feature | winter thrillers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
fiction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
Three stories served with a side of simmering rage
nonfiction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
q&a | ellery lloyd . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
young adult. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
The glamorous upsides and dark downsides of social media
children’s. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
feature | new year, new attitude. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 How to make 2021 as wonderful as possible
interview | charlie gilmour. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 A baby bird helps a writer come to terms with his past
cover story | eley williams. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
columns the hold list . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
A debut novel that will delight word lovers
feature | 2021 preview . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
audio . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Mark your calendars for these upcoming releases
well read. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
shelf life | kristin hannah. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
lifestyles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
The bestselling author shares a look into her book-loving life
book clubs. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
interview | mateo askaripour . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
romance. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
A riotous look at corporate America
cozies. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
feature | literary adaptations. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
whodunit . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Two novels add deeper dimension to literary classics
q&a | cynthia leitich smith & rosemary brosnan. . . . . . 29 Go inside a groundbreaking new children’s book imprint
meet | leuyen pham. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31 Meet the author-illustrator of Outside, Inside
Cover image © cintascotch/RooM/Getty Images (book); © ilbusca/DigitalVision/Getty Images (peacock).
PRESIDENT & FOUNDER Michael A. Zibart ASSOCIATE PUBLISHER Elizabeth Grace Herbert CONTROLLER Sharon Kozy MARKETING MANAGER Mary Claire Zibart
PUBLISHER & EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Trisha Ping DEPUTY EDITOR Cat Acree ASSOCIATE EDITORS Stephanie Appell Christy Lynch Savanna Walker
SUBSCRIPTIONS Katherine Klockenkemper CHILDREN’S BOOKS Allison Hammond CONTRIBUTOR Roger Bishop EDITORIAL INTERN Eric Ponce
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 are assigned by BookPage editors to indicate titles that are exceptionally executed in their genre or category.
BookPage offers bulk subscriptions for public libraries and bookstores to distribute to their patrons. Singlecopy subscriptions for individuals are also available. For more information or to subscribe, go to subscriptions. bookpage.com. Digital subscriptions are available through Kindle, Nook and Flipster.
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
For print or digital advertising inquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
All material © 2021 ProMotion, inc.
the hold list
Books that are personal treats, just for us January may be a time for resolutions, but it’s also a time for celebrating all we accomplished—or merely endured—the year before. We’re closing the door on 2020 and treating ourselves to these books as we begin the new year with hope. Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too How can something so cute be so devastating? In this comic book, Jonny (Jomny) Sun takes a goofy premise—a cute alien is sent to Earth to document human activity—and milks it for every drop of philosophical and existential wisdom. It’s sweet, silly, sentimental, but also frightening. At first, I was hesitant to choose this book for this month’s theme, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that its waves of emotion are a treat. It’s an indulgence and a wonder to step outside of your brain—all three pounds of tissue and synapses—and see the world through the eyes of a kind alien. And it feels good, life-affirming and joyous to know that I’m not the only one who’s so pensive about this life thing. This book is a friend—a friend who challenges you, but they do it because they love you. —Eric, Editorial Intern
The Best of Me
Catherine the Great
The Duke and I
I’ve read everything David Sedaris has ever written. I own every book he’s ever published. So perhaps some will call it “indulgent” or “difficult to justify” when I nonetheless buy his latest collection, The Best of Me, since it’s a compilation of previously published works. But here’s the thing—this isn’t just another retrospective volume of an author’s most popular works, selected on the basis of their fame. Instead, Sedaris chose each piece himself, based on a metric only he could know, and I’m curious to see which wild cards he included. I know, for example, that “Santaland Diaries,” which first launched him to fame on “This American Life” in 1992, is excluded. But that essay from Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim where he drowns a mouse in a bucket? It’s there. Surprise, delight, confusion, nausea—I’m eager for whatever reactions this book will incite. —Christy, Associate Editor
It’s been six years since Robin Wall Kimmerer’s luminous collection of nature essays was first published, and I’ve given away every copy I’ve ever owned. That’s fitting: Braiding Sweetgrass endows its reader with the recognition that the world has offered us endless gifts, leading us first to gratitude and then to minidewak, the giving of our own gifts as thanks and recompense in a “covenant of reciprocity.” Kimmerer’s book inspires courage to fight for the Earth amid climate urgency, reveals new ways of knowing and seeing while protecting Indigenous wisdom and fosters a community that actively seeks to heal humanity’s relationship with the world. I’ll keep giving away copies of this book, but this special edition, reissued with letterpress-printed illustrations to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the fabulous indie press Milkweed Editions, will be a gift I give myself. —Cat, Deputy Editor
Do I need more biographical tomes of powerful, take-no-prisoners women on my shelves? Yes. Yes, I do. There is nothing that relaxes me more than sinking into an enormous book full of royal scandals and opulent palaces— bonus points if someone gets poisoned via byzantine plot. I read Massie’s superb biography of Catherine the Great earlier this year, and I have been peppering my poor boyfriend with anecdotes about her ever since. For example: When Catherine fell ill early on in her engagement to Peter, the future emperor of Russia, she would pretend to be unconscious in order to eavesdrop on the people gathered around her sickbed. Massie loves Catherine even more than I do. He explores her glamorous court and magnetic personality with flair and precision in this absolute masterpiece of a biography. —Savanna, Associate Editor
I’m still pretty new to the wide and wonderful world of Romancelandia, though most of the books I read for pleasure in 2020 were romance novels. I bounced happily back and forth between contemporary and historical settings, from Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient to Evie Dunmore’s Bringing Down the Duke. The only thing I love more than a happy ending is a new series I can dive in to and get lost in for volume after volume, and a friend who knows this about me recommended Quinn’s Bridgerton books more than a year ago. Now that Shonda Rhimes is adapting the sprawling series for Netflix, I want to make sure I’ve read at least the first few books before I watch the first season of the show, which drops on December 25, so I’m planning to pick up The Duke and I and let it sweep me off my feet and into the new year. —Stephanie, Associate Editor
Each month, BookPage staff share special reading lists—our personal favorites, old and new.
by anna zeitlin
start the year with
H Make Me Rain
I’m 30 years late to the Nikki Giovanni party, and this collection of poetry is a revelation. Performed by the celebrated and award-winning poet herself, Make Me Rain (Harper Audio, 2 hours) dives into subjects both light and heavy as she uses her unique perspective to provide insight into even the most upsetting issues. Giovanni is in her late 70s, and her voice has a sage quality that softens the blow of difficult topics, including slavery, rape, abuse and police brutality. When she’s reading her more cheerful poems, it sounds like she’s got a smile on her face, knowing she’s got the goods. The brash way she declares, “I don’t like pancakes” in the poem “No Pancakes Please” shows how she can bring her strong point of view to the most mundane topics. Poetry is best read aloud, so this audiobook is the ideal format for this collection. It’ll take you from laughter to outrage to hope.
Memorial Bryan Washington navigates death, grief, family and relationships in his fresh novel, Memorial (Penguin Audio, 8.5 hours), which makes for a captivating audiobook. Benson and Mike are in a rocky place in their relationship. When Mike gets word that his father is dying, he leaves Houston, Texas, for Japan to be with him, leaving Benson alone with Mike’s newly arrived mother as a house guest for an indeterminate amount of time. Washington does a stellar job narrating as Benson, capturing a young man on the precipice of the rest of his life, with all his frustrations and uncertainty, and holding his own with experienced actor Akie Kotabe, who voices Mike’s sections. Kotabe is a Japanese American actor who grew up in Texas, and he truly brings Mike and his elderly father to life.
We Are Not Free Written by Traci Chee, We Are Not Free (HMH Audio, 10.5 hours) tells the stories of 14 second-generation Japanese American teenagers whose lives are upended during World War II. For the crime of having Japanese parents, they are taken away from everything they know and placed in incarceration camps. A cast of 12 narrators brings these stories to life. Among them is Ryan Potter, known for playing Hiro in the movie Big Hero 6; Grace Rolek, who has played Connie on “Steven Universe” since 2013; and Brittany Ishibashi, who plays Tina on Marvel’s “Runaways.” The performances make this not-so-distant history feel modern and relevant, as though you could find these characters at any high school across America. This is an important reminder to learn from the past or be doomed to repeat it.
Anna Zeitlin is an art curator and hat-maker who fills her hours with a steady stream of audiobooks.
AUDIOS “One hell of a series...Nuanced and energetic, this is a great thriller.” —Booklist, starred review
READ BY SCOTT BRICK
A vivid reimagining of one of literature’s most twisted love triangles from New York Times bestselling author Rachel Hawkins.
READ BY A FULL CAST
“Dalton writes masterfully of human relationship and the fraught relationship humanity has with ecology.” —Michael Zapata, author of The Lost Book of Adana Moreau
READ BY BARRIE KREINIK
“A riveting, hopeful survival story about personal resilience amid trauma.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
READ BY DAN BITTNER
James Comey, former FBI director and New York Times bestselling author of A Higher Loyalty, explores issues of justice and fairness in the US justice system.
READ BY THE AUTHOR
AVA I LA B L E F R O M
M A C M I L LA N A U D I O 5
by robert weibezahl
A Swim in a Pond in the Rain George Saunders won the 2017 Man Booker Prize for his novel Lincoln in the Bardo and was a National Book Award finalist for his short story collection Tenth of December. But the acclaimed author has also taught for more than 20 years in Syracuse University’s prestigious MFA creative writing program. There, in a semester-long class, he and his aspirants parse Russian short stories in translation to better understand how masters of the form such as Anton Chekhov and Nikolai Gogol built their work from the ground up. For an emerging writer, Saunders believes, this process is akin to “a young composer studying Bach. All of the bedrock principles of the form are on display.” Now, in a true gift to writers and serious readers, Saunders has adapted the core of this coveted class into a commodious new book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life (Random House, $28, 9781984856029).
Beloved author George Saunders teaches the masters in his new book, sharing invaluable insights into classic Russian short stories. With infectious enthusiasm and generosity of spirit, Saunders delves into seven stories that he calls the “seven fastidiously constructed scale models of the world”: three by Chekhov, two by Leo Tolstoy and one each from Ivan Turgenev and Gogol. (The actual syllabus at Syracuse contains about 30 stories.) The primary texts of the featured stories are included in the book, and after each one, Saunders launches into his “seminar,” providing insights—both his own and some gleaned from students over the years—into the structure and subtleties of these works. On the surface, this may seem a dry endeavor. However, in Saunders’ hands it is anything but. His love of literature is palpable, and his obvious qualities as an artful teacher are on full display. Saunders takes a different tack with each story, sometimes providing pulse-by-pulse dissections, other times analyzing the building of character or even how the excesses of a story somehow manage to contribute to rather than detract from its greatness. He also supplies an “afterthought” to each story’s analysis, in which he shares a personal anecdote from his own life as a writer and reader. While the genesis of A Swim in a Pond in the Rain can be found in the creative writing classroom—and writers at any level of their careers will glean priceless pearls from nearly every page—the genius of Saunders’ book, and his clear intention in offering it up, is to elucidate literature for the engaged reader, deepening the reading experience. It is also a blueprint for a greater engagement with humanity. “The part of the mind that reads a story is also the part that reads the world,” Saunders writes. “It can deceive us, but it can also be trained to accuracy; it can fall into disuse and make us more susceptible to lazy, violent, materialistic forces, but it can also be urged back to life, transforming us into more active, curious, alert readers of reality.”
Robert Weibezahl is a publishing industry veteran, playwright and novelist. Each month, he takes an in-depth look at a recent book of literary significance.
by susannah felts
H The Listening Path Back in the early 1990s, a book called The Artist’s Way changed the creativity how-to scene forever and paved the way for countless guides to come. Author Julia Cameron preached the practice of “morning pages,” a daily stream-of-consciousness writing ritual. Since then, countless readers have found this practice to be a useful tool for self-understanding. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it—and so we find morning pages and the six-week program framework from Cameron’s earlier book at the heart of her new one, The Listening Path (St. Martin’s Essentials, $17.99, 9781250768582). Designed for a world in which attention is our collective deficiency, The Listening Path focuses on tuning out cluttering noise and redirecting attention constructively to release creative blocks. Quotations from respected writers, thinkers and spiritual guides travel like softly shining stars alongside Cameron’s storytelling and prompts to nurture conscious listening. If this all sounds too woo-woo for you . . . then you probably need it.
Stuff Every Cheese Lover Should Know One of my favorite comforts of quarantine has been a biweekly cheese box subscription, offered by a local cheesemonger. So it’s no surprise that I’m smitten by Stuff Every Cheese Lover Should Know (Quirk, $9.99, 9781683692386) by Alexandra Jones. This tiny book—it’s the size of a classic Moleskine journal—is like a nibble of an artisan bleu, rich and satisfying even in the smallest portion. You’ll learn about microbes, moisture and “cheese outerwear”; how to create the perfect cheese board and pair cheese with drinks; just what the heck raclette is; and more. If a cheese-loving friend is in the throes of the COVID-winter doldrums, perk her up by leaving this diminutive but delightful guide on her doorstep with a wedge of fromage.
So to Speak I’m letting my word-nerd flag fly with this one: So to Speak (Tiller, $16.99, 9781982163761) is a compendium of 11,000 expressions organized into nearly 70 categories, including a bonus, “Our Favorite Family Expressions and Nana-isms” (e.g., “He’s a stick in the mud”). Why do you need this, you ask? First, it’s the largest collection of its kind. Second, it’s “a catalyst for endless conversations among people of all ages—and some of the most fun can be had by reading it aloud with friends and family,” writes co-editor Harold Kobliner, who worked steadfastly on this book with his wife of 65 years, Shirley, until she passed away in 2016. The result, he tells us, is a “true celebration of the love of language with the love of my life.” Third, 25 games such as a rhyming game, an expressions improv game and one based on “The Newlywed Game” are included. It’s a must-have for any language lover’s library.
Susannah Felts is a Nashville-based writer and co-founder of The Porch, a literary arts organization. She enjoys anything paper- or plant-related.
by julie hale
The wilds of the web In Uncanny Valley (Picador, $17, 9781250785695), Anna Wiener chronicles her career at a Silicon Valley startup. After an unrewarding stint in New York publishing, Wiener was ready to give the San Francisco tech world a try, but the behind-thescenes reality of the industry took her by surprise. Wiener tells of a patriarchal culture of wealth and ambition that left her disenchanted and in search of answers about her own life. Written with humor and intelligence, this briskly paced memoir explores gender in the workplace, the millennial mindset and the uses and abuses of power by influential Four fresh takes on work companies. It’s a tech industry and life in the digital age tell-all that’s both riveting and relevant. Gretchen McCulloch delivers an intriguing study of the terminology, grammar and symbolism that shape online communication in Because Internet (Riverhead, $17, 9780735210943). McCulloch is a linguistics whiz who writes clearly and comprehensively for the lay reader about her area of expertise. In Because Internet, she delves into the development and diffusion of online slang, the power of memes and the inspiration behind emoji. Trends in online vocabulary and the progression of language are among the subjects up for debate, providing reading groups with meaty material for discussion. Jia Tolentino critiques digital-age trends and attitudes in her acclaimed debut essay collection, Trick Mirror (Random House, $18, 9780525510567). Over the course of the book’s nine pieces, Tolentino examines the impact of social media and the internet, the American dream of perfectionism and other timely topics. She also shares personal stories, including an essay on her brush with reality TV. (She appeared on “Girls v. Boys: Puerto Rico.”) Funny, savvy and insightful, the collection establishes Tolentino as a vital millennial voice. Complex topics including self-image in the era of Instagram and the risks and rewards of social media make this collection a terrific pick for any book club. Of the moment and utterly fascinating, Victoria Turk’s Kill Reply All (Plume, $16, 9780593086193) explores the unique and multifaceted challenges of digital communication. Turk, who is a features editor at Wired UK, offers valuable advice about how to communicate online with confidence, whether that’s through chatting in a dating app or answering emails at work. Bringing a comic flair to the proceedings, she covers important topics like online friendships, the uses of emoji and the finer points of text messaging. There’s plenty for reading groups to debate and discuss in Turk’s thoughtful yet lighthearted guide to being polite in your online life.
A BookPage reviewer since 2003, Julie Hale recommends the best paperback books to spark discussion in your reading group.
BOOK CLUB READS SPRING FOR WINTER OUR DARKEST NIGHT by Jennifer Robson “ Our Darkest Night is tense and touching, sure to delight Robson’s many fans and new readers alike.” —KATE QUINN, bestselling author of The Alice Network
THE HEIRESS by Molly Greeley “Haunting…a gorgeous novel with all the hallmarks of nineteenth-century Gothic. Highly recommended!” —FINOLA AUSTIN
SEARCHING FOR SYLVIE LEE by Jean Kwok
“ Searching for Sylvie Lee is a powerful emotional drama at its heart. A twisting tale of love, loss and dark family secrets.” —PAULA HAWKINS, bestselling author of The Girl on the Train
NEWS OF THE WORLD by Paulette Jiles Now a major motion picture
“An exquisite book about the joys of freedom; the discovery of unexpected, proprietary love between two people who have never experienced anything like it.” —NEW YORK TIMES
f William Morrow I BookClubGirl
by christie ridgway
H The Stormbringer The Stormbringer (Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99, 9781728229287) by Isabel Cooper gives paranormal fans everything they could wish for: imaginative world building, fast-paced adventure and characters ready to handle all that’s thrown at them. Darya, wielder of a sword inhabited by the spirit of a wise wizard named Gerant, discovers Amris, a man who’s been frozen in time for a hundred years. Gerant urges Darya to release Amris, whom she learns is not only a general ready to help fight a terrible villain but also Gerant’s former lover. Amris and Darya do their best to resist their immediate chemistry as they travel to warn others of the advancing danger, battling vicious creatures along the way. Written with verve and fantastically drawn battle scenes, this is great storytelling all around.
The Princess and the Rogue Kate Bateman pens a delicious Regency romance in The Princess and the Rogue (St. Martin’s, $7.99, 9781250306098). What’s not to enjoy about a roguish former soldier and a Russian princess in disguise? When they meet at a high-end brothel in London, Sebastien Wolff, Earl of Mowbray, is immediately captivated by Anya, said princess, who is there to tutor the women of the house. Though Anya initially rebuffs Sebastien, they find they have a common enemy, and Sebastien offers Anya sanctuary at his gambling hall, leaving them at the whims of their shared physical desire. There’s danger, a dashing hero and some Cinderella-esque fun when Anya returns to society in a gown worthy of her royal status. Sensual love scenes add heat to this thoroughly entertaining read.
Special Ops Seduction
by heather seggel
H Hope, Faith & a Corpse Laura Jensen Walker’s Hope, Faith & a Corpse (Crooked Lane, $26.99, 9781643855042) begins a promising new series. Hope Taylor has moved to the quaint town of Apple Springs in Northern California to start over. The young widow is the first female pastor of Faith Chapel Episcopal Church, which not all parishioners are comfortable with. When she finds a widely disliked church elder dead on the grounds, she quickly becomes a suspect. After all, Stanley King had said a woman would preach there over his dead body. Walker makes great use of Hope’s job: Pastors are sworn to confidentiality when people share information, and a gossipy small town has plenty to share. By the end, justice has been served, along with English tea (for which recipes are provided) and several diner meals that are the stuff of dreams. Readers will finish this mystery already hungry for more.
Hot to Trot If you’re a cozy fan, then you know how often a knitter or bookstore owner stumbles onto a crime and solves it, launching a new side hustle as a sleuth. So the beloved Agatha Raisin is a breath of fresh air simply because she’s an investigator by trade. Hot to Trot (Minotaur, $26.99, 9781250157751) finds Agatha fuming as her friend (and ex) Charles Fraith prepares to marry a mean-spirited socialite. When the woman turns up dead, Agatha and Charles are both suspects. Agatha’s creator, M.C. Beaton, died in 2019, but prior to her passing, she worked with author R.W. Green to ensure the series would continue as she intended. Hot to Trot would have made Beaton proud, with no fewer than three brawls as Agatha flits between exes and new loves before returning to her cottage and cats. Brew a pot of tea and join her.
A Lady Compromised
Megan Crane masterfully combines romance, suspense and a dash of family drama in Special Ops Seduction (Berkley, $7.99, 9781984805546). Jonas Crow and Bethan Wilcox are lethal members of an elite security team based in Alaska. While they’ve worked together many times, Jonas has kept his distance from the beautiful and kick-ass Bethan. But then their assignment to solve the theft of a brand-new biological weapon requires them to attend Bethan’s sister’s California wedding as a couple. Pretending to be lovers brings the pair closer, and proximity to family gives Bethan a new perspective on herself and what she wants from Jonas. A strong sense of place, whether it’s the wilds of Alaska or the vineyards of California, draws the reader deeper into this irresistible and emotional story.
Rosalind Thorne is on the move in A Lady Compromised (Kensington, $26, 9781496720870), the latest entry in Darcie Wilde’s series set in Regency England. A trip to help plan a friend’s wedding also means a chance to visit old flame Devon Winterbourne, but Rosalind is soon investigating whether an aristocrat’s suicide was actually murder. Wilde writes about high society social codes the same way Phoebe Waller-Bridge makes cheeky asides in “Fleabag.” A storyline involving Rosalind’s faithful maid, Mrs. Kendricks, whose security relies upon the decisions of her impulsive, independent employer, is a harsh reminder of the class differences concealed beneath the period’s polite veneer.
Christie Ridgway is a lifelong romance reader and a published romance novelist of over 60 books.
Heather Seggel is a longtime bookseller, reviewer and occasional library technician in Ukiah, California.
by bruce tierney Bryant & May: Oranges and Lemons
Author Christopher Fowler’s Peculiar Crimes Unit investigates exactly what you’d expect: cases that are far from your everyday, humdrum homicide. But as Bryant & May: Oranges and Lemons (Bantam, $28.99, 9780525485926)—the latest entry in the popular series—opens, it appears that the unit will close up shop, having fallen victim to budgetary cuts and some remarkably public blunders. The chief will tend his garden on the Isle of Wight, while one detective chief inspector is barely clinging to life in the hospital and the other has dropped off the radar completely. But then the Speaker of the House of Commons (the U.K. analog of Nancy Pelosi) is nearly killed by a falling crate of oranges and lemons. This would have been written off as an accident, save for the fact that it took place within spitting distance of the Church of St. Clement’s, of nursery rhyme fame (“Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement’s”). Thus, the incident appears to fall directly within the purview of the Peculiar Crimes Unit, which is quickly confirmed by more nursery rhyme-themed crimes. As is the case with other books in the series, the setup is improbable (bordering on bizarre), the characters droll, the prose exceptionally clever and often hilarious and the “aha” moment deliciously unexpected.
The Butterfly House Scandinavian mystery novels enjoy such constant appreciation from suspense fans worldwide that they’ve become an established subgenre unto themselves, with no signs of flagging. Danish writer Katrine Engberg hit the scene in 2020 with her critically acclaimed bestseller, The Tenant, and as 2021 opens, she returns with The Butterfly House (Scout, $28, 9781982127602). The Copenhagen police are summoned to a rather macabre display: A young woman has been found in a fountain, her body completely exsanguinated. It is clearly a murder, which is bad enough in its own right, but when another body is found the following day, also drained of blood, also in a fountain, it becomes starkly clear that a serial killer is at large. The case falls to Investigator Jeppe Kørner, one of the two protagonists of The Tenant. The other, Kørner’s partner Anette Werner, is on maternity leave at the moment, but that won’t stop her from taking part in the investigation. Engberg has crafted a fine police procedural. She is an author to look out for, one who will be cited years hence as a key player in Nordic noir.
Sign up for our mystery newsletter at BookPage.com/enews.
Picnic in the Ruins Picture a Tony Hillerman-style tableau: a red rock desert beneath a deep azure sky, imbued with the history of the sacred rituals and artifacts of the Southern Paiute. Now add a Tim Dorsey or Carl Hiaasen-esque overlay, awash in desiccated Ford pickup trucks, characters who embody the word “characters,” ulterior motives and belly-rumbling hilarity, and you’ll get an idea of the strange trip you’re about to embark on in Todd Robert Petersen’s Picnic in the Ruins (Counterpoint, $16.95, 9781640093225). We open with a bungled burglary that would have been screamingly funny for its ineptitude if not for its deadly outcome. Now the perps are on the lam, treasure map in hand, with the really bad guys—the smarter criminals—in hot pursuit. Other assorted protagonists include an anthropology Ph.D. candidate banished to the wilds of Utah, a somewhat shady government dude, a German tourist on some sort of personal quest (Old West folklore is huge in Europe) and a cast of off-the-grid “desert rats” who add big yucks at every turn. Beneath all this, Petersen poses some intellectual questions, such as who really “owns” land, what rights and responsibilities such ownership conveys and how the inevitable collisions between titled owners, the public good and the ancient claims of sacred ground should be addressed.
H Someone to Watch Over Me Reboots of major suspense series after the death of the author have been a mixed bag at best; witness, for example, the hit-andmiss follow-ups to Ian Fleming’s books featuring MI6 superspy James Bond. But some series nail the reboot from the get-go, and Ace Atkins’ continuation of Robert B. Parker’s franchise featuring mononymous Beantown private investigator Spenser and his lethal sidekick, Hawk, falls firmly into the latter category. Someone to Watch Over Me (Putnam, $27, 9780525536857) finds the ace sleuth conscripted into retrieving a laptop from an exclusive Boston men’s club. Spenser’s client is his own young protege, Mattie Sullivan, who is building an investigation business of her own. Mattie has correctly surmised that her boss will carry a great deal more authority in demanding the return of the computer amid the club’s misogynistic all-male milieu. But as often happens in mystery novels, a seemingly simple initial task explodes into something exponentially more complicated, here threatening to link a loosely knit cabal of high-ranking socialites and politicians to a human trafficking organization operating offshore in a remote and private Bahamian island. Needless to say, these people will stop at nothing to save their reputations and their livelihoods, and it will take all of Spenser’s considerable talents to stay one step ahead.
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.
feature | winter thrillers
Revenge is the thing Three cat-and-mouse stories are served with a side of simmering rage. We all know it’s not good to suppress our feelings. These thrillers offer deliciously terrifying examples of what can happen when unresolved grief, anger and longing collide. In Ellery Lloyd’s People Like Her (Harper, $26.99, 9780062997395), the life of Britain’s biggest “mumfluencer” is a grand and glam one. Emmy Jackson’s million-plus followers compliment her every post as she adorably bumbles her way through new motherhood while capably juggling lucrative endorsements. But Emmy’s online persona is, as her husband Dan puts it, “bullshit.” Unlike most influencers, Emmy doesn’t pretend her life is easier than it is. Instead, as @the_mamabare, she pretends it’s more difficult, because she realizes there’s big money in appearing more hapless and less polished. It’s a strange state of affairs, and it’s taking a toll on their marriage. Although Dan knows that Emmy’s cleverly crafted fabrications pay the bills, he’s jealous that her posts garner more praise than his first novel (he’s struggling to complete a second) and uneasy about how she increasingly uses their kids as props. And Emmy wishes Dan were more appreciative of her business acumen. What’s the big deal if she posts photos of the kids, as long as she’s paying the bills and ramping up her career? As readers gradually realize, Dan’s not the only one with doubts. Somewhere out in the real world, an unnamed person is planning to exact revenge on @the_mamabare for living a life she doesn’t deserve. There’s also a new Instagram account posting stolen photos, which feels like a threat: If they have access to her personal pictures, what else do they know about Emmy? Lloyd (a pseudonym for husband and wife writing team Paul Vlitos and Collette Lyons, interviewed on the facing page) skillfully turns up the tension as the delectable creepiness intensifies. People Like Her is a smart and sobering wake-up call for the internet-dependent that makes an excellent case for keeping a sharp eye on the line between admiration and obsession. Lila Ridgefield lives with her husband, Aaron Payne, in a lovely house in a pretty town outside Ithaca, New York. Everyone in town loves Aaron, and they think Lila is . . . all right. She’s beautiful, but she’s a little standoffish, they say, unaware that she’s barely keeping it together after years of Aaron’s controlling behavior and unrepentant gaslighting behind closed doors. When Darby Kane’s Pretty Little Wife (William Morrow, $16.99, 9780063016408) opens, Lila has just discovered that Aaron’s been doing something criminally terrible, and he violently attacks her after sneering that he feels no remorse. So, she kills him. But that’s not the most shocking part of this story. First of all, Lila is nonplussed when Aaron is declared missing, not dead. Apparently, his body isn’t where she left it, and she has no idea if he’s still alive and
plotting her demise. She struggles to appear distraught while eagle-eyed detective Ginny Davis questions her, knowing that one misstep could make her an even more viable suspect than she already is. Ginny knows something’s amiss with Lila, but she can’t prove it yet—and she suspects that Lila is using her skills as a former criminal defense lawyer to bury the investigation in red herrings. Breathlessly short chapters keep things moving as various games of cat and mouse grow more complex and dangerous. A parade of suspects, all with plausible alibis and motives, will keep readers guessing as the book builds toward its disturbing, nay horrific, conclusion. Pretty Little Wife explores the consequences of unacknowledged trauma and dares to ask whether murder is ever justified. It’s an exciting departure for HelenKay Dimon, the bestselling romance author for whom Darby Kane is a pseudonym. There’s certainly no guarantee of a happily ever after, though there is hope for hard-won redemption. Readers who enjoy an atmospheric gothic tale will thrill to Emma Rous’ The Perfect Guests (Berkley, $16, 9780440000488), in which orphaned 14-year-old Beth Soames arrives at Raven Hall in the summer of 1988. She’s been brought to the grand lakeside manor, which “smelled of wood polish and lavender and safety,” as a potential companion for Leonora and Markus Averell’s similarly aged daughter, Nina. Beth is hopeful the arrangement will prove better than her group foster home, but she’s also exceedingly nervous. Will they like her? Will they let her stay? Those questions underlie her every interaction as she assimilates into the family. She’s constantly aware that one wrong move could mean she’ll be sent away, so she plays along, pretending not to notice when Leonora and Markus begin to act strangely and even acceding to their requests to participate in the occasional fraught charade. In 2019, Sadie Langton’s acting career just isn’t paying the bills. Her mood lifts when she’s offered a gig at a murder mystery event held at fancy Raven Hall, which has stood empty on the Norfolk coast these last 30 years. High pay seals the deal, and she joins a motley group at the manse, where an elaborate scenario and a fancy meal are soon underway. There’s someone else orbiting the mansion, too, who feels that Raven Hall is destined to be theirs, no matter how they obtain it. Rous lays out clues to this person’s identity with tantalizing judiciousness. Should Beth follow her instincts about the Averells and flee Raven Hall, or is she overreacting? Is Sadie silly for thinking the murder mystery feels a little too real? Who does Raven Hall belong to, really? Timelines collide and secrets are revealed in gasp-inducing fashion in this Clue meets Agatha Christie page turner from the bestselling author of The Au Pair. —Linda M. Castellitto
q&a | ellery lloyd
A thriller without a filter A husband and wife writing team explores the glamorous upsides and dark downsides of social media. Paul Vlitos and Collette Lyons explore the anxiety-inducing allure of Instagram in their debut thriller, People Like Her (Harper, $26.99, 9780062997395), written under the pen name Ellery Lloyd.
tinkering with the other’s sections, and honestly it’s never caused an issue, but we do need a watertight chapter plan from the outset, or it ends up like a game of Consequences!
Your novel takes us into the minds of Emmy, a famous “mumfluencer,” her conflicted husband, Dan, and an unnamed person who wants to destroy Emmy. Did you each take a character? Did you do anything to inhabit those points of view? Paul: We did start off writing separate characters, but actually by the time it came to the second draft, we both wrote and rewrote all of it—and we can’t now tell who did what.
The business acumen of Emmy and her agent, Irene, is impressive. Was it important to show the savvy and strategy behind the selfies? Collette: They are both smart, ambitious and intelligent, two young women who have thrown themselves into the influencer industry and are really, really good at it. Yes, sometimes they make bad—terrible, even—decisions, but those decisions are based on what they know works. They’d both probably argue that it’s the audience’s fault they’re driven to those lengths to keep their business going. Whether or not you’d agree with them is another matter, of course.
Collette, you’re a journalist and editor, and Paul, you’re a novelist and professor. How did your backgrounds inform your writing? Did either of you get veto power over any aspects? Paul: We’ve both spent our careers giving people feedback or editing others’ work. It would be a bit churlish to complain about someone else editing our own—especially someone you’ve been married to for a decade. Practically, we work in a Google Doc and so can see when one is
©A NNI CK
WO LFE RS
Collette: There are parts Paul is especially proud of that I am pretty sure I wrote, and vice versa! In terms of research and inhabiting the parts, well, we had a young child, and I personally—and not with the novel in mind, just as a new mum whiling away hours stuck on the sofa under a baby who fed constantly and wouldn’t sleep—fell down an Instagram scroll hole. So I felt quite immersed in that world! People Like Her certainly captures the joy, pain and occasional grossness of parenthood. Did you look back on your lives together for inspiration? Collette: The grossness, definitely. There were a lot of exploding nappies in the Ellery Lloyd household! Something a friend said before our daughter was even born really lit a spark in my mind for the novel: If you find it all easy, if you’ve had a good birth and your baby is a dream, doesn’t cry, feeds well, sleeps through—don’t tell other parents, because they will either think you’re lying or hate you. We didn’t have that baby (she didn’t sleep pretty much ever), but I thought that was so interesting, and we definitely riffed on that with Emmy and Dan.
Do you think people will reevaluate those they follow on social media, and why they follow them, after reading your book? Collette: None of us presents an exact replica of our true selves on social media, and anyone who uses Instagram hopefully knows that. So no, I’d be surprised if it made anyone reevaluate who they follow or why. I hope it might make people question why women especially have to belittle their own achievements to seem relatable, and therefore likable, though.
“We wanted to show both sides of the coin, the good and the bad.” What is your relationship with social media? Paul: I don’t use it really, apart from Twitter occasionally. Collette: I used it far, far too much when our daughter was little, and perhaps that was why I wanted to place it at the heart of our first novel, so that at least I could chalk all those hours up as research! I didn’t use it in an especially healthy way if I’m honest—I never interacted, only scrolled, because I was shy, I think—but I was also conscious that some people do find real community and connection there. We wanted to show both sides of the coin, the good and the bad, in People Like Her.
What sorts of patterns did you see as you researched influencers? Collette: The biggest pattern I saw is that only the people who take it seriously actually succeed and make money. You don’t become an influencer by accident. What I think will be interesting, and we explored this with Emmy, is how this very new career path pans out in the long term. Because the one constant with this sort of technology is that it will change, and that is something even the biggest influencers can’t influence. How have you been celebrating the release thus far? What’s next for you? Paul: Well, given the pandemic, we have mainly been celebrating by sitting at home and writing our second book, which is set in the world of celebrity private members’ clubs. We are hugely excited by all the positive reviews of People Like Her, and we can’t wait for it to reach a wider audience. It would, of course, be amazing to see Emmy and Dan on screen. We have offered our services to play them but weirdly haven’t heard anything back. . . —Linda M. Castellitto Visit BookPage.com to read an expanded version of this Q&A.
feature | new year, new attitude
Light the way to a brighter future Resolved to make 2021 as wonderful as possible? Let these books show you how. To help guide you on the path of positivity in the new year, four books provide support, affirmation and inspiration. In Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning (Knopf, $26.95, 9781524732165), author Tom Vanderbilt demonstrates the importance of cultivating curiosity and trying new skills on for size. Vanderbilt was looking for ways to reengage with life when—taking a cue from his inquisitive young daughter—he decided to immerse himself in activities he’d always wanted to tackle, including drawing, singing and surfing. “I was a quick study when it came to facts,” Vanderbilt writes, “but what had I actually learned to do lately?” In Beginners, Vanderbilt reveals what it’s like to pick up skills as an adult novice. He blends his personal story with research into neuroscience, psychology and education and recounts his rookie experiences with humor and heart. His insights into midlife learning will resonate with readers who have a desire to try new pursuits but may need a little nudge. Beginners, he says, is not “a ‘how to do’ book as much as a ‘why to do’ book. . . . It’s about small acts of reinvention, at any age, that can make life seem magical.” As Vanderbilt proves, there’s no expiration date on the ability to learn. Pick up a copy of Beginners and make 2021 a time of discovery. If becoming a nicer, more tolerant human is one of your objectives for the year ahead, then check out Henry James Garrett’s This Book Will Make You Kinder: An Empathy Handbook (Penguin, $20, 9780143135593). Garrett’s academic background is in the field of metaethics, the study of the nature and meaning of morality, and he views empathy—“our capacity to experience those feelings we witness in others”—as the primary motivator of human kindness. In his new book, he offers guidance on how to maximize our empathetic impulse. As he provides advice on overcoming limitations to empathy, building better listening skills and coming to grips with your own potential for not being nice, Garrett outlines concrete steps to help you increase your kindness quotient. A bang-up artist (you may have seen his Instagram account, Drawings of Dogs), his delightfully droll illustrations of talking animals and objects (e.g., two magic markers discuss the impact of coloring outside the lines) bring levity to his lessons. “If you don’t do the work of
good listening, of paying attention,” Garrett writes, “you’ll continue to be cruel in ways you otherwise couldn’t and will fail to be outrageously kind in ways you otherwise would.” A total attitude-changer, this book will carry you into the new year on a tide of positivity. In Laziness Does Not Exist (Atria, $27, 9781982140106), social psychologist Devon Price explores the culture of work and how our society’s emphasis on
achievement is leading to burnout and exhaustion. From an early age, Price says, we’re conditioned to believe that productivity equals self-worth—an idea that’s part of what they call the “laziness lie,” which leads to feelings of guilt over not doing enough. “It’s also the force that compels us to work ourselves to sickness,” Price explains. Price proposes that we adjust our perspectives on work and stop using achievement as a benchmark for appraising personal value. In the book, they take a cleareyed look at the science and psychology behind the concepts of laziness and productivity and share stories from folks who have grappled with work-life balance. Perhaps most importantly, the author stresses the necessity of simple relaxation: “It’s not evil to have limitations and to need breaks.” With tips on setting boundaries and integrating beneficial techniques like expressive writing into your daily routine, Price’s book will give you a fresh perspective on the meaning of success—and the confidence to schedule more “me-time” this year. Making friends is a basic element of socialization, yet the ability to bond doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and many people find that the process becomes more difficult as they get older. How can we break down the barriers that keep us from connecting with others? Authors Jenn Bane and Trin Garritano offer answers in Friendshipping: The Art of Finding Friends, Being Friends, and Keeping Friends (Workman, $14.95, 9781523508617). Hosts of the popular “Friendshipping” podcast, the authors have devoted many hours to the study of social networks large and small, and their chatty, accessible book collects the best of their advice, with suggestions on how to make new friends, how to handle a friendship that could be morphing into something more and how to call it quits when a friendship fails. The volume also includes valuable questions from podcast listeners and sample scripts that will kick-start your socialization skills. Featuring fabulous illustrations by Jean Wei, Friendshipping provides readers with the right tools for building—and sustaining—valuable relationships. Whether you’re looking to enlarge your circle of intimates or cultivate more one-on-one connections this year, Bane and Garritano will help you develop habits and behaviors that will widen your world. —Julie Hale
© POLLY SAMSON
interview | charlie gilmour
One bright spot during his sentence was a box of books he received from Elton John and his husband, David Furnish. “I’d never met either of them in my life,” Gilmour says, but he devoured their gift, which featured prison classics including War and Peace and Crime and Punishment. The gift of books “was a very generous and kind gesture,” he says. “I think it’s one of the few things you can do for someone in prison. . . . It gives them the opportunity to at least very briefly escape from where they are.” While imprisoned, Gilmour kept a daily journal, and he continued writing after his release. Several years later, when Benzene became part of his life, the bird’s presence intensified his need to know—and understand—his biological father. He learned that Heathcote had also rescued a young bird not long before Gilmour’s birth, a jackdaw that he kept as a pet. In a mysterious moment that seems straight out of Hitchcock’s The Birds, Gilmour says that when he was in the midst of writing the scene about Heathcote’s death for his book, he heard “a cacophony of screams from all the crows and jackdaws and rooks around me.” He recalls, “I ran towards the noise, and there was this angry cloud of corvids over the field, and underneath them, red kites [birds of prey] were standing
From feathers to fatherhood
henever I see a magpie flying overhead, in the back of my mind, I think it’s going to come and land An abandoned baby bird helps a talented new writer come to terms with his past on my shoulder,” says Charlie Gilmour, speaking by phone from West Sussex, England. Such thoughts are hardly surprising, given that Gilmour and his partover a jackdaw. I ran towards them and snatched the jackdaw off the red ner once nursed an abandoned chick and raised her to adulthood. The kites, and the jackdaw just died right there in my hands. It felt like this magpie, whom they named Benzene, took over and transformed Gilmour’s incredibly eerie coincidence considering I had just, in writing, killed my life, helping him come to terms with the fact that when he was 6 months biological father.” old, his biological father, Heathcote Williams, suddenly and inexplicably Featherhood also explores Gilmour’s own journey into fatherhood. “I abandoned Gilmour and his mother. love being father to this child,” he says of Olga, now 2. “It’s a joy. And it also Heathcote, who died in 2017, was a poet, actor and political activist, as makes me very sad that this joy was something that Heathcote couldn’t well as an amateur magician with a knack for disappearing. Although Gilmallow himself to experience.” One of Heathcote’s favorite quotations was our met him a handful of times, he never really got to know him. Gilmour Cyril Connolly’s adage, “There is no more sombre enemy of good art than describes his stellar debut, Featherhood: A Memoir of Two Fathers and a the pram in the hall,” but Gilmour has found the opposite to be true. SomeMagpie, as “the conversation we never had.” Writing about his father came how he became a more efficient writer after Olga’s birth, often attending somewhat naturally, Gilmour says, because “in one sense, he has always to her needs at 4 a.m. and then writing for two or three hours. “It also feels been a character in my imagination.” like a bit of an f-you,” Gilmour admits. “I was going to prove him wrong by Though he just turned 31, Gilmour sounds infinitely wiser than his years. writing this book while the pram was very much in the hallway.” He, his wife and their child, Olga, have been weathering the pandemic with As it turns out, nurturing Benzene was excellent preparation for Gilmour’s mother, writer and lyricist Polly Samson, and his adoptive father, fatherhood. “She taught me a lot about what it means to love and care David Gilmour, the renowned musician of Pink Floyd fame. Commenting for another creature,” Gilmour says. on his creative, colorful family, Gilmour admits, “I was very, very fortunate And of course, both birds and toddlers to have quite a cast of characters to play around with—quite a few largercan be distracted by shiny objects. than-life people.” As much as Gilmour treasures the By far the star of the memoir, however, is Benzene, who had free rein of time he spent with Benzene, he doesn’t Gilmour’s London home, stealing trinkets left and right while leaving dropendorse keeping wild birds as pets. pings everywhere, often in Gilmour’s long, dark, curly hair. One time the “After four years of it, I can safely say brazen bird even plucked a contact lens right out of the eye of their visiting that the best place for birds is in the friend, a photographer. “Benzene had this weird knack of being able to know trees—not sleeping above your bed, what people value, and then she would go for it,” Gilmour muses. Despite defecating on you as you yourself such antics, he never considered caging the magpie. “She wouldn’t have sleep. . . . I loved her, but I wouldn’t stood for it in any case,” he says. “She would’ve shouted the house down.” recommend the experience to anyone Gilmour began honing his writing skills while he himself was caged— else.” in prison. In 2011, during a state he describes as “possessed of maniacal —Alice Cary energy and messianic purpose,” he was part of widespread student protests in London against raises in tuition. The 21-year-old was later arrested for Featherhood violent disorder and sent to prison for four months, followed by additional Scribner, $27, 9781501198502 time on house arrest. “People are often punished when actually what they Memoir need is some form of treatment,” he says.
© ANTONIO OLMOS
Eley Williams’ debut novel celebrates the mutable, rebellious nature of language.
A literary whodunit, a comedy of intentional errors, a paean to romance and rebellion—when talking about Eley Williams’ The Liar’s Dictionary, it’s hard to resist uttering a constellation of descriptors, thanks to the abundance of clever (delightful, inventive, loopy, memorable) words that pepper its pages. In the mystery aspect of Williams’ entertaining tale, the Swansby’s New Encyclopaedic Dictionary is the case file, and mountweazels (made-up dictionary entries) are the crimes against vocabulary. The perpetrator of said crimes and the sleuth sniffing them out are separated by a century but bound together by their mutual employer, London’s Swansby House. And the potential victims? Well, that’s where reading the book— and learning a plethora of pleasurable words, genuine and fake—come in. Williams speaks with BookPage as she walks her dog near her London home, where she lives with her wife, writer Nell Stevens. Williams explains that the inspiration for the novel came from acts of literary subterfuge that were born both of her studies—her Ph.D. research and thesis were about mountweazels—and the ways in which her own perspective on dictionaries and other arbiters of language has changed over time. When she was a child, Williams explains, her parents “kept an illustrated Collins Dictionary by the dinner table. It seemed normal at the time, but it’s probably not good to have books surrounded by steam.” Potentially wrinkled pages aside, she says that for a long time, “I found comfort in pedantry and in saying no, that’s not what that word means; I can check. . . . That rigidity was a useful thing worth preserving.” But as the years passed, her outlook on language became more fluid. “Words are deemed slang or dialect rather than proper English, but who is making that call?” she says. “What does that say about their political or ideological position? Now it’s more important to me to query that, to resist the idea of immutability.” And so, in the hands of her character Peter Winceworth, mountweazels become tools of resistance. The year is 1899, and he works as a lexicographer in charge of the letter “S” for Swansby’s New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. One of many employees at the bustling Swansby House, he’s a reserved man prone to (and it seems, fond of) lying. One of his longest deceptions: a lisp he affected as a child when he realized it “made people
cover story | eley williams respond to him with a greater gentleness.” Williams on her computer’s please-wait hourglass is grimly paints a spot-on portrait of an emotionally stunted humorous in its familiarity: “The iconography of man who is always at least a little bit enraged, the hourglass hinted at a particular progression: often hilariously so. His erudition makes for some that all natural things tend toward death. This impressively articulate internal rants about, say, a was not good for office morale.” too-loud bird or his boisterous co-workers. Betwixt and between hourglass-induced While there’s a certain poetic justice in seeing distress, Mallory’s other primary duty is fielding Peter seethe at a situation created by his co-opting daily phone calls from a deranged-sounding a speech impairment for his own gain, it’s also man who issues bomb threats because he’s angry fascinating to bear witness as he embarks on that the definition of marriage is changing (to his next fabrication—or rather, series of fabriinclude more than just a man and a woman). The cations, via mountweazels galore. He knows that calls are terrible and traumatic, and doubly so language “is something you accept or trust rather because Mallory is struggling with self-disclosure. than necessarily want to test out,” thus ensurHer partner, the gregarious and loving Pip, has ing that made-up words like always been out, but Mallory “skipsty (v.), the act of taking isn’t ready just yet. “Words are deemed steps two at a time” will be Williams says that this published unnoticed because, aspect of The Liar’s Dictioslang or dialect rather nary drew on real-life events after all, who would even think of inserting dishonesty into a than proper English, from when she was writing dictionary? the novel, particularly the but who is making It is important to note that backlash to certain dictionarmountweazels have often ies making changes to their that call?” been deliberately employed definition of marriage. This, by dictionary publishers as a she explains, raises “the idea creative means of protecting their copyright. of language as no longer a useful tool that rises The evocative term originated in the 1975 New from society, but rather something potentially Columbia Encyclopedia, which describes the constrictive and to do with didacticism, rather fictional Lillian Virginia Mountweazel as having than something changeable and mutable.” died “in an explosion while on assignment for Williams is far from alone in her desire to Combustibles magazine.” reexamine and challenge the status quo of sociBut generally speaking, one presumably would etal monoliths, dictionaries or otherwise. After all, not expect a dictionary-house employee to simply she says, “The idea of an infallible dictionary make up words . . . unless that employee was can seem quite sinister, and not about what Peter, who is trapped in a life of unending fruslanguage can be, and is. There are enough tration, massive workloads and unrequited love. syllables in the world . . . for us to commu“So much of the novel is actually about the nicate while being supple with language, workplace and how one can feel valued or underambiguous rather than relying on fixity and valued or purposeless within a structure or archian ordained truth.” tecture that’s bigger than you,” Williams says. Under Williams’ guiding hand, much “The motif of the dictionary formed a corresponis mutable in The Liar’s Dictionary, and dence with notions of labor and of boredom, and wonderfully so. The narrators’ parallel of value and self-worth.” secrets surge to the fore and shrink back, Indeed, despite having never held an office job heightening their feelings of isolation and (“It was an entire fantasy!” she says with a laugh), honing their desire for genuine personal Williams truly captures the essence of office life— freedom. Comedic set pieces involving its moments of revelation and accomplishment, an unfortunate hard-boiled egg, drunken as well as its lack of privacy and enforced camaperambulation and an agitated pelican raderie—both on the cusp of the 20th century are as memorable as they are deliciously and, as in the novel’s second timeline, in the 21st subversive (and in the case of the pelican, century, when sole Swansby’s employee Mallory just . . . astonishing). And there are more is tasked with digitizing the entire dictionary. secrets in this book than those—ones that Mallory works under the supervision of inexorably lead our heroes to a conclusion 70-year-old David, a descendant of the Victorian- that is exciting and gratifying in the realms era Swansbys, who is determined to create a new of both vocation and vocabulary. company legacy. Mallory’s assignment sounds On the whole, The Liar’s Dictionary is a straightforward enough, if a bit of a slog, but there smart, funny, passionate exploration of how is an unfortunate catch. Her mission will not be language can serve, challenge or define us. complete until she has found and eradicated all of the mountweazels from the dictionary, while The Liar’s Dictionary tracking her work on what she believes to be the Doubleday, $26.95, 9780385546775 world’s slowest computer. Like Peter’s irritated Comic Fiction ravings, Mallory’s restless internal perseveration
It’s also a testament to the power of speaking up and using our voices, whether on the page, in our own heads or out loud. Fans of Williams’ acclaimed Attrib. and Other Stories have been looking forward to this novel, which she wrote while working as a lecturer in creative writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. She’s also a fellow of England’s Royal Society of Literature where, she jokes, “We all have a go at sitting on the throne.” Alas, there are no literal thrones—but she does get to be “a part of literary culture” in England. “The best bit is,” she says, “when you’re inducted, you get to sign your name in a big book, and you get to choose a pen. The pens on offer—one belonged to Byron, another to George Eliot, I think another was T.S. Eliot, and they’d just stopped using the one from Charles Dickens. You do have that moment a bit like Mallory and Winceworth, where it’s just an object, just a thing, but you’ve invested so much in notions of literary worth and value, and you’re just enthralled by it and have that moment of connection.” At this point in our chat, Williams and her dog, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Bryher, prepare to hurry on home. Of her dog, Williams insists, “You must say, ‘She’s so athletic and dedicated!’ ” Done and done. —Linda M. Castellitto Visit BookPage.com to read our starred review of The Liar's Dictionary.
feature | 2021 preview
Most anticipated books of 2021 It’s going to be a great year for books! Mark your calendars for the upcoming releases our editors can’t wait to dive in to.
Four Hundred Souls, edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain One World, February 2 Kendi and Blain have compiled a history of African America unlike any before, bringing together 90 contributors who cover 400 years through short bursts of history, poetry, reporting and personal essay. The list of voices includes Nikole Hannah-Jones, Clint Smith, Jericho Brown, Donika Kelly and many more, and the resulting chorus is sure to be resounding.
forward to her helming of this new compendium.
Merci Suárez Can’t Dance by Meg Medina Candlewick, April 6 Medina and the beloved heroine of her 2019 Newbery Medal winner, Merci Suárez Changes Gears, are back! This sequel finds Merci in seventh grade confronting all the new—and familiar— experiences and challenges it brings.
Shy Willow by Cat Min
Good Company by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
Levine Querido, February 16
Ecco, May 4
We’re always on the lookout for beautifully illustrated picture books that leave us feeling hopeful, and Cat Min’s debut has piqued our interest. It’s the story of a very shy rabbit who lives in an abandoned mailbox and must figure out how to deliver a very important letter—to the moon.
Sweeney’s 2016 debut novel, The Nest, became an instant bestseller, and no wonder—she’s got a clear knack for family drama. She returns to the landscape of lifelong relationships with her second book, the story of a woman who’s trying to make sense of her husband’s long-ago lie about a lost wedding ring. We can’t wait for these bonds to unfold before us.
The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen Grove, March 2 Vietnam-born author Nguyen’s 2016 Pulitzer Prize-winning debut novel, The Sympathizer, was an instant classic, starring an unnamed double agent whose ability to hold starkly opposing worldviews causes a division of self. This year Nguyen returns with the long-awaited sequel, promising philosophical deep dives and a unique look at Vietnamese refugee life in 1980s Paris.
That Way Madness Lies, edited by Dahlia Adler Flatiron, March 16 Fifteen of today’s best and brightest YA writers, including Anna-Marie McLemore, Mark Oshiro, Melissa Bashardoust and Tochi Onyebuchi, reenvision some of Shakespeare’s best known works, from Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet to The Tempest and All’s Well That Ends Well. Adler’s 2019 collection, His Hideous Heart, gave a similar treatment to Edgar Allan Poe, so we’re looking
The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel HMH, May 4 In her first graphic memoir since 2012, Fun Home author and cartoonist Bechdel tackles her relationship to exercise—the fads, the equipment, the ever-elusive promise of better, newer, more. It’s a playful premise, but in true Bechdel style, there’s likely to be plenty of insight and introspection brewing just below the surface.
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo Tor.com, June 1 The best character in The Great Gatsby is Daisy’s friend Jordan Baker, full stop—we will not be taking questions at this time. So we truly cannot wait for Vo’s first novel, a magical take on the Jazz Age classic that reimagines Jordan as an Asian American immigrant and magic user.
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston St. Martin’s Griffin, June 1 What comes next after Red, White & Royal Blue, one of the best romance novels in years? Something completely different! McQuiston’s sophomore novel will be a time-traveling romance between August, a modern-day New Yorker, and Jane, a painfully cool lesbian from the 1970s who’s been somehow trapped on the subway.
Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford Flatiron, June 1 Ford is already widely admired for her journalism, personal writing and podcasting, but Somebody’s Daughter will be her first book. Growing up in Indiana, Ford felt isolated and misunderstood. She longed to reunite with her incarcerated father, but when she found out what crime sent him to prison, everything changed.
The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker Harper, June 8 There are few novels we’ve more patiently waited for a follow-up to than 2013’s The Golem and the Jinni, and the moment has finally come. Wecker brings her formidable imaginative powers back to the world of Chava the golem and Ahmad the jinni, and this new novel will span the years from the turn of the century to early World War I.
Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby Flatiron, July 6 Cosby’s 2020 debut, Blacktop Wasteland, was our Best Mystery & Suspense book of the year, and thank goodness we don’t have to wait too long for his second. Two ex-cons go on a quest for vengeance when their married sons are murdered. But since both men failed to accept their sons’ sexuality when they were alive, they must also confront shame and guilt in what sounds like another complex and ambitious thriller. Visit BookPage.com for our full 2021 preview list.
shelf life | kristin hannah
Wherever she goes, a bookstore awaits The bestselling author of The Nightingale—whose next historical novel hits shelves February 2—shares a look at her book-loving life. Kristin Hannah delivers historical fiction with big wallops of emotion, and her next novel, set during the Great Depression, promises the same. While we wait for The Four Winds (St. Martin’s, $28.99, 9781250178602) to be published in February, we chatted with the bestselling author about her first library card and favorite bookstore memories.
© KEVIN LYNCH
What are your bookstore rituals? Wow. In all my years of talking about books, this is a question I have never been asked before. And I definitely do have bookstore rituals. It begins, of course, with the window. I’m always interested in what books are displayed in the window of a bookstore, so I guess my ritual begins before I even open the door. Once inside, I head straight to the fiction new releases. From there, I move leisurely toward the current bestseller bookcase and then to the staff recommendations. By now, I usually have an armful of books, but I can never leave without checking out the children’s section and browsing through the history section. After that, I could head anywhere. Tell us about your favorite library from when you were a child. Honestly, my favorite library belonged to my mother. She was an avid reader and collected books of all kinds. I remember her tall stack of Book of the Month titles. I spent years perusing her shelves and choosing books and allowing her to choose for me. One of my favorite memories of childhood is talking about those books with my mom. Afterward, of course, she introduced me to our local library and helped me to get my first library card—my passport to other worlds. We moved around a lot when I was a kid, and our first stop in every new town was the library. While researching your books, have you ever made an especially surprising discovery among the stacks? I have spent many hours in both libraries and bookstores—new and used—in my research. The one that comes to mind right now is the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. I spent many wonderful hours there, wearing white gloves, reading the handwritten firsthand accounts of Ms. Sanora Babb, a young woman who worked at the Farm Security Ad-
ministration migrant camp in California in the late 1930s. Her words were a gold mine of information. Do you have a favorite bookstore or library from literature? Oh, so many! The first that comes to mind, of course, is the magical Hogwarts library. Who wouldn’t want to lose themselves among the stacks there? And then there’s the equally magical Cemetery of Forgotten Books in Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s remarkable novel The Shadow of the Wind. More recently, I found myself enraptured by Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library, in which a library becomes the catalyst for looking at one’s own lost lives and untaken chances.
New York Times bestselling author
Do you have a “bucket list” of bookstores and libraries you’d love to visit but haven’t yet? Doesn’t everyone? How much time do we have? My bucket list of libraries is topped by Trinity College Library in Dublin. I used to dream of going there as a girl, and I’ve never lost the hope that I will visit it someday. Honestly, I love bookstores and libraries everywhere. I try to visit them whenever and wherever I am traveling. What’s the last thing you checked out from your library or bought at your local bookstore? I checked out a book last week, a memoir written by a female journalist that I couldn’t find in print anywhere. The last thing I bought at my local bookstore was actually about five minutes ago. I called my local indie bookseller and ordered a copy of Caste. How is your own personal library organized? My research library, which is extensive because I’ve been writing novels now for close to 30 years and I rarely get rid of anything I’ve read, is organized by topic. My fiction library is a glorious, beautiful mess. The only way I find anything is because I peruse it so often that I practically have each shelf memorized.
“A W I N N I N G W H O D U N I T… with plot twists that would stump Hercule Poirot.”
—KATE QUINN, New York Times bestselling author
Bookstore cats or bookstore dogs? I am a cat person, but I love any animal curled up in a bookstore.
interview | mateo askaripour
Ascent of a salesman After learning what it takes to make it in the corporate world, Mateo Askaripour spins that knowledge into gold in his riotous first novel, Black Buck.
they’d look at me strangely. Years later, I began to understand what those initial looks meant. They were saying, I gotta listen to a Black person? Especially this dude? Some of them never had to listen to a Black person in their life before, or even a person of color.” As Darren climbs the corporate ladder, some of the racism he encounters is overt, while other forms are stealthily inscribed into the culture of the company. Reflecting both his empirical understanding of the problem and his writing talent, Askaripour does an incredible job of showing how companies often use Black culture as a source of inspiration and mobilization while at the “I think we need to realize that until same time generwe’re in a position where Black and brown ating an internal people are giving other Black and brown culture of intolpeople those life-changing opportunities erance for Black at such an exponential rate, there is going people. to be an obvious disparity, and there is “They have this going to be an imbalance. And that needs cognitive dissoto change,” Askaripour says. “The ‘each nance where they one, teach one’ mentality is definitely a will take Black way to change that.” culture and use it to For Askaripour, Black Buck is a form of energize and further service, an intentional attempt to positheir interests, but tively affect the material circumstances how many Black of Black and brown people. “I wrote this people do they book so that anyone who reads it, espeBlack Buck know?” he says. cially Black and brown people, would be HMH, $26, 9780358380887 “And how willing able to take away a few gems on how to are they to sit back advance their own lives and the lives of Satirical Fiction and ask themselves those who they love,” he says. “It doubles whether they are as a sales manual for that very real reason. helping or hurting these people that they never I feel hopeful that if someone reads this book and really think about?” understands its journey, they would be able to Despite its grounding in racial strife, Black better their lives and probably get an entry-level Buck is not a pessimistic novel at all. The Afrisales job. Yeah, man, ‘each one, teach one’ is not can diasporic philosophy “each one, teach one” just essential to the book. It’s at the core of my undergirds the book. Brought to America from life right now.” West Africa, “each one, teach one” suggests that —Langston Collin Wilkins African Americans who have effectively navigated racial subjugation should guide and open doors Visit BookPage.com to read our starred for others in their community. review of Black Buck. © ANDREW “FIFTHGOD” ASKARIPOUR
“You’re likely in for a wild ride, and you will make mistakes,” says author Mateo Askaripour via Zoom from his home in Brooklyn, New York. “But as long as you learn from them and don’t judge yourself too harshly, you can retain a sense of self and still succeed.” Askaripour’s comments reflect the central message of his debut novel, Black Buck, in which a young Black man named Darren attempts to navigate the punishingly racist corporate tech world without losing either himself or the love of his friends and family. With a complex yet accessible plot, rich characters and Askaripour’s sharp wit, Black Buck is a page-turning satirical examination of corporate racial struggle. And with its tips and tricks for achieving success in white-dominated spaces, the book also acts as an instruction manual for Black and brown corporate climbers. Askaripour’s professional life began in the same corporate tech world that he thoroughly deconstructs in his novel. The Long Island native was a prodigy of sorts, moving from intern to director of sales at a tech startup within a year. When he needed an outlet from the fast-paced and ruthless world of sales, he turned to the written word. His first two attempts at a novel fell short of the mark. Then in late 2017, he decided to write from experience. “I realized that writing something that felt true to me meant that I couldn’t shy away from the things that were closest to me in my life,” he explains. Namely, sales, race and startups. In Black Buck, Darren’s quest to establish himself in sales causes internal and external turmoil. Forced assimilation, intrusive demands on his time and the stresses of racism create rifts in his relationships, self-identity and sense of control. There are moments when the reader struggles to determine whether Darren is a hero or a villain. That’s not a sign of any misstep on Askaripour’s part, though. Rather, it reflects the existential battle that Black and brown people face in these environments. “There were times when I felt like I was mad powerful,” Askaripour says of his sales days. “I was 24 years old, managing 30 people and making over $100K. I had all these people looking up to me. In those moments, it’s so easy to forget that you’re Black. It was so easy to forget because you have some money and people are looking up to you. But then there were times when I’d hire a new person, a white man or woman, and I could tell that the first time I would ask them to do something or tell them to do something,
reviews | fiction
H Detransition, Baby By Torrey Peters
Family Drama Detransition, Baby (One World, $27, 9780593133378) is, simply put, fantastic. But somehow even the most complimentary adjectives feel insufficient to describe Torrey Peters’ first novel, as they cannot adequately capture the experience of spending time with her characters, who are so fully realized and complex that the truth seeps out of them from the first page. The story centers on three people: Reese, a mid-30s transgender woman; her ex, Amy, now Ames, who detransitioned following their breakup three years ago; and Ames’ superior at work, Katrina, a cisgender woman. Ames’ clandestine hookups with Katrina have resulted in an unexpected pregnancy. Now, faced with the
By Daniel Loedel
Literary Fiction Worlds blend rapidly in Daniel Loedel’s debut, Hades, Argentina (Rive rhead, $27, 9780593188644). As the novel opens in 1986, Tomás Orilla, living as Thomas Shore in New York City, has “spent eight years officially disappeared.” But his world begins to crack open when he is called back to Argentina for the first time since 1976, the year of his torture and escape. He travels to Buenos Aires for a funeral that yields to a search for a lost love and the desire to revisit and reexamine the past. Like Orpheus seeking Eurydice, Tomás accepts a challenge from his old mentor, the Colonel, and returns to the places and events of 1976 to see what could have been, and how one choice could change fates. As Tomás reenters the world of Argentina’s dirty war, time blurs, and the surreal blends with reality. As he relives trauma and torture, readers experience it with him, seeing a slice of history that is rarely talked about and feeling immersed in the ways that love, guilt and regret drive so many decisions. Loedel’s prose is clean, tight and engaging, with a rhythm that invites you to keep reading and to see where the story goes and what sense
to show how they have arrived here, adding intricate layers to every moment. She displays a masterful control over this story, offering a psychological deep dive that is still entertaining thanks to the potency of Reese, Ames and Katrina. The vivid supporting cast is equally as endearing, as not one side character seems to understand that they are not the lead. Devastating, hilarious, touching, timely and studded with fun pop culture references and celebrity cameos, this is an acutely intelligent story about womanhood, parenthood and all the possibilities that lie within. —Leslie Hinson
question of parenthood and what fatherhood would mean for his identity, Ames reaches out to Reese. If Reese could co-parent with them, maybe he could feel confident about his own role. Na v i g a t i n g a pending shared parenthood isn’t simple, and Peters takes the reader on a vivid trip through the characters’ backstories
you can make of it. Most interesting, perhaps, are the questions posed: What does it mean to be a hero or to be complicit in a dangerous regime? What choices do we really have? Who are we, and who did we imagine we would become? Even as the novel invites questions and focuses on language rather than answers, the reader won’t be able to look away. They will bear witness to human choice and compunction, to love and loss, to the fantasy that helps make sense of what is real. —Freya Sachs
H The Prophets By Robert Jones Jr.
Historical Fiction Robert Jones Jr.’s remarkable first novel, The Prophets (Putnam, $27, 9780593085684), accomplishes the exceptional literary feat of being at once an intimate, poetic love story and a sweeping, detailed and excruciating portrait of life on a Mississippi plantation. One of the most outstanding things about this novel is its artistry, both in its language and its use of multiple perspectives. Jones excels at ensemble storytelling, treating each character with compassion while also being brutally unsparing. From one point of view, certain actions seem perfectly reasonable, but
another storyline may reveal their harm. In particular, two of these stories are on a collision course. The most important and sympathetic thread involves Samuel and Isaiah, two enslaved boys who grow up as best friends and eventually become lovers. The other involves an older enslaved man, Amos, who decides to take on the role of preacher as a way to attain power for a worthy goal: He wants to protect his female partner from the plantation owner, Paul. Amos negotiates with Paul and offers to use his role as a religious leader to help run the plantation and keep the peace. Those sound like reasonable objectives given the constraints Amos is under, but the exercise of power is never that clean, and a multitude of betrayals, cruelties and tragedies arise from that Faustian bargain. Amos’ new responsibility means encouraging his fellow enslaved people to cooperate with Paul’s plans to force them to have children in order increase his workforce. Samuel and Isaiah’s love violates these plans because they only want to be with each other, but that kind of love doesn’t produce offspring. Thus Amos’ religiosity and Isaiah and Samuel’s love are inherently at odds, and as religion takes hold of the plantation, it makes outcasts of two young men whom the community had long embraced. Jones grounds his story in history while making it remarkably relevant to life today. The Prophets traces the origins of a host of social ills, such as the use of religion as a tool for social control. Likewise, observations about the intersection of race and gender within this brutal system will sound familiar to contemporary readers. For example, Puah, a teenage girl who must fight every day to protect her body and soul,
reviews | fiction feels frustrated by the favor that Be Auntie, an influential older woman, extends to the boys and men in their group. Puah concludes, “Men and toubab shared far more than either would ever admit.” The men she refers to are her fellow enslaved people, and “toubab” is a Central and West African word for white people. These are observations about Black men and white patriarchy that Black women still struggle with in the 21st century. Similarly, Puah grieves for the way that Auntie and other women cast her as being “grown” before her time. That’s another modern-day problem: Black children are judged as adults, and young Black women are sexualized and blamed for their own abuse. These disparate elements of history, myth making, social observation, criticism and storytelling don’t always fit together as well as the author may have intended. However, what is most notable about The Prophets is that, like James Baldwin or Toni Morrison, Jones gets to the root of some of our culture’s thorniest problems through specific, accurate storytelling, drawn with insight and great skill. Though this is his first book, Jones is already a master stylist, writing gorgeous, lyrical and readable prose about some of the ugliest things that human beings feel and do to one another. Sometimes the prose reads like scripture. At other times, it’s poetry. This is a beautifully wrought, exceptionally accomplished queer love story about two men finding extraordinary connection in the most hostile and difficult of circumstances. This debut will be savored and remembered. —Carole V. Bell
Better Luck Next Time
By Julia Claiborne Johnson
Historical Fiction Back in the 1930s, Dr. Howard Stovall Bennett III, then known as “Ward,” was the handsome hired hand at a Reno ranch that helped women establish Nevada state citizenship to get quickie divorces. A Yale dropout, Ward got the job after his wealthy Southern family lost everything in the Great Depression. In the wonderful, sweet Better Luck Next Time (Custom House, $28.99, 9780062916365), a much older Ward recounts his time at the Flying Leap Dude Ranch to an unknown listener, whose identity is revealed at the end of the book. Ward’s job is equal parts ranch hand, driver,
waiter and listening ear to women biding their time until a judge will grant them a divorce. He spends hours sitting outside attorneys’ offices, listening to the women tell their stories. “It was like listening to a celestial radio that only picked up the saddest soap operas,” he says, “its dial twisted slowly by the universe across the whole unhappy bandwidth without settling anywhere for long.” The trouble starts when Nina comes to the Flying Leap. A wealthy heiress heading for her third divorce, Nina takes the heartbroken Emily, who has fled a serial cheater in San Francisco, under her wing. Soon Nina and Emily are embarking on all sorts of liquor- and grief-fueled adventures and roping Ward in to their fun. When Ward realizes he’s falling in love with Emily, he assumes his days at the Flying Leap are numbered. A longtime magazine writer, Julia Claiborne Johnson follows up her hilarious first book, Be Frank With Me, with this more serious—but still witty and charming—offering. She paints a vivid picture of a hot, dry Reno summer during which women wait to see whether their luck has run out or is just beginning. Ward is a thoughtful narrator, telling his story with the mix of joy and melancholy that comes with being elderly. “When you get to be my age,” he muses, “things that happened fifty years ago start seeming more real to you than what happened yesterday.” Indeed, this is a story that will stay with you for a long time. —Amy Scribner
H A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself By Peter Ho Davies
Family Drama As challenges go, fatherhood can be beautiful and rewarding. The health of one’s child, however, may complicate matters. A couple forced to confront some of these challenges is at the center of Peter Ho Davies’ excellent third novel, A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself (HMH, $24, 9780544277717). The book is told from the perspective of a man who is now a writer but used to be a scientist. At the outset, in wrenchingly spare prose, a doctor gives the man and his editor wife, expecting their first child, a grim prognosis: The fetus had mosaicism, a rare condition that offers only “a tiny chance. BB-sized” that the baby will be born in normal health. The couple decides to abort. The next pregnancy produces a seemingly healthy boy, until he turns blue on the delivery
table and has to spend four days in the neonatal intensive care unit. Davies infuses these scenes with heartbreaking detail, as when the father sits by the incubator, talking to his son, saying, “Little guy, it’s Daddy,” while an IV drips into a tiny arm. After the boy recovers, Davies brilliantly describes the quotidian aspects of raising a baby that leave the couple “floaty with exhaustion,” from shopping for baby monitors to, in one of many invocations of Schrödinger’s cat, wondering whether the quiet of the baby’s room means their child is sleeping or dead. When a kindergarten teacher suggests the boy may be autistic, the couple resists having him tested for fear of what they might learn. This leads to more soul-searching on the part of the father, even prompting him to volunteer at an abortion clinic to help him sort through lingering feelings about the couple’s earlier decision. Though the child comes across as an abstraction rather than a fully fleshed-out character, the eloquence of Davies’ writing will make readers sympathize with a father trying to be a good parent and a good person and wondering if he’s succeeding. A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself is a poetic meditation on the nature of regret and a couple’s enduring love through myriad difficulties. It’s a difficult but marvelous book. —Michael Magras
The Lost Manuscript
By Cathy Bonidan Translated by Emma Ramadan
Popular Fiction If you’re the type of reader who selfsoothes by losing yourself in a book and are in need of a potent comfort read, French author Cathy Bonidan’s English-language debut novel is just what the doctor ordered. Exceedingly charming and guaranteed to bring a smile to your face, The Lost Manuscript (St. Martin’s, $26.99, 9781250256300) is a multilayered testament to the life-changing properties of a single book when it reaches the right reader. Such is the case when Anne-Lise Briard stumbles upon a forgotten manuscript while on vacation in northwest France. After devouring the story, she is inspired to forward the manuscript to an address scribbled on one of its pages, hoping that she might gain some insight into the provenance of the manuscript. Never in her wildest dreams could she have anticipated that her letter would reach the manuscript’s author himself,
reviews | fiction who confesses that the last time he saw this manuscript was 30 years ago while on a flight to Montreal and that it had been only half-finished at the time. Intrigued, Anne-Lise doggedly traces the path of the manuscript to uncover its mysterious second author, a pursuit that encourages new relationships (and in some cases, romances) to flourish as she contacts the numerous individuals whose lives have been shaped by the manuscript over the years. The Lost Manuscript is first and foremost a love letter to literature and readers. Eternally hopeful, this buoyant epistolary novel is refreshingly devoid of cynicism and instead celebrates the ways in which books can enrich our lives and foster connection. Bonidan’s parceling of a genuinely intriguing mystery and gentle romance into bite-size, elegantly written chapters makes for a swift and captivating read that, despite its sweetness and endearing quaintness, is not without substance. The spiritual successor to the epistolary classic 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, The Lost Manuscript is a soul-satisfying book that is sure to be loved. —Stephenie Harrison
The Center of Everything By Jamie Harrison
Literary Fiction A character in Jamie Harrison’s latest literary crime novel observes, “Everyone [has] a core of hell and doubt and sorrow.” But the story’s star, Polly, discovers a brighter perspective. In 2002, 42-year-old Polly has recovered physically from a recent bike accident, but she still suffers periods of confusion. When Polly’s children’s favorite babysitter, Ariel, goes missing on a kayak trip, the incident triggers a flood of jarring memories in Polly’s fragmented mind. Her “spells” toggle the narrative between July 2002 and the summer of 1968, a structure that suggests cyclical rather than linear time, as she exists fluidly in both eras at once. Polly spends part of her childhood with her great-grandparents Dee and Papa, whose backgrounds in archeology, myth and art create a chaotic but loving household. Also living with Papa and Dee are Rita, Polly’s parents’ friend whose husband dies in the Vietnam War, and Rita’s son, Edmund. Eight-year-olds Polly and Edmund explore the landscape together, avoiding “the witch” and eavesdropping on adult conversations.
This stimulating and permissive upbringing makes for a lively narrative. Since timelines and events are murky to Polly, sensations dominate the narrative, from the smells and tastes of Dee’s exotic meals to sights from around New York, Michigan and Montana, as well as memories of physical closeness and warmth. The text is idiosyncratic, composed of lists and phrases, a mosaic of impressions from past and present. After Ariel disappears, Polly follows suspicious, incongruous images of sexual predators and water deaths, leading her to a truth that her family is finally ready to face together. Reading The Center of Everything (Counterpoint, $26, 9781640092341) is like traveling further and further into a dream, spiraling around fragments toward a point of love and wonder. It’s a redemptive and hopeful novel guided by earthy, reliable men, women and children who inspire and encourage. —Mari Carlson
Waiting for the Night Song By Julie Carrick Dalton
Popular Fiction The past has a way of catching up to us, often when we least expect it. In Waiting for the Night Song (Forge, $26.99, 9781250269188), the idyllic childhood summer of two girls implodes after a shocking event. Once close friends, Cadie Kessler and Daniela Garcia went their separate ways after witnessing a deadly argument. Twenty-five years is a long time to live with a burden like theirs, but they’ve tried to move on with their lives. When the secret buried in their childhood woods is exposed, everything they thought they knew about that summer will be questioned. In her first novel, journalist Julie Carrick Dalton extols the virtues and beauty of the natural world and laments the forces that threaten it, passionately capturing the devastation that a fire can cause and the helplessness people feel in the face of such uncontrollable disaster. Adult Cadie works as an entomologist, trying to protect the New Hampshire woods she loves from an invasive species and the ever-present fear of drought that could lead to devastating fire. Through Cadie’s eyes, we see her beloved forest as living and breathing, worthy of care. Ever since the fateful day when gunshots echoed across her lake, fear has been Cadie’s constant companion. Dalton slowly teases
reviews | fiction out this growing sense of dread for Cadie and Daniela—and Daniela’s undocumented family— against the backdrop of impending catastrophe and growing tensions in their small town. Though her style comes across heavy-handed at times, Dalton writes thoughtfully and poetically about a place clearly close to her own New Hampshire-based heart. Cadie and Daniela’s interrupted friendship forms the core of the novel, and Dalton captures that best-friend bond so intensely forged in youth. Through vivid and emotional imagery, Waiting for the Night Song speaks to the power that a place and its people can have over your life. —Melissa Brown
By Ashley Audrain
Family Drama It’s easy to think of intimate, singlePOV novels as somewhat simple narrative exercises, but Ashley Audrain’s gripping debut is proof that this is an illusion. In the hands of the right storyteller, even the most compact novels can be works of great complexity. The Push (Pamela Dorman, $26, 9781984881663) unfolds through the mind and pen of Blythe, an aspiring writer whose decision to become a mother is weighted against her own difficult childhood. Blythe is determined to be the mother she never had, but her first child, Violet, doesn’t make that easy. Blythe’s husband gets along with their daughter fine, but Blythe can’t help but think that something is off, particularly when their second child gives her the kind of parenting relationship she always wanted. Even then, the feeling that something is not quite right about Violet persists, until it goes so far that Blythe’s entire world is altered in a single shattering moment. The Push is a dazzling exercise in both economy of language and vividness of expression. Audrain’s grasp of Blythe’s inner life—her fears, her hopes, the details that linger in her mind— is so precise and mature that we get lost in this woman’s often troubling world. That feeling propels the novel forward at a blistering pace, but Audrain doesn’t stop there. This is just one woman’s side of the story—a woman who’s a writer, at that—so even as we feel we know Blythe, we can’t help but wonder how much of what she’s telling us is fiction. That this suspicion can coexist with the intimacy of Blythe’s narration is proof of Audrain’s skill as a storyteller and makes the book that much more spellbinding.
The Push announces Audrain as a sophisticated, compelling writer, perfect for fans of thrillers and intimate family dramas alike. —Matthew Jackson
Slash and Burn
By Claudia Hernández Translated by Julia Sanches
Historical Fiction Slash and Burn (And Other Stories, $17.95, 9781911508823) is an ember of a novel. Originally published in Spanish, this restrained narrative about a mother’s sacrifice surges with hot undercurrents of danger and memory. Set in an unspecified Latin American country that resembles author Claudia Hernández’s native El Salvador, the story spans its unnamed protagonist’s childhood, motherhood and grandmotherhood. As a young girl, she realizes that threats to women in the village are no more dangerous than those faced by the guerrilla fighters in the mountains, so she decides to join her father and brothers fighting the military-led junta. During her time as a combatant, she has a number of romantic trysts, resulting in the birth of her daughters. Despite her commitment to the guerrilla cause, one of her daughters is stolen from her as punishment for getting pregnant. Years later, the woman, now an ex-combatant, risks everything to find her long-lost daughter in Paris. Meanwhile, her other daughters are left to contend with the omnipresent threats of poverty, rape and postwar pillaging. The tension between independence and family responsibilities permeates this stark narrative. A notable feature of this novel is its dearth of proper nouns. While ex-combatants use a combination of war aliases, given names and chosen names to increase their odds of subsisting, readers never learn what those names are. In this way, Hernández extends the book’s theme of secret-keeping. Just as former guerrilla fighters conceal the profane truths of wartime, Hernández withholds names to remind readers that in this shifting landscape, privacy means everything. During the national struggle over land and inheritance, identity is built on shifting sands. Despite ongoing political instability, Hernández’s levelheaded women and girls outwit (and outlive) countless men on all sides of the struggle. There is little glory for these women, but there is much honor, and the quest for education, security
and—above all—togetherness in war-torn El Salvador establishes this novel as a new kind of hero’s journey. Ultimately, Slash and Burn is an unflinching meditation on girlhood and womanhood. The compañeras-in-arms within its pages ask few favors, preferring to toil with honor rather than fall prey to the disappointment of broken promises. In this slow burn, Hernández ferries her characters across oceans for the common purpose of finding home—an as-yet-unnamed possibility. —Elena Britos
A Crooked Tree By Una Mannion
Coming of Age As 15-year-old Libby Gallagher ponders several dark moments in rock ’n’ roll history, she muses, “It all said to me that chaotic and dark forces were spinning around us. One foot wrong, and you’d be pulled into the vortex.” Unfortunately, a multitude of missteps have already affected Libby and her family, and that vortex threatens to loom closer every day in Una Mannion’s taut, richly imagined debut, A Crooked Tree (Harper, $27.99, 9780063049840). Living near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, in the early 1980s, Libby is the third of five children whose parents divorced and whose Irish immigrant father has recently died, leaving a gaping hole in their already fractured family dynamic. One evening, tempers flare during an outing, and Libby’s mom stops the car six miles from home and orders 12-year-old Ellen out of the car and into the dark, expecting her to walk the rest of the way. From that fateful moment on, Mannion sets up a series of domino-like events, skillfully building suspense that gains momentum to a dramatic conclusion. Libby is an insightful, likable narrator who inhabits a teenage world in which adults are largely absent, busy tending to their own issues, allowing unknown dangers to blossom and grow. The Gallagher family struggles to get by emotionally and financially, and their mother has a secret boyfriend who fathered her youngest child. The story tackles many issues, including divorce, parental death, grief and child molestation, as well as class and immigration issues, making this nostalgic 1980s story surprisingly topical. Despite the surrounding turmoil, the Gallagher clan is full of achievers. Ellen is a talented artist, observant Libby likes to lose herself in nature,
feature | literary adaptations and their siblings Marie and Thomas are scholastically gifted. These characters are bolstered by an intriguing supporting cast, including Libby’s close friend Sage and Thomas’ friend Jack, who becomes Libby’s romantic interest. Looming large is a sexual predator roaming the area whom the kids call Barbie Man, creating a sense of constant foreboding and fear. A Crooked Tree marks the welcome debut of a talented, captivating new voice. —Alice Cary
By Fiona King Foster
Dystopian Fiction One must wonder while reading Fiona King Foster’s first novel, who is truly the captive? Is it fugitive Stephen Cawley, who spends the majority of the novel bound with rope and twist-ties, or is it protagonist Brooke Holland, who seems trapped by her past misdeeds? There is no easy answer, which makes the novel so beguiling. The Captive (Ecco, $26.99, 9780062990976) is part adventure novel and part crime novel, set in a dystopian landscape where cellphones, the internet and vehicles are available to only certain people, particularly those in Federal-run cities. We slowly learn that Brooke is hiding a dark past from even her husband, Milo, and daughters, Holly and Sal. When she gets word that Stephen and his gang may be in the area, she immediately goes on high alert, certain that he has tracked her down and come to exact his revenge on her. Brooke gets the drop on Stephen when he shows up at her rural cranberry farm, quickly overpowering him. Afraid the rest of his clan might not be far behind, she mobilizes her family, and together they set out on a punishing hike over rugged terrain, traversing more than a hundred miles to the nearest town, where she can turn Stephen over to the sheriff’s office and collect the reward. Foster keeps the tension high as Brooke refuses to reveal why Stephen is so dangerous and why she is so hellbent on bringing him to justice. You have to admire Brooke’s determination and sense of concern for her family, but also Milo’s ability to keep it together as he tries to support Brooke and quell the kids’ simmering rebellion over her lack of answers. This initial stonewalling is, admittedly, a bit frustrating for readers as well, but as a credit to Foster’s writing, she effectively keeps readers in suspense all the way through. —G. Robert Frazier
Canon fire Two novels add deeper dimension to literary classics. The best literary adaptations preserve what we love while elaborating on unanswered questions. Michael Farris Smith and Molly Greeley nail it with their new novels.
It is a brave and ambitious project to write the backstory of Nick Carraway, the narrator of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s American classic, The Great Gatsby, but that is what Michael Farris Smith does in his sixth novel, Nick (Little, Brown, $27, 9780316529761). One of Smith’s most compelling insights is that many of the high-flying men partying through the Roaring ’20s, as depicted in Fitzgerald’s great novel, had only recently returned from the harrowing trench warfare of the First World War. “Shell shock,” “battle fatigue” and PTSD were poorly understood at that time and often simply dismissed as cowardice. In previous novels, Smith has written eloquently and sometimes in excruciating detail about masculine brutality and trauma. He does so again in Nick. The novel opens with Nick at a cafe in Paris on leave from the war. When he meets and falls in love with a destitute artist, he debates going AWOL and staying with his beloved, but he is Minnesota born, the son of a small-town hardware store owner and a deeply depressed mother, and he knows where his duty lies. His return to the trenches is vividly depicted: Smith’s descriptions of warfare are cinematic, chilling and unforgettable. At war’s end, Nick searches Paris for his love but is unable to find her. He is among the last soldiers to return to America, clearly traumatized and unable to go back to Minnesota. Instead he travels to New Orleans and winds up in the city’s notorious red-light district, where a bond with a fellow scarred soldier offers enough redemption for Nick to return home to recover, then travel on to East Egg and his meeting with Gatsby. This is just an outline of a deeper investigation of war and its consequences. In style and theme, this Nick will remind readers of another Nick: the
character Nick Adams of Ernest Hemingway’s best short stories. —Alden Mudge
Such is Jane Austen’s brilliance that our obsession with Pride and Prejudice has hardly ceased over the two centuries since its publication. Along with Austen’s ahead-of-her-time ingenuity in creating characters, some might say that her mastery of subplots is what has kept readers talking and wondering for centuries. Take, for instance, the mystery around Mr. Darcy’s cousin Anne de Bourgh. What we know about her from Austen’s novel is that she was sickly, had an ungodly inheritance and (much to our relief ) never ends up marrying Mr. Darcy, as had been arranged since their births. But isn’t there so much more we have wished to know about her? Enter Molly Greeley’s novel The Heiress (William Morrow, $25.99, 9780063032002), an entertaining elaboration to satisfy generations of readers who have wondered and theorized about Anne. In perfectly Austene sque style, Greeley reveals the backstory of the Rosings Park heiress and just what made her so sickly, so interesting and so complicated. Anne begins life as a colicky baby, and with a doctor’s recommendation, her mother, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, gives baby Anne opium-heavy laudanum to calm her down. This leads to an addiction that weakens Anne and leaves her in a constant daze, as readers will remember in Pride and Prejudice. But Anne comes to a rare moment of clarity in her late 20s when she questions if her fragility and illness are truly real. Desperate to find out, she flees to London to stay with her cousin Colonel John Fitzwilliam. It’s a move so bold that it paves the path for other bold and unexpected decisions to follow. Keen observations about society and strong supporting characters make The Heiress a perfectly joyful read. —Chika Gujarathi
reviews | nonfiction
H The Night Lake By Liz Tichenor
Memoir Liz Tichenor’s The Night Lake: A Young Priest Maps the Topography of Grief (Counterpoint, $26, 9781640094062) surprised me. I felt surprise at the grace with which Tichenor shares her walk through shadow. I was surprised by how deeply Tichenor’s articulation of her experience of faith resonated with my own, and by her brushes with the mystical divine that jolted me and left me feeling uncertain. Some might feel surprise at priests cursing in the face of unimaginable grief. Whatever your experience of grief, and whatever your experience of faith, The Night Lake will manage to surprise you, too. But it’s not easy reading. On the night Tichenor raced to the hospital behind an ambulance carrying her 1-month-old son, she was a fledgling priest in her late 20s, living with her husband and their two young children at an Episcopalian summer camp.
The Eagles of Heart Mountain By Bradford Pearson
American History In his engrossing and accomplished debut work of nonfiction, The Eagles of Heart Mountain: A True Story of Football, Incarceration, and Resistance in World War II America (Atria, $28, 9781982107031), Bradford Pearson shines light on a little-known chapter of World War II resistance on the homefront. He sets the stage by confronting the inaccurate vocabulary used to describe the forcible relocation of 120,000 people of Japanese descent in the 1940s, rejecting the commonly used “internment” in favor of the more accurate term “incarceration.” Pearson’s story revolves around the Eagles, the high school football team of a Japanese incarceration camp located near Heart Mountain, outside of Cody, Wyoming. In the fall of 1943, in its inaugural season, the football team went undefeated against neighboring high schools. Based on meticulous archival research and interviews with surviving family members, Pearson’s
This was her first job flying solo, and her life seemed to be at that early stage when anything could blossom at any moment. But in truth, Tichenor was already acquainted with hardship before she found her son unresponsive in their bedroom. Her mother, after years of dealing with pernicious and unrelenting alcoholism, had taken her own life only a year before. So when Tichenor’s son died suddenly due to an undiagnosed medical condition, she plunged into the deep end. In the months that followed, she was buoyed by the love and support of her husband, daughter and community of friends, but Tichenor could not always keep her head above the waves of
narrative provides the political context for the incarceration of Japanese civilians while bringing readers into the lives of several of the teens who came of age in the camp, including Ted Fujioka, George “Horse” Yoshinaga and his best friend, Tamotsu “Babe” Nomura. Pearson’s tale goes beyond a simple feel-good sports story to encompass the complex political and racial justice issues of the time. In early 1944, for example, after the War Department reinstated the draft for second-generation Japanese men, 63 men imprisoned at Heart Mountain were put on federal trial and found guilty for their decision to resist the draft unless their rights as American citizens were restored. Pearson weaves this legal fight with the experiences and fates of the young Eagles both during and after World War II. Some went to war, such as Fujioka, who was killed fighting in France. Yoshinaga became a journalist and sports promoter. Nomura returned to California, where he had once been the starting halfback on his high school football team. In December of 1945, he was touted for his impressive reputation on the Los Angeles City College football team as the “nation’s top Japanese-American gridster”—a headline unthinkable only two years before. The Eagles of Heart Mountain is an inspiring exploration of resistance and a timely examination of how the policy of Japanese incarceration impacted the lives of young people and their families. —Deborah Hopkinson
depression, her own relationship to alcohol and an emotional hangover from years of being mothered by an addict. As Tichenor moved through her grief, she longed simply for someone to sit with her in her pain. Early in the book, she discusses the roots of the word “com-passion” (to suffer with) and in so doing reveals an important truth: To live in connection with others in an imperfect world, we must suffer with them. Readers practice that com-passion with Tichenor as they read her story. None of its events are hurried, and so you feel suspended with her in each stage of her grieving. This is not simply a book for those who have found themselves mired in such grief. It teaches all of us how to be with those who are going through tragedy, how to be vulnerable and how to practice com-passion. —Anna Spydell
By Nadia Owusu
Memoir An earthquake isn’t a single moment. The event itself might be destructive, rending the earth apart and slamming it together along fault lines, but the effects begin before that moment and can extend long after the fracture. Nadia Owusu plays with this metaphor in Aftershocks (Simon & Schuster, $26, 9781982111229). Her father’s death when Owusu was in her early teens was a central tremor in her life. Owusu adored her father, whose work with the United Nations carried the family across continents. Her relationships with her mothers were more complicated: her birth mother, who abandoned Owusu and her sister after their parents’ divorce; her aunt, who took the girls in afterward; and her stepmother, with whom Owusu competed for her father’s attention. Later, when her stepmother suggested that Owusu’s father may not have died of the cancer listed on his death certificate, Owusu wrestled with her understanding of the family that raised her.
reviews | nonfiction “Sometimes I think my memories are more about what didn’t happen than what did, who wasn’t there than who was,” Owusu writes. “My memories are about leaving and being left. They are about absence.” Owusu’s complex racial and national identities also inform her sense of self. The nationalities of her Ghanaian father, Armenian American birth mother and Tanzanian stepmother influence Owusu’s daily life, and moving between continents—Africa, Europe, North America—leaves her feeling even more out of place. Owusu, a Whiting Award-winning writer and urban planner, explores how those cultures have intersected with and influenced her personal experiences. Aftershocks is an intimate work told in an imaginative style, with the events that shaped its author rippling throughout her nonlinear story. The structure mimics the all-consuming effect that a moment—a personal earthquake—can have on a life. —Carla Jean Whitley
The New Climate War By Michael E. Mann
Science Given the recent increase in extreme weather events, the battle over the scientific fact of climate change is essentially over, Michael E. Mann asser ts in his punchy and illuminating new book, The New Climate War (PublicAffairs, $29, 9781541758230). What remains of the opposition has retreated to a new do-nothing battleground he calls “inactivism,” a position that will not save us from the severe consequences of climate change for human life on the planet. Mann, a world-renowned climate scientist who teaches at Penn State University, uses both peer-reviewed climate science research and combative wit to expose the strategies of people and industries bent on deflecting responsibility and limiting the systemic change necessary to move the world away from dependence on planet-destroying fossil fuel. He also calls out those on the extreme opposite side, the “doomers” who proclaim it is simply too late to act. In examining the deflective arguments of those most responsible for climate change, Mann notes that their stalling tactics have focused on convincing us that this is an issue of individual responsibility—personal recycling, eating less meat, driving less and flying a lot less. Yes, he says, these are certainly helpful practices, but they cannot
solely address the scale of the problem or enact the vast changes needed worldwide from business, industry and government to save the planet. At the same time, he promotes an optimistic view. We are not yet on the precipice of doom, he says. We have agency and can act—but we do need to act immediately. Mann clearly has skin in this game. Both his professional and personal reputations have been viciously attacked in response to his work. Here he fights back, settles some scores and argues for the necessity and possibility of aggressive, systemic changes. It’s a bracing read—both eye- opening and even fun. —Alden Mudge
H Drug Use for Grown-Ups By Dr. Carl L. Hart
Social Science As more and more states across the country legalize marijuana, and as popular opinion toward the war on drugs sours, Dr. Carl L. Hart’s new book arrives at the perfect time. In Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear (Penguin Press, $28, 9781101981641), Hart makes a thoughtful and persuasive (if controversial) case that everything we’ve been taught about drug use is wrong and that it’s high time we legalize all drugs and consider a more humane way forward. Hart, a scientist and a professor of neuro science at Columbia University, is an expert in drug abuse and addiction. He’s also a recreational drug user. Through careful research and illuminating personal stories, Hart dispels many drug myths and shows us that happiness can be found through responsible drug use, just as through drinking alcohol responsibly. He argues that if we truly believe in liberty as established in the Declaration of Independence, then the pursuit of this particular happiness should also be part of our protected civil liberties. Even though we mostly hear about the dangers of drugs, most drug users are functional adults who experience no negative effects from their drug use, according to Hart’s research. He also posits that illegal drugs are dangerous because they are illegal, not because they are inherently dangerous substances. What makes a drug truly dangerous is its unregulated quality and potency, as well as ignorance about mixing drugs. Hart laments the opioid crisis in his book, while arguing that most overdoses and deaths related to drug use wouldn’t occur if the person knew what
they were taking. He also suggests that opioid deaths and other overdoses would decrease if people had access to regulated opioid products, rather than forms of the drug that are laced with powerful and sometimes deadly additives. Hart’s scientific training and personal use of drugs has informed his research and opinions, but the book is also shaped by his experience as a Black man. Although drug use is popular across all races, Black people—and Black men in particular—have been penalized for possessing and selling drugs at far higher rates than any other group. Hart convincingly asserts that this discriminatory enforcement of drug laws has had a more devastating effect on Black communities than drug use itself. Drug Use for Grown-Ups argues that it makes no sense to continue the war on drugs, which has failed to put even a dent in the illegal drug trade. Throughout history, people have always taken drugs, and they are a part of our society. This book’s soundly researched views on a safer approach to drug use and regulation will have many readers rethinking their assumptions. —Sarojini Seupersad Visit BookPage.com to read a Q&A with Dr. Carl L. Hart.
The Berlin Shadow
By Jonathan Lichtenstein
Memoir In the spring of 2015, at the still- vigorous age of 87, Hans Lichtenstein agreed to a road trip. Accompanied by his son Jonathan, he would travel by car, ferry and train from Wales to Berlin, Germany, where, in 1939, Hans’ mother put him on a train to England to escape the Nazis. At 12 years old, Hans was one of 10,000 mostly Jewish children who escaped through what came to be known as the Kindertransport, fleeing the tragic ending that many of their families could not avoid. In Hans’ son’s eloquent and poignant memoir, The Berlin Shadow (Little, Brown Spark, $28, 9780316541015), ghosts from that time in history continue to haunt them both. This reverse journey loomed ominously for the author. Often at odds with his “difficult” father, Jonathan, by then a father himself, as well as a professor and acclaimed playwright, feared that “such a trip could break the small amount of fondness that had only recently arisen between us.” The people and places that haunted Hans
reviews | nonfiction were as yet unknown to his son. He knew Hans hated Volkswagens and would not tolerate hearing Hitler’s name. Visits with relatives were rare and mysterious. Yet as Hans’ health grew more problematic, they understood he was running out of time to find some peace—or at least relief from his nightmares. Jonathan’s own memories of his father’s erratic, dangerous behaviors—such as speeding them all in the family car toward the edge of a seaside cliff—left little room for bonding. When Hans, a physician beloved by his community, discounted his own children’s illnesses, he came close to causing their deaths. Jonathan paints vivid pictures of it all, interspersing their troubled past in Wales with their present in history-haunted Berlin. He writes in such vibrant detail that his words become like a map of the city, containing everything from streets to shops to family gravesites. Revelations ignite the landscape as father and son draw closer. “It’s not just what you remember, it’s how you remember,” the author commented on an episode of the “History Extra” podcast. The Berlin Shadow casts a truly memorable light on both. —Priscilla Kipp
The Crooked Path to Abolition By James Oakes
American History Abraham Lincoln was not an abolitionist. Instead, as noted Civil War historian James Oakes believes, Lincoln’s evolving views on racial equality were based on an antislavery view of the Constitution. According to such a view, the text of the Constitution refers to people who were enslaved as “persons” and never as property, making it (with the exception of two carefully defined rights of enslavers) an antislavery document. By the time he was inaugurated, Lincoln had gone on record to support the major principles of such an interpretation, and now Oakes explores this subject in his compelling and detailed The Crooked Path to Abolition: Abraham Lincoln and the Antislavery Constitution (Norton, $26.95, 9781324005858). Oakes demonstrates that the goal of all antislavery politics through the Civil War was to use federal power to prevent new territories from becoming slave states and allow existing slave states to do away with slavery on their own. Slavery was abolished, Oakes shows, because the
Civil War radically accelerated the decadeslong shift in power between slave and free states. Lincoln’s object in emancipating enslaved people, as important as that act was, was not an end in itself as much as a means to pressure the states to abolish slavery individually. Lincoln spoke eloquently of a society in which everyone had a “fair chance in the race of life,” but on several occasions he made disturbing public comments that raised questions about his views on racial equality. In 1858, he specified four areas in which he did not advocate equality: voting, serving on juries, holding elective office and intermarrying between Black and white people. All of those areas were regulated by the states during this age of “constitutionalism,” during which major issues were debated in constitutional terms. This relatively short book is richly rewarding and helps us see the full context of political decisions that put slavery, as Lincoln said, on “a course of ultimate extinction.” —Roger Bishop
H American Daughter
By Stephanie Thornton Plymale
Memoir The memoir genre is flush with inspiring stories about children who overcame horrific abuse to become healthy, functioning adults. If Stephanie Thornton Plymale’s American Daughter (HarperOne, $27.99, 9780063054332) were merely that type of memoir, it would still be impressive. Plymale spent her childhood fending for herself as one of five kids raised by a mentally ill and drug-addicted mother. At times, the children slept in a car and scavenged for their own food; other times they were wards of the state. However, the memoir Plymale has written supersedes the journey of perseverance with an investigation into her family’s fascinating but tragic past. When Plymale’s mother announced that she was dying of lung cancer, the author decided to learn more about her family history while she still could. For starters, she had no idea who her father was. Her mom often claimed that she was related to George Washington—which everyone dismissed as either a delusion or an outright lie. And when ill, her mom had often taken on alternate personalities, including a sad 11-year-old girl who was always afraid of getting pregnant. What, Plymale had long wondered, was that really about?
The family history that Plymale discovers is wilder than anyone could have guessed. Readers will find themselves recalibrating their judgments about villains and victims and questioning how one family could fall so far down through the cracks. The title American Daughter is a reference both to the author’s determination to survive and succeed and to America’s failing social systems, like mental healthcare, child protective services and the justice system. Tough topics like sexual abuse, kidnapping and miscarriage make this a heavy read at times. But for anyone looking for a moving tale of finding a way to give the love we don’t receive, American Daughter will resonate. —Jessica Wakeman
Operation Moonglow By Teasel Muir-Harmony
Political History In October 1957, Sputnik 1 went up, and America panicked: My gosh, the Soviets are winning the Cold War! At least that’s how it seemed as the little satellite’s beep-beep was heard around the world. President Eisenhower hated spending money, but even he was persuaded that an aggressive space program was crucial. The United States’ prestige was at stake, and so NASA was born as an instrument of nationalist competition. But that’s not how it evolved, at least in global public perception. Teasel Muir-Harmony’s engaging Operation Moonglow: A Political History of Project Apollo (Basic, $32, 9781541699878) reveals that the 1969 Apollo moon landing mission was the single most successful U.S. diplomatic effort of the late 20th century because of the way it avoided jingoism and promoted a message of global unity. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon were all instinctive internationalists, despite their political differences. They believed the United States would prevail through U.S.-led alliances and openness, in contrast to Soviet secrecy and bullying. Muir-Harmony notes that, even with the achievement of the moon landing, NASA couldn’t overshadow global disgust with the Vietnam War or the nation’s racial turmoil in any lasting way. Still, Operation Moonglow is a winning remembrance of a time when America thought big and optimistically about its role in the world. —Anne Bartlett
reviews | young adult
H Happily Ever Afters By Elise Bryant
Romance Tessa Johnson is a writer. The words pour out of her into romance novels that star heroines with brown skin like hers—and that feature the boys of her dreams, of course. So when Tessa and her family move to Long Beach, California, and she enrolls in a highly selective art school, she’s thrilled at the opportunity to spend hours each day honing her craft. But faced with sharing her work with other artists for the first time, Tessa’s anxiety skyrockets. Her writer’s block is so intense that, for weeks, she can’t write a single word. What if she never gets her groove back? Who is she if she’s not a writer? When her best friend, Caroline, suggests that finding a boyfriend might jump-start her novel, Tessa zeros in on her classmate Nico, who’s model-handsome and a fellow writer. But as she pursues Nico, her friendships with Caroline and her goofy yet caring neighbor Sam begin
H Into the Heartless Wood By Joanna Ruth Meyer
Fairy Tale At the edge of a forest that haunts his family, Owen Merrick cares for his baby sister and grieving father. The witch who took Owen’s mother has transformed the trees into sirens that lure people to violent deaths. The sirens are Owen’s sworn enemies, but when he is caught in the woods one day and a siren named Seren rescues him, a tentative trust builds between them. Into the Heartless Wood (Page Street, $18.99, 9781645671701) is a fantasy novel that packs an emotional punch as it explores how doing the right, kind and gentle thing can require far more courage than waging war. Joanna Ruth Meyer’s choice to place sirens— typically associated with the sea—in a forest setting is wonderfully imaginative. Owen’s cozy home contrasts with scenes of train travel and the bustle of the city. The train runs through the forest, however, which threatens to overtake the kingdom as the witch extracts more souls. The battle between the witch and the king— and the consequences that befall Owen’s father, an astronomer who foretells some of what’s to
to fall apart, and Tessa starts to suspect that she’s looking for validation in all the wrong places. In h e r c h a r m ing debut novel, Happily Ever Afters (Balzer + Bray, $17.99, 9780062982834), Elise Bryant nimbly blends bubbly, willthey-won’t-they teen romance with a frank look at issues ranging from impostor syndrome and identity to race and mental health. Bryant treats the tough stuff with nuance and compassion through conversations among a richly drawn cast of diverse and
come by interpreting messages from constellations—are grand and violent. Seren wants to break with the witch’s destructive ways, and she goes to fantastical lengths to help defeat her and keep watch over Owen. The witch is genuinely scary, and scenes involving the removal of souls are shocking in their cruelty. Though kingdoms rise and fall, the human soul is at the center of this invented world. Like the woods just beyond Owen’s home, Into the Heartless Wood is easy to get lost in and hard to come back from, thanks to Meyer’s excellent world building. —Heather Seggel
By Alexandra Bracken
Urban Fantasy Readers who l ov e c o m p l e x , mythology-based fantasies, meet your newest obsession. For seven days every seven years, Greek gods must walk the earth as mere mortals during a period they call the Agon. Well, they don’t so much walk as fight for their lives. After thousands of years, many of the gods haven’t
appealing characters. From a scene in which Tessa and her new friend Lenore bond in the restroom over surprise periods, to Sam’s easy interactions with Tessa’s brother, Miles, who has cerebral palsy and cognitive impairment, to Caroline’s ability to firmly but gently draw her own boundaries, Happily Ever Afters is filled with delightful examples of strong, healthy friendships. Crucially, these friendships ultimately guide Tessa to strengthen her most important relationship: with herself. Happily Ever Afters captures just how difficult—and rewarding—high school can be. Though the title telegraphs how her story will end, Tessa’s journey to get there is all her own. —Sarah Welch
survived, as they’ve been hunted down by the descendants of ancient Greek heroes. Each heroic bloodline is sworn to protect a god, but these hunters are also eager to slay other families’ gods in order to seize the deities’ divine power and immortality. Once an Agon ends, the family reaps the benefits of their deity’s powers, which they can use to build family-owned business empires. For example, a god’s healing powers can help create a pharmaceutical company, the powers of war are a boon to a weapons manufacturer, and so on. Seventeen-year-old Melora “Lore” Perseous is the descendant of Greek hero Perseus, and as the last of her bloodline, she’s gone to great pains to remove herself from the Agon’s brutality. A rival bloodline led by Wrath, a hunter who slayed Ares and inherited his powers to become a god himself, viciously murdered Lore’s family during the last Agon, and though Lore is a highly skilled fighter, she went into hiding to avoid sharing her family’s fate. But when the Agon begins again in New York City, Athena, one of the last remaining gods, comes knocking at Lore’s door. In exchange for Lore’s help to survive the Agon, Athena agrees to slay Wrath, their shared enemy, who’s set on slaughtering the other gods in order to ensure he—and no one else—inherits their powers. Bestselling author Alexandra Bracken, whose Darkest Minds series was adapted into a movie of the same name in 2018, strikes a notably darker tone here than in her previous work. Lore’s world is a violent place, and Bracken doesn’t hold back. Though keeping track of hunter family
reviews | young adult genealogies as well as the histories of gods both old and new can be cumbersome at times, readers eager for detail-oriented world building will find Lore (Hyperion, 9781484778203, $18.99) enthralling. Bracken’s well-drawn characters drive the narrative, keeping it anchored in gritty prose and high-stakes emotions. Lore is a wildly inventive and ambitious blend of reimagined Greek mythology and contemporary urban fantasy. —Justin Barisich
One of the Good Ones
By Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite
Fiction Footage of Black Americans being brutalized and even killed at the hands of police has been part of our media landscape for years. It may be hard to open a book and read about fictional brutality that hews so closely to reality that it feels like salt poured on a wound, but in their second novel, sisters Maika and Maritza Moulite aren’t simply picking at a scab. They are digging deep to help flush out an infection created by generations of injustice. Three timelines tell the story of Kezi, a straight-A teen activist who dies in police custody after she attends a protest. In the present, Kezi’s younger sister, Happi, must deal with the grief that has enveloped her family. Just before Kezi’s death, Shaqueria, a downon-her-luck actor, hopes for the break that will give her a way out of her circumstances. And in the distant past, Happi and Kezi’s great-grandmother Evelyn bears witness to the horrors of an unjust world. When Happi sets out on a road trip across the country to honor Kezi’s memory—a trip they’d planned to take together—the connections between the three timelines emerge. As Happi comes to terms with her loss and learns more about her family’s history, the Moulites introduce hallmarks of American history such as sundown towns and the Negro Motorist Green Book. Barreling through subtlety, the novel goes out of its way to bridge the gap between readers who may be unfamiliar with this history and readers who know it all too well. One of the Good Ones (Inkyard, $18.99, 9781335145802) initially appears to share a premise with Angie Thomas’ influential 2017 novel, The Hate U Give. Like Thomas’ protagonist, Starr, Happi is navigating a world where she and her family are unsafe because of the color of their skin.
However, once the puzzle pieces of the Moulites’ novel start coming together, it takes a sharp turn toward the unexpected. Stylistic differences as well as an incredible act of violence will shatter any comparisons to Thomas’ novel. Part history lesson and part mystery thrill ride, One of the Good Ones makes a pointed case for the power of sisterhood and the resilience of Black women. —Luis G. Rendon
H Hold Back the Tide By Melinda Salisbury
Horror Ever since Alva’s Da, the latest in an ancestral line of caretakers of the loch near their village, murdered her mother seven years ago, Alva has been secretly planning her escape to a new life in town. Recently, her father has begun disappearing at night, demanding that Alva not leave their cottage after dark—which is a problem since Alva needs to meet her friend Ren, a boy from the nearby town who’s bringing her the supplies she’ll need to make her escape. Alva is beginning to worry that Da suspects something. When Da shows Alva that one of the nets he’s set around the loch’s depths has been shredded with mysterious precision and demands that she replace it with a new net, it seems to confirm her concerns. And then she sees the first creature. Drawing on Scottish mythology, author Melinda Salisbury pulls readers into a world of ribbon dances and tea trays, where woolen cloaks and silver horseshoes abound and dark, damp caves hold ancient secrets. She combines these folkloric motifs with the contemporary issue of climate change: The bustling town’s mill is draining the loch to dangerously low levels, allowing that which has long been concealed by the water’s depths to emerge. As Alva begins to question every assumption she’s ever made about her father, the loch and the villagers who have always shunned them, time may be running out. The creatures only appear after dusk, but the chilly autumn days are giving way to the long nights of winter. Misty, atmospheric and suspenseful, Hold Back the Tide (Scholastic, $18.99, 9781338681307) alternates between tenderness and violence as it explores how the choices we make influence our environment and why that matters. Who are the monsters here, and who is just trying to survive? It’s perfect for readers who loved Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races and Margo Lanagan’s The Brides of Rollrock Island, or anyone who
wants to curl up with a blanket, a cup of tea and a good story on a gloomy day. —Jill Ratzan
The Awakening of Malcolm X
By Ilyasah Shabazz and Tiffany D. Jackson
Historical Fiction Ilyasah Shabazz, Malcolm X’s daughter, teams up with a c c l a i m e d YA author Tiffany D. Jackson to tell the story of the time that the American icon spent in prison for charges related to a series of burglaries. The Awakening of Malcolm X (FSG, $17.99, 9780374313296) opens in a courtroom in 1946, where Malcolm and his friend Shorty are betrayed by Malcolm’s white girlfriend and sentenced to separate prisons. So begins a nightmare from which Malcolm cannot awaken. Amid the inhumane conditions and cruel treatment at the Charlestown State Prison, it isn’t long before Malcolm realizes how far he has strayed from the ideals his family raised him to hold. His family never abandons him, however, and as they visit him in dreams, through letters and in the flesh, they help him pick up the pieces of his life and lay the foundation for his future as a leader. When Malcolm is transferred to a facility that provides opportunities for rehabilitation, he joins its successful debate team and the Nation of Islam. When he is finally released, though his mind is still full of questions, he is armed with the confidence and self-awareness he will need to make a difference for his people. Shabazz and Jackson’s retelling of the experiences that transformed Malcolm at one of the lowest points in his life makes for a powerful read. As he dwells on his upbringing, readers will see significant connections between the foundation Malcolm’s parents laid for him in the Garveyism movement, which advocated for racial separation, Black economic independence and Pan-Africanism, and the self-love Malcolm eventually finds in the Nation of Islam, which is presented as a sort of homecoming. Shabazz and Jackson don’t sugarcoat the ugly side of American society in this moment in history, and mesmerizing scenes in which the personal meets the political infuse the story with the fire and passion for which Malcolm X is so well known. The Awakening of Malcolm X is a welcome invitation to consider the light that Malcolm X shone on society’s injustices and what it continues to reveal today. —Autumn Allen
q&a | cynthia leitich smith & rosemary brosnan
A ‘sky-high dream’ come true Go behind the scenes at Heartdrum, the first imprint at a major American publishing company dedicated to the work of Native American creators. What does it mean to have an imprint like Heartdrum within a major publishing company like HarperCollins? Cynthia: I have a clear memory from around 2005 of being told by a respected publishing professional that if Kevin Costner decided to make a sequel to Dances With Wolves, then maybe someone at a big publisher Where did the idea for Heartdrum come from? would be interested in acquiring another of my titles. I also recall being Cynthia: Over a bountiful, laughter-filled breakfast at a Houston confertold, over and over, that kidlit already had Joseph Bruchac (and then ence hotel, Ellen Oh—who Sherman Alexie), so there is a powerhouse, a radiant was no need for another literary voice in her own Native author. One voice, right and a game-changing always male, tended to be leader in the movement the default. for more inclusive and eqPart of me wishes that I uitable books—cheerfully could travel back in time suggested that I might conto that young writer I used sider founding an imprint to be, the one who at times featuring books by Native struggled with discouragecreatives. I smiled, flatment and kept pivoting in tered, and slowly shook my search of a way forward in head wistfully. I replied that a rocky landscape. I wish I I wasn’t famous or fancy could assure her that someenough to pull off someday she would spin with joy thing like that. thinking about the growth It sounded like a sky-high and strength of the Native dream, and it was. I mulled kidlit community and find over the idea for some herself in a key position to “I tend to think of Heartdrum as the 2.0 of our relationship,” says months until I found myself help connect young readers children’s author Cynthia Leitich Smith (left), who co-founded teaching Native writers at with Indigenous narratives. the LoonSong Turtle Island Heartdrum with her first editor, Rosemary Brosnan (right). workshop. The energy was Rosemary: It’s a huge step. incredible. My fellow Indigenous writers inspired me. I decided to try. As an editor, I struggled for years to acquire books by diverse authors and I approached Rosemary Brosnan at HarperCollins. Rosemary is my origto publish the books well. I heard numerous times from teachers and liinal children’s book editor and one of the legendary editors in the field. She brarians at conferences, “I don’t have those kids in my class/school/comhas also been a devoted and accomplished diversity advocate since I first munity,” meaning, “I don’t need these books.” We needed to see dramatic entered the field. Her response was oh-so enthusiastic—the dream came changes not only in the industry but also in society to be where we are true, and we got to work! now. I credit We Need Diverse Books and the Cooperative Children’s Book Center in Madison, Wisconsin, for helping me as an editor and for giving You two have worked together for a long time! me talking points about demographics and about lack of representation, Rosemary: I believe that Cynthia submitted her first manuscript to me, for points that I could take into acquisitions meetings. the picture book Jingle Dancer, around 1996. It was just what I was looking for: a beautifully written story about a contemporary Native girl. At the time, What has been most rewarding about working on the first season of the few books about Native kids were often historical and/or not written by Heartdrum titles? Native authors or illustrated by Native illustrators. The book came out under Cynthia: It’s like everything I’ve done before has prepared me for what I’m the HarperCollins imprint in 2000. doing now. When I first decided to leave law and journalism to write books for kids, my vision was always about more than my own writing—although Cynthia, how would you describe what you do at Heartdrum to somebeing a writer is the most “me” thing I do. one who doesn’t know much about publishing? The rewards are limitless. We’re bringing forth new voices, propelling Cynthia: Author-curator is a new role in book publishing. I’d say I’m the rising stars and embracing well-established names, too. We’re showcasing devoted auntie of the Heartdrum titles. I provide all kinds of support to books that will really speak to Native and non-Native kids, ones that are their creators, help feather their nests, offer various gifts and celebrate both intrinsically marvelous reads. We’re also publishing books that will help day-to-day life and the big milestones. That said, Rosemary is the in-house to correct centuries of misrepresentation. The books that I longed to read editor for the imprint, and she’s the one doing the heavy lifting. as a child. Books worthy of this generation and those to come. —Stephanie Appell Rosemary: As author-curator, Cynthia works with Native authors who are interested in writing books for children and teens and mentors these authors. Visit BookPage.com to read an extended version of this Q&A, and turn the page to read our review of Heartdrum’s first book. Cynthia does a lot of work with the author before I even see a manuscript. © KATE MORGAN JACKSON
© CHRISTOPHER T. ASSAF
Children’s author Cynthia Leitich Smith and veteran editor Rosemary Brosnan, co-founders of HarperCollins Children’s new imprint Heartdrum, share its origin story and explain why its existence is breaking important new ground.
reviews | children’s
H The Sea in Winter By Christine Day
Middle Grade Maisie Cannon may only be 12 years old, but she’s already found her passion in life: ballet. She’s bored by the daily monotony of school because she knows that the only lessons that will impact her future are the ones she gets at the dance studio, where she finds sanctuary amid the barres and music. So when Maisie suffers a life-changing knee injury and must quit ballet and attend physical therapy for months in order to recover, it affects her more deeply than she or her parents anticipated. Cut off from the sheer joy of dance as well as the friends with whom she shares her passion, Maisie sinks into depression and isolation. A family trip back to her roots in the Native American Makah community may be her best
I Want to Ride the Tap Tap By Danielle Joseph Illustrated by Olivier Ganthier
Picture Book Claude and Manman usually walk Papa to the tap tap stop, where Claude sees people from his Haitian community boarding the bus on their way to the beach. The bus’s bright colors always catch Claude’s eye, but he has school and chores, and Manman says he can’t ride the tap tap. Every day, Claude’s desire to ride the vehicle grows. He sees a woman carrying mangoes and dreams of mangoes; he sees a fisherman and fantasizes about “reeling in a jumbo fish”; he sees a woman carrying straw on her head and hopes one day he can weave a hat for Manman; and when he sees a painter heading to the beach, he longs to paint a picture of his own tap tap. Then one day after church, Claude’s dreams come true when Papa and Manman surprise him with a trip on the tap tap to the beachfront. Author Danielle Joseph incorporates Haitian Creole words throughout I Want to Ride the Tap Tap (FSG, $18.99, 9780374312145, ages 2 to 6), a joyous tale of everyday life in Haiti. Her ear for dialogue is particularly strong. “Bon bagay!” Claude often exclaims. The story provides context clues as to its meaning, though a glossary provides a specific translation (“This is good stuff!”). The days of the week, also written
Sharing Maisie’s story would be an excellent way to open a dialogue between young readers and adults about mental health. Day’s depiction of Maisie’s deepening understanding of her family’s Native American identity and heritage is just as well done. Scenes in which Maisie’s mother and stepfather share stories of family and tribal heritage are sure to prompt young readers to learn more about their own family stories. The Sea in Winter is a refreshing and moving story of grief and healing from one of middle grade’s brightest rising stars. —Hannah Lamb
chance to find a new way forward. C h r i s t i n e Da y ’s second novel, The Sea in Winter (Heartdrum, $16.99, 9780062872043, ages 8 to 12) is unflinching in its portrayal of Maisie’s depression and the effect it has on her relationships with her family and friends. Day conveys Maisie’s feelings of despair and hopelessness with gravity and sensitivity, treating her young protagonist’s emotions with the respect they deserve.
in Haitian Creole, provide the story with a satisfying structure. Debut illustrator Olivier Ganthier’s images pop with vivid colors, especially in the exuberant closing spreads in which Claude has made it to the shore and finally has the chance to do all the things he dreamed of. These scenes have a palpable energy as they portray Claude’s jubilant Haitian community. Children everywhere know what it’s like to experience a day like this, when the week’s work is done and you can simply spend a day with the family you love. —Julie Danielson
H Root Magic By Eden Royce
Middle Grade Though debut author Eden Royce currently lives in the United Kingdom, it’s clear she is still deeply rooted in the culture of the Gullah nation to which she belongs. Royce’s previous short stories were informed by the traditions of these descendants of enslaved people living along the coast of Georgia and the Carolinas, and her first middle grade novel is also set in this evocative milieu. Root Magic ( Walden Pond, $16.99, 9780062899576, ages 8 to 12) finds the South, as
well as its main characters, twins Jezebel and Jay, on the verge of some big changes. Their beloved grandmother has just died, and they’re about to turn 11. Their grandmother was a practitioner of what’s known as root magic, a rich and complex set of spells and charms passed down through generations, and it’s the twins’ turn to begin learning from their uncle Doc the knowledge that has been such a source of strength for their family. Recently, however, root magic has also been a source of stress. An increasingly aggressive police officer has been cracking down on its practitioners, and the new girls at school mock Jezebel for her family’s practices. What’s more, Jezebel and Jay are in different grades for the first time, and Jezebel fears they’re starting to grow apart. And then there are the mysterious voices she hears calling her by the river . . . Royce’s storytelling is atmospheric and more than a little spooky, filled with haints and boo-hags, protection charms and curses. But the novel is also set during a specific historical period—the fall of 1963—and so these super natural elements play out against an equally vivid backdrop of real historical events, including the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, police intimidation tactics and the integration of Charleston schools. Root Magic successfully blends mystical elements with historical ones for a novel that explores Gullah culture as well as the social upheavals of the 1960s. Readers who are easily frightened might want to read with the lights on—but if they do, they’ll discover a thoughtful story about a family taking on all obstacles, seen and unseen, together. —Norah Piehl
reviews | children’s By Colleen AF Venable Illustrated by Stephanie Yue
Graphic Novel Author Colleen AF Venable and illustrator Stephanie Yue, who previously collaborated on the Guinea Pig Pet Shop Private Eye series, reunite f o r Ka t i e t h e Catsitter (Random House, $20.99, 9780593306321, ages 8 to 12). This empathetic and exciting superhero series opener is sure to be adored by readers who can’t get enough adventure stories, mysterious goings-on, coming-of-age tales or cats. Many, many, many cats.
The story opens as Katie is lamenting the start of the most boring summer ever, because her BFF Bethany is headed to a pricey sleep-away camp. Then inspiration strikes. Katie hangs a poster in her apartment building hallway advertising odd-job services to her neighbors, in hopes of earning enough money to join Bethany for a week. After killing plants she was hired to water and dropping groceries she was hired to carry up the stairs, Katie begins to feel desperate. Even worse, Bethany is sending fewer postcards than usual. Could their friendship be waning? Katie is shocked out of her glumness when her mysterious neighbor Ms. Lang makes an offer that seems almost too good to be true: Might Katie want to catsit for $30 an hour? Katie’s thrilled, but she soon realizes the gig entails dealing with a lot more than hairball hurking and furniture scratching. Although her 217 (yes, 217) charges are definitely cute and cuddly, they’re also wild and wily, with decidedly un-feline talents ranging from computer hacking to coordinated thievery to costume
design. And, Katie muses, isn’t it strange that every time the friendly and kind Ms. Lang needs her to catsit, the supervillain Mousetress wreaks havoc on the city? Yue’s warm and hilarious artwork winningly captures the furry whirlwind that is Ms. Lang’s apartment, as well as the emotions that cross Katie’s face as she contemplates losing a friend and making new ones, not to mention her own growing self-confidence. Yue’s renderings of settings ranging from sharp-edged city skylines to a wacky wax museum to a dramatic nightcloaked forest are downright clever, too. Katie the Catsitter takes readers to all these places and more. Venable’s twisty plot swoops gleefully around Manhattan, touching on everything from animal activism to evolving relationships to a secret rescue mission, and combining to tell the story of one of the least boring summers ever—while dropping tantalizing hints at thrilling seasons to come. The book’s charming back matter includes a delightful illustrated list of all 217 extraordinary cats. Meow! —Linda M. Castellitto
meet LEUYEN PHAM How would you describe your book?
Who has been the biggest influence on your work?
Who was your childhood hero?
What books did you enjoy as a child?
What one thing would you like to learn to do?
© ANOUK KLUYSKENS
Katie the Catsitter
Caldecott Honoree LeUyen Pham’s Outside, Inside (Roaring Brook, $18.99, 9781250798350, ages 3 to 6) is a moving tribute to the ordinary and extraordinary actions of people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pham has illustrated more than 100 books for children, including the Princess in Black series and The Bear Who Wasn’t There. She lives in Los Angeles, California.
What message would you like to send to young readers?