Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, October 16, 2020

Workman Publishing: The ABCs of Queer History by Seema Yasmin, Illustrated by Lucy Kirk

From My Shelf

Loving Flawed Stories

As readers, we sometimes have the complicated task of loving stories that disappoint us. Early on in the wildly imaginative Lovecraft Country, both the novel by Matt Ruff (Harper Perennial, $16.99) and the HBO adaptation, comes the observation, "Stories are like people.... Loving them doesn't make them perfect. You try to cherish their virtues and overlook their flaws. The flaws are still there, though.... Sometimes, they stab me in the heart."

H.P. Lovecraft's racism is no secret, and it falls under sharp critique in the gleefully irreverent I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas (Night Shade, $15.95). The hilarious murder mystery set at a Lovecraft convention holds nothing back as it grapples with the racism, misogyny and overzealous fan cultures that persist in literature. But the wounds it exposes are deep: "I kept reading Lovecraft, but at a distance," the narrator says. "I was one of the bad people in his work, who terrified the good people just by existing."

Leila Taylor presses those ideas further in her elegant work of literary criticism Darkly: Blackness and America's Gothic Soul (Repeater, $14.95). An admitted fan of Edgar Allan Poe's work, Taylor is not unaware of what he might think of her Blackness. "He doesn't have H.P. Lovecraft's blatant xenophobia," she writes, "but a more liquid unease wrought with guilt which seems more appropriate for American horror. Poe's anxiety is an American anxiety, wary of... the Blackness we brought to our shores and the darkness we fostered." This context is made especially compelling when Taylor goes on to assess many of Poe's most famous stories as being about attempts "to get away with murder and the effort to deny it."

It's hard to let go of writing that, for whatever reason, grips us. I deeply admire readers like this, who, as James Baldwin said about his love for America, love flawed stories enough to criticize them perpetually. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Frog & Toad: Now Streaming on Apple TV+

The Writer's Life

Marcus J. Moore: On the Living Legacy of Kendrick Lamar

photo: Moyo Oyelola

Journalist and music critic Marcus J. Moore is a contributing writer with the Nation and a contributing editor with Bandcamp Daily. He has covered soul, jazz, hip-hop and rock at the New York Times, Pitchfork, Entertainment Weekly, the Washington Post, NPR, Rolling Stone and the Atlantic, among others. His debut book, The Butterfly Effect: How Kendrick Lamar Ignited the Soul of Black America (Atria; reviewed below) is the first in-depth cultural biography of the multi-Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar.

In your acknowledgments, you write: "I've been asked this question a lot over the past two years: Why Kendrick Lamar? The answer is always simple: Why not? Though he isn't done creating (as of this writing), there's no denying the grand impact he's had on music and Black culture over the past decade. His story is worth celebrating, so why not give him flowers now?" Was it difficult to tell this story now, while Lamar is still alive and still creating?

There were a few (though not many) skeptics in the public space who thought it was too early for a Kendrick Lamar biography. I disagreed; I thought it was the perfect time for this. For too long, historians have tried to reduce or erase Black history, even though we built this country for free. There's this notion that people either need to be old or deceased before they can get their flowers. That doesn't make sense to me. We should uplift each other all the time. You never know what someone is going through, or when tragedy might strike. Far too often, when legends transition, we flood social media with messages of "gone too soon" and "they didn't get the credit they deserved," but there's a whole generation of living legends whose stories should be captured in books.

In The Butterfly Effect, you tie together threads from the specifics of Kendrick Lamar's life and art to broad movements like Black Lives Matter, the quest for greater gun control in the U.S. and racist "Make America Great Again" narratives. So much of Lamar's impact is due to ways he does this in his lyrics. How did your background as a music critic and journalist prepare you for this work?

I had to tap into all aspects of my career to write this book. There was some local reporting, business reporting, education reporting, political reporting and music analysis. I had to remember the old days of working a beat and developing sources. Then, of course, I tapped into music criticism to unpack the narrative of Kendrick's music. I also wanted the book to feel like a casual conversation between me and the reader. I wanted the narrative to be incredibly clear, so at the end of it, there'd be no mistaking how Kendrick became Kendrick, and how [record label] TDE influenced the world. I wanted to dissect the artistry and walk readers through the rapper's personal and creative evolution.

As for the research process, it wasn't too arduous. I come from a background of "cite your sources!" So I went above and beyond to make sure everyone was credited properly. I also knew that Kendrick and TDE are incredibly private, so the likelihood of speaking with them was slim to none. That said, they still have a story worth telling, so I made sure it was told thoroughly and with nuance and care. I wrote the book like I would a story: I conducted interviews before I started writing, and if I came to a place that required more research or another voice, I made sure I filled the gap. For instance, as I wrote about the history of Compton in chapter two, I didn't want it to be like every other conversation about the town: death, despair, crime, poverty. I thought, "What was Compton like before the '80s?" I reached out to noted club owner Alonzo Williams, who gave me a great interview. He was very gracious with his time. 

You interviewed Alicia Garza, a cofounder of the Black Lives Matter movement, about Lamar's anthem "Alright." What was it like talking to someone who has had such a strong impact on our national dialogue and national action, especially in 2020?

It was quite extraordinary. As a veteran journalist who grew up in old-school newsrooms, I've learned that good reporting tells the best story. So this book is nothing without the goodwill of people like Alicia Garza, who didn't know me at all, but still made time to chat. It really meant a lot. Alicia is a kind soul who deserves a ton of credit.

You write about Lamar's teacher Regis Inge, whose early support of Lamar's writing was critical. Who has been critical in influencing your own writing? Through your music journalism and this book, what do you see or hope your own influence might be on burgeoning writers?

I've always been a curious person who couldn't help but look ahead. It started in kindergarten; I was in one reading group but I wanted to be in another, more exciting group. They were spelling big words, and I wanted to do that! My teacher, Mrs. Bielski, made me a deal: if I could spell the word "alligator," she'd let me into the group. I did it and got in. That curiosity only grew stronger in my writing--from high school, to college, to now. As a young reporter in the immediate D.C. suburbs, I was curious about hazardous housing conditions, which disproportionately affected Black people. I was curious about the achievement gap in the Montgomery County public school system. As a music fan, I've always been fascinated by music that's considered alternative or left-of-center. Now, as an author, journalist and editor, I use my platform to spotlight the music I love. Through my work and this book, I want burgeoning writers to know that it's okay to be genuinely curious--that they don't have to adhere to what society pushes them to like.

You said in an interview years ago that if you could interview any musician from any era, you'd interview John Lennon. Would you give the same answer today?

Wow, good pull! Haha. I've changed a lot since then, and while I'm still a Lennon fan, I'd want to interview Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Minnie Riperton and Alice Coltrane. When I'm down, their music always makes me feel better.

Can you share a little about what's next for you?

My next book is a cultural biography of hip-hop trio De La Soul. Like the Kendrick book, it's meant to celebrate the artist while also celebrating the culture overall. Unlike The Butterfly Effect, which largely talks about current events, High and Rising is a period piece that begins in the early '80s. It charts the rise of hip-hop in New York City, the formation of De La Soul in Long Island and the ascension of alternative rap in the mainstream marketplace. De La Soul changed the landscape in a lot of ways, but I don't think they've gotten full credit for it. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Book Candy

Spotting Your Own Typoes

Mental Floss revealed "the reason it's so hard to spot your own typos."


The "top 10 underrated Agatha Christie novels" were showcased by the Guardian.


Brightly offered "Spanish/English bilingual printables and activities" for kids.


Russia Beyond featured the "10 main Russian poets you need to know."


"Explore the Roman cookbook, De Re Coquinaria, the oldest known cookbook in existence." (via Open Culture)


The Perryopolis, Pa., house featured in the 1991 film adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris is on the market, listing for $298,500, Deadline reported.

Great Reads

Rediscover: 1968

1968 was marked by what author Mark Kurlansky (Cod, Salt) called "a spontaneous combustion of rebellious spirits around the world." That tumultuous year included student protests and rebellions in the U.S., Poland, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Mexico and elsewhere; the growth of the Black Power, women's and antiwar movements; the Prague Spring; the Tet Offensive, marking a turning point for the U.S. in the Vietnam War; the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy; police brutality during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago; and a deeply divisive presidential election. These events were amplified, Kurlansky says, by new developments in media, particularly television's new use of videotape, which didn't need to be developed, transmitted via satellites from around the world, making the war and protests more immediate.

Some of what happened in 1968 had long-lasting significance, even continuing to the present day, including the Republican Party's Southern strategy and embrace of "law and order," as well as the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, which destroyed many people's belief that the Soviet system could be reformed, leading to its end some 20 years later.

While there are some differences--including a pandemic and increasingly destructive climate change now--the year 1968 is eerily resonant in the year 2020. Substitute social media for TV "live" feeds, Black Lives Matter for Black Power, Trump for Nixon, and so on.

Kurlansky recounted the turbulent time in 1968: The Year That Rocked the World, first published in 2004. The book is available from Random House Trade Paperbacks ($18). --John Mutter

Book Review


Magic Lessons

by Alice Hoffman

A matriarch of American witchcraft is fully realized in Magic Lessons, Alice Hoffman's prequel to her 1995 novel, Practical Magic. In 2017, The Rules of Magic expanded her descendants' modern-day stories, and now readers learn the roots of the sorcery, passed from mothers to daughters for centuries.

Hoffman's sympathetic telling of Maria Owens's 17th-century life is enchanting, although her journey includes the intolerance endured by many settlers--none more brutal than in Maria's first American home of Salem, Mass. Maria is a survivor. Abandoned at birth, she learns the "Nameless Arts" from her adoptive mother, Hannah. Horribly, Hannah is burned as a witch, and Maria is sent from England to Curaçao in 1680 as an indentured servant. She swears to avoid love, but no charms or teas prevent romance, or the arrival of baby Faith. Determined to find John Hathorne, the seductive merchant who fathered her daughter, Maria's healing skills earn her passage to Massachusetts. In Salem, Hathorne shuns her, but mother and daughter live tenuously under the Puritans' judgmental glares, while women surreptitiously buy her potions.

A tale of witchcraft, romance and empowerment, Magic Lessons is also a thoughtful perspective on American history. Maria and Faith settle in more open-minded Manhattan, escaping Salem's persecution in the name of religion. Even though teenage Faith explores the "dark arts," Maria holds her positive maxim: "You receive what you give threefold." Instrumental in the 1693 outlawing of witchcraft trials, she's rewarded in an unlikely happy ending--with "a man who did not believe that love could ever be a curse." --Cheryl McKeon, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.

Discover: In the satisfying third volume of Alice Hoffman's Magic series, Maria Owens arrives in Salem and begins the dynasty of American Owens women skilled in the "Nameless Arts."

Simon & Schuster, $27.99, hardcover, 416p., 9781982108847

Mystery & Thriller

The Hollow Places

by T. Kingfisher

An eccentric small-town museum hosts a portal to a twisted, lethal realm of the multiverse in this hilarious and deliciously shiver-inducing horror story by T. Kingfisher (The Twisted Ones).

When Kara finds herself newly divorced and "at thirty-four, staring down the barrel of moving back in with my parents," her chronically strange but much-loved Uncle Earl invites her to stay with him at the Glory to God Museum of Natural Wonders, Curiosities and Taxidermy in tiny Hog Chapel, N.C. Kara accepts, happy both to avoid her mother and catalogue the museum's whimsical collection of albino raccoons, assorted junk and a "Genuine Feejee Mermaid." While babysitting the museum during Earl's knee surgery, Kara and her friend Simon discover a portal to an eerie world where extradimensional beings stalk through malevolent willow trees, waiting for a meal to blunder through one of dozens of doors. Lost in the nightmare realm, the question becomes not only whether Kara and Simon can find their door again, but what might follow them home.

Told in Kara's down-to-earth, wisecracking voice, this spooky romp combines Lovecraftian horror with real-world woes, the willow universe's many doors echoing the possibilities and danger that come with starting over. Kingfisher builds a sense of oppressive dread in the second half that she dispels with a finale filled with cathartic action and the best reanimated taxidermy subjects since Night at the Museum. Witty, frequently terrifying and downright oddball, The Hollow Places is pure, brilliantly imaginative fun. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: A divorcée moves into her uncle's small-town museum and discovers a way into a nightmarish other world in this hilarious, frightening portal story.

Saga Press/Gallery, $16.99, paperback, 352p., 9781534451124

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Midnight Bargain

by C.L. Polk

In The Midnight Bargain, C.L. Polk (Witchmark) uses the imagined world of Chasland (a land "long on wealth and short on social progress") and classic tropes of many Regency romance novels to deliver a timely message about social and gender justice. Beatrice Clayborn is the powerful eldest daughter of a noble family whose coffers have run dry. Her magic runs deep and strong, though it is valuable to her family only insofar as it can secure her a wealthy husband and produce for him magical heirs. Beatrice longs for something more than marriage to a man of her father's choosing, and has identified a powerful grimoire that can help her build the world she wants. Her pursuit of the book leads her to an unexpected friendship with another sorceress--and a burgeoning love for her new friend's brother.

Over the course of The Midnight Bargain, Beatrice comes into her power--of both the magical and metaphorical varieties--forcing those around her to face uncomfortable truths about the status quo, who it benefits and at what cost. "The current system lays all of the restriction, all the responsibility, and all of the burden on sorceresses," she explains. "For [men], the system isn't broken, so why look for a solution?" This struggle to find a resolution that lessens the patriarchal burden placed on women's shoulders feels as relevant in the real world as it does in Polk's expertly imagined one. The Midnight Bargain is a feminist fantasy novel that is both charming and important, further cementing Polk's place as a powerful voice in the genre whose work exposes the broken systems in the real world. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: This feminist fantasy novel uses classic romance tropes to deliver a timely message on social and gender justice.

Erewhon, $25.95, hardcover, 384p., 9781645660071


Spoiler Alert

by Olivia Dade

Readers don't need to write fan fiction or love high-fantasy television epics like Game of Thrones to fall for Olivia Dade's witty and swoon-worthy Spoiler Alert, but anyone who does will find a special sort of joy in this romance.

By day, the public loves Marcus as a handsome, somewhat dim celebrity, but by night Marcus secretly writes the version of Gods of the Gate he wishes existed. Geologist April, cofounder of the fan fiction server they started together, is one of the few people who knows the real Marcus--except they've always kept to screennames. They've been friends for years, but when Marcus--as himself--asks April on a date in what people assume is a publicity stunt, their fan fiction partnership becomes something more--only April doesn't know the whole story. The secret identity trope is common, but Marcus has a good reason for lying to April: if his hobby is exposed, his career will be over.

April may receive criticism for her plus-size cosplay, but Dade's body- and fat-positive writing and characters are both warm and revolutionary. Likewise, Marcus is dyslexic, and Dade gives him an empowering, validating story arc.

Spoiler Alert is told in alternating point-of-view chapters plus snippets of fan fiction, direct messages and short (often terrible) bits of script from Marcus's acting roles. This structure immerses readers in the romance between April and Marcus and the show they love. Spoiler Alert is at turns warm, hot and funny, making it perfect for any romance fan. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels

Discover: Spoiler Alert is a love letter to fan fiction, romance and finding people who love you just as you are.

Avon, $15.99, paperback, 416p., 9780063005549

The Lost Love Song

by Minnie Darke

With her second novel, The Lost Love Song, Darke (Star Crossed) composes a complex and entertaining story of lives that interweave in surprising ways. This time, instead of astrology, Darke's unifying device is a song, whose journey winds across the world, from Australia to Singapore to London to Vancouver. Begun by concert pianist Diana Clare as a tribute to the man she loves, the song takes a number of unexpected turns before eventually finding its way home.

Back in Melbourne to teach master classes after a world tour, Diana surprises Arie, the tech support guy, by asking him to lunch. Seven years later, the couple is firmly ensconced in the house of Diana's dreams, with a bay window for her Steinway grand. There's just one problem: Arie proposed--four and a half years ago--and Diana still isn't sure she wants to be married.

On the eve of another world tour, Diana jots down most of the love song, though it's missing an ending. When tragedy strikes one of her flights, Arie is left feeling that their story, and his life, also lacks resolution. But the song is only beginning its journey. Darke crafts an inventive tale of vivid characters who connect with the song: the widower who picks up Diana's notebook in a Singapore hotel, the lovestruck teenagers who perform the song as a duet, a Canadian banjo player in search of inspiration.

Clever, warm-hearted and a touch bittersweet, with an ending as satisfying as the plagal cadence Diana loves, The Lost Love Song will have readers hoping for all of Darke's characters to find true happiness. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Minnie Darke's inventive second novel follows the international journey of a love song and the people connected to it.

Ballantine Books, $17, paperback, 384p., 9780593160336

Food & Wine

American Cheese: An Indulgent Odyssey Through the Artisan Cheese World

by Joe Berkowitz

Whether readers answer the siren call of the cheese plate at a holiday party or travel to a specialty shop to hunt for something artisanal, they'll savor Joe Berkowitz's American Cheese.

Though books that dive deeply into specialized food worlds can sometimes feel pretentious or exclusionary, Berkowitz (Away with Words) is self-aware and self-deprecating enough to make this a funny, engaging piece of nonfiction for new gourmet cheese fanciers. As he recounts his journey from the grocery store to cheese-mongering competitions, Berkowitz writes not only about varieties of cheese, but the history of cheese worldwide and in the United States in particular. He talks about the impact of diet on the milk produced by cows, goats and sheep and on the final cheese. Most of all, he explores the process of making cheese, buying and selling it and enjoying it.

Because of the humor and joy with which Berkowitz talks about his "cheese odyssey," readers get swept up along with him. For example, when he attends a cheese-making course, he notes why no one signed up for the burrata class: "Poorly made burrata tastes like mushy, salty Silly Putty that is crying milky tears."

Accessible to readers inside or outside of the artisan cheese world, American Cheese is a delicious trip through the cheese landscape--one that may necessitate keeping a snack plate nearby. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels

Discover: Funny and fascinating, American Cheese recounts one man's joyful education about and enjoyment of one of the oldest foods in the world.

Harper Perennial, $16.99, paperback, 304p., 9780062934895

Biography & Memoir

She Come by It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs

by Sarah Smarsh

Dolly Parton is an indisputable American cultural icon: instantly recognizable, much derided and (perhaps paradoxically) deeply respected. But there's more to Parton--both the musician and the woman--than rhinestones, outsize boobs and Southern twang. In her second nonfiction book, She Come by It Natural, journalist and lifelong Parton fan Sarah Smarsh (Heartland) delves into Parton's roots, her long career, her business empire and the smart but subtle feminism that has won Parton such legions of fans.

Originally published in roots-music magazine No Depression as a four-part serial, Smarsh's exploration traces the arc of Parton's career from the cheerful "girl singer" performing alongside Porter Wagoner to a big-time headliner in charge of her own contracts, copyrights and destiny. Smarsh, a native of rural Kansas, shares her early memories of listening to Parton's music (and that of similar strong women) in the car with her mother and grandmother, the music resonating across all three generations. She discusses how Parton's music has always championed the working-class woman whose struggles are largely invisible. Her songs have become anthems for listeners who never studied feminist theory but who will stand up to any force, male or economic, that threatens their livelihood and their self-respect.

Along the way, Smarsh examines the criticism--both class- and gender-based--that Parton has received over her half-century in music. While it includes sharp social commentary and well-placed personal anecdotes, She Come by It Natural is at its heart a love letter both to Parton and to the women who continue to see themselves in her songs. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Journalist Sarah Smarsh intimately examines the long career and feminist impact of beloved musical icon Dolly Parton.

Scribner, $22, hardcover, 208p., 9781982157289

The Butterfly Effect: How Kendrick Lamar Ignited the Soul of Black America

by Marcus J. Moore

In The Butterfly Effect: How Kendrick Lamar Ignited the Soul of Black America, veteran music journalist Marcus J. Moore sculpts a thoroughly engaging, enlightening portrait not just of celebrated rapper Kendrick Lamar's life and music--in particular his landmark album To Pimp a Butterfly--but more broadly of Lamar's indelible stamp on contemporary musical landscapes and popular culture.

Why Lamar? Why now? Moore explains, "Though he isn't done creating (as of this writing), there's no denying the grand impact he's had on music and black culture over the past decade. His story is worth celebrating, so why not give him flowers now?" The rapper has certainly earned many accolades already--his album DAMN. won the Pulitzer Prize for music; Barack Obama called Lamar's 2015 song "How Much a Dollar Cost" his favorite of the year, and invited Lamar to the White House; he's earned more than a dozen Grammys.

Culling from extensive research, interviews with musicians and industry insiders and previously published interviews with Lamar, Moore traces and contextualizes Lamar's youth in Compton, Calif., his evolving persona and his ascension to celebrity. Moore also explores the roles of peers and mentors throughout Lamar's life, describing in fascinating detail ways the titans of (especially West Coast) rap have influenced Lamar.

Ultimately, The Butterfly Effect is more than an interesting biography: it's an investigation into what art can encapsulate and what kinds of change it can effect. And as Moore himself skillfully demonstrates, Lamar's contribution is worth celebrating, worth study, worth the flowers now. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: This vivid, deeply researched biography of Kendrick Lamar is rich with memorable details and commentary on the Pulitzer-winning rapper's life, art and cultural impact so far.

Atria, $27, hardcover, 288p., 9781982107581


The Zealot and the Emancipator: John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, and the Struggle for American Freedom

by H.W. Brands

Brisk and vivid, The Zealot and the Emancipator traces the confluence of outrages, convictions and political calculations it took for the United States to at last strike down the institution of slavery. Quoting at engaging length from letters, speeches and news reports, H.W. Brands (Heirs of the Founders; Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times) places special emphasis on the minds and actions of John Brown, the murdering abolitionist, and Abraham Lincoln, the murdered president. Much of Brands's account comes from the words of those who knew his subjects.

Brands's chatty retelling follows Brown and Lincoln through the buildup to the Civil War, recounting events like the collapse of Lincoln's Whig party and the maneuvering behind the Kansas-Nebraska Act in clear, exciting prose. The book's title suggests a simple dichotomy, a radical's and a moderate's approach to enacting just change, but Brands is attentive throughout to the thoughts of other Americans. Frederick Douglass, for example, was routinely disappointed in Lincoln's moderation, and George Kimball, an early volunteer for the Union army, called his compatriots in the Second Massachusetts Infantry Battalion "a light-hearted, whole-souled set of fellows."

One of the book's chief pleasures, besides the illumination of Lincoln's year-to-year thinking about slavery and Black Americans, comes from the observations offered by both men's contemporaries' descriptions: the reporter James Redpath, on assignment for the anti-slavery New York Tribune, wrote of a meeting with Brown, "I had seen the predestined leader of the second, and holier American revolution." And that endorsement came well after Brown's band had dragged five pro-slavery men from their bed and murdered them in Pottawatomie, Kan. --Alan Scherstuhl, freelance writer and editor

Discover: To show what it took to end slavery, a historian showcases John Brown and Abraham Lincoln in the words of those who knew them.

Doubleday, $30, hardcover, 464p., 9780385544009

Health & Medicine

The Cancer Journals

by Audre Lorde

One imagines that Audre Lorde, the self-described Black lesbian feminist poet, who died of cancer in 1992, would have been gratified that her 1980 book, The Cancer Journals, has been reissued 40 years later. Making its republication bittersweet is the fact that the issues she was sounding the alarm about--the harm done to women by businesses built on body-shaming, and the insufficiently explored link between environmental decay and cancer--are still in dire need of attention.

The Cancer Journals--three prose pieces scattered with Lorde's journal entries--recounts her experience with breast cancer when she was in her mid-40s and living with her partner in Brooklyn, N.Y. After some deliberation following her diagnosis, Lorde went ahead with a mastectomy, but she was always clear that, despite pressure from the medical community, she would not wear a prosthesis: "I refuse to hide my body simply because it might make a woman-phobic world more comfortable."

Lorde enjoins readers to temper their fear, as she did during her cancer battle, and harness their rage for the greater good; "When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision," she writes, "then it becomes less important whether or not I am unafraid." Lorde didn't live to see Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, the mainstreamed environmental movement, or the embrace of the term "intersectionality," which she seemed to anticipate with her multi-hyphenate identity, but it's tempting to conclude that her words--in The Cancer Journals and elsewhere--summoned them into being. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: This reprint of the self-described Black lesbian feminist poet's seminal work from 1980 reads like a harbinger of #MeToo, body positivity and other social movements.

Penguin Classics, $14, paperback, 96p., 9780143135203

Children's & Young Adult

Apple (Skin to the Core)

by Eric Gansworth

"Apple" is a slur commonly used to denote an Indigenous person who is "red on the outside, white on the inside." But words are only as powerful as people allow them to be. Writing in a striking combination of verse and prose, Eric Gansworth (If I Ever Get Out of Here; Extra Indians) intends to take back the power of "apple" in this NBA long-listed title.

Narrating his life experiences, Gansworth reveals the heartbreaking struggle of a family--11 people living in a three-bedroom house--with too little to eat and a mostly absent father whose every attempt to get ahead is undermined by structural racism. Gansworth takes his readers through a tumultuous existence filled with government abuse and poverty, as well as wonder and discovery. He writes about the boarding school his grandparents attended, the effects of which seeped down into future generations. Efforts to rob "Indians" of their identity make their offspring even more determined to protect it, piecing together the fragments and finding missing segments. "A primary lesson we are taught... we must clear our eyes, our ears, our throats to do our parts in carrying on the stories for the time we will no longer be able to pass them on." With Apple, Gansworth is doing just that for the Onondaga Nation.

The exceptional elements of this memoir abound. Gansworth's own art adds dimension to an already evocative narrative. His black-and-white illustrations and personal photos feature his family as well as significant apple imagery. His use of the Beatles lyrics, song titles, jacket imagery and especially their Abbey Road album (from Apple Records), aids in developing both the format and pacing of his story. With dramatic textual imagery, nuanced storytelling and evocative illustrations, Apple is a stirring depiction of Indigenous life. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: An Onondaga writer and visual artist does his part to carry on the family stories through a brilliantly moving combination of verse, prose and illustration.

Levine Querido, $18.99, hardcover, 352p., ages 12-up, 9781646140138

Julián at the Wedding

by Jessica Love

Introduced in author/illustrator Jessica Love's 2018 Julián Is a Mermaid, self-expressive Julián returns in Julián at the Wedding, this time with a fabulous partner-in-play, Marisol. Repeating her memorably affecting formula of minimal text/maximum art, Love again offers another sparkling gift to young audiences.

Julián and his grandmother are back, making a stupendous entrance parading down a sidewalk side-by-side. Sartorially magnificent, the resplendent duo are clearly heading to a special event. They arrive at their destination on the title page, cleverly revealing the titular wedding as Julián and Abuela break the fourth wall to share their excited anticipation with readers. They're greeted by Marisol in a peach, fluffy gown (jauntily accessorized with a backwards periwinkle baseball cap) and her own grandmother in geometric finery.

Julián is bedecked with a magenta corsage and Marisol's hat has been replaced with a crown of red anemones. When they meet the gorgeous brides, Marisol is handed a basket of petals and Julián is given the cerulean-ribbon leash of the lovebirds' dog, Gloria. While the older guests enjoy the splendid reception that follows, Julián and Marisol have other plans. Under watchful grandmotherly gazes, the pair dash off to "a fairy house" of willow trees, where adventures abound. Wardrobe malfunctions prove inevitable for Marisol, whose rambunctious energy matches Gloria's. Julián, however, "has an idea," and inventively mixes-and-matches fitting attire.

Love's watercolor, gouache and ink illustrations feature explosive color and flowing lines. The art is enhanced by Love's exacting details that add breathtaking drama to the lively, inviting scenes. Once more, her near-wordless art adroitly and delightfully captures the transformative power of being seen: just as Abuela confirmed Julián's singular selfhood in Julián Is a Mermaid, Marisol gets her own affirmation here from her own grandmother. Love achieves another perfect union. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Just as Abuela enabled Julián's fabulosity in Julián Is a Mermaid, his friend Marisol receives her own grandmotherly affirmation in this affecting sequel.

Candlewick, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781536212389

The Bear and the Moon

by Matthew Burgess, illus. by Cátia Chien

A young bear wakes from a long nap to be greeted with a surprise: "It was red as a berry and round like the moon with a long silver string drifting brightly in the breeze." What Matthew Burgess's adorable ursine hero does with the unexpected companionship becomes the charming narrative of The Bear and the Moon, which combines outdoor adventures with a poignant message about the lasting gift of friendship.

Every time the bear tries to catch his new playmate, he wobbles and tumbles in frustrated exhaustion. When the bear learns to walk and dance side-by-side, the pair energetically enjoy each other's company. The bear leads his friend on "a tour of his whereabouts"--his honey tree, his downhill slide, even "the spot where I sit on the pot." Suddenly, the "wonderful... squishable, huggable" friend bursts, leaving behind only a "red tatter dangling on the silver string." The bear despairs--"Bad, bad bear"--until the full moon rises and soothes with gentle reassurances.

In spare, inviting verse, professor/poet Burgess highlights the absorbing power of young friendship, emphasizing that time together is no measure for the depth of the bond. The bear's attachment here is undeniable; he readily recognizes this gift of a friend, making his loss-inspired self-recriminations potently affecting. The forgiveness nudged from above ushers peace and the permission to delight again in absorbing memories. Burgess finds an ideal collaborator in Brazilian artist Cátia Chien, who lives in New York City and whose mixed-media illustrations imbue every vibrantly swathed, expressive page with resonating emotive range. Using changing perspectives and evocative palettes, Chien clearly depicts the bear's every mood, beginning with discovery and delight and ending with mourning and (self) acceptance. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: A young bear's adventures with a surprising new friend might be brief, but their bond proves enduring even after sudden loss.

Chronicle, $18.99, hardcover, 52p., ages 3-5, 9781452171913


Author Buzz

My Royal Showmance
(A Park Avenue Promise Novel, Book 2)

by Lexi Blake

Dear Reader,

The reality TV setting made writing My Royal Showmance so much fun. Anika is expecting a boring time on her latest job but things turn when she has to step in for one of the contestants. It's supposed to be one night, but Luca has other ideas. He's looking to bring tourism back to his small country, but when he sees Anika he realizes he might do something remarkable--find love on the set of a TV show.

Lexie Blake

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: Blue Box Press: My Royal Showmance (The Park Avenue Promise #2) by Lexi Blake

Blue Box Press

Pub Date: 
June 4, 2024


List Price: 
$5.99 e-book

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