Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, January 12, 2021


Harper: The Lowering Days by Gregory Brown

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

Disasters: Imaginary & Otherwise

Some of the books I've been thinking about lately seem unsettlingly well-matched to our strange times. Consider Yun Ko-Eun's The Disaster Tourist (Counterpoint, translated by Lizzie Buehler). Yona Kim is a program manager for a Korean travel company that specializes in "surveying disaster zones and molding them into travel destinations…. Learning about misfortune was what Yona did." Even as I read this novel last summer, I was past wondering who might book such a trip (see Chernobyl tours). Ironically, thousands of people had just been rescued from Covid-laced cruise ships worldwide.

 

Then there was Chris Martin's well-timed poetry collection Things to Do in Hell (Coffee House Press). From the title poem: "DVR Homeland/ Imagine that hell is only an abstraction/ Take another free breath mint/ Cry out endlessly/ Blame those closest to you/ Love even the barest light pissing through the trees."

In nonfiction, I finally read Jessica Bruder's excellent book (now a movie) Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century (Norton), which explores the lives of "workampers" who hit the road as "a survival strategy in an era when Americans were getting priced out of traditional housing and struggling to make a living wage... And as bad as the situation is now, it's likely to get worse. That makes me wonder: What further contortions--or even mutations--of the social order will appear in years to come? How many people will get crushed by the system? How many will find a way to escape it?" Good questions all.

And soon Super Bowl LV will be played in a nearly empty Tampa Bay stadium, an odd complement (parallel universe?) to Don DeLillo's new novel The Silence (Scribner), in which characters are watching a Super Bowl on TV in a Manhattan apartment when a planet-wide blackout occurs. "Is this the casual embrace that marks the fall of world civilization?" someone wonders. The suspense is killing me. I'd better keep reading. --Robert Gray, editor


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


Book Candy

Words That Don't Mean What They Sound Like

Crapulous, for example. Mental Floss found "11 words that don't mean what they sound like."

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"Do you a) have $79,000 and b) want to own a library?Lit Hub asked.

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H.G. Wells fans "spot numerous errors on Royal Mint's new £2 coin," the Guardian reported.

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"When Iggy Pop published an essay, 'Caesar Lives,' in an academic journal about his love for Edward Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1995)." (via Open Culture)

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Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, will share her reading choices through a book club called the Duchess of Cornwall's Reading RoomVanity Fair noted.

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The National Library of Australia explored "early twentieth-century Australian female writers and the publishing industry."


Siri, Who Am I?

by Sam Tschida

A young woman wakes up in a Los Angeles hospital bed, wearing a yellow Prada gown with a bloodstain on the hem. The only items in her possession are a tube of red Chanel lipstick and an iPhone with a cracked screen. She clearly has great taste--but what happened to her? Where is she? And who is she? In Sam Tschida's smart, snarky debut novel, the young woman (Mia) tries to piece together her life via social media posts, asking a question that may sound flippant but is in fact existential: Siri, Who Am I?

Told in Mia's first-person voice (studded with quippy footnotes and hashtags, also in Mia's voice), Tschida's narrative follows Mia's journey as she discovers she has a concussion and a high blood alcohol level of "mostly Grey Goose. Funny how I know what I drink, even if I don't know where I live," she muses. Soon, Mia is discharged from the hospital (though she wants to cling to her kindly nurse, Brenda) and finds her way back to a chichi house that appears in her Instagram feed, but that is evidently not hers. The housesitter, Max--who turns out to be a kind-hearted neuroscientist--doubts Mia's story at first, but he lets her stay and eventually joins in her quest to recover her identity. Mia combs her Instagram photos for locales and people who might be able to jog her memory, initially reveling in the sun-splashed parties and gorgeous companions in her photos. But as she uncovers more details of her past and present, she starts to wonder: Is the person she's been really the person she wants to be? (While Siri helps out with dates and directions, she remains stubbornly silent on this topic. Mia must wrestle with her questions of identity on her own.)

Tschida's story is at once a zany Memento-style ride, a rom-com of sorts (though Max is coming off a breakup and Mia, of course, has no idea who she is), and a sharp-edged, highly entertaining look at selfie culture. What people choose to share online, and how they share it--with edits, filters, hashtags, strategic cropping--can shape not only others' perceptions of their identities, but also affect how they perceive themselves. In Mia's case, it becomes increasingly clear that the highly edited, glamorous selfies in her feed are only a tiny slice of the story. Driving around Los Angeles in a borrowed Ferrari (it belongs to the absent JP, a French chocolate magnate who owns the house where Mia is staying, and is also apparently her boyfriend), Mia begins to build a mosaic-like picture of her life and career. Though she's genuinely searching for answers, her curiosity gets an uneasy reception even from the people she's supposedly closest to. The details that emerge, along with Max's steadfast kindness and decency, make Mia wonder if this could be a chance to start her life over. Was she a terrible person before, and if so, was she only self-centered, or actually scamming people? Can she build a life and relationships she'll actually be proud of? What is she going to do to pay the bills (of which there are apparently many)? And when will her memory of the night she was injured come back?

The novel's Los Angeles setting is the perfect backdrop for a story about image and reality. Mia's travels take her through neighborhoods that go from gritty to glamorous in mere blocks. Her previous career also straddles the line between glitz and harsh reality, and several encounters with Crystal, a no-nonsense former colleague (and possible frenemy) give Mia a dose of truth about her work and the person she was. Meanwhile, Max is trying to mop up the mess from a breakup with a colleague at his lab, which involved her sabotaging the lie detector they were working on together. Max may be a brilliant scientist--his Instagram handle is "Black Einstein," and he's definitely earned it--but when it comes to figuring out relationships, he may need a little help from the girl who's lost her memory.

Tschida's narrative plays with truth and lies, love and infatuation, and the notion of who a person is, or can become, when all the trappings of modern life (and even their e-mail inbox) are stripped away. Readers may cringe as Mia makes a few missteps--she might be trying, but she's far from perfect, and she can't even blame her head injury for all her mistakes. But Mia's journey is ultimately a story of growth: taking an honest look at uncomfortable truths and deciding to do better. By the end of the novel, Mia has decided to live up to her Instagram handle, @Mia4Realz, no matter how uncomfortable her filter-free life gets.

Wry and witty with surprising depth, Siri, Who Am I? is a satire of our Instagram-obsessed world, but it's also a sweet love story and an incisive look at one young woman's decision to change her life after it's been changed for her. --Katie Noah Gibson

Quirk Books, $15.99, trade paper, 352p., 9781683691686, January 12, 2021
Quirk Books, $15.99, paperback, 352p., 9781683691686

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


Sam Tschida: Real Life vs. a Curated Version

(photo: Ingrid Weise)

Sam Tschida (pronounced "cheetah") lives in Minneapolis, Minn. She works as a book editor and teaches writing classes, when she's not wrangling her gang of children and dogs. Siri, Who Am I? (available now from Quirk Books) is her first novel.

What was the inspiration for Siri, Who Am I?

I wrote a book before this one where someone had a head injury. This is a very different iteration. I kept thinking: What if this happened? What if this happened? My sister-in-law is a neuroscientist, and my dad's a neurologist, so everyone I know is squeezed into the book in some ways.

Your protagonist, Mia, wakes up with a head injury and has to try to reconstruct her life via social media.

With social media, we're all living a double life in some ways--that's where I started. Everybody presents a certain life online that isn't necessarily the true version of themselves. If you go from that point and try to rebuild your life, you're not going to end up with who you truly are.

As Mia tries to uncover her life, she's in a unique position: she's just getting to know herself, and she's not sure she likes who she's meeting. I liked the idea of putting her in that position. If you look at yourself based only on what you're putting out online, would you like that person? I thought it was interesting to think about identity in different ways.

Mia gradually discovers that her life--even her self--isn't what she thought.

Yes, that was deliberate. I wanted her life to feel perfect, and then it gradually falls apart. Mia has a romance with her own identity at first. It's a meet-cute with the version of herself that she put out to the world, and she gradually realizes that's not the true version of herself. Nor is it the version of herself she wants to be. She has to decide what to do about that.

Max, the neuroscientist, is a great foil for Mia.

Max is a super-smart neuroscientist, but he doesn't have any money. He and Mia are basically on the same financial plane. He's a straight-line, objective person, and sometimes he misses the human component of things.

Mia is lying to herself, and she finds out she's been lying to other people as well. I wanted Max to prioritize the truth in his work, and I wanted them to find out they're worried about the same things. I wanted him to also be lying to himself, because who isn't, in some way? Mia doesn't want to see the bad things about herself, and Max doesn't either. But they both reach a point where they have to face up to some things.

Tell us about the plotting process.

I love mysteries, and somewhere along the way I realized: This is a mystery! I hadn't intended to write one of those. I realized there were all these mysteries in the plot, and I had to get my act together, plotting-wise.

I've never thought of myself as a good plotter, but my editor said along the way that I was a great plotter. I think I've shied away from plotting a bit in the past because I like to surprise myself--otherwise writing can feel kind of stale. But I really had to sit down and make one thing happen in each chapter, to get the story to move forward. Sometimes I would write a chapter, and I didn't know who the characters were, or who they were going to turn out to be. I would sit down with my characters and ask them, "What should we do today?" It was hard to keep Mia on task, because I'm not naturally on task.

Mia doesn't always make good decisions, but she still feels like a sympathetic character.

That part was tricky. I really wanted a heroine who's a giant mess. Mia's definitely not always a good person, and I struggled to take people along on her journey, knowing that. When you ask a reader to go on a journey with a character, most of the time the reader needs to like that person and be okay with most of their decisions. Mia's not always making the best decisions, but she's looking at herself from a new angle, and trying to grow toward making herself a better person.

Has writing the book changed the way you think about social media?

Definitely. I tried to play around with it and post things that Mia might post, just so I could try it out and see what I thought. I think I've probably posted less since writing the book. I should probably be posting more, since I'm now supposed to be promoting the book! I also started following influencers, to see what kind of posts they had, and what their version of the world looks like. But it is just an amplified version of what everybody else does. People curate their lives and post little snippets--the vision/version they want people to see. There's a movement now to share things in a messier way, but that's also a curated version of your existence. You can't get around it--you have to select some things to share. It's contrived, but it's not necessarily bad.

Mia's particular situation is unusual, but on some level, she's all of us.

Social media is such a ubiquitous part of our lives, and I don't know if we fully understand it yet. The whole book is an examination of social media. It can be harmful. I think women in particular tend to portray a sunny, beautiful version of themselves that is false, and no one sees the real them. That's something women can fall prey to--you're either always perfect, or imperfect in a cute way, so you don't connect. The real 'you' is hidden. It's like heroines in a romantic comedy--they always have one relatable flaw.

I also wanted Mia to be distracted by her beautiful life. She wants to believe the lie so badly that she doesn't question things we should really be questioning. But she eventually gets there. --Katie Noah Gibson


Shelf vetted, publisher supported.


Great Reads

Rediscover: Neil Sheehan

Neil Sheehan, best known for helping to publish a secret government history of the Vietnam War and for his own history of the war, died on January 7 at age 84. Those works were the Pentagon Papers, the internal Defense Department history of the war that revealed the government's duplicity about the war, and A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, which won a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize in 1989. Sheehan covered the Vietnam War from 1962 to 1966 for United Press International and the New York Times. "Intense and driven, Mr. Sheehan arrived in Vietnam at age 25, a believer in the American mission," the Times wrote. "He left, four years later, disillusioned and anguished."

In 1971, Sheehan was approached by Daniel Ellsberg, the former Defense Department analyst who had turned against the war and worked on the Pentagon Papers. After the Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers and its analysis, the Nixon administration obtained a temporary injunction blocking further publication. Seventeen days later, the Supreme Court ruled to allow publication to resume. The Times won a Pulitzer for public service for its coverage.

Sheehan wrote several other books, including After the War Was Over: Hanoi and Saigon, based on a trip to Vietnam in 1989, and A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon (2009), a history of the arms race and the story of the Air Force general responsible for the creation of the U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile system. A Bright Shining Lie is available from Vintage ($21).


Peachtree Publishing Company: Rosie Loves Jack by Mel Darbon


Book Review

Fiction

The Dangers of Smoking in Bed: Stories

by Mariana Enriquez, trans. by Megan McDowell


The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Argentine writer Mariana Enriquez, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell, revisits themes found in her 2017 collection Things We Lost in the Fire. Her disquieting stories, populated by ghosts, disappeared adults and exploited children, examine economic pain, social unrest and violence through the lens of literary horror. Characters observing the slow burn of a society in decay find themselves asking, as the titular story does, "Why not just let the fire keep going and do its job?"

Supernatural elements become compelling metaphors for societal breakdown. In "The Cart," a poor neighborhood experiences bad luck after a homeless man--worse off than the people there--is driven away. "There had to be an accumulation of misfortune for the neighborhood to feel like something strange was going on," says the narrator. Jobs are lost, utilities turned off and food is hard to come by, causing people to turn feral to survive. The only family left untouched by bad luck, one that offered some comfort to the homeless man, is forced to flee before neighbors turn on them. "We were scared, but fear doesn't look the same as desperation," the son in this family knows.

In "Kids Who Come Back," children in Buenos Aires who were lost or disappeared begin to reappear, unchanged, at the same time. People have "no idea what was happening and couldn't explain it; they only knew that they were very afraid." It's impossible to miss the fear that permeates The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, yet even as these stories provide chills, they elicit a deep feeling of sadness for innocence lost. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: Societal breakdown and corruption is viewed through this unsettling collection of literary horror stories by an award-winning Argentine writer.

Hogarth, $27, hardcover, 208p., 9780593134078

Life Among the Terranauts

by Caitlin Horrocks


Almost a decade since her debut collection, This Is Not Your City, Caitlin Horrocks returns with Life Among the Terranauts. The majority of these 14 stories deliver a gut-punch reminder of the seeming unavoidability of loneliness and isolation, despite the promises of coupledom, familial bonds and understood social contracts among various groups. Horrocks begins and ends with outwardly constructed worlds--a dilapidated shrinking town in the opening "The Sleep"; the manmade NovaTerra in the titular "Life Among the Terranauts"--which become constricting, even fatal, cages for the inhabitants. More and more citizens in "The Sleep" choose to hibernate rather than face the depressing reality of winter, while the six citizens carefully chosen to create "Life Among the Terranauts" realize too late they cannot fulfill their two-year residency contracts.

Horrocks's women are especially prone to solitary confinement, even while surrounded by others. In "Norwegian for Troll," a midwestern woman living alone in an oversized, aging house is visited by distant "cousins" from Norway she never knew she had. A gay woman who has a proud affinity with her dead grandmother, who seemed to live openly with her lover, faces jarring truths in "Sun City."

Bad decisions--knowing better, yet still acted upon--cause further estrangement in "23 Months," in which a woman new in town goes to a co-worker's party and sleeps with a stranger under false pretenses. While the collection might be filled with miscommunications and disconnects, Horrocks's storytelling prowess shines. She writes with simple precision, her characters wholly convincing in all their flaws and insecurities. Life Among the Terranauts proves shrewd and rewarding. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: These 14 stories hauntingly explore a modern world populated by men and women who, despite communities of family, friends and colleagues, ultimately remain alone.

Little, Brown, $27, hardcover, 272p., 9780316316972

The Inland Sea

by Madeleine Watts


One hundred twenty million years ago, during the Cretaceous period, a massive body of water called the Eromanga Sea bisected the continent of Australia. This sea was a panacea in the minds of Australia's early nation-builders, who saw it as the key to the agricultural success of their nascent empire, and a dark portent for their descendants, now contending with the consequences of a stripped environment. In Madeleine Watts's debut novel, The Inland Sea, a descendant of explorer John Oxley deals with a messy post-college life in Sydney while the latent effects of his colonial gaze unfold around her.

The unnamed narrator of The Inland Sea starts an ill-suited job at the telecom company where all of Australia's emergency calls are dispatched. She works odd hours, receiving only fragments of emergencies through her headset before transferring them to the proper channels. But it soon becomes clear that the car accidents, fires, freak storms, overdoses and inscrutable howls that fill her days leave a potent hangover. The novel is moody, progressing like a low-level fever as the narrator engages in the standard debauchery that defines the unmoored post-college years of many young adults. At the center of her unhealthy behavior is Lachlan, an ex-boyfriend she begins to sleep with again. The topography of the narrator's interpersonal life resembles that of Australia: "Lachlan," the narrator tells us, is not actually his real name. She named him after the river that once caused her grandfather John Oxley so much grief.

With The Inland Sea, Watts has produced a model of autofiction in the age of climate disaster, a genre sure to dominate the coming era. --Emma Levy, freelance writer

Discover: Introspective with a febrile realism that borders on the surreal, Madeleine Watts's The Inland Sea is evocative and haunting.

Catapult, $16.95, paperback, 272p., 9781646220175

Dear Miss Kopp

by Amy Stewart


As World War I rages across Europe, former deputy sheriff Constance Kopp and her sisters are doing their bit for the war effort. Constance is undercover as an intelligence agent tracking down saboteurs and German spies; Fleurette is dancing and singing her way through army camps Stateside; and Norma is running her pigeon messenger program for the military from an undisclosed location in France. Amy Stewart paints a sharp-eyed picture of wartime challenges and a testy but tough sisterly bond in her sixth Kopp Sisters novel, Dear Miss Kopp.

Though Constance is often the series' main narrator, Fleurette and Norma get equal airtime in this epistolary novel. Urged by her sisters to write more than a few lines, Norma begins sharing episodes from French village life--and her roommate, Agnes, a nurse at the local hospital, begins adding notes of her own. When Agnes is accused of stealing medicines and Norma's pigeon program is put on ice, both women take matters into their own hands. Meanwhile, Fleurette is dealing with the vagaries of life on the road--including a parrot named Laura--and Constance is juggling investigative work and training a young female recruit. Stewart (Kopp Sisters on the March) captures these real-life sisters and their fictional voices with intelligence, wry humor and biting commentary on the sexism faced by women in and out of the armed forces. Letters fly thick and fast between France, New Jersey and Fleurette's various postings, providing warmth, wit and a satisfying mystery for both the sisters and their readers. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Amy Stewart's sixth Kopp Sisters novel is a witty epistolary exchange about the sisters' investigations and other adventures during World War I.

Mariner, $15.99, paperback, 320p., 9780358093121

The Last Garden in England

by Julia Kelly


For harried garden designer Emma Lovell, restoring the grand gardens at Highbury House is a dream job: she's walking in the footsteps of her heroine, Venetia Smith, the garden's original architect. But as Emma tackles the overgrown plants and other tasks, she also begins unearthing secrets. Julia Kelly's third historical novel, The Last Garden in England, weaves together Emma's present-day story with Venetia's time at the garden in 1907, as well as the lives of three women during World War II.

Kelly (The Light over London) tells her story in three timelines and five narrative voices, using the garden to bind them together. Her characters share a fierce determination to lead their own lives, no matter what society thinks: Venetia faces serious prejudice as a female landscape designer, but her striking garden rooms at Highbury House reflect her skill. Diana Symonds, the widowed owner of the house in the 1940s, struggles to mother her son and deal with the exigencies of having wounded soldiers on the premises. Beth Pedley, a shy land girl, begins to find a community in Highbury, and Stella Adderton, a young cook, dreams of travel and a professional career. In the present day, as Emma fights to keep her business afloat, she makes some discoveries that throw new light on the choices made by all four women, and that may help illuminate her own way forward. Lushly described, with complex relationships and plenty of romance, Kelly's narrative is a satisfying walk down the garden path. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dream

Discover: Julia Kelly's lush third novel tells the intertwined stories of five women whose paths cross at a grand estate in Warwickshire.

Gallery Books, $28, hardcover, 368p., 9781982107826

Before the Ruins

by Victoria Gosling


Before the Ruins, Victoria Gosling's whip-smart debut, is narrated by 38-year-old Andrea, a compliance officer at a London investment fund. She made something of her life despite a hardscrabble upbringing, but her past is still a strong presence in her life. As the novel opens, Andrea gets a call from the mother of her lifelong best friend, Peter: it's been four weeks since the woman has been able to reach her son by telephone. "My instinct was to cover for him," Andrea confides to readers, "only I didn't know what I was covering for." Her own attempt to find Peter proves likewise a failure, so she hires a private detective but keeps up her own search.

In addition to their decades of friendship, what bonds Andrea and Peter is an incident that took place nearly 20 years earlier at the abandoned manor where Andrea, Peter, two close mates and sometimes others would hang out. In 1936, a man died on the premises and a diamond necklace was stolen from one of the houseguests. Andrea and her friends made a game of it, taking turns hiding a paste version of the necklace and searching the manor's grounds and Clue-board rooms for it. This stopped the night their blithesome contest ended grievously.

Public sex, drug taking and a sexual abuse subplot are just some of the ways that Before the Ruins departs from the classic country-house mystery. Peter's disappearance is so engaging, readers may occasionally wish that Andrea didn't tarry so long in the past. If only she had a choice. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: This debut novel--a mystery harboring a friendship saga--takes the ingredients of the English country house caper and spikes the recipe.

Holt, $26.99, hardcover, 288p., 9781250759153

Mystery & Thriller

The Perfect Guests

by Emma Rous


Emma Rous (The Au Pair) invites readers to Raven Hall in The Perfect Guests, a gothic thriller with a deep sense of place and a twining narrative that spans decades. In 1988, orphaned young teen Beth is taken in by a couple as a companion to their daughter, at an aging manor house set away from a small village in rural England. In 2019, floundering actress Sadie is hired to join a murder mystery party at the same home, newly renovated and soon to be rented out for more of these parties. A mysterious young woman tells her own story of Raven Hall in a third narrative, with Rous slowly revealing points of connection while building a creeping tension and dread throughout.

The present-day story is reminiscent of a less humorous and decidedly more gothic version of the film Clue. Characters are assigned names, such as "Miss Lamb," by the company that arranged the party and, when combined, an escalating series of small but creepy incidents add up to the classic gothic climax: running from the house screaming.

The past plot line feels like Anne of Green Gables gone horribly wrong. The Meyer-Averell family is reclusive for reasons unknown to Beth, and while her instincts tell her something's not right, she's also grateful that they've taken her in when her own aunt wouldn't. But at what point does gratitude lose out to self-preservation?

Raven Hall holds many secrets, and The Perfect Guests keeps Beth, Sadie and readers guessing as to whether the unease they feel is warranted and who's lurking around the corner. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels

Discover: Over the course of several decades, three young women come to Raven Hall hoping to secure their futures in this suspenseful gothic novel.

Berkley, $16, paperback, 304p., 9780440000488

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Frozen Crown

by Greta Kelly


Packed with deadly intrigue, fierce and powerful women, and high stakes, Greta Kelly's fantasy-adventure debut, The Frozen Crown, is an exciting and intricate series opener.

Princess Askia, warrior and rightful heir to the realm of Seravesh, needs an army to take back her kingdom from the forces of Radovan, the mad emperor of Rovan. Her best hope lies with Emperor Armaan of Vishir. An appeal to Armaan's handsome, naive son, Prince Iskander, gains Askia passage to Vishir, though it takes seeing a razed village to convince him.

Once in Vishir, Askia finds herself ill-equipped to navigate court politics. Plain-spoken and with no grasp on Vishiri etiquette, she quickly makes enemies. Even Iskander's support causes trouble for her; meeting the prince unchaperoned earns her the initial disdain of his mother, Queen Ozura, Armaan's principal wife. Askia's one offer of protection comes from the Shazir, a priesthood of witch-hunting zealots who once tortured her and murdered her parents, and she could not accept it if she wanted to. Askia is secretly a death witch, able to see and speak with ghosts, and the Shazir would want her dead if they knew.

Borrowing the young adult fantasy genre's staple of a young woman shouldering great responsibility while coming into her power, Kelly's series should have crossover appeal to YA readers as well as adult fantasy readers. Kelly leaves some world-building details for later installments, but still creates a rich political dynamic while magic users dodge religious fanatics whose influence is growing. The Frozen Crown has the hallmarks of a successful series. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: The first in a fantasy series, this debut features strong women, plenty of political intrigue and a magical world ripe for future exploration.

Harper Voyager, $26.99, hardcover, 384p., 9780062956958

Biography & Memoir

Aftershocks: A Memoir

by Nadia Owusu


A stepmother's unwanted visit, a mother's unexpected phone call, a lover's departure--all happening in a single month--precipitated the breakdown that eventually engendered Whiting Award winner Nadia Owusu's penetrating memoir, Aftershocks.

Owusu spent her youth navigating multiple countries, with inconsistent permutations of family. Born to an Armenian American mother, Almas (who deserted Owusu at two), and Ghanaian father, Osei (whose United Nations career meant repeated relocations), Owusu learned early that "moving on was what we did." Osei remarried a Tanzanian woman, Anabel. Owusu's only stability was her unwavering bond with her father. When he died before Owusu's 14th birthday, with nowhere else to go, Owusu endured the rest of her childhood with the negligent, sometimes abusive Anabel.

At 18, Owusu arrived in New York City for college and stayed. A decade later, Owusu reluctantly meets Anabel for a fraught dinner, during which Anabel, in a moment of spite, insists Osei died of AIDS, not cancer. The allegation begins to mar his near-faultless legacy--that he could have cheated, could have lied--further unsettling Owusu's already fragile, medicated sense of self. Safe refuge seems to appear in a discarded blue chair she lugs home to her apartment. This one "felt familiar.... It felt almost like sitting on my father's lap." And there she remained, reexamining the many shocks that left her untethered. After seven days, she finally rises, to make her own solid, habitable world.

Beyond any imperfections, Owusu's raw vulnerability hauntingly, steadily beckons readers. By gathering "all the places I tried to belong to and all the people I long for," Owusu wills herself whole. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Nadia Owusu examines the many ways her fractured family and their peripatetic relocations contributed to the aftershocks that led to her mental break at 28.

Simon & Schuster, $26, hardcover, 320p., 9781982111229

Reference & Writing

The Listening Path: The Creative Art of Attention

by Julia Cameron


Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way revolutionized many people's approach to creativity. In The Listening Path, Cameron shares her experience and wisdom and warmly invites readers to add a daily walk to their tool kits, as a means of tapping into the moment and paying attention.

The Artist's Way caused a tectonic shift in opening the way to creativity; The Listening Path asks readers to go deep within, and will most benefit those who've embraced Cameron's previous book. The six-week practice offered here includes personal anecdotes and also interviews with people Cameron considers excellent listeners, from actors and authors to a physical trainer and real estate agent. After a brief refresher in which she expands on and deepens the practice of daily Morning Pages and weekly Artist's Dates, Cameron introduces a more meditative practice, refined with the benefit of time and experience. Week One begins gently, with "Listening to Our Environment," and suggests readers keep a log of their daily soundtrack (the alarm clock, the microwave buzzer). In Week Two, "Listening to Others," she encourages readers to observe in conversations who is "rehearsing what they will say next... [and] aren't truly present" versus those who really listen. Cameron moves readers from a tangible practice into a spiritual realm in the next three weeks. She urges open-mindedness; as the mind quiets, what she calls the "still small voice" may emerge, whether it's a voice within or the voice of a loved one.

Cameron closes with "Listening to the Silence," and readers who make a practice of her ideas will gain a newfound appreciation of being fully attentive to the present, aware and listening. --Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor

Discover: With warmth and wisdom, the writer behind the revolutionary The Artist's Way takes readers deeper into the creativity to be found when they listen attentively and are fully present.

St. Martin's Essentials, $17.99, paperback, 208p., 9781250768582

Children's & Young Adult

Ten Beautiful Things

by Molly Beth Griffin, illus. by Maribel Lechuga


Ten Beautiful Things is a gentle, affecting story about a young girl coming to terms with leaving her home behind to move in with her Gram.

All Lily knows about where she will live with Gram is the "X" marked on "an empty patch of land" on her map. Gram, knowing change is hard, suggests the pair work together to find 10 beautiful things along the way to Iowa. Lily doubts they will find beauty, but when dawn breaks, she's awed by a magnificent sunrise--she's found "number one!" They drive on and, just as Lily feels "the complaints starting in her belly again," Gram points to number two: "spinning windmill blades" that gleam in the morning sun. Lily quickly finds number three, "a red-winged blackbird perched on a swaying stalk of last year's corn," and the two travelers continue their search for all 10 things, finding a "falling-apart barn," the rich smell of mud and a swan-shaped cloud.

Molly Beth Griffin (Rhoda's Rock Hunt) never explains the reason Lily must make her home with Gram. Instead, she packs her eloquent text with sensory details that masterfully link Lily's inner and outer journeys. Likewise, Maribel Lechuga's deftly colored and textured mix-media illustrations feature grand vistas as well as intimate closeups of the grandmother and granddaughter, evoking the unfolding wonders of this difficult trip. Ten Beautiful Things is a deeply touching, ultimately uplifting story. By the end of the drive, readers will know without a doubt, just as Lily does, that she now belongs here, with Gram. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: In this deeply touching story, Lily must move to Iowa to live with Gram, who suggests they find 10 beautiful things along the way.

Charlesbridge, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 5-8, 9781580899369

Root Magic

by Eden Royce


In Eden Royce's impressive and complex debut novel, it's 1963, and Jezebel Turner and her twin brother, Jay, have just buried their grandmother. As the children grieve, they must also contend with a major shift outside the home: integration has come to their South Carolina island.

Jezebel, who is skipping a grade and leaving Jay behind, is having trouble making friends. Adding to her loneliness is an extrasensory perception: Jezebel hears and sees things nobody else seems to notice. The Turners are known for being rootworkers (the Gullah Geechee term for magic readers may know as "hoodoo or conjure or a host of other names") and, while many members of the community benefit from root magic, few would ever admit to such a thing. Now that the twins are 11, Jezebel's uncle will begin to teach them how to work root--exactly at a time they might end up needing to use it. The twins are scared because a thoroughly non-supernatural evil--a white cop--is intent on meddling with and terrorizing their mother.

Royce, herself a member of the Gullah Geechee nation, has created a dark and evocative middle-grade novel in Root Magic. She elegantly melds everyday aspects of life--such as the Turners' code-switching and using Gullah (which is contextually translated)--with tween angst, folklore and horrors both rare and familiar. --Sarah Hannah Gómez, freelance critic and doctoral candidate, University of Arizona

Discover: An 11-year-old faces supernatural forces with the help of her family's magic.

Walden Pond Press, $16.99, hardcover, 352p., ages 10-14, 9780062899576

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I could never have anticipated how A Good Neighborhood’s themes would resonate with the strange year that was 2020. Divisions among neighbors. Heightened racial and environmental issues. Struggles for young adults in this troubled country. But the story didn’t foresee all of that; it reflected a history of it. Really, it’s a modern fable about mostly well-intentioned people caught up in difficult situations--a timeless, cautionary tale of love and power that asks big questions about life today.

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St. Martin's Griffin

Pub Date:
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ISBN:
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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:
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