Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, March 31, 2020

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

From My Shelf

Audiobooks from a Convert

When I started writing this column weeks ago, I appreciated the diversion of audiobooks. Now, they are a lifeline: a portal to worlds without news bulletins, a link to other voices in this suddenly lonely, shelter-in-place, social-distancing world. With gratitude to for enticing me to listen, I recall when I "converted" from "real books only," and my phone became a portable bookshelf.

When Michelle Obama's Becoming was published, I was short on reading time, so Michelle and I rode Bay Area BART twice a day. Listening to her was like chatting over tea. When a gentleman offered me his seat one morning, I said, "No, thanks; I'm fine here with Michelle Obama." He smiled; perhaps he thought I was delusional, but I prefer to think he appreciated audiobooks, too. Hearing authors reading their own work made commuting less lonely--maybe I didn't have a friend to travel with, but I had Ross Gay sharing his Book of Delights with me! Listening to Benjamin Dreyer reading his Dreyer's English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style, I hoped somebody might ask why I was laughing. What a "delight" (thank you, Ross!) to escape from the dismal morning news for a debate over the serial comma.

Faced with moving a household, I knew audiobooks would relieve the drudgery. Tom Hanks reading Ann Patchett's The Dutch House is magical, even after having read the hard copy. Two novels that put my complaints in perspective were William Kent Krueger's Depression-era This Tender Land, read by Scott Brick; and Alice Hoffman's Holocaust-set The World that We Knew, narrated by Judith Light. For comic relief, Mo Rocca reading his Mobituaries guaranteed laughs to ease the novel's heartbreak.

I still turn pages more often than I push "play," but having an audio or two downloaded is as reassuring as that stack of to-be-read books on the nightstand. --Cheryl McKeon, bookseller, Market Block Books, Troy, N.Y.

Book Candy

Watchmen Become Washmen

Video: "Watchmen or Washmen? Cast of HBO series suits up for hand-washing tutorial." (via the Wrap)


"Stephen King helpfully posts The Stand chapter that explains pandemic spread." (via Deadline)


"Let's move to Mars." Author Christopher Wanjek picked "the best books about our future in space" for the Guardian.


"Sotheby's is auctioning 40,000 DC comics from a single unprecedented collection," Gizmodo reported.


"I can't look away from these delirious paintings of anthropomorphized books," Emily Temple wrote.

Sharks in the Time of Saviors

by Kawai Strong Washburn

Kawai Strong Washburn's entrancing first novel, Sharks in the Time of Saviors, spans years and crosses over to the mainland and back again, following the Flores family--Malia and her husband, Augie; their sons, Dean and Nainoa; their daughter, Kaui--and the myths and gods of Hawai'i.

In Honoka'a in 1995, Malia remembers, "The kingdom of Hawai'i had long been broken--the hot rain forests and breathing green reefs crushed under the haole commerce of beach resorts, skyscrapers--and that was when the land had begun calling." She addresses one of her children: "When I close my eyes we're all still alive..." and she thinks back to the night "when your father and I were naked in his pickup truck, Waipi'o Valley, and we witnessed the night marchers."

The night marchers are the first sign of magic in a story that plays with the concept throughout. What is magic and what is imagination; what is myth and what truth; which are the forces for good? Where does modern medicine meet the inexplicable, and what alchemy results?

When middle child Nainoa ("Noa") is seven years old, he falls overboard in the waters off Kona and is surrounded by sharks. But instead of attacking, they carry him carefully back to the boat unharmed. This event is hailed as legend, a miracle, mark of the gods; in the years that follow, Noa's strangeness will help to bring his family partly out of the economic depression brought on by the fall of the sugarcane industry, but his gifts are dubious and unreliable. His siblings have talents of their own to offer, but are alienated by the obvious specialness of Noa, the chosen one.

The novel's perspective shifts, chapter by chapter, from Malia's to each of her children; Augie's voice will be heard only at the very end of this astonishing debut. Noa's chapters are precise and observant, Kaui's and Dean's variously disgruntled and colorful and more vernacular, Malia's reveal a close attention to larger meanings. Washburn's prose style shifts with these voices, but throughout he showcases lush description and stark contrasts. In Kaui's voice, "We set our toes and fingertips on razored bits of stone and slipped ourselves into the veined cracks of sheer walls of limestone or granite or basalt, all of it ceilinged by a thunder-brained sky."

All three children travel to the mainland in search of education and opportunity. In Spokane, basketball star Dean has earned a full scholarship but grapples with the pressures of school and sport. In San Diego, Kaui discovers drugs and free climbing and falls in love with a woman who does not want what Kaui wants. After Stanford, Noa moves to Portland, where he saves lives as an EMT. He has a good partner and loves her daughter, but still struggles with his gift. Perhaps his lifesaving ability is not what it seems. Despite the family's constant focus on Noa, the chapters that cover their separate lives offer refreshing views of Kaui and Dean, who are intriguing, flawed, engaging characters unto themselves. Their parents may center on Noa, but the novel resists doing so.

Amid various crises, each adult child will cycle back to the islands they call home. Noa, as always, leads the way, but Dean and Kaui have roles to fulfill within the family and on the islands, too. Their parents' needs are both burden and gift. Malia continues to question the apparent favor bestowed upon her middle child: "If you were more of the gods than of us--if you were something new, if you were supposed to remake the islands, if you were all the old kings moving through the body of one small boy--then of course I could not be the one to guide you to your full potential. My time as a mother was the same as those last gasping breaths of the owl." Each character is torn by the need to belong to a place and a people, the need to rescue and be rescued, to persist.

Sharks in the Time of Saviors is a gorgeous, rich, multifaceted novel. As it shifts between the mindsets of Malia and her three children, it poses questions behind their stories, interrogates joy and love and faith and loss, rage and redemption, the price and reward of returning home. This is a story about a small number of central characters and their often sad and painful daily lives, and also about more universal struggles. It's about past, present and future Hawai'i, including the racial tensions between native Hawai'ians and the haoles that have changed their world so much. It's about family, hope and risk.

Memorable characters, richly evoked settings, heartbreaking realism and alluring myth combine in a magical, expertly plotted, completely absorbing novel. Washburn takes his readers into a world that is both known and entirely new. --Julia Kastner

MCD/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27, hardcover, 384p., 9780374272081

Kawai Strong Washburn: That Isn't the Way the World Works

(photo: Crystal Liepa)

Kawai Strong Washburn was born and raised on the Hamakua coast of Hawai'i. His short fiction has appeared in McSweeney's, Electric Literature and The Best American Nonrequired Reading, among others. He has received scholarships from the Tin House and Bread Loaf writers' workshops and has worked in software and as a climate policy advocate. He lives in Minnesota with his wife and daughters. Sharks in the Time of Saviors (MCD/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, March 3, 2020) is his first novel.

How does a story with multiple protagonists come to be?

I think a lot of writers gravitate toward what they love, and I love books in which you get to think into multiple consciousnesses. You get to expand your initial impressions. And it's possible to do this with a third-person perspective, but it can feel less rich, or it can move me less that way.

I knew early on that it was going to be about a family, and I really wanted to dive into each person and challenge myself to create characters that would have perspectives that were nothing like mine. With all the different family dynamics involved, pushed in different directions, each has their own blind spots and their desires and their failures. It was a challenge, but one I wanted to try, because I felt it made for a richer experience as a reader, and so I wanted that as a writer as well.

How do you handle the storytelling challenge of shifting points of view?

For me it is very hard, partly because none of them are based on me. I read a section a few years ago, that was excerpted in Electric Literature, in which Dean hits his mother. Somebody came up to me after I read that and said, oh, you're so brave to write about having hit your mother! And I said, this is not my life! None of these characters are me, or my family. They're not based on anyone I know. With Dean, the challenge was to write a character who would have tried to beat me up in high school. If I encountered him in most walks of life, he would feel like an antagonist. Is there a way that I can write this character and understand what makes him tick with a sense of empathy but without letting him off the hook for his faults? Create this whole character who has problems and stupidities and issues with anger management, but in a way that challenges me to think about how he might justify his feelings to himself.

I love language. I really love it when writers take risks with language and render a new way of speaking and thinking that I haven't experienced before. It takes me to a new place. I wanted to do that with the characters as well, and so in addition to creating these different psyches, I then had to create a different language for each, so that they each felt like a different consciousness. There were so many revisions to get sentences right. Given a thought that might be the same for Kaui and Dean, how would that feeling play itself out in different sentences? What would their voices feel like in their head? It was a ton of work. It was awful. I would never do it again. If I'd known at the time what a challenge I was setting for myself, I probably would have been like, no. But once I was in there, that was the work that was before me.

So this is not autobiographical.

I share very little with the characters. All the locations where all the scenes happen are places I have been. I could draw on my own experiences in those places to describe the smells and the ambient details. And there are times when I indirectly brought in observations that I had, as someone from Hawai'i moving [to the mainland], the cultural dissonance. Observationally I drew upon that, but there are almost no experiences in the book that I drew from my personal life directly. Having lived and grown up in Honaka'a, I experienced the place long enough that I had an innate sense of the culture and how most people think and feel and act.

I wrote a first novel that will never see the light of day. I think that that's where I got the classically autobiographical elements out. In this book, in any moment when I felt like a character was doing something that I would have done, or when I winced at their decision-making or their biases or their thoughts or feelings because those were not thoughts or feelings I would have, or they made me uncomfortable, I would push toward those things and away from things that felt like me, in a conscious attempt to move away from the autobiographical.

What aspects of the book required research?

When you come from what is traditionally an underrepresented perspective and an underrepresented place, you carry this burden of authenticity that some writers don't have to grapple with as much. When I wrote earlier in my career, I didn't write about Hawai'i, partly because I was scared that it would be autobiographical. Or there was an expectation that because I'm from Hawai'i I should write about Hawai'i. But also I was scared, because there wasn't a lot of literature out there based in Hawai'i, that I would fail to present the sort of universal feeling or experience of people from the island.

I spent a lot of time doing research into the mythology and native Hawai'ian religion that I had passing knowledge of, being born and raised there. You remember those things, but not fully or accurately enough to be a cultural ambassador. So I went back and spent a lot of time researching Hawai'ian culture and folklore and knowledge and history, because I had just enough incomplete knowledge to be dangerous if I just wrote from what I knew.

Do you have a favorite character?

I do. I don't know if you're supposed to say that, it's like a kid. But I really enjoyed Kaui.

I see the novel as a kind of metaphor for the Big Man theory of history. All the great inventions, the important moments in the collective history of this country, are almost always filtered through the lens of a particular actor, usually a man. That's what Nainoa came to represent to me, the Big Man theory of the events early in their lives. Particularly Malia is really invested in the idea of Nainoa as some sort of savior. He's going to be this special, important Big Man. As I was working through revisions, Kaui became the answer to that. I believe that most positive change that has happened in the world has come about because of collective action and a lot of small, simple sacrifices in ways that no one ever sees or celebrates. The right person happens to be in the right place at the right time and gets on the apex of that groundswell, and they're the one that gets the credit for it. Kaui embodied an answer to that. She's back in Hawai'i and she has to learn to accept that she's made mistakes, but the way forward is to reconnect with her family and the land. She has to give up a sense of complete individuality, something that Nainoa was reaching for incorrectly, that was placed on him as a burden. He's supposed to be something so big that he can fix everything. And to me, Kaui's reckoning in the latter third of the book is a sort of answer, that that isn't the way the world works.

I really like the idea of having her be an engineer, having her build things with her hands and be a very physically grounded character, as a woman. I don't think women necessarily get rendered in literature and in pop culture in a way that I kept wishing they would. I tried to not direct my gaze too much at the body. The way some male writers talk about female bodies can be really creepy and gross. When I was writing Kaui, I wanted her to not be some idealized femme fatale. She was living in a body that was strong and that she was comfortable in. She didn't have anything to do with beauty or the standard female values that are upheld in a lot of pop culture. She was more driven by friction and velocity and fear, and a lot of things that don't get associated with female characters. It became a lot of fun and that's one of the reasons I enjoy her as a character.

What are you working on next?

I've started another novel. It has to do with climate change, has some elements of reincarnation, it spans around 200 years, there's a band of female pirates: it's cool. I'm enjoying it. It tries to blend a couple of genres, and celebrate both the internality of the human experience and the things I love about plot. --Julia Kastner

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Great Reads

Rediscover: A Journal of the Plague Year

Over the course of 18 months between 1665 and 1666, the Great Plague of London killed roughly 100,000 people, nearly a quarter of the city's population. Daniel Defoe, later author of Robinson Crusoe, was five years old at the time. In 1722, having established himself as a novelist, Defoe published A Journal of the Plague Year under the name "H.F." Defoe's uncle, Henry Foe, like the protagonist in A Journal of the Plague Year, worked as a saddler in the Whitechapel district of East London during the Great Plague. Critics consider Defoe's uncle's records the primary source for A Journal of the Plague Year, with casualty tables and other anecdotes later compiled through Defoe's research. Whether Defoe is deemed more author or editor for A Journal of the Plague Year, none of the tales within--grim accounts of a city and individuals grappling with unimaginable tragedy--have ever been debunked. A Journal of the Plague Year was last published in 2003 by Penguin Classics (9780140437850). --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


Hurricane Season

by Fernanda Melchor, trans. by Sophie Hughes

Mexican novelist Fernanda Melchor makes her unforgettable English-language debut with Hurricane Season, the snarled story of a witch murdered in the village of La Matosa. At the outset, five adventurous boys discover her water-logged corpse in an irrigation canal, sparking a series of conflicting accounts that depict the wicked events leading up to her brutal death. The accomplished Sophie Hughes translates from the Spanish, beautifully preserving Melchor's nearly uninterrupted prose, which conjures an intense gravity that can be difficult to escape.

As reviled as the Witch was, the parties she threw were raucous and lively. It's this cruel paradox that Melchor caresses time and again, as those who live in the village grapple with their dependence on, and deep disdain for, the Witch. Men needed her for sex, drugs, booze, money; women needed her to remedy the effects of those tempestuous appetites. Her vicious demise gets recounted in eight bracing chapters, whose menacing and longwinded sentences form the ferocious spiraling arms of Hurricane Season. In the eye of the storm stands Luisimi, a deadbeat who regularly consorted with the Witch. His relationship with her, and implication in her death, swirls into something like focus through vituperative reports from his closest friends and family.

Everyone's transgressions, however, are unmistakably rooted in frank depictions of poverty, need, abuse and addiction, begging empathy for those involved. In La Matosa's economy of violence, Melchor makes awfully clear the ways women bear the most unforgiving burdens of exploitation. Yet Hurricane Season weathers it all into an exquisite work of art. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: This exceptional novel reveals the treacheries within a small village after the grotesque murder of the local witch.

New Directions, $22.95, hardcover, 224p., 9780811228039

The Last Taxi Driver

by Lee Durkee

The Last Taxi Driver by Lee Durkee (Rides of the Midway) is the comic story of cab driver Lou Bishoff, a student of Buddhism with rage issues and a failed university professor who recites Shakespeare to keep his mind off the addicts in his backseat. He says, "We are the poor man's ambulance, and we are also, sad to say, the poor man's priest, our cab the confessional in which people litmus test their wildest fears and prejudices."

Lou drives a beat-up Lincoln in Gentry, Miss. Although he's driven so long he thinks he's losing his mind, he nonetheless tries to "come up with theories that make life fair, but of course it isn't." One fare, Cancer Max, is released from rehab after a cancer diagnosis. He heads to the Rebel Motel, a place for transients, because he has nowhere else to go. Lou looks in Max's room and says, "The room is clean enough but smelled of slit wrists." Lou frequently interjects pointed commentary while driving. "Don't take selfies at red lights," he warns. "It makes you look like a superfreak and is so dispiriting for others to behold it shatters their view of God and humanity and makes them desire an alien invasion."

The dialogue crackles with wit on each page. The characters, including fares, other drivers and Lou's miserable boss, Stella, are idiosyncratically pictured. This is a gonzo ride full of dark humor, philosophical insights and shrewd observations about the plight of luckless people in the United States. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: Cabbie Lou Bishoff drives a colorful cast of characters around a small town in Mississippi in this darkly humorous novel of life on the fringe.

Tin House, $25.95, hardcover, 280p., 9781947793392

Mystery & Thriller

Eight Perfect Murders

by Peter Swanson

Mystery readers who enjoy thrillers chock-full of twists and turns will adore Peter Swanson's (Before She Knew Him; The Kind Worth Killing) meta-mystery Eight Perfect Murders. A few years back, indie mystery bookstore owner Malcolm Kershaw created a blog post listing eight mystery novels where "the murderer comes closest to realizing that platonic ideal of a perfect murder." Now, someone is using that list to replicate those murders. When FBI agent Gwen Mulvey contacts Kershaw, it's revealed that he knew some of the victims, and the killer may be trying to frame him for their deaths. Can he figure out who is behind the killings before he's incriminated? 

Kershaw is the novel's narrator and even he notes, "I don't trust narrators any more than I trust the actual people in my life." He has some secrets in his past, including a dead wife and a store cat who figure into the mayhem. A murder mystery with a mystery bookstore owner as its narrator should delight fans as it revolves around analyzing plot points from Agatha Christie's The A.B.C. Murders, Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train, James M. Cain's Double Indemnity, Ira Levin's Deathtrap, John D. MacDonald's The Drowner and other classic puzzlers. Swanson uses plenty of clever twists and a tight cast of suspects to construct Eight Perfect Murders, a supremely entertaining whodunit that plays fair with attentive readers.

This superbly plotted novel, thrilling, fast-paced and psychologically complex, makes the perfect book club choice for fans of Anthony Horowitz's Magpie Murders and A.J. Finn's The Woman in the Window. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: A serial killer is using plot points from classic murder mysteries, and only a mystery bookstore owner can solve this delightful, fast-paced and supremely clever meta murder mystery.

Morrow, $27.99, hardcover, 288p., 9780062838209


by Russ Thomas

In a crime novel reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe, a body is found walled up in the Sheffield mansion of scandalous financier Gerald Cartwright years after his disappearance. Detective Sergeant Adam Tyler hopes to solve the case to revive his career and perhaps redeem his father's disgraced name. The only trouble is, he accidentally slept with Cartwright's college-aged son the other night; this only complicates the already dense web of lies and misdeeds. Meanwhile, Cartwright associates begin turning up dead, all at the hands of a dangerous pyromaniac, escalating the violent mystery Tyler and ambitious constable Amina Rabbani must untangle.

Russ Thomas's debut novel is a crackling, dark mystery perfect for fans of David Peace's Red Riding series and the works of Kate Atkinson. He writes with empathy for (as well as a necessary judgment of) the sins of the past coming back to consume perpetrator and victim alike. In this aspect, Cartwright's blackmailed neighbor Lily is the most painful example, her dementia eating away at even her knowledge of why she would be targeted in the first place.

Firewatching is a superbly written thriller that promises to keep readers on the edge of their seats guessing at the true culprit. As this is the first in a projected Adam Tyler series, readers can look forward to more mysteries from Thomas with this caliber of prose, suggesting a long and healthy career. --C.M. Crockford, freelance reviewer 

Discover: The debut thriller in a projected series is a dynamic, gripping investigation that juggles a cold case with escalating arsons.

Putnam, $26, hardcover, 368p., 9780525542025

Pretty as a Picture

by Elizabeth Little

In Elizabeth Little's hugely entertaining Pretty as a Picture, film editor Marissa Dahl receives a job offer she can't refuse: work with acclaimed director Tony Rees on his latest movie. The caveats: she must get on a plane immediately, and she won't be told exactly where she's going or anything about the project--other than the story includes a dead girl--until she arrives. Marissa does know the project's previous editor was fired, but no reason is given.

The location turns out to be an island off the coast of Delaware, and Marissa is escorted to the set by the evasive Isaiah, whom she soon realizes is not just a driver but likely former military with lethal skills, e.g., a Navy SEAL. Why would someone like that be needed? The answer reveals itself when a dead body turns up, and the killer is someone on the island.

Like Dear Daughter, Little's well-received debut novel, Pretty as a Picture is propelled by a sharp, sardonic voice and an engaging protagonist. Marissa might lack social skills, but her internal monologue is spiced with snark. When she sees a vending machine that dispenses kale chips and organic cotton socks instead of the usual junk food, she bristles: "What a waste of perfectly good pocket change." Marissa's emotions play out in her brain as movie clips; "Huckleberry Fox, inconsolable, at Debra Winger's bedside" in Terms of Endearment represents sadness. The novel includes many film references to delight cinephiles, and the mystery will keep readers guessing, but the main attractions are Marissa and her vivid inner life. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A movie editor becomes embroiled in the investigation of an on-location death in this entertaining mystery.

Viking, $27, hardcover, 352p., 9780670016396

City of Margins

by William Boyle

William Boyle's City of Margins is a marvelously nuanced study of light and dark, infusing the gritty, melancholy detachment of The Lonely Witness with a dash of the "screwball noir" abounding in A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself. The early 1990s Southern Brooklyn denizens in City of Margins muddle through thinly partitioned lives, toting their loss, hope, desperation and yearning. When chance encounters increase their overlap, perilous links form between people who might otherwise have rubbed against each other without consequence.

Donnie Parascandolo is the epicenter, an emotionally wrecked cop who lost his son and then his wife, Donna. Donnie is connected to Mikey Baldini by a 1991 night of violence that resulted in the death of Mikey's father and left widowed Rosemarie Baldini with a crushing gambling marker held by Big Tommy Ficalora. Two years later, Donnie has been thrown off the force. His surprising new emotional attachment to widow Ava Bifulco is jeopardized when Ava's son recognizes Donnie. Nick dreams of writing the next great mobster screenplay and sees Donnie, rumored muscle for Big Tommy, as his meal ticket. The web of connections thickens when Mikey finds a note leading him to Donna and his ultimate discovery of the explosive truth behind his father's death.

Boyle's love of books and movies that blend crime and comedy wonderfully informs both his style and the bonds among his characters. The arts bridge generations, start conversations and, in Boyle's masterful hands, provide softening, wide-angle lenses to the broken and tortured souls of the margins. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: As chance connections form between Southern Brooklyn residents, long-buried secrets come to light and violence threatens to overrun hope.

Pegasus Books, $25.95, hardcover, 320p., 9781643133188

The Body Double

by Emily Beyda

A "nobody" takes over the persona of a Hollywood "it girl" in the psychological thriller The Body Double by first-time author Emily Beyda.

A young woman--the nameless narrator--working a dead-end job in a nowhere town gets the opportunity of a lifetime. On her behalf, her boss answers an ad seeking a look-alike for a reclusive celebrity named Rosanna Feld, to whom the young woman bears an uncanny resemblance. Rosanna's handler, Max, explains Rosanna has had a nervous breakdown due to the demands of celebrity life, and Max offers the young woman the chance to take Rosanna's place in public appearances until Rosanna recovers. The job comes with a huge paycheck.

The only catch is, the young woman must fully commit to becoming Rosanna and can never return to her current life. After she fulfills her contract, the young woman will be set up with a new life overseas.

It's an easy decision, since her current life entails living friendless in her foster mother's basement and working ungodly hours for minimum wage. But there's something cold and untrustworthy about Max. The more the young woman appears as Rosanna and interacts with her celebrity friends, the more she realizes Rosanna didn't just have a breakdown.

The Body Double adeptly dissects the lure and, conversely, the demands that come with celebrity life in Hollywood, especially the loneliness of being famous for only being famous. Beyda shines especially in detailing the emotional, nail-biting transition of the faux Rosanna from a nobody to a somebody, and then descending into the madness of no longer knowing who she truly is. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer

Discover: A small-town girl takes over the persona of a Hollywood "it girl" in a demented psychological thriller.

Doubleday, $26.95, hardcover, 304p., 9780385545273

Biography & Memoir

Broken Glass: Mies Van Der Rohe, Edith Farnsworth, and the Fight over a Modernist Masterpiece

by Alex Beam

In 1947, Edith Farnsworth, a Chicago physician and art collector, wrote of German-born architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe: "Those of us who know him intimately know him to be a great man, a great teacher, and a great architect." A few years later, Farnsworth was eating her words. Alex Beam has titled his scintillating look at Mies and Farnsworth's public feud Broken Glass, although the name of his earlier book A Great Idea at the Time would have worked for this one as well.

Mies and Farnsworth met at a dinner party in Chicago in 1945. Farnsworth asked Mies if he knew of an architect who would build her a weekend retreat along the Fox River. They struck up a friendship--it briefly turned romantic--and Mies accepted the challenge. Begun in 1949 and completed in 1951, the Farnsworth House was Mies's minimalist masterwork. The space had an open plan--not even the bedroom had walls--and the four exterior walls were made of glass. Some of Broken Glass's three-dozen-plus black-and-white photos show why architects and aesthetes loved the place. But they didn't have to live in it.

Farnsworth would discover when she moved in that the glass walls made the house unbearably hot in summer and excruciatingly cold in winter. There were structural problems with the house, but the biggest affront was Mies's bill, which ran well beyond the original estimate. For six weeks in 1952, they duked it out in court.

Nonetheless, Beam sees the comedy within the high drama, the cleverness behind the jabs. Broken Glass spotlights a timeless concern: whether the artist owes anything beyond the work itself. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: Alex Beam digs deep into the contretemps--legal and personal--that destroyed the friendship between a doctor and the revered architect who agreed to build her a house.

Random House, $28, hardcover, 352p., 9780399592713


Bloody Okinawa: The Last Great Battle of World War II

by Joseph Wheelan

Bloody Okinawa: The Last Great Battle of World War II by Joseph Wheelan (Midnight in the Pacific; Terrible Swift Sword) is a comprehensive overview of the Battle of Okinawa, released in time for its 75th anniversary.

On April 1, 1945, the United States launched the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific theater of World War II against the Japanese island of Okinawa. Over the following 82 days, 184,000 U.S. troops fought 140,000 Japanese soldiers and Okinawan conscripts in a grueling battle of attrition. The Japanese had abandoned their former strategy of contesting beach landings, instead concentrating their forces into elaborate underground fortifications that turned every hill, ravine and valley into mutually supporting fortresses. Meanwhile, in the air, Japanese kamikaze pilots launched waves of mass attacks against American ships. The resulting carnage on land and at sea made clear that the planned invasion of mainland Japan would entail catastrophic casualties, and influenced the decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The battle for Okinawa ultimately killed 7,500 U.S. ground forces and 5,000 seamen, 125,000 Japanese soldiers and 100,000 civilians. Kamikazes sank 36 ships and damaged 368 others.

Wheelan provides a firm background to both sides and manages to keep track of disparate units and commanders without overwhelming readers. His use of first-hand accounts from the Americans, the Japanese and Okinawan civilians caught in between gives life to broader descriptions of unit actions. Still, the many formation movements and officer names make Bloody Okinawa more of interest to military history buffs than to general readers. For those already keen on the subject, Wheelan's book makes for grim yet fascinating reading. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: A comprehensive account of the Battle of Okinawa considers the brutality of this moment in history.

Hachette Books, $30, hardcover, 432p., 9780306903229


They Are Already Here: UFO Culture and Why We See Saucers

by Sarah Scoles

Opinions on the existence of UFOs vary, but what's known about the people who investigate them? In They Are Already Here: UFO Culture and Why We See Saucers, science writer Sarah Scoles (Making Contact) breezily marries journalism and sociological study to introduce professionals and hobbyists who make up the misunderstood UFO community.

Scoles is intrigued by those obsessed with UFOs, wondering why people "spent so much time on a phenomenon that they weren't even sure was a phenomenon." Beyond the expected scientists and military personnel, she discovers people like Tom DeLonge, former member of the rock band Blink-182, whose focus on studying UFOs has been at odds with his music career. His goal was to acquire funding to "reverse-engineer UFO type technology." Nevada businessman Robert Bigelow bought a Utah ranch consisting of almost 500 acres, then hired scientists and engineers to study all sorts of "phenomena," including UFOs, spending tens of millions of his own dollars.

What makes a person believe they've seen a UFO? One reason, says political theorist Jodi Dean, is that "raw information that feeds into our sensory organs has to be processed by our brain's algorithms, which were forged by our unique social, economic, geographic, political, historical, cultural circumstances." Scoles acknowledges unanswered questions about UFOs, and affirms the sincerity of believers. A skeptic to the end, she thinks, "Maybe our own world... is just stranger than we are ready to believe." This engrossing and well-sourced investigation will leave readers contemplating the human condition of "universal uncertainty." --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: A science writer and UFO skeptic offers a sympathetic portrait of the little-known community of UFO believers and researchers.

Pegasus Books, $27.95, hardcover, 304p., 9781643133058

Children's & Young Adult

Tigers, Not Daughters

by Samantha Mabry

A lyrical contemporary YA with a dose of magical realism, Tigers, Not Daughters is an empowering portrait of grief, sisterhood and resilience.

Ever since their mother died in childbirth, the four Torres sisters are desperate to get away from their crushingly needy father. Two months after a failed escape, Ana, the eldest, falls to her death from her bedroom window. A year later, the destroyed sisters and their "disaster of a dad" still mourn. Jessica seethes with anger as she dates Ana's abusive former boyfriend. Iridian, inspired by Ana's romance novels, pens her own, writing down her father's harshest insults to "feel less insignificant." Rosa, magically in tune with nature, believes an escaped hyena is linked to Ana. The three soon see signs of Ana's ghost--her shadow, handwriting and laughter--which convince them she's returned for revenge, and each has her own theory against whom.

The sisters in Tigers, Not Daughters face discrete battles, yet Ana's ghost unites them and forces them to confront the palpable grief eclipsing their powerful bond. Samantha Mabry's characters express their pain with achingly raw vulnerability: Jessica "knew what it was like to... pick pieces of other people's skin from beneath her fingernails"; Rosa had "a part of her snapped off, leaving her with a big, raw hole"; "Iridian felt like Ana was the itch in her skin." At the same time, Mabry (All the Wind in the World) gracefully shows their delicate paths forward as they leave behind guilt and regret and find romantic love and renewed strength. In a beautiful display of sisterly love, the girls summon the fight within, protect each other from their fears and move forward through their loss. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

Discover: When their eldest sister's ghost appears, three girls must tackle inner demons fueled by grief in this magical contemporary YA about the ways lasting, healing change can be found after a loss.

Algonquin Young Readers, $17.95, hardcover, 288p., ages 12-up, 9781616208967

Brown Girl Ghosted

by Mintie Das

Avenging Assamese warrior queens fight to save America's Heartland from an evil spirit in this humorous whodunnit that dismantles popularity, prejudice and the dubious perks of being a high school superhero.

As a brown girl in a mostly white town, 16-year-old Violet Choudhury feels the safest way for her to get through high school is to blend in. Unfortunately, Violet's heritage is at odds with her chosen method of survival. Her "great-great-multiplied-by-like-a-hundred-more-greats-grandmother" Ananya was the queen of the ancient kingdom of Assam, located in present-day India. Ananya used her supernatural powers to help the gods, who then honored her by making her and all of her future female lineage "Aiedeo": warriors tasked with protecting the world from demon kings.

Since there can be only one Aiedeo per generation, all of Violet's teachers have been immortal spirits. In middle school, she could hide the fact that her dead relatives were teaching her how to shape-shift, but, after an accident when she was 13, she began ignoring their existence. The Aiedeo are getting more persistent, though, demanding that she resume her training. When Naomi, "cheer captain and all-around head bitch," turns up dead after a sex tape surfaces, Violet is charged by the Aiedeo--and a vengeful Naomi fresh from the "Ghost World"--to find her killer.

Mintie Das does a terrific job blending the everyday concerns of her heroine with the awesome responsibilities her legacy demands. Violet's journey to claim her inheritance is a compelling one that is also plenty of fun. Snappy banter, plenty of action and a host of supernatural beings make Brown Girl Ghosted, the author's U.S. debut, a refreshing choice. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: All Violet wants is to fit in, but when head cheerleader Naomi dies, Violet's supernatural ancestors insist she find the killer--or die herself.

Versify/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 14-up, 9780358128892

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