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Week of Friday, January 19, 2024

Among the terrific nonfiction featured this week: 1000 Words, Jami Attenberg's "kinetic, atmospheric river of inspiring words designed to keep writers churning out prose"; Katherine Yeske Taylor's She's a Badass: Women in Rock Shaping Feminism, "a sobering collection of profiles of 20 powerhouses who haven't let their relative rarity as women in rock deter them"; The Algorithm by Hilke Schellmann, "a stunning bit of perspective for readers who want to know what computers might know about them and how they might use it"; and Everywhere Beauty Is Harlemby Gary Golio, illus. by E.B. Lewis, "an artful picture book that is a loving snapshot of photographer Roy DeCarava." Plus so many more!

And don't miss The Writer's Life with Natasha Preston; her story will inspire any aspiring author out there!

--Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor, Shelf Awareness

The Best Books This Week

Fiction

Behind You Is the Sea

by Susan Muaddi Darraj

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Behind You Is the Sea, Susan Muaddi Darraj's third work of fiction, is a shimmering composite portrait of a Palestinian American community in Baltimore. Across nine stellar linked stories, she explores the complex relationships among characters divided by--or connected despite--class, language, and traditional values.

Each of the stories spotlights a particular character. For pregnant high-schooler Reema Baladi, in "A Child of Air," her father's death inspires her to keep the baby as a replacement vessel for her love. Reema's younger sister, Maysoon, cleans wealthy Demetri Ammar's house in the title piece, set 17 years later. Though both families are Palestinian American, they're in different leagues. Reema works two jobs; Maysoon drives an ancient Buick the Ammars are ashamed to have in their driveway. But money isn't everything: Reema's son Gabriel aces AP calculus, while the Ammar boy fails.

Interracial marriage fuels conflict in "Mr. Ammar Gets Drunk at the Wedding," which highlights the racist microaggressions Darraj's characters sometimes experience. "The Hashtag," the standout in a very strong collection, considers the repression of women's sexuality. Soon after Rania Mahfouz's husband returns from his cousin Rasha's funeral in Palestine, Twitter blows up with allegations that Rasha was the victim of a familial honor killing.

Darraj (A Curious Land) depicts the variety of immigrant and second-generation experience (especially women's), probing cultural and generational differences in a sensitive, life-affirming way. "The Arabs were a people that knew life could be horrifically unjust... and yet they cherished it." --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck

HarperVia, $26, hardcover, 256p., 9780063324237

You Dreamed of Empires

by Álvaro Enrigue, transl. by Natasha Wimmer

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November 8, 1519, was one of the more significant dates in world history, but one side of that day's events isn't as well known as the other, as Mexican author Álvaro Enrigue (Sudden Death) illustrates in You Dreamed of Empires, translated by Natasha Wimmer. In this playfully menacing novel, he reinterprets the events of 1519 through 1521, during which Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés completed a conquest of Mexico and brought about the end of the Aztec Empire. Enrigue's reimagining begins when Cortés and his entourage, fresh off victory in Cuba, arrive in Tenoxtitlan, the Aztec Empire capital in Mexico, at the palace of the emperor Moctezuma. Negotiations soon follow, but not before an elaborate meal with, among others, Princess Atotoxtli, "the emperor's sister but also his wife."

Enrigue's canny strategy is to focus not on the principals but on secondary figures. Atotoxtli is one of them, a wry presence who, when Moctezuma confides he doesn't want the Mexican people to think he's weak, replies that they already do, because he "let the Caxtilteca"--the Spaniards--"ally themselves with all your enemies." On the Spanish side is Jazmín Caldera, Cortés's third in command, who, in a wink to Jorge Luis Borges, gets lost along with two others in the labyrinth of corridors of Moctezuma's palace. Observing the proceedings is Badillo, "an extraordinary animal handler," who is Cortés's stable boy. Passages of dense historical detail may be tough going for some readers, but the frisson of intrigue Enrigue effortlessly builds through multilayered narratives and ingenious plotting never flags in this riveting, daring work. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer

Riverhead, $28, hardcover, 240p., 9780593544792

The Lost Van Gogh

by Jonathan Santlofer

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The $25 purchase of an old painting sparks a deadly intercontinental chase to steal back a priceless piece of Nazi-looted artwork in The Lost Van Gogh, Jonathan Santlofer's intriguing art-theft thriller.

Luke and his girlfriend, Alex, suspect the cracked old portrait she bought from an antiques shop covers up an original painting by Vincent Van Gogh. On her way to get the piece authenticated, someone knocks her down and steals the painting--yet nothing else. Luke turns to John Washington Smith, old friend and ex-Interpol agent turned private investigator, for help. Surprisingly, he quickly agrees to take on the case. Smith does a bit of legwork and tells Luke and Alex they need to rush to Amsterdam to stop the painting from being sold and disappearing into some wealthy dealer's art collection. Luke and Alex are excited about the trip, but then Smith abruptly drops the case and cautions the couple against pursuing the painting any further. The two ignore the warning. Suddenly they are being followed by shady characters and Alex's classmate, and they come face to face with Smith who, again, warns their lives will be in danger if they don't give up on retrieving the painting. European police, Interpol, and Nazi-connected villains lure the unwitting pair into a dark cat-and-mouse game of international espionage and stolen artwork before either can figure out whom they can trust in this breathless thriller.

Jonathan Santlofer (The Last Mona Lisa; The Widower's Notebook) blends fact and fiction so seamlessly that reality is forced to take a backseat to the breathless pacing of his plot. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer

Sourcebooks Landmark, $16.99, paperback, 352p., 9781728258966

Mystery & Thriller

Rabbit Hole

by Kate Brody

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The rabbit hole that Theodora "Teddy" Angstrom finds herself burrowing deeper and deeper into becomes myriad warrens filled with family issues, conspiracy theories, and true-crime buffs in Kate Brody's invigorating debut novel.

Rabbit Hole's Teddy was 16 when Angie, her 18-year-old sister, vanished, widening the crack in her already fractured family. Now, on the 10th anniversary of Angie's disappearance, Teddy's father appears to have died by suicide, having driven off a bridge. Teddy, trying to offer support, finds her mother has become overly needy and uninterested in everything; she spends most of the time on the floor, petting Angie's aged wolfhound, who is dying of cancer, and avoiding bill collectors' barrage of calls. Teddy goes through the bills and learns her father also cast aside daily life, becoming obsessed with Reddit true-crime postings about Angie's unsolved disappearance. Like her father, Teddy becomes caught up in the Reddit conspiracies, which lead to her involvement with Mickey, an amateur sleuth overly interested in Teddy's family, and a half brother, Henry, whom Teddy knows about but hasn't ever met. Teddy neglects her career as an English teacher at an exclusive Maine prep school and ignores her personal habits as she begins to lose her grasp on reality. 

Brody infuses the character-driven Rabbit Hole with a precise look at social media addiction, the debilitating effects of grief, and the inaccuracy of memory as she keeps the pages turning in this solidly suspenseful plot. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer

Soho Crime, $25.95, hardcover, 384p., 9781641294874

Ilium

by Lea Carpenter

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Lea Carpenter's third novel, Ilium, is a spy story, a romance, a coming-of-age record, and a tale of lost innocence told in an elegiac tone, with something for every reader to get lost in. Its opening chapter introduces a young woman boarding a bus in Central London, watched by a man from "a world far away." The rest is told from the point of view of the young woman. "There was a private garden near the house where my mother worked," she begins, describing a childhood of unfulfilled desires. She has grown up dreaming of this locked garden, of having access to exalted spaces, of being someone she is not. At age 20, she meets the garden's new owner, a man 33 years her senior, who sweeps her off her feet. Then, he asks her for a favor. "All you have to do is listen," he says.

Carpenter's unnamed narrator is coached in her role. She starts off almost laughably naïve, but her observations along the way, related in hindsight, are astute. The qualities that make her valuable to her shadowy new employer--loneliness, emptiness, openness, optimism, a tendency to romance--make her vulnerable to finding friendship where perhaps she should see danger.

Carpenter (Eleven DaysRed, White, Blue) assigns her narrator a winsome voice: innocence wearied by experience, but always clever, and sympathetic to all the players in a complex operation begun long before her birth. Ilium is an espionage thriller, but its spotlight falls centrally on the narrator herself, whose yearning for a role to play earns her a bigger one than she could have imagined. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Knopf, $27, hardcover, 240p., 9780593536605

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Kindling

by Kathleen Jennings

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Fantasy writer and illustrator Kathleen Jennings (Flyaway) offers 12 glittering, fantasy-inspired short stories in Kindling. In "Ella and the Flame," three women and one child tell each other stories to comfort themselves while their neighbors burn them alive as retribution for a mysterious crime. Flipping the fantasy script by placing a boggart rather than suspected witches at its center, "On Pepper Creek" tells the story of a boggart who is brought to a new land against his will in a family trunk and who exacts his revenge in return. And while the titular "Kindling" centers the unexpected intuition behind a barmaid's observations of her clientele, "Splendour Falls" shows the much more nefarious manipulations of a mysterious young woman who enchants a young man gifted with special sight.

Jennings's plots are refreshingly never straightforward, and her tone and subject matter never the same. For example, "Ella and the Flame" casts a wistful spell with its oral-storytelling conceit and angle of feminist tragedy. Meanwhile, "Undine Love" is a complex balancing act between a cautionary tale and dark humor, using its narrator's outside perspective to infuse humor in the plight of its doomed "hero." Though recognizable folk tales and fairy tales appear in fragments--"Sleeping Beauty" in "A Hedge of Yellow Roses"; "The Frog Prince" in "Undine Love"; "Rumpelstiltskin" in "Splendour Falls"--they never play out the way readers expect. Throughout, like the scraps of old tales, characters' motivations flicker in and out of view, making the true magic of these stories the simultaneous predictability and unknowability of the people and creatures at their centers. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

Small Beer Press, $18, paperback, 288p., 9781618732132

The Tusks of Extinction

by Ray Nayler

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Ray Nayler (The Mountain in the Sea) blends science fiction and eco-fiction in his brief but compelling thriller The Tusks of Extinction, imagining a world in which mammoths have been resurrected from extinction but are unable to reconnect with the behaviors necessary for their survival. In something of a desperate move to help the mammoths, the digitally stored consciousness of Dr. Damira Khismatullina, a world-renowned expert on elephant behavior who was recently murdered by poachers, is uploaded into the body of a mammoth to become their matriarch, showing them the lost ways to forage, feed, and defend themselves.

Parts of The Tusks of Extinction can become a bit difficult to navigate as Damira's consciousness as a mammoth merges with her memories as a human who desperately fought to protect the species she had dedicated her life to studying and understanding. Is she an elephant? A human? A mammoth? All of the above? But as Nayler's futuristic science imaginings blend with what he calls the "ugly reality" of elephant poaching in the 21st century, the distinction becomes immaterial, inviting readers to challenge and question status quo practices. "We rise up out of our memories, and once there are enough of those memories to stand upon, we move forward with their support beneath us, drawn toward the future they allow us to conceive."

The Tusks of Extinction is a moving tribute to the beauty of beasts too often taken for granted and a musing on the gifts of nature; human's propensity toward violence and greed; and the hidden layers of meaning found in human interactions with the wild. --Kerry McHugh, freelance writer

Tordotcom, $26.99, hardcover, 112p., 9781250855527

Romance

The Lily of Ludgate Hill

by Mimi Matthews

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In The Lily of Ludgate Hill, the warm and witty third installment in her Belles of London series, historical romance author Mimi Matthews explores the tension between duty and love--and the allure of taking risks in both areas. Since her father's death six years ago, Lady Anne Deveril has remained in mourning alongside her mother. While Anne is known among the ton for her assertiveness and skill with horses, she's hiding a few secrets, such as her failed almost-romance with ne'er-do-well gentleman Felix Hartford. When she's forced to ask Felix for a favor to help a friend, the two must confront their complicated history and their longstanding feelings for one another.

Meanwhile, Felix has problems of his own: unbeknownst to most people, he's been supporting his late father's secret family, including a son with a penchant for gambling. He's also enjoying success in a graphite mining operation but fears the revelation of his being in trade--plus his father's past sins--would upset his elderly grandfather. Matthews (The Belle of Belgrave Square) deftly skewers the deep prejudices of Victorian London society, while still acknowledging what her characters stand to lose if they break too many rules. Readers of Matthews's previous novels will enjoy cameos by Julia, Stella, and Evelyn, Anne's fellow equestriennes, as well as whip-smart banter and crackling romantic tension. Ultimately, Matthews's characters must face their own fears as well as society's criticisms. The leaps they take--on horseback and off--prove rewarding as well as entertaining. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Berkley, $17, paperback, 432p., 9780593337189

Food & Wine

Dinner Tonight: 100 Simple, Healthy Recipes for Every Night of the Week

by Alex Snodgrass

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Alex Snodgrass (The Defined Dish) helps cooks of all levels prepare delicious family meals when short on time in her third cookbook, Dinner Tonight. Beginners will find an entry into classics via clear instructions and a gentle, encouraging tone, while seasoned cooks will appreciate recipes that save time without compromising on flavor.

Snodgrass begins with "Convenient Condiments," an introduction to store-bought pantry staples; this reminder that "cooking at home doesn't have to be a hassle" includes a couple of recipes for homemade condiments. Drawing inspiration from a wide variety of sources (including cultural cuisines and fast-food restaurants), she creates a sense of home comfort in her introductions to each recipe--her take on the Middle Eastern Fattoush Salad with Creamy Feta Dressing and Korean-inspired Gochujang Shredded Beef Bowls; her version of Mi Cocina's Grilled Chicken Salad with Chili-Lime Dressing; and the Jack in the Box-inspired Crunchy Baked Beef Tacos.

Bright, saturated photos of the dishes will make mouths water, and photos of Snodgrass and her family add to the overall feeling of cooking alongside a patient mentor. Components essential to quick and easy cooking, such as in one-pan meals, are clearly marked, and Snodgrass notes when a recipe uses multiple bowls and will require more washing-up time. Instructions and tips "from my kitchen to yours" explain reasons for certain techniques so that this cookbook is not only a collection of recipes but a training manual, helping cooks gain confidence in their abilities and knowledge. --Dainy Bernstein, postdoc in children's literature, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

William Morrow Cookbooks, $35, hardcover, 256p., 9780063278479

Biography & Memoir

The Last Fire Season: A Personal and Pyronatural History

by Manjula Martin

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Manjula Martin's powerful debut memoir, The Last Fire Season, combines an eyewitness account of pandemic-era wildfires in California with reflections on living with chronic pain. In thoughtful, sharply observed chapters, Martin draws a layered portrait of her beloved northern California landscapes. She investigates the extractive, damaging practices that have left the land more vulnerable to drought, wildfires, and other natural disasters. Driven to learn more, and to find a sustainable way forward, Martin interviews park rangers, naturalists, community workers, and experts (many of whom are Indigenous) on "good fire" to understand how humans can better live in healthy relationship to the land.

Alongside Martin's narrative of fire-prone landscapes, she unfurls the story of her own injury (due to a faulty IUD), and her frustrating experiences with the healthcare system. By the time the wildfires come to dominate her life, Martin's body is in chronic pain (of varying intensities). She considers what it means to live in a vulnerable body on a vulnerable planet, where tools exist to mitigate both sets of challenges, but simple solutions are out of reach. She asks thoughtful questions about where to go from here: local and state governments, conservation groups, Indigenous organizations, and ordinary citizens all must play a part. Martin also pays tribute to the mesmerizing, sometimes cleansing, undeniably powerful nature of fire itself: it may be complicated and sometimes dangerous, but it is worthy of respect and care--like the land and the creatures it affects. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Pantheon, $29, hardcover, 352p., 9780593317150

Soundtrack of Silence: Love, Loss, and a Playlist for Life

by Matt Hay

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In his first book, The Soundtrack of Silence, Matt Hay provides a compelling twist on a music lover's memoir: he recounts his struggle with hearing loss, punctuated by the iconic songs imprinted on his memory before his hearing went away for good. Hay interweaves his experience of losing (and partially regaining) his hearing with the story of falling in love with his wife, Nora, who became not only his life partner but also his fiercest medical advocate.

Growing up in the Midwest, Hay compensated for his hearing deficiencies through a combination of workarounds, bravura, and denial. This worked fine--until it didn't anymore. Faced with the eventuality of going totally deaf, Hay began to build a soundtrack of his favorite songs. He reached for musicians like the Beatles, U2, and Simon & Garfunkel, memorizing every beat of those tracks so he could hear them--and cling to their corresponding memories--forever. He writes simply but powerfully about his ordinary life and explains in layman's terms the challenges of going deaf and its many ramifications. Hay recounts how, when the deafness finally hit (soon after his father-in-law died), he endured multiple surgeries and their complications, wrestling with his dreams of a career and a family and with the effect of his physical disabilities on his sense of self.

Woven through with lyrics from Guster, the Eagles, and others, The Soundtrack of Silence is a beautiful love story and a thoughtful exploration of how hearing affects every aspect of our lives. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

St. Martin's Press, $29, hardcover, 272p., 9781250280220

I Survived Capitalism and All I Got Was this Lousy T-Shirt: Everything I Wish I Never Had to Learn About Money

by Madeline Pendleton

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Madeline Pendleton, who creates videos for TikTok and is the CEO of a company that, radically, believes in pay equality, delivers a terrific first book, I Survived Capitalism and All I Got Was this Lousy T-Shirt. Part memoir, part how-to guide, I Survived takes readers through Pendleton's life growing up poor in Fresno, Calif., through going to college and finding her niche in the fashion industry. Along the way, she faces homelessness, suicide, and the overall bleakness of trying to survive in a capitalist society as a person with few resources.

Viewers of her TikTok videos already know that Pendleton is a skillful storyteller, and these stories translate well to the page. Pendleton is honest, and speaks like an older sibling or impossibly cool elder millennial cousin who has seen some things that she wants to make sure the younger generation doesn't have to see. She explains how her business, Tunnel Vision, came to the radical conclusion that paying each worker, including Pendleton herself as CEO, the same day-rate for work, is the best solution, and how she built a successful, sustainable fashion company that has been around for 11 years.

Each chapter ends with instructions on how to navigate the real world of money, or "adulting" as millennials might call it. From renting an apartment to buying a house and everything in between, Pendleton presents an approachable guide to succeeding in this capitalist society, even as a poor or broke person. --Alyssa Parssinen, freelance reviewer and former bookseller

Doubleday, $27, hardcover, 336p., 9780385549783

Social Science

More: A Memoir of Open Marriage

by Molly Roden Winter

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The open marriage is enjoying a vogue--or maybe it's just a willingness to discuss it that's novel? Either way, first-time author Molly Roden Winter joins the dialogue with More: A Memoir of Open Marriage. It's gutsy, cringey, illuminating, infuriating, affecting, and other qualities that make for an absorbing read.

In her prologue, Winter, a Brooklyn-based teacher, says that she's been married to Stewart, the father of her two sons, for 16 years and in an open marriage with him for seven. The precipitating event: Stewart, aroused to learn that another man was attracted to Winter, encouraged her to pursue the guy on the condition that "you tell me everything." At first, nonmonogamy isn't the natural fit for Winter that it is for Stewart, and at around the book's midpoint, they're in couples therapy: she wants to re-close their marriage; he doesn't. The latter half of the book finds Winter making peace with her situation.

Unlike The Ethical Slut, which becomes Winter's reference book, More doesn't take a "pro" position on open marriage, nor is it a cautionary tale, although it won't escape readers' notice that nonmonogamy corresponds with an uptick in Winter's migraines and crying jags. On several occasions, readers may be a step ahead of her ("What if I'm just doing what Stewart and Karl want me to do?"), but they'll be rooting for Winter as she and Stewart navigate the multiplicity of interpersonal dramas coinciding with a multiplicity of sex partners, one hotel room at a time. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Doubleday, $28, hardcover, 304p., 9780385549455

The Algorithm: How AI Decides Who Gets Hired, Monitored, Promoted, and Fired and Why We Need to Fight Back Now

by Hilke Schellmann

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Hilke Schellmann introduces readers to the proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI) in hiring, firing, and everywhere in between in The Algorithm: How AI Decides Who Gets Hired, Monitored, Promoted, and Fired and Why We Need to Fight Back Now. In this sobering read, Schellmann compares the use of AI algorithms today to the use of phrenology and eugenics from a century ago. Artificial intelligence, she explains, might review the applications and résumés of job applicants. It might even interview them--with hiring managers receiving nothing but a score based on seemingly arbitrary values. For instance, people named Bill often excel at the role, so hiring another Bill is probably a good choice.

Schellmann demonstrates how AI is used to track employees both at work and outside of work, and even used to fire workers. Finally, she provides some tips to get hired and work within this new world. Studded with interviews with experts, the book makes the author's journalism background clear. Industry professionals, workers' rights lawyers, and workers themselves are all among those she consults and quotes, giving important and compelling context to every claim made.

Though not a technically difficult book to read, the subject matter can be tough to absorb: algorithms really are everywhere. Schellmann paints a picture that could appear in a work of dystopian fiction. Computers that don't even work correctly most of the time surveil, rank, and determine the future of workers; those whom AI monitors often have no knowledge it's happening. As Schellmann states several times in the text, it's all quite "creepy." --Alyssa Parssinen, freelance reviewer and former bookseller

Hachette, $30, hardcover, 336p., 9780306827341

Essays & Criticism

1000 Words: A Writer's Guide to Staying Creative, Focused, and Productive All Year Round

by Jami Attenberg

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Jami Attenberg (All This Could Be Yours; Saint Mazie; The Middlesteins) offers up a kinetic, atmospheric river of inspiring words designed to help writers keep churning out prose in 1000 Words: A Writer's Guide to Staying Creative, Focused, and Productive All Year Round.

It is often said necessity is the mother of invention, and Attenberg took the phrase to heart when she started a kind of writer's boot camp after feeling stymied with anxiety over a blank page. In 2018, the author was facing the stress of a deadline and a lack of creativity. She decided to reach out to a friend for help. They agreed to push each other into producing 1,000 words daily for two weeks. The simple pact proved to be a successful tool for smiting writer's block. And the idea ballooned from there, eventually becoming the online movement #1000WordsofSummer, a literary project and support group for writers and would-be writers to create and maintain creativity throughout the year.

Attenberg offers a challenge to anyone willing to take up the gauntlet: write 1,000 words without judging the words produced. Even nonsensical words and disconnected sentences are acceptable. The pressure is off; there isn't a fee involved; and there's no shame--only encouragement from more than 50 other successful wordsmiths sharing advice gleaned from their own trials and tribulations. A completed novel may result from following the guide, but making something (anything) is the ultimate goal. This verbal kick-in-the-butt guide offers a path to inevitable results, completely self-defined by 1000 Words. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer

Simon Element, $24.99, hardcover, 272p., 9781668023600

Psychology & Self-Help

Drunk-Ish: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving Alcohol

by Stefanie Wilder-Taylor

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Stefanie Wilder-Taylor (Naptime Is the New Happy Hour) is a humorist, TV personality, and a podcaster who also writes laugh-out-loud memoirs that offer a playful, absurdist take on life and its many challenges. Her love of and dependence on alcohol have infused the many eccentric stories of her life. Her sixth book, Drunk-ish: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving Alcohol, reveals even more depth to Wilder-Taylor's self-deprecating humor and her ability to find the funny in every situation, while also facing up to her own glaring weaknesses and faults.

Through 21 immensely entertaining chapters, Wilder-Taylor explores the role over-indulgence has played, for better or worse, in her life, and how she eventually confronted and overcame addictions. As a 14-year-old ninth-grader, Wilder-Taylor sipped her first drink, a beer, in the backseat of a VW Rabbit. The feelings evoked by this incident become a watershed in defining the future role alcohol would play in her life, when she grapples with her parents' divorce; dates under the influence; struggles to find her place in the world; marries; and becomes a day-drinking mother of three. Along the way, she wanders a maze of inebriations, interventions, and self-deceptive rationalizations. At the age of 42, when she drinks and drives with her children in the car, she becomes "stunned by [her] own arrogance," and the tide is finally forced to turn.

Wilder-Taylor's inimitable ability to latch onto humor even in the darkest of times is most refreshing. A perfect balance of bold honesty and riotous wit takes the edge off her culpability as she faces startling truths enroute to accepting the empowerment of sobriety. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Gallery Books, $27.99, hardcover, 288p., 9781668019412

Body, Mind & Spirit

Njuta: Enjoy, Delight In: The Swedish Art of Savoring the Moment

by Niki Brantmark

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In the tradition of the Danish hygge and Finnish sisu and Margareta Magnusson's The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, Niki Brantmark (The Scandinavian Home) brings readers another lesson from the global north on the philosophy of imbuing activities with reflection and appreciation. Njuta, the Swedish word meaning roughly "savor" or "enjoy," exhorts readers to bring a level of presence to everything they do, including "wild swimming" (swimming in nature) and simply sitting by a window in their own homes, pondering the dusk. Brantmark walks readers through each realm of life, providing old wisdom in the form of proverbs, ideas from her friends, and literary references.

Brantmark doesn't stop with the easy-to-savor moments of life. As someone who dreads the notoriously heavy Swedish winter months, she has taught herself to njuta even this challenging time of year. Her advice: readers can adapt their lifestyle to the season. "Reduced sunlight," she writes, "naturally makes us feel sleepier and more lethargic and research suggests we may need more sleep in winter. It's important to embrace this." In quoting a friend, she suggests: "By listening to your body and adapting to the weather, you'll feel more in tune and better able to cope with the season." Brantmarks adds: "Feel like a nap? Enjoy that slumber! Like staying in and curling up with a book? Turn those pages! Winter is a time for self-love and me time!" In short, this book offers not just a window into another culture, but also a mirror through which readers can reflect upon ways to enhance their own experiences. --Elizabeth DeNoma, executive editor, DeNoma Literary Services, Seattle, Wash.

Harvest, $21.99, hardcover, 240p., 9780063284081

I Ching Oracle: A 64-Card Illustrated Deck and Guidebook

by Catherine Pilfrey

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Tarot-card consultation has long been liberated from dusty backroom parlors and seedy storefronts and, with it, the reliance on the classic 78-card Rider-Waite deck. These days, pulling cards is ubiquitous as checking the weather, and there are countless types to choose from. For those seeking an authoritative deck based on ancient Chinese divination, Catherine Pilfrey's I Ching Oracle: A 64-Card Illustrated Deck and Guidebook is the auspicious choice. 

Pilfrey, a meditation teacher and graphic designer who has consulted the I Ching for the past 25 years, offers an easier entry into the esoteric text. As she puts it, translating the I Ching into cards means: "No coins to throw. No difficult translations to navigate. That way everyone can benefit from these amazing teachings."

The 64 vibrant, jewel-toned cards correspond to the 64 hexagrams that comprise the I Ching. The backs display a gold-and-white pattern symbolizing eight natural elements: heaven, thunder, earth, water, fire, mountain, wind, and lake. Each card has a number, title, and list of declaratives and imperatives. For example, card 46, "Pushing Upward," states: "Nothing is standing in your way. Move toward your goals diligently. Be flexible. Persevere. You can do it."

To use the deck, Pilfrey suggests thinking of a question, shuffling, pulling a card, and reading what it says. For insight into the future or for a deeper aspect of the current situation, she directs users to reshuffle and pull an additional card. The guidebook provides further context, with a page-long explanation per card. --Nina Semczuk, writer, editor, and illustrator

Shambhala, $29.95, other, 96p., 9781645472018

House & Home

House Cat: Inspirational Interiors and the Elegant Felines Who Call Them Home

by Paul Barbera

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House Cat, Australian photographer Paul Barbera's lavish art book, showcases eye-catching architecture and the pets inhabiting these stylish spaces. The aim is to document "how cats and interiors interact," so, appropriately, equal attention is paid to the décor and to the feline residents. After all, Barbera writes, cats can seem "at times like a moving piece of furniture--that is, of course, if they can be bothered to move at all."

Most of the featured dwellings are in New York City, the Catskills, or Connecticut, with a few farther afield. The book notes the architect or interior designer. There are opulent apartments and converted barns; exposed wooden beams and striking sculptures. Shadow the Siberian exists amid Scandinavian minimalism. Gary and Gunnar (an Abyssinian and Toyger, respectively) follow the sunlight around their penthouse overlooking Central Park. A Beverly Hills hacienda is home to nine cats--five to seven of whom appear together in some shots. Three felines enjoy scampering down the long central hallway of their I.M. Pei-designed Philadelphia apartment.

Each photo-essay ends with a q&a that serves as a witty dating profile for the cat(s), asking such questions as "Diva or devoted friend?"; "Explorer or homebody?" and "Lap cat or not?" Often two home-sharing cats have opposite temperaments. Barbera (Where They Purr) captures his subjects mid-leap or at rest, draped across furniture, or illuminated by shafts of light.

Whether in a Revolutionary War-era restoration or a modernist home, these cats preside with a befitting dignity. Perfect for design aficionados and cat lovers alike. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck

Thames & Hudson, $34.95, hardcover, 240p., 9781760764036

Performing Arts

She's a Badass: Women in Rock Shaping Feminism

by Katherine Yeske Taylor

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Being turned down for a band because there's "already" a female instrumentalist. Putting up with techs who assume that women can't operate their own equipment. Being preyed upon by industry men. These are a few of the threads running through Katherine Yeske Taylor's She's a Badass: Women in Rock Shaping Feminism, a sobering collection of profiles of 20 powerhouses who haven't let their relative rarity as women in rock deter them.

Taylor's portraits are informed by her interviews with her subjects, presented from oldest to youngest, from Suzi Quatro (b. 1950) to L.A. Witch's Sade Sanchez (b. 1989). Taylor's subjects work across the rock spectrum and include a representative from each of three monumental American all-girl bands: the Go-Go's (Gina Schock), the Runaways (Cherie Currie), and L7 (Donita Sparks). While each profile has a straight-up biographical component, Taylor steers the conversations toward the experience of being female in a male-dominated profession, and it's fascinating to note the extent to which the musicians differ in terms of whether they identify as feminists: there are unqualified yeses, hard nos, and squishy positions in between.

In her introduction, Taylor suggests that all of her subjects are gender-equality activists, intentionally or not. As Gina Schock puts it, "People ask, 'Are you a feminist?' And I say, 'Yeah, but I believe I'm a feminist by my actions and not as much by my words.' " Her words, like those of the 19 other women featured in She's a Badass, are worth listening to at high volume. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Backbeat, $34.95, hardcover, 280p., 9781493072545

Children's & Young Adult

Everywhere Beauty Is Harlem: The Vision of Photographer Roy DeCarava

by Gary Golio, illus. by E.B. Lewis

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Author Gary Golio and Caldecott Honor and Coretta Scott King Ward-winning illustrator E.B. Lewis collaborate again (Dark Was the Night) for Everywhere Beauty Is Harlem, an artful picture book that is a loving snapshot of photographer Roy DeCarava (1919-2009), who saw Harlem in an "old crumpled soda can" and the spray of a fire hydrant; saw it mirrored in the eyes of the people "passing each other on the street."

Work is over, and "Roy's time is his own now." Equipped with a camera and a fresh roll of film, he takes to the streets of Harlem, dreaming of "all the treasures he'll find." SNAP! Roy captures the grin of a boy drawing with chalk on the sidewalk. SNAP! Roy admires the love he sees in the eyes of a boy looking at his mother. And SNAP! Roy photographs the hush of a young girl in a long white dress who stands in an empty lot. He knows to keep his eyes wide open, because "unexpected treasures are waiting to be seen, if you just take the time to look."

Golio has penned an elegant ode to a notable photographer, filling his narrative with sensory details and enriching it with quotations from Roy himself. Lewis's stunning watercolor art showcases the people and the neighborhood, offering a variety of perspectives to reflect the vision and work of DeCarava. Backmatter gives more details about the extraordinary man who worked many different jobs, but made use of "his free time... to record the beauty of what he saw around him." --Lynn Becker, reviewer, blogger, and children's book author

Calkins Creek, $18.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 7-10, 9781662680557

Shark Teeth

by Sherri Winston

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National Book Award longlisted author Sherri Winston (Lotus Bloom and the Afro Revolution) gives middle-grade readers an encouraging boost in the inspiring Shark Teeth, about a Black tween struggling to keep her family together.

Twelve-year-old Sharkita 'Kita' Lloyd and her younger siblings, Lilli and Lamar, spent the summer in separate foster homes. Kita now lives in constant fear that her family is going to be split up again. Although Mama has been stable for a while, Kita still does most of the housework and caregiving for her younger siblings, particularly burdensome since eight-year-old Lamar needs "special attention" because of his fetal alcohol syndrome. As Kita starts the seventh grade, overwhelmed and self-conscious about her hyperdontia (which makes her teeth "stack... up like a shark's"), she hopes this year will be different from the last. When Mama allows her to join the dance team, Kita gets a glimpse of what it's like to be a "normal" kid. But then her worst fears come true--Kita must decide if keeping her family together is worth the constant heartbreak.

Winston delivers an outstanding, heart-wrenching novel from Kita's resilient point of view. Although the book is a quick and accessible read filled with excellent shark metaphors, Winston thoughtfully covers heavy topics that readers may find emotionally demanding, such as substance abuse, parental abandonment, and mental health. Kita has a complicated, anxious, sensitive inner life that allows readers to understand and empathize with her circumstances. --Natasha Harris, freelance reviewer

Bloomsbury, $17.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 9-11, 9781547608508

The Selkie's Daughter

by Linda Crotta Brennan

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Author Linda Crotta Brennan (Fact Files series) makes her middle-grade debut with The Selkie's Daughter, a lyrical historical fantasy inspired by Celtic folklore.

Brigit hides a secret from her small Nova Scotia fishing village: her mother is a selkie. Brigit, willing to do whatever it takes to protect her family both on land and in the sea, allows her cousin, Alys Clatcher, to hack off the webbing between her fingers and quietly endures the cruel rumors spun by her classmates. When the abusive men of the Clatcher family start to club seal cubs for extra money, the Great Selkie places a bane upon the town. As her neighbors starve and innocent cubs die, Brigit must do what heroes of folklore do: venture to the "selkies' storied home" of Sule Skerrie and find a solution that will save everybody.

Despite the presence of selkies, Brennan does not shy away from harsh historical reality: innocent characters die, including Brigit's beloved younger brother, and abuse extends from both the superstitious townsfolk and Brigit's own extended family. It only serves to make the kindness Brigit receives from her cousin Margaret and her newfound friend Peter all the stronger, which inspires Brigit to find her own voice and fight for the people she loves. For those who enjoy emotionally driven history with a dash of magic, or books like The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange, The Selkie's Daughter will be worth the read. --Nicole Brinkley, bookseller and writer

Holiday House, $17.99, hardcover, 208p., ages 8-12, 9780823454396

American Wings: Chicago's Pioneering Black Aviators and the Race for Equality in the Sky

by Sherri L. Smith and Elizabeth Wein

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Sherri L. Smith (Flygirl; The Blossom and the Firefly) and Elizabeth Wein (Code Name Verity; The Enigma Game) collaborate to uncover the remarkable stories of Chicagoan African Americans in the 1930s who--despite prejudice and segregation--were determined to achieve their dreams of flying. American Wings illuminates the compelling history of these driven aviators who took to the skies and changed the face of aviation.

When car problems created a chance encounter between auto mechanics John Charles Robinson and Cornelius Robinson Coffey, the two men discovered a mutual ambition to fly. Both men were transplants from the South and found it impossible to secure access to the necessary training: "It seemed that no white pilot in America would willingly teach a Black man to fly." So Robinson and Coffey put their mechanical skills to use--trading repairs for flying lessons--and paved a way for themselves. Their ingenuity opened the door to flying lessons and an educational opportunity at the Curtiss-Wright School of Aviation. They went on to teach others, start a flying club, patent an invention, and even build a small airport. Their successes inspired others who dreamed of flying, including Black women like Janet Harmon Bragg, Willa Brown, and Lola Jones.

Smith and Wein capture in their wonderful narrative nonfiction the struggles and achievements of groundbreaking aviators. The text is accompanied by black-and-white photos and further buoyed by source notes and extensive backmatter, including an author's note and bibliography. The dogged efforts of the men and women described in American Wings are inspiring and worthy of the authors' reverent recognition. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Putnam Books for Young Readers, $19.99, hardcover, 384p., ages 12-up, 9780593323984

New in Paperback

The Writer's Life

Natasha Preston: Horror and Happily Ever Afters

Natasha Preston
(photo: Gavin Smith)

Natasha Preston is a bestselling author of young adult fiction. A U.K. native, she discovered her love of writing when she shared a story online--and hasn't looked back. She enjoys writing romance, thrillers, gritty YA, and the occasional serial killer. Preston spoke with Shelf Awareness about two of her books--2023's The Haunting and her May 2024 YA thriller The Dare (both from Delacorte Press)--and how she devises such inventive deaths for her darlings.

Would you briefly summarize The Haunting and The Dare for Shelf Awareness readers?

The Haunting is a Halloween slasher in book form. There's a killer on the loose for the second year running. The MO is very similar, but last year's killer is currently in a federal prison. Penny and her friends want to prove that the original killer's children have nothing to do with the latest murders. I got to explore some pretty creepy masks and different ways to kill.

The Dare is about an end-of-senior-year prank gone horribly wrong, and how four friends fight to cover up their tracks. 

You are a U.K. native, but the settings and characters in these books take place in the U.S. Have you ever lived in the States? How do you so successfully set your books in the U.S.?

I've never lived in the States, but I have visited a few times. My favorite state is Colorado, but I have loved each state I've been to. I don't think my lovely editor thinks my first drafts are very American! I get lots of notes saying, "What does this mean?" and we have to translate so it makes sense in the U.S. My publisher is in the U.S. so that's why (most of) my books are set there. The Cellar was rejected by a lot by British publishers before being picked up in the States. But the book I'm currently working on is set in England.

There are some interesting dynamics between siblings and parents in The Haunting. How did you decide to make the father a serial killer?

I really enjoy writing about different relationships between my characters and exploring how certain situations can change things. I wanted the friend group to already be fractured in this book and then try to figure out how to pull them together... or push them further away. I needed something huge to have happened to alienate them, and a serial killer dad was my choice.

You write teen friendships clearly and delicately, and the women in your books all seem strong and independent. Do you base characters on real people?

My teen years were some of my absolute favorite years, so I definitely draw a lot on past experiences, though none of my characters are based on anyone in particular. Some of them are who I wish I would've been, because I would be the first one in the car if something creepy was happening, ha!

I'm really intrigued by how the puzzles come together in both The Haunting and The Dare. Do you know how the story will end when you begin writing?

Oh, I'm the messiest writer in the world! I have a vague idea of what's going to happen, I even write it out. Then I completely lose the notebook or forget to look at my notes. So, I wing it and rarely even know the killer myself before I get quite close to the end. A lot of it is a surprise to me too.

And the bodies really pile up in The Haunting! How do you decide how characters will die?

I'm not quite sure what this is going to say about me, but I see it as a movie. The book is so clear in my head as I write that it feels very natural. I think this is part of the reason I can't stick to a plan; things change all the time as I write, and if I don't "see" it then I can't write it. It does make the murder scenes rather interesting and hopefully authentic!

The end of The Haunting begs for a sequel. Is one planned?

I don't have any sequels planned for any of my books. However, if inspiration ever struck, I could definitely write a second book for most of them.

It must be hard to kill your darlings... the end of The Dare (available in May) was one of the most satisfying I've read in a long time. What was the inspiration (without spoilers, of course) behind the book and that ending?

Oh, I love killing them off, ha ha! Thank you--The Dare's ending is one of my favorites. I wanted to do something a little different this time, while still being true to my evil-ending reputation. I wasn't at all sure what that was going to be until I was writing the final five chapters. My characters lead the way, and thankfully Marley (the protagonist) showed me exactly what she was going to do.

You also write romance. Are there parallels between writing thrillers and romance?

I think one of my favorite things about writing thrillers and romance is that they're so different, except for torturing some characters, of course. I find that after writing something with much lighter moments, I'm ready to write something twisty with a little gore. Then I get to go back and be kind in the end again.

So, a reverse palate-cleanser then? 

Yes, exactly.

You seem to have some die-hard fans.

I have the absolute best readers in the world! They allow me to write endings that they wouldn't, in most cases, prefer and praise me for doing so. I want to thank each and every one of them because I wouldn't be here doing something I love without them.

Last question: I found out that you stumbled into writing in a way that only technology allows. Can you tell us about that? And do you have any advice for potential authors?

Yeah, writing was a complete accident! I found Wattpad on the app store and read for a while. I decided to give writing a try, as I felt I had a couple of stories in me. Those were Silence and The Cellar, both of which have been successful. So, if anyone out there is doubting themselves, absolutely give it a try! If I can do it, so can you. Write something you want to read, something you love, and find like-minded authors and readers to connect with. You've got this! --Shannan Hicks, freelance writer and librarian

Book Candy

Book Candy

"This woman deconstructs 100-year-old books to restore them." (via Wired)

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Merriam-Webster looked up sposh, grue and eight more ways to describe winter weather.

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Rare copy of The Amazing Spider-Man #1 sells for more than £1 million (about $1.3 million), the Guardian noted.

Rediscover

Rediscover: Terry Bisson

Terry Bisson, author, editor, and activist, died on January 10 at age 81. Bisson began his career in the 1960s "scripting comics and saucer tales for tabloids and serving as editor of Web of Horror and True Intimate Confessions," as recounted by Locus. From 1976 to 1985, he was an editor and copy chief at Berkley and Ace, and then became a full-time writer. He also was a consultant to HarperCollins and Avon in the 1990s, taught in the writing program at the New School in New York City and at Clarion and Odyssey.

His novels included Wyrldmaker (1981), World Fantasy finalist Talking Man (1986), Fire on the Mountain (1988), Voyage to the Red Planet (1990), Pirates of the Universe (1990), The Pickup Artist (2001), and Any Day Now (2012). He completed the late Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman (1997), co-wrote YA novels with Stephanie Spinner, wrote children's books about NASCAR racing as T.B. Calhoun, produced numerous film and TV novelizations and media tie-ins, and wrote nonfiction titles, notably On a Move: The Story of Mumia Abu-Jamal (2001).

Bisson's short stories included "Bears Discover Fire" (1990), which won Hugo, Sturgeon, Locus, and Nebula awards, as well as many finalists and nominees for the same awards. Novellas included Dear Abbey (2003) and Planet of Mystery (2008), and his short fiction has been collected in Bears Discover Fire (1993), In the Upper Room and Other Likely Stories (2000), Numbers Don't Lie (2003), Greetings & Other Stories (2005), Billy's Book (2009), and TVA Baby (2011). The Left Left Behind (2009) includes the title story, a play, and an interview and autobiography. Bisson also wrote the "This Month in History" micro-fiction series that has run in Locus for more than 20 years.

Locus added: "We will deeply miss his creativity, wry humor, and friendship. The field is lesser without him."

PM Press lauded Bisson, noting that he was "a crucial part of our radical publishing project, having a hand in dozens of PM books including David Gilbert's Love and Struggle, Robert Hillary King's From the Bottom of the Heap, a range of fiction and nonfiction books, his own published works, and as editor of the Outspoken Authors Series.

"Terry also touched our lives with his generosity and inspired our work with his dedication to justice. He stood with humanity and showed up where it mattered most," PM Press wrote.

On Saturday, March 30, in San Francisco, PM Press, City Lights, and others are hosting An Outspoken Authors celebration of the life and work of Terry Bisson.

must read: the blind spot

"This is by far the best book I've read this year."
--Michael Pollan

"A stimulating manifesto for changing the way we look at things."
--Wall Street Journal

"Breathtaking. The discussion is so clear, well-paced, and witty. Nonscientists will appreciate sparklingly clear accounts of seemingly forbidding concepts. We philosophers have long dreamed of finding a way to demonstrate the interdependence of the sciences and the humanities. Well, here it is."
--Los Angeles Review of Books

"This is a very important book that has the potential to become a classic text. Being aware of the Blind Spot is a necessary step toward reinscribing human experience back into science's core."
--Science

It's tempting to think that science gives us a God's-eye view of reality. But we neglect the place of human experience at our peril. In The Blind Spot, astrophysicist Adam Frank, theoretical physicist Marcelo Gleiser, and philosopher Evan Thompson call for a revolutionary scientific worldview, where science includes--rather than ignores or tries not to see--humanity's lived experience as an inescapable part of our search for objective truth. The Blind Spot goes where no science book goes, urging us to create a new scientific culture that views ourselves both as an expression of nature and as a source of nature's self-understanding, so that humanity can flourish in the new millennium.

MIT Press: The Blind Spot by Adam Frank, Marcelo Gleiser, and Evan Thompson

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