Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, April 14, 2020


Henry Holt & Company: The Eighth Detective by Alex Pavesi

From My Shelf

Tor Books: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

Algonquin Books: With or Without You by Caroline Leavitt

Zonderkidz: Pugtato Finds a Thing by Sophie Corrigan

We Are All Singing Island Songs Now

We are a world of islands now, a global human archipelago with six-foot degrees of separation. My favorite reads lately seem to reflect this moment, when we are singing island songs to each other.

Emily St. John Mandel's novel The Glass Hotel (Knopf) periodically checks in, and out, and back into the isolated Hotel Caiette on Vancouver Island. I'm haunted by this exchange from a section set in 1999:

"I know people who are holed up in remote cabins with supplies in case civilization collapses," Vincent said.
"That seems like a lot of trouble to go to," Paul said.
"Do you find yourself sort of secretly hoping that civilization collapses," Melissa said, "just so that something will happen."

In Romesh Gunesekera's Suncatcher (The New Press), Sri Lanka is on the verge of societal upheaval. Young Kairo befriends a more privileged teenager, whose world of adventure is at once intoxicating, troubling and life-altering for someone who previously explored sanctuaries like a nearby second-hand bookshop, where "only one other person floated in that world: Mr. Ismail--a man with millions of words at his fingertips and a capacity for remaining silent at will."

Jamaica and Bob Marley's spirit sing in the pages of The Marvellous Equations of the Dread: A Novel in Bass Riddim by Marcia Douglas (New Directions): "Watching Bob talk about the rain and the woman on the shop piazza with the criss-cross hand-middle, filled me with remembrance. Stories are that way. In little districts of Jamaica, they travel and reverb for generations."

I'm rereading Pico Iyer's Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells (Vintage) because it sings island songs, too: "We cherish things, Japan has always known, precisely because they cannot last. It's their frailty that adds sweetness to their beauty." Iyer also notes "the seasons cycling round so you can see the folly of trying to put a human period on a rushing stream." --Robert Gray, contributing editor


Farrar, Straus and Giroux: Luster by Raven Leilani


Book Candy

Places to Celebrate American Poets--After the Pandemic

Novel Destinations toured "10 places to celebrate American poets (after the pandemic)."

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"I asked Twitter how the great Covid-19 novel would begin. Thousands of you replied." (via Medium)

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"Here's how those hot jigsaw puzzles are made," the New York Times reported, noting that the coronavirus "has sent businesses racing" for them.

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"Soothe your troubled soul with the only surviving recording of Virginia Woolf's voice," Lit Hub suggested.

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Journalists' Charity, founded by Charles Dickens, launched a competition to find real-life Dickens characters, the Guardian noted.


Houghton Mifflin: Igniting Darkness (Courting Darkness Duology) by Robin Lafevers


Great Reads

Rediscover: The Plague

The Plague by Albert Camus takes place in the city of Oran in French Algeria during the 1940s, where a disparate cast of characters are quarantined during an outbreak of bubonic plague. Though the real Oran was free from plague in the 1940s, the city suffered a severe cholera epidemic in 1849 during French colonization and periodic plague outbreaks for centuries before that. Camus, born and raised in French Algeria, populates his ailing city primarily with Frenchmen: doctors, travelers, criminals, priests and others who suffer first from the city administration's slow response to the disease then under many months of quarantine. As the plague drags on, civil order degenerates, bodies continue to pile up, and Camus' characters are overcome with ennui in the sealed city. This classic work of existentialist literature is available in paperback from Vintage ($15, 9780679720218). --Tobias Mutter

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster: Kings County by David Goodwillie


The Writer's Life

Paul Lisicky: Turning Up the Volume on the Everyday

photo: Beowulf Sheehan

Paul Lisicky's work has appeared in the Atlantic, Conjunctions, the New York Times, Ploughshares, Tin House and many other publications. He was a 2016 Guggenheim Fellow, and has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the James Michener/Copernicus Society and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Mass., where he has served on the Writing Committee since 2000. He is the author of Lawnboy, Famous Builder, The Burning House, Unbuilt Projects, The Narrow Door: A Memoir of Friendship and Later: My Life at the Edge of the World (reviewed below), available now from Graywolf Press. Lisicky teaches in the MFA program at Rutgers University and lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

How do you write a memoir about events nearly 30 years ago?

In many ways I've been writing this story over and over. At the center of my first two books is the prospect of AIDS and HIV. My third book is about characters who are dealing with an unnamed illness, the fourth is about dementia, and the fifth has cancer at the center of it. I think this material has been a part of my imagination for my entire adult life, and there came a point where it seemed crucial to get it to the page. I don't think that those early years in Provincetown ever felt very far away to me. My friend Polly and I continue to talk about those events with regularity. Honestly, I think those days are firmer and more precise in my imagination than any other time before or since. If you asked me to write about Provincetown from 1996 onward, after protease inhibitors changed the landscape of AIDS for people who could afford them, my memories would be far more diffuse. But there was something about that window of time between 1991 and 1994 that continues to be sharp and bright and italicized to me. It's so fascinating how memory works, and how much more is stored and alive in the imagination than you know.

How do you navigate writing about the lives of other people?

I don't write about anyone who I don't love very deeply, even though it might not always look like it. I'm drawn to people who are super vivid and complicated. I think it's a sentence-by-sentence matter. If I'm aware of saying something that feels like it has more power over the subject than I should have, then I stop and process and think. There isn't a simple answer, because largely it's about paying attention to my intuition. It also involves showing the work to the people who appear in the pages. At least three of the people who appear in the book have seen the book and have vetted and approved everything I've written. It's important to tell people, Look, I really love you. Some of the material here might be difficult, it might feel like it invades your privacy or puts down observations you don't want to hear, but we can talk about that. It's a matter of conversation first.

Is there a trick to writing beautifully about sad subject matter?

It's not even something I think about. I could not write this book without folding in the landscape of Provincetown. Not just the topographical landscape, but the people on the streets, their interest in clothing, display, performance--all of that feels like it's a part of this story. I think when one is writing about illness one is also writing about life. Life at the precipice can be super intense: it turns up the volume on the everyday. And that might be experienced as beauty by the reader, but as I'm writing I'm not terribly conscious of that quality.

It's a book about surviving day to day, and how people take care of each other and check in on one another. And joy did not at all feel slight in those times. Joy was an aspect of participation, and those people in that community felt the need to draw life and joy and community out of one another. I think that's one of the reasons why I felt compelled to write the book, because community and belonging got people through those times.

The book has a life of its own. I want to write something that feels more acute, more conscious than my usual everyday thinking mind. I'm trying to write something that teaches me as I write it.

How is writing your sixth book different from writing your first or second?

The first or second felt so tentative. I had no structural confidence. I didn't know how to think about my work outside of the landscape of the individual sentences. And I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, but over the years I've developed some chops in terms of how to think about how one scene may dialogue with the scene after it. I'm aware of building a conversation from passage to passage over the book, developing a passage around an image or metaphor that might speak to one that follows. I feel I have much more structural confidence and much more awareness of the book, any book, as a whole. I'm as excited about the macro elements of putting a book together as I am the sentences.

I learned a lot from The Narrow Door, which couldn't follow a linear structure. When I tried to write that book in a linear fashion, it simply didn't work. It wasn't able to hold the simultaneous stories that that fed one another in my imagination. I had to write that in a way that was faithful to how my mind moved. That was tremendously freeing and an educational experience. It was teaching me how it needed to be written.

Is this a timely book?

I hope it is. I'm still taken with the idea of community at the center of this book. I don't feel like I'm in a world where community takes care of me the way it took care of me then. It was a world that instantly felt welcoming, and not too much. In a world before social media, faces and gestures and simple kindnesses did a lot to sustain life. Life has not been that way for me since, and I suspect it isn't that way for most of us. Most of our casual interactions happen through social media, the world of online. I wanted to write a book that thought about what we don't have right now. And that's not in any way to idealize the world at the center of Later, because that's a world that was under siege day by day--it would be wrong to sentimentalize that period and think about it with nostalgia, because those were rough, rough times. But they were also times of deep tenderness and affection and looking out for one another. I needed to examine that world and bring it to the page, and offer readers another possibility of living. What don't we have in our lives right now, and what could we have if we were lucky enough to organize them around a participatory life?

What's next?

I'm working on a book about my father, or fathers in general. He's a vivid and complicated character--you got to see a little about him in Later--kind of scary and loving and completely unpredictable. Still thought of himself as young when he was 90 years old. He became more open, gentler, as he grew older, but not in a Pollyanna-ish way. A lot of life in that human. For a while that book was braided with Later but I realized that it needed a separate life. So I have a lot of material: it goes back to the structural question. I don't right now know how to shape it. It needs some boundaries to give it some cohesiveness. I have some ideas about it, but I'm excited about the fact that I still don't know, that I haven't found its glue. I have a kind of faith that I might not have had with earlier books. Once I find out the answer to this simple question, it's all just going to fall into place. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia


Black Sparrow Press: Bukowski, a Life (Centennial)


Book Review

Mystery & Thriller

The Woman in the Mirror

by Rebecca James


Rebecca James (Beautiful Malice; Sweet Damage) delivers a hauntingly atmospheric tale in The Woman in the Mirror. Forbidding Winterbourne Hall, located at the very edge of Cornwall, has harbored dark secrets for more than two centuries. New Yorker Rachel Wright has never heard of it, and is astonished to learn that she is heir to the decrepit estate.

In 1947, Alice Miller accepted a post as governess to the de Grey family of Winterbourne. Her charges, twins Constance and Edmund, appear to be angelic, but they've had a hard life. Their mother died when they were toddlers, and their father, Captain Jonathan de Grey, was badly wounded in the war and has returned an aloof, stern figure, apparently still mourning the loss of his wife and the damage to his leg. However, Alice finds herself drawn to the enigmatic Captain de Grey, just as she becomes unnerved by the increasingly strange behavior of the twins.

In the present day, Rachel travels to Cornwall to seek out how she is connected to the de Grey family, and finds both a tentative new love and some disquieting revelations about the history of Winterbourne, which are closely entwined with her own past.

Perfectly gothic, The Woman in the Mirror is a creepily enthralling tale. Readers are sure to love the disturbing world of Winterbourne and be shocked to discover exactly how Alice and Rachel's stories will end. Fans of historical mysteries or literary ghost stories will love what Rebecca James has created. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: This gothic thriller will keep readers guessing as two women in different eras confront the strangeness of Winterbourne Hall.

Minotaur Books, $26.99, hardcover, 368p., 9781250230058

Random House Books for Young Readers: This Is My America by Kim Johnson


The Keeper

by Jessica Moor


The dual timelines of Jessica Moor's enigmatic debut, The Keeper, concern Katie Straw as victim and protagonist. In "Then," Katie is dealing with her mother's terminal illness and a new relationship. "Now," Katie is pulled from the water under a popular suicide bridge. Moor covers the investigation of Katie's death while flashing back to her increasingly controlling lover. The attitudes of the officers involved complicate matters, as do the certainties of the women at the domestic violence shelter where Katie worked that she would not have killed herself.

DS Daniel Whitworth is an old-school detective close to retirement. At times sentimental and insightful, Whitworth's attitudes are mostly infuriating. His trainee, DC Brookes, is a tad further evolved, though they still muse about hackle-raising questions (is a woman in danger if her husband didn't actually hit her?). Moor provides a view into the many facets of domestic abuse through the sheltered women, all different yet none novel. Katie's "Then" story is, in many ways, their "before" version, skillfully showing how any woman might be slowly eclipsed by strategic manipulation.

Fascinatingly, the pace of the investigation renders it almost a backdrop to the consideration of ideas about women. Whitworth's internal thoughts (on "proper rape," crying men, naming his daughter Jenny because "Jennys" are nurses and teachers, not prostitutes) are consistently trying, his character a funnel for a world of misguided ideas. Clever twists bring Katie's case to an end while Moor's amplification of misogyny and abuse spirals on into the future. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: As a woman's enigmatic death is investigated, an earlier timeline tracks her abusive relationship and the path to her demise.

Penguin Books, $16, paperback, 336p., 9780143134527

Kensington Publishing Corporation: The Orphan Collector: A Heroic Novel of Survival During the 1918 Influenza Pandemic by Ellen Marie Wiseman


Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Last Human

by Zack Jordan


The only surviving member of the human species, Sarya embarks on a dangerous quest for answers and justice in the playfully mind-bending space adventure The Last Human.

Sarya the Daughter is a human adopted by Shenya the Widow, a murderous arachnoid hunter. Registered as a low-tier citizen, Sarya can tell none of the 1.4 million intelligent species in the Network her race or she'll be killed. When a group mind named Observer claims to know Sarya's origins, Sarya sees this as "a choice between mundanity and adventure, between her home and her people." That choice becomes imperative when Shenya sacrifices herself to save Sarya from a bounty hunter. On the run with a conveniently disobedient autonomous pressure suit, a thieving android on his 60th life, a terrifying six-limbed beast and a wicked smart furball, Sarya seeks Observer's knowledge. As she learns about the eradication of the human species, she finds that Observer is not the only intelligence with a stake in Sarya's future--and the potential return of humanity.

With multiple godlike minds appealing to Sarya, she wonders whether it's truly possible to act. Her dilemma generates questions about the illusion of choice versus free will. Moreover, Zack Jordan's tale grapples with what purpose means for a "speck of dust in a galaxy that is also a speck of dust." His deft worldbuilding incorporates clever tools (sentient tech; translation devices that tag speakers' emotions), proverbs ("the Network tends toward order"), species-specific eccentricities and satiric "Network Orientation" missives. Steeped in existentialism, with wacky characters, vicious strategizing and cynical banter, The Last Human by Zack Jordan is a smart and imaginative sci-fi debut that encourages good-natured philosophizing. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

Discover: In this thought-provoking romp through space, time and dimensions, a human thought the last of her kind must decide which alien intellects she can trust as she works to reclaim humanity.

Del Rey, $27, hardcover, 448p., 9780451499813

Vagabonds

by Hao Jingfang, trans. by Ken Liu


Hugo Award-winner Hao Jingfang's Vagabonds is a science fiction epic that doubles as a work of philosophy--a novel filled with big ideas about art, competing cultures and so much more. Translated by Ken Liu (The Hidden Girl), Hao's novel takes place at the beginning of the 23rd century, on a colonized Mars that broke away from Earth many years earlier, after a destructive war.

In an attempt to thaw relations between Mars and Earth, a delegation of young Martians was sent to live on Earth for five years. Vagabonds begins with their return to Mars, many of them unmoored by their experiences in a very different culture. Luoying returns unsure of her place in either world, disturbed by assertions on Earth that her grandfather, the consul of Mars, is a dictator. Meanwhile, Eko, a documentarian from Earth, finds Mars a utopia of artistic expression, unconstrained by the demands of capitalism. As Eko attempts to follow the footsteps of his old teacher, and Luoying learns more about her deceased parents, the author unfolds revelations and complicates each of their perceptions of Mars.

Vagabonds is sometimes reminiscent of old-school sci-fi. Hao thankfully avoids the all-too-common habit of making one character her obvious mouthpiece; instead, it's often unclear who is right and who is wrong. Even Luoying's grandfather, the alleged dictator, is treated sympathetically and given a fully coherent ideology. In Vagabonds, the conflict between Earth and Mars is no more important than the conflict between the novel's characters as they struggle to chart a course for their future. --Hank Stephenson, manuscript reader, the Sun magazine

Discover: A science fiction epic uses a cold war between Earth and colonized Mars in the 23rd century as a stage for philosophical debate.

Saga Press, $28.99, hardcover, 608p., 9781534422087

The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home

by Joseph Fink, Jeffrey Cranor


Listeners of the eerie podcast Welcome to Night Vale know that in the town of Night Vale, there is a faceless old woman who lives in everybody's home. She might light a refrigerator on fire if it upsets her, or she might want the Wi-Fi password, but never has she revealed how she came to live there or what happened to her face.

Her story stretches back to the 18th century in a Europe that features several additional countries. An idyllic childhood ends in tragedy, setting her on a lifelong quest for revenge against a shadowy criminal organization. Adventure and humor blend with a fablelike tone reminiscent of The Princess Bride by William Goldman. Woven throughout the story are chapters set in modern Night Vale, in which she addresses a resident named Craig. She treats him sometimes like a roommate, sometimes like a son in whose life she meddles and sometimes as if she's the ghost who haunts his house. By the end, her particular interest in Craig will become chillingly clear.

This third Welcome to Night Vale novel from Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor (Welcome to Night Vale) requires no prior knowledge of the previous books or the podcast, although readers versed in the larger universe will be pleased to get glimpses of the history of other familiar characters and mysterious organizations that populate that world. Part Ruritanian romance, part horror story, The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home will enchant fans and newcomers alike. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library

Discover: This story of adventure and betrayal with a favorite Night Vale character will charm, chill, and excite new and old fans.

Harper Perennial, $21.99, hardcover, 384p., 9780062889003

Romance

The Magnolia Sisters

by Michelle Major


Michelle Major (Fortune's Fresh Start) begins a warmhearted series with The Magnolia Sisters. Avery Keller, 30 years old and living in San Francisco, has her life disrupted when she loses her high-powered job in risk analysis and learns the man she loves is already married, with a family. Avery receives another unexpected jolt when she gets word that her birth father, a man whom Avery always believed knew nothing about her existence, has died and left her an inheritance. In order to claim it, Avery sets off for Magnolia, N.C., where she learns about her father, Niall Reed--a once prominent artist and serial philanderer--whose lucrative paintings, in his heyday, captured enough acclaim for him to buy up a lot of property in town.

Avery's revelations don't end there. She learns she has two half-sisters--Magnolia natives who didn't know they shared the same father--who are also beneficiaries of Niall's patrimony. Wise-cracking 29-year-old animal-rescuer Meredith is drawn to fitted T-shirts, cargo pants and boots, while 28-year-old artistic Carrie--the only one of the sisters who was raised by their father--looks and acts like a "perfect Southern belle." The three vastly different women grapple with their new identities, each other and how best to handle Niall's fortune without disrupting the small-town dynamic. Along the way, Avery falls for a handsome, divorced firefighter embroiled in a messy custody battle for his precocious daughter.

A large cast of well-drawn characters and a host of intriguing story threads enlarge the hopeful, heartfelt charm of Major's engrossing new romance series. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: The first in a heartfelt romance series follows an emotionally wounded city gal as she discovers half-sisters--and a new love--in a small North Carolina town.

Harlequin, $7.99, mass market paperbound, 336p., 9781335013286

If I Never Met You

by Mhairi McFarlane


In this funny, well-developed contemporary romance, Scottish-born Mhairi McFarlane (Don't You Forget About Me) takes the adage "Fake it 'til you make it" into the dating scene. 

When biracial British lawyer Laurie Watkinson's domestic partner of 11 years tells her he doesn't want children and leaves her for another woman, she's blindsided. At 36, she worries she won't ever have a family now, and their breakup becomes hot gossip at the firm where they both work. The last straw comes when his new girlfriend turns up pregnant. Unwilling to play the scorned woman, Laurie strikes up a deal with unlikely ally Jamie Carter, a gorgeous and ambitious coworker five years her junior. Jamie wants to move up at their firm, but the traditionally minded bosses have told the monogamy-averse playboy he lacks stability. If he and Laurie appear to fall in love, he'll gain a veneer of respectability. Capturing the heart of an infamously untamable bachelor will up Laurie's desirability factor. As their fictional relationship begins to reveal Jamie's hidden depths, Laurie realizes the hardest part of this ruse will be pretending not to fall for her fake boyfriend.

McFarlane gives her heroine realistic hurdles, including workplace sexism and finding herself after a decade in a stifling relationship, all balanced with the author's trademark dry humor. Watching Jamie and Laurie step up and support each other time and again is soul-quenching, and readers wanting a romance with emotional heft need look no further. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: After a confidence-destroying breakup, a British lawyer in her late 30s agrees to a fake romance with the firm's hottest playboy but finds their connection is real.

Morrow, $15.99, paperback, 432p., 9780062958501

Biography & Memoir

The Lady's Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness

by Sarah Ramey


The Lady's Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness by Sarah Ramey is a riveting account of one woman's chronic illness and the failure of modern medicine to diagnose and treat her.

Ramey is a writer and musician known by her stage name, Wolf Larsen. Her struggle with severe pelvic pain, gut and colon dysfunction and persistent fatigue began more than a decade ago with a urinary tract infection while she was in college. A dangerous and unwarranted procedure performed by one of Washington, D.C.'s preeminent urologists sent her into septic shock and near death. Traumatized, her body was weakened by the industrial-strength drugs used as treatment.

As the daughter of physicians, the author was raised with an unquestioning belief in the healing power of medicine. When told by specialists that her pain symptoms were signs of psychological problems, she dutifully took the antidepressants they prescribed. Meanwhile, her physical condition worsened.

With a light touch, despite the serious subject matter, The Lady's Handbook offers example after stunning example of doctors (with aliases such as Dr. Bowels) unwilling to devote any effort to understanding and treating complex, under-researched "feminine" conditions such as Ramey's. After years of trying alternative treatments with no long-term improvement, the author embraced the functional medicine movement, with a focus on emotional wellbeing, sleep, gut and intestinal health, and the immune system for optimal healing and wellbeing.

Ramey's remarkable journey toward improved health and her research into the benefits of functional medicine offer valuable hope to others battling complex health problems for which conventional medicine offers no satisfactory answers. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: A gifted storyteller offers a candid assessment of the medical profession's limitations in diagnosing and treating chronic health conditions that almost exclusively affect women.

Doubleday, $27.95, hardcover, 432p., 9780385534079

Essays & Criticism

Had I Known: Collected Essays

by Barbara Ehrenreich


In Had I Known, Barbara Ehrenreich (Living with a Wild God; Natural Causes) explores social issues in 40 essays published from 1999 through 2019. Even her sharp, dry wit can't soften these timely and hair-raising topics, and the collection is a reminder of what hasn't been addressed in the United States.

Ehrenreich, whose many books focus on undervalued citizens and underexposed social truths, opens Had I Known with sobering news: fewer investigative journalists like her are working today. "Squeezed to generate more profit for billionaire newspaper owners," reporters have been laid off, replaced by freelancers. (She has helped fund the Economic Hardship Reporting Project to assist underrepresented struggling journalists.)

Arguably the best known of Ehrenreich's books is Nickel and Dimed, reported when, in 1998, she went "undercover" in the low-wage workforce, concluding that as bad as those poverty-level jobs were, conditions were bound to worsen (with the 1999 economic forecast). By 2007 things were no better, and "Going to Extremes: CEOs vs. Slaves" cites increasing polarization, not only in bottom-tier jobs but among professions, such as professors' incomes compared to those of adjuncts.

In her prescient 2006 piece "Are Illegal Immigrants the Problem?" she advocated that all low-wage workers join immigrants in banding together for better wages and conditions. Multiple essays note the criminalization of poverty and homelessness, including cities' cracking down on distributing food to the poor.

Ehrenreich takes on health (like Nickel and Dimed, she wrote 2001's "Welcome to Cancerland" from "inside" as a breast cancer patient, decrying the emphasis on "pink ribbons" over environmental carcinogens and patriarchal medicine), sexual harassment, "mass market mindfulness" and more, in essays as provocative now as when they were first written. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, freelance reviewer

Discover: Barbara Ehrenreich's essays, excerpted from two decades of writing, cover social issues that continue to be timely and demanding of attention.

Twelve, $28, hardcover, 384p., 9781455543670

Lives of Houses

by Kate Kennedy and Hermione Lee, editors


Houses are ubiquitous in life-writing, and in many other kinds of writing, notes editor Hermione Lee in her introduction to this thoughtful collection of essays. Houses, their lives and afterlives, what they mean to their owners and inhabitants, what it means to be un-housed and looking at houses from the outside in--these essays ask readers to reflect on their own lives by considering these structures more fully.

This collection follows a conference titled "The Lives of Houses," held at the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing in 2017. It is broadly arranged in seven sections, which makes it easy to read the 23 essays in order or skip around. Whether considering the lives and homes of artists and writers, houses that have left an impact on history, or how history is impressed upon these structures, the range of disciplines includes perspectives from writers, curators, poets, literary critics, historians, archeologists and others. Essayists include editor Hermione Lee, as well as notable names such as Julian Barnes, R.F. Foster and Jenny Uglow. Accessible, though with an obvious intellectual bent, Lives of Houses does not try to really answer the question of what houses mean to the people who live in them, but rather, calls readers to consider more broadly why these structures have such a hold--both physically and in how they frame the concept of home. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer

Discover: An interdisciplinary and open-ended collection of essays on houses and homes considers how these structures frame and are framed by history and society.

Princeton University Press, $24.95, hardcover, 272p., 9780691193663

Children's & Young Adult

The Postman from Space

by Guillaume Perreault, trans. by Françoise Bui


Drawn "with a deft hand that could convey the speed of hurdling space projectiles," Guillaume Perreault's The Postman from Space is the jocular story of Bob, a spacial postman who is really quite ordinary. Every morning he showers, puts on his uniform, travels the same way to work and enjoys his nice-and-easy schedule on his nice-and-easy delivery route. This morning, though, there has been a change and Bob is about to have a very unusual, not even remotely nice-and-easy day--instead of his standard "simple and orderly" route, Bob delivers to a giant during a very muddy rainstorm, an elderly woman who needs to clean up the mess in her asteroid belt and a planet occupied entirely by dogs. Hungry dogs.

Perreault (Sleep, Sheep!) takes everyday adult activities--gassing up the car, making coffee, going to work--and places them in an extraordinary context, giving readers a world that is surprising, unusual and very funny. The text, translated from the original French by Françoise Bui, directly conveys the mundanity of Bob's life while the illustrations show readers the silly: Bob showering in a glass cube, or taking orders from his mustachioed, one-eyed, tentacled boss. Perreault makes excellent use of blank space to keep his illustrations uncluttered, his panels drawn in a thin, uneven black line with many pages free of panels altogether. He makes the art all the more dynamic by visually differentiating Bob's new delivery stops with individual color palettes. The Postman from Space is an imaginative graphic novel perfect for both solo and shared reading experiences. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A space postman has a very exciting day in this French-Canadian children's book.

Holiday House, $12.99, paperback, 144p., ages 7-up, 9780823445844

Oil

by Jonah Winter, illus. by Jeanette Winter


Three decades after the Exxon Valdez ran aground on March 24, 1989, in Alaska's Prince William Sound, author Jonah Winter (Thurgood) and his author/illustrator mother, Jeanette Winter (Malala/Iqbal), present the environmental catastrophe in a straightforward manner ideal for younger audiences. With a similar display of transparency that earned stars and plaudits for their collaborative The Secret Project, about the atomic bomb, Oil is another affecting early primer.

Jonah Winter introduces the oil extraction that gets "pumped by machines... all day long, all night long," and follows the 800-mile pipeline connecting the oil with waiting ships. Jeanette illustrates the pipeline's path, her palette initially dark and shadowed as bears and seals witness the invasive work, switching to full color "across what had been unspoiled land, home to Native people," then returning to muted darkness as the pipeline reaches the port's waiting ships. Embarking into the "clean, cold ocean water," the loaded Valdez goes "CLANG! CRACK!... And just like that, oil GUSHES out of holes," spreading across 11,000 square miles, proliferating carnage over "days, weeks, months." Jeanette Winter shrouds Jonah's words--already graphically accentuated with enlarged, bolded text--with ominous darkness. Thirty years pass, and sea otters and seabirds have returned, but "for Native people... their way of life still has not recovered."

In simple, stark prose, Jonah's candid words need no embellishments to underscore the magnitude of this manmade disaster. The minimal type on the page provides maximal space for Jeannette's sweeping, impassioned art. Despite Jonah's sober ending, younger readers just might be the antidote to the seeming bleakness: galvanized by the Winters, awareness is always the necessary first step toward action. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: With affecting urgency, the award-winning son-mother team Jonah and Jeanette Winter exposes the ongoing environmental consequences of the Exxon Valdez disaster for young audiences.

Beach Lane Books, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781534430778

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In Japanese Occupied Singapore, Mirza, a known collaborator, is found murdered clutching a mimosa branch. Su Lin’s Uncle Chen is a suspect and Hideki Tagawa, former spy and power in the new regime, offers Su Lin her uncle’s life in exchange for using her knowledge of local ways and languages to find the real killer. But the secrets she unearths strike painfully close to home…

Email me at ovidiabookwriter@gmail.com to win one of five signed copies.

Ovidia Yu
www.ovidiayu.com


Buy Now From Your Local Indie Bookstore

Publisher: 
Constable

Pub Date:
September 8, 2020

ISBN:
9781472132024

List Price:
$15.99

 

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