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Beyond the Comfort Zone | Memoir

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 10:57

This month, we have several memoirs on the theme of venturing outside one’s comfort zone. Take for instance, Maggie O’Farrell’s account of the numerous times in her life that she has nearly died; in spite of these, she embraces adventure and exploration. Laura Smith’s work illustrates how her currently settled life started far from that. Folk singer Peggy Seeger’s book is thick with travel and music, while Susan Sokol Blosser’s walks readers through the process of starting a winery, with no prior experience. As we head into the New Year, it is a time to reflect and consider new challenges. Perhaps you’ll find something here to inspire resolutions.

O’Farrell, Maggie. I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death. Knopf. Feb. 2018. 304p. illus. ISBN 9780525520221. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780525520238. MEMOIR
This memoir will make readers look more closely at the danger they’ve brushed up against in their lives. British novelist O’Farrell (This Must Be the Place; Instructions for a Heat Wave) explores episodes in which she came close to death: a near-drowning, an encounter with a murderer on a deserted hiking trail, dysentery, meningitis, close calls during surgeries, to name a few. With each chapter, the author reveals more of her experiences, including parenting a daughter with multiple and severe allergies. Though not expressly addressed to her daughter, O’Farrell’s book serves to show her (and readers) that we are not alone in our clashes with fate. In confronting her own mortality, she proves that she isn’t isolated in these frightening moments, but instead resilient and courageous. VERDICT A heartfelt meditation on the fragility and wonder of life, O’Farrell’s work emphasizes the body’s desire to fight for survival, even as it encounters challenges from all sides. [See Prepub Alert, 8/28/17.]

Seeger, Peggy. First Time Ever. Faber & Faber. Oct. 2017. 416p. photos. ISBN 9780571336791. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9780571336814. MEMOIR
The author, half-sister to folk singer Pete Seeger, is a force of folk all her own. In this lovely firsthand account, she shares memories of her idyllic childhood and reflections on race, as her family had African American domestic workers. She also explores cultural differences as she looks back on her travels through Europe and Asia as a young woman playing music; she delves into her identity as both a public performer and a woman, daughter, partner, mother, musician, activist, and feminist, crafting her narrative from recollections and her own diaries. Readers will find a constellation of folk music greats here, all linked by Seeger’s anecdotes. Now in her 80s, Seeger is enmeshed thoroughly in the search to know herself fully. One delightful aspect is Seeger quoting from biographies of her life, written by others. The chronological structure zigzags a bit in time, but it mimics the way memory works. VERDICT An engrossing read for all, even those who don’t know their folk music history.

Smith, Laura. The Art of Vanishing: A Memoir of Wanderlust. Penguin. Feb. 2018. 272p. ISBN 9780399563584. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780399563607. MEMOIR
Smith introduces us to the enigmatic figure of Barbara Newhall Follett, a child prodigy who published a novel in 1927 at the age of 12, and second one two years later. Follett’s precociousness is fascinating (she joined a ship’s crew and sailed unsupervised by a guardian) but so is the story of her sudden disappearance as a young newlywed in 1939. Smith dives deeply into an investigation of Follett’s early years and explores various hypotheses for her vanishing, using this compelling life story as a foil for her own. For many years, Smith resisted all forms of settling down. However, she comes to realize, as she explores a nomadic life, open marriage, and other forms of resistance to conformity, that her husband is who she wants to be with, and that her job and home can be whatever she chooses. With thorough historical research, she brings the parallels between Follett and herself into view; in her own life, Smith discovers that the bonds she builds with others don’t confine but nourish. VERDICT Readers will enjoy the multiple themes that Smith weaves deftly throughout this memoir.

Sokol Blosser, Susan. The Vineyard Years: A Memoir with Recipes. Graphic Arts. Oct. 2017. 288p. photos. ISBN 9781513260730. $34.99; ISBN 9781513260716. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781513260723. MEMOIR
Oregon-based winemaker Sokol Blosser’s account of the Sokol Blosser vineyard and winery will teach readers a lot about the science, craft, and even luck of making wine. As a woman in a predominantly male craft, the author reminds readers of the need to be brave and persistent, even as we stumble through the learning process. The obstacles that she and her family encountered as they built their brand make it clear that becoming a vintner is not for the faint of heart. From the unexpected loss of a rained-out harvest and balancing loans to working to repair family tensions, the Sokol Blosser Winery overcame these challenges and more. The included recipes also give suggested wine pairings: all featuring Sokol Blosser bottles, of course. VERDICT This book will educate somewhat on the finer points of winemaking, but the main takeaway will be the crucial roles of tenacity and flexibility in the success of a new business.

More 2017 Books Worth Your While | The Readers’ Shelf

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 20:14

What do book award chairs read during their off time? Below, the members of the American Library Association’s CODES awards share some personal favorites.

In the near future, coastal states are under­water, and the banning of fossil fuels has triggered a second civil war in the United States. Omar El Akkad’s debut, American War (Knopf. Apr. 2017. ISBN 9780451493583. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780451493590), revolves around the Chestnuts, a Louisiana family relegated to a refugee camp during the fighting. One daughter, Sarat, evolves from an innocent girl into a terrifying weapon against the government. Played out against a backdrop of global climate catastrophe, the narrative juxtaposes today’s fractious political conflicts with a dystopian America rife with violence and extremism.

Exceptional thrillers are impossible to put down, such as Fierce Kingdom (Viking. Jul. 2017. ISBN 9780735224278. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780735224285), Gin Phillips’s edge-of-your-seat novel about a mother and son trying to survive a mass shooting at a zoo. The story takes place over three hours—from the moment they hear the first, unexpected shot to the gripping conclusion—and there isn’t a single wasted minute through it all. Every sentence drives the plot forward, every twist provides a new revelation, and every scene begs the question of what the reader would do.

A traveling festival to celebrate cultural life in Palestine, the Palfest is hardly an ordinary event. The essays, statements, reports, and poems gathered in This Is Not a Border: Reportage & Reflection from the Palestine Festival of Literature (Bloomsbury USA. Jul. 2017. ISBN 9781632868848. pap. $23; ebk. ISBN 9781632868855) introduce a diverse lineup of festival participants. Writers such as Alice Walker, Michael Ondaatje, and Claire Messud lend their incredible voices to establish the connection between literature in the midst of chaos and occupation and literature as a response to freedom. Editors Ahdaf Soueif and Omar Robert Hamilton have carefully arranged contributions that hit on many levels.

Leland Melvin’s memoir, Chasing Space: An Astronaut’s Story of Grit, Grace, and Second Chances (6 CDs. 7:30 hrs. Harper ­Audio. May 2017. ISBN 9781538416167. $29.99), details his life from National Football League glory to a career as a NASA researcher and astronaut to then championing STEM education and taking a side trip into reality TV. Narrator Ron Butler’s self-deprecating and wry tone flawlessly echoes Melvin’s message, subtly capturing painful emotions of racial discrimination, perseverance through injury, and grateful appreciation for his Christian faith and family. There are so many appealing aspects here—not to mention the dogs.

Set in the 22nd century, Autonomous (digital download. 10:27 hrs. Macmillan Audio. Sept. 2017. ISBN 9781427290731. $23.99), by Annalee Newitz, is an sf adventure that cleverly intertwines the familiar with the futuristic. Jack is an intellectual property pirate and uses her proceeds to manufacture epidemic-combating drugs. Las Vegas is a market for indentured slaves, with corporations defining the law and many all-robot communities. Jennifer Ikeda narrates with a mix of matter-of-fact and quiet astonishment, reflecting the characters’ reactions to the quickly unfolding events. This exciting and thought-provoking production will make readers want to get back in the car just to keep ­listening.

Shot-Blue (Coach House. Apr. 2017. ISBN 9781552453407. pap. $17.95; ebk. ISBN 9781770564749) is the color of the sky and the sound of a shotgun blast. Jesse Ruddock’s title perfectly encapsulates both the beauty and cruelty of the remote Canadian setting. Tristan, a boy on the edge of adolescence, lives in an isolated cabin with his protective mother, Rachel. She does her best to prepare her dreamy, awkward child for the challenges of life in this harsh landscape. Ruddock pens gorgeous and hallucinatory prose to describe lives defined by the slow rhythms of nature.

Natasha Pulley’s second novel, The Bedlam Stacks (Bloomsbury USA. Aug. 2017. ISBN 9781620409671. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781620409688), tells the tale of Merrick Tremayne, an ex–East India Company agent ordered to break Peru’s monopoly on quinine. As Merrick journeys deeper into the forest, he encounters any number of strange and wondrous circumstances and meets a highly mysterious priest with an intriguing relationship to time. Pulley is a master of fanciful elements and deftly draws readers into her vividly realized locales.

This column was contributed by Craig Clark, Notable Books Council; Nanette Wargo Donohue, Reading List Council; Sarah Barbara Watstein, Sophie Brody Medal; Mary Burkey, The Listen List: Outstanding Audiobook Narration; M. Kathleen Kern, Dartmouth Medal; Cindy L. Craig, Outstanding Reference Sources; and Neal Wyatt, Univ. Pr. Books for Public and School Libraries. Selections and annotations are in the order given

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ’s online feature Wyatt’s World and is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers’ advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader’s Shelf should contact her directly at

Degenerates, Royals, Monsters, and the Zerelli Sisters | What We’re Reading & Watching

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 14:41

It’s been a busy post-Thanksgiving, post–Best Books season here at WWR/WWW land. After a bit of relaxation, the Reviews editors took to their writing desks and compiled LJ‘s Notable Books of 2017 list. We also compared our Best Books list with those of other publications and noted the commonalities and the differences. The Guardian’s approach to best books list piqued my interest: famous and talented authors wrote about their 2017 picks, instead of Guardian writers and editors. There was a lot of overlap, which made reading the listings even more fun. It gave me the idea to ask the “What We’re Reading & Watching” crew, especially those who did not select best books, to weigh in and talk about their own personal bests of 2017. Those of us who have done quite enough best-picking, thank you very much, just wrote about our latest reads (and viewings). As we count down the old year and look to the new, here’s the usual mixed (gift) bag of books, movies, TV shows, and more.

Mahnaz Dar, Reference and Professional Reading Editor,  LJS
Lately I’ve been combining my viewing and my reading. I’m plowing through Julia Baird’s Victoria: The Queen; An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire (Random), after having seen Judi Dench in the film Victoria and Abdul. I put down the heavy tome Saturday night to watch Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown, a 1997 film that stars a younger Dench. Victoria, despondent in the wake of her beloved Albert’s death, raises eyebrows when she finds comfort in her servant John Brown. Learning about details such as Victoria’s antipathy toward her eldest son, Bertie, made the viewing a nuanced and pleasurable experience—though I did find myself looking sideways at the film’s portrayal of Benjamin Disraeli, who seems to clash a bit with Brown (per Baird’s biography, Disraeli and Brown enjoyed mutual respect for each other).

I’m hoping to continue my visits with the royals this holiday season. Season 2 of Netflix’s The Crown drops on December 8, and I’m planning to spend some time off from work hunkering down and watching PBS’s Victoria.

Liz French, Senior Editor, LJ Reviews
I’ve written so many encomiums to the books of 2017 and trotted out my opinion on bests and near-bests so often that I’ll take a break from that. Instead, I’ll just spout some invective about the battle of the sexes, how women in and near the entertainment business are mistreated, and how I’m mad as hell. Again. Maybe forever. I’m mostly mad at myself for blithely referring to the “casting couch” in Hollywood for so many years without ever stopping to consider the meaning. I’m tired of Liz of the past getting all hung up on the Black Dahlia (Elizabeth Short) murder without seeing that she was a mixed-up 22-year-old Hollywood hopeful who got involved with the wrong people. The really, really wrong people. Piu Eatwell’s investigation into that 70-year-old case, Black Dahlia, Red Rose (Liveright: Norton) presents a nuanced look at Elizabeth and posits a quite credible culprit for her grisly murder. The culprit was aided and abetted, actively and passively, by the good old LAPD and a lot of other people in power, and I found myself shaking my head as I read, saying “same as it ever was.”

Then I was roaming on the Internet and came across NPR “Fresh Air” columnist John Powers’s thoughtful  review of a rerelease of Dorothy Hughes’s classic In a Lonely Place (New York Review Books), complete with Megan Abbott afterword. His analysis of how prevalent the trope of “the murdered woman, be it the Black Dahlia or Laura Palmer or any of a thousand others” is, and how Hughes “puts that reflexive misogyny in the spotlight,” left me in a bit of a funk.  Add to that the early 20th-century true tale of Evelyn Nesbit, whose sad life is most recently chronicled in Simon Baatz’s The Girl in the Velvet Swing: Sex, Murder, and Madness at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century (Mulholland: Little, Brown). The back cover copy says it all, calling it an “immersive, fascinating look at an America dominated by men of outsize fortunes, and at the women whose lives depended on them.” Ugh. Same as it ever was.

Kiera Parrott, Reviews Director, LJS
As most of my colleagues here at LJ know, I’m super-basic when it comes to my fiction reading choices: I love me a good psychological thriller in the vein of Gone Girl. Yeah, I know, I know. But the heart wants what the heart wants. And this heart craves depraved, reprehensible people doing nefarious things to other depraved and reprehensible people. I recently picked up B.A. Paris’s Behind Closed Doors at an airport and devoured it on a long flight. It reminded me of Sleeping with the Enemy, but somehow even more infuriating. (I tend to have a love-hate relationship with these kinds of stories.) Last week, I decided to pick up Paris’s sophomore effort, The Breakdown (St. Martin’s). I saw the twist coming pretty early on in this one, but I still inhaled it over a long brunch. They were fun. Not particularly memorable or groundbreaking in any way, but pretty entertaining. A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window is still, hands down, my favorite psychological thriller of 2017. The film noir references alone are enough to recommend it. I’m still on the hunt for a thriller with a wicked twist I don’t see coming. The search continues!

Lisa Peet, Associate Editor, LJ

A few of my 2017 best books:

Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (Metropolitan: Holt)
Not only about end-of-life issues but about quality-of-life issues, and where the two overlap. This practical book is also something of a parable or a koan for life in general, not just dying. Not exactly lighthearted but important, and I think everyone should read it.

Gabe Habash’s Stephen Florida (Coffee House)
This one was a weird ride, but I enjoyed it, and it stayed with me for a while after I finished. “Tour de force” is such reviewer-speak that I almost never use the term, but this one was.

Rachel Kadish’s The Weight of Ink (Houghton Harcourt)
Smart, sweet, and historical, with a little mystery, this novel features 17th-century Portuguese Jews in London (by way of Amsterdam) during the Inquisition, counterposed with contemporary London academics tracking down their story via archival documents. Fun and nicely done.

Han Kang’s Human Acts (Hogarth: Crown)
Beautiful and harrowing. Both the writing and translation by Deborah Smith are lovely. The story serves to hammer home the way violence—especially when it’s political in origin—has implications for years and generations afterward.

Lisa Ko’s The Leavers (Algonquin)
It’s nice to read a multigenerational coming-of-age book that’s lacking in clichés—and a story that is as much about a parent’s growth her child’s. Strong plot, interesting and nuanced characters, and a great sense of place—both China and New York City are characters.

Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby (Viking)
Terrific, immersive essay writing, with discursions on many things of interest to me. Among them, dealing with a parent’s dementia, compassion, storytelling, libraries, illness, myths and the forms they take, and the natural world.

Two of my 2017 favorites were backlist: Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son (Harper Perennial), a collection that thrilled me just as much as the stories did when I first encountered them years ago, and Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day (Faber & Faber), a well-written and psychologically astute novel filled with quiet anguish (and some wonderfully dry humor as well).

Etta Verma, WWR Emerita (NISO)
My favorite nonfiction book of this year is the title I’m currently reading, Bruce Springsteen’s memoir, Born To Run (S. & S.)Springsteen’s bumpy upbringing, largely by a ferociously spoiling grandmother who “could not realize that her untempered love was destroying the men she was raising” and alcoholic father, was wild. “I stayed up until 3am and slept until 3pm at five and six years old,” says Springsteen. It’s incredible to read, and creates striking parenting insights. In what parenting manual can you read as penetrating a sentence regarding childhood as, “Control over your behavior is the only card you have to play in the hope of modifying theirs.” That blew me away.

It’s not all serious, though, by any means. Springsteen’s maternal aunts, the Zerelli sisters, are so enthused about life that “anything more celebratory than dinner and you were taking your life in your hands.” Though his mother hailed from this happy clan, she married a man who was very different, and the contrasts provide more humor: “My mother would read romance novels and swoon to the latest hits on the radio. My dad would go as far as to explain to me that love songs on the radio were part of a government ploy to make you get married and pay taxes.”

And the best novel of the year for me was John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies (Hogarth: Crown). I wrote about it in a recent WWR, but don’t worry about the details. Just read it!

Ashleigh Williams, Editorial Assistant, SLJ
Just when I thought  Thi Bui’s memoir The Best We Could Do was the most powerful and innovative graphic title I’d see this year, along comes the first volume of Emil Ferris’s astounding debut graphic novel, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (Fantagraphics). Monsters centers around ten-year- old supersleuth Karen Reyes as she navigates the tragic and suspicious death of her upstairs neighbor Anka. Anka was an eccentric woman to say the least; though gentle and caring, she always seemed blue, thus Karen always “draws” (via Ferris’s hand) Anka with blue skin in her sketchbook. Designed to represent the inquisitive Karen’s doodles, Ferris’s illustrations are a stunning display of immaculate detail done in cross-hatched ballpoint pen. Pulpy monster comic covers are interspersed with arresting character studies of Karen’s family and friends, and renditions of classic art pieces (believe it or not, Karen is quite the art fiend, as well). Set in Chicago during the late 1960s, this book pulls no punches, addressing heavy topics including classism, racism, bullying, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and the Holocaust. The murder mystery is only one facet of this big, bold novel; along the way, the reader sees Karen grappling with her identity, possible queer desire, and intense personal loss. I don’t think I can stress enough that this book is not just a feast for the eyes; it’s a poignant, devastating tale of a young girl who prefers being a monster to the complicated pain of being human. I can’t wait for Volume 2, due out in spring 2018!




Bec & Co., D’Salete, Findakly/Trondheim, Longino & Others, Santos, Starks, & More | Graphic Novels Reviews

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 09:37

comics’ cultural impact As comics slide more and more into the mainstream, publishers have increasingly been encouraged to take chances on critical and historical texts exploring the medium and its cultural impact.

Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey’s The Comic Book History of Comics (IDW, 2017) manages to streamline nearly a century of corporate politics, artistic innovation, and larger-than-life personalities into a comprehensive text, helped along by Dunlavey’s loose, lighthearted illustrations. Pair this with Sean Howe’s seminal Marvel Comics: The Untold Story (HarperCollins, 2013), a tremendously fun, informative, and anecdotal look at the House of Ideas from the 1930s to today. Readers will be clamoring for a Mad Men–style TV adaptation covering the chapters focusing on the 1960s.

A more sobering history comes in the form of David Hajdu’s The Ten-Cent Plague (Picador, 2009), which focuses on how the massive popularity of comic books among young readers in the 1950s resulted in a public backlash that found creators on the front line of a culture war that would come to dominate 1960s American life.

Grant Morrison, author of the groundbreaking series “The Invisibles,” swerves between a historical and sociological examination of the development of superhero characters and an autobiography of working in the industry in the fascinating Supergods (Random, 2012). ­Alvin Schwartz, a longtime writer of Superman comics, combines autobiography with Eastern philosophy and mysticism in An Unlikely Prophet: A Metaphysical Memoir (Inner Traditions, 2006). The result is a singular meditation on the intersection between art and life.

Jill Lepore’s best-selling The Secret History of Wonder Woman (LJ 9/15/14) is one-part biography of the unconventional creator of the iconic character while also functioning as a study of feminism in the first half of the 20th century. In Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White (LJ 11/15/16), Michael Tisserand writes of the titular cartoonist, who, from 1913 to 1944, elevated the comic strip to new artistic heights and was revealed decades after his death to have spent his entire life hiding his African American heritage.—Tom Batten

[For more on graphic novels and nonfiction, see Emilia Packard’s Collection ­Development feature, “A Course in Comics,” LJ 12/17, p. 48-50.—Ed.]

Bec, Christophe (text) & Eric Henninot & Milan Jovanovic (illus.). Cathargo. Vol. 1: The Fortuna Island Lagoon. Humanoids. Feb. 2018. 286p. tr. from French by Quinn & Katia Donoghue & Montana Kane. ISBN 9781594654640. pap. $24.95. Mys

Spanning from the Miocene epoch millions of years ago to the current day, and featuring scenes set on nearly every continent, this tale of monsters, secret societies, and lost civilizations makes other stories that dare to reach for epic status seem like total wimps. After the mysterious Carthago Corporation accidentally drills into an ancient underwater cave, releasing a long-thought-extinct megalodon (an 80-foot-long great white shark), it takes no time before a cast of sinister billionaires, a monster hunter, a rogue environmentalist, and a brave researcher and her mysteriously gifted daughter are set racing either to cash in or save the world. Author Bec (Siberia 56) has a penchant for giving his characters big blocks of dialog that skew a little too often toward in-depth descriptions of submarine technical specs or magnetic fields. But he makes up for this with a story that moves at a breakneck pace, complemented by the dynamic, deepwater artwork of Henninot (The Chronicles of Legion) and ­Jovanovic (Ahe’ey), that constantly twists and turns in directions readers absolutely will not see coming. VERDICT Fans interested in spectacle in the Michael Crichton vein will totally flip for this volume. The cliff-hanger ending and promise of more will have them waiting with baited breath.—TB

D’Salete, Marcelo. Run for It: Stories of Slaves Who Fought for Their Freedom. Fantagraphics. Oct. 2017. 180p. tr. from Portuguese by Andrea Rosenberg. bibliog. ISBN 9781683960492. $24.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS

Before and during the time of the Underground Railroad and U.S. Civil War, Africans enslaved in Brazil fought for their freedom. Interpreted by Brazilian artist D’Salete (Encruzilhada) and based on historical documents, the four stories collected here are steeped in quiet horror and heroism. Lovers Valu and Nanu escape slavery, but only through suicide. Calu is impregnated by the slave owner’s son and knifes him after his mother, “the mistress,” throws Calu’s newborn down a well. Ganzo joins with his fellow slaves to rebel, but the only survivor is the slave who betrayed them under duress. In the sole successful rebellion depicted here, Damaio recalls his sister’s fate and leads other villagers to burn the homes of the Portuguese slavers preying on them. The angular, high-contrast black-and-white art plays the lush island foliage against dank shadows and sweaty bodies marked with fine scars. VERDICT These brutal and tragic tales, reported through the eyes of the victims, who have also been courageous aggressors, lend context to the ongoing fight for individual liberties worldwide. Good for teens and adults concerned with black lives and histories as well as broader ­contexts of human rights.—MC

Findakly, Brigitte & Lewis Trondheim. Poppies of Iraq. Drawn & Quarterly. Sept. 2017. 120p. tr. from French by Helge Dascher. ISBN 9781770462939. $21.95. MEMOIR

The personal and political interweave in this sad yet charming memoir. Having grown up in Mosul, Iraq, 14-year-old Findakly (colorist, The Rabbi’s Cat and other French comics) immigrated in 1973 to Pairs, where her mother was born. Like snapshots, ­Findakly’s story toggles back and forth in time, depicting memories mixed with historical background and “In Iraq” vignettes about customs in that country. With the father an army dentist, the author’s Christian family survives multiple regime coups and escalating civil unrest while submitting to shortages, government censorship, and increased repression. Later, life in Paris comes as a shock to the teen since incomprehensible bureaucracies exist there as well. ­Trondheim’s (Dungeon) simple, childlike drawings evoke the unquestioning acceptance shown by citizens forbidden from protesting anything and who avoid political discussions. Indeed, Findakly’s cheerful coloring exudes paradoxical normality. VERDICT Like Marjane ­Satrapi’s Persepolis, but for Iraq, this work demonstrates how the unthinkable and unexpected for some can be normal to those who live under such circumstances on a daily basis. For all readers interested in Middle Eastern issues.—MC

Fleming, Ian & James Robinson (text) & Aaron Campbell (illus.). James Bond: Felix Leiter. Dynamite. Nov. 2017. 152p. ISBN 9781524104702. $24.99. F

British superspy James Bond’s best friend and American counterpart Felix Leiter has retired from the world of cloak and dagger and is settling into a life as a private detective, until he agrees to do his old pal a favor by traveling to Japan to track down a Russian agent. Felix and the agent share a steamy past, but their reunion turns out to be exciting in a way far different from what Felix expected when he discovers her involvement with a deadly terror cult. The organization itself may be a pawn in a game that could have disastrous repercussions for the entire world. Writer Robinson (Grand ­Passion) and artist Campbell (The Shadow) pack this volume with all the sex, violence, intrigue, secret headquarters, and dastardly villains that Bond fans demand but filtered through a slightly more noir-tinged lens that fits Felix’s world-weary character. Collects single Issues 1–6. VERDICT A long-awaited starring role for a classically underutilized supporting character, as well as a thrilling adventure drawn more from current events than the typical Bond tale, which fans of the franchise should find enthralling.—TB

Lewis, Corey. Sun Bakery: Fresh Collection. Image. Sept. 2017. 200p. ISBN 9781534304352. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781534306042. F

Lewis’s (Sharknife) artwork nearly explodes off the page, crackling with energy as he plays through a host of influences ranging from manga to video game design to graffiti art. His eclectic interests are on full display as an author as well, as Lewis isn’t content to present merely one story. This anthology features five tales, all drawing from different genres. Space opera gives way to a horror-tinged piece featuring a sentient skateboard; a gritty Western stands side by side with the narrative of a young woman mastering the art of swordplay in a city where blades have become the ultimate status symbol; elsewhere, a magic jacket that grants its wearer incredible power proves to be both a blessing and a curse. Lewis clearly has no shortage of ideas, and while his storytelling sometimes falls short of delivering on the promise of their concepts, he always keeps the proceedings fast paced and fun. Collects single Issues 1–4. VERDICT While some of this material might have worked better given more space to develop, the pace at which Lewis bounces among genres and illustration styles will thrill readers looking for hyperkinetic, lighthearted ­entertainment.—TB

Longino, Jay (text) & Canaan White & others (illus.). Son of Shaolin. Bk. 1: The Beginning. Image. Sept. 2017. 120p. ISBN 9781534303232. pap. $16.99. F

An aspiring street artist with a job and a few good friends, Kyrie isn’t interested in some cheesy offer to fulfill his destiny as descendant of a Shaolin Elder and save the free world. But when the ­mysterious Master Fong connects the challenge to ­Kyrie’s absent father, the young man seizes on what all children of absent fathers wish to hear: that his father deeply loved him and stayed away to protect him, not from hate or disinterest. So Kyrie trusts his mentor, trains hard, and finally fights his adversary. Yet things are not as they seem, and Kyrie chooses to rise above Fong’s demands. Moreover, the battle is not yet over. While screenwriter Longino’s plot seems similar to many other martial arts dramas, the closing twists add depth and suspense. White’s (The Harlem Hellfighters) lively art hits the top of the scale for excitement, realism, and design. In addition, ­Diego Rodriguez’s colors imbue the settings from seedy hotels to Harlem sewers with moody, glowing ambiance. ­VERDICT Kung fu aficionados will enjoy this new variation on a beloved theme with hip-hop and urban trappings. [Film rights were recently sold to Sony/­Columbia ­Pictures.—Ed.]—MC

Mignola, Mike (text) & Warwick Johnson-Cadwell (illus.). Mr. Higgins Comes Home. Dark Horse. Oct. 2017. 49p. ISBN 9781506704661. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781506705972. HORROR

A pair of vampire hunters seeking a guide through the crypt of the nefarious Count Golga find their man in Mr. ­Higgins, an asylum patient whose encounter with the count years earlier left him tortured, broken, and perhaps even cursed. A promise to free Mr. Higgins once the vampire lord is eliminated coaxes him back to the scene of his previous torment, where much to our band of heroes surprise they find themselves invited guests to an annual vampire celebration. Mignola (Hellboy; B.P.R.D.), comics’ greatest practitioner of horror and supernatural tales, pens something between homage and lighthearted satire of classic Hammer vampire films. This story is perfectly suited to Johnson-Cadwell’s (Solid State Tank Girl) creepily angular illustration style, which manages to be at once slightly cartoonish and darkly atmospheric. Readers might feel as though the tale here is a bit slight as they approach its conclusion, but the ending has bite. VERDICT Every release by Mignola is an event, and while this lacks the epic scope or foreboding ­darkness that most of his work is known for, fans are sure to find a lot to love.—TB

Perrissin, Christian (text) & Matthieu Blanchin (illus.). Calamity Jane: The Calimitous Life of Martha Jane Cannary. IDW. Sept. 2017. 368p. tr. from French by Diana Schutz & Brandon Kander. maps. ISBN 9781631408694. $29.99. HIST

Calamity Jane told tall tales about herself, winning acclaim as a storyteller-­performer in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. The real life of this daring gal was probably less heroic but just as fascinating. As told by Perrissin (Cape Horn), Martha Jane Cannary (1852–1903) grew up caring for five siblings, traveling west with her widowed father but refusing second-wife status when a Mormon proposed. Going off on her own, often in male garb, she drove oxen teams as a bullwhacker, rode for the Pony Express, and worked as a scout, nurse, laundress, waitress, and barkeep. Danger was always close: drunken men, Indian parties, sickness, accidents, enticements of alcohol and gambling, plus unsanitary conditions and childbirth. Jane had several children, one reportedly fathered by Wild Bill Hickok via a passionate ­romance. Blanchin’s (Quand vous pensiez que j’étais mort) smudgy ink drawings capture beautifully the realism of frontier life, with its unrelenting grime and its outcasts and eccentrics. VERDICT As a mature-readers supplement to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books, this Angoulême Award winner makes a splendid volume for those interested in the Old West, women’s history, and American history of the 1800s.—MC

Santos, Victor. Rashomon: A Commissioner Heigo Kobayashi Case. Dark Horse. Oct. 2017. 160p. tr. from Japanese by Katie LaBarbera. ISBN 9781506703176. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781630088989. Mys

When a samurai is found murdered and his wife ravaged along the road leading to a farming village in feudal Japan, Det. Heigo Kobayashi is called in to investigate. Yet, none of the witnesses tell the same story, and too many of the suspects take credit for the crime, so our hero finds himself faced with a puzzle that will test his wits and resolve and might just put his life on the line. Inspired by the classic short story by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, later made famous by the film adaptation directed by Akira Kurosawa, ­Santos’s ­(Polar; Violent Love) dynamic illustration and tremendous use of color and compelling page design make this well-known tale feel absolutely fresh and relevant. Imbuing the proceedings with a noir flair, the art evokes Frank Miller’s classic Sin City as well as Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s beloved manga Lone Wolf and Cub. ­VERDICT Every page of this volume is stunning and should entrance fans of the original text and its famous film version as well as the ­uninitiated.—TB

Starks, Kyle. Rock Candy Mountain. Vol. 1. Image. Oct. 2017. 104p. ISBN 9781534303171. pap. $9.99. F

Hobos, bums, tramps, vagrants—the song “Big Rock Candy Mountain” promises enticements such as “cigarette trees” and a “soda water fountain” to these downtrodden itinerants. Yes, it’s only a song, but Jackson the hobo believes it’s real, and he’s going to find it. Impediments include a middle-class, down-on-his-luck sidekick; the hobo mafia; the FBI (notably, kickass assistant director Babs Bardoux); and even the devil. But ­Jackson hacks and punches his way toward his dream by laying low whole squads of attackers, jumping freight cars, and getting himself and “Pomona Slim” in and out of trouble. Getting back to his family is at the root of his journey. Starks’s (Rick and Morty; Sexcastle) chunky art is perfect for this two-volume caper, with Chris ­Schweizer (The Crogan Adventures) bringing out the dirt and malevolence of Jackson’s world through dusty coloring leavened with fighting reds and nighttime blues. ­VERDICT An entertaining blend of martial arts action and oddball humor, Jackson’s epic quest will appeal to readers of American tall tales in comics or prose. Rated Mature for amusingly uninhibited language and graphic if cartoony violence.—MC

Williamson, Joshua & Tom King (text) & Jason Fabok & others (illus.). Batman/The Flash: The Button Deluxe Edition. DC. Oct. 2017. 104p. ISBN 9781401276447. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781401282004. superheroes

When a mysterious, blood-stained artifact from an alternate universe (that readers might recognize from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s seminal Watchmen) appears in the Batcave, followed by a powerful villain willing to kill anyone who stands in his way of possessing it, Batman and The Flash join forces in an adventure that transcends time and space in search of the solution to a mystery that threatens the very fabric of reality. The superstar creative team of Williamson (Justice League vs. Suicide Squad), King (The Vision), Fabok (Batman), and Howard Porter (JLA; The Flash) provide enough action for an entire summer’s worth of blockbuster movies and hint at a larger story that’s set to unfold across the DC universe over the coming year. What really stands out is the shocking and intensely moving finale, which offers rare insight into ­Batman’s psychology and motivations and might just change the character forever. This hardcover volume collects single Issues of Batman, 21–22, and The Flash, 21–22. VERDICT Readers excited to see two of their favorite characters interact will be delighted, as will those intrigued that this is ultimately a prolog to the upcoming “Doomsday Clock” series, which promises to explore how characters from Watchmen are influencing the DC ­superheroes.—TB

Zabus, Vincent (text) & Thomas Campi (illus.). Magritte: This Is Not a Biography. SelfMadeHero. Nov. 2017. 72p. ISBN 9781910593370. pap. $14.99. BIOG/arts

With a subtitle that plays on the caption, “This is not a pipe,” on Belgian surrealist René Magritte’s (1898–1967) painting The Treachery of Images, this work opens with humdrum office worker Charles Singulier, who buys Magritte’s bowler hat at a flea market and cannot take it off until he comes to understand the artist’s world. The adventure involves whimsical incidents alluding to Magritte’s art while conveying information about his life. Charles converses with paintings, encounters in three dimensions the painter’s characters and images, and becomes a second character watching himself. Along the way, he acquires several guides: an art expert resembling Magritte’s wife, Georgette; Magritte’s unnamed biographer; and the artist himself at various ages. Writer ­Zabus (several children’s series) and illustrator Campi’s (Macaroni!; Les petites gens) oil and watercolor scenarios unfold in naturalistic hues that evoke with puckish charm ­Magritte’s own designs and palette. ­VERDICT This total immersion of everyman Charles in Magritte’s work reveals the humor and complexity of these surrealistic images in an appealing and understandable way. Beginning art history students, high school and older, as well as more sophisticated readers will enjoy and learn.—MC

Genre-Bending Thrillers

Remender, Rick (text) & Greg Tocchini & Alex Maleev (illus.). The Last Days of American Crime. Image. Sept. 2017. 184p. ISBN 9781534304376. pap. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9781632155849. CRIME fiction

In the not-too-distant future, the U.S. government has responded to a rise in crime and terrorist activity by creating an exclusively digital currency and broadcasting a signal that will totally eradicate willfully illegal activity. ­Graham Brick is a career criminal determined to make one big life-changing score before it’s too late. When the team of thieves he assembles to assist in what may well be the last heist in history betray him, things get messy, and most of that chaos consists of blood and chunks of brain. Author Remender (Tokyo Ghost) is the reigning king of edgy, high-concept sf, and this gritty crime thriller is the leanest and most brutal vision he’s unleashed yet. A somewhat dim color palette sometimes muddies Tocchini’s (Uncanny X-Force) stylish, sensual illustration, but his storytelling is second to none. ­Verdict While slightly less fully realized than Remender and ­Tocchini’s earlier collaboration, Low, this vicious dystopian noir puts a fascinating spin on the done-to-death crime caper genre.—TB

Talbot, Bryan. Grandville Force Majeure: A Detective-Inspector LeBrock of Scotland Yard Scientific-Romance Thriller. Dark Horse. Nov. 2017. 176p. ISBN 9781506703800. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781630089849. Mys

If Sherlock Holmes were a badger with an itchy trigger finger and a sexy fiancée, you’d get detective inspector Archie LeBrock of ­Scotland Yard. Talbot’s (Luther ­Arkwright) masterly steampunk series, set in an alt-history Europe of anthropomorphic animals, concludes with this fifth volume. Psychopathic crustacean Stanley Cray has been attacked by overlord Tiberius Koenig, who controls the Paris crime world and now plans to annex the British gangs. Koenig is a Tyrannosaurus rex—the name (koenig and rex both mean “king”) is typical of Talbot’s sly wordplay throughout. It falls to Archie and colleagues in both London and Paris to finger Koenig’s spies in the Yard and take down the overlord himself with disguises, an elaborate charade, and explosive combat. Among Talbot’s numerous visual jokes, the Yard’s coroner is a vulture and the cancan girls are bunnies. His excellent coloring delivers emphasis while enhancing panel design. ­VERDICT Delightful and compelling, the entire “Grandville” series will enchant adult detective and fantasy lovers, likely including readers of Canales/Guarnido’s Blacksad, Gabus/Reutimann’s District 14, and Starkings/Kelly’s Elephantmen.—MC

Martha Cornog is a longtime reviewer for LJ and, with Timothy Perper, edited Graphic Novels Beyond the Basics: Insights and Issues for Libraries (Libraries Unlimited, 2009). Tom Batten is a writer and teacher whose work has appeared in the Guardian and The New Yorker. He lives in Virginia


Fonda Lee’s Epic Picks | BackTalk

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 11:53

Photo by Elena Rose Photography

For many readers, the fantasy genre conjures images of kings and queens, knights on horses, dragons, wizards, and sword battles. However, there’s far more to the genre than stories set in worlds reminiscent of medieval Europe. My adult fiction debut novel, Jade City (LJ 10/15/17), a modern-era gangster family saga, has been described as “The Godfather with magic and kung fu.” It’s set on an island loosely inspired by the four “Asian Tigers” (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan) in the latter half of the 20th century, a period of rapid growth and transition from colonial pasts to modern economic prosperity. Although, in the case of the fictional island of Kekon, that growth is both fueled and challenged by the existence of magic jade and the rival warrior clans who wield it.

Here are 12 fantasy novels and series inspired by cultures and eras that will take readers far from the Middle Ages.

Bear, Elizabeth. The Stone in the Skull (Lotus Kingdoms, Bk. 1).

With this series launch, Bear returns to the world of her “Eternal Sky” trilogy, a rich setting inspired by the steppes of Central Asia. This new book moves southward to the Lotus Kingdoms with a pair of unlikely friends—the Gage and the Dead Man. (LJ 9/15/17)

Chakraborty, S.A. City of Brass.

This 2017 debut is making waves. A Middle Eastern fantasy set in 18th-century Cairo, it is the story of a young con artist who accidentally summons a mysterious djinn warrior. The first entry in a planned trilogy, Chakraborty’s novel is being touted for its spellbinding worldbuilding, backed by a wealth of historical detail. [A 2017 LJ Best Sf/Fantasy; see LJ 12/17, p. 28.—Ed.]

De Bodard, Aliette. “Obsidian and Blood” series.

De Bodard’s Aztec fantasy trilogy is also a noir mystery that follows the adventures of Acatl, High Priest of the Dead, as he investigates mysterious crimes. Originally published more than a decade ago, all three books (Servant of the Underworld, Harbinger of the Storm, and Master of the House of Darts) have recently and thankfully been rereleased as ebooks through the ­JABberwocky Literary Agency.

Gladstone, Max. “The Craft Sequence” series.

Gladstone deftly twines capitalist allegory, legal thriller, and inventive magic in this urban fantasy series. While the books feature recurring characters and places, they can be read in any order. The most recent novel, Ruin of Angels (LJ 9/15/17), depicts a world where wizards wear pin-striped suits and godly magic is traded on market exchanges.

Jemisin, N.K. “The Broken Earth” trilogy.

Jemisin won back-to-back Hugo Awards for The Fifth Season and its follow-up The Obelisk Gate. With The Stone Sky (LJ 7/17), she concludes her saga set in the world of the Stillness, whose inhabitants are regularly subjected to apocalyptic earthquakes. That doesn’t even begin to describe the series, which must be read to be appreciated.

Kearney, Paul. “Macht Trilogy.”

Starting with The Ten Thousand, and followed by Corvus and Kings of Morning, the story of the Macht warriors on the planet Kuf is a retelling of the classic Greek tale The Anabasis as recorded by Xenophon. Kearney doesn’t skimp on gritty battlefield scenes in this “sandalpunk” trilogy.

King, Stephen. “The Dark Tower” series.

Let’s take a moment to remember that King’s massive, genre-bending, eight-book magnum opus featuring the Gunslinger Roland Deschain, is, at its heart, fantasy that harkens to the American Old West. Pass on the recent movie adaptation and pick up the novels (again) instead.

Liu, Ken. “The Dandelion Dynasty” series.

Liu has won about every speculative fiction prize there is, including a Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Award. In this epic series (The Grace of Kings, LJ 3/1/15; The Wall of Storms, LJ 10/15/16), he uses tales of the founding of China’s Han Dynasty as a starting point. His wholly original “silkpunk” fantasy mixes Eastern and Western traditions into a folklore-ish tale with silk-bamboo airships and battle kites.

McClellan, Brian. “The Powder Mage” trilogy.

McClellan’s epic flintlock fantasy trilogy, including Promise of Blood, The Crimson Campaign (LJ 4/15/17), and The Autumn Republic (LJ 12/14) mixes swords, guns, and magic in a thoroughly engrossing world of battles and political intrigue. McClellan has also written eight short stories and novellas set in the same universe.

Okorafor, Nnedi. Who Fears Death.

Okorafor’s award-winning science fantasy evokes a postapocalyptic Africa and doesn’t shy away from heavy themes of trauma, war, identity, and culture. With the recent announcement that the novel will be developed as an HBO series, with George R.R. Martin as producer, why not read the source material before it hits screens? (LJ 6/15/10)

Rivera, K. Arsenault. The Tiger’s Daughter.

A sign that the fantasy genre continues to break out of its fixation on medieval Europe, 2017 brought several exciting entries onto the scene. One of them is Rivera’s debut novel, a Mongolian-­inspired epic fantasy with a powerful love story between two women at its core. (LJ 8/17)

Wexler, Django. “The Shadow Campaigns” series.

Beginning with The Thousand Names (LJ 6/15/13), Wexler’s military fantasy series is a standout in the “flintlock fantasy” subgenre, in which Colonial-era wars are waged with muskets and magic. In January, Ace Books will release the fifth volume, The Infernal Battalion, so there’s no time like the present to lose oneself in the military and political struggles of the Vordanai Empire.

Worldwide Pearls: Ten Top Titles for Winter Reading

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 11:27

Bodrožic´, Ivana. The Hotel Tito. Seven Stories. Nov. 2017. 176p. tr. from Croatian by Ellen Elias-Bursac´. ISBN 9781609807955. $21.95; ebk. ISBN 9781609807962. F

For the young protagonist of Bodrožic´’s debut novel, winner of France’s Prix Ulysse and several Croatian and Balkan-area awards, ordinary worries about boys, clothes, and grades are set against a horrific backdrop. The book opens in summer 1991 as the Croatian war for independence flares up in her hometown of Vukovar, and she’s sent to the coast with her older brother. But while her mother eventually joins them, her father stays behind to fight with the Croatian forces and ends up at Vukovar hospital, which astute readers will remember as the site of a terrible massacre. Squatting in an abandoned apartment, then a former political school (contemptuously called the Hotel Tito by its disillusioned residents), the siblings are now refugees, living with hundreds sharing their plight and regarded with contempt by those who don’t. VERDICT Drawing on personal experience, Bodrožic´ is remarkably adept at blending a coming-of-age story about a girl who both knows and doesn’t know what’s happening with a starkly, almost matter-of-factly delivered picture of suffering we should not forget.

Fo, Dario. Holy Jester! The Saint Francis Fables. Opus. Dec. 2017. 160p. tr. from Italian by Mario Pirovano. illus. by the author. ISBN 9781623160821. $38.95. F

As Nobel Prize winner Fo explains in his introduction, in the Middle Ages, jesters were both loved (by the multitudes) and reviled (by those in power who suffered their barbs), and St. Francis of Assisi took the appellation Holy Jester as a matter of pride. After Francis’s death, the Vatican remade the rogue friar—famed for his gutsy, performative sermons—into a docile soul. Here, Fo uses a witty vernacular to resurrect the real Francis in fables that take him from his stone masonry days through his work for the church. In “Francis Meets the Wolf in Gubbio,” he’s determined to chat with a marauding wolf despite protests: “You’ve gone crazy again. First you embrace the lepers, then you strip off naked in the church and now you want to talk to wolves! Why don’t you just write the Wolf a letter instead?” What follows is a reflection on our responsibilities for our actions, with the wolf later helping Francis out of a scrape. VERDICT A bold, bright Francis for our time, with illustrations to match, and charmingly translated.

Franzosini, Edgardo. The Animal Gazer. New Vessel. Jan. 2018. 128p. tr. from Italian by Michael F. Moore. ISBN 9781939931528. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781939931542. F

Brother of the famed auto­maker, the eccentric, ever dandily dressed Rembrandt Bugatti moves from Milan to Paris to pursue his artistic inclinations and ends up casting his bronzes at the foundry used by new friend Rodin. (In a flashback, we get a sparkling anecdote about the two brothers burying three automobile engines in ­Ettore’s backyard.) Rembrandt becomes increasingly intrigued by the animals at the zoos in Paris and ­Antwerp, observing them carefully and seeming to understand and empathize with them, as evidenced by his massive sculptures. The tone is mellifluous throughout, and it all sounds charming. But the reader has already been jolted awake on page two, as Rembrandt’s concierge observes offhandedly, “The Germans continue to advance,” and the narrative is soon thrust into World War I. Bombs are pouring down on Antwerp, and zoo officials are forced to make a terrible decision about their animals that shocks Rembrandt—and readers—to the core. ­VERDICT Multi-award-winning Italian author Franzosini’s English-language debut is an irresistible, elegantly conceived example of biographical fiction.

Kawabata, Yasunari. Dandelions. New Directions. Dec. 2017. 128p. tr. from Japanese by Michael Emmerich. ISBN 9780811224093. pap. $14.95; 9780811224109. F

Left incomplete when he committed suicide in 1972, Nobel Prize winner Kawabata’s meditation on madness is nevertheless wholly satisfying. Ineko has been taken to the Ikuta Mental Hospital by her mother and her lover, Mr. Kuno, who wants desperately to marry Ineko. But she suffers from a bizarre and exceedingly rare affliction: she is sometimes unable to see the body of Mr. Kuno. The pearlescent prose relates a sparring, increasingly agitated exchange as the mother and lover walk away from the hospital with Ineko ringing its bells in the background. Why is Ineko so disturbed? Does it have anything to do with the accidental death of her father, a solider during the war, as the two rode horseback together? Is Mr. Kuno right that “sanity and madness are two sides of the same coin”? Why does Mr. Kuno think he sees, improbably, a white rat and a white dandelion? VERDICT Philosophical yet touched by an eerie magic; for sophisticated readers and lovers of smart, spooky tales.

Khoury, Najla Jraissaty. Pearls on a Branch: Tales from the Arab World Told by Women. Archipelago. Mar. 2018. 270p. tr. from Arabic by Inea Bushnaq. ISBN 9780914671961. pap. $18; ebk. ISBN 9780914671893. F/FOLKLORE

Collected by Khoury as the basis for plays performed by the traveling theater group she founded during Lebanon’s civil war, these tales are radiant with sunlight and flowers, jinns and spirits, palaces and sultans. The setting you might expect, which makes them refreshingly different and a pleasure to read. Yet the themes will resonate with anyone who loves fairy tales and folklore, pointing out commonalities within the Middle East framework. From comeuppance and transformation, sly tricksters tricked, good people rescued from bad ogres, wishes satisfied, beautiful young women finding the right (rich or royal) man, and love finally requited, readers will recognize where they are. “O Palace Beautiful! O Fancy Friend!” mirrors Snow White’s story astonishingly (“O Palace Beautiful! O Fancy Friend”/ Is there anyone like me in the land”) though in its own way is more disturbing. Beautifully translated, these pieces ring with numerous, addictive songs and chants. VERDICT An absolute delight for readers young and old.

Krasznahorkai, László. The World Goes On. New Directions. Dec. 2017. 288p. tr. from Hungarian by George Szirtes & others. ISBN 9780811224192. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780811224208. SHORT STORIES

In the opening piece in Man Booker International Prize winner Krasznahorkai’s near-mystical new work, a wanderer seeking to leave a forbidding place at first finds his hands and feet bound, then manages a “forced march” before falling over exhausted and realizing that he will die “there at home, where everything is cold and sad.” Rather like life darkly perceived or the depths of depression. The piece perfectly sets up what follows: dense, stylized meditations that aren’t exactly fiction or essay or philosophical treatise but something sui generis, representative of Krasznahorkai’s unique mind. A lecturer’s investigation of melancholy, reflections on moral law inspired by Nietzsche’s paralysis after witnessing a horse’s beating—these are the wonders and challenges found here. VERDICT Definitely for high-end readers; for the curious, a good place to start.

Kröger, Merle. Collision. Unnamed. Nov. 2017. 240p. tr. from German by Rachel Hildebrandt & Alexandra Roesch. ISBN 9781944700195. pap. $15.95. F

“Spirit of Europe | Deck 12.” “Siobhan of Ireland | Deck A.” “Raft | No Name.” These stark chapter titles from German author Kröger (Cut!) suggest that her narrative takes place mostly on water—in this case, the Mediterranean Sea—and brings together vessels of very different provenance. Laden with self-indulged passengers, the cruise ship Spirit of ­Europe must stop its engine as a disabled raft carrying refugees approaches and calls the Cartagena Rescue Center for help. Algerian Karim Yacine, who steers the raft, knows that he’ll be arrested for human trafficking if he sets foot in Spain again. His story alternates with those of numerous crew and passengers aboard the other vessels in the area, including Spirit of Europe’s Lalita Masarangi, a Nepalese security officer entranced with dreadlocked Asian singer Jo. Quick-step, rat-a-tat prose deftly captures the human drama of haves and have-nots amid an ongoing refugee crisis, and when Jo disappears, the book becomes a political thriller as well. VERDICT Both sobering and breathlessly absorbing reading that will engage a sharp audience.

Maurensig, Paulo. Theory of Shadows. Farrar. Jan. 2018. 192p. tr. from Italian by Anne Milano Appel. ISBN 9780374273804. $23; ebk. ISBN 9780374715915. F

“You cannot write a story centered on a crime without unmasking the killer,” laments the putative author, who explains that he is writing a novel so that he can revisit the mysterious death of world chess champion ­Aleksandr Aleksandrovich ­Alekhin in steamy 1946 Estoril, Portugal. Born in Moscow but traveling on a French passport, Alekhin has been alternately accused of being a Soviet spy, a Nazi collaborator, and a British double agent. Everyone agrees that he is arrogant, even “the sadist of the chess world.” When he’s found sitting in front of a chessboard in his hotel room with his overcoat on and a plate of meat by his side, his death is quickly ruled accidental (from choking on the meat), though there’s no end to the enemies who might have relished knocking him off. As the novelist investigates, tracking down the surviving and now quite elderly players in the drama (from a waiter to the doctor who certified Alekhin’s death), a portrait emerges of World War II intrigue; a brilliant, unsettling man; and the way the creative act and a murder investigation become parallel. That the killer isn’t entirely unmasked only adds to the frisson. VERDICT A classic intellectual thriller, well conceived and executed.

Ørstavik, Hanne. Love. Archipelago. Feb. 2018. 180p. tr. from Norwegian by Martin Aiken. ISBN 9780914671947. pap. $17. ebk. ISBN 9780914671954. F

In a tale of heightened domestic suspense, single mother Vibeke goes about her life, reflecting on the success of a business venture and daydreaming about a handsome engineer even as she heads to the library. Meanwhile, son Jon goes out to sell lottery tickets for his sports club, encountering a chatty neighbor and a girl who lends him mittens. Mother and son have just come to this remote Norwegian village, and as the narrative unfolds, they move in different trajectories, with Jon contemplating his mother while she has little thought of him; she’s even forgotten that it’s his birthday. It’s peculiar that Jon is wandering around on a cold winter’s night, inadequately dressed and increasingly worried about getting home, and the creeping sense of unease is racheted up by the cool, lucid prose and how the paragraphs shift between mother and son, clarifying how close they should be and how close they aren’t. VERDICT Multi-award winner Ørstavik (The Blue Room) offers an unsettling read that most will enjoy.

Slimani, Leila. The Perfect Nanny. Penguin. Jan. 2018. 240p. tr. from French by Sam Taylor. ISBN 9780143132172. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780525503897. F

This spare domestic thriller, the first book by a Moroccan-born woman to win the Prix Goncourt, starts out innocuously enough with French Moroccan lawyer Myriam struggling with two young children and ashamed of being a stay-at-home mom. When she decides to return to work, she and husband Paul interview a number of unsuitable candidates as nanny until coming upon the supercompetent, highly recommended Louise, whose delicate blonde looks belie her powerhouse capabilities. At first, Louise does her job with gusto, truly taking to the children; Myriam and Paul are relieved, though Myriam feels a bit edged out as mother. But as family and nanny become more entwined, with the family even inviting Louise on vacation, resentments grow on both sides. Louise becomes increasingly sullen, and a sudden act of violence shocks the narrative to life, even as we learn Louise’s unfortunate backstory. VERDICT What initially feels like routine, unremarkable women’s fiction morphs into a darkly propulsive nail-biter overlain with a vivid and piercing study of class tensions. For most readers.

Barbara Hoffert is Editor, Prepub Alert, LJ


LJ Talks to Mira T. Lee | Debut Spotlight

Wed, 11/29/2017 - 14:20

Photo ©Liz Linder

In her first novel, Everything Here Is Beautiful (LJ 9/1/17), Mira T. Lee calls on characters from her short stories, filling out the lives of sisters Miranda and Lucia. Here, Lee discusses crafting these women, her own sibling experiences, and more.

This novel includes characters originally featured in your short stories. Did you feel that you needed to expand on them in a novel-length work?
Even in short stories, I like to imagine bigger, fuller worlds for [my characters]—though…a novel was the furthest thing from my mind when I wrote those stories. With this particular set of characters, I knew I could stick with them for a long, long time because their relationships with each other were so complicated. And though Lucia’s life was always the central thread, the richness lies in how her actions impacted those who loved her and forced them to make tough choices of their own. I adore these characters. They’re definitely flawed, but they’re also in these awful binds and trying so hard to do the right thing. I guess I felt compelled to do their stories justice.

What mental gymnastics are required to write from multiple viewpoints?
The alternating points of view felt really natural in terms of the way the plot moved. I actually don’t think I could’ve told this story any other way, but the tricky part was finding the right voice for each section. Once I got that, the rest usually flowed. Lucia was especially tough.

It was interesting, because you’d think the male characters might be harder to write, but their voices were clearer, and I could wiggle into their heads through our commonalities—like Manny’s experience as the terrified parent of a newborn, or Stefan’s concern over his spouse’s decisions. But with Lucia, I always envisioned her as far more brilliant and perceptive than I am, which posed a real challenge. I mean, it’s humbling to realize that a character can only be as brilliant as her creator—I kept feeling like I was holding her back!

Do you have siblings, and if so, did that experience inform your writing?
I was a middle child, so I guess that gave me both the experience of being the responsible one, as well as the one being bossed around—I can understand how one might grow resentful of either of those roles.

Why did you select Switzerland and Ecuador as the places where the sisters chose to live?
I guess I wouldn’t exactly say the sisters “chose” those places, more that they found themselves entangled with men from those countries. In my 20s, I played a lot of music and hung out with a bunch of Europeans I met while studying at [Boston’s] Berklee College of Music. Later on, I went through a heavy salsa dancing phase, which also involved a pretty international crowd. So for Miranda, the older sister who craves order and stability, to end up in Switzerland, and Lucia, who feels at home in a more relaxed culture, to go live in South America, fit with their individual personalities.

You’re also a graphic designer. How do those skills assist in your writing?
I often have to ask clients to describe what kind of image they’re hoping to project. I need them to tell me the feel of their company in words, and usually that works best when it’s accompanied by something they can picture in their heads. Once I understand what they’re going for, I translate it into something visual. There’s something similar going on in writing, I think, where you have to invoke certain feelings, and you can do that using the words themselves—their textures and meanings—but you can also do it by creating visual imagery.

What other writers have influenced you?
My original favorite author was Milan Kundera. I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being during my senior year of high school, and then proceeded to devour every other book he’d ever written. I loved the clarity of his sentences, his philosophical meanderings, his succinctly stated observations of human nature, which felt so new and revelatory to me at the time. I’m a huge fan of Raymond Carver and Amy Hempel for the organic feel of their stories, how they’re able to use simple, elegant language and mundane scenarios, yet invoke so many emotions without being too linear or obvious. I love Elizabeth Strout, and the way she conveys the nuances in her characters’ relationships. I’m in awe of Khaled Hosseini’s grand story arcs; Lorrie Moore’s wit; Mohsin Hamid’s long, glorious sentences; and Adam Haslett’s renderings of complex feelings with a subtlety that’s just masterful.—Joanna Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Libs., Providence


A Course in Comics | Collection Development: Graphic Novels & Nonfiction

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 17:15


The explosion of artistic expression and the breadth of subject matter in the current comics scene are astounding. In fact, it is entirely possible to create a microcosm of your library within the graphic novel collection that reflects your patronage, emphasizes diverse experiences, and provides popular works alongside titles ripe for discovery. The balance will look different from library to library, but there are a few things to keep in mind when building an effective core collection.

Style & substance

Graphic novels creators come from many backgrounds, and this is reflected in the stories they tell and the art they create. Seek out titles that challenge expectations of the format and expand readers’ horizons. For example, Luke Pearson’s children’s series “Hilda” has an artistic impact on par with Brecht Evens’s high-concept Panther. Graphic memoirs can provide perspective on world events. Riad Sattouf’s “The Arab of the Future” trilogy tells the history of the author’s uneasy Syrian childhood. Many readers know manga well but not always its broad potential—Shigeru Mizuki’s Showa provides a detailed multivolume history of modern Japan. Consider the literal world of cartoonists as you craft your holdings. Politics, history, science, journalism, immigration, philosophy, and true crime are but a few subjects recounted in graphic format—if there’s a college course about it, there’s probably a comic about it, too.

Cultivating the collection

In the world of comics, where ongoing story lines develop over the course of a series of individual single issues, Marvel and DC are superhero stalwarts, while Vertigo, Image, Dark Horse, and Fanta­graphics trend toward envelope-pushing and experimentation. One-off graphic novels are largely the province of independent publishers such as Canada-based Drawn & Quarterly and the UK’s NoBrow. Imprints supported by major publishing houses, such as Macmillan’s First Second and Penguin Random House’s Pantheon, choose titles thoughtfully for wide appeal. Niche publishers such as Microcosm and self-published works may also fit well in the collection—personal voice holds a special appeal in graphic novels.

Combining comics classics with lesser-known works will also add richness. New entries often reflect on or expand upon themes in older works. Some examples include pairing Holocaust stories such as Art Spiegelman’s Maus with Jérémie Dres’s Polish pilgrimage We Won’t See Auschwitz, or coupling Linda Medley’s sweet epic Castle Waiting with Noelle Stevenson’s giddy fantasy Nimona.

Collect with an eye to various audiences, from prereaders to adults. Graphic novels are often separated into adult, YA, and children’s, with more mature (often sexual or violent) content in the realm of older readers. Often­times, challenging subjects may be approached more easily in graphic format, while children’s materials may have artistic appeal for the most sophisticated reader. Clear signage, accessible shelving, and cross-department recommendations will encourage readers to use the collection to its fullest.

Starred () titles are essential purchases for most libraries.

Emilia Packard, MLIS, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has worked in a variety of libraries and archives. Her deep dive into graphic novels began when she read Craig Thompson’s Blankets, and she never looked back. An LJ reviewer since 2012 and a 2014 Reviewer of the Year, she resides in Austin, TX, where she reads and reviews countless comics while caring for her two young children

(Mostly) Nonfiction

Czerwiec, MK. Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371. Pennsylvania State Univ. (Graphic Medicine). Mar. 2017. 224p. ISBN 9780271078182. pap. $29.95.

With simple, even amateur panels and wise words, Czerwiec reveals a hospital at the heart of the AIDS crisis. Working as a nurse on a unit for AIDS patients, she and her colleagues helped patients die, celebrated life, and strove to combat the poorly understood disease. Cathartic and clinical, often simultaneously.

Goodwin, Michael (text) & Dan E. Burr (illus.). Economix: How and Why Our Economy Works (and Doesn’t Work), in Words and Pictures. Abrams. 2012. 304p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780810988392. pap. $19.95.

Visual learning happens in charts, graphs, and time lines, and integrating quantitative visuals with cartoon-paced narrative can be a boon for both, if done with a bit of flair. Presenting a rich, entertaining history of economics from its philosophical beginnings to the 2009 housing crisis, this title shines a humorous, informative light on a complicated field of study. (LJ 11/15/12)

Guibert, Emmanuel & others. The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders. First Second. 2009. 288p. tr. from French by Alexis Siegel. ISBN 9781596433755. pap. $34.99.

This dense diary of photojournalist ­Didier Lefèvre’s 1986 trek through rural Afghanistan with the nonprofit Doctors Without Borders is an impressive example of comics journalism. Guibert’s incisive, studied illustrations document the war-torn region, revealing good intentions to help the underserved that turn, sharply, into a struggle for survival. (SLJ 7/09)

Modan, Rutu. The Property. Drawn & Quarterly. 2013. 232p. ISBN 9781770461154. $24.95.

Stories of turmoil in modern Israel meet their antecedents in this generational journey: a woman accompanies her grandmother to Warsaw, Poland, to reclaim property she abandoned when fleeing the Nazis. There, they are faced with the challenges of reclaiming the past.

Moore, Dan Méndez. Six Days in Cincinnati: A Graphic Account of the Riots That Shook the Nation a Decade Before Black Lives Matter. Microcosm. (Comix Journalism). Jun. 2017. 96p. ISBN 9781621068006. pap. $11.95.

This personal perspective on protests against police brutality in 2001 demands that we see how history repeats itself and how deep are the roots of systemic oppression. With a zine-like style featuring community voices, this reissue demonstrates comics’ potential for calling out injustice and sparking social change. (Xpress Reviews 4/14/17)

Spiegelman, Art. The Complete Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. Pantheon. 1996. 296p. ISBN 9780679406419. $35.

Spiegelman’s seminal work recounts his father’s Holocaust experience, with cats representing Nazis and mice as Jews in block print–like illustrations. The animal stand-ins offer an illusory distance between the reader and the subject, creating a powerful style that has influenced cartoonists for decades. (SLJ 5/87)

Trotman, C. Spike (text) & Diana Nock (illus.). Poorcraft: The Funnybook Fundamentals of Living Well on Less. Iron Circus. May 2017. 168p. ISBN 9781945820014. pap. $10.

Trotman has created this deceptively light guide in Betty Boop style, with tips on everything from keeping a simple kitchen to living with roommates to affording an education on a miniscule budget. (Xpress Reviews 9/6/13)

(Mostly) Fiction

Abouet, Marguerite (text) & Clement Oubrerie (illus.). Aya: Life in Yop City. Drawn & Quarterly. 2012. 384p. ISBN 9781770460829. pap. $24.95.

Abouet depicts the day-to-day life of an Ivorian teenager in the 1970s—the romantic entanglements and rampant gossip familiar to teens the world over, richly imagined in Oubrerie’s detailed, colorful illustrations of a dusty yet vibrant city life. (LJ 5/15/13)

Camper, Cathy (text) & Raul the Third (illus.). Lowriders in Space. Bk. 1. Chronicle. 2014. 112p. ISBN 9781452128696. pap. $9.99; ebk. ISBN 9781452130507.

A wolf, a mosquito, and an octopus are gearing up to build the greatest low-rider car ever. They fix up a beater with rocket parts and blast off into space—what could possibly go wrong? High-energy heroes, free-flowing Mexican American slang, and tricolor ball-point pen sketches emit the vibe of an extremely creative classroom doodle that will take any reader for a spin. (SLJ 11/14)

Coates, Ta-Nehisi (text) & Brian Stelfreeze & Laura Martin (illus.). Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet. Bk. 1. Marvel. 2016. 144p. ISBN 9781302900533. pap. $16.99.

Coates brings his real-world perspective on political machinations and social unrest to bear on this recent revival of the Marvel character. Stelfreeze and Martin enhance the story with their vision of Wakanda, an imaginary African nation approaching turmoil, that blends elements of traditional aesthetic and natural beauty with ultramodern architecture and fantastic technology. (LJ 11/15/16)

Eisner, Will. A Contract with God: And Other Tenement Stories. Norton. Mar. 2017. 224p. ISBN 9780393609189. $25.95.

Eisner’s classic, regarded widely as the first graphic novel, collects four stories of tenement life, struggle, and despair in a culturally Yiddish mode—a snapshot of a bygone New York City. His visuals are loosely plotted rather than paneled, with streaming emotions and dramatic perspectives. As intriguing for the conventions it avoids as for the inspiration it provided later artists. (LJ 1/06)

Fraction, Matt (text) & Christian Ward (illus.). ODY-C: Cycle One. Image. 2016. 400p. ISBN 9781632159274. $49.99.

Bursting with psychedelic color, this re­imagining of Homer’s Odyssey is set in outer space, with mighty women playing parts traditionally assigned to men. Told in verse, sailing through worlds of unimaginable beauty and unforgettable horror, this lyrical series reinvigorates and reworks the old stories in all their bright madness. (Vol. 1, LJ 9/15/15)

Gaiman, Neil (text) & Sam Kieth & others (illus.). The Sandman. Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes; New Edition. DC. 2010. 240p. ISBN 9781401225759. pap. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781401236557.

Gaiman’s prolific series begins with this eight-issue collection starring Morpheus, his sister Death, and an eerie and unpredictable supporting cast. With different issues illustrated by a variety of artists, the work explores the contours of story while weaving its own dark fantasy. (LJ 11/1/03)

Loeb, Jeph (text) & Tim Sale (illus.). Superman for All Seasons: Deluxe Edition. DC. 2014. 224p. ISBN 9781401250782. $29.99.

This iteration of the Superman story captures its wholesome origins with beautiful, retro-style illustrations. Stories touching on Clark Kent’s alien roots, rural upbringing, and youthful encounters with his famous nemeses make this a nostalgic primer on America’s superhero, while offering a new perspective for those well acquainted with the Man of Steel. (Xpress Reviews 1/30/15)

McGuire, Richard. Here. Pantheon. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780375406508. $35.

Using the intentionally static eye of a graphic designer, McGuire creates an almost wordless house history that mostly focuses on mundane moments, small dramas, and quiet passings of those who made “Here” their home, switching eras from page to page.

Miller, Frank (text) & David Mazzucchelli (illus.). Batman: Year One; Deluxe Edition. DC. 2007. 138p. ISBN 9781401207526. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781401235888.

An essential piece in the build-up of the Batman character, this collection combines Miller’s tight noir storytelling with Mazzucchelli’s delightfully nostalgic style for a dark and compelling read. A great introduction to the gloom and glamour of the Dark Knight. (SLJ 5/07)

Mizuki, Shigeru. The Birth of Kitaro. Drawn & Quarterly. 2016. 200p. ISBN 9781770462281. pap. $12.95.

This Kitaro compilation offers great background on the monster manga of later decades and also recalls the history of ­yokai, monsters and ghosts of Japanese legend. The origins of Kitaro, born from his mother’s grave and carrying his father’s eyeball on his shoulder, are hilariously and dubiously explored. A light introduction to manga for new readers, Kitaro also holds great potential for fans delving deeper into manga history.

Takano, Ichigo. Orange: The Complete Collection 1. Seven Seas. 2016. 384p. ISBN 9781626923027. pap. $19.99.

A great example of shojo, girls romance manga, with a slight sf twist, this story of teenage friendships and letters from the future features broad emotional range and beautiful imagery. Takano’s handle on the sweetness and drama of teen life is reflected in classic, cute, and emotive teen-dream artwork.

Tamaki, Mariko (text) & Jillian Tamaki (illus.). This One Summer. First Second. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781626720947. $21.99.

Veins of adolescent sexual awakening, middle-aged grief, and the perils of seasonal friendship flow together and apart here. Deep-blue brushstroke illustrations evoke the complicated emotions of adolescence, when self-interest crashes hard into an expanding worldview. The lush words combined with beautiful images creates something more powerful than either one alone. (SLJ 12/14)

Thompson, Jill. Wonder Woman: The True Amazon. DC. Oct. 2016. 128p. ISBN 9781401249014. $22.99.

Princess Diana’s journey from spoiled child to justice-seeking leader is told at a lyrical pace, and Thompson’s deftness at melding story, image, and cultural touchstones captures the role of comic book characters as the stuff of modern myth. (Xpress Reviews 8/19/16)

Varon, Sara. Robot Dreams. Square Fish. 2016. 224p. ISBN 9781250073501. pap. $9.99.

A wordless story of the improbable friendship between a dog and a robot and their struggle to move on after a day at the beach separates them. Varon relates big stories with simple images—her colors and characters are cupcake-cute, and the story is ultimately uplifting, but the emotional range of love and loss will hook early readers as well as literary-minded adults. (SLJ 9/07)


Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Houghton Harcourt. 2007. 232p. ISBN 9780618871711. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780547347004.
Fun Home is a family history, Bechdel’s own coming-out story, and a bevy of philosophical treatises and book reviews, all connected by the author’s grief for a bitter, brilliant, closeted father. Brutally precise drawings add weight to already heavy pages. (LJ 7/06)

Bell, Cece. El Deafo. Abrams. 2014. 248p. ISBN 9781419712173. pap. $10.95; ebk ISBN 9781613126219.
Using a bright-eyed perspective and a bunny as her stand-in, Bell muses on childhood hearing loss and the magical powers she gained from it (like eavesdropping on teachers with her hearing aid), as well as its myriad complications, such as lip-reading TV and fraught friendships. (SLJ 12/14)

Hart, Tom. Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir. St. Martin’s. 2016. 272p. ISBN 9781250049940. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250110787.
Hart’s memoir delves unsparingly into his life after the sudden death of his young daughter. Grief is messy (here it looks like a mother eating a raw hunk of beef), and Hart’s visual style is messy as well. Reaching far beyond his own experience, Hart has created a chaotic playbook for the grieving process. (Xpress Reviews 10/2/15)

Lewis, John & Andrew Aydin (text) & Nate Powell (illus.). March (Trilogy Slipcase Set). Top Shelf: IDW. 2016. 560p. ISBN 9781603093958. pap. $49.99.
The March trilogy chronicles Congressman Lewis’s experience fighting for voting rights and against segregation while navigating competing agendas during the civil rights movement. ­Powell’s shadowy, portentous art makes this story unforgettable. (LJ 7/13; Xpress Reviews 1/23/15; LJ 11/15/16)

Satrapi, Marjane. The Complete Persepolis. Pantheon. 2007. 341p. ISBN 9780375714832. pap. $25.95.
Set in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution, this classic work explores the imposition of restrictive Islamic law as it affected the author’s coming of age. Striking at issues of national loyalty, political ideology, and family upheaval, Satrapi’s lush lines and flowing storytelling give this memoir the quality of personal mythology. (­Persepolis, LJ 5/1/03)

Sattouf, Riad. The Arab of the Future. Vol. 1: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978–1984; A Graphic Memoir. Metropolitan: Holt. 2015. 160p. ISBN 9781627793445. pap. $26.
In this first volume of a trilogy, ­Sattouf recalls a childhood spent in his father’s native Syria, with interludes in his mother’s French countryside. Marked as “other” by bushy blonde hair and lousy language skills, Sattouf sees the uncertain footing and outsized ambitions of a developing nation through the curious eyes of a child. (Vol. 1, LJ 9/15/15; Vol. 2, Xpress ­Reviews 7/22/16)


McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. Morrow Paperbacks. 1994. 224p. ISBN 9780060976255. pap. $24.99.

Widely regarded as the definitive guide to the nuts and bolts of constructing comics, McCloud’s guide tells by showing, through the graphic medium itself, the concepts discussed. A useful and enlightening body of knowledge from which both readers and potential cartoonists can draw.

We Told You So: Comics as Art. Fantagraphics. 2016. 652p. ed. by Tom Spurgeon with Michael Dean. photos. bibliog. ISBN 9781606999332. $49.99.

In this new retrospective, Fantagraphics celebrates 40 impressive years of influencing the landscape of graphic novel readership. Shaped as an oral history with lots of color illustrations and personal reminiscences, it recalls the ups and downs of the publisher that birthed Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez’s Love and Rockets as well as Daniel Clowes’s Eightball, landmarks in the evolution of comics as an artistic force. (LJ 2/1/17)

You Might Also Like… | LJ Notable Books of 2017

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 11:29

After we’ve chosen the Top Ten Best Books of the year, the LJ editors pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start writing about all the other books. Here are our Notables of 2017, titles that didn’t make it to the top ten, or weren’t nominated, or somehow flew under the radar. This is our chance to tell you about even more books we love and think you will too.

Kate DiGirolomo, SELF-e Community Coordinator
Schwab, V.E. A Conjuring of Light. Tor. ISBN 9780765387462. FANTASY
The final installment in Schwab’s “Shades of Magic” trilogy has been my personal favorite book of the year—and the series itself is one that I’ve recommended to readers a hundred times over. All along, Schwab has been spinning an enchanting tale worthy of a spot on the shelf next to Harry Potter, and it all comes to a head here as her superbly written characters fight to stop the darkness overtaking their world. It was certainly a delicate balance between wanting to race through the pages to know how it ends and savoring the experience, knowing it’d be my last traipse through Red London. (LJ Fall Editors’ Picks, 9/1/16)

Bette-Lee Fox, Managing Editor
Bergmann, Emanuel. The Trick. Atria. ISBN 9781501155826. F
Intertwined lives across continents and decades find their way back to each other through the tenaciousness of an 11-year-old boy who thinks an old magician’s spell guaranteeing eternal love will solve the problems that are leading his parents toward divorce. This wonderful debut novel captures exquisite characterizations and a jaw-dropping denouement. “[A] link between the Cohn family and the Great Zabbatini [turns] this novel into a magic trick of its own.” (LJ 9/15/17)

Honeyman, Gail. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. Pamela Dorman: Viking. ISBN 9780735220683. F
Direct to a fault, 29-year-old Scottish clerk Eleanor is aware that her coworkers find her odd, but her strict adherence to her routines, including the weekly calls from her incarcerated mother, keep her grounded. Then she discovers a musician to idolize, a colleague who finds her agreeable, and technology. “Honeyman’s heartbreaking, funny, and irresistible novel brings to life a character so original and pitch-perfect that it is nearly impossible to believe this is a debut.” (LJ 2/15/17)

Liz French, Senior Editor
Bullock, Darryl W. David Bowie Made Me Gay: 100 Years of LGBT Music. Overlook. ISBN 9781468315592. MUSIC/LGBT STUDIES
My favorite nominee for LJ Best Books, Bullock’s comprehensive look at a century of LBGTQ music and musicians is concise, informative, life-affirming, and just damn good reading. Not a tell-all, it nevertheless points out that those who march to a different drumbeat have been here all along, often leading the parade, and we—and the music industry—are all the better for it. Readers can peruse it piecemeal, selecting eras and artists that they’re interested in, but I recommend a whole-read experience. There are info nuggets, historical tidbits, and formerly forgotten performers in these pages, and you’ll definitely want to check out Bullock’s Quietus and Spotify playlists. I can’t wait for the audiobook, which I hope is in the works. (LJ 10/15/17)

Kunzru, Hari. White Tears. Knopf. ISBN 9780451493699. F
I considered nominating this title for a Bestie, but the chord change in the middle of the book, from slacker/hipster narrative to grueling, Jim Crow–era nightmare, was a deal-breaker. Somehow, though, all these months later, I can’t stop thinking about the surreal, haunting second half of Kunzru’s blistering novel of racial appropriation. (LJ 1/1/17)

Lucey, Donna M. Sargent’s Women: Four Lives Behind the Canvas. Norton. fine arts/biog
When interviewers ask authors whom they’d invite to a dream dinner party, I always fantasize about the people I’d invite. The four women skillfully profiled in my top 2017 Fall Editors’ Pick  and nominee for Best Books would comprise quite the guest list. Thanks to Lucey’s extensive research and intimate writing, I’d know just where to seat each of these ladies “behind the canvas.” (LJ 5/15/17)

Barbara Hoffert, Prepub Alert Editor
Grossman, David. A Horse Walks into a Bar. Knopf. tr. from Hebrew by Jessica Cohen. ISBN 9780451493972. F
In this Man Booker International Prize winner, faded stand-up comedian Dov Greenstein delivers a monolog driving ever closer to the bone as he recalls his painful childhood and a week spent bullied at a military camp for youth, where a tragic event transformed his life. Israeli author Grossman’s coruscating work reads not like watching a car wreck but like being in one, making us feel another’s anguish as we recognize the nature of true, transformative disclosure in a too easily tell-it-all world. (LJ 9/15/16)

Hamid, Mohsin. Exit West. Riverhead. ISBN 9780735212176. F
Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, this work uses a touch of magic realism to heighten the tragedy of today’s refugee crisis. Somewhere in the Eastern hemisphere, sweet Saeed and passionate, independent-minded Nadia fall in love. As their city tumbles toward civil war, they escape through a magical door. Readers thus focus not on their transit but on the escalating troubles at home, effectively delivered in a quietly modulated voice, and their Kafkaesque experiences in refugee camps in the West. (LJ 2/1/7)

Mackey, Nathaniel. Late Arcade. New Directions. ISBN 9780811226608. F
Continuing National Book Award–winning poet Mackey’s ongoing American jazz novel, From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate, this fantasia is formatted as letters to the mysterious Angel of Dust from N., capturing his band in the very act of creating music. In lapidary, sensuously layered language, Mackey shows what music is, how playing it feels, how its “not-aboutness” parallels that of poetry, and how jazz in particular is at once creation and performance. A unique reading experience for attentive, sophisticated readers.

Wicker, Marcus. Silencer. Houghton Harcourt. ISBN 9781328715548. POETRY
In bold, brash, openhearted poems delivered with satisfying sass, a National Poetry Series winner reflects on simply being while black. A news story about a tied-up dog resonates painfully (“You see human/ interest piece, …I see eclipsed casket), second-guessing your every move becomes second nature (“See, I practice self target practice”), and one poem ends “O Lord, make me me,” which is both caustically funny and emblematic of someone wanting to be himself in a society that makes it so very hard. (LJ 8/17)

Amanda Mastrull, Assistant Editor
Harding, Luke. A Very Expensive Poison: The Assassination of Alexander Litvinenko and Putin’s War with the West. Vintage. ISBN 9781101973998. POLI SCI
A former Russian spy turned British MI6 consultant ends up dead in London from a rare, highly radioactive, expensive poison—it sounds like a spy novel, but as Harding meticulously documents in this fascinating page-turner, it’s true. Harding, a British journalist who’s written extensively on Russia, is aided by the British inquiry into Alexander Litvinenko’s 2006 murder, showing cause that the assassination was approved by Vladimir Putin himself. Along with details on the case, the book, one of my Fall 2016 Editor’s Picks and Best Books 2017 nominations, also includes a wider examination of Russia’s current actions abroad. (LJ 12/2016)

O’Hagan, Andrew. The Secret Life: Three True Stories of the Digital Age. Farrar. ISBN 9780374277918. lit
These three long-form essays by novelist and essayist O’Hagan, which I first delved into when they ran in the London Review of Books, are centered on the larger themes of selfhood, secrecy, and the way we exist online. One of my Fall 2017 Editor’s Picks, the book features the compelling story of O’Hagan’s failed attempt to ghostwrite Julian Assange’s autobiography, his own creation of a false online persona for a dead man, and an examination of the Australian man who claims to be bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto. O’Hagan is a brilliant essayist and I can’t recommend his work enough. (LJ 9/15/17)

Wilda Williams, Fiction Editor
Craig, Charmaine. Miss Burma. Grove. ISBN 9780802126450. F
Craig draws on her remarkable family background to take us on a journey through Burmese political history from 1920s British colonialism to 1960s Burman military rule. Told from the perspective of the persecuted Karen minority, the novel, which focuses on the dramatic experiences of Benny, Khin, and their daughter Louisa, makes for a harrowing, heartbreaking, and timely read. 9780802126450. (LJ 2/1/17)

Perry, Sarah. The Essex Serpent. Custom House. ISBN 9780062669490. F
Perry’s award-winning UK best seller was not only my spring pick of 2017 but my favorite book of the year.  A newly widowed Cora Seaborne moves to coastal 1890s Essex where rumors of a rampaging sea-dragon are terrorizing the villagers, much to their vicar’s frustration. The inquisitive Cora sets out to investigate with the minister, discovering in the process a mutual attraction. This highly original novel is both a glorious salute to such gothic classics as Bram Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm and a gimlet-eyed contemporary take on Victorian manners in the style of Sarah Waters. (LJ 4/1/17)

Rooney, Kathleen. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. St. Martin’s. ISBN 9781250113320. F
My second-favorite book of 2017 is this engaging debut based on the life of a pioneering advertising woman. It’s New Year’s Eve 1984, and octogenarian Lilllian Boxfish takes a stroll down memory lane as she revisit the Manhattan spots that played key roles in her remarkable life. (LJ 12/1/16)


Met & Unmet Expectations | What We’re Reading & Watching

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 15:48

Turkey Day looms and we can finally freely discuss the nominees and winners of LJ’s best books 2017. Here, the WWR/WWW crew recognizes its home state’s shortcomings, stacks a horror film against the novel, gets on the Bruuuuuce! bandwagon, reads and writes about writing, and follows a Vietnamese family to the United States. We’re thankful for the freedom to write about what we read and watch and the ability to disagree amongst ourselves—I’m giving much side eye to WWW alum Tyler Hixson’s denigration of my beloved Ruth Gordon—yet still being friendly. It’s good practice for when we sit down with friends and family on Thursday. Happy Thanksgiving! 

Liz French, Senior Editor, LJ Reviews
When I was reading Roxane Gay’s memoir, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body (Harper), an LJ Top Ten best book , I wondered how Gay was faring in Indiana, where she’s a writing professor at Purdue University. I learned the answer pretty quickly, and cringed for myself, a total “not all Hoosiers” apologizer, and for others in my home (red) state. From Hunger:

Four years later, I moved to central Indiana, a much bigger town, a small city really. In the first weeks, I was racially profiled in an electronics store. Living here never got better. When I lamented how uncomfortable I was and am here, local acquaintances often tried to tell me, in different ways, “Not all Hoosiers,” much in the same way men on social media would say, “Not all men,” to derail discussions about misogyny. There is loneliness. The confederacy is alive and well here though we are hundreds of miles from the Old South. There is a man who drives around in an imposing black pickup truck with white-supremacist flags frying from the rear. My dental hygienist tells me I live in a bad part of town. There are no bad parts of town here, not really. In the local newspaper, residents write angry letters about a new criminal element in town. “People from Chicago,” they say, which is code for black people. 

Tyler Hixson, WWR/WWW emeritus; librarian, Brooklyn P.L.
I just started two books: Stephen E. Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West (S. & S.), and Bill James’s Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence (Scribner), a recommendation from my former colleague Mahnaz Dar. The first book is a comprehensive account of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition, which, in my opinion, is a criminally undercelebrated part of American history. It reads less as an account of the voyage and more like a thrilling historical adventure novel; you forget you’re reading nonfiction. The book focuses a lot on the relationship between Meriwether Lewis and Thomas Jefferson, which I know almost nothing about. I’m only about 50 pages in, but I’m hooked so far.

Popular Crime focuses on our fascination with murder by looking at “celebrated crimes” (isn’t that an awful phrase?), from those of Lizzie Borden to O.J. Simpson. James dissects the evidence of each crime and talks about the media firestorm that accompanied them. It *clap* is *clap* enthralling.

In terms of watching, I just saw Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, and for the first time, I will say that I ruined the movie by reading the book first. Ira Levin’s novel was awesome, and after reading reviews about how incredible the movie is, I was hyped. And I was let down. For those who don’t know the gist of the story, Rosemary and husband Guy move into the Bramford, where they meet their pretentious neighbors, Roman and Minnie Castavet. Guy takes to them immediately, but Rosemary is more wary. As Roman and Minnie wedge themselves further into their neighbors’ lives, Guy starts acting different and Rosemary comes to believe that the Castavets are witches and have indoctrinated Guy. Levin creates a tense, claustrophobic, and paranoid atmosphere that is nonstop throughout the book. Hearing that the film is a faithful adaptation, I expected the same.

However, actors Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes are obnoxious as Rosemary and Guy. Ruth Gordon is obnoxious as Minnie; I pictured a way more well-to-do older woman, not a crass, brash, crazy grandma. To Farrow’s credit, as the tension and paranoia builds, she becomes much more believable. But by that point, I had lost interest and resigned myself to understanding that the film wasn’t nearly as good as the novel.

Had I watched the film before I read the book, with no expectations, I might have liked it a little bit more. The story overall is terrifying and plays on human predisposition toward paranoia concerning loved ones with resounding success.

Lisa Peet, Associate Editor, LJ
Last week, I gobbled up John McPhee’s Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process (Farrar), a collection of essays that appeared in The New Yorker (where McPhee has been a contributor for as long as I’ve been alive) over the past decade. You might imagine that, as someone who writes all day—and therefore thinks obsessively about writing most of the day—I might not want to spend my off hours thinking about writing more. But you’d be wrong. I really like reading books on the craft, especially if they’re crafty themselves, and this absolutely qualifies. I love McPhee’s writing, no matter how arcane his subjects—he manages to be both playful and precise, with the one dependent on the other. I love how he talks about it here, addressing both of those aspects and a few other things. I picked up a few tips along the way, which is always a welcome side effect of reading writers on writing—using a dictionary to help find appropriate words rather than a thesaurus, for instance, which is genius for reasons relating to substance and meaning over variety for variety’s sake. The book is a little gossipy, a lot practical, full of arch wordiness that, once you fall into its rhythm, is fun and packs a lot of punch. Full disclosure: when I was in the sixth grade, McPhee came and talked to the class about essay writing, which I’m pretty sure I hadn’t known was an actual thing until he said so, but I fell in love with the idea, as he presented it, right away. All these years later, I’m still in love with it, so I guess I can blame him for all this thinking about writing in the first place.

Etta Verma, WWW/WWR Alumna; Senior Editorial Communications Specialist, NISO, the National Information Standards Organization
I’m reading Bruce Springsteen’s memoir Born To Run (S. & S.). Why did it never occur to me before that a songwriter would make a great book writer, and one with a fab, quirky style? I saw Bruce giving a hilarious speech at U2’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony a few years ago, and when I heard he had a memoir, I thought it would be funny. It is, but you come for the laughter and stay for the, pun intended, lyrical writing.



Ashleigh Williams, Editorial Assistant, School Library Journal
While sorting through my accumulated library for donation (simultaneously a bookworm’s worst nightmare and ultimate dream), I stumbled upon Thi Bui’s graphic memoir, The Best We Could Do (Comic Arts: Abrams), an LJ Best Graphic Novel of 2017, at the bottom of a stack. I cracked it open to start as a nighttime read and to continue on the next day’s commute; an hour later, I found myself up well past my bedtime determined to finish. It is the visually arresting and frequently uncomfortable account of Bui and her family’s difficult emigration from 1970s South Vietnam to the United States. One of four children, Bui, herself a new mother, reflects on her own childhood, her mother’s six pregnancies, and the tenderness that was or was not granted each of her parents in their respective upbringings. She details her mother’s travails across territories and amid violence, as the family attempts to flee to wherever is safest. There’s not a tidy ending for a book that explores the fracture of perpetual fear and intergenerational trauma so deeply; I know that Bui’s incredible work will remain with me for long, long while.




Embracing Life | Memoir

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 09:22

This month’s memoirs focus on either death or transformation and teach us lessons about embracing life while we still have it. Musician Alan Doyle explores his native Canada for the first time; Jennifer McGaha’s marriage and life are tested; David Giffels decides to build his own coffin; and devout scholar Kate Bowler is diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. [Also transformative is Michael McCaughan’s reexamination of his relationship with the oldest written language in Europe.—Ed.]

Bowler, Kate. Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved. Random. Feb. 2018. 208p. ISBN 9780399592065. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780399592072. MEMOIR
Canada-born Bowler is a Mennonite and scholar of the American Prosperity Gospel (think “God wants you to be rich”). Throughout this book, she explores her struggle with Stage IV colon cancer via the lens of faith and the concept that things happen to us solely owing to God’s purpose. Ultimately, she rejects the notion that her cancer, or anybody’s cancer, happens because of some divine design, while also maintaining her faith. Puzzlingly, we learn little about the details of Bowler’s faith, just that she has it. VERDICT A decent memoir about faith tested, examined, and ultimately maintained. [See Prepub Alert, 8/28/17.]

Doyle, Alan. A Newfoundlander in Canada: Always Going Somewhere, Always Coming Home. Doubleday Canada. Oct. 2017. 256p. ISBN 9780385686198. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780385686204. MEMOIR
Born and raised in Newfoundland, a province that joined Canada in 1949, Doyle (Where I Belong) knew little about the wider world until he was asked to join a band that eventually became known as the Great Big Sea. What follows is a memoir-cum-tour diary that explores Canada from an outsider’s perspective. Doyle has a light and gentle touch that is rare in contemporary memoirs, and he’s frequently funny in a folksy kind of way. VERDICT A wide-eyed and optimistic look at Canada.


Giffels, David. Furnishing Eternity: A Father, a Son, a Coffin, and a Measure of Life. Scribner. Jan. 2018. 256p. ISBN 9781501105944. $24; ebk. ISBN 9781501105975. MEMOIR
Giffels (The Hard Way on Purpose) is an intriguing guy: a professor of writing, a former writer for the show Beavis and Butt-Head, and, as described in this book, a coffin maker. Inspired by a growing sense of his own mortality, he enlists his retired engineer and jack-of-all-trades father to help him build his own casket. In the process, his mother and best friend die, and his father falls ill with cancer for a second time. Giffels’s ironic and humorous style helps leaven all this sadness. Though he grieves, he moves forward with purpose, his coffin-making project driving him on. VERDICT A wry and affecting memoir about death, loss, and the meaning(s) of life. [See Prepub Alert, 8/7/17.]

McGaha, Jennifer. Flat Broke with Two Goats: A Memoir of Appalachia. Sourcebooks. Jan. 2018. 336p. ISBN 9781492655381. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781492655398. MEMOIR
McGaha, a professor of English, and her husband lose their house after finding out that they owe the IRS an extraordinary amount in back taxes. They then move their family into a cabin in the mountains of western North Carolina. They embrace rural life in their new home, raising goats and chickens, and learning how to live with less. Along the way, McGaha learns about her marriage, herself, and what really matters in life. The book also includes many tasty-looking recipes (most of them McGaha’s own), as well as a reading guide and an interview with the author. VERDICT An enjoyable back-to-the land memoir. 

More Memoir

McCaughan, Michael. Coming Home: One Man’s Return to the Irish Language. Gill. May 2017. 256p. ISBN 9780717171590. pap. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780717171576. MEMOIR
Compared to other minority tongues, explains journalist McCaughan, the Irish language—the oldest written language in Europe and a branch of Gaelic, not itself called Gaelic—is enjoying a renaissance in Ireland (astoundingly, even in areas of Northern Ireland that are loyal to Britain) and abroad. This great read, mainly for lapsed speakers who want to take the language back up, is more than a chronicling of McCaughen’s journey back to a language he hated in school. It also discusses attempts to revive the tongue and what it’s like to use the language in Ireland today, where speakers can be met with derision and the government underfunds revival efforts and often fails to offer services in what is the first official language (reports on negative attitudes from both sides can start to wear). McCaughan also helpfully lists relevant books, music, and even immersive residential courses, as well as his daily media diet as Gaeilge. VERDICT A motivating and sometimes hilarious source, mainly for libraries that serve Irish Americans.—Henrietta Verma, National Information Standards Organization, Baltimore

A Delicate Balance | Christian Fiction Genre Spotlight

Wed, 11/15/2017 - 18:05

This summer, actor Wesley Snipes made his fiction debut with Talon of God (Harper Voyager, Jul.), a supernatural thriller that featured a strong black woman who finds her faith and fights off a scourge of demons with the help of Talon, a warrior of God. LJ’s starred review praised the novel, coauthored with Ray Norman, as “an exciting, fast-paced, religious thriller that will draw in even the most cynical reader with its mashup of science and faith.”

Clearly this is not your typical inspirational novel. Indeed, Pamela Jaffee, senior director of publicity and brand development for Avon Books and Harper Voyager, notes that the book stretches the Christian fiction market in a new direction. “It’s frankly a theological horror novel, which is not a commonly seen subgenre.”

The next generation of readers

As Snipes’s novel demonstrates, Christian fiction is expanding beyond the clean, spiritual reads favored by older generations. With millennials increasingly making up a greater proportion of the market once dominated by mostly white, middle-aged female readers, publishers are taking note.

At the 2017 Christian Fiction Readers Retreat, a book blogger–hosted, publisher-sponsored conference held August 12 in Cincinnati, Bethany House publicist Amy Green was delighted to see that many of the most devoted fans in attendance belonged to a younger demographic. “Many of them came to [our] booth to tell us they read our blog posts, follow us on social media, and love our authors, an encouraging sign that we’re doing things right to reach the next generation.”

Coming in March 2018 from HarperCollins Christian Publishing’s (HCCP) Thomas Nelson imprint is Mary ­Weber’s Reclaiming Shilo Snow, a YA sf novel with adult crossover appeal. This sequel to The Evaporation of Sofi Snow stars a female gamer, and the main characters have either Cherokee or Latinx heritage. The author also explores issues of human trafficking and self-worth in a way that Alison Carter, HCCP senior publicist, fiction, believes speaks to millennials who are becoming more vocal about social ­justice issues.

Bethany House is also covering tough topics such as prostitution with Melissa Jagears’s “Teaville Moral Society” historical series, which follows heroines in an early 1900s Kansas town seeking to show Christ’s love to the sex workers of the local red-light district and their children; the third installment, A Chance at Forever, is set to release in March 2018.

Terrorism, police accountability, and immigration are dealt with in romantic suspense author Dani Pettrey’s October release, Blind Spot, the third volume in her “Chesapeake Valor” series. Terri Blackstock’s “If I Run” series deals with two protagonists suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for differing reasons—one witnessed a suicide when she was young and the other served in the military and is scarred by his war experiences. The final installment, If I Live (Zondervan), will be published in March 2018.

Addressing Race

“We definitely have authors who are tackling relevant issues and writing stories sparked by politically and religiously charged news headlines,” says Amanda Bostic, HCCP fiction publisher. Robert Whitlow’s legal drama, A Time To Stand (Thomas Nelson, Sept.), was inspired by the police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, in Ferguson, MO, and is one of several new novels that address Civil Rights–era issues recently resurfacing in mainstream media coverage. Elizabeth Byler Younts’s The Solace of Water (Thomas Nelson, Jun. 2018) is set in 1957 when two women, one an Amish recluse, the other an African American preacher’s wife, form an unexpected friendship as they fight personal battles of freedom.

“Elizabeth’s book is certainly one that will hit with readers of both general and Christian fiction,” comments HCCP’s Carter, who adds the novel might hold potential appeal to fans of The Help and Dollbaby. While considered general fiction, Younts’s novel drew on the author’s Amish family background. “It will be interesting to see if there will be crossover [to Amish fiction readers],” the publicist adds. “With such a creative story line, we’re looking for it to defy reading genres. That’s the strength of a powerful story.”

For Revell senior fiction publicist Karen Steele, fiction offers a way to tackle and process the sensitive topics of race and status issues. Coming in January 2018 is Missing Isaac, a first novel by Alabama-born Valerie Fraser Leusse. Set in 1965, the era of Leusse’s own childhood, the novel revolves around Pete McLean, a fatherless white boy from a wealthy family, who searches for his friend Isaac Reynolds, a black field hand who has disappeared from their small town. With its focus on a small town far removed from the marches and bombings and turmoil in the streets that were broadcast on the evening news, Steele explains that the book will provide readers with a different perspective on what the South looked like during this volatile time in history. The author agrees: “What often gets overlooked in news stories and documentaries about this era is that some of the social upheaval was of a quiet nature.”

Shannon Marchese, the fiction editor for Penguin Random House’s WaterBrook and Multnomah imprints, is excited about No One Ever Asked (Waterbrook, Apr. 2018), a stand-alone from Christy and Carol Award–winning Katie Ganshert. “I want to call [this title] out because of how it deals with contemporary racial tension in a way that no novelists publishing in the Christian space are doing,” says ­Marchese. When an impoverished, predominantly black school district loses its accreditation and a neighboring wealthy white community must take on transfer students, the lives of three women—a PTA chair, a working mother, and an elementary school teacher—converge in a conflict they didn’t expect.

With a still mostly white genre beginning to address difficult issues that it once avoided, the question of representation arises. At the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) first-ever “The Art of Writing Conference,” sponsored by Bethany House and held November 8 in Nashville prior to the Christy Awards gala, a seminar by communications professor Theon Hill discussed critical issues about diversity in Christian fiction. In helping to plan this event, Bethany House’s Green chose this topic in particular because of the conversations she had been hearing among white authors who want to write diverse characters but are afraid of getting it wrong, losing sales, or offending others. “Dr. Hill has told me he thinks we’ve reached exactly the right time in the publishing industry, the church, and the culture at large to have this conversation.”

How real is too real?

As writers increasingly tackle gritty and sensitive topics that challenge CF’s traditional norms, a dichotomy has arisen between edgy ripped-from-the-headlines tales that might appeal to readers new to the genre and the traditional redemptive stories beloved by inspirational fiction’s core fans. “Christian writers are faced with finding ways to remain connected to current readers while also drawing new audiences who need inspiration,” says HCCP’s Bostic.

While the pendulum now swings toward more realistic fiction, the demand for more idealistic fiction remains strong. “There are certainly ways to convey the idea of vulgar language without spelling it out and to depict sinful activity without being gratuitous,” argues Kregel Publications marketing and publicity manager Noelle Pedersen. “Skillful authors can do so in a way that seems natural.” The Christian readership, she notes, is divided on which of these traits is of greater importance in their book choices, not only for what they read themselves but for what they recommend to others.

Whichever side readers fall on, Christian fiction doesn’t have to mean insipid or dull or unsophisticated about difficult topics. Kensington senior editor Esi Sogah disputes the general misconceptions about the genre. “I often think people believe that inspirational novels have a very strict good vs. evil point of view, but the wide variety of inspirational and faith-based novels of our Bouquet titles make it clear that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

She cites Laura Bradford’s Portrait of a Sister (Kensington, Jun. 2018), in which the protagonist struggles to reconcile her talent for drawing portraits, considered a sin in the Amish world, with the desire to stay in her community. “One of the beautiful things is how Laura explores the very real role doubt can play in discovering and strengthening one’s faith,” says Sogah. “The protagonist has to figure out how to use this secular thing and make it work for her spiritual beliefs.”

crossover appeal

As an editor at a commercial house that has been growing its Christian fiction program and sales, Sogah is also seeing an increase in faith-based story lines in mainstream fiction. Kensington has picked up on this trend by publishing Christy Award winner Davis Bunn’s romantic “Miramar Bay” series, which is aimed at a crossover audience. The next volume, Firefly Cove, releases in December.

Another Kensington romance with potential wide reader attraction is Sarah Price’s Belle: An Amish Retelling of Beauty and the Beast (Zebra, Oct.), which launched her “Amish Fairy­tale” series. “By using the beloved tropes of the familiar fairy tale but setting it in a small Plain farming community, Price expands the appeal of traditional romance,” says editorial director Alicia Condon. In a saturated Amish fiction market, readers are looking for fresh twists on genre tropes, notes Condon, and Price’s fairy tale–themed stories do just that. Upcoming novels will be retellings of Cinderella (Ella, Jun. 2018) and Snow White.

Kensington also hopes to build interest in Amish historical fiction, still a tiny subgenre in a crowded field. “Those titles that are being published stand out from the abundance of contemporary-set Amish romances,” explains editor in chief John Scognamiglio. Coming in January 2018 is Molly Jebber’s Liza’s Second Chance (Zebra), a series launch that is set in an Amish bakery in 1912 small-town Ohio and that is characterized by charming historical details about Amish culture and food. “Molly is one of the few authors writing about the Amish in a historical time period, so her novels are unique to the genre,” says Scognamiglio.

Still, has the popularity of Amish fiction, especially contemporary romances, peaked? Bethany House’s Green believes the genre has leveled off, with big names doing well and lesser-known authors mostly out of the category. But Tyndale House publicist Kristen Schumacher points out that while these novels may not be selling as well as in prior years, they still drive traffic into retailers and online sales. Among Tyndale’s rising stars is Jolina Petersheim, whose dystopian The Alliance is a 2017 Christy Award nominee; the concluding volume, The Divide, was released in June.

And Revell’s Steele stresses the enduring success of certain writers such as Suzanne Woods Fisher. “I think Suzanne’s ability to create a community that readers want to return to is a big part of the appeal. And she truly loves her characters. I always feel that shows in the writing.” Fisher’s newest book, The Return, was published in August.

The Times are Changing

Fisher switches genres and times in February 2018 with Phoebe’s Light (Revell), bringing her signature twists and turns to bear on an intriguing new faith community: the Quakers of colonial-era Nantucket Island. Her new series debut is one of several forthcoming novels that explore early American history, a growing category in the perennially popular inspirational historical genre.

“While there are some eras that always do well—the West in the 1800s for example—it’s fun to see new eras starting to take hold,” comments Bethany House’s Green. On the publisher’s winter 2018 list is Lisa T. Bergren’s ­Keturah (Jan. 2018), the first volume in “The Sugar Baron’s Daughters” series set in the 18th-century West Indies. When Lady Keturah Banning Tomlinson and her sisters inherit their father’s estates, they travel to the Caribbean to examine what is left of their legacy. In Jocelyn Green’s A Refuge Assured (Bethany House, Feb. 2018 ), a young lacemaker flees the guillotine of revolutionary France for safety in a settlement established by French refugees in a newly independent America. Another lacemaker is suspected of being a British spy in colonial Williamsburg, VA, in Laura Frantz’s historical romance The Lacemaker (­Revell, Jan. 2018).

For genealogy and American history buffs, Barbour Books’ new “Daughters of the Mayflower” series explores several generations of Mayflower descendants, starting in 1620 with Kimberley Woodhouse’s The Mayflower Bride (Feb. 2018) and followed by The Pirate Bride (Apr. 2018) by Kathleen Y’Barbo, which takes place in 1725 New Orleans.

Frontier America remains evergreen

A longtime favorite since Gilbert Morris and Janette Oke sprung on the scene, the 19th-century American frontier setting appeals to readers who enjoy stories about characters who are bold, fearless, and self-reliant. “It’s a period of rugged traditionalism that is absolutely in vogue right now,” says Kensington executive editor Selena James.

Just released in August is The Promise Bride (Zebra) by Gina Welborn and Becca Whitham, the latest entry in the “Montana Bride” historical series that centers on the feisty and determined women who embrace the challenges of life and love in the wild Montana Territory of the 1880s. In Scarlett Dunn’s second volume in her “Langtry Sisters” trilogy, Return to Whispering Pines (Zebra, May 2018), her heroine must confront her past and her outlaw brother as she tries to set up an orphanage in Colorado. Kensington’s ­Scognamiglio notes the rough-hewn nature of some of Dunn’s characters; on the surface they may not appear to be very Christian, yet their faith helps them cope with the dangers of life on the frontier.

Fertile ground

The two World Wars and the Great Depression remain rich soil for Christian fiction. Roseanna White’s “Shadows over England” duology, which launched in June with A Name Unheard, takes place at the start of the Great War; the second volume, A Song Unheard (Bethany House, Jan. 2018), involves a young violin prodigy who must steal a cipher from a famous violinist whose father had been a noted cryptologist and whose mother and sister have vanished in the wake of the German invasion of Belgium.

In regards to the popularity of novels set during the Depression and World War II, Kregel’s Pedersen notes the last members of the generation that experienced these momentous years are leaving us and that readers are hungry for more of their stories before they are lost forever. She highlights one Kregel author, Susie Finkbeiner, who conducted personal research with Oklahoma dust bowl survivors for the first of her Pearl Spence novels, A Cup of Dust (2015). “The third novel, A Song of Home: A Novel of the Swing Era (Kregel, Nov.), is also based on real, lived experience and touches on topics of racism and prejudice in the author’s own state of Michigan in the 1930s.”

Three-time Christy Award winner Cathy Gohlke, who explored the moral dilemmas raised during the Second World War in such novels as Secrets She Kept and Saving Amelie, returns to this dramatic historical period for her next book. Until We Reach Home (Tyndale House, Jan. 2018) stars an American woman who joins the French Resistance and escapes to England with five Jewish refugee children. And the home front is addressed in Irma Joubert’s The Crooked Path (Thomas Nelson, Nov.), featuring a pioneering South African female physician who both practices medicine and raises a family during World War II and its aftermath.


Interestingly, a number of CF writers are incorporating the aforementioned historical periods into a subgenre of romantic suspense that is generating buzz in the industry: Bethany House’s Green is seeing a lot of dual-time stories (also called time-slip, or split-time). On her fall list is debut author Jaime Jo Wright’s The House on Foster Hill (Nov.), which revolves around two protagonists in two different time periods. The story line transitions smoothly between the present, when widow Kaine Prescott buys an abandoned house with a tainted past, and 1906, when Ivy Thorpe discovers the body of a pregnant girl stuffed in a tree. “I think readers enjoy [time-slip fiction],” says Green, “because there’s something for everyone—a little contemporary, a little historical. And even when the book isn’t classified as suspense, [there’s] the tension of wondering how two different stories will intersect and resolve.”

According to HCCP’s Carter, the appeal of this kind of fiction lies in the dual viewpoints from the two main characters. “While these perspectives play out in different eras, the plots, challenges, and circumstances draw on timeless themes, allowing readers to draw a connection.” Coming next June is Rachel Hauck’s The Love Letter (Thomas Nelson), which weaves stories set in the Revolutionary War with the present day. In Hauck’s novel, the story lines and characters are linked through a common object, a treasured item that also becomes somewhat of a character itself.

Karli Jackson, HCCP associate acquisitions editor for fiction, works closely with Hauck and understands why readers keep coming back for more. “I think there’s a strong desire for connection to previous generations in our own families that we get to explore in stories like these. We learn a lot about ourselves when we uncover the mysteries of our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ lives, and Rachel does a great job of showing the magic in that distanced familial connection,” remarks Jackson.

Best-selling author Kristy Cambron juggles three historical periods—the French Revolution, World War II, and the present day—in her fifth novel, The Lost Castle (Thomas Nelson, Feb. 2018). The time lines revolve around a medieval castle in France, forgotten for generations and left to the ravages of nature.

A promising newcomer in time-slip fiction is Heidi ­Chiavaroli, whose debut novel, Freedom’s Ring (Tyndale House, Aug.), connects two dramatic events in Boston history: the Boston Massacre of 1770 and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. “There is much to learn from the past,” says publicist Schumacher. “Dealing with such timeless issues as perseverance, faith, sacrifice, and healing are not that different today than they were years ago.”

Likewise, Michèle Phoenix draws on the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks to link to the 17th-century persecution of the Huguenots (French ­Protestants) in The Space Between Words (Thomas Nelson, Sept.). Recovering from the trauma of surviving the attack on a Parisian nightclub, Jessica finds solace in researching the life of Adeline Baillard, a young Huguenot, after discovering an old manuscript hidden in an antique.


Not surprisingly for a genre with deep roots in the South, fiction set in the region remains very popular. Christy Award winner Chris Fabry’s upcoming release, Under a Cloudless Sky (Tyndale House, Jan. 2018), is another dual-time novel. Set in Depression-era West Virginia, with a second current story also set in Appalachia, the title is being marketed for fans of J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. Lauren Denton’s sophomore effort, Hurricane Season (Thomas Nelson, Apr. 2018), takes place in Alabama and Florida as a record heat ushers in the most active hurricane season in decades. Two sisters and their families must weather some powerful metaphorical and literal storms.

But the success of Joel Rosenberg’s geopolitical thrillers demonstrates that CF readers are willing to travel beyond the South and, indeed, abroad with their favorite authors. The Washington insider’s high-stakes action novel The Kremlin Conspiracy (Tyndale House, Mar. 2018) features an American president distracted by conflicts in North Korea and Iran while a new threat appears in Moscow in the form of a power-hungry Putin-like leader.

Even further afield, inspirational off-world adventures increasingly attract new fans. In Renegades (Revell, Nov.), Thomas Locke (aka Davis Bunn) returns to his Recruits protagonists, twins Sean and Dillon, who share the gift of being able to transfer instantly from planet to planet. Having been arrested and imprisoned by a secret group, they must now choose between those who wish to serve and those who wish to rule. Also coming home to inspirational speculative fiction is best-selling author Ted Dekker, who will launch a new series next May with Revell. In The 49th Mystic, the fate of two worlds rest on a young woman’s journey to regain her sight.

Making a comeback

Gilead Publishing, a new CF publisher that launched in 2016 with a splash (see “Birth of a CF House,” LJ 11/15/16), hit a rough patch and briefly suspended publication. But thanks to a new marketing and distributing partnership with Kregel Publications, a rebooted Gilead returned to the market in October with its first release, the 50th anniversary edition of Catherine Marshall’s classic novel Christy. Other Gilead titles on the schedule include Debbie Mayne’s High Cotton (Mar. 2018) and the first two volumes in Barbara Cameron’s “Harvest of Hope” Amish series, Seeds of Hope (Nov.) and Buried Secrets (Apr. 2018).

Gilead’s sf/fantasy imprint, Enclave, is also back in business, publishing otherworldly novels of a different sort. Upcoming titles include Paul Regnier’s Space Drifters: The Ghost Ship (Apr. 2018), the third volume in his comic space opera series, and Joshua A. Johnson’s Into the Void (Feb. 2018), the second entry in his “Chronicles of Sarco” military sf series. Morgan Busse concludes her award-winning steampunk “Soul Chronicles” duology with Awakened (Nov.). Kat Bloodmayne escapes from the Tower and her father’s experiments only to discover the dark power within her has grown stronger. Popular author Ronie Kendig releases Fieran (Mar. 2018), the third in the “Abiassa’s Fire” fantasy series.

Staying the Course

In a rapidly transitioning environment, Christian fiction’s challenge today is to maintain its central message of hope and faith, while evolving to accommodate a more diverse readership, in terms of both age and ethnicity. “Call it edgy or call it relevant,” says HCCP’s Bostic, “but while the story lines may be inspired by news headlines, the guiding themes of Christian fiction will always remain a part of the stories we publish.”

North Chesterfield, VA–based freelance writer Julia M. Reffner has reviewed books and DVDs in a variety of genres for LJ. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Word Weavers

Faithful Finds Below are the titles mentioned in this article. AUTHOR TITLE PUBLISHER RELEASE Bergren, Lisa T. Keturah Bethany House Jan. 2018 Blackstock, Terri If I Live Zondervan Mar. 2018 Bradford, Laura Portrait of a Sister Kensington Jun. 2018 Bunn, Davis Firefly Cove Kensington Dec. 2017 Busse, Morgan Awakened Enclave: Gilead Nov. 2017 Cambron, Kristy The Lost Castle Thomas Nelson Feb. 2018 Cameron, Barbara Buried Secrets Gilead Apr. 2018 Cameron, Barbara Seeds of Hope Gilead Nov. 2017 Chiavaroli, Heidi Freedom’s Ring Tyndale House Aug. 2017 Dekker, Ted The 49th Mystic Revell May 2018 Denton, Lauren Hurricane Season Thomas Nelson Apr. 2018 Dunn, Scarlett Return to Whispering Pines Zebra: Kensington May 2018 Fabry, Chris Under a Cloudless Sky Tyndale House Jan. 2018 Finkbeiner, Susie A Song of Home Kregel Nov. 2017 Fisher, Suzanne Woods Phoebe’s Light Revell Feb. 2018 Fisher, Suzanne Woods The Return Revell Aug. 2017 Frantz, Laura The Lacemaker Revell Jan. 2018 Ganshert, Katie No One Ever Asked WaterBrook Apr. 2018 Gohlke, Cathy Until We Reach Home Tyndale House Jan. 2018 Green, Jocelyn A Refuge Assured Bethany House Feb. 2018 Hauck, Rachel The Love Letter Thomas Nelson Jun. 2018 Jagears, Melissa A Chance at Forever Bethany House Mar. 2018 Jebber, Molly Liza’s Second Chance Zebra: Kensington Jan. 2018 Johnson, Joshua A. Into the Void Enclave: Gilead Feb. 2018 Joubert, Irma The Crooked Path Thomas Nelson Nov. 2017 Kendig, Ronie Fieran Enclave: Gilead Mar. 2018 Locke, Thomas Renegades Revell Nov. 2017 Luesse, Valerie Fraser Missing Isaac Revell Jan. 2018 Marshall, Catherine Christy Gilead Oct. 2017 Mayne, Debbie High Cotton Gilead Mar. 2018 Petersheim, Jolina The Divide Tyndale House Jun. 2017 Pettrey, Dani Blind Spot Bethany House Oct. 2017 Phoenix, Michèle The Space Between Words Thomas Nelson Sept. 2017 Price, Sarah Belle Zebra: Kensington Oct. 2017 Price, Sarah Ella Zebra: Kensington June 2018 Regnier, Paul Space Drifters: The Ghost Ship Enclave: Gilead Apr. 2018 Rosenberg, Joel The Kremlin Conspiracy Tyndale House Mar. 2018 Snipes, Wesley & Ray Norman Talon of God Harper Voyager Jul. 2017 Weber, Mary Reclaiming Shilo Snow Thomas Nelson Mar. 2018 Welborn, Gina & Becca Whitham The Promise Bride Zebra: Kensington Aug. 2017 White, Roseanna A Song Unheard Bethany House Jan. 2018 Whitlow, Robert A Time To Stand Thomas Nelson Sept. 2017 Woodhouse, Kimberley The Mayflower Bride Barbour Feb. 2018 Wright, Jaime Jo The House on Foster Hill Bethany House Nov. 2017 Y’Barbo, Kathleen The Pirate Bride Barbour Apr. 2018 Younts, Elizabeth Byler The Solace of Water Thomas Nelson Jun. 2018

Q&A: Mark Robison & Lindley Shedd Francoeur, Editors of Audio Recorders to Zucchini Seeds

Wed, 11/15/2017 - 15:03

Animal skulls, musical instruments, and power tools aren’t what many patrons expect to see when they enter the library. But, as editors Mark Robison and Lindley Shedd Francoeur point out in their book Audio Recorders to Zucchini Seeds: Building a Library of Things (LJ 11/15/17, p. 89), nontraditional collections are becoming more popular. Robison and Francoeur jointly spoke with LJ about why this phenomenon is especially prevalent now, challenges that these holdings present, and some of the most unusual items they have encountered.

Why should libraries offer collections of “things”?
Libraries can use things collections to satisfy unmet needs in their communities. Despite their novelty, things collections aren’t frivolous—they are practical. When libraries lend bicycles, power tools, green screens, video cameras, cooking utensils, and musical instruments, and when those collections see heavy circulation, libraries tap into their age-old magic of leveraging resources to meet users’ needs. The biggest difference is that whereas traditional library collections focus on informational needs, things collections typically consist of tools, equipment, or goods that meet a utilitarian, material need.

Libraries of things may seem cutting edge, but as your book mentions, they’re not new.
Yes, the things collection movement we see today is really the outgrowth of many smaller trends among libraries over the past century. The first such type of collection to gain traction was curriculum materials collections. In the 1920s and 1930s, education colleges across the United States began creating “curriculum laboratories,” which provided teachers-in-training with materials to support their lesson planning. In addition to textbooks, tests, and example lesson plans, these collections often featured nonprint items such as globes and maps, art supplies, manipulatives, science equipment, and educational kits. Curriculum materials collections were ubiquitous in teachers’ colleges by the late 1960s.

Another early type of things collection was tool libraries. For all their trendy, community-oriented cachet, tool libraries have their origins in the urban revitalization efforts of the 1970s. These early tool libraries were often run by local housing authorities or nonprofit agencies and funded by federal grant money.

Other types of collections that are now widespread include toy libraries, seed libraries, and multimedia centers. As libraries work to find new ways of serving their communities, this confluence of trends, along with the rise of the sharing economy and the continued popularity of DIY culture, has resulted in the things collection movement we see today.

What are some of the more unusual items you’ve seen libraries offer?
Alaska Resources Library and Information Services (ARLIS) in Anchorage has a vast collection of animal skulls and pelts and even mounts of taxidermied animals, which it lends to local [educators] to use as teaching tools.

Other standouts include San Diego Public Library’s “check it out” museum passes, which patrons can use to gain entry to several local museums, and the St. Charles, MO, City-County Library District’s various fitness kits, which include yoga mats, boxing gloves, resistance bands, and kettlebells.

How would you respond to naysayers who think these kinds of collections are gimmicks?
Gimmicks are cheap, flashy efforts to gain passing attention. Things collections, by contrast, have proven to be sustainable, for both libraries and users. Many of the collections featured in our book have been in operation for a decade or longer. Although these collections often do generate sensational acclaim for their institutions, successful libraries find ways to keep these collections going by integrating them into their larger workflows. For users, things collections are sustainable for a different reason. These items help meet needs that arise only periodically (e.g., filming a movie, cutting up a fallen tree). These users have no more interest in owning every last gadget than in owning every last book or movie. By taking advantage of their local library’s things collection, they can enjoy the benefit of the tool without the expense of owning it.

This preference for collective ownership is evident all around us, in the sharing economy. It is the same impulse that we see in people who prefer ride-sharing over owning a car or purchasing an upcycled sofa instead of buying a new one. In a society overrun with material possessions, many people are rejecting the burden (and clutter) of ownership in favor of something more sustainable, and libraries would be wise to take this cue.

How might a library catalog and keep track of objects?
All of the book’s contributors track these items in their own interlibrary loan systems, using local, original cataloging, but that’s just one step of the process. Many decisions have to be made before cataloging can be done. Just a few of the many technical considerations include whether a custom organizational structure is needed, how items will be packaged together, which items should and should not be bar-coded, and whether to use open or closed stacks. How a library will store and provide access to these collections can influence its cataloging decisions.

What tips do you have for librarians who want to get started?
Our work is intended to do just that: provide a starting point and a chance to learn from the collective experiences of librarians running successful things collections. Libraries have long been addressing topics such as funding, acquisition, cataloging, and assessment, but those topics can take on new dimensions with a things collection. Some considerations are also particular to things collections, such as additional staff training, storage and shelving, more frequent maintenance, and questions of liability.

The strongest theme throughout the volume is to plan a things collection that works for your users and library [and] leveraging your best resources.—Mahnaz Dar

Photos courtesy of the University of Alabama

Exciting Poetry for Fall: 14 Titles Range Widely To Bring a Fresh Reading Experience

Wed, 11/15/2017 - 14:43

Adonis. Concerto al-Quds. Yale Univ. (Margellos World Republic of Letters). Nov. 2017. 96p. tr. from Arabic by Khaled Mattawa. ISBN 9780300197648. $25. POETRY

“Up there, up above,/ Look at her dangling from the sky’s throat” opens this astonishing collection from Adonis, who has significantly shaped modern Arabic poetry. He offers a portrait both mythic and historical of Al-Quds, the Arabic name for Jerusalem; frequent references to the Qur’an and the Bible, among other sources, are clarified by excellent footnoting. The first shimmering vision of the city (“The wind reads the roses./ Perfume writes them”) is interrupted by parenthetical citations to violence (“Terrorism. Kidnapping. Unknown Identity…”); in a city defined by time, “history arrived, invited by ash.” And the book ends, “And Hell, in which sky do you reside/ and from which heaven will you descend?” Thus does Adonis capture in gorgeously singular language an eternal city now riven. ­VERDICT Highly recommended.

Brandt, Per Aage. If I Were a Suicide Bomber: & Other Verses. Open Letter. (International Poetry). Sept. 2017. 260p. tr. from Danish by Thom Satterlee. ISBN 9781940953649. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781940953755. POETRY

Wry and reasoned, quietly provocative but never caustic, reflecting on our being in the world through aphoristic, koan-like poems mostly ten lines long, this seamlessly translated selection from Danish poet Brandt shows a refreshingly different aesthetic at work. Brandt is a semiotician by training, as evidenced by his carefully considered lines (“when we’re no longer in the neighborhood, let alone/ in anotherhood, the pianos get out of tune, very quickly”). And if he were his title’s suicide bomber? “I would activate the detonator in my belt/ (goodbye, ideas).” VERDICT Good work for readers who like their verse philosophical.

Chang, Victoria. Barbie Chang. Copper Canyon. Nov. 2017. 96p. ISBN 9781556595165. pap. $16. POETRY

Having investigated the strains of office life in The Boss, a PEN Center award winner, Chang turns to another arena in which power plays out uncomfortably. Barbie Chang may strive for the artificial perfection of her namesake, but the Circle of mothers at school shut her out (“a potomac// hurt why unearth her high school her/ children unearth// everything”). At stake isn’t just odd otherness, of course, but race; one woman “would never/ again say hello to that// Chang even one named Barbie.” Meanwhile, Barbie contends with ailing parents as Chang’s unpunctuated rush of language amplifies the tension. VERDICT Perhaps not as sprightly as The Boss but still satisfying work from rising-star Chang, exploring the little explored.

Cruz, Victor Hernández. Beneath the Spanish. Coffee House. Oct. 2017. 176p. ISBN 9781566894890. pap. $16.99; ebk. 9781566895057. POETRY

A Lenore Marshall and Griffin Poetry Prize finalist, Cruz was born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York and now splits his time between his homeland and Morocco. That’s no coincidence; throughout this energized volume, the connections between Africa and the Caribbean are made vividly real, with Spain standing in the background. “My foot wants to danza South/ Sahara down” he says buoyantly; later, we see “Andalusian black hair/ Arabic culos night thighs/ of moon circles” in a poem citing Lorca, Jiménez, and Dalí. Short, punchy lines with telescoped syntax set the ongoing beat. VERDICT A solid selection for neophytes and Cruz’s fans alike.

Daley-Ward, Yrsa. bone. Penguin. Sept. 2017. 160p. ISBN 9780143132615. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780525504528. POETRY

Transmogrified to poet, what she ­really wanted, actress/model Daley-Ward had a big hit when she self-published this collection in 2014. In language that’s frank, colloquial, and full of yearning, she deals with desire, friendship, sexual predation, and what it’s like to be a queer first-­generation black British woman. (Her mother is Jamaican and her father Nigerian.) “You are a beautiful/ danger” says the opening poem. “I should not enter./ But I might.” And elsewhere: “According to you,/ people like me/ shouldn’t go into places like this.” Some of the pieces are more adage than fully developed verse, but Daley-Ward has rawness and heart as she expresses wholly relatable feelings. VERDICT A bright, accessible work for readers beyond the ­poetry crowd.

Darst, Lightsey. Thousands. Coffee House. Nov. 2017. 104p. ISBN 9781566894920. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781566895064. POETRY

The speaker animating this second collection from Darst (after Find the Girl) is decidedly restless, moving in diary-like sections from Minneapolis on 10/31/11 to Durham, NC, in summer 2014 to get beyond the quotidian and satisfy an amorphous but sharply felt desire for something more. “Oh you’re not that bad a man/ I’m not that bad a bitch.// But I have the look of the unloved wife,” she says at one point. And elsewhere, “I have to do it and I have to do it alone.” Related in meditative, crystal-cut language, her realization that she’s fallen into things pushes her onward, and just as her self-reflection gets wearing, she opens up to the world. ­VERDICT A poet to watch; poetry lovers will want to dig in.

Duan, Carlina. I Wore My Blackest Hair. Little A: Amazon. Nov. 2017. 92p. ISBN 9781503941977. pap. $14.95. POETRY

An abusive father (Chinese in his fists…. I Google translated. Idiot girl. Idiot”). The immigrant’s outsider identity struggle (“My English is hot, pursuing me with a gun”). Racist taunting (“the Chink is a mammal who loves dirt/ and kernels of white rice”). The anxieties of adolescence (“other girls’ blood on toilet seats/ color of roses and jam”). Profound loneliness and longing (“I want to catch so much of this earth/ on the gentle tongue, but/ outside: there is only snow./ and inside: there is only muscle”). Fierce assertiveness, too (my mother is not/ from your country,/ and I am not/ ashamed”). Duan reveals it all with lyrical precision. VERDICT An accomplished first collection for a wide range of readers.

Ewing, Eve L. Electric Arches. Haymarket. Sept. 2017. 120p. ISBN 9781608468560. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781608468690. POETRY

Blending poetry, prose, and illustration, this ambitious and inventive debut collection from University of Chicago sociologist Ewing offers the coming-of-age story of a young African American woman told with raw indignation (“We, the forgotten Delta people,/ the dry riverbed people”), close observation (“the slick of you and the smell of sugar and hot plastic,” of Luster’s Pink Oil), and triumph (“Sometimes being an artist means walking faster than everybody,/ shedding your clothes/ like the devil dressed you in his own best ideas”). The result effectively portrays both growing up and growing up black, mediated through a tremendous sense of physicality. VERDICT Smart and widely appealing.

Hardy, Myronn. Radioactive Starlings. Princeton Univ. Nov. 2017. 112p. ISBN 9780691177090. $45; pap. ISBN 9780691177106. $17.95; ebk. ISBN 9781400888764. POETRY

In poems rich, erudite, and almost tactilely rendered, multi-award-winning poet Hardy (Approaching the Center) defines his role as witness to our journey through an often troubled world (“a vibrating throat blue throat bluer than the seas”). He plunges us through the refugee crisis (“Graves as the sea waves foam at night”) and environmental depredation (“Starlings as glass black sharp// an abrupt end to the grace// they have given,” from the title poem) while placing us in a vibrant, mostly North African environment. Music reverberates throughout; in Tunisia, “musicians/ pluck the audience to trance,” and Muddy Waters appears in Bethlehem. VERDICT Attentive reading required, but a feast for the senses sophisticated readers will enjoy.

Krynicki, Ryszard. Magnetic Point: Selected Poems, 1968–2014. New Directions. Nov. 2017. 224p. ed. & tr. from Polish by Clare Cavanagh. ISBN 9780811225007. pap. $18.95; ebk. ISBN 9780811225014. POETRY

Leading Polish poet Krynicki was born in a German labor camp in Austria to Polish slave laborers who remained in transit (with the father forced into the Red Army) for some time after the war. Not surprisingly, his verse is dark, with death a frequent theme; even tenderness, “harsh as parting,” means faded violets and a child’s ribbon from a pogrom. But somehow Krynicki is neither grim nor raging, delivering the specifics of history and politics yet transcending them in poems patient, observant, and radiant with a clear-eyed sense of life’s hard contours. Near Kafka’s grave, a last glowing chestnut drops from a tree, capturing those contours perfectly. ­VERDICT Readers of international poetry will appreciate discovering a splendidly translated new voice; others will appreciate the lucid writing.

Moon, Kamilah Aisha. Starshine & Clay. Four Way. Oct. 2017. Sept. 2017. 128p. ISBN 9781935536956. pap. $15.95. POETRY

In language mesmerizingly blunt-spoken and honest, then sliding into starshine (the title as a whole comes from poet Lucille Clifton), Pushcart Prize winner Moon (She Has a Name) makes vital art of the African American experience. “The sight/ of dark skin brings out the wild/ in certain human breeds,” says “The Emperor’s Deer”; “They slay our young/ …& wonder, after centuries/ why we are not used to this.” Tragically, many poems are elegies of individuals past and present; after Hurricane Katrina, a statue of Jefferson Davies clutches a Confederate flag, “red as blood.” Later poems portray “winged, humming love” and note “ecstasy spilling from sax,/ from lips singed by smooth brown fire/ cooling in a glass nearby, neat.” VERDICT Highly ­recommended.

Powell, Lynn. Season of the Second Thought. Univ. of Wisconsin. Nov. 2017. 72p. ISBN 9780299315344. pap. $14.95. POETRY

“March strides in like a woman scorned,” and so does Brittingham Prize winner ­Powell (Old & New Testaments), an assured poet who uses vivid and sometimes witty language to explore the natural world (“The yard’s still head over heels in purple”), human contingency (“why/ would the God of that cold beauty/ contrive a hall of mirrors in a human mind?”), women’s fate (“I hated how prettily I flushed, how my words/ froze”), and her battles with the muse (“Kiss and tell it like nobody else”). Powell is particularly attuned to nature’s iridescent show but always goes beyond; reflections on the color blue end, “But bluer than the lips of Lazarus, baby,/ before Sweet Jesus himself could figure out/ what else in the world to do but weep.” ­VERDICT A terrific collection.

Reyes, Barbara Jane. Invocation to Daughters. City Lights. Nov. 2017. 96p. ISBN 9780872867475. pap. $14.95. POETRY

San Francisco–based, James Laughlin Award–winning poet Reyes (poeta en san francisco) uses incantatory language to speak to Filipina girls and women, and her words will resonate with many, many readers. “Daughters, our world is beyond unkind” opens an early poem; the collection as a whole then details the arduous female condition (“We are fed up being groped, being entered, being punished, being/ trashed. We are nobody’s fucking things”), then strikes back sharply (“Why does my outrage inconvenience you?”), and advises (“let us create a language so that we know ourselves”). Individual poems apostrophize Filipinas like the murdered transgender Jennifer Laude. VERDICT Infused with Spanish and Tagalog, Reyes’s beautiful, angry verse shines throughout. For a wide range of readers.

Rios, Joseph. Shadowboxing: poems & impersonations. Omnidawn. Oct. 2017. 88p. ISBN 9781632430434. pap. $17.95. POETRY

In a dazzling display, Rios blends prose poems, dramatic dialogs, and punch-in-the-gut verse to record the life of Chicano adolescent Josefo, not incidentally showing us working-class California along the way. There are “Two Josefos,” the hardworking, hard-drinking laborer who wants to make it in the ring—sections are styled as rounds, and Rocky is referenced—and the aspiring poet who can cite Czeslaw Milosz and (presumably) write a line like, “That moon over 24th street just as loud/ as gold shoes in the mud”). Both foul-mouthed and astute, raucous Josefo is a fully realized character as he punches his way toward his multiple dreams. VERDICT A one-of-a-kind debut; it’s easy to imagine both experienced poetry readers and teenage newbies burrowing into this book.

Barbara Hoffert is Editor, Prepub Alert, LJ

Women Pursuing Their Goals, In & Out of the Bedroom | Erotica Reviews

Wed, 11/15/2017 - 13:59

Wonder Women This month’s column highlights women pursuing their goals, particularly those of the bedroom variety. The third Cleis volume of Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel, showcases women reclaiming their sexual agency in myriad wonderful ways: learning to navigate sex after trauma; embracing sexuality in the “golden years”; and owning one’s identity as a kinkster with a disability. Another Cleis anthology, D.L. King’s Unspeakably Erotic, embraces women loving women through kinks that straddle the line of decadent and dangerous. In Tara Sue Me’s Headmaster, Mariela has been struggling to come to terms with best friend Winnie’s tragic death three years ago. To make matters worse, she yearns for the broken partner Winnie left behind: striking Dominant Lennox MacLure. Whipsmart private investigator Scarlet Drake never lets up on a case but finds her priorities skewed by the ruggedly charming Vandenberg brothers in Calista Fox’s action-packed The Billionaires: The Stepbrothers. Hardworking June Bell teaches her farm boy first love a few lessons in business and in pleasure in Meredith Wild’s Misadventures of a Virgin, while Lauren Rowe’s Misadventures on the Night Shift has buttoned-up Abby Medford letting “her freak flag fly” after giving rakish rock star Lucas Ford a piece of her mind.

Best Women’s Erotica of the Year. Vol. 3. Cleis. Dec. 2017. 272p. ed. by Rachel Kramer Bussel. ISBN 9781627782241. pap. $16.95. EROTICA

Editor Bussel (The Big Book of Orgasms) has curated a variety of quality stories with care and intention, highlighting women reclaiming their agency through erotic experiences. This collection opens with Abigail Barnette’s playfully steamy “The Birthday Gift,” wherein Sophie presents husband Neil with a wickedly unconventional visual treat. Wickedness is also the word of the day in Sommer Marsden’s “Demon Purse,” in which an adventurous makeup artist uses her skills to indulge her boyfriend’s sinful fantasy. B.B. Sanchez crafts a fun seasonal offering: a costumed couple take their relationship to the next level with a Halloween quickie in “Guyliner and Garters.” With such a strong ­assortment of entries, there are still some sexy standouts. In Rachel Woe’s “Weightless,” it takes cautious Zoe a new house, a gorgeous friend, and a “big chop” to release the pain of her broken engagement, while Aya de Leon’s poignant “After the Heist” starts with lesbian thieves and ends with the lovers revisiting difficult pasts. Annabel Joseph’s concluding piece, “Making It Feel Right,” is a beautifully brief exploration of power and vulnerability, in which a switch-up with a hired Dom helps Myra awaken her long-dormant BDSM desires. Though erotic and explicit in theme, this anthology touches upon topics such as childhood trauma and dating with a disability, emphasizing that sex can have a serious side. VERDICT A stellar compilation that upholds the high standards of its predecessors. Highly recommended for all erotica collections.

Fox, Calista. The Billionaires: The Stepbrothers. Griffin: St. Martin’s. (Lover’s Triangle). Dec. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781250096449. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250096456. EROTICA

Cunning thrill-seeker Scarlet Drake was born to snoop. As a successful private investigator, she is used to solving insurance fraud and unlocking mysteries—until she butts heads with gruff tycoon Michael Vandenberg, the prime suspect in the theft of his own father’s expensive art collection. Scarlet tries her best to resist the call of this “Big Bad Wolf,” who is having his own troubles playing coy with such an inquisitive woman on his trail. And neither expect their flaming chemistry to be fanned by the arrival of a third party: Michael’s stepbrother Sam. As the trio explore a new life of passion and vulnerability, danger appears in the form of conflicting alibis and dark family secrets. Things take a turn when Scarlet digs deeper, opening old wounds that threaten to shake their new relationship and the Vandenberg empire to its core. Fox (The Billionaires: The Bosses) delivers a sexy tale filled with drama, intrigue, and threesomes. Boasting a substantial, twisty plot, this book will best suit readers seeking action both in and out of the bedroom. VERDICT Recommended for fans of the author and of erotica served with a side of grit.

Rowe, Lauren. Misadventures on the Night Shift. Waterhouse. (Misadventures). Nov. 2017. 223p. ISBN 9781943893430. $19.99. erotica

Abby Medford has been a fan of sexy rocker Lucas Ford since her teenage years. Having sowed her wild oats and finally settled into the serious student life, the reformed “good girl” works the night shift at a hotel to get in extra studying hours and overcome her dangerously impulsive past. When Lucas walks into her hotel for a marathon writing session, it’s clear the salty rocker needs a serious attitude adjustment, which Abby is surprised to find herself all too willing to oblige. Sparks immediately fly; Abby sizzles with desire to take cocky Lucas down a peg, while Lucas can’t get enough of her no-nonsense persona. When Lucas realizes that “Abby the Ass-Kicker” is just what he needs to get his creative juices flowing, the two enter into an intriguing (albeit far-fetched) agreement that involves play-acting a ­voyeuristic love triangle from his past in the hopes of inspiring Lucas’s next hit song. But when the charade gives way to potential true love, both Abby’s and Lucas’s hearts end up on the line. Best-selling author Rowe’s (Captain; Ball Peen Hammer) vibrant writing is compulsively readable. Readers will applaud Abby’s snappy retorts and refusal to enable Lucas’s entitled nature while rooting for the pair to evolve into a hot, happy partnership. VERDICT A slightly wacky premise that hits the mark with plenty of sensual sparring. For fans of the author and where erotic “rock star” romances are popular.

Sue Me, Tara. Headmaster. Berkley. (Lessons from the Rack, Bk. 2). Jan. 2018. 304p. ISBN 9780399584503. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780399584510. EROTICA

This second book in the “Lessons from the Rack” series (after Master Professor) centers on submissive Mariela, dance instructor at the exclusive RACK Academy, and RACK’s anguished owner Lennox MacLure. Since the death of Winnie, Mariela’s best friend and Lennox’s submissive, the two have never been able to reconcile their simmering attraction. Ridden with guilt, Lennox has determined to retire as a Dominant and runs the BDSM school from a cool emotional distance. But ­Mariela knows that the only thing to heal him will be a return to his natural state; with friend (and Master ­Professor protagonist) Andie’s help, she forms a plan of seduction to draw Master MacLure back into dominance and into her arms. Of course, the plan goes awry, but Lennox finds himself gravitating toward the soft-spoken yet spirited dancer all the same, especially amid threats to the academy’s privacy and a life-changing injury. Interspersed are flashbacks and excerpts of Winnie’s journal entries, which serve as an inventive means of creating mystery and shedding light on Lennox and Mariela’s dynamic, both past and present. Sue Me (The Flirtation) has crafted a strong sequel to the first book in the series that addresses grief and guilt as readily as its sizzling D/s relationships. The epilog teases a promising new adventure with another kinky, familiar face. VERDICT Readers will be titillated by Lennox and Mariela’s sensual slow burn and eager for Winnie’s journal to clarify their fractured past. ­Recommended.

Unspeakably Erotic: Lesbian Kink. Cleis. Nov. 2017. 257p. ed. by D.L. King. ISBN 9781627782500. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781627782517. EROTICA

This edgy compilation peruses the wide, wondrous world of far-out fetishes. Editor King boasts a collection that will make readers squirm while they squeal, and these entries follow through. In J. Belle Lamb’s gorgeous introductory piece, “Pygmalion,” playful flirting between Irene and Trixie evolves into a deep night of erotic catharsis involving a Rothko painting and a sleek knife. Reena doesn’t have a “thing” for feet, not really, until devastatingly confident dungeon moderator Elin slips into her massage chair in Sonni de Soto’s “Support Service.” Threesomes and group play are a common theme, making an appearance in the steamy, sun-kissed “Aloha à Trois” by Kathleen Tudor, and Annabeth Leong’s “Simultaneous,” a story of a kinky couple incorporating piercing, bondage, and a trusted friend. Bawdy tales blend seamlessly with gentler ones, including dreamy reverie “Date Night” about a Master/slave couple’s first date by Brey Willows, and Rose P. Lethe’s “Private Party,” wherein a novice to the scene finds that she much prefers her playtime one-on-one. As varied as they are, the entries share an uncanny ability to draw on the erotic appeal of kinks common and less so: feet, knives, pony play, orgasm denial, and much more. Seasoned contributors are sprinkled among newcomers, giving Cleis anthology fans a healthy dose of the fresh and the familiar. VERDICT A welcome, raucous departure from bland erotic fare. Highly recommended for readers seeking sexy stories with bite.

Wild, Meredith. Misadventures of a Virgin. Waterhouse. (Misadventures). Nov. 2017. 173p. ISBN 9781947222427. $12.99. EROTICA

June Bell has spent her whole life in the majestic mountainside town of Falls Edge, helping her father run his prestigious hotel after her mother’s untimely death. She isn’t prepared for the return of fit farm boy Kase McCasker, childhood sweetheart and son of her father’s lifelong rival, but she knows that her skills of persuasion could bring about the McCasker land purchase for which her father is so desperate. To June’s surprise, Kase takes to her plan and runs with it, inviting her to his farm for two weeks to “seal the deal” on the land, among other things that were left unfinished between them. As the pair make up for lost time and sink more helplessly in love, a long-buried secret about June’s mother shatters their personal and professional plans. Though some passages border on melodrama, patient readers will be rewarded with an engaging tale of first times and forever love. VERDICT This latest from Wild (Hardpressed) is a sugary sweet erotic romance perfect for those who crave happy endings.

Ashleigh Williams is Editorial Assistant, School Library Journal

Audio in Stereo | Audio Spotlight

Wed, 11/15/2017 - 11:54

Audiobook sales continued to see double-digit increases for the third year in a row, according to the Audio Publishers Association’s (APA) annual sales survey. The survey reveals that audiobook sales in 2016 were up 18.2% over 2015, with a 33.9% increase in the number of audiobooks sold. Mysteries, thrillers, and suspense were the most popular genres among those surveyed, followed by popular fiction and history, biographies, and memoir.

Libraries were responsible for significant portions of both access to audiobooks and discovery of new titles, reports the Edison Research Infinite Dial Survey 2017 (“Edison Survey”).

The library was by far the number one way respondents obtained audiobook CDs, with 47% of those surveyed reporting that they borrowed their programs. The next most popular options, purchasing new or borrowing or receiving from another person, both were reported by 20% of people. Purchasing from a website or app was the most popular way of obtaining digital audiobooks (38%), with library borrowing reported by 20% of respondents.

Libraries and library websites were the number one source for finding new audiobooks, as reported in the Edison Survey, followed by recommendations from family and friends and best sellers lists and book reviews.

Pod People

In addition to audiobook purchasing and consumption patterns, the Edison Survey also revealed a direct connection between audiobook and podcast listening.

Podcast listeners are much more likely than the general population to be audiobook fans as well. The Edison Survey revealed that while 26% of the U.S. population at large had listened to a complete audiobook in the past 12 months, 46% of podcast listeners reported having done so—nearly double the rate of the general public.

It works in the opposite direction, too: 28% of audiobook listeners surveyed reported having listened to a podcast in the last week, with an additional 23% having listened to one in the last month.

The burgeoning popularity of spoken-word performance comes as no surprise to APA executive director Michele Cobb. “It’s a great experience to have someone read…to you. We start our lives that way—absorbing words orally long before we can read with our eyes,” she says, adding that “with our busy lives, the option to absorb such a wide array of content with our ears definitely helps our growth.”

Increasingly, that content bridges formats. Presenting the Edison Survey findings at the 2017 APA conference, Tom Webster, vice president of strategy and marketing for Edison Research, observed that there was very little to distinguish the podcast S-Town, with a running time for its combined episodes of more than six hours and a strong narrative arc, from a conventionally produced audiobook.

Audiobook publishers are increasingly moving into podcast production as well. Audible Channels features original podcasts and audio series available to the service’s members. Macmillan Podcasts is launching this fall with four podcasts by the house’s authors. VP of podcasting Kathy Doyle explains that the podcasts are a way to increase their authors’ profiles and connect them with more listeners. “We know that the intimacy of this medium will help us do that, building our authors’ platforms and helping them sell more books. But in the end, we want to produce great podcasts.”

As for what makes a great podcast, Doyle says it needs a great host and engaging content, including “a thread that will give audiences a reason to keep coming back.”

listeners’ advisory

With all of this crossover and the increasingly blurred lines, it’s inevitable that librarians will start to hear podcasts mentioned in advisory interviews—“I loved Serial. What do you have that’s like that?” Below we suggest audiobook listen-alikes for ten popular podcasts in a range of genres. As well, we posed the same question to four author podcasters to get their take on the medium. See what they say about this brave new world.


Comedians and best friends Phoebe ­Robinson and Jessica Williams, plus guests such as Abbi Jacobson, Queen Latifah, and Connie Britton, talk about everything from bikini lines and Cape Cod nightlife to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner and an intriguing rumor about Michael B. Jordan.


Ajayi, Luvvie. I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual. Read by the author. Macmillan Audio.

Ansari, Aziz & Eric Klinenberg. Modern Romance. Read by the authors. Books on Tape.

Irby, Samantha. We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. Read by the author. Books on Tape.

Koul, Saachi. One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter.
Read by the author. Macmillan Audio.

Petersen, Anne Helen. Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign
of the Unruly Woman. Read by the author. Books on Tape.

Rae, Issa. The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. Read by the author. S. & S. Audio.

Robinson, Phoebe. You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have To Explain. Read by the author. Books on Tape.


A journalistic examination of topics connected to race, identity, and ­culture.


Coates, Ta-Nahesi. We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy.
Read by Beresford Bennett. Books on Tape.

Dyson, Michael Erik. Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America.
Read by the author. Macmillan Audio.

Freeman, John, ed. Tales of Two Americas: Stories of Inequality in a Divided Nation. Read by Teri Schnaubelt & Corey M. Snow. Tantor.

Hayes, Chris. A Colony in a Nation. Read by the author. Recorded Bks.

Kendi, Ibram X. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. Read by Christopher Dontrell Piper. Novel Audio.

Khan-Cullors, Patrisse & Asha Bandele. When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir. Reader TBA. Macmillan Audio.

Rankine, Claudia. Citizen: An American Lyric. Read by Allyson Johnson. Tantor.

Rothstein, Richard. The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. Read by Adam Gruper. Recorded Bks.

Tatum, Beverly Daniel. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?
And Other Conversations About Race. Read by the author. Hachette Audio.


This podcast is concerned with the “­invisible forces that control human behavior,” balancing research and story­telling to help explain how and why people do what they do.


Alter, Adam. Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked. Read by the author. Books on Tape.

Berger, Jonah. Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior.
Read by Keith Nobbs. S. & S. Audio.

O’Neil, Cathy. Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy. Read by the author. Books on Tape.

Schwartz, Barry. The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. Read by Ken Kliban. Brilliance.

Steele, Claude M. Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do. Read by DeMario Clarke. Brilliance.


Featuring “stories about the surprises and absurdities of raising other humans,” The Longest Shortest Time takes a thoughtful, offbeat, often funny look at everything involved in parenting.


Acosta, Rina Mae & Michele Hutchison. The Happiest Kids in the World: How Dutch Parents Help Their Kids and Themselves by Doing Less. Read by Henrietta Meire & Karen White. Blackstone.

Brody, Lauren Smith. The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style,
Sanity, & Big Success After Baby. Read by Allyson Ryan. Books on Tape.

Dais, Dawn. The Sh!t No One Tells You: A Guide to Surviving Your Baby’s First Year. Read by Meredith Mitchell. Tantor.

Druckerman, Pamela. Bringing up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. Read by Abby Craden. Books on Tape.

Dunn, Jancee. How Not To Hate Your Husband After Kids. Read by the author.
Hachette Audio.

Gaffigan, Jim. Dad Is Fat. Read by the author. Books on Tape.


This documentary podcast chronicles the life of hip-hop executive Lighty. These audiobooks about hip-hop, the music business, and the life of another larger-than-life figure should appeal to its fans.


Chang, Jeff. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation.

Read by Mirron Willis. Tantor.

Charnas, Dan. The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop.
Read by Kevin R. Free. Recorded Bks.

Chuck D. Chuck D. Presents This Day in Rap and Hip Hop History.

Read by the author. Hachette Audio.

McBride, James. Kill ’Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul. Read by Dominic Hoffman. Books on Tape.

Seabrook, John. The Song Machine: Inside theHit Factory. Read by Dion Graham. HighBridge.


Each episode features British friends James, Jamie, and Anna reading a chapter from Jamie’s father’s self-published erotic novels and commenting on the quirky characters, plot twists, and anatomical impossibilities to be found therein.


Halpern, Justin. Sh-t My Dad Says. Read by Sean Schemmel. Harper Audio.

Lawson, Jenny. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir.
Read by the author. Books on Tape.

Ortberg, Mallory. Texts from Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters. Read by Zach Villa & Amy Landon. Tantor.

Sedaris, David. Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977–2002. Read by the author.
Hachette Audio.

Sestero, Greg & Tom Bissell. The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made. Read by Tom Bissell. Tantor.


With the tagline, “a political podcast for people not yet ready to give up or go insane,” Pod Save America is for those who find themselves bemused, bothered, and bewildered by the current administration.


Clinton, Hillary Rodham. What Happened. Read by the author. S. & S. Audio.

Hayes, Christopher. Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy.
Read by the author. Books on Tape.

Litt, David. Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years. Read by the author. Harper Audio.

Sexton, Jared Yates. The People Are Going To Rise Like the Waters upon Your Shores. Read by P.J. Ochlan. HighBridge.

Taibbi, Matt. Insane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus.

Read by Rob Shapiro. Books on Tape.

Tur, Katy. Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History. Read by the author. Harper Audio.

Young, Kevin. Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts,
and Fake News. Read by Mirron Willis. HighBridge.


When John B. McLemore emailed This American Life producer Brian Reed about an alleged murder in his hometown of Woodstock, AL, the story quickly moved beyond that initial query to asking (and possibly answering) the question: Who exactly is John B. McLemore?


Bragg, Rick. My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South.
Read by the author. Blackstone.

Hodgman, George. Bettyville. Read by Jeff Woodman. Recorded Bks.

Maupin, Armistad. Logical Family. Read by the author. Harper Audio.

Vance, J.D. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.
Read by the author. Harper Audio.

Winterson, Jeanette. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
Read by the author. Brilliance.


True-crime podcasts are wildly popular, particularly those in which an intrepid reporter investigates a cold case, bringing listeners along as leads catch fire—or fizzle out. Fans of Serial will likely have already found their way to other podcasts such as Someone Knows Something, In the Dark, and Up and Vanished, but aspiring gumshoes and those who appreciate an in-depth look at crime may be equally intrigued by these audiobooks.


Brown, Ethan. Murder in the Bayou: Who Killed the Women Known as the Jeff Davis 8? Read by Traber Burns. Blackstone.

Kolker, Robert. Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery. Read by Sean Pratt. Harper Audio.

Leovy, Jill. Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America. Read by Rebecca Lowman. Books on Tape.

Parry, Richard Lloyd. People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman
Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo—and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up.
Read by Simon Vance. Blackstone.

Trillin, Calvin. Killings. Read by Robert Fass. Books on Tape.


Ferriss (The Four-Hour Work Week) talks to people who do exceptional work in any of a number of areas, including business, art, and sports. In his interviews with guests such as Malcolm Gladwell, Amanda Palmer, and Jamie Foxx, Ferriss highlights the tools (routines, favorite books, time-management tips, etc.) they use.


Burnett, Bill & Dave Evans. Designing Your Life: How To Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life. Read by the authors. Books on Tape.

Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. S. & S. Audio.

Godin, Seth. All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World. Read by the author. Brilliance.

Millman, Debbie. Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits. Read by Nicole Vilencia. Brilliance.

Rubin, Gretchen. The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles
That Reveal How To Make Your Life Better and Other People’s Lives Better Too.
Read by the author. Books on Tape.

Zomorodi, Manoush. Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self. Read by the author. Macmillan Audio.


Taking Notes

The Note to Self podcaster hopes to help
her listeners get bored.

Please tell us about your podcast and your most recent book.

I think of my podcast, Note to Self, as a guide to our accelerating world, with me leading the charge. One way I do that is through interactive projects with my listeners. The Bored and Brilliant book is based on the first one I ever did: a week of behavioral experiments designed to help people rethink their smartphone habits, get bored more often, and ignite their creativity. Twenty thousand people took part, and thousands reported back with their data and personal stories.

How do you find the process of narrating your audiobooks different from
(or similar to!) podcasting? Do you find that you bring experience from one
to the other, or are they completely different?

When I heard that the book was actually going to happen I immediately thought to myself,
“I must narrate it!” But I quickly learned that audiobook recordings are an endurance test for the producers and the narrator. Usually the longest I spend in our podcast studio is two hours, and I’m constantly improvising the script and interview questions. Making the audiobook took two eight-hour days, made my cheeks numb, and gave me so much respect for the skill it takes to read a book exactly as written while staying emotionally present.

Do you have a sense that your podcast and book/audiobook audiences
are largely the same group, or do you have different audiences for your work
in each medium?

I don’t have any specific data yet, but I’ve just been on book tour and the audience has been an interesting mix of people who did the project two years ago, podcast lovers, and those who are intrigued by the premise of the book and have never heard the podcast. Also, we did something kind of experimental in the audiobook by including voice memos from listeners who did the original podcast project on which the book is based. I think it’s a fun sonic treat and ties the book and the podcast together nicely without being redundant.

Does your work as a podcaster influence your writing at all, e.g., do you think
more about how your books will sound read aloud?

Yes. I’m a multimedia writer first and foremost. Writing a book was torturous, but I could write video and audio scripts all day long. I think and write like I talk. It’s what 20 years as a broadcast journalist will do to you.

Have you discovered anything unexpected about your written work
in the course of narrating it aloud?

I discovered that I will never be happy with a final project. I wanted to edit the book on the fly while I was recording the audiobook, just like I do with my podcast scripts. For authors, narrating your own audiobook requires discipline and self-acceptance. Ha!


Night Time

Joseph Fink, cocreator of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast and coauthor of It Devours! (both with Jeffrey Cranor), devours podcasts and never improvises.

Please tell us about your podcast and your most recent book.

Welcome to Night Vale is a scripted fictional podcast that takes the form of community radio in a small desert town where every conspiracy theory is true and everyone has to go on with their lives anyway. The novels take place in the same town; they tell different stories from the podcast, but basically it’s a community of people [who] live in a very weird place, [and] they just have to deal with the everyday problems of life.

It Devours! [the second Night Vale novel] is a thriller. It’s an entirely stand-alone book; you don’t have to have heard the podcast or read the first book…. The phrase I often use is it’s about “romance and sand monsters.”

How do you find the process of creating your novels different from (or similar to!) podcasting? Do you find that you bring experience from one to the other,
or are they completely different?

In a lot of ways it is similar. I write them both with my co-creator Jeffrey Cranor. We’ve written a ton of stuff together, so we have a very set writing process that we follow with everything we do. Obviously we know the world very well. We’ve been writing about the town of Night Vale since 2012. The places, the people, those things are already in our heads and we write about them.

That said, you can’t write a 300-page novel in the same way you write a 20-minute podcast. You always have to be writing toward the form in which it’s going to be presented. With the podcast, you’d obviously think about how it sounds. You read it out loud and you listen to how it sounds and you listen to the way the words feel.

I don’t write for the audiobook; I write the novel. For one thing…you can write much longer sentences. Obviously, we kind of reveled in that with the first novel; we end it with a sentence that lasts a few pages.

Do you have a sense that your podcast and book/audiobook audiences are largely the same group, or do you have different audiences in each medium?

They’ve affected each other. The podcast became popular through Tumblr, and so our audience base for the first year or two was overwhelmingly women…overwhelmingly young women. And that’s not…[still] the case—those people are still there, but the book exposed us to a lot of other people as well. Being reviewed by NPR just opens you to a different audience than becoming popular on Tumblr.

Does your work as a podcaster influence your writing at all, e.g., do you think
more about how your books will sound read aloud?

I don’t. I love podcasts. I listen to tons of them, I subscribe to about 50 different podcasts.
I personally don’t like audiobooks. I find them frustrating. I’m a very fast reader, and I think audiobooks go too slowly for me. I would just rather be reading the book because I could read it so much faster. When it’s a book book, I never listen to the audiobook. I only read it. Which is weird, because I love podcasts!

Do you fully script your podcast or leave room for improvising? Have you discovered anything unexpected about your written work in the course

of narrating it aloud?

People often ask about improvisation, and we don’t do that. Every word is scripted. That said, we also have…a very unusual directing style, in that we essentially don’t direct our actors. We let them make the choices they make, and then we write based on those choices. For example, Hal Lublin, who plays Steve Carlsberg, he kind of single-handedly changed that character. He played a character that had been kind of a comedic figure, [because of] how annoying he was, with such warmth and genuine humanity that it was impossible to write about him that way. Gradually, that character became more and more likable and is now an incredibly likable character. The way he chose to perform it made us write that character in a different way.


Ancient History

Mike Duncan on connections between the fall of Rome and modern history, the process of recording, and the pleasures of an engineer’s praise.

Please tell us about your podcast and your most recent book.

My first show, The History of Rome, is a chronological narrative of the history of the Roman Empire from beginning to end. [My book] The Storm Before the Storm is a narrative history of the beginning of the end of the Roman Republic. Covering the years 146–78 BCE, it reveals the cracks in the foundation that allowed men like Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Octavian to destroy the Republic a generation later. Hopefully, it will shed some unsettling historical light on the state of our current political environment.

How do you find the process of narrating your audiobooks different from
(or similar to!) podcasting?

Recording an audiobook is much more grueling. I was surprised by how mentally and physically draining it turned out to be. I have been recording a weekly podcast for more than ten years but am never at the mic for longer than two hours. As it turns out, sitting in a booth and reading for six straight hours turns your brain to mush. And then you have to get up the next day and do it all over again!

Do you have a sense that your podcast and book/audiobook audiences
are largely the same group, or do you have different audiences for your work
in each medium?

There is going to be a lot of crossover. Most of the listeners of the podcast are avid consumers of audiobooks and the question I have gotten the most is: “Is there going to be an audiobook version? And are you going to read it?” Given my background and fanbase, of course there is going to be an audiobook version and, of course, I’m going to read it. It would have taken a whole series of blunders to not have me read an audiobook version.

Does your work as a podcaster influence your writing at all, e.g., do you think
more about how your books will sound read aloud?

It was actually the reverse. Between The History of Rome and [my second podcast] Revolutions, I’ve written a million and half words, but all of it was written knowing it would be read aloud. So whatever I write, I know my tone, inflection, and cadence will do a lot of work carrying the listener through the material. For a book, the words themselves need to keep the reader engaged and the narrative moving, without my own voice there to serve as a crutch. It was a new challenge.

Do you fully script your podcast or leave room for improvising? Have you discovered anything unexpected about your written work in the course
of narrating it aloud?

I script everything for the podcasts, but, even beyond that, a key part of my editing process is reading out loud what I have written. For me, writing, speaking, and listening have always been inseparable.

What’s the favorite feedback you’ve received on your audiobook work?

The engineer liked it! His job is to professionally manage the logistics of the recording process and he had no special interest in the book or the topic. But by the end of day one, he was into it. I feel like that speaks both to the book’s accessibility and, more important, how inherently compelling the story is.


The Lure of Lore

True-life scary stories are the focus of Mahnke’s podcast, Lore, and book, The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures.

How do you find the process of narrating your audiobooks different from
(or similar to!) podcasting? Do you find that you bring experience from one
to the other, or are they completely different?

On some level, they are very similar. Each format is designed to get the full message across using just words, unlike television or film. But my podcast is built around the practice of oral storytelling. There’s a heavier usage of pauses and pacing in that type of storytelling, and each sentence is delivered much more like an actor performing a scene. For the audiobook narration, things are simpler. There’s less of a production centered on storytelling and more focus on the accurate delivery of the book’s contents. It’s still a skill, and no less valuable than oral storytelling, but it’s a cousin rather than a sibling.

Do you have a sense that your podcast and book/audiobook audiences are largely the same group, or do you think you have different audiences for your work
in each medium?

Podcast listeners and audiobook listeners share a few common traits. They are busy people who value good story on the go. They understand how intimate audio storytelling can be. And they are modern “readers” who understand the power of technology to inform, to educate, and to entertain.

Does your work as a podcaster influence your writing at all, e.g., do you think
more about how your books will sound read aloud?

I always write for the spoken word. If you were to sneak up behind me as I wrote an episode of Lore, you would hear me mumbling to myself, because sometimes I just have to feel the words on my lips before I know they’re the right choice. Less focus on alliteration and complex words, more focus on smooth sentences and clear ideas that don’t require stepping aside and thinking things through. Audio is immediate, and learning to communicate for that space is important.

Do you fully script your podcast or leave room for improvising? Have you discovered anything unexpected about your written work in the course
of narrating it aloud?

Lore is completely scripted, written out weeks ahead of time. But I allow for edits to happen in the sound booth. You have to. Sometimes the only way to know that a transition worked is to hear yourself reading it all the way through. I tweak vocabulary or details mid-session on a regular basis.

Stephanie Klose is Media Editor, LJ, and Jason Puckett is Online Learning Librarian, Georgia State University Library, Atlanta

Meet the LJ Reviewer | David L. Faucheaux

Thu, 11/09/2017 - 17:41

David L. Faucheaux (pronounced FOH-shay) started reviewing audiobooks for LJ in July 2006. A legally blind lifetime resident of Louisiana, he has an MLIS and is the author of the memoir Across Two Novembers: A Year in the Life of a Blind Bibliophile (CreateSpace: Amazon); see below for more about that. He has also appeared in a Lafayette, LA, local news segment, which you can watch here.

LJ recently caught up with Faucheaux via email. Here’s what he had to say.

How did you come into the LJ fold?
Author David H. Rothman (The Solomon ScandalsNetworld), a contact of mine, actually suggested I try it. I’d never have had the nerve otherwise. He reached out to Library Journal and they were interested. My MLIS maybe helped, too.

What categories/subjects do you cover?
I have reviewed a wide range of subjects including memoir, science fiction, contemporary fiction, urban fantasy, time-travel fantasy, horror, biography, mystery, fictional biography, food, travel, and my favorite, historical fiction. I had to look at my long list of titles to remember some of these. A good 50 percent of the books are historical fiction.

Which book(s) that you’ve reviewed for LJ do you recommend?
I try to learn something about the genre preferences of potential readers. Do they like a bit of history, a bit of romance, lots of suspense? This guides my suggestions. I just reviewed the new Tom Hanks short story collection [Uncommon Type: Some Stories] that garnered so much attention. Recently, I read Natasha Boyd’s The Indigo Girl, and would recommend this to any Southern woman, as it tells the story of how a young Eliza Lucas, living in 18th-century South Carolina, developed a method to produce and process indigo, the source of a brilliant blue dye.
I also plan to borrow Margaret George’s The Confessions of Young Nero from my local library, but would only suggest this book to a historical fiction fan. For nonfiction, I’d suggest Elisabeth Rosenthal‘s An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back, because it impacts everyone.

You’ve written and self-published a memoir, Across Two Novembers: A Year in the Life of a Blind Bibliophile, and you’re going on a virtual book tour. Tell us about this experience. What is the hardest part of writing a book? How long did it take you to write? 
In the book’s introduction, I explain that a friend, Katherine Schneider, asked me to review her recently published Occupying Aging: Delights, Disabilities, and Daily Life. I downloaded it from, a website that provides ebooks to blind and print-challenged individuals, and dove in. While reading the book, I had a Eureka moment: “‘Hello, I could probably do a book like this.” It was a journal. I started right away, on November 16, 2013. I thought that if I said to myself, “Oh, you should start on January 1, 2014, as journals do,” I’d put it off and never do anything. I took a year to write it, ending on November 15, 2014. I had tried writing a short fiction piece years ago and became discouraged. So many of my career paths did not turn out as I had hoped. Luck, timing, health, all negatively impacted them.

One of the major challenges was the editing. I had never worked with an editor before. It was a learning experience. Added to that was my trying to include some older blog items and lots of book bits. Trying to figure out how to fit these various aspects into one package was a challenge to me and my editor.

The hardest thing has been trying to get the book publicized. Self-publishing has become more respectable, not exactly an equivalent to commercial publishing success, but not like vanity publishing. It’s still a challenge to be noticed. A library friend, connected with the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies, recently told me that approximately 300,000 books are published annually by commercial presses, and some 3,000,000 are self-published. Trying to be heard amidst such a crowd is akin to a firefly being noticed against the backdrop of a supernova!

Give us the elevator pitch for your memoir.
Do you love books? Do you remember 2014? Do you know any blind people? If yes to the first question, and no to the second and third, why not visit Across Two Novembers and be swept away on a river of books to interesting places. See the world as I do.

Do you have advice for persons interested in reviewing for LJ? Did anybody guide you when you began reviewing? 
This is a hard one. I try to read reviews in various places: Goodreads, Kirkus is an interesting resource, and LJ. I seem to recall that when I started reviewing, [the editors] did send some input. Stephanie Klose does her absolute best to send things I’d like and sure hit it right with The Indigo Girl. But returning to my early days with LJ, I would have liked more input back then. I figured no news was good news, but I do not feel I have reached my peak as a reviewer. I know I could do better. I’d like to learn more tricks to squeezing in the maximum information with the word count restrictions (about 175-200 words), and one day be recognized for the quality of my reviews of audiobooks.

I focus as much on the narration (does the narrator have a smoky voice or elegant English diction), how the publisher handles author’s notes and resources, and even beginning- and end-of-CD announcements. I’m not always as good with the more literary aspects of fiction, I fear.

What would you tell a potential reader of your book to consider if they were reviewing it?
I’d ask them not to be put off by its length. About ten percent of it is a bibliography and webography. I’d suggest that a reviewer read the introduction, the epilog, and the first two chapters. This alone would give any person a sense of the book’s purpose and the quality of the writing. My secret fear is it’s a bit too long for a journal.

My book was written to take you into my world. I wanted my voice to be heard. Seems today, everyone is being heard somewhere, either on a ghastly reality TV show, on Twitter, Facebook, or other online venues. I wanted to add my voice to the growing field of memoirs by blind authors. I worry I did not accomplish enough interesting things. I hope this is not true. In any event, I put the fears aside and jumped in.

What do you do in your spare time besides read (or listen to) books?
I enjoy eating out, trying new restaurants. I also enjoy listening to music, and when I feel up to it health-wise, travel, but not solo. I prefer a small group of friends and educational travel.

If you could write or commission any kind of book, what would it be? 
I have several ideas:
1. Empress Eugenie of France: She was just as interesting as Empress Elizabeth of Hapsburg or Queen Victoria, two of her contemporaries. But I find no writer today, in English, who has done anything with her, either fictionalized or straight biography. If French writers have covered  her, I have not located the translations. She lived at a particularly interesting time and reigned over the circus that was the empire of Napoleon III. It all came tumbling down in 1871, and she later lost her son in a hunting accident in South Africa. She lived until 1920. Surely, if Marie Antoinette rates high enough, Eugenie should.

2. The Inca: Gary Jennings wrote Aztec. (Actually, there were several follow-up books to his Aztec, but it was Aztec that was outstanding; the others were possibly written at the suggestion of an editor to cash in on Aztec’s success). I always hoped Jennings would have lived long enough to write about the Inca, to do for that group of South American Native peoples what Aztec did for Mexico.

3. A short story collection about my days at a residential school for the blind: I could possibly do this with some guidance. This type of school is rapidly fading from popularity. Most blind children today are mainstreamed into public schools. In the 1970s, this was not always the case.

4. Isabella Mora, an ancestor of mine. She came to Louisiana in 1779, about age ten, with her Canary Island family. I found her story interesting because two of her descendants married, and we think [this] caused the eye condition in our family. Also, exploring her life in Spanish Louisiana would be interesting because few people recall Louisiana was Spanish for a time, not just French.


Spotlight on Mary Balogh | LibraryReads Author

Thu, 11/09/2017 - 12:30

The third title in Mary Balogh’s “Westcott” series (after Someone To Love and Someone To Hold), Someone To Wed moves up the line to the newly minted
Earl of Riverdale, Alexander Westcott. Finding himself with a title, numerous responsibilities, and a need for funds, can he accept an offer of marriage
from his reclusive neighbor? Via email, LJ asked the author about her latest work:

You went from a successful series about war survivors to one about
an aristocratic family in crisis.
What was involved in that transition?
I needed something different. Writing stories for seven wounded war heroes was wonderfully challenging and also a bit draining. So for my next series I decided I needed a family saga. That involved creating a multimember, multigenerational family and plunging them into an opening crisis that would give rise to a number of individual stories—all love stories, of course. It meant shifting my focus from the angst of the Napoleonic Wars and their effects upon those who fought in them to the troubles big and small that face a family and [test] the bonds of their relationships.

Rowena (Wren) Heyden is nearly 30 years old and has been sheltered owing
to a port-wine stain. What led to that choice?
I don’t always know what makes me choose one thing over another. But I did need something that had been with her since birth. A scar would have been acquired later and some other physical limitation might not have been so revolting to her mother, who could not bear to admit anything imperfect into her presence. I didn’t want anything that caused Wren physical pain or that limited her in any physical way. But I did want something that would be with her for life, something she would have to face and accept eventually if she was to be worthy of being called a heroine.

What research was required to tackle Wren’s psychological trauma?
None at all. It is all in the power of the imagination as it was with each of the wounded heroes in the “Survivors’ Club” series. I put myself soul-deep into my characters until I know what it is like to live their lives with all their strengths and limitations, joys and pains. I reread and rewrite constantly in the course of producing a book until eventually I “get it.” It doesn’t always or even often come right from the start. It takes a great deal of thought and imaginative identification until I’m there, indistinguishable from my character. Actually, it is the joy of writing!

Alexander remarks that “he is the proverbial handsome man of fairy tales,”
yet he is open to the possibility of a relationship with this deeply troubled woman.
How did you conceive of his character?
From the start of the series, [Alexander] is an honorable man. After his father died, he remained at home, saving it from the neglect it had suffered as a result of the older man’s extravagance. He had just accomplished that and looked forward to turning his attention to finding some personal happiness when he unexpectedly inherited his title and the impoverished property that went with it. He could have neglected his inheritance. He really did not want it. But it was something his character would not allow him to do. His responsibilities, unwanted though they were, must be put before personal gratification because there were people involved—workers and servants who depended upon him. When he met Wren, who offered her fortune in return for marriage, he had to act true to character. He could not marry her for money alone. He could marry her only if he could feel some degree of respect and affection for her. And so it went on. Like most of my characters, Alexander created himself.

Not to give too much away, but Lady Hodges is a unique character.
What was your inspiration for her?
I wanted a vain and selfish woman as Wren’s mother so that Wren’s harrowing childhood was explained as well as her longtime reclusiveness. The mother soon revealed herself to be far more than just vain and selfish. She is an extreme example of a narcissist. There is only one way such a person can behave. She was not difficult to write once I knew who she was. Though such extreme narcissism is fortunately rare, I don’t think she is a caricature.

The entire Westcott family make appearances in the books. Did you know starting out which ones would have their own stories or do they speak up as you write?
I didn’t know in what order the stories would be told, but I did know who would get a story….
I have to set things up [so] there is enough material for a whole series. [When] I created
the Westcotts I knew there would be eight stories—for Anna, Camille, Alexander, Viola,
Elizabeth, Jessica, Abigail, and Harry…. The series explores the nature and meaning of family.
I want to show how adversity can either destroy a family or draw it closer together. With the Westcotts, the latter happens. A number of the [relatives] will not have stories of their own,
but they have an important role to play in the series anyway, and I love them all.—­
Kristin Ramsdell & Bette-Lee Fox

Created by a group of librarians, LibraryReads offers a monthly list of ten current titles culled from nominations made by librarians nationwide as their favorites. See the November 2017 list at and contact to make your own nomination.

Smitten Kitchen Everyday, What To Read, Listen to, Watch Next | RA Crossroads

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 19:40

As Lewis Carroll’s Alice so aptly points out, “What is the use of a book…without pictures or conversations?” Welcome to Readers’ Advisory (RA) Crossroads, where books, movies, music, and other media converge and whole-collection RA service goes where it may. In this column, a culinary delight leads me down a winding path.


Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites
by Deb Perelman. Knopf. Oct. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781101874813. $35; ebk. ISBN 9781101874820. COOKING
There are all kinds of cookbooks, from the coffee-table tomes readers marvel over but rarely take into the kitchen to the ragged third-generation copy of staples such as Joy of Cooking, covered in splatters and handwritten additions. Perelman’s books are on their way to becoming an example of the latter. Her best-selling debut, Smitten Kitchen, won the IACP Julia Child Award. Her newest is a joyful family cookbook full of straightforward yet creative cooking, written in a warm, witty, and confiding voice that makes readers wish Perelman lived next door. The recipes are each headed by an introduction that frames the scene before tumbling into easy-to-follow instructions for how to make everything from breakfast to cake.



An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler. Scribner. 2012. 272p. ISBN 9781439181881. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781439181898. COOKING
The delights of Smitten Kitchen and Smitten Kitchen Every Day include the ways in which they lead to the dual pleasures of cooking and reading. Fans of Perelman who enjoy reading her books because they feel they are in the company of an active, thoughtful voice might enjoy this set of culinary essays from another deeply engaged author. While more M.F.K. Fisher–style narrative than “1/2 cup sugar” or “two sticks of butter,” this is for readers willing to follow the prose-style recipes (with the occasional list version sprinkled in), who want to sink into the language of food. A rich next read—redolent, smart, and intimately connected with food and the importance of cooking.

The Home Cook: Recipes To Know by Heart by Alex Guarnaschelli. Clarkson Potter: Crown. Sept. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780307956583. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780307956590. COOKING
One of Perelman’s most notable qualities is her positive, embracing tone that clearly illustrates her love of food. Guarnaschelli, an Iron Chef, possesses that same manner in this approachable guide to recipes she has come to rely on. The introduction and headnotes demonstrate that Guarnaschelli thinks about meals as a touchstone to the world and as a creative outlet—consider her grilled cheese sandwich with brie and sesame seeds. Her recipes speak to one another and to the reader, across seasons, memories, and types of ingredients. This cookbook is as no nonsense as Perelman’s when it comes to flavor and instruction and big heartedness.

Taste & Technique: Recipes To Elevate Your Home Cooking by Naomi Pomeroy. Ten Speed: Crown. 2016. 400p. ISBN 9781607748991. $40; ebk. ISBN 9781607749004. COOKING
Pomeroy’s award-winning cookbook strikes the same balance as Perelman’s: personal and professional, with a quick nod to the chef and the role the recipe plays in her life before turning to help the reader cook. Both authors share a vivid ability to describe how to make something, and Pomeroy, like Perelman, is descriptive, inviting, and supportive. Some of Pomeroy’s food choices might be fancier, but they are all accessible for the undaunted home cook. Most impressively, she digs into the instructions with a keen eye while deftly teaching how to master each essential element. Her book makes for a lovely culinary read, which is the hallmark of Perelman’s as well.



Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin. Vintage. 2010. 208p. ISBN 9780307474414. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781497673809. COOKING
When it comes to writing about food in a confiding, convivial, and compassionate way, few top the delights of Colwin (1944–92). A novelist and food columnist for Gourmet magazine, she immerses readers in smartly observed and funny stories about her life and food, just as Perelman does. A beloved figure while she was living, Colwin has slipped into cult status since her untimely death. This most famous of her nonfiction works takes readers into the kitchen to talk about chocolate, soup, dinner parties, and more. In an intimate, almost offhanded tone, she illustrates how food and daily life are—or should be—enmeshed, a message Perelman clearly endorses.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal. Penguin. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9780143109419. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780698196513. F
Chef Eva Thorvald has a multiyear waiting list for her invitation-only dinners, and plans meals that she prepares for by planting corn in a specific field years in advance of when a meal will be held at its edge. In merry-go-round style, Stradal’s first novel explores how Eva was born to an adoring chef father and a mother not at all willing to be a parent. As she ages, people come and go in her life, some acting as anchors and some as kites. Always present, however, is food, from extraordinarily hot peppers she grows in her closet while in grade school to tasting menus worth thousands. In effortless prose, highlighted by heart, tenderness, and wonderful detail, Stradal spins out Eva’s tale and those in her orbit.



My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life by Ruth Reichl. 6 CDs. 6:44 hrs. Books on Tape. 2015. ISBN 9781101924099. $32. COOKING
Listening to recipes is an acquired taste, but if anyone can convince those who are doubtful that the experience can be wonderful it is Reichl. Here, she reads her cookbook/memoir with special attention to the flavors and textures of dishes that comfort and bring her back from the abyss of Gourmet magazine closing on her watch. Her voice is enriched with tone and color, extolling the flavor of a mushroom or suggesting in an offhanded way the best food storage solution. Her pace draws listeners in and offers up her story in a confident and confiding manner in this charming and heartfelt recording that supplies multiple pleasures beyond those centered on food.

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. 5 CDs. 6:4 hrs. Books on Tape. 2009. ISBN 9781415962602. $35. F
The way food can transform a day, or even a life, is a central theme of Perelman’s cookbook. The same can be said of this lyrical novel about a group of characters who attend a cooking class taught from a local restaurant. Each of the students brings with them a need—one that extends beyond the desire to learn to cook. Over the course of the story, they all share a part of themselves, allowing narrator Cassandra Campbell plenty of room to showcase her skills with characterization. With pitch-perfect pacing, her beautifully modulated voice plays up the culinary notes with lush attention.



Chef. 114 mins. Jon Favreau, dist. by Open Road Films. 2016. Blu-ray UPC 025192356735. $9.99. COMEDY/DRAMA
Chef Carl Casper (Favreau) is frustrated at his job, cooking the limited cuisine his boss allows. When a food critic takes him on, things unravel quickly, and Casper is out of a job in this fun look at the power of cooking with heart and what can happen when a crazy, obsessed chef starts to do so. Casper finds his way back—to food and to his estranged family—by starting to cook out of a food truck. Favreau brings an inviting good heartedness to Casper’s character. Sofía Vergara plays his still-in-love-with-him ex-wife, while Robert Downey Jr. jumps in for a cameo. This fast-moving, good-time film should charm a wide range of foodies.

Julie and Julia. 123 mins. Nora Ephron, dist. by Columbia Pictures. 2009. Blu-ray UPC 043396292321. $14.99. BIOG
Smitten Kitchen Every Day takes up the same philosophical territory as Ephron’s film: that cooking can shape your life, bring joy and wonder into the world, and instill happiness and fulfillment. Told in two shifting story lines, it showcases how Julia Child (Meryl Streep) moved to Paris, became a cook, and, with Louisette Bertholl and Simone Beck, wrote the iconic Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The second follows Julie Powell (Amy Adams) in New York City as she undertakes a project to cook her way through Julia’s book and chronicle the effort on a blog. Both Streep and Adams fill their roles with charm and grace in this tender film of coming into one’s own.

Rumbles, Recycling, Roots, Researchers | What We’re Reading & Watching

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 16:29

On this Halloween, a core team of LJ/School Library Journal staff discuss what they’re ritually reading and witchily watching this week. Don’t be scared, come enjoy our tricky treats! BOOO.

Mahnaz Dar, Assistant Managing Editor, LJS
I recently saw Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World. Directors Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana highlight Native musicians whose voices have gone unheard but left an indelible mark on the world of blues and rock and roll. The movie examines ways in which Native music continued to have an impact, despite the U.S. government’s history of attempting to erase Indigenous cultures. There were so many great artists and songs discussed in the film, from Redbone to Buffy Saint-Marie to Charley Patton. While on the whole I enjoyed Rumble, I did note missed opportunities. The film frequently quotes white journalists who extol the authenticity of these artists and stress how important they are, and the filmmakers emphasize how white musicians often made the effort to include Native artists. For instance, Jackson Browne invited guitarist Jesse Ed Davis to perform on his song “Doctor My Eyes,” and George Harrison included Davis in his Concert for Bangladesh after Eric Clapton dropped out. However, it’s depressing to think that Davis joined the concert only after Clapton couldn’t make it—that these musicians were, ultimately, dependent on the approval of white male musicians. Bainbridge and Maiorana never question why it is that white male musicians and critics are held up as gatekeepers, which kept me from truly loving the film. Further, Rumble also neglects to unpack seemingly laudatory comments that are often problematic. At one point, a musician quotes Ozzy Osbourne, stating that Osbourne loved to play with Indigenous artists (such as drummer Randy Castillo) because he found them so spiritual—a statement that relies on a stereotypical understanding of Native people.

Liz French, Senior Editor, LJ Reviews
After the LJ editors’ marathon reading of all the nominees for Best Books (24 titles this year!), I usually lapse into a movie coma and refuse—for a short period of time—to read anything more than the newspapers and maybe a magazine or two. This year, though, I had such a store of recreational reading stacked up that I immediately dove back into the biblio pile. I have Kate White’s new Bailey Weggins Mystery, Even If It Kills Her (Harper), right next to my bed for nighttime scares, and a YA loaner from SLJ nonfiction editor Della Farrell, The Magician and the Spirits: Harry Houdini and the Glorious Pastime of Communicating with the Dead (Viking) by Deborah Noyes for Halloween reading. Houdini is buried near where I live in Queens, so maybe I can figure out how to communicate with him on the 91st anniversary of his untimely death. I also have begun walking the walk instead of just talking the talk: after reviewing Silver Hair: Say Goodbye to the Dye and Let Your Natural Light Shine (Workman) by Lorraine Massey & Michele Bender for my colleague Stephanie Sendaula, I decided to embrace my own grays—er, silvers—with as much style as I can muster.

Lisa Peet, Associate Editor, LJ
I recently read Rachel Kadish’s The Weight of Ink (Houghton Harcourt), a big, fun historical novel. It was just what I was in the mood for—smart and sweet and packed with interesting history, with a mysterious twist: 17th-century Portuguese Jews in London (by way of Amsterdam) during the Inquisition, counterposed with a pair of contemporary London academics tracking down their story via archival documents. Kadish has done her research well, but the book wears it gracefully, and that makes her philosopher protofeminist protagonist both believable and likable, in a prickly way. That goes for all the characters, including two terrific librarians named Patricia. Plus, it was a hard week and I really needed a happy (if slightly bittersweet) ending. The reading itself was not without a little drama—my library ebook turned out to be missing Chapter 29, toward the end, and I just knew it was important. I returned the ebook and put a hold on what I hoped would be a fully intact version, even if I had to wait another six weeks for it. But a friend saw me bitching about it on and very sweetly sent me her print copy—and yes, that missing chapter was definitely critical and quite moving as well. If you like a good historical yarn with a bit of academic drama, this one is highly recommended (and I spy an ARC on the office giveaway shelf—someone snap it up!)

Meredith Schwartz, Executive Editor, LJ
I just finished a mystery that I probably shouldn’t name because I need to rant about the ending: argh argh argh, the detective is the killer. This makes zero sense. Why would you spend all this time patiently and slowly figuring out what you already know? Plus, I just wasted an hour of my life identifying with someone who turns out to be a sociopath. I was stuck on a plane at the time and I still would rather have watched another old episode of House Hunters. I recycled it at the airport with malice aforethought.