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AMERICA’S BOOK REVIEW

Tara Westover learns to live Island memories with Junot Díaz Stand up for women’s history Spiritual fiction that inspires

WALTER

MOSLEY crime fiction master

MARCH 2018


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MARCH 2018

A M E R I C A’ S B O O K R E V I E W

12 features

book reviews

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19 FICTION

WALTER MOSLEY

t o p p i c k : The House of Broken

A master of mystery introduces his new hero

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Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea

TARA WESTOVER

24 NONFICTION

A journey to education

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t o p p i c k : Without Precedent

WOMEN’S HISTORY

by Joel Richard Paul

Onward and upward

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28 TEEN

t o p p i c k : Children of Blood and

Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

30 CHILDREN’S

t o p p i c k : Baby Monkey, Private

Eye by Brian Selznick and David Serlin

SHORT STORIES Four dazzling new collections

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INSPIRATIONAL FICTION Three stories of faith in darkest times

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IRISH MEMOIRS Life and death on the Emerald Isle

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JUNOT DÍAZ The acclaimed author on his first children’s book

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WILL HILLENBRAND Meet the illustrator of I’m a Duck

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COOKING

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WELL READ

4

AUDIO

8

LIFESTYLES

5

THE HOLD LIST

9

ROMANCE

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WHODUNIT

11

BOOK CLUBS

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Cover image by Marcia Wilson

EDITORIAL POLICY

PUBLISHER

ASSISTANT EDITOR

PRODUCTION MANAGER

Michael A. Zibart

Hilli Levin

Penny Childress

ASSOCIATE PUBLISHER

EDITORIAL ASSISTANT

Julia Steele

Savanna Walker

EDITOR

CONTRIBUTING EDITOR

BookPage is a selection guide for new books. Our editors evaluate and select for review the best books published in a OPERATIONS DIRECTOR Elizabeth Grace Herbert variety of categories. BookPage is editorially independent; only books we highly recommend are featured. ADVERTISING OPERATIONS

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CHILDREN’S BOOKS

MARKETING

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everyone—omnivores included. Chernila’s goal is to show us how to make each vegetable shine in all its glory, without disguises or fussy prep. Sometimes, she suggests, it’s knowing the little tricks that can highlight what’s best in a vegetable, and sometimes it’s knowing when to leave well enough alone—sprinkle tamari and sesame oil over quickly steamed baby bok choy, braise cabbage in an inch of water with a knob of butter, roast all the ingredients for Tomato and Vegetable Soup on one baking sheet to deepen the flavor, or combine raw corn kernels with nectarines or peaches and a squeeze of lime juice for a sensational summer salad. Easy and elegant, these 100 recipes will bring the pleasure of plants to your table all year-round.

POTLUCK PERFECT “What can I bring?” is what we usually say when invited to a food-focused gathering, be it a summer picnic, a graduation celebration, a backyard barbecue or a birthday bash. A little edible outsourcing can be a big help when you’re hosting a gathering, and it’s a fun way to contribute as a guest. But no one wants to face six salads, each soggy in its own way. Ali Rosen, potluck maven par excellence, helps you avoid such dining disasters in Bring It!: Tried and True

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BY SUKEY HOWARD

BY SYBIL PRATT

Eat your vegetables Plant-based eating is in, as more of us are incorporating more veggies into our everyday meals than ever before. Cookbook author and blogger Alana Chernila wants to celebrate this happy, healthy turn of events with a collection of recipes that brings out “the best in each root and leaf.” The result, Eating from the Ground Up (Clarkson Potter, $28, 272 pages, ISBN 9780451494993), is for

AUDIO

COOKING

Recipes for Potlucks and Casual Entertaining (Running Press, $25, 240 pages, ISBN 9780762462728). She shares her enthusiasm, her expertise in organizing meals and her “aspirational, attainable” recipes that make a multidish event practical and pleasing. Everything you need is here, from easy appetizers to nobake desserts, plus vital advice on the nitty-gritty of menu planning—“an orchestrated dance of different cooks,” if you’re the host—making food ahead, transporting your delicious dish, reheating and much more. Potluck party or covered-dish dinner? Bring it on!

TOP PICK IN COOKBOOKS Shaya: An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel (Knopf, $35, 440 pages, ISBN 9780451494160) is Alon Shaya’s stunning debut cookbook, with over 100 recipes wrapped in a candid, compelling “autobiography” about his culinary sensibility and how he found his way to becoming an award-winning chef. If that sounds heavy, it’s not. Born in Israel and brought up in the U.S., Shaya cooks in a way that reflects his heritage and his ramblings from culinary school to Las Vegas, New Orleans, Italy and, most importantly, Israel, where he found the core of his cultural identity. And we’re the lucky beneficiaries of his unique, very personal take on what it means to meld the best of many food traditions. Za’atar Fried Chicken is a must, as are Spicy Scallop Rolls, feathery-light Bright Green Falafel, Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Whipped Feta, Avocado Toast with Whitefish and Shaya’s grandmother’s Bulgarian Lamb Kebabs—so many fabulous flavors, so many imaginative combos.

Alice is missing Aaron Falk, the financial crimes agent with the Australian Federal Police who starred in The Dry, Jane Harper’s debut, is back in Harper’s equally brilliant second thriller, Force of Nature (Macmillan Audio, 10 hours), read again by Stephen Shanahan in his affecting Aussie accent. In the wee hours of the morning, Aaron gets an eerie, almost silent call from Alice Russell, an undercover whistleblower who promised to get him the goods on

a corrupt Melbourne company— and now she’s gone missing. Alice was on a team-building corporate retreat in the rugged, remote Giralang Ranges with four other women when they got lost. Soon tempers flared, revealing discord, distrust and animosities new and old. Then Alice disappeared into the dense, menacing foliage—but was it misstep or murder? The gripping plot of this whodunit (or whydunit) unfolds in two disquieting scenarios, one detailing the group’s hour-by-hour descent into physical and emotional hostility, the other following Falk and his new partner as they join the dreaddrenched search for Alice.

cier Leonard Gopnik. Installed in the Gopniks’ sprawling, upper-crust, Upper East Side apartment, Lou is instantly involved in Agnes’ secret angst and not-so-secret anger at being thrust into the snobby swirl of New York society events. Though Lou is great at solving other people’s problems, she will need all her buoyant survival skills to solve her own and find her way back to what’s truly important. Tagging along is great fun.

TOP PICK IN AUDIO

Though Jody Shields was born in Nebraska and lives in New York, her deeply atmospheric novel, The Winter Station (Hachette Audio, 10 hours), performed by Simon Vance with his signature elegance, has a brooding Russian soul. It’s set in Kharbin, a newly minted railroad hub in the northeastern reaches of Manchuria at the confluence of the Russian, Chinese and Japanese spheres of influence. In the brutally cold winter of 1910, Baron von Budberg, the town’s middle-aged, Russian medical commissioner who is devoted to his STILL LOUISA CLARK young Chinese wife, realizes that a deadly plague has crept into the Fans of Jojo Moyes’ bestselling series about the trials and tribs of city, decimating its population. As the Baron tries to find a way to stop Louisa Clark will be happy to have her back. And if you’ve never met the epidemic and fights the auLou, just jump in and enjoy. Moyes’ thorities attempting to cover it up, Shields paints a picture of clashing jaunty storytelling talent is in high cultures, each filled with suspicion gear in Still Me (Penguin Audio, 13.5 hours), narrated by Anna Acton and ingrained prejudices. In Kharwith just the right amount of pluck. bin, Western scientific ideas vie Though she’s journeyed through with traditional Chinese practices, and dedicated doctors are pitted love and loss and love again, Lou is still Lou, vivacious, optimistic and against those fueled by ambition. ready for new opportunities, which Based on real events, this is the she’s now got plenty of in her new kind of fiction that fascinates with role as the personal assistant to its power to evoke time and place, Agnes, the gorgeous, young second morality and mortality, tenderness wife of superrich New York finanand love.


THE HOLD LIST Each month, BookPage editors share special reading lists—our personal favorites, old and new.

“Delizioso!” —Adriana Trigiani, bestselling author of Kiss Carlo

Women warriors In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re covering nonfiction books about female trailblazers on page 16. But let’s get literary—after all, we’ve found some of our favorite role models in historical fiction. These novels—by female authors, of course—follow women in past eras who refuse to settle for less than a rich, full life.

ENCHANTRESS OF NUMBERS by Jennifer Chiaverini Ada Byron King, the real-life daughter of Romantic poet Lord Byron, was a mathematician and computing pioneer, and her story is told in this immersive novel set in the elite world of early 19th-century England. Balancing her father’s poetic spirit and her mother’s more worldly concerns is a challenge for Ada, but as she mingles with like-minded luminaries, she discovers her destiny as a brilliant mathematician.

DAUGHTER OF FORTUNE by Isabel Allende Orphaned as an infant, Eliza Sommers is raised in the British colony of Valparaíso, Chile, by a kind spinster. But as she reaches adulthood, she falls in love with a disreputable man, and when she becomes pregnant with his child, she follows him to California during the gold rush of the mid-1800s. But San Francisco has always been a transformative city, and as Eliza’s world opens up, she must decide if the life she always saw for herself is the life she truly wants to lead.

WENCH by Dolen Perkins-Valdez Slave women Lizzie, Reenie, Mawu and Sweet develop a deep bond during their summers spent at a retreat for slaveholders and their enslaved mistresses (which is based on a real place that operated in the 1850s). The women are tempted to run away—but the choice is dangerous and complex, as they must leave behind their children and risk being captured. Torn between two worlds, they each must decide what sacrifices they are willing to make in this lush, heart-wrenching novel.

THE FAIR FIGHT by Anna Freeman Put your dukes up, ladies, and fight for a better life! That’s the premise of Freeman’s rousing novel set in 18th-century England—which is shockingly based on actual events. Two women, both constricted by the drudgery of their lives, discover a surprising outlet in the underground world of bare-knuckle fighting. Fighting (literally) for their own place in the world, they discover a strength they never knew they had.

SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN by Lisa See See’s captivating novels are filled with strong Chinese and Chinese-American women throughout history, but for one of the most powerful portrayals of female friendship in literature, we turn to this story of two isolated women in 19th-century China who share their hopes, dreams and tragedies via secret messages on a silk fan. Read it and hug your girlfriends.

A charming, delightfully sexy, and bighearted novel starring Auntie Poldi, Sicily’s newest amateur sleuth

“Mario Giordano’s Auntie Poldi joins her peers Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano and Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma Precious Ramotswe in winning our hearts.” —Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun

“A masterly treat.” —Times Literary Supplement (UK) ON SALE NOW www.hmhbooks.com/auntiepoldi

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columns

WHODUNIT BY BRUCE TIERNEY

Take a dive into a classically styled noir At one time or another, all of us have considered the appeal of walking out of our current life, leaving everything and everyone behind, and starting afresh somewhere new. Few people have stronger reasons to do this than Polly Costello—female lead in

Adam Bosk. Unbeknownst to Polly, Adam is a private investigator who’s been hired to get close to her in order to look into Polly’s dubious dealings regarding a large insurance settlement. Despite initial misgivings on both sides, the two develop genuine feelings for one

Laura Lippman’s new James M. Cain-inspired thriller, Sunburn (Morrow, $26.99, 304 pages, ISBN 9780062389923)—who has fallen into a series of abusive relationships. Her latest lover, whom she encountered while on the run, is

another. But Polly is no stranger to the casual, spur-of-the-moment lie, and pretty much everything about Adam Bosk is based on a lie as well (actually, nearly everyone in this book plays fast and loose with the truth), so it is quite difficult for

You never know what’s really happening behind closed doors.

the reader to determine just who is playing whom, and it remains that way until about three pages from the twist ending. Don’t peek.

SOLE SURVIVOR Army sergeant Nola Brown has been given a new lease on life—sort of. She was mistakenly counted among the dead in a military airplane bombing in which there were no survivors until the mortician, Jim “Zig” Zigarowski, who knows Nola, realized that the remains in his care were of some other person entirely. Brad Meltzer’s latest thriller, The Escape Artist (Grand Central, $28, 434 pages, ISBN 9781455559527), traces the troubling arc of the very much alive Nola’s existence, flashing back to her traumatic childhood and adolescent years, and then forward once again to present day, when she is running for her life from a band of deadly conspirators operating under the moniker of Operation Bluebook. Without a doubt, her childhood prepared her in large measure for the harrowing challenges being thrown at her now (think Lisbeth Salander, minus the dragon tattoo); she will have to call on every last resource at her disposal in hopes of neutralizing Operation Bluebook before it neutralizes her. The Escape Artist has the pacing of a Japanese bullet train, a clever and original plot, and the requisite twists to keep the reader off balance.

LAND OF SECRETS

See what the neighbors are up to. www.BookClubbish.com

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It could be problematic for an author to revisit a novel after nearly a decade in order to tell the rest of the story, but John Hart plows right through those concerns with The Hush (St. Martin’s, $27.99, 432 pages, ISBN 9781250012302), a gripping sequel to his Edgar Award-winning novel The Last Child. Ten years have passed since the double homicide chronicled in that first book, and the now 23-year-old protagonist, Johnny Merrimon, faces the loss of the Hush, the 6,000-acre parcel of North Carolina property he inherited from his family. Part 1/23/18 12:27 PM

swamp, part woodland, the Hush is said to be the home of unseen things, perhaps supernatural. As rival forces begin to compete for Johnny’s land, strange events begin occurring, culminating in a crucifixion. Hart deals with the supernatural in much the same way as James Lee Burke or T. Jefferson Parker—he puts it out there on display but lets the reader decide how much is real. Nonetheless, he will manage to elicit goose bumps from even the most skeptical reader.

TOP PICK IN MYSTERY If we translated our day-to-day experiences into fiction, the many converging plotlines would rarely fit into a coherent A-to-B narrative. Very few authors, especially suspense novelists, follow this natural model. One who does, and does so brilliantly, is Kent Anderson, whose Green Sun (Mulholland, $27, 352 pages, ISBN 9780316466806) follows the erratic career of Hanson, a Vietnam vet turned cop, then professor, and about to turn cop again, this time on the mean streets of east Oakland, California. Hanson engages with an interesting and motley group of nominal heroes and villains with whom he shares the daily stage: 11-year-old Weegee, who has the street smarts of someone twice his age; drug lord Felix Maxwell, the sort of folk hero about which narcocorridos are written; and a plethora of fellow cops who take umbrage at Hanson’s refusal to comply with police norms. Conciliation and peacekeeping are his primary goals in community policing; arrests and incident reports are to be avoided whenever possible. With Green Sun, Anderson writes effectively— not with bombastic special effects, high tension or even a lot of suspense, but instead with realism— and he imbues his protagonist with a solid dose of humanity. If I were a cop, Hanson would be on my short list for role models.


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WELL READ

LIFESTYLES

BY ROBERT WEIBEZAHL

B Y S U S A N N A H F E LT S

Writing as an escape

Bloom with a view

Prison memoirs tap into our fears and outrage, and in the hands of the best writers, they also educate. Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o was imprisoned in his native Kenya in 1977, and while he was never officially charged, his “crime” was daring to write and speak out against the oppressive post-colonial regime. He spent a year in near isolation in Kamĩtĩ Maximum Security Prison, and in a sanity-preserving act, he wrote Devil on the Cross, a much-lauded novel, on the only thing available to him—toilet paper. After his release, he was forced into exile. Now 80, he teaches at the University of California, Irvine. His name is often floated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Ngũgĩ wrote Wrestling with the Devil (The New Press, $25.99, 272 pages, ISBN 9781620973332), his account of his year in Kamĩtĩ, in the early 1980s, but remarkably, it is just now being published in the U.S. Compelling and thoughtful, the book is as much a polemic as a memoir, a deeply expressed history of the revolutionary spirit that has been kept alive in Kenya despite political oppression, first under the British and later under post-colonial dictatorships. Within this larger history, Ngũgĩ weaves the rudiments of his own story. When Kenyan authorities deemed Ngũgĩ’s play Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I Want), written as part of a nascent movement to create indigenous theater for Kenyans, too subversive, he was carted off in a Kafkaesque manner and detained without any formal charges. His time in prison was contemplative, and as he worked on his novel furtively (despite near constant surveillance), he also meditated on the faulty expressions of the African experience that permeate so much

“A window box can change how you see the world,” write Chantal Aida Gordon and Ryan Benoit, the green thumbs behind popular gardening blog The Horticult and co-authors of How to Window Box (Clarkson Potter, $14.99, 176 pages, ISBN 9781524760243). Here, they cover plant-care basics with an eye to the particularities of a small indoor or outdoor space. They offer 16 boxes for consideration, includ-

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colonial-era literature, effectively robbing native Africans of their true story, much as the colonists robbed them of their land and dignity. Throughout this classic narrative, Ngũgĩ beautifully evokes the realities of being imprisoned not only within four walls but also within a political reality that is itself a prison: “In the cell, each political prisoner would struggle against mounting despair—the inevitable outcome of bitter reflections churned over and over in the mind. For here one had no helper except one’s own experiences and history. That, I would say, was the real loneliness of prison life. In the silence of one’s cell, one has to fight, all alone, against a thousand demons struggling for the mastery of one’s soul. Their dominant method was to show continually that there was only one way of looking at things, that there was only one history and culture, which moved in circles, so that the beginning and the end were the same.” Ngũgĩ Wrestling beautifully with the Devil ends with a evokes the bit of cat-andrealities mouse that, of being with a blend imprisoned of amusement physically and and bemusement, encappolitically. sulates Ngũgĩ’s prison experience. Not long before the writer’s release, the prison warden discovers his toilet-paper manuscript and seizes it. The psychological anguish this confiscation causes Ngũgĩ is palpable—how will he ever reproduce his work? Then, when the manuscript is restored to him, he discovers that only the scraps he had already rejected had been returned. How the full manuscript is discovered in the nick of time, shortly before it literally could have been flushed away, is a serendipitous chapter in literature.

relieving oneself of belongings. But death cleaning doesn’t have to be a depressing chore; it can be joyful and a huge relief, both for the aging individual who performs it and the loved ones they will one day leave behind. “I have death cleaned so many times for others,” Magnusson writes. “I’ll be damned if someone else has to death clean for me.” Her gently biting wit courses through this slender volume; she is an affable but no-nonsense narrator with a feminist spirit. Riding the Marie Kondo wave (The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up), this is practical stuff that is charmingly told.

TOP PICK IN LIFESTYLES

ing a Sand Box (cacti and euphorbia), an Ice Box (ornamental kale and pansies) and a Rain Forest Box (ferns). For each, you’ll learn how to cultivate, what soil blend and topping to use, where to position the box, how to master soil drainage and other details that can make or break a planting project. This is a great way for apartment-dwellers to dip a toe in the dirt.

GOODBYE TO ALL THAT The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning (Scribner, $18.99, 128 pages, ISBN 9781501173240) may sound like a quirky novel, but it is in fact one of the more readable entries in the growing genre of guides for “living smaller,” as Swedish author Margareta Magnusson puts it. She’s here to spread the gospel of death cleaning, or döstädning, a distinctly Scandinavian approach to decluttering. Having downsized from a large home to a small Stockholm apartment, Magnusson knows well the challenge of

You’ve no doubt heard of Pussyhats—those knitted hats that made such a powerful visual statement at the 2017 and 2018 Women’s Marches— but do you know where the pink power started? I didn’t until I picked up the cheerful DIY Rules for a WTF World (Grand Central, $25, 256 pages, ISBN 9781538712337), written by Krista Suh, creator of the Pussyhat Project. Suh recalls being deluged with job offers and activist ventures after the 2017 march and feeling a bit lost. She listened to her gut (that’s Chapter 3, on intuition) and threw her energy into this book, a witty collection of brief lessons, pep talks and exercises designed to build confidence and a kick-ass, can-do spirit. Another way to think of it: a how-to-dismantle-the-patriarchy plan that starts in a woman’s mind, heart and body. This is a dip-in-anywhere book, with each chapter kicked off by a cute illustration by Suh. Although a wonderful resource for teens and young women, even those in the battle-hardened, wrinkled crowd (ahem) will find a needed boost in this book. And if you’re looking for that Pussyhat pattern? It’s right there in the final pages.


ROMANCE B Y C H R I S T I E R I D G WAY

Stolen hearts Julia London sets a delicious Highland romance on the high seas in Devil in Tartan (HQN, $7.99, 384 pages, ISBN 9781335629401). With her clan in dire financial straits, a desperate Lottie Livingstone embarks on a daring plan—she and her kinsmen will steal a ship and transport casks of whiskey to Denmark. To her surprise, she succeeds and finds herself in control of Captain Aulay Mackenzie, his vessel

and his crew. Aulay can’t believe he was foolish enough to be tricked by a woman’s beauty. His voyage was intended to prove that sea trade could be profitable for his clan, and now he’s lost some of his goods and a lot of his self-respect. As he journeys on as Lottie’s captive, however, he finds it hard not to admire her tenacity. She admires Aulay in return, and their close proximity— as well as brushes with danger— leads to an undeniable passion. But when their shared adventure ends, can Aulay forgive Lottie for all she’s taken from him? London’s latest is an action-packed ride.

THE PRINCESS BRIDE An orphan finds a new life in A Princess in Theory (Avon, $7.99, 384 pages, ISBN 9780062685544), first in a new series by Alyssa Cole. Orphaned at a young age, hardworking grad student Naledi Smith has always felt alone. But she’s too busy to dwell on that, or to do more than delete the strange emails telling her she’s the longlost betrothed of Prince Thabiso of Thesolo. Because Naledi refuses to answer any of the emails, Thabiso, who was promised to Naledi when they were small children, poses as her new neighbor. Naledi can’t

get her new acquaintance out of her mind, but soon the truth is out, and Thabiso earns her ire for his deception. However, she also learns she has living grandparents in Thesolo who are dangerously ill. In order to visit them and sort out her past, Naledi travels to the African country, where she begins to unravel mysteries and figure out what to do about Thabiso. This is a fun, fanciful romance perfect for readers dreaming of royal weddings.

He’ll lose her forever, unless he’s willing to sacrifice the unimaginable… NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR

TOP PICK IN ROMANCE Deeply romantic and spiced with danger, Lisa Kleypas’ Hello Stranger (Avon, $7.99, 400 pages, ISBN 9780062371911) will make readers swoon. Government agent Ethan Ransom secretly trails doctor Garrett Gibson around Victorian London in order to protect her on her rounds through its more dangerous neighborhoods. But when he steps in to defend her from ruffians, he can’t resist making himself known to her. Their powerful attraction to one another takes both by surprise. The fiercely independent Garrett fascinates Ethan, and he is enraptured by her fortitude and intelligence. And while Garrett has made her peace with having a satisfying career instead of a relationship, Ethan’s devotion makes her realize she could have both. But Ethan’s investigation into corruption soon embroils them both in a situation that could jeopardize their future and their lives. Kleypas’ elegant, assured prose and attentive characterization adorn every page of Hello Stranger. This is a fabulous love story with a perfectly matched pair at its heart.

Devil in

Tartan

“London is at the top of her game.” —Booklist, starred review, on Wild Wicket Scot

JuliaLondon.com • HQNBooks.com

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Two new paperbacks from

ALEXANDER M C CALL SMITH

©M

ichael Lionstar

“There’s not a more charming author on the face of the Earth.” —The Seattle Times

Incredible NEW READS “Marvelously evocative.... Exuberant…. [An] urban Indiana Jones–like escapade.” —The New York Times

“Wonderful, strong, funny, with yards and yards of beautiful writing. Its pages are full of reading pleasures.”

—Annie Proulx

“ Charming…. With wit and finely tuned insights.”

“ Another charmer in the 44 Scotland Street series…. An especially exciting one for fans…. Wow.”

—People

“ A funny, tender look at the complexities of family…. Witty, playful, and inventive, Rachel Hulin’s debut is just plain fun to read.”

—Booklist (starred review)

—Swan Huntley, author of We Could Be Beautiful

“A delightful mixture of humor, humanity, and observation. Just as at home in Italy as in Botswana, [McCall Smith] depicts the people of Tuscany in this novel with verve.” —Country Life

“Brody gets the challenges of going back to work as a new mom…. She explains how to tackle it all.” —PeopleStyle

“A book you MUST read if you are returning to work after the birth of a child…. I loved it and you will too.” —Lois P. Frankel, Ph.D., author of the New York Times bestseller Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office

VINTAGE

NEW IN PAPERBACK AND EBOOK Read excerpts, print reading group guides, find original essays and more at ReadingGroupCenter.com

ANCHOR


columns

BOOK CLUBS BY JULIE HALE

New in paperback Victor LaValle weaves elements of fairy tales, myth and good old-fashioned horror into his latest novel, The Changeling (Spiegel & Grau, $18, 448 pages, ISBN 9780812985870), a chilling tale of a shattered family. Apollo Kagwa, a rare-books dealer in New York City, is married to Emma Valentine. As new parents to a boy named Brian, they’re often tired and frazzled. But Emma’s outlook worsens—she becomes short-tempered and distant, even from Brian—and the change is a harbinger of things to

come. Emma’s bleak mood culminates in a terrible, life-altering incident, after which she disappears without a trace. When Apollo crosses paths with a stranger who may know what became of Emma, he embarks on a remarkable hunt that leads him to a lonely island and a cemetery, among other spooky locales. LaValle skillfully blends genres in this unforgettable narrative of one man’s struggle to make sense of the world. Named a top book of 2017 by Time and USA Today, this haunting story stays with the reader long after the last page is turned.

THE CURTAIN RISES Colm Tóibín’s House of Names (Scribner, $16, 288 pages, ISBN 9781501140228) is a masterful retelling of the ancient Greek tale of the House of Atreus, which was brought to life in the plays of Euripides, Aeschylus and Sophocles. Taking a cue from the work of those dramatists, Tóibín’s novel follows Clytemnestra, who, with the help of her lover, plans the murder of her husband, King Agamemnon, to avenge his sacrifice of their daughter during the Trojan War.

The novel also recounts the stories of Clytemnestra’s son, Orestes, who is living in exile, and her other daughter, Electra, who is driven by demons of her own. Comprised of four sections that focus upon each of the main characters, the book’s structure produces a rich, multilayered effect that underscores the duplicity and deceit endemic to the relationships of Clytemnestra and her kin. Chosen as a best book of 2017 by NPR, Tóibín’s latest novel—his 11th—is a gripping work of fiction filled with drama and betrayal.

TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS With her taut, suspenseful novel I Found You (Atria, $15, 352 pages, ISBN 9781501154607), British author Lisa Jewell has produced a nail-biter that will appeal to fans of Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train. In the fictional seaside town of Ridinghouse Bay, single mother Alice Lake encounters a strange man on the beach. He has no memory of how he arrived there, and Alice takes him to her home and tries to help him. The man may have connections to Lily Monrose, a Ukrainian living in London whose new husband recently disappeared. When Lily learns from the police that the man on the beach was carrying a false passport, she sets out to find him and learn his true story. Jewell entwines these strands with a narrative set 23 years in the past involving teenagers in Ridinghouse Bay who attract the attention of another strange man. She skillfully ties the threads together in an unforgettable mystery that keeps the reader guessing until the end.

Fresh Book Club Reads

for the spring I’LL BE YOUR BLUE SKY by Marisa de los Santos The bestselling author revisits the characters from her beloved novels Love Walked In and Belong to Me in this captivating, beautifully written drama involving family, friendship, courage, and true love.

SUNBURN by Laura Lippman “Another extraordinary novel from Laura Lippman—full of just-onemore chapter, stay-up-late suspense, but packed too with nuance, subtlety, observation and humanity.” —Lee Child, #1 New York Times bestselling author

PROMISE by Minrose Gwin In the aftermath of a devastating tornado, at the height of the Great Depression, two women worlds apart—one black, one white— fight for their families’ survival in this lyrical and powerful novel.

IF I DIE TONIGHT by Alison Gaylin An absorbing, addictive tale of psychological suspense, in which a seemingly open-and-shut police case turns out to be anything but simple.

 @Morrow_PB  @bookclubgirl  William Morrow  Book Club Girl

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cover story

WALTER MOSLEY

An imperfect hero for turbulent times

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aut, brutal and filled with author Walter Mosley’s trademark mix of imperfect winners and losers, Down the River Unto the Sea introduces a new hero: the complicated and endearing New York detective Joe King Oliver.

It’s a name that may catch the eye of Louis Armstrong fans: Band leader Joe “King” Oliver famously taught the jazz legend. Three pages into this fast-moving jazz solo of a noir, Mosley’s riffs on contemporary life will have you as hooked as Armstrong’s fans were on his mind-bending improvisations a century ago. “To write about someone who has the name of Louis Armstrong’s mentor is . . . kind of wonderful. That was just fun,” Mosley says. “[Joe] may be around for a while, who knows.” Sixty-six-year-old Mosley, who began writing at age 34, burst out of the gate with his 1990 Shamus Award-winning debut, Devil in a Blue Dress. Set in the Watts neighborhood in late-1940s Los Angeles and featuring the hard-drinking private eye Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, Devil also became a successful film featuring Denzel Washington as Easy and Don Cheadle as his sidekick, Mouse. The series, now 14

DOWN THE RIVER UNTO THE SEA

By Walter Mosley

Mulholland, $27, 336 pages ISBN 9780316509640, audio, eBook available

MYSTERY

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books deep, has worked its way to 1968 with Charcoal Joe, which was released in 2016. Mosley readily admits his compelling and timeless examination of the African-American experience has benefited as much from timing as technique. “One of the bad things about America, and I benefit from it, is that whenever you’re telling a real story about a black person or a group of black people in America, it probably hasn’t been written,” Mosley says. “Easy Rawlins is that detective.” However, Mosley says, “It’s not like it hasn’t been done.” He acknowledges his thematic contemporaries, Chester Himes, author of Cotton Comes to Harlem, and Ishmael Reed, author of The Last Days of Louisiana Red. “But Easy Rawlins was a new character, and Mouse was a new character, and Leonid McGill was a new character. It’s so interesting for me, writing these stories.” And Joe is definitely a new character. On the inspiration behind Joe’s backstory, Mosley says, “There are so many conflicts between authority and people who have been disenfranchised in some way.” Mosley muses that Down the River Unto the Sea reflects a broad view of marginalized Americans. “How does one live in a world where half the people in prison are people of color, and they don’t represent nearly that percentage of the population?” Recent conversations around racial prejudice in both the justice system and media inspired Mosley to create a character forced to walk between authority, as a detective and former police officer, and guilt, as a man falsely charged with sexual assault. When we meet Joe King, he is depressed and ruminating on a

host of conflicts in his sleepy PI agency. The former detective was one of the NYPD’s top investigators until he was dispatched to arrest an alluring car thief. When, much to Joe’s surprise, his investigation led to a sexual encounter with the woman in question, he found himself framed, arrested and sentenced to Rikers Island, where he spent nine months. In the decade since Joe’s near-fatal stay in Rikers Island, he has had to rebuild his “Joe is a pretty life and reclaim his sexuality good guy in a after it was world that’s used against him. Mosley not quite explains, “For up to his me, there is standards.” no conflict between wanting to do what’s right and having a healthy libido.” The dark cloud surrounding Joe’s past begins to lift when he receives a mysterious card from the woman who ended his career. Suddenly, his worst suspicions are confirmed—the shadowy forces who moved so effectively to frame and nearly kill him intend to complete the job. Mosley says,“Joe is a pretty good guy in a world that’s not quite up to his standards.” Once he discovers the truth, Joe vows to clear his name with the help of his teenage daughter and office assistant, Aja-Denise. Long the creator of hard-boiled and hard-loving detectives, Mosley also admits that gender and equal-

© MARCIA WILSON

I N T E R V I E W B Y J AY MacD O N A L D

ity issues have impacted character relationships in Down the River Unto the Sea. One of those relationships is Joe’s loving—if sometimes misguided—bond with his daughter, who is grappling with her own issues even as Joe does his best to protect her from the cruel realities of the world. Mosley says, “The thing that he does right is, he loves her. And that’s what she needs.” Joe’s quest for truth also involves his violent yet loyal partner, Melquarth “Mel” Frost, and an unexpected client—Frankie Figures, aka A Free Man, a black militant journalist condemned to death for killing two police officers under similarly suspect circumstances. According to A Free Man’s friends and followers, the journalist had discovered cops trafficking in drugs and prostitution in some of New York’s roughest neighborhoods. As Joe begins to uncover what really happened, Mosley paints a complex portrait of law and order. “You’re living in a world that’s moving on, it’s leaving most people behind, and the thing to figure out is, what does that mean? Where are we going? And I don’t know.” Assisted by Aja-Denise, Joe and


TOMI ADEYEMI

“A PHENOMENON.” —ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY “THE NEXT BIG THING.” —EBONY © Elena Seibert

Mel blaze through the boroughs, collecting clues from Mosley’s fully drawn and delightfully unlikely assemblage of characters, with two lives hanging in the balance. With all the conspiracies, relationships and self-discovery lining the pages of Down the River Unto the Sea, Mosley admits enjoying a character willing to bend the rules. “The mystery of it is inside Joe himself: What will he do? How does he solve—and fail to solve—these mysteries that he’s faced with?” Readers will discover that Joe isn’t afraid to flout the norm. “I think it goes far out of the realm of the expected in the same way that Chester Himes does . . . because we feel trapped by rules. To be able to go beyond that trap is kind of wonderful to me.” Mosley’s mysteries may belong on a shelf alongside Himes and Reed—but some critics argue differently. Mosley’s work has been drawn into an unlikely debate over whether he qualifies as a Jewish writer. “There was a big online argument about whether or not I was a Jewish writer,” says Mosley, who explains that he is not religious. “My mother was Jewish, so I’m a Jewish writer. That looks fine. I was never going to get involved in that argument. It’s hard enough to write books. I save that for my novels.” In addition to his daily writing routine, Mosley spends time in the writers’ room of director John Singleton’s FX series, “Snowfall,” and he’s also working on a new TV series based on his Leonid McGill books and developing a film version of his stand-alone The Man in My Basement with director William Oldroyd. Mosley also continues to tap his passion for jazz as he works on developing a musical based on Devil in a Blue Dress. All this from a guy who considers himself a man out of time. “I’m very old fashioned,” Mosley muses, “certainly not of this century. . . . The way I approach writing goes back to the 19th century. I’ve published 55 books, and I’m still writing them. I have three yet to come out. That’s what I do. So if you want to know what I think, read the books.”

the groundbreaking debut from

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features

TARA WESTOVER

Reclaiming a survivalist childhood

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escribing her childhood as the youngest of seven children growing up without schooling in the shadow of Buck Peak, Idaho, Tara Westover says, “It all seemed very normal to me.”

Speaking by phone from her home in Cambridge, England, Westover, 31, describes her life’s improbable trajectory that led to her startling memoir, Educated. It was so unusual, in fact, that a bidding war erupted over the sale of her book, which is now being published in more than 20 countries and has inspired comparisons to Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle and Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club. When her survivalist father recounted the story of the 11-day siege of Randy Weaver in the 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff, its vivid details became young Westover’s strongest memory. It was as though the Feds had invaded her own house with deadly gunfire. Striving to become fully independent and off the grid, the Westovers stockpiled food, gasoline, guns and a bullet-making machine in preparation for the End of Days. “I was kind of looking forward to it in a lot of ways,” she recalls. “We were totally prepared. It was going to be a reversal of fortunes. My family had always been poor and looked down upon. Suddenly we

EDUCATED

By Tara Westover

Random House, $28, 352 pages ISBN 9780399590504, audio, eBook available

MEMOIR

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were going to be royalty because we were going to have food and gasoline―all the things that people needed.” The younger children in Westover’s family didn’t have birth certificates or exact birthdates. She wasn’t allowed to go to school, and there was little homeschooling. “By the time I was 10, the only subject I had studied systematically was Morse code, because Dad insisted that I learn it,” she writes. Doctors and hospitals were forbidden as well; the family relied on her mother’s herbs and essential oils, even after car accidents, concussions and severe burns. An older brother taught Westover to read, using Little Bear Goes to the Moon as her primer. A few books lay around the house, but lessons and tests were nonexistent. She grew up studying the Book of Mormon, the Bible and essays by 19th-century Mormon prophets. Westover emphasizes that her story is not about Mormonism. She believes that mental illness, possibly bipolar disorder, led to her father’s extremism. “There is a caricature of Mormonism that people have,” she explains. “I don’t want to contribute to that. These aren’t Mormon attributes. Mormons send their kids to school.” Nor does Westover want her father to come across as a caricature. “Sure, his views are interesting,” she notes. “What’s also interesting is the fact that he sincerely believes them and that he is trying to look after his kids.” Educated is the remarkable story of Westover’s education. She taught herself math so she could take the ACT, and at age 17 she first set foot in a classroom after enrolling in Brigham Young University. Fellow students laughed at her for having never heard of the Holocaust. Despite failing her first exam and fearing she would flunk out, she

graduated in 2008 and later earned a Ph.D. in history at Trinity College, Cambridge. Despite the gaping holes in their early education, three of the seven Westover children ended up earning Ph.D.s. “We seriously overcompensated.” In many ways, Westover says, she had a positive childhood. “I grew up on a beautiful mountain that was like an amazing cathedral. The scrap yard at times was kind of like an exotic playground. And those are real parts of my childhood.” However, a giant cloud overshadowed everything. Her father’s actions often endangered “It was going his children, to be a reversal and her of fortunes. childhood was complicated My family by years of had always physical and been poor emotional and looked abuse by an older brother. down upon. Her brother Suddenly we and parents were going to deny this asbe royalty.” sertion, which has resulted in her estrangement from them and certain siblings. Westover says leaving home and becoming educated “made me see my brother’s violence for what it was. . . . Suddenly, I could not accept it. And so once I started writing, I realized it’s really not possible for me to tell the story of my education in any kind of meaningful way without telling the family story.” At first, the ongoing estrangement posed a problem in searching for an ending to her story. Westover admits, “In the end, I decided that maybe not having a neat ending

© PAUL STUART

INTERVIEW BY ALICE CARY

would be what this book was about.” Perhaps, she adds, “people would see bits of their messy lives in my messy life.” Her unique history presents hurdles when it comes to how she relates to her family in the present. “Most of the time I am no longer angry with them,” she says, “and the reason is that I am no longer afraid of them. I am no longer under their power.” Anger did, however, color her outlook for years. “I became someone who had no beautiful memories,” she recalls. Writing helped her reconcile the contradictory truths of her past. “I could keep all of them because they’re mine, and no one can take from me the good, but also no one can obscure for me the bad.” To prepare to write a booklength narrative, Westover read widely. And then, someone mentioned something called the short story. “I’d never heard of that before.” After listening to favorite episodes of the New Yorker Fiction Podcast 40 to 50 times, she modeled each chapter like a short story. The strategy makes her memoir particularly readable and compelling. “For me it was the greatest curriculum,” she says. Westover concludes, “You only get the life that you get. I’m glad that I was pushed in that way because now I know what I’m able to do. . . . But I wouldn’t go back and go through that again. Not for anything.”


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features

WOMEN’S HISTORY BY JULIE HALE

We are the leaders we’ve been waiting for

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omen speak up louder and stronger with every passing day, even though it can be hard to make the world listen. Women’s History Month is a time for recognizing the milestones reached on the road to equality and the pioneering women who have made progress possible. Five outstanding new titles focus on the female experience from a variety of viewpoints.

An inspiring tribute to 100 sensational women, Julia Pierpont’s The Little Book of Feminist Saints (Random House, $18, 208 pages, ISBN 9780399592744) celebrates trailblazing figures from the past and present. This who’s who of winning women spotlights educators and athletes, artists and activists. Luminaries include Maya Angelou, Frida Kahlo, Gloria Steinem, Sandra Day O’Connor, Billie Jean King and Oprah Winfrey. Small but jam-packed, the volume contains facts and anecdotes about each woman, along with memorable quotes and plenty of feminist trivia. Taking her cue from Catholic saint-of-the-day books, Pierpont gives each woman in her book “matron saint” status and a special feast day. (Nina Simone, for instance, is the “Matron Saint of Soul.”) In luminous, full-color portraits, artist Manjit Thapp captures the essence and individuality of her subjects. Small enough to tuck into a bag, this delightful book offers instant inspiration.

background of the American women’s suffrage movement, which began to take shape in the 1840s, providing a setup for the tension-filled debates and protests in Nashville that culminated in the August vote. Weiss brings the struggle for women’s suffrage to life through vivid portrayals of the suffragists and the “Antis” who challenged them, including Tennessee native Josephine Pearson. A lively slice of history filled with political drama, Weiss’ book captures a watershed moment for American women.

JOIN THE SISTERHOOD

The internet may make connecting with others easier than ever before, but there’s no substitute for old-fashioned, face-to-face friendship. In I Know How You Feel: The Joy and Heartbreak of Friendship in Women’s Lives (HMH, $27, 256 pages, ISBN 9780544870277), F. Diane Barth, a prominent psychotherapist, explores the particular challenges and rewards women face when forging friendships. Barth interviewed a wide range of women PROGRESS AT THE POLLS on the topic of friendship, and she On August 18, 1920, Tennessee includes their heartfelt testimoratified the 19th Amendment—a nies in the book. She also provides history-making move by the state advice on negotiating the thorny legislature that enabled women to territory that vote in elections across the nation. often comes In her absorbing new book, The with connecWoman’s Hour: The Great Fight to tion, offering Win the Vote (Viking, $28, 416 pag- suggestions es, ISBN 9780525429722), bestsell- on what to ing author Elaine Weiss retraces the do when a road to victory traveled by female friend drops reformers such as Carrie Chapman you, as well as Catt and Alice Paul. Weiss does a guidance on wonderful job of laying out the relationships

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with women who are competitive or controlling. Each chapter concludes with a “What You Can Do” segment that has proactive steps on how to combat loneliness, reach out to others and find the unique fulfillment that comes with friendship. A compelling look at the ways in which women bond, Barth’s book is eye-opening and essential reading for anyone trying to build— or maintain—a strong social circle.

POWER TOGETHER Beverly Bond established the organization BLACK GIRLS ROCK! in 2006 in order to support and promote the accomplishments of black women. Over the years, the organization has evolved into a movement, with an annual awards show, youth enrichment activities and now a book edited by Bond, Black Girls Rock!: Owning Our Magic. Rocking Our Truth. (Atria/37 INK, $30, 256 pages, ISBN 9781501157929), an inspiring salute to outstanding black women who are leading the way in politics, education and entertainment. This coffee table-worthy book spotlights fierce figures like Misty Copeland, Maxine Waters, Joy Reid, Lupita Amondi Nyong’o, Erykah

Badu and Serena Williams, each of whom contribute thoughtful essays on their experiences as black women. Divided into nine sections that highlight a particular facet of “Black Girl Magic,” the volume is filled with gorgeous new and archival photographs. “The women in this book showcase the beautiful complexity, depth of diversity, rich cultural traditions, and bountiful contributions of Black women,” Bond writes. “They remind us of our collective magic.” Rock on!

EQUALITY IN THE WORKPLACE Former USA Today editor-in-chief Joanne Lipman delivers a fascinating overview of today’s working environment in That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together (Morrow, $28.99, 320 pages, ISBN 9780062437211). In this important, accessible book, Lipman examines on-the-job dynamics between genders, addressing topics such as unconscious bias, communication and salary disparity. She also shares stories about her own professional evolution and investigates efforts by companies such as Google to create an equitable workplace. Women, Lipman says, “are attempting to fit into a professional world that was created in the image of men.” Drawing upon statistics from studies about women in the workplace, she explores the unique obstacles that female professionals face. (Case in point: According to one survey, women are 15 percent less likely to get promoted than men.) Perhaps most importantly, Lipman looks at the ways in which small businesses and large corporations alike can bridge the gender gap. Her book is a must-read for the career-minded reader—male or female.


st fa k a e r b r fo y d n a c g Eatin y la p o t k r o w e m o h Skipping tv g in h c t a w t h ig n ll a Staying up

Willow thought her mother was perfect. Until she wasn’t. Change your perspective. Read Rosie Colored Glasses.

BookClubbish.com BriannaWolfson.com


features

SHORT STORIES BY IAN SCHWARTZ

A story for every reader: Four new collections make storytelling look easy

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hat’s easier than writing a short story? Sit down on your lunch break, bang out a couple thousand words, maybe add a pinch of editing and there you are, four or five entertaining pages to wow friends, family and literary agents. After all, it’s not as if you’re writing a book. Practically anyone who has ever written a sentence knows they can write a short story—until they try. With no space to waste and no space wasted, short stories may be the purest, most difficult form of fiction. Some of the greatest American writers—including Henry James, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville—were, at one point or another, short story writers. With dozens of delicious stories that range from a teenager’s New York City to the Egyptian desert, from the gray Soviet Union to fraught Central Asia, these four collections—including three debuts—do what great tales should: Hook you fast and hold on tightly, all the way to the end. Some are traditional, some are experimental, and some break all the rules. The one thing these writers have in common is the talent to make it look easy enough for anyone to do it. Until, of course, they try.

that requires attachment, as they assume it will merely devolve into the heartbreak that has marked their families. In one story, a teenage girl tries to navigate the evolution of a lifelong friendship while exploring sex with the friend’s cousin. In another, the youngest of three siblings

tries to simultaneously fit in and distance herself from her broken family, which is scattered over two continents. In the title story, a high school girl at a house party turns the tables on a boy who stands behind her, harassing her and whisHEARTS ALONE pering in her ear, only to later pay I’d say remember the name the inevitable social consequences Danielle Lazarin, but if you read of speaking up. her first collection of short fiction, Back Talk is a pulsing, muscular there’s no danger you’ll forget it. In heart of a collection that is as good Back Talk (Penguin, $16, 256 pages, as any I have read in years. ISBN 9780143131472), her tales of A RUSSIAN GREAT the inner lives of girls and young women are nothing short of reveModern Russian literature latory. Forget about what women generally falls into two categories: want; as Lazarin illustrates in tales of Soviet life so heavy you gorgeous, limpid paragraphs that can practically feel the yoke upon will make you go back for more, your shoulders, and more recently, the more appropriate question is, tales that evoke the manic staccawhat don’t women want? Lazarin’s to of the diaspora. While both are New York women are uninterested prominent in Aetherial Worlds in being anyone’s accessory. They (Knopf, $25.95, 256 pages, ISBN fight tooth and nail against love 9781524732776), Tatyana Tolsta-

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ya’s writing is so good that it cuts through the surface directly to the universal workings of the human heart. In the sad and elegant “Smoke and Shadows,” a visiting Russian professor at a Midwestern school reluctantly falls in love with a married American counterpart.

Carolina, a Navy pilot happens upon a meeting of the Man Will Never Fly Society, whose membership is made up of former fliers. In my favorite story, Navy SEALs lie in ambush, waiting for the signal to attack, as an enemy patrol files by. Mackin’s stories are at times raw and can feel unfinished, but he’s clearly a writer with promise who knows his subject matter. He spent 23 years in the military, the last five as a member of a SEAL team. His writing life is almost as interesting: An English major in college who opted for the service, he later met Booker Prize-winning author George Saunders at a literary seminar in Russia. Saunders became his mentor, and his influence is apparent in Mackin’s marriage of the mundane and the absurd.

NEW POWERS

In another, an old woman going through long-neglected suitcases finds her father’s clothes, and she is able to remember him as the young man he once was and recall his promise to give her a hint about the afterlife. The Leningrad-born author is descended from both Leo Tolstoy and Ivan Turgenev; her bloodlines practically drip ink. But Tolstaya labors under no ancestor’s shadow.

WAR TALES Bring Out the Dog (Random House, $27, 192 pages, ISBN 9780812995640), a debut collection from Navy veteran Will Mackin, takes us into the world of modern war—and the soul of the modern soldier. On a night raid in Afghanistan, a member of a special operations unit is accidentally shot by one of his own. Back home in North

Anjali Sachdeva’s debut, All the Names They Used for God (Spiegel & Grau, $26, 272 pages, ISBN 9780399593000), is a wide-ranging collection of stories that are a blend of fact and fiction, seamlessly integrating magical realism and the firmly earthbound. Sachdeva’s fantastic world is one where angels visit a blind old man and help him write one of the greatest poems in history, and where an albino woman on the American frontier discovers a world under the earth that she prefers to the one above ground. Sachdeva’s spare, unsentimental writing is never more artfully deployed than in the title story, an emotionally scorching tale of two African women’s kidnap and escape from a Boko Haram-type army. In captivity, the two women discover powers they never knew they could possess, but can their strength ever allow them to be the girls they once were? Sachdeva’s eclectic stories span time and geography, packing a wallop even greater due to their diversity. It’s a strong collection from start to finish, with not a weak story in the bunch.


reviews

FICTION

T PI OP CK

novel will not soon forget these two strong, driven young women. —DEBORAH DONOVAN

Visit BookPage.com to read a Behind the Book essay by Shobha Rao.

THE HOUSE OF BROKEN ANGELS

Come together to remember REVIEW BY OMAR EL AKKAD

Given the fractures that mark the history of the United States and the many immigrants who call this nation home, it’s not particularly surprising that so much of American storytelling gravitates toward the familial, seeks shelter in that blood-bound country within the country. What has been said best about American life in the realm of fiction has often been said through the prism of the American family. It is squarely through the door of the familial that Luis Alberto Urrea’s dizzying new novel, The House of Broken Angels, enters the pantheon and takes its rightful place alongside the best contemporary accounting of what it means to belong in this country of endless otherness. By Luis Alberto Urrea The novel takes place both in chronological time and in violation of Little, Brown, $27, 336 pages it. It follows the de la Cruz clan, “an American family, which happens ISBN 9780316154888, audio, eBook available to be from Mexico.” The family’s eldest, Mamá América, has died. Her son, the family patriarch Miguel Angel de la Cruz, is also dying, but he FAMILY SAGA attempts to ward off death long enough to organize back-to-back family gatherings: his mother’s funeral and his own final birthday party. The narrative—sometimes bittersweet, sometimes uproarious—swoops between these two events and the personal histories of their attendees. Urrea writes in exhilarating but controlled slashes, wielding a machete that cuts like a scalpel. Every page comes alive with scent, taste and, perhaps most movingly, touch. The novel’s most affecting characters are passing through the tail end of life. They carry the burden of a shared history, and in this way their smallest, most delicate interactions—the brush of a hand, the sight of scarred and sagging skin—are alive with the weight of all that once was. The House of Broken Angels is about a quintessentially American family, a family that came north looking for heaven but found that “heaven Visit BookPage.com to read was a blueprint.” But it’s also about what it means to look back on a life a Q&A with Luis Alberto Urrea. and, with total honesty, take stock.

GIRLS BURN BRIGHTER By Shobha Rao

Flatiron $25.99, 320 pages ISBN 9781250074256 Audio, eBook available DEBUT FICTION

At the core of Shobha Rao’s magnificent and heart-wrenching debut novel is a unique friendship forged between two young women from a small Indian village. Poornima and Savitha’s bond sustains them despite insurmountable odds; their first obstacle is simply being born into a community that celebrates the births of sons but considers daughters as objects to be married off as soon as possible.

After 15-year-old Poornima’s mother dies and the traditional year of mourning has passed, her father contacts the local matchmaker to find her a suitable husband. At the same time, Poornima meets Savitha, who is a year older than Poornima and from an even poorer family. With three younger sisters, a chronically ill father and a mother who cleans houses, Savitha is forced to scour the garbage dumps daily for food, or perhaps something to sell. Poornima’s father, a sari weaver, is looking for someone to sit at his dead wife’s loom to help increase his output, so Savitha fills that position and becomes Poornima’s close friend. Despite her dire circumstances, Savitha is full of joy and hope—feelings that Poornima has all but forgotten.

When a probable match for Poornima is found in a distant village, the girls plan ways to stay in touch after the marriage. But suddenly Savitha becomes the victim of a horrific crime, and she disappears—without telling Poornima where she is going. Rao fills the second half of her captivating novel with the devastating circumstances that engulf these young women over the next several years. From extreme cruelty to kidnapping and entrapment in a sexual slavery ring, each traumatic experience keeps them separated by thousands of miles, and finding a way to meet again seems impossible. Girls Burn Brighter focuses an enlightening lens on contemporary headlines that often seem abstract. Readers of Rao’s vital, vibrant

ANATOMY OF A MIRACLE By Jonathan Miles Hogarth $27, 368 pages ISBN 9780553447583 Audio, eBook available COMIC FICTION

Four years after a veteran of the war in Afghanistan was paralyzed by an IED explosion, he suddenly rises from his wheelchair in the parking lot of a Biloxi, Mississippi, convenience store—and that’s when Jonathan Miles’ smart exploration of everything from the excesses of American popular culture to the deepest aspects of religious belief roars to life. At first, former high school football star Cameron Harris’ seemingly miraculous recovery sparks bewilderment in his physician, which soon curdles into outright skepticism. And when Cameron and his sister, Tanya, become the stars of a reality TV show called “Miracle Man,” and a Vatican representative arrives to investigate the possibility that Cameron’s recovery may be the second miracle necessary to elevate a deceased archbishop to sainthood, the stakes grow impossibly higher. As the need to explain Cameron’s sudden recovery becomes more intense, Miles gradually unwraps a secret that has the potential to upend the young man’s newfound celebrity. Whether it’s a terrifying firefight in the snowy mountains of Afghanistan or the fervor that swirls around the Biloxi convenience store as it’s transformed, with the spreading news of Cameron’s “miracle,” into a place that’s like “someone opened a Cracker Barrel at Lourdes,” the novel is a vivid portrait of our need to believe and its unintended consequences. Miles (Dear American Airlines) cleverly disguises his new novel as

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spotlight

INSPIRATIONAL FICTION BY LONNA UPTON

Faith always finds a way

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od’s plan is often difficult to see, especially in our darkest moments. By examining their hearts, the characters in these inspirational novels discover that life is so much better when they renew their spiritual beliefs and follow God’s plan rather than their own crooked paths. In the same thought-provoking style that propels his previous novels, James L. Rubart takes readers on a journey of self-discovery and renewal through the story of husband, father and rejected NFL player Toren Daniels in The Man He Never Was (Thomas Nelson, $15.99, 384 pages, ISBN 9780718099398). Upon waking in a strange hotel with no memory of his nine-month disappearance, Toren finds himself in a vulnerable position, yet for some reason, he is at peace. Since Toren disappeared, his wife has moved on to a new man, and his children don’t miss his angry tirades. Toren slowly begins to remember the days of his absence, a life-changing experience that holds important lessons he must continue to follow in order to find the love and joy that God intends for his life. He faces a daunting task: prove to himself that his spiritual renewal can last and prove to his family that he is indeed a new man, one worthy of their love and respect. With parallels to Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and its exploration of the good and bad in all of us, The Man He Never Was challenges readers to examine themselves. How do we change the worst parts of ourselves into something of which God would approve? Toren’s struggle reminds us that the trials may not be easy, but with honest self-examination, we can experience the good life that God plans for us all.

SECRETS AND HEALING With help from her helicopter-flying heroine, bestselling

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author Colleen Coble pilots readers through The View from Rainshadow Bay (Thomas Nelson, $15.99, 336 pages, ISBN 9780718085766), the first book in her new Lavender Tides series. Filled with the suspense for which Coble is known, the novel is rich in detail with a healthy dose of romance, allowing readers to bask in the beauty of Washington state’s lavender fields, lush forests and jagged coastline.

Pilot Shauna McDade, who has been a single mother since her husband was killed in a climbing accident a year earlier, finds herself engulfed by grief once again when her mentor and his wife are both found dead. Suspicious about their deaths, Shauna turns to Zach, her husband’s best friend and the man she blames for his death. It appears that Shauna may be the killer’s next target, so she and Zach begin their sleuthing, fitting together pieces of a puzzle that implicate townspeople they know and love, including Shauna’s father, a less-than-forthcoming alcoholic whose secrets about Shauna’s childhood could have devastating implications. As they search for clues and try to prevent further loss of life in their tightknit community, Shauna and Zach also seek an answer to why bad things happen to good people—and along the way, they work together to mend

their fragile hearts.

PATIENT SPIRIT A Passionate Hope (Revell, $15.99, 368 pages, ISBN 9780800720377) by Jill Eileen Smith retells the biblical story of Hannah’s faithfulness, offering readers inspiration and encouragement to never stop singing praises to God. Fourth in Smith’s Daughters of the Promised Land series, the novel takes readers deep into the suffering Hannah endured and the patience she practiced while waiting for her prayers to be answered. The love shared by Hannah and her husband, Elkanah, is not enough to sustain them when the two discover she is barren. Pressured to produce an heir, Elkanah marries Peninnah, a jealous woman who makes Hannah’s life miserable. Although the polygamous marriages depicted in Scripture were often practical and acceptable, Hannah’s situation is almost untenable, with a sister-wife in constant competition for Elkanah’s attention. The larger canvas of the book depicts the faithful followers of God, who are concerned about corruption among the priests and pray that someone will clean up the tabernacle, returning it to its purpose as the House of the Lord. Could Hannah be part of God’s plan to restore the tabernacle? Hannah’s heartfelt prayers come from a place of honesty and true surrender to God’s will, and she never gives up on her family or her faith. Her story will inspire readers to keep their own faith in the midst of despair and trust that God will find a way.

reviews a work of investigative reporting, even going so far as to thank his fictional creations in his acknowledgments. For all he does to make the book appear as a work of journalism, Miles doesn’t sacrifice his characters’ inner lives to the demands of his well-orchestrated plot. Anatomy of a Miracle is a thoughtful modern morality play that’s as current as the latest internet meme and as timeless as the foundations of faith. —HARVEY FREEDENBERG

WINTER SISTERS By Robin Oliveira

Viking $27, 416 pages ISBN 9780399564253 Audio, eBook available HISTORICAL FICTION

A late-season blizzard batters 1879 Albany, New York, and the blinding white seems to have swallowed up two young sisters, Emma and Claire O’Donnell. The snow cripples the city for days, and when it finally begins to melt, Emma and Claire are still missing. Not sure whether the girls are alive or dead, Drs. Mary Sutter and William Stipp, close friends of the family, cease their search and try to continue living without them. When the news of the disappearances reaches Mary’s mother, Amelia, and niece, Elizabeth, who are abroad in Paris, they return home on the next ship. Spring comes to Albany and brings a flood as the frozen river breaks up, just as the town seems to crack in two along with it. Marriages are strained, sons grow suspicious of fathers, business dealings are not what they seem— and that’s just in the Van der Veer family, one of the city’s most prosperous. At the center of it all, the disappearance of the “winter sisters” continues to captivate Albany’s residents, from prostitutes and police to lumber barons and society matrons. Allegations swirl, and the truth eventually proves stranger than anyone had imagined—or feared.


FICTION In Winter Sisters, Robin Oliveira (My Name Is Mary Sutter) spins a long, twisting tale, mixing amended historical facts with the intrigue of a true crime drama. Though her characterizations do descend into well-trodden molds at times, her women are strength and courage personified. Many of the men (except for a phenomenal few) fall short at best and, at worst, commit reprehensible acts. But in Mary, Amelia, Elizabeth and others, Oliveira shows the tenacity of women. They rise to meet challenges with an unwavering sense of morality and duty. And Oliveira holds the reader in her thrall through each suspenseful turn. —MELISSA BROWN

CENSUS By Jesse Ball

Ecco $25.99, 272 pages ISBN 9780062676139 Audio, eBook available

father’s inner monologue and in the process offers a glimpse of a person facing his inevitable end. “I was a better doctor for having had my son,” the father reflects, “for it left me with a basic stance—that I should not expect anything in particular from anyone, a humility vested not so much in an appraisal of myself, as in a lack of confidence in valuation and prediction.” Census is a thoughtful, introspective novel that may leave readers contemplating the value of their own relations and inner lives. —CARLA JEAN WHITLEY

THE SPARSHOLT AFFAIR By Alan Hollinghurst Knopf $28.95, 432 pages ISBN 9781101874561 Audio, eBook available FAMILY SAGA

In his marvelous novel The Stranger’s Child, Alan Hollinghurst spanned the 20th century to tell the story of an enigmatic poem When a father learns his life is and its relevance to generations of nearing its end, he’s left to reckone family. He employs a similar on with what remains. His wife structure in his new novel, The preceded him in death, and he isn’t Sparsholt Affair, another multisurprised that his own is imminent. generational saga, this time focusBut the couple’s adult son, who has ing on the Sparsholts and the effect Down syndrome, will outlive him. a highly public midcentury scandal The father wants to embrace every has on their family and legacy. day he has left with his child, while The first of the novel’s five secalso ensuring his son will be OK in tions is set in 1940. Several Oxford a world without him. classmates, many of them gay, The father, previously a doctor, belong to a literary society. The signs up for a job as an unusual students become infatuated with census taker for a secretive govern- David Sparsholt, an aspiring engineer whom they first encounter ment bureau. The position offers the pair an excuse to do something as he exercises in front of an open the father and mother had long window, “a figure in a gleaming sindiscussed: He and his son will glet, steadily lifting and lowering a travel the country, from municipal- pair of hand-weights.” David has a ity A to Z, and meet the country’s girlfriend, but the classmates woncitizens along the way. der if that might be a smokescreen. As the pair travels, novelist Jesse One student convinces David to Ball slowly reveals that the trip isn’t pose nude for a drawing. Another about the census so much as the is determined to sleep with him. people who fill a life and a place. The novel’s main character, howThe unnamed father and son meet ever, is Johnny Sparsholt, David’s people of all sorts, some welcoming son. Readers first meet Johnny in and some skeptical of the man who the mid-1960s when, at age 14, will mark them with a census tattoo. he’s vacationing with his parents Ball’s spare prose centers on the and eager to pursue a romance

with Bastien, an exchange student who’s staying with Johnny’s family. During this holiday, a scandal involving David’s secret affair brings ignominy to the family. The notoriety of the scandal weighs on openly gay Johnny for the next 50 years, as he becomes a celebrated painter and interacts with many of the people from his father’s past. Hollinghurst has a tendency to use dialogue too obviously to convey background information, but the Jamesian elegance and psychological acuity of his previous novels grace The Sparsholt Affair as well. This is a moving work from one of modern literature’s finest authors.

Readers know more than Elsie does: From page one, her more modern story is intercut with both scenes from the 1630s, when the silent companions joined the household, and chapters from the near future, where a now-mute Elsie is confined to a sanatorium. But plenty of suspense comes from waiting to discover when and how the boom will fall. Purcell ably summons a pervasive sense of doom and dread, and though few of the story beats will truly surprise genre fans, she conjures some genuinely creative horror elements. The Silent Companions is a shivery treat.

—MICHAEL MAGRAS

—T R I S H A P I N G

THE SILENT COMPANIONS By Laura Purcell

Penguin $16, 320 pages ISBN 9780143131632 eBook available GOTHIC FICTION

THE LAST EQUATION OF ISAAC SEVERY By Nova Jacobs

Touchstone $25, 352 pages ISBN 9781501175121 Audio, eBook available DEBUT FICTION

SPECULATIVE FICTION

The chill of The Silent Companions sneaks up on you and then settles in like a gray mist on a British moor. Which is no doubt intentional, since Laura Purcell’s third novel follows solidly in the Gothic literary tradition. It’s an unnerving read of a woman’s unraveling. It’s 1865, and Elsie Bainbridge is en route to her new husband’s estate, The Bridge, in rural England. But it’s not a happy journey: Rupert Bainbridge has suddenly died there, and she’s traveling as a widow, not a bride, with only his cousin Sarah at her side. She’s also pregnant. When Elsie arrives at The Bridge, things go from bad to worse. The housekeeper is borderline hostile, the servants are frightened of strange things that happen in the nursery, and mysterious 17th-century wooden figures are found in a locked room. These “silent companions” are a link to a Bainbridge ancestor, and Elsie starts to suspect they have a sinister purpose. She begins to believe that Rupert’s death was no accident—are she and her baby the next target?

Hazel Severy isn’t a math person. While the rest of her adoptive clan revels in the art of quantum mathematics, Hazel would rather be running her beloved bookstore or reading F. Scott Fitzgerald. But when her grandfather, Isaac, dies under questionable circumstances, Hazel is thrust into a bizarre puzzle. Isaac has entrusted Hazel with his top-secret equation, one that could have a catastrophic impact if it falls into the wrong hands.

Debut novel by Cynthia Robinson Birds of Wonder available now wherever books are sold. cynthiarobinsonbooks.com

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reviews Now Hazel must weed through the mathematics of Isaac’s clues— without any help from her genius family—to make sure her grandfather’s final wishes are honored before it’s too late. As the Severy family mourns their patriarch’s death, each is in service of his or her own agenda. Why is Hazel’s police officer brother behaving suspiciously? What burden is Isaac’s professor son keeping from his wife and child? What is the motive behind Hazel’s estranged cousin’s extended stay? Most importantly, why are additional family members starting to die? Each member of the charmingly odd Severy family is a work in (completely relatable) progress as they struggle to secure their place in the shadow of the legend that was Isaac Severy. Keeping up with their individual trials may seem daunting at first, but the effort is rewarded at the end of their respective dramas. Debut novelist Nova Jacobs has plotted an elaborate riddle within a multifaceted exploration of family and identity. This genre-bending story will appeal to lovers of family dramas such as Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, as well as readers who prefer their stories full of intellectual suspense. —AMANDA TRIVETT

PROMISE By Minrose Gwin

Morrow $25.99, 400 pages ISBN 9780062471710 Audio, eBook available HISTORICAL FICTION

On Sunday, April 5, 1936, a tornado devastated Tupelo, Mississippi. More than 200 people were reported dead, and the hundreds of African-American casualties were not even counted. The stories and folklore surrounding the storm flourished for decades—a woman found a baby in a crepe myrtle, a cow flew upside down, etc. In her second novel, Minrose Gwin (The Queen of Palmyra) harnesses

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FICTION the intensity of the tornado and pieces together a dual narrative of survival. Dovey Grand’homme is an old African-American washwoman, and Jo McNabb is a white 15-yearold schoolgirl. The Grand’homme and McNabb families are connected by more than just the intimate laundry that Dovey sorts through weekly—they are also irrevocably linked by a despicable act. Son McNair, Jo’s older brother, raped Dovey’s granddaughter, resulting in a light-skinned baby boy named Promise. During the storm, both Promise and Jo’s baby brother are lost. When Jo finds a baby in her yard, she assumes it is her brother, and the premise is set for this impressive novel. Promise takes on the page-turning pacing of a mystery while remaining solidly literary. Gwin’s writing is as precise as it is entertaining, and she creates unique rhythms for Dovey and Jo, giving each a distinct pulse. Their memories, supported by a great cast of nurses, neighbors and relatives, bring great richness to the story. The aid available to the African-American community was obviously insufficient, and literally countless lives were lost for the sake of keeping segregation intact during immediate relief efforts. Humans may have the ability to overcome disaster, but as Gwin illustrates here, segregation neutralizes humanity. —LESLIE HINSON

ing assumptions and demanding attention for unavoidable truths— this time about being black, queer and the child of successful immigrants in the United States. High schooler Niru, the son of affluent, conservative Nigerian parents in Washington, D.C., tries to follow his parents’ wishes (he’s attending Harvard premed next fall), and his sexual awakening as a gay man comes with self-loathing and shame. He begs God for deliverance, and after his father drags him to Nigeria to “cure” his homosexuality, Niru attempts to block out his desires. But then Niru meets Damien, who makes it impossible to ignore his true feelings. The majority of Speak No Evil unfolds through Niru’s perspective, but there is a shorter, final section told by his best friend, a white girl named Meredith. Her section, set six years later, recalls a horrifying act of violence. For this tragedy to be told from a white heterosexual character’s perspective is a crushing blow to Niru’s story—who gets to have a voice, after all? But those who get the last word have the greatest responsibility, and for all the mistakes made in Niru’s life— by his family and by himself—and for all the wealth and security his family possesses, it does not fall to the black child of immigrants to fix the American system’s deepest cruelties. This graceful, consuming tale of differences, imbalances and prejudices is necessary reading. —CAT ACREE

SPEAK NO EVIL By Uzodinma Iweala

Harper $26.99, 224 pages ISBN 9780061284922 Audio, eBook available LITERARY FICTION

It’s been 12 years since the publication of Uzodinma Iweala’s astounding debut, Beasts of No Nation, a novel of West African political unrest narrated by a child. With his second novel, Speak No Evil, Iweala once again allows a young voice to ring clearly, shatter-

THE COINCIDENCE MAKERS By Yoav Blum

St. Martin’s $26.99, 304 pages ISBN 9781250146113 Audio, eBook available

putting his own playful spin on one of humanity’s biggest philosophical conundrums. In Blum’s re-envisioning of the universe, free will and fate coexist in a delicate dance: We all have the power to make choices, but these choices are orchestrated by an elite team known as the Coincidence Makers. Guy, Emily and Eric are three such Coincidence Makers, and it’s their job to keep everything on track by adjusting circumstances and making sure everyone sticks to their steps and executes their part of the dance. As relatively low-level agents, the three are often tasked with seemingly random tasks like arranging for people to meet and fall in love, convincing someone to change careers or even getting a butterfly to flap one of its wings. However, all this changes when Guy receives the most difficult, dangerous and morally dubious assignment of his career, one that will forever change their understanding of cause and effect. Already a bestseller in Blum’s home country of Israel, this existential, mind-bending jigsaw puzzle of a novel is supremely satisfying when all the pieces fall into place. Perfect for readers who enjoy a cerebral bent to their fiction, The Coincidence Makers is a unique and unforgettable story about what happens when you try to make life go according to your own script. —STEPHENIE HARRISON

CHICAGO By David Mamet

Custom House $26.99, 352 pages ISBN 9780062797193 Audio, eBook available THRILLER

DEBUT FICTION

If you’ve ever told someone (or been told) that “everything happens for a reason,” you need The Coincidence Makers. In his ambitious and genre-bending debut, Yoav Blum gamely tackles the quandary of fate versus free will,

David Mamet hasn’t published a novel in 20 years, but he makes up for it in every way with Chicago. Set during the height of Prohibition, the novel follows intrepid reporter Mike Hodge, whose nose for news only serves to get him into trouble. While other reporters at the Chicago Tribune make an effort


FICTION to stay under the radar of City Hall, mobster Al Capone and even their own publisher, Mike constantly looks for rocks to turn over and skeletons to expose. A veteran fighter pilot of World War I, Mike prefers the stories “told at the bar” than those printed “in the rag” for which he works. Mike thinks outside the box, uncovering sources no one else considers. After attending a series of mob-related funerals, he approaches the florist to the mob for insider knowledge, and instead meets the Irish girl of his dreams, Annie Walsh. Mike’s knack for words (“Jackie Weiss,” he writes, “had died of a broken heart, it being broken by several slugs from a .45.”) garners him respect among the mob. But his dogged questions about a pair of shadowy men attending the funeral ultimately get the best of him, leading to Annie’s murder and plunging Mike into a quest for justice and revenge. Movie buffs will immediately recall Mamet’s screenplay for The Untouchables about the legendary showdown between FBI Agent Eliot Ness and Capone. Whereas the movie was a tense, action-packed shoot’em-up, Chicago is a more methodical whodunit, though fraught with plenty of tense peril of its own. Better yet, Chicago is a master class in the author’s trademark “Mamet speak,” made famous by his Pulitzer Prize-winning screenplay Glengarry Glen Ross. Every page is layered with sharply drawn, often biting dialogue. Some of the conversations are so thick you may have to read them twice to catch everything, but they’re so good you won’t mind one bit. —G. ROBERT FRAZIER

HAPPINESS By Aminatta Forna Atlantic Monthly $26, 368 pages ISBN 9780802127556 eBook available LITERARY FICTION

In Aminatta Forna’s fourth novel, Happiness, the collision of two

strangers on a London bridge sets in motion a series of events involving a missing child, a mysterious court case and city-dwelling foxes. When animal biologist Jean Turane is knocked down by Attila Asare on Waterloo Bridge, she is in pursuit of a fox whose behavior she’s been chronicling as part of a larger study on urban wildlife. Attila, a noted psychologist from Ghana, is on his way to a dinner. Both have devoted their professional lives to understanding and interpreting behavior, whether in child soldiers or animals, and find that their initial meeting, however accidental, reveals they have much in common. Attila is in town to present a paper on war-related post-traumatic stress disorder but also plans to visit family and to check in on Rose, a former lover and co-worker diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Over the next 10 days, Attila’s niece is swept up in an immigration crackdown, and Rose’s needs prove ill served by the nursing home, while Jean gets drawn more deeply into a citywide fox-culling controversy. Both Attila and Jane turn to neighborhood residents—mostly North African immigrants—to assist them in their searches for missing relatives and elusive foxes, and their relationship evolves from allies to lovers. When Attila is asked to be an expert witness in a court case involving a woman from Sierra Leone accused of arson, he begins to re-evaluate the causal links between suffering and trauma, and starts to question the nature of happiness itself. Forna has explored war and its aftermath before, most notably in her memoir, The Devil That Danced on the Water, which centered on her father’s execution for false charges of treason during the civil war in Sierra Leone. Happiness is a different kind of book— less dramatic, but with the delicacy and strength of a spider’s web. An understated but piercing narrative of great compassion, Happiness trades action for a thoughtful study of adaptability and the empathic bonds shared between humans and animals. —LAUREN BUFFERD

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reviews T PI OP CK

NONFICTION

WITHOUT PRECEDENT

Laying the foundation REVIEW BY ROGER BISHOP

When John Marshall was appointed as the fourth chief justice of the United States by President John Adams, the Supreme Court had few cases, no genuine authority and met in the basement of the U.S. Capitol. But from 1801 to 1835, the court transformed under Marshall’s leadership, issuing more than 1,000 mostly unanimous decisions, with half of them written by Marshall himself. The oldest of 15 children, Marshall grew up in a cabin on the Virginia frontier, and his formal education consisted of just one year of grammar school and six weeks of law school. But this lack of schooling did not hinder his ascent: His service in the American Revolution, during which he impressed George Washington; his reputation as an outstanding attorney; his diplomatic mission to France during which he successfully worked to avert war; and his service as Adams’ secretary of By Joel Richard Paul state led to his appointment as one of the most influential chief justices Riverhead, $30, 512 pages in American history. ISBN 9781594488238, audio, eBook available Joel Richard Paul, a professor of constitutional and international law, HISTORY compellingly details the path that brought Marshall to the Supreme Court and how he was able to achieve so much while there in the absorbing and aptly titled Without Precedent. Paul sees Marshall as a master of self-invention who “played many parts so well because he was at heart a master actor . . . his gift for illusion transformed not only himself but the Court, the Constitution, and the nation as well.” Marshall was a Federalist, yet all of the justices selected during his 34-year tenure were not of his party. However, Marshall was not an ideologue, and emphasized moderation, pragmatism and compromise, while regularly employing his rare gift for friendship to reach consensus. As chief justice, Marshall was able to establish an independent judiciary system and assured the supremacy of the federal Constitution. Highlights of the book include Paul’s illuminating discussions of major court decisions; Marshall’s devotion to his beloved wife, Polly, who was ill for most of their married lives; Marshall’s long-running differences with his cousin Thomas Jefferson; and his friendship with Jefferson’s ally, James Madison. This engrossing account of a key figure in our early history makes for excellent reading.

ENLIGHTENMENT NOW By Steven Pinker

Viking $35, 576 pages ISBN 9780525427575 Audio, eBook available PHILOSOPHY

Is life getting better or worse? Watching the news these days, it seems that our cities are threatened by violence, our country is more politically divided than ever, and our world is endangered by global warming. The future looks pretty bleak. But Steven Pinker, Harvard professor and bestselling

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author, offers a different outlook. Picking up where he left off in 2011’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, which argued that violence and discrimination have lessened over time, Enlightenment Now posits that life has improved by several measures over the last 350 years, in large part because of the Enlightenment, a global movement that originated in 18th-century Europe and centered on the idea that any problem could be meaningfully addressed through the systematic application of human effort. Pinker further presses that the insights and approaches of the Enlightenment—including reason, science and humanism—offer keys to humanity’s continued success. Pinker first establishes the book’s

philosophical premise, suggesting that a favorable assessment of humanity’s progress since the 1700s is both obvious and provocative. Thinkers and pundits on both the right and the left, Pinker writes, prefer fatalism and radicalism, and position the present moment in a doomsday narrative that belies the truth of humanity’s global well-being. Pinker measures progress as related to particular topics, such as health, wealth, sustenance, equal rights, safety, quality of life and happiness. He does not limit himself to the Western world, but instead seeks a global point of view, relying on academic works from a dizzying array of disciplines (medicine, history, sociology and psychology) to provide evidence

for his claims. Because of this vigorous approach and Pinker’s articulate authorial voice, as well as the elegant graphs that accompany each chapter, this ambitious book is an entirely absorbing read. To settle in with Enlightenment Now is to receive the sense that, on the whole, life is on the upswing and, to quote from the popular musical Hamilton, we should “look around” and acknowledge “how lucky we are to be alive right now!” — K E L LY B L E W E T T

Visit BookPage.com to read a Q&A with Steven Pinker.

THE CADAVER KING AND THE COUNTRY DENTIST By Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington

PublicAffairs $28, 416 pages ISBN 9781610396912 Audio, eBook available TRUE CRIME

In 1992, Levon Brooks received a life sentence for the 1990 sexual assault and murder of a 3-year-old girl in rural Noxubee County, Mississippi. In 1995, Kennedy Brewer was sentenced to death for committing a similar crime in the same county—so similar, in fact, that it should have raised questions about the validity of Brooks’ conviction. Both men were innocent, yet they spent years of their lives in prison, until finally, in 2008, they were exonerated by DNA evidence. The murders were actually committed by Justin Albert Johnson, a convicted sex offender who lived near both victims. Oddly, Johnson had been a suspect in both of these cases, but each time, Johnson was excluded as a suspect because of the forensic evidence of Dr. Steven Hayne and Dr. Michael West. In The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist, Radley Balko, a Washington Post reporter, and Tucker Carrington, the director of the George C. Cochran Innocence Project at the University of Mississippi School of Law, meticulously detail the absurd lengths to which


NONFICTION Hayne and West would go to clinch guilty verdicts in hundreds of cases. If the stakes were not so high, Hayne’s and West’s shenanigans would seem nearly comical. But as Balko and Carrington make clear, Hayne and West were both the symptom and the product of a criminal justice system tainted by racism, cronyism and corruption. This is a true crime story, but it is more than a report of the tragic murders of two young girls. The crime at the center of this book is the one committed by a justice system that is more concerned with conviction rates than unearthing the truth, by a state with a history of using incarceration to subjugate black men, and by two men whose greed and hubris blinded them to the lives they ruined. Compellingly written, The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist is a chilling reminder of what happens to the rule of law when the law forgets the rules. —DEBORAH MASON

WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE? By Marilynne Robinson

FSG $27, 336 pages ISBN 9780374282219 Audio, eBook available ESSAYS

Though she’s best known for novels like her Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead, in recent years Marilynne Robinson has quietly been building an impressive body of nonfiction work. In What Are We Doing Here?, her third collection of essays since 2012, she again discourses with depth and sensitivity on an impressive range of topics in theology, philosophy and contemporary American life. Save for two undated essays that conclude the volume, all of the pieces comprising the book were written between 2015 and 2017. Many were delivered in the form of lectures at churches or institutions of higher education around the world. As in her last book, The Givenness of Things, Robinson

doesn’t flinch from engagement with deep aspects of Christian theology, something that may be a difficulty for more casual readers. An enlightening theme of several pieces is Puritan belief and culture, as she seeks to rescue thinkers like Jonathan Edwards from the stigma of narrow-mindedness traditionally attached to the label of Puritanism. Robinson is at her most accessible and eloquent when, as a “self-professed liberal,” she focuses her critical eye on prominent aspects of our current political climate. As she explains in “A Proof, a Test, an Instruction,” written a few weeks after the 2016 election, she’s an unabashed admirer of Barack Obama, describing her respect for him as “vast and unshadowed.” The two engaged in a deep and impressively wide-ranging conversation in Des Moines, Iowa, in September 2015, which was later published in The New York Review of Books. She concludes this book with the essay “Slander,” lamenting how her mother, who died at age 92, “lived out the end of her fortunate life in a state of bitterness and panic,” as a result of her obsessive devotion to Fox News. Readers who share Robinson’s strong political views will appreciate how forcefully she defends them in this challenging but worthwhile collection. —HARVEY FREEDENBERG

THE INFERNAL LIBRARY By Daniel Kalder

Holt $32, 400 pages ISBN 9781627793421 Audio, eBook available LITERATURE

How can a dictator hide in plain sight, telegraphing evil intentions years or even decades after their demise? Daniel Kalder posits that it’s simple: Many of them left behind a body of literature. Kalder, a journalist who lived in Moscow for 10 years, immersed himself in “dictator literature” and has collected his analyses of their often terrible

spotlight

IRISH REFLECTIONS BY CATHERINE HOLLIS

Walking with the past

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wo recent memoirs by Irish writers explore the haunting presence of the past in Irish lives and communities. Although James Joyce’s literary avatar Stephen Dedalus declared history “a nightmare from which I am trying to awake,” the Irish are known for their infatuation with the past.

In My Father’s Wake (Da Capo, $26, 288 pages, ISBN 9780306921469), journalist Kevin Toolis travels home to a remote island off the coast of Ireland to lay his father (and his personal demons) to rest. The subtitle of Toolis’ memoir—“How the Irish Teach Us to Live, Love and Die”—is a bit of a red herring, as this is not exactly a guide to coping with death. Instead, Toolis has written an exceptionally personal and moving story of his own encounters with death, from his brush with tuberculosis as a child to his beloved older brother Bernard’s untimely passing from leukemia. Despite donating bone marrow, Toolis is unable to save his brother, and Bernard’s death in a hospital is hygienically swift. Traumatized by the experience, Toolis subsequently becomes a “death hunter” journalist, interviewing bereaved family members in global war zones. Toolis explores the ways in which the “Western Death Machine” has alienated us from our ancestral rituals of death and dying, rituals that persist in rural West Ireland. When Toolis’ own father, Sonny, dies in the tiny island village of Dookinella, the old rituals of keening and waking the dead prove the balm that he has been searching for. Sonny dies at home, seen over by a bean chabrach, or death midwife, and keened over by bean chaointe,

or wailing woman. The entire village gathers at Sonny’s wake, watching over his passage from life to death. “A wake is the best guide to life you’ll ever have,” Toolis writes, encouraging his readers to learn how to live by accepting the inevitability of death. Like Toolis, who finds solace in the rituals of the past, Booker Prize-winning author John Banville is similarly preoccupied with the weight of the past on the present in his new memoir, Time Pieces (Knopf, $26.95, 224 pages, ISBN 9781524732837). But while Toolis returns to the ancient rituals of rural Ireland, Banville explores the great Irish city of Dublin, using it as a site for excavating and contemplating history and its movement. “When does the past become the past?” septuagenarian Banville asks while wandering the city, reflecting on his life. Personal and national history intermingle in Banville’s genial ramblings around Dublin as he considers his youth and comingof-age in Dublin’s Baggotonia neighborhood or discovers granite fragments of Nelson’s Pillar (blown up by the IRA in 1966) in the Pearse Street Public Library. Accentuated by Paul Joyce’s moody black-and-white photographs, Time Pieces has the feel of a valediction and farewell by a writer looking back on his passage through a particularly Irish time and place.

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reviews writing and its consequences in The Infernal Library: On Dictators, the Books They Wrote, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy. As it turns out, in addition to being despots and practitioners of genocide, dictators are typically megalomaniacs who like to put their thoughts on paper for posterity. Kalder started reading the works of dictators around 2011 and somehow managed to finish the requisite reading and complete his own book within the decade. To say this was a tall task would be an understatement—there has been no lack of dictators in the course of human history—but Kalder delivers with this entertaining and highly informative book. It helps that he keeps his sense of humor. “Dictators usually live lives that are rich in experience,” he deadpans early on, and the quips are sprinkled throughout (including a shot at everyman author Bill Bryson). Given the subject matter, they are never unwelcome. As for the dictator-authors, it’s safe to say there are no Brysons among them. Mussolini comes off best in terms of writing skill (“borders on the readable”), while Hitler (“staggeringly incompetent”) takes a pounding. Kalder then dutifully leads us through the writings of Mao Tse-tung, Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah Khomeini and a few lesser-known despots. There’s a handy summary at the end in which Kalder also considers the impact of social media and warns—perhaps more aptly than he realized when writing this book—about the ability to “wage war . . . through the medium of text.” —KEITH HERRELL

DISAPPOINTMENT RIVER By Brian Castner

Doubleday $28.95, 352 pages ISBN 9780385541626 Audio, eBook available HISTORY

Separated by 227 years, two men paddled up the longest river

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NONFICTION in Canada, one in search of the elusive Northwest Passage, the other wondering why he had never heard of that man’s earlier journey. In 1789, Scotsman Alexander Mackenzie mapped out his journey along the river that would one day bear his name, planning to bring along fellow fur traders, indigenous guides and plenty of pemmican, a condensed food composed of protein, fat and dried fruit. He followed the river through Canada’s vast Northwest Territories, but could not find the mythical shortcut to China and Russia that would have aided global trade. In 2016, Brian Castner, writer and certified river guide, took the same trip with a GPS, paper topographical maps, one fellow paddler for each stretch of his 1,125-mile journey—and plenty of pemmican. Their stories are skillfully intertwined in Castner’s thoroughly intriguing and enlightening Disappointment River: Finding and Losing the Northwest Passage. The Mackenzie River—or the Deh Cho, or the Nagwichoonjik, or the Kuukpak, variously—is the second-longest river in North America, after the Mississippi. Threading north from the Great Slave Lake to the Beaufort Sea and the Arctic Ocean, it traverses “one of the last places on earth unmapped by Google Street View.” Both Castner and Mackenzie grappled constantly with biting flies so big they’re called bulldogs, swarms of ravenous mosquitoes, perilous rapids and fierce summer weather. The isolated indigenous tribes they met along the way were sometimes helpful, often wary and always on the verge of change, both natural and man-made. Neither man’s journey went as expected. Both were dismayed by what they learned. Mackenzie believed the river led to the Northwest Passage, but he was 200 years too early: The Arctic Ocean during his journey was an impenetrable frozen sea. He had failed. Castner, arriving at the same spot, found fast-melting polar ice. Pipelines and oil-rigs may soon further transform both the culture and land of the First Nations people. For anyone concerned with the

global effects of climate change, the meaning behind Disappointment River becomes alarmingly clear. —PRISCILLA KIPP

EAT THE APPLE By Matt Young

Bloomsbury $26, 272 pages ISBN 9781632869500 Audio, eBook available MEMOIR

Former Marine and current college writing instructor Matt Young relives his grueling Marine training and his three deployments to Iraq in this searing memoir. His months in the desert are a fever dream of fiendish insects, extreme temperatures, tedium and terror. Young enlists in the Marines without much forethought, walking into a strip mall recruitment center after drunkenly crashing his car, drawn to the belief that “the only way to change is the self-flagellation achieved by signing up for war.” He leaves behind his “broken and distant” family and a young fiancée who is just heading off to college. He, at 18, is also just a kid. For the most part, Young sidesteps any direct judgment of the war, but his writing makes clear the toll the war took on him personally. Young describes a tumbling Humvee that hits an improvised explosive device; a liquor-soaked 96-hour leave during which he struggles to talk to his family about anything other than combat; shooting dogs while on patrol, then being haunted by that act. “It’s important to remember our boredom and lack of sleep and anger and sadness and youth and misunderstanding and loneliness and hate,” Young writes. And that is the uncompromising essence of Eat the Apple: Young is unflinching, even slightly removed as he examines the most brutally personal moments of his years in service. Sometimes he writes in the first person, sometimes in the second. He incorporates sketches of

his body along with self-diagnoses of his physical and psychic pain, which are insightful rather than self-indulgent. And he pays tribute to those he served with, including those who came home broken or didn’t come home at all: “We didn’t die, but there are those who did, and regardless of who they were as men they should be remembered.” —AMY SCRIBNER

RENOIR’S DANCER By Catherine Hewitt

St. Martin’s $27.99, 480 pages ISBN 9781250157652 eBook available BIOGRAPHY

One of the French Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s favorite models was Suzanne Valadon, a working-class teen raised in the Montmartre district of Paris. In his paintings, she’s always softly pretty, vibrant, approachable. Aside from her physical appeal, Valadon was herself a talented artist. Her first serious self-portrait couldn’t have been more different from Renoir’s depiction: She portrayed herself as spiky and tough, with a skeptical look and sharp nose. That might give you some hint as to why you know Renoir’s work but perhaps have never heard of Valadon. She became an admired professional painter, but she was never widely popular. She was too unsparing, too “unfeminine.” The title of Catherine Hewitt’s biography of Valadon, Renoir’s Dancer, helps place her in the artistic universe, but the book is very much about the Valadon of the self-portraits. Born in 1865, the incorrigible Valadon was the illegitimate daughter of a linen maid. She became a circus acrobat, then a successful model—and the probable lover of Renoir and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, among others. The latter recognized her talent and helped her connect with Edgar Degas, who became her tireless mentor.


NONFICTION She also had an illegitimate child, Maurice Utrillo, an emotionally troubled, alcoholic artist whose charming cityscapes made them both rich. Valadon eventually married one of her son’s friends, who was 20 years younger than her, and the trio lived a tumultuous life together. You can’t go wrong with material like that, and Hewitt excels at re­ creating the atmosphere of Montmartre as it evolved from bohemian enclave to tourist nightspot. The reader tags along with Valadon to heady establishments like Le Chat Noir and the Lapin Agile, where she stuns the men with her verve and intelligence. Hewitt introduces us to a frank, generous woman and bold artist who painted more nudes than babies. She ultimately overcame the prejudices: When she was 71, the French nation bought several of her works, and her paintings now hang in museums around the world. —ANNE BARTLETT

BEHEMOTH By Joshua B. Freeman

Norton $27.95, 448 pages ISBN 9780393246315 Audio, eBook available HISTORY

Factories conjure up images of William Blake’s “dark Satanic mills” and the claustrophobic, dangerous and soul-killing multistory buildings of Charles Dickens’ Hard Times. Joshua B. Freeman’s Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World weaves these grim visions of factories into a broad and compulsively readable cultural history of the birth and development of factories and their impact on society. In 18th-century England, John and Thomas Lombe erected the first modern factory, their Derby Silk Mill—a “five-story, rectangular brick building, its façade punctured by a grid of large windows”— and filled it with a large workforce engaging in coordinated produc-

tion using machinery, which was powered by a waterwheel. Freeman deftly chronicles the coming-ofage of factories and the changes, both positive and negative, they brought to the world. The advent of steel mills in mid-19th-century western Pennsylvania, for example, increased the production of steel but also resulted in bloody battles between workers and owners over working conditions. When Henry Ford introduced the assembly line in his factories, productivity increased; however, workers were engaged in repetitious, mind-numbing tasks. By the mid-1980s, large factories in the U.S. were shutting down, causing a decline in manufacturing jobs. In the present, big factories continue to turn out products in China, and electronic firms such as Pegatron have more than 100,000 people working in their factory near Shanghai, with over 80,000 of them living in crowded factory dormitories. Freeman’s fascinating history of factories, even with its darker chapters of labor unrest, illustrates that humans have persistently searched for ways to reinvent the world, striving to find ways to make their lives and work easier. —HENRY L. CARRIGAN JR.

THE LAST WILD MEN OF BORNEO By Carl Hoffman

Morrow $27.99, 368 pages ISBN 9780062439024 Audio, eBook available TRAVEL

Borneo, the world’s third largest island. Home to parts of Malaysia, Indonesia and the tiny sultanate of Brunei, Borneo’s terrain is not the lush jungle typically associated with a hot, steamy climate, but rather an “ancient primary landscape of hardwood trees soaring one hundred feet tall.” Both Manser and Palmieri were drawn to the beauty and mystery of this unusual island, particularly the sacred cultures of its people and “romantic notions of their power.” Although the two men were different in almost every way, in Palmieri’s words, they were “both obsessed.” Manser ventured deep into the dense rainforest and essentially went native, living among the Penan people and leading a fight against the logging and mining companies destroying the pristine forest. Palmieri also journeyed far into the rugged terrain, ultimately becoming a tribal art dealer and collector. They were each trying to save this land and its culture in their own way. But while Palmieri ended up with a comfortable lifestyle, Manser mysteriously disappeared without a trace in 2000. Hoffman charts the engrossing backstory of both men, and through meticulous research, interviews and personal visits, he paints a vivid character portrait of the two adventurers while detailing the incredible splendor of the unique region. The Last Wild Men of Borneo is an exciting tale of Borneo’s rich history and two modern-day treasure hunters who followed their dreams. —BECKY LIBOUREL DIAMOND

HAVE DOG, WILL TRAVEL In The Last Wild Men of Borneo, author Carl Hoffman (Savage Harvest) tells the alternating stories of two bold and fearless men: Bruno Manser from Switzerland and American Michael Palmieri. Comparing and contrasting the two, Hoffman compellingly explains what drove them to seek a life of daring exploration. Both traveled to a variety of intriguing locales, including Beirut, Kabul and Thailand, and they eventually ended up in tropical

By Stephen Kuusisto

Simon & Schuster $25, 256 pages ISBN 9781451689792 Audio, eBook available MEMOIR

Poet Stephen Kuusisto faced a crisis when he lost his job as a poetry professor in upstate New York. Kuusisto has been legally blind

since birth, and he now needed a new job—and a new way of navigating the world. It’s a journey he explores in Have Dog, Will Travel. Growing up in the 1950s, Kuusisto’s parents taught him to never show others his blindness, to live actively and try to ignore his limitations. He writes, “My parents thought disabled kids were victims of a nearly unimaginable fate, a predatory darkness.” Incredibly, he rode a bike, marched in Boy Scout parades and read with books pressed against his face. But he also faced endless bullying and was forced to live in a carefully circumscribed world that he navigated by familiarity and step counting. “Faking sight is like being illiterate—you pretend to competence but live by guesswork,” he writes. Nearing 40, he finally decided to stop pretending. Kuusisto met with a representative from the New York State Commission for the Blind, who was hardly encouraging and doubted Kuusisto would find work. He referred Kuusisto to a company that manufactured plastic lemons for lemon juice, saying they sometimes hired blind people. Yet he did not let this less-thanheartening meeting deter him from seeking assistance. Enter Kuusisto’s first guide dog, a yellow Labrador named Corky. Their “arranged marriage” expanded Kuusisto’s world by literal leaps and bounds, and their relationship forms the heart of this enchanting, enlightening book. As Kuusisto describes, having a guide dog “doesn’t feel like driving a car. It’s not like running. Sometimes I think it’s a bit like swimming. A really long swim when you’re buoyant and fast.” Before long, Kuusisto is navigating the streets of New York City with Corky, experiencing a sense of freedom he’d never felt before. And in the years that followed, Corky not only liberated this poet but also ushered him back into the world, opening up his life in ways that he would never have imagined. Have Dog, Will Travel is an illuminating memoir of mobility, ability, delight and discovery. —ALICE CARY

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PICKS

reviews

TEEN

T PI OP CK

YA CAN’T MISS

OF THE

MONTH

CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE

A debut that exceeds the hype REVIEW BY ANNIE METCALF

Tomi Adeyemi’s hefty fantasy debut—set in a kingdom with traditions and mythology reminiscent of Nigeria and greater West Africa—is an astounding feat of storytelling and world-building. Seventeen-year-old Zélie is a divîner, one who is born with the ability to perform gods-given magic and easily distinguishable by their white hair. When their magic fully manifests, divîners can become maji—but that was before the cruel king of Orïsha ordered an anti-magic raid that killed Zélie’s mother. Since the raid, magic has disappeared, and divîners have been relegated to second-class citizens. When hotheaded, impulsive Zélie and her nondivîner brother, Tzain, go to the market in the nearby capital, they end up helping a young woman escape the city guards. The girl turns out to be Amari, princess of Orïsha, who has discovered the reason magic disappeared—and a possible means to get it back. However, next in line for the throne is By Tomi Adeyemi Amari’s older brother, Inan, who is determined to thwart the trio’s plan. Holt, $18.99, 544 pages ISBN 9781250170972, audio, eBook available But Inan has a secret of his own: There is a power awakening within him Ages 14 and up that connects him to the magic he fears and to his enemy, Zélie. This epic is filled with fascinating landscapes, complex mythology FANTASY and nuanced characters coping with a world on the brink of massive change. The royals must confront their power, privilege and the horrific deeds of the king, while Zélie and Tzain reckon with the psychological ripples of their mother’s death. Unmistakably descended from traditional high fantasy, Children of Blood and Bone is perfectly positioned to join the ranks of sprawling speculative worlds for teens, bringing with it a much-needed Afrocentric perspective.

Don’t miss the EPIC conclusion to

BLOOD WATER PAINT By Joy McCullough

Gena Showalter’s

Dutton $17.99, 304 pages ISBN 9780735232112 eBook available Ages 14 and up

bestselling Everlife series.

NOVEL-IN-VERSE

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Centuries before the #MeToo movement entered the cultural landscape, there was Artemisia Gentileschi. Born in Rome at the turn of the 17th century, Artemisia was introduced to painting by her artist father after she showed more talent than her brothers. She became a masterful Baroque artist in her own right, with paintings that reflected feminist concerns and employed an eye-opening realism during

18_013_BookPage_TEEN_March_Rev1.indd 1 1/25/18 2:25 PM

a time when art—like the entire world—was dominated by men. In her debut novel, Blood Water Paint, Joy McCullough recounts in fictionalized free verse a pivotal time in Artemisia’s life. Set in 1610, the story begins with 17-year-old Artemisia assisting her father in his painting studio. She ponders her own talent (she paints better than her father yet receives no proper credit), her role and identity as a woman, and her sexuality. She soon realizes that women are dismissed as “beauty for consumption.” Artemisia’s most troubling observations are confirmed when her father, in the guise of procuring a high-profile commission, hires fellow artist Agostino Tassi to tutor her. Instead of guiding Artemisia, he rapes her, and although she calls out to the house servant, Tuzia, no one comes to her aid. Despite the strong possibility of being shamed as a result, the

teen seeks justice in court. Adding insult to injury, the judge requires Artemisia to undergo humiliating, invasive and tortuous tests to prove she isn’t lying. With care and precision, McCullough marks how these events shaped Artemisia’s work. Perhaps because Tuzia didn’t respond when she needed her, Artemisia’s paintings emphasize the power of solidarity among women. Her narration, interspersed with prose from the perspective of her older self, draws inspiration from the women of the Bible, such as Judith and Susanna. Most importantly, readers see the teen’s strength as a survivor of sexual assault. Ever resilient, she proclaims, “I am not a thing / to be handed / from one man / to another.” Although Artemisia lived centuries ago, her story will resonate with modern feminists. —ANGELA LEEPER


children’s

JUNOT DÍAZ INTERVIEW BY CAT ACREE

© NINA SUBIN

Mangoes and monsters

T

here’s a monster in Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Junot Díaz’s first children’s book. It seems that no one wants to talk about it, especially not with Lola, the little girl at the heart of Islandborn. After all, how do you talk to children about the most horrifying part of your country’s history? With his story collections (Drown, This Is How You Lose Her) and award-winning novel (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao), Díaz captured the biting, funny and city-wise voices of young Dominicans and Dominican-Americans, often returning to the same characters again and again. But 20 years ago, Díaz’s goddaughters demanded a story that represented someone like themselves—Dominican girls living in New York. It was

shortly after a major snowstorm had dragged the East Coast. In the middle of winter, reading Islandborn is like stepping into the sun after weeks of 4:30 p.m. sunsets—it is warming and wakening in a whole new way. Lola lives in Washington Heights, New York, but she comes from the Dominican Republic, or “the Island.” When her teacher asks her diverse class to draw a picture of “your first country,” Lola is at a loss. She remembers nothing of her birthplace—but the people in her neighborhood do. Her cousin Leticia talks about bats “as big as blankets,” while others gush about the music, the mangoes, the rainbow-colored people. Island imagery soon saturates Lola’s city world. Leo Espinosa’s digital mixed-media illustrations, in 1950s and ’60s retro style, are rendered in the brightest possible Illustration © 2018 Leo Espinosa. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, hues, palm fronds Penguin Young Readers. teeming from nearan intimidating request, but Díaz ly everywhere. “I knew I wanted fulfills that promise with Islandsomeone who had a Caribbean born, which is about a tenacious background,” Díaz says of Espinolittle girl who learns about her sa, who is from Bogotá, Colombia, heritage through the collective “who would be able to understand memory of friends and family. the kind of joyful frenzy out of “Children’s books present [a which I come.” difficult task to] writers,” Díaz says, After hearing so many magi“which is to remember how fiercely cal things about the Island, only you loved the books that you loved one man, old Mr. Mir, tells Lola when you were young. To produce something different: “[E]ven the something that could create the most beautiful places can attract a possibility of that fierce attachment monster,” he says. A double-page was a tremendous challenge.” spread reveals a huge, batlike beast Díaz is speaking from his home rising from the ocean, bending in Cambridge, Massachusetts, palm trees beneath its wrath and

scattering islanders in fear. The Monster is a terrifying embodiment of Rafael Trujillo, the Dominican dictator who orchestrated the 1937 Haitian massacre. The Monster reigned for 30 years, Mr. Mir says, until “Heroes rose up” to defeat it. Understandably, the Monster was subject to intense scrutiny during the book’s production. But ultimately, “No matter what parents do . . . being a child is frankly a terrifying proposition,” Díaz says, echoing Maurice Sendak. “There’s nothing about monstrosities—and certainly Trujillo, he is a monstrosity—that is alien to a child.” By the story’s end, Lola has learned about the Island’s good and bad, darkness and joy, and she is able to complete her assignment, which turns out to be the book we’re reading. In the same way that Lola is entrusted with the realities of her history, Islandborn trusts its young readership with the complicated emotions that come with reflection and memory. This trust—along with the text’s longer length—makes Islandborn perfect for reading aloud. What better way to experience a book about collective memory than by making it a collective reading experience? “Reading, when we’re adults, is a solitary enterprise,” Díaz says. “This is not true of how we evolve as readers. We begin [by] reading collectively . . . with a parent or with a teacher. In my mind I couldn’t resist the fact that Lola’s journey not only models what it takes to face any large problem . . . but also what it takes to face the tremendous challenge that is reading, which is a collective [process]. So the fact that the book both models and invites the practice of collectivity was certainly no accident.” Although her family and neighbors help, Lola finds a place within her community all by herself. She tells her class, “Even if I’d never set

foot on the Island it doesn’t matter: The Island is me.” (Fortunately, Lola will go to the Island in the sequel.) “It was one of the great liberations of my life when I discovered that it’s not other people who grant you [permission] to belong to a community. This is something that you grant yourself,” Díaz says. “Lola’s clearly immersed in her community in ways that are vital and generative, and yet, she never felt a full part of it. And I think the realization that there’s no metric that you have to achieve, there’s no set of criteria that you have to meet, but that in you, there’s a recognition of your place in the community— that, more or less, is what matters.”

ISLANDBORN

By Junot Díaz

Illustrated by Leo Espinosa Dial, $17.99, 48 pages ISBN 9780735229860, eBook available Ages 5 to 8

PICTURE BOOK

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reviews T PI OP CK

CHILDREN’S

BABY MONKEY, PRIVATE EYE

Baby Monkey’s on the case REVIEW BY JULIE DANIELSON

If the first spread in this book doesn’t grab the attention of the emerging readers in your life, check their pulse. “WAIT!” the book opens, in a font size so large that the word takes up the entire spread. “Who is Baby Monkey?” the next spread asks. Baby Monkey (to describe him as endearing is an understatement) has a job as a detective, and in five immensely entertaining chapters, we observe him solve five cases. He finds a diva’s missing jewels, a chef’s stolen pizza, a clown’s nose and an astronaut’s spaceship. (The last mystery is extra special.) Each time Baby Monkey decides to help, he looks for clues, writes notes, has a snack and puts on his pants (or tries to). Given that he’s a stand-in for a bumbling yet earnest toddler, there’s much physical humor in seeing Baby Monkey play grown-up at his By Brian Selznick and David Serlin massive desk or attempt to hold a magnifying glass that’s larger than Scholastic, $16.99, 192 pages he is—antics Brian Selznick illustrates in exquisite black-and-white ISBN 9781338180619, eBook available pencil drawings. (Throughout the book, rare moments of the color red Ages 4 to 8 are used to great effect.) PICTURE BOOK Repeated elements in each chapter, along with oversize type, expertly guide those just learning to read. There are also visual clues: At the beginning of each chapter, items and framed pictures in the office change, providing hints as to whom the next client will be. That fifth client is his mother, looking for her baby. Good timing on her part, as Baby Monkey is ready for bed and weary from a hard day at work. Even at nearly 200 pages, you’ll be sad to see this one-of-a-kind beginning reader end. Fingers crossed for sequels. Illustration © 2018 Brian Selznick. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Scholastic.

FLORETTE By Anna Walker

Clarion $16.99, 40 pages ISBN 9780544876835 eBook available Ages 4 to 7 PICTURE BOOK

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Mae, a young girl who moves to the city, desperately misses her garden in Florette, a quiet but thoroughly lovely picture book by Australian author-illustrator Anna Walker. Mae tries to make the best of her new apartment by drawing flowers, birds and trees on the moving boxes that fill her room. She draws chalk butterflies on the pavement outside, but the rain washes her creations away. One day, a bird leads her to a store window filled with a lush ocean of greenery. Although the store is closed, a tiny sprout grows

through a crack in the nearby sidewalk. Mae takes the sprout home, eventually starting her own little garden in a jar. That one sprout is all it takes for Mae’s new world to blossom, as Walker’s greenery-filled watercolors beautifully show. Walker marries text and illustrations particularly well, using words sparingly while showing how Mae’s world fills with new plants as well as new friends. She was inspired to create this book during a family vacation in Paris, and although Paris is never mentioned, its scenes are distinctly Parisian. “We were on our way to The Louvre when I noticed a shop window full of plants,” Walker notes on her website. “We rushed by, but I kept thinking about that forest behind the glass.” Florette is a wonderful story about nature in the city that thoughtfully addresses the difficulties and necessity of adapting to change. —ALICE CARY

SHEEP 101 By Richard T. Morris Illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Little, Brown $17.99, 48 pages ISBN 9780316213592 eBook available Ages 4 to 8 PICTURE BOOK

Counting sheep may be an old insomnia standby, but Sheep 101 is not your typical fleecy ritual. Inventive and hilarious, Richard T. Morris’ Sheep 101, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, is guaranteed to end any day with a laugh. When the book opens, we’re tucked in and the sleep-sheep are jumping—all’s well. That is until Sheep number 101—a little less athletic and a little more stuffed animal-like than his previous counterparts—apprehensively


CHILDREN’S makes his leap. And misses. With Sheep 101 firmly wedged on the fence, Sheep 102 takes charge and calls in the moon-jumping Cow. Pham’s bold illustrations provide hilarious detail: Sheep 102’s bossy, I-mean-business expressions will have readers rolling off the bed, as will Cow’s attempt to steal the spotlight and document the occasion. Each nursery-rhyme character pops off the page, bringing more comedy and personality to this tale. Morris provides added humor with his narration’s mild exasperation, which mixes with dialogue for delightfully chaotic results. This is an exciting readaloud, and little listeners will not be disappointed as the story resolves—eventually—with sleep. —J I L L L O R E N Z I N I

THE SKY AT OUR FEET By Nadia Hashimi HarperCollins $16.99, 304 pages ISBN 9780062421937 Audio, eBook available Ages 8 to 12 MIDDLE GRADE

“When people on television talk about walls and documents, I never thought they were talking about my mom,” muses Jason Riazi, the 12-year-old narrator of Nadia Hashimi’s action-packed The Sky at Our Feet. Jason always knew his mother grew up in Iran, but he had no idea that she was an illegal immigrant until he watches immigration officials take her away. Jason never met his father, an Afghan translator who was murdered while awaiting his American visa. Jason’s mom was already studying in America when Jason was born prematurely, but after her husband’s death, she was too frightened to apply for asylum. After his mother disappears, Jason goes on the run, leaving his New Jersey home to seek help from his mother’s best friend in New York City. There, he meets an epileptic girl who joins him for an exciting avalanche of events and coincidences. As unbelievable

meet  WILL HILLENBRAND

as these circumstances may be, young readers will be swept up in Jason’s likable, sincere narration. Hashimi’s unusual, riveting thriller provides a thoughtful look at the issues facing two tweens who feel like outsiders. —ALICE CARY

THE GIRL WHO DREW BUTTERFLIES By Joyce Sidman

HMH $17.99, 160 pages ISBN 9780544717138 eBook available Ages 10 to 12 MIDDLE GRADE

A 17th-century German girl with a passion for caterpillars and butterflies may seem like an obscure topic for a children’s book, yet Newbery Honor winner Joyce Sidman has painted a stunningly beautiful and accessible portrait of the relatively unknown scientific illustrator and ecologist Maria Sibylla Merian. Merian was born to a family of printers, but life wasn’t a world of opportunity for a young girl in her day. Still, she managed to absorb her father’s business knowledge and paired it with her passion for nature and drawing. She studied caterpillars and butterflies incessantly, with a fervor many thought odd. Seeking to understand each insect’s life cycle, she sketched and recorded their stages of development and the plants they ate. Her passion eventually took her to the Dutch colony of Surinam, where her observations led to her grandest accomplishment: publishing her own volume on the insects of the South American country. The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science is filled with Merian’s stunningly detailed and colorful botanical drawings created more than 300 years ago. Sidman’s arrangement of the story and its chapter titles (as well as one of Sidman’s original poetic stanzas) smartly draw a parallel between Merian’s growth as an artist and the stages of a butterfly’s life. —SHARON VERBETEN

I’M A DUCK Will Hillenbrand is the author-illustrator of more than 50 books. His gentle mixed-media illustrations capture a courageous duckling who tackles a fear of ponds and swimming in I’m a Duck (Candlewick, $15.99, 32 pages, ISBN 9780763680329, ages 3 to 7), with rhyming text by Eve Bunting. Hillenbrand lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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BookPage March 2018  

Book reviews, Author interviews

BookPage March 2018  

Book reviews, Author interviews