violence against women, and even the less mortally dangerous ways she experienced altercations. The book's title is based, in part, on her persistent but sadly necessary attempts at self-erasure as a means of avoiding these and other confrontations. Rebecca Solnit's work suggests what Joan Didion might have produced if she had been, in addition to a compelling writer, a passionate political activist. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: In a stirring memoir, Rebecca Solnit unearths key elements of her personal and professional origin story.

Viking, $26, hardcover, 256p., 9780593083338

Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes

by Adam Hochschild

In 1905, an unlikely marriage made headlines around the world. Rose Pastor was a young Jewish woman who immigrated from Russia as a child. She worked in cigar factories from the age of 11 to support her family and turned a talent for language into a job writing for a Yiddish-language newspaper. James Graham Phelps Stokes was the Ivy League-educated oldest son of one of "the 400"--the families that dominated New York society in the Gilded Age. In Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes, Adam Hochschild (King Leopold's Ghost; Spain in Our Hearts) tells the story of their marriage within the broader history of the American socialist and labor movements in the first half of the 20th century.  

In fact, their marriage followed a trajectory similar to that of the movements they supported. They met at a time when patrician reformers were not uncommon, and their home became a salon for visionaries of all types. Their approaches to reform diverged as Rose became a rising star in radical circles. World War I and the Russian Revolution drove them further apart. Like many socialists, Graham discovered national patriotism mattered to him more than international brotherhood. Rose remained passionately socialist.

While Hochschild's historical account is both gripping and occasionally heartbreaking, in the end, the immigrant Cinderella and her American prince found their differences too great to overcome. They divorced in 1926 and returned to their natural social habitats, at roughly the same time socialism lost its momentum as a mass movement in the United States. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: One woman's bittersweet story illuminates American reform movements in the early 20th century.

Houghton Mifflin, $30, hardcover, 320p., 9781328866745

Children's & Young Adult

How to Bee

by Bren MacDibble

Bren MacDibble's first middle-grade novel is a startling cautionary tale about the dangers of losing the bee.

"If me and Mags don't do our job the trees suffer, the fruit suffers. What we do is important." Peony and her sister Mags work as "pests" on a farm, shoo-ing insects from the crops. At night, they crowd into their tiny shed with Gramps, and Peony dreams of becoming a bee. Since real bees disappeared 30 years ago, selected children now pollinate fruit trees by hand--Peony is certain she'll become a bee soon. But then Ma forces Peony to move with her to the city. Secretly intent on running away, Peony begins work as a maid in the Pasquale household. As she settles in, Peony forms a tentative partnership with the Pasquales' cosseted and fearful daughter, Esmeralda: Peony will teach timid Esmeralda to be brave, and Esmeralda will get Peony back to the farm.

MacDibble's quiet dystopia subtly hints at the chaos and devastation of earlier famines by showing their aftermath, yet the author keeps the crime and poverty at a distance through Peony's youthful, upbeat narration. Peony's point of view keeps the story moving quickly forward; MacDibble trusts her audience to understand nuance and never includes unnecessary, overt explanations. Peony's family showcases the different levels of acceptance in each generation: Gramps adapts, Ma desperately chases financial success, and Peony and Mags love their impoverished farm life. In contrast, the Pasquales maintain an upper-class lifestyle but are unable to break through the wall of fear around Esmeralda. How to Bee is a chilling look at a broken future and a beautiful story of how those from vastly different backgrounds can inspire change in one another. --Kyla Paterno, freelance reviewer

Discover: On a farm, Peony dreams of becoming a bee: a child chosen to pollinate fruit trees by hand now that real bees have disappeared.

Groundwood Books, $12.95, paperback, 224p., ages 8-12, 9781773064185

Mermaid Moon

by Susann Cokal

In her version of "The Little Mermaid," Susann Cokal (The Kingdom of Little Wounds) uses lush, lyrical writing and multiple perspectives to tell a lasting story of darkness and beauty.

Sanna's "motherline was a bound secret" because "the witch of [her] flok worked a magic of forgetting" on the night Sanna was born. It wasn't until age 14 that she learned her mother was "landish" and not marreminde at all. Sanna then began to apprentice with the witch Sjældent to learn magic that would allow her to walk on land and find her mother. Now 16 and finally ready to embark on her quest, Sanna arrives at Baroness Thyrla's castle on the Thirty-Seven Dark Islands, where Sjældent said she'd find a woman who could help her. Instead, she finds the baroness is able to harvest the lives of people weaker than her to grow stronger and live longer. Stuck in this unfamiliar place with foreign people, Sanna must overcome the baroness's trickery before she's trapped forever.

In Mermaid Moon, Cokal takes her time unveiling Sanna's story, revealing details and background information in a nonlinear fashion, then backtracking in subsequent chapters to fill in the blanks. This technique gives breadth to her storytelling and allows for discussions of faith, beauty and feminism to emerge naturally. Cokal's descriptive language further enhances the story: "the tide of red washes through the flowers of the ancient vine that has suckled on the courtyard stone." Mermaid Moon is a beautifully told, immersive novel that layers fairy-tale elements with more modern themes, allowing for a different experience with every reread. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader

Discover: In this YA interpretation of a classic fairy tale, a mermaid leaves her matriarchal society to find her landish mother and gets caught in the crosshairs of a powerful, immortality-obsessed baroness.

Candlewick Press, $22.99, hardcover, 496p., ages 14-up, 9781536209594


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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