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features Sonya Lalli Meet the author of The Matchmaker’s List
Western romance Turns out, you actually can buy love
Yangsze Choo Two lives intertwine in colonial Malaysia
Black History Month Beyond trauma and resilience
Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman Self-discovery amid the false notes
Relationships Books for love in all its forms
Yara Zgheib Transforming pain into art
Visions of the future Novels that bend reality
Pam Houston Building a life away from it all
Corey Ann Haydu A shimmering suburban facade
5 James Patterson cooks up The Chef
book reviews 27 FICTION top pick: The Lost Man by Jane Harper 32 NONFICTION top pick: Figuring by Maria Popova 35 YOUNG ADULT top pick: A Thousand Sisters by Elizabeth Wein 39 CHILDREN’S top pick: Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt
Black History picture books Illustrated tales of struggle and triumph
The Hold List
J.R. Krause Meet the author-illustrator of Dragon Night
PUBLISHER Michael A. Zibart
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by bruce tierney
The original plan was for Caroline to lend Audrey $150 for a bus ticket back to Minnesota to visit her dying father. But on the way to the station, Caroline glances over at her friend and says, “Road trip?”—thus setting the stage for Tim Johnston’s second gripping thriller, The Current (Algonquin, $27.95, 416 pages, 9781616206772). The trip will not end well. Being from Georgia, Caroline has no experience with driving in icy conditions, and after an unanticipated and uncontrolled skid, their car hovers atop a precipice above an icy river. They are shaken but safe, at least until they see the flare of headlights in the rearview mirror, then feel the tap of the bumper that nudges their car over the edge. One dies, one barely survives. The small Minnesota town is in shock. Rumors fly about the presence of a second car at the scene, and the whole situation reminds people of a similar case 10 years prior, one that was never solved. As the official investigation progresses, a grieving father, a dying sheriff and a determined young woman begin covert investigations of their own. All are in search of answers, but none is prepared for what they will find. Fans of the exploits of Charles Cumming’s MI6 agent Thomas Kell will find a lot to like in the author’s new standalone spy thriller, The Moroccan Girl (St. Martin’s, $27.99, 368 pages, 9781250129956). Bestselling thriller author Kit Carradine is poised to attend a literary festival in Marrakech when he receives a request that would make any suspense writer champ at the bit: track down a mysterious woman, one Lara Bartok, and surreptitiously deliver a passport to her. However, Carradine’s “handler” has been remarkably spare with details concerning Bartok, leaving out such juicy morsels as the fact that she is a well-placed member of an international terrorist outfit and is quite capable of taking care of herself when facing a potential confidant or adversary (especially one whose espionage exploits are limited to his imagination and the printed page). Things heat up when rival intelligence agencies join the fray, all in search of Bartok for conflicting—and often lethal—reasons. And Carradine is about to find out the hard way that real-life espionage bears little resemblance to his page-turning depictions. Cumming channels the dreamy romance of classic spy movies (think Casablanca, Notorious, The Thirty-Nine Steps) and juxtaposes it with a modern, relentlessly intense and staccato delivery. June 1947, Beverly Hills. Mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel has just been shot to death in his own home by person or persons unknown. Several hundred miles away, rancher Jonathan Craine tends to his daily chores. In an earlier life, Craine was the unofficial liaison between the Los Angeles Police Department and the movie studios, the “fixer” who kept stars and execs safe from exposure and prosecution—but that was a long time ago and far, far away from his current existence. That is all about to change, as hired lackeys from a sinister boss’s crime syndicate arrive by private aircraft to solicit Craine’s assistance in finding Siegel’s killer. And they won’t take no for an answer—cue the music portending graphic violence. Guy Bolton’s The Syndicate (Oneworld, $25.95, 400 pages, 9781786074317) reads like a period thriller, with dialogue true to the golden age of film noir, which the author so obviously admires. The plot seamlessly blends fact with fiction, overlaying a series of real-life events with a fast-paced fictional narrative that is riddled with tension. And bullets.
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.
Top Pick The literary exploits of John Lescroart’s San Francisco attorney Dismas Hardy, now numbering 18, have been a mainstay of my reading pleasure since 1989’s Dead Irish. Fast-forward 30 years, and an older and wiser Hardy plies his trade ever more ably in The Rule of Law (Atria, $27, 336 pages, 9781501115738). Phyllis McGowan, Hardy’s secretary, has been a stalwart pillar of support in his personal and business life. But lately, she seems to have gone off the rails. First, there is her mysterious disappearance for several days, and shortly after that, her surprise arrest as an accessory to murder. The evidence, while not entirely damning, is at least suggestive. Extortionist Hector Valdez, who worked for a modern-day Underground Railroad specializing in spiriting immigrants without documentation out of the Border Patrol’s reach, was murdered at the time of McGowan’s disappearance. In the old days, Hardy had a good working relationship with the district attorney, and likely could have negotiated on McGowan’s behalf, but the new DA has a political and personal chip on his shoulder where Hardy is concerned. Thus, this time out, Hardy is doomed to spend as much time battling the supposed good guys as trouncing the supposed bad guys. Lescroart crafts some of the finest legal thrillers out there today, with interesting characters, complex relationships, a taut narrative and, of course, the (now expected, but still somehow surprising) twist ending.
by susannah felts
by sybil pratt
File this one under “Titles Whose Time Has Come.” Sure, there are other guides to the chemical intricacies of cannabis and its therapeutic properties, but none are quite like Nikki Furrer’s A Woman’s Guide to Cannabis: Using Marijuana to Feel Better, Look Better, Sleep Better—and Get High Like a Lady (Workman, $16.95, 224 pages, 9781523502004), which keeps a central question in mind at all times: How do I help my mom discover the joys and benefits of this amazing stuff? Furrer thoroughly and conversationally lays out the uses of cannabis (analgesic, antidepressant, anti-anxiety, anti-aging and more); explains the whole sativa/ indica breakdown; and explores the differences between THC and CBD. If you’re already a cannabis consumer, you’ll be a much better informed one for having read this book. If you’re new to the green? Well, hi(gh), glad you’re here!
Jamie Oliver, still proclaiming his “Naked Chef” credo, has been a fabulous fixture of our food scene for over 18 years, and he’s never lost his touch. His signature pizazz and irrepressible can-do confidence shine in his 20th cookbook, 5 Ingredients: Quick & Easy Food (Flatiron, $35, 320 pages, 9781250303882). Not one for modesty, Oliver promises that by using his “genius combinations of just five ingredients,” you can get these “utterly delicious” dishes on the table in under 30 minutes—or get the prep done in 10 minutes and let your cooker do the rest. The clever layout—visuals of the five ingredients on the left and a totally tempting photo of the finished product on the right, with super-simple instructions in between—is a big plus, as is Oliver’s joy in making from-scratch cooking truly doable, whether it’s Smoky Pancetta Cod with a side of lentils for a Wednesday night, or flambéed Peachy Pork Chops followed by marmalade-infused Speedy Steamed Pudding Pots for a Saturday night soirée.
Speaking of evergreen topics: Creativity and how to nurture it is one of them, but Conscious Creativity: Look. Connect. Create. (Leaping Hare Press, $19.99, 160 pages, 9781782406341) strikes me as a truly fresh take on the subject. This is a redefining of creativity as an improved state of being in a world that constantly wears us down. Partly it’s the bright, wabi sabi photos accompanying the text; partly it’s Philippa Stanton’s encouraging but matter-offact tone. This book doesn’t try too hard to be inspiring, and as such, it succeeds. Plus, I love Stanton’s attitude toward mess: “The amorphous contents of a drawer which have been secretly shaming you might in fact turn out to be a creative liberation,” she writes. The exercises she provides are designed to make you see and experience surroundings in a new way—to utilize boredom, to notice color, to challenge ingrained perception. Note to self: Put down yo’ phone and pick up this book.
The cultural identity of the Palestinian people persists, as does the pleasures of the Palestinian kitchen. Yasmin Khan, a human rights activist and award-winning cookbook author, celebrates its vibrant flavors in Zaitoun: Recipes from the Palestinian Kitchen (Norton, $29.95, 256 pages, 9781324002628), seasoned with many moving stories and fabulous photos from her culinary journey. Khan has gathered over 80 recipes with an emphasis on simple, seasonal, plant-based food. She collected classics from Palestinian grandmothers (Hummus with Spiced Lamb), contemporary dishes from friends (Freekah with Butternut Squash) and dishes inspired by local ingredients (Olive, Fig and Honey Tapenade) or techniques (Chocolate and Tahini Cookies). Khan’s instructions are detailed, her header notes informative and her enthusiasm infectious.
“I often forget just how many people lack basic photography skills,” I groused recently to a friend. A tad harsh? Perhaps, but seriously— with just a few smart tips, anyone can snap much better photos, no matter the camera. And in the Instagram age, doesn’t this qualify as a life skill? Henry Horenstein’s Make Better Pictures (Little, Brown, $19.99, 224 pages, 9780316230889) is a succinct, handy resource for shutterbugs of all stripes, with each page focused on a single aspect of photography. Take “Clubbing,” page 85, which offers four practical tips for shooting at low-light events and concerts. Or “Hip,” page 103, which details the advantages of positioning your camera not at eye level. Throughout, a single image illustrates each topic.
Susannah Felts is a Nashville-based writer and co-founder of The Porch, a literary arts organization. She enjoys anything paper-related and, increasingly, plant-related.
Instead of an Instant Pot, an air fryer or a slew of newfangled kitchen appliances, the accomplished cooks and testers from America’s Test Kitchen suggest you take out that tried-andtrue multitasker resting quietly in the back of a cabinet. They’re convinced that a big, enameled Dutch oven is “very nearly the only pot you’ll ever need in your kitchen,” and they offer a revelatory roster of over 150 recipes that take advantage of its best features in Cook It in Your Dutch Oven (America’s Test Kitchen, $29.99, 328 pages, 9781945256561). These dishes go way beyond stews—just try some of the one-pot wonders like Weeknight Pasta Bolognese or Green Shakshuka. Go for Braised Cod Peperonata, deep fry to your heart’s content, then bake a crisp-crusted Spicy Olive Loaf, and for a grand finale, serve up a fudgy Chocolate Lava Cake.
Sybil Pratt has been eating, cooking and pondering food for many years. She lives in New York City.
Audiobooks You’ll Love! Eve Dallas ﬁghts to save the innocent in this gritty and gripping new novel in the #1 New York Times bestselling series READ BY SUSAN ERICKSEN
“That rarest of beasts: the perfect thriller.” ––A.J. Finn READ BY LOUISE BREALEY & JACK HAWKINS
“Harper may have created this amazing whodunit, but Shanahan makes it sizzle to the very end. Both story and narrator are not to be missed.” –– AudioFile on Earphones Award–winner Force of Nature READ BY STEPHEN SHANAHAN
“A sumptuous garden maze of a novel.” ––Kirkus Reviews READ BY THE AUTHOR
“Clavin writes ﬂuently and often entertainingly of a man shrouded in legend while being all too human.” ––Kirkus Reviews READ BY JOHNNY HELLER
by sukey howard
Top Pick The title of Michelle Obama’s blockbuster bestseller, Becoming (Random Audio, 19 hours), lets you know that you’ll get the answers to many of the questions you’ve had about this extraordinary woman. You’ll find out how a kid who grew up in a cramped apartment on Chicago’s South Side graduated from Princeton and Harvard Law to ultimately become our first African-American first lady and one of the most admired women in the galaxy. More importantly, you’ll understand how she kept her authenticity, grace and sense of self while in the glare of an unrelenting media spotlight, where everything you say and do and wear is scrutinized. Obama is candid and frank, talking about the problems in the early years of her marriage, about being a mother, her dislike of politics and her distress with the current administration. She reads in her warm, familiar voice, and you’ll be swept up in her story, her triumphs and her trials. She’s lived a version of the American dream, but one shadowed by the very American nightmare of racism and prejudice. It’s been much too long since I spent time with Precious Ramotswe and her colleagues at the Number 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and it’s always a quiet joy to return. Colors of All the Cattle (Recorded Books, 11 hours), Alexander McCall Smith’s 19th installment in his bestselling series, wonderfully narrated again by the liltingly voiced Lisette Lecat, transports us to the sunny charms of Botswana and Mma Ramotswe’s unshakable belief in “old-fashioned” Botswana kindness. Though she’s taken on a difficult case for a victim of a hit-and-run accident, Mma Ramotswe has been pushed into reluctantly running for city council by her friend, the formidable matron of the local “orphan farm.” Smith and Mma Ramotswe never let us down—modesty and honesty trump bravura, and keen but gentle detecting skills solve the case. A private investigator went missing in 2006, his body never found, the case marred by mistakes and innuendos of corruption. That cold case heats up when some kids come across a red VW in a remote, wooded park, with a handcuffed skeleton in the trunk. That’s for openers in Ian Rankin’s 24th Rebus novel, In a House of Lies (Hachette Audio, 14 hours), performed by James Macpherson in an authentic Scottish burr that’s still soft enough to be easily understood. Though John Rebus is officially retired from Police Scotland’s Major Crime Division, he was on the case 12 years ago and is as eager as ever to get involved again. And with his former protégé, Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke, assigned to the investigating team, that’s not hard to accomplish. Pay close attention—Rankin’s in great form, and there’s a lot going on in this intricately plotted police procedural.
Sukey Howard, an audio aficionado who’s gone from cassettes to discs to downloads, has been BookPage’s audio reviewer for over 30 years.
the hold list: 5 first dates Each month, BookPage editors share special reading lists—our personal favorites, old and new. All of our crushes are fictional characters. But what if we actually had the opportunity to date one of our imaginary loves? Just how good (or bad!) would that first date be? The editors have some thoughts.
Hagrid from the Harry Potter series
Nino from the Neapolitan Quartet
Leonard from The Marriage Plot
Matsu from The Samurai’s Garden
Lilliet from The Queen of the Night
By J.K. Rowling
By Elena Ferrante
By Jeffrey Eugenides
By Gail Tsukiyama
By Alexander Chee
There are so many characters from Rowling’s world who’d be great on a date: Sirius Black, Hermione once she’s 30 (if Ron’s OK with it), either of the Weasley twins. But if I want to feel fancy, I’m taking Hagrid. Sure, his beard is out of control, and he’ll probably smell strongly of damp wool, but he gives the best hugs, and you know he’ll try really hard to make it a nice evening. He’ll get dressed up in his best suit, I’ll bring the (oversize, low-priced) bottle of wine, and he’ll show me his favorite clearing in the forest to watch the moon rise. I fully expect the date to be ruined by whatever magical creature is hidden away in his breast pocket, but that’s just fine with me. —Cat, Deputy Editor
Ah, Nino Sarratore. What shy girl hasn’t had their own Nino Sarratore— the brilliant, somewhat pretentious boy you know would love you if you ever worked up the courage to talk to him. However, with the benefit of having read the rest of Ferrante’s brilliant Neapolitan novels, I know what lurks behind Nino’s appealing exterior. And ladies, he’s not worth any of our time. So this Valentine’s Day, I’ll take one for the team. I’ll go on a date with Nino and let him talk at me and think that I’m falling for his “more brilliant than you” act. And then, after I’ve gained his trust and made him think he’s gained a new acolyteadmirer, I’ll stomp on his heart on behalf of bookish girls everywhere. —Savanna, Editorial Assistant
Listen, I know he’s trouble. But I am in love with Leonard Bankhead. I love his brilliance, his passion, his intensity and his dark and terrible understanding of the world. If Leonard met me, he would realize that we were meant to be together. No one understands him like I do. Leonard and I are going to a dive bar, we’re getting shots of whiskey, and I don’t care what my mother says about it. We’ll talk about our favorite books and how messed up everything is. We’ll get into a heated argument about if reality television has any worth (it does, and I will introduce him to “Vanderpump Rules,” which he will admit to loving). Later, his career on track, he’ll name a type of algae after the color of my eyes: mud. —Lily, Associate Editor
For intelligence and thoughtfulness, I’d turn to the devoted gardener from Tsukiyama’s tender, melancholy second novel, set in 1937. In this story about gracefully weathering loneliness and sorrow, Matsu tends his exquisite garden and frequently journeys to a leper colony, where he continues to care for his beloved. But readers only ever see Matsu through the eyes of Chinese student Stephen, and this gentle man deserves to rise above his secondarycharacter status. He’s such a classic kind of man that I’d love to see his reaction to a contemporary art museum some summer afternoon. Assuming that I’ve learned to speak Japanese for the date, it would be nice to walk silently through a gallery and debrief afterward. —Cat, Deputy Editor
James Bond, Holly Golightly, Jay Gatsby— how much fun would it be to go on a first date (but probably not a second) with one of fiction’s most notorious partiers? For glitz, glamour, scandal and an all-around epic night on the town, it would be hard to beat a visit to 19th-century Paris for a decadent costume party with soprano Lilliet Berne. In Chee’s second novel, Lilliet is a woman of many secrets—too many for a long-term relationship—and drama swirls around her to an improbable degree. But dressed in a fabulous costume and swathed in dazzling jewels—and with the possibility of dramatic escapes and scheming aristocrats—an evening spent with this rags-toriches diva would be quite an adventure. —Hilli, Assistant Editor
well read | by robert weibezahl
Reading that Sparks the Imagination “ A dramatic, suspenseful and satisfying work of historical fiction.... Transports the reader.“ —USA Today
“ Tantalizing, surprising, compelling, and utterly fascinating.” —Lisa Wingate, author of Before We Were Yours
“Perfect for fans of Room.... [A] heartbreaking but important novel.” —Real Simple
“Emotional...sinks its hooks into you from the very first sentence.” —Marie Claire
“ Both comical and poignant.” —Booklist (starred review)
“ A heartwarming tale of love won and lost and won again during and after World War II.” —Kirkus Reviews
New in Paperback and eBook Read excerpts and more at ANCHOR ReadingGroupCenter.com
The Source of Self-Regard A new collection of essays and speeches from Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison solidifies her legacy as one of America’s most thoughtful and important writers. Toni Morrison is such a peerless, masterful storyteller that it is easy to forget she is also one of our most engaged and engaging public intellectuals. Her new collection of essays and speeches, The Source of Self-Regard (Knopf, $28.95, 368 pages, 9780525521037), reminds us of the breadth and depth of her concerns. Morrison ruminates on and illuminates the political, racial, social and literary issues that have long informed her work with a singular combination of curiosity and confidence. Because many of the 40-plus pieces Morrison gathers here were first delivered as speeches at conferences and commencements, they tend to be short, yet brevity does not preclude remarkable expansiveness of thought. This volume is divided into three sections: The first explores political and moral realities through the lens of globalism, racism and the sources and meanings of identity. The second section, anchored by the longest and weightiest pieces in the book, is self-explanatorily called “Black Matter(s).” The final section, “God’s Language,” offers meditations on art and literature (both Morrison’s own and others’). These organizing divisions can prove imprecise, however—it is impossible for this deep-seeing writer to stop the seepage of her vast and broad concerns between one section and the next. And we would not want her to. Morrison considers the work of
a disparate array of fellow writers, including James Baldwin, Gertrude Stein, William Faulkner, Chinua Achebe and Toni Cade Bambara. She parses works such as Beowulf, Cinderella and American slave narratives. Yet it is in the moments when she offers glimpses into the genesis of her own remarkable fiction that the magic of what might be called Morrison’s “reverse prism” takes hold, as she reveals how all of the scattered rays from her pursuit of understanding converge into the laser point of her narratives. “We move from data to information to knowledge to wisdom,” she writes in the title essay. “And if we agree that purposeful progression exists, then you’ll see at once how dispiriting this project of drawing or building or constructing fiction out of history can be . . . how quickly we can forget that wisdom without knowledge, wisdom without data, is just a hunch.” As with any such collection of pieces spanning decades, The Source of Self-Regard contains repetitions, and interest may ebb and flow with a reader’s individual concerns. But ever-present in this collection is the consistency of vision and the powerful writing that readers have come to expect from the inestimable talent of this American original as she continues to navigate the thorny task of integrating history, of creating art, of learning to belong.
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 julie hale
Top Pick An Oprah’s Book Club pick in 2018, Tayari Jones’ electrifying fourth novel, An American Marriage (Algonquin, $16.95, 336 pages, 9781616208684), tells the story of Roy and Celestial, a newly married couple whose future looks bright. Celestial is an up-and-coming artist and Roy is a business executive, but their lives are shattered when the couple travels to Roy’s hometown in Louisiana, where he’s wrongfully accused of a terrible crime and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Jones presents a poignant portrait of the once-optimistic couple and the injustices they face as husband and wife during Roy’s incarceration. When he’s released after serving almost half his sentence, the pair struggles to resume their lives and regain a sense of normalcy. Told in part through the letters Roy and Celestial exchange while he’s imprisoned, Jones’ skillfully constructed narrative feels all too timely. It’s at once a powerful portrayal of marriage and a shrewd exploration of America’s justice system.
BOOK CLUB READS
FOR WINTER 99 PERCENT MINE by Sally Thorne
“Hilarious and heartfelt, smart and sexy—99 Percent Mine has everything I want in a romance!” —SARAH J. MAAS, #1 New York Times bestselling author
LEARNING TO SEE
by Elise Hooper
“A powerful and timely view of America told through the lens of Dorothea Lange, a fascinating woman whose photographs shone a light on the nation’s forgotten and abandoned.” —CHANEL CLEETON , author of Next Year in Havana
by Susan Gloss The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin
Bantam, $17, 480 pages, 9781101886823 This richly atmospheric novel follows the friendship between silent-era screen queen Mary Pickford and screenwriter Frances Marion as they carve out careers in an industry dominated by men.
“The Curiosities is about chasing dreams, second chances, and the gift of redemption. Enchanting and heartfelt!” —Bestselling author KARMA BROWN
Jefferson’s Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America by Catherine Kerrison Ballantine, $18, 448 pages, 9781101886267 Historian Kerrison uncovers the fascinating lives of Martha and Maria, Thomas Jefferson’s daughters with Martha Wayles Skelton, as well as Harriet, his daughter with Sally Hemings who forges a life for herself outside the bonds of slavery.
Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak
Bloomsbury, $18, 384 pages, 9781632869968 Shafak explores feminism, politics and religion in modern Istanbul through this complex portrait of Peri, an affluent wife and mother.
THE ABC MURDERS
by Agatha Christie
“There is no more cunning player of the murder game than Agatha Christie.”
—SUNDAY TIMES (London)
Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires
Atria/37 INK, $16, 224 pages, 9781501168000 Long-listed for the 2018 National Book Award, these shrewdly observed, expertly crafted stories of the African-American experience signal the arrival of an important writer.
t@Morrow_PB A BookPage reviewer since 2003, Julie Hale selects the best new paperback releases for book clubs every month.
fWilliam Morrow f Book Club Girl
by christie ridgway
Two high-powered Texans must run a gauntlet of family dysfunction and machinations before earning their happy ever after in The Fearless King (Forever, $7.99, 368 pages, 9781455597123) by Katee Robert. Journey King thrives in her position as COO of the family business until her sadistic and dangerous father returns to Houston and tries to wrest away her control. At a loss to understand his motives, she turns to powerful Frank Evans, who can dig up dirt on anyone. Frank has no love for the King family, but he admires Journey, and the sexual chemistry between them is off the charts. However, the deeper Frank goes into the family’s history, the louder his internal alarm bells ring. But Frank has faced down racial and social prejudice in his past, and he’s not about to give up in the face of this new challenge—even if it turns out that both he and Journey are putting themselves at risk. There’s glitz, glamour and machinations aplenty in this soapy, highly entertaining tale of big Texas business and the larger-than-life King family. A personal and professional partnership is forged in Alexandra Ivy’s You Will Suffer (Zebra, $7.99, 352 pages, 9781420143799). Against the wishes of her statusconscious parents, lawyer Ellie Guthrie has returned to rural Curry, Oklahoma, to establish her law practice. Ellie enjoys working away from the eye of her judgmental father, but there’s another man who seems to be watching over her—a former FBI agent who owns the ranch next door. While Ellie outwardly bristles at Nate Marcel’s protective attitude, she secretly finds everything about him sexy. He’s also convenient to have around when vandalism and then murder come to Curry. The little village surrounded by wide-open spaces doesn’t seem a likely place for danger and mayhem, which makes the escalating violent crimes all the creepier. Everybody knows everybody—or so they think. Who could be the dangerous perpetrator in their midst? The cozy, small-town trope is turned on its head as Ellie and Nate work together to unravel ugly secrets and bloody deeds. Longtime friends become lovers in 99 Percent Mine (William Morrow, $15.99, 369 pages, 9780062439611) by Sally Thorne. Globe-trotting photographer Darcy Barrett is back home to oversee the renovation of her late grandmother’s cottage. Darcy is as reluctant to see it change as she is to face her childhood friend Tom Valeska, the man hired to flip the house. Though Darcy has loved Tom all her life, he’s been engaged to another—a fact that has fueled her incessant need to get away. But as she works on the remodel with a newly single Tom, might they find a path to transforming their platonic relationship as well? Told from Darcy’s fresh, irreverent point of view, this delightful romance is peppered with witty dialogue, sweet love scenes and clever descriptions. One character smells like a birthday candle; conversing with another is “like trying to thread a live worm onto a hook.” But beyond the smart wordplay, there are lovably imperfect characters like Darcy’s twin, Jamie, who is yet another obstacle for the would-be lovers to overcome. Readers of romantic comedy should snatch this one up! A dashing Scot and a strong-willed heroine take the reader on a thrilling historical adventure in The Wrong Highlander (Avon, $7.99, 384 pages, 9780062469007) by Lynsay Sands. Lady Evina Maclean heads out in search of Rory Buchanan, a renowned healer, after her father falls ill. When she and her men come upon him bathing, an unfortunate altercation leaves the man unconscious, and Evina decides she’ll save time by taking him directly back to her family castle. If some might consider that kidnapping, she’ll worry about it once her father is well. But then she realizes she’s brought home the wrong Buchanan. Conran, Rory’s twin, isn’t all that happy about his predicament. But he’s intrigued by the red-haired, plain-speaking beauty and uses the knowledge he’s gained from assisting his brother to tend to her father. Soon the older man is on the mend and working on his own scheme— to make a match between the unaware pair. But danger lurks in the castle, jeopardizing everyone just as love begins to blossom between Evina and Conran. Swordplay, mistaken identity and secret passages add to the romantic fun.
Christie Ridgway is a lifelong romance reader and a published romance novelist of over 60 books.
Top Pick Say You’re Sorry (Berkley, $26, 624 pages, 9780399586729), Karen Rose’s latest tale of romantic suspense, is complex, thrilling and impossible to put down. FBI Special Agent Gideon Reynolds, who escaped a dangerous cult as a child, has been dodging a friend’s attempts to set him up with talk radio host Daisy Dawson. But when Daisy is attacked one night, Gideon is brought in on the case. There’s an instant attraction between Gideon and Daisy, but they quickly realize something else is simmering—the solution to the identity of a serial killer who’s been on the hunt for many years. In addition, the cult resurfaces and comes into play, which leads Gideon to reveal more of his past than he ever has before. Rose has a knack for building a community into her stories, family and friends who support as well as complicate the mission of the lead couple. Her characters are special and memorable, not because they’re superheroes, but because they’re authentic people with flaws and strengths. By exposing their frailties, Rose highlights her characters’ courage and compels readers to both worry about and root for them. This is an engrossing and exciting start to a new series, and one that busts genre stereotypes along the way.
meet SONYA LALLI Describe the book in one sentence. What is your favorite romantic comedy?
What, in your opinion, is the perfect first date? What drink/snack pairing would you recommend for your book?
In The Matchmaker’s List (Berkley, $15, 352 pages, 9780451490940), a young woman must navigate the desires of her own heart and the expectations of her close-knit IndianCanadian family after she agrees to let her beloved grandmother play matchmaker. Sonya Lalli’s debut is a modern romance touching on issues of identity and belonging. She lives in Toronto with her husband.
If you had to make a dating profile for Raina, what would it say? Words to live by?
spotlight | westerns
Turns out, you can buy love Two new romances blend old-fashioned sweetness with rip-roaring adventure, breathing new life into one of the oldest tropes of the Western romance: the mail-order bride. Sarah M. Eden mines the mail-order bride plot for gentle comedy and goodhearted character growth in her kisses-only inspirational romance, Healing Hearts (Shadow Mountain, $15.99, 336 pages, 9781629724584). Gideon MacNamara is the beloved doctor of the small Wyoming town of Savage Wells. Unlucky in love and desperately in need of professional assistance, he requests an arranged bride with medical experience, hoping to kill two birds with one logical, unromantic stone. When Miriam Bricks arrives, believing she’s been hired for a position as a nurse and only a nurse, she’s quite confused as to why all the townspeople are so happy to see her. And why they’re all dressed for a wedding. After the confusion is cleared up, Gideon pushes past his embarrassment and offers Miriam a job in his office. The pair are refreshingly mature as they work through their awkward situation, and Gideon’s defense of Miriam to his disappointed patients is particularly charming. If you’re looking for a bit more, shall we say, illicit take on the trope, Linda Broday’s The Outlaw’s Mail Order Bride (Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99, 384 pages, 9781492651048) should be right up your alley. Clay Colby is certain his intended will take one look at the burned-out remains of his home and hightail it back to wherever she came from. But Tally Shannon has demons of her own and nowhere else to go. Both have a price on their heads, and they vow not to turn each other in while they attempt to make their marriage work. Broday’s earthy, no-nonsense characters fit the rugged setting perfectly, and it’s a pleasure to watch these two lonely, cynical souls forge a powerful, passionate partnership. —Savanna Walker
Author photo © James Cham. Background image © Digital Curio/creativemarket.com
cover story | yangsze choo
Spirits stir and beasts prowl in the haunting new novel from The Ghost Bride author Yangsze Choo Buried away in the small house she shares with her husband and their children, ages 11 and 13, are the abandoned pages of a novel Yangsze Choo worked on for eight years. “It was really, really terrible and is hidden away forever. Forever!” Choo exclaims, laughing, during a call to her home in Palo Alto, California. But as she discusses her
new novel, The Night Tiger, it is apparent just how deep and abiding those early themes have been in her writing life. Choo, who speaks with a British accent, is from Malaysia and spent her early childhood in that former British colony before her father, a diplomat, was posted for extended periods to Japan and Germany and
also Thailand and the Philippines. She went to Harvard, where she met her husband, and worked as a management consultant before the couple moved to California about 13 years ago. “I now describe myself as an unemployed housewife,” she says wryly. Given her accent, you could imagine Choo to be kind of proper or a bit reserved.
And you would be wrong. During our call, she is enthusiastic and funny. She laughs heartily. She jolts the conversation with exclamations like “I was super excited!” She describes “a really fab Victoria sponge cake” recipe that has recently forced her to “scamper on a treadmill like a hamster.” She marvels that there is now an app that replicates the clink and murmur of a coffee shop so you don’t feel lonely when you write. She sometimes interviews the interviewer. Her well-received debut novel, The Ghost Bride (2013), is set in Malaya in the 1890s and concerns a young girl who, in accordance with a legendary Chinese tradition, receives a proposal from a family to become a ghost bride to their only son, who died under questionable circumstances. The Night Tiger is set in colonial Malaya in the 1930s, and the “night tiger” of its title lurks in the underbrush of a thicket of interconnected mysteries and unsolved killings. Reserved? Proper? Hardly. “My mom said to me, ‘Can’t you write something cheerful? Dead people, ghosts, and now this book is about tigers eating people! Why don’t you write something uplifting?’” Of course, Choo’s parents, and especially her mother, are sources of some of the stories and fables that wend their way into the narrative fabric of the book. Choo interviewed her parents frequently to develop a tactile sense of an earlier era in what is now Malaysia. Fascinated by the black and white bungalows built to house British civil servants, she learned that as a girl her mother had a young friend who worked as a maidservant in one of those houses. “Growing up I realized that there was very little literature on Malaysia,” Choo says. “And what there was was primarily written by British writers like Somerset Maugham. But hearing my mom’s stories about her friend the maid, I thought, there is a whole other story about the local people. I realized that I’ve always been hearing the local side, and yet what is documented is really the colonial side.” The Night Tiger follows the intersecting lives of two young Malayans. Ren is an 11-year-old houseboy in the service of a kindly, ailing British doctor who believes he has become a “weretiger,” a murderous, mythical beast that can assume human form during daylight. To put an end to the beast, the doctor makes Ren promise to locate and restore his missing finger to his corpse after he dies. Ren, who is also haunt-
ed by the death of his twin brother (and prudish.” Choo deftly captures that menacfeels his presence still as a kind of electriing strangeness in her fictionalized version. cal charge), has 49 days to accomplish this In slowly bringing these two characters mission. At the same time, hoping to pro- together—and resolving the mysteries of vide for the boy’s future, the doctor sends a series of perplexing deaths—Choo fashRen to serve a British surgeon named Wil- ions a rich and intricate tale. One of the liam Acton. The surgeon is a guilt-ridden novel’s greatest pleasures is the depth of its reprobate, and in his vicinity, deadly tiger understory. There is, first of all, a thread of attacks begin, to Ren’s alarm. upstairs-downstairs intrigue as Choo por“I think at 11 you are at the zenith of childtrays the unbalanced relationships among hood,” Choo says, explaining the combina- the British and their local servants. More tion of confidence and naivete in Ren. “My than that, there are what seem to be Choo’s kids were growing up through these ages obsessions, or as she prefers to call them, while I was writthemes. ing this book. An For example, she 11-year-old knows is interested in the how to do childChinese fascination hood well. You are with lucky numbers. big enough, strong “The belief that cerenough, and you tain rituals would can walk quite far. guarantee you happiYou can do all the ness was in the back housework. But of my mind.” So were you haven’t hit the traditional Conpuberty, so your fucian virtues, for world hasn’t startwhom her characters ed to change. You are named. “I didn’t are at the very top plan this, I’m not that form of being a clever, but it’s curichild.” ous how my charThe novel’s other acters have become central character the opposite of those is Ji Lin, a brilliant virtues.” And Choo’s student whose abiding interest in stepfather believes the nature of twins she should work also deepens the stoinstead of going ry. “The idea is interon to university. esting because this The Night Tiger Her stepbrother, whole novel is about Flatiron, $26.99, 384 pages, 9781250175458 Shin, with whom different worlds— Audio, eBook available she shares the natives and colonials, same birthday and a love-hate relationship, is sent to study to become a doctor while she is apprenticed to a dressmaker. To help pay her mother’s gambling debts, Ji Lin also secretly works in a dance hall. She enters the story when an unlucky man, who carries the doctor’s missing finger for luck, spills a vial with the finger into her hand. To create Ji Lin, Choo burrowed back into her abandoned novel, where she had tried to develop a character who worked in a dance hall. While researching that failed novel, Choo had read a book by an author who wrote about visiting “a strange dance hall [where] all these girls were for hire but afterward were strictly segregated. It was weirdly
the world of night and the world of day, the world of the living and the world of the dead. It’s about a lot of our unresolved fears, I think.” Surprisingly, Choo says she did not plan out this novel. With a laugh, she explains that she had her themes, but she “never knew what was happening.” The storylines proliferated to such a degree that she had to cut about half of them out of the final novel. She has considered a sequel. “I am happy that a lot of the thoughts I had did come out here,” she says. “I feel proud of this book. It talks about a lot of things I’ve been mulling over for a long time.” —Alden Mudge
feature | black history month
You will know us by the strength of our voices Black history is so much more than the collective memory of trauma. It would be fundamentally wrong, if not outright degrading, to conclude that the identities of black men and women are simply limited to their resilience. These four books showcase the rich spectrum of black identity. The sacrifices that black women make in order to practice resistance and seek social and political freedom are too often diminished by the expectation of selfless service. However, in DaMaris B. Hill’s poetry collection A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing: The Incarceration of African American Women from Harriet Tubman to Sandra Bland (Bloomsbury, $25, 192 pages, 9781635572612), she utilizes the powerful narratives of black women from history such as Harriet Tubman and Fannie Lou Hamer, alongside rarely celebrated figures relegated to the shadows, to give these women a chance to exist beyond the roles of activist or martyr. By utilizing biographical research and blackand-white archival photos, in conjunction with her verse, Hill creates an intimate atmosphere that allows for a rich exploration of fully formed heroines. Hill recognizes that these women don’t have to be perfect representations of freedom fighters in order to garner respect, sympathy and admiration. While racism and bigotry may have bound these women physically, mentally and/or emotionally, their narratives are not bound by struggle. For Hill, these women are not anyone’s mules: They are soothsayers, truth-tellers, mavericks and revolutionaries. For author, professor and acclaimed academic Emily Bernard, facing adversities as a black woman in America has spawned the invaluable and hard-won ability to take control of her own narrative. Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine (Knopf, $25.95, 240 pages, 9780451493026) consists of 12 personal essays brimming with equal parts hope and fury, joy and pain. Whether exploring the delicate dynamics of her interracial marriage, the haunting memory of being stabbed by a white man while she was a graduate student at Yale or the process of adopting her twin daughters from Ethiopia, Bernard’s writing is intimate, honest and unafraid of diving into gray areas. Although society at large may deem the black body—and by extension, blackness—as synonymous with suffering, Bernard’s collection doesn’t shy away from the fact that sometimes scars are proof of life beyond the state of survival. The official start of the civil rights movement is often linked to the day that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat and move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Yet in Unexampled Courage: The Blinding of Sgt. Isaac Woodard and the Awakening of President Harry S. Truman and Judge J. Waties Waring (Sarah Crichton, $27, 336 pages, 9780374107895), U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel highlights a horrify-
ing case of racial violence and brutality that propelled President Truman to directly address civil rights issues, namely the violence facing black veterans returning from World War II. On February 12, 1946, decorated black veteran Sgt. Isaac Woodard was on his way home to South Carolina via a Greyhound bus. Following a disagreement with the bus driver, Woodard was removed from the bus in Batesburg, South Carolina, by the town’s two-man police unit. Without allowing Woodward to finish explaining his side of the events, Chief Lynwood Shull struck Woodard in the head with his police baton, placed the veteran under arrest, repeatedly beat him to the point of unconsciousness and left him in a county jail cell overnight. Woodard was beaten so severely that the violence resulted in permanent blindness. Gergel’s reconstruction of this moment in history is both enraging and heartbreaking. With a clear-eyed view of the ripple effect of shocking acts of violence, Gergel traces how the blinding of Woodard ignited black communities, the NAACP and sympathetic allies to seek justice and demand that Truman take action. Combining research and a deep knowledge of the country’s legal system, Gergel exposes America’s longstanding legacy of brutalizing black bodies to preserve a vision of America fueled by the destructive force of white supremacy. Despite their scars, not all historical heroines should be considered tragic figures. For black women at the turn of the 20th century, their struggles involved indignities faced not only because of the color of their skin but also because of their gender. Yet the double-edged sword of being both black and female couldn’t keep some women from pursuing self-autonomy and self-governance, as chronicled in Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval (Norton, $28.95, 304 pages, 9780393285673). Guggenheim fellow, author and Columbia University professor Saidiya Hartman sheds light on women who refused to conform to societal bonds and malicious institutions that were determined to keep them downtrodden, enslaved and hopeless. For Hartman, the purpose of this meticulously researched collection is not to wallow in despair, but to celebrate and lift up the plethora of black women who are largely absent from history books. Hartman argues that by rejecting the expectations of their gender and race, these women are unrecognized revolutionaries who were committed to self-discovery in spite of the obstacles obstructing their paths. —Vanessa Willoughby
Going down with the ship
© VANESSA BORER
interview | jessica chiccehitto hindman
A musician finds truth in deception Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman’s Sounds Like Titanic is so fabulously surreal, I checked twice to be certain it was indeed a memoir and not a work of fiction. In her debut, Hindman recounts the nearly four years she spent as a violinist in an ensemble led by an eccentric man whom she refers to only as the Composer. Hindman and the other musicians perform shows across America in performance halls, malls and at fairs, but they’re part of a bizarre deception: The musicians are barely making sounds with their instruments. The music the audience hears is coming from a hidden CD player hooked up to the speakers. “From the very beginning of working with that group, I knew that there was a story,” Hindman says in a call to her home in Kentucky, where she teaches creative writing at Northern Kentucky University. Playing the violin professionally had been Hindman’s dream since she was a child growing up in a small West Virginia town, as her devotion to the instrument earned her peers’ awe and adults’ respect. Hindman recalls, “There was something going on in the way people would look at me when I played the violin, that I could tell even as a kid, it made them think of me as more serious.” Being a classical musician also allowed her to escape the suffocating confines of gender norms—she was a talented violinist, not a talented girl. Determined to leave her Appalachian upbringing behind, she applied to and was accepted at Columbia. But at Columbia, she realized that while she was talented and hardworking, she was far from a spectacular violinist. Tuition was also exorbitant, and when she saw a job listing for a violinist with a famous composer and his Billboard-topping ensemble, she mustered up her last dregs of optimism and sent in an audition tape. She was stunned when she got the job. The Composer has sold millions of albums, and his uplifting, soaring music has scored numerous television specials. It also sounds just like the soundtrack for the 1997 film Titanic. “It’s
as close as you can get to the Titanic soundtrack without being the Titanic soundtrack,” Hindman says. “Hours and hours and hours of instrumental music with a lot of penny whistle and violin and light piano playing.” When she first began performing with the ensemble, the admiration on the faces of audience members listening to her “play” was like a drug. But during a seven-week cross-country tour with the ensemble in a decrepit RV, Hindman realized a few things about the Composer. His diet was seemingly composed entirely of apples and cereal. He was unable to remember Hindman’s name, and instead called her Melissa for the entire tour. He was unfamiliar with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and in 2004, he had no idea who John Kerry was. Before every concert, he told the ensemble that they must remember to grin throughout the entire performance because “some people out there have cancer.” “When you look at him, he looks like a famous composer,” Hindman says. But as she stood on stage with him, faking a smile and pretending to play the violin, she began to lose touch with reality. She started having crippling panic attacks, sometimes multiple times within an hour. The violin no longer provided her with an escape. “I think that there was something that was just plain old stage fright about it, where you’re just up on the stage and all these people are looking at you,” she says. “Because the music was prerecorded . . . all you’re doing is basically standing in front of people playing a role. You have a lot of time to think.” Working with the Composer was a grueling, difficult time for Hindman, when her understanding of who she was and what she wanted was turned on its head. But it also forced her to inspect some of her flawed beliefs about gender and femininity, the definition of success and happiness, and the debatable merits of working yourself to near-death. “I think part of it was
Sounds Like Titanic Norton, $25.95, 256 pages 9780393651645, eBook available
Memoir just growing up and realizing that the pressures that I was putting on myself at that age were just completely unreasonable and dumb,” she says. “There’s all these other aspects of life that have nothing to do with winning trophies or being the best at anything but that are just as important. Certainly, writing the book itself helped me congeal all of this in my mind.” It’s clear that Hindman feels conflicted about the Composer, although she is generously empathetic. “Probably the biggest surprise was how I started feeling a lot more like I had so much in common with the Composer. As I was reading and revising the book, I started to feel a more profound kinship with him in terms of, like, well, what do you do if you’re not born with genius? You have to work your way around that in some way.” Surprisingly, Hindman’s bizarre, existentially traumatic stint as a pseudo-professional violinist hasn’t spoiled classical music for her. “I listen to violin music all the time. I don’t play so much anymore,” she says. Although her violin days are over, Hindman can be assured that she’s accomplished something incredible: She has written a memoir about identity and finding a sense of self that is funny, personal, empathetic and, amazingly, true. —Lily McLemore
feature | relationships
Let’s talk about love in all its many forms.
We all should be so lucky to find love—in family and friends as well as in romantic partners. These six new books fit into anyone’s life, regardless of relationship status. How to be Loved: A Memoir of Lifesaving Friendship By Eva Hagberg Fisher Eva Hagberg Fisher built a career writing about architecture in her 20s, but her raw and honest debut memoir, How to be Loved (HMH, $24, 240 pages, 9780544991156), is quite a departure from chronicling design and the hottest goings-on in New York real estate. Fisher doesn’t sugarcoat her journey from a confused social climber who was struggling with addiction to a person who discovers, for the first time in her young life, true friendship with Allison, an older woman in her recovery group. Fisher confesses to being selfish and withholding for most of her early adult
life, seeing her relationships with men and women as means to an end, whether that end be social status, housing when she was jobless or artistic fulfillment. But when Fisher was diagnosed with a brain tumor, it was Allison, steadily coping with her own cancer diagnosis, who gently but persistently loved and cared for her. Allison showed Fisher a way to engage with another person to an extent she didn’t know was possible, which in turn helped prepare her for her relationship with her current husband. Grab a box of tissues for this one and have your best friend on speed dial. You’ll definitely want to call them after you turn the last page.
Hard to Love: Essays and Confessions By Briallen Hopper As Fisher’s memoir proves, romantic partnerships aren’t the only lifealtering relationships built on love. And in Briallen Hopper’s first collection of essays, Hard to Love (Bloomsbury, $27, 336 pages, 9781632868800), she takes a deep dive into many essential but far less glamorized types of relationships: found families, platonic friendships, emotional connections with inanimate objects, fandom (you’ll never look at the classic Ted Dansen-helmed sitcom “Cheers” or its theme song the same way ever again) and the hard-won beauty of learning to love yourself. And yes, Hopper even spares some ink to cover marriage and romance, but as a whole, this is a refreshing collection that probes the expanse of the human heart.
Love Understood: The Science of Who, How and Why We Love By Laura Mucha If you have a dogeared copy of Aziz Ansari’s 2015 bestseller, Modern Love, then British poet and artist Laura Mucha’s Love Understood (Bloomsbury, $28, 304 pages, 9781472968326), a well-researched and deeply human study of the intricacies and science of love, is right up your alley. After observing her grandparents’ strong, decades-long relationship, Mucha decided to spend some time trying to figure out how love works. She interviewed strangers from all over the world in order to better understand love’s common themes, and she presents their stories alongside related scientific studies. You’ll find sections on dating, love at first sight, monogamy, cheating and how people heal from lost love.
How to Date Men When You Hate Men By Blythe Roberson Do you struggle to connect with men in the midst of our inescapably patriarchal society? Well, Blythe Roberson, New Yorker contributor and researcher for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” definitely has her fair share of complaints. In her hilarious and relatable How to Date Men When You Hate Men (Flatiron, $19.99, 288 pages, 9781250193421), the 27-year-old chronicles her many false starts (like many Millennials, she’s never had a boyfriend in the traditional sense), rants about rape culture, parses her “type,” offers her own thoughts on the complicated dance of defining the relationship, champions the pleasures of being single and more. It’s a very funny read from someone who has many thoughts on love but never claims to be an expert.
From You Always Change the Love of Your Life (for Another Love or Another Life) by Amalia Andrade, published by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2015, 2017, 2018 by Amalia Andrade Arango. Translation copyright © 2018 by Ezra E. Fitz.
Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love By John Gottman & Julie Schwartz Gottman John and Julie Gottman know that a strong and healthy relationship is built on the small, everyday gestures and moments of intentional connection. So they’re burning a candle for one of the most overlooked aspects of modern relationships: date night. “Make dedicated, non-negotiable time for each other a priority, and never stop being curious about your partner,” they write in the introduction to Eight Dates (Workman, $24.95, 224 pages, 9781523504466). If you’re really looking to see some results, then this is the book for you—the Gottmans’ ideas are based on hard data and proven studies. Although the dates all focus on different topics of conversation, they apply to any relationship, young or old.
You Always Change the Love of Your Life (for Another Love or Another Life) By Amalia Andrade If you’ve ever gone through a breakup, you probably know that you’ll get the same pat advice over and over again. Looking for a new, more hands-on approach to processing your feelings and dealing with heartbreak? Chilean-born author and illustrator Amalia Andrade’s You Always Change the Love of Your Life (Penguin, $18, 240 pages, 9780143133469) blends charming, down-to-earth advice with cheeky cartoons, illustrations, journal prompts, soul-warming recipes, playlists and more. —Hilli Levin
behind the book | yara zgheib
© HELEN KARAM
by Borges: “A writer—and, I believe, generally all persons—must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.” I had the clay, and I just shaped it. I wrote a memoir to tell my father that not eating did not mean that I was vain, or that I did not love him enough. I wrote to tell my husband the same thing, and sorry, and that without him, I would be dead. I wrote to my mother and sister. I wrote to my brother, my friends, to all the people who stared. I wrote to give the world a glimpse of what goes on in my head when I eat one bite, just one bite of pizza, then I rewrote the whole manuscript as fiction because it was not just my story. Eating disorders affect millions of girls and boys around the world. Anorexia in particular is terrifying because it is quiet and sneaky and patient. It poses as your brain and tells you lies about your worth and your reflection in the mirror. Those around you cannot hear it and therefore cannot understand why on earth you will not share a few bites of their birthday cake with them. It is about being cold and hungry all the time, even in your sleep. It is about losing your hair and energy and friends and period and personality. It is about people’s incomprehension and judgment, about scaring little children at the pool because your ribs and kneecaps are sticking out and your eyeballs are deep in your sockets. “I am not cured. I am not ready; I am terrified of what is coming. But I lift my chin higher. Keep walking, Anna. “[…] The car turns at the end of the street, and the house disappears. I am going home. We are going home.” Anna had to be fictional because she is not just me. She is every person who has ever felt unworthy, insecure, scared or guilty about the way he or she acts or looks or eats. She also had to be ficThe Girls at 17 Swann Street tional to protect the real girls St. Martin’s, $27.99, 384 pages of 17 Swann Street, the real 9781250202444, audio, eBook available Matthias and the other charPopular Fiction acters in the story. Last, she had to be fictional so she and her story could be universal. So that she and the reader could be hopeful. It can end well. It does. People do leave 17 Swann Street. Sincerely, Yara
From diary to debut Through the power of story, great pain can become a message of hope. First-time novelist Yara Zgheib shares the heartbreaking true story behind The Girls at 17 Swann Street. I do not know how to eat. There was a time not long ago when I forced myself to forget. I forced myself to forget the tastes I used to love: ice cream, French fries, pizza, even bread. I pushed them off-limits, one by one. I starved and ran, starved and ran my fears and anxieties away till I, like Anna, the protagonist in The Girls at 17 Swann Street, found myself in a treatment center for eating disorders. There I was faced with girls who were battling diseased brains that were killing them. Some became my friends. Some of those killed themselves. I admit, at times I was tempted. I eventually left treatment and have been in recovery for a few years. But there are still girls, sometimes boys, being admitted to that center every day. My story is no different from theirs. Perhaps the only distinction is that I chose to write mine down. It started as a memoir. Actually, before that, as a diary of my days in treatment. I was in great pain and angry at the world for not caring or understanding. Then I read these words
Yara Zgheib is a Fulbright scholar with a Ph.D. from Centre d’Études Diplomatiques et Stratégiques in Paris. She is fluent in English, Arabic, French and Spanish. Her first novel, The Girls at 17 Swann Street, fictionalizes her own experiences with anorexia through the story of a former ballerina named Anna Roux, who is forced into treatment by her husband. Zgheib beautifully portrays moments of both despair and hope in this raw, honest debut.
reviews | fiction
H Top Pick: The Lost Man By Jane Harper Flatiron, $27.99, 352 pages, 9781250105684 Audio, eBook available
Mystery Jane Harper has had enormous success with her mystery series about loner Detective Aaron Falk (The Dry and Force of Nature), which married the gritty realism of small-town Australian life with complicated criminal investigations. Her new standalone, The Lost Man, is bound to win her further accolades. It’s a timely and riveting family drama set in a desolate area of Queensland that will keep you guessing until the final pages. When you live under a punishing sun on a cattle ranch the size of a small European country, you know not to travel without a full complement of food, water and a working vehicle.
The Falconer By Dana Czapnik Atria $25, 288 pages 9781501193224 Audio, eBook available
Debut Fiction You can try, but you’re unlikely to find descriptions of basketball as elegant as those in Dana Czapnik’s debut novel, The Falconer. “The ball is a face. Leathered and weathered and pockmarked and laugh lined.” So begins the story of Lucy Adler, 17 and confident in her ability to beat any man on the court. The novel is set in the early 1990s during Lucy’s senior year at Pendleton Academy. Ambitious Lucy likens herself to the Falconer in Central Park, “a statue of a young boy in tights, leg muscles blazing, releasing a bird.” That’s how she wants to live: at the top of her powers and showing no fear. Although she wonders why women don’t get statues like that. Lucy is in unrequited love with Percy, her frequent competitor on the court, a wealthy kid whose family made its fortune in part by investing in the company that made Agent Orange. She can’t help but notice that she doesn’t get as much as respect as boys like Percy do, even
So when Cam Bright is found dead of dehydration in the desert only a few miles from his well-stocked car, his brothers Nathan and Bub are shocked and baffled. The mystery of Cam’s death brings longstanding family tensions between Nathan, Bub, their mother and Cam’s wife, Ilse, to the fore and escalate when decades-old allegations of Cam’s assault of a summer worker resurface. The burden of understanding these complex family ties falls heavily on older brother Nathan, who is dealing with his unresolved feelings for Ilse and trying to build
though she’s her school’s scoring leader. That’s just one of the many examples of sexism Lucy confronts, but at least she doesn’t lack people to commiserate with. Among them are older cousin Violet, an artist, and the woman Violet lives with, also an artist, whose latest project involves using Pepto-Bismol to paint Barbie logos. There’s little plot here, and Czapnik’s characters tend to make speeches, but The Falconer offers astute observations on the difficulties women confront when trying to succeed in male-dominated fields. In Lucy, Czapnik has created a great character who refuses to conform to expectations. But even Lucy knows that, for a falcon to soar, those with the power to hold it back need to let go. —Michael Magras
H Early Riser By Jasper Fforde Viking $28, 416 pages 9780670025039 Audio, eBook available
Imagine that the world never transitioned out of the ice age, but humanity’s long history has stayed more or less the same. To get through the winter, humans hibernate.
a relationship with his estranged teenage son. The grim crimes in The Lost Man are as much shaped by the rural landscape as by the actions of any one individual. With thoughtful regard for the impact of domestic violence, Harper keeps a sharp focus on a handful of characters that populate these enormous tracts of land where neighbors live up to three and four hours apart. As in her previous novels, the harsh environment plays a pivotal role, as significant as any of her characters. An unforgiving wasteland, the ranch is a place where isolation takes a long-simmering psychological toll, and everyone knows being out in the sun for too long could kill you. —Lauren Bufferd
Within this world, all the great artists, writers, historical figures, Shakespearean characters and Grecian myths endure, but they are reframed within an alternate reality that centers on humanity’s 16 weeks of sleep. The pharmaceutical company HiberTech has developed a drug that allows humans to sleep dreamlessly through the winter, expending 30 percent less of their bodies’ hibernal fat reserves and requiring less strenuous preparation for the “Hib.” This comes with a caveat: One in every 3,000 who take the drug doesn’t quite wake up. Referred to as Nightwalkers, these unlucky people appear to have some vestige of their past lives rattling around, but their consciousnesses are nowhere to be seen. HiberTech has been developing methods to rewrite what’s left of the Nightwalkers’ consciousnesses in order to “redeploy” them. After all, one in 3,000 makes for good business. A select few humans don’t hibernate, including Charlie Worthing, who joins the Winter Consulate to help keep the rest of humanity safe during the four months of winter. Charlie soon finds himself escorting a Nightwalker to Sector 12 in northern Wales to claim a bounty from HiberTech’s headquarters—and to follow up on rumors of a viral dream. As Charlie is pulled deeper into a mystery he hadn’t meant to sign up for, readers are looped into a tale of dreamers, thieves and an elusive, mythical creature called the Gronk who folds its victims’ laundry, collects severed pinkies and has a strong preference for Rodgers and Hammerstein show tunes. Jasper Fforde is in fine form in his 14th novel, stringing along this adventure with wry wit, a
reviews | fiction sometimes-bonkers plot and a joke that takes a hundred pages to sneakily find its punchline. If not for the absurdity of the tale, Early Riser could’ve easily been a mere allegory of the dangers of global warming and Big Pharma. But what matters most is the nature of humanity, as empathy saves the day, and our good guy has no reason to wonder just how good he is. —Tom Eisenbraun
H Black Leopard, Red Wolf By Marlon James Riverhead $30, 640 pages 9780735220171 Audio, eBook available
Fantasy A novel that truly defies all efforts of categorization is a rare thing. When his Dark Star Trilogy was announced, Marlon James’ new genre endeavor was dubbed a kind of “African Game of Thrones,” an epic saga that merged history and fantasy into something new. The first volume in the trilogy—Black Leopard, Red Wolf—has arrived, and even that rather enticing description doesn’t do it justice. James has once again delivered something that must be read to be believed, a majestic novel full of unforgettable characters, gorgeous prose and vivid adventures. Tracker, James’ narrator, is a man without a true name, a man who seems to walk in the margins of society after a difficult childhood turned him into a loner. Still, he is renowned for his “nose,” the ability to search for and find lost things with uncanny skill, and so he is called into service to search for a vanished boy. To find the boy, he must also attempt a rare collaboration, teaming up with a strange band of characters, among them a shapeshifter known as Leopard. As the hunt begins and Tracker tells his tale, he must explore not only the significance of the boy he’s searching for but also the nature of truth itself. Tracker’s voice—rendered in visceral, evocative prose—is immediately seductive, from his colorful use of profanity to the way he describes not just what happens to him but also how the perception of it all can shift in a moment. It’s the kind of voice that can carry you anywhere, and James puts it to good use, propelling the reader forward into an African fantasy landscape that rivals the greatest swordand-sorcery storytellers in the history of the
genre. The ambition is familiar, but the places James takes us are not, and that’s an irresistible combination. Black Leopard, Red Wolf heralds the arrival of one of fantasy’s next great sagas and reaffirms James as one of the greatest storytellers of his generation. —Matthew Jackson
Visit BookPage.com to read a Q&A with Marlon James.
need look elsewhere. Readers who want an unflinching account of one of recent history’s bloodiest civil wars will find in Khalifa’s latest work a story superficially colored by the many manifestations of death, but chiefly concerned with what a miraculous, Herculean thing it is to simply live. —Omar El Akkad
The Age of Light By Whitney Scharer
Death Is Hard Work By Khaled Khalifa Translated by Leri Price
FSG $25, 192 pages 9780374135737 Audio, eBook available
World Fiction Many Western readers will find Khaled Khalifa’s new novel unbearably grim. A story about three Syrian siblings’ quixotic quest to bury their dead father—a story whose central narrative marker of chronological progression is a man’s decomposing corpse—is not light reading. Nor does Khalifa feel obliged to provide his readers with much in the way of hope or even momentary relief. Death Is Hard Work moves in a way similar to the war it chronicles— mercilessly over the bones of its victims. Like Khalifa’s previous novel, the masterpiece No Knives in the Kitchens of This City, Death Is Hard Work traces the familial connections of a Syrian clan caught up in the country’s brutal tide of repression and fear. The novel charts the efforts of Bolbol, Hussein and Fatima to transport their father’s body back to his home village, so as to bury him in accordance with his final wishes. No sooner do the siblings pile into a rickety van than they find themselves mired in a never-ending series of military checkpoints— some manned by regime soldiers, others by members of the resistance, still others by foreign extremists looking to cash in on the chaos of Syria’s civil war. Frequently and without warning, the novel strays from the present-day narrative into the histories, dreams and frustrations of its central characters. The result is something at the intersection of Faulkner and Kafka, a modern-day As I Lay Dying passed through the lens of maddening bureaucracy, hypocrisy and slaughter. Readers looking for optimism or resolution
Little, Brown $28, 384 pages 9780316524087 Audio, eBook available
Debut Fiction Lee Miller is accustomed to the male gaze. She has stood in its light for decades, first as the subject of her father’s photos and then as a Vogue cover model. But by the time she meets renowned photographer Man Ray in Paris, Lee has grown tired of being captured on film. Instead, she wants to step behind the camera. She wants to become the person wielding control, to tell stories instead of serving as a prop in someone else’s narrative. She convinces Man Ray to take her on as an assistant, but eventually Lee finds herself guided by her mentor’s instincts. She morphs from assistant to protégé, muse and lover. Decades later, Lee has rewritten her story. She’s a domestic correspondent for Vogue, but she knows her editor has grown weary of the multicourse dinners she writes about and photographs. The editor offers her an ultimatum: Write about your years with Man Ray—or else your time at Vogue may end. Lee agrees, but she insists the magazine publish her photos, not Man Ray’s, and the editor pushes back. “This is a story about Man Ray,” she says. “But it’s not,” Lee thinks. “And that’s been the problem all along.” In her bold debut novel, The Age of Light, Whitney Scharer gives new life to Lee Miller, whose place in history has been overshadowed by her larger-than-life teacher. Scharer’s retelling draws from Lee’s relationships with men and her remarkable body of work as she progresses from a New York City model to a photographer in 1930s Paris, from a World War II correspondent to a gourmet cook in the 1960s. Scharer’s lusty prose illuminates Lee’s struggles and ambition in this lush tale. —Carla Jean Whitley
reviews | fiction
H Finding Dorothy By Elizabeth Letts Ballantine $28, 368 pages 9780525622109 Audio, eBook available
Historical Fiction It’s shocking to imagine that, while remarkably successful in its time, The Wizard of Oz now ranks more than 2,000 slots below Garfield: The Movie in
terms of domestic gross revenue. And while MGM co-founder Louis B. Mayer insisted that he was in the business of making money rather than magic, bestselling author Elizabeth Letts’ latest novel, Finding Dorothy, uncovers both in abundance on the set of the 1939 film. In some ways reminiscent of Jerry Stahl’s excellent I, Fatty, Letts’ Finding Dorothy combines exhaustive research with expansive imagination, blending history and speculation into a seamless tapestry. It’s true that Oz author L. Frank Baum’s widow spent time with Judy Garland on set. And it’s from this point of departure—California, not Kansas—that Letts leads us down a parallel pair of yellow brick roads. One traverses the courtship, marriage and adult life of Maud Gage Baum, suffragette’s daughter and modern woman. She became the wife of a dreamer, a man not always financially suc-
cessful but deeply committed to providing for his family and madly in love with his wife. The second road takes us into the golden age of Hollywood, where fate and opportunity conspire to make Judy Garland a superstar. Maud arrives on set to try to ensure that her husband’s vision is preserved, but she realizes that the more immediate task at hand is to take Dorothy/Judy— their identities in many ways inseparable at this point—under her wing. It’s a testament to Letts’ skill that she can capture on the page, without benefit of audio, that same emotion we have all felt sometime over the last 80 years while listening to “Over the Rainbow”: “Maud knew, right then, that Judy had done it. She had captured the magic that Frank had put into his story, sucked it from the air and breathed it back out through her vocal cords. Maud felt in her heart that Frank must
spotlight | visions of the future
Only time will tell Speculative fiction allows the constants of our reality to change, giving readers a glimpse of how those shifts might affect their own lives. This trio of novels use time travel and prophesy to craft compelling, all-too-human stories. In Kate Mascarenhas’ superb debut novel, The Psychology of Time Travel (Crooked Lane, $26.99, 352 pages, 9781683319443), four female scientists in 1967 discover the secret of time travel. At the news conference announcing their discovery, however, one of the women, Barbara, has a mental breakdown that threatens to undermine the value of their discovery. To protect their work, the other three scientists exile Barbara from the project. Jumping to 2017, Barbara, now a grandmother, receives a newspaper clipping of a murder that will occur in the future. Her granddaughter, Ruby, is convinced that one of the scientists is trying to warn Barbara of her impending murder. Ruby must follow this clue from the future to unravel the mystery and save her grandmother. Mascarenhas conjures a world in which time travel not only exists but also has its own legal system, currency and lingo. She meticulously weaves the stories of multiple female characters as they—both older and younger versions of themselves—jump back and forth in time to create a delightfully complex, multilayered plot. To all of this, Mascarenhas adds a thoroughly satisfying murder mystery. The Psychology of Time Travel heralds the arrival of a master storyteller.
Mike Chen’s Here and Now and Then (Mira, $26.99, 336 pages, 9780778369042) provides another enjoyable venture into time travel. In this novel, Kin Stewart is caught between two worlds separated by almost 150 years. Originally a time-traveling agent with the Temporal Corruption Bureau in 2142, Kin becomes stranded in 1996 when a mission goes awry. Breaking bureau rules, Kin takes a job in IT and starts a family as his memories of 2142 degrade. When an accident alerts a retriever agent to return Kin to 2142, where only two weeks have passed, Kin must confront his divided loyalties between his adolescent daughter, who may be eliminated as a timeline corruption, and the family he cannot remember in 2142. Although Chen’s novel is set in a futuristic world, it is ultimately about the bond between a father and his daughter. While Kin’s dilemma is one that readers will never face, they will be drawn in by the human questions at its heart. In Sharma Shields’ The Cassandra (Holt, $28, 304 pages, 9781250197412), young Mildred Groves has the gift of prophesy— and the curse that no one wants to heed her
warnings. Mildred escapes an abusive home and takes a job as a secretary at Washington’s Hanford research facility in 1945, where workers are sworn to secrecy as scientists create “the product”—plutonium for the first atomic bombs. At first, Mildred is happy to be a part of something so big and important. However, as the product comes closer to completion, she begins to have nightmarish visions of the destruction that will be wrought on the people of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Hanford facility. She feels compelled to warn those in power, even as her own well-being disintegrates. But to what end? Shields has written a brilliant modern retelling of the classic myth of Cassandra. While this is not an easy novel to read, as the imagery becomes increasingly gruesome, it is a pleasure to be immersed in a myth so deftly woven into an apt historical context. The Cassandra should not be missed by those interested in Greek mythology, the Hanford project or beautifully crafted stories. —Annie Peters
reviews | fiction have been listening.” Let’s see some smug, wisecracking Hollywood cat do that. —Thane Tierney
loss and the resilience of the human heart that will have you laughing and crying in equal turns. —Stephenie Harrison
When You Read This
H Lost Children Archive
By Mary Adkins Harper $26.99, 384 pages 9780062834676 Audio, eBook available
Debut Fiction More often than not, death is viewed as an ending rather than a beginning—but that is not the case in Mary Adkins’ delightful debut novel, When You Read This, in which a young woman’s death proves to be the catalyst for a compassionate and heartwarming love story. When Iris Massey is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in her early 30s, she turns to blogging as a way to help come to terms with her illness and immortalize a sliver of her soul through memories and drawings. Before she dies, she prints out a copy and leaves it behind with instructions for her boss, Smith, to get the manuscript published if he can. Smith wants to honor Iris’ memory and her last wishes, but when he reaches out to her sister, Jade, about how to proceed, she tells him in no uncertain terms to drop it. Despite the hostile tone of Jade’s initial messages, the gaping Iris-shaped hole in both Smith’s and Jade’s lives ultimately forms a bridge between them. Through emails, texts, therapy transcripts, blog posts, order confirmations and more, readers witness as shared grief paves the way for discussions of other touchstones of loss and disappointment, sparking a deeper connection that neither character was looking for but can’t be denied. An epistolary novel for the 21st century, When You Read This sparkles with a perfect blend of humor, pathos and romance. At times painfully sad, the novel balances Jade and Smith’s anguish so that it is palpable but never overwrought, and moments of levity and whimsy keep the tale from becoming maudlin or cloyingly sentimental. Adkins has managed to paint an authentic and nuanced portrait of grief and the various ways people attempt to cope and continue on with life when the worst has happened. Inventive and irresistible, When You Read This is a tender and uplifting story about love,
By Valeria Luiselli Knopf $27.95, 400 pages 9780525520627 Audio, eBook available
Literary Fiction Valeria Luiselli’s fourth novel takes readers on a contemplative road trip from New York City to the American Southwest. A blended family of four—parents and their two children, a boy, 10, and a girl, 5— is relocating so the father can research Apache history for a new project. The mother is going on the thin hope of locating the daughters of a friend, two young girls who attempted to cross the border from Mexico in search of asylum. But both parents know the marriage is winding down, and the mother and her daughter will return to the city after the summer is over. As they wend their way through the Appalachians, across Oklahoma and into the desert, the father tells stories of the Apaches’ civilization and its eventual exile and defeat, while the mother frets over the fates of migrant children and dreads her separation from the boy in the back seat. During the drive, the children read books and learn all the words to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” seemingly ignorant of their parents’ burdens. Lost Children Archive isn’t a stream-of-consciousness story, but it reads almost like a memory. It unfolds in short, vignettelike scenes and takes you deep into the head space of its narrators. The first half, told by the mother, is meandering, the current-day journey interspersed with sketches from her earlier life and scenes from a book called Elegies, which tells the stories of migrant children. In the second half, told through the boy’s eyes, the stakes become higher and the action ramps up. Luiselli is a deliberate yet imaginative writer, and her work as an advocate for asylum-seekers informs the novel’s skillful blend of family story and issue-driven themes. The characters join a long line of people forced to face separation and relocation to unfamiliar territory, their current situation an echo of so many others, from enslaved Africans
to Apaches and today’s child refugees. These echoes will remain in the mind of the reader as well. —Trisha Ping
Visit BookPage.com to read a Q&A with Valeria Luiselli.
Golden Child By Claire Adam SJP for Hogarth $26, 288 pages 9780525572992 Audio, eBook available
Debut Fiction Every society has a founding myth that they tell themselves to explain why they came to be and what they value. The same is true for families, and it is certainly true of the Deyalsinghs of Trinidad in Claire Adam’s excellent debut novel. The overarching myth of this family—which includes Clyde, Joy and their twin sons, Peter and Paul, all descended from Indian immigrants—is that studious Peter is the golden child. Paul, born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, is a “little retarded.” In such families—and such societies—the myth is so all-encompassing that they believe that without it they will crumble. And they’re willing to sacrifice a great deal to keep it. The tragedy is that Paul is not “retarded” at all. He’s dyslexic and may be on the spectrum, but he’s also perceptive, observant, brave and even bold. But even though his family loves him, those qualities don’t matter much. One night, Paul runs away after an argument with his father. That scene opens the book, and the rest of the novel describes what led up to the day when Paul went missing in the bush and what happens after. Adam was born in Trinidad and has a razor-sharp understanding of its society. If you’ve been to the Caribbean, you’ve seen a house like the Deyalsinghs’: low to the ground, faced with cinder blocks or stucco, with a roof of corrugated metal or tile, protected—imperfectly—by grates painted a lovely pastel color. Adam allows us to share in Joy’s resignation when the water pressure in the tiny house goes out, to know what it feels like to slosh through a monsoon and to imagine food that ranges from traditional rotis, curries and melongene choka to packets of Chee Zees. The author shows
reviews | fiction how American culture has infiltrated the island nation, from Kentucky Fried Chicken joints to movies and TV. And then there are the Deyalsinghs themselves, their neighbors and their somewhat nutty extended family. They are good and generous people—but the Deyalsinghs, especially Clyde, believe what they believe, and they’re sticking to it. Golden Child is one of those uncommon debut novels that makes you eager to see what its author does next. —Arlene McKanic
H The Weight of a Piano By Chris Cander Knopf $26.95, 336 pages 9780525654674 Audio, eBook available
Popular Fiction Decades and continents apart, two young girls are each unexpectedly gifted a piano. In the Soviet Union during the 1960s, Katya’s piano comes to her from the mysterious German tenant who lives down the hall. In 1990s California, Clara receives hers as a surprise from her father. Katya excels at playing the piano, to which she feels extremely attached, and she centers her education and her self-expression on her musical talent. Clara is similarly attached to hers—not for her talent (of which there is little) but because she received it shortly before her father and mother died in a mysterious house fire. When Clara, now in her mid-20s, decides to sell the piano, she realizes that she isn’t ready to part with her past. But she has already found a buyer, and he is extremely determined. The twisting mysteries of Chris Cander’s third novel are set into motion, and the result is a charming, puzzling plot that gets more exciting and addictive the deeper you sink into it. The Weight of a Piano ruminates on the gravity held by the objects in our lives. Both Katya and Clara are heavily fixated on their pianos; they feel that it is an extension of themselves in certain ways. For Katya, losing the piano means losing everything, but Clara has a chance to come to terms with her painful attachment through a series of unraveling secrets. Short chapters help the braided plot to avoid becoming overwhelming, and the novel is well-researched, from the Cyrillic script to the
exquisitely bleak “sailing stones” in Death Valley. This reviewer just happened to be, in a past life, a piano tuner, and Cander’s unadorned prose composes some truly beautiful descriptions of the joy of music. —Leslie Hinson
zarre seem plausible, and always enjoyable. —Melissa Brown
American Spy By Lauren Wilkinson
Random House $27, 304 pages 9780812998955 eBook available
By Elizabeth McCracken Ecco $27.99, 369 pages 9780062862853 Audio, eBook available
Historical Fiction To tell a good tale, you need drama—and in this area, Bowlaway spares no expense. A turnof-the-20th-century candlepin bowling alley works its way into people’s lives and under their skin in Elizabeth McCracken’s sixth book. After she seems to materialize in a cemetery in Salford, Massachusetts, Bertha Truitt opens Truitt’s Alleys (later rechristened Bowlaway), which takes on a life as mysterious as her own. Bertha’s oddities are numerous: bicycling in a split skirt, building an octagonal house named Superba high on a hill, marrying a black doctor named Leviticus Sprague and then letting women bowl in full view of spectators. The whole being of Bertha scandalizes and perplexes. When Bertha is struck down in a bewildering accident that evokes (for this reader, anyhow) a scene from the fantastic but short-lived sitcom “Pushing Daisies,” her death sets the lives of those in her orbit spinning. “Our subject is love because our subject is bowling,” McCracken’s narrator opines early in the novel. The love in Bowlaway takes many forms: love of a spouse, love of a child, love of self and love of a capricious game. People love the alleys; they hate the alleys; they keep coming back to the alleys. Bowlaway forms the linchpin in the lives of an eccentric cast, from Bertha’s disconsolate widower to Joe Wear, the young watchman who first found Bertha in the cemetery. Joe becomes manager before an unexplained disappearance, but his fate is intertwined with Bertha’s and the bowling alley, no matter how long he stays away from the lanes. In Bowlaway, McCracken’s prose is welltooled, hilarious and tender, thoughtful and jocular. Her characters inhabit their world so completely, so bodily, that they could’ve truly existed. Her detailed observations make the bi-
Debut Fiction After a breakin at her home in which she is forced to defend herself from an assassin, Marie Mitchell decides to document her life for the benefit of her children in case she is one day killed. So begins Lauren Wilkinson’s debut novel, American Spy, which chronicles the life of a black woman recruited to the CIA during the height of the Cold War. In the ensuing pages, Marie recounts her early childhood infatuation with spies, such as James Bond in Goldfinger, and her own family’s role in law enforcement, from her father’s position in the Harlem police department to her sister Helene’s work as an Army intelligence officer. Even though she proves more than adept at both physical combat techniques and mental manipulation of her own “recruits”— the kind of stuff that only the best spies are capable of—Marie is consigned to being a paper pusher for much of her career in the FBI. So she is more than surprised when she is approached to work undercover for the CIA in a high-profile case. The CIA needs Marie to get close to and undermine Robert Sankara, the revolutionary president of the tiny West African nation of Burkina Faso. At first, Marie is reluctant to accept the job, but her desire to make something more of her life—and perhaps her despair over the mysterious death of her sister—convinces her otherwise. Taking on the task becomes more than complicated, however, when she develops a real affection for Sankara, who will eventually father her two boys, thereby causing her to question her loyalty to the U.S. and its policies. While not as complex as a John le Carré spy thriller, Wilkinson’s debut is both emotional and poignant, and one that readers can easily get caught up in. —G. Robert Frazier
Visit BookPage.com to read a Behind the Book feature from Lauren Wilkinson.
reviews | nonfiction
H Top Pick: Figuring By Maria Popova Pantheon, $30, 592 pages, 9781524748135 Audio, eBook available
Social Science Fans of polymath Maria Popova’s popular website, Brain Pickings, will find themselves right at home in Figuring, her audacious new work of intellectual history that focuses on the lives of a coterie of brilliant women, some wellknown and others less so, whose gifts in fields like astronomy, literature, ecology and art have helped shape our world. Popova’s goal in this book is to tease out the “invisible connections—between ideas, between disciplines, between the denizens of a particular time and place.” Time and again her nimble mind and deep intellectual curiosity make those connections plausible and compelling, like the link that bonds 19th-century astronomer Maria Mitchell, who discovered
The Collected Schizophrenias By Esmé Weijun Wang Graywolf $16, 224 pages 9781555978273 Audio, eBook available
Essays Esmé Weijun Wang delivers stunning insights into the challenges of living with schizoaffective disorder in The Collected Schizophrenias. Wang provides glimpses of her journey toward understanding herself with deliberate, sparkling prose and exquisitely fine-tuned, honest descriptions filled with intimate details of her struggles. Wang describes herself as an overachieving child; she wrote a 200-page novel in the fifth grade and assigned herself essays to write during school vacations. In high school, when she told her mother that she was considering suicide, her mother suggested they do it together. Later, after she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and accepted to Yale, Wang fled to the East Coast college, where her life began to fall apart at a rapid clip. Wang finally received her diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder eight years after she experienced her first hallucination. She admits that
a new comet in 1847, to Vera Rubin, who became the first woman permitted to use the Palomar Observatory in the 1960s. For Popova, subjects like literary critic Margaret Fuller, poet Emily Dickinson and sculptor Harriet Hosmer are not disembodied intellects from the past. In describing the often frustrating courses of their personal—and especially romantic—lives, Popova exposes the tension between mundane human existence and the unrelenting demands of great science and art. Though most of Popova’s icons flourished in
she finds the diagnosis comforting, as it provides a “framework, a community, a lineage. . . . [A] diagnosis says that I am crazy, but in a particular way that has been experienced and recorded.” Once Wang receives her diagnosis, she probes every facet of her illness, sharing her insights with us along the way. Wang brilliantly explores the relationship between herself and her psychosis, writing, “[I]f I am psychotic 98 percent of the time, who am I?” The Collected Schizophrenias easily takes its place among the best memoirs about illness and the transformative power of embracing it. —Henry L. Carrigan Jr.
Midnight in Chernobyl By Adam Higginbotham Simon & Schuster $29.95, 560 pages 9781501134616 Audio, eBook available
History One weird feature of the little-understood phenomenon of radiation poisoning is that after the initial acute nausea, there is a latency period when many people feel OK. The Soviet soldiers under Captain “Moose” Zborovsky, for example, were
the 19th century, she devotes considerable attention to a deeply sympathetic portrait of marine biologist and nature writer Rachel Carson, whose 1962 bestseller, Silent Spring, decried the indiscriminate use of pesticides and helped launch the modern environmental movement. Popova especially admires the way Carson “pioneered a new aesthetic of poetic science writing, inviting the human reader to consider Earth from the nonhuman perspective.” Popova’s own mellifluous prose enhances her discussion of even the most arcane topics. She draws extensive quotations from primary sources, allowing her subjects to speak at length in their often eloquent, always fascinating voices. Figuring invites the reader to engage with complex ideas and challenging personalities, unearthing a wealth of material for further reflection along the way. —Harvey Freedenberg
able to slosh around for an hour in potentially lethal, gamma-emitting water while they desperately repaired the ruptured drainage under the melting core of Chernobyl’s Reactor Four, and at the time merely felt “exhausted, with an odd taste of sour apples in their mouths.” Were these men heroic, servile, foolhardy or ignorant? This is one of many questions that will swirl in the minds of readers of Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster, Adam Higginbotham’s spellbinding book about the April 1986 nuclear explosion at Chernobyl. Based on nearly 80 interviews with survivors and a deep dive into declassified Soviet documents, this account pulses with the human dramas that unfolded as people, including more than half a million conscripts, contended with the deadly explosion and its aftermath. Midnight in Chernobyl also offers profound insights into the failing Soviet system as Mikhail Gorbachev tried to save it with “a new openness.” Despite the new policy, there was much the aging bureaucracy could not readily admit. In a competition with the West, the Soviets had supersized their reactors and, it turns out, deployed a flawed design. A push for speedy construction led to shortcuts and substandard materials. Yet, in what would be the last show-trial of the flagging regime, the explosion was blamed on operator error, and the plant director, knowing the script, went to prison without protest. The Soviets also failed to track the effects of radiation on the many people who worked in the contaminated zone,
q&a | pam houston
H Deep Creek By Pam Houston Norton $25.95, 288 pages 9780393241020 eBook available
Essays The world can be a chaotic, terrifying place. That has been evident to Pam Houston since childhood; she was born to reluctant parents whose abuse and neglect echo through her memories. But at age 31, Houston found a plot of land that became a place to heal. She purchased a 120-acre ranch in rural Colorado with money from a book advance— an amount which was far less than the typically recommended 20 percent down payment—and with the faith of the ranch’s previous owner. In the decades since that bold purchase, Houston has uncovered her identity through her relationship with the property. She shares that journey in Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country, a collection of personal essays that reveals Houston’s process of self-discovery while surrounded by the Colorado mountains. Houston also writes of the challenges of rural living, including a detailed essay about a fire raging through the state toward her land. “How do we become who we are in the world? We ask the world to teach us. But we have to ask with an open heart, with no idea what the answer will be,” Houston writes in the book’s early pages. Although she examines the forces that uniquely shaped her in Deep Creek, the collection is as universal as it is personal. “I started writing toward an answer to the question I wake up with every morning and go to bed with every night. How do I find hope on a dying planet, and if there is no hope to be found, how do I live in its absence? In what state of being? Respect? Tenderness? Unmitigated love? The rich and sometimes deeply clarifying dreamscape of vast inconsolable grief?” Houston invites readers into these questions. Deep Creek is one woman’s reckoning of her past and the land where she’s found herself, but it is also
At home on the range Pam Houston takes readers to her Colorado ranch in her new memoir, Deep Creek. How long did you spend working on this book? How does that compare to your others? This book took longer than any other book I have written so far. Like every book, it started out fast, and during the first year, I thought, wow, I am going to knock this out in no time. And then I hit the wall I always hit around page 100, but it took me longer to get around the wall with this book. There are a few reasons for that. I had said to myself early on, I am not going to rely on all of my old tricks with this one. God knows what exactly I meant. God knows why I wanted to torture myself that way. I meant something about motion and quick changes. This book was about staying put, and none of my others have been. I kept saying I wanted to write deeply into the tall grass. This book is my most earnest book by far, in a career of fairly earnest books, and I was afraid that earnestness would bore people to death. Without the flash. Without the motion. It took every bit of six years to write. That is two years longer than pretty much all of the others. Did this writing process change you? Sure. Every book changes me. I told myself I wasn’t going to rely on my old tricks, so I learned some new ones. Or maybe I learned it was OK to be a little more generous with myself, with my thoughts and feelings. Maybe I completed another chapter in the lifelong lesson in how it is better to be kind than cool, less important to be smart than sincere. What prompted you to begin this selfexploration? My whole career has been about self-exploration. Every book. This particular self-exploration happened because Alane, my editor, suggested I go on a book-length adventure. She wanted a memoir from me for a change. Not autobiographical fiction. Not something in the middle, as Contents May Have Shifted was. I thought about an adventure. I have always wanted to sail the entire coast of Turkey. I have always wanted to complete a long journey on a dog sled. There were several options. Then one day I was driving home to the ranch after 10 weeks of teaching in California. The drive is 18 hours, and the dogs and I get so happy at hour three, when we get back over to the leashless side of the Sierras. We are elated to be coming home. I got halfway across Utah and thought, wait a minute. The ranch is
© MIKE BLAKEMAN
so to this date, the lethal legacy of the blast is not fully known. Growing public awareness of the cover-up contributed to distrust and the eventual collapse of the regime. This is an excellent, enthralling account of the disaster and its fallout. —Alden Mudge
my book-length adventure. My life-length adventure. This ranch. Sitting still. Becoming responsible for something over the long haul. So I proposed that to Alane, and she accepted. Any public self-expression is a vulnerable act, but memoir seems especially so. How do you process this? Telling the truth, the deepest truth, or as close as I can get to it, has always been my objective, whether the book is called fiction or nonfiction. I honestly don’t see any way to be a writer without being vulnerable, and without telling your most delicate and dangerous truths. I guess I just think of it as the price of admission, and when bad things happen because of it, when I get hurt or threatened or shamed, that is just part of that price. There are a lot of benefits to it, too. Like a really great job and sanity. You’ve spent years living part-time on the ranch, part-time on the road, speaking and teaching. Does the split still feed both your desires for metropolitan amenities and connection to the land? Yes. As much as I love the land—and I do—I still love an adventure. (I am writing to you from far eastern Uruguay right now, surrounded by Criollo horses, in the middle of a lightning storm.) I also like sushi and bookstores and mass transit. I imagine I will take some version of this split with me to the grave. Have your neighbors in your small community read the book? How do you think they’ll feel about it? I can’t speak for my neighbors. I have read the portions of it to those folks who figure in it directly, and they are OK with how they are portrayed. As for the others, a few of them will like it, and more of them won’t like it, and some of them will ask me, if the book is called “Deep Creek,” why is the dog on the front standing in an inch and a half of water. —Carla Jean Whitley
reviews | nonfiction a reflection on what it means to be a soft-hearted human in an ever-changing and sometimes frightening world. —Carla Jean Whitley
H The Heartbeat of Wounded
By David Treuer Riverhead $28, 528 pages 9781594633157 Audio, eBook available
History Perhaps the most amazing fact about American Indians is that they still survive to this day. Most American Indians regard themselves as indigenous peoples whose land was invaded by European colonial powers. For them, boastful expressions such as “the winning of the West” hearken to the violence, breaking of treaties, introduction of disease and the terror unleashed by settlers and military forces. In his sweeping, consistently illuminating and personal The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present, David Treuer, a member of the Ojibwe tribe, offers a compelling counternarrative to popular U.S. history with a combination of reportage, interviews and memoir about American Indian life in the recent past. After the United States cavalry massacred 150 Lakota Sioux at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota in the winter of 1890, marking the last major armed conflict between Native American tribes and the U.S. government, it seemed that their culture was at an end. But it survived, albeit with new challenges. Treuer reveals the richness and diversity of Native Indian life and the complexity with which Indians understood their past, present and future after 1890. Native Americans survived for centuries after settlers arrived, displaying a supreme adaptability and toughness, qualities that were crucial between 1890 and 1934, when the government’s weapons against them were cupidity and fraud. Most American Indians did not become citizens until 1924. There is much to learn here, including the government’s misguided attempts to solve the “Indian problem,” the positive and negative aspects of the American Indian movement and the protest at the Standing Rock Reservation against the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. Treuer, who grew up on a reservation in Minnesota, offers reflections on the casino
business on reservations and why Indians don’t have a Martin Luther King-type leader. This engrossing volume should interest anyone who wants to better understand how Native Americans have struggled to preserve their tribes and cultures, using resourcefulness and reinvention in the face of overwhelming opposition. —Roger Bishop
Maid By Stephanie Land Hachette $27, 288 pages 9780316505116 Audio, eBook available
Memoir “My daughter learned to walk in a homeless shelter,” writes Stephanie Land in the opening line of her insightful, moving memoir, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive. Land was planning on attending college and becoming a writer when she became pregnant with her daughter, Mia. After her short relationship with the baby’s father became abusive, Land found herself a single mother with virtually no support network. She depended on food stamps, childcare assistance, part-time work as a housecleaner and occasional charity from friends. When she took her first housecleaning job, she quickly realized, “They don’t pay me enough for this.” Nonetheless, she persevered, despite the fact that black mold in her studio apartment repeatedly sickened both Mia and herself. “Poverty was like a stagnant pond of mud that pulled at our feet and refused to let go.” Land learns to appreciate what little she has while observing the lives within the homes she cleans, giving them nicknames like the Loving House, the Cat Lady’s House and the Porn House. She realizes that despite her clients’ relative wealth, “they did not seem to enjoy life any more than I did.” Like Tara Westover in Educated, Land sees education as her salvation. Determined to break free from sickness, poverty and bad luck, she uses a combination of grants, loans and jump-off-thecliff risk to ultimately pursue her dream of studying creative writing at the University of Montana. While books like Matthew Desmond’s Evicted, Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed and Alissa Quart’s Squeezed present heart-wrenching overviews of poverty in America, Land combines her raw, authentic voice and superb storytelling skills to create a firsthand account
from the trenches. Readers will be left wanting to hear more from this talented new voice, and no doubt, she’s got more stories to tell. —Alice Cary
How to Disappear By Akiko Busch Penguin Press $26, 224 pages 9781101980415 Audio, eBook available
Social Science In How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency, essayist Akiko Busch offers a wide-ranging meditation on what it means to disappear. “Invisibility can mean one thing and then the opposite,” she writes in the introduction. “It enables and denies. It has become a loaded idea.” The essays in this collection, with their divergent focuses on nature, technology, identity, creativity and popular culture, beautifully unpack the concept of visibility. To be seen is foundational to being known, yet humans have devised a stunning array of strategies for hiding in plain sight. Such strategies seem to take a cue from the natural world, which Busch writes about with clarity and precision. Her examples range from the immediately relatable, such as the sounds and sights of a New England forest or a houseplant that appears to be a stone, to the more unusual, such as her observations while scuba diving in the Caribbean. Camouflage, subterfuge and misdirection all animate her examples. Like animals and plants, humans have invented ways to maneuver “our way in and out of one another’s sightlines.” Meanwhile, closer to our living rooms, we grow increasingly familiar with being constantly surveilled. Traditional conceptions of privacy erode as Big Data renders the minutiae of daily life visible in ways difficult to fully comprehend. Perfectly phrased status updates, photos circulated to hundreds in a single click and increased communication have led to a culture of performance and a pervasive (exhausting) awareness of how we present ourselves. Busch offers a timely and thoughtful exploration of visibility in our current moment. To be seen or to disappear is political, technological and psychological. It impacts how we move through the world and how we occasionally try, like living things always have, to hide. —Kelly Blewett
reviews | young adult
H Top Pick:
A Thousand Sisters By Elizabeth Wein Balzer + Bray, $19.99, 376 pages 9780062453013, audio, eBook available Ages 13 and up
History Award-winning author Elizabeth Wein is renowned for her vivid prose, compelling characters and riveting plots in historical fiction like Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, both of which feature female pilots in World War II. In her new nonfiction work, A Thousand Sisters: The Heroic Airwomen of the Soviet Union in World War II, Wein brings her masterful storytelling skills to the little-known role of female Soviet combat pilots known as the Night Witches. Wein is a pilot herself, and her respect for these intrepid airwomen and the challenges they faced is clear. “This is the story of a gener-
Someday We Will Fly By Rachel DeWoskin Viking $17.99, 368 pages 9780670014965 Audio, eBook available Ages 12 up
Historical Fiction In Someday We Will Fly, Rachel DeWoskin presents a perspective of World War II that is seldom represented in contemporary classrooms—the Jewish people who found refuge in Japanese-occupied China, one of the last places to accept European refugees without visas. In 1940, both Warsaw and Shanghai were situated within countries that were devoured by conquering nations, and both cities were populated by those who were either ignored or shunned by the rest of the world. Fifteen-yearold Lillia Kazka has a good life in Poland, performing with her parents in an acrobatic circus and attending school with her friends. But everything changes when her mother is taken by Nazis during a raid on their final circus performance, and Lillia, her father and her disabled younger sister are forced to set out on a multi month journey to reach Shanghai. Although
ation of girls who were raised in the belief that they were as good as men, and who were raised to believe that it was their destiny to defend their nation in battle,” she writes.
Lillia is free from Nazi violence and persecution when she first arrives in China, she finds that life in an occupied country so far from home is anything but comfortable or easy. Meticulously researched and breathtakingly detailed, Someday We Will Fly is based on real accounts of Jewish refugees living in Shanghai and the difficult conditions they endured in order to survive. DeWoskin beautifully intertwines Lillia’s hope, pain, joy, sorrow and love with the larger narrative of the war-torn world’s fear and uncertainty. DeWoskin gives a voice to tens of thousands of forgotten people as she uncovers their stories and experiences. This is essential reading. —Kevin Delecki
On the Come Up By Angie Thomas Balzer + Bray $18.99, 464 pages 9780062498564 Audio, eBook available Ages 13 and up
Fiction “I might have to kill somebody tonight.” It’s a powerful opening line for multiple award-win-
At the heart of the Soviet training program for women was pilot Marina Raskova, and by chronicling Raskova’s youth against the backdrop of Russia’s political climate, Wein effectively provides historical background for her audience. Raskova’s achievements made her a natural as a flight instructor, and her three regiments of Soviet airwomen, including the famed 588th Night Bomber Regiment, became the first women to take part in combat operations. Wein follows a number of women whose exploits made history and also examines the social and political climate that caused the number of female pilots to drop after the war. At a time when books on World War II are increasingly in demand, this fascinating story is sure to appeal to readers of all ages. In a closing section, Wein notes that only about 5 percent of commercial pilots today are women. By bringing attention to this little-known history, A Thousand Sisters just might help inspire some young readers to change that. —Deborah Hopkinson
ning author Angie Thomas’ sophomore novel, On the Come Up, which brings readers back to the neighborhood of Garden Heights, the setting of her debut, The Hate U Give. But what 16-year-old Bri really wants to slay is her competitor in the Ring, a place where wannabe rappers come to compete against each other. She’s beyond confident; after all, she’s the On the Come daughter of Lawless, a Up is a raw legendary and influential rapper who was and powerful killed in the midst of look at the gang violence. challenges Fueled with a desire to be like her father, of being Bri goes big with her young and verse—maybe too big. black in When she wins the rap battle and a buzzworAmerica. thy video of her performance goes viral, she discovers that her war has just begun. Bri’s raw and controversial lyrics put her in danger when they incite misunderstanding and anger, and her classmates label her as “hood.” Add to that an eviction notice, a drug-dealing aunt and an out-of-work mom who’s a recovering addict, and it looks like Bri has bitten off more than she can chew on her way to the top. Can Bri remain true to herself while rapping behind a tough persona? And is free speech really free—especially for young black people? Bri discovers that this fighting-for-your-life thing
reviews | young adult
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gets real in more ways than one. Thomas knocked it out of the park with The Hate U Give—amassing scores of literary awards and a blockbuster movie deal. In the introduction to her new book, she calls that experience “surreal.” But Thomas should prepare for even more attention and accolades, because On the Come Up is another raw and powerful look at the challenges of being young and black in America. —Sharon Verbeten
Goodbye, Perfect By Sara Barnard Simon Pulse $19.99, 384 pages 9781534402447 eBook available Ages 14 and up
Fiction Goodbye, Perfect, the latest novel from British author Sara Barnard (A Quiet Kind of Thunder, Fragile), is a bittersweet exploration of the bonds of friendship, the limits of how well we can know one another and the power of internal and external pressures to unravel our identities. Eden and Bonnie have been best friends since they were 7 years old, when Eden—a rough-around-the-edges foster kid—arrived for her first day of school and perfect-in-everyway Bonnie took her under her wing. Though the two girls are drastically different, they’ve always balanced each other and kept each other steady. But during the week before the start of final exams, now 15-year-old Bonnie runs off with Jack, her secret boyfriend who is also their school’s 29-year-old music teacher, and Eden is left to question everything she thought she knew—both about her best friend and about herself. In the vein of Carrie Fountain’s I’m Not Missing, Barnard’s novel is written from the point of view of the friend who’s left behind. Bonnie’s disappearance is the catalyst for Eden to begin a complex journey of growth and self-discovery, and Barnard uses a light touch to bring readers along as Eden receives a string of emails from Bonnie and re-evaluates her perceptions of love, friendship and her relationships with her adoptive family and her “lovely, non-secret, drama-free” boyfriend, Connor. Fans of Sarah Dessen will be eager to inhale this nuanced, heartfelt coming-of-age story
about the pain of losing what you once held dear—and the joy and satisfaction of finding yourself in the process. —Sarah Weber
The Vanishing Stair By Maureen Johnson Katherine Tegen $17.99, 384 pages 9780062338082 Audio, eBook available Ages 14 and up
Mystery The cleverly plotted, pageturning sequel to Maureen Johnson’s hit bestseller Truly Devious (2018) manages to outshine its predecessor as true crime aficionado Stevie Bell returns to posh private school Ellingham Academy and unearths even more confounding clues in her investigation of a classmate’s mysterious disappearance. Stevie promised school officials and her parents that she would refrain from inserting herself into any more real-life murder investigations and decades-old cold cases. But when she gets an internship with the wacky Dr. Fenton—who wrote the book on the 1936 unsolved kidnappings of Academy founder Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter—she makes a gruesome discovery that rattles the school once more. To further complicate matters, Stevie has made a deal with corrupt Senator Edward King to keep tabs on his son, David, the boy with whom she shares a burgeoning romance. And then there’s Dr. Fenton’s handsome nephew, who has some revelations of his own for Stevie. It’s not just several murders that Stevie is trying to puzzle out, but her social life as well. All the adults keep warning her away from investigating, but Stevie can’t resist a good mystery, and her murder obsession might get her killed. Suspense and intrigue abound in The Vanishing Stair as Johnson illuminates suspects and teases out clues that will flummox even the most adept murder mystery aficionado. Like the humorous and intellectually curious Stevie, Johnson is a true crime lover, and she dedicates this sequel “to all the murderinos” (fans of the popular “My Favorite Murder” podcast). Savvy sleuths will devour this sequel in one gulp, but they’ll have to wait until 2020 for the next installment. —Kimberly Giarratano
The importance of imperfection
© JESSIE WEINBERG
interview | corey ann haydu
Corey Ann Haydu explores the dangers of utopia in her poignant middle grade mystery If there were ever a fire in author Corey Ann and wonder and love comes from Haydu’s home, she knows exactly what object really facing a tough part head on. she would grab: her collection of 20 years’ worth I strive to write books that encourof journals. “I have a huge trunk filled with ev- age facing what’s really hard while erything that happened in my childhood,” she also exploring what remains really says, speaking from her Brooklyn residence. “I beautiful in the world in spite of love being able to sneak back in there and see everything difficult,” she says. who I was at age 10 and 11 and 12. There’s someAs for her own childhood chalthing really comforting about feeling like your lenges, Haydu’s trunk of journals life is stored somewhere, and for me, there’s a reveals both the joys and sorrows real panic at the idea of not being able to go back she experienced while growing and touch base with the things that happened.” up in a small New EnBut what if she couldn’t access all of those gland town with an almemories? That’s the central premise of Hay- coholic parent—a fact du’s cleverly deep new middle grade novel, that was not discussed Eventown, in which a family trying to escape during her childhood, the aftermath of a tragedy choose to have their as her family was connegative memories erased. cerned with keeping The Lively family is ready for a fresh start, up appearances. “It’s so they pack up and head to Eventown, an en- hard if, at age 12, you chanting utopia without modern amenities don’t feel like everylike cars, TV or the internet. At first, 11-year-old thing’s fine, but everyElodee Lively and her twin sister, Naomi, de- one’s saying it is,” she light in their move to the town filled with identi- says. “That’s a confuscal homes, rosebushes, waterfalls, perfectly ripe ing space to occupy.” blueberries and a heavenly ice cream shop. “I It’s a space that wrote a lot of Eventown when I was pregnant,” Elodee refuses to ocHaydu says with a laugh, “which is why I think cupy. Unlike her twin, there’s a lot of cake and ice cream.” She adds, she’s determined to “It’s fun to create your own utopia because it’s plunge ahead and try just borrowing from all your favorite things in to understand Eventhe world.” town’s secrets, includOf course, there’s a price to be paid for per- ing its disappointing library full of blank books. fection and, in ways reminiscent of Lois Low- After Elodee’s mother assures her that novels ry’s classic Newbery Medal aren’t needed, she disagrees, saywinner The Giver, the twins ing, “It’s weird. It’s terrible. It’s . . . “I strive to write slowly discover that this utopia wrong.” Enlisting the help of a books that is not what it seems. Haydu’s new friend, Elodee eventually readers have two mysteries to breaks into the town’s strange encourage untangle: What are the strange Welcoming Center, an act that facing what’s secrets of Eventown, and what turns most of Eventown’s citizens was the tragedy that turned really hard while against her in a dramatic, nail-bitthe Lively family’s lives upside showdown. also exploring ingIronically, down? Haydu was so fowhat remains “In some ways, it’s a book cused on portraying her characabout the fog of grief,” Haydu heartache and emotions that really beautiful ters’ explains. “I didn’t necessarily she had no idea that she’d written in the world.” want the grief to be dealt with “a bit of a page-turner and a mysdirectly for most of the book. I tery” until an editor commented think having the characters and the reader face on the compelling result. “My book feels so pertragedy together made the most sense.” All of sonal to me,” she says. “Maybe the specifics are Haydu’s books echo her personal philosophy: different, but all of the feelings in my books are “While it’s tempting to shield kids from the mine. And that’s the important part.” most difficult parts of life for as long as possible, Haydu’s first book for young adults, OCD maybe in reality the biggest lesson about hope Love Story (2013), addressed her own struggles
Eventown Katherine Tegen, $16.99, 336 pages 978006268980, audio, eBook available Ages 8 to 12
Middle Grade with anxiety; Rules for Stealing Stars (2015) chronicled an 11-year-old girl with an alcoholic mother; and The Someday Suitcase (2017) followed a fifth-grader who yearns to cure her friend’s illness but can’t. And then there’s Eventown, which deals with families trying to ignore their most painful memories, an ultimately impossible feat. “I always think I’m writing a different type of book,” Haydu confesses, “but it always turns out that the themes relate back to central stuff for me, such as pressures placed on girls, the idea of perfection, secrets and loving people so desperately and wanting to protect them, even when you might not be able to.” Just like her heroine Elodee, Haydu acknowledges the continuing game of tug of war she plays with her memories. “There are moments when I want to dig into that box and read some of the tough parts, and there are moments that I want to lock that box away and never look at it again,” she says. Hopefully, for Haydu’s growing legion of young readers, she will peek back in and allow those glimpses to continue to fuel her fiction. —Alice Cary
feature | black history picture books
Immersive stories to open conversations Five new picture books teach young readers about the struggles and triumphs of black people living in America. James E. Ransome, a prolific and award-winning illustrator, proves that his words are just as powerful as his art in The Bell Rang (Caitlyn Dlouhy, $17.99, 40 pages, 9781442421134, ages 4 to 8). Ransome’s free verse follows a week in the life of a young girl who begins and ends each day with her loving family. As slaves on a plantation, the family faces difficulty and danger, but they also have joy, love and community—things we don’t often associate with the lives of the enslaved. The striking artwork captures cuddles and kisses, smiles and games, gift-giving and preaching. Natural colors, silhouettes, expressive faces and the use of the implied space beyond the page bring the enslaved community to life. The family’s routine is interrupted when the narrator’s brother runs away and a search is called; dogs are pictured and a whip is mentioned, but violence is not pictured. Overall, this is a unique and valuable story that centers on the endurance and humanity of enslaved people, and ends on a firm note of hope. How exciting can a story about a female postal worker be? Very exciting, if it’s Tami Charles’ Fearless Mary: The True Adventures of Mary Fields, American Stagecoach Driver (Albert Whitman, $16.99, 32 pages, 9780807523056, ages 5 to 7). Mary Fields, a former slave, rode into the segregated Wild West alone in 1895. When she saw an opening for a stagecoach driver to deliver mail and packages into the mountains, she knew she was qualified and could handle the dangers of the job. Charles’ action-packed text sets Fields’ stunning achievements against the historical backdrop in order to shape a thrilling story that shows another side of America’s western expansion. Claire Almon’s illustrations have an animationlike aesthetic that serves the story well, keeping the pace moving. Readers will watch with amazement as Fields uses her reading skills, her trained eagle and her weapon to excel at her daring job, never losing a package. Carole Boston Weatherford’s verse and Frank Morrison’s graffitiinspired art form a winning combination in The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip-Hop (little bee, $18.99, 48 pages, 9781499804119, ages 4 to 8). Reaching back past DJ Kool Herc, the book begins with “Folktales, street rhymes, spirituals” and the poetry of Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar. Weatherford then nods to James Brown and funk before painting a portrait of New York City’s rap scene in the 1970s and beyond. The rhythmic text simply begs to be read aloud—but don’t turn
the pages too quickly, as the rich, expressive art deserves to be savored. With glowing brown skin tones, warm reds and cool blues, Morrison immortalizes key figures and scenes of the musical genre’s lineage and its attendant art forms, including graffiti and break dancing. Children will delight in this book’s immersive sights and sounds, while adults will smile with recognition at how old-school names connect to the language of today’s hip-hop. In Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich’s Someday Is Now: Clara Luper and the 1958 Oklahoma City Sit-ins (Seagrass, $17.95, 32 pages, 9781633224988, ages 6 to 9), young readers can learn about children between the ages of 6 and 17 who staged protests in 1958 with the help of an inspiring educator named Clara Luper. Luper taught young people about speaking up, and as a leader in the NAACP, she taught the steps of nonviolent action. With some trepidation, she supported a group of young people as they forged ahead with their demonstrations, insisting that “someday is now.” Jade Johnson’s illustrations make the protests accessible, and the meaty text addresses the difficulty of standing up, the sweet rewards that can follow and the need to keep going after a win. It’s perfect inspiration for our difficult times. Janet Collins was the first African-American prima ballerina for New York’s Metropolitan Opera, and her success in dance was all the more satisfying because of the obstacles she overcame along the way. In lyrical verse, Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins (Holt, $17.99, 32 pages, 9781250127730, ages 4 to 8) by Michelle Meadows takes readers through Collins’ path: her supportive family, her mother who paid for her lessons by sewing costumes, a dance class that would not accept her because she was black and one ballet teacher who did. Ebony Glenn’s illustrations lend impact to each moment: sadness when Collins is accepted into a dance company and then told to lighten her skin, hope when she finds a class, and finally joy when she dances on stage in 1951—with her natural skin tone. The graceful lines of the illustrations will have young ballet fans twirling and, more importantly, believing that hard work pays off. There is an abundance of ballet-themed children’s books, but few are as delightful as this one. —Autumn Allen
reviews | children’s
H Top Pick:
Pay Attention, Carter Jones By Gary D. Schmidt Clarion, $16.99, 224 pages 9780544790858, eBook available Ages 10 to 12
Middle Grade The players, the wicket, the boundary—the sport of cricket was not what Carter Jones was expecting to learn during his first year in middle school in New York. However, Carter gets a lot more than he bargained for in Newbery Honor-winning author Gary D. Schmidt’s Pay Attention, Carter
Jones. Aside from learning cricket, Carter also has to deal with his father getting deployed (again), his three whiny sisters, a dachshund that throws up every time anything exciting happens—and then there’s a surprise English butler. Mr. BowlesFitzpatrick’s arrival to the Jones’ household may have been unexpected, but his continuing
presence is just plain weird. Paid for by an endowment from Carter’s grandfather, Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick decides that life must change for Young Master Jones. The butler encourages Carter to walk the dog every day, to “pay attention” while learning the beautiful sport of cricket and to confront a truth he refuses to face. Life with Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick means nothing will be the same. With Schmidt’s characteristic humor and realistically flawed characters who are tested by heavy, life-changing realities, Pay Attention, Carter Jones is simultaneously hilarious and heart-wrenching. As fantastical as Carter’s situation seems, he is also very real, and anyone who has struggled with the loss of a parent or the realities of growing up will find themselves in this story. —Kevin Delecki
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meet J.R. KRAUSE
A boy and a dragon find friendship and learn to face their fears in author and illustrator J.R. Krause’s new picture book, Dragon Night (Putnam, $16.99, 32 pages, 9780525514244, ages 3 to 7). Krause is an award-winning animator and designer who has worked on many TV shows, including “The Simpsons” and “Futurama.” He lives in Southern California with his family.