This week's reviews include Paul Newman's "scathingly honest, vulnerable and inspiring" memoir, The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man, based on interviews he did with a close friend from 1986 to 1991; Revenge of the Librarians by Eisner-winning cartoonist Tom Gauld, "a delightful series of inside jokes for the literary-minded"; and Anne of Greenville by Printz and Caldecott honoree Mariko Tamaki, in which beloved classic character Anne of Green Gables is "magnificently reconceived as a spirited modern teen."
For those needing a bit of inspiration, a challenge and reassurance on the parenting/caregiving front, here are a few books to boost your confidence and get you thinking.
by Barbara Kingsolver
Demon Copperhead, the bighearted ninth novel from Barbara Kingsolver (Unsheltered; Flight Behavior; The Poisonwood Bible), follows the contours of Charles Dickens's David Copperfield, transplanting the plot to 1990s southwest Virginia to uncover the perils of opiate addiction. Ten-year-old Damon Fields earned his nickname for his red hair, passed on (along with some impudence) from his father. He lives in a trailer home with his addict mother, who is employed at Walmart, and his new stepfather, Stoner, a mean trucker. Tragedy strikes and Damon moves between several foster homes before running away. "A kid is a terrible thing to be, in charge of nothing," he remarks, looking back. He joins the JV football team in high school and boards with Coach Winfield. When a knee injury gets him hooked on pain pills, Damon's challenge is to resist the darkness that engulfed his mother and threatens his girlfriend, Dori.
Fans of Dickens will enjoy spotting one-to-one correlations--assistant coach Ryan "U-Haul" Pyles is creepy Uriah Heep, for instance--but there's no need to read David Copperfield beforehand. Kingsolver spins terrific scenes of picking tobacco and hitchhiking into Tennessee. Damon's irrepressible, sassy voice is reminiscent of Holden Caulfield's ("I thought my life couldn't get any worse. Here's some advice: Don't ever think that"), and he takes willful pride in the term "hillbilly," calling the newspaper comic strip he creates Red Neck.
This novel about the resilience of the human spirit--an Appalachian cousin of Shuggie Bain that serves as the perfect fictional pairing with Beth Macy's Dopesick--showcases Kingsolver's trademark commitment to social justice. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck
Must Read Well
by Ellen Pall
As the seductive psychological suspense novel Must Read Well opens, narrator Liz Miller is going through a rough patch: after four years as a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia, her dissertation is at a standstill, and a recent breakup means she needs a new apartment. So she's elated when she spots a Craigslist ad seeking a "quiet female willing to read aloud to purblind landlady one hour a day" in exchange for a cheap room in a Greenwich Village building. It's not just the prospect of the room that delights Liz. From the e-mail address provided, she knows exactly who placed the ad: Anne Taussig Weil.
Anne, who wrote a 1965 bestseller, happens to be one of the three subjects of Liz's dissertation about popular female novelists. But Anne is the only writer who refused to speak with Liz. Without disclosing her previous effort to get in touch, Liz answers the ad and is offered the room. After Liz moves in, Anne wants to revisit a decades-old "episode" recorded in her journals, which she keeps locked in a drawer. As the reading sessions proceed, Liz becomes convinced that the journal content would dazzle her review committee. If only Anne hadn't made Liz sign a nondisclosure agreement requiring her to keep the journals' contents under wraps.
Ellen Pall (Among the Ginzburgs; Back East) produces a tantalizing premise with a slow-drip execution, the chief pleasure of which is the suspense generated by the question of how far the increasingly duplicitous Liz will go to get what she wants from Anne, who, it bears mentioning, isn't the naïf she once was. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
The Witch in the Well
by Camilla Bruce
The spine-tingling, creepy factor kicks in immediately and becomes intense in this entertaining second paranormal thriller from Norwegian author Camilla Bruce (You Let Me In). The Witch in the Well explores the power and peril of friendship, rumors and legends, with supernatural elements casting a shadow over each theme.
In 1862, Ilsbeth Clark died after an out-of-control mob threw her down the town well; residents suspected her of being a witch who killed several children. Legend maintains that Ilsbeth's spirit remains in that well, wanting to be free, and throughout the decades, that folklore expands. As children, close friends Cathy Evans and Elena Clover knew all about the witch myth: the well was on the property of Elena's uncle. But Cathy's insistence that she knew how they could see Ilsbeth's ghost made Elena run back to her uncle's home. Approximately 20 years later, the former friends' lives are vastly different. Cathy is disliked by nearly everyone in town, mainly because of her rude behavior and her fervent devotion to Ilsbeth, whom she considers her property. Elena, now a popular author and social media influencer, returns to settle her late uncle's estate and, oddly, finds inspiration in Ilsbeth's story. Elena's decision to write a book about the so-called witch makes Cathy deranged.
Evil's influence blankets The Witch in the Well. Ilsbeth's seemingly kind spirit camouflages the violent beast also living in the well as Cathy's disturbing personality erupts. Bruce's decision to refer to the town only as "F--" adds to the sense of foreboding. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer
by Lev AC Rosen
When he's hired to determine if an apparent accident is murder, a gay detective reveals the cracks in a powerful queer family in Lev AC Rosen's insightful, character-driven mystery, Lavender House. Rosen (Camp) is known for his contemporary novels for young adults, but Lavender House demonstrates his skill at compelling, thoughtful and twisty adult historical mystery. It's 1952 in San Francisco, and Andy Mills has just been fired from his job as a police detective after being caught with another man in a raid on a gay club. Andy is drinking himself into a suicidal stupor when Pearl approaches him with a proposition: Will he come stay with her family and determine if the recent death of her life partner, Irene Lamontaine--family matriarch and head of the Lamontaine Soap empire--was truly an accident?
Hidden away in Lavender House, named for its inhabitants and for soap maker Irene's abundant lavender-filled gardens, Pearl and Irene's family is unconventional. With one exception, the other occupants are also all queer: Pearl and Irene's son and Lamontaine heir Henry and his former-dancer partner Cliff; Henry's legal wife, Margo, and her club-owner partner Elsie; and three staff members. The last is Margo's irritable, heterosexual mother, residing in an uneasy truce with this found family and their secrets.
Andy gets to know every character, with all their petty squabbles and the festering resentments. Even with the bitterness and murder, there's a fierce love and loyalty in this family that draws in Andy and readers. Readers who love queer history, complicated family dynamics, flawed characters and a good murder mystery will be eager for more. --Suzanne Krohn, librarian and freelance reviewer
Blackmail and Bibingka
by Mia P. Manansala
Get ready for more delectable death. After the "rather dark places" both Mia P. Manansala and her protagonist, Lila Macapagal, endured in Homicide and Halo-Halo--the second novel in the Tita Rosie's Kitchen Mystery series--Manansala (Arsenic and Adobo) opens Blackmail and Bibingka with reassurance, writing in an author's note: "Lila (and I) are in much better places." That said, readers can expect plenty of shady shenanigans in Lila's not-so-quiet little town of Shady Palms, Ill.
Lila is living her best life, basking in the warmth of her extended Filipina American family. She's running her Brew-ha Cafe with her best friend, Adeena, and Adeena's girlfriend. The beloved Tita Rosie's Kitchen, which used to be a "hole-in-the-wall restaurant," is now a "tourist destination." Lila is even happily "sorta dating" local hottie dentist, Dr. Jae Park. Then, after "fifteen years of nothing," her cousin Ronnie turns up--he had disappeared after his no-good father broke his mother Rosie's heart. Ronnie's bought the Shady Palms Winery with friends, but his bad-boy reputation doesn't get any better at the death of Denise Sutton; she and her fiancé had invested in the winery, and the autopsy suggests murder. With the family so intricately involved, Lila has, once again, no choice but to solve the crime.
This third installment in the series offers plenty of red herrings and cooks up unpredictable entertainment. Manansala seamlessly combines more than one delicious family drama--not just among Lila's complicated, extensive clan. Generational divisions, a not-so-evil stepmother, disgruntled twins, engaged cheaters: all add up to another cozy mystery filled, thankfully, with more life than death. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Partners in Crime
by Alisha Rai
Ex-lovers get a second chance at romance when they find themselves caught up in a jewel theft gone wrong in Alisha Rai's Partners in Crime, a delightful romance with a heavy dose of heist. Amira Patel has put her past behind her and built a quiet, safe life as an accountant. Now all she needs is a husband, but after a dozen failed matches, she's worried her matchmaker is going to fire her. She's feeling down about her "dismal love life" when she gets a call for Mira Chaudhary--her given name and part of the dysfunctional past she's trying to leave behind--and learns that her Aunt Rhea has died. To add fuel to the fire, the lawyer settling her aunt's estate is none other than Naveen Desai, the first of her many failed matches and the only one she had any real feelings for. When the two are kidnapped in the mistaken belief that Rhea's will includes clues to track down a stolen diamond necklace worth millions, their awkward reunion turns into a run for their lives.
This cat-and-mouse caper is exciting and compelling in its own right, filled with twists and turns and larger-than-life con artists, big bets and plenty of scheming on all sides. Within that plot structure, though, Rai (Girl Gone Viral; Hate to Want You) turns her attention to the inner lives of her characters in all the ways she's become known for: probing what sets them off, what turns them on and what sends them running. The combination results in a romantic romp that is pure delight from start to steamy finish. --Kerry McHugh, freelance writer
Revenge of the Librarians
by Tom Gauld
Readers, writers and librarians, rejoice! Tom Gauld (Department of Mind-Blowing Theories) presents a collection of comics perfect for anyone who might have a towering stack of books near their bed or perhaps even an expensive degree in English literature. Revenge of the Librarians showcases the inventive wit of the Eisner-winning cartoonist and, whether lambasting the habits of a "working" writer (looking at birds from the window, going on long walks, napping) or reframing classics to suit new occasions, this collection is a delightful series of inside jokes for the literary-minded.
Gauld's clean-lined, uncluttered lettering and art are seemingly simple, but the concepts and cartoons that convey them work together to great effect. One deceptively straightforward piece, "My Reading Year," functions like a multilayered Venn diagram, with sections designated for "Books I Keep Quiet About" and "Books I Hated" and "Books I Feel I Should Have Enjoyed," each with small areas of overlap that every bookish person will recognize.
This collection also provides a wry look at the pandemic lockdown through various storybook or writerly lenses, such as the comic that follows a bookstore cat through the various stages of closure and reopening activities. (Hint: the cat's experience doesn't change much, and sleep is a constant.) However, the best marriage of these elements comes in the comic entitled "Waiting for Godot to Join the Zoom Meeting": Vladimir and Estragon sit mostly silent on separate screens before asking, "Shall we go?" and then concluding, "Yes, let's go." Reader, I guffawed. --Sara Beth West, freelance reviewer and librarian
A Fade of Light
by Nate Fakes
"Ron was a part of almost every major event in my life, whether I liked it or not," writes Nate Fakes--syndicated cartoonist and creator of Break of Day--in A Fade of Light, his tender, intimate graphic memoir about his stepfather. Fakes's mother married Ron in 1996: "even as a teenager with a lot of angst, I genuinely liked Ron and was happy for them." Ron was endlessly supportive--helping Nate heal a broken heart, encouraging and enabling his comics, moving him to New York for a Mad magazine internship and driving him back home to Ohio when he became unemployed. Years passed; Fakes became a husband and then a father. Ron began to exhibit "bizarre" behavior--moments of forgetfulness and mood swings. An eventual diagnosis of bipolar II disorder offered some explanation, but Ron's refusal to accept help led to his divorce from Fakes's mother, leaving Fakes "the only person left in [Ron's] life who still hung around." But Ron continued to insist he was "totally fine." Until he wasn't.
Fakes (Laser Pointers, Hairballs, and Other Cat Stuff) opens his memoir in 2019, as if he initially needs that distance to share his struggling, ongoing story. He's living in Los Angles, phoning Blue Creek Healthcare and asking to speak to one of their residents. He then waits for Ron's delayed "H-h-h-hello?" From that tentative introduction, Fakes reveals the decades of their relationship during which Ron transformed from a funny, Ace Ventura-esque, everyone's-friend kind of guy to an unrecognizable "new Ron" with a rare and fatal disease. Fakes's black-and-white panels and simple line art dexterously underscore the emotional complexity contained within. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Blood from a Stone: A Memoir of How Wine Brought Me Back from the Dead
by Adam McHugh
Adam McHugh (The Listening Life), after spending years as a hospice chaplain, found himself burned out, needing not merely an escape but a drastic life change. In his third nonfiction book, Blood from a Stone, McHugh chronicles how his love of wine led him on a winding path to California's Santa Ynez Valley, where he found a new career working in the wine industry. He shares anecdotes along the way from wine's long history and explores its multifaceted appeal to humanity.
"To love wine, or anything, is to pay attention to it," McHugh writes. He breaks down the history of vineyards in California, shares his journey from wine novice to lowercase-s sommelier and insists that wine can be truly spiritual: "Maybe tasting deeper can help us to live deeper." He also explores the ways career can intersect with identity, sometimes to a person's detriment: extricating himself from his role as a minister required an utter reevaluation of self. Several moves, one painful divorce and a couple of ill-fated tasting-room jobs later, McHugh does eventually find his way back to the Santa Ynez Valley, where he gradually builds a new life among the vines.
With self-deprecating humor, plenty of snark and a keen observational eye, McHugh spins a story of grief, wandering, the search for beauty and eventual transformation, with plenty of vineyard metaphors about struggle and renewal. Although McHugh's narrative, like its protagonist, wanders occasionally, it does eventually lead to healing, new community and many glasses of good California wine. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man
by Paul Newman
There was nothing ordinary about Paul Newman (1925-2008), the Oscar-winning actor, prize-winning race car driver and philanthropist who gave away more than $570 million to charities. In The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man, Newman never dwells on his accomplishments and, instead, uses the memoir like a long therapy session for soul-searching. Plagued with chronic insecurity, he felt for most of his life like an impostor who achieved success through luck rather than talent.
Between 1986 and 1991, Newman (In Pursuit of the Common Good, with A.E. Hotchner) taped conversations with friend and screenwriter Stewart Stern, who also interviewed many of Newman's family, friends and coworkers. Newman lost interest. The audiotapes were transcribed and forgotten. This posthumous memoir is a chronological, multi-voiced oral history, distilled from the 14,000 transcript pages. Although there are tales of filming Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Hud and The Sting, Newman is more interested in discussing such serious issues as his alcoholism. Joanne Woodward, his wife of 50 years, says, "I used to think the only peace Paul ever found was that peace he used to find in being dead drunk." The addictive personality was passed down to his son, Scott, who died of a drug overdose at age 28. Newman writes with heartbreaking insight and guilt about his son's long descent into addiction, rehab and death.
This unforgettable and extraordinary memoir, one of the best and most compelling books of 2022, is a breathtakingly honest mea culpa from a complicated man striving to excavate his demons; according to Newman's daughter Clea, who writes the memoir's afterword, he succeeded in his final decades. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Sit, Stay, Heal: What Dogs Can Teach Us about Living Well
by Renee Alsarraf
Renee Alsarraf has been a veterinary oncologist for 29 years. In Sit, Stay, Heal, she sensitively shares how her own battle with metastatic cancer added a new dimension to the level of care and treatment she provides for beloved pets and their devoted human caretakers. The practice of veterinary medicine requires detective work: "Our patients can't tell us what's wrong, so we have to go on a systemic hunt." This fact often challenges Alsarraf's medical proficiency while expanding her compassion.
An accommodating cocker spaniel with lymphoma serves to augment the life of a wheelchair-bound nine-year-old. How much treatment is enough? A man fighting colon cancer elects for prostate cancer treatment for his loyal beagle. Will he or the dog die first? Should a growing tumor be radically treated in a search-and-rescue police dog who successfully sniffs out and stops crime? Woven throughout these and other sympathetically rendered case studies is the story of Alsarraf's own dog, a boxer with genetically acquired cancer. How Alsarraf manages her pet's long-term treatment directly influences her own cancer experience, not to mention her job, her relationships with an attentive husband and son, and her body and soul.
Alsarraf's deeply moving, informative memoir demonstrates how pet-human bonds bring out the very best in people. Sit, Stay, Heal is a positive, powerful witness about celebrating life to the fullest, despite the prospect of a limited time on earth. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Black Women Will Save the World: An Anthem
by April Ryan
Black women are the often unsung "sheroes" who make immeasurable contributions to America's democracy, institutions, families and communities, all while facing the double bind of sexism and racism. In her compelling, thoughtful fourth book, Black Women Will Save the World, veteran White House reporter April Ryan--herself a trailblazing Black woman--champions the accomplishments of Black female leaders like Fannie Lou Hamer, Maxine Waters, Vice President Kamala Harris and the cofounders of Black Lives Matter. In powerful, insightful prose, Ryan shows readers why the accomplishments of Black women matter now more than ever.
Ryan (Under Fire; At Mama's Knee) shares some of her own story: as a working-class native of Baltimore, a proud graduate of a historically Black college and a single mother, she is an anomaly in the White House press corps for various reasons. But she is proud of her roots and is teaching her daughters to stand strong in their own identities. She also shares vital historical information about Black women activists and organizers: familiar names like Rosa Parks, yes, but other women, such as Mary Ann Shadd Cary and Nannie Helen Burroughs, whose work has often been ignored.
Ryan emphasizes, repeatedly, the price Black women pay for being first in a space, for being the smartest or most accomplished in the room, for excelling in a society that is explicitly not built for them. Ryan calls on all Americans to listen to, respect and celebrate Black women. Her book is an important step forward in that conversation. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Saving Main Street: Small Business in the Time of Covid-19
by Gary Rivlin
Americans venerate small businesses, although they increasingly spend their money at the giant corporate chains that dominate the markets. During the Covid-19 pandemic, mom-and-pop shops in many communities were hit especially hard, despite (semi-effective) government programs attempting to help them. In Saving Main Street, his thoughtful 11th book, veteran journalist Gary Rivlin (Katrina: After the Flood) follows a group of small-business owners in the Northeast through the first two years of the pandemic.
Rivlin's cast of entrepreneurs includes a Latina hairstylist, a pharmacist, a restaurateur, a Hallmark store owner and three Black brothers making artisan chocolate. Through extensive interviews and research, he illuminates the challenges faced by small businesses even before the pandemic: rising costs, shrinking market share and shifting demographics. He examines the divide between the American perception of small business as an essential community anchor, worthy of support and praise, and the grimmer reality of struggling to stay afloat. Rivlin's subjects vividly recount their experiences, from the initial nationwide shutdown in March 2020 to the confusing back-and-forth of reopening, along with supply-chain issues, arguments over masks and constant stress. The author also puts his subjects' experiences in a national context, discussing the Paycheck Protection Program and the mixed-bag efforts of state and federal officials to navigate the pandemic. He chronicles his subjects' responses to government aid--which include gratitude, frustration and sometimes rage--and their dogged determination to keep going. As the U.S. continues to deal with the effects of Covid-19, Rivlin's book is worthwhile reading for those running or supporting a small business. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Permanent Distortion: How the Financial Markets Abandoned the Real Economy Forever
by Nomi Prins
Readers curious about recent history and potential futures of the global economy will find much to capture their interest in Nomi Prins's Permanent Distortion, which is expansively researched, clear-eyed and conversational in tone. Prins (Collusion; It Takes a Pillage) argues that, since the 2008 financial crisis, monetary policy meted out by various central banks, including the U.S. Federal Reserve, has been the dominant means of economic stimulus. Though not without value and a boon to ordinary citizens in some respects, monetary stimulus, Prins asserts, is disproportionately beneficial to the very wealthy who possess substantial financial assets, rather than the vast majority of the world's people, whose material security stems largely from incomes and affordable, tangible goods and services.
The result is a global economy of almost parallel realities: the one in which most people live, and the highly financialized realm of capital speculation in which most corporations and the wealthy almost exclusively operate. As central banks have flooded capital markets with cheap credit and easy money--through an unprecedentedly long low-interest rate period and "quantitative easing," including trillions of dollars of bond purchases--the financial sector has grown immensely while becoming less accountable to vital democratic checks. Although she acknowledges that many emergency measures may have been helpful and even necessary, Prins is convinced that financial markets have cemented a new status quo that is less egalitarian and that is poised for a painful fall.
This comprehensive recent history is an informative and valuable work of observation, research, analysis and warning to financial experts and novices alike--and all who care about the structures of economic power. --Walker Minot, teacher, freelance writer and book reviewer
In the Mouth of the Wolf: A Murder, a Cover-Up, and the True Cost of Silencing the Press
by Katherine Corcoran
In the Mouth of the Wolf is American journalist Katherine Corcoran's first book, focusing on the murder of Mexican journalist Regina Martínez in 2012, its aftermath and implications for the free press in Mexico and beyond. Corcoran details the years she spent investigating Martínez's death, without the satisfaction of a final conclusion; the case remains unsolved, along with many other cases of slain journalists.
"To the foreigner, Mexico charms, cajoles, and seduces. There are so many Mexicos: so many climates, cultures, foods, and languages; contiguous, concentric, stacked; native and colonial; current and past; invisible yet present." With this same attention to multiplicity, Corcoran relates the complicated nature of a single murder case and all that it represents. Already familiar with Mexican culture, politics and journalism, Corcoran, as Associated Press bureau chief in Mexico City, had also received threats to her staff by the time that Martínez was brutally killed in the bathroom of her own home in Xalapa, Veracruz. Killings of journalists had been on the rise, but this case was different, not least because Martínez was nationally known for covering potentially dangerous subjects, frequently including the connection between government corruption and organized crime. No one in her tight-knit circle of journalist friends could say what she'd been working on when she was killed.
Into a mess of stories and theories, and still under threat of surveillance and violence years later, steps Corcoran, with archival research and hundreds of interviews with a dizzying cast of characters (helpfully listed in the front of the book). Her compelling, carefully researched investigation proves sobering. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II
by George Weigel
The Second Vatican Council ("Vatican II") was a pivotal moment for both the Catholic Church and the world, and George Weigel (Letters to a Young Catholic; Witness to Hope) brilliantly explains why in To Sanctify the World. Described as the "most important event in the history of Catholicism since the Council of Trent responded to the various Protestant Reformations of the sixteenth century," Vatican II (1962-1965) was born of Pope John XXIII's "great hope... [to] launch a new era of Christ-centered and evangelical Catholic vitality." Weigel, a senior fellow at D.C.'s Ethics and Public Policy Center, positions Vatican II as the spiritual response to "modernity-as-ideology," a concept that led to what he calls a New Thirty Years War that, he writes, damaged Western civilization between 1914 and 1945. The author, curating a layered intellectual and philosophical history of the Catholic Church, reveals the whys of Vatican II as well as the what: specifically, the 16 documents created to teach and guide the Church in such areas as sacred liturgy, religious freedom and the growing need for ecumenism (the need to "transform plurality into pluralism").
Vatican II was not without detractors, however, and Weigel makes sense of some of the fiercer clashes among the "contending factions and parties" without losing the fine thread of his argument: a post-conciliar Catholicism of the 21st century must grapple with the teachings of Vatican II to find "the inspiration and the means to teach and embody the truths about the human person, authentic human community, and genuine human liberation." One need not be Catholic (or even Christian) to savor To Sanctify the World. An open mind will do. --Peggy Kurkowski, book reviewer and copywriter in Denver
How Am I Doing? 40 Conversations to Have with Yourself
by Corey Yeager
Psychotherapist and life coach Corey Yeager believes the best therapy consists of simple conversations filled with humor, openness and curiosity. In his appealing debut self-help guide, How Am I Doing?, he draws upon that down-to-earth approach, astutely posing 40 thought-provoking questions aimed at deepening self-awareness and facilitating positive life change. Yeager came to prominence on The Me You Can't See, Oprah and Prince Harry's Apple TV+ show. Once en route to playing pro football, Yeager had to devise a plan B for his life after his dreams were sidelined by injury. He merged an enthusiastic love of sports with his empathetic, insightful nature by studying psychotherapy. Yeager currently works with the Detroit Pistons basketball team. His own story of reinvention dispels mental health stigmas and strategically draws out the best in people.
Each chapter in the guide poses a self-reflective question: Who is the most important person in your life? Who determines your joy? What do you most hope to change in your life? What mistakes have you learned the most from in your life? A concise format eases readers down a path toward enlarging their own self-perceptions at their own pace. Summations at the end of each chapter are coupled with further meditations--tough questions skillfully framed--encouraging readers to consider their own life stories in order to gain greater personal clarity.
Yeager addresses such issues as anxiety, mental toughness, letting go of the past, building confidence and more. Those eager to better understand themselves--and carefully assess life goals--will be empowered by Yeager's winning insights. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
by Mairead Small Staid
The Traces, the first book from essayist and critic Mairead Small Staid, is astonishingly good. It's a swim in a deep body of water, serene yet almost electric with life. Working in the tradition of Michel de Montaigne, Staid calls this work an essay. This is an apt phrasing; the piece is one current of thought, spooling out from a two-pronged center: the author's memory of the months she spent in Italy as a college student, as well as a reading of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities. Staid's vast critical range is on display here, turning what could be merely a memoir or travelogue into a wide-ranging treatise on beauty and distance, desire and memory, and the pursuit of and reflection on that nebulous thing called happiness.
Staid builds The Traces, in addition to Calvino's work, on a foundation drawn from sources as disparate as Anne Carson, Dante and even Montaigne himself, setting her narrative in a hall of mirrors, each one made of words. While in Italy, she explains, "I write down facts and dates and anecdotes; I write down joy and want. I wonder at my own wonder." The Traces is filled with that wonder, inviting readers to consider not just this one place and time but the impact place can have on a person. Gorgeous on every level, The Traces is perfect for readers who dream of wine-soaked sunsets on distant coasts and who value art, architecture and literature. It is for those who trust that awe and beauty are for everyone--and can be found anywhere. --Sara Beth West, freelance reviewer and librarian
Women Holding Things
by Maira Kalman
This book's title may suggest a wry boast: the artist Maira Kalman (Looking at Lincoln; And the Pursuit of Happiness) is so good that she can fascinate readers with a book of paintings featuring merely stationary humans holding everyday objects. Of course, what people "hold" can exist outside the realm of the physical. Kalman's plainspoken accompanying text begins: "What do women hold?/ The home and the family./ And the children and the food./ The friendships./ The work./ The work of the world./ And the work of being human." What follows in Women Holding Things are dozens of loose and lovely paintings, marked with conspicuous brushstrokes, of one or more women or girls holding something: a chicken, a baby, "opinions about modern art" and so on.
Kalman often depicts her relatives (e.g., her mother-in-law and twin sister "holding a grudge"). Some of her subjects are famous: Virginia Woolf is "barely holding it together." Several subjects move Kalman to further contemplation. A painting of the artist Louise Bourgeois's sister segues into a painting of "Louise's home in NYC./ She held the wolves at bay./ Or rather, invited them in." As ever, Kalman's color combinations are revelatory; like Matisse, she reliably assembles palettes that seem new to the world. The cumulative effect is so spellbinding that readers may not notice that Kalman slips in a few images of men before acknowledging them: "Speaking of men,/ they are here./ And that is/ not a bad thing." And speaking of Matisse, there's a painting of him, too. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
We Borrowed Gentleness
by J. Estanislao Lopez
Brimming with striking metaphors and theological echoes, We Borrowed Gentleness, the first poetry collection by Houston-based writer J. Estanislao Lopez, is an elegant record of family life on both sides of the Mexican border. Many of these 56 poems appear to have an autobiographical basis. Somber family history underlies "My Uncle's Killer" and "Little Words," in which an ancestor's arranged marriage led to her loss of faith and hatred of her father. "Laredo Duplex" explains how violence prompted the family's migration; "Across the river, Nuevo Laredo. My father,/ born there, was born on the side of defeat." "The Contract" recalls acting as a go-between for a father who didn't speak English, and in "Diáspora" the speaker is dubious about assimilation: "I am losing my brother to whiteness." As generations turn, "The Interval" is concerned with how to be a good father.
Poetry takes on various shapes here: stanzas, paragraphs or phrases strung across the page. The tone is elevated and philosophical ("You take the knife of epistemology and the elegiac fork") with ample alliteration. Flora and fauna and the Bible are common sources of unexpected metaphors--sometimes simultaneously, as in "Alternate Ending: Solomon's Misjudgement": "He misses his brother, beautiful Absalom, whose hair/ still hangs in a tree. Coarse flower. Absalom, abloom." Scriptural allusions make an apt shorthand, as in "How the small griefs multiply/ like loaves in a basket." Lopez tackles big issues of identity, loss and memory in delicate verse suited to readers of Kaveh Akbar and Reyna Grande. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck
Anne of Greenville
by Mariko Tamaki
Anne Shirley and her mothers move to Greenville at the start of the school year. Anne, an adopted, Japanese American and self-described "deliriously queer" teen, becomes the target of the "Forevers," a group of teen townies and traditionalist parents. She is faced with "prejudicial and problematic" behavior including repeated hate speech and violence. She covers up the attacks to spare her moms the vitriol and bigotry--"It was easier for them to be pissed at me... than to have them feeling sad with me"--but she struggles to stay true to her unabashedly disco-loving, sequin-sporting, roller-skating self. Thankfully, classmate Berry shows Anne how to carve out safe spaces, and a starring role in the school play provides Anne a platform for sharing her exuberant personality and flair for fashion.
Readers familiar with Anne's original tale are rewarded with familiar yet reimagined characters from Green Gables. Those new to the enduring story will meet an endearing and intersectional version that shines thanks to Tamaki's authentic storytelling; she crafts a cinematic and self-aware Anne whose chatty and charming voice sears with modern sensibility. Optimistic, orange-haired Anne should have readers rooting for her with every polyester-clad step as she finds her "true true" and brings Greenville along in the process. --Kit Ballenger, youth librarian, Help Your Shelf
by Eric Fan, illus. by Dena Seiferling
Well, someone's got to feed the city's nocturnal animals, and fortunately, Owl is up to the task. From the great minds of illustrator Dena Seiferling (King Mouse; Bear Wants to Sing) and author Eric Fan (It Fell from the Sky; Lizzy and the Cloud)--this time working independently of his brothers--comes Night Lunch, an inspired inversion of the sleep-pushing picture book that traditionally ends in soporific darkness. Night Lunch does indeed capture the spooky-gauzy enchantment of the wee hours, but readers may leave the book less inclined to shut their eyes than to head to the kitchen.
Night Lunch begins "Clip clop, a midnight moon./ The night lunch cart rolls in." The horse-drawn cart stops in what looks like an early-20th-century town center unpopulated by a single human. The aroma of coffee emanating from the cart stirs the senses of various animals. Following the ding of the "night lunch bell," the critters enter the Night Owl--its interior has aspects of both an American diner and a European dining car--and enjoy Owl's customized fare: "Hoot hoot, mince pie for Fox./ Badger wants a sandwich," and so on.
Readers' own senses will be stirred by Seiferling's bewitching digital art, her sepia palette dusted with illumination from streetlamps, a chandelier and other glowy light sources. Night Lunch's showstopper captures the moment when, just before it's time for the cart to move on, a hardworking but penniless mouse gets a surprise the likes of which the pizza rat could only dream. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
by Rin Chupeco
Rin Chupeco's The Sacrifice is a chilling YA horror novel about Alon, an 18-year-old Filipino fisher, and their experience as a guide for a group of derisive and exploitative documentary filmmakers.
The Philippine island of Kisapmata is a tropical oasis blanketed by the tentacle-like roots of balete trees. Despite its tranquil appearance, the island is far from serene. Rumors of a sacrificial cult, strange disappearances, a colonial prophecy and a cave-dwelling god have attracted a group of enterprising documentarians. When the group meets up on the island, they assume Alon is the "ghost whisperer" whom the locals say is the "one person the island won't curse." Alon accepts their offer to pay them as a guide but warns that the crew shouldn't be on the island. Soon, members of the crew are driven mad by sightings of ghoul-like creatures who shapeshift into those they have harmed. As some crew members disappear into the balete, others are determined to seize the island's power for themselves. Alon tries to defend the crew, but there is little to be done once the island has found a worthy sacrifice.
Eerie and haunting, The Sacrifice uses elements of traditional Filipino folklore and contemporary horror to spotlight the harms of neo-colonialism. The documentarians clumsily and disrespectfully enter Kisapmata, then abuse the island's resources, depicting it as a malicious land rather than a place of beauty worthy of respect. Chupeco (The Bone Witch) uses Alon's gentle, direct first-person point of view to explore the titular theme and how it relates to interpersonal dynamics. A haunting, hypnotizing folk horror novel. --Cade Williams, freelance reviewer and staff writer at the Harvard Independent
Demon in the Wood
by Leigh Bardugo, illus. by Dani Pendergast
Demon in the Wood is an alluring graphic novel origin story that should invite new readers in, while deepening fans' understanding of the tyrannical Grisha leader from Leigh Bardugo's immensely popular Shadow and Bone trilogy.
The Grisha hide from the drüskelle, witchhunters who stalk the "cursed" witches across the land, from the northern "cold wilds of Fjerda" to the southern "forests and fields of Ravka." Aleksander (Eryk) and his mother, Lena, are powerful Grisha who are always on the move. They have "a hundred names, a new story for every town, camp, and city," but now they would like to spend the winter in one place, learning what they can from a Grisha chieftain. When Eryk meets witch sisters Annika and Sylvi, he impresses them with a display of his rare shadow-summoning power. Annika, whose powers are weak, convinces Eryk to help her hunt a large bear that has been sighted nearby; its bones might enhance her power. But when the new friends find the bear, it is already dead, and a potentially fatal accident on their trek home exposes Eryk's biggest secret.
Bardugo (Ninth House) depicts the antihero of her trilogy with empathy in this graphic novel rendition of a previously published short story. Eryk emerges as a complicated character, with his harsh and unavoidably solitary youth. Debut book illustrator Dani Pendergast's sophisticated illustrations allow the moody story to play out against shadowy blacks, chilly whites, grays, mauves and blues that elegantly describe a frigid, cloud-covered landscape. This is a worthy (albeit somewhat slight) addition to the canon that will surely leave readers wishing for more. --Lynn Becker, reviewer, blogger, and children's book author
I don't know if anyone has told you this, but parenting is not always easy. Joyful, yes. Easy? No.
It turns out kids are complex little humans with big feelings and it's our job as parents, apparently, to help them learn how to navigate that--within the context of a world that often feels like it's on literal and figurative fire. As the mother of a toddler, I am always looking for inspiration for how to do this parenting thing better (and also seeking a bit of comfort and encouragement), and I found both in several new titles that both challenge and reassure.
I was excited to pick up the new book from Instagram parenting personality Dr. Becky. In the introduction to Good Inside: A Guide to Becoming the Parent You Want to Be (Harper Wave, $28.99), Becky Kennedy promises that with the approach outlined in her book, "parents can do better on the outside and feel better on the inside. They can strengthen their relationship with their child and see improved behavior and cooperation." It sounds too good to be true, in a way, but ever a lover of nuance and seeing beyond binary solutions to complex problems, I dove right in--and found tactics that offer as much healing for myself as advice for how to parent my young child. We're all, Kennedy says, "good inside," and assuming the best--of ourselves, of our kids, of anyone we interact with--can go a long way to changing how we respond to difficult situations.
As a white parent to a white child, I've also given much thought to what it means to raise a kid who is not only good inside, but who can demonstrate that by standing up for what is good everywhere. To that end, I picked up Dr. Traci Baxley's Social Justice Parenting: How to Raise Compassionate, Anti-Racist, Justice-Minded Kids in an Unjust World (Harper Wave, $27.99), written for the "fellow parent who wants to cultivate more love and a sense of belonging in the world, starting in your own home." I'm also forever recommending Courtney Martin's Learning in Public (Little, Brown, $18.99) to other parents considering questions of education and community care in our individual parenting decisions.
Erin S. Lane considers that role of our own homes in Someone Other than a Mother: Flipping the Script on a Woman's Purpose and Making Meaning Beyond Motherhood (Tarcherperigree, $26). The subtitle says a lot about what the book examines: the role of mothers in modern society, particularly through the messages received from pervasive Christian teachings in the United States. Lane is, in many ways, grappling with how to do as Baxley suggests: cultivate love and belonging in the world when she has no desire to birth children of her own. With big questions about community care, legacy and what it means to make a family, Someone Other than a Mother is a tribute to the many ways we can all mother, regardless of whether or not we meet the rigid definitions of what that word might mean to others--or what we thought it meant to ourselves. --Kerry McHugh, freelance writer
"Pumpkins and peril: Halloween mysteries for us scaredy cats" at CrimeReads.
Check out "30 kids books to get excited for Halloween," courtesy of the New York Public Library.
Atlas Obscura told "five vampire stories you haven't heard yet."
Merriam-Webster looked up "Snotter, Groak and 6 more words associated with bad habits."
The Abortion Counseling Service, otherwise known as the Jane Collective or simply Jane, was an illegal abortion network affiliated with the Chicago Women's Liberation Union that operated between 1969 and 1973. The group initially referred women to male doctors, but soon discovered one such practitioner had lied about his medical experience. Realizing the procedure did not require extensive medical training, members of Jane began doing it themselves. The group performed an estimated 11,000 abortions, primarily for low-income women who could not travel to places where the procedure was legal. Seven members of Jane were arrested after a raid in 1972. Their lawyer, aware of the upcoming Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade, delayed court proceedings until abortion was legalized. All charges were dropped and the Jane Collective disbanded.
In 1995, former Jane Collective member Laura Kaplan wrote The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service. Her book inspired the HBO documentary The Janes, directed by Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes, which premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and is streaming on HBO Max. In a post-Roe world, Kaplan's book is more important than ever. On October 25, The Story of Jane will be reissued in paperback by Vintage ($18). --Tobias Mutter