The Great Believers
After her beloved brother, Nico, dies of AIDS in 1985, Fiona Marcus copes with her grief by becoming closer to his many friends in Chicago. Shell-shocked by the rapid progression of a new and mysterious virus that changes vibrant, young gay men into ghosts, the friends live in fear of their future while remembering those they loved.
Among Fiona's friends is Yale Tishman, a fund-raiser for Northwestern University's Brigg art gallery. Yale is on the verge of acquiring several rare and valuable masterpieces owned by Fiona and Nico's great-aunt. If successful, the large donation has the potential to transform both the gallery and Yale's promising career.
Fast-forward 30 years. By 2015, Fiona is divorced and managing a nonprofit store that benefits AIDS charities. Her estranged daughter, Claire, who had "grown up feeling... that her mother's greatest love was always focused on something just over the horizon of the past," has gone missing but is believed to be living in Paris. Fiona flies to the City of Love and stays with an old friend from Chicago--someone who survived and documented the AIDS epidemic alongside her, complete with photographs and videos that are part of a new exhibit.
An astonishing layered and emotionally stirring novel, The Great Believers
returns readers to a time when love meant fear, risk and death. With a narrative that seamlessly segues and connects time and decades, Rebecca Makkai (Music for Wartime
) brilliantly captures a devastating era marked by political inaction and shock. Decades after society's collective memories of the epidemic have faded, Makkai's abundantly alive characters beg us to remember again. --Melissa Firman
, writer, editor and blogger at melissafirman.com
Discover: This is a beautifully written novel of love and loss amid the lasting impact of AIDS from the 1980s to the present day.
$27, hardcover, 432p., 9780735223523
Follow the Sun
Edward J. Delaney
Edward J. Delaney's Follow the Sun opens with a funeral for a missing man, "reduced to objects. In lieu of a body, just left-behind things." Quinn Boyle had been "in hand-to-hand combat with Peace" since he was a kid; a lobsterman from the age of 17, "mud-footed in obligations he could not shed." Following years of addiction and a stint in prison, Quinn was clean and free, yet imprisoned by his history, responsibilities and the "daily grip of his work." One day, Quinn and his lone crewman, a longtime adversary, fail to return from the sea.
Older brother Robbie is once again forced to take up Quinn's slack while trapped in his own morass of exes, part-time fatherhood and thankless work. Torn by survivor's guilt and the relief of Quinn's absence, Robbie's fragile peace is rocked by a report that his brother's crewman may be alive, sparking his need to investigate what happened on Quinn's last run.
Delaney (Broken Irish
) writes with well-honed grit and artful description, be it the "obvious misery" of lobstering, withdrawal or a daughter trying to know her father by using library books on handwriting analysis to study his birthday card notes. It is a very masculine perspective, the women tending toward henpecking support-seekers and foils, yet the men aren't painted pretty. Everyone seems smothered by the atmosphere and hard-knock life of a small fishing town with few available dreams or modes of escape. Delaney is wonderfully adept at working that atmosphere on his characters with compelling results. --Lauren O'Brien
of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: A man forced to deal with the aftermath when his lobsterman brother is lost at sea discovers there may be more to the disappearance than a tragic accident.
Turtle Point Press,
$17, paperback, 280p., 9781885983510
The Collected Stories of Machado de Assis
Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis
, trans. by Margaret Jull Costa
, Robin Patterson
A progenitor of modern Latin American literature, Brazilian author Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis was a prolific short story writer as well as a novelist and poet. Translated into English by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson, The Collected Stories of Machado de Assis is funny, bewitching and a clear influence on the great South American writers to follow.
Combining seven books of short stories, which date from 1870 to 1906, The Collected Stories range from flights of fancy to piercing looks at race and class in Brazil. "The Alienist," from 1882's Miscellaneous Papers, is one of the best, a hilarious farce about the nature of science and human politicking. Other works, like "Father Against Mother," from 1906's Relics from an Old House, depict the horrible depths of slavery (legal in Brazil until 1888). De Assis descended from slaves, and the empathy and terror he feels for enslaved peoples is clear in "Father Against Mother," which follows a slave hunter as he goes out to find a pregnant slave who has run away.
Modern readers might find the prose a little affected (Jull Costa and Patterson do a splendid job of both modernizing the language while still keeping its formal rigor), but no more than Charles Dickens, a contemporary of de Assis. Those with an interest in the work of Latin titans such as Gabriel García Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges will find a lot (both figuratively and literally) in The Collected Stories
to add to their understanding of South American literature. --Noah Cruickshank
, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: The Collected Stories of Machado de Assis brings all the short works by the Brazilian author together in English for the first time.
$35, hardcover, 960p., 9780871404961
Mystery & Thriller
The Good Son
, trans. by Chi-Young Kim
The Good Son, South Korean thriller author You-Jeong Jeong's first novel to be translated into English, by Chi-Young Kim, begins with a young man named Yu-jin waking up in his bed, soaked in blood, with no clear memory of what happened the night before. He has only faint recollections of a girl with a crimson umbrella walking in the rain and his mother calling his name. When he goes downstairs, he finds his mother on the floor with her throat slit, and back in his room, he discovers his late father's straight razor, now bloody. Did he kill his mother? Why would he do such a horrific thing to a woman who took care of him all his life, as he struggled with epilepsy and the side effects of his medications?
Before Yu-jin can process everything, he realizes his brother is coming home from a night out and decides to hide the body and clean up all the blood. But even as Yu-jin scrambles to bury the evidence, he's desperately trying to unearth the truth about his mother's death--and himself.
There's been a rash of unreliable narrators in recent crime fiction but Yu-jin still manages to stand out from the crowd. He's not purposefully withholding information; he just can't remember details because of his seizures and the meds. Like Yu-jin, readers may feel dread creep along their skin as the truth is slowly revealed about the whole bloody mess, and once everything has been made clear, the brutal chill comes from more than the rain on the night of the murder. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis
, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: After waking up one morning to find his mother dead and himself covered in blood, a young man seeks the truth about what happened.
$16, paperback, 320p., 9780143131953
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Fantasy genre superstar Jacqueline Carey (Kushiel's Dart
; Miranda and Caliban
) returns with a stunning standalone adventure that sweeps from desert to ocean in a world where the stars walk among mortals as gods.
Born at the same time as the Sun-Blessed Princess Zariya of Zarkhoum, Khai has trained since birth to become her shadow, a protector who will share a soul-deep connection with the girl. Raised in the Fortress of the Winds by a warrior sect, Khai faces potentially fatal initiation rituals before his god, Parkhun the Scouring Wind, marks him as worthy. In the court of the Sun-Blessed, Khai finds his soul's twin in affectionate, sheltered Zariya, but he must struggle with a surprising revelation about his own identity. While Khai tries to protect Zariya from her family's scheming, a goddess bids her marry into one of the other nations, whose cultures vary widely depending on their protector gods. Sun-Blessed and shadow accept the goddess's will, only to stumble headlong into a prophesied war that could rip their entire world apart or heal the ancient rift poisoning it.
Filled with electric action, wild and wonderful magic, and vivid depictions of desert life, Carey's new epic will thrill readers. Though the plot leans on traditional fantasy elements, characters grapple with gender identity, cultural transitions and even physical disability--Zariya's legs atrophied during a childhood illness. Endlessly engrossing and inventive, Starless
should captivate Carey's fans as well as fantasy readers looking for a sprawling, romantic story infused with surprising tenderness and humor. --Jaclyn Fulwood
, youth services manager, main branch, Dayton Metro Library
Discover: In a standalone fantasy epic spanning deserts and oceans, Carey introduces a world where gods walk the Earth and a young warrior must fight to defend his soul's twin.
$26.99, hardcover, 592p., 9780765386823
A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns
, Tristan Jimerson
, illust. by Archie Bongiovanni
The coauthors of A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns are friends. Archie Bongiovanni identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns; Tristan Jimerson (he/him) knew them before they came out as nonbinary, so Bongiovanni asked him to help communicate with a mainstream population who might have trouble with the concept. Bongiovanni and Jimerson make a jolly, jokey team in this graphic how-to manual, with Bongiovanni's illustrations, but despite their often playful tone, they take this topic seriously. They agree that being told one's pronouns don't matter is "basically telling you that you don't matter."
A Quick & Easy Guide addresses what a pronoun is; why people might want to use gender-neutral pronouns; how to ask for and give one's pronouns; how to change one's language and how to handle mistakes; and how to integrate these lessons into professional and retail settings. It's written both for a general readership that may be confused by they/them pronouns, and (in a special section by Bongiovanni) for nonbinary folks. It even includes sample scripts and signs to post in places of business.
This is a short, easy-to-read, affordable guide, because the authors hope it will be widely distributed and handed out on the street. It meets its goals neatly: just the facts, but in a friendly, approachable tone, enhanced by the true friendship of its authors. A Quick & Easy Guide
is for everyone, because as Bongiovanni and Jimerson point out, we encounter nonbinary folks every day, whether we know it or not. --Julia Kastner
, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: A concise, friendly, illustrated guide to gender-neutral pronouns written by a likable pair of friends.
$7.99, paperback, 64p., 9781620104996
Business & Economics
The Ambition Decisions: What Women Know About Work, Family, and the Path to Building a Life
, Elizabeth Wallace
Hana Schank and Elizabeth Wallace are the first to admit that their interviewees--"forty-three women, all of whom were in the same sorority at Northwestern between 1989 and 1993"--are hardly representative of the general population of women. (The interviewees also happen to be Schank and Wallace's former classmates.) But these subjects, whom the authors recently grilled about their professional paths since graduation, do provide answers to a question of general feminist concern: Why don't the careers of these Northwestern graduates, who had many advantages, reflect their stratospheric level of ambition when they were in college?
Before you can say "Not another 'Can women have it all?' book," Schank and Wallace swoop in with an original organizing tool that undergirds The Ambition Decisions: What Women Know about Work, Family, and the Path to Building a Life. They sort the women, whose sympathetic stories fill this book, into three categories: high achievers, opt outers (usually at-home moms) and flex lifers (women who have scaled back on work for various reasons). But be sure to use impermanent marker when labeling these women: no longer faced with their mothers' binary choices, women can, and do, skip from one category to another over time.
It's precisely this flexibility that holds the promise of overall life satisfaction--provided women select partners with the same fluid approach to their own careers. The Ambition Decisions
is really about how anyone, male or female, can ultimately have it all--maybe not all at once, but across a lifetime. --Nell Beram
, author and freelance writer
Discover: This book argues that career satisfaction hinges on being open to adjusting one's level of ambition throughout life.
$26, hardcover, 288p., 9780525558811
The Marginalized Majority: Claiming Our Power in a Post-Truth America
Onnesha Roychoudhuri is a journalist, activist and first-generation Indian American who learned Spanish in part because people keep mistaking her for a Latina. In her first book, The Marginalized Majority, she encourages everyone who feels attacked or dismissed by the current U.S. government to look around, recognize each other and take heart. "What if, instead of viewing this as a country divided, we view it as a country in a political moment when we do not have the leadership the majority of us want and deserve?"
Now is not the time to despair or disengage, writes Roychoudhuri. If you want any chance at a different future, you will have to believe in it and work to make it happen. The destructive power of shrugging cynicism in journalism, in politics, in comedy and among private citizens is one of her primary targets. In light of her experience at the 2017 Women's March, she examines how society disparages contemporary public protests while admiring those of the past--which were also disparaged at the time.
She questions ideas about objectivity in journalism, and criticizes liberals who insist on the abandonment of "identity politics" in order to "reach across the aisle." Most of what Roychoudhuri has to say has been said before, by many others in many outlets. But in The Marginalized Majority
, she pulls it together into a portrait of the current American political scene, filters it through her multifaceted personal perspective and offers every reason to stay involved, connect with others and refuse to give in. --Sara Catterall
Discover: A journalist and activist rallies those discouraged by the American political scene to hope and to engage in positive action.
$16.99, paperback, 224p., 9781612196992
To read David Sedaris is to laugh, and hard. The humorist has long entertained fans with absurd stories containing too much information about his large family, which includes five siblings.
Calypso, his latest collection of essays, some previously published, is a direct hit to the funny bone, but it's perhaps also his saddest book yet. The second story, "Now We Are Five," details his sister Tiffany's suicide and the emotional fallout on the family. Death, and the expectation of it, becomes a running theme, especially now that the surviving siblings are all in their 50s, approaching the age when their mother died of cancer. Though she passed away in 1991, her presence still looms large for Sedaris as he details how she lived for making others laugh, and the influence she had on him when it comes to crafting funny stories. The irony is that the parent left behind is his 92-year-old father, with whom Sedaris struggles to connect: "We're like a pair of bad trapeze artists, reaching for each other's hands and missing every time."
Sedaris has no trouble connecting with his readers, injecting levity into situations before they become too depressing. In "Sorry," after a serious argument with Hugh, his longtime boyfriend, Sedaris is about to unleash a rant about it on his sister Gretchen, when she defuses him with the tidbit that her former boyfriend Greg "used to drink the liquid out of tuna cans." Sedaris claims sorrow is more memorable than happiness, but readers of Calypso
will remember the laughs as well as the melancholy. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis
, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: With his trademark humor, David Sedaris muses on mortality.
$28, hardcover, 272p., 9780316392389
Outside the Jukebox: How I Turned My Vintage Music Obsession into My Dream Gig
What do you get when you mix vintage jazz with hip-hop? What happens when you mash up ragtime with '90s pop? In Outside the Jukebox: How I Turned My Vintage Music Obsession into My Dream Gig, Scott Bradlee explains how he turned his ability to expand musical boundaries into an international musical sensation.
Bradlee scorned music lessons when he was young. He did, however, enjoy "putting music where it didn't belong," and, as a teenage Wal-Mart employee, organized a rogue performance in the store. This, not surprisingly, resulted in his termination but solidified his belief that music had "the potential for rebellion." After college and as a struggling musician, he uploaded a medley of '80s pop hits performed in ragtime to YouTube. The reception was overwhelmingly positive, and he began performing for a growing YouTube audience. Relying on college friends for his performers and recording in his apartment, this was a wildly successful formula, and Postmodern Jukebox
was born. Bradlee eventually made the leap from successful Internet band to live touring, and gives an authentic recounting of the challenges and victories he experienced.
From Miley Cyrus's "We Can't Stop" performed as '50s doo-wop, to Radiohead's "Creep" as a bluesy ballad, the world can't get enough of Bradlee's compositions that "celebrate and explore much-maligned songs without mockery." Fans of Postmodern Jukebox will certainly enjoy this, but anyone who is ready, as Bradlee says, to "go out and make art" will appreciate his optimistic tone as well. --Cindy Pauldine
, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: Outside the Jukebox is a feel-good memoir with an inside look at Postmodern Jukebox founder Scott Bradlee's unconventional approach to a career in music.
$23, hardcover, 256p., 9780316415736
Children's & Young Adult
Doing It: Let's Talk About Sex
Take a big breath, parents. Doing It is going to be your teens' guidebook on sex. Because when author Hannah Witton says "Let's Talk About Sex," she means consent, virginity, sexting, porn, masturbation, "LGBTQ+," sex ed, contraception, healthy relationships, sex shaming, body image, STIs, sexual pleasure and a whole lot more than what previous generations have been taught. She's covering the kind of information that teens want to know, and she's sharing it in the way a wise, well-informed, hilarious big sister would. Yes, there are the requisite black-and-white drawings of fallopian tubes and genitalia, but mostly, Doing It is packed with practical information, advice, anecdotes, confessions and, above all, acceptance.
Witton, a sex-positive vlogger and online sex educator, writes with compassion and youthful exuberance. She models a winsome balance of self-deprecation and self-love, being open about her own experiences and bringing in experts to write first-person narratives on certain topics when she recognizes her limitations as a "straight cis woman ([she's] attracted to the opposite sex, and the sex [she] was assigned at birth matches [her] gender identity)."
Doing It is an incredible resource for teens who are not yet sexually active as well as for those who are. Witton reassures readers that what they feel and think is normal and provides plenty of approachably awkward personal stories to back up her claim. She repeats her basic message over and over: "[Y]ou deserve and are entitled to healthy relationships." Also, "what [is] right for one person may not be right for another."
And that is really, truly okay. --Emilie Coulter
, freelance writer and editor
Discover: This honest and funny sex education guide for teens emphasizes deep knowledge, acceptance and respect, addressing topics like consent, sex shaming, body image and sexting.
$10.99, paperback, 352p., ages 14-up, 9781492665021
Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cake
Jeff Mack, author of gems including Look!
and Ah Ha!
, has largely made his mark with picture books of few words and many laughs. For two new books, Mack expands his vocabulary and creates more elaborately absurd scenarios to suit a slightly older readership.
In Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cake, the monkey-chef decides to enter his freshly baked banana cake in a cake show. The hard part: getting the cake across town without being trampled by a speed-demon bicyclist ("DING! DING!"), keeping the cake from a hungry gorilla's jaws ("GRR!") and so on. Publishing simultaneously is Mr. Monkey Visits a School, in which Mr. Monkey masters the art of juggling and receives an e-mail from a librarian asking him to "please visit our school and do your trick." (Yes, we're supposed to wonder how the librarian knows that Mr. Monkey can juggle.) Mr. Monkey braves rain, snow and an inconveniently situated cow ("MOO?") to get to the school, where he loses his juggling props and faces something more unnerving than a hungry gorilla: a mob of elementary schoolers.
Both books deliver rich payoffs by harking back to earlier plot points (the kamikaze bicyclist and the obstructionist cow end up saving the day, and a banana that Mr. Monkey stashed in his pocket has just-in-time gorilla-calming powers). With their simple sentences, daffy situations navigated by daffier characters and unfussy and upbeat animal-centric art out of the P.D. Eastman school, these titles call to mind golden-age Beginner Books, albeit with more sound effects ("OOF!"). --Nell Beram
, freelance writer and YA author
Discover: Jeff Mack takes a page from golden-age Beginner Books with two hilarious early readers starring a good-natured, trouble-beset anthropomorphized monkey.
Simon & Schuster,
$8.99, hardcover, 64p., ages 4-8, 9781534404311