Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, August 11, 2020


Workman Publishing: Back-to-School Help is Here with Brain Quest, America's #1 Educational Bestseller!

From My Shelf

Ballantine Books: The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: Spindlefish and Stars by Christiane M Andrews

Calkins Creek Books: The Teachers March!: How Selma's Teachers Changed History by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace, illustrated by Charly Palmer

Great Poetry Heats Up the Summer

That headline is deceptive. It promises safe, sundrenched verses--beach read poems. But the amazing poetry I've been reading this summer is anything but safe. These words open eyes, minds and hearts. 

"I'm a black body in this Commonwealth, which turned black bodies/ into money. Now, I have money to spend on little trinkets to remind me/ of this fact...," Kiki Petrosino writes in her poem "The Shop at Monticello," from White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia (Sarabande Books). And in "Message from the Free Smiths of Louisa County," she observes: "When you search for us now, you find silence./ You may trace us back to a moment. No further./ We avoided the courthouse, the census, the bank/ with its clock, tracking everyone's time but our own."

Dionne Brand's epic The Blue Clerk: Ars Poetica in 59 Versos (Duke University Press) is a series of prose poem dialogues between a poet and her Blue Clerk, keeper of the poet's reams of pages--stored in bales on the dock of a mysterious wharf. "I am not really in life, the author says. I am really a voyeur. But the part of me that is in life is in pain all the time. That's me, says the clerk. You watch, I feel."

In her poem "Landing" (Passport to Here and There, Bloodaxe Books), Grace Nichols recalls her return to Guyana, the country she left for England at 27. "Homing in to my first-time landing at Ogle,/ nothing can stop my Demerara-smile..../ Not even the immigration officer, who flicking through my British passport,/ grants me exactly the fourteen days of stay/ I'd asked for, in the country of my birth."

And in "After Avery R. Young," included in The Tradition (Copper Canyon Press), Jericho Brown writes: "All land owned is land once stolen./ So the blues people of the world walk/ On water. We will not die. Blk music./ Blk rage. Blk city of the soul/ In a very cold town. Blk ice is ice you can't see." --Robert Gray, editor


Simon & Schuster: Unicorns Are the Worst! by Alex Willan


Book Candy

Pop Quiz: Book Titles with Numbers

Pop quiz from Mental Floss: "Can you pick the number that completes the book title?"

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Raymond Chandler's "36 great unused titles: from The Man with the Shredded Ear to Quick, Hide the Body" were showcased by Open Culture.

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Homely, for instance. Mental Floss found "12 words with very different meanings in the U.S. and the U.K."

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An 1877 Mental Photographs album, containing Oscar Wilde's "revealing responses" to 39 questions, sold for ₤47,880 (about $62,000) at a London auction, Fine Books & Collections magazine reported.


Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide: Skills and Strategies for Conversations that Work

by Tania Israel

In deeply difficult and divided times, it can be tempting to view the world in binaries. A spirit of bridging divides and finding common ground imbues Tania Israel's work. Following the 2016 election of Donald Trump, Israel designed "The Flowchart that Will Resolve All Political Conflict in Our Country." While the chart's hyperbolic title might feel tongue-in-cheek, it aims to resolve conflict by communicating and fostering understanding. Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide: Skills and Strategies for Conversations that Work is the outgrowth of that chart--still concise, clear and cogent, essentially an instruction manual for anyone who wants to learn how to initiate and engage in productive dialogues despite political differences.

Israel begins her thoughtful communication guidebook Beyond Your Bubble by confronting this tendency toward division head-on. "We are #metoo and 'Make America great again,'" she writes. "We are gun rights and gun control. We are oil and coal and climate change. We are tearing down Confederate monuments and building walls to keep immigrants out. We are marching and shouting and weeping and cheering. We are Tweeting and sharing and liking and unfriending." Frankly, "We are in turmoil."

Oversimplification abounds. Logic and reason may seem obvious within our self-curated "bubbles," but it's easy to dismiss, ignore or even condemn those whose ideas or moral compasses don't align with our own. Yet in whatever groups we identify, many of us find ourselves connected to someone whose ideas run counter to ours. What do we do if we don't want to write these people off, block them on social media, excise them from our lives or pretend they didn't just ask us to pass the potatoes at the dinner table? 

The answer is at the heart of Israel's work. A professor of counseling psychology and a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, Israel has long been invested in advocacy and bridging divides. Early in Beyond Your Bubble, she recounts working as a pregnancy counselor at a women's health clinic. The facility provided abortions among its services and, despite her passion for her work, Israel grew weary of the discord between protesters outside the clinic and its patients and employees. After hearing about an organization that helped arrange dialogues between groups with opposing views, she reached out to a nearby pro-life women's clinic. Together, they arranged a dialogue session. The result? Even between these groups who had fundamentally different views on one of the most divisive issues in the U.S., there was a productive dialogue; they even found some common ground.

Tightly focused chapters emphasize developing fundamental skills like listening, talking and managing emotions. To anchor the concepts and strategies, Israel introduces a fictional but relatable pair of cousins, Celine and Kevin, who plan and engage in meaningful dialogue throughout the book. While one leans conservative and the other liberal, Israel renders both characters with nuance and respect, depicting each of their "conversations" with charts and commentary that explicate their strategies and approaches. 

Israel includes questions throughout for self-reflection, along with appendices with further conversation prompts and exercises for practicing her strategies in real life. Her prose is informal rather than academic and, given its clearly delineated structure and relatively brief chapters, Beyond Your Bubble is easy to dip in and out of. Readers of diverse backgrounds and belief systems will find much to value and likely much to emulate in Israel's graceful treatment of how to talk about difficult topics; it's easy to be buoyed by her empathetic, enthusiastic spirit. 

The strategies are often broad and open-ended; the idea is for people to start practicing skills they can develop rather than parroting a script she provides. Still, Israel offers concrete language to help on the journey. For instance, in her chapter on active listening, she notes, "You shouldn't try to repeat everything back. Use fewer words and summarize rather than transcribe.... I call this 'nuggetizing.' Get at the nugget of what they're saying. And say it briefly so you don't interrupt the flow just to demonstrate that you've heard them. Focus on something that seems meaningful to the speaker; pull out an idea that gets to the heart of what they're saying rather than focusing on a minor detail, such as 'you're on the PTA.' "

Israel says, "To engage in dialogue with someone across political lines, all you need to do is understand them and help them feel safe and understood." Whether it's aiming to find connection with someone who voted differently than you did; thinking about ways to meaningfully discuss Black Lives Matter; communicating about the complexities and implications of Covid-19; or simply aiming for a compromise on dinner, readers will find much to learn and practice in their own lives. With Beyond Your Bubble, Israel helps make this hard work feel not just possible but doable. 

Politics aside, there is much here to be gleaned. As Israel concludes, "These same skills will help us to be better coworkers, better friends, better partners, better parents. Even if you don't care about any of that, these skills will help you feel better. They can decrease your stress and improve your well-being. The skills here are powerful tools. Go forth and use them with integrity and grace." --Katie Weed

American Psychological Association (APA), $16.99, paperback, 175p., 9781433833557

Tania Israel: Bridging Political Divides

(photo: Bob Blackwell)

Tania Israel's Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide, Skills and Strategies for Conversations that Work (APA LifeTools, August 11, 2020) is an accessible guidebook for initiating and improving communication across the aisle--or across the dinner table--and fostering connection despite political differences. Israel is a professor of counseling psychology at the University of California Santa Barbara, as well as the director of Project RISE, developing and studying interventions to support the psychological health of LGBTQ individuals and communities. Israel delivered the first ever TEDx talk on bisexuality, and was named one of the 2019 Congressional Women of the Year.

Following the 2016 election of Donald Trump, you designed "The Flowchart that Will Resolve All Political Conflict in Our Country." A friend of yours quipped: "Way to overpromise!" But Beyond Your Bubble really does feel deliberately neutral in its politics and its delivery. Why was neutrality important to you, and how did you achieve that?

I encourage readers to be respectful of people whose views differ from their own, and I work very hard to model that. As outlined in Chapter 5, I practice perspective taking, truly trying to understand a differing view within the context of someone else's experiences and values. Perhaps the book is not "neutral" as much as it is multiple.

I also think my upbringing helps me to embrace multiple views. I grew up in Charlottesville, which has gained notoriety due to violent conflict about Confederate statues. Attending the only public high school in a multiracial college town surrounded by rural Virginia put me in contact with people who had a range of values, views and life experiences. I believe this exposure increased my comfort and open-heartedness toward people who hold differing opinions.

Anxiety and fear can be among the many barriers to dialogue--in particular, fear of confrontation and fear of being misunderstood. How can the activities you include in the book help people build confidence in having productive dialogues despite these fears?

In my field, confidence to perform a specific task is known as "self-efficacy," and the greatest contributor to self-efficacy is what we call "successful performance accomplishments." In other words, the best way to build confidence is to do something and succeed. Ideally, the book will help the reader develop the skills they need to succeed, and practicing the skills in low-stakes situations will help develop the confidence to tackle the really tough conversations.

Did you foresee just how topical so many of the examples you use would be? On the heels of the Supreme Court's recent DACA decision, I am especially reminded of the hypothetical dialogues in the book on immigration and the ways your strategies might help readers talk about the latest news.

I wrote this book during the past year, so it was clear what many of the divisive topics would be (although I didn't foresee Covid-19!). I wanted readers to find relevant examples and guidance for the issues that were most challenging for them, such as immigration, health care, abortion and the environment.

Speaking of our current moment: Can we have productive dialogues, listening effectively, over Zoom? I'm wondering if your technique of "nuggetizing" might be useful here.

It's easier to understand another perspective if we have multiple sources of input from a person who holds that perspective. Disembodied tweets or Facebook posts have little potential to promote understanding (and can, in fact, increase divisiveness). Phone conversations add nuance and tone, and videoconferencing, like Zoom, can enhance communication with non-verbal cues. This combination of words, vocal quality and visual information promote perspective-taking. As with any dialogue, it's important to use active listening skills (such as reflecting or "nuggetizing," as I call it) and to be able to take a break or end the Zoom call if fatigue sets in.

How has your work as director of Project RISE informed your teaching and writing?

For the past 25 years, my research has focused on interventions to support LGBTQ individuals and communities. This topic has put my work in the center of conflict in a rapidly changing societal context, which has provided me with opportunities for dialogue across difference. I have trained law enforcement on LGBTQ issues, facilitated conversations about religion and sexual orientation and informed policy about conversion therapy, all of which has honed my skills for and comfort with conflict.

How do you center integrity and grace both in your writings and in your own day-to-day life?

I live my life at the intersection of academia, politics and performance; none of these worlds is known for self-awareness and humility. What helps me maintain integrity and grace in my work and my life is my Buddhist practice, which offers me tools to grapple with the temptations of self-importance and conflict.

What's the best comment you've received from someone who has read your book or attended one of your workshops?

Last week, I spoke to a journalist who said, "Your book should be required reading for every American citizen." High praise, indeed (although the printer will need to step up production if this comes to pass).

Who do you most hope reads your book?

The ideal reader is anyone who is feeling distressed about their experience or anticipation of talking with someone across political lines.

What are you reading right now?

I love audiobooks, and my favorite genre is memoir, especially if it's read by the author. Covid-19 is giving me lots of opportunity to listen to books as I go on solo walks. My favorite quarantine books thus far have been Kiese Laymon's Heavy: An American Memoir and Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air. In terms of fiction, I'm kind of obsessed with Taffy Brodesser-Akner's Fleishman Is in Trouble.

A question you pose that I loved was, "How can sharing a pizza illustrate dynamics of dialogue across political lines?" Lots of ways, it turns out! To end on a fun note: what's on your ideal pizza?

At the moment, given Covid-19, I'm not as tempted by specific pizza toppings as I am by the delightful notion of sharing food with other people, of gathering for a meal and connection and laughter. This is the magic of pizza--it's a collective experience, which is why I thought it to be such an apt metaphor for politics. --Katie Weed


Shelf vetted, publisher supported.


Great Reads

Rediscover: Hiroshima

This month marks 75 years since the United States dropped nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing between 129,000 and 246,000 people, primarily civilians. War correspondent John Hersey was one of the first American journalists to tour the ruins of Hiroshima and interview survivors. Hersey's article, "Hiroshima," ran in its entirety in the August 31, 1946 issue of the New Yorker. The 31,000-word story was published as a book by Knopf two months later and has been in print ever since, selling more than three million copies. Hersey's account used a straighforward style to chronicle the harrowing experiences of two doctors, a Protestant minister, a German Catholic priest, a seamstress and a factory worker before the bomb fell, during the carnage that immediately followed and one year on. Later editions of Hiroshima added a section about the attack's impact 40 years later.

The story of Hersey's investigation is the subject of Fallout: The Hiroshima Cover-up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World by Lesley M.M. Blume, released August 4 by Simon & Schuster ($27). Hersey's Hiroshima was last published in June of this year by Vintage ($12). --Tobias Mutter


Walrus Publishing: Campaigning Can Be Deadly, Volume 2 by Charlotte Stuart


Book Review

Fiction

A Star Is Bored

by Byron Lane


Not so long ago, in a galaxy not too far away, author Byron Lane worked as Carrie Fisher's assistant, and some of that experience inspired his sparkling first novel, A Star Is Bored.

The story opens with Charlie, an insecure young man desperate to escape a career rut, arriving at movie star Kathi Kannon's mansion to interview for a job as her personal assistant. She opens her own door and asks if he's there for a colonic. Seeing his horrified expression, she says she's acting and "just f*cking with you." So begins their capricious relationship as employer-employee and, eventually, friends and confidants.

Charlie navigates the ups and downs of bipolar disorder with Kathi, travels with her, shares stories about his abusive dad--establishing a bond with the actress he's idolized since childhood (he had her Priestess Talara action figure from the epic film Nova Quest). The two laugh and cry together, fight and make up, in brutally candid ways only people who deeply care for each other can do.

Though Kathi is fictional, Lane gives her witticisms one can easily hear Fisher say, and Kathi is so vibrant she'll make fans miss the late Star Wars actress even more. Lane also captures the absurdities of being a celebrity assistant and the interactions within the network of PAs. Charlie's attitude about another assistant is: "I resent him, I abhor him, I friended him on Facebook."

Life with Kathi is unpredictable and at times demanding, but in her light Charlie blooms. Likewise, by the time the story reaches its lovely, bittersweet ending, it's clear Lane's star is on the rise. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: While working for a famous actress, her personal assistant finds his own path in life with sparkling if bittersweet results.

Holt, $26.99, hardcover, 352p., 9781250266491

Johns Hopkins University Press: The Doctor Who Fooled the World: Science, Deception, and the War on Vaccines by Brian Deer


Addis Ababa Noir

by Maaza Mengiste, editor


Born in Addis Ababa, NEA fellow Maaza Mengiste (The Shadow King) takes readers home to "a growing city taking shape beneath the fraught weight of history, myth, and memory." As one of the editors for Akashic Books' ongoing Noir series, Mengiste gathers "some of Ethiopia's most talented writers living in the country and abroad" and presents 14 intriguing tales in Addis Ababa Noir.

Vicious revenge looms in three of the collection's most memorable contributions: an unrequited lover twice betrays the object of his devotion in Meron Hadero's "Kind Stranger"; a daughter avenges her mother's attempted murder in Hannah Giorgis's "A Double-Edged Inheritance"; an abused orphan refuses to be bartered away in Mikael Awake's "Father Bread."

Women seeking agency are punished in Sulaiman Addonia's "A Night in Bela Sefer" and again in Linda Yohannes's "Kebele ID." Searching for missing answers from her childhood urges a Toronto woman home to Addis, accompanied by a colleague, in Rebecca Fisseha's "Ostrich," while identifying the remains of the disappeared haunts Mengiste's own "Dust, Ash, Flight," undoubtedly the collection's most accomplished story. The dead won't stay dead in Mahtem Shifferaw's "The Blue Shadow," nor in Lelissa Girma's "Insomnia"; some don't even seem to exist in Girma T. Fantaye's "Of the Poet and the Café." Innocent victims pay dearly in Solomon Hailemariam's "None of Your Business" and Teferi Nigussie Tafa's "Agony of the Congested Heart."

As is often the case with anthologies, quality varies, but the standouts ensure evocative glimpses into a bustling, multi-ethnic, multilingual metropolis few in the West will have visited. "These are not gentle stories," Mengiste warns, but promises "something wholly original--and unsettling." --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Maaza Mengiste collects 14 ominous, haunting stories set in her birth city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Akashic Books, $16.95, paperback, 256p., 9781617758201

Viking: The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd


Mystery & Thriller

The Truth Hurts

by Rebecca Reid


Rebecca Reid (Perfect Liars) delivers a cracker with The Truth Hurts. Poppy needs a plan after being unceremoniously fired despite years of dedicated nanny service. Instead, she's in a roadside bar in a foreign country with no friends or money. She's approached by an extremely attractive older man. After verbal sparring and an obvious connection, Drew offers Poppy his spare bed. She stays on in his decadent Ibiza summer home and, after a fairy-tale month, they marry.

Poppy isn't stupid. She knows "handsome rich men didn't just stumble into your life, buy you dresses and then offer to marry you.... There would be a reason." The other shoe begins to fall when Drew proposes an agreement: they never talk about the past. Poppy is wary but relieved. Drew is hiding something, but she also has much to conceal. Flashbacks to a prior nanny job swirl into the present timeline, revealing the awful events Poppy wants to stay secret. At the same time, she catches Drew in small lies and feels uneasy in their isolated London mansion.

Poppy invites her friend Gina to stay, then Drew's friends come for a weekend. As the longtime friends eat, drink and dig at each other, Poppy's and Drew's pasts are forced to the surface, to a shocking end. The tense, slow-burn relationship drama in The Truth Hurts unsurprisingly turns ugly and ends with a startling burst of intensity that works extremely well despite its abruptness. Reid's writing is engaging, taut and just plain fun to read. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A whirlwind courtship and marriage sets up taut suspense as a couple must deal with the fallout from an agreement never to discuss their pasts.

Harper Perennial, $16.99, paperback, 368p., 9780062997586

Dial Books: Kitties on Dinosaurs by Michael Slack


Science Fiction & Fantasy

Deal with the Devil

by Kit Rocha


In this banter-packed, action-fueled opener to the post-apocalyptic Mercenary Librarians series, Kit Rocha (Beyond series), also known as writing team Bree Bridges and Donna Herren, imagines a technocratic future and the bold heroes trying to survive it.

"Nina had broken the cardinal rule, and now she had to kill someone." In 2060, the remnants of the U.S. exist under the rule of a megacorporation that seized power after a massive solar flare wrecked the country. Nina, a genetically altered clone, lives with her friends and fellow fugitives Maya and Dani in the ruins of Atlanta, where they're slowly re-creating a lost artifact of civilization--a public library. When gruff, gorgeous supersoldier Garrett Knox and his squad of artificially enhanced commandos ask the women to help them steal a complete copy of the Library of Congress, Nina can't resist the offer or the man. Knox, however, has a problem. His squad members will die if he doesn't double-cross Nina, but he's falling for her generous heart. If he doesn't come clean, he'll lose her forever. If he does, he'll lose everything else.

Exciting fight sequences, plentiful one-liners and spicy love scenes make Deal with the Devil easy to relish. Under its gritty veneer lies a deep core of idealism and compassion, as two people with traumatic pasts struggle to hold onto their ethics in a world where only the strongest survive. Filled with intriguing heroes- and heroines-in-waiting, this series is poised for a long, satisfying run. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: An idealistic mercenary trying to build a public library in post-apocalypse Atlanta falls for a super-soldier who must betray her or watch his men die.

Tor Books, $30.99, hardcover, 336p., 9781250256294

Main Street Publishing: Temple of Eternity by R Scott Boyer


Romance

Mr. Malcolm's List

by Suzanne Allain


Suzanne Allain (Incognito; The Celebrated Pedestrian) has created a delightfully witty and wholesome romance novel with Mr. Malcolm's List. Jeremy Malcolm is the extremely rich and handsome second son of an earl, and thus has been the target of many a matchmaking mama. But Mr. Malcolm has always managed to avoid an engagement, becoming known as "a Destroyer of Young Ladies' Dreams."

One of those young ladies was Miss Julia Thistlewaite. When Julia finds out that Mr. Malcolm has a list of attributes he's looking for in a future wife (of all the conceit!), and that she wasn't considered serious-minded enough to meet the fourth requirement on the list, she is outraged. She writes to her friend Selina Dalton, the smartest woman that Julia knows, begging her to come to London for a visit.

Selina is alarmed by Julia's plan: to make Mr. Malcolm fall in love with Selina, only to reveal her own list, proving that Mr. Malcolm couldn't meet all of Selina's requirements. She is reluctant to participate in such a preposterous revenge scheme, but she agrees because she is also desperate for an excuse to stay in London instead of returning to her parents' tiny vicarage.

Hilarious and fast-paced, Mr. Malcolm's List is a bright and refreshing Regency romp. The entanglements that Julia and Selina get caught in are quite funny, and Mr. Malcolm's slow realization that, indeed, he was a bit toplofty is very satisfying. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this lighthearted Regency romp, a woman's revenge on a former suitor goes hilariously awry.

Berkley, $16, paperback, 256p., 9780593197400

Biography & Memoir

Stranger in the Shogun's City: A Japanese Woman and Her World

by Amy Stanley


In Stranger in the Shogun's City: A Japanese Woman and Her World, historian Amy Stanley tells the dynamic story of an unconventional woman in early 19th-century Japan.

The project began when Stanley became fascinated with an archive that included dozens of letters written by a woman named Tsuneno and the letters (and legal documents) created by her family in response. Together, these letters created a rare picture of the life of a non-elite woman, written in her own words.

Born in 1804 in a rural village, Tsuneno was the daughter of a Buddhist priest. She tried to settle into the traditional (and relatively comfortable) life her family expected of her, but it didn't take. Divorced three times and faced with another arranged marriage, she ran away to Edo (now Tokyo), already one of the largest cities of the world. Her life in Edo was always hard and often scandalous by the standards of her family and society. She moved from tenement to tenement, took menial jobs that didn't pay enough to support her, and married, divorced and re-married a violent man from her home region. And yet she loved city life: its street food, street theater and street fashions. More, she loved that she had chosen it for herself.

Stanley places Tsuneno firmly in her historical context, creating a multi-layered picture of life in Japan in the decades before it was forcibly "opened" to the West by Commodore Perry's fleet in 1854. Stranger in the Shogun's City is a vivid and often lyrical portrait not only of Tsuneno, but of Edo, the city she loved. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: Stranger in the Shogun's City is a love story between a rebellious woman and a bustling city in 19th-century Japan.

Scribner, $28, hardcover, 352p., 9781501188527

Social Science

Is Rape a Crime?: A Memoir, an Investigation, and a Manifesto

by Michelle Bowdler


Framed by the story of Michelle Bowdler's uninvestigated rape and subsequent activism, Is Rape a Crime? criticizes the abhorrent trivialization of rape by the criminal justice system; it will move readers to demand change.

In 1984, two men broke into Michelle Bowdler's apartment and raped her repeatedly. The police considered her "lucky"--she could have been murdered, "a legitimate crime. But the crime [she] experienced was not." She completed a rape kit--a multi-hour exam for collecting evidence that could identify her perpetrators--but it would never be tested. Then, a 2007 Boston Globe article about untested sexual assault samples spurred her to become a social justice advocate, fighting for the testing of the estimated 400,000 untested rape kits across the U.S.

Bowdler's damning account argues that rape isn't--but must be--investigated as seriously as other felonies. She outlines a pervasive, destructive status quo wherein rape victims' allegations are dubiously dismissed as "unfounded." Bowdler cautions against "equat[ing] rape with sex" and thus "a male need"; reducing testimonies to "he said, she said" arguments; portraying a rapist's life as "ruined" as much as the survivor's; creating special victims units that simply mask neglect; or celebrating "weak apologies" in response to movements like #MeToo. Though she finds hope in activism, Bowdler stresses that it's not the job of survivors to effect change. Is Rape a Crime? is a searing condemnation of rape culture that firmly places the onus on law enforcement and legislators to reform broken systems. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

Discover: A sharp rebuke of how the justice system delegitimizes rape as a crime, and an urgent plea for the U.S. to change.

Flatiron Books, $27.99, hardcover, 304p., 9781250255631

Veritas: A Harvard Professor, a Con Man and the Gospel of Jesus's Wife

by Ariel Sabar


If turning scraps of ancient papyrus into an enthralling true-crime escapade takes a miracle, consider Ariel Sabar a miracle worker. In September 2012, Harvard Divinity School professor Karen King shook the foundations of the Christian church when she announced in Rome the discovery of what she called "The Gospel of Jesus's Wife." Sabar, who had been following the story first for Smithsonian and then for the Atlantic, was the only journalist in the room for the presentation.

The discovery had the potential to unravel millennia of church dogma surrounding sex and gender. Furthermore, King's reading of the torn, nigh illegible text suggested that Jesus valued women's leadership far more than his church has. But as soon as the bit of inked papyrus saw the spotlight, its provenance drew far more scrutiny than its original proponents could handle. Clumsy handwriting, horrid syntax and unsubstantiated dating set off a chain reaction of queries, criticisms and suspicions of forgery, spurring Sabar to dig far deeper than he might have imagined when he first took the assignment.

The National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of My Father's Paradise transforms top-notch research skills into riveting suspense. And even as he closes in early on his prime suspect, method and motive prove to be the more baffling questions, at increasingly bizarre turns. Engrossing as the forgery thread becomes, the underpinnings for why a respected historian such as King, and a fair few of her colleagues, would so audaciously pursue a flimsy excuse for authentic scripture drive at a far more unsettling conclusion.

Veritas is an extraordinary and mind-bending adventure into ancient traditions with modern consequences. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A revolutionary artifact and suspicions of forgery have flabbergasting implications in this shocking double-helix of history and suspense.

Doubleday, $29.95, hardcover, 416p., 9780385542586

Tomboy: The Surprising History and Future of Girls Who Dare to Be Different

by Lisa Selin Davis


"It started with a tie and a button-down shirt. When my daughter was three, she asked for that ensemble for Christmas." When journalist Lisa Selin Davis's daughter announced she was a tomboy, it caught her by surprise, though Davis grew up with tomboys as heroines on favorite TV shows (Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie, Jo Polniaczek on The Facts of Life) and in beloved literature (Jo March in Little Women, Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird). Ubiquitous when Davis was growing up, tomboys were uncommon in her daughter's 2015 crowd.

After recurring instances of people questioning her daughter's gender identity, Davis wrote a "hotly contested" op-ed for the New York Times pondering her daughter's experiences. Partly in response to the criticism, she began to study gender and tomboys. In Tomboy, Davis reports on numerous aspects of gender while acknowledging it's "one of the hardest subjects to talk about." She addresses the judgments embedded in the word "tomboy" that provide only cisgender girls the privilege of "blurring the boundaries," and how overly restrictive categories (the pink/blue divide) have tremendous social and psychological implications.

Davis (Belly) traces the origin of the word tomboy, as well as movements of the pink/blue line in history and the impact of commercialism, homo- and transphobias, the media, racism and privilege. Who gets to draw the line? The single unequivocal truth about gender Davis uncovered is "it's complicated," but the more we know, the sooner we can undo stereotypes. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: Tracing the history and impact of the word "tomboy" provides the backdrop for a study of changing gender identity lines and how better to navigate complex gender issues.

Hachette Go, $28, hardcover, 336p., 9780316458313

Reference & Writing

Let's Talk: How English Conversation Works

by David Crystal


David Crystal (Spell It Out; The Story of English in 100 Words) explores exactly what makes an English conversation function in Let's Talk. English has dozens of words to describe different types of conversations: banter, chat, confab, gossip, harangue, joke, prattle and rant, to name a few. And from greetings to turn-taking to storytelling to online conversations, Crystal explores the many ways and styles in which English speakers communicate. He explains that there's one defining quality that separates conversation from every other variety of language except literature: "its semantically random and unpredictable nature."

Crystal unpacks this randomness to show how conversation is created, and even points out fallacies in the common conception of conversation. For example, most people would say that interrupting is rude or inhibits discourse, but Crystal explains, after examining recordings, that most interruptions are seen as "signs of solidarity or rapport."

Language has changed dramatically in the last century with the advent of telephones and the Internet, but Crystal assures readers that basic conversational models are unlikely to change, using examples of literature from Shakespeare to Percy Jackson to support his arguments. Full of interesting conversational models and some funny anecdotes from Crystal's own life, Let's Talk will make people think much harder the next time someone wishes them a casual "Good morning!" Let's Talk is perfect for armchair linguists. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: Perfect for armchair linguists, Let's Talk is a lighthearted look at the way people speak.

Oxford University Press, $24.95, hardcover, 224p., 9780198850694

Children's & Young Adult

Illegal

by Francisco X. Stork


"For all its flaws," Sara and Emiliano believe, "the United States justice system was as good as it gets on this here earth." But after barely surviving their journey across the border, the siblings aren't sure the U.S. will provide the safe haven they so desperately need in Illegal, the second installment in Francisco X. Stork's compelling young adult series that began with Disappeared.

While investigating the disappearances of young women in her hometown of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, reporter Sara Zapata uncovered a human trafficking ring. Sara's investigation turned her family's world upside down, forcing them to flee their home. Ten days ago, she arrived at Fort Stockton Detention Center, where she will be detained until her asylum request is heard. Meanwhile, younger brother Emiliano lays low in Chicago with their father, a permanent resident, where he is trying to get an incriminating cell phone to someone who can help uncover the criminals behind the trafficking ring. As they come to realize U.S. justice isn't swift, and danger followed them from Mexico, Sara and Emiliano wonder if they'll ever be safe.

Stork's Illegal is a thrilling and heartbreaking look at immigration and the U.S. judicial system. While Emiliano and Sara are the main focus, Stork does a beautiful job of depicting a variety of immigration experiences, as well as others' perceptions of immigrants. Sara and Emiliano narrate alternating chapters, incorporating the stories of those around them into their own traumatic accounts: Sara bears witness to other women being held in the detention center on asylum claims; Emiliano sees how much his father gave up to appear "American." Thought-provoking and insightful, Illegal is a bold examination of conscience, hope and the courage to do what's right. --Kyla Paterno, freelance reviewer

Discover: Siblings on parallel journeys confront the U.S. immigration system while trying to take down an international human trafficking ring.

Scholastic Press, $18.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 12-up, 9781338310559

Paola Santiago and the River of Tears

by Tehlor Kay Mejia


In Tehlor Kay Mejia's compelling Paola Santiago and the River of Tears, the title character is a precocious tween who eschews her single mother's beliefs in the supernatural for the fact-filled certainty of science.

Paola is part of an inseparable trio that includes the more affluent Emma Lockwood and Dante Mata, her next-door neighbor and possible crush. When Emma misses their stargazing meet-up at the Gila River one evening and the authorities don't take their hunch that something's wrong seriously, Paola and Dante resolve to find her in the Arizona desert. Things start to get weird when Dante's grandmother arms them with a magical chancla (house slipper), shopping bag and Florida water. One by one, Paola comes face to face with all of the legends that her overprotective but flighty mother had taught her about--chupacabras, La Mano Pachona and La Llorona herself, the ghost of a woman who murdered her children and was cursed to wander the riverbanks for eternity in search of their bodies and looking for her next victim.

Mejia imbues her middle-grade debut with vulnerability and fierceness--Paola is an often angry girl who bucks up against her mother's traditions. The author adeptly showcases not only details about Mexican American culture, but also weaves in the protagonist's love for science and problem-solving. Clever chapter headings add humor in between harrowing scenes, and duplicitous characters will keep readers guessing whom to trust. Love is the saving grace here. Paola's love for her friends is key to her survival. But a mother's love--in all of its fierceness and fury--is what drives the narrative forward. --Shelley Diaz, supervising librarian, BookOps: New York Public Library & Brooklyn Public Library

Discover: This Mexican American mythology-infused adventure starring a smart-alecky tween will delight middle-grade fantasy readers and fans of Rick Riordan's series.

Rick Riordan Presents, $16.99, hardcover, 368p., ages 8-12, 9781368049177

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