From the Shelf
Stories of Survival and Exploration
With winter approaching, there seems no better time of year to get lost in these true stories of hardship, survival and courage.
Following a humiliating loss in the 1912 presidential election, Theodore Roosevelt chose to scour himself through an expedition to a dangerous, uncharted tributary of the Amazon River. The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey (Broadway, $17) is Candice Millard's account of that brutal undertaking. In the company of his son Kermit and Brazilian explorer Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon, Roosevelt contended with rushing rapids, tropical diseases and starvation, and very nearly lost his life.
In November of 1820, a massive sperm whale attacked and sank the whaleship Essex, stranding the ship's crew thousands of miles from land in the Pacific Ocean. Nathaniel Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex (Penguin Press, $18) recounts how the survivors endeavored to sail all the way to the western coast of South America in three small boats, while enduring starvation and dehydration.
On July 30, 1945, the U.S.S. Indianapolis sank in minutes after being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. Nearly 900 men entered the water, and over the next four days the survivors battled exposure, starvation, dehydration and shark attacks. Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man (Simon & Schuster, $18) by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic tells not only that story but also the decades-long legal battle to clear the name of the ship's captain.
In The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride (Morrow, $14.99), Daniel James Brown focuses on 21-year-old Sarah Graves, who sets out for California in the spring of 1846 with her family and newlywed husband. Beset from the start, they arrive in the Sierra Nevada just as the first heavy winter snows begin. With the way impassable and food running out, things quickly turn to horror. --Alex Mutter, associate editor, Shelf Awareness
In this Issue...
Renowned author and illustrator Ashley Bryan tells the story of how art carried him through the horrors of war and racism during World War II in this memoir for young readers.
by Jung Chang
In her history of the famed Soong sisters, Jung Chang explores the lives of three fascinating women and the turbulent times that they made their own.
by Jami Attenberg
This sharp, soulful exploration of familial dysfunction examines the threads connecting a corrupt, dying man to his wife and children, who must reckon with his hold over their lives.
Review by Subjects:
01/23/2020 - 7:00PMTruly Devious #3, Young Adult Book Talk & Signing Maureen Johnson is the bestselling author of several novels, including 13 Little Blue Envelopes and the Truly Devious series. Johnson will discuss and sign The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious #3) ($18.99 Katherine Tegen Books), the witty and pulse-pounding conclusion to the Truly Devious series as Stevie Bell solves the mystery that has haunted Ellingham Academy for over 75 years. Ellingham...
01/24/2020 - 7:00PMIsomeric Design in Ancestral Pueblo Pottery, an Art Book Talk & Signing Scott Ortman, author and contributor, will discuss and sign Painted Reflections : Isomeric Design in Ancestral Pueblo Pottery ($37.50 Museum of New Mexico Press). This book examines design in Ancestral Pueblo pottery from various museum collections in the Southwest. The concept of isomeric design is based on an analogy with isomers in chemistry, which refers to compounds that are chemically...
The Evolution of the English Village Mystery
CrimeReads traced "the evolution of the English village mystery, after the Golden Age."
"Lost writings from Zora Neale Hurston have been found and will be released in 2020," MadameNoire reported.
"Can you name the answers to these language questions?" Mental Floss challenged.
All 435 Illustrations from John James Audubon's Birds of America "are available for free download," Colossal noted.
"For sale: Jane Austen's wince-inducing descriptions of 19th-century dentistry." (via Atlas Obscura)
Rediscover: The Country of the Pointed Firs
Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909) was born in the coastal town of South Berwick, Maine. This area and its surrounding fishing villages inspired many of her books, which are considered important works of American literary regionalism. Jewett published her first story at age 19 in the Atlantic Monthly. Her vignettes of New England country life coincided with a contemporary interest in local color. A Country Doctor (1884) is a novel based on Jewett's relationship with her doctor father, and follows a woman eschewing family life for a medical career. The Life of Nancy (1895) collects 11 short stories set in the Maine countryside and fishing towns, each story united by nostalgia and a need for tradition.
The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896) is Jewett's best-known work. A Boston woman travels to the seaside village of Dunnet, Maine, to finish her book. Jewett uses this narrator as a framing device to tell the stories of the town's inhabitants, from a widow herbalist to a sea captain and a woman who believes she is Queen Victoria's twin. The Country of the Pointed Firs is available from Signet with an introduction by author Anita Shreve ($6.95, 9780451531445). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
In Celebration of National Indigenous Heritage Month
November is National "American Indian" Heritage Month. After decades of effort on the part of Indigenous peoples to have a time set aside specifically to honor the work and significant contributions of "first Americans," President George H.W. Bush approved a joint resolution to designate November 1990 "National American Indian Heritage Month." Each year since 1994, similar resolutions have been made under different names, such as "Native American Heritage Month" and "National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month." We're excited to highlight a handful of excellent, recently published children's and teen books by Indigenous creators.
With spare and poetic text, Traci Sorell (We Are Grateful: Otsalhilega) presents in At the Mountain's Base (Kokila/Penguin, $17.99) a family of women bound together by love. Tucked away in a cottage "at the mountain's base," the women weave threads of red, gold, green and black into a wonderful fabric. While they create the tapestry, they pray for the return of one of their own--a pilot in the Women's Airforce Service. As their invocation rises up, readers get a glimpse of their loved one, soaring in her plane. Weshoyot Alvitre's majestic watercolor-and-ink illustrations include small portraits bordered by white space and framed with the ever-present thread, as well as sweeping, full-spread paintings with changing points of view. These choices, along with the ample use of white space, give the art an expansive feel, immersing readers ages four to eight in the movement of the wind that brings the pilot closer to home. The lovely earthtones give way to more verdant and vivid hues as the pacing climaxes with a close-up of the missing family member.
While Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story (Roaring Brook Press, $18.99) is recommended for audiences ages three to six, it's undoubtedly a book that will last on shelves well into readers' double digits. Kevin Noble Maillard--Syracuse University law professor and a member of the Seminole Nation, Mekusukey band--has effectively written two books for multiple age groups. The first two-thirds is an affecting picture book that features family and friends gathering, creating and enjoying fry bread together. Glorious double-page spreads introduced by pithy, resonating phrases define the Native American staple: "FRY BREAD IS FOOD," "FRY BREAD IS HISTORY." Caldecott Honor and Pura Belpré-awarded illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal's (Alma and How She Got Her Name) artistry revels in the faces of those making and enjoying the treat. Then comes book two, which augments the simple, sincere verses with illuminating edification for older readers. Maillard's expansive author's note follows across nine pages, amplifying every descriptive "Fry bread is..." phrase with context, background, history and personal tidbits. Remarkable in balancing the shared delights of extended family with onerous ancestral legacy, Maillard both celebrates and bears witness to his no-single-recipe-fits-all community.
Using French explorer Jacques Cartier's journal as inspiration, Canadian historian and Anishinaabekwe Brittany Luby imagines the 16th-century meeting of a French sailor and a Stadaconan fisherman in Encounter (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $18.99). Despite the men's superficial differences, nature's creatures spy their deep commonalities. They eat, swim and play together; their harmonious introduction needs no words, as the wildlife so keenly observes: " 'You are not so different,' squawked Seagull, who flew overhead. 'You both cast long shadows.' " Encounter is made even more vibrant by the dazzling mixed-media illustrations of Tlingit citizen Michaela Goade (Shanyaak'utlaax: Salmon Boy). Her radiant colors and strong textures draw the eye, and her changing perspectives mirror Luby's themes. Readers see the men's relationship from the sky like the seagull or from below like the mouse, as the detailed art reinforces the value of viewpoint and heightens the beauty of this encounter in a way that will certainly delight young audiences ages four to seven.
Curriculum specialists Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza have adapted Indigenous human rights activist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's acclaimed academic text An Indigenous People's History of the United States (Beacon Press, $18.95) for readers ages 12 and up. This history of North America's native tribal nations rebuts popular cultural beliefs and offers a different perspective on the colonization of what became known as the United States. The adaptation spans centuries of resistance by the more than 500 federally recognized nations in the U.S. Even though the authors cover vast numbers of people and a long period of time, this account of the country's evolution remains gripping, tightly written and packed with facts traditional textbooks and historical accounts neglect to cover. Reese and Mendoza provide innovative opportunities for important reflection on the material; maps, illustrations and photographs offer more ways to interact with the text, and a list at the conclusion suggests further reading.
In August 1954, the president signs a law that says Regina Petit and the other citizens of her Umpqua tribe living on the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation in Oregon are "no longer Indian" in debut author Charlene Willing McManis and Traci Sorell's Indian No More (Tu Books/Lee & Low, $18.95, ages 9-12). Though her Chich (grandmother) urges Regina's father to fight, in 1957 he signs up for the Indian Relocation Program: "Daddy called it an opportunity... Chich called it an eviction." The program moves the family to Los Angeles, Calif., where Regina interacts with non-Native neighbors and classmates for the first time. Extensive back matter informs readers that Indian No More was based on the experiences of Charlene Willing McManis's family. Like Regina, Willing McManis was Umpqua and a member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde; after her death, the book was completed by Sorell (At the Mountain's Base, above), a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, with the help of editor and fellow Cherokee woman Elise McMullen-Ciotti. A heartfelt and meditative exploration of an often-undiscussed time in recent U.S. history, Indian No More wades through complex issues of identity and culture and the preservation of both.
All This Could Be Yours
by Jami Attenberg
If an idealist had written Jami Attenberg's ruthless but rewarding All This Could Be Yours, Victor Tuchman's deathbed might have been the site of touching, tearful reconciliation. But Attenberg (The Middlesteins) is no such idealist, and she makes clear that Victor, whose recent stroke hangs over the novel, is not a good man. He is such an objectively bad man that his abuses taint the lives of nearly every character he interacts with. His wife, Barbra, remains madly in love with him, and yet she might also hate him, deeply, for the closed-off shell he's helped her become. Their daughter, Alex, is obsessed with uncovering her father's criminal activity, in hopes she might psychoanalyze her own shortcomings. Alex's brother, Gary, refuses to fly out to visit their father in the New Orleans hospital where he lies comatose. The life Gary has tried to build--as different from his own childhood as possible--is somehow crumbling around him, in large part due to Victor's disgusting choices.
Over the course of the novel, which takes place in one day but leaves room for perfectly paced exposition, readers are invited to understand how this family became such a mess. No one is meant to feel sympathy for Victor, but rather to recognize him. He is someone familiar--destructive, selfish, toxic. He is someone many have tried to love. Through the Tuchmans and the characters woven in as bystanders, Attenberg manages a realistic but moving tribute to both the fragility and power of family. --Lauren Puckett, freelance writer and editor
Discover: This sharp, soulful exploration of familial dysfunction examines the threads connecting a corrupt, dying man to his wife and children, who must reckon with his hold over their lives.
Nothing to See Here
by Kevin Wilson
Families of the particularly dysfunctional variety seem to be Kevin Wilson's forte, whether artistically constructed as in The Family Fang or experimentally psychological as in Perfect Little World. Despite a sense of head-shaking impossibility, Wilson somehow manages to make his make-believe believable--in between the inappropriate laughing and bittersweet empathizing.
Privilege, power and inequity whorl through Nothing to See Here. Back in their "fancy girls' school hidden on a mountain in the middle of nowhere," Lillian and Madison begin their relationship as assigned roommates. Lillian is a valley townie, the daughter of a single mother and missing father; she's poor but smart, and gains entrance on scholarship. That promise gets waylaid by big-money heiress Madison. Alas, the girls' friendship is temporary, canceled by a lucrative deal Madison's father strikes with Lillian's mother that insulates Madison and propels Lillian back to her "awful public high school."
Remarkably, the girls stay in touch, and in the spring of 1995, Madison summons Lillian to Franklin, Tenn., with "an interesting job opportunity." In the decade-plus since they last met, Madison has become a senator's wife and stepmother to his children. Settling into Madison's seemingly idyllic, sprawling compound, Lillian is placed in charge of the senator's 10-year-old twins, Roland and Bessie. "There's something I have to tell you about them," Madison warns. Their "affliction," as she describes it, is that they burst into flames. To keep the twins (and Madison and her senator's carefully curated lives--he's about to run for U.S. president, after all) safe will be Lillian's 24/7 responsibility. But first, she'll need to gain the children's trust.
When it comes to unconventional families, Wilson again proves himself a master of heartstring-tugging, drop-jaw shocking, guffaw-inducing, highly combustible entertainment. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Kevin Wilson's rollicking novel Nothing to See Here is a fiery ode to unexpected, unconventional family love.
Mystery & Thriller
Your House Will Pay
by Steph Cha
On March 16, 1991, 16-year-old Ava Matthews walks into a Korean-owned convenience store in South Central Los Angeles to buy milk. A scuffle ensues when the owner thinks Ava is stealing, and Ava ends up shot in the back of the head, bleeding out on the floor with two dollars in her hand. Her younger brother, Shawn, witnesses the entire incident, which is caught on tape, but the owner/shooter gets only probation and no jail time.
In 2019, 27-year-old Grace Park is still living at home with her parents and working in the pharmacy they own. She's the dutiful daughter, while her older sister is estranged from their parents for reasons unknown to Grace. One day something catastrophic happens, forcing Grace to reckon with the terrible secrets her family has kept from her.
Steph Cha's Your House Will Pay is based on the true story of Latasha Harlins, a teen shot dead in 1991 in a Korean-owned store. The fallout is believed by historians and Angelenos to have helped spark the L.A. riots the following year. In chapters alternating between 1991 and 2019--and between Shawn's and Grace's perspectives--Cha peels back the layers of race relations in a city with people who can suffer only so much injustice. The Matthews and Park families, on opposite sides of the central conflict, are both depicted with deep insight and empathy--and their flaws intact. There are no villains or heroes, only humans whose paths collided one tragic day, who are still paying for the damage done. The ending is a bit abrupt, but it offers hope that healing and forgiveness can begin. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: Two families intertwined by a decades-old tragedy find their paths colliding again in the present.
Food & Wine
Women on Food: Charlotte Druckman and 115 Writers, Chefs, Critics, Television Stars, and Eaters
by Charlotte Druckman
While male celebrity chefs and food writers seem to dominate the airwaves and column inches, food nevertheless starts with women. That is what this collection curated by journalist and food writer Charlotte Druckman strives to emphasize to readers, as she includes the voices of 115 women involved in every stage of food production and presentation.
In essays and in interviews, quotes and ephemera, Druckman raises questions about who is heard and seen and who is not in the contemporary landscape, who gets to have a voice, and where the food world erases people. Women on Food explores racism, the #MeToo movement, gender biases and ties between food and culture that we rarely hear about. The various formats spliced together help highlight who is visible, who is seen as odd and who is conspicuously missing.
In this collection, Druckman above all celebrates women's place in and shaping of the food industry of today. Women on Food considers how black female food writers encounter everyday racism simply by eating out, as well as experiences of connecting to one's hereditary food cultures in the face of major life changes, what it is like to be a female farmer or to reshape the culture of a city through food. What readers will find in this book are stories to enrich their connections to their own habits of consuming both food and food writing. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer
Discover: Charlotte Druckman bursts gendered (mis)conceptions about the food industry--from farm to table and every step in between--in this collection of essays and interviews.
Biography & Memoir
by Mark Morris , Wesley Stace
Mark Morris's Out Loud is a "memoir not a cookbook." He "can't tell you the recipe exactly," but is masterful at describing the ingredients that influence his career as one of the world's foremost choreographers. Morris's influences are many and complex. He asked to flamenco at nine and at 10 won a guest role with Bolshoi Ballet. He loved The Lawrence Welk Show, opera, country music and the traditions and religious mythologies of cultures worldwide. His talent took root at a young age--he improvised shows in his Seattle living room and listened to musical pieces over and over again to decode them.
Inspiration intertwined with Morris's humor (battle-strengthened by the "queer humiliation" of junior high), style ("old men's overcoats and a different rhinestone brooch" every day), brash defiance and sense of self to form the foundation of his multi-faceted style. He beautifully exhibits these traits in Out Loud, which feels like a Morris composition--movements within movements, fits and flows, taken together to form an entrancing and hilarious whole.
Unsurprisingly, Morris is a superb storyteller. In addition to his many professional accomplishments (Mark Morris Dance Group, White Oak Dance Project, numerous awards and honorary doctorates) and high-profile collaborators (Mikhail Baryshnikov, Yo-Yo Ma), Morris shares his private life, friendships, delightful family lore and laugh-out-loud asides (how a bidet formed "the fountainhead of [a] lifelong obsession with water features"). One need not comprehend dance to appreciate Morris's impact or be a devotee to give this work a standing ovation. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: Dancer and choreographer Mark Morris reveals the unmatched eccentricities and events that led him to change the face of dance.
Still Here: The Madcap, Nervy, Singular Life of Elaine Stritch
by Alexandra Jacobs
Maybe she never threw a television out a hotel window, but in terms of drinking, swearing and making outrageous personal demands, Broadway legend Elaine Stritch could have held her own against any rock star. No wonder Still Here: The Madcap, Nervy, Singular Life of Elaine Stritch, the first book by writer-editor Alexandra Jacobs, is such a carousing entertainment.
Born in 1925, Stritch was raised in a Detroit suburb too small to hold her: "I wanted to be a nurse, a doctor, a whore, and a queen," she later told the press. "The only way I could think of to accomplish all of those endeavors was to go on stage." A convent girl, Stritch moved to Manhattan in 1943 to attend a Catholic finishing school and take acting classes, which led to parts suited to her low voice and older-than-her-years presentation. She understudied Ethel Merman and, in a feat of sublime casting, played tippler Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Stritch's reputation for alcohol-abetted irascibility cost her some choice parts. (Jacobs makes droll use of the fact that Angela Lansbury kept getting them.) Following an unfocused decade, Stritch was handed what would become her career-making signature role: Joanne in Stephen Sondheim's 1970 musical, Company. Jacobs is so adept at situating her subject in her place and time that when Still Here covers Stritch's final days--she died in 2014, at age 89--the reader can feel golden age Broadway and old New York slipping away. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: This biography of Elaine Stritch is spunky, wise and frank, like the Broadway legend herself.
Janis: Her Life and Music
by Holly George-Warren
Janis Joplin (1943-1970) gets a long-overdue definitive biography by an author who not only understands the music industry in the 1960s and early 1970s, but also has a firm grasp on the creative and emotional life of America's first female rock star. Music biographer Holly George-Warren's (The Road to Woodstock) vital, fascinating and deeply personal biography benefits greatly from interviews with Joplin's siblings, former bandmates and crew. Joplin's career ran just four years (she joined the established rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company in June 1966 and died of a heroin overdose in October 1970). But her husky, emotional and explosive voice, and her steely determination to steer her own career continue to influence new generations of singers.
Ignored or ridiculed in high school, Joplin found her voice and flamboyant fashion sense when she moved to San Francisco and embraced the proverbial rocker lifestyle of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Openly bisexual, Joplin's sexual relations were numerous but usually emotionally unsatisfying. Her huge appetite for alcohol and heroin were as strong as her musical drive. "The mix of confident musicianship, brash sexuality, and natural exuberance, locked together to produce America's first female rock star," writes George-Warren. Months before her death, Joplin said music was the one aspect of her life that had never let her down.
Although her life was brief, Joplin lived it with gusto. Readers will be enthralled by her adventures and her subversion of the men-only music industry. This compelling and inspiring biography captures Joplin's complex personality and immense talent. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: A complex and compelling portrait of America's first female rock star and a brief career that still influences singers and bewitches listeners.
Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China
by Jung Chang
A trio who dominated the 20th century, Ei-ling, Ching-ling and May-ling Soong remain controversial figures in the 21st, as Jung Chang shows in Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister. The author of Wild Swans and biographies of Mao and Empress Cixi turns her unsparing and detailed focus upon the Soong sisters and their era of political turmoil and revolution in China.
Daughters of a wealthy Shanghai merchant, the sisters spent their early years going to school in the United States. Ei-ling was "the first Chinese woman to be educated in America," with her younger sisters following her. They returned to Shanghai as smart, outspoken women, burnished with the luster brought by their wealth, privilege and foreign educations. Limited by the culture of their time, they became wives.
Ei-ling married her counterpart, H.H. Kung, a wealthy graduate of Oberlin and Yale. Ching-ling, passionately patriotic, ran off against her parents' wishes with the first president of the Republic of China, Sun Yat-sen. May-ling, bored and restless in Shanghai, married a rising political power, Chiang Kai-shek. Within these marriages, each sister soared far above conventional marital expectations.
Chang masterfully intertwines the lives of these women with the history that they helped to shape. Ei-ling, whose money and brains made her a powerful political influence, Ching-ling, who turned to Communist revolution, and May-ling, who became one of the most famous women in the world, are vividly portrayed by a writer whose own life in Mao's China was affected by the actions of the Soong sisters. --Janet Brown, author and former bookseller
Discover: In her history of the famed Soong sisters, Jung Chang explores the lives of three fascinating women and the turbulent times that they made their own.
Beyond the Valley: How Innovators Around the World Are Overcoming Inequality and Creating the Technologies of Tomorrow
by Ramesh Srinivasan
In Beyond the Valley: How Innovators Around the World Are Overcoming Inequality and Creating the Technologies of Tomorrow, Ramesh Srinivasan--professor at UCLA's Department of Information Studies and director of the UC Digital Cultures Lab--examines the character of Silicon Valley's technological development. He scrutinizes the ethos of tech companies, allowing corporations to insulate themselves from the harm caused by their growth, and asks, "Shouldn't technology be people-centered, not in use and addiction, but in creation and application?"
There's an idea of an open Internet that obscures the reality of the network of privately owned architecture most people use to access the Internet. By probing this contradiction, Srinivasan (Whose Global Village?) tries to make his readers more aware of the reality of the digital infrastructure that has infiltrated and permeated their lives, and the implications of its extended reach.
Convenience comes at the price of privacy, creates more risk for vulnerable people, and contributes to economic inequality and political divisions. Beyond the Valley asks readers to imagine a technological future that balances connectivity and innovation with concerns about equity, diversity and democracy, thereby pursuing an "internet that acts as a 'global village.' " For an industry that deliberately keeps the focus off of its negative effects, Srinivasan's work is a necessary intervention and critique, while also shining a light on those working to come up with solutions to counteract the pitfalls of a technologically focused world. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer
Discover: A close look at ethical pitfalls and inequality in the technology industry, and how users and innovators might approach it differently.
The Problem with Everything: My Journey Through the New Culture Wars
by Meghan Daum
Meghan Daum is hardly the first writer to quibble with practices like so-called purity policing and virtue signaling. But liberals of good faith should take note: Daum is working from within. As she writes in The Problem with Everything: My Journey Through the New Culture Wars, "I felt an obligation to hold the left to account because, for all my frustrations with it, I was still of it."
Daum uses both personal experiences and of-the-moment news items to seed the eight essay-like chapters that make up her carefully reasoned book. Several stories play out on ideological-tinderbox college campuses. Among them is Washington's Evergreen State, where Bret Weinstein, a self-described progressive, was a biology professor until 2017. He resigned after his safety was threatened by student activists calling him a "white supremacist" for challenging the school's decision to ask white students and staffers to stay off campus during an anti-racism event. Daum writes of such goings on, " 'Social justice warriors' emerged on the scene with a self-proclaimed utopian vision that sometimes sounded a lot like authoritarianism."
The author of four previous books and the editor of the bestselling Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, Daum has a penchant not so much for going against the grain as for taking a magnifying glass to its fibers. She's releasing The Problem with Everything with some trepidation; in her introduction, she admits, "I've never been more afraid of writing a book." Open-minded readers may well find themselves grateful that she did. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: In this soundly argued collection of essay-like chapters, a liberal takes on what she sees as the left's wrong turn.
Children's & Young Adult
Infinite Hope: A Black Artist's Journey from World War II to Peace
by Ashley Bryan
For four decades, Newbery Honoree and Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Ashley Bryan kept his military experiences in World War II a secret. The author and illustrator of children's books such as Freedom over Me and Can't Scare Me was 19 when the U.S. Army drafted him. Pulled from the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City, Bryan encountered something entirely foreign to him: segregation. "The sky, the sunlight--they enclosed us all equally. But the United States's policy of segregation... separated white people from Black people. While I had experienced prejudice in my lifetime... I had never experienced segregation before." Infinite Hope is Bryan's account of the war and the people, art and determination that carried him through.
Despite the threat of death and the ugliness of racism, Bryan explains, "What gave me faith and direction was my art. In my knapsack, in my gas mask, I kept paper, pens, and pencils.... It was the only way to keep my humanity." Just as creating the art was an escape for Bryan, viewing it in Infinite Hope is an escape for the reader. Sketches and paintings he mailed home enrich this autobiography and show the depth of its subject. The juxtaposition of historical photographs with Bryan's work contributes to the reader's understanding of both the artist's perspective and his wartime experiences. And letters he wrote home to his friend Eva offer personal glimpses into his wartime thoughts and feelings.
Infinite Hope is a must for every library, public and personal. Whether readers enjoy history, literature or art, this book captures them all in the life of a man who has made a lasting impression on the world. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: Renowned author and illustrator Ashley Bryan tells the story of how art carried him through the horrors of war and racism during World War II in this memoir for young readers.
by Nic Stone
Seventeen-year-old Rico Danger (pronounced "DON-gur") doesn't have a life outside of "school, work, and sleep" because she pulls 10-hour shifts at the Gas 'n' Go to help support her mom and nine-year-old brother. While at work one evening, she sells a lottery ticket that she later learns is a winner for a multimillion-dollar jackpot. Which of the lotto buyers could it have been: the middle-aged white guy who pays for his purchases with $50 bills? The cute elderly black lady with a light-up Christmas sweater? To find the winner and make sure they get their jackpot, Rico enlists the help of 18-year-old Alexander "Zan" Macklin, "varsity quarterback, all-around teen dream, and heir to the booty-paper throne" (his family owns a toilet paper company), who was also in the store that night. Zan and Rico's quest slowly moves their relationship beyond friendship, and Rico learns that, while money is a necessity, it doesn't necessarily buy happiness.
In Jackpot, Nic Stone (Dear Martin) excels at shedding light on low-income family struggles that aren't always obvious: Rico's mama won't apply for public assistance because "the stigma makes punches at her dignity"; Rico feels a "sense of unworthiness" whenever she's around Zan and "his nice clothes and... nice car." Stone also illustrates how the lack or excess of money can both offer freedom and restrict it. While having money would allow Rico a "normal high school experience," it keeps Zan from going to college ("a waste of four vital fiscal years," says his father). Smart, humorous and hopeful, Jackpot examines the effects of money and privilege on individual choice and relationships. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Discover: A hard-working teen enlists a wealthy classmate to help her track down an unclaimed winning lottery ticket in Nic Stone's hopeful story about money, entitlement and freedom.
by Renée Ahdieh
When Celine flees Paris for New Orleans, leaving behind a terrible secret and her plans to design "gowns for the Parisian elite," she dreams of finding the city "filled with promise. And absolution." She's bound for the Ursuline convent, whose sisters will find her an "appropriate" husband. Celine tries to see her stay at the convent as a "newfound chance at life," but it's difficult to be excited when she, her friend Pippa and fellow convent resident Anabel are put to work peddling crafts to raise money for the parish orphanage. At least Celine's ability with "ruched silk and Alençon lace" allows her to contribute embroidered handkerchiefs to the wares.
On the trio's first day of peddling, "exquisite" Odette buys all of her handkerchiefs and asks Celine to make her a gown for Mardi Gras. At Odette's fitting, Celine encounters Sébastien, who is handsome in the way of "a prince from a dark fairytale," along with members of the dangerous and "otherworldly" Court of Lions. But, tragically, Anabel--who had been sent by the Mother Superior to follow Celine--turns up dead, and Celine and Pippa find themselves suspect. Until the murderer strikes again, that is, and appears to be targeting Celine.
Renée Ahdieh's (The Wrath and the Dawn) Celine is a strong, deeply conflicted character who attempts to balance society's confining roles for women with her own appetite for excitement. Bad-boy Sébastien, with his "inhuman" friends, is a suitable foil to Celine, and the vibrant city of New Orleans an evocative backdrop for this first in a darkly thrilling series. As the unnamed narrator points out to begin the story, "New Orleans is a city ruled by the dead." By The Beautiful's end, readers will believe it. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: Celine finds romantic intrigue--and the undead--in this atmospheric YA series opener set in New Orleans.