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well read | by robert weibezahl
A two-in-one story of homeland and family In a wholly original memoir, Aleksandar Hemon relates his family’s large encounters with history and their smaller everyday concerns. Aleksandar Hemon, the Sarajevo- born writer and MacArthur grant recipient, offers a singular approach to memoir in two new books, published together in one volume in a quirky back-to-back, flip-to-read format that literally adheres the two narratives while intentionally keeping them separate. This unusual layout underscores the innate duality but inevitable divide in the story being told—well, stories. One half recounts the lives of Hemon’s father and mother both in their homeland and as immigrants in Canada, while the other is an impressionistic series of vignettes from the author’s childhood in what is now Bosnia. Collectively, My Parents: An Introduction / This Does Not Belong to You (MCD, $28, 368 pages, 9780374217433) is about memory and loss, survival and resilience and an entwined sense of self and place. Hemon’s parents were born in the years just before World War II reshaped the map of Eastern Europe and, with it, their futures. His mother’s family is ethnically Serb; his father’s family consists of Ukrainians who migrated to present-day Bosnia before the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. With the unification of Yugoslavia as a socialist state under Tito, the Hemons would have benefited greatly from the nation’s rapid, if long-delayed, move into the 20th century. But then the collapse of the Balkan state and its incendiary violence destroyed
the Hemons’ civilized life. In their mid-50s, Hemon’s parents sought refuge in Canada and became the proverbial strangers in a strange land. Their story is one of unspoken trauma, masked beneath existential pragmatism. In their son’s assured narrative hands, it is also one filled with charm and wit. Hemon’s own reminiscence of prewar Sarajevo, which makes up This Does Not Belong to You, is laced with many normal childhood incidents—stealing coins from his mother’s pocketbook, allowing a bully to destroy a cherished toy car— yet is marked by the knowledge that the world it evokes no longer exists. “Why revisit memories?” he asks early in the book, and this question becomes the watchword for both of these memoirs. The answers lie in the final sentences of This Does Not Belong to You, when Hemon’s mother asks her 6-year-old son for the details of a small ordeal he has weathered. “Tell me, Mama said, how you survived the flood. I want to hear it. Tell us.” So, the writer recalls, “I started telling them.” This is a writer’s testament to the act of storytelling, the art of writing and the impulse, to paraphrase Joan Didion, to tell stories in order to live, to make sense, to survive. Hemon has taken the raw material of his family’s lives and preserved it in an unexpected way, excavating with it the sources of his own personal history.
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 christie ridgway
H Rebel Love blooms amid dangerous times in Beverly Jenkins’ latest historical romance, Rebel (Avon, $7.99, 384 pages, 9780062861689). Valinda Lacy leaves New York City for New Orleans to teach recently freed slaves to read. Val’s new city fascinates her, but she’s due back north soon to marry her fiancé. When threatened by a handful of men, she’s rescued by the handsome Drake LeVeq. The fortuitous encounter changes the course of her life just as her school is shut down and she’s evicted by her racist landlady. Drake is truly admirable—successful, courageous and unwilling to back down in the face of oppression—and the indomitable Val sees her situation as an opportunity to take charge and pursue love for the first time. Beyond the heated passion between the pair, Rebel stands out for its portrayal of the turbulent and violent atmosphere of Reconstruction-era New Orleans.
Waiting for Tom Hanks Romantic-comedy conventions come to life in Kerry Winfrey’s breezy debut, Waiting for Tom Hanks (Berkley, $15, 288 pages, 9781984804020). Annie Cassidy awaits her Mr. Right, her Tom Hanks, an amalgamation of all rom-com movie heroes. With a freelance writing gig to make ends meet, she pens a screenplay while living with her uncle in Columbus, Ohio. When she gets a chance to assist a famous director filming a romantic comedy in her neighborhood, Annie wonders if all her dreams are about to come true. The movie’s male lead, Drew Danforth, is known for his prankster ways rather than Hanksian sincerity, but sparks fly, and Annie falls for him despite obstacles aplenty along the way. There are quirky sidekick characters and enough movie references to fill a weekend marathon in this sweet (love scenes are implied, not shown) and entertaining read.
A Rogue by Night Peril awaits accomplished healer and former battlefield surgeon Katherine Wright in A Rogue by Night (Forever, $7.99, 368 pages, 9781478918622). Katherine has been called upon to use her skills and help her family in their age-old trade: smuggling. Though she’s determined to build a law-abiding life for her father, her brother and herself, it will take one last dangerous mission to make that happen. Harland Hayward, physician and baron, knows what it’s like to make trade-offs in the name of helping others. His own bargain has bound him to a criminal, in a pact that now stands between him and the growing love he feels for strong, smart Katherine. With the pair’s very survival at stake, the action is made even more meaningful by Kelly Bowen’s multilayered, sympathetic characters.
Christie Ridgway is a lifelong romance reader and a published romance novelist of over 60 books.
by susannah felts
H Paris by Design You know those magazine spreads in which a stylish person of note shares their favorite this-andthats about where they live, from brunch spots to boutiques? Paris by Design (Abrams, $29.99, 256 pages, 9781419734700) is a bit like those features, with all the class and elegance you expect from denizens of the City of Lights. Designer Eva Jorgensen rounds up a stellar crew of creatives to answer questions about visiting Paris, and each person lists their fave under-the-radar bars, flea markets or shops. There are itineraries for days spent in Parisian neighborhoods, such as Saint-Georges and the Right Bank, Spotify playlists made by French jewelry and home goods designers, and recipes for Parisian dishes like tomato tarts and lemon zest madeleines. I’ll be using one of the book’s cocktail recipes to mix a Suze 75 as I dream of a vacation built around the excellent recommendations that compose this book.
F ROM HA RPE R PAP ERBAC KS
Intricately plotted. . . . [an] intense page-turner that never lets up. — Library Journal, starred review and “Pick of the Month”
Keep Going In 2012, Austin Kleon burst onto the scene with Steal Like an Artist, a book that’s now in the canon of guides to creative thinking and productivity, and Show Your Work! followed in 2014. Now he returns with Keep Going (Workman, $12.95, 224 pages, 9781523506644), a book for anyone trying to do creative work in a world that has seemingly gotten “dumber and meaner overnight,” or for anyone who has hit a roadblock and wonders, Will it ever get any easier ? Kleon has 10 tips for persevering, and while his directives may not all be new, they’re presented here in a most engaging fashion. Bold erasure-poem illustrations, comics and other visuals punctuate a text filled with inspirational quotes. Anyone living any sort of creative life needs this pep talk on their bookshelf.
Artful, feminist, and emotionally gripping. — Helen Hoang, author of The Kiss Quotient
A dazzling novel… I was spellbound from the start. — Laura Moriarty, bestselling author of The Chaperone
Vegetable Gardening Wisdom My husband and I recently put in our modest summer garden. Then we sat down on the porch and paged through Kelly Smith Trimble’s Vegetable Gardening Wisdom (Storey, $16.95, 288 pages, 9781635861419), which should help us grow as stewards of the earth. Organized by season, Trimble’s book is filled with tips and interesting facts about specific veggies, along with quotes and recipes (pea-shoot salad sounds divine right now). What makes this guide such a winner is how breathtakingly lovely it is—a true work of bookish art. Each page is a different color, and there are gorgeous illustrations and smart, clean layouts. This book will make a beautiful gift for gardeners of any level of expertise.
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.
A stellar crime fiction debut by an author to watch. — Crime by the Book
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New York Times bestselling authors
ORSON SCOTT CARD and AARON JOHNSTON return to the prequels to Ender’s Game
sci-fi & fantasy
by chris pickens
H Magic for Liars Sarah Gailey’s fresh, clever Magic for Liars (Tor, $25.99, 336 pages, 9781250174611) is a study in balance. It’s funny, it’s familiar, it’s sinister, and it’s engrossing. When a teacher is found dead at Osthorne Academy for Young Mages, private investigator Ivy Gamble is enlisted by Principal Marion Torres to investigate the possibility of murder. Ivy knows the school well, as her sister Tabitha teaches on campus. As she starts to interview students and teachers alike, the truth slowly comes into focus—there’s something wicked going on at Osthorne. Even the most casual Harry Potter fan will see similarities to Hogwarts, but Magic for Liars borrows without stealing. Teenage angst and school tensions are present, but Ivy’s adult perspective brings some needed cynicism to the whole affair. This impressive, confident debut is a total blast to read thanks to Gailey’s snappy, nimble writing.
Card and Johnston continue the fast-paced hard science fiction history of the Formic Wars—the alien invasions of Earth’s Solar System that ultimately led to Ender Wiggin’s total victory in Ender’s Game.
Book Two in the Second Formic War AVAILABLE IN HARDCOVER 6.11.19
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Louis Greenberg’s Green Valley (Titan, $14.95, 352 pages, 9781789090239) asks what’s more valuable: freedom or peace? Tucked away from the world behind a massive wall, the sense-altering conclave of Green Valley promises an idyllic life. All inhabitants are fitted with brain-controlling hardware that coordinates a shared hallucination meant to block out the cruel realities of the outside world. When Lucie Sterling’s niece, Kira, goes missing inside Green Valley, Lucie must uncover the truth and expose the dark underbelly of this false refuge. The futuristic technology never distracts from the engaging narrative, and Greenberg centers the story on Lucie’s feelings of uncertainty and disgust even as she peels back the layers of her investigation.
Lent I never thought I’d have much interest in 15th- century Florence, but toss in about a million demons, and I’m hooked. Hugo Award-winning author Jo Walton does just that in Lent (Tor, $26.99, 384 pages, 9780765379061). Brother Girolamo is head of the church of San Marco, and not only can he confer with kings and sway city leaders, but he can also see demons. These creatures of hell gather in places of power to tip the scales in favor of Satan. When Girolamo discovers a treacherous plot at the highest levels of government, just as more and more demons flock to Florence’s walls, he must learn the dark secret of his power over hell in order to save the city. Walton’s detailed, vibrant vision of the Italian Renaissance is amazing, and Girolamo’s shifting relationship with hell is equally mesmerizing. Lent is unlike any other book I’ve read this year and is worth a look for history buffs and fantasy fans alike.
Chris Pickens is a Nashville-based fantasy and sci-fi superfan who loves channeling his enthusiasm into reviews of the best new books the genre has to offer.
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by bruce tierney The Body in the Castle Well
I read a lot of suspense novels, and Martin Walker’s Bruno Courreges (aka Bruno, Chief of Police) ranks near the top of my list of fictional characters I would like to be friends with—for his kindness and good humor, as well as his exemplary culinary skills, the fruits of which I would dearly love to sample and which are tantalizingly detailed in each installment of the series. The opening of his latest adventure, The Body in the Castle Well (Knopf, $25.95, 352 pages, 9780525519980), finds him halfway down a cistern, peering downward into the dark toward an agitated kitten perched atop a floating entity that appears to be a body. The body turns out to be that of Claudia, a young American art student who was conducting a quiet investigation of noted art scholar and collector Monsieur de Bourdeille. The extensive fortune of well-regarded, elderly and reclusive Bourdeille may have been built on the shaky foundations of deliberate false attributions, a scandal that Claudia was on the verge of revealing. As always, Walker deftly weaves disparate storylines into the narrative, this time incorporating the wartime French Resistance, chanteuse Josephine Baker and a brief history of falconry as a pastime of noblemen. As is the case with all the Bruno novels, The Body in the Castle Well is not to be missed.
Their Little Secret Mark Billingham’s Detective Inspector Tom Thorne is akin to Ian Rankin’s John Rebus and Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole: a deeply flawed character with a plethora of personal and professional problems, but a damned fine investigator in his own way. In Their Little Secret (Atlantic Monthly, $26, 400 pages, 9780802147363), Thorne delves deeper than warranted into the seemingly clear-cut suicide of Philippa Goodwin, a woman who threw herself in front of a train. The victim had ample reason, having been bilked of her life savings by an enterprising con man who preys upon middle-aged women. Although it isn’t strictly in Thorne’s purview, he cannot help but put some effort into the “why” of the suicide, and he quickly discovers that there is a lot hiding beneath the tip of that iceberg. The murder of a young man at a nearby beach yields DNA that matches the unidentified con man, but then another, seemingly unrelated killing strongly suggests that there are two murderers at work in tandem, perhaps with the unwitting help of one or more outsiders. With lots of surprises and some very crisp, staccato storytelling, it’s impossible to put down Their Little Secret.
Deception Cove On one level, Owen Laukkanen’s Deception Cove (Mulholland, $28, 384 pages, 9780316448703) is the story of a man and his dog. But let’s not confuse this with a feel-good narrative, because the man, Mason Burke, is an ex-con recently released from prison for first-degree murder, and his dog, Lucy, is a frightened yet aggressive pit bull mix rescue. Deception Cove is also the story of Jess Winslow, a female ex-Marine whose demons grew too strong for her to control, resulting in her being shipped back from Afghanistan to her home in America to deal with her PTSD as best she could. Mason trained Lucy while he was in prison, and Jess received the dog as a service animal to help her deal with her condition. Little did any of them—least of all Lucy—realize how their lives would become inextricably intertwined via a drug deal gone bad, a small-town police station full to the brim with corrupt cops and a Nigerian mercenary with a very itchy trigger finger. Mason and Jess are well fleshed-out characters with backstory galore. Their interactions are at first laced with distrust, but then the two guarded individuals gel in unexpected ways, hustling them toward an exceptionally intense climax. Here’s hoping we meet them again, and soon.
H The Island Ragnar Jonasson’s second Hulda Hermannsdóttir novel, The Island (Minotaur, $27.99, 352 pages, 9781250193377), finds the 50-ish Reykjavík detective investigating the connections between two murders. One was supposedly solved 10 years past, and the second, a modern-day killing, appears to have been an accidental fall—until ligature marks characteristic of strangling are identified on the victim’s throat. The story of the first death is simple enough. In 1987, a girl and her soon-to-be lover go off to the fjords for a romantic weekend. It begins blissfully and ends with the girl lying dead on the floor of their summer home and the boy fleeing the scene. Her father is arrested for the crime and commits suicide while in custody. Open and shut, but there are some nagging suspicions. More than one person is aware that the presiding officer, something of a climber in the police department, tampered ever so slightly with the evidence. Fast-forward 10 years to 1997, and the dead girl’s friends, including the aforementioned lover, go off to a remote island together for a reunion. One will not survive the outing, and Detective Inspector Hermannsdóttir will investigate, uncovering layer after layer of deceit. The Island was short-listed for Crime Novel of the Year Award in Iceland. Read it, and you will see why.
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.
by julie hale
H Fruit of the Drunken
Ingrid Rojas Contreras’ impressive first novel, Fruit of the Drunken Tree (Anchor, $16, 320 pages, 9780525434313), takes place in 1990s Bogotá, Colombia, when Pablo Escobar held the country in a grip of terror. The novel is narrated mainly by 7-year-old Chula Santiago, who lives with her family in the comfort of a gated community thanks to the money her father makes as an oil worker. When a maid named Petrona comes to work for the Santiagos, Chula befriends her. Petrona, who is 13, grew up in a slum. Terrorists kidnapped her father and brothers, and she is trying to support the rest of her family. As the situation worsens in Bogotá, Chula’s family is able to leave. Petrona, meanwhile, becomes involved with a suspicious young man named Gorrión. Contreras juxtaposes the two girls’ worlds with authenticity and convincing detail, and her portrayal of the social divisions and dangers of Colombian life is riveting and remarkably assured.
BOOK CLUB READS FOR SUMMER SPRING FOR THE SONG OF THE JADE LILY by Kirsty Manning
“Kirsty Manning weaves together littleknown threads of World War II history, family secrets, the past and the present into a page-turning, beautiful novel.” —HEATHER MORRIS, New York Times Bestselling Author
IT’S HOT IN THE HAMPTONS
by Holly Peterson
From the author of the summer hit, It Happens in The Hamptons comes an unforgettable new novel about the women who live and love in the Hamptons…
THE SUMMER WIVES French Exit by Patrick deWitt Ecco, $16.99, 256 pages, 9780062846938 Affluent widow Frances Price comes to terms with the loss of her fortune while her son meets up with the woman he loves—and her fiancé—in deWitt’s sly, sophisticated novel.
Southernmost by Silas House
Algonquin, $15.95, 352 pages, 9781616209360 In House’s latest novel, small-town pastor Asher Sharp upsets his congregation when he tries to help a gay couple after a disastrous flood, an act that affects his relationship with his conservative wife and their young son and makes Asher question his own faith.
Still Lives by Maria Hummel Counterpoint, $16.95, 304 pages, 9781640092013 Kim Lord’s self-portraits, inspired by female murder victims, are the talk of the LA art scene. But when Kim goes missing, a young editor becomes enmeshed in the mystery in this stylish, suspenseful thriller.
Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively Penguin, $16, 208 pages, 9780525558392 In this delightful, beautifully wrought memoir, Lively meditates on how gardening has impacted her personal evolution and her work.
A BookPage reviewer since 2003, Julie Hale selects the best new paperback releases for book clubs every month.
by Beatriz Williams
“The Summer Wives is an exquisitely rendered novel that tackles two of my favorite topics: love and money. It’s at the top of my picks for the beach this summer.” —ELIN HILDERBRAND, New York Times bestselling author
YOU, ME, AND THE SEA by Meg Donohue
“You, Me, and the Sea is an enchanting and imaginative story about soulmates, family, and forgiveness. I was swept away by this evocative modern take on Wuthering Heights.” —ELISE HOOPER, Author of Learning to See
f William Morrow I Book Club Girl
by anna zeitlin
H The Unlikely
Adventures of the Shergill Sisters
The new novel from Balli Kaur Jaswal, The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters (HarperAudio, 13 hours), is a quietly radical feminist story of three estranged sisters who travel from the U.K. and Australia to their parents’ home country, India, to fulfill their mother’s dying wish. Their mother leaves them a detailed itinerary with activities meant to teach them about being better people and better sisters. Each sister is facing her own crisis at home. One is freaking out about becoming a grandmother, as her son has barely finished high school; another is an actress who has become an unfortunate YouTube sensation; and the youngest has a very traditional husband and an overbearing motherin-law. They learn to embrace the old ways but are also confronted with very modern issues. Great narration by Soneela Nankani and Deepti Gupta are fun when they need to be but also carry an emotional weight.
Angels in America If you didn’t have the chance to see Tony Kushner’s Angels in America (Random House Audio, 7 hours) on Broadway, this is the next best thing. Originally staged on Broadway in 1993, the play is set at the height of the AIDS crisis in 1986 New York City and follows several characters whose lives are impacted by the disease as they confront mortality, loyalty, religion and Reagan-era politics. The audiobook features the full cast of the 2018 Tony Award-winning Broadway revival, and performances by Andrew Garfield, Nathan Lane, Susan Brown, Denise Gough, Beth Malone, James McArdle, Lee Pace and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett are masterful, as you would expect from actors who have spent hundreds of hours in these roles. Stage directions, spoken by Bobby Cannavale and Edie Falco, help orient the action without slowing anything down. This is an important documentation of an era and a valuable story to retell for future generations.
Normal People Normal People (Random House Audio, 7.5 hours), the second novel by Sally Rooney, makes for absolutely stunning listening. Her writing style is measured and tight, and she understands her characters as psychologically rich, full beings. The story follows Marianne and Connell, the smartest in their small Irish town’s high school class. However, he’s popular and she’s not, and she’s rich and he’s not. Their love affair begins as a secret and ebbs and flows through their time at Trinity College and after. Their story is an honest and focused portrait of two people becoming adults together and the ways life can get in the way. Aoife McMahon’s heartfelt narration is perfect. Her Irish accent adds to the sense of place and the class aspects that are so important to the novel.
Anna Zeitlin is an art curator and hat maker who fills her hours with a steady stream of audiobooks.
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the hold list: great book, amazing audiobook Each month, the editors of BookPage share special reading lists—our personal favorites, old and new. If you’re gearing up for summer vacation, don’t even think about embarking on that 10-hour drive without downloading an excellent audiobook (or two, or five) to pass the time. Buckle up! These are our picks for great books that are even better on audiobook.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? By Mindy Kaling Actress, comedy writer and producer Kaling makes social anxiety charming in her first memoir. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is an entertaining collection of personal essays, humorous lists (like film franchises Kaling would like to reboot) and glimpses into the twisted world of LA celebrity. Though this isn’t exactly groundbreaking territory for a celebrity memoir, it’s hard to notice while listening to Kaling read her own work in her bright, chirpy voice. As you’d expect from a writer who honed her skills on “The Office,” Kaling’s comedic timing is on point, and her chatty style and focus on pop culture make listening to the audiobook feel like dishing with a friend who happens to be the best storyteller around. Listen to this one on a long drive, and let the miles fly by. —Trisha, Publisher
My Life as a Goddess By Guy Branum Is there anything more satisfying than an incredibly articulate complaint? Those who can pick a subject and eviscerate it, not cruelly but with utter realness, deserve every opportunity to rant at will. My Life as a Goddess, comedian Branum’s candid collection of essays about his small-town Californian upbringing and his coming-out coming of age, is hilarious, and his audacious performance unfolds with the blistering pace of a stand-up comic. He offers riotous hindsight, only to soften at poignant moments of self-awareness, when this “survival guide” really does explore his fight to survive the world’s treatment of a fat young gay man. His acerbic footnotes roll out like natural asides, and he even lets a self-deprecating laugh fly from time to time. Beneath it all is a love of words that any audiobook listener will relish. —Cat, Deputy Editor
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim By David Sedaris If there’s one author whose voice is inseparable from his writing, it’s David Sedaris. He rose to fame as both a performer and writer, first as a guest on NPR’s “This American Life” and then as a headliner for sold-out theaters. When you read Sedaris’ writing, it’s difficult not to hear his familiar cadence and inflection in your head, so why not skip the paper cuts and get right to the source? All of his audiobooks are exceptional— like hilarious radio productions with jazz interludes and guest appearances by the author’s sister Amy Sedaris—but Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim is a fine place to start. It’s laugh-out-loud funny one minute and gut-punch poignant the next: Sedaris at his best and most beloved. —Christy, Associate Editor
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. By Samantha Irby The loose, freewheeling essays in Irby’s second collection, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life., are just as likely to stop you in your tracks with razor-sharp observations as they are to spin out into hilarious, unexpected digressions. The first essay takes the form of Irby’s application to be a contestant on “The Bachelor” but makes several stops along the way to talk about why men are just as catty and self- obsessed as women and to justifiably roast the Bachelor franchise for its absurd lack of diversity. As Irby reads her pieces on dating in her late 30s and entering what she describes as a mutually codependent relationship with her rescue cat, her relaxed deadpan serves as the deceptively unruffled foundation for her twists into the absurd and perfectly setup punch lines. —Savanna, Assistant Editor
Brideshead Revisited By Evelyn Waugh Let’s be honest. A lot of classic novels are still hanging out on our TBR lists. We know we’ll get to them one day, but it can be daunting to find the time—especially if you have unpleasant memories of the classics you were forced to read in high school. Never fear. Audiobooks are here to help you tackle the literary canon, and so are the many beloved actors who read them. I’m a big fan of Academy Award-winning actor Jeremy Irons, and his lovely posh accent is perfectly suited to Waugh’s sensual, sprawling novel of young Oxford student Charles Ryder’s whirlwind entanglement with his privileged and eccentric classmate, Sebastian Flyte. Irons starred in the 1981 British TV serial adaptation of the novel, and his soothing baritone voice draws readers in close. Get ready to sink into this comic, bittersweet coming-of-age tale of life in interwar England. —Hilli, Assistant Editor
feature | audiobook month
The art of audiobooks Two authors and two audiobook readers share a peek behind the curtain. Lisa See on crafting dialogue for The Island of Sea Women Writing is a solitary activity, and much of what I do is completely in my head. It’s for this reason that I often speak the words as I’m writing. (This, more than anything else, is a good reason that I have an office in my home, where my mutterings about the sea, women, love and tragedy are heard only by the four walls that surround me.) Once the first draft is done, I read all
the following drafts aloud. I want to hear how certain phrases sound, listen to the pacing and rhythms of the plot and get a sense of the pattern of each character’s voice. When I get to my final draft, my sister Clara comes over, and we sit at my kitchen table and act out the entire book. This is especially helpful when there are several people in a scene. The divers in The Island of Sea Women (Simon & Schuster Audio, 13 hours) meet in a
special stone structure built right on the beach, where they change clothes, warm up by the fire, eat and trade stories. In real life and in my novel, these women love to banter. Clara and I play out these scenes—sometimes improvising new lines, sometimes deepening a joke or, conversely, a sad story. My belief in getting to the truth of how my characters speak not only improves the novel but also makes for a fabulous audiobook.
Scott Brick on becoming the new reader of the Jack Reacher series Learning I’d been approved to narrate the Jack Reacher series after longtime narrator Dick Hill’s retirement left me lightheaded, as I’ve been a fan of Lee Child’s work for years. When Dick got in touch to give his full support, I was positively gobsmacked. I am hugely indebted to him for the massive body of work he’s left behind, and while I may be the narrator blessed to walk beside Reacher on his future adventures, Dick will always walk with us in spirit.
Child is a master choreographer of both brutality and necessity, from the ruthlessness of Reacher’s opponents to his commitment to doing only what he must to settle the scales. Having been a fight choreographer myself for stage and screen, I recognize the rhythm in Reacher’s battles, from the moment they begin until the moment when he recognizes—and exploits—a vital weakness. I was absolutely thrilled when I showed up to narrate my first Reacher novel, Past Tense (Random House Audio, 13 hours),
because reading those fight scenes aloud was like pulling on the most comfortable sweatshirt I’ve ever worn. Reacher proves himself to be a man of great resilience and optimism but also a man who will end any fight if necessary. There’s another Reacher adventure coming in just a few months, and as I did last time, I will show up in the studio wearing jeans that’ve been pressed beneath a mattress and carrying only a travel toothbrush, and I will treasure each and every moment.
Stephanie Land on narrating her own memoir, Maid When I sat down in a cramped studio to record the audiobook for Maid (Hachette Audio, 8.5 hours), it’d been over half a year since I’d read the book in its entirety. There were still several long months until publication, and the anticipation of what people would think of my story as a single mom on every type of government assistance program made me jumpy with nervousness. Not only was it my first book, but it also was the first piece
I’d written that was longer than 20 pages. Imposter syndrome was high. The recording process took a couple of weeks. I learned a lot about every noise my mouth and stomach make. I strained to not slip up on words, often holding my breath. I thankfully found no typos. On the day I read the chapter in which my daughter and I experience a devastating loss, I struggled to keep my voice even. But something beautiful happened as I read this story, my story, this episode
of my life that was so vulnerable and raw and scary to put out there. I’d read a paragraph or two, or sometimes an entire chapter, and think, Wow, this is actually really good! As writers, we sit with these stories, we bear down and go through dozens of rounds of edits until the sight of the title makes us cringe. Reading it out loud with such intensity and purpose made me grow confident in my story’s power to possibly change the world a little bit.
Julia Whelan on narrating Linda Holmes’ novel, Evvie Drake Starts Over (coming June 24) I’ve been a fan of Linda’s for about a decade and lucky enough to call her a friend for a few years. Her “Monkey See” column at NPR was reliably delightful, funny and unexpectedly wise. So when, after we came to know each other personally, she sent me the novel she’d just finished, I’ll admit to being nervous. What if her journalistic voice only worked in, well, journalism? But five pages in, I laughed. Ten pages in, I texted her a blisteringly brilliant sentence SEE PHOTO © PATRICIA WILLIAMS / LAND PHOTO © NICOL BIESEK
she’d written. Twenty pages in, I texted her, I HAVE TO NARRATE THIS. This book is about the absence of things that should be there: grief, mothers, even sexual attraction to a person who, in all other respects, might be your soul mate. We, as readers, want to bring these things back, to right what seems to be a narrative wrong. But Linda so ably shows us that sometimes—sorry, but it’s true—things are just missing. The trick in life is to figure out which absent things you actually want and then go get them.
Like her pop-culture writing that I fell in love with all those years ago, Evvie Drake Starts Over (Random House Audio, 8 hours) is delightful, funny and unexpectedly wise, and I treasure the three days I had in the booth with it. I began missing Evvie and Dean as soon as I started recording the end credits. Linda was there for much of the recording process, and at the end, I walked out and looked at her and sighed. “I’m going to miss them,” I said. She nodded and replied, “I’m going to miss them, too.”
feature | father’s day
The wisdom of fathers Four new memoirs—by fathers writing to their children and children writing about their fathers—show how a father’s love can temper personal and cultural sorrows. Pondering the importance of fathers in our lives, philosopher Frederich Nietzsche said, “Whoever does not have a good father should procure one.” While the market for good fathers may be slim, and procuring a father at market may be less than legal, there’s a spate of great nonfiction coming out by and about remarkable fathers just in time for Father’s Day. Take Canadian novelist David Chariandy’s I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You (Bloomsbury, $20, 96 pages, 9781635572872), a slim but touching missive to his teenage daughter. It opens with three dramatic events: President Trump’s election, a fatal shooting at a Canadian mosque and the casual racism of a white Canadian who cut in front of the dark-skinned Chariandy with the searing words, “I’m from here. I belong here.” Struggling to counsel his daughter as she begins to face these modern realities, Chariandy turns to story—in this case, his own. He walks his daughter through the precarious and nurturing places, both geographic and psychic, that have marked his life. But this is no self-seeking memoir of struggle. Chariandy recounts the taunts he faced as a child alongside the history of slavery and indentured labor that brought his ancestors to Trinidad from Africa and South Asia. The result is a remarkable story of place and relation, of ancestry and association. In turn damning and hopeful, I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You reminds us of the deep history and connectedness of all human life. After twice attempting to row across the Atlantic Ocean, English journalist Jonathan Gornall had his second child. He was 58. With the specter of mortality looming, he struck upon an idea: He’d build his daughter a wooden boat. By hand. In the opening, and strongest, chapter of How to Build a Boat (Scribner, $26, 336 pages, 9781501199394), Gornall addresses his daughter, explaining this decision. He muses on his love of the ocean, expounds on the open sea as a metaphor for the dramatic unknown that stretches out before us all and explains his boatbuilding as an exercise in perseverance, striking out with nothing more than grit and determination to guide him. How to Build a Boat starts as a letter to his daughter but soon morphs into the story of the author’s yearlong battle to construct a clinker-built boat. Though Gornall’s prose is tight and he offers interesting historical
asides on boatbuilding and rowing, the sheer density of boatbuilding detail may restrict this book’s appeal to boatwrights and woodworking enthusiasts. In her memoir All That You Leave Behind (Ballantine, $26, 256 pages, 9780399179716), Erin Lee Carr, a video journalist and documentarian, traces her relationship with her father and mentor, the late David Carr. Best known as a New York Times journalist, Mr. Carr was also an addict. It wasn’t until Erin and her twin sister turned 8 months old that he checked himself in to a treatment center and got clean. Even while we hear of the younger Carr’s own battles with addiction and her struggle to step out of her father’s shadow and make a name for herself, David Carr remains the star of this memoir. His instant messages, emails and letters are woven throughout, and every scrap of his writing is astounding. Even offhand texts are things of linguistic beauty, but more than that, it’s the wisdom, tender support and love found within them that make his words so powerful. Erin Lee Carr gives us an intimate view of a truly remarkable father and man. Yousef Bashir, Palestinian-American author of The Words of My Father (Harper, $25.99, 240 pages, 9780062917324), grew up in Gaza on his family’s ancestral farm. Across a highway was an Israeli settlement, and an Israeli military base stood next door—a delicate situation, to say the least. Yet when other Palestinians abandoned their homes for fear of violence, Bashir’s family stayed. His father insisted upon it. When Israeli soldiers pounded at their door, demanding they leave, Bashir’s father didn’t waver. Rather, he opened the door wide, inviting the soldiers into his home as guests. In they came, and in they stayed. For five long years, soldiers occupied the top two stories of the Bashir family home. Yet Bashir’s father still preached peace and coexistence. Even when Bashir was shot in the back by an Israeli soldier, his father refused to recant or relent. Now Bashir is a peace activist in his own right, and The Words of My Father is the inspirational story of his struggle to understand and live up to his father’s singular example. His memoir is an absolute must-read. —Jon Little
cover story | elizabeth gilbert
grieve, write, heal
Wild girls. Wanting to write about them— their realistic sexual experiences, their journeys of discovering their own pleasure—formed the initial spark for Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest novel, a sprawling saga that helped her navigate a sea of grief.
© TIMOTHY GREENFIELD-SANDERS
This subject especially enticed Gilbert because her previous novel, The Signature of All Things, chronicles the exact opposite: a 19th-century botanist who yearns to have sex but never does. “There was just this agony in writing that character,” Gilbert admits, speaking by phone from her home in New York City. So for City of Girls, she was determined to try something different. “Let’s take the corset off and let some people have some pleasure,” she says. Enjoyment, bliss, satisfaction—these emotions and more form the core of her big- hearted, rollicking new novel about a gaggle of lively New York showgirls. It’s
narrated by Vivian Morris, who arrives in New York City in 1940 to live with her Aunt Peg, owner of the dilapidated Lily Playhouse, after being “excused” from Vassar College. (Vivian was ranked 361 in a class of 362, causing her father to remark, “Dear God, what was the other girl doing?”) In press materials for City of Girls, Gilbert compares Vivian’s story to a champagne cocktail, calling it “light and bright, crisp and fun.” She’s proud to write books that “go down easy,” she says. “I feel like it’s a real achievement to write a book that anybody can read. . . . One of the things I’ve said is I make bran muffins, but I frost them to look like cupcakes.” The characters in City of Girls are “neither destroyed nor saved by sex,” Gilbert says, in contrast to the litany of literary heroines who face ruin or death in the face of sensuality, such as Anna Karenina, Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Emma Bovary, to name a few. “Most novels about women would have you think it’s one or the other,” Gilbert says. “And that’s just not been my experience, and it’s not the experience of anybody that I know.” She says that Vivian’s comical first sexual encounter is one of her favorite scenes she’s ever written. “I was literally alone in my house laughing my ass off,” Gilbert says. “It felt like such a vindication for all of the sort
of horrible virginity-losing scenes in literature. And also all the ridiculously romantic ones.” Of course, it’s no secret that Gilbert has had more than her own share of adventures, having written her blockbuster post-divorce memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, about eating in Italy, discovering the power of prayer in India and finding love again in Indonesia. However, despite having penned a 2015 article for the New York Times Magazine called “Confessions of a Seduction Addict,” Gilbert wasn’t initially sure she could pull off this wild-girl narrative—that is, until she met a former showgirl named Norma, an “unrepentant hedonist” who was once John Wayne’s girlfriend. “Part of my research anxiety was, how am I going to get this 95-year-old woman to talk to me about sex? But with Norma it was like, how am I going to get her to talk about anything but sex?” Gilbert says, laughing. “Every generation thinks that they invented sex, but there’s always people who are living on the edge, and Norma was one of them. She had absolutely no shame, remorse or regret about anything she’d ever done in her life. And she was fabulous.” In addition to interviewing Norma, Gilbert and research partner Margaret Cordi (to whom the book is dedicated) poured several years into exploring a variety of topics. “My system of writing is heavily weighted in terms of hours of research,” Gilbert explains, “so 90 to 95% of the effort is gathering everything I need to feel competent enough to create a convincing world. It’s truly like learning a new language, and it takes a lot of years to get fluent.” And then suddenly—still during the research phase, before the writing even began—everything came to a heart-stopping halt during an 18-month period of deep, dark sorrow. In 2016 Gilbert left Jose Nunes, the husband she had met in Bali, to partner with her best friend, Rayya Elias, who had just been diagnosed with liver and pancreatic cancer. Gilbert tossed everything aside to care for her and couldn’t even imagine writing. “It just wasn’t the time,” she says.
After Elias died in January 2018, Gilbert retreated to her country house to begin working on her manuscript, even though at first she could barely remember her characters’ names. “I didn’t leave for a couple months,” she says. “It was just me and the dog and the book, and it was really healing. Every once in a while I would think, is this good for grieving? Like, should I be around people? But in fact I was around people. I was around all the people in the book.” Gilbert describes this isolation as exactly what she needed, “something so consuming that I would look up, and hours had passed, and I hadn’t remembered that Rayya had died,” she says. “I think that creativity is kind of the opposite of depression, the opposite of despair. And I really want to offer the book as a gift to everybody in these dark times. I hope it does for everyone what it did for me, which was cheer me up.” But Gilbert soon faced another significant challenge: She didn’t know how the book would end. A short introduction is set in 2010, when 89-year-old Vivian receives a letter from the daughter of a man she once knew, asking Vivian to explain their relationship. The rest of the book, beginning in 1940, is Vivian’s “How I Met Your Father” response. “I love to be in control and feel like I know everything,” Gilbert acknowledges, “but you have to leave a little bit of a window open for that which will surprise you.” Luckily, the author soon lost herself in her narrator’s voice. “I would get up every morning and say to Vivian, ‘Let’s just tell everybody what happened.’ And I was able to kind of just become her.” Gilbert took great pains to make sure Vivian’s voice rings true. “She cannot speak as though she’s got a degree in women’s studies from Bryn Mawr,” Gilbert says. “I needed to make
sure that I didn’t put too much of my modern feminism into the book, that it had to be realistic to its time and to those girls.” Young Vivian adores the unbridled freedom she finds in New York with Aunt Peg, “the first freethinker [she’d] ever met,” whose theater company is “a living animation of glamour and grit and mayhem and fun.” Gilbert herself grew up with freethinking parents, living on a small Christmas tree farm in Connecticut that her mom and dad still run. “My parents are really unconventional,” she says, “and my dad’s a real iconoclast. I feel very lucky to have been raised by a genuine eccentric. Everybody thinks their dad is weird, but my dad is really fucking weird. His disdain for anybody telling him what to do was so huge that I think I just inherited that.” Tossing conventions to the wind, Gilbert’s own life often seems to swirl about her with plot twists like those found in her novels. In March she announced on Instagram that she’s in a new relationship with photographer Simon MacArthur, an old friend of both hers and Elias’. “My way of living involves flinging my heart into the world and seeing what it sticks to,” she says. “So there’s always a lot of love in my life.” —Alice Cary
City of Girls
Riverhead, $28, 480 pages 9781594634734, audio, eBook available
feature | summer reading
Into the Jungle
By Thomas Harris
By Erica Ferencik
By Jennifer Weiner
By Blake Crouch
By Beth O’Leary
If it’s a thriller you seek for summer reading, look no further than Cari Mora (Grand Central, $29, 320 pages, 9781538750148) by Thomas Harris, author of The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal Rising. Beautiful young Cari Mora is an immigrant caretaker of a house in Miami Beach with a fortune hidden beneath it: millions of dollars in cartel gold. When Hans-Peter Schneider—a psychopath who thrives on violence—comes after the treasure, he develops a sinister interest in Cari. But she’s a fighter at heart, has experienced war and knows how to look after herself. Harris explores the dark side of human passion in this pulse-pounding novel. His first book in 13 years, Cari Mora will not disappoint fans of disturbing, taut thrillers. —Julie Hale
Delve into the heart of the Amazon in Erica Ferencik’s second action-packed thriller. In 2010, while living in a hostel in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Lily Bushwold, a Boston native, meets Omar, an Amazon hunter turned motorcycle mechanic. Two scrappy yet tender kindred spirits, they quickly fall in love. When Omar is summoned back to his jungle village, Ayachero, to avenge his mourning family, Lily accompanies him. Little does she know it’s not just Omar she follows, but a mystical calling to discover her ca’ah, her life’s purpose, intrinsically bound up with the fragile jungle ecosystem. A chilling journey into jungle life, Into the Jungle (Scout, $27, 336 pages, 9781501168925) is also a deep probe into environmental ethics and love. —Mari Carlson
At the outset, Jennifer Weiner’s new novel pays homage to Little Women: Older sister Jo, a tomboy and athlete, wants to be a writer, while younger sister Bethie just wants to be a sweet, pretty daughter. But in Alcott terms, these two sisters are more like Jo and Amy—sometimes they just don’t get along. Mrs. Everything (Atria, $28, 480 pages, 9781501133480) follows the two sisters from their Jewish girlhood in post-World War II Detroit through the present and into the near future, 71 years in all. With its long timespan and focus on cultural change, Mrs. Everything is a departure for Weiner, but she still delivers flawed but approachable female characters, well-examined friendships and romantic relationships and oftenjoyful sex scenes. —Sarah McCraw Crow
Blake Crouch’s follow-up to his breakout bestseller, Dark Matter, has an instantly compelling premise—across the country, people have begun experiencing vivid, emotional memories of alternate lives. Solving the mystery of False Memory Syndrome would be enough to drive Recursion (Crown, $27, 336 pages, 9781524759780) forward, but the second you think the book has settled into a holding pattern, it pinwheels off in an entirely unexpected direction. Early on, Crouch lets the reader in on the secret of the syndrome’s origins through frequent flashbacks to 11 years before the disease started to spread, and the two timelines play off each other in increasingly poignant ways. It’s early, but Recursion may be the smartest, most surprising thriller of the summer. —Savanna Walker
If the idea of flatmates sharing a bed at alternate hours without meeting sounds too far-fetched, hold your skepticism. If it sounds like a meetcute waiting to happen, you’re in luck. Regardless of your starting point, The Flatshare (Flatiron, $26.99, 336 pages, 9781250295637) is a charming love story to warm your heart. After Tiffy’s boyfriend dumps her, she’s desperate to find a new flat. Night nurse Leon needs extra cash, and he’s willing to get creative. The flatmates follow a strict schedule to ensure that they won’t overlap, but as they begin to get to know each other through notes, their curiosity about each other grows. Even skeptical readers will be surprised by the thoughtful way Beth O’Leary faces not only new love but also the traces of individual pasts. —Carla Jean Whitley
What are you reading this summer?
Check out these 10 must-reads for long, lazy days . . .
Necessary People By Anna Pitoniak Two complex women inhabit Necessary People (Little, Brown, $27, 352 pages, 9780316451703), Anna Pitoniak’s second psychologically astute novel. College graduates Stella Bradley and Violet Trapp have become the closest of friends, though they’re opposites in so many ways. When their longtime friendship gives way to ambition, Pitoniak perceptively traces the fracture of their sisterlike bond, leading to a denouement the reader will not anticipate. An insightful glimpse into the competitive world of TV news and Pitoniak’s spot-on portraits of these two women come together in a gripping novel that’s sure to be a popular summer read. —Deborah Donovan
Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered By Karen Kilgariff & Georgia Hardstark Fans of the wildly popular “My Favorite Murder” podcast already know the heart, hilarity and horror embodied by hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark. But even those who have been living under a rock will enjoy their new book, Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered (Forge, $24.99, 304 pages, 9781250178954). Kilgariff and Hardstark delve into comedy’s darker, more vulnerable underbelly in these essays, detailing adolescent escapades with drugs, creeps, eating disorders and more. Confessional, wise and more than a little obscene, this book is for anyone whose path to adulthood is littered with blunders. These authors will show you how to remember them and laugh. —Christy Lynch
Nuking the Moon
By Vince Houghton
This memoir relates the travails of a group of privileged New England kids as they navigate an indulgent, raucous summer in Montauk in their late 20s. (Of course, references to The Great Gatsby abound.) When feelings for a male friend develop into something more, author John Glynn finds himself bearing the weight of a secret about his sexual identity. What follows is a charming portrait of how deeply human it is to be uncertain, to be driving a hundred miles an hour toward nowhere and longing to have a buddy in the car. Out East (Grand Central, $27, 256 pages, 9781538746653) is a heart-wrenching reminder of the precarious emotional inner life that undulates just beneath the surface, even for people who seem as though they have it all. —Kelly Blewett
One category of “beach read” that’s criminally neglected is the “dad beach read.” Vince Houghton tackles this genre head-on in his curious, delightful new book, Nuking the Moon (Penguin, $26, 320 pages, 9780525505174). At the height of World War II and the Cold War, national governments the world over devised missions and schemes that never came to fruition—because they were very bad. Houghton, a curator at the International Spy Museum in Washington, roasts these failed plots one by one. “Why not use a live cat to spy on the Russians?” someone at the CIA once asked without a hint of irony. “I’ll tell you exactly why,” Houghton responds, to readers’ delight. —Christy Lynch
By John Glynn
Monsieur Mediocre By John von Sothen Ah, Paris! There’s no city quite like it. And these days, when Americans are finding vacations as scarce as video rental stores, it’s hard not to look with longing at the six weeks’ getaway still in vogue across the pond. But American- born columnist John von Sothen didn’t come to France for the vacations. Fifteen years ago, he fell in love with a French actress and moved to Paris. Now the father of two teens, he has penned an entertaining memoir of his life as a husband, father and constantly surprised expat. Monsieur Mediocre (Viking, $25, 288 pages, 9780735224834) offers thoughtful observations about everything from politics to family life with irresistible charm. —Deborah Hopkinson
reviews | fiction
H Ask Again, Yes By Mary Beth Keane Scribner, $27, 400 pages 9781982106980, audio, eBook available
Family Drama Mary Beth Keane’s well-wrought, emotionally affecting third novel, Ask Again, Yes, chronicles the lives of two neighboring working-class families over the course of four decades. In the early 1970s, Francis Gleason, an immigrant from Ireland, and Brian Stanhope attend the New York City police academy together and are paired in field training. Francis quickly marries Anne, a nurse and Irish immigrant. Brian marries Lena, the daughter of Polish and Italian immigrants. Though their career trajectories are different, within a year or two, Francis and Brian end up as neighbors in a suburban town about 20 miles north of New York.
Patsy By Nicole Dennis-Benn Liveright $26.95, 432 pages 9781631495632 eBook available
Literary Fiction Desperation can lead a person to extreme decisions they wouldn’t otherwise countenance. For a parent, what could be more heart-wrenching than the choice to leave one’s child behind and move to another country in search of a better life? That’s the decision made by the title character of Patsy, Nicole Dennis-Benn’s follow-up to her assured debut, Here Comes the Sun. But one of the satisfying nuances of her second novel is that this heartache is only partly due to the knowledge that, by emigrating from Jamaica to America, single mother Patsy will leave behind her 6-year-old daughter, Tru. As the novel opens, it’s 1998, and Patsy is still in love with her childhood friend Cicely, who moved to America several years earlier. Patsy hopes to secure a tourist visa—her previous application was declined two years
The families are not close. In fact, Anne is unstable and aggressively antisocial. But Brian and Anne’s only son, Peter, and Francis and Lena’s youngest daughter, Kate, develop an extraordinary bond. When Peter and Kate are in eighth grade, Anne commits an act of violence that rips both families apart. All of this happens within the first quarter of Ask Again, Yes. The rest of the beautifully observed story is about the course of Peter’s and Kate’s lives—and through them, their families’—as they find and lose and find each other again. Not surprisingly, it is a fraught
journey, shadowed by the dark bruises of their histories. Time, it seems, does not heal all wounds. But it does heal some. To say much more would betray a narrative that holds many surprises, large and small. Keane sets her story among seemingly regular people in a normal-seeming American suburb. But Ask Again, Yes is a tale that will compel readers to think deeply about the ravages of unacknowledged mental illness, questions of family love and loyalty and the arduous journey toward healing and forgiveness. —Alden Mudge
earlier with no explanation—and rekindle their romance. Soon, Patsy leaves Tru and Mama G, her religious mother who collects Jesus figurines, and flies to New York, where Cicely meets her at the airport. Patsy’s surprise upon reuniting with her friend is one of the many turns this novel takes. Cicely lives in a brownstone in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, is married to an abusive would-be real estate mogul and is raising a son Tru’s age who takes violin lessons at a prestigious music academy. Over the next decade, Patsy fails to find the America—or the Cicely—of her dreams and has to settle for a job cleaning bathrooms in a faux-Jamaican restaurant before securing gigs as a nanny for a host of privileged women. The story moves back and forth between Patsy’s increasingly disheartening experiences in America and Tru’s grim situation back home. Tru has to live with her father, Roy, a police officer she barely knows. As Tru enters her teens, she struggles with depression and her sexuality, all the while wondering why her mother has been gone for much longer than the promised six months and why she never calls. The pace sometimes flags, but this moving work about the immigrant experience is distinguished by Dennis-Benn’s compassion for her characters and her acknowledgment that issues related to sexuality and immigration require subtlety and understanding. —Michael Magras
H On Earth We’re Briefly
Visit BookPage.com to read a Q&A with Mary Beth Keane.
By Ocean Vuong Penguin Press $26, 256 pages 9780525562023 Audio, eBook available
Coming of Age Poet Ocean Vuong’s highly anticipated debut novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, takes the form of a letter from a young writer to his illiterate mother. The writer, who goes by the nickname Little Dog and whose life bears a strong resemblance to Vuong’s own, is the first of his family to go to college. The letter is an attempt to share his fragile sense of self with his mother. Little Dog’s grandmother survived the Vietnam War as a sex worker, and his mother was fathered by an American soldier. After immigrating to the United States and settling in a working-class Connecticut neighborhood, Little Dog became a victim of his mother’s abuse and a witness to his grandmother’s untreated schizophrenia. Without siblings or
reviews | fiction and limitations of human connection and the importance of speaking your truth. —Lauren Bufferd
The Confessions of Frannie Langton By Sara Collins
Harper $26.99, 384 pages 9780062851895 Audio, eBook available
Historical Fiction Former slave Frannie Langton is warned early in her service to her London employer, George Benham, that “a good servant must know her place, to be content in it.” Frannie readily admits that this
has “always been my trouble. Never knowing my place or being content in it.” Frannie, who is fiercely independent, immediately likable and stubbornly contrary to the expectations of her role in society, shares many such admissions while awaiting trial for the murder of Benham and his wife, Marguerite. What Frannie can’t account for is how she wound up covered in their blood and being charged with their murders. In an effort to make sense of it all, Frannie pens her life story from jail. What follows is a literary sojourn as Frannie explores her place in history through race, class and sexuality. Set in the early 1800s, The Confessions of Frannie Langton begins with Frannie’s life as a slave on a Jamaican plantation and her education in reading and writing. From there, she recounts how she attained her “freedom” when her master took her to London, where he “gifted” her to the Benhams, and how she eventually began a love affair with Marguerite. The story casually meanders through Frannie’s narrative in a mostly linear fashion but is interspersed with snippets from the trial in
meet ROSELLE LIM Describe your book in one sentence.
What is your favorite recipe to make when you want to bring people together?
This novel was inspired by a concert at which you heard an erhu for the first time. What did that mean to you?
What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned from your family?
What do you find magical in your own day-to-day life?
Words to live by?
© SHELLEY SMITH
a father, Little Dog was isolated and lonely, hyperaware of his small size, his lack of English and his origins. Vuong’s poetry collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds was one of the most celebrated books of 2016. In On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, his prose is richly poetic, and his references draw from a wide range of sources, from Roland Barthes to 50 Cent. The novel seems like part memoir, part epic poem, although at times the lyricism feels overly mannered and the associations strained. The novel finds its heart when Little Dog invites his mother to acknowledge a part of his life he’s never fully shared with her. Little Dog and Trevor met as teenagers when they worked on a tobacco farm, and their attraction was immediate. The depiction of the boys’ affair is graphic yet tender, and the blunt portrayal of Trevor’s opioid addiction alludes to the grim consequences of poverty and violence in their community. Disarmingly frank, raw in subject matter but polished in style and language, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous reveals the strengths
Filipino-Chinese author Roselle Lim makes her debut with Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune (Berkley, $16, 320 pages, 9781984803252), a lovable novel (with recipes!) about a young woman who returns to San Francisco’s Chinatown after her mother’s death and discovers that she has inherited her grandmother’s restaurant. Lim lives in Canada, on the north shore of Lake Erie.
spotlight | austen adaptations progress, including damning testimony and fiery newspaper accounts, making certain that readers don’t forget what’s at stake. First-time novelist Sara Collins, a lawyer of Jamaican descent and winner of the 2015 Michael Holroyd Prize for Creative Writing, crafted her debut as a tribute to Jane Eyre, “but with a protagonist who would have lived outside the margins set by history.” In that regard, Collins has succeeded admirably, resulting in a novel that reads like a classic gothic romance. —G. Robert Frazier
Where We Come From By Oscar Cásares Knopf $25.95, 272 pages 9780525655435 eBook available
Family Drama For the first quarter of Oscar Cásares’ quiet, deeply human novel, the reader can be forgiven for believing that the story is a thriller of sorts—a cops-and-robbers narrative about smugglers and federal agents along America’s southern border. Instead, Where We Come From does something altogether different. What begins as a story about Nina, a Mexican- American woman who does a “favor” for her housekeeper by letting smugglers house their human cargo on her property, slowly transforms into a story about the meaning of family and home. Eventually the smugglers are forced to disband, but one person remains: a small boy, stranded many miles away from his father to the north and his mother to the south. The child, Daniel, comes to befriend Nina’s godson, Orly. Even as Daniel is forced to hide away for fear of deportation, the children form a bond, and much of the novel centers on that bond. There are many moments of quiet power in Cásares’ story. Among them are short asides in which the fates of minor characters are explained—the small fortunes and misfortunes of their lives—even as these characters pass inconspicuously through the narrative. The novel’s depiction of children’s daily lives is particularly well done, especially that of Orly, who is forced to navigate a world full of adults who either seem to trust him but not care for him, or care for him but not trust him. Where We Come From is not the kinetic,
Pride, prejudice and pakoras It’s been over 200 years since the death of Jane Austen, and it’s a testament to her storytelling that variations on Pride and Prejudice continue to charm readers over and over again. But it’s also a testament to the authors of these latest releases that their takes on the classic feel current, relevant and new. Uzma Jalaluddin’s debut novel, Ayesha at Last (Berkley, $16, 368 pages, 9781984802798), challenges expectations right from the start by moving Austen’s story from the much-romanticized drawing rooms of Regency England into a community of Muslim immigrants in Canada. As you might imagine, there’s (unfortunately) plenty of prejudice to spare, particularly towards Khalid Mirza, a computer programmer in Toronto whose devout Muslim faith and strict adherence to tradition make him an immediate target. But he’s not above a little hasty judgment himself, leading to instant conflict with Ayesha Shamsi when he meets her at an open-mic poetry event. Something about Ayesha moves Khalid, but this also disturbs him, since he’s been raised to believe that love is meant to come after marriage—a marriage that must be arranged by his family and his bride’s. Jalaluddin’s modern story blends shockingly well with the original plot of Pride and Prejudice. Khalid and Ayesha’s close-knit Indian-Canadian community bears a striking resemblance to Regency-era British society, with its sharply defined ranks, rapid-fire gossip, emphasis on parents arranging matches and potential for a scandal to sink the matrimonial fortunes of an entire family. Would a modern Elizabeth Bennet, living in England, worry that her sister’s elopement would cast a stain on the family? Nope. But a modern Ayesha Shamsi would. The blistering dynamic between Darcy and Elizabeth has been captured in many different forms over the years, but in Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors (William Morrow, $15.99, 496 pages, 9780062839053), Sonali Dev absolutely nails it to the wall. Her take on Austen borrows its structure from the original but weaves in engrossing new plot threads and dynamic emotional twists. Trisha Raje is a renowned neurosurgeon, the descendant of actual Indian royalty and the sister of the leading candidate for governor of California, so perhaps she has some justification if she is, indeed, proud. (Spoiler: She is.) But her behavior makes it all too easy for DJ Caine—an accomplished chef who has used his skills and reputation to rise above a background of poverty and racism—to willfully misunderstand her. (Spoiler: He does.) However, DJ also happens to need Trisha, since she’s the only surgeon who can successfully extract the brain tumor that’s killing his sister. Not to mention that he can’t pay the medical bills without the catering contract he hopes to secure from Trisha’s fabulously wealthy, influential family. Dev pushes the couple together in an exquisitely agonizing dance of one step forward, two steps back as DJ’s wounded pride and Trisha’s social awkwardness turn every conversation into a worst-case scenario. Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors is surprising and unexpected, delivering unapologetic lessons about what prejudice looks like today. From police discrimination opening Trisha’s eyes to her own privilege to a late-in-the-story confession darkly echoing the #MeToo movement, Dev transforms a 200-year-old tale into a searing, clear-eyed portrait of our current reality. —Elizabeth Mazer
reviews | fiction suspenseful novel its opening pages will make many readers believe it is. This is a good thing. It moves instead at a slow, deliberate pace, much more concerned with what it means to make a life in a place where so many systems and institutions are designed to make you feel precarious and, in some way, permanently unrooted. —Omar El Akkad
H In West Mills By De’Shawn Charles Winslow Bloomsbury $26, 272 pages 9781635573404 eBook available
Historical Fiction Residents of West Mills, North Carolina, joke that their town never changes. Yet there’s never a dull moment for the stubborn, loyal characters in De’Shawn Charles Winslow’s debut novel, In West Mills. The novel opens in 1941 with a fight between main character Azalea “Knot” Centre and her man, Pratt. When Pratt enlists for the war, Knot’s neighbor Otis Lee looks after her and keeps her company. He chides her for her obsessive drinking and reading. In turn, she scolds him for his rift with a mutual friend, Valley. And so it goes, friends becoming family until the town includes three generations of fierce fighters and lovers. Reminiscent of August Wilson’s 10-play cycle marking each decade in 20th-century AfricanAmerican history, In West Mills telescopes four decades into a densely packed drama surrounding Knot, a woman full of passion and pathos, an object of both hate and love. Knot is nicknamed as a girl for balling up her little body around ceramic “whatnots” stolen from her mother. Other West Mills inhabitants’ nicknames include Pep, Breezy and Goldie, showing how these neighbors claim one another as their own. As the novel progresses, the story becomes less about Knot and more about how the whole town handles its woes, and the story’s central figure becomes a tightly wound web of lies, secrecy and forgiveness. Characters deal with inflamed emotions, gender and race roles, sexual preferences, addiction and children born out of wedlock— the stuff of the soap operas Knot and friends watch every day on their new televisions. What distinguishes West Mills’ melodrama from episodic TV, however, is the real-life, unglam-
orous attitudes of ordinary people. Amid their squabbles, they work hard as farmers, cleaners, midwives, teachers and musicians. They eschew happy endings but stick with each other despite their differences. In West Mills exemplifies the timeless adage that it takes a village to raise one another. This is a historical fiction triumph. —Mari Carlson
Belgium feels like a slight misstep, the novel quickly gets back on track as Ballard and Embry plan for a rerelease of the restored classic. Smith skillfully blends film history with the adventures of his intriguing crew, never losing sight of their individuality. The Electric Hotel enchants with a compelling plot but satisfies with the fully felt pathos of its characters. —Lauren Bufferd
H The Electric Hotel
By Dominic Smith Sarah Crichton $27, 352 pages 9780374146856 Audio, eBook available
Historical Fiction Dominic Smith’s engaging new novel, The Electric Hotel, offers a deep dive into the history of early cinema. In the early 1960s, Claude Ballard, a retired French filmmaker, lives in a run-down hotel. When approached by a young graduate student named Martin Embry about the long-lost film masterpiece The Electric Hotel, Ballard is reluctant to revisit the past, but Embry’s enthusiasm encourages Ballard to recall his role in the making of an early cinematic treasure. Then Ballard reveals that he still has a copy of the film. A photographer’s apprentice in Paris in the 1890s, Ballard was hired by the Lumière Brothers as a roaming projectionist. His travels took him as far away as Australia and America, where, in picaresque fashion, he befriended a stunt man, a French actress and the young owner of a seedy Brooklyn amusement parlor. Before long, this idiosyncratic troupe settled in the cliffs of Fort Lee, New Jersey (once a prime location for the making of American movies, hence the expression “cliffhanger”), pouring all their energy, money and talent into what Ballard refers to as the “great cinematic experiment.” It will come as no surprise to readers that the making of The Electric Hotel almost destroyed the lives and careers of the four friends. As in Smith’s own masterpiece, The Last Painting of Sarah DeVos (2016), the joy in The Electric Hotel is in the getting there: the travels from Paris to New York at the very birth of cinema, the repeated run-ins with a litigious Thomas Edison and Ballard’s return to Europe amid the scarring battlefields of World War I. Though an extended set piece in war-ravished
By Mona Awad Viking $26, 320 pages 9780525559733 Audio, eBook available
Satirical Fiction “Bunny” is the cloyingly sweet pet name shared by four young women in Samantha’s MFA program. They even look sweet. Samantha has her own names for the Bunnies: She calls one “Cupcake” because “she looks like a cupcake. Dresses like a cupcake. Gives off the scent of baked lemony sugar. Pretty in a way that reminds you of frosting flourishes. She looks so much like a cupcake that when I first met her at orientation, I had a very real desire to eat her.” They are the worst kind of friend group: cliquish, self-obsessed, prim, moneyed, privileged. But when they invite tall, awkward Samantha to a “smut salon,” she is curious despite herself. What could these cardigan-clad ladies—whose idea of a helpful fiction critique is clasping hands while proclaiming, Can I just say I loved living in your lines and that’s where I want to live forever now?—possibly know about smut? When Samantha arrives at a Bunny’s apartment for the event, she finds herself in the middle of a fever dream of an evening, with drinks and visits from her past and more drinks. As Samantha gets drawn into their circle, she learns that sometimes sweet is just a cover for something much more sinister. Mona Awad made her mark with her acclaimed debut novel, 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, a striking, at times heartbreaking examination of how body image affects modern life. Bunny is an astonishingly self-assured next step, a surreal journey into the depths of a nightmare. Awad’s writing is somehow both gorgeous and gritty as she explores creativity, art and the universal desire to belong. —Amy Scribner
reviews | nonfiction
H Underland By Robert Macfarlane Norton, $27.95, 384 pages 9780393242140, audio, eBook available
Nature We reach for the stars and keep our eyes to the skies, but how often do we look below our feet and wonder what lies below the grass or sidewalks we tread on every day? What intricate networks lie just below our toes? Could we ever glimpse them? What could we learn by journeying through them? In the mesmerizing Underland: A Deep Time Journey, Robert Macfarlane enthusiastically conducts us on such a journey, descending into solid rock to a repository designed to store nuclear waste in Finland, swimming down through sea caves in the Arctic and crawling into the “invisible cities” below Paris. In Paris, for example, he and fellow claustro philes follow a map that offers advice about passageways (“Low, quite low, very low, tight,
H Aloha Rodeo By David Wolman & Julian Smith William Morrow $27.99, 256 pages 9780062836007 Audio, eBook available
History Local cowboys scoffed when three mysterious riders arrived at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Arena in 1908. Their spurs were smaller than the local cowboys’ spurs, they carried rawhide lassos, and they adorned their wider-brimmed hats with—wait for it—flowers. However, these Hawaiian paniolos (cowboys) quickly silenced skeptics with their record-breaking times, leaving the crowd clamoring with questions. In Aloha Rodeo, David Wolman and Julian Smith answer these questions with the same engaging, thorough prose that marks their solo work. On the surface, this is a book about the cowboy history of Hawaii, which was a new United States territory in the early 1900s. But this book also explores “identity, imperi-
flooded, impracticable, impassable . . .”), also naming places along the underground paths in the depths below (Crossroads of the Dead, the Chamber of Phantoms, the Chamber of Oysters). In England, Macfarlane traverses caves, learning “undersight” as he crawls through narrow spaces, “face forced into wet gravel.” Macfarlane also reveals the fascinating existence of what he calls “the wood wide web,” an intricate and mysterious network that joins below the ground to make forest communities. He
alism, and race” through the wild narratives of “ranchers, warriors, showmen, cowgirls, missionaries, immigrants, [and] royalty.” The narratives are so wild, in fact, that they often read like fiction. For example, the British first brought cattle to the Sandwich Islands (now the Hawaiian Islands) in 1793. They were a gift for the ruler, Kamehameha, who had been so displeased with the former British liaison that he had him bludgeoned to death. When it was showtime, the animals were brought out of the dark ship’s hold and into the tropical sunshine, where they were lowered into canoes with a giant pulley. The first two died of shock upon making it into the small boats. Did I mention they were longhorns? During this time, cattle were given free rein on the Big Island. They became so fierce that natives feared being gored or trampled. The first Hawaiian cowboys risked their lives to hunt these animals like wild game, subduing the beasts to bring peace to their island again. And as the authors suggest, if you interpret the cattle as a gift from imperialists meant to placate the natives, it gives the conquests of early paniolos even more dimension. If your perception of cowboy culture has largely been shaped by Louis L’Amour, Lonesome Dove and John Wayne, hold onto your hats. Aloha Rodeo blows open a canyon of inclusionary cowboy history as wide as the Rio Grande. —Sarah Carter
introduces readers to Canadian forest ecologist Suzanne Simard, who has discovered that an underground network of “mycorrhizal fungal species” links trees to other trees. Blending classic stories of descent into the underworld—the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Aeneid, for example—with his own lucid stories of his experiences in geologic time, Macfarlane poetically concludes that “darkness might be a medium of vision, and descent may be a movement toward revelation rather than deprivation.” He discovers that every culture places into the underland “that which we fear and wish to lose, and that which we love and wish to save.” As Macfarlane descends through some of these narrow passages in search of enlightenment, we often hold our breath and feel our hearts racing, but when he emerges we see with him the beauty of the world beneath our feet. —Henry L. Carrigan Jr.
The Queen By Josh Levin Little, Brown $29, 432 pages 9780316513302 Audio, eBook available
True Crime During Ronald Reagan’s unsuccessful 1976 presidential campaign, he began telling a story about a woman from Chicago who used dozens of aliases to defraud government welfare agencies so that she could drive a Cadillac and live large. In his successful 1980 presidential campaign, Reagan again frequently referred to the so-called “welfare queen,” and he continued to do so in his policy discussions with Congress after his election. The implication was that there were thousands, maybe millions, like her ripping off the government and avoiding gainful employment. The system was broken, and he was going to fix it or end it. Progressives and fact-checkers resisted these attacks on public assistance and railed against the stereotype Reagan was putting
reviews | nonfiction forward. Some thought the welfare queen was a figment of the president’s imagination. She wasn’t. Her name—one of her names—was Linda Taylor. Josh Levin, the editorial director of Slate and host of the weekly sports podcast “Hang Up and Listen,” spent six years interviewing people who knew her and poring over the court and police records that trailed behind her. The story he tells is in some ways worse than Reagan could have imagined. The Queen reveals a woman who assumed at least 30 identities to become one of the most astonishing con artists on record. She sometimes claimed to be white, or black, or Hawaiian, or Mexican. In her middle age, she convinced her most recent of six or eight husbands that she was decades younger than she actually was. She abandoned her children on many occasions. She didn’t just fraudulently apply for welfare; she conned insurance agencies, probably bought and sold
young children to further her schemes, and may have murdered one of her husbands, as well as another woman who was under her spiritual care. It’s a wild story. But that’s not the only story Levin tells here. With careful sleuthing, he tracks Taylor back to Tennessee in 1926 and to the birth of Martha Louise White, daughter of an unmarried white teenager and an unnamed black man when such unions were illegal in many states. Martha’s (that is, Taylor’s) mother would eventually claim her daughter was a foundling. At 6 she was kicked out of an all-white school. “No one wanted to lay claim to Martha Louise White,” Levin writes with sympathy. Themes of rejection, racial confusion and possible mental illness create a strong undercurrent beneath this fascinating story. Much is murky about Linda Taylor’s life. But one thing is certain: She wasn’t a stereotype. She was one of a kind. —Alden Mudge
Elderhood By Louise Aronson Bloomsbury $30, 464 pages 9781620405468 eBook available
Aging If you aren’t currently among the more than 46 million Americans over the age of 65, with any luck, someday you will be. That’s why geriatric physician Louise Aronson’s Elderhood, a passionate, deeply informed critique of how our healthcare system fails in its treatment of the elderly, is such a vitally important book.
spotlight | southern history
Going South Two new tomes of nonfiction grapple with the South’s racist history while rustling up hope that this complex region can lead a better way forward. Recent years have seen the massacre of black worshippers at a South Carolina church, fierce debates over the memorialization of white-supremacist American leaders and the ascendancy of a president who admires Andrew Jackson, a slaveholding Tennessee “populist.” As progress toward racial equality seems ever in danger of being erased, Americans have sought to make sense of the present by looking to the past—and looking south. Two decades after Confederates in the Attic, Massachusetts-based journalist Tony Horwitz dips back below the Mason-Dixon Line and into an ongoing national conflict in Spying on the South (Penguin Press, $30, 496 pages, 9781101980286). The book retraces an antebellum journey undertaken by Frederick Law Olmsted, who explored the southern U.S. as the country careered toward civil war. Olmsted wrote dispatches for northern newspapers that were later collected into The Cotton Kingdom, a window into a society structured around slavery. Horwitz similarly seeks to shed light on the region. Pondering the “inescapable echoes of the 1850s” in today’s politics, he travels down the Ohio River on a coal barge, finds the remnants of a massive cotton and sugar plantation in Louisiana and even embarks on an uncomfortable mule ride through Texas. Horwitz is an amiable narrator who marries a journalist’s knack for scene-setting and chatting folks up with the ability to tell a good historical tale. Back up north, he concludes with a walk through New York’s Central Park, the crowning jewel in Olmsted’s subsequent career as a landscape architect. Jacquelyn Dowd Hall’s Sisters and Rebels (Norton, $39.95, 704 pages, 9780393047998) is a master class in how to write history. The founding director of the Southern Oral History Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Hall tells the story of three sisters from the Lumpkin family, whose father was a violent Reconstruction- era Klan member. While one daughter followed her father’s Lost Cause ideology, more compelling are the two who struck further out. Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin became involved in interracial organizing with the YWCA, enjoyed a prolific career as a sociologist and authored The Making of a Southerner, which explores the roots of racism and sexism in her own childhood. Grace Lumpkin moved to New York, joined the labor movement and wrote the influential proletarian novel To Make My Bread. Hall deftly situates each moment of these women’s lives within its historical context, producing a vital, timely narrative about how attitudes are formed and how they can be reshaped. This triple biography is also a corrective to histories of the South that emphasize its white male bigots, as Hall places women’s progressive political and intellectual work at the book’s heart. Despite being about a single family, Sisters and Rebels is breathtaking in its historical scope and flawlessly executed. The arc of the Lumpkin women raises at least the possibility of redemption—that the sins of the father need not be repeated by the daughters. —Sam Worley
reviews | nonfiction As Aronson explains, American medicine is reluctant to acknowledge old age as a distinct stage of life—one with unique medical challenges but hardly lacking in opportunities for deep fulfillment. Whether it’s the failure, until this year, of pharmaceutical trials to test drugs on elderly subjects, resulting in unanticipated side effects, or the tendency to view the final years of an elderly person’s life only through the lens of illness and disability, our perspective is both shortsighted and flawed. Another more profound flaw, Aronson argues, is our medical establishment’s stubborn insistence on treating organs and diseases rather than whole human beings, often prizing science and technology over simple, compassionate care. These efforts typically trigger costly late-life interventions that may be successful in the narrowest sense, prolonging life for a time but often inflicting physical and psychological pain on their recipients that severely compromises their quality of life. Aronson advocates for a new care paradigm, focused on the “optimization of health and well-being,” even when an earlier death may be the consequence. Elderhood shares some of its DNA with Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal. But unlike the well-known surgeon, Aronson brings to bear some three decades of geriatric practice, a branch of medicine that didn’t even emerge as a specialty in the U.S. until 1978. She draws extensively on case histories, including moving stories about her father’s final days and her mother’s resilience in facing the challenges of old age. Aronson, who holds a master’s degree in creative writing, is as comfortable drawing on resources outside the field of medicine, quoting poet Donald Hall or novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard, as she is parsing a scientific study. Though the subject of this provocative book is the elderly, its message touches the entire span of human life. —Harvey Freedenberg
H Slime By Ruth Kassinger HMH $26, 320 pages 9780544432932 Audio, eBook available
Science What pops into your mind when you hear the word algae?
This is the question posed by author Ruth Kassinger (Paradise Under Glass) in her latest book, Slime: How Algae Created Us, Plague Us, and Just Might Save Us. If you’re like most people, it will conjure up images of icky green goo, pond scum or seaweed. But Kassinger will change your mind, taking an obscure topic that might seem boring, perhaps even gross, and making it fascinating and relevant. In her exhaustive research of the slimy microorganism, she crisscrosses the globe, interviewing people from all walks of life who have knowledge of and experience with algae, including phycologists (scientists who study algae), algae farmers, scuba instructors and even culinary experts. As Kassinger finds unique nuggets within algae’s backstory and possible future, she unravels amazing, microscopic details of this vital resource. Going way back to the single-celled organisms of Earth’s early days, she explains first how they evolved into microalgae and then how they eventually formed multicelled macroalgae, which made the jump to landbased fungi and lichen. But where it gets really interesting is her detailed explanation of the large role algae played in the complicated, multistep process of human evolution, supplementing our ancestors’ diets with iodine and the omega-3 oil DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), both essential ingredients for developing larger brains. And it has continued to serve as a nutritious food source for many cultures ever since. Kassinger describes these and the dozens of other diverse uses for algae (some still in discovery stages), including medicine, sunscreen, toothpaste, paint, dynamite, running shoes, plastics and even fuel. However, she warns against taking this natural wonder for granted. Warming oceans and fertilizer and manure runoff from farms lead to algal blooms—toxic dead zones “unable to sustain marine life.” Kassinger has penned a wondrous story of this multifaceted, often misunderstood microorganism whose existence is vital to our own. Algae’s numerous uses, benefits and even its potential harm provide a wakeup call for humanity to find more ecological solutions to reverse climate change and help support our growing population. As Kassinger writes, “Algae. They created us, sustain us, and if we’re clever and wise, they can help save us.” —Becky Libourel Diamond
Visit BookPage.com to read Ruth Kassinger’s top 12 fun facts about algae.
This Land Is Our Land By Suketu Mehta FSG $27, 320 pages 9780374276027 Audio, eBook available
Social Science There are few literary voices today who explore the intricacies of human migration better than Suketu Mehta. It’s a subject he knows well—as a journalist, but also as an immigrant in the U.S. who has lived in cities all over the world and descends from a family of “mercantile wanderers.” To him, migration is just life. But today, intense deliberation over immigration is a prevailing concern. All across the globe—but especially in Western countries, from Spain to the U.S. to the U.K.—countries are closing their borders to all refugees and immigrants, with devastating results. In his new book, This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto, Mehta delivers an emotional, timely polemic railing against this trend of fear, discrimination and hatred that has gripped so many countries, especially ours. In a heroic effort to dispel racist, destructive myths surrounding immigration, Mehta travels from city to city speaking to people at places like Friendship Park at the Mexican-American border. He also visits other countries like Morocco and the United Arab Emirates to hear the heartbreaking stories of regular people trying to migrate for a better life. With humanity and keen insight, Mehta explores why people are migrating with higher frequency and explains why immigrants throughout history have always elicited reactionary views and backlash. But most importantly, he explains why we should stop falling for the same hateful rhetoric over and over again. Drawing from the history of racism and colonialism, he makes a case for why refugees and migrants have a positive influence on society instead of a negative one. His simple answer to anyone who asks why immigrants are coming here is: We are here because you were there. Pulling from history, personal experiences and intimate profiles, Mehta examines the backlash to immigration, what’s behind it and why we have good reasons to be hopeful about the future. —Sarojini Seupersad
reviews | young adult
H Like a Love Story By Abdi Nazemian
Balzer + Bray, $17.99, 432 pages 9780062839367, audio, eBook available
Historical Fiction Author Abdi Nazemian brings emotional depth and a dreamy soundtrack to the story of a teen love triangle set in New York during a turning point in the AIDS crisis. It’s 1989, and Iranian teen Reza is new to the city, having recently left Toronto to live with his mom and new stepfather. Reza knows he’s gay but is terrified to say so, let alone act on it. He quickly befriends the two coolest freaks in his new high school. Judy is a skilled fashion designer, and her best friend, a photographer named Art, is the school’s only out gay student.
H Let Me Hear a Rhyme By Tiffany D. Jackson Katherine Tegen $17.99, 384 pages 9780062840325 Audio, eBook available
Fiction Acclaimed author Tiffany D. Jackson’s latest novel, Let Me Hear a Rhyme, opens in 1998. It’s summertime in Brooklyn, and a teenage boy named Steph has been murdered. Before leaving the funeral repast, Steph’s best friends, Quadir and Jarrell, visit his bedroom where they find Steph’s sister, Jasmine, and Steph’s vast collection of hip-hop music. Steph’s walls are covered with pictures of hiphop artists like the Notorious B.I.G., but he was more than a fan. He was also an artist. When Quadir and Jarrell hear the music Steph had been recording before he died, they have an idea. Shouldn’t the world get to hear their friend’s lyrical genius? Jasmine agrees to let them take some of his music on the condition that they’ll also help her find out who killed her brother. Quadir and Jarrell know that could be a deadly pursuit, but soon they find themselves in a hot seat of their own. Promoting Steph’s music (whose lyrics were
Both Judy and Art are devoted to Judy’s uncle, Stephen, an activist who is dying of AIDS. And Judy and Art are both attracted to Reza, but in order to follow his heart, Reza will have to confront both his fears and his family.
While the main characters in this story are all fictional, the ACT UP demonstrations vividly depicted here really happened, and cameo appearances by artist Keith Haring and musical icon Debbie Harry put the reader right in the middle of it all. Uncle Stephen makes Art a collection of index cards with info about important figures in queer history— like Marsha P. Johnson—and readers will hopefully be inspired to do further research. I was in high school a little before these kids, and the fear and isolation they go through rings painfully true, as does the unfettered joy that comes when you find your people. Like a Love Story made me cry, but it also made me feel mighty real. —Heather Seggel
written for the novel by real rapper Malik-16 Sharif ) without mentioning that he’s deceased brings money and opportunities to the two boys, but it also boxes them into a maze of lies they must navigate along with some volatile personalities. Readers will feel connected to these teens’ love of hip-hop, their loyalty to each other and their love for their community—even when they disagree over how to protect it. Alternating narration among the three main characters offers moving portraits of young people trying to live up to the best selves their slain friend and brother urged them to be. This is an engaging ode to ’90s hip-hop and to love in many forms. —Autumn Allen
become a library warden who’s responsible for the categorization and containment of dangerous magic. The Great Libraries house not only regular books but also grimoires—books created with sorcery that contain ominous spells and rituals. These grimoires can also transform into deadly creatures known as Maleficts. Elisabeth knows not to trust sorcerers and the powerful magic that whispers to her from the shelves. In fact, she has been raised to defend humans from and contain the powerful magic. But when disaster strikes her library and she is accused of treason, Elisabeth makes an unlikely alliance with young sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn and his Mephistophelian servant, Silas. Uncovering the true saboteur leads Elisabeth down a terrifying path of conspiracy and chaos, but also of self-discovery. As she learns more about her connection to grimoires and gets closer with Nathaniel and Silas, she begins to reassess her goals and question some of the Great Library’s teachings. Bestselling author Margaret Rogerson (An Enchantment of Ravens) presents a unique twist on a magical fantasy plot, setting the novel in a 19th-century Western Europe-inspired world that’s dealing with the inheritance of medieval magic as well as the innovations of an industrializing society. Elisabeth is a charismatic heroine, and her chemistry with Nathaniel is inevitable and natural, but it is Silas’ character arc that is particularly compelling. A race against time filled with demonic magic, vivid settings and classic romantic tension, Sorcery of Thorns is a chillingly good gothic read. —Annie Metcalf
Sorcery of Thorns By Margaret Rogerson
Margaret K. McElderry $17.99, 464 pages 9781481497619 Audio, eBook available
Fantasy Elisabeth Scrivener is an orphan. Raised in one of the kingdom’s six Great Libraries, she has been training as an apprentice, hoping one day to
feature | YA summer reading
Find your summer fling Whether you’re headed to the beach for a sun-soaked vacation, working a summer job or just stuck at your house, these stories are guaranteed to provide thrills, swoon-worthy romance and pure entertainment. In the first pages of Happily and Madly (Tor Teen, $17.99, 352 pages, 9781250195913), we learn that a fortuneteller once gave 17-year-old Maris Brown good and bad news: She will fall “happily and madly in love,” but she will probably be dead before her 18th birthday. As she approaches that fateful day, Maris loves “living fast, taking risks, and playing the odds for love,” but her risk-taking is finally catching up with her. After her second arrest, Maris is shipped across the country to spend the summer at the beach with her estranged father and his new family. After she rescues a mysterious, alluring boy who’s running for his life, Maris becomes entangled in an increasingly dangerous, complicated web involving lavish wealth, pharmaceutical deaths, undercover agents and sexy secret romance. In addition to superbly capturing the myriad difficulties facing teens in blended families, author Alexis Bass’ snappy writing will keep you turning pages until the bullet-riddled, jaw-dropping end. When an act of violence by her mother’s live-in boyfriend results in the death of her beloved kitten, Selina Kyle drops out of school and takes to the streets of Gotham City in this graphic novel retelling of Catwoman’s backstory, Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale (DC Ink, $16.99, 208 pages, 9781401285913). Bestselling author Lauren Myracle brings a fresh vibe to the iconic tale with an adroitly crafted blend of emotional depth and superhero action. After a homeless kid welcomes Selina into his small gang and teaches her parkour, she transforms herself into Catgirl. Issac Goodhart’s moody black and blue illustrations make every moment count, capturing Selina’s journey from vulnerability and despair (which includes cutting) to self-reliance and empowerment. As Selina wrestles with decisions about whom to trust, readers will welcome the fact that there’s more to come. “After all, cats have nine lives. I’ve only just begun,” she teases. A spring break trip to Kyoto, Japan, to meet her estranged grandparents turns into a romantic adventure for high school senior Kimi Nakamura in I Love You So Mochi (Scholastic, $17.99, 320 pages, 9781338302882), a sweet, fun novel that also features absorbing details about Japanese culture. The timing is perfect when Kimi’s grandfather unexpectedly sends her a plane ticket to Kyoto, as Kimi is at a crossroads. She’s been accepted
into a prestigious art school, but her heart is in fashion design. But once she arrives in Kyoto, she meets a dreamy boy named Akira who is also torn between two worlds. He dreams of becoming a doctor, but he’s feeling pressured to help his uncle with his mochi stand. Together, the two teens tour the city as they fall in love and try to navigate the difficulties that arise when one’s dream doesn’t align with family expectations and needs. This easygoing romance goes down sweet. In Jennifer Dugan’s sparkling summer romance, Hot Dog Girl (Putnam, $17.99, 320 pages, 9780525516255), bisexual teen Elouise Parker wants the summer before her senior year of high school to be epic, but instead it “just feels like everything is changing all at once, in a bad way.” Elouise’s mother abandoned the family years ago, and Elouise and her supportive father are still finding their way without her. Elouise is thrilled to be working once again at Magic Castle Playland, the amusement park she loves, but she’s devastated to learn that it will soon be closing for good. As Elouise does her daily rounds dressed as a giant hot dog, she plots to keep the park open and schemes to win the heart of Nick, a pirate diver, without realizing that her best friend, Seeley, is in love with her. Dugan’s amusement-park setting is entertaining, as is her likable cast of characters. “Being dumped feels like food poisoning,” says 17-year-old Frederica “Freddy” Riley, who has an on-again, off-again relationship with her captivating but cheating girlfriend, Laura Dean. Freddy’s best friend, Doodle, drags her to a psychic, who urges Freddy to get out of the relationship once and for all. Freddy struggles to follow this advice in Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me (First Second, $24.99, 304 pages, 9781250312846), award-winning author Mariko Tamaki’s emotionally swirling graphic novel set in Berkeley, California. Freddy is so caught up in Laura Dean’s vortex that she nearly loses Doodle, who’s facing a terrible crisis of her own. Thankfully, Freddy writes to an advice columnist, who responds with wise words that will resonate with anyone stuck in a toxic relationship. Rosemary Valero-O’Connell’s illustrations perfectly pair with this story of a diverse group of teens struggling with a wide range of issues, including pregnancy and sexual identity. —Alice Cary
feature | cat picture books
Calling all cat lovers From the fluffy Persian to the sleek Siamese, these fictional cats will capture young readers’ hearts. she gets trapped in a tree by two fierce foxes, Cherie realizes it’s time to go home—and time to make peace with Cleopatra. Artist Dave Mottram contrasts the two felines in his winning illustrations: Cherie is big and commanding, while Cleopatra has shining eyes and plenty of kitten appeal. This heartwarming story is sure to become a cat classic.
Kathi Appelt’s Max Attacks (Caitlyn Dlouhy, $17.99, 40 pages, 9781481451468, ages 4 to 8) is an uproarious chronicle of crazy cat behavior. Max, depicted by illustrator Penelope Dullaghan as a blue kitty with black stripes and wide whiskers, is a practiced prankster. Over the course of the book, he scales the screen of a window in pursuit of a lizard, chews up a pile of dirty socks, toys with a loose shoestring and topples a bowl filled with fish. Small wonder, then, that by book’s end, this cat is ready for a nap. Appelt tells the story through rhymed lines of verse: “Max’s paws are made for pounces. Max’s legs are built for trounces.” Filled with unexpected perspectives (check out the close-up of Max with his nose pressed against the fishbowl), the illustrations by Dullaghan are colorful and dynamic. No doubt about it: Readers will be mad about Max. Acclaimed adult author Joyce Carol Oates is also a pro when it comes to writing children’s books, as she proves with The New Kitten (HarperCollins, $17.99, 32 pages, 9780062563927, ages 4 to 8). The only cat in the Smith household, Cherie is something of a feline matriarch—mature, with a purr “as loud as a motor” and very territorial. But when a new kitten named Cleopatra arrives in the Smith household, Cherie is appalled as she watches the interloper chase balls, climb the cat tree and play with her food. Yet the Smiths adore Cleopatra. Feeling left out and unloved, Cherie runs into the woods. She follows a bunny, who disappears into a burrow. After
An unlikely pair of critters become pals in Coll Muir’s fun, fanciful Can Cat and Bird Be Friends? (HarperCollins, $17.99, 32 pages, 9780062865939, ages 4 to 8). When Cat (big and black, with considerable claws) first encounters Bird (small as a golf ball and just as round), he’s ready for a snack. Yet he’s met with a question: Why do cats eat birds? “I don’t know,” Cat replies. “It’s always been like that.”
Forgoing tradition, the two decide to be friends, only to discover that they don’t have much in common. Cat likes to stretch; Bird prefers to fly. Cat grooms himself; Bird would rather bathe in water. They’re about to give up and go their separate ways when Bird mentions a hobby (painting!) that Cat also happens to enjoy. In the blink of an eye, a bond is formed, and the pair are next seen with easels and brushes, working side by side. Muir’s spare yet expressive illustrations perfectly complement this droll narrative of unexpected connection. Here’s to odd couples!
In Caroline Magerl’s lovely Maya and the Lost Cat (Candlewick, $16.99, 40 pages, 9781536204230, ages 3 to 7), a little girl gains a new feline friend. Through her window, Maya spies a cat perched high on a rooftop. She uses every lure imaginable to coax the creature back to safety—to no avail—until she sets out a tin of fish. Then, “Pad pad thump. In perfectly quiet fur boots, Cat came to see—and ate every oily silver morsel!” Maya starts knocking on doors in an effort to locate Cat’s human parents. With a little direction from her furry companion, she eventually comes to a houseboat bobbing at the end of a windswept pier that’s home to Fritz and Irma, who are overjoyed to see their lost friend. Before Maya departs, Cat brings her a special present—a kitten she can call her own. Magerl’s charming watercolor pictures make this title especially memorable. Never fear—Ghost Cat (Neal Porter, $18.99, 32 pages, 9780823442836, ages 3 to 6), written and illustrated by Kevan Atteberry, is nowhere near as eerie as the title implies. A young boy senses the presence of a cat that seems remarkably similar to the one he used to have but has since lost. He can never actually catch the spectral animal, as it is “a quick, dark blur. Here, and then not here,” the boy says. When strange incidents start happening—a bowl crashes in the kitchen; a book falls in the den—it becomes clear that there’s a creature in the house making mischief. Atteberry portrays the trickster kitty as a sleek, blue figure outlined in white. This mystery has a happy ending, as the ghost leads the boy to discover a living kitten, making them a happy group of three. Readers will be intrigued by Atteberry’s whimsical tale of feline love. —Julie Hale
reviews | children’s
H You Are Home By Evan Turk Atheneum, $18.99, 56 pages 9781534432826, eBook available Ages 4 to 8
Picture Book In his expansive picture book tribute, You Are Home: An Ode to the National Parks, Ezra Jack Keats Award-winning author-illustrator Evan Turk (The Storyteller) honors “the beauty, the monumental history, and the togetherness with loved ones and nature” that constitute visits to the national parks of the United States. Via full-bleed spreads that include labels of each landscape depicted, spare free verse written in the second person and cinematic, richly colored pastel artwork, we traverse the
country, visiting the Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, the Great Smoky Mountains and more. Turk’s magnificent, lush illustrations, with deft use of light and shadow, depict not only grandiose mountains and vistas (Yosemite appears in a stunning double-gatefold spread) but also the creatures therein (a bobcat in Yosemite, fireflies in the Smokies) and the families who visit. The “you” of the title, a repeated refrain throughout the book, refers to park visitors
but also to the herds of elk, wildflowers “painting the warming hillsides” and “every river, star, and stone.” In a spread paying tribute to the indigenous peoples of North America, Turk acknowledges that their ancestors “lived on these lands before the stars and stripes took them as their own,” pointedly adding that these people are “still home.” Detailed backmatter, which includes a map of the parks and more information about them, delves further into the fact that many Native American nations were forcibly removed from their homelands in order to create the parks we visit today. It all adds up to an informative and breathtaking exploration of U.S. national parks. —Julie Danielson
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meet GUS GORDON How would you describe your book?
Who has been the biggest influence on your work?
If you were making a dish with the last peaches of the season, what would it be?
What one thing would you like to learn to do?
Two flying-insect friends debate whether to eat the most beautiful peach of the season in author and illustrator Gus Gordon’s delightful and surprising new picture book, The Last Peach (Roaring Brook, $17.99, 40 pages, 9781626723504, ages 4 to 8). His previous picture books include the acclaimed Herman and Rosie (2013) and Somewhere Else (2017). He lives in Australia with his wife and three children.
Who was your childhood hero? What message would you like to send to your readers?
Book reviews, Author interviews