Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, January 5, 2021


From My Shelf

Grand Central Publishing: One Step to You (Rome Novels, 1) by Federico Moccia, translated by Antony Shugaar

Seven Stories Press: The Lost Soul by Olga Tokarczuk, illustrated by Joanna Concejo, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

The Art of Remembering

The power of childhood memory to comfort and reassure while confronting difficult truths is a theme explored with exquisite sensitivity in some of my favorite books from 2020. Offering original perspectives on the art of remembering, these titles dazzle with resplendent covers and faraway stories both real and fantastical against the backdrop of historic world events.

Above Us the Milky Way (Deep Vellum, $28), Fowzia Karimi's semi-autobiographical debut novel, is structured around the alphabet, telling a story in 26 parts enriched with photos and illustrations by the author. Karimi invites readers to join five enchanting sisters, relocated to the U.S. after the 1980 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, as they reminisce about the tastes and smells of a home that no longer exists. A precious collage of memory fragments, the novel more than fulfills the magical promise of its celestial-themed cover inlaid with gold stars.

The ghost of a young girl named Bahar narrates The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree (Europa, $18) by Shokoofeh Azar, translated from the Farsi by an anonymous translator and set in the immediate aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. Persian folklore and recollections of forbidden works of literature and philosophy offer mental escape to Bahar's family as they seek refuge from Revolutionary Guards in the ancient forests of Northern Iran. The colorful, pattern-layered cover gives nothing away of the revolution's terrifying reach.

In contrast, the bold, vivid imagery on the cover of Wayétu Moore's stunning memoir, The Dragons, the Giant, the Women (Graywolf Press, $26) foretells the author and her family's daring escape out of Liberia during the country's first civil war in the 1980s. Paying tribute to the ancestral storytelling tradition of her elders, Moore shares mythically inspired childhood memories that helped her make sense of Liberia's upheaval. --Shahina Piyarali, reviewer


Harper: The Lowering Days by Gregory Brown


Book Candy

Celebrating Dante

Italy has begun a year of Dante anniversary events with a virtual Uffizi exhibition, the Guardian reported.

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"This year's list of 'banished' words and phrases are all about Covid-19," according to CNN.

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Mental Floss shared "7 fascinating facts about F. Scott Fitzgerald."

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Merriam-Webster looked up "8 words for being quiet... should you need someone to do so."

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"The most expensive books and manuscripts in history" were showcased on MSN.


Outlawed

by Anna North

Outlawed by Anna North (America Pacifica; The Life and Death of Sophie Stark) is a wild, ripping western with a firm feminist bent, set in an alternative North America.

"In the year of our Lord 1894, I became an outlaw." Some decades ago, the Great Flu decimated the national population, the United States government collapsed and, in its place, the people established Independent Towns west of the Mississippi. Ada has grown up in the Independent Town of Fairchild, where she has lived a good enough life. Her mother is a skilled midwife; Ada excels in her own training in the profession and helps care for her beloved three younger sisters. She marries at 17, as girls do when they become able to reproduce, and so begins the serious and sacred work of trying to become pregnant. But when six months pass, then more, Ada begins to worry. To be barren in Fairchild is a crime punishable by death.

At the end of a year, her husband's family rejects her, and Ada's mother sends her to the Sisters of the Holy Child, hoping to keep her safe. In the nunnery's library Ada continues to read and study, seeking the truth about infertility; her mother had taught her, against popular belief, that barrenness was a medical condition and not witchcraft, but the details are not well understood. It is not a wish to have children herself, but Ada's hunger for knowledge that drives her from Holy Child and further west, to join up with the infamous Hole in the Wall Gang. This band of outlaws is led by the Kid, "nearly seven feet tall, the sheriff said, and as strong as three ordinary men put together. His eye was so keen he could shoot a man dead from a mile away, and his heart was so cold he’d steal the wedding ring from a widow or the silver spoon from a baby’s mouth." But like everything else Ada has been taught, these stories aren't quite accurate. The Kid is charismatic, beloved and possibly dangerous in entirely different ways than the rumors insist, and the outlaws are not what they are thought to be. It is only in the West that it occurs to Ada that "perhaps barren wives were not hanged for witches everywhere."

Outlawed is a delightful tale of adventure, rebellion, the importance of knowledge and the value of family--however family is made or defined. With the Hole in the Wall Gang, Ada finds unexpected freedoms and fluid gender roles, and is forced to consider what she has to offer her new friends and the world. "I don't think I'm much of a threat," she tells the Mother Superior when she leaves Holy Child, but her story is just beginning.

In her new life of crime, Ada learns to care for horses, to shoot and to be a member of a community she's chosen and loves. As the gang plans and attempts robberies, North's narrative is often lighthearted, with style, humor and a sense of fun, but her protagonist never forgets the high stakes. Ada meets men and women who are not what they seem, including an actor who's studied male dress, movements and mannerisms because "the male roles were the most prestigious." She becomes aware of not only gender but also race as a point of prejudice and contention in North's version of the Wild West. She learns new skills to supplement her midwife training; she treats gunshot wounds and mental illness and comes to be called Doctor. She learns to carry herself differently. But she never stops worrying about the sisters she's left behind in Fairchild, who are vulnerable to punishment simply for their relationship to Ada, "a barren woman, a discarded wife, an outlaw wanted for cursing women's wombs even though I had helped coax dozens of babies into the world." Ada does not take naturally to the business of holding up stagecoaches or robbing banks, but her devotion to her new group of friends forces her to take risks. Eventually she must choose to invest in their future, or strike out on her own again.

Part of the genius of Outlawed is that its feminist themes juxtapose neatly with the traditionally male-dominated western genre. In Ada's first-person narration, the critical significance of reproduction and fertility seems simply a background element, central to the workings of North's fictional world, which is in itself curious and thought-provoking. Ada's voice is perfectly authentic and easily believable: her developing rebellion is organic, born of her love for her family and friends. She is a maverick, and the best kind of heroine: adventurous, innovative, self-doubting but brave, with intense loyalty and a magnetic, compelling curiosity.

Outlawed boasts a lively, quick-paced plot, a well-constructed alternate-historical setting and an indomitable heroine. While North clearly has something to say about gender in society and the politics of reproduction, this novel is absolutely a work of energetic literary entertainment first. For all readers in all times. --Julia Kastner

Bloomsbury Publishing, $26, hardcover, 272p., 9781635575422

St. Martin's Griffin: Float Plan by Trish Doller


Anna North: Choices People Make

photo: Jenny Zhang

Anna North is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and author of two previous novels, America Pacifica and The Life and Death of Sophie Stark. She's served as writer and editor at Jezebel, Buzzfeed, Salon and the New York Times and is now a senior reporter at Vox. She lives in Brooklyn. North's third novel, Outlawed, is available now from Bloomsbury.

How much research do your books require?

My first book is a dystopia, so I mostly made a lot of stuff up. For Sophie Stark, I did a fair amount of research about directing and female directors and how people put movies together. For this one, I went to Wyoming for a week, to the Willow Creek Ranch at Hole in the Wall, a working ranch on the site where the real gang lived. We drove through the valley and out to Hole in the Wall, and I took a bunch of photos. There's a little western history museum in Casey, Wyo., [the nearest town] that had a lot of funny stuff, like little mannequins dressed up in period costumes. There's a Fiddleback Ranch in the book, which is inspired by the Fiddleback cattle brand.

I researched the history of the real Hole in the Wall Gang, real "outlaws" (a funny and loaded term) and the history of what is now called the American West, but obviously had not been that for millennia before Europeans came there. I read up on the Arapahoe people living in Wyoming, and other Indigenous nations in the area, on Black cowboys and Black Americans in what is now the American West and on the history of the Americas in the 19th century.

A book called Lieutenant Nun informed my thinking on Outlawed. It's a memoir by a person who lived as a man, had a lot of adventures and fights and appeared to seduce women--sort of a swashbuckling adventure story--and then, at the end, is revealed to have been assigned female at birth, and enters a convent and becomes a nun. It's from the 15th century. I love this book. It's a window into the forever-long history of gender. For cis-normative American culture, there's this idea that gender has been very fixed and it's just now becoming fluid, but that's just not true.

Why reproduction as the central issue?

When I had the germ of this idea, I was with a friend, visiting a Shaker dwelling. Part of their religion was not having children. I was interested in writing about a separatist group that would live off in the woods together. The story morphed and changed a lot. When I focused on Ada, I thought of making her mother a midwife. I know a fair number of midwives; it was just in my mind. Early bits of the book went through a bunch of drafts as I was trying to figure out, what's the alternative history element? What's the focus of this society? This group is set off from society; what's set them off? What is that group like, what are its rules, its norms? The idea of a society that's obsessed with reproduction and that ostracizes women who are barren came late in the process. There were a bunch of planets orbiting around that needed a unifying theme: reproducing, not reproducing, different kinds of families, different kinds of groups, different kinds of isolation and togetherness. Ultimately the framework that worked for that was an alternate history. I didn't want this to be a one-to-one stand-in for America today. I wanted to think about the choices that people make, how they are constrained, what our society might look like if things were different.

Is this a feminist narrative that found its shape as a western, or a western that became a feminist tale?

Sort of both. The story only took off for me when I realized it was a western. I was thinking about the Shakers, writing about this group of people who live together, separate in this particular way, and I had them in New Hampshire, which is where I visited the Shaker dwelling. I've lived in New York for 10 years now, but I'd grown up in California, and I'm just not as good at writing about the East Coast as I am at writing about the West. As soon as I thought, I'm going to put these characters with some red rocks, it felt better.

I was reading Lieutenant Nun at the time. She didn't live in North America--she was traveling around Central America, I believe--but it's a colonial story of this "frontier" (obviously a loaded term). I was also reading a lot of Krazy Kat, set I think in Arizona--there's a lot of red rocks, and sheriffs. It's also gender-bending. It plays with sexuality, and you're not sure what gender Krazy Kat is--he switches pronouns a lot; there's a great essay in the New Yorker about this. Same-sex attractions are talked about fairly openly. I started thinking about the West as a space of, sometimes, freedom around gender and sexuality. The western states were some of the first states to give women, mostly white women, the right to vote. This could be a space of freedom--and obviously it's also a space of colonization and genocide and unfreedom. There were interesting interplays there. But I guess the short answer is it just only became a book when it became a western. Then things started to fall into place.

What makes a captivating protagonist?

I've always been interested in heroes. Traditionally, the hero is a male concept. The Odyssey, the Iliad: the heroes are male. I'm interested in recasting that as a female hero. I don't know if Ada is exactly a hero--in some ways the Kid is more the hero of the book. It's complicated, whether the Kid is likable or unlikable, heroic or unheroic. And maybe in a way I want the Kid to be both. Throughout my writing, I try to put someone in difficult circumstances and watch them rise to that occasion. That's a kind of heroism, I think.

We learn and grow with Ada--she's so curious.

I wanted to get across her inquisitiveness and desire for knowledge. I wanted to think in the book about knowledge and science as these double-edged swords. Ada puts a lot of stock in knowledge and in science, like this is what's going to convince people to not stigmatize other people, and obviously it doesn't always. I wanted to talk about instances where science has been used to really horrible ends. I wanted to explore that tension with her. But I sympathize with her. I also like to read books and learn things, so that was fun for me.

Is there anything new you're working on?

The pandemic has changed what I'm interested in working on next. In some ways it's made me crave speculative fiction more again, because I don't know what realism or reality is going to look like day to day. If I want to work on a long-term project, it has to be one that's not grounded in this reality, because I literally don't know what this reality is. We'll see--it's going to depend on what things look like when I can get back to my desk. --Julia Kastner


Shelf vetted, publisher supported.


Great Reads

Rediscover: The Duke and I

The streaming series Bridgerton, based on the Regency romance novels by Julia Quinn, premiered on Netflix on December 25, 2020, to rave reviews. It follows the high-society Bridgerton family, a close-knit clan of four daughters and four sons contending with debutante balls and other competitive social obligations of the upper crust. The series was adapted by Chris Van Dusen and produced by Shonda Rhimes.

Julia Quinn's first Bridgerton book, The Duke and I, was published in 2000, followed by The Viscount Who Loved Me (2000), An Offer from a Gentleman (2001), Romancing Mister Bridgerton (2002), To Sir Phillip, with Love (2003), When He Was Wicked (2004), It's in His Kiss (2005), On the Way to the Wedding (2006) and The Bridgertons: Happily Ever After (2013). On the Way to the Wedding won the 2007 Romance Writers of America RITA Award. Quinn was inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame in 2010. She is also author of the Two Dukes of Wyndham series, the Bevelstoke series, the Smythe-Smith quartet and the Rokesby series, among other works. A tie-in edition of The Duke and I, featuring a second epilogue originally written in 2013, was published last month by Avon ($16.99). --Tobias Mutter


Graphic Mundi: The Parakeet by Espé, translated by Hannah Chute


Book Review

Fiction

The House on Vesper Sands

by Paraic O'Donnell


London, 1893: There's murder with a supernatural aspect afoot. The man on the beat has a high opinion of himself, a disarming sidekick and what one citizen calls "a weakness for certain exotic cases." No, The House on Vesper Sands is not a Sherlock Holmes mystery, but Paraic O'Donnell's sophomore effort is the next best thing.

On a snowy night, a seamstress at the home of Lord Strythe, the Earl of Maundley, throws herself out the window. The autopsy yields something remarkable: a cryptic phrase is embroidered directly on her skin. That same night, Gideon Bliss arrives at the London boardinghouse of his uncle, who has written to summon his nephew from Cambridge for a reason undisclosed. Not finding his uncle at home, Bliss takes shelter at a church, where he encounters Angela Tatton, a flower maker he befriended when he was last in London. Tatton is behaving strangely, as though she has been drugged. Before Bliss can fetch a doctor, he gets knocked out. When he wakes the next morning, Tatton is gone.

Bliss returns to his uncle's boardinghouse; still the man is not at home. In an act of subterfuge wildly out of character for a mild-mannered lapsed divinity student, Bliss poses as the officer assigned to the Metropolitan Police's Inspector Henry Cutter, another lodger. Bliss intends to convince Cutter to look into the disappearances of his uncle and Tatton. That Bliss is ill-suited for fighting crime isn't lost on Cutter. "You have the constitution of a consumptive poet" is among the gentler insults he lobs at Bliss.

O'Donnell, an Irish novelist, makes his U.S. debut with The House on Vesper Sands, a story that brings humor and darker themes into richly rewarding alignment. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: This mystery, which revolves around the victimization of young working-class women, is set in Sherlock Holmes's place and time but told on gifted novelist Paraic O'Donnell's own terms.

Tin House, $26.95, hardcover, 408p., 9781951142247

Peachtree Publishing Company: Rosie Loves Jack by Mel Darbon


The Sea Gate

by Jane Johnson


Reeling after her mother's death and her own cancer treatments, London artist Rebecca is at loose ends. Sorting through her mother's unopened mail, Becky finds a letter from an elderly cousin she barely remembers, a woman in Cornwall who seems to be in danger of losing her home. Impulsively, Becky hops a train to Penzance, to find Cousin Olivia Kitto--a tough old bird--in hospital and hiding more than a few secrets. Jane Johnson (Court of Lions) deftly weaves together Olivia's experiences as a young woman during World War II with Becky's present-day journey of discovery in her sixth historical novel, The Sea Gate. 

As Becky begins exploring and renovating Chynalls, Olivia's enormous, dilapidated family home, she finds more questions than answers. Having piqued her readers' curiosity, Johnson begins another narrative, set in the 1940s: that of Olivia's experience as a teenager, left nearly alone at Chynalls while her father fights overseas and her French mother does mysterious war work in London. The appearance of several prisoners of war in the close-knit, all-white village, including a blond Austrian airman and a young Arab man from North Africa, will have devastating consequences for Olivia and her neighbors.

With its atmospheric setting, fast-paced dual narrative and vividly eccentric characters, The Sea Gate is a juicy novel perfect for fans of Kate Morton and Daphne du Maurier. But it's also an unflinching look at racism and sexism in England during the Second World War, a bittersweet love story and a tribute to unexpected courage under fire--both from its protagonists and its other characters. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Jane Johnson's atmospheric sixth novel explores a house of secrets on the Cornish coast.

Simon & Schuster, $17.99, paperback, 416p., 9781982169336

The River Within

by Karen Powell


The River Within by Karen Powell is an atmospheric study of class and desire set in 1950s England. Richmond Hall is the backdrop, representing the dissipating post-World War II British caste system. Lady Richmond's memories frame the nonlinear action within. Her inclination to "follow the ways she knew, the old routine that gave her a sense of purpose and comfort," collides with a postwar generation with little interest in tradition.

The discovery of Danny Masters's body in the river unveils a complex dynamic among characters that offers ominous suggestions about his death. Danny loved Lennie, the enigmatic daughter of the Hall's overseer, since childhood. While Lennie's day-to-day actions embody classic feminine virtues of modesty and hard work, she also projects a strange, ethereal quality that distinguishes her from other women. In fact, Alexander, heir to Richmond Hall and Lennie's lover, tells her she's "a changeling... a fairy creature that had strayed from the woods." Alexander is part of the childhood group that included Danny and Lennie, but his position means that he avoids their obligations. He's mercurial and cruel, selfish in the way that privilege can manifest, and ultimately unforgivably betrays Lennie. Repressed emotions explode in the heart-breaking conclusion. "The river would flow on though, long after the earth had closed in around the bones of the past, and the land would become what it always had been: a palimpsest waiting for a new story to be told..." This precisely plotted dramatic mystery, with an extraordinarily personal gaze, is perfect for fans of Kate Atkinson and Susanna Clarke. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: This dramatic mystery follows a group of childhood friends into adulthood as they grapple with the effects of an outdated class system and the fallout from a suspicious death.

Europa Editions, $24, hardcover, 272p., 9781609456153

Mystery & Thriller

The Wife Upstairs

by Rachel Hawkins


Rachel Hawkins makes her adult thriller debut with The Wife Upstairs, a deliciously gothic contemporary retelling of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. Down-on-her-luck Jane is living with an odious young man, saving up for a place of her own and an escape from the horrors of her past, when she catches a break and is hired as a dog-walker by several people in a well-to-do neighborhood in Birmingham, Ala. Jane meets Eddie Rochester in a near-miss as he backs out of his driveway; the charismatic, handsome widower immediately sets to winning her over, even going so far as to adopt a puppy so he can hire her to walk it.

When Jane learns that not only is Eddie single but also a widower, readers discover the darker side of her desires and ambitions. "He's free, she's gone, and now I have an excuse to see him every week. An excuse to be in that gorgeous home in this gorgeous neighborhood." Their relationship develops quickly, and despite glimpses of Jane's darkness, it's easy to root for her as she describes her hardscrabble life and the ways wealthy women treat someone they view as less-than. But Jane also swipes the occasional piece of jewelry and bit of cash.

Readers familiar with Jane Eyre will be waiting to learn what happened to Eddie's first wife and, sure enough--Mrs. Rochester is alive, held captive by Eddie and narrating her side of the story in occasional chapters. The Wife Upstairs is a sure bet for anyone looking to curl up with a domestic thriller and stay up far too late. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels

Discover: This compelling retelling of Jane Eyre deftly serves up a delicious mystery with a side of biting social commentary.

St. Martin's Press, $27.99, hardcover, 304p., 9781250245496

We Hear Voices

by Evie Green


A mysterious pandemic, rampant income inequality, a planet ravaged by climate change--the world in We Hear Voices, the debut novel by British author Evie Green, doesn't look much different from the reality many people knew in 2020. Set in a vaguely futuristic London, the spaces occupied by the characters in this modern-day horror story feel simultaneously drab and threatening, familiar yet incomprehensible.

The virus causing the story's pandemic is simply called "the flu," a benign title that does not underscore its true awfulness. When Rachel's six-year-old son, Billy, miraculously recovers after a lengthy battle with the flu, she is so grateful that she disregards Billy's fascination with Delfy, his new imaginary friend--at least until Delfy begins "telling" Billy to do increasingly sinister things. As Rachel struggles to save her son and keep her family together, she must also reconcile her values with what she needs to do to survive--such as moving into "worklifeplus," a late-capitalist nightmare where labor is exploited in exchange for rent-free living.

In addition to Rachel, the story unfolds from the perspectives of Nina, Rachel's ambitious teenage daughter, and Graham Watson, the troubled psychologist who spearheads Billy's treatment. Green's snappy, straightforward prose reveals key pieces of information and draws surprising connections among characters in a fast-paced, natural way that makes this book incredibly immersive. There's also a sense that for many of the story's most unnerving aspects, Green simply held a mirror up to reality--and that may be the scariest part of all. --Angela Lutz, freelance reviewer

Discover: In this spooky debut novel, a little boy makes a miraculous recovery from a flu-like pandemic only to be entranced by an alarming imaginary friend.

Berkley, $26, hardcover, 384p., 9780593098301

Romance

Ten Things I Hate About the Duke

by Loretta Chase


In a thoroughly satisfying entry in the Difficult Dukes series (following A Duke in Shining Armor), acclaimed historical romance author Loretta Chase gives readers a stand-alone tale with a duo to adore. Lady Cassandra deGriffith is firmly on the shelf at age 29 and happily determined to remain so. Lucius Beckingham, the Duke of Ashmont, is frittering away his days with too much alcohol and wild escapades. Cassandra is an independent, outspoken lady; Lucius is very much an infamous, goodhearted rakehell. When one of his escapades accidentally injures Cassandra's longtime bodyguard, scandal looms, and the seemingly mismatched couple get caught up in a devious scheme to avoid social disaster. In a plot to foil society gossips, the two begin a pretend courtship, aided and abetted by his approving uncle and her reluctant father.

Lucius realizes shortly after their initial contretemps that Cassandra is an unexpected and undeserved gem. He wants a real marriage, but Cassandra is wary, for the duke has a truly shocking reputation. What are the chances he's reformed? Nevertheless, the two try their best to show the world they're enjoying a proper courtship. However, as Lucius bluntly declares, they both tend to act in an outrageous manner that flouts society's rules. Despite their best efforts, things are bound to go off the rails at some point.

This joyous romp will delight readers with its impeccable period setting, as well as its delicious dialogue in a duel of wits between a heroine of unquestionable character and a man with unexpected depths and ingenuity. --Lois Faye Dyer, writer and reviewer 

Discover: An independent lady crosses paths with a duke of dubious reputation and learns there's more to life than political causes and good works.

Avon, $7.99, mass market paperbound, 400p., 9780062457400

Biography & Memoir

The Night Lake: A Young Priest Maps the Topography of Grief

by Liz Tichenor


It's been said there is nothing worse than the death of a child. When Liz Tichenor and her husband, Jesse--both in their late 20s--experienced the devastating loss of their son, Fritz, when he was just 40 days old, that idea became shatteringly profound reality.

"There was no making sense of what was before me," Tichenor writes in The Night Lake: A Young Priest Maps the Topography of Grief, as she painstakingly traces harrowing details that begin on a cold day in January 2014. Baby Fritz exhibits symptoms of an unspecific nature. The young family of four--Liz, Jesse, their inquisitive two-year-old daughter, Alice, and infant Fritz--share a tiny cabin in Camp Galilee, a remote Episcopal retreat center located on a sloping hill just east of beautiful Lake Tahoe. With medical care miles away, Liz drives Fritz--crying excessively and expelling a small amount of bile-colored spit-up--to the closest urgent care facility.

This launches the harrowing story of Liz's immense difficulty grappling with being an inconsolable wife and mother and, at the same time, a freshly ordained Episcopal minister, "someone professionally and academically trained to be present at heartrending times." Tichenor's courageous memoir is an exquisitely crafted, painfully beautiful chronicle of loss. She articulates the immensity of her feelings and emotions with unbridled candor that, at times, is difficult to read, but ultimately reveal moments of hope and grace. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A devastatingly beautiful memoir by a young mother and newly ordained Episcopal priest who is forced to reconcile the loss of her newborn son.

Counterpoint, $26, hardcover, 336p., 9781640094062

Science

Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved to Do Is Healthy and Rewarding

by Daniel Lieberman


In this eye-opening analysis of physical activity, Daniel Lieberman, professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard and a pioneering researcher on the evolution of human physical activity, reveals that people's reluctance to exercise is nearly as old as the dawn of modern humans.
 
Exercise was once considered backbreaking labor, or worse, punishment (consider Oscar Wilde, forced to climb a treadmill-like device for hours a day as a convict). Today, exercise is hailed as the solution to much of what ails us. It has been medicalized, commercialized and industrialized, yet many people are reluctant to participate. Lieberman applies an anthropological lens to explain why: we evolved to be as inactive as possible and maintain our limited energy resources for reproduction. Over time, humans traded size and strength for bigger brains and learned to fight with weapons rather than engage physically. Today, people drive rather than walk, take elevators instead of climbing stairs and push shopping carts instead of carrying items. Despite being "inherently unnecessary," exercise is required to interrupt long periods of inactivity that contribute to modern maladies like obesity and diabetes.
 
While everyone fundamentally knows exercise is good for them, Lieberman wisely chooses to dispel myths that dissuade people from physical activity. He explains, too, that sitting is not inherently bad for us; you can lose weight by walking; there is no "optimal" prescription for exercise. By discussing the importance of dance throughout human history--not just as a physical activity, but a spiritual one--Lieberman's argument that engaging in meaningful activities that happen to have health benefits provides a blueprint for successfully integrating exercise into one's life. --Frank Brasile, librarian

Discover: Impressive and engaging, Exercised looks at the paradoxical nature of an activity we never evolved to do.

Pantheon, $29.95, hardcover, 464p., 9781524746988

House & Home

Martha Stewart's Very Good Things: Clever Tips & Genius Ideas for an Easier, More Enjoyable Life

by Martha Stewart


One of the most popular monthly features in the magazine Martha Stewart Living is "Good Things"--a collection of easy projects and clever tips that, according to Stewart, are "simple, smart, and sensible" in presenting novel ways to enliven homes and gatherings using easy-to-find materials. Martha Stewart's Very Good Things culls the best of the best from more than 30 years of Martha Stewart Living, resulting in a beautifully designed, lovingly photographed and immensely entertaining book.

The lushly illustrated book divides these tips, projects and ideas into six broad chapters: Decorating, Homekeeping (making household chores more manageable), Organizing, Cooking, Entertaining and Celebrating (holiday-specific tips and DIY projects). Happily, most of these projects and tips are extremely simple and explained in a single paragraph. Recipes usually have four or fewer steps. The projects are attractive, functional and surprisingly easy. Creating a floating bedside shelf is simple and useful, wallpapering stair risers adds excitement to a staircase, and replacing bed headboards with curtains mounted on the walls is innovative. The Cooking chapter focuses on time savers and eliminating waste. The Entertaining chapter highlights cooking-for-crowds favorites, grilling game changers and fuss-free desserts.

Sprinkled throughout are "Classic Good Thing" tips that should have readers muttering, "Why didn't I think of that?" For instance, a rubber band stretched over an open paint can to wipe excess paint off a brush. And only a fool will not photocopy (and laminate) the two-page stain chart which gives individual solutions to removing stains caused by grease, grass, wine, ink, blood and more. Stewart's beautifully designed and easy-to-use handbook is a very good thing. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Hundreds of clever tips and projects for making life easier are collected from three decades of Martha Stewart Living and illustrated with vibrant and tempting photos.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30, hardcover, 288p., 9781328508263

Art & Photography

Open Gaza: Architecture of Hope

by Michael Sorkin, Deen Sharp, editors


Open Gaza: Architecture of Hope, edited by architect Michael Sorkin (who died last year) and Deen Sharp of the Terreform Center for Advanced Urban Research, is an impressive, substantial collection of essays and speculative designs demonstrating how Gaza, considered one of the most beleaguered environments on Earth, may be renewed and positioned for a socially and spatially just future.

The underlying premise of Open Gaza is that the West Bank and Gaza are more than occupied territories under siege, and their existence is not defined solely by Israeli domination. Terreform, a nonprofit focused on socially equitable urbanism,  brought together scholars, architects, planners and activists from Palestine, Israel, the U.S., India and elsewhere and challenged them to imagine how life could be improved for Gazans now within the limitations imposed by Israel, and to reach beyond the endless war and imagine the region in a future without conflict.

The result is an ingenious compilation of ideas, including photographic renderings of a "city of crystal" where glass is deployed as part of the rebuilding strategy to allow the region's destruction to remain visible. The irrepressible spirit of the Palestinian people serves as inspiration for media scholar Helga Tawil-Souri's proposed "Internet Pigeon Network," a self-reliant, Israel-free means of sending and receiving data in Gaza.

Open Gaza offers readers interested in the geo-political history of this region an opportunity to engage with creative projects that, even if they are never fully realized, are, merely by their existence, an act of resistance. --Shahina Piyarali, reviewer

Discover: Scholars, architects and activists imagine the potential of war-ravaged Gaza through visionary design, including the blueprint for a solar-powered city.

American University in Cairo Press, $70, hardcover, 348p., 9781649030719

Children's & Young Adult

A Universe of Wishes: A We Need Diverse Books Anthology

by Dhonielle Clayton, editor


Through this inclusive We Need Diverse Books (Fresh Ink) fantasy anthology, editor Dhonielle Clayton (The Belles) shows that all children may be "destined for greatness" and that "every voice [should] be allowed into every kind of space."

A Universe of Wishes brings together accomplished YA fantasy and science fiction writers to present 15 stories for readers of all races, ethnic backgrounds, gender identities and sexual preferences. Acclaimed authors such as Samira Ahmed, Zoraida Córdova, Tochi Onyebuchi and Nic Stone contribute stories about magicians who make memories disappear, queer boys who harvest magic from dead bodies and spaceship captains who right the wrongs of colonization, one museum heist at a time. This collection prioritizes marginalized voices, including BIPOC and trans and nonbinary individuals, but it's also a mirror for people living in poverty and with chronic illness.

With a variety of authors comes a variety of themes, but most stories fall into these categories: romance, social justice and reimagined fairy tales. In Anne-Marie McLemore's "Cristal y Ceniza," a family of "los campesinos" sends their daughter to a transgender prince's ball so she can ask the royal family to protect her mothers from "la corrección"--forced marriages between queer men and women. McLemore easily infuses magic, romance, oppression and fighting injustice into this Cinderella reimagining. In addition to wholly original stories with new characters, readers will be pleased to also find new stories about beloved characters from familiar worlds: characters from V.E. Schwab's Shades of Magic series, Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy and Clayton's own Belles books all make welcome appearances. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader

Discover: A Universe of Wishes is a noteworthy collection brimming with 15 empowering tales that confirm all readers deserve to have their stories told.

Crown Books for Young Readers, $18.99, hardcover, 416p., ages 12-up, 9781984896209

The Sea in Winter

by Christine Day


An injury tests a young dancer's resilience in this touching middle-grade slice-of-life, road-trip drama by Upper Skagit author Christine Day (I Can Make This Promise).

Maisie Cannon loves ballet, but after she tears her ACL, the 12-year-old Makah/Piscataway Seattleite trades the barre for rehabilitation exercises. As her friends text about exciting summer program auditions, Maisie begs her physical therapist to let her dance before the next school year. During family time with her mother, stepfather Jack and six-year-old half-brother, Connor, Maisie notices she feels "disconnected from myself. Like I'm not fully here." Her mood becomes volatile and, on a road trip around the Olympic Peninsula, her irritable outbursts surprise her family. While the beauty of the Washington coastline and Jack's stories of his people, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, provide what her mom calls "heart medicine," Maisie worries over the continuing pain in her knee but hides it from her family. When the unthinkable happens, Maisie must learn that the loss of one dream can make way for others.

Day achieves a beautifully nuanced portrayal of the interconnected nature of personal emotional struggles and outside circumstances as well as offering readers assurance that joy and confidence can return after great loss. Her realistic, compassionate portrayal of trauma and healing emphasizes the importance of Maisie's family support structure. The family's closeness gives Maisie a safe place to regain her footing after her devastating fall, and the resolution brings hope of closer ties with her paternal relatives. This thoughtful, honest sophomore novel invites readers to reckon with life's messy complexities while reassuring them that every ending brings the seeds of new beginnings. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library

Discover: Twelve-year-old Maisie struggles with depression brought on by the possible loss of her ballet career during a road trip with her family around Washington's Olympic Peninsula.

Heartdrum/HarperCollins, $16.99, hardcover, 272p., ages 8-12, 9780062872043

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Publisher: 
St. Martin's Griffin

Pub Date:
March 2, 2021

ISBN:
9781620064337

List Price:
$16.99

 

Dear Reader,

It's the week before Halloween and teashop owner Theodosia Browning and her tea sommelier Drayton attend a "literary themed" haunted house in a dilapidated mansion known as the Gray Ghost. But halfway through their visit, the guest author is found twisting from a third floor window as purple lights cast flickering images. The police and Theodosia's boyfriend Detective Riley come screaming in, but when Riley goes to the dead girl's house, he's shot! A murder and a shooting seem too coincidental for Theodosia who throws herself into her own shadow investigation. With pacing, plot twists, and action reminiscent of a thriller (this is a thrillzy!), it's no wonder Book Riot named Laura Child's Tea Shop Mysteries to their list of "25 of the All Time Best Cozy Mystery Series."

This is one of my most action-packed mysteries yet! --Laura Childs
www.laurachilds.com


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Publisher: 
Berkley Books

Pub Date:
March 2, 2021

ISBN:
9780451489692

List Price:
$26.00

 

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