Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, October 30, 2020

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster: A Short Walk Through a Wide World by Douglas Westerbeke

From My Shelf

Lady Lawyers

Ruth Bader Ginsburg's passing marks the end of an era for the first generation of female U.S. Supreme Court justices. It's been a comfort to read about some of the fearless women who paved the way for her career as a lawyer and jurist.

Rebels at the Bar: The Fascinating, Forgotten Stories of America's First Women Lawyers (NYU Press, $26) by legal historian Jill Norgren highlights the accomplishments of women who chose legal careers in the late 19th century, despite opposition from family, society and the legal profession itself. This first generation of female attorneys debated calling themselves "lady lawyers," a term that didn't stick (but I rather wish it had).

In Stories from Trailblazing Women Lawyers: Lives in the Law (NYU Press, $22), Norgren curates the remarkable histories of 100 senior female attorneys who spent their careers on the feminist frontlines pursuing gender equality in the legal profession. Collectively, they transformed the attitudes of society toward women lawyers.

Historical fiction is a delightful way to acquaint oneself with trailblazing women. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (Penguin, $17) is based on the life of Sarah Grimké, a feminist and abolitionist with a sharp legal mind. Grimké's potent words, quoted from her letters of 1837, were used to powerful effect by Ginsburg: "All I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet from off our necks."

Cornelia Sorabji became British India's first female advocate in 1923. She represented women who, observing the Islamic tradition of purdah, could not meet with male lawyers. Sorabji is the inspiration for Perveen Mistry, Sujata Massey's memorable female protagonist in The Widows of Malabar Hill (Soho Crime, $15.95). Like Ginsburg, Mistry has a steel-trap mind and a passion for activism. --Shahina Piyarali, reviewer

Sleeping Bear Press: When You Go Into Nature by Sheri M Bestor, Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

The Writer's Life

Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brandy Colbert: The Importance of Showing Up

Andrea Davis Pinkney is the author of numerous books for children and young adults. Her work has received multiple Coretta Scott King Book Award citations, and she is a four-time nominee for the NAACP Image Award.

Brandy Colbert is the award-winning author of several books for children and teens, and her short fiction and essays have been published in a variety of acclaimed anthologies for young people.

Here, Davis Pinkney and Colbert discuss their recently published novels, Loretta Little Looks Back (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) and The Voting Booth (Disney-Hyperion), and what compassionate social action means for kids today.

Davis Pinkney: Brandy, here we are about to step up to the front door of another Election Day, and we've each written books about the power of voting and how young people play an important role in election outcomes. Your main characters, Marva and Duke, couldn't be more different in their attitudes about voting. Marva is all about it, whereas Duke, well, voting isn't at the top of his "to do" list.

Colbert: He is still working out his grief over his older brother's death, and voting reminds him of his brother's activism, so he's found it easier to distance himself from causes. But anyone can find an excuse to check out when it comes to politics, and I really wanted to stress the importance of showing up, even if you don't think it will make a difference. I think kids today are even more aware of the impact of their vote than when I was a teenager in the '90s--they're marching, canvassing, text banking and talking to people in their lives.

Andrea, in your book, the kids' voices come through in such powerful ways. I was instantly struck by the format of Loretta Little Looks Back. The title page calls it a monologue novel, which I've never heard of or read before. What was your inspiration and what were some of the challenges and joys of working with this structure?  

Andrea Davis Pinkney
(photo: Christine_Simmons)

Davis Pinkney: Loretta Little Looks Back has allowed me to pursue my theatrical passions. I came up with the "monologue novel" format so kids could get behind the eyes of the characters in the Little family. The narratives can be read aloud and shared with friends in a readers' theater. That's my hope--that kids will become active participants in the story so that they can feel what's happening. The Littles' stories are rooted in the oral tradition and presented through a mix of first-person narratives, spoken-word poems, folk myths and gospel rhythms that illuminate the dignity of sharecroppers in the rural South. Sometimes I feel like the novel wrote itself. These characters started talking to me in their raw, unvarnished vernacular. While I was writing, I was very mindful of how the kids in the story express their frustration, confusion and anger about racism.

Your characters are so well drawn and real. Was that a deliberate choice on your part?

Brandy Colbert
(photo: Jessie Weinberg)

Colbert: I loved the outspoken brassiness of your characters, especially since so many people in their generations were encouraged to keep quiet and just go along with the status quo. Characterization is my favorite part of writing fiction. Even if readers don't agree with my characters or relate to them, I want them to feel like they could run into them on the street.

Andrea, your characters speak to us from the Jim Crow South. What type of research did you do to really get into their voices and the setting?

Davis Pinkney:  The Littles spring from the voices of my very own family members who worked land and were grass-roots organizers. To support the narratives with facts of the era, I listened to oral histories of Mississippi sharecroppers, conducted interviews, consulted with historians and pored over books and archival images. But the blood and bone of the characters stem from the front porches of my childhood, when my great-aunts and uncles would "speak on it" deep into the evening.

Though our books each have their own distinct approaches to tone and structure, I think they're similar in intention. I'm struck by the fact that the young people in each of our stories want the same things: to be heard, to be understood and to find ways to deal with injustices and setbacks. At the same time, our books both manage to ring notes of optimism. Is that what you were going for?

Colbert: I did want to leave readers with a sense of hope. I never reveal who's running for election or even who wins, because that's not the point; I wanted readers to think more about taking action and fighting for what they believe in, even if the outcome might not work in their favor. A lot of us are terrified that things may not go our way in this upcoming election, but we're still fighting, still doing whatever we can to usher in change.

Davis Pinkney: I wish we'd been in touch during the writing process. We could've shared a box of tissues. I don't know about you, but in writing this particular novel, I was, without knowing it, inviting myself to my own catharsis. I want to do the same thing for kids. I want to reach out a hand that says, It's okay, we can do this together. I felt that while reading your book.

Colbert: I absolutely agree. As soon as I began reading Loretta Little Looks Back, I felt like I was home. I think both of our books really speak to how important it is to hold onto each other and work together.

Davis Pinkney: Civil rights is the key plot-driver in each of our novels.  It's so hard not to get on a soapbox! I think we've each done a pretty good job not preaching. But between the lynching of Emmett Till that happens in Loretta Little Looks Back, and the threats to Duke's dignity that happen in The Voting Booth, lined up against the Black Lives Matter movement that's happening right now on the sidewalks and streets, there are times when I'm pretty damn angry. My hope is that our books will spark some important conversations and invite kids to do some probing.

Colbert: Both The Voting Booth and Loretta Little Looks Back are timely but they're also timeless. In terms of the struggles Black Americans have been facing for centuries when it comes to inequalities, including voting rights, how do you think historical fiction in particular can help young readers process present-day events?

Davis Pinkney: It's interesting, kids could read our books side-by-side. The race conversations that were happening in 1968 are going on right this minute. And both our novels delve into so much more than voting rights. To me, they're about legacy. When Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris delivered her speech at the Democratic National Convention last summer, she began with a roll-call of Black women who'd come before her--Mary McLeod Bethune, Shirley Chisolm, Fannie Lou Hamer and others. Those women from the past laid out the roadmap to where we're going. That's what books do. They lead the way.  

Book Candy

Books & Music for Halloween

Author Gabriel Bergmoser's picks for top 10 horror novels were featured in the Guardian.


The New York Public Library recommended "the 15 spookiest classical compositions for a frightful Halloween."


"Not your children's farm quiz." Merriam-Webster tested wordsmiths on farm idioms.


Mental Floss shared "how Lolita author Vladimir Nabokov helped Ruth Bader Ginsburg find her voice."


Poet Lucille Clifton's former house in the Windsor Hills neighborhood of Baltimore, Md., will open as a sanctuary for poets, writers, artists and activists, WBAL reported


In Karuizawa, Japan, children's literature fills the Karuizawa Picture Book Forest Museum, Atlas Obscura noted.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Diane di Prima

Diane di Prima, a prolific poet who published more than 40 books and who "pursued the life of a Beat and rose to the position of San Francisco poet laureate," died October 25 at age 86, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Di Prima "dropped out of college to join the poetry swirl in New York's Greenwich Village in the 1950s. She arrived in San Francisco in 1968, too late for the North Beach Beats, but she established herself as a singular force, a feminist in a poetry culture that was overwhelmingly male."

By the time di Prima got to the West Coast, "she had already established herself as co-founder of both the Poets Press and the New York Poets Theatre and was co-editor of the literary magazine the Floating Bear," the Chronicle wrote. She had also published a poetry collection, This Kind of Bird Flies Backward, and a short story collection, Dinners and Nightmares. Her many books include Memoirs of a Beatnik; Pieces of a Song: Selected Poems; Loba; Recollections of My Life as a Woman: The New York Years; and Revolutionary Letters.

Di Prima was named San Francisco poet laureate in 2009, and in 2011 was the subject of a 30-minute documentary film, The Poetry Deal. Three years later, City Lights released The Poetry Deal ($13.95), her first full-length book of poetry in decades.

Book Review


Inside Story

by Martin Amis

"Writers write far more penetratingly than they live," the novelist Martin Amis noted in his 2000 memoir Experience. He continued: "Their novels show them at their very best, making a huge effort: stretched until they twang." Amis's autobiographical novel Inside Story, his most engaged and engaging book since Experience, finds this superb stylist at his best in one crucial sense: Amis has never written more invitingly. Early pages find the one-time enfant terrible offering readers tea as he tries to explain just what this curious book even is.

Somewhat haphazardly, Inside Story mashes together straight autobiography, advice on how to write, seemingly invented material about a youthful affair and potential family scandals, and essayistic passages about Amis's relationship with the writers Christopher Hitchens, his friend and contemporary; Saul Bellow, his prose hero; and Philip Larkin, who emerges as a contested father figure. The result is a ragged miscellany--Amis himself recommends reading it fitfully rather than in a binge--that nevertheless achieves a unity and power thanks to the qualities that have always delivered Amis's best work from his tendency toward formal incoherence.

Here, again, the pleasure rises from the shapely sharpness of the sentences; the devilishness of the play; the brilliance of the namedropping ("my pal Salman"). Amis revisits themes and anecdotes from across his career, not always with fresh insight, but the surprise here is he's become warmer and wiser, not quite the crank that he seemed to be aging into when, in the late aughts, he kept getting into what the Brits call "rows" over Islam. --Alan Scherstuhl, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Martin Amis's shaggy monster of an autobiographical novel is curiously warm and inviting.

Knopf, $28.95, hardcover, 560p., 9780593318294

Mystery & Thriller

The Searcher

by Tana French

Tana French made a name for herself as a masterful crime novelist with her Dublin Murder Squad series. The Searcher, a standalone mystery featuring a retired American cop caught up in a missing persons case in the Irish countryside, further cements that reputation.

After 25 years as a Chicago cop, disillusioned and recently divorced Cal Hooper buys a fixer-upper in rural western Ireland to get away and reset his life. In his new town, he keeps a low profile, but despite not talking about his past, his reputation as a one-time cop--and stranger in a small town--precedes him. When a local kid asks for help finding a missing brother, Cal's quickly caught up in the case, swept up by currents of village life, full of secrets and hidden dangers and thinly veiled threats.

As Cal gets drawn further and further into this missing persons case, despite being "short his gun and his badge," he starts "to get an inkling of how tangled up things get, around here, and how carefully you have to watch where you put your feet." French uses this backdrop of a small rural town to great effect, drawing out a setting that is as crucial to locating the missing boy as any character here. Though this can make The Searcher feel slow at times, readers who allow themselves to sink into the atmosphere French creates with skill and precision will delight in this suspenseful mystery packed with psychological intrigue. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: Tana French brings her usual psychological suspense to this standalone novel, in which a retired American cop gets caught up in a missing persons case in the Irish countryside.

Viking, $27, hardcover, 464p., 9780735224650

House of Correction

by Nicci French

Nicci French's gripping mystery House of Correction focuses on 30-year-old curmudgeon Tabitha Hardy returning to a small seaside village where she spent a traumatic childhood. Her estranged mother has died, leaving a rundown house in need of repairs. Tabitha severely lacks social skills; working remotely as a copy editor suits her but keeps her from fitting in. She quickly becomes the local weirdo who mumbles to herself, dresses oddly and swims in the ocean in the middle of winter. This insular world is suddenly flipped upside down when she wakes up in prison charged with murder, with only a fuzzy recollection of what happened.

The residents turn on her. The murder victim was one of their own, while Tabitha is a peculiar gossip subject. Her court-appointed lawyer advises Tabitha to plead guilty to manslaughter and hope for a more lenient sentence than life in prison, but she refuses to be a victim. Unable to prove she didn't commit the murder, her only choice is to prove who did. Trusting no one else with her defense and with no comprehension of how a courtroom works, this introvert bravely chooses to represent herself.

Nicci French, pseudonym for the writing partnership of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, presents readers with an ill-tempered, potty-mouthed lead character, but that initial impression of Tabitha morphs into admiration for a woman determined to uncover the truth at all costs. Chapters are succinct, the pacing is gripping and the plot is a reminder not to judge a book by its cover. No correction is needed for this stellar whodunnit. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer

Discover: When murder occurs in a tightknit community, the locals turn on the newcomer in this gripping murder mystery.

Morrow, $27.99, hardcover, 528p., 9780063021341

The Witch Hunter

by Max Seeck

The Witch Hunter, Finnish novelist Max Seeck's pulse-quickening English-language debut, is a genre twofer: it gives crime-novel enthusiasts a satisfying puzzle to logic out, and it offers fans of supernatural tales a look at the world of, as one character puts it, "amulets, rabbit feet, you name it."

Following an anonymous phone call, the Helsinki police find the body of Maria Koponen seated at the dining table in her waterfront home. She's wearing a black evening gown and a peculiar expression; Detective Sergeant Jessica Niemi sees it as "more reminiscent of Jack Nicholson's Joker than anything else." There are no signs of a break-in, but Maria's husband, Roger Koponen, the author of bestselling novels of the paranormal, couldn't have a tighter alibi: he's halfway across Finland at a literary event in his honor. Still, Roger may bear some responsibility for his wife's death, albeit inadvertently: it seems to have been staged to mimic a murder in one of his books. It won't be the last death of the sort.

The Witch Hunter has the meticulous plotting and obstreperous weather typical of Nordic noir, as well as a cast of avid detectives who often lapse into amusingly agitated squabbling. While the novel is an ensemble piece, Seeck most frequently hands the storytelling reins to Detective Niemi. If the chapters about her past occasionally test the reader's patience, they ultimately divulge the supremely interesting secret she's keeping. It's right under her colleagues' noses but apparently beyond mere mortals' powers of detection. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: This hair-raising English-language debut by Finnish author Max Seeck is a police procedural with paranormal activity at its black heart.

Berkley, $17, paperback, 400p., 9780593199664

Food & Wine

Coconut & Sambal: Recipes from My Indonesian Kitchen

by Lara Lee

When Lara Lee set out to Indonesia to uncover the culinary traditions of her father's family, the journey morphed into a wider exploration of the islands' cuisine. Coconut & Sambal: Recipes from My Indonesian Kitchen is the inviting result, brimming with recipes inspired by Lee's grandmother "Popo," her aunties and hospitable cooks across Indonesia.

Each section of this volume shines: it begins with "Savoury Snacks," ends with "Basic Recipes," and hits "Soups & Rice," "Fish & Seafood" and more along the way. Most of the recipes incorporate the titular and infinitely versatile coconut and sambal, a ubiquitous hot relish. Lee's recommended sambal pairings accompany most dishes and are a distinguishing touch. A Medanese prawn bisque with noodles becomes all the more mouth-watering with her serving suggestion of fermented shrimp sambal terasi, spring onions and a soft-boiled duck egg. Meanwhile, Betawi beef and coconut soup promises additional heat and acidity if finished with ground chili sambal ulek, cucumber, chilli and shallot pickle.

Vivid photography evokes the food culture of Indonesia. Images of open markets with fresh produce and seafood and street vendors offering their specialties complement shots of finished dishes (green and white coconut sticky rice balls served with coffee) and those in process (the preparation of smashed fried chicken with sambal). Lee's writing is similarly multi-faceted, balancing charming anecdotes and clear cooking instructions to accommodate cooks with varied resources and dietary restrictions. Personal and palate-pleasing, the recipes of Coconut & Sambal are surely a delight to cook. --Sylvia Al-Mateen, freelance reviewer and editor

Discover: A vibrant and expansive collection of tempting recipes highlight a chef's heritage and travels through Indonesia.

Bloomsbury, $35, hardcover, 288p., 9781526603517

Biography & Memoir

Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise

by Scott Eyman

Dozens of books have been written about Cary Grant, but Scott Eyman's Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise is the definitive biography that finally cracks the actor's elusive and enigmatic façade. In the 1930s, Grant changed his name from Archibald Leach and left behind childhood poverty, an alcoholic father and an institutionalized mother to become the onscreen personification of assurance and sophistication. Years after he retired from films, Grant admitted, "It's a part I've been playing a long time, but no way am I really Cary Grant."

It wasn't until he had failed at four marriages, spent decades in therapy and participated in more than 100 LSD sessions that Grant was able to understand the duality of his personality. At 11, his father told him his mother had died. He didn't know she was still in an asylum until two decades later. Grant learned early, Eyman writes, "to hold himself slightly aloof from intimate relationships, the better to extricate himself when things got unpleasant." Eyman skillfully assesses Grant's films, his business acumen and why he was so deeply unhappy most of his life. As for the eternal question of whether Grant was gay, Eyman provides numerous, conflicting and first-hand testimonies over the decades. His verdict: "There is plausible evidence to place him inside any sexual box you want--gay, bi, straight, or any combination that might be expected from a predominantly solitary street kid with a street kid's sense of expedience."

A Brilliant Disguise is an intelligent, perceptive and haunting portrait of a much-beloved actor who was plagued by demons most of his life. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: This definitive biography of Cary Grant is a first-rate, impressively researched treat for film buffs who want to learn what he hid behind his dazzling smile.

Simon & Schuster, $35, hardcover, 576p., 9781501192111

Our Last Season: A Writer, a Fan, a Friendship

by Harvey Araton

Harvey Araton was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a member of the print media for his distinguished coverage of the sport. In true form, he drove everyone around him crazy while trying to write his speech. Finally, his wife had two words of advice: "Call Michelle." In Our Last Season, Araton shares his years in sports media and covering the New York Knicks against the backdrop of his long, lovely and perhaps unlikely friendship with superfan Michelle Musler.  

Attending Knicks games was Musler's salve for life's difficulties, including raising five children as a single mother, even as she became a successful executive and rose through the ranks of major corporations. From her seats behind the Knicks' bench for more than four decades, she became one of the most well-known and vocal mainstays at the Garden, even straightening coach Jeff Van Gundy's tie before each game.

The Garden was where Araton and Musler's friendship took root, his seat on press row just a few feet from hers. She became "the steady voice of reason in [his] life, the proverbial wise elder, the trusted friend [he] could always count on." Our Last Season details their flourishing bond even as Michelle's health and the fan experience at the arena dwindled, with seats segregated and dedicated fans priced out. Araton writes with a reporter's pen and a friend's heart, providing great copy while making readers wish they had a Michelle Musler in their life. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: Hall of Fame sportswriter Harvey Araton profiles his longtime friendship with a dedicated basketball fan, how she changed his life and influenced the game they loved.

Penguin Press, $26, hardcover, 256p., 9781984877987

I'll Be Seeing You

by Elizabeth Berg

In her memoir, I'll Be Seeing You, novelist Elizabeth Berg (The Confession Club) bravely maps an intimate story of growing older while helping her aging, elderly parents navigate a fraught, reluctant move from their beloved home in Minnesota to a nearby assisted-living community. The residence change is necessitated by Berg's 89-year-old father's descent into dementia en route to Alzheimer's disease. Her mother is staunch in her resistance to the move and to acquiescing to the progression of her husband's infirmity, as well as her own growing list of limitations.

The pain of loss underscores every aspect of this beautifully written memoir that unravels over a period of one year, starting in autumn 2010. Berg offers tender, moving lessons learned--about herself and her parents--as she, her sister and a long-distance brother step in to aid a very stressful transition. Love and compassion overpower emotional minefields and despair as Berg comes to grips with--and becomes peacemaker for--stubbornness and pride exhibited by both mother and father. However, Berg shows great respect, genuine affection and admiration for her parents and their 69 years of successful marriage, while also proclaiming: "I failed in my marriage, and I have failed in relationships since, including the one I am in now." She threads such revelatory admissions throughout. Berg shares unabashed, personal truths and feelings and often grapples, as a dutiful daughter, with exposing her parents' foibles and flaws. Readers will relish Berg's courageous, forthright storytelling as it sharpens the acuity and emotional heft of this deeply moving, multi-faceted, parent-child love story. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A moving, intimate memoir by novelist Elizabeth Berg, who maps a year of transition in the lives of her beloved--elderly and infirm--parents.

Random House, $27, hardcover, 224p., 9780593134672


The War of the Poor

by Éric Vuillard, trans. by Mark Polizzotti

French author Éric Vuillard follows up his Prix Goncourt-winning The Order of the Day, about the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938, with an even more timely examination of a pivotal historical moment, the German Peasants' War of 1524-1525. The War of the Poor is a brief but energetic retelling that focuses on eternal questions of inequality, revolt and compromise. It also serves as an attempt to capture the revolutionary essence of one of the war's chief figures, the radical preacher and theologian Thomas Müntzer.

Vuillard takes an unusual approach to the subject matter, opting for lyrical meditation over any attempt at a comprehensive retelling of events. He places particular emphasis on the relationship between theological beliefs and economic realities, writing that Müntzer's impoverished adherents had a hard time understanding "why the God of the poor was so strangely on the side of the rich, always with the rich. Why his words about giving up everything issued from the mouths of those who had taken everything." Martin Luther, so often depicted as a revolutionary figure, comes off as cautious and compromising compared to Müntzer, whose rhetoric became violent and absolutist.

The War of the Poor situates the German Peasants' War in a long line of peasant rebellions, a line that implicitly extends to the inequality-ridden present. Vuillard's book is in itself a kind of sermon, a broadside against "the voice of order, to which we are ultimately so attached that we surrender to its mysteries and hand it our lives." It is a rowdy, passionate work of history. --Hank Stephenson, manuscript reader, the Sun magazine

Discover: Éric Vuillard's War of the Poor is an unusually passionate and lyrical recounting of the German Peasants' War of 1524-1525 and the radical beliefs of Thomas Müntzer.

Other Press, $17.99, hardcover, 112p., 9781635420081

Down Along with that Devil's Bones: A Reckoning with Monuments, Memory, and the Legacy of White Supremacy

by Connor Towne O'Neill

Journalist Connor Towne O'Neill has been "chasing the story of Nathan Bedford Forrest" since 2015. It's a chase that led O'Neill not only deep into the history of American racism, Southern pride and the role that Confederate monuments play in both, but to his own "personal reckoning," coming to terms with the role of his whiteness in his understanding of the United States of the past--and the present.

Forrest was a Confederate Army general who fought not for states' rights, as many now romanticize the cause of the American South, but to protect the institution of slavery. An avowed white supremacist, Forrest, perhaps not surprisingly, went on to become the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan; what is surprising, given that historical context, is the sheer number of parks, buildings and statues that stand in his honor to this day. This is what O'Neill aims to unpack in Down Along with that Devil's Bones, using Forrest's physical legacy in the South as a lens to explore the ways in which white supremacy has often twisted and shifted the narrative of United States history. With enough historical detail to refresh even the most lackluster students of history, O'Neill's account is educational and eye-opening, exploring "race, memory and the legacy of the [Civil War]." The result is a work of narrative nonfiction that is part memoir, part history and part plea: only by understanding the history of racism in America, he argues, can we begin to dismantle it in the present. And it is impossible not to walk away from this book without a better understanding of that history. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: In this excellent work of narrative nonfiction, a journalist uses the legacy of a Confederate Army general as a lens by which to explore race, memory and how we understand American history.

Algonquin, $26.95, hardcover, 272p., 9781616209100

Children's & Young Adult

Sugar in Milk

by Thrity Umrigar, illus. by Khoa Le

For the young narrator of Sugar in Milk, the stress of moving to the United States is compounded by the fact that her immediate family remains back in her unnamed homeland. Within this story line, Thrity Umrigar (When I Carried You in My Belly) has nestled a separate immigration parable, creating a powerful one-two punch of empathy.

One day, the narrator's aunt, with whom she is living, invites the girl to take a neighborhood walk with her, during which Auntie tells a story about some exiles of ancient Persia. In search of shelter, the exiles sailed to the shores of India. The Indian king, acknowledging the language barrier, illustrated his answer--"Our land is too crowded... with no room for others"--by filling an empty glass to the brim with milk. This gave the leader of the exiles an idea. (Hint: it involved a spoonful of sugar.) Sure enough, he convinced the king to welcome him and his fellow exiles, just as Auntie's story convinces the narrator that her new neighbors are happy to have her.

For Sugar in Milk, Khoa Le (Flash and Gleam) employs a creamy palette dominated by blues and reds that suit the king's lavish surroundings as well as the girl's bustling urban environment. Another potent unifier of the book's two strands: the pair of blue peacocks that appear, tapestry-like, in the parable's background show up in the present day just as Auntie's story opens the narrator's eyes to "the dazzling light of America." --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: In this empathic picture book, a parable about Persian exiles is framed by a present-day account of a young immigrant adjusting to life in the United States without her parents.

Running Press Kids, $17.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 4-8, 9780762495191

Strongman: The Rise of Five Dictators and the Fall of Democracy

by Kenneth C. Davis

Kenneth C. Davis (Don't Know Much About series) conveys his plentiful knowledge of dictators in this powerful, spine-tingling biographic work that covers five of the world's most horrifying autocrats. Grounded in thorough research, Strongman expertly explores the fragility of democracy through the devastating reigns of Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and Saddam Hussein.

Mussolini took advantage of Italy's poverty, unemployment, crime and corruption. He lured supporters with propaganda and used the popularity of movies to build his cult of personality. Mussolini paved the way for Hitler, a failed artist. During a heated discussion at a German Workers' Party meeting, the future Führer discovered his gift for persuasive speaking: "He captivated people with the power of a mythical Siren, making them want to belong to his crusade." Stalin employed cronyism, Mao organized farmers and laborers and Hussein, nicknamed "Stalin on the Tigris," eliminated his rivals in his rise to power.

Examining how all five of his subjects gained power and convinced a nation of people to follow--even celebrate--them, Davis works to answer the question: "If democracy is desirable, how do we safeguard it?" Through a study of the dictators' similarities and differences, Davis offers his blueprint for preserving democracy through education, engagement and vigilance. He challenges his audience to be aware of their daily role in protecting it and reminds them how easily it can be lost when it's taken for granted. At times unsettling but always accessible, motivating and compelling, Strongman is a forceful warning about the price of complacency. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: The stories of five of history's most vicious dictators provide a roadmap for protecting democracy.  

Holt, $19.99, hardcover, 272p., ages 12-up, 9781250205643

Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball

by Jen Bryant, illus. by Frank Morrison

Lakers legend Elgin Baylor made headlines for the innovative way he played basketball. As one of the first professional Black players, he also made headlines for the way he stood up against racism. Above the Rim is Sibert Medal-winner Jen Bryant's enlightening biography of Baylor, a civil rights and sports hero.

In the summer of 1945, young Elgin played basketball in parks designated "whites only." Anybody who played with him noticed his style--jumping, soaring and flying through the air. While in college, the world around Baylor changed: Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus and nine Black students enrolled at an all-white high school in Little Rock, Ark. In 1958, Baylor was the Minneapolis Lakers' first pick. He spent nights sleeping uncomfortably on trains and played even when he was sick or injured. Baylor also suffered the indignity of not being allowed into most hotels or restaurants because he was Black. Baylor fought back; at the next game, he sat down and refused to play until he received the same rights as his white teammates. Fans around the world noticed Baylor take his stand.

Bryant (The Right Word; Six Dots) displays her nonfiction skills once again in this accessible, poetic story of a basketball great. Coretta Scott King-John Steptoe Award winner Frank Morrison's oil illustrations work perfectly to display the beauty of Baylor's fluid, "above the rim" style of play. Through his palette and extraordinary depiction of light, Morrison (Jazzy Miz Mozetta), highlights the beauty of Black skin--and the importance of figures like Elgin Baylor. --Kharissa Kenner, children's librarian, Bank Street School for Children

Discover: An inspiring story about Black basketball legend Elgin Baylor, who took a stand against discrimination, and the historic events that helped shaped the world.

Abrams Books for Young Readers, $18.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781419741081


Author Buzz

Dragon Kiss
(A Dragon Kings Novella)

by Donna Grant

Dear Reader,

Welcome back to the Dragon Kings! I'm thrilled to bring you DRAGON KISS. The world of the Dragon Kings keeps expanding, and this story brings us Alasdair and Lotti, a powerful couple who have overcome all odds to find love. But a deadly enemy intends to rip them apart.

I can't wait for you to fall in love with Alasdair and Lotti as I have.


Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Dragon Kiss (A Dragon Kings Novella) by Donna Grant

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 9, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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