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MAY 2018


A literary celebration of motherhood

MAY 2018

A M E R I C A’ S B O O K R E V I E W

14 features 12

book reviews



Embracing the mess of adulthood


t o p p i c k : The Mars Room


by Rachel Kushner

Five books on the triumphs and trials of motherhood




t o p p i c k : A Brotherhood of Spies

A heist you’ll have to read to believe


by Monte Reel


t o p p i c k : Girl Made of Stars

by Ashley Herring Blake


t o p p i c k : Out of Left Field

by Ellen Klages

FANTASY Step into three fantastic new worlds


THRILLERS The dark side of love


CURTIS SITTENFELD Meet the author of You Think It, I’ll Say It



STACY HORN The horrifying history of Blackwell’s Island


THE FAN BROTHERS Creating a picture book that soars



SCOTT MAGOON Meet the illustrator of Misunderstood Shark


columns 4 5 6 9


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Cover credit Adobe Stock/SolisImages





Michael A. Zibart

Hilli Levin

Penny Childress



Julia Steele

Savanna Walker



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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Spring Listening! READ BY NICK HENDRIX AND ELEANOR MATSUURA “I loved it, right down to the utterly chilling final line.”

—Gillian Flynn, bestselling author of Gone Girl

columns “There are three things you should know about me. I’m in a coma. My husband doesn’t love me anymore. Sometimes I lie,” says Amber, the quintessentially unreliable leading lady of Alice Feeney’s debut psychological thriller, Sometimes I Lie (Macmillan Audio, 9.5 hours). Reliably performed by Stephanie Racine, it falls into that new subgenre of books in which nothing is quite as it seems. The fiendishly clever

“My Ex-Life is a pleasure of the deepest sort....Stephen McCauley is a wonderful writer, and this may be his best book yet.” —Tom Perrotta, bestselling author

The brilliant manager of Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign shows how Bernie took on the entire establishment and changed modern American politics for good.

READ BY THE AUTHOR “Hollywood has no more honest, hilarious or necessary guide than’re gonna laugh. You’re gonna think. You’re gonna be hella glad you came.” —Lena Dunham, author of Not That Kind of Girl

READ BY REBECCA SOLER “Soler’s lively narration swiftly draws listeners into the magical spectacle at the center of Garber’s YA novel.” — Publishers Weekly, on Caraval, a best audiobook of 2017




Now and then




plotting of Feeney’s novel will have readers trying desperately to puzzle out the shifting shapes of its main characters. Someone in Amber’s life—her husband, her sister (if she really has a sister), a bitter ex-boyfriend—is trying to kill her. While Amber lies in her hospital bed after a car accident, awake but seemingly comatose and unable to move or speak, the tightly braided strands of her story begin to unravel as the narrative reaches back to the days preceding the accident and into the decades-old entries in an unhappy child’s diary. As the mind-bending twists get increasingly more perplexing, listeners will be left holding their breath.

Philippa and her story out. Gwen, a smart and sensible nonuppercrust mother married to a struggling district attorney, is our best informant, but Philippa’s perceptive 7-year-old daughter and Minnie, an unabashed social climber and wife of a smarmy hedge-fund honcho, add much to the layered portrait of Philippa and the often morally maimed world of the 1 percent. Mrs. is social commentary wrapped in a fun read.


In the aftermath of the 2016 election, in an America that seems to be slipping away from its dream and in which so many groups feel threatened, it’s crucial to understand our country’s complex political dynamics. Amy Chua, an expert in ethnic conflict and a professor at Yale Law School, is drawn to difficult, provocative questions (she’s also the author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother). In her latest, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations (Penguin Audio, 7 hours), engagingly read by UPPER-CRUST EXPOSÉ Julia Whelan, Chua contends that America is a “super-group,” a rare Mrs. (Hachette Audio, 9 hours), Caitlin Macy’s second novel, narpolity that’s never been an “ethnic nation” but is more the racial, rated by Vanessa Johansson with the right tone of privileged anethnic and cultural melting pot guish, is set in Manhattan’s rarefied we have always championed. She details how our strong belief in the Upper East Side, where your kid’s preschool is a major status symbol. power of American democracy has led to huge foreign policy blunders. In Mrs., the primo preschool is St. Timothy’s, and many of the preBut central to Chua’s concerns is schoolers’ mothers are totally taken the need to come to grips with with Philippa Lye, the slender, gor- our evermore divisive and hostile political tribes, destructive identity geous wife of the scion of the last privately owned investment bank politics and the corrosion of our in New York. But this former model super-group principles. In order with a mottled background keeps to heal, we must talk to each other her distance. Macy has cleverly again and engage in a common twined many points of view to flesh enterprise for the common good.

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


Best recs from our moms It’s our job to find great books, but some of our favorite tips come from book-loving family and friends. With Mother’s Day around the corner, we’re reflecting on our favorite books recommended to us by our moms.

THE ALCHEMIST by Paulo Coelho My mother emigrated from a village in Catalonia, Spain, and prefers to read in Spanish. Until I bought her a Kindle, Spanish-language books were a rare prize, and she cherished her worn copy of The Alchemist, an allegorical treasure hunt of self-discovery across North Africa. Today, with a bounty of Spanish eBooks at her fingertips, she remains passionate about Coelho and regularly suggests his books. —Stephanie, Editor

A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Betty Smith I’m lucky to have a long list of books recommended to me by my mom, but Smith’s sublime classic—the story of a girl’s coming of age in early 20th-century Williamsburg—marked a turning point in my reading life. The book upset me, and by that I don’t mean it bothered me so much that it overturned me, revealing the type of person I would become—and that my mom already knew exactly who that would be. —Cat, Deputy Editor

OLIVE KITTERIDGE by Elizabeth Strout For what feels like decades, my mother has been asking me to pick up this book. And like all things my mother has requested of me, it took me a while to get around to it. But I’m glad I waited—Strout’s series of connected vignettes, all told through the eyes of slightly ornery retired teacher Olive Kitteridge, may have failed to hold my attention when I was younger. But as a (slightly) more mature reader, I can now appreciate this compassionate, character-driven novel for the work of genius that it is. —Lily, Associate Editor Blue Justice #1 978-0-8007-2721-5


SIDNEY CHAMBERS AND THE SHADOW OF DEATH by James Runcie When it comes to film and TV, my mom is always two steps ahead of me. She’s always asking if I’m caught up on the latest and greatest PBS period drama. When “Grantchester,” the adaptation of Runcie’s smart and incredibly charming detective series, premiered, she insisted we read the books first. Not only did she get me hooked on these 1950s-set mysteries, but they also helped inspire an impulsive mother-daughter trip to the U.K. last year! —Hilli, Assistant Editor

BOSSYPANTS by Tina Fey My mother is a longtime “SNL” fan, and her love of good comedy is only matched by her passionate support of intelligent women. For some reason (probably because I hadn’t yet discovered “30 Rock”), I didn’t pick up Fey’s memoir when my mom recommended it. But I ended up turning to it several years later, in a fit of post-graduation ennui, when Fey’s self-deprecating wit was exactly what I needed. —Savanna, Editorial Assistant Dive team investigations #1 978-0-8007-2938-7


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A mystery tapping at Poe’s chamber door At the outset of Karen Lee Street’s novel Edgar Allan Poe and the Jewel of Peru (Pegasus Crime, $25.95, 352 pages, ISBN 9781681776675), the famous author has just received an unexpected package in the post. When he opens it up, he is horror-struck to find that it contains three crows with their heads, legs and wings surgically separated from their bodies. My immediate thought was, “Nevermore,” followed by “a murder of crows,” but Poe waxes rather more, um, Poe-etically: “Several pairs of obsidian eyes stared up at me—demon eyes. I leapt back, hands protecting my face, for crouched in that hatbox were three crows, beaks agape in their desire for flesh.” It takes Poe but a moment to determine that the dead birds are an unwanted gift from his arch-foe, George Rhynwick Williams. Several more packages arrive

over the next month, each clearly intended to increase his dread while also suggesting that Poe’s beloved wife and his best friend are additional targets of malevolence. On another front, Poe has been tasked with looking into a pair of murders, and as events unfold, it

somewhat unwilling hero of his own story.

appears there may be a connection between the two seemingly disparate storylines. Street’s slightly self-deprecating and occasionally darkly humorous narrative echoes Poe’s style and fashions him as the

role in a double homicide, and now all that remains is to recover the bodies and round up the main perp. But as any longtime reader of mystery novels will immediately grasp, it ain’t gonna be that simple. Michael Koryta’s How It Happened (Little, Brown, $27, 368 pages, ISBN 9780316293938) is the gripping tale of how Barrett gets hoodwinked by a spurious confession, his subsequent fall from grace and his reassignment to a backwoods office on the other side of the country. Like any good investigator, he cannot let go of “the case that got away.” With prodding from Kimmy and the father of one of the victims, he returns to the scene of the crime, and his investigation stirs up some unexpected ghosts from his past and sets the stage for the psychological drama that is Koryta’s forte.

Thanks for giving a hoot. All 25,345 of you! We appreciate your feedback.

BAD REPUTATION Boston-based FBI agent Rob Barrett is exceptionally good at his job. He has extracted a confession from Kimmy Crepeaux about her





2018 Reader Survey

William Boyle’s The Lonely Witness (Pegasus, $25.95, 272 pages, ISBN 9781681777955) was the surprise read of the month for me. The synopsis in no way prepared me for just how quickly the book would lure me in. Amy Falconetti leads a quiet life delivering Holy Communion to Brooklyn shut-ins. It is a marked departure from her old life as an up-all-night party girl and general hell-raiser. One of her favorite clients is an elderly woman named Mrs. Epifanio, who tells Amy about a rather disturbing visit from Vincent Marchetti, the son

of her daily caregiver. Amy decides on a whim to follow Vincent and see what he’s up to. She never could have anticipated what she is about to witness, though—the argument on the street, words uttered in anger, the stiletto and Vincent bleeding out on the sidewalk. The killer is in the wind, but Amy cannot shake the nagging suspicion that he has seen her face. For reasons she cannot entirely explain to herself, Amy pockets the murder weapon and embarks on a journey to find the killer before he can find her. Boyle is from Brooklyn, and his easy familiarity with this milieu shows up on virtually every page. If you like the richly nuanced novels of George Pelecanos or Dennis Lehane, be prepared to add Boyle to your regular reading list.

TOP PICK IN MYSTERY If ever a book could be judged by its cover, Noir (Morrow, $27.99, 352 pages, ISBN 9780062433978) is it: buxom blonde in abbreviated outfit; two shady characters in fedoras walking away from the scene of the crime; the Golden Gate Bridge enshrouded in fog; a rather lethal-looking snake slithering off the page, stage right; and the three-fingered green hand of a space alien caressing the title. The year is 1947; the location, San Francisco. The narrative switches back and forth between on-thelam bartender Sammy “Two-Toes” Tiffin and an unnamed second party (“Don’t worry about who I am, I know things.”). Whichever one is narrating at the moment does a bang-up job of channeling Chandler (or perhaps hammering Hammett), albeit with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Larceny abounds, committed or attempted by pretty much everyone in the book, and there is a laugh-outloud moment every couple of pages. And possibly a space alien, because, hey, this is a Christopher Moore book, after all.



New Paperbacks

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“ A great tempest of a novel…. Will leave you awed.” —The Washington Post

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Read excerpts, print reading group guides, find original essays and more at




New in paperback J.D. Vance’s bestselling Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis (Harper, $16.99, 288 pages, ISBN 9780062300553) is a timely consideration of life in working-class America. The son of a drug-addict mother and an absent father, Vance was brought up in Ohio by his native Kentuckian grandparents, who were steeped in

the ways of Appalachia. A quarrelsome pair with a colorful past, they managed to give Vance the support he needed to move forward in life. Over the years, Vance—a Marine who served in Iraq and a Yale graduate—conquered the challenges of his upbringing and came into his own. Now a thriving lawyer, he chronicles his path to achievement in a compelling narrative that delivers an unflinching look at the difficulties of succeeding in contemporary America. Mixing social science, history and personal recollection, Vance writes with sensitivity about the barriers that often prevent working-class people from prospering, including the temptation of drugs. This is an earnest and important book that’s sure to resonate with readers.

GRACE BE WITH YOU A smart, funny and affectionately rendered family portrait, Patricia Lockwood’s unforgettable memoir, Priestdaddy (Riverhead, $16, 352 pages, ISBN 9780399573262), was named one of the best books of 2017 by BookPage, The New Yorker, the Washington Post and many other publications. At the center of the narrative is Lockwood’s father, a Catholic priest who doesn’t quite fit the mold of a holy man. He plays guitar, appreciates fast cars, enjoys action movies and likes guns. After an emergency forces

Lockwood and her husband to stay with her parents in the Kansas City rectory where she grew up, the young couple find they have some adjusting to do. Lockwood’s husband is puzzled by Catholicism, and Lockwood—no longer a churchgoer—struggles to come to terms with the beliefs that served as her family’s foundation. Lockwood writes vividly about her youth, recalling difficult incidents from her past, including her attempt at suicide. An accomplished poet, she beautifully reflects on the intricate ties of kinship and the complexities of organized religion. Book clubs will find much to savor and discuss in this incisive narrative.

TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS In her latest literary accomplishment, the National Book Award-winning novel Sing, Unburied, Sing (Scribner, $17, 320 pages, ISBN 9781501126079), Jesmyn Ward tells the story of a broken family in Mississippi. Thirteenyear-old Jojo—the son of Michael, a white man, and Leonie, a black woman—struggles to find his way in the world. A drug user haunted by her brother’s death, Leonie doesn’t provide much in the way of home life for Jojo and his little sister, Kayla, who find stability in their grandparents. When Michael is released from jail, Leonie travels north to meet him, taking Jojo and Kayla with her. During the trip, Jojo discovers that he can talk to the ghost of a boy named Richie, who died years ago in a prison camp. The novel is narrated in turn by Jojo, Leonie and the ghost. A virtuoso storyteller, Ward shifts points of view effortlessly to create a richly atmospheric portrait of the South.

Fresh Book Club Reads

for the spring TWO STEPS FORWARD by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist

A story of taking chances and learning to love again, as a divorce and a widower cross paths on a trip to Spain…

SAME BEACH, NEXT YEAR by Dorothea Benton Frank

Bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank returns to her magical Lowcountry of South Carolina in this bewitching story of marriage, love, family, and friendship.

REGRETS ONLY by Erin Duffy “Erin Duffy is a fresh, funny, and fabulous new voice in literature.” —Bestselling author Adriana Trigiani

THE ESSEX SERPENT by Sarah Perry “An irresistible new novel. . . the most delightful heroine since Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.” —The Washington Post

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



The most eligible bad boy in Wrangler’s Creek has just become its most eligible single dad.


Utterly moonstruck Shifters find love on the run in Jennifer Ashley’s Midnight Wolf (Berkley, $7.99, 336 pages, ISBN 9780425281390). The Shifter Bureau—a government entity charged with identifying and controlling the Shifter population—forces black wolf Angus Murray to track the fugitive Tamsin Calloway by threatening the safety of his son. When he locates her, however, he finds himself wildly attracted to

traditional delicious beats—a hero with a secret, a clever heroine who wants more freedom than societal expectations—but with the added bonus of a murder to solve. To ascertain the culprit, they put their heads together and begin to appreciate each other’s qualities, in and outside the bedroom. Chock-full of charm and witty dialogue, A Duke Like No Other is a tender, satisfying love story of second chances.

the mysterious woman and not at all convinced he should turn her in. As the independent Tamsin learns to work with Angus and his friends, she soon wins his trust and that of his young son, and they embark on an adventure to stay one step ahead of the authorities. Characters with murky motives up the sense of jeopardy for the hero, heroine and their “fated mate” status. Paranormal romance requires authentic world building, and Ashley paints an interesting alternate reality for readers without unloading all its structure and tenets in one big rush. This is a fast-paced and fun romantic ride.





MURDER, MY SWEET An estranged couple reunites and solves a mystery in A Duke Like No Other (St. Martin’s, $7.99, 368 pages, ISBN 9781250121738) by Valerie Bowman. General Mark Grimaldi must prove he is a family man before he can win an important political appointment. His mentor wants him to marry—but he secretly already has a wife living in France. Ambition overcomes pride, and he travels to his estranged wife, Nicole, to convince her to take on the role of temporary spouse, but she has a condition that might change everything. This historical romance has all the

“Fossen wrangles up surefire tales of stalwart cowboys, hopeful hearts, and enduring love.” —New York Times bestselling author Lori Wilde

Pick up your copies today! Also available •

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Romantic suspense doesn’t come more lethal than I Am Justice (Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99, 384 pages, ISBN 9781492662389) by Diana Muñoz Stewart. Justice Parish, her mother and her sisters have a mission—to save vulnerable women from evil men. Using her adopted family’s enormous wealth, Justice works to stop sex traffickers all over the world. To that end, she meets up with ex-Special Forces soldier Sandesh Ross, who runs a humanitarian group that will be a useful cover for Justice’s latest mission. Conflict arises when Sandesh—who’s done with fighting—clashes with the sometimes impulsive and always aggressive Justice. But their blazing attraction keeps them together, and Sandesh can’t argue with the righteousness of her cause. The action bounces from Philadelphia to Mexico to Jordan and back again, and readers’ pulses will race alongside those of Justice and Sandesh as they face gunfights and rescue Syrian refugees and young girls from slavery. An intriguing premise, a cast of strong characters unwilling to back down and black-hearted, deserveto-die villains make I Am Justice a winning start to an exciting new series.





Workspace solutions

A heaping helping

The notion of the office is evolving as quickly as the technology that drives innovation in the workplace. Less tethered to a central location than ever, we conference or answer emails from home, the coffee shop, a plane in the sky and everywhere in between. In Home Work: Design Solutions for Working from Home (Thames & Hudson, $29.95, 272 pages, ISBN 9780500519806), Anna Yudina

Asking if we need another Southern cookbook is like asking if we need another Italian cookbook. The answer is always a resounding yes. And Virginia Willis’ Secrets of the Southern Table: A Food Lover’s Tour of the Global South (HMH, $30, 336 pages, ISBN 9780544932548) offers exemplary proof. A highly respected authority on Southern cooking and the tangled past that underlies this

shows how some of the world’s most forward-thinking architects and designers are responding to this new era. The projects here, collected from the world over, often rise to the challenges of compact and multiuse spaces. Or they reimagine the concept of the home office as an entire dwelling made more inviting for work. (Get your best ideas in the shower? There’s a design for that.) The sleek, stylish and ultrafunctional environments here often rely on mobile and modular elements. I’m particularly drawn to the many desk designs, such as a wall-mounted Desk Pad, a cantilevered headboard desk and the Koloro Desk, “a large but lightweight box on trestles . . . with its own skylight and windows that open as necessary.” This is a fascinating collection of design and architectural work that speaks directly to the demands of the modern professional.

OBJETS D’ART Could drawing be the new coloring—a meditative and creative practice for all? I’d argue yes after paging through 50 Ways to Draw Your Beautiful, Ordinary Life (Workman, $24.95, 256 pages, ISBN 9781523501151) by Irene Smit and Astrid van der Hulst. Like another delightful book in Workman’s Flow series, A Book That Takes Its Time,

this one contains not only creative prompts but also much of the needed supplies. Tucked inside you’ll find papers, postcards, a journal and more. Visual guides show the steps for drawing various objects—some everyday, others less so— from garden tools and flowers to a lumberjack. Maybe you’ve never imagined drawing a sideboard or a coffee pot, but why not try? There’s whimsy here but also plenty of practical advice, from a guide to achieving perspective to a watercolor tutorial. Take this book to the beach this summer.

TOP PICK IN LIFESTYLES Can a book be too beautiful? That’s what I found myself wondering as I turned the thick, matte pages of Doron and Stephanie Francis’ Homecamp: Stories and Inspiration for the Modern Adventurer (Hardie Grant, $45, 272 pages, ISBN 9781741175035). A feast of gorgeous photos of natural environments paired with features on intrepid travelers of all stripes, this book is bound to trigger wanderlust. If you don’t have an epic adventure on your calendar, you may feel a touch of envy. But I love how this husband-wife author team emphasizes the true-life tales of the explorers profiled here, such as a man who built a house from hemp, two friends who founded a women-only moto-camping event, or a couple who hauled a shipping container deep into the Australian forest and made it their vacation home. After the stories are told and many lush photos are shared, a brief how-to section that covers camping basics appears at the back of the book to help you get started on your own adventure.

complex cuisine’s legendary recipes, Willis is also super savvy about the many international cuisines that can be found in the South and how immigration has impacted the evolution of Southern food. Willis writes, “The food of the South is biscuits and burritos, catfish and chapattis, and hoecakes and hummus.” She’s gathered 80 inviting recipes, including some from the Southern canon—like Pimento Cheese Tomato Herb Pie, Cat Head Biscuits and her grandmother’s Cornbread and Oyster Dressing— and others that showcase the diversity of the South’s broad culinary landscape, like Catfish Tacos with Avocado Crema and Chicken Larb with Georgia Peanuts. It’s all seasoned with intimate, informative profiles of the farmers, chefs and “influencers” who energize the current food scene.

BEYOND BURGERS When Food52 adds a new title to its list, you know that you’re getting a cookbook by a passionate home cook who follows the Food52 motto: “Eat thoughtfully, live joyfully.” Food52 Any Night Grilling: 60 Ways to Fire Up Dinner (and More) (Ten Speed, $24.99, 224 pages, ISBN 9781524758967), Paula Disbrowe’s wonderfully enthusiastic guide to everyday grilling, makes

the delicious world of cooking over an open fire accessible to everyone. Starting with all the basic info you need—plus tips on how to up your grilling game—Disbrowe introduces readers to the pleasures of Crackly Rosemary Flatbread crisped on the grill; the tender, toothsome texture of a charred cabbage wedge; crunchy wings with six craveable sauces; and the smoky charm of grilled desserts. With summer close at hand, the lure of cooking alfresco will soon be irresistible. So light that fire, pick a Paula-perfect recipe, and savor the glories of the grill.

TOP PICK IN COOKING For Stephanie Izard, the first woman to win Bravo’s “Top Chef,” the answer to all our “hungry prayers” is in hitting those “sweet, salty, savory, tangy, saucy” spots and “fusing homey comfort food with high-impact ingredients.” Think of it as packing an umami wallop into everyday dishes. In Gather & Graze: 120 Favorite Recipes for Tasty Good Times (Clarkson Potter, $35, 272 pages, ISBN 9780451495945), Izard offers 120 recipes for cult favorites from her three award-winning Chicago restaurants. Her sure-footed instructions include tips, tricks and techniques, plus notes on some of the pantry staples that amp up her repertoire, like malt vinegar, miso and fish sauce. Try her Duck Breast with Brown-Butter Kimchi and Miso-Marcona Butter, brunch on Crumpets with soy-spiked Chorizo Maple Syrup, and bring on the Chocolate Peanut Butter-Covered Cheez-It S’Mores for a Fourth of July celebration. The usual has now become unusual.




While the getting’s good Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Russo might well concede that he was a late bloomer—at least by the hurry-up-and-makeyour-mark standards that pervade contemporary culture. His first novel, Mohawk, wasn’t published until he was in his late 30s, and before becoming a full-time writer, Russo spent many years supporting himself and his family by teaching. The pedagogical impulse remains deeply ingrained, as evidenced by the generous-hearted and insightful essays on writing and life that are collected in his captivating new book, The Destiny Thief (Knopf, $25.95, 224 pages, ISBN 9781524733513). Most of this writing has appeared elsewhere but has probably eluded all but the most diligent Russo fan. The nine pieces fully display Russo’s trademark warmth and wit, and are marked by a fair dose of unpretentious wisdom and a genuineness that sometimes borders on self-effacement. In the title essay, for instance, he ponders his own path, assessing what it took to become a professional writer against all odds, and contemplates the fates of others he has known who failed to make it despite equal or sometimes greater gifts (at least in his modest appraisal). The longest piece, “Getting Good,” is a capacious consideration of aspirations versus talent, and of the intersection of craft and art. Russo advises would-be writers to embrace their apprenticeship and cherish the often long and challenging journey needed to improve and become a writer worth reading. Russo is an accomplished comic writer, so it is not surprising that he counts Charles Dickens and Mark Twain among his influences. Essays written as introductions to these masters’ work are rich with


insight into the process of storytelling. Russo helps us understand how Dickens grew as a writer through the very process of writing and how Twain blurred the line between truth and fiction with singular insouciance. Ever mindful that humor is subjective (and often by nature offensive), the essay “The Gravestone and the Commode” reminds us that comedy and tragedy live cheek by jowl in our lives and should do so in our fiction as well. While many of the pieces in The Destiny Thief are sprinkled with details drawn from Russo’s personal life, a few offer more than fleeting moments of autobiography. The aforementioned “Getting Good” is filled with Russo’s memories of working as a union laborer during college summers and the lessons learned, sometimes unwittingly, from his working-class grandfather and father. “Imagining Jenny,” the foreword for a friend’s memoir about undergoing sex reassignment surgery, wrestles with questions of friendship These pieces and the things fully display to which we Russo’s bear witness. Memories trademark of a writer’s warmth and conference wit. in Bulgaria underscore thoughts on identity and voice— and a lifelong passion for Bruce Springsteen. “I’ve written a lot about destiny in my fiction, not because I understand it, but because I’d like to,” Russo admits. Taken as a whole, the essays in The Destiny Thief puzzle with the mysteries of what good writing is and what good living is. In the end, Russo’s ethos for both is best summed up by the four “deeply flawed rules to live by,” which he shares in a commencement address to a group of graduating college students: “Go to it. Be bold. Be true. Be kind.”



Reaching for new heights


pring is finally here, which means it’s matriculation time! Filled with humor and advice, these three books will help grads face the future with confidence—or at least give them a good laugh as they step into the wide world.

Whether they’re stressed about starting college or anxious about impressing a new boss, grads who are fretting about the future will find a kindred spirit in Beth Evans, whose new book, I Really Didn’t Think This Through: Tales from My So-Called Adult Life (Morrow, $14.99, 192 pages, ISBN 9780062796066), is chock-full of the clever comic doodles and enlightened observations that have earned her a substantial Instagram following. In this humorous, heartfelt volume, Evans shares stories about her personal challenges, from coping with obsessive-compulsive disorder to assuming “grown-up” responsibilities like balancing a bank account. Readers on the cusp of adulthood will discover that they’re not unique in feeling flummoxed by the future. “Basically, what I’m trying to say is that you’re okay,” Evans writes. “And sometimes just being okay is a great place to be.” This nifty little book provides the perfect blend of comedy and camaraderie.

FAIL BETTER In Failure Is an Option: An Attempted Memoir (Dutton, $26, 256 pages, ISBN 9781524742164)—a title that’s sure to grab your grad’s attention—H. Jon Benjamin, a comedian and the voice of the titular characters in the animated shows “Bob’s Burgers” and “Archer,” looks back at the mistakes that made him the man he is today. That’s right—in this quirky retrospective, Benjamin takes stock of past failures that seemed terrible in the

moment but ultimately resulted in growth and progress. Benjamin is up-front and funny as he recounts his unsuccessful launch of a kids’ late-night TV talk show (tentative title: “Midnight Pajama Jam”) and documents his parental shortcomings (bad idea: babysitting an infant in a video arcade). Yet failure “doesn’t mean the end of something,” Benjamin writes. “Often, it’s a springboard toward something better.” He delivers these and other words to live by with concision, wit and a stand-up’s sense of timing.

CONGRATS, WITH CAVEATS It’s a dream team: Roz Chast, aka everybody’s favorite illustrator, and Carl Hiaasen, author of innumerable bestselling books, pair up for a one-of-a-kind commencement address in Assume the Worst: The Graduation Speech You’ll Never Hear (Knopf, $15.95, 64 pages, ISBN 9780525655015). Hiaasen graduated from college in 1974, in an era besmirched by Watergate and the Vietnam War, and he doesn’t think the world has improved much since. To freshly minted grads, the chief piece of wisdom he imparts is “assume the worst.” Black humor abounds in this wry treatise, as Hiaasen refutes the “lame platitudes” usually included in commencement speeches (i.e. “try to find goodness in everyone you meet”). Chast’s genius cartoons provide extra laughs along the way. This is a book today’s grads will return to when commencement is nothing more than a dim memory.

Find your summer escape in these perfect beach reads!

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cover story


A Sunday kind of love


f you’re lucky, your mom will always be your moon and stars, even after she’s gone. During the month of Mother’s Day, celebrate memorable moms and their adoring (and occasionally aggravating) children with these five books.

Margaret Bragg is an extraordinary octogenarian cook from Alabama who’s worn out 18 stoves and has no use for things like mixers, blenders or measuring cups. She whoops at the term “farm-to-table,” saying she had it in her day— it was called “a flatbed truck.” Even though Margaret proclaims that “a person can’t cook from a book,” her Pulitzer Prize-winning son and author of All Over but the Shoutin’, Rick Bragg, decided it was high time to collect her cooking stories and recipes in The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma’s Table (Knopf, $28.95, 512 pages, ISBN 9781400040414). “I guess you would call it a food memoir,” Bragg writes, “but it is really just a cookbook, told the way we tell everything, with a certain amount of meandering.” And what marvelous meandering it is. Each chapter contains a family photo, recipes and the often uproarious tales behind them, starting with the legendary tale of Bragg’s great-grandfather Jimmy Jim, who deserted his family after a bloody battle that may have involved a murder, but was summoned back years later to teach Bragg’s grandmother how to cook. These stories shimmer and shine, casting a Southern spell with Bragg’s gorgeous prose, while the myriad of recipes—including Cracklin’ Cornbread, Spareribs Stewed in Butter Beans and a dessert called Butter Rolls—are guar-


anteed to leave readers drooling. Each recipe includes directions like, “Turn your stove eye to medium. My mother cooks damn near everything over medium.” The Best Cook in the World is Julia Child by way of the Hatfields and McCoys. Margaret Bragg can cook up a storm, while Rick Bragg writes with a powerful, page-turning punch. The result is unimaginably delectable.

A LIFE LIVED WITH FLOWERS Academy Award-winning actress Marcia Gay Harden writes an extended love letter to her mother in The Seasons of My Mother: A Memoir of Love, Family, and Flowers (Atria, $26, 336 pages, ISBN 9781501135705). Harden’s mother, Beverly, has always been her best friend and cheerleader; she prodded her reluctant daughter to try out for a local production of a Neil Simon play, which turned out to be her entree into show business. Texas-born-and-bred Beverly married her college sweetheart at age 19 and soon had five children. As the family of a Naval officer who was frequently away at sea, Beverly and the children traveled the world, living in California, Maryland and Greece. “If Dad was our captain, she was our navigator,” Harden writes. When their travels brought the family to Japan, Beverly fell in love with ikebana, the ancient art of flower arranging, which became

her lifelong passion. Harden uses its imagery and philosophy to tell her mother’s story, interspersing chapters with photographs of ikebana arrangements specially created for her book. It’s a soulful tribute that’s framed with sadness and loss: Harden’s mother has been increasingly debilitated by Alzheimer’s since 2007. “The details of a home are usually what fill up a mother’s life,” Harden notes, “but how often have her children stopped to consider that her sacrifices are actually gifts?” With The Seasons of My Mother, Harden lovingly shares her mother’s gifts with the world.

their graphic memoir is filled with plenty of heartfelt wisdom and edgy humor reminiscent of Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? There are recipes to feed the soul (Day 1: Make fajitas.), burial instructions, tips for overcoming grief and advice for things like marriage, divorce, childbearing and aging. For example: “Things not to include in my obituary: Nobody but my immediate family needs to know that I made mosaic tile flower pots, played piano badly,

BREATHE, THEN GRIEVE One day, while contemplating the horror of From What to Do When I’m Gone, written by Suzy Hopkins and someday losing her mom, illustrated by Hallie Bateman. Reproduced by permission of illustrator Hallie Bateman the publisher, Bloomsbury. realized that a day-by-day book of instructions would be bought season tickets but only saw helpful at such an unimaginable two plays a year, or cooked with the time. Naturally, she turned to same six ingredients for the past her writer mom, Suzy Hopkins, twenty-five years.” for help. Their collaboration has What can you do to help someresulted in an exceptional self-help one who’s recently lost a mom? guide, What to Do When I’m Gone: Give them a copy of What to Do A Mother’s Wisdom to Her Daugh- When I’m Gone. ter (Bloomsbury, $22, 144 pages, MAKE ’EM LAUGH ISBN 9781632869685). Bateman and Hopkins share a It takes real talent to be consisloving, humorous outlook, and tently funny while sharing both your worst fears and greatest dreams. Kimberly Harrington is a mother of two who does just that with her debut collection, Amateur Hour: Motherhood in Essays and Swear Words (Harper Perennial, $15.99, 320 pages, ISBN 9780062838742). This always lively, sometimes sidesplitting series of short essays tackles everything from the exhausting days of early infancy to the dread of having one’s children

grow up (“I worry about what I will do with that silence when you both are grown. What will I do with that? Is it payback for me shushing you and waving my hands at you when I was on a work call in that NONO-NO-OH-MY-GOD-GO-AWAY way that I did?”). Some essays are pure satire (“What Do You Think of My Son’s Senior Picture That Was Shot by Annie Leibovitz?”) while others are deadly serious (“Please Don’t Get Murdered at School Today”). Many are wonderful mixtures of both, such as the notto-be missed “The Super Bowl of Interruptions.” Whether she’s aiming for your funny bone or your heart, Harrington’s takes on motherhood are spot-on.

MOTHERING MADNESS Life doesn’t always go as planned, as author Jennifer Fulwiler can tell you. “I used to be a career atheist who never wanted a family, yet I ended up having six babies in eight years,” she writes in One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both (Zondervan, $24.99, 240 pages, ISBN 9780310349747). This, coming from an introvert who “needed to minimize having people all up in [her] face.” To add to the chaos of writing and parenting six young kids, Fulwiler hosts “The Jennifer Fulwiler Show” on SiriusXM radio. Before the children arrived, this Wonder Woman’s life had already taken a few surprising turns—she converted to Catholicism and left her job as a computer programmer, a journey chronicled in Something Other Than God. Fulwiler is a likable, down-home Texan who never preaches or proselytizes. Thoughtful and funny, she whips off lines like, “Our home life had been utterly derailed when Netflix suddenly removed Penny’s favorite show, ‘Shaun the Sheep,’ from its lineup. The role Shaun played in our house was similar to the role a snake charmer might play in a cobra-infested village.” The morsels of wit and wisdom Fulwiler delivers are as delightful as fresh-baked cookies.




Birds of paradise lost


irk Wallace Johnson was fly-fishing in the frothy waters of a New Mexico river when his guide told him a whopper of a tale he could hardly believe. Be forewarned, once you start the book that was born from this moment, you’ll be just as hooked as Johnson was. “This whole story kind of grabbed me by the throat,” Johnson recalls. “I still sometimes can’t believe that it really happened and that I was lucky enough to be able to write about it.” Speaking by phone from his home in Los Angeles, the likable, earnest author is discussing his highly improbable true crime story, The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century. The thief is flutist Edwin Rist, a talented young American with two great loves: music and the Victorian art of salmon fly-tying—creating elaborate artificial flies for use in fly-fishing. One night in 2009, after performing at London’s Royal Academy of Music, the 20-year-old broke into one of the world’s largest ornithological collections, the Natural History Museum in Tring, England. For a fly tier like Rist, who lusted after exotic feathers, this museum was Fort Knox. He broke a window, climbed in and stuffed a suitcase full of 299 priceless and


By Kirk Wallace Johnson

Viking, $27, 320 pages ISBN 9781101981610, eBook available



rare preserved bird specimens used for study and display. Some had been collected 150 years before by a contemporary of Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace. Unbelievably, the theft wasn’t discovered for more than a month, and Rist wasn’t arrested until 507 days after his crime. What’s more, Rist never went to jail, receiving only a suspended sentence. Numerous specimens were never recovered; they were likely either sold on the black market or are still hidden somewhere. “Part of what drove me into this madcap search was a sense that justice has been denied here, that [Rist] had gotten away with it,” Johnson admits. He spent years researching, interviewing and traveling to different countries, even creating what he calls a “ridiculously obsessive timeline” of Rist’s life. Johnson yearned for “some kind of dramatic moment where some suitcase would be opened up and I would find all of them—as improbable or naive as that is.” The author certainly knows about justice, having founded a nonprofit in 2007 known as the List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies and written To Be a Friend Is Fatal: The Fight to Save the Iraqis America Left Behind. “I still have these waves of guilt that I should only be doing refugee work,” Johnson says. “What an indulgence to go chase the feather thief around the world.” Johnson discovered that Rist was something of a Victorian fly-tying savant, having fallen in love with the art at age 11, and by 2005 he and his younger brother were being hailed as “the future of fly-tying” by the editor of Fly Tyer magazine. Rist won numerous fly-tying competitions but wasn’t himself a fisherman. While many other fly tiers do not use expensive or exotic feathers, Rist’s particular type of

fly-tying is an intricate art form that focuses on “a cult-like attention to detail” and the worship of expensive, often rare feathers. “The vast majority of these guys not only don’t fish with them, they don’t even know how to fish with them,” Johnson explains. “It is just an aesthetic pursuit and obsession. One of the many absurdities in this whole story is that the salmon don’t know the difference. There’s no earthly reason why a salmon in Scotland should be attracted to a king bird-of-paradise feather from New Guinea. It doesn’t make “He would any sense— always just they’re never stay one going to meet.” Even to this step ahead day, Johnson of everyone is still “a little else. Until he shocked” that didn’t.” Rist went through with it. After visiting the Tring museum during normal hours, Rist first created a computer document titled “Plan for Museum Invasion.” At the time of the theft, he was hoping to buy a $20,000 golden flute. His history with the fly-tying community gave him the means to connect with potential buyers for the valuable exotic feathers. “The number of mental fail-safes that just malfunctioned here, where he would have talked himself out of this, is kind of staggering,” Johnson says. As to why Rist succumbed to temptation, Johnson can only speculate: “I get the feeling that for most of his life Edwin has been the smartest person in the room. I think that he reasoned, How would anybody catch [me]? He would



always just stay one step ahead of everyone else. Until he didn’t.” Rist only received a veritable slap on the wrist with his suspended sentence, largely because the British court system believes he has Asperger’s syndrome. His reputation did suffer, yet he continues to work as a professional musician in Germany under a different name. Surprisingly, Rist agreed to be interviewed for the book. In Düsseldorf, where Rist was living, he and Johnson talked for nearly eight hours, while Johnson’s wife manned several tape recorders. “My wife, who is a lawyer by training, still asks this question: ‘Why on earth did he talk to you?’ ” Johnson says. “ Because there really was no good to come of it. And there were moments in the interview when I could sense her lawyerly side kind of leaning forward to say, ‘Edwin, don’t answer.’ ” But answer Rist did, steadfastly maintaining, “I am not a thief,” and claiming not to know the whereabouts of the still-missing bird skins. The mystery of the missing specimens continues to haunt Johnson, who says, “Every now and then I’ll be at a red light, and I’ll be like, ah, does he still have 50 of these skins in his apartment?” He adds, “My hope, to be honest, is that the book will summon others to the hunt.”


A dash, a dollop, a sprinkling of magic


t its best, fantasy fiction is transportive, taking us away from the world we know. Sometimes that journey sends us to alien and mythic realms, but sometimes—as in this trio of powerful new novels—magic can be found in a strange and wondrous reflection of a world we already recognize. discover a magical and uncharted landscape that perhaps has always existed before our very eyes.

story, an addictive tale of redemption and hope emerges from a grimy future.



In Blackfish City (Ecco, $22.99, 336 pages, ISBN 9780062684820), the first adult novel from Sam J. Miller (The Art of Starving) imagines a rough, cobbled-together future, then brings forth a little magic from its potential darkness. In a world ravaged by climate change, corruption and other disasters, humanity has reorganized itself into a series of new settlements. In the floating city Qaanaaq—a mesh of intertwined cultures, vastly different income levels and technology merged with raw survival instinct—a group of seemingly disparate characters are united by a single jarring event: the arrival of a mysterious woman, called an “orcamancer,” who emerges from the sea on a killer whale, with a polar bear in tow. Who is she? What does she want? Will she be the city’s doom, its salvation or some frightening hybrid of the two? As this mystery unfolds, Miller introduces a rich kid suffering from a strange disease, a battered journeyman fighter, a city administrator, a crime lord with bigger ambitions, a gender-nonbinary messenger and other compelling personalities linked by the aura of the orcamancer. Providing one more voice to the narrative, a mysterious guidebook seems to function as the voice of the city itself. As these varying points of view take their turns telling the

What Should Be Wild (Harper, $26.99, 368 pages, ISBN 9780062684134), the magical debut novel from Julia Fine, begins with all the makings of a dark fairy tale. There once was a girl named Maisie who grew up in an old manor house on the edge of a strange forest. Maisie was born with the power to kill living things and resurrect dead things with a single touch, and so she was locked away by her anthropologist father, who

978-1-62354-527-7 HC $24.99

In his stunning debut, The City of Lost Fortunes (HMH/John Joseph Adams, $24, 384 pages, ISBN 9781328810793), Bryan Camp crafts a spellbinding vision of one of America’s most magical cities. In a post-Katrina New Orleans, magician and grifter Jude Dubuisson is adrift, hiding from his exciting former life and keeping quiet about his gift for locating lost items. All that changes when a sudden invitation catapults him back into a world of gods, vampires, angels and tremendous power. What begins as an enticing introduction to a mythic version of the Crescent City and its characters quickly deepens as Camp weaves through strange haunts and schemes. Indeed, magic is woven into every page with such mesmeric precision that the reader has no idea what to expect next and can’t risk turning away for a moment. Camp takes us through his world with the self-assuredness of a seasoned novelist, leaving no word wasted and no moment of exposition without a little spell twisted into it. The novel journeys deeper still, beyond its own imagined mysteries and into the unanswered questions of the American experience. The cultural melting pot of New Orleans becomes enchanted, as ritual chalk circles lead to doors, doors lead to hidden rooms, and hidden rooms lead to other realms. As Jude rediscovers a world he left behind, we

considered her too dangerous and puzzling to be allowed to explore the outside world. When her father goes missing, Maisie’s mixture of curiosity and concern sends her on a journey to the heart of the forest. There, she discovers a dark curse that has plagued the women of her family for centuries. What follows is a captivating tale that explores the fears, desires and mysteries of growing up through the clouded lens of a dark fantasy. Fine begins with elements we all recognize—a girl with strange powers, a dark old house, a mysterious forest that could be waiting just beyond our doorstep—and delightfully warps them until a new tale emerges. Maisie is a complex heroine worthy of the story’s luxurious prose. In telling her story, Fine reveals her own gift for walking the tightrope between the universal truths of human experience and the hidden magic within those truths.

For four years, Charlie Harmon saw Leonard Bernstein every day, as his social director, gatekeeper, valet, music copyist, and orchestra librarian. It was a whirlwind of travel, parties, and music—lots and lots of music.

“An informal, affectionate, and not idolatrous account of the life of an astonishingly talented composer, conductor, and teacher.” —Harold Prince, Broadway legend and recipient of 21 Tony Awards®

“This memoir intimately captures the steep challenges and incredible rewards inherent in working with such a living legend.” —Marin Alsop, Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo, Brazil

ON SALE MAY 8, 2018 •


reviews T PI OP CK



Woman behind bars REVIEW BY ALDEN MUDGE

Much of the action of Rachel Kushner’s brilliant new novel is set in California prisons. She has done her research, and the novel is filled with distressing factual details like death-row inmates sewing sandbags and prison staff using a powerful, probably toxic disinfectant called Cell Block 64. And of course there are the stultifying, dehumanizing prison routines. But the moral scope of The Mars Room is really too large for it to be considered a prison novel. Through its vividly rendered characters, it asks the reader to ponder bigger questions—Dostoyevskian questions—about the system of justice, the possibility of redemption and even the industrialization of the natural landscape. By Rachel Kushner The novel’s central character is Romy Hall. We meet her as she is Scribner, $27, 352 pages being transported from a Los Angeles jail to Stanville, a prison in CaliISBN 9781476756554, audio, eBook available fornia’s agricultural heartland where she is to serve two life sentences. She is 29, born to a cruel mother in a San Francisco neighborhood that LITERARY FICTION bears little resemblance to the high-tech mecca of today. She is the mother of a young son she worries about obsessively. Until she fled a stalker by moving with her son to Los Angeles, she hustled as a lap dancer at a place called the Mars Room in downtown San Francisco. We don’t learn the details until late in the novel, but we know that because of her ineffectual lawyer, she ends up in prison for killing her stalker. Kushner (Telex from Cuba, The Flamethrowers) is both tough and darkly funny in writing about her characters’ situations, and she writes not so much for us to empathize with them, but rather to understand them. The Mars Room is a captivating and beautiful novel. Moth, a man they are certain is a criminal. In 1945 England, at the end of World War II, Nathaniel and By Michael Rachel must adjust to their newOndaatje found parental abandonment and Knopf accept the Moth’s warning “that $26.95, 304 pages nothing was safe anymore.” ISBN 9780525521198 As narrated through Nathaniel’s Audio, eBook available intimate firsthand perspective, the siblings test their new guardian by COMING OF AGE rebelling at school. But instead of Learning who you are and, permeeting a stern lashing for their behavior, they are surprised by haps more importantly, who you are meant to be isn’t easy. Nathaniel the Moth’s calm understanding Williams, the young hero of Michael and protective demeanor. Equally surprising is the cast of unusual Ondaatje’s latest novel, Warlight, spends much of his adolescence characters associated with the Moth who wind up staying at their and later years pondering this. The author of the Booker house, including Norman MarPrize-winning The English Patient, shall, better known as the Pimlico Darter, a smuggler and racer of Ondaatje confounds his 14-yearold protagonist from the outset greyhound dogs. The siblings drift further from when the boy’s parents announce each other as Nathaniel finds a they are going away for a year and that he and his 15-year-old sister, surrogate father in the Darter and Rachel is drawn closer to the Moth. Rachel, will be left in the care of a strange acquaintance known as the Events cascade with the surpris-



ing return of their mother, Rose. But this isn’t a cheerful reunion, as her abandonment and silence about her secretive service in the war have a profound effect on her children and leave more questions than answers—questions that plague Nathaniel well into adulthood and long after his mother’s death. Contemplative and mysterious, Warlight is utterly engrossing. —G. ROBERT FRAZIER


Ballantine $28, 400 pages ISBN 9781101967386 Audio, eBook available HISTORICAL FICTION

Paula McLain’s fascination with Ernest Hemingway runs deep.

She proved this seven years ago with her novel The Paris Wife, which presented the extraordinary author through the lens of his first marriage to Hadley Richardson. McLain has repeated that magic in Love and Ruin, which focuses on Hemingway’s third wife, Martha Gellhorn. Martha, or Marty, is an aspiring writer and world traveler, two passions that lead her to become one of the first female war correspondents in modern history. In between covering major wars from the front lines, she pours her heart and experiences into an impressive collection of fiction. Marty idolizes Ernest like many others of her time, and as fate would have it, the two fall in love while covering the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Marty is very much a woman in a man’s world, and her fearlessness, independence and writing chops make her irresistible to Ernest. From Key West to Madrid to Havana, we follow their courtship and eventual marriage, which is full of romance, hope, inspiration and encouragement—until Marty realizes that marrying one of the most famous men in the world comes at the cost of her own goals. McLain’s ability to base a work of fiction on real people is nothing short of superb. Readers may pick up Love and Ruin because of their obsession with Ernest Hemingway, but they’ll fall in love with it because of Marty Gellhorn. —CHIKA GUJARATHI

THE MAP OF SALT AND STARS By Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar Touchstone $27, 368 pages ISBN 9781501169038 Audio, eBook available DEBUT FICTION

Among the many things the violence of war obliterates, perhaps the most malicious is history. Now in its seventh year, the civil war that has turned Syria into the site of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises has also corseted one

FICTION of the oldest societies on earth into a kind of perpetual infancy. Syria, it sometimes seems, only began to exist seven years ago, as a place defined only by its current calamity. In many ways, The Map of Salt and Stars is at once a testament to the brutality of the current Syrian conflict and a reverent ode to ancient Arabian history. Syrian-American writer Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar has crafted an audacious debut, ambitious and sprawling in both time and space. The book follows the story of Nour, a Syrian-American girl living in New York. In 2011, after Nour loses her father to cancer, her mother decides to move the family back to Homs to be close to their extended family. But Nour’s arrival coincides with Syria’s slide into civil war. Amid grotesque violence, Nour is made a refugee, a traveler through Syria’s neighboring lands. Almost a thousand years earlier, another girl’s story unfolds. Rawiya, seeking a better life for her mother, disguises herself as a boy and joins a legendary cartographer on a quest to map the known world. The two stories unfold side by side, split by time but joined by a common geography. Because the modern part of Joukhadar’s narrative carries the urgency of the present tense, but the ancient half reads like an old Arabian fairy tale, the dual story structure is at first jarring. But soon the book finds its pace, and the intertwining tales complement each other in ways a single narrative could not. A swooping bird of prey that threatens to devour the ancient story’s traveling companions finds its modern-day analogy in the form of Syrian fighter planes dropping bombs on besieged cities. There is a heartfelt quality to the story, evident in the meticulous historical research that must have gone into the creation of the ancient part of the book. The Map of Salt and Stars presents an Arab world in full possession of its immense historical and cultural biography, marred by its modern tragedies but not exclusively defined by them. —OMAR EL AKKAD


Atria $26, 352 pages ISBN 9781501180637 Audio, eBook available LITERARY FICTION

What do you get when a cantankerous old hoarder in a decrepit mansion collides with a world-weary caregiver who has a reluctant talent for communing with the dead? The answer is Jess Kidd’s imaginative second novel, Mr. Flood’s Last Resort, an enchanting thriller that disarms and delights. When Maud Drennan is assigned to look after Cathal Flood, all she knows is that he has managed to run off his previous caregivers through a combination of psychological warfare, booby traps and outright hostility. However, Maud is made of stronger stuff than her relatively plain appearance would suggest, and she arrives at Cathal’s doorstep ready for a fight. With dogged determination, Maud slowly enters into an uneasy truce with the inscrutable old man, but she also comes to realize that there is more to Cathal—and his property—than meets the eye. While the moldering manor house is filled with decades-old detritus and an army of slightly feral cats, it is also a mausoleum of secrets, potentially lethal ones. When Maud learns about the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of Cathal’s wife—and the house begins to offer up clues regarding a cold case that eerily echoes memories from Maud’s traumatic childhood—she knows it is up to her to uncover who Cathal Flood truly is and to appease the restless spirits that haunt the halls of his home. Unique and unconventional, Mr. Flood’s Last Resort is an unforgettable mystery that will appeal to fans of Tana French and Sophie Hannah, as it charms and unsettles in equal measure. Kidd (Himself) deftly balances whimsy and humor with a genuine sense of malice and

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reviews danger. Savvy readers will question who can be trusted, as nothing— not even Maud—is as it initially seems. —STEPHENIE HARRISON


Riverhead $26, 352 pages ISBN 9780735214767 Audio, eBook available DEBUT FICTION

Do you ever wonder what people who play in string quartets are really like? When they come onstage, they seem so ascetic in their concert blacks. Surely, this quality extends to their personal lives. If they are old enough to be married, they must have tidy, quietly happy unions. I must admit to these prejudices, which I didn’t even know I had. So I was shocked when the chief violinist of an ensemble pulls out a cigarette and lights up in the opening pages of Aja Gabel’s brilliant, groundbreaking novel—and then the violinist boinks one of the judges of an upcoming contest and tries to blackmail him. The message: People in elegant string quartets are just as messed up as everybody else. In the case of Gabel’s quartet, they’re probably even more messed up than everybody else. There’s brittle Jana; orphaned, sad Brit; bitter Daniel; and rackety, sweet-natured Henry, the youngest and most talented. The Ensemble follows them from ambitious youth to resigned middle age, through hookups and breakups, marriage and children, lonely hotel rooms and crummy apartments. The four characters may not like each other, but they love each other. They are, to their surprise, a family. Gabel, a musician herself, knows this world intimately. An alarm rings in B-flat, a note one character particularly hates. Their instruments leave marks on them in the form of bruises, divots, “violin hickies” and bad backs, as well as tendonitis—a mere inconvenience to a civilian but destructive for


FICTION a string musician’s career. Each chapter relates the point of view of one of the musicians, and each section opens with a list of musical pieces that the reader might listen to while reading. No other novel is quite like The Ensemble. —ARLENE MCKANIC

MY EX-LIFE By Stephen McCauley

Flatiron $25.99, 336 pages ISBN 9781250122438 Audio, eBook available LITERARY FICTION

Stephen McCauley’s bittersweet seventh novel gives the lie to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s pronouncement that there are no second acts in American lives. Because for all their missteps, the angst-ridden characters that populate My Ex-Life seem determined, in their endearingly flawed ways, to make the best of their unique circumstances. Most of the novel’s action unfolds in the slightly shabby seaside resort of Beauport, just north of Boston. It’s home to Julie Fiske and her restless daughter, Mandy, who’s on the cusp of high school graduation. In the midst of a fractious divorce and pressured by her husband to sell the rambling home they once shared, Julie reaches out to her first ex-husband, David Hedges, a college admissions consultant, in a desperate bid to help her daughter and bring order to the chaos of her life. David left Julie three decades earlier after discovering his true sexual orientation, and he now lives in San Francisco, where he faces his own real estate crisis—an impending eviction. McCauley seasons the novel with a liberal helping of the anxieties of contemporary American life, chief among them upper-middle-class parents’ apprehension about their children’s futures and aging baby boomers’ regret that life’s brass ring will always be just out of reach. He excels in some wickedly funny scenes that depict Julie’s fumbling

efforts to turn her home into an economically productive Airbnb, as well as a tender portrayal of the odd sexual tension that bubbles up during Julie and David’s reunion. They’re the sort of people who know their lives possess all the ingredients for happiness, but who seem to have lost the recipe. For all the idiosyncrasies of McCauley’s creations, it’s likely many readers will see aspects of their own lives reflected in these pages. —HARVEY FREEDENBERG

WEST By Carys Davies

Scribner $22, 160 pages ISBN 9781501179341 Audio, eBook available DEBUT FICTION

serves as Bellman’s guide on his western journey. Orphaned by both tribe and homeland, Old Woman from a Distance is a curious boy who is searching for his own type of contentment. Davies’ economical approach, in the form of short chapters and concise prose, is incredibly effective. She offers just enough narrative for the reader to connect with characters and engage with the plot. But from chapter to chapter, Davies leaves much unsaid, which in turn leaves the reader feeling as vulnerable and full of wonder as the book’s main characters. West is an engrossing work of historical fiction grappling with themes of vulnerability, longing and hope that transcend all contexts. —LANGSTON COLLIN WILKINS

THAT KIND OF MOTHER Welsh author Carys Davies’ masterful debut novel, West, tells the story of Cy Bellman, a widowed British transplant raising his young daughter, Bess, in rural Pennsylvania in the early 19th century. When Bellman reads about the discovery of mammoth-size bones in Kentucky, he begins to feel discontented and restless. The bones captivate Bellman. He wants to see them in person and believes they belong to creatures that still roam the earth. He also needs a break from his mundane and rather depressive existence. Despite warnings and condemnation from family and neighbors, Bellman decides to head west, beyond the Mississippi River, in search of more mysterious fossils. Davies juxtaposes Bellman’s journey with the story of Bess, whom he leaves behind in Pennsylvania. Deprived of a mother and a father, Bess faces the perils of life without stability and protection. She spends much of the story waiting for her father while attempting to avoid the nefarious attention of two local men. While they are living two disconnected lives, Bellman’s and Bess’ stories intersect through the travels of a Shawnee youth named Old Woman from a Distance, who

By Rumaan Alam

Ecco $26.99, 304 pages ISBN 9780062667601 Audio, eBook available LITERARY FICTION

Rebecca Stone is overwhelmed by motherhood. That’s not unusual for a first-time mother, but Rebecca’s position may be: She’s a poet with a well-to-do husband, and she has the resources to do something about it. At the hospital, she turns to Priscilla Johnson, who helps Rebecca and her newborn son, Jacob, adjust to breastfeeding. Before long, Rebecca insists Priscilla leave the hospital and become Jacob’s nanny. It’s a near-perfect fit. Rebecca is able to resume her work as a poet—that is, sitting quietly and thinking until the words come. Oblivious to the power dynamics at play between a black woman and her white employer, Rebecca sees Priscilla as a confidante. Then Priscilla gets pregnant and dies during childbirth. Rebecca steps in to adopt her baby, Andrew, and the uneven dynamics of their relationship are now unavoidable. In That Kind of Mother, Rumaan Alam (Rich and Pretty) delves into

I HAVE THREE CONFESSIONS TO MAKE: 1. I’ve got the scar of a gunshot on my forehead.

2. I don’t remember an entire year of my life.

“Christina Dodd reinvents the romantic thriller.

3. My name is Kellen Adams… and that’s half a lie.

“No one does high-stakes, high-voltage suspense quite like Dodd.”

Her signature style— edgy, intense, twisty, emotional— leaves you breathless from first page to last. Readers who enjoy Nora Roberts will devour Dodd’s electrifying novels.” —Jayne Ann Krentz, New York Times bestselling author

—Booklist (starred review)

Pick up your copy TODAY. •



The best books of springtime suspense highlight the darkest side of love


hree female-led literary thrillers explore the ways in which love (both romantic and familial) can nurture or destroy, and how devastating the consequences can be when it does the latter. With excellently placed twists, clever metafictional elements and chilling conclusions, these three books are the standouts of this season’s thriller shelves. In Roz Nay’s debut, Our Little Secret (St. Martin’s, $25.99, 272 pages, ISBN 9781250160812), a young woman stuck in a police interview room takes a detective on a meandering journey down memory lane, revealing the history of her first love, how they parted and what happened next. Angela Petitjean and her high school sweetheart, Hamish “HP” Parker, still live in their Vermont hometown. Over the years, HP married a woman named Saskia and had a child, and now Saskia is missing. Detective Novak just wants Angela to answer some questions. Angela just wants Novak to realize that the story she’s telling will give him all the answers he needs. Angela’s delicious narration spins a tale of heady high school love, an idyllic year of study at Oxford University and the stale monotony born of unfulfilled potential. Our Little Secret takes the unreliable narrator trope and ramps it up: Angela is a fantastic liar, but she might not realize that her lies can be just as revealing as the truth. With a slow-burning plot and solid characters, this novel introduces a promising new author with a range of strengths.

MOTHER, MAY I? Another debut novel, Aimee Molloy’s The Perfect Mother (Harper, $27.99, 336 pages, ISBN 9780062696793), melds traditional suspense fare—a missing child—with a nuanced portrayal of women during the early days of motherhood. Brought together


first adult novel from Sara Shepard (author of the bestselling Pretty Little Liars YA series), a young woman grapples with memory gaps and paranoia after she is found at the bottom of a hotel pool. Eliza Fontaine is certain someone pushed her in, but her family isn’t convinced; Eliza has survived several suicide attempts involving water. Plus, she was drunk that night, and a storm knocked out the pool security cameras. Although Eliza wants to find out the truth, she is also occupied with are worried Winnie is feeling the the upcoming publication of her stress of single motherhood, and first novel, The Dots, about a girl’s they insist she join them. What relationship with her troubled starts out as a fun evening turns aunt. Demands from her editor into a nightmare when Winnie’s and agent contend with Eliza’s infant son, Midas, goes missing. increasing anxiety over lost As the police investigation stalls out and the media coverage reach- memories and the certainty that someone is following her. Why is es a frenzy, Winnie’s three friends her family unwilling to discuss are determined to help. But with the pool incident? Why do they each dead end, the women are seem like they’re hiding someforced to wonder if something thing? And why do people keep darker than kidnapping could insisting that they’ve seen Eliza have happened that night. around town in places she knows With multiple narrators and (does she know?) she never went? a clever construction that plays Narrated by Eliza and interon readers’ assumptions, The spersed with chapters from The Perfect Mother is an impressive Dots, The Elizas is more of a and satisfying domestic thriller. satisfying puzzle than a shockParticularly interesting is its deing thriller, as readers will piece piction of female insecurities, as together the truth well before the well as its open interrogation of the expectations placed on moth- final pages. But it’s enjoyable to ers. This gripping and fresh novel parse the well-paced clues, and readers will root for the likable, will provoke as much thought as yet sometimes worrying Eliza. it does excitement. Equal parts fun and disturbing, THE POOL INCIDENT The Elizas delivers a heavy dose In The Elizas (Atria, $26, 352 of psychodrama and a punchy, pages, ISBN 9781501162770), the contemporary voice. by their similar due dates, the women of a Brooklyn “mommy group” known as the May Mothers forge tentative friendships and share support. When they decide to have a night out, Winnie isn’t sure. But Francie, Colette and Nell

reviews the complexities of female friendship and motherhood. Rebecca struggles to figure out whether she and Priscilla’s adult daughter, Cheryl, are friends or relatives. The women meet for regular play dates with their children, and Rebecca is often startled by Cheryl’s directness. Cheryl is quick to note that, no matter what Rebecca claims to think about race, Jacob and Andrew are different in ways big and small. Coconut oil isn’t enough to moisturize Andrew’s skin, for example, and the world will perceive him differently than it does Jacob. Rebecca is forced to reckon with the different worlds that her boys will face. Alam explores these issues with grace, contrasting the experiences of these two women with those of Rebecca’s idol, Princess Diana. That Kind of Mother is a meditation on race and the challenges and joys of parenting. —CARLA JEAN WHITLEY

THIS I KNOW By Eldonna Edwards Kensington/John Scognamiglio $26, 320 pages ISBN 9781496712868 Audio, eBook available DEBUT FICTION

Grace Carter’s family doesn’t know what to make of her—or her gift. In This I Know, debut author Eldonna Edwards captures both the ordinary and extraordinary about Grace, who—aside from her clairvoyance, which she calls “the Knowing”—is a typical prepubescent girl making the perplexing transition to young womanhood. The Knowing makes her an oddity to most people but is a lifeline for some, such as those who wish to talk to a lost child or want to know the secrets of the past and future. Grace’s mama shares her daughter’s clairvoyance, but the depression that’s been weighing on her since her sixth child’s birth, coupled with lingering grief over the loss of Grace’s twin brother, Isaac, keeps her spirit locked away. Grace’s dad’s zeal for his position

as pastor of the Church of the Word obscures all else. Her three sisters have little patience for her. Her older sister Joy, ever the pragmatic one, even tries to make money off of Grace’s gift once or twice. In a pitch-perfect voice, Edwards captures Grace’s struggles to understand the pain of those around her as she deals with her own, especially her desire to be loved unconditionally by her father. Grace displays a wellspring of compassion—for the homeless man who sometimes squats in her family’s barn, for families who have lost loved ones and especially for her mama, whom she desperately wants back from the grips of depression. Like Grace, Edwards is the daughter of a preacher, and this write-what-you-know aspect lends This I Know a depth of feeling and honesty. Edwards’ conversational style and the first-person diaristic tone create an enveloping warmth that draws the reader in. —MELISSA BROWN

WELCOME TO LAGOS By Chibundu Onuzo Catapult $26, 304 pages ISBN 9781936787807 Audio, eBook available WORLD FICTION

Readers who experience a quiet thrill upon discovering an exciting new novel are likely to encounter that sensation when they read Welcome to Lagos, Chibundu Onuzo’s second work of fiction (and her American debut), a fast-paced story of war refugees, militants and others fleeing conflict in modernday Nigeria. The book starts when Chike Ameobi, an officer stationed at a “barren army base” in the Niger Delta, deserts rather than participate in a mission he considers barbaric. Accompanying him is Private Yemi Oke, who shares Chike’s distaste for a commanding officer who wants to “string the scalps of his enemies into a belt.” They begin a journey to Lagos

in search of a better life. Along the way, several others join them, including Fineboy, a teenager who had joined the country’s militants to protest foreign countries taking Nigerian oil; 16-year-old Isoken, who is searching for her parents; and Oma, a woman escaping her wealthy husband, an oil industry employee who—as described in one of the novel’s many great lines—treats her like expensive shoes, “to be polished and glossed but, at the end of the day, to be trodden on.” When they get to Lagos, they live under a bridge along with other impoverished Nigerians until Fineboy discovers an abandoned, furnished flat beneath a decrepit building. They learn that the flat belongs to Colonel Sandayo, Nigeria’s education minister, who is on the run after taking $10 million earmarked for the country’s failing schools. Welcome to Lagos casts an entertainingly scathing eye on many aspects of Nigerian society, from oil-hungry corporations to ambitious reporters and the rivalries among ethnic groups. If some characters aren’t fully fleshed out, the novel’s breakneck pace and intricate plotting are nevertheless a treat to savor. This is a winning sophomore effort from a writer to watch. —MICHAEL MAGRAS


the title of your new book? Q: What’s 

Q: Describe the book in one sentence.



are you able to accomplish Q: What with short fiction that you can’t with a novel?

Q: Which story was the most challenging to write and why?

fascinates you most about American celebrities? Q: What 

Q: Whose writing has most inspired your own?


Algonquin $26.95, 368 pages ISBN 9781616206307 Audio, eBook available

Q: Words to live by?


The Optimistic Decade deserves the elusive accolade of “original” for its believable construction and flawless attention to detail. Within the brilliant, multilayered canopy of the novel’s world, Heather Abel’s writing comes across as a sincere and tender channel for a story that must be told. Rebecca, a college freshman, can’t imagine becoming anything other than a journalist. Her parents have run a liberal newspaper called

YOU THINK IT, I’LL SAY IT Each story in Curtis Sittenfeld’s first story collection, You Think It, I’ll Say It (Random House, $27, 240 pages, ISBN 9780399592867), introduces flawed characters and entangled situations that both satirize and humanize modern life. The 10 stories examine relationships, missed connections and gender with wit and precision. Her previous bestselling novels include Prep, Eligible, American Wife and Sisterland. An Ohio native, she currently lives with her family in St. Louis.


reviews Our Side Now for decades. When Rebecca’s family decides to shut down production, they send her to her cousin’s summer camp in rural Colorado to be a counselor. At the camp, Rebecca’s horizons broaden until she can barely recognize herself. This could be classified as a coming-of-age tale, but the growth is not limited to the adolescents. The adults experience just as much disruption and turmoil as their younger counterparts, spinning a rippling theme of never-ending expansion of the self. Abel’s writing easily captures the vivid wilderness of Colorado, and her flashes of description somehow create a sense of nostalgia for multiple eras, as the story and backstory juxtapose the Reagan years with the onset of the Gulf War. As Abel’s characters surmise, perhaps everyone gets one optimistic decade before they can no longer deny that their actions are inconsequential and the future is going to happen whether they like it or not. Each person must choose to keep pushing forward, because a life without purpose is just as dissatisfying as dwelling in worthlessness. Above all else, this strong, astute debut is a study of love in many forms. To read it is nothing less than a mitzvah. —LESLIE HINSON

TIN MAN By Sarah Winman Putnam $23, 224 pages ISBN 9780735218727 Audio, eBook available COMING OF AGE

FICTION fists of their gruff, uncommunicative fathers. Both boys are close to Ellis’ mother, Dora, a woman who makes sure there is always room for art in the family home. But after Dora’s death, Ellis’ father gives the boy no choice but to put his artistic skills to work as a tin man at the local car plant, removing dents and dings so dexterously that customers cannot feel where the damage was. From the start, the friendship between Ellis and Michael borders on intimacy, and on a 10-day trip to the south of France, they begin a love affair that ends as quickly as it flares up. Not long after, Ellis meets and marries Annie. The three are inseparable until Michael moves to London, eventually cutting off communication with the couple and disappearing into the city. This gentle novel is told in two parts. In the first, Ellis, now a middle-aged widower, lives a straitened life, still working at the car plant but dreaming of roads untaken. Recovering from a cycling accident gives him the opportunity to recall his special relationships with Annie and Michael and how they helped define him. The second half is drawn from Michael’s diaries, detailing his life in London as a gay man, his struggles after he is diagnosed with AIDS and his decision to return to Oxford. Although sometimes lacking in characterization (Annie, in particular, is not fleshed out enough), Winman’s compassionate look at the fluidity of sexual identity, youthful passion and middle-aged regret is rich in emotion and proves that great things do come in small packages. —LAUREN BUFFERD

A SHOUT IN THE RUINS The warmth that suffuses Sarah Winman’s new novel is pervasive. Though little more than 200 pages in length, Tin Man is plentiful in love, beauty and acts of human kindness. Ellis and Michael are preteens when they first meet in workingclass Oxford, England. An immediate camaraderie develops as the two boys learn to swim, bike the city streets and avoid the swinging


By Kevin Powers

Little, Brown $26, 272 pages ISBN 9780316556477 Audio, eBook available HISTORICAL FICTION

PEN/Hemingway Award-winning author Kevin Powers descends into the corrupt heart of the

American South with his Civil Warera novel, A Shout in the Ruins, a lacerating and elegiac—if at times uneven—novel about the lasting effects of human bondage. Powers, whose debut novel, The Yellow Birds, is among the best works of fiction to come out of America’s 21st-century wars, has penned a tragic tale of moral corruption set in Virginia. While chapters alternate between the final days of the antebellum South and the 1950s, at its heart the book is the story of the Beauvais Plantation, where Emily Reid, impoverished daughter of a crippled Confederate soldier, marries plantation owner Antony Levallois. Already at the plantation are slaves Nurse and Rawls, starcrossed lovers who are little more than toys for Levallois. The most interesting character in the book, Levallois is more animal than human in his needs and From the author of The methods, yet his manipulaYellow Birds tion is sophiscomes an ticated enough elegiac tale of to hold the the American entire countryside under his South. thumb. But as the South falls to pieces, so does his control of the people around him, leading to revenge and murder. Another storyline follows nonagenarian George Seldom as he tries to investigate his murky origins. Aided by a diner waitress, he makes his way to a dimly recalled childhood home, where he comes face to face with memory and grief. While the story grows confusing at times, the only discordant notes are a couple of narratives that focus on fringe characters who appear to exist only to move the story along. Still, the author’s writing possesses the same intimate, lyrical power as his haunting debut, which was written after his experience serving in Iraq with the U.S. Army. This time, the Richmond, Virginia, native gets closer to home. This is a fine, relevant novel from a notable author.

Fractured family dynamics and the search for a missing fortune are the main threads of this textured debut, set mostly in Cleveland, Ohio, over the course of three decades. The Comedown centers on the families of two men: Leland Bloom-Mittwoch and his drug dealer, Reggie Marshall. Reggie sees Leland as an unstable client; Leland, however, considers Reggie his best friend. Leland is present the day Reggie is shot, and he flees the scene, distraught, with a briefcase full of money. Over the ensuing years, Leland struggles with addiction and mental illness, wrecks his first marriage, enters into a second and has a damaging affair, while Reggie’s wife, who was once a promising student, is left to raise their two boys in poverty, alone. Through several tantalizing plot twists, the lives of the Bloom-Mittwoch and Marshall clans remain intertwined in a network of simmering tension, blame and guilt. First-time author Rebekah Frumkin, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, is generous with her characters and their frailties. Each point of view (and there are many) feels distinct; often, the same events are shown through the eyes of different characters, adding dimension. Although some readers might find it disorienting to be launched into another point of view just when they’ve settled into the current one, the novel’s nonlinear, fragmented structure reflects its themes of disconnection and the uneasy mental states of most of the characters. Messy, meandering and occasionally illuminating, The Comedown is a family saga that recalls real life.


—T R I S H A P I N G

THE COMEDOWN By Rebekah Frumkin

Holt $27, 336 pages ISBN 9781250127525 Audio, eBook available DEBUT FICTION


food in human history.” A skeptical reader will wonder, but in the end, they will likely be convinced of this statement’s truth. —ALDEN MUDGE


Cold War secrets exposed REVIEW BY EDWARD MORRIS

The Cold War between the U.S. and Russia was at its iciest from the early 1950s until well into the 1960s. Neither side knew a great deal about the other’s military capabilities and even less about any grand designs for world supremacy. The information the two superpowers did possess came mostly from spies, diplomats, gossip and news reports. Although securing reliable intelligence was clearly in the Pentagon’s interest, its chief focus was on improving its weaponry. However, the nascent Central Intelligence Agency was interested in experimental aerial reconnaissance projects. Into this jurisdictional minefield entered four inordinately talented civilians who took it upon themselves to build and test technology that might reveal what was actually happening in Russia: Edwin Land, the inventor of the first Polaroid camera and a genius in the field of optics; By Monte Reel Kelly Johnson, an engineer who zeroed in on designing lightweight, Doubleday, $28.95, 352 pages high-flying aircraft that could photograph the Russian landscape while, ISBN 9780385540209, audio, eBook available ideally, evading radar detection; Richard Bissell, a Connecticut blue HISTORY blood the CIA assigned to oversee and facilitate the hush-hush project; and Francis Gary Powers, one of the daredevil pilots selected to test the new spy plane, which they called the U-2. Powers would later be shot down over the Soviet Union in the U-2, sparking even more saber-rattling. Among the more colorful characters traipsing through this wide-ranging narrative are the bulldoggish General Curtis LeMay, J. Edgar Hoover, the influential and socially well-connected columnists Joseph and Stewart Alsop, the surprisingly restrained and canny Nikita Khrushchev, John F. Kennedy and Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, who regarded Powers as a coward and traitor because he didn’t kill himself before being captured by the KGB. A story as well told as Monte Reel’s A Brotherhood of Spies is an irresistible call to binge-reading.

MILK! By Mark Kurlansky Bloomsbury $29, 400 pages ISBN 9781632863829 Audio, eBook available FOOD

Have you ever tried donkey’s milk? Probably not. But according to Mark Kurlansky’s fact-rich Milk!, donkey’s milk is probably closest in consistency and composition to human breast milk. How cows came to predominate our consumption of milk is just one of the many thumbnail histories Kurlansky packs into his fascinating new book. India is now the world’s largest

milk producer, not just because of the sacred cow but also because Indians process and consume milk from water buffalo. And would you believe that China, long thought to be a country of lactose-intolerant people, is the number three producer of milk? Only about 40 percent of humans can digest milk as adults. For the rest, Kurlansky explains, after weaning, a gene shuts down the ability to process milk. “In truth, the aberrant condition is being able to drink milk,” he writes. But then there is cheese, which for most humans escapes genetic determinism. There is also butter, yogurt and “everyone’s favorite milk,” ice cream, all described vividly here. Kurlansky divides his book into three parts. The first is a history of the domestication of milk and

its byproducts. That narrative flows down many byways. Did you know that French butter makes better pastry than American butter because it contains more fat and less water? Part two is about health safety issues regarding milk—think pasteurization and refrigeration— as production moved from milkmaids to milk machines. And part three is a contemporary world tour of milk production and its unusual products—butter artists in Tibet, for example, or isolated cheese makers in Greece. Every chapter of Milk! entrances with I-did-not-know-that facts and observations. The book also includes 126 milk-based recipes that Kurlansky thinks are tastiest. His own childhood favorite? Creamed potato leek soup, or vichyssoise. Early in the book, Kurlansky says that milk is “the most argued-over

Visit to read a Q&A with Mark Kurlansky.

TYRANT By Stephen Greenblatt

Norton $21.95, 224 pages ISBN 9780393635751 Audio, eBook available LITERATURE

Pulitzer Prize winner and Harvard professor Stephen Greenblatt (The Swerve) makes no secret of the fact that this compact study of the portrayal of tyrants in the work of William Shakespeare was inspired by his dismay over the election of Donald Trump as president in 2016. But even those who don’t share Greenblatt’s political perspective should find his wellinformed survey of the making and unmaking of autocratic rulers to be instructive and entertaining. Tyrant ranges across an ample array of Shakespeare’s dramatic works as Greenblatt explores Shakespeare’s fascination with the “deeply unsettling question: how is it possible for a whole country to fall into the hands of a tyrant?” Describing Shakespeare as a “supreme master of displacement and strategic indirection,” he explains how, by never placing his politically charged stories in a contemporary setting, the playwright was able to deftly illuminate the political struggles of the Elizabethan Age without risking his safety. Whether Shakespeare was using his plays to expose how a budding tyrant could capitalize on the infighting of political factions to ascend to power, or how another might promote a populism that “look[s] like an embrace of the have-nots” but is “in reality a form of cynical exploitation,” Greenblatt credits the Bard as both an astute observer of the political world and





A harrowing past


n Damnation Island, Stacy Horn explores the horrific past of a small island in New York City’s East River, where the “criminally insane” were imprisoned in the 19th century.

How did Blackwell’s Island capture your attention and inspire you to write this book? I had a vague awareness that the island had a dark past—that something terrible had happened there—but I didn’t know the details. This is irresistible to me. A horrific but forgotten story? I had to recover it. You researched so many individuals for this book—can you briefly share one story that you find the most affecting? Adelaide Irving, a mixed-up, headstrong 15-year-old who was sent to the penitentiary for two years for her first offense: picking someone’s pocket. It was an outrageous sentence, and she never recovered. She was dead by the time she turned 23. They buried her in a convict-built coffin on a hill. I was once a mixed-up, headstrong 15-year-old, and I was acting out in all sorts of ways. But I come from a background of relative privilege. There are million safety nets for people like me, and people like me don’t usually go to jail. It was true in the 19th century, it was true in the 20th, and it’s still true now. Blackwell’s Island was founded with very positive intentions. How and why did things go so far awry? They wanted to save money. To reduce overhead, they starved the inmates, didn’t properly clothe or house them, and instead of hiring paid nurses and attendants, the administrators employed convicts from the workhouse to look after the inmates in the lunatic asylum and other institutions on the island. (The workhouse was a prison for people convicted of minor crimes.) It was not a secret. The abuses on Blackwell’s Island were regularly reported in the papers, and grand juries would visit and issue damning reports. Priests attending to the spiritual needs of the inmates would alert their superiors. But nothing ever happened. I recognize this paralysis. There isn’t a day that I don’t hear about some horrible miscarriage of justice in America. If I pay attention to the papers and my Twitter feed, I’m reading about fresh new cases every few minutes. We all are. And just what are most of us doing about it? Why is extreme injustice allowed to continue? What did undercover reporters find when they visited the island? To use an expression of Emma Goldman, an anarchist who was sent to the penitentiary, they found patients who were “legally murdered,” either by the lack of food, improper hygiene, careless attendants, murderous roommates or by succumbing to lethal epidemics. Police courts would continue to send people to the island even when they knew there was an active disease outbreak. What do you hope readers take away from this book? I didn’t want to force it down anyone’s throats, but I hope people pick up on the fact that in many ways the same things, and worse, are taking place today. The idea that some people are unworthy and they have all these terrible things coming to them is still prevalent, as is the conviction that the poor are entirely responsible for their financial struggles and that we should not help them.


reviews an acute judge of human character. And for all the havoc wreaked by monstrous characters like Macbeth and Richard III, Greenblatt argues, Shakespeare believed in their ultimate doom. Concluding this lively book on an optimistic note, he points to the “political action of ordinary citizens” as the antidote for a threat that will persist as long as there are leaders and people demanding to be led. —HARVEY FREEDENBERG


Algonquin $27.95, 304 pages ISBN 9781616205768 Audio, eBook available HISTORY

NONFICTION ably dirty bathing water. With chapters that feature the sordid history of each institution on the island, Horn’s book is populated by all the characters you might expect in such a story: idealistic social reformers, clueless judges, abused patients, incompetent doctors and caring but powerless priests. Having reviewed a seemingly endless array of archival materials, Horn brings this subject to light in stunning detail. Readers will instantly see how this history continues to haunt us, as the boundaries between the four classes of people on the island (the poor, the mad, the sick and the criminal) are, in the public imagination, as blurred as ever. — K E L LY B L E W E T T


Stacy Horn opens Damnation Island with a description of the advent of electricity on the streets of New York in the late 19th century. She contrasts this mystical wonder, which enchanted people and gave them a feeling of eternal progress, with the stagnation experienced just a short boat ride away. Blackwell’s Island, now known as Roosevelt Island, was—simply put—a hellscape. Purchased by the city in 1828 with the best of intentions, the island soon harbored an almshouse, an insane asylum, a hospital, a prison and a workhouse along its narrow two-mile strip. Proponents imagined a pastoral landscape where charity and punishment were doled out in equal measure, but from its outset, it was a site of barely contained chaos. The Gothic-style structures were instantly overcrowded, and shacks sprang up to accommodate the overflow. Heating and ventilation were nonexistent, disease ran rampant, and the established budgets didn’t even begin to cover the actual cost of feeding and caring for the various populations of each facility. Over the next 100 years, mayhem ensued, with wrongly admitted patients, death by murder and disease, inedible food and unspeak-

HMH/Eamon Dolan $28, 416 pages ISBN 9780544870307 eBook available ESSAYS

From The Great Railway Bazaar (1975) to The Tao of Travel (2011), Paul Theroux has taught us how to travel: intently, adventurously and lightly. While the title may suggest a single painting, the 30 essays included here are alive with locales as varied as Theroux’s many journeys. He is a collector of experiences with the famous and infamous, the familiar and the exotic, the literati and the little guys. There’s a helicopter flight over Neverland Ranch with Elizabeth Taylor as she discusses her Peter Pan and Wendy-esque friendship with Michael Jackson. Walks with Robin Williams and Oliver Sacks reveal their inspiring humanity. A dominatrix explains everything. Hunter S. Thompson is remembered for his writing and demons, “familiar, because they are our demons, most of them anyway.” Theroux gets around the globe as well, whether searching for a fabled drug high in Ecuador, residing in

NONFICTION England for 18 years, rediscovering Vietnam or paddling around in Hawaii. Having been everywhere and done almost everything, Theroux concludes Figures in a Landscape closer to home, examining his childhood and parents with the circumspection of a worldly-wise adult. Yet his insatiable curiosity continues, and he wonders what his own legacy should be. For Theroux, the idea of leaving no trace has never been an option. —PRISCILLA KIPP


Riverhead $28, 432 pages ISBN 9780399183386 Audio, eBook available TRUE CRIME

rious mental institution for 14 long years while his case was appealed. Crusading journalist Mabel Norris Reese emerges as one of the heroes of this story, a woman who braved violent intimidation from Sheriff McCall and his cohort to report on the story. In Beneath a Ruthless Sun, King picks up where Reese left off, brilliantly investigating the deep-seated corruption in Lake County. His book’s taut focus on a single case also shines a light onto larger issues of racial profiling, police corruption and the condition of Florida’s mental institutions. —CATHERINE HOLLIS

HOW TO CHANGE YOUR MIND By Michael Pollan Penguin Press $28, 480 pages ISBN 9781594204227 Audio, eBook available SCIENCE

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gilbert King returns to Lake County, Florida, in Beneath a Ruthless Sun, a tense and stunning truecrime read. As in Devil in the Grove, his previous exposé of the corruption and racial injustice carried out by the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, King’s exhaustive reporting details the frightening chokehold white supremacists had over a Florida agricultural town in the very recent past. In Devil in the Grove, King detailed the perversion of justice in the case of four young black men falsely accused of raping a white woman in 1949. The “devil” in that book was Sheriff Willis McCall, who used violence, intimidation, false evidence and murder to frame the so-called “Groveland Four.” King’s painstaking research into that case opened his eyes to a different case in 1957, when a white woman stated that she was raped by a black man. This prompted more brutal racial profiling by McCall’s office. However, the rape was ultimately pinned on Jesse Daniels, a white, mentally disabled 19-year-old. Daniels, known as “the boy on the bike,” was taken from his mother’s house and sent to the state’s noto-

based forms such as psilocybin (mushrooms) and mescaline (cacti) to LSD (synthetically produced). The current psychedelic renaissance piqued his interest and prompted him to do his own exploration. He devotes a whole chapter, appropriately named “Travelogue,” to these encounters. He writes, “Psychedelic experiences are notoriously hard to render in words,” but he does his best, thoughtfully deeming a “trip” as the relinquishment of the ego power struggle most of us go through every day. As Pollan describes, this altered state of consciousness can be spiritually enlightening, mind-opening and life-changing. It can also be terror-provoking. How to Change Your Mind chronicles the unusual power of these substances, instilling a better understanding of their capabilities in helping to discover, heal and change our minds. It’s a trip worth taking.

is drawn to this world of illusions and the carnival workers’ ability to seamlessly transform onstage. Fontaine takes up the acts of escape artist, snake charmer and “Electric Woman,” an act during which she lights bulbs with her tongue. Fontaine partially frames her memoir as an anthropological investigation. She is a stranger in a strange land, observing the various characters that comprise the circus. Yet despite her misgivings, she finds a genuine camaraderie with her carnival co-workers. Throughout the circus narrative, Fontaine soberly recounts hospital visits with her mother in the Bay Area, her obvious love for her mother permeating each interaction like perfume. In this memoir that seamlessly balances grief, loss and wild-eyed determination, Fontaine makes a compelling case for using fear as an unexpected gift.



THE ELECTRIC WOMAN Psychedelic drugs often conjure images of the colorful, mind-bending world of 1960s counterculture. But therapists and scientists at the time also used these drugs to treat and research issues such as depression, alcoholism and anxiety. However, when publicity began to take a negative turn, focusing on bad trips, psychotic breaks, flashbacks and suicides, the drugs became illegal and largely unattainable— until now. In his fascinating book How to Change Your Mind, bestselling author Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Cooked) discusses the recent psychedelic drug resurgence. Starting in the 1990s, a new generation of scientists began to quietly reinvestigate the potential of these drugs, not only to treat mental illnesses and addiction but also to help cancer patients cope with the prospect of dying and “explore the links between the brain and mind, hoping to unravel some of the mysteries of consciousness.” Pollan discusses the different types of psychedelic drugs and their history in detail, from plant-

By Tessa Fontaine FSG $27, 384 pages ISBN 9780374158378 Audio, eBook available MEMOIR

The threat of mortality has a peculiar way of amplifying a person’s regrets. The Electric Woman, an honest and emotionally vulnerable memoir by Tessa Fontaine, chronicles the author’s relationship with her mother, who suffered a massive stroke that left her a shadow of her former self. Inspired by her mother’s lust for life, Fontaine decides to challenge herself and conquer her fears. She says of her mother, “She’s a yes person, a woman of adventure. When I begin to doubt that I can pull this off, I stop and think of her.” On a whim, the author accepts an invitation to join a traveling circus. Although she essentially bluffs her way into a job, Fontaine quickly finds herself fully immersed in the rag-tag carnival lifestyle. She





Twins Mara and Owen are closer than close, so when Mara’s best friend, Hannah, accuses Owen of rape, Mara is shattered. Torn between the brother she loves more than anything and her own visceral understanding of the truth, Mara doesn’t know where to turn or how to reconcile family loyalty with right and wrong. As she tries to grasp this new reality, Mara must come to terms with a trauma from her own past as well. In her highly anticipated novel Girl Made of Stars, Ashley Herring Blake (Suffer Love, How to Make a Wish) delivers a thoughtful, genuine exploration of consent, victim blaming and sexual assault—themes that fill the media today. Far from an ideological lecture, the novel forces readers to grapple with a difficult question: What do you do when someone you love is accused of rape? By Ashley Herring Blake Blake’s prose is specific and captivating, but what really brings this HMH, $17.99, 304 pages book to life is her ability to render fully developed, complex and diverse ISBN 9781328778239, eBook available characters. From Mara and Owen to Hannah and Mara’s ex-girlfriend Ages 14 and up to the teens’ parents, all of the characters struggle in their own ways FICTION with what this situation means for their relationships moving forward. Each character is both deeply likable and deeply flawed, and readers will struggle to find their footing right along with Mara. Though younger teens should be aware of Blake’s no-holds-barred exploration of the themes of sexual assault, homophobia and anxiety, Girl Made of Stars adds an important dimension to the discussions we’re having today, both in public and in private, and Blake’s deft handling of tough topics makes for an engaging and powerful read.

PUDDIN’ By Julie Murphy

Balzer + Bray $17.99, 448 pages ISBN 9780062418388 Audio, eBook available Ages 13 and up FICTION

28 18_098_BookPage_TEEN_May_Final.indd 1

Difficult questions worth asking REVIEW BY SARAH WEBER

Seven days. Two potential dads. One big secret.

Relationship status: It’s complicated.





Julie Murphy’s companion to 2017’s Dumplin’ (read it first to avoid spoilers) is as full of heart, hope and hilarity as its predecessor. With an incredibly diverse cast of new characters, two unlikely love interests and emotions that are bigger than the state of Texas, Puddin’ will have readers laughing, crying and rooting for these teens as they navigate the tough terrain that is high school and find the 3/7/18 2:19 PM

strength to persevere when life throws a curveball or two. While beauty queen Willowdean Dickson is still in the mix, Murphy’s new novel focuses on life after the pageant for reader favorite Millie Michalchuk. Millie hangs with a group of unpopular misfits and is a regular attendee of fat camp, but she’s thrown into an unlikely friendship with popular girl Callie Reyes when a prank goes wrong. Callie is co-captain of the Shamrocks, Clover City High School’s dance team, and the girlfriend of the school’s ace football player. When Millie’s family-run gym gets into financial trouble and has to drop their sponsorship of the Shamrocks, putting the dance team’s chance at winning a national competition in jeopardy, Callie and her fellow dancers decide to take revenge into their own hands—by vandalizing the Michalchuk’s gym,

with Callie as the only identifiable culprit. Millie’s Uncle Vernon, the owner of the gym, agrees to drop all charges if Callie will work at the gym for free. Millie and Callie are then forced to either be miserable together or make amends. In chapters that alternate between Millie’s and Callie’s point of view, Murphy nails the teen voice with online and in-person conversations that are filled with snort-laugh-out-loud lines. The characters are faced with typical teenage dilemmas, from dating and sneaking around (nobody is perfect, even Millie) to facing realistic consequences for their actions. Hysterical and perfect for teen readers looking to have their voices heard, Puddin’ encapsulates everything that a high-caliber YA novel should. — E R I N A . H O LT



Over the sea, across the sky


ric and Terry Fan, who co-illustrate as the Fan Brothers, both live in Toronto, but it wasn’t until they were awarded the illustrious Sendak Fellowship last year that they first shared a studio space.

Over four weeks at Scotch Hill Farm in upstate New York, once owned by beloved children’s author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, the Fans dug into illustrating their newest book, Ocean Meets Sky, their fourth collaboration. “We had started the book and completed the dummy,” Eric says via phone, “but I think we turned a corner at the Sendak Fellowship.” Terry agrees, adding that it was there that the book started taking shape and going in the direction they’d always envisioned. “The fellowship was pretty inspiring,” says Eric. “I don’t actually have a studio. I work from my home computer, so it was nice having that space—and the inspiring atmosphere.” Ocean Meets Sky begins with young Finn, who is staring out the bedroom window of his seaside home. A framed photograph of his grandfather and a toy boat adorn the windowsill. Finn recalls memories of his deceased grandfather— his voice and his stories about a “place far away where ocean meets sky.” As a way of honoring him, Finn builds a boat, one just right for the journey he had planned to


By the Fan Brothers

Simon & Schuster, $17.99, 48 pages ISBN 9781481470377, eBook available Ages 4 to 8


take with his grandfather. Because building a boat is tiresome work, Finn falls asleep and wakes to discover his journey has already begun. Adrift in the ocean, he takes in the fantastical creatures formed in the clouds; he meets a “great golden fish” who promises to lead Finn to where the ocean meets sky; he visits the Library Islands with “bookish birds . . . roosting”; and he explores an island of giant shells. His odyssey has a few surreal moments, including a Cyclops-like creature that guards the Library Islands. “I remember, as a kid, reading books that were a little bit scary,” says Eric, “and that other level made [the stories] more thrilling.” When Finn reaches the place he suspects may be the location of his grandfather’s tales, his boat lifts from the water. A surprise waits for Finn as he flies toward the moon, and he is reminded that his grandfather, though physically gone from this world, is never far away. In many ways, Ocean Meets Sky is a tribute to the tradition of oral storytelling, in particular to the stories told by the Fans’ Taiwanese grandfather, who lived on the other side of the world and didn’t frequently visit (both Eric and Terry were born in the U.S. but moved to Canada as children). “Both of our grandparents used to tell so many stories to our dad,” Terry says, “and I think that [tradition] passed on to him. He used to tell us a lot of stories.” Eric agrees: “The storytelling aspect is a sort of merging of our dad and our grandfather. It is a way of honoring Chinese culture, [in which] relatives and family are so important.” Eric and Terry also had fairy tales in mind when penning Ocean Meets Sky, and the rhythm of the writing evokes that spirit. (The book’s opening proclaims, “Finn lived by the sea, and the sea lived by him,” and the great golden fish

describes the place where ocean meets sky as “high and low, and as deep as the sea.”) But Ocean Meets Sky also pulls from folktales in the way that readers experience the story itself. Eric explains: “The reader is looking at it from Finn’s perspective. But as a writer, you’re almost looking at it from the grandfather’s perspective. It’s about what you’re going to leave behind. The place where ocean meets sky is the narrative world that writers create.



their illustrations with a mix of graphite and Photoshop drawings, but for Ocean Meets Sky, they experimented with some entirely digital images. “We did this out of necessity,” Terry says. “There wasn’t the greatest internet connection [at the fellowship], so it was hard to scan original artwork.” Though the beautiful, final illustrations are a blend of mediums, both Eric

From Ocean Meets Sky by Terry and Eric Fan. Reproduced by permission of Simon & Schuster.

Finn is the reader. You’re thinking about how, after you’re gone, these are the worlds you’re leaving behind for people.” Like all of Terry and Eric’s previously published books, Ocean Meets Sky was a truly collaborative effort. “We both do the writing and the illustrating,” Eric says. “Sometimes we work on the same illustration. . . . We’ll each do different parts, and then we bring it together in Photoshop. Usually, we’re separated, but since this book coincided with the fellowship, I think that helped with communication because every day we were in the same space.” They have traditionally created

and Terry prefer traditional pencil drawings. “There’s something about it that you just can’t quite re-create,” Terry says. There’s no doubt that the brothers enjoy collaborating. In fact, they’ll soon be adding their youngest brother, Devon, to the mix for a project they will publish with Tundra Books sometime in the next couple of years. “That will be a first,” says Eric, “to get three people together. That will be an interesting process.” But for now, you can find the Fan Brothers surrounded by gently rocking boats and golden fish, in a place where stories matter and the ocean meets the sky.


reviews T PI OP CK



Claiming the league as her own REVIEW BY ALICE CARY

History comes alive in Ellen Klages’ captivating novel Out of Left Field. In 1957 San Francisco, 10-year-old Katy Gordon is an ace pitcher who makes a Little League team while disguised as a boy, only to be told she’s ineligible when the coach discovers she’s a girl. Determined to prove that girls should be allowed in the organization, Katy heads to the library to learn about women who have played baseball. Her research unfolds like a scavenger hunt, with Katy writing about and interviewing several sports pioneers. “Anyone who says girls can’t play baseball is just ignorant about the history of the game,” one former player tells her. Klages masterfully weaves in a multitude of historical details, addressing complex issues in sophisticated yet engrossing ways. In By Ellen Klages school, Katy learns about current events like the launch of Sputnik 1, Viking, $16.99, 320 pages the arrival of a new baseball team (the San Francisco Giants) and the ISBN 9780425288597, audio, eBook available civil rights movement. When Katy is assigned to write about a hero, Ages 8 to 12 she makes baseball cards featuring the diverse female players she’s learned about (they’re included in the back of the book along with MIDDLE GRADE other historical notes). “There had been a lot of girls like me, and I felt like we were sort of teammates,” Katie says. Out of Left Field is a grand-slam salute to the power of persistence, research and the pursuit of justice.


Illustrated by Lane Smith Roaring Brook $18.99, 48 pages ISBN 9781626723146 Ages 3 to 6 PICTURE BOOK

Two children encounter an abandoned house deep in the woods in this contemplative, enchanting story about memory and the places in between then and now. Writing in rhythmic, fluid verse, Julie Fogliano brings us the inner thoughts of two children who discover a house at the top of a hill, “a house that was once painted blue.” The tone of A House That Once Was is one of mystery and wonder as the children tiptoe toward the house and creep inside. Fogliano’s attentive, evocative writing captures the spectral in-between state of the house and its effect on the children. A door is “closed, but not


quite”; the children are “whispering mostly but not really speaking” as they enter; the person who once lived there is “gone but . . . still everywhere.” The children explore what remains in the home and, putting abundant imagination to use, what it tells them about who once lived there. In a series of six spreads, they imagine who that occupant could have been. Lane Smith’s highly textured illustrations feature faded hues (with subtle pops of color) and more gestural shapes in the interior house spreads. The natural world outside of the home, as well as the spreads showing the imagined occupants, are more vividly colored and showcase bolder lines, as if the memories are sharper than the current moment. (A tiny note on the copyright page indicates that these “present-day” and “imagined” scenes are rendered in two different mediums.) This is a story that will captivate its readers—much like the house captivates these curious children. —J U L I E D A N I E L S O N


Bloomsbury $16.99, 32 pages ISBN 9781681197852 eBook available Ages 3 to 6

heat and sits on the sidelines while other children run and play. Even after he’s bullied for wearing the coat, Norman steadfastly keeps his spectacular wings hidden. As Norman realizes the coat makes him miserable, not the wings, he shyly sheds the jacket and begins to soar through the sky again. Norman’s acceptance of his wings allows others with the same “problem” to embrace their differences and zoom along with him. When he is earthbound, Norman is highlighted in bright yellow against a grayed-out background— but when he is flying, the world is portrayed in all the colors of the rainbow. Through Norman’s struggles to accept his wings, Percival highlights how our differences make us who we are. Best of all, Norman realizes he’s perfectly Norman, which is just right. —LORI K. JOYCE

MOON By Alison Oliver

Clarion $17.99, 40 pages ISBN 9781328781604 eBook available Ages 4 to 7 PICTURE BOOK

With her purple skin and oversize eyes, Moon may not look like a typical girl. But with her stuffed backpack, piles of schoolbooks and a perpetually lengthy to-do list PICTURE BOOK that includes homework, soccer A “perfectly normal” boy named practice, trumpet lessons and math Norman has his world rocked tutoring, she’s as overscheduled as when he marvelously grows a set of most American kids. Moon wonpretty, multicolored wings in Tom ders what it would feel like to be Percival’s book Perfectly Norman. free, but she can’t find that answer Norman begins his day in an in any of her textbooks. One night, ordinary fashion, playing with his after seeing a shooting star zip by dog and friends and enjoying ice her bedroom window, Moon heads cream, when suddenly he sprouts outside, hoping to glimpse more, a pair of huge, glorious wings. He and meets a white wolf. does the expected thing and tests In her first book as both authem out, soaring, swooping and thor and illustrator, Alison Oliver having the greatest fun. However, introduces readers to a new world when Norman returns to earth, he that’s “Strange. Exciting. Wild.” As decides to hide his extraordinary Moon rides atop the back of her wings because they are not normal. new friend, the pair glows against Donning a winter coat, Norman the inky, nighttime backdrop of Oltucks his wings inside to keep iver’s mixed-media artwork. In the them secret. He suffers from the forest, Moon learns how to pounce,

CHILDREN’S play and howl alongside the wolf’s pack. She also learns how to be still, how to listen and how to feel, and she becomes mindful of something she had lost—happiness. When Moon hears her mother’s call to return home, she takes all she’s learned with her and shares her “wolfy ways” with her classmates. In an age of media saturation, overscheduled commitments and less time for play, her story is a breath of fresh air in more ways than one. Moon reminds us all that sometimes the best use of time is simply doing nothing. —ANGELA LEEPER

BOB By Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead Feiwel & Friends $16.99, 208 pages ISBN 9781250166623 Audio, eBook available Ages 8 to 12 MIDDLE GRADE

Writing superstars Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead have long excelled at crafting insightful, emotionally rich stories for young readers. Their first collaboration—Bob, a novel about (what else?) a most unusual friendship—is something wonderful indeed. For the first time in five years, Livy is traveling from Massachusetts to Australia to visit her grandmother. The last time she visited, she was only 5 years old, so there are certain details she doesn’t recall—like the small green creature living in the spare room’s closet. His name is Bob, and he’s been waiting very patiently for Livy’s return, spending his days building (and rebuilding) a Lego pirate ship and reading the dictionary. No one else can really see Bob (most people are convinced he’s a strange sort of chicken), and Livy’s memories of their prior time together are hazy at best, but new clues—and a new crisis—send the two friends in search of answers. Perhaps they saved one another once, and perhaps they can do so again. Chapters alternate between Bob’s and Livy’s points of view, offering


just the right blend of mystery and cozy magic in a rewarding story about how friendships—and people—evolve over time. Bob and Livy come to appreciate and love one another now while also feeling bittersweet about who they were then—and their fairy tale-like story proves that when friends get together, magical things can happen. —NORAH PIEHL


Greenwillow $16.99, 240 pages ISBN 9780062499660 Audio, eBook available Ages 8 to 12 MIDDLE GRADE

Lynne Rae Perkins, winner of the 2006 Newbery Medal for her novel Criss Cross, delights with her new book, Sisters of the Salty Sea. Perkins’ charming black-and-white illustrations are matched by gentle, evocative language that sparkles like summer sunlight on the sea—which happens to be the destination of the Treffreys’ long-awaited family vacation. Alix and her older sister, Jools, have never been to the beach. When their parents plan a first-time-ever beach trip, Alix is excited but nervous. She’s never been anywhere new, and she’s expecting swaying palm trees and a turquoise sea. Sadly, there is not a single palm tree in sight, and the ocean is a foamy gray, but the trip provides plenty of adventures for the sisters, from discovering horseshoe crabs to helping release a falcon at a wildlife station and eating their first fried periwinkles—snails by any other name. Perkins’ sensory details, paired with her endearing illustrations, provide a refreshing break from the usual page turners that are served up for young readers. Alix is an easily relatable character—part spunky, part shy—and not yet sure of herself. The novel’s themes of family, friendship, growing up and trying new things are a perfect fit for Perkins’ middle grade audience. —BILLIE B. LITTLE

MISUNDERSTOOD SHARK Lights, camera, action! Scott Magoon’s vibrant, clever illustrations add to the hilarity of Misunderstood Shark (Orchard, $17.99, 48 pages, ISBN 9781338112474, ages 3 to 6), Ame Dyckman’s tale of a very hungry and media-savvy shark. Shark and the daring crew of the TV show “Underwater World with Bob” put on an unforgettable and fun spectacle. Magoon lives in Massachusetts with his wife and two sons.


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BookPage May 2018  

Book reviews, Author interviews

BookPage May 2018  

Book reviews, Author interviews