From the Shelf
Books on Books
There's a certain type of reader so enthralled by books that they enjoy consuming other books about them. If that describes you, here are three to sate your appetite.
Disciplined readers will delight in New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul's My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues (Holt, $27), a memoir Paul has constructed around the reading record she's maintained since 1988. (My own version of "BOB"--Book of Books--dates to late 1979.) Paul's heartfelt book is less a detailed account of her reading than it is the story of books as her life companions, whether she was trekking solo across China or mourning the end of her brief first marriage.
Do you fall into despair when you see a headline pronouncing the "end of reading?" Leah Price's What We Talk About When We Talk About Books: The History and Future of Reading (Basic Books, $28) could be the antidote. In this slim volume, Price, a Rutgers University English professor and book historian, argues persuasively that the consumption of the written word has always adjusted to new technologies, and that the shortened attention spans that electronic reading triggers are only the latest surmountable challenge.
And for those inclined to pass judgment when scanning the bookshelves of a new acquaintance, My Ideal Bookshelf (Little, Brown, $24.99) is a treat for the mind and eye. This small coffee-table book, a collaboration between editor Thessaly La Force and artist Jane Mount, features La Force's interviews with more than 100 writers and other creatives, among them Rosanne Cash and George Saunders, who each select books that possess special meaning for them. Mount reproduces the spines of those books in colorful illustrations.
Don't be surprised if even a brief perusal sparks the urge to find your next good read. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer
In this Issue...
by Tim Dorsey
Serge Storm and his sidekick Coleman solve a decades-old mystery during a highly irregular tour of Florida cemeteries.
by Kate Messner
In this gorgeously crafted middle-grade novel, a girl works to save her grandmother's cricket farm while rebuilding her own physical and emotional strength after a traumatic year.
by Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston's Harlem Renaissance legacy is updated with this collection of 21 short stories that includes several reclaimed pieces.
Review by Subjects:
12/08/2020 - 12:30PMGermany is the most populous country in the European Union and is the EU’s largest economy. Since the debt crisis of 2008, Germany has taken on a dominant position as a de facto leader of the EU. Now, with long-time Chancellor Angela Merkel not seeking re-election and the EU’s second largest economy (the United Kingdom) on its way out the door, Germany is at a crossroads. These circumstances, combined with a resurgent German far-right and the Coronavirus pandemic, place Germany in...
Valentine's Day in Juliet's Verona Home
"Write a letter to Shakespeare's Juliet for a chance to spend Valentine's Day in her romantic Verona home," Mental Floss wrote.
Inspired by recent events in Iowa, Brooke Preston imagined "Shirley Jackson's 'The Caucus' " for McSweeney's.
Author Steph Cha chose her "top 10 books about trouble in Los Angeles" for the Guardian.
LGBT+ book collector and Gay's the Word bookshop founder "donated his extensive collection of queer literature to the University of London," GCN noted.
The Belgrade book collection one family has kept "going--and growing--since 1720." (via Atlas Obscura)
Gabriel Bump: Look at the World
|(photo: Jeremy Handrup)|
Gabriel Bump's fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Slam magazine, the Huffington Post and elsewhere. He received his MFA in fiction from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and now lives in Buffalo, N.Y. His debut novel, Everywhere You Don't Belong (Algonquin), is set on the South Side of Chicago, where Bump grew up. The novel's protagonist is Claude, who was abandoned by his parents as a child and lives with his grandmother. Claude must choose between his desire to escape Chicago and his love for the people he would leave behind.
Let's talk about your approach to dialogue. Characters often speak in short bursts and there's a pretty rapid back-and-forth during some conversations. It reminded me of a play.
In college, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I took a few playwriting workshops taught by Jenny Magnus. There, I learned that dialogue can and should have its own style. In grad school, at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, as I started writing this book in earnest, I read everything by August Wilson and Suzan-Lori Parks. When dialogue works best, like in Wilson's and Parks's work, the aim is frugal economy.
I try to accomplish several things in one line. I want to move the plot forward, give a sense of character, transmit emotion--to name a few goals, which change given the context. Those short bursts also allow me to build a rhythm. There are a few long monologues in the book. For example, Connie Stove only speaks in long monologues. After all those short bursts, I hope the long monologues provide a fun break in the rhythm.
The community you write about has a strong sense of history--in one scene, the memory of Fred Hampton's killing seems to loom as large as more recent tragedies. How do you think that long memory filters down to younger generations like Claude's? How does it change the way they look at the world?
I grew up two blocks north of Emmet Till Road, a section of 71st Street named after the lynched young man. In high school, when I first started reading about the Black Panther Party and the civil rights movement, I learned about Fred Hampton and his unjust killing. In places like the South Side of Chicago, I believe, curious young people feel a desire to understand their surroundings. For example: Why is my neighborhood 95% black and my friend's neighborhood is 95% white? America's history provides answers. For me, that long memory was encountered through journalism. I worked on my high school newspaper. I enjoyed writing stories about segregation, gun violence, and civil rights. Young people access that long memory in different ways. Claude, for example, discovers it through Paul and Grandma.
I can't speak for everyone in my generation. I can say that learning about America's long and complicated racial history has made me realize that ills in minority communities aren't random or the result of innate inferiority. These are ills that are deliberate and conceived by outside forces. Understanding that truth gives me some hope that these ills can change with serious systematic reforms.
Claude's desire to leave the South Side seems to be replaced by homesickness once he actually gets out. Did you experience anything like that after leaving your hometown?
Claude and I left Chicago for different reasons. I didn't leave because I was disillusioned. I left because I wanted to study journalism at the University of Missouri. I loved Chicago, still love Chicago. When I left, however, I felt the same homesickness. I felt like I didn't belong in Missouri. I dropped out and moved back to Chicago after sophomore year. When I left for grad school, three years after moving back, I felt that same sensation of not belonging in Massachusetts. It's difficult to articulate. Back home, in my neighborhood, I was used to seeing people like me every day. Away from Chicago, the world was different. This book started by trying to define what "belonging" somewhere meant.
Obama is referred to a few times in the book. It makes sense given the setting, but I wondered if there was a disconnect between the kind of hope he offered and the seemingly unchanging or worsening circumstances in the South Side that you wanted to highlight.
The South Side of Chicago, I believe, felt a more acute hope than the rest of the world when Obama was running for president. We claimed him as our own. He claimed us as his own. First Lady Michelle Obama spent her childhood years on Euclid Avenue, a few blocks south of where I grew up. Once Obama got elected, the reality of his job set in. Of course, he wasn't just our president. That was never a real possibility. I was in Grant Park when he gave his acceptance speech. I rode the bus home feeling the world had changed for the better. Then, soon after, reality sunk in. Having Obama in the White House was never going to change the systematic and long-running diseases afflicting Chicago. Chicago had to cure itself.
Basketball and the Chicago Bulls are hugely important to your characters, in a way that might be hard for outsiders to understand. Is there something going on here beyond the usual sports fandom?
Basketball in Chicago is similar to football in Texas. Even before the Jordan years, basketball was huge. There's this amazing mix of high-level local talent and fan obsession. I spent a few years working as a high school basketball scout. I still haven't experienced a sporting event similar to a Chicago Public League basketball game. I imagine there are European and South American soccer matches with similar atmospheres.
The whole world was obsessed with Michael Jordan and the Bulls. Imagine if that was your city, your team, your hero.
How much of your own life and experiences did you feel comfortable putting in the book?
Claude and I experienced different lives. The settings are similar. He grew up on Euclid Avenue. I grew up on Euclid Avenue. He went to school in Missouri. I went to school in Missouri. That's about where the comparisons end. As best I could, I did, however, try to put my emotions into Claude. How I felt when I first fell in love, for example. How homesickness felt. Anger. Sadness. Loneliness. In an emotional sense, I'm all over this book.
After he goes to college, how does it isolate Claude to be around people like his roommate Kenneth, who belong "in a world without time and emergencies"?
That's an isolation felt by many first-year college students from urban environments. You spend your whole life in a city, with all its problems and beauty, and--wham--you're in the middle of nowhere. Now, I do think if Claude spent more time getting to know Kenneth and people like him, he'd realize, like I have, that every place operates on its own time, has its own emergencies.
You write that "anger has to go away when you go to work or go to school or ride the bus or go to the grocery store or go to a movie downtown." In your own life, if you experience such anger, how do you cope with it?
For me, writing and reading are the only effective salves. Not just with anger. This book grew out of anger and loneliness, yes--some confusion, some angst. When I'm feeling any strong emotion, writing and reading helps clarify it, calms me down.
That riot scene, which you've quoted, sprang from the anger I felt watching the Ferguson riots on TV from my couch in Massachusetts. I was shaking with anger. Writing through that anger helped calm me down, helped clarify. Writing didn't, however, make the anger disappear. It doesn't help me to walk around shaking with anger at the world. Still, look at the world. Sometimes, I don't know what else to do. --Hank Stephenson
Rediscover: The Omni-AmericansAfrican American novelist, essayist, biographer and jazz critic Albert Murray (1916-2013) was born in Mobile, Ala., graduated from and later taught at the Tuskegee Institute. In 1943, he joined the U.S. Army Air Forces, hoping to "live long enough for Thomas Mann to finish the last volume of Joseph and His Brothers." After the war, he earned a masters in English from New York University, where he befriended Ralph Ellison and Duke Ellington. Murray retired from the Air Force as a major in 1962 and settled in Harlem. He published his first book, The Omni-Americans, in 1970 and held professorships across the country, including at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Colgate University, Emory University, Drew University and Barnard College. Murray's music writing influenced jazz legend Wynton Marsalis. They founded Jazz at Lincoln Center together in 1987.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. called The Omni-Americans: Some Alternatives to the Folklore of White Supremacy the "most important book on black-white relationships." In it, Murray said "the United States is in actuality not a nation of black people and white people. It is a nation of multicolored people. Any fool can see that the white people are not really white, and that black people are not black. They are all interrelated one way or another." He argued that black culture and art, blues and jazz in particular, were at the forefront of the American mainstream and were integral parts of the best American art. On February 4, Library of America published a 50th-anniversary edition of The Omni-Americans with a new foreword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. ($15.95, 9781598536522). --Tobias Mutter
Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: Stories from the Harlem Renaissance
by Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston's (Their Eyes Were Watching God; Barracoon) impressive posthumous body of work continues to grow. Her previously published stories focused on the life of African Americans in the rural South. In Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick, 21 short stories--including several "lost" pieces depicting the Great Migration to northern cities and Harlem's educated New Negro middle class--offer an updated perspective of Hurston's Harlem Renaissance-era cultural commentary.
"Almost a century later," writes editor Genevieve West in her introduction, "Hurston's contributions to American literary culture continue to inform the ways we talk about the Harlem Renaissance, Modernism, women's literature, folk literature and folklore, ethnography, migration fiction, and Southern literature." These stories, written in the 1920s and '30s, explore toxic masculinity and women's agency, urban vs. rural class representations, colorism/shadeism, identity politics and the intersectionality of race, class, age and gender in ways that remain relevant today.
And by using humor, folklore and her distinctive combination of delicate prose and vernacular speech, Hurston also has written thoroughly engaging slices-of-life, always centered on black characters, from a specific time. Consider "She dismounted with the gaudy lemon flavored culprit and advanced to the gate where Grandma stood glowering, switches in hand," juxtaposed next to, "You're gointuh ketchit f'um yo' haid to yo' heels m'lady. Jes' come in heah," from "Drenched in Light." To appreciate Hurston's stories fully, Tayari Jones (An American Marriage) recommends, in her foreword, "reading this work aloud, enjoying the feel of the words in your mouth, and the sound of English tightened and strummed like the strings of a banjo." --BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co., Beaver Dam, Wis.
Discover: Zora Neale Hurston's Harlem Renaissance legacy is updated with this collection of 21 short stories that includes several reclaimed pieces.
Heathcliff Redux: A Novella and Stories
by Lily Tuck
That the world can be unkind, particularly to women, isn't lost on National Book Award-winner Lily Tuck (The News from Paraguay; Sisters). With her signature unembellished prose, Tuck often writes about women whose prospects are limited by their historical era and choice of mate.
Likewise, the women of the stellar Heathcliff Redux: A Novella and Stories are vulnerable in ways that the men around them are not. In the title novella, set in 1963, the narrator recounts her affair with a man who is in business with her domineering husband. Readers will detect a note of wistfulness when she reflects, "Charlie and I started dating my freshman year in college; we got married after he graduated. I got pregnant right away with the twins and did not graduate." In "The Dead Swan," another woman abandoned pursuits that could have given her more of a foothold on her future. She showed promise as a photographer--one of her pictures was selected for a group exhibition. But it was at this exhibition that she met her husband, which has led to a life of substitute teaching and awaiting his return from prison. Also no better off for having thrown in her lot with a man--a cult leader--is the protagonist of "A Natural State," who starts receiving unnerving e-mails that force her to remember this aspect of her past.
The women of Heathcliff Redux aren't without agency: like their male counterparts, they take drugs, have affairs. But Tuck's stories' power imbalances, especially men's surpassing physical strength, keep the writer ever watchful, her sentences stark with circumspection and glistening with clarity. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: The National Book Award winner's superb third collection features women dependent on or done wrong by men.
The Authenticity Project
by Clare Pooley
Online, everyone's lives look happy and perfect, which makes Clare Pooley's (The Sober Diaries) charmed novel, The Authenticity Project, a fresh, welcome and necessary change of pace.
Monica is a single, 37-year-old Brit who gave up her corporate law to open a London café. She discovers a simple exercise book left behind in her coffee shop, with three words etched on the cover: "The Authenticity Project." The first page reads: "Everyone lies about their lives. What would happen if you shared the truth instead...? Not on the internet, but with those real people around you?"
Intrigued, Monica learns the book was initiated by 79-year-old Julian Jessop, who committed his truth to its pages. Julian expresses the deep-seated loneliness he's experienced for five years, since the loss of his wife, Mary, whom he appreciated only once she was gone. Julian created the Authenticity Project to purge his own feelings and deliberately left the book with his story behind, hoping that whoever read his entry would be inspired to share their own story in its pages and then leave the book for others to do the same.
Monica searches for Julian online and discovers he is a famous portrait painter. In the meantime, she leaves the notebook, with her entry added, in a local wine bar. It lands with a cocaine addict, Hazard, who takes it with him as he sobers up on a remote island in the South China Sea. What ensues is a clever story of how the notebook travels from person to person, six strangers who ultimately discover each other and form bonds of commonality, friendship and love. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: A notebook created for the purpose of confessing intimate, personal truth turns British strangers into friends as they form an unlikely bond of trust.
Mystery & Thriller
Naked Came the Florida Man
by Tim Dorsey
Tim Dorsey (No Sunscreen for the Dead) continues to deliver hilarious anarchy in his 23rd Serge Storms novel, Naked Came the Florida Man. Serge, driving his gold '69 Plymouth Satellite, makes a tour of Florida cemeteries. "Cemeteries rock!" he explains to his sidekick, Coleman. "They're portals to our roots with all the obvious history, not to mention upbeat landscaping and bitchin' statuary." The road trip frames the pair's increasingly outrageous antics. Serge says, "Nobody could ever write a better job description for me: Florida, no appointments and a tank of gas."
Serge has a well-known aversion to what he considers unethical behavior, leading to retribution that manages to be sociopathic and funny all at once; several miscreants along the way find themselves humiliated or worse. His personal code of honor, twisted as it is, covers all living things. Upon discovering a man who's harming a seagull, Serge mildly notes, "Seagulls are widely misunderstood creatures" before violently teaching the offender a lesson. "I guess I just can't understand the concept of torture," he concludes without any irony at all.
The most puzzling mystery they encounter--rumors of a monster haunting an abandoned sugar field--leads to small-town rodeos, high school football and, yes, a crazy Florida Man. The satisfying conclusion, where bad guys lose and good guys win, is a hallmark of the series. Both continuing and first-time readers looking for a humorous story with dark edges will find this a delightfully nihilistic adventure in the Sunshine State. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: Serge Storm and his sidekick Coleman solve a decades-old mystery during a highly irregular tour of Florida cemeteries.
by Jess Montgomery
Set in 1926 southern Ohio and replete with the era's racism, sexism and anti-immigration sentiment, The Hollows is a fast-paced second installment in Jess Montgomery's Kinship historical mystery series.
In an eerie prologue, an elderly woman stumbles through the Appalachian woods by the light of a full moon, seeking the Moonvale Hollow Tunnel. The novel then moves ahead two hours, as Sheriff Lily Ross arrives to investigate the death of an unidentified woman found on the train tracks under the tunnel.
Lily is a conscientious sheriff, although some dismiss her as "a novelty," appointed to fill her late husband's term. (While The Hollows is a satisfying stand-alone, several plot threads originate in The Widows, book one of the series.) Running for re-election against an heir to the village founders and raising her two children is demanding, but Lily feels compelled to identify the woman and the truth about her death. Supporting her are her two best friends, wise yet timid Hildy, immersed in her own drama of a secret affair with a coal miner, and bold Marvena, an organizer for the United Mine Workers, whose other skills include making moonshine. Hildy and Marvena become integral to solving the case, while their individual stories enhance The Hollows.
Colorful Appalachian dialect and details of geography and nature add to a well-crafted mystery that takes place primarily over two weeks. The Immigration Act of 1924, which limited potential miners; the southern Ohio underground railroad stops and its Quaker supporters; and the Women's KKK movement of the 1920s emerge as factors in the case, making The Hollows dynamic historical fiction as well as a riveting mystery. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, freelance reviewer and former bookseller
Discover: A compelling novel set in 1920s southern Ohio reflects the prejudices of the era as a woman sheriff defies society and solves a mystery.
by Catherine Steadman
It's clear from Mr. Nobody that Catherine Steadman understands a lot about neuropsychiatry and neuroscience. Put in TV industry terms: in the role of amateur neuropsychiatrist, Steadman, an English actress best known for her role on television's Downton Abbey, is thoroughly convincing.
A man wakes up on a beach with a head wound, wet clothes, no shoes, and some faded writing on his hand. He hasn't got an ID, which would have been useful: he claims not to know who he is. He says he doesn't remember anything before he was found. Is his memory loss retrograde amnesia, meaning caused by a physical injury, or extremely rare dissociative fugue, meaning the result of a psychological trauma?
Entrusted to work on the "Mr. Nobody" case is Emma Lewis, a 30-year-old London neuropsychiatrist. Emma accepts the potentially career-crowning assignment with some trepidation: since the man was found on Holkham Beach, in Norfolk, where Emma grew up, she must treat him at the local hospital, and she's wary of being recognized. Sure enough, when Mr. Nobody finally speaks, he addresses Emma by her childhood name, which she changed following a media-circus-precipitating family tragedy that took place 14 years earlier.
Steadman is a fine storyteller, as will attest fans of her first thriller, Something in the Water. While Mr. Nobody's main concerns are cerebral, readers who like a good knock-down-drag-out won't be disappointed. Steadman's book just might be literature's first in which a character dukes it out while a folding chair is tied to her ankle. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: The multitalented Downton Abbey actress has written not so much a psychological thriller as a psychiatric one.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by Joanna Kavenna
Zed is a darkly comic satire of Silicon Valley's worst tendencies taken to excess. In the near future, tech giant Beetle has perfected a predictive algorithm called the lifechain. Operating above archaic concepts such as sovereignty and corporate taxes, Beetle guides citizens of the Western world to the best possible versions of their lives in Beetle's surveilled cities. Via omnipresent BeetleBands and BeetlePads, sentient AI assistants called Veeps cheerfully remind people to calm down, or drink more water, or rest--whatever the lifechain predicts is best. For Beetle CEO and unrepentant womanizer Guy Matthias, everything is going great, except for the pesky issue of human free will.
One morning in London, Beetle bigwig Douglas Varley awakens to learn that an unassuming, predicted-non-criminal has murdered his own wife and children. In the process of apprehending the murderer, a Beetle Anti-Terror Droid kills an innocent man. Eloise Jayne, member of the neutered U.K. national security apparatus, pursues the case despite having almost no power. David Strachey, last editor of the last newspaper in London, is theoretically a member of the free press, though his salary (paid in BeetleBits) is dependent on positive coverage of Guy Matthias's company. While Strachey struggles to spin the death of a random bystander by a Beetle robot, a mysterious figure named Bel Ami seeks to stir sedition in the editor's heart. Above all else, these dystopia denizens must deal with a sudden breakdown of the lifechain caused by unpredictable human behavior--a phenomenon called Zed.
Joanna Kavenna (A Field Guide to Reality) has a savage sense of humor and deft eye for ridiculous tech trends. Zed is as hilarious as it is horrifyingly plausible. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer
Discover: Tech giant Beetle's lifechain successfully predicts everyone's behavior, until the glitch of free will breaks the algorithm.
Biography & Memoir
Gay Like Me: A Father Writes to His Son
by Richie Jackson
TV and Broadway producer Richie Jackson's memoir, Gay Like Me, is presented as a letter to his gay teenage son, but all young LGBTQ people will find it inspiring, uplifting and essential reading. "I have always felt lucky to be gay," writes Jackson. "Everything good that has happened to me is because I am gay." In reviewing his life, Jackson also shares gay history and offers context to his coming out at 18 in 1984, compared to his son's coming out three decades later. "I am scared for your safety and elated for what is in store for you," he writes.
The steady stream of gay representation and civil rights advancement that some take for granted is a very recent thing, Jackson cautions. When Jackson and actor BD Wong adopted their son in 2000, the New Yorkers had to do their surrogacy in California because it was the only state that would allow two men's names on a birth certificate. The couple split, after 15 years together, when their son was three. Jackson urges his son to find gay history (pointing him toward James Baldwin, Edmund White, Vito Russo and his mentor and friend Harvey Fierstein) and remain politically informed. He worries that his son's generation, many of whom have never been in the closet, are disadvantaged by having no gay protective reflex or gay guard. "We are legal, not safe," he warns.
Gay Like Me is an irresistible, breezy, heartfelt and upbeat mixture of memoir, fatherly advice and gay history 101. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: A gay dad's buoyant little instruction book for his gay son is essential reading for all LGBTQ people trying to find their place in the world.
Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World
by Matt Parker
The average person has little use for--or interest in--applying numbers, statistics and mathematical reasoning to everyday life. Yet, "today's world is built on mathematics: computer programming, finance, engineering... it's all just math in different guises." Most human beings take math completely for granted--an exception being Matt Parker, a stand-up comedian, YouTube sensation and writer of all things calculative. Parker offers a thoroughly entertaining and engaging look at numerical and mathematical scenarios that have gone terribly awry, wreaking havoc in unexpected ways.
The stories in Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World range from how the calendar and leap year came into being to air traffic control and NASA mishaps, computer glitches, and how human error and data entry gone bad can account for a myriad of numerical dilemmas--including election polling and financial problems. Some blunders are extraordinarily bizarre: the harrowing story of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge disaster in Washington State, and how a building--an architectural marvel--in London started to set the city ablaze. Others are more elementary: glitches in the program Excel, units of measurement and geometrical patterns.
Parker (Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension) adds up his findings in an amusing, pragmatic way that keeps readers--even the math-averse--glued to the page. This book screams of clever, fun originality, including Parker numbering the pages of the book backwards. Readers should hope that Parker's prediction for the possibility of a Y2K-like scenario in the year 2038 will be rectified long before pandemonium strikes. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: A thoroughly entertaining look at mathematical mishaps that have unexpectedly paved the way for improved numerical reasoning.
Nature & Environment
Cat Tale: The Wild, Weird Battle to Save the Florida Panther
by Craig Pittman
Equal parts cautionary and alluring, Cat Tale is a story about which Craig Pittman warns, "This being Florida, there's going to be some weirdness sprinkled into this tale." The state's reputation as home to the bizarre is enhanced by Pittman's recounting of efforts to save Florida's official animal (and how that came to be is itself an oddity within oddities). A Tampa Bay Times journalist and author of several books about zany goings-on in his native state (Oh, Florida!), Pittman turns his environmentalist eye to the plight of the Florida panther.
Panthers (aka cougars, mountain lions, catamounts--all pumas) once ranged across North America, playing a crucial role in ecosystem health. As development expanded, so did conflicts between fierce predator, man and machines, until just between six and 20 big cats remained in the state. Those stragglers were in bad shape, and at risk of disappearing altogether by 2016. Cat Tale shares the extraordinary efforts of the individuals who set out to save the Florida panther from extinction.
As advertised, Pittman provides plenty of the peculiar, sprinkled liberally over absorbing science (and attempts to undermine it), dedication and courage (panther mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, anyone?), colorful heroes and villains, local lore and, naturally, political and governmental shenanigans. Pittman admirably distills decades of history and research with a reporter's acumen and a humorous soul. An enthralling story that begins with "a fussy archaeologist, a tiny wooden carving, and a wealthy playboy with a ninety-foot houseboat" ends up as a timely cautionary tale of what it takes to undo humanity's continuing ravaging of the Earth. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: A rollicking good story of the scientists, researchers and trackers who hunt and study the endangered Florida panther and the forces that undercut their efforts to save it.
Children's & Young Adult
by Kate Messner
Cricket farm sabotage, a spying moose, parent-enforced summer camps and a deep, dark secret buried in a gym bag: Kate Messner's Chirp is a deliciously layered concoction of mystery, friend bonding and girl power.
When 12-year-old Mia moves with her family back to Vermont after a couple of years in Boston, she is a much quieter, more cautious girl. The year before, Mia broke her arm in a balance beam accident. Now, although she's been cleared to return to the gym, she wants to put her gymnastics years behind her. Even so, her parents are making her participate in two camps this summer: "Something for [her] body and something for [her] brain," as her mom keeps reminding her. Reluctantly, Mia signs up for an entrepreneurial launch program and a warrior challenge camp. Soon, in spite of herself, Mia is making friends and immersing herself in ideas to make her grandmother's cricket farm more profitable and sustainable. Unfortunately, it looks like someone is sabotaging the farm, and a businessman with the Nancy Drew-worthy name of Chet Potsworth might be the one behind the destructive shenanigans.
Mystery lovers may be captivated by the twists and turns of this well-written whodunnit, but Chirp's appeal is broad enough to find fans of many stripes. Some may even come for the mystery but stay for the complex characterizations and skilled plot development. Any reader will be able to cheer Mia on as she rebuilds her confidence and strength after a rough and disturbing year. Messner (The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.; Breakout; The Brilliant Deep) gracefully spins multiple threads into one beautiful, empowering novel that is likely to satisfy warriors and quietly courageous readers alike. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: In this gorgeously crafted middle-grade novel, a girl works to save her grandmother's cricket farm while rebuilding her own physical and emotional strength after a traumatic year.
True to Your Selfie
by Megan McCafferty
True to Your Selfie, Megan McCafferty's 11th novel for teen and tween readers, is a genuine (and genuinely entertaining) novel about middle-school growing pains. While this may be a common topic, it's not often addressed from the point of view McCafferty takes here: the Cool Girl.
Ella is perfectly set up to start seventh grade. She is best friends with the wealthy, popular Morgan Middleton and the two of them post videos of themselves doing pop song covers, with Morgan singing lead and Ella playing ukulele and singing harmony. With 10,000 followers on "each of the most important socials," #Morgan&Ella have a solid start on reaching Morgan's goal of "global multiplatform domination." It's great. Right? But Morgan is slightly domineering--she chooses Ella's outfits, makes her schedule and has dubbed her the "Goofball Goddess" to Morgan's own "Girlboss Goddess Next Door." Ella would talk to her best friend, Sophie, about all of this, but Morgan doesn't like Sophie, so Ella can't, either.
Since readers of middle-grade and YA are often given a surrogate in Sophie's position, Ella could easily come across as a Mean Girl more than a Cool Girl. Goofball Goddess seems like an insult--and is in relation to Girlboss Goddess--but tells a truth about Ella. Her first-person point of view, told in quick, sharp chapters, shows a girl who is friendly, easy going, messy, generally happy and eager to try new things. McCafferty builds her in such a way that her development (from average to cool and back again) seems true and understandable. Besides, how many middle-schoolers would say no to instant popularity and global multiplatform domination? --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Ella enters seventh grade as one half of the Internet-popular duo #Morgan&Ella but slowly realizes best friend Morgan might not be a friend at all.
The Queen's Assassin
by Melissa de la Cruz
It is well known that Caledon Holt, a member of the Hearthstone Guild ("a society of assassins and spies") is the deadliest person in Renovia. His father, the king's assassin, attempted at the time of the king's death to safeguard Renovia's future by pledging his own life and that of his heir to the crown. Eighteen years later, Caledon is bound by this blood magic to be the queen's assassin.
Shadow is a longtime admirer of Cal; all she has ever wanted is to be a member of the Hearthstone Guild and help them fulfill their quest to retrieve the Deian Scrolls, "the fount of all magical history, information, practice and use." Instead, she is told to serve the crown as a lady of the court. Then, Cal is arrested for treason. Having witnessed the crime, Shadow knows Cal is innocent and seizes the opportunity to escape court life: she determines to save him and pose as his apprentice. Together, the two discover a conspiracy against the crown and work as a team to prevent impending war.
In The Queen's Assassin, Cal and Shadow's lives intertwine as they fight to save their home. Melissa de la Cruz uses the protagonists' alternating points of view to show how each character, though vastly different from one another, is a victim of fate--neither owns their own life even though being thrust into a war will ultimately determine their destinies. The prolific Melissa de la Cruz weaves an intricate fantasy filled with intrigue, magic and romance. --Tasneem Daud, blogger and booktuber, Nemo Reads
Discover: In Melissa de la Cruz's YA title The Queen's Assassin, a lady of the court and an assassin are forced to team up to save their kingdom.