Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, June 5, 2020

William Morrow & Company: Southern Man (Penn Cage #7) by Greg Iles

From My Shelf

Funny Women

Right now, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the advice that I am getting over and over is to "stay home" and "calm the f&*k down." First one: Done. Second one: I would if I knew how.

I did receive a message from the doctor; she said it was important to be kind and tell jokes. And that made me think of Jenny Lawson, author of Let's Pretend This Never Happened (Berkley, $16) and Furiously Happy (Flatiron, $17.99). Lawson has the ability to convey the surprisingly absurd situations of daily life with a wry tone as she makes her way through chronic pain and mental illness. She shocked me into laughing out loud more than once, and I thought, "Wow, did she really do that? Did she really say that?"

And that made me think of Wow, No Thank You (Vintage, $15.95), Samantha Irby's third book of essays. Irby pretty much vomits her negative thoughts, observations and judgments onto the page in an acerbic, matter-of-fact tone using language straight from what my elders would call "the gutter." As someone who pretty much funds the swear jar at work, I laughed through page after page until tears ran down my face. Irby's truth-telling about chronic pain, compulsive eating, relationships and bowel issues actually gave me an asthma attack. She is that good. 

Right up the alley of anyone who has read the other two titles is Liz Astrof's Don't Wait Up: Notes from a Stay-at-Work Mom (Gallery, $27). Astrof is heart-wrenchingly funny about a dysfunctional childhood. She is also horrifically honest about raising children despite having no discernable parenting skills. I laughed, I cried, and can't believe these writers had the guts to put their true thoughts and feelings on the page. This is just what I need right now. --Lisa Von Drasek, curator, University of Minnesota Libraries

Book Candy

Reading Advice

Mental Floss shared "7 pieces of reading advice from history's greatest minds."


"Daydreaming is an age-old tradition for battling boredom," Quirk Books noted in revisiting some of its "If Authors..." blog posts.


Merriam-Webster looked up "14 airy, puffy words for windy speech."


Check out this year's winners of the Todd H. Bol Awards for Outstanding Achievement, named after Little Free Library's late founder.


In D.W. Young's new short film A Body of Language, antiquarian booksellers "reel off the special language they use."


Mary Queen of Scots' prayer book will be auctioned at Christie's, Fine Books & Collections magazine reported.

The Second Home

by Christina Clancy

The Gordon family has spent countless summers in their family home in Wellfleet, on Cape Cod, where they can relax and retreat from their year-round lives in Milwaukee. But the events of one summer, when their daughters are teenagers, will have far-reaching effects for the whole family. In her debut novel, The Second Home, Christina Clancy explores the complicated dynamic between two sisters, the consequences of impulsive decisions and the elusive meaning of home itself.

Clancy's narrative begins in early 2016, when Ann, the oldest Gordon daughter, is preparing to sell the Wellfleet house after her parents' death in a car accident. (Ann's younger sister, Poppy, an itinerant surfer and yoga teacher, is--reluctantly--back in Milwaukee trying to prepare her family's other house for sale.) As Ann revisits the Cape Cod house for the first time in years, she flashes back to one summer nearly two decades ago, when her family came to the Cape as usual but brought Michael, a recently orphaned student of her father's whom the Gordons ended up adopting. Although it was Ann's idea to have her family adopt Michael, she wasn't prepared to deal with her tangled feelings about him--definitely more than sisterly--while having him as part of her family. Poppy adored Michael, but his sudden presence in her family made her feel a bit left out, so she turned to surfing and drugs as both a distraction and a new community.

The distance between the three teenagers, each struggling to find their own way, only grew as the summer went on. Ann, babysitting for the two sons of a wealthy couple from Boston, longed for the seemingly effortless, comfortable life on display at their house. She was also flattered and confused by the attentions of Anthony, the boys' father. Michael, still grieving the loss of his mother and struggling to fit into a loving but entirely different family, found distraction in his part-time landscaping job. And Poppy, disinclined to think about things too deeply, nevertheless was sensitive to the seismic shifts in her family's life. All of them were blindsided by the outcome of that summer, which eventually led to Ann standing in the Wellfleet house on a February day in 2016, shivering, with no idea where Michael is or how to bridge the emotional gap between herself and Poppy. Clancy intertwines the two time periods so the reader can guess where some of the plotlines are going, but she doesn't give away either the full sequence of events or the emotional impact of them on her characters.

Clancy's love for Cape Cod comes through in her depiction of the house, located just off Route 6 and layered with family memories and stories. The adult Ann, to her own surprise, realizes that she has more pride and emotional investment in the house than she thought, and even Poppy, the traveler, cherishes her memories of childhood summers there. Home is a much more difficult concept for Michael to reckon with, but the choices he makes about where and how to build his life as an adult also speak to the power of the Cape house. All three siblings feel the pull back to Wellfleet, even (or especially) in the wake of tragedy.

Like the house itself, Ed and Connie, the Gordon parents, often seem to be simply part of the background of their children's stories. But both are interesting characters in their own right: Ed the affable, slightly hippie-ish teacher, beloved by his students, is also happy to shrug off his public persona for a few weeks on the Cape each year. Connie, relentlessly social and capable in Milwaukee, mostly spends her summer vacations reading, though she (sometimes) notices more than her children give her credit for.

As Ann and Poppy try to sift through the logistical and emotional clutter of selling the Cape house, they are both forced to reckon with the events of that long-ago summer. In Ann's case, this means facing up to her own decisions and also letting go of the weight of several events that were out of her control. For Poppy, it means finally asking the right questions to get to the bottom of what really made Michael disappear, and also asking herself whether the globe-trotting life she's chosen is the one she wants. Both sisters--and eventually Michael--have to deal not only with the legal challenges of their shared inheritance, but the personal challenges posed by the memories that have affected all of them in profound ways. 

Warm, absorbing and thought-provoking, Clancy's narrative nudges her characters to look honestly at the disparities between memory, truth and reality. Along the way, she leaves readers with a craving for lobster rolls, the feel of sand between their toes, and perhaps even a sharp longing for the homes they've loved and lost. --Katie Noah Gibson

St. Martin's Press, $26.99, hardcover, 352p., 9781250239341

Scribner Book Company: Long Island (Eilis Lacey) by Colm Toibin

Christina Clancy: Coming Home Again

(photo: James Bartelt)

Christina Clancy spent many childhood summers on Cape Cod. She holds a Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and has taught creative writing at Beloit College. Clancy lives in Madison, Wis., with her husband. The Second Home is her debut novel.

What was the inspiration for The Second Home?

The story started with Poppy, the youngest Gordon sibling. She's a surfer and has been traveling all over the world. She was inspired by a bartender I met in Panama who was traveling and working all over the world. I'm such a Midwesterner--I have this idea of bringing people home. And I wondered: How would I get Poppy home and have her reconnect with home?

I knew "home" was going to be Milwaukee, because I'm from Milwaukee. But my grandparents lived on Cape Cod and I spent so much time there. In my family, there was a lot of trauma when my grandparents passed away and we tried to figure out what to do with their house. I interviewed some female surfers, and one of them very pointedly said to me, "Whatever you do, you can't have Poppy get married and settle down at the end of the story." I ended up having something between that ending and having Poppy continue with the life she'd previously had.

The book really explores the idea of home, and multiple homes.

Yes. Home can be a complicated idea, especially when there's a second home in the mix. In some ways, second homes can feel even more like "home" than the places we live with our families. I don't think home is ever an obvious thing for us. Whether we're trying to recapture feelings we felt as children, or create a home for the first time as adults--some people never feel like they have a home. I have a friend who is from Spain and has moved to the U.S., and he said he only ever felt at home in an airplane. You can definitely have that feeling of home in an "elsewhere." I used to teach English at Beloit College and I taught a course on "Elsewhere," so clearly that's a big idea for me.

Is the Gordons' house on Cape Cod inspired by your family's house?

Yes, partly, but it's really inspired by the house next door to where my family lived. My grandparents' house is right on the cove, and our neighbors' house is closer to Route 6, although it's also near the cove. It feels very private, especially once you drive up that long driveway. The view is really beautiful.

My grandfather taught at Harvard and then was the headmaster of boys' schools. He was around kids all the time. When we were kids and would go visit, it was my mother's vacation. She was a single mom and she just wanted to be able to relax. An older lady, Mrs. Andl, lived next door and she was a complete foil to my grandparents. She had this soft voice and curly hair, and she always wanted us to come over and play games. She wore these flowered maxi dresses and she was so warm. We'd play Tiddlywinks or Parcheesi or Uno. That's why the game cabinet was so important in the novel; I wanted to bring those characters back to a time when nobody was on a phone. I think houses imprint themselves on us, and that one definitely did on me.

Mrs. Andl loved telling stories about her house. The previous owner, Clarence Hicks, was kind of crazy. He made a bunch of money during Prohibition from running rum. My grandmother would stand on Route 6 with a lantern and guide all the men who were smuggling rum up the coast. Hicks is kind of a legendary figure in the area--there are holes all over that house where it was rumored he'd hidden money.

The Gordons adopt a teenage boy, Michael, who is recently orphaned. How did you decide to include him in the book?

I used to volunteer at a school in the central city of Milwaukee and there was a little boy named Michael who stole my heart. He had a lot of ADD issues and a lot of family life problems. We just clicked, and we'd always read together. One day I went in to work with him, and he was gone. He never came back to school again. It troubled me. There was a part of me that wanted to save this kid and help him. I couldn't, of course. Sometimes we think we can do more for people than we really can. I wanted to imagine Michael finding a home, but I knew that it would never be easy for him.

How does the idea of class come through in the novel?

A lot of people, when they hear about this book, think it's going to be about a wealthy family on Cape Cod with a second home. But the Gordon family is very blue-collar: Ed, the dad, is a teacher. People in the Midwest know that, on either coast, there are lots of people who don't even know about Wisconsin. The class divide is also really stark in Milwaukee. Ann is very aware of these things, and she's extra conscious of class on Cape Cod.

I'm always very interested in class. That summer when she's a teenager, Ann is also figuring out what men are like, and how she thinks they should be, how they should treat women, and what kind of life she wants for herself.

The book is about the whole family, but in some ways it's really the story of Poppy and Ann, the two sisters.

I think each of the characters represents a different personality type, and the shared history of the house also brings them back together. A lot of people identify with Poppy because they share her wanderlust. But many people are frustrated with Poppy and identify deeply with Ann. I admire Ann because she gets dealt a tough hand in life--she's "Ann with a Plan," as her dad says, and then that plan gets thwarted. But she figures it out. She has this confidence that can be her downfall, but it's also her strength. --Katie Noah Gibson

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Review


Four by Four

by Sara Mesa, trans. by Katie Whittemore

"Is it better to live free and vulnerable or under control but with protection?" Four by Four examines freedom versus subjugation until the question itself, hauntingly, proves to be based on a fallacy. Acclaimed writer Sara Mesa, in a novel brilliantly translated from the Spanish by Katie Whittemore, wields language like a knife, cutting apart hidden secrets of abuse.

Wybrany College, a boarding school where wealthy parents send their teenagers to avoid urban violence nearby, has dark undercurrents of threat. In Part One, Celia, a scholarship student, wishes she were back in the city. She's strong-willed and street smart, and says, after one failed attempt to leave campus, "I come from the outside and I'm not afraid." Ignacio, a bullied boy with a limp, accepts his nonstop abuse as his due: "He believes in his religion. He subscribes fully to its asceticism and penitence." Part Two switches gears as a substitute teacher arrives at Wybrany and slowly unpacks the menace that's present. "There's an unhealthy stillness, something crouching behind the silence," he notices. "Plenty of matters are best kept secret. The thing is to pretend you don't notice," he's told.  

Part Three is the shortest and most devastating, coalescing disparate evidence from the previous sections. As a professor says, "One escapes the external evils, certainly, but monsters are generated inside these walls." This is a linguistically precise, stylistically spare and emotionally devastating look at the corrosive effect of abuse and power imbalance, perfect for fans of Shirley Jackson and Samanta Schweblin. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: A private boarding school for teenagers hides menacing secrets in this psychologically devastating novel of abuse and power.

Open Letter, $15.95, paperback, 230p., 9781948830140

Untold Night and Day

by Bae Suah, trans. by Deborah Smith

If anyone can deeply understand a foreign text, the translator surely tops the list. "Like Bae's others, this book is simultaneously a detective novel and a surreal, poetic fever dream," explains Man Booker International Prize-winning translator Deborah Smith. Provocatively demanding, Untold Night and Day is Smith's fourth collaboration with Bae Suah (A Greater Music), considered one of Korea's most significant--and enigmatic--contemporary writers.

Here's what readers know happens: a 28-year-old former actress finishes her last workday, has dinner with her boss, searches for her missing German-language tutor, collects a traveler at the airport for a new temporary job. That's about as clear as Night and Day gets, because the Untold--as in "unknown" and "undisclosed," as Smith suggests--is what makes this novel such an immersive, heady experience.

Kim Ayami's single acting credit was a four-minute film set at a Burger King, but she's the longest-lasting "office worker-cum-librarian-cum-ticket seller" at a Seoul audio theater that's about to close permanently. She dines à deux in darkness at a restaurant that purposefully simulates blindness. The hunt for her tutor and friend, Yeoni, requires that she endure sweltering, stifling streets. Her assigned foreign visitor wakes up in her bathroom-less squat, oblivious to his (or her) purpose. Meanwhile, a peripatetic poet-wannabe obsesses over Ayami as his oneiric "poet woman," while a Chilean fruit-seller begs him for money.

Bae accentuates her labyrinth with exacting descriptive phrases ("coarse-textured white cotton hanbok," "skinny calves corded with stringy muscle"), purposefully meant to obscure who's doing who-knows-what. While disorientation seems unavoidable, astute readers will reap the rewards of her piercing commentary on disconnected humanity, social ills, apocalyptic climate, impenetrable borders and even an all-too-familiar reality. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: This intriguing novel from a bestselling Korean author is a scathing, labyrinthine examination of the disconnects of contemporary society.

The Overlook Press, $23, hardcover, 160p., 9781419744389

The Motion of the Body Through Space

by Lionel Shriver

For 32 years, Serenata and Remington have bantered with a "dry, Thin Man repartee" and weathered the vicissitudes of marriage, careers and parenthood with grace. Even when Remington, 64, is abruptly fired from a 30-year career as an engineer on bogus charges of racism and harassment, they face it stoically. But when Remington embraces running, then racing, what Seranata sees as a "fetishizing of fitness" creates marital upheaval in The Motion of the Body Through Space by Lionel Shriver (The Mandibles; Property).

A lifelong solo runner, Seranata doubts Remington will persevere among the "mindless look-alikes" she disdains, "pounding in droves over the hills and dales." But he does--with the support of Bambi Buffer, his newly hired personal trainer, who observes Seranata as "dark" and promises "Rem" she can boost his performance a "hunerd percent." Next comes triathlon training, and Remington's obsession drains their savings and excludes Seranata. Meanwhile, her lucrative career as a voice-over artist and audiobook reader is sideswiped by criticism that she culturally appropriates accents. She's postponing overdue knee surgery, which will, ironically, end her own running career. As Remington nears the ultimate competition--"Mettle Man"--Seranata muses that perhaps their banter substituted for honesty. Supporting characters bring additional problems; their long-absent daughter reappears with her kids (singing Bible songs and offering judgment) and their son, whose income source is murky, contributes droll irreverence.

Following a suspenseful climax, Shriver's afterword offers a comforting summary of a couple's renewed solidarity and a philosophical take on aging. --Cheryl McKeon, bookseller, Market Block Books, Troy, N.Y.

Discover: In this prickly novel, an obsession with physical fitness disrupts a marriage already battered by career upheaval.

Harper, $28.99, hardcover, 352p., 9780062328250

Mystery & Thriller

Seven Years of Darkness

by You-Jeong Jeong, trans. by Chi-Young Kim

You-Jeong Jeong's masterfully plotted Seven Years of Darkness presents two excellent narratives deftly woven together: a thriller inside a thriller. Jeong, author of The Good Son, uses this nesting-doll structure to meditate on the long shadow of trauma and the elusive nature of truth, but it also serves as a clever method for heightening suspense. Jeong makes it obvious that at least one part of the story ends in tragedy, but unfolding why and how it happens reveals a multitude of shocking surprises.

The novel initially follows Sowon, a young man who lives as a pariah thanks to his imprisoned father, infamous for a murder spree that ended in opening a dam and flooding an entire town. Everywhere Sowon goes, a mysterious actor reveals his identity until Sowon is forced to flee to a remote corner of South Korea. When Sowon finds a novel manuscript that seems to describe the events leading up to the so-called Seryong Lake Disaster, readers are launched into a second narrative, a twisty, complicated, potentially truthful account of what really happened in the town by the dam.

Seven Years of Darkness succeeds on the backs of its characters, who can be sympathetic even when they're making mistakes. An accident at the beginning of the novel kicks off events that ricochet unpredictably but remain rooted in the characters' psychological wounds. Jeong's thriller is also part tragedy: a novel about decent men doing terrible things and monstrous men getting away with worse. --Hank Stephenson, manuscript reader, the Sun magazine

Discover: A South Korean thriller uses dual narratives set before and after a tragedy at a dam to reflect on how people's weaknesses give way to violence and cruelty.

Penguin Books, $17, paperback, 352p., 9780143134244

Remain Silent

by Susie Steiner

In Remain Silent, the third book in the Manon Bradshaw series, the Cambridgeshire police detective inspector's life is so hectic that finding a body hanging from a tree while she's at the park with her four-year-old doesn't ratchet things up too many notches. The novel's abundant humor, derived principally from Bradshaw's fried nerves, meshes easily with a serious premise: Susie Steiner dives deep into anti-immigrant sentiment in modern-day England, and what it can mean to risk everything for a fresh start in a new world.

Pinned to the dead young man's pants is a note written in a foreign language; a spin through Google Translate reveals it to be a message in Lithuanian: "The dead cannot speak." Also found on the body is an ID card that names the victim as Lukas Balsys. He isn't traceable online--no surprise if Balsys is one of the undocumented Lithuanians who have been enticed to the U.K. to work as manual laborers for money that they never receive. The note, plus the fact that the body shows no signs of struggle, point to suicide, but the lack of certitude prompts a murder inquiry helmed by the capable but perma-frazzled Bradshaw.

For the Manon Bradshaw series, which began with Missing, Presumed, Steiner has crafted a detective of an entirely original cut. If overwhelmed working mom Kate Reddy of Allison Pearson's comic novels turned gumshoe, she could be Bradshaw, whose "sexual fantasies, such as they are, generally involve men performing minor DIY while retaining their emotional equilibrium." --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: The cracking good third book in the Manon Bradshaw series finds the detective inspector looking into the death of a young Lithuanian man who came to the U.K. for a better life.

Random House, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9780525509974

Out of Body

by Jeffrey Ford

A surreal adventure set in a dream world overlaying reality, Out of Body by Jeffrey Ford (The Girl in the Glass) is an alluring blend of the mundane, the metaphysical and the supernatural.

Small-town librarian Owen walks the same way to work and stops in the same convenience store every day. After a robber murders the store clerk and knocks Owen unconscious, he finds that night he can travel out of his body--"a silent, incorporeal witness to the workings of the world." In this ethereal plane, Owen meets a fellow "sleeper" who warns him of predators: "cutters" who can sever the cord to his body, killing it and corrupting his spirit; the miasma that can erase his life and everyone's memory of it. Hyperaware of these threats, Owen uses his ability to spy on the murderer plaguing his sleepy town. But what seems a vicious robbery proves paranormal, and Owen will discover how deep his cowardice is rooted as he debates the risk of protecting the community he loves.

Ford, a Nebula and Shirley Jackson award-winner, plays with the mercurial nature of existence by artfully creating a world from the blurred line between sleep and wakefulness. Owen bears "a special responsibility to see how people live, and to know their joy and suffering," learning they are "most themselves after sunset." Owen shows that acting courageous doesn't mean battling indiscriminately--it means knowing one's limits, trusting others and abandoning habits clung to out of fear. Ford blends this message about the everyday with tactful gore and nightmarish creatures, adding a dose of horror to a genre-bending murder mystery. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

Discover: A chilling, invisible world inhabited by dangerous entities is accessible only by dreamers in this short dark fantasy.

Tor, $15.99, paperback, 176p., 9781250250155

Little Crew of Butchers

by Francine Pascal

Five mean-spirited kids threaten the life of a young con man in Francine Pascal's nail-biting thriller, Little Crew of Butchers.

Charming 22-year-old Lucas Baird jumps bail after he's charged with manslaughter in Los Angeles. He hitches a ride to New York City, hoping to disappear and start anew. Unfortunately, he gets stuck in a quiet beach town on Long Island, where he runs afoul of Big Larry, a 12-year-old bully who leads a gang of 10-year-olds named Charley, Benny and Dennis. When Lucas outsmarts Big Larry during a shoplifting incident, Lucas unwittingly ignites Big Larry's psychotic rage. Taking shelter in a storm drain the next day to escape the rain, Lucas gets stuck inside when the drain collapses. The child mob finds him there, but instead of freeing Lucas, Big Larry spurs on the boys to taunt, beat and cut him. The incident escalates to murder when Lucy, Charley's seven-year-old sister, tries to help Lucas, and Big Larry runs home to get his father's gun.

Little Crew of Butchers stands in shocking contrast to Francine Pascal's previous work as creator of Sweet Valley High. The bloody Butchers focuses on the cycle of abuse, from Big Larry's dad regularly beating his son to Big Larry dishing out the same to his followers to keep them obedient. Likewise, Lucas embarks on a life of mistrustful actions and attention-seeking crimes after being raised by his single, emotionally distant mother. Pascal avoids heavy-handed parables by maintaining a suspenseful pace that culminates in a heartbreaking redemption. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer

Discover: A young con man dangerously underestimates the murderous wrath of a group of children.

Blackstone, $24.99, hardcover, 240p., 9781982614768

Social Science

How Innovation Works: And Why It Flourishes in Freedom

by Matt Ridley

It might be common to think of innovation as the work of isolated geniuses--names that come synonymous with companies, technological advances and singular inventions that reshape the world such, like Jobs, Gates or Zuckerberg. However, in How Innovation Works, British journalist Matt Ridley (The Evolution of Everything) asks readers to instead reconsider what they think they know about how human society makes advances, and consider innovation instead "as a gradual, incremental, collective yet inescapably inevitable process," one that turns "ideals into practical, reliable, and affordable reality."

Ridley considers mechanical developments such as steam engines and turbines, as well as the development of reliable lightbulbs; vaccines and antibiotics; advances in food storage; and public infrastructure such as sanitation and clean drinking water. Through these anecdotal demonstrations, he suggests that world-changing innovation is about bridging the gap between inventions for inventions' sake and making new ideas useful.

The book is accessibly grouped by themes, which include transportation, food, communication and computing, prehistory and energy. It also includes sections on failure, the economics of innovation, resistance to innovation and what conditions are essential to innovation flourishing. Ridley's ultimate argument through his myriad examples is that innovation is a slow, collaborative, not always linear process that the modern age depends on, rather than the fallacy of a great mind driving change, and that the intellectual freedom that fosters it should be protected. How Innovation Works is a provocative and necessary read for considering future directions for societies and governments. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer

Discover: A fascinating look at how innovations have shaped the modern age and how the process remains integral to the contemporary world.

Harper, $29.99, hardcover, 416p., 9780062916594

Between Everything and Nothing: The Journey of Seidu Mohammed and Razak Iyal and the Quest for Asylum

by Joe Meno

Between Everything and Nothing is an urgent and humane page-turner, and an exposé to weep over. Novelist and journalist Joe Meno's vivid work of immigration reportage traces two Ghanaian refugees' separate treks across South and Central America, and then into the bureaucratic limbo of the United States' overwhelmed, for-profit detention centers.

After thousands of miles of being preyed upon by thieves and bribe-hungry officials, Razak Iyal and Seidu Mohammed both applied for amnesty at the U.S. border. Both then lost months or years caught in a system that demands asylum seekers produce evidence that they have "credible fear" of returning to their homelands. They would face certain violence if deported, but the system offers little opportunity to gather such evidence, especially when it costs refugees thousands of dollars to retain an attorney.

Meno's novelistic approach emphasizes the men's fear, determination and bouts with despair, following both from their Ghanaian youth. Their journey of survival crosses jungles and borders, up to the unlikely moment, in December 2016, when they first encounter each other in a Minnesota bus station in the middle of the night, as both men light out for Canada. Together, they then set out into a snowstorm. Meno (Marvel and a Wonder) summons the cold, the loneliness and the unfathomable will to live as both men press on, even as the border patrol's spotlights circle and frostbite sets in. For all its horrors, though, Between Everything and Nothing at heart stands as a vital portrait of an inhuman system and the desperate souls that it crushes. --Alan Scherstuhl, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This real-life immigration story lays bare the cruelty of a broken system--and the hearts of two courageous Ghanaians.

Counterpoint, $26, hardcover, 336p., 9781640093140


Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art

by James Nestor

In Breath, journalist James Nestor (Deep) reveals how humans became the most inefficient breathers on earth, and how intentional changes could improve the quality of our lives.

As humans evolved and discovered new skills, our skulls changed to accommodate larger brains, but this came at a cost, leading to smaller mouths and noses. Along with agriculture and processed food that requires us to chew less, humans also developed crooked teeth, a thoroughly modern malady. We evolved to become smarter at the expense of our airways, which became restricted over time, and taking shallow, quick breaths through our mouths has become the norm. From snoring and sleep apnea to hypertension and anxiety, the way we breathe today is killing us.

But the good news is that we can change how we breathe. Some methods are achievable with practice: breathe through your nose; expand your diaphragm and exhale deeply; and achieve optimum breathing by taking fewer inhales and exhales (ideally 5.5 breaths per minute). Other techniques, from yoga traditions, are considered advanced today but were practiced by ancestors who understood breathing as instrumental to well-being. 

Modern medicine pays little attention to the mechanics of breathing, so Nestor turns to the "pulmonauts" who have advanced our understanding of breathing's impact on health. Among these are Carl Stough, a choir conductor whose exhalation techniques dramatically improved the lives of emphysema sufferers, and Stanislav Grof, a Czech psychiatrist who employed heavy breathing to help patients achieve LSD-like enlightenment. With keen insight, thanks to Nestor's willingness to suffer through uncomfortable experiments, readers will assuredly pay closer attention to this essential yet overlooked bodily function. --Frank Brasile, librarian

Discover: James Nestor empowers readers to take control of their health through the art of the perfect breath in this thought-provoking and practical book.

Riverhead, $28, hardcover, 304p., 9780735213616

Children's & Young Adult

You Matter

by Christian Robinson

Pairing concise, compassionate text with playful acrylic paint and collage illustrations, Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honoree Christian Robinson (Another and Last Stop on Market Street) offers heartfelt affirmations to "anyone who isn't sure if they matter"--and maybe even to anyone who is. You Matter is a bear hug of reassurance disguised as a delightful children's picture book.

Robinson speaks to "Those who swim with the tide... and those who don't." They matter, he insists. Robinson points to his reader directly, "If you fall down./ If you have to start all over again./ Even if you are really gassy. You matter." In busy cities, in nature, in space, the audience cannot escape the powerfully simple message: "you matter."

The scenarios are accessible and easily lend themselves to candid discussions about emotions; few will struggle to remember a time when they felt like a pest or were lonely. Also helping pull readers into his literary embrace is Robinson's bold use of color and texture in his charming art. Visible brush strokes, striking shapes and masterfully placed detail create a sense of life, movement and growth. Children, adults, dinosaurs, asteroids, mosquitos, everyone and everything in Robinson's realm has significance.

Authentic and plainly profound, You Matter is a captivating, empowering picture book, but it's also unvarnished fun. "Old and young./ The first to go and the last," anyone can find connection and enjoyment in Robinson's positive outlook on life. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: An alluring picture book that simply and succinctly declares the value of all the interconnected parts of our existence.

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781534421691

Little Bear's Treasures

by Stella Dreis

The Little Bear starring in Stella Dreis's Little Bear's Treasure wouldn't be out of place in the company of Else Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak's famous like-named charmer.

The Little Bear created by Dreis (Happiness Is a Watermelon on Your Head) isn't a treasure seeker but a "treasure finder... because he didn't look for his treasures--he found them. Everywhere." Little Bear couldn't be prouder of his haul, but when he talks it up to the other forest denizens, they're dismissive. "Eventually, Little Bear stopped sharing. He became quiet and his little nose drooped down low." When a tiny bird asks him why his nose is so low to the ground, Little Bear says, "I like to find treasure, like... this stick." Incredibly, Little Bird gets it, which is to say that Little Bird gets Little Bear. Together, the two become treasure-finding partners. That night, while watching the night sky together, Little Bird falls asleep, and Little Bear thinks about "how you can find treasure. How treasure can find you. How the best treasures are the kind that snore."

Unlike Minarik and Sendak's anthropomorphized bear, Dreis's Little Bear lives in what is tempting to call a natural habitat: he coexists with other animals, his treasures culled from the forest floor. Yet how likely is one to encounter a donkey among forest creatures? And even if one were to meet what looks like a white goose in the woods, what are the odds that it would be wearing slip-on shoes? Although these pleasingly incongruous visuals appear in illustrations created with careful lines and an earthy palette, the art of Little Bear's Treasure manages to have an ebullient quality that captures the bear's euphoria at the knowledge that he has stumbled upon something more priceless than treasure: someone who understands him. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: This high-minded, big-hearted picture book sends the message that, while one may delight in having possessions, a good friend has more value.

Greystone Kids, $17.95, hardcover, 36p., ages 3-8, 9781771646536

Always Human

by Ari North

First serialized on Webtoon and now published in partnership with GLAAD, Always Human by Ari North is a sweet sci-fi romance about two young women who learn that imperfections contribute to beautifully uncommon personalities.

Sunati first admires Austen at the train station because the young woman is not using mods to change her appearance. Sunati assumes this is because Austen is "brave" enough to be herself. When Sunati finally gathers the courage to talk to Austen, she learns Austen's overactive immune system rejects mods. Still convinced of Austen's courage, Sunati talks her into dating. As their love blooms across cute dates, both mess up. "Incurably honest" Sunati trips over compliments that offend Austen, while quick-tempered Austen assumes Sunati likes an illusion of her: "I can't live up to the pedestal you've put me on." Together, they realize even the most magnetic relationships require hard work.

North nails new love: the nerves ("My heart is too loud. And my head is too empty") that transition to excitement, the amorous teasing and the gushy fawning ("When I see you, the universe comes into focus"). She illustrates how infuriating medical challenges can be and the ways well-meaning assistance can hurt. Using her bright manga art style, she creates characters who exude emotion, while her ethereal, accessible tech world should charm any reader. Further LGBTQIAP+ representation adds refreshing diversity to the couple's social circles. Above all, North's ebullient characters demonstrate that loving someone means more than accepting their differences--it means forgiving their mistakes. Always Human by Ari North is an endearingly feel-good sapphic romance set against a diverting futuristic backdrop. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

Discover: In a technologically advanced near future, two young women bumble through their first dates and fights together as they enjoy the exhilaration of new love.

Yellow Jacket/little bee books, $14.99, paperback, 256p., ages 12-up, 9781499811094


Kids Buzz

The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow

by Elaine Dimopoulos, illus. by Doug Salati

Dear Reader,

Butternut, the brave storytelling rabbit, is back--and this time her home is on fire!

In my family read-aloud THE PERILOUS PERFORMANCE AT MILKWEED MEADOW, a merry troupe of turkeys organizes a summer show in the meadow, but a fire burns their playhouse to the ground. Who started the fire and why? Called "witty, whimsical, wise" in a Kirkus starred review, this middle-grade animal adventure sequel about trust and forgiveness features show-stopping illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Doug Salati.

Enjoy the show!

Elaine Dimopoulos

KidsBuzz: Charlesbridge: The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow by Elaine Dimopoulos, illus. by Doug Salati

Charlesbridge Publishing

Pub Date: 
May 21, 2024


Type of Book:
Middle Grade Fiction

Age Range: 

List Price: 
$17.99 Hardcover

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