From the Shelf
Reading the Royals
One would imagine that, having grown up with a Welsh mother (Cymru am byth!), I would be all about The Royals. That I would at least care about the royals. And yet.... However! These three recently published royals-related books (two YA and one adult with serious crossover potential) have me trying on fascinators and practicing my curtsy.
George Washington was America's first king. Now, in Katharine McGee's American Royals (Random House, ages 12-up, $18.99), the first female heir, Beatrice, prepares to take the throne. Before she is crowned, Beatrice must choose a noble husband (even though she loves her guard); when presented with a "terrifyingly slim folder" of suitors, she chooses Lord Teddy Eaton--who recently kissed her sister. Katharine McGee's YA alternate history gushes with electrifying emotion, mixing scandalous secrets and political intrigue for a thrillingly addictive read.
Millie Quint decides to spend her senior year of high school abroad after she discovers her kind-of-friend/kind-of-girlfriend kissing someone else. Her school of choice is Gregorstoun, a fancy boarding school in the Highlands of Scotland. Millie finds the school utterly entrancing but is less than enthused about her roommate, a literal Scottish princess. Friendly or not, Millie and Flora have to live together. Rachel Hawkins's Her Royal Highness (Putnam, ages 12-up. $17.99) is a sweet and funny enemies-to-lovers YA romance romp.
In Casey McQuiston's adult novel Red, White, & Royal Blue (St. Martin's Griffin, $16.99), 20-something national heartthrob and First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz gets into a scrap with the dashing but insufferable Prince Henry of Wales--destroying the cake at Henry's brother's wedding. Damage control means playing the incident off as friendly roughhousing. The operative word there being friendly. With clever comedic timing and a self-possessed charm, McQuiston constructs rich sexual tension between two young men who ostensibly hate each other. Passion characterizes every moment of this smart, mischievous novel. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
In this Issue...
by JP Gritton
This shadowy novel of desperate acts, brothers, friends and grudges pulls readers relentlessly down a complicated and uncertain road.
by Erin Morgenstern
In Morgenstern's first novel since 2011's The Night Circus, an ordinary grad student stumbles into a battle over the fate of a magical world of stories.
by Kenneth Kraegel
Nothing is going to stop this mama shrew on her "mother's errand to the moon" to save her son in this fanciful early-chapter book that may well become a family favorite.
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...
Quiz: Plays Based on Books
Pop quiz: "What books are these 21 Broadway shows based on?" Playbill challenged.
Today's sad news (via the Evening Standard): "Apostrophe society shuts down because 'ignorance and laziness have won.' "
Good Morning America featured Betty X. Davis, the 104-year-old woman who celebrated her birthday with a book drive to collect 104 children's books.
"French language guardians release guidelines on how to swear correctly," the Local reported.
"Found: a manuscript sloppily edited by Queen Elizabeth I," Atlas Obscura reported.
Hyperallergic examined "why libraries have a public spirit that most museums lack."
Schiffer Publishing: Cultivating Many Niches
Founded in 1974, Schiffer Publishing has four main imprints--Schiffer Publishing, Schiffer Military History, RedFeather Mind Body Spirit and Schiffer Kids--that all publish in depth in a variety of areas. They offer everything from beautiful decorating books and detailed titles about tanks and warships and fighter planes to cutting-edge tarot decks and striking children's titles that tenderly and entertainingly deal with developmental stages kids go through.
Schiffer Publishing focuses on five core categories: popular culture, art and design (including architecture), fine craft and technique (including quilting, fiber, and woodworking) and regional titles; it includes Cornell Maritime Press/Tidewater, which publishes professional maritime education books.
Among its bestselling recent titles are:
Fraver by Design: Five Decades of Theatre Poster Art from Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Beyond by Frank "Fraver" Verlizzo ($34.99) features the award-winning work of the designer and artist behind many major posters for Broadway shows. "It's perfect for everyone who loves theater," imprint head Jamie Elfrank says. "It's a resource about the shows themselves."
Donald and the Golden Crayon: An Unpresidented Parody: A Book That Uses the Best Words by P. Shauers ($16.99) was inspired by Harold and the Purple Crayon, but is not a kids' book. All the quotes are direct Presidential quotes, and the book was "a huge hit" with librarians at ALA, the team says. "It's great fun for those wishing to stir the pot during the holidays and a great gift to those with feelings in either direction," publisher Pete Schiffer adds.
Christmas by Design: Private Homes Decorated by Leading Designers by Patricia Hart McMillan and Katharine Kaye McMillan ($45) is the most recent in a series of Christmas design books by the authors and is "one of our favorite design books for the holidays," Elfrank says.
Four Seasons of Entertaining by Shayla Copas ($50) is a "fresh, wonderful, inspirational book with some recipes by an up-and-coming designer," managing editor Jesse Marth notes.
Regional titles include Sea Glass Publishing, LLC, which was acquired this year. They fit perfectly with Schiffer's focus on niche passions, with titles like Pure Sea Glass: Discovering Nature's Vanishing Gems by Richard LaMotte, photographs by Celia Pearson, which has sold more than 100,000 copies and has spawned a range of related calendars, notecards, journals and more. These titles, Pete Schiffer says, are perfect for coastline bookstores.
Schiffer Military History, which began using that name in 1988 and its own logo four years ago (the logo won an American Graphic Design Award from Graphic Design USA in 2018), is headed by Bob Biondi, a 32-year veteran of the company. The imprint has more than 1,300 titles in print. The line was initially based on books drawn from European archives, everything from histories of types of airplanes and tanks and weaponry to accounts of specific German army units during World War II to many large books on uniforms, which have been picked up fashion designers. "A lot of our titles look at the war from unique perspective and untold stories," Pete Schiffer notes.
Schiffer Military History includes several popular series, such as the America in Space series, which focuses on "the operational, technical and human aspects of the space race and is very accessible," Biondi says. There is also a companion series on the Soviet space program. The books in the Classic Guns of the World series are deeply researched, with "superb illustrations that both new and veteran collectors will appreciate," Biondi adds.
The Legends of Warfare series is "a counterpoint to the big, expensive, exhaustive books we're known for in this area," Pete Schiffer says. The series focuses on specific aircraft, ships, tanks and more and has high production values, yet retails for only $19.99. "These are ideal for bookstore customers who are beginners in the area and looking to learn."
RedFeather Mind Body Spirit began quietly with metaphysical titles and took the RedFeather Mind, Body, Spirit name and logo three years ago. Headed by Christopher McClure (who is the author of the spiritually themed children's book The Legend of Papa Balloon and is a board member of the Coalition of Visionary Resources), the imprint's program has expanded rapidly. Its main categories now include tarot, astrology, numerology books, kits, decks and more, and channel material. "The market has exploded," McClure says. "Mind/body/spirit titles have become more acceptable and aren't just for metaphysical stores anymore."
RedFeather Mind Body Spirit responds quickly to trends, McClure says, which is among the reasons its list has become so diverse so quickly. One example: when pendulums became popular two years ago, RedFeather Mind Body Spirit came out with a pendulum kit.
Tarot decks are currently among the most popular titles, including The Transparent Tarot decks, which allows a user to see cards that are piled on top of one another. This was "one of our biggest splashes in the tarot world," McClure says. "It makes for different and unique readings."
McClure notes that while traditionally metaphysical material has "trended female, guys have an interest, too." As a result, the imprint offers some tarot decks that are "more on the masculine side."
As with other Schiffer titles, RedFeather Mind Body Spirit's books and decks are marked by high production values. With the decks, for example, the company usually uses gilding and has a superior box with a magnet to "securely close" it. "We are honoring the cards with the housing," McClure says. "These are not throw-away boxes." Likewise the decks and books use high quality paper. "Every part of the package is a tactile experience for the reader," Pete adds. And the decks are different from one another, not cookie cutter, to emphasize their unique approaches.
RedFeather Mind Body Spirit also "cross pollinates with other Schiffer imprints," Elfrank notes. This happens particularly with children's and crafts. "Christopher is bringing out kids' books with a spiritual side."
One example of cross pollination is a kids' book coming out called Wee Witches by Beth Roth and Ted Enik, illustrated by Ted Enik (September, $16.99), which acknowledges there is "growing interest in that spiritual path" and respects wicca "as a faith, not a fringe group," McClure notes.
Schiffer Kids, which became a separate imprint two years ago and is headed by Tracee Groff, focuses on social and emotional development, which she calls "a passion of mine." She notes that as a parent of a child who struggles with anxiety, "I know there are not many books for parents to sit with at laptime and open a discussion on such topics." She emphasizes that she wants education to be fun and kids to have fun learning. She acknowledges that STEM and STEAM are important, but "the social and emotional side of life is a huge part of a child's SEED development. We hope to address some of the mental health issues we as a country are facing today."
She also emphasizes working with authors who value "fun in learning," too. "Several of our authors spend a good amount of time visiting schools and working with kids," she says. "Timothy Young (I Hate Picture Books, The Angry Puffin), for example, travels to different schools talking to kids about drawing and inspiring creativity."
Like other Schiffer imprints, Schiffer Kids ties into other parts of the company, including crafts and regional interests. These include titles focused on paper folding as well as a series about crafting with plastics, woods and other materials. Its series include the popular Escape Game series as well as the Chadwick the Crab series that's been around for 30 years. It also includes toy and activity books as well as a range of board, picture and middle reader titles.
Schiffer Fall and Spring Titles: A Selection
Schiffer Publishing's fall and spring lineup consists of a range of entertaining, educational, thought-provoking, cutting edge and challenging titles:
America's Flag Story by Karen Robbins, illustrated by J. James (Schiffer Kids, March 2020, $16.99). By the former Romper Room teacher and author of the award-winning Think series, this book for young readers aims to "unite the country under a common symbol," Tracee Groff notes. It celebrates the flag as a symbol of freedom, endurance, courage and the place where immigrants came and built a new nation.
Max's Box: Letting Go of Negative Feelings by Brian Wray, illustrated by Shiloh Penfield (Schiffer Kids, September, $16.99). "The author's first book, Unraveling Rose, helps parents deal with OCD in their children, and his new book offers a gentle way to talk to children about something difficult," says Groff. In Max's Box, Max puts everything in a box, including cherished toys and unwanted words as well as things said at school. A friend wonders why he's carrying such a big box, and eventually Max is able to let go of the box and its many negative contents. "It's a modern-day parable about healthy emotional development," Groff adds.
Little Box of Emotions: Matching and Memory Cards by Louison Nielman, illustrated by Marie Paruit (Schiffer Kids, April 2020, $19.99) is a boxed kit with 24 coaster-sized cards that portray eight common emotions, including love, anger, and sadness. The kit and guidebook offer an accessible way to describe and understand those feelings and includes exercises and yoga postures to work through the feelings.
King of Boredom by Ilaria Guarducci (Schiffer Kids, April 2020, $14.99). This book stars Ben, who "just likes to be bored," Groff says. His parents are worried, especially when Ben locks himself in his bedroom and declares himself the Supreme King of Boredom and builds an elaborate castle. "King of Boredom shows that sometimes if parents let kids be, great things happen," Groff adds. "In this plugged-in world, it's good to remember that it's OK to do nothing sometimes."
Geraldine and the Most Spectacular Science Project by Sol Regwan, illustrated by Denise Muzzio (Schiffer Kids, February 2020, $16.99) stars "the most tenacious second grader you've ever met," Groff comments. Geraldine loves to take electronics apart and build things, and she's constantly in trouble. When she wins the school science fair, creating glasses that can see Mars, "everyone sees her in a different light--as a brilliant scientist."
Knives and Needles: Tattoo Artists in the Kitchen by Molly A. Kitamura, photographed by John Agcaoili (Schiffer Publishing, October, $29.99) "intersects tattoo culture and foodie culture," Jamie Elfrank says. It's an invitation into the kitchens of some of the top artists in California today to talk about their favorite recipes and their tattoos.
Art of the Beard by David Sacks and Angie Sacks (Schiffer Publishing, September, $26.99) is "a tribute to the wonderful world of the beard," Pete Schiffer says. "It's inspiring and shows many different ways of wearing them. It's the gift you get the person who has a beard everyone talks about."
The Art for Joy's Sake Journal: Watercolor Discovery and Releasing Your Creative Spirit (Artisan Series) by Kristy Rice (Schiffer Publishing, October, $24.99) is the latest in the author's line of watercolor books and focuses on creating "art for joy's sake." This guided journal features illustrations ready for readers to watercolor, creativity exercises, and inspirational artwork.
Conversations with Nell: The Discerning World of a Wise and Witty Labrador by Sara Martin (Schiffer Publishing, April 2020, $19.99) tells the story of the author's life in Devon through a series of conversations with her dog, Nell. Pete Schiffer describes the author and title as "delightfully British."
Disrupted Realism: Paintings for a Distracted World by John Seed (Schiffer Publishing, September, $50). Seed is an artist, curator and popular HuffingtonPost Arts & Culture blogger, who offers the first book to survey the works of contemporary painters who are challenging and reshaping the tradition of Realism. Seed believes that we are "the most distracted society in the history of the world," and in the book, he focuses on 38 artists he sees as visionaries in this developing movement.
Robbie Conal: Street Wise: 35 Years of Politically Charged Guerrilla Art by G. James Daichendt, foreword by Shepard Fairey (Schiffer Publishing, $45, April 2020) features Daichendt's storied poster campaigns.
I Love Happy Cats: A Guide for a Happy Cat by animal behaviorist Anneleen Bru (Schiffer Publishing, September, $24.99). A runaway bestseller in Belgium, I Love Happy Cats is "a great resource of information for cat lovers," Jesse Marth says, "and makes a really nice gift book."
American Hangman: MSgt. John C. Woods: The United States Army's Notorious Executioner in World War II and Nürnberg by Col. French L. MacLean, U.S. Army (ret.) (Schiffer Military, October, $29.99). This biography focuses on the man who executed 10 senior Nazis in 1946, and whose life was marked by several botched executions and his own mysterious death by electrocution.
The History of the American Space Shuttle by Dennis R. Jenkins (Schiffer Military, November, $59.99) is a comprehensive history of the program by someone who worked for NASA. It's "wonderfully digestible and recounts each mission in detail," Marth says. At $60, the book is an "investment" and "presents all the pertinent information in a beautiful way. You can't get this same interaction with a website."
The Charles Dickens Tarot by Christopher Leach (RedFeather, November, $34.99) has a literary theme that will make it "a great crossover deck for people in bookstores," Christopher McClure notes.
The Transparent Tarot, Second Edition by Emily Carding (RedFeather, April 2020, $59.99) is a luxury deck featuring transparent tarot cards.
The Creativity Oracle: Visions of Enchantment to Guide & Inspire Magic Makers by Amy Zerner and Monte Farber (RedFeather, March 2020, $34.99) features an oracle deck and guidebook by the bestselling authors.
by JP Gritton
JP Gritton's first novel, the dark and gritty Wyoming, explores themes of family, love and every kind of trouble. Luckless narrator Shelley Cooper opens his story: "I'll tell you what happened and you can go ahead and decide."
Shelley's lost his construction job. His best friend Mike's kid is really sick. Shelley's wife left him some time back for the next-door neighbor and took their son with her when they moved away. Shelley has longings that he understands to be inappropriate. He hates his brother Clay with deep, visceral force, yet he must accept Clay's offer to drive 50 pounds of marijuana down to Houston from where they live near Denver. The pay is measly--insulting, even, he decides as he drives--but Shelley needs the money, and Mike needs his help.
In Houston, the exchange of drugs for money goes okay, but the rest goes south. Shelley can't help but veer toward trouble even when he sees it for what it is. A few acts of self-sabotage later, he's on a bus headed for Kansas City for an impromptu visit with his ex, her new husband and the son he doesn't really know.
Shelley's voice is a vernacular readers can almost hear spoken aloud. The title is a glancing reference point, since little of the novel's action takes place in Wyoming, but it gestures toward the road map of Shelley's undoing, which easily spans half a dozen states. It also points to the hopes, dreams and hazards on offer on the next stretch of road. Wyoming is a novel both sensitive and brutal, and impossible to turn away from. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: This shadowy novel of desperate acts, brothers, friends and grudges pulls readers relentlessly down a complicated and uncertain road.
The Starless Sea
by Erin Morgenstern
In her first novel in eight years, Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus) weaves a sprawling, ambitious spell of a story in which a young man becomes caught up in a centuries-old secret world of hidden archives, thwarted love and forces beyond human comprehension.
When grad student Zachary Ezra Rawlins takes out an uncatalogued book, Sweet Sorrows, from the university library, he reads about lovelorn pirates, the star-crossed romance of Time and Fate, and the rites of ancient orders dedicated to guarding a vast underground library on the shores of a mysterious sea. He also finds a short chapter about his own childhood, detailing a time when he unwittingly walked away from a chance to enter this secret world, and it perplexes and scares him.
Determined to understand how a book written before his birth could chronicle his life, Zachary goes on a quest to track down its origins. His search leads him to a costumed ball where he meets elegant, pink-haired Mirabel and compelling, roguish Dorian. He's swept into a world where a door painted onto a wall can open, the Moon can take human form, and owls serve a shadowy monarch. Zachary searches for a way to protect a Harbor on the Starless Sea, a labyrinthine story repository filled with puzzles, secret rooms and the best room service in any world.
While the plot of The Starless Sea takes its time coming together, the journey is nothing short of magical, like a fantastical, delirious dream that makes awakening back to reality a disappointment. Set aside a few quiet hours to devour this opulent feast. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: In Morgenstern's first novel since 2011's The Night Circus, an ordinary grad student stumbles into a battle over the fate of a magical world of stories.
The Worst Kind of Want
by Liska Jacobs
The Worst Kind of Want by Liska Jacobs (Catalina) is an atmospheric exploration of female middle age, in steamy modern Rome.
Cilla is only 43--too young to feel this way or be mistaken for her mother's sister at the nursing home. Having just taken care of her father to his end, she feels stifled by her ailing mother's needs and neediness. When her brother-in-law Paul asks for her help with her teenaged niece Hannah, she jumps at the chance to get away from one caregiving situation and into another. Paul and Hannah live in Italy, where Cilla imagines good food, good wine and romance--not that she expects any romance to befall her personally. But what Italy offers turns out to be very different. Hannah reminds Cilla painfully of an earlier teenager, Cilla's sister and Hannah's mother, a gorgeous and tragic figure. And anyway, Cilla is disinclined to serve as chaperone; she instead drinks and parties with her niece's friends, including one boy in particular who makes her yearn for something more than what her own adulthood has offered.
The sultry city of Rome is evocatively described in this novel filled with the challenges of womanhood from adolescence to menopause, and about the ends of lives. The loss of Cilla's sister and father, her mother's illness and the ancient ruins of Rome all whisper of death, and suggest the novel's conclusion. Erotic and moody, The Worst Kind of Want draws readers with momentum toward its heartbreaking end. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: A middle-aged woman seeking a change of scenery instead finds new desires and troubles as well as reminders of old family tragedy, in modern Rome.
Mystery & Thriller
The Mutual Admiration Society: How Dorothy L. Sayers and Her Oxford Circle Remade the World for Women
by Mo Moulton
In 1912, four extraordinary women met as students at Somerville College, one of the first women's colleges at Oxford: mystery novelist and theologian Dorothy Sayers, historian Muriel St. Clare Byrne, child-rearing expert and birth control advocate Charis Barnett Frankenburg and Dorothy Rowe, who founded an important amateur theater company. Together they formed the heart of what Sayers dubbed the Mutual Admiration Society (MAS), a not entirely accurate description of a group devoted to candid criticism and high intellectual and artistic standards.
In The Mutual Admiration Society: How Dorothy L. Sayers and Her Oxford Circle Remade the World for Women, historian Mo Moulton examines the lives and the changing relationships of the members of MAS from their college years to the death of the last surviving member in 1988. Moulton considers the nature of female friendships, and explores the women's lives as both insiders and outsiders who benefited from positions as members of the social elite, yet found their choices limited by legal and social barriers based on gender. (Even at Oxford, the women were second-class citizens: able to take classes and sit for examinations but not eligible to receive degrees.) More importantly, Moulton looks at the ways in which each of the four pushed against those boundaries and created new versions of women's lives in a changing world.
The result is not only a picture of four complex lives across a diversity of experience, but a rich discussion of what it means to be both human and female. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins
Discover: Dorothy Sayers and her extraordinary circle of friends reinvented what it meant to be a woman in the early 20th century.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Monsters and Mythical Creatures from Around the World
by Heather Frigiola , illust. by Sky Cybele
Creative researcher Heather Frigiola approaches beasts of lore as cultural artifacts in Monsters and Mythical Creatures from Around the World, illustrated by Sky Cybele (creator of The Mythical Creatures Oracle).
In her introduction, Frigiola explains that many myths have come to their current forms through cultural blending or appropriation, but she aims to examine them in the context of their origins. Instead of categorizing by habitat or appearance, she separates the monsters into 10 geographical regions represented by 24 entries each. Western readers will find the chapters on mythos-dense Ancient Greece and Rome, and fairy-tale origin point Western Europe mostly familiar, but readers from all over the globe might spot familiar fanged faces in chapters on North and Latin America, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific.
In Cybele's color illustrations, a roc flies home to her chicks with an elephant as dinner; a blue, fork-tongued Tiamat brandishes snakes at readers; and a dog-headed, purple-winged simurgh perches peacefully in the treetops. Frigiola's accessible overviews explain each creature's appearance, behavior and the known evolution of its history. Most, like the Greek gorgon or Slavic kikimora, are magical creatures from ancient myth or folklore, while others, such as the Khaiyr Monster, originate in sightings that, though debunked, nevertheless achieved legendary status.
Intended as a sampler rather than a comprehensive listing, Monsters and Mythical Creatures from Around the World will intrigue fantasy readers and casual consumers of mythology, leaving them wishing for additional volumes of captivating creatures. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: In 10 geographically divided, illustrated chapters, Heather Frigiola explores mythical monsters from around the globe.
Someone to Remember
by Mary Balogh
Mary Balogh (Someone to Honor, Slightly Married), the author of more than 60 historical romance novels, knows how to set a romantic scene. When Someone to Remember begins, 56-year-old Matilda Westcott becomes flustered when she hears the name of Charles Sawyer, Viscount Dirkson--her onetime love.
Thirty-six years earlier, Matilda and Charles had asked for permission to marry, but given Charles's wild and rakish reputation, Matilda's father, the Earl of Riverdale, refused. Matilda obediently broke things off with Charles. She's spent her life tending to the needs of her irascible mother, now the Dowager Countess of Riverdale, and wistfully watching Charles's marriage, fatherhood and many liaisons from afar.
But fate conspires to throw them together, when Matilda's niece marries the illegitimate son that Charles had never known. After discovering the truth, however, Charles is determined to make things right. He tries to build a relationship with his son and to reestablish a connection with Matilda, for whom his feelings have never completely gone away.
Someone to Remember is a charming novel, slowly paced and sweet, perfectly reflecting the gentle middle-aged woman at its center. Aptly capturing the bittersweet nature of rediscovering romance after so many years apart, Balogh creates engaging and believably nuanced characters in Matilda and Charles. The seventh entry in the Westcott series, Someone to Remember is sure to appeal to Balogh's many fans, or to anyone who likes romances about women beyond the typically youthful heroines. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this sweet Regency novella, a middle-aged woman finally finds love.
Biography & Memoir
For Small Creatures Such as We: Finding Wonder and Meaning in Our Unlikely World
by Sasha Sagan
"My parents taught me that the universe is enormous and we humans are tiny beings who get to live on an out-of-the-way planet for the blink of an eye," writes Sasha Sagan. "And they taught me that, as they once wrote, 'for small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.' "
Sagan's beloved father is the late astronomer Carl Sagan, whose death in 1996, when Sasha was 14, continues to be a defining event in her life. ("Every loss you withstand in your life reopens all the others.") Her mother, Ann Druyan, co-wrote the acclaimed 1980 PBS documentary Cosmos. In Sagan's astonishingly beautiful and wiser-beyond-one's-years debut, her lineage bursts forth on each page like a literary and scientific big bang.
But even with a title that pays homage to her parents' legacy, For Small Creatures Such as We is very much Sasha Sagan's personal quest. She explores through memoir, cultural excavation, history and scientific curiosity how rituals--the secular, the simple and the special small moments--help people discover the reasons for their existence. Sagan, who describes herself as a secular Jew, writes that the desire to seek answers through wonder and connection is timeless, as old as the stars themselves.
"The idea of marking the longest, coldest night with the knowledge that the warmth and light is not too far off, that is ancient. And no matter where we're from, what religion we are, or to what ethnic group we belong, we can be sure that our ancestors, all of our ancestors, contemplated Earth's place in the universe with awe." For Small Creatures Such as We very much deserves to be read in the same way. --Melissa Firman, writer and editor at melissafirman.com
Discover: Sasha Sagan, daughter of Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, offers readers a wondrous journey exploring how rituals and celebration connect to life's greater meaning.
Ian McKellen: A Biography
by Garry O'Connor
In 2014, Sir Ian McKellen was paid £1.2 million to write his memoirs. Nine months later, he returned the advance, saying, "I don't want to go on a voyage of discovery." Fortunately, acclaimed biographer Garry O'Connor signed on for that voyage and has produced the definitive biography of the award-winning actor and tireless international gay activist.
O'Connor, who befriended McKellen in 1958 at Cambridge, offers an intimate, critical and comprehensive biography that incisively evaluates his extensive stage and screen career. He also delves into McKellen's private life, sharing his struggles, triumphs, sacrifices and foibles to create a fully drawn portrait of an actor who found his greatest rewards after he publicly came out as gay at the age of 49. O'Connor notes McKellen's 1988 coming out: "He was awake now with a rich vivid self-awareness, an almost romantic religiousness not apparent before, and a burning social purpose that went beyond a need for personal love, a stable giving relationship, the need for a family."
The strong film career that had eluded him finally arrived when he was approaching 60. In 1998, he starred in Stephen King's Apt Pupil, and earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination for Gods and Monsters. The following year, he was cast as super-villain Magneto in X-Men and heroic Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. Suddenly, he was headlining two mega-blockbuster film franchises.
O'Connor (who has written biographies of Laurence Olivier, Alec Guinness and William Shakespeare) offers an entertaining, insightful, opinionated and unauthorized biography of a remarkable actor and activist. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: An intimate, engaging and insightful biography of Sir Ian McKellen looks at his work, private life and gay activism.
Drunk in China: Baijiu and the World's Oldest Drinking Culture
by Derek Sandhaus
After his first sip of baijiu, Derek Sandhaus is ready to "consult a war crimes tribunal." But the bitter and fiery drink is enmeshed in Chinese social life and Sandhaus knows he can't exist in China without learning how to stomach its grain-based liquor.
It's an acquired taste; Sandhaus is told he must drink 300 glasses before he'll enjoy the experience. Reaching that point after a mere 70 glasses, he begins to explore the culture and history of baijiu. Nine thousand years ago, Neolithic Chinese created "the world's oldest alcoholic beverage." With the Qin empire came grain alcohol, which was taxed to become a primary source of government revenue. Alcohol production and consumption spread across China.
Later, influenced by Mongolia's fermented mare's milk, distilled alcohol hit China, and baijiu, cheap and strong, took over the entire country. Until recently baijiu figured heavily in corruption scandals. "The Chinese government's annual liquor tab was at 600 billion yuan ($94.5 billion)" in 2011, Sandhaus writes, "roughly three times that year's stated national defense budget." On a lower level, bribes were sweetened with bottles of baijiu that cost up to $200. When president Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign began, baijiu sales plummeted.
With the onset of globalization, young Chinese drinkers have discovered foreign liquors, so baijiu manufacturers are targeting elegant cocktail bars worldwide in attempts to bolster their profits. Recipes for baijiu cocktails are sprinkled throughout Drunk in China, and Sandhaus is helping to launch a new brand in the West. After all, sake and mezcal have become household words. Why not baijiu? --Janet Brown, author and former bookseller
Discover: Derek Sandhaus offers a rollicking, hard-drinking exploration of baijiu, China's national tipple.
Psychology & Self-Help
The More or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care
by Anna Borges
Self-care is not selfish. That simple but tricky truth props up Anna Borges's delightfully easy-to-digest A-to-Z resource The More or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care. As the self-help and wellness industries have become highly commercial, Borges, a mental health advocate and senior health editor at SELF, urges readers to tear themselves away from the advertisements and return to a fundamental principle: people must take necessary care of their bodies so those bodies can function and care for others.
With humility, humor and a keen understanding that the practice is difficult, if not impossible, for marginalized communities, Borges lays out dozens of methods for self-care, thereby directing readers to options rather than instructing them in exactly what they must choose. Throughout the book, she scatters anecdotes from real-world interviews that demonstrate exactly why every human from every background deserves their own curated routine.
In a volume that can be read in one quick sitting or scooped up as a handy resource, Borges asks questions that are meaningful without becoming demanding: "If you were being your happiest self--not the one you beat yourself up for not being, not some idealized version of yourself who does everything perfectly--how would you spend your week? Write it down, down to the hour." By erasing the stigma around health and self-nurturing, Borges strips the buzzword of its buzz and reminds readers that true self-care is not always easy, comfortable and accompanied by scented candles. True self-care takes work. But Borges makes that work a little bit easier--and a lot more accessible. --Lauren Puckett, freelance writer
Discover: This A-to-Z toolkit for accessible self-care never oversimplifies the struggles of mental and physical health but opens the doors to improving your own well-being.
Children's & Young Adult
Wild Honey from the Moon
by Kenneth Kraegel
In the whimsical Wild Honey from the Moon, a mother shrew makes an epic journey to save her son from a mysterious illness.
Many claim that they would go to the moon and back for a loved one. But it takes a worried mother actually to make that trip. Upon learning from her copy of Dr. Ponteluma's Book of Medical Inquiry and Physiological Know-How that the cure for son Hugo's midwinter ailment is one teaspoon of wild honey from the moon, Mother Shrew is undaunted. "My dear darling," she tells her sleepy, cold-headed, hot-footed son. "I have to step out just now."
In seven short, delightful chapters, Kenneth Kraegel (King Arthur's Very Great Grandson; Green Pants; The Song of Delphine) takes enraptured readers on an adventure they are likely to want to experience again and again. Kraegel uses a muted palette, his two-page spreads awash with intricate watercolor and ink illustrations, scratchy lines capturing the textures of animals, trees and grass. Tucked snugly into a tree, surrounded by a village of rope-ladder-connected treehouses, the Shrew home is sweetly detailed with scalloped shingles, lofted beds, books, bowls and baskets. By contrast, the moon's landscape is vast and changeable, with unexpected (and fantastical) details like a flower- and butterfly-filled valley and an island fortress of belligerent honeybees.
Wild Honey from the Moon is a mother's love story... and a child's adventure to linger over happily. Put this one on the shelf next to Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram's Guess How Much I Love You and Elsa Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak's Little Bear. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Nothing is going to stop this mama shrew on her "mother's errand to the moon" to save her son in this fanciful early-chapter book that may well become a family favorite.
Red Rover: Curiosity on Mars
by Richard Ho , illust. by Katherine Roy
"The little rover likes to roam. It leaves long, straight tracks as it goes./ The tracks play hide-and-seek... waiting for the rover to find them again." This rover sounds like a puppy dog--it's certainly as inquisitive and tenacious as one--but in reality it's an aluminum-wheeled, camera-outfitted vehicle combing the surface of Mars. Richard Ho lays out the mixed blessing that is this rover's fate midway through Red Rover: Curiosity on Mars: "The air is thin. The storms are strong./ You might get stuck in the sand./ Everything is..."--here the reader must open a gatefold--"RED as far as the eye can see. But it is beautiful." Until this point, readers have every reason to believe that the narrator is omniscient and without physical form, but this isn't so. The text resumes, "They call me Mars. I am not like your world."
Picture book first-timer Ho succeeds with a tough assignment: imbuing a rolling pile of nuts, bolts and gadgets with personality. Illustrator Katherine Roy (How to Be an Elephant) also has quite the challenge, given that the red planet isn't known for its rainbow color scheme. While faithful to a largely peach and russet palette, Roy offers variation by importing other hues in order to create shadows and watercolor-y skies. She also incorporates lots of popping inset art that will appeal to space cases whose pulses quicken at the sight of National Geographic spreads. Red Rover is a fine launchpad for kids with a budding interest in outer space, and it can also enhance the understanding of confirmed science geeks. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
Discover: This wondrous look at the everyday tasks of a persistent Mars rover has an unlikely narrator: the red planet itself.
Tiny Feet Between the Mountains
by Hanna Cha
Being a child in the adult world presents all sorts of challenges, but size is perhaps the most obvious, immediate hurdle. For young Soe-In, the "once upon a time"-hero in Hanna Cha's delightful debut picture book, Tiny Feet Between the Mountains, her smallness even determined her name: Soe-In means "tiny person." Although Soe-In took four steps to others' two, her size never stopped her. She lived "in a large village" where the villagers would confidently boast that "they were bigger and more fearless than the spirit tiger rumored to protect the surrounding mountains and forest."
And then the darkness came: "the villagers woke up to find the sky was filled with thick black smoke and red embers.... And the sun was nowhere to be seen." The chieftain requests for a volunteer to trek "into the mountains" and see what "made the sun disappear." Soe-In alone speaks up: "Sir, I will go." Though she's met with a cacophony of doubting resistance, Soe-In's tenacity never wavers. She packs her pink bojagi (traditional wrapping scarf) and bravely ventures forth. Nothing stops her until she's eye-to-eye with the spirit tiger himself.
Korean American author/artist Cha explains in her author's note that she drew from her cultural history, celebrating the "tigers [that] constantly appeared in Korean stories and images, sometimes as deities, sometimes as threats." As artist, the Rhode Island School of Design-trained Cha seems to attenuate the tiger's spirit: while all her richly hued spreads swirl with inviting action, her tiger-themed panels especially burst forth in flaming swaths of gold, orange, brown and black strokes, as if the tiger's energy can hardly be contained on the printed page. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Hanna Cha draws on her Korean heritage in Tiny Feet Between the Mountains, in which size matters little to a tiny girl who saves her village with her ingenuity.