Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, August 7, 2020

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

From My Shelf

Laugh and Learn

Bill Bryson is a funny man. He's also bright, self-deprecating and incredibly curious about a wide assortment of topics. All of those qualities are vividly displayed in this trio of books I've selected from his impressive body of work.

Though he was born in Iowa, Bryson has spent a significant portion of his adult life in the United Kingdom. His first extended sojourn ended in 1993, but before he departed for America, he embarked on what he calls "a kind of valedictory tour around the green and kindly island that had for two decades been my home." Notes from a Small Island (Morrow, $16.99) is the affectionate, if idiosyncratic, record of that farewell journey.

Once he returned to the United States, it didn't take long for Bryson's wanderlust to emerge, and in 1996, he launched an assault on the 2,169 miles of the Appalachian Trail. In A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (Anchor, $7.99), Bryson chronicles the highs and lows of that sometimes Sisyphean journey. Along the way, he discourses knowledgeably on a range of subjects that include natural history, geology and the trail's colorful past.

But as Bryson demonstrates in his latest book, The Body: A Guide for Occupants (Doubleday, $30), his talents aren't confined to travel writing. This hefty volume is a comprehensive, informative and consistently entertaining tour of "this warm wobble of flesh" we call the human body. The book is packed with startling factoids, portraits of physicians and scientists both well-known and obscure, and useful information to help ward off disease and understand it when it strikes.

At a time when many intelligent people strive to learn more about less, an encounter with polymath Bill Bryson can be a bracing change of pace. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Book Candy

Nine Novels That Predicted the Future

Mental Floss noted "9 books that predicted the future."


"How many words are there in the English language?" Ask


Annals, for instance. The Guardian considered "words we think we know, but can't pronounce."


The University of Texas at San Antonio "is turning historical Mexican recipes into free e-books," Gastro Obscura noted.


"How Vladimir Nabokov wrote Lolita, 'my most difficult book': a 1989 documentary." (via Open Culture)

Paris Never Leaves You

by Ellen Feldman

With a sweeping narrative that spans Paris during the Nazi occupation and New York City a decade later, Paris Never Leaves You is an unforgettable story of resistance, trust, faith and love. Starting with the novel's opening pages, Guggenheim fellow Ellen Feldman (Next to Love; Terrible Virtue; Scottsboro) immediately grabs readers' hearts and never lets go.

In 1944, Charlotte Foret is a young widow and mother working in a Paris bookshop while the city is under siege. One day, a Nazi soldier enters the bookstore and begins browsing quietly. Charlotte is fearful, and wary of his motives. During his repeated visits to the store, he often brings smuggled food for Charlotte and her 18-month-old daughter, Vivi. Charlotte gradually learns his name--Julian Bauer--and that he is a physician as well as a soldier. As Paris becomes increasingly dangerous, Charlotte realizes that her and Vivi's best chances for surviving the war mean putting their complete trust in Julian, even if it requires that Charlotte must make an unthinkable, immoral and life-changing decision.

Ten years later, Charlotte is a highly respected editor at the prestigious, male-dominated New York publishing house of Gibbon & Field. At the firm's helm is Horace Field, an old friend of Charlotte's father who sponsored her and Vivi's passage to America after the war ended. Charlotte owes everything that they have in their new life to Horace. In addition to working for Horace, Charlotte and Vivi live on the upper floor of the large home that he shares with his emotionally distant and resentful wife, Hannah, a psychoanalyst.

For more than a decade, Charlotte has remained guarded and vigilant against the painful memories of the death of Vivi's father, her relationship with Julian and the guilt she feels about perpetuating a deception during a desperate time. An inquisitive, smart teenager, Vivi begins asking questions and is the target of anti-Semitism at school. When mysterious letters start arriving for Charlotte at the office, her strong façade cracks, and she turns to the closest person to her--Horace--who also knows what it is like to be haunted by what happened during the war.

While they share a bond that extends beyond their living arrangements and their professional connection, Charlotte and Horace both remain fiercely protective and secretive: "No one but a fool would try to erase the past. The only hope was to stand guard against it." Horace also lives with his own physical and emotional wartime scars: he is a wheelchair-bound Medal of Honor recipient. Everyone believes that he received his wounds for valiant reasons. "It wasn't a mission, only a battle, and there was nothing heroic about it, but a heroic mission makes for a better story, and we're in the business of selling stories," Horace confesses to Charlotte.

Feldman's decision to set Paris Never Leaves You in the publishing world reflects the idea that all of us, like Charlotte and Horace, are "in the business of selling stories." Each of the characters must answer the same question that Feldman is asking of her readers: What is the story that we're selling to ourselves and to the world? Are they the same or different stories? Regardless of individual circumstances, everyone has a secret shame, a hidden truth or a concocted falsehood that remains unspoken. Those are the experiences destined to haunt us forever, imprinted upon our souls.

Paris Never Leaves You also prompts an excavation of what it means to be deceptive or untruthful, and whether there are circumstances, such as saving someone's life, that provide more leniency for such deception. The demarcation line where the answer lies can only be determined by each of us, Feldman seems to be saying. Charlotte presents one persona to the world and to her daughter, but internally wrestles with another version of herself. Julian is plagued by the dichotomy between the man he shows to the world and the man he perceives himself to be. Hannah has little self-awareness and feels compelled to always maintain her public persona, even with her husband. Though Horace perhaps views himself as he is, he cannot forgive himself for his actions during the war and won't give anyone else a chance to do so. Is it ever possible, Feldman asks, to make peace with our past?

The best works of historical fiction have a way of illuminating the present, allowing readers to better understand themselves through well-defined characters reflected in the prism of time. In Paris Never Leaves You, Ellen Feldman does this beautifully in a multi-layered, tender story that explores the emotionally charged, often parallel terrains of truth, deception, love and heartbreak. --Melissa Firman

St. Martin's Griffin, $16.99, paperback, 368p., 9781250622778

Ellen Feldman: On the Stories We Tell Ourselves and Others

Ellen Feldman, a 2009 Guggenheim fellow, is the author of several novels, including Terrible Virtue (optioned for a feature film), Scottsboro (shortlisted for the Orange Prize), and The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank (translated into nine languages). Her novel Paris Never Leaves You was just published by St. Martin's Griffin. Feldman grew up in northern New Jersey and attended Bryn Mawr College, from which she holds a B.A. and an M.A. in modern history. After further graduate studies at Columbia University, she worked for a New York publishing house. Feldman lives in New York City and East Hampton, N.Y., with her husband and a terrier named Charlie.

Your novel is set during World War II and in the 1950s, yet feels relevant to our time. Was this aspect of the novel intentional or did those themes emerge during the writing process?

It's a truism that a novel or even nonfiction about the past always says as much about the period in which it's written as the era about which it's written. I never set out to draw parallels between the time I'm writing about and the one in which I'm writing, yet they invariably arise. Some are similarities of political and social trends. Others have to do with the universality of human experience. We all have moments from the past that haunt us. Sometimes they're momentous like Charlotte's. Sometimes they're minor but still shame-inducing or at least cringe-making. How do we deal with the past? Do we try to erase it, ignore it, flaunt it, or maintain an uneasy guard against it? It's up to each of us to figure out how to live with our own yesterdays.

There's a line that is repeated throughout the novel: "It had taken Hitler to make her a Jew." Without giving away too much of the plot, could you talk more about that particular phrase and what that means?

While the phrase "It had taken Hitler to make her a Jew" takes on a specific significance in Paris Never Leaves You, it is also a more general observation made by actual Holocaust survivors. Many Jews in Germany, Austria, France and Holland were assimilated. They considered themselves members of their respective nationalities first and Jews second. Few were religiously observant. There are myriad stories of Jewish men, Anne Frank's father among them, who fought for their countries in WWI and believed the anti-Jewish laws did not apply to them. As a result, many of them didn't flee when they could. They discovered too late and tragically that the Third Reich made no such distinctions among Jews. Every last one, determined by blood, not choice or affiliation, must be exterminated.

What was the inspiration for this novel?

I wish I could put my finger on the moment the idea for this book came to me. What I do know is that in my extensive reading about WWII, I encountered many heroic women who fought for the Resistance or spied for the Allies or risked their lives to help defeat the enemy. And as I read, I began to wonder about other women who were not blessed, or cursed, with such courage and tried to live normal lives under horrendous conditions. To what lengths would a woman like that go to save herself and, more chillingly, her child?

What about this time period makes this a source of interest for you?

I'm a firm believer that our memories go back a generation to our parents' reminiscences. The war and the Holocaust cast a long shadow over my childhood and youth. Moreover, though I didn't understand this until I began to study history, I was a beneficiary of the buoyant new America that emerged from the war, an era and a place that is as much a part of my writing about WWII as the war itself.

Many of your works feature strong women characters. Why is this important?

Though I don't write autobiographical fiction, I do write about autobiographical themes. Having gone to women's schools, having come of age during many times of upheaval in various women's movements, I'm interested in how hard women have to fight and what they have to endure to reach some kind of self-realization. I was brought up to be one kind of woman. I discovered I wanted to be another. How I tried to resolve the conflict, how I continue to struggle with it is one of the guiding forces behind my work.

Tell us about your writing routine, your approach to writing.

Writing is a passion for me, but I treat it as a job. Early every morning, after walking our rescue terrier, Charlie, and going for a run in Central Park, I head for one of two libraries, either by bus to the New York Public Library on 42nd Street, or on foot to the New York Society Library, 14 blocks from our apartment. Both have spaces for writers. I love the solitude they provide and the concentration they foster, but I also enjoy running into other writers in the halls for a moment's chat. Then at five or six, depending on when the library closes, I head home. The walk to and from the closer library is especially welcome because it gives me time to contemplate what I'm going to write that day and what I did write. Invariably, something I hadn't thought of while facing the laptop screen stops me dead on the street.

What do you most want readers to understand or learn from this book?

I'm not sure I want readers to learn any specific lesson from the book. I do want them to think about what morality means in extenuating circumstances. I said that part of the inspiration was the question of what an ordinary woman would do under extraordinary circumstances. Would she grasp at some shred of happiness? Would she sacrifice her scruples for her child? And how would she live the rest of her life with the knowledge of those choices? In researching an earlier book, I came across many people whose parents had hidden their suffering in the war. The costs of living a secret were varied--shame, alienation, anger--but there was always a toll. As a novelist, I have no answers, only questions--and a story that I hope captures readers and resonates in their own lives. --Melissa Firman

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Pete Hamill

photo: David Shankbone

Author and newspaper journalist Pete Hamill died this week at age 85. For more than 40 years, Hamill was a celebrated and award-winning reporter, columnist and the top editor of the New York Post and the Daily News; a foreign correspondent for the Post and the Saturday Evening Post; and a writer for New York Newsday, the Village Voice, Esquire and other publications. The New York Times, one of the few New York City newspapers Hamill didn't work at, called Hamill "a quintessential New Yorker--savvy about its ways, empathetic with its masses and enthralled with its diversity--and wrote about it in a literature of journalism. Along with Jimmy Breslin, he popularized a spare, blunt style in columns of on-the-scene reporting in the authentic voice of the working classes: blustery, sardonic, often angry."

Hamill also wrote more than 20 novels, more than 100 short stories, biographies, essays and screenplays. Among his works of fiction, the Times cited "The Gift (1973) and Snow in August (1997), both of which drew on his youth; Forever (2003), the story of a man granted immortality as long as he never leaves the island of Manhattan; North River (2007), a Depression-era tale of a man and his grandson; and Tabloid City (2011), a stop-the-presses murder yarn." His story collections were The Invisible City: A New York Sketchbook (1980) and Tokyo Sketches (1992). His nonfiction included Irrational Ravings (1971), A Drinking Life (1994), Piecework (1996), Why Sinatra Matters (1998), Diego Rivera (1999) and Downtown, My Manhattan (2004). At the time of his death, Hamill was working on a book about Brooklyn that was to be published by Little, Brown.

Book Review



by Raven Leilani

Raven Leilani's first novel, Luster, is a rocket-paced, sensual fever dream of sex, trauma, relationships and conflicting perceptions.

Edie is in her 20s and struggling, with her crappy shared Bushwick apartment, her low-level position in children's publishing, her uninspired sexual choices and her irritable bowel syndrome. Her parents are dead, but the psychic wounds they inflicted are not. Her painting is not going well, and she is a Black woman in New York City. "Racism is often so mundane it leaves your head spinning, the hand of the ordinary in your slow, psychic death so sly and absurd you begin to distrust your own eyes." Early on, her affair with Eric seems different, refreshing, in spite of, or because of, the 23-year age gap. Then Edie gets fired and evicted, and she spirals, landing, weirdly, in the middle of someone else's marriage. She knew from the start that Eric was in an open marriage--his wife set a lot of rules for his relationship with Edie. But suddenly she finds herself taken in, literally, by Rebecca, living in their guest room in New Jersey and asked to mentor this white couple's adopted Black daughter, Akila. Surreality seems to be Edie's default, but now the funhouse mirror tilts again.

Edie's first-person narration is nearly stream-of-consciousness, long sentences overflowing with imaginative visual impressions and self-deprecation. Her particular blend of despair, panic and self-destruction is spellbinding. Luster is intoxicating and surprising, never letting readers settle into recognizable patterns. Leilani has crafted an unforgettable novel about a young woman making her own way. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: Race, sex, shifting social rules, art, inspiration and digestive troubles plague the compelling protagonist of this debut novel.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26, hardcover, 240p., 9780374194321

The Tunnel

by A.B. Yehoshua, trans. by Stuart Schoffman

The Tunnel, a novel by venerable Israeli author A.B. Yehoshua (Friendly FireThe Retrospective), is a gentle fable about aging, marital love and understanding between two peoples in conflict. Zvi Luria is a retired engineer at 73, whose recent MRI reveals the beginning of frontal lobe atrophy. His wife, Dina, a prominent pediatrician, encourages him to seek out a part-time job with his former employer, hoping that may slow his cognitive decline.

Zvi lands a position as an unpaid assistant to Asael Maimoni, a young engineer, and the two become involved in an unusual project--the construction of a secret army road across the massive Ramon Crater in Israel's Negev Desert. As part of the design, Asael proposes a tunnel. It would allow an exiled Palestinian family to continue to reside atop a hill that also features archeological ruins dating from the third century B.C.E., a symbol of the "human predicament arising from two nations living in the same homeland."

The machinations that lead to the design of a "modest, homey tunnel," and bring Zvi and Asael to the project's end, are less interesting than is Yehoshua's wry portrait of a proud, accomplished man who's been given a glimpse of his destiny, but who nonetheless is determined to live out his remaining days in dignity and with purpose. In a country that's riven by conflict, Yehoshua's depiction of the interactions between the Israeli civil servants and the Palestinian family at least hints at the possibility of reconciliation, if not full-fledged peace. The Tunnel could have been a depressing account of decline, but instead becomes one that chooses optimism over despair. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: In this tenderhearted story, an aging Israeli engineer works on an improbable road-building project as he fights against his failing memory.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24, hardcover, 336p., 9781328622631

A Saint from Texas

by Edmund White

As one of the godfathers of gay literature, Edmund White (City Boy) has written significantly and beautifully about male sexuality. In the sumptuously imagined novel A Saint from Texas, he takes as a subject female sexuality and how the social taboos against expressing it openly shaped the lives of a pair of Texas belles.

Narrating from the present day, Yvonne de Courcy (née Crawford) recalls her formative years and those of her identical twin, Yvette. Self-described Dallas deb Yvonne doesn't pretend that her youthful ambitions were marked by virtue: even as a teenager, she had set her sights on social climbing. Meanwhile, Yvette began slipping off to attend a Catholic church, and from college she made her way to a convent in Colombia. There another nun sparked feelings that altered Yvette's destiny, as she explains in letters to her sister that Yvonne includes in her narrative.

Not lost on Yvette is that her childhood molestation by her father steered her away from men. While Yvonne was spared their father's abuse, she's not much more attracted to the opposite sex than her sister is--"Don't forget that you and I are a little bit gay around the edges," she writes late in her life to her twin. As in White's previous work, A Saint from Texas itemizes the costs--and for Yvette they are especially high--of suppressed sexuality. Readers who prefer novels with something measurable at stake may wish that A Saint from Texas had more of a storytelling arc, but White's filigreed detail work, conveyed through Yvonne's taffeta-touch narration, is breathtaking. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: In this gorgeously appointed novel, an elderly Texas belle tells her story and that of her identical twin, whose abuse by their father set her on a spiritual path.

Bloomsbury, $26, hardcover, 304p., 9781635572551

Bear Necessity

by James Gould-Bourn

British-born author James Gould-Bourn bursts onto the U.S. literary scene with a charming, deeply comforting story about a father and son entrenched in grief.

After a car accident claimed the life of Danny Malooley's beloved wife--and mother to their son, Will--father and son grapple with their loss, trying to shore up their shattered world. Matters hit rock bottom when Danny suddenly loses his construction job and cannot pay the bills. But worst of all is the fact that 11-year-old Will has refused to speak to anyone--including his dad--since his mother's death.

Depressed, destitute and desperate, Danny ambles through a park one day and spots street performers entertaining passersby and raking in money. This proves a moment of enlightenment as he decides, on a lark, to join their ranks. Barreling through a host of amusing complications, he secures an old panda bear suit and sets off to earn some money covertly.

Meanwhile, Will struggles with his lingering silence and being taunted by older kids at school. When the boy is bullied in the park one day, a goofy-looking, dancing panda performer unexpectedly comes to his rescue.

Heartfelt themes and wit further elevate charming plot twists and a well-tuned cast of quirky, supporting characters who prove that the spirit of friendship can build bridges to greater understanding and brighter days. Gould-Bourn is a perceptive writer who has crafted a moving, sensitive story that is also very funny. Bear Necessity is a perfect literary antidote to anxious, troubled times. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: In this delightful story, a grieving British father and his young son who refuses to speak learn to communicate with each other through a dancing panda bear.

Scribner, $26, hardcover, 320p., 9781982128296

Louisiana Lucky

by Julie Pennell

In Julie Pennell's Louisiana Lucky, three sisters from Brady, La., share a lottery jackpot of $204 million, and the outcomes result in a novel that is breezy and enjoyable, filled with charm and wit, romance and wisdom.

The Breaux sisters, all in their 20s, are hard-working, middle-class and bonded by family. One night a month, the lottery-playing girls gather for dinner and drinks and watch the Powerball drawing on television. Hanna, the oldest, lives with her struggling contractor husband and two kids in an inherited Victorian house in disrepair. Callie, the middle sister, is a still-single, brilliant journalist selling herself short working at a local paper. And Lexi, the youngest, is a hairdresser engaged to a vet school student with an overbearing, controlling, high-society mother. Each sister dreams of taking home the jackpot. Every month, they play two random and one predetermined number, as well as meaningful numbers selected from the heart--years parents have been married, house numbers, date they met a true love, number of kids. When their ship finally comes in, each sister takes home $68 million (before taxes), but that's when the real trouble starts. New choices and challenges upend the manageability of their former lives.

Pennell (The Young Wives Club) spins fresh perspective into classic adages like "be careful what you wish for" and "money is the root of all evil." She delivers a winning story--with appealing characters and a well-conceived, page-turning plot--about ordinary people changed by money in their individual ways. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: This richly entertaining story follows three sisters who share a winning lottery jackpot that upends their lives.

Atria, $16.99, paperback, 320p., 9781982115630

Mystery & Thriller

Imperfect Women

by Araminta Hall

One premise of Araminta Hall's horrible yet lovely Imperfect Women is that women absorb tragedy so others don't have to. Best friends Nancy, Eleanor and Mary each absorbed plenty as life took them down unexpected paths. Twenty-eight years after their friendship began at Oxford, Eleanor's phone wakes her at 4 a.m. It's Nancy's husband, Robert, concerned she never came home the night before.

Rather than worried, Eleanor is irritated. She alone knows that Nancy is embroiled in a year-long affair she's been trying to end. To keep Robert from involving the police, Eleanor comes clean, sure that Nancy is just off with her lover. Then Nancy is found dead on the path by a river bridge, a large wound on the back of her head.

Hall's unwinding of the mystery behind Nancy's death is so masterful the whodunit becomes a backdrop to the women and their plights. As in her prior novel, Our Kind of Cruelty, Hall's skill is highlighted in the inner workings of her characters. The author takes a different angle on the multi-perspective, multi-timeline theme; her approach serves to focus marvelously on each woman's internal struggles and her view of the others. Eleanor takes readers through Nancy's death and its aftermath, and Nancy jumps back to describe what led to her affair and death. Mary's section provides answers about Nancy's killer, and how Eleanor and Mary might move forward with the understanding that goddesses are false and they are entitled to live life to the messy full as imperfect women. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: This masterful mystery examines the secret pain and sacrifices of three women friends through their perspectives before and following one of their deaths.

MCD, $27, hardcover, 304p., 9780374272586

The Guest List

by Lucy Foley

Lucy Foley (The Invitation; The Book of Lost and Found) has created a delightfully suspenseful thriller in The Guest List. Atmospheric and subtle, it explores the unraveling of a group of acquaintances who have all traveled to a remote Irish island for a wedding.

The bride, Jules, is the editor of a thriving online magazine. The groom, Will, is on reality TV, and their guest list is star-studded. As the novel opens, the lights go out in the tent where everyone is dancing, and suddenly someone screams. Then the book flashes back 24 hours, to the arrival of the wedding party. Told from a number of perspectives--that of the best man, the bridesmaid, the wedding planner, the plus one--the story weaves together many disparate perceptions.

Ratcheting up the tension is the terrible weather on the island, which is already rumored to be haunted. Jules is determined to still have her perfect fairy tale wedding, although she's beginning to have some doubts about her possibly-too-handsome groom. Meanwhile, Jules's half-sister is falling apart, the best man is stoned out of his mind, and the wife of Jules's best friend Charlie is wondering if Jules and Charlie are more than just friends.

Set in such an isolated location, with a fairly small cast of characters, The Guest List feels a bit like a modern Agatha Christie novel. It is a fast-paced, intriguing mystery. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this atmospheric thriller, a wedding on a remote Irish island goes terribly awry.

Morrow, $27.99, hardcover, 320p., 9780062868930

The Last Mrs. Summers

by Rhys Bowen

Using sharp intelligence and experienced sleuthing, the intrepid Lady Georgiana Rannoch sets out to save her friend, accused of murder, in The Last Mrs. Summers, an excellent, stand-alone entry in the Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen (Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding).

What begins as a road trip with girlfriend Belinda to inspect an inherited, dilapidated cottage on the wild Cornish coast soon takes a darker turn. With no hotel available nearby, Georgiana and Belinda accept an offer of housing with a childhood friend. There has been a series of unfortunate deaths at the estate and, before long, the two young women are swept up in yet another death: their host is found murdered and Belinda is arrested for the violent crime. Now Georgiana must unravel a tangled knot of seemingly unrelated clues and blind ends as she attempts to uncover the real killer. At first there are too few potential suspects and then, too many. How will Georgiana narrow the list of suspects and discover the actual perpetrator? Even more difficult and challenging, how will she convince the police she has found the real killer and it's not Belinda?

There's so much to enjoy about this well-written novel--the easy camaraderie between Georgiana and Belinda, the 1930s setting in England's colorful Cornwall, the complicated mystery and the heroine's shrewd solving of the crime. To all that, add the melding of the protagonists' pitch-perfect British insouciance with the brooding atmosphere of a gothic mansion, and the result is an absolute delight. Readers will find themselves staying up late. --Lois Faye Dyer, writer and reviewer

Discover: Amateur detective Lady Georgiana must untangle a complicated mystery when her friend is framed for murder in 1930s Cornwall.

Berkley, $26, hardcover, 304p., 9780451492876

Biography & Memoir

Great Demon Kings: A Memoir of Poetry, Sex, Art, Death, and Enlightenment

by John Giorno

In Great Demon Kings, John Giorno (1936-2019) writes the following about being at a Ronettes and Shirelles concert with Andy Warhol at the Brooklyn Fox Theatre in 1963: "By chance, I was smack in the middle of something extraordinary." "Well, when weren't you?" readers may find themselves wondering while devouring Giorno's edifyingly dishy book.

Great Demon Kings charts Giorno's life well spent in the New York art scene, where as a poet, performer and impresario he had romantic relationships with a series of household-name artists. For a time, he was the constant companion and sort-of lover of then-ascendant Warhol ("I loved Andy, but I was not sexually attracted to him"). After Warhol lost interest in the poet, Giorno slept with Robert Rauschenberg's boyfriend, and then with Rauschenberg: "He was rich, famous, and beautiful. These were all good reasons to abandon myself to love and attachment." Again Giorno was spurned, after which he and William S. Burroughs turned what had begun as a non-tempestuous affair into something better: they would perform their work together for two decades.

For all his scene making, Giorno had a spiritual side, and his longtime fascination with Tibetan Buddhism culminates with a 1971 visit to India financed by the sale of a Warhol painting. Looking back on his life through a Buddhist lens, Giorno writes in his epilogue, "I have one more really important thing to do, and that is to die. I hope I do it right." That he did. A note at the front of Great Demon Kings says that Giorno completed the book the week before his death. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: This memoir by the late poet and activist John Giorno is an invaluable time capsule of the New York art scene in the second half of the 20th century.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28, hardcover, 368p., 9780374166304


Looking for Miss America: A Pageant's 100-Year Quest to Define Womanhood

by Margot Mifflin

The women's movement has always had a problem with the Miss America pageant, but Looking for Miss America makes clear that second-wave feminism owes a debt to the annual competition. During the sensation-causing feminist protest at the 1968 pageant, a bedsheet emblazoned with the words "WOMEN'S LIBERATION" got the press to introduce the phrase into the national lexicon.

Margot Mifflin (Bodies of Subversion) proves herself an intrepid scholar of this institution. The Miss America pageant grew out of the beauty contest held at Atlantic City's Fall Frolic of 1920. It began offering scholarship money to winners in 1945--a signal that the competition was to be viewed as more than a skin show. In the 1950s, the overseers finally nixed the grotesque Rule Seven, which said that contestants had to be "in good health and of the white race." This wasn't high-mindedness at work: Mifflin shows that existential threats are typically the motivating force when the pageant updates its rules, as when, after literally decades of debate, it finally phased out the swimsuit portion of the competition in 2018.

But one regulation remains enshrined: the requirement that contestants not be married, divorced or widowed--in other words, they must be perceived as virgins. Writes Mifflin, "It was as American as apple pie: cranking up interest in female sexuality while punishing women who acted on it."

Looking for Miss America is, in the language of pageantry, lavish in its research, and its prose is sparkling. It is a riveting, multivalent history. About this, if nothing else, most feminists and pageant enthusiasts will agree. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: This history of the Miss America pageant is probing, scintillating and tremendously entertaining--a pleaser for feminists and pageant devotees alike.

Counterpoint, $28, hardcover, 320p., 9781640092235

Children's & Young Adult

The Black Kids

by Christina Hammonds Reed

Affluence is not an impermeable barrier from the destructive forces of racism--a stark truth high school senior Ashley Bennett is forced to face in Christina Hammonds Reed's YA debut, The Black Kids. Filled with multi-dimensional characters who stretch way beyond stereotypes, the book unfolds in the turbulent spring of 1992, when the Los Angeles area was engulfed in a wave of riots after the four police officers on trial for severely beating unarmed Rodney King were acquitted of all charges.

Intelligent, popular and the only Black girl in her clique, Ashley struggles to accept how race impacts her friendships, familial relationships and self-perception. But once L.A. County starts burning, she observes that, like a spark can trigger a raging wildfire, unchecked biases are rolling tides that eventually surge into waves of hatred. Ashley tries to stay afloat as she recognizes and feels this hatred aimed at herself and her loved ones.

In response, Ashley reflects: "Because even though you finally enact a Civil Rights Act not even thirty years ago, it doesn't erase centuries of unequal access, unequal schooling, unequal living conditions, unequal policing." Reed's stark account of the limitations Black communities have historically faced in the United States, regardless of socioeconomic status, is an answer to the calls for equity and racial justice that for too long have been ignored. --Rachel Werner, Hugo House and The Loft Literary Center faculty

Discover: A YA drama about a Black teen coming to terms with her racial identity during the Los Angeles riots of 1992.

Simon & Schuster, $18.99, hardcover, 368p., ages 14-up, 9781534462724


by Romina Garber

Manuela "Manu" Azul is a 16-year-old caught between two realms in Romina Garber's stunning start to the Wolves of No World series.

Manu knows that there is something different about her: for one, she has "star-shaped silver pupils" with "yellow sun" irises. She also experiences period pain that is so intense her mother, formerly a nurse in their native Argentina, gives her pills that knock her out for three days. Because of these abnormalities, Manu feels dependent upon her mother and lives sheltered under Ma's rules. Manu is further confined by the fact that she and Ma are illegal immigrants hiding in Miami from both ICE and Manu's father's crime family. In the same day, the woman who has hidden Manu and her mother for years is attacked and Manu's mother is taken away by ICE. Within hours, Manu is left with nothing but hints of the secrets her mother kept from her. Determined to figure out the truth behind her lineage, Manu discovers a tangle of Argentine folktales and magic, unexpected new werewolf and bruja friends and that she is not only illegal in the U.S.--she also doesn't quite belong to this world.

Garber, who also writes under Romina Russell (Zodiac), uses exquisite prose to build an elaborate, gorgeous world that is likely to appeal to fans of Anna-Marie McLemore and Elana K. Arnold. Manu's exploration of her identity--both in Miami and elsewhere--reflects how Latinx communities have historically been and continue to be affected by U.S. politics. From the book's harrowing opening, Manu is set on a fantastical journey of self-discovery that subverts and reinterprets familiar fairytale tropes. --Clarissa Hadge, freelance reviewer

Discover: Sixteen-year-old Manu Azul, determined to discover the secrets of her paternal lineage, finds unexpected answers in Argentine folklore and magical politics.

Wednesday Books, $18.99, hardcover, 400p., ages 12-up, 9781250239129


by John Sobol, illus. by Cindy Derby

Brimming with love, Born is a tender, impressionistic peek at a baby's final days "floating cozily in her mother's womb" that ends with her much anticipated arrival into the world.

Before birth, the "thump-thump of her mother's heartbeat keeps her company, always." Pushing with her foot, she can feel "the edge of her world." And, curled up in this space, she hears "the sweetest sound she knows. A sound filled with love." Sometimes this baby sleeps, sometimes she's restless, but mostly she's calm and safe inside her "beautiful world." Until something different happens. "Strong currents lift her up and away" and "she isn't floating anymore." Suddenly, she can breathe, cry and see "fuzzy shapes and shifting shadows." That sweet sound, the one "she loves most of all?" She hears it in her mother's welcoming voice: "Hello, sweetheart." There is eye contact and the new baby "knows she is where she needs to be."

Suffused with warmth and joy, John Sobol's poetic homage to the late stages of pregnancy and childbirth focuses on the feelings and sensations that accompany this profound event. His eloquent words are paired with Cindy Derby's watercolor and digital collage paintings, which feature a beautifully rendered infant accompanied by traces of whimsy, such as in utero flamingos and tiny boats. These fantastical elements extend the scope of the book and turn it into a celebration of possibility. Born, which highlights that all-important first connection between mother and child, will likely be shared with fascinated young readers time and time again. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: This impressionistic homage to childbirth takes readers through a baby's final days in the womb and follows her emergence into the world as a much-loved newborn.

Groundwood Books, $18.95, hardcover, 24p., ages 3-7, 9781773061696

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