Summer Reads - August/September 2021 - Shelf Unbound Magazine

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AUGUS T/SEPTEMBER 2021 FEBRUARY/MARCH 2021

Summer Reads Issue

FEATURING

Elyssa Friedland Simon Van der Velde Nana Nkweti

WHAT TO READ NEXT IN INDEPENDENT PUBLISHING


OUR STORY

S H E LF

U N B O U N D

M A G A Z I N E All we wanted was a really good magazine. About books. That was full of the really great stuff. So we made it. And we really like it. And we hope you do, too. Because we’re just getting started.

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Lamb to the

Slaughter by Pete Delohery A novel about love and cour age, sin and redemption “Iron” Mike McGann is facing the twilight of his prizefighting career. Desperate for his future, he has refused to honor his promise to his wife to quit the ring and start a family. Rufus “Hurricane” Hilliard is the most menacing presence in prizefighting. But behind his menacing ring presence lives a man nobody knows, a complex man who despises his own image. Rufus “Hurricane” Hilliard vs. “Iron” Mike McGann, just another fight shown on The Continuous Sports Network, but by the time it is over the lives of these and many others will be forever different.

“This heartfelt tale makes a powerful emotional impact.” —Blue Ink Starred Review Also in Spanish: El Cordero al matadero Available in print and e-book at Amazon, xlibris, and Barnes & Noble.

w w w. p e t e d e l o h e r y. c o m

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Shelf Unbound Staff. PRESIDENT, EDITOR IN CHIEF Sarah Kloth PARTNER, PUBLISHER Debra Pandak CREATIVE DIRECTOR Anna Trokan COPY EDITOR Molly Niklasch CONTRIBUTING EDITOR Megan Lord V. Jolene Miller Christian Brown Alyse Mgrdichian Gabriella Guerra Wyatt Bandt Christina Consolino FINANCE MANAGER Jane Miller

For Advertising Inquiries: e-mail sarah@shelfmediagroup.com For editorial inquiries: e-mail media@shelfmediagroup.com

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AUGUST / SEPTEMBER 2021

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1877: A NORTHERN PHYSICIAN IN SOUTHERN UNGOVERNED SPACES

Colonel Charles Noble is a US Civil War veteran, and an Army surgeon reservist, who is recommissioned by the government eleven years after the war. Extreme violence in the former Confederacy, in anticipation of a national election, has caused President Grant to send additional federal troops to the Southern states. Dr. Noble uses his Army deployment as an opportunity to help heal the wounds and afflictions of Southern US citizens. However, terrorists are determined to counter Noble’s good intentions, as they threaten the civil rights, and the very lives, of all who oppose them.

1918: THE GREAT PANDEMIC Major Edward Nobel’s mission, as a physician, is to help protect American troops from infectious ailments during the First World War. However, his unique vantage point in Boston allows him to detect an emerging influenza strain that is an unprecedented global threat. Noble desperately tries to warn and prepare the country for the approaching horror. Influenza’s effect on the world, nation, and Dr. Noble’s own family unfolds as medical science seeks ways to somehow stop it. Eventually, the 1918 influenza pandemic killed up to 100 million people, and became the worst natural disaster in human history.

1980: THE EMERGENCE OF HIV Dr. Arthur Noble is a brilliant first-year medical resident in San Francisco, who has a stellar career ahead of him. However, all of Noble’s skills are put to the test when he encounters a strange new illness. The ailment seemingly appears out of nowhere, and delivers its victims a most horrible merciless death. Dr. Noble struggles to find answers to the medical mystery, even as many researchers and society refuse to believe that it is a serious public health hazard, or that it even exists.

LEARN MORE AT

WWW.DAVIDCORNISHBOOKS.COM

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CONTENTS

I N TH IS

ISSUE

SECTIONS 24 Bookstagram 29 Recommended Reading 54 Book Shelf 94 Indie Reviews 116 Indie Bookstore 132 On Our Shelf

FEATURES 10 Interview with Author Elyssa Friedland By V. Jolene Miller 14 Childhood Nostalgia: The Power of Memories in Storytelling By Alyse Mgrdichian

38 Interview with Simon Van der Velde By V. Jolene Miller

48 The Freedom of Reading By Alyse Mgrdichian

62 Top 20 Indie Summer Reads to Add to Your TBR By Alyse Mgrdichian

74 Interview with Nana Nkweti By V. Jolene Miller

82 24 Must-See Indie Bookstores on the East & West Coast By Alyse Mgrdichian

108 Road Trips, Van Life, & Nomadic Adventures By Alyse Mgrdichian

130 Forest Reading: The Benefits of

Reading Outdoors By Wyatt Bandt

COLUMNS 44 Girl Plus Book Megan Lord 60 Small Press Reviews Shannon Ishizaki 80 Podster Sarah Kloth 114 Reading on the Run V. Jolene Miller 118 Book Mom Megan Lord 6

120 Fit Lit Christian Brown AUGUST / SEPTEMBER 2021


A WORD FROM THE PUBLISHER

Summer Reads. BY SARAH KLOTH, PUBLISHER

I recently got back from my first backcountry backpacking trip – and oh boy let me tell you! I went with a group of girlfriends to the North Carolina side of Smoky Mountains – Big Creek Loop, We ended up doing what was supposed to be a threeday trip in two days due to bear activity closing the first campsite. After the first day was a brutal 12 vertical miles up to the top of Mt. Sterling. When we got to the top, I spilled out the contents of my 30lb backpack to start getting the tent setup. When, I was emptying my backpack a friend of mine saw the book I brought with and said ‘Man, I would never bring a book with me, think of all that extra weight.” And I got to thinking, how normal and actually a top necessity a book was on my list compared and couldn’t understand how it would be so abnormal to someone else…. and at that moment I knew I needed to get

her a summer read recommendation.

No matter where summer takes you, we have a great collection of amazing indie reads to fill your days, from new voices to old favorites. Our summer reads list goes beyond your typical 'beach reads' to provide a breadth of genres no matter where summer takes you. Oh, and if you are planning a trip this summer, be sure to check out our list of top 24 must-see indie bookstores to add a few stops along your summer travels. Enjoy the issue  7


WWW.LITERARYLOU.COM

Louis DeGrado

Literary Classic Gold Award For Juvenile Fiction! Gold Award, Juvenile Fiction 2017! Editor’s Choice, Rising Star Award! Come along on an inspiring adventure where a small amount of courage makes a GIANT difference in this story of triumph. When a small, fluffy cat teams up with an advice-giving canary, a cockatoo, some jazz-loving alley cats, and a fancy mouse to protect their home from a villainous, hoodlum rat, a hero is born! With SEVENTEEN original songs by the author, you will enjoy this positive and inspiring adventure for the entire family.

Finalist, Foreword Review’s Book of the Year in both Sci-Fi and Thriller Category! Dive into the covert battle of Good vs Evil in this thrilling novel that takes a fresh approach to demonic powers among us. What decisions would you make if you found out evil forces were banished in time and were trying to become whole again? “A thriller filled with intrigue.” -Clarion Review. Pueblo, Colorado! What do you call a group of friends who dare to take on the paranormal? They called themselves The Questors! When they dare visit a haunted house, adventure a mayhem are at hand. This Juvenile Thriller is designed as an exciting read for youth. A two-book series, The Round House and The Moaning Walls, will take you back to the 80’s and give you Chills down your spine! I DARE YOU TO READ! Short Tales to Chill and Thrill! Read the tale of Jaspar Jones who had an illfated addiction to gambling or, The Legend of Jeffrey MaGills who caught gold fever and treaded on cursed land. I Want my Bones Back, tells the story of a farmer who finds a buried secret that causes him to become one with his land. In Volume 2, find out what’s behind the motivation of the Grave Robbers, or go along on a mystery with The Vampire Detective Agency in I Fell in Love with a Vampire.

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Spend Time Reading with your children in this story full of positive messages and inspiration! What does a nine-year old do when her friends start to argue over facts, or when she has trouble telling right from wrong or gets overwhelmed with all life’s challenges? Anna goes to her art center where her imagination can come to life. Here, she talks with Blue, her favorite crayon, who teaches her about imagination and confidence, True Apple, who teaches her about facts, Communicating Carrot, who teaches communication skills, and Cool Celery, who teaches her to relax and be cool. AUGUST / SEPTEMBER 2021


Talking Drum. By Lisa Braxton

THE TALKING DRUM EXPLORES INTRA-RACIAL, CLASS, AND CROSS-CULTURAL TENSIONS, ALONG WITH THE MEANING OF COMMUNITY AND BELONGING.

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INTERVIEW

Interview with Author Elyssa Friedland. Author of Last Summer at the Golden Hotel BY V. JOLENE MILLER

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F E AT U R E

CONTINUED

For bookworms who know the book is always better, how about a book that has the same flair of a classic movie and a quirky television show? It may be hard to believe, but everyone is raving about Elyssa Friedland’s latest novel, Last Summer at the Golden Hotel. Relax during these summer months, and get acquainted with the quirky characters visiting the Golden Hotel. Then, decide for yourself. Do they make you laugh like the characters on Schitt’s Creek? Or, does the Golden Hotel bring back memories from Dirty Dancing? Maybe, a little bit of both... LAST SUMMER AT THE GOLDEN HOTEL IS THE TALK OF THE TOWN -- THE PRAISE LIST JUST KEEPS GROWING! TELL OUR READERS WHO AND WHAT YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT THE STORY OF THE GOLDEN HOTEL.

EF: I am very lucky the book is resonating with so many readers. I think people are nostalgic for a simpler time, for vacations in the mountains where you played cards and tennis, caught up with old friends, and felt like the hotel was your second home. Vacations today are shorter and have constant connectivity because of our devices. I

like best that my book transports readers to that simpler escape. I worked hard to make the writing very immersive so that people would actually feel like they were in the Catskills while reading. As for the characters, I love them all. It’s like choosing which is my favorite child. They all have strengths and flaws, like real people.

YOUR WEBSITE SAYS LAST SUMMER AT THE GOLDEN HOTEL IS LIKE A CROSS BETWEEN SCHITT’S CREEK AND DIRTY DANCING, HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THIS COMBINATION?

EF: Well, it wasn’t really me that came up with that. Early readers kept saying that to me. Dirty Dancing for the obvious reasons that the Golden Hotel is a similar hotel to Kellerman’s. Both are set in the Catskills and are for primarily Jewish families (though that’s never explicitly stated in the movie). And Schitt’s Creek I think because it’s also about a family with quirky members that grows closer while tending to a hotel. There is a dry humor in GOLDEN that echoes Schitt’s Creek. IN THE EARLY PAGES OF THE BOOK, THE GOLDMANS TOAST

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TRADITION. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT TRADITION, AND IN WHAT WAYS DID YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT TRADITION INFLUENCE THE NOVEL?

EF: I think traditions are very important. I’m a big fan of looking backward as well as forward. My grandparents all lived through World War II in Europe and built lives for themselves in America. That’s pretty impressive. I want to honor them by observing their traditions and also learn from those traditions how they helped sustain them during difficult times. I’m not a very religious person, but I enjoy the traditions in Judaism, and not just the food. Keeping simple traditions (like wine and challah on Friday nights) gives my family a moment to pause and reflect on the week. It’s nice to have something regular in our constantly erratic lives. One of the major themes in GOLDEN is how to balance tradition with modernization. I believe there’s a way to synthesize them – readers who finish the book will know what I mean!

TO DATE, YOU’VE WRITTEN 4 NOVELS. NEXT, IS A PICTURE BOOK? WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO DELVE INTO PICTURE BOOKS?

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EF: I didn’t specifically decide I wanted to write a picture book. It was more that I had an idea that I fell in love with, and so decided to pursue it. I’d written elaborate letters to my children as the Tooth Fairy for years, and one day it occurred to me – there’s a picture book in this. THE MUSEUM OF LOST TEETH will be out in fall 2022. But I also have another adult book coming out then. MOST LIKELY is set to publish September 2022. It’ll be a busy season.

YOU TEACH CREATIVE WRITING AT YALE AND YOU WRITE CREATIVE FICTION. DO YOU EVER EXPERIENCE WRITER’S BLOCK, AND IF SO, HOW DO YOU MANAGE THE SYMPTOMS?

EF: I experience the worst writer’s block when I’m trying to come up with an idea for a new novel. That can take months and months, and I get nowhere. Fortunately, once I hit on an idea that I love, the writing part comes fairly easily. I don’t suffer block once I get going, though I certainly write some pretty terrible bits that need to be scrapped upon a second read. In order to hit on an idea that’s worth devoting a novel to, I’m


F E AT U R E

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honestly just patient and wait for it to come to me. Because trying to force a bad idea onto the page is torture. BEFORE WRITING FULL-TIME FOR A LIVING, YOU WERE A LAWYER...CARE TO SHARE HOW THAT CHANGE CAME ABOUT? ABOUT THE BOOKS

EF: I’ve always wanted to be a professional writer. But it’s not an easy career. It’s hard to make money, it’s hard to catch a break, it’s confusing

how to enter the field. Publishing can feel very opaque, and I was intimidated by that. I took the safer route of going to law school and working at a large firm. I had a terrific job in New York City at a prestigious firm, but my creative impulses weren’t satisfied. I knew I wasn’t in the right profession and so I decided to take a leap and do what I really love. It paid off! 

ABOUT THE BOOK

LAST SUMMER AT THE GOLDEN HOTEL

In its heyday, The Golden Hotel was the crown jewel of the hotter-than-hot Catskills vacation scene. For more than sixty years, the Goldman and Weingold families - best friends and business partners - have presided over this glamorous resort which served as a second home for well-heeled guests and celebrities. But the Catskills are not what they used to be and neither is the relationship between the Goldmans and the Weingolds. As the facilities and management begin to fall apart, a tempting offer to sell forces the two families together again to make a heart-wrenching decision. Can they save their beloved Golden or is it too late? Long-buried secrets emerge, new dramas and financial scandal erupt, and everyone from the traditional grandparents to the millennial grandchildren wants a say in the hotel's future. Business and pleasure clash in this fast-paced, hilarious, nostalgia-filled story, where the hotel owners rediscover the magic of a bygone era of nonstop fun even as they grapple with what may be their last resort. 13


F E AT U R E

Childhood Nostalgia: The Power of Memories in Storytelling. BY ALYSE MGRDICHIAN

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F E AT U R E

CONTINUED

Chances are, summer is a season that holds a lot of memories for you, especially memories (hopefully fond ones) of your childhood. For example, when I think back to my summer breaks from elementary school, I remember going to the beach with my family, visiting county fairs, eating strawberry popsicles, and having all the reading time I could possibly dream of. These experiences have influenced the sorts of things I now enjoy as an adult, particularly because of the positive memories that I’ve attached to them. So, when a story is able to capture some aspect of my childhood, seasonal or otherwise, I feel so much more connected to it and invested in it, because a part of the book is a part of my past, a part of who I am as a person. This is known as “nostalgia,” an emotion usually connected to feelings of sentimentality or wistfulness, through which we look back on happier times or places with affection. On the other side of that coin, though, nostalgia can also be pensive and melancholic, reminding us of the harder or more painful aspects of our past. In this way, nostalgia, whether

wistful or melancholic, is one of the most powerful and personal emotions an author can evoke in a book, and is, unsurprisingly, very hard to pull off (especially when dealing with childhood experiences). So, what makes childhood nostalgia so difficult to execute well in writing? First, there is the elephant in the room—we are adults trying to write about people (i.e., children) and experiences (i.e., childhood) that are now foreign to us. As we grow up, we tend to lose touch with our younger selves, which results in many children written by adults not feeling like children at all. It’s a bit easier as an adult to write reflections on childhood from our current perspective, but that’s not the same thing as seeing the narrative through the eyes of a child. Once the focus shifts inward to the child’s mind rather than outward toward their circumstances, the characterization of the child tends to become more simplistic and unrealistic (due to a lack of understanding of the demographic). However, this inward shift is necessary to nostalgia, since what we remember is rarely the 15


F E AT U R E

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situation itself, but rather how the situation made us feel. This shift is also necessary because, when missing (or poorly executed), it leads us to the second pitfall of writing childhood nostalgia—namely, our pasts and our memories are so personal to us, so what is nostalgic for one person may not resonate with another whatsoever. However, this only becomes an issue if you’re focusing solely on the physical experience rather than the emotional experience. Without an inward shift, the extent of a story’s nostalgia becomes something along the lines of: “Wow, you went to county fairs as a kid? That’s crazy, so did I!” This isn’t enough on its own, though. How did you feel when you went to the fair? For me, it felt like a whole other world, with Ferris wheels and clowns and halls of mirrors—I spent my earliest years in a suburban area where all the houses looked the same, and so carnivals and fairs were, for me, a Wonderland. In my mind, anything was possible in a place that looked, smelled, and sounded like a carnival did. However, a story does not have to be set in carnival for me to experience that same sort of wonder— 16

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any awe-inspiring “Wonderland” experience in a story will remind me of my own past because, even though the settings are different, the feelings those settings evoke are the same. Given my own personal love of carnivals, it’s no small wonder that Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury, is one of my favorite books. More than that, though, I view Bradbury as a great example of nostalgia done well. His stories usually follow young boys in a small Midwestern town in the ‘50s, but I 1) am a girl, 2) was born in the late ‘90s, and 3) grew up in Southern California. If I had told my mom as a child, “I’m gonna go explore with so-and-so, I’ll be back by dinner,” she would’ve had a heart attack. And yet, somehow, Bradbury wrote his child characters in a way that made me relate to them, even though there are literal decades between us. What’s the lesson here? The lifestyles of the children you write do not have to be the same as those of your readers, so long as there are common childhood fears, mistakes, desires, and growth (i.e., inward experiences). In his work,


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Bradbury manages to make me feel nostalgia for a childhood I never had, due to these common internal / emotional experiences. For example, take Something Wicked This Way Comes: it follows two young boys, one of which is obsessed with the idea of growing up, while the other is content with where he is in life. However, the content boy’s father desperately wants to be young again, as do some of the other adults in the town the story is set in. Then a carnival rolls into town, with a carousel that has the power to turn time forward or back for its riders … Reading the book as a young adult was a special experience, because I saw myself caught in the developmental stage of life between the children and the adults of the story, and so saw both my past and my future reflected in the characters. Age is the theme of the book, with adults being willing to do whatever it takes to be young again, and children wanting desperately to be grownups, and I found myself able to identify with both experiences. The way Bradbury handles the children in his stories is admirable, particularly because their desires and fears tend to be universal childhood experiences

(e.g., wanting to grow up). So, what exactly is it that makes nostalgia so powerfully effective in storytelling? As mentioned earlier, it connects us (the readers) to the story on an emotional level, because we see a piece of ourselves in it. Nostalgia also, to some degree, increases our empathy for the story’s main characters, since we find ourselves relating to their experiences, desires, and fears. This relatability and emotional investment are, arguably, only strengthened when dealing with childhood experiences, since the desires and fears of our childhood are formative in making us who we are today. While a carnival, for example, is an immediate sell for me in a story, it’s the reactions of children to the carnival that help me remember the sense of wonder and whimsy that it evoked (and still evokes) in me. For better or worse, nostalgia makes us feel young again, and reminds us to keep in touch with and be kinder to our younger inner selves. 

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Available at

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Here is the book that so many early readers are going crazy over. It is the TRUE story of the REAL American hero who risked his life in 1947 to fly the X-1 rocket plane through the sound barrier and take the world of aviation into the modern age. The risks were great with some scary ups and downs, but Chuck Yeager was steady and determined and he did it. What is the sound barrier? This book gives a careful explanation. You and your children will never forget this story. See the movie at www.supersonicflyer.com.


a c ow b g n i m o c e B can't be t h at h ar d, oy

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It certainly looks easy to Franklyn “Frank” Ellington Seton IV. Smothered by both his overbearing mother and stuffy Maryland Society, Frank escapes to the vistas of his childhood. He will soon learn, however, that the one thing the movies left out was the smell. And the dirt. And the horses. As Frank makes his way through mid-twentieth century America, he searches for a place he truly belongs. And if being an actual cowboy is too difficult, why not try Hollywood?

“With a mixture of nostalgia, melancholy, and heaps of humor, The True Life of a Singing Cowboy will lasso you from the first note.”

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SHERYLL O'BRIEN BRINGS YOU

--- PULLING THREADS --the series • Bullet Bungalow • Netti Barn • Cutters Cove • They Run • They Hide • They Choose • Penobscot Bay • Reasons • Rescues • Resolutions • Torment • Tango • Tests • Resolve • Revenge • Rebound

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From inspiration to published novel, INDE is your writing partner. INDE’s powerful tools, like inline references, grammar checking, and built-in scrap library, support your writing style.

Learn more @ indewriter.com

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BOOKSTAGRAM Each issue we feature a new bookstagrammer highlighting some of their amazing work.

NAME: WILDLANDPAGES FAVORITE GENRE:

CONTEMPORARY FICTION BOOKS READ PER YEAR:

THE CURRENT AVERAGE IS AROUND 90-100 BOOKS

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@Wildlandpages TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOU. @Wildlandpages: I’m a bookstagrammer originally from Finland and now living in London, UK. When I’m not working either at my day job, on my bookstagram, or have my nose buried in a book, I love drinking copious amounts of coffee, knitting, and going wild swimming. I also cannot pass a dog or a cat anywhere without saying hello! TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR BOOKSTAGRAM ACCOUNT AND HOW IT GOT STARTED. @Wildlandpages: I started my bookstagram in the beginning of 2019 when I felt like I needed an outlet for all my book feelings. It was also a convenient new hobby because I love reading and, as it turns out, really enjoy photography, too! My account is a mixture of cozy bookish photos and reviews, but the books I’ve read or want to read are always the main focus. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE INDIE/SMALL PRESS AUTHOR AND WHY? @Wildlandpages: I recently read and loved Laura Kate Dale’s Gender Euphoria. She is the editor of this essay collection about experiencing joy as one moves away from one’s birth-assigned gender, but she also wrote quite a few essays in it, and I loved each one of those. WHAT IS YOUR ALL TIME FAVORITE SUMMER BOOK? @Wildlandpages: Summer is often a time when I indulge in a good classic or an otherwise more challenging read, and can tackle heavier or more intellectually demanding books more easily, so I tend to save some of these up for this season. Some of my summer favourites have been Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and Kudos by Rachel Cusk. 


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E N TER YO U R B O O K ! SHELF UNBOUND

BEST

INDIE BOOK

COMPETITION Shelf Media hosts the annual Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book Competition for best selfpublished or independently published book, receiving entries from May 1 to October 1 each year. In addition to prizes, the winner, finalists, and more than 100 notable books from the competition are featured in the December/January issue of Shelf Unbound.

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Call For Entries. Shelf Unbound book review magazine announces the Shelf Unbound Writing Competition for Best SelfPublished Book. Any self-published book in any genre is eligible for entry. Entry fee is $100 per book. The winning entry will be selected by the editors of Shelf Unbound magazine. To submit an entry, Apply Online. All entries received (and entry fee paid) will be considered. THE TOP FIVE BOOKS, as determined by the editors of Shelf Media Group, will receive editorial coverage in the December / January issue of Shelf Unbound. The author of the book named as the Best Self-Published book will receive editorial coverage as well as a year’s worth of fullpage ads in the magazine.

Deadline for entry is October 31, 2021.

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RECOMMENDED READING

EXCERPTS

SHELF UNBOUND’S RECOMMENDED READING Take a bite from your next favorite book.

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RECOMMENDED READING

In Hindsight. BY SHARON BONANNO

Advantage Media Group | Dec 2020

It was like being chased by something in the dark. I couldn’t see it, but I knew to be terrified. I was running so fast that I couldn’t get enough air. When the oxygen came, it pierced my lungs and clenched my chest, making it painful to take another breath. At first all that I could think about was moving. Fast. Keeping ahead of whatever it was that was chasing me. I wasn’t thinking about getting away. I wasn’t thinking ahead at all. I was just running and trying to breathe. Eventually my fear evolved into anxiety. I realized that there was no end in sight. Whatever was after me was not letting up, and I couldn’t maintain the pace. Every cell in my body was on the verge of collapse. I had to stop. I was afraid to stop. I wanted 30

AUGUST / SEPTEMBER 2021

my limbs to give out. I wanted to collapse. All that I knew how to do was to keep running. I remember that I didn’t sleep that night. Or at least it felt like I didn’t sleep. I fell onto my bed and closed my eyes in the winter-dark early morning, and as soon as I had found quiet, the lights screamed on. When I opened my eyes, Mom and Sharon were standing there in my bedroom. That morning the accosting felt like it had come out of nowhere. It seemed a random attack. In hindsight, I can see the events that brought us all to that moment. I still don’t remember stealing money from my sister a week earlier, although I believe that I did it— cocaine is expensive. I took less than twenty dollars from her wallet while I was visiting and

ran out the door while she was checking her laundry. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was enough to be noticed—mostly because she was noticing other things. Finally, just the night previous to Sharon and Mom appearing in my room, I’d called Mom at two thirty in the morning. She hadn’t answered. I’d left a message on her answering machine. I had been crying so fiercely that I could barely put words together. I’d told


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her nobody was there for me, nobody understood me, nobody cared about me. I’d told her that I was alone. I’d told her that I knew she loved me. I’d said that I wanted to die. The truth that I understood later was that I was in a deep depression. I felt sad and alone. So alone. Day after day I had breakdowns. They were constant. I would cry. I would write letters to my sister and Mom. I would pray to God when I went to sleep—“Maybe I don’t have to wake up”— and I didn’t even know if I believed in God. I was too much of a wimp to take my own life. I would look in the Yellow Pages for places where I could get help. I did this every day— the crying, the praying,

the searching. Other than finding and doing cocaine, it became my life. It’s hard to explain how truly terrible it was, how empty and worthless I believed I was. I was unbelievably sad. I went through the motions of life, but I wasn’t there. I was a shell, and the real me shrunk away inside, getting smaller and farther away from the surface so that I was barely there. For a while the drugs made things better, then they only distracted me. Eventually they did nothing but clog my nose. I couldn’t go on.

about myself. I felt like nobody understood me, and I didn’t fit in anywhere. I always felt so alone. Cocaine stopped my head from telling me that I was crazy and bad. It was pretty good medicine until it stopped working. 

The feeling wasn’t new. I felt this way my whole life. All through my twenties, I had thought that there was something wrong with me, but I didn’t think it was the drugs. I knew that I felt bad

ABOUT THE BOOK

You Wonder How Someone Can Let Things Get So Extreme. In Hindsight, So Much Is Clear. Lisa and Sharon are sisters who grew up together in what appeared to be a typical suburban family. After their parents divorced, they lived with their mother in the same house throughout their childhoods and visited their father every other weekend. From the outside, everything looked fine. But by their twenties, their lives diverted radically. While Sharon moved into a career, started a family, and embarked on her adult life, Lisa tumbled in a downward spiral of lying, addiction, depression, and shame. 31


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The Essence of Nathan Biddle. BY J. WILLIAM LEWIS

Greenleaf Book Group Press | June 2021

On the first anniversary of Nathan’s death, we went to the sea. We may have been looking for the ungraspable image that Melville said is visible in all rivers and oceans, but I didn’t see it. Maybe I wouldn’t have recognized it if it were floating like flotsam on the surface of the water. In any case, I didn’t see the image and I didn’t find the key to it all. We spent two weeks in a little cottage my mother rented, walking on the beach in solemn silence and sitting on the deck in the evenings while the sun sank into the ocean. We talked some about Nathan but not really that much. Neither of us mentioned his death. We had exhausted ourselves in hours of anguished fretting over a death that in any sane world was inconceivable. The ocean didn’t provide any answers but it did envelop us in an almost mystical caressing balm. The beach house stood a couple hundred yards back from the water, built on

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pilings among the sea oats and bordered on the beach side by a large wooden deck. At twilight, when the sun left nothing but an orange tint on the waves, the ocean flooded the deck with a pungent fragrance and gentle gusting breezes. Even in the half-light, you could see the whitecaps cascading along the line of the beach. The hush of the evening was punctuated only by the incessant, rhythmic pounding of the surf like a gigantic heart. The last night we were there, I was sitting on the deck looking absently toward the surf when I noticed a great blue heron standing alone about twenty yards from the deck. The bird stood on one leg at the edge of the area lit by the flood lamp on the beach side of the house. The wind off the ocean moved the lamppost gently to and fro, so that the ring of light on the ground moved back and forth and the solitary fowl was alternately bathed in light and sheathed in

darkness. The bird never moved while I watched him. The light came and went but he just stood there looking wary and maybe perplexed. I still think about that strange, gaunt bird standing on one leg in the pulsing light. It seems unbearably sad to be totally alone and uncomprehending: The heron had no way of knowing and no one to explain why the light came and went or why the ocean throbbed and the wind moaned along the shore. I don’t worry all that much about Nathan’s


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death anymore, but the bizarre monopode randomly sneaks back into my mind and roosts there like a spirit from another world. Maybe because he first showed up in the summer, the hint of warm weather always invites him to return. He seems always to be lurking in the shadows but in the summer he is a constant intruder, yawking wildly if I try to elude him or chase him away. As far back as I can remember, I have expected summers to be wonderful. I don’t know why I delude myself with that notion but I don’t seem to have any control over it. It begins with a giddy sensation in the spring, and I can feel the anticipation rising inside me like a providential tide. But summer is never anything like the images I create in my mind. Last summer was particularly disappointing. My

friend Eddie Lichtman’s father hired us to deliver furniture again, and I was tired almost every weeknight. Also, Anna was gone the last month and a half of the summer, working as a counselor at a camp. We had not been getting along very well when she left, and then right before school started everything collapsed. She wrote me a letter in early August saying that she just wanted to be friends. I was already getting more and more nervous and strung out worrying about the meaning of things, and I couldn’t make the “friends” thing work in my mind. It was probably an illusion to begin with, but everything had seemed to be pretty much on track. I had been clacking along, more or less trying to stay with everybody’s programs and schedules, and all of a sudden the trestle seemed to

give way under me. My last day of work at the furniture store was on Wednesday of the week before the start of the fall semester. I was tired Wednesday night, so I decided to stay home and read instead of going out. But I really didn’t do much of anything. I fell asleep on the couch. I don’t even remember moving, but I was in my bed Thursday morning. The house was quiet and it was already nine-thirty when I woke up. My mother had left early because she had teachers’ meetings, so I just lay there for a while. I thought about staying in bed all day but, after about thirty minutes, I started getting restless and my thoughts began to roam. 

ABOUT THE BOOK

The Essence of Nathan Biddle is a timeless coming-of-age tale that, as novelist David Armstrong observed, "is like discovering The Catcher in the Rye all over again." Protagonist Kit Biddle is a rising prep school senior who finds himself tangled in a web of spiritual quandaries and intellectual absurdities. Kit's angst is compounded by a unique psychological burden he is forced to carry: his intelligent but unstable Uncle Nat has committed an unspeakable act on what, according to the Uncle's deranged account, were direct orders from God.

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I Am Luney: The Untold Story Of The World’s Naughtiest Man. BY JOSH HICKMAN

Independently published | May 2021

Of course, Beardsley reveled in the newfound pseudo-adulation, affecting a long ivory cigarette holder, dressing his hair with expensive sea turtle oil, and secretly rubbing burnt cork under his eyes to make himself appear older and more mysterious and dehydrated. His face now less cherubic and more drawn and chiseled from manhood, he lingered at the far end of grubby pubs such as The Sow’s Ear, The Toad & Doorknob, or The Platypus & Carburetor, regaling local laborers, literary slummers, and mid-priced streetwalkers with exaggerated tales of communicating with spirits, summoning demons, and mesmerizing young wenches into doing unspeakably naughty things. Calculatingly, Beardsley used this swell in social clout to get himself expelled from joyless Boggydown College

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just shy of probably not graduating, disappointing the school’s Competitive Posturing Club (which was always looking for a fourth), enchanting the administration and staff, and garnering his father yet another mild coronary thrombosis. Perhaps predictably, his marks at school had not been stellar as of late. Young Beardsley performed well in Literature, Gross Anatomy, Séance Sciences, and Brewer’s Chemistry, even showing some semblance of interest, though he often taunted his professors by claiming he knew more about the subjects than they did (earning him several canings and consistently cold gruel in the dining room). But he failed Prudery and Complacency, Advanced Grieving, The History Of Buttons, Badminton, and Beginner’s Empathy miserably, and his application form for the Sophisticated Savages gentlemen’s beefsteak club

was torn up and tossed out before it could be read and rejected (a rebuke at which he smarted, as he had always heard their brown sauce was extraordinary). Not surprisingly, young Beardsley’s school history had not entirely been a happy one. By the age of eight he had stuck burning candles in piles of horse droppings outside his least favorite teacher’s room while yelling “Fire!,” ensuring the hysterical old spectacled man would race outside and stamp out the


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flame, thus covering himself in manure. And he made sure to hide half-empty bottles of cognac in said teacher’s desk for the later classroom inspection as performed by the enraged headmaster. “Treacle-dark” was one observant and understated headmistress’s description of the smiling little demonic angel’s sense of humor. As the years went on, he spiked the chapel’s sacramental wine with rotgut rum, glued an obese school nurse to her chair, and replaced one school’s mascot corgi with a steaming pile of sheep entrails. He was accused of commanding a homely nun to “sit” and “fetch,” putting straight pins in Mrs. Glitch’s piles pillow, and passing suggestive notes to a headmaster’s sister while

she was reportedly going through the change of life. In these formative years for the young lad, subtlety was apparently not Beardsley’s distinguishing attribute. But now, as he left formal schooling for good in favor of a failed career in spelunking, he took a dramatically romantic and passionate turn. Free from the constraints of forced learning and institutional homogeny, Beardsley congealed his scattered energies and resolved to seriously study human pleasure and further immerse himself in the arcane and esoteric mystical and occult practices in which he had dabbled for so long. The little “Worm” of old now a man, Beardsley vowed to thoroughly become what he had been accused

of his whole life—naughty. In fact, for perhaps the first time, he darkly entertained the unthinkable notion of attempting to be crowned “The World’s Naughtiest Man.” He privately swore to himself that he would eat naughty, sleep naughty, work naughty, and play naughty (and be extra naughty in the “naughty room”). When the world would sanctimoniously zig he would offensively zag, he confided in Bickers, who brazenly predicted without a hint of irony or doubt that his quest for world naughtiness would be staggeringly successful .

ABOUT THE BOOK

Most are shocked to hear the story and legacy of Beardsley Bancroft Luney, his life and “works” having astonishingly slipped through the cracks of history. Born at sea during a tempest off Twatt in the Orknies, Luney darkly flowered from a mischievous and talented child into an unnecessarily libidinous and rebellious rake, remorselessly cleaving polite and starchy Victorian society with his tarnished tongue, his bawdy pen, and his naughty, naughty ways. Thrill at the untold story of Luney’s pursuit of naughtiness in mystical cults, public morality trials, a search for the dreaded Tatzelwurm, a hunt for a destiny-changing mandrake root, and ultimately a quest for a Naughty Elixir of Life high in the mysterious Himalayas, escapades which earned him the title he wore so proudly as “The World’s Naughtiest Man.”

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Life and Other Shortcomings. BY CORIE ADJMI

She Writes Press | August 2020

DINNER CONVERSATION We sit three couples as we always do, boy girl, boy girl, with no married couples next to each other. When we were first married, I didn’t like this. Now I don’t care. It’s 1998 and this New York City restaurant just recently opened. It’s a happening kind of place populated by the cool and the young— part bar, part restaurant, part lounge. Red walls make you feel both sexy and regal. Music beats in the background. It’s the kind that seeps into your skin and pulses under your bones. We sit at a large round table and a waitress, her hair tied back in a ponytail, approaches us. She isn’t wearing any makeup and she exudes a wholesome sexuality that, I have to admit, is alluring. She hands each of us a menu, and lights a candle in the center of the table. She moves like an exotic bird, graceful and deliberate. I have just laid eyes on this

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woman and already I am threatened by her natural beauty and her presence. She stands beside our table, both feet grounded. I play a game. I spot a person, and based on how they look, what they wear, and how they stand, I draw up a whole life for them— if they’re married or not, where they live, what their apartment or house looks like, and what they do for a living. I decide that she’s an aspiring actress, living in an apartment in the Village, venturing toward her dream. Marisa, a Monica Lewinsky look-alike, sits to the right of my husband, Dylan. They went to high school together and when she married Eric, Dylan marched in their wedding. When Dylan and I started dating, he wanted me to get to know them. He didn’t care much about what his mother thought about me, he wanted Marisa to like me. And she did. Dana, who is tall and blonde, sits to Dylan’s left.

She just got back from a spa in California and she’s lost weight. She looks too skinny to me, the bones in her wrist protrude like large marbles. But who am I to judge? Dylan says you can never be too skinny, it’s like being too rich. I watch my husband as he entertains. I pay special attention as he leans in to say something to Dana. She throws her head back and laughs. Dylan and I have been friends with Dana and Peter for close to fifteen years. We met them at a parenting class we took


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before the birth of our first child. Peter was complaining about having to be there on a Monday night during football season, and Dylan overheard him. They took off early and went to a bar across the street to watch the end of the game. We’ve been friends ever since. We know this is unusual. About ten years ago, five years into the friendship, five years’ worth of dinners and vacations and cocktail parties, we named ourselves: we are “The Sixers.” When the waitress returns, she places a basket of bread on our table. Marisa, who is facing the wall, turns her body dramatically, her long black hair swinging over her shoulder. It isn’t often that Marisa doesn’t sit facing out, able to see the crowd, and she wants everyone at our table to notice her strain. “What can I get you?” the

waitress asks. I know what Dylan is thinking. He gets that look on his face, the one I recognize all too well. The one he, at one time, reserved for me. His eyes glimmer like two perfect diamonds. “What’s your name?” he asks the waitress. “Judy,” she says, smiling, her teeth lined up like a row of miniature marshmallows. “Hi, Judy,” Dylan flirts. “Nice to meet you. We’ll have two bottles of Pellegrino for the table, and I’ll have a Glenrothes, neat.” Judy takes our drink order and Dylan looks at me. “You’re going to eat that?” I slip the breadstick out of my mouth and scan the table to see who has heard this. I’ve gained weight, and it bothers Dylan that his wife is getting fat. I’m not sure how I feel about it. At first

it was a surprise, but now I kind of like the extra weight. It makes me feel stronger, more grounded. But Dylan has no patience for fat. Fat, in his view, is a complete betrayal of a body, and it represents a person without discipline or self-respect. Pregnancy is no exception. And while I felt full and complete, voluptuous and even beautiful as I carried my three children to term, I knew that Dylan couldn’t look at me. After I gave birth to David, our first, just a week after his bris, Dylan replaced the whole milk with skim, and every product in our cabinet said fat free. I suppose he wanted back the wife he’d married, but I could no longer play that part. 

ABOUT THE BOOK

Life and Other Shortcomings is a collection of linked short stories that takes the reader from New Orleans to New York City to Madrid, and from 1970 to the present day. The women in these twelve stories make a number of different choices: some work, others don't; some stay married, some get divorced; others never marry at all. Through each character's intimate journey, specific truths are revealed about what it means to be a woman―in a relationship with another person, in a particular culture and era―and how these conditions ultimately affect her relationship with herself. The stories as a whole depict patriarchy, showing what still might be, (and certainly what was) for some women in this country before the #MeToo movement.

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INTERVIEW

Interview with Simon Van der Velde. Author of Backstories

BY V. JOLENE MILLER

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INTERVIEW

CONTINUED

Simon Van der Velde’s anthology, Backstories, is a unique and intricate summer read. Whether you’re taking your annual beach vacation or settling in for a week in the mountains, if you take Backstories with you, your mind won’t be stationary. Backstories takes readers on a journey to uncover the identities and humanness of each character. I had the opportunity to connect with Simon this summer. Here’s what he has to say about his book, his journey to becoming an author, and what he’s working on next. ACCORDING TO YOUR WEBSITE, YOU’RE AN ADVOCATE -- STOP HATE UK, THE NORTH EAST AUTISM SOCIETY, AND FRIENDS OF THE EARTH -- IS THAT THE CRUX OF BACKSTORIES?

SV: The crux of Backstories is the emotional truth that compels you to keep reading. The events may straddle fact and fiction, but Backstories is true where it counts, where it hits you, hard in the belly. As for advocacy, I haven’t done as much as I should, but human diversity is as obvious and natural to me as the sun rising and the Earth turning. Of course, we’re all different. We’re meant to be. What's the alternative, genetically

modified (GM) people? It’s crazy that we even have to discuss it, but of course there is always that primeval, atavistic fear of the ‘other’ that was adaptive in pre-history, and is so harmful today. I can forgive (to an extent), the old and the ignorant, but what really sickens me is when the educated and privileged use prejudice to play on people’s fears and turn the most vulnerable members of society against each other. Of course, prejudice is a corrosive evil in society, and that comes through in Backstories. Many of my characters, who turn out to be our heroes, begin life as the very opposite, excluded because they don’t fit in. But, the same is true of the villains. In the end, if Backstories is about diversity, it may not necessarily be in the way you expect. For me, it is a search for the heroes of my childhood, and through them a reaching back to that childhood, and the purity and vulnerability of those pivotal, formative years. YOUR CREATION OF BACKSTORIES TO BE A GUESSING GAME OF SORTS IS SO UNIQUE. HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THIS IDEA?

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INTERVIEW

CONTINUED

SV: Honestly? Accidentally. A few years ago, my wife and I went to see a performer from way back when. The truth is, I was a bit worried. Would he still be any good? In fact, he was brilliant. Great voice, great music and above all, great honesty, especially about his struggles as a kid. The next day, I put aside my novel and wrote a piece about that kid. Not about the super-star, but about the kid, starting out with the whole world against him. That was why I withheld his name. I didn’t want to write some sycophantic, ‘what a genius, it was always meant to be’ tribute. I wanted to set aside preconceptions and give you the lost little kid who could easily have gone down in flames. I wanted to highlight the emotional truth of this person and leave the reader with a fresh perspective. The guessing game was a bi-product. Blind luck. I can’t even say that I realized what I had. But, my wife (and number one critic) loved it. She saw the potential in both the game and the meaning. The result is a book that operates on two distinct levels with pretty broad appeal. Like a lot of things though, this game element is double-edged. Yes, Backstories 40

AUGUST / SEPTEMBER 2021

is a fun, easy read. Everyone likes a challenge, but it frustrates me when people race through the book at 100mph, desperate to ‘find the mystery characters’ and come away thinking that’s all there is to it. Sure, read Backstories for the game. But when that’s done, please, slow down. Remember how it felt to be a kid. Open your heart to the pain and the joy and the fury simmering between the lines. WHO ARE SOME OF THE AUTHORS THAT INSPIRE YOU AND YOUR CREATIVITY?

SV: I was a quiet, reflective child and our house was always full of books, so I guess it was bound to happen. I grew up reading all sorts of stuff. Cheap thrillers, hard-boiled detective stories, Dickens, Le Carre, World War II / Holocaust stuff, poetry, and even a smattering of Stephen King. From that rather strange base-layer, I then moved on to finding my own books. I still remember the revelation of Hemingway as a teenager, and for all Ernest’s flaws “The Old Man and The Sea” will always have a special place in my heart. Then, at about nineteen I discovered the deliciously subversive


INTERVIEW

CONTINUED

Charles Bukowski, followed by Graham Greene with all his agonizing guilt. It wasn’t till my early twenties that I started to appreciate the shorter form. Cheever, of course, and Carver’s “Cathedral” is magnificent in the tenderness with which it approaches prejudice, ignorance, and ultimately, understanding. More recently, I always look forward to the annual O. Henry anthologies which I believe are the best short story collections in the English language. A thousand thanks to Laura Thurman for those. Whilst in the longer form I’ve enjoyed and admired a lot of Peter Carey’s work, pretty much all of Anne Tyler’s, Philip Roth, Lou Berney, Cormack McCarthy, especially for the heartwrenching love between a boy and a wolf, Colston Whitehead for the naked terror of Underground Railroad, Richard Flanagan’s (slightly Hemingwayesque) “The Long Road to the Deep North,” Robert Harris’ Cicero trilogy for illustrating how very little has changed in the last two thousand years, whilst by a short-head, my all-time favourite is probably still J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians. Blame my childhood if you like, but I’m a Jack-of-all-Trades in my reading, and I

guess in my writing too. I hate the whole ‘genre’ thing. I appreciate the marketing industry needs something to work with, but I’m desperate to throw off that straight-jacket. Who cares what genre it is. I want to know if it’s good. If it’s true. If it makes me gasp, and think, and re-evaluate what I thought I knew. SOME MIGHT SAY THAT BY INCLUDING VILLAINS IN YOUR ANTHOLOGY THAT YOU’VE GONE BEYOND DIVERSITY TO IDEALIZING THE BAD GUYS. WHAT WAS YOUR INTENT WITH THAT?

SV: Villains are people too. They are made, not born. Take a strong, bright, sensitive infant, and abuse them repeatedly, you might just create a monster. Writing people off as wicked or mad is ultimately a failure of understanding and responsibility. Our job as a society, and certainly mine as a writer, is to seek to understand these people. How else can we hope to stop society from making the same mistakes all over again? Of course, I don’t condone their crimes, far, far from it, but the bad guys deserve to be heard too.

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INTERVIEW

CONTINUED

In the end it’s not about idealizing them, it’s about humanizing them. I should also add that this is not a comfortable read. It is, and is meant to be, a challenge to your moral compass. TELL OUR READERS A LITTLE ABOUT HOW YOU CAME TO BE AN AUTHOR. WAS THAT A LIFELONG DREAM? OR, SOMETHING YOU STUMBLED UPON?

SV: Backstories II is slated for September release, if I can get it done. Rock ‘n’ Roll Backstories is also halfwritten and due for release in 2022, with a novel, The Benjamin Exhibition, coming together in the background.  ABOUT THE BOOK

SV: I was always a reader, enduring the drudgery of school and work in return for those hours when I could travel through time and space to inhabit different minds. It was a short step from there to writing my own. I dabbled as a teenager but was firmly told writing wasn’t a practical career. I did have a little success with a story about a boy wizard, but I lacked belief and tenacity. The end result was that it took another twenty years for me to really commit and make it as a writer. CAN YOU TELL US WHAT’S NEXT? WILL IT BE ANOTHER ANTHOLOGY? NOVEL? MEMOIR? AND, WHEN CAN WE EXPECT IT TO HIT THE SHELVES?

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BACKSTORIES Can you find the famous person hidden in every story? And once found, can you understand them? These are the stories of people you know. The settings are mostly 60’s and 70’s UK and USA, the driving themes are inclusion and social justice but the real key to these stories is that I withhold the protagonists’ identities. This means that your job is to find them - leading to that Eureka moment when you realise who's mind you've been inhabiting for the last twenty minutes.


“A story for the ages: A story born long before the time of man and captured by your writer, Christopher Leibig, who seems to be channeling his work from nether places, bringing you tales that promise to keep you up late turning pages!” -John Ellsworth, Bestselling author of The Lawyer

Launches April 1, 2021 www.chrisleibig.com 43


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Shelf Media Group's digital young adult community designed to connect readers with YA authors and books.

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AUGUST / SEPTEMBER 2021


The Guest List. BY LUCY FOLEY

Big Little Lies meets an Agatha Christie novel. You get a multi-perspective mystery that comes together in the end seamlessly. I’d give The Guest List by Lucy Foley a 4/5 – I felt the foreboding gloom throughout and thought that could be toned down a little or made more of a rollercoaster experience than a full book feeling. There’s got to be some lightness and happiness at a wedding, right? But you just kind of feel something bad is happening the whole time.

WHAT TO READ IN YA FICTION BY MEGAN LORD

Multi-Perspective can sometimes be a little overwhelming- but this author pulled it off very well. The author intertwined the stories and lives very well. You “watched” everything happen over the course of time and through these stories, and then you understood and had strong feelings about the outcomes and empathy for the deserving characters, and anger towards others. The drinking game turned bad is always relatable one way or another with any group of people who have a history together. You always know once old high school or college drinking games re-surface a pot is going to be stirred, stories are coming out, and history doesn’t stay in the past.

Young adult fiction continues to become one of the most popular genres – mostly for adults. Join us each issue to find your next YA read.

THE GUEST LIST BY LUCY FOLEY

This is the type of mystery that has multiple stories and sides to stories unfolding and you can’t help but be emotionally involved and intrigued by every perspective and all the webs coming together. And the end – well I will never ruin a good ending for anyone – but I’ll say yes, the author pulled it off very well. I'll be checking out the other title from this Author: The Hunting Party with high expectations. 45


G+B RECOMMENDED READ

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RECOMMENDED AS YOU R N EX T

YA R E A D

THE GUEST LIST

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The bride – The plus one – The best man –The wedding planner – The bridesmaid – The body On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed. But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-soaccidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast. And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why? 46

AUGUST / SEPTEMBER 2021


W H AT P E O P L E A R E S AY I N G A B O U T G I R L + B OO K

“Best YA Blogs And Book Reviewers” - URBAN EPICS, 2015 BLOGGER AWARDS

“Top 100 Book Review Blogs For Book Readers and Authors” - FEEDSPOT

“The awesome Girl+Book YA book review blog.....I smiled to see Blue Karma recommended for "tom-boys, tree climbers, adventure seekers, and backyard-campers" because I have answered (or still do) to all of these descriptions....The Girl+Book blog continues to make my day.” - J.K. ULLRICH, AUTHOR OF BLUE KARMA

“I Just Read Girl Plus Book’s Review Of Revelation, And It Made My Night!” - ELLERY KANE, AUTHOR OF LEGACY SERIES

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F E AT U R E

The Freedom of Reading. BY ALYSE MGRDICHIAN

Reading, as an activity, offers a sense of freedom. You can learn a thousand things, live a thousand lives, and see a thousand places through books. This experience is not only one of escape, but is also one of adventure and growth. When you read, whether it be fiction or nonfiction, you learn, explore, and stretch your mind in new ways, with different genres being able to offer different experiences. This, to me, is what makes summer reading so enjoyable. Although I’m a bit new to the “no summer break” aspect of adult life, there’s still something rejuvenating about being able to choose how I spend my off-time.

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We’re often forced to learn things (especially while in school), and, if the things we’re learning aren’t even things we enjoy, then the idea of reading for fun may feel a bit foreign. In light of this, it may seem counterintuitive to think of reading nonfiction as a freeing and pleasant experience—these sorts of labels are typically attributed to fiction. However, if we find a topic that we are excited to learn about, either for enjoyment or betterment (or both), then we won’t drag our feet when we read it. Learning takes on a new form here, because it is borne of desire rather than necessity. Preferences can also become a little more niche, since there are so many sub-genres and fields of study that can be covered by nonfiction. For example, some of my favorite nonfiction books have to do with neuroscience, folklore, and social commentary. On the other hand, I personally know of a lot of people who exclusively buy business and self-help books, or only read memoirs and travel journals.

imagined worlds and situations can provide a sense of freedom and escape from our everyday lives, but how can they teach us anything real? The answer comes in the form of hypotheticals and vicarious learning. Fiction, no matter how whimsical, allows us to identify with the experiences of the story’s characters by making imagined conflict applicable, to some degree, to real life. Even while we’re being gloriously entertained by things like dragons and space ships, we’re simultaneously learning about topics such as abuse of power, reconciliation, courage, social responsibility, and more. Instead of providing heavy-handed moral lessons, fiction has the power to help us learn vicariously through the truth that is slipped into fantastical situations. In this way, we’re able to learn from stories while getting the sense of escape that we crave, whether it be through fiction or nonfiction, since the ability and opportunity to read is one of the highest forms of freedom. 

With nonfiction, we learn through the research or life experiences of others, gaining practical knowledge and, to some extent, developing empathy. What about fiction, though? It’s clear how 49


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COMIC NOVEL

I AM LUNEY: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE WORLD’S NAUGHTIEST MAN BY JOSH HICKMAN

After inheriting his malt vinegar baron father’s fortune, young Beardsley Bancroft Luney makes the pursuit of naughtiness his righteous and unavoidable calling. Forming arcane magical sects and seducing all strata of eccentrics, Luney is both privately and publicly castigated for his socially rebellious naughty behavior by various illustrious members of the starchy Victorian/Edwardian British society. Collecting lifelong nemeses, Luney eventually finds himself in an existential race to find a legendary Elixir of Life high in the Himalayas. Through seances conjuring his naughty ancestors and deep searches of his politically incorrect soul, Luney battles against staid late 19th century and early 20th century norms via saucy periodicals, poetry, a history of practical jokes, and endless naughty adventures. Where to Buy: Amazon ABOUT THE AUTHOR Josh Hickman spent much of his youth and early adulthood in various parts of Texas, the son of a Navy officer. He began drawing and making amateur films at an early age, eventually studying art at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas and the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a Radio/ Television/Film degree in the screenwriting program. Having spent 14 years in Los Angeles, Hickman has worked as an artist, musician, actor, journalist, critic, private investigator, filmmaker, and film festival organizer and judge. Returning to the Dallas area in 2019, he garnered an artist residency at Arts Mission Oak Cliff, where he produced three solo exhibitions of new work. His past writing includes the acclaimed novels Through Tick & Tinn: The True Story of the Greatest Unknown Comedy Team Ever Known, Ambergris, Five Slices of Fear: A Connoisseur’s Hoagie of Horror, and The Kinfolk: Cult of Sex & Cheese. His new comic novel I Am Luney: The Untold Story of the World’s Naughtiest Man will be followed by an upcoming collection of short stories titled Songs In The Key of ‘H.’ 51


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YOUNG ADULT/COMING OF AGE

HOW THE DEER MOON HUNGERS BY SUSAN WINGATE

Winner Best Fiction In The 2020 Pacific Book Award Mackenzie Fraser witnesses a drunk driver mow down her seven-year-old sister and her mother blames her. Then she ends up in juvie on a trumped-up drug charge. Now she’s in the fight of her life. And she’s losing. How the Deer Moon Hungers is a coming of age story about loss, grief, and the power of love. “Adult and new adult readers will fall headlong into it. No one who picks up this heartrending story will emerge from it unchanged or unmoved. Great for fans of Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, Lois Lowry’s A Summer to Die.” –BookLife Review Where to Buy: Amazon | B&N ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Susan Wingate a #1 Amazon bestseller and award-winning author who writes unputdownable, surprising and twisty stories with crackling dialogue that exhibit a rare deftness in style offering up stories that are riveting, original and with a humanity rarely seen in contemporary fiction.

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FICTION

THE TALKING DRUM

BY LISA BRAXTON

It is 1971. The fictional city of Bellport, Massachusetts, is in decline with an urban redevelopment project on the horizon expected to transform this dying factory town into a thriving economic center. This planned transformation has a profound effect on the residents who live in Bellport as their own personal transformations take place. Sydney Stallworth steps away from her fellowship and law studies at an elite university to support husband Malachi's dream of opening a business in the heart of the black community of his hometown, Bellport. For Omar Bassari, an immigrant from Senegal, Bellport is where he will establish his drumming career and the launching pad from which he will spread African culture across the world, while trying to hold onto his marriage. Della Tolliver has built a fragile sanctuary in Bellport for herself, boyfriend Kwamé Rodriguez, and daughter Jasmine, a troubled child prone to nightmares and outbursts. Tensions rise as the demolition date moves closer, plans for gentrification are laid out, and the pace of suspicious fires picks up. The residents find themselves at odds with a political system manipulating their lives and question the future of their relationships. ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lisa Braxton is an essayist, short story writer, and novelist. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Southern New Hampshire University, her Master of Science in Journalism Broadcasting from Northwestern University and her Bachelor of Arts in Mass Media from Hampton University. Her debut novel, The Talking Drum, was published by Inanna Publications in May 2020.

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SHELF UNBOUND’S

Book Shelf What to read next in independent publishing

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OK COULD BE H O B ER UR E! O Y Promote your book in Shelf Unbound in our Special Advertising Section for Authors.

Each issue of Shelf Unbound is distributed to more than 125,000 people in the U.S. and 62 countries around the globe. Our introductory ad rate for this section is $350/quarter page as seen here. Contact publisher Sarah Kloth to reserve your space. sarah@shelfmediagroup.com

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Twin Bill

Last Star Standing

Baseball challenges players on and off the field.

Born to a charismatic Indigenous mother and an infamous Australian politician, Aiden has always been an outsider. The Earth barely survived World War III when invaders from another galaxy took over. Determined to bring an end to the alien regime, Aiden joins the underground rebel movement. After being captured, tortured, and executing a daring escape, Aiden learns that there are traitors among the rebellion - and, to make matters worse, they want him dead. Can Aiden carry out his plans to free the world of the alien pestilence? Or will his enemies get to him first?

BY MIKE MCSORLEY

“Payback” offers a chance to even the score for lefty Alan Coltard, but at what price? In “Big Finish” slugging outfielder J.C. Taylor finds his baseball world turned upside down when he’s traded midseason from a contender to hopeless also ran. He’s faced with the choice of playing out the sting or becoming a bigtime player in a whole new role. Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

How The Deer Moon Hungers

BY SPAULDING TAYLOR

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

LIKE US, THE POLAR BEARS

BY SUSAN WINGATE

BY TESS MARSET

MACKENZIE FRASER witnesses a drunk driver mow down her seven-yearold sister and her mother blames her. Then she ends up in juvie on a trumpedup drug charge. Now she’s in the fight of her life…on the inside! And she’s losing. "From the ashes rises the phoenix. As a family descends into an abyss of pain, so Mackenzie fights to discover her own way out of the overwhelming circumstances of her sibling's death."Susan Wingate is gifted at capturing these shifting nuances as events continue to pull characters apart and put them back together like puzzles, albeit in a different way.

Seventeen-year-old Molly needs to figure out how to get her brilliant plan to save polar bears into action while dealing with a few . . . challenges: Phobias + self-doubt; Anxiety + more anxiety; loss of BFF

Available at Amazon.

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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Hope arrives in the form of Sig, the last-available lab partner, who has an audacious idea for saving the polar bears and--a secret. He accepts Molly as she is, problems and all, and challenges her to follow through on her polar bear rescue plan. She accepts his challenge, putting her well outside her comfort zone. But as Molly and Sig set off to raise funds for the cause, complications threaten to melt the thin ice that keeps Molly from drowning in her own problems.


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Two Tickets to Dubrovnik BY ANGUS KENNEDY

A View From The Languedoc BY ANGUS KENNEDY

Australian wine writer, Andrew Johnston, goes to Dubrovnik to prepare an article for his editor on the wines and wineries of southern Rhône. He meets up with an old Bordelaise wine making acquaintance, Lucien Delasalles, and his step-sister, Niki Menčetić. He becomes embroiled in the murky affairs of Niki and her family and the local police, which leads to his sad departure from the ancient city.

Australian wine writer, Andrew Johnston, is again staying in Europe, this time with his brother, Adrian, for both work and a holiday. During an extensive new wine project from his publisher, he meets up again with a number of his old acquaintances from both France and Dubrovnik, including Niki Menčetić. Whether he can resolve his difficulties with Niki’s life is uncertain.

www.anguskennedybooks.com Available at Amazon, Amazon UK, and Barnes & Noble.

www.anguskennedybooks.com Available at Amazon, Amazon UK, and Barnes & Noble.

To The East

The Final Programme

The book gives a composite picture of what heaven is like based on the eyewitness testimony of nineteen separate accounts. As a result it gives a more complete picture than any other single book does. All of Scripture’s testimony about heaven is confirmed and many more details God never revealed in His Word. Many readers say it’s a great blessing and have bought extra copies to give away.

In this final novel of the Out of Solitude tetralogy, Australian wine writer, Andrew Johnston, is comatose in a hospital in Sydney, Australia after the events of Međjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina. His Croatian lover, Niki Menčetić, believes him gone, the victim of a cruel deception by Andrew’s brother, Adrian, and has returned to Dubrovnik. Andrew now has to try to re-establish the rest of his life.

www.anguskennedybooks.com Available at Amazon, Amazon UK, and Barnes & Noble.

www.anguskennedybooks.com Available at Amazon, Amazon UK, and Barnes & Noble.

BY ANGUS KENNEDY

BY ANGUS KENNEDY

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Whisperwood: A Confederate Soldier's Struggle BY VAN TEMPLE

A story of one man's struggle of conscience through the bewildering, brutal, and terrifying experience of the American Civil War. Anderson Flowers, a poor, twenty-year-old farmer, leaves his home and sweetheart in the summer of 1861 and walks the twentyfive miles to Kosciusko with his best friend, Dallas, to enlist as a soldier in Company K of the 20th Regiment of the Army of Mississippi. Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Feast of Fates

BY CHRISTIAN A. BROWN

Arnold Falls

BY CHARLIE SUISMAN

Spend time in the funny, oddball village of Arnold Falls, where larger-thanlife characters deal with the smallest of problems. Somehow, it all comes out right in the end. Arnold Falls is a novel that tips its hat to Armistead Maupin and P. G. Wodehouse, creating a world in which food, music, friendship, love, and tending your own garden are connected in surprising ways. Winner of the 2020 IPPY from the Independent Publisher Book Awards Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Journey Into Darkness: A Story In Four Parts, 3rd Edition BY J. ARTHUR MOORE

Morigan lives a quiet life as the handmaiden to a fatherly old sorcerer named Thackery. But when she crosses paths with Caenith, a not wholly mortal man, her world changes forever. Their meeting sparks long buried magical powers deep within Morigan. As she attempts to understand her newfound abilities, unbidden visions begin to plague her—visions that show a devastating madness descending on one of the Immortal Kings who rules the land.

Duane Kinkade was ten years old in the summer of 1861 when raiders struck his farm after his pa had gone to the war; eleven the following spring when he left in search of his father and became a part of the war himself; thirteen the summer he returned home, a veteran soldier after two and a half years of army life and battlefield experience. An intricate blend of fact and fiction, the thread of experience of the fictitious boy soldier runs through the fabric of a very real war and its historic violence as it actually happened.

www.christianadrianbrown.com Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

www.jarthurmoore.com Also Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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The World Looks Different Now

The Talking Drum

On a glorious, if blisteringly hot, Saturday in August 2010, Margaret Thomson’s world is suddenly shattered by the incomprehensible news that her twenty-two-yearold son, a medic in the army, has taken his life. In a deep state of shock, Thomson and her husband immediately travel to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where their son Kieran was stationed, in an effort to assist their daughter-in-law. Upon their arrival, though, the couple find themselves plunged into a labyrinthine and, at times, seemingly bizarre world of military rules and regulations.

The fictional city of Bellport, Massachusetts, is in decline with an urban redevelopment project on the horizon expected to transform this dying factory town into a thriving economic center. This planned transformation has a profound effect on the residents who live in Bellport as their own personal transformations take place.

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

BY MARGARET THOMSON

BY LISA BRAXTON

The Talking Drum explores intra-racial, class, and cross-cultural tensions, along with the meaning of community and belonging.

Automaton Nation

Not All Of Me Is Dust

Automaton Nation is perfect for fans of science fiction where the stakes are high, love is unexpected, and characters survive in a dystopian world.

Not All of Me Is Dust is an account of the cost exacted by living out a high ideal. It tells the story of three members of a particular family: imaginative, highspirited Clara Engle, the youngest, whose childhood fantasies of Christian perfection are realized in the shattering actuality of adulthood; her beautiful, conflicted sister, Kathleen; and her brother, Stephen, a priest and poet. Not All of Me Is Dust is a story of the sacred and secular, of love and separation, of aspiration and failure, and most important, of loss and recovery.

BY CYNTHIA KUMANCHIK

Val Tate, daughter of a prominent scientist, falls in love with robotic Dat against her parents’ objections. Sparks fly between the two as they realize their love is real, although forbidden. The robots’ rebellion pushes the couple closer to-gether as they join their cause.

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

BY FRANCES MAUREEN RICHARDSON

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. 59


The Home Front by DW Hanneken.

Review by Jenna Zerbel, Orange Hat Publishing | Ten16 Press | July 2021

SMALL PRESS REVIEWS

TEN16 PRESS TEN16 Press, a division of Orange Hat Publishing, housing fiction, non-fiction, YA and poetry books. WWW.ORANGEHATPUBLISHING.COM

"As each loosened their respective grip – which nearly cocooned them into one – they gazed at one another wantonly. The invisible wall between them seemed to crash down at their feet." Although there is no shortage of tales about World War II, it turns out that there are still exciting, new stories to share. DW Hanneken makes his novel original, first and foremost, by setting it in a rural Wisconsin town, where German prisoners of war are put to work on Dairyland farms to make up the difference left by American soldiers fighting overseas. One such farm is that of Maggie Wentworth, whose abusive husband has left her with more work than she can possibly handle alone – not to mention grief. Although her elderly father and young son are with her, there is still too much work to be done, so she turns to the POW camp for extra farmhands. This is how she meets Adam, a kind German soldier who makes her feel safer and more loved than ever before. Finally, she starts to feel that her farm could truly be a home. Hanneken does so many things well in this book, especially immersing readers in life during that time period. From the fashion references to the outdated technology, it is abundantly clear that Hanneken did his homework in terms of attention to historical details. Of course, he additionally manages to capture the overwhelming sense of turmoil that befell the globe during that time, both at war and at home. Yet, he manages to do so in a unique, enlightening way. With so much popular media already existing about World War II, it is amazing that there’s still so much to learn about

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life in the 1940s. Not only is this a story that will appeal to people interested in historical fiction, but it is also highly recommended for any fans of romance! The relationship between Maggie and Adam is one that conveys equal measures of happiness and heartbreak, tension and tenderness, romance and resilience. It is impossible not to root for them by the end and hope they can find a way to defy the odds and obstacles that are forcing them apart. The hurdles they face are ones that modern readers can empathize with wholeheartedly, as are their affections for one another.

turn the final page. You’ll find yourself thinking of the characters as old friends, and maybe even returning to the story later to revisit those warm, homey feelings of hope. 

Reading The Home Front is an experience that sticks with you after you

AUTHOR DW HANNEKEN

ABOUT THE BOOK

THE HOME FRONT

Set in rural Wisconsin during 1944-1945, this story centers around Maggie Wentworth, a wife, mother and farmer who struggles to keep her life in balance after her physically abusive husband enlists in the Army and is shipped to Europe during WWII. On one hand, she’s happy he left. On the other, she has to deal with the challenges of an aging father, a young son, and the temptation of an attractive German POW who is harvesting apples on her farm.

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Top 20 Indie Summer Reads to Add to Your TBR BY ALYSE MGRDICHIAN

The past couple years have been characterized by lots of things, most of which haven’t been very good. However, in the midst of the craziness, books are still being independently published. From thrillers and memoirs to poetry and sci-fi, here is a list of twenty indie books (published within the past few years) that you should consider adding to your TBR!

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Milk Blood Heat (Dantiel W. Moniz, 2021) A livewire debut from Dantiel W. Moniz, one of the most exciting discoveries in today's literary landscape, Milk Blood Heat depicts the sultry lives of Floridians in intergenerational tales that contemplate human connection, race, womanhood, inheritance, and the elemental darkness in us all. Set among the cities and suburbs of Florida, each story delves into the ordinary worlds of young girls, women, and men who find themselves confronted by extraordinary moments of violent personal reckoning. These intimate portraits of people and relationships scour and soothe and blast a light on the nature of family, faith, forgiveness, consumption, and what we may, or may not, owe one another. A thirteen-year-old meditates on her sadness and the difference between herself and her white best friend when an unexpected tragedy occurs; a woman recovering from a miscarriage finds herself unable to let go of her daughter—whose body parts she sees

throughout her daily life; a teenager resists her family’s church and is accused of courting the devil; servers at a supper club cater to the insatiable cravings of their wealthy clientele; and two estranged siblings take a road-trip with their father’s ashes and are forced to face the troubling reality of how he continues to shape them. Wise and subversive, spiritual and seductive, Milk Blood Heat forms an ouroboros of stories that bewitch with their truth, announcing the arrival of a bright new literary star. Cardiff, By the Sea: Four Novellas of Suspense (Joyce Carol Oates, 2020) An academic in Pennsylvania discovers a terrifying trauma from her past after inheriting a house in Cardiff, Maine, from someone she has never heard of. A pubescent girl, overcome with loneliness, befriends a feral cat that becomes her protector from the increasingly aggressive males that surround her. A brilliant but shy college sophomore is distraught to discover that she’s pregnant, and the professor who 63


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takes her under his wing may not have innocent intentions. And a woman who marries into a family shattered by tragedy finds herself haunted by her predecessor’s voice, an inexplicably befouled well, and a compulsive attraction to a garage that took two lives. In these psychologically daring, chillingly suspenseful pieces, the author writes about women facing threats past and present, once again cementing her reputation for ‘great intelligence and dead-on imaginative powers’ (Los Angeles Times Book Review). American Quasar (David Campos & Maceo Montoya, 2021) “American Quasar is a visual-textual collaboration between poet David Campos and artist Maceo Montoya. What began as an exploration of the precipice of violence evolved into an excavation of self, a deep meditation on how country, family, and trauma affect the ability to love. The images and words build a poetic space where the body is understood in both physical and celestial terms, giving a spiritual dimension to the 64

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collection's larger claim that the political is personal. Subdivision (J. Robert Lennon, 2021) An unnamed woman checks into a guesthouse in a mysterious district known only as the Subdivision. The guesthouse’s owners, Clara and the Judge, are welcoming and helpful, if oddly preoccupied by the perpetually baffling jigsaw puzzle in the living room. With little more than a hand-drawn map and vague memories of her troubled past, the narrator ventures out in search of a job, an apartment, and a fresh start in life. Accompanied by an unusually assertive digital assistant named Cylvia, the narrator is drawn deeper into an increasingly strange, surreal, and threatening world, which reveals itself to her through a series of darkly comic encounters reminiscent of Gulliver’s Travels. A lovelorn truck driver . . . a mysterious child . . . a watchful crow. A cryptic birthday party. A baffling physics experiment in a defunct office tower where some calamity once happened. Through it all, the narrator is tempted


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and manipulated by the bakemono, a shape-shifting demon who poses a distinctly terrifying danger. Harrowing, meticulous, and deranged, Subdivision is a brilliant maze of a novel from the writer Kelly Link has called ‘a master of the dark arts.’ With the narrative intensity and mordant humor familiar to readers of Broken River, J. Robert Lennon continues his exploration of the mysteries of perception and memory. A Lover’s Discourse (Xiaolu Guo, 2020) A Chinese woman moves from Beijing to London for a doctoral program—and to begin a new life—just as the Brexit campaign reaches a fever pitch. Isolated and lonely in a Britain increasingly hostile to foreigners, she meets a landscape architect and the two begin to build a life together. A Lover's Discourse is an exploration of romantic love told through fragments of conversations between the two lovers. Playing with language and the cultural differences that her narrator encounters as she settles into life in post-Brexit vote

Britain, the lovers must navigate their differences and their romance, whether on their unmoored houseboat or in a cramped and stifling apartment in east London. Suffused with a wonderful sense of humor, this intimate and tender novel asks what it means to make a home and a family in a new land. Ghost in a Black Girl’s Throat: Poems (Khalisa Rae, 2021) What happens when a Midwestern girl migrates to a haunted Southern town, whose river is a graveyard, whose streets bear the names of Southern slave owners? How can she build a home where Confederate symbols strategically stand in the center of town? Can she sage the chilling truths of her ancestors? What will she do to cope with the traumatizing ghostliness of the present-day South? Ghost in a Black Girl’s Throat is a heart-wrenching reconciliation and confrontation of the living, breathing ghosts that awaken Black women each day. This debut poetry collection summons multiple hauntings—ghosts of matriarchs that came before, those that were slain, and those that continue to 65


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speak to us, but also those horrors women of color strive to put to rest. Ghost in a Black Girl’s Throat examines the haunting feeling of facing past demons while grappling with sexism, racism, and bigotry. They are all present: ancestral ghosts, societal ghosts, and spiritual, internal hauntings. This book calls out for women to speak their truth in hopes of settling the ghosts or at least being at peace with them. Animal Wife (Lara Ehrlich, 2020) In villages where women bore most of the weight of a constricted life, witches flew by night on broomsticks,’ said Italo Calvino of the way imagination bridges the gap between everyday existence and an idealized alternative. The fifteen stories of Animal Wife are unified by girls and women who cross this threshold seeking liberation from family responsibilities, from societal expectations, from their own minds. A girl born with feathers undertakes a quest for the mother who abandoned her. An indecisive woman drinks Foresight, only to become stymied by the futures branching before her. A proofreader 66

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cultivates a cage-fighting alter ego. A woman becomes psychologically trapped in her car. A girl acts on her desire for a childhood friend as a monster draws closer to the shore. A widow invites a bear to hibernate in her den. A Camera Obscura (Carl Marcum, 2021) From the edge of a singularity and across desert roads at night, A Camera Obscura teleports its readers through deep space nebulae and the constructs of cityscapes to arrive at what it means to ‘see.’ Lovers embrace in sonnets, and meditations move through artworks and Hubble Telescope images as these poems employ ekphrastic visions to balance the profound displacements in the most mundane aspects of our lives with science, fact, faith, and song. In the ceremonial blades of Aztec sacrifice and the anonymity of undocumented lives, these poems accrete into a solar system of images seen true, seen askance, seen in error, seen entire. A Camera Obscura is the dark room of the imagination where sīgnum—the sign, the act—becomes the tangible testaments of living.


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Yellow House: A Memoir (Sarah M. Broom, 2019) In 1961, Sarah M. Broom’s mother, Ivory Mae, bought a shotgun house in the then-promising neighborhood of New Orleans East and built her world inside of it. It was the height of the Space Race and the neighborhood was home to a major NASA plant—the postwar optimism seemed assured. Widowed, Ivory Mae remarried Sarah’s father Simon Broom; their combined family would eventually number 12 children. But after Simon died, six months after Sarah’s birth, the Yellow House would become Ivory Mae’s 13th and most unruly child. A book of great ambition, Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow House tells a hundred years of her family and their relationship to home in a neglected area of one of America’s most mythologized cities. This is the story of a mother’s struggle against a house's entropy, and that of a prodigal daughter who left home only to reckon with the pull that that home exerts, even after the Yellow House was wiped off the map after Hurricane Katrina. The Yellow House

expands the map of New Orleans to include the stories of its lesser known natives, guided deftly by one of its native daughters, to demonstrate how enduring drives of clan, pride, and familial love resist and defy erasure. Located in the gap between the ‘Big Easy’ of tourist guides and the New Orleans in which Broom was raised, The Yellow House is a brilliant memoir of place, class, race, the seeping rot of inequality, and the internalized shame that often follows. It is a transformative, deeply moving story from an unparalleled new voice of startling clarity, authority, and power. God of Nothingness: Poems (Mark Wunderlich, 2021) God of Nothingness is a book for those who have seen death up close or even quietly wished for it. In these poems, honed to a devastating edge, Mark Wunderlich asks: How is it we go on as those around us die? And why go on at all? This collection is a brilliant testament to the human ability to make something toughminded and resilient out of despair and the inevitability of death drawing near. Some poems are moving elegies 67


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addressed to mentors, friends, and family recently gone; some contend with the unasked-for responsibilities of inheritance and the family name; others call forth the understanding of being the end of a genetic line; still others remember a rural Midwestern coming-of-age and, chillingly, an encounter with the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Present all the while are the prevailing comforts and wonders found in the natural world, work, and the longing for traditions that seem to be passing from our time. Exquisite in its craft and capaciousness, God of Nothingness is an unflinching journal of solitude and survival. Space Invaders (Nona Fernández, 2019) Space Invaders is the story of a group of childhood friends who, in adulthood, are preoccupied by uneasy memories and visions of their classmate, Estrella González Jepsen. In their dreams, they catch glimpses of Estrella’s braids, hear echoes of her voice, and read old letters that eventually, mysteriously, stopped arriving. They recall regimented school assemblies, 68

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nationalistic class performances, and a trip to the beach. Soon it becomes clear that Estrella’s father was a ranking government officer implicated in the violent crimes of the Pinochet regime, and the question of what became of her after she left school haunts her erstwhile friends. Growing up, these friends―from her pen pal, Maldonado, to her crush, Riquelme― were old enough to sense the danger and tension that surrounded them, but were powerless in the face of it. They could control only the stories they told one another and the ‘ghostly green bullets’ they fired in the video game they played obsessively. One of the leading Latin American writers of her generation, Nona Fernández effortlessly builds a choral and constantly shifting image of young life in the waning years of the dictatorship. In her short but intricately layered novel, she summons the collective memory of a generation, rescuing felt truth from the oblivion of official history. She Would Be King (Wayétu Moore, 2018) Wayétu Moore’s powerful debut novel, She Would Be King, reimagines the


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dramatic story of Liberia’s early years through three unforgettable characters who share an uncommon bond. Gbessa, exiled from the West African village of Lai, is starved, bitten by a viper, and left for dead, but still she survives. June Dey, raised on a plantation in Virginia, hides his unusual strength until a confrontation with the overseer forces him to flee. Norman Aragon, the child of a white British colonizer and a Maroon slave from Jamaica, can fade from sight when the earth calls him. When the three meet in the settlement of Monrovia, their gifts help them salvage the tense relationship between the African American settlers and the indigenous tribes, as a new nation forms around them. Moore’s intermingling of history and magical realism finds voice not just in these three characters but also in the fleeting spirit of the wind, who embodies an ancient wisdom. ‘If she was not a woman,’ the wind says of Gbessa, ‘she would be king.’ In this vibrant story of the African diaspora, Moore, a talented storyteller and a daring writer, illuminates with radiant and exacting prose the tumultuous roots of a country inextricably bound to the United States. She Would Be King is a novel of profound depth set against a vast canvas

and a transcendent debut from a major new author. In the Dream House: A Memoir (Carmen Maria Machado, 2020) In the Dream House is Carmen Maria Machado's engrossing and wildly innovative account of a relationship gone bad, and a bold dissection of the mechanisms and cultural representations of psychological abuse. Tracing the full arc of a harrowing relationship with a charismatic but volatile woman, Machado struggles to make sense of how what happened to her shaped the person she was becoming. And it's that struggle that gives the book its original structure: each chapter is driven by its own narrative trope―the haunted house, erotica, the bildungsroman―through which Machado holds the events up to the light and examines them from different angles. She looks back at her religious adolescence, unpacks the stereotype of lesbian relationships as safe and utopian, and widens the view with essayistic explorations of the history and reality of abuse in queer relationships. 69


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Machado's dire narrative is leavened with her characteristic wit, playfulness, and openness to inquiry. She casts a critical eye over legal proceedings, fairy tales, Star Trek, and Disney villains, as well as iconic works of film and fiction. The result is a wrenching, riveting book that explodes our ideas about what a memoir can do and be.

American imagination, and instead invest in troublemaking and trickery, navigate imperial violence across multiple accents and anthems, and apply gang signs in henna, utilizing any means necessary to form a semblance of home. In doing so, The Wild Fox of Yemen fearlessly rides the tension between carnality and tenderness in the unruly human spirit.

The Wild Fox of Yemen: Poems (Threa Almontaser, 2021) By turns aggressively reckless and fiercely protective, always guided by faith and ancestry, Threa Almontaser’s incendiary debut asks how mistranslation can be a form of self-knowledge and survival. A love letter to the country and people of Yemen, a portrait of young Muslim womanhood in New York after 9/11, and an extraordinarily composed examination of what it means to carry in the body the echoes of what came before, Almontaser’s polyvocal collection sneaks artifacts to and from worlds, repurposing language and adapting to the space between cultures. Half-crunk and hungry, speakers move with the force of what cannot be contained by the limits of the

Everything I Am (Jenny Bond, 2021) When her partner of twentyfive years dies, Rebecca Collins discovers the secret life he had been living. Grieving, and with her sense of self in ruins, she embarks on a quest to uncover the truth about the man she loved, and to recreate the shattered image of herself. Rebecca is constantly challenged in her quest by visions of her dead partner. Is she going insane or is her current sorrow and anger beginning to mesh with the remnants of an earlier trauma, one she has long ago repressed? Seeking the help of a therapist, Rebecca is forced to travel the hidden recesses of her mind. Agonizing memories begin to resurface, and she eventually uncovers the wellspring of a far more profound grief …

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Set in Gerringong, London, Sydney, and Geneva, Everything I Am follows the journey of a woman pursued by a past she thought she had abandoned two decades earlier. A beautiful and gripping contemporary Australian story about family secrets and impossible choices. Perfect for fans of Breath and Bluebottle. Waiting for Tomorrow (Nathacha Appanah, 2018) Anita is waiting for Adam to be released from prison. They met twenty years ago at a New Year’s Eve party in Paris, a city where they both felt out of place—he as a recent arrival from the provinces, and she as an immigrant from the island of Mauritius. They quickly fell in love, married, and moved to a village in southwestern France, to live on the shores of the Atlantic with their little girl, Laura. In order to earn a living, Adam has left behind his love of painting to become an architect, and Anita has turned her desire to write into a job freelancing for a local newspaper. Over time, the monotony of daily life begins to erode the bonds of their marriage. The arrival

of Adèle, an undocumented immigrant from Mauritius whom they hire to care for Laura, sparks artistic inspiration for both Adam and Anita, as well as a renewed energy in their relationship. But this harmony proves to be shortlived, brought down by their separate transgressions of Adèle’s privacy and a subsequently tragic turn of events. With the careful observation, vivid description, and emotional resonance that are the hallmarks of her previous novel (The Last Brother), Nathacha Appanah investigates the life of the artist, the question of cultural differences within a marriage, and the creation and the destruction of a family. Cloudmaker (Malcolm Brooks, 2021) The summer of 1937 will be a turning point for fourteen-year-old Houston ‘Huck’ Finn. When he and a friend find a dead body in a local creek, a rare Lindbergh flight watch on its wrist, it seems like a sign. Huck is building his own airplane, a fact he has concealed from his mother. That summer also marks the arrival of his cousin Annelise, 71


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sent to live with the family under mysterious circumstances. As it turns out, she has had flying lessons—another sign. As Huck’s airplane takes shape, so does his burgeoning understanding of the world, including the battle over worldliness vs. godliness that has split Annelise from her family, and, in a quieter way, divides Huck’s family too. And meanwhile, there’s the matter of the watch, which it turns out the dead man’s cohort of bank robbers would very much like back. In Brooks’ trademark ‘lush, breathtaking prose’ (San Francisco Chronicle), and with a winking nod to Sam Clemens, who inspired its hero’s nickname, Cloudmaker is a boisterous, heartfelt novel that brings to life the idealism, inventiveness, traditionalism, and deep contradictions of the American spirit. Wait Till You See Me Dance (Deb Olin Unferth, 2017) For more than ten years, Deb Olin Unferth has been publishing startlingly askew, wickedly comic, cutting-edge fiction in magazines 72

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such as Granta, Harper’s Magazine, McSweeney’s, NOON, and The Paris Review. Her stories are revered by some of the best American writers of our day, but until now there has been no standalone collection of her short fiction. Wait Till You See Me Dance consists of several extraordinary longer stories as well as a selection of intoxicating very short stories. In the chilling ‘The First Full Thought of Her Life,’ a shooter gets in position while a young girl climbs a sand dune. In ‘Voltaire Night,’ students compete to tell a story about the worst thing that has ever happened to them. In ‘Stay Where You Are,’ two oblivious travelers in Central America are kidnapped by a gunman they assume to be an insurgent―but the gunman has his own problems. An Unferth story lures you in with a voice that seems amiable and lighthearted, but it swerves in sudden and surprising ways that reveal, in terrifying clarity, the rage, despair, and profound mournfulness that have taken up residence at the heart of the American dream. These stories often take place in an exaggerated or heightened reality, a quality that is reminiscent of the work of Donald Barthelme, Lorrie Moore, and George Saunders, but in Unferth’s unforgettable collection she carves out territory that is entirely her own.


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Brute: Poems (Emily Skaja, 2019) Emily Skaja’s debut collection is a fiery, hypnotic book that confronts the dark questions and menacing silences around gender, sexuality, and violence. Brute arises, brave and furious, from the dissolution of a relationship, showing how such endings necessitate selfdiscovery and reinvention. The speaker of these poems is a sorceress, a bride, a warrior, a lover, both object and agent, ricocheting among ways of knowing and being known. Each incarnation squares itself up against ideas of feminine virtue and sin, strength and vulnerability, love and rage, as it closes in on a hard-won freedom. Brute is absolutely sure of its capacity to insist not only on the truth of what it says but on the truth of its right to say it. ‘What am I supposed to say: I’m free?’ the first poem asks. The rest of the poems emphatically discover new ways to answer. This is a timely winner of the Walt Whitman Award, and an introduction to an unforgettable voice.

The Wind That Lays Waste (Selva Almada, 2019) The Wind That Lays Waste begins in the great pause before a storm. Reverend Pearson is evangelizing across the Argentinian countryside with Leni, his teenage daughter, when their car breaks down. This act of God or fate leads them to the workshop and home of an aging mechanic called Gringo Brauer and a young boy named Tapioca. As a long day passes, curiosity and intrigue transform into an unexpected intimacy between four people: one man who believes deeply in God, morality, and his own righteousness, and another whose life experiences have only entrenched his moral relativism and mild apathy; a quietly earnest and idealistic mechanic’s assistant, and a restless, skeptical preacher’s daughter. As tensions between these characters ebb and flow, beliefs are questioned and allegiances are tested, until finally the growing storm breaks over the plains. The Wind That Lays Waste is a philosophical, beautiful, and powerfully distinctive novel that marks the arrival in English of an author whose talent and poise are undeniable.  73


INTERVIEW

Interview with Nana Nkweti. Author of Walking on Cowrie Shells

BY V. JOLENE MILLER

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The daughter of African immigrants, Nana Nkweti’s life adventures and professional background are as eclectic as her writing style. In her debut book, Walking on Cowrie Shells, Nkweti crosses genres in her collection of stories and poetry. Her two-volume piece, “It Takes a Village Some Say” was on the 2019 Caine Prize ShortList. Particularly interested in voice, Nkweti tells stories that hyphenated, multicultural readers can relate to. YOU HAVE AN INTERESTING BACKGROUND AND CAREER LIFE. HOW DID YOU END UP WHERE YOU ARE NOW?

NN: I’m the daughter of practical African immigrants. When I came back to the states, they suggested I go to nursing school and get a year of nursing. I was an LPN and worked throughout college even though I was an English and Political Science major. It was the money I used to help pay the mortgage on our family home, to bring my siblings to the United States, and I was good at it. I’m the firstborn of 4 kids. I tend to be nurturing and empathetic anyway. Nursing was just about, besides the technical skills, about empathy. That’s

how I ended up working in nursing even when I was working towards a different professional degree. I continued to law school and onto working in the professional arena. When I was done with law school, I was more interested in writing. I worked as an editor and then a communications person at an academic center. Then, I went for my MFA. As an immigrant kid, you tend to take a more practical approach to education and learning. You need the money to put food on the table. In 2014, I finished my MFA at Iowa, and now I’m a professor of English at the University of Alabama. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY ABOUT LIFE AS A PROFESSOR?

NN: Academia is interesting. You can carve out your own niche. I taught a narrative medicine class where the focus is on storytelling and using story and its modalities to bring back that humanistic approach to the medical arena. Your ability (as a healthcare practitioner) to find the nuance and the story underneath the story of what’s been given to you is enhanced by doing certain kinds of readings and storytelling yourself. YOUR LIFE ADVENTURES ARE

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UNIQUE AND ECLECTIC. FROM STUDYING MANDARIN AND HANZI, SCALING THE GREAT WALL, WORKING AS AN LPN, AND ATTENDING LAW SCHOOL -- YOU’VE DONE MORE IN A LIFETIME THAN MOST PEOPLE DO! WHEN (OR WHERE?) ALONG THAT JOURNEY DID YOU DECIDE TO BE A WRITER? AND, WHY?

NN: I had always, always, always been writing and taking workshops. I had other writers around me and always privileged my writing. But, you get to a point where life is short and worth living. I have a granny fetish and I love seeing women of a certain age looking back and talking about their lives. When I imagined my future, I loved what I had done, but I wanted it to say ‘writer’ in my obituary. Writing has been a calling on my life since I was a child. 9-year-old me was writing stories and writing myself into Star Wars fan fiction. After I had done my due diligence and taken care of my family, I asked myself, “What am I waiting for?” Toni Morrison talks about seeing the writing you want to see in the world. I’m a hyphenated American with a multicultural background, and I wasn’t seeing those

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stories [on the shelves]. And, I wanted to see those stories there. I decided I needed to get serious and write those stories. I think I have a voice. I love writing, and I think I have an interesting writing style and voice. BETWEEN WRITING AND TEACHING WRITING IN YOUR DAY JOB AND YOUR OWN CREATIVE WRITING, DO YOU EVER EXPERIENCE WRITER’S BLOCK OR BURNOUT?

NN: I love teaching creative writing. The students’ excitement about the written word invigorates my own writing practice. The only thing that hampered my own writing was COVID-19. I also moved to Alabama during the pandemic, [so there was] the transition to a new state, and generally feeling uprooted. Now that there’s some hope on the horizon, I feel centered in my pedagogy and teaching program and have the bandwidth to focus on my own writing again. DO YOU TYPICALLY WRITE SPECULATIVE FICTION/SCIFI OR IS YOUR WRITING MORE ECLECTIC?


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NN: I’m incredibly eclectic with literary realism. I allow for slipstream movement between literary realism and magical realism. As an African, I write between the veins of my culture and belief systems and traditional practices of what I grew up in. I’ve incorporated African folklore and fantasy elements into my book. ON INSTAGRAM, YOU TALKED ABOUT HOW PARTS OF WALKING ON COWRIE SHELLS WERE WRITTEN IN “THE SOCIETY, SCIENCES & TECH ROOM LOOKING ON FLATBUSH AVE.” TELL OUR READERS A BIT ABOUT THAT. WHY THAT ROOM, AND WHAT KIND OF EFFECT DID IT HAVE ON THE COLLECTION?

NN: I was speaking to the fact that I was in Brooklyn for many many moons. I consider myself a New Yorker even though I grew up in DC. That night, I was at the Brooklyn Public Library and even though it was a virtual reunion, it had a lot of resonance for me because parts of the book were written in that room. The literature room there was busy that night, so I went upstairs for more space. Flatbush Ave is that main thoroughfare that runs throughout

Brooklyn. It feels like looking down on Flatbush Ave, right across the street is Flatwoods Park. It was all part of that writer becoming. TELL ME ABOUT WALKING ON COWRIE SHELLS.

NN: There are ten entries in it, including a prose poetry piece called “Schoolyard Cannibal.” “It Takes a Village Some Say” is a two-volume entry that made the Caine Prize 2019 Shortlist. It’s a book that crosses genres that immigrant children can relate to, as far as the pieces and the paths that brought them to America. “The Devil’s a Liar” is an AfroChristian warfare tale set in the church space. It deals with a family tragedy that tests the religious belief systems of the mother and daughter. “Night Becomes Us” is set in a nightclub. There’s also a mystery whodunit, a Jane Austen social satire story, a mommy wants us story, and a complicated love tale. Each story has its own interest. I’m particularly interested in voice. [Throughout Walking on Cowrie Shells,] the voices and narrators change. It’s a very eclectic collection in that way. YOUR WEBSITE REFERS TO

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WALKING ON COWRIE SHELLS AS “FOCUSING ON THE LIVES OF HYPHENATED-AMERICANS WITH MULTI-CULTI ROOTS IN THE UNITED STATES AND AFRICA” -- WHAT MESSAGE DO YOU WANT READERS TO TAKE WITH THEM AFTER READING THIS COLLECTION?

NN: I never try to be pedantic. I just want to show the diversity and nuance of BIPOC people being embodied. The idea of us having dreams and not just surviving. This is the nuanced kind of writing that’s important to me. I just want more. More, more stories. We can’t go wrong with having more diversity. DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE FROM THE COLLECTION?

NN: It’s like Sophie’s choice...They’re all your children. Some are more hardheaded than others, but once they settle and grow into their bones I love those hard-headed ones as much as the others. YOU’RE A VISIBLE AUTHOR, DOING INTERVIEWS, SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS, ETC.. DO YOU LIKE THAT, OR IS IT JUST PART 78

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OF THE JOB?

NN: I’m in the midst of a book tour. Walking on Cowrie Shells just came out on June 1st. The events are really for the book tour. I’m a bit of an introvert-extrovert. So, I’m fine with talking with people. My introverted self can easily stay home and work on my books very comfortably for days on end. I’m comfortable in my own skin and space and in my own silence. As for the job of the author, we do have a lot of introversion in us, but I feel like it’s just..it’s my book baby. A mother would never take the child to the first day of school, drop them off and never come back for them. It’s my job to shepherd my book into the world. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON THESE DAYS, AND WHAT’S NEXT? ANOTHER ANTHOLOGY OR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT?

NN: I’m still very ensconced in making sure Walking on Cowrie Shells finds its audience, so that’s what I’ll be doing for the next year. I am working on a sci-fi novella and doing a sci-fi collaboration with another creator. Of course, my pedagogy, and teaching this fall. Outwardly, though, it’ll just be me,


heralding Walking on Cowrie Shells. And, I’ve never written for television. But, there is some interesting long form storytelling out now. Some of my stories were a natural fit for that medium, and I’m open to telling my stories in any medium to delve into the things that interest me. IS THERE A FAVORITE AUTHOR/BOOK THAT YOU LIKE TO READ OR GO TO AS A COMFORT READ?

NN: For many, many years, I've been a diehard Jane Austen fan. I would read Pride and Prejudice once a year every year. Nobody can argue with Austen! Lizzie Bennett was one of my childhood best friends. 

ABOUT THE BOOK

WALKING ON COWRIE SHELLS: STORIES

A “boisterous and high-spirited debut” (Kirkus starred review)“that enthralls the reader through their every twist and turn” (Publishers Weekly starred review), named one of the Most Anticipated Books for Brittle Paper, The Millions, and The Rumpus, penned by a finalist for the AKO Caine Prize. In her powerful, genre-bending debut story collection, Nana Nkweti’s virtuosity is on full display as she mixes deft realism with clever inversions of genre. In the Caine Prize finalist story “It Takes a Village, Some Say,” Nkweti skewers racial prejudice and the practice of international adoption, delivering a sly tale about a teenage girl who leverages her adoptive parents to fast-track her fortunes. In “The Devil Is a Liar,” a pregnant pastor’s wife struggles with the collision of western Christianity and her mother’s traditional Cameroonian belief system as she worries about her unborn child.

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RETURN OF PODSTER!

Shelf Media Group's digital young adult community designed to connect readers with YA authors and books.

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A Total Switch Show. BY ZOEY DEUTCH & LEA THOMPSON

NSFW mother-daughter body-swap scripted comedy podcast from Team Coco. Twenty-three-year-old Emma Burton (Zoey Deutch) is finally moving out of her control freak mom’s house, and it’s all going perfectly to plan-right until they switch bodies the night before the move. But unlike Freaky Friday, Emma and Lisa (Lea Thompson) aren’t switching back after just one day, no matter how many times they passiveaggressively say they truly ‘appreciate’ the other. Stuck as “Switchies" for the foreseeable future, the two waste no time firebombing each other’s lives until they realize the real danger is the growing anti-Switchie movement in the country. Joined by their eternally beaten-down father/husband Justin (Bradley Whitford) and Tesla-obsessed nine-yearold Lucas (Bobby Moynihan), Emma and Lisa will do anything to switch back, even if it kills them--or someone else does.

FIND YOUR NEXT PODCAST BY SARAH KLOTH

Podster is a column for podcast listeners and serves as a curator for the best of known and unknown podcasts.

A TOTAL SWITCH SHOW BY ZOEY DEUTCH & LEA THOMPSON

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24 Must-See Indie Bookstores on the East & West Coast BY ALYSE MGRDICHIAN

Whether you’re following a well-planned itinerary or are just passing through, it’s fun to explore new cities and experience the different sights that they have to offer. The minute I know I’ll be traveling to a new place (and will have time), one of the first things I do is look up bookstores in the area. To me, the personality of a city can be seen through how it cares for its books. So, as travel bans lift, here is a list of East and West Coast bookstores in the U.S. you should visit if you ever find yourself in the area. This is, of course, a partial list—I have to stick to the coasts for the sake of time, and won’t even be able to cover all the coastal states. So, just keep in mind that this list is not comprehensive.

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First, there’s the West Coast. California has lots of hidden bookish gems, whether they be tucked away in the concrete jungles of LA or in a row of antique shops near the beaches of Ventura or Santa Barbara. Either way, the bookstores in this state are fun and eclectic. The Last Bookstore: Los Angeles, CA

The Last Bookstore is an LA classic, taking up two stories of a 100-year-old bank building. Founded in 2005, and known as the largest new and used bookstore in California, The Last Bookstore sells books, art, records, and comics. It has an Instaworthy book tunnel, a mini art gallery, and lots of fun little nooks, vaults, and corners to explore. It’s LA, though, so parking is difficult. Being familiar with your parking options before making the trip will save you a lot of trouble.

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453 S Spring St – Ground Floor Los Angeles, CA 90013 www.lastbookstorela.com

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The Book Loft: Solvang, CA The Book Loft is located in Solvang, a small Californian town with Danish architecture, pastries, and roots. In this new and used bookstore, established in 1970, you can find everything from Scandinavian literature and YA to toys and antiquarian books. The building also houses The Hans Christian Andersen Museum, which details the life and works of the famous Danish author. ………………………………………........

1680 Mission Drive, Solvang, CA 93463 www.bookloftsolvang.com

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Dark Carnival: Berkeley, CA Based in Berkeley and founded in 1976, Dark Carnival is a quirky indie bookstore that carries a large selection of fantasy, sci-fi, and mystery books. Shopping here is like going on a treasure hunt, as you peruse the stacks of books lining the shelves and floor. Dark Carnival’s decorations are eclectic (often including an inflatable dragon outside), and its sister store, Escapist Comics, is right next door. ………………………………………........

3086 Claremont Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

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Green Apple Books: San Francisco, CA Established in 1967, Green Apple Books is a staple bookstore in San Francisco. It has two levels, well-organized sections, and a good stock of new, used, rare, and autographed books. It also offers records, comics, and gifts. With regularly scheduled interviews and signings, Green Apple Books is an active source of bookrelated events in the San Franciscan community. ………………………………………........

506 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94118 www.greenapplebooks.com

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The next West Coast state we’ll look at is Oregon, which houses bookstores that are impressively massive, and others that are comfortably cozy. With Oregon’s metropolitan scene vs. small town energy, you can have the best of both worlds. Powell’s City of Books: Portland, OR Originally founded in 1971, Powell’s City of Books is the largest new and used bookstore in the world, taking up a whole city block. With a few thousand different sections in its multi-level store, Powell’s has something to offer for everybody, including people looking for out-of-print and hard-to-find titles. Authors and artists visit the store for monthly readings, and there’s a coffee room for anyone looking to sit and take a breather. It’s like Disneyland for booklovers—fun, but easy to get overwhelmed if you’re trying to see everything all at once. Take your time with this one. ………………………………………........

1005 W Burnside St, Portland, OR 97209 www.powells.com

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Dudley’s Bookshop Café: Bend, OR Dudley’s Bookshop Café is, as the name implies, both a bookstore and a café. With comfy seating, good coffee, and a carefully curated selection of books on the first floor, this shop is a cozy study spot. It is also a book lover’s dream, with a second level devoted completely to used books across subject and genre. ………………………………………........

135 NW Minnesota Ave, Bend, OR www.dudleysbookshopcafe.com

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Bloomsbury Books, Ashland, OR Bloomsbury Books, based in Ashland, specializes in contemporary fiction, children’s books, YA, and local authors. It also has a large selection of Shakespeare and theatre. Originally opened in 1980, the shop is community-focused, housing a monthly book club in order to discuss literary and non-literary themes, and to bring its clientele together in conversation about stories. ………………………………………........

290 E Main St, Ashland, OR 97520 www.bloomsburyashland.com

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Smith Family Bookstore: Eugene, OR With back to back shelves spanning both levels of the store, Smith Family Bookstore carries a wide and diverse selection of new, used, and out-of-print multi-genre books. Opened in 1974, the shop’s goal has always been to cater to all types of readers while providing affordable prices. Similar to Powell’s, you won’t want to rush this one, or you’ll get overwhelmed. ………………………………………........

525 Willamette St, Eugene, OR 97401 www.smithfamilybookstore.com

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For the sake of time, the final West Coast state we’ll cover is Washington. With buildings that mix the historic with the modern, shopping for books here is a fun and unique experience.

Elliott Bay Book Company: Seattle, WA

Elliott Bay Book Co., founded in 1973, is located in the heart of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. The two-level shop offers a variety of new and bargainpriced books, houses a café, and regularly brings in authors for events and readings. ………………………………………........

1521 10th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122 www.elliottbaybook.com

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Third Place Books: Seward Park, WA Third Place Books sells new, used, and bargain books across genres. Established in 1998, the store is community-focused, striving to bring people together and create a fun, comfortable environment for its customers. With three locations (Lake Forest, Ravenna, & Seward Park), you have options of where to shop. The Ravenna location has an in-store café and a nice patio, which are perks. (I like coffee. Sue me.) ………………………………………........

6504 20th Ave NE, Seattle, WA 98115 www.thirdplacebooks.com

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Village Books: Bellingham, WA Village Books, founded in 1980 and located in a historic area of Fairhaven Village, sells both books and coffee. The shop has three levels, offering new, used, and bargain books. It also houses a gift store (i.e., Paper Dreams) that sells snacks, gifts, apparel, and home decor. With good books and great views, you’ll end up staying much longer than you meant to. Village Books also has a second location in Lynden, if you happen to find yourself in that area. ………………………………………........

1200 11th St, Bellingham, WA 98225 www.villagebooks.com

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Vault Books & Brew: Castle Rock, WA Vault Books & Brew, originally a bank built in the 1910’s, has been turned into a hipster bookstore café. Established in 2016, the store offers new and used books while serving up coffee, ice cream, and pastries. Included also is a vault, saved from the building’s first life, which is now used as a playroom for children. (No, the kids don’t get locked into the vault.) ………………………………………........

20 Cowlitz St W, Castle Rock, WA 98611 www.vaultbooksandbrew.com

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Now let’s move on to the East Coast. Due to time constraints, we will only be looking at Maine, New York, and Washington DC. With Maine, the bookstores are simultaneously quirky and warm, eclectic but welcoming.

Pro Libris Bookshop: Bangor, ME Pro Libris Bookshop, established in 1980, is located on the corner of Third & Union St. As a used bookstore, Pro Libris offers a wide selection of unique and hard-to-find books. The shop is small, but it’s packed with books, and you could easily spend hours perusing the collection and talking to the friendly and knowledgeable proprietor, Eric Furry. As of the writing of this article, credit and debit are not accepted forms of payment. There’s an ATM in the drugstore across the street, though. ………………………………………........

10 3rd St, Bangor, ME 04401

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The Briar Patch: Bangor, ME The Briar Patch, which has been going strong for more than 30 years, sells paperbacks, hardcovers, audiobooks, eBooks, and toys. The shop hosts a weekly story time for children, and has a wide selection of children’s lit and YA. It also has a solid collection of adult books and books by local authors. ………………………………………........

27 Central St, Bangor, ME 04401 www.bookshop.org/shop/briarpatchbooks

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Mockingbird Bookshop: Bath, ME Mockingbird Bookshop, a newer entry on this list, carries a wide selection of books, and offers its customers hot tea while they browse. Great combo, right? The store also currently has quarterly teatime events for its clientele, offering hot tea, sweets, and savory treats for all who sign up. It will begin author events in Spring 2022 and story times in Fall 2021. This shop is small and comfortable, and is very community-focused. ………………………………………........

74 Front St, Bath, ME 04530 www.mockingbirdbookshop.com

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Old Professor’s Bookshop: Belfast, ME Old Professor’s Bookshop, found on Main St. in Belfast, is charming and intellectual. The store strives to satisfy your innate desire to learn, and carries a wide selection of new, used, and rare books that will help with that. Topics covered include science, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, religion, mythology, poetry, literature, and more. ………………………………………........

99 Main St, Belfast, ME 04915

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Strand Bookstore: New York (Manhattan), NY Strand Bookstore is a NYC staple, and has been going strong since 1928. The shop carries over 2.5 million new, used, and rare books, and also carries gift items. With four floors packed to the gills with books, The Strand is a store you’d be glad to get lost in. My favorite level is the fourth, which houses the store’s antique books. There are lots of affordable options up there, and the expensive ones are just fun to look at. ………………………………………........

828 Broadway, New York, NY 10003 www.strandbooks.com

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Argosy Bookstore: New York (Manhattan), NY Remember how I was saying the antique section of The Strand was my favorite? Well, Argosy is an entire shop dedicated to those types of books. Spanning a whole six levels, Argosy specializes in antiquarian and out-of-print books, and is the oldest entry on this list, having been established in 1925. Seriously, if you’re even slightly interested in old books, you need to experience this place. It’s really something else. ………………………………………........

116 E 59th St, New York, NY 10022 www.argosybooks.com

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Books Are Magic: New York (Brooklyn), NY Books Are Magic is a fun, well-organized, and well-stocked bookshop. Founded in 2017, this aesthetic store offers a wide selection of books, hosts readings and panels, and has lots of quirky little features, like reading hidey-holes and a gumball machine filled with poetry. ………………………………………........

225 Smith St, Brooklyn, NY 11231 www.booksaremagic.net

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The Spotty Dog Books & Ale: Hudson, NY The Spotty Dog, established in 2005, is a combo between a bookstore and a pub. Located in an old firehouse that was built in the 1890s, the building is entrenched in history, and the Spotty Dog helps maintain old traditions while introducing new ones. The store carries over 10,000 new books, and serves hand-crafted ales and ciders. ………………………………………........

440 Warren St, Hudson, NY 12534 www.thespottydog.com

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Finally, there’s Washington DC. The bookstores here tend to be a blend of intellectual and modern, feeling both academic and hipster.

Kramers: NW Washington DC Kramers, established in 1976, is a bookstore café with great atmosphere. Along with its books and coffee, the shop is also a restaurant, bar, and event space. It’s a great place to discover new titles, have a good meal, or just hang out with friends. ………………………………………........

1517 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC www.kramers.com

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Capitol Hill Books: SE Washington DC Capitol Hill Books, founded in 1991, is a three-story bookshop specializing in used books, first editions, and rarities. With winding rows and aisles of secondhand books, the atmosphere of the shop is disorderly, but in a charming way. (If things are too organized, then exploring isn’t nearly as fun.) ………………………………………........

657 C St SE, Washington, DC 20003 www.capitolhillbooks-dc.com

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Second Story Books: NW Washington DC Second Story Books, established in 1973, carries used, out-of-print, and rare books, as well as maps and prints. Located in the heart of Dupont Circle, the shop is easily accessible, and is a great place to duck into if you find yourself in the area. With six locations, you have options of where to shop this store’s vast collection. ………………………………………........

2000 P St NW, Washington, DC 20036 www.secondstorybooks.com

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The Potter’s House: NW Washington DC The Potter’s House is a nonprofit bookstore and café. Founded in 1960 in the Adams Morgan neighborhood, the focus of this company is to build bridges across our differences. With live music, art displays, and readings, The Potter’s House uses its events to support its vision of solidarity and justice. ………………………………………........

1658 Columbia Rd NW, Washington, DC 20009 www.pottershousedc.org

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INTERVIEW

Road Trips, Van Life & Nomadic Adventures: An Interview with Ben & Roxy Dawson

BY ALYSE MGRDICHIAN

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INTERVIEW

CONTINUED

While many people prefer to travel by plane, boat, or train, a highly popular form of sightseeing is road-tripping. For starters, it allows you to slow down and take the scenic route, enjoying each place you pass through instead of flying over (or past) it. A road trip takes lots of planning and intentionality, though, and this tends to scare people away from trying it (me included). So, I was very excited to have the opportunity to speak with Ben and Roxy Dawson, a couple who has traveled all over the U.S. in a van and, based on their experiences, written a practical guidebook—The Falcon Guide to Van Life: Every Essential for Nomadic Adventures. With three (now four) years of van life under their belt, Ben and Roxy decided to pen a guidebook of practical tips and advice in 2020. Why? “The internet is an incredible place,” they tell me, “but it’s also overwhelming and unorganized. We wanted The Falcon Guide to Van Life to be a one-stop shop for anyone looking to learn more about van life. The book has information for the nine-to-fivers looking to completely change their lifestyle (or just do trips on the weekends), and it also has information for the veteran van owners who know the ropes, but may need a fresh road trip or two. Our aim was (and

is) to provide organized and accessible information for anybody interested in this alternative lifestyle.” Listening to them talk, I found myself wondering what the logistics of them writing a book were, since they live out of a van and are always on the road. “Well,” Ben tells me, “we worked with Falcon Guides, who pitched the idea to us. We jumped right on board in February of 2020—we all know how that year went! We had big dreams of van living from Italy to the Netherlands starting in May 2020, writing from the European countryside for the whole summer. Romantic, right? Turns out, Europe was the last place we could go, and even our van lifestyle in the U.S. wasn’t such a great idea either. Thankfully, we were able to find a more permanent home at Roxy’s mom’s place in the foothills of Colorado, where we stayed and wrote while the pandemic raged around us. While it would’ve been nice to be on the road, the stable internet, cool breeze, and consistency of staying in one place were much appreciated.” Curious about what travel tips they might have, I asked Ben and Roxy what their advice is for people looking to go on either a short-term or long-term road 109


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trip (without giving away too much of their book, of course). “For short-term trips,” Roxy tells me, “we suggest to stay mindful and in the moment. We’ve found that the quickest trips are usually the one where more things can go wrong in a shorter amount of time, specifically because you’re trying to see all the things, drive quickly, and live each day as fully as possible. Because of this mindset, the opportunity for curveballs to clobber your plans happen more often than not. Remembering to stay present, roll with the punches, and always be open to change will make shorter trips far more enjoyable.” “And with long-term road trips,” Ben adds, “carve out a loose itinerary. Decision fatigue is real, and it gets old immediately, leading to a fight with your partner or a low night alone. Pick a main destination and a few stops on the way, then let those wheels spin. Also, if you’ve never gone on a road trip before, try a shorter one first! Even one night in your van can help you realize what you forgot and what you shouldn’t have brought.” Knowing what to pack is an integral part of road-tripping, since a missing item can result in either a U-turn back home or an out-of-the-way trip to the store. When 110

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asked what they can’t live without on the road, Roxy responds: “My favorite item, hear me out, is our hand-held espresso maker. Ben makes fancy coffee drinks every morning, and I appreciate the small touch of luxury every time he hands me my mug. That, and our pressure solar shower. Give me a coffee and a shower and I can travel for years.” Luxury was definitely something that hadn’t crossed my mind before as a necessity, but now that I was thinking about it, I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly. Intrigued by this, I then asked them, what is something that people may not intuitively think to bring, but that is absolutely necessary? “Well,” Ben says, “it’s not a thing, but an action. Always download offline maps of the place you’re traveling to from Google Maps, and then grab the offline maps of the entire area around it as well. Roxy and I have gotten out of so many potentially dangerous situations by having an offline backup—your “blue dot” still shows up and is connected to satellite, so you can navigate as you go. This is the first thing we do when heading off on any trip, even when we’ve been to the destination hundreds of times before.” What, then, are the pros of van life?


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“The main pros,” Roxy tells me, “are the most romantic ideals everyone thinks of when they think of ‘van life.’ Incredible vistas while you scramble your morning eggs. The freedom to sleep at trailheads, next to mountain bike playgrounds, or near slot canyons. The ability to visit friends and family when it’s convenient, not squeezed in on a long weekend. Also, my relationship with Ben has never been stronger. Traveling brings out the best in both of us, and traveling for four years together has created a bond we will cherish for the rest of our lives.” What about the cons, then? “The cons are there,” Roxy admits, “but they’re less concrete. The biggest con, though—and Ben and I have screamed this from the mountaintops—is the loss of community. Your friends and family are living their lives together without you. Birthday parties get missed. Milestones and celebrations are only viewed through Instagram stories. It’s very hard to be on the other side of the country and see your friend group growing together, and knowing you’re missing out on that.” Roxy’s overall description of long-term van life, to me, seems adventurous and sobering in equal measure. When you’re free to go off and travel to your heart’s

content, you have the opportunity to see incredible new places, gain new experiences, and build new memories that a normal nine-to-five job would never allow you to do—however, in the process, you lose the community and social support (or, at least, the proximity of the support) that you’d previously had. When considering whether or not van life is for you, it’s important to weigh out the pros and cons—it’s a big decision and, if you know how to emotionally and physically prepare for that lifestyle, then it could very well be worth it (as has been the case for the Dawsons). While I’m not itching to live out of a van at the moment, Ben and Roxy’s adventurous spirit is definitely contagious, and talking to them has made me want to see new places and try new things. Hopefully their guidebook will have the same effect on you! In closing, if you’re looking for some inspiration on where to travel next, we included the six destinations in North America that, for Ben and Roxy, have been the most memorable. 

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TOFINO, VANCOUVER ISLAND (BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA)

ESCALANTE NATIONAL MONUMENT (UTAH, U.S.)

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ORGAN PIPE CACTUS NATIONAL MONUMENT, PIMA COUNTY (ARIZONA, U.S.)

CANNON BEACH (OREGON, U.S.)


INTERVIEW

CONTINUED

CONGAREE NATIONAL PARK, HOPKINS (SOUTH CAROLINA, U.S.)

REVELSTOKE (BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA)

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

BEN & ROXY DAWSON are content creators who, for the past four years (and counting), have been living out of and traveling across the U.S. in their van. Mixing their van life with their professional life, they partner with various outdoor companies, taking marketing photos for them and representing them at festivals across the U.S. Currently, they are exploring Wyoming’s hard-to-reach backcountry trailheads so they can rewrite Hiking Wyoming, which details the best hiking spots in the state. You can find Ben and Roxy on their personal website (www.benthereroxythat. com) or on Instagram (@meetme_onthe_ mountain, @roxyjan_). 113


SUMMER READS. BY V. JOLENE MILLER

READING ON THE RUN

Binge reading on the run because everything else can wait.

ABOUT THE COLUMNIST

I live in remote Alaska where I work 40+ hours a week at my day job, write novels, and own a pop-up book shop. In my spare time, I chase after grandbabies and go running with my giant puppy, Omar. Always, I carry a book in my purse. I never know when I’ll get a few minutes to indulge in a good read. Fifteen minutes before dawn, at lunch, bundled up in my car by the river, or right before falling into bed. Reading is my resting place.

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I started drafting this column with the intent of focusing on how this summer vacation won’t happen due to a couple of recent, big life events. Like last summer’s trip that evolved into something else, so did this column. Last summer, COVID-19 canceled our vacation to California. We ended up taking a two-week fall vacation to Galveston Island, Texas. While there, we managed to survive Tropical Storm Bertha. Not only was it our first trip to GI, but it was our first tropical storm experience. What a year. Anyway, the weeks leading up to that trip were filled with changes that dramatically impacted my reading. I didn’t end up taking last year’s reading list (Amy Tan’s The Valley of Amazement, Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing, and Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See) with me to Texas. Instead, I packed a few textbooks and hunkered down over the coffee table of that beach rental and studied. It was...interesting. There was (is) so little time to get it all done! According to the website for the school I’m attending, the PhD program in education should take up approximately 20 hours per week. That means 20 hours to read, research, study for quizzes and exams, write papers, and reply and respond to discussion board posts. This expectation equates to the most basic of part-time jobs. Note: I have no data to back up that claim, except to say that I have found the typical 40-hour a week job to often take more than 40 hours each week to complete. During the course of that glorious fall vacation, I had my nose in a (text)book for at least 20 hours each week.


Right now, as I relish a one-month break from school (22 days and counting to go!), my mind is naturally on reading. I have a textbook (Curriculum Leadership: Readings for Developing Quality Educational Programs) on my side table waiting to be read and a supplemental book beside it (The Schoolhouse Gate: Public Education, the Supreme Court, and the Battle for the American Mind). I’ve read about 20 pages in each of them. I even read a few pages of the second book by flashlight in bed the other night! Last weekend, I read Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom by bell hooks. I also read Backstories by Simon Van der Velde. Be sure to check out my interview with Simon in this edition of Shelf Unbound! But, I’m not devouring books like I may have in the past due to some serious eye strain and fatigue. As I’ve endured a couple of eye exams, and the awful experience of shopping for glasses online, I’ve had to force myself to rest my eyes. As in, eyes closed and covered with a cool cloth while listening to sitcoms. (I know, I could have been listening to an audiobook, but my previous limited experiences with audiobooks have not gone well.) The challenges I’ve experienced have caused me to think about my ocular health. If I am pushing my vision to its limits, what

kind of repercussions am I putting myself at risk for? Do I want to find out? Not really. So, although I’m typically cramming reading into every spare moment, I’ve taken a step back. In my interview with Simon Van der Velde, he talked about the importance of remembering what it’s like to be a kid again, when your heart and mind are open to adventure. That’s what I’m doing this summer. I’m outside picking dandelions and tossing the ball to my dog, Omar. I’ve learned how to mow the grass and discovered I enjoy the feel of the sun on my face and shoulders while making the yard look pretty. I’ve enjoyed a backyard cookout with s'mores in a cone. And, I bought a tent for when my grandkids visit. Sometimes, we have to take a step back in order to refocus. We have to take that time of rest so that we can recharge. I think this allows us to reflect on so many things. We get time to consider our past, explore opportunities for the future, love, friendship, and meaning. Instead of racing through life at breakneck speed, we’re humanized by our limits and our size in this great big world. Does that mean we stop reading altogether? Of course not! We slow down. We relish the words on the page, the character descriptions, and the glory of a solid plot. Or, we continue and listen to audiobooks!  115


Greenlight Bookstore. BROOKLYN, NY

F E AT U R E D I N D I E B OO K S TO R E

TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT BOUT YOURSELF AND GREENLIGHT BOOKSTORE. GB: I, Jessica, grew up in California and came to New York to go to school. I've worked in bookstores in New York City since I was about 19 -- when my partner Rebecca Fitting and I opened Greenlight, we had a combined twenty-five years of bookstore experience even though we were both under 40! Greenlight was founded in 2009 with 7 employees; we now have about 50 employees and 2 bookstore locations, plus a stationery store, here in Brooklyn. WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO OPEN A BOOKSTORE? GB: Rebecca and I had both worked in both bookstores and publishing and were looking for our next career step. We both lived in Brooklyn, where at the time (2008/2009) there were so many writers but not a lot of bookstores. We knew each other in the 116

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bookstore/publishing world, and I had written a draft business plan that had won a local business award when we started talking about partnership. We had a similar vision for what a great independent bookstore could be. WAS A BOOKSTORE A MAJOR NEED IN YOUR AREA? GB: Yes, and we had data to prove it! The Fort Greene Association (a neighborhood association in the Fort Greene / Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn) had done a survey of residents aimed at taking back control of development in the area, asking what new businesses residents would like to see; "bookstore" was the number one answer across all demographics, and folks specifically wanted an independent. We were able to work with the FGA to connect with landlords, architects, and community lenders to get the store off the ground -- it was an amazing community-led effort. For our second store location in the Flatbush / Prospect Lefferts Gardens neighborhood,


F E AT U R E D I N D I E B OO K S TO R E

we similarly reached out to the Prospect Lefferts Gardens Neighborhood Association who enthusiastically supported the need for a bookstore, and residents again supported the opening with community funding -- which we're now happily repaying. HOW DO YOU SEE GREENLIGHT BOOKSTORE PROGRESSING/ EXPANDING IN THE NEXT FEW YEARS? GB: We're in a big period of transition right now (as are many stores), as we not only navigate reopening post-pandemic but reassess our structures and systems through a lot of different lenses, including diversity, equity, and inclusion and the bandwidth it takes to sustainably operate multiple stores in the current retail environment. We want to continue to move toward offering better quality of life for our staff and better service

to our communities, while we explore new opportunities in the book industry and in our communities. WHAT DO YOU LIKE THE MOST ABOUT OWNING AN INDIE BOOKSTORE? GB: My favorite part of bookselling life is the idea of creating a welcoming space around books -- a safe and beautiful place folks want to spend time in, somewhere that neighbors can encounter each other, have conversations, meet creators, make discoveries. That kind of space can happen in person or online, at an exciting literary event or a quiet morning browsing, and the diversity of our communities is built into the idea. No matter what role I'm playing at the store I'm always thinking about how we can create welcoming spaces. 

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GOSSIP GIRL REBOOT – TALK ABOUT SUMMER READS. BY MEGAN LORD

BOOK MOM A little bit of everything from a scatter-brained, book-loving Mom.

ABOUT THE COLUMNIST

I am the mother of an adventurous and exhausting but amazing toddler boy that runs my life. I spend a ridiculous amount of time reading mind numbing children’s books over and over again because he has his select favorites… But when I do get time to read (or listen) I love reading and listening to a variety of genres. I get the most time to indulge in books of my choice during what I like to call “wind-down baths” once a week.

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The teenager in me is ignited with excitement! With the popular Gossip Girl TV Series getting a reboot and the new season dropping July 8, 2021, I am taken back to summers spent reading those books! 2005 - I had a driver’s license and a summer babysitting gig my summer from 16 to 17 years old (July Birthday). I was left money and allowed to bring the girls I babysat fun places during the day. We did this little small-town hidden gem of a beach with active lifeguards on duty and an everyone knows everyone/everyone kind of watches everyone vibe A LOT. The girls would play in the sand or sit at the edge of the water chatting with their friends for hours while I read the Gossip Girl Series by Cecily von Ziegesar. I’m a fairly slow reader and easily distracted, but l got through probably five or six of the books that summer. 2006 - My 17/18-year-old summer, mom was given the opportunity to spend a few months in Los Angeles for work. She invited me and my older brother to join her at the apartment she was staying at for a few weeks. The gated apartment complex she was placed in by her work was AMAZING. My brother and I would spend our days relaxing by the pool while mom worked, and you guessed it, I found myself reading more of the Gossip Girl Series. A few days into our stay, I found out that the child actress that played Bailey (Jenna Boyd) in the movie The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was also staying somewhere in that apartment community. I spent everyday keeping my eye out in hopes to see her – and then one day at the pool I


did! I didn’t approach her or say anything to her – I just got all giddy knowing I had seen a “celebrity” casually at a pool at the apartment complex I was staying at temporarily with my mom. 2007 – Gossip Girl TV Series comes out! And I am HOOKED! I’ve now read all the books that are out and I’m just a fanatic. 2008 – My mom gets an opportunity to stay at those apartments for work again – and guess who volunteers to go visit and spend some time there again? ME! Of course. One of my mom’s co-workers tells me upon arrival that Ed Westwick, who plays Chuck Bass on the Gossip Girl TV Series, is also currently staying at those apartments temporarily and she saw him a couple nights prior in the hot tub. WHAT?! So of course, I spend my days at the pool watching and hoping, and my evenings by the pool/hot tub just praying it’s true and he makes an appearance. AND THEN HE DID! He showed up to the hot tub on one of my final evenings there with some what I assume to be friends, smoking a cigar. I’m starstruck and embarrassed that I’m at the pool with my mom secretly celeb stalking. So again, I don’t approach – I just excitedly and nervously watch from a distance. He probably didn’t even register our presence by the pool that evening. But I know I saw him in a real life setting and I stayed at the same complex – and that’s enough to fulfill

my Gossip Girl Fanatic without being a complete psycho about it. At the airport when getting ready to go home, you know if you’re a book lover you can’t help but to browse the books for sale, and I come across a Gossip Girl Series Spin off: Gossip Girl: The Carlyles – and yup, my addiction didn’t have to wait until the next book of the original Gossip Girl series would be released the following year. (Side Note – comedian Andy Dick was also staying at those apartments and although I did not personally get a sighting, one of my mom’s coworker was staying in the apartment beneath him and he would joke and play fun games with her daughter from his balcony and that little 4-year-old girl would talk about “Andy that lives above us is so fun, he’s my friend” in the most innocent and fun way!) Anyways – back to books – GOSSIP GIRL BOOK SERIES – if you loved the show – if you’re as excited about the reboot as I am – and you have NOT read the books – and you’re still a YA lover like me – it’s worth getting the boxed set! And if you have a teenage daughter or girl in your life that loves to read YA, introduce her to this book series and watch her summer get whisked away into reading! I might just have revisit these books myself sometime if I ever get the time. 

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Summer Reads.

BY CHRISTIAN ADRIAN BROWN

FIT LIT Body, Mind and Quill

ABOUT THE COLUMNIST

Quadragenarian fitness model, lifestyle coach and bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Feast of Fates, Christian A. Brown received a Kirkus star in 2014 for the first novel in his genrechanging Four Feasts till Darkness series. He has appeared on Newstalk 1010, AM640, Daytime Rogers, and Get Bold Today with LeGrande Green. He actively writes and speaks about his mother’s journey with cancer and on gender issues in the media.

Summer is here, and with restrictions finally lifting in Canada, I intend to enjoy it. In addition to getting outside more, to stretching my legs and filling my lungs with the hazy, sweet breath of the season, I intend to revisit the habit of finding a quiet, shady tree and settling down for an afternoon read. The droning summer buzz lends itself to somnolence and meditative quiet. And in our shaded nooks, burrowed like happy animals, we can escape into otherworlds more perilous and exciting than our own. Escapism is an essential activity in a Covid/ postCovid world. Our societies have been decimated, our economies hemorrhaging and on life-support buoyed by trillions of dollars in monopoly money that one day, our generation or likely the ones following will have to reimburse. No one can reasonably be expected to soak in the magnitude of what we’ve collectively experienced and maintain a healthy and intact mind afterwards. We need to escape the media hamster-wheel-from-Hell of repeated soundbites and fearmongering playing ad infinitum. For the sake of their mental health, I’ve encouraged my friends to limit their social media and media exposure, as each of these platforms can hook us into an adversedopamine loop of addiction. As a trainer, I regularly prescribe books in addition to physical routines. What better way to clear the mind of fear,

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uncertainty and doubt, to inspire hope, than to visit fantastical persons facing world-ending catastrophes and who survive through pluck, wit and daring? Heroic fantasy is particularly effective in this regard: painting desolate lands ruled by a Dark Lord or Lovecraftian forces that are no doubt saved from damnation through the combined efforts of a few, determined souls. Dark fantasy (my genre) takes us to an even deeper level of despair, before— hopefully—bringing us upwards and into the light. I prefer this genre the most as it allows for a tremendous degree of abstraction (and still familiarity, if framed correctly) while giving us a delirious emotional high from the eventual upswing; assuming there is one, but I don’t read the unrelenting darkness kind of books, I need my happy/ melancholy ending. If fiction isn’t your cup of tea, and you need “real life” inspirations, there are as many biographies to check out as there are accomplished people in the world. Reading about another person’s success can often be the catalyst in helping us define how ours will manifest. After all, we can, and should, learn not only from our own

mistakes but from mistakes in general. We can learn, too, from the historical information presented in such books. As with fantasy, biographies are often tales of rags to riches, obscurity to fame, sickness to health, paperboy to the president, and likewise motivate us to greatness or movement in our lives. Forward motion. Impetus. Drive. Indeed, and with the state of the world being so broken, we should each be working on ourselves with this “pause” from the life we’ve been given. We should take the interruption to our routines as the necessary chaos for which we’ve been waiting to re-evaluate our goals, priorities and responsibilities. What better way to fix a society than to create an army of well-minded, well-balanced and happy individuals who are capable of rebuilding the world? Now go find that shaded tree in a quiet park and start dreaming, healing and rebuilding one story at a time. —C 

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BOOKS IN REVIEW BR

SHELF UNBOUND’S

Books In Review Self-Published & Small Press Book Reviews

SPONSORED BY

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Clean Sweep.

A du lt

BY E. B. LEE

Clean Sweep brings the plight of the homeless to light through the eyes of Carli Morris, who initially volunteers with a church organization and later joins an outreach program. Thus begins her evolution from a passerby who ignores street people in need to an active participant involved in generating change. Carli is recruited for the outreach organization by Grant, someone who knows and is known by many living on the streets. There’s something familiar to Carli about Grant, and her exposure to the homeless evokes memories of her brother, Henry, who years ago lost touch with his family despite efforts to locate him.

PUBLISHER: LITTLE BROWN DOG PRESS

While set in New York City, the story could take place anywhere in the country. Ill health, extreme weather conditions, alcoholism and fear of losing one’s independence are among the problems faced by those Carli and Grant try to help. The results of their efforts are as varied as those they meet.

Carli, a newly retired advertising exec looking forward to traveling, is also a painter preparing for an upcoming exhibit. These plans lose their priority the more involved she is with the homeless and with Grant, who she begins to suspect might be Henry. Just as Carli’s perspectives change, so does Grant’s personality, which leads to some harsh realizations: Even those who help need assistance. Author E.B. Lee writes in a straightforward way that’s vivid and authentic. Among the novel’s many strengths are the smart, relatable main characters. The homeless are portrayed as individuals not as a homogenous group. The issues associated with homelessness are addressed in a sensitive manner without judgment. Mental health, loss of loved ones and lifestyle changes are among the factors identified as contributing to the problem. Tackling important, societal concerns in a well-written, finely-paced style, this novel provides a satisfying and engrossing read. 

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Entitled.

A du lt

BY COOKIE BOYLE

Cookie Boyle has written a smart, funny, and heartfelt novel that captures the unexpected adventures in the life of a book. In this tale, the aforementioned Book is a character unto itself. The story within the Book’s pages, The Serendipity of Snow, explores the life of a young girl growing up in Minnesota in the late 1800s, where she struggles against society’s expectations and the world’s confines. While sitting on a shelf in a San Francisco bookstore waiting for her own journey to begin, the Book relates to her inner main character’s dilemma: “I guess I’m the same, dreaming about a life beyond this aisle.” The Book is soon purchased by a nice woman as a book club read, only to later get placed in a makeshift coffee shop. PUBLISHER: Eventually, it lands with a French woman travelling back to BESPOKEN WORD PRESS Paris, but a series of mishaps and exchanges ultimately move it along to London, New York, and other U.S. cities. From the hands of a struggling writer who spends a mere euro for the Book at a book stall along the Seine, to those of a film director and Midwestern studies teacher who work to bring its story to the screen, to its forever home with the Book’s own author, the Book is read, misplaced, loaned, and book-napped. Contemplating its own life, and that of its varied Readers, it experiences a revelation regarding the emotional highs and lows of love and heartbreak, apprehension, loneliness, and friendship. Boyle’s charmingly anthropomorphized literary characters present astute and whimsical observations. Whether the Book faces the bluntness of a self-absorbed Dictionary or the flirtatious advances from a volume of French Poetry, the conversations are bright and engaging, and border notes provide an artful touch of commentary from the Readers who share the Book’s odyssey. Told from its unique perspective, this is an imaginative, well-written narrative. For bibliophiles looking for a lighthearted, clever, and fun read, Entitled proves a perfect offering.  124

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Born in Salt.

A du lt

BY T. C. WEBER

T.C. Weber’s Born in Salt chronicles the aftermath of an alternate history in which Charles Lindbergh fomented a coup against FDR, sided with the Nazis, shredded the U.S. Constitution, and ushered in an oppressive oligarchy. Set in 1983, eugenics are now the law of the land, corruption is rampant, and poverty is ubiquitous.

PUBLISHER: FREEDOM THORN PRESS

While the set-up is much like Philip Roth’s Plot Against America, this story takes up where Roth’s book left off, showing the long-term effect of Lindbergh’s ascent. In rural New Bethany, Illinois, Ben Adamson—young, white, and poor—is trying to help his dad hold onto the family farm. When Ben’s brother, Jake, is killed suspiciously while serving in the Army after trying to expose American imperialism in Cuba, Jake’s fiancée Rachel is haunted by the death. Ben, also devastated and rapidly falling for Rachel, joins in her obsession.

Feeling betrayed by the government, they’re easy recruits for Paul, his best friend Sarah’s mysterious revolutionary cousin. Unfortunately, before the resistance can begin, Rachel and Ben are arrested. Now Ben has one shot to escape his sadistic incarceration and earn Rachel’s freedom in the bargain: He must go undercover to betray the very revolutionaries he sought to join. But can Ben save Rachel without condemning Sarah and putting his father at risk? Both cerebral dystopia and cat-and-mouse thriller, Born in Salt succeeds on every level. The political commentary is incisive but never bludgeoning, helped considerably by a relatable protagonist. Constantly faced with lesser-of-two-evils choices, Ben tries hard to do the right thing, nonetheless. Throughout, Weber expertly adds layers of suspicion and paranoia, complicating relationships and ratcheting up the tension. Born in Salt is an indictment of far-right autocratic impulses, and like the best dystopias, it feels utterly relevant. But its appeal transcends any ideology, with a desperate story of love and conflicting loyalties that builds breathlessly to a satisfying reckoning certain to keep readers hooked to the final page. 

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The World of Dew and Other Stories.

A du lt

BY JULIAN MORTIMER SMITH

Julian Mortimer Smith has hit it out of the park with this collection.

PUBLISHER: INDIANA UNIVERSITY PRESS

The World of Dew and Other Stories by Julian Mortimer Smith is a collection of science fiction short stories. This collection is reminiscent of popular television shows such as X-Files and Black Mirror in the way that Smith does a fantastic job of blurring the line between reality and make believe. Many of his stories will make you think these scenarios can happen in the not so distant future. With how technology advances and how we learn more and more about Earth and the Universe, the reader can really put themselves into each story.

With how short some of the stories can be, it is incredible how attached you instantly become to the characters and plot. With many story collections, you, as the reader, are plopped into the middle of a character’s life. You don’t always get to know a character’s life started or where it is going. That is a very endearing part of Smith’s writing. He knows how to get the reader to want to know more about a character and their life. When a story is done, you want to know more. Also, not having all the extra information you get with a traditional novel, keeps the air of mystery going throughout the entire collection. This is a great collection of stories for people who love science fiction, fantasy, suspense, and among other genres. The stories are attention grabbing, and the characters are well developed for the amount of time you spend with them. 

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The Secret of Rainy Days.

A du lt

BY LESLIE HOOTON

Nina “Little Bit” Barnes Enloe, the protagonist of Leslie Hooton’s The Secret of Rainy Days, has always held grand dreams, hoping to be anywhere but her hometown of Erob, Alabama. Years after she left her family and friends to become a lawyer in New York City, she even goes so far as to ignore the pleas of her brother, Haines, who calls to tell Nina that her larger-than-life grandmother, Nina “Biggie” Barnes Enloe, needs her. “Biggie is dying,” Haines says. “For real this time.” Nina’s response? “[Biggie] goes into the hospital to die twice a year like most of us go to the dentist for cleanings.” Then she grabs her boyfriend’s hand and attends her boss’s Christmas party.

PUBLISHER: KEYLIGHT BOOKS

But Biggie surprises them all; she dies and thrusts Nina into a role she doesn’t want—sole owner of Biggie’s house. “It is my hope,” reads a codicil in Biggie’s will, “that in this house [Little Bit] will find the love she has given me through the years. It is my hope she will marry and raise her own children and grandchildren in the house we both loved so much.”

That house, along with Biggie and Nina’s friends (Avery, Win, and Carter), is a focus of Part Two, which moves back in time to 2001 and provides backstory on Nina’s teenage years before transitioning to the present day again in Part Three. Hooten utilizes vivid description, a strong sense of place, and unparalleled comparisons (“I unwrapped the carefully preserved memory the way a mother might take her wedding dress out of storage for her daughter”) to paint an accurate portrait of life in the South, both complex and multilayered. She captures the yearnings of a teenage girl looking for something more from life, love, and family and the disappointment of a young woman who isn’t quite content with what she has. The Secret of Rainy Days is vast in scope and touches too briefly on heavier subjects like alcoholism and suicide, but it digs deeper into other universal themes such as friendship, grief, and fear. It reminds the reader that “No matter how far you run, you can never run away” and is a good read for those who appreciate family sagas with a Southern setting.  127


Backstories.

A du lt

BY SIMON VAN DER VELDE

In a world where social injustice and internal conflict is on every street corner, Backstories is on target. Van der Velde brings 14 characters to life in a way that allows the readers to sit behind the scenes with them. Behind the scenes of their thinking, their worldviews, and their circumstances. In a time where people may be content to see only the surface of chaos and conflict, Backstories invites readers to look beneath the tip of the iceberg. Unlike a typical review, I can’t tell you about PUBLISHER: the main characters or their supportive SMOKE AND MIRRORS sidekicks. To do so would take away the PRESS challenge that Van der Velde created for his readers. Think of it as a mystery read. The author provides the clues. You get the situation, the conflict, and the chaos, but not the character’s name, and you have to link them all together. That, you must intuit on your own. How well do you know history’s ensemble? Can you identify the boy and his mother in “Wicked Child”? Who is “The Voiceless Child”? Not sure? I wasn’t either, at first. Read Backstories...it’s this year’s literary BuzzFeed quiz. For some, this book will be a twice read anthology in order to solve the mysteries within. How well will you do? 

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Whisper Mama.

A du lt

BY LINDA HAAS-MELCHERT

Whisper Mama is a 4-part novel based on a true story about a girl whose family dies in a train crash. The author doesn’t plunk the reader into the setting. Instead, she invites you to walk alongside the characters as they navigate life. Not all of the life events are good. In fact, many of the events are horrific. From the train crash to the violent family dynamics to the mama struggling with what appears to be mental illness, Whisper Mama will make you want to hug someone you love. Although the book covers several family generations and seasons of life, summer always seems to be present. For a little while, the family lives near the Oregon Coast and Elin takes readers on tomboy adventures as she searches for a place to belong in the family home. In another part, Lu shares stories of her childhood outside turning cartwheels and running her paper route. Through it all, the reader is outside with the characters trying to find the peace the characters are searching for, because outside seems to be the safest place. PUBLISHER: SELF PUBLISHED

A single event is the catalyst for this family saga in the life of nineyear-old Evelyn, Whisper Mama takes readers on a journey through generations of tragedy, trial, and triumph. 

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F E AT U R E

Forest Reading: The Benefits of Reading Outdoors. BY WYATT BANDT

With summer’s arrival, many of us have plans to spend time outside whether that’s by the beach, playing sports, or going on a road trip. However, there is one thing that you may have not thought to add to your summer to-do list that requires zero planning: taking time to read outdoors. Despite the fact that spending time outside is ripe with serotonin and vitamin D, I’ve found that I love reading outside for totally different reasons. It has helped me read more enjoy reading and life more wholly, and here’s why. First, when you go to a new place, it removes you from your everyday environment. In your home, you have habits associated with that space. For example, boredom or lapses in focus can result in us going to the fridge or reaching for our phones. However, if you set aside a particular place or environment for a particular activity, it is easier to concentrate because that’s what that place is for. So, just like the kitchen is for cooking, the park can be for reading!

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Another reason that reading outside is so free of distraction is because many of them aren’t available. Unless you intentionally bring other things to do, you likely won’t have access to a TV, laptop, or any of the other common distractions found in your home. And even if you do bring other things to do, you can take steps to stop yourself from getting distracted. When I read at the park, I put my phone in my backpack out of arm’s reach so I’m less tempted to reach for it. I do keep it on max volume so I can hear it ring in case someone needs to reach me, but otherwise, it’s easy to read because that’s the only thing I brought to do. I’ve also found that reading outside has helped me enjoy some of the smaller pleasures of life. Recently, I was reading The Phantom Tollbooth at a nearby park, and a character in it explained how—on the bizarre island of Conclusions—there was a beautiful town where people no longer stopped enjoy what the town had to offer because they were so busy rushing from place to place. Eventually, the town disappeared entirely, but everyone there was none the wiser because there were “in too much of a hurry.”

The Phantom Tollbooth is loaded with parables like these, and I found it especially applicable to reading outside. One of my favorite things about reading outdoors is how much is around you. A robin hopping through the grass several feet away, the rustling of the breeze through the trees, the scent of lilac. The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries calls this act of spending time outdoors shinrin-yoku or ‘forest bathing’ or ‘taking in the forest atmosphere.’ Many studies have shown that spending time in green areas is calming, but even if you aren’t able to go to a park or a forest, the intentional time you set aside will help you notice the things you might otherwise miss. So this summer, I encourage you to leave the distractions behind and take a book and try reading outdoors. You may be surprised with how productive your time is, and like with books, there’s a lot to see in the world around you if you just take the time to look. 

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What's On Our Shelf Nobody loves books more than us. We're a team of readers with broad interests and strong feelings about the books on our shelves.

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ON OUR SHELF

WHERE THE SKY MEETS THE OCEAN AND THE AIR TASTES LIKE METAL AND THE BIRDS DON'T MAKE SOUND by Mike Kleine and Dan Hoy

Detectives Michael and Daniel must try to solve a murder on planet Earth. The victim may or may not be named Jane from Yesterday. And the Man of One Thousand Years, cult leader of the Architects of Q'Noor, may or may not be responsible. As Michael and Daniel hurl themselves inexorably toward a final confrontation with the Man of One Thousand Years through a dreamlike landscape of exploding cacti, cultists, centaurs, spells, river gorgons, lobster enthusiasts, and undulating portals activated by prayer, they collide with a succession of randos and adversaries—Vampyre King, Man with Face Like Fire, Qyumoo'un, Eater of Dreams, Excalibur, Prince Al-Wajeed, and dozens more—sparing few in their frenzied quest for the truth.

THE BOUNDARIES OF THEIR DWELLING by Blake

THE NEW EXISTENCE by Michael Collins

Sanz

Moving between the American South and Mexico, these stories explore how immigrant and native characters are shaped by absent family and geography. A Chilanga teen wins a trip to Miami to film a reality show about family while pining for the American brother she's never met. A Louisiana carpenter tends to his drug-addicted son while rebuilding his house after a slew of hurricanes. A New Orleans ne'er-do-well opens a Catholicthemed bar in the wake of his devout mother’s death. A village girl from Chiapas baptizes her infant on a trek toward the U.S. border.

Chicagoan Helen Price, a dying woman, recounts her life while driving toward an oncology appointment. She attempts to take her own life, survives, then dies under tragic circumstances. In death, Helen bequeaths the family home to her only son, gay playwright Norman Price. Father to an adopted Chinese child, and recently broken up with his partner, Norman’s life is in crisis. Helen also bequeaths a series of tapes to Nate Feldman, a Vietnam draft dodger ensconced in the far reaches of Canada, and the son of Helen’s former boss, Theodore Feldman. Nate’s return to America to claim the tapes occasions confronting a history of animus between father and son, but also the nature of the relationship between Helen Price and Theodore Feldman.

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ON OUR SHELF

LOOK AT US by T. L. Toma

Martin, a market analyst, and Lily, a corporate attorney, have a life that many would envy―they share an expensive New York apartment with their twin toddlers, sample the delicacies of Manhattan’s finest restaurants, and take Caribbean vacations. But when the couple’s nanny announces her imminent departure, they panic: how will they ever find a replacement capable of managing their spirited boys? Enter Maeve, a young Irish émigré. Neither of them imagines how indispensable she will become, either to the household or to their marriage. As the family’s domestic bliss takes an unexpected turn, a different type of intimacy evolves, leading to an explosive finale.

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BURIED INSTINCTS LOST AND FOUND by

TO DUST YOU SHALL RETURN by Fred Venturini

Lynn Henson

Despite the overwhelming odds against them, Blake has managed to lead his friends to a veritable oasis in the apocalypse. Surrounded by a reasonable amount of comfort and security, there’s nothing left to do but wait for the government to get a handle on the undead crisis. But after a couple of excursions from their home to find supplies and get a sense of the situation in their area, they learn that some of the zombies are even more dangerous than they’d assumed.

A town ruled by evil. A man ruled by darkness. Only one can survive. Curtis Quinn is a Chicago mob legend with a particular set of skills and a price on his head. When the woman he loves disappears, Curtis follows her trail to the occult town of Harlow, where no one is allowed to leave, and an enigmatic, sinister overlord known only as “the Mayor” rules by an autocratic regime. Beth Jarvis is a plucky teenager unwrapping the secrets of her hometown―Harlow―and the mysterious ceremony that awaits her on her eighteenth birthday. What Beth doesn’t know is the truth about her sister Kate, who escaped their strange town over a decade ago and has evaded the Mayor and his disciples ever since.


ON OUR SHELF

DEVLIN WAUGH: BLOOD DEBT by Ales Kot, Rory McConville, Mike Dowling

In these new adventures of Devlin Waugh, written by Rory McConville (Judge Dredd) and Aleš Kot (Secret Avengers, Days of Hate) and drawn by Mike Dowling (Ichabod Azrael, Judge Anderson), mutagenic nightmare spores, the search for his missing brother, and a dashing new boyfriend, all combine to create thrilling tales of the camp vamp.

LOST, STOLEN OR STRAYED: A MOST UNRELIABLE MEMOIR by Andrew Craft

Ruth is banged up in a bin in South London (again) and tortured by an agonizing secret. Matthew, her eldest son, is a new dad working for crazed director Norman ‘fat boy’ Schneibel at a deadly dull TV political show in New York. At the insistence of her psychiatrist, Ruth summons Matthew to London where she reveals that in 1958, when unmarried mothers were legally labeled “moral Imbeciles”, she gave up a baby girl for adoption. The guilt has ravaged her ever since. Through their diaries, we accompany Matthew on a wild goose chase, battling bureaucracies, half-truths and his belligerent boss, as he tries to track down his halfsister before Ruth succumbs to terminal cancer.

SHAKY TOWN: A NOVEL by Lou Mathews

In Shaky Town, Lou Mathews has written a timeless novel of workingclass Los Angeles. A former mechanic and street racer, he tells his story in cool and panoramic style, weaving together the tragedies and glories of one of L.A.’s eastside neighborhoods. From a teenage girl caught in the middle of a gang war to a priest who has lost his faith and hit bottom, the characters in Shaky Town live on a dangerous faultline but remain unshakable in their connections to one another. Like Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, Katherine Ann Porter’s Ship of Fools, Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place, and Pat Barker’s Union Street, Shaky Town is the story of complicated, conflicted, and disparate characters bound together by place.

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ON OUR SHELF

THE HOUSE OF RUST by Khadija Abdalla Bajaber

The House of Rust is an enchanting novel about a Hadrami girl in Mombasa. When her fisherman father goes missing, Aisha takes to the sea on a magical boat made of a skeleton to rescue him. She is guided by a talking scholar’s cat (and soon crows, goats, and other animals all have their say, too). On this journey Aisha meets three terrifying sea monsters. After she survives a final confrontation with Baba wa Papa, the father of all sharks, she rescues her own father, and hopes that life will return to normal. But at home, things only grow stranger. Caught between her grandmother’s wish to safeguard her happiness with marriage and her own desire for adventure, Aisha is pushed toward a match with a sweet local boy that she doesn’t want.

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THE BOYS WHO WOKE UP EARLY by A.D. Hopkins TThe gravy train hasn’t stopped in the hollers of western Virginia for more than thirty years when Stony Shelor starts his junior year at Jubal Early High. Class divides and racism are still the hardened norms as the Eisenhower years draw to a close. Violence lies coiled under the calm surface, ready to strike at any time. On the high school front, the cool boys are taking their wardrobe and music cues from hip TV private dick Peter Gunn, and Dobie Gillis is teaching them how to hit on pretty girls. There’s no help for Stony on the horizon, though. Mary Lou Martin is the girl of his dreams, and she hardly knows Stony exists. In addition, Stony can’t seem to stay out of juvenile court and just may end up in reform school. A long, difficult year stretches out in front of him when a new boy arrives in town.

HEIRS OF DECEITS by Elizabeth Reinach

The novel is set in the late Victorian period in England. It concerns conflicts in attitude to social class and destitution and religion. The central character is Sir Gilbert Stanley, Tory politician and great landowner. Like many rich men, he had taken peasant mistresses in his youth, later abandoning them with no means of support. These women all died evil deaths, and the children were placed in the workhouse. Sir Gilbert longed secretly for these children and watched their progress to adulthood. Unaware he was their father, the children became absorbed into his household as servants. He favoured them, and their status became ambiguous. The outside world was horrified, and the household imploded. Murder and chaos followed.


ON OUR SHELF

2084 by David Perlstein After its second revolution, America is nothing—and everything—to joke about. The U.S.A. is history. In 2044, the Covenantal States of America constitutes a whiteChristian autocracy echoing George Orwell’s banned classic, 1984. Washington pushes back against armed rebels, humor ridiculing tyranny and mushrooming graffiti referencing Orwell’s novel in the form of 2084. Sam Klein, a member of the Minyan, a clandestine group of stand-up comics, organizes a July Fourth comedy protest while his Indian-American wife Indira, a native Californian, faces deportation. The Fourth, celebrating an America made great yet again, brings unexpected fireworks.

THE SON OF ABRAHAM

OPEN BLIND EYES

by Kathleen Kaufman

by Rachel Timothy

Ten years after the city of Los Angeles is nearly destroyed by a violent domestic terrorist attack, Esther Robertson struggles to reconcile her father’s culpability as leader of the deadly Son of Abraham cult. She grants CBS’s top reporter, Cooper Carlson, a rare interview and insight into her father, Alan Robertson, who sits awaiting trial for his crimes in federal prison.

Open Blind Eyes brings you face to face with the reality of sex trafficking in America through the true story viewpoint of a girl from a small town. Rachel was only nine years old when she was first approached by a perpetrator who was known to her as a teacher and coach. She goes into detail of the process of being groomed and how the evil of what was happening to her in the dark remained unseen by everyone around her. She describes how she coped for so many years by blocking out the memories only to have them resurface when she was an adult with a family of her own. Rachel had no idea that when she would pursue justice it would end up putting her right back in the world of trafficking. It wasn’t until her church family saw the signs and believed what she was saying that she was able to start the process of finding freedom. Rachel shows her faith and love of God during the highs and lows of her journey and she prays for each person who reads her story.

A report of a horrific and seemingly natural disaster interrupts the interview. Another will follow and another after that. Are these increasingly violent and bizarre phenoms truly natural, or is there another force behind them?

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ON OUR SHELF

SWIMMING TO THE TOP OF THE TIDE by Patricia Hanlon

The Great Marsh is the largest continuous stretch of salt marsh in New England, extending from Cape Ann to New Hampshire. Patricia Hanlon and her husband built their home and raised their children alongside it. But it is not until the children are grown that they begin to swim the tidal estuary daily. Immersing herself, she experiences, with all her senses in all seasons, the vigor of a place where the two ecosystems of fresh and salt water mix, merge, and create new life. In Swimming to the Top of the Tide, Hanlon lyrically charts her explorations, at once intimate and scientific. Noting the disruptions caused by human intervention, she bears witness to the vitality of the watersheds, their essential role in the natural world, and the responsibility of those who love them to contribute to their sustainability.

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HER PERFECT BONES by Ellery Kane

The girl’s body is curled up like a shell and almost completely buried in sand. Only her fingertips can be seen, reaching helplessly up towards an escape she will never find… Seventeen-year-old Shelby Mayfield sits alone on a bus to Fog Harbor, California. Aside from a few items of clothing, all she has with her is twenty-two dollars, the ragdoll she’s kept since kindergarten, and the devastating secret she’s been hiding. How long will it be before her family realizes she’s gone? Can anyone see the fresh bruise on her cheek beneath the makeup? Perhaps she was a fool to believe the person she is meeting in this remote little town could help her…

INKED: CARTOONS, CONFESSIONS, REJECTED IDEAS AND SECRET SKETCHES FROM THE NEW YORKER'S JOE DATOR by Joe Dator From inspiration to conception and all the trials in-between. Filled with more than 150 of Dator’s single-panel cartoons, this lively, quick-witted book betrays a deadpan sense of humor. But Inked is more than a book of cartoons. Dator also dives into the creative process, offering bonus commentary on how ideas have come to fruition, how one idea has led to another, and the various attempts to get an idea right. Along the way, he shows how a spark of imagination has turned into a laugh-out-loud moment with only a single image and caption, and how other attempts have found themselves on the cutting-room floor.


ON OUR SHELF

CONSTANTINE AT THE BRIDGE by Stephen Dando-Collins

The AD 312 Battle of the Milvian Bridge, just outside Rome, marked the start of a monumental change for Rome and her empire. This battle was the figurative bridge between old pagan Rome and new Christian Rome. And once Constantine had crossed that bridge, there was no turning back. Constantine the Great, after winning this battle against his brother-in-law Maxentius and taking power at Rome, and strongly influenced by his mother, forcefully steered Romans away from the traditional worship of their classical gods toward Christianity, setting Rome on two paths – the adoption of Christianity as the state religion, and the relegation of the city of Rome to obscurity as the Western Roman Empire collapsed within 175 years.

PHOENIX FLAME by Sara

FOOL'S ERRAND by Jeffrey S.

Holland

Stephens

Maddie Morrow thought her problems were over. She saved the Inn at Havenfall--a sanctuary between magical worlds hidden deep in the mountains of Colorado--from the evil Silver Prince. Her uncle the Innkeeper is slowly recovering from a mysterious spell that has left him not quite human. And there are still a few weeks of summer left to spend with her handsome, more-than-just-a-friend Brekken, even though she can't stop thinking about Taya.

Years after the death of his gangster father, a young man discovers a letter that sends him reluctantly defying the mob as he races to locate a hidden treasure.

But Maddie soon realizes there's more work to be done to protect the place her family has run for centuries. She must embark on a dangerous mission to put an end to the black-market trading of magical objects and open the Inn's doors to Solaria, the once feared land of shapeshifters. As she tries to accomplish both seemingly impossible tasks, Maddie uncovers family secrets that could change everything.

It’s been six years since the untimely death of Blackie—a charming rogue who endlessly pursued “The Big Deal”—when his son discovers an enigmatic letter telling of a cache of stolen money. Feeling no choice but to pursue his father’s dream, he embarks on a search that leads from New York, to the Strip in Las Vegas, and ultimately to the south of France. Along this life-altering journey, he is confronted by the dangers of his father’s past as he unravels a decadesold mystery, while revealing other long-buried secrets as well. Poignant and entertaining, humorous and exciting, romantic and mysterious, Fool’s Errand leads him to discover both the treasure and himself.

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In the old days, books had awful covers and marvelous content; nowadays, the opposite happens.” — GIACOMO LEOPARDI, THOUGHTS

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