June 2023 BookPage

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JUNE 2023



12 splashy summer reads to keep you company by the pool


8 must-reads on the queer experience, from memoir to popular fiction



The bestselling author of Ask Again, Yes returns with another vivid family drama

On The Healing Road Through The Eyes Of An Adoptee The Poet Dena Therapeutic poetry is what The Poet Dena offers. As you read On The Healing Road, you will find at least a few words to help lighten your own inner or outer struggles. $13.99 paperback 978-1-5462-6875-8 also available in ebook & audiobook www.authorhouse.com

The Pinkerton and the Wizard Harvey Hetrick Mythological wizard Merlin time travels from the 12th century to the 19th century and covertly assists a Pinkerton detective and a Lloyd’s insurance detective with their investigations. $13.99 paperback 978-1-6632-0089-1 also available in hardcover, ebook & audiobook www.iuniverse.com

Aging Wisely Life from Fifty to Seventy-Five Years Viola B. Mecke, Ph.D., ABPP

Family Guide To Celebration Of The Jewish Holidays Leonard and Linda Chesler $14.95 paperback 978-1-4697-3219-0 also available in ebook www.iuniverse.com

Leonard and Linda Chesler provide a helpful resource for families that maps out why and how Jewish

A rich commpendium of knowledge for growing older. Four stages of aging present some complex challenges and unexpected problems that lead to positive growth and contentment in aging. $16.99 paperback 978-1-6698-4499-0 also available in hardcover & ebook www.xlibris.com

Hangin’ Tough Boxing Fan, Big-Fight Analyst, Tactician & Historian Jawed Akrim This collection of essays and anecdotes written in a tongue-in-cheek style takes readers on a walk through the wilder side of boxing history. Read on! $27.32 paperback

holidays are celebrated as well as examines each

978-1-6655-8505-7 also available in ebook & audiobook

holiday’s unique origin and history. The Cheslers draw


on their own experiences celebrating these holidays

Moonlight Monsters

with their family to inspire and inform others and

Heather Millard

encourage them to enjoy and explore the rich culture

Follow the story of an eight-year-old little boy who discovers that he can be brave enough to confront his fear.

behind different traditions. Ultimately, the Cheslers honor the significance of these celebrations and the value they can bring to family life.

Real Authors, Real Impact


$13.99 paperback 978-1-6655-4352-1 also available in hardcover & ebook www.authorhouse.com

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JUNE 2023

features q&a | isabella star lablanc. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4

feature | picture books . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29

The celebrated actor narrates Warrior Girl Unearthed

Raising the next generation of readers

feature | audiobook month. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5

feature | meet the author. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31 Meet Raissa Figueroa, the author-illustrator of What My Daddy Loves

How the right narrator can transform a book

feature | black history . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Four nonfiction books capture stories of Black progress


behind the book | amy brady. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8

fiction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20

The lost history of the inventor of the ice machine

feature | grumpy-sunshine romance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10

nonfiction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23

Surly cynics meet sweet optimists—and lose their hearts

young adult. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25

q&a | martha wells . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13

children’s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30

Why the Murderbot Diaries author returned to fantasy

cover story | summer reading. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 Our selections for the hottest season of the year


interview | mary beth keane. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16

lifestyles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7

A crowded old bar is the heart of the author’s fourth novel

book clubs. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9

feature | bestseller watch. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17

romance. . . . . . . . . . . . . 11

Check out new books from eight big-name authors

feature | pride. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18

whodunit. . . . . . . . . . . . 12

Eight queer stories by pioneering writers

interview | harrison scott key . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 How to write a book about how to stay married

feature | ya pride. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 Queer teens figure themselves out and fight for change

q&a | robin gow. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28 A sixth grader’s search for a mythical creature PRESIDENT & FOUNDER Michael A. Zibart VP & ASSOCIATE PUBLISHER Elizabeth Grace Herbert CONTROLLER Sharon Kozy MARKETING MANAGER Mary Claire Zibart SUBSCRIPTIONS Katherine Klockenkemper Phoebe Farrell-Sherman CONTRIBUTOR Roger Bishop


PUBLISHER & EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Trisha Ping DEPUTY EDITOR Cat Acree ASSOCIATE EDITORS Stephanie Appell Christy Lynch Savanna Walker BRAND & PRODUCTION MANAGER Meagan Vanderhill EDITORIAL INTERN Emma Rosenberg


BookPage is a selection guide for new books. Our editors select for review the best books published in a variety of categories. BookPage is editorially independent; only books we highly recommend are featured. Stars (H) are assigned by BookPage editors to indicate titles that are exceptionally executed in their genres and categories.

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B O O K P A G E • 2 1 4 3 B E L C O U R T AV E N U E • N A S H V I L L E , T N 3 7 2 1 2 • B O O K P A G E . C O M



You Only Live Once 2nd Edition 9781838696023 $25.00

bookpage 3

q&a | isabella star lablanc

Audiobooks are a shared experience Celebrated actor Isabella Star LaBlanc wields the power of language in her performance of Warrior Girl Unearthed. The only thing more exciting than the fact that author Angeline Boulley has followed up her bestselling, award-winning debut, Firekeeper’s Daughter, with a companion novel is that actor Isabella Star LaBlanc narrates the audiobook. LaBlanc, a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota tribal nation, takes a break from filming season four of “True Detective” (in Iceland!) to share her thoughts on the communal power of audiobooks like Warrior Girl Unearthed (Macmillan Audio, 11.5 hours), and the joys and challenges of bringing the story of Perry Firekeeper-Birch to life. You also narrated Angeline Boulley’s first book, Firekeeper’s Daughter. How did you feel about Warrior Girl Unearthed as you began to read it for the first time? As soon as I started reading Warrior Girl Unearthed, I knew Angeline had done it again. It felt like returning home. I fell in love with Perry immediately. From the first chapter, I was excited to go on this journey with her.

your inner and outer worlds. Something I notice with Perry is that her external interactions often exude confidence in a way her internal monologue doesn’t. I think there’s something really vulnerable in the way she talks to herself, and something really powerful in the way she interacts with the world. I really try to let both those parts of her peek through and to be heard in conversation with each other.

Boulley’s books reflect an exciting shift in children’s and teen literature toward diversifying which stories are published and who gets to write them. What would books like Firekeeper’s Daughter and Warrior Girl What do you believe is the most rewarding thing that your performance Unearthed have meant to you when you were growing up? brings to the listening experience of Warrior Girl Unearthed? I think it’s hard to overstate how much of an impact these books would Firekeeper’s Daughter was my first ever audiobook. I had never narrated have had on me as a young reader. It really is a gift to see not only youranything before that, and going in I knew pretty much nothing about the whole process. I have a lot more books and self but also your community represented with experience under my belt for this one, and it feels “I want my Ojibwe relatives so much heart. As a young Indigenous person so rewarding to get to return to this world where easy to feel lonely, like so much of the world to hear themselves in this.” it’s it all began for me, and to now be able to offer up doesn’t understand what matters to you. I know I would have devoured these books, and I would have held them with everything I’ve learned. I feel more in control of my work this time around, me as companions while I navigated a lot of the things these characters and my hope is that listeners will be able to hear that. experience. How lovely it would’ve been to have these reminders that What did you feel most strongly that it was important to get “right” in girls like me get to be exceptional, and be loved, and save the world. Warrior Girl Unearthed? Definitely the language. The Anishinaabemowin is important not only to With Warrior Girl Unearthed in mind, what do audiobooks offer that the storytelling but also to the characters and to the people these characa book can’t? ters represent. I want my Ojibwe relatives to hear themselves in this. So I think there’s something communal about audiobooks. Whereas reading I feel a huge responsibility to do the best I can to represent the language can feel beautifully individual, there’s something special about the idea in a good way. Angeline and Macmillan, along with Michele Wellmanthat with an audiobook, each listener is hearing the same voices come Teeple from Michigan State University, set me up with some amazing alive. It’s almost an equalizer between listeners; it creates an inherently shared experience. pronunciation resources. I loved hearing that people listened to Firekeeper’s Daughter with their I think the language is just as much a character as Perry, and I want to honor it that way. Before we began recording, I put out some tobacco to families. So much of the culture I come from is centered on gathering thank the language for letting me spend this time with it. That felt like the together and sharing stories. Audiobooks feel like a new medium to do right place to begin. that. We can listen to stories together, whether we’re in the same room or miles apart. —Emma Rosenberg To listeners, it can feel like magic to hear a narrator move between dialogue and a lead character’s inner thoughts. What is your process Visit BookPage.com to read our expanded Q&A with Isabella when moving from Perry’s inner world to external interactions? Star LaBlanc. Perry is a teenager, and I think being a teenager is a lot about reconciling


feature | audiobook month

Headphone heroes The right narrator can transform a book into an absorbing adventure. The narrators of these audiobooks imbue their stories with real magic, allowing us to appreciate the commonality of our emotions even across a diversity of experiences.

Hijab Butch Blues In her memoir in essays, Hijab Butch Blues (Random House Audio, 7.5 hours), author Lamya H shares her incredible story of growing up a queer person with a devout Muslim faith. Each chapter of the book is titled after a surah of the Quran and explores a key figure in Islamic scripture alongside moments in the author’s own life. Narrator Ashraf Shirazi brings palpable sincerity and youthful energy to sections set in college and after the author’s immigration to the United States. Both author and narrator have used pseudonyms; for Lamya H, the reasons are obviously privacy and safety. The reasons may be similar for Shirazi, or perhaps her anonymity is a nod of respect to the author’s choice—bittersweet as it is, for a memoir about the perseverance to discover your identity.

The Faraway World Patricia Engel, author of Infinite Country, sets the 10 short stories in her collection, The Faraway World (Simon & Schuster Audio, 7 hours), in the not-so-faraway worlds of New York City, Cuba and Colombia. The stories and their multifarious characters are voiced by a cast composed primarily of bilingual Latinx narrators, including the author. Their performances project glimmers of light, irony and

warmth into haunting stories that tread into such dark topics as kidnapping, sexual assault and bizarre familial relationships.


The World and All That It Holds Bosnian American novelist Aleksandar Hemon’s The World and All That It Holds (Macmillan Audio, 11.5 hours) conjures up the personal odyssey of a Jewish man, Rafael Pinto, beginning with the shot that started World War I and led to his relationship with Osman, a Muslim soldier in his unit. The audiobook is performed in epic fashion by Bosnian actor Aleksandar Mikic, whose accents and syntax embody the many people Rafael meets as he journeys from Sarajevo to Shanghai in his quest to escape war and persecution.

H Vera Wong’s

Unsolicited Advice for Murderers Chinese Indonesian author Jesse Q. Sutanto (Dial A for Aunties) serves up a sleuthing Chinese mother and her suspects in Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers (Penguin Audio, 10.5 hours), a thoroughly charming murder mystery set in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Eunice Wong, a Juilliard-trained Chinese Canadian voice actor, delivers a repertoire of delicious voices to celebrate the patchwork of cultures and personalities in this thoroughly moving, heartwarming story about finding friendship and creating family. —Maya Fleischmann









feature | black history

America’s not-so-distant past Four books tell true stories of Black persistence and progress.

H A Most Tolerant Little Town

Say Anarcha

In A Most Tolerant Little Town (Simon & Schuster, $29.99, 9781665905145), historian Rachel Louise Martin gives a day-by-day account of the first court-mandated desegregation in America. The book’s title is sadly ironic. Shortly after desegregation began in Clinton, Tennessee, a racist intimidation campaign formed, including mob assaults and dynamiting. At the center of Martin’s tale are the 12 Black students who integrated Clinton High School in 1956, braving threats and violence. But another interesting faction stands out: the significant number of white judges, National Guard leaders, teachers, football players and jurors who opposed desegregation but opposed lawlessness even more. Today, the Clinton 12 are honored with statues and a mural. But in her moving conclusion, Martin stresses that de facto segregation is surging across the U.S. and that working for lasting change is as important as ever. —Anne Bartlett

J. Marion Sims became known as the “father of gynecology” after inventing a surgery to treat vesico-vaginal fistulas in the mid-1800s. He developed his technique through horrific experiments performed on three enslaved women, one of whom, named Anarcha, endured at least 30 experiments. Say Anarcha (Holt, $29.99, 9781250868466) is J.C. Hallman’s dual biography of Sims and Anarcha. Hallman had ample memoirs from Sims to work with. His greater challenge was reconstructing Anarcha’s life, since the structure of chattel slavery ensured that the historical record merely reflected her status as property. To tell the true story of a woman whom history has nearly erased, Hallman uses the technique of “creative fabulation”—consulting various oral and written histories from Anarcha’s lifetime to creatively fill in the gaps. The result is a nuanced and sympathetic speculative portrait of a woman who would otherwise remain anonymous. —Deborah Mason

H Built From the Fire In 1901, a segregated slice of oil-rich Tulsa became a destination for Black Americans looking for a better future. The Greenwood district prospered into the 1920s, with movie theaters, dance halls, restaurants, hotels and a newspaper. But during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, Greenwood’s thriving businesses were reduced to smoking rubble. White rioters stormed into the area and dragged people from their homes, shot them in the street and burned everything in their path. But as journalist Victor Luckerson makes clear in Built From the Fire (Random House, $30, 9780593134375), this was only the beginning. Greenwood’s survivors began salvaging, rebuilding and fighting back. Their descendants reclaimed the city’s entrepreneurial spirit while becoming civil rights activists and reformers. As the search for the massacre’s mass graves continues and demands for reparations intensify, Luckerson’s point is clear: Greenwood is alive, and its citizens are still fueling change. —Priscilla Kipp


H King: A Life Jonathan Eig’s monumental biography takes Martin Luther King Jr. down from his pedestal, revealing his flaws, needs, dreams, hopes and weariness. In cinematic fashion, King: A Life (FSG, $35, 9780374279295) follows King from his childhood through his seminary and graduate school days, his marriage and his steady insistence on the reformation of a society broken by racism. Following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, King began to turn his attention to issues beyond civil rights, focusing on poverty and the war in Vietnam. By the time he arrived in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968, King was exhausted. But he refused to give up hope. King had affairs, got angry and even plagiarized. But Eig encourages readers to “embrace the complicated King” if we are to achieve the kind of change King himself preached in America. —Henry L. Carrigan Jr. Visit BookPage.com to read the full reviews.


by susannah felts

H The Psilocybin Handbook for Women These days, you probably know someone who either uses THC or microdoses psychedelics for physical or mental health reasons (or that person is you). The psychedelics landscape is shifting rapidly, and thankfully it’s getting easier to find evidence-based information on the therapeutic uses of cannabinoids and psilocybin. A most valuable addition to this field is Jennifer Chesak’s The Psilocybin Handbook for Women (Ulysses, $16.95, 9781646044986). Chesak answers a slew of questions people assigned female at birth may have about using magic mushrooms, covering safety, bad trips, shrooms and parenting, mushrooms’ effects on menstruation and endometriosis and more. She also writes poignantly about her own guided trip and other women’s experiences using mushrooms for conditions such as eating disorders and ADHD, which gives this guide real heart and added richness from people’s stories. This is an empowering, enlightening read.

Stay with these great books!

9781368077675 | $22.99

Archives of Joy In Archives of Joy (Greystone, $29.95, 9781771649322), French Canadian author JeanFrançois Beauchemin looks back, around and into the mystic, to great effect. His brief and often breathtaking reflections on creatures he has encountered throughout his life meld into a salve for the troubled, weary or distracted mind and will appeal to fans of Brian Doyle, Ross Gay and Margaret Renkl. In a one-paragraph essay called “Useful,” he writes, “It might be said that I am rummaging around a lot in that great big suitcase of my childhood, but why the devil do we age, if it is not to encounter ourselves once more?” In “A Visitor,” he recounts a spiritual encounter from childhood, when “I had just learned my dog’s life expectancy was only fourteen years.” Immediately after reading this piece, I snapped a picture of it and sent it to a friend who is grieving a beloved pup; that’s the kind of small treasure this book is.

9781368010689 | $25.99

Painting Calm Lately I’ve been dabbling in watercolor, which makes Painting Calm (Leaping Hare, $20, 9780711281844) feel like a gift from the gods. It’s full of exercises and tips for creating delicate paintings of leaves, flowers and various nature-inspired patterns. Author Inga Buividavice’s own artwork is aspirational, to say the least, occupying a dreamy space between the detailed and the abstract, with gorgeous variations in value and color that blend seamlessly one into the next. Simple exercises, such as creating color swatches, reassure a beginner like me, and these can be enough on their own if what you’re wanting from watercolor is the meditative process. If you’re ready to create full-scale paintings, her instructions also cover specific brushes, brushstrokes and color palettes. I suspect I’ll be consulting this guide for years to come.

Susannah Felts is a Nashville-based writer and co-founder of The Porch, a literary arts organization. She enjoys anything paper- or plant-related.

9781368078634 | $12.99

9781368047487 | $14.99

©2023 ABC Signature


IN SEARCH OF THE DOCTOR WHO MADE ICE Amy Brady recounts her trip to Apalachicola, Florida, to piece together the lost history of the man who invented the ice machine. “Why do I love ice? Why do I prefer—nay, need— my drink to be cold?” These were the questions that ran through my head in early 2019 as I filled a cup with iced tea at a gas station in Apalachicola, Florida, a tiny town on the Gulf Coast. The day was sweltering, and the thick scent of palm trees wafted through the air, mixing with the smell of melting asphalt. At the time, I was deep into writing my book Ice: From Mixed Drinks to Skating Rinks—a Cool History of a Hot Commodity (Putnam, $29, 9780593422199), about all the unexpected ways ice has shaped America’s history and culture. I’d come here to learn more about the man who made the nation’s first ice machine. That man was John Gorrie, a 19th-century, New York-born doctor who moved to Apalachicola in the 1840s to treat yellow fever, which plagued the region every summer. Without knowing that mosquitoes transmit the virus (no one knew that yet back then), Gorrie thought that ice might be a cure. After much trial and error, he succeeded at building a working ice machine, the nation’s first, but his invention didn’t receive the response he’d hoped for. This was an era of superstition and skepticism toward science. A man who claimed he could make ice? Why, only God can make ice! Or so went the thinking of the day. Gorrie was ridiculed by his peers and eventually died a penniless laughing­stock in his early 50s of the very disease he was hoping to treat. A mere decade later, his rediscovered ice machine patent would serve as the blueprint to build America’s first commercial ice plants. From then on, ice became not only a luxury but a necessity across the country. I wanted to learn more about Gorrie, but despite his extraordinary contributions to science, hardly anyone then—or now—knew who he was. Few of his personal papers were saved after his death, and many more were lost in a fire. Writing Gorrie’s story—and the ways it intersected with the larger history of ice—was going to be a challenge, but the historian in me couldn’t have been more excited to take it on. My trip to Apalachicola brought me first to the John Gorrie Memorial Museum, where I spoke with a staff member named Peggy. I thought I’d begin by asking her about what historians already know, but even the basics, I learned, are up for debate. Gorrie’s birth records were lost to history, she said, so no one knows for sure whether he was born in Charleston, South Carolina, or on Nevis, a small island in the Caribbean Sea. Almost everyone agrees on when Gorrie moved to Apalachicola (the 1840s) and why (to treat yellow fever), but no one knows for sure how a doctor of such little means (he was broke when he arrived and even more broke when he died) treated so many patients. We know that he married the daughter of a wealthy hotelier not long after he arrived in Florida, but no one knows for certain why. I wanted to think it was for love, of course, but it was hard not to wonder how a woman of her social stature got away with marrying a poor, blasphemous



behind the book | amy brady

Visit BookPage.com to read our review of Ice.

doctor of ill repute at a time when women were rarely allowed to make significant decisions without input from their families. When I looked at their relationship from Gorrie’s perspective, I thought that perhaps Gorrie saw his wife’s family as a source of wealth to fund his ice-making experiments, but circumstantial evidence suggests that the couple barely had enough to live on. Then there was the biggest question at the heart of my research: Why did Gorrie think that ice would cure disease? What possibly could have led him to that conclusion? With so many holes in the doctor’s story, I realized that archival research—my favorite kind!— would be most useful. Back in my hotel, I revisited what I knew. I had Gorrie’s basic timeline and at least a few names and locations. I pulled out my laptop and searched newspaper databases to find articles related to 1840s Apalachicola. An hour later, I stumbled across a notice of Gorrie’s marriage in the Apalachicola Gazette. Interestingly, the bride’s father didn’t attend the ceremony. (So the union had caused a familial stir!) Next I turned to a database of 19th-century medical journals, where I learned about the leading theories of the day surrounding the dangers of heat. As a doctor, Gorrie would have read those journals and learned that too high of a fever could damage a patient’s internal organs. That’s probably at least one reason why he sought to create ice: to cool his feverish patients. Finally, I turned to digitized records housed at the Library of Congress, where I discovered a series of articles that Gorrie wrote under a pen name about the use of ice to cure yellow fever. His argument aligned with the one in the medical journals, further confirming my suspicion that he believed ice cured yellow fever by lowering patients’ body temperatures. I also found a letter he wrote to a fellow doctor about his ice machine. The letter’s uncertain tone painted a portrait of a man in the throes of self-doubt and frustration and would serve as the emotional centerpiece for my chapter on Gorrie. At long last, the ice doctor’s story was revealing itself more fully. On my last day in Apalachicola, I stood across the street from the museum where Gorrie was buried and thought about how his story was spread across time and space like a thousand puzzle pieces. That’s the power of archives, I thought. They hold our stories, even if in pieces, until someone puts them back together. —Amy Brady

book clubs

by julie hale

A literary feast William Alexander delivers a tasty culinary chronicle with Ten Tomatoes That Changed the World: A History (Grand Central, $18.99, 9781538753330). With authority, humor and an instinct for flavorful anecdotes, Alexander tracks the evolution of the tomato from its first cultivations in the Americas to its first encounter with Europe via the Spanish in the 1500s to its current widespread popularity. Along the way, he considers tomato-related innovations such as the creation of ketchup and the rise of hybrid tomato specimens. Alexander touches on themes of contemporary farming practices and food production that will provide great talking points for book clubs. Joshua Specht’s Red Meat Republic: A Hoof-to-Table History of How Beef Changed America (Princeton University, $18.95, 9780691209180) is a surprisingly dramatic account of the rise of the beef industry and how the meat came to Readers will devour these be an American favorite. Focusing on the 19th century, Specht explores slices of culinary history. the cattle ranches of the American West and the Chicago meatpacking industry and looks at how urban expansion affected production. His shrewd analysis of meatpacking practices, factory conditions for workers and labor developments underscores the impact of beef on American business. Specht’s nuanced account sheds new light on a mealtime mainstay. In Milk!: A 10,000-Year Food Fracas (Bloomsbury, $19, 9781632863836), Mark Kurlansky traces the science, history and mythology behind the life-giving liquid. Fans of the author (who has also dedicated books to salt and cod) will welcome this study of a beverage that, as Kurlansky demonstrates, transcends cultures and eras. From milk production and dairy farming to the role of milk in economics and its significance in countries across the globe, Kurlansky presents a multifaceted look at the vital beverage. Ever attuned to the offbeat factoid, he writes with typical crispness in a book that’s sure to intrigue readers. Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World (Basic, $24.99, 9781541699380) by Mark Pendergrast delves into the fascinating past of a controversial crop. Millions of people around the world rely on the coffee industry for their livelihoods, and Pendergrast takes stock of how the little bean has shaped international commerce and politics over the centuries. He brews up plenty of tantalizing coffee lore, assesses the dominance of Starbucks and explores the worlds of coffee snobs and fair-trade advocates. Global economics and the centrality of coffee to our daily lives make for rich discussion topics.

A BookPage reviewer since 2003, Julie Hale recommends the best paperback books to spark discussion in your reading group.

Where to this summer?



Electric Vehicle Road Trips Europe

Gourmet Trails Europe 9781838699918 $22.00

9781838699949 $35.00

Lonely Planet’s Guide to Train Travel in Europe 9781838694968 $25.00

Italy 16 9781838698102 $28.99

Florence & Tuscany 13 9781838697761 $22.99

Portugal 13 9781838694067 $24.99

Scotland 12 9781838693572 $24.99


feature | grumpy-sunshine romance

Sweet meets sour

Few things are cuter than a happy-go-lucky optimist and a surly cynic finding love.

H A Love Catastrophe A Love Catastrophe (Forever, $16.99, 9781538720066) is a delightfully heartfelt rom-com with much ado about cats (and some ado about dogs). Newly hired NHL data analyst Miles Thorn has his hands full. His mother is in the hospital, and her cat, Prince Francis, is acting up. Enter the indomitable Kitty Hart, aka the Kitty Whisperer, the optimistic owner of a cat care and training service. Although Kitty is irked by dog lover Miles’ scornful attitude toward cats, she still finds him quite fetching. And although Miles is a bit bewildered by Kitty’s boundless devotion to and adoration of the felines she works with, he still wishes he hadn’t been so rude when he first met her. As Miles and Kitty attempt to overcome a bad first impression and curb Prince Francis’ destructive behavior, will Kitty’s charms work on Miles as well as the cat? Author Helena Hunting amusingly sets up the initial division between the sunny Kitty and the overwhelmed and grumpy Miles. He’s not quite in the territory of misanthropes like Fredrik Backman’s Ove; rather, Miles is understandably (and often charmingly) cranky due to his circumstances. Kitty’s sunny and loving disposition, even when she is strict with naughty cats, makes her immediately likable, while Miles’ attempts to be less aggravated by his mother and Prince Francis are endearing. While there are plentiful cute moments between Miles and Kitty, especially in their disagreements about their preferred species, both are also working through complex family relationships and painful past experiences. Hunting perfectly balances levity and heartwarming sincerity to create a purr-fectly sweet, uplifting and playful romance. —Maya Fleischmann

We Could Be So Good Cat Sebastian’s We Could Be So Good (Avon, $18.99, 9780063272767) is a sweet workplace romance that follows two men who work at a newspaper in late 1950s New York City. It reads like a love letter to the queer pulp novels of the era, but with an infusion of hope not often seen in literature about the time period. Nick Russo is a gruff, working-class journalist from Brooklyn who has worked his way up


H Mrs. Nash’s Ashes

the ladder to become a lead journalist for The Chronicle. Charmingly naive Andy Fleming is the begrudging heir to his family media empire and Nick’s future boss. Nick is prepared to hate Andy, who he sees as a pretty boy who has had everything handed to him, but that’s easier said than done. During their first encounter, Nick finds Andy literally stuck—his tie jammed in a filing cabinet. Andy’s lovable mess charms the grumpy journalist, and soon Nick is helping Andy with small, everyday tasks like keeping track of keys as well as bigger issues like navigating the politics of the paper. Nick, who has long known he is gay, is content to merely pine for his hapless friend. But then Andy begins to question his own feelings for Nick and whether they could be more than platonic. We Could Be So Good takes place in the oft-romanticized late 1950s, which are a particularly fascinating and high-stakes backdrop for a queer historical romance. It would be easy to fill both men with shame and self-loathing, given the threats to their safety. And yet this book is filled with so much hope. The queer scene was beginning to blossom in this era, with pulp novels acting like a road map for the LGBTQ+ community. Nick and Andy read these books, and Sebastian incorporates plot devices and tropes from them into her work. However, instead of the shame and violence that often accompanied contemporary 1950s narratives, Sebastian gives Nick and Andy a safe space to explore their sexuality. They even experience some (albeit minor) degree of acceptance from their families. These refreshing choices prevent the story from being bogged down by the toxicity of the time period, allowing the reader to experience queer optimism if not outright joy. With We Could Be So Good, Sebastian adds a tender, heartening stunner of a love story to her already-impressive body of work. —Katie Garaby

If you’re in the mood to giggle helplessly while falling in love with absurdly endearing characters, then you’ll adore Mrs. Nash’s Ashes (Berkley, $17, 9780593547793). Former child star Millicent Watts-Cohen is still famous enough to get asked, “Hey, don’t I know you?” by an endless string of people—some sweet, some obnoxious and some just plain gross. One might expect Millie to be cynical or jaded, but she stubbornly insists on being pure sunshine, open and optimistic. Her wholehearted romanticism is what leads her to transport the titular bag of ashes to Florida. Mrs. Nash was Millie’s roommate and, despite their decadeswide age gap, her best friend. After Mrs. Nash dies, Millie discovers that Elsie, the love of Mrs. Nash’s life, is in hospice at a retirement center in Florida. As a last gift to Mrs. Nash, Millie decides to bring her ashes to Elsie, reuniting the two women at last. Unfortunately, that mission hits a snag when a technical snafu grounds swarms of airplanes. But luckily, the world’s grumpiest white knight rides to Millie’s rescue. Hollis Hollenbeck, a friend of Millie’s ex, might grouse and grumble, but he saves Millie repeatedly, starting with the very first scene of the book, in which he fends off a particularly icky fan. When Millie learns that all the rental cars at the airport are snapped up, Hollis offers her a lift with him to Florida. He insists that he’s only helping her for his own peace of mind (he’s convinced Millie would cheerfully assist some creep in kidnapping her if left to her own devices), but she has him pegged right from the start. He’s not nice—not at all. But he’s kind. And also really hot, of course. Opposites attract plus a road trip isn’t a new combination, but the familiarity of the plot doesn’t take one iota of pleasure away from watching Hollis and Millie come together. Millie’s a delight, quirky and sweet without ever seeming saccharine or insincere. And Hollis is almost more endearing for how hard he tries not to be sweet. He’s doing everything he can to keep from being charmed, but all his defenses fall by the wayside whenever Millie needs him. Romance readers will know that Millie and Hollis’ story has a happy ending, but it’s not the destination that matters. It’s the journey—and this journey is an absolute treat. —Elizabeth Mazer


by christie ridgway

H The True Love Experiment Romance blooms on reality T V in Christina Lauren’s The True Love Experiment (Gallery, $27.99, 9781982173432). Celebrated romance author Felicity “Fizzy” Chen is struggling with writer’s block, worrying about whether she’ll ever find love and going through a sexual drought. When she receives an offer to star on the titular dating show, she agrees, hoping to use the program to present her work in a positive light. Producer Connor Prince usually makes short nature docuseries but bows to pressure to make something more profitable. Cue Fizzy and Connor trying to ignore their attraction; he’s cast eight other guys for her to date, after all. Fizzy is funny and fast-talking, while Connor is a half-Brit single dad whose staid side is overcome by Fizzy’s insistence that they prioritize joy. A delicious, drawnout happy ending caps this delightful, heartwarming and sex-positive story.

The Duchess Takes a Husband A bargain for bedsport lessons takes center stage in Harper St. George’s Gilded Age romance The Duchess Takes a Husband (Berkley, $8.99, 9780593440988). Camille, an American heiress who married into the British aristocracy, suffered during her marriage to her abusive husband. But now that her husband has died, she’s free to pursue her attraction to Jacob Thorne, co-owner of the infamous Montague Club. He needs a fake fiancée for business reasons, and Camille will play the part if he helps her figure out whether she can enjoy sex. Soon, Jacob discovers he wants to please Camille in all things, encouraging her to assert herself in the bedroom and to explore her burgeoning interest in the women’s suffrage movement. This romance is filled with yearning, tender sensuality and heated love scenes that set fire to the page. The glimpses of the suffrage movement are fascinating, and Camille’s growth is especially gratifying.

The Viscount Who Vexed Me Julia London tugs at the heart with her new Victorian romance, The Viscount Who Vexed Me (Canary Street, $9.99, 9781335498229). Harriet “Hattie” Woodchurch takes a position as secretary to the new Viscount Abbott, Mateo Vincente, who is also the duke of the fictional country of Santiava. Hattie knows he’s above her, but she can’t stifle her attraction to the reserved, quiet gentleman. For his part, Mateo finds himself most comfortable with his downto-earth scribe, even as pressure grows for him to choose an aristocratic wife. Hattie’s resolve to earn her independence and Mateo’s unconventional interests (he bakes!) make the pair easy to root for as their mutual longing grows. A colorful cast of characters, including Hattie’s high-society frenemies, wicked little brothers and a determined matchmaker, adds to the pleasures of this entertaining tale.

Christie Ridgway is a lifelong romance reader and a published romance novelist of over 60 books.


MAY 16














A division of Baker Publishing Group | bethanyhouse.com



by bruce tierney

H The Lock-Up

Beware the Woman

John Banville’s latest Quirke/ Strafford myster y, The Lock-Up (Hanover Square, $30, 9781335449634), stretches the boundaries of the genre. A police procedural set in 1958 Dublin, The Lock-Up is more interested in its protagonists’ inner lives than it is in their detective work, and rather than celebrate its sleuths as righters of wrongs, it shows how their efforts toward justice can be meaningless. That said, it is well worth the read, because Banville’s characters fairly leap off the page. Pathologist Quirke is irascible as ever, but also lonely and grieving: “The thing about grief was that you could press upon it at its sharpest points and blunt them, only for the bluntness to spread throughout the system and make it ache like one vast bruise.” Detective Inspector St. John Strafford is a Protestant in a Catholic country, and a cop to boot—something for everyone to loathe. Together they investigate the death of Rosa Jacobs, a young Jewish woman with possible links to a German refugee who made good in postwar Ireland and now appears to be involved with some shady dealings in Israel. The Lock-Up is beautifully written, the sort of book that makes you pause, reread a line and chew on it for a bit before continuing. Oh, and the ending? Good luck figuring that out before the precise reveal ordained by Banville.

Megan Abbott (The Turnout, Dare Me, The Fever) is one of the most skilled architects of suspense alive and has won or been a finalist for just about every major crime fiction award. Her latest thriller, Beware the Woman (Putnam, $28, 9780593084939), finds her in top form once again. As the book opens, newlyweds Jed and Jacy have just discovered that they are soon to become parents. They plan a holiday in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to visit Jed’s kind and charismatic father, Dr. Ash, who lives in a luxurious “cabin” deep in the woods. As experienced readers of similar books will know, going to visit reclusive relatives in remote forests is like opening the attic door in a horror movie: guaranteed drama. As a retired physician, Dr. Ash is solicitous to a fault about Jacy’s pregnancy. But when some minor complications arise, he becomes rather heavyhanded about directing her care, never mind that he has not been a practicing physician for decades. Understandably, Jacy takes some exception to this but finds, to her dismay, that her husband has aligned with his father, and she soon becomes a virtual prisoner, held incommunicado in the isolated cabin. For sheer escalating tension, Beware the Woman rates right up there with Stephen King’s Misery; it just shouts to be read in one sitting.

The Last Drop of Hemlock Katharine Schellman’s second Vivian Kelly mystery, The Last Drop of Hemlock (Minotaur, $28, 9781250831842), is set in Prohibition-era New York City. Vivian is a seamstress and delivery girl by day but a waitress at a speak-easy by night, doing the Charleston with lonely men in return for drinks. Said speak-easy, the Nightingale, is decidedly illegal and only exists as a result of liberally greased palms. Thus, an element of criminal activity is never far from the forefront. This time out, Vivian uses her connections to investigate a death that was initially ruled a suicide. The victim was Uncle Pearlie, a bouncer at the Nightingale who had purportedly just made a fortune via mysterious means. But when Vivian and her band of ne’er-do-wells go to his home, they find that his secret cache of cash has been emptied. Any lingering doubts that he was murdered are erased when his pregnant girlfriend comes forward and reveals that Pearlie’s windfall involved some particularly unpleasant gangsters. In the first book in the series, Last Call at the Nightingale, Schellman introduced a large and interesting cast of characters while also spinning a consistently suspenseful yarn. That is certainly still the case in book two, as Schellman tops herself in nearly every category.

The Pigeon Joe Brody, aka Joe the Bouncer, returns in David Gordon’s The Pigeon (Mysterious Press, $17.95, 9781613164051). Bouncer does not begin to encompass Joe’s duties. He serves as a sheriff of sorts for the criminal underworld of New York City, a mediator for organizations not exactly noted for solving disputes within the confines of the legal system. His longtime pal Gio sets him up with what should be an easy gig: recover a gangster’s stolen racing pigeon. The bird’s worth is in the neighborhood of $1 million, and Joe will collect a 5% reward upon recovery. Under normal circumstances, it would be a simple B & E—stuff the bird into a paper bag and exit stage left. But it turns out that the pricey apartment building the bird is being kept in has one of the most sophisticated security systems this side of Fort Knox. Before Joe can snatch the pigeon, a squad of hit men is hot on his trail. He makes good his escape through a long-unused dumbwaiter, but his troubles are far from over. His FBI agent girlfriend is questioning her judgment in being associated with the criminal element, the gangster is still clamoring for his missing pigeon and the hit men know where Joe lives, works and plays. There is plenty of humor in the mix, as in an Elmore Leonard novel, and plenty of action, too, realistically delivered without being egregiously graphic.

Bruce Tierney lives outside Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he bicycles through the rice paddies daily and reviews the best in mystery and suspense every month.


q&a | martha wells


Why Martha Wells returned to fantasy


After spending several years as one of the reigning queens of science fiction, Martha Wells plunges into a high fantasy world with Witch King (Tordotcom, $28.99, 9781250826794). Centuries ago, someone killed the powerful demon Kai-Enna and trapped his consciousness in a magical prison. When a foolish mage tries to take his powers, Kai breaks out of his prison, takes over the mage’s body and sets out to get his revenge and see what has become of the world in his absence. What dre w you back to fantasy, and especially fantasy of this scale? I’ve always loved fantasy, and there have been a large number of original, innovative fantasy novels coming out in the last several years. During the COVID19 pandemic, I did a lot of reading and also started to watch a lot of international TV shows, such as Chinese and Korean fantasy dramas. This was all a big inspiration, and I started to play with fantasy ideas again. I had writer’s block for the first six months or so of the pandemic, and I realized I needed a change to shake me out of it, so I decided to run with some of those ideas. Witch King is my pandemic book, basically. What drew you to telling a story with a demon as a main character, and why did you set him up as a body borrower? That was really the idea that first sparked the book. I wanted to write a non-human character again, in a fantasy context, someone who would be an outsider to the human cultures they interact with but who would be functionally immortal,


The Murderbot Diaries author has created another snarky hero whom readers will adore.

and be able to observe and participate in a long swath of history. I wanted the demons to have powers that were potentially terrible to humans. Questions about colonization and imperialism are an undercurrent in your recent works. What interests you about this topic, and why do you think you keep returning to it in your fiction? I think colonization is something I keep coming back to because I live in the United States; we’re surrounded by its legacies. The present is an overlay of the past, and all those conflicts and injustices are still very visible in everyday life. How has the world of SFF changed since you published your first book? It’s changed a lot. I think the publishing world has finally realized that diverse voices, international voices and different cultural or original ways of telling stories are what the reading audience wants. SF and fantasy don’t have to stay within narrow boundaries or conform to past norms to find readers. The books and authors showing up on the award lists every year are proof of that. —Laura Hubbard

Visit BookPage.com to read an extended version of this Q&A and our review of Witch King.

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cover story | summer reading


by Meg Shaffer

Berkley, $17, 9780593336380

by Uzma Jalaluddin



Uzma Jalaluddin returns with a rom-com retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion set in Toronto’s Muslim community. Nada attends a conference with Baz, her best friend’s fiancé’s brother—and a man she has a secret, tumultuous history with. Cheeky shenanigans ensue and sparks fly as the two vy for a second chance. —Amanda Diehl

The Wishing Game (Ballantine, $28, 9780593598832) has the life-changing pull of a truly good book. Meg Shaffer (a pen name for bestselling romance writer Tiffany Reisz) puts a tender spin on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that balances darkness with humor, hopefulness, plot twists and a hint of romance. —Chika Gujarathi


by Aisha Harris Co-host of NPR’s “Pop Culture Happy Hour” Aisha Harris is the pop culture maven millennials have been waiting for. In this collection of essays, Harris brings a refined, journalistic scrutiny to subjective nostalgia, which makes Wannabe (HarperOne, $29.99, 9780063249943) a truly magical summer read. —Rachel Hoge


by Samantha Irby

TV writer and essayist Samantha Irby mines laughs from the wildest situations—even a trip to the emergency room. Quietly Hostile (Vintage, $17, 9780593315669) is a masterful blend of pitch-perfect comedy and deep sincerity. —Jessica Wakeman


by Jamie Loftus Comedian Jamie Loftus takes readers on a cross-country investigation into the history of the hot dog in Raw Dog (Forge, $26.99, 9781250847744), a wonderfully weird and wild mashup of social commentary and food journalism. —Linda M. Castellitto


by Katie Spalding

Science or history lovers will delight in Edison’s Ghosts (Little, Brown, $29, 9780316529525), a hilarious roundup of stupid things that famously smart people have done. —Deborah Hopkinson



by Elissa Sussman

Former teen idols blame each other for the implosion of their music careers. Can feelings rise from the ashes? BookTok bestseller Elissa Sussman (Funny You Should Ask) returns with Once More With Feeling (Dell, $17, 9780593357378), a story of revisiting youthful mistakes with newfound maturity. —Dolly R. Sickles

cover story | summer reading



by Emma Cline

by Katie Williams

On its surface, The Guest (Random House, $28, 9780812998627) is about Alex, a drifter with no plan and no safety net. But Emma Cline’s deeply felt second novel also raises provocative questions about how our society treats young women and will keep readers on the edge of their seats wondering how Alex will find a way to survive. —Amy Scribner

In Katie Williams’ second novel, Lou is back from the dead, resurrected by cloning technology along with other victims of a serial killer. But the new Lou has some unexplained history to uncover. My Murder (Riverhead, $27, 9780593543764) engages with a violent subject without gore and probes how technology shapes our lives, often without our awareness. —Freya Sachs


by Luis Alberto Urrea

Pulitzer Prize finalist Luis Alberto Urrea’s heartfelt novel Good Night, Irene (Little, Brown, $29, 9780316265850) follows a group of women who volunteer to serve food to WWII soldiers. As they are drawn deeper into the conflict, Urrea creates a piercing portrayal of the toll of war on everyone involved and reflects on the true meaning of valor. —Michael Magras

With his sixth novel, Return to Valetto, Dominic Smith perfects what he did so well with his award-winning 2016 book, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, delivering a charming and captivating multigenerational family drama that beautifully blends the past with the present. Smith whisks readers away to Valetto, Italy: a fictional, crumbling town that floats like an island in the clouds among the rolling hills of the Umbrian countryside. The result is a richly rewarding book that is imbued with a sense of timelessness. It’s an outright pleasure to read, an excellent choice for both armchair travelers looking to vicariously experience Italy’s dolce vita, and for lovers of impeccably crafted literary fiction. —Stephenie Harrison

Visit BookPage.com to read the full reviews of our summer reading selections.

Award-winning historian S.C. Gwynne is a consummate storyteller, and his latest is not to be missed. His Majesty’s Airship (Scribner, $32, 9781982168278) is a riveting true account of the 1930 crash of a spectacular hydrogen-filled British airship—and the end of an age. —Deborah Hopkinson

FSG, $28, 9780374607685

by S.C. Gwynne

by Dominic Smith





interview | mary beth keane

THIS ROUND’S ON KEANE Featuring a crowded old bar and a marriage on the rocks, the fourth novel from the author of Ask Again, Yes feels like real life. Mary Beth Keane grew up around bars. “Most of my uncles owned Grief. Boredom. The growing sense that life was passing her by and if she bars or worked in them,” she says. Which is why, when the world entered didn’t do something she’d leave nothing behind to prove she was even COVID-19 lockdown, Keane found herself there.” Jess and Malcolm have had bitter yearning for the indoor camaraderie of a disagreements over the financing of the really packed bar. But besides socializing bar, which she recognizes is his “baby,” his lifelong dream. with her husband and two sons, the best she could do was drive around Pearl River, In crafting Jess and Malcolm’s rocky marriage, Keane had no idea what New York—the town where she grew up would happen between the couple, and and now lives—hoping to spot a friend to she reported to her editors that she had chat with from afar. To compensate, Keane immersed herself “tried every [outcome] you could possibly in writing The Half Moon, named for suggest,” including some wildly dramatic the townie bar at the novel’s center. The ones. Such is the “jigsaw” style of Keane’s wonderfully unpretentious, gifted writer creative process. “It seems like a piecemeal, explains this by phone from Bozeman, haphazard way to write, but that’s the way Montana, where she’s researching her I do it,” she says. In a 2019 essay for the New York Times, next novel. (Its Western setting will herald a marked change from her beloved 2019 she describes growing up without books novel, Ask Again, Yes, and The Half and how her earliest literary influence as a Moon, both of which are set in Gillam, a kid in the late 1980s was the Reader’s Digest fictionalized version of Pearl River.) column “Drama in Real Life.” In a way, Keane says, her upbringing was freeing, In the novel, Malcolm Gephardt has especially when it came to choosing worked at the Half Moon for years, and now books at the library. “Boy, did I learn a he finally owns the place, with dreams to update and transform it. Unfortunately, lot from those Danielle Steel books,” she creditors are at his heels, his marriage says, laughing. She wrote her first stories is on the rocks, and in the midst of a on the back of paper plates, then read them blizzard, a patron goes missing—setting aloud to her mom. Her first clue that she the stage for plenty of riveting internal and might have a talent came after writing a external drama. fourth-grade essay about a baked potato. “This is a COVID book,” Keane says, Later, at age 13, she wrote a short story for a “even though it doesn’t seem that way.” school literary magazine about a girl whose The pandemic is never mentioned, and sister had committed suicide; it was so there are no masks in sight. But Keane convincing that her mother began getting poured her loneliness and isolation right condolences from friends who said they H The Half Moon into Malcolm’s character, and the winter didn’t realize that she had an older child. Scribner, $28, 9781982172602 storm that paralyzes the town for a week “I knew [early on] that it didn’t have to or so accentuates the fact that a number be true; it just had to be good,” Keane says. Family Drama “So I always leaned toward fiction. I felt in of her characters feel trapped in their lives. my gut that I was better at writing than I was at other things.” As she grew When asked about the impetus for The Half Moon, Keane explains that, older, her childhood reading habits allowed her to remain free from the at age 45, she’s starting to see couples get divorced and then, 18 months or so later, share Facebook posts showing “a whole new set of people and a burden experienced by many writers who try to measure up to certain new life,” she says. “I was thinking about to what degree we can change our literary reputations. “I really don’t care what everyone thinks is good or lives once we reach a certain point. . . . I’m a very working-class child, and not. I just read for myself. And I think that is a gift that not every writer has.” I grew up in a very Catholic community, and I don’t know whether it’s just While Keane was at Barnard College, novelist Mary Gordon told her, me and the way I was raised, [but] I literally do not know how to do that.” “You have a subject.” At the time, however, Keane had no clue what it was. Not that she wants to, she adds quickly. “I’m very happy with my life. But “Suddenly,” she says, “I was with people who’d been all over the world, and part of being a writer is observing and watching other people, and I guess they had read everything. They were writing about things like anorexia, I just like thinking about things that I can’t imagine.” A friend of Keane’s bulimia, sex—things that just seemed beyond me. But what was interesting recently commented that her books “are an argument for staying together, to me then, and I think still is, is work and what people do for a living.” Keane is the daughter of two Irish immigrants; her mother had various over and over,” which surprised the author. “Although it’s so obvious when I think about it now,” she says. jobs, and her father was a “sandhog,” a New York City tunnel worker. In The Half Moon, however, the odds of an intact marriage seem low. For Ask Again, Yes, Keane interviewed members of the New York Police Malcolm’s wife, Jess, a lawyer, has been dreaming of having a child, but Department to collect accurate details for her police officer characters, after years of unsuccessful fertility treatments, she has moved into the arms but with The Half Moon, she simply turned to family, gleaning insider bar of someone else. Keane writes that Jess is weighed down by “Hormones. knowledge about things like jukebox earnings, free swag from breweries,



feature | bestseller watch

MAJOR RELEASES IN JUNE Check out new books from eight big-name authors.

June 6 Pageboy By Elliot Page Flatiron, $29.99, 9781250878359 In his first memoir, the actor and director shares his story of coming out as queer and transgender while navigating a burgeoning Hollywood career.

June 13 Be Mine By Richard Ford Ecco, $30, 9780061692086 The Frank Bascombe saga, which was originally conceived as a trilogy, continues in this fourth installment from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author.

The Spectacular By Fiona Davis Dutton, $28, 9780593184042

“Every bartender in my family already thinks this book is about them.” beverage distribution and state liquor licensing authorities. Her cousins tended to be more helpful than her uncles. “Irish people, they clam right up if they think you’re asking too many questions, especially since I’m a writer,” Keane says. With a laugh, she adds, “Every bartender in my family already thinks this book is about them.” The novel’s fictional bar takes its name from the ship that English explorer Henry Hudson sailed on his 1609 voyage to discover a Northwest Passage; a variety of places and products in the Hudson Valley share the Half Moon name. The moniker is apt, since readers will wonder whether Malcolm and Jess’ marriage is waxing or waning. “I also like that the name isn’t overtly Irish,” Keane admits. “It sort of bothers me when everyone describes [my work] as ‘Irish people’ and ‘an Irish novel.’ ” The hallmark of a classic Keane character isn’t their background or heritage, but rather their inability to articulate what’s bothering them. “I’m more familiar with and more sympathetic to people who would sooner either tamp it way down and pretend it’s not there—or throw a beer bottle against a wall,” she says. Malcolm, for instance, can charm customers with his gift of gab for hours, but at home, he’s not so much of a talker. In fact, one of his truest, most memorable forms of self-expression comes when he throws a cup of coffee at someone’s car. “These are my people, I guess,” Keane says. “As soon as I open a book and someone’s in therapy or playing tennis, I just don’t care.” Keane has spent a lifetime observing people in fiction and real life, and in both cases, she likes to keep things simple. “We’re just a disaster from beginning to end,” she says with a laugh. “Nobody gets any smarter. It’s just that kids look up to us. But I want to say all the time, ‘I have absolutely no clue what I’m doing, but I’m going to drag you along with me, and we’re going to do our best.’ You know, try to be kind to the people you love. And that’s about it.” —Alice Cary Visit BookPage.com to read our starred review of The Half Moon.

The bestselling novelist continues to explore the history of New York City through its most fascinating buildings— this time, Radio City Music Hall.

June 20 The Only One Left By Riley Sager Dutton, $28, 9780593183229 Sager brings the gothic chills with this thriller about a caretaker assigned to a woman accused of a decadesold massacre.

Sixty-One By Chris Paul St. Martin’s, $30, 9781250276711 In a memoir that goes beyond basketball, the NBA legend shares life lessons passed on from his grandfather.

Welcome to Beach Town By Susan Wiggs William Morrow, $30, 9780062914163 A queen of the beach read, Wiggs transports readers to a California seaside town that’s reckoning with newly revealed secrets.

June 27 The First Ladies By Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray Berkley, $28, 9780593440285 The authors of The Personal Librarian explore the friendship between first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune. All publication dates are subject to change.


feature | pride


Celebrate Pride with eight queer stories by pioneering novelists, memoirists and journalists.

H LEG The limp in Greg Marshall’s right leg caused weakness and spasms throughout his life and required surgeries from time to time. He had actually been diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 18 months—but his parents never disclosed this fact, telling him instead that he had “tight tendons.” Marshall didn’t discover the true origin of his mobility limitations until 2014, by accident, when applying for health insurance. In different hands, Leg (Abrams, $28, 9781419763601) might have become a tragic family memoir, overshadowed by a mother who was diagnosed with cancer and a kindhearted father who died from Lou Gehrig’s disease when Marshall was 22. Instead, Marshall has written a riotously funny book that will steal your heart from the very first page. His writing brings to mind early David Sedaris, with its bitingly funny caricatures and descriptions, bathed in blistering commentary, deep-seated opinions, wit, intellect and, above all else, fierce family love. Along the way, Marshall also illuminates his ongoing quest for identity and relationships. “As a gay man and a person with a disability, I come out every day,” he writes. Rare is the book that makes me both laugh out loud and shed actual tears, but Leg made me do both. —Alice Cary

THE LATE AMERICANS Much like his first novel, Real Life, Brandon Taylor’s The Late Americans (Riverhead, $28,


9780593332337) follows a circle of lovers and friends in and around a university in Iowa as they badger, seduce and provoke one another over the span of an academic year. Financial, class and racial divisions are at the core of many of their interactions, as are disputes over the value of art rooted in trauma and concerns about selling out. Taylor has previously written stories about ballet, and his plotting and style mirror the art form. In dance, our focus moves from performer to performer, now watching a pas de deux, now a solo. His novel functions similarly, seamlessly shifting our gaze from the individual to the duo to the group and back again until, almost magically, the story is told and the piece comes to a close. A thought-provoking and lyrical novel about a group of people on the precipice of change, The Late Americans is a perceptive look at passion, sacrifice and intimacy among friends. —Lauren Bufferd

H LESBIAN LOVE STORY Book publicist-turned-writer Amelia Possanza’s debut book, Lesbian Love Story (Catapult, $27, 9781646221059), is part archival research and part memoir. Each chapter historicizes a lesbian love story, spanning from antiquity through the 1990s to offer a lively mix: Greek poet Sappho, golf star Babe Didrikson Zaharias, ground­breaking memoirist Mary Casal, Chicana activist and writer Gloria Anzaldúa and others. Possanza digs into the details of their lives with

passionate engagement, frequently turning the narrative from the archival subject back to herself and exploring personal topics vis-à-vis these historical women: gender identity, the vagaries and politics of cross-dressing, the insidious narrowness of second-wave feminism, friendship, power dynamics in relationships and, most of all, obsessive love. As she unearths these romantic stories, Possanza also identifies the gaps within them, the moments when she wants to know more. To fill these silences, she imagines the scenes she longs to see, engaging with history not as a disembodied historian but as a young lesbian who wants answers, who wants to find her people. —Kelly Blewett

THE DISENCHANTMENT Paris has a reputation, a certain je ne sais quoi that has enchanted people (and readers) for years. Fueling this fascination further is Celia Bell’s debut novel, inspired by the real-life Affair of the Poisons, a period of scandal in French high society from 1677 to 1682 when Paris was sensationalized by fortunetellers and love potions. Marie Catherine, the Baroness of Cardonnoy, is stuck in an unhappy marriage, but she finds frequent opportunities to rendezvous with her lover, Victoire Rose, Mademoiselle de Conti. The danger of their illicit affair being discovered only deepens the romance—that is, until a servant sees them kissing. As fate would have it, the baron is murdered the same night. Marie

feature | pride Catherine is overwhelmed by a sense of relief at never having to see the baron again, but the pleasure is short-lived, as some people begin to believe that she used poison and witchcraft to rid herself of her husband. For all those who love Paris, The Disenchantment (Pantheon, $28, 9780593317174) delivers a juicy romance with plenty of twists. —Chika Gujarathi

NOTES ON HER COLOR Jennifer Neal’s debut novel is a haunting coming-­of-age story, a melodic love letter to the language of music and a fierce, dark, rage-filled upbraiding of patriarchal violence. Gabrielle has the ability to change the color of her skin, a quality inherited from her mother, Tallulah. Chillingly, Gabrielle and Tallulah most often make their skin white to appease the family patriarch, a violent, abusive man who demands everything in the house be whitewashed. Gabrielle finds an unexpected source of freedom and solace in her piano teacher, a queer woman named Dominique. Neal’s prose is assured and evocative, and the magic of shifting skin tones enables a fascinating commentary on race, power, invisibility and desire. But where this novel truly shines is in its nuanced exploration of relationships between women. Notes on Her Color (Catapult, $27, 9781646221196) is about familial violence and the complex legacies of generational trauma. It’s also about queer joy and the hard, slow work of liberation. —Laura Sackton

FARRELL COVINGTON AND THE LIMITS OF STYLE In Paul Rudnick’s novel, Nate Reminger is shocked when Farrell Covington, the scion of

a very conservative, very Catholic, immeasurably wealthy family, declares that he may be in love with him. After a whirlwind freshman-year romance, Nate and Farrell are separated when Farrell’s flinty homophobic father blackmails his son into leaving Yale and promising to never see Nate again. It’s no spoiler to say that Nate and Farrell do indeed see each other again; the novel follows them for almost 50 years. Nate narrates the forces that keep the two apart and Farrell’s ingenious measures to bring them together, along with the ups and downs of late 20th-­ century gay life, including the vibrant downtown club scene of the 1970s and the AIDS crisis and its effect on both Hollywood and New York’s theater world. But while Farrell Covington and the Limits of Style (Atria, $28.99, 9781668004678) is heartfelt, it’s rarely somber. It’s a good-natured romp through the decades, with a large cast and plenty of clever quips and throwaway lines. —Sarah McCraw Crow

H HORSE BARBIE When Geena Rocero was a child in the Philippines, the country’s popular transgender beauty pageants drew her in first as a viewer and then as a competitor. Rocero dominated pageants throughout the late 1990s alongside a sisterhood of supportive trans beauty queens; she also began to take off-label estrogen to DIY her own medical transition. A move as a teenager to San Francisco enabled a social transition and subsequently a medical transition under a doctor’s care. The discrimination Rocero experienced as an Asian and Pacific Islander woman with a dark complexion made life in America difficult. But soon the long-legged beauty caught the attention of a fashion photographer in New York City, and her international modeling

career took off, landing her on billboards and in music videos. Yet Rocero remained closeted—and constantly afraid of being outed and potentially losing her career—for nearly a decade. Rocero’s memoir, Horse Barbie (Dial, $28, 9780593445884), is an emotionally engaging read. Her pride in her success as both a fashion model and a highly visible trans woman of color is hard won, and having the chance to read about it feels like a privilege. —Jessica Wakeman

MOBY DYKE Are lesbian bars endangered places? Down from a high of 206 bars recorded in 1987, there are currently only 20+ of these beloved, sticky, red-painted bars left in the U.S. Moby Dyke (Simon & Schuster, $28, 9781668000533), the chronicle of Krista Burton’s obsessive quest to visit each of these remaining bars, offers readers a hilarious and affectionate investigation into the past and future of queer gathering spots. Traveling from San Francisco to New York City, from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to Mobile, Alabama, Burton visits both historic neighborhood bars and newer nightclubs, talking to owners and patrons about why they love these bars. An accomplished and very funny journalist, Burton is able to track serious issues around queer belonging in a fresh and lively voice. The personal narrative underlying her pursuit of lesbian bars—including her marriage to Davin, a trans man, and coming out to her conservative Mormon family—is as topical and good-humored as the interviews and reportage contained here. —Catherine Hollis Visit BookPage.com to read the full reviews.


reviews | fiction

H All the Sinners Bleed By S.A. Cosby

Suspense S.A. Cosby’s All the Sinners Bleed (Flatiron, $27.99, ​​9781250831910) is at once a gripping character study and a darkly compelling example of Southern noir. As in his previous critically acclaimed novels (My Darkest Prayer, Blacktop Wasteland and Razorblade Tears), Cosby delves into the history, heart and hypocrisy of his home state of Virginia with anger and grace. Titus Crown has an impressive resume: star quarterback of his state championship-winning high school football team; top of his class at the University of Virginia and Columbia; standout FBI agent for 12 years. In 2016, he was elected the first-ever Black sheriff of Charon County, Virginia, where he grew up. It’s an experience he describes as being similar to living “in a no-man’s-land between people who believed in

H August Blue By Deborah Levy

Literary Fiction Deborah Levy’s slender, enchanted novel August Blue (FSG, $27, 9780374602048) has all the piercing detail and bewildering movement of a mid­ afternoon dream. In August, at a flea market in Athens, Greece, Elsa M. Anderson encounters a woman she comes to believe is her double. Perhaps to taunt Elsa, the woman purchases the very objects Elsa planned to buy for herself. “I felt she had stolen something from me, something that I would miss in my life,” Elsa thinks. She pursues her double, and the woman drops her black felt trilby hat, which Elsa retrieves and wears until the following August, when the story ends. Elsa, we learn, is 34 years old, a musical prodigy who has apparently, quite suddenly, lost her gift. Her recent performance in Vienna came to a jarring halt when her “fingers refused to bend for Rachmaninov and [she] began to play something else.” Orphaned at birth, she was adopted by a family in rural England, and when her musical talents became evident, was taken under the wing of Arthur Goldstein, her teacher and promoter. Her teacher is now old


him, people who hated him because of his skin color, and people who believed he was a traitor to his race.” Alas, the one-year anniversary of Titus’ election is marked not by celebration but by fear and grief, thanks to a shooting at the local high school. A young Black man named Latrell kills Mr. Spearman, a beloved white teacher. After a tense standoff, Latrell is dead, too, shot by Titus’ deputies. Soon Titus learns that this shocking and seemingly inexplicable event is the tip of a truly horrifying iceberg. He was already well aware that “the ability of one human to visit depravity upon another was boundless as the sea and as varied as there were grains of sand on a beach,” and that belief holds true: Over the course of his investigation into the shooting at the school, Titus discovers that a serial killer who preys on Black children

has been living among the close-knit Charon County community for years. As he and his deputies race to catch the killer, Titus must also contend with neo-Confederates determined to march through Charon’s annual Fall Fest, persistent political pressure and his own personal struggles. Unresolved trauma and uneasy relationships with his father and brother peck away at Titus’ equanimity as he strives to protect the citizens of Charon County while reckoning with the pain of his past. All the Sinners Bleed is a nerve-jangling, thought-provoking, often heartbreaking read, but also one that reminds readers “there was beauty in the world . . . if you knew where to look. It was there if you were brave enough or foolish enough to seek it.” —Linda M. Castellitto

and ailing. Elsa eventually goes to visit him in Sardinia, where she resists his offer to see the adoption documents that would reveal her parentage. In the meantime, she travels to teach piano to the disenchanted and unseen children of the elite. She has fraught, fleeting encounters with her double and carries on an internal dialogue with the woman throughout her journey. People recognize Elsa, photograph her and wonder about her. Sergei Rachmaninov, the feel and weight of his music, is certainly a motif in August Blue. So too are the works of philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche. Beneath the novel’s surface thrum questions and observations about civilization, culture, identity, the self and the many forms of love. The narrative, such as it is, unfolds until an encounter in Paris resolves some of Elsa’s questions.

novel offers the reader a dazzling gaze at the conundrums of existence. —Alden Mudge

Deborah Levy’s storytelling moves to its own music. Her sentences are sharp, sensuous, crackling with ironic humor. In addition to being a novelist, Levy is also a poet. Her storytelling moves to its own music. Her sentences are sharp, sensuous, crackling with ironic humor. Her paragraphs are compact, full of tension that pulls the reader forward. The

Between Two Moons By Aisha Abdel Gawad

Family Drama Aisha Abdel Gawad mixes family drama with a coming-of-age narrative in her debut novel, resulting in a gripping, intimate portrait of an Muslim family in the post-9/11 United States. Amira and Lina are twin sisters living in Brooklyn who will soon graduate from high school, but their celebration is cut short by life-changing news: Their brother, Sami, is being released from prison. At the same time, during the holy month of Ramadan, their Muslim neighborhood is experiencing hateful attacks. As their brother readjusts to society and the twins teeter on the precipice of adulthood, they all find that, although family and faith tie us together, such bonds can also be used to restrict and smother. Between Two Moons (Doubleday, $28, 9780385548618) is narrated primarily by Amira, the more bookish twin. She is ready for a fresh start, and college promises a profound reinvention. Unfortunately, freeing herself from

reviews | fiction the chains of family, specifically her two siblings, is far easier said than done. Although Lina looks up to Amira, Amira has always felt over­shadowed by her freewheeling twin, who aspires to be a model. Meanwhile, Sami remains cloaked in mystery; the twins have never known the reason he went to prison, and their adolescent memories of him are defined by his rage and destruction. However, when Sami returns, he doesn’t go back to making drug deals on the corner or getting into screaming matches with their parents, a shift that initially makes the twins uneasy. But soon, the family learns to be together again: Sami works with their dad at his butcher shop, and the five of them take a trip to Coney Island in a heartwarming scene of unity. Such rosy moments are fleeting, as Islamophobia casts a long shadow over the story. Characters frequently make jokes or references to the Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prisons, but this comes from their collective pain, the torture they have experienced under the threat of hate. Some characters find ways to resist this malice, such as Faraj, Amira’s love interest and a community organizer who tries to teach Amira about bringing people together. Meanwhile, Sami devotes himself to his faith, developing a “third eye” mark on his forehead from praying. By the end of Between Two Moons, it is unclear whether these efforts make any tangible change, but that isn’t really the point. Coming together, feeling for one another no matter what each of us have been through—this is what Abdel Gawad’s novel advocates for. There is no more powerful message. —Eric A. Ponce

H Dances

By Nicole Cuffy

Literary Fiction Have you ever read a book that you could dance along to, as if it were a song? Nicole Cuffy’s engaging novel, Dances (One World, $27, 9780593498156), is one of those books. The author (and her 22-year-old protagonist, Celine “Cece” Cordell) loves terms like grand plié, grand battement, dégagé, double saut de basque, entrechat six and chassé développé. If you’ve been to the ballet, you’ve seen these avian, gravity-defying moves, even if you don’t know what they’re called. Perfectly executed, they take your breath away. Here’s the rub: The human body wasn’t meant to move like this, at least not regularly. Ballet

dancers know this, and some seem to revel in the pain their art causes them. According to author and former ballerina Alice Robb, for some dancers that first bleeding toenail caused by their pointe shoe is a rite of passage. And to keep a tortured body fighting fit, you can’t even eat like a normal human being. One thing we learn about Cece is that she doesn’t valorize pain, whether physical or emotional. She’ll accept the former to become the first Black female principal dancer of the New York City Ballet. She grew up with the latter thanks to her fractured family: her withholding mother, her neglectful father and, most of all, her brother, Paul. Indeed, Paul is the source of her greatest pain. A talented artist who introduced her to ballet and paid for her lessons when her mother wouldn’t or couldn’t, Paul vanished into drugs and despair as Cece rose to the heights. While Cuffy captures the inevitable politics of the ballet world, they affect Cece lightly. Blessed with a snarky sense of humor, she’s smart, humble and kindhearted. Most people wish Cece well, and more than a few love her, including her Russian-born mentor, Kazimir Volkov. Cece is sort of the Suzanne Farrell to his George Balanchine. Kaz’s wife dislikes Cece, but only because she thinks they’re having an affair. (They’re not.) Cece has fans, companies want her endorsement, and glossy magazines want to interview her. Besides her mother’s, the only voices of doubt in Cece’s life are the ones she hears in her own head. It’s true that most ballerinas don’t look like her, and the art form wasn’t created for bodies as curvy and powerful as hers. But in the end, her thoughts always return to Paul. When she forces her body to perform and ignores the pain, she does it for him, wherever he is. And when she dances, we want to dance with her. There’s no higher praise for a book like Dances. —Arlene McKanic

H Lady Tan’s Circle of


By Lisa See

Historical Fiction Lady Tan’s Circle of Women (Scribner, $28, 9781982117085) is an immersive tale about an elite woman who becomes a physician in spite of societal restrictions during China’s Ming Dynasty. From a young age, Tan Yunxian understands her place in the world as a “proper Confucian woman”: “When a girl, obey your father; when

a wife, obey your husband; when a widow, obey your son.” However, after Yunxian goes to live with her grandparents, her grandmother introduces her to hereditary medicine, especially related to women’s illnesses. Yunxian also meets beautiful Meiling, a midwife in training. Meiling becomes Yunxian’s only friend and gives her a glimpse of the world outside the confines of her privileged life. Despite Yunxian’s knowledge and desire to learn about medicine, she cannot escape gendered societal expectations. After getting married, her controlling and traditional mother-­ in-law bans her from helping the women in her new clan. She is also forbidden from seeing Meiling. Lisa See’s spellbinding historical novel, inspired by Miscellaneous Records of a Female Doctor by the real-life Tan Yunxian, vividly depicts 15th-century China with artfully woven details, rich characters and descriptive language. See captures a world of propriety and cruelty as she ruminates on the disparity between the lives of men and women, and how women—no matter their class—are treated as possessions of the men around them. But through her strong-willed characters, See also emphasizes how women can act as the anchors of society.

Lisa See’s spellbinding novel depicts 15th-century China with artfully woven details, rich characters and descriptive language. Yunxian is immediately likable, with a palpable commitment to persevering amid struggles and taking care of both herself and the circle of women that depend on her. Yunxian describes the world around her—the practice of foot binding, the marriage of girls at a young age and the duties expected of women—with a balanced, objective tone, one befitting a physician who must observe and diagnose. Yunxian’s shrewdness, a reflection of her grandmother’s interpretation of a Chinese aphorism (“Be a hidden dragon. Do not act.”), helps her strike that delicate balance between conforming to a woman’s role and pursuing her personal goals. Poetic maxims about life are smoothly incorporated into the narrative, imbuing Lady Tan’s Circle of Women with an element of mysticism, while references to medicinal formulas and theories reflect the cultural beliefs of 15th-century China, many of which are still practiced today. For fans of historical fiction, this is an emotional and illuminating epic. —Maya Fleischmann


How to write a book about how to stay married


interview | harrison scott key

Harrison Scott Key applies his trademark humor to a rather serious subject, to hilarious and heartbreaking effect. Before the release of each of his previous two the year after the drama concluded is that the books—The World’s Largest Man, winner of the scenic details were very accurate and intense. 2016 Thurber Prize for American Humor, and . . . Obviously, the downside is that you haven’t really processed what’s happening, and so your 2018’s Congratulations, Who Are You Again?— perspective on it is very different than it will be Harrison Scott Key had what one might call a in six months, in two years.” bit of a freakout. Whether Key welcomed it As Key explains in a call Visit BookPage.com to read our from his Savannah, Georgia, or not, additional processing starred review of How to Stay Married. home, “You’re working on a did occur during the editing book for two, three, somestage of the book. “Even in at a marriage in extreme crisis, written by a times four years, and it’s like just the last three months, I man as open about his own faults as he is about a lightning rod that focuses probably read through the his wife’s—or, you know, Chad’s (wears cargo all of your creative vitality.” entire thing four times,” he shorts, listens to Kid Rock). says. “Being forced to live During Key’s quest for understanding about Then, when you’re finished, through these scenes and “you have all of this psychic the breakdown of his marriage, he also found energy that has to go someface the really awful realities himself reconsidering his Christian faith. “My of things that happened has where. I usually just try to religion was this enormous toolshed full of been therapeutic, because it pour it into a new book idea strange tools,” he says, “and it wasn’t until this . . . and I usually hit a wall with has exposed me to them over experience that I realized I was so bereft of soluthat . . . and then I start wanand over so that I’m not afraid tions that I needed to maybe go out into that dering around the house and of these memories anymore.” old Jesus-y toolshed and see if some of it could talking about how maybe I’ll They will be stirred up again help.” Key also read widely, from the book of go to dental school because I as he promotes the book, of Psalms to the Tao Te Ching, and “just the fact clearly can’t write anymore.” course, but “I am not unused that the stuff I was experiencing was not new While the author has to people reading about . . . was really reassuring.” become accustomed to behind-the-scenes stuff in Ultimately, Key says, “this idea of forgiveH How to Stay Married the stressful “interregnum” my life, the kinds of things ness and mercy when you want to punish, it’s Avid Reader, $27.99, 9781668015506 between a manuscript’s compeople don’t talk about,” he so counterintuitive for most people, but really the spine of Christianity is forgiveness . . . and pletion and the reading pubsays. “What makes this book Memoir not until this moment with my wife did I really lic’s reaction—via interviews weird is my wife and her role in it; that part is very strange.” and reviews, as well as a flurry of promotional understand.” He adds, “I would not be here, I events—Key has experienced even more heightBy this, Key means the impressively honest would not be in this house, my family would ened emotion and anticipation since the comand vulnerable chapter that Lauren contributed not be whole, without that faith.” As Key readies himself for the debut of How pletion of his newest book, How to Stay Married. called “A Whore in Church.” He told Lauren, “I The subject matter’s the thing: In his third think you need to talk about your mom and your to Stay Married, he says Lauren is “owning memoir, Key takes his trademark mixture of raddad and your childhood and everything that’s what’s happening in the story. She and I have gone into this holding hands.” And who knows ical honesty and frequent hilarity to a new level happened with us. You should just vomit it out as he describes what it was like when Lauren, there because I feel like it will be really good, what else might lie ahead for the duo? The his wife of 15 years and the mother of their three and I feel like I can’t tell my story if you don’t author says with a laugh, “Both of us can X-ray daughters, revealed that, for the preceding five te l l you r marriages now story.” And years, she had been having an affair with a mar“This idea of forgiveness and mercy just by interactried neighbor, whom Key dubs “Chad.” True so she did. ing with people. when you want to punish, it’s so to the book’s title, the couple has managed to After read­ . . . Maybe that’s remain married but not without several years ing Lauren’s our next calling, counterintuitive for most people.” to be the Oprah of rage, despair, negotiation, crying and therchapter, Key apy, including a lot of talking with each other, wasn’t surprised that it was well written and and Dr. Phil of marriages on TV.” evocative. In fact, “Reading it was horrifying friends, family, professionals and more. No matter what future adventure might be Lauren’s shocking revelation came in 2017, and exhilarating . . . and I loved it,” he says. His on the horizon, for now, Key says, “the ability and the book’s emotional roller coaster of events previously trepidatious publishing team felt the to see through pain and anger and trauma and bad choices and see the human heart that’s in concludes in 2022, rendering them still relatively same way. “When I shared it with my editor and fresh. “Even if nobody bought it, even if my agent agent,” he says, “they were like, ‘Holy crap, this there—if I could take anything away from this is awesome, it has to be in there.’ ” And it is: an hated it, I had to get this mf-ing book out of my experience, it would be hopefully a better ability to do that.” brain and my heart,” Key says. “The benefit unusual aspect of a book that is itself unusual —Linda M. Castellitto of writing about it as it was happening and in in its unflinching—and often very funny—look


reviews | nonfiction

H Women We Buried, Women We Burned

forever incomplete. Their father soon remarried, moving them near Chicago and immersing the newly blended family into the fervid world of evangelical Christianity. Church, Bible readings, forced hugs and bruising spankings were the remedies for all broken rules, and Snyder eventually rebelled in every way she could. Snyder was kicked out of her house at age 16, and her path from a homeless teenager to a college professor— one who, in her work as a journalist, has borne witness to women’s victimization across the world—is a journey worth following. It began when Snyder spent a semester of college traveling internationally by boat, funded in part by her mother’s brother. Though she had never left America before, she ended up visiting Japan, China, South Africa, India and Kenya with other college students. Along the way, she discovered

that several of her fellow students had also lost a parent, and she wondered if that made them all more curious about simply being alive. Later, Snyder’s years living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where the Khmer Rouge’s legacy of genocide still silently throbbed between generations, provided another education altogether. She describes the pulsing monsoon rains, the never-ending search for soldiers gone missing during the Vietnam War and the geckos climbing her apartment walls with a precision that makes even her most everyday observations vividly alive. With the birth of her daughter, Snyder was able to reach a deeper understanding—and a sharper judgment—of her father and stepmother. The life she builds from this new wisdom is another kind of journey, one equally worth following. —Priscilla Kipp

A year later, Cooper was invited to attend a birding festival in Alabama. As he walked across Selma’s infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge, By Christian Cooper he reflected on the day that bridge became a bloodbath in 1965 and on the travails his ancesMemoir tors must have endured. “In that context, my Christian Cooper incident in Central Park is just an asterisk,” has been bird-­ he writes. “More than a year later, it remains watching in Central exceedingly strange for me—the notoriety, Park for decades, but that I’d even be mentioned in the annals of the nation’s racial strife.” a spring migratory excursion took a draThroughout his wide-ranging memoir, matic turn on May 25, Cooper is a thoughtful, enthusiastic narrator. 2020, when a woman Growing up as a Black kid on Long Island, New refused his request to York, in the 1970s, “I was rarer than an Ivoryleash her wandering Billed Woodpecker in the very white world of dog, per park regulations. He was hoping to birding,” he writes. “As I simultaneously strugspy a ground-dwelling bird called a mourning gled with being queer, birds took me away from warbler and knew that her unleashed pet would my woes suffocating in the closet.” Cooper gradmake his quest impossible. After she refused ually came out to family and friends, beginning and Cooper began filming with his phone, while studying at Harvard in the 1980s. He Amy Cooper—a white woman of no relation— went on to become one of Marvel’s first openly announced that she was about to call the police, gay writers and editors—aside from birds, his adding, “I’m going to tell them that there’s an other passions include superhero comics and African American man threatening my life.” sci-fi and fantasy—and introduced the first gay male Star Trek character in the Starfleet Her blatant use of “weaponized racism” went viral. As Cooper aptly sums up the incident in Academy series. In entertaining prose, Cooper Better Living Through Birding: Notes From reminisces about his life, writing especially poia Black Man in the Natural World (Random gnantly about his often-difficult relationship House, $28, 9780593242384), “Fourteen words, with his father. Tying these multifaceted strands together is captured amid sixty-nine seconds of video, that would alter the trajectory of two lives.” This no easy feat, but Cooper does it well. He pepencounter happened on the same day George pers the text with helpful tips for beginning birdFloyd was murdered. ers while recounting vivid excursions through

Nepal, the Galapagos, Australia and, of course, his beloved Central Park. Generous soul that he is, Cooper writes that outrage shouldn’t be focused on Amy Cooper. Instead, he concludes, “Focusing on her is a distraction and lets too many people off the hook from the hard, ongoing examination of themselves and their own racial biases. . . . If you’re looking for Amy Cooper to yell at, look in the mirror.” —Alice Cary

By Rachel Louise Snyder

Memoir Investigative journalist and award-winning author Rachel Louise Snyder has reported on natural disasters, genocides, wars and social justice issues around the globe. Acclaimed for her seminal 2019 study of domestic violence in America, No Visible Bruises, she turns her focus to her own troubled family history in Women We Buried, Women We Burned (Bloomsbury, $29, 9781635579123), a memoir that is compelling, propulsive, gripping and disturbing in equal measure. Snyder was 8 when her mother died of breast cancer at age 35. Growing up with her older brother near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Snyder had basked in her Jewish mother’s beauty and love; the loss left her feeling haunted and

Better Living Through Birding

Many Things Under a Rock By David Scheel

Animals Did you know octopuses can shift their skin to create papillae, bumps or folds? Or that they don’t see color but can see polarized light? Did you know they can be cannibals but also seem to live in relationship with other creatures? In Many Things Under a Rock: The Mysteries of Octopuses (Norton, $28.95, 9781324020691), David Scheel shares these facts and many more. Scheel is a professor of marine biology at Alaska Pacific University, but Many Things Under a Rock is accessible regardless of the reader’s amount of scientific


reviews | nonfiction knowledge. Scheel’s straightforward prose places readers beside him as he gets to know the elusive, intriguing octopus. He describes the mollusks, their habits, their characteristics and their habitats in detail gathered from 25 years of research and observation. And the book is well researched, with dozens of pages of meticulous notes as evidence. But Scheel doesn’t overload his text with annotations, and he never turns to jargon or complex explanations to ensure that he’s perceived as an expert. Instead, Scheel invites readers along on a journey of discovery. He shares the lessons he’s learned about octopuses by recounting research trips and personal anecdotes, writing like a teacher who is eager to invite readers into octopuses’ magical world. It’s as though he’s in the water with us, lifting a stone or pushing aside seaweed to show off the many things that can exist under a rock (which is a translation of the Eyak word for octopus). Scheel’s curiosity about octopuses parallels his curiosity about Alaska Native history, and his respect for Indigenous experiences is obvious. Particularly in the early years of his studies, Scheel turned to Native people for insight into the cephalopods they’ve hunted for centuries. He weaves their knowledge and stories into this book, showing appreciation for shared wisdom and making Many Things Under a Rock a treasure trove of expertise, generously shared. —Carla Jean Whitley

Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City By Jane Wong

Memoir In her debut memoir in essays, Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City (Tin House, $27.95, 9781953534675), poet Jane Wong offers a nonlinear narrative of her life and her family’s lives. Her parents emigrated from China in the 1980s, when they were in their early 20s, and settled on the Jersey Shore to run a Chinese restaurant. “This is the story of lost enterprises,” Wong writes about Atlantic City in the elegiac title essay. “Of boarded-­up pizza joints, lonely stuffed animals sans tipsy game operators, echoing parking lots with floating trash, and neon lights toppled over like sand castles.” Those lost enterprises also refer to Wong’s father’s gambling addiction, which led to the downfall of the family restaurant, and his eventual disappearance from their lives. His experience is part of a larger story that also develops


throughout the memoir: that of big gambling companies preying on Asian Americans, allowing gambling to take hold of vulnerable communities. These strands of systemic injustice are braided with Wong’s own memories of her childhood. “Here is one scene, on a shore of many: on the way back to Caesar’s Palace, my mother sits on a boardwalk bench, the dune grass behind her like the back of a throne,” she writes. “From her purse: stolen bread rolls from the Palace Buffet. She chews out all her anger on those bread rolls.” In the gorgeous essay “Root Canal Street,” Wong links the cruelly casual racism she experienced in middle school and high school, her parents’ upbringing in rural Maoist China and trips with her mother to see unlicensed dentists in Chinatown, arranged by a friend of a friend whom they paid in baked goods. “A cornucopia for crowns: crispy almond biscuits; pineapple buns with golden cracks like some fantastical goose egg . . . egg tarts with their pools of custard glory; and chewy winter melon cakes with sesame seeds.” Wong writes with anger and clarity about men who have abused her and the racism she’s endured throughout her life, including at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. But mostly this memoir is a story of family as Wong recalls her absent father, her intrepid and resilient mother, her brother and her grandparents. Interspersed between the book’s longer essays are sections devoted to Wongmom.com, an imaginary website where you could type a question or worry, and Wong’s mother would offer a reassuring answer. (And for those wondering about the book’s evocative title: Yes, the memoir includes a Bruce sighting.) Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City is experimental in form and dense with beautiful sensory images, particularly of food. In her own indelible way, Wong records her coming of age and finding her place in her family, in poetry and in the world. —Sarah McCraw Crow

Road to Surrender By Evan Thomas

History The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not immediately bring World War II to an end. Bestselling author Evan Thomas (Ike’s Bluff) explains why in his superbly crafted military and diplomatic history Road to Surrender: Three Men and the Countdown to the End of World

War II (Random House, $28, 9780399589256). “This book is a narrative of how the most destructive war in history ended—and very nearly did not,” he writes. “It asks what it was like to be one of the decent, imperfect people who made the decision to use a frighteningly powerful new weapon.” The three main figures, two American and one Japanese, were quite different from one another. The only thing they had in common was a desire to end the war. Henry L. Stimson, a Republican lawyer from New York, had been the secretary of state for Herbert Hoover and the secretary of war for William Howard Taft, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman. His responsibilities included making decisions about the use of the atomic bomb. Thomas writes that Stimson “embodied and preached a philosophy that would make the United States, for all its flaws, the world’s essential nation: the belief that American foreign policy . . . should balance humanitarian and ethical values with cold-eyed power used in the national interest.” The other American was General Carl “Tooey” Spaatz, a West Point graduate who had been commander of strategic bombing in Europe before he was assigned the same responsibility in the Pacific. He was initially opposed to using the atomic bomb, but when the Japanese military continued to resist surrendering, he recommended dropping a third atomic bomb on Tokyo. Throughout his career, he remained deeply disturbed about the devastation and loss of life caused by these dreadful bombs. The third man, career diplomat Shigenori Togo, became Japan’s foreign minister in 1941 and was very much against going to war with the United States. He left office for several years but returned in 1945 to take on a virtually impossible task: to push his military-led government toward surrender. As Thomas describes Japan’s predicament in 1945, “Some of the men now running the Japanese government want to bring the war to an end, but in a society where even the word surrender is forbidden, they cannot admit it.” Whether the A-bomb should have been used at all remains a controversial subject. Thomas effectively shows, with meticulous scholarship, that even after two atomic bombs had been dropped, the most influential military leaders in Japan insisted on continuing to fight. “Had Japan fought on,” he writes, “likely many more people would have died, possibly millions more, in Asia as well as Japan.” Drawing on a wide range of sources, including the primary figures’ diaries, Thomas makes the period come vividly alive. This moving account of three men of peace who had to make life or death decisions will interest history lovers everywhere. —Roger Bishop

reviews | young adult

H Everyone Wants to Know By Kelly Loy Gilbert

Fiction Seventeen-year-old Honor Lo and her tightknit family are reality show celebrities, but life in the spotlight has taken its toll. Their show, “Lo and Behold,” is no longer on the air, so Honor’s parents and older siblings make their money from endorsements, brand sponsorships and book deals. To maintain that cash flow, they must present an image of togetherness and likability, which becomes nearly impossible after Honor’s parents announce their separation. The family becomes the subject of criticism in online forums and gossip magazines, and Honor even cuts off ties with her two best friends because she thinks one of them sold her out to People magazine. Honor doesn’t want anything to do with a public persona; the pressure of fame has even

Julieta and the Romeos By Maria E. Andreu

Romance After earning a spot in a prestigious high school writing intensive, Jules wants nothing more than to spend her summer drafting incredible stories. But when she posts her first idea online, a mysterious collaborator named “Happily Ever Drafter” responds. Could this person be Ryan, a fellow writer and her best friend’s twin? Could it be Calvin, her abuela’s cute new neighbor? Or maybe it’s Lucas, her childhood friend and fellow waiter at her family’s restaurant? As Jules writes, investigates and builds relationships, she discovers that love may be more complicated than novels make it seem. Maria E. Andreu’s Julieta and the Romeos (Balzer + Bray, $19.99, 9780062996541) is a sweet coming-of-age novel that plays off classic romance tropes. Each Romeo fulfills a convention—enemies to lovers (Ryan), friends to lovers (Lucas) and the boy next door (Calvin)—but Jules is refreshingly aware of these tropes and actively tries to see past them, often leading to unexpected and humorous confrontations. While romance drives the story’s mystery plot, Julieta and the Romeos is ultimately about Jules’ process of learning to take hold of

led to panic attacks. She’d rather make art—miniature clay food—and spend time with her family, even as divided as it is. She meets a boy at school, Caden, who is experiencing his own family dysfunction, but his personal struggles leave her feeling insecure. And just when things are at their worst, the family receives devastating news that alters their whole trajectory. Kelly Loy Gilbert’s fourth novel is an incredible exploration of celebrity obsession, consumerism and the way even “wholesome” reality TV can exploit children, all told through the story of a loving family that has lost its way. Honor’s mother pushes her kids to maintain their brand and “control [their] narrative,” while her dad constantly speaks like he’s giving a TED Talk. Though some people may deem the Los’ pursuit of fame exploitative, Honor’s parents view

their success as an embodiment of the American dream, particularly since Honor’s Chinese ancestors worked tirelessly so their descendants could thrive. The members of the Lo family feel like real people whom Gilbert has simply observed and described, even as she goes deeper and questions their culpability. For example, how much privacy are they entitled to if they put their entire lives online? Complete with realistic dialogue and achingly wrought emotion, Everyone Wants to Know (Simon & Schuster, $19.99, 9781665901369) is a thought-provoking novel about empathy, individuality and toxicity that reminds readers of social media’s power to distort reality, and that behind the accounts are real people whose real stories you know nothing about. —Kimberly Giarratano

her own destiny. A child of Argentine immigrants, Julieta feels a tension between her duty to the family business and her own dreams of becoming a writer. Jules faces many choices, and she must learn to make decisions that reflect what she truly believes in, rather than acquiescing half-heartedly or under pressure. Amid these serious concerns, Julieta and the Romeos remains funny, lighthearted and true to the rom-com genre. As Jules learns to see beyond traditional expectations about life and love, she discovers that she has the power to create the life she wants for herself. Her story encourages readers to choose the paths that make them feel healthiest, happiest and most at home. —Tami Orendain

Private investigator Io Ora and her sisters, Thais and Ava, trace their lineage to the Fates, whose descendants always come in the form of a trio: one to weave the threads, one to pull them out and one to cut them. The lives they’ve carefully built are threatened when a string of murders targeting other-born sweeps through the impoverished area of Alante. Io is hired by Fortuna’s leader, the Mob Queen, to investigate alongside a stranger named Edei. Soon, Io and Edei are pulled into a tangle of theories and leads, finding danger at every turn, as well as solace in each other. Kika Hatzopoulou’s debut novel, Threads That Bind (Razorbill, $19.99, 9780593528716), is a high-concept fantasy mystery filled with political intrigue. Drawing on the pantheons of gods from a variety of cultures, Hatzopoulou puts an enticing spin on the idea of inherited godhood: People with powers are feared rather than revered. The frame of a murder mystery allows for a layered narrative that plays on interpersonal and societal dynamics, and the political commentary is well balanced with Io and Edei’s sleuthing. Fans of Amanda Foody’s Ace of Shades or Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows will find a similar atmosphere here. Despite Threads That Bind’s excellent concept, a few important questions go unanswered, clearly setting up the narrative for a sequel but potentially leaving readers scratching their heads. Still, readers who are interested in mythology will appreciate this unique take on the genre and enjoy a largely promising start to a new series. —Mariel Fechik

Threads That Bind By Kika Hatzopoulou

Fantasy In the collapsed city-nation of Alante, the “other-born” are descendants of long-ago gods who have inherited their ancestors’ powers. Stigmatized and sometimes feared, they often live in poverty. Still, the people of Alante rely on other-born like the descendants of the Muses and the Furies to provide guidance and order for society.


feature | ya pride

Read with pride

In these amazing YA books, queer teens fall in (and out) of love, figure themselves out, fight for change and pave new paths. June is Pride month, a time to reflect on hard-won freedoms to be who we are and love who we love. The spirit of Pride shines indomitably in these five books for teen readers.

H Imogen, Obviously Eighteen-year-old Imogen Scott obviously knows who she is. She’s a top-tier people pleaser and “the kind of person who has a favorite adverb (obviously, obviously).” She’s straight but a visible ally, having attended every Pride Alliance meeting at her high school and consumed as much queer media as she can. As Imogen, Obviously (Balzer + Bray, $19.99, 9780063045873) opens, Imogen is spending her spring break visiting her childhood best friend, Lili, at Blackwell College. There, Imogen learns that Lili has, in an effort to fit in with her new group of ride-or-die queer friends, told a lie: that she and Imogen used to date. Suddenly, Imogen is pretending to be bisexual, a role she didn’t expect to find so comfortable. Then she meets Lili’s friend Tessa. Three nights later, Imogen can’t help asking herself, “One girl can’t topple your entire sexuality, right?” Bestselling author Becky Albertalli’s latest novel offers a gentle, hilarious and authentic look at figuring out who you are on your own timeline. A heartfelt letter from the author included with advance editions of the book fills in anyone unfamiliar with Albertalli’s own coming-out story, and it’s easy to see how writing this novel must have been a cathartic way to allegorize her experience. Each of the book’s nine parts constitutes a different day of Imogen’s visit with Lili, and this structure, combined with her intimate first-person point of view, provides an almost stream-of-conscious quality to the narrative. It also makes it nearly impossible for the reader not to love Imogen. As in Albertalli’s previous books, the dialogue is realistic, and text message conversations sprinkled throughout add humor and depth. Pop culture junkies will eat up all the But I’m a Cheerleader references (including the book’s gorgeous cover) and feel genuine disappointment to discover that the rom-com Shop Talk isn’t real. There’s no shortage of coming-out novels, but there is always a need for more. Imogen’s coming out is unique, just as Albertalli’s was, and any reader will be able to identify with Imogen’s desire to be her true self while battling her fear of others’ judgment. Imogen will obviously be welcomed into the lives of Albertalli’s fans and new readers alike. —Emily Koch

If I Can Give You That Meeting new people in new places is definitely not Gael’s thing. But his best friend, Nicole, a sophomore in college, is the leader of Plus, a gathering of LGBTQIA+ teens, and she thinks the group would be good for Gael, a transgender boy who attends a conservative high school in Tennessee. Nicole introduces him to Declan, a boy in his AP Literature class whom Gael hadn’t previously gotten to know. As Gael explores a world of friendship and socializing that he hadn’t realized he’d been missing, he also contends with unexpected feelings of attraction. Are trans boys like him “allowed” to also be gay? Can he be desired for who he really is? Can he really share his heart, when his depressed mother and absent father have led him to believe that love


will always hurt? And, in the larger world, will fundraising and actively courting sponsors be enough to keep the endangered Plus from permanent closure? If I Can Give You That (Quill Tree, $19.99, 9780063091702) feels like a worthy homage to one of the first young adult books to feature a gay relationship, John Donovan’s I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip. Gael, like Donovan’s Davy, is just beginning to be aware of his own thoughts and feelings. Declan and Nicole, like Davy’s friend Altschuler, serve as wise companions. Gender dysphoria, generalized anxiety, depression and complex family dynamics are portrayed thoughtfully and compassionately, and Gael’s desire to live in the moment will strike a chord with teen readers who are frustrated by the need to think ahead about college and careers. Author Michael Gray Bulla, who was the 2017 Nashville Youth Poet Laureate, grounds his debut YA novel in contemporary concerns. The current politics of being transgender in Tennessee, health care hoops to jump through and classroom debates about bathroom bills (Gael isn’t allowed to use the men’s restroom at his school) connect the fictional story to our difficult reality. Declan, who wants to be an English professor, tells Gael that “the best literature does what it’s writing about.” If I Can Give You That fulfills this description, modeling multiple possible ways to be an queer teen, an activist, a family caretaker and a friend. —Jill Ratzan

Different for Boys Anthony “Ant” Stevenson has done everything on the list. First base, second base—heck, he’s hit a home run, rounded all the bases and done it all more than once for good measure. The question of whether he’s lost his virginity, however, remains unanswered. When does that actually happen for boys, he wonders. And who gets to decide? Meanwhile, at school, Ant and his two pals are reunited with their former friend turned drama geek, Jack, who definitely, probably, is gay. Being gay is fine or whatever (right?), but Jack’s presence triggers a flickering response from Ant and his cohort, forcing them to confront the raw edges of their masculinity and reveal who’s been going around the bases with whom.

feature | ya pride A quick read with numerous emotional revelations that pack a hefty punch, Different for Boys (Walker, $18.99, 9781536228892) is almost too intimate, like taking a peek into Ant’s private diary. He is at once brave but conflicted, romantic but still a teenage boy “with teenage hormones.” Acclaimed author Patrick Ness’ spare prose allows readers to fly through the story, hungry to dive deeper into Ant’s sexual reckoning. Teenagers have sex in this novella, but you won’t actually read anything about it in the pages. Ness deploys a fourth wall-breaking technique in which a majority of the sexual and/or profane words are not only redacted by black boxes but also commented on by the novel’s characters. “It’s that kind of story,” says Ant. “Certain words are necessary because this is real life, but you can’t actually show ’em because we’re too young to read about the stuff we actually do, right?” This narrative choice means readers can only imagine what’s being said or described behind these redactions, which simultaneously brings readers closer and holds them at a distance. It also inspires us to reflect on what words and ideas are considered acceptable to articulate, aloud or even just to ourselves, and how those limits reflect what we value as a society. For all that is missing from Ness’ text, Tea Bendix’s thoughtfully rendered illustrations more than fill in the gaps. Their loose, unfinished style is reminiscent of sketches in a teenager’s notebook, perfect to enhance the intimacy and tension of Ness’ prose. Emotional and with just enough cheek, Different for Boys feels like the voice of a new queer generation. —Luis G. Rendon

Lion’s Legacy As the son and sidekick of a celebrity archaeologist, Tennessee Russo has been facing down ancient death traps since before he was old enough for his learner’s permit. Spending time on both sides of the camera for his father’s reality show, Ten is used to being in the spotlight, especially after coming out as gay on inter­national television. However, after Ten and his father get into an argument over the ethics of selling cultural artifacts to the highest bidder, his dad cuts him from the show and stops speaking to him. Two years later, Ten’s dad shows up unannounced to offer his son a chance to find the rings of the Sacred Band of Thebes. The Sacred Band was an ancient Greek army said to have comprised 150 queer couples. As with much of queer history, the warriors’ legendary love is dismissed by

historians as platonic, and Ten believes that finding their missing wedding rings will prove that queer love is older and stronger than the world wants to admit. But can he trust the man who abandoned him two years ago? With the rumored magical powers of the rings drawing dangerous attention, Ten will have to figure out who is really on his side if he wants to survive another season of his father’s show. L.C. Rosen’s Lion’s Legacy (Union Square, $18.99, 9781454948056) is an entertaining queer adventure reminiscent of classic movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Mummy. Hidden chambers, puzzles with deadly stakes and a fun, casual romance hit all the essential blockbuster buttons. However, Rosen’s take on the genre actively interrogates the ethics of treasure hunting, posing questions about the ownership of history and the responsible way to handle historical artifacts. Much like Ten’s strained relationship with his father, there’s a lot of nuance to work through to find the right path forward. Ten’s inner conflicts and the temple-raiding thrills are well balanced by Rosen, who sacrifices neither emotional complexity nor pacing. Lion’s Legacy is a celebration of the strength of queer community, whether felt by two queer people passing on the street, or resounding through the uncountable queer lives that have intersected throughout history. Ten knows queer history can be fun, weird, tragic and beautiful, but above all he knows it’s a history worth protecting. —RJ Witherow

H Only This Beautiful Moment Author Abdi Nazemian won a Lambda Literary Award for his debut novel for adults, The Walk-In Closet. His debut novel for teens, Like a Love Story, received a Stonewall Honor and was recognized by Time magazine as one of the 100 greatest YA novels of all time. His fifth book, Only This Beautiful Moment (Balzer + Bray, $19.99, 9780063039377), seems likely to continue Nazemian’s winning streak. Moud is a gay Iranian American teen living in Los Angeles. He doesn’t remember his mother, who died when he was very young, and his father, Saeed, is like an indifferent zombie—tolerant but hardly accepting. When Moud and Saeed travel to Tehran to be with Moud’s grandfather, Babak, generations of trauma, secrets and love come spilling out. Contrary to what Moud’s know-it-all white boyfriend says, Iran is full of life, art, beauty and yes, even queerness. “I think Americans are so bored that they talk about things that don’t really matter,” Moud’s cousin Ava quips before whisking him away to a party. Of course, living an authentic life is rarely simple. Intolerance, government corruption, economic instability—neither the United States nor Iran are immune. The blurriness of identity, even as it eventually comes into focus, is what makes Only This Beautiful Moment such an engaging read. Nazemian’s epic yarn comes together in long chapters that luxuriate in the novel’s settings as they hop between Los Angeles and Tehran in 1939, 1978 and 2019. The final product is nothing short of a masterpiece, tearing down the homophobic facade that separates queer people from their own history. “We exist. We always did. We always will,” says one of Babak’s mentors. “And wait until they all die and get to heaven and realize God was on our side the whole time.” Fans of Javier Calvo and Javier Ambrossi’s docu-drama Veneno will appreciate how Nazemian recalls the joy and pain of ancestral legacy. The novel also recalls Tony Kushner’s call to action in Angels in America: to be a better ally, to be better stewards of queer history and, put simply, to keep living. Only This Beautiful Moment is a queer epic, a defiant piece of art that transmutes the rallying cry of “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” into even more beautiful poetry that will almost certainly change the lives of those who read it. —Luis G. Rendon


q&a | robin gow

Finding ourselves in a monster In Dear Mothman, a sixth grader’s search for a mythical creature leads to friendship, healing and hope. Novelist and poet Robin Gow explores grief, queer identity and one of North America’s most beloved cryptids in Dear Mothman. Noah’s best friend, Lewis, always believed that Mothman, a creature first spotted in West Virginia in 1966, was real. After Lewis dies in a car crash, Noah decides to honor his friend by proving Mothman exists for a sixth-grade science fair project. As Noah seeks the truth about this local legend, he also finds the courage to show his truest self to the world. Introduce us to Noah and what he’s working through as the novel opens. Noah lost his best friend, Lewis, a few months earlier. Lewis and Noah shared so much—they were the only trans kids in school, and in many ways Lewis’ boldness made a pathway for Noah to express himself and his identity too. Noah has only recently started to come out to people as trans, so he’s also trying to understand how to share that without Lewis to lean on. Then there’s the question of Mothman. Noah has always been the skeptic of their duo, but without Lewis, he’s finding himself even more curious about Mothman.

on the relationships between queerness and monstrousness. Why was it important to you to explore these ideas—and to do so for a middle grade readership? When I was a middle schooler I didn’t know myself as a queer person. I didn’t have that language, but I always gravitated toward monsters because I could see how they were often misunderstood or mischaracterized by the stories they found themselves in. I wanted to speak to youth who, like me, gravitate towards the strange and the monstrous because we see ourselves in them. Then, also, I hoped to help us question what a monster is. Often monsters are echoes of what a society fears most, and those fears can be unfounded. They are often a version of “fear of the other.”

No ah m e ets n e w friends through LARPing—live-action roleplaying. What role do these new friends and LARPing play in Noah’s life? Why are they such an essential part of his story? The fact that these kids still use their imaginations to play signals to Noah that they might be possible friends and allies, because he also loves to dream and imagine. Things like LARPing and Dungeons Noah’s feelings of loss & Dragons can be a huge and grief come through part of queer culture. I mean yes, nonqueer so clearly. As you were people play them too, writing, what felt like but for queer people the most important H Dear Mothman aspects of his emotions these games are spaces Abrams, $18.99, 9781419764400 to capture and convey where we can be ourto the reader? selves and explore genMiddle Grade Fiction I wanted to capture the ders and sexualities ways grief is knotted and complicated. One without the confines and limits of the real world. moment we can feel intense despair and sadness. In the next we can find ways to twist those Early in the novel, when Noah is telling feelings into guilt or even frustration and anger. Mothman about a conversation he had with I thought it was important to show all the differhis mom, he writes, “No one listens to kids or ent ways Noah’s mind tries to wrap itself around monsters.” How do you think the world would Lewis’ absence and what it means for him and be different if this weren’t true? the world around him. I think we would be a more imaginative place. I think so many of the world’s problems persist because we’re forcibly cut off from our imaginaNoah relates to Mothman deeply, and the novel contains many beautiful reflections tions by crushing systems of capitalism and white


supremacy. Then we inflict that violence on our youth. Sometimes we do this to try to help them survive and sometimes we do this almost as a punishment. Because we had to go through it. I reflect on my experiences as a young autistic person in an ableist world. I was often made fun of, harassed and punished by adults and educators for my imagination, for being strange and for questioning what we were told. I learned to hide myself to avoid as much of that harassment as I could. I’ve spent most of my adult life working to reclaim what these systems have tried to beat out of me. This is the truth for so many youths, and at even higher rates for youth of color. I think about where our dreams and imaginations could take us if we gave all youth the space to be creative instead of just trying to survive. The world needs drastic change, and I think more than any group of people, youth can see that and have the curiosity and questions to bring forth that change. Two big-picture questions: What was the most rewarding part of writing this book? And what about the book are you most proud of? The most rewarding, I think, is how I’ve given space to Noah’s gender feelings. It’s sometimes hard to feel like we have space as trans people to have complicated and unsure feelings around gender, but I feel good about how that came through in this book. I’m proud of how I’ve navigated Mothman as a character and a presence. I struggled with how to end the story and not tie a neat bow but still give the reader a satisfying conclusion. I am someone who genuinely believes in monsters, ghosts and all things unexplained, and I feel proud of how I (I hope) have sustained that mystery and fantasy. —Nicole Brinkley Visit BookPage.com to read an extended version of this Q&A and our starred review of Dear Mothman.

feature | picture books

Bringing up baby—with books! It’s never too early to begin raising the next generation of readers. Whether you’re off to a baby shower or building a library for your own little bundle of joy, these four picture books are perfect choices.

This Is the First Book I Will Read to You Start off on the proverbial right foot with This Is the First Book I Will Read to You (Viking, $18.99, 9780593405055), in which a father celebrates the joys of reading with his newborn child. “I’ll be nervous,” he admits, “to share this moment that only you and I will be a part of.” As the father speaks, he gets the child ready for bed, walking through a house filled with photographs of a loving family. “You might not want to listen at first,” he continues. “But then we’ll find our way together.” Author Francesco Sedita’s sedate, pitch-perfect prose conveys the father’s jitters, but it’s dad’s quiet determination that rules the day. Magenta Fox’s sweet digital illustrations are bathed in soft pinks and blues. As parent and child walk into the nursery and begin to read, Fox depicts the imaginative transformation that follows as wallpaper with a forest motif becomes an actual forest. Suddenly, father and baby are right there in a wooded clearing as an inquisitive squirrel looks on. It’s the perfect visual representation of the transportive power of books. As they keep reading, the pair ascend a hill, reach the sea and gaze up at the moon. “We have stories to discover and magical places to visit, you and I,” the father shares. “But tonight, this is the first book I’ll read to you.” Sedita and Fox offer a gentle tribute to the strength of the parental bond and to all of the adventures, hopes and dreams that lie ahead.

H The World and Everything in It Kevin Henkes is widely known for his charming mouse characters, led by spunky Lilly of Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, as well as numerous children’s novels, including two Newbery Honor books. However, Henkes’ less rambunctious picture books, such as Old Bear, Waiting and The World and Everything in It (Greenwillow, $19.99, 9780063245648) are treasures that shouldn’t be missed, little gems that impart a deep sense of understanding and appreciation of our world. Henkes begins with a simple idea. “There are big things and little things in the world,” he writes. On the page opposite this text, we see an illustration of a large tree trunk with a small green sprout beside it. In subsequent pages, he explores this idea systematically through spot illustrations of “little animals,” “tiny flowers” and “pebbles.” There’s even an empty space captioned “things so small you can’t see them.” After that, he helps young readers begin to grasp where they fit in among all these big and small things. For instance, he notes that “the sea is big, but you can hold some of it in your hands.” And just like that, this talented literary magician seamlessly moves from straightforward statements of fact to a series of sentences that capture sublime wonders. “Most of the things are in-between,” he explains. “Like you. And me. And just about anything you can think of.” Henkes’ illustrations are tightly focused, economical and free of distractions—just right for the very young. He closes by repeating “Everything is in the world,” and the phrase feels like a benediction that reminds readers of the endless delights, both big and small, awaiting them.

H The Moon Remembers Stories about the moon are a staple for the very young, from perennial favorites like Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd’s Goodnight Moon to new classics such as Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr’s Owl Moon. E.B. Goodale’s exceptional The Moon Remembers (Clarion, $19.99, 9780358682325) deserves a place among them. The book’s endpapers show the black-and-white phases of a friendly-faced moon, adding a nice touch of reality to this anthropomorphic fantasy. As a round, almost full, smiling moon gazes lovingly down on a nude roly-poly brownskinned baby, we read that “when a baby is born, the moon is there. The moon remembers.” In fact, the moon remembers all babies, including your parents, and not just human babies: It shines its light down on baby crickets, rabbits, owls, flowers and trees. In a spread sure to find great favor, we learn that “even every DINOSAUR was a baby once!” Goodale’s spare text offers comfort and reassurance as it describes how the moon “remembers where you came from . . . even when you’ve forgotten.” Her artwork is fittingly suffused with the soft glow of moonlight, which appears especially luminous in spreads that depict a dark green forest filled with ferns and undergrowth. Against this moody, arboreal backdrop, pops of pink, purple, white and yellow wildflowers feel perfectly placed. The Moon Remembers pays quiet but powerful homage to families and the promise of new life. After all, the moon remembers “every life . . . every sweet moment. And the moon will remember you, perfect you, as you go and wherever you grow.”

Awake, Asleep Awake, Asleep (Orchard, $18.99, 9781338776218) chronicles a day in the lives of three young children in clever rhymes, following three families in the same neighborhood from dawn until bedtime. We meet a single-parent family, a multigenerational family with same-sex parents and a family who will soon welcome a new baby as we enjoy the beauty of an ordinary day. Author Kyle Lukoff won a 2022 Newbery Honor (along with a number of other awards) for his middle grade novel Too Bright to See. Here he employs far fewer words but with just as much impact, creating strings of short noun phrases to describe the ongoing action of the day. In an early spread, for instance, we read, “A yawn, a peep, a stretch, awake!” as we watch a cat, a child and their parent wake up and get out of bed. Later, Lukoff neatly summarizes a child’s evening meltdown over putting away a train set with “a take, a pry, a scream, a cry.” Because the scenes and situations are so readily identifiable, readers need no additional explanation. Nadia Alam’s illustrations present a series of curated moments depicting, for example, a father and child putting on their pink sneakers together in the morning, and later, another child helping an older relative who uses a cane stand up from a park bench. Alam showcases myriad emotions along with the love that pours over these children no matter their mood. The book concludes with a bedtime story, which makes Awake, Asleep feel like a loving review of the day gone by. —Alice Cary


reviews | children’s

The House That Whispers By Lin Thompson

Middle Grade When his parents decide they need private time to “talk,” 11-year-old Simon and his sisters, Talia and Rose, end up at their grandmother’s century-old house for the week. Nanaleen’s house used to be a comforting place, but now it feels wrong: It smells like wet towels, there’s a scritch-scritch-scritching sound in the walls, and the water stain above Simon’s bed keeps getting bigger. Worst of all, Simon could swear there’s a ghost. He sees it in the shadows of photographs and the dark corners of rooms, and he knows it’s coming for them. In order to save his family, Simon convinces his sisters to hunt for ghosts, the way they did when they were younger. But sleuthing feels impossible amid Simon’s anxieties about his family, Talia’s abandonment of him to spend

The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow By Elaine Dimopoulos Illustrated by Doug Salati

Middle Grade Of all the creatures in Milkweed Meadow, the most gifted storyteller is Butternut. She’s one of nine rabbit siblings and by far the most anxious of the bunch. With “brambles” of disaster scenarios running wild through her mind, Butternut knows she has to use her intelligence—what her protective grandmother calls her “milkweed”—to survive. Butternut, however, can’t stop thinking about the creatures in the world around her and how their lives affect one another. When she tries to help some squirrels in need, a rascally blue jay steals one of her warren’s treasures, and Butternut’s defensive brambles momentarily disappear in a fit of fury. She climbs a fence and steals the treasure back, making friends with a robin fledgling along the way. As other creatures in the meadow begin to listen to her stories, Butternut finds herself questioning some of her grandmother’s advice and begins to build interspecies bonds despite the prejudices of her family. And when disaster strikes, she must put aside what she’s been told


time with a cute new friend and Nanaleen’s worsening forgetfulness. Then Simon finds an old photograph of Nanaleen’s sister Brie, who went missing during her senior year of high school. Maybe she’s the ghost that’s haunting Simon—or maybe it’s all that’s gone unspoken in this stressed-out family. There are no real ghosts in Lin Thompson’s The House That Whispers (Little, Brown, $16.99, 9780316277112). Instead, the novel is a thoughtful, satisfying exploration of how secrets can weigh on the soul. Many concealments weave in and out of the narrative: Simon’s gender identity and new name, which he has yet to share with his family; Talia’s Sapphic feelings for her friend; Nanaleen’s declining health; and the underlying threat of a

potential divorce between Simon’s uncommunicative parents. Initially, the metaphorical haunting gives Simon a distraction from addressing all the problems around him, but eventually it leads to the discovery of his queer family legacy. His great-aunt Brie’s spiritual presence becomes a comfort for Simon (and Talia), proving the power of queer history to strengthen and encourage. Though not the spooky tale that some kids may wish for, The House That Whispers will still please readers of emotional middle grade fiction. —Nicole Brinkley

in order to do what she knows is right. With charming black-and-white illustrations from Caldecott Medalist Doug Salati (Hot Dog), Elaine Dimopoulos’ The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow (Charlesbridge, $17.99, 9781623543334) reckons with the reality of an untamed animal’s life while preserving the magic of wilderness. Butternut narrates with cheeky asides to the reader about how stories work: how she’s going to hold some information to build tension, and how she hopes you’ll love her cast of characters. Young readers who squirm when bad things happen to animals will need to avoid this one: The novel starts with a blue jay stealing and eating a robin’s egg. Children who understand the risky truths of living wild, however, will be left with the impression that, if they can be brave and forget their prejudices, they too can have an adventure worthy of an audience the size of a meadow. —Nicole Brinkley

water—oceans, ponds, lakes, rivers and more— in a text set primarily in conditional statements (the “when you can swim” of the title), as spoken by a parent to a child. This phrase is a refrain that conveys the abundant possibilities and delights of moving in the water: the “clinking / of waves passing in and out / of a million pebbles,” the ripples on a pond, the whitecaps on a river, “the smoke on the lake” and much more. In Jack Wong’s breathtaking watery landscapes, strong currents surge beneath rushing waterfalls, and sunlight shimmers on ocean waves and the surface of a river. Text and illustrations merge seamlessly to illuminate the ways in which swimming animates all the senses, and Wong writes with beguiling lyricism: “When you can swim, / you’ll reach landscapes as foreign as the moon / no spaceship required / except the craters are squishy and filled with reeds / ready to swallow loose sandals / but like good explorers, we’ll leave only footprints.” Wong’s playful perspectives are captivating. In one spread, from the perspective of lying on our backs in the water, we see “treetops drift by” and a dragonfly buzz near. In another, we turn the book for a stunning vertically oriented image of two girls who dive down after breaking the surface of a lake. A rich apricot-colored light adorns the top of the spread with darkness below, and Wong describes “tannin-soaked lakes / pitch dark from tree bark / like oversteeped tea.” The book’s ending features the same child in the book’s opening, ready to take swimming lessons at a public pool. An appended note from Wong, striking

H When You Can Swim By Jack Wong

Picture Book In When You Can Swim (Orchard, $18.99, 9781338830965), readers explore the joys of swimming in various bodies of

Visit BookPage.com to read our Q&A with Lin Thompson.

feature | meet the author

The Train Home By Dan-ah Kim

Picture Book The subway train runs right past Nari’s lively New York City apartment building, and she imagines riding it to far-flung destinations that offer quiet spaces away from the bustling city and her boisterous family and neighbors. A beach, a forest, outer space—Nari envisions what it would be like to visit all these places and more. But the farther Nari travels, the closer she feels to home and the people there who love her. Author-illustrator Dan-ah Kim’s The Train Home (Greenwillow, $19.99, 9780063076914) is a creative adventure, a charming homage to New York City and a sweet reminder that home is truly where the heart is. Kim’s prose is straightforward and unassuming, underpinned with subtle assonance and alliteration that make it a pleasure to read aloud. It also contains a few moments of splendid and clever descriptive imagery, as when Nari’s apartment building “grumbles with neighbors left and right, above and below.” Kim employs a variety of styles and media to create her visually distinct illustrations. She incorporates small pieces of cut paper and thread into images composed with pencil, gouache and acrylic. Nari herself is a simple outlined figure clad in loose yellow clothes, and she appears in stark contrast against busy, textured backdrops. Full-bleed, colorful spreads pull us into Nari’s real and imaginary worlds. Some of the places Nari imagines visiting on the train refer to real places connected by the subway in New York City, and New Yorkers and NYC fans will love spotting familiar sights such as Patience and Fortitude, the New York Public Library’s famous lion statues. Subway signs tie everything together and transform a mundane form of transportation into something filled with wonder. Journeys “there and back again” are an enduring genre of picture book, and strong artwork and tranquil storytelling make The Train Home a worthy addition to the tradition. —Jill Lorenzini



aissa Figueroa makes her debut as an author-­ illustrator with the tender and joyful picture book What My Daddy Loves (Clarion, $19.99, 9780358588771), which celebrates the bond between fathers and children. When she’s not working on one of her books, Figueroa, who won the 2022 Coretta Scott King Honor for We Wait for the Sun, enjoys searching for treasure on the beaches in her hometown of San Diego, California.


in its tenderness, explains his hesitancy as “an immigrant kid” in Canada to swim at public pools and his desire to tell a story with “differently colored characters” because “representation is power”—a point he makes incisively and beautifully in this splendid picture book. —Julie Danielson

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